Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016, year of the Crocodile

2016 was the first year that we had a foster child with us through the whole year.  It doesn't make for much of a timeline that I want to share without giving more details than I'm comfortable with, but there were events and changes nonetheless. 

With our family, Rhinoceros started kindergarten and Crocodile switched daycares to what we call his "preschool," but really he's there 8:30-3ish each day while I work and fit in a little volunteer time.  Dinosaur continues to dote on Crocodile as one of the cutest humans alive.  Crocodile matured to the point that he and Rhinoceros can play more pretend games together.  Crocodile also figured out how to push his foster brothers' buttons and instigates like crazy.  They are all still very loud.

With the status of his case, parental rights were terminated.  Though it's still not in writing at this point because the system has slowed down, we made the decision that we do not plan to adopt him.  So, the wheels are in motion to find him an adoptive home, ideally with his siblings.

With the status of living with his siblings, their first foster home put in notice and they moved to a new home.  Potential for him to join them waxed and waned.  Recently their second foster home put in notice and they will move soon.  It is pre-adoptive and the plan includes Crocodile as well, but as it's less urgent that he move at this point, they will wait and do a transition.  I'm a mix of emotions, as the news is still very new, the move is very fast, and there has not been a successful home yet for his siblings.  At the same time, I do need to accept the reality that this is the plan and he very well could move soon.

We ended the year with intensity.  I'm still exploring what the causes are, but my usually intense emotional state is off the charts for me.  I'm getting some help to move forward on that, which is good.  But it's new and intense.  Crocodile went from being a very bouncy almost-always-happy toddler to a very bouncy sometimes aggressive and angry preschooler.  He is still our dear heart-of-gold Crocodile and we are more than willing to put in the work to help him through his struggles.  But it is intense.  We saw termination of parental rights for the first time and it was heartwrenching.  And the final visit.  Heartwrenching.  Just as I felt I was able to refocus again, to move forward, the news of the second move for his sisters came, and there was a lot of sadness that came with that.  Lots of updates and changes and even some good parts, but a lot of it.  Intense.

Sometimes it's been so much that I haven't known where to start writing about it.  I feel guilty for neglecting friendships.  I worry I've entered a tunnel of foster care and I can't see much else.

But if this is the tunnel I'm walking in, I know I am not alone.  God is guiding me as I grope through the darkness.  B is beside me, loving, working hard for the kids and for us.

At one point this year the caseworker, knowing we did not plan to adopt, projected the many months ahead.  She asked, "He will probably stay with you for quite some time before he moves to his adoptive family, if you are willing.  Is that something you are okay with?"

I couldn't even fathom an answer of no.  Neither could B.  Some decisions are challenging and hard to make.  This path is hard to walk, but at least at this time, the decision to walk it has been crystal clear to us.  Of course we will walk it.

2017 may be just as intense.  We don't know.  But here we go.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Brokenhearted, crushed in spirit

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those who are crushed in spirit."  Psalm 34:18 

I am very slowly working on memorizing Psalm 34, but this particular verse has been one I have loved since my teen years.  I am often brokenhearted because my personality and imagination bring the pain of others into my own heart.  I am often crushed in spirit because my longing to help hurting people means I surround myself with hurting people in my work, my church, my children's school, my daily news.  I can't help but do it, and yet it weighs on me.  I am one of those tenderhearted people that but by the grace of God and His strong call for obedience would say, "There's no way I could do foster care.  It would hurt too much to give them back."

So, I cling to having the Lord close to me, this brokenhearted and crushed one.  But I also call on this promise as my heart hurts for the others I see hurting.  The promise that God is close to them and is saving them.

A child asks hopefully about the next visit.  There won't be a next visit, at least not for a long time.

A mother has another child with new hope.  Months pass, and the baby enters foster care like the other children.

The Lord is close.

A mother sees families together at Thanksgiving, Christmas.  She thinks of the children she has lost.  She wonders if she will ever be able to be a mother again.  She misses them like a piece of herself.

A child punches another child at school and scares everyone with violent thoughts spoken aloud.  Then the child says she misses her mother.

To the brokenhearted.

A father relinquishes his parental rights.  He says he regrets what he has done to so many people in this courtroom.  He says, "it went wrong."

A child waits on the photo listings for adoption and waits in a residential facility.  Another video is recorded.  She knows the last ones didn't work either.  She knows she is hard to adopt.  She talks about her hope for celebrating holidays with a big family, but she can barely remember the last time she was with a family.

He saves.

A child talks on and on about the sleepover at a sibling's house.  We have pictures, special items about the siblings, but it's not enough.

A desperate mother lashes out before court and during court.  A compassionate judge does not throw her out and just tries to get things over with.  She stops fighting and cries silently, while others file out of the courtroom.

Those who are crushed in spirit.

You have come to us, Lord Jesus.  Emmanuel.  I speak these things softly from my broken and crushed place.  Faint words of hope.  Hear them and turn them into something greater.

Romans 5:5  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Special people

I sing a little song around the house with the names of the kids.  I admit I bring it out often when I'm about to lose it and I need something to get me back to being kind and positive.  We have a few versions:
"I love Dinosaur, I love Rhinoceros, I love Crocodile, I love Daddy B."
"I love Dinosaur, I love Rhinoceros, I love Crocodile, I love Pterodactyl-and-Beetle-and-Caterpillar-and-Cricket-and-Tadpole."
"I love Crocodile, I love his mama, I love his Benny*, I love his sisters."

Lately he's started to request particular versions.  You would think it would always be the mama-Benny-sisters version, but sometimes he requests the one that names foster kids he never met.  Every time he asks, the look he gives me just melts me.  He know they're our "special people" songs.

Whenever my heart aches with emotion when he brings up his mama, his Benny, or his sisters, I sometimes search for words, but at some point I came up with a go-to response that helps me respond right away and helps comfort right away.  "Your _____ is/are so special to you."  Then of course he starts to echo it, and daily he's talking about how each one is so special.

Crocodile was playing with three cars on a track.  "That one has my mama and my Benny and my sisters.  That one has Mommy C and Daddy B.  That one is just me by myself."

Your family may change, little one, and special people may say goodbye, but you won't be just you by yourself.  I won't let that happen.

*His mom's boyfriend, not his real name

Friday, November 18, 2016

Acronym of the Day: FTM

I really enjoy hearing the differences among fostering experiences, so I'm going to keep going with acronyms that I know may not be universal, but the ideas at the root of them may be, which makes it a good way to get us talking about foster care.  And I hope the discussions give those who are not fostering something to think about.

Today I bring you FTM: family team meeting.

I chose this one in part because B always gets it wrong.  He always says "full team meeting," which is the same idea.  Basically, it's a meeting that is intended to bring together all parties involved in a case.  At the very least, it would include the child's parents, foster parents, and caseworker, but can include many more people.  In my experience, I have also seen relatives, parenting mentors, significant other of a parent, caseworker supervisors, and adoption caseworkers.  I have also heard of therapists, GALs and CASAs attending.  We have only fostered young children who are not a part of the meeting, but older children may be.  Plus, foster parents can include many people, as often siblings of one case are in separate homes and each have their own foster parent(s).  Sometimes foster parents are not included or caseworkers just don't think to include them.  It's good to ask your agency what the standard should be and then advocate that you would be involved in them unless there's a specific reason you shouldn't be.

