My Legs Are Tired!

After a play date at the park, we headed over to the pharmacy. Sloane*, normally a bundle of energy, wanted to go in her sister Elise*’s stroller. Instead

of asking she just shouts in a menacing way, “MY LEGS ARE TIRED!” Sloane says this several times before I can jump in with, “There’s a proper way to ask for things.  Screaming at me does not get you what you want.” My words fall on deaf ears. Sloane has her own way of doing things. She continues screaming with a frightening amount of rage, “MY LEGS ARE TIRED!” Respectable retirees are out tending their gardens. I’m sure none of their children ever behaved this way. With Sloane’s voice reverberating through the quiet neighbourhood, I struggle to keep my composure. Finally, I bend down to face her and say, “That is enough. If you want to go in the stroller stop screaming and say, ‘mom, could I please go in the stroller.’” She doesn’t. The screaming continues. Tears stream down her face. A friend calls to see if we’re still going out for lunch. I stop walking and encourage Sloane to sit down on the sidewalk to rest her legs. She won’t. The screaming gets louder now that my attention is divided. Off the phone, after declining lunch, I give her a stern talking to. The point being we’re far from home and need to get her medication from the pharmacy. The behaviour meds (see Happy Birthday to Me) help her focus but her rage and frustration have been strong lately. It could be the medication or just Sloane processing more of her struggle. Recently we had a small adoption party and private dedication ceremony. Her birth grandparents came to bless the girls and got to meet my parents. It was challenging for Sloane to have her two worlds collide. So the recent rage could be about that or it could be depression caused by the medication. I don’t know.

Nearing the pharmacy, I tell Sloane she can sit down while I’m getting the medication. This doesn’t appease her. I’m ready to forgo the request that she ask properly to sit in the stroller. “If you’re quiet in the pharmacy you can have a turn in the stroller when we leave.” I’d like to promise her the whole way home, but I know Elise’s little legs won’t make it that far. She lacks Sloane’s stamina.

The screaming doesn’t diminish in the pharmacy. “MY LEGS ARE TIRED!” she shouts as I grab a few things we need before heading back to the

Sloane practicing her growl in the mirror.

Sloane practicing her growl in the mirror.

prescription pick up area. “You should sit down and rest your legs,” I say, indicating the row of chairs. An elderly woman occupies one. “My legs are tired so I’m sitting down,” she says kindly. Sloane growls at her then me because that’s what she does. She has a habit of growling – not in a cute cuddly way but barring her teeth and releasing an absolutely frightening sound. “No,” I say, picking her up and putting her on a chair. She immediately slides off still screaming, “MY LEGS ARE TIRED!” I try the chair again with the same result. I pick her up. But need to put her down a few minutes later to steer the stroller out of the store. The screaming continues.

Next to the pharmacy is a local bakery which Elise loves. I’d promised she could get a cookie when we first left the park. I’d like to skip it and hurry home, but then she’s missing out because of Sloane’s behaviour. Before going in I make the same offer, “If you’re quiet in the bakery you can have a turn in the stroller when we leave.” This time it works. Elise has discovered they give out free cookies at the bakery so she asks the lady working there for one. The only sound out of Sloane’s mouth is her asking me if she can have a cookie as well. I say yes. I buy buns, two cream horns, and a small rhubarb pie for myself.  This is why I’ve gained so much weight since I started fostering, after being assaulted by screaming I encourage myself with the likes of pie. Out of the bakery, I tell Elise to get out of the stroller. Sloane gets in. To entice her to walk, Elise gets a cream horn. Sloane is furious that she doesn’t get one. I try to explain screaming doesn’t warrant special treats but she can’t hear me because she’s screaming again.

Sloane in a happier moment

Sloane in a happier moment

My message that screaming doesn’t get you what you want isn’t being absorbed. Sloane still prefers to employ this approach. What she doesn’t get is that I’m just as determined as she is. It may take me a cream horn and some pie to get through, but I’m not going to give into these tactics. You’d think this lesson would have been learned after 2yrs together. I fairness to her, she does get it most of the time. But there are times Sloane’s emotions overwhelm her. Once she starts the screaming it’s hard for her to stop. Praying for a deeper level of healing and a complete harvest of self-control in my little girl (and myself!)

*name changed

Thinking is Hard

“What if I bang my head with this pan?” Sabrina* asks while putting away the dishes.

Since I’ve just admonished her to think for her herself, I remain silent.

My 3yr old is not. “No, Sabrina. No!” she shouts.

“I’m tired,” the 17yr old moans, as she has been for the past 1/2hr. “Hitting myself with the flying pan might wake me up.”

Today Sabrina, my foster child with fetal alcohol syndrome and a significantly low IQ, toured the college she’ll be attending. She and the other visiting foster children completed a World Race type game to familiarize themselves with the campus. Being fairly fit, I doubt she’s tired from the extensive walking. It’s all the thinking. Sabrina shrinks back from thinking for herself. It’s become exaggerated since younger children joined our family. While I’m figuring things out for them, I might as well do it for her seems to be the approach she’s taking.

For her the question is absolutely sincere, “What will happen to me if I bang my head with this frying pan?”

This is when I cringe at all the teachers and communicators who say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Spend a day at my house and you’ll change your tune. There are stupid questions. “Will hitting myself with a frying pan wake me up?” is one.

