Was That It?

Like the three that came before, we didn’t plan these children.  And, like the others, we wanted them very much once we found out they would become part of our family.  The waiting was a little longer this time though; I could have had three more babies from the time our girls first came to live with us until the day their adoption became final.

While I gained the inevitable weight that comes with pregnancy, the journey this time through the famously flawed foster care system helped me to lose weight.  Of course I’m older now than I was when my boys were little, but I’ve learned that most kids in “the system” require a little more effort than the ones the stork brings.  You may have to “undo” some bad habits, teach things they should have learned long before, reassure them and comfort them above and beyond what your own newborn ever required.  In addition, you have many different appointments and visitations to cram into your schedule.  Neglected teeth may require extensive dental work; poor nutrition or general lack of health care may have you spending hours in doctors’ waiting rooms.  And unless they’re placed while very young, they almost always are referred for counseling.  These poor babies don’t understand why they’re separated from their families (even dysfunctional families are sorely missed by their children) and often they are moved several times from stranger to stranger, requiring them to adapt to new schools and different family rules.  Is it any wonder they act out in frustration and anger?  The kids can keep you jumping!  But they are the easy part in the equation.

Don’t consider fostering if you relish your privacy.  Just to be considered, every facet of your life will be pried into and investigated.  You will be asked where you resided and with whom you lived with for the past 30 years.  They will do a background check and fingerprint every person living in your home.  Each year they want copies of your pay stubs, W-2’s, car registrations, and home and auto insurance policies.  It’s amazing that an inappropriate foster parent slips through these rigorous background checks!

Once a child is placed, you can expect weekly home visits and phone calls from at least one caseworker.  We didn’t work directly with the county so we had our agency caseworker and a county caseworker.  They are supposed to be there not only to ensure the safety of the child, but to guide and help the foster parents.  Sadly, this is just a dream.  In our experience, most of the caseworkers knew less than we did.  At least we knew how to raise kids!  They often couldn’t even help us with the things we needed to know about the foster care rules–which was supposed to be their area of expertise.  Even the few who actually cared often gave us wrong information or didn’t know enough to guide us to resources that I somehow managed to find on my own through dumb luck or sheer desperation!  Yet we were expected to complete all of our paperwork and monthly trainings on time–while taking good care of our kids, getting them to bi-weekly family visitations an hour away, and breaking in brand-spanking new caseworkers every few months.

The adoption process was even more intense.  Even though our kids had lived with us pretty much for the past two-and-a-half years and we were currently approved foster parents, we had to get more references, more background checks and fingerprinted again.  We had home inspections requiring the craziest things (like all meds–even refrigerated Amoxicillin that the kids may be taking–had to be in a separate LOCKED container) and weekly visits with an adoption caseworker (thank goodness my agency found this wonderful knowledgeable woman they hired as an independent contractor who led us through this whole process because our agency didn’t know squat and we never saw or heard from our county worker). We waited…and waited…to get our adoption date after completing all the requirements.  We signed the papers at the attorneys office.  We waited some more–pretty much giving up on the hope that it would take place before the end of the year has it had been semi-promised.

We finally got the call in mid-December.  One week before Christmas (and five days after hubby’s knee replacement surgery) we took the hour drive with a borrowed Handicapped placard so I could park across the street from the courthouse and help Big Daddy hobble to the door with our girls in their pretty dresses and tights.  We signed some papers.  We each sat at the witness stand and answered some questions.  Bonus Child hugged and clung to me while we sat and listened to Big Daddy answer his questions.  A caseworker led Bonus Baby to a back room to color when she got too antsy to sit still.  We got some pictures with the judge.  And it was over.  Months of prep.  A half-hour in court.  The girls are legally ours!

Bonus Baby flashed the biggest smile when I told her she’d never have to see another caseworker.  And last week, when I called her my little friend, she looked at me like I was nuts and said, “I’m not your friend, I’m your daugh-ter”, dragging out the last word slowly and deliberately just in case her poor mommy was too dumb to understand.

An old post…but so relevant on this anniversary of a day that changed me and so many others…

Mamaneeds2rant's Weblog

Anyone that knows me knows that I love nachos and salsa.  I could live on it.  Every year, I grow a garden mainly to grow fresh ingredients for homemade salsa.  I harvest my tomatoes, peppers and cilantro and make a so-so concoction along with some store-bought garlic, onions and lime juice.  I’ve tried adding spices to make it better, but it’s good enough.

