Friday, May 27, 2011

Sometimes It's Nice To Be Normal

Here's a secret that I will deny if you tell anybody. I love drama. It's a personality flaw that is beyond repairable. Is someone having a bad day? hates their job? fighting with their Mother in law? Please! Come sit next to me- I want to hear about it. Foster care provides a lot of material for my drama addiction.

Every once in a while though, I wonder how other people do it. The people who have children that resemble them and never wonder when their precious baby will be ripped from their arms and moved into the poorest part of the city. What do you do with your time when there are no caseworker visits or court dates. What does it feel like to know for certain that the county will not be calling you today with a baby? I won't ever know for sure, but we took some time this week to just enjoy life as if we are a normal family- No drama.

We played a little softball

Painted a little watercolor

And put away baskets for kids that we are clearly not seeing for Easter.

Being normal isn't my cup of tea, but it's fun to pretend every now and then. The cherry on top of our normal sundae came from Baby 4:

4: "Why do you love me?"
Me:"Because we're family. I will always love you no matter what."
4: "Because you're my Mom."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


It's official! We're foster parents for another year. Our recert is done and was rather painless.

Every year our Homefinding caseworker has to update our homestudy. This includes a packet of paperwork, a house inspection, and an office visit.

The manilla envelope of homework included self-assesments that are pretty much a joke. You check Expectation Not Met, Expectation Met, Expectation Exceeded, or Can Not Judge to statements like: Foster parent understands the difference between punishment and discipline and refrains from physical punishment, Keeps the best interest of the child as priority when working with angency, and Supports sibling visits when appropriate. Brandon paid me $5 to check all of his Expectation Met because, really, how else are you going to answer something like that? "Oh, Foster parent has kept all necessry medical and dental appointmaents? Expectation Exeeded! We Rock!". Then there was a list of documentation to gather: car insurance cards, rabbies vaccinations for the animals, certificates from the trainings we did last year (minimum 6hrs/yr), physical forms from our Dr and TB test results are due every other year, confidentiality agreement signed by everyone living in the house, and fire safety checklist.

This was the first year that we had a child who is verbal, so we also had to have Baby 4 fill out a form where he drew pictures answering the questions What was it like living in a family that provides a home for kids in care? and How would you feel if more children came to live in your house?. I could kick myself for not scanning a copy before handing it in. It was a swirly marker mess of cuteness. 4 told me what he drew and I wrote the captions for him that asked for 2 boys and 2 babies to come live with us becuse living in a foster home means playing outside and watching movies .

When our caseworker came over, she let me complain for a little while as she reviewed our documents. Then she walked through our house- checking our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguisher, cabinet locks, and window screens. She took an inventory of our kid space and available beds. She asked us about our support circle and our honest feelings towards taking other children. Then we signed our contract for the next year that agrees to the daily stipend and to complete the required training this year.

We had to make an office visit as well where we would finish up paperwork if we needed and talk to our caseworker without our child present if needed. This office visit was quick though, she took us around to show our faces to the matchers and panhandle a bit for Baby 5. We brought her our family Easter picture and she tacked it up on the bulletin board next to the other ones we've sent at every stage of our family.

Our actual aniversary with foster care is July 29th, so our new certificate won't come until around then. When it does, it comes with a copy of the litle addendum that our caseworker wrote up to modify our homestudy and -my favorite part- the foster parent checklist that was filled out by our kids caseworkers. I like knowing what they say about us. I work really hard going above and beyond to get my kids to visits (We spent 3 hrs at 2&3's Dad's house on CHRISTMAS because there was no one to supervise, but they needed to see him), documenting everything, being at every court date and service plan review, trying to make myself super accessable for homevisits, etc. So it feels kind of nice to see expectation exceeded checked. It's the small things I guess.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Foster Care Blog Hop

Check out these other Love Stories in honor of National Foster Care Month!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Writer's Block or ADD

Things have been quiet on our blog lately, but it's not because I have nothing to say. I actually have several posts that are half done and I either can't make them sound nice enough to publish, or I wander off topic while writing and end up with just another half-done post. I'm pretty sure there's a pill for that, but I'm not willing to medicate just yet. I thought I'd try to push past this by whipping up a quick update about the foster-happenings in our house.

