Sunday, August 24, 2014

Still here

I haven't kept up on updating this poor old blog because, quite simply, life in foster care can get depressing. It makes it somehow harder to process when I have to sit down and write it out in black and white. Then I have no buffer from my anger, hurt, frustration, and tiredness. A body in motion stays in motion but I think the same is true for your mind. A mind that doesn't stop and allow a repeat loop of thoughts is a happier one. So sitting down to only focus on foster updates tends to put my brain on an troubling path.

Let's hit the significant changes:
1. "A" went to live with her bio-dad unexpectedly in June. No one, from DFCS to her dad, was expecting this but we got to a court date and the judge handed down his opinion that while she remains in foster care, she should do it in his home. It was not an easy transition and since then, we have very little contact with her because of the choices of her dad and stepmom. Half the time they don't even go to the visits with her mom. Simply put- they are attempting to keep a foster child without having anything to do with the foster life. How they get away with this I do not understand but I guess that is just one more advantage to being blood. You can not see your kid for three years but you are still their favorite option for a home, even if you don't follow any of the rules.

2. I have two new foster daughters, placed with me toward the end of June. They are actually the girls from this post. Their former foster home was put under investigation and as of a few weeks ago, closed down for good. Both girls are up for adoption and tomorrow I have a conference call with a prospective couple interested in them.  Life with three girls (ages 13, 12 and 11) has been fantastic but also exhausting. Going from one foster home to another, switching schools, living with a new parent, a new sibling, new friends, and a new schedule is a lot for kids to handle but these girls rolled with the punches and almost seamlessly transitioned into my home. I'm excited to see them land in a forever home and finally have the stability and family they deserve.

All four of us ended up going for a week's vacation to Michigan, getting back last Saturday. I had this planned for months and was always expecting "H" to come with me but I was scared spitless to imagine taking three kids on my own. Turned out to be a perfect vacation and incredibly easy. I'm not saying I wasn't tired and that driving with three kids from Georgia to Michigan was without challenges but what is life without a little flavor? Here is my secret for a happy roadtrip: Schedule every hour. I am completely serious, I had every single hour of that 12 hour trip planned out and because of that alone, we had no drama or "I'm bored" or even an "Are we there yet?" They knew what time we were planning to arrive and I gave them updates periodically when we got within a few hours of arriving.

Here is what our roadtrip schedule looked like:
6:00-8:00am   Sleep (keep them up late the night before, leave at dark, bring pillows)
8:00-9:30am   Music (radio, CD's, iPod- sometimes letting each person pick a song or station)
9:30-10:00am  Breakfast (road snacks and bottled OJ)
10:00-11:00am  Coloring/drawing
11:00-12:00pm  Book on tape (Adventures in Odyssey, Jungle Jam and Friends, etc.)
12:00-1:00pm   Lunch/gas/restroom break/chatting
1:00-2:00pm   Road games
2:00-3:00pm   Reading (I made it a requirement that in order to watch a movie, you had to read a book, the other option was to nap)
3:00-6:00pm   Movies (I had a mini-laptop, portable dvd player, and a iPod with tv episodes)

I had a rule of no bathroom breaks except when we got gas and I only packed enough food for actual meals- no snacks. This kept everyone from drinking liquids and kept the car less messy.

On our way back we hit horrible weather, road construction, and an hour long traffic jam so our 12 hour trip became an almost 14 hour one. I added in another hour of reading and stretched out the book on tape hour.

Anyway, it wasn't nearly as horrible as I was mentally preparing myself for. We had a lot of fun visiting with my Michigan friends and family. The girls loved that they got to swim every single day.

This week back was horrible though. We started school Monday and I ended up at the doctor's with an allergic reaction (something I've never experienced before) and one of the girl's had an ear infection that we went to the doctor for. Then we had DFCS appointments, visitations, church programs starting, a birthday party, and the younger two went yesterday for their last visit with the former foster mom. It was an incredibly long and draining week. Here's hoping for a better life this week. Although the calendar is just as full.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I wish that I had the energy to post more updates as so many things keep happening. But I choose to get those extra minutes of sleep instead of blogging after the girls go to bed.