Last weekend, Oldest Son’s California-born girl friend stayed with us.  She volunteered to make us some authentic Mexican salsa.  She came home from the store with mangoes, avocados, a hot pepper and a huge bunch of cilantro (mine has started going to seed).  I didn’t even know what a mango looked like, and I had no idea what to do with an avocado.  I usually omit the hot peppers because they scare me.  However, she whipped up the tastiest batch of chunky salsa I ever ate in…

View original post 535 more words

Fill In The Blank

Bonus Baby’s preschool had a Mother’s Day Tea and a Father’s Day Breakfast.  Bonus Baby’s face lit up when each of us showed up at her little event as she grabbed our arm and strutted around saying, “This is my mommy”, which most of the kids already knew since I pick her up there almost every day and showing off her daddy when it was his turn.  One thing they did for Dad’s day was a little fill-in-the blank sheet about their dad entitled “My Great Dad.”  Even her teacher was amused at some of the answers Bonus Baby gave. The bold print items are what Bonus Baby had the teacher fill in.  My own comments are in parenthesis:

My dad is 85 years old.  (okay, we’re not spring chickens, but really??)

He weighs 60 lbs. and is 6 ft. tall.  (don’t know how she guessed the height but weights a little off!!

His favorite TV show is bike racing & Cops. (She has obviously been here long enough to know what’s going on.  Can you believe Big Daddy actually plans his vacation time around the Tour de France so he can catch the highlights on TV as they happen?? And she is the one who races in to watch Cops with daddy as soon as she hears the music. Good grief).

He loves to cook eggs.  (Another astute observation–this Mama rarely cooks breakfasts.  In fact, Oldest Son was quite amazed when he was a young lad and spent the night at his cousin’s house.  As my sister-in-law started making pancakes, he looked at her with bewildered eyes and said “Ladies don’t make pancakes.”  haha.  A classic.)

Dad always tells me to go on the step.  (Hmmm, wonder why that is :D  Time out, anyone?)

It makes him happy when he takes me on a walk.

When my dad shops, he loves to buy peanuts, jerky.  (Most likely because she’s pleading for bees-a-jerky–that’s how she says beef jerky–and daddy can’t say no).

If he could go on a trip, he would go to the beach.  (Well, duh!  Who wouldn’t!!)

I really love it when my dad takes me swimming.

I love my dad!

And guess what?  We love our Bonus Baby.  And she and her sister will be official members of our family probably before the end of the year from what we hear.  By official, I mean legally.  They are already part of our family in every other way.

 

Two Years

It’s almost exactly two years to the day that two precious little girls came to live with us.  In less than four days, we’ll find out if they’ll be staying with us for good.  I could have never imagined, in my wildest daydreams, all the amazing, funny, scary, stressful and joyful events that have been jam-packed into these two years.

The journey wasn’t supposed to take this route.  The plan was to keep using our very kid-friendly home to its fullest advantage by temporarily taking in a foster child or two for a few months here and there.  Our three boys were all still home, but only during college breaks or in between Army-reserve deployments and trainings.  It was getting quiet.  I was getting lazy.  And Big Daddy and I were disgusted when we read about some poor kids that had been mistreated while in foster care.  (With all the background checks and monitoring that goes on, this is not what usually happens–but sadly kids do get placed into inappropriate homes!)  The ad looking for foster parents just seemed to jump off the page while I was looking for a temporary job to fill up my time between tax seasons. 

The kids all thought it would be pretty cool to have a “little brother” around.  We all assumed we’d be getting a boy even though Big Daddy and I had only mentioned we’d prefer an elementary school-aged child with mild to no behavioral problems, although our boys had written on their little survey that they’d prefer a boy. I loved having sons and never even had any desire to have a daughter.  I never imagined having a house full of glitter and baby dolls–and actually enjoying it!

I remember asking the first guy from our agency that came to do the initial home evaluation and application what the kids call the foster parents when they come to live with them.  “Mom” and “Dad” didn’t seem right to me since most of these kids have moms and dads, yet I didn’t know if the kids would feel weird calling us by our first names and it seemed to undermine the position of authority I thought we should have as guardians and disciplinarians.  I don’t remember what his reply was but I DO remember him saying that usually the very little ones just say mom and dad.  I thought that was kind of cute, and sad, but I wasn’t planning on getting a “little” one so it didn’t really apply to me.

