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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Mommy that Hangs the Moon

 I had an early morning meeting with Sarah's team at school to help figure out how to best approach the meltdowns she has been having when frustrated.  Thankfully, her therapist came and gave some really great background and tips for her teachers to use in the classroom.  All of them were willing and ready to do whatever they could to help her. I was pleased to learn that her classroom teacher was familiar with EMDR techniques and has worked with other kids in foster care. It was really great to hear the therapist discuss the progress the kids have made and reflect on the hard work we've been doing. 

Sarah had another rough evening, this time over her resent for Hubby being "not as good" as the presents her siblings made.  This was self imposed and definitely further expression of the grief she is feeling right now.  Earlier this week we had a tantrum that included phrases like:

You don't feel like a forever Mom.
This doesn't feel like a forever home.
I hate you.
You don't want me.

Big scary stuff for my petite little Sarah. Man oh man does she have some sass in her. 

So when Simon asked to read to me I was ready for some quality time.

He picked the book "My Mommy Hung the Moon, a Love Story" by Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell. I had never read the book. Its a beautifully illustrated story about the Mommy that does all these wonderful things.  It ends with My Mommy is good at everything.

And then I had a moment of insecurity.  Which Mommy was he thinking of when he read it.  Does he think I hang the Moon.  Is it Sheila? Is it both?

It was such a sweet moment the two of us on the floor, that I swallowed down those thoughts and praised him for doing such a good job reading the story.

Then he said, "My Mommy gave us this book."

So there was my answer. He was thinking of Sheila.

I smiled and said, "Well its a really great book.  Thank you for sharing it with me."

Inside, inside I was hurt. And angry.  Not at my sweet Simon.  He should believe his Mommy hangs the moon and can fix anything.  I was mad at Sheila for believing that she hangs the moon and buying the book.  (Yes, yes, books are good. Better than the usual stuff she gets them.) She doesn't chase away the monsters. I do that.  She doesn't make all the food, I do that.  She wouldn't have been able to participate in the meeting this morning because she hasn't bothered to learn about the kids' mental health issues, nor would she acknowledge that she is the cause of some of them. I did that.  She doesn't get to be idealized or get to re-write the history of neglect and the violence and abuse she exposed them to.

Yes she is his mother. He should feel love from her, I want that for him.  But it really irked me because it felt like she was making him choose or trying to re-enforce the idea that she is THE Mommy. I really felt like yelling - if you wanted to be the Mommy who hung the moon, then you should have fixed everything when you had the chance.

But that isn't quite fair.  She doesn't have the tools.  She can't BE that Mommy. And I get that, I really do.  But there are moments when that is a really hard concept for me.  Truth is, I want to be THE Mommy but I'm not either. He has two.
 

We Can Just Get One Of Those Vans

Maria and the Fab Four came to visit us last weekend. The visit was a surprise from Maria for passing her driver's license test. (And if you don't believe people can change read this post here about how upset I was that she drove the kids without a license.) I was so excited for her. I had thrown something in the crock pot so dinner was almost ready when we all arrived.  All the kids were busy checking out the house and all the adults were putting the finishing touches on the dinner.  I love that Maria is comfortable enough to jump in and help. Then we all gathered around the table, all 11 of us and shared a meal.  We laughed and joked and caught up about what was new.

Then Maria started to talk about getting the kids baptized.  She then asked if Herbie and I had been confirmed in the Catholic Church. When we answered yes, she said:

I want to know if you would be willing to be my children's God Parents.  I want someone who will keep them, all four together if something happens to me.

I honestly started to cry. This woman was choosing us to be a part of her children's lives forever. We of course said yes.  It is a serious commitment because unlike our other Godchildren, Maria doesn't have any other family that would take the kids if something happened to her.  This wasn't just a religious request, it was a life planning one.  In our state Godparents have kinship status and have standing to be able to take guardianship of their Godchildren if parents are unable.

As we were going to sleep Hubby asked me where we would put eight children. I said we have a spare bedroom and an office, we would figure it out. 

Then he said: I guess we can always get one of those big vans to drive everyone around....

I never would have pictured that our foster care story would have this chapter.  It makes all of the stress and heartache so worth it.

Aside from being asked to be their Godparents, Gabby also said something really spectacular.  She had a lengthy conversation with Hubby where she told him, he was the only person she considered her father because he's the only one that has ever been there for him.  It was a really special moment. Even when it seems like you aren't making a difference, you really are.
 

