Friday, January 21, 2011

Big Feelings in Little Bodies

I often wonder what my little ones are thinking.  What do they remember?  What emotions and thoughts are going through those little heads of theirs?  I foster babies...  Little ones who can barely talk or who can't talk at all yet...  So I have to be extra observant and empathetic to the big feelings they are bound to be experiencing.

As a parent, I love watching my little ones as they learn and experience new things.  I love the excitement on their faces as they accomplish a new task.  I love their concentration when they are trying something new.  I love seeing the little wheels turn in their heads when I know they are trying to get away with something or figure out a way to bargain with me.  I even love their little frustrated faces or the big dramatic crocodile tears that they play up when they don't get their way.

But as a foster parent, I often see much bigger and more upsetting emotions and behaviors in my babies as well.  An 11-month-old rocking herself back and forth over and over when she was distressed because no one had ever comforted her before...  A 14-month-old constantly slapping, pinching, and hitting his mom because it was the only way he could get any kind of attention from her.  Little Miss was terrified of most men.  That hysterical, nearly inconsolable, panic-stricken kind of terror…  In the six weeks she was with me, she finally warmed up to my dad and brother-in-law, but she never got close, and she always kept her eye on them just in case. 

On one shopping trip with Little Miss, I saw something that I wasn’t at all prepared for.  Miss had been babbling away throughout the store, and smiling and flirting with all of the other shoppers.  When we got up to the checkout, I busied myself emptying the cart and realized how quiet Miss had become.  What I saw when I looked at her face absolutely broke my heart.  She was staring at an older man in a wheelchair in the next lane.  They say, "the eyes are the windows to the soul," and her eyes were filled with tears just to the point of almost spilling over.  She wasn't scared as she was with most men...  She was sad.  I'm as certain of that as I have ever been of anything.  The look on her face was pure sorrow.  I found out later that up until she came into care, she had been living with her mother and grandfather.  Her disabled grandfather who used a wheelchair and had been one of the main people who took care of her...  Seeing that man in the grocery store clearly reminded her of her Grandpa, and her little heart was breaking.

I wiped away her tears.  I kissed her forehead.  I told her how much Mimi loved her.  And I told her how sorry I was that she was sad.  I was used to seeing fear, excitement, even anger at times from my babies...  Complete and total sorrow in the eyes of an 11-month-old was not something that I was prepared to see, and it's not something that I ever want to see again.  The unfortunate truth though is that I probably will.  These little ones have been through so much in such a short amount of time.  I think they feel much, much more than people give them credit for.  Big, big feelings in little bitty bodies...

As much as I see first-hand as a foster parent, I’ve always wondered what my little ones must be thinking and feeling when they leave me.  Are they scared, confused, sad?  Do they think that I abandoned them?  Do they hate me?  Do they miss me?  Do they even remember me at all?  Did I love them well enough to help make going home easier for them?  Do they remember the events that led up to them coming to me in the first place?  My babies are all so young that I wonder how long the memories of their time with me stay with them.  All of those thoughts and more have been on my mind since I began fostering two years ago.  And some of those questions are being answered in ways that I wish they weren't.

I've mentioned before that I've been lucky enough to have a great relationship with the Booger Bear's dad and stepmom.  I honestly believe if the truth had come out sooner, Booger never would have been in foster care in the first place.  I love that little boy so much, and I am so grateful that I was able to be that one stable constant in his life during that crazy year that he was in care, but I hate he was exposed to so much negativity and hurt before everything was finally settled and he was able to begin his life with his real family and away from everything that had hurt him so deeply.  CPS failed him in so many ways, and now his parents and the people who love him the most are left to try to heal the hurt and repair the damage that CPS and the person who was supposed to love him more than anyone on the planet have caused.

They do remember.  Even at a young 2-years-old, they do remember.  And it's breaking all of our hearts that this little boy who we love so much still remembers...  and still hurts because of how he was treated nearly a year ago.  I know it's killing his family to overhear the things he says to himself when he thinks he's alone.  We're all just praying that we can love him like crazy and hope that the love will eventually help lesson the hurt (I'm also on a witch-hunt to track down his old caseworker to see if he can qualify for counseling seeing as how it was partially CPS's crappy decisions that exposed him to this in the first place). 

But as much as the Booger is still hurting from the negative things that happened during that time, he remembers the good things too.  I don't know if he remembers specifics, but I do know that the love is still there just as strong as it ever was.  He's always thrilled silly to see me and my family, and we're always just as thrilled to see him.  I talk to his stepmom every day (Have I mentioned that she is awesome?  I have officially decided to unofficially adopt her. ;-), and she talks about how he misses us if we go too long between visits and she's always having him tape little messages for us.  He's a super-happy, spoiled little thing for the most part.  But his hurt and anger over the past are coming out more and more as he tries to reconcile whatever is going on in that little head of his.

