foster care, parenting

3 kids 3 cats not an instant of peace

It was a school night. It was one of those nights where you struggle to get everything done and all you want in the world is to lay your head on the pillow. We had the tutor and the behavioral specialist appointments in the house at the same time. Fiona (6) was destracted and not paying attention to the tutor. We had told her to sit in a solid chair (no wheels) and when she didn’t listen, the behavioral specialist told us to physically move her. She did that dead weight thing where kid’s muscles go completely loose and the body sags to the ground. The tutor wound up on the floor with her (god bless her!) and they did their sight words down there. Meanwhile, Mason was refusing to eat, instead interrupting both the tutor and the behavioral specialist at every point. The door bell rang and we got in trouble with the master’s association for having too many cars parked outside. My face went red and the behavioral specialist had to calm me down.

Finally, everyone leaves. I send the kids up to put pajamas on but no one is listening. I go upstairs, put their pajamas on, tuck them in, while Lucas is toddling around downstairs babbling away and Joe is sitting in his recliner. I finally close the bedroom doors only to see our overly friendly black cat squatting outside our bedroom door with clumps of poop popping out. I scold and give chase, watching the clumps pop out down the steps, across the living room and into the dining room. I yell, “Joe- poop” and continued for the cat. Joe yells “Lucas,” who had taken the moment to reach down and grab the ball of cat poo with one hand. Said hand was clasped just before reaching into his curious mouth. I grabbed the cat, threw her into the closet with the litter boxes and started picking up stinky brown balls that made a trail through out the two story house.

What a day!

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foster care

Expect the Unexpected

The title may not be the best, but it’s true. I had been very ill for the two weeks before our road trip and had missed a lot of work. I took two weeks off for our vacation, was home three days and then got the call. My mom had collapsed, they’ll know more in the morning. What I wasn’t told during that Thursday evening phone call was that she was on life support, not just merely “in the hospital.”

We had our two boys at home and had been expected to take Fiona, their sister, for a few days the next week while her foster mom was out of town. It was going to be a tough job for both of us as Fiona does not stray easily from her routine. My mother wasn’t married and I was her only child. I asked Joe to care for the kids and I was on a plane by Friday night. I think about it over and over. I wish I had booked that plane ticket the second he told me.

I’m sitting on the plane, on the run way, waiting. I remember holding my breath. Then they announced they were deplaning and would everyone calmly collect their baggage and exit the plane. People were yelling and screaming that they needed to get XYZ. Some had already had one flight cancelled. I just started moaning, howling. “My mom is dying and I have to get home.”

A few hours later and a cancelled rental car reservation and my aunt picked me up from the airport. We picked up my grandmother and went to the hospital. It took a few days and a few arguments with family members before it was decided to pull the plug. Mom was dead set against doctors. Without going into detail, she died the second she had collapsed. She had been very sick, and hid it from me and her family.

I had gotten into a loud emotional argument, in her room, when I ran out of the hospital. I called Joe. I’m crying, and making no sense when I hear Fiona in the background – crying. It was official. Joe had the harder job. He kept up with three kids, one of whom had never slept over, and did amazing.

I made it through the funeral, the family, and packing to go home. I knew that I couldn’t collapse because I had two kids at home to take care of. I thought when I got back, I’d get right back into the routine. Boy was I wrong.

The thing that kept going through my head most in those first few months was, how can I be a mom when I don’t have my mom. It seemed so cruel to be that early in the process of fostering/parenting and I couldn’t talk to my own mother. I couldn’t keep up with the kids and I couldn’t keep up at work. Joe wound up picking up a lot of the slack. He also realized how much I was doing around the house and with the kids. It took quite a while to get into the routine again, especially to connect with the kids again, but it happened. Watching the baby develop into a toddler really helped. I took joy in him smiling, eating, cooing and saying mama.

I’m not the same person I was before my Mom died. I’m not the same person I was before I became a parent. There are so many events happening that are firsts. First Halloween as a parent without my mother. First Thanksgiving. First Christmas when she would have showered them with gifts. . . It’ll never be the same.

 

foster care

Daycare

I truly think this is the biggest shock going from no kids to two foster kids 3 and under. Daycare is pure hell.

Finding a spot for an infant is nearly impossible. A three month old with three days notice, forget about it! If you are lucky enough to live in an area that pays for daycare, then you have to find one that accepts the subsidy. I say subsidy, because little did I know, many will charge you the difference between their rate and the state rate.

