Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Moments That Break Your Heart

She's 3. She's chatty and bossy and hilariously funny in the way that 3 year olds are when they are telling you how it is. Then, she drops a box of toys; it opens, undamaged, and the toys spill out onto the floor. She shrinks into herself, arms held tight against her chest, hands curled up tense. She looks up at you, wide-eyed, and begins chanting: "Sorry! Sorry!"

What is this child used to happening to her when she spills something?

She's 7. She just got back from a visit with her father, who gave her an expensive electronic device. Time for the nightly phone call with Mom. Of course, she's full of her new toy from Daddy. First words out of Mommy's mouth are, "So, Daddy's buying your love again, huh?"

As I tuck her in that night, she begins to cry, saying she just wishes her Mommy and Daddy were together. At a loss, I tell her I know she does and I'm sorry. I try to assure her that they both love her, no matter what. She says Mommy says Daddy doesn't love any of them anymore.

He's 6. You've just told him that he gets to go home and live with Daddy. With no joy in his eyes, he asks you, "And then will they come take me again?"

He's 3. When he wakes in the night, he wanders into other people's bedrooms and begins to play with their toys. He's surprised and confused that this isn't considered appropriate behavior. When he's told he must stay in his own room at night, he sobs "I want my mommy."

At any age. It's time to call Mommy (or Daddy). They are excited to talk to their parent, tell them about the exciting events of the day. We get voicemail. After 3 tries to both numbers, it's clear there will be no conversation tonight after all.

He's 3. Mom made a "surprise" appearance at a school event. The first thing he says to her is, "Are you here to take me home?"

She's 8. Mom comes to a routine medical appointment. With her daughter sitting next to her, she casually begins talking about how "her father" (with a gesture) broke her jaw and knocked out this tooth 3 years ago.

They're going to spend a few days in respite care (with another foster family to give us a break). I remind them that "Miss Y" will pick them up and take them to see Mommy on Saturday, just like every week. The 8 year old pouts -- she was hoping being at the respite family's house meant she got to skip the visit with Mom.

He's written a letter to his father, who lives out of state, but is being considered for a kinship placement. The letter opens: "I think I deserve to live with you and Mommy."

She's 8. She know what Facebook is, but does not know that Barnes & Noble is a bookstore.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

There's just so much uncertainty in foster care.

When R and A came to us, we were told they would be long-term -- a year or more, maybe turn into foster-to-adopt! They'd been in care before, surely the judge would want to be thoroughly convinced before sending them home. Later that same day, the judge had sent them home.

When we were first called about L and O, we were told it would be short-term -- probably no more than a week or ten days at the most -- but that they had to come to us in the next hour or so. We rushed to get rooms ready, then spent a week or two waiting for the phone call to pack them up. Which never came.

Then we registered her for school, got serious about his toilet training, hoped to get all her dental work completed before the 3 month court date, enrolled him in speech therapy. That 3 month court date came and went and still they stayed. Next court date is 3 months away, after Christmas.

Suddenly, there was a family member home study being done in a different state, hoping to get them approved before "the holidays." The date for that approval passed, with not a comment from anyone about how it turned out. Is it still in process? We don't know.

Next, we heard about another family member, local, DFCS expecting to have their home study done before Thanksgiving and hoping for approval before Christmas. Thanksgiving arrived, with no word on the status of their paperwork.

As we inched into December, I emailed the caseworker. "Any news on that relative in-state? Did you get the paperwork you needed?" No response for over a week, then an update that they were waiting on the relative to get her drug test and fingerprinting done. They won't be moved before Christmas now.

Thankfully, L and O knew nothing about these faint hopes for reunification with family. They know only what we have repeatedly told them: You'll be here as long as it takes your parents to do what they need to do. We don't know what all they need to do and we don't know when they'll be done or how long it will take. We're sorry. When we know something for sure, we will tell you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas is . . . not what I expected

We thought we were prepared for Christmas with foster kids.

We talked to Peter, Susan, and Edmund about how blessed they are with things and how the children coming to stay with us might have never had much. We talked about how our new family members might have never learned to care for toys or books the way we do and that we would have to be patient and understanding with a child that seemed greedy (wanting all the toys the belong to them) or careless (ripping pages or throwing things around). We talked about the realities of poverty. As we talked, we felt very virtuous and honorable--never a good sign! We thought that our children might learn a lot from this experience about how to count their blessings.

Then L and O arrived. With a DS (which our children do not--and will never--have). First visit with Dad, L came home with an mp3 player (which our children do not have). Dad wanted to get her a cell phone (which our children do not -- and will not until they can pay the bill themselves -- have); that was vetoed by DFCS, thankfully.

Peter is a smart and observant kid. It wasn't long before he commented privately to Mr D about the discrepancy between Dad's claim that more frequent visits aren't possible because they cost too much and the amount of "stuff" L and O bring back from every visit.

When we chose to foster, and imagined having children with us for Christmas, we expected to need help providing gifts for the holidays. We've donated to those charities--"make sure no child has to wake up Christmas morning to no gifts under the tree!" When it became clear that L and O would be with us for Christmas, we asked how that worked. Well, they'll have a visit with each parent (since they aren't together) at it's regular time, which will be when they celebrate Christmas; you can give restrictions on things that will violate your house rules. And this charity and that one both want wish lists from you for each child. Don't duplicate anything on the lists, because you'll get everything on them. We'll get the items to you ahead of time--unwrapped--and you can choose what to give from whom. Don't spend any of your own money. In fact, don't feel like you have to give everything from the charity for Christmas--you may want to put some of it back and save it for birthdays or behavior rewards.

L and O had their Christmas visit with Dad last weekend. They came home with a black garbage back full each. Plus 3 large toys each. Plus a scooter each. But no helmets. And O, at age 3, was given toy that is clearly marked as for "8 and up." He was also given an inflatable punching toy. The child who has repeatedly had issues with aggressive behavior towards other kids and has been given a simple, strict rule: We don't hit. Anything. Ever. So, now we get the be the Grinches who took away the 3 year old's Christmas presents, all because Dad can't use some basic common sense.

Can't wait ti see what Mom gives them!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Milestone, of sorts

Today, L wore pants for what I am pretty sure is the very first time since she came to us 5 months ago. (She's a skirt and dress kind of girl.)

Probably has something to do with the fact that it's below freezing . . . and I told her that leggings wouldn't keep her legs warm enough. And then vetoed the idea of wearing both tights and leggings.

Might also have to do with the fact that I reminded her she has a pink sparkly sweatsuit that her dad gave her . . .

Monday, December 5, 2011

All Foster Agencies are Not Created Equal

I've just finished reading over the entire archives of this blog, written by a single woman foster-parenting in New York City. It's fascinating and terrifying and inspiring all at once. She is so dedicated to her (former) foster kids and is willing to be a part of of their lives post-reunification at a level that I don't think I could handle. (Which periodically has me questioning whether I'm really all in this thing or not, but that's a post for another day.)

Reading over her archives has brought one thing to my attention repeatedly. Mr D and I got really lucky.

If you're considering fostering and looking at fostering with an agency, do some research. I don't think Rebecca did and her agency support has been abysmal. Mr D and I didn't either and our agency support has been amazing. (Hence, the statement that we got really lucky.)

