Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy 2016!

Well, almost.

We're going on a kid-free trip so it will be a bit quiet around here.  Prayers appreciated for everything to stay as calm as possible on the home front, and that we can really have some peace and be recharged for more of this crazy journey.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Language and foster kids

I am a language nerd.  I've studied linguistics.  My career involves language.  So, naturally the language of my foster children interests me, and in some issues, I've found myself fairly opinionated and passionate.

On the level of just interesting, having a child join your home (if they're old enough to talk) involves finding a common vocabulary.  People often talk about what children call foster parents, but beyond that there are words for favorite movies and songs, words for parts of the body and bodily functions, words for favorite foods.  And sometimes there are words you didn't know toddlers could know, possibly shocking your friend who is babysitting for the night.  With any kids there are surprises of "where did you hear that?" but with foster kids, it's to another level.

Now onto the level of opinionated and passionate for me. If your foster or adopted child is from a minority racial background, having a child join your home might involve a new dialect at some point.  The tricky part is that many people don't recognize these dialects as dialects, but just incorrect ways of speaking English.  Children are corrected in school, and sometimes at home.  Well-meaning parents want to make sure they are learning the "right" way to speak.  However, African American Vernacular English (AAVE, also known as Ebonics), for example, is a systematic way of speaking.  It is not the standard in many parts of society, but it is not just wrong English.  AAVE achieves many things: passing on cultural traditions, strengthening relationships, creating unique art, telling stories, preaching the gospel, etc.

So, my discussion with B was about whether to correct AAVE or not, assuming we had a foster child who either brought AAVE with them from family or chose it as they made Black friends and identified with them.  Some would argue that even if AAVE is valuable, it could limit them in education and employment.  My response is that if their teachers are mostly white (and even in the diverse school our kids attend, they mostly are) and if their foster parents are white (and we are), they will have extensive exposure to "Standard English" or "General American English."  They may need to be explicitly taught when to use it to their advantage, but they will have a pretty good idea of what it is.  As a foster parent, I would want to be intentional about painting AAVE in a positive light, even if it's different than how I speak.

If you have never thought about this issue, I highly recommend this video.  The guy's voice grates on me a bit, but the explanations and thought-provoking questions are excellent.  When I learned this information about AAVE years ago, I listened to people who spoke it with completely new ears.

And then there are foster children who don't just speak or adopt another dialect but speak another language.  And very few foster parents available who speak multiple languages.  How can foster children maintain another language if the foster parent speaks the language, and if they don't?  I am fairly fluent in one other language, but I haven't raised my children to be bilingual.  We did have one infant placement who had family that spoke the language I know.  I did talk to the baby occasionally in that language, but I wasn't sure if that was enough.  Should I be speaking only in that language?  Did it matter if the placement was short-term or long-term?  I'm still pondering a lot of those questions.

What issues of language have you encountered?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Maintaining relationships with former foster kids

We went into fostering knowing that we would have goodbyes.  We hoped they would not be forever goodbyes, but we couldn't really know for sure.  I think we knew it wasn't within our control, but some stories made me hopeful.  Before our first placement, I think I pictured that we would have some kids who would reunify, then depending on the relationship with the birth parents, we could possibly stay in their lives.  What I didn't picture is a move to a relative or another foster family, which has been every case we have had.  It's similar that the relationship is not ours to control, but also different.

So, who have we seen?  I saw Pterodactyl once and received pictures of her as a toddler.  We haven't seen Beetle again, though his foster family did send pictures once.  We have seen Caterpillar, but not in a planned sort of way.  I've posted some about how I've gotten to see Cricket for play dates after she moved from our home.  And though he was just here for respite, we've seen Tadpole, and I recently went to his adoption celebration.  Looking at this list, we have had contact after kids moved, and I am grateful, sometimes for our sake and sometimes for theirs.  However, it has not been simple and easy.

Sometimes new homes make promises that they don't keep.  This has been especially hard on me.  I really thought we were going to be a regular part of some of the kids' lives based on what new caregivers were telling me.  I have had to work on forgiveness.  I have had to put myself in their shoes, knowing they have a lot of their plate and are just busy.  I'm not a fan of the phone, so I sometimes let slip those phone calls I know I should make.  I'm not perfect either.  Or maybe there's just something I don't understand that's a factor.  I need to let those promises go, forgive and forget them.

