Day 1: I am Thankful for Foster Parents!

ImageIt’s November – the month we celebrate Thanksgiving!  October was a pretty stressful month for me in the foster care world, so this month, I am challenging myself to write for 30 days straight on things I am thankful for in that same foster care world.

Today, I am thankful that there are people out there that are willing to open their homes and hearts to a kiddo in need.  When the foster care system works the way it is supposed to work, the love that foster parents show is a great testament to the goodness in humanity.

Before a foster family can open their home and their hearts to a child that needs a safe place to live, they must go through a lot of training, a rather intense background check, and an invasive a thorough home study.   When a child or children are placed in their home, the foster parents’ work doubles quadruples.  Often a kiddo will come into a foster home with literally nothing but the clothes on his back.  The foster parents are responsible for covering the basics for the kiddo, like clothes and food…and getting the kiddo enrolled in school or daycare, finding a doctor, a dentist, a therapist, oh the list goes on and on.  And of course, they are doing all this while the kiddo is going through some issues because he has been taken from the only home he has known, the state is looking over their shoulder, and random strangers are parading through their home.  They are doing this all for a kiddo that they have never met.  How awesome is that?

Yes, a lot of foster parents are adoption-motivated (as I am), but the chances of adopting through foster care on the first placement are small.  I heard that it takes an average of 5 placements before an adoption-motivated foster family can adopt from foster care because 85% of children return to their family.  In the meantime, that is a lot of love and compassion flowing from one home.

To all the foster parents out there – you are making a tremendous difference.  You are providing kiddos a chance at happiness, belonging, safety, and love.   And I am thankful for you!

Excitement and Fear: Yep, I’m a Foster Parent

I have been thinking about how much my life has changed in the last few months and how I have gone through so many emotions in this time period, often within the same hour day.

My first day as a licensed foster parent was filled with excitement – I was about to embark on this wonderful new adventure called Motherhood.  The anticipation of my new role was very exciting to me.  After finding out that my license had been approved, the first thing I did was call or text my closest family and friends to let them know that my home was officially licensed and I would soon be a Mom.  I then set up my cell phone so that the placement officer’s calls and text messages had a special ringtone.

ImageAnd then…I sat and waited and waited, and then waited a bit longer.  The longer I waited, the more I was able to think about this so-called adventure and the excitement quickly turned into fear.

Here’s a little peek into some of the thoughts that were running through my head:

  • I am going to get a call any minute and I have to make a spur of the moment decision to say yes or no to a potential placement without knowing much more about this kid other than his or her gender and age. Can you really do this? 
  • I don’t know if this kiddo has any food allergies?  What will the kiddo eat?
  • What trauma has he or she faced?  Am I emotionally equipped to deal with this?   
  • I have never been a parent before (my pups don’t count) and I have no business raising someone else’s kid. 
  • What the heck did I just get myself into? 

My heart and head waged this back and forth battle between excitement and fear almost every day.   I would wake up every morning excited and anticipating “the” call that would forever change my life, but the longer I waited, the more the fear took control  the If I got a call for a potential placement that day, the battle was much more severe.  Initially, I was excited about the adventure, and if I had to wait for more than 30 minutes to know if my home was chosen for the placement, the fear quickly replaced the excitement.

Now that I am again open for a placement, my heart and head are waging this battle.  I gotta tell you – this is EXHAUSTING and it has to stop!  So I started to think about how I was reacting to these circumstances (that I have no control over) and I saw a pattern.  If I was excited, it was because I was anticipating (definition of anticipating is to regard the outcome as probable) the call and the awesome adventure that lay ahead of me.  If I was afraid, it was because I was focusing on the waiting and focusing on all the negative stuff floating around in my head.

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After a little scientific research (thanks Google!), I now know that the only difference between excitement and fear is the way that I think about it and how I respond to it.  My body reacts the same way to both emotions:  breathing speeds up, heart races, muscles tighten.  (I remember when those reactions were caused by a cute boy walking into class…when did my life change?)  So this seems like an easy enough fix.  If I anticipate the call (it’s probable to happen), and I don’t simply wait for the call (so many things can go wrong), then I will be excited.  EUREKA!