What are family team meetings for?  Looking at the documents from my state, the words "collaborative" and "strengths-based" kept coming out, and that has been my experience.  It's a chance for everyone to hear the same things from in the same room.  Transitions can be decided and concerns voiced for everyone to hear.  For strengths-based, in my experience the meeting always involves talking about the strengths of the child or children and the strengths within relationships.

When do family team meetings happen?  Each location will have its own guidelines and agencies may have different guidelines.  I'm honestly still not sure of ours, but I know they usually revolve around placement changes and changes in goals for the case.  For example, if a child is moving from a foster home to a relative home or a different foster home, family team meetings are common to discuss and plan the transition.  For a goal changing from reunification to adoption, there should be a family team meeting.  But there can also be a requested family team meeting for other reasons, including by the parents of the child.  I have also experienced transitions that had no family team meeting, and I know now that I'd want to request them every time in the future.

In the best meetings I've been a part of, I have seen a different side of parents and understood more from their own mouths where they're coming from.  I've been able to help plan a thoughtful transition for a child.  In the least helpful meetings, there were too many missing people to make it effective.  And then there were the meetings I was not invited or not made aware.  I couldn't learn and I couldn't have a voice.  Certainly the most frustrating.

We have one coming up that looks like it will be a room packed full of people.  I'm glad so many are committed to Crocodile and his sisters.  I pray we will be on the same page and be able to help them heal, help them have the best plan for them to grow and flourish.

What meetings do you have in your fostering experience that are similar?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Gray Areas of Confidentiality

I could drive myself and my licensing worker crazy with questions about what's okay and not okay for confidentiality and identifying photos, but three and a half years into fostering, we just try to make a reasonable effort, which sometimes means being very cautious and sometimes going with some "good enoughs."  An example of what "good enough" looks like:

Friend at church takes family photo for a hallway that has photos of all the church members (it's a very small church).
Foster parents aren't really thinking about confidentiality because kids are squirmy, I'm not having a good day, and let's just get this done.
Friend says, "Oh no, he held that big cookie up in front of his face."
Foster parents pause and say, "Actually, that's perfect."

So, now we have the cookie picture hanging up in the church hallway.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Acronym of the Day: GAL

I thought I'd throw in some informational posts to keep me writing.  I do want to help others with what I know from being in the system awhile.  Plus, I think the more I get writing, the more I'll be prompted to get at the heart of what I need to get out.  And I know there are things I need to get out that I'm not writing.

Disclaimer: acronyms may be state-specific and your location may have another term or different way of doing things.  Feel free to share in the comments.

So, today, GAL!  Guardian ad litem.  This is the lawyer that represents the children in a case.  I have no idea how many cases they are assigned to, but it's a staggering number.  They have their own practices and may work with all sorts of cases, as I know one we worked with was recommended as a good divorce lawyer.  Where I live, they are required to see foster children quarterly, which means usually right before court.  Unlike home visits by caseworkers, these visits are usually five minutes or less.  I've had some standing in our doorway, and others at an agency before or after parenting time.  Once a GAL missed a visit and had to say so in court and said that he would visit that night (without having talked to us about this).  So, right at the end of court, he came over with a sheepish smile, and guess who stood in my doorway for five minutes that night.  I've learned to just schedule the visits myself.  I know when court is coming up and I call or e-mail with available dates and times.  Boom.  (I've started doing this with caseworkers most of the time, too.)  I was grateful that one GAL had known our foster child since before the child was born.  Older siblings were in care and he was assigned to that case.  He knows the full story better than caseworkers who have rotated over the years, though he doesn't devote as much time to the case as a caseworker.

So, why a GAL?  They are not representing the parents of the foster children nor usually communicating much with them to support them in their efforts to reunify with their children, like a caseworker or parent's lawyer.  They are solely representing the interests of the children.  They speak in court.  They can sometimes help foster parents when a foster child's needs are not being met by something in the system, but this can depend on the quality of the GAL.  I have only asked one or two questions of a GAL outside of the scheduled visits because any issues we've had have been resolved with a caseworker or caseworker's supervisor.  We're pretty fortunate.

Because GALs are so overbooked, some children also have a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) to advocate for the needs of the foster child.  CASAs are trained volunteers, not lawyers.  I have not yet had a child with a CASA, though I know they exist in our area.

I am usually not told initially who the GAL is for a case, so I have also learned to ask in the first week or two, "Who is the GAL and what is the contact information?"  Excellent information to have on hand as foster parents.

So there you go, GALs.  Another part of the system that, when it works well, can keep the system accountable to do right by kids.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Miss Carrie's Songs

I always wish I could know the inside of our kids' brains.  This is especially true with our foster children, who have memories we don't know, who are processing their experiences in ways we don't understand.

Crocodile thinks the case aides that supervise visits and have sometimes transported him to visits are very important people.  He often includes them in lists of family members, and when they were transporting, he would always talk about visits as "Miss Carrie coming to pick me up" or "Miss Beth driving me in her car."  We'll turn onto a street and he'll tell me that Miss Carrie drove that way to pick up his sisters.  Kid is three!

But my favorite part is when he says, "Miss Carrie played this song."  He says it most often for the Christian radio station, which we listen to maybe 30% of the time.  Sometimes it's for songs that I know she might have played, as I've asked and she did listen to the same station, but other times it's impossible.  She stopped driving him for visits five months ago, and these are new songs.  There must be something in the music.  He says this several times per week.  He never says it for other stations or music, with one exception.  I've become a huge Hamilton fan and listen to it often (careful to turn down the volume at key parts).  "History Has Its Eyes on You" started up and sure enough: "Miss Carrie played this song!"  Apparently this song, and this one alone, somehow sounds like the Christian radio station.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

There will be a home

I say to people, when I explain that we're just fostering, that hopefully if he needs to be adopted, there will be a home for him and his sisters.  And if not, there are many homes for a young child like him with mild issues.

But part of my heart turns to ice.

Who are these people?  They don't know my Crocodile.  Do they know how he used to be scared of water but now he's not?  Do they know how he cowered in the corner that first night?  Do they know how he likes to talk about his mama and about five or six other people and how he is used to the response, "oh yes, she is so special to you."  Will they sense when he needs one-on-one attention, or he will lash out?  Do they know he just can't stop moving until he falls asleep, that's he's not really trying to be defiant?

It sounds like I think no one can be like us.  I know in my mind that is not true.  I know we are not great and wonderful.  I know there are wonderful parents out there.

It has been hard every time to picture them living a different life, away from us and all the things we know for that child.  We write notes, but it's not the same.  We know it won't be the same.

And we know it doesn't have to be.  But of the many things that make my mothering heart churn with the difficulties of foster care, this is one at the top of the list.

I pray and trust that there is so much more than I can imagine.  That God made my heart this way, but that doesn't mean my heart is always right.  He made it to love fiercely so that I could do all I do for these kids.

But His love is much more fierce, His plans much greater.

I have to breathe, bury down what feels wrong as a devoted mother.  This is what we do.  We love and we let go when we need to.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Family photo revelation

I've argued with myself on professional family photos now and then. 

I'm not a person who needs family photos to send at Christmas every year.  But I do like to have them every few years.  When we became foster parents, that became more complicated.  We could include foster children, but some stayed briefly and wouldn't be included.  It would feel strange to have Crocodile in a family photo session but not Cricket, or Pterodactyl but not Beetle.  While we've done an amateur family photo with each foster child, to do a full session with each placement would have been impractical. 

