Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Good, Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

I visited Baby 2 & 3 today!! I got to see them and give them presents. It was only 10 min or so and they don't remember me, but I got high fives and big smiles. Not that I needed reminding, but those boys are a part of me. I'm connected to them so deep even though it's nearly a year we've been separated. It was the best Christmas gift I could have asked for- 10 minutes with my babies.

Baby 4 is having surgery tomorrow- his 6th since he's been with us. Surgery has always been scheduled for around 6am, but tomorrow he doesn't go in until 11:45. Since he can't eat after midnight, I would like him to sleep in tomorrow as long as possible. So we stayed up late and watched A Home For The Holidays on TV together. The Dave Thomas Foundation puts this special on every year to feature families who have adopted from Foster Care and spotlight waiting children.  I told 4 it was about families like ours. The kids weren't safe in their 1st house, so they went to live with a new family. We talked very briefly about adoption where I explained that in foster care, the Mommy and Daddy are working really hard to make their house safe so the kids can go back. In adoption, the kids never move back; they stay with their new family forever. Baby 4 said, "Well, I'm staying forever.". It would have been the cutest moment ever if the next part hadn't happened. Not even 30 seconds after he professed his intention to stay with us forever, 4 informed me that he would like to "adopted Justin Beaver forever, but I'll miss you". Well, there you go!

The Bad

I'm exhausted. That pretty much covers it. Dr's, therapists, and caseworkers all want to get their visits in this week because most take vacation next week. Appointment after appointment round here.

The Ugly

I feel like I owe you the real truth about foster care and the impact it's had on us. Here's the ugly truth: Even the strongest support doesn't ensure foster care won't tear your family in two.

This week, in light of Baby 4's recent behaviors and ongoing teaching and re-teaching appropriate social skills, my extended family turned on me. I heard about how lenient I am- "letting" Baby 4 be disrespectful and bringing embarrassment on myself and this family member. Then I heard from the other side how I'm way too hard on 4- "He's just being a boy" and I need to give him more slack. After several heated arguments where I chose my son over everything else important, I have been disowned by one of my parents while the other one has chosen to separate themselves from me until everything blows over. Apparently everyone else shares an opinion with one side or the other and we've been quite the conversation topic "ever since you got him".

NONE of these people know the dirty details of what 4 has been through. NONE of these people have experienced PTSD or chronic anxiety in themselves or their children. NONE of these people have parented a child who has suffered loss and trauma the way 4 has. NONE of these people has ever tried to parent someone else's 4 yr old. NONE of these people have researched trauma, loss, bonding, and attachment the way we have, and NONE of them have had to be around Baby 4 for longer than a couple of hours.

I am not the perfect parent. I don't have all (or even most) of the answers. I am the only one of us who stepped up to help a kid who needed a Mom, and I feel like if you could do it better then you should.

It was not even a choice worth thinking about to stand by Baby 4 over someone who shares my DNA but was willing to disband their whole family because they couldn't understand my parenting style. I choose my child. I choose to be the type of parent I wish I had- one who will NEVER leave. I will spend Christmas with my sons while some others may choose to spend Christmas alone. That's the ugly that foster care can bring out of people.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hodgepodge Post

I've been a neglectful blogger. Lots of foster stuff has been happening, and I feel like it's all I can do to come along for the ride. There's no way I'm going to produce something eloquently written or pleasant to read, so I thought I'd just mash up a bunch of updates in one messy post and let you sift through at your own risk.

  • We had court for baby 5 last week and there were no changes made to his situation. This means he will definitely be with us for Christmas through January 26th- when we go back to court.

  • In court, the county recommended that his parents do a program with him that is supposed to support bonding and attachment. Since his primary bond is with us right now and the plan is still to move him very soon, this program would have benefited him greatly. After some banter between lawyers, the judge asked the baby's attorney what she thought and she said she was OK with the parent not taking the program. I was furious, but it got worse from there

  • After court I flagged the attorney for the child down and asked her for an appt where she could meet Baby 5- her client. Her response? "Oh, I don't think I can do that." What?! You are supposed to see the child you are representing. She went on to tell me that she has already met him and has notes from that meeting. No. See, he's an infant who never leaves my side- so it would be impossible for me to miss a meeting between him and his lawyer. I double checked with the caseworker just to make sure no meetings occurred at visits. The law guardian has never seen this baby. she has no idea what his temperament or special needs are- she has no idea ho visits are going and she fabricates meeting notes. Next month she'll go to court and advocate for what she believes is his best interest without knowing anything about him. I literally had to write down my contact info for her and walk away before I turned ugly. We'll see if she calls me.

  • Baby 4 has started some out of control behavior in the past week or so. He got hit in the eye by a boy at school because 4 threw a book at him. Then he was completely rude and uncooperative at a Christmas activity with his therapist. The next day I caught him trowing a teddy bear at Baby 5's head. Whether its all the talk of Christmas, his upcoming surgery, or baby's return home- he's spinning downward and I'm losing patience.

  • Good Moms probably don't make faces behind the back of their preschoolers. Noted.

  • I probably need to take respite, but there is so much at stake. Whatever good behavior 4 is showing now could regress if I place him in respite. I would have to move 3 machines and 5 medications to a respite home and make sure they are comfortable with his medical needs and then turn around and bring all of that back home and get it set up again- which is exhausting to even think about. Baby 4 has lived in five different homes in his 4 yrs of life. Moving and having different caregivers is normal to him- a "normal" that I am trying to break. I want him to feel secure in his place here, and respite seems to negate that.

  • Baby 4's birthday is next month and I'm getting excited about his party!!! Naughty or not- he deserves to celebrate big after all he's been through this past year. He was injured only 7days after his 4th birthday and then placed with me after leaving the hospital. Making it to 5yrs old took a strength I could never even hope to have myself.

  • After an issue that I don't even want to think about long enough to type it, I was told by my homefinder that I work so well with Bio parents and appear so confident, that my kids caseworkers often leave the brunt of problem solving on me when they would step in with other foster parents. Read: we punish you for being good.

  • Secret: I do not like extending myself to bios. It's inconvenient and threatening to my fragile ego. I do it because I'm convinced this is best for my kids and I would walk on hot coal for my kids if it was best for them. It's also what Jesus would do.

  • My Mom took Baby 4 to a live Nativity where he loudly announced that Dominic the Donkey brought Mary and Jesus to Bethlehem. Score 1 for proper religious training.

  • My 1st group of Fosterlings graduated from MAPP last week. We only had 3 select out over the 10 weeks. I loved training MAPP and can't wait to do it again in March.

I'm sure my will to write will come back soon and then you won't have to sort through bullet points to figure out what Foster Care looks like on Christmas week. Talk soon!

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Damage Control

    The results from court yesterday were undeniably in my favor. Baby 5 is going to stay with us for the next 2 weeks until they can officially discuss visits with Dad and in what capacity he'll be involved in 5's custody and placement. Until then, the county offered 1 visit/week. Considering the caseworker told me to be ready to pack him on Thursday, this was a win for us.

    But in my gut, I know this baby is going home. I know there is no legal reason to keep him away from his Father. I get so angry with the system for dragging it out like this. This Dad- who had nothing to do with the placement of his child in foster care- is going to come to court every 2 weeks, probably for months,until the judge is in the mood to reunite them. There is no caseplan for Dad to work- his background and home are cleared for Baby 5 to go to him and there are no mental health or drug concerns. I sympathize with this Dad and I'm frustrated that his family has to be more broken than necessary to fit the court's process.

    A lot of what we do in Foster Care is about damage control. In MAPP we call it reducing trauma. What's going to happen is going to happen, but we can make wise decisions about how to go about these changes. Taking Baby 5 from us and sending him right to Dad with no visits would have been horrific no matter how great Dad is. Making a baby stay and bond even further with us for months knowing you're going to move him is wrong too. Doing a several visits from a few hours, to all day, to one overnight, to two overnights eases Dad into parenting and let's baby experience his new surroundings before he thrown into it permanently.