And you need a form, which they won’t give you until three days before you take placement.

Then you need to fill out more forms and provide proof of immunizations.

We found a family daycare that could take baby Lucas twenty minutes away. We found another that would take Mason until 3 that was ten minutes in the other direction. It was a new daycare, in one big room with ages 2-5. And we had to get uniforms. And pay the difference between the market rate and state rate. We found all of this out weeks after Mason started.

Then the kids got sick. Over and over. Every sniffle involved a phone call from daycare.

Forget potty training. Our bright wonderful daycare run that was pricey, local and “international” returned Mason with wet shoes, complained about him throwing books and called for me to pick him up early 2 out of every 5 days in attendance. They followed the school calendar and were constantly closed. Joe cut his hours back to pick Mason up at 3.

I had to provide lunch and two snacks. They complained about zip lock bags because they weren’t sustainable.

The boys were constantly sick from two separate day cares. Mason wouldn’t nap, wouldn’t listen and I was at the end of my rope.

Then came the day “international” said they were no longer be participating in the state program because they were ill equipped to follow the standards required. I think it was they couldn’t handle my kid.

So Mason moved to Lucas daycare. Then we went on vacation. The family daycare informed us we’d have to pay full price for the two weeks we gone. I couldn’t prove it but I knew the other families were not paying what we were quoted at. x2 kids!

We returned. There was one drop off and one pick up. We discovered the kids never left the house, despite a whole play yard filled with equipment. Mason cried and hid before going into the house. Every time we picked the kids up, whether 10 am, 1 pm, or 4 pm, the television was on and the kids were laying on nap sacks. They ate spaghetti and macaroni and cheese every day. We put Mason on two waiting lists and were told kids from our community were unofficially never enrolled.

Finally we got the call to move him. Mason would go to a school like facility, with cafeteria lunches, lesson plans, small classrooms, play time outside, and teachers who were both interactive and able to handle behaviors. We are still waiting to move Lucas.

Mason forgot his manners, started emphasizing grandparents out of the blue, and flat out refused dinner. He was a menace from the moment he got in the car till he fell asleep.

Daycare #3 was giving him sugary drinks (capri sun drinks) and meal sized snacks at 3 pm. We got a doctor’s note for no sugar due to dental issues and deal with behaviors as they come. He currently likes to tell us everything is disgusting. He puts his emphasis on Ting.

The kids don’t get sick as often or sent home as often. We don’t get much notice when they do close and it disrupts our already chaotic life. But that’s life.

 

foster care

Week 1, everybody lies

One thing to remember in foster care, everybody lies. Most often, it is well intentioned fibs. There were some outright lies, like he sleeps through the night! He naps. He eats everything. The caseworker will contact you.

Day 1: The boys are dropped off. Mason and the foster parents toddler begin tearing through the house. We lay 3 month old Lucas in the baby swing. Box after box of toys and clothes are brought in the house. The foster parents leave quickly. They had warned us they would. It is hard saying goodbye.

Mason won’t nap. He runs through the house like a tornado. Lucas cries and cries and cries. The swing doesn’t seem to work properly so we just manually get it going every few minutes.

Night 1: Lucas screams anytime we lay him down. I can’t get him in the bassinet. I walk outside and he finally falls asleep. As soon as I stop moving, he wakes screaming. I wonder if the neighbors hear.

Day 2: Mason gobbles down breakfast. Joe and I are exhausted. Lucas might have slept for an hour. The swing is the only thing that calms him down.

Night 2: Lucas cries nonstop. I’m not sure if I even tried the bassinet.

Day 3: Joe leaves for work. I want to cry. I have been unable to set up daycare for both kids. Lucas goes to one fifteen minutes away. I leave him, bleary eyed and guilt ridden. Mason’s daycare will take him Tuesday but they are technically closed this week for the break. I had no idea. I find myself having to help Mason constantly. Two sets of diapers is not fun and changing a nearly three year olds’ poopy diaper is pure torture. But I signed up for this. I pick Lucas up early and daycare complains that he is fussy.

Night 3: We realize the air conditioning is too low for Lucas to sleep. We raise the temperature and we are able to get him to sleep for two hours at a time.

Day 4: Transportation calls to set up visitation. No problem. I don’t remember much after this. I arrange to pick up a stroller the next day.

Night 4: Did I sleep? Did the baby sleep? Who can remember?

