Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wanted: Nice Normal Family

I live my life in various shades of chaos. I always have. It looks good on me. I think that's why I fell so hard for foster care- I'm kind of built for it.

The past month has been heavy with opaque chaos:

My Mom is still all cancer/fight like a girl/radiation sucks.

I'm all this is what siblings are for- to share in the caretaking when the parents get sick and old/ I hate being the only child

Baby 2 & 3 have been here for 2 weeks, which is awesome and exhausting all at the same time.

Baby Girl had and MRI and sleep study done this month and both came back with bad news. We're really fortunate to live 10 minutes away from a children's hospital, and that's where we planned to do all her surgeries and what not- but now it seems they are in over their heads. We have to choose between Philadelphia or Boston and pursue more intensive testing and treatment from a bigger program. So, my daughter is a lot sicker than I ever cared to admit and we have to drive 5.45 hours away from now on to see her Doctors.

Baby 9 has started visiting 4 days/ week. I'm making the gun to the temple motion. I'm not against visits, but tethering me to the house for 4 days is torture. I asked if we could link 2 of those visits together with an overnight, so I would really only have to send her 3 days/week. They said maybe next month. Because an extra 2 weeks of this crazy schedule is helpful to who?

And Baby 4?

Baby 4 hates all of it. The changes, the bustling around, the whispering about things he doesn't understand, the little kids trying to use his toys.

And Relative Resource came to town and had 2 visits.

Then he went to camp.

Then camp ended.

Now the behaviors are out of control.

Well, out of my control- which is the whole point, right? He's trying to be in charge so all these unknowns can't hurt him. But what ends up happening is we get through 3 hour screaming tantrums, trashed bedrooms, privileges taken, food uneaten, toys broken- and we're left with a hurt kid who wants affection and attention paired with a tired Mom who wants space and silence.

No, I don't want to watch Spiderman on the couch with you after you threw a dirty pull up at me.

It got really bad last weekend. We had to take down his bunk beds and bookshelf for safety reasons. More than half of his toys were broken and needed to be tossed out. All of the remaining toys are now stored in my dining room instead of in the bedroom- again to ensure everyone's safety and the integrity of my walls/windows. I ended up calling the pediatrician and asking for help. They offered to send us to the children's hospital for a psychological evaluation.

This is not the first time that a mental health diagnosis or medicinal treatment has been mentioned concerning Baby 4. Every teacher, therapist, caseworker, etc has asked me about it. I've been viscerally opposed to both ideas. He's A BABY!! I don't want to dope him up or label him because his reaction to stuff no kid should ever have to go through is socially inappropriate. So I push and push for more play therapy- more talk therapy- more support groups. He's been in therapy every week for 31 months.

While I champion the cause of refusing to unjustly add more stuff to 4's life, am I also refusing the very thing that could help him? Am I delaying the inevitable, and keeping him unhappy and struggling longer than necessary?

He doesn't like raging. He doesn't like being in timeout. He doesn't like having no friends. He wants to be able to do better.

I don't have the answer to my dilemma. I'm hoping the evaluation will help shed some light.

So I emailed the caseworker, letting her know what was happening. My email was long and emotional. Her response was, "Thanks for the update." Yep.

Then Therapist #1 came to our home and talked about what was going on:  How are you feeling when you do these things? MadWho are you mad at? My Mom. What made you mad? She put me in my room. I thought you said you went to your room after you started screaming, so it sounds like you were mad before that. I'm mad that I won't live here anymore  Where would you live if you didn't live here anymore? With my Dad.

Yep. It always comes down to that. Permanency. The one thing I can't give him.

They continued: Do you like Baby 2 & 3? Yes. Do you think they like you? No. What makes you think they don't like you? They think my scars are gross. [me] Did they say that to you?! No, but everyone thinks my scars are gross.

That's a heavy load for a tiny soul.

So I mentioned it to the caseworker when she cam for her bi-monthly home visit. Her response? "Well, you know the kids were calling him 'burn boy' at camp." No. I didn't know that. Why didn't I know that? Turns out there were conversations about it between the caseworker and camp director, but no one thought to include me. Baby 4 didn't say anything about it- which is disturbing in the 'My 1st grader doesn't tell me when bad stuff happens' kind of way. She ended her visit with, "So, things are going well here.." Clueless. Worthless. Depressing.

Today we saw Therapist #2. He talked to me alone for a good part of the session: I got a call from the pediatrician. Yes, things have been rough and I reached out to them for help {followed by details of the past month} Wow, you have a lot on your plate. You're looking at me like it's not his behavior getting worse, but my reaction due to stress. I assure you, the issue at hand is definitely these behaviors that are not typical of a child this age. Are you going to continue to have children coming in and out like you have been? Yes. ***Blank Stare*** <<crying because I'm uncomfortable and sleep deprived>> This is our family. We have a lot going on, but that's how we function. Kids come in and out- that's what foster care is. We're a foster family. But it's not working for 4. Any threat to his stability will cause these explosions. He needs less triggers. So moving him to another home after almost 3 years would help him? (Something that I didn't pay attention to because it was a ridiculous comment about how a more stable home would be better for him unless we could somehow change our current situation.) How do I turn my back on foster care when it's what brought us together in the first place. Fostering is part my identity. It's what I do. I'm not saying stop taking kids forever, but for now. I'd consider it.

