Sunday, February 27, 2011

Saying Goodbye

I woke up this morning and felt like I was going to throw up. Before my mind even became aware that today was the day I give away my sons, my body reacted. Blech!

Sunday mornings are all about church in our family, and for the past few months Babies 2&3 have been visiting their Dad on Sunday morning, so we get up and go to church without trying to get kids ready as well. Today, Brandon had to be at church to volunteer at 7:30 and I had to get Respite 4 ready for a visit with her bioDad at 8 and get Babies 2, 3, and myself ready to be at church at 9. I was so close to making up an excuse to skip it today, why would I want my boys in a nursery for and hour and a half on my last day with them? However, I'm way too responsible for that. Rush. Rush, Rush and we were late!

After church, I brought the boys home while Brandon stopped at the grocery store for some stuff I forgot yesterday. My Mom was already here, and wanted to hold and hug the boys. She helped me clean up the house and prep the going away dinner.

At 3:00pm, my Dad, Brandon's sister, brother in law, and brother came over and we ate chicken and scalloped potatoes and talked about how much we are going to miss babies 2 & 3. My Mom cried at least a dozen times, but I held myself together except for when I prayed for their safety before dinner.

At 5:30, We packed up the van with the last box of the boy's clothes and diapers, hugged and kissed our babies, and buckled them into their carseats, and started driving. The ride to Dad's house, now our boy's house, was quiet. Do we make small talk? Do we talk to the boys about reunion? Do we talk about our feelings? Baby 2 was happily playing with his HUGE fire truck that Papa gave him before dinner, and Baby 3 was sleeping, so we drove and said nothing. The street they live on is a one way side street, so we had to go down and loop back around to their house. On that street- one over from where my children are sleeping tonight- we saw a man getting arrested in front of a convenient store. That set us up for the warm fuzzies that is reunification.

We got to their house at 6:00. Baby 2 went right in with his firetruck. I carried a sleeping Baby 3 inside and laid him on the couch, BioDad grabbed the box, and Brandon grabbed the camera. When we were all in the living room, Dad asked some very thoughtful and appropriate questions about the boys schedule and food preferences. He reiterated his intent to have us involved in the boy's lives and we made plans for Baby 3's first birthday party next Sunday. Baby 2 went right to playing and unpacking the box of clothes that his Dad had brought in. Dad said he plans to have our contact with the boys continue as a Godparent relationship, which I found very wise since it requires no explanation about the boy's foster care placement. He hugged us when we left and thanked us for taking great care of his sons. I left feeling positive about the boy's well being. When we got to the door, Dad said "Baby 2, Say goodbye!". Baby 2 waved bye to his Dad and tried to walk out with us. Way to rip my heart out Baby 2...

On the way home, I teared a couple of times. Brandon and I tried to talk about our feelings, but didn't have anything worth saying. We both understood the other felt crushed. I can only describe the feeling like when someone gets stabbed, but doesn't even realize the knife is sticking out of their body. I knew something very traumatic had just happened to my family, but my mind couldn't comprehend the fullness of it, and my heart couldn't compute that much grief. 

I got home and put respite 4 (who was home with my Mom) to bed and tidied up while Brandon put in some laundry. We sat on the couch together in our silent house and Brandon fell asleep while I started this post.

Saying goodbye is heart-wrenching, but I would rather me feel sad when a child goes home than for my children to never have had a mother who was fully invested in them and loved them so deep that it made the oceans look like rain puddles.

I don't know what tomorrow will look like for me emotionally, but I know that I will never regret falling in love with Foster Care.

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's hard to wait

Our kids are leaving and we are entering a time of WAITING to see where our family is going next!

In our county, there are only 2 homefinding caseworkers that make calls to match kids with foster families (so we call them matchers). The way to up your chances of getting placements is to keep them updated with the status of your home and to be friendly enough that you come to mind when they get a placement that would be a good fit with your abilities. I've done that with monthly email updates that give some details about our kids and some thank you's for all they do.

Babies 2 &3 are going home Sunday (tomorrow) at 6pm. Respite 4 is leaving Monday at 7am. I called the matchers in our county last week after court to let them know we are interested in taking a new placement ASAP and I expected to be inundated with calls this week to take kids. However, my phone did not ring once. This means there will definitely be a gap between our boys going home and Baby 4 being placed with us. Baby 2 was placed with us 3 days before baby 1 went home, so we have not had an empty nest in 2yrs. Since I'm a stay-at-home Mom, this time of waiting will be pretty awkward for me. I'm going to have to figure out how to avoid sitting around missing Baby 2 & 3 or email-stalking the matchers. I can breathe for the weekend since we only get calls M-F for placements, but come Monday I'm going to be a ball of nerves.

I do have a plan for our time of waiting. We are going to SLEEP!! Sleep has been like gold since we brought baby 1 home, and resting up before a new baby seems wise. I will also be deep cleaning all our toys and baby apparatus, which I would like to say I do all the time, but the truth is we usually just do a quick rinse and wipe down before attending to the next mess the kids make. Lastly, I'm going to a movie- just because once a new baby comes to us I won't be able to.

We are also going to pray. Right now my prayers are for wisdom in the matchers, the baby 4's caseworker, and for us. We are praying for comfort and peace in baby 4. The saddest thought I've been having is that the baby that is placed with us next week is in a bad situation right now. I want to pray that Baby 4 is safe and cared for, but the fact is that there will be a Baby 4 and they will have been abused or neglected. So I pray the child we help next will be held close to the heart of our Father and placed with us quickly so they can be safe.

The Old Redemption Story

I have found a new addiction- Foster Parent Podcast. This lovely couple from California shares their foster care story with near-weekly podcasts. There is this strange camaraderie that I feel with these people I've never met. They articulate feelings that I've experienced, but never tried to communicate.