The county caseworker assigned to L and O's case has said more than once that our agency had "the best foster parents." She told me that she calls our agency looking for new placements before calling the foster parents on file directly with her county. My agency caseworker has told me that this is true of other counties as well.

My agency caseworker commented on the increased workload required under the "new contract with the state" that the agency has just signed. She was listing all the things she is now required to do as a part of the team and talking about how the agency is looking to hire more caseworkers, since each case is requiring more time. The county caseworker laughed and said that was because our agency "actually does that stuff!"

There is a ton of volunteer-provided support with our agency. Volunteers provide transportation for the kids from my home to their family visits; volunteers are cleared for short-term babysitting so my husband and I can have a date night; volunteers are trained and cleared for respite care and foster families are encouraged to take 1 weekend a month, consistently using the same respite family so that the kids' visit to them becomes like a weekend with extended family; volunteers may bring food, clothing, or baby equipment. The paid staff supervises visits, attends court dates, makes sure paperwork is filed, and keeps me in the loop with all communications between the state DFCS, bio parents and anyone else involved in the case. They also provide regular training, complete with free child care staffed by state-approved baby-sitters.

When I read Rebecca's blog, she talked about feeling attacked by her agency, as they reported the bio mom's accusations to her early in her time with Jacket. I can't help but compare to my own agency's response to concerns about L and O's interactions. I asked for guidance on how to react when their mother undermines my authority in their presence -- providing O with something I had just told him he could not have. In response, their mother was angry that I bought L a Halloween costume, and insisted that it "wasn't my place" to do that because she "had said she was going to." (It was a week before Halloween and she couldn't even remember what her daughter was asking to be. So I had offered L that we could pick up "a back-up", while buying another child a costume, in case her mother "couldn't find" what she wanted. In the end, L chose to wear the "back-up" that I had bought, rather than the costume her mother had bought -- which was still in the packaging and given back to her mother before the holiday so she could return it and get her money back.) Both the county caseworker and my agency caseworker reported the mother's comments to me. They also told me I had done nothing wrong, that the mother had been told so, and that they needed me to continue documenting every interaction so that they had the records they needed on file. It was a supportive conversation, completely opposite of Rebecca's experience. I wish she'd had the support I did!

Lesson to be learned by anyone out there considering fostering--read up on the agencies you're considering. Check out their websites, talk to their foster parents, talk to the social workers at DFCS, ask for their statistics. What sort of support do they offer their foster parents? How much staff do they have? How many cases does an average caseworker carry? How many calls for placement do they get in an average quarter? How many children do they have to decline to place because of space issues? What are the demographics of most of their cases and how well do those demographics match the children you feel equipped to foster?

A good agency wants to be able to match kids to a family that will be able to support and love them. They are dedicated to avoiding "displacement" (moving of children from one foster home to another) and one of the best ways to do that is to be sure that there is support for the foster family and that the initial placement is the long-term best solution available. (In training, my agency talked about how the counties often have to find "a bed for the night" because they have a child sitting in their waiting room with nowhere to sleep that night; our agency is dedicated to finding "a home" for kids in foster care, for as long as it's needed.) Every time Rebecca wrote about wanting to be her foster kids' "only foster home", it reminded me of my agency's attitude.

I hope Rebecca doesn't mind my linking to her, even if I am one of those "stay at home Christian foster moms"! :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


This morning at the bus stop, O gave L a big hug just before the bus pulled up. She immediately directed him towards Edmund and then Susan, making sure they got goodbye hugs, too. We've come such a long way since this day.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


There were a lot of things that we knew we'd be providing to the foster children in our care. Before we even started the training process, we were excited about offering:
  1. a safe place to sleep
  2. warm, weather-appropriate clothing
  3. plenty of food
  4. lights/heat/air conditioning that stay on
  5. warm water for bathing
By the time we'd been through the 20 hours of foster parent training that the state requires, we understood we'd also be giving:
  1. structure
  2. consistent rules and consequences
  3. help with homework
  4. a family environment in which to live
It wasn't until after L and O arrived that we saw that we were also:
  1. an example -- possibly the first one -- of a functional adult relationship
  2. teaching responsibility for one's own actions and behaviors.
I thought I knew how much I, and my children, had to be thankful for; I didn't really get it. Until a saw the lack of those things in the eyes of a child.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Well, at least foster care did that for her . . .

L's dental work -- which took 4 separate visits to the pediatric dentist, not including the initial diagnosis and cleaning -- is complete! If nothing else, being in foster care has gotten her teeth fixed. <end of pessimistic vent>

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Why is the government the only entity that is allowed to withhold the money it owes you for an indefinite period of time?

I've read the articles accusing foster parents of "making money" and so I'm hesitant to even complain. And from what I hear, we actually have it better than some foster parents, because the agency makes sure our per diem is paid every month.

The per diem is a daily rate -- a flat amount which varies based on the age of the child -- paid for each night the child spends in my home. It's supposed to help off-set some of the costs of feeding and housing an extra person. (Adding two little people has doubled our water bill. The washing machine runs 1-2 times a day, the dishwasher runs 5-6 times a week, and that doesn't even include all the water for baths, hand washing, brushing teeth, using the toilet . . . That's one utility.) The reality is that we couldn't afford to foster without that help.

We're also supposed to get reimbursed (up to a certain amount) for some expenses -- clothing, hair cuts, school supplies . . . . The reimbursement doesn't come close to covering what most kids actually need, much less the things that it seems "every body else has" -- which is why I shake my head at the idea that anybody makes money doing this -- but it means we only have to go out of pocket for the extras.

For those reimbursements, every month we fill out the form requesting the money, attach the original receipts and mail it. Since L and O arrived, I have sent 4 months worth of expenses. We haven't seen a reimbursement yet. Currently, the state owes us around $633 in reimbursable expenses. If it were anyone but the government, I could probably sue them for failing to pay within 90 days.

We aren't in it for the money. But, we also aren't really in a position to float the government a $600+ loan with no interest and no definite date for repayment. If we were also having to chase down our per diem, I think we'd be seriously considering getting out of the system because we'd be owing interest on a credit card on that money.

Honestly, it reminds me of filing a tax return. If I owe the IRS, I'd better pay on time; if they owe me, I'll get the money . . . sometime.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learning Curve

L went to the dentist this week. This is her third (but not last) visit to repair some teeth -- serious decay issues. Bio parents are encouraged to attend medical visits -- because reunification is still the goal and they are still expected to behave like a parent -- but I have to be present as well, because I'm the one responsible for the ongoing care. I need to know what she can eat and how soon and I will schedule the next appointment at my convenience, not the bio parents'.

This is the second one her mom has attended. The first time, I had arranged for a babysitter at my house for O. This time, the only approved babysitter I could find was supposed to be at work that day. I suggested that she just meet me at the appointment and play with O in the waiting room -- pediatric dentist, so lots of stuff to do out there -- so that she would be out of the office as little as possible. I won't do that again.

It was really the first time I've observed their mother interacting with the two of them at once and I saw some things that explained a lot about how both O and L behave. They aren't "bad" kids, but they honestly don't seem to understand that 'No' means 'no' and that pouting when you don't get what you want isn't OK.

The worst part was when O said he was hungry. I reminded him that we'd said we were going to eat after the dentist and he was going to have to wait. Mom gave him a snack out of her car.

