Monday, December 08, 2014

Welcome to the Roller Coaster: Purchase Your Copy Now!

Welcome to the Roller Coaster: Real Life Stories of the Ups and Downs of Foster Care is a compilation of stores from 14 foster moms who got together to help Cherub Mamma as she fought for the safety of her foster children, Dude and Dolly.  For the past two years this group of (mostly) anonymous women, most of whom are still on the roller coaster, have fought through every type of challenge to get this book out so that readers everywhere can have a realistic understanding of life as experienced by foster families.

If you are like most of the people I encounter regularly, foster parenting is something you're intrigued by and are curious about.  You admire others who sign up for the ride and help the children but something keeps you from getting in line.  You wonder how "we" foster parents do it and behind closed doors what "it" really looks like.  This book is for you.

Many of you are on the fence.  You feel maybe, just maybe, you're being called to this life if at least for a time but you haven't quite moved forward because you need a realistic preview of what to expect.  You know not everyone experiences the same thing and every case (and family) is different, but you still wish you could see what really happens before you finally get in line.  This book is for you.

I remember clearly being in foster care classes being taught generic information about what to expect but desperately wanting more.  I wanted to hear from someone about kids they had and how the cases turned out.  I was in line along with my other classmates trying to get licensed, looking at that roller coaster in front of me, eagerly anticipating the first drop and twist and turn that came our way.  I wanted someone who'd been there to share their story with me.  This book would have been for mie and if you're in line, it's for you too.

If you're a foster mom, sometimes you feel alone.  You can't share the details of your case but you really want someone to understand what you're going through.  I get it - that's why I have my blog and so many wonderful friendships built over the years through the blog-o-sphere.  You want someone to relate to while you're on your own roller coaster - this book is for you.

Some of you are on the ride because you were dragged along by a family member or good friend.  You're not a foster parent yourself but the ups and downs, twists and turns are real to you because you're supporting someone else who is riding the ride.  You're a great friend.  You don't have to be going along but God Bless You for being there.  This book is for you, too.

The presale will only be available through 12/14 so place your order here today!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Finally Home Forever

Adoption Day has come and gone.  We're now a happy family of 8, forever, with no more department involvement.  Here we are!

We had a lot of support...

Soon I'll introduce each of them to you one by one.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Daughter is THAT Kid

Last week the internet was graced by a piece written by Ann Murray at Miss Night’sMarbles.  As the writer indicates, it challenged the world to “a call to compassion and understanding”.  The blog entry was re-posted over and over again and quickly picked up by mainstream news sources.  Comments showed the article struck a nerve with readers who emphasized their gratitude for teachers who put up with the difficult children and the (possibly) more difficult parents.  The tears I shed each time I read her words only began to display the very raw emotions festering inside me on the topic and I knew a sentence or two on a Facebook post wouldn't suffice in processing my brokenness.  My daughter is THAT kid.

To my fellow mommas:

You know all about my child, at least you think you do.  You can’t miss her (and when she’s gone you DON’T).  You know her name because you've heard us speak it at least 32 times since we entered the store 5 minutes ago or your child has a (generally unpleasant) story about her on a daily basis.  She’s bitten.  She’s pulled her pants down and run around the class.  She’s run across the table tops and then out the door.  She pees her pants daily and sneaks whatever kind-of edible thing she can find even if it came off your plate at your table as we walked by at the restaurant or out of the trash can at the park or out of the treads of the car tire. 

Yes, you know who my child is and you despise her.  I get it.  I really do.  You don’t like that she punched your daughter in the face at dance class.  You’re disgusted that your child now knows the “F” word because my child told the teacher she’s “being an F-er” in the middle of her preschool class.

You don’t want her around, and I understand why.  Though you've never said directly, we've heard you loud and clear.  That time you called the league president when she was uncooperative in baby baseball?  We heard you.  The time she was the only child not invited to the after-season party?  Got it.  When no one came to her birthday party 2 years in a row?  We listened.  When I kept her home from dance and you whispered to each other “maybe she won’t be coming back”.  I've heard you each and every time.

She hears you too.  “No one likes me mommy”, she’s said.  And she was right.  This isn't a low self-esteem pity party she’s throwing.  Since she’s been 3 years old she’s literally had no friends.  Not a single one.

She does it to herself, you’re saying.  And you’re right.  As adults we see her and tell her, now barely 5, just be nice.  Use your hands and feet with love.  Be a good friend.  Listen and obey.  It makes so much sense to us and frankly, to YOUR child.  YOUR child gets it.  How hard could it be?  Just. Be. Nice.

You've formed opinions about her.  About our family.  About me, the mom of the girl who is completely out-of-control.  Here’s what I wish you knew...

Our daughter was neuro-typical once.  After she came home to us at 9 months old and had the chance to start to heal from severe neglect, she seemed “normal” for a while.  It only took her two weeks to smile at all and another year of therapy to catch up to her peers but then she seemed like any other spunky little girl.  On adoption day, just after she turned two, she was so beautiful in her teal dress and pig tails with matching bows.  Her blue eyes sparkled (they still do).  She had normal 2-year-old challenges...potty training, staying in bed, the occasional tantrum at school.  Nothing out of the ordinary to cause alarm. 

In hindsight it didn't last long.  We started noticing things after she turned 3.  She was the only little girl sobbing on the field when she didn't catch the ball.  Potty training wasn't coming along.  Her tantrums started getting worse, not better, and she couldn't sit in her chair at school.  But, you know...”I don’t know why they call it the Terrible Two’s cuz when they’re three...”.

She was kicked out of school twice by the time she was three.  Her allergy laden gut was too much to handle when she was one and her inability to sit calmly and do a worksheet got her at 3.  We finally found a preschool willing to work with her after I walked in a sobbing mess, desperate for someone to WANT my little girl around.

We paid $160 out-of-pocket per week for a year for therapy to help her have a chance at normal.  She didn't qualify for insurance to cover it because her persistence is so great that she was able to pass the assessment even though she had “the worst sensory defensiveness ever seen” in the therapists career.  No wonder, as her therapist said, she had ZERO self-confidence.

I wonder if you ever heard the true story behind why the class fish died.  It wasn't on purpose.  She was trying to make it be quiet.  She knew the fish shouldn't have been telling her “F-er” over and over again but she didn't know how to make it stop.  That’s why she stuffed a whole roll of paper towels in the tank.  The fish didn't like that much.

She doesn't hear that language in our home.  Our home (and family) is actually really conservative and stable.  Upper middle-class, two-parent family, gifted siblings, minimal media exposure...we’re not hiding any secrets or internal strife.  We’re not perfect, but we aren't lacking skills or resources to parent well.

Despite my (educated and experiential) bend toward nature and aversion to most-things-pharmaceutical, our daughter started daily medication.  One led to psychotic episodes in the form of profanity-speaking fish.  The other didn't help.  We’re now on a strict Gluten-Free/Dye-Free diet, waiting for entry into a full psychiatric/psychological evaluation program to see where to go next.

Picking up my child from school is always an adventure.  I open her folder before I see her to see if today was a magical day where she managed to earn a good behavior paw print.  We got to do a celebratory dance 6 times in October upon seeing that pretty paw.  Usually, though, I am greeted with a brief “disrupting the class”, “not minding”, or “poked friend in the eye” instead of a stamp.  Sometimes I’m gifted with a more elaborate note such as “Please talk to your daughter about the importance of listening to the teacher” or “She earned a stamp today only because she had constant supervision”.  I take a deep breath before going into the classroom to get her, at which point I’m usually greeted by a barrage of students peppering me with helpful information like “she peed her pants today”, “she spilled all the paint” or “she killed the fish!” (yes, the same fish from months ago). 