But at the same time, we've been fostering over three years.  I wanted some family photos during that time.  One session happened because we were out of town visiting family and Pterodactyl was in respite, so a family member did a session for us.  But even that was three years ago now.  And it does feel uncomfortable and wrong to have family photos that don't include children that we view as part of our family, and that our kids view as part of our family.  I figured we would do a photo session once Crocodile moved, but I felt half-hearted about it.  It doesn't feel right to wait for a child to leave so you can cut him out of the photos.

Then it hit me today.  The handprints.  We have each child make a handprint on a small canvas square painted in a solid color.  The first three are in this post.  We would have a picture of us holding the handprints.  We could line up, holding the canvasses in our hands, like we still hold on to these children as a part of our family.

Because we do.  Today at Bible study a woman prayed a prayer about the pain of separation from those we love.  Cricket popped into my mind and I was instantly in tears.

I love the idea of this photo, and I love that I'm looking forward to it.  We miss out a lot on the excitement of looking forward in foster care because of all the uncertainty.  But this, this I think we can manage.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Awkward Moments in Foster Care: Unclear Pronunciation of 3-year-olds

Thanks to therapy, we have people in our home more often, which I think leads to more awkward moments.  This week's:

Crocodile: Daddy give me spankin.
*silence*
Me: What did you say?
Crocodile: He give me spankin.
Me: I don't think... I don't think that's what he means...
Crocodile: He give me spankin.  *holds up play food piece of bacon*
Therapist and Me: He gives you BACON!

And yes, B did give Crocodile a small piece of his bacon this morning.  And now I'm doing my post-game analysis: did I clarify why I was horrified?  Because I wasn't horrified because we spank him but because after signing at least twelve forms that we swear we will not spank I know a looming investigation when I see one.  But I didn't SAY any of that...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Another home

I've had a hard time writing because looking ahead can be painful.  I know I should live in the moment and enjoy Crocodile for who he is, pour myself into providing love and security for him the best I can.  But most of the time I get stuck in the future and clinging to my trust in God to get me unstuck.  It's painful to think of the trial ahead, potentially terminating parental rights, tragically but necessarily.  As he moves to his adoptive home, it's painful to think of saying goodbye to Crocodile, after being Mommy to him for over a year.  It's painful to think of Dinosaur and Rhinoceros saying goodbye, Rhinoceros losing another treasured playmate, and Dinosaur losing the little guy he has adored since the moment he saw him, singing praises of his cuteness.  It's painful to think of the difficult future ahead for Crocodile and his sisters, even with lots of love, because of what they've been through.

Then our agency has been overwhelmed and is begging for foster parents to take on more.  We can't right now.  It has a note of encouragement, that our decision to continue "strictly fostering" for now is a good one, but it's mostly very sad.  Siblings are being separated.  Children are being sent to residential homes for the sole reason that there is not room for them.

Then I got an e-mail.  Someone I know getting back in touch with me to ask about becoming a foster parent.

Hallelujah.

There will be another home.  There need to be more, but it lifted a little of the burden, the guilt.  It set me onward with a purpose, something productive.  It helped that my occasional cries to Facebook about the need for foster parents was not in vain.  I was heard and I could help.  This is the second person I've helped to start a journey in becoming foster parents.

I typed these words: "The need is so great, and while it's challenging, it's something I'm so glad we're doing."  And I meant them.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Awkward Moments in Foster Care: Toys that need explaining

We're a few sessions into therapy for Crocodile.  He's in turbo gear when the therapist is at our house, kind of like he is when a caseworker comes by.  (When he's not asleep, he's usually just in high gear.)  So, he's running here and there and everywhere, playing with everything for two seconds, and he brings over something that makes circles on the microsuede couch.

Of course, that something is a shot glass he pulled from the dish drying rack.

Doesn't matter how moderately you drink or how understanding you think the professional is, that's worth at least a few nervous chuckles.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Blergh.

I am mired in foster care stress and I should take care of myself by:
1) praying
2) calling my foster mom friend
3) writing blog posts (or even non-blog journal entries) to get my thoughts out

Instead, I just wasted time on the internet and now I need to go do the dishes.

Posting this to make myself accountable to do better tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Picture

I took a picture of Crocodile to send to the caseworker just to document a bump on his head he got at daycare.

He looked up at me and grinned from ear to ear.  I looked back at it, and it is just perfect.  It captures his energy, his joy, his little heart full of love.  It is classic 3-year-old boy, and yet totally uniquely him at the same time.  I want to share it with the world.  I want to shout it from the rooftops.  I want to scream that this is my kid.

And I want to hide from the world when I think of goodbye.

It will probably be the cover of his book when he leaves.

Sometimes when the pictures are so good, they immediately hurt.

Friday, June 24, 2016

How we feel about court

On my way out of court the other day, I ran into an acquaintance from church.  Neither of us knew why the other was there.  After saying hi and having a pause of not being sure what to say next, he said, "Sucky place, isn't it?"

Pretty much.

Things are happening in Crocodile's case as they should, but it still sucks.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

To the dads.

To the birth dads.
I haven't known you very well.
You were involved but my time with the case was short.
You were named but not working a plan.
You were working a plan but only for a short time.
You were in prison.
Being a father means action and acts of love.
But fathers are human.  And they love and think about their children even if they weren't there for them.
I don't feel close to you.  I haven't really worked alongside you as a foster parent so far.  But I'm not going to rant smugly about you.  I'm not going to roll my eyes.  I know I don't really know your hearts.  And I know you have given my foster children part of who they are.  A smile.  A strong throwing arm.  Curly hair.  And they are such precious little people.

To the foster dads.
You give children memories of men who love and men who can be depended on.
Some of you are just kid people and soft-hearted.  Your eyes light up and you pour your hearts into parenting.  You know how to brighten a child's day, and you know when to shed tears with them.
Some of you are not always like the above, but you are steady and sure.  You are there for them, when they arrive cowering and scared, when they just won't fall asleep, when they destroy something in the house again.  You are patient.  You are human and want to yell sometimes, but you are in control, because you know you need to be.  You feel the difficulties of foster care, but you keep doing it, because you know it is right.
You are obedient.
You stay sane when the waiting is long and unbearable.
If you are the steady and sure kind (B), you are what keeps the soft-hearted wife (me) going when her heart threatens to collapse from the weight of foster care.  I couldn't do it without you.  We are a good, essential balance.

To my dad.
You taught me what it's like to follow God's call.  Both you and I thought we might be missionaries.  We thought we might use our gifts in another country, serving God there.  God told you and God told me to stay here and serve in a different way.  For you, it was to be a light in your town as a family doctor.  To have integrity, honesty, and care about people.  For me, among other things, it was to be a foster parent.  I heard your story of making that decision to stay and serve near home, and it rooted in my heart.

Happy Father's Day, dads.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Couch time

When Dinosaur stopped napping, I instituted "resting time."  He had to stay in his room an amount of time set by a timer, and as long as he was quiet, all was well.  I would try to time it the same as Rhinoceros's nap and catch a little peace and quiet.  It took some practice, but he got it.  Books on CD were especially helpful.  Rhinoceros was not so into this idea.  We tried, but it never quite had the same success and included some crying and moving gradually into the hallway.  Now Crocodile isn't napping every day either.  But we still all really need a little downtime for me to sit in one place.  Sometimes I can use a show for that, but Crocodile kind of likes to bounce around while watching something, and it's not predictable when he'll lose interest.

