Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Working Mama Wednesday - Priorities

Being a working mama means I have to spend a lot of energy making sure my priorities are straight.  I'm guessing that moms who stay home with their kiddos have to occasionally (or often) check their priorities too, but working mamas face the challenge of earning a paycheck that at best requests (at worse requires) them directly to deprioritize their family in favor of doing the work that their paid to do.

I won't do that. 

Of course, on some level being away from my kids and putting them in childcare at all is, to some degree, choosing work over being with them.

What stirs this thought is that today we were trying to make arrangements with the new caseworker on when to have the new kiddos placed in my home.  Usually it's fairly easy to find a time where I could hang out away from work.  I could work from home, I could go in late, or I could go home early.  There's usually always some sort of option like that.  Even if I have one day that's overbooked I could usually find at least one other that has flexibility.

This week it is not the case:

Monday - Jam packed work schedule - baseball game at 5:45-7:20.
Tuesday - Jam packed work schedule but I could have come home early.  Until coach scheduled practice.  Which was canceled due to weather, but by that time it was too late to arrange for a placement that night.
Wednesday - Jam packed, but the preferred day by the caseworker.  Simultaneous team meetings from 8:30-11, simultaneous dentist appointment for little miss, new team meeting from 11:30-12:30, important meeting from 1-2:30, and interview from 3-5, followed by new team meet n greet 5-7.  *Sigh*
Thursday - Jam packed work schedule, double booked from 3-4 with new team meeting and dissertation checkup meeting, school at night.
Friday - WIDE OPEN...but no one wants to wait that long.

So I was left trying to figure out which meeting I needed to get out of on Wednesday.  The only one that was remotely logical was the meet n greet at night, which isn't a great choice because that is when I'm supposed to meet all my new coworkers (and, we were headed to a fancy schmancy restaurant downtown).  But that's what I did and I really didn't blink an eye.

As I was thinking about my choice certain words rang in my head - words I've heard several times in the last month as we've prepared to welcome 4 different kiddos into our home.

"I don't know how you do it.  Your life changes on a dime and you just adjust".

Most of the time that comment is from working mamas.

How do I do it?  I don't know.  A little bit of mie and a BIG dose of God.  That's the easy answer.  But this question really does confuse me a bit because I think - How could I not do it?  This is my family?  In my head it's not even a choice.  And then it hit me - in some people's heads it's not a choice to miss work.  I'm not a person who drops my responsibilities either...

...but I'm a mama who tries very hard to make sure her priorities are in order with God first and family a close second.  Only then comes work - and whatever else tries to distract me from the important things in life.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tuesday Tears - ...and infertility remains

Many, many (though not all) people enter the world of fostering & adoption because of some sort of infertility and therefore orphan care is a 2nd choice - at least it starts out that way.  Now, this is not true of everyone, but I'd be lying if I said that wasn't how we started out.

For a summary, or the detailed thought process, behind our decision to become foster parents with the hopes to adopt, check out our choices and our decision.  Basically, we have been dealt male factor infertility due to a situation that occured before or shortly after birth that we wern't aware of until 2009.  Or at least we weren't aware how it affected fertility.

The folks at RESOLVE.org talk about resolving infertility.  It's not always a cure.  The purpose of resolution is to get through infertility and its affect on your life and getting through to "the other side" - resolution through being childless (and ok with that), through successful fertility treatments, through adoption or fostering.  Resolution - being ok with your situation and moving on with your life.

I don't know if resolution is really a goal.  I mean, it is a nice thought and something to strive for I suppose, I just don't know if that's the end...maybe it's a by-product of the process, hopefully, but well...I just don't know.

I mentioned to some people recently about how this year seems to promise it will be hard.  My son turns 5 later this year, which means everywhere I turn around is the 5th anniversary of something related to his pregnancy and birth.  The 5th anniversary of the day I found out I was pregnant.  The 5th anniversary of the day we found out we were having a boy...For some reason the 5th anniversary is offering a lot of memories and with them reminders of how long it has been without being pregnant and having more of our own children.

Furthermore, (who writes that in a blog), the longer it goes without a pregnancy the closer we get to probably not having any more of our own kiddos.  That's hard to deal with.  I'm still in my 20s, but not for long....I'm not sure (and no one ever is) how long I'll have the chance to get pregnant myself...how long it will be before the chances of IVF-ICSI success are diminished completely...before "can't" actually means physically can't for sure instead of "slim-to-none" chance.  The longer it goes the less time we have to save up and try to afford IVF and since we're not moving toward that savings right now we'd be starting from scratch. 

And then there's the thought about when we'd want to stop having kids.  I always wanted to have kids 15-18 months apart.  By the time my son was 5, I'd imagined we'd have 4 kids, thinking soon about #5 (if I could get my husband to think about that!).  I figured I'd have a whole slew of biological kiddos by now.  But when would I want to stop going through the baby phase?  I mean, I want Logie to have a biological sibling, but if they are 10 years apart do they lose some of the benefits of having a biological sibling?  I mean 5 or 6 years apart is pretty far - I worry they wouldn't be close. 

At this point I'd like to acknowledge that I've never had control over my fertility, obviously, yet crazy as I am I still think somehow that I get a say!

Will I ever be pregnant again?  I don't know.  I'm not ready to give up on that dream yet.  I'm not ready to "resolve" that totally.  Some people talk about how they come to the point of wanting to be parents vs. wanting to be pregnant.  Clearly I want to be a parent and I LOVE being a foster parent, looking forward to the day(s) we get to adopt our forever kids.  But, having experienced it once, I do want to experience it again.  I want to have more biological kids.  I would like to experience childbirth and nursing and having "my own" again. 

