Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Supporting other Foster Families, Foster License, and Waiting Child Inquiry

Our friends from our licensing class received a placement- two girls. We are super excited for them. And we are brokenhearted. You can't exactly celebrate when it was tragedy that expanded their family. So we do what we know how to do. We help. And we listen. I spent the morning going through J's storage clothing for items that would work for the girls. I did laundry. The kids chose books to share. I invited other mommies to help. 

Reading texts from my friend about her girls made me antsy to get our own placement. And it made me want to never get one. Getting a placement means that a child needed us. It means they didn't have a safe place to be. It means a child was hurt in some way and that a major separation had to take place. 

Our license came in the mail the very same day. 

It is beautiful and valuable and precious. 

It is a single sheet of paper, but it signifies years of prayer and listening and waiting. Months of classes. Hours of paperwork. And most importantly our goal and commitment to serve children.

Speaking of that goal, we expressed interest in a sweet 7 year old boy today. This is the first child we've inquired about since being licensed. If this is the child God has planned for our family, that will be amazing!! And if He has other plans, then we're happy to be testing the waters of adopting from foster care. We used AdoptUsKids to inquire, and the form made me realize once again that we're rookies in this area. I didn't know the date of our home study, the official name of our agency, what social worker to write down. Sometimes I need visual aids to find out which already-too-busy person to bug with my question. Inevitably, I contact the wrong one, and she spends precious minutes of her time redirecting me. The email responses are in sharp contrast to the conversations I have with these sweet ladies when we're face-to-face. 

one liners with hardly a period to end them. 

I picture them pouring through endless emails from clueless foster moms like me. I'm trying to take a hint and keep my emails as straightforward as theirs, but I find myself adding chit-chatty remarks like "Sorry to bug you once again..." or "I'm really looking forward to starting this process..." I'm sending a little holiday something to our circle of workers in apology appreciation for their time. 

My Dear Licensing Worker,
Please accept this gift as a pathetic attempt to balance our service to one another. Your willingness to spend your precious moments on my silly questions has not gone unnoticed. 
Your Rookie Foster Mom

Something like that anyway! 

** Just after I published this I got an email from our adoption worker assuring me that my questions were welcome any time and that the adoption process was most definitely a confusing one.  Little emails like that make me feel like part of the social work family. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Almost Official

Tomorrow our sweet licensing worker will visit, and when she leaves, we will be official foster parents. 

Honestly, I'm terrified. 

It's been a month since we signed our home study. A whole month of silence and very little evidence that we were teetering on the edge of a major life change. I'd like to say that it's been hard to wait, that we've been counting down the days with growing anxiousness.

I'd be lying. 

I have reveled in the silent mornings when the kids have left for school and I am left with my coffee and a peaceful view.

I appreciated every opportunity to sneak lunch dates with Amos. I noticed every instance where I felt stretched to my parenting limit. We went on outings, aware of the ease of being a family with three school-age kids.

Here's the truth. I'm still struggling with giving up the comfort and normalcy and routine. I'm struggling with giving it up AND with taking it away from my kids.

I haven't asked for a single update from our licensing worker. I haven't wondered what in the world could be taking the home study agency so long. People seem to think that I should be jumping out of my skin with anticipation, and I almost feel apathetic when I share about this waiting period.

But here's the thing.
God's got this.
He knows the plan.
I want His perfect timing.
We want to do His will.
The last thing I want to do is rush the preparations that God is making. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Divine Appointments: Unplanned Foster Mom Meetups

This morning you would have found me at my favorite coffee joint with my favorite man and a bottomless mug of my favorite beverage. I planned my lesson for church. He brought home the bacon.

While we were soaking up the freedom from tending and shushing, the foster mom of last weekend's visitors came in for a caffeine fix. We talked foster care, and she asked if we'd want to have the kids back next month. Apparently the kids enjoyed their stay with us which makes me happy.

God plants us right where we need to be. Sets our appointments for us. Love it.

That's not the only appointment God made for me this month. It turns out that one of the newbie foster moms from our licensing class works at my orthodontist (Yep, I'm a new Invisalign patient- even have a spiffy t-shirt to broadcast it).

We swapped contact information at my diagnostic appointment, and we're getting our families together for a barbecue this weekend.

Running into another foster mom is amazing. We talk like we've known each other for ages, and that's huge for me- a gal who takes a bit to warm up. I'm so blessed that I've been able to have those impromptu support group meetings, been able to compare licensing procedures and gab about house preparations and talk about fostering with bio kids. We're walking the same walk, which means we know what questions to ask and what reassurance to offer. Basically, we're talking to ourselves and we're happy to listen.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Evening As A Family Of Eight. First Respite Care Experience

A head full of curls and a cute button nose hopped out of the car and greeted me with a pint sized hug around my knees. Her oldest brother came around from behind, hiding behind his foster dad. A smiley little boy followed and headed off to meet our dog. 

