Time for School

All summer long I debated what to do about school this year. I knew for sure I wouldIMG_20140909_122125 continue homeschooling Raine. But what about Athena? Her teacher was very honest in the final Junior Kindergarten report card. Things weren’t going well for her at school. Athena was withdrawn and eerily quiet. Generally when teachers or children spoke to her she either ignored them or walked away. It was impossible to assess what she’d learned because Athena would not interact with the instructors.

In March of last year the dentist informed me that Athena’s habit of skewing her jaw was creating lasting effects. Her mouth was beginning to grow incorrectly. At that point it was correctable. I started keeping her home from school most days and we worked on putting her mouth the right way among other things.

Based on those two factors I was planning to homeschool Athena this year. Still, as the summer wore on, I wasn’t sure. Her primary interest became making her sister scream. Raine’s come a long way in her ability to interact with other kids. It took a great deal of effort to get her upset. But Athena devoted herself to honing that skill. Our days were filled with lots of angry shouting from Raine followed by riotous laughter from Athena. I was not amused.

Then there was the actual school part. We kept working a bit over the summer. I would give Athena a task to complete – for example a page of the letter K. After writing one she would shout, “I’m done!” My request that she wait a minute fell on deaf ears. She’d continue shouting, “I’m done!” until I looked at her sheet.

“You’ve only written one letter. You still have lots more to do there.”

“I know,” she’d answer with a smirk. “I just wanted to tell you I was done one.”

After the next one the scene would repeat.

So……I decided to send her to school. It wasn’t my proudest moment. As a mom, I like to think I can make every decision based on what’s best for my child. This choice was in favour of what was best for me and Raine. Based on last year, I had no reason to expect school to be good for Athena. It was with a heavy heart, I got her ready to go on September 2nd.

Excited for Senior Kindergarten.

Excited for Senior Kindergarten.

Surprisingly, Athena was eager to pose for pictures. Normally she refuses to and hardly ever smiles while I’m snapping shots. This morning she was beaming. She walked to school carrying her backpack. And ran into the fenced kindergarten yard without a second look at Raine and I.

When I picked her up, Athena was happy. Last year she was always miserable at the end of school. Never did I know what was going on because she’d angrily tell me, “What I do at school is not your business.” This year, she chatted all evening long with story after story of what went on.

Her good mood and eagerness to share have continued. Even her teacher has noticed a marked difference, commenting that, “Athena is a completely different child. She’s talkative and interacting with the kids.” The teacher and a few friends have asked what changed over the summer. Nothing that I’ve noticed. She’s remained herself – a little more bothersome at times.

With Athena my focus has been confidence. She arrived very insecure and fearful. Time and prayer have brought her to a better place. I didn’t expect going back to school to increase her confidence. Honestly, I expected her to be shy and withdrawn like last year. Instead she’s confident and self-assured.

The information I had while making the decision didn’t indicate such a positive outcome. Yet, sending her to school felt right. Guiltily, I thought it was only going to be right for Raine and I. We would get some much needed quiet. Maybe if I’d taken the time to listen a little more to Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t have picked up that guilt. He knew going to school would be the best thing for Athena. Glad I at least listened to that nudging.

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1st day of school

Perfect Love

Raine is absolutely in love with horses. Before ever having ridden one, she’d already planned her life around having one. Everywhere we go, despite my discouragement, she asks people how much they get paid for the work they do. She’s gathering information to select a career that will give her enough money to own a horse (and buy me an electric car – but that’s another story).

When a friend told me she was putting her 3 foster children in horseback riding daycamp, I decided to send Raine as well. I was sure she’d have the time of her life.

heading to camp Monday morning

heading to camp Monday morning

Monday went ok. But Tuesday was a disaster. She refused to listen to the teachers – repeatedly running away from her group into a small cluster of trees. My friends girls went after her. That didn’t help. When my friend’s husband arrived to pick the kids up, Raine was completely out of sorts – telling people to leave her alone and shut up. There’s a lot of power in her verbal punches.

