Friday, September 28, 2012

"Foster Friday" Tips: Always Be Prepared

Last year, our 2011 "Foster Friday" panel wrote about always being prepared as a foster parent.  I never got around to adding my tidbits of advice, so I thought for this week's "Foster Friday" Tips, I would give you guys my practical guide on how I prepare and maintain a logistical "level of readiness" between placements.

What Large Gear Do I Keep On-Hand?

Because I generally only foster infants and toddlers (although I'm increasing my age with my next placement), most of my gear and equipment is for those ages.  I have accumulated quite a bit of gear over the years like a bathseat for older toddlers who refuse to sit down in the bath, an umbrella stroller, a larger stroller, a pack 'n play, etc, but the larger items that highly recommend investing in are:

  • Convertible cribs - I have two cribs that easily convert to toddler beds and then to full-size beds.  If I get the call for a 2-year-old, I can easily change the crib to a toddler bed in a matter of minutes without having to purchase a separate piece of furniture.  Bringing me a 9-year-old?  As long as I have a full-size mattress and rails, I can convert the crib to a full-size bed.  It is absolutely worth the investment if you plan on fostering multiple ages.
  • Convertible Spacesaver High Chair - These things are awesome!!!  They are the same size as a full-size high chair, but strap directly onto your dining room chairs so they take up much less room.  They recline for smaller infants, adjust for larger infants, and even convert to regular booster seats for preschoolers.

  • Convertible carseats and boosters - I always have one infant carrier for my tiny babies, but generally the carseats that you will get the most use out of are the convertible carseats that go from rear-facing to forward-facing.  I also keep a couple of inexpensive booster seats on-hand for older children.

  • Convertible (I sense a theme here...) infant/toddler bathtub - These things are great!  One tub works for newborns until they start standing up.  I usually switch to a bath seat once they start pulling that trick though.  ;-)
Basically, the name of the game when it comes to your larger gear, equipment, and even toys is "convertible, convertible, convertible!!!"

What Smaller Items Do You Keep On-Hand?

"Houston, we have a problem..."
Okay, so I will admit that I might go a wee bit overboard when it comes to keeping clothing on-hand, but I cannot begin to tell you how nice it is to not have to worry about a midnight Walmart run on top of new placement paperwork, appointments, and calming your new child.  Most of the children who come through your door will have nothing but the clothes on their backs.  Munchkin didn't even have that much.  She came to me in a hospital gown!  So having a good assortment of clothing for the age range you want to foster is a huge help.

And That's Just the CLOTHES!!!
It certainly isn't necessary to keep the amount of clothing that I tend to keep, but I would definitely recommend keeping pajamas and a couple of outfits for each season on-hand for your age ranges.  If you do have to make a Walmart run on Day Two, at least they'll be appropriately dressed.

Storage bins are a foster mother's best friend, and I have them in abundance. On top of neatly organized clothing bins, I also have bins for kitchen and feeding items, toys, etc.  For my age groups, I keep:
  • Bottles, new nipples (all sizes), a variety of sippy cups, utensils, bibs, divided plates, take 'n toss containers, formula dispenser, etc.  Having all of the kitchen supplies in one tub makes it easy when a new little one comes through the door.

  • Basic toys for different ages - I try not to keep a lot of toys between placements.  I tend to send the favorites home with my kiddos when they leave, and restock the "basics" like stacking cups, stacking rings, sorting toys, board books, etc.  Each child will have their own preferences for toys, so I try to keep a few "standard learning toys" on-hand and buy more specific things for my kiddos as I learn what interests them.

What Items Do You Make CERTAIN That You Have for New Placements?

I send all of my kiddos' personal, medical, and grooming items home with them, so between placements, I just restock all of those items.  Often times, a new baby will come through your door with a fever or teething.  The last thing I want to worry about is having to run to the store with a sick baby for Tylenol because I sent it home with Monkey.  Stocking up on the maintenance items keeps me occupied and kiddo-focused until the new one arrives.  I always try to make certain that I have:

  • A New Soft Blanket and New Stuffed Animal - Every child who comes through my door immediately gets a new soft blanket and stuffed animal.  So many of these little ones have nothing.  They are scared and uncertain in a new place with strangers, and those two comfort items seem to be the least I can do for them.

  • Diapers and Wipes - I always try to keep one package of diapers in each size on-hand as well as a package of baby wipes.  You're lucky if your baby comes to you in a properly-fitting diaper and even luckier if they come to you with an extra diaper.  Storing a few small packages (or even just a handful of diapers in each size) can keep you going a day or two as you get settled in.

  • Grooming Supplies - I send all of these home with my kiddos, so I replace hairbrushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, nail clippers, lotion, bath soap, shampoo, etc.  I know I'm going to need them, so I might as well have them ready!

  • General Medications & Medical Supplies - Medications go home with my kiddos too, so I restock on the "basics."  Tylenol, Mylicon Drops, Teething Tablets, and always, always, always a new "snot sucker!" (aka. nasal aspirator ;-)
The world of foster care is packed full of uncertainties, twists, and turns.  There isn't much that a foster parent can control when it comes to decisions made regarding their foster children.  There isn't much that a foster parent can plan ahead when it comes to handling their children's emotional needs.  Each child is different, and those moments of emotional upheaval will all look different.  But when it comes to their children's physical needs...  We can always be prepared!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Happy 4th, Booger Bear!!!

My Booger Bear
I can't believe my Booger Bear is 4 years old today!!!

