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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Annie

God love my brother and sister-in-law.  I say "hey lets take 8 kids who call us Mom and Dad and one of their biological mothers to see the refresh of the movie Annie and get pizza afterward" and they show up. It was another one of my crazy "hope for the best" moments that could have exploded. It ended up being a really amazing day! 

Some would question taking 8 current and former foster kids to see a movie about an orphan (in the refresh Annie is a foster child). In fact, the following question was posed on Facebook somewhere (I honestly can't remember if it was a Foster Care support page or a foundation): Should "Foster Kids" go see the movie Annie?  I think it was a valid question but one of the comments really stuck with me.  It was something to the effect of why do you have to label the kids as foster kids? They are kids. So what if they are in foster care. I think I finally landed on why the comment bugged me so much.

Similar to ethnic, racial, and sexual orientation labels, the labels of foster care and adoption are often times attached to other people's emotional reactions and experiences. Should the labels matter? In a perfect world no. But to ignore those categories and experiences that go along with being black, woman, adoptee, gay, etc. is to continue to assign them a negative connotation and to dismiss the negative and positive feelings that individuals with those attributes have. I don't believe its healthy to pretend that everyone's experiences are the same because they aren't. 

My children are foster kids. That is a fact. Does it make them less than other kids? No. Could other people think that? Sure. They would be wrong, but sure. My job as their Mom is to break that stigma while protecting their privacy and their right to tell their own story. Are there instances where I wouldn't share their history? Absolutely, but I will always do my best to make sure they never feel shame about being foster children. But that doesn't mean I ignore it.

Being aware starts by being thoughtful of movies, tv, books, and music that might trigger feelings of shame or unnecessary sadness and worry. My "foster kids" have PTSD. It entirely probable that seeing a movie that included domestic violence would send at least one of my kids into a full blown panic attack. My "foster kids" were neglected.  A movie about a child being left behind might be really hard for them to watch even if it is a beloved Christmas classic. 

So I'll say it again, I need to be thoughtful about what my "foster children" are exposed to. And here is how I arrived at the decision to take all 8 of my "foster children" (and Maria) to see Annie.

1) The story is about creating a unique family despite hardship.

2)They really wanted to see it.  It wasn't being forced on them. 

3) The reviews did not mention violence.

4) It might give them something to identify with in terms of feelings and experience of the main character. Here was a little girl wish and hoping her parents would find her. They don't see others have their same experience often.

Overall I was happy we went to see it. There were some references to addiction by Ms. Hannigan (the foster mom) and there was a line that made me cringe in the song "Hard Knock Life" that went "no one cares for you one bit, when you're a foster kid" (different from the original musical lyrics). But other than that it was a pretty safe movie from a foster parent perspective. 

The kids all really liked it and even asked me to download some of the music.  We then had a really nice lunch where all 8 of the kids sat and chatted and played happily together. (Well mostly, Jelly Bean tried really hard to garner additional attention but we managed to keep the attitude down to a minimum.)

It's hard to believe that 4 years ago I had no idea that all of these people were on the planet and now they make up the center of my world. My "foster kids" rock and if they didn't have that label my life would be so empty.










 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Day in the Life

A real life day of a Foster Mama:
Drop kids off at daycare. You don't get breakfast because the dog helped himself to your blueberry muffin.

Drive to work. Call attorney's office to check on status of home purchase.
At 2 PM remember to eat lunch. Leave work at 7pm.

Run errands for the remaining Christmas shopping. Arrive home at 10pm and be met with this:


And all the kids up and not dressed for bedtime. Corral kids into pajamas. Soothe Smey's meltdown over bedtime. Turn on music, spray pillows with monster spray. Kiss everyone goodnight.

Take 10 minutes to use the bathroom. 

Wrap and organize hifts until 1:00 am.

Get up, scold dog for eating another muffin, and get everyone to daycare.

Wait for 15 minutes to have the TB test read for foster care license renewal.

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chilling Away

Having kids with a trauma and neglect background requires some really heavy lifting on a daily basis. The kids carry the weight of their long, sad, horrific, histories around and as a foster or adoptive parent your job is to lift that burden from their shoulders and put it squarely on yours. The children test and push make sure you will stick around.  And it is exhausting at times to try and teach them the things they should have learned from the start.

They don't know touch is supposed to be comforting and loving. They didn't learn that parents will take care of them. They didn't learn to use words and reasoning to solve problems. They aren't confident food will always be available. Children with this background need you to start over and parent them as if they are infants and toddlers in the bodies of school aged kids. 

Smiley and I are currently walking this path. She's trying to push me away because she is starting to attach appropriately and that is terrifying for her. This week she will have lived with me a year. And I have to show up every day no matter how tired I am because if I don't, she can't heal and we won't be able to move past this stage.

