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Friday, December 30, 2016

3 Years

I went back this week and read the December 2013 posts I wrote.  It was 3 years ago that my kids moved in. I find it helpful to peak at what was going on as it's a good reminder of how far we have come. In doing so, I was reminded that December has been a pretty trying time for us and for me. It also happens to be busy season at work as I write contracts that mostly begin on the first of a calendar year. We had Jelly Bean's hospitalization and Solana's arrival in Decembers past and its no wonder I've been totally out of sorts. I hadn't realized how anxious and stressed I felt until Christmas ended and my to-do list was only 15 million things long compared to the 30 million it had seemed to be.

We've become a family in three years and have weathered some pretty life changing events - the losing and gaining of jobs, moving houses, switching schools. Adoption. Welcoming a baby.  We aren't the same people from 3 years ago. We have grown so much! If I could go back and tell myself 1 thing - it would be to try to be patient with everyone, myself included. It was a battle to get here and we should be proud of who we have become.

If you have been here this whole time - thank you.  I know how invested I get in reading other blogs and so I appreciate that many of you wonder and pray for us and pull for us when we are struggling. I say this knowing that one of my favorite blogs (Fosterhood) seemed to be deleted in its entirety today due to the potential that information shared could be used against the author. I found Rebecca early on in my journey, and her willingness to be open and a source of connection to birth families, and her voice as an adoptee were very influential in shaping my approach. I will miss her writing and hope that the situation with her daughters and their siblings comes to a quick resolution in their favor.

That being said, its a reminder to me that when we share on the internet we open ourselves up to the risks associated with it.  I've tried to keep this blog anonymous for many reasons but the first being that the majority of what I write about would be considered confidential. I've been careful, but you may see some posts edited in the coming weeks to ensure that I'm not giving too much of our identity away.  The other reason I keep it anonymous is that I write in a brutally honest manner at times and I might not be so forthcoming if my name were attached.  (For instance if Maria were to go back and read some of my old posts, I would be mortified.  It doesn't make them less true, but it would hurt her tremendously.) I've toyed with the idea of creating a new blog in my real name so that I could share my thoughts and feelings but that hasn't come to fruition yet. And if it did, I wouldn't be able to tell you!

Incidentally, I did hear from Maria this week asking when she will see us to celebrate Christmas. I admit, I've been putting off sending their Christmas gifts because I'm upset with both Jelly Bean and her obsessive and rude behavior back around her birthday and Little Mama - who has blocked me on Facebook since she decided I abandoned her.

I also heard from Sheila yesterday who shared she left the state to help figure out what is wrong with her youngest son (between Smiley and Solana) who is now 6 and unable to use a bathroom and may be "sick in the head". She has been gone 4 years and has decided that because Simon is now fine, and had been "sick in the head" that perhaps he just needs some "attention". She said again that she knew the caregiver for Simon was mistreating him and that is why she took Simon and not the baby with her when she moved out of state.  Makes me so sad for the other kids she left behind. I saw a video and its clear that the other sibling has some sort of delay but what he needs is an evaluation not an absentee mother swooping in to "fix" everything.  (We will set aside the idea that Simon is "fine" because extreme anxiety and PTSD are not things that go away.)  But for some reason she did finally send about 25 pictures of the kids including some from a birthday party that the girls have talked about. Some I had already found, some were new.  I'm hopeful that there will be more - I offered that if others had pictures of the kids they wanted to share she could have them send to Facebook.  (And to send she had to Un-block me so I guess I have that going for me.) So as annoyed as I am about her dragging me into her drama, thus occupying more of my thoughts, I am grateful she finally sent the pictures.

And finally, we got to video chat with Solana while she was on her overnights again this week. Her Dad sends plenty of pictures but I mentioned that I missed her today and he offered right away to let us chat. When we appeared on the phone she squealed with joy! She's such a happy kid. Knowing we can still see her and talk to her while she is gone is helping us feel more comfortable about her move. And also knowing that she is largely protected from all of the Sheila drama is also helpful. I doubt she will be back prior to court and that means the case will close with no contesting of the custody (at least for now).

2017 should be interesting.....

 
























































Sunday, December 25, 2016

Dear Sheila,

You've been on my mind quite a bit today. I'm not going to lie, that really annoys me. I don't really want to think about you. But today as I watched the children you birthed delight in the magic of Christmas I couldn't help but include you in my thoughts. I've had a few hard conversations this week because of your choices and I just want to say I think its incredibly unfair of you to occupy space in my mind today.  I'm writing this letter knowing it will never reach you but hoping it quiets my thoughts.

You cancelled your 4th visit in a row and you told Caseworker #4 you were going out of town.  Visits are stopped until further notice and even if you wanted to see the kids, I would have to exclude Solana from that visit.  I have some theories about why you might be going out of town. Several of which have to do with giving birth in another state where you won't be on The Department's radar. Maybe you are going home to see your family but I wonder what, if anything, you have told them about where your children are. In any event, the 5 children sleeping upstairs were left in the dark and I had to have a conversation that went something like:

We have the date Solana is moving.  She will add an extra day to each week of visits starting in January and then move on a Monday. She is not having visits with your Mom.  I have not heard from your Mom. I know so of you may be wondering about a phone call for Christmas and the upcoming birthdays.  I have no idea if she feels ready to have a call.  Right now, there is no plan for a call so I wanted to tell you that in case anyone was wondering.

Because they were wondering. Because they love you. Because they don't understand how you can walk away from them and Solana.

I assured them that you were probably thinking of them and that maybe since the adoption is final and Solana is going to her Dad, that this Christmas was too hard.

I have to admit I'm struggling with empathy for you. Its easier when I think that something is so broken inside you and you are so devastated from loosing your kids that it just hurts too much to see or talk to them. I don't quite understand that because I would crawl through glass to get to them, but that's the difference between me being their Mom and you being their Mom.

I'm not sure where we go from here. We made it pretty clear that you needed to be consistant or We would have to have a relationship at a distance. I'm not going to solve that problem tonight. Right now I'm going to go to bed before 10pm for the first time in months in hopes I get some sleep because I have a sick baby and a disaster of a house that will need my full attention tomorrow.

~ Foster Mom R

Sunday, December 18, 2016

FAQs

I had some questions asked of me recently that I thought I would answer here:

1) How do you keep doing this after so much crap?
I actually had two different foster moms ask me this. One dealing with a false allegation and one in a kinship case with a pregnant, unstable bio mom.

I'm not sure I have an eloquent answer to this question. I think I've reached a point where I see the bigger picture - the kids.  That's not to say this stuff doesn't drive me nuts or make me emotional. I would be spitting fire if we had to deal with a false allegation. I'm really upset about the potential of having to make a decision about another baby. But if not me, who? We are good at this. There are kids that need me. And I probably need them. I am a caretaker by nature.  What would I be doing with myself if I didn't have 15 different obligations all at once? I have no idea because I've always been this way. And right now all of the current drama is related to my children. I signed up for them so I feel I need to continue dealing with the other stuff.

After 5 years of actively foster parenting I've seen all of this work out to the benefit of children.  The Fab Four have been with Maria for 3 1/2 years. The system ultimately helped them. Except for that whole Jelly Bean being molested by a foster parent thing, they are a foster care success story.  Solana got to be raised with her siblings and will continue to have a relationship with them.  My kids found a forever family and are healing from their trauma.

I have also gained from these experiences.  I have an empathy I wasn't capable of before. I have an understanding of the experience of others that I would never have bothered to pay attention to, had I not become a foster parent.  My soul is full knowing that I helped families, that I did something important with my life. If I die tomorrow, that would be enough for me to feel like my time on Earth was important.

I think there is a certain filter that gets applied after a certain amount of experiences where you can kind of step back and go - yeah, that's really not that big of a deal. I was wrong a lot at the beginning. I'm probably wrong a lot now too, but I try to view things through that lens now.  "The bio parents aren't evil they need our help" lens. And man after participating in some of these public forum with lots of foster parents, the bio parents really need our help.  I can't believe how much hatred there appears to be towards the parents.  I mean sure I recognize it, I was there once too, but I grew from it. Its really scary to me sometimes.

2) How are we doing?
We've been better and we've been worse. I don't know how much is holiday related and how much is just normal craziness with our lives.  Hubby and I are both slammed at work and are juggling very full plates. Somehow though we have managed to get to a really good place, maybe the best we've ever been in, in terms of sharing feelings, concerns, and listening to each other.  One of my biggest fears of Solana going home was that we would end up where we were when the Fab Four went home. We almost ended our marriage. It was ugly. Right now our struggle seems to be staying therapeutic. It seems our response to stress is to revert to old patterns of parenting that don't work.  So we are trying to get back on track with that. The next week marks three years that the kids moved in with us so some of it could be traumaversary related. Stella and Sarah don't seem to remember their initial reluctance to let go of their previous foster family but it was a really difficult transition for them.