1st Birthday

3rd Birthday
Who would have thought that the smiling little 7-month-old who crossed my threshold in May of 2009 would still be my special little guy today even after he was able to go home?

2 Years Old

4th Birthday
I've been so incredibly blessed to able to watch him grow up, and I can't wait to celebrate many, many more birthdays with "Mimi's Special Boy." 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Am I the Freak of Foster Care Land?

My little Monkey Man went home to live with his daddy six months ago, but last night as I snuggled and sang to my little guy before bedtime just as I have four nights a week for the past six months, I smiled to myself and thought how lucky I am to still be "Mama" to my baby boy.

After Monkey was asleep in his room, I switched gears and started going over this week's schedule.  Monkey here Sunday through Thursday morning...  Booger Bear's 4th birthday on Thursday...  Booger and Banana over on Friday...  Booger spending the weekend with me...  Booger to the zoo on Saturday...  Monkey back on Sunday...  And then it occurred to me...  How many foster parents can say, "I spend every day of the week with one or more of my former foster children?"

When I talk about the relationships that I have with my kiddos and their families, most people tend to stare at me jaws dropped and eyes wide in a way that makes me thing I must have sprouted a third eyeball in the middle of my forehead or something.  Is it really that unheard of to have great relationships with your kids and their families after foster care, or am I just the freak of Foster Care Land?

It's all good though.  If being able to grow my family in ways I never imagined makes me a freak, I'll gladly take it!  I can only pray that I continue to hit the jackpot with my kids' families and that whatever I am doing to build these lasting relationships continues with any new children who come into my life.  This is how foster care should look!  Because children can never have too many people who love them...

Monday, September 24, 2012

They Call Me... "RESPITE LADY!!!"

Okay, so I have absolutely no idea whether or not they actually do call me that, but over the past few weeks, it has become rather apparent that I am, indeed, the one and only "currently without placement" foster parent at my agency who is willing to do weekend respite.  Hardly a day goes by without someone calling me asking if I can do respite for...  In fact, so many of them overlap that I pretty much have my pick!

Two weeks ago I got a call asking if I could do weekend respite for my original "Respite Three" the weekend of the 29th.  I had to say "no" though because I'm going to have Booger Bear all weekend while Heaven and Kelly get moved into their new apartment.

The next day, I got a call asking if I could do respite the next Saturday for a 3-year-old and 5-year-old while their foster parents were in a training class.  (My agency is literally 5 minutes from my house, so it's really convenient!)  I said "Yes."

Two days later I got a panicked call begging me to do respite from Wednesday through Monday for a 1-year-old little boy while his foster mom went on a birthday cruise.  Her regular respite person backed out last minute, and I was their only hope.  Fortunately, his daycare was nearby, so I wouldn't have to miss work.  The only problem was that I was also going to have the girls that Saturday.  They ended up not needing me for the girls though, so I said "yes" to the boy.

The Monday before the 1-year-old was supposed to come, I still hadn't heard from his foster mom.  She ended up calling the agency in a panic because she went to pick him up from daycare to find out that the provider was going to be closed for the next two weeks (home daycare).  The agency called me to tell me that they just had another foster family whose placement went home so they would keep him because she knew I couldn't take off work.

In that same conversation she added, "but while I have you on the phone..."  The 3 and 5-year-olds do need respite for the whole weekend after all.  And I also have an 8-month-old boy and 12-month-old girl from the same foster home who need respite during the training class only on Saturday.  "If you're willing, take your pick!"

So, last Saturday I got love on a couple of seriously lovable babies!  "Smiles" (the 8-month-old boy) smiled at me the second he came through the door and didn't stop.  "Lovey" (the 12-month-old girl) was all about blowing kisses.  It took her 30 minutes to finally fall asleep for her nap because she was too busy blowing kisses at herself in the mirrored closet doors in her bedroom.  They were so good!  And it wasn't nearly as crazy as I thought it would be taking care of two that close in age, but at different developmental levels.  (Although I'm sure I would be rethinking that statement if I'd had them longer than 6 hours. ;-)

The day before the babies were set to come, I got another call from the agency asking me if I could do respite for a 6-month-old baby girl the weekend that I have Booger.  She thought I might say yes because I've been dying to get my hands on a baby girl, but I have big plans for Booger's birthday weekend, so I had to say "no."

Then first thing this morning they called me again about my "Respite Three."  Apparently the kids have been begging to come back to my house, and their foster parents were willing to wait until I could take them if I'd do it.  So...  Mr. Serious, Rocket, and Shadow will be back at my house the weekend of the 12th!  I have to put on my "Fun Hat" and try to figure out how to top a balloon tent and rainbow cupcakes now.  I'm thinking the Pumpkin Patch and a picnic at the park...

I have to admit, I love that the kids had so much fun over here and that they're so excited to come back.  They were really good kids, and I had a blast with them.  It's kind of fun being "Respite Lady."  I get to spoil the kids rotten, do lots of fun activities, and not have to deal with all of the foster care craziness that comes with having a permanent placement.  I might just keep doing this for a while.  (Oh, who am I kidding?  We all know I'd take a placement in a heartbeat IF THEY'D EVER CALL ME FOR ONE!!!)

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Foster Friday" Panel - Visitation Basics

Some of the most frequently asked questions that I receive from new foster parents are those regarding family visitations.  "How do you deal with the stress leading up to the visits?"  "How do you prepare your kids for visits?"  "How do you deal