Day 5: I will never make another crack about maternity leave being a vacation as long as I live. It’s visitation day! Kids come home at 7, dirty and the baby slept during the whole car ride home. Great! The good news is Joe and I put together the crib while the kids were out. The bad news, the parents are complaining about dried blood in the baby’s ear.

Night 5: Lucas goes in the crib. Lucas goes back in the swing. Mommy lays on the couch. The neighbors must hate us.

Day 6: Parents complained to caseworker about the dried blood in the ears. She calls me when I’m an hour and a half away from daycare, with a compact car filled with baby stuff. I make an emergency doctor’s appointment, clear one spot for Lucas’ car seat, and speed to daycare, then an hour away to the doctors’ office. Apparently he has reoccurring ear infections and has to be on antibiotics.

Would some one please explain why you have to completely undress the baby at the doctor’s office and have to wait in the cold room for thirty minutes? Lucas threw up on me and I cried onto his bare back while the doctor said a prayer for both of us.

I drop Lucas at the visit, where Mason and his older sister are playing. Mom grabs him, frantic and immediately changes his diaper and prepares a bottle. Dad shakes my hand. Both are nice but dramatic.

They see I’m a person, not a monster. A very very tired person.

Night 6: Lucas spends the night in his room, bundled up, temperature raised, and sleeps for about two hours at a time.

Day 7: Joe is home. I take Mason out as he doesn’t have daycare. We go to the playground. I discover that I have to follow Mason on each piece of playground equipment, and convince him the big slide isn’t the best place to play. I am so unprepared.

Night 7: Two hours of sleep, an hour of feeding, two hours of sleep.

foster care

Oh Brothers!

As Joe and I were reaching the conclusion that our Matt and Mikey were too much for us, another foster family had a set of brothers needing potential forever families. Some people foster only, and they had taken two year old Mason as a temporary placement. When they went to see the parents, they discovered Mom was very pregnant with Lucas. Three months past and they noted that the parents were not working their plan. They reached out to find a foster to adopt home. That was us!

I connected to two year old Mason right away. He’s a tornado of a kid. He was running from room to room and batting my hand until he finally allowed me to hug him. Joe engaged in Lucas, who fussed like crazy but melted in Joe’s arms.

We visited the foster family’s house, then had a visit at our house. We had Jose for a few days before we’d take our boys on long term. Poor Jose went from getting his way on everything to finding new and improved adults who were ready to lay down the law. We found homework in his backpack and tried going through assignments with him. Anytime Jose didn’t understand something, he’d shut down. Jose and I spent an hour and a half going over clocks and time (irony?) Poor thing.

And so we dropped off Jose and said our goodbyes to him, again. And we were waiting on our boys. I had everything planned out. I took a week off from work. I had appointments set up.

I had no idea. First time instant Mommy, just add two kids. My entire world changed.

 

foster care

New Placements – Double Trouble

After doing respite for our adorable eight year old boy, I was ready to accept kiddos into our house. Jose brought joy and laughter to our small house. The day before my birthday I woke really early to find an email about a set of brothers who were up all night and needed a place to sleep while they located a more permanent household.

Lies! Every single person who tells you they just need a bed for the night is lying. These are people who have just ripped children from their parents and they are desperate to get them into a safe stable house and they lie! It’s well meaning but a lie none the less.

The younger brother, Matt, had a mild condition and the older brother Mikey, had no known issues. They would likely be going to the grandparents or the prior foster family as this was the second time they were removed from their mom.

Joe agreed and I said yes. The social worker said they’d probably sleep all day and I arranged to work from home.

They arrived in my driveway caked with dirt. I helped carry two vinyl bags and a suitcase inside and showed the boys the bedroom. They could call Ms. Kate. I had snacks ready and the boys dove in. The driver left and I was alone with an eight year old and a ten year old.

AND IN OVER MY HEAD!

When children are removed from their house, they have to be seen by a doctor within seventy two hours. People are calling you constantly. You have to get them to school. You have to find them clothing. You have to convince them to shower. I failed at all of this.

I sent them upstairs to sleep. I laugh just thinking about it. Each step they took shook the whole house. They jumped up and down the stairs taking the steps two or three at a time. They knocked the pictures off the walls. They jumped on and off the dressers. They jumped from the top bunk onto the floor. They told me about xbox and drank every bit of apple juice in the fridge. I called Joe at work frantically asking if he could come home. NOW.

