Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sea World was fun!!

Awesomeness in bullet points:

• We saw the whales...with our eyes.

• We all stayed at a hotel and it didn't trigger any trauma reactions/behavior in my littlest cherubs. (I don't fully understand their history before coming into care but I have been led to believe that they were somewhat homeless and often stayed in hotels with others. The children were found in a hotel the day they came to stay with us.)

• We had a TON of fun and we were able to manage keeping something of a normal schedule. Granted, we blew off nap two days in a row. But bedtime stayed close to normal and everyone got enough sleep.

• Everyone had fun – even Cherub 1 (the occasionally grumpy teenager).

• Dude and Dolly like riding rides. They also came around to the fun of costumed characters. By the end of our stay they wanted their picture taken with each one.

• Pumpkin did well at respite care with Daphne (the world's most awesomest of neighbors!!). She played. She hugged. She even ate all of her meals without millions of verbal reminders to eat. (Maybe it's my cooking she hates?! LOL)

• Two days was the perfect amount of time to take in all that Sea World had to offer. The weather couldn't have been more perfect for late December!! We saw every single show and rode every single ride. It was a blast!!

And then...the not so awesome:

Pumpkin is pretty pissed off. She seemed slightly "aware" that we were leaving when we took off on Tuesday. But she knows Daphne and has been over to their house before. She wasn't upset when we left at all. And, she was fine the entire time we were gone.

But when I walked into the house at 5:00PM tonight to pick her up – she FREAKED out! I couldn't tell if she was mad that we left her or mad that we came back. She started screaming at me and crying. She pointed to the second floor of the house and said, "go night-night". Then she started crying like she did when she came back into care (after being gone 11 days) back in September. She said my name over and over. She asked for her sisters. She asked for her mommy. And, for reasons no one understands, she asked for Grandma. (Pumpkin doesn't have a "grandma" in her life. Not even her mom understands why Pumpkin cries out for Grandma.)

I thanked Daphne and walked Pumpkin across the street to our home. Pumpkin just cried and cried and cried. It was supper time and I tried to distract Pumpkin by offering her something to eat. She just cried and cried and cried.

Pumpkin isn't much of a cuddler. She has severe mental retardation and shows some symptoms of autism. In general, she doesn't connect with others. I usually try to comfort her like a "normal" child. But when it's met with rejection, I stop. I don't force it.

And since I'm not a fan of crying and screaming, I end up just telling Pumpkin to "knock it off" when she gets going. It seems harsh. I know. But parenting Pumpkin looks different than parenting a neuro-typical child. I love on her as much as I can. But if all she's going to do is cry and scream, I have to maintain my own sanity as well.

I tried several different things. I put Pumpkin on a chair facing a wall. This removal from an audience has worked before. From there, she calmed down enough to eat a little supper. She ate the broccoli on her plate before she ramped up the crying again. This time I stood her up in a corner. Again, she calmed down a little and I asked her if she wanted to eat or play. She somewhat grunted, "play," so I put her in a toy room and sat her down. She kept on crying.

I raced through my own meal and went back to try and comfort Pumpkin by holding her again. She cried but seemed to want me to snuggle her. I held her on the couch for nearly 45 minutes.

The compassion fatigue just about did me in. I made it clear that I would only snuggle her if she wasn't screaming. She stopped crying completely but it was very obvious that Pumpkin was horribly upset! I so wanted to "fix" everything. It broke my heart to hear the cries and not know for sure why she was so upset. Pumpkin can't communicate like a typical child. As I sat there holding her my heart hurt. I felt bad for leaving her. But it was better that she stayed behind. She doesn't like crowds. She wouldn't have wanted to get out of her stroller. And the physical act of getting her around the park would have been a nightmare. It's hard enough to corral a 2yo and a 4yo. It's even harder to do that when you're having to carry a 6yo that can't walk. So I knew we did the right thing. But still, I felt bad.

Now that I'm thinking over all that Pumpkin did say after I picked her up tonight – and how things seemed better for her after we got her in her PJs and started the comforting bedtime routine – I'm pretty sure Pumpkin is ticked off that we left her. I'm thinking her first response of "go night-night" was Pumpkin for, "How dare you leave me behind so I have to go night-night here!"

We've discussed before that she MIGHT say "grandma" when she's mad because of us leaving her this summer for our family vacation. What if the respite provider told Pumpkin that we went to see Grandma? What if Pumpkin's calling out that name was her way of saying, "How dare you leave me behind so you can see grandma!"

What if Pumpkin saying "grandma" again tonight was her way of saying, "You left me again just like you did this summer!"

As you can tell, parenting Pumpkin is a HUGE "what if" game. I'm never really going to know why Pumpkin was mad tonight. For all I know she could have been mad because we came back. Maybe she liked it better at Daphne's house. Maybe she thought Daphne would take her back to her mom's.

Like I said though, Pumpkin calmed down when the typical bedtime routine started. She listened to stories and swung her head back and forth when I sang the songs. She even gave me a hug as I made my way around the room with each child (she shares a HUGE bedroom with Dude and Dolly). Pumpkin rarely hugs so I could tell she was feeling at least a little bit better.

All in all, I know we did the right thing. We had a lot of fun. And I do need respite from Pumpkin every now and then. Yes, overall she is an easy child to care for. But she also wears me out – mentally and physically. She's a lot of work. I'm glad we were able to get away for a couple days. And I hope Dude and Dolly are able to remember the fun they had long after they leave our care.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sea World or bust!

Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. I see the whales. I see the whales with my eyes. Tomorrow.

Yes baby. You get to see the whales tomorrow.

I hold you Mommy.

Yes baby. You'll sit on my lap if you're scared. I'll hold you.

Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. I see the whales. I like whales.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Compassion fatigue

I have moments when I'm caring for the bonus cherubs that seem to drain me. They drain me more than I think they should.

I used to think that maybe I was just lazy. Why, after a doctor appointment, do I not have any energy? I mean, all I did was wait in a tiny waiting room with Pumpkin. Then I talked about Pumpkin's history and current health status with a doctor. Then I drove Pumpkin to school and went over the details of everything with Pumpkin's teacher. None of that is draining. None of that should wear me out.

But things like that really do.

So do meetings with new social workers. So does court. So do a lot of seemingly simple things.

Not too long ago though I learned a name for that energy drain. We went through a mandatory training on the effects of trauma. It wasn't a spectacular training. However, it was the best training the State had offered up so far concerning trauma and how it affects our kids. In that training they mentioned how caring for our kids can affect us.

It's called compassion fatigue.

Trying to carry the burden of the trauma our children went through is exhausting. Trying to shield them from more trauma is exhausting.

So is dealing with that trauma as it relates to the other professionals looking out for our cherubs. The other day I met with Pumpkin's new CPS worker. I basically had to give her a run-down of all that has happened in the last year concerning Pumpkin. Yes, she has the case notes. But listening to me is going to be faster and probably more concise. So she asked a lot of questions and I gave a lot of answers. When the worker left my home after an hour or so of talking, I was wiped out! It hurts me to have to try and decipher for this worker all that Pumpkin has gone through. All that Pumpkin should have NOT have to have gone through. Abuse and neglect is such ugly stuff!

I'm worn out today too.

Dude is feeling sick. He started to run a fever in the middle of the night last night. He's coughing and congested.

But my fatigue is not just based on a lack of sleep.

Dude is super scared. He can't seem to sleep without me by his side. He'll drift off but then wake up screaming for me 30 minutes later. It's his screams that are so unsettling. Why oh why is he so scared?! What has happened to this little guy in the past that is making him so scared right now?

I'm sure that the fear is based on something that happened to him in his past. Thankfully he's able to communicate so much better than when he got sick six months ago (right after coming into our home). He'll ask for me by name. He'll tell me he's scared. He'll tell me he wants me to hold him. It feels good to know that I'm giving him what he wants and needs.

But he can't tell me why he's so scared. And it's unlike anything I've ever seen with any other kid. He's petrified and can't tell me why.

And I'm wearing out quickly. I wish so badly I could take this fear away from him.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dysregulation

Wanna mess a kid up in the head?!

Find yourself in a conversation with your adopted son where you have to discuss what termination of parental rights means.

Explain to him the difference between the foster cases currently in your home and his story.

When he asks if we're going to adopt Pumpkin (should no relatives be deemed suitable)...tell him, "no".

Monday, December 19, 2011

Presents

Back in November, at the family visit before the court hearing, Dude and Dolly's mom told them that their grandma in D*** had a houseful of presents for them. When the judge ruled that they weren't going to go with grandma just yet, not getting those presents seemed to be the only thing that upset the children. (They don't know this grandma other than during that very brief visit before the hearing.)

