Resilience.

The resilience of children blows. my. mind.  Truly.  How these little beings can just be out doing their lives, acting like kids who haven’t been through unspeakable things…it’s amazing.  Sometimes life feels so “normal” (although chaotic), I don’t think about it.  Otherwise, a “normal” moment will just catch me off guard and I find myself tearing up.  Alyssa and I had our first “real” fight recently.  Please don’t hear that this is our first fight, we have had plenty.  But it struck me after…this one was different.  It wasn’t from trauma, I wasn’t “filtering” everything or being cautious with how I worded things so as not to trigger her…we were just a regular old Mom and daughter mad. We raised our voices, we stormed off.  And it was kind of amazing.  This is the gift we have been given…the gift of being grateful for the most ordinary of things.

We have these 6 little blessings/terrors/nutjobs/sweethearts in our home, and they all call me “Mom.”  I am only the forever “Mom” for 4 of them, and it’s hard.  Really, really hard.  I love them all, truly.  We haven’t fostered kids this young before, and I love it and I hate it.  I am consumed with worry about where they will go.  We have all of the responsibility, and none of the control.   It’s overwhelming to think about them staying and it’s overwhelming to think about them leaving.

One particular little dude isn’t too excited about doing anything for himself.  We thought it was because he didn’t have the skills or didn’t understand.  False.  I was initially really annoyed when we got some information that indicated this was false….you little S#%@, you have been working us!  But then I stepped back and thought – what a brilliant little survivor.  As humans we NEED nurturing.   He hadn’t gotten it, and he figured out a way to get what he needed to thrive.  So… yes, buddy, I will dress and undress you.  I will put your shoes on and take them off.  I will brush your teeth.  I will carry you to and from the car.  I will wear you on my back and I will even feed you.  I know you can physically do these things, but I TRUST that you know what you need to heal.  I trust you, I hear you, I see you, I’m in this with you.

seeds

 

monsters are real

Our two foster kiddos shall hereby be called “rabbit” and “monkey.”  Our bedtime routine is getting to be quite predictable.

Me: Rabbit and monkey, it’s time for bed.

Monkey: BED!

Rabbit: I not go to bed, Mom.  There are monsters.

Me: There are no monsters in this house.  Let’s read some books to settle down.

Rabbit: Ok, Mom.  Mom, are there monsters in this house?

Me: No.  There are no monsters in this house.

Rabbit: You keep me safe, Mom?

Me: Yes, I will keep you safe.

Rabbit: Ok, Mom.

Every.  Single.  Night.  Notice how I don’t say that monsters are not real?  I say there are no monsters in this house.  For four of our six kids, monsters are very, very real.

But you know what else is real?  Kindness and safety. They just don’t believe it yet.  Because for far too many kids, monsters are real…and safety is a fairy tale.

monster

Dad Duty (thoughts from Charlie)

Everyone that knows us knows that Charlie is the brakes of this whole operation.  The look he gives me when I tell him a worker called with a placement. Like…really, Ann?  Do you not think we have enough on our plates?!  He tells me I’m crazy and practically hangs up on me.  Then he calls me back an hour (or 10 minutes) later and says something to the effect of – “this is crazy, but I’m in.”  He is in.  While not what he means, it really does kind of sum him up as a Father.  He goes from “absolutely not, you insane woman” to “maybe, but I think it’s a bad idea” to “I guess” to “I’m in” to “I love these kids” fairly quickly.  Something about this last placement really has gripped us, and I asked him to share some thoughts in a semi-coherent way (“Charlie, get to the point” is something heard often in this house).

PS – He also spent time very carefully choosing the attached image.

By Charlie:

Within about 15 minutes after the social worker left after dropping off the two kiddos we’re fostering currently, I was called “dad” by both.  We followed their lead and we do refer to ourselves as “dad Charlie” and “mom Ann” to differentiate ourselves from past or future mom and dad.  Regardless, after talking with Ann we concluded it was more the role and.caretaker mom and dad that we were to them.  We aren’t their mom and dad, but we are the pieces of what a mom and dad should be and need to be.  I put on the dad smile.  I give out dad hugs.  I dish out dad tickles.  I listen and make eye contact.  I kiss bumps and scrapes.  I cut bananas.  I put on shoes.  I wipe noses and change diapers.  I am a dutiful “dad” to these kiddos.  I do the dad job.  

I have a bit of a drive to and from work and I spend some days driving in silence with just my thoughts playing.  These little guys have been through a lot in their short little lives.  I care about them.  I even love them!  Three nights ago I was tucking these little kids in and I said, “good night,” and the words I love you were right there, but I held them back.  I thought to myself, “holy shit, what are you doing?”  I thought about this driving in the car the next day.  Was it the monotony of bedtime talk?  “Good night, love you?”  Must be, I thought.  And then I thought about it more.  I think about love and I mean it when I say it every night when I wish our kids a good night.  Then I think about attachment and some of Ani and my talks we have at night.  Attachment goes both ways.  It goes from caregiver to child and also from child to caregiver.  Maybe there is something there with these boys, some attachment.  I hope so.  Two nights ago, tucked the older foster child in and said, “good night, (name), I love you.”  I kind of froze and our eyes met.  Nothing else happened!  I smiled at him and kissed him on his forehead, ruffled his hair, and left the room.  As I closed their door, I thought, wow – I said I love you to him.  I haven’t said it again, but in that moment I felt it and I let him know that he was loved and was lovable.  They, like everyone, deserve love.

