Sunday, May 21, 2017

Having 4 Kids

What I've learned having 4 kids:

It's easier to take them out and do something on a Saturday than to keep them at the house entertained without going crazy about the mess that is happening.

I think I have 'a lot' of kids - and consequently keep looking around for a 5th child after counting the 4.

If any of them have a name that starts with the same letter - they will consistently be called by the wrong name, even when I am looking right at them.

There is always, always, someone too close to me. My body, my hands, my feet. Everything is constantly being touched.

The "I love yous" are plentiful.

Bed time is no longer a race of 15 minutes. It is a marathon. It is a different kind of tired. A more whole-body, fulfilling type of tired rather than the harried, brain hurting type of tired.

We make the cutest line of hand-holders anywhere we go where there is a parking lot.

2nd graders are awesome. They read. They do math. They are responsible. I can set all the kids on the couch a D will read to them, happily earning minutes towards her 60 minutes a week on her reading log.

Reading happens. Having a 2nd grader who has to have 60 minutes a week of reading recorded makes us read at night. Steven doesn't understand the benefits of reading books out loud - still - and it drives me crazy. But with the added requirement of the reading log makes it happen.

4 Weeks Measured by the Lice

It's been 4 weeks. Our 'weekend emergency placement' that has lasted 4 weeks. And I know it has been 4 weeks because I can keep track by the amount of times that I have treated for lice. 3.5 times. I say a half because I washed all the sheets, all the bedding, put all the stuffed animals into a sealed garbage bag but ran out of steam by the end of the day to do the hair treatment. I just couldn't do another 2 hours of combing through hair that night. And found it lost priority the next day and the next. I am just pooped of the whole situation.

I did some research instead and found that maybe this whole lice thing is an urban legend. A myth. Not that they are fake, but that you don't need to vacuum and do linens and all the other house cleaning that distracts from the real problem - the head. Which is the part that I lost steam for. Ooooops.

Apparently, from what I can gather, is lice like your head. Not like fleas that bounce all over the place. But lice love head blood and warmth. So there is no reason for them to leave the head unless they are dead or injured or literally need to just take a gander and walk across one person's head to another person's head during a hug or a secret or any other numerous things why 2nd grade girls would have their heads together.

If you make your head smell like something other than a head, the lice pack up their bags and leave. Thinking that there is no food around. I got my hands on some tea tree mint shampoo which is rumored to be something that lice do not like. They'll starve themselves or go find someone else to infest.

They can only live without eating for 24 hours. And the reason that they come back and back again after a treatment is the stragglers. The lice shampoo does kills eggs, but only the eggs that have started to hatch. Not the just laid ones. That are so super tiny. Tinier than what can be seen without a magnifying glass. Those are the ones that hatch later and do a re-infestation. It's a wreck. But made me feel confident that they are not just hanging out on pillows or sheets, waiting for their dinner. That's too much of  chance to take when you could be dead within 24 hours of no food. While it's a good idea, it's better to treat the head than it is to drive yourself crazy doing loads of laundry and vacuuming couches and chairs. Which is a good idea to gather up any loose hairs that might have an egg attached to it, but it isn't going to be where you are going to find the lice.

Which brings me to my last little bit of advice to myself that we will see if I have the energy to take. The hard core stuff that you get from the store can only be used on the head every 7-10 days due to being so rough on the hair and the skin of the scalp. So the next idea is to do the mayonnaise thing. That suffocates them. Every three days to catch the stragglers. My feet hurt at the thought of standing over another head for another hour, combing out hair.

Hunted Animal

I got out of the shower after being harassed 3x "Mom, mom, mom! Why are you in the shower?" Can a lady not get a break around here?

I slinked out in my towel (as slinky as a pregnant lady can slink), hoping no one would notice. That the next door opened by tiny hands would be the bathroom door rather than my own bedroom door. No such luck. "I'm getting dressed!" halted the door at two inches instead of a full on exposure, but I was a hunted animal.