May is National Foster Care Month. Our county sent us blue ribbons as a "small token of our appreciation to celebrate all you are and all that you do". The accompanying letter asked us to "wear it proudly". Ah, Free advertising! Little do they know I advertise every chance I get, even without the NFCM excuse.  So here's my two cents- There are kids in your backyard that need parents. If you have any inkling that you could be that parent, you should Google "foster care" + your county and attend their next informational meeting.

Baby 4 is doing well. He seems to be settling into our family nicely. This means he's learning how our rules and routine work, so we're seeing less defiance and crying. He's also very comfortable with us, so we're seeing some other issues that he never showed us before. As I spend more time with him, I'm seeing that he's not retaining most of the information we cover during our school time. No colors, counting, or alphabet yet, even though he's 4yrs old. He is also limited to one-step directions. If someone gives him 2 or 3 things to do at once, his behavior deteriorates. He will get on all fours and make animal noises when asked to put his "dinosaur in the toybox, pick up the ball, and bring it to me", but will comply if the steps are given one at a time. I spoke to the pediatrician who made a referral for Early Intervention Services to do an evaluation. I'm hoping the gaps in his learning are from lack of exposure, but even if there is an organic problem- 4yrs old is still early enough to start getting help.

We've also happened upon another issue- sexualized behavior. I first saw it in the hospital when 4 was trying to be silly and he said that his toy was performing a sex act. I stopped that immediately by teaching him the proper terms for genitals and telling him that nobody should touch his penis. If someone tries, he should yell "NO!" and come tell me. We've reviewed that everyday since, and our conversations have lead me to believe that there hasn't been any abuse in his past. He's not shy or excited to talk about it, his reaction is pretty normal when I bring it up. He knows some shocking language, but when I ask "What does that mean?", "Who does that?", "Where did that happen?" he can't give any information. From the words he uses, I think he picked most of it up from adult TV and music. Since we've been home, he has started trying to hug and kiss us inappropriately. It has become very normal in our house to talk about good touch/bad touch, and how adults hug and kiss kids. "We kiss on the cheek to tell you that we love you" and "When you hug someone your penis shouldn't be touching them." are said multiple times everyday. I've kept his caseworker and therapist updated on his behavior, but neither of them have stepped in at this point. We are vigilant about monitoring his interactions with other people. He does not play with other children out of our sight. That's probably unnecessary though, because he hasn't been sneaky with any of his acting out. All of his talk and behavior has been directed to us and very up front.

The next big thing with 4 is that there has been a relative resource identified for him, and she has submitted a petition for custody to the court. This relative lives out of state, so the judge ordered a inter-state compact. That basically means the county here was ordered to contact and work with the county of the relative to get her homestudy-approved and set up with all the services she needs to bring him home with her. The caseworker said that the judge could order an expedited compact that has to be completed in 30 days or it could take up to 3 months. She couldn't remember if the judge in our case had ordered it expedited (more later on the memory of 4's caseworker). I've heard several different opinions about this placement option, and it's way too early to tell if the move will actually happen, but my gut says he's going out of state. Now I'm balancing encouraging attachment with protecting my heart if at all possible. I'm also supporting a phone relationship between this resource and 4. Very early in his case, I gave her my cell number because I thought having a family member to talk to would make his move to my house easier. She has called nearly everyday since he came home. Talking to her everyday is exhausting, but I understand what it feels like to have the child you love and want so desperately to be living with someone you don't know. While this person and 4 were close at one point, I don't think he really knows who she is when they talk. Mostly he just says silly things and copies what I tell him to say:
"4, tell relative resource you love her"
"I love you"
"4, tell her you played outside today"
"I played outside today" **Dino Roar**
If those phone calls are helping, then I'm happy to go the extra mile for Baby 4. Even if they're not, it can't hurt.