I think we are seeing anxiety manifest itself in different ways from the kids and I'm hoping that being on winter break will help reduce some of their stress since they don't have homework and tests to worry about. They've gotten through 3 weeks of Solana being gone for overnight visits and I think they have seen how this might make things easier from time to time.  I think we'll probably have another 4 weeks before she officially moves. Hopefully by then our therapist's contract with the state will be signed because we haven't seen her in a month.

I think we will probably take a break for a while. I know I wrote on Facebook I sent an inquiry email about a kiddo but they found them a placement. And really, we have a lot coming up through June that I wouldn't want to add a child to.  Perhaps once Solana has been with dad for 6 months we will be ready to make a decision about continuing to foster. Smiley has said a few times "we should get another baby we can keep". I guess at this point I can't rule anything out. Seems a shame to waste these skills, LOL.

How is everyone else? Are you hanging in there? How do you keep going after all the crap?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mother of the Year.

As I mentioned on Facebook, Monday was a rough night. It was my fault because I wasn't staying patient. Wasn't being therapeutic and was definitely PMSing. It was ugly. I, was ugly. 

I admit that because I'm not perfect. I think its a helpful reminder to read about other's admissions of imperfection, especially during the holidays when everyone is wearing matching sweaters, building insanely cute gingerbread houses, and sharing pictures of holiday gatherings.

Not us.

Nope.

I screamed. I yelled. I swore. 

And I didn't want to be near my kids. And they weren't really even the reason I was feeling out of sorts. Sure I was mad that once again a bowl of milk was left sitting on a table all day and that no one did the dishes or took out the garbage or fed the dog. But if I were being really honest, I was just really beat down by the stress of work, school, and foster care. And I was dreading my period and the disappointment that would come with it, after opening another Christmas Card announcing someone else's pregnancy. Because with the turn of the calendar my baby is leaving. And I'm not pregnant with a baby who can't leave because I am their mother.

All of those complex feelings swirling around and no real outlet to place them wasn't a good thing.

But I repaired. I apologized. I told them I loved them even if I was disappointed. I told them that it was okay if there were disappointed in me. And I ended with tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start.

And it was. 

We headed to a friend's bar to watch the Blackhawks win. They happily ate quesadillas bigger than their heads. We cheered and danced and just spent time together.

We took advantage of no homework tonight and watched Fuller House as a family.  At some point Sarah realized that Solana wasn't home.  I reminded her she was on her visits until Friday and she broke down. "When she moves, will we ever see her again?" 

"Yes. Yes, we will." And the confidence I had in that statement reassured my daughter who has probably been working up the nerve to ask that question for weeks. I reminded her it was okay to be sad and then she got a hug and went back to her night. 

Also I totally ordered pizza and let my kids eat in front of the television. There. Hope that makes someone feel better about themselves!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It is a process

It's a physical ache. A pain in the middle of my chest.  And it causes hot tears, the kind that sting my eyes.  It settled over me today and I couldn't shake it.

It started with news that more people in our lives are expecting and today, I just couldn't muster the happiness.  I heard complaints of not feeling well and my ability to plaster the smile on my face just vanished from my body. I left the house to "run an errand" but really I just needed an escape.

All week I've been able to communicate and tell people about Solana leaving without any trouble.  I probably sounded like a PSA for "How to be the role model foster parent".

People were asking:

So will you get to adopt the little one? Is she staying?

Well no, actually.  She is going home in a few weeks. That's the goal of foster care. We are really happy for her dad. He really gets it. We've built a relationship. I'm so glad she doesn't have to go through the pain of adoption or languishing in foster care. 

Isn't it hard?

Well it is. And of course the kids are taking it pretty hard but we have more support this time around and we have a better understanding of what to expect.

I don't know how you do it! God Bless you. I raised __   kids and they were my own!

Well my kids are my own.

I bopped along same busy Foster Mom R. Smoothing everything over. Happy for everyone.

And then BAM.

More people who you have to be excited for are expecting and your baby is going home. And all the feelings about infertility, and failings as a mom, and frustration with the system, and loss, deep, deep loss hit me.  And I'm feeling the memory of sitting in another baby shower, smiling and pretending that everything was fine, when nothing was fine - and I just couldn't hold it back any longer.

And then tonight she just wouldn't go to sleep.  She's been doing this all week. Screaming at bedtime. The same primal scream she uses at daycare when I drop her off.  And without fail the teacher murmurs - "I know, Mommy is best. Mommy will be back. Mommy always comes back."

Except I don't. And she knows it. She knows her weeks aren't the same. She knows she's been disappearing and staying somewhere else. And I have all this guilt and the real mind f*ck of it is -

I DIDN'T CAUSE ANY OF IT.

I didn't do this. Her mother did. The same mother who called in sick to her visit last week.

CALLED IN SICK. She gets 4 hours a week and she opted out.

W.T.F!? Parents don't get sick days. In fact my work "sick days" are typically used when my kids are sick. My ass was at a 7:30 AM meeting to discuss potential support services for a child she neglected - but she wasn't feeling well so she went ahead and cancelled?

I must have missed where that was an option when I signed up for the things I'd have to do as a parent.  Must have been under the check box of catch puke in your hands, clean poop off of hand towels, argue about why "we won't be going to Starbucks at 9:15 PM on a Sunday".

And YO! It's the Christmas Season! The month where everyone you haven't seen for like the past 10 months decides you need to be at their function for festiveness. And your kids have several layers of trauma and some teacher decided that the Elf on the Shelf was great fun and now your child won't shut up about it. She only wants an Elf on the Shelf or an iPad. Heads up child - you must be on the "fantasy list" because neither one of those things are going to happen. You will be lucky if Mom gets the darn tree up. And I'm not so secretly excited for next year when we can stop this whole "Santa" thing because I don't agree with your father that Santa gifts should be wrapped and I just spent a small fortune taking you on a flipping cruise.

So clearly, I'm just a tad bit out of sorts and not very "foster care positive" on this night before Solana's next overnight visit.

So I did some self care.

1) I shared with all of you.  We aren't alone. I know that. I appreciate everyone of you who take the time to read, comment, and like my Facebook posts.
2) I bought some LuLaRoe today and I ordered a fun petticoat for underneath it for one of the obligatory parties I mentioned above.
3) I watched TV tonight even though I still have "real" work to do and some thesis writing to wrap up for the semester.  I watched "This is Us" hoping it would make me cry so I could get it out, but the mid-season finale was so good I was just left on edge. - If you have not seen This is Us, I urge you to check it out. Bi-racial adoption, reunification, body issues, family drama, grief. It's all in there.

Tomorrow is a new day. As I hit save, I will recommit to my heart that going home is best for Solana and that her address doesn't matter. I will stop the timer on this grief, and I will resolve that others' happiness does not have to trigger my pain, nor do I have to feel guilty that my pain is triggered by their happiness.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Quiet

When the Fab Four went home the house became quiet. To use the cliche, deafeningly quiet. I missed the giggles immediately. This past weekend as we sailed past 24 hours gone and inched towards the first 48 hours without Solana, the missing laughter is what I noticed first.  Not just from her, but also from my kids.

She's just a funny little being.  She discovers new things daily, and she has this soft little voice and this loud buzzer sound she makes, that you can't help but smile at them.  She only knows the words: up, please, no, Mama, Dada, and hello, but each one seems so meaningful.  We all dote on her and squeal with delight about the new things she does. Having wrapped pretty much the entire family around her tiny fingers, there was a big void this past weekend.

I tried to give latitude to everyone, including myself.  I got up to work on my thesis for grad school and the kids tried to get the rest of their homework done from our trip.  I ignored bickering. I granted lots of snack breaks and blessedly Hubby took them outside. First to do yard work, then on a hike with two stops at Starbucks. I've explained that I was focusing on getting my school assignment done but I'm also hiding a bit, knowing that I am having a hard time and would likely be short tempered.

Court went as I expected. Monday. The department asked for custody to be granted to Dad but the judge granted discretion to the Department To return home.  I think Dad is as ready as he can but, but this gives Solana and us more of a transition. I'm not in favor of a long drawn out process and told the judge that. I know that it doesn't work this way everywhere, but I almost always say something in court. Generally this judge will ask questions and this time he asked if we had a good relationship with Dad. It gave me an opportunity to praise him, explain why he has our support, and demonstrate that we are willing to work with the team. It was slightly easier to do this because Sheila didn't show up until court was over (45 minutes after the call time.) so a few more weeks of overnights and we will move her home.

As of now, Dad has stated he wants us involved.  Likely, we will be helping him on weekends when he works, as childcare could be problematic.  Weekends are also easier for us as we can actually spend quality time with her.  I don't know if it will be every weekend, but we've said we think at least two weekends a month would be best for Solana as once a month seems too infrequent. The 1 1/2 hour drive will also be more easily managed on weekends.