I really wasn't sure what the HELL I was supposed to do. If he were my child, I'd have refused the snack on his behalf. But I'm supposed to encourage both of them to remember that he's her child, so who's in charge here?

Then L wanted some and Mom -- thank God! -- told her she couldn't have it because she was about to see the dentist. L started whining and pouting and I couldn't ignore it and told her to quit it. She stopped -- immediately! -- and Mom said she would bring her something at their next visit, then asked her if that was OK.

Wait? What?! Is that OK with the 8 year old? She's old enough to get that she can't have something because of where she is and that should be the end of it. Don't ask your child their permission for you to behave like a parent.

That evening I sent an email off to all of the contacts involved: Caseworker, CASA, foster agency consultant. I documented the visit and asked how I should have handled these (and other) things.

The CASA's response made me feel worlds better. "She's usurping your authority and someone should talk to her about it." OK, then.

I've never been very good about asserting myself, and I really hate confrontations. I hoped that I wasn't going to be told I should have said something in the waiting room -- in front of the kids? -- when she handed over a snack I had said would not be forthcoming.

The reaction was quite the opposite. Email after email flew through my inbox. The DFCS Caseworker would talk to her about this. I was doing a great job and showing "tremendous patience." The result of my speaking up at that moment probably would have been exactly the sort of dramatic argument I was fearing, and I was right to try to avoid that in the presence of the kids. The last one startled me the most. My agency consultant told the DFCS caseworker that if the mother continued to undermine the work I was doing with the kids, she should not be allowed to come to the medical visits anymore.

Sometimes I am so focused on the hope that the bio parents will learn to be the parents that these children deserve to have that I forget there is a reason that "parenting classes" are a part of their case plan.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We Are Not Saints

I bet every foster parent has heard it. "You are such a blessing to those children . . . I know you're doing great work . . . It's such a wonderful thing you are doing for them . . . "

I don't know how to respond to these kind, well-intentioned people without being rude. I can brush off the casual "Oh, I could never do THAT"s and the "How will you let them go?"s with relative grace and ease. But I cannot figure out how to respond to the person who is putting my husband and I personally on a pedastal.

What makes it hard is that I feel -- deep, down in my heart-of-hearts -- that they're right. We are stepping up to do a wonderful thing in opening our home and our family to children in desperate need of a stable home life. I hope to be a blessing in their lives.

BUT . . .

It's not about us. We didn't enter into foster parenting to put a trophy on the wall: "See us? Walking the walk of caring for God's people right here!"

We entered to foster parenting because we felt called to answer a need. And the NEED is where we need to place our focus, not on our wonderfulness of filling it.

Mr D and I both cringe when the praise goes on because we're afraid. Afraid that the focus is on the wrong thing. Afraid that the need will go unnoticed. Afraid we'll buy into it the personal accolades and forget why we're here in the first place.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Things I am tired of saying . . .

  • Just because you want to, doesn't mean you can (or should).
  • No means No; it does not mean ask me again in 2 minutes. (And it also doesn't mean do it anyway!)
  • It's not always about you. 
  • You can't sleep with the lights on; that's what your nightlight is for.
  • I know you want Mommy; she's not here right now. 
  • I can't really tell you [friend/acquaintance/relative stranger] anything about why they're with me. 
  • I don't know how much longer you/they will be here.

      Tuesday, October 18, 2011

      Helicopter Bio Parents

      I need to rant.

      L and O came home from a visit with their mother with his dinner still in its bag. L tells me that O didn't eat his dinner and "Mommy says I should make sure he eats."

      Not Her Job!!! I have been working so hard to help L get the concept that not everything is about her and it is not her job to parent her little brother. And her mother is undermining it every step of the way.

      Same evening, I get an email from the kids' CASA. She's been talking to their dad and he has "some concerns." He's given them clothes, but he's never seen them wear them! Well, let's see. You've seen them three times. In the three months they've been here. And most of those new clothes, you gave them at the last visit! I don't keep track of who gave them which clothes, so I haven't made any attempt to be sure that they wear "his clothes" when he's seen them.

      He's also concerned about how short and infrequent his phone calls with them have become. Well, I'm sorry, I'm not making your daughter talk to you every day when she'd rather be playing. And she's 8, so she'd always rather be playing. I'll make her talk to you a couple times a week, but if she's done after 5 or 10 minutes, she's done. Get over it. And your son? Is three. He still doesn't get that you can't see him through the phone and he's not old enough to have a conversation longer than 3 sentences. Makes for a short phone call.

      If these parents would take half the energy they waste on stupid non-issues and spend it on doing the things they need to do to get their kids back, they'd be done with me by now.

      Wednesday, October 12, 2011


      We spent a long time in foster parent training talking about judgment. The children in foster care are there for a variety of reasons, but all of them have one thing in common; no matter what their parents have (or haven't) done, they are still Mommy and Daddy.

      I'm going to repeat that. A foster child's family is still their family, no matter what has caused them to forfeit the right to parent the child at that moment.

      So we talked in foster training about how important it is for the foster family to keep this in mind. How important it is to resist the temptation to judge the child's mother or father or grandparent or whoever, even within your own mind as much as possible.

      Because the foster parents spend more time with the foster child than anyone else in the system. And kids -- especially kids from dysfunctional family backgrounds -- are quick to pick up on the subtle cues that tell them how you really feel about someone. So no matter how justified I, as a foster parent, feel I am in disapproving the choices of the parents of the children staying with me -- no matter what I KNOW they have done to deserve condemnation -- it is vitally important that I avoid judging them. If I think of the mom as a lazy woman who puts her own wants ahead of her children's needs, if I think of the uncle as an abusive asshole who deserves to be castrated with a rusty spoon, if I think of the dad as a deadbeat who never fulfills his promises, if I think of the grandmother as a batty old woman, if I think of mom's boyfriend as a scarily violent person, if I think of the parents as meth addicts who endagered the lives of their own children by cooking meth in their home(*) . . . my private opinion will color the way I speak and talk of the foster child's family. As soon as the foster child picks up on it, they are bound to feel defensive.

      It's hard enough being taken from everything you've ever known and placed with a strange family that claims to care about you even though you just met. The foster children don't need judgment of their parents from me and if they feel it, they will resist bonding with me. Could you bond with someone who thought so badly of everyone you loved? And yet, if they can't bond with me, there is only so much I can do to help them heal. Their time with me is supposed to be a safe haven -- a time in their lives when they get to see how a functional family works and where they can be assured of a safe place to sleep and plenty of food to eat.

      I thought I could do it. OK, I thought I could mostly do it. I knew it would be hard for me to "not judge" a sexual abuse offender. I knew I would have trouble encouraging a child who still loves a parent that beat them repeatedly. But I remember being tempted to throw a colicky baby over the railing of the stairs. I remember sleepless nights when I realized with horror that I understood how someone with a short fuse could shake a child to death. I know how difficult it is to kick an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

      It wasn't until we had L and O in our care that I realized I was mostly thinking about judging parents for the reason the child is in care to begin with. I didn't even think about the one area where I am having the most trouble withholding judgment. The ongoing struggle not to judge a parent for not doing everything they can to get their kids back. It is hard not to judge a parent who won't return the caseworker's calls, who moves and doesn't tell anyone where she is now, who tells the children he's doing "everything he can" to get them back and yet doesn't have a court date scheduled. I can view the history of why these kids are with me with a tolerant everybody-has-a-rock-bottom air, but I have a very hard time understanding how the loss of the right to parent your children is NOT someone's rock-bottom.