    So when the caseworker said she would set up the first visit for next Saturday, I pressed her to set one up for this Saturday as well. And I advocated for lengthening the visit time a little every weekend to smooth the transition for my baby. This resulted in me having to transport today for baby's 1st visit with his Dad. Since Dad lives outside our county, we only bring baby to the county line and meet Dad in a Walmart parking lot, then he brings baby to his house. Next week, transportation will be set up from my house to the county line, so I won't have to drive him.

    I'm always reinforcing with Baby 4 about having love instead of selfishness. When he shares (or refuses) I ask: "Is that love or selfish?" and we praise showing love because that makes Jesus happy. When I see selfishness in him, I work hard to squeeze it out. When he's asking for more toys every time we go to the store or whines about the snack I gave him, I immediately reduce the toys or snack he already has and we start from the beginning- "You are not getting anything new until you are appropriate with what you have.".

    Now it's my turn to practice. Am I going to be really sad and see this transition for the loss it causes in my family? Am I going to wish and want one more week? Christmas? New Year? Or can I take this opportunity to shower this baby and his Dad with love and help them come together as quickly and seamlessly as possible? Because that makes Jesus happy.

    I'm thankful that I got to meet and talk to Dad and I'm confident he loves his son. These next few weeks will be all about maintaining perspective as the love v. selfishness war wages in me. It's damage control for Baby 5 and in my own spirit.

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    The Talk

    Here's how it went last night before bed:

    Me: Do you remember what kind of family we are?

    Baby 4: Tell me

    Me: We're a Fo-

    Baby 4: Foster Family!

    Me: That's right! Kids come to live with us when it's not safe at their house. We keep them safe while their parents work on making their house better. You came to live with us so that you didn't get sick or hurt at your house, remember?

    Baby 4: Yes! (Insert details of his trauma)

    Me: I know, I'm very sorry that happened. Baby 5 came to live with us because it wasn't safe at his house either and now we're a family. Do you know that your Mommy, Daddy, and Relative Resource are working very hard to make their houses safe so you can go there?

    Baby 4: Why?

    Me: Because they love you so much! Baby 5's Mommy and Daddy are working hard to make their house safe for him too. You are pretty lucky to have so many people who want you at their house. If baby 5 can go live with his Mommy and Daddy, will we still be family?

    Baby 4: Yes

    Me: Yes, we can still love each other even if we don't live in the same house.

    Baby 4: Can you sing Jingle Rock?

    Me: Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock......

    Court is this morning for Baby 5 and ,since I have no idea what's going to happen, it's really difficult to prep Baby 4. I hope I'm making it easier for him. We'll see in just a few hours.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Minutes - Days - Months - Forever

    Baby 5 is a little over 4 months old, but today was his 4 month Dr. appt. He is 80th percentile for height and 50th for weight and head. He's going to be a basketball player!! He got his shots and I cried- it's so sad to see your baby in pain!

    We will have had Baby 5 for exactly 15 weeks tomorrow. He fits so nicely into our lives. It feels like he's been here forever. At the same time, I feel like he's been here for just a few moments, it's gone by so fast!

    No matter what, I'm so happy that we met this little guy. Even with all the terrible truths about the foster care system- the poor choices, injustice, heartache, loss, anger- the simple fact that we get to love beautiful children and watch them grow makes it all worth it.

    Teeny Tiny Baby Shoes!!!

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    Liebster Blog Award

    Liebster is a German word which means "dearest" or "beloved". It is also used to refer to as someone's "favorite" and the idea of the Liebster Blog Award is to bring attention to blogs with less than 200 followers that deserve more recognition and encouragement.

    I was nominated by Jess over at My Notes On TTC and Life . She is a strong Christian woman who courageously shares her journey through fertility treatments

    There are certain rules that come with the Liebster Blog Award
    1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
    2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
    3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
    4. Hope that the people you've sent the award to forward it on to their five favorite bloggers and keep it going!

    I have so many favorite blogs, but the ones who stand out currently are:

    Mama Foster - Mama Foster has been a huge support for me. She goes through some very difficult things with her children and their families, but maintains a Christ-like love that I admire greatly.

    Cherub Mamma - Another Christian Foster Mom who has also been blessed through adoption! She has the experience of bringing new children into a family that already has kids. She also has a special needs child who requires a lot of extra advocating and patience. Cherub Mamma holds no punches when describing the difficulties and joys of Foster Care and reading her posts always gives me the extra oomph to hang in there with my own cases.

    I Must Be Trippin' - Tammy is a single Foster Mom who has had the sweetest little ones placed with her. She maintains an excellent post-reunification relationship with one of her children, and reading about it inspires me to dig deeper with our bios. She's also hilarious and can joke about the frustrating things in Foster Care.

    Read The Books, Make Up the Rest - Daphne and her husband are just beginning their story with their 1st placement of 2 boys! I love peeking into their excitement as they navigate Foster Care as newbies.

    Inside the Parent Trap - Mitzy is also a new foster Mom with her fist placement of a baby boy! Mitzy has bio-teens as well, adding a little spin to her foster experience. 

    Thank you for the award Jess! and Congratulations to all the other Liebster Blog Award Nominees!!

    Thursday, November 24, 2011


    They don't make sufficient words for how thankful I am

    "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!" Psalms 107:1

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    Just Like That

    This is why sane people don't do Foster Care

    Because on a Wednesday, as you are holding the most perfect baby ever made, a caseworker can call and tell you that the paternity results have come in and she wants to move baby as soon as possible to someone he has never seen before.

    Just like that
    You get up and plan your next couple of days: You are going to pretend to enjoy Thanksgiving- telling yourself that these last few moments are precious and not devastating. Then you are going to call this person- that has never held your child, but can come in after 4 months and take him away- and try to tell them that baby gets overstimulated easily, but if you let him go in just a diaper and walk around with him facing out he will calm down. He likes rocking, but not bouncing. He always needs a diaper change 10 minutes after  bottle- even if you just changed him before feeding. He loves blowing kisses and funny faces. Black Friday won't be about finding great deals on toys, but on plastic totes for packing toys and clothes.

    The agency is closed until Monday, so you have to call your caseworker now.

    She asks, "How do you feel about all of this?"

    You don't want to cry on the phone with the person you'll be begging for a baby from in a couple of weeks. So you say, "I expected this, but saying goodbye is never easy."

    The honest truth is that doing foster care is THE most painful thing someone can do. You have to fully invest yourself in a child. Be their parent- defend that role viciously- and root for someone else who wants to tear them away from you. You know it'll hurt you if they leave. You know it'll hurt them either way. How am I feeling about all of this?! I'm feeling broken to pieces.

    This is why sane people don't do Foster Care

    Because on a Wednesday, as you are taking inventory of little jars of veggies and cans of formula that you'll have to pack soon, a caseworker can call you and tell you that Dad refused to visit with Baby and anything could happen next week at court.
    Just like that
    You settle a little bit. Someone who doesn't even want to see their child surely won't get custody, right?

    Then you get mad. How could ANYONE say no to this perfect baby?!

    Sad again- The system fails all the time, and your son could still be sent to live with someone who has never seen him and refused to visit. The judge may never even hear about that anyway.

    I'm not sane.

    Baby 5 could be sent to his Dad as early as next Friday when we have court. Or Dad could skip court and 5 can stay with us through the end of the year. Or the judge could be distracted by the Christmas season and adjourn our case again until January. Or she could insist visits happen first.
    On December 2nd at 9:30 (probably more like 11:45) a judge will decide how our story goes.

    Just like that

    This is why sane people don't do Foster Care

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    20 Year Old Me

    I took some time today to read through my journal from 2006. I was 20yrs old, married 1yr, working my 1st real job teaching preschool, and just becoming aware of our fertility issues. Ironically, I was also becoming acutely conscious of Foster Care, but never thought it would touch my family so directly.

    5 years ago this month I wrote:
    "Found out that the parents of 2 boys we have at school died in an accident today. The police had to come to school and tell the boys. They were foster parents and the brothers were taken to a new foster home from school. It makes everything I go through seem so trivial"

    "I took a pregnancy test today."

    "I took a pregnancy test today."

