Monday, April 30, 2012

Moolah Monday - Weekend Catch-up and a Stolen Identity

Welcome new friends!  I love guest blogging from time-to-time so I can say hello to new friends. 

I’m going to rant a bit today.  Is that ok?  Do you all want to hear my tales of the weekend? 


(That’s what I heard you say…)

Alrighty – so this weekend I worked hard.  I was rudely apologetically awakened from a blissful sleep by my hubby letting mie know our schedule for the day was now changed and now, in addition to what I had planned for the morning routine I had to add driving 40 minutes round-trip to get my son’s baseball gear from hubby’s car because somehow it ended up there instead of with mie in my car, so I better get up now.  He was right – I now had 2 ½ hours to:

  • Wake-up & get myself ready
  • Get the 3 littles up and ready (remember they are 1, 2, and 3); Logan was with his auntie for cousin time.
  • Get the littles & 2 dogs in the mini-van
  • Drive to drop the dogs off at the new groomer – which means I also had to bring their shot records and fill out all the paperwork

Pause – have you ever tried to bring a 1, 2, & 3 year old into the groomer with 2 60lb dogs?  About that – pet stores don’t seem to have multi-kid carts and even if they did pushing a full one AND holding the leash for 120 pounds worth of excitable dog is a bit much.  But I survived.

  • Drive for 20-25 minutes to get baseball gear out of hubby’s car.
  • Drive for 20-25 minutes back to the hometown baseball park for Logan’s game.  Auntie was taking care of making sure he’d get there on time – but I had his glove, helmet, and bat, and he’s a lefty, so it didn’t really help much to have him there without that stuff.

Did you see breakfast in there?  No?  Yeah that’s because I forgot breakfast.  Kids don’t really let you forget breakfast.  So I stopped at Chick-Fil-A on the way back from hubby’s car.

When I got to the window to pay I had about 13 minutes before Logan’s game started.  It was nearly 10 am and my 3 littles hadn’t had breakfast yet.  You could imagine the chaos, though at least the dogs were out of the car by now.  Anyway – the nice lady swiped the card several times and then told mie “I’m sorry, you’re card isn’t working – it’s not that you don’t have any money in there it just isn’t reading the strip”.  Both my husband and sister are calling at the same time.  More chaos.  I said I don’t have any more money and asked my hubby, who’s now on the phone, if he can stop and pay for mie, since he would be passing by.  I already had half the food in my car and I told them I don’t have anything else to pay with.  Plus it was odd that the magnetic strip wasn’t working – the card is brand new – I just got it 2-3 weeks ago, the 4th card since February.  Seeing my frustration another person comes up to type in the numbers and eventually he tells mie that didn’t work either.  Finally I say “what exactly is it saying?”.  He says – declined.  So, I ask him if my husband can stop and pay.  I ask my husband to stop and pay.  I leave with the food.  I now have like 6 minutes to get to my son’s game which is still several miles away.  And all the kids are screaming.  I’m not giving that food back.  Especially since I know my account still has a lot of money in it because I haven’t spent my bonus or tax refund yet.

I drive like the wind to the game and make it at 9:59 – literally just in time for my nephew to run my son’s stuff to him as he took the field. 

Guess who calls mie during the game?  The bank – twice.  I finally got to speak with them after the game.  They run through some transactions – “declined at chick-fil-a in (nearby city) at about 10am”.  Approved at rite aid drug store in santa clarita, CA at about 10am. 

Hold up.  First, we don’t have rite-aid near us.  Second, I no longer live in CA, never lived in Santa Clarita but no where it is, and it is at least 1500 miles away from where I am now.  Third, no matter your mode of transportation there is no way to simultaneously swipe your card at Chick-Fil-A in nearby city and Rite-Aid in Santa Clarita.  And there lies the problem with the card.

You heard mie say I just got this card 2-3 weeks ago?  And that it’s the 4th one since February?  Yep.  That’s right.  Lucky mie!  #1 was the original, #2 was the replacement after #1 was compromised somehow so says the bank, #3 was the temporary card I received after misplacing #2 only days after it arrived, and #4 was the ‘permanent’ replacement for #2 which as it turns out wasn’t so permanent.  Thankfully I still have #3 (and #2 for that matter – because it hasn’t been long enough for mie to properly dispose of it!) so I have debit (but not credit) access to my account.  I asked the fraud lady what the heck is going on since this will now be card #5 in 3 months.  We’re not irresponsible with our cards and the problems have appeared to have been on the bank’s end with breached security, nevertheless the lady tells mie “maybe it could be one of the places you are frequenting”.  Um no.  So then she says that earlier in the week they had a security breach and that could be the cause.  I actually had read that in an online news article and though “there’s NO WAY I’d be so lucky to go through this again”.  Turns out I’m wrong and I am, actually, that fortunate.

They only got $8 and that will be refunded.  It could have been much, much worse if it weren’t for the fact that I was simultaneously using my card in two places 1500 miles apart (except actually I was only using my card in one place). 

