Friday, December 20, 2013

Say What (?!?) Sunday - It's a Wonderful Life Version

This past Friday one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time was on tv.  "It's a Wonderful Life" is such a great classic.  My hubby thinks it's cheesy but I LOVE it.

We started the first part of the know when the angels are talking to each other as stars in the sky?

Logan: Is the WHOLE movie going to be like this?
My hubby and I, in unison: Yes.  Yes it is.

Hehe...this movie is going to be a different world for him.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thankful Thursday - Dallas Mavericks' Generosity

Our family was blessed last night by the Dallas Mavericks and HAVE to tell everyone about it not because they asked me to (in fact I wonder if they'd want me to...) but because I'm compelled to publicly thank them for what they did for us.

As foster and/or adoptive parents, if you're plugged in to foster/adopt circles like foster parent associations, you frequently get invited to participate in special events for foster/adopt families.  I'm sure these things come about in a variety of ways but I imagine there are generous people/organizations/etc. out there who put these things together trying to give back to the community and sometimes they choose foster/adopt families.  These perks of the job are pretty cool for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is being able to take our kids to things we may not be able to do otherwise due to the size of our family.

For example, this past weekend I attended a "breakfast with Santa" event with other foster families in our county.  This was free and isn't something non-foster/adopt families could have attended.  It was, however, an opportunity my kids probably wouldn't have received otherwise.  There was breakfast, craft tables, karaoke, face painting, balloons, gifts for the kids (pretty cool ones at that), and of course the jolly old man in red complete with pictures.  If we'd hadn't had this event my kids probably wouldn't have seen Santa.  As our family schedule goes I would have had to take my kids by myself and that would have been nearly impossible.  Taking a teething, newly walking baby who always wants to be held, 2 children with strong sensory needs and a bit of O.D.D-type behaviors, a 3 year old girl who deserves a class of her own, and 2 older, great helpers that get annoyed with the behavior of the littler ones is a recipe for disaster.  Add waiting in line with "normal" families, the excitement of seeing Santa, the mall...I just wouldn't try that myself and I'm pretty adventurous.  Instead I took them to a place where my crew was just like the others in the room, no one was overly concerned when my kids wanted to take 500 pictures with Santa so they could get all possible combinations of siblings, and no one jumped down my throat for letting my baby walk around in a crowded room or scolding my child for eating fruit loops (she's gluten-free).  My craziness was normal in the see of other children with similar backgrounds.  And it was free.

On a separate occasion we were offered free tickets to the Dallas Mavericks game (we chose 12/18).  We've been waiting a couple months for this date to come because we thought it would be so much fun for our kiddos.  When we got there we got everyone to their seats and quickly stress-levels rose.  Please re-read the previous description of my family and put that in a crowded sports arena.  Then consider we were 2 rows from the top of the stadium and the seating was VERY steep.  Anxiety shot through the roof as we tried to figure out how we would be able to keep all of our kids from falling down the bleachers.  Then Logan became ill both from being dizzy from looking down and also from anxiety from being up so high.  He eventually curled up into a ball under our chairs.  I was and still am grateful for the people who donated for our family to go to the game but it was appearing as if it was going to be an anxiety-ridden trip at a minimum and deadly in a worst-case-yet-possible scenario.

I decided to take the ladies to the restroom with me and then sneak over to guest services.  I thought I'd ask if they had any seat upgrades available thinking maybe for $10-$20 per seat we may be able to move at least several more rows down.  We walked across the arena and found the office who promptly sent us around even more to find the ticket booth "to see if there was anything they could do".  I explained that we'd had the tickets donated to us and how my son was curled up into a ball on the floor.  He said he didn't know what could be done, this would be up to the Mavs.  He came back saying he could find us 4 tickets lower but finding seats for all of us together would be impossible.  As I was considering whether it would be better to send my hubby and son down a few rows or stay together he asked me to wait another minute then disappeared.