    "Maybe God is just waiting to bless us with a baby and we won't have fertility issues forever"

    "I took a pregnancy test today." - Yep- I'm a home pregnancy test addict, 2yrs sober :)

    "Went to the wake for Mr. and Mrs. Foster Parent. I found out they wanted to adopt the boys but never got to. They set up a fund for them to go to college and all the gifts and donations that come in are going to be for the boys. They changed these kids lives even after they died. It's so sad."

    I had no idea what Brandon and I were really getting ready for. All the frustration and sadness brought us to a place where we could take the direction to switch paths. God wasn't waiting to bless us with A baby, but several babies. I've never carried a child in my body, but I've birthed a legacy bigger than any dream I ever had. We went from a world filled with doubt and disappointment to a world of hope and purpose. I never thought for a second I could help a child who needed a Mom. I was willing to settle for normal and expected. It never crossed my mind that ordinary people can affect extraordinary change.

    20 year old me was really innocent and genuine. If I could go back and talk to her. I'd say, "Hang on, it keeps getting better from here. Oh, and you'll save enough money to take a lavish vacation if you stop buying $12 pregnancy tests twice per week.". I wouldn't change a single experience, even the negative ones, because I needed to learn how to heal after loss and deal with disappointment. I needed to long for a dream to make me thankful for the blessings that I have. Even though my intentions were good 5 yrs ago, if I would have gotten what I wanted I would have missed everything that I cherish today.

    These past five years went by so fast and ,WOW, did they bring a lot of change. The decision to post this was really rooted in reminding myself how fast life moves and to trust the process. Today's pain and frustration may just become tomorrow's great treasures. I appreciate 20 year old me for learning all the hard stuff, and writing really funny journal entries that were intended to be "deep".

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Long Story Short:

    Baby 4 is staying safely where he is until May.

    We waited 3 hrs in the lobby before being called in for court. I sat with everyone who was there for the hearing. We were the most awkward little group, but we made great small talk about stuffed peppers and school pictures. It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected.

    The actual time spent in court was around 20min. The county proposed keeping our goal of return to parent and the attorney's of 4's parents agreed to that. That basically extended the county's custody of him for another 6 months while his parents work on their case plans.

    Foster Care Fun Fact- Parents who are incarcerated or otherwise detained (like mental health institutions) for extended periods of time are still expected to work a case plan and get their kids out of foster care within 15 months before termination. So being in prison for the next 20 years is not a reason for the county to stop working with you to get your child back.

    After that was settled, the judge asked if anyone wanted to be heard about the relative resource situation. RR's lawyer said they wanted him placed with her. The county said that would be detrimental to his well being because of all his medical needs. The judge said she agreed with the county and we will come back in May to see if Baby 4's stay in care needs to be extended again.

    We had our last Relative Resource visit today and she will be leaving on Monday. She called me "Mommy" to Baby 4, which took me off guard. She also didn't bring him the present she promised, and instead gave me $10 and asked me to take him to the store to pick out a toy. Again, it's not about the item, it's that she broke a promise to him that I'm upset over. She should have just never said anything about a gift if she didn't intend to get him anything. At least it's over though.

    Now I get to breathe. This is in no way an end to the drama with relative resource or 4's case in general, but it's a little oasis where we can know Baby 4 will be celebrating Christmas in a safe place with a stable family who loves him.

    I'm so thankful for all the prayers and encouragement we've received as we prepared for the worst. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    It's here

    November is here.

    How is Thanksgiving next week? It was August like 4 seconds ago. This month is full full full of foster craziness.

    Court is here.

    We had court for Baby 5 today. I was running late and rushed around like a maniac to get there 10 min. late, wait for an hour and a half, then go into the court room for 3min. This is an alarmingly detailed account of what happened:

    Judge: This docket number blah blah blah concerning the welfare of the blah family.
    (To Mom's Lawyer) Do you need time to talk to your client about blah blah blah or are you ready to address this now?
    Mom's Lawyer: I would like an adjournment
    Judge: Ok, so we'll come back on December 2nd

    Frustration is here.

    Then we left. No talk of THE CHILD because that would just be silly.

    I'm pretty sure we could solve this state's budget issues by eliminating all of the unnecessary court hearings. I wish court appearances like this were unusual, but it has been our experience that they are all too common.

    I tried to grab Baby 5's attorney (Guardian Ad Litem), but she buzzed out of the courtroom without even looking up at the crazy woman waving her down. She hasn't tried to contact me about meeting 5. I find it ridiculous that she can speak to the best interest of a child without ever seeing said child.

    Relief is here.

    No moves for Baby 5 at least until December 2nd and probably longer than that.

    Changes are here.

    Baby 4 had his first supervised visit with Relative Resource today. I was waiting in court, so Brandon transported to the visit. From what we can gather, 4 is handling it well. We saw regression in him in the past few weeks as we've prepared him for this. The visit today was right before Preschool, and I thought for sure he'd act up. He did OK, though.

    I put together a picture book of Baby 4's stay with us to give to Relative Resource. It included pictures of every hospitalization and celebration we've gone through together. I wanted her to see how much love and support he has had. I wanted her to see how much he has really gone through and what change that has caused in him. I wanted her to have all those pictures just in case Baby 4 is ordered to live with her. Those pictures will be the most accurate description of these past 8 months as he grows and needs to remember.

    Baby 4 painted a clay heart and made a playdough sculpture for her as well. He told her last week when she called that he had a present for her. He was so excited. She told him she was bringing him a present as well. She didn't.

    Aggravation is here.

    Really? It's not that he needs a gift, but this person wants to be his legal guardian and primary caregiver and the 1st thing she does to establish that connection is make empty promises?

    Fear is here.

    Court is tomorrow for Baby 4. They are deciding if he will go to live with Relative Resource out of state or stay in care with us.

    I got the court report that was written by 4's caseworker and was sent to his parents, relative resource, the law guardian, and the judge. This report listed all the scary things that could happen if 4 gets taken out of our house right now. It spoke of how well he's doing and how fragile that progress is. DHS is not recommending his move, but the judge has ultimate say and our judge is known for leaning heavily in favor of maternal bio-figures.

    So when he gets sent to her, I'll have official documentation of what I should be fearful of. Excellent.

    Nausea is here.

    Tomorrow I will be meeting relative resource and we will almost certainly have over an hour together while we wait for court. This is awkward and tricky. Acting experience is a great prerequisite for Foster care. Smiling through nervousness and listening to people who are saying ridiculous things without showing your emotions and opinions all over your face are tough skills.

    Just the logistics of packing this kid up in a hurry is upsetting. The amount of stuff he has accumulated is almost comical. I don't know how they are going to get it down to where she lives.

    I have felt like I just got off a spinning carnival ride since Monday morning. They don't make a pink liquid to ease foster care tummy troubles.

    God is here.

    "It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”     Deuteronomy 31:8

    "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." John 14:27

    I have to believe. I have to stand firm on faith because if I thought my child's fate was in the hands of DHS and Family court, there would be no point in any of this.

    It's here.

    Either everything changes or everything stays the same. We'll see tomorrow.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Mortifying Mommy Moments

    So... kids are embarrassing, right? That's not a foster care thing- it's just life, I guess.  Baby 4 has a great way of bringing the most obscure story into the most inconvenient moment. I love him and all, but if the county permitted muzzle-ing a child- I would consider doing it :)

    I should have known to watch myself when 4 announced to a church children's wing full of people, "Teresa has a tattoo on her butt!", after someone complimented his temporary tattoo. For the record- I have a tattoo on my back- it's my back.

    Apparently I learn slowly, though.

    First- a little back story. Baby 4 is fully potty trained during the day, but still wears pull ups at night. I'm of the persuasion that kids will night train when they're ready. We haven't had any problems until about a month ago. Baby 4 started waking up between 3am and 5am. He would take off his pullup, and come downstairs. I would then remind him that we wake up at 6:30 and send him back to his room to play or look at books. He would then fall back to sleep and wet the bed

    After this happened 3 or 4 times, I walked Baby 4 through his new morning routine. I told him he can go potty in the morning and leave his pullup on or change his pullup when he wakes up (something he has the skill to do). I really stressed that he keep  pullup on while he's in his room because he might fall asleep and it's hard to remember to use the potty when you're sleeping.