The most annoying part about it all is that I won’t have access to my funds, which leaves mie at drive through windows without cash (because I never have any) and without a way to pay for my food and more importantly having to deal with changing all my auto-pay accounts to the new number.  This is seriously irritating.  I have to go through all of them and re-sign up for the 3rd or 4th time with the new card in as many months, except I can’t actually do that yet because I don’t have the new number.  So then I have to make a one-time payment to the various places with pay-pal, my hubby’s card, or *gasp* a check.  Inevitably I will miss something and I will get a late notice or an “oops” notice.  I can tell you Netflix is pretty creative with their “oops” notice.  I know – I’ve been lucky enough to see it for each of the last 3 payments. 

I’m beginning to think that the people I am paying are going to think that I am the one using a stolen card and that’s why I’m changing the numbers so frequently.  I don’t know if they’re that savvy but it wouldn’t surprise mie to see a fraud investigator show up to my house wondering what the hayride is going on with my cards.  Thankfully I should get a new “permanent” card in about 5 days.  I will be putting the temporary card (#3) in safekeeping, just-in-case.

So this all happens by 10am.  Before the day was done I also:
  • Walked with the kids to a baby shower (without a gift, of course)
  • Watched 2 kids (1 and 2 years old)
  • Went to the bank to get some cash
  • Went to McD’s for chicken nuggets to feed the 1, 1, 2, 2, and 3 year olds I was toting.
  • Took all 5 littles to Home Depot for front-yard landscaping materials.  Yes I did!  And I got plenty of stares.
  • Gave the littles a nap
  • Re-landscaped my front yard planting areas.  This included pruning all the overgrown bushes, clearing out the bedding which was overgrown with grass, and planting about 30 new plants
  • Let the kids play in the front yard (twice)
  • Dressed the kids in bathing suits and let them play in the water (as I watered the new plants) – they also had the option to play in the dirt, which the littlest ones did happily.
  • Picked-up the dogs from the groomer
  • Did 2 or 3 loads of laundry
  • Vacuumed my bedroom
  • And a few other things…

I was physically exhausted. 

So how was your weekend?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday's Tears - A Crying Kind of Day

I’m in a crying mood today.  I’m upset about something that happened at work for the 800th time.  I’m disheartened because I tried to talk to my hubby about it and he chose bad timing to practice something else – telling me what was posted on the doors at school when he picked up the kids.  (That would have been noteworthy, exceptional, and all that jazz except I was literally mid sentence, in tears, extolling my misery).  I’m confronted by the fact that he told me I was just whining and he’s tired of it.  I’m grateful we had a good dialogue about it all and ended up cuddling together on the couch, once again on the same page and committed to working together.

Really though I’m in a crying mood because I’m more emotionally available.  I have a great ability to focus when I want to and my recent journey to the forest of doctoral comps managed to steal my focus from what I believe are more important things in life – like my kids and my house and my family and my friends. 

And making bows.  I have a lot of bows to make – but that will be discussed another day.  (Anyone have a request?  I’m happy to make you one if you let me know the colors you’d like and, if you’re patient on timing J)

Bow making materials - look carefully and you can see some blue and purple neatly organized in  baggies on the right - they're all neatly organized now but I have a ton of ribbon to make a ton of bows!
Baseball bows for the girls.  My hubby has actually made some of these with mie.  God bless that man!
I love being an emotional being.  I love feeling.  I’m more thinking-oriented if you’re familiar with Jung’s work, but I have a very sensitive, intuitive side of mie that feels deeply.  I love being joyful.  I love being overwhelmed with empathy.  I love that I can’t watch a movie that’s even remotely violent without actually feeling the punches or kicks or whatever.  It makes mie who I am. 

I never want to lose that sensitivity but it leads to vulnerability.  Because I can feel I can get hurt easily.  Because I feel deeply the hurt can be more intense than the average Joe, or so it seems.  The natural tendency is to avoid pain whenever possible.  It takes a conscious choice to allow for vulnerability – to trust, to love, to open up and share – knowing the possibility exists and is great sometimes that I will be hurt, and I don’t like to be hurt.

But in that vulnerability is the potential for great joy.  I find it interesting that this is Mie, not foster mom Mie, not mom Mie, just Mie, who I am and yet the corollary to foster parenting is so apparent.

Today I choose joy.  I may be hurt in the process but I choose to feel and express joy.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Return From the Land of Doctoral Comprehensive Exams

I am officially back from the jungle that is doctoral comprehensive exams.  I am alive, thriving, and seriously hoping I’ll never have to do that again. 

The instructions said I’m not allowed to talk to anyone about the exams except for my major professor.  I’m not sure if that refers to “never talking to anyone about it again in my life” or if it just meant that I’m not allowed to ask other people for the answers.  So, as I describe the process I’ll try to keep that in mind, being reasonable but erring on the side of caution.

In my program, “comps” are a take-home exam.  Students are given 2 weeks to answer 4-6 questions, per committee member, in sufficient detail to answer question completely.  I have 4 committee members but was blessed with a “fewer than average” questions-per-committee member average.  I was asked to complete the questions in 7-10 days, rather than the 14 I was allowed to take, because they wanted me to get them turned in in-time to get them approved so that I could propose my dissertation.  They also wanted me to finish my proposal.

