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.