My promise of opening the door as soon as I was dressed appeased the situation and I did a hurried look for my Sunday dress and a slip. Opened the door as per promised. No one there. Combed out my hair, dabbed on some mascara, noticed my nose was shiny and poofed it with some powder. Not even taking the time to double-check on things like eyebrows or pores, I was out of the vanity area and into the bathroom where I knew I could find some hairspray. 

My hair piled on top of my head in the mom-bun I have consistently been wearing for the past 4 weeks, I looked in the mirror and gave a little smile. Yes. My hair was piled as high as it is when I go to the gym. And today was Sunday. It was one of those days that called for all hair off my neck and away from my face.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Week of a New Placement

We've had the girls a week and a half. It seems like so much longer. So many decisions have been made - so many things have changed - so many things have happened. I can't believe how much was packed into that first week. And this week has been as beautiful as a week as could be wanted. Things that just bring tears to my eyes they are so beautiful. Picture perfect with these girls that have had their picture ripped up and shredded by the poor decisions of their parents.

Quick Review:

Friday - called at 4:30 pm in need of a placement for two girls.

Saturday - spent the day at home getting to know them. Alaska is in love and has a new best friend. Also, combing through hair for lice took up about half of the day. Over the weekend I spent 9 hours combing through hair when it was all added up. My feet were swollen each time afterward and my back ached.

Sunday - Church and then went up to my parents' house for John's birthday dinner of steak. We had celebrated the week before (Easter) but he needed his special birthday dinner rather than Easter spread. Which I was grateful for. The girls did great - getting rowdy about the time they got tired. The volume in that house was huge.

Monday - D didn't want to go to school. She had been telling me all weekend she didn't want to. I called the school in a panic, explaining our situation and her not willing to get out of bed. The secretary had relief spread through her voice over the phone to me, expressing her concern for this little girl and how grateful she was that D was in a safe place and how they (her teacher and this secretary) had been so, so worried for her. Especially since she had missed all of the week before of school. Which I can only imagine. I am sure it was the school that had called the situation in - probably had been calling the situation in since D was in kindergarten. But it finally stuck. Because there are small consequences for what they call 'chronic neglect' - it takes a long, long time. And then for the call to be made that makes the difference and then to not have that child come to school all the next week. Yes. I bet the secretary was extremely worried. Turns out, the safety plan that the kids had been put in, had failed on Friday and that's why I had gotten the call. The safety plan that was supposed to be the best for them - better than ripping them out of their life that they knew and the potential to keep them out of a foster home - had busted. Grandma hadn't been able to get D to school all week and other things added up and that landed them in our care. We were 20 minutes late to school, but got there with braids in her hair and clean clothes. I literally dressed D while she was in bed - pulling her jammies off, slipping a shirt on - pulling her jeans on. She knew I was serious at this point and she worked herself out of bed for a bowl of dry cereal (her preference) and braids in her hair.

Also this day is the shelter hearing. This is the hearing that foster parents are often invited to - but it's usually a last minute call of, "Court is in a hour, will you be there?" It has to happen within 24 hours of the kids being placed - so they are usually in the afternoon. In our case, since placement was done on a Friday - shelter hearing was done on Monday. I waited until 11:30 without hearing from anyone from DHS. My patience was about shot. I packed up Talmage and E and headed down to the court house to check out the roster. They won't give any information out over the phone and even when I got there, I found I had to have a case number, which wasn't on any of my paperwork. Thank goodness someone from DHS was coming down the stairs the same time I was standing at the front desk flustered about not being able to figure out which case was ours and let me know the hearing would be at 3:00. Got a call from DHS at 1:30 - "Hey, shelter hearing is at 3. Will you be there?" Right. Because I would have had to find childcare within a hour and a half if I hadn't done this rodeo before. So dumb.

Thank goodness for an amazing mother-in-law who empowers me and is able to watch the kids. I had let her know that morning that I would need her to watch the kids, but didn't know the time and wouldn't know the time until later - but that it would be in the afternoon. I messaged her when I was back in the car after visiting the court house and letting the kids go up and down the huge stairs a couple of times. C was also going to be dropped off while I was at court, for dance. A houseful.