By the end of the first 5 days I had answered half of the questions.  I was finally on a roll and making good progress.  Then I hit the weekend, a busy weekend despite how much I tried to arrange for it to be less busy, and I didn’t make as much progress.  In fact, after finishing half of the questions I didn’t make any more progress on my comps for 3 days.  Instead I had to finish my proposal so I could send it out to my committee for review.  I also had to prepare for and complete an 8-hour testing process for work that spanned 3 days.  (and I have a family to take care of, and…).  So by Tuesday I was freaking out a little bit.  Or a lot.  I had finally finished all the OTHER stuff I needed to do but found myself staring at the computer, paper, and books upon books without anything to write.  I only had 2 days left until the time they asked me to get this all done.  I hadn’t made progress in 3 days so it was feeling insurmountable.

I cried.  I begged my husband to love mie still if I quit the program.  If I just stopped pursuing this Ph.D. and returned to normal life.  I laid on his shoulder for several minutes.  I despaired.  I was wishing he would turn and tell mie to go ahead and quit, that he loves mie and will always love mie and yeah, I don’t need to finish.

That’s not what he did or said.

Instead, he told mie that he would love mie if I quit or if I finished.  Then he told mie that I needed to get out of the house – that he knew what I needed because he pays attention – and that he was going to take care of the kids for the night while I went somewhere else to work on my papers.  The only thing was that I had to be back by 8:20 or so to spend a few minutes with Logan and put him to bed (something he knew I wanted to do). 

So I took my bag o’ books and my teary-eyed face down to the local McDonalds that has free wi-fi and used to have comfy seating.  Used to as in I’d done this before when writing a paper and found it very helpful.  Used to as in they’ve remodeled since and the furniture is not nearly as comfy.

Of the 4 tables being used when I arrived there was a mother/grandmother eating with a young child and 3 other women clearly working on school-related work.  I found this funny.  The non-school folks got up soon after I arrived so I settled in where they used to be.  I made progress.  Tons of progress.  My hubby sent mie pictures of each kiddo playing at the Chick-Fil-A playplace, having a blast.  I only wrote 1 ½ pages while I was there but I’d finally gotten into my groove again and felt I’d be able to finish.  I was hopeful again. 

As it turns out I was able to finish.  I wrapped up my answers shortly before midnight on Thursday night and then did a bit of editing before turning them in on Friday.  In the end I’d written 78 pages in 10 days. 

I’m hopeful that I did well – at least well enough to pass.  I’m not sure how exactly I’ll find out if I passed or not.  I really don’t care, except if they tell mie I didn’t pass I may just quit.  Maybe but probably not.  There would be nothing like going to graduate school for 3 years to earn a Masters degree and 4 more years to earn a Ph.D. only to drop out with half the dissertation done because you don’t want to do comps.  That’s how much I’ve feared and hate comps. 

Hopefully it doesn’t come to that because my dissertation proposal is now scheduled for 5/7, which will allow mie to work on my dissertation over the summer, defend it in the fall…

Monday, April 16, 2012

Moolah Monday - Tax Update

I submitted my taxes several weeks ago but had to do so by mail because we were claiming the adoption tax credit and that required documentation that had to be produced physically.  We knew with that alone we'd have a longer wait time to see our refund and, furthermore, we expected to see a problem with claiming our foster kiddos.  

We got these cryptic letters last week that our refund was being held pending a verification of our income, deductions, and credits.  So, essentially our file was being reviewed in greater detail than the average filing.  That's ok - we expected that to some degree because they had to verify the veracity of the adoption paperwork.  They said it would take about 45 more days.

The next day we received about half of what we expected to receive back as a refund automatically deposited into our account.  This stumped us as we tried to determine how they decided to give us that amount back.

Last Monday we received another letter for them.  I knew what it was going to say - that our refund was being adjusted because our dependents were already claimed.

I was wrong.

It said that our refund was being adjusted because our dependent(s) were not valid.  More specifically, one of our dependent's submitted name did not match their records as provided by the social security administration.  I did a brief mini-panic thinking I'd have to go through that whole process with obtaining #7 & #8's birth parents and caseworker again to obtain their accurate names and social security numbers.  

Then I read that the difference in what they would be giving us and what we thought we'd received was about the same amount of the deduction allowed for one dependent and it hit mie.

Summer.  We have not yet changed Summer's name on her social security card nor have we obtained a new social security number.  That being said her name is legally Summer *ourlastname*, not her given name as on file by the SSA.  So, I submitted our taxes with her legal name and old social security number which technically is still assigned to her.  Of course, her legal name doesn't match the social security number now.  

I'm not quite sure what to do about that - yet.

Interestingly, the paperwork from the IRS has a "what to do next" section after explaining the changes.  What to do next involves one step titled "If you agree with our findings...".  There is no instruction on what to do if we do not agree.  Thankfully my husband found a spot that says "contact number" in about 4 pt. font up in the corner of one page and we will be calling them.  I'm guessing I'll either have to resubmit with her former name (on her SSN) or I'll have to get her new ssn and then resubmit.  Either way, it appears as if we won't have an issue with #7 and #8 being dual-claimed.

Maybe that's in the 4th IRS letter...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's Official

I'm officially in the process of completing my comprehensive exams.  I am supposed to have 2 weeks to complete them.  That being said I was asked to complete them as soon as possible - as in 7-10 days.  The reason I'm being asked to complete them earlier is because they'd like to receive them a week before the 26th or 27th of April.  Why those dates?  Because they'd also like me to propose my dissertation that day and I need to have my comprehensive exams done and passed before I can do my proposal.

