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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Do You Call Her Your Daughter?

One of my colleagues inquired about how Solana was feeling after being sick last week. She couldn't remember her name and then said, "I don't know how to refer to her. Is she your daughter? Do you call her your daughter?"

It's been a while since someone asked me this kind of question. Interestingly, I've  not really self identified as a "foster" mom for a while. I mean, I introduce myself as a foster mom. I offer foster mom advice. I advocate for kids in care and educate about trauma. But somewhere over the last six months I've lost the "foster" mom identity in the way I think about myself in relationship to the kids. And this question caught me off guard.

These are my kids- and no one questions it. They answer to a name I gave them. They call me Mom. They list my family members as their family members and no one questions us. We are far more likely to be approached with compliments vs questions when we are out in public. 

Maybe it's the length of time they have been my kids. I remember struggling to feel that connection when they first moved in. Stuck between the incredibly messy place of grieving children who once occupied all of my time and opening myself back up to the fear that if I let them in, it would happen all over again. But for a solid while now, there hasn't been a question of those feelings for them. Those are my kids and you best act accordingly.

This colleague only met me after I arrived at that place where - I just had four kids. No descriptive adjective (foster, adoptive, biological) and I forgot that for people who aren't informed about these things, these types of questions come up. She of course knows we are a foster/adoptive family and that Solana is in foster care so I understand why the question came up. She was trying to be mindful of the situation and use the correct terminology. 

I answered, "Yes I call her my daughter." Because she is. I have 5 kids. Because at the end of the day, I am just "Mom". To all that matter, I have no adjective. I am  Mom who answers questions about why legs hurt when they drink water. I am Mom who asks when they last pooped. I am Mom who negotiates hot lunch and ice cream day. To the ones that matter,  I'm Mom and they are my kids and that's that.

If Solana hadn't had a visit, today would have been a day where I might have forgotten our "foster" status because it was decidedly "typical". Band concert, parent meeting about the gifted program, homework. I cherish these days as they balance out the days where foster care sucks (and we have had plenty of those in the past year).

I know I will have to reprise my role as foster mom soon enough and deal with all of the crap that goes with that (you know, opinion being ignored, schedule disregarded, kept in the dark) so for now I'll cherish the little bit of "normal" we achieved. We- my four girls and son.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Triggered By a Master's Degree

I've mentioned before that I'm in Grad School.  I'm working on a masters in Health Care Law.  (Not to brag but I have a 4.0 at law school. I think my undergraduate GPA was like a 2.7 and not because I was out partying either.  Its not a fake island based law school either.  Its a well known brick and mortar Catholic university with a campus and dorms and everything. (I will admit I picked this one because I can actually walk graduation in cap and gown and ceremony like that is important to me.))

My program is on-line and so I have yet to actually go to campus. We have a fancy cloud based classroom where teachers give live lecture and all of your homework is on-line.  I'm not going to lie.  This whole working mother thing has made juggling all of this very hard at times and tonight I had class and then was able to get everyone in bed in time for me to sit down and do some of my reading.

I had to read the following Supreme Court case from 1989 ( I give you my two second overview below if you don't want to read the legal mumbo jumbo):

DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (No. 87-154)

DSS in Wisconsin became aware of a child who was being abused by his father, failed to remove him from his abusive father, who despite being visited by DSS (who was documenting the suspicious marks) continued to beat him until he was beaten so badly he suffered traumatic brain injury and was left severely retarded.

The mother (non-custodial parent) sued the state for violating her son's Due Process Rights to life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. The Supreme Court had to decide if the lower courts properly decided if Wisconsin denied the child those rights.  The answer was no - they did not violate his Due Process rights because the constitution does not mandate that the state protect citizens from private harm. And because the state did not remove him, they did not contribute to his situation being more worse than if he had never been on their radar in the first place.