I am an introvert.  I love that my schedule provides me with two weekdays with the kids, but I am always drained by 1:00, no matter how the day is going.  I would love for everyone to have "room time," like my mom did as I grew up.  Everyone in their rooms for an hour after lunch, doing whatever.  But I'll tell you what I can't bring myself to do: isolate my foster children.  Cricket was especially triggered by isolation.  Shut her door without you in her room with her, and you just unlocked an hour of awful.  Crocodile does not seem to have quite the same trigger, but he certainly hates being in his room alone and says he's scared.  Rhinoceros has observed this with two kids and joined the bandwagon.  Though maybe I shouldn't be so cynical; he could have legitimate fears as well.  Conclusion: each in own rooms does not work because it sets off a bomb of emotions in each room and I can't deal with them all.

So, I'm trying "couch time" for the summer.  We are all in the living room, each sitting on a couch.  Currently we have two couches and two loveseats, as we bought a new-to-us set, tried to sell the old set, and have been too lazy to do anything about the fact that they didn't sell.  I'm setting a 3-minute timer for everyone to gather whatever they want to play with/read/do during "couch time."  Rhinoceros had a drill-and-design set.  Crocodile had a few books.  I had my laptop.  Then I start a timer for "couch time."  Today we did just 15 minutes.  Crocodile was in a rare mood and cried, but he was on the couch when the timer ended.  Rhinoceros played happily.  I (mostly) sat for fifteen minutes.   I think I can get them to 30 minutes, maybe longer.  I'm thinking of even giving "Help me, Mommy" cards.  They get two cards (maybe one?), and after two times that I help them with something, cards are gone and I am done helping.

I share this because in foster care, sometimes our mom's way or our previous way just won't work with a particular child.  You try something new, and it may not work out, but it's a step.  It also breaks me out of the frustration of my "tried and true" method not working.  Invent, try out, try again.  Because even though Crocodile was crying a bit and not really a "couch time" fan today, I know he felt secure, because I was right across the room with him, doing this together.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Beach time

All of our foster children have had older siblings, and all of them have had neglect and the foster care system impact them more deeply than the little ones in our care.  This isn't say that our little ones haven't experienced loss and fear.  Early trauma and separation are real.  But so far, the older ones have always lost more, feared more.  They remember the violence.  They remember the broken promises.  They remember the times their mom or dad couldn't take care of them and someone else had to.  Sometimes they've told me.  And they are scared for their younger siblings.  They worry about them.

All of that melts away when they're just kids playing on a beach.  A brother and two sisters.  Crocodile is normally very hesitant near the water (pretty much the only time he's hesitant about physical activity), but I don't know if it was the presence of his sisters or what, but he just ran right in.  They splashed him, he splashed them, and they shouted and screamed.  These kids are very, very loud.  I'm so glad it's summer.  They pushed and pulled either other around on an inflatable alligator.  They dumped cups of water on each others' heads.  Even though I described their lives as being different above, they're all three so small.

It's joyful.

It's bittersweet.  This shouldn't be a "bonding time."  This should just be their lives.  I remember thinking the same thing when Cricket's sister came for a sleepover and Cricket chatted incessantly as they went to sleep.  This should just be another Saturday night. 

Thankfully, their separation ended, though adoption is still not final and I am nervous until it is, especially since they are half-siblings, so there are relatives that could separate them.

I pray that the separation ends for Crocodile and his sisters.  There are at least two ways that it could, but they are not guaranteed.

I shouldn't picture the future.  I know I shouldn't.  But in my mind it goes like this: Crocodile moves to one of those next steps with his sisters.  We become open for two kids, a sibling set only.  What if there are sets of three, four, five?  Or lots of babies later?  As much as I wish sometimes we could, we know we aren't the family that can take them, so I know this doesn't solve everything.  But maybe, just maybe, it will work out that the right sibling set at the right time would end up in our home.  And we could keep them together and they would never be separated.

Maybe we could just have beach time, in the middle of foster care, and beyond, like a regular Saturday.

Friday, June 10, 2016

My friendships

I struggle with friendship.
I can be a pretty insecure friend.  I can be a careless friend.  I can be a friend who feels hurt and doesn't do anything about it.  I'm jealous of those who have tell-anything, text-anytime friends.
But I do have friends.  I am friends with caring and loving people who make me laugh.  They're imperfect like me.
Some of my friendships have been growing apart a little anyway.  Our kids go to different schools now.  They play with different neighbor kids.  We've changed churches, so our church friends have changed, and that takes time.
But there is also a foster care factor.
Sometimes it's hard when friends don't bond with your foster kids.  They don't ask about them.  They don't ask after they leave.  If you don't get together very regularly, their kids don't see them as a part of your family either.  They don't get used to them, and other kids always leap to talk about their misbehavior, even tiny things, because they're the outsider.  I know, they're just little kids.  But it's hard.
Sometimes it's hard when they've agreed to be cleared to take care of your kids, but you don't know how many times you ask if it becomes a burden.  And what about when they are pregnant or have newborns and you should be helping them, but you're still burdened yourself.  It's hard to ask.
Sometimes it's hard when your parenting decisions are made up for you.  Yes, I'd like to nod along and let my kids run free-range.  But I can't risk losing them.  Yes, I'd like to be laidback about my messy house.  I really hate saying no to something because I have to clean.  But I can't trust that my caseworker isn't picky about vacuuming.
Sometimes it's hard when fostering just has you overscheduled.  First, I increased my work hours so I'm not nearly-stay-at-home like I used to be.  I work three full days per week, partly because the stress of foster care and intensity of fostering toddlers led me to seek more work time.  It sounds a bit cold, but it is absolutely the right decision for us for me to work more.  Add in visits.  Add in sibling visits.  Right now we're working hard for Crocodile to have more time with his sisters, and you know when that happens?  During the times that we would have invited friends over to our house.  Once again, absolutely the right decision, but it does have a cost.  I recently talked to Cricket's granny, and she is at Cricket's brother's foster family's house every other weekend.  I have to imagine that's a big change in her schedule, too.  And I haven't even had foster kids who have a full schedule of appointments.
Sometimes it's easier.  With a few people who will never be extremely close but are wonderful listeners and make time for our friendship.  I try to honor that time and commit to it, and it's good.  And sometimes it's much easier because they are also foster parents or parents who adopted from foster care.  We can just say, "Oh man, how were YOUR holidays?" and they know.  We can say it's all making us mad, or sad, or confused, and they know.  We can call and rant.  I only have a few, but I am so grateful for them.
We can't do this alone.  But building that community doesn't come easily, and it doesn't come automatically from my existing friendships.
How has fostering affected your friendships?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mom of Boys

Sometimes I get tagged in posts about what only "moms of boys" know.  Yes, my house is loud, dirty, and insane.  Yes, I am occasionally asked what happened to my penis.  Yes, I am routinely saying things like "wrestle somewhere other than on the stairs."  Yes, one of my kids put his hand through a window (out of sheer energy, not anger).  So I'm a mom of boys, right, high-five?

But it doesn't seem quite right.  I know in my heart that I had two girls.  And I'm not sure what that makes me.

First, I never get the "mom of three boys!!!" pieces of writing when one of the boys is an infant.  They are 99% the same, folks.  I had three boys with Caterpillar and with Beetle, but, um, they just acted like babies.  Yet I admit there was some special wonder when Pterodactyl arrived, that we had a girl after only having boys.  I knew at that moment, that I would check the box of being a mom of a girl, even if just for months.  I could enjoy the clothes and the headbands.  I could say words like daughter that hadn't been on my lips as much before.  Little things, but I did enjoy them.  But in practice, a house of boys that includes a newborn boy is the same as a house with two boys and a newborn girl.

