Monday, March 27, 2017

Not the End

You guys, this Love Story got crazy, like, for real. 

And I just left you hanging, which was so rude. 


Let's catch up:

We lost the fair hearing to overturn the indication against Brandon. Neglect Finding: "Inadequate Parental Supervision" now comes up on his State Central Registry background checks, and will until Baby 12 turns 26 (8 yrs past 18th birthday). The fair hearing and decision still leaves me completely flabbergasted. There was NEVER a theory or account of what happened to Baby 12- except that he was in a car accident- with the county contracted transportation service- before we found bruises on him- it doesn't even seem like anyone thinks Brandon did anything "wrong" besides not know when and where the bruises appeared. This skips ahead to point 4, but I love having a reason to bitch about Brandon. If I can be angry and blame him for something, please, sign me up. Still, I can't say a single thing against him on this issue. He absolutely did not hurt or neglect Baby 12 or any of our children, ever. His actions and responses during the night of the bruises were exactly the same I would have taken. He was the victim of a system under scrutiny that is desperate to pass the buck and look proactive while simultaneously doing nothing for children or families.

Baby 9's adoption was finalized on National Adoption Day 2016. She was adopted by both of us, and we all couldn't be happier. We had some extra steps to take because of the indication, but everyone agreed that moving her from the only family she's known was harmful and unnecessary.

The county did close our home for future foster care after the adoption. There was talk of keeping us certified and "on hold" just to allow me to continue training. After a chat where I was clear that the only reason people loved my classes was my raw honesty, and I could not teach any other way, we received a letter in the mail saying we are completely closed. No one over here was shocked even a little.

Brandon and I are divorcing. Nonsalvageable is the most accurate word I have, but still doesn't hold the punch necessary for the reality of what happened to my marriage. We were so young and took on the world with limited experience and exposure. We ran head first into crisis after crisis while everyone cheered and admired, but had no way to know what kind of support we'd need. It was our youth and ignorance that gave us the courage to build what we did, and I can't despise or regret that. It was also our undoing. We were changing with age and exposure, and didn't do it together. We both literally looked up after 5 years of floating in the same pool on different rafts, and realized the other wasn't there. It's sad to have failed and happy to have survived all in the same tear. Our three babies have two parents who love them like crazy and are committed to their wellbeing and security. There is no way that I could have written a happier story with what I knew at the time, and no way I could have written this story knowing what I know now, I wouldn't change a thing. We are comically incompatible now. It leaves no room for uncertainty or confusion. A year later, I am thankful for it all.

Stepping out of overwhelming chronic helplessness resulted most visibly in a 90 lb weightloss for me. I've joined the ranks of soccer Moms who "just want to lose that last 10lbs", and I'm digging it.

Baby 4 is huge now. We had to have the deodorant talk, and everything. He is still amazing, and courageous, and resilient, and challenging, and impulsive, and frustrating, and charming, and clever, and full of promise.

Baby Girl is medically as stable as she's ever been and getting ready for Kindergarten- which should be illegal since she was an infant 4 seconds ago.

Baby 9 is the epitome of healthy, thriving preschooler: loving independence, princesses, and "dippy eggs".

And, Jesus? He showed up in a big way for all of us, and, in true Jesus fashion, broke down every religious ideology that every bogged down my spirit. I learned about grace from the only place that it matters- down in the mud. While I've never stopped being His, my love for Him is a whole different creature than it was. His love for me is exactly the same: complete and incomprehensible. 

While we've turned some pages, the story continues. The love is here and as encompassing as ever. I can tell you, it never stopped being worth it.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Waiting Games

We are still in limbo with little to update.

The follow up meeting with the administrators and adoption team happened. The supervisor who was condescending and obviously against us moving forward with our adoption in the last meeting sent a list of questions to our marriage counselor before we met. The response she got back was blunt (and hilarious, but I'm sure only to me); the agency is outside their scope by pushing into issues that do not impact the well being of our children. I was nervous walking into the meeting knowing that exchange had occurred. I was pleasantly surprised when we were met with smiling faces and supportive accolades from the team. The meeting was short and sweet. None of that means anything, though.

On St. Patrick's Day, we had the fair hearing to overturn the indication on Brandon from the investigation back in August. The indication is still the thing holding up our adoption process. We really need it to be overturned. We hired a lawyer who is as confident as we are that the evidence in the CPS investigation does not support any theory that Brandon neglected or abused Baby 12. Further, when he obtained the CPS file, it was clear that CPS doesn't have a theory at all. He said the report is the equivalent of saying, "The sky was blue on Thursday. You were outside on Thursday. You made the sky blue.". I was still sick to my stomach walking into the court building, though. The CPS investigator, county attorney, our attorney, and us were the only people there. I could not go in because I am a witness and could not hear the investigator's testimony. I waited in the lobby for 3 hours. Occasionally I heard our lawyer raise his voice. It seemed pretty intense. They were not done questioning the investigator before the judge said we had run out of time and had to come back for a continuation. We had waited all this time, and nothing happened. Again. Brandon and our lawyer were both pleased with how it went. I guess that's something.