I guess it's true that, no matter how young you are, "...people will never forget how you made them feel."  That little bit of knowledge makes this entire life that I choose to live in Foster/Adopt Land much, much easier.  Even if my little ones don't remember me specifically, they will remember that they were loved.  Through all of the hurt, fear, and confusion of whatever has happened in their short lives before, during, and after their time with me...  They will have known love.  And they do remember.  Our little Booger Bear's proof of that.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's in a Name?

My name is Tammy, but when I became a foster parent, I took on a new name along with my new role as temporary mommy to other people's kids.

I knew that I was going to need to call myself something when these babies came to me, but I was torn on what it should be.  I have to admit, I don't even remember what I called myself when the Munchkin was with me.  Those five days were a whirlwind of complete and total chaos.  The name issue didn't really come up until the Booger Bear and Angel moved in. 

Booger came first, and for the first few weeks when it was just the two of us, I just called myself "Mama Tammy."  He was only seven months old, so it wasn't like he was talking much, but when Angel moved in, it was clear that the "Mama" and "Mama Tammy" thing was going to be confusing for everyone.  That's when my mom suggested "Mimi."  "Mimi" is a play on "Tammy," and it sounds like a fun name for an aunt or a young, fun grandma-type name too (although I'm still not ready to admit that I am old enough to be a very young grandma).  So I decided to give "Mimi" a try.

As the months passed, I just started thinking of myself as "Mimi," and the name grew on me (especially coming from the Booger's mouth :-).  When I think about what to have these little ones call me in terms of foster care, I think that "Mimi" works best for all of us for lots of reasons:
  • In many of these cases, "Mama" or "Mommy" isn't a positive person in these babies' lives.  I don't know what my babies remember about their mommies, but I don't want them to be afraid of me simply because I call myself by a name that has bad memories associated with it.  When it came to the Booger, "Mimi" was the person he ran to when he was hurt...  The one he called for in the middle of the night...  The one who played with him, fed him, bathed him, nursed him when he was sick, taught him, and loved him the way a mother should.  To him, "Mama" was just the name of the person who lived with us for a while.

  • I don't want to confuse my babies any more than they are already going to be.  Chances are, all of my kids are going to have weekly visits with their parents.  Because I foster infants and toddlers, I feel like calling myself "Mama" would only lead to more confusion every time they have a visit and their birth mom calls herself the same thing.  If they are with me for any length of time, in the babies' eyes, I would be the person they consider their "Mama," and it would only cause more hurt and confusion when they leave me.

  • I don't want to hurt my babies' mothers.  I know that sounds crazy to a lot of people...  Not wanting to hurt the feelings of one of the people responsible for hurting her children...  But I still think that as badly as some of these women have messed up, most of them still love their kids.  I know it would hurt me to hear my child call another woman "Mama," so I think that calling myself "Mimi" shows their mothers that I'm not trying to steal their babies or to take their places, and I hope that it helps develop better relationships with my babies' parents.

  • And then there's what I kind of think of as my self-preservation motive.  It might be "just a name," but a part of me thinks that if I call myself "Mama" or "Mommy," I'll have a harder time reminding myself that these babies aren't mine to keep.  I know the hurt of losing them will never lessen, regardless of what I call myself, but there's just something about having a child call me "Mama" that feels more permanent to me.
I love being "Mimi."  To me, "Mimi" is that person who steps in and is there when these little ones need someone the most.  "Mimi" is the person who teaches them what love, security, patience, and trust is all about.  My hope is that I can be "Mimi" to as many babies as possible...  That I can be there for them when their own mommies can't be...  But there's still that part of me that longs to hear a little one call for their "Mommy," and to know that I'm the one who is always going to be there when they do.  What's in a name???  I guess for me, in some ways a name is just a name.  But in others, a name can mean everything.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"The Gift of Life"

The Gift of Life

I didn't give you the gift of life,
But in my heart I know
The love I feel is deep and real,
As if it has been so.
For us to have each other
is like a dream come true!
No, I didn't give you
The Gift of Life,
Life gave me the gift of you.

-Author Unknown

Friday, January 7, 2011


Yes, my friends...  Today is the one year anniversary of the day that I oh-so-gracefully pulled all of the tendons/ligaments in my ankle and broke my fibula in half by accidentally ice skating on invisible ice!  Fun times, let me tell you!!!

