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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It's the little things

This weekend is already wonderful. I deliberately cleared out our schedule, said no to having friends spend the night, and didn't plan any big things. We've all been running like hamsters on wheels all week so we need some relaxing, down time. Especially A as she has been hit hard with a bad cold for most of the week.

We all enjoyed waking up late and then sitting on the couch drinking coffee (me), chocolate milk (H) and orange juice (A) with each other. Spending time with my girls in those quiet, easy moments is quickly becoming one of my favorite things.

Last night I let the girls scarf down dinner and run out to the neighborhood to play. I have been so blessed to live in a subdivision that is safe (its a big circle in the country so no worries about not knowing where they are) and they both have found friends that go to their schools that live down the road. So they headed out around 5pm and came back around 8pm. Which gave me some down time to enjoy watching a tv show as I did laundry and dishes. Then I shamelessly just sat there and enjoyed a break before A came in with scraped up hands and after cleaning her up, we snuggled together with a show she picked.

For the Safety Police reading this: Yes, I knew where they were (I could look out my window and see them in the neighbors yard) and I knew who their friends were as well as laying down two ground rules: 1. No going into anyone's house that I have not personally met the parents and 2. Stay out of people's yards that you don't know. 

I'm glad that they are getting a chance of an actual childhood. Even more that they can have the freedom to go out and play all afternoon. Remember what that is like? So few kids in this generation will get those memories. I'm hopeful to find some good used bikes in the future for them.

Now today we've done laundry, cleaned the house and H volunteered to clean out the front flower bed. We've opened the windows, turned the radio on, and generally have been loving being at home. Next up is grocery shopping, bathing suit shopping (for A only, my wonderful SIL already took H shopping and found an awesome one), and a movie. 

Only foster updates are that A is now talking to her bio-dad's family every few days and this morning I sat down with the girls and got the information for every family member they could think of. It will all go in my Foster Binder- more on that in my next post.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Court date (aka the miserable, horrible, no good, very bad day)

Court. Ugh.

I would rather have a dentist cleaning, an gynecological appointment, and a bunch of shots all on the same day than go to court again.

Basically it is being there at 9am, sitting till 2:30 then being told you can go home. Not being allowed in the room, not being told what it was for, and not in any way contributing to the process. Now imagine that with four kids, two foster parents, and some of the family of said foster children. It. Was. Miserable.

The worst part? I get to do it again in April. And then each month thereafter until Jesus comes back and takes me to a home without the juvenile court system.

The best/worst part was that A's dad, his girlfriend, and his parents showed up. First time he has seen her in 3 years. And of course he goes right into telling me how he wants her to come home, that he just didn't know where she was and couldn't keep track of her. And wanting to know where I live, who I am and exchange phone numbers. Being a first-timer to meeting "the family", I froze. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be giving my information out and my thought process was something like this: they could come to the house unexpected! They could try to get her from school! They could call me and harass us!

Sure I might seem paranoid and judgmental but all of those things are very real possibilities when you are responsible for someone's child and they are not happy about it. I ended up telling them the city I lived in and that we would call them if they gave us their phone number. It gave me some space to think.

At the end of the day, A's dad gets visitation rights. I'm supposed to be getting a call from a local business that facilitates the meetings between kids and their family. I'm trying to be positive about this (and with her) but my heart breaks to think of sending A to his home and leaving H on her own. They don't get it yet as they are still in the stages of sisterly rivalry, but they need each other. And if A goes with her dad, they won't grow up together.

Update on the trauma assessment mentioned in this post. It was wonderful! We had a great lady (K I shall refer to her as) who sat down with us and for an hour, just got background information, filled in the timeline and generally talked about the girls family life.  She also called me tonight and we have another family meeting scheduled for next week. I asked her who would be there and I had to be the one to inform her that A's dad came out of the woodwork and he should probably be called. She thought he was in jail! 

Side update: I finally harassed our worker into getting a hold of H's birth certificate and social security card so we could get an official date of birth and last name. DFCS had the wrong last name, wrong birth date, and likely the wrong middle name as well. So now I need to redo all the school paperwork. I'm just so glad I can tell H for 100% certain those rather important pieces of information.

I keep feeling overwhelmingly tired at the end of each day. The kids are asleep by 9pm and before they came, I was going to bed between 10-11pm. Now I hit the pillow at 9 and don't wake up until my alarm goes off at 6:15am. Is this just an adjustment period of going from single to motherhood so quickly?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I feel like a mom when...

I've done dishes, made snacks, gotten both kids to school, dropped clothes off at the donation center, picked up dry cleaning, and made it to work all before 8:00am.

As a side note: 6th grade math is still completely useless. I help H with her homework and none of it yet is applicable to life. I think the better lesson for today was when I had her use the local grocery flyer to circle items she wanted to get and then total up how much it all would cost. When she got done I asked her to figure out how many meals we could get out of that list. Both girls have an issue with not understanding need vs cost vs budget so I'm working slowly on introducing ideas of money management.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

One Week Mark

It seems like its been both longer and shorter than a whole week since H and A were placed with me. We've all finally gotten into a routine and figured each other out. Now we are at the fun stage of learning to balance everyone's own personalities and expectations.


I got a call tonight to set up an appointment to have someone come over and do a trauma assessment. I have no idea what this is and was not even aware that this was expected so getting the phone call this afternoon threw me a little. So pray for the girls tomorrow afternoon as they tell yet another DFCS person their story. So far none of the workers have held even close to a normal conversation with the girls so they aren't exactly warming up to meeting new people in the system. Heck, they don't even bother to learn their names because they know that they don't need to.

We got H's room all set up today. Previously she was using the (very nice) queen blow up bed and also had the crib in her room. Today I disassembled the crib, borrowed a twin bed from my parents, and put the blow up bed away. It is officially her room now.

Last night we ended up with a neighbor girl spending the night. On the one hand, I am so thankful they have someone next door to be friends with, on the other it basically means that I have another 13 year old living with us half the time. She's had dinner with us twice already and possibly is going to church with us tomorrow. At this point, I'm glad my parents raised me to be "the more the merrier" attitude =)

Also, just to prove how wacky your life as a foster kid can be- I had to tell H that not only was she using the wrong last name her whole life, she also is not 13 like her mom told her, she is 14 according to her birth records. She took it well but now she is two years behind in school and I feel like I need to contact the guidance counselor at her school and see if there is anyway we can get her up to at least only a year behind. Tutoring, summer school, working at home more intensely. There has got to be a way to get her back on track. But I guess that all depends on how long she will even be with me.

On another note: I am seriously struggling with deciding if I should let H have access to her Facebook page. I got the official go-ahead from the worker but I see all the pitfalls. Being in contact with her birth family, giving out information that DFCS says isn't allowed, and then just all the normal issues with teens and social media. Am I ready to handle monitoring it? Is she ready to be so restricted on what she can/can't do? Will it place an unnecessary strain on our relationship? I see all those sides. But I also see the good in it too. I see a girl who left behind a lot of friends that she wants to keep in touch with. Who wants to connect online with the new friends she is making and to keep one part of her previous life. I'm just stuck on what it being a good parent looks like in this situation. Any thoughts?