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As of today,

 I am vowing to

live in the spirit of a

nticipation and excitement

about my future adventures as a foster mom!

FYI – Sassy Pants is still with me.  It looks like she will be making a move to be with her biological family sometime next week.  I am anticipating that she will continue to be happy and healthy.

The Magic of Halloween

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I have a confession:  I LOVE THE HOLIDAYS!   If possible, I will celebrate every single holiday…and it does not matter how obscure the holiday (I have been known to send Happy Pancake Day text messages).

But there is something extra special and magical about Halloween.  Maybe it’s because it is the first real holiday of the Fall season. Or maybe it’s because it kicks off the trinity of major holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/NYE).  Or maybe it’s because it is the one time of year when one can indulge in their secret wish to be a fairy or wear that awesome renaissance dress that just might not be ok on other days.  I could go on and on about the possible reasons for the special magic of Halloween, but that’s not the point of this post.  Let’s just leave it at:  I love Halloween!

This Halloween is extra special because it is the first Halloween that I will be able to celebrate the holiday with a little person.  Sassy Pants will be returning to her bio family very soon, but her CPS caseworker assured me that she will be with me for Halloween.  When she told me that news I almost did a cartwheel.  Of course everything in the CPS system can change without notice, so I have tried to keep my excitement contained.  But now the big day is only two days away and it still looks like Sassy Pants will be with me, so let the excitement run wild!

We carved our pumpkins last night.  And by “we”, I mean I carved and Sassy Pants played with the pumpkin guts.

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I finally finished the treat bags for the trick-or-treaters.  Yes, I am a bit of a hippy and don’t want to give the kiddos candy. I think these little bags full of fun goodies will more than make up for the lack of candy.  At least that’s the hope – I don’t want to be known as the crazy lady that doesn’t give out candy on Halloween.    I’m ok with being the crazy idea lady, or just the crazy lady, but I don’t want to be the crazy lady that doesn’t give out candy on Halloween.  Oh the horror!

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Tonight I will finish the treat bags for Sassy Pants’ class, get the supplies for the apple cider, and put together the bench for the porch.  I have had this bench in my garage for a few weeks now and have had several weekends on which I could put it together, just never got around to it. So I am going to do some manual labor on a Tuesday night because the scarecrow people need a place to sit on Thursday.  Come on, I am not a barbarian!

Did I mention that this is also my first Halloween in my house?  I’ve lived in apartments for the past 15 or so years and I didn’t get any trick-or-treaters.  I have been waiting for this day since last Halloween!

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The Foster Parent Roller Coaster

The last ten days have been kerazy – welcome to the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster that all foster parents are riding!

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The Goodbye Continues

Yesterday I got a timeline to go by for Sassy Pants’ move.  I am heartbroken.  But I will survive.  More importantly, I am so happy for her and her family.  When this reunification process started, I would say that I am happy she has family that is fighting for her, but I didn’t really mean it.  Now, I am genuinely happy for them.  That does not mean that I am not going to miss her like crazy and that a little piece of my heart will be living somewhere else, but I MUST look at this from her family’s perspective and I MUST believe that she is going to be in a safe and loving environment.  If I don’t do that, I will run off to Mexico with her and never return.  I do love me some tacos, but that’s not the right thing to do…..is it?  (Getting to my Zen stage is still a work in progress.)

The Possibilities

Within a 7-day window I received information on two possible placements – a beautiful 3-year old girl (all these kiddos are beautiful to me even though I have never seen them) and two gorgeous newborn twins.  Of course I said YES to all three kiddos, but my YES was a little late.  I somehow missed the text for the 3-year old and responded 30 minutes after receiving it.  Fortunately for her, she was already placed in a foster home.  Same thing happened with the twins.  I missed the email and responded 30 minutes after receiving it.  Although I have not received confirmation from my agency that they have been placed (this was two days ago), I am sure that they have been.

I have been struggling with the fact that I “missed” these messages – did I miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime to meet my forever kid? I am working on letting that go.  I know that I will get another call because unfortunately there are so many kids that need a safe place.  I am trusting the universe….well, that’s another post for another time.

