The Look of Love

love hurts

Last weekend, at a visit our 9yr old foster child was told in 2mths she’ll be leaving us to live with her mother. Her dad’s certainty contradicted everything the social worker and I have said. In truth, there is no way of knowing what will become of J. Everything is still very much up in the air. But it’s quite certain, nothing is certain at this point.

J returned home quite distraught, likely heightened by the fact she was only fed M&M’s for lunch. She was starving and angry. It wasn’t long before she was melting down.

“If I’m leaving, I want to go now,” she said in the midst of her tantrum.

I reminded her that bad behaviour is not going to get her moved from my house because we really want her to stay. And it is a good place for her right now while we wait to see what will happen.

“Then I’ll kill you all so I can go,” she went on. “My dad told me you have to be 12 to go to kids jail. So I won’t get in trouble for killing you. I’ll just get to live somewhere else.”

Seems dad was a wealth of information.

I let J scream out her frustrations. Then she went to bed and, I assumed, woke up in a better frame of mind. Then at church, J decided she didn’t want Raine sitting near her. Raine ignored this demand and sat in front of the girl. J began kicking Raine’s back. Raine shouted at her to stop. J didn’t so Raine hit her. And both girls erupted. Or so I’ve pieced together from the Children’s Pastor and the girls themselves. I was paged and came to collect my unruly children.

I do appreciate the team who work in the children’s department. I know they go out of their way to manage and have often kept Raine when she’s well outside the range of acceptable behaviour. Their commitment to my kids is incredibly valuable. It grants me a brief time of peace each week as I take in the service. Despite their best efforts, the teachers could not separate and calm J and Raine.

I gathered them and Athena from the classroom. J didn’t follow me up the stairs but took off running. When I went in search of her, she was in a hallway huffing and puffing. To my instructions to come upstairs, J answered, “I’m not leaving with you. I’m going to behave so badly that I move somewhere else today.” We reviewed the fact that bad behaviour won’t get her moved – I’m committed to caring for her as long as necessary.

“I don’t want to go in 2 months. I want to go now!”

“You’re not going anywhere today. And probably not in 2 months,” I answered. “Your dad doesn’t have the ability to decide what will happen. He and your mom have been asked to do certain things so that it will be safe for you to be with them. If they do those things, a judge will decide if you go to live with your dad or your mom. But for now, you’re staying with me.”

She came to the car – kicking and scratching all the way. I drove to a nearby park, letting Raine and Athena play while J screamed and kicked inside the car. Then it was time to go out for lunch and shopping for Athena’s birthday. J pulled herself together. And managed the rest of the day without incident. At bed, she snuggled close to me and talked all about how much she loves being at our house.

It would be easier if love didn’t manifest as death threats when the possibility of leaving comes up. It would be nicer if love wasn’t a wall of hatred brought up to distance herself in the face of potential separation. But this is the look of love when you come from a place of brokenness and fear. This is how I know my care and investment have made a difference. This is the look of love in foster care.

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A Vacation of Sorts

In the midst of challenges unique to our sort of family, we made it to the cottage. Getting here wasn’t easy. I over extended myself, deciding to prepare some freezer meals for a friend before departing.

That left me short on time to pack. Squabbling kids and their anxiety that blocked everything I said made the short time far from sufficient. We – really just I – was rushing when our visiting foster child found it impossible to get her shoes on and get out the door. She’d been with us 10 days while her foster family were on vacation. Though eager to return, she was struggling.

J had been at her birth mother’s overnight and the volunteer driver was to drop her off at the cottage. Because we were supposed to be there long before the drop off time and the cottage was on the way back from birth mom’s, this made perfect sense.

The trouble was, we didn’t get out of our house until dangerously close to the drop off time. Then there were further complications and there was no way we could get there.

I cried when the volunteer driver called to say she was at the cottage. We were still an hour away. The driver was understanding and took J out for dinner while we made our way to the cottage. I apologized profusely and tried to pay her for her time and the dinner. The life I live shouldn’t cost anyone. Graciously, she refused my payment.

