Saturday, June 30, 2012

Word choices

Fostering has changed some of my basic language. There are things that I never used to say that I do now and things that I used to say all the time that now I don't. And I'm not talking about the obvious cases, like the lingo of acronyms and court terms. I'm talking about subtle stuff, like....

  • Instead of "going home" from school or errands, we "go back to the house."
  • I refer to myself in the 3rd person a lot more.
  • Instead of saying "I have 3 kids", I say "there are 5 at my house right now."(This one will probably vary from placement to placement. L is heavily resistant to having anyone think she is my child, so I fell into this phrasing in order to claim her without calling her "mine.")
  • I refer to my husband by name a lot more (rather than "Dad.") (Again, will probably vary from placement to placement, as I imagine we may have later placements that want to call us Mommy and Daddy.)
  • I refer to the children by their ages or names a lot more. (Instead of "my son" or "my daughter", it's "the 7 year old", "the 5th grader", or "Peter.")

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reunifying! Maybe...sorta...probably, soon?

Court happened.

After court, I was told the plan. We were reunifying with BioMom. But since we've only had one home visit, we'll have a couple more of those -- supervised -- then an all day visit -- unsupervised-- then a few overnights and finally move them officially home.

All told, this will take about 6 weeks.

With the official return date being the weekend before school starts here. BioMom lives in a different county and school will start there a few weeks later, so they won't be going the weekend before L starts school, just the weekend before all 3 of the other school age kids here at this house do.

Oh, but this is all dependent on one more hoop for BioMom to jump. And we won't know whether she's jumped it successfully for "a few days", so we aren't to tell the kids anything has changed. (Although L knows they went to court because BioDad told her they were. So she's asking me what happened and when she'll go home and if this was the "last court" for them. And she is --thankfully -- a smart girl who can understand when I explain that I don't want to tell her something that might not happen, so I am telling her all I know are "might happens" right now.)

And yes, that's the way I was told about it. "We're reunifying, here's the transition plan, but it all depends on this thing happening, so . . . don't tell the kids."

Right now, I'm feeling frustrated and angry and selfish and bitter.

Essentially, we are still in limbo land--because it could all fall through if BioMom doesn't leap over this one last hurdle. So we can't tell the kids it might happen. But if she does do what she needs to do, it will happen, so we can't tell the kids that it won't, either. We just can't tell the kids anything. For "a few days." And I may still be a newbie foster mom, but I know what "a few days" means in caseworker speak. And it certainly doesn't mean we'll know in 2 or 3 days, like it means in the normal world.

Once the hurdle is jumped though, we still need a month or 6 weeks to transition back to their mother? To the woman they've been seeing regularly throughout the time they've been in care? To the person who was their full time caregiver for most if not all of their lives prior to coming here? (For the record, I was in favor of a long transition to Paternal Aunt's. They've never lived with her and O didn't seem certain of who she even was. But going back to Mom seems different.)

And -- here's where I get selfish -- the timing of this means there will be no time for any sort of just-the-5-of-us-again vacation between the time L and O leave and school starts. Nope, it'll be all-about-them -- getting them packed up, slowly moving their things to Mom's house over the course of a month, dealing with the behaviors that are sure to come as they try to cope with moving back and forth between us over several weeks -- until it's time to get ready to catch the school bus in the morning again. And yet, I don't feel like I can ask for a few respite days when they're in the middle of transitioning, so there will be no such family-bonding vacation this summer. Just like there wasn't one last summer, when L and O arrived 2 days before the intended one and we spent the rest of that summer expecting a call to send them home every week until it was too late for a vacation. Take L and O with you, you say? Well, you see the timing of all of these transitional visits is going to change week-to-week based on BioMom's work schedule. So I can't plan anything in advance because I won't know until "a few days" before which days they are going to be with her. (And that's the BioMom's version of "a few days" which seems to mean at best the day before.)

Yes, I would like some cheese with my whine, please.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Permanency Hearing"

So, in a few days, we'll be having a permanency hearing on L and O's Case.

They're just a week shy of having been in care for 12 months, and great care was taken to ensure that this hearing would be before that 12 month anniversary.

At the last hearing, the parents were sternly told that they needed to have done xyz by this date and that they were lucky there was family to be considered at the permanency hearing because otherwise they'd be looking at TPR if they hadn't done said xyz.(That family is Paternal Aunt, by the way, who no one has mentioned since.)

I'm told they will most likely not be sent home the day of the hearing, even if the judge decides at the hearing that it's time to reunify. (We have yet to have a visit longer than 2 hours or a visit that isn't supervised.) I'm told that there will be transitional visits, with the goal of having them home full-time by the time school starts. But I've heard that plan before with the move to Paternal Aunt at the end of the school year.