Presents are rolling in to our home right now. Presents from our foster care agency. Presents from the county. Presents from my family in the Midwest. Presents from us.

But no presents from grandma. (And yes, Dolly has noticed this.)

Part of me wants to "fix" this and wrap a present or two up and say they're from Grandma. But I'm not a big fan of misleading children. And something about that kind of deception doesn't sit right with me.

Boy I wish this grandma was doing more to foster a relationship with these kids. I know she lives far away. But my family lives 1200 miles away and there's more relationship with them than there is with Grandma. Little notes have been sent. Phone calls happen. And yes, there have been presents given.

It's so hard to continue to build up this grandma as a wonderful person. I know my doing it will make the transition easier for the kids. If they believe with all their hearts that Grandma loves and and wants them, leaving us won't be as difficult. But I feel a bit like a fraud.

Mom isn't capable of doing anything for her kids right now. It is my understanding that she is currently in court-ordered rehab. They aren't even having their one hour visit with mom this month.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Who should get what?

I take pictures of Pumpkin and pass them on to her mom periodically. We're down to having visits only once a month for one hour in our county so contact is rather limited. (The almost nonexistent visits are a "county" thing that applies to almost every child in our area. It's not because of any details specific to Pumpkin's case.) I don't do pictures at every visit like some people do. Pumpkin is 6 years old so she's not changing as fast as a baby does. But I've given Mom some snapshots. I gave her a framed photo on Mother's Day. And I made a photo book when Pumpkin left care back in September.

Anyway, I'd like your opinion...

When I get something from the school (like a picture her teacher gave her for Christmas of her classmates), should I give it to Mom? Or, because this case is moving towards termination, should I save things like that for the person that will ultimately end up caring for Pumpkin when she leaves foster care?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What the?!

I just got in from my mailbox. Addressed to Pumpkin is a lovely little postcard that reads,

"Do you know a Gifted Child? Then nominate your child for the Gifted and Talented Program"

It gives all the details about the nomination period. It even gives a great definition of what a "gifted and talented" student looks like.

What a slap on the face to the parents of a special needs child! Do they need a reminder sent to them that their child is anything but gifted and talented sent in the mail?! A little tact from the school district sure would have been nice. I'm sure they could have sorted the mailing list to avoid sending these postcards out to the entire school. (They knew enough to not send one to my child that is already in the GT program so they sorted their mailing list a little.)

Like I've said before, I've got it easier than a bio parent. I don't grieve all that Pumpkin is or isn't. But this sort of thing gets under my skin. Parenting a special needs child is not an easy task. My heart goes out to all the other parents of "special" kids that got this postcard in the mail.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Help please" update 2

OK – I'm probably going to jinx myself here...

Pumpkin said, "help," this morning as she was struggling with taking off her nightgown.

Oh, she cried and complained a lot. But I've enlisted the help of Dude and Dolly. I asked them a few days ago to help me teach Pumpkin how to ask for help. I told them to make sure they say it really loud when they need something from me. (They get so proud of themselves as they puff all up and boldly say, "help please" as they are getting dressed and undressed.) I always praise the heck out of them then and make a big deal about them using their words.

This morning Dude needed help taking off his jammies. Honestly, I'm not sure if he really needed the help or if he just wanted to play the game and get all the praise. Either way, Pumpkin seemed to be paying attention through her fussing.

The Dolly, not to be left out, made sure to ask for help with her nightgown too.

I looked over at Pumpkin and reminded her she could ask for help if she needed it. Much to my surprise, a muffled, "help," came out of her mouth.

I praised her like crazy. She didn't smile or even acknowledge any of it. But she said, "help!"

We'll get there! I just know it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Help please" update

Tonight at bedtime Pumpkin sat down to take off her shoes. She can't untie shoes – especially if they are double knotted.

She looked up at Mr. Amazing and said.........

"help"

Angels in heaven were singing I'm sure. I just wish I could have heard it.

'Cause Lord knows she won't say it to me for at least two more months.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Help please"

Pumpkin continues to make small amounts of progress.
Very small amounts.

However, I do try to work with her therapists so I can reinforce the things they are doing. Because honestly, she can work and work and work during therapy 2-3 times a week. But if the skills don't transfer over to home life...they are worthless.

In the area of the country where we live things are done differently. I'm not sure if it's because of the culture. If it's because of the poverty level. Or if it's because of Medicaid in general. Where I'm originally from – early childhood therapies are done in the home with the parents present. Because...including the parents in the therapy sessions ensures that the same message is coming to that child from all parties. However, where I live now – the therapies are done completely separate from the parents. Every six months the parents go in and speak with the therapists (almost like a parent/teacher conference if you will). But by and large, as a parent, you have to push to find out what your kid is working on in therapy. And since Pumpkin is basically non-verbal, she can't tell me anything.

I requested the most recent progress notes so I could pass them along to the lawyers before our next court hearing. When that dingbat of a lawyer was talking to me about Pumpkin's lack of language, she questioned what was going on in therapy. I offered to get her progress notes.

Anyway, I noticed in the notes that Pumpkin has been working on stair climbing.

Well, no one had told me this. For the past 11 months I've been having Pumpkin crawl up and down the steps because I thought it was the safest thing to do. She is very unsteady on her feet. Little did I know that she was doing well with walking up and down steps in therapy.

We have a two story house. I could have been working with Pumpkin on the stair climbing every single day – instead of the 2 times per week she gets at therapy.

After a special phone call to go over these details with her therapist, I am now helping Pumpkin walk upright up and down the steps. I know what her strengths are and what to look for to help her be successful. (For example, I need to watch her feet to make sure she lowers her right foot first when descending. Her left foot is much stronger and can support her weight but sometimes she mixes up the correct foot pattern. By watching her and correcting her feet if necessary, she will eventually learn how to go down without assistance.)

I also had a conversation with her speech therapist. Pumpkin is capable of more speech at home than what she uses.

For example, we spent MONTHS teaching Pumpkin to say "more" or "all done" when she looked like she was finished eating. Literally – it took months to teach her to do this. Now though, she will point to a section on her plate if she wants more food and say, "this one". For the past couple months we've been thrilled with this and we would give her of what she pointed to.

Now though, I want to take it to the next level. I want Pumpkin to say "more meat" or "more bread" (for example). I don't expect her to be able to identify the food off the top of her head. But I do want her to repeat me. So now, if she says, "more" and then points to a section and says, "this one", I will hold up the food she wants and tell her, "OK Pumpkin. You want more fruit. Say, 'more fruit'."

I spoke in detail with her speech therapist. She agrees with me that Pumpkin is very capable of this level of speech. She too feels that when Pumpkin chooses to not repeat a command (like saying "more fruit" if she does want more fruit) that it is willful on her part. She can repeat things. She's learning more and more nouns and verbs in therapy. And if given the verbal prompting, she can do this.

Pumpkin is refusing to repeat what we say. She will finish her plate. I will ask her if she wants more. She will point to a section and say, "this one". However, no matter how hard I try, she will not repeat the actual name of the food that she wants. So, she doesn't get it.

I will move the food she wants back to the middle of the table. I will then ask Pumpkin, "Do you want more? Or are you all done?" Rather than say the name of the food she's requesting, Pumpkin will choose to say, "all done".

Maddening I tell you. Simply maddening.

However, I know that she is getting enough food the first time I fill her plate. She won't go hungry. And she does need to learn how to ask for the things she wants and needs. But the progress is so incredibly slow.

I'm also trying to get Pumpkin to say, "help please" when working on an occupational or physical task that she is having a difficult time with.

Again, Pumpkin is refusing.

I had her putting on her nightgown the other night. I lined it up and put it partway over her head. Pumpkin knows how to pull the nightgown over her face. She also knows that she needs to push her arms through. She can usually get the first arm without any problems. But that second arm is difficult for her. She often sends her arm out the neck hole or just pokes it against the fabric when she can't quite hit the arm hole.

She sat there frustrated beyond belief. I simply stated, "put it on" over and over and over and over. She would look at me with her eyes all confused because I wasn't helping her. So I would say, "Pumpkin. You need help. Say, help please and Mamma will help you. Say, help please."

She refused!!

Eventually, after tears. Crying for her mommy. More frustration and confusion. Pumpkin got her arm through on her own. She absolutely refused to say, "help please".

This morning, while walking down the stairs Pumpkin got to the last stair and couldn't figure out how to reach the floor. The handrail curves a bit at the end and she didn't feel comfortable holding on to that to step down the last stair.

I looked at Pumpkin and told her, "Pumpkin you need help. Mamma will help you. Say help please."

She refused!!

