Posts Tagged 'stress'

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  Bonus Child seemed very quiet and withdrawn, but since I had never talked to her over the phone before, I figured perhaps this was just her normal phone etiquette.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.

 

 

 

 

 

Took My Breath Away (The End)

Some of you already know what happened.  Others may have guessed.  The final loss in the “year of losses” was the abrupt exit of our two beautiful foster daughters.  You realize this is a distinct possibility when you take in foster children.  In fact, in most cases, it is the desired outcome.  It is usually the goal of the state, county, and foster care system to improve the home situation of these children so that they can be returned to their biological families.  We understood that role and were fine with it.  We were naive.

First of all, I never expected our very first placement to last over 15 months.  I figured we’d take someone in for a few months, keep them fed and happy, comfort them and play some games, and send them home when things were better.  We had specifically asked for an elementary school-aged child, one child (boy or girl–although all the guys in this house said they would PREFER a boy–so I fully expected to get a boy), with no major abuse in their history.  (Yes, I know they’re all there for a reason–but you probably know what I mean).  I wanted someone old enough that I could converse and interact with, but who would not be big enough or scarred enough to kill me (and I’m just being honest here).  I figured the child care situation would be easier during the two months I work if the child was in elementary school with our after-school programs.  I definitely did not want an infant because to me, that is just endless busy work with very little personal connection.  I really didn’t think there would be that much of a personality to work with in a pre-school aged child, and I thought a slightly older child would be easier.   Life is full of surprises!

I fell in love with Bonus Baby the moment I laid eyes on her teeny-tiny pint-sized body with her big brown eyes and coke-bottle glasses.  She came as an extra bonus along with her eldest sister.  She was “almost three”, as the caseworker stated, trying to convince me to take them, but she was the size of an 18-month old, still in diapers, and busier than a tornado.  And she was loaded with personality.  At first, okay, even later, she was a lot of work.  Physical work–changing diapers, potty training, keeping everything out of her reach, trying to meet her constant demands for food and entertainment.   When these kids came, they were very needy–for time and attention.  They never just chilled for even 5 minutes to pause and watch TV or sit still and play.  It took a lot of energy.  It was a great exercise plan 😀  (I lost a good 10 lbs. those first 2 months)!

Bonus Child was a big help to me from the very first day she came.  She was very much used to being in charge since she was the eldest of five surviving children.  She came with me to the supermarket to help me figure out what size diapers to get Bonus Baby since she’d arrived without a spare and I had no idea how much the darling weighed. Bonus Child knew exactly which package to get, and also accurately informed me what kinds of food to buy.  She also showed me how to fix Bonus Baby’s hair properly.  Raising three boys, I was pretty much all thumbs at making little braids and pony tails.  As a not-too-girly mom who thought I’d dodged a huge bullet by having boys, I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed buying clothes and hairbands for the girls!

Before you knew it, these little strangers were a part of our family.  Surprisingly, all the expectations were topsy-turvy.  The younger one was the easier one, in so many ways.  She made the astute observation one afternoon on the way home from preschool that “I have two mommies.  And two daddies”.  And that was just the way it was.  No problems.  No issues.  She loved all of us and she loved life.

I learned that it’s harder for the older kids to accept their situations.  Sometimes they feel they are being disloyal if they’re having too much fun.  Often they’re afraid of bonding to new people because they never know when they’ll be leaving.  They are stressed and angry about events in their young lives and sometimes act out without knowing why.  You learn a lot when you’re a foster parent–by reading, researching, observing, and talking to other foster parents.  No matter what, though, by the end of the second summer we were a family.  Bonus Child had finally turned the corner and had firmly bonded with me and seemed to genuinely want to be here.  I felt this bond would help get us through any little bumps in the road.

But that was not to be.  The unfortunate “perfect storm” of events occurred.  The kids were once again “in between” case workers at the overworked understaffed county.  The agency we worked with had just assigned us a new case worker.  My eldest son’s wedding in California was coming up and of course since we’d never even dreamed we would still have the kids in September when we had to make travel plans in the spring (although the case worker at the time had assured us that we could get respite care for the children during the trip if we DID still have them) I kept checking to see if arrangements had been made.  You can’t just leave foster kids with anyone; they must be watched only by an adult with clearances.  Since my entire family was going to the wedding, and even my neighbor, who is a CASA volunteer and has clearances, was going to be out of state that weekend visiting her son, I had to rely on the agency.  And they couldn’t come through unless the kids went to another county and Bonus Child would miss 4 days of school.  And that just didn’t sit well with the supervisor-acting-as-interim-caseworker at the county.