Then we went back to waiting.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Turned Tables

We sat at the conference table while everyone introduced themselves: Homefinder, Adoption Supervisor, Adoption Administrator, Adoption senior worker, Adoption case worker, Homefinding Administrator, Homefinding supervisor, Me. I never feel small. As a matter of fact, I often feel too big: larger than life, louder than appropriate, always needing to tone it down. Right then, I felt like I had to sit up tall, enunciate, and throw my voice to make sure it got across the room.

They started,  "Tell us what got us here.".

Uh, well, I guess it starts in August with the first CPS report and the injuries to the child in our home. We don't know what happened to that child. It shook me because we protect kids. We've given the past seven years of our lives to this. He clearly got hurt, but no one knows how, and then CPS said it was my husband's fault. I didn't handle that well. It put pressure on our marriage. We dealt with the stress very differently. I wanted to talk and connect with other people and get out of my head. He wanted to internalize and shut down; not worry until there was something to worry about. I started going out frequently. The affairs, you know about. You have to understand that we have surrounded ourselves with conservative Christian people who all speak CPS fluently. This was a conscious choice on our part, but it hasn't served us well here. When my behavior started to change, the people around us responded very strongly. I don't think that a different group of friends would have had any concerns for our children. My husband is here with me. We have sought counsel. We are committed to our family and our children. We have proven ourselves over 7 seven years and 15 children. I've struggled for 4 months. I'm asking for time to recover from the rug being pulled out from under us.

Their responses are mottled in my memory:

I have seen other families go through false allegations and indications, and I can tell you your behavior is not typical. We usually see these situations strengthen the family. They come together and support each other.

We cannot recommend adoption at this time when we question the stability of your marriage.

I have to imagine that if he is supporting you, he is either lying about being upset or he's completely indifferent to you. Neither is a good thing.

Are you going to continue any relationships outside of your marriage? No.

What about the drinking? There is no drinking problem. All of those reports have come back unfounded.

Are you staying home? Yes.

We need to see you take responsibility for your actions. I don't know how to show a caseworker that I'm taking responsibility for the cracks in my marriage when my kids are not involved in that.

Your faith-based counselor is not comfortable communicating with us. You have to start secular couples' therapy. We need to hear from that therapist that you are stable and ready to adopt.

I have to address the pink elephant in the room. Get it together, guys.

You look really nice. I was worried that you would come in looking haggard. 

...if you want to move forward with fostering.... I'd rather set myself on fire.

Essentially, you have become the clients. You have to prove to us that you are making progress.

Sometimes we see, mostly with birthparents, that they say they want their children, but when the time comes their actions tell us they aren't really sure. Could it be that adopting a third child in the same amount of years is too much? Absolutely not. The pending threat that a governing agency can come in a take my daughter who I love more than life based on the opinion of a person behind a desk formed by the allegations of former friends who now hate me is too much.

You can't have any police contact. We've never had any police contact.

"We're here. We are not going anywhere. We'll do everything you ask us to. Baby 9 is our top priority."

I cried throughout the meeting because I was so frustrated. They all clearly have opinions about me. I don't need them to like me or understand our situation. I really need them to leave their opinions out of their official decisions. I don't think that's happening, though. They are not sticking to the questions they ask everyone who is adopting. No one else gets asked about who they sleep with. They can't tell me what typically happens in families when crisis comes. I know the families she's talking about. I've talked to them after their meltdowns. I've heard the stories. They just don't have their friends running to the CPS hotline every time they're mad. Ironically, that night is the first night in a while I want to stay out and be away from my family. It's too hard to keep a happy face today.

It hits me hard right then. This is how our kid's parents are treated. A seemingly insurmountable number of people gather with bits and pieces of your story and want you to prove yourself. They say, "Go.", and you know it doesn't matter what you do. All that matters is how they interpret it- which you obviously have no control over. It's hard not to get caught up in insignificant details. I wanted so badly to go back to the drinking and police comments, "Why is that even being mentioned? That's not part of our story.". I know that fight would be futile and more important is doing what I can with the issues that do apply. The system is built to put the most stress possible on a family that is already in crisis. That way, we know they can handle staying together. I wonder, though, if supporting the family and removing some of the stress would allow them to better display their strengths. If we didn't cause more stress, would we see faster recoveries? I think a lot of the relapses we see in our parents are reactions from dealing with the system- not from the natural stresses of life. They would probably be fine with just life. I'd probably be fine with just life.