I introduced myself as “Miss Leslie” to the girls.  Bonus Child refrained from calling us anything for the first week or so.  She quickly made excuses for her little sister that first week when the little Cherub called me “mommy” the first time.  Bonus Child froze when she heard that, her brown eyes darting glances between me and Big Daddy to see if we’d heard it, then apologetically explaining that her sister was still little and sometimes little kids get confused.  I think she thought we’d be angry, when in fact I was starting to fall in love with that little baby.  My heart was also going out to Bonus Child, the big sister who always looked after her younger siblings.  Neither one ever called me “Miss Leslie” but I do occasionally get called by my first name, most often by Bonus Baby, when I don’t hear her calling for me or if she’s peeved at me, which happens quite often.  Bonus Baby is not quite a baby anymore.  She’s gone from a diaper-wearing weapon of mass destruction to a kindergarten-bound girl with lots of attitude.  She’s quite like a rebellious teen with PMS in a toddler-sized body. 

The ride with Bonus Child has been a little slower, but also a little bumpier.  There was a lot more baggage weighing things down.  But we’ve come to a wonderful place, and I finally know what it’s like to have a daughter.  I feels so honored that she’s let her guard down enough to allow herself to finally be mothered.  I love to hear her giggle and sing in the shower and just be a kid. 

I know how things should end up this week. But there’s still no guarantee.  Stupid mistakes are made. But like I wrote in the letter to Bonus Child after the CYS supervisor realized that perhaps they should have never played Russian Roulette with these girls’ lives and removed them from a home where they were cared for and loved–“you will always be our daughters–even if you don’t live in the same house with us”.  And this is the honest truth.

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I’m Not Driving (Still)

The foster care system is the epitome of bureaucracy.  There are mountains of rules and regulations that must be followed–but in reality, these are mostly on paper.  Our agency (which is one of several that are contracted by the different county CYS departments to find screened suitable foster families) provides ongoing training which I do find helpful sometimes when dealing with disciplinary techniques.  These kids need a lot of structure and loving and firm discipline, and sometimes I can be a push-over, which was ok with my own boys, because they knew from the beginning from Big Daddy that they better not stray too far from the straight and narrow.  A lot of these kids, however, even if they are academically behind, can be very manipulative and street-smart.  I imagine these skills help them survive.

Although I haven’t really had problems with our agency, with the exception of the new caseworker who I’m more and more convinced exacerbated the respite problem because she wasn’t keen on having to drive the kids to the next county among other things, some of the trainings include typical foster care scenarios that are more fiction than fact.

One common proclamation of the foster care system is that “we are all important members of a team.”  This sounds really good…we all have our important part to play in the goal of getting these children back to a safe environment–preferably with their own families.  In reality, foster parents are often marginalized by the system.  Even though we often know these children better than their own parents (especially true of the younger kids) and we definitely know them better than the revolving-door supply of caseworkers who pass through, and the judges and supervisors who mostly know them through the paperwork in their files, our input and insight is rarely sought or valued.  We are the best resource they have for these kids; not only have a lot of us successfully raised kids of our own and picked up a few tips here and there, but we are the ones who tuck these kids in at night, hear their stories, and have a good sense of what these kids need, yet there is often the unspoken feeling that “they” are the experts and that we foster parents just need to do our job and mind our business.

Another thing that was frequently stressed is that it is highly recommended that we utilize the “respite system” and work with other families in the agency where the kids can spend some time away from us and widen their support network of caring families.  Supposedly this is good for the kids and for us.  The reality is that is almost impossible to forge any kind of relationship with a respite family because there really is not a great supply of them.  Our old caseworker was always very diligent about finding one when we really needed to get away for a night with adult friends or an important weekend event with our grown-up kids, but we rarely could use the same family more than once because they had gotten a foster child of their own and were no longer available or had decided foster care was not for them.

Foster parents are entitled to know all relevant information about the kids being placed in their homes.  This one kind of makes me roll my eyes.  Although everyone says we have the right to listen in on the hearings, we were pretty much relegated to sitting in the lobby of the courthouse every time we were asked to bring the kids, who sometimes got to speak to the judge, and other times just got to miss a day of school to hang out with the slew of caseworkers, county workers, foster kids, foster parents and bio parents.  One time even our agency caseworker was kept out of the hearing by the one very lazy clueless CYS caseworker we had last summer.  It’s kind of hard to make plans for kids when you don’t have the facts.  I often had to clue in the caseworker on things they should have had in their files about the kids’ siblings or former placements because luckily I had an older child who liked to share information with us.  Sometimes chatting with one of the other foster mothers at family visitation you might pick up another gem of information that would have been helpful to know.  And, sadly, sometimes information is intentionally withheld.  One adoptive foster mom, who is used to dealing with the more difficult children and actually seems to relish the challenge of helping them, claimed that even she would not have agreed to adopt her son had she seen all the stuff in his file that she was not given until the adoption papers were filed.  It did not turn out well.