I don't think the odds are high.  The more and more we head down this path the more and more I feel like God is moving us away from more biological kids.  I'm ready to be ok with what God has for us.  I'm just not ready to accept that is His plan.  Not yet anyway.  Does that make sense? 

I still think God could do it.  Yes, it's possible that when we adopt we'll finally get pregnant again.  It's possible we'll get to the point one day where God will take away the desire for more biological kiddos.  I don't know.  In the meantime I'll just have to trust that God's plan is the best and He'll do something great in our lives in the meantime. 

But so far our infertility hasn't been totally resolved.

Moolah Monday - Our New Furniture (and the deal we got on it)

I've had a hard time recently coming up with reasons why I consider myself frugal, especially after our recent spending spree.  But I can assure you my heart is frugal - in fact I'm cheap.  And I do have an example - and a frugal deal I found to share with you - if you happen to find yourself in need of ...

I'm not sure if I mentioned yet that we will be receiving a new sibling group soon.  These two kiddos (a 3 yo boy and a 18 mo girl) are coming from another foster home vs. emergency placement like we have normally had, so we will setup a time to meet the caseworker and have them brought to our home rather than having only a few hours notice.  This is nice planning - but there's really not much planning you can do when you don't know how big the kiddos are, what they are bringing with them (and not), what they like/dislike, and where they are developmentally.

One thing we do know is that we needed another bed for the boys' room.  Our bed situation in our home now consists of :
  • Drop side crib - Logan's from when he was a baby - not recalled but needs to be replaced in June
  • Convertible crib - could be a toddler bed or twin size - Sophia is currently using as a crib
  • Daybed - Logan has used since he moved from his crib - J built a rail for it so it functions like a toddler bed
  • Futon/Queen size bed - we use as a guest bed
  • 4 queen size air mattresses (can't be used for foster kiddos)
  • 2 playpens (which can be used for foster kiddos, with certain guidelines, but we would only use for quick situations)
  • Infant bassinett
So we have plenty of room and a couple options for the 18 month old but unless we wanted to use our guest bed for the 3 year old (which we will need for guests in 2 weeks) or make him use the princess toddler bed we needed a new bed, preferably a bunk bed so it could fit happily in Logan's room.

We went shopping Saturday to see what we could find.  Most furniture stores didn't have anything for kids and the one that did was way out of our comfort price range.  I mean, we could have paid cash for what we needed and the furniture was cool, but I just couldn't spend that kind of money.

Here's what we really liked:
Creekside Taffy Twin/Full Step Bunk Bed w/Desk and Chest

See the steps on the side - they are drawers.  Too cool.  But this one ranged from $600 - $1400 depending on which format and options you wanted (chest/no chest, twin/full on bottom, desk/no desk, etc.)  Even the $600 price tag sent my cheap-o-meter far off the scale.

So we debated on the way home if we should stop at garden ridge.  It kind of seemed like they might have something but we were tired of trying places and had somewhere to go.  But we were having a fun family day so thought if nothing else we'd like to go walk around.  Thankfully, we found success!

The bunkbed in the first picture above is what we found for $200!  That is MUCH more in my price range.  My husband has this grand idea to turn it into a super-hero city scape bed.  Not sure how he's going to do it but he's been planning this for a while so I'm sure he'll figure it out. 

Now to find a chest of drawers that has more than the 3 that is in the room already.  Community garage sale is in 3 weeks...let's see if I can make this work until then...

Did I mention the bed smells of cedar?  Yum.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Foster Parent Friday - How long have you been foster parenting?

Today is 3/25/2011, which is a perfect day to publicly answer the question "how long have you been foster parenting?".  This is one of those questions that people who are curious about our story always ask. 

Technically we've been licensed since 3/1/10.  Of course, we weren't notified that our license was issued until 3/19/10, so this past weekend we celebrated 1 year of being licensed. 

Officially we have been foster parents for 364 days.  One year ago tomorrow we got our first call from CPU (Central Placement Unit) at 11:45pm.  I was sitting on the couch, just having finally got my son to sleep, getting ready to do homework and snuggle up with Saturday Night Live that I had recorded.  I had worked on my homework for all of - well long enough to get my computer on but not long enough to update my resume, which was what I had to do for an assignment that night (which happened to be late).  Thinking the call was my husband calling me from work even though he knew I just got the little boy to sleep I was slightly irritated to have to answer it. 

We have voice caller ID, so it wasn't very long before I knew this was it. 

And the journey officially began.  Yes, we started the process of getting licensed more than 6 months earlier, but at this point - having foster children in our home - it was real.  We had waited all week, wondering how long it would take to get a call for kiddos and had nothing.  We weren't sure it was ever going to happen. 

Then it did.  And our lives changed forever.  Some things we learned from those kiddos:
  • We love fostering, even if it didn't end up in adoption
  • We love ministering to the biological parents - after first meeting bio dad #1 who "chose us" to keep his kids because he "liked us"
  • We don't really like waking up early
  • 2 year old girls can be really whiny
  • We really don't like "really whiny"
  • Saying goodbye isn't that bad...for us.
  • No matter what you tell your "kids that stay", when the case worker picks up the "kids that go", the "kids that stay" might mistakenly believe that they too are going, even if they are your biological child (!)
We also learned even more that our plans are not our own.  At all.  So for my next FPF post, in celebration of our year anniversary of being official foster parents, I'll tell you more about how we got started in this, what we thought would happen, and what we think now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tuesday's Tears - A Letter to Little Miss

Dear Little Miss -

Your daddy and I love you more than we could ever express.  Every day we fall more in love with you - you capture a bit more of our heart.  We believe that God has a special plan and purpose for you little one and we hope to be the ones to raise you to become the woman He wants you to be.

