Saturday, March 29, 2014

All Good Things Come to and End... Goodbye Honeymoon.

I haven't talked much about my bio kids, but today, I'm feeling the need to be open and honest about their adjustments. It has been a mess this week. 

When I heard that there would be an initial honeymoon phase to each placement, that seemed logical. And when I thought about that period coming to an end, I expected the foster kids to start acting out, pushing boundaries, and being generally less controllable. What I wasn't prepared for is that my own bio kids would also have a honeymoon phase, that their phase, too would end, and that there would be a surge of misbehavior once it did. This week was most definitely the end our our honeymoon in every area. 

The sisters were exactly what I expected: more defiant, more difficult to please, and more unhappy. They required more redirection, more affection, more discipline and more entertaining. All of this I was prepared for.

J has been a dream. She is helpful, loving, and selfless for all four of the other children. She has given me hugs when I was losing it and ushered Miriam away when she was needing extra attention. The biggest trouble with J has been my guilt over how much sacrifice she has made. She has stepped up to be a supporting parent, a nanny figure, and I have been so grateful but so sad for her all the same.

Miriam was ready to have her life back this week. She was tired of a three year old who was disagreeable. She was tired of being shoved off of her chair, tired of having her toys taken out of her hands, and tired of NOT being the baby of the family anymore. There were fights, there was shoving, and there were a few times when Miriam cried and asked me if they could leave because she didn't like them. 

Noah has been even more out of character than Miriam. I've been on my knees in tears, begging God for wisdom and guidance. Noah has been obstinate. He refuses to follow almost any direction. He gets enraged if he looses a privilege. And he screamed at the girls for wrecking an origami project he was working on. Once, I had to quarantine the girls in my room with a movie to give Noah enough space and time to calm down. It has been a hell of a week with him. I texted my sister during the worst of it, and she wrote back, "Sounds like Satan is trying to kick you in the knees today. I hope you kicked him back!" It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it has helped me tremendously to keep her words in mind since then. 

We are by no means through the woods of this transition. There are likely many more growing pains to endure. BUT I have been able to be more patient, more careful with my own behavior, parenting, and reactions to the stress. I've been praying for baby steps forward, and so far, God has been faithful. Today was still full of disputes, but the intensity of bad feelings has been far less that earlier in the week. 

Court on Tuesday determined that the girls would remain in the system; the next court date was set for the end of June. For Amos and I, this meant a huge deep breath. I thought I had gotten to a place of acceptance of long term care, but finding out that were were actually living it really rocked my world. I saw our Easter, our family vacation, and a dozen kids' extracurricular events altered. Even though I was aware of the huge possibility that the girls would need to stay, it was disappointing and sad to loose the simplicity that comes with our "base" family of five. It felt selfish to be focussing on my own loss when the girls and their family were dealing with so much devastation, but I think it's important to acknowledge and feel the emotions that come with fostering. Once I sat with the idea for a few days, it seemed less like loss and more like honoring a commitment. 

Yes, the honeymoon is over... for all seven of us. 


Monday, March 24, 2014

Transitions, Progress, and Upcoming Events

Last week was a rough one. Rough for me because I've been feeling pretty helpless with Big Sister. But more importantly, it was a week's worth of high emotions for her. Daily, we had multiple meltdowns where she sat and cried "Mommy" over and over. She complained that she was hungry constantly even when she had just finished a bowl of cereal, a banana, a pile of raisins and yogurt. And she fought her car seat nearly every time we had to go somewhere. I could see her thinking, "Ok, this was fun. I'm ready to go home now." And I just kept telling her over and over, "You want to go home, and it's ok to be sad about that. Mommy and Daddy are working hard to get everything ready for you. Until they are finished, we'll be taking care of you at the Blue House Home. Everything is going to be ok." I believe this was just another transition that we were making, and I just took each hour as it came.

Little Sister actually had an amazing week. Her tantrums were noticeably less severe and less frequent, and she seems to be settling into life here at her home away from home very nicely.