      (*) Note: none of these examples necessarily tie in to any case with which I may be involved, either currently or in the past.

      Saturday, October 8, 2011

      Relationship Drama

      Susan, Edmund and L all ride the same school bus to the elementary school. Peter rides a different (later) bus to the middle school and O is in part-day preschool, where I drive him and drop him off.

      Some mornings, O is awake and walks to the bus stop with me and the 3 elementary kids. Other mornings, he's still asleep and stays in the house while Peter finishes getting ready for school. This particular morning, O was at the bus stop.

      We could see the bus at the previous stop, picking up that load, so the kids were all lining up to get on, the line heading straight out from the curb, then curving down the sidewalk.. L was 3rd in line, Edmund 4th and Susan about 7th. L asked O for a hug and he hugged her; while hugging, she asked for a kiss, which he gave her, too. Then Edmund asked if he could have a hug, too.

      L can NOT STAND it when it looks like O might like anyone but her, especially if it's Edmund, who is younger than she is and yet in her grade and excelling. As soon as Edmund asked for the hug, she stepped between O and Edmund and asked for another hug, too, talking over Edmund as though it was a competition for O's affection. O hugged her and just looked at Edmund. He asked again for a hug and so did Susan. O walked over and hugged Susan, still looking at Edmund; L began to laugh. "He hugged her and me, but not you!" Edmund looked sad and I leaned over to O to ask him to give Edmund a hug, too, when L demanded another hug which he gave her. The bus arrived and the line started to move. As I whispered to O, "Could Edmund have a hug, too?", L began dancing on the spot, singing, "I got a hug from my brother!" Edmund teared up, and pushed at her backpack. She whipped around and snapped, "Don't hit my backpack!" just as O gave Edmund a hug.

      I told her not to gloat as they climbed on the bus. I don't know how to handle this sort of rivalry. I know she needs that love from O because she's missing it from so many other places. But I can't let her be nasty to Edmund in order to get it. I hate that she's learned somewhere that love is finite and that more love for someone else means less love for me. I hate that O has been trained to withhold affection while watching for a reaction, as though enjoying the power that it gives him.

      Edmund shouldn't have pushed her, but I'm tired of punishing him for reacting to her drama. I will not let her be an emotional bully and I will not let her train O to be one either. This is going to be one of our biggest struggles during the time they are with us -- helping them learn that love and affection are not tools to be used to hurt someone else. I hope we are up to the task.

      Tuesday, October 4, 2011


      L and O came back from a visit with their mom with some "new" clothes.  I put new in quotes because there are never any tags still on the clothes Mom brings them, although they are always introduced as "new clothes." (Dad and Grandma send them clothes too; they always identify them as either "new" or "things I already had for them and they might as well be wearing" and the new ones always have tags and I am always asked if they fit with the offer of the receipt to do an exchange if needed.) To be fair, Mom may get some of their "new" things from thrift stores, which is actually a good move on her part as she has no job and therefor no income.

      L was super excited about one particular dress -- it's got a hood! and "fur" around the skirt! and the sleeves! and I admit it's very cute. The next day was chilly and she eagerly asked to wear it and said her mother had "already made sure it was clean," so I let her. Doing the wash today . . . it's Dry Clean Only.

      Saturday, October 1, 2011

      In the Wee Small Hours . . . again

      As I approached the boys' room this morning to wake up the youngest for school, I heard voices. Specifically, I heard Peter (the oldest) say, "Would you just go get Mom?" So I opened the door.

      Well, I tried to open the door. It was locked. We don't lock doors in our house. So, irritated, I knocked.


      "It's Mom. The door is locked." Surprised voices from the other side, then my oldest child opened the door.

      At 4 am, he woke to see O in his room. O said, "Hi!" and ignored all attempts to get him to go back to his own bed. Tired, Peter went back to sleep. When I arrived at 6am, O was curled up in a fetal position in Peter's bed, fast asleep.

      Someone else is in my room and he won't leave has now been added to the list of "reasons it's OK to wake up Mom or Dad in the middle of the night."

      Saturday, September 24, 2011


      Not long after R and A had come and gone in that one whirlwind day, we got a call asking if we could do a respite weekend for another foster family.

      It's difficult to understand sometimes, but the children placed in my home are not truly "in my custody." We may be responsible for their every day needs, for making sure they get to school everyday, for seeing that they are fed and clothed and bathed, for getting them to every doctor's, counselor's or state appointment, but they are still "wards of the state." As such, the state gets to determine who can supervise them. For every news story about a foster child who died or was abused while in care, there seem to be 3 layers of laws intended to prevent such a thing from happening again. No babysitters under age 18, all caregivers must be fingerprinted, background checked, and drug screened, anyone who keeps them more than a few hours must go through the multi-hour foster parent training. This means I can't ask the teenager next door to babysit while my husband and I go grab a pizza and talk to each other and I can't ask the mom next door to host a playdate so that I can go the dentist alone.

      Respite weekends are the foster care's attempt to give foster families some "days off." Parenting foster children can be a constant wearing at the ties of the biological family. These strange kids don't follow our rules and they seem to get a lot of extra attention --- that's hard on our birth children; it's exhausting keeping up with the extra needs of children who've been through the trauma of separation from their family -- that's hard on the physical health of the parents; there seems to be little "private time" between adults and less energy to do something with it when it does happen -- that's hard on the marital relationship. So, we're supposed to be allowed "one weekend of respite care a month" where the foster children spend the weekend with a family certified to care for them and the biological family gets a chance to reconnect and rest. In practice, those weekends don't happen regularly, because finding the caregiver is difficult.

      At the time of this call, we were certified foster parents without a placement. Which made us ideal respite caregivers. We were asked to care for 3 children, ages 1, 2, and 3 in our home from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Mr D was going to be busy with work all day Saturday and I was scheduled to attend foster parent training that day -- would that be a problem? No, they could be added to the childcare at the training. We didn't have enough beds ready for 3 children of that age. Also, not a problem . . . "it's just for 2 nights." And then the truth comes out, "you're really the only option we've got." OK, then.

      The day before they were supposed to come to us, I got a call from the foster dad. The kids are sick. All 3 are running fevers and the foster mom is on the way to the pediatrician. The whole weekend might be off; he'll let us know. Friday night, we know they definately aren't coming as they are all on antibiotics. At that point, the foster dad is still hoping they'll be in good enough shape for us to have them Saturday and Saturday night. It's his biological daughter's 16th birthday and all she wants as a celebration is a nice dinner out.

      Saturday morning, they weren't well enough to send them to childcare. Could they drop them off at our place around 6, go to dinner, and come back and pick them up around 8? Initially, I said yes. Then, I talked to Mr D, who pointed out that all they really need is a babysitter for the evening. Wouldn't it be better if one of us just went to their house? Then the sick kids could go to bed at their usual time. I called the foster dad back and proposed this and he jumped on it.