This time he came back with 7 new tickets.  He said he'd nearly been decapitated for asking and warned me the Mavs NEVER do this...then he handed me 7 new tickets for seats in the floor section...for free.  The face value was $135 each...he just gave them to us.  I was so excited to tell my hubby not only the generosity of the gift we'd received but also about the awesome seats we were going to be able to sit in.  When I'd gone to ask I thought maybe we could swing $100-$200 for better seats, I wasn't asking for or expecting free upgrades like that.  We absolutely couldn't have spent $1000 for our family to sit in those seats on our's just not in the budget.  It was such a wonderful experience AND, the Mavs beat the Memphis Grizzlies as icing on the cake and I'm so glad we were able to have that family time together.

Today I'm thankful for all the people who donate to and otherwise help support our family and others who foster/adopt.  This life isn't easy - it takes constant work.  We encourage others to really seek out whether they could foster or adopt because we believe more people could than are willing to try BUT I also want to express how helpful it is to have people around us show love and gratitude for what we do through words or gifts or acts of service.  That's not why we do it but it does give a little boost on hard days when the work seems insurmountable.

Thank you Dallas Mavericks.  I'm proud to tell others how wonderful you were to our family and encourage them to support the Mavs.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thankful Thursday: Court Results

Thank you all for your prayers.  Regardless of the outcome, yesterday promised to be a very difficult day with 3 possible outcomes:

  • Termination of parental rights.  Plan for adoption
  • No Termination of parental rights.  Send children home immediately
  • Some other random solution out-of-the-blue (case extension, another delay at the courthouse, etc.)
Though we had our favorite solution, none of them would have been pain-free.  The "random solution" would have caused this case to drag on more, more uncertainty, more delay for all involved.  Clearly if the judge found parental rights were not to be terminated and the kids went home immediately, that would have crushed us.

I mentioned yesterday that the case had been mid-trial before a threat at the courthouse caused a week's delay.  When I left after the day of testimony I honestly felt less-hopeful about whether the case would result in termination than I'd had at any other point in the case, I think, and that's saying something because I've had my doubts all along.  I wasn't in the courtroom that day but it's what I felt in my heart.  I walked into court after having experienced another week's worth of delays and a ton of things that made our life more difficult (sick, not sleeping baby getting 8 teeth all at the same time, for example) - though I tried to have faith and focus on God's will for my kiddos and our family in the forefront of my mind was that this was shaping up to be one of those times our kiddos left us.  God has always provided a "difficult situation" before kiddos have left to help us be grateful for the peace after the children were gone.  Most of them were illness related.  I felt like I would be writing that post, that God had allowed difficult situations to invade our home to help make the transition of them leaving easier on us.  The feeling wouldn't leave me.

I arrived at court late due to traffic.  With a cold that was making me groggy.  Since I was half-prepared to testify after the way the previous day ended (and upon hearing "maybe" from the AAL), I was worried about how I'd sound, being able to not clearly think, probably looking all nasty like one of the actors "with the flu" on a tissue commercial.  Halfway to court I got a call from my hubby who should have been sleeping because the daycare called and a different child had started throwing up all over the place.  Oh, and hubby started having tummy troubles too.

Nevertheless in the court house things started off well.  We chatted for a good-long time about stuff.  The kids.  My sister and her kids.  Jury duty.  The weather (literally).  It was enjoyable.  

Then someone said "well this case better be called early or we won't get in at all - it's drug court day".  I started to panic that we'd be reset.  Again.  

The bailiff called for check-in and simultaneously called our case into the courtroom to be heard.  I initially sat out of the courtroom but then thought hey...worst they could do was kick me I went inside and took a seat.  I texted AAL to see if she needed me to testify - she replied "no".  I asked if I could stay.  Then she got called to the bench for another case and it took forever to get another reply.  

I could stay.

