Monday, June 29, 2015

Little Things

I think we all know -- theoretically -- that small acts of kindness or thoughtfulness can build up into waves of positivity. Or that what seems like a small act to us can seem like a big gesture to another person receiving or even viewing that choice. I got a reminder of this fact last week, which I hope will inspire me to continue choosing to do the small things.

It was Vacation Bible School week. The story for the day was about the feeding of the 5000 and the directions called for me to bring in actual bread to break in front of the children and then pass the basket of pieces around to allow each child to take a piece. The author of the instructions had thought about food allergies and sensitivities, but their proposed solution was that I use a picture of a loaf to break and skip the passing around.

I didn't much like that idea. I asked the overall organizer of VBS for a list of food allergies, but never got it. (She was a little swamped as a stomach bug ran through our volunteers and attendees.) So, the day before the breaking of the bread, I asked each group leader as they left my room if they had any gluten or other food allergies in their group. I had a few no-gluten kids passing through, but no dairy or egg allergies. One group leader (the youngest group -- rising 1st graders) said she would tell the child's parent about the lesson and ask that an alternate snack be sent that day.

That wasn't the only class with a gluten-free child, however. So, when I went to the store to buy the bread to break, I simply picked up a small package of gluten-free sandwich rolls from the freezer case at my grocery store. It was small thing to me. No extra trip. Not a large outlay of money. Just a few extra steps and a few extra dollars. (For good measure, I picked one that was also dairy free and made in a nut-free facility, although I think it did contain eggs.)

The next morning, on the day of the feeding of the 5000, the parent of that 1st grader came rushing into my room before VBS started, asking what we were doing with bread today. She had forgotten the alternate snack. I showed her what I had bought (label still on for her to read) and explained my plan. I could almost see some of the stress leave her face as she assured me that what I had purchased would be OK for her child to eat.

But the really big moment? Wasn't just helping another mom ensure her child had something safe to eat and would not be excluded from the class lesson. (Although that would have been big enough.)

The really big moment came later in the day. I had noticed her child's reaction when I asked the group if anyone needed gluten-free bread and held up an alternate basket -- big eyes and a hand shooting into the air to claim that bread. But I hadn't thought anything much of it until the parent came by to see me towards the end of the day. She said her child had been "so excited" that I'd had an option ready for her.

It was a small thing for me to do. I just picked up one little extra loaf while I was in the store anyway. But, by doing that, I was able to include children who might otherwise have felt left out. Everyone got a piece of bread. And isn't that what the story is really about anyway? We were all fed, and there was bread to spare. For everyone.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What I know...

...is still not a whole lot.

I know:
  • Kayla is certainly pregnant. She posted pictures on Facebook that make it obvious and confirmed the pregnancy in the comments when asked.
  • the implication (by the pictures) is that this baby has the same father as M. (Which means no paternal family members likely to be possible placements if one is needed.)
  • Kayla also said (in the Facebook comments) that this new baby is also a girl. I think that means she has to be at least 15-20 weeks along (4-5 months pregnant), but I don't know how long she's known that.
  • Kayla was due in court last week for one case and this week for a different one (neither related to DFCS cases).
I don't know:
  • when the photos on Facebook were taken
  • what the actual estimated due date is
  • what happened in court on either of those dates or even what sort of court it was. (I can see the charges on the court's website. The list on the docket makes both court dates look like "arraignments," but I thought those had to be within a certain amount of time after the arrest and at least one of these arrests seems to have happened months ago.)
  • whether Kayla is still taking drugs
  • whether she will make it to the due date this time (M was over 2 months early, but spent the first 5 weeks of her life in the NICU)
  • whether anything she says on Facebook is actual fact (She has said other things on Facebook in the last year or so that I know are not true.)
We have one more piece of paperwork to complete before our home is officially "open" (but only for this particular baby) again. That status will be valid for 1 year. For 3 years after that, we can "reopen" with minimal effort on our parts. So, I'm feeling pretty good about our readiness to be a resource if M's new baby sister needs a foster family. At least, our legal readiness. Not so sure about my emotional and physical readiness to take in another newborn or to have 5 kids, but who's ever really ready for those things.