      I spent about 4 hours at their house. They had the kids eating dinner when I arrived and told me their bedtime routine. After they left, I cleaned up from dinner and played with the kids for about 30 minutes. Then I gave them each a bath (translation: I supervised while they played in soapy water in the bathtub), got them into PJ's and put them to bed. When the foster family returned, they were effusive in their thanks for the evening out. It wasn't until we'd had our own longer-term placement that I understood how refreshing just a few hours can be.

      Sunday, September 18, 2011


      Edmund is our youngest. He's Mr Happy-Go-Lucky, never met a stranger, the world is a wonderful place. He's full of energy and enthusiasm and he can't sit still to save his life.

      His birthday falls a few weeks after the school age cutoff, so he started kindergarten as the oldest kid in the class. And the biggest. He's always wanted to do everything that Peter does, so he was also far advanced academically. I worried about the start of kindergarten, because I knew he'd be bored and I was afraid he'd be a discipline problem because of it. He was already comfortably reading 2nd and 3rd grade level books before kindergarten started and he could do simple addition problems in his head.

      The first week of Kindergarten, I got a call from his teacher. "Just wanted to talk about what I'm seeing with Edmund." Oh, no, I thought, Already? what's he done? What's going on? "I've got nothing in this classroom that's going to challenge him in reading, so I need your permission to do some 1st grade testing with him." Oh. OK.

      Ultimately, she worked with him so carefully and so hard that he was ready to jump over 1st grade and start 2nd grade a year early. The assessment they do to decide if this is a good move for a child looks at their social, physical and emotional development levels as well as their academics. He got a 20 out of 24 on it, and the teacher who did it pointed out that it wasn't possible for him to get all points because some of them are based on your SAT scores.

      Beginning foster care has been the hardest challenge for him, I think. He's gone from being the baby, although I frequently forget just how young he really is, to being a stand-in "big brother" for kids who may or may not want one.

      Thursday, September 15, 2011


      Susan is our second born, our only girl. She's in late elementary, an avid reader, a dog lover, and has Asperger's.

      Her spot on the autism spectrum is very much on the "high-functioning end" with some social skills that she's still struggling with and some fine motor control issues that we are working on circumventing. She has trouble understanding that she cannot always believe everything someone else says.

      She is passionate about her faith in God and is the most excited of all of the children to be involved in foster care. She knows, on an intellectual level, that she is blessed with a happy loving home that other children do not have and has leapt to the challenge of providing that to others. She's just not sure exactly how to behave with them.

      She is surprisingly good with O as well, and will play with him for as long as he's interested, then leave him alone with no hard feelings when he wants to move on to someone else. I worry that she is a little too prone to believe everything L tells her, but am grateful that our first placement has involved children with minimal behavior issues.

      Monday, September 12, 2011

      In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

      When we decided to get into foster parenting, we knew we might be given a child who did not yet sleep through the night. We were prepared for night time feedings for a baby; we were ready to train a toddler prone to wandering the house at odd hours to stay in their room at night.

      We were not prepared for last night.

      When L and O arrived, we showed them their rooms. We explained that these rooms were for them. They were certainly allowed to play with someone else in someone else's room, but we laid out a very simple rule. If a bedroom door is closed, you do not open it yourself and come on in. After L knocked on our sons' bedroom door at 6am, we clarified the rule. If the door is closed in the morning, the child in that room is not yet up and ready to play; you must wait until they open the door themselves.

      Another night, Mr D was awakened by the sound of music in the hallway at 2am. He walked out to find L in the hall, singing loudly along with her mp3 player (which had the volume all the way up). He sent her back to bed. The next day we had a conversation about what she may and may not do if she wakes up in the night. (May: Use the bathroom and return to her room. May not: Leave her room for any other reason.)

      Yesterday morning, I heard L telling one of the other kids that she'd "sleepwalked" the last two nights and "woke up in O's room!" Huh, I thought. I had my doubts that she was really sleepwalking, but made a mental note to check on who was sleeping where for the next several nights.

      When we we went to bed last night, I checked each room. Everyone in their own bed, asleep, doors closed. I awoke at 4:30am and laid in bed, not sure why I was awake. Then I heard a door close.

      I looked in L's room -- door open, no children. I looked in O's room -- door open, no children. I looked briefly downstairs, then went back up to our sons' room. Light off, boys asleep, O in the corner playing with L's DS. I whispered piercingly, "O! It is 4 in the morning! You are supposed to be in your bed, asleep!" I took the DS and walked towards the other end of the room, expecting to see L. Not seeing her in the gloom, I whispered her name, "L!" She immediately moved towards me and casually acknowledged my presence.

      I continued the harsh whisper, "What are you doing in here?! It is 4 o'clock in the morning!" I began herding both L and O towards the door, as she said -- in a normal, conversational tone of voice -- she was "just looking for something." I have rarely been so angry at a child. I put O back to bed and told him the rule I used to give my early bird son; if it is still dark outside, it is not morning and you should go back to sleep. Then, I went to L's room, where she was now snuggled under the covers.

      "We have talked about what to do when you wake up in the night. We have talked about not going into other people's rooms when they are not awake. There is no good reason for you to have been in that room just now, is there?" "No, ma'am." "You need to go back to sleep. We will talk about this in the morning."

      I never got back to sleep.

      In the morning, I reiterated the rules. I told her I had taken her DS from O and I hadn't decided yet when she was getting it back. I warned her that if this happens again, I will be taking other things.

      I am too exhausted to finish this post.

      Friday, September 9, 2011

      Who they are - O

      O is a 3 year old boy. He is talkative and cheerful, with a quick smile and an infectious laugh. It's difficult to understand everything he says, because most of his consonants are skipped or slurred. But his vocabulary is huge. And he is always talking. Always telling you about everything he sees, everything her remembers. Always asking, "Why?"

      He picks up the rules quickly. He may not always remember to follow them, and he may not like them much, but he knows them. After he's been with us for 2 weeks, he begins to show us his displeasure at having the ones he doesn't like enforced. "Naptime!" is met with a scowl, crossed arms and a seat on the steps. But we haven't seen a temper tantrum yet.

      He loves to play with cars, trains, trucks and toys that make noise. Oh, how he loves toys that make noise.

      The hardest thing to see about him is the ease with which he has accepted being in the strange house, with no one he knows. He carries the phone around the house, trying to "show" his father his room. He asks occasionally, "Mommy not here?" but my response that she isn't doesn't elicit a reaction. He parrots back "miss you" on the phone calls, but I'm not sure he means it. He lights up at being told he gets to see Mommy (or Daddy) today, but doesn't seem distressed to return to us afterwards. He's lived in so many different places in his short little life that being somewhere different is . . . normal.

      He adores his big sister. Watching the two of them confirms for me that this is one area where the foster system gets it right; to separate these two from each other would be cruel. They've lost everything else that was ever concrete in their lives. They need each other.

      After he's been with us a month or so, he gets more challenging. "Don't do that" is responded to with "but I want to!" while continuing the action. He's still getting out of bed at night and trying to sneak into his sister's bed. He wants to sleep "with his eyes open." But the defiance is still very age-appropriate. He's testing our limits -- do we mean what we say? What will we do if he doesn't obey us? -- and we are doing our best to remain calm and firm.