The first was Wendy's thoughts on biochildren. She said that she doesn't grieve having biochildren (or loin children as she calls them), but she grieves not giving birth the children in her home. WOW!! That hit the nail on the head! I have no longing to be pregnant or give birth to a biokid, but if Babies 1-3 had come from my womb I could have kept them safe and protected them from the trauma of separation and placement. I know that I can not accurately predict the attachment I would have with a biobaby, but I am positive that the love I have for my children is as deep, fierce, and explosive as it could be for a child that shares my genetics. I have had to grieve that my children have another Mommy who is integral in their story.

The next point they make early on in their podcasts is about bioparents and Christian faith. They said that it's God's plan for biofamilies to stay together. I never actually had that thought, but it's blaringly true. Foster care is the answer when sin separates families from God's plan for parents to keep kids safe. Jesus came to redeem us all from the sin that has separated us from God's plan.

Galatians 3:13 "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us". I have been saved through the blood of Jesus, and proudly call myself a Christian.

 If I have authentic faith in the God of the Bible and salvation through Jesus Christ, I must believe that redemption is for bioparents who have fallen away from the plan to keep their kids safe and in their care. This challenges my past attitudes towards the people who have hurt my kids. It's not enough just to love biofamilies. I need to love them like Christ loves them, which includes offering redemption- Romans 3:24  "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.". Conviction in Podcast form. I have to forgive biofamilies and support reunion to really show Christ to bioparents.

James 1: 26-27 "Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world." (The Message Version)

That was so deep, it had to bypass my mind and land directly into my heart

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Knock, Knock!! The word police are looking for me!

The foster/ adoption world is swarming with what I would like to call "Word Police". I have to admit that I am guilty of nit-picking terminology when I'm in a particularly self-righteous mood. All in all, I feel like it's smart to be knowledgeable about commonly used terms and to take some care as to not isolate or offend entire parts of our community. However, I do not feel like one out-dated word should cause you lose your fost/adopt membership. Walking on egg-shells for the sake of political correct-ness doesn't help children, so I don't do it. Anyone reading who is not familiar with the word-wars of foster-care/adoption- be ready, get educated- or the word police might be coming for you!

The first warrant out for me concerns "bio-parents". I use the term bio-parents because I feel like it addresses the permanent connection between parent and child without the formal feeling of other terms. It's also accurate since the difference between the parents in the triad is the biological connection to the child. The term "birthparents" is generally considered offensive as it diminishes the parents' role to one act. Especially in foster care, where the parent still has rights to the child, and is involved with the child. It's also pretty inaccurate as "birthfamily", "Birthfather", "birthsiblings" do not actually give birth. The most accepted term is "firstparent" which addresses chronological order of the adults in the triad. I just feel like "firstparents" sounds like it's trying too hard. It's formal and requires an explanation when used in front of people who are new to the foster/ adopt scene. "Natural Parent" is also a trendy term that I don't use because it too closely resembles "real parent" and kind of pits the adults in the triad against each other. My relationship with my kids, which is based on trust and love that has grown over time through my consistently meeting their needs is just as "natural" and "real" as the relationship between a mother who has birthed her baby. So I say "bio", and I'm sticking to it.

Warrant #2 from the word police: "Black". I make a point to not specify race when describing a person in real life. When I talk about foster care and my family, though, race comes up quite a bit and I use the "black", "white", "Asian", and "Latino" to differentiate race. I do not say "African American" because I've actually never talked about someone who was from Africa and now is American, therefore, it's not an accurate term. Also, when talking about race, I am usually specifying skin color as opposed to heritage. Charlize Theron is African-American. She is originally from South Africa, but she is white. I am white, my kids are black, and I'm not even a little sorry about that.

My own citizens arrest:
"Foster kids"- labeling children like this is often unintentional, and I've even slipped up before. Kids aren't separated into foster and non-foster. Kids aren't born to be in either of those categories and coming into foster care doesn't change their identities. The term that I use to correct people is "Kids in care". My children are not my "foster children", they are just my children, and I will call the word police if you specify that they came to me through foster care.

"Real Mom"- Ask me about my children's real mom, and I will personally detain you until the word police come with their batons and pepper spray. This is, again, a term that I think people say without even thinking about what it implies. I would just like to say that although I didn't give birth to my children, but I am still very real.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Respite Care: It's fun to have a fling!

Keeping in line with foster care being our love story, respite care is like casual dating. It's fun, breezy, short-lived, and a sub-category of foster care that we like quite a bit. Kids need respite care when their foster family can not care for them for a short time. There are two types of respite, vacation and behavioral/medical. While we love taking foster care placements, respite relieves us of the emotional turmoil that comes when attaching and saying goodbye to kids. Respite is taking a child into your home for a short, set amount of time. When they leave, they go to their foster home where they are already comfortble and you know the situation is safe.

Fireman Respite 1, Trick or Treating with the YoGabaGaba Gang

Most of our respite cases have been vacation placements.  Respite 1 was a 3yr old boy who we had for 10days in October 2009. His foster parents were helping foster Grandma move to Florida for the winter. We've had him several other times since then, and eventually had to stop becuse his fostermom was using respite like discount babysitting, but I enjoyed him very much. Respite 2 was an 11mo baby that stayed just overnight while his foster mom went to her cottage for the weekend. We have respite #4 right now, and her foster family went on vacation with their older children for winter break.

If a foster family has to leave their child for over 8hrs (or 12?) the caregiver must be a certified foster parent. Kids you get with vacation placements can't go with their family for a variety of reasons that can include: bioparents won't give consent for them to go, the trip isn't kid-friendly or is work-related, the child has school, the child doesn't adjust to change well, etc. We love vacation placements because we can go all-out spoiling the child without being too concerned about discipline or getting into a schedule. You also get to be blissfully unaware of the terrible details that come with every foster care case. And just when you get tired or realize you've eaten out all weekend- their foster family comes back and you ship them off , eat some vegetables, and take a nap. I want my respite kids to think my house is Disneyland, we go to the zoo, Build-A-Bear, indoor play centers, parks, anything fun! It's a vacation for the kids in my home too since they get spoiled right alongside the respite kids.