Here are a few things that we have been up to:

1. Visits with mom and A's dad were scheduled for once a week, for two hours each, back to back. Some visits were rocky, others were great. I am very thankful that we have a local place that hosts these visits with supervisors that take great notes as I had to contact them about a fight that A had with her mom that resulted in her spending the whole two hours not talking to her. We worked it out at home but so much anger is simmering in this little girl toward her mom. H is more pragmatic (and willing to believe her mom) than A is so while she has anger, her natural desire to see the best in her mom keeps her from expressing that anger. Which is good and bad.

2. We went out of state for Easter to visit some of my family. That was a doozy of a trip since when we were an hour away from our destination I got a phone call that someone at the visit the night before noticed A scratching her head and suggested I check her for lice. So I did and sure enough- those little buggers were back. Which is crazy since I had checked her four days before (as a precaution) and didn't find anything! So we spent the weekend dealing with that. Oh the joys of having a kid in school.

3. Since my last update we have had:

  • Court date (that we missed due to transportation issues with the CW)
  • Went to the funeral of the girls step-great grandmother. That is another whole post...
  • Visit with my RD
  • Visit with one of CW who is helping with the girls case
  • Visit with the girls main CW
  • Assessment from Georgia Hope (a state agency that determines if counseling or therapy is needed) 
Upcoming is:
  • Dentist visit
  • Educational assessment (to determine if tutoring or special ed action is needed)
  • Another court date
  • Weekly visitations with mom
  • Arranging and supporting unsupervised visits with A's dad
4. Yes, A's dad got moved from supervised to unsupervised visits as of yesterday. Saturday is the first day she will spend with them on her own. I am nervous and excited for her to have this opportunity which is a first in 3+ years.

5. Both girls have their CRCT's upcoming and I am praying they pass. I don't care how low they get, as long as they pass their grade I will be a proud foster mom.

At the next court date I've arranged to have our CW request a private meeting with the judge so the girls can tell him where they want to live. They both know that they have multiple options and I feel very strongly that they should also know that they have a right to be heard. At this point, neither one seems inclined to choose mom but rather A has the option to live with her bio-dad and H may choose her step-grandparents. Or they both may say that want to stay with me as that has been a reoccurring conversation where they both express they would rather stay "in the middle" than choose somewhere else. I think they both are so tired of moving and losing everything that goes with moving that they just want to stay where they are for awhile. I tell them that they are welcome to stay as long as they want but I also encourage them to at least keep thinking about their options. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

'Tis So Sweet...

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise;
Just to know, Thus saith the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood;
Just in simple faith to plunge me,
’Neath the healing, cleansing flood.

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease;
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life, and rest, and joy, and peace.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me
Wilt be with me to the end.

One of my favorite times is when right before I tuck A in for the night, we study her Awana verses. We sit on the bed together and work on learning one verse each time from her T&T book. I tell her where to find it and she looks it up in her Bible and reads it from there. We talk about what that verse means and do little memory games to help her learn it. She is amazing at memorization so the whole process is maybe 10 minutes long but it is a very sweet, quiet moment that I love.

How I Met Your Mother

We walked into our team meeting last Wednesday and there she was. The woman I had only seen in a bad quality Facebook picture. The woman who is the mother to my kids. The person I have been dying to meet since I met these wonderful ladies.

And she wouldn't even look at me.

Here is a bit of my background getting into foster care: I was a nanny for quite a few years so the concept of raising a child in tangent with their actual parents is completely normal to me. I am just as passionate about bringing together families as I am about being the home for kids who need me. So to have this woman that I so badly wanted to talk with to start the process of working together as a team ignore me completely was rough. I tried to introduce myself and she turned her back. I tried to speak with her after the meeting to get her number and she wouldn't acknowledge me. 

I admit, I was naive and wasn't prepared for that reaction. I was expecting hostility, or scrutiny, or even curiosity but to be frozen out? Not even on my radar. After all, if your kids were living with someone else, wouldn't you want to have a conversation with that person? I'm not taking it personally, I know she is dealing with a lot of emotions right now and none of them will be positive toward me- but I am anxious to get her involved again with the girls.

