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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How do you do it?

Cherub Mama recently posted about juggling a crazy schedule when both foster parents are working after a reader posed the question to her. I was honored to be included in a list of bloggers to check out.

The reader asked "Can it be done?" The simplest answer is yes. Yes, it can be done. It is done every day.  But I think what she was really getting at was how can it be done? How with a full work schedule and all the responsibilities of adulthood and the responsibilities of a relationship could we fit in children, doctors, caseworkers, licensing workers, family visits, sibling visits, school, etc. Its a great question and one I get asked constantly. (I'm not going to touch on therapeutic needs or disability in this post.  That's another piece of the puzzle left for a different day.)

I get asked the question "How do you do it?" every time someone finds out I'm a foster parent. Then I get the shock when they find out both Hubby and I work full time (and lately more than full time) while parenting 4 older foster children.  The kids are currently in grades 7th, 5th , 3rd  and kindergarten. This would be hectic enough if the kids were not in care.  But they are and so that makes our lives 100 times more hectic and complicated. 

The first thing I had to learn when we took this on, was that I needed to give myself a break. The idea that I would be the perfect mother with a gourmet meal on the table and kids who were impeccably dressed with darling hair and a floor you could eat off of had to go right out the window. 

Then I had to get organized. I am still no where near where I need to be as evidenced by the nearly missed field trip to the state capital last week, the storage boxes of holiday decorations sitting next to me and the fact that my Mom spent the last week re-arranging my stuff. I devour the tips in the magazines each month on "organizing and decluttering  your life".  With 4 kids, 2 adults and a 60lbs dog in a 2 bedroom loft townhouse there aren't enough tips for us!

We have cubbies by the door with a spot for shoes and a spot for backpacks.  We have a coat rack labeled with everyone's names. We have a rack for keys. We  have a central calendar on our garage door where I keep notes about school information and the kids keep their "bonus bucks" that they earn. When the kids first moved in we color coded them. Each picked their favorite color and that was what I used to determine who's toothbrush, towel, washcloth, etc was not where it was supposed to me.  Now that they are a bit older and have lived with us for so long this isn't as necessary but it avoided a lot of confusion in the beginning.  (It also gave them a sense of "this is mine" which I believe helped them heal and bond.)

My life is in my planner which is called a Momagenda.  I looked and looked and looked for a planner that could fit all of our stuff and this one does. It has a spot for each child and for dinner.  It also shows the week Monday to Sunday. And the pockets and calendars are great.  I keep a copy of the kids medical cards, business cards of providers and update my notes section at each meeting.  I've even used it to document behavior for each child which allows me to also see what their visit schedule was like that week.

The schedule is tough. We have a serious lack of communication and since there are so many providers we are often left out of the loop.  (I know backwards! I have the most people to get to where they need to go and the most schedules to consider but after complaining for nearly 2 years about it I'm not sure how else to get it across to everyone.) I always feel guilty when the pediatrician asks me about sports for the kids. Sports? I wish. Tuesday and Wednesday there is therapy. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday there are bio Mom visits. Add homework and activities: ice skating, band, art club, science club, scrapbook club, student council and then the monthly case worker and psychiatrist appointments not to mention court (every 3 months in this case), family meetings (every other month), administrative case review (ACR) and finally school meetings there is little left in the way of down time.

Its a lot.  The first step to being able to handle it is admit it and try to unschedule whatever you can.  I try to have appointments on the same day.  For instance both therapists for the kids come on Tuesday and whenever possible the case worker comes that day too.  Thankfully our pediatrician and psychiatrist have Saturday appointments so those go there.  If I can't make the meeting I request it to be a conference call. Family meetings and ACR are usually this way.  I also fight for down time for the kids. I resisted Saturdays for as long as possible so that the kids had a break. We also get away a few times a year as a family which has helped us break out of the "foster care routine. We have also been assigned a provider to help us manage the stress. The kid's therapists were assigned as a resource to prevent another disruption of the kids. (They have lived with 7 other families between them before coming all together in our home.)

The next step is to divide an conquer.  If I do drop off Hubby does pick up. Each child gets a chore. If he needs support Monday then I get support Tuesday. Errands need to be run - you take two kids, I take two kids. It helps that both of our employers are extremely flexible but this also means often taking work home or staying late. 