Today was a big day in your life, though you don't know it yet.  Your day was average - school, play, swinging on the backyard playset, playing with your brother - yet in the background occurred something so enormous that took extreme selflessness and I'm sure, many tears.

Today your birth mother relinquished her parental rights. 

Dear one, I want you to know that despite this event you are very much wanted.  You are important.  You are loved more than I could ever write here in words.  You have a family.  You are valued.  You are beatiful and smart and worthy of love.  If I could tell you anything at this point in your life it is that you are a daughter of the King, a princess in the Kingdom of God, and that you have a divine purpose. 

Your birth mother loves you.  She has decided to give up her rights because she knows that she is not capable of giving you everything you need.  I will teach you to pray for her and talk to you about her as you get older and I hope that you get to meet her one day.  For now, I want you to know that she loves you very much and wants the best for you.  I am sure that she thinks of you every day.  I know that she didn't take this decision lightly.  I want you to know that she is doing what she thinks is best for you.  Your daddy and I will be praying for her, thanking God for her courage and strength to give you a home, safety, security, health, and everything else you deserve, which in her case took nothing less than giving up her rights to be your mommy.

We desperately hope that the best for you, God's purpose, means that you can be our daughter forever.  It is not time yet for that decision, though we know that God has had it all laid out since the beginning.  Nevertheless, as a mommy, as your mommy, I cry for your birth mom because I know what she's missing out on.  I know that she doesn't get to enjoy your hugs and open mouth sloppy kisses.  She doesn't get to hear you tell her "I love you" and she's not the one who gets to wake you up in the morning (or, more appropriately, gets to be woken up by you in the morning) and isn't the one who gets to cuddle you to sleep at night.  I pray God will take care of her.  I pray He will bring her comfort.  I pray as you get older and learn that you have another mother, one who held you in her tummy and took care of you for the first 9 months of your life, that you will be comforted and have all your questions answered.  Most importantly, I pray that you will always know your Heavenly Father, His perfect love, and how valued you are in His eyes.

Sleep well my little one.  When you wake tomorrow everything will continue to be normal for you, God willing.  And we will love you forever, no matter what happens sweet girl.

Moolah Monday - Bonus Budgeting (and shoes!)

Aren't they beautiful?  This weekend I went shopping a couple times and stocked up on my wardrobe items.  I managed to buy 3 dresses (not pictured, obviously), 3 sweaters, new sunglasses, and 6 pairs of shoes.  Hardly sounds frugal.  Depending on who you are, the $300 price tag may not be frugal either.  I averaged $23 per item. 

3 things to consider about my recent (somewhat frugal) purchases:
  • It has been 3 years since I last purchased in masse like this for my wardrobe.  This means that I spent an average of $8 per month on clothes for myself for the past 3 years on top of the frugal clothing budget we have for my husband and I monthly ($25, or in dire circumstances $50).  The last time I did it Logan was a baby - I told him that story as I congratulated him and Little Miss on being so good.  And I privately wondered what was so hard about bringing 1 baby to the store when I now had 2 and managed just fine.
  • Before purchasing more, I ran the stuff I had into the ground.  Almost all of the shoes I bought 3 years ago have exposed heels (where the material is peeled back), exposed heel points/metal, and scratched up toes to the point that the material is worn off.  Where there are straps and decor they are torn, damaged, or missing.  The only shoes I have that are in decent shape are the ones that have 3-4 inch heels that I can't wear due to my ankle injury last year. 
  • I used bonus money to make these purchases - I used well under 5% of my bonus money on this wardrobe update.
So while purchasing 6 pairs of shoes in one visit doesn't appear to be extremely frugal, the real money lesson for today is regarding budgeting for bonuses.

There are several positions out there on how to budget regular salaries; bonuses are no exception.  Depending on how your total compensation is made up will help determine the best budgeting plan for you. 

We have a fairly stable bi-weekly pay schedule for our regular salaries.  My husband and I are paid on alternate weeks, which means we're fortunate enough to have a steady stream of income throughout the month.  This also means that we have 4 "extra paychecks" per year.  In addition, we get our money from the state and rent for our other property early in the month, which helps the cash flow for all those beginning of the month expenses.  Finally, I earn a sizeable bonus paid around March each year, which typically coincides with any tax refund we might receive.  So here's how we do it.

1.  We create our monthly budget using the 4 paychecks we receive each month.
2.  We do not budget for our extra paychecks.  These become additional perk payments that either go to gifts, travel, or savings to cover random expenses that come up through the year.  They end up being a little bonus to our bank account.  Some financial experts would say that this money should be averaged and included into the monthly budget - which is a good plan but essentially we learn to live on a little bit less throughout the year and treat ourselves with the extra paychecks. 
3.  We do not budget for our bonuses.  These also become heavy sources of income each year to do the things that we put off - the unnecesary but desired things that we'd like to do. We always try to spend a little bit of fun money as a reward - and by fun money we mean "guilt-free" shopping on necesities like my clothes and shoes or my husband's shoes and video games.  One year when I received my bonus I went out and bought him a playstation 3.  Typically this "blow money" ends up being about $500 per person, which again is about 5% of the budget.  This year we've also done the following:
  • Tithed
  • Put new carpet in the rental home - this was needed after pipes burst and flooded the downstairs.
  • Painted the rental home (ok, we haven't done this yet, but we will get it done soon)
  • Purchased playground equipment (I'm hoping by making this small you don't see it, at least until I get a chance to post pictures and write another blog on the topic)
  • New tires, windshield, and car repairs for our little corolla in an attempt to get it inspected which is past due since July.
We've also been a little less careful with our normal budget allowing extra expenditures for our newest foster kiddos (who went home quickly), a few tools here and there, a few extra times eating out, things like that.
4.  We do not budget for tax returns.  Typically financial advisors will say to minimize your tax return throughout the year by avoiding paying in extra - this way you can keep your money in your hands rather than loaning it to the government for free.  This is very difficult to do in our life with both rental property and fluctuating dependents, but we try.  Anything that comes back through tax return is treated like 2-4. 

