Sunday, April 2, 2017

It deals with me.

Sometimes I get tired of processing how foster care affects me.  I have a therapist for other reasons, and that's a good thing.  We've talked about how other things may be coming out during this break, other things about past fostering experiences, past losses and challenges.  It is good.  I have supportive people processing with me.  That's also good.  I'm a fairly reflective person, but after talking to the third or fourth person in a week about how I'm doing, sometimes I start to get monotone, start to close up and give shorter answers.

But I have to keep dealing with the grief, the stress, and the worry or it deals with me.

I felt like I had a couple rough weeks after Crocodile's move, then I was feeling unusually fine, then I was moving into what felt like "normal" missing of a special person.  I watched videos of him and felt a little sad.  I thought of things he would like to do with us and felt the loss tug my heart.  Then I moved on.  I breathed a sigh of relief that maybe this was it.

Then I started sinking down again.  I had a day of really not being okay.  I had just talked to a dear friend about how change just makes us sad, and it frustrates us that we have to endure it, we just need to.  I still felt so frustrated with myself.  I just didn't want to.

Back up, back down.  Today was a difficult start because of a dream.  I dreamt Caterpillar crossed the street running to the caseworker I was with.  He was about 4 years old.  It took him a moment, but he recognized me and just glowed.  I embraced him and picked him up off the ground.  But then he got very serious and kept saying "I made baby sick."  What baby?  We crossed the street.  There was a house with four kids, including an older baby hooked up to some otherworldly sorts of tubes.  There were no adults in the home.  Did he reunify?  What was going on?  The caseworker disconnected the baby from the tubes and we walked around together some more, Caterpillar, the baby, the caseworker and myself.  The caseworker was going on and on about how happy the baby was.  She was cute, but I was upset, anxious.  Why had Caterpillar said "I made baby sick?"  Who was taking care of these kids?

I woke up.  Soon after, Dinosaur came into our room earlier than he's supposed to and I blew up at the poor child.

It's still dealing with me, that's for sure.

Tonight, I wish I could give any of them a hug.  See a smile.  See them run to the arms of their loving caregiver and see they are loved though I can't show it to them daily.  Breathe in the scent of each child.  Exhale.

April 2013

Something made me stop and think the other day about how the dates lined up.  Were we foster parents yet when Crocodile was born?  I thought through the timelines, and no, we were a couple weeks away from being licensed.

So, I thought more about April 2013.

Dinosaur was 4.  Rhinoceros was 2.  I didn't have a child in elementary school yet.

We were stressing over licensing details, even though the process had been pretty smooth.  What on earth could we have found stressful in that?  It's hard to understand now.  I was teaching in the evenings and B was working at his old company.

Pterodactyl, Beetle, and Caterpillar were not born yet.

Cricket was a couple months old.  Was her sister taking care of her?  Her grandma that had her own issues?  Had she met Gina yet, her fictive kin "granny" that would eventually adopt her?  What did she look like?  I never saw baby pictures of her.

Crocodile was born.  It would reveal too much of his story to tell what I know about April 2013 and Crocodile.  It was a hopeful time following tragedy, but some were still tentative about that hope.  And unfortunately that hope was fleeting.  I have seen baby pictures of him, true newborn pictures that I was quick to save from Facebook and would later send on to his adoptive family.  He looks like your basic newborn, and his face changed a lot from his newborn face.  Still precious, though.

Now it's April 2017.

Dinosaur is 8.  Rhinoceros is 6.  They're both in elementary school.  They have been big brothers to five children and said five goodbyes.  They have helped, fought with, taught, played with, ignored, cuddled, and loved those five children.

I am teaching part-time during the day and B works at a new company, similar hours.

Pterodactyl, Beetle, and Caterpillar, and Tadpole are all 3 or 4 years old.  I assume Pterodactyl and Beetle were adopted by the families they moved to, but was never told for sure.  I am even less sure about Caterpillar.  Tadpole was adopted by his foster family he was with when we did respite, and I've seen him several times since.

Cricket is 5.  She has been adopted with her sister.  She'll be in kindergarten this fall.

Crocodile is 4 and is living with his new parents and five sisters, two that were there when he was that newborn in April 2013.  Hopefully they will finalize adoption this year.  I wonder and worry about those hopeful people in his life in April 2013.  I pray redemption is still ahead.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Fostering break bucket list

It's been quite a week.  The first couple of days had some normal-feeling sadness but mostly doing pretty well, relief at coming to the end.  But then a sadness I didn't expect settled in, one that wasn't wistful at missing him, but one that just had me down and crabby about everything.  Thankfully I think I'm shaking most of that off and am feeling a little more like myself, a little more ready to appreciate the break and reenergize from it.