Several readers have asked what we would do if Solana came back into care.  We would absolutely take her as a placement, although I think that scenario is unlikely unless something happens to Dad. Although his illegal status could become problematic as the political landscape changes. Our hope is that we are a support to Dad and he can reach out to us for help when he needs it. He has completed every service in a timely manner, participated in every meeting and did not miss any visits.  The only thing he missed was court, and since his attorney was there, it wasn't held against him. He has no prior involvement with the Department and stepped up to acknowledge his daughter when he didn't have to and family told him not to. This will not be an easy road for him, but he has family support and us as support and I have no reason to believe he won't succeed.  This is foster care working at its absolute best.

It's still hard and sad. We are seeing some really frustrated behavior by Solana and she ignored me for a solid 5 minutes when I saw her at court. Then she wouldn't let me out of her sight.

Simon announced he has a new student coming tomorrow in his class. So there is me- remember how hard it is to be new and make sure you are a friend and nice tomorrow. (Of course he would be, my sweet Simon.) and then he told me her name is also Solana. (Which is strange because her name is not common and is sort of a made up name. It has no language origins.) Great. Hello trigger city....

We are treasuring these last few weeks as we pivot towards our new normal. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Happiest Place on Earth....

Unless you have a sister in foster care who is about to be reunified and will no longer be allowed to live with you.  That's the status of our trip for Simon. Last night he came and found me requesting a hug. About 5 minutes later he came and told me he was really sad. Did I mention we are in Disney World? For the last week? After getting off a Disney cruise? All he should be worrying about is what time the fireworks start and if he can have more cotton candy. Instead, this crappy thing is about to happen in two weeks and it scares the crap out of him. Brings my sweet boy to tears. In Disney World  It broke my heart. I'm trying to focus on the fun and the memories. Trying to memorize all of the fun things and adorableness that is Solana (she literally waves her arms around to every song and shouts "Mimi!!!" When she see Mickey or Minnie. She also learned the words No and yes this week and I swear to God she said "Hello Simon" this morning. I tried to snap some extra pictures of just him and her today and give him a little more time with her. He was sitting next to me when she fell asleep on the Haunted Mansion ride.

I've texted her Dad every day and he recently friended me on Facebook so he has seen all my posts and pictures. He said he missed her but knows that she's having fun and that was all that mattered.

I have to admit though, I cried during the beginning of the Wishes fireworks. There was something about finally being there with my forever children listening to the song "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" while also holding a snugly baby who calls me "mama" who will never remember living with us or this trip that caused the dam of tears to break. We are having such a fun time but the thought that this time is so finite, is never far away. A Dream and a nightmare.

Meanwhile, people are asking me for the kids' Christmas Lists and I just want to answer that all they want is to keep their baby sister in our home. I have zero desire to celebrate Thanksgiving next week.And feel crabby about having to Christmas shop.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lemons Into Lemonade

Although we are barely holding it together, I can say that we are growing in the pain. I heard Smiley say to us tonight "I don't want to talk about that" when someone brought up a time she got upset (that we as a family thinknis particularly funny).  Sarah admitted that she was overwhelmed at school and decided to ask to go to the bathroom "for a break". Stella has articulated that while she is sad, she is happy for her sister to be able to have a parent she can count on. And then there is my Simon, who has perhaps grown in his ability to connect to us 100%.

My son, who can't stand to be held has requested extra hugs. He is suggesting conversation topics at dinner. He asked me how my day was. And he asked me to come and lay with him in his room tonight. For the second night in a row. And we talked about all kind of things I've never heard him mention before. Memories of his time in the other state he lived in. Memories of his brothers. Things he misses. Places he remembers. "You know how we are going to make a book about us for Solana? Can we make a book about her so we don't forget?"

Leaps and bounds type growth in attachment and communication over here for my children.

Because let me tell you, the lemons kept coming my way this week. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Counting Down...

About 8 years ago, I learned to never walk away from a conversation that would bring me closure.  I was called into a meeting at my side gig (at my church). The writing had been on the wall that I was not long for the position and that there was a fundamental difference of beliefs happening.  We were parting ways and I had the opportunity to say exactly what I was feeling and thinking and so I did.  In a calm, clear voice, I said everything my heart needed to say and I walked away from something I loved dearly, with zero regret.

Today was kind of like that.  The writing is on the wall that reunification is happening, and soon, and I had the opportunity to put everything my heart needed to say, out on the table, so that when Solana leaves, someone I love dearly, I will have zero regret.

Through tears I explained to her Dad that I believed in him.  That I was proud of how hard he has worked and I believed he was ready. That I didn't fear for her safety. But that my biggest fear was that this special bond that our children have would be broken and that my kids would be hurt and not be able to grow up with their sister and that Solana would be hurt and grow up without her siblings.

And through tears he replied that he has siblings he hasn't seen in almost 10 years and he wouldn't do that to his daughter. That he loves her and he knows we love her and she loves all of us and he wants her to be around that.  She could spend one week with us and the next with him and if he was free he would drive her the hour and a half to our house to see us.

I told him we would have her as often as he would let us and that we want to be a support to him.  I asked him about the incident that landed him in jail and he told me he took the plea (even though it sounded like she may have made a bunch of the story up) to get out sooner so that he could visit in person with Solana.

Guardianship or any kind of shared custody isn't possible in this case and its likely Sheila will try to fight for custody and visitation in Family Court. But we worked out a plan so longer visits and several overnights will happen with Dad before the next court date. They will ask for return home and try to get us some sort of transition/ability to let the kids say goodbye. That's if the judge allows. And if he doesn't delay the reunification.

I felt good about this most of today. It's the right thing for Solana.  Her Dad gets it.  He wants us to be a part of her life.  This is the best possible outcome in foster care. It's what the system was designed to do (see it works sometimes!). And many people could only dream of this kind of scenario.

But it still sucks. And tonight when Solana was being smart and adorable the countdown began in my head.  I'll admit when she didn't want to let go of her book at bedtime and wanted Mommy snuggles, I cried. I whispered to her that I loved her and that I always would.  And I tried to memorize the way she smelled and how soft her hands are.  And I curled up in Hubby's lap in our room and sobbed. A big ugly cry, bordering on a panic attack. I'm still crying as I type this.  But that's because we do Foster Care the right way.  We love without strings. We go all in.  We put our hearts into everything. We leave nothing on the table.

I have zero regrets about deciding to take Solana. Or saying no the first time we were asked. I have no regrets about how we approached the relationship with her Dad or the year she will have spent with us. This part at least, makes all the rest of the raw emotion just a little bit easier to deal with.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

It's OK to Say No

I've got several posts started about how we are struggling. There has been so much crying and tantruming that I opted out of family therapy last week. I just couldn't do it. And that's ok.  For the last 2 + years I've sat with my kids and tried to listen and understand and learn. And in the years before them I spent all kinds of hours talking kids through therapy (remember the 2x week therapy with the Fab Four?). But I just couldn't take another session about the importance of telling Mom and Dad the truth or answering a question when asked. And its not their fault, and its not mine.

None of us asked for the trauma. And its okay to say, I need a break.

I've been practicing a lot of self-care. Even simple things like having a cup of tea. Crafting. I gave into the migraine I had and laid down. (Not easily done with 5 kids.)

And this has been enough to help me get my wits about me and get back to quality therapeutic parenting. And it must be working because we managed to go the whole weekend without any tantrums or rages.  Or maybe its October and whatever traumaversary was happening has ended.

Then of course there is the stuff happening with Solana's case. (And maybe the kids have picked up on our stress and sadness about that.)  This week some Facebook sleuthing led me to information that Sheila is pregnant.  She has missed several weeks of visits and a few months ago had ended visits early because she wasn't feeling well. If that was morning sickness, then I think she's probably due in the spring.  About 18 months from when she gave birth to Solana, which is about the spacing between the other kids. So she's ducking the caseworker, sabotaging her case, and putting our family in another impossible position.

How do I explain to my children that their Mom has walked away from their baby sister for another baby?   Or diminish their worry? Or answer the question- will you take the baby?

How do you make the decision to stop helping the siblings of your children?

And why the Hell isn't their mandatory birth control or pregnancy prevention counseling? I mean Heck, I'll pay for the birth control.

A friend of mine said it best, "Who has THAT much sex?" 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Oh Man

Sometimes I feel guilty because the kids have healed so much. I listen and read about others who are really struggling with big, giant, behaviors and issues and I feel like an outsider because we don't deal with it on a constant basis. I'm relieved that we aren't living in that level of chaos daily and guilt ridden by the relief.

And then we have an episode like the one a few Fridays ago that rolled into Saturday and I feel silly for letting myself believe we were in such a great place.  We can't be. The trauma will require life-long adjustments and healing. We always have to be prepared to deal with the triggers and the false sense of stability sometimes knocks me on my ass. When it was daily I felt like I was always at the ready. But when the rage and tantrums come out of nowhere, I feel like I'm totally unprepared. And for whatever reason, those really great trauma parenting skills I've learned are hard to tap into at those moments.