We typically try to use these extra funds as well for paying off debt, which we try not to accumulate but do have some for student loans and a few things that have happened over the year like when we flew out last minute to be with my dad after his accident - some principles (debt-free) go out the window when you're not sure whether your parent will live or die and you don't have any money with you. 

So we're not perfect but we try.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Say What (?!?) Sunday - How Brother Feels About Sister

Friday we sent our most recent sibling group to their new home - a new foster family.  Little Logan was a part of the send-off, after which we went straight to school.  On the way I was asking him about how he was feeling.

Mie: L, how are you feeling after your sisters went home?  Are you feeling mad, sad, happy...
L: I'm feeling a little sad but really happy?
Mie: Really?  Why are you feeling happy?
L: Because now it can be just our family again.
Mie: I see
L: Except Sophia.  She's not really part of our family.  But Mom, maybe we can pretend she's really part of our family.  Pretend mommy, we can pretend.

I smiled in my driver's seat.  I love it when he shares his perspective on things with me.

At some point this weekend we were getting ready to head out shopping.  As I was changing little miss I was chatting with Logie like I usually do.  I try to casually chat with him about more serious things (along with more casual things) throughout the day rather than "sitting down to talk" when a serious topic comes up. 

Mie: So, Logie - We've had so much fun this weekend with just you and mie and daddy and (little miss).  Do you like having 2 kids or do you want to have more? 
L: I want to have more.  I want to have 4.
Mie:  Really?
L: Yes.  I want 4 kids all 4 years old.
Mie: Well how are we going to do that?  (Little Miss) isn't 4, so how do we handle that?
L: We can just sell her and make room to get another one that's 4.

I assure you we had a serious conversation after that about how we don't sell people and we certainly wouldn't get rid of Little Miss like that.  We talked about how we're the only family she knows and how sad that would make us all.  But again, his perspective was kind of funny.  I suppose in that 5 of the 6 kids he's had as siblings left at some point, it seems reasonable that none are permanent and can be exchanged at our leisure.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Foster Parent Friday - How Do You Say Goodbye?

We've already talked a few times about how saying goodbye isn't too hard for us.  As we helped our two newest kiddos transition to their new home this morning (another way of saying they moved), it seems appropriate to talk about the practical things we do to say goodbye. 

1.  Piggies & Paws - As we realized we were in this foster parent gig for the long-haul and we very well could end up being one of those families who've had 70 kiddos or more, we started to think of how we are going to celebrate and remember each of the kiddos we've had in our home.  We thought about portraits hung in our home.  We thought about doing nothing.  We thought about scrapbooks for each kids (I love scrapbooking but seriously I have no time for that).  We decided on getting a Piggies & Paws print done for each of the kiddos who've come into our home.  My cousin is a local artist here and I love what she's able to do (and am happy to support her!).  She takes the hand and/or footprint of the child and turns it into a design.  When you host  or attend a gallery you get to search through what seems to be a couple neverending books of scrumptious creativity.  With all of the options, I've been able to find a print that matches the personality of each of the kiddos we've had in our home.  They are copyrighted, so I can't post the actual images here, but as an example for my one kiddo that LOVED to sleep (a big deal in our home) we had his footprint turned into a little boy in a sleeping bag.  I'm putting each of these in a scrapbook with 2 pages per child - one with their print and one with a picture and some comments to remind us of each child.  So, as soon as I can but definitely before the kiddos go home I find a way to get their prints taken (and my favorite artist has been super accomodating!).

2.  Get their stuff ready.  Imagine you had to move all your kiddos stuff (or your own, if you don't have kiddos) on short notice.  Think about going through the drawers, the cabinets, each room, the closets, all looking for all the stuff that has been put in a random spot, trying to pack it logically for the new home the kiddos are going to.  Now complicate that by having to simultaneously sort out which stuff came with the child (and therefore will be leaving with them for sure) and which stuff we purchased for them.  Then we have to decide which of that stuff will be staying with us and which we will send with them.  As a general rule - things like bathing suits and toothbrushes will go always while blankets or big toys we bought might stay with us.  This is a big task.

3.  Goodbye party.  Our goal is to throw a goodbye party for those people in our life who are really close and have gotten close to the kiddos.  This typically is my sister and her kids and a couple of friends.  Our plan is to take our families to Chuck-E-Cheese and have fun saying goodbye.  It's not a present giving thing, just some time set aside for us to have fun together and take lots of pictures.  And, its a chance for those people in our life who've also opened their hearts to the kids in our life to be able to say goodbye and grieve as they will.  It's probably been hardest on the kids (mine and the cousins) but the adults can get teary-eyed too.  We've only done the Chuck-E-Cheese event once.  We had it planned for kiddo #3 when he went home, but that was the week of the snow events in DFW this year and so CEC was closed, despite our attempts to make it happen.  These last two we only had for 2 weeks so no one was really attached to them and we didn't have a specific going away party.