My blondies are all coping. There have been growing pains, but all-in-all, they are hanging in with us. Miriam has been rooming with Noah which was making bedtime more of a hassle than necessary. Wednesday night after religion class, I asked both of them what they needed to be able to go to be at bed time. They both requested to be away from each other to sleep, so that very evening, we rearranged furniture. J and Miriam are now roommates. We shall see how that goes, but at least the last two nights have been calm at bed time. And I think we'll see more of J now that her room isn't as private! There is talk of finishing the basement to add another bedroom. It sure would be nice to have, but we can barely keep our heads above water right now. Adding a home construction project, even if we used a contractor, would be more than we can juggle.

We took the girls to their third family visit, and the goodbye was SO much smoother. I think dad had talked to Big Sister and given her some reassurance about leaving. She wasn't happy, but she did let him buckle her in without force. She cried, but she wasn't frantic like she had been the last two weeks. And by the time we were merging onto the interstate, she was starting to cheer up. It was a great thing, but it was sad too because she wasn't quite as desperate to be with them. I'm beginning to realize that there may never be anything solely good or bad in foster care. Everything is bittersweet. It's fantastic that kids are being protected, but it is awful to see them torn away from everything they know and depend on. It's fantastic to be able to have fantastic communication with Mom, but it's heartbreaking to know that I'm standing in for a mother who seems to be every bit as loving and careful a parent as myself. It is such a blessing to know these girls and to have shared the last month with them, but it is so sad that it was necessary.

I'm hoping to get a chance to visit with Mom a little more when I take the girls for their WIC appointment tomorrow. She is at the top of my prayer list these days, but I only actually see her at family visits, and I don't want to monopolize her time with her kids by chatting. I really hope to let her know we are bragging on them every chance we get, and the more effort they make, the more praises we can pass along to the team.

We're gearing up for court tomorrow. I believe the purpose is for the state and the parents to each present their cases. I'm not sure what to expect- will the judge rule on the allegations against Mom and Dad? Will it just be an information gathering process? Could the girls be allowed to return home?  This territory is completely new. I'm praying that allegations are proven false and that the girls are swept up in a giant family victory hug when the ruling is made.

And with that, it's off to bed for this foster mamma.... at 8:45PM.

Monday, March 17, 2014

When Kids Come

I've never been a kid person. That sounds crazy coming from a foster parent, but it's true. I'm not a "run up and smother your kid with kisses" kind of gal. I'm more a "have a mini-conversation with your child about their life" person. There have been very few children outside of my own family and extended family with whom I've developed close relationships. In fostering, I understand how vital it is to connect with our kids, but that doesn't automatically make me an overly animated, love-out-loud mamma. My approach to trust building and heart sharing is more a sneak attack. 



When kids come into our home, I take them shopping for healthy snacks as soon as possible. We browse the produce section where they choose whatever fruits or veggies they want. And they choose easy, on-the-go, snacks to take when we're running errands.

When a kid comes into our home, I make it a point to ask open ended questions. Then I get down on their level, make eye contact if possible, and listen actively to what they have to say. I restate their thoughts. I ask clarifying questions. I try my best not to offer any of my own stories until they are finished with everything they have to share. 

When a kid comes into our home, I observe what they find interesting. Then I go do that activity. I usually play alone at first, and then the kids will get brave enough to join me. With our girls, that meant doctoring baby dolls by myself for a good five minutes. But now they bring the babies out and invite me to join them

When a kid comes into our home, I ensure that they have a creative space that is size appropriate. It might be a high chair, a bar stool or a preschool card table. Whatever the arrangement, I find it important to have a space where our children can create. And where we can create something together

When kids come into our home, they get new blankets. These are not extravagant quilts or expensive. They are 1 yard or half-yard cuts of soft fleece that have edges snipped into fringe. The girls watched me fringe the edges of their blankets. I think there's something extra special about watching someone make something just for you. 

When a kid comes into our home, I let her determine the pace we move. I give unlimited hugs and snuggles, but I do not take them. I follow the lead of the child. Some children need and crave all the snuggles they can get. Others are slow to trust, and that is ok. 