From this side of the table, I don't feel like we're protecting children or helping families. This side of the table feels like war.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Weary in Well Doing

Since August, I've been waiting for a moment- no matter how brief- of sun break where I can post something flowery and uplifting. Around October, I began searching for even something neutral to write. Now all this time has passed, and you're getting another bummer update from an unrecognizable version of me.

First, and certainly most important: all 5 of us are still here together. Baby 9's adoption has been paused for now. Despite several valiant efforts, the agency has not successfully been able to defend their desire to move her.

The fair hearing to overturn the indication is in March. That's our biggest hurdle. Having an indication means the judge has to decide to give us an exemption in order to adopt. We don't want to have to rely on that.

There have been more reports made to CPS that have come back unfounded. Allegations that I am drunk and high while with my children. That I come home drunk and "pass out" at night. One said that Brandon has pointed a gun at me. All are completely false and were made specifically to stop Baby 9's adoption and hurt me. Anyone who knows us and sees our children would never have legitimate concerns for their well being.

I have learned a lot about people in the past 6 months. I have learned a lot about myself. I honestly didn't know that people can turn so dramatically and quickly under pressure. I always assumed that someone's character was relatively constant. Now I know that even really good people can become horribly destructive and heinous in the right (wrong) circumstances. I've done it. I've made choices that I knew would hurt people I love because my own survival was my top priority. I've had it done to me. I've been lied to. I've been left by people who told me they understood and supported me. I've watched my story get tossed around and twisted to fit another person's vendetta. I've seen the moment where love starts costing too much and hate's affordability turns the people I thought would never leave. I know about being reckless and selfish. Those things hurt, but I at least get it. I've racked up quite the list of collateral damage from my actions. I'm still adjusting to the news that sometimes people do horrible things specifically to cause injury to others. I really didn't think that people- normal people, who hang out and go to church and raise kids- would go out of their way to destroy another person when there is nothing to gain for them. Hearing about the accusation that Baby Girl "is underweight, and not fed properly", when her pediatrician has been monitoring her weight gain to make sure she's not too heavy for her height, taught me quickly that I've been wrong about a lot of things.

So many times, I've wanted to quit. I really want to run. I want CPS and foster care away from my family. Why are we still here? What's the point of dragging my family through months and months more of trauma, stress, and fear when it may leave Baby 9 without us anyway? It's in these moments, I have to step aside and let God. I get still and He steps in, immediately reminding me He hasn't left us yet. He hasn't let any of my children go out of His sight. He has held us through every other horrible heartbreak that I never imagined surviving. I have been saved by His grace. I have been forgiven through His blood. There is no possible reason for me to believe that it was all so we could get to this point and God would say, "Alright, this is on you. Good luck.". My view of the world has changed, but God's view remains the same. My spirit has been crushed, but His Spirit is omnipotent. I fail daily, but He has never failed.

Baby 9 has people who will never leave her. She is healthy, and developing, and full of joy because God saw fit in His awesome design to use my family in her redemption story. He looked at her and let her path intersect mine. We are part of a good plan. We are here for His work.

"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." Galatians 6:9

I'm holding on. It's exhausting. I take more breaks than forward steps. But I haven't given up.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


I'm blogging from my phone because my computer has been out of commission since my last post. That's part of the no update... The other part is that I was waiting for some kind of positive spin or silver lining. That's not coming, though. I don't have it in me to mince words, so this is going to be an uncomfortable read with some swearing. If that offends you, please stop reading after the next paragraph.

CPS indicated my husband in the investigation on the injuries of Baby 12. They do not have a theory of what they think occurred that night. They simply feel like he should know what happened. Baby 4- in an effort to move the blame off himself- lied about things that he saw, heard, imagined, and counted. His stories were plentiful and never consistent, but they made the agency question the safety of our home. After they indicated the first case, 2 more CPS reports were called in anonymously accusing me personally of substance abuse and neglect. Those reports were unfounded and those cases are closed. The agency is hopelessly split over what to do with Baby 9- who we are in the process of adopting. There are people who desperately want her to stay with us and firmly believe we are the family that we have always been. Then the other half do not want to chance letting a child stay in a home where abuse or neglect have ever been questioned. I remain steadfast that we have always been the  family we are now- genuinely devoted to loving all the children in our home and keeping them safe.

That's the end of the niceties.

You guys, I lost my shit over this. I've lost 40 lbs since August- literally just being consumed by it all. 