4.  Family pictures - It's really important to us to have a picture of what our family looked like with each set of kiddos.  We take pictures throughout the year and that way we capture lots of different events and seasons, but we make sure to take one on the day the kiddos are going home or, as in this case, the night before.  This helps us to remember the event and make sure that we have a snapshot of what our family looked like at the moment before they left.  It was St. Patrick's day yesterday - so we were all in green and it turned out really cute.

5.  Everyone participates - It has been important for us that we all get to say goodbye - so on the days the kiddos go home we all stay home from work or school to be there to send the kids off.  This is especially important as we guide our son for them to go home - he is there to say goodbye rather than them just disappearing one day when he's at school. 

6.  Prepare the kiddos - We try to prepare the kids before the caseworker (or whoever else) arrives so that they know what to expect.  All the kiddos have been young (2 or younger), so there's only so much you can do, but we try anyway.  We told our kids this morning  - "Ms. Crystal is going to pick you up today and take you to your new house.  Are you going to be a good girl?  Are you excited?".  Because they are so young we've been able to be excited for them - make it a really positive thing (and in 2/3 cases - it was definitely positive as they returned to family). 

7.  Say Goodbye - This is simple.  We put them in the car to go home.  We kiss them goodbye and tell them to be good.  We smile and wave as they go and tell them to have fun. 

8.  Family Hug - After the kiddos leave my husband and I share one of those long hugs, where we both know each other are shedding a few tears and thats ok.  Actually, only in one case did we shed tears.  This time we were bummed but not really sad and the first time we had cried enough tears already.  But we tell each other something about how we're feeling.  Then we hug some more.  We tell our son how glad we are that he will always stay with us, forever.  We check how he's doing (which has always been fine, at least initially). 

9.  Celebrate! - This morning after the kids left our house was perfectly quiet.  We took a collective sigh of relief (from the work we'd been doing and stress of having 4 kids).  We clean, cook, and do normal stuff that is more difficult the more kiddos we have.  Then we spend as much time as a family with the kiddos that are left reconnecting as a family and making sure the ones that remain still feel super special and loved.  Tonight we went to chick-fil-A and the kids played in the playplace for nearly an hour.  Then I took them to Kohls and shopped for another hour.  You can't really do that with 4 kids under 4.

I hope this helps give you some practical ideas on how to celebrate the future of both the kids who leave your homes and of your family that remains.  Instituting these traditions has helped make the transition for all of us a bit more smooth and something that ends in a celebration rather than misery. 

And for those of you who are wondering - we are absolutely ok with our recent placement going home.  We look forward to a full night's sleep tonight without any infants waking up to eat or being woken up by the little that likes to talk in the middle of the night. 

That is, of course, if we don't get another call tonight.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Working Mama Wednesday - Spring what?

Everyone who's anyone is out celebrating spring break this week, which works out really well for me.  I've been able to leave the house after 7 every morning and get to work just after 8, and that includes stopping at 2 daycares.  No school zones to worry about.  Very little traffic.  It's been bliss and super unstressful.

I had been planning on working from home tomorrow so that I could leave and have a meeting with my professor on campus in the late afternoon, before my class.  So I booked all my phone appointments and scheduled everything so that I could work at home easily and get done early.  Of course, then I realized school is closed and after calling my professor on his cell phone discovered he was out of state on spring break and therefore I just bought myself some extra family time.  YIPPEE!

Even though I have kids and go to school myself full-time, spring break just isn't all that impactful to us.  Not yet anyway!

I wonder what you all are doing for your spring breaks...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday's Tears - Realities of the System

You know by now that we love being foster parents.  There is one huge downfall to being foster parents - by nature it means there are children in need of foster care.

I'm taking a note from Ms. Brit  today in recognizing the tragedy of the system. In this post she comments on another blog written by Campbell that describes the horror of what not only she experienced but that so many others experience as well.  It's a story of a child and her siblings who were removed and repeatedly placed back with the parents over and over again until after years parental rights were terminated, leaving this child without a permanent home at an age where many people, even those who are involved in orphan care, aren't willing to consider adoption.  I implore you to read it from her words as I could never do it justice.

I've explained before how the state (Texas) has 12-18 months to find the child a permanent home.  Put another way, parents have more than a year to clean up before rights are terminated, and it takes a lot to terminate parental rights.  In court last week there was a case where the judge met with children behind closed chambers.  They were so afraid to see whoever it was that was in the courtroom (mother, father, etc.) that they were seen running through the hallway frantically looking out to make sure that person couldn't see them (of course the judge had taken care of that for them).  Whatever it was that they were there for was so bad that the judge called the case back up and loudly proclaimed to the D.A. several times "I want charges filed today.  Do you understand me?  Today".  This is very, very rare.  Most parents don't face charges when they neglect their children or worse.

Did the judge terminate rights in that case?  No.  They set another status update for 3 months away. 

Let's take a drug case.  I can't tell you how many drug cases I've seen, most of which have been linked to neglect.  Most of the cases I can think of off the top of my head started off with a phrase like "this parent has already lost custody of XX children".  Let's say the parent loses the child to temporary state custody.  The state will provide the parents with counseling, treatment, parenting classes, etc.  Many times they get an attorney.  So let's say they do all that and 6 months later they have been clean for 3-4 months.  They might get their child(ren) back with what's called a "monitored return" where CPS stays involved.  This seems like a good thing.