And Cricket was my girl.  For all of the time I spent on her hair and worrying about her hair, I know she was my girl!  I know boys can need serious haircare as well, but the expectations for girls are especially strong and complicated.  Hair and clothes aside, a lot of her time in our home sounds a lot like those "mom of boys" stories.  People will say, "Oh, three boys, your house must be so loud!"  Yes, it is, but it was about as loud a year or so ago with a girl.  And she was destructive, loved tearing things up.  Some of it came out of trauma, but I'm pretty sure some of it was part of her personality.  Kid just loved it.  She was our first real source of "bathroom words" in the home.  She has a bit of a gruff voice, so no high-pitched little fairy voice here.  And yes, she loved taking care of her baby dolls, loved Dora and Elsa and Hello Kitty.  But a lot of those were favorites before she came to us.  I have no idea what gender messages she received during those times.

So, is my life as a Mom of Boys so different than being a Mom of Two Boys and a Girl?  I'm not so sure, and I don't think I'm redefined each time the gender mix changes in our home.  I'm a mom trying to meet the challenges of parenting different kids, and some of their differences come from gender, but most of them don't.  I am a mom of Dinosaur, Rhinoceros, Pterodactyl, Beetle, Caterpillar, Cricket, and Crocodile.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The prayer request

After church, a teacher in the children's ministry told B about a prayer request.  Dinosaur had asked for prayer because he felt sad that Crocodile would leave our home and he would miss him.

There are no immediate plans for Crocodile to move, but there are several possible outcomes that lead that direction, some sooner than later.  And I think even if he thought he might stay, we would still plant the idea of a probable goodbye.  It's hard to know how to handle the possibility of adoption with kids, and I know if we had a case that really was going toward adoption, it would be hard to know what to say.  We have close friends who will be finalizing an adoption soon.  I want to celebrate with my kids that know that family, and yet I know it could be painful for them to know that for this foster family, they didn't have to say goodbye that time.  So why do they have to say goodbye to the foster siblings that they love?

We talked about his sad feelings.  "I just love playing with him so much!"  We brainstormed what can help (taking lots of pictures and videos, especially some of them playing together).  We had just watched Inside Out, and talked about how we can feel sad about happy things because we miss someone or worry about losing them.  We talked about how in the movie when Sadness came out, it could lead to help, comfort, and sometimes good things  And we were always hear to talk when he felt sad.

It still felt incomplete.  They fall hard for kids, and Dinosaur has fallen especially hard for Crocodile.  He talks about his cuteness pretty much every day.  God help their tender hearts, help them to mend and go on to be listening ears for others that experience loss.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Awkward Moments in Foster Care: Come on in!

We were expecting an unannounced caseworker visit this month.  The doorbell rang, and I opened the door to someone who introduced herself to me.  So, I introduce myself back and welcomed her in, thinking that our caseworker must not be able to make it for some reason, and this is a supervisor I've never met.

"Um, actually, I'll just pick up the t-shirts.  Are these the t-shirts?"

I suddenly remember that someone I hadn't met before was picking up t-shirts from me, totally not foster-related.  I tried to explain my confusion, but as she said goodbye I could tell she didn't quite get it.  "Nice meeting you!  Good luck on your interview!"

B pulled in and his first words were, "I think a caseworker is at the door."

Foster care: at least 50% of the people at our door are caseworkers.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Day in Pictures - May 2016

I've finally admitted that I will nearly never get a "first day" post up soon after the first day of the month.  I have been pretty successful at remembering to take pictures on the first day of the month, though, so I'll keep doing that and posting them when I get to it sometime that month.  This was a Sunday, with church, crafty creations, some cool spring weather, and trying to figure out dates to suggest for an "unscheduled" caseworker visit.  It ended up happening on May 12, not even two weeks into the month.  Foster parents, is that not a first?  I'm pretty sure it was for us.  I'm always on edge before them, so I'm feeling pretty grateful.














Sunday, May 15, 2016

My stisters

Imagine Crocodile's sisters' names are something like Sonya and Sierra.  When Crocodile came to us, they had one name no matter which sister he was talking about.  Imagine something like Sina.  So, Sina was pointed out to us in pictures, and he would talk about what Sina did and we were never sure which sister he meant.

A few months ago, their names became distinct, though still not quite the right pronunciation, so something like Sira and Sina.

Recently, he uses their names, but he is also especially proud and pleased that they are his "stisters."  He likes to talk about this after he's seen them, and he just nods his head with a little more energy and satisfaction when he says it.

His "stisters" have not had an easy life, and Crocodile has been spared some of their ups and downs.  They recently moved homes, and Sonya asked a lot about Crocodile.  In transitions and unsure times, they cling to the most constant things they can: siblings.  I think of Cricket.  I talked to someone close to her after she moved to be with her sister, and she said she was like a different child.  All this hidden joy came out of her, having the security of knowing her sister was with her.

There is hope that if reunification does not happen that Crocodile and his sisters will be together.  We are not the family that can make that happen, but there is a possibility.  All of that is far ahead, and in the meantime we're going to try to make sure he can have more sibling time than the minimum we've been doing.  Where we live, that's once per month (plus they see each other at parenting time with mom).  Why not have more time in the first place?  It's hard to plan and schedule with busy foster families, honestly.  But the new family is eager to plan it and I think we'll make it happen.

The longer the case goes, the easier it is to forget sometimes that Dinosaur and Rhinoceros are not his only siblings.  I have to be pretty intentional to be a part of keeping that bond going.

I don't know our future as foster parents, but I hope at some point we're able to foster siblings and prevent separation in the first place.  I wish we could have been ready to do that from the start, but if we had waited until we were ready, we wouldn't have been there for the five kids we've had.  They would have just been in different homes, still separated from siblings.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The twins we could have had.

Two years ago, I was praying for Pterodactyl's twin siblings.  The siblings we said we would take if we had open bed(s), but we wouldn't stay empty for them, either.  As it ended up, we had Caterpillar placed with us and they were placed in another foster home.

I later connected with their foster dad through our agency and got to see pictures of them, and later saw them in person.  Precious, beautiful babies, one looking somewhat like Pterodactyl, but really they are their own little people.

Recently I got to see the announcement that this foster family adopted them.  A lovely, happy family.

Of course, I wonder, what would our lives have been like?  We would have had a family of six.  We would have likely been done with fostering in our second placement.  The newborn phase would have been intense, but it would have wrapped up a whole lot sooner.  Sometimes we as foster parents are faced with the kids that need placement and we feel like we must be that home.  Clearly since we're being asked, we must be the ones to say yes.  But in the in the big picture, I know this is not true, especially for very young children in foster care.

I know this was not our story to have.  Our story has Beetle, Caterpillar, Cricket, Crocodile, and more to come.  In our hearts, we just absolutely knew there was another family for these twins, someone who longed for them, someone God prepared for them.  It is so good to see their faces in their smiling announcement. 

I still feel like a distant relative, however loose my connection might be to them.  They aren't my babies, but they have a little place in our history, and in our history of prayers to do God's will.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Family photos

Coming up on our third anniversary of fostering, I looked at the photos we have on our wall.  They're from that summer of 2013.  Dinosaur was five and Rhinoceros was two.  We were visiting family while Pterodactyl was in respite, and my sister-in-law did a photo session for us.  On the one hand, it worked out well that we just had our forever family together for photos.  At that point, we thought she was staying with us for a very short time.  I'm really glad to have those photos and that I didn't put them off.  And of course, it was nice to have photos that I could share on social media and send out at Christmas.