Can I Just Skip Tuesdays?

A lot of folks suffer from Sunday Night Blues (http://www.dailyfinance.com/2013/10/07/sunday-night-blues-the-dread-of-workers-everywhere/), but not me.  No, I suffer from Tuesday Freak-Out.  Why Tuesday?  Because Tuesday is the day that Sassy Pants has her weekly visit with her bio parents and I am a nice big bag of mixed emotions.  I’m annoyed because I have to pack her lunch (it doesn’t matter that it only takes me an extra 45 seconds).  I’m happy that her bio parents show up to every visit and are engaging with her (so I hear).  I’m jealous because I know they get the super sweet, giggly version of her for their two-hour visit and I will get the cranky version when I pick her up from daycare because she missed her nap.  I’m nervous because my daughter is in the car with the CPS transporter (a complete stranger to me) and they might get in a car accident on the way to or from the CPS office.  And at the end of the day, I am happy because she always gives me a big smile that just melts my heart when I walk in to her daycare classroom.

This makes for a long and stressful day…can I just skip Tuesdays?

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Rockstar Report: The Parent Whisperer

Being a parent is hard.  That’s the case whether you’re a biological parent, a foster parent, an adoptive parent, a step-parent, or someone stepping into the role of parent because no one else will. So I thought I would take the opportunity to thank those that have made this motherhood thing a little bit easier for me because they are rockstars and because they are a rock to me.  I plan to make this an ongoing topic and today I will rave about the Parent Whisperer.  These will be published in no particular order, just as I come up with a clever name for these folks (and I use the term “clever” very loosely). 

I will admit that I was completely CLUELESS about the practicalities of being a parent when Sassy Pants first arrived.  Conceptually, I understood the rules of making her feel loved and safe, but I had no idea what to do when she developed a fever or a fierce rash or was drooling nonstop because she was teething.  Of course, I could google, but that takes time and the information out there can be very contradictory.  I quickly learned that I couldn’t just ask anyone for advice.  Everyone has their own special fix for these types of issues and everyone will provide their opinion on how to deal with it and then take the opportunity to discuss the other shortcomings in my parenting style (whether I ask or not).  After a few days of non-stop solicited and unsolicited advice, I realized that I had a Parent Whisperer in my family.  My cousin has five children and they are all very close in age (at one point she had five kiddos under the age of five running around).  Talk about being in the trenches!  All five of her munchkins have different personalities and have had different development tracks, so when she speaks, she is speaking from experience and a lot of it. 

I was at a complete loss while dealing with Sassy Pant’s first teething torture.  I received advice from several sources, but hers seemed to be the most practical.  We are similar in our thinking that we want to limit the amount of chemicals that go into our kids’ bodies (she says that makes us hippies), but we also don’t want our kids to suffer unnecessarily.  She recommended some great brands of ibuprofen and acetaminophen that were dye and PBA free.  She even texted me a picture of the dosages for each type of medication based on weight and told me to save the picture to my phone.  BRILLIANT!  For anyone that knows me, you know that I do not like to be told what to do.  But when it comes to taking care of my kiddo, if the Parent Whisperer tells me to do it, I will do it.  Why?  Because she’s done it all and tried it all!  She knows what works and what doesn’t work.  There is no need for me to reinvent the wheel.  And when she tells me what to do, she does it in such a way that I don’t feel like she is telling me that she knows how to raise my kid better than I do.  She’s being practical and I appreciate that!

All her kids are smart, inquisitive and well-rounded?  And in the midst of raising five kids, she and her husband work daily on their marriage.  I love being around them!  Thanks, “Big Mama” for being such a rockstar and a rock I can depend on.   I want to be like you when I grow up.  

The Billy Goats of Parenting

I know that a mother’s voice is supposed to be soothing to a crying baby, but I have a notoriously horrible singing voice and hesitated to use my secret weapon for the first two months of motherhood.  Sassy Pants could not be consoled one night, so I broke out in song…and it seemed to work. I remember one song that I am willing (please see my note below about some of the nursery songs we grew up on) to sing to her – Hush Little Baby. Well, my memory isn’t quite what it used to be and so I have forgotten most of the verses to the song.

