Live Your Life Filled with Joy and Wonder

This is the phrase I’m keeping in mind. Social workers have informed me that studies show weakened immune systems in children who have been in foster care and a tendency to be accident prone.

For six days Raine has been under the weather. Her appetite is gone and she’s not her usual energetic self. Refusing to admit she’s unwell, Raine keeps making up silly excuses for her symptoms. For example, she’s arguing that the bathtub is now dreadfully too small for her 8yr old body. Because it’s so painfully small, her head is hurting from trying to washing her hair. Despite the statistics, she doesn’t know much about being sick.

The last time she suffered was at age 3. Shortly after receiving the required flu shot, she came down with the flu and step throat. Then there was the time she burned her leg our first Christmas after the adoption took place. That healed remarkably fast without a trip to the ER.

In the midst of Raine’s lingering flu like illness, Athena managed to give herself a black eye. She has a way she likes to do things. Something mimicking modern dance or creative movement is how Athena goes about the house. While retrieving a stuffed seal from the floor, she somehow managed to cut her eye on the dinning room chair. No one knows exactly how since the rest of us were upstairs. Athena’s scurrying feet and tiny howls made me think she needed to go the bathroom. (Often she waits until the last minute then runs around in circles, panicking at the thought of not making it to the toilet in time.) I was about to shout, “Get to the bathroom,” when I realized she was crying.

Rushing downstairs and gathering Athena into my arms, at first I didn’t realize she was bleeding. She buried her face on my shoulder and I managed to calm her. When she lifted her head there was a stream of blood coming from the corner of her eye. I mentally prepared for our first trip to emergency. Staying calm, I put Athena down and went to get the first aid kit. With a bit of pressure, the bleeding stopped. The cut was much smaller than I expected. Athena assured me she could see perfectly fine – and found my constant questioning and testing annoying.

Later when I put Athena to bed, I tried to discover if she’d been afraid when she got hurt. The idea didn’t make any sense to her. “I wasn’t scared,” she told me. “Jesus was there standing right behind me.”

Well, that’s a crisis averted, I thought to myself. Athena isn’t gripped by fear or anxiety. She’s still dancing through the house and happily eating meals on the chair that maimed her. Her eye is swollen and black – but not in an overly noticeable way I’ve been told. Of course it is noticeable to me.

Looking at it, I’m filled with joy and wonder. It’s a miracle that the injury wasn’t more serious. And it’s a miracle that it’s been years since Raine was sick. In the midst of illness and injury, I’m filled with joy and wonder.

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Athena’s still happy and eager to make me laugh

 

 

Time Does Not Heal All Wounds

Raine age 3

Raine age 3

This month marks 4 years since Raine came into my care. It’s something she’s been looking forward to for a very long time. The child, with a depth forced upon her by tragic circumstances, found significance in being with me longer than her birth mother.

But as the specific date draws near, emotions have derailed any positive feelings Raine might have expected. This past Saturday, I witnessed the life we used to live. When Raine’s eyes opened, she started screaming at everyone and about everything imaginable. This went on for nearly an hour in the morning then started again in the afternoon. Come evening she decided her room was unsuitable for sleeping in and that she would “absolutely never be sleeping anywhere near anyone named Athena ever again.”

I wanted to be calm. I wanted to be something other than what I was inside which was just plain fed up. It’s been a long time since life looked like this. How did I make it through that year and a half? “It nearly broke you,” a friend recently informed me. “I don’t think you have any idea how stressed you were.” In truth, I did. But I didn’t realize how evident it was to everyone else. I scraped by – pushing myself to love and embrace my daughter even when I didn’t want to. Occasionally, I shouted back in response to her irrational ranting. Later saying, “I wasn’t shouting just speaking really loud so you could hear me over all the noise you were making.” Raising my voice is something I was incapable of until I became Raine’s mother.

In the midst of the turmoil following the adoption, there was nothing I could do but ride out the storm – keeping my eye on who Raine really was. Under all the anger she heaped on me was a little girl who’d just lost her family forever. It didn’t matter to her that she now had a new one.

Since her room was unsuitable, I somewhat calmly told Raine to get her pillow and blanket. When she did, I marched her down to the basement. With visiting foster children, there were no other rooms available. Despite her pleas for help because “the basement is really creepy” don’t feel the need to pity her. We live in a newer home. The space is mostly finished and nicely put together. Raine was settled on a lovely futon in the warmest area of our home. She was hardly being mistreated, though an hour of screaming would give you an all together different impression.

My latest goal is to stop rewarding bad behaviour with increased attention. But after I got the other kids to bed, I did go down to see her because the screaming was getting on my last nerve.

“I wish someone else had adopted me,” Raine said when she’d calmed down a bit. This was something new. Nearly always in these moments of rage, she wishes to be back with her birth mother. I can understand that. It makes sense and I can stand being compared to an actual person. However, an imaginary perfect family that is happy to hang out with Raine while she screams at them and barks demands is someone I will loose to every time.