On the other hand, it's unsettling that we sought an opportunity that Pterodactyl wouldn't be with us, as if we actively excluded her.  And it's sort of set a precedent that we haven't included any foster children in formal family photos, so to suddenly include a child would make it seem like we are banking on him or her being a permanent part of our family.  Do we have a family photo session every placement?  Not going to happen, not with the one-month and two-month placements.  I would be sad for the family photos we misses if we suddenly started having photo sessions with foster children, though of course we have amateur family shots with each foster child.

So, now what?  I would like some more family photos soon.  Though he's our record-breaker of time with us, I would be quite surprised if Crocodile became a permanent part of our family.  How would I look back on these pictures of us as a family of five?  Can I be confident to include him, no regrets, and know that he was a part of our family for that time?  I know some who have taken family photos with just the backs of everyone, or with the foster children's faces hidden in different ways.

Sometimes the "for now" part of fostering is the most unsettling, always being on the edge of change at some point.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Pre-court anxiety, post-court blues

From reading writing of other foster parents, I'm not the only one that becomes a mess around time for court.  And we haven't had any cases that are truly complete messes to warrant me becoming a mess.

An upcoming court date sticks in my brain, especially with longer cases that have 90-day reviews, so court usually happens around the same time of the month and it's easy to remember.  I start to picture drastic, sudden directions things could go.  I build those into future timelines that I know are not really mine to imagine.

Then after court, everything is numb and gloomy.  I'm sad for the children and that they will be stuck in foster care longer.  I'm sad for parents who don't do what they need to do.  I'm sad for the history of the parents that influences their actions and that they can't free themselves from their demons.  Sometimes I'm worried things aren't being done the right way.  Sometimes I hope for great news, and it doesn't come, and I'm disappointed.  Overall the formality of it just sears into my heart the tragedy of it all, that this is about parents and children being ripped apart.

How to deal?

I update my friends and family.  Though this time, I decided to back off on an e-mail update to a usual group of extended family and friends that is mostly meant to keep them in the loop of who is coming and who is going and to ask for prayer.  This is the furthest we've gotten into a case and I'm more cautious about sharing details, even vague ones, than ever because I worry that I'm just providing entertainment in the story when much more is at stake, or that I'm making it look like we hope for the case to end in adoption by us.  I really don't want them to hope for that for us for many reasons.  But anyway, updating someone is cathartic.  This time around, it was just two of my closest friends, one who is a foster parent, and my mom and my sister, who I'd asked right before court to pray.

I'm easy on myself the couple of days after court.  I know I'm distracted and let myself slack off a bit.  I cook easy food.  I should avoid reading about other bad things in the world, but I totally failed on that the last time.

I exercise.  I usually do this, but I'm considering doing an intense couple of weeks of exercise before and after court.  I could listen to a really engaging book or podcast and just work it all out of me a bit.

What do you do?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

First Day - April 2016: More snow and roller skating

Each month I snap a few photos of our day on the first day of the month, and then procrastinate on posting them.  Maybe I just couldn't do it until it was fully springlike here again.  Watch the heart-sinking progression of weather throughout the day.  But at least there are indoor pretend picnics!







Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Foster care everywhere

I was waiting to be called for an appointment this morning, totally unrelated to foster care.

A woman with special needs was waiting as well and talking to the person accompanying her.  She talked about her lip gloss and how she needed to give it to her mom.  "She's pretty like me."  I figured out soon that she thought the receptionist was her mom.  Later, when she went to leave, she asked to say goodbye to her mom, and the receptionist responded kindly.  The woman said "bless you" to the receptionist, and she replied, "Bless you, too, my dear."  As they left, the woman said, "Bye, Mom.  I hope you get me back."

My eyes immediately filled with tears.

She made visible the invisible.  There are so many people walking around carrying the burden of foster care in their history.  My attention is focused on the child in my home, but the big picture is startling, that so many stories like my kids are going on other places, and that those children grow up and carry it with them.

Lord, help us do our part, in the little picture and in the big picture.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lessons learned: Videos Part 2

Crocodile was talking about missing his mama.  Sometimes we draw pictures for her or we look at a picture of her, but I had a great idea this time.  Let's make a video to say hi to her!  Then I'll show it to her the next time I can!

Yeah, he misunderstood and thought we were going to WATCH a video of her.  And so the video is of him sitting there sadly realizing I don't have a video of her to show him.

This age.  They understand and then they don't.  We had some good hugs and moved on and I know better for next time.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

When I met you

Some of my favorite, most therapeutic writing is writing about the kids themselves.  I know part of it is because I have to keep so much confidentiality that I feel like I'm bursting to talk about them.  Part of it is that I feel lonely in my deep love for them that doesn't go away, when it seems to me that they can be invisible to some of my family and friends.  Some of it is just because it's amazing to watch them grow.

So, something made me think of the moment I met each little one, and I was itching to write them out, stories I may never get to tell the children myself.

Pterodactyl.  You were in your bassinet, being checked by a nurse, and howling mad.  I was trying to talk to your mother, who had asked to meet me, but now was crying and had nothing to say.  I left the room and you were still crying.  Later, you were wheeled into the conference room where I waited with the social worker, sleeping in your bassinet.  I held you and we took pictures, though it was such a strange moment to take pictures.  You had straight dark hair on your little forehead and looked so brand new.

Beetle.  You were sleeping in your Mamaroo in your room in the NICU, a pacifier propped against your mouth.  You weren't officially in our care yet, but I was allowed to visit.  I remember being shocked at how tiny you looked, but actually you were a pretty average weight, just a tiny-looking guy.  I think part of it was your huge eyes, still big and round in pictures I've seen of you as a toddler.   I gave you a bottle and relearned bottle feeding to help you, trying to get as much in as I could.  You definitely did not like having your diaper changed.  The nurses helped me with your care and I said goodnight to you, leaving you in your room to see you another day.

Caterpillar.  You were asleep in your infant car seat, little head of curls resting against the back.  I remember my biggest concerns were some medical issues and getting information that was not being given to us, so my impression of you was fragility.  This didn't last for long, as you were quite a content baby once you settled in a few days.  But that first night, you woke up soon after CPS left and ate, but you looked tired and a little lost.  It had been a long day.

Cricket.  I picked you up, and when the door was answered, the person answering said, "this is her."  You'd run up to the door, too, to greet me.  You were busy, busy, busy while we got paperwork together.  We unplugged a phone so you could pretend to call people.  You had a toothbrush that played music, and you wanted to show me how you brushed your teeth right then, even though I didn't really know where to get a glass of water to help you.  I didn't really know what to do and hadn't prepared myself for filling this time, but I followed your lead and you ran your little show for me.  You were a driven little girl, right from the start.  You fell asleep about two minutes after we drove away, exhausted from the night before, and I realized later a lot of the busy busy busy mode was really overtiredness.

Crocodile.  You were terrified.  I think about it and it still breaks my heart.  You literally backed into a corner by the door, and then tried to leave with the social worker when she tried to leave.  Your big brown eyes stared at us, chin lowered.  We brought out some goldfish and fruit snacks, started up Daniel Tiger.  You shook your little head no.  We gently kept trying and finally you sat with me on the couch, kind of watching the show.  Then you took the snack and relaxed a tiny bit, and the worker left.  You wore a shirt with a saying on it that you still wear as much as possible, and though I can't stand the saying on it, I can't help but let you wear it.  You slept only five hours that night, just quietly awake for long periods.  With these first moments, I thought you would have a very hard time adjusting to our home, but you actually settled in quite well within a few days.