      Tuesday, September 6, 2011

      Who They Are - L

      L is a 7 year old girl. She seems, initially, like a "normal" child. Sometimes she's too loud or forgets to put things away; she always responds to correction with an apology, a cheerful attitude, and an immediate correction . . . which may or may not last. As time goes on, though, we realize that she is always watching. Always walking the balance of finding the "right" thing to do. She never says anything negative to anyone about anything else. She may say she doesn't want to do something, doesn't like that food, shouldn't have to go to bed then; but, she never complains to someone else.

      She has a need to always be -- or have -- the best. At everything. Her school is bigger than ours; it's pre-K through college. Her mommy is very good at cooking. And sewing. Her grandfather built that church. She's been to our school before, she thinks for a grade it doesn't offer. And the stories change when she talks to someone else. To us, "her school" (which one? in 3 years, she's attended around 8, not including daycares) is bigger and better than the one she will attend with us; to her mother, the school here is "really, really big!"

      L knows everything. She's read all those books that our 11 year old is reading. (And yet, she's still sounding out some of the words in her grade-level appropriate book.) She's changed schools so much because she's just so smart and the teachers didn't have anything to teach her. (And yet, she cannot do the grocery store math problems that my same-age child can do.) It is clear that she is very quick, very observant, and probably quite bright. But somehow, she has the impression she has nothing left to learn, while her school disruption has left her with gaps in knowledge that she should have been taught, but wasn't.

      Nothing is ever her fault, regardless of whether the event needs blame. A call of "These cars need to be put away!" is immediately answered by her with "T got them out!" She removed her toy from its charger too early "by accident." Her brother, O, falls while running in the house (against the rules) as she flees, telling him to "chase me, chase me!"; it was "O's fault" he got hurt, because "he shouldn't be running."

      She has to be a part of everything. A conversation with another child is constantly interrupted by her answering for them. I tire of gently saying, "I wasn't asking you."

      We are slowly easing her towards understanding that not everyone has to be good at everything. That everyone makes mistakes and it's OK to say, "oops, I messed up." Slowly, because some of this is her trying desperately to be in control of something - anything! - while her whole world is falling to pieces around her. The other kids in this house have 2 parents, still married, who clearly love each other, so she must have . . . everything else.

      Mr D says she's manipulative. I don't like the word, although I know what he means. Manipulative implies a negative intention, which I don't think she has. She has learned to manipulate others by playing on their sympathies in order to get what she needs or thinks she needs. After her mother tells her she doesn't want to hear about her ex-husbands new wife, L only mentions the new wife to tell her mother she got her stuck in the tubes at the playground and "isn't that good?" We have to help her learn that we will meet the true needs without the manipulation and that she cannot manipulate us in to fulfilling her desire for things that are not needs.

      What we'll never know: How much time we have to teach her these things and whether we succeed.

      Saturday, September 3, 2011

      What is "Abuse"?

      And so L and O came to us.

      They are relatively "easy" as foster kids go. They are here because of instability -- they were constantly changing homes and schools -- and because Mom got arrested. Originally, they were placed with their grandmother, the foster system always preferring to place children with family when possible. But Mom took Grandma (her mother!) to court to insist that they be returned to her. That wasn't gonna happen, so here they are in my home.

      There is bad blood between Mom and Grandma and between Mom and Dad. There's a raging custody battle that's lasted years and Dad lives out of state. Their little lives have been turned upside down and inside out for years. L is a 7 year old girl who is a sharp cookie. You can see her absorbing everything and trying desperately to keep everyone happy all the time. But they haven't been "abused" or "neglected".

      Well, they haven't been beaten. They haven't been sexually abused. They seem to have always had clothes to wear and food to eat. But . . .

      Seems to me it's "abuse" for a 7 year old girl to have to listen to her mother tell her it's all her grandma's fault that she's having to live with strangers. Or that Daddy is lying to her. Seems to me there's something wrong with a situation where Mom would rather her kids be in the care of the foster system than with her own mother.

      Seems to me the only way a 7 year old gets 7 cavities (3 of which are bad enough to need crowns) is by some sort of "neglect." Especially since both Mom and Dad had the same reaction: "What? Have you been brushing your teeth, girl?" Umm... shouldn't you KNOW? She didn't develop 7 cavities in the 2 weeks she's been here.

      It's clear to me that the 3 year old has been taught to ask for things and ignore the answer. "Can I let the dog out?" he asks; I say "no, we're about to go somewhere" and he reaches for the latch anyway. And then is startled when I stop him and repeat that I said no.

      It's clear that the 7 year old thinks that any love her brother gives someone else is less he has for her. She must be the center of his universe and she needs him to only show affection to HER. She gloats when she gets some sign of affection from anyone -- whether it's a hug or a word of praise -- as though it's always a competition to be the one who is loved the "most."

      Monday, August 29, 2011


      Peter is our first born child.

      Currently a middle schooler, he swings between extreme maturity and total regression. At his best, he is our first strong support, able to lead the foster children in appropriate behavior just by example. At his worst, he makes me want to shoot him.

      O adores him and jumps for joy when he returns home from school. Peter responds to the worship with grace and gentleness. He reaches down to hug this little preschooler with a grin that makes O's day and patiently reads him a book at bedtime. He gets down on the floor and shares his train tracks and racecars -- I suspect enjoying the excuse to play with these toys he claims to have outgrown. L looks to him for approval in little things, even glancing his way at times to determine if a laugh is acceptable or not. He rarely, if ever, abuses the power this gives him, choosing instead to gently guide them in how they should behave in our home.

      But, he's still a pre-teen boy. Sometimes, he gets too loud or too rowdy. Sometimes, the pressure of being constantly the leader gets too much and he snaps at someone. Sometimes, he expects too much of the younger children and reacts too strongly when they don't remember to give him some space. I have to remember to allow him spells of rest, time with his peers and not make him grow up too fast too soon. Ultimately, this experience has made me even more proud of him than I was before.

      Wednesday, August 24, 2011

      A Decision to Make

      The next phone call came almost a month to the day after we had agree to take in the 3 siblings whose DFCS office was not able to keep a caseworker on the file long enough to schedule a meeting with us.

      L is a 7 year old girl; O is a 3 year old boy. They are likely to be a very short term placement as there's a mother, father and grandmother all involved in the conversation of the best permanent placement for them. However, at that moment, they were sitting in a county DFCS office, looking for a place to sleep that night.

      The agency had been turning away placements for children that would have fit well into our home over the past month while they held us available to the 3 G's. They had told that county so and now called us with the most difficult decision either of us had ever had to make. Did we want to continue to wait for the 3 siblings or could we take on these 2 instead?

      Over the last month we had reminded ourselves not to let the waiting affect our reaction to the children themselves. Whatever reason for the delay -- Were the DFCS workers incompetent? Possible. Were they overworked and understaffed? Highly likely. The case had changed hands in that office at least twice in that month. -- regardless of who was at fault, it wasn't the children. Could we walk away from them now . . . never having met them?

      Ultimately, we decided that we had to help those we could. The 3 we had been waiting for were currently safe, although separated; L and O were sitting in an office with nowhere to sleep that night. Within a few hours, they arrived at our house.

      "This will be a pretty short-term placement . . ." Well, we learned with R and A that those words mean nothing. There would be a hearing on their case in 2 or 3 days. After that, we would know more about why they were here and how long they might stay.

