Monday, April 21, 2014

Fitting the Pieces Back Together.

I returned Easter dresses over the weekend. The crib is disassembled. Toddler clothes are washed and stored away. Blankets, sippy cups, and plastic dishes returned to boxes. Car seats have been scrubbed and sanitized.

I am slowly getting our life back in order, and it feels good. It is nice to have a list of tasks to busy myself with. It makes the silence in my house on this Monday morning less noticeable. I'm making phone calls for home services: yard care, carpentry work, driveway repairs. The last two months showed us the impossibility of juggling new children and home ownership. We're calling in the troops before we get the next placement call.

We don't expect to take a placement (unless an adoption placement falls into place) before our family vacation in a few weeks. I say we don't expect to because it seems everything I say I won't do comes to pass. If we are going to foster successfully, we need to make sure that our family has a chance to heal and reconnect between placements. Miriam in particular needs a breather. The girls took a lot of her world away. And she was such a trooper. Thursday night when I was tucking her into bed, back into her room, she told me, "Mom, I really wanted to say, 'I don't want them to have my room anymore!' but I held it inside because I knew they needed a room to stay in." Poor, sweet thing... I felt a huge desire to spoil her with gifts over the weekend, but I resisted.  Instead, I tried to spoil her with attention. J is already looking forward to our next placement, and I guess Miriam is too because she asked today if we could get a twin for her and one for Noah too next time. I reminded her that people weren't searching for kids for us but let her imagination run a little bit just for fun!

Me? I'm doing fine. We were able to take all five of our crew to the park Friday to drop off the girls belongings. We stayed for about 45 minutes, long enough to visit a little bit and love on the girls. When our visit was wrapping up, we talked about barbecuing together. The girls' dad said that he'd told their mom that he knew exactly who they were going to call when they go on a trip, and I offered to watch the girls when and if they needed because they won't be able to leave the children until the case is officially wrapped up. It is entirely possible that none of this will truly come to pass, that we'll never see the sweet faces of Big and Little Sister again. But for now, I'm resting in the fact that they thought enough of us to want to keep in touch. It didn't feel like goodbye when we drove away Friday afternoon.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Giant Leaps. Back to our Baseline.

Today was indescribable. I'm exhausted, but I really want to document the day before the details fade... 

This morning we had our FST meeting for the girls. We woke up at 5:30, got everyone ready for school, dropped the big kids off ridiculously early and headed down the interstate toward the courthouse a county over. We were the first ones there, and we sat watching out the window for Mommy and Daddy to arrive. There were many people absent from the meeting; it was the GAL, case worker, supervisor, parents, one of the other foster parents, the girls, Amos and I. It sounds like a long list, but that's only about half of the number of people who could've attended. Dad's attorney conferenced in as well. We had a half hour scheduled for a meeting about seven kids. 

The meeting started with glowing praise of the family, their efforts, progress with their plan, and general cohesiveness as a unit. Some of the details of the allegations and case were discussed, and talk began about adding time to visits. The plan was for visits to become 3 hours long for a few weeks and then, once the rest of the investigation came through, the visits would become unsupervised. As I sat in that meeting listening to the plans for progress, I was SO excited for our girls and for the parents.

Then it was Dad's turn to speak, and he articulated some very valid points and ultimately requested through his attorney that the children be returned home. I had just sat and listened to plans be made for a more lenient visitation schedule, so even though I'd been praying for this very moment for a couple weeks, I was not at all prepared for what happened next.

The supervisor and guardian ad litem stepped out of the room for a minute, and when they returned, the supervisor suggested that four of the seven kids be allowed to return home. Dad started sobbing and managed to ask, "When?" And then came the answer.

"Today. Right now."

And just like that, our leg of their journey was over. This was our stop. 

God is glorious. Last week, we had asked our licensing worker to see what could be done about getting the girls back home. Both Amos and I felt strongly that they needed to be with their parents, that it was best for them. That afternoon, a little over a week ago, we got a call back from her and were assured that the girls would be here through the end of June. I began to prepare for that, but I wasn't giving up. I kept cheering on mom through our text conversations, and I kept praying. Today, God answered prayers! Their sweet family still has a road to travel before all nine of them are reunited, but they took a giant leap today. 

After the meeting, we loaded the girls into our car and got to drive them home! The girls were beyond excited, especially big sister! Her feet didn't stop swinging, and every time I looked back at her from the front seat, her sweet face would break out into a huge grin. When we got to their house, we came inside for a minute. Big sister ran into her room and then came back to grab my hand. She was dying to show me her new bunk beds. We talked for just a couple minutes, and then started our goodbyes. I really wanted to leave them to enjoy the girls. We got quick hugs from the girls, big hugs from mom and dad, and then Big Sister walked us to the door. "Bye!" She said, and slammed the door as soon as we were on the porch. She wasn't chancing us coming back for her! Mom opened the door again as we were climbing into our van, and Big Sister's head of curls poked out. She started doing her robot walk, the walk that means she's a little unsure of what's happening around us, and in that moment, as I waved at her and met her eyes, I knew that we had done our job. That she had felt loved in our home. And I was at peace. 