There are stupid statements. One weekend Sabrina became completely fixated on doing her nails in the basement while watching tv. In nearly 5yr of living with me the rule has always been: nails are done in the bathroom only. Something switched in her brain after doing her nails while watching tv at a friend’s house. She could not switch back. I wasn’t going to back down, especially when I found out she spilled nail polish all over the friend’s rug while doing her nails and watching tv. Multitasking isn’t Sabrina’s strong suit. Even with me pointing out the mishap elsewhere, she couldn’t fathom doing her nails in the bathroom. I put an end to the stalemate by tossing all her nail polish in the garbage.

“This is all you’ve ever wanted – to throw out my nail polish. You’ve been waiting for a chance since I moved here!” Sabrina shouted at me.

“Really? Since you came here nearly 5yrs ago I’ve been looking for a reason to throw out your nail polish?” Sometimes when I repeat it back she can see the absurdity. Not this time.

“Yes, this is what you always wanted – to have a foster kid so you can throw out her nail polish.”

I love Sabrina dearly. She’s my first foster child. I’ve seen her blossom into an amazing young woman. Along the way she’s taught me some important lessons. Hopefully she can say the same of me. My goal was to prepare her for life. Most days she’s high functioning. Unfortunately, I’ve become less so. Waves of exhaustion hit me throughout the day. Often I end up just lying down on the couch for a minute or two while the children whirl around me. The casual observer would chalk it up to the two little ones, 3 &5, who are certainly suffering from ADHD. But it’s more than that. Thinking really is hard. It’s downright exhausting. Before it was just Sabrina and I. Now I have 5 people to think for, plan for, and speak for all day long! There’s me, 17yr old Sabrina, 11yr old Megan*, 5yr old Sloan*, and 3yr old Elise*. I have to anticipate reactions, intervene, explain, interpret for the kids as they interact with each other and the world at large. With the younger two it’s the age. For Sabrina and Megan it’s their limitations. Long before the end of the day, I’m exhausted. Maybe banging my head with a frying pan would help. Sabrina diligently prays to Jesus to heal her. I have faith for that! Imagine not being weighed down by her birth mother’s short comings. After 17 long years of trying to navigate the world with a brain hindered by exposure to alcohol, it would be a true miracle for Sabrina. I want that for her. I know my God’s capable. I’m believing! While we wait for that, the effort it takes to break down every situation is beyond me. I still help to navigate necessary concepts like the importance of flossing (both her parents have lost their teeth due to poor hygiene) or that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. Today I let her request for the meaning of mentor slide among other things because thinking, explaining, and navigating for 5 is really hard. So if you invite me out with the question, “Where do you want to go?” don’t be surprised by my confusion. Thinking is really hard.

*name changed for obvious reasons

Happy Birthday to Me!

Turning 36 is not a big deal. I’m now closer to 40 than 30. Deep breath. I should be dismayed. But I’m not. In my lifetime I’ve accomplished some impressive things. For five years I’ve been a foster parent. I bought a house…..a huge gift from God. I adopted two brilliant little girls – fighting the system when their social worker decided another family would be best even though they’d been with me over a year and were doing amazingly. Before a panel of three seasoned women I pleaded my case. Without legal representation I won against Children’s Aid’s experienced lawyer. Months before my victory the Ontario government introduced a subsidy for people adopting foster children over the age of 10 or sibling groups of any age. This provision allows me to remain an at home mom – currently with two foster children and two adopted children. And in November 2012 I launched a coffee & tea business which is reaching the business goals I had in mind – giving my kids work experience and providing opportunities for people to shine. A friend and her daughter recently manned my booth at the Niagara Home Show. The young lady put on her confidence and rocked the show. “The best part was having mommy and me time,” she said after the nine hour stint. When God told me I had an anointing for family, I thought that meant building my own. So glad it goes beyond that.

The big picture is really good.

However, my birthday marks the start of my 5yr on meds. Before fostering I was completely against behaviour meds for kids. Sloan* has made incredible strides in the two years I’ve had her. During that time she settled into my home, built a relationship with me, was reunited with her sister after 3mths apart, had a farewell visit with her birth mom whom she hadn’t seen in over a year, found out she and her sister were going to be adopted, found out that might mean leaving me. Sloan fought to stay. She started calling me mom. Two weeks before starting Junior Kindergarten, the review board’s decision came through in my favour. The day after her first day at school, Sloan stayed home to sign the initial adoption papers. Her last name changed. She stopped being a foster child. To a rational adult that’s amazing. For a then 4yr old it was terrifying. Who would she be if not a foster child? Wrestling with that she began grieving the loss of her birth family. Then there are five full days of school when all she wants is to be home with me. The adoption had to be processed by the courts. The social worker, who didn’t want me having the children in the first place, was still very much involved. Sloan had to go to school. Her response has been to stop using the toilet. It’s April. This began in September. I’ve tried everything imaginable. Just after getting the court documents in January, I set up a meeting for Sloan with her birth mother (more on that to follow in a later blog). She said goodbye with a better understanding of what that means. We visited my sister in Winnipeg. Sloan’s getting used to using titles like grandma and aunt for my family who she’s known from a distance. It’s been an eventful two years.

Initially, the pediatrician was reluctant to prescribe medication. The questionnaires she gave me and the teacher clearly indicate attention deficit. I said all the right things at our second appointment, leaving with a prescription. This is how I will mark my birthday: beginning my 5yr old on behaviour meds. I’m trying not to judge myself too harshly. Two years of incredible challenges and amazing gains with Sloan. I can’t recall anything about last year’s birthday but this one is certainly memorable.

Happy Birthday to Me!

*name changed