We returned our visiting foster child, her house being quite close to the cottage, bought groceries I hadn’t managed to pack and started our vacation.

The Christian campground is one I grew up going to. This week and next there’s kids church morning and night. That’s why we’re here. While the kids go to church, I sit outside reading or, finally, blogging again. In the afternoon they swim while I sit by the pool. They’re happy – splashing in puddles, exploring fields, and visiting riverside cafes between church and swimming. These are the moments I pray stay with them – the beauty of nature and joy of being together.IMG_20150628_193037IMG_20150629_095232IMG_20150630_085657

All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go

Seems the word “party” is a huge trigger for our new foster child. Yesterday we went to my mom’s for lunch. Little J had a great time with my nephew, niece, sister, and mom.

And at first she was very excited to attend my mother’s graduation today. Then Raine and Athena started calling it a party – because there would be food after the ceremony. Getting ready, J became increasing anxious. Outside, she refused to get in the car.

I should have stopped then and there, but I really wanted to go to the graduation and it was too late to make arrangements for a babysitter. So, I forged forward. Got J in the car. Got her buckled. Traveled about a block before I had to pull over because J unbuckled. She was also screaming, kicking, and throwing things. We pulled over three times before getting on the highway. For some reason I thought we could make it. I wanted to make this happen.

After five minutes, I had to pull over to the side of the highway. J insisted that she was going to move immediately to a new home “that doesn’t go to stupid parties”. She kicked, screamed, and said if I took her to the graduation or my house she’d harm herself “and tell the social worker you did it, so that I don’t have to live with you anymore.”

We stayed parked on the side of the road for about 10 minutes. Raine, Athena, and I cried. We really wanted to go to the graduation. Mostly the kids wanted cake. I really wanted to be a normal, supportive daughter. But, having chosen this path, my life is not normal. I can’t always be the person I want to be. That’s just the way it is.

So I got off the highway and headed home.

J continued making threats. Her detailed plan of harming herself involved jumping off the dresser in her room. The only problem with that is that there’s no dresser in her room. When informed of this, J said she’d find something to jump off of and kill herself. Then I’d be sorry.

“Mom will loose her job if the foster kid is dead,” Raine pointed out.

At home, I sent Raine and Athena inside. J and I stayed in the car for a while. She didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. So I just started praying out loud.

Eventually we managed to move inside the house. J cried and cried. “It’s not my fault I’m in foster care. It’s my parents. I didn’t do anything wrong.” I agreed.

When she was ready to listen, I explained that even though it wasn’t her fault she has a choice about what her experience in foster care will be like.

“Mom’s seen kids act way worse than you,” Raine said. “This is what she does for her job. Screaming won’t get you moved.”

That caused J to shed the bravado she’d taken on since we left the house an hour ago. “I don’t really want to go,” she responded.

I explained that she would not be moving for outbursts like that. Her previous foster mom was a veteran with 25yrs experience in the field. It’s clear she did her best with J. But sometimes kids are unresponsive – especially when they first come into care. The decision for J to move was complicated and prompted by an outburst similar to the one we just experienced. After 5 months in that home, J told the emergency on-call social worker she wouldn’t stay any longer. And that’s how she ended up with me, after a few nights in a group home.

And so, here we are. The nearly 9yr old is under the impression that she can leave anytime. It’s a detrimental view because it will keep her from putting roots down anywhere. Though I don’t know how long she’ll be in care or how long she’ll be with us, it’s likely to be a while. Blocking herself from growing where she is, does J no good. As I prayed many times in the car with her, this is a season of growth. J has the opportunity to be a child and learn how to interact with the world in a new way.

I laughed at her attempts to frighten me with her screaming. I’m not scared. I’ve done this before. I may be all dressed up with no where to go, I may have mascara lining my cheeks, but I’m not scared. I know I can do this. And I know J can move out of anger and grown in peace and joy.

To make amends with Raine and Athena, J let them play with her toy sticky feet she got from the doctor’s. J apologized with sincerity and regretted her decision to keep us from the party. While she recovered in her room, Raine and Athena played – all dressed up with no where to go.

