Posts Tagged 'family'

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.

 

Mama On The Edge (Part I)

The past year for me can be summed up as the “year of losses.”  In fact, the stress of the last six months of 2011 have left me quite frequently at a loss for breath.  Literally.   My mom keeps worrying that it’s a heart problem, but I know better.  Yet, with 2012 comes the potential for the worst loss imaginable since Middle Son J will be heading off to one of the most dangerous places in the world to scout out bombs.  I would relive last year many times over to avoid this scenario.

Not all of the “losses” we suffered were bad things. But even good changes are stressful.  Oldest Son left the frequently gray skies of Western Pennsylvania in May to join his fiance and her family in sunny California to start his new life there and help plan their wedding.  Youngest Son packed up most of his belongings to move into an apartment across the state in order to attend medical school.  These are good things, but major changes for our little nuclear family. 

Although we don’t go away on vacation every year, Big Daddy decided early in the year that we should rent a beach house since we may not all be together again for a while.  This was before we realized that Oldest Son would already be on the other side of the country–in fact, I don’t even think he realized it at the time.  But still–we knew our Bonus girls had never seen the ocean, and Middle Son J, his girlfriend Kathy, and Youngest Son were all able to come up with an available week in their insanely busy schedules to hit the North Carolina beach for some much needed rest and relaxation!  Image


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