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 droppinganchorsblog.com  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.

C's transfer

I left off with some worry about C's things that are hers, but that she doesn't necessarily care too much about. I mentioned it to dad and he's all like, "Oh, we've got a storage unit. We can just put it all in there." And so we did. Two huge bags of things I am no longer in charge of. It was literal weight taken off my shoulders.

C's transfer went as smoothly as possible. She has visit on Fridays, spends the night at her grandma's that night, and then comes home on Saturday evening. With that weekend being easter, things were a little heightened, I am sure. But instead of coming back to Kellie's Saturday evening like would have usually happened, she came back Sunday, late afternoon, after spending Saturday night and Sunday day with dad.

I was over at Kellie's house on Saturday morning, hanging up a couple of fabric banners I had made to decorate the girls' room. A mermaid one for sister and a unicorn one for C. C had been watching me make these banners all week and was extremely excited to have them in her new room. I also brought some things from her and Alaska's room to hang up. Her special letter for her name that I had painted and covered with sparkle paper, a chicken wire frame and a unicorn quote from a pack of paper that I plan to use for her scrapbook.

Knowing how hard it is to change rooms, I made up a gift bag with a magazine, coloring book, gum, and loads of candy for Kellie's son that had to move downstairs. I know that if he had refused, this whole plan would not be going forward and I was so extremely grateful to him.

Kellie's daughter also got in on the action, because of a far distant memory I have of David being adopted into our family. We had a baby shower and everything was blue and baby and for him or my mom. Until I got to a present from one sweet lady that was just for me. At the baby shower. It was sweet relief to not be left out of all the celebrating and I remember how much enjoyment and surprise I got out of having something for me amongst all that blue and baby. I made her daughter a fabric banner, too, of horses, and put together a chicken wire frame super quick for her to have in her room.

Picked C up from school on Monday and it didn't really feel any different than normal. Even if she had been with us, still, she still would have been at dad's for easter. So really, all I missed, was the fight we so often have as I do her hair and the last minute drop-off at school at 8. It seems so early compared to Alaska's drop-off of 8:45. C's hair especially infuriates me. She loves having it done, and I love doing it, but she throws a fit every single time about me pulling too hard or in the wrong places. I guess I would have given up long ago, except that she really does ask every single morning for something to be done with it and is so often happy with the end result. It's just those agonizing minutes of actual braiding or smoothing that get her riled up.

C went down for a nap, just as expected, slept for 1.5 hours and was up by the time I needed to go get Alaska. Everything was going like clock work.

Alaska was rather dismayed to have C in the car at pick-up, "But I thought she was going to Kellie's?". We are all kind of worn out. But we pushed through, knowing that next week we will be more refreshed and be more excited. (hahahaha, I am writing this exactly a week from that Monday and you would be appalled at what is coming next in our life that we had no idea about. The beauty of hindsight.)

Not sure what we filled that last little bit of time with before dance, but something, and then I was happy to have Steven's mom come and get the girls for dance. C's attitude was much better and she was compliant with minimum reminders. I was grateful to be riding a little bit on Kellie's honeymoon period that these kids so often have upon being put in a new location.

Sent C with a bag and instructed her to change at the studio back into her street clothes so that I can keep the dance things at our house. One less thing to worry about transferring.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Club book

Reading a book for that book club. Wounded Children, Healing Homes. And it's enlightening. Stuff I already knew deep down about attachment. Nothing earth-shattering new. But it makes me want to strangle a person for screwing C over so bad. She could be an enjoyable child and instead is wrangled with this need for constant attention which can make her unbearable.

It takes years, a lifetime, to overcome that neglect. We're doing pretty dang good for where we are. And it makes me feel like, "No, I don't want her to go anywhere else." but at the same time having her as part of our family was not in my 'dream of a family' and I don't need to change that just because someone made crappy decisions and I have a big heart. A little of time is time enough.

And she's missing all the pieces that are related to attachment. I had no idea that reasoning was related to attachment, and the book doesn't explain how, but somehow it is. And the inability to think through situations and some other things that blare on C. It's just so stupid. How something so simple could have such lasting effects. Not just attention-seeking effects, but cognitive effects.

And we've come so freaking far. And it's been stinkin' hard! A lot of counseling appointments. A lot or practice. A lot of patience and heart.

And people adopt kids like this! Like they honestly go searching for kids who have been neglected and are willing to put all their all into it. The book talked about that, too. About beliefs and myths of adoption and I just can't fathom going into this blind. Taking on a 4 year old and calling her yours forever when you don't even know anything about her and working through everything. Knowing that you will work through it and knowing that it will take years and years.

Like if C kept going at the rate we were currently going she could maybe be socially normal in 2 or 3 years. But always missing the reasoning and the everything else. But that's a lot of energy to be putting in for so long. Steven keeps telling me I am trying to run a marathon in a sprint. But you have to. You have to want to reach the end bad enough to just do it and keep up on it. And I haven't even done what I was supposed to do with her this week. Like mindful exercises and all that. I am just pooped.