Sarah is struggling right now. She's watching Stella get some responsibility and freedom since entering middle school. There is a major case of envy. Add to that a parent visit day at school and her birthday and mine and we have all the ingredients for a triggered kiddo.  So of course the logical thing for my Sarah to do is just start doing what she wants.

For example:

Me: Where are you going? You are getting on the bus to day care. I will pick you up there after I run my errands.
Sarah: I know

Me: Hello?
Hubby: I got a call from the principal. He said Sarah got confused and started to walk home from school. She said you told her she was going home with you. He told her Mom would pick her up from day care later but he was worried about the wording being triggering that you weren't picking her up now.

Later that day I notice a car driving up and down the street slowing in front of our house. Sarah and Smiley ask to go outside and two girls get out of the car. I go outside and the Mom waves to me and says: "I'll pick my daughters up at 7:30."

I'm sorry?

Me: Sarah?
Sarah: Remember I told you about my friend? I told you she was coming over.
Me: Excuse me? You told me!? I have 15 people coming over for a party in 30 minutes.  I certainly did not give permission, nor did we discuss it. After I get done explaining that to this Mom in my driveway you have some major explaining to do.

Commence Tantrum.

Stomping up stairs, throwing things off the bed. Trying to shut the door on me. Pounding on the floor so loudly the people below setting up for the party could hear. Screaming and yelling. "You're not the boss of me. I don't have to listen. You aren't my Mmm....."

She stayed in her room all night and woke up in much the same space the next morning. When I asked her to sit on the floor for her safety and she iron gripped the bed frame, I called our therapist, something I've not done in the nearly 3 years they have lived with us.

She coached me through the technique. Directed no consequences. Helped me get out of my "typical parenting brain". By the time I went back into Sarah's room, she had gotten unstuck and started with "I'm sorry.". 

She wet the bed that night.

And then it was like it was out of her system.  We even managed a visit with Sheila the next day. No issues.



Welcome!

Hi there! I think my post about Sarah's birthday story got shared on Facebook (thank you!) and we have some new visitors. So if you are stopping by, I first want to thank you for taking the time and say welcome.

A quick run down: We are a family that adopted 4 children from foster care this past June. Additionally, we have my kids' 1 year old sister living with us as a foster placement with a goal of return home which is likely to happen by the end of the year.  Topics I've been writing about lately have been: the adoption process, biological family relationships, foster care, and the behaviors of my children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety, and past depression.  I also write a lot about my feelings on infertility and saying goodbye to kids who have lived in our home.
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My hope is that the honesty I share makes you feel like you aren't alone in your own feelings on your journey. I also hope that our story shines through as one of progress.

Outside of parenting 5 children, I work full time as a paralegal and am wrapping up my masters degree. My husband and I have been married 10 years this year and are living a life we never imagined being so full.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

She Never Cried

Sheila called to wish Sarah Happy Birthday and she shared a story with her that as a baby she never cried. Not when she was hungry, not when she was tired, never. She never cried.

A little later Sarah said to me:

"Mom, my Mom said I never cried. I don't really believe that. That can't be true can it? Don't all babies cry sometimes?"

Oh my sweet girl. The red flag went up for her too. As I listened to Sheila share this story fondly, I felt sad. That was a sign of her RAD. That was because she couldn't count on adults. That was because she cried and no one came so she learned not to cry.

"It doesn't sound right to you, does it?"

"No."

"I know your Mom shared that story because she thinks it's cute you never cried. It made me sad. You are right babies cry so adults take care of them. You know how you had a lot of different adults that were supposed to take care of you as a baby?"

"Yeah, like 10 foster parents."

"Well I think maybe they didn't take care of you like they were supposed to and so crying didn't get their attention. I think it's  connected to your big feelings. You didn't cry because you weren't being taken care of and that makes me sad."

"So why did my Mom make it seem like a happy story?"

"Sweetie, she doesn't know it's not a happy story. She doesn't understand.  It's part of the things she doesn't understand about how to take care of kids the way she needs to."

"I understand now."

How I wish she didn't have to understand anything. However, I'm grateful that we get to hear birth stories and tidbits like the full head of hair she came out with. And I'm pretty proud of my kid for questioning the thing she didn't understand. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

I am ok.

I really am ok. I kind of purge all the feelings and then move on to the next task. It's how I've dealt with grief all my life. I have a much better vantage point of what return home and the possible outcomes related to Solana look like, than I ever did with the Fab Four. And that makes me feel prepared even if I know it will be hard.

I'm less naive this time. And dare I say, a little wiser? While I may have been blind to the possibility that she would go home, I know that keeping her from her birth dad isn't the right thing. (Not that I have that option.) I see with clarity that the right thing is for us to continue building a positive open relationship so that the kids don't lose out. That's what's required of me as their Mom. I dream that one day Solana will sit on my lap and say "Tell me about when I was a baby." A gift I can give to her that I'm unable to give to my other children. (Although, if I could give one piece of advice to people I discuss Solana's leaving with, it would be: Don't tell me it's going to be hard. I know it is. In fact, I know way better than you can possibly imagine it to be. So just say "That really sucks".)

I also recognize that I've joined a new category "adoptive mother" and that my desire to be a responsible mother of adopted children has become more prevalent. This gives me another purpose to focus on and that has been helpful.  I'm trying to listen to adoptee's articulate their experiences to make sure I raise children who 1) don't feel responsible for my emotions about adoption and 2) have a safe space to figure out who their true self is. 

A reader recommended "Closure" by Angela Tucker (Thanks Caitlin!). It's a documentary (available on Netflix) about a black woman who was adopted by white parents and searches for her birth family with the help of her parents and siblings. She also hosts a website theadoptedlife.com that has some great material and episodes on transracial adoption, and adoption generally.

Watching has lead me to the realization that I need to be listening. I have a voice but I also want my kids to have one. I think that's probably a hard switch for parents who adopt from foster care. We spend so much time talking for our kids so that we can get them what they need, that when it comes time to listen, we don't shut our mouths. I really tried to do that this week and I "heard" some pretty amazing things.

Smiley has a journal in her desk at school that I peeked into last night.  Her first sentence in the journal was "I am special because I am adopted."  Then she went on to describe our family that she has a baby sister and 2 sisters and a brother.  She also ended it with "My family is fun."  I'm pleased to learn she thinks being adopted makes her special. But I also think there are so many more things about her that are way more special.

Sarah shared with me tonight that one of her friends at school keeps speaking to her in Spanish, forgetting that Sarah doesn't speak Spanish.  She shared with her friend that she spoke it when she was a baby but forgot it.  It led to a discussion about stereotypes and assumptions that even 10 year olds have. Out of all my kids, Sarah has the darkest skin and is very clearly Hispanic. (I am very clearly Irish.) And also looks Mexican, which she is. I have a feeling she probably looks like she could be a cousin of her friend. She was okay correcting her friend but by listening, I could tell we need to have more frequent discussions about heritage and culture.

I've also been pondering the question of if we will continue to foster. I actually have a draft post that I started about it. Hubby said probably. In fact, he joked that maybe we need to up our skill level a bit and take on a new challenge like a transracial placement. I say "joked" because both he and I recognize the commitment, and responsibility that comes with placement of a child that has a different race than us, that we have not previously felt capable of handling. Nor, do we have a support system that could really help us with those challenges. I am not so certain. I know there are kids who need us, but I think I might need a bit of a time out. I'm sure there will be more to come on that.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Tears

It's a primal scream. Terror. Fear. She clings to me, claws at my shirt to grab enough material to hold on. Her face is red and sweaty. Big, fat tears are rolling down her cheek.

The teacher says "I know Mommy is best but we will have a good day too" as I try to extricate myself from the vice grip she now has on my shirt. In my head I'm screaming But I'm not her Mom. I'm her temporary Mom. And in a few months people who have never met her will thank me for the job I've done and order her to go live with her Biological Father and no Mom. And I imagine her at his house screaming for me in the same way. And my heart cracks just a bit more.

I sit in my car in the office parking lot trying to calm myself enough to be able to go in the building without being asked what's wrong. Tears rolling down my cheeks, much the same as they were rolling down hers.