We decided on our break length.  Three months.  This is the longest we've had, but it's after the longest placement as well.  We may have gone for two months, but B is on a work trip for a week in May, and while I know some people deal with that all the time, it is not common in our family and I didn't think it would be good timing to go back on a call list.  Because you just know we'd get a call that week.  Oh, that week is also my birthday and Mother's Day.  So, nope.

Here are some of my fostering break priorities:
- A family trip: It's always good to have a trip that is absolutely just the four of us.  We do a lot of trips that involve extended family, but it's good to just go by our own plans alone.  There's a big city within a few hours' drive that we have never been to with the kids, so we have a great Big City Trip planned.  I'm really looking forward to museums with kids who are old enough to enjoy them, in which one of us isn't burdened by running after the youngest child/children when the half-hour of interest runs out.  Rhinoceros also loves our city bus, so I'm guessing city mass transit will blow his mind.
- Family photos: I'm still working on finding something that's not outrageous but still trustworthy.  But we've never done a family session with a professional, established photographer, and it's something I really want to do before the kids get much older.  I'm also very excited to do the handprint idea.
- Having friends over: I'm a little more social than some introverts, but that energy gets drained and I'm definitely done.  As much as I dearly love Crocodile's sisters and value their bond with him, having them over for sibling visits almost every other weekend zapped my reserves for hosting any kids.  Plus we were just busier and the house was a little extra messy, you know, for 18 months.  I feel like I can catch up a little and invite people over I've never had over, and invite closer friends over (that I invited occasionally anyway amidst the chaos) more often.  Rhinoceros has a little kindergarten friends and the parents are really excited for him to come over as often as we'll have him, so we'll do that a lot.  Especially as it helps Rhinoceros to have a special friend when he's missing Crocodile as his playmate.
- Be a little more involved in my passions: Besides fostering, I am passionate about public schools and immigration.  There's a lot going on nationally with both topics, but also a lot going on in the ways that I work in these areas locally.  I can do a little more than usual with the mental energy to focus on it, and it's good to refocus.
- Re-organize and clean the house: Ugh, I don't really want to tackle these things because it's gotten so bad (Did I give up on crayon on the walls?  Maybe.), but I know it's the best time to do so.  I'll actually spring clean.  We really, really will steam-clean the carpets this spring.  I promise.
- Knit:  I have a gift to knit, and I want to get at least another project well underway.
- Read:  I haven't been reading for fun much lately, and I think it would be good to start a series that then I can continue when fostering as a way to unwind.
- Date nights:  We have two scheduled two weekends in a row, not entirely intentional, but that will be nice.  Plus we got some open gym gift certificates where you can drop off the kids if they are school-age, so we'll use those up as well.  We already just had a weekend away as a couple, so we won't do that, but we'll be really generous with the date nights.

Three months.  It will feel long, but I think it will be good and I need that space.  The kids keep talking about "the next friend that stays with us" but we think they need that space, too.  It was tempting to go even longer and make summer planning easier, but I know I would start to long to get back into the game.

Week one finished.  I'll make sure to get in some of that knitting tomorrow.

Monday, February 20, 2017

"He was my best friend."

"And now he's gone."

How am I doing since Crocodile moved?  Part wistful and a little sad, part relieved, not too many really strong emotions at this point.  Except when Rhinoceros says things like that.

He and Dinosaur will be okay.  We will walk them through it.  They aren't acting too out of character.  But they're sad, and then I get sad.

Time to plan some things to look forward to before this becomes a rut.  Time to do some special things with Rhinoceros and Dinosaur.  Time to listen to the pain and sadness, feel it myself, and then move forward again.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Transition success

Few of our transitions for a foster child leaving our home have gone as we hoped.  Thankfully, we have never had the case of a completely unexpected move of a child, like a relative being identified and the child moves that same day, or a goal change in court and a child suddenly going home with a parent.  But we have had planned transitions that speed up and slow down sporadically. 

Pterodactyl was getting prepped for a move, then it stalled, then it wasn't going to happen, then the next day it was and she moved.  Beetle changed plans where he was moving, then moved instantly, but he had only been with us such a short time.  I would still go back and change that and have visits first.  Cricket knew her new home well because of sibling visits and some overnights and weekends there.  But we had the longer-than-expected wait for licensing, then a move before we went on a trip assuming it would be complete, then a move back to us, then a final move.  Thankfully she was still excited to live with her sister, but that transition was very hard on all of us.  Only Caterpillar's was really decent.  Gradual visits then transition, and we even had a little goodbye party, though it was pretty small as he hadn't been with us long enough for a lot of people to really know of him as a part of our family.