I'm told no one thinks BioMom is ready to handle parenting 3 children on her own. I'm told that's not a good enough reason to keep the kids in care because there aren't any "safety concern" reasons. (Her drug tests are clean, she's maintained employment, taken all her required classes, obtained housing....) I guess having a single parent that no one thinks is ready for it isn't a "safety concern." I suppose we have to hold our breath and wait to either be proven wrong or watch her fail. (BioDad is out of state and has been denied as a placement. He's still showing up to court every time it happens, but he is not a serious contender for custody and the relationship between him and BioMom is not one of mutual support for the good of the children.)

I'm told--by several different people involved in the case--that they won't be surprised if the kids end up back in care again in a few weeks or months. But that's not a "safety concern"?? That's "permanency"?

I don't know what to expect from this hearing. I don't know what to hope for. Some days I think BioMom has worked so hard and so clearly loves her kids that it's time to get them back to her. Other days I think they deserve permanency that will last and wonder if Paternal Aunt would be better at that. On really bad days, I wish they could have a clean slate and an entirely new family to get them out of the drama circus that appears to touch every single extended family member we've every heard of.

Mostly, I'm trying not to hope for anything specific and just wait and see.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Aftermath of the Home Visit

I've always hated the day after the visit. I don't think I'm the only foster parent who feels that way.

Usually, L adjusts back to us and our routines pretty quickly, but the day after is always full of drama-queen behavior and she spends the day being reminded that I don't play the drama game. O needs a few days to be reminded that I mean what I say, that I have different rules than Mommy does. and that drama does not get him more attention from me.

This week was a doozy, though. And it started even before the visit this time.

To back up -- BioMom asked if I would send several things with the kids to her home for this visit, all of which I sent because they all sounded like either good ideas or at least reasonable ones.

She asked for:
  • a copy of our daily schedule/routine, so that she can keep things as consistent as possible for them.
  • a list of our house rules, for the same reason as above. Also, she said she was going to be creating a list of rules to post at her house, and I suspect she wanted to use mine as a starting place.
  • a set of pajamas for O and maybe for L. The kids will be getting back from this visit after bedtime, and BioMom wants to give O a bath and send him back ready for bed. She said she'd leave it up to L whether she wanted to do the same, which is why the pj's were a "maybe" for L.
We'll see if she ever does anything with the schedule and rules, although the cynic in me suspects that she took one look at them and scoffed that I'm too strict and regimented with her precious babies and I don't understand how sensitive they are.

Sorry. I'm feeling a little bitter and overwhelmed right now. These kids -- contrary to all of the examples I learned about in training -- appear to believe that everything they do is perfect and wonderful and cute and their mother appears to think that misbehavior by a 4 year old is cute and drama fits by an 8 year old are funny or endearing.  O uses affection to get out of trouble--he always asks for a hug or a kiss when he's done something wrong, in a way that is clearly intended to divert my attention from his misbehavior. L will scowl and stomp and sob as long as she has an audience.

As for the pajamas, technically, she needs to provide them with clothing. But, she's been sending everything she buys for them to me, so that they can wear them; the clothes she has at her house are a year old and too small. And this wasn't intended to be an overnight visit, for which she would be expected to provide their needs. So, I was fine sending the pajamas. (In fact, the supervisor told me that she'd told BioMom she needed to check their sizes during this visit and make sure she bought what they needed for the future; I told the supervisor that BioMom doesn't really need to buy them more clothes; they will be coming home with a fully stocked wardrobe made up entirely of clothes that belong to them already. BioMom shouldn't have to waste her money by buying another pair of new pajamas for children who already have 6 or 7 sets that fit them fine!)

The night before the visit, when I tucked O into bed, I started to say my usual, "Tomorrow is Tuesday and you get to see Mommy!", intending to throw in "and see her house and your room and meet the dog!" He interrupted me to say he was going home to Mommy tomorrow. Uh, what? I explained that he was going to see Mommy tomorrow at her house, but he'd still come back here that night. After I had him settled for the night, I realized that the pajamas had confused him. He heard her request them and knew he was bringing pj's to Mommy's house and having a bath there. He was certain that this meant he was sleeping there that night.

In the morning, he was still insisting he was going to sleep at Mommy's tonight. This time, I explained the plan to give him a bath and send him back to my house ready for bed and I think he finally believed me.

They got home so late from the visit with Mommy that they went right to bed.

And today -- the day after -- the behaviors were out of control.

L was in full drama queen mode--everything was huge and all about her and the end of the world. (And that is one of my buttons, so this sort of thing does not go well for either of us.)