 (In case you’re wondering, I usually thank them for telling me or say something like “Thank you for being a good friend to her even when she has a bad day.  She could really use a good friend like you”.)

There’s so much I could tell you if I had the chance.   I’d tell you how lonely it is not being invited to play dates and birthday parties.  I’d tell you how badly I wish I was in the “in-crowd” again like I was before I had a preschooler with mental illness.  I’d tell you how badly it hurts when you whisper to each other or look at us with scorn. 

I’d tell you how my heart breaks for my other kids who are also rejected from party invites or social opportunities because of their sister’s reputation.  I’d tell you how hard it can be for them sometimes when they can’t have a normal relationship with their sister either.

I know I’d try and get you to see the good things about my daughter.  I’d try to emphasize the way she hasn't had an accident (outside of nap time) in 2 weeks or the way she loves nature.  I wish I could tell you how compassionate she is, bringing other children something special when she sees them crying or making sure the new kid in class got a hug.  I’d tell you how impressed I am when I hear her repeating something she’d learned in class like letter sounds or scientific facts or when I see her consciously choose to do something over again because she knows she started off incorrectly in her first response.  I’d probably want you to see how she smiles so beautifully in pictures and explain how grateful I am to have those rare glimpses of happiness caught on film.

I’d tell you that not all teachers or school systems are as kind as Ms. Murray

If I had the chance, I’d probably tell you that I too struggle to recognize that the behavior we see is symptomatic of the underlying mental health condition she suffers from, even as a preschooler.  It’s not something we can see to remind us that she has a permanently disabling condition.  If I were honest, I’d admit that sometimes I wonder whether people would treat her more kindly if she had a physical disability rather than this ugly mental illness that is trying to consume her before she starts Kindergarten.  

I would tell you my daughter isn't the only one.  I see other mommas, like me, simultaneously trying to advocate for services and accomodations in a world that doesn't seem to have room for square pegs while striving to teach their children to shoot for the stars, refusing to accept the current state as all it's ever going to be.  These ladies (and fathers too) are doing their best to try and hold it all together.  I see you mommas - don't give up.

I would try to convey all this to you and more but I rarely get the chance. 

I get it.  I really do. 

No matter how much I appreciate what I've learned on this journey and the relationships I have built along the way, no matter how much I love my daughter JUST-AS-SHE-IS, it doesn't mean I don't hope for more or want for normalcy.

I just wish things were different - mostly for her.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thankful Thursday - We've Made It...Our Last Day as Foster Parents

I cannot believe we've made it here, to this point, so very far from where we started.

Tomorrow we sign the adoptive placement agreement for our 4 kiddos.  While by itself this doesn't mean our kids are forever part of our family (that happens at consummation, also known as the court date), it does mean they will no longer be foster children.

My kids will no longer be in foster care.

Technically, I will not be their foster mom anymore.  Logan and Summer will no longer be foster siblings.  And, since we're closing our home after this placement, we'll no longer be a licensed foster home.

5 years.  We've been on this journey now for 5 years, licensed for 4 1/2.  In the grand scheme of life that seems so short.  But foster care.  Foster care is invasive.  By nature it permeates your life, your family, and the way you live.  It isn't all bad.  It isn't all good.  But it changes you.  So much has happened in these past 5 years.  In many ways our lives have been on pause, waiting for someone else to do or say something that will drastically change the dynamic of our family, all the while the core of our family has been adapting to the constant change in the wait.  What we've seen, what we know now that we didn't know then, the love and the trauma...we'll never be the same again.

As I sit here and look at the faces of my husband and children I'm so thankful for this segment of our journey.  The road before us is still wide open and we've only begun to travel the path we've been sent on.  Nevertheless, I'm glad to wave goodbye to The System and all that is within it.

I look forward to the relief of finally breathing out after all these years.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Moolah Monday - Our Disagreement about School Supplies

Happy Monday everyone!

This post brought to you by the upcoming school year which has 3 of our kiddos returning to a formal education program and one additional beginning a formal Pre-K program this year.

(In case you were wondering, we are currently a public school family with 4 kids in 3 different schools in our local district.  2 of them are in the gifted & talented magnet school, one at the "local" school, and one at a school pretty much as far away as she can get because there are more Pre-K programs "over there" vs. near us, and it's near daycare.  If you count daycare we have 6 kids in 4 schools.  Nice.)

I spent a significant amount of time and money this weekend shopping for back-to-school.  I try to spend 1x1 time with each kiddo for BTS shopping taking one out at a time.  It's easier that way but it's also a good quality time opportunity if I could swing it.  This year I did the shopping in 2 trips with the 2 oldest (separately).

I tried to shop extremely frugally, like I always do.  To begin, we had $350 per foster child to spend before adoption day toward clothes ($1400 total).    We had 5% coupons from the Target prescription rewards program.  I have the Target red card debit card (links to my checking account) for another 5%.  Plus, it was tax-free weekend here locally so I saved a little more than 8% there.    Add to that my bend toward being cheap and never paying full-price and I saved a boatload.  So, for $1400 I was able to receive about another $250 in "free" clothes and shoes.

I actually found it hard to spend some of this money because I have SO MANY clothes in most sizes already from the years we've been fostering.  I ended up buying clothes for the next few sizes up for some of the kids and for Baby Baby, who I have the most clothes for, I mostly spent that money on shoes.  (He's in size 7 now and is set on new shoes until size 12).  Our kids wear the fire out of their shoes so this will come in really handy in the upcoming years as we lose foster-care support for our forever kids.  (It's also cool in case we come across someone in need).

I only have one or two things left per child to purchase on our own, the biggest of which is lunchboxes and backpacks.  As I brought this up to my husband I was met with a significant amount of resistance.  He was hungry, which might have been part of it, but in general we are on completely opposite sides of this debate.  Though I'll try to be submissive here and I'm not trying to air out our dirty laundry, it did make mie wonder what my audience here did about backpacks.

Hubby's position - With 6 kids new backpacks and lunchboxes each year seems ridiculous.  It's money we can save. Why buy new ones when there are perfectly good ones all over the house.  They should learn to take care of the ones they have.

My position - Buying new backpacks and lunchboxes is an exciting part of getting ready to go back to school.  Getting to pick out a new backpack helps the kids feel excited about their upcoming year.  There's nothing like getting all your school supplies ready in your new bag, laying out your (new) outfit for your first day of school, and getting pumped up for what's to come.  It's a relatively inexpensive way to signal transition from old school year and summer to the new one.  Remember, I'm frugal as it is so $40 (or more! jeesh) backpacks aren't even on the consideration list.  It gives them a chance to pick a "more mature" backpack than they did last year if they wish.  Plus, it's what we've always done and we've had conversations with the kids in the last year about waiting until the new year to get a new backpack (with wheels, for one kid, not superman, for another).

One additional piece of the discussion was related to backpacks wearing out.
Mie: Backpacks wear out.  They need to be replaced.
Hubby: Then we'll replace them when they wear out.
Mie: But then the kid who didn't take care of theirs will get a new one after they weren't careful with it because they were throwing it around or whatever (or they damaged it or lost it on purpose because they wanted a new one and wanted to game the system) and the kid who took great care of it like they were supposed to won't ever get a new one.  That's not rewarding the behavior we want.
Hubby: Then we'll buy a new one for the kid that took great care of theirs and the kid who didn't can get their sibling's used backpack.
Mie: But then the kid who didn't take care of it will always have a handicap...they'll never get a new one because they'll always have an old one that will naturally wear out earlier.

(Here's the thing...we have two strong-willed challenging kids that will fall into the "damaged backpack due to lack of care or other more deviant choices" group and two that will fall into the "take care of their backpack and already resenting the deviant choice group for screwing up so many of the good things they could have with their crazy behavior".  Adding to or distracting from this dynamic is critical in our family).

