June 12, 2013

From The Corners Of My Heart- Foster Care Edition

I have so many thoughts about how foster care is going for our family.  None of them fit into a nice little flow, so some bullet points of the highs and lows are about as good as it's gonna get!  I always wonder if it's best to blog it out as I'm going through it or to wait until I've processed things before writing.  With Miles' adoption, I wrote it as I was going through it and personally, there was a lot of healing that came with being that vulnerable.  So vulnerable and imperfect, it is.

*  I hate to say, that up until this point, I didn't realize just how much progress Miles had made.  When we were in the throws of transitioning him into our home, it was horrible.  And then it wasn't horrible anymore.  But I didn't realize that over the years he has still steadily become more and more secure.  Having a new guest in our home has shown me just how cemented in Miles is.  I should have known this already, but having another child in our home has made it glaringly clear just how grafted in Miles is in every sense of the word.  It's all kinds of awesome to have that kind of revelation.  It gives me a new appreciation for just how hard he worked (and we ALL worked) to become a family.

*  There are so many things that are really different this time around.  When Miles came into our home, all of his frustration and confusion came out in behaviors that were targeted at me.  I'm a grown up and even though I didn't always handle it well, I did handle it.  With this addition, I feel like my kids are bearing 95% of the brunt of the fallout.  This is infinitely harder to watch it unfold this way that to take it all on myself.  I saw just how great our adoption was for our other kids- the worldview that it gave them, the compassion that it taught them- even when the transition was tough.  It may be that we are still in the thick of transition now, but I have yet to see any benefits for our kids.  And that is a hard pill to swallow.  I wish that I could say that we are all learning humility and selflessness, but those lessons have yet to come.  It may be the difference in the permanence of adoption versus the temporary state of foster care or the difference in ages- I don't know.  It's just very, very different for our kids.  And mostly in a negative way.  It brings me a lot of guilt and a lot of anxiety and worry that I've asked my kids to take this on.  They still overwhelmingly say that even when this placement is over that they want to continue to be a foster family- but they want a 6 year old girl with brown skin from Africa.  They don't understand that foster care doesn't work that way and I think that they are still grieving our failed adoption.

*  If I had all of this to do over again, I would do ONE MAJOR thing very, very different.   I feel like I did not do a good job of preparing my kids for why foster kids come into state care.  We told our kids that sometimes kids would be staying with us for a while while their mommies and daddies were working on getting skills to be better parents.  In other words, I gave them a Sunday school type answer instead of giving them the truth about what lands kids in foster care.  On the third night of our foster blessing being in our home, she divulged to our oldest the things that brought her to our home.  First, I panicked.  Then I cried myself to sleep at the loss of innocence for both of the girls.  Then I kept my Sadie out of school the next morning, took her out to breakfast and burst her perfect world bubble.  I gave her the nitty gritty of all of the awful things that adults can do to kids.  I tried to think of every situation that would ever put a kid in foster care and laid it all out for her.  I wish that she'd heard it all from me to begin with- I think it would have been less confusing for her.  So if I had it to do over, I'd have those conversations in advance instead of letting her hear it from the child in our home.  Our boys, at 6 and 4 were still okay with our generic answers, but for our oldest, there were just things that she needed to know the truth about.  As moms, I think that we all want to protect our kids- so explaining all the evil that exists and lifting that veil of innocence for my child was one of the hardest things I've ever done as a parent.

*  I dressed up our foster daughter in a beautiful dress and fixed her hair.  I took her to the gorgeous field beside our house with my fancy pants camera and we did a full scale photo shoot.  As she twirled around in her dress and smiled and posed, it hit me like a ton of bricks just how much every little girl deserves to be adored and doted on and made to feel like a beautiful princess.  We printed out all the pictures and made them into albums for her mom and dad.  She can't wait to give them to them and it was a great way to help her foster her relationship with her birth parents.