Again there were tears. Again and again I gave her the verbal prompts. She refused to say anything. Instead, she struggled and twisted until she felt safe enough holding on to the end of the staircase wall to step down on her own.

It sounds so harsh to say that I'm refusing to give my kid food and I'm making her walk on her own (when it's difficult for her to do those things). But somehow I've got to help her learn and grow.

Slow progress. Very slow progress indeed.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A rambling post about Christmas

I told myself I wasn't going to get unrealistically attached these three months. And I'm trying. Honest. I am.

But it isn't easy.

As we decorated the Christmas tree last weekend, Dude had to run up to me EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. he hung an ornament.

"Mommy! I do it. I hang it up. Mommy! I do it."

Catch that "mommy" in there?!

I'm not Mamma L*** at all anymore. In fact, Dolly has corrected me when I call myself Mamma L***. She will take me by the face and say, "You MY mommy!"

This morning, while riding to church, Dude piped up from the back seat, "Mommy. You pretty." Of course he went on to add that he likes our truck and that our truck is pretty too. But that constant "Mommy" is killing me.

It's wrong for me to secretly hope that their grandma drops the ball and doesn't follow through or cooperate with the additional background checks that need to be done. It's wrong for me to secretly want the judge to say that grandma isn't capable of raising these children to adulthood. I know this.

We are going to enjoy Christmas. I'm not going to dwell on the court hearing that seems closer than it is. I've purchased presents. In fact, my entire family has purchased presents. We're not going overboard but these kids are going to experience as much Christmas magic as I can muster.

Since my bigger cherubs seriously need nothing (and literally want very little) for Christmas, we have decided to have an "experience" instead of opening presents with them. Of course Santa is going to visit. But the presents under the tree will just be for Pumpkin, Dolly and Dude. For the big kids, our family gift is a trip to Sea World.

I have jumped through about a million hoops.

First, I had to secure respite care for Pumpkin. She does not enjoy crowds. She does not participate in family events like this.  And since bringing her would cost more, involve us driving two vehicles (we don't own an 8 passenger) and would entail pushing a stroller and lots of extra hassle...Pumpkin is staying behind.

Thankfully my friend Daphne (the world's most awesome next-door neighbor) is taking her.

Then I had to secure permission from the lawyer/judge for Dolly and Dude to be able to go. Despite the fact it's not supposed to be a hassle when kids travel within the state of Texas for less than 72 hours -- rules are different where we live. (Even though the simple rules are clearly stated on the State DFPS website and it's what I was told during training.) Our judge won't let kids leave the county or cross a checkpoint without written legal permission.

Thankfully no one denied my cherubs a trip to Sea World! (Honestly -- who would do that?!)

Mr. Amazing grinned this morning when Dude called me Mommy as we were walking to the truck. (I don't remember what Dude said but it was absolutely adorable.) I looked back at Mr. Amazing and asked him to not make a big deal out of things like that. It's too painful. I want to be Dude's forever mommy. I want him to have a mommy that loves him as much as I do. But it's not going to happen and I have to not melt every time I hear him talk to me that way. I have to remind Dude that he has a grandma that loves him very much.

I wish this grandma could be more of a presence in the kids' lives. It would make it so much easier. I don't know why she isn't. I'm not sure if it's because of the language barrier. Distance. Or general lack of desire. In my brain, this grandma should be calling the kids (it's allowed). Sending them letters. And trying to start a relationship.

But she's not.

And I have to be OK with that.

In the meantime I AM going to enjoy Christmas! Dagnabit!! These kids have been enthralled with all things Christmas. They love the decorations. They positively light up when they double check that, yes indeed, Santa is going to bring THEM presents. And Sea World...they can hardly wait!!

Dolly will look at me and say, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! I get to see the whales!"

"Yes Dolly. You will get to see the whales"

"Mommy! I get to see whales with my eyes!!" (this from the little girl that didn't speak English and couldn't string together more than three words - even in Spanish - five months ago)

It's going to be a magical Christmas!!!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Time Out

Prior to coming into care, my littlest cherubs probably hadn't been disciplined too much. (But honestly, they didn't need it. They're little and they are really easy to redirect!)

When they came back from three weeks of respite care (when we weren't allowed to bring them on vacation with us) they had added "time out" to their English vocabulary.

At our house we don't use time out much. I just separate the children if they are crying (so they don't have an audience for their fit). If I don't have a convenient place to move the child to, they have to stand in a corner until they are done crying.

It must be a rough day in pretend land though. At minimum, there are eight babies in various corners all over the house. And choruses of "time out" are echoing from the little cherubs mouths as they take care of their babies.


(They're nicer than I am...their babies get to look out from the corner.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Liebster Blog Award



Liebster is a German word which means "dearest" or "beloved". It is also used to refer to as someone's "favorite" and the idea of the Liebster Blog Award is to bring attention to blogs with less than 200 followers that deserve more recognition and encouragement.

I was nominated by Teresa at Foster Care: Our Love Story. Teresa and her husband are foster parents in Upstate NY. She writes about the good and the bad of foster care. She always seems to have such a positive attitude no matter what "The System" throws her way! Thanks for the nomination Teresa!!

There are certain rules that come with the Liebster Blog Award
1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Hope that the people you've sent the award to forward it on to their five favorite bloggers and keep it going!

I've been trying to pare back how many blogs I read. And quite a few of the blogs I do read either have over 200 followers or have been nominated for this award already. The following are five blogs that I really like though:


FosterWee
This couple recently took in their first foster daughter. It's interesting to watch as they begin to navigate The System. They have a positive attitude and their dedication towards healing is evident in what they share online.


I Was A Foster Kid
I can't tell how many followers LT has. I'm quite sure it's more than 200 but she doesn't publish that information. And since I can't tell for sure, I want to nominate LT. She is a very strong young lady that aged out of The System in a horrible way. The abuse she suffered as a young child at the hands of her bio family and then again in The System has made healing a long, slow process. But the wisdom she shares with her readers is invaluable. Her blog is quite raw and honest. As a foster parent, it has been very helpful for me to see and learn from her perspective. LT is amazing!!


Social Worker 24/7
I like to read about all aspects of fostering. I was thrilled to find a blog written by a social worker. She blogs rather infrequently. In fact, she was JUST diagnosed with cancer and isn't sure if she's going to blog much right now. So, if anything, please say a prayer for this young lady as she begins her treatment. If you do click over though, read her archives. She's got some great posts!!


Mama Foster
Mama Foster was one of the first "foster parent" blogs I started reading. I just love what she has to say! She reminds me that I'm not alone navigating the waters of foster care. And that even though I may want to throw in the towel, it's worth it to keep on keepin' on.


Counseling And Enrichment
This is a brand new blog written by several different people involved in foster care and adoption. The therapists at Counseling and Enrichment offer up a great perspective for parents of kids from the hurt places.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Riding the roller coaster

I don't even know where to start. (Warning...this will probably be a long one.)

Part of me wants to give only the most vague of details. Technically I am not allowed to write this blog. The details of foster care aren't legally mine to share. (I'd get in huge trouble if my agency or someone at CPS knew I wrote this blog!! I'd probably end up in legal trouble!!)

Part of me wants to give y'all a full script of my afternoon. I feel somewhat obligated to show what foster care REALLY looks like. 'Cause it's nothing like the training. Nothing can prepare you for the roller coaster until you climb aboard yourself.

So...since I want to warn y'all about the giant hill ahead and the resulting ride that might make you lose your stomach...here's how court went this afternoon:

I had to bring Pumpkin. In the state of Texas all children over the age of four are required by law to attend all of their court hearings. (At least this is how it was explained to me. And from the internet searches I've done, it appears to be true.) In fact, the judge in our area requires ALL children (even infants) to come to court.

Pumpkin did OK and went straight to her mom when we got there. Her mom seemed to handle things OK in the waiting room. Pumpkin didn't get all wound up. She just sat on her mom's lap and drank a soda that her mom bought her.

CASA had called me this morning to get the current details on Pumpkin's case. Pumpkin's actual CASA volunteer has completely dropped the ball and has only visited Pumpkin one time since coming in to care in January. However, the CASA supervisor is required to follow up if the volunteer doesn't. Since we had already spoken on the phone, I didn't have to go over anything in the waiting room with her.

I sat and waited. I tried to not get nervous. But the waiting room is such a cesspool of anxiety. Parents are tense. Some are crying. Children are everywhere. Some are confused. Some are happy. Some are crying. "Suits" are everywhere. And there is NOWHERE private to talk. So if a "suit" needs to talk to a client, a child or a foster parent, they are literally sitting next to someone else or standing in a corner going over the most private of details in the most public of settings.

