Sunday, October 25, 2015

This too shall pass?

I was lying down as Crocodile slowly fell asleep when I'm really tired of kids needing help to fall asleep (I empathize, I am compassionate in action, but on the inside, man, so tired).  I had a wish I could to think "this too shall pass" and we'll be on to a new stage after this eventually.  But I don't know that.  He's unlikely to be our last kid, and likely future kids will need help falling asleep.  Duh.  And how many?  Maybe dozens.

A strange part of fostering is that our parenting and family life doesn't have a linear path.  Most families grow out of stages step by step: infant parenting is done with the last kid, toddler parenting is done, etc.  Those little stages kids go through do not seem brief at the time, but at least 10% of you breathes with the relief that it will be over at some point.  Some of my friends are moving on to having all elementary-aged kids.  Some are wrapping up life with infants.  But fostering is different.  I don't know if I'm done with the infant stage.  Maybe we'll have ten more infants, maybe zero.  How many kids will I potty train?  I have no idea.  Or kids fighting bedtime?  I can't quite look ahead to when I can sleep in on Saturday morning as kids get themselves cereal and watch TV.  Is it a decade in our future?  I don't really know.

Now, we do have some control as we set our age ranges, so if we are done with newborns, we can say we will no longer take newborns.  But I know it's not that simple.  What if a newborn sibling of a foster child of ours comes into care?  I have a sense we are not done with babies, or toddlers.

Sometimes I have to think of fostering of having lots of surprise babies, with the vague awareness that the surprises are coming, but almost no details beyond that.  Life can throw curveballs.  With fostering, it's all curveballs, and it can be hard to accept that, even if it's the life we've chosen.

Family life is not in our control, but the illusion is strong.  Foster care strips away that illusion.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The bittersweetness of settling in

We had court for Crocodile's case, and it seems very unlikely he would move in the next few months.  So, I'm starting to picture holidays with him, playing in the snow, zooming down on a sled.  I have been bristling at statements of being a "house of boys," first because Cricket was quite the active girl and it's not like we had this calm environment with the presence of a female child, but also because I wasn't really accepting that as our identity, as I don't know how long it will last.  But it's starting to settle in as well that we are a house of three crazy silly boy kiddos.

Also, Rhinoceros is finally realizing that Crocodile will go along with his pretend play.  No, Crocodile is no Cricket, but they've been riding their bikes around the yard in races that have something to do with "the burr place."  Rhinoceros begs Crocodile to go along with his plan and gets so excited when it works out.  My heart melts, and then it cracks.  Because I know how hard it was for him to lose Cricket, and I can hardly bear imagining the potential future loss.

I have a terrible fear of a long case.  Eight months is our record so far, and in all cases, we knew somewhere the child was likely moving to by about three months.  Crocodile has been here for four months, and there is no planned move in sight.  I am terrified of years.  Of years, then intense heartbreak.  At the same time, I want his mom to succeed and overcome, and that may take time.  But for our family, it is already getting difficult, I can feel it.  And I don't have any transition plans to talk about with the kids.  Just that we keep on going on as we are, as the family we are right now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Soundtrack to fostering toddlers

Cricket quickly latched onto our copy of Frozen when she moved in.  She already knew it before coming to our house and called both main characters "my Let It Go" rather than their names.  It was playing almost every time I worked on her hair because I would pretty much do anything to make her happy while I worked on her hair.  She and Rhinoceros turned chairs on their sides to pretend they were the bridges of Elsa's castle and belt the same half-accurate lines of Let It Go over and over.

When she moved, I had to say I had a few sighs of pure relief, and one was leaving Frozen to gather dust on a shelf for awhile.  Perfectly fine movie, but after listening to it 40 times while staring at hair, I was done.

Crocodile did not seem to like watching movies or shows.  In fact, he was really scared when he arrived, and we tried to get him to watch a show with us, and he was pretty reluctant.  He is Mr. Active, Mr. Go go go, so sitting and watching is not really his thing.  Occasionally he'll watch something with us and talk through the whole thing, like that annoying guy in my college dorm.  So, I thought I was pretty safe from Frozen.  2-year-old boy, not so interested in watching movies.  But then he spotted it and asked for it.   Of course, he has preschool-age biological sisters.  Of course he had caught the Frozen fever.  Now it's almost a daily request.  He doesn't sit through the whole thing, but he'll watch a part here and there (and talk through it about everything he sees).  But what he really wants is "watch Fwozen me" (watch Frozen with me).  He does this little hand gesture that means "come with me."  Oh, buddy, I just really... I mean... sigh.  So, I watch bits and pieces of it, again.  These little ones, they've lost so much.  At least I can give them something familiar that reminds them of happy times watching a happy movie with their families.