I couldn't be home after I found out about the indication. I couldn't look at my husband- who I know was going through what I was (except worse because it was him they were indicating)- and he wasn't opening up to me. As unfair as it was, I was mad at him for not protecting our family from this. I could not handle Baby 4 continuing with stories and lies that could endanger Baby 9's placement and the investigation. There was a little, "How could you, after everything we've given you?", and a little, "He saw how this worked. He's going to pull this shit over and over for the rest of our lives.". So I ran. I escaped any chance I could. I was out almost every night, and on the nights I was home - my husband was out. It got to the point where my kids would see their Dad walk in from work and turn to me to say goodbye.

I did everything I could to get out of my head and I hurt everyone. I betrayed my friends and broke those relationships forever. I stepped out on my husband- permanently altering our marriage. Everyone that tried to offer support has been negatively impacted by my downward spiral. All of my transgressions are out in the open now. Everyone knows what I've done and wants me to fix it- but I can't. 

I have never been in this place where I wasn't ready for a fight. I'm a fighter. I'm good at it. I can throw words and wear a blazer and make everyone in a meeting sit up straight while they agree with me. I've never been afraid of anything. My faith has been developed in that place. I know what it feels like when I'm going to fight, and I know to check in with God before I make my plans. I know He's faithful to go before me and give me favor, and comfort me, and peace that passes all understanding, and every other good Christian thing. Jesus and I have fighting down to a science. I didn't stop to check in with Jesus when I was going to run in August, though. I didn't have the practice in my faith to know He'd do all those good Christian things even if I did nothing. I treated me and Jesus like a team where I had to pull my own weight. That's not how it works. He's the Shepard, and I'm the sheep. The expectation for things working out never falls on the sheep. The Shepard doesn't ask for 50/50. In my fear, I decided to forsake my faith and self destruct. I made no effort to try sparing the people around me. That's something that I'm very sorry for.

I was a foster Mom. I put my entire last 7 years into our love story. I don't regret a single thing about that. All our friends were foster friends. Our reputation was fostering. My job was training foster parents. I was going to do this forever, and I was going to be great at it. Then it was all dying. I have no clue what else I want to do with my life. I literally cannot imagine a world where I have more purpose and more impact than I did in fostering. I was 22 when we started this. I turned 29 in September. By the time I'm 30- everything I've worked for in my adult life will be gone. My whole identity will be gone. And it's all over lies. We have never stopped being great foster parents.

For a while, the fleeing worked. I fell in love, and felt adventurous and wanted. I connected with things outside of fostering that made me feel like myself. I used to be the girl who knew about local musicians, and said risqué things, and went out dancing with my Mom. People liked me and we always had friends around before kids... I could be that person again. But I did it all the wrong way. I was reckless and selfish, and didn't reconnect to the past with my husband. I did it with someone else's. When that came out, the fleeing couldn't work anymore. 

I don't think foster care broke me. I'm certain I broke me all by myself. The love in our story stands. I wouldn't go back and change anything about the kids we've loved or their families. I don't even think I would change giving my entire self to foster care. I really wish it wasn't ending. I really wish I had a graceful exit somewhere inside me. I really wish I had used the last couple months helping the people I love instead of licking my own wounds while they wrecked themselves for me. 

This isn't a goodbye post. The story is not over, although it's in its last couple chapters. We have to appeal the indication and get it overturned. We have to fight to keep Baby 9, and that probably means jumping through tons of hoops. If everything goes well, we could adopt her and close our home in the spring/ early summer. If the shitstorm continues as it has been, we could need to give our opinion on a new adoptive family for her in the next 90 days and be closed then. I do not see a storyline that includes continuing to foster. There is also no chance of our adopted children being removed because there is no actual health and safety risk in our home.

I am in a better place than I have been since all of this went down. I'm not fleeing anymore. Some days are harder than others. Some days I have to write myself, "Do Not Run" notes, and other days I can focus on helping my family heal. All 5 of us are here at home. The kids are mostly unaware of what's happening. They are getting tons of screen time so the adults can talk, but they are also seeing us talk and be together way more than we have been.  I'm happy for the chance to show my kids how to work through trouble instead of running. I'm humbled to the point of physical pain that my husband is standing next to me through this. It's hard not knowing what the next story will be. I am actively forcing my faith to keep me still while God makes that plan. He won't withhold any good thing from me. His ways are higher than my ways. When my heart is overwhelmed, He will lead me to the rock that is higher than I. I don't have to chase the next story.  

Thank you for all the comments and emails checking in. It was very grounding to not be forgotten. I'm sorry I didn't have a happy response for you. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

How are you?