The hearing was horrendous. Not bad as in abuse, that so often first comes to mind, but bad as in neglect. My eyes welled up with tears thinking about the hard things these two girls have been through. And how sweet they still are. Neglect has a wide spectrum - none of it less or more than the other side of the spectrum - it's just super wide. And heartbreaking.

Tuesday - Steven had the day off. Another thing that just made everything add up just right. And I had my glucose test that day. We had arranged it this way so Steven could watch Talmage instead of me taking him to my 2.5 hour appointment with me - turns out, things just add up in just the right way. The girls had visit with mom that morning. Steven took them and reached out to mom and aunt and that was a good step for us.

Wednesday - Amani Center. This is a check-in center for sexual abuse. They used to have every kid who came into care go through this center, and then things got busy and it got put on the back burner and now they are trying to get more kids through here. The girls and their brother went because of their mother's connections to 'unsafe people' and the people that she allowed to be around the kids. A good precaution. And I still don't know the results of this - so I suppose we're all clear. No news is good news. This literally took all day. 9:30-12:30. D missed all day of school for it. Which would usually not be the case, except that there was a bomb threat at her school that day and school was released early. Blessings. I am not yet signed into the school alerts and would have missed the whole thing.

Thursday - this is the day it all went down. DHS had not found a place for all three siblings to go together yet. I am in love. These girls are the most precious and my heart keeps on getting love-taps. Breaking it open, slowly, slowly. I am tired of living in constant turbulence. Waiting for a call from DHS - "We found a home, we'll be by to pick the girls up in a hour." That is not planful at all. The whole week I had been planning for that phone call. The girls' things were still packed, Alaska was still out of her room. The house just felt like it was waiting impatiently for motion. I messaged DHS with my conclusion. I wanted all three kids placed together, and would hold onto the girls until that place could be found. And I wanted a week's notice. If they found a placement on Monday, I could have the girls prepared for a move on Friday. We were going to need a bunk bed.

Savannah was sick this day. She had been throwing up the night before and I kept her home. Talmage was also throwing up. I did more laundry this day than I have done in a long time. It worked out for the best, though, as there is a nurse who comes out to the homes within a week of placement and check on the kids. A general exam of weight and measurement and temperature. She wouldn't have been able to stop by if Savannah had been at school. The attorney had also scheduled a meeting for this day, after school. So many things to pack in.

The court has 60 days to make a follow-up appointment to the shelter hearing. And they always schedule it at the end of the session - so everyone can divy out their schedules. Things are so clogged right now that we ended up using the judge's lunch hour for the following Friday. That meant the kids' attorney needed to get on the hustle to meet the kids and prepare for court in a week.

Friday - I was subbing for my dad. It was a beautiful day again and after the school pick-ups, Tamera had taken the kids to the park. We stayed there for 4 hours, soaking up the sun and the warmth. It has been so incredibly rainy here - it's impossible to think of sunny days and shorts and flip-flops. We're still sloshing around in rain boots. And that was the end to a very crazy, very busy week. We did another lice shampoo ordeal, spent another back breaking amount of time going carefully through hair. Swollen feet. The whole bit. But like I said. This past week has been beautiful. Absolutely heart-tapping. I call them my 'love-taps' and they just add up faster and faster.

Saturday - Shopping day. Tamera helped me with all three girls. Her taking two of them while I did one. I didn't know their sizes and wanted to get them clothes that fit. Turns out - I kind of got the wrong sizes anyways - but they work.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Emergency Placement

Not even a week later we got a call from 'unknown caller'.  This is DHS. Friday at 4:30. DHS was closing in 30 minutes and they had a sibling set that needed placed for the weekend. Until they could find a longterm placement for them on Monday, or Tuesday - or as it turns out - more like Wednesday or Thursday.

It is amazing to me how things add up. How timing is just right. I know that is God's hand. If there was anything that He is more aware of, it is these foster children. And I know, there are horror stories. I know that. But for each horror story I could tell you a story about the things that just add up beautifully. That happen just right and no one else could have planned the circumstances and coincidences better. And not just ones from blog posts. But real ones. Real ones that I have seen and know of with my own two eyes and ears.