Every time, it was the start of a remaking of our family.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Awkward Moments in Foster Care: Minus one kid

Sometimes it's not unusual to be out and about with less than your total number of children.  Some are in school.  Sometimes it's a weekend and we just send one along with a parent on an errand to divide and conquer.  People get that.  What I have found throws people off is being without the youngest child, and since our foster children have always been the youngest children in our family, this happens regularly when foster children are at visits.

At a play group, the foster child is with me one week because a visit was canceled, then gone the next because the visit is happening.  It's the middle of the day, so it's not common in many families that he or she would be at home for some reason with the other parent.

Or there's an overnight visit and suddenly we have fewer children at church.  Did he move?  Where is she?  A bit hard to explain without prompting more questions about the case.  I usually explain anyway, and just try to avoid the other questions the best I can.

I need a t-shirt that says "Number of Kids May Vary, No Biggie."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Conversations with Crocodile

Crocodile has always been a chatty guy, though his vocabulary and clarity of pronunciation limited a lot of his communication at first.  Not really behind, but definitely not ahead.  In addition, he is a pretty cheery guy.  So, we don't always face the tough things he's going through as far as talking about them.  We've always started conversations about his family, but he would say something, then move on. 

Lately he's had more conversations, and more of them connect to behavior, and more of them he initiates.  Some of them sound like he's started taking trauma-related foster parent training, and it amazes me what has been under the surface all this time.  Cricket would have conversations like this with me, too, and they always stop me in my tracks.  There is hope for kids and some truth to them being resilient.  But this stuff is also very real to them, even to the foster kids who are surviving it pretty well.

(Crocodile kicking the dresser while I rock him, he's restless but nothing seems to be provoking it)
Me: Why are you doing that?
Crocodile: I mad.  I want to go to my mama house.

Crocodile: (Big sister) was screaming in the car with (case aide).  That bad choices.
Me: Yes, it hurts our ears.  Were you screaming?
Crocodile: No.
(a few moments later)
Crocodile: She want her mama.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

First Day - March 2016: Snowy and sick


March started out with heavy snow falling and me recovering from the previous day's stomach virus.  We still managed to go out as a) I can't stand being at home not feeling great with kids climbing on me and would rather take them somewhere to be active and b) I didn't want to miss my foster mom support group.  I made sure I washed my hands well and kept my distance.  I felt better later and enjoyed a snowy walk to pick up Dinosaur.
 


  
 








Sunday, February 21, 2016

Record holder

Recently Crocodile reached the point that he has been in our home longer than any other foster child.  And still the strangest part is that we don't have a "next step" looming ahead, not for awhile.  It's unsettling, and we learn to live in feeling unsettled.

For today, I don't care.  I heard him shout with joy, not once, but dozens of times today.  Which is pretty normal for him.  I observed as he got out Rhinoceros's doll just to give it to him.  I saw him zoom down a hill on a ride-on toy, giving me a glance to connect that I was still there.  I enjoyed who he is with others around me, his bright blazing light of energy, and we couldn't contain our laughter at Crocodile and his zeal.  And there's the more normal parental stuff: we cleaned up his messes, calmed him down, helped him sleep, not fancy and often trying of our patience, but also tender and a part of love through actions that makes us better people.  He doesn't belong to us, yet he's ours in the way we beam and glow when we see how he makes others smile.

Wherever he goes, I pray his bright light, his unstoppable sunshine grin, will go with him and never dim.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Partnership with other foster parents

In training for foster care, there is a lot of discussion about relationships with birth families.  I'm very glad that this is a part of training and I always bring it up as a topic for more training and discussion.  But I didn't expect to be working together with other foster parents as much as I have.

Some connections come and go.  We've had a few connections with providing or needing respite.  Some have been more lasting, like a group I attend in which foster parents voice opinions and concerns of foster parents within the system.  There are support groups, an informal one I currently attend, an a formal one that was going, has stopped, and I'm helping to get going again.  There are online communities, answering questions and following stories, blogging and reading blogs.

The connections I didn't really expect are the ones that happen when foster parents share a case.  Because we foster one child at a time, many of our cases have involved siblings.  So, we do a lot of planning with other foster families.  We've planned sibling visits, sleepovers, parenting time schedules that work for everyone, and transitions to move a child.  Sometimes it's nice, with someone to chat about the kids with, and it's nice not to be the only foster parent attending court.  The end of visits can be crazy, though, with multiple kids going different directions.  Let's just say the conversation with birth parents I imagined when I went through training doesn't go so well when there are three foster families involved simultaneously picking up kids whose emotions are running high.

But sometimes it gets a little interesting.  What if your hopes and expectations of the case are different than another family?  What if another foster parent complains and expect you to agree, and you don't?  What if one foster family is advocating for biological family, and another foster family is more skeptical?  Ideally, we'd all be on the same page, but we all come from our own perspectives.  Thankfully, in almost every case, I've been confident that we all love the kids and want what's best for them.

Have you shared cases with other families?  How has your experience been?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Self-care goals for the year

So, it may be February already, but it's still good to look at some goals I set at the beginning of 2016 to make sure I take care of myself in this fostering life.  I was especially inspired by Maralee at A Musing Maralee to take time to reflect, define, and schedule my self-care.  I took myself out for coffee with my laptop and wrote out what I was currently doing and if it met my goals of taking care of myself and recharging or not.

1. Run twice per week early in the morning, prepare podcasts to listen to on Sunday.  I feel better when I run, and I enjoy being outside by myself in the early morning, even though it's hard to get out of bed.  I have been doing this for over a year, but I do skip if I'm not feeling 100% or if a child woke me up during the night.  I skip even though I know that 40 minutes of sleep really won't make up for the stress reduction from exercise and listening to a sermon or something that makes me laugh.  It's so hard to convince myself of that early in the morning, though.

2. Go out by myself to a coffee shop once per month.  Oops, have not done this yet.  One problem I'm finding is that I overschedule myself with so many things I want to be involved with and should be involved with, that I feel like I shouldn't leave just to be by myself and do my own thing.  I've already been doing my own thing.  I frequently leave the kids home with B for one meeting or another.  But while these things are essential to me, they aren't helping me slow down.  And sometimes I need to slow down, enjoy a coffee, and enjoy different surroundings.  One thing B and I do is take turns on sleeping in on weekends, and if I'm not actually sick or sleep-deprived, I may wake up anyway and duck out for breakfast by myself.  I did that once awhile back and it was great.

3. Go out with friends every other week, scheduled on Tuesdays but flexible if other events come up.  Lots of good things have come up lately, so maybe I don't need to schedule myself as much as I was thinking a month or so ago.  I started going to a weekly Bible study, so I'm pretty covered every week, though if I'm honest I need some fun friend outings as well.

4. Be involved in things that I'm passionate about.  This is also where I run into overscheduling, but in some ways I need to do these things.  The daily life of fostering the child in our home drives my time, emotions, and energy in many ways, and I believe in those sacrifices.  But I also want to do something outside of focusing on that one child, which includes being involved in the broader world of foster care, and also being involved in a cause completely unrelated to foster care.  The foster care activities help me feel like I have a voice and I'm not alone, and the other cause gets me excited and talking about a completely different topic.  I think I need both to be healthy, but they all take time.  I need to forgive myself when I skip something that is a part of one of those causes, because I really can't do it all.