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Sarah

My Sarah has been having a tough few weeks.  By far she is the most emotional out of the kids right now.  The amazing part,  is that a year ago her therapist was watching her for a possible Reactive Attachment Disorder diagnosis so I have to remind myself that all of these genuine feelings are a good thing.

Gone is the superficial, sugary sweet, charming persona with strangers.  Gone is the avoidance of parental figures. Gone is the avoiding eye contact. The dissociation is a lot less and when she is disregulated she is able to communicate in either sign language or body language. This weekend she threw out "Then you aren't my father" at hubby. She was feeling unloved big time. But she was at least speaking about her feelings.

Tonight we got home from therapy to find Hubby finishing up a project at the house. As we were walking to the door Sarah said to me, "Mom I don't know why but I kind of feel bad for Dad."  And then she began to cry.  She was totally confused by this feeling that overcame her.  If I had to guess it was longing. I was so proud of her for sharing what was going on.  We walked over to Dad and she got some hugs and we went on with our night.

As I left her room she said "Good night Mommy". It wasn't lost on me that this is a name she usually reserves for Sheila.  We had a conversation earlier that one worry for adoptive Moms is that their adoptive kids won't ever really feel like they are "real".  (I despise this term as all of us are real but this is a term kids understand.) She was surprised by this idea and I believe that she was trying to tell me that she already equates me to her "real" mom.

All of these signs of healing are part of the reason why I believe all children in foster care should come in with an automatic referral for therapy to a trauma and attachment based practice and only after the therapist, the foster parent, and the case worker have decided that therapy isn't necessary, should it be discontinued. How many kids are missing opportunities for early intervention because paperwork wasn't filled out?  How many kids are wasting away in treatment with therapists that lack these critical credentials?

Yeah, yeah, yeah budgets, blah blah blah.  Treat the root causes and the budget gets better.  My guess is better psychotherapy will result in less medications, less hospitalizations, less foster parent turn over, less case worker turn over, etc.  Same goes for the parents.  Get them fantastic therapists.  I watched as both Maria and Sheila have suffered from therapists that didn't seem all that interested in helping their clients.  Sheila's therapist actually told the caseworker she couldn't be at the meeting to discuss openness because the night we picked "is my money maker night" and we couldn't expect her to lose income. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Greatest Achievement

Last week in a team building exercise at work I was asked to share my greatest achievement. Many shared an educational one, many shared that their kids were their achievement.

I was the first woman in my family to graduate from college. I have backpacked through the New Mexico mountains. I got into grad school. I have not 1, but 2, 1/2 marathons under my belt. I'm Mom to 8 kids in total. And my husband I have grown and changed together for 13 years. But what I feel is my greatest achievement and what I shared with my team was:

My relationship with Maria. 

Similar to Cherub Mama's comment on my last post, I've had to forgive people I didn't want to for things that were unspeakable. For things I couldn't even fathom. I had to go completely out of my comfort zone to understand their circumstances, their motivations, and their point of view. 

I wasted a lot of precious energy on being angry. On hatred. Stressed out about little things not understanding those things were little. 

I didn't want to work with Maria. I wanted her to fail so the kids would be mine forever. I wanted to judge. She was an undocumented mother to 4 kids with 4 different dads who committed a serious crime. She knew nothing about how to care for kids as evidenced by the fact they were living with me.

That's how I felt then, 4 years ago. Before she looked into my eyes and told me she wanted me to be important to her kids. Before I could see the ways she did care for her children. Before I understood the many,many obstacles this woman had overcome. The lady with little more than a 3rd grade education from a foreign country was supporting her 4 kids the best way she knew how. Because she had to. Because she was their Mom.

Somehow out of all of those negative thoughts and across the language barrier we forged a friendship. I listened as she shared her story of how she came to the US. How she was abused and stuck in dysfunctional family relationships. I helped when she needed coaching on parenting. And when she needed a letter of recommendation for immigration court, I lovingly wrote about why she should be a permanent resident of our country.

What changed? Me. I learned that there is a lot I don't know and had no frame of reference for. It's amazing how interesting our lives can be when we allow ourselves to have open minds. My greatest achievement is that I let go of all the things "I should think and feel" and embraced the idea of knowing very little about the ways of the world. To be able to bridge the many gaps we had and truly come to love this woman is an achievement of the highest kind. 