Wheelchair-bound for over a month, I had several embarrassing incidents which naturally resulted in me feeling the need to write about them on the World Wide Web for the entire world to see.  Most embarrassing would have to have been the Naked Gimp SOS Call that I had to send out after having lost access to my clothing after a shower.  Again.  Fun times!!!  :-)

By the end of February, I was given the green light to hobble around a little in my fracture boot.  My Mom, who had been living with the Booger Bear and me while I was wheelchair bound, decided it was time for her to move back home and sleep in her own bed for a change.  Unfortunately, the Magical House-Cleaning Genie who had moved in around the same time that my Mom did decided to move out at the same time as well!  I just didn't understand.  Where did that genie go?!?

By the end of April, I was still having trouble with my "lenkle" (as I like to call my injured leg/ankle).  The ortho decided that I needed to try physical therapy, so he sent me to a rather large German woman name "Olga" who proceeded to torture me for several weeks in a row.  More fun times!

After five months of Gimpihood, I found myself noticing things that I would ordinarily not give a second glance.  I developed an eye for quality mobility assistance devices (meaning, I was eyeing little old ladies fancy walkers and was actually jealous).  I made note of my findings and shared them back in May as I posted my "Observations of the Gimpy One" post.

By June, I had gained most of the mobility back in my ankle, and was able to walk without a limp (for the most part) for the first time in six months.  The pain was pretty much gone unless I did a lot of walking or stairs.  This was about the time that I realized that I had also gained the super-magical power of weather prediction!  I kid you not.  One year later and I will tell you right now that based on the radiating pain in my leg today, my metropolitan area will be experiencing a drastic weather change in the next day or two.  My "lenkle" does not lie.  It hasn't failed me yet!

Yes, the anniversary of that fateful day was fresh on my mind this morning as I went outside to leave for work and came upon the Ominous Metal Grate of Doom.  I stepped boldly, fearlessly, defiantly, and with purpose directly onto the object of my despair over the past year.  "I'll show that metal grate!  Yes-sir-ee!"  (Shoot!  Who am trying to kid?  I got down on my hands and knees and crawled over it like a baby after standing there for a full ten minutes in complete and total hyperventilating panic attack mode.  It sounded good anyway. :-) 

Sure, I might have been ten minutes late for work, but no one seemed to mind my tardiness as they were expecting me to call in sick today anyway.  I was tempted.  Believe me, I was tempted!  But I decided to brave up and face my fear of falling on the Ominous Metal Grate of Doom head-on (in other words, I am saving my "sick days" for days when the temperature falls below freezing and I have no intention of stepping foot outside of my house. :-)

I hope you enjoy reading (or re-reading) posts from the Great Gimpy One as much as I've enjoyed writing them over the past year.  I most likely will be reading them again this weekend myself, as I've just heard that my "lenkle" prediction was correct and a cold front is on its way.  :-)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Change of Heart...

I can't believe it's 2011, and I am entering my 3rd year as a licensed foster parent.  Looking back, it's exciting to see how much I've changed since I first began this journey.  Don't get me wrong...  It's been six weeks since the girls went home to live with their daddy, and I am missing Little Miss like crazy and praying that they are okay.  And I am most definitely experiencing the full effects of "Foster Pregnancy" yet again as I wait for a new placement.  I doubt that will ever go away.  Waiting is a booger!  But the longer I do this, the more I can feel my heart and mindset evolve into something I actually really like.

You see, like so many people, I went into foster care with the hope of adopting.  With my first two placements, I had such high hopes of being able to make them a permanent part of my family.  I was even told that might be possible with the Booger, so when that didn't happen, I was devastated.  Completely.  Totally.  Devastated.  I took a few months "off" and tried to regroup, collect my thoughts, get a handle on my emotions, and decide just what was most important to me.  I prayed a lot.  And the answers that I received sort of took me by surprise. 

My "answered prayers" came in many forms.  I think the first was when I finally made the firm decision to switch agencies.  I had been postponing it because it meant having to start all over again with the training classes and trusting the "unknown," but I was having so many problems with my first agency that I decided it was going to be worth it.  And it absolutely was!  From the very first contact that I had with my new little (and I do mean "little" as there are only two employees in this particular office :-) agency, I could tell that they genuinely cared...  Not just about the children, but also about the foster parents.  As I went through all of the classes again, I began to realize that my mindset was different this time around.  I wasn't thinking about adoption much at all, but only about fostering the little ones who needed me.  Yes!  I absolutely would love the opportunity to adopt one or more of my little ones, but that thought has taken a backseat to me simply wanting to be there for as many kids as possible.

