Twice As Nice

WOW – do I have an update for all of you.

The call with the little girl fell through, she was placed before we were able to get the last part of our licensing squared away last week. I thought we’d be really upset, but I think we both went into it thinking whatever is supposed to happen will happen.

That, and, well…we didn’t have much time to be heart-broken because we received our second call on Monday- and this time it was for siblings. A is a 3 year old boy and K is a 2 year old girl, they were placed with us that same day as an emergency removal. It’s been a whirlwind 3 days, so although we don’t know much, we know that we already love them and are so thankful to have them in our home.

For those of you who have never been through this process, you literally receive a phone call and they ask if you have room for x amount of kids ages y and z and typically have very little information because it’s usually a dispatcher and not necessarily the case worker or someone who has even met the children. In the case of A and K all they could tell us was that it was domestic abuse related and that he was aggressive towards his sister. Not really helpful when they don’t know to what extent or have any information about the state of the children. Another tricky thing can be the kids have “no diagnosis” on their medical chart, meaning they have no health issues that anyone is aware of, but what that has come to mean to us is that their parents haven’t taken them to a Dr. recently enough for them to be diagnosed.

They arrived at our home around 9:30p the night of placement and the case workers came with two folders with paperwork to sign and some random pamphlets that weren’t even age appropriate. They threw some ratty looking blankets and two oversized jackets on the floor and asked us if we had any questions. We had TONS of questions, but mom wasn’t cooperating with the case workers, so it wasn’t their fault – but they couldn’t answer anything we wanted to know.

Little K was terrified, all she would do is cry and cover her face, she didn’t want to be comforted, she glared at you if she would see you through the corner of her eye and she would swat at you if you tried to get too close to her. It lasted for about 45 minutes (at this point A was still asleep in his car seat) until she eventually wore herself out and fell asleep on the floor. We were able to pick her up, and she was sleepy enough that we could actually change her and get her into some new clothes and down in the pack and play we had for emergencies in the other room.

A woke up, still buckled into his seat very confused. He started yelling, and his car seat was so full of gunk that the buckles were stuck together and it took us a good three minutes to actually get him out of it. The carseat had fleas on it and was covered in dirt and who knows what else so we put it outside and washed everything they came with and put it all in bags in their closet. He would not make eye contact with you – and he kept his head down. He had no shoes on and his clothes were multiple sizes too big, it broke my heart to see him fold himself in the corner with his head down, not wanting to talk or be talked to. His little feet were black with dirt from outside and his hair was a hot mess.

I grabbed a box of animal crackers from the cupboard and opened them and poured a kid cup with a straw full of water and set it down next to him. I got down on my knees, kind of far away from where he was in the corner, and told him my name and that he was safe and that when he was hungry or thirsty he could eat and drink and come into the livingroom and watch Tarzan. Within minutes he had his hand shoved into the bottom of the crackers shoving them into his mouth, so I can’t imagine he had eaten dinner that night. Once he got some food in his belly he slowly made the trip into the livingroom and stood in front of the TV. After a few minutes of that he asked where his sister was and we showed him his room, where his sister was asleep and he reached in to wake up her up and started handing her crackers as well. She ate them as fast as her tiny little arms could grab them, so she was clearly running on an empty stomach as well. It also leads us to believe he may have been responsible for feeding her during long periods of time when no one else was around and he’s very protective of her and whatever he gets he makes sure she gets too (including face washes haha).

K woke up from her power nap a whole new girl, I think seeing her brother and getting some food from us made her feel a lot more secure, so she woke up smiling and hopped right out of her pack and play (we opted for a second toddler bed instead of the crib because no way was she going to stay put in a crib anyways) and wanted to run around the house. We showed them around and then let them meet our two pugs. The four of them are something else together – totally in love. It’s amazing to see how calm the dogs are and how loving the kids are with them. Despite the tough times and the drama and meltdowns of the day to day…A and K will walk up and kiss the dogs on their backs or hug them and walk away with their sippy cup in hand. It’s amazing how resilient kids are, and even more amazing how easily you get attached to them in such a short period of time. This is technically only the 3rd full day we’ve had them and we’ve learned so much and seen them make so many steps in the right direction that my heart aches at the thought of them not getting what they need every second of every day for the rest of their lives.