I got an excited call from Maria today. She got her drivers license and wanted to drive the Fab Four to our new house as a surprise. 

She can now drive anywhere and where does she want to go? My house! Amazing! And so proud of her for sticking with her goal. What an example to her kids. I tell them all the time- "your Mom is amazing". 

It's scary to step out of your comfort zone but sometimes it is so worth allowing your heart that room to grow. I'm a better person for having met Maria. And I'm so glad she gave me the chance to be her friend.


Reality TV

I thought I had written a post about my ABC Family TV addiction. Turns out that I started to write one and never published it. I wrote about it being my guilt pleasure here.  But I also have a fondness for MTV's Teen Mom as well. 

If you aren't familiar with the show, its a reality show that follows teens who have gotten pregnant and their journey to parenthood. The girls were on a show called 16 and pregnant and then 4 were picked to be on Teen Mom that followed them after the pregnancy for a longer period of time. I thought the show did a good job of highlighting the challenges that the moms faced navigating school, relationships. finances, etc. 

One couple, Catelynn and Tyler placed their baby for adoption against their family's wishes. Catelynn and Tyler's story was heart breaking.  It was clear from the show that they came from a family that had a lot of trauma and they insisted that the best choice for their daughter was adoption.  I was awed by the maturity in their decision.

The moms are now back on MTV sharing their current lives with the cameras. Tyler and Catelynn have bought a house, are planning a wedding and are expecting again.  Their storyline follows them as they prepare for a baby after placing a child for adoption and navigate the semi-open adoption relationship with their daughter's adoptive parents.

SPOILER ALERT: This weeks episode was the meeting between the two sets of parents and boy did it hit home for me.  The adoptive Mom, Theresa talked about the grief and loss in adoption. The loss of their fertility, the grief of taking another woman's child. The fear of rejection for never being the birth mother.  Catelynn and Tyler talked about the fear of having the openness taken away and the fear of rejection of not being the parents that raised her. Then in an absolute moment of amazingness, Theresa gave Catelynn some of their daughter's mementos: a baby doll and an outfit she wore.

I was crying my eyes out. Its not often we get to see the honesty on TV about both sides of adoption and I'm really pleased to see it portrayed in such an honest way.  It gave me some things to think about as I prepare to have a similar conversation with the birth parents of my children. It was good for me to be reminded about the birth parent perspective. I always try to be kind and thoughtful when with the birth parents, but sometimes that is hard to do when you are faced with the harm that came to the children.  The termination of parental rights process is all about that.  The odd part about this time, is that I've not rooted for Sheila to fail. 

If I'm being really honest, I had rooted for Maria to fail at times. I'm ashamed by this now.  Especially since I now consider her a friend.  But its true.  With Sheila, I never rooted against her but we also knew from the beginning that a complete turn around wasn't likely. (I may have wished that the process could be sped up in either direction just because I think kids stuck in foster care is a travesty.) But I am terrified of the grief coming our way and that played out on my television tonight.

I will do everything in my power to get them the tools they need to handle the grief.  I will give them space to process it.  But I can't stop it or magically make it better. I can't stop by own grief that these beautiful children were dealt a craptastick hand in life for which they will probably deal with well into adulthood, if not longer.  I can't prevent the inevitable grief they will feel over their new sibling or the ones they hardly mention.

Some will say that I signed up for this when I became a foster parent, that this is what I get.  I have some choice words for those folks.

Let me tell you, no one signs up for the grief.  You sign up to help kids. You sign up because you have this crazy notion that you can make a difference for kids who certainly didn't ask for this to be their life.  And by the time you discover that this is the road less traveled for a reason, you are already hopelessly in love with children who need people who are willing to roll up their sleeves.  Just because I "signed up for foster parenting" doesn't mean I can't talk about the challenges it presents.  Would you tell someone who was in a horrific car accident caused by someone else "well that's what you get for driving". Um no you wouldn't. And if you did, that makes you a total jerk.

 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

You are Welcome to Follow My Story

It seems that the blog has gotten some attention this week.  I was busy doing Mom stuff and missed some comments that were posted and then removed without me reading them.  The comments that were not removed by the author were not what I would consider constructive. I considered not addressing but I also believe in setting boundaries and so before I have to block comments for everyone or make this a password protected blog I thought a post might help.