But 6 months later after having the CPS case dismissed, the parents relapse.  The case doesn't leave off where it started.  It's a new case.  Sure, they might note the history, but a new 12 months occurs.  This time the parents disappear to the streets for 4 months before showing up and getting clean.  This time because the parents had a documented history they expect more than 6 months of sobriety, so they plan to wait 7, 8, 9 months.  At month 10, parents have a brief relapse but quickly get clean again.  So, what does CPS do?  Should they terminate rights because the 12 month mark is approaching or do they give the parents a chance, yet again, because now they are clean and "working on it". 

And that doesn't even begin to get into the abuse cases where the parents work with the system so much that they get good at hiding it.  So there are no marks.  There is no evidence, just the child's report with nothing corroborating it.  What do you do then? ...

I'm over-simplifying things of course, but the reality is there are kids out there who don't have good parents.  Whether they are sick or evil (and both do exist out there!) the kids are innocent victims who have no choice in the matter.  Usually though, they still love their parents.  They have a dream that their parents will get well and "love them enough" to do what it takes to get them back.  Sadly, when things don't work out the message they learn is that they aren't loved enough by their parents.

Foster care is a way to help.  I've said it before - I think many, many more parents can help by providing foster care than actually do.  Most are afraid or nervous or just don't think it's "for them".  But even then foster care is second best to a loving biological family.  No matter how much healing takes place in a foster family (assuming its a good one!) there is always the reality that this child faced a situation in which they entered foster care. 

We get told all the time how great we are for being foster parents.  How amazing it is that we'd open our home to that. 

After reading through Cambell's story and seeing all we've seen, how could we not?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Moolah Monday - Adoption Leave

With the pending arrival of the new baby that may or may not arrive in our home, we've found ourselves with a financial dilemma I couldn't have predicted.  I'm confident that if this all does work out so that we have a new baby in 4 months that God could and did predict the financial situation so it will all work out fine, but in the meantime it's made me consider things I've never thought about before.

If you've been lucky enough like me to have given birth to a healthy baby, you may recall that you had some time to plan for that baby's arrival - typically 8-9 months.  When we finally got pregnant, we had been trying for a while.  Add that to a healthy pregnancy and we had a good amount of time to plan and save.  This put us in a good position so that as we got closer to his birth we were able to buy the things we needed for him and had saved enough for me to stay home with him for 13 weeks - the full 12 weeks allowed by FMLA and an extra week which happened to be the last of the year, between Christmas & New Years.  We also had saved enough to pay for almost all of the medical bills as soon as they came in, which were more than I had thought they would be (particularly with an intervention-free, medicine-free birth!).

Foster and adoptive placements count as FMLA eligible events, which means that both Jason and I would qualify for up to 12 weeks off without penalty to care for any of our children when they are placed.  To date, I have not used any FMLA time, though I have taken off 1-day on average for the 1st 4 kiddos that were placed with us.  That means that with new baby I'd have the opportunity to take off the full 12-weeks if I wanted to.  With our other placements, I haven't felt it necessary to take any official time off but with new baby it will be different.  The thought is new baby will come home with us from the hospital (we'll see), which means we'll have a 2-day old baby that will need care just like any other baby.  I can't just arrange for childcare.  Can't drop it off a day later at a daycare facility.  Please hear me - I wouldn't want to do that anyway (note Logan didn't go to daycare until he was 8 months old and that was part time) - but in this case it isn't even an option.  I'll need to take off at least 6 weeks and if I could take off 12 that would be ideal.

Unfortunately, we've got into this game a little late to plan for me to take 12 weeks off work.  Let's say I use my vacation time - 3 weeks - that leaves me with 9 weeks that we would have to cover financially.  At this point, its important to remember that in a typical birth situation the mother (if she works) would receive 6 weeks disability pay (8 weeks for c-section).  If I had that, it would mean I would only have to cover another 3 weeks of pay to make a 12 week leave happen.  Worst case scenario I could do that with credit cards, which you know we don't use but you get the point that it would be doable. 

The problem is, there is no disability pay for adoptive parents.  I'd argue obviously that makes sense and I'm not here to fight for "employee rights" for paid-time off for adoptions.  I'm just stating the obvious that I'd never considered before that is new to me as a potential adoptive mom - if you adopt a baby you really have to be prepared financially!  Of course, most folks who adopt from domestic private adoption or international sources are already aware how expensive adoption can be.  Then again those processes can take a long, long time to occur.  Typically with a foster-to-adopt placement you usually don't have much notice, but you also don't get brand-new baby. 

So, here we are - 4 months to go needing to find about 10-20K.  Saving & Frugality...here we come.  Donations welcome :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Say What (?!?) Sunday - I Will Miss You Mommy

At his cousins house recently, Logie's cousins were trying to get him to spend the night.  They had asked me when he wasn't around but then in the background I heard:

Cousin M: Logie, do you want to spend the night?
L: Well, uh, I'll need to ask my mom.

(I'm so proud!)

Cousin M: Don't worry, we already asked her.
L: Mommy, can I spend the night with my cousins?
Mie: Do you want to?
L: Yes
Mie: Sure Logie, that sounds fun. *HUG* Eww Logie, you need to take a shower tonight.
L: Ok mommy, I'll come home with you.

(Cousins go crazy)

Cousin A: But Log we have a bathtub!
Mie: Logie you don't have to come home, you just need to take a shower.
L: But mommy, I would miss you SOOO much and I don't like to miss you.

I talked him into sleeping over because he'd have so much fun.  And because it wasn't his turn to sleep in our bed that night.  And, because I promised that it would be a short night because there would be one less hour that night due to the time change.  It worked, and I had time to catch up on school work.