And the fun began.

Our little visitors had no trouble settling in. They did not falter when their f-dad said goodbye. I was relieved and sad for them all at once. 

Amos took the boys out while he grilled hotdogs and hamburgers. The girls stayed inside with me and helped set the table. The little head of curls helped move kale chips from baking sheet to bowl and surprised me by popping them one after another into her mouth. 

When 8 sets of hands were washed for dinner, I began making plates. Each kid wanted their hotdog served a different way. Each wanted different fruit and veggie choices. Everyone was finally served, prayers were offered, and we shared a simple meal full of kid-friendly produce, cheese cubes, and barbecue. 

In our family, Amos and I serve meals on plates. Our kids must eat everything on their plates before getting seconds. It's been a great plan for getting them to eat well balanced meals. The system proved rather impractical with twice as many kiddos to serve, especially given the complication of hotdog toppings! Kids were finished in no time, one off to play with RC cars, one ready to set up train track, one running back and forth between baby dolls and cheese.

Amos and I juggled supervision responsibilities for the next hour until we gathered everyone back in the kitchen to watch the air popper make popcorn for a bedtime snack. The whole gang settled in for an episode of Veggie Tales. Noah sat off to the side, finding his novel of more interest then the talking produce. Middle man ate cup after cup of popcorn. Shy guy and Miriam sat quietly and attentively. The head of curls sat on the couch with her little feet propped up on the coffee table. 

Bedtime was a whirlwind. Teeth were brushed (those kids were awesome brushers!), and Amos and I split tuck in responsibilities for the little ones. PJ's on, bedtime stories, prayers, hugs, songs. A check in, a night light, and the head of curls was asleep. Miriam and all the boys weren't so easy. An hour later, we had six sleeping kids. 

The morning was surprisingly easy. Although it took forever to get everyone ready for the day, all the kids were patient as we waited on each other to finish tasks before we went outside to play.

Nature Walk

Before we knew it, snack time had passed, then lunch time, clean up time and time for goodbye! 

Reflections and thoughts are on the way... 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Respite Care Rookies

Time to put the Legos away and get the Thomas the Train gear out... stash the American Girl collection and find the Fisher Price doll house! We're getting little visitors!

On Friday night, we will be providing respite care for the first time to a sibling group of 3. Two boys and a girl ages 3, 4, and 5. They will be here from 5 PM to noon the next day. When the kids' caseworker initially called, he told me that there were no behavior issues. The foster mom alluded to the fact that there might be a few concerns after all. She is understandably swamped, so I'm still waiting to find out exactly what's in store for us. 

It is a little crazy to me that this foster mom is so thrilled to leave her kiddos with us. We may have been approved by the state, but we're still strangers to her. I'm not sure how I'll feel about all of this once I'm in the foster are trenches. 

In Missouri, anyone can be a respite care provider. You don't have to have a home study or sit through many hours of classes. All it requires is a background check and a walkthrough of your home. I appreciate the simplicity of the process. It means that people who normally watch our kids, people who we know and trust, can babysit all our children without jumping through a dozen hoops.
The kids are excited and a little nervous about hosting. Their experience with foster kids is limited, and their imaginations provide answers for a lot of their questions right now. Noah asked me tonight while I was tucking him in, "Is it ok to ask them what its like in their orphanage?" I chuckled a little and explained for the 5th or 6th time how a foster home is different from an orphanage. 

Honestly, I'm not sure what to tell him about asking questions. I don't want him to have to walk on eggshells around the kids who come to stay with us, but I don't want them to feel alienated either. I'm hoping that they're too busy playing to worry about any heavy topics. 

We've armed with art projects, cooking projects, story books and yard games. I think it'll be a fun Friday evening. I'm most nervous about bedtime. It's already my most stressful time of day... and now we're doubling our numbers. Yikes! 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mamma Always Says: A Random Act of Kindness

I could make subway art out of the sentences I speak on repeat. 

Love like God loves
Be sweet or be quiet. Worry about your own behavior. Stay in bed, stay still, stay quiet. 

Sentences like these get repeated so often that my kiddos probably don't even really hear them anymore. Yesterday, a tiny conversation proved one sentence true, and it will stick in with my Noah's memory for a long time to come. 

You never know what privileges you might get.

Amos and I took Noah shopping for a watch yesterday. He chose a pocket watch of all things and was pretty thrilled with his discovery. 

We ducked into one last store where Noah struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was also shopping there. I watched and listened as the man complimented Noah's style, suggested he be an actor someday. Noah said maybe a train conductor with his pocket watch. They talked about Noah's hat, and Noah said he'd really like to have a top hat someday. The guy was tickled with Noah's demeanor. I was very happy as I watched Noah be so respectful and confident.