So - where we ended last night was to let the kids pick a new backpack and lunchbox this year (because we already told them we would) and then we'll tell them it has to last them 2 years before they get a new one.


As an alternative I suggested we implement a reward system for not mindlessly buying a new one.  We can offer them a new backpack (with limits...they can't spend over a certain amount) OR they can keep the one they have and get $5.  They can choose to live with what they have to save money (which literally gives them money to save and is cheaper than us buying new bags) or they can choose to have a new bag.  Then they'll have the choice again next year.

All of this, of course, is dependent on our financial ability to make these choices - if we absolutely don't have the money then of course we don't NEED to buy anything, we can make do with what we have.  In my mind that changes the game and in hubby's mind we need to be thinking that way now.

What do you all think?  How do you handle this in your homes?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Personalized Goodies - Here's Hoping...

Now that we are so close to the triple threat of school starting up again, new names, and adoption day, I have this huge desire to complete my kids' collection of things that are personalized.  There are at least 5 items I want to get for each of my kiddos, each with its own purpose and meaning.

1.  Personalized Pencils - Totally Practical
Four of my kids will be in public school this fall.  Two of them are changing their names.  One of those is changing schools completely.  Another is starting Pre-K.  I think it would be awesome to send them to school with names on their pencils to help remind them how to spell their new first and last names.  The first names are easy to write, once they get used to it (and they've been practicing for months), but our last name is a different story.  It's not Smith or Jones or White or Brown.  It's complicated.  People always mispronounce it and misspell it.  The Pre-K kiddo will be learning to write her name (hopefully...).  Wouldn't it be great if they had their name on their pencils to act as a reminder without having to raise their hand and ask the teacher to help them spell their own names?  And, of course, I can't get these three pencils without getting a set for Logan...that wouldn't be write.  (Get it?)
Total Cost: $40 (Oriental Trading Company, Mustache set, Snowflake Set, Hibiscus Set, and Camouflage set + Shipping)

2.  Pencil Cases - Fairly Practical
Each of the kids needs to have a pencil case for their class.  They are on the required list for school supplies. It would be great if their pencil cases had a bit of personal flair including their name.  Not only would it be a second reminder of how to spell their names, it would also be a bit easier to help them keep track of their own cases, not "accidentally" taking a friends home or each others to school.  No, it's not absolutely necessary but I'd love to do it.
Total Cost: $40 (Etsy)

3.  Water Bottles - Completely Practical
I've learned in the last two weeks that I don't have a sufficient number of water bottles for the various activities we have to attend.  I don't even have 8 (one for each of us) so that in itself is a problem.  I have several theme-park refillable cups but they aren't seal-able so they can't be packed or really trusted in the hands of my kids.  I have sippy cups but my self-respectable "Big Kids" aren't cool with using their baby brother's sippy cups.  Now, since I need to buy some water bottles, I might as well buy them with their names on it.  Not only is it cool to have their names on their bottles it cuts down on the fighting immensely (That's MY Water Bottle...MOOOOOOOOM).
Total Cost: $60ish  I really haven't priced them yet.

4.  Sleeping Bags - Meh...Needed and Only Kind-of Practical.
Logan has a sleeping bag.  Summer has two, one personalized with her name on it.  My other 4 (well, the 3 older ones) have been hoping they get one too.  There really hasn't been a need for one though because as foster children they can't spend the night places, they aren't allowed to sleep anywhere in the house other than their beds, and well, camping can be approved but it hasn't been practical knowing that we'd need approval in advance.  So, they need a sleeping bag anyway.  Summer has one that has her name on it with a cute design.  I'd like to do the same for the other 4 (Logan wouldn't care about that...he's proud of his "grown-up" bag).  I know it seems like a luxury, and it is kind-of, having their own sleeping bag is a tangible symbol of not having to follow the rules of foster care anymore.  Being able to drop their own sleeping bag on the floor in my room or a tent in the backyard is a form of proof that they'll never have to leave.
Total Cost: $240ish from Lillian Vernon

5. Bean Bags - Completely Unnecessary, really
We're redoing our playroom and making it an actual playroom with centers and (gasp) real furniture.  We've moved a tv up their for movie nights or when friends are over and the adults want to have adult time downstairs.  I really would like to have them all have their own bean bags (again, personalized so they don't fight about them...).
Total Cost: $300-$600ish, depending on whether I can find them all as clearance-priced on Lillian Vernon

6. Bath Towels - Absolutely Practical
I'm also redoing the upstairs bathroom.  Towels are chaos. We've never really had a set for the kids other than those ones they've outgrown (you know, baby ones with the hoodies) and so we have a mismatched set of old towels that end up being thrown around the house and not stored well.  What I'd like to do is buy two towels for each kid.  I'd like them to have their names on them.  This way they can each hang their "clean" towel on their own hook in the bathroom and have one in the wash.  If they don't hang up their towel or make sure it gets into the wash they don't have a clean towel to use.  If I find one on the floor after bath-time I know exactly who it belongs to.  You know...all that kind of stuff.
Total Cost: $300ish.

So, there you have it.  Unfortunately, with our budget swing post-adoption I don't know if or when I'll ever be able to buy these things for my kiddos.  Well, such is life.  But now you know what's going through my head.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Foster Parent Friday - Between Fosterhood and Adoption

We are currently in that awkward stage between fosterhood, where everything is by the book and you don't know what is coming around the next corner, and adoption where you move on with your life as a forever family.  We've had a termination trial, had a final order signed (after a random 3 1/2 month wait), and waited out our 90 day appeal period.  This puts us in the place where the department (CPS) has permanent managing coservatorship of our kiddos (in other words is the permanent parents and legally responsible party) and biological parents no longer have any parental rights (and, theoretically in most cases would be out of the picture at least in a far distant corner of the picture).

While there is "no chance" the biological family can come back around and try to regain custody somehow, we are still not their forever, legal, family. Technically, we are still foster parents and will remain so until the adoption is finalized.  This is such an awkward place to be because in our heads and hearts we are their parents, we are a family, and nothing will change that.  The decision to adopt these children has come and gone.  The kids call us mom and dad.  They are all siblings.  Generally, day-to-day, our life is now normal as if it will be after adoption.

There are some things, however, that are still not normal.  We no longer have to deal with parental visits but we do still need to schedule time for CASA visits 2x per month (or more because she also likes to spend time 1x1 with the kiddos), monthly with the children's caseworker, and now monthly with our family's caseworker because they changed the rules from quarterly to monthly on us.  We no longer have to try to fit in court regularly, worrying about whether the judge will send them home, but we do have to arrange for "263 hearings" on occasion.  We aren't dealing with weekly supervised and unsupervised visits but we are still managing monthly contact with their birth father per our agreement (this will continue post adoption).  Birth mother doesn't get to see or talk to them but that doesn't mean she doesn't try regularly.  I am happy to report that we've been told (in writing) we no longer have to worry about cutting their hair but I'll tell you, after having chopped off 8 inches from one of my daughter's locks, I still worry about whether they'll approve of my choices or not.  These things are all manageable nuisances that I understand and deal with but look forward to getting rid of.  

Then there is the category of things that really grates on mie.  I still cannot make decisions on my own for
"my" kids like I can for my forever kids.  I can't take them on an impromptu weekend vacation (though it wouldn't be too hard for me to get permission).  I can't let them camp out in my room one night to watch a movie as a family before we go to bed.  I can't let them camp out in the playroom together one night either, for that matter.  Technically I can't let them go spend the night with their cousins or let their cousins spend the night at my home and I still have to worry whether we'll get a surprise inspection by licensing and have a friend over who hasn't had a background check.  Though we have "safe" places for "not-too-dangerous" medication that our 1 year old son needs several times a day,  I still have to double-lock it on the off-chance someone will stop by and go digging through our cabinets.  And I still can't have a trampoline.