It feels safe to assume (based on the photos on Facebook) that nothing will happen this month or next. That's good; it means the odds are good that, if this baby comes to us, the 3 older kids will all already be back in school and the routines will have been established that help them get up and off every morning. It also means the odds are good that I will have completed the first semester of my coursework; I am only taking one class a semester, so am hoping I can maintain that, even if we take in another baby.

I keep saying "If." "If" "If" "If."

I'm protecting my heart right now. I don't know if this new baby will come to us. I have no control over that. I've done all I can. We will soon be legally ready. We have told the agency caseworkers what the situation is. They have told the county caseworkers that we are available. All I can do is pray that this is enough...or that it isn't, if this baby doesn't belong with us after all. 

We've said nothing to anyone else. Nothing to the kids, nothing to our families, nothing to the friends who have been our best supports as a foster family, nothing to anyone in our church. I find myself occasionally imagining the look on the nursery staff's faces one day when I show up with a toddling M (whom they adore) and another new baby....

It feels like a big secret we're keeping from everyone right now. But, given how little we know, I am confident that discretion is the right course at this point. When I know the baby is born, when I know she is being taken into custody, when I know where she is going....then I can share that with others in the circle. But, right now, no one else needs to know.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Unbelievable

I had a message on the answering machine today from the county that placed L & O with us way back in 2011. A very friendly lady's voice said she was calling about Baby Brother.

I have had no real contact with anyone involved in their cases since he was here as a respite placement about 2.5 years ago. Last I heard, L & O were placed with their father (out of state) and Baby Brother was still in foster care, still with the family for whom we did that weekend of respite; they still wanted to adopt him, but the TPR process on his mother was dragging out. In fact, our agency caseworker missed M's Intent to Adopt paperwork signing because she had to attend a TPR trial on his case. He's got to be several months past 3 by now and has been in foster care since he was about 10 months old.

I called the number back, gave my name and said she'd left me a message about Baby Brother. She said she was the new caseworker and wanted to set up a time to come out and meet us.

I about dropped the phone.

I explained that we weren't his placement. We did a respite weekend once. She apologized, said the case file was disorganized and she hadn't been sure if we were the placement or a respite provider, but she didn't have anything more recent than that.

Nothing more recent than 2.5 years ago.

I don't even remember the name of the family that is caring for him, but they are with my agency, so I gave her that info. Then I texted my agency caseworker to tell her about it.

This is how it happens, folks. This, right here, is how children fall through the cracks in the foster care system. He's just a lucky one because he's in a good home that loves him.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Radio Silence

M's biological mother has not responded to any attempts at contact from the caseworker.

The Facebook page I've been stalking since M's case started has had no new updates for months and it has now apparently had its privacy settings adjusted, so I can't see anything. I can find other older pages, but no newer ones.

Other online searches are turning up nothing.

The person who told me about the pregnancy told me that Kayla is "keeping a low profile." I assume that means that she hasn't been able to find out more either.

I'm sure she's hiding from DFCS, knowing they will be "monitoring" her during her pregnancy.

I'm worried that it will also mean that she's minimizing her prenatal care, possibly putting the baby at risk. With M, she may have tried having the baby in neighboring state to avoid DFCS knowing about it. (That didn't work.) I'm scared that this time she'll try having the baby at home. If she'd done that with M, they most likely would have both died.

I've tried every avenue I can think of to reach out to her without crossing the boundary lines we set as a family.

There's nothing I can do. I pray for her daily: for her safety, for her mental health, that she will find the strength and discernment she needs to make good choices for herself and her child. I'm trying desperately to leave this at the foot of the cross and let God take over from here, but this is a hard thing to let go.