The sweet and silly conversation paused for a bit but continued when we ended up leaving the store at the same time. Introductions were made, hand shakes were shared. Then "Coach Mac" pulled a crisp $20 bill from his wallet and held it out to my son. 

"Noah, I'd like to give you this to help you get that top hat."

My seven-year-olds eyes were excited. Hesitant. Disbelieving. After a little nod of approval from me, he timidly took the bill and said a genuine thank you. The two parted ways, and Noah was left pondering what had taken place in the last few minutes. 

"Why would he do that?" We talked to our son about his behavior in the store, how friendly he was and how well mannered. I asked Noah what he thought might have happened if he'd been whining or throwing a fit or running wild through the store. 

As we approached our car, Noah told me, "You're right, Mom. You never know what privileges you might get." 

That $20 bill is safely inside Noah's bank tonight, and apparently we're in the market for a top hat. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

One Year Later. A Late Night (Sleep Deprived) Update

Apologies in advance for any incoherent thoughts tonight.

 It's been quiet on this blog lately, but real life has been anything but! 

In the last three weeks we've:

*Entered the world of self employment-- a little scary and confusing, but REALLY exciting! 
*Successfully worked through some educational dilemmas with Noah.
*Watched Miriam as a mini queen at our local festival. 
*Caught up with my sister and her kiddos while they visited.
*Entertained J and her friends periodically.
*Soaked up as much simple family time as possible.
*Snuck in a much needed kid-free trip to visit my big sister in NYC.

 Row Boating in Central Park

Today marks one year since we made our first official move toward foster adoption. 

Yesterday, we attended the same carnival as last year, its intention to connect foster youth with adoptive families. 

Last year, we had no real ability to pursue an adoption of any of the kids. We hadn't spoken to a social worker, hadn't a clue how to start the adoption process. Amos and I wandered the carnival aimlessly, feeling a little like stalkers as we watched the kids enjoying the festivities. It took all of our courage to inquire about one little boy we thought might be in our "age range."

This year, we brought our whole crew along. We were greeted by our licensing supervisor, saw familiar couples from our class, and enjoyed watching our kids play alongside all the others. We inquired about three kids and ended up talking to social workers of three others. Three of the children we learned about were well above our official age range. None of this was stressful. 

For now, I feel at peace knowing that God's got this. After praying, we've decided to call on Monday to ask a whole list of questions about the kids we feel might fit into our family. 

In licensing news, we'll be meeting on Monday to approve our home study. Then we'll have one more paper to sign before we're officially able to take foster placements! Our licensing worker told us that they almost called about an emergency placement last week but then remembered that we were in New York. It's crazy that we could've accepted our first short term placement already!

Now all I think about is how cluttered the kids rooms are on an given day... if my house is ready to welcome kids at a moments' notice. What we need to have on hand that we don't... A dozen concrete to-do's... and they will all be completed without a guarantee that we'll ever receive a placement. It feels a lot like decorating a nursery before a pregnancy, but that is the way of foster care! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Our Last Spaulding Class and A Silly Phone Snapshot

Class dismissed!

We're another step closer to the finish line! Amos was a little sad to see our eleven week foster adoption crash course end tonight. The kids are sad that their regular visits with Grandma and Grandpa are over. They thought it was pretty neat that Mom and Dad were students. 


I've never been so thankful to for a class to be over in my life. I have a new appreciation of all you mommies who are also students. You all amaze me!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


THIS is sitting in my foyer right now. 

It is so strange to have a crib and no a baby growing inside me. Truthfully, seeing it sit there gives me a touch of baby fever. I need to store it away... and go cuddle my niece and nephew!

I mentioned my crib needs to my aunt and cousin who yard sale together nearly every weekend. They promised to keep an eye out, but my aunt said that she rarely saw the kind that would meet regulations. 

That was Friday. On Saturday morning, I got a call. They'd found a crib. $25. 

God is such an amazing provider!

In other news, We started our Spaulding adoption class last night. Lots of information- a few great tips that we hadn't considered before. And another open invitation to call with questions. One thing I can say about our division of child services is that they have a true open door policy. I so appreciate it! 

Our home study is a becoming more of a focus now. The home study is what a child's worker will use to narrow the interested families down to the ones they will meet and consider for the child(ren). It's the ONLY thing they will read to make that initial cut, so it's important that it accurately reflect our family. We'll be reviewing and finalizing it soon. I did wonder after class last night if it was possible to include a link to this blog. Has anyone else included a blog in their home study? 