There is a family share/visitation meeting tomorrow at 1:00 that Chelsey can’t attend so I will have to go it alone with the two of them, some case workers and bio-mom. I’m a little concerned about that, and I’m not quite sure what visitation will look like going forward, but it will definitely mess with their routine. I’m all for reunification when it’s appropriate, but these kids have been through hell, so I think it’s a little early for us to sit down and pretend to be best friends. She has not shared any information with the case manager to help us care for them – no favorite foods, no bedtime information, no medical history or food allergies or anything. It’s like a game of russian roulette at dinner-time and we’re constantly preparing ourselves for something crazy to happen. Thankfully, we’ve discovered that K loves anything with cheese and A loves almost everything you give him that is food. The first few days neither would eat a ton during structured meal time but constantly asked for snacks or wanted to look in the fridge. You can tell they weren’t eating a lot or weren’t eating anything necessarily that good for them, because they don’t even know what a lot of foods are and you sometimes have to show them how to eat it.

A is going to be 4 in a few weeks and is severely behind in several areas. He will definitely require speech therapy, and potentially occupational therapy and counseling as well. He has some pretty extensive anger issues, and his trauma presents itself often, typically triggered by even the slightest inkling of “no” slipping from your mouth. Even if it comes in the form of, “Hey! Let’s sit on our bum in the chair because if we fall backwards we could bump our heads and that will hurt, ok!?”…he knows you mean “no” and he isn’t happy about it. He throws himself on the floor, says things like, “LEAVE ME ALONE, IDIOT” and “I DON’T WANT YOU” and has even thrown in the occasional, “Bullshit” or “Fuck” here and there.

Diaper changes have been all over the place – he typically doesn’t want to change his diaper (he is not potty trained but has had several successes in the last few days!) and says, “Owe, you’re hurting me” before you even touch him. Someone has clearly taught him some preventative “protect your body” type phrases, which is amazing, but it also makes you wonder why he is so well versed in it and if there was someone around him they were concerned about in the first place. You just have to kneel next to him and say, “I would never hurt you, I just want to change your diaper so you can be all clean and then we can go get a snack” or something to that effect and he will usually continue with, “No, I don’t want to” or sometimes, “Not right now” where we’ve let him have a minute or two and then we start the process again so he knows it’s not normal to sit in a wet diaper. Once you get it off, it’s a chore to get one back on! He loves to run around naked and has been a fan of jumping on the couch by the window and flashing his little bum to the neighbors if you don’t catch him in time so we got him pull-ups with race cars on them and we tell him he has to find them because the race care drove away. Once he’s on the hunt for his diaper and finds it, he will actually put it on himself and then he will ask for his shorts and be on his way like nothing happened.

K recently turned 2 and is in the 30th percentile for weight, her height is actually about average. The doctor referred us to a child abuse center for an evaluation next week and he has some concerns she’s failure to thrive or shaken baby syndrome. She’s very smart, can point out letter and loves to look through books. She loves to grab cell phones, is very upset that she can’t have her own lip gloss and throws a tantrum if you don’t pick her up and put her in the kitchen while you cook supper. She’s a lover, she has some meltdowns like her brother, but she is significantly less angry and is definitely more “hurt” if she doesn’t get her way than angry. Her little head has a big bruise on it, but I don’t think it’s abuse related because her center of gravity is still very much off and she walks with her feet turned in. The doctor advised when he last saw her (nearly 8 months ago!!!) he had advised the mother they needed to run some tests, she needed OT and PT and the mother never came back or got her into anything. They have their PCP visit on Monday and we got their record faxed over so we’ll really know what we’re looking at over the next few weeks. My mind is blown that someone could do this to little kids.

As far as other behaviors, there have only been one or two minor setbacks with meltdowns that were significant to the point where we had to either separate the kids in two rooms with one of us reading or talking to the other and distracting them or A having to take a “break” and sit on the couch with us for a few minutes until he has calmed down. We want to be very careful about the way we talk to them and the way we discipline them, because for all we know they had very little or no structure before, and judging by the little bruises and bug bites all over both of them, I’m sure they weren’t paid attention to very often, so we want them to know we are paying attention, but only because we care about them and not because we’re mean or mad at them.