As best I can tell, one of several things could happen now. Option 1: We will never hear anything at all. I will have to assume in that case that she miscarried or the baby was stillborn. That will be the only conclusion that will allow me to sleep at night, because the alternatives are that she had the baby and either successfully hid him/her from DFCS (what kind of medical care can a newborn hidden from the state be getting?) or that DFCS removed the child but didn't even let our agency know to potentially place with us. Option 2: We will get a phone call in a few months telling us the baby was born and asking if we are still interested in being a placement either immediately or "just in case" something shows up during a protective order.

I supposed there's a 3rd option where we get some information about a due date or her health at some point along the way, but I'm thinking those two are the most likely. It's really hard for me to set this aside and tell myself that "someday, if we're needed, I'll get a call...."

Friday, May 8, 2015

Update on our Limbo Land

So, where do things stand here?

Well, we should be able to get the home re-opened. Apparently the "grace period" involves being closed for a couple months while we get caught up on our hours, but then we just have to do the same re-evaluation process we would have done last month anyway. And since we're closing "in good standing", we should be able to offer our home as a placement for the new baby if it's needed, even if that happens before the re-eval is all typed up and submitted. So, we're getting our hours wrapped up, including our CPR training, and then will do the re-evaluation visit with a caseworker. I should be done with my hours by the end of this month; Mr D might need some time in late June or even early July.

Anna (the agency caseworker) discovered that the phone number she had for Kayla (M's biological mother) is disconnected. I told her I also have some pictures of M I'd love to get to Kayla if she wants them, so she's going to try to reach her through Facebook or through the DFCS caseworkers who are supposedly "monitoring the situation." Hopefully, she can at least learn the due date. It would be nice to know that much, just to get a sense of when this might all start happening. If the tip I got was right, she was "about 5 months pregnant" about two weeks ago. That means a due date in late August? M was 2 months early, but didn't need a foster home for the first 5 weeks because she couldn't leave the NICU yet anyway. The timing may be tight, but I think we can be ready for the worst case scenario.

I think, if the baby does come to us, we will go the route you suggested, Cherub Mama. There'll be a crib in our bedroom, but also pack-n-plays in other parts of the house, like the office and living room. Our bedroom will be the official "place the baby sleeps", while reality will probably vary from night to night so that whoever isn't doing the feedings has chance at sleeping through them. Daytime naps can definitely be in our room. We're allowed to do that for the first year. Once the baby sleeps through the night, we can move the crib into M's room, but do the same "in reality, the baby sleeps wherever is most convenient for that particular stretch of sleep." If the baby is a girl, she can share a room with M indefinitely. If the baby is a boy, we have until M turns 3 before we have to figure out something else....and for now, I think we'd just be hoping that the case is over before M turns 3.

I'm still trying to hope that this baby doesn't need us and that it's for good reasons (like M's mother being clean and stable or the new baby's father having family that can take him/her in). I feel a little bit of guilt about how much I don't really want to do this; but I want even less to not do it if it's needed. If that makes any sense!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Choices

So, the biggest hurdle for us potentially taking in another baby is the sleeping arrangements.

We've got, realistically, 3 options that seem possible. (We've ruled out some options; No to construction to add another bedroom -- Even if we leave aside the financial question, that would probably cause our house to be difficult to sell down the road. No to placing the infant in my (very large) master bedroom closet -- caseworker says the "room" has to have 2 exits, usually a door and a window. No to moving.)

Option 1: Put Peter and Edmund back into the same bedroom.

Pros: 
  1. They've shared before, beginning when they were 6 and 10. 
  2. They are both permanent family members, so the state cares less about their sleeping arrangements than it will about the baby's.
Cons: 
  1. When they started sharing before, they were both in elementary school. They are now 10 and 15, 5th and 9th grade.
  2. Their daily schedules are wildly different. Peter is in extracurricular sports activities and often up working on homework or just relaxing in his room until 10pm; Edmund's bedtime is 8pm. Next school year, Edmund will start school later, so could stay up later, but will then also not need to get up in the morning until after Peter has left for the day.
  3. Lately, they have been sniping at each other a lot. Nothing especially nasty or worrisome, just typical brothers-who-can't-help-point-out-each-other's-mistakes.
Option 2: Put the baby in M's room.