    Then it happened a couple more times, so I took him through it a different way. I took 4 by the hand into my bedroom and said, "Ok, so if I'm sleeping and I feel like I have to pee, what should I do?". We went through it- I should go potty but sometimes it's hard to remember so I might wet the bed. That would make me feel yucky. I'd smell stinky and so would the bed. Brandon would NOT be happy at all about it. I'd have to work hard to clean the bed, my clothes, and myself. Then if I want to go back to bed I should put on a pullup so it doesn't happen again.

    He seemed to get it and we haven't had any issues in around 4 days.

    Baby 4's caseworker comes over today for her bi-weekly homevisit and she takes 4 upstairs to speak to him privately. I'm not sure exactly what they talk about, but I'm pretty sure she wants to make sure I'm not chaining him to the radiator and feeding him only saltines and water. Somehow during this conversation baby 4 reveals that he doesn't pee in the bed anymore, but Teresa still forgets to wear a pull up, so Brandon has to sleep in pee and he's NOT happy about it.

    The caseworker came downstairs and asked me about it. SO.EMBARRASSING!!!

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Halloween Hangover

    I'm not big on Halloween. We never celebrated when I was growing up. I never picked a pumpkin or dressed up until Baby 1's first Halloween. My impression is that preparing for Halloween is 10x's more fun than the actual day. I love buying costumes and picking pumpkins. I love making Brandon tie cornstalks around our porch. I love having a reason to wear my makeup really heavy and eat snack size skittles. I could do without carving pumpkins or trick or treating in the cold (it snowed last year while we were out!!).

    I'm really glad that our kids have always been little enough not to care if we miss some steps on Halloween. This year was no different. We picked and carved pumpkins, bought super cute costumes and skittles, then trick or treat-ed at one house- my Dad's. Baby 4 had a party in his classroom that his Dad came to- which was really nice.

    I have to say I'm glad it's over. I'm make-up and skittled out. Today we ate vegetables and put the costumes away.

    Saturday, October 29, 2011

    Phone Tricks

    At the Foster parent panel that we spoke on last month, we picked up a fun phone trick from one of the other foster families. They use Google Voice for all calls between them and their child's Biofamily. Google voice is a free service that allows you to create a phone number that will ring any and all of your phones without effecting the telephone service you have now. This means you can give your bios this phone number and have it ring at your house, your cell, and your partner's cell so you don't miss a call from them. I actually didn't sign up for this function since my cell phone is always on me, but I can see how other people might find it convenient.

    What I love about Google voice is that it can't be traced back to your address like home phone numbers or some cell phone numbers can be. You don't even provide that information to Google at all when signing up- just your phone number and email address.

    I also like that because it is not connected to your real number, you can disconnect or change it if the situation with the Bios becomes unsafe and it won't effect the rest of your calls on your real number. On the flip side, you could also change your real number (like if you move into another area code) and keep your Google voice number so that the bios (or kids that have gone home) can reach you by dialing a number that is local to them.

    It also will transcribe all of your voicemails and text sent to your google phone number into an email. This is PERFECT for foster care where we are supposed to document everything. One of our cases had a parent who became very hostile with us at times. This parent would leave me angry voicemails that I would save and let the caseworker listen to later. I wish I would have had a written transcript of those messages to give to the caseworker and child's attorney.

    Fun trick, right? I thought so too. Since everyone involved with our current cases already has our real number, I won't be using this much until the next placement. I'm really glad I know about it though!!

    While we're on the topic of phones- You've probably heard me talk about "Hallelujah Calls" from our county's matchers. This is a cute blog name for the call, but it's also the ringtone I have set for their numbers. Having the matchers' numbers programed in my phone with a specific ring helps me know that I need to pick up the phone and not let it go to voicemail. Here is the link to the free ringtone. Just put in your phone number and they'll text to you: Hallelujah Chorus Ringtone

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Dear Fosterlings

    About a month ago we got an exciting opportunity to speak on a panel to a class of prospective foster parents who are getting ready for certification and their families. We were supposed to talk about our experience and give some tricks of the trade to these new fosterlings. When Brandon and I were going through our initial training there were nurses from foster care's pediatrician office, a matcher, a homefinding caseworker, a management worker, an adoption worker, and 3 foster families. On this panel there were 6 foster families and 1 management worker. Foster parents LOVE.TO.TALK. It is what it is- we have a lot to say. By the time it was our turn to tell our story, I felt pressed to finish up quickly and I only said about half of what I wanted to tell the class. I tried to stick to stuff that the other families hadn't talked about, and I ended up making us sound like we only take respites. I kicked myself all the way home thinking, "I should have said this. I should have said that. They need to know this stuff!!!". I did say, "Go read some foster care blogs!", so maybe they'll stumble upon this post. I know at least one of them found us- Hi Rachael!!

     Here's my experience and tricks- for fosterlings:

    Hi, My name is Teresa Foster Parent. My husband an I have been foster parents for a little over 2 years. We have seen 13 children come into our home during that time- 5 placements and 8 respites. After our last MAPP class, it took a little less than a month to become certified. It was 2 weeks from our official 1st day open to bringing home our 1st child.

    We got the call for our 1st baby- a healthy newborn-  at noon and we picked him up at 6pm. He came with just a onesie and enough formula for 2 bottles. I had gone to Walmart before picking him up and had what we needed already. Trick- have some money set aside for new placements. We spend $250-$300 on our first couple of Walmart runs for our kids. Since the clothing check and daily stipend won't come for 6weeks after the child is in your home, you'll need to have cash on hand. Also, even though our kids are automatically qualified for WIC, it can take up to a month to actually get an appointment, so you'll be buying formula until then and that money does not get reimbursed. We replace our "new child" fund when the child's 1st check comes in.We were initially told he would stay for 3 months, and he stayed for 8 months before returning to his Dad. He had 5 visits/ week because his parents didn't get long well enough to visit together. Eventually he was doing 2 supervised visits during the week with Mom and spent weekends with his Dad. I learned with him how unpredictable court can be- we had him packed and ready to leave several times over those 8 months only to have the judge extend his stay with us. We went to court with him every other week for 8 months. How often you go to court solely depends on the judge. The judge in our next case only held court every 4-6months. Trick- Go to court when possible. It will give you a better picture of what's happening in the case, and let the judge see you and see that you are there for the kid. You will also have the chance to interact with the child's parents and lawyer. When the baby was returned we had 11 days notice before the move.

    3 days before our 1st baby went home, we got the call for a sibling group. The boys were 18 mo and newborn. We had 20 minutes between the call and picking up our 2nd son. He was in the CPS investigators car on his way to the agency when the matcher called and I got there as fast as I could. I brought him with me to Walmart that day. He had only the clothes on his back and a coat that the caseworker had in her office. Everything was bought and ready when his little brother was released from the hospital (with no possessions) 2 weeks later. The judge ordered jail visits with one of the parents for the boys every week. I accompanied the children and their caseworker to the jail 3 times. Trick- transport children to their visits when you can and really try to do the 1st visit so you can meet the parents and start positive communication. Parents will usually cause less trouble for you if you extend yourself to them We were still at the supervised visit level when Dad asked to have the boys for Christmas. There wouldn't be anyone to transport or supervise on Christmas day, but the judge left it to the "county's discretion". We decided that it would be best for our sons to have both of their families on Christmas. We had our relatives over for Christmas breakfast and presents and then did dinner at their Dad's house. We offered to supervise the 3hr Christmas day visit. Trick- you will never regret going above and beyond for the children you love.