We have a kid teepee in the living room with a rug that they can play in and it’s free standing and A and K pushed the legs together until it fell over. It has fabric all the way around so when it falls it’s super easy to fix and only weighs a few pounds so it’s not a big deal – but the both of them flung around to look at Chelsey as if she were about to scream at them. K got instantly on the verge of tears and A looked like he was about to book it, but then she said, “it’s okay – that was an accident…here, let’s put it back up together, ok?” and they both looked completely relieved. Another situation happened when Chelsey was reading a book to K. She was just about to fall asleep so Chelsey went to stand up and closed the book, and the way she shut it the shadow hit K’s face just right and she woke up and flinched and covered her eyes like Chelsey was raising her hand to hit her. She had to pick her back up and rock her and virtually start all over again because she was shaken by it.

Today is the first full day without either of us home (Chelsey went back to work today, I went back half day yesterday) so they are at home with Chelsey’s aunt and her two teenagers to keep them busy. It’s so crazy how your life feels so instantly different. It’s like you’re walking around with a gaping wound that will never heal all day – you’re so worried about them, but they do something amazing like tell you a letter or color or stack blocks and it’s like your heart could explode. They test your patience, they find your buttons and press them constantly…sometimes they don’t want to sleep, sometimes they want to scream and run around naked and pee in the tub or dump buckets of water on their baby siblings heads…but all the time, they deserve to be kids.

If they stay forever, or if they leave tomorrow…they deserve to be kids and that is what they will be for every second of every day they live in our home.

 

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The First Call

Another call beeped in yesterday from a number that I didn’t recognize while I was taking a conference call at home. Heart racing, I immediately googled it, thinking it was DHHS, and sure enough…it was. I sent my wife a text and told her we’d missed a call from them and that I was on a call for the next 45 minutes and couldn’t check my VM. She called our case worker to see if it was her, and sure enough…it was.

We received our SOD and sent our POC back to the Fire Marshal a few weeks ago but they have not forwarded it to the office yet so that is the one thing holding us up. Our CW is from a different district so it could also just be help up at the wrong office too…regardless, she has a child in mind. We plan to call the Fire Marshal today, because she said she will officially license us tomorrow as long as we have that information on file and could be placed with her as early as that same night. 

[Her.] It’s a girl. She’s 18 months old, no official dx codes on her chart and no known physical/emotional issues presenting themselves. Of course I’m sure they’re sugar coating it, or just don’t have the information themselves, but a little one about the same age as our god daughter could be with us as soon as tomorrow. I instantly think of the family, who I do not know, but will hopefully meet one day. I think of them and I hope that they are taking steps to better their lives or that we can offer some support for them during this time.

It’s really happening. Our entire lives are about to shift. Even if this placement falls through, they have a line of kids in our county who have been in respite care so it seems like it’s only a matter of time…possibly days…until we meet our first placement. Despite all of the training and everything we’ve learned through this process, I can’t seem to shake the fact that this first placement could turn into our first adoption. Of course they could also be our first heartbreak/successful reunification story. Our first time being parents could be nothing more than our first weekend of confusion before someone scoops her up and brings her back where she belongs. Reunification is the goal, and we’re very passionate about that mission when it’s right, but [this hypothetical placement already has our hearts], too, so if it isn’t right we will make “where she belongs” right at home with us.

We don’t have any details about the circumstances of the child coming into care yet, so we’re not even sure if this is a short-term or long-term placement. We have no control over this situation so it’s scary, yet you’re [overflowing with happiness] that you have a chance to help but then you also want to cry because for them to get to you they had to experience trauma of some kind, or their family had to go through something…and you hate to think of them in pain. I guess being a foster parent sounds a lot like being a parent…who would have thought?

This time tomorrow we could be parents, or it could all fall through and work out for the family. Either way, we got our first call. 

Why Foster? Part 1 of 2

As an adoptee, I hate to admit it, but the thought of adopting a child actually made my stomach turn a few years back. When Chelsey first brought it up, I pushed it to the back of my mind where it stayed until about a year ago. I don’t even think I understood why I was so against it, but I’ve come to realize and really own the fact that [I know what it feels like to grow up in a home where I looked different than everyone else, where I was absent from a culture that I felt a connection to, and most importantly, where I was separated from my biological siblings.]