The caseworker has insisted that dad have counseling set up for Kenzie before she is approved to go with him. Which feels good. She sees and values that hard work I have done with Kenzie and is validating that.

New Home for C

Spring Break has come and gone. By one week, almost two. Life was put on hold for a minute there. Our case worker went on vacation the week before spring break and I went on vacation the week of spring break and the foster family that is going to take over the care for C went on vacation and we all got back to 'real life' Saturday. Not a whole lot of time to make things happen. My hopes of C going to a someone else during that week were put on pause.

When I got back to life, Monday morning, I sent out a message explaining that I needed a plan. The 21st, when dad was supposed to have his apartment had come and gone. Spring break had come and gone. I was fine with a planful move, as they call it, but not ok with being put on the back burner. I put my deadline as Wednesday, so I could tell C the plan with the help of the counselor. Who we had an appointment with that afternoon. Got my answer back. C was for sure going to go to the same family who has her older sister (when I say older, I mean one year older) and I took the reigns from there. Made a plan with the new mom. Told the caseworker we would get it figured out and if there arose complications, we would let her know. It's so perfect. These workers just aren't as involved as I thought they would be. Which is just fine. I can make things happen on my own. In fairness, too, after our most rotten caseworker (who, by the way, ended up getting enough complaints against her that she resigned) we got a really great one. And because she's super great, she also have super complicated cases. A lot of kids with high needs and extra people in their lives - teams of people to help make their functioning the best possible. She came rather blindsided to our long story and has done her best to move things along but also recognized very quickly

Our date is the 15th. Decided last week, now that today is already the 10th. Kellie is working on the girls' room and has had to do some major room re-vamping. Moving a son downstairs out of his room to give C and her sister a space. And her own daughter and C's sister have been sharing a room, which was then revamped to accommodate the new shared room of C and the sister. It's been more bed moving than I care to think about. And not just twins, either. Bunk beds and doubles/queen - not sure which.

Which is fine. And then I get a message from Kellie, "I am painting." And I was just floored. All this preparation to go into adding C into their home. It's overwhelming. And I look at what I have to get done - what I have to get gathered up. And it's a little much. I have started a list, which will be easy to follow once I get started packing it all up. Right now my trouble is we're on the brink. Too soon to start filling the living room with boxes and bags, but late enough that I have got a detailed list of things that I am going to need to gather. I wish we had more space in this little 2 bedroom apartment. It is what it is.

I went over today to talk with Kellie about C's lactose-intolerance, her hair - those curls! - and other things like bed-time routine and phrases that we use at home that help her pull herself back together. I try to remind myself. We were given these kids with knowing nothing. And we've made it. We've done ok. And we didn't even have a number we could message with a quick question. Everything is going to be ok.

We have dance every Monday, 5-6, and I offered to pick C up from head start on Mondays. Have her come to our house for a nap and Alaska and her can play for awhile and I'll bring her home after dance. It works out super great. I will still get to be with her once in awhile, Alaska can have a nice play date, and then we can send C on her way.

Interesting - oh my gosh - fact. Apparently dad has an apartment. That much is truth. What they don't have is the $2,000 a month income to pay for it. Not even close. Not that rent is 2k - but that's what you have to make to move into the complex. And after a couple months they will be able to use their real income for a subsidized apartment. So. They're asking everyone and anyone for the green stuff. And even set up a go-fund-me account. Which is set at 4k. Because, as is explained in the piece, is not only to cover their stuff, but to help out with back rent on child support. Because I guess if you're doing it - may as well go all the way and get all things covered, right? It's sickening. Like the kind where you laugh because you have no other choice. So that's where we're at with that. Which makes it look like the girls won't be going to dad, even when school is out. He's got two weeks to get the money in, they've already been given a huge amount of time, and then they will give the apartment to someone else. Whooops.

Which I find a little irritating on my end. Because I have these huge les schwab bags full of C's stuff. The things that I don't dare get rid of, but because C is so unattached to material things, they hold no meaning for her and she hasn't missed them. I don't want to burden Kellie with them, I also don't want to be responsible for them. It's like literally holding onto baggage. I thought I could hold onto them for a couple more weeks while dad gets his stuff together. But a couple weeks looks like it's going to be a couple more months. Maybe never. And if he can't get his stuff together by June - then ummmm... do I dare hand it off to the next foster parent? Or maybe at that point I just give it all to him. But then I would feel bad if the girls ended up going to grandma and all of C's stuff is with dad. So really. I have no idea what to do with this stuff.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Update on C housing and Interviews

Ok, can I just say and "yahoooo!" and a "wheeeeee!" 

I picked C up from visit yesterday and was met with her dad saying, "We'll have a move-in date on the 21st." Now, I know, that does not mean, "We'll have an apartment on the 22nd and can take C on the 27th (first day of spring break)." But it puts my heart at rest that the 'but onlys' are going to be calmed way down in a week. And anxious at the same time because ummm, hello, time just can't move fast enough.