    We were childless for 3 weeks before getting the call for our 4 yr old. During that time we got several calls for children who were out of our age range. Trick- It's really important to be honest about your families abilities and comfort zone. We don't have any older children in our family or close friends, and we haven't ever worked with high functioning older children. There is a lot to be said for people who can stretch beyond their ideal placement and help an older child than they expected. However, if you legitimately can not parent a child they call you for, you have to say no for the sake of the child. No child deserves a parent that wishes they never took him. We have said no at least 10 times since being certified and they always call us again with children in our age range. Saying no will not make the matchers dislike you. Our 4 yr old son is medically frail and we needed a lot of training to care for him. While he has been our most challenging child, he has also been the most rewarding. We have seen him progress so much this year.  Taking a child with special needs requires more time and advocating than other placements. Since his condition can become life threatening and his family and caseworker were not proficient in his care, I have had to stay with him in visits and have spent quite a bit of time in the hospital and at appts. All of his medical expenses are covered as well as his equipment and supplies. I've never even had to purchase a gauze pad out of pocket. There is so much support provided for foster parents who take in medically fragile or behaviorally challenged children- including respite care where the child can spend some time in another foster home while you take a short break. Trick- When you get certified, you will be assigned a Homefinding caseworker. This is YOUR caseworker- she's the one who will do your yearly re-certs and will be available to provide support when you get placements. You'll be working closely with your child's caseworker, but they won't be helping you work through your feelings or figure out your role. Lean on your Homefinder, she will be very valuable to you. There have been many times when my homefinder has been able to help me sort out confusing or frustrating things that come up in our cases.

    We had Baby 4 for 6months when we got the call for a newborn being released from the hospital. We got the call at 5:30 on Thursday and I picked him up at 3:00 on Friday. So far his case has been relatively uneventful. We were matched with him because we had provided respite for his sister when she was in care. Trick- Say yes to some respite calls. We've taken 8 kids for respite, and we love it. It's basically babysitting, and at the very least it will help you network with other foster families and it could lead to a placement for you. I've even heard of cases where the foster family decides not adopt a child in their care and the family that did respite was able to adopt that child.

    Some other tips we have are:

    Give the child's parents copies of pictures you take while you have them. It will help you build a relationship with them, and it will allow your child to have pictures of special times when they go back home. The pictures you take may be the only baby picture or 1st day of school picture that's ever taken of them.

    Go to the trainings offered by the county. Foster parenting is hard and we can use all the preparation we can get. There is a legal training and "saying Goodbye" training that are excellent. The class you should take ASAP is Fostering the Sexually Abused Child. At some point, most foster parents will deal with issues talked about in that class. It's sad, but true and you don't want to get caught off guard.

    Document everything you do in foster care. Keep receipts of all the clothing you buy the child, have a notebook for each child where you write down when you speak to the caseworker, child's attorney, parents or other family, etc. I like to keep most of my communication with caseworkers on email, so I have a paper trail.

    Call or email the matchers when you want children placed with you. Remind them of any special training or experience you have and if you'll take any special needs. The fresher you are in their mind when they get a child to place, the quicker you'll get a call.

    Read Read Read!! There a lot of great books you should pick up, but get these 2 first:

    Success As A Foster Parent: Everything You Need To Know About Foster Care is a very great resource and an easy, fast read that comes from the National Foster Parent Association

    Go to some free sample websites and look for offers for free samples of diapers or formula. Pampers and Huggies offer these periodically, and it's an easy way to have some extras around the house just in case you need a diaper to hold a new baby over while you run to the store.

    There's still so much more, but I've been working on this post for a month now so I think this is enough. There is so much to say to new foster families. This journey is hard and long. You'll feel like you're lost sometimes. However, there are some really great companions traveling the same road, so reach out to them. Every tough time is more than made up for in smiles, hugs, and silly dances. Having a real impact on your community and another human being is amazing. You won't regret it.

    Concurrent Planning = Emotional Entrapment

    Most foster parents are aware of ASFA. The Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act was signed into law in 1997 and changed foster care in many ways- one was shortening the time a child can be in care. No longer could kids float around the system for years and years while their parents continue to make zero progress towards getting them back. Now, Termination of parental rights and an alternate permanency goal can be pursued after a child has been in care for 15 of the past 22 months.

    Then NY enacted their own ASFA in 1999 which tightened up how we do things in these parts. One of the biggest was how we plan for permanency when a child enters care. ASFA encourages concurrent planning. In concurrent planning there are 2 "tracks" towards permanency moving along at the same time. The first is always "return to parent", and the other can be adoption, legal guardianship, permanent placement with a fit and willing relative, or another planned and permanent living arrangement which could include independent living, group home, or nursing home. This concurrent planning helps keep our time frame for achieving permanency for our kids and prevents incidents of children lingering in care after their parent's rights have been terminated.

    All of our kids have had concurrent plans of "Return to Parent" and "Adoption" with us listed as that adoptive resource. We want to adopt, and we've been sincere about being ready to adopt any and all of our kids. BUT we are well-trained foster parents and we know that reunification is the goal of foster care, and we've been as supportive of that as possible. I, specifically, have done ridiculous things to aid reunification including but not limited to: driving a Dad to his substance abuse treatment program, facilitating a visit on Christmas Day when no county workers were willing, and most recently (yesterday) booking a flight for relative resource to come here for court. She paid for the ticket, but I went online, found the best price, secured her seat, printed the confirmation and mailed it to her. What?! I know!!!

    I don't want to keep a child who could have gone home if his family had gotten more support. I want to adopt the child who truly needed a family. When the child I adopt is an adult, I'm going to be able to say, "I tried everything to keep you with your family. I fought for your parents so they could fight for you. You were always loved, and we adopted you because it was honestly the best thing.". I do all these crazy things with our Bios because (1) I'm a lunatic and (2) I want all of my actions and motives to be pure and selfless. Sometimes I fall short of that "pure and selfless" part, but I'm working on it and getting better with each case.

    With our 1st placement, my language was much different. People would ask, "Are you going to adopt him?" and I'd say "Hopefully". Then our 2nd case it was, "Maybe, but it changes so much I don't know.". Today, Baby 4's teacher asked me about adoption and I said, "Oh. We don't even think about adoption for 2yrs.". Keeping my head in the fostering game and not letting it slip into pre-adoption territory is healthier and easier, and all around appropriate for the situation.  It's not that I don't daydream of adoption and name changes and Gotcha Day celebrations, but I don't linger much.

    And right as I'm becoming the balanced person I've always hoped to be, I get this email from 4's caseworker:

    Another question, I wanted to ask you now rather in front of [baby 4], if we decide to terminate father and mother’s rights, are your willing to adopt [baby 4]?
    Let me know. Thanks J

    Just in case fostering alone wasn't emotionally consuming enough- concurrent planning has to slap me in the face with what ifs, maybes, and selfish high hopes. Adoption is still just a back up plan, but it's in the forefront of my mind. We're going to add concurrent planning to the list of foster care related topics that can give me a migraine and/or cause me to eat large amounts of chocolate.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    From This Moment

    I got a call Friday from Baby 5's caseworker that was very expected. His case is moving along nicely and November will bring a lot of changes for him, and as a result- us. There are a lot of milestones that come with fostering- The Call, Meeting the Bios, The 1yr Mark. This conversation with the caseworker where she pretty much said, "Get ready. Get packed." and "Get him down to the lab Tuesday for DNA testing" brought me to a milestone- The Moment.

    The Moment is when you realize that this child who was placed in your home "temporarily" with "reunification being the goal" has your entire heart in his tiny little fist and will be ripping it out when he leaves. It's The Moment when you panic because your baby can't leave!!! He belongs with you!

    ****Foster Care Fun Fact**** Almost any country song can be interpreted to fit foster care/adoption and can make me think about my babies and sob like a maniac. Here are some of my favorites:

    From this moment, as long as I live,
    I will love you. I promise you this
    There is nothing I wouldn't give
    From this moment on

    I'm glad I didn't know the way it all would end, the way it all would go.
    Our lives are better left to chance.
    I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance

    In my dreams I'll always see you soar above the sky
    In my heart there'll always be a place for you for all my life
    I'll keep a part of you with me, and everywhere I am there you'll be

    Aaaand, I'm crying! Before I go grab a tissue, I want to tell you about going to get the genetic marker test.

    It was super easy (practically speaking, not emotionally since we are post-Moment and all). I took Baby to the lab with a copy of his birth certificate which I got from the caseworker. The tech triple checked all his information and had me fill out a form with all his info so she could compare her info with what I provided. I had to show identification for myself. She took a picture of baby and did 4 cheek swabs which baby smiled during. We were in and out in 10 minutes.