Baby 2 jumping with Respite 3

Behavior/Medical respite kids have special needs that require a more intensive care than vacation respite cases. They get repite regularly to give their families time to refresh since having a special needs child is so demanding. We've never had a medical respite, but are super-open to it. Respite # 3, a 4yr old boy, was our only behavior respite. We had him first for a 3-day weekend that went GREAT! Now I understand the phrase, "Honeymoon Period". The next stretch was 19 days that included Thanksgiving and the start of Christmas season. I experienced his first meltdown on the night of our Family's Thanksgiving dinner. After telling him he could have another apple after dinner, but not before, since he already had 2- he insisted that he had never eaten an apple. This escalated into him punching, kicking, biting, spitting and saying things like "I hate you!", "I'm gonna kill you", "I'm telling my Daddy you pinched me!", "I'm gonna cut my head off!". Remember, this was over an apple and he's 4yrs old. Immediately after he calmed down, he crawled into my lap and politely asked to watch a movie together. If he were my kid I would be all up in arms, calling his caseworker and diagnosing him with PTSD and bipolar while looking up treatment plans on WebMD. I'd be so embarrassed that my family just saw a 4yr old punch me in the face. But, alas! He was going home in a mere 10days and it wasn't my problem. I was able to love him without the obligation to understand or fix his behavior. Afterall, his foster family was at home resting up so they'd be fresh to do that when he got back to them. I let them and his caseworker know about the incident, then took him to the climbing wall at the indoor bounce center.

Another positive about respite care is that you can continue to utilize the child's daycare if they are normally enrolled- which all of our respite kids have been. This keeps the child's routine in tact as well as the schedule of our kids.  This allows us to take kids that might not mesh perfectly wth ours or who are coming at a time that's busy for our family.
Finally, a quick note about our family right now. Babies 2 & 3 are going home in 5 days. We've moved most of their belongings their Dad's house, switched transportation for Baby 2's preschool, and we've been getting lots of cuddles and "Love you"s in. AND we got to see baby 3's FIRST STEPS!!!

Respite 4 is also proving to be quite an adventure:
1. She's our 1st girl. We always agreed that we wanted boys, but after baby 3, I found myself thinking about dresses and hairbows. We have a pink bedroom in our house for goodness sake! We needed to use our dollhouse bed. So I was excited when we got a call for her. She is so much different from our boys.
2. She's our first white child. It's a HUGE issue in adoption circles that white parents have a hard time caring for the hair and skin of their black children. This is currently hysterical to me since my boys hair and skin have not been an issue for me at all, but I have no idea what I'm doing with her hair and skin. She has super sensitive and dry skin that requires extra attention than what I give my skin, but cannot handle thick cremes like my kids' skin. AND HER HAIR!!! I should preface this by saying I'm just getting used to  doing my own hair, so I'm a little behind the curve. Her hair is baby-fine and straight. It it all one length and falls into her face and food. It tangles while she sleeps and she has no tolerance to getting it brushed out. With my boys' tangles, I can oil and condition their hair and the the comb will slide through the knot, but white hair absorbs oil and easily looks dirty. When I have Baby 2's hair put in braids, it's a pain, but it stays for  3weeks, I'm not doing it every morning!... Long story short, I think I need more practice to get this down :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Stuff is a huge deal when it comes to a child coming in or moving out of our home.

None of our 3 children came to us with any stuff. If they had though, I would have needed to make sure that they went home with everything that came in with them. Even clothes that don't fit anymore or are dirty/torn may have emotional connections with the child because it's from home.

Our kids stayed with us for 8 and 11 months, and it is AMAZING how much stuff they accumulated. Baby 1 went home with 3 Rubbermaid totes of clothes and shoes. I'm finishing up packing Babies 2&3, and they're going home with about the same amount of stuff.
I color coded the totes for Baby 2's clothes and Baby 3's clothes to make it easier for Dad. Those totes are stuffed with clothes for now into summer. Once fall comes, baby 3 will fit into baby 2's clothes.

Then there's the misc bags of toiletries and shoes

Packing a child to leave is very emotional for me. It makes the reality of them leaving hit me. Packing gets me thinking about what they have here that they may not have at home and I get anxiety about if I'm doing/sending enough to ease their transition back to their parents. It's not natural to move a baby out of your house.

I made sure to write notes to Dad about which toys each baby sleeps with and what their favorite games are. This giant box has a piano and drum set, build-a-bears that have our voices singing to the boys, a ride on Kawasaki, puzzles, pillow pets.

I also sent any food that came from WIC. Next month Dad will be getting the boys checks, but there is enough to get through next week until March.

Getting through packing is keeping me busy as we prepare for the boys to go home next weekend. Brandon dropped of everything except 8 outfits for each boy today at Dads house. They're spending the weekend home. Respite 4 is here for 9 days, so she'll preoccupy me for a couple of days after they go home for good. My house feels naked without all the boys stuff everywhere, but as soon as we get the call for baby 4, I'm sure stuff will fill every bare space very quickly.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Foster care gave me split personality disorder

Today was the custody and permanency plan hearing for our boys. They were ordered home by March 1, and they'll physically go home for good Feb 27th. We expected this decision, but that didn't really soften the blow. I'm still sorting through my emotions and I'm realizing that there are several different perspectives rolling around inside my one crazy head.