With Baby 4's possible Goodbye, we've started lobbying for Baby 5. Having just 4 while we were going through all his medical transitions was a God-send. Now that we're settled, though, having just one child seems odd after we had two for a year. The first call we got was for an 18mo girl who had multiple injuries including broken bones. The timing didn't work out with her needing medical attention and 4 having a new trach, so I had to say no. When I say I had to say no, I mean it. I went through every possible resource we have that would help me balance these two, but it just didn't work. My homefinding caseworker later told me she ended up only being in care for a couple of days before going with relatives, so it was kind of a blessing we couldn't say yes. Then we got repites 6&7 for a week, during which I decided we need a baby. I called my homefinding caseworker and told her we prefer our next placement be under 18mo. That same day we got a call for... an 11yr old boy. What? No, matchers, sorry. So we're still waiting for Baby 5, but I'm keeping hope alive by washing and keeping out our preemie sized clothes.

Hopefully this ends my writers block. I'd like to start posting more. We are having our recertification inspection on Tuesday, so expect a detailed account of that if I don't think of anything more interesting in the mean time.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I don't need a day, I need my baby

I haven't been posting much lately because I don't want this blog to sound all melancholy and mopey.
Foster Care has been a very happy and fulfilling journey for me. It's a path that I would choose again if I could do it all over. I love the person, faith, and marriage that has developed through my intersections with my babies and their families. My heart is full to capacity with the love and great memories Foster Care has brought me - and I'm excited because I know that someway, somehow more love will find a place as we add to our story.

At this very moment, however, I'm feeling the other end of the foster care experience. The part where I was "Mommy" to 3 beautiful babies who own my heart, but I can't hold, kiss, or rock any of them. They are celebrating today with people who don't know all the verses to "How much is that doggie in the window?"or that they like oatmeal made with apple juice. I don't know if they went to church this morning or if they had a nightmare last night. I can't kiss their next boo-boo though I want to so badly.
Flowers from my Mom

The fact is that Foster Care doesn't even try to give children the best life possible, it tries to give children their biological family. If their family is even remotely capable of giving the child a bed and meals, they get their kids back. Accepting that goal is part of being a foster parent. It's difficult to KNOW your child would have better nutrition, sleep schedule, schooling, vacations, and more hugs and kisses with you than with their bio-family, but that doesn't matter because the goal says that shared DNA trumps everything else.  Today when I got a "Happy Mother's Day!" greeting, it was hard not to cry. I'd give up every single Mother's Day greeting, gift, and dinner for eternity if I could hold my babies right now. While the very caring people around me acknowledged my Motherhood, I had to go through the day without a single child calling me Mama.
Cupcake Cake from Brandon

This week we've had Respites 6 & 7 this week and they are really fun. They have the same types of medical needs as Baby 4, so their care fits nicely into our normal routine. 6 is the same age as 4 and they mostly enjoy each others company (although sharing is not a strong suit for either). 7 is 2yrs old, but she looks 18mo- tops. She has a very advanced vocabulary and this really delicate voice that makes her sound like an old woman. While she does her best to keep up with the boys, she still needs to be cuddled and babied sometimes. I've been more than happy to oblige. She gets tube feeds overnight and her foster mom told me that she has disconnected herself before, making a big mess by the time everyone else wakes up in the morning. I decided to put her in the crib in our room so I can make sure that doesn't happen here. I love love love having a baby in the crib in our room. A child that sleeps through the night is a great little roommate! It's given me quite the case of baby fever.
Respites 6, 7, & Baby 4

Our homefinding caseworker called me on Wednesday to set up a time for our re-cert inspection. She asked me what I thought of taking other placements, or if we wanted to put a hold on our house until we are better settled with Baby 4. She said that we are likely to get calls quickly now that we have done well with medically frail children. I told her we would want another as long as Baby 4 can remain the oldest, so under 4yrs old. Now I'm rethinking that- I really miss babies. While I want to call her first thing tomorrow and say, "Scratch what I said before, we want another placement under 1yr old.", I'm also questioning the intensity of my feelings. I kind of feel like the woman who wants to get pregnant to save her marriage, but of course that doesn't work because a baby just puts stress on the fractures that were already there. Do I want a baby just to smooth over the struggles I'm having with foster care? Will a baby just set me up for more heartbreak and doubt in the system that I'm a part of? Or would a baby just be awesome, and I over think EVERYTHING? Time will tell I guess, because you know if I get a Hallelujah call, I'm saying yes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

We've been discharged!! It feels so good to get home and settle into our new normal.