I also recommend a back up.  My Mom fills this role as she is currently not working. I'm not sure we would be able to manage without her. She does pick up for activities, watched kids when they are sick, and has picked them up after being sent home for bad behavior.  We also have some amazing friends and other family members who check in and pray for us.  And a few fantastic babysitters to call when we need a few hours of peace or adult beverages.

Logistics can be figured out. And if you had kids naturally it often would have followed a progression and wouldn't seem like such a shock. With foster care its different. Its "Hey I'd like to become a Mom" on Tuesday and Friday "Great! here are your grade school aged children and a tween. We are closed for the weekend. Good luck." In my opinion, The biggest obstacle is handling everything emotionally.

Like I said earlier, I had to learn to give myself a break. This means saying no to events and people as well. (I even said no to the two oldest girls coming to live in our home the first time we were asked.)  Saying no is hard. Especially for a Type A person like me.  It is also hard for others to hear and understand "no". It was hard to cancel plans last minute when something went haywire and big feelings needed to be dealt with.  The simplest thing was to just say no up front. This has caused issues with family and friends. They were hurt we declined. We were hurt they couldn't or didn't want to try and understand.  Learning to let go has helped us accomplish the big task at hand.  Adjusting my expectations of the kids and others has also gone a long way to helping us with the "how".  It's kind of a "good enough" attitude.  And while that makes me sad sometimes it goes along with the "it is what it is" mentality we have had to adopt. 

Many foster and adoptive parents participate in their own therapy. Many are on anti-depressants. I myself take an anti-anxiety pill when I get super stressed.  Self-care is super important. If you aren't cared for you can't care for anyone else. Making time for hobbies and downtime is also important.  This is something Hubby is very good at but I am not.  I'm working on this part especially.

I am not perfect.  I write here so that I don't go bonkers. What works for me may not work for you.  And my ability to manage this level of crazy took a lot of trial and error. A lot of yelling and tears.  There are days that I'm not sure I would sign up for this life again. There are days where I know it was totally worth every frustration. Its why I often answer the question "How do you do it?" with "It's not for everyone." Because it isn't. Nor is every child for every family.  I wouldn't recommend this level of crazy to my worst enemy. (Although I would love for some people in our lives to spend a day doing it so that they could understand it better.)  Living in limbo for nearly 2 years is crazy. Even crazier is that we expect the kids to do so and keep getting up every day.  This brings me to the last piece of my "how".  I remind myself that if they can do it, so can I.
 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Home

- I am even more convinced after the last week that I do not need a piece of paper to tell me that these kids are mine.
- This does not mean I won't fight for them or their permanency.
- I spent the better part of the day hanging out with my family. Lounging in pjs, napping and watching movies together. The snuggles were unbelievable.
- We had a blast at a "old Hollywood glamour" wedding yesterday. The kids wore pill box hats, fedoras, and I got to wear a wool hat that belonged to my great grandmother. It was awesome.
- More nonsense happened at the visit this week. I really am tired of being the tattle tale. But alleged bio Dad showing up at the home during and unsupervised visit is somewhat shady.
- The kids spun out of control at family therapy while we were gone. I don't think bio Mom knew what to do.
- I am looking forward to a long weekend away from the kids in a few weeks.
- Someone told me this morning that they were shocked to learn we were not a family bound by blood. Even more so when they found out we were a foster family.
- I will make time this week to write some helpful posts on how to stay organized as 2 parent full time working family with 4 foster kids.
- Welcome to the new followers this week! As always feel free to ask questions or email me with topics you'd like me to write about.

Monday, October 22, 2012

3 More Days

• Bio Mom went back on permission to LM about being in an activity at school where she was going to miss the next 4 Friday 2 Hour visits. She claims LM never talked to her about it.
• LM took her turn to cry tonight. We ended up video conferencing with her.
• When we hung up hubby says to me "I love that LM kid. When she smiles it just makes me so happy." I melted.
•JB had a great conversation with me. (She refused to talk to Dad). She was able to tell me very clearly that she missed us and used great feeling words including jealous, scared, worried and sad. She told me one reason she wanted me to come home early was that we are going to miss her school concert. I told I ordered the DVD. That made her feel better. It was a great conversation and I told her so.
• Gabby was short with me and sassy/sarcastic with Hubby. I'm worried that she'll be ticked off when we get home and take it out on us when we return.
•Mr. Mohawk got another red card. I'm not sure what we are going to do with him... My Mom says he seems oblivious to the fact that we are gone. I'm glad he's not suffering like the girls but it makes me question his attachment.
• I'm enjoying my time away. But I too am ready to go home. I'm also ready to spend some time with the kids and plan on us doing nothing but watching movies Sunday with the kids. I'm declaring it pajama day.