Quick overview: Tuesday was the visit and accident. Wednesday was the day we saw bruising, a CPS report was made, and the kids were removed from our home. Thursday Baby 9's adoption worker came out and told us she had asked for Baby 9 to be removed as well, but her supervisor denied her request and chose to wait until a finding is made in our CPS investigation. Friday was the day that the CPS investigator came out and interviewed me, Brandon, Baby 4, and Baby 9. I feel like that went well. the investigator said that when she interviewed baby 13 in his new home, he did not have a consistent story and did not seem to know what timeline anything happened on. That is totally normal for a 3 year old, but not super helpful in an investigation. She said, The only thing I know for sure is that he was in a car accident Tuesday evening, and we don't know the severity of it yet. It didn't sound like a sure thing, she thinks we're innocent, but it sounded like she was being fair and thinking through all possibilities.

After the investigator left on Friday around 2, I slept until 9pm on the couch. My parents took my kids out to the park and the mall. I stayed in bed most of Saturday too. It took extraordinary will to get up at 2 pm to shower. Yes, I was laying down, half-comatose for 24hrs. I'm writing it because I'm trying hard to be honest. I got out of the house Saturday night for a babysitting gig I had set up a while ago. Having clean clothes on and forcing myself to drink water did perk me up.

I'm still getting tons of support from everyone, but now people are wondering how to handle me. I'm getting a lot of What do you need? How are you feeling? Really, truly? I don't know.

I feel exposed. Like everyone found out some deep, dark secret of mine. It's not that I did anything wrong or had something I was hiding. I feel like everyone can see I'm just human. I was out with my friends completely unaware that my kid needed me. I don't have supernatural powers to know when a kid is lying or telling the truth. I can't guarantee I'll give Baby 9 everything I thought I could promise her family. It's my job to keep my kids safe. I took that very seriously, and still Baby 13 got hurt. I couldn't help him. I couldn't write a compelling email to fix it. I can't find a community resource to help. I can't advocate for a better situation for my family. I'm just me, and I'm a the mercy of CPS like every other Mom in their caseload. I feel like I failed. I know I did the best I could muster for all my kids while they were here. It stings the back of my throat to realize along with everyone else, that my best wasn't enough.

I'm just human, and it's not enough.

Feeling all of that is too much on me, so I need to sleep. I can't be awake with all these thoughts. They are physically painful.

I'm scared, and sad, and frustrated, and anticipating it getting worse before it gets better. I don't miss the kids yet. I know that's coming, but it hasn't hit me, and when it does it will be bad. So, I have that to look forward to.

I obviously can't say that to all the people asking, so I say, "I've been better." or "I'm getting there."

Then I crawl back into bed. Just like I'm going to right now. I lay and wait for the storm to pass.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The drop off

Everyone rallied around me when we got the news that our new kids were being removed. I was getting calls and texts. My parents came to help pack. Friends took my 3 other kids to their houses. Baby Girl's nurse came back after her shift with plastic totes and to help with Baby 11.

I was dazed. I started pulling clothes out of all the closets and drawers. I went through our toys, and shoe boxes, and laundry, and diapers. I located all the medical cards and WIC checks and wrote down all the future appointments and phone numbers that could be needed. I packed up medicines and wrote down schedules for feedings and meds. I tracked down bottles, and baby hats, and socks. I packed up all the new school supplies and uniforms I had gotten for Baby 12- who starts Kindergarten in 2 weeks. I took down all the Frozen party decorations and packed them in gallon sized ziplock bags so they could be re-hung in the new house.

My house looked like a war zone. I cried with reckless abandon in front of everyone. And there was my tribe.. packing those horrid plastic totes and making light small talk between my breakdowns.

Forever will not be long enough for me to pay them back for those moments.

Brandon came home from work, and we packed the cars. We needed both cars to fit everything. I took Baby 11 and we headed off.

When we got to the door, Mom answered. This was bad. This was very bad. I have been told over and over again how violent Mom is. She has threatened other foster parents, physically attacked caseworkers. I'm never supposed to be alone with her and she's never supposed to be alone with the kids. Yet here we were. Relative resource was not home, and me and the kids were alone with Mom.

She did the unthinkable.

She hugged me and cried, "I am so sorry they are being taken from you." She went on: I grew up in the system since I was my kids' age until I aged out at 18. I know a good foster parent from a bad foster parent, and right from the beginning I knew you had genuine love for my kids. You're not in this for the money. My kids love you and they are going to miss you, so this is bittersweet for me. I have them with family now, but they aren't with you.

I didn't have the time or energy to process what was happening then, but now I see we were having a real, human moment based on the relationship I always hope I'm building with my kids' parents.

I apologized, I'm sorry I don't have any answers for you. We would never hurt your kids. They were always loved while they were with us. I told her what I knew about everything.

