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.