The pieces that have added up for this case just right were 1) C was all moved in with Kellie 2) I hadn't had a substitute job all week except for Friday 3) The house was actually clean (this one is kind of a big deal. Living in a two-bedroom apartment, it doesn't take a whole lot to clean it good. It does however, take a good deal of effort to keep it clean. So I often let it get really, super bad, before spending a day working on it. It's just annoying how one bucket of toys can clutter the place up. One day of bringing mail in clutters the place up. One meal clutters the place up. So I just let it set for a few days to keep myself from going crazy. Marinating the clutter, as it were. And often when I clean, as of recent, I can only get to the living room or only the bedroom or only the bathroom. I can't do it all in one day like I used to be able to. But you know what? That week without my schedule being filled with working, I had the energy to do it all. My room included. Which never happens. 4) The day had been pleasant with the kids at school (subbing for my dad) and the weather was nice. Alaska and Talmage and I were even outside at the park in our apartment complex, playing with some other kids from the complex and I had my current book out there, reading off and on between watching the kids and we had already eaten a big snacky dinner after school. Life was pretty dang good. Things were calm.

My phone rang, "Unknown caller" and I answered. a 2 year old boy, a 5 year old girl and a 7 year old girl. I explained that we only had room for the 2 year old boy. Literally. Our bed management left us with a portacrib open. I had already moved Talmage into C's place - not even bothering to wash the sheets first. "Oh, well we were hoping you could take the girls. We've already found a place for the boy and that home can only take one of them" They dropped the name of the mom that had already said yes and I knew her. I knew she only had room for the one. I replied that no, I didn't have bed space. I could possibly take one of the girls. Move Talmage back to his portacrib. "You couldn't keep them together? They have been through a lot and could really use each other." And my mind just spun. Almost coming up empty. "Well, we could blow up an air mattress, I guess," I heard myself saying. And bam. I was placed with two girls.

I hustled Alaska and Talmage off the playground with a quick explanation that we were going to have two new friends coming to spend the weekend and we needed to get to the store real quick to pick up some lice shampoo (yup, they were coming with lice) and a treat for them. Alaska was excited, she was ready. Talmage came along for the ride but picked up on the excitement when I let him and Alaska pick out whatever treat they wanted. They both chose bubbleiscious. We walked out of there $50 later, a double lice kit in hand, three coloring books, a bag of suckers (because it's really boring to have to sit in the tub while that lice stuff sits on your head) and 4 containers of bubbleiscious. Quick-drove home to do some switching of bed sheets and we were ready. The calm before the storm. I was pacing, waiting for them. Finally ahead of the game. Ready for it. So unlike our experience with C where we were up until midnight getting things ready while the kids entertained themselves.

And you know what?!?!?! We still stayed up until 12! I used the suckers to bribe the two girls into the tub, because, really, they wanted to run around and explore and there was no way I was having that. Around 9 things were just too crazy. Steven put Alaska and Talmage to bed and that left us up with the job of setting up a movie for the two girls while I poured over their heads in the cruddy light that is our apartment late at night. Steven shone a flashlight on their heads while I pulled through their hair. 3 hours of pregnant, swollen feet and a sore back standing bent over or kneeling on my knees. I was so done and ready for bed. Good enough for one night. The star that hung in the darkness of my tiredness was the 7 year old. "I'm sorry we came to your house with lice." Melted my heart. And the 5 year old, "Are you going to be our new momma?" I had to explain that, no, they would just stay here a little while and then go to a new family. That hurt. That hurt bad. But I just don't have it in me. I cannot do two girls and a pregnancy in this tiny house where each cm my belly gets bigger this apartment gets 10 ft smaller. And I just don't have the energy, besides that. And after my speal, the 7 year old "Well, if we stay here too long, then you'll be like our aunt." And I smiled. And yes. These two sweeties have already climbed into my heart and nestled up in there and I would love to be their aunt. Doing respite for their new placement - having them over when I could to play with Alaska.