At first, the song went like this:

Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring don’t shine, you’ll still be the sweetest baby of mine.

That’s a very SHORT (and wrong) version of the song and I was annoying myself because I was on repeat because of the length. But I course I couldn’t jump on Google to find out the rest of the words to the song because I have a screaming baby in my arms (and it never quite made it on to my never ending to-do list). One night while rocking Sassy Pants to sleep and listening to the Heavenly Lullabies station on Pandora, the song came on and I crane my neck and ear to hear the actual words to the song. WAIT, there’s a billy goat in this song? (Side note: I’m going to buy a diamond ring, then a mirror and then a billy goat – who wants a billy goat? Different times, I guess.) And a horse and cart?

So my version was corrected extended.

Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring turns brass, Mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass.
If that looking glass gets broke, Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat.
If that billy goat…umm, goes fart, Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart.

So now I have to go edit the About Me section and include that I sometimes have the humor of a 13-year old boy. Really, honestly, and truly, “fart” was the only word I could come up with that rhymes with “cart” under the pressure of a screaming kiddo in the middle of the night.

Full disclaimer: while working on this post, I actually read all the lyrics to the song and found out that I am supposed to promise to buy a cart and bull and a dog named Rover between the purchase of the billy goat and the horse and cart….but I like my version better! I am pretty sure my HOA limits the number of farm animals I can have on the property and the pups would be very jealous if there was even mention of another dog.

But more to the point – how often do we make things up as we are parenting? I do it at least 5 times a day and Sassy Pants hasn’t really started talking yet. I am sure that number will increase exponentially when one of my heart babies starts asking those hard questions (e.g., where do babies come from? ). And let’s not talk about the decisions I make on the fly. Can she have juice? Yes, but only apple juice and only in her sippy cup.  How much? 4 oz., 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon.  Does it have to be diluted? Yes, 50/50.  Sounds like I know what I am talking about right, but the answer in my head is really “Billy Goat”.

If you are interested in the actual words to Hush Little Baby, please check out this link: http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/h012.html

Now, let’s talk about these nursery songs.
Rock-a-Bye-Baby: the baby falls out of a tree.
Ring-Around-the-Rosie: the plague is ravaging Europe and the kids carry posies to cover the smell of death.
London Bridge is Falling Down: the Nazis are attacking London during World War II.

Yeah, I’ll stick to billy goats farting.

Note: I have only been involved in foster parenting, but I am imagine that billy goat moments are universal across all parenting.

This Goodbye Won’t be Long Enough…..

The hearing went as I expected.  The judge ordered a home study on Sassy Pants’ local family.  If they don’t pass the home study, she will be moving to live with her grandparents in another state.  The primary goal of foster care is always reunification.  I get it and I understand it.  And I have repeated it to myself several times an hour this week.  I tried really hard to prepare for this outcome, but….well, I am off to Hobby Lobby!

The Facts as I Know Them

So these are the facts as I knew them in January 2013:

  1. I want to be a Mom.
  2. Sometimes I get a little ahead of myself when I get a new idea (just sometimes).
  3. I really really really want to be a Mom!
  4. Currently, there are approximately 30,000 kids in foster care in the great state of Texas.
  5. Did I mention that I want to be a Mom?
  6. I have a great career that I worked really hard to attain and that I enjoy most of the time (come on, it is a job and it doesn’t allow me to craft to my heart’s content). The important part is that I worked really hard.
  7. Mom, Mama, Madre, MumMum, Soandso’s Mother. Yeah, I want that title!
  8. Given the right motivation, I can pursue a goal with single-minded determination.
  9. Awww, May is such a beautiful month because it has one of the best holidays – Mother’s Day!
  10. I have had to handle some hard core emotional heavy lifting in my life and I think I handled those situations…let’s go with OKish.

So any rational person would look at these facts (perhaps eliminating #2) and come to the brilliant conclusion that pursuing adoption through the foster care system would be an excellent idea. Now would be a good time to check out my username.