Sometimes new homes do not even try for contact.  I don't know if it's because they're busy.  I don't know if it's because they have judged us in some way.  I have to forgive and let this go.

Sometimes new homes do try, and it's still a bit messy.  Every boundary has to be drawn differently for a former and new family of a child.  I read stories in blogs of families taking kids for weekends, picking them up to give the new family a break, all celebrating together.  This also set up high expectations in my mind, but in reality, the new family may decide that's not good for the child.  Or even the therapist may get involved and suggest boundaries.  I hoped we could have Cricket back at our house at some point, or take her for outings, but Gina and Cricket's therapists have been very cautious, as she is having a hard time understanding permanency and trust in Gina as a permanent caregiver.  Thankfully, they also recognize that a continued relationship with us is still a good thing, but it has been different than I imagined. 

It's hard to accept after all I've poured into a child that my eagerness to love and care for her could have a negative impact.  I want to get defensive.  I want to feel hurt.  But I am grateful that we are still connected, that I get the chance to tell Cricket how special she is, how happy I am to see her.  That Rhinoceros and Cricket can play together, with Cricket cheerfully barking orders at him, and Rhinoceros just thrilled to have his buddy.

I wonder if some of this is preparation.  Maybe we will be the new home drawing boundaries someday, and I can tell the foster parents this: "I know how you feel.  I know how wrong it feels to see someone else taking care of the child you have loved and poured into.  I know how wrong it feels not to be the one who gets to say what the child needs, when you've met her needs minute by minute.  We all love this child, and we should be gracious to each other, but mostly we need to just keep loving this child, even if loving this child looks different than it did before.  And thank you for loving him."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

First Day December 2015 - Just five

Okay, I swear I took more pictures on Dec. 1st as a part of my first day of the month posts of pictures from our lives.  I can't find them.  So, here's the five I can find: breakfast, a rainy drop-off of the school-age guy, and playing at a local gym with the little two.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas gifts and foster kids

This is our third Christmas as foster parents, though our first year Pterodactyl moved right before Christmas.  I've been thinking about the complex issue of gifts and foster children.

We were asked back in September what the foster kids would like for Christmas.  An organization works with our agency to donate gifts for foster children to make sure they have a very special Christmas because they are going through so much.  It is a good idea, but it does have some unintended consequences at times.

To begin with, we feel the need to fight the way Christmas gifts seem to spiral out of control.  A grandparent was only going to get one thing, but then they saw something else, and then they wanted this for stocking gifts.  So, we simplify with only giving three gifts to our children, biological and foster.  But then that clearly is going to be off-balance when the foster child is receiving gifts from the donations, and possibly gifts from his or her biological family.  I don't really want to buy more just to balance the number.  Last year we opened them separately so the "balance" wasn't really noticed, but I'm wary of doing that as one biological child is having a very hard time understanding the giving is better than receiving concept.  Yes, he needs to learn, but he's young, and he is going through a lot as a foster sibling.  So, I think this year I'll pack up the donated gifts in one box and I think it might go under the radar.

Then there is planning for shared gifts.  If we buy this for all the kids, but it's for the foster child to open, will it go with the foster child?  The answer is yes, and that is completely how it should be, but it just adds a layer to planning things out.

Then there is the gift opening and how it can be overwhelming.  With Cricket, she shut down around too many people, too many presents.  She was awesome at telling me this and we got through it fine.  Crocodile is not as communicative about his feelings, but just tends to rev up the energy to be wilder and wilder.  I'm hoping for a mild Christmas so we can run outside.

But there are nice parts to opening gifts.  We get gifts for a foster child's biological siblings, and the foster child and our biological children pick out small gifts for each other (notebooks, toothbrushes, etc.)  Sometimes it's nice to have the excuse to buy a high-quality toy you know your foster child will love.  I'm not much of a shopper throughout the year, so we have some stipend money to spend on Christmas beyond our little $25 Christmas gift allowance.

How has fostering affected your gift giving around the holidays?