My first task was to set up all of Baby 4's medical equipment and supplies:

Toy Bins turned into fluid/tubing organizer
Walls and dresser hold schedules and suction machine
Bedside we have his overnight forced air, humidifier, and nebulizer
The crib doubles as our wound care station
Even the space between the crib & toybox holds trach care trays
The first night was the scariest. Our plan was to have a baby monitor in 4's room so we could hear if his breathing changed or if his trach needed suction. Unfortunately, the humidification machine he's hooked up to at night sounds like a diesel truck, so the monitor only picks that up. So frequent checks are a must overnight. He did fine though, and I'm starting to relax as the nights go by.

Life with a trach is not very complicated with Baby 4 since his lungs are healthy. He eats, speaks, and plays like every other kid. The caveat is that if there were to ever be an issue with his trach like it getting clogged or falling out, the situation becomes very severe very quickly. To combat that, Baby 4 must have his trach supplies and a person trained in his care with him at all times. I tested our going out skills with a trip to the barber shop. Armed with 2 extra trachs, suction, and a rescue breather- we headed out.

The barber was nosey, but he did some nice edge work

I expected some looks or questions about his trach, but I didn't expect the barbers response to Baby 4, "Excuse me Ma'am, He wouldn't happen to be the boy from the newspaper, would he?" Out of the 210 thousand people in our city, you recognize this one child? Ugh! There have been an alarming number of news stories in our area involving children recently, so I said, "Hmm, I'm not sure. He's recovering very well though, Thank you for asking." During the haircut, he asked what the the trach does and where his parents are. It was super uncomfortable, but I was able deflect and give simple, vague answers. Thankfully, Baby 4 was enamored by Judge Mathis playing on the shop's big screen TV, so he didn't pick up on the conversation. I thought being interviewed like that was the worst, but I was wrong.

Playing alone in the rock quarry
After gaining some confidence with our first day trip, we were ready for a day trip to the museum. I hauled around 4's equipment and had so much fun with him. The experience was so much different from when I took the other babies. We saw so many more exhibits and talked about pirates, superheros, and trains. I realized pretty quickly that there was another big difference from when I brought 2 & 3 here. We were playing largely by ourselves. No one asked me any questions about Baby 4's scars or trach. They just left a lot of room between us and their children. I saw a Mom at the train exhibit staring at 4 and when he walked towards her child, she told her to share and they left. At that moment I wished I could have been back at the barber answering probing questions. At least the barber knew scars aren't contagious and touched 4 without a hazmat suit on. This interaction bothered only me. Baby 4 was having so much fun, he took no notice of other people's reaction to him.
He looks perfect to me

It left me thinking though, how long will he stay unaware of his differences? He'll be 6yrs old before his trach comes out, and his scars will never completely go away. While we were getting ready for church on Sunday, I started to prep him:

Me: Why do you have a trach?
4: Because I'm a boy!
Me: Silly! Your trach helps you breath, right?
4: yes
Me: Not a lot of people have trachs. Yours is very special. Some kids have never seen a trach, so they might look at it funny when they see yours. They don't know what it is, so it's OK to tell them.
4: **uninterested eyeroll**
Me: So if someone was looking at your trach, you could say, "That's my trach, it helps me breath"
4: **completely tuned out**

It took a whole 5 seconds in children's church for a little boy to start getting close to oblivious baby 4. I walked over and said, "That's his trach, it helps him breath better". The little boy found that very sufficient and started playing the game that 4 was along side him. Preparation is the key to pleasant outings with a visibly different child. I'm getting it...

All around, this time is full of thankfulness. Thankful for great friends who have been calling and texting with their well-wishes and support, feeding us, and bringing gifts for 4.Thankful that my family can be together and comfortable. Thankful that, after all Baby 4 has endured, staring is our biggest problem. Thankful for recovery of all sorts. there's no place like home!