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.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

They're all toddlers.

It suddenly occurred to me that all our current and former foster kids (except the respite placement) are in the age range of 2 to 3-years-old right now.  It just happened that way, with short-term placements, infants first and then toddlers.

What if they were all in a toddler room playing together?  Caterpillar would likely be the most chill, just watching the action.  I'm pretty sure Cricket, Pterodactyl, and Crocodile would be having some serious drama over a toy.  Lots of shouting from at least Cricket and Crocodile, with some getting in each others' faces.  I don't have a good sense about Beetle, so maybe he can just chill with Caterpillar, look at some books, play with some cars.  If they all had a race, Crocodile would win, but Cricket would be close behind, or possibly win if she could somehow distract Crocodile.

Now I'm picturing the year 2029, and by some magic imagination miracle, they're in high school together.  Maybe it's a high school musical.  Caterpillar can sing the lead, but Crocodile would have the best dance moves and could choreograph.  Cricket would direct the show, possibly do costumes.  Beetle works on the script.

These are fun thoughts to distract myself in a month that I'm trying not to worry about Crocodile's case.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Back and it's loud here

We're back from the lovely trip.  Crocodile has his volume turned up to 11, all the time.  There is also no end to his energy.  You can try to do active things, and it's still positive because he's happy when he's active, but not once has it resulted in a more chill child afterward.

I'm very thankful things were uneventful while we were gone, and this is about what we expected to come home to.  So, we close our eyes and sigh with some peaceful memories and carry on!