The Missouri Heart Gallery is coming to my little town! It's going to be on display at our Fall Festival. I'm praying that lots of hearts are touched by the sweet faces of our waiting children. And who knows? We might connect with our child that day as well! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Empty Nest.. ish.

It feels CRAZY to have three kids in school. I might be sad about not being needed if I weren't so busy soaking up the silence and the luxury of cleaning my house alone. Days like these may very well be fleeting after all! 

Silly Miriam was such a trooper for the first day. She did a pretty great job of staying happy during the morning routine and was happy to pose with her Kindergarten sign before we left for school.
Miriam was sweet and excited to see her teacher when we got to her classroom, but I saw a hint of nerves under her smile. I stayed outside the room for a moment and watched her look around, take a breath, and join the other girls in their morning play time. She takes life in stride and at her own pace, and I love her for it.

Miriam and J are growing so much closer lately. It makes me happy to see J take her little sister under her wing! It's as if she turned thirteen and became this responsible young lady instead of the kid she was the day before. 

This is J's last year in middle school. I remember her first day in the building. I watched the 8th graders walk through the doors and had a little freak out moment thinking that my little girl was going to look like them in two years. And here we are. She walked through those red double doors one of the tall ones, one of the poised and confident ones. 

And then there's Noah, the goofy, determined kid who drove me crazy all summer. His hair was still wet when he buckled into the car, but his belly was full and his teeth were brushed. He walked into school with us, reciting directions to his classroom under his breath. We said goodbye by the main doors, and Noah walked off down the hallway away from the early elementary wing of the school without looking back.

These kids are my life. My love. My JOY. They might need me to be there fewer hours each day now, but they need me as much as ever. Maybe more. Now is when the parenting gets tricky. Growing up is serious business. It takes time, energy, and discipline to stay involved in my kids' lives once you're not afraid that they'll touch a hot burner or choke on their dinner. Now I have to fight the temptation to let them live alongside me instead of experiencing life with them. I struggle with that sometimes.

But right now, while we are still a five-some, I want to enjoy the simplicity and ease of living life with school-aged children. We can go more and play more. We can pack light and be spontaneous. After all, we still fit into a single hotel room. That's something worth celebrating!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Five Things I Didn't Know About the Foster System. And Ten Tips on Preparing For Placements.

Tonight was our last STARS class.

We met with and questioned a panel of characters who work within the foster system. Judge. Juvenile Officer. Licencing Supervisor. CASA worker. Investigating worker. Foster mother. Case Worker. Foster child. It was a whirlwind of questioning, acronyms, labels, suggestions, timelines. They offered great information, and we left with lots to think about. 

Nine weeks ago, we introduced ourselves to our classmates for the first time. A couple with 3 bio kids perusing adoption. 

Tonight as we introduced ourselves to the panel, I was excited to share that we were a couple with three kids open to foster care and adoption. It was as much a statement to myself as to the panel.

I scribbled lots of information in the next hour and a half.

Information about working within the foster system

1.  Family Support Team (FST)- a team consisting of anyone who interacts with the child. This is potentially giant group  of people. Bio and foster parents, caseworkers, counselors, teachers, day care providers, etc. These meetings occur at least semi-annually and additionally as needed.

2.  Permanency Planning Review Team (PPRT)- meets on a set schedule (within 72 hours of placement, monthly, semiannually)

3.  Court hearings:
Protective custody hearing must happen within 72 hours of child entering foster care.
Judication hearings take place within 30 days of placement
Review hearings and Permanency hearings happen periodically as well. 

4.  For hearings, foster parents are able to submit statements about the case to ensure that their voice is heard. We can request a Caregiver Court Report Form or communicate through our CASA (court appointed special advocate) worker.

5.  Speaking of CASA workers, these individuals are volunteer advocates for the children. They meet with the kids/foster parents monthly and help advise the judge on the child's progress and future.

We heard a lot of great information about helping a child settle into our home when they are placed with us. 

1.  Kids are largely a blank slate when they come to our home. They have their own set of normal that are very different from normal in our home. The kids have to learn procedures, rules, expectations, the layout of the home. All of this while reeling from being removed from their parents.

2.  Show them where the bathroom is.

3.  Keep basic toiletries on hand (toothbrush, kids toothpaste, soap, hairbrush)

4.  Consider creating "welcome packages"

5.  Find out their favorites (color, snack, movie, book) and incorporate them SOON.

6.  Make sure they have something of their own (it might be the first thing they've ever owned).

7.  They need their own space or place to keep their things, even if it's simply a dresser and bed.

8.  The foster mom on the panel let her kids paint their rooms when they arrived at her home. How cool is that?

9.  When the kids come to us, they come with lots of stories and baggage, and they will  (hopefully) begin to open up to us about their lives. The investigative worker practically begged us, "DO NOT REACT WITH SHOCK!" If the kids think we can't handle their problems, they will feel like they have to handle it alone.