Phone calls kept coming in with more information. Matt needed medication. Matt had behavioral issues. Grandparents can’t handle the boys. The prior foster mom was away but could not handle Matt’s issues. When was I taking them to the doctor? When was I taking them to school? Would I change school? The boys needed shoes.

I called our foster family friend Cathy. She came with her teenage foster boy Doug to talk with the boys about behaving. Doug told them to listen to me. Yeah right!

Joe came home and we all went out to get the boys shoes, clothes and more food for the house. Matt and Mikey fell asleep in the back seat of the car and we thought they were just exhausted. Joe tried to wake Matt and the kid went ballistic. He started kicking, hitting and cursing. It took a good half an hour to calm him down. While in the store, the boys wanted everything in sight. When we got home, we discovered a toy we had not purchased.

I was awake all night, partially because they were jumping off the beds and partially because I knew we were in serious trouble. Everyone was asking us to make plans to keep these boys and we could not handle them.

The next day, my birthday, I went to go wake up Matt for school. He refused to wake and then had a violent fit, hitting, kicking, spitting and cursing. It was the worst of the worst. I got them cereal, milk and by the time I got them in the car, the kitchen looked like a war zone.

At school, I heard more of the boys’ issues. Matt’s condition was quite serious, closer to autism, ADHD and ODD, then the minor condition I was led to believe. The boys were given food to take home on the weekends which was often taken away by Mom. The school did everything they could to convince me to keep them, even as I cried hysterically in the principle’s office.

The next stop was to the social workers’ office who was in charge of placements. Twenty four hours after taking the brothers, I admitted to her we couldn’t handle them, especially as our first placements. We were all just figuring out how badly Matt needed help, we being the system itself. The system was the caseworkers, the school and us. They would move Matt into a group home where he could receive extra care and keep Mikey with us.

I got them clothes, picked them up from school and got home to find a birthday cake. Mikey looked at Matt and said, “You ruined Ms. Kate’s birthday.”

The boys were at our house for five days. We got Matt on medication and then Mikey started acting up. He was scared and hurt and wanted to be back home with his Mom. He had to take care of his little brother and never got to just be himself. When transportation came to pick them up, I cried. When the boys weren’t there, I stomped my feet into the ground and screamed. I loved the boys, even for five days, even though they ruined my birthday, hit me, kicked me, screamed at me, and stole. We couldn’t change their lives and they needed better caretakers then us.

Your heart may be open to taking anyone, but that doesn’t make you capable. I hope their five days with us did more good than harm. It was truly a life lesson not to take on more than you can handle.

In those five days, with the help of many around me, and because of two wild loving boys, I found my Mom voice.

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About

Respite Care

Before we were licensed, I heard about another foster family in town, Cathy and Bob. In order to be licensed, we had to interview another family. Our interviewees just had their sibling group go home but we got plenty of stories. The kid who had his hands down his pants. The kid who got caught smoking pot in his room. The kid who came into care pregnant. They had four siblings for most of a year and all four had been reunified with mom. Foster mom was at court every time advocating for the biological mom. She knew biological mom brought home cooked meals to every visit. They went grocery shopping together and discussed parenting together.

Two days after being licensed I got a phone call from Cathy. There was a mistake with the paperwork and two of the kids were sent back to their house until the courts reviewed the case again. (Foster care bureaucracy is an absolute nightmare. Paperwork, filing, and slow going!) We were asked to watch the school aged eight year old boy while Cathy and Bob were on their pre-planned vacation.

In foster care, there is an often talked about – rarely taken – thing called respite. A background screened person or people essentially watch/care for foster children while the custodial foster parents take a break, go on vacation, care for loved ones or deal with other life events.

So we did respite. Or as we called it, practice!

Eight year old Jose was a sweet heart. We had specific instructions on his routine and followed them to a tee. We woke him up at 7, laid out his clothes, told him to brush his teeth, walked him to the bus stop, played “I spy with my little eye,” picked him up from the bus stop, colored, played, ate, and put him in his room at 8 with the television on, finally turning in off at 9. Somehow he never had homework in his backpack, drank apple juice like a fiend and went through several pop tarts a day. We cringed at his sugar intake and continued following the instructions. We went to the park and even brought him to a festival where he was spoiled rotten. We were the babysitters- not the Mom and Dad, even temporarily.

It was magical and fun and in no way what so ever an indication of what was to come!