Sleepless Toddlers are Popular

Readership has skyrocketed since the beginning of the year when I revamped the blog.  Interestingly though the most popular post on this blog remains Sleep Habits of a Toddler, a post I wrote more than 3 years ago.  When I review the stats for the blog I consistently see 10 views on this post per day, most of which come from a browser (Google) search. 

This tells me one thing - sleepless toddlers are pretty popular.  Based on the key word searches that lead people to that post it is apparent the people involved in the search are most likely moms who are frustrated with their kiddos sleep patterns and are looking for tips to get their kids to sleep.

I recently ran into someone at work who years ago talked with me about my sleepless son.  If I remember correctly, his daughter at the time was 4 or 5 and still struggled with sleep.  The first thing he asked me when we ran into each other was how my son was sleeping - his 7 year old still sometimes struggles, he says.  It made me chuckle - when your kiddos don't sleep very well whether they are babies, toddlers, or older it really can be impactful and memorable.  And long-lasting.

Our son now typically sleeps through the night, contrary to the article that spurred my popular post.  I don't rock him to sleep and he doesn't use any kind of noise distraction to help him sleep (like music, like he used to use).  He doesn't use a pacifier.  He typically sleeps alone and does just fine.

He does still struggle with going to sleep some nights, especially when daddy is home.  He doesn't need a nap and that messes up his ability to go to sleep early at night during the week.  And, of course, one of the ways we get him to do really good sleeping at night by himself is to allow him to sleep in our bed every other night.  It works out that he sleeps in his bed more than half the time, but he is encouraged to try really hard to sleep "like a good boy" in his bed when he can look forward to sleeping in mommy and daddy's bed the next night.

And we still know two things - 1) He will sleep just fine at some point & 2) That point in our mind is no more than 13 1/2 years away.

So for all of my readers who've found me by trying to find hope for their sleepless toddlers - take heart.  You're not alone, and your baby will sleep good through the night soon.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Foster Parent Friday - How long will they stay with you?

I get this question a lot.  It is especially common when we get new kiddos.  It's probably one of the toughest questions to answer as a foster parent hoping to adopt.  It's actually an impossible question to answer - kind of like predicting how long it will take to get new kids - but that isn't the hard part.  The hardest part about dealing wfith that question is that it acts as a constant reminder that our kiddos aren't ours - and they can go home at any minute.

Nevertheless I'll try to give you an answer.  The easiest way to answer it is to refer to the rules in Texas which require (in lamens terms) children who enter foster care to have the case resolved toward a permanent home within 12 months.  In extreme circumstances the state can extend that timeline to 18 months, so generally my answer is "I don't know - they could be with us for up to 12-18 months".  Of course, as an adoptive licensed home, we could potentially be the permanent home for some of the kids, so they could be with us forever I guess.

With the exception of kids who are placed specifically for the purpose of adoption, a foster parent really never knows how long the kid will be there, at least up until the point they leave or the adoption papers are signed.  Until then, no matter what is said or promised there is a potential for the kids to go home at any time.  All of our kiddos have been emergency placements, which means they were taken directly from their home and placed with ours as their first foster home.  Usually the state has attempted at this point to find and approve a kinship placement because they want the children to stay within the family or at least close circle of friends as a first choice.  In all of our cases so far the family members suggested by the parents have been inappropriate or have declined to be involved when the child(ren) was (were) originally removed.  Even when the kinship placements originally suggested were disqualified in the beginning, the state continues to look for other family or friends that are qualified.  They have first priority as long as the kids would be safe.  So, in the case where the were placed on emergency and in the next few weeks they found a safe family home, they could be gone in just a few weeks.

Of course sometimes finding a family placement takes longer.  Other times family or friends decline to participate at first because they don't want to get involved or are trying to help their family member face the consequences of their actions (as in drug abuse cases).  After a while though, when the state begins the process of terminating parental rights and the family realizes the children will placed up for adoption and removed from the family permanently they might step up and agree to be the child's permanent home.  So, as you can see at any point up until the rights are terminated a foster placement might be removed from the foster parents home.

Even after rights have been terminated the child could still be removed from the foster home.  Certainly if the foster parent doesn't want to adopt the state will find an adoptive home and the child will be moved when that is found.  But even when a foster parent has agreed to adopt after rights have been terminated there is still a period of time where the child can be removed.  There are 3 months after termination before an adoption can be finalized so that an interested party (grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, etc.) can step up to the court and ask for custody. 

As you can see, there is no way to know how long a child is going to stay when they are placed.  If you are a foster-only home, this may not be that big of a deal, other than for planning purposes.  When you are an "adoption motivated" foster home this can be quite painful.  Currently we have a child in our home that we hope to adopt.  Termination hearing is set.  Mediation is planned.  Several people involved in the case including all attorneys, the state, the judge, and various family members unofficially support us adopting in this case.  We now know it could be no less than 6 months before we could adopt her.  For the next 6 months, no matter how much everyone says adoption will happen in this case, until the last day we have to be aware that they might go home.  Any day we could get that call and any day we could be forced to say goodbye to a child we've tentatively thought we might be adopting. 

In the meantime we are simultaneously getting excited about an adoption sometime at the end of summer for our family that will very likely include not only the one child but also the baby who is due sometime around July.  A baby whom we need to plan for but can't get too excited about.

For reference - here's the length of time we had each of our cases.