Two Supreme Court judges disagreed with the ruling.  Both found that because DSS was involved and DSS is the end all be all of child protection in the state (making decisions, being notified, investigating), their failure to remove him was just like failing to give a prisoner reasonable medical treatment, thus violating Due Process.  I have to say I agree 100% with the dissenting judges.

It totally derailed my studying for the night. It triggered all of my feelings about protecting my kids and protecting Solana from the same experiences that Sarah has had. The court cases swirling at the Texas and New York State levels calling for kids to be moved out of the system in a reasonable time frame because it is denying their rights to safely and permanency. And how ridiculous is it that we live in a country that doesn't seem to get that kids need stable, safe, loving homes.  That our laws are written in such a manner that a man beat his child so severely that he ends up institutionalized and the state that was aware had no responsibility to that kid. The fact that the judges compared this case to the landmark cases about the care of prisoners, tells us something. 

Let that sink in.  To determine if what the state did was right or not, the facts were compared to the case about the mistreatment of a prisoner.

This boy, could have been my kids.  The case was from 1989 but it seems, not much has changed.  Sure my children weren't physically abused but they were neglected. Neglected so severely that they had no idea how to form basic relationships or trust adults. They had no idea how to be apart of a family.  Incident after incident and they kept returning my kids to their Mom.  Made me think of Cherub Mamma's kiddos.  Daisy who is still bouncing around the system with her sister and the adorable Russell who was abused so badly that Cherub Mamma is undergoing an investigation because he re-fractured a previous break at her home. And the state finally steps in to remove these kids and still, does nothing to move them along into stable, permanent homes, even when they are in an adoptive home, within a reasonable timeframe.  Stella has been bouncing around for 11 years now.  I think 11 years is long enough.

This particular week's lesson is on Public Policy vs the Rights of individuals.  I have a feeling this is going to be a tough thing for me to separate.


 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ramblings

I've long held the believe that it wouldn't be possible for me to love a child I birthed more than a child I adopted. Or even fostered. I've been chewing on that idea for a week now. Considering the feelings that are tied up in the Fab Four and then my kids, and now Solana, my head is in a really weird place.

I rock this 15 lb ball of smiles who holds her own bottle and reaches for me when I enter a room and I wonder at how quickly you can fall in love. And then I feel guilty that my feelings for Simon, Smiley, Sarah and Stella didn't develop as quickly. Even though now, I feel them just as strongly. I had an interesting discussion with a co-worker who just came back from maternity leave and she talked about how her bond with her new baby was slower than it was with her first child. (Why don't women talk about this?)

I'm asked pretty frequently by friends how I feel now that we are adopting.  Given Jelly Bean's extreme behavior and mental health issues the real question no one is gutsy enough to ask is, am I relieved we didn't adopt the Fab Four?

And if I'm being honest, yes I am. 

You wouldn't choose for your child to be sick so it's an odd thing to "choose" to keep a child who is, if given the choice. Someone told me that I "dodged a bullet"  when the Fab Four went home. It was a Mom who had an adult son with autism. It made me angry at the time, but now I understand where she was coming from.

Life with Jelly Bean would always be rough. And while we could have gotten her stable, we would have had to work so very hard at it. And to be honest, I don't want to have to work that hard.

Sure we have worked hard with the Quartet to help them heal. We have done gobs of attachment therapy and changed our parenting style dramatically. But we have not had to work as hard on our hardest day with these kids, that we had to on a "good" day with Jelly Bean. At this point, my kids are behaving pretty close to "typical" or at least way closer than they were 2 years ago. And while we have days that are more challenging, most days the trauma related stuff is a blip vs. a major blow up. And I can imagine days where there is no blip at all. So of course, I would choose this.

So here is the head trip, I don't feel guilty about that. I love those children but I am so glad I don't have that responsibility right now.