Pumpkin's GAL (guardian ad litem -- her lawyer) never showed up today. <<sigh>>

The CPS attorney came over to speak with me before court. It went something like this:

LAWYER: So, how is Pumpkin.
ME: Fine. What did you want to know? (I absolutely HATE that generic question. How am I supposed to answer that?!)
LAWYER: (hesitating due to my lack of an answer) Well...how are visits?
ME: Fine. What did you want to know? (ugh)
LAWYER: (thinking even harder on how to ask a question that could really generate an answer) Well...how does she respond after a visit.
ME: Pumpkin does OK enough. Granted, she does show a lot of regression. But it's hard to quantify.
LAWYER: Does she get aggressive?
ME: No!
LAWYER: Does she get passive-aggressive?
ME: Um...Pumpkin doesn't have the ability to be passive-aggressive. (Despite meeting Pumpkin several different times, I do not think this woman understands how developmentally delayed Pumpkin is!)

I went on to explain that it's more of a depression really. That Pumpkin stops engaging with the family. Certain skills will seem to disappear. She won't play. She withdraws a lot.

LAWYER: Does Pumpkin talk about it? What does she say about her mom?
ME: (taking a deep breath) Pumpkin can't talk.
LAWYER: What?!

I had to explain to this woman AGAIN that Pumpkin is not able to communicate. I explained in detail what she's able to do. How she can make choices when offered two things that she can physically touch. But for the most part, Pumpkin does not express her needs and wants. She might point to something (like the soda machine in the waiting room when she was with her mom). I explained that I think she communicates better with her mom than she does with me. I tried and I tried.

But this lawyer heard only what she wanted to hear.

She thinks Pumpkin has some kind of a dissociative disorder. She explained to me that she's worked with lots of special needs kids. She said that in her experience they all communicate.

I wanted to smack the woman!

Pumpkin has a laundry list of diagnoses. She's been seeing a neurologist for many years now. He gave me a list. She saw a psychiatrist when she first came in to care and he gave me a list.

But now some lawyer that doesn't even know this child has become an expert on all things "special needs" and thinks that Pumpkin needs a new diagnosis. This lawyer that isn't even Pumpkin's lawyer!!

Thankfully, we got called into the courtroom before I did or said something stupid. Pumpkin sat on her mom's lap. I sat in the back.

I'll spare you the play by play here. But this is what has to happen within the next month:

I have to get an "official" diagnosis for Pumpkin. (I guess all the other official ones I have aren't official enough.) No one can tell me exactly what to ask or even what doctor to go to. I have to figure this out for myself.

CPS has a few task items on their list that probably involve continuing to find a relative that will take Pumpkin.

The trial to terminate parental rights will be January 4th at 9:30AM.

And yes, Pumpkin has to attend the trial where they will terminate her mother's rights! (Don't even get me started on this one. My heart breaks for all children that have to do this. It's trauma brought on by the court system. It is so many shades of wrong it makes me sick to my stomach!!)

Pumpkin will be in my home through Christmas for sure. After that, I have no idea what will happen. I'm not sure how the judge is going to choose a new home for Pumpkin. My gut tells me that he's going to factor in her disability a little bit more than they have been thus far through this case.

If they can't find a relative placement for Pumpkin I don't know what will happen. My family is not in a position to adopt Pumpkin. But she is welcome to stay in our home until they can find a safe permanent home for her.

Another fun filled day

In about six hours I will be sitting at the tiny driver's license office with Pumpkin. This tiny office building also just happens to hold the county court room for DHS cases. The waiting room doesn't have enough space for all the people that need to be there. The last time we had court at this location there were at least 12 people standing around outside. Most every chair was filled inside. I can hardly wait. (boy I wish there was a font for sarcasm) There is no privacy when the lawyers come to talk to me. It's horribly uncomfortable.

I really have no idea what is going to happen. I have been led to believe that Pumpkin's case is not going to move towards reunification again. But I don't know if "termination" is going to be discussed yet.

Hopefully I'll get to go into the court room. I'd like to hear what the suits and the judge have to say this time around. I pray they use wisdom and keep Pumpkin safe.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not your mamma

I think it is important to keep my role straight in the lives of my foster children. Yes, I am a mommy. However, I am not THEIR "Mommy". These children are going to be in my home temporarily. It is not my goal to diminish the other relationships they have. And since my own kids usually refer to me as "Mom", I try to keep the name Mommy reserved for their Mommies.

I call myself Mamma L***. In fact, every kid in the neighborhood calls me Mamma L***.

The conversations usually go like this...
Dolly: "My mommy bye bye."
Me: "Yes baby. Your mommy is bye bye. You miss her. It is sad. But Mamma L*** will take care of you and keep you safe."

So the other day Dude said something to me. I don't remember the entire conversation but it ended with me reassuring him that I am, in fact, HIS Mamma L***.

Dolly looked over at me and said, "No! You not Mamma L***. You MY MOMMY!"

All I had the emotional energy for was a quick response of, "Yes. I'm your Mamma L***".

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hooping

As you read through attachment blogs, many of them talk about hula hooping. It's an awesome activity for so many reasons!! Most of all, it's a fun way to connect with your kid. You're both doing your own thing, yet you're playing together! I also read a blog that made mention of the idea that many neglected kids have weak core muscles because they weren't held and bounced around as infants and toddlers so they didn't develop these muscles like a typical child. Hooping strengthens your core.

It is important to note that if you want to take up hooping I strongly recommend that you make your own hoop! Simply put, the ones you buy in the store aren't big enough. They are also very light which makes them harder to use.

If you make your own you can expect to pay about $30-$40 to make a whole slew of them. (I got 11 hoops out of my first batch – keeping in mind I made several for small children.) Cost varies depending on the size and PSI of the tubing you choose and whether or not you need to purchase a PVC pipe cutter.

My backyard is now full of hula hoops.

I'm not kidding. I think there are around 8 of them – all different sizes!

I decided that I prefer the 1" 100# PSI for me best. The 3/4" 100# PSI works well for my kids – though they can all keep up the 1" size too.

Of course Dude and Dolly each got their own hula hoops. They had no idea what they were but they wanted to be included and I wasn't about to leave them out.

A little over a week ago Dolly came running up to me while I was working in the kitchen. The conversation went something like this:

Mamma, mamma! I no go like this. (shaking hips from side to side)
I go like this!! (shaking hips from front to back)
Mamma! I hoop!!

She figured it out all on her own!!!
video 

And yes, that is one head of hair. And yes, I'd like to cut a few inches off. (Four year olds shouldn't have to worry about getting their hair out of the way when they go to the bathroom.) And no, I'm not allow to trim even one hair on her head.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Looking for a few good...

Do you bring home the bacon...from home?

Do you do start your work day when the cherubs' heads hit their pillows...from your living room?

Do you balance the jobs of mother (sister, aunt, wife, etc.), housekeeper, chauffeur, doctor, counselor, etc. etc. and BUSINESS OWNER all from the confines of the address where you sleep?

Mama Foster wants to help!

She's putting together a networking group to help small businesses grow.

I am looking for moms who are working on building their small business, much like the etsy shop I mentioned here, that want to join me and other people trying to do the same thing to get your businesses some EXPOSURE! I want to network and probably use facebook to try to push these smaller businesses into the next level of success!

No money is involved. This isn't some strange scam of sorts. She really just wants to help promote some small businesses.

So if you run your own etsy shop, make your own adorable stuff that you sell, run a business that produces something people might give as a gift, ect. click on over to Mama Foster and leave her a comment. As we're moving in to the gift giving season, a little exposure for these types of businesses is a good, good thing. (Like they're saying all over the TV...shop small this year. It's good for business!)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Meeting another minimum standard

Alright -- see if you can follow this...

I am required by the State to enroll Dolly in preschool. She turned four at the end of September. She did not meet the cutoff for enrollment in the public school program.

So, I took her to Head Start. Filled out tons of paperwork. Had to get a little huffy with the manager at the center when I explained that I was not going to provide my tax information. (Dolly automatically qualifies because she is a foster child.)

Dolly was put on the waiting list.

I met the minimum standard. Whew.

Head Start called me right before the last court hearing to tell me that a spot had opened up for Dolly. I explained that she was (most likely) going to move to D*** to live with her grandma. They agreed to hold the open spot for Dolly though and told me I could call after court and let them know.

Court came and went. Dolly stayed with us. I called Head Start to get her officially enrolled.

There was no one there to take my call. They told me I was going to have to talk to some supervisor.

"Some supervisor" never called me back. So, I called again. Eventually I got to speak with this person...who then explained there was no opening. I got a little tense and wanted her to explain why she had told me there was an opening if there wasn't!! I got this strange song and dance that literally made no sense. Then she asked me, "Does Dolly go to speech therapy?"