I think if I had been told she was coming to the meeting I could have been more prepared (and most definitely prepared the girls) but even though I talked repeatedly with more than one DFCS worker who attended the meeting, I was never told she would be there. 

I'm not going to discuss the specifics of what went on in that meeting. Suffice it to say- the girls are with me for a minimum of 6 months. Visitation will be set up among multiple parents with the suggestion that we also keep the grandparents in contact. Counseling for both girls was recommended and I have the phone number for the mother. 

The strangest part was the girls reaction though. When we got done, neither of them asked when they would see their mom again or anything like that. I've been waiting this whole week to be asked if they can call their mom but they have said NOTHING. We got together with A's dad last Saturday which was good but when I asked A if she wanted to call her dad last night as we were snuggling on the couch- she didn't want to! He called us so I asked her to at least return his phone call. She proceeded to call him and literally say "Hi. Bye. Goodnight" and hung up. 

So instead of dealing with how much contact to allow the various family members- I'm left worrying about how to encourage the girls to WANT to communicate when they seem to have no interest in doing so. At the very least, because no visitation has been arranged with their mom yet, they will be calling her tonight to check in. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

"I could never be a foster parent"

The number one phrase people use when finding out I'm a foster parent. Its like they immediately feel guilty for not taking in kids so need to tell me why they couldn't. I'm not entirely sure why this reaction is so common. So here are a few suggestions to hand out to folks when that phrase strikes.... because my motto is to get them when they are weak ;)

Just kidding.

Sort of.

1. Donate items to your local foster parent association group. Clothes, books, toys, baby supplies, games, school supplies, and sports equipment are all expensive items when you are starting from scratch. Most foster parents keep a stash on hand of these items for all their approved ages but most will still jump at the chance to fill in the holes.

2. Create intake baskets. These will be given to kids the night they are taken away from their homes. Sheriff offices, DFCS offices, and the foster home could all use them. They are filled with practical items like a toothbrush, a comb, a blanket, stuffed animal, socks, and a snack/juice box. These are all comfort items for the kids, they seem so simple but can make a huge difference in that first night/day. 

3. Be a backup babysitter. This isn't as simple as it seems- it takes work! You need to be fingerprinted and background checked with DFCS. Finding friends who are willing to make the effort to get that done is HARD! Don't wait for the foster parent to ask you.... go find them and tell them you want to be their backup when you can. Eternal gratitude is your's my friend.

4. Be part of our community. Being a foster parent is a lot like entering a very isolated club, there are so many rules and the lifestyle is different from a "normal" family dynamic that many times you feel like you're in this on your own. The more people who make the effort to get involved in our kids lives, support us as parents, even stay in touch with the details of the case (as much as the laws will allow us to share anyway) are all ways to help bridge the gap and keep foster families surrounded by a community of support. That alone makes a huge difference.

5. Be patient with us. Did you know that none of our kids can have sleepovers unless it is at another foster parent's house? That we can have anywhere from 1-3 appointments per week (per child!) that DFCS requires? That we have a handbook 2 inches thick of rules and regulations concerning our kids? That we sit in a hallway at juvenile court for 6 hours without ever actually going in and have to keep the kids quiet in chairs the whole time? That before our kids get haircuts we have to get the parents permission through our case worker? That we have to get permission to go on any trips with at least 2 weeks advance notice? That case workers can call that day and say they need to come inspect our house but then show up an hour late and we can't do anything about that? None of these things are me complaining about the system- they are just a fact of life in a foster home but we need our community to understand that life with us takes patience and understanding. 

Here is my fail for the week: someone donated two bikes for the girls to have. They have been sitting at my church since Tuesday morning but have we found a way to get there yet? No. First up I have to borrow a bigger vehicle to get them and then this week every single night we've had plans. It's looking like it will be Saturday night before we can get over there.

A typical week for this foster parent

Sunday: Church (bring a neighbor friend along for the day), grocery shopping, make lunch, get blinding headache and nap while the girls watch a movie. Get up, make dinner, clean up, bring dinner to my grandmother, go home and watch a movie until bed time routine starts.