Everyone keeps asking how we are doing with 5 kids. We are good. Amazon shows up everyday because I'm not taking 5 kids to the store unless I have to, and Peapod grocery delivery is my friend and I am looking forward to when I can sleep through the night again, but Solana is really the piece I didn't know I was missing so the added challenge of a baby feels worth the hassle. 

Seeing Hubby with Solana is an experience I am glad I've had. He's amazing to her and I love him more for it. 


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dear Well Meaning Staff Member

Dear Well Meaning Staff Member,

I am so very glad you are there to look after my kiddos during the lunch hour. Their teachers need the break and so do the kids. I am also glad you know my children well enough to know that they have siblings in the same school. However, next time you think one of my children doesn't have on a warm enough coat, please come to me. Or her teacher, or the principal. Whatever you do, please don't ask her sister if she has a warm enough coat.

Since you are paying attention you probably know that they receive the free lunch program. So maybe you assumed that we were needy, which would explain why you thought the coat you deemed inappropriate for today's mild weather might be her only one. My children receive the free lunch because they are in foster care and under the state and federal programs they are entitled to this benefit. The same as they are entitled to medical care.

Not that I owe anyone an explanation about why my kids take advantage of something they are rightfully entitled to, but we do the free lunch because it makes our mornings run smoother. Four school aged kids is a lot of work and the free lunch is less about the cost and more about the convenience. Now that might seem unfair to those that need the financial help, but my time is stretched thin organizing visits, therapy, caseworker and licensing worker visits, GAL discussions, and CASA meetings. Not to mention court and team meetings in addition to my responsibilities as a mother to four school aged kids who all have homework every night who also works a full time job and goes to grad school. We also welcomed an infant into our household so while this is something we could absolutely pay for, the time savings it proves is a great help to me as the person trying to give them the childhood they did not have before they met me.

Your concerned question to my daughter about her sister, while well intentioned, was actually hurtful to my kid. While she couldn't conjure up a specific memory, somewhere in her mind she knew that a not warm enough coat would raise the alarm. She knows this because she was, in fact, removed from her biological mother's care because of such neglectful behavior. 

You couldn't have known that. I only learned of it while pouring through the redacted documents sent to me to piece together the life of my children so I could finalize the decision to adopt them. But she was removed for that circumstance and your comment and concern to her made her feel unsafe. She worried all day that someone would call the hotline and she would be removed from me. Because that did happen to her.

We have spent the last two years working very hard to reassure her she was safe and finally in her forever home. We have been promising her that THIS Mom (and Dad) would take care of her after nearly a dozen different "Moms" had been placed in her life. You unraveled some of her stability today and I would ask that next time you are concerned about a child's home life, you discuss it with an adult and not another child. 

That being said, thank you for caring about my kid. I have often wondered where all the people were in their life that they went for so long without being noticed. I pray that if there are children in crisis in the school, that you pick up on it and raise the alarm through proper channels. And while we did have to do some repairs of today's exchange, it did give us a chance to praise her for sharing her worry. A few months ago she would not have, spending her days worrying and nights having nightmares.

For the record, her sister does have a warmer coat. In fact, she has two. She also has snow pants and boots and generally wears gloves, a hat, and a scarf in case you were wondering.

Sincerely,

Foster Mom R




Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fab Four

At the beginning of December I stumbled across a fabulous coat sale at Macy's So I bought my kiddos coats and also some for the Fab Four as well. I haven't seen them since July but we have Facebooked and texted here and there. So I totally guessed at the sizes. 

The weekend I had planned to give them the coats we were supposed to go to the indoor Waterpark with them. Then Solana came, all of us were sick and it just seemed to hard to make it happen. So the coats sat here because the Fab Four live an 1 1/2 away now and it's too hard to get out there with 5 kids and all the other stuff we have going on. 

We had had a pretty mild winter so far but the temps in Chicago dropped way down this weekend and I wanted to get the coats to the kids. Hubby volunteered to bring them out there and we face timed for a good 20 minutes. 