O cried at breakfast because we were out of Froot Loops. He cried at lunch because Edmund had finished the leftover ham casserole and there wasn't any more left. Worse than the hair-trigger crankiness, he was back to not accepting No for an answer. "Can I do this?" "No, that's break this rule you already know about." "But I want to, so can I?" "I said No." "But WHY????"

They are both back to talking about "when we leave" and "when we go home." Will we take this with us? What about that? Mommy says the house is ready, so we can go home now, right? When will we? When will you know? Why don't you know?

No one had much to say about Mommy's house other than that they liked it. No comments about the pool, the "huge" yard (which the supervisor says is not that big), the treehouse....AND my bitterness is showing again.

L said somewhat wistfully that she "thinks Mommy's house is a trailer" (which it is).

Tomorrow will be better. But, today? Ugh.

Monday, June 18, 2012

First Home Visit

So, I told you that last week's visit did happen and that I knew the plan before I picked up L and O from camp. (Hallelujah!)

After they left for that visit, I got a call from my agency worker. She casually asked if I had "seen the email about visits" yet. I hadn't . . . because I didn't get it.

It said that this week's visit will be at BioMom's home. It will still be supervised and they will have both community visits and home visits for a few weeks. (Why was I not on that distribution list? Shouldn't I know little things like where the children I am supposed to be caring for are going to be going!?)

When L and O got home from their visit last week, they already knew that the next visit would be at "Mommy's house." Which they have never seen, so they are very excited. (L is also a little suspicious of me. After all, I told her I would tell her anything as soon as I knew of it and I didn't tell her this. I think she believed me when I explained that I didn't hear about it until after she'd left for this week's visit.....especially after I elaborated that I will only tell her things I KNOW, not things that are just MAYBE going to happen. With the recent memory of the experience of you're-going-to-Paternal-Aunt-oh-wait-never-mind-no-you-aren't, she agreed that she didn't want to be disappointed like that again.)

As far as I know, there is no set date in place to drop the supervision, but that may all change when they go to court next week. There will be time for one home visit, which I suspect is deliberate--CW can tell the judge that "home visits have started" (as ordered at the last court date) and yet there has been as much time as she could give BioMom to fail to make rent and get evicted.

It'll be interesting to see how the kids react. Part of me wishes I could be there to see their real reactions. I predict that L will come home raving about the place--because she never says anything negative about any of the choices her mother makes. (Even when her mother asked her on the phone what she wanted to be for Halloween and couldn't remember her answer through the length of the short phone call, but didn't appear to realize it--L shrugged it off to me when I reconfirmed what I thought she said she'd wanted.) O will take his cue from big sis and rave, too, but he's more likely to slip and complain about something not being what she said (or he thinks she said) it was going to be. He's still trying to insist there's a full-size pool in the backyard and has only just stopped insisting that Mommy's house is bigger than mine. (It won't be -- it's a 3 bedroom trailer. And that's enough for what they need, which is the line I've been taking with O -- that Mommy's house doesn't have to be bigger than mine because there aren't as many people at her house.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Visit Uncertainty -- resolved

Big sigh of relief tinged with frustration that this is how things are.

The visit did happen. I got the call about 10 minutes before I had to go pick up L and O from camp letting me know the actual when's and where's, so I was able to tell L as soon as I saw her. Yes, Mommy found a babysitter. Yes, that means you're still going to get to see her today, but Baby Brother won't be there because he's a little bit sick and needs to stay at home. 

They had a good time and all is right and normal in their worlds again. At normal as the life of a foster child can get!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Visit Uncertainty

It's nearly noon.

L and O are supposed to have a community visit with their mother this afternoon. They've had visits with her every Tuesday afternoon for as long as they've been here. She's never missed one, except the day she was in the hospital in labor with their baby brother; that time, she tried (and failed) to convince the caseworker to okay a visit at the hospital after the baby was born.

But the community visits have opened up a little more flexibility in the exact time and, of course, the location of this family togetherness time. Which means that I spend the whole week waiting to hear what the plan is. Where are they going this week? What time will the visit be scheduled start and end? What time does that mean they will be picked up and returned to my house?

It's nearly noon and I still don't know the answers to those questions for today.

I'm a scheduler and a planner. When I tuck children into bed at night, I tell them what we will do the next day. "

Tomorrow is Sunday and we'll go to church in the morning."

Or "Tomorrow is Thursday and you have school and then we'll go to Susan's PT appointment."

Even "Tomorrow is Saturday and we can sleep late in the morning because we don't have much going on."

Monday nights, it's always "Tomorrow is Tuesday and you get to see Mommy!" I've been confident saying it because BioMom is so dedicated to her time with these kids that I know she will move heavan and earth to get there.