    We'll find out the results and make changes to baby's case accordingly in November.

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    Unrelated Children

    When we first got certified for foster care, we wanted a sibling group. I knew we could parent more than one child, but I was afraid that I wasn't ready to deal with 2 caseworkers, 2 judges, 2 visitation schedules, 2 Biofamilies, etc. I made it clear that while open to multiple children, we only wanted one family/case at a time.

    After having 3 cases and many respites, we felt we had enough experience to handle two families at once and we asked for Baby 5. So far being involved in 2 cases has worked out, although having experienced parenting 2 related children then 2 unrelated children, I can tell you unrelated is a lot more work. Balancing each child's separate schedule is tricky because no one involved in one case cares about what's going on in the other case. Example: Baby 4 has a service plan review coming up next month. It falls at the exact time as Baby 5's visit is ending (read: I need to be picking him up). I asked about it being moved and the CW gave me another option which was at the same time as 5's service plan review. If they had been related children, that wouldn't have been an issue. As much as the logistics side of unrelated children is tricky- it can be navigated with a trusty dayplanner and a babysitter on stand by.

    The stuff I've really been struggling with since bringing home 5 is the emotional part of it. How to delicately prepare these little souls and their big feelings for the way we live. Both of our boys could go home in November and both of our boys could stay here forever- we just don't know yet. Either way, when we decided to take unrelated children we were really signing each of them up for additional roles in foster care. They will now have to balance attachment and saying Goodbye the way we do. They will now have to be aware of foster care outside their own situation. When they go home, they're not just being ripped away from us, but also the sibling they love.

    I'm trying to emotionally secure the children's place in our family. Baby 4 calls 5 "My baby". I tell them I will always love them- no matter what they do or where they are. How do I keep that security if one child goes home? How do I explain one going home and one staying? It's bad enough now that Baby 5 has two visits/week when 4 just has one- what happens when the baby starts weekend overnight visits and the preschooler is still doing his 1hr supervised visit? Will he know he's loved and protected if 5 goes home and we get that call for Baby 6? Keeping open dialogue is going to be very important. There can't just be a day when Baby's not here anymore- going home has to be normalized while staying with us has to be OK as well.

    Our preschool version of foster care that we talk about at least weekly, but sometimes several times/day is: Kids need to live in a home that is safe so they don't get really sick or hurt. If a Mommy or Daddy doesn't know how to keep their kids safe, the kids live in another house while their parents learn to take great care of them. Kids can go home when their parents can keep them safe. Baby 4 knows that his family is learning how to keep him safe and that Baby 5's parents are doing the same. He asks why I know how to keep him safe, but other Mommies don't know how. I tell him that not all parents can keep kids safe. It's a very hard job, but they are trying to do better. I hope this idea will help us get through having siblings that may be separated.

    What I can't control is how the sibling that moves away will handle the loss. Will the family allow them to talk about their missing brother? Will they show them the sibling pictures from their time with us? What if Baby 4 leaves and 5 stays? Will he think I wanted the baby more than him?

    This topic is really too big to tackle in one post, but I'm processing it slowly and surely. I wonder if this is something that other foster parents worry about, or if it is yet another example of me overthinking. Either way, it does complicate the little lives of my children- who already have too many complications. Preparation is the key for making our family's transitions as minimally traumatic as possible. Unfortunately, there is not much time to prepare for anything in foster care.

    Ultimately, I have to lean on my world view and beliefs. Our story has been written by a God who has good intentions for us and our children. The children who are placed in our home have been equipped with the personalities and abilities to ride this roller coaster in the same way that Brandon and I have been. The children who become part of our family will be taking part of our calling, and I hope they will see it as their calling as well. Our legacy becomes their legacy, their burdens become ours- we share love, joy, and loss. I have to believe that they are made to keep up with our changing dynamics and that being a foster family will make them strong and sensitive, quick to love and unafraid of change. The kids that we call our own are special and they'll be protected throughout our story.

     I've been reading a blog written by the biodaughter of a foster/adoptive family. She shares her experiences as a foster-sibling and how it has changed her perspective and faith. I am so appreciative to her for journalingLearning To Abandon

    Thursday, October 6, 2011

    Life Changing Material Is On It's Way!!

    Fall is my favorite: pumpkin bread, apple picking, hoodies, hot tea, cinnamon rolls, Halloween costumes, crunchy leaf piles, fuzzy baby rompers, corn mazes- the list could go on and on.

    I am thoroughly enjoying this fall with 4 and 5.

    This October is the calm before the storm. We have 2 court dates in November that could change my family. Either baby could go home, visits could increase, transitions could start, bio-connections could be broken. I have no idea what will happen, and I have legitimate concerns about any possible outcome. There is so much drama and complexity in both their families. I can't figure any of it out. November is going to be crazy either way, and that's why October has become our oasis.

    So that's why things might be quiet on here for now, because I'd rather play "Bugga bugga BOO!" with Baby 5 or make peanut butter play dough with Baby 4 than do anything else in the world. I'm working on some posts one sentence at a time. They're coming together quite nicely- words of foster genius, really. When they finally get done I'm sure you'll laugh, cry, and be better people for having read my blog. Hahaha! ...Or, you'll get a cool tip about keeping your phone number private and untraceable, hear about my 1st time co-leading MAPP, and watch me work out my feelings about foster siblings. Coming soon! I swear!

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Made For This

    I have been a Foster Care machine this week! Literally everyday has been filled with Foster related activities. I attended a Monday/Wednesday Shared Parenting training, Brandon and I spoke on a panel for Perspective Foster Parents and their families on Tuesday. Baby 4 had a bio-visit, 3 relative resource calls, a pre-op appt for his upcoming surgery, his physical and Kindergarten shots, an appt with the specialist he sees for his scars, a home nursing recertification, school, and dance. Baby 5 had 2 biovisits, court, and a homevisit with his caseworker. The MAPP class I'm co-leading in October went from having 2 people signed up to having 26 and a waiting list. We added another trainer and had to adjust our meeting plans accordingly. There was mail, note cards, and 3 ring binders galore in my dining room.

    In the midst of all that, I also received 6 texts and 1 phone call from Baby 2 &3's Dad!!! He sent me pictures of them and let me know where they are living and how they are doing. I can't even explain what that meant to me. We haven't heard anything from him in over 5 months. I'm extremely grateful for that connection. Baby 2 turned 3 last week and I was able to mail him some presents. It was hard to give Dad space as he started to call and text. I wanted so badly to just ask for a visit with them, but I didn't want to sound pushy or scare him away. Instead I just affirmed everything he told me he was doing with/for the boys and I thanked him for calling me. He said he wants to meet our new children and let all the boys play together, but we didn't set up a time. This is the selfish side of reaching out and respecting the bioparents- initially we do it because it's right for our kids and their family, but it also pays into a bank that gets cashed in when you are on the other side. All those pictures, texts, and updates I sent to Dad while they were with me set the tone for our post-reunification relationship.

    Baby 5 court update- he will definitely be with us through November, and probably through December as well. There has been no movement in his situation at all. We were expecting Dad's petition to be addressed and Baby to go home with him this month, but he's not officially "Dad" yet. Apparently that system runs slowly.

    Tonight I am going to a foster parent support group for the first time. I got a call about it on
    Wednesday and I was iffy about if it would be worth my time until they said "Free childcare" and "We'll be serving dinner". I was not about to say no to either of those things. At the very least it'll give me some blog material.

    This week was so jam packed, I entered it assuming I'd be very overwhelmed, but it felt very natural to me. Navigating this world is tricky, but I love it. Being pulled into everyone's drama is draining, but it allows me to forgo having my own drama. Emerging from this week relatively unscathed gives me a clear-er picture of my purpose on this earth. I am made for this.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Growing Up, Growing Out

    Baby 4 is developing and changing so fast, I can't even keep up! Last week he started Preschool and Dance!
    Today I got an email from his caseworker. They had court today and I didn't go because I didn't particularly want to. There have been some annoying details going on with visits and caseworkers and relative resource that have been bothering me. There is this perception of foster parents that all we want in life is to keep people's kids away from them. That couldn't be further from the truth in Baby 4's case. I have tried very hard to get the county to educate 4's family about his needs so he can spend MORE time with them. Of course I would love to keep Baby 4. If he needs forever from me, I will happily give it. I would never sabotage a reunion because I love my boy.  I have told many people on many occasions that if relative resource seems like she's going to work out, then the training and transfer should happen sooner rather than later so 4 doesn't get more comfortable with us than necessary- but every time we go to court nothing happens and Baby 4 is left hanging in the wind for another 2-4 weeks.