Praise God, this was a good transition.  There was some stressful stuff for us at a couple points (a sudden attempt to change the date of the move earlier than we could handle, being asked for input then having our input ignored) but in the end and thanks to a little pushback from B, we did get the transition we hoped for.  Here's what it looked like, though keep in mind it wasn't until week 4 that we were 100% sure his adoptive family was committed to adopting him.  Let's call the adoptive family "The Youngs."

Week 1: The Youngs come over to our house with all of their kids (minus one of the adult kids) and their family and ours go sledding.  Crocodile meets them.
Week 2: Crocodile's sisters come here for a sibling visit, the Youngs drop them off.
Week 3: Crocodile goes over to the Youngs' for an afternoon.
Week 4: Crocodile goes over to the Youngs' for a full day.
Week 5: Crocodile goes over to the Youngs' for a weekend.
Week 6: Crocodile goes over to the Youngs for Friday - Tuesday.
Week 7: Crocodile moves in with the Youngs.

When the Youngs brought Crocodile back to us Tues. of "Week 6," the four adults told him about the move.  We told Dinosaur and Rhinoceros a couple days earlier, so they would have time to process without Crocodile around.

On the day before the move, we had such a positive day for our family and for him.  We had pancakes and went to a museum in the morning.  Then we had a "Crocodile's moving" party with our local support people: old friends and their kids, newer church friends and a few more kids, our babysitter and her family.  It was a uncharacteristically warm day, more like May than February, and the whole crowd played outside in our yard.  Kids and older people took turns pitching balls to Crocodile for him to hit.  People laughed and pushed kids on swings.  We felt the love of our community, Crocodile felt the love, and people who wanted some closure could have it.  It was beautiful and I wish everyone could have it each foster placement.

We had a little down time as we loaded up the van with the rest of his belongings (some had gone to his new home on Tuesday), then we took off with our whole family.  We played outside some more, saw his new room, ate dinner, and said our goodbyes with promises from his new family that they wanted us in his life.

It was a day that could not have gone much better.

And yet I still sit here the following day, with a heaviness in my chest that's increased throughout the day.  The grief that I've felt waiting and lurking since the day I met him, since I heard his name that I love, since I saw his dark scared eyes the first night, and his huge grin the next day.  The grief that waited beneath as he called me Mommy and first said he loved me, as he ran to my arms for comfort or with joy.  The grief that waited beneath as I signed the paper that said that we were not going to seek adopting him.  It takes its full place in my heart.  It isn't overwhelming me right now, as I also have some feelings of peace and relief.  But it is clearly there now.

One day at a time, I will walk through it, and I'll walk with my children.  It's what we do, and I have no regrets about it.

Valentines

On Valentine's Day, Crocodile was at the heart of a transition to his new adoptive family.  He woke up in their home.  He went with his new mom to his sisters' school and got to be there for their parties.  He went shopping with her and picked out eight balloons: two for his biological sisters, three for his soon-to-be-sisters through adoption (two are adults), two for his foster brothers, and one for himself.  Within this week, he will officially be switching from living with two brothers to living with five sisters.

Balloons were played with, balloons were chased, balloons were broken.

He made valentines for everyone as well.  For our family, for some friends, and some extras to bring a little late to his preschool for his last few days there.

We try to help him understand the move, all of us together, current parents and new parents.  It's hard to know what names to use.  It's hard to know how to express love and confidence in the plan and at the same time be sensitive to his mixed feelings.  He didn't cheer, and he didn't cry. He ran around a bit.  I think I talked too much.  He answered some of our questions.  He called me Mommy a lot and kept coming back to me.  We talk about his new school, which he has already gotten to see.  We talk about his new house.  We talk about living with his sisters all the time, forever.  We talk about coming to visit on his birthday.

He gave me a valentine that said Mom.

We will always love you, Crocodile.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

When B gets real

You don't know my husband.  But even those that do, I wonder if they do.

He's hilarious.  He's outgoing to the core, always has something to say even if it's jumping to tease someone maybe a little bit too soon.  He loves a good debate.  He self-identifies as lazy and a bit of pain in the ass.  He's not reeled in by anything sappy or touchy-feely.  A lot of his side of conversations sound like Dad stand-up comedy: "And then the toddler peed on the floor and you wonder what you've done with your life."

I wouldn't trade any of that.  Boy, does it help me take everything less seriously.  And I more than make up for taking things seriously, taking things personally, and taking on the pain and feelings of others.