Personality #1: The Humanitarian

The humanitarian in me is so happy to have been part of the solution for a family in need. I feel like biological families should be together and I'm so happy for Dad. I'm reminded of the foster care mantra, "Our goal is reunification". I want to sing kumbaya or something similar while bringing the family back together. I realize that when we signed up to be foster parents, it wasn't to lay claim to anyone else's kids, but to provide a safe place when a child needs one. I want to bring the boys home today- the sooner the better! They need to live with their parents as soon as possible and then I can go on to the next case and help the next family reunite because "We are the world" and such...

Personality #2: Mama Bear

I am pressed dangerously close to violence to protect my babies. I have a gut instinct that my children are being moved from our very safe, secure home into a place that is a sneeze away from danger. I know that the life my children are used to is healthy and loving, and coming to a screeching halt. The situation they are being moved to is busy, unpredictable, and filled with new faces who haven't been around for the entire year we've had them. I'm sad about losing my loves, and angry that no one else sees that moving a 1yr old who has only known me as his Mommy is NOT healthy or pro-child. It is putting the rights of the parent above the best interest of the child. I was the one who went to the NICU everyday and held him when he was 3lbs. We got him to his healthy, 17lb 12th month. Dad said baby 3 is "easy going" just like him. UM, No! He's easygoing just like us. His mannerisms are from us. His temperment is from us. His food preference is from us. We've cared for him 11mo, 1week, and 1day. Longer than biomom was pregnant, longer than biodad was around at conception and visits combined. I am outraged that anyone would even consider nature v. nurture at this point! I'm doubting my ability to love any other children. No new kids can measure up to my boys, especially now that I'm jaded by the system. I want to keep my boys until the very last second until the caseworker has to come to my house and physically take them from me.

Personality #3- The Well-rounded Hopeful

Then there's this middle ground, where I get the legal basis of why they were sent home. I understand that Dad believes he loves these kids the best. I understand that if every child was moved into a "better" home, all kids would be moved because there is always a family who can provide more, teach better, etc. I'm holding onto Dad's word that we can stay connected with the boys after they go home. I know that new kids will come and I will heal. I also know that if the boys ever come back into care, they will be placed with us again. I believe that the kids are young enough to adjust to a different parenting style and culture. They won't notice the financial differences between their foster and bio families. I accept my complete lack of control in this situation and will ride out this final week by trying to stay present and absorb every moment with them.

I would like to see some stats about mental illness diagnoses after foster care certification, because I can't be the only one losing my mind!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lifebooks: No memory left behind

Kids in care are all supposed to go home with a "Lifebook". It's a scrapbook of their time in care and is meant to give kids documentation of their life and the love shared by their biofamilies, foster families, and other people along the way. When kids go home, families often don't talk about the time spent in foster care as a way to forget the reason for the child being removed. This silence can be interpreted as blame or shame toward the child. Lifebooks hopefully remind the child that their time in care was not lost time or all negative. They grew, laughed, and loved even though they lived away from their biofamily

For older kids, foster parents are encouraged to get them involved by journaling and drawing the story of how they came into care and what they were feeling along their journey. With little ones, this is an craft project for foster parents. Lifebooks are a testament of the child's identity and worth by visually reminding the child how far they've come and all the people who support them.

Formatting the lifebooks for Babies 1 &3 was easy since I had them from birth through their first year. I assigned a page for every month and included a picture of baby that month, any milestones they achieved,holidays they experienced, weight/height, what they were eating, and what their visits were like.  I ended both their book with the date of their return home and a note about how special and loved they are.

Baby 2 was more difficult for me though. Since he came to us at 18mo and stayed one year, I wasn't sure what his life story was or what parts of his 2nd year he would want to remember. I got a great idea from our certifying caseworker who also does a lifebook training that I've been meaning to take. She said to do an ABC format. I'm so happy with how it turned out. Here's baby 2's ABC's:

B- Big Brother
C- Christmas
D- Daddy
E- Easter
F- Friends
G- Gymnastics
H- Halloween
I- I spy
J- Jump club
K- Kissing Kitty
L- Lilac Festival
M- Making Music
N- Nap
O- Outside
P- Party!
Q- Quiet
R- Rest
S- Swimming
T- Teresa and Brandon
U- Us
V- Valentine's Day
W- Weight
Y- Yummy food
Z- Zoo

With Baby 1, I made 2 scrapbooks. One went home with him and one was for me.It was a lot of work, but nice because I could adapt the book for the audience. The lifebook that went home had just  few pictures of us with him and tons of pics of the biofamily. The book I kept was mostly pictures of us with baby. This time around, I just made the lifebooks that would go home with the boys and color copied the pages for me to keep. This was time-efficient, but actually cost the same as making 2 books and I didn't have the choice to personalize our copy. The copies did come out bright and clear, so I don't regret it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hair's the Story: I wear my heart on my head

While styling my hair today, I had to laugh at how many looks I've sported since my relationship with foster care. Every time something changes in our family's situation, I take it out on my locks.

I'm excited to take a walk down hairdo lane:
September 2009. My 23rd birthday, our 4th anniversary, and 1mo since being certified for foster care and bringing home baby 1. I'm sporting a mid-length dark, layered look with trendy side swept bangs. Life couldn't get sweeter!

October 2009. The mom cut. It's mousy brown (I can't remember if I colored it like that, or if the dark just faded and I left it), short, and does the weird flippy thing in the back. Bangs? You can't really tell if they are short bangs that grew out or long bangs that accidentally got snipped too short. This cut happened after I was in full foster parent swing- taking care of a 3mo old and taking respite #1 (red shirt)!! Sick of pony tails, I asked the stylist for something short and fun. She gave me one look and decided frumpy best suited me. But just like my mom cut, life was effortless and and normal during this time and I loved it.

December 2009. The grow out. Here I am painting pottery with baby 1 mid-December. My hair is taking a break and letting nature run it's course. Same thing is happening in Baby1's case. Dad is fighting hard for him back, but is still not ready to keep baby safe. We have a court date the week before Christmas and the caseworker is telling me that baby may go home before Christmas since judge doesn't seem too concerned with the drug tests ("since it's just THC" !!!!!) and we've been doing overnight weekend visits for a bit over a month. I'm seeking the Lord's peace during this month, and trusting that my boy will be safe no matter what happens.