A lengthy discussion ensued. Early on, Raine admitted, “Whenever I act like this it’s because I’m thinking about my birth mom.” I acknowledged the pain and fear she’s carrying then assured her there is a way to be free. It will take time. But time alone won’t heal her heart. We’ve walked together for four years. Raine is not the brazen, defiant 3yr old who walked into my house. Most of the time, she’s quick to obey. She’s learned to love and think of others. She’s learned to share – even the tastiest of treats. When she first arrived, if anyone came near her while she was eating Raine would snap. Driven by the memory of lack, she was like a dog with a bone. My friend and I rejoiced the first time the little girl walked home from Tim Horton’s with her timbits. Normally, she’d devour them before they were even paid for. It’s been a gradual transformation caused by Raine’s choice to trust, a great deal of prayer, and my flawed determination. Time alone hasn’t brought her to this point. Time alone will not move Raine to complete healing.

In our conversation, Raine began describing her apprehension. This was the first time she’d ever spoken of it. Never sharing the details I knew, I assumed Raine had forgotten or blocked the memory. Dr. Phil’s warning not to ask children to deal with adult situations ran through my mind as Raine asked me to fill in the details of the vague framework she described. I suppose it’s too late. When apprehended just before age 3, Raine had already experienced more than most adults. She’s overheard social workers discussing details of her life that have left her confused and angry.

WP_000156For instance, she heard her birth family was living somewhere in a hotel. The terms around that word told me it wasn’t a good situation but all Raine heard was hotel. For quite some time she was furious to be stuck with my rules and limitations while she imagined her her family enjoying a Jacuzzi tub, swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, and all you can eat breakfast. She’s been to hotels in Niagara Falls. My friend and I regularly go with all our kids. It’s fun and the rules are lax. Raine really resented being in our dull home while her birth family was living it up in a hotel. Finally I had to paint a clearer picture of where they were.

Saturday evening, I answered the questions and painted some more pictures all the while wondering if it’s right. Honesty feels right. But Raine is 7. I tried, as always, to give her the truth while honouring the parents who brought her into the world. “Your birth mother’s heart is hurt. That stopped her from taking care of you.”

“Why doesn’t she just go to church?” Raine wanted to know. “Does she even know about Jesus? He can help her.”

“She knows about Him. And He’s trying really hard to help her,” I answered. “People have to choose to work with Jesus to heal their hearts. You’re choosing to work with Him. That’s why your heart is so much better than it used to be.”

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Strengths in Weakness

5yr old Athena is spectacularly good at peeling wallpaper. I know this because she’s done it many times in a variety of spots. Occasionally it’s done out of anger. Most times I can’t figure out why she’s picked and plucked at my beautiful walls. I was quick to blame myself – I must be missing something she’s trying to communicate.

Then one evening, I was painting the upstairs hallway. Athena had been home from school that day, as she often is. I’d made a point of spending lots of time with her. At bed, I read her books and stayed to talk for ages. Raine, having a separate room, had gotten her own alone time with me as I tucked her in. I closed the doors feeling as though I’d done everything possible to nurture my daughters that day. Opening the can of paint, I realized I’d forgotten the paintbrush. To the basement I went. When I returned, paint was smeared all over the floor.

I entered Athena’s room and told her about the situation, asking her to go wash her hands properly so she wouldn’t get paint all over the bedding.

“I don’t have paint on my hands,” she sweetly informed me.

Earlier in her life, that little voice got me every time. For a while Raine ended up in time out for the messes Athena made because both swore it wasn’t them. And Athena’s gentle demeanor seemed much more believable. Then I caught her in the act of clogging the bathroom sink with chunks of hand soap.

There are times when Athena will march into the bathroom and slice the walls with a stick her sister forgot on the ground because she’s just been sent to her room for some infraction. Then there are times when she peels all the paint of a door jam while she’s supposed to be watching a movie with friends. After saying it wasn’t her, Athena shrugs and says she doesn’t know why she does it.

I don’t know why. As a person who like to know, this really irritates me. Since there’s not much rhyme or reason, I’m trying to be more diligent in keeping tabs on her. And I’m choosing not to blame myself because even on my best day as a mom I ended up with paint all over the floor.

But today, Athena got to make the most of her experience in peeling wallpaper. She helped me strip 007away the coverings in the dinning area to make room for the new paper she helped pick out.

She was absolutely delighted – ripping of the top layer, spraying, and pulling off the 2nd layer.

Another 5yr old, who is visiting while his foster family are on vacation, loves cleaning. When I announced we needed to get the torn wallpaper off the floor because a friend was coming for lunch, he set to work. There were a few questions about my friend and her two boys. It was clear his anxiety was mounting. Turns out sweeping warded off a breakdown. He focused on getting the wallpaper tidied and swept all the floors – only stopping when I promised he could do it again after our guests left.