She is still refusing to complete simple tasks that she can do just fine when just Hubby is home. Yesterday she cried from the moment I woke her up until the moment she left for the bus. She couldn't find clothes or socks. She couldn't find toothpaste. She didn't have her snack. When it was bedtime she couldn't get her pajamas on. And then we needed the pillow spray, music on, light on, she was thirsty.  It was a different version of "stay Busy with me". There were tears and she just shuts down and refuses to engage. She won't do what you ask. She can't answer your questions and she cries harder and harder. These meltdowns can go in for over 45 minutes.

And I feel helpless. I'm her Mom. I'm supposed to be able to soothe my child. To help her. But she didn't learn that so I have to teach her. We have to stick with it. I know we are chipping away at the wall. She wanted no part of a stroll through our new town with special hot chocolate and Christmas Lights. But she was able to say, "I don't like this. I am hungry." Big step forward.

This morning I woke her up and I tickled her like she was an infant. It was a great morning. She got dressed and out the door with no issues. Yoi win some, you lose some.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Anxiety

Forgive the stress purge I'm about to have here. This isn't a post to garner sympathy. Rather, it an honest post about the feelings and emotions I'm having. 

Several years ago I was on a medication that caused severe depression.  I began having panic attacks. My anxiety was high and I felt this sick feeling in my stomach and a tightening in my chest all the time.

These symptoms popped up again at times over the years. Like when Jelly Bean was hospitalized and then when the Fab Four went home.

I often feel the anxiety on the way to, and during, court.  I'm usually pretty good about taking the medication prescribed to me prior to times I know are going to trigger the feeling of an elephant on my chest. But this week I found my self trying to take deep breaths throughout my day as a means to feel more comfortable and it finally dawned on me that the anxiety has reached a daily level.

Some of the stress is around good things. Finding a house is awesome and I'm excited but at the same time, I've lived in our current house for 10 years. And we will be carrying the mortgage on the new property and renting our current house but need renters. We feel good we will find them, but what if we don't?

And the new schools, yes schools because the kids will be in 2 different ones, have wacky start times and that's going to make mornings tricky. How am I going to figure that out?

And the adoption has been delayed. Which is okay, but while they have continuances I still have to meet with all these people each month. And my kids are stressed out by the days each week they had their visits with their Mom because she put it in their heads she was going to get extra time. So we had 2 kids pee their beds today. One for the 5th night in a row.

And some of the anxiety is bad.  Our dog has been really sick and while we have gotten him medications to make him feel better, he's still sick and is not expected to survive longer than 2 years, if that.

I'm also feeling guilty about a lack of training for the 1/2 marathon because I've been busy at work. That stops today. The running may help the anxiety and lessen some of the "not enough" guilt I'm feeling.

To those outside of me- I look like I have it together. I plaster a smile on my face and get work done at 11 pm so it's ready for a morning meeting. I usher everyone where they need to go. I lend a hand to those who ask and it seems like I'm okay.

Truth is, I'm really not all that okay today. I really just want to crawl in bed and stay there.  But I can't. And I imagine that's how my Simon feels a lot of the time. And that breaks my heart.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hey People- Knock It Off

The Mothers of the world have a full plate and I would appreciate it if you could cut them some slack. Quit rolling your eyes at their child's tantrum in the mall.  While its interrupting your pretzel break, she's trying to teach her child by insisting on listening to directions and following through on consequences. 

And the Mom wrangling three kids through the grocery store? It was her first attempt at it and she's going to figure it out before she goes back to work full time.

And the Mom who's kid made a poor decision and broke your stuff? She leads the charge in helping kids and families that have suffered horrendous injustices so maybe you could give her a little goodwill and not added to the battles she has fought for her kids.

And the Mom who lost her cool at daycare when she discovered one of her four cherubs lied and didn't bring work home for a 3rd day in a row- she's trying to prepare for Christmas while also buying a house, working full time, and renewing her foster care license. She could use...well that Mom is me and I could use a glass of wine and a personal assistant.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More Stress Please

We are headed out of town this weekend for a short water park getaway. We had scheduled it thinking it would be a nice break just before Christmas as it's such a busy time.  It's my busy time at work and we want the kids to focus on family and not stuff.

This week turned our lives upside down.

We've been looking for 2 years for a house and couldn't find the size we wanted, in the area near my parents and work, for a price in our budget. We spend at least 1 1/2 hours commuting (to the same town) every day for work. I feel like I live in my car.  

This week we finally found a house that met our criteria and as of yesterday, we are under contract!

I'm excited but totally overwhelmed by all that needs to get accomplished to pack and ready our current house for rent and the new house for us. And Grad school starts back up in January and I'm still running a 1/2 marathon in Disney in February.

This will be the last calm weekend we have for a while. This is the 1st time I've moved in 10 years. And let's not forget the kids and their worries and fears connected with moves.

Stella in her passive aggressive way mentioned several times how lucky Dad and I are that we don't have to change jobs because of the move.  The real statement behind that being "I have to change schools. You don't and that isn't fair."

This should be interesting.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

No Elves Here

Oh the Elf on the Shelf. I love the idea of you but in my home- it's not happening.

