Friday, September 09, 2011

Foster Parent Friday - Issues with Labeling

*Sorry for my absence - I caught some cold and have been in bed for a week*

Q: When you take your children to daycare/school/babysitter, etc. and they ask for your to label your children's things, how do you do it?

A: What a great question - so glad you asked! 

No, people do not ask.  I've never been asked this question - ok, maybe once.  But let me tell you something - I wish everyone asked because it would mean people were thinking about it, which would make my life a whole heck of a lot easier.  Or at least I'd have some sympathy rather than feeling like the worst parent ever.

If you've ever taken your child somewhere where you need to leave their things with them (school, church, etc.) for a while you're familiar with the drill - make sure you label all of their things with their name so that it can be returned properly.  Our church actually provides a little table, sharpies, and tape so that parents who haven't yet done so can properly mark their child's belongings - the bottles, the clothes, the blankets, the diaper bags, etc. - before the child is dropped off.  This usually makes life easier for everyone - the parents have a better chance of getting their stuff back, the caregivers have an easier time tracking what belongs to whom, and there's just a better chance of less chaos when stuff has a correct name on it. 

I get it - but I am the exception to the rule.  This whole labeling thing just puts my life in chaos big time as a foster parent.  It's not that I don't want to label my things, I just don't know how to label them properly and it really is a unique situation to foster parents.  I'd rather take the chance of losing something than label it.

Case in point - recently I was doing laundry and found #8's name written in big black sharpie across her delicate pink crib sheet and cuddle blankie.  I'm talking big like 6 inches tall and 2ft wide.  Her school had done this because they didn't see it labeled.  Now, nevermind the fact that someone shouldn't write in permanent marker across something like a cuddle blankie without first talking to the parent, I actually understand (a little) why they did it. (I'll pause to say that when I complained to the teacher she was sincerely surprised that I was upset about it - she said "You mean, you don't want me to write on her things", am I alone here?)(I'll also pause to say the school director understood my concern, especially since in this case I had already embroidered a name beautifully but discreetly on an edge - you know how much work it takes for me to embroider on crib sheets with 4 kids? ....).

Back to the story though - I get it.  They wanted to identify the blanket and make sure it arrived back to its rightful owner.  Which would be nice especially since my blanket for #7 disappeared a while ago and I got this stretched out version of someone else's ratty blanket and my beautifully embroidered sheet has never been seen again and they claim this one is mine.  But I digress...

I have 3 kiddos that go to this particular school and between the sheets they need for school and the sheets they need for home, how do I label their sheets?  Do I put their first name on their sheets?  Well, practically speaking that would mean I'd need to make sure I correctly put each sheet in the appropriate bag and the appropriate bed each week - that's 6 sheets to keep track of plus the extra that I have in the house to rotate out easily.  That in and of itself wouldn't put me over the edge, but the bigger issue is - what happens when the child leaves?  These are things that I'm responsible for buying and maintaining and when a new kiddo comes along they'll either have to use a blanket that is embroidered with someone else's name (which wouldn't help the teachers and would really suck for the kids) or, I'd have to go out and buy new stuff.

If it were only sheets, that's one thing.  I usually send the kids home with at least some of the stuff I purchased for them, but where does it stop?  Their winter coats?  Their diaper bags?  All of their clothes?  All of their bottles?  Their strollers?  Their car seats?  You get my point...just like a parent uses some items for multiple children it makes sense for us to use some of our kiddos things for multiple kids - especially since some of our kids are only with us for a very short period of time.  (I bought some clothes for #5 &; #6 thinking they'd stay but since they didn't they never wore them and I have them waiting for another placement). 

Parents of more than one kiddo have figured this out - write the last name on the items and then it will work out for all of them.  Of course you see at least part of our issue here - which last name?

All of my 4 kiddos have different last names.  Some places, like church, we use our last name for them for safety reasons - people know our last name and that the children belong with us, not someone else.  This helps folks because our kiddos do change out from time to time and if they see our last name and someone else pick them up at least they can question it.  So, if we put their true last name it might work at school but not at church and furthermore the same issue would arise about having to purchase new things for each kid.

Alternatively - we could use our last name.  I actually like this option.  I can put our last name on things that we intend to keep - sheets, diaper bags, etc. - and then if they go to church they know it's ours.  If they go to school they at least know our last name and can tie it to us.  It can be used for more than one kiddo because we don't tend to change our last name.

Then there's a big problem - visits.  If we put our last name on the diaper bag - the parents will get our last name, something we don't share for safety reasons.  Even if we are the most careful people in the world and make sure when WE transport to visits we use a special bag for visits (which, by the way is darn near impossible in our world, especially if everything has to be labeled), who's to say the transporter will be that careful.  Who's to say the teacher won't throw in the kiddos blankie when the transporter comes to pick them up?  You get my drift.  It's hard enough as it is trying to make sure we remove any check-in sheets from church or school-identifying things from their diaper bags let alone try to manage all the things that should be labeled.

It's mind boggling.  It really is.  So I don't label (except for the sheets which I did embroider because they won't go to visits).  But then, because I don't label, I get the comments from various caregivers about how they "had to put tape on the cup because her name wasn't there" or worse, I get black sharpie across the middle of a cuddle blankie. 

And y'all - that gets old.  I have 4 kiddos who are often in 4 classes, who belong to 4 different dads, 3 moms, 2 caseworkers, 4 classes at church, 4 classes at 2 different schools.  It gets old. 

So, what to do?  Any suggestions? 

I do like this idea with pictures but no names- but it will only work for certain things like the diaper bags, not smaller things like clothes, pacifiers, bottles, etc.  These are great and might work - but I'm concerned about how interchangeable they'd be, especially with how our kiddos change.  It would require that I pay more attention to which kid gets which cup each morning - not sure I'm up for that.

It's the little things that can get you.  And a testament to why foster parents need a good support system, preferably with other foster parents to help sort out issues like this with other people who truly get why this is an issue without having to be told.  Friends as such are a great relief.

*End Rant* And, apologies to those who are interested in the much more serious issue of Labeling with foster children in terms of what being a "foster child" can do to a developing self-image.  I needed a lighter yet very real topic for today.


Penelope said...

I understand your predicament. Day care wrote Stinkpot's name hugely acrosss his baby blanket. Fortunately, it eventually washed out after a number of months...
I label with masking tape but not very permanent.

Their Mom said...

Have you thought about assigning a number or symbol to your family name? I could be like a code that only daycare and the church nursery could break. If you did it right it could even be like a family logo.

Mie said...

I have thought about the symbol idea - maybe using even something as simple as a triangle or something. I think that's what I'm going to have to do...

Tammy (aka. "Mimi") said...

That's crazy that people think to write on blankets! The TAG on the blanket, MAYBE... But ON THE BLANKET?!? That's nuts!

I foster infants/toddlers, and used to label bottles, bowls, sippy cups, etc. with a Sharpie. I now have items with MULTIPLE children's names on them. My daycare started using masking tape for me. Luckily, they've had all of my past kiddos too, so regardless of whose name pops up, they seem to know it's mine. :-)