Monday, February 27, 2012

Tweens . . . .

When my kids were very young, my mother commented once that she remembered that by the time I was in high school, she was missing the days when she could "pick somebody up and just carry them out of there."

I had that day this morning with Peter.

He's a middle schooler. He's nearly 12. He's almost as tall as I am. I can not physically make him do anything anymore. But I haven't needed to in a very long time, because he's generally a very good kid.

This morning, though? Ugh.

It started early. He didn't get up when I woke the boys. He doesn't really have to get up when Edmund gets up, as his bus comes over half an hour later, but he prefers to get up with the younger kids and then be able to take his time in the morning. I waited about 10 minutes, then went back in. I told him the time and asked if he was getting up yet. He rolled over, so I left him alone.

About 10 minutes later, he came stomping down the stairs demanding to know why I hadn't gotten him up. I told him I woke him twice, tried to gloss over the fact that he was being Mr Grumpy, and continued getting breakfast for 3 other children and packing 5 lunches.

You know I don't want to be left to sleep. You know I like to get up when the others do. I've been lying in bed confused for 15 minutes! 

I warned Mr Grumpy that he needed to get his attitude under control or he'd be heading back to his room to start the day over.

Normal breakfast continued. Until he noticed HIS pencil in the communal pencil holder by the phone. He snatched it up and glared at me. I was puzzled. It's a pencil.

But I left it on the coffee table! Next to my pencil pouch! And now he's nearly yelling, speaking with great disdain of the idiocy of whoever dared to remove his pencil from the proximity of where it belongs and place it with other pencils.

I remained miraculously calm! If I find a pencil on the coffee table, I'm going to put it in the pencil jar. Put it in the pouch if that's where you want it.

You would have thought I suggested that he murder some puppies to eat for breakfast.

Eye roll, stomp. It's pretty much the only pencil I have!

I was done being patient. You need to go back upstairs and start this morning over.

And that's when IT happened. He leaned against the counter, crossed his arms, and said, "No."

Holy crap. What does he mean "No"? And now what? I can't just pick him up and carry him out of here.....

And that's the moment I realized what my mother meant.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Not the Mommy

O attends a part-day, part-week preschool at a local church. He's there 3 days a week for 3-4 hours a day (depending on whether we chose for him to stay for lunch that day or not).

I love part-time preschool. It's just enough "school" at this age to make him feel like a big kid and give me a break (or a chance to go to the dentist!). He's learning to interact with his peers--to share toys and attention--and to function in a classroom setting. I don't really care if he's learning to read yet, so we deliberately picked one that's "play-based" not "strongly academic" as some are. The academics will come soon enough.

His particular program has turned out to be a blessing in other ways in that that church runs their school as the mission field that it really is. The teacher and director have bent over backwards to ensure that O feels loved and safe and "normal." I was assured that the required 30-day notice for withdrawal will be waived if necessary because they understand that I may not know 30 days in advance that he's leaving my home. I've been told they will also waive the "non-refundable" fees required to hold a spot for him for the fall. When I protested that I hated to think they would turn away another child while holding a spot for him if he didn't end up using it, the director calmly said that she believed God would "take care of that." Love them for their compassion, their servant's hearts, and their rationality.

They do a morning and afternoon car line at O's school. That is, the parents pull up to the doors, several teachers come out and get the kids in or out of 2-3 cars at a time. Now, carline is not required. You can park your car and walk your child into and out of the building if you so choose. But I've always loved a carline for both selfish and unselfish reasons.

The selfish reasons? I'm much more efficient with a carline. I drive up, drop off, drive off. Drive up, wait in the car for them to come out, drive off. No lingering to chit-chat with other moms. No coaxing a child into or out of the classroom. While that may not be the best way to build a relationship with the other parents in the class, it does mean I make the best use of that precious, child-free time. It also means I don't have to get in and out of the car in the rain or the cold. I've driven kids to preschool with my shoes in the seat beside me!