It would be lovely to have a solution to Athena’s destruction and our visitor’s anxiety driven cleanliness. Without that, I’m enjoying my daughter’s skill at tearing down wallpaper at this welcomed time and the other little one’s delight in cleaning it all up.

I am a Child of God

Today Raine turns 7. She arrived on my doorstep shortly after her 3rd birthday. It seems a lifetime ago

Athena & Raine ready to celebrate

Athena & Raine ready to celebrate

and only yesterday. The report received by the private fostering agency I work for said she had an acquired brain injury from falling out of a bassinet at 6mths.

For years I’d been carrying a crib with me. Everywhere I moved to, I lugged the unopened box. It was a gift from a friend who believed me when I said, “One day soon I’m going to adopt two children – whether I’m married or not.” In the sea of people I knew, this one friend reached out and gave me a gift which cost her dearly. She wasn’t exactly prosperous, struggling with three young children of her own.

When I got the call about Raine, I set up the crib. Having just turned 3, with a brain injury, she might need it. There was also a bed in the room prepared for her. I didn’t know what she’d need.

The social worker and her co-op student, released Raine from her carseat then set about unloading the boxes of clothing and toys sent from the previous foster home. Alone, Raine made her way up to my front door. I introduced myself. She moved past me, talking a mile a minute. Venturing through the house, she landed at the dinning room table that was set with tea and cookies.

Her last name had been exotic. The case manager with my agency told me to expect a Hispanic child. Instead a chubby girl with fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes asked me a million questions while gobbling up cookies. Raine was bright and articulate. She was not what I’d expected.

“Maybe her sister will come and you’ll get to adopt them both,” my case worker said when the social

cupcakes I made for Raine's 7th birthday

cupcakes I made for Raine’s 7th birthday

worker was gone.

“Maybe,” I agreed. But that didn’t seem remotely possible.

When shown her room, Raine pointed to the crib and said, “This is for my sister. When is she coming here?”

Due to some complications at the previous foster home, a separation was thought best for the young girls. Three months later, their social worker defied her supervisor and the medical adviser deciding to bring 1yr old Athena to my home. The crib was hers, though at that point I didn’t know this was the fulfillment.

I didn’t know these were the children I would adopt. But I invested everything I had in them. Sometimes I didn’t have much to give. Some days I still don’t. This year, as Raine’s birthday drew near, she and I were both reflecting on the time before we knew each other. My daughter hasn’t always been mine. For 3yrs she lived with people I don’t know experiencing a life I know very little about. I’ve worked hard to lay claim to her. Yet there’s a portion of time when Raine wasn’t mine.

Since coming to me, Raine has been adding up the passing time. She’s longed to reach 4yrs “because then I’ll be with you longer than I was without you.” As we near that point, there’s a reflection on that life before. Hundreds of what ifs race through my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m a novelist at heart, I always want to rewrite the past. What if my daughters hadn’t needed to become mine? Wouldn’t that be so much better?

Raine and I both awoke somewhat subdued today. It was a time to celebrate. We tried but mostly failed. Then a friend sent a message with a song attached.

I clicked on the youtube video. Raine stood quietly beside me, watching and listening while I cried. The past is what it is. I can’t rewrite the reality that the family who created Raine is no longer present in her life. Given the circumstances, it’s right that she’s not with them. It’s right for her to be here with me. But that doesn’t erase the pain for her, for her birth parents and siblings, for me. I missed three years of Raine’s life. But I’m exceedingly grateful for what we have shared and will continue to share.

I love watching her change from a slave of fear into a child of God. The transformation continues to amaze me. In the midst of difficulty, Raine’s heart has come alive. She’s learned to love her sister. She’s learned to trust me. Fear is loosing it’s grip. Raine is growing in the realization of who she is. I’m celebrating that today. I’m celebrating the beautiful daughter the Lord brought into my life.

Raine on her 7th birthday

Raine on her 7th birthday

This is How it’s Done

Despite all her progress, Raine still suffers from a great deal of social anxiety. This became overwhelmingly apparent when we visited the pediatrician on September 15, 2014. Normally she’s a little out of hand. But that day she was wild.

That prompted a referral for behaviour therapy. Owing to the fact that I don’t have private health insurance, our case went to the regional government funded organization. In a matter of days, someone contacted me to do an intake interview over the phone. I explained Raine’s history and the issues we’re still dealing with – which are social anxiety and the acting out that comes with that. The courteous woman informed me that, due to limited funding, private therapy was in the process of being done away with. “Group therapy is the direction the organization is heading in. As this services more families in a shorter amount of time.”