I couldn't say that last night. Because all I knew about the visit was that Baby Brother is sick--too sick to be out in public at a community visit--and BioMom was trying to get in touch with a babysitter to watch him while she came to the visit. No times were being set in stone for the visit until she got her sitter lined up although we were still aiming for the afternoon. There was even a mention of a "make-up" visit on Sunday if she couldn't get a sitter.

So, I had to drop them off at daycamp this morning, admitting that I didn't know yet where their visit would be, or when they would leave for it, and that there was even a possibility that it wouldn't happen.

I will leave to pick them up from camp in about 2 hours. I'd really like to know the answer when I arrive because I don't want to have to tell them I still don't know. Especially on top of L's struggles with Mr D's absence!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Leaving and Returning

Early  this morning, my husband left town for 10 day business trip.

We knew this trip was coming. We'd casually told all the kids when he would leave (today), when he would be back (in about a week and a half), what they would be doing while he was gone (nothing much different except it's just me as the adult, instead of our usual tag-team). We didn't really think it was a big deal.

It isn't a big deal to Peter, Susan and Edmund. He takes this trip every summer. The last two years, we've gone on this trip with him and made a family vacation out of it. But this year's location isn't very family friendly and I wasn't taking 5 kids to live out of a hotel for 10 days anyway. So we had told the Originals that we weren't going with him this time because there wasn't really anything for us to do there.

It isn't a big deal to O as far as I can tell. In typical 4 year old fashion, he's much more attached to me (the primary caregiver) than to Mr D. So he's taking it in stride without much of a blip.

We just realized last night it apparently is a big deal to L. When he was telling them good night last night, letting them know he'd probably be gone when they woke up in the morning, asking them to be on their best behavior for me while he's gone, reminding them when he'd be back.....she teared up. She wouldn't look at him, didn't want to say good night or good bye and was fighting back the tears. We left her alone mostly, although I did rub her back a little bit and whisper to her that he'd be back next week. At tuck-in time, she whispered that she didn't want him to go. Again, I reminded her that he'll be back.

This morning, she's clingy and already claiming to miss him. (Although so far, he hasn't been gone longer than he would have been if he'd just gone to work today.)

I wonder how many men in her 8 years have left, maybe "for a little while", and never returned.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I mentioned that the kids are getting restless with that magic 1-year date looming in the near future and the recent addition of visits held out in public. (The visits are still supervised, just no longer held within the easily controlled environment of the fully staffed county visitation center.)

It's manifesting itself in ramping up of defiant behaviors. I'd noticed it at first with O--who has begun to tell me that he'll just wait and do whatever-I-just-said-he-couldn't when he's at Mommy's house. He's back to flat out ignoring us when we try to gently redirect him, forcing a show-down that I don't want to have, but can't let him win. It's exhausting. And this 4 year old--who has not had an toileting accident in months -- has had 5 in the last week.

Now, I'm noticing it in L as well. She breaks a long standing house rule--don't run in the house. I remind her--We don't run in the house, please! She stops running, says sorry. 5 minutes later, she's running again. Correction again, "Sorry!" again. So this time I follow up with a warning -- if you can't remember these rules for more than 5 minutes after a reminder, you might need some time to yourself today. No!No! She straightens her back, shakes her head. I'll remember! But 5 minutes later is running again. So, when I enforce the consequence, she tears up and begs for another chance.

It's been clear to me from day one that these kids have never had consistently enforced discipline in their lives. We have established structure, routine, and consequences for poor choices. We were running along pretty smoothly until just recently.

So what changed?

2 things. School's out--which loosens the structure of their days because there is no time spent at school anymore. And community visits started.

I'm trying to believe that the two things are equally at fault for this downward slide, but it's hard not to blame the community visits. Especially for O, whose behavior has changed so dramatically and who only ever had school 3 days a week to begin with. When I begged the caseworkers for advice, I got nothing helpful. Just reassurance that they aren't surprised to hear it. CW said that at O's age, it's especially common. The kids can sense from the change in visits (and the way BioMom is talking about her house to them) that they might go home soon. O can't really verbalize what he's feeling about that--the conflict between feeling happy about being with Mommy again (because he does love and miss her) and feeling sad and anxious about leaving the place and people that have been "home" for the last quarter of his life.

We go to court again in about 2 weeks, so I'm just trying to hang in there with the patience and the not-actually-killing-anyone until then. That hearing might send them home, might set up transitional visits, might do any number of things. But, at the moment, both CW and my agency worker think that we'll know more about a permanent plan then. So, I am left crossing my fingers until then and hoping that having a plan will mean I can actually tell the kids something. And praying that knowing a plan will help them cope with the stress and uncertainty that is still a part of the lives of foster children who are stuck in this limbo land of "waiting" for other people to decide what will happen to them.