******
I've been on hold for 40 minutes listening to a loop "Studies show that women who breastfeed lower their risk of ovarian and breast cancers. For more information on breastfeeding...." First in English, then in Spanish. Finally the recording abruptly stops and I get a live person. In a desperate voice my first words are a "Please don't put me on hold!" After another ten minutes she tells me she has no record of the request to amend my children's birth certificate effectively relaying the message that on paper, I have no proof that my children exist. Despite the adoption being final for 2 months. Despite confirmation that our state sent the request to the other state. Despite the emails to my attorney on status. I sit at my desk and cry. Cry because Im still fighting, even though it's supposed to be over. Cry because the woman who birthed them never fought this hard for them. Cry because the certificate is a big fat lie anyway. Cry because these agencies still don't care about my kids. Cry because all of the other things I need to do with this certificate can't be done until I actually have them. My attorney calls me back after the stern emails to her contains the correct contact number. She tells me she's so frustrated. The tears come harder.
*******
Dinner is over. I'm sitting at the table by myself. Knowing I've disengaged from my family because I simply can't pretend to care about Pokemon Go or whatever is happening on the Disney Channel. I've fielded questions about weekend plans and dinner and picture day and book fair and I just need a bit of silence. And a sweet friend posts a beautiful post about foster care and grief and the tears start rolling down my cheeks again. It's important. It's necessary. And today it's painful. Really painful.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bedtime

Solana, the happiest baby on Earth has decided that the terrible twos will actually start at the age of 1. She is stubborn, independent, and loud. Really loud. 

She's always had this fake scream that sounds alarming unless you knew it was fake which she uses often when she is displeased. However, her latest thing is to throw full on tantrums. Screaming, crying, hitting. She's quite the frustrated drama queen. When she is really mad she will bite you and then scream "De-De-de-de-de!". Clearly telling you to go take a flying leap. Bedtime has become challenging. My sweet little baby who would go down without so much as a peep, threw a full on tantrum on the stairs when I told everyone to say goodnight to her. An hour and a half ago.

During this rough night I had her rocking in my arms, quieted down but still whimpering from being upset. She was clutching my shirt, my bra, for dear life. As I kissed her tears, mine started to fall.

I whispered to her "I'm not your forever mama. I'm just temporary. One day it will be someone else putting you to sleep.You will have to learn to fall asleep in another home so please let's get through this phase because you have been here 75% of your life and if this is how you react to the familiar, I'm afraid the unfamiliar will be too much for your Papi."

And then my head wandered to the dark place where I wished that maybe she would react this way and he would decided this was too hard and call me up to come get her, forever. And then I felt immediately guilty and selfish and I started to cry harder because how could I wish such obvious misery and pain on my beautiful baby girl Solana. 

Foster Care Adoption in the Media

I was really excited to learn that one of the gymnasts on the USA Woman's Gymnastics Team was adopted from foster care.  So often, we only hear of the negative outcomes for kids in foster care. Being able to give my kids an example of a young girl as an Olympian who had a similar experience to them, makes my heart happy. It was disappointing to come across this story: nbc-announcer-apologizes-for-comments-about-simone-biles-parents

You've probably already heard about this but Simone Biles was adopted from foster care by her maternal grandfather and his wife.  I guess these details are important (to some) because she is biologically related to her (adoptive) father and as written, one is (I guess) supposed to gather, not biologically related to her (adoptive) mother.

I suppose any story about an adoptee will give the details behind the adoption as they do make up the adoption story. And for some adoptees, these may be important details. To others, maybe not so much.

Apparently the NBC announcer, Al Trautwig,  made on air comments referring to her parents as her grandparents and then sent out the following tweet to clarify some Twitter criticism for not referring to them as her parents: "They may be mom and dad, but they are NOT her parents."

Wait, what?

The tweet was deleted and he apologized but its a teachable moment.

The language of adoption is important. Adoption is complicated. Its wrought with emotion and pain.  Insisting that adoptive parents are not parents is an insult to everyone involved. It makes their relationship seem illegitimate. Like it doesn't matter. I've read articles that talk about how her family came together. How their family attended therapy for two years to build trust.

I know this work. I've done it. And I know that it's exhausting fielding questions in the super market. I can't imagine doing it on the world stage.

But it's a teachable moment and I hope this comment will open the conversation in the media up to understanding how adoption, and adoption from foster care work. And then maybe we can educate the world on why more needs to be done for our kids in crisis. Because let's face it, this has garnered a lot of attention, while other kids have died and no one said a peep.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thunder

We've had some pretty bad storms here in Chicagoland. Sarah's PTSD kicks in during thunderstorms and tonight she knocked on my door and said she couldn't fall asleep and didn't know what to do.

This was huge! Huge. Bedtime was already going to be tricky as the town next to us had fireworks tonight and they were so close to us, the finale shook the house. She was already triggered heading to bed.

In the past, she's shared memories of being with her biological family and being made to walk outside during evening storms to another building to use the bathroom. We have no idea if this was once or frequent but we do know that she was under the age of 5. This coupled with her witnessing of domestic violence means that loud noises and darkness are triggers to her PTSD.

Most kids are afraid of thunderstorms. But as I Kaye's in her bed with her, I could feel her entire body shake. But we reached a point where she could trust me enough to 1) tell me there was a problem 2)tolerate my safe touch, 3) allow me to lay with her and calm down. I told her sometimes people say the thunder is the Angels bowling. We talked about how to ask our angels for help. I reminded her why she is afraid of storms. We focused on listening to the rain on the roof and we counted the time between lightning bolts and thunder claps. She said the last trick helped and when I felt her body calm, I left her to sleep. Which she did.

It's so hard to see my kiddo at a total loss of how to self soothe but I am so proud that she was able to tap in and use her tools to get help to get there. But man, 5 years later and the trauma and danger are still real for her. It's moments like this where the Mama Bear in me wants to hunt down the idiots who were supposed to be taking care of her and give them a taste of their own medicine.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

She is His Daughter

Solana started in-home visits with her Bio Dad this month.  She'll be in the car longer than she is actually at the visit.  Bio Dad is going to ride with the driver both ways so that she isn't alone in the back seat and he can get more time with her.

This is all very hard to wrap my brain around.  We said no to her placement with us because it seemed too much to handle.  We changed our minds to keep her safe and because we thought the possibility of her eventually leaving us was pretty slim. We didn't really factor in a Bio Dad.  None of the others ever showed up to work their case plan. I'm glad that she does have someone showing up for her. She deserves that. All kids deserve that.  And that's why these conflicting feelings knock me on my ass.

One minute I'm fine. Readily working to co-parent. Gathering pictures for him and sending update emails. And the next thing I know I'm making her bottle and the tears just start to fall across my cheeks. Its like I'm grieving her even though she is still here.  Its like maybe if I do the grieving now, when it comes time for everyone else in the family to grieve, I'll be strong enough to shoulder all of that and keep us moving forward.

And then these thousands of little moments that I get to experience with her and am trying to memorize forever hit my heart and make me realize that I missed out on so much of my kids' life. And it just kind of exhausts me.

And its different from when the Fab Four left.  I'm not concerned for her safety. I know that we will always have a connection to her. She seems to have a loving supporting family that she will be living with. Which is all we can ask for as foster parents.

But there is this hope, that is in the heart of our family, that her Bio Dad will see how much she is the missing piece to our family and the bond she has with her siblings and that he will decide that this is more important than his own love for her. And it breaks my heart that this is a hope of ours. That we want this guy to go through the pain of not having her everyday, so that we don't have to. And it makes me feel yucky.

So many people have said, she belongs with her siblings. How could a judge not see that is in her best interest? 

How do any of us determine what is in her best interest? 

Really it's up to a 22 year old individual who's only experience with parenthood is a few hours a week at the library. Now that's not necessarily his fault, but it certainly isn't a realistic picture of what parenting an infant entails. I can't assume he's not up to the task, but I do know that I've spent more hours awake with her in the middle of the night than he has spent with her in total. He doesn't know her best. None of the people making decisions about her life do and none of them will take into consideration the best interests of my kids. There is no "greater good" provision. It's just another way that the kids loose out in the system of foster care. 

When she wakes up she toddles into her sisters' room and yells for them to wake up. Then she teeters across the hall to her brother's room. She steals his stuffed puppy dog and then claps when he grins at her. 

But if she stays with us she looses her culture and her roots and family that loves her. Would she forgive him for taking her away from her siblings? Would she forgive him for placing her for adoption? No one wins in this scenario. Not fully. There are legal rights but nothing to guide the emotions. 

If he lived closer, it might not seem so bleak. We could help. We could be around all the time. But he lives 1 1/2 hours away. Keeping connected is going to take a huge effort. His support system is there. Ours is here. 

Tomorrow's birthday party will be our first attempt to create a relationship out of these circumstances. He is very excited to spend extra time with her. This makes me feel that adoption really isn't an option or on his mind. And why should it be? She's his daughter. 

I can only hope that the system won't drag this out and the steps we take now will lay the groundwork for some sort of relationship in the future.






Saturday, July 2, 2016

Mr. Mohawk's Birthday Party

We spent the evening at Mr. Mohawk's birthday party. It was so great to see the Fab Four and Maria. The house they moved into  has a huge backyard and a garden. So much space! 