Back when I told DHS in February that C needed a new placement at spring break I was not joking. I also didn't know how much I would need her to have a new placement at spring break. I honestly thought I could possibly go all the way to June - or at the very least - May - since headstart gets out in May. But you know what? No. Spring Break with the possibility of a two week window if dad gets his move-in date as middle of April. But three weeks. No, that's just too long. 

I checked in again with them the beginning of March - a quick e-mail to let them know I was still very serious about C having a new placement and if there was any word out there about where she could be going. Which was also about the same time that we found out Dad could possibly have housing. So it's been in limbo since. And because DHS works in crises mode as it is - one emergency to another - it would be silly to expect them to have a home already lined up for C. Which has also made me humbly patient because even if DHS works in crises mode - they seem to follow through with everything, even if it's last minute. So I just need to patiently wait for my hour. It's out there. Just not on the same day of the month as I think it should be on. 

And an update on Steven's interview stuff - because let's be honest - I really wanted to be looking for a house and moving to another city around spring break time, too. Well, honestly, back in January, but I will take what I can get. He's had 9 interviews so far. One in Utah, a handful in Oregon and a handful in Washington. Probably more in Washington than in Oregon. Just because that's where the openings are. We aren't picky and the only one I have told him to not apply for was in Idaho. I refuse to go back to Idaho after having done my time of college there. Unless it's Boise. Then I will think hard - but really - I hate Idaho's guts with a passion. 

His last one was for Spokane. 6 hours from where we are right now. Which seems like a little too far. That's a full day's drive. With a new baby coming and all the changes that will bring, I really wish we could be closer to family. And I was pretty dead-set against wanting to want Spokane, too. It's pretty far north and seems like it's got a lot of nothing around it and then - bam - there it is in the middle of nowhere. A little like Boise. After looking up some photos and looking at house prices I decided it would be an ok place to land and I may actually be really hoping for this one. We'll find out tomorrow, and I guess if there's no word about it after this post, you'll know it didn't work out. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Counseling Homework

From the counselor this week:

As far as what to work on...
1. Practice mindfulness calming exercises with her. On a simple level, this includes sitting and noticing or observing your surroundings. On a more complex level it would be you looking up some mindfulness exercises on pinterest or I can give you some. If you can pick a consistent time that would be great, but maybe once a day. All your kids can be involved. There is a great website called gonoodle that has some calming exercise but also self-regulation and confidence boosting activities. She gets trinkets for a little character for finishing challenges. 

2. Use of encouragement vs. praise. I notice she gives up easily on tasks and perhaps this is due to high anxiety. I was hoping you can use statements like you are working hard, you figured it out, you are trying to figure out how that works, you are determined, you've got it, you know how that works. That may boost her internal motivation vs. relying on external motivation. 

I do think the play therapy is helpful in the sense of her having complete power, and control. I see these themes in the play and that tells me she needs to have that experience to find balance. 

I hope this helps.

My reply:

Yes! Thank you for the things to work on. I have meant to work more on the mindful exercises that you showed us last time you were here. But, as it seems with some things, without direct orders and the need to report back, it slips. We'll do that this week. 

And encouraging words. Yes, that is do-able.

Giving more choices. This is definitely my weakness. For sure. I've been taking a love and logic class and while the first few sessions seemed redundant of PCIT (and I liked PCIT better) and some other things - we finally hit the section about choices and I think that has made it easier for me. Not perfect, but easier. I thought choices had to be very concrete and something that I could not all the way predict - breakfast (although she gets no choice here because she eats at head start), what to wear (Which is the absolute HARDEST thing for me to let go. I care too much about appearance. Not something I am willing to let go) but through the love and logic class I learned a trick. To just throw choices in all the time about every day stuff. Are you going to choose to wear your coat out the door or carry your coat out the door. Do you choose to wear your hair down or in a braid today. Do you choose to read books on the couch with me or in your room by yourself. Do you choose to put your things away now or in two minutes. (THIS one has been amazing. Because really - I used to always just say, "two minutes and it's time to put it away" and now I can say "You can choose to do it now or in two minutes" and she always chooses two minutes, which is what I am accustomed to and life doesn't change any - except for an added half sentence. And that counts as a choice, right? Should I be wording these differently, though? If PCIT taught me anything, it taught me the power of the right vocabulary and the change that one word can make in a sentence. Back to our days of, "The train is on the track." vs "You put the train on the track."

In other words:

We've had a pretty ok week. Nothing huge and earth shattering. We did go to Steven's grandparents' house and the three of them were running around like crazies. C has a tendency to take things 2 steps further and over-do it. She bumped into a wall a couple of times and got too rough with Talmage so she had to sit in a reclining chair for about a hour while we waited the visit out. I was just drained too much to do all the re-directing that I so often do. She did a really good job of keeping herself contained and complained a little bit but could understand when I told her that she was not controlling her body the way that she needed to and I was done talking about it. She can do these things that are expected to her, if the standards are there and held. She's an amazing girl.