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A New Addition

It’s been more than a year since we had any foster children residing with us. There have been many weekend or week long visitors, but no one who was an actual “placement” (the word for when a child is placed in your home to live for, usually, an unknown period of time.)

I’d begun to think it would never happen again for us. There have been many calls. But most often, the CAS who has contacted my private agency will decide that I’m too far away from where they are. Or….I don’t know. It’s rare that they give much of an answer at all as to why they’re not picking me for the children in need of homes.

Then someone was out of options and picked us although the distance is great – nearly two hours from where the child originated. And a frail looking little girl came to our home. She’s about to turn 9 but is the same size as my 7yr old Raine – who isn’t all that big herself. The girls are thrilled to know they both wear size 6x clothing.

Our new friend is putting all the doll toys to good use. Previously the buggies ended up being used153 most often as race cars. But she and Raine happily pushed them to school when it was time to pick up Athena. Although it was a good thing Raine had a rain coat covering her doll, otherwise the thing would have flown out on more than one occasion since her pushing was much more like drunken go-cart racing.

Except that little J does not sleep at night, all is well thus far. She’s quiet as a mouse in her room but I have a hard time going to sleep unless I know all the children are. Hopefully as she settles in this will get better.

She seems to be happy and is enjoying her time with us, however long it may be.

Appropriate Closure

As an adoptive/foster parent, I live in a world that is unlike most. All around there are well meaning individuals, best practices, protocol, and lingo.

Closure is a big word in foster care and adoption. It’s something that is supposed to be helpful and healing.

Two summers ago, my teenage foster child aged out of the system. Everything was arranged for her to move on to a lovely set up in a city that could better meet her needs. Sabrina* had been with me for five years. Raine and Athena hadn’t known life in our home without her. So as the move drew close, I sought out a therapist for Raine to see. Then, when Sabrina left, Raine’s anxiety level lessened dramatically. We still went to see the therapist. It was a grueling 50 minutes repeated three times. Raine, the most talkative child you will ever meet, didn’t speak at all during the sessions. The well intentioned therapist followed her around the room. As Raine bounced from the sand box to craft table, the lady was stressed beyond belief. She was deeply worried about the sand escaping from the table and too much glue being put on papers. It was very uncomfortable, made even more so by the eery silence.

Since our home life was becoming quite pleasant and Raine was not exhibiting any instability in Sabrina’s absence, I decided to end the sessions. The therapist responded to my email, insisting that we have a final visit “for closure, since Raine has experienced so many losses in her life.”

The problem with “closure” is that it doesn’t close the gaping wound left by an individual’s exit from your life. It isn’t a cure for the natural grief process. It doesn’t erase the pain.

I asked Raine if she wanted to see the therapist once more to say goodbye. She did not. So we didn’t. It wasn’t as if Raine had formed any attachment. In fact, she was completely detached from the woman which was very uncharacteristic for Raine.

Another opportunity for appropriate closure has passed us by recently. Our young friend, featured in my last post, was at a foster parent seminar I was supposed to go to. She was staying at another foster home within our agency, waiting for CAS to decide where she’d be residing. Being far from her school, the girl was not attending and would be accompanying the foster parent to our training session.

I was told she’d be helping in the children’s class which is where I’d be required to leave Raine for the day. And so, after a bit of thought, I decided not to go. The message I gave to my daughters after our dramatic ordeal, is that I can protect them and will keep them safe. Dropping Raine off to be cared for by someone who tried to harm her does not support that message.

Later when I explained to a case worker why I wasn’t there, she pointed out that I denied Raine the chance for appropriate closure. Yes, I suppose I did. These are the decisions that I make reluctantly, knowing I’m going against the grain of best practice. Social workers are educated and experienced in ways I am not. There must be something to this approach of closure – saying goodbye one last time. But I couldn’t find any benefit to my family or our friend. The context this appropriate closure was offered in made me uncomfortable. So I let the opportunity pass us by.

*name changed