10.  As I was listening to the advice on preparing for our first placements, I was reminded of my experiences planning for my children to be born. How would I get in touch with Amos when I went into labor? What if he was out of town or in a meeting? We needed someone on call to care for the older kids when labor started (and a backup caregiver). I had my mom ready to accompany us to the hospital for extra support. When we came home with our new baby, we welcomed extra hands to help with the transition. We ran on little sleep, and it was so helpful when someone offered to entertain our older kids and give them some extra attention.
Expecting a placement seems much the same. We need a Placement Call Plan. How will we handle the calls? What questions will we want to be sure to ask? At what point can I accept a placement if I can't get in touch with Amos? What are our deal breaker issues?

Tonight was our last STARS class. We made it! 

Sort of. Now we take the Spaulding class for adoptive families and wait for our home study to be finalized. Then we meet with our licensing worker to (hopefully)  finalize our license and get the show on the road!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Crunch Time: Prayers Needed in the Coming Days

The summer has, once again, slipped through my fingers. It's back to school soon. Miriam's first year in elementary school. J's last year in middle school. My first year with all three kids in school all day. I keep getting questioned,

"What are you going to do now that they're all in school?" 

Honestly, I'm uncomfortable with this question. I wish I wasn't. I want my days to be cleaning, cooking, volunteering, to be excited to get the kids home to an after-school snack and debriefing, with enough energy left to be a wife when Amos gets home. That's what I'm called to do. But the "excuse" to stay home runs out when your kids hit Kindergarten. 

My usual answer to the big questions is "I'm going to spend the first semester helping in the kids' classrooms,  enjoying a house that stays clean and laundry that is caught up." I add that I might substitute come second semester if I have too much time on my hands. I guess that is the plan. For now. But once we finish classes next week and find out for certain that we are licensed to adopt, my answer will change a bit. Instead of talking about substituting, I'll be sharing with everyone that we're waiting for our newest child(ren).

I'm giddy excited. And paralyzed with fear. 

To this point, our path has been very private. We've shared our story with my family and our closest friends (and of course the entire blog community!), but only word of mouth has taken the news any further. I've mentioned before that we're in the midst of a two-way interview. We haven't been offered the job, and we haven't had a chance to accept the position. Yet

It's crunch time. We're six days away from finishing our licensing class. Then it's time to make some very complicated decisions. 

Will we adopt? Will we foster? Both? What type of fostering will we be open to? What works for our family? Where is God leading us? 

I am desperately reaching to God. Relying on Him. Praying, praying that we are able to follow His lead.

What I want to ask of you is this:
Will you pray for us in the coming days? 

My God, our God, is wildly amazing. The way he loves me takes my breath away. I am so undeserving of his grace and mercy! We are blessed beyond words to be walking beside him, to be an instrument of his peace.

Amos and I need wisdom. We need time to be silent and listen to God. We need to walk by faith which takes courage. We need courage. We need to trust God with our family, trust that he is present and working in the hearts of all of our children, those already under our roof and those who are not yet with us. We are so appreciative of any and all prayers and petitions that you are so kind to offer on our behalf! 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Big Stuff: Talking With My Kid About Death and Loss

There are a dozen things swirling in my mind tonight. 

We had a really great meeting with our social worker this morning and gained some great insight into foster adoption. 
My Sweet J comes home in just 21 hours. I can't express how excited we all are for her to be back under our roof! 
I've been working my tail off to create a structured bedtime routine- for myself and the kiddos- in preparation for the school year.

But what I'm thinking about most is my sweet Noah and how happy and sad I am to see him processing through losing his great-grandma. 

On Thursday, the kids and I were going with my mom to the cemetery to take wildflowers to Grandma's grave. When it came time to leave, Noah didn't want to go. He said simply, "No one else died. Why do I need to go?"  I had a feeling he was nervous about being there again, so we let him stay at work with Daddy...

...We made a run to the farm store this evening. We decided to grab pizza on the way home so dinner would not postpone our bedtime routine. While waiting for pizza, we let the kids walk on the walking path across the street. 

The plan: start from opposite ends of the path, high five when they met on the "road," and meet back at the car. 

Miriam walked about ten feet, then took off jogging in her little Old Navy flip flops. She tripped. Amos and I watched as her big brother hurried over, put his arm around her and helped her back to Mom and Dad. Her lip, knee, and hand were scraped and bleeding. There was a little crying, but the injuries were barely worth a band-aid.  Cuddles were given, pizza was purchased, and we were on our way home.

