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Friday, June 2, 2017

Case Closed

Solona's last court Date was the first time I had ever walked into court and not felt anxiety. I used to have to take anti-anxiety mess to drive to court for The Fab Four and my Forever kids. I'd literally be on the verge of a panic attack the entire drive ( 1 1/2). I haven't had that happen for Solana's court days except for maybe the 1st one.

The case was called as I was parking. I walked I to the court room to find Sheila and Dad sitting in the gallery and Solana running laps around the benches, barefoot. The Judge and attorneys busy shuffling papers. Then the Judge made a comment that we should let her keep running around the courtroom because then she would nap later.

After about 10 minutes Caseworker #4 and the attorneys came back and said an agreement had been reached, the order was entered and the case was closed. The Judge had the court reporter record everyone present, asked that the record reflect Solana was running laps, and that she never had to come back.

Just like that it was over.

We went in the hallway and I told Dad how proud I was. I took a picture of them holding the order.

I had no sadness. No dissapointment. No tears. I was happy, excited, relieved that Solana was safe and that her Dad had gotten sole legal and physical custody with control over visits.

I tried to facilitate a goodbye between Solana and Sheila but when I told her to say Goodbye to Mommy while holding her, she looked at me like I was crazy and patted me while saying "Mama no goodbye. Mama here." It was probably the most awkward part of the day.

Dad and I made plans for pick up and drop off the rest of the week and then walked out together. He told Solana to say "goodbye to Mom" and handed her over to me for kisses.

About a year and a half ago he sat across from me and told me she was my baby too. He meant it this whole time and I cannot express how special that is. And he is part of the family too! This past weekend we spent a full 24 hours together with him staying the night at our place. Such an amazing gift for us to give our kids.

At the beginning I was certain we would adopt her. This is better. So much better.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Semaj Crosby

Illinois has been in the news recently for the death of a child who was seen by an investigator just hours before she was reported missing and then found dead underneath a couch in the home where she was living.  Semaj Crosby was just 17 months old. The house was condemned by the county the next day and a few days later is was burned to the ground. Investigative reports have shown severe failings by the agency and some pretty horrific details are emerging about how DCFS is operating. That includes this gem about a contest for investigators who closed the most cases in a month. There were also at least 10 abuse/neglect cases against the family and they were allegedly receiving what is referred to as "in-tact" services.  That is where DCFS is supposed to be supporting the family with services such as parenting classes, counseling, and social services without removing the children.

While I'm glad there is a spotlight on this major tragedy, I'm worried about the inevitable knee jerk that tends to come from these types of investigations.  In this situation it seems clear that a lot of people failed to take action.  The flip side is that there are kids taken into custody that maybe shouldn't be, and then they are kept there because the court system moves so slowly. After a tragedy like this the agency tends to be over-cautious and then we have this pendulum going.  This happened a few years ago when several toddlers died that had been in care.  And then the budget got severely cut and the agency had a revolving door of directors and it seems we have ended up back here again.

I don't want children to die but I also don't want them to linger in foster care unnecessarily.

I'm simply stunned by what happened.  Its very hard to reconcile this type of case in my area with the three I've actually been the foster parent in.  My forever kids had in-tact services.  When Sheila broke the safety plan, they entered care. Which kept them safe from the immediate danger but then exposed them to the trauma of foster care and multiple placements. Even their adoption lingered on.

The Fab Four had one physical abuse incident that brought them into care.  And while they needed the help, they probably could have benefited from in-tact services and not removal (remember those budget cuts?). Perhaps Jelly Bean could have been safe from the molestation of the foster parent and the other kids could have skipped all of their foster-care related trauma?

And in Solana's case, she probably could have been out of foster care a year ago.  Her Dad had been out of jail.  His "crime" was not against her. He was working his case plan and never missed a visit.  And yes, he was a young, new, single father and perhaps benefited from a gradual introduction to parenthood, she was not at risk of being harmed with him as her caretaker.  Sure she was with her siblings, and being with us helped her avoid a lot of foster care related trauma, but she still wasn't with her Dad as much as she should have or could have been.

And then we see the opposite where kids aren't taken into care when there is call after call. How can there be such inconsistency? I just can't wrap my head around it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

I Apologize for Disappearing

I'm sorry everyone for disappearing. It's been a long time since I've posted.  I'm still here. I've posted a few things on Facebook but that isn't really blogging.

I started posts (I have 3 drafts in my saved files) but "The Universe" has been busy reminding me that I am not actually superwoman and so said posts did not get finished or published. And to be honest, (that's why you read my blog, right? For the honesty?), I just didn't feel like sharing all the crappy things I was feeling.

I often use this blog to process and work through my feelings but my feelings were SO BIG and I was SO STUCK that I just couldn't write. Or think. And I really, really didn't have time to do either. And I REALLY didn't want to think about foster care. Or trauma. It was all I could do to keep it together so that my kids did not freak out, and so that my marriage did not implode on me.

Do you have those days? Weeks? Months? Where you feel like you are barely going to make it and really don't have time for the nervous breakdown you deserve? Of course you do! We all do. I just didn't feel like putting it all on display in real time.