But there are rare times that there is a B that comes through that does take it seriously, so seriously that it takes the air out of the room.  So seriously that he is shaking with emotion.  Not anger.  Not hurt.  Just deep, deep conviction.

This is how B was in the meeting that we had to fight for the right adoptive placement for Crocodile.

I won't go into what the options were or how we ended up with a strange amount of influence in it, but just know that had we not fought as we did, there would have been an outcome we would have questioned the rest of our lives.  I was having trouble advocating as that's not my nature at all.  I like to keep the peace.  I'm a people pleaser.  So, we made sure B was at the meeting, and I expected him to speak strongly, but I didn't quite expect this.

He laid it all out there; his heart, his convictions, and everything he believed was best for Crocodile.  And as he spoke, I saw his lip quiver.  I was actually confused what was going on.  Was B feeling okay?

He was crying.

For the second, maybe third, time in the 17 years I have known him, his eyes were full of tears.  With love for Crocodile.  With conviction for what is best.  With justice and with truth.

I cry for everything.  Rarely for justice and truth.  Usually because someone left their coat in the middle of the floor again or something.

It still has me a bit undone.  What was this strange planet this meeting was on?

At the same time, I know it is my B.  He is not just the jokes and the sighs at the toilet paper unrolled on the floor.  He may not be a "kid person" by nature, but he is a faithful, devoted parent, and one heck of a fighter for kids when it's needed.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fighting for him

I am not looking forward to breaking the news when Crocodile moves.  It's still not official news, but we're getting closer.

I've imagined it for months and months of course, but the imagined responses get more dramatic as time goes on.  Over a year and a half.  Sometimes they're based on real responses I get when I convey that he will likely move.

"But... after all this time with you?"
"I just assumed you were adopting him!"
"He's like a part of your family now."
"He's spent almost half of his life with you."
"Wow, that's going to be tough on your kids."
"Aren't you going to fight to keep him?"

And twice now we have had people involved in a case assume that we would be a competing party when we won't be.  It's so strange to clear that up.  I feel like I have to say ten times how much I love him to counter how strange "we aren't trying to adopt him" sounds.

Don't get me wrong, we would be a competing party if we needed to be for him.  I tried not to get too into imagining the scenarios, but I pictured one in which his sisters were matched with an adoptive family near us but they didn't find one for him, and we could be the family to keep them in touch.  Pretty unlikely, but maybe it could happen.  Or the search for an adoptive family went on really, really long and he was having more behavior challenges, and it was best not for him to move.  We never said never for adopting him.  But we said our answer was no until it was clear, absolutely clear, that it was not just a good option, but a necessary option.

Instead, we're fighting for him to be with his sisters.  We're fighting for him to have a good and secure transition.  We're fighting for him to be supported with services, good information, and good records.

Fighting for him means letting him go.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Acronym of the Day: TPR

TPR stands for termination of parental rights.  Online I see it used as a verb (TPR-ed) or a noun (TPR happened last month).  It means that the parents lose their parental rights to their foster children.  They can no longer have a say in how they will be raised, medical decisions and information, etc.  They have no plan to accomplish to regain custody of their children.  They are parents in history and they may possibly have parental roles in open adoption scenarios, but they are no longer legally parents.

As I said in a previous post, Crocodile's parents' rights were terminated.  He is the first foster child that we've been through that experience with.  Some of our previous cases also reached that point, but not when the children were with us, so we didn't experience it firsthand.

There is such deep sadness within TPR, and even people who believe it is the right outcome for the children feel awful during the court events that end in TPR.  The case must be made strongly, so everything possible is used against parents.  It surprised me how wrong that felt, that while I may have supported the outcome, and I wanted to object and say that some of this really wasn't that bad, and really, are we all such perfect parents?  Do they have to bring up this, and that, and that?  Can't we just boil it down to the most substantial reasons for this terrible thing, this permanent separation between parents and their children?

I expected the sadness, but I did not expect some dramatic events that happened on the day of TPR.  I won't go into detail, but the desperation was palpable. the grief so thick in the air, churning into anger.

I dream of better solutions.  Could victims of some types live in intentional communities that support them as parents, that help them heal?  Could we as a society prevent these terrible days that begin lifetimes of loss?

So many people in the room clearly wanted this day over with.  Some would walk away having spent another sad day in their professions.  We would walk away knowing we would continue to care for our foster child who would no longer visit parents, at least not for a long time, and would eventually need to process this loss.  His parents would walk away knowing a door had closed.  But I didn't see his mother walk away.  I only saw her weeping in her seat, a family member comforting her, as we quietly filed out.

Come, Lord Jesus.