In the middle of teasing his little sister (or being scolded for it), poor Noah burst into sobbing tears, saying over and over that he was scared of dying. He didn't want to ever die.  It would be dark when he died. The five minutes we drove to get home seemed like twenty. Trying to talk Noah through his fear from the front seat of the car was less than ideal. 

I never would have guessed an event like would bring my son's grief to the surface.

When we got home, I snuggled my son on our couch until he stopped shuddering. I was glad to have the time to collect my thoughts. We have talked about Jesus, death, and Heaven many times, but this needed to be a whole different conversation. Noah and my grandma were thick as thieves. Any generous person with candy on hand is a person Noah loves, and Grandma loved Noah's silly nature and the way he'd grin and ask for "cookies for the road" when we visited. They spent lots of time visiting together. 

When you're seven and you have to bury someone so close to you, it brings up a lot of emotions and questions. 

Noah was mostly concerned with the feeling of death. He was afraid it would hurt. Scared he would die soon in his life. He couldn't imagine how he'd be able to see in Heaven without his eyes. Tough questions with no easy, logical answer. He was afraid he would be scared when he died.

We shared about our trust in God and how we know he'll be with us always and through everything. We talked about how blessed we are by Jesus' death and resurrection. How because of Him, it won't be dark after our time on Earth is over. And I told Noah Heaven is greater than anything our simple human minds can imagine. I was able to tell him how Grandma told me not so long ago that she wasn't scared of death. She'd lived a good life, and she knew where she was headed next. 

As sad as I was for Noah tonight, I was so blessed to be able to share such precious time with him! Talking to Noah about the tough stuff is when he and I connect the most. We talk honestly, share our hearts, and build trust in each other. I am so honored and thankful to be trusted with his heart it's the most difficult for him to share it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Seventh STARS Class and Foster Parenting Tidbits

I'm still processing my thoughts on our discipline lass from two weeks ago, but last night's STARS class was about permanency and the importance of lifetime relationships for all children.

Thoughts that I loved from this class:

1) If you adopt a child outside your culture/race, think of your family as a multicultural unit, not a family who is learning about the new kids' culture and background.

2) When you adopt, you are permanently tying your family to another (the child's birth family), even if you never see or speak to them again.

3) You absolutely MUST be at peace with your child loving and missing their biological family, even after adoption. Perhaps especially after adoption. It's best if you can find a way to celebrate and remember the bio family much like you would a relative who has passed away.

4) It is the goal of Children's Division to have a child in a permanent family within two years of entering the foster system.

The class discussion veered off course a bit and ended up highlighting a few interesting facts that I didn't know about foster parenting. Of course, all policies vary from state to state and can change.

1) It tuns out that you have to be specially licensed to care for kiddos with more severe behavioral/emotional issues. Because we won't be being licensed those areas, we most likely won't be risking exposing our children to extreme behavioral/emotional issues.

2) Anyone can be approved as Respite Care Providers, and that doesn't put them on some list that would make them available to any foster parent's request. What that means is that we can continue to use our normal alternative child care options (largely my parents) for all of our children while we wait for the adoption to be finalized. The adults in the house just need to get fingerprinted and have a quick walk-through done of their house.

3) There are several "types" of foster parents. Some are signed up to be strictly emergency care providers and would only be offering temporary short term care. Emergency care might include a situation where a non-offending parent lived far away and couldn't come to pick up the child for a day or two. It could also happen that a grandparent or another relative was able and willing to take the child but had to have a background check and home walk-through completed.

4) A foster parent can make decisions about a foster child's prescription medications, routine medical care, and education, but foster parents CANNOT cut the child's hair without permission from the biological parent. I love this one. It makes me smile. A birth parent can also decide whether his/her child leaves the state with a foster family. If a biological parent really wanted to be the one to experience the beach with their child, she has the right to request that the child stay behind. I'd never thought about vacationing with foster kids from the biological parents' viewpoint, but it has to be SO HARD to watch your kid go on a fabulous trip with another family. Guilt, insecurity, loss, fear... not fun.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Photo List of Smiles

It's been a stressful week or two, but we've had lots of reasons to SMILE too! 

J came home for the day, and we got to take a road trip so that she could meet her newest cousin. It was SO good to get a little mother-daughter time in with her!

Watching J open her package full of Octocat stickers... oh priceless! Amos mentioned to a guy from the company, GitHub, that she loved their mascot, And he sent her a giant pile of Octocats dressed in all kinds of silliness!

It's the little things, like latte art... 

Miriam performed in her second recital. And so did Amos! 

Little ballerinas always make me smile!

My parents added a sidewalk. J and Noah enjoyed watching concrete be poured. All three kids got to add their hand prints. J got to come home for Grandma's funeral. It made everyone in my family happy to have her home for the night, and she was thrilled to see her out-of-state uncle and aunt too. 