*  One thing about all of this that I will probably never feel comfortable with is the affection part.  Kids need affection!  If we sit down anywhere in our house, the kids crawl up on our laps.  I love it.  However, when I see our foster daughter crawl up on my husband's lap, it makes us both feel weird.  We absolutely know that she needs the same affection as the other kids.  There is nothing icky about it. But as a mom, I think that if my 9 year old daughter were in someone else's home, I would not want her sitting on another man's lap.  I know that it's because I'm thinking as an adult here and not as a child- but it just makes me uncomfortable and reminds me how vulnerable we are as foster parents.  There is such a strange balance of wanting to give kids what they need (including appropriate physical touch) and remembering that they aren't actually your child to give that to.  I always go back to the same example in my mind when I try to make sense of all of it- When Sadie was in kindergarten her bus was in a minor accident that left the back window of the bus shattered.  It absolutely scared her to death and she was crying a lot.  Her big, burly, bus driver held her tight and kissed her on the head.  Normally- not cool.  But in this instance, it was exactly what my scared daughter needed and I thanked that bus driver a million times over for taking care of my daughter so tenderly at a time when I couldn't be there.  I can only hope that I can get over my discomfort at providing what this child needs.

*  She also asked if Kamron and I were "for real married" or "just common law married".  Cause all 8 year olds know about common law, right?  Bless it.

*  Last week, we decided that it was best to move all of "our" kids into one bedroom together (for various reasons).  This is working out really well and has helped to alleviate some of the sibling rivalry issues that we were having.  However, in this rental, our three kid's bedroom feels a little like an orphanage.  I sent my friend this picture and her response was, "Should we send twin sheets or mosquito nets."

*  We have awesome support.  I have so many fostering friends that have been there to offer advice.  But even when you are really supported, there are days when it totally sucks. I'd be lying if I said there weren't times when I've wanted to throw in the towel. One night I had a complete breakdown- complete with tears. Usually my medication makes tears damn near impossible. (thank you God for meds)  As an aside, one time I asked one of my friends who was getting ready to take her family out on the mission field how in the world she was making it through the day.  Her response?  "Jesus and Zoloft".  It's my favorite answer now when people ask me how we do it.  Anyway- I was crying and telling my husband that I just thought that we'd "be better at this".  He said, "What do you mean."  I explained to him that I just thought that I'd enjoy fostering more than I do.  He said, "Oh baby.  You mean you thought this was supposed to be FUN?"  And then he looked at me like I had 40 heads.  Expectations, people.  My expectations of how things are supposed to go wreck me every single time.  One day I will learn to set the bar so low that I will live in a state of always being pleasantly surprised.  

* We are going on vacation in a few weeks to Hawaii.  It is a trip that Kamron earned through work and we had to book it almost 9 months ago.  It was not feasible to add a ticket at this juncture and I am having major guilt about taking a vacation without our foster daughter.  We have lined up a super fun week for her while we are gone and she will get to experience her own kind of vacation at a camp designed just for foster kids.  But still- there is major guilt over it.  And I feel like we can't talk to our kids about our upcoming trip and get super excited like we'd normally do before a vacation because I don't want to hurt her feelings- even though she's totally pumped about going to camp.  These are the things they don't teach you how to deal with during the classes.  I also feel guilt that I am really looking forward to spending the week with just the three kids.  I feel like we really need it.  I know that probably makes me an awful person, but just whatever.

*  It is so cool to give a child experiences that they've never had- doing organized sports and making new friends at church/the neighborhood/the pool are such a joy to watch.  We got to take her to the movies and she had never been before- and fishing, and wading in the creek, and four wheeling and late night bonfires in the yard.  Watching those new experiences and giving a bigger world view to a kid are so freaking much fun.  It reminds me of why this is so worthwhile.  And while I wouldn't consider the overall experience "fun" - it is rewarding beyond belief to know that you are impacting someone else's life in what is hopefully a positive way.

*  Having someone else in your home for an extended period of time has made me wonder one major thing- what would my kids say about our family? (This girl deemed it super important that we know that when her aunt toots that she runs away from it)  And what would my kids act like in another family? It's a strange transference of skills when you mix people like that.  Our foster daughter has musical armpit talent that could probably win her some sort of award on America's Got Talent.  She's tried to teach the other kids, but they just can't catch on.  But my kids have taught her all the words to Crazy Train.  Armpit farts and Ozzy.  It's like the mecca of kid skills.  Together, these four will change the world with their critical knowledge.  God help 'em.

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