    So the caseworker went to court and shockingly nothing happened. Relative resource asked about her petition for custody that has been ignored since April and the county was instructed to get on it and figure out what they think of her. So they go back November and DHS needs to have proof that they have prepared her to care for him and that she either can or can't. If she can, he could be gone by Christmas.

    Baby 4's made so much progress in the past 6 months and I'm so proud of him. I'm proud of all of us, really. I didn't know Brandon and I had what it takes to parent a kid like him. Whether he stays or goes, he's going to be better for the time he was here. That's why we do it all, to improve a child's life- even just a little.

    It's unnatural to say goodbye to your child. In foster care we are asked to make strong attachments and yet let go easily. We are asked to plan and consider our kids as if they are permanent, yet realistically they aren't. It puts a little spin on every accomplishment and milestone. We're one step closer to losing our son with every dance class and bus ride. I shouldn't have to feel this way until Highschool graduation, but I may never get to see Kindergarten with 4.

    As mopey as that sounds, it makes me appreciate our time together a little more. I want to experience everything I can with him. The concept of being separated makes playing "What's this dinosaur?" suddenly tolerable- maybe even enjoyable.

    While 4 may be leaving my home, he has left a permanent mark on my heart. For that I am extremely grateful.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Why I Number My Children

    Hi Snooki Toes!!

    So it's come to my attention that calling my children by numbers could be perceived as offensive. In all fairness, The numbers thing is only for the blog since all kids in care have the right to confidentiality. It's not like I'm ever saying it out loud to them.

    Either way, when I was deciding how I would address the children for the blog, I looked to other foster bloggers for ideas. Most of the blogs I read use cute made up nicknames for each child and a few use names that the foster parents have chosen for the children either just for the blog or to be made official upon adoption. My problem with either of those methods is that (1) it takes a lot of creativity that I just don't have to nickname children and (2) I was afraid that I would slip up and accidentally post the child's real name. Having numbers makes it obvious to me that I've slipped up and typed the child's name so I can replace it with a number before posting. (3)I thought about calling them by their first initial, but that is stepping pretty close to TMI and we have multiple children with the same first initial. (4) Typing "4" is faster than typing "snooki toes" or whatever name I could come up with.

    Further, numbering my kids helps a reader who's jumping into the middle of my story to figure out who's who pretty easily. If I have 2 kids living with me right now, my kids are numbered 1-5, and I'm talking about baby 3- he has probably already returned home. As opposed to snooki toes, tootsie roll, glitter angel, paint-y face, and... see? I can't even make up 5 fake made-up names! Anyway, the nicknames give no clues about who is who and when they came or left.

    Considering the length of time and amount of children I plan on fostering, numbers made sense. So sorry if it sounds cold. If you can get past my metric system of labeling children and read my content, you'd know that cold is not an accurate word to describe me or how I feel about my children.

    Just to clarify- Hats off to the foster bloggers who can pull off the nickname thing with out slipping up or ending up with names like "sausage elbow" like I eventually would. I don't think everyone should go around numbering their kids, but it works for me.

    Thank you and goodnight.

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    Meet The Parents

    With every new placement comes the awkward moment where I have to meet our baby's bios. This causes so much anxiety for me- I don't know if that's one of my personal quirks, or if it just comes with the territory. No matter what circumstances surround this child coming into care, their parents are going to be part of my life as long as the child is, so we need to get along. For the most part, I've had a good working relationship with our bioparents. I was still so nervous though when Baby 5's first visit came up with his Mom. It was time to get that initial contact out of the way.

    I feel the need to dress up like I'm going to a job interview when I meet biofamily. So I donned my button up black shirt and put on makeup as if my ability to apply mascara will convince a Mom that I'm taking good care of her child. Then I printed out pictures of Baby 5's first week with us. I placed them in a note book with  a carefully worded note, "Your son is THE cutest baby I have ever seen! I can't imagine how difficult it is to have to trust me with him, but I promise to treat him like gold until he can come home to you." Then I write in the notebook when the next Dr appt is and write it a second time on a piece of loose paper that the parent can take with them.That notebook went into an expertly packed diaper bag: diapers and wipes to last days, 3 bottles with premeasured powdered formula, 3 of baby's cutest outfits that say something to the effect of "I love Mommy", bibs and burps cloths with the same sentiments, a light blanket, and a heavier blanket, diaper rash cream, Vaseline, and an extra binkie.

    I bathe baby 5 right before we leave for the visit, slather him in lotion, and dress him in the cutest outfit I can find. In the car I pow-wow with Baby 4 about saying, "Hi" and that's all to Baby 5's Mom. The last thing I need is for him to call her Baby 5's "other" Mommy or ask her why she couldn't keep baby safe. Conversations that are normal at our house, are shocking to outsiders. For the first time I'm not worried about how a black family will accept a white woman caring for their children. I'm meeting a white family today. Suddenly I worry if they'll  accept my son- they should, more than anyone, realize that kids don't come into care because they are bad, but because their home wasn't safe. Maybe I should have left 4 with a sitter. Too late now.

    We walk into the visitation center, and the caseworker meets me in the lobby to take 5 to his Mom who's already waiting in the room. She says maybe we shouldn't meet until the formal icebreaker is scheduled. She'll bring 5 out to us in an hour.  Did I really just get dressed up for nothing?

    Baby 4 and I go get lunch and come back in an hour. The caseworker brings out 5 and we leave. As we make our way to the car I see Mom come out of the building and start talking to the caseworker. I wave at her from across the parking lot. She yells, "I'll see you tomorrow!", like we're girlfriends who need to catch up. I buckle the boys in and walk around to my seat as Mom and Grandpa pull up to me in their car. We talk for a few moments and they are more than pleasant. Mom is my age. She's beautiful, well dressed, and articulate in speech. Her Dad reminds me of my own. She thanks me for the pictures and says she wants to be friends. We exchange phone numbers right then and she calls me on the spot to make sure I gave her a real number. She assures me that the reasons 5 was taken are all lies. I tell her I'm sorry she's going through all this- I am, if not just for her then for Baby 5. I leave feeling pretty positive about the whole experience. I hope she noticed how professional my shoes looked with my shirt.

    The next day, I go through the same preparation to bring 5 to his visit. Again, I don't see Mom until she comes to my car after the visit is over. She hugs me no less than 10 times and tells me her life story. I gather from her account that Baby 5 may be a short placement before returning to his Dad. She tells me that if she has other children and they get taken, she wants us to have them. She said it like she was giving us a gift. She asks about my husband and Baby 4 and seems really satisfied with my answers. I think she sees herself in me as much as I see myself in her. She's the first Mom I've ever worked with, and the first parent who is my age. Looking at each other is like looking at the "What could have been" if our choices had been different.

    We spend the next couple of days texting. I tell her to check the baby's bag at the visit because we made her a footprint plaque. She says she excited and will call me after she gets it. That's the last communication I've had with her. Then she missed 3 visits and our icebreaker meeting. She never took the pictures or the plaque out of the bag.

    I don't know what will happen next. She could show up next week like nothing ever happened and never miss another visit. Maybe we'll never speak again. Such is foster care.