Completing my comprehensive exams while working and being a mama to 4 kids and a wife and managing a home was going to be difficult in 14 days.

Now I have 7-10 days to do all that and perfect my dissertation proposal and prepare the presentation for my dissertation proposal.

All in favor of some blog downtime?


I may pop in and say hi but I probably won't have any good, well-thought out posts for the next two weeks and I almost certainly won't have any regular feature posts.

But I love you all.  Stay-tuned.  I'll keep you abreast of my progress.

Because, you know, I know you're all waiting to hear.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Say What (?!?) Sunday BONUS! - The One True God

I originally had scheduled yesterday's Say What (?!?) post so that it would post up today, but then I got a really good gem that is so much more fitting for Easter Sunday - the day of our resurrected Lord.  Today is the day we celebrate His sacrifice for us and the fact that not even death could contain his love for us but even more so in His death and subsequent resurrection He showed His love for us far more sacrificially than any of us do for those we love.

Friday my sister was watching my son Logan so that he could play with his cousins on his day off rather than going to another friend's house who has kids who are much younger.  Apparently Logan and his cousin Aurora (7) got into what my sister called a "theological conversation...about different gods people believe in".

Oh how I wish I could have been there to witness that.  As usual between these two it happened in the aisles of Target.  I was at work instead of there with them so my sister texted mie:

L: Yes, but we believe in the one true God.

Amen brother-man.

If you ever wonder if what you teach your children actually sticks in their brain, here's proof that maybe they're picking up on it.

Happy Easter my friends!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Say What (?!?) Sunday - What mom thinks

We took our kids out-of-state on our recent vacation.  This means that we had to get specific permission from the state to allow our foster kiddos to come with us.  I gave them plenty of notice to make sure we could either get permission or find respite care while we were gone.

About 10 days before we left on the trip I contacted the CW because I hadn't received approval yet.  This caseworker is usually on the ball so I thought maybe she'd missed it - nope, later that day I received the formal approval in the mail.  Crazy - I can't believe how good she is.

Anyway, I had to talk to her about something else that I'll blog about so I took the opportunity of a phone call to verify approval and talk about the other topic.  After she told mie she was approved we had this conversation:

CW - Actually, I was going to call you about that.  Mom is nervous about the trip - can you call mie when you get there and let mie know you're safe?

Mie - Sure, but we're not planning to get there until 7 or so and that will be 9 or so you're time, do you just want mie to leave you a voicemail?

CW - Why don't you text mie.  Mom thinks you're going taking them out-of-state to steal her kids.  And she's worried that there will be a car accident.

This is the dumb drama we have to deal with sometimes.  It's not a problem to text the CW at all and I got both her work and personal cell numbers out of the deal, but really?  I can't tell you how crazy it is that she'd think WE would steal her kids.  

First of all - does she know how much we don't want to live in CA and how much we love living where we live?  What did she think we were going to do?  Abandon our jobs and our two houses here to live in poverty out there under assumed identities?  I know stranger things have happened but still.

Second - If we planned to steal the kids, why would we have asked for permission from the courts?  That just seems counter-intuitive no?  Wouldn't we have just left and not told anyone where we were going?

Third - We have had 6 placements and haven't stolen one yet.  What makes her think we'd steal HER kids - of all of them?  I mean they're great kids and we'll keep fighting for what's best for them but I hardly think running off with them would be in their best interest.

I could keep going.  Just dumb.

Thankfully CW was on top of her game and explained to mom how crazy she sounded by expressing these particular concerns.  Apparently it's not the first time and its beginning to become enough of an issue that their threatening to add it to the list of official concerns on the case.  She pointed out that we drive with the kids every. single. day.  She pointed out we told them exactly when we'd be leaving, when we'd be coming back, and where exactly we were going to be.  

And we texted CW when we got there.

It wasn't requested but I also texted CW when we got home.  That text read "I didn't steal the kids.  We're back home now and the kids will be ready for their visit in the morning".  

She replied "LOL.  I'm sure (mom) will be glad you didn't steal her kids :)"

I love good caseworkers.  It really makes a foster mom's job easier.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Foster Parent Friday - Handling Birth Family Gifts

I got this question from a blog reader after my last Foster Parent Friday post.  As a reminder, please feel free to ask me questions anytime by writing it in the comments or by e-mailing mie (see my contact page or my link on the right side of this page).

Q: How much is too much for biologicals (bio parents, bio grandparents, etc.) to spend buying gifts for our kids? Our girls just came back from spending a day with a biological grandparent - a good relationship, we trust them greatly. But I know that at least $200 was spent on 2 pre-school aged girls today. Every time they see this person, it is gifts ... gifts ... gifts! How much is too much? How do we teach them that love with bios is more than just gift-getting?

A: This is such a great question.  Though the specifics of this person’s question may only relate to their case, I can say I’ve seen this type of situation at least a few times before.  Sometimes its nice but often times as the foster parent it is annoying and frustrating at the least.  That being said, if I’ve learned anything from foster care its that my idea of what is black and white is not sufficient to judge wrong or write in all circumstances.  In other words – it depends.  Things are so complex with foster care and there are sometimes numerous acceptable answers.  That being said, I firmly believe that in every situation there is a best answer, whether all options are “wrong” or all options are “right” – one is best. 