After we left, I started worrying about our kids. The whole change of events had caught us all by surprise, and we hadn't warned our kids that the girls could be gone by the time school was out. I was pretty nervous when I picked up Noah and Miriam. We sat in the van and I told them about the meeting and how the girls got to go home to their mommy and daddy. My silly kids took it in stride and seemed mostly happy for the girls and a bit relieved to know that their lives would return to normal. It was the initial reaction I expected. An hour and a half later, I drove up to the middle school to pick up J from track practice. She saw the two empty carseats and asked if we were having a girls' night. I didn't know what to say, so I just blurted out, "The girls went home this morning." I let the words settle in for a moment before I filled her in on the details of the meeting. I could see her mind reeling, processing the abrupt end of our family as it existed for the last two months. And then I saw her bite her lip... I just grabbed her hand and held it. I assured her that even though we were all happy for the girls, it was okay for her to feel ANYTHING that she was feeling. When we got home, I hugged her in the driveway, and she held on tight. She needed the comfort and the assurance that everything would be okay. I held her until she let go, and then we walked into the house and back into our family of five. 

Tomorrow we will take the kids after school and deliver the girls' belongings. Hopefully, it will be a chance for our kids to have some closure and to say goodbye to their foster sisters. This is the part of foster care that I'm nervous about-- helping our kids transition BACK to our baseline. But we're taking it one day at a time and learning as we go. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Respite Reflections and Little Sister

We had the best possible respite care experience. The girls were so excited to go and have a sleepover, and I have no doubt that they received the best possible care while they were away. The girls weren't thrilled about coming back to the Blue House, but they cheered up before the van even left sight of the respite home Saturday afternoon. It was the best possible experience, but the days that followed were a testament to how confused and scared Big Sister is about her life right now.

The last few days have seen clinginess in overdrive. Big Sister asks dozens of times each day if she can go with me. "Sure!" I say. Where do you want to go? Nowhere. She just needed to be in my sight-- and in my arms-- at all times. I could feel flattered. I could feel annoyed. But I just feel guilty for leaving her with strangers (even though they are fantastic people). I feel horrible for throwing the pieces of her life back into the air. I feel great sadness for her frantic arms begging for solace, for her searching eyes that are once again filled with fear and confusion, and for her cries of distress when I have to give my arms a break.

I'm learning that stability is precious for these sweet littles. A fun weekend away can still be wrought with worry. For a three year old who cannot wrap her mind around explanations and promises to return, respite with unfamiliar families may not be a great idea. I think, in the future, we'll want to either leave them with the same family, with families that she knows well, or not at all. She needs all the normal she can get because when I walk out the door, she doesn't know if I'm coming back.

Little Sister seems unaware that anything was changed over the weekend, It makes me sad to see her so content everywhere she goes. I'd much rather her be fighting to stay with someone she trusts. In the last few weeks, I've seen her making progress all around. Her tantrums have all but disappeared, and I'm working every day to connect with her in meaningful ways. We're working on language development, and I've been happy to see her starting to ask, "what's this?" about everything in her little world. Her annunciation isn't fantastic, but I can understand many new phrases and sentences. There is less gibberish and more understandable communication. For that, we are thankful. I'm guessing the ability to communicate more maturely is a huge factor in the decrease in tantrums. She's stopping to say, "I have that please" instead of taking what she wants. And I am careful to say yes as often as I possibly can. We're determined to let her know that words (nice words) work magic around the blue house!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Fear and My Own Broken Promises

We’re praying our way through the inquiry process of 7 and 13 year old siblings that God has planted in our hearts. I’ll be honest. It’s terrifying to think of starting to parent/build trust/love a kid that late in the game! The fear is paralyzing. I'm supposed to make a call to the kids' worker to set up meetings with their foster parents for more information. I can't quite make myself pick up the phone. 

Here's the kicker. I felt something with these two. Not "Oh, they're beautiful!" Although they most definitely are! Not the "I want to scoop them up because their stories are sad." Although I do, and they are. In my heart of hearts, I felt that this time was for real

I promised myself things over and over in the last couple years. We would never foster. We wouldn't get attached to a kid before we were chosen as their adoptive placement. We wouldn't entertain legal-risk placements. We wouldn't consider older children. Oh, the things I promised! 

One by one, I've let go of every promise I made to myself... and now we're standing with one promise left- 
Follow God's plan and don't box him in.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Receiving Respite

Respite care. We've provided it, and now we're getting to see what life is like on the other side. Amos and I are attending a foster care/adoption conference this weekend. We registered for the conference two months ago, about three weeks before the girls came. Until a week ago, we had accepted that we wouldn't be able to attend, but one last effort led to another, and we found ourselves in the receiving end of respite care. We were in licensing classes with the family, and we've sent a few facebook messages back and forth recently. I'm so thankful to have had those opportunities to get to know them. I feel very comfortable leaving our girls with them.

We delivered a crib on Tuesday evening to the home where the girls will stay and gave them a chance to play a bit. Hopefully that will make the drop off go smoother. At least they won't be dropped on a complete stranger's doorstep. Since Tuesday, Big Sister has been asking nonstop if we can go to "Her" house now.

One hard part of respite is splitting the kids. I hate that we're sending the bios to my mom's and the girls somewhere else. We might have decided to split the kids between houses anyway (because who wants to ask someone to keep your FIVE kids overnight), but separating them into "old" and "new" makes me crazy.

All the work it took to arrange child care, pack bags for three different destinations, and prepare the kids has left me wondering if it's worth it. Then I think of Amos and how much I miss him. I know that we are both craving time to reconnect and take a deep breath. Sadly, it is all too easy to forget about each other in the crowd of kids and the endlessly busy schedules. I know that those first moments after the last goodbye will be worth all the hoops we've jumped through. Here's to 24 hours of adult interaction!