At home, I sat Raine down to talk to her. She dished out more of the same attitude telling me it was none of my business what she did at camp.

Instead of being happy about camp,  Raine took it as an act of rejection on my part. She thought I was pushing her away when in reality I was giving her an amazing opportunity.

The more I talked the more hostile Raine became.

“If you keep acting this way at camp, you won’t be able to go back,” I said.

Apparently, the camp instructor had been completely overwhelmed by Raine. I know how forceful she can be. I thought her love of horses would prevent any major upsets. Clearly, I was wrong.

Raine’s attitude stopped when I told her she wasn’t going the next day. Suddenly she relaxed. Then we could talk about the real problem.

“It’s too long to be away from you,” she explained.

“She needs to get used to it,” I’ve been told before by friends and social workers.

It’s true. At 6 1/2yrs this type of separation anxiety isn’t natural nor is it healthy. Before the adoption, when Raine was my foster child, she did really well at daycare two days a week. There were never any issues. But something happened with the adoption. It introduced a deep rooted fear in Raine. Likely because she was completely cut off from her first mother she worries about loosing me. She knows it’s possible. At the age of 4 1/2 Raine found out parents can change. You can be disconnected from one family and attached to another. Staying with me soothes some of the fears.

So she stayed home on Wednesday. Maybe I should have pushed her. I don’t know. Were she plagued with a physical illness, no one would think anything of me deciding camp turned out to be too much for her. Wounds of the heart are not so easily forgiven.

Our time of being together on Wednesday wasn’t pretty. Raine unloaded all of her anger. She was down right furious that I’d sent her to camp for two days. I wasn’t much help, feeling like a failure. After all this time together, my daughter should be doing better. At least I think she should. I want her to because I can see how the fear cripples her. I know my God is capable of instant miracles. That’s what I want for Raine – a miraculous healing of her heart.

After a few hours of lamenting the state we were in, I realized in many ways we’re ahead instead of behind. Attaching to adoptive parents can be difficult for children – especially in the case of older child adoption. The fact that Raine values our connection so much she’s afraid to loose it is a good thing. Fear isn’t helpful, but the valuing is incredibly significant. She really loves me and wants to be with me. As we move through our day, Raine intentionally imitates me. So much of her pursuits mirror my own interests – gardening, cooking, sewing, and so on. She wants to be like me and wants to be with me. Those are healthy signs of attachment. Maybe we’re not doing as poorly as I thought.

Yes, Raine’s behaviour is completely unacceptable. I’m not excusing the outbursts at camp. In speaking to her about it, Raine reminded me, “I live in fear.” We prayed together. I prayed breaking off fear of rejection.

Thursday Raine was ready to go back to camp. She managed without incident.

Friday, we got to watch her and the other children perform their new found skills.

I wish, for Raine’s sake, the week had gone better. I hate that fear holds her back.

“How do I get it out of me?” she asked.

“The Bible says: perfect love pushes fear out,” I answered. “You need more love.”

“From Jesus.”

“Yes.”

love fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Graces

Yesterday I took Jake* for a hair cut. Just before dropping him off to me, Jake’s foster mom finally got permission to trim his hair. It’s been too long since he came into foster care but the go ahead from his birth mom was required. Finally getting it, Jake’s foster mom didn’t have time to complete the task before leaving for vacation.

“If you want to you can,” she said. It did seem wise, he was looking unkept and hair blocked his view. But it was frightening. I didn’t know how he would respond. Baths and showers bring on absolute panic. Jake kicks, pinches, and screams. I was anticipating something of the same with a haircut.

My plan was to put it off as long as possible. Then when I woke yesterday with an urgency, “We need to do this today.” So we set off, stopping at the park briefly. The local chain of discount hair cutters wasn’t too busy. We had to sit through the cut of one other customer. I brought ketchup chips, cheesies, and pretzels. Not ideal – they were pretty messy – but novel so it kept everyone occupied. My own kids don’t have much experience with hair dressers so I was expecting a million questions.