So I signed up with an agency and began taking the PRIDE classes, filling out form after form after form, scouring craigslist for awesome deals on kiddo furniture that I could refinish myself, and submitting to a rather extensive background check. Finally, I am a licensed foster parent and I am ready for the beautiful child that God has called me to mother to enter into my home to the sound of angels.

REALITY CHECK! Yeah, that is not how it actually happened. I got several calls from my agency telling me about some sweet angels that needed a safe home and I submitted my name, but the CPS caseworker in those cases decided on other homes for those angels. And then one night when I was feeling particularly annoyed about the waiting process and was just vegging on the couch, I got a text asking me if I was interested in fostering a little 8-month old girl. I said YES! (I always said YES!) But I continued to veg out because I did not think I would get this placement. Then I got the text “You got her!” Oh my goodness! I was so excited and nervous and, more importantly, I really needed to find my shoes so that I could go to Wal-Mart. On the way to Wal-Mart I have to call my sister and ask “what does an 8-month old eat?” You see I had listed my preference for a pre-school age child, you know, one that uses words and walks on her own. 8 months old! That was very different than a 3- or 4-year old.

After the craziest Wal-Mart trip ever, I get home and decide to vacuum and, for some really strange reason, clean the toilets while I wait for my agency caseworker and the CPS caseworker to arrive with the little angel (aka “Sassy Pants”). My agency caseworker arrives before the CPS caseworker arrives and we are chatting when I realize that my voice is at least 4 octaves higher than normal. Nervous? The CPS caseworker arrives close to 11 pm. I walk out to meet her and she does the strangest thing after she takes Sassy Pants out of the car seat – she hands Sassy Pants to me. Ummm, what?!? Yes, I understand that I am supposed to raise this child in my home and that these caseworkers are going to leave shortly…but what?!? I finally recover from my shock (or at least am able to move one foot in front of the other) and go back inside the house. The caseworkers and I sign a slew of paperwork and then they leave. Sassy Pants, my two dogs, and I are sitting on the floor in my living room and while I am still trying to figure things out, the puppy (aka “Crazy Pup”) just goes and cuddles with Sassy Pants as if this is the most normal thing for her to do; the older dog (aka “Diva Pup”) is still trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. I realize that it is almost midnight and if it is not past Sassy Pants’ bedtime, it is way past mine so we should go to bed. Of course, I did not get a wink of sleep all night. Sassy Pants did not get the memo that she was supposed to be sleeping and wanted to play. And once I heard her first giggle I am pretty much in LOVE and want to continue hearing that beautiful sound! After she finally falls asleep, well, I can’t sleep because I am just in awe of her and stare at her until the sun rises.

FAST FORWARD to 4 months later.

Sassy Pants has now been with me for 4 months and 7 days. She has started crawling, started walking, said her first words, and turned 1 all in that time. Oh, and let’s not forget the 6 teeth that have painfully arrived and the bout of pneumonia she suffered through. There have also been the many home visits by her CPS caseworker, my agency caseworker, her CASA volunteer, and her Guardian Ad Litem, many trips to the doctor, having to document every teething tablet that I give her, and a myriad of other CPS–required activities.

I have complained, prayed, cried, and screamed in frustration a lot in the past 4 months, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has all been worth it.

These are the facts as I know them today:

  1. Sassy Pants is the center of my world.
  2. I have become quite skilled at the one-handed diaper change.
  3. I have taken to this motherhood thing quite well, if I do say so myself.
  4. I am a complete nervous wreck because there is a hearing tomorrow morning.
  5. Sassy Pants and I are so blessed because she has an amazing team that will represent her best interests tomorrow – a very compassionate CPS caseworker, a truly caring and insightful CASA volunteer, and a skilled and experienced Guardian Ad Litem. And I can’t forget to mention her pretty amazing, overachieving agency caseworker, who won’t be at the hearing, but is just awesome and deserves a shout-out.

Tomorrow the judge may decide that it is in her best interests to go live with grandparents in another state or to go live with some other local family members. Of course, I am happy that Sassy Pants has family that wants her and is fighting for her (so many of the kids in foster care don’t have that), but I want to be a little selfish and just keep her to myself for a little while longer.

If you read this entire post, thanks! Till next time!