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



You may have noticed I’ve been posting on Sunday & Wednesday lately. This week I’m a day late. I’ve been busy getting ready for a mom 2 mom sale this weekend. I have a little coffee & tea business ( but that’s a whole other story.

Today I’m back to talking about Raine – who used to go by Sloane in this space. Since the pretense with Athena’s name has ended (Saying Her Name), I thought I might reveal my other daughter’s true name as well.

About a month after the adoption, we started seeing the girls’ birth grandparents. I knew them from visits when Raine & Athena were still foster children. If you want all the details on our situation you can review Open Adoption Part 1 & Part 2.

In the greater scheme of things, I know our connection is immensely valuable. In practicality it’s been challenging. Raine is generally very wild during the visit. And afterwards we endure several days of tantrums lasting hours on end. She screams about how much she hates me and wishes she could be with her birth mother again. The encounters bring to the surface intense emotions generally bubbling under the surface.

At times I’ve considered putting the visits on pause – offering Raine more time to come to terms with her situation. But she is immensely eager to see them. So instead my mom and I have collaborated on things to pray. And I’ve added my own parents to our get togethers. The two couples get along famously. My goal was to show Raine that she has one family who love her. So the past few times we’ve been one big happy family – all of us except Raine that is. She remained agitated during and distraught afterwards.

In an unrelated moment of frustration, I asked Raine, “What can I do to help you?”

“You need to pray a lot more,” she quickly answered.

For the most part she’s resistant to me praying with her. But after that statement we began praying before she went to bed. And I started having her list three things she’s happy about at the end of each day.

This past Saturday we celebrated Raine’s birthday with her birth grandparents (a little late, but their schedules are quite busy). My parents weren’t able to make it but I trust my mom was praying for us.

During the visit Raine was relatively calm. Even her grandmother noticed a big difference. Afterwards I was ready for the onslaught of anger. Instead we sat together looking at the gifts she’d gotten. When bedtime came around we made the list of what she was grateful for. “That you love me every day,” Raine exclaimed. The distance that normally crept between us after visits with birth family wasn’t there.

There haven’t been any outbursts or meltdowns. Raine’s continued to be content and emotionally stable.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

Hebrews 10:35-36

Raising my girls can be challenging. There are times my confidence fails me. But in this area I’m glad to have persevered so that Raine, Athena, and I can receive the benefits of their grandparents love for us.


My Baby is 4!

Today Elise* turns 4. She arrived three months before turning 2, so this is the 3rd time we’ve celebrated her birthday together. I had about 1wk to prepare for her arrival, which is unusual in fostering. I carefully decorated the nursery in birds, praying Psalm 124:7-8.

We have escaped like a bird
from the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Her older sister, Sloane*, had been with me three months when the social worker decided to move Elise to my home – against doctor and supervisor’s recommendations. I do believe everyone has been pleasantly surprised by the success of that decision – me most of all. I’ve seen my little one transform from frightened and fragile (for more info see Only Prayer) into a confident ray of sunshine.

I must admit she still sleeps in a crib – by her own choice. Up until a few months ago she still needed a bottle to fall asleep. Going without she struggles to lull herself to sleep. And she still needs a diaper for bed. Those are the biggest challenges. The fact that she continually wants to be picked up and carried is something I’m willing to indulge. As I put her to bed on the eve of her birthday, despite being nearly 4 and attending school, Elise still insisted I call her a baby. “I’ll always be a baby!” she’s decided. Not so. But I’m happy to pretend – holding her close and kissing her a million times.

As a single mom, I’ve told my girls Jesus is their dad. He’s the one who birthed them in my heart long ago. He also moved heaven and earth so I could keep them (see Adoption). He’s the one who provides for us in so many unexpected ways. When Sloane started wondering about a dad (she remembers her birth father), I casually informed her she had Jesus. It wasn’t something I went out of my way to tell Elise because she didn’t ask. But she’s got it. Recently when Sloane commented, “I don’t have a dad.” Elise piped up in sincere conviction, “Yes! We have Jesus!!!” Praying she always knows His love and protection as she grows.

*name changed

Elise at 2

Elise at 2

Elise at 3

Elise at 3

Elise at 4

Elise at 4

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