She said she had asked 13 what happened to him, and he said his biological brother hurt him. "I told him I knew [brother] didn't do anything to him because we were all at the visit together. Then he told me it was [Baby 4]."

Mom let me say goodbye and hug and kiss all the kids. She told me we could still see them when we wanted to. She told me she had never gotten along with any other foster parents, and she would have been mad if this had happened anywhere else.

I loitered around smiling and chatting until the relative resource came home. I knew I wasn't supposed to leave the kids with anyone else. She seemed nice, albeit already out of compliance with court orders. Brandon was quiet. Mom pointed out the tears in his eyes.

Then we left. I picked up the girls from my friend's house and came home. Baby 9 asked, Where's the birthday party?

We anticipated the CPS investigator coming out any time now, so we needed to get the house in order. I intended to just rest my eyes for a moment, but I fell asleep hard in my bed while Brandon cleaned. I don't think I could have handled one more second of that day. My spirit was tired and my mind needed to be done racing. It wasn't a pleasant sleep. It felt like death.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What happened?

This is the first of, I'm sure, many posts coming in the next few days. Our world is flipped on it's side and while I'm not comfortable sharing any of it, it feels like lying not to:

On Tuesday night, I went out to dinner with my friends. We painted pottery, and ate seafood- all while giggling about insignificant gossip and shared stories. It was exactly what I needed after leaving my house. 6 kids were at the table dropping rice and squishing plums. Everyone was hyped up because the new 3 kids came home late from their visit- missing their play/wind down time before dinner. The transport car that was bringing them home had been rear ended. The person who called to let me know said it was just a tap and the kids and both cars were totally fine, they just needed to exchange information. When I did get home everyone was sleeping. I frantically decorated our whole downstairs in Frozen themed posters, banners, confetti- essentially anything I could find at the party store with Elsa's pointy little face on it. I sat down to watch some TV and fell asleep.

Wednesday morning started off like every other; with kids up before 7 jumping around and playing in their rooms. I called down Baby 12 to show her the Frozen birthday extravaganza that we set up just for her 5th birthday. She was so excited!! She put on her "Birthday Girl" shirt and matching tutu. I had her pose for a picture next to the table that now held her gifts and candles that would go on her cake, tonight after daycare. We'll have pizza and cake, and you can open all your presents. Then I called down the rest of the kids for breakfast.

Brandon caught Baby 13 at the bottom of the stairs and immediately changed his diaper. He called me over, Teresa, come look at this. I was positive I was going to find a diaper rash that we would just apply some cream to and move on.

I was wrong.

Baby 13 was covered in bruises. Big bruises. Bad bruises. Bruises that weren't there the last time I saw him.

I asked him what happened? He told me he hurt himself on the wall. I scooped him up and took him upstairs to his room and asked which wall? He pointed to all of them. I asked very softly while he was in my lap, who hurt you? He was soft but clear when he answered Baby 4. I asked, What did Baby 4 do? He said, Nothing.

I called Brandon upstairs so I could get hysterical and cry in my own bedroom. Brandon told me the night was completely ordinary, and I knew the morning was just like any other. So what happened?!!

I called Baby 4 upstairs and asked how did 13 get hurt? He asked questions like he genuinely didn't know. He got hurt? When? Is he OK? I didn't want to talk too much to him. I knew this was going to be a big deal, and I wanted his information to be unaltered by anyone else.

We all need to get dressed. Baby 13 needed to be seen by a doctor right then. I called Baby Girl's nurse up to tell her what was happening and let her look at him to decide if we were going to the pediatrician or emergency. She looked at 13 while I got dressed in my room. When I came out, she asked, Did he tell you what happened? Her eyes were wide and I knew in my gut he had told her. I asked what she heard; He said his biological brother did it. The 8 year old who lives with a relative resource, but visits with them all on Tuesdays.

My friend came over while I packed up Baby 13 and gave directions for the morning. Baby 4 would go to her house, Baby 9 &12 would go to daycare, Baby Girl and Baby 11 would stay home with the nurse. Brandon went to work and I headed to the doctor. The kids all saw me crying. I told them I'm sad that 13 got hurt.

We got to the pediatrician and I was still a mess. Baby 13 seemed totally unaware that anything was wrong. He wanted to make sure he wasn't getting any shots and that he had enough juice in his cup. They took pictures, gave me tissues and pats on the back, asked him what happened (I hurt my face on the walls at my house), and called in a CPS report.

That CPS report cited his injuries, noted they were inconsistent with the story given, and alleged that we had provided inadequate supervision.

I cried my way through Walmart while 13 and I picked up cookies for daycare and cake for 12's birthday party. Then I dropped 13 off at daycare.