March 1, 2010. Judge orders baby 1 home by March 5 pending the safety inspection of Dads apartment. A full fringe bang and some blonde mark the occasion.

March 12, 2010- This is the last picture of baby 1 right before I bring him home for good. I was clearly 7 kinds of crazy when I decided to trim my hair myself. Apparently my bangs took the brunt of my heartbreak.

May 2010. I've had babies 2&3 for 2 months and my hair is the last thing I want to spend time on in the morning. So we go black and blonde and chop it super short with a fun high/low in the front. I feel like happy Mommy me is back, and my hair is following suit.

September 2010. My 24th birthday, 5th anniversary, and we're renewing our wedding vows!! Dad was all No's when we asked to bring baby 2&3 with us on a Vegas vacation so we could get married by Elvis. Using respite and missing our boys on my birthday was out of the question, so one craigslist ad later we brought Elvis to us and got married in my boss' backyard. My fun ringlets (courtesy of my BFF, Kiki) and "something blue" feather (courtesy of Etsy) are a great representation of how fun that day was especially since our sons were with us.

December 2010. There is no excuse for my hair. It's growing out again and my only goal is to keep it out of my face. In this picture is respite 3, who we had for 19 days. He was our first behavior respite case (as opposed to vacation respite). At 4yrs old, he has lived through too much and it shows in his acting out. This time is busy for us, and my hair is looking neglected.

Today!! I've gone with a red and short shag with quirky waves and a blunt bang. We are transitioning babies 2 &3 home. Court is Feb 17th. I feel like I should be all torn up, but I'm actually doing pretty well. Assuming the boys go home next Thursday, this hairdo will be saying goodbye to the tiny people I love more than my own life and probably welcoming the next chapter of our story. Respite 4 is coming next week. A 2yr old girl for 9days. The home finding caseworkers are pretty sure we'll have a new placement by the time she leaves.

I'm running out of new style ideas. Eventually I'll have to shave it. Maybe next year.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Shared Parenting and the Real World

Shared Parenting is a pretty new term for a pretty old idea in foster care. Boiled down to it's most basic principle, it's really about the adults in the triad "playing nice". The idea is to work together to make the transition in and out of care as fast and painless as possible for the child.

In my county, shared parenting consists of "icebreaker" meetings with bioparents and a 15hr shared parenting CORE class. We're encouraged to keep biofamilies updated on the child's development, schedule, preferences, etc. Shared parenting looks so neat and tidy in the training manual, but it's gritty, abrasive, and intimidating in real life.

Our first attempt at shared parenting came 48hrs after bringing home baby #1. The meet and greet with biodad. We walked into the agency and immediately identified Dad as he and baby are spitting images of each other. I smiled and brought the baby to him while scanning the lobby for the caseworker who was MIA. As we introduce ourselves, I call him by the name that was written on the intake report. Too bad it wasn't his name. As he corrects me, the caseworker comes up to us and tells Dad that the baby has been moved to our home from the foster family that had him for the first 4 days after his discharge from the hospital. What?! He didn't even know we had his baby or that he was coming to the agency to meet us. Way to be on the ball CW! So I let him know that baby is doing well, he had a checkup at he foster care clinic and he's back to birth weight and looking good. I give him pictures of baby in the crib at our house and his immunization record. I tell him how perfect his son is. I tell him we will treat his baby like royalty until dad can bring him home. Dad says nothing- literally staring silently at us. Dad and caseworker take baby into the visitation room for an hour long supervised visit, and we sit in the lobby waiting. We did everything by the book, but our icebreaker felt every kind of wrong.

My most recent attempt at shared parenting was with the Dad of babies 2&3. They are currently in the process of transitioning home, and have been doing overnight unsupervised visits. What I saw when they returned from their first visit was concerning to me. My size 3T toddler was dressed in his brothers 12mo clothes. They both started crying when they came inside the house, ate like crazy and fell asleep. For the next 2days, my 2yr old had to be physically connected to me or breakdown ensued. After consulting theirs and my caseworker, I decided to give Dad a call to talk about how we can smooth the transition for the kids. He was like, "I don't know what you re talking about. They ate and slept fine here. Not even one tear was shed over the weekend". OK, nothing you can really say to that. For the next visit, I wrote a very detailed schedule for Dad.  7:30- wake up, both boys change diapers and clothes. 8:00- Breakfast. Cereal and fruit for Baby 2. 8oz formula for baby 3, and so on. Dad called me at the end of the weekend to let me know that the boys had another great visit. They don't need to nap at the times I wrote or eat as often as I feed them (They are in the 10 and 25 percentile for weight), and toddler does fine at night without a nightlight. I kept my ego in check and said "That's great! I'm so glad everyone is well!". When they came home from that 2nd weekend though, they were happy, clean, and in proper clothes.

Our court date is set for next week. We expect babies 2 &3 will be ordered home- 2wks before baby 3's birthday and the anniversary of us getting baby 2. Shared parenting is the only "insurance" I have that we will continue contact with them. Maybe the tone of civility and common ground I have set will seem normal to Dad and he'll continue to put up with me for the sake of our boys. I offered to pay for a big party for baby 3 in exchange for being there and Dad agreed. He asked us to be the boys' godparents and said we can be involved in their lives. It sounds so great, but I've heard it before, and I guess I'm jaded.