I spent the weekend before my son’s wedding packing up over 15 months worth of toys, clothes, books, school supplies, etc. for two little girls who had a lot of things!  I still didn’t even know for sure what I was going to wear to the wedding and for the rest of the time we would be in California and hadn’t started packing my own stuff.  I was grieving for them while I packed up boxes and backpacks to send with them to the foster mom who had expressed that she wanted to adopt all 5 of the kids to keep them together, trying so hard not to let the girls see me cry so I could put the positive spin on it that they would get to be with their brother and sisters who they really loved and missed.  The supervisor from our agency picked up the girls the day before we had to fly to California to take them and most of their belongings to the county, and Bonus Child made me promise to write and call as soon as I got back from California.  I sent a note with her to give to their new foster mom promising to get the rest of the kids’ stuff to them and thanking her for keeping all these precious children together in one home.  I included our phone number and address so the kids could keep in touch.   It was during this frantic week in my life that I found it impossible to take a full complete breath.  I’m still struggling.

Took My Breath Away (Part I)

The massage therapist knowingly nodded, and said several of her clients complained of similar symptoms.  “The body remembers,” she continued, “even long after the triggers are gone”–which is what baffled me.  When I went to her, the week after Christmas, I should have been a model of health and tranquility.  I had started working out at least three times a week, had no major deadlines or responsibilities, and the things that had me so stressed out were months behind me, or at least at the point where I’d done everything I could to make things right and had no personal regrets.  I had wholeheartedly resigned my fate to a higher power, feeling certain that not only what will be will be, but will be for the best.  Yet I still had trouble taking in a good deep cleansing breath.  I was hoping she could rub out some of the knots in my back that seemed to be blocking the air from fully reaching and filling every bit of my lungs.

Hosting foster children is something we had thought about doing for a long time.  Big Daddy seemed to be more apprehensive about it because he was worried we might become attached  to a child that we would have to give back.  I was less worried about that because I expected from the start that it would be temporary and was OK with that.  I only wanted to be a safe port in a child’s stormy life until things calmed down.  In fact, I like temporary arrangements.  I love my two-month a year job.  I prefer open-ended contracts.  I figured we’d provide some fun for a child that needed to laugh and then he or she would return home after a few months.  I had no way of knowing how challenging and unpredictable this choice would be.

We had planned, and splurged, on renting the beach house in July.  One of the reasons was so the girls could see the ocean.  But all along, we never knew for sure if we would still have them by the time July rolled around.  We hoped…but that is the nature of foster care.  We rented a house that slept 8 just in case, though, figuring we wouldn’t have much trouble filling up the extra beds if something happened.  Then J came home with his horribly crushed leg…and with only a couple of weeks to go, we faced the possibility that none of us would be going on vacation.  We spent days keeping his leg iced, helping him with everyday life, and watching helplessly while he dealt with pain that even his prescription pain killers couldn’t dull.  The girls were so sweet, tiptoeing around quietly and trying to help by making ice packs and bringing him water.

Although we had to watch for what could have been gruesome developments, J’s leg seemed to be improving enough that we decided to make the long drive to North Carolina.  J stretched out in our old van that we luckily never sold while Youngest Son did the driving.  J’s girlfriend and my 15-year-old niece rode along with them.  Big Daddy and I took the girls with us in the SUV and we kind of followed each other.  We had a great time there–even though Big Daddy had to lose a full day at the beach shopping around for a competent repair guy–miles from the little island we were staying–to replace the muffler that had decided to fall off the van two days before we had to leave.  Meanwhile, Youngest Son had been struggling all week, long distance, to find out why his car was still sitting untouched and unrepaired back home when he had left it a week ago.  They still hadn’t gotten the part they needed and Youngest Son was stressing big time about having to start med school in less than a week with no car to get him there!  All of these annoyances were quickly forgotten, however, when Big Daddy took a call on his cell phone the night we were packing up to leave for home.  The guy that was watching our beautiful 7-year-old Boxer dog, Sky, called to tell us that he was rushing her to the animal hospital with what appeared to be Bloat, which is a twisting of the dog’s stomach and which we knew immediately was a very bad thing.  We waited teary-eyed and in stunned silence for further news, and our worst fears were confirmed when he called to say she hadn’t made it after suffering from two heart attacks, one while en route, and the other at the hospital.