I answered yes. This supervisor said something along the lines of the fact that they can only accept kids who need "services" right now. I told her I would get the evaluation from Dolly's private therapist and I would bring it over.

I showed up at Head Start today with an evaluation that clearly shows Dolly's need for speech therapy. However, the manager said that what I have doesn't qualify. I have to have something from the public school showing that she needs services.

But Dolly isn't hold enough to go to the public school! That's why I was trying to enroll her at Head Start!!

So round and round we went. Dolly needs services. Dolly isn't old enough to go to public school. Head Start won't take her though because they only want kids that have been evaluated by the public school. I'm not even sure the man I was speaking with understood all that was going on. (Quite often I feel like conversations like this are limited because I speak English. Granted, his English was fine but he seemed to struggle for the right words to say.) I made sure that Dolly was still on the waiting list. I took her by the hand and we walked out while I explained again that she has to wait to go to school. (She wants to be like her big brothers and get homework too! LOL)

Bottom line....I'm totally OK with this. Even though the man at Head Start said I might be able to enroll Dolly in public school because she needs speech therapy – I don't want Dolly in the 4 year old program at the public school. She's too young and the program is severely lacking in quality. I haven't been impressed with anything I've seen out of the pre-K programs down here!! Also, I don't really want Dolly in Head Start either because I don't think she needs to be in a full day program. I want her here at home with me.

I called my agency to talk to our worker. She's going to pass the information along to the CPS worker. For all practical purposes I'm still within minimum standards because Dolly is on the waiting list. It's not my fault they won't enroll her.

I'm glad she gets to stay at home with me for now! For once it doesn't break my heart that all these programs won't play nice with each other.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rolling over

I haven't said much about Pumpkin lately. Figured I'd toss out an update of sorts.

Pumpkin is...Pumpkin.

Things haven't changed much. Despite my best efforts, Pumpkin isn't all that different from the first day she arrived. Her dirty diapers still frustrate me more than they should. She's still fickle about whether or not she will feed herself. She doesn't talk much at all – it's still baby babbling for the most part. Almost all of her language is echolalia and doesn't have real meaning. Every now and then she will communicate a need or a want. But those moments are few and far between.

She has made progress. But the differences are so small that I struggle to get excited about them. Actually, that's not quite right. I get excited right away when I think Pumpkin has mastered a new skill. But because the skills don't always "stick"...and because the growth is so damn slow...it's hard to stay excited for long.

For example, I have been working with Pumpkin to learn the command "roll over" since she arrived in January.

Doesn't that sound awful?! It sounds like I'm treating her like a dog.

I'm not treating her like a dog though. I needed her to learn how to turn over on to her tummy so I could wash her bottom in the bathtub. Have you ever tried to wrangle a 42 pound naked little girl in the bathtub who won't turn over for you? And honestly, she has to turn over or else I can't get her bottom clean. I never really feel like she's clean after she has a dirty diaper until she has a bath.

For months I tried to teach her "roll over". I would say it calmly and then roll her over myself. This was usually met with resistance. Then I would get frustrated and...well...not so calm.

I tried to do it outside of the bathtub on the floor of her bedroom. It was usually met with confusion and then crying.

A few weeks ago I tried to get the littlest cherubs to model it for her. In their bedroom, after a bath where Pumpkin cried when I rolled her over, I played with Dude. I told Dude to roll over on the floor. Dude gave me a funny look but then rolled on to his tummy. Pumpkin completely avoided what was going on and literally looked the other way. I praised Dude like crazy hoping that Pumpkin was secretly paying attention. Of course Dolly wanted to play the game to so I had her roll over as well. Pumpkin just looked ticked off.

But I kept on trying. Three baths ago I asked Pumpkin to "roll over". I stayed calm and waited to see what she would do. I nearly dropped over when she complied! I quickly washed her backside and praised her over and over. She didn't acknowledge any of my reaction and just sat there in the tub while I finished washing her.

I didn't allow myself to actually think she learned the skill. Pumpkin will do things once and then...never again.

But since then I've given her two more baths. Each time when I told her to roll over she did!! (happy happy rejoicing!!)

Tiny amounts of progress. But progress nonetheless.

So, that's Pumpkin in a nutshell. She's been in my care for over 10 months now and she learned how to roll over on command. I have my days where I'm not sure I can continue to care for her. (She still gets mad and screams my name over and over like she did when she returned to care back in September. Acckk!) I have days where I just don't feel cut out to deal with this level of special needs on a daily basis anymore. But then I'll go to tuck her in at night and she'll light up when we read her favorite books. She'll sing along during the songs. She'll actually hug me before I walk out of the room. It's still difficult. But I can't imagine letting anyone else (except her mother of course) care for her.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Placing my order

I think I'm more in shock today than I was yesterday.

I actually get to make plans. Not the kinds of plans like I used to make (for years in advance)...

But, I get to go Christmas shopping. I get to plan a third birthday party for Little Dude. I get to love on them for three more months and that seems like forever.

Of course my mind is playing in the dark corners it shouldn't.
What if...
What if they terminate?
What if they don't send the kids to Grandma's?
(They did say in court yesterday there are no other possible relatives to take these cherubs.)
What if they let us adopt these beautiful children?
What if...

I know I'm not supposed to think that way. And until yesterday I was totally ready for them to go live with their Grandma. (I didn't particularly like the idea – but I was as ready for it as I could be.) Now I'm not so sure that living with Grandma would actually be best. Maybe that's the selfish person in me. Maybe it's because that's what a lawyer and a judge said yesterday. Maybe...oh who knows?!

I put an "order" in to God several years ago. I told Him I wanted to adopt two more kids. I told Him that a little boy and a little girl would be just about right. I wanted a sibling group. I didn't want infants. In a perfect world they would be younger than my youngest.

I'm trying to not get ahead of "The System". Please know that I fully expect these cherubs to not be with me forever.

But I'm not canceling my order with the Big Guy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Three more months

Wow.

Just. Wow!

Dude and Dolly will NOT be going to D*** to live with their grandma. CPS was unable to prove to their lawyer or to the judge that they would be in a safe place.

It's long. It's complicated. I have NO IDEA what is going to happen next. But I do know that court isn't scheduled again until February. I get to continue being their mamma for three more months.

Most importantly, the babies were sheltered from all the unnecessary drama of today. Mom was arrested after the hearing but the children and I stayed in the courtroom and didn't witness a thing.

The children are very tired. They are hungry but don't really want to eat. They are very, very aware that today was not a normal day. But they will get through this. They are loved and they are safe. And honestly, that's all that really matters to me.

I'm holding it together...so far

Backpacks with toys have been packed.

A diaper bag with drinks and snacks has been packed.

A route has been mapped to the CPS office noting where the closest fast food joint is so the kids can actually eat lunch.

Children have been prepared as best as they can. (Poor Dude thought that his grandma was going to come to our home for a visit. It broke my heart to tell him otherwise.) They are excitedly anxious. They know when their backpacks actually get packed by me that they are going to see their mommy.

Prayer requests have been made. I am petitioning the Good Lord that the children be spared from unnecessary drama. If an arrest is necessary I pray that the children don't have to witness it. I pray that court happens in a timely fashion and we aren't trapped waiting there for hours. I pray that the judge sees all that is true and rules in the best interests of the children.

CPS just called me to make sure we are going to be there at 11:00 for the visit. (As in, she called me while I was writing this.) She told me that Mom actually showed up for the Permanency Planning Meeting that took place last Thursday. Mom is planning on being at the visit this morning. She knows that Grandma is going to be there too. All is going as scheduled.

I'm going to try to continue to hold it together. Prayers are appreciated!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Little mirrors

You know how our children mirror us? Both the good things and the bad?

I nearly died laughing the first time I saw Dolly throw her hands above her head and shake them in disgust. It was a little brown version of me. Not me in my best moment. But me nonetheless.

This morning Dolly is playing with her babies. She pushed her baby in its stroller over to me and announced that she has to do paperwork for her baby.

She's going to make a wonderful foster mom someday.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Giggles

Things I don't want to forget...

Our bedtime routine is pretty set in stone. First everyone brushes teeth. Then baths (if necessary) and jammies. The three littlest cherubs sit next to me while I read stories. Dolly and Dude love story time more than just about anything. They would let me read to them forever!

After stories everyone climbs in bed and I go around the room tucking everyone in. While I do this I sing. I always sing Jesus Loves Me. From there it's whatever strikes my fancy; but I've got a list of songs that they all seem to enjoy. (Pumpkin can even sing along with all three verses of God Is So Good. Which, by the way, is the kind of echolalia that doesn't bother me!!)