Our agency also stressed that at anytime, if the placement was not working out, either for the kids or for the foster parents, other arrangements would be made.  Big Daddy and I, of course, had every intention of making it work from our end.  No matter how difficult, we wanted to provide a stable home and not contribute more rejection or instability.  But there are some deal breakers, and sad to say, at one very difficult point when we feared for the well-being of our family, we had explored the possibility of having Bonus Child placed elsewhere.  Bonus Child had been chafing mightily against our rules and fought bonding with us, saying often that she wanted to leave, especially since we had to clamp down on her for some very unacceptable behaviors.  Our agency said it wouldn’t be a problem.  The lazy clueless CYS worker said it wouldn’t be a problem.  We told them there was no need to hurry; we wanted her to be able to finish out the school year with her friends.  “No problem.  A done deal.”  These were the exact words out of lazy CYS worker’s mouth.

All of these factors no doubt played a part in the disastrous scenario that happened five months later.  But things were very different then.  By the time those girls were sent to live with yet another household of strangers, we had become a family.  These kids were torn away from two families that loved them in their very young lives.

I’m Not Driving (The Beginning)

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I don’t know how it is with you, but things just seem to work out best when I’m not actively planning the outcome.  Don’t get me wrong…I try to be prepared for everything, but I don’t follow a rigid playbook.  I know quite a few people that need to be in control of every aspect of their lives, from the exact job and salary they require and the gender and spacing of their children, to the one and only acceptable shade of paint on their walls.  These people seem stressed out a lot.

Then there are people like Big Daddy.  He’s a good Catholic boy who goes to Church every Sunday, volunteers at the County Home for the aged, and thinks that there is a God up there that actually saved that prime parking spot on a busy Pittsburgh street just for him. 

I fall somewhere in between these two ways of thinking.  I’m happy to strive for something great, settle for something good enough, and work to make it better.  None of the things I would have wished for would have turned out as well as the surprises that have happened to me.  I do believe in the forces of good and evil, and I do believe these powers affect our lives.  I just don’t really think that God gives a flying fig whether we drive around the block 20 times in the pouring rain, although…

I know I’ve left you hanging for a while in my foster care saga of miscommunication.  Sometimes I forget that not all of my blog readers know me personally or see my Facebook status updates.  The perfect storm of miscommunication was countered with a freaky series of coincidences that may be indeed the work of Divine Providence.  I’ll let you decide.

We thought about the girls often while we were in California for my oldest son’s wedding, hoping that they were enjoying finally being in a home with their other siblings.  When we got home, we found a letter in the mailbox from Bonus Child with pages of colorful drawings for me and heartbreaking pleas to “Please write back Mom” and “I love you Les.”  It also included a phone number and return address, written no doubt by the foster mom, where we could reach her.  I had promised before I left to call Bonus Child at her new home as soon as I got back from my trip, and so I did.  Bonus Child seemed very quiet and withdrawn, but since I had never talked to her over the phone before, I figured perhaps this was just her normal phone etiquette.  I asked her if she was having fun playing with her brother and sisters, and then I almost threw up when she told me that she wasn’t there with them.  “What?” I inquired.  “Why not?  Where are you guys?”  I gasped, trying not to convey my panic and nausea.  We had finally come to grips with losing the girls, but only because we thought they were going to be together.  Worse yet, the girls had been led to believe they were leaving our home to go live where their brother was staying.  They believed us, they trusted us, and we were all lied to.  We had to get to the bottom of this!

After some sleuthing around on the internet, I realized that not only were the girls not at the home where they were supposedly being sent, it was not even in the same county.  I had at first thought that maybe they were transitioning her into the school district where she would end up staying (since missing 4 days of school was one of the reasons the county would not approve the respite that our new caseworker had found), but obviously, school was not a consideration at this juncture since Bonus Child had just been yanked out of a wonderful school with caring teachers and close friends into some totally strange school where she knew no one.  None of it made any sense.

Big Daddy went to our agency to find out what in the world was going on. They seemed to be as surprised as we were by this revelation although clearly at this point neither of us knew who to believe.  All we knew was the children were not with their bio family, and since they had been with us over 15 months and were thriving and firmly bonded with us, they belonged here until they could return home, if that time ever came.