Baby 1 went home nearly one year ago.  For 8mo I had kept a journal for bioparents and sent it in the diaper bag for every visit with updates, appointments and weekly pictures. I had a frequent phone relationship with Dad and even held the phone up to baby's ear when mom called to talk to her 3mo old. When baby 1 was ordered home, Dad was all, "Thank you for all you've done for baby 1! We'll keep in touch." He called me once/ week for 3wks to ask questions and give updates. Then I heard nothing. I called him for baby1's first birthday 4 mo later to set up a time to bring him a gift. Dad told me to call Mom who told me they wanted nothing to with me. "Baby 1 doesn't need anything from you". Shared parenting bit me in the fanny- that wasn't in the 15hr training.

Our sharing has taken a lot of editing in our words and attitudes. Shared parenting demands selflessness from foster  parents and trust from bioparents. Even though sharing has hurt me, I have to hold hope that it has helped my children- that bioparents are hearing what I say and doing what is best for our child.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Are they yours?" : Transracial Triumphs and Trials

I love being a transracial family. I love black people, I can't help it. All of our boys have looked black, although the first was biracial. I have gotten a few rude comments, some uncomfortable stares, and millions "Are they yours?"

People have made comments to me that "race doesn't matter", "we are all the same", "love is blind"- and while I think these ides come from  good heart, they are inherently wrong.

Race does matter. Race is part of your identity. Race, culture, heritage, and history are very closely knit together. We all need to feel validated and valued. If someone completely ignores your race, they can not possibly give you the validation you need. It's a little difficult to understand for white people because we get validated for our race all the time. I can look anywhere and see someone who looks like me who is successful and considered valuable to society. This is not so with other races. It is very difficult to look around for an Asian man in the media who is successful and considered valuable by society. We see black people in the media quite a bit, but if you take a closer look, those people are either very stereotyped as loud, large, or criminal (Randy Jackson, any r&b star/rapper, Queen Latifah) or they have noticeably white features (Halle Berry, Beyonce, Tyra Banks, President Obama). By not acknowledging race, we are telling transracially placed children that there is a part of them that doesn't matter.

We are not all the same. That is AWESOME! We have such a beautiful world because of our different races. Chocolate skin is beautiful, curly hair is gorgeous. that should be celebrated, not lumped in with everyone else.

Love is not blind. Love sees the blackhead I'm bout to pop on my husbands nose and love sees when I've gained 10lbs. Love can see if a child is a different race from their foster family. Even though my kids love me, and they know I love them. They need to hear me say that I can see our differences, and I love our differences. I don't love my kids despite their race, I love who they are, which includes their race.

Some Transracial triumphs we've had include properly caring for their hair and skin, switching churches for a more diverse setting for our kids, finding an excellent hair braider, and becoming comfortable talking about race bias and prejudice enough to educate my children on how we handle these issues.

I made a promise to myself that we would never let a child who was transracially placed with us be outnumbered by people who look like us. If we have a non-white child in our home, I don't feel like it would be fair to take in a white child, making the 1st child the odd man out. We chose to be a transracial family, not the child, so we should be the ones who are different. I consider us a black family with white parents instead of the other way around.

My favorite books about this topic:
Brown Babies, Pink Parents by Amy Ford
 Dim Sum, Bagels, And Grits: A Sourcebook For Multicultural Families by Myra Alperson Farrar

Monday, February 7, 2011

Keepsakes: How we honor our kids

I am a sucker for cutesy odds and ends. It's not surprising that I'm all about keepsakes when it comes to my kids. I started from day 1 with our 1st baby when I took out a shoe box and placed the outfit he was wearing when I picked him up in it. That became his box, and now it has his 1st Christmas stocking, the hospital band from when he had RSV, his temporary medical card that came before his permanent one that went with him, his hospital receiving blanket, one of his binkies, and the 1st birthday card I got him even though he had already gone home with his biodad. It wasn't until after he went home at 8mo old that I was so happy that I'm silly and sentimental. He is all around me,even though we're not physically together anymore. Here are the keepsakes I have of my kids:

I already told you about the shoe boxes. I have one for each child:

We also go this paint your own pottery place with our kids and put their hands and feet on plate that I have hung in my breakfast nook:

Of course we take TONS of pictures. I make 2 baby books for each of my kids- 1 for me and 1 stays with them when they leave. We also have pictures on our "Family Wall"

We also got  little unconventional with our keepsakes, and memorialized our kids with tattoos. Mine is a large grapevine across my back that has 3 bunches of grapes on it for the 3 kids we have. There's room for 6 more. After that, I guess we'll have to start wrapping the vine down my leg ;) Brandon is collecting superman logos for each child with their initial and birthday designed into it.

Keepsakes aren't just for us though. We also send keepsakes home with our kids when they leave. All of our children have a Build-A-Bear with our voices singing to them and saying "I love you" with their name.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Prepping Our House For Foster Care

Getting ready for kids is difficult for new foster parents. It's not like biokids where you know the ETA of your bundle for about 9mo, you know how many you're bringing home, and that they'll be newborn, and you might even know the gender of your tiny human. When gathering all the paraphernalia necessary for child rearing, we had no idea how many siblings were coming to us or how old they would be. We only had our certification guidelines to go by. We are certified for up to 4 boys and/or girls birth- 5yrs. When our 1st baby came to us, we had 6hrs before picking him up. With our 2nd, it was 45min. How do you prepare for that?

1. Bedrooms.
We have 2 bedrooms setup for children. This meant giving up Brandon's man-cave and the guest bedroom. We painted one room blue and the other room pink. Although if I had to do it over, I'd do both gender neutral. The blue room is set up in a teddy bear theme, and the pink room in a butterfly theme. We wanted something familiar and comforting for our kids. We own a bassinet, 1 apartment sized crib, 2 full size cribs, 2 toddler beds, and a twin over double bunk bed.  We keep the hard to move items set up and the easier to move beds in the attic. Craigslist is your friend when finding beds fast and cheap.