RIP Baby Girl

 

Mama On The Edge (Part II)

After a crazy hectic tax season last year, things seemed to be falling into place by mid-May.  I came to the realization that perhaps Bonus Child had been acting out so much during those two months I worked because I had disrupted the schedule she had gotten used to.   Now that work was over, she was starting to settle down.  Youngest Son made us proud at his college graduation in early May, and we were beginning to get excited about our upcoming beach vacation in mid-July.  Oldest Son and his fiance spent the month packing up their belongings to drive across the country to begin their lives together in California.  Her dad flew out to help them move, and we got to meet him for the first time at a going-away barbecue they had their last night at their emptied out Pittsburgh apartment.  It was sad to see them go but I could tell he was excited about the move and I was happy for him.

We spent most of June having fun in the sun.  I was able to spend more time with Bonus Child while Bonus Baby had fun at preschool and we often invited  Bonus Child’s school friends over to swim.  One of her friends lived within walking distance and had a sister about the same age so it was a month of giggling and girl drama.  Middle Son J was away for army training for a few weeks but would be home before our vacation.  We were enjoying being able to spend some quality time with Youngest Son.  Things were going pretty well…until the s**t hit the fan.

The girls and I were home alone the last week of June while Big Daddy and Youngest Son were driving a U-Haul across the state to set up Youngest Son’s new apartment where he’d be moving in early August.  While they were there, we found out that Middle Son J suffered a serious  training accident.  He was told that his army boot saved his leg from being lost.  I don’t know how, I don’t know why, and I can’t believe they let him…but as bad as his leg was, he insisted on finishing up his last few days of training so that he wouldn’t have to start from the beginning at a later date.  This, of course, was not helpful to the leg.  Nor was the flight home which, with the fluctuations in air pressure, made his leg swell up to look like some giant purple melon ready to burst open at the seams.  But before I could even assess how bad things were, before he or Big Daddy or Youngest Son came home, our air conditioner croaked.  And it was the hottest week of the year!  I had to scramble to find someone to fix it so my injured son wouldn’t even be in more misery!

 

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

Chemical Dependency ~ The Legal Kind (Part 2)

Last week or so, I read my e-mail newsletter from trainer Jillian Michaels of “The Biggest Loser.”  Much to my chagrin, I read how hormones can affect your weight (I already knew that), but it went on to explain that those hormones could be adversely affected by taking SSRI’s (taken for anxiety and/or depression).  Now, I’m by no means obese, but in the past few years I’ve packed on about 15 to 20 extra pounds despite the fact that I eat less and exercise more than I ever have in my life.  This bit of info really sucks.

When my anxiety peaked about six years ago and I spoke to the doctor, he asked me what had seemed to help my dad’s depression.  He explained that often what worked for a patient’s family member may be likely to work for the patient.  When I told him what seemed to help dad, though, he said he wouldn’t prescribe that for me because it’s been known to cause weight gain.  Bless his soul.  He instead prescribed Lexapro, another SSRI, that he said had few side effects.

I started off on the lower dose of 10 milligrams.  I still went in to talk with the counselor, and I didn’t notice any big changes, although I was crying less and able to sleep again through the night.  After a couple weeks, though, I started noticing very subtle changes in my mood and outlook.  Things didn’t seem that difficult anymore.  Things I had dreaded doing seemed like tiny bumps in the road.  Hubby and the kids noticed changes in me more than I noticed myself.  I seemed calmer and happier, they insisted.  After about a month, they increased my dosage to the current 20 mg.  I actually was looking forward to challenges that months before had seemed like obstacles I could never overcome.  I knew I’d finally become the serene person I was meant to be when I watched Oldest Son scrape Big Daddy’s car right into the side of my van (there was nothing I could do to stop it) and I didn’t freak out.  I didn’t shriek.  I just went over to inspect the damage and find out if he was all right.

Let me assure you, this drug does not produce a high.  It does not mask my emotions.  What it does is allow me to finally be who I really am.  I’m not encased in a web of fear and anxiety.  It’s easier for me to live up to my potential because I don’t feel the need to run away from challenges.  I’m able to meet them head-on.  Had I felt like this twenty years ago, I would have snapped at the kids less.  Hell, I could have become the president of the United States, if I had wanted such a lousy thankless job.

When I mentioned Jillian’s newsletter to Big Daddy, whining about how I was never going to lose weight, Mr. Practicality said “You’ll just have to work harder.  Either try to work harder at managing your moods without the medication, or keep taking them and work out harder.”  Then in a nanosecond he amended that statement by saying I’d better just do some harder workouts.  I think he’s scared of bitchy anxious Mama coming back.  And I think he realizes what other people need to realize.  You just can’t wish away chemical depression or anxiety.  But like many illnesses today, modern medicine has provided treatments.


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