I acquired a TEENAGER!

The little ones went on their first train ride last weekend. It was a lot of fun for them, and fun for me to watch them enjoy the experience- especially walking to the cafe car. Moving between cars was the highlight of their trip! 

And at our destination, we got to go to the zoo and see a really entertaining polar bear who did back flips off the glass wall of his swimming pool, a tiger who was pouncing on the netting of his cage, and for the first time, kangaroos.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Foster System Lesson #3 and A Home Study Meeting

I woke up to the sounds of Noah and Miriam bickering over seating arrangements for morning TV time. I knew better than to think the day would be peaceful. All I wanted to do was go back to sleep, to take a day for myself to process my feelings about having lost my grandma. But there was breakfast to serve. A dozen rooms to tidy. Questionnaires to complete. A yard to mow. Reality wouldn't wait, so my feet found the ground. My hands poured cereal and milk, and my mind set itself on deep cleaning and organizing.

By noon I was wondering how we'd ever be ready for our home study meeting. We had 24 hours left to prepare and 48 or more hours of preparation left to accomplish. I wasn't handling the stress anymore. I felt feverish, overwhelmed, and as if all motivation was gone. My sweet husband sent me to nap and took the kids to town for lunch. I thought about my grandma and cried myself to sleep in my silent house.

I could have slept until Friday. Instead, I awoke two hours later in much the same mood but feeling physically strengthened. And I moved on to work on our bedroom. In that moment, sitting on my floor in a pile of storage to be sorted, not a single part of me cared about the outcome of our meeting. By now, the kids had been through ten days of constant activities and were also sad about grandma. No one was getting along, and Amos and I were both scraping the bottom of our patience reserves. I wanted to cancel the meeting altogether, even if that meant abandoning our entire adoption plan. I voiced these thoughts as I continued moving through the motions of organizing, cleaning, and typing answers. At 2 AM, I typed the final period of the final answer to the final question. The to-do list wasn't finished, but I was.

I read recently that stress is one of the enemy's greatest weapons, and last Thursday he used it well. It was truly only by Jesus' hand that I managed to limp through the day, and only by the grace of God that I awoke Friday morning feeling rested and content with my cluttered house.

When Ms. S arrived and I realized that she really did expect all of our paperwork to be completed, I felt content working through the last of it as she read through our questionnaires. I didn't offer excuses for the unfinished paperwork or clutter left around the house, probably because she didn't seem at all concerned with it. She seemed less than concerned with a bedroom that still waited for a door to be installed or with the medicines that had yet to be secured under lock and key. She didn't seem worried about the household chemicals that were stored at ground level and didn't even seem to notice that our island counter was sitting unsecured on the cabinets below. I expected a dozen things to be on our fix-it list when she left, but it was simply: 1) email a reference's address and 2) post our fire escape plan. I asked her if she had any other items that we would need to complete to be licensed, but there were none. She'll visit once more where she'll look at "anything changed that we want to show her" and finalize paperwork. It should take about 15 minutes.

My most recent foster system lesson: #3 is

Don't stress over your home study! 

A home study feels like the be all and end all of foster licensing. In reality, it is only a part of what is necessary for licensing. Our social worker and her supervisor (who teaches our class) will also have a say in the decision. I'm wondering, now, if their opinions will matter more than the home study. We were told on the first night of class that the entire nine weeks would be like a very long interview. At the time, I thought it was a metaphor, but I'm learning how true that really is. The social workers observe us from the first contact we make. They see what our priorities are, how organized we are, how respectful, cooperative, and willing. It is the social workers who get to know us. The home study is simply a double check of what the social worker has already seen, a verification that there isn't a red flag that may have been missed.

Amos and I were far more concerned with the condition of our home than Children's Division was. I think that is probably the case with most responsible families.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ninety-Four Years.

We're 36 hours from our first big home study visit. THE visit. And my concerns are limited to making sure that dirty clothes are picked up and that there is no food lingering under the counter top. I haven't given any thought to the giant questionnaire that we are to fill out. I haven't read past the second question. I'm not at all concerned with the yard or the kids' rooms. I couldn't care less that a shelf in Miriam's closet fell down yesterday, leaving several holes in her wall and a pile of clothes in her closet floor.

I lost my grandma on Sunday. She was 94 years old. 

She came into this world as the first world war was ending and spent nearly a century watching, working, learning, and loving. She grew up with very little but happy to share it. Her teenage years were lived during the Great Depression but weren't so depressing. She learned to work hard, to save and to support her neighbors and family. 

She married and dove into homemaking with determination and love. She raised five children in a four room house. Those five children married. My grandma rocked thirteen grandbabies, twenty-six great-grandbabies, and three great-great-grandbabies. My grandma loved to rock babies. 