When kids come into our home, I pray for them, with them, and over them (with their permission). I thank God, out loud, for the opportunity to know and share life with these little people. I choose specific things about each child to be thankful for- gentle nature, helpful heart, joyful laugh... whatever it is I've been blessed by that day.

And when kids come into our home, we celebrate their families. We talk about their parents and siblings, we remind our kids that they are loved and missed by their parents. We send pictures and videos if we can. We support the parents FOR the kids for as long as we can. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Updates During Nap Time

A few weeks ago after we decided that long term foster care was the direction our family would head we got the call for short term placement of our girls. Nearly three weeks later, it's looking like we'll be in this for the duration of their case or until a relative placement is secured. The foster home that was willing to taking our girls was instead filled with other siblings from the family. I believe it was the best move for all the kids. And the rearrangement has left me at peace with settling in as a family of 7. Miriam has been living out of her closet and sleeping in Noah's extra twin bed, but it is time to move some of her things upstairs and for her to create a space that is her own.



We changed a few things about our goodbye for yesterday's visit. I did a lot more preparing the day prior and visit day. The thought of coming back home with me made Big Sister grumpy and stubborn all day long. Mom and Dad left CD first, and we were all hoping their absence would make Big Sister more agreeable to coming home to the blue house. Instead, she clung for life to the case worker, eventually had to be gently forced into her car seat, and cried for a good twenty minutes of our drive home. Last week it was a half hour of calling for Mommy, so it was an improvement if only a small one. What finally calmed her down was the blanket that I'd brought in case Little Sister got sleepy. As soon as the fleece touched her cheeks, she started to relax. That will DEFINITELY be an essential item for future visits!

After we left CD, I got a text from the BioMom. It was a very sweet and simple, "thank you guys for being such awesome people." I honestly cannot imagine a better set of parents to be working with, and I told her so. Our licensing classes didn't prepare us for interacting with our girls' parents, so we're just praying our way through. We're not sure what is "allowed" and what is frowned upon, but we are learning. What I do know is that I would want to be treated with dignity and given the benefit of the doubt if my own kids were in the system. As long as we are able, I intend to continue to invest in and love on the entire family.




Monday, March 10, 2014

Placeholder

The nights have been rough for Big Sister. I switch between empathizing with her fear of sleeping in her bed and knowing that I must get sleep at some point to be a good mommy when the sun is up. 

Every fiber of my 3AM self wants to scoop her up into bed with me a sleep until morning. 

BUT, that is not the foster care way. The foster care way is a dozen walks across a pitch black house, a thousand seconds of back rubs, singing a lullaby until the voice is as lost as the mind. And loving the beautiful girl who is so lost and hungry for her own momma to cuddle her to sleep. 

She settles for me, and I am ever humbled to be the placeholder. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Seeking Advice

Last night was the girls' first family visit. Two of the kids have birthdays soon, so the parents brought everything for an amazing double birthday party. J and I dropped the girls off, said see you soon, and left them to their family fun. This was the first time that J had met the family, and the excitement that they had when the all reunited was pretty amazing for her to watch. 

After the too-short visit, we returned to take the girls home. They were sugar and silly string covered and all smiles. We piled a cake and a half, three bags of toys, and two balloons into our van. After goodbyes to the siblings, Bio Mom and Dad walked our gals back to my van. Little Sister wasn't terribly happy to be packed back into our car but settled down before the doors were closed. Big Sister, however, was a wreck. Her tears turned mom and dad into a mess (and almost had me in tears too). She sobbed and yelled and sobbed some more until she fell asleep about 30 minutes later. It was truly heart wrenching. 

Closing the door and driving her away from her parents was the hardest moment I've endured in foster parenting.

I'm wondering if there's a better way to prepare her for visits in the future. I had this fear of parents who didn't show up, so I just told her that we had a meeting to attend and that we'd be coming back to the blue house home after. I didn't prepare her for a temporary visit with her parents, and I wish I would have. I would be shocked if the parents missed a visit, and even if they did, there would be a room full of siblings to greet our girls. It's not like they would be sitting at CD all alone. I wish I'd thought about that beforehand. 