So as the chaos of parenting 6, or however many kids we have now, has settled a little, things are interesting.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s busy, very busy!  It’s unbelievable to see the beauty, love, and support from family and friends and community.  To see our kids grow and support us, each other, and the children we are fostering.  To feel good about showing love, kindness, and fun to these kids.  We see tears yes, but we see smiles too, and we’re seeing more each day.  I may grow more gray hairs before we’re done, but my heart grows too.

dad duty

#thisisfostercare

The transition from “WHAT did we just do – we made a terrible mistake” to “I can’t imagine our lives without them” always blows my mind, especially when it happens in five days.   This is foster care.

Listening to “our” baby frantically say, “Mama?  Mama? Mama?” as I rock him to sleep, and then his body completely relaxing when I finally, uncomfortably say “yes, honey” because I *am* the mama in THIS house.   This is foster care.

Holding a sobbing preschooler while he screams “home” and you don’t even know what “home” he is referring to, but you keep repeating “I know.”  This is foster care.

Urine.  This is foster care.

Middle of the night wakings with no clue what calms them.  Filling out day care paperwork about the child, and knowing quite literally only their name.  I will leave the part blank on how to calm them…their favorite activities…their schedule…whether or not they have a comfort item…their favorite foods….I have no idea.  I’m sorry.  This is foster care.

Food issues and hoarding and waiting for the next meal ALWAYS.  And bananas….sooooo many bananas.  This is foster care.

Waking up in the middle of the night worrying.  Knowing we aren’t their last stop.  But they call us Mom and Dad, and they are learning to trust us minute by minute.  This is foster care.

Grief and loss and love.

Foster care is not pretty.  It’s often not fun.  We are not saints.  Sometimes we hate it.  Sometimes we feel resentful of each other, because we couldn’t and wouldn’t do this life alone.   We aren’t martyrs, and we often aren’t even that good at it.  But if not us, then who?

sunset1

 

 

Chaos is all relative

Every time we add a kid (or two, like we usually tend to add to our family), I think – now THIS is chaos.  Well, I think I was wrong every. other. time.  While we teetered on the edge of disaster most of the day, I think overall we should call it success.  I mean….everyone is alive.  And we were drinking a beer by 8pm.  We got 6 kids to bed.  But, I did almost cry a couple times if I want to be really honest.  Sometimes for them, sometimes with them, and sometimes because of them.  It’s exhausting in all senses of the word.  Viewing all behaviors with a trauma lens….constantly checking our own responses so we don’t trigger them….bathing kids like a frikking assembly line…processing what they have been through…meeting everyones needs….pulling toys out of the toilet, getting hit and pinched, hearing “NO” about 1,425 times, yanking kids off the counter, putting their room back together after they climbed out of the crib like SPIDERMAN, unplugged the monitor, and destroyed the room…  Oooofta.

And then there are those other moments, that I can now reflect on (over a beer, obviously).  Seeing Alyssa absolutely step up to the plate.  I literally tear up thinking of how HELPFUL and KIND she was.  (Can I keep her home from school tomorrow!?)  Patient and soft and understanding.  Watching Jax step up as a big brother…hearing him tell them “this is a safe place, and this Mom and Dad are safe.”   Seeing him gently kiss the little one on the head when he didn’t know I was looking, and sharing his most special things “because it would be hard to not have toys.” Seeing one of the boys allow Charlie to rock him to sleep after his muscles finally relaxed.  Watching him parent in such an intuitive and therapeutic way.  Getting a text from their last foster mama worrying, wondering how they are.  My hands are full, but so is my heart!

heart

Foster system 101. Or 102.

As we delve back into the world of foster care, we are finding ourselves being asked many questions about the process.  I thought it might be helpful to explain some of it (as I know it) for anyone who may be interested.

  1. Foster care is bad for kids.  Seriously.  It should be an absolute last resort…and it took awhile for me to get to this place.  When I started, I had an ego and I felt that we could do a better job.  The reality is that KIDS BELONG WITH THEIR FAMILIES unless they are truly at risk of harm.  We, as a society, should try to support families first and foremost.  Ok, off soap box.  Sometimes, kids need to be removed.
  2. From the minute a child is removed from their biological family by child protection, the goal is reunification.  There seems to be a lot of confusion about this – when CPS “takes” a child, it’s not permanent until the parents show it has to be. The biological parents are given a case plan and a time line.  They generally have at least 6 months to work at this case plan (that may include things like drug treatment, therapy, parenting classes, obtaining housing, getting employment, etc). The timeline may be extended for various reasons.  The court tries to keep the timeline shorter for younger kids, in my experience.
  3. When it becomes fairly clear that biological parents aren’t going to be able to successfully parent based on their lack of progress on the plan, the goal may be changed to adoption.  Sometimes, kids are placed in a pre-adoptive home at this time.  Cases like this are called “legal risk.”  This means that parental rights have not yet been terminated (called TPR in the foster world), and there is still a chance of reunification.
  4. If TPR occurs, generally all family members are ruled out before a non-relative would be considered.  If no family is healthy enough or able/willing to adopt, the foster parents typically are asked.  In the case of our J and A, their parents’ rights had already been terminated and their foster family did not opt to adopt.  Kids in those situations are called “waiting children.”  This means they are legally free for adoption and waiting for their forever families to find them, usually via some kind of family matching program/agency/etc.

I would be happy to answer any other questions to the best of my ability.  My sweet, sweet daughter said tonight – “It’s pretty awesome to be the forever kid in a foster home for once.”   What a healing moment for her, and yet my heart breaks for all of those kiddos out there without permanency.