When J was little, Grandma invited her for sleepovers. My grandma was always ready to send "cookies for the road" with Noah. When she moved into my mother's house, Miriam would snuggle up with Grandma and talk about all sorts of things. My grandma called her sister nearly every day. She was grateful for her family. She loved. And I loved her. 

Ninety-four years is a long time to live on this earth, and Grandma told me many times that she'd had a good, long life. Still, it shocked me to lose her. I wasn't done listening to her wisdom, appreciating her sympathetic glance toward me when Noah and Miriam were bickering, and watching her love on my kids. I hadn't told her about the possibility of our adoption. What I wouldn't give to hear her thoughts...

The funeral was today. It was beautiful, and just what she would've wanted. 

Every day this week has seen me cry, trying to juggle mommying and grieving and failing miserably in my attempts. 
All I want to do now is stop and breathe. 

But there are tasks to tend to. Paperwork. Check-lists. Cleaning. Children to care for. No time for dwelling. No time to recoup. No time to catch my breath. There were moments this week where I was sure I wouldn't be able to keep our meeting. The one that couldn't be pushed back any further than Friday. 

When sharing about parenting and life Grandma told me so often and so simply,

"Kelley, you've gotta do what you've gotta do." 

No use worrying or whining about it. Just start in and tackle the jobs one at a time. 

Friday will come, and when our home is studied, clutter will be found inside, weeds outside. BUT what will also be found here is the legacy that my grandmother left. A family who values hard work, lives dedicated to each other, and loves simply.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Foster Care Licensing Class: Loss

Four weeks of licensing classes down, five to go! 
Then two more weeks for our Spaulding adoption class.

Last week, we spent the class discussing abuse in its many forms and the effects that might be seen in foster children. There wasn't a lot of new information for me, but we did view a video of hypothetical abusive situations. The sexual abuse instance was brief and only alluded to what was happening, but it was by far the most uncomfortable to watch. It makes my skin crawl to think about it.

After that particular video was over, the class had a lot of questions about reunification efforts for abusive situations. It was difficult to wrap our minds around the possibility of sending a kid back into a situation where they were ever abused. The best answer I heard was that often the child is removed from the two parent household but is reunified with a non-abusive parent when the abuser is no longer living there or is in jail. Still, what a thought... 

Tonight's class was only slightly easier. The topic was loss. I expected to talk about foster kids who loose their parents, extended families, school, home, innocence, self worth. And we did. What I didn't expect was to spend a good chunk of the class talking about the loss that foster and adoptive families experience. I appreciate that the Children's Division acknowledges and appreciates the loss that comes with committing to adoption or foster care. I've been mulling over this issue lately. Our family is fairly typical. We have amazing kids who occasionally mess up. We aren't even close to perfect, but we have a rhythm that comes with having 5 people living together for 5 years. We're comfortable and we're mostly peaceful and we're innocent. As the matriarch of this family, I'm going to feel the loss of all that. I'm going to have to trust in God's plan for us more than ever when our new kids are sharing too much information, when night terrors awaken the house, when tantrums prevent us from traveling often. I worry about our bio kids. I worry about the loss they will feel as much as I do the loss that our adopted children will have suffered.  My three sweet babies will be losing their normal. They will be sharing their home and their parents with a stranger, possibly several strangers. The loss, while minor compared to the lists that some kids have suffered, will be very real and very big to them.

As I voiced these concerns tonight, I felt my heart race, my face flush with color, and a lump grow in my throat. I stared at the picture on my name tag of my whole gang, and I had to hold back tears. I am fiercely protective of my kiddos. They are my life, my responsibility not only by law but by God. I've nurtured them to the best of my knowledge and abilities, always being mindful of what elements I allowed into their lives. It's going to take great commitment to continue the same mindful parenting. 

As an adoptive parent, I will play the roll of Loss Manager. I will be finding ways to walk our kids through the grieving process that comes with all losses. The role of loss manager won't be played for our adoptive kids alone. I'll also be playing that role for our bio kids. The one helpful thing about their losses, however, is that we can predict them. Being able to predict what losses will be felt allows us to prepare our kids and hopefully minimize the loss. 

A friend told me recently there will be lots of changes in our kids because of our adoption. Some probably won't be so great. The awesome part, however, was that most of the changes would be great ones. They will grow in compassion, generosity, and love.

If you think about it and are willing, we would SO appreciate your prayers for our family, particularly our kids, both biological and future adoptive. 

I pray for our sweet children, that they would indeed grow in compassion and love, that God would prepare their hearts to welcome new siblings into our family, that they will feel the added joy more than the losses that will come with adding to our family, that we ALL may live joyfully, rejoicing in the Lord ALWAYS!