Help Me!

Our foster child, J, continues to struggle. At times, she’s completely overwhelmed – like when the movie Mary Poppins was put on. She tantrumed for 2hrs over that. Even though I didn’t require her to watch it, she could not recover from the memories flooding her somehow connected to that movie. What happened I don’t know. Maybe J doesn’t even consciously recall. But the movie sent her into a tailspin. While screaming repeatedly, “Give me something to eat!!!” J smashed to pieces everything she had been given to eat.

But then there are days when J is exceedingly happy – playing at the beach then riding the carousel with Raine.

Sometimes it’s really great. Other times it’s really difficult. In those moments, it’s easy to lose sight of the reasons why I’ve chosen this path.

The other night as I was getting ready for bed, J called out, “Help me!” I rushed to her room. There she peacefully slept. In the morning, J had no memory of the outburst. But the cry continues to haunt me.

Like countless other children, J is struggling with the trauma of abuse. She’s suffering the loss of her family and life. Fear reigns in her body, soul, and spirit. She pushes against the safety and proper structure of being a child who is cared for. It’s foreign to J having a mom who is plugged in and steering her in the right direction. All of that makes J behave in a manner that keeps me at arm’s length.

Still, in the midst of all her resistance and challenges, the cry is clear, “Help me!”


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

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.