The unselfish reasons? I truly believe it's good for the kids. I think they develop a sense of independence when that teacher walks them in the door and then lets them lead the way to the right classroom. I think they develop ownership of the school--this is my school, my class, my teacher--and they learn how much they are capable of doing on their own. Kids, in general, rise and fall to the level of the expectations set for them. So when I let a child climb out of my car and walk to his class on his own, I'm sending him a message. I'm telling him that I believe he's big enough to go to the right place and to know what to do. And he does. That builds confidence that will serve him well when he hits kindergarten and beyond.

With O, though, I've discovered one flaw in my beloved carline and I'm struggling with how to address it with the wonderful, delightful, caring staff of his school. The teachers who get kids in and out of carline are a rotating bunch; I think they all take turns being "on duty", but even if O's teacher is out there, she may not be the one who gets him out of the car. Those other teachers don't necessarily know that O is a foster child. And they shouldn't! It is, therefore, in total innocence that they say to him, as they close my car door, "Say bye to Mommy!" Or walk him to my car in the afternoon with a cheery, "here's Mommy to pick you up!"


I need to mention this to the director. I'm sure I'm not the only non-biological parent dropping off and picking up a child, but I may be a relatively rare case where that's not obvious to the teacher. Still struggling with how to say it constructively.

I've noticed that when the other teachers get O in and out of the car at carline, they frequently refer to me as "mommy" when speaking to him. I know there's no reason for them to think I'm not, but it's kind of confusing for him, especially since he has a relationship with his Mommy. I wonder if a future training could focus on asking the teachers to get in the habit of using a more neutral good-bye or hello statement, since I imagine there may be other cases where that's not the most appropriate word for the driver of the car. Just using"say bye!" instead of "say bye to Mommy!"? Or in the afternoon, leave it at, "Look who's here to get you!" rather than "Here's Mommy!"?

Ugh. It sounds so nit-picky when I write it out. And yet, I don't want to stop doing carline with him for both the selfish and non-selfish reasons I already listed!

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I had to go meet Mr. D at his work the other day; I had O with me, but the other kids were all at school.

There was a woman there who doesn't work very closely with Mr D who, apparently, did not know that we foster.

She went on and on about how much O looks like Mr. D. Neither of us were sure how to respond. To be honest -- "No, he's not related. He's a foster child." -- would not only embarrass her and break the confidentiality rules of not identifying foster children as such, but would also imply to O that we didn't want people thinking he belonged with us. We tried to smile and laugh it off.

If L had been with us, it would have been simple. She would have loudly and clearly proclaimed that Mr D wasn't his Daddy; she does that every time someone asks me how old "my" kids are. Then I get to do the smile and smooth over, casual, "just staying with us for a while." L has clearly defined roles for every adult in her life and she doesn't want anyone getting that wrong! But she wasn't there. And O just stood and looked and listened.

The funniest part was when the woman said, "he's got your eyes, Mr D!" and O peered up at Mr D's face as though wondering how he could have Mr D's eyes when they were clearly still right there on Mr D's head!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Not in Love

When we chose to start fostering, my biggest fear was that I would fall in love with every child that came into my home and that it would tear me apart to have to give them back at the end of their time with us. I worried that I would "get too attached" as any foster parent hears so many other people use as an excuse not to do this.

I told myself that the hard ones would be the cases where I didn't believe they were going back to a safe place. I reminded myself that I would have to learn to deal with it if they went somewhere safe, but not ideal. I prayed and crossed my fingers and tried to believe God would not lead me anywhere that I could not go.

Our first placement was so brief. They were here, we were barely beginning to figure them out, and they were gone. It was hard to see them go when we were barely getting to know them, especially when we'd been given to understand that they were likely to be on a fast track to TPR. We cried when they pulled out of the driveway and the kids talked about missing them after they left.

But they were only here a day and it was pretty easy to convince myself that we had given them a really good day. A safe day. A fun day. And that perhaps that was all we were ever meant to give them and hope and pray that the judge made the right call. (A phone call later from the caseworker letting me know of an excellent new support system for the bioparent that was unknown at the time we were told they would be TPR helped me believe that the bioparent really can do it this time.)