    I decided to post this because I think a lot of foster parents are apprehensive about meeting the parents. Bios just want to know you love their kids and that you know they are their kids. You could probably even wear jeans, although I don't recommend it :)

    Sunday, September 4, 2011

    Sustaining The Love That Supports Our Story

    Yesterday was a big day for us. It was my 25th birthday and our 6th wedding anniversary. Marriage is hard work for anybody, but as foster parents we put extra strain on ours. We have been running on very little sleep and even less "us" time since bringing home Baby 4. I'm always somewhat aware that I have it made being married to Brandon, but I'm not the best at expressing to him how much I appreciate everything he does for our family. Last year we cancelled an anniversary vacation once we knew our boys couldn't come with us, and I felt strongly about not using respite this year as well. Last year, we thought baby 2& 3 could be sent home in September and we didn't want to lose any time with them. This year I was concerned that moving Baby 4 would upset all the behavior progress we've been making and would actually be more work moving his medical equipment than it was worth. My Mom stayed with the boys while we got a room in a hotel in our city, since we were gone less than 24 hrs, we didn't have to use respite. We got the rest and relaxation that was so desperately lacking and Baby 4 got to maintain his routine.

    No Crib? King bed? Air Conditioning? Heaven.

    Awe! Presents!

    Hello Room Service!

    Then we got into a car accident. Really? On my Birth-a-versary?
    At least it wasn't our fault and there were no kids in the car.

    I came back home with renewed focus and energy for the upcoming months- first week of school, Shared parenting class, my first MAPP assignment, and possibly saying goodbye to either of our boys.

    As much as I get wrapped up in our story, I'm trying to be better at paying as much attention to the backbone of it all- our marriage. I'm so so so thankful for the opportunity to strengthen that this week.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Back In The Swing Of Things- Then Some!

    We've had Baby 5 for 2 weeks now. Everyone is doing remarkably well for all the transition that has occurred. The first weeks of a placement is SO busy even for the most laid back person, but add in all my eccentricities and they become a carnival of crazy:

    Day 1 - Pick up Baby 5 from the hospital followed by a homevisit from 5's Foster Care Intake caseworker.

    Day 2- Baby 5 meets Brandon's family at his nephew's graduation party

    Day 3- Baby's 1st day of church! Since he's too little to be in the church nursery, we had to find people to hold him while we volunteered in 2 services. Not surprising- there were many willing baby rockers.

    Day 4 - Pediatrician's appt -9lbs 8oz/ 22" long- 50th percentile for height, weight, and head

    Day 5- Biovisit for Baby 4 followed by Family pictures at Target

    Day 6- Biovisit for Baby 5 followed by pottery painting to make Baby 5's keepsake plate

    Day 7- Biovisit for Baby 5

    Day 8- Homevisit with Baby 5's new case manager (Generally the foster care intake worker would serve as case manager for the first 90 days of the child's placement. Since 5 has siblings with open cases in Foster Care management, his case was sent to their caseworker so we did a homevist with her.)

    Day 9- Baby's 1st Baseball game.  After a mini-freak-out about needing some child-free time, Brandon sends me to get my nails done. I love that man.
    Day 10- 2nd Sunday at church. I actually volunteered for one service while holding baby 5 the entire time. Feel free to call me SuperMom :)

    Day 11- Call from the matcher for Respites 6 & 7- Not me, Not now.

    Day 12- Biovisit for Baby 4 followed by trach training with his parents. Still feeling the buzz from an hour of childless-ness on Saturday, I steal away for a haircut and color. As I'm crowned in aluminum foil, who walks in? My husband, 2 sons, and my Dad- Oh family togetherness!

    Day 13- There was a biovisit and icebreaker meeting set up for Baby 5, but neither happened. I got a call from the certifying trainer who did our initial foster care classes and homestudy asking me to co-lead with her in October! Then we went to pick up Baby 5's finished keepsake plate.

    Day 14- Biovisit for Baby 5, pick up pictures from Target, Homevisit with Baby 4's new case manger and spend some outside time playing in the backyard.

    Having 4 and 5 feels so natural. I think we're made for 2 children- they fit with our skill, patience, schedule, bedroom set up. While it's been busy, it's been so fun! Look out for the posts I have in the works- Sustaining Love (Day 15), Unrelated children, and Meeting the Bios.

    Saturday, August 20, 2011

    Healthy White Newborn

    I never pictured my future family having white children. It's just not what my dreams were made of. Even when we were trying to get pregnant, I felt like I would mother black children. Nobody understood me and it is the basis for a lot of joking in my social circle. I think everyone assumed I would marry outside of my own race- but I didn't. Then they thought I would change my expectations for what my family would look like- but I didn't. Transracial parenting is deeply ingrained in me, and I have no explanation for it. Fortunately my husband identified with my concept of family and fully intended to only parent black children as well.
    We have had a lot of time to form intentional methods that we use to effectively parent minority children. We have positive language that we make sure to incorporate into our household conversation to recognize and affirm our children's identity and heritage. We have media, toys, and books that show a variety of ethnicities and family structures. We learned how to care for their hair and skin or who to call when we get in over our heads. We moved to an ethnically diverse church after Baby 1 came home.

    We also decided that as long as we had a child outside our race in our home, we would not accept a white placement so that the child in our home would never be the only different one. We never wanted to be walking in the store and have our child notice someone assume that the white child was ours and the minority child was not. We never wanted to tempt our family to treat the child that "looks just like you!" differently than the child who does not. Even if nobody treated them differently, we would never want our child to feel that they are somehow out of place in their own family. This was our agreement. An agreement that I fully support.

    Then I got the call for Baby 5. I have to defend myself by saying that the matcher told me all about him and his situation before mentioning his sister. It was only after I had committed my heart to him that I realized that his sister is white- pretty much ensuring that he is white. That twinge of guilt sank in. How could I say no to a child just because of race? I really want a baby. What about Baby 4? I really want a baby. A healthy white newborn could find a home quickly, shouldn't we wait for sickly black child that might not get matched? I really want a baby. It's at this moment I wish I could write that I prayed and fasted and sought wise counsel, but I really want a baby. So I said yes with less than a little hesitation.

    Healthy white newborns are THE most sought after placements in the foster/ adoption world. People will wait on lists for 10+ years for a child matching Baby 5's description. I don't identify with any of the reasons, but I hear it goes something like: They don't want to be a walking billboard for adoption and have to field staring and questions out in public. Their extended family is varying degrees of prejudice and they don't want to cut ties or expose the child to that. They live in an all white community. They want to hide the child's adoption from the neighbors. I'm not here to judge any of that. I feel like since we are more than capable of taking a child of any race with a broad spectrum of disabilities, we should leave the healthy white newborns to the waiting list of people that would say no any other kind of placement. It kind of falls in line with doing foster care instead of fost/adopt or traditional adoption, because we want the kids that may not have gotten a home, not the ones who have a list of families waiting for the call. This is not a pat on the back for us at all, we are not making a sacrifice, we are pursuing what our hearts desire for our family. The desire that I thank God He planted in my heart as a child.

    So how does all that fall in line with us bringing home a HWN just yesterday? I have no clue.

    I feel guilty. Baby 4 now has 3 white people in his house and I feel like we should be the ones that are outnumbered. Baby 4 is going to be the minority in the rest of the world, and I've just made him the minority in his own house. He doesn't notice now, but at some point he will. He'll notice that people think I'm babysitting him, but never question where Baby 5 belongs. He'll notice that baby 5 doesn't have to explain us to his friends at school. He'll notice that life is one degree easier for every shade lighter your skin is, and I hate that for him. I hate that my selfishness may have exacerbated a problem that I can never fix for him.

    I feel normal. I was out today with baby 5 and no one took a second look at us. I didn't get one approving smile or person looking around to see if my child was really with me or someone else who looked more the part. I got no unsolicited advise about hair. I was just a normal Mom with a normal baby. Completely out of my element.

    I feel like a sellout. I still think our all our nothing approach to transracial parenting is appropriate for the racial climate in New York right now. Our kids need a safe home environment because the world is cruel. I'm starting to think that I can provide that even with a white child in our home, and I think that having the white child exposed to transracial parenting techniques will make for a very empathetic and considerate human being. I'm crossing over!!!

    I honestly don't know that taking this particular baby as #5 will change the dynamic of our family that much. Really, either of my children could be sent home fairly quickly and then everything changes. I guess I fear being just a white family, which is super strange- I know. I guess for the sake of my ego, I wanted you to know that I was not wading around in the pool of parents waiting for a healthy white newborn, but I'm really glad we got him.