It was pretty clear that LM and Gabby were avoiding us. I specifically asked Gabby to sit and visit because I knew she couldn't help herself. She let on that LM is angry with us. She feels we have overstepped our bounds at times and feels replaced by our adopted kids. For these reasons she doesn't want us around.

We invited them to spend the 4th with us and spend the night. It seemed that it was up to LM and that she wouldn't want to come over. Maria said she would let us know but my gut tells me we won't see them.

I am so, so, grateful that three years later we are still included in any event. But I miss them and wish we could see them more often. I wish I could fix the awkwardness with LM and have a conversation about her feelings. I understand her reaction and imagine that's how a lot of kids would feel in her situation. I also know her heart and I'm sure she also feels guilty for feeling that way.

I have to admit I cried when we got in the car. I know they are safe and doing great but I still fear they will disappear and it hurts that it seems LM is actively wishing for that. I long for those kids that I knew so well and it's hard that I don't know them like I used too.

The emotions are so complex. I don't yearn for them to be "mine" anymore because they are exactly where they should be. But I love them so much. 

It triggered a bunch of fears about Solana returning home and while that is still a while off, I'm really sad and upset about it. Trying to work through the fears because I can't change them. 

Those of you who regularly take babies- I don't know how you do this. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Are You Sure?

Love all the comments! So interesting to see how everyone handles the name change aspect. True Story, Sarah asked me how to spell her new last name tonight. And her first.....(Face Palm)

One of the questions I got was why we didn't need to be at the final court hearing.

Each county in Illinois does their adoptions differently. In theory we could have filed the adoption in any county in Illinois. From what I can tell each requires two hearings. In some counties the family goes in person to the 1st, in others you go in person to the last. Some counties only do adoptions two times a month, others four days a week.

The county their case was out of was almost 2 hours away and very small county. Our attorney wasn't familiar with their procedures but offered to file in that county if we wanted to. We liked the idea of the same judge handling the adoption but by the time we got the point we could actually petition for the adoption we decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

The county we live in has a bit of a lag between petition and hearing dates, but would have had us go in person on the day it was final. The drawback was there would be no cameras allowed at all. No phones with cameras are allowed in the building. So we decided not to file there.

The other county we live very close to is very big and they do adoptions nearly every day of the week. There was virtually no wait time for a court date and they allowed pictures in the hallway (not in the court room).  The drawback was we had to go to the 1st hearing and wait on the finalization date to be communicated to us.

So that is how it happened that we weren't there. So we have two adoption days. The day we went to court and told the judge we wanted them to be ours forever. And the day that it was official.

I asked the kids last night about their feelings about the adoption being final, final. Simon said he forgot it happened this week. Smiley said "It feels like my birthday. I don't feel different than six even though I'm seven." Stella said it didn't feel different and when I affirmed her feeling Sarah spoke up that she felt the same way but was worried that would hurt my feelings. "It's a big deal but it doesn't feel that way and I thought that would hurt your feelings. It just felt like a regular day."

I told her that I completely understood and that maybe it meant that we handled the transition so well as a family that we didn't need a piece of paper to tell us what we already knew. They all agreed and then went back to eating their dinner.

But I have to admit I'm a little weepy this week about it. We were at a baptism today and the priest was giving his homily (sermon). He was from Uganda and was talking about traveling to his homeland to visit and his journey back to the US. He talked about being "home" and how we all just want to feel stability and safety, no matter where "home" might be. We want to belong to one single place. 

It was a moment where I felt like the words were meant only for us. Meaning in the message for sure.

A little later a friend of the family member who's child was Baptized was reminding me we had met before. After finding out we had 5 kids, she was all "I think the last time I saw you, you were pregnant."

I was like- "Nope, don't think so!" She was all "Are you sure?".

A little later I told Hubby that I should have said "Nope, just fat." And he was like I was going to say that as a joke but I wasn't sure how you'd take that. 


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reader Question: Did You change their names?

Yes we did. We actually started using their new names shortly after their good bye visit with Sheila last August. So the only name that really changed this week was their last name (kind of, one of them actually had our last name). We had started using them so we wouldn't have to try to do a name change mid-school year. Plus the kids had only been in the school the last 1/2 of the year so they didn't know everyone yet. The school was great about going with the new first names.

At some point Simon spontaneously asked his teacher if he could change his name tag on his desk to our last name. He was tired of waiting on the legal stuff. He started to write Simon Almost Last Name on his papers. So we asked all the kids and they asked for the same update. Their report cards and benchmarks still had their legal names. 

The name change was a bit cumbersome at first. We sounded like owls because someone would ask for a person by their birth name and we would all answer "Who?". Within a few months the slip ups were less and less. And now it almost never happens unless we have to use the old name for a reason. 

Each of them kept part of their birth name. And in various ways each of the kids had input into their new name. Stella was the one most resistant. She kept "Stella" as her middle name (her request) and we gave her the name of my Grandmother. Sarah had two middle names and picked one of them to keep as her middle name. We gave her a new first name and then argued abut how to spell it. My argument was if she spelled it the shorter non-traditional way people would mis-pronounce it her whole life. I lost. Sure enough on adoption day the judge made that very mistake. (Moral: Mom is always right.) Her middle name also is the same as my BFF so there is a family connection.  

Simon's nickname stayed the same because that's just who he is. I couldn't picture calling him something different but didn't like his first name. So we named him a more formal name with the same nickname (think Nickname Rob changed from Robby to Robert). He also had two middle names and picked the one that is the same as my brother's name. He now insists on being called his formal name which breaks my heart. (But also his nickname and Sarah's name rhyme so that causes some confusion that I didn't consider.) Finally, Smiley had her birth middle name become her first name and she was given my Mom's name as a middle name. I really disliked her first name. It was cute while she is little and all dimples but when she turns 23 going for her first job no one was going to take her seriously. 

I had to rattle their legal names off at the pool the other day (despite being full siblings- Simon and Sarah had different last names) and Simon asked me how I remembered all of that! I told him because I was his Mom. :)

We met some opposition in family members about changing their "real" names that their "real" mother gave them. We explained the new names were an important part of the claiming and bonding process. Especially since there were multiple kiddos. And as parents we have a right to name our children. We also reminded them that we are in fact, real parents.

Name changes are something that every family needs to decide for themselves. I've been asked if we adopted Solana if we would change her name. I actually like her first name and our nickname for her. I have a longer version of her name I call her when I'm being silly or stern so maybe we would go with that. I wouldn't keep her middle names though so maybe we would give her a new first name like the other kids but keep her nickname similar to Simon. But that's a lot of hypothetical. 

To her credit Sheila has made an effort to use their new names since we changed them. We had a lot of discussion on what they would call Sheila at the visit. We have introduced the idea of "Birth Mom" as a term that others will recognize. The kids never referred to their other foster parents as "Mom" so First Mom didn't go over well with them. I suggested we call her Mommy Sheila since they used to call her Mommy. (They don't really refer to me as Mommy, I'm just Mom.) I'm probably the worst at remembering to refer to her as something other than "your Mom".  They used Mommy, or Mom or didn't call her by name. I could tell when the kids were talking to me instead of her so it wasn't a big deal. I'm sure with time this will get more comfortable.

Did you change your kids' names at adoption? Do they call you something  different? Share your experience.

That Time My Kids Were Adopted And No One Bothered To Tell Me

So after the whole "we need to continue the adoption finalization date because we forgot to put one of your kids' names on some important paperwork" thing, the judge didn't care and entered in the final order of adoption on the date originally scheduled.

Except no one called to tell me until the next morning. So while I was having my 2am Pop-Tart meltdown, my kids were actually mine.

But that's foster care. Critical information (Hey your names changed! And you are now financially responsible for day care.) but no one bothers to give it to you.

Our attorney called at a really frantic moment as I was trying to get myself and the 5 kids out the door to drop off at two different daycares and I was totally caught off guard when she told me it was final.

Let me tell you, I couldn't really enjoy it because I was so frustrated by the chaos they all created just days before in messing with my schedule. I had no sleep, was late, and totally overwhelmed by the idea that it was over. Final. Done. And no one felt it was necessary to tell me about it. 

So after 1,170 days in Foster Care my kids were adopted. 

Thank you to all of you readers for your support for all of these years! We so appreciate all of the kind words and prayers. 

I announced the news yesterday on Favebook. You can find me there at @lovesastateofmind or https://www.facebook.com/lovesastateofmind/

~ Foster Mom R

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Can't Sleep

We talked about famous adoptees in family therapy tonight. I can't sleep so I went from looking for lists of famous adoptees to searching on the Adopt Us Kids website. Did you know JC Chasez (From 'NSync was adopted from foster care? By his birth mother's former foster family.

I need to start running again to help manage some of this stress/emotion. And probably get back into therapy for myself. The one therapist I had started seeing last summer didn't have kids and practiced Mindfulness. That's not what I need. What I need, is a safe place to cry for an hour a week. Someone who has walked this same path who will just let me talk and cry. Otherwise I am sitting in the dark eating a pop-tart at 2:15Am while typing on my iPad and wiping away tears with a paper towel.