Jelly Bean and Gabby had the most to say. I actually haven't seen Jelly Bean since June and she has hit puberty which was a little shocking for me. She is in 6th grade now and seems to be doing well. She mentioned her and Gabby are getting along better (they are now in the same school) but that she doesn't have any really good friends at school. (This doesn't surprise me. Jelly Bean has a hard time with her emotions and social appropriateness.) She of course asked to see Solana because she loves babies .

Gabby told me she quit band. She's got solid Bs so far for 8th grade and she chopped her hair off. She shared that they are moving to a rented house next month and she's worried about making new friends. 

Mr. Mohawk was actually more interested in talking than normal. He of course asked to see the dog even though he didn't remember the dog's name. He spent some time showing me some things and spoke about school. When I said goodbye and told him Ioved and I missed him, he shrugged and said "goodbye".

I have to say, that moment was a little hard as I've watched my own kids do the same thing to Sheila. He doesn't remember me as his Mom. He has no connection to me, other than through his sisters, and therefore he doesn't love or miss me. I suppose I feel grateful that he doesn't remember foster care but the part of me that stayed up with him through nightmares, and stomach flu and wiped his chocolate frosting smears off the walls misses that little boy. Of course, that little boy no longer exists either. It's a very odd thing.

Little Mama did have much to say. She said hi and then went to her room. Which I suppose is normal for a teenager. 

Hubby called on the way home. He was very upset and crying. (He doesn't not cry. My grandmother's funeral, when the kids left, and the few times we've seriously discussed divorced are pretty much it.) I normally don't share his feelings (because they are his) but I think this illustrates how hard this can be. We talked about why he was so upset. He said he felt distant while there. He said he didn't know if it was like that because they have moved on without us or if it was where they have moved on to. The life they lead is very different from ours and it reminded him that the dreams we dreamt for them while they were "ours" are not the dreams we hold for them now.

Maria is doing as well as she can and is hoping to move to a rented house next month. She dreams of buying it which is amazing and so far from where she was 2 years ago. But it means a school change for the kids and further from her support network and that could be hard on the family and their stability.

I pointed out its been almost 6 months since we've seen them and the last time it was in the role as "parent". I also pointed out that seeing them may have ripped off the bandaid covering the grief of their leaving and with Solana having a return home goal, that some of the fear about her leaving was probably bubbling to the surface.

Everyone always says, "I don't know how you can say goodbye. It would be so hard." And the truth is, it is. And it continues to be. We made the best of it and when they went home our biggest fear was they would disappear and we wouldn't know where they were in the world. I think it's hard to see them now because they have, to some degree, disappeared. The children who lived with us only exist in our hearts. In the photos that captured those moments. Now we can only standby and watch.

The idea that we may have to have this same experience with Solona is terrifying. I cannot begin to explain how quickly and completely I loved her the minute she was placed in my arms. And the same goes for Hubby, who never, ever wanted a baby. I think it shocked him, actually and I think the possibility that one day we will have to hand her over and then pick ourselves up really scares him too. 

So we cried together on the phone trying to understand these emotions that come out of nowhere. These are emotions no one ever talks about in the training. This is what after the goodbye is like. It still fucking sucks. Not as much as not knowing anything at all, but it still sucks.

I HATE the not knowing part of foster care and we thrusted ourselves right back into it. We spoke with the therapist at length about this, this week. She said we have to do what's best for Solana. And what's best is to be all in so that her attachment to caregivers is healthy and strong. And I have thrown my whole self into it. It came so much easier than it did when the kids came to live with us. But here is my deep dark secret: what if she goes home and I get knocked down so hard, I can't get back up? The therapist told me not to "borrow trouble" which was excellent advice. However, we were so broken when the Fab Four left and this time it's not just Hubby and me. 

I know our reasoning was sound and I have faith it's all going to be ok because we've come this far. But if I'm being really honest, these thoughts have been weighing on me and seeing the Fab Four brought them out in the open.