Vacation

Sorry for the break everyone. The last few weeks have been a little crazy at work and at home. And now hubby and I are on vacation sans kids so I'm taking a little break from therapeutic parenting. Well mostly.

Being away after some drama that happened with the kids Mom has really stirred up the fear. Day calls from Jelly Bean telling us she wants us to come home today have been heartbreaking and amusing. This is after all, the child who routinely leaves hate mail on my doorstep.

I was giving tapping instructions and deep breathing walking into the fireworks in Disney World.... It doesn't end.....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Little Brother

Yesterday was a no good, very bad day- that ended a no good, very bad week. It started with Jelly Bean deciding that the outfit she had on was not acceptable to wear so she changed. While everyone else was getting in the car- thus making everyone wait for her. I know it is about control but I swear that this kid is going to end up with exactly 5 shirts and 5 pairs of pants in her dresser. Hubby was not happy when he came back in the house to find her changing at the pace of a snail.

This led to a phone conversation between he and I that started to aggravate me simply because we were going over all the nonsense that happened this week. From sleepless nights to 200 ft of toilet paper pulled off the rolls at school resulting in the 3rd week in a row of Wednesday phone calls from the principal.

Then I arrived at work where upon everyone decided to blatantly ignore direction and pester me about deadlines and cause me so much stress and irritation I ended up in tears - twice.

So after leaving work at 7pm I arrived home to be told that 3/4 kids would not be getting the ice cream my brother and sister-in-law were taking us to get because 1) was hitting people in the car 2) were beating up the dog with pillows.

I decided a healthy dose of reality was in order and demanded to know what had happened at their visit. "Something happened. Everything was fine and you were comfortable then you wouldn't have come home and acted like this." (Because after 26 months in foster care and seeing your Mom 2-3 times a week we still have behavior issues nearly every single time?)

Apparently Jelly Bean though he saw her Dad in the parking lot of the restaurant. And she actually did what I told her to do when she felt scared and told an adult. She is scared because he believes that her Dad tried to kill her Mom. In fact, her Mom has taken a series of restraining orders out on this person, as recently as December of this past year. Mom's response to Jelly Bean: "Your Dad has changed. He goes to my church now." And then she proceeded to lead a discussion about fathers. Regular readers of this blog will recall that one of the fathers is in jail for criminal predatory sexual assault on one of the other siblings. And is a big issue and causes lots of tension and uncomfortable feelings. You know. typical dinner conversation.....

So that led to interrupting. Which was allowed. Which led to misbehavior. Which led to no ice cream by the time they arrive home. Additionally, the kids believe the driver was "yelling" at their Mom because at the end of the visit when Mom was talking to the driver she was crying. So Hubby pointed out that maybe she was sad that they were leaving. I pointed out that Gabby complains that anytime she tries to tell her Mom something's he doesn't want to hear she tears up. That perhaps she wasn't in trouble, she just didn't want to hear what the driver said.

So then my brother rang the doorbell and I just hugged him for a good 2 minutes. My little brother is a 6'2" Army veteran. He's like a giant teddy bear. And while he is witty and sarcastic most of the time - he's one of the bet listeners I know. He can also be very concerned at times. I started to cry and he was like what's wrong and I'm like - I don't know if I can do this and he was all of anyone can it's you.. And he said it in such a matter of fact way that I knew he had total confidence in me. Because my brother would be the first to tell me if he thought I couldn't - I gained the strength I needed to keep going for another few days.

So we drove an hour to get ice cream in 46 degree weather and 8:30 at night where a bunch of hilarity ensued. It included not 1 but 2 calls from our parents. The first a major worry that their email had been "compromised" and my brother trying to explain that it was probably just a spoof email. But his explanation was just so funny that it had me rolling. Then a second call about some family gossip that "should not be put on Facebook" because ya know my first thought when bad things happen to people in my family is to embarrass them on Facebook....