The call with my Mom yesterday was really triggering for me. It brought me back to just before the Fab Four went home. I feel like we barely survived that. There is so much more complexity to our current situation. It feels like drowning. Lots of fear and anxiety.

Could this be the adoption depression I've heard about? Or am I just now coming back up for air after taking on a 5th child? Have we normalized enough that my psyche has decided it can take a beat to review all that is going on?

On the one hand my kids are doing fabulous. I mean really, really, healthy and great. And on the other, I'm struggling. Maybe because they are doing so well and any change with their sister could send us into a tailspin? It's probably all of these things combined. It's like that scene in the movie Juno where the new adoptive mom asks the birth-step grandma "How do I look?" And the grandma replies "Like a new mom. Scared shitless."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Permanency

My nerves are fried today. Mostly because I'm just tired of living in foster care land. I fully recognize that we have had a better experience than a lot of people, but I'm just ready to be done. 

I had over an hour in the car alone with my thoughts on the way to Solana's permanency hearing this morning. That's a long time to be alone with your thoughts. Especially with very little sleep because a certain 10 month old decided she was going to scream the house down from 12:30 until 1:30 when I decided she and I both needed to be in my bed asleep. 

Today was her 1st permanency hearing even though next month marks a year she will have been in foster care (her whole life). Neither bio parent showed up. 
Which doesn't reflect well on them except all the reports were positive and showing progress being made towards the case plan. This of course meant the judge only had Caseworker #4 and myself to talk to. (Neither attorney had heard from their client.) So when he asked me if I had anything to add I just asked the court to keep in mind the sibling relationship when she returns home. It was my way of reminding him that I'm adopting the four siblings. The judge then sang our praises and asked how he could clone me. Then he granted permission for us to go out of the country on a cruise with her. 

But you know what? Solana deserves better. Why the hell wouldn't you show up? And if you aren't serious about gaining custody (because how can you be if you didn't show up to court (which started an hour late)) just sign the surrender now so we can be done.

I'm definitely having flashbacks to when the Fab Four were leaving and all of the pain and this time it's not just myself and Hubby that will be crushed. There are four more kids and all the others who fell in love with this beautiful baby. And I'm the one who has to somehow keep us together and lead the way through the pain. And I'm struggling with that right now. Setting the record straight that we aren't adopting her. And every time I say it, I feel like I'm abandoning her. 

But her biological parents couldn't even show up. 

The goal was set for return home in 12 months which means a very long road. A lot could happen in that time but today the goal just exhausts me. I mean for heaven sakes I've been working on finalizing an adoption for 11 months. 

So I may reset with a trip to the pool tonight. My and the kids. They won't be able to tell if it's the chlorine in my eyes or tears. (I know, I'm a little dramatic today.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Open Adoption- Visit

I had reached out to Sheila to let her know the adoption would soon be final and to set up a visit so she wouldn't have to ask us. We were a few months away from the year mark of last seeing her and I thought it would be better if she could see all that we are trying to do to keep our children connected to their birth family. She of course put the ball in our court to plan the visit, so we did. 

We picked a garden in her town that the kids enjoying going to. It's the type of place you can only spend a few hours at so there would be a natural break in leaving. It's about an hour away so we also planned on getting lunch at a habachi resturant we really like.

Overall, I think the visit went well. We had prepped the kids at family therapy about things we wouldn't want to discuss (like Solana's permanency) but things that we were sure she'd want to hear about. School, camp, swimming. The kids were really nervous but afterwards they told us it was easier than they expected. Sheila respected our request that she let us parent Solana during the visit and towards the end I asked her if she wanted to hold Solana for a while, which she of course said yes to.

We tried to give her some space with the kids, letting them wander through the paths without us and taking pictures of them together. She also asked me if it was ok if she took their picture and I agreed. I thought is was nice she asked. She brought stuffed animals for the kids and also let each of them pick something out from the gift shop. 

We hadn't really set an end time so when we reached the visitor center we invited her to lunch if she was free. She said she had a prior commitment and we began saying our goodbyes. Then she asked if she could get a picture of us with the kids and I suggested we take one all together. As she hugged the kids she asked if she could hug me as well and thanked me again for letting her have the visit. I told her we would try to do another one before school started. 

I think she did genuinely appreciate the chance to see them. The kids had a hard time conversing with her about anything other than the activity we were doing so there were moments of ackward silence. Sarah was upset about Sheila not coming to lunch. I can't figure out if that's because it felt like rejection to her or if her love language is quality time. Maybe both. Lunch ended up being chaos because the resturant was closed and then other places were busy. So it's better she didn't come with! 

All the kids were happy they saw her. Felt it went better than they expected and we managed to continue on with our day. We even managed to run a few errands with no issues. And dare I say, we've not had any fallout. We've also had a busy week so that probably helped.

Sheila did text to thank me yesterday and also let me know she found lice in Smiley's hair during the visit. It annoyed me but also exemplified the reason why she can't parent. It didn't dawn on her that I would need to know right away to take care of the problem. (Again.) (I actually researched salons that do the lice treatments and not picking for you last night. Either I missed some nits from the last outbreak or there is someone at camp that still has it. I didn't find many big/live bugs so I suspect this is a new infestation. But it was interesting bonding time for hubby and I as he was "helping" me look through her hair.)


Friday, June 3, 2016

Damn Disney Decals

So back during one of trips to Disney with the Fab Four we bought those stick figure decals for the minivan. I never put them on the car for fear Maria would see and take offense. When the kids went home I sent their stick figures with them and hung on to mine, Hubby's and the dog. 

On a subsequent trip, we bought new stick figures for the final four. They've been sitting in a drawer for at least year. Well when Simon puked in my car two weeks ago I had justification to spend the money on a detail service. (I'm a little spoiled because they actually come to our office parking lot each Thursday.) And since the car was freshly washed I though it would be a good time to apply the stick figure forever family to the window.

Wrong move. The kids were like "what about Solana? Where is her's? Is there room for one? Can we get her one?

With their permanency seems to come a harder time remembering that their sister is still in foster care. Or maybe they just have more bandwidth to think about it. But we've had this conversation every other week recently. And it sucks.

"Remember? Solana's goal is return home. Both her Biological Dad and your Biological Mom are working on their homework from the judge."

Which is of course followed by, "How is my Mom doing?"

::sigh::

It's hard to balance answering truthfully, appropriately, and in a way that doesn't make them completely anxious about losing their sister. On more than one occasion Sarah has cried during this conversation. She adores her sister. And Solana adores her. 

I say that I don't really know for sure. I tell them I know their Mom is doing some of the things that the judge and Caseworker #4 have asked. I tell them So is her Dad. I say that people are concerned about Mom's past choices and inability to keep them safe and so they will be extra careful with Solana's safety.

"Will we get to see her if she goes home?"

So hard for adults to cope with these questions as foster parents. Here my kids are asking them too.

I'm trying to remember not to "borrow trouble" but that's really hard when you get these gut wrenching questions from your kids and you have no good answer.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Game On

Ooff. I feel like I said "Sign me up. I'm ready to be a Forever Mom." And the Universe said, "Game on."

Same week as Adoption Day:
Lice- Check
Bonus Points for all 3 older girls- Check
Stomach Flu- Check
Bonus Points- Stomach Flu in the back of the minivan- Check
Infant Fever- Check
Infant Teething- Check
Hubby- "death by illness"- Check
Mom- Fever and stomach flu- Check
Mom- Lice- Check.

Now it's 1:39 AM and Hubby is sleeping beside me and I just got the baby back to sleep after 15 minutes of her "calling" to us and crying. 

What the Hell Dude? You literally just said "Aww how and I supposed to sleep when my baby is calling out for me 'Da da da'?"

I'm totally going to mess with his bed settings when he starts snoring. I'd rub my hair on his head if it didn't mean more literal nit picking for me later....

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Letter to my Children on the Eve of Court

My Dearest Stella, Sarah, Simon, and Smiley,

Tomorrow we go before a judge and our family and promise to be your parents forever.  It's a big deal and all of us are excited.  And while tomorrow is not the "final, final" day it is the day we will forever call "Adoption Day".  We have come a long way.  Each of us as individuals but also as a family.  We have inside jokes. We have "remember when" stories.  We know each other's favorite colors and who is likely to have the stinky feet.  We sat around a table tonight with one of our dearest family friends and you impressed her with your polite manners, quick wit, and loving words. We were our crazy selves and it was the best example of who we are as a family.  Our family. A Forever Family.

You have waited a long, long time for this Adoption Day.  And it makes my heart happy to learn that you are excited and happy about your adoption.  I want to remind you that its okay if there are times you don't feel that way, or the feelings are mixed up inside.  Dad and I will love you no matter what and we are always here to walk beside you as you try to understand what adoption means to you.  You also have a whole host of other family members who will join us tomorrow and will be there for you whenever you need. 