Then I pray over the children.

Last, I sing one more song – a somewhat personalized lullaby that I've been singing for 14 years to any child in my care.

After that, I kneel at each child's bed and talk with them for just a minute. Tonight Dude wanted to talk about my "shot".

Every seven weeks I have to see my rheumatologist to get an infusion that helps keep my psoriatic arthritis under control. Dude and Dolly went over to Daphne's house while I went to the doctor today. The infusion makes me rather sick so when they came back home I did little more than lay on the couch and bark orders to the older kids. (Thankfully the sickness wears off by the next day.) Anyway, Dude and Dolly were quite impressed with my bandaid. They kept asking me if I got a shot. To keep things simple, I answered, "yes".

Dude wanted to talk about it at bedtime tonight. He was very, very impressed when I told him I didn't cry. So as I was tucking him in he said again, "Mommy got shot. Mommy no cry."

I answered, "Yes. Mamma got a shot." (I try to always refer to myself as Mamma even though the kids call me Mommy. I feel it's important to differentiate myself from their mommy even if they can't.) Then I added, "And no, Mamma didn't cry. Mamma's a big girl."

Dude has quite the sense of humor. He looked up at me with the most innocent smile and the cutest dimples you can imagine and said, "Mamma grande niño." (Niño is Spanish for boy – and yes, he knew what he was saying!) Then he busted into a fit of giggles. The absolute best kind of giggles out there. I'm convinced nothing is better than a two year old in the middle of a fit of pure happiness.

He was so proud of himself. I cracked up and insisted that I'm a "grande niña" (big girl). It went back and forth for quite awhile. I had to eventually just kiss his nose and go about talking with the other two cherubs. Of course there was a case of Monkey See Monkey Do and I had to play the game with Dolly too.

I never want to forget the giggles. They are part of what makes all of this so worthwhile!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The awesomest neighbor!

I know I've bragged about Daphne before. She's my awesome neighbor that moved in across the street just a couple months ago. She's the one that took it upon herself to go get all the training, home inspection, background check, etc. so she could babysit my cherubs. In fact, she went above and beyond and can actually do respite for me.

She. Is. Awesome.

She came over this morning to just sit and chat while I worked. It's so incredibly nice to have a friend. I feel isolated enough in this part of the country. And being a foster parent doesn't help. So many people aren't willing to join you in all the drama that fostering brings to your life.

Anyway, at 10:00 I was waiting for Dolly to get back home from speech therapy. I also had to leave for an orthodontist appointment for Cherub 1. Daphne looked at me and said, "Why aren't you leaving the little cherubs with me?!"

I laughed and said that I'm perfectly capable of watching my cherubs. I can take little ones along to the dentist. It's not that big of a deal.

Nonsense she said as she grabbed Dude's hand and said, "Come on Dude. Let's go to my house!"

At that very moment Dolly pulled up in the therapy transport van. She eagerly ran with Daphne across the street to her house. Dude and Dolly love playing over there!!

I got to go sit in the waiting room at the dentist without having to corral two little cherubs. I got home and Daphne informed me she had fed them lunch. I was able to simply tuck them in bed for their naps.

I'm so blessed! So truly blessed to have a friend like Daphne right across the street!!

She's going to be (almost) as devastated as I am next week when Dolly and Dude leave.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hurting

The hurt I will feel when they leave is far smaller than the hurts Dolly and Dude suffered that caused them to come in to care in the first place.

I'm trying to keep a smile on my face and love them right through all of this. Despite the fact my eyes well up every time their arms wrap around my neck and they say, "Mommy, I love you." It's my job to stay strong. I can't really prepare them for next week. They are too little to understand. I just keep reminding them that they are surrounded by people that love them. Especially their "Grandma in D***".


I'm thankful that my parents came to visit a couple weeks ago. Before their visit my parents were simply a photo on our bookshelf. We talked about these people because Dolly and Dude were curious. They like to know people's names. So we talked about Granny and Papa even though they had never met Granny and Papa.

Then Granny and Papa came! They became real people to Dolly and Dude. And Dolly and Dude fell in love with Granny and Papa. The picture of strangers became people they knew – people who loved them.

I'm hoping that the same thing will happen with their Grandma in D***. To the best of my knowledge, Dolly and Dude have never met their grandma. To them, she is little more than the picture CPS was able to give me. But I keep talking with the cherubs about their grandma and how much she loves them. On Monday this "stranger" will become a real person to them. I'm hoping that my preparation will ease their fears.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Just because

Just because this is what I agreed to when I signed on the dotted line – doesn't mean I have to like it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Next Monday is going to suck

We have to be in the city Dude and Dolly are from at 11:00 next Monday. CPS wants them to get a visit with Mom before we have court that afternoon. Grandma is also going to be there. She is making Greyhound arrangements right now.

Court isn't until 1:30. And, due to how things work down here, we won't really have court for at least a couple hours after that. I'm going to have very nervous, very scared, very tired and very dysregulated children by the time court actually rolls around.

Grandma has been informed that this placement is likely to be permanent. She is OK with that.

CPS has assured me that the children will not go to Grandma's immediately after court. (Thank God for Greyhound.) As things stand right now, CPS will be flying the children over to Grandma's on Thursday or Friday next week.

Thankfully everyone has been considerate of my feelings. In fact, I think their CPS worker was crying on the other end of the phone today as I was talking with her. I personally waited to cry until about 10 minutes later as I was tucking the cherubs in for nap.

Emotionally I'm a wreck. But I'm not surprised. This is how The System works. I'm not even mad. Because...this is how The System works. Children do belong with their family. And I have to trust that this grandma is going to love them. It's not fair for me to assume that she isn't.

Oh yeah, I was also told that it is likely that Mom will be arrested once we get to court. That ought to be very interesting. (I was told they are trying to figure out a way to shelter the cherubs so they don't have to witness the actual arrest.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Anxiety

Cherub 2 has horrible issues with anxiety. I've never seen a child with as much anxiety as he has. When he was a baby he would cry if you weren't in the exact same room as him. His level of separation anxiety was off the charts. I'm not talking about the typical stuff that the parenting books talk about. I'm talking about the fact that he could work himself up to vomiting when he got upset. (He barfed on me one time when I tried to leave him in the church nursery when he was two years old.) If his schedule got mixed up (say my parents came to visit) he literally got sick. Fever and everything. He truly was sick. Even though the people visiting were people he knew and loved -- and wanted to be with -- the change in schedule increased his anxiety to levels most people can't understand.

We've been working with TT for years so that he can learn to self-regulate when his anxiety is peaking. He's doing much better. School is less of an issue. In fact, he joined the UIL team this year. (My kid stays after school to do math for fun and then competes every now and then with kids from other schools. Weird. LOL) He had his first UIL meet yesterday.

When he got home though, we all paid the price. TT had to get up early to get to school on a Saturday. So...he was tired. Then, he had to "hold it all together" during the meet. This was a brand new experience for him so I know his anxiety was probably off the charts. But he has learned to keep his emotions in check (until he gets back home where it's safe to explode). When he got home from the meet he was tired and hungry and exhausted from keeping it all together at school. He began whining. Fussing. Carrying on.

TT does things that I'll read about in blogs that deal with attachment issues. He'll pick fights. He'll whine and complain about trivial things. He'll overreact to the smallest of stimuli. He'll "forget how to walk". When asked to go somewhere he'll crumple to the floor and act like he tripped or something. He'll try to get up and then he'll fall again. It looks quite intentional. But really, it's his anxiety wrecking havoc on his body. (This can also show itself in forgetting how to do lots of things -- like sit in a chair, get dressed, eat, etc.) It is so frustrating when he gets like this. My first response is to scream at him to get his attention. To physically hold him or help him up (depending on what my expectation is of him at that time.) But I know my first responses are always wrong!

I've been learning how to meet the need first. Instead of freaking out on him while he is freaking out, I try to stay calm. It sounds so easy to do on paper. In reality though, whew...I really stink at it sometimes! I'm getting better though. And because we've been working with TT on this for so long now, we're pretty good at knowing what his need is.

Usually it's food. At least that seems to help him the most. When his blood sugars are the least bit low, he cannot self-regulate. He has learned when he feels like things are spinning out of control that he needs to eat first. He is supposed to eat a protein. Often, this helps.

Yesterday he was hosed though. After he got home from school we had only a couple hours until we were going to leave again. We went as a family to an outdoor Christian music concert. Unfortunately, we had never been to this event before so we couldn't answer any questions about it for him. Everything he wanted to know (that would have helped calm his anxiety) was answered with an, "I don't know."