I'm not going to get into the details of what I heard except to say that it was ESSENTIAL to this case that court had been delayed the week because of the threat the week before.  There was a report people were waiting on that hadn't arrived yet and left some questions about the situation unanswered.  BUT, because of the delay the results were received and additional evidence was able to be admitted.  This evidence was crystal clear.  I've been saying it "sealed the deal".

The judge ended up making two rulings.  First, she ruled on baby baby because he was removed separately from his siblings and started this "newly reopened" case.  The grounds were clear and abundant. The judge took the time to read each one aloud to the parents.  Additionally there was abundant evidence that TPR was in his best interest.  

Parental Rights Terminated. 

With that in mind, the judge then ruled on the other three children.  I wasn't sure where she was going to go - apparently the case for them was different than the case on the other three.  Nevertheless because mom had just lost rights on baby baby, it helped make the argument that the rights for the other three should be terminated as well.

Parental Rights Terminated.

The judge then accepted the other parent's relinquishment.  In doing so she complimented all involved for working out an arrangement where the kids could be safe and still have a relationship with this parent.  She went on to provide strong words of affirmation to my husband and I (though she didn't know I was there) for our part in this case, the willingness to stick it out, the willingness to make the arrangement we did with the parent who relinquished.

At the end of the day we walked away with Parental Rights Terminated, adoption bound.  I will say that the kids will not be "legally-free" for adoption until after a 90 day period during which the parent who lost rights involuntarily will have the opportunity to appeal.  In addition relatives or fictive-kin have the opportunity to intervene in the case to try and gain custody preventing the adoption.  We hope and pray these things don't happen.  Our kids need permanency.  It is a NEED for them (as with all kiddos but evidence was presented that one of my children "does not have another move" in him/her).  It has been their repeatedly-expressed desire to stay with us forever.  Though they're too young to really grasp the gravity of that statement, they have been steadfast in that desire with the likewise understanding they would not go to live with their birth parents ever again.

There is so much more I want to tell you.  With the TPR granted I want to share how CRAZY this case was.    I want to explain what has happened in the past year.  All of the stuff we've gone through but I've been cautious to share because of how crazy this case has been.  I will likely wait until the 90 days is up before I share as much as I'd like but if you have questions please email mie or put it in a comment so I can remind myself to address it.  

In the end our feelings were very mixed.  Please pray for the 90 days to be smooth and short.  Please also pray for our kids' birth parents.  Regardless of the situation that led us to this point yesterday was extremely hard on them, and I'm sure time will heal some but not all and it would be a long time in healing.  They love their children.  They didn't want this to happen.  I cried with them both yesterday.  It sucks.  I cried for my kids to have this in their history.  Even though it was what we wanted and what we still want and even though it moves us toward adoption and even though our kids were thrilled when we told them last night, we don't wish them well and the trauma is not taken lightly.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tuesday's Tears - Mediation, Trial, & Prayer Request!

After I explained mediation in foster care cases, I promised I'd update you on our case.  And then, as usual, things went crazy and I was too emotional and feeling the overwhelming urge to NOT share on my blog that I failed to update you again for a couple weeks.  

I really hope this case is over, in our favor, soon.

Mediation happened a couple of weeks ago, before my last FPF post.  At that time I already had the outcome.  Mediation was scheduled for a full-day session.  Due to court/attorney schedules it didn't start until later, maybe 10 or 11 but it lasted until 5 or 5:30 so that was a full day in most court-related books.

I was incredibly nervous.  I knew I would be so I took the day off work.  I ended up being called in for a short early morning meeting and was assigned a few things to work on which turned into a huge blessing for me.  It was a good distraction for my brain while waiting for things to start at the courthouse.  I was able to leave before lunch but because I wasn't allowed at the courthouse (or, I was asked not to be there), I just went home.  I was vegging on the couch, literally just sitting there staring at my phone every couple minutes, waiting for my phone to ring.  My hubby was sleeping and texted me to come in and join him for a nap.  

I did and I slept.  More distraction.

I woke up around 2:30 when my phone rang.  It was the children's attorney with the initial agreement.  Hubby was awake so we talked about it, called our attorney, and then called the AAL back with our counter-position.  