2. Clothes.
In the very beginning we owned 3 newborn pajamas that were given to us and a couple 2T tshirts and cotton pants I bought at Walmart for $1.00 each on clearance. When my kids leave, I make sure they go home with a full wardrobe for a whole year, but I keep clothes that have sentimental value to me but not the biofamily. So now, after 3 kids, I have a diaper box of clothes for every size NB-2T

3. Toys.
I didn't have to buy a lot of toys for foster care since I ran a daycare in my home previously. Kids that come into my home will want to see barbies, baby dolls, GI Joe's, and superheroes that resemble their own race. Older children that come into care may not know how to play with electronic toys appropriately, so if it's too costly to get broken, it's probably not a good fit for our kids. Imaginative play is very healthy for kids in care. My kitchen set and farm were great choices. I like to keep toys in large wicker baskets or colorful laundry baskets to make cleanup as easy as possible for the child who may have never had to put away toys before. Plenty of soft, comfort toys for children to sleep with are a must. My 2nd son sleeps with so many cloth books, teddy bears, lovey blankets, and plush baby balls I don't know how he even fits in the bed. But they make him feel safe, and that's all that matters.

Just as with the toys, books have to feature pictures of people from all ethnicity's. Tactile books are always a hit- the ones where there are different textures to touch on each page. Great tactile books are:
 Little Feet Love (Tiny Tootsies Touch and Feel Books) by Anthony Nex
Little Hands Love (A Tiny Handsies Touch and Feel Book) by Piggy Toes Press and Photography by Anthony Nex
Little Feet Like... (Giggle and Grow) by Piggy Toes

Some of my favorite books to have for kids in care are:
Billy had to move by:Theresa Ann Fraser
Finding the right Spot: when kids can't live with their parents by Julia Levy
The Star: A story to help young children understand foster care by Cynthia Miller Lovell
Maybe Days: A book for children in foster care by Jennifer Wilgocki

5. Movies
Keeping ethical diversity in mind, of course. The Cinderella movie starring Brandy is a great example of positive diversity in a film. The 1980's TV series Punky Brewster is now out on DVD, and is all about  little girl who is unable to live with her parents. The 1st season directly addresses foster care.

6. Car seats.
3 in 1 convertible car seats are the way to go when preparing for foster care. Walmart sells a Costco brand for under $40. These seats can be rear facing for babies under 1yr, forward facing, and can be used as a booster. Most 3in1's are good for 5- 40lbs. We own 2 convertible 3 in 1's, 2 infant carrier style seats, and 2 boosters.

7. Feeding utensils and food
It's a good idea to have plastic kids dinnerware around. Even older children may not know how treat real plates and silverware. Until I know, I use cute little robot set that I picked up at Target for $1 per piece. As for food, I keep a package of hot dogs and a few boxes of Mac'n'cheese around as well as Cheerios, Oreos, or Goldfish crackers. You want to present the child with some food fairly soon after they come to your home, so having stuff that every kid recognized is a great idea. After that, you can feel the child out for what they like. Because I take babies, I also keep a spare can of Enfamil Premium formula because I know that's the formula the foster care clinic our kids go to prefer. We own around 20 bottles in 3 different brands, just in case baby has a preference. My favorite are the Soothie brand bottles. They're easy to clean and the formula powder doesn't get all over like  the bottles with smaller mouths. Our 1st baby wouldn't take them, our 3rd only took them... Bottle brands are a crap shoot. Same goes for sippy cups, we have 1,000 different kids of those as well.

Those are the basics that we got when preparing for kids. Getting the house ready was so much fun. We still have to do a Target run everytime we take a new placement, but everything bought for the child after they are already with us is theirs and will go with them when they leave.

Right now we are going through the house to see what can be tossed or needs replacing. We are getting ready to take a new placement when babies 2&3 go home. 2yrs and 3 bbies later, I still got excited when I went to walmart to restock our binkies and baby dolls!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Confidentiality is crucial in foster care. Bioparents have the right to their privacy, and keeping confidentiality is crucial to build trust with your child. No details about a child's personal history should be given unnecessarily. This is important in real life and even more important on the internet.

Names on this blog have been changed to protect the privacy of my children, and their faces will not be shown in any pictures.

Let's start from the very beginning: How foster care found us.

This story starts in 1984, when Brandon was abandoned by his biomom and sent to live with his maternal grandmother. Her attempts to raise him as her own were noble, though not thoroughly effective. Having a legal guardian as opposed to a parent is confusing for a child. What happens if biomom comes back to get me? When will I see her? Are you my aunt or my sister? How do I explain my family to my friends? Compounding that confusion was the mystery of biodad. There was and still is a disturbing lack of info on him. Missing half of your heritage messes with the mind. Little did anyone know that this life experience is exactly what is needed to parent a child in care.

Teresa was raised by divorced parents that had their fair share of drama, but childhood was pretty typical of an only child living with a single parent- a lot of adult company, and early maturity. My favorite memories about being a kid center around my baby dolls. I literally played with nothing else. I remember feeling guilty if I didn't feed them or change their clothes. My mom tells me she cried when 5yr old me announced I'd be having a baby when I was 16yrs old. I had to be 6 or 7yrs old when I found "Taylor". She was by far my favorite doll, she was beautiful and she was black. Taylor was the start of my white baby doll strike. I only liked the black ones until I stopped playing with toys. No one realized how creepily prophetic that was until I became foster mom to 3 beautiful black children. Coincidence? Maybe, but it's still a great story.

Fast forward through the '90's to 2002. 15yr old Teresa catches the eye of 17yr old Brandon at our church's youth group. He asks her to be his girlfriend on her 16th birthday. We get hitched in 2005, on Teresa's 19th birthday. I felt so grown up back then, but to tell it now, we were just babies!