He never did get regulated.

I tried to enjoy the concert. But TT was whiny and upset the entire time.

It hasn't gotten much better today either. We were up late last night so he's still tired. And now it's almost like he's in a pattern of anxiety. It's testing my therapeutic parenting skills for sure.

This week isn't going to get easier. I'm not going to focus on it, but court for the little ones is Monday the 7th. This could be our last week with the babies. And since Grandma has to show up at court in order to be awarded custody, odds are they will be swept away from us right then and there (if they go that is). Their CPS worker wanted to give us ample time to say goodbye. But the logical side of me says that they will give Grandma the kids there at court rather than schedule a day for a social worker to drive half-way across the state to drop the kids off. I'm going to try like crazy to not get anxious this week. But I'm human. And unfortunately, TT will feed off my anxiety! (Do I pack their things? Or do I wait until court? Do I prepare everyone in the neighborhood for their goodbye? Or do I wait until court? etc. etc.)

I will try to keep him close to me all week so he knows he is safe. This fostering stuff really messes with his brain. It's hard enough for him to understand his own adoption. But to witness other kids going through confusion and sadness because of their removal, visits, reunification, etc. it's really hard on him. I'm going to go have a talk with his teacher and the counselor at his school. I need his teacher to understand that he's got some potential triggers that could send him flying this week. I know the counselor will meet with him and give him an outlet to talk.

All in all though, I've got to just let go. I can't focus on his anxiety. I can help him. I can try to not make it worse. But I can't obsess. Wish me luck.

Friday, October 28, 2011

When the behaviors start

I read a lot about therapeutic parenting. There are some amazing blogs out there!! In fact, those blogs are where I really learned about how to be an effective foster parent. (See the sidebar for some of my favorite blogs. I highly recommend Welcome To My Brain!) In fact, those blogs have helped me be a better parent in general. Therapeutic parenting doesn't have to be reserved for kids with a trauma background.

Pumpkin doesn't require therapeutic foster parenting. I'm quite convinced that her trauma history has significantly contributed to her language issues. But she is so severely retarded that there is no telling what caused what within her sphere of delays. She can't talk about her past. She can't talk period. I feel like I am able to do little more than meet her physical needs and offer her plenty of opportunities to learn new things. (And of course love on her as must as possible.)

Cherub 1 is a pretty typical kid. Not the easiest to parent. But not too difficult overall I guess.

Cherub 2 lets me stretch my therapeutic parenting skills pretty regularly. He does not have what most would consider a "trauma background" because he was adopted at birth. But honestly, I believe ANYONE that is adopted – no matter the circumstances – has baggage they will deal with for the rest of their life. He has some triggers that I have to be aware of for sure!

Cherub 3 just drives me nuts (usually in a good way). I haven't figured out how to handle some of his wackiest behaviors yet. I'm working on it though. He's a high energy kid!

That leaves Dolly and Dude. When they came the only "issue" we had (other than the whole language barrier) was sleeping. And really, could you blame them?! When the lights go out the big feelings get bigger. They were scared. They were sad. They missed the familiar.

Then we settled in.

It was nice. They are good kids. They are easy kids to care for. Redirection was minimal and pretty easy to handle when required.

It's safe to say the honeymoon is over.

They warn you about this in foster parent training. But I really didn't expect anything to change with Dude and Dolly. They're so little. They weren't horribly abused if you compare their life experiences to the awful things you see on the news. They're resilient, right?!

Well, the short answer is, "yes," they are resilient! But they also have a history of trauma. Kids don't end up in foster care because their parents took away their lollipops.

Dude and Dolly have started in with a few strange behaviors. They are having a much more difficult time getting engaged with the toys we have. It's almost like they came into our home, spent a few months getting to know the overall layout of things and they're bored now.

From what I understand about their past, they were probably bored a lot before. It's my understanding that they didn't have a constant caregiver. I believe they were passed around between different friends and family members. They didn't have any toys at all. (Amazingly enough, they don't watch TV either. Not at all. Not even when I'd give my right arm for them to sit down and be quiet for half an hour.)

So I play the foster parent crystal ball game.

Looooooook into my crystal ball. Seeeeeeeeeeee into the past.

What did they act like when they were stuck in a motel room with a mother that was getting drunk and doing drugs? What did they do for fun? How did they get attention?

I'm betting they looked a lot like they do now when they can't seem to get engaged on their own.

It's hard to describe. I've seen it before with our foster daughters MissArguePants and TurtleTurtle. The only way I can explain it is that they flit around. On the outside it looks "normal". They look like a brother and sister being silly and giggling. They sort of move from room to room. They don't seem unhappy. I mean...really...they're laughing.

But there's something under that laugh that is quite unsettling.

With MissArguePants and TurtleTurtle, whenever it happened I knew...I mean I really knew...they were getting completely dysregulated. If I couldn't put a stop to the giggling I knew we'd be in a full-out rage of sorts within a short amount of time. I used every therapeutic trick I knew each and every time the girls acted this way. They had so many triggers though, due to the severity of their abuse, that I never did get too far. Besides, they only stayed with us for two months. (There was NO honeymoon with these girls.)

When Dude and Dolly start it's so difficult. How do you tell two seemingly perfectly normal little children that it's not OK to giggle?! But this giggling almost always elevates into behavior that is undesirable. It's mild with the little ones compared to the older girls we had before. But they will end up climbing on things they shouldn't. Or getting physical with each other. Or being mean to Pumpkin. Or messing with our dog in ways that aren't nice.

I'm still working through how I'm going to respond to this. But I have decided I'm going to call the behavior "goofy goofy". I'm quite confident that they aren't familiar with the word goofy. And it's not a horribly common word so I know they won't hear it from other people. That should help me be able to use it exclusively to describe the behavior I'm trying to eliminate. We still have English/Spanish issues so I have to keep redirection simple and consistent.

I want them to learn to self-regulate. They're awfully little though. And, unfortunately at times, I work from home so I can't always drop everything and play with them. Besides, I do want them to learn to self-regulate. Really though, stopping everything I'm doing and playing with them would probably be best. I just can't every time. (This behavior is also becoming quite common during mealtime. Especially if I'm in the room with them but not sitting at the table with them. I have no idea what to do when they're doing this at the table!)

My hands are tied at mealtimes. (I welcome any and all suggestions.) Other times of the day, when they're supposed to be playing and they're flitting and giggling instead, I can't just send them upstairs to play in their room or somewhere else in the house. It doesn't make sense for me to send Dude and Dolly away when they're acting like this. I need to keep them close for several reasons. First, I'm responsible for checking on them every 5-10 minutes. (I have to have monitors if they are out of eyesight or not within earshot.) Also, I know that they need me around to help them get regulated. They need me to help them feel safe.

I've tried to get them to pick a specific activity to do. I've had them choose said activity and then, if they didn't get engaged in it and instead just continued to flit and giggle, I sit them down in a chair. I've gone through this process several times until they figured out they need to actually get engaged or they will be spending a lot of time just sitting.

This has worked. This has also miserably failed.

The other day I told them they had to go outside. (I can see the kids in the backyard from my desk so it's a perfect place for them to be if I don't want to hear them giggling and flitting.) This worked perfectly. They immediately began playing again. I'm sure the actual physical nature of the play helped tremendously. (I'm also very lucky. Our weather is still in the 80s and 90s so playing outside is still lots of fun.)

I don't have all the answers yet. Never will. I'm having to remind myself more and more often that Dude and Dolly do have quite the background. And this background affects their behaviors now. And I can't parent them the same as the traditional parenting books might suggest. The behaviors have started.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Riding the roller coaster

June 15, 2011 the babies arrived. I fell madly in love quite quickly. (We ALL fell in love quite quickly!)

August: I had to leave them in respite care for 3 weeks because a judge wouldn't let them go on vacation with us. Already it was apparent that Mom wasn't too interested in working a case plan. She hadn't pursued having a visit with the cherubs yet and all visits scheduled by CPS were missed.

September: The home study for a grandma half-way across the state came in approved. I started preparing my heart for them to leave. Mom still wasn't working any kind of a case plan. In fact, she tested positive for drug use. (And not just weed either – she's moved on to the harder stuff.)

A CPS worker also dropped the "termination" word during a home visit. My heart did tons of little leaps. I promptly looked at said worker and told her, "I fully support reunification with family. However, if this placement with grandma is not going to be long term, or if it doesn't work out, I want everyone involved with this case to know that we would LOVE to adopt these two kids." The worker totally took me seriously. I also told my agency worker who said she would advocate on our behalf and make sure any necessary paperwork was taken care of should this become a possibility.