Can I take a step back here and say there really wasn't any room to have a counter position.  We're not "in" the case and even if we were, what is our leverage?  No, we're going to walk away from the kids and let the parents have them when the kids have expressed a desire to stay with us and we don't feel they will be safe with the parents?  Really?  Sorry have to go back and live with them because we weren't willing to do everything it would take to keep you?  No thanks.

Despite our poor bargaining position we did go back and forth for the next 3 hours, at first over the phone and then by text.  One parent came to an agreement and relinquished rights.  The agreement includes a lot of stuff we're not excited about but we're "ok" with (barely) and something we absolutely hate but have come to accept.  This parent relinquished and we expected that would never happen.

This is why I'm hesitant to share too many details.  The other parent refused to mediate.  Didn't want to take a deal.  I have a lot to say about this but the only one I'm going to type out for now is that if the state was trying to take my kids away from mie I don't know if I'd ever agree to relinquish either.  They'd have to take my kids from mie by force, I think (yes I comply with laws and no, I strongly doubt that would ever happen to begin with but you get my point).  I can understand the person who says "I have to give it my everything.  I can't give in.  I must keep trying".  See my comments two paragraphs ago.

This meant the trial date, which had already been set, would now involve an actual TPR trial.  In this kind of scenario the settlement agreement with one parent and associated relinquishment would be entered and made official as part of the final order from the judge and the judge would hear testimony about whether the other parent's rights should be terminated.  

In case you're not familiar, let me be clear - If rights are terminated, the case moves forward to adoption with a 90 day waiting period where kin can intervene and try to get the kids and the parents who had involuntary relinquishment have a chance to appeal (parents who voluntarily relinquish do not get to appeal).  If rights are not terminated, that typically ends the case and the judge immediately sends the kids home.

So you can see why before trial I was even more nervous than I was before mediation.  Yes, the trial already began - last week.  There was a full day of testimony and the case didn't finish.  Potential witnesses were sequestered and therefore I haven't been able to sit in the court and hear testimony even though I don't expect to be testifying - they may call me per one of the attorneys.  Because the case didn't finish, they agreed to come back the next day to wrap things up.

To let you know how this affected our kids - they have literally had a countdown going for when their attorney was going to see the judge to see if "they can stay forever".  They woke up saying "ZERO more days mommy!"  I had to come home and explain to them that yes, their attorney got to talk to the judge.  She did for the entire day but wasn't done yet so we have to wait until tomorrow.  That's hard when to kids it sounds like it should just be a quick "Hey judge - can they stay forever?".  

It was a hard night for my hubby and I who both cried in anticipation at one point.  

The next day I showed up at the courthouse and walked up the steps.  I noticed an abundance of un-manned police cars but figured hey - it's a courthouse and tried to move forward.  Then I got word that no one was being allowed in and I had to return to my car.  Later I got word that I had to take my car off the property.  Thanks to my sister's case, I knew a bailiff there (her kiddo's CASA!) and got the scoop.  There was a threat of harm at the courthouse.

I waited for 90 minutes or so nearby and then was told due to the circumstances the trial was going to be reset and I'd find out the next day when the new court date would be but I'd at least have to wait through the weekend.  

It was hard to explain to the kids why, yet again, we didn't have an answer from the judge.  They literally asked as they stepped off the school bus that day.  

Long story not-so-short - We still do not have an answer.  Court is now rescheduled for tomorrow.  We had a fun weekend and when we're home as a family we're distracted enough not to think about it.  But it's tomorrow.  My head says "of course they'll terminate!" but my realistic side says "I know anything can happen".  

There's nothing that can prepare me for my kiddos to leave tomorrow.  I have to walk in faith knowing it will be ok and hoping that they will not go.  In the meantime we'll spend extra quality family tonight, again, hug them a bit longer, say extra-special prayers for them, and try to leave it all in God's hands where it is much safer than with me alone.