About an hour and several phone calls to/from various caseworkers later, the decision was made to remove all 3 new kids from our home. 12 & 13 would go right from daycare, and I'd drop Baby 11 and all their belongings off that evening.

If I'm being perfectly honest, my first and primary concern was the placement of Baby 9. She has only ever known us her entire life. CPS has to prove something bad happened at our house before moving our adopted kids, but they can move 9 simply because the mood strikes. We could fight it, and we would, but she needs to stay home. My next concern is what happened to 13. I don't know. There's not even a Mom-gut inkling. But he's hurt and I want to make sure it never happens again. My third concern is what the CPS investigation will turn up. I've been in the system long enough to know the truth isn't always the same as a CPS finding. I also know you can get different findings in the same case depending on the worker interpreting the evidence. In the end, our foster care license and Baby 9's adoption depend less on what actually happened and completely on what gets written by the CPS investigator. She has 60 days to make her finding. 60 days of torture.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What if our stories aren't the same?

Babies 11,12, and 13 have been here almost 3 months. We have all had to make a lot of huge adjustments since suddenly doubling the number of kids in our family. I haven't really gotten into the swing of feeding a family of 8. The "seat of your pants" style of meal prep where I buy what looks good int he store and then cook what I feel like each day does not work for a family of 8. I am so thankful they came during warm weather, because having 6 kids playing inside the house all day is a bit like torture. My new guys aren't yet out of the dump everything out of this box, then everything out of the next box style of playing. I have yet to get all the kids out the door for church, instead taking 1-2 each week in a rotation. I feel bad about that last part. I don't take all 6 kids anywhere, but going out is time for individual attention, at least for now.

I am so in love with these new 3. Baby 11 is the most chill baby ever. He sleeps like 37 hours per day, waking up only to spit up down my shirt and give me a crooked smirk. Baby 12 is smart and sassy. She needs a lot of supervision and argues like a lawyer, but she also gets super proud of herself when she's done a good job and she likes to sit and talk about anything. Baby 13 is angry. He doesn't know that's what he is or why it happened, but every stimuli throughout the day is met with growling, throwing, and yelling. You look at him and think, "If there was every a kid who needed bootcamp...". Then he sucks his thumb, asks for a kiss, snuggles right into your neck, and becomes your favorite.

Baby 4 is having a hard time adjusting to the new delegation of attention. He talks a lot about missing being the only kid to pick TV shows, or being able to pick the bottom bunk if he wanted to. He sees the other babies getting so much of our time and gets jealous, not realizing that they are getting reprimanded and redirected more than anything. I think they bug him like siblings are supposed to, but that happened before the love and bonding that he has with our girls.

Baby 9 was freed for adoption in June (getting it's own post later). She is picking up every single bad habit she sees from our new kids. She's growling, and hitting, and touching poop (yep, that's happening with more than 1 of the kiddos). She has said she's doing it, "Like Baby 13" or "Because Baby 12". She is sharing a room for the first time ever, and her sleep is suffering. Baby 12 sleeps pretty well, but Baby 9 is really distracted by the extra movement and noises in her room. 9 is like a super fun mix of sleep deprivation, being 2, and copying unpleasant behavior. She still has her chubby doll face that makes us stop short of sending her to boarding school.

Baby Girl is OBSESSED with Baby 11. She has signed more than a few times that she is his Mom. Her nurse says she asks where he is all day at school. She hugs and kisses the big kids, and they respond in kind, but mostly she's all about the baby. When she's not holding him, she's looking through pictures on my phone of her holding him. It's really cute, even if it's also a little stressful.

Baby 2&3 were also here for 4th of July week, temporarily giving us 8 kids. They are doing great. Baby 3 is starting Kindergarten in the fall. When I look back at our fostering, they are our success. We loved them hard. We let them go. We've stuck it out. Foster Care worked for them and they are going to be OK.

While the case may be new to us, still, it's been going on for quite a while for 12 & 13. I got word last week that their TPR petition is being written. I know with certainty that the only way these kids get freed for adoption is after a trial and 2 appeals. This is not a situation where the parent does anything except go down fighting. Baby 11 is not on the same case, so the parents get the full time to try to reunify with him. There's no clear information yet about how that is looking for them to get the baby home. all the offered family resources have fallen through.

This leaves the (thankfully) unspoken question that I am dreading... Are we an adoptive resource for these kids? The honest truth is, I don't know.

I love them. I can see myself loving them forever. I see our family being the big family of crazy kids that have lots of fun.

In that scenario, I also see us not being able to foster anymore. I see us living on a very tight budget. I see less vacations and more public school than I'd prefer. I also see half of my kids living in open adoptions and the other half having no family contact.