Then there’s Jake who is a handful in the best of moments. We all managed beautifully. The male hair dresser was kind and enthusiastic. His parents fostered when he was growing up. He understood and was willing to work with the situation. I held Jake trying to keep him still which never happened. The hair dresser did what he could any way he could.

Just before we began that balancing act, a lady from church arrived with her grown daughter who needed a haircut. The lady kindly occupied my own girls, answering their questions and carry on a lengthy conversation with Raine. That enabled me to completely focus on Jake without Raine & Athena feeling neglected. They were very happy to have someone else enjoying them.

The urge to go to this place at this time was a small one. It could have easily been ignored in favour of fear. I’m glad I listened. We got the right hair dresser and the Lord even provided someone to help with the other kids. These small graces remind me the Lord is mindful of my situation.

*name changed

new hair cut

Jake recovering at home on the floor after his hair cut

 

*name changed

Father’s Day – Celebrating what We Have

 

Today is father’s day. It’s true – my girls don’t have an earthly father. As Athena is quick to point out, “we have God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit. That’s three!!” More than the average kid.

Our life is wonderfully unusual, I know. Intentionally I chose to become a single mom. I’m ok with that. And so are my kids. Since their arrival, I’ve been it – the only parent around. To us it’s just the way it is.

Of course in a perfect world, I would have married when I was young and the foster children who come to me would be greeted by a lovely mom & dad. That didn’t happen. I’m grateful God isn’t hung up on perfection. He’s willing to bend the rules. In doing so He brought me two delightful girls that I get to keep forever.

Today I’m focusing on what my kids have instead of what they don’t.

They have a mom who loves them. Even though I fail repeatedly, I’m not giving up on them or myself. Relationships aren’t easy. Each is an opportunity to grow in grace and compassion. I’m making the most of every opportunity!

My girls have a great community who love them. We’re surrounded by other families and individuals who come alongside us. My daughters have friends they’re growing up with – something that was and is a very special part of my own life.

My own family have embraced Raine & Athena. It’s hard to believe that some extended families don’t welcome adopted children. Sadly, this can be the case – especially when the children come broken and, at times, resistant to love. Thankfully my parents, siblings, and their spouses have all welcomed the addition of my children.

My daughters have a stable home life. They lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). The Lord has provided a beautiful home and the necessary finances to keep us afloat. He’s opened the doors for me to be home full-time with my kids. This means the world to them and me.

Most importantly, my daughters have a Heavenly Father who loves and cares for them. They live in abundance – lacking nothing.

Still-Saturday-Psalm-23

There’s No Winner Here

Friday evening 14yr old Emma* arrived on my doorstep. My friend, her foster mom of 5 1/2 yrs, brought her when things went from bad to worse at their home.

Having fetal alcohol syndrome and some intellectual delays, life is hard for Emma. Often her emotions spin out of control. Bringing her to me is a common occurrence. Usually she calms right down. I keep her overnight and her foster family has time to recover from the upset.

This time that didn’t work. When her foster mom left, Emma kept right on with the outburst she’d begun a few hours ago at home. She stomped the floors and slapped the walls. I tried to settle her in Raine’s room (normally there’s a spare room devoted to Emma, but we also had a visiting 2yr old boy who was occupying that room.) No doubt putting her in another bedroom fueled the fire raging inside of her. But there wasn’t any other choice. I’d already set up a crib for the physically delayed toddler. With Emma carrying on I couldn’t change everything around.

Refusing to go to the room assigned to her, Emma opted to sit in the living room while I put the other kids to bed. It took me a few minutes to realize the silence downstairs meant she was gone. By the time I untangled myself from the three little ones and got out the front door, Emma was no where to be seen.

I called her foster mom, who had a pretty good idea where she’d gone. Piling the very tired children into the car, we headed over to a nearby church. A friend of Emma’s had brought her to the youth group there a few times.

Thankfully there Emma was, outside the church because the doors were locked. She refused to get in the car. I pretended to drive away. Startled, she changed her mind and got in. Her attitude remained. During the drive home she repeatedly swore at me and spewed all kinds of hatred. “Because I don’t want to be at your house!” Emma explained. It’s not like I wanted her there either – at least not in that state.