Monday: Work, school, go home and make dinner, A's track practice from 6-7:30

Tuesday: Work, school, dinner, and have the RD over for her monthly visit (who shows up an hour late). The RD is someone from DFCS who only works for the foster parent and has nothing to do with the girls case. So she basically asks me a bunch of questions of how I'm doing, notes my concerns, promises to look into the questions I have, checks that my house is still safe and then leaves. I won't hear from her for another month or two.

Wednesday: Work, school, pick up girls and race to the DFCS office for a Family Menders meeting, AWANA at Church

Thursday: Work, school, dinner, then head to A's school for a family open house event. 

Friday: Work, school, dinner/visit with brothers

Saturday: 8am-1pm is A's first track meet. Chores to get the house/yard back to "beauty base zero". Grocery shopping and then girls play outside with friends until dark. 

In the midst of this schedule is lots of phone calls, emails, and the occasional text to the various DFCS workers. Along with the normal things like homework, laundry, dishes, and making sure we sit down at the table at least 2-3 nights a week and enjoy dinner together. We only watch TV on the weekends and neither of the girls have been allowed on the computer yet (or have a phone) so we live a mostly unplugged life but it still takes a concentrated effort to get our schedule to align with enough time to eat dinner together. 

The girls head to their rooms at 8:00pm every night for "reading time" which is basically ends up with Ana picking out her outfit for the next day and H listens to music while reading her cookbooks (the only book she actually enjoys reading) while I lay out backpacks, pack up snacks for the next day, finish the dishes or watch an episode of Gilmore Girls. 8:30 is lights out for the girls and I am in bed by 9:30 most nights. Then we wake up at 6:15am the next morning and do it all over again.

Eventually our schedule will need to expand to fit in visits with A's family, the bio mom, possibly grandparents, and also counseling sessions. Also dentist appointments, eye exams, and a possible visit to the chiropractor for H. 

Next up will be a blog post called "How I Met Your Mother"... you can guess what that will be about.

Monday, March 17, 2014

"Would you keep us if you could?"

5 minutes before bed time last night, H is brushing her teeth, and I'm on my computer catching up on emails. Then I hear the chatter stop between her and A. Next I hear the scariest words of foster parenting from H.

"Would you keep us if you could?"

I immediately turned around and waited for her to come into my room, then I asked her if she meant adoption. She said yes and in my heart, I cried. I wasn't ready for this question, we have talked over the past few weeks about all the options facing them and who they could end up with. They both know there is a strong possibility that they will be split and each go their own ways, with different relatives. Most of our conversations have been positive about those scenarios.

Then A pops into the room and waits for me to answer. My brain is rushing and I'm working to find both the truth and the gentleness this conversation needs. 

See, I'm not an adoption home. My heart is fostering. My focus is getting kids to go back home or have a new home to stay forever. I'm 26 years old and single, not a prime candidate to adopt a 13 and 10 year old. I already love these girls, there is no doubt in my mind that I could easily see us all staying together, them growing up and me cheering them on. But is that what they need? A woman who is too young to be a "real" mom for them, whose heart has never even dreamed of giving up fostering for adoption? And I can't even imagine the pain of being given to someone else. I mean, I get that their mom messed up bad, but she is paying for that, and I truly desire that she is given the opportunity to clean herself up and turn it around. Its what I would want if I was in her shoes. 

So I told the truth. I said that if I knew that it was the best thing for them, that I would want to adopt them. But at this point, it wasn't the best thing. A's dad wants her. H's mom still has a chance. Being raised by their parents who love them but aren't perfect is still what is best for them. 

The end result was H saying that she would want her mom to get the house across the street that is for sale so she could stay here. Then A pipes in that she wants that also so she can keep "her really awesome room" at which point I gently reminded her that her dad wants her to live with him. Then she reminded me that she is still thinking about that and we all had a good laugh at her using my own words against me. That is my phrase for her "Just keep thinking about it. Don't say yes, don't say no, until you are surely for sure"

Team meeting with the various family members on Wednesday. I'm worried about what is going to happen there.