The best answer in foster care – We wouldn’t be making these decisions – birth parents would be whole and complete, always able to provide sufficiently for their children with love and wisdom.  Birth children would always be with their birth parents, who would be parenting together, for the best interest in raising their children to be responsible, loving, caring adults.

We don’t live in a perfect world though so we have imperfect things to face, like the one where you have parents who are unable to sufficiently parent their children for a variety of reasons, therefore their children are in foster care, and these parents feel the need to shower their children with gifts, in spite of or because of their children not being with them.  Here are the things I wrestle with in answering this question:

Support for these gifts
·         The $$ amount purely depends on someone’s financial position, both the birth family’s and the foster family’s.  I just took my kids to Disneyland – tickets are $80 per person with a $5 discount if the child is under 11.  We bought food.  We bought souvenirs.  It was something we could afford – it may not be something someone else can afford.  Often times I can afford to give my kids new clothes as they need them (and by new I mean new, never used).  Though I’m frugal and choose not to do this stuff all the time I know for a fact I can do it more than most of the birth families I’ve had.  I spent $150 on Easter baskets & presents, Easter outfits, and Easter activities (egg decoration) and that doesn’t count the food or other stuff we’ll buy for our Easter day festivities.  Is that a lot?  It depends – some people spent way more while others struggled to buy anything.  The fact is that while I could judge a birth family for spending a particular dollar amount that I don’t see appropriate for certain ages, I could also see them pointing right back at mie for doing the exact same thing.
·         If you’ve read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages series, you’ll know that some people express and/or feel love through gifts.  This is NOT my love language and in fact associating gifts with love grates on mie significantly.  If you ask people who really know mie, they would tell you that I hate receiving gifts.  I don’t like the association between “I love you” and money.   (I also have a strong fear that I won’t have a reaction that honors the gift and therefore the giver, so I’d rather not receive a gift).  But I love giving – not to say “I love you” but to bless someone else with something they need or want.  With all this said it may cloud my judgment on what is right and wrong with gift giving.  I do know that giving, even things of monetary value, is Biblical and that God gives “good and perfect gifts” to his children because He loves us.  Far be it for mie to stop someone from expressing their love to their kin through gifts if the basic idea is Biblical.
·         Giving gifts is one of the only things birth families can do to know, without a doubt, that the kid can remember their parent while they are away from them.  If they give their children a special doll (or 5) or a stuffed toy or something like that, it helps the parent feel like the child can physically take those things with them during the week and have a piece of the parent/child relationship even though they are apart. 