A couple of days into marriage, we made the reproductive choice to go off birth control and "just let it happen". 3cycles later, we started actively trying to get pregnant. A year and a half later, Teresa brings it up to her Dr. who informs her that the fertility clinic will not even see a patient that is under 25yrs old, but he is willing to run some tests and work with us. After some guess work, we think we have the right combo of drugs, and the Dr seems confident we'll be pregnant by cycle 3. Teresa quits her Preschool teacher position to start an in home daycare so she can keep the baby with her and still work.. We start the meds just as Brandon blows out his ACL (knee) and is recovering from surgery. So cycle 1 is a bust. Here comes cycle 2.... Teresa starts vomiting on Sunday morning. By afternoon she can hardly see, can't stay awake longer than 10 minutes, and isn't keeping down anything-not even water. A trip to the ER reveals viral meningitis. 8 days into her hospital stay, Teresa's kidneys begin to fail which isn't uncommon with the drugs used to treat meningitis. The recovery was long, and there was no trying to get pregnant with failing kidneys. Since no one wants their child in the home of someone with a communicable disease, the daycare flopped. New kids came in once she was well, but there was really no point in working from home if there wasn't going to be a baby anytime soon. Teresa closed up shop in Dec 2008 and started her job hunt.

The 1st suggestion about foster care came from our friend, Alyssa in Dec 2008. She had just watched the holiday special "A Home for the Holidays" which features children waiting in foster care to be adopted. She said, "You should totally get one". I said, "We're too young, no one will let us adopt. And it's so expensive. I would never want to get my hopes up for a child and have the parents take them back". That was the end of that, so I thought.

February 2, 2009- Teresa started her new job as a nanny to a family with 3 small children ages 6,4, 3yrs. The 6 and 4yr old are biosiblings who were adopted from foster care.The mother was walking Teresa through her first day and mentioned that the family was considering taking another child from foster care. This lead to a brief conversation about foster care. The very next day, Teresa took the kids to McDonald's for lunch. While they played on the indoor jungle gym, Teresa eavesdropped on a group of women at the table next to her. They were a support group of foster and adoptive mothers of children with special needs. I thought, "Interesting! I know a family who adopted from foster care". Literally the next day, I took the kids to the library for story time. There was a huge sign on the community bulletin board begging for people to come to an informational meeting about becoming a foster parent. I had been working 3 days and had been confronted with foster care 3 times. It was enough to make me take down the phone number for that meeting which was on February 22,2009.

I wanted to broach the subject of foster care gently with Brandon because I really wanted him to say yes. I asked him if we should go to the foster care meeting I heard about. It was said flippantly and in passing, but I will never forget Brandon's response. He knew my soul better than I did at that moment and very seriously told me we needed to pursue becoming foster parents. We brought Starbucks green tea in with us and made sure to smile and look very parental. A very experienced foster mother told us about her wonderful children and her own foster care journey from taking infants, to teens, to respite, to becoming an emergency home. She spared no gory details which included lice, poor hygiene, and smeared feces. Then they handed us an application. We got to the car, and I asked Brandon what he thought. He said, "I think we should go to dinner and fill out this application". We went to Applebees and the rest is history.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Your love story is pretty depressing.

It seems a little strange to equate foster care with a love story. After all, we hear about children languishing in care, being tossed around from home to home, being abused and neglected by foster parents who wanted a state check. Where's the love in that? Even if you have a more realistic view on foster care, everyone knows that a child in care has been abused or neglected somehow. So how can foster care be our love story? Incredibly, we have found so much love through this experience and I'm thrilled to be able to share it with you.

We fell in love with each other. Foster care is an incredibly demanding force that whips you up, down, and all around and dictates most facets of your life. My husband has seen me at my worst- literally crumbled on the kitchen floor trying to remember to breathe in between sobs and swear words. He's also seen me at my best, when he walked through the door after work and I was holding our 1st son, who had just come 2hrs before. I have seen him through times of fierce anger that only comes to a father when someone puts his child in danger, and I have witnessed him practice "How old are you?", "two" 20,000 times so our son had it down before his birthday party. We loved each other before foster care, but now we have grown up together in such a way that we are one, now more than ever. We know that no matter how much we share of our love story, only the other really understands.

We fell in love with God. Jesus loves foster care. He personally commanded Christians to care for the fatherless. Brandon and I spent a lot of time praying about expanding our family- about three and a half years (or 42 cycles if you speak TTC). I hit a point in my faith before foster care where I felt that I had laid it all in His hands. I had nothing left to give. I had nothing left to pray. In hindsight I can see so clearly that every hardship and disappointment has prepared me for foster care. I heard someone compare living through trials as seeing a cross stitch quilt from the backside. It looks crazy and ugly. When it's done, though, and you turn it around, suddenly all the chaos makes sense and it comes together to make something beautiful. I bring a quality of care to the table that is only learned through having needed care in the past. I have seen Jesus stand in the gap between me and my children when I was powerless to help them. I am in love with my Jesus, and foster care is the tangible evidence of His love for me.

We fell in love with our children. OBVIOUSLY!! We've had 3 children in the past 2yrs. They came to us at 10 days old, 18mo, and 1 week old. They are the most perfect children anyone has ever met. Just when I'm sure my heart is filled to capacity, I fall deeper in love with them.

We fell in love with their families. Here's the shocker. I never even considered it, much less expected to love our kids' biofamilies. These people have all made at least one poor choice. They haven't always been nice to us. Without them our children would not exist, and that instantly makes them superstars in our love story. Everything we love in our children is biologically connected to these strangers, who suddenly become family. We don't always like them. I wouldn't have chosen a social relationship with them outside of foster care. Suddenly though, it's really important to me that they stay well- that they have food, clothes, and housing. My kids will never be properly cared for if their parents haven't been given every chance at life.

The very nature of foster care demands that there be heartbreak and trauma for everyone in the triad. But we are proof that there is still room for more love than imaginable. I'm proud of our story, and it's exciting to start sharing it.