I’m not going to lie.  After the stressful year we’d had, it was really nice being able to focus on ourselves.  We joined a gym, cleaned the house, slept in, got some big overdue projects done and went out to eat whenever we felt like it.  Our agency knew we were upset and said they understood if we wanted a break and would wait to call us.  Within a week, they were calling us with other kids needing a foster home.  Yeah, right.  Neither Big Daddy nor I were feeling the need to ever do this again.  We were emotionally drained.  We even thought how easy life was without the girls–even though we missed them terribly.  But the way it happened–allowing them to think we ditched them, lied to them, and abandoned them–gave us the drive to fight for them.  And we knew it would be an unfair uphill battle.

 

Lounging in Limbo

Within the month, we should have a much clearer picture about two life-changing events in the lives of my family members.  The first one involves Middle Son J.  About three days before he was scheduled to be deployed, first for training stateside, and then on to Afghanistan, he and others in his unit received an e-mail saying that due to military budget cuts, about 50 soldiers would not be sent.  J’s name was on that list.  Of course, we were all in disbelief.  I felt like the death row inmate who had just been pardoned at 5 minutes until midnight.   J, however, was initially very upset, as were some of his buddies–both those who also were cut, and the ones still scheduled to go–but now without the buddies they had planned to go into battle with.  After the shock wore off, though, J began to see the upside and readjusted his battlemind back to the positives of staying home, finishing school, and not leaving his girlfriend Kathy for a year.  Until the next day…when they were informed that they should disregard that first e-mail.  No final orders were issued.  They would carry on as if nothing had happened.  If they got the final orders while they were at training, they would be sent back home.  If not, they would be going to Afghanistan.   So he’s away at training and no one seems to know for sure what’s going on.  It has been a roller coaster ride, to say the least.

The second decision is another one completely out of our hands.  We are pretty much spectators, waiting for someone else to shape the direction of our lives.  And the process leading to this decision will begin tomorrow.  We were informed last month that the family court judge who is in charge of deciding where our foster daughters and their siblings will be placed has asked that we be present at the courthouse tomorrow.  And I’m nervous.  I have no idea what to expect.  In fact, I’m not even sure if this is for real.  I have nothing in writing.  No calls from the county.  Just a call last month to Big Daddy–from the kids’ lawyer–that we were to meet with the judge.  Big Daddy is going to e-mail her later today to verify that this meeting is still on, and that nothing has been canceled.

I’m scared it may be canceled.  I’m nervous if it’s not canceled.  I haven’t seen the girls since late September.    I have no idea if they’re scheduled to be at this hearing.  I want to see them again.  I’m afraid to see them again.

Big Daddy has seen the girls since they left our home.  He showed up at one of their scheduled hearings to see what was going on (even though we are never really sure what is going on since we foster parents are relegated to sitting out in the waiting area), and to remind the kids’ lawyer to mention that we are very much willing to adopt the girls if that becomes the final determination.  We have been very lucky to find some caring people who, like us, want what is best for the kids.  It doesn’t always work out that way.

At first the kids walked right past him in the courthouse, without a hint of recognition.  It was early, they didn’t expect him to be there, they had just moved on and forgotten about us???  For the first time Big Daddy wasn’t sure we were doing the right thing by trying to get them back.  But we had to let them know.  We hadn’t abandoned them.  We were fighting to get them back.  It was NOT our lie that they were going to be living with their siblings–and then dumped somewhere else–away from not only their biological family, but now also the family and friends that had loved and nurtured them for the last year and a half.

And then he saw Bonus Baby–sitting on her bio mom’s lap–chattering away and pointing at him across the room.   He walked over to them and said, “Who am I?”  Her mom laughed and said, “Yeah, she keeps pointing and asking ‘Who is that?’.”   “You know who I am,”  Big Daddy said, and all his doubts melted away when Bonus Baby reached out her arms to him and said, “Daaaaddy!”

Then it was like she never left.  She talked about the black thing on the pool (the winter cover).  Then she talked about J’s leg and how he hurt it.  She asked him where Mommy(me) was, then put her hand on her hip and asked with a sneaky grin, “Is she still sleeping?”  Of course Big Daddy got a kick out of that!

It was funny in a been-there-done-that kind of way when the new foster mom related how, when Bonus Child came in to tell her that Bonus Baby had put her lotion on her bed, that they had no idea at first that she’d meant she had actually slathered a whole bottle of lotion on the bed sheets.  And it was heart-wrenching when it was time for Bonus Baby to leave the courthouse, and she wrapped her arms around Big Daddy’s neck and said, “I want to go home wif you, Daddy.”

And tomorrow, my emotions , too, will be getting a vigorous workout.

 

 

 

 

 


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