Opposition to these gifts
·         Love is more than gifts.  I deeply want to write “gifts are not love”, but again we know that giving is a part of love so that wouldn’t be entirely true.  The problem with birth families showering gifts upon their children is that it ends up being one of the only ways they are showing love to their children in foster care.  Frankly, they often only see their children on court appointed visits 1-2 hours per week.  If they spend their time eating candy, soda, and opening gifts they don’t have much other time to show other types of love.  Love languages are primarily learned (rather than biological) and so by only showing one type of love to their child the child learns to only feel love through one thing – this thing being gifts.  Again looking at the 5 love languages – they miss out on physical touch (hugs, etc.), quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service.  Even if a parent is showing sacrificial love by doing everything they can to get their kids back, the kids don’t often get to see those efforts and that type of demonstration of love because they aren’t together as it is happening.  Though no parent can show perfect love to their children because we aren’t perfect to begin with, it would be better for the children if they didn’t always associate love with giving gifts, especially parental love, if for no other reason than it sets the child up for not feeling loved if they aren’t constantly showered with gifts.  At the end of the case, no matter how it is resolved birth parents will not be able to constantly shower the child with gifts and at that point the child will feel as if they are not loved.  It isn’t best for the kids.
·         It sets up an unrealistic standard for the foster parents.  Foster parents have to be parents 24/7, not just an hour or two a week.  This means that not only can they not shower the children with gifts constantly but they also have to show love in other more practical ways.  For example – feeding the children, bathing them, providing them with a roof, cleaning the house, and discipline.  Foster parents almost always have a disadvantage in parenting – they will always be second best.  That’s ok, but when biological parents setup the standard of showering the kids with gifts it makes the challenge that much harder.  Discipline is a big one and I can give you an example with one of my kids.  Most of the time when I discipline or tell her no, one of my children pouts and eventually cries that she wants her mommy XXXX.  Does she want her and miss her?  Sure, but really what she’s doing is associating the fact that her mommy wouldn’t discipline her or would give her whatever she wanted.  Why is that?  Because for the length of this case that is what happens on visits.  So, when she asks for that second bag of chips and I tell her no, that she can have a healthy snack instead, she bursts into tears because mommy XXXX would let her.  If she has to sit in time out for hitting her brother she wants her mommy because she wouldn’t make her sit in time out.  I work through this with her, but its not fair to mie that I’m the evil step-mom because I’m teaching her boundaries and worse yet its not fair for her to be overly tormented by reasonable boundaries. 
·         Foster parents are responsible for providing things to their foster children, especially clothes, food, etc.  When you have a birth parent who showers gifts on their kids it makes it very difficult for the foster parent to know what needs purchased and what doesn’t.  It also makes it difficult come birthdays and holidays for other foster children or forever children in the home.   With our last Christmas we went out and purchased gifts for all of our kids.  We purchased the same number of gifts for each child (one from mom, one from dad, one from each of the other siblings, etc.).  This is a well-groomed system in our home.  The visit before Christmas (after we purchased all our gifts to the tune of approx. $800), the foster kiddos came back with 2 LARGE bags of stuff from their mom and extended family.  Do I begrudge them this?  No, certainly I want them to purchase gifts for their children, but now what were we to do with our own kiddos?  They didn’t get any extra gifts though their lives are constantly turned upside down to be good siblings to new kids.  So should I take our gifts back?  No, that’s not right because on Christmas morning then the fosters are singled out with less gifts and that’s not cool.  To make matters worse Summer was a foster child when the gift lists went out and so she too got a slew of gifts from the state even though she had been adopted by that point – the only person who didn’t was our bio son.  Clothes are similar – they sometimes come with clothes but when its time to buy new ones we do our best to get them quality clothes that fit them.  It never fails that we go out and buy their new season wardrobes and two weeks later the birth family sends a new set (it does fail – it doesn’t happen that often but does happen).  Now what do we do?  We’ve already cut the tags off our new clothes so now we have a ton of clothes that we don’t need.  Which brings me to the next point.
·         Managing the children’s things versus things from the home can be a nightmare.  Take the clothing example – where do you put an extra set of clothes that you don’t need when you already have 4 kids and extra clothes for other kids you don’t have?  How do you make sure that you keep the stuff they came with separated so that they leave with what they came with.  I know some foster parents send everything home with the kids – but we don’t do that.  We do send some things we buy home with them, but there are other things we have like baby gear (blankets, bottles, etc.) that we keep when they leave.  I have a playroom stuffed with toys – how can I remember which toys came with the fosters, which they got while they were here from the birth parents, and which we bought that might stay.  It really is complicated.  I don’t ever want to be accused of keeping things that rightfully belong to the kids but honestly it’s happened just because there is no way I can fully keep track of who belongs with what all of the time.  Our recent birth mom writes the kids name on their stuff with black marker.  This is fine, but sometimes we don’t use their given last name for their protection.  At church we use ours so there is no doubt those kids should come home with us and not someone else who may claim to be the parent– so now there is black marker with a name that the nursery staff doesn’t recognize on their stuff – how likely is it that we’ll lose it.  I assure you no matter how much we try we will lose something and I hate to do that after the birth family went out of their way to buy them something.
·         Often times things the birth family give are not appropriate and it causes a dilemma.  In our home we don’t watch spongebob – I can’t tell you how many things kids have brought home with his mug.  What do you do?  Do you take it away and say its not welcome in our home?  Do you let them play with it?  How do you explain that lack of consistency?  Food is often another problem.  I had an 18 month old come home with a bag of funions.  We don’t feed 18 month olds chips – so what do you do?  On holidays like Easter they’ll send bags and bags of candy, cookies, etc.  I don’t let kids eat that much junk food, maybe a little here and there, so do you let them or not?  These are all things we have to face.  The clothes are often inappropriate – when #7 came all of his clothes said something like “Here comes trouble” or “I’m looking for a time-out”.  Well that poor kid was my RADish one and he didn’t need anything preceeding him to label him a troublemaker.  What do you do?  Hide them, let them wear them?  Complicated.  The Christmas toys I mentioned earlier – most of the toys in that bag were things found at the bargain store.  Nothing wrong with that per se but in this case they broke within minutes or in some cases were hazardous.  Then I was left taking away a toy the parents gave them or throwing it away – both for their own good, but clearly then I’m the bad guy for doing something a GOOD parent would do.

Bottom line – when the birth families shower the kids with gifts its not wrong, per se, but it causes a lot of challenges they probably aren’t aware of and in the end are probably not the best for the kids.  If you look at the supporting reasons, they are mostly centered on meeting the parents needs, not the kids.  If you look at the opposing reasons, they are mostly focused on the needs of the foster parent, still not the kids.  Personally I think the thing that bothers me most about excessive gift giving by the birth family is that as a parent it infuriates mie to see them spend money they often shouldn’t be spending on stuff when what their kid really needs is for them to show them love by getting their act together and being a good parent.  We see parents who can’t afford to keep their lights on or who live in rodent infested apartments find a way to spend $50-$100 per week on junk for their kids when they could be spending that to find a better place to live or pay their bills more consistently.  We see parents who throw a party for their kids each visit and then go off the rest of the week and get high.  We see kids who were beaten, bruised, and told they are worthless receive nothing but gifts during visits and it makes us mad.  All the kids want and need is to have their birth parents love them enough to provide a safe, nurturing environment for their children.  That’s it.  We provide that for them but we’ll never be good enough – their kids want that from their birth family. 