Then we have our awkward situation with names.  We're only kind-of allowed to call our children by their new adoptive names.  This is ok for our younger kiddos (one of whom insists her name is her new name anyway and handles that for us) but it is difficult for our older kiddos who are starting new classes this next year and need to know how to read, write, and respond to their new names.  Their names aren't legally changing until a couple days after school starts so we can't technically call them by their new names and I'm ok with that except for the fact that they need to be used to responding to their teachers and writing their new names when school comes.  Plus, I'd like to purchase some personal supplies and I don't want to be accused of pushing the lines.  

Finally - the thing that is most challenging for me during this time - still being foster mom.  Generally this is not a  problem for mie (see above list of annoyances).  But there are those times I'm asked the dreaded question, usually by people in an official capacity:

"Are you his foster mom?"

I don't know why this gets at mie so much and I can't let it roll of my back but I've had a seriously hard time holding my tongue, especially when it comes to Baby Baby, the one I hear about it most.  He's a great kid with several medical challenges so I see a lot of specialists, nurses, and other staff who don't know anything about us except for what they see in the medical file.  They ask harmlessly but it seriously strikes as a knife when I hear it particularly because at this point in the case I'm forced to answer yes.  Yes, I suppose I am still his foster mom.  Oh and every time I hear it the Mama Bear in mie comes out and I want to scream to them through the phone...I am his ONLY mom.  I have raised this baby since he was 4 days old, since he came from the hospital.  He would not know his birth mother from anyone else.  I have been there for every moment with him, through hospitalizations and breathing treatments, through the milestones and celebrations. To HIM, I am his mama and he would tell you nothing else.  It is evident in the way he lights up and runs to mie when he sees mie (though daddy is the clear favorite right now).  In a crowded room I  am the one he runs to for safety.  But yes.  I am his foster mom.  Just foster mom.

Oh how I long for the day when I can say, without any sort of reservation, I am their mother, just plain mom, forever.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Moolah Monday - Adoption Subsidy

Hello Everyone - Nice to see you again! I've been on a special work assignment for several weeks that encouraged mie to keep away from the computer and, for the most part, I did just that.  I didn't check up on anything, including the blog, for nearly 2 months.

In that time we've had several major events progressing us (finally) to adoption of our kiddos.  Someone mentioned the other day that we'll have 6 kids in our family as though it was just about to happen.  It was a quick-said, well-meant thing by someone I hadn't seen in a while but I did correct her by pointing out we've been a family of 8 with 6 kids for well over a year (19 months if you count the time since we got Baby-Baby, 14 if you count all 4).  Baby Baby is no longer a baby.  He's walking and spouting off 2-3 word phrases as he seems fit.  All the other kids continue to grow and progress and are very much ours.  And yet, the adoption that "should have been" final in March or April is now scheduled for September.  We have an actual date to consummate the adoption in court.  Stay tuned.

The last thing we were waiting for before scheduling an adoption date was to negotiate adoption subsidy for our children.  This must be done before signing the adoptive placement agreement that formally moves our kids out of foster care in order to obtain subsidy support.

Children adopted from foster care are often eligible for an array of financially supportive benefits (often referred to as subsidy or adoption benefits) in order to encourage families to adopt from foster care.  Adoption benefits are typically provided through federal funding (and therefore include standard eligibility requirements across the states) but are administered by the state or local agencies and sometimes funded by the state which means there are variations by state, particularly in the amount of funding.  With that said, keep in mind what I share today is specifically for our home state (Texas) and may be somewhat different than what is available in another state.  That being said, adoption benefits are a very beneficial, less-well-known benefit available to those who wish to adopt from foster care, often making foster care and foster-care adoption more realistic to families who otherwise would be concerned about the financial "burden" of adopting.

Generally, eligibility for adoption subsidy is determined by federal eligibility requirements designed to encourage the adoption of children who are harder-to-adopt.  In other words, there are lots of families out there looking to adopt a newborn baby without exposure to drugs and without medical concerns.  The more you mess with that equation the less-likely the average family is to want to adopt a child.  Things like race, medical/developmental concerns, behaviors, and age all may make a child less-appealing to the average family.  All children over 6, minority children over the age of 2, and those who are diagnosed with a "permanently handicapping condition" are generally considered eligible for adoption benefits.  In addition, sibling groups (or children being placed for adoption with a sibling who was already a permanent member of the family) are eligible for subsidy because there are fewer families willing to adopt 2, 3, or more children than those willing to consider adding one child.

For a real-example, Summer was a 2-year-old Caucasian female at the time of her adoption.  She was not being placed for adoption with a biological sibling.  She did not, at the time, have a diagnose-able disability.  Therefore, she did not qualify for adoption benefits.  Our newest children are of a racial minority.  Three of them are over 2 years old and therefore would qualify for adoption subsidy on their own if placed separately.  The baby is not yet 2.  We could wait until he was 2 to adopt him so that he was eligible, but that is not necessary because he (and all of them) are eligible for benefits because they are being placed together as a sibling group.

(Since Summer's adoption she has been diagnosed with a "permanently handicapping condition" and we have a letter from her pediatrician saying as much.  With that in mind, we can appeal her original ruling of ineligibility and attempt to negotiate subsidy with her as well.  We will likely do that).

Adoption benefits come in 4 main forms:

  1. College Tuition
  2. Medicaid
  3. Non-Recurring Adoption Benefits
  4. Recurring Adoption Benefits/Monthly Support
All children in Texas who are adopted from foster care will receive College Tuition.  I'm not entirely sure how this works everywhere but I'm told it is a federal program for all children to receive this benefit whether or not they are eligible for other adoption benefits.  (Don't quote me on that but do ask everyone you can in your state about it.  We found out after the fact that Summer is indeed eligible for college tuition.)  College tuition in Texas includes all tuition at state-funded colleges up through and including doctoral studies.  That is awesome/  

Because my newest children are eligible for subsidy, they automatically earn Medicaid and Non-Recurring Adoption Benefits on top of College Tuition.  Medicaid will serve as primary medical insurance if I do not obtain private insurance.  That being said, adding my newest 4 to my insurance doesn't cost me extra so I will go that route (and have with 3 of them so far). This means that medicaid is the secondary insurer and basically covers copayments.  This is a nice benefit at the least and vital in many cases.  

Non-Recurring adoption benefits include two things, the most common of which is attorney's fees for the adoption.  In our area there are several adoption attorneys that contract with the state (that are very good!) so that the payment goes directly to the attorney and no money ever comes out of the adoptive family's pocket for the adoption itself.  The amount is $1200 per child.  In some cases the children will have one-time expenses that facilitate the family being able to adopt the child.  For example, maybe a parent is willing to adopt a child in a wheelchair and needs to retrofit their home to add a ramp or maybe needs vehicle modifications to accommodate a lift.  In these cases the family might also be eligible for a one-time payment to cover the cost of the modifications.  This is generally not available to families currently fostering the child prior to adoption because the thought is the parents are already caring for the child in a way that meets care standards and therefore any additional support should not be necessary.  

Recurring adoption benefits/monthly support is generally the piece of adoption benefits that must be negotiated.  In Texas (currently) the amount of monthly support is capped based on level-of-care.  All of our children are considered basic level-of-care and therefore are eligible for up-to $400 per month for adoption subsidy payments until they each turn 18 years old.  The amount is only slightly higher for higher levels-of-care and in all cases is less than the amount received as foster-care payments.  Though income is not a consideration in eligibility it can be a consideration during negotiation for the amount of subsidy to be received by child.  The adoptive parents submit detailed explanation for expected expenses as part of the application for adoption subsidy and the negotiator reviews to determine how much of each eligible expense the family is expected to pay and how much the state is expected to pay, by percent.  For example, in our case I indicated daycare expenses, per child, would be $750 per month until they were old enough to not have childcare (at which point other costs would kick-in).  The negotiator could look at our income and determine that our family is expected to pay 90% of that amount and the state only 10%, so that would mean $75 toward monthly subsidy, and so on for other expenses.