Baby 4 needs a nice, normal family. Not one with a cancerous Granny on the couch, and a dying baby with her 6 full time nurses in the next room. Families with babies who leave and come back mysteriously several times/week, or who go from 4 people, to 6 people, to 5 people, to 7 people, back to 5 -all in 4 months- need not apply.

But here's the deal: Nice Normal Families don't do foster care!!!! Not for long anyway. They would either have to quit or become an insane chaos ridden family before they could ever see Baby 4's case through. If we were the kind of family Therapist 2 thinks Baby 4 needs, we would have never said yes to take him. Nice, normal families take healthy, white newborns. (Nice, normal families don't come right out and say stuff like that, though)

And that nice, normal family? What would they do when these behaviors come up? Nice, normal Moms do not know how to dodge a flurry of pee filled pullups. Nice, normal Dads don't go buy a new bed frame at 9:00 at night because the one that's currently up is too hard to be banging your teeth on, so we have to switch it out.

I have yet to see the lines of nice, normal families who are waiting to take traumatized kids off the hands of us crazies. If you do happen to see such a line, they are welcome to try to do this better than me.


  1. I'm sure you are doing wonderfully! I totally agree with you...those nice normal families don't want and/or can't handle what you are dealing with. I wish you had a therapist that could help you see how much you are helping baby 4. I bet he's made tons of progress while he's been with you and even recently. Remember, sometimes making process looks a whole lot like getting worse... Good luck! Keep up the good work! Know you're not alone!

  2. thank you for your honesty. stay strong sister. when you are weak, God is strong.

  3. Blessings to you and hang in there. You're right- you're a foster mom, not a normal mom :) As I read this, I am listening to my latest arrival snore in the next room. He arrived late last night and I don't have any clue about his personality yet...I am on pins and needles waiting to find out what he's like. Here's hoping we can give him what he needs...

  4. Hang in there! You'll be given the strength to get through this. -Kara

  5. Thanks for sharing. We are just in the process of getting our license. I am appreciative of people like you, who will share their lives with these little guys and your story with the rest of us. May God bless you as you fulfill His calling.

  6. There's so much to take in here. I love your honesty.
    As for nice normal families, many so called normal families have illnesses, death, accidents, move to new homes and new schools and face many difficult issues, but at the bottom of it all they are a family and nothing can take that away from them. When children like Baby 4 have to spend their whole lives wondering where they belong and who will stick around to care for them, who will hurt them, who will be their "constant" it is so damaging. As an adult involved in foster care all of these things REALLY get to me, I can't imagine how a child handles all the unknowns? I'm feeling pretty ineffectual as a foster parent right now as Primo and his sibs have been condemned to another year in foster care via a technicality. As long as the system disregards and minimizes foster children's need for permanent families the miserable cycle continues.
    I know you are dealing with so much more than most families do at one time and I wish all good things for you and yours.

  7. "Nice Normal Families don't do foster care!!!! " I love this!
    I'm so sorry that you are having to deal with all of this extra foster care stress at one time. Sometimes when I get really overwhelmed I imagine the kids as teens or young adults and try to get a feel for whether or not all my efforts will make a difference. I almost always get a sense of peace that even if their lives end up rocky by my standards, we were a lifeboat (a small, imperfect, stressed out lifeboat) for them for at least a little while. I pray that no matter where life leads them, at least they will know that lifeboats exist.

    Hang in there sister! If I was your neighbor I would come by right now with a big tray of potato skins and some diet coke! Praying peace and comfort and lifeboats over you and your family.

  8. This is exactly what we need to do with elder day care services. We have to make sure that the seniors are cared for in a professional manner.
    Senior Caregivers South Florida

  9. THANK YOU! Thank you for being willing to be honest about the situation and the people who sign up to invite these situations into their homes and lives...
    You and your family are remarkable.

  10. thank you so much for sharing your experience. I know our foster families have a heavy burden with little respite. Thank you for fostering! If you get a chance, take a look at this ebook project I just started to provide scholarships for children in foster care.
    Thanks again, Malinda

  11. WOW! Reading this is like looking in a mirror. We have had 2 boys living with us for 3 months now. One is 9 years old and the other is turning 1 on Sunday. We are experiencing some difficulties with the older boy. Reading your dialogue between the therapist and baby 4 was almost exactly the conversations i have with our 9 year old. He does not want to go back to his mom and is terrified and i know he is hiding all of that emotion underneath his behavior but it is WEARING ME OUT!!! i am at my wits end and i have nowhere else to turn. I just have to reload every night when he goes to bed and pray that the next day will be better.

    Our caseworkers must be the same person because mine is about as distant, clueless, and passionless as yours. I have had my boys for 3 months and no therapy has been scheduled, she will not take notes at any visits with mom, I go and take notes myself and make copies and tell her to put them in her file... i asked my personal caseworker the other day if they were in the file and she said no. my child has told me horror stories about his home and nothing has been done. i am so devestated for my boys that they have someone who is supposed to be fighting for them and she could care less.... she wants to get it over with and move to the next family. it makes this process so much harder. i am so glad to know we are not the only ones feeling so defeated. thank you so much for sharing.

  12. K. So If we are already not a 'nice normal family' we've got a shot at this thing. Good to know. I'm following. We have a lot to learn.

  13. THANK YOU THANK YOU! I don't know any nice normal families that foster. i would love to know them. And drain them in my quest for "normal" fostering!