About three weeks before my final grad school thesis paper was due, during an uptick at my full time day job, and a week before we left on a week long road trip, Hubby felt he needed to quit his job. Leaving me as the sole income for a family of 7 about to go on a vacation with hours and hours of writing and research to finish. Oh and I had started my side gig selling fabulous bags in order to get the discount but ended up with actual customers and a team member. The timing was awful. The decision was stunning. The words between us angry and mean and then, not many at all.

The fear and the worry and the triggers about money were overwhelming to me. The man I had shared my life with for the past 15 years seemed like a total stranger. And the deadline for my degree program and the to do list for the trip weighed on me like an elephant. But that's my side.

Hubby would tell you he just couldn't walk into the office and feel the anger, disrespect, frustration, and stress any longer. He would tell you I wasn't listening. He would tell you he gave it his all and that our savings would mean we were okay financially.

We were both right. And none of it had to do with foster care or trauma. Except how we reacted because if I've learned anything in these past 6 years, its that how we react is how the kids react.  And this whole situation filled with worry, anger, and unknowns was, of course, the perfect recipe to send my children spiraling down into a pit of trauma-related behavior. I like to avoid that when I can so here was Foster Mom R with what felt like all Hell breaking loose around her and I had to remain calm enough not to set my kids off.

So that is where I was. Sad. Lonely. Scared.

It's been a few months and we have managed to come out relatively unscathed. Sarah had a few bumps as did Smiley. We had a case of sticky fingers that brought the police to our front door. We've had some emails about meltdowns at school. I had some less than stellar moments where I've forgotten all of my therapeutic parenting skills and had to do some major repairs.  There were a few events that were glaring examples of how much trauma still affects our lives and of course those weren't much fun. But somehow we managed to keep it together and keep moving forward which is always my goal.

The trip was a success, Hubby found a new job and I finished school. I took a few weeks to re-focus on me.  I made it a point to do some hands on projects to help me connect to the parts of myself that I miss.

Then Hubby and I took a vacation just the two of us.  It had been long planned, prepaid, and much looked forward to.  I was literally out of the country and able to unplug and decompress fully.  It's probably the most relaxed I've ever been in my adult life. I am so grateful that my Mom can watch our children while we take a trip like that because if we hadn't gone, I don't know that I would have gotten back to "normal". Its easy to forget that my sanity matters just as much as the healing that my kids need.

I'm hoping to take some time this summer to blog about some of the things we've been up to.  With Solana's foster case closing we've officially entered into a new season of our foster care journey.  We are taking a break from any placements for a while.  Solana is still spending weekends with us so we still have a very active toddler on our hands.







Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Letter to Gabby, On Your Birthday

Dear Gabby,

This week marks your 16th birthday.  The enthusiasm and zeal for life that you have is just as strong as it was when I met you six years ago. The 9 year old that came into my life demanding to know if I knew the song "I Will Survive" is still there and it warms my heart.

I appreciate that you make the effort to continue to include me in your life.  You've always been special that way.  I'm enjoying watching you become an independent young woman and I can't wait to see what you accomplish as you become an adult.  A few weeks ago you included me in your choir concert where you sang the first part of "Tears in Heaven" as a solo. I cried in the audience. We've always bonded over music and I remember hearing this song shortly after you moved home to your Mom and feeling a new connection to the pain of the song.  I feel blessed that I didn't loose you, but I do understand the pain of wondering what it would be like to come across your child after they have left you.

You made sure I didn't loose you. I knew that was one of the things I could count on, that you would find me even if I couldn't find you. Its a privileged to be in your life. I know you have wondered if I miss you or think of you. And I do. I miss you so, so much. There are days I wish you could still be a permanent part of our family. I long for when you are an adult and can choose to spend as much time as you wanted with us. I know watching my children live the life you had with us, is sometimes very hard and hurtful.  But I so love you for accepting it and not rejecting us because of it.

I hope you have a very happy birthday. I will be thinking of you.

Love,

Mom

"Tears In Heaven" by Eric Clapton


Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong
And carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?

I'll find my way
Through night and day
'Cause I know I just can't stay
Here in heaven

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please, begging please

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure
And I know there'll be no more
Tears in heaven

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

I must be strong
And carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Friday, March 10, 2017

Success

I ordered my cap and gown last week.  I can't even begin to tell you how amazing it felt.  I got a little teary about it. I am almost done. The late nights and weekends writing, reading, and watching lectures are almost done. I have 1 more month of real work and then a month later, my graduation ceremony.

Pretty often in my life people have told me aim lower in my goals. They were afraid that missing the mark, would mean heartbreak for me.  And I have. I have missed the mark a few times. I've failed spectacularly! But I like to think those failures have allowed me to accomplish so many other things.

15 years ago I failed at being able to apply for medical school. Then I failed at applying to law school.  The two failures were related, my GPA was so low from the Organic Chemistry, and Math I bombed that even though I did decent on the LSAT I was rejected from all 7 law schools I applied to. 

In a few months, I will graduate with a masters degree from one of those law schools. With a 3.967 GPA. While working full time AND mothering 5 children.