So, what do I do?  Here’s my advice –
  • Relax standards a little bit – you may not let them watch spongebob but maybe sleeping in their favorite SB pajamas once in a while won’t hurt.  Maybe you don’t let them have junk food but finishing that sucker they came home with won’t kill them.  Pick your battles wisely and remember, for the kids sake, that these objects may not be great but it IS a symbol of their parents love, pure or not.
  • If kids come with a ton of stuff (toys), allow them to pick one or two things to play with at a time and keep the rest in a separate area where they can switch out toys as needed.
  • Set standards for the birth family – if they are always bringing junk food explain to them, away from the child, that in your home you eat healthy food and anything unhealthy will be thrown away.  Make suggestions on healthy things the kids can have that would be a better choice they could provide (Your son LOVES string cheese – maybe you can pick up that for him next time?).  Tell them if the child has a need – if they need PJS, tell them they need warm weather PJs in size 2 and that they love Thomas the Tank.  Tell them they need new socks.  Tell them its your job to provide them and you will but if they want to send something to let you know.  Also warn them that though you’ll do your best to return anything sent home with them when the kids go home, you can’t guarantee that it will all make it through the time the child stays in your home.  Explain that if there is something with special value they should keep it with them for visits only.
  • If, as in the blog reader’s question, you’re dealing with a foster-to-adopt or straight adoption situation, don’t be afraid to set even higher standards.  Our daughter’s birth parents have asked for our address several times so they can send gifts (yet they haven’t made it to their visits).  I explained to them that our agreement is that we have contact during certain months, which happen to be visit months.  I explain that she has everything she needs right now and the most important thing they can do is save their money so they can come see her – if they have gifts then they can bring them to her themselves.  If you have extended family or birth parents, post adoption (I wouldn’t risk it before adoption is final or at least rights are terminated), who insist on showering them with too much stuff, explain to them that you are now the legal parent and you feel they are spending too much on them.  Set a limit that is more reasonable for you and explain that if they want to do more than that they can put the money in a college fund, CD, etc. in the child’s name so they can use it later. 
  • Don’t hesitate to involve the caseworker, CASA, or ad-litem if need be. 

Gifts in foster care can be a tricky thing to navigate but if you try to remember that most parents are TRYING to show love to their kids in a way they know how and then try working with the parents as needed, it is something that is possible to navigate successfully – as successfully as anything can be done in foster care I suppose!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Surviving Tornados

This week I'm 100% thankful we're alive and that we've been fortunate enough to be spared in the recent Dallas/Fort Worth storms that hit this past Tuesday.

Who knew we'd survive our 4 days of driving only to come home and be threatened by tornados! (That's related to a post coming on Sunday...look for it and maybe you'll chuckle - it really is kind of funny).

If you haven't yet heard of the DFW area tornados that hit on Tuesday, take a look here and here (scroll all the way down).  I've honestly never seen anything like this so close to home.  I grew up in a Tornado-free area and only have lived here as an adult, but even my friends who've lived here their whole lives don't remember seeing anything like this before.  I hear stories of "the fort worth" tornado and with all the coverage this week they've mentioned a 1994 event and something in the 60s/70s, but that is how rare this type of any outbreak appears to be.

I work in a skyscraper downtown but live in the suburbs/rural area.  Sometime after 1pm I started hearing the sirens outside, which was somewhat odd because to that point the forecasters had said we'd have storms in the afternoon but tornados were unlikely.  I was working, not watching the news, so the sirens caught me off-guard.  During storm season they typically test the sirens on Wednesdays at noon, so at first I caught myself thinking it was just a test but quickly realized it wasn't.  After investigating a bit I ended up getting some lunch and then watching the tornado hit the Lancaster area live on tv.  This storm was close enough to where I work and headed in that direction - that is what was causing the sirens.  We watched as it picked up semis like trucks and threw them all over the place.  It was surreal.

Only a few minutes later the building required everyone to evacuate to the stairwells for precaution.  Everyone did so quickly, something I was impressed with, and then we sat in the stairwells connected to smart phones and tablets trying to watch what was going on.  Initially that storm appeared to be heading a bit north east and so I was concerned but not fearful.  I texted my hubby to get up and pay attention to the news, just in case he was ignoring the warnings thinking it was a false alarm.

As we stood in the stairwell it became more apparent that the storm was headed directly over my kids school(s) and my home.  I mean directly - there couldn't have been a more direct path.  Then I was fearful and it was one of the worst feelings.  I was watching a violent storm known to throw big rigs around with what seemed no effort head directly for my family and I couldn't do anything to save them other than pray.  I couldn't go be with them.  I couldn't get to them at all - at this point the storm was between my kids and I - and I didn't know if my husband was taking this seriously at all.  Eventually he let mie know that he was on his way to pick up our forever kids at their school.  Their school is GREAT but the one thing it lacks is a great safe place for the kiddos.  The fosters attend a different school and have a better safe area so we were less worried about them at the time.  As it turns out, my husband was able to get to the kids but not leave with them because of the approaching storm.  At least I knew he was there with them.

We were let out of the stairwell after a while and allowed to return to our desks.  Of course all I could do was watch the news to see how the storm was progressing.  The satellite tv in our break room eventually went out - right before they said a tornado was touching down in the city where my kids go to school.

It was 30 minutes or so before I was able to speak to my husband.  He said the storm still hadn't arrived and he was able to bring the kids home.  He wanted mie to come home right away but as I looked outside it was pitch black with another storm cell coming through.  Nevertheless, he was watching the news and it didn't say there was any danger near mie and the sky was getting less-black so I headed home.  A few minutes later, as I suspected would happen - the storm sirens were going off all around mie and there were tornado warnings to my north, east, south, and west.  Where I was at the time was clear and I couldn't visibly see any tornadoes but I could hear the sirens all around mie and see the storms surrounding mie.  All this while the first storm was still hitting my home area.