Around the time that I was changing agencies and doing all of my training, I received another big answer to my "What am I meant to do, God?" prayers.  It was the Booger Bear's 2nd birthday, and I emailed his daddy to let him know that I had put together a baby book for him.  I told him that I was glad that the Booger was going to celebrate his birthday with his family this year because they weren't able to be together last year.  I hadn't had any contact with them in months, so I wasn't really sure how he was going to react.  To my pleasant surprise, over the next few weeks the Booger's dad, new mommy, and I began to develop an actual friendship.

In the months since, the Booger's parents have blessed me so much by allowing me and my family back into his life.  Enough time has passed so he doesn't remember the time that he lived with me, but he knows that I love him and that I'm someone special.  I love that he will just out of the blue say, "I love you, Tammy!"  Being able to watch him grow up...  To see how much his parents love him...  To see how hard they are working to make a great life for him and his soon-to-be new baby sister...  I feel like this is God's way of saying, "You see, Tammy...  You helped to make this possible."  It's being able to see first-hand that foster care does work, and I really needed to see that.  I honestly think that even if I never know how any of my other babies are doing, it will be okay.  Because I've seen with this little, young family that anything is possible.  That love really does go a long, long way...  and that when these parents genuinely do love their children, they will do whatever it takes to make it work.

I've felt so many changes in me over the past several months, and that became very obvious when Little Miss came to me.  I fell completely in love with that little girl from the moment she came through my door.  I felt the same love for her as I did with my other babies, but that immediate thought of, "This could be my baby!" wasn't there anymore.  My heart went from "This could be my child!" to "I love this little girl, and I want to help her, comfort her, love her, and teach her for as long as they'll let me."  Another one of God's answers to my prayers...  God sent me a little girl who needed me more than any of my other kids up to that point. 

In the six weeks she was with me, Little Miss went from being a silent, completely self-soothing, scared little 11-month-old to a happy, funny, flirty little thing who soaked up every bit of love and attention that she got from me and the people around us.  She was excited about learning new things.  She began to trust that I would actually comfort her when she was upset, and that she didn't need to do it herself.  When she left my home to go live with her daddy, she had learned how to trust and how to love.  And from what I know of her situation, her daddy loves her and wants her very much.  I can only hope that what she learned from me in those six weeks helped her to transition into her daddy's home and life a little easier.  Watching as that little girl opened up and completely blossomed was just another confirmation that what I am doing does make a difference.

Yes, I'll admit it.  I got the old, "Hello!?!?  McFly?!?" from God.  I don't think I need to ask Him any more what I'm supposed to do.  :-)  As much as it hurts sometimes, and as frustrating as things get, I know I am doing what I was meant to do.  If I'm ever given the opportunity, I know I would adopt one of my little ones in a heartbeat.  But that's not my focus anymore.  These babies and their parents need people like me who are willing and able to be there for them when they need someone the most.  Foster care works.  I've seen it firsthand.  And if I can help another family come together, or teach another frightened little baby how to trust, it's all worth it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Coolest Thing EVER


My co-worker just told me about these, and I do believe this has to be the coolest thing ever!!!  Possibly even cooler than PajamaJeans...  As a continuous mommy of toddlers, I have got to get my hands on some of these!!!  A practically spill-proof bowl!!!

"It spins and spins and spins, and stuff stays in!"  (It also appears to have super magical powers as the snack changes to a different food with every turn!  Goldfish crackers to Cheerios to marshmallows...  Amazing!)

When I first saw this ad, my heart leaped!  I heard harps playing, and a chorus of little birdies singing...  The computer screen glowed with a brilliant golden light, and all I could think was, "It's a miracle!"

I realize that some of you might think that I am exaggerating, but for those of you who have spent the past two years on your hands and knees acting as a human vacuum cleaner picking up fallen goldfish, yogurt melts, raisins, etc., I know you understand how exciting this wonder bowl is.  As a matter of fact, the Booger Bear's mama told me that he saw the ad for it on TV and said that it was "a cool cup" and that he wanted it too.  So see?  Even a two year old can see the magnificence that is the Gyro Bowl!

(And now I have begun to realize that I might have slight weakness for "As Seen on TV" products, as I just ate dinner made from hamburger defrosted on my Miracle Thaw and am about to give myself a pedicure using my PedEgg.  I also saw my Sandwich Maker and George Foreman grill in the pantry and wondered what I should make next.  And OMG!!!  Did you know there's an entire official website for "As Seen on TV" products?!?  And the In Styler is only $14.99!!!  Step away from the computer, Tammy.  Step away from the computer.  And whatever you do, DO NOT turn on the TV!)
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