Honestly I was very nervous about how much the negotiator would take our income into account.  We definitely make "enough" money to provide for our family but we also are adopting 4 children and it is expensive to raise 4 children, especially when we lose the $2800 monthly we're currently receiving as foster-care subsidy in addition to the daycare currently paid for by the state.  In the end though, the negotiator was kind and determined our family should receive the $400 benefit, per child, without considering our income too much.

Now that we have a signed agreement we are ready to move forward to adoption!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day Musings

I'm sitting here Monday morning, deeply processing motherhood.  I'm tired, I'm worn-out, and if I'm honest, I'm sad a bit (or a lot...yes, I'm sad "big").

I'm not the type to have expectations.  I don't like receiving gifts because I fear hurting the feelings of those who gave them to mie if I don't have the perfect reaction.  I don't like expecting lest I get disappointed when things don't come.  I'd rather just go-with-the-flow and I've become very content with that motto.  It's helpful in my world too as I'm better able to cope with the next bit of crazy constantly thrown in my life.

But when I'm honest...

Life parenting 6 kids, 5 of whom are from hard places (and the 1 born to mie has been through hard things), is hard.  I have 1 compliant child and that's only because he's still a baby (but a really "good" baby!).  Ok - here's the run down:

Numero 1 - Logan - my first born, super-intelligent, strong-willed son who's equally sweet and caring as persistent and competitive for my affection.  He needs to feel he's special, which is complicated by the fact he has 5 younger siblings.

Numero 2 - K - The oldest of her sibling group, she's also super-intelligent and yet her traumatic past tricks her into acting remedial at times to be sure she's not going to lose favor if she makes a mistake.  She feels the need to compete with Numero 1 constantly, has trouble believing she can be "good" if Numero 3 is not bad so she quietly eggs him on repeatedly, and she's a great helper.

Numero 3 - Big E - The middle boy, only a year behind Numero 1 & Numero 2 yet stuck at the age of trauma to a large degree making him revert back to a toddler/preschooler when stressed.  He's one of my Sensational Kids but he's fought very hard to heal to the place he's at now where he's no longer having violent fits of rage lasting for hours.  He does, however, have bad times most days where he just can't get out of his self-preservation mode long-enough to correct his behavior.  He's a challenge, this one, and his behavior is the primary reason the siblings weren't allowed to come live with us for so long last year.  That being said he's made HUGE strides and I'm very proud of him.

Numero 4 - Summer - Oh Summer.  My heart aches for this little girl.  She's incredibly artistic and beautiful but as my second Sensational Kid she struggles to adapt to the world around her leading to strong defiance, frequent melt-downs (like you'd see in a 2 year old even though she's 4 1/2), and developmental delays in significant areas (potty training).  This all blossomed around 3 years old, well after a year after we adopted her, and significantly hinders the joy in her life.  She irritates her siblings on a daily basis and doesn't seem to comprehend what she's doing half-the-time (yet she does...).

Numero 5 - Miss L - The youngest girl, only a year younger than Summer.  She's the girl everyone sees as "so sweet" and she is, sometimes, but as the 5th youngest in the family has become a fighter to get attention.  It's completely age-appropriate and why I believe I wasn't made to be a mother to 3 year old girls.

Numero 6 - Baby Baby - Not really a baby anymore.  He's walking and talking and still a joy to be around for now.  He always wants to go outside and tells us so.  He's also just beginning to tell us no and throw mini-tantrums.

6 kids, ages 1-7. It's hard.  Having one is EASY.  When we break them up into 2 or 3 it's still EASY.  Like piece-of-cake we're totally great parents easy.  We have all the right parenting skills.  They work when the kids are alone or in small groups.  But goodness gracious when the kids are all together is it hard.  Really hard.  It doesn't help that momma is usually by herself taking care of them all.

Let me give you an example.

Yesterday, for mother's day, I decided to take the kids to a movie at a place where you eat food while watching the show.  I wanted to treat them.  I really do love them a lot and actually this type of place is a nice break usually but this one seemed to not hold the younger ones' interests well and was 2 1/2 hours long which meant I spent a lot of energy keeping them all content.  It didn't help that #4 was in trauma mode all weekend and needed the extra level of parenting.  This movie meant our normal Sunday routine was a bit out-of-sorts and our normal Costco trip was 3 hours later than usual.  It started out by #4 being in time-out outside of the store (with a game of I Spy for the others) for about 20 minutes while he got himself together. We had to wait in-line to return something we bought last week that was too small and you know, lines and 6 tired kids don't go well to begin with.  The kids held it together for the most part though #4 was testing boundaries a good deal.  Then #5 decided she'd had enough.  I for the life of me can't remember what she was doing now but she ended up in her own time-out.  She needed to sit where I put her (which happened to be at the end of a "quieter" aisle) for 3 minutes calmly before she could get up.  But she had none of it.  No matter what I did, for 20 minutes, she had none of it.  Of course everyone there thought she was being so mistreated because she's a cute 3 year old crying in the middle of Costco.  (thankfully after they realized I was there watching her and what was going on they encouraged me and left her alone).  Eventually I had to put her into a cart to help her calm down and she complied, for 2 aisles.  By this time the other 5 were done with her shenanigans and it was all I could do to try and keep them together while getting out of the store.  After being told no, we now don't have time for a sample from that vendor, #5 decided she was going to throw another tantrum and kicked and screamed on the floor, which meant another time-out.  This time she faced backward in a cart for the rest of the trip (because she wasn't getting it together) and we headed out of the store at which point #3 decided he was going to push the shopping cart against the way I was pushing it so he didn't have to go home because he didn't want to take a nap when we got home.  I gave him his choice and he chose to go in the cart so that's where he ended up on the way to the car.  He had to sit in his time-out until he controlled himself for 6 minutes and he didn't have any of it.  So, he walked around hitting and kicking the car, throwing sticks at it, doing everything to get a reaction out of me rather than doing what he was supposed to do.  I stuck to my guns and we all "had fun" in the car while he got himself together.  I genuinely smiled when he started picking up all the sticks and sat for 6 minutes nicely when he was done with the fit.  By this time it was 5pm.  Church at 9, a 2 1/2 hour movie, and a Costco trip had taken us 8 hours due to frequent behavior checks.  On mothers day.  By myself.

When we got home I sent the more out-of-control kids to separate rooms for 30 minutes and told them all for Mother's Day mommy needed a 30 minute break.  I was tired.  I worked my garden and sat outside nicely, in peace, while my hubby who was now available manned the quiet (of course) fort.

When it came time for dinner I had my choice and oh was it a dilemma.  To go out to eat and face more of the antics I'd had all day or stay home and make my own dinner (with the chaos at home).  My hubby wanted me to chose but really it was too hard.  All I wanted (my blasted expectation) was a good, fun, peaceful time with my kiddos. I  wanted to enjoy them.

Don't get me wrong.  There were plenty-of-things-awesome during my day yesterday.  Numero 1 woke up and immediately apologized sincerely for his behavior the night before.  They all immediately showered mie with love in the morning even though daddy wasn't there to remind them.  I loved watching the two oldest thoroughly enjoy the movie we'd watched in wonder.  The parenting techniques worked and I was patient and kind through them.  (and they worked!!!).  My hubby bought mie the only thing I wanted, even though I'd forgotten to tell him what I'd wanted and he didn't know I needed one.  I heard from both sets of birth parents wishing mie a happy mother's day.