Pros:
  1. Umm. It means the boys don't have to share a room?
Cons:
  1. M is a light sleeper. She sleeps well through the night and sleeps through noise outside her room, but if you so much as open her bedroom door, she wakes up. There's no way she'd sleep through a baby needing night-time feedings.
  2. When M is awake, she is noisy. She talks and babbles and screeches. She will be perpetually waking the baby as soon as she herself is awake.
  3. M is too little to understand that she might need to be quiet if the baby is asleep.
  4. If the baby is a boy, we are only allowed to do this until M is 3 years old. (Unless we finalize his adoption before then. Given how fast M's case went, that's entirely possible as she will likely be about 18 months when the baby is born.)   
Option 3: Put the baby in our room.

Pros: 
  1. This causes the least disruption to the rest of the household
Cons:  
  1. We're not even sure we're allowed to do this. When M first came, she was in our room in a Pack-n-Play because the respite boys were in the room that was to be hers and one of them was in her crib. The caseworker said it was OK "for now" because of the special circumstances of the respite boys being here for a short term. I don't remember whether it was the "in our room" or the Pack-n-Play part that was a potential problem. (I seem to recall the Pack-n-Play was not considered a "suitable" bed by the state. I'm not certain if that was the only issue or if she was supposed to have her own room, too.)
  2. If we are allowed to do this, I'm sure there is an age limit after which the baby has to move out of our room.
  3. Mr D is a pretty light sleeper. The Pack-n-Play tends to be a little noisy. M was also a noisy sleeper -- making little sighing and grunting noises in her sleep a lot. If this baby is similar, Mr D will not sleep well. And when Mr D doesn't sleep well, he is cranky. 
  4. How to put this delicately? I'm not comfortable being intimate with my husband with someone else in the room, even a newborn that's unlikely to notice or care what we're doing. Hence, I'm a little concerned about our marital relationship with this option.
I suspect we'll end up with some sort of hybrid, like:

Option A: We set up rooms as though the baby is sleeping in M's room, but actually s/he usually sleeps in a Pack-n-Play in the office. 

Pros:
  1. Nobody is really sharing a bedroom
  2. Everyone has as much of a chance at normal sleep as is possible with a newborn in the house.
Cons:
  1. We're lying to CPS. 
  2. The office contains computer equipment used by Mr D for work and by the children for school. This equipment would be off-limits when the baby is asleep?
  3. The office also contains our answering machine, which I'm not sure can be relocated.
Option B: We start out with the baby sleeping in our room, but move him/her to M's room when s/he begins sleeping through the night.

Pros:
  1. We're not lying to CPS
  2. Having the baby in our room has an approximate end-date
Cons:
  1. Mr D still won't sleep well for however many months it takes for the baby to sleep through the night.
  2. M will be older -- probably 2 -- when she's expected to begin sharing "her" room. (Is that a Pro or a Con? Not sure.)
Option C: The baby sleeps in our room, but we actually sleep on the sofa bed in the living room. (Again, this probably a temporary thing until the baby sleeps through the night or Peter and Edmund get to ages where they can share a room again.)

Pros:
  1. Nobody is really sharing a bedroom   
  2. We're not really lying to CPS. (Although we would probably make it look as though we were still sleeping in our own bedroom.)
  3. Sometimes it might be just Mr D sleeping on the sofa bed, while I do night-time feedings in our bedroom.
Cons:
  1. We have less privacy overall sleeping in our living room (it doesn't have doors). 
  2. This has to be temporary, but it's harder to say what will be the end-date.
Option D: The baby does actually sleep in my master closet, but we tell CPS that s/he is sleeping in M's room or in our room.

Pros:
  1. It really is big enough to be a small room, which is all a baby needs. 
  2. No one is really sharing a bedroom, as the closet has its own door. 
Cons:
  1. We're lying to CPS again. And this lie is much harder to keep hidden, as the things currently in my closet would have to be moved elsewhere to make room for the baby. And then, when caseworkers come visit, I have a completely empty closet? 
  2. Also temporary, also a vague end-date.