You are welcome to follow my story but you are excused if you are going to be mean and judgmental. I appreciate the time you took to read what I have written over the past 4 1/2 years.  I'm sure your time is precious and so if you have an issue with me, my methods, and my honesty, then perhaps your time would be better spent elsewhere. 

I write from my heart, with brutal honesty.  If that offends you then you shouldn't be reading it.  But I won't apologize for that honesty.  I know learning other parents are walking a very tough road (and really what parent isn't) is helpful to me.  If it isn't helpful to you then perhaps you should move along. Why criticize another person.  You state I need a few classes in RAD and Attachment.  Isn't that a little hypocritical? How about the Golden Rule?  Would you want people to treat you this way?

And again, I write honestly (except for the anonymous part).  I don't pretend to be an expert.  I'm just a woman who wanted to be a Mom who decided this was the path for me and I'm trying to do the best I can, with what I've got, on any given day. I've made mistakes. I've had bad days. I can always improve.  I think that's applicable to everyone but perhaps I'm wrong and you are in fact, perfect.

Its fine if you disagree with my point of view.  I think healthy discussion is necessary to grow and evolve. But the below comments take it a step too far:

"Yes but why announce it to the world? Really? When we all know these kiddies are smart and probably reading this and my and your blog!!!!!" How do you think they are going to feel if you put all the personal businesses out for the entire world to read? When you were to be the ibe they could count on? Plus if they want to be public I'm sure they have a contract of sort right? I'd hope adoptive parents and such surrounding these beautiful kids already looked into."

"Wowzers seems like you need few classes in RAD And attachment... how to parent children from hard places that come with trauma... writing sentences???? WTH is that going to do to help a child in grieving mode? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Hope u learn a better method before you you hurt these kids more. So sad...... "

"Hmmmm makes me wonder why y'all did sign up up for this if you're going to complain about each and every beautiful thing thrown your way... just WHY??????????????????????????????????????????????????????"

This is an anonymous blog.  Myself and the children are not identified. Gabby and LM of the Fab Four were aware that I wrote the blog and if someday they stumble upon it I believe they will  come discuss what they read with me.  Same with the Quartet.  They lived it and if they felt their story was taken from them, then I will rectify that.  However, this is also my story.  And as I navigated the very painful road of chronic illness, grief, infertility, and foster parenting I chose to share my story and my perceptions to help others.  I also gained a ton of information and found support from total strangers who were also sharing their stories. Plus it has been a much needed outlet for myself.

This individuals' profile didn't link to a blog or any identifying information so I have no idea if they are a foster or adoptive parent or not. I resent the insinuations that I am not a responsible or capable mother or that I have hurt my children.  But I know better.  And the people that license us, and the case workers who are in and out of my home every few weeks know better, and the CASA workers know better. The therapy group that is highly specialized in attachment and trauma (meaning DCFS calls them when a child has witnessed a murder of a sibling or parent) also know better.  And the four kids that I helped reunify and their mother know better.

Most importantly, my "about to be forever" kids know better.  Even if they've had to write sentences [(which sentences won't solve RAD or assist in attachment but there are an effective consequence in my house (and of course I need classes, I need as many as I can attend because RAD is no joke.)] because I am the Mom that shows up every day. I'm the Mom that gets up in the middle of the night and tries really, really hard to do the right thing, especially since they have witnessed many do the wrong thing. I'm the Mom that remembers their favorite dinners, and colors. I'm the Mom that fights for therapies and school accommodations and permanency. 

And if all of this seems like complaining then again, stop reading.  For every post I write that might seem like complaining to one reader it may be the validation and encouragement that someone needs to continue on with their own tough journey.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Emotions

Last week the TPR trial date was set for next month. In the same conversation Caseworker #3 told me that Sheila is now considering signing the identified surrender paperwork but was requesting a meeting with us to discuss what post adoption contact would look like.

I *should* be excited. At least I feel like that's supposed to be exciting news. However, I'm not feeling much of that. I'm actually kind of exhausted by the thought of a meeting and putting together guidelines and rules. We would be doing that anyway but I hate that it's on her timetable. Like all of a sudden I should be grateful she finally understands that her kids need permanency.