And finally - dinner was a success.  It was pleasant.  It was a lot of work like 6 kids at a restaurant is a lot of work but it was pleasant and fun, not crazy.

I'm exhausted from this parenting gig.  It's worth it and I look forward to the days to come but I'm still tired.  This phase will pass and someday my hubby and I will be sitting around wondering what-the-heck we're supposed to do with all the calm and quiet.  I know that day is coming.  But today I'm in the trenches of motherdom and it's often a hard gig.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Foster Parent Friday - The "Dreaded" Homestudy

Q: What is a homestudy?  And what happens at a homestudy?  And what should I be prepared for?  And what questions are they going to ask?  And where are they going to look?  And...

A: Come on y'all - you've all been there right?  At least if you've gone through the licensing process for adoption and/or foster care, if you're in the process now, or if you've considered becoming licensed you've most definitely wondered about this nebulous and seemingly doom-ridden homestudy.  All the fear is absolutely justified when you consider that your homestudy is a major piece of the licensing process and usually one of the last steps before you get licensed (and start opening your home to kids).  I'll also say it's absolutely worth the fear that it produces in that typically the mystery and angst associated with a pending homestudy probably makes you prepare enough to "pass".

When we were going through the licensing process the homestudy gave me the heebie jeebies.  In truth I'm one of those recovering Type A & perfectionist personalities that needs to get everything right and ace every test.  When we went through classes we'd get a piece of paperwork to complete and I'd make copies and write and re-write it over again so I'd have nice, neat handwriting to go with my well-thought-out and complete answers.  I'd also usually do it the same evening when we came home from training so it was done well in advance of the due date.  I was baffled by the others in our class who failed to turn in paperwork on time and were repeatedly warned they had to do so before getting dropped from the licensing process.  My brain just couldn't fathom that level of (fill in the blank...irresponsibility, casual approach, etc.) when such a serious thing was on the line.

Throughout the licensing process I tried to find as much information as I could about the homestudy and the only thing I could ever find was that it wasn't a big deal.  I kept reading that it wasn't a "pass/fail" evaluation as much as it was an understanding of our home to be able to identify the best-fit when foster children needed a family.  I repeatedly found people who said they'd ask personal questions and maybe it would feel intrusive but it was harmless.  I found people who said to be tidy but not to worry about cleaning out every crevice.

People kept trying to tell me all would be well but I just couldn't believe them.  This big scary thing was in the way of my family's future so how could I not take it seriously and worry about it?  I cleaned and I worried as a bad housecleaner I wouldn't be good enough.  I thought about everything in my past, in my family's past, in my marriage, that may need to be discussed and how would I phrase it to be honest and yet not get myself disqualified.  My grandmother passed away the week of my homestudy and I fretted about how to respond about how that death in my family would disqualify our home from moving forward in the licensing process.  It was awful.  I did all that I could do and then hoped it would be enough.

I'm not going to be able to provide you with much more detail than that, at least not here because it's not really the point of this post (but email mie if you do have questions because I'd be happy to give the answers I have!).  What I wanted to point out today is how things have changed since those days so long ago.

We had our second adoptive homestudy on Wednesday.  You need to have an updated homestudy completed before you can adopt.  The updated study looks at how your family started out (likely provided in the original homestudy) and then expands on that to discuss how your family is with your future adoptive children to determine how the adoption will impact the family dynamic.  We've been here once before and the main thing to keep in mind is that this means we're getting closer to adoption!  WOOHOO!!!

What I found so fascinating in doing this second adoptive homestudy was how different it was than when we went through the process as foster parents.  For real - this time around we scheduled our homestudy on the most convenient day for us, which happened to be the same day our baby had surgery so we'd slept for 4 hours the night before and spent the morning at the hospital before the caseworker came over.  We hadn't cleaned at all in most of the house.  The only cleaning we did was in the kitchen to get rid of dirty dishes and really only that because we had the time.  A few minutes before she was supposed to arrive I dumped out 3 baskets full of unmatched socks and played the matching game with my husband while we waited for her to arrive.  I didn't have on any makeup and I wasn't wearing anything remotely nice.  When she finally arrived I doubt I had any shoes on and my baby had blood coming out of his ears (from his surgery).  We chatted in the kitchen for a while.  At some point I got a snack out and started eating while talking to her.  We even had a neighbor kid ring the doorbell to come play and I let him in to the backyard.  During our homestudy.  Toward the end my husband went outside to repair the backyard fence.  I had to discipline one of my difficult children and didn't bat an eye.  Although I cared about the result of the homestudy I had ZERO concern about the process itself.  I didn't feel the need to impress anyone and I didn't prep for it.

So, if you're nervous about your first homestudy good.  You should be as it will make you take this process seriously and this is a serious process.  Just try to remind yourself that once you get over this hurdle someday, if you're blessed to go through it again, you probably will look back yourself and think hmm...what was I so worried about back then?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Foster Parent Friday: What happens after termination?

Hi everyone!  I'm back.  Kind of.  It takes a lot to be a mom-to-6 who works full-time in a high-level corporate position with a hubby who works a "different" schedule.  Do you realize what happens when someone gets sick around here?  Imagine how long it takes for 6 kids to get through a sickness with incubation periods and all that.  It takes 2 weeks of someone constantly sick around here before everyone is finally well and, by the way, that's about how long it takes until the next cold comes around.  I've had it with the flu (hit us 2x, different strains), strep (at least 15 times between all of us), and the common cold that causes poor kiddos with reactive airway disease (the new form of RAD around here...) to really, really struggle.  

As you can tell, we've been there a lot lately.

I'm going to use the Foster Parent Friday to give you an update on how we are and what's been going on.  Let's continue, shall we?

Q: What happens in a case after termination?
A: Nothing.  Or, at least that's what's happened around here.

No, seriously though, in general after transition the state is supposed to find a permanent placement and finalize that placement as soon as they can that is healthy for the children.  First that is adoption (with a family member or non-relative), then they go for permanent managing conservatorship (with a family member or non-relative), or if needed a permanent foster home where the child is expected to age out.  This is an oversimplified version of what happens because it isn't where I'm headed with this post.  Maybe I'll write more about it later.

In our case the plan has always been non-relative adoption (with us).  In the state of Texas (and most states as far as I'm aware), there are two major requirements that delay adoption.  First, the children have to be legally free.  Second, the children have to have lived in the home with their caregiver for 6 months.  Both of these requirements must be in place before adoption is really an option.

Status #1- 6 months in our home
All of our children have been with us now for 6 months.  At the time of termination (December), the three older children were with us exactly 6 months and the baby almost a year.  The baby has now been with us for 16 months (his whole life) and the older children have been with us for 10 months.  (It's crazy how time flies).  Therefore, when the termination trial occurred and termination was granted the children had been in our home long enough to adopt them already.  This is not always the case, as in children who are placed for adoption after they are legally free (common in adoptions from or domestic infant adoptions).  

Status #2 - Legally Free
In order for the children to be legally free for adoption, no other parent or individual can have parental rights to the children.  In our case there were 4 individuals who had parental rights that needed to be terminated before adoption could occur.  There were the two biological parents and then two relatives who had been given permanent managing conservatorship over the children before they came to our home.  Therefore, all of their rights to the children had to be terminated before proceeding.  At trial, one parent and one relative voluntarily relinquished rights to the children.  One parent and one relative refused to relinquish and let the judge decide.  At the end the judge decided to accept the relinquishment for those who offered it and terminated on those who didn't.  In our state, voluntarily relinquishment is irrevocable and permanent meaning  in cases where both parents relinquish (or all 4, in our case), the children are legally free immediately.  When rights are involuntarily terminated though, the party is allowed an appeal period.  In our state there is a 90-day appeal period.  In our case, the one parent (and possibly the relative who did not relinquish) are granted a 90-day appeal period to attempt to get the decision overturned.  Only after the 90-day period has ended (without an appeal) or after all appeals are exhausted are the children considered legally-free.  