“It’s really unpredictable,” my pediatrician warned at our appointment. “You might get someone who is wonderful. You might get a therapist that isn’t really helpful. In which case, just end the treatment.”

Those words put this whole process into perspective. It might be helpful. It might not.

“Group therapy really isn’t going to work,” I told the kind woman on the phone. “Raine is very disruptive. It wouldn’t be a good situation for her or the other participants.”

“Well…….we do have a few one on one therapy options. But the wait will be considerably longer.”

We went with that option. Our intake appointment was booked for December 16, 2014 but the office had to rebook to January 20, 2015.

I explained to Raine where we were going and why the day before our appointment. She woke in a rage and proceeded to have a complete meltdown before breakfast. “I’m not getting dressed! I’m not having breakfast! And we’re not going anywhere!” she shouted as the sun came up. It was frightful as she rolled on the floor growling.

This used to be a daily occurrence. This used to be what our life looked like most of the time. It’s been so long, I’m caught off guard by the occasional slip backwards.

She did get dressed. She did eat breakfast. We did go to the appointment. We arrived a little bit early and the therapist was somewhat late. Raine had time to play in the waiting room and calm herself down.

We were escorted into the one office by the woman who we were scheduled to see. She introduced us to another therapist. We all sat in his office for a few moments. Then it was revealed that I would be staying there to meet with him and Raine would go elsewhere with the lady. Raine was eerily silent in the room while we were all together. This turn of event surprised us both. Reluctantly, she went.

And I thought, This is ridiculous! My child has sever separation anxiety issues. I explained that in the telephone interview. The whole scene was rather awkward and terribly executed. When I spoke to the therapist on the phone to confirm our appointment, she might have let me know this is how it would look. But she did not. And, apparently, this is how it’s done. So that’s what we did.

Perhaps being part of the foster care system makes me exceptionally suspicious. I wondered if the point of interviewing us separately was to fish for “causes of concern” or some sinister secret in our life that is causing her anxiety. I don’t know for certain what the rational behind the separate interview on day one is. The execution certainly left a lot to be desired. Still we did what was required in hopes of accessing the help available.

My interview involved repeating everything I’d said on the phone interview. The man made notes, underlining key items. I recounted what I know of Raine’s birth family, why she came into foster care, how adoption ended up being her fate, etc. He took it all in with detached professionalism. Then one of the standard questions had something to do with “violent images seen in video games or elsewhere.”

The man stopped and started with great alarm when I said, “Raine doesn’t play video games. Her media intake is very limited. She doesn’t have any computer access or anything so I don’t think she’s really seen violent images.”

“She doesn’t have computer access?” he inquired, with alarm.

“No,” I answered, wanting to laugh that this of all the information shared was his greatest cause for concern.

“She must ask for it, though.”

“No, she doesn’t. Raine’s happy to play with toys or draw. I find too much screen time increases her aggression. She watches movies some, but doesn’t use the computer.” The fact that she doesn’t ask for computer access seemed to console him somewhat. We moved on. That statement – no computer access – was written down and underlined.

At the end of our interview I was informed of the process moving forward. The gentleman will write up a report. The lady who interviewed Raine will write up a report. It will take at least 4 weeks to do so. Then, based on the report, someone, somewhere, will somehow decide on a therapist to see us for treatment. Then we will go on that therapist’s wait list. All of this, obviously, takes time. If Raine’s needs become more pressing, I was encouraged to call and they will see about speeding up the process. (Perhaps Raine’s lack of computer access will speed things up.)

Aside from that, the situation is hardly pressing. Raine is doing the best she has since her arrival nearly four years ago. There’s still some lingering issues that it would be helpful to resolve.

The gentleman escorted me to the room where Raine was being interviewed. The therapist informed me that my daughter didn’t want to go home at all. And I started to worry. Despite the finality of legal adoption, despite nearly four years together, there’s still a lingering fear of loss. It’s something that plagues Raine as well. She worries that one day she’ll once again be apprehended and lose me the way she lost her first mother.

I smiled and encouraged Raine to come along “because it’s nearly lunch time and I’m sure you’re getting hungry.”

The therapist quickly told me, “I said she could finish drawing the picture she’s working on. I think it’s important for her to complete it. She’s working very hard.”

003I’m terrible at small talk. I sat where I was told to. The woman made a few comments about Raine, I responded warmly. But resisted being drawn in. I worried about what Raine had said. There’s absolutely nothing that would ever warrant her being apprehended by child protective services. But we didn’t exactly have a great morning. She wasn’t really happy with me for bringing her there. At times, Raine can put a nasty spin on the truth. I suddenly felt insecure and wondered if I really am failing.

When Raine completed her picture. The therapist walked us, through many locked doors, out to the waiting room. “I’m really glad to have met you,” she said with surprising sincerity. “It was great to get to know you.” I took a deep breath. Maybe Raine didn’t paint such a bad picture.