With L and O, they've been here a long time. L never lets me (or O) forget that we are not her parents, but she is not defiant. She trusts us as authority figures and allows us to lead her. They are the sort of case that I feared. There is still no talk of TPR, biomom is making slow progress on her case plan, the caseworker is stalling some family homestudies because she's not confident that those family members would support the reunification process with biomom and would prefer not to have to move the kids twice.

But I'm not in love with these two kids. I try. I hug and kiss and smile and tease, just like I do my biochildren. I remind myself when they push my buttons that Edmund can push that same button. But on some level, I know that I just don't feel the same way about these two that I do my original three.

And that scares me. I wonder if I'm not right for fostering because I am, frankly, eager for biomom to finish her caseplan and get her kids back. I try to tell myself that I'm just really, really supporting their reunification because I can tell that she loves these two and that she is trying really hard to do what she needs to do. But, deep down, I'm afraid that I just want them to go away.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

BioParents Cannot be Trusted

I am a documenting queen. I send an email to the caseworker every time the kids have phone contact with anybody. The email includes who we called, how long they talked and what was said. I try to write as objectively as possible, but will sometimes conclude with specific things that I'm concerned by in the interaction. (Like when O started beginning every conversation with "what are you bringing me?")

My caseworker loves me for this, becuase she regularly tells me of things that the bioparents are saying to her which are, flatly, lies. The emails help the caseworker always know my side of the story before the bioparent even says a word.

Some examples:
  • I haven't talked to my kids in weeks! Actually, in the last 2 weeks you talked to your kids on these 8 separate dates.
  • E is failing a subject in school. Ummm, actually, she has the highest grade given in all subjects.
  • Foster mom calls O "evil." HA!
  • Biodad: The reason he and his current wife do not have the same domestic violence issues that he and biomom did is that "she don't make me mad." I just can't even begin.....
  • Biomom: I've worked in therapy on my relationship with my mother and it has improved to the point where I feel that my mother would be the best placement for them. Not according to your therapist you haven't. 
  • Biodad: his home study process went very well and he is confident it will be approved. No. Absolutely not.
  • Biomom: I took L to the dentist and her teeth were perfect just before she spent those 2 weeks with my mother. Umm. According to the dentist, her teeth had serious decay issues that could not have arisen in 2 weeks.
What kills me is that these lies are so easily uncovered and revealed. These people are just so . . . so . . . . I don't know what it is? Not very bright? Delusional? Insane?

This is why I will never bring the kids to court if I don't have to and am grateful to live in a state that does not require them to attend. I don't want them hearing this kind of stuff and feeling stuck listening to Mommy/Daddy who they love, while they bad-mouth everyone else that these kids care about. No wonder O is having such a hard time learning to tell the truth!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Fun with Health Care

O has ear tubes and bio mom has told me repeatedly that he gets "lots" of ear infections. He's been with us 7 months and there's been nary a sign of one, but I did take him in to an audiologist to get his hearing screened (it's perfect) and they verified that the tubes are in place and functioning properly.

When L and O first came to us, I hunted for a pediatrician that would accept Medicaid, so I could do their initial taken-into-care-health-check. I found one that was accepting new Medicaid patients and tried to make them an appointment. Then it turned out that they were already on Medicaid before and they had been to the doctor the month before they came to us. Which meant that Medicaid would not pay for the initial-taken-into-care health check, so it didn't get done.

O's 4th birthday is in a few months and I'd been idly thinking I should go ahead and call that pediatrician and get him on the schedule for a well-child check. It's a new calendar year, so we should be able to get a visit in now. A couple weeks ago, he woke up saying his ear hurt. I looked at it and couldn't see any drainage from the tube; he was running no fever and acting perfectly normal, so I made the decision to wait it out a day or two. The next day, he told me that sleeping made his ear feel better and I merrily went back to idly thinking about getting him on the pediatrician's schedule.