      Saturday, August 20, 2011

      The Three

      The next call came a few months later, after school was out for the summer. I had come to terms with the quick departure of R and A by reminding myself that we had given them a really good day. Maybe that was all we were allowed to offer them; hopefully it was all they needed. If a child returns to the foster system, their former foster parents are called; if they'd been taken into care again, we would know.

      This time, there were 3 of them, ages 4, 2 and 1.5. Their father was incarcerated; their mother had surrendered the children into care, stating that she "couldn't cope." Both parents were former foster children themselves and there was no extended family to step in to help. This case was already looking for a family that would ultimately adopt the children. Was that us?

      Big deep breath again. OK, we said. If it does turn into an adoption, we will have 6 children of our own and will be done with foster care. But we'll do it.

      The three children were already in foster care, but split across 2 homes. The county DFCS office was looking for a permanent family willing to reunite them. Since the children were already in a safe place, we would have a slow transition process in order to make sure it was the best fit. The last thing anybody wanted was for these children to have to be moved any more times than absolutely necessary. We sent off our available dates and times for a "neutral site" initial meeting with the children and waited.

      And waited.

      And called to follow up only to be told that no one in the county office is returning phone calls, although they said via email that they wanted to set up a meeting with us.

      So we were still waiting . . . a month later. When the next call came.

      Monday, August 15, 2011

      Our First Placement!

      They arrived about 9:30 am. We had cleaned the house, made their beds, put a few clothes in their closets that we hoped would fit. We knew dinner was coming, so there was nothing to prepare there. By 9:15, we were both pacing, anxiously waiting their arrival, not sure what to expect, hoping we were ready.

      We weren't. R wanted to explore the house immediately. He couldn't settle to one thing long enough to take your eyes off him. A was into everything. I'd forgotten that shelves of books and DVDs are irresistible to 3 year olds! While the caseworker talked to me about the paperwork and the initial things we needed to do, Mr D tried to keep up with both of the kids. Who of course wanted to go in two different directions!

      Somehow we got through the paperwork. The caseworker left and we were on our own. Mr D took R out into the backyard to play with a toy football. A attached herself to me. Less than 30 minutes after their arrival, I walked away from her when she wasn't looking. She ran after me, calling "Mommy! Where Mommy?" For a second, I thought she was asking me where her biological mother was. Then she spotted me and joyously cried, "Mommy!" again. She was calling me Mommy already.

      Dinner arrived with the volunteer. R and A were excited to see her and she talked with them a little bit. She gave them each a toiletry kit, which A carried around everywhere the rest of the day. She told me to call her if we needed anything, and I confessed I didn't even know what to ask for!

      Our three "original" children got home from school and a baseball game began in the back yard. Around 5pm, we were getting dinner on the table. We realized we hadn't bought a baby monitor to put in A's room, so we would hear her if she got up in the night. Her room was at the top of the stairs and we had images of her falling down the stairs at 2am. One of the rules of foster care is that you cannot lock a child in their room, so we couldn't prevent her getting out of the room; we really needed to be able to hear if she got out of bed.

      Mr D put a call in to our caseworker, to see if a volunteer would bring us a baby monitor. She said, "You won't need that."

      Umm, we won't? We're pretty sure we do!

      The caseworker had been about to call us when we called. They'd just gotten out of court. The judge said the kids had to go home.

      They had been with us for 7 hours.

      When we told R and A that they were going home and someone would come to pick them up after dinner, R asked if they would be taken away again. We didn't know what to say. We couldn't even guess if he was hoping for a yes or a no.

      When they drove away, after many hugs and goodbyes and forced smiles, we looked at each other. We were emotionally and physically exhausted. It hadn't even been a day and it was one of the hardest things we'd ever done, letting them go.

      Lesson learned: No one ever knows how long a placement is going to last.

      The next day, we got the letter in the mail approving us to be foster parents.

      Monday, August 8, 2011

      And . . . we're off!

      Although our family profile is still on file with an adoption attorney, it was full steam ahead towards foster parenting. We went through the hours of initial training. We submitted fingerprints for background checks. We handed over copies of our marriage certificate, our tax returns, and our financial records. We went through medical exams and drug tests. We got letters from the pediatrician and the vet stating that our children and animals were in good health. We submitted letters of reference from employers, friends and family members. We answered questions about our childhood, our parenting philosophies, our activities, and our marital relationship. And finally, someone came out to examine the house and talk with us about our fire safety plan, where our medicines and alcohol were kept, and which rooms would be used by the foster children. At the end of that visit, we were told we would get a letter stating our approval for up to 3 related children, ages 0-7; soon after that we would be called if there were children needing placement for whom our home was a good fit.

      The day after her visit, the first call came. R was an "active" 6 year old boy and A was a 3 year old girl who the case worker described as "a pistol." They had been in foster care before, but the former family was no longer fostering, due to a change in the husband's work schedule. It would probably be a somewhat long-term placement, since it wasn't the first time they'd been taken into care. They were currently with a short-term care family, but needed somewhere they could stay as long as they needed to. Would we take them in?

      We weren't ready, but we didn't have a good reason to say no. We took a collective deep breath, then asked if we could wait til the next day for them to arrive, so we could go get a few things we needed. Mr D took the day off work, so we were both home when R and A arrived around 9 in the morning.

      Since they had been in care before, there was already a network of people who knew these children. One of them brought us dinner for the first night and visited with the children a little bit. She was able to tell us a little bit about their history and gave us the former foster family's phone number. School was still in session, so most of the day it was just Mr D and I and two new kids.

      Friday, August 5, 2011

      Foster Agency

      The first question we had to answer about fostering was how to get registered. We began by contacting our local county DFCS office. We went to an orientation meeting where we learned about the certification process (long) and the needs (huge, especially for sibling groups and children over age 8). At that meeting, another attendee asked about childcare costs for foster children, stating that she and her husband both worked. The social worker explained that DFCS would cover those costs, but that there might be times where there would be a delay in getting the billing set up. For example, she might get a call on Friday at 4:30 with a 2 year old and a 4 year old; they would need childcare on Monday morning and the foster parents might need to pay for the first week and get reimbursed later. All I could think was, those kids should come to us. I'm a stay-at-home mom, so the childcare struggle is one less issue for us to manage.

      The training meetings through the county were going to be difficult for us to attend -- 3 hours a night, once a week, for 7 weeks, no childcare available. When we asked the social worker, she explained that we could be certified by other agencies that might have training times that worked better for us. She gave us a list of options and we started searching.

      We settled on a non-profit, faith-based foster agency. Essentially, counties outsource the placement of cases to these agencies by calling them to describe the need and asking if they have a certified family that's a good fit. Then, the agency case manager and DFCS case manager work together to make sure that the children are taken care of properly. The involvement of the agency takes some of the work off the DFCS case manager's plate; this is a good thing since county offices are often overwhelmed with too many cases and too few social workers to go around. The agency has the luxury of telling a calling county that they can't take on a case, if they don't have the staff for it; the state doesn't have that option.