Case 1 - 9 weeks total - we were told they were potentially going home after 4 weeks and for sure after 8.
Case 2 - 7 1/2 months - we knew there was a relative placement available after 4 weeks but it was out of state so they chose not to send him there.  We knew for sure he was going home after 5 months, then for the last 7 weeks he had weekend visits with his family up until the day he went home.
Case 3 - Potential adoptive placement - After 2 months we received a call to say that this child was going home to a relative placement.  3 days later that placement was disqualified and the decision was overturned.  Since then there have been several attempts to verify family members as potential placements.  Officially turned toward adoption after 7 months.  Rights might be terminated by 10 months.  We would have until 13 months before adoption could happen. 
Case 4 - We've only had them for 10 days at this point and the plan is, as usual, 12-18 months.  That being said, we know they will most likely leave our home on or before the new baby was born in July because we couldn't have that baby and these kids due to licensing standards that I'll explain at some point.

So while most people think that having the kids go home is the hardest part, in my mind it isn't.  The hardest part is not knowing whether they will stay permanently or go home.  This however puts us in the place where we have to let go of our own will and trust that God's will is good and perfect and better than anything we could have ever planned.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Working Mama Wednesday - Dessert Tonight

apple crumble pie slice

I'm totally looking forward to Marie Callendar's Dutch Apple Pie when I get home with a scoop or two of ice cream on top.  Yum!  That's just heaven.

That's all for today :)

Monday, March 07, 2011

Foster Parent Friday - How Long Does It Take to Get Kids?

You'll remember last week I promised to answer this question. 

How apropos.  We just received a new placement late last night. (ahem...I did write this on Friday, just forgot to post)

This was one of the most challenging thing for us as we first became licensed.  The reality is that you could get a call at any minute, but you may not get a call for weeks or months.  In our experience, it has really been varied.  Here's how it worked:
  • Placement 1 - 1 week after we were licensed.
  • Placement 2 - 12 days, but we started getting calls 5 days after we had an opening.
  • Placement 3 - 6 weeks after placement 2, but we did have 2 opportunities that didn't work out between that time.
  • Placement 4 - 26 days
So, there you have it.  It generally doesn't take very long once you have an opening before you get kiddos.  It literally could be a matter of hours, days, or months.  You can also choose, if you wish, to not put yourself on the list right away if you need a bit of a break.  I'd recommend that if you felt like you needed one because it is highly possible you could get a call right away and there's nothing wrong with taking a break.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Thankful Thursday - Super Blessed

Wow - the last two days have been nuts for us in totally good ways.  We've been asked to adopt our little one - and her unborn sibling, we've been asked to also consider adopting a different sibling group we considered at the end of last year, and we just accepted a new placement of two little girls.  The life we lead is crazy.

Here's how it is going to work - we'll keep the kiddos we have for now, we'll continue managing our current case moving toward adoption and, preferably adoption of that unborn sibling (but that would be, well, a pregnancy length away), and in the meantime be considered for the straight adoption.  One scenario could be that we all agree to adopt the sibling group that we're being considered for (a 3 yo and a 2 yo), in the meantime the foster placement we just accepted would go home or to a kinship placement, and then a few months later we bring home the newborn and finalize adoption of our little girl and her sibling.

In any case - we have the serious possibility of adopting 4 kiddos before the end of the year.

Earlier this week I posted on Facebook about how hard this year would be, or could be, as our little Logie approaches 5 and we don't have any more biological children.  I'm guessing that if we did end up facing the situation I described above that I won't be worrying about that much.

I'm so super thankful for all of it.  Most importantly, I'm thankful that we have a faith that has brought us through some really hard times in terms of infertility and all of the tradgedy we faced in 2011.  I'm thankful we have a God who knows better than we ever could and guides our steps, and that He has trusted us with just a little bit of His plan. 

On top of it all, I was given a new position today with another pay raise that is nothing to sneeze at.  In a bad economy, on a bad performance appraisal.  There's no reason we "deserve" this more than anyone else - we are just a funnel God is using to care for his sheep and he is providing for all of us through it.

And I'm super thankful this Thursday.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Working Mama Wednesday - Mama's Night Out

For safety reasons I won't get into exactly what our family's schedule is, but I can say that it isn't "normal" and this really sucks sometimes.  It would be nice to do the "normal" family thing where we spend the usual family hours together, like weeknights and weekends.  We probably spend about 12-14 family hours a week, which works out to less than 2 hours per day and I'll say we don't have time together some days at all.  We make it work and truth be told this has always been our life since we were married.

There are benefits to having an unusual schedule though.  When we do have family time, we don't take it for granted and make sure it is what I call targeted family time - intentional time spent as a family and a married couple.  We don't really waste our time on things that some families spend their time on - typically our chores are done separately as are our individual hobbies.  This makes some chores difficult and boring - it's nice to have someone doing chores with you - but instead we play games and take walks and play with our kiddos.  It works out well.  My husband gets time away from the family to play the video games he likes; I get the time to do my schoolwork without feeling like I'm taking away time from my family (of course, that would be true if my son went to bed before 11pm). 

One of the benefits is that sometimes when it would be normal "couple time", like parents-night-out-type events, I sometimes get to take advantage of them for me time.  I haven't had the opportunity recently, but when my husband was on another schedule I used to get a Friday night off each month to do whatever I wanted to do.  My favorite thing to do was to go out and get Sushi from Kroger, baked potato soup, a large Coke from Taco Bueno and some cinnamon chips, then sit down in front of the tv watching whatever I wanted to watch while working on scrapbooking through the wee hours of the morning.  I loved it!  It was just enough of a break to help me recuperate from being a working mama.

Sometime soon I'm going to get a similar opportunity.  Not sure exactly what I'm going to do - maybe I'll go out with friends, maybe I'll hide out and do homework in peace, maybe I'll find something else to do - we'll see.  It's amazing what a working mama can accomplish in a few hours.

One thing I know - I'll probably get some sushi.