Brandon immediately said, "We're not the kid of people who send kids back." when we were talking about this. He's right. We're not. 12 &13 have had 5 placements in the past 2 years. They never know if they are coming or going. They've been separated from their siblings already. Moving them is not a good idea.

If we say we are foster only, and can not adopt them: We can still foster. We can make their transition slow and organized. We can offer to stay connected as extended family instead of parents. We also lose any control of how their story goes. What if they get disrupted from the place we send them, and placement 6 turns into placement 7,8,9 and they are never adopted. What if they get split up? Photolsited on the internet for out of state people to come pick up like puppies at a shelter?

And Baby 11... Does he go with them? What if he goes home and they get tossed around?

What if our forever love story isn't their forever love story? What if it is?

The reality of talking TPR right out of the gate is haunting me.The caseworker will ask us at some point, and by then we will have talked about it tons more and have an answer planned out. For now, we just enjoy this crazy awesome ride.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

It's what we do

Foster care has been moving fast for us.

The baby, who was in the NICU, that we were called for had some medical setbacks and couldn't be discharged. I went to the hospital to visit him on his original discharge date. I fell completely in love. He's sooo tiny and has a head full of black hair. On Thursday- just 2 days later- I got a call from the caseworker to let me know he wasn't coming into care. His relative resource came through and he'd be discharged to her when the time came. I was sad, but ultimately knew it was the right answer for the situation. Relative resource was already successfully parenting baby's siblings, and families should stay together if at all possible.

I talked with Brandon, friends, and my doctor about what our family might look like in the coming years. Baby 9's Termination of Parental Rights petition is here and being heard in court soon. We don't know how long the court process will take, but it seems pretty certain that she will be freed for adoption. Once that happens, we will be placed on 'adoption hold'. Adoption hold means that no new babies can be placed with us until the adoption is finalized- 8 months if everything goes smoothly or 2 years if the parents choose to appeal the termination. Th purpose of adoption hold is to prevent changes int he family that would disrupt the adoption. There have been families who got new kids and changed their minds on adopting the child already int heir home. It looked like our options were to advocate for a new placement in the next month or so, remain content with our 3 babies until after 9's adoption, or start some basic oral fertility meds and consider a biobaby. It was dependent on the day which way I was leaning.

This Friday, I got a call from the caseworker who took me to see the baby in the NICU. She said the relative resource for the baby had backed out, and wanted to know if we were still willing to take him when he was discharged. She mentioned they were also looking for a foster family for the 2 siblings who would likely be coming into care Monday. I said, "I'm just thinking outloud here, but would you want to consider us for the whole sibling set?". She said she would have to check with the matchers since we'd be pushing our maximum number of kids on our license. I told her I needed to speak with Brandon and consider our capacity before committing to anything. We'd probably ask for daycare for the older two... She said she'd have to get special approval to give daycare to a stay at home Mom.

I started crying as soon as I hung up. You guys, Baby 11 is coming. No fertility treatments or practiced thankfulness- just a beautiful baby who needs the space that's open in our story. I called our caseworker to let her know the baby was coming and to discuss her thoughts on the older siblings. I was concerned that they would find a family for them who was willing to take the baby too, and I'd get another, sorry he's not coming, call. My caseworker was honest about that being a possibility but not a likelihood. She said she'd see what she could find out for me.

Less than 15 minutes after the first call for Baby 11, I received another call. Baby's caseworker, my caseworker, and the matcher were on speaker phone. They wanted to let me know that the older siblings were not coming into care on Monday. They were coming into care right now- like they were already in the office right then. We had approval to take the whole sibling set and approval for the county to pay for daycare for the 2 big kids. they said, "What are you thinking?"

I said, "I think we can do this."

2 hours later,  2 caseworkers pulled into my driveway with Baby 12 and Baby 13. A 4 yr old girl and a 3 yr old boy. Baby 12 told me, "Relative Resource said you're my new Mom.", and Baby 13 tried to hustle $3 from my Mom in exchange for using the potty. They are adorable. They fit in perfectly with our family. I'm certain we're still honeymooning with behaviors, but so far, so good.

I am obviously not familiar with their whole case yet, but the county has been involved for years. They know the situation pretty well. From what I can tell, this is going to be a hard case. It'll likely be a long case. I think this family just needs someone who is not going to leave- no matter what happens. They've had a lot of people leave them when times get really tough. I'm not going to pretend I'm not scared, but I think I can be that person who stays after threats, and stays after behavior, and stays after hurt feelings.

We'll take 3 kids on a Friday evening. We'll run the course. It's what we do.

30yrs, 28yrs, 8yrs, 4yrs, 3yrs, 3yrs, 2yrs, 1 month