I put the Elf on the Shelf in the same category as the homemade heart shaped crayons for the entire class at Valentine's Day and Halloween Goodie Bags. Those things are for those other Moms who have their act together. For those parents who aren't exhausted by life. Or who don't have four children, work full time and train for a 1/2 marathon while going back to grad school.

Then there is the trauma aspect of our life. Be good or no holiday would blow up on us like pouring gasoline on a box of fireworks and lighting a match. An elf to watch out for naughtiness to tell Santa who never consistently visited my children would bring out the holiday crazy  even faster.

If you are a Mom out there who has been able to give the Elf license for creativity in your home- more power to you. I think it's fantastic you have a fun tradition with your children. (This isn't a "I am way busier so I win post"). 

I myself am not on that wavelength. I barely made it through grocery shopping, dinner, and homework last night. My kids are struggling with feelings of fear and loss over not seeing their biological parents. Their Bio Mom told them she was going to try to get an extra visit this month so she could give them their presents because she didn't bring them to their visit for December.

(And the angry foster Mom elf emailed everyone.)

We are in a puddle of stress and Christmas is going to be very light on stuff and heavy on quality time. Well if you call three separate family Christmas celebrations light.....


Thursday, December 4, 2014

It's Not About Me

I've been having a rough week. We all have them. It's not surprising, especially during the holidays for there to be some stress  but I had some added stressors this week and so I need to remind myself that when my kid works on something really hard and decides to wrap it up and give it to his Biological Mom, that it's not about me.

The sting I felt when he said "I made this for my Mom" was real. I'm a person. I have feelings. Last week if he had said, "I made this for my Mom" I might not have even pondered it. But as I sat waiting for the four of them to wrap up therapy, thoroughly exhausted from all that transpired this week, it hurt my feelings.

Let me be clear- I am glad my kid feels they can ask me for help with something as important as a handmade gift for their Mom. And I want to support positive feelings, interactions and memories about their Mom. (And to be fair, I got a beautiful picture drawn just for me last week when I was sick.) 

And his reason for making the necklace was heartbreaking.  It was "so my Mom doesn't forget about me." My poor baby. So afraid that he could be forgotten. It makes me angry and then I got mad at myself.

This is an honest piece of fostering/adoption. There are always those "others" who play and important role regardless of how poorly they have acted. Kids don't measure it that way. Nature doesn't build us that way. We are meant to count on our parents when we are young and then some. And parents are meant to support their children. Sometimes it doesn't work that way due to addiction or mental illness. 

We break that cycle now for these kids.

My Mom, Grandpa, Aunt and Goddaughter all showed up for Simon this week. We didn't forget his concert. We clapped and waved and smiled from the audience as he sang his heart out. And when he got to tell everyone what he liked best about the holidays he said:

"I love the holidays because I get to spend time with my family."

His family.

Yes buddy we are and we can't forget you. No necklace needed.




Monday, December 1, 2014

Almost A Year

We are about to hit the year mark of the Quartet being in our home.  I'm not sure where the time went.  It feels like I blinked. Last December was a blur and to be honest I don't really remember Christmas. So much happened with the other foster family and getting the kids enrolled in school and incorporating the Fab Four and Maria into our plans.

The kids don't seem to remember much of last December either but tonight I reflected a bit on how much they've grown.  How their personalities and strengths and weaknesses have emerged.

Simon wrote a comic book this week about past Christmases where he got no toys one year and "one or two" the next.  He wrote about being cold and a new house.  He's in 1st grade and the story was pretty cohesive. Somewhat melancholy but a great tool to get his thoughts and feelings out. He read it to us in a strong, clear voice! I was so proud of him.  His intelligence always knocks me over.  What kid gives up TV (which is very limited during the week in our house) to do optional homework? Mine, that's who! He is sweet and helpful and has this great style that always makes him look cool.

Smiley was "roaring" at Hubby tonight.  I really wish I could show her picture because she is just adorable.  She was scrunching her face up and had her hands up like claws and would roar at him and then just crack up with giggles.  When she's having a good day she is giggly and chatty often telling everyone all about her day.  She is stubborn and I really pray that one day she will use her willfulness for good instead of evil!  She loves all things Frozen and has been insisting that what she wants for Christmas is a Frozen lunch box even though she gets hot lunch at school. She is going to turn all of my hair gray....

Stella is still dreaming big and I hope that won't change.  It can be tiring sometimes to answer all of her questions  which normally prompt other question because she just has to know EVERYTHING. And how it works, and who invented it, and why its that color, and how she can get one, and what would you do with it if you had one. But you have to admire that kind of determination.  She is creative and cautious and studious and funny.  She's a great leader and its been really fun to watch her get to be a kid. 

Sarah has this cute pixie cut and adorable dimples.  She is super sensitive and works very hard to overcome that.  She wants to be a part of a family so badly and she's right on the edge of being able to claim our family as hers.  

They have their visit with their parents for the month of December this week. None of them have mentioned it but I suspect that the underlying tension in the house is being caused by it.  The other factor is that our dog is very sick. We are taking him to a specialist tomorrow but he isn't doing well.