So, I will remember the special moments of watching them fall asleep, feeling them safe in my arms, crying over their sad stories... and I will always, always remember pretty much every word to Frozen.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Perfectionism and Bitterness

I had a great conversation with my dear foster mom friend about bitterness.  She thinks she has more trouble with bitterness toward birth parents, while I don't seem to have that problem.  I do, really, but in my difficulties with the system, I often come back to myself and feel I am falling short in some way.  I don't think this makes me more noble, because perfectionism does smack of pride: why do I think that I'm so special that the world revolves around what I do, not what God does with it?  I thought I'd unpack these struggles of perfectionism and bitterness a little, confessing my need to depend on God more every day as a foster parent.

One of my strengths is empathy, and in some ways this has helped me in foster parenting.  But with empathy comes a too-keen sense of how people react to my words and actions, or lack thereof.  I put myself in their shoes and run through in my mind the different emotional reactions they could be having.  This leads me to set an impossible standard for myself.  What does this mean for foster care?  With birth parents, I want to be that foster parent that reassures, encourages, and mentors birth parents, and I have very rarely succeeded in this.  I just don't have the personality that puts people at ease, or I just don't know the right things to say to open those doors.  I go over interactions over and over, wondering if I could have said something different that would have made all the difference (as training tells me that foster parent-birth parent relationships can make a huge difference in the outcome). 

Then there is the parenting of the foster kids.  I feel I can never be trained well enough or dedicated enough.  These little ones need me desperately in superhuman ways, and I can only be human.  I miss triggers.  I lose patience.  I let them get away with too little or too much.  And even when I tell myself that I'm doing necessary things, like self-care, I'm flooded with guilt when I see the impact of my absence in the eyes of a child that hasn't learned to trust that adults come back.

As my friend pointed out, I tend to judge less and become less bitter because of my empathy for birth parents.  But I'm still human.  The areas I struggle with the most are birth parent actions that have a direct impact on the child, as I'm feeling their emotions deeply.  How could they have neglected simple tasks that would have prevented the kids from coming into care?  How could they not show up for a visit, knowing the child would arrive, eager to see them?  I understand there are layers of reasons why birth parents fail their kids, but looking in the children's eyes, it's hard to understand it in my heart.  And sometimes there is a story so awful, you are at a loss to look at it with anything but anger.

God uses me in spite of my perfectionism and bitterness, and I pray he continues to transform me so that I can shine His light more and more.

Friday, October 16, 2015

I see her

One of my former foster little ones, in a jacket I bought for her, in a picture I've never seen before.  Smiling at the camera, just beautiful, nose crinkled up just a bit.

The person posting it on Facebook is longing for her.  "Thinking about my love."

I can't reply, but I am, too.  I am, too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I have another brother

I was flipping through papers in Dinosaur's backpack and I found a piece of writing by him about his house, saying great 7-year-old things like that our house is SO old, but still okay.  But I stopped when I read:

"I have another brother named (Crocodile's name)."

Sometimes when Dinosaur talks about his foster siblings, he says foster first.  Mostly he uses their names.  This is the first time I remember him just using brother.

And though he hasn't been here since birth and we don't know how long he'll stay, in so many ways, they are just brothers.  They take each others' stuff.  They give each other things to make each other smile.  Crocodile imitates Dinosaur and Dinosaur is annoyed.

Though I do know there is an initial shock and adjustment phase.  And I believe there is something about suddenly having a toddler in your family.  Let's face it: toddlers are irrational, crazy little people.  I think the gradual transformation from "cute baby sibling" to "crazy toddler sibling" may be easier on siblings.

It was nice to read without any qualifiers, like I often feel they are my children without any qualifiers.  I don't mean in the sense that they belong to me, but sometimes they are just my daughters, just my sons, in the way I feel in our family.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

First Day October 2015 - Packing up and on the road

So, I totally took these pictures on the first day of the month.  And just now got around to posting them.  We went out to the library and a play group in the morning, packed up in the afternoon, and after Dinosaur got out of school we drove 6 hours to my in-laws.  We don't do a lot of night driving, or taking trips in the car instead of the van (my father-in-law owns a garage and B wanted to do a bit of work on it there), but we made it there.  The little glow-in-the-dark cars I got at the dollar store were a hit.