So what does that tell us?

The measurements others use to gauge the ability to succeed might be way, way off.

Sounds familiar doesn't it?

On paper my kids seem to be in really rough shape. Reactive Attachment Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Multiple placements. Exposure to Domestic Violence. Neglected. History of anxiety and depression.  We have IEPs and 504 Plans.

None of that measures our ability to succeed as a family.

It has been (and will be) hard, hard work to keep them stabilized and healing. We've had to learn an new way of parenting. We've had to be vulnerable on a daily basis. We have made mistakes. At times we fail, spectacularly.

But my kids are doing phenomenal and unless I pointed out the signs of their trauma history, you would likely have no idea. (Well maybe you would as fellow parents of kids with trauma...)

Don't be afraid to aim high. When I walk across the stage to receive my diploma in two months, the family I aimed for will be in the stands cheering. Its just as much their success as it is mine.




Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Guardianship

It was 11:45pm. All the kids were asleep. Hubby was out with friends. My phone rang and showed it was Solana's Dad calling. I thought maybe he accidentally dialed. I answered yellow and on the other end was shouting, crying, panic. I thought he was being raided by immigration. I've been really fearful of that lately.

"Foster Mom R! Something is really wrong with me. I feel like I'm dying. Please! You have to take care of Solana. Please. Please promise me you will always take care of her and tell her how much I love her and that I'm sorry I couldn't always be there. I need to know she will be okay."

So of course I'm trying to figure out what the Hell is happening while also trying to get him to take breath and calm down. I managed to determine he had called a friend who was on the way and he wasn't having a seizure. It was 3 minutes of fear and promising I would take care of her and tell her that he loved her. A woman picked up the phone and told me she called an ambulance and then the phone disconnected.

An hour and a half later the phone range again and it was Solana's Dad talking about how he needed to see his daughter and the friend got on the line again. He was at the hospital and the doctor was examining him. I waited up until about 3 AM but didn't hear anything. Finally, at 1 Pm he messaged me to thank me again and apologize for worrying us. He said was so worried about Solana and was talking with God before the paramedic revived him.

He was discharged today but has no explanation of what happened. Solana was here for the weeekend and he asked that we keep her a few extra days to make sure nothing else happens to him.

This person trusts me so much, in his final breaths on Earth he called me to beg me to take care of his daughter. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. (And like they could stop me from fighting for her....) But I'm not sure how many other people in my life would use their last phone call on me. It's both an awesome and sad statement. Some strangers who adopted his ex-girlfriend's kids are now the people he trusts the most with his daughter.

The court granted him custody last week and reserved decision on whether Sheila made progress or not as they were waiting on the parental capacity report and because the outcome of Dad being granted custody would have been the same.

The preliminary information is that Results of the parental capacity were not in Sheila's favor. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Returned Home

Monday was hard. Probably the hardest Monday I've ever had. Like ever. In my life.  I was trying to remember the last time I felt so emotionally drained and I can only come up with the night my Grandmother passed away and I spent all night awake, sobbing.  Which was pretty much what I did after Solana left with Caseworker #4. 

We played and snuggled in the 30 minutes we had between the Licensing Worker and CW#4 showing up. I wrapped her in her blanket whispered I love you and I'll see you Friday and handed her over.  I sobbed behind the window as I watched the car pull away. 

I sent Hubby a text that she was gone and then I called my Mom.  She offered to bring me lunch and said she'd be over in a few hours.  I tried to get some work done and when I couldn't see through the tears decided a cat nap was necessary. I ended up asleep by 9PM, after video chatting with the dancing queen.

Here we are almost at Friday and I have to say I'm fine. Re-charged even.  I woke up Tuesday to a really sweet message from my BFF and decided that my next role as advocate was equally important. I went to a meeting with a local Child Advocacy Center to see how my company could partner to volunteer and spoke about our situation with, dare I say, poise, and enthusiasm. Because you know what? I can't come up with a single reason not to share our situation with EVERYONE involved in the system.  I want to point and shout and say see, SEE what happens when adults act like adults and the kids come first? From Bio Dad to Foster Parents, to Caseworker, to the Judge. This is what a team approach is. And it CAN work.  It doesn't have to be broken. 

I told CW#4 that this, their 1st case, will be the best case they ever have. After all, I have been a foster parent for 6 years and have watched a lot of horrific stuff.

The kids are doing good.  They have all commented that they like talking to her each night and agree that it doesn't feel any different being "official".  They like having her here on weekends and while at first they were angry, its now okay.  We've not seen too much acting out behavior and I think what we are seeing isn't related to Solana going home.  We do have some family bonding time scheduled this weekend for our family tradition of watching the Superbowl and a few family trips scheduled in March. Hubby and I also have a trip planned just the two of us in May and I'm counting down the days to that one!

I am still planning on going to the next court date. They don't have to let me in, but given my support of Bio Dad its not likely anyone will kick me out. Sheila is back in town and has requested visitation so we will see how that shakes out.

Thank you all for your kind words, prayers, and positive energy these past few months. Our family appreciates them.