      For us, one of the biggest benefit of the agency is the volunteer network they coordinate. Because the agency we chose is faith-based, they partner with local churches to surround each foster family with a network of volunteers who are willing to perform small tasks that make a huge difference in the life of a foster family. Some volunteers may be available to baby sit (no small undertaking with foster kids. Childcare for foster children is strictly monitored and the babysitters must go through background checks, drug tests and training of their own.). Some volunteers coordinate the donation of clothing and other items like car seats, baby monitors and high chairs. Some bring food the foster families during the first few days of placement. The agency also gives us access to people who know the system. They know which doctor's offices will take Medicaid, what thrift stores will give us a discount on clothing purchased for foster kids, who to call at a charity to get big ticket items donated. In addition, they provide regular training (complete with childcare staffed with people certified to care for foster kids) to enable us to keep learning more about how to do what we do.

      We could not do this without the support of the agency.

      Sunday, July 31, 2011

      Understanding the Call

      This wasn't about just adding a baby, though. It was about feeling that we had room in our hearts and a home for a child that needed us. And so we began investigating the process of adopting a child. Our youngest was 6 years old and we felt strongly that we couldn't add a child to the family that wouldn't be younger than he. We also asked ourselves some hard questions about ethnicity and special needs and forced ourselves to find honest answers about what sort of child we truly felt we could offer the support they would need. We scheduled a meeting with our pastor, without disclosing the topic. Mr D made a few phone calls to major domestic adoption agencies. The response to the first one was eye-opening.

      It was the week after Christmas, and Mr D reached an employee at a faith-based adoption agency and explained that we felt that God was leading us to open our home to a child in need of one. Initially pleasant, the employee asked a few demographic questions about our family. As soon as she learned that we already had three children, her attitude changed abruptly. We should pray about this some more because we clearly had misunderstood. Adoption cost a lot of money and time and was a big business. As people without fertility issues who did not feel equipped to take on a "special needs" case, we were not good candidates for their agency.

      Wait, what? We're experienced parents and that's a bad thing?

      As time went on, we came to understand where the employee was coming from. She had a waiting list full of infertile couples desperate for a "healthy white baby." If all we wanted was to add a baby to the family, we would be much better served to just try to get pregnant.

      We met with our pastor and she was enthusiastic. At the end of our meeting, she urged us to let God work for a while. She would make some contacts she had aware of our existence and we should simply wait it out a while and see where things went. We registered to attend a "Wait No More" event, a day-long program aimed at encouraging families to consider adopting older children (over age 8) in the foster care system; although we didn't believe we would adopt a child of that age any time soon, we decided to open as many doors as possible and see what came in them.

      Wait No More changed the direction of our journey. We realized that day that one of the greatest needs in foster care was one we felt we could meet -- a willingness to foster (and possibly adopt) sibling groups.

      Four months after that Christmas Eve, we signed up for training as foster parents and began the journey to open our home in a different way than we first imagined. I once said to Mr D that the reason he felt the call was that he would have talked me out of adopting; we now believe he felt called to adopt because he would have ignored the call to foster. The Lord has let us along this path with the baby steps we needed to take to get where we were always meant to be: welcoming young children in sibling groups of two or three into a safe place when they are at their most vulnerable.

      Thursday, July 28, 2011

      You want to do WHAT?

      A little personality background.

      When we married, we both wanted kids. We said we'd have 2, then maybe have a 3rd if the first 2 were the same gender. We agreed we did not want more than 3. I'd never been one of those high school girls who already had names picked out for her future children; I rarely babysat as a teenager; I didn't feel I was "good with kids." But, in spite of all that, my mental picture of my adult life had always included that stereotypical 2.4 children. Like many newlyweds, we assumed that pregnancy would happen when it was intended and that the number of children we had was truly up to us.

      A few years into our marriage, Mr D began talking about being not sure he wanted any at all. A teacher in the process of burn-out, he was pessimistic about raising children. I was stunned. I didn't realize how important these theoretical kids were to me until it appeared I might never get to have them. I remember trying to convince him that "the state of the world" wasn't a reason not to bring a child into it; it was reason to step up and make a commitment to raising children who would help change that world for the better. I was never sure he was convinced, but then . . . I was pregnant.

      11 years and 3 childbirths later, we arrived at the Christmas Eve night in question. In that time, we had never struggled with fertility. Although we did get our "one of each" with the first two, our family still felt incomplete and we both agreed to a third child. During that pregnancy, I declared I was done. However, we had not done anything permanent to prevent another pregnancy and as far as we know, could still conceive another child.

      When I met Mr D he was a Christian in name. He professed faith, but did not attend any sort of service regularly and didn't really let his faith affect his actions. I was actively involved in a Christian campus ministry and he attended its events with me, but never initiated acts of service on his own. In the early days of our marriage, this trend continued, and our involvement at church mostly rested on my activities. As time went on, Mr D found the depths of his own faith and became more actively involved on his own. But even now that our Christian faith is lived out in the way we treat others every day and in the acts of service we do within our church and without, we still don't tend to talk in terms of "hearing God speak to us" or "being called." These are phrases that just don't fit well with the language we use about our faith. Although we pray for guidance, I think we expect that guidance to be a little more . . . subtle.

      When Mr D tried to explain to me what had happened to him at that Christmas Eve service, we were treading new ground in our faith and our marriage. For the first time, he was asking me to stretch my faith to follow his. All I could feel was that I could not stand in the way of this thing that my husband felt so strongly called to do. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to look into the process of adopting a child and suggested we begin by scheduling a meeting with our pastor. I'll confess, a part of me hoped that meeting would lead to someone else telling my husband he was crazy to do this.

      Saturday, July 23, 2011

      In the Beginning . . .

      It all started during the Christmas Season of 2010.

      Mr. D was in a funk. He told me he couldn't seem to enjoy any of what he was "supposed to" enjoy about getting ready for Christmas. He hated decorating the house. He stressed over the money being spent on gifts. He gritted his teeth to survive listening to the children sing in church. He faked a smile and wished friends and family "Merry Christmas!", but couldn't get into the spirit of the season. He tried to focus on the birth of Jesus, but found himself getting even more irritated with the commercial glitz surrounding us. He continually reminded himself of the blessings in his life, but still felt empty.

      Christmas Eve arrived. As usual, he sat with our three children during a candlelight service that evening, while I joined the choir in the loft. We took our time driving home from church, looking at all the Christmas lights on houses. Finally arriving home, we set out cookies for Santa and tucked our little ones up "snug in their beds."  We waited til we were sure they were down for the count, then carefully filled stockings and set out gifts. Then I sat by Mr D on the couch while It's A Wonderful Life ran on TV. He seemed calmer than he had been all month. I laid my hand on his leg and asked, "How are you?" The answer would change our lives.

      While sitting in the service that night, Mr D had turned his thoughts to God. He had prayed, asking for guidance and insight. He asked whether we, as a family, were truly doing all that God would have us do. And Mr D felt what he could only describe as a "call", something like a voice speaking just one word: adopt. He came out of the service believing that somewhere in the world there was a child that needed the loving home we have, somewhere there might be a woman facing a difficult decision whose path we could smooth, somewhere there was a need we could -- should! -- answer. As he explained this to me, on the couch on Christmas Eve, with a background of Jimmy Stewart, my mind reeled.

      When I asked how he was, I was thinking of the way he'd been struggling to enjoy Christmas this year. I was not prepared for this.