When I told her not to swear at me. Emma responded, “I will. And there’s nothing you can do about it.” True. There’s nothing I can do. It’s a frustrating sense of powerlessness. This child is not mine. Nothing I say matters to her.

Back at my place, Emma settled herself in the front garden – refusing to come inside. At a loss, I called her foster mom. Normally I’m quite capable of managing Emma or any other child in my care. But this time it was all completely beyond me. Some stern words from her foster mom got Emma inside the house.

Then the real battle began. I put the other children back to bed. Emma stomped her feet in the hallway and punched the wall with a violence that made my pictures shake.

When I was done with the little ones, she got up in my face screaming about how much she hated me. This went on for over an hour. In the midst of it, I did get her into the room she would be using that night. Emma kicked the door so ferociously I was sure she’d put holes in it. But it remained in tack as did the walls she poured her anger out on.

Normally I just walk away, but with this being completely unlike Emma’s normal behaviour at my house, I kept close. Fear for the other kids mounted as she her anger increased. At this point she’d been raging for nearly 5hrs (mostly at her own home), breaking briefly for her walk to the church. It was late. I was worried and tired. I needed the noise and the violence to stop. But it didn’t. Emma kept going strong – coming out of the room and again aggressively confronting me.

My patience wore out. I couldn’t endure being bullied in my own home by a 14yr old. My voice was no longer kind nor were my words. Eventually Emma retreated to the bedroom.

She’s on a fair bit of medication which is supposed to save her from these moments. Perhaps the pills aren’t working, but I still wanted to get her nightly does in. That didn’t happen. Emma was wielding every bit of power she had.

While on the phone with the emergency after hours worker, Emma kicked my door in. I’d gone into my bedroom and locked the door. Her screaming and kicking was making it hard to hear the woman on the phone. Having access to my room, the girl just stood in the hallway shouting and punching the walls.

My door frame is broken. My nerves are shot. And now Emma’s saying that I attacked her which of course I did not.She, however, did slapped me during my initial retreat to my room. This is warranted in Emma’s mind. She’s completely beside herself with rage and panic all rolled into one big, ugly mess.

This is the result of a life in foster care. Arriving at the age of 2, Emma’s moved countless times. My friend is trying to keep going. It’s been 5 1/2 yrs. That’s miraculous for a child with FAS. The long term goal is holding out until Emma turns 18. But things are unraveling quickly. Not long ago, the teen ran away and called the police saying she felt unsafe in her foster home.

She’s safe. It’s those around Emma who aren’t safe. Her accusations could land my friend in jail. At the very least, it may lead to Emma and the two other foster children in the home being removed. The two sisters – 14 & 10yrs – have been with my friend nearly 4yrs and are doing well. The plan is for them to remain until 18. Emma’s antics could put them all in jeopardy.

I’ve told my friend it’s time to let go – especially after this weekend. Emma awoke Saturday with an incredible sense of triumph. She’d gotten away with leaving my house, speaking to me in a deplorable manner, slapping me, breaking my door, and refusing to take her pills. As far as she can see she’s won.

What Emma doesn’t realize is how much she’s loosing. For 5 1/2yrs she’s been part of our family – I’ve been like an aunt to her and her foster mom has been the same to my kids. Emma’s foster family, while not perfect, have cared for her with generosity and grace. They’ve welcomed her back after many such outbursts. But she doesn’t want to be there. Eventually Emma’s behaviour will get the result she’s seeking. She’ll be moved into a group home until she ages out of foster care.

It’s a tragedy. I am heart broken. At the same time, I’m encouraging my friend to make that move. My prayer is for Emma’s complete healing – that the Lord will restore her mind and heal the wounds tormenting her. I know that’s possible. I want that for Emma. How long can we wait for the miracle before we have to make choices based on the reality of here and now? It’s becoming impossible to have Emma around.

*name changed