As it turns out, the tornadoes around mie while I was headed home was part of the storm that produced the largest tornado (in Forney - an EF3).  This storm passed directly over us as well but we were on the west side of the storm and the tornados were in the center to east sides of the storm.  This means we got rain, wind, and a little bit of hail but not the tornados.  The original storm that produced the tornado in Lancaster did indeed pass over our home as well but there were no touch downs as it did.  All in all there were 2 large tornados within 5 miles or so of my home.

As the storms cleared and the damage was readily visible it became apparent how very fortunate we were.  Our area had minor flooding and some minor debris associated with small branches and trash but many, many families were left with homes that were completely destroyed and uninhabitable.  The devastation is nothing like it was last year in Joplin, MO or other places that saw major storms but to those people who lost their homes I know that it feels as devastating.  Areas are under curfew to keep looters away and maintain safety, but really I'm not certain how much of a risk looters really are at this point.  It has been the most amazing thing to first know that no one was killed but also to see the reactions of our area.  Those directly affected have been expressing their gratitude, not their despair, realizing they were protected by God from further damage.  People not directly affected have mobilized like nothing I've ever seen to help their (distant) neighbors in need with supplies and labor.  I am so blessed to be able to witness this outpouring of love and generosity.

Furthermore - everyone I know felt great love from family and friends who called, texted, and posted messages on facebook checking on us.  Personally I had several relatives and friends text and post on facebook.  I even have a bloggy friend who emailed mie because she knew I was in the area and wanted to check on mie.  I am so thankful for this person in particular - she is a woman of faith and caught mie as the satellite went down and I knew the storms were touching down on top of my husband and kids.  She prayed for us, people she has never met and doesn't know other than through this blog and a few email exchanges and I can't tell you how much this gave mie peace.  And apparently her prayers, ours, and those of others worked as we were spared destruction that is so prevalent nearby.

So today I'm grateful.  Last night my hubby started griping a bit at having to walk further down the hall to pick up our son at church.  Then we reminded ourselves that we have a safe, warm home to go home to and we are all alive and together - then we were grateful for our ability to walk those few extra yards to see our son's sweet smile.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Hello Again!

When I say "Hello Again" does it make any of you think of a Dr. Seuss story?  

"what a dog party!"

Seriously - that story (Go Dog. Go!) has so many of these little quote things that stick out to mie at random times.

Sorry I've been away.  Have you missed mie?  Did you even notice I was gone?  I'm not trying to be needy I'm just curious.

I haven't blogged much for the past few weeks because life in our home, as in yours, has a way of getting CRAZY.  The first week or two of slow blogging was caused by a massive increase of activity at work that had mie working till midnight or 1am every night made worse by a quicker-than-expected deadline for my dissertation proposal that just compounded the stress (and lack of time).  SO, I didn't have much time to blog.  Then last week we went on vacation and as much as I wanted to get online to share with you that we were indeed on vacation, driving for a total of 4 days, visiting Disneyland, and celebrating my dad's 60th birthday, I had to restrain myself because it's not wise to post such things as it happens.  Something about telling criminals you aren't at home or something like that.  

So I held back on blogging but I assure you that it didn't take THAT much force.  Not being at home with my 4 kids puts added stress on managing my family.  Not only did we have only 4 days to spend with all of our family that lives in LA and one of those days was spent at Disneyland, we were (gratefully) staying with my parents in 2 bedrooms of their house and visiting the houses of others who, understandably, are not prepared to handle the chaos of 4 children under 6.  While we can usually let our kids roam (somewhat) in our home and only have to follow the littlest one around like a hawk for the hours he's awake, we had to constantly be helping our kids be gentle with other people's things.  We've been very blessed with our home to be able to set it up in a way that makes our family functional and there's only so much you can do to not be intrusive in other people's homes while trying to make it functional.  As an example, our main living area in our home is a big square with a wall in the middle.  The kids can spread out and run around and around the wall in the center of the square but in the end we can catch them all and keep an eye on all of them as we wish.  The homes we visited were setup more 50s ranch style or split-level so we were constantly facing kids running in all directions and there was no way to keep all 4 in the same area at the same time without cages.

Cages are frowned upon by CPS, so we opted for letting them be free and chasing them around the houses endlessly.

For posterity's sake - I'm kidding.  I would never, ever put my kids in cages.  Just sayin.

Anyway - we did have a blast on vacation and made it home safely with all 4 kiddos.  Look for a "Say What (?!?) Sunday post on that soon.  Seriously - the drama of foster care.  Disneyland (yes, with four kids and just the two of us adults) was a FANTASTIC experience - we really were lucky and had a blast.  My dad's birthday party turned out fabulous.  And though I ranted a bit about how difficult it was to manage our family in other people's houses, only one thing was broken.  Of course it was one thing that is somewhat irreplaceable - but I'm going to try.

All this to say I'm going to try to be more active with my blog but I'm also scheduling my doctoral comprehensive exams - a 2 week job on top of my full-time employment job and full-time mommy thing - to begin next week so I may not poke my head up very often in the next couple of weeks.

Know that I miss you all and will be back full-time here soon.