There is one other component that needs to be considered as well with or without the 90-day appeal period.  Other relatives or people considered to have significant relationship with the child (neighbors, teachers, etc.) have a period after termination to intervene in the case and attempt to get custody.  I believe this period is 30 days but it may be 45 or 60.  This means that even when both parents sign an irrevocable relinquishment everything is not "done" - a potential adoptive family still has to hold their breath and wait out the additional 30 (?) days to see if a relative jumps in to take the children.

With our case being as it is we are subject to the 90 day appeal period.  Because termination happened in December we figured the children would be legally free in March and the adoption would be as early as late-March or more likely April.

We were wrong.

What we didn't realize was that the 90-day appeal period starts when the FINAL ORDER is signed.  This is the paperwork that summarizes the parties in the case and the judges ruling.  For perspective here, in our adoption our attorney had a petition to the court written up with all of the information that later went into the final order so that after the adoption was complete the judge signed the final order our attorney had written for her and it was done then and there.  Understandably in a termination trial they may not have the final order written in advance because they don't truly know what the judge will say so, as I understand it, it typically takes 1-2 weeks to get the final order signed.  I wish I would have known that but in the grand scheme of things another 2 weeks wouldn't have been a big deal.

So there we are, hanging out literally counting down the days with our kids.  We gave them general things to watch for to know when adoption would be getting closer (their birthdays, Easter, etc.).  It wasn't until Mid-February when we were "2/3s of the way through our 90 day period" that the shoe dropped...not only did we have to wait until the final order was signed before the countdown begin, the final order HADN'T EVEN BEEN WRITTEN!!!  This was devastating news and really hard to swallow.

It took another month for the final order to be written, circulated to all the parties, and signed.  We were told that due to the complexities of this case, how long it had gone on, the fact that there were actually 2 cases, the type of settlement agreement we have with the parent who relinquished, and other factors they were waiting on the top person to right the order (from scratch) instead of using a junior-level associate who would have used a common form.  They wanted to get it right.  Getting it right meant an additional 90-day wait for us and our kids.

Now we are waiting for the 90 day period to expire which should be sometime in June.  There are a few process pieces that cannot be done toward the adoption until the children are legally free (such as negotiating subsidy and setting a court date).  Some things can be done now, like getting our updated homestudy completed.  

With all of this in mind we think we're looking at finalization in August, maybe July.  We're eager to get there, for all of our sake(s).  Our family is ready to be "official" and done with the system.  No more med logs.  No more locking up the toilet bowl cleaner if I don't want to, and no more policies against co-sleeping.  No more approval for haircuts or travel out of state.  No more restrictions on who I can and can't let into my house or have spend the night or have babysit my children.  It will be our choice because we will be their legitimate parents.  We're not holding our breath but we are hoping it's smoother sailing from here.  

That's where we are.  Still alive.  Still kicking.  More busy than ever.  Still happy we said yes.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Medical Information

I cannot express to you how important it is to try to work with birth parents as a foster parent whenever it is at all feasible to do so.  I have found building relationships with them to be nearly as rewarding to me as parenting the children themselves but also has very practical benefits.  When the situation is relatively safe to do so, I've found relationships with birth parents to lead to one of two outcomes:
  • Strong Reunification - when you're working with birth parents who are on the path to reunification they tend to relax a little bit knowing their children are in good hands.  This can lead them to focus more on their recovery, whatever that is supposed to look like, spending their energy getting better rather than mourning the loss of their children/being angry at the system.  I've also found we are often the only "light" some of these parents have had and our encouragement has gone a long way not only in helping them to get better but also as reunification occurs in that we're able to help coach them as parents even after the case is over.  There have been a couple situations where we've been able to really cheer on parents as they get their life together to get their children back.
  • Decision to Relinquish - In both of our adoption cases the relationship we've had with the birth parents has played a factor in their decision to relinquish.  At the end of the day, the parents have come to the decision that their children would be "better off" staying with us than going home to live with them.  I can't imagine how agonizing that decision is.  I know it may seem like they make that choice so they can leave their kids and continue partying.  I'm sure this happens but hasn't been our experience.  Our children's birth parents have come to the conclusion that their children are loved, they are safe, and we as parents will provide them with the life they want their kids to have.  
In both of these examples, continued contact with the first parents has been a side benefit (or, a primary benefit I suppose).  When #3 went home with his first parents they would call me to talk about why he was doing X and I was there to coach them as they learned to parent in a healthy manner.  I am positive that this contact will be beneficial for summer as she continues to grow-up. 

The agreement with our newest 4 includes a level of contact not usually seen.  I'll explain that in a future post but basically one parent has a form of custody.  The other chose to take chances in court and lost, therefore having no formal agreement.  That being said she still has our Google Voice number and can call, text, leave messages, etc. to maintain contact according to what we feel will be beneficial (after adoption occurs).  

This has paid off HUGE for us recently.

Often times when you adopt you have limited information about medical history.  You get whatever the caseworker tells you, often whatever the parents felt like sharing, and that's typically it.  It's awkward when you answer questions at the doctors office because it's either "I don't know" to things like "is there a history of cancer in the family" (or even "was the baby born vaginally") or when you have to say things like "He was born addicted to meth" when you haven't yet explained that you are the adoptive parent.  When you have a good relationship with the first family this changes.  You can at least ask the questions you need answers to (they may not answer, I suppose) and you might be able to trust the answers they give you.

This recently paid off for us in a big way.  One of our newest 4's birth parents was admitted to the hospital.  This parent texted us to let us know.  Later they texted us to let us know it was serious and wanted to talk to us.  (Granted, sometimes this can be a ploy or drama produced by birth families and that is something that needs to be considered as well).  In this case we learned that this parent has a serious heart condition.  A grandparent died from this condition in her early 30s.  This parent is about that same age and experiencing the same symptoms.  All 4 of our children need to be monitored by a cardiologist for this same condition.  It's the type of things even biological parents don't always know about until their child collapses in middle school during a sporting event.  It is highly likely one or more of our children have a congenital heart defect that will lead to congenital heart failure if not treated properly throughout their lifetime.  

We are beyond blessed that we were able to find this information out before some sort of tragedy struck and it's only because we had this relationship with the first family.  

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Working Mama Wednesday - Choosing Family

Life is full of choices.

As a working mama I face my own set of choices daily and none of them appear to be easy.  Do I leave at 4:30 to get home 1/2 hour earlier today to spend extra time with my kids?  Yes?  Then that means I save 1/2 hour of work for after they go to bed or the next day to work 1/2 hour longer.  OR, it means I don't do the work and risk some sort of career-related consequence.  Do I go ahead and stay 1/2 hour later to get everything done?  Yes? Then that means getting home 1/2 hour before bed time, rushing to produce dinner and eat together and skipping baths and getting the kids to bed on-time OR giving baths and getting to bed late OR eating out which requires an additional stop and getting home about the same time dinner would have been ready anyway AND nearly no time with the kids AND additional stress for everyone making the "no-time" with the kids less enjoyable.  See what I mean?  Choices.  Constantly.

So what do you do?  Just the best you can.

How do I do it?  I don't.  I just take it one step at a time.  I do it the best I can.  God first.  Hubby second.  Kids 3rd-8th, Work last.  At least this is what I try to do.