Today, he woke up and said his ear hurt. I figured I'd give it a day again and took him off to speech therapy. After speech, we went grocery shopping. As I was strapping him back in his seat to leave the store, I noticed that the ear nearest me--the one he said was hurting--was oozing something yellow. Yuck. I asked him if his ear still hurts--it does. I asked him which ear it is that hurts--the one with the gunk. OK, really gotta get him in to see a ped.

So, we went home and I called the pediatrician I found when they first arrived 7 months ago. They are no longer accepting new Medicaid patients. Guess we missed the boat. I pulled out the two-page list the agency gave me of providers to try and began the spiral radius search again. After I'd tried everyone in my town and the 2 nearest ones away, I began to panic. So, I tried the county Health department, figuring they HAVE to take Medicaid, right?

Well, they do, but they can't prescribe him an antibiotic if he does have an ear infection. Thankfully, the lady on the phone had the presence of mind to ask me why I want to make an appointment and told me this before we spend any time in the health department's waiting room. She also told me that urgent care places will generally take kids over age 2 with Medicaid. I'd already tried one of those--from my list--but I started down that road. The first one I called doesn't take Medicaid, but told me of another one that does. I called that one, confirmed that they do take Medicaid, they will see a 3 year old with a possible ear infection, and discovered that I can't make an appointment. Just gotta go hang out in the waiting room. With a sick 3 year old. What fun!

In the examination room, the doctor confirmed my suspicions. The yellow gunk is pus. He'll prescribe an antibiotic, but I should schedule a follow-up with his ENT or his pediatrician in 4 days. Who is that? Well, umm....I had to explain how I, as a foster parent, have had a child for 7 months without him ever seeing anyone. As soon as I get to the "they'd seen someone right before they came to me, so Medicaid wouldn't...", he nodded and offered to get the staff to hunt up some offices to try. Hallelujah!

After a 1 hour wait for the medication at the pharmacy, we've finally gotten home. Poor little guy is obviously exhausted, but says the medicine is "tasty" (praise the Lord!) and sucks it down without resistance. Now, I'm trying the numbers the urgent care office gave me and leaving messages left and right--looking for someone less than an hour away with openings for new Medicaid patients!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Calling my Mommy

January was a really bad month.

Lots of miserable, awful things that I can't talk about.

Fights with Mr. D

Fights with Peter.

Frustration with Susan.

Frustration with the foster system and how slowly things move and how little we are kept up to date on what is going on.

The last week of January was the worst one. All that other stuff happened and then, I went to the dentist. And I needed thousands and thousands of dollars worth of work done. And in the midst of that, my 14 year old dog had some sort of stroke and needed to be put down as she could no longer control her body movements to stand, walk, or eat.

So, I did what any person with a normal, healthy childhood did. I called my Mommy.

And as I did it, as I dialed, as I talked to her about the teeth and the dog and the struggles with kids, as I hung up feeling better, I thought about LT's blog. I've been reading LT a lot lately, working my way through her archives.

What LT repeatedly says she wants more than anything in the world is a Mom. And the foster system failed to give her that, so she is still searching.

I can call my mommy when I have a really bad day and she can make it better--sometimes just by listening while I talk. Children who age out of foster care....children who are in foster care.....can't do that.

As a foster parent, I do my best to be the stand-in mommy for the kids in my care. I think I do that pretty well for O, probably a little less well for L. When L really wants her mommy, I know that the only thing that I can do is be there as much as she wants me to be, listen when she wants to talk, and love her whether she wants me to or not. I hope it's enough.

It's unlikely that L and O will ever age out--their mother is working hard on her plan, there are other family members stepping in and offering to be their family caregiver--and even if they do, they have this experience of their mother not walking away from them, so I don't think they will ever been where LT is in terms of the feelings of rejection by everyone who should have cared about them.

I don't know where I'm going with this post. I wanted my Mommy today. And I called her. And I felt better.

It saddens me to know how many children there are for whom that simple moment of receiving comfort where it is expected is out of their reach.