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


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


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.........


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:

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.