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.