The adoption is still such a conceptual thing for me that I have a hard time feeling like that's real also. We have been on this path for 4 1/2 years. Plus we already feel like a family. I'm also still trying to finish up this term for school and unpack. I feel like if I focus on the adoption that's the point where it will all go off track. So I'm not going to focus on the actions of all these other people.

I have to take it one day at a time and roll with each new piece of information. You can't plan very far ahead while living in foster care land. Which is a really strange way to live for four years. I'm not quite sure what we'll do when we could leave the state on a whim or don't have to forward on information to five places. 

Maybe some of this is the blues. It dawned on me that this was the week that the Fab Four left two years ago and perhaps I'm just waiting for that kind of pain to happen in this case. It was such a random thought. Like, I know there is something special but I can't put my finger on it. Then Maria sent me a text and I was like - oh yeah!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Udate to Grief Too Big

This post written back in October, is one of the most read on the blog.  I wrote it after an incredibly hard night for Simon. 

The first time I sat down with the therapy team to learn the results of his trauma assessment I cried.  He scored in the 90th percentile for anxiety.  That meant if he was in a room of 100 kids, he was more worried than at least 90 of them. He was diagnosed with PTSD.  We were waiting to rule out an attachment disorder. It all sounded so hopeless.

He was fidgety. He had no idea how to ask for help with anything. His voice was barely audible. He cried a lot. Even if you hadn't said anything.  The rest of the time he had a fake smile plastered on his face. He couldn't tolerate a hug, it was visibly uncomfortable for him. He felt he was better than his sisters because he had a Bio Dad and they didn't.

If I'm being really honest, as I look back, I had a tough time coping.  I had no idea what to do with a kid I couldn't hug or soothe.  I had a hard time feeling connected to Simon. I felt like I was failing him.  I felt like I wasn't ever going to feel like he was mine.  As the walls came down, I could see he desperately wanted to be connected to me, just as I wanted to be connected to him.

So I made an effort to praise him.  Encourage him. Notice him. Tell him I needed him and that I missed him. I stood up for him when his sisters were talking over and for him.  (With 3 sisters its easy to lose your voice.) We bonded over his love of anything I put on a plate for him. In return, he thanks me every night for cooking. I proudly displayed his artwork. He got into giving us head rubs and back rubs as a way to care for us and control safe touch.

'
 
Paper flowers Simon made me. Proudly displayed in an antique vase my Grandmother gifted me.

We've noticed he has made a lot of progress over the past year.  He can articulate his feelings and does so unprompted. Yesterday he waited a little while after Smiley got in trouble to come to me and ask:
"Mom, are you still mad? Because if you aren't, I was going to ask if you needed a hug."
Not only did he want to comfort me, he realized that I need some space when I'm upset.

Today he burst through the door when I picked him up from daycare:
"Mom you are going to be so happy! I have great news! Dad got picked to be my chaperone for my field trip!"
 Perhaps the biggest example of the connectedness is how he was feeling about visits with his Mom. Or rather, the lack of visits as the missed visit this past week will mean no visit until next month (8 weeks).  As his sisters cried their eyes out, he sat next to me just listening.  I mentioned to him that he seemed ok with the news that there wouldn't be a make-up visit.
"Sometimes I like staying home and spending extra time with you and Dad."
In my head I said,  "Aww, you are totally my favorite child today! Could you explain it to your sisters?"

I actually said, "And you can absolutely feel that way!"

Attachment will slide back and forth. I totally understand that.  We will go back to testing our attachment and commitment.  But this week this is where we are in our journey.  We are connected.  To each other. My creative, sweet, intelligent, messy little boy. I love you so!


 
 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Visit Anxiety

Oh boy did we have a day. I'll admit it started with me being a total crab. I found out my company is being acquired and managed to slam my finger in a door and then was up until 3 am doing homework. 

Then my kids decided to leave their brains off and made really poor choices all day. It finally dawned on my that maybe we were having some pre-visit anxiety. That coupled with Mom's crabbiness mean lots of tears. Sarah especially struggled. The feeling of loss is really big for her and I think she's worried that this month's visit will be disasterous like last month's. (For her at least. Sheila spent yet another month celebrating Sarah and Simon's birthdays. Sarah was left out and she know Smiley's birthday is next.) 

Smiley also struggled. She couldn't get it together and so bedtime came early for her. Just a few more months of this...