Spoiler alert: All of these things have had long-term effects on my psyche that I didn’t fully understand until adulthood and I’m still learning to cope with them every single day. Adoption is beautiful, and I am so thankful that my mother did what was best for me…[but there are some ugly truths about adoption, too…but nobody likes to talk about those.]

I didn’t grow up in foster care. I had a privileged life with my bio-mom and my adopted dad, so for a lot of people my original hesitation to adopt as well as my current goal of fostering really confuses them. It is normal (and devastating) to feel like something is missing when when you have family somewhere out there that you can’t reach. I felt this “missing” feeling from a very young age, but my feelings seem to pale in comparison when I think of foster children. Imagine being ripped away from the people you call family and placed into the care of strangers. No matter how amazing your foster parents are, and even if they saved you from a drug house where you were physically abused...you do not trust them and there are answers that you deserve that they cannot give to you.

Here are some facts to keep in mind:

  • Foster Kids suffer from PTSD at a rate almost twice that of returning veterans
  • More than 25,000 children age out each year without a permanent family
  • There are more than 400,000 kids in care as I write this to all of you
  • Kids stay in care an average of 2 years, often seeing multiple placements, some of them upwards of 8 homes during this time

As an adopted kid [I felt abandoned] and that feeling could not be mended, even by the amazing upbringing I was lucky enough to have. I felt abandoned despite knowing and seeing and hearing and feeling love from everyone in my life, so I am not under the illusion that I can prevent any foster children from feeling this way when the one person that was supposed to care for them left them in the care of strangers. I often ask myself how they can [ever trust again] and the sad truth is, some of them might not. I guess knowing that I have the opportunity to be the reason that they do makes it worth trying.

It’s common for adoptees (even those of us who did grow up with bio-relative connections from birth) to experience identity problems associated with our adoptions. [We are raised as one person, but know that we were only a decision or two away from being someone completely different.] I know what that feels like…and so I feel that I’m prepared to put myself into their world, rather than rip them into mine and expect them to start over.

When I was younger I would lay awake and think if I was never adopted, “Maybe I would live in Portland, and talk to my family in Puerto Rico every single day and love plantains and speak Spanish fluently”but the reality is that maybe I would be an alcoholic like my Puerto Rican bio-dad was and or be a bum on Forest Ave begging for change. I will never know, and, well – no one else can tell me, either. Foster kids, along with any child separated from family, often have ideal situations  built up in their minds where they are reunited with their birth family and everything is perfect. I can empathize with foster children and their feelings of love for someone who, for all intents and purposes, [abandoned them]. I can…and want to, be that person.

If you have an adopted child, I ask that you do what is best for them by not doing what may be comfortable for you. I ask that you give them access to their siblings, even if it’s hard or inconvenient and even if you have to [hunt them down yourself.] Whatever you do – don’t try to raise them like they are “just another one of your kids”…because they’re more than that. An adopted kid, whether they come by way of foster care, adoption or just plain luck, is your kid…but with a whole lot of baggage that even [they don’t understand.] Recognize that they are different, but know that [that doesn’t make them any more or less your kid.]

Why Foster?” for me, is pretty simple: [I feel it is my moral obligation with the room in my home, the love in my heart and the experiences of my life] to ensure that I build meaningful connections with children who may feel some of what I felt, or sadly, even more. While I know I can’t reach them all, I am confident that I can reach the ones that come into my care. There are many families looking to adopt…but there aren’t many families willing to open their home to a child who comes with a little extra baggage.

In closing, I don’t want anyone to get confused: I love my adopted family with every ounce of my being. I would not be who I am without them, and certainly would not be confident taking this path as a foster parent without their love and support. My dad and the rest of my family loved me when I was two years old despite my [adult sized baggage] without knowing what the road ahead would look like. That being said, I believe that all children have a right to be raised with access to their [roots] and I also believe that Chelsey and I are a couple of maniacs that will [go to the ends of the earth] trying to make that happen for our kids.

I will never be able to repay my family for everything that they’ve given me…but I can start to chip away at some of that debt by [being that person for someone else.]