Into bed everyone went, 12 am, I read them asleep. The next morning they were up at 6:30. Too early. Got them breakfast. Stripped beds and got things going through the wash. Did another bath for the two of them and pulled through hair again. 2 hours on each head. This process repeated itself on Sunday, too, though thank goodness everyone stayed in bed until 8. It was ward conference that week and my mom came out early to help me to get the kids ready. Thank goodness for her or I never would have made it to church on time. Lice hunting always takes longer than I think it will.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Soothing Words to Heal

This came in from the agency of Maple Star: I know from experience that the feelings that can happen when a child transitions from your home can be bittersweet and conflicting. I think these feelings can be magnified when the child had hard behaviors to manage. It is normal to feel relieved about the transition and then guilty about feeling relieved. Let me know if you want to get together and process any feelings that you might be having."

And then I spilled some more of my own story: I am much more of a writer/reflector than a talker. When I knew I would need to make the decision to have our extra move, yes, I was in conflict. It takes a lot of strength to say, "I'm not strong enough right now" and a lot of internal searching to be ok with that. 

I turned to blog searching because I find so much strength and comfort in words and found a jewel. You should totally check it out - called  I read the whole blog like a book, reading it all over the course of a week - not knowing what I was looking for until page 8 and my eyes filled up and my heart whispered "me too" 

I'll copy and paste the entry that made it clear to my heart that I was doing the right thing for all of us and maybe you can use it sometime to help someone else who is going through this process and otherwise wouldn't find these wonderful words. I think what made this entry extra powerful is because I had read so many success stories. So many stories that ended with hard work and love and warm fuzzies. And while I wouldn't call this a failure - I'm not really sure what it is. If success would be holding onto a child until a return is made - then what is the case called where it's just too big for your current energy level and you have to let it go to someone else? I feel at ease because I put my all into that little girl and she had made big strides in the year and nearly a half that we've had her in our home, but difficult behavior is difficult behavior. There's no explaining or excusing that. It just is. She was hard without my temperament being altered by pregnancy and near impossible once my tolerance level started to drop. 

C's family was split, 4 siblings, between three foster homes. We were all taking the foundation classes together when her case came up and none of us could take all 4. So the school-aged one (5)  went to Kellie, the pre-school one (4) went to us, and the set of twins that were only 3 went to Shannon. It was absolutely the best to have all three of us on one case and we kept each other updated, could compare notes and with three parents for those four kids - it really did work out the best way possible for all of them as they all turned out more high-needs than anyone could have suspected from the start. And it was good for us - a made support group that forced us into each other's lives. We have had a running group text message for the past year and a half and while our schedules are too busy for us to get together in person very often - we check in several times a week with each other.

And the reply that came that gave me the strength, the courage, the peace of mind. The encouragement that yes, this fostering stuff can still be for us, even if no, C has worn me out long and hard. And that is just ok: 

That blog post was beautiful! What she wrote resonated with me very strongly! I had a youth in my care for a year and a half who was extremely violent towards me multiple times a day. He had extreme attachment issues and I struggled with making the decision to end the placement. The feeling that I was going to fail him, cause him more damage were intense. I wanted to exhaust every option. I didn’t want to quit on a bad day so I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Kept making that choice to struggle through the challenges. You know what? There were not any good days anymore. Every day was a battle. Every day was hard for this sweet little boy and myself. We loved each other but I was a huge trigger for him at this point in his healing. Once he moved out and I had a chance to process through my feelings (and boy did I have a lot to go through!) I realized that this was the right decision for everyone involved. Our family had brought him to this place in his healing and our relationship had to transition. It wasn’t the end of the relationship. It wasn’t a failed relationship. It just transitioned. It is a beautiful thing when people allow relationships to transition instead of forcing them to stay the same when it isn’t healthy anymore. You were able to recognize that and plan a mindful transition. That is fantastic!

That little boy who left my home went to a family with no other children in the home and he FLOURISHED. Last I heard they were working on his adoption. Everyone on his team credits his current success for the foundation he got while in my care. Hearing that helped with the guilt and pain I still had a few years after saying I couldn’t do it anymore. You offered this girl a strong foundation. You helped her heal to this point and that is so huge and beneficial. She is ready for her next step now! What a beautiful thing! Her chapter with you was not a failure at all because it did not end with her returning home. Her chapter with you was a success because you realized that the current situation was not beneficial to anyone involved. 