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Addiction to TLC

I LOVE The cable channel TLC. I've been watching for years and a good chunk of our DVR is set to programs on TLC. We as a family watch "The Cake Boss" and "Long Island Medium" religiously. I'm fascinated by families and how they operate. We loved Jon and Kate and their 8 and were sad to see them go off the rails. (And now as a parent of 4 I understand the stress a tad bit better.) we're rooting for "the Little Couple" as they realize their dream of becoming parents. I was especially interested when the show highlighted special needs international adoption. TLC- if you ever want to come to my house and document the reality of foster care and foster parenting I'm game! (Especially if it means college for 4 kids could somehow be paid for because as of right now I got nothing....)

I digress....

So in feeding into my TLC addiction I looked into the Long Island Medium touring. I saw The Cake Boss live and loved it so when I heard Theresa Caputo was coming to Illinois I got really excited.

I've always had an interest in mediums and connecting with the other side. Believer/Non-Believer I'm not here to debate or argue either side. It makes me feel better to think my loved ones surround me. I talk to God, I believe in Angels this seems a natural extension to that.

But the tickets were nearly sold out. Through a Facebook message my Great Aunt told me she is going to see her but gave me the name of a different Medium she has seen on several occasions. So tonight I reached out to schedule an appointment.

A little out of the ordinary, I know. But really what in my life is "normal". I spent the better part of the night trying to convince a 7th grader that the character from CSI was not going to attack her in the bathroom at school and fielded a call from the principal for the (3rd Wednesday in a row) where I was informed that ANOTHER of the children I'm in charge of will now be required to use the nurse's bathroom because he unraveled 200 feet of toilet paper in the hall bathroom. And there I am at work all, "Do we do that in the bathroom? Is that a good choice? What did I say about being on Red?"

Parenting Tips From Foster Mom R

1) CSI is not appropriate tv for the under 12 set. Even less appropriate is watching it with your child. Most inappropriate is leaving it on and walking out of the room while a victim's rape and dismemberment are discussed while your sexually abused child is still sitting there watching.
2) Real glassware should be put out of reach of the child throwing said glasses after the 1st and 2nd glasses are smashed on the ground. This will prevent the 3rd glass from being broken.
3) it is wise to take the advice of the professionals and keep your mouth shut about impending change. This will allow your children to sleep better and perhaps cause less drama at your visits.
4) Donuts for breakfast when you plan to let 6 children stay inside and watch TV all day is perhaps a poor choice.

Please start sending me the cases of Diet Coke now. I have a lot of nights of interrupted sleep coming at me.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Visits

We have some family functions coming up in the next month or two that require the kids to miss their regularly scheduled visits. So we have 2 make-up visits this weekend in addition to their regular Saturday visit.

And in a change of events- I actually PUSHED for these to occur the same weekend. Close together. They will have 5 hours today, 5 hours Saturday, and something like 8/9 hours Monday.

And I just got a message that the case worker is off until Wednesday. Ha!

I'm prepared for some crazy behavior over the next week. This will be the most visitation she's ever had. The kids will be totally off their normal routine. And there will be no therapists to help process.

***********

I wrote the above Friday but it didn't publish. I'm waiting for the kids to leave. They are going to plant trees today. No doubt part of Moms community service requirement for her probation. Not sure how I feel about bringing the kids you beat to working off your debt to society. Oh who am I kidding. I think it's ridiculous. But I also know that trying to get the 4 of them to engage in planting trees is going to be near impossible. Especially since as I'm listening to them wait to go and they are totally amped up and bickering.

The nightmares and tears have been sad to handle. But I also have to recognize how far the kids have come. We've gotten lots of journaling and notes articulating feelings. Fear chief among them.

I'm not sure how to navigate the next few months. They keep telling us this is a crucial time in the case and it should tell us where the end point will be. I'm not sure I believe that. I just pray we survive it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Some More things I'd Love to Say

- I know that your Mom told you you were going home in six months but she's said that before. Several times over the last 2 years, in fact. So I wouldn't worry too much. She's also got to get a job and a house and it's hard to pay for a house when you don't have a job. And since you Mom has no skills and is here illegally it's not likely she will find one.
- Oh really? Your Mom promised you BOTH cell phones? Are they the fake kind because real ones cost money and she was unable to call from the hospital because she could no longer pay for hers.