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.