5. Forgive yourself for convenience choices, but try to eat quality food.  I'm just realizing I need to work on this.  I used to eat fruits and vegetables non-stop, but somehow I've been feeding them to the kids and not eating them myself.  Mainly I'm just running around too much to stop and make something healthy that I enjoy eating, or I just forget that now that we have bigger kids I need to buy more produce.  In the checkout lane the other day, the clerk was incredulous about the amount of produce, and we still ran out in a week.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

First Day February 2016 - Work and Hide and Seek

The first of each month I document glimpses of my anonymous life with a happy collection of photos of unimpressive quality.  I worked a full day on February first, so not much kid time, but I did have a bit of fun with some pretty weak hide-and-seek competitors.













And yes, I skipped January because I was on vacation and giddy with leaving behind all responsibilities, including taking usable pictures for blogging.  But I will leave one here from that week to represent January.  Ahhh.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lessons Learned: Videos

It felt strange, taking so many pictures of this newborn that was not mine.  Of course it was appropriate and important, as the pictures I took would be the ones of this stage of her life.  But at the same time, I felt like I should not be the one with this role.  And it honestly did not come naturally, as I was still bonding with her, and I couldn't look forward to sharing the pictures I took with my family and friends.  Instead, I handed prints off to parents who may or may not say thank you.  I did my best, and we gave her grandma a photo book and CD of the pictures, plus we kept a copy of the photo book.  Those photo books have been wonderful for my biological kids to remember and talk about foster children who have been in our home, and those who have received the books as children have moved have been grateful.


But what I did not realize is how much I would treasure the few video clips I had.


I love little videos of my biological kids when they were younger, reminding me of their antics and how they have changed.  I sometimes try to interrupt tantrums by taking a video of them, which doesn't always work but provides pretty funny videos for later viewing.  But for foster children, I have grasped to these videos like nothing else.  There is something about the sound and action that helps reassure me: this was all real.  You loved this child with all your heart as he lived in your home, living and breathing.  Your house had this little person in it, with all her personality.  You can see him in your home.  You can see her in your arms, looking around, looking at you.


The photos may be the most important for the child and others, but one lesson I've learned is that the videos are very precious to me, and to take lots of them.  Even just sitting and waiting for to pick up Dinosaur has been a good time for it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Empathy overdrive


There are essential things you will have to live with as foster parents, but in those things, we all have different strengths.  Mine is empathy.  If I read a tragic story in the news about a child who is neglected or abused, I feel nearly physical pain for that child.  If I read a story about a parent losing his or her child and the agony of those emotions, I feel the same.  So, foster care is a great and an awful match for this natural characteristic of mine.  It's great because I am putting my empathy to use as I know I am doing some part to be there for some children going through those emotions. 


It's great because it takes a lot (though I am not perfect) to feel antagonistic toward biological parents, as I hear a part of what their brokenness as a family comes from, and I feel for them.  B does fostering out of obedience to a call from God.  I do fostering in obedience but it also comes from my heart's instincts.  It puts my empathy overdrive to good use.


It's not so great because I can't turn it off sometimes.  Dinosaur plays a computer game that involves adopting little creatures and taking care of them.  Except he doesn't take of them and plays other games in the world instead.  The creatures can desert him for this, but mostly they just sit and look sad.  This. kills. my little empathetic heart.  Okay, it probably would have anyway, but having known children in foster care be neglected, or move from home to home, I start getting really angry and lecturing him on attachment.  They're probably not my finest parenting moments.  It would be nice to turn my empathy off and recognize he's a 7-year-old playing a game learning more minor life lessons, like caring for imaginary pets before we get real ones.


It's not so great because it wears me out.  Sometimes my emotions are still wrapped up in processing and empathizing with someone that when some new need begging my attention just sets me off.  I have found I need much more alone time now that I am fostering.  I have thought about whether it's about having three kids versus two or one, or that they're small children, but I really think it's about the foster care aspect as well.  I need time to emotionally process some of the big, sad moments that I come across in my daily life.  When I hear a piece of a the story that I've never heard before.  When a child tells me a memory I've never heard before.  When a child voices and expresses feelings in a new way.  I'm knocked over again, feeling everything.  And then I need to fix lunch, and reschedule that visit, and fill out that paper.


So, to my other empathy overdrive people, read on soon for a post about self-care that I'm doing to try to help recharge this crazy heart of mine.  And for people who have supportive roles in the lives of empathy overdrive people, thank you for loving our tender hearts despite our struggles to be objective or recharge ourselves.  And thanks for not rolling your eyes too hard when you see us bawling after reading some sad news article, or hearing a song, or watching... okay, all the time.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Little mini-dream come true

Rhinoceros recently had a birthday party, and Cricket and her sister came.


I had pictured something like this for so long.  I pictured it as soon as I knew that Cricket was moving and realized the bond that Cricket and Rhinoceros had, so over the last year I have planned it out in my mind and hoped it could happen.  But even before that, I pictured it with Pterodactyl, that maybe we would be invited for a 1st birthday party.  Or for Caterpillar, that maybe we would continue playdates and be invited for his birthday party.  These didn't happen, but I am so glad that this one did.  I was worried that someone would get sick or something and it would fall apart.


Rhinoceros's first words to her: "Cricket!  Remember that I missed you?"


And seeing Cricket and her sister still brings a twinge of sadness, as I missed her, too, but it also brings joy just to see her being Cricket.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Forks in the road

We've said since we started fostering, that even the best case is devastating.  Even if the parents overcome what put the children in care, the children still suffer the loss through that temporary situation.  And much more commonly, when you see a fork in the road in a case, the two possible outcomes are both deeply sad and filled with loss.

A child loses a foster family that are the only family he truly knows, or a child loses the chance to grow up with siblings.

A child loses the chance to know and grow up with biological extended family, or a child loses the chance to be raised by an adoptive family that is the perfect fit.

A child's case is dragged by various appeals, or a child grows up and learns that no biological family fought for her.

A child can't return to biological parents who truly are good parents in many ways but are not successful in completing a plan, or a child returns to biological parents who complete a plan but can't sustain the requirements long-term and the child re-enters foster care.

A child's case is dragged out because a parent isn't consistently involved as the case demands, or a child loses the chance to be raised by a loving parent that did not actually cause the neglect or abuse.

Often I don't know what outcome to pray for.  What to celebrate or anticipate.  We expect life to be cathartic: that the right thing happens, the wrong thing doesn't, and then we feel satisfied in that.

I can feel myself becoming weighed down with the current case we're in, stories of others' cases, and our past kids.  The system is not just broken, but it's a system made up of breaking and brokenness.  It can protect children, but only so much.

So, what is my only comfort in life and in death?

That [their] lives are not my own, [or my state's own, or my agency's own, or their biological parents' own], but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to [our] faithful Savior Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all [our] sins with his precious blood, and has set me [and the children, and their parents, and their families] free from all the power of the devil.  He also preserves [these children] in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from [their] head[s]; indeed, all things must work together for [their] salvation.  Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. - Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1, with some edits.

I can be filled with anger that none of this should happen this way, that a child shouldn't have two paths ahead likely filled with brokenness.  And I can and should advocate at times.  But so far, my role has mostly been to accept the brokenness, show love, and wait.  God will meet him in the brokenness now and the brokenness ahead.  God will meet me in the waiting, in my attempts to show love, and in my own brokenness.