For me at this time in my life it means making choices that probably don't help my career.  I travel as minimally as possible (cuz leaving kids from traumatic backgrounds is hard on everyone and it's not easy to find suitable overnight-type care for 6 little kids).  A couple friends of mine have been chosen to do an ex-pat assignment in a foreign country, something seen as extremely valuable career-wise around here.  In response I told someone "I'm not going there any time soon".  Really, taking a family of 8 to live overseas for a year in a tiny apartment (cuz that's all that's available around there) in a place they don't even remotely speak the language while mom works 12 hours a day is hardly my idea of "possible".  I mean, if God brought it to us we'd figure it out I just don't see me volunteering for that role in the near future.  (And I'm certainly not going by myself, leaving them home as my friends are...).  Choices.

Truth-be-told, people know my situation and I'm sure I wouldn't be considered for such an opportunity because of my family life.  I'm positive if/when my name comes up for things like that it is met with "she has 6 young kids" regardless of whether or not that is supposed to enter into the equation.

Would my career progress more rapidly if I didn't have my family or I didn't talk about them as much or I didn't put them first?  Probably.  I'd be free to move around the country.  I could take whatever position came across our plate that made sense career-wise.  I could work longer hours and not worry about it.  I wouldn't need to take off work for so many doctor appointments.

Do I care that my career is hindered because of my family?  Of course I do.  I'd be lying if I said I never cared.  I'm not a "career-woman" despite my successful career but that doesn't mean I'm not aware of the impact choosing to have a family (like mine) has on my opportunities and "levels of success".  I do have career-related aspirations, not to have a certain position necessarily but to do certain things like hold board roles, write publicly more, engage more in public speaking, tell my story, and continue making a difference in the corporate world.

Doing that takes time, time away from my family that I just don't have to give right now, so it will have to wait.

Last week I took a trip to Las Vegas for work.  It's an annual thing and pretty much my only big work trip I plan for each year.  I greatly look forward to it not only because it's a fun event but because I get a chance to get away and just be a woman for a bit.  I am forced to put me first simply because I'm not all that effective as being a wife and mom when I'm so far away from my kids.  I stay out late with friends.  I play Blackjack. I go to the spa (all day).  I do the career-mingle thing.  I love it, but there's a part of mie missing when I'm away from home.  I can't do all of those other things without being abundantly cognizant of the things I'm missing with my hubby and kids.  I miss bed time.  I miss getting them ready for school.  Last week I missed two dentist appointments and the PTA skate party.  As much as I enjoyed my time away I would give it all up to not miss those important daily events in my kids lives.

As a side note, it was beneficial for my kids to know I can go away for a short time and then I'll come back.  It helped build trust between us so I'm not saying every mom should stay with their kids 100% of the time, all the time. 

I talked to a non-profit organization yesterday doing work I'm passionate about that is looking for a board member.  As much as I wanted to snatch up that role, I indicated I can't over commit myself at this time.  You know, any more than I already have.  Maybe I'll do some work with them over the next few years and step into a board role as my kids get older.  Maybe.

Here's the thing - this world is full of distractions trying to take us from what is important.  Our mission in life, those things God has called us to do, is constantly at risk from video games and spa days and movies and Facebook. (and dirty floors and folding laundry and The Bachelor and blogs).  These things are not inherently bad but we need to be careful that we don't get caught up in our (sometimes selfish, sometimes well-meaning) desires to please (ourselves or others) that we end up missing the really important things that go by so fast.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Emerging from Holiday Vacation (Sick Edition)

Here I am.

It's been a while since my last blog post.  Someday I'll figure out how I manage my life's workload as a mom of 6 kids.  Today is not the day (though we made progress).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Life around here is generally good and our housefull is looking forward to what 2014 will bring including, hopefully, adoption day in about 2-3 months.  *fingers crossed*

I took the last 2 weeks of the year off for vacation.  I try to do that whenever I can to reconnect with my family, knowing as much as I can that my kids will grow up way too fast and I won't have these days for long.  I'd planned on fun things like trips to the zoo, to the wild animal park, fun days at home, and ice skating.  I really wanted to take my older kiddos ice skating.

Sunday (22nd) came around and we got up to go to church as normal.  Baby Baby had been coughing, a usual occurence due to recurrent bronchiolitis, so I thought I'd take his temperature just in case.  He was fine but the other kiddos wanted us to take their temperature for fun and lo and behold the quiet one, not displaying any symptoms, had a 103 fever!  Crazy.  So we stayed home and rested. 

Monday came around and I was able to pull off our annual cookie baking day with my kiddos and the nephews (minus the little ones - they went to day care).  I was feeling like I had a cold coming on all day.  I didn't feel well but after missing cookie day last year I pushed through.

Tuesday I felt horrible.  I along with a couple others had this weird recurring fever.  I was miserable really.  My fever would go up to just about 100 and then stay there and then go down and then go back and then go back down.  Really weird.  There was no daycare on Christmas Eve so I had to do what a mom does and suck it up while trying to care for 6 young kids.  And the baby wanted to be held non-stop.  And we bought a Christmas tree and needed to decorate it.  And there was some last minute shopping.  You know the drill. Life doesn't stop for a sick mom.  I did make it to the doctor who said I had the flu but then changed their mind after the test came back inconclusive and the digital reader thing said negative.  The strep test also came back negative so they sent it off to the lab to grow more, just in case.  Because I had "nothing", I didn't take the kids-with-the-random-fever in either - they would have had to go to the ER - so we just hung out at home.  We did forgo Christmas Eve service to stay home and rest (and do final wrapping, etc.).  It was the right decision but it killed me inside - I love Christmas Eve service and my newest kiddos have never attended.

I stayed up till 12:30 or so getting Christmas morning stuff ready.  I was tired.  I was sick.  I pushed through.

Christmas morning I felt horrible again and still had the fever but it was Christmas morning so the adrenaline and joy with my kiddos helped me make it through.  After my hubby went to bed around 10am though it all went downhill.  I had to make the ham and banana bread for my brother-in-law and sweet potatoes but doing that and the bare minimum for my kids (bananas for breakfast friends...) was all. I. could. muster.  I bought my kids McDonalds for lunch.  On Christmas.  I was SICK despite what the dumb lady at the clinic said.  Oh, and by now my fever was up to 103. 

When I got to family's house for Christmas dinner one relative saw how sick I was and offered to watch my kids while I laid down for a while.  I hit the couch at about 1:30 and didn't get back up until my family left at 7 or so.  By now I knew I had the flu and I didn't care what the test said.  My hubby arrived to the celebration by 4 and I was so grateful.  Leaving my kids in the care of any one individual is not something I'm comfortable doing and I was in no shape to help.

I cried a lot.  I hated that I was sick on Christmas when I should have been celebrating with my family and having fun with my kids on our first Christmas together.

Over the nest few days I started feeling better, very slowly.  Turns out the lab test results came back on the 26th and I did have strep.  Again.  And the flu.  By that point hubby had the 103 fever and 3 kids were down with it too, though the ones who'd had the flu shot were much more mild than my hubby and I.  One child came down with the flu each day through Sunday.  We made 2 trips to the ER where by chance I found that some of them had strep as well.  Hubby made it to the clinic too.  I went to the Target pharmacy 4 times in 24 hours for the different prescriptions.

We finally started to feel better around New Year's Eve.  By that time you could imagine what our home looked like and how behind we were on the normal things that we'd have to do for our family of 8 because we'd spent so many days just surviving. 

So, now we have one day left of vacation.  I'm thankful we've made it this far and that we're all feeling good now.  We didn't get to do all those things I wanted to do but we spent a lot of time together.  A lot of time together doing nothing, which probably was good for us in the long run.  The only thing we DID together was ice skating - we managed to get out on Christmas Eve to go ice skating while some of the littles were in school.  It was a great time and we felt like we were normal again.

Sometimes holiday vacations don't go like we think they will.  Nevertheless I'm thankful for God's provision and healing and thankful for Christ's birth and the opportunity a new year brings.