October: I've really, really been working on maintaining boundaries in my heart. I love these little cherubs with everything I've got. But I've got to be ready to let them go. This is how "The System" works. Family first! Then close family friends. Then foster parents. It is not a surprise to me, nor should it be one, that they will leave and go to be with family long term. Mom still doesn't have an address or phone number. She's not working her case plan. The children will not be going back to her any time soon (if ever). They deserve to be in a stable environment long term. And, the first choice for that environment is family – as it should be.

However, I just found out today that no one has even discussed with this grandma half-way across the state that caring for Dude and Dolly is going to be a very long-term, if not permanent, situation. My agency worker discussed things with their CPS worker. I guess CPS kinda went, "duh...I guess I should ask her about that".

I also learned today that CPS finally tracked down the biological dad of the kids. I do not know his story at all. But, his wishes are now going to be factored in to the long-term decisions being made.

This opens up a SLIGHT possibility that the children might stay instead of being moved in just a couple weeks.

I'm trying to not get my hopes up. But the selfish person in me would like for them to stay in our home where they are very comfortable now, with friends and "family" that care for them deeply...instead of being moved somewhere to live with "strangers" again.

I pray that God's will is done here. He knows so much more than I do what is best for these kids. But if there's any way they can stay...for now or forever....that's what I want.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Home visit

I experienced another home visit with a CPS caseworker this afternoon. These are some of my least favorite parts of doing foster care. In sweeps a worker that acts like the children shouldn't be freaked out by their presence and thinks they know all about the kids.

This particular worker was different though. I'm not exactly sure where she falls on the food chain - but she was here to see Pumpkin. Only, it wasn't Pumpkin's usual worker. She said she's just helping out this month. She didn't even ask to see Pumpkin when she walked in the door. She hadn't read ANYTHING about Pumpkin's case before arriving at our doorstep.

I didn't care who the worker was. My only goal with this visit was to clarify something that was said in court when Pumpkin was reunified back in September. A lawyer that day told the judge Pumpkin has only mild MR (mental retardation). That bothered me immensely at the time. It's just not true. (According to Pumpkin's psychological evaluation she has severe MR and he even recommended ruling out "profound".) But because all parties wanted Pumpkin to be reunited in court that morning (me included), that particular detail didn't matter at the time.

Now though, I think it's important that the judge pay attention to ALL the details in the case. This judge needs to know that Pumpkin can't communicate to anyone about whether or not she's being abused.

Thankfully this worker took a lot of notes. She copied things from my files. She even sat down to talk to Pumpkin. As I pointed out that Pumpkin couldn't answer the things she was asking her, she reminded me that she has to have a specific conversation that she can document. It's all about the documentation.

My biggest beef with this afternoon was that the worker was an hour late. (I hate it when the workers mess up dinner time with my family!!!) She assured me that she's going to write up everything quite clearly and make sure that Pumpkin's file has all the necessary information documented. I have no idea what that will actually mean. But at least I know that I'm advocating for the truth. It's all up to the judge what he does with it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I'm glad I waited

I haven't done anything about Pumpkin's incredibly absurd report card yet. I'm glad I waited. I received an appendix today from her speech pathologist.

Her goals in speech therapy are MUCH more realistic. For example, her first goal listed is: Verbalize 1-2 word utterances.
Objectives being used to reach this goal include:
-- Establish and maintain eye contact with others.
-- Imitate/produce single words expressing "all gone"
-- Imitate/produce single words expressing "more"
-- Imitate/produce single words expressing verbs "wanna"
-- Imitate/produce single words expressing prepositions (up, down, etc.)

At best the pathologist says that Pumpkin is "in progress" toward all of these goals. In fact, on the preposition objective Pumpkin is only making "slow progress".

No new teacher has been hired yet for Pumpkin's classroom. But I think I'm going to go in to the principal and ask to speak with her. I'm quite confident I'll be blown off. But I sure would like to know how a kid that can't consistently communicate with one word utterances is capable of understanding how English is written and printed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Elbow

Some you might remember my nickname story.

Well...after that little episode Dude thought that talking about his penis would be a fun thing to do. He seemed to really enjoy the word quite a bit. He especially liked to tell me all about it every time I changed his diaper.

I tried to do the "right" thing at first. "Yes Dude. That is your penis."

But one day I finally got exasperated and pretty much just chewed him out.

"Dude. It's your penis. It's not that big of a deal. Get over it will you?! I mean really. We don't talk about your nose every five minutes. You have feet, hands, shoulders, a tummy and so many more body parts. Honestly, I don't run around yelling 'elbow, elbow, elbow' all day long do I?!"

Now, every time I change his diaper he looks up at me and says, "Elbow!"
(Thankfully he holds up his little elbow at me when he does this.)

He totally cracks me up!

Monday, October 10, 2011

I want to wallow

The court date in November is coming up closer than I want it to. November feels like it's so far away. But when I think about the two littlest cherubs leaving it's entirely too close for my comfort.

Dolly & Dude had a visit today with their mom. This is their third visit since removal in June. Thankfully Mom showed up all on her own today and was on time. However, Mom is not working ANY of her case plan and it is quite apparent that her children will not be going home to her.

Mom does not want her kids in foster care. (understandable) But the only family that can take them is a grandmother that lives quite far away. Mom is OK with this and even talked with the kids about it during today's visit.

I hate thinking about the permanency hearing. I know the judge is going to send the kids to their grandma. That's the way the system is supposed to work. This is all going exactly as I learned about during training.

But that doesn't make it any easier for me.

I hate knowing that no one will read them their favorite stories (they won't be able to read the books in English). I hate knowing that no one will sing their favorite songs with them. I hate knowing that they won't even understand when the kids ask for "mommy" that they're actually asking for me sometimes. (Especially Dude. He has a VERY strained relationship with his mom!!)

Their social worker is pretty cool. She assured me that she's going to stall the time between the hearing and when the kids will actually leave our home. This is an easy stall for several reasons. She wants to make sure the kids get a proper goodbye with us. She knows the kids have friends in the neighborhood that she wants them to be able to say goodbye to. She wants to make sure the kids get all their things. And she also has to coordinate the actual transfer halfway across the state. So I can take comfort in knowing that I'll get to say goodbye and they won't be shuffled away from me straight from the court room.

I have to live in the right now and not wallow about the goodbye. I know this to be true. But these family visits are hard on me. The kids have come back each time so confused. Dude got out of the car today, practically glued himself onto me and wouldn't let me put him down. Dolly keeps looking at me so confused about the relationship. She knows she has a mom. But she has chosen to call me Mom now too. She loves her mom. And she loves me. She's just a mess after a visit. I'm not trying to diminish the pain the kids are going through. But trying to keep a straight face and not burst into tears on their behalf is hard. They didn't get back until nearly 6:00PM and they were in bed by 8:00PM but I am worn out. It was hard to keep it together for those short two hours.

I just want to run into a dark room and bawl my eyes out. I hurt so bad for the kids. For what they went through today. For what they're going through every day. And for the transition that is coming that won't be any easier.

Excuse me?!

At a church picnic last night...

Nice man: "So, which kids are your real ones?"

Me: "Um...(insert uncomfortable pause) all my kids are real."

Nice man: "Um. Yeah. I mean...which ones are your biological kids."

Me: "Well, that doesn't apply to our family either."

Ya know, I'm aware conversations like this happen all over. But this was my first time. It made me just a little sick to my stomach.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Crying in the corner

It's been one of those days.

I don't typically do "time out". Especially not with my foster kids. With Pumpkin it would be completely pointless. With Dude and Dolly it's hardly necessary. They're generally very easy to redirect. The only thing I don't allow is crying in the same room as the rest of everyone else. Therefore, if a kid feels the need to throw a fit, I direct them to the "Crying Room".

Said Crying Room is simply our guest bedroom. There are even toys in there. So really, it's hardly any kind of a punishment. They just have to stay in the room as long as they are crying. They are welcome to come back and join us as soon as the screaming has stopped.

This typically works quite well for me. However, I've run into problems when I've been unable to use the Crying Room. One time, while waiting at the repair shop for my vehicle I had to come up with another solution for (ridiculous) fits.

Cry In The Corner was born on that day. (It worked remarkably well by the way. I was amazed that Dude would just stay there until he was done crying and not fight to get out.)

Today my oldest son chose to do school (online high school) in the Crying Room.

Today was a day when I really needed the Crying Room.

I didn't want to kick Herman out though. So, Cry In The Corner it was.
Needless to say lunch was early. Nap time commenced promptly at Noon. And Mamma laid down on the couch for a break.

And yes, that's a rat tail. And yes, I hate it. And no, I'm not allowed to cut it off.