How do you talk to a preschooler about this stuff? 

She's old enough to understand that Mommy and Daddy can't be here, but not old enough to really understand why. 

And I'd love any ideas for better ways to handle the goodbye at the end of their visits. Do I distract her? Console her? Feed her? 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fantastic Things

Fantastic things about our new girls. Because some days we all need to be reminded of the blessings around us!

Simultaneous naps. They've been easy to put down for naps since day two, and they've both slept at the same time!

They love to tickle each other, and their giggles are PURE JOY!

Neither one are messy eaters.

Big sister LOVES to brush her teeth.

They are both great at bath time.

They let me do housework and enjoy helping change laundry.

Both sisters now know our clean up song, and they're generally happy to sing it with me while we pick up toys.

They like the group Fun. and Eric Hutchinson, two of my favorites for happy music.

Curly hair is so much fun to fix! My own curls give me a lot of expertise that has gone to waste until now.

Bedtime is not full of screaming.

Little sister sleeps through the night, and big sister did last night for the first time.

Monday, March 3, 2014

First Week with the Sisters: Rundown

"What her/his name?" 
"What you doin?"
"Go home?" 
"Where Mommy?"
"Where Daddy?" 
"No!"
"Miss Kelley say no?" 

That pretty much sums up my week. Day one was spent pulling little monkeys down from stair railings, counter tops, shelves and beds. I walked behind my monkeys picking up everything that needed to be kept out of little hands. And I said "No." A lot. Bedtime was HARD. It was close to 10:00 before everyone was asleep in their beds. They awoke several times through the night.

Day two was a pretty great day. The girls and I played baby doctor all morning. We had lunch, they both napped long enough for me to catch a shower, and before we could get bored or cranky, it was time to pick up the big kids from school. Bedtime was a little smoother. I let both girls snuggle with me until they fell asleep. They were in bed by 9:15 and both slept through the night! 

Day three was placement hearing day. And dance class day for Miriam. It was packed with many appointments and we were barely home. Bedtime was better still.  I think the girls were exhausted. They both crashed on the couch with me and were in their beds around 9:00. Big sister woke up several times overnight, and little sister slept through. 

On day four, I took the girls on a quick shopping trip to let big sister pick out big girl undies. She was SO excited! We got home, picked up kids from school, visited my mom's house, and got home in time for dinner. Bio Mom and Dad called around 7:45 that evening, and the girls were a little thrown off by that. Bedtime was rough. It was about 9:45 before both of them were in bed. They both woke up overnight. 

Day five (Saturday) started with a Lego competition for Noah. Amos and I are coaches, so we really had to be there. We loaded up all the kids and took them to the event. It was utter insanity! I made it through the opening ceremonies where Noah's team was recognized and took the girls and left. Both sisters fell asleep in the van. When we got home, we played at the neighborhood playground until dinner time. Bedtime was a breakthrough when little sister let me lay her in her crib to sleep. She slept through the night; big sister woke up several times.

We attempted Mass on day six. It was laughable! The snow scared most of the parishioners away, and we were the only family with kids. I said, "Well, every single person witnessed the inanity, but at least that wasn't many!" The rest of the day was spent at home. Bedtime was pretty great. Little sister went to sleep in her bed again and slept through the night. Bis sister awoke less often.

My biggest trial is definitely disciplining the girls. At first, I was torn about my expectations of them. They're two years old, and I'd forgotten what reasonable expectations are at that age. It was really a good thing that the behavior was so out of control that first day because I didn't have a choice but to set firm boundaries and consistent consequences. I'm SO glad that I did because big sister responded to time out like a dream and has (so far) respected my "no." Little sister continues throws a fit with the best of them. She is all drama, and her performance is complete with flopping, screaming, and an occasional glance to see if she has an audience. She rarely does. 

We truly have made huge strides this week! The kids are all getting along fairly well (I'll write about my bios soon), and Amos and I are learning to to go to bed early or live on little sleep!