Each of you are amazing people.  Your intelligence and creativity always astonish me. You are hard working and resilient and those traits will take you very far in life. You can do anything you put your minds to and you have two parents who will always do everything they can to help you achieve your dreams.

Thank you for letting me be your Mom.  It's the most important thing I will do with my life and I couldn't be happier that you are my kids.

All my heart,

Mom






Friday, May 13, 2016

Twinsters

We watched the documentary Twinsters tonight. It was shown on Freeform this week but it's also on Netflix. The documentary is about two women who look identical that find eachother on the Internet. They also happen to share the same birthday and are both adopted from Korea. 

It was a really interesting story. Beyond the whole "how small is the world" aspect, the documentary does a good job highlighting how people experience adoption differently. One of the women, Sam, feels really positive about her adoption. The other woman, Anais, is very angry about it. 

It's worth the watch.

**Spoiler Alert**
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I shared with Sarah and Stella that I had watched the movie. As we head to finalization, I want them to understand more fully that others may experience adoption differently, or even they themselves, may have different reactions over time. With four kids each of them are bound to have different thoughts on adoption being a positive or negative life experience.

My first reaction when learning that these girls were separated and presented as only children at different adoption agencies was anger.  Maybe that's because I'm all about keeping the siblings together (when it's safe). Sarah had the same reaction. Actually she cried. "Mom that's so sad! How could they do that to them!?" I mean like real, ugly cry tears. And she didn't even see any of the documentary! 

I may not have birthed her but she is on the same wavelength as me most of the time.

I went on to explain that my point wasn't to make her cry, especially since the women didn't seem to feel cheated, rather they felt their lives were fuller. My point was to help them understand that even twin sisters have different reactions and experiences regarding adoption.

The twins go to an adoptee conference in Korea and visit their former foster Moms and their "mother country". I imagine one day taking my kids on such a journey to the state where their family is from. So important to support my kids as they try to sort through all of these complex emotions.








Saturday, May 7, 2016

Happy Mother's Day

**This post did not upload so I'm re-loading. Pretend you read this earlier in the week*

I know this past weekend is hard for many of you. It's incredibly hard for me. It's never quite the greeting card commercial I conjure up in my head. For many of the past years it was a weekend filled with rages and tantrums and overall nutty behavior. There was a Mother's Day after the Fab Four left where I was a Mother without children. And that totally sucked.

Last year and this year I literally ran away. I spent last Mother's Day running a 1/2 marathon through  Disneyland and the city of Anaheim. This year I did it again and brought Hubby with me. 

The past few months have been sleep deprived, school and work filled and so I had zero training for this race. It's my 4th 1/2 marathon so I knew I could walk it and probably be ok. My only goal was to finish. And if I didn't, that was okay too. (I did finish.) 

We got a break together. We got sleep, like 9 hours straight. We've had great food and enjoyed the magic of Disney. So we've had a great time and relaxed and that's what we needed. (Even if it's warmer at home than it is in California this week.)

I hope you get a break and the ability to re-charge. If not for a week, at least an hour. I hope you remember that as a Mom- you are doing a great job even when it feels like you aren't. Even if your kids don't wish you happy Mother's Day, even if you have no kids at the moment. And if you decided to ignore the day entirely, that's also okay. You do you! 


Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Mountain

Today I went to a reunion of sorts. It was a Boy Scout function my Dad was in charge of, a training for a backpacking trip to Philmont. Philmont is a high adventure camp in Cimmaron, New Mexico. Within the camp is a major mountain ridge that belongs to the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range and has a famous landmark called the Tooth of Time that the settlers used on the Santa Fe Trail. In fact, you can still see the ruts from the wagon wheels in the valley there.

Tooth of Time, Philmont Scout Ranch

In 2005, my Dad convinced me to go on a trek with him. We did a 7 day, 75 mile, backpacking trek through the camp.  In fact, I hiked the entire length of the ridge line pictured above. We went with a crew of 12 and all made it back, mostly in one piece. It was one of the most defining weeks of my life but the time leading up to the trip was critical. We trained. We practiced. We did group outings to shake out the group dynamics and for 7 days we relied entirely on our map, a compass, and each other. At the time, it was one of the hardest things I had ever done. At the end of the trip I was changed. I had a new appreciation for nature and a new confidence in myself. I had LITERALLY climbed a mountain and came over the other side of it.

Two years later I was married, and had experienced a lay off, unemployment, and the beginning of a very deep depression.

Five years later I was beginning the process of becoming a foster parent.

While driving to the reunion, I realized that I was driving the same route we used to take for court for the Fab Four. I became aware that by that point in the route, I was usually in full anxiety mode, near panic.  Tonight, I was at peace. And I couldn't help but think of the distance we've covered as foster parents or the visual of foster care as a mountain we've hiked over and come out the other side.

We trained for this mountain too. I would argue we got the most useful training while we were already "on the trail".  But we learned none the less. And like Philmont, we came back mostly in one piece.

Philmont is no joke. Neither is foster parenting. 

As I walked into the reunion shelter, I was greeted by a few of the crew members that were on the trek with us and other Scouting friends of the family who have known me nearly all my life. Each of them ready with hugs and hearty congratulations on the near finalization of the adoption. Once again, I felt at peace.

My kids are really going to be my kids forever and I am eager for that day to finally be here! 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mom Will It Take This Long To Adopt Solana?

That was the question Stella posed to me tonight. It broke my heart to have to remind her the goal is return home.

I reiterated we are keeping Solana safe, for as long as she needs. 

"But you would adopt her right?"

Yes, of course. That's what we hope because she is your sister and part of this family but that is just as true no matter where she lives.

I was honest with the kids that both Sheila and Bio Dad are complying with the case plan (although Dad missed a visit this week). And I promised we would keep building relationships so that if she does go home we can still see her. 

Such a a hard thing for my kiddos. And a sad thing that they understand adoption takes years.

Trying to take my own advice and not worry about the future. Whatever will be, will be.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Oh Holy Tantrum

Here we have been cruising along, no major issues. We've had some hiding of pull ups and skid mark underwear but that's pretty standard for the age range 7-9 (I feel). The pull up I found of Sarah's on Saturday, stuffed in the bin in the closet, prompted a repeat of the family therapy discussion we had about embarrassing stuff (bed wetting) being more embarrassing when we hid the evidence and Mom finds it anyway (because she always does).

I very calmly said that she needed to find any others that were in the room and throw them out. That any found after that day would be treated as new and the consequences would be going back to sheets (meaning she needs to strip the bed and put them in the washer) and writing sentences and no TV. (We've been escalating the consequences over the past few weeks.)

Monday night we shared the news that we have an adoption court date with the kids. The kids cheered! Everyone seemed excited.

You know where this is going, right? Anyone want to guess what was found today? 

Yes. A dirty pull up, in the closet.

Very calmly I said you need to go get paper. And the sobbing began. 

I asked why she didn't just throw it out.

"I didn't want to."

Hmm. Not I don't know. Not I forgot. 

I didn't want to.

I set the timer. 2 minutes to get the sobbing out of the system. She was still going and now inturrupting the rest of the family.

Please go to your room to calm down.

Well of course that resulted in screaming. Thrashing. Hitting herself.

And it was right around then that it clicked as to what was really going on.

The ADOPTION is actually happening. Not someday. Not after court. Not in the next six months. 

In three weeks. Mom wrote it on the calendar, so it must be real. 

So I went into the room and sat across from her. I tried to engage her "rules". 

I don't want anything! 

And as I talked her through the "big feelings" I got enough nods and shoulder shrugs to get to the core of the problem. She didn't trust this was actually happening. And was worried if she was still wetting the bed we wouldn't adopt her. Or rather, she was proving to herself she wasn't worthy of love forever and her pull up was going to prove it. And probably doing something to make sure I noticed her because I might leave her behind. So many people promised to take care of her and then walked away from that responsibility. I'd have a hard time feeling secure in what was happening too.

It's been a long time since Sarah has had that strong of a tantrum. I forget at times that she's capable of them. Or that they were daily at one point. And I should have anticipated this reaction based on what happened when the goal change to adoption was delayed last year. 

But we did a good job 1) recognizing the trigger 2) talking through the feelings 3) regulating and staying calm and 4) reviewing the better approach to discussing these scary feelings.

I reiterated that adoption is hard and complicated and often filled with a lot of emotions, sometimes conflicting ones. I told her that it was okay to feel sad about the adoption and worried about what that means for Sheila and her place/role in her life. I shared that, I too, feel sad that Sheila misses out on the everyday stuff but that doesn't mean I can't be happy that they are my kids.

We moved on and got through the rest of the night.

But YAY for adoption day (finalized 4-5 weeks after our day in court)! Such a long time coming!