Through the struggles we have with the children in our care we learn more about who we are as people. We learn what behaviors, temperaments, diagnosis’, etc that we are comfortable handling. Through the struggles you learn the questions to ask when a child is referred to your home. You know when to say “no” to a referral because you know that you have a hard time dealing with bedtime issues or bedwetting or whatever. This helps set you and your next placement up for success.   

I love that you and the other foster families had a strong bond and stayed connected with group texts. That was amazing of all of you! I hope that more foster families start doing things like that. It helps when kids in our care see everyone as a united front working for their best interests. It helps alleviate the anxiety siblings can have when separated from each other. 

Thank you for passing on the blog. I am looking forward to checking it out! 

Please let me know if there is anything else that I can help you with.

The Aftermath

And then Monday was over. Tuesday was the first day that it actually felt like 'real life' again. It was amazing. So calm - both the physical and the internal parts of me. Steven puts it exactly accurate. It's like 60% of our family is missing. And not by missing, as we miss it, but missing as in - gone. Removed. C took up 60% of the time, the management, the emotional energy and Talmage and Alaska were left to split the rest 20, 30 for themselves. It was unhealthy. It was taxing. I am so glad it is over.

Talking to Alaska over the next few days I have learned that she had taken on the responsibility of being mom to C. I guess I had known this - she was always telling C what to do and making sure things were running smoothly, but I thought she did that out of her own need to have things run smoothly, not because she was trying to make things easier for me or seeing how drowning I was. I had been discouraging her from 'tattle-telling' and encouraging her to take care of problems on her own. But maybe there were more problems than she could emotionally and healthfully take care of on her own and I should have given her more of a break. I'll know for next time. And she'll be older. A whole year and a half older than when C came to us and I think I didn't realize that as it was happening. That she would be able to articulate her feelings and needs more clearly. So I didn't check in as much as I probably should have.

We had such a huge learning curve all the way around on this case I can't even imagine myself being able to absorb all the damage that was being done until I look back now. I hadn't been trained at all to know when damage was happening. To look for it. We were just swimming forward with all our might to get this girl the stability and other things that she needed and then patiently treading water as things started to sort out, but treading water is much more tiring than actual swimming and that treading water turned into drowning. I wouldn't say distress drowning - but more like the silent kind. Maybe a little of distress now that I think of it. But mostly we tried our best to make everything look normal on the outside until the time was actually posted when C could move on and that's when the distress started happening. When others could see our splashing and rocking and the hard stuff started being easier to talk about because it was going to be removed.

I am so grateful for the special combinations that have been put in my path. A combination of this Wounded Children, Healthy Homes book that we happened to be reading just the right chapter at just the right time for me to realize that my decision of enough is enough is accurate. Because even though I kept pressing forward with the knowledge that we needed to call it quits - a little encouragement on that goes a long way and I have clung to everything I could. Every word.

And also the fact that DHS has a second agency working with them right now, like within the past two weeks, specifically to give foster parents support, called Maple Star. It is a pilot program right now - but I can't imagine it not catching fire and spreading to the rest of the state. Right now it is only in our district and it has been amazing. They were reaching out to each foster parent individually and I missed the call. So I wrote an e-mail in, checking in, telling them about our situation. And the sweet lady that got my message sent a tender reply, which then positioned me to write back with further detail and she very accurately gave me the encouragement that I needed. The validation. I have been thinking about her words a lot this past week without C and want to include them on here so that my whole journey is in one place. And I also feel like I need to add my own too bits in. My thoughts on the whole thing, so as to give another parent a chance to realize that we are only human. I have had some break throughs that have been able to remove the guilt of turning C over to someone else and I know that these breakthroughs have been an integral part of making this whole change a peaceful one for me.

It has been hard. It has been extremely hard. The hardest thing I have ever done since college. That was 7 years ago. I guess it was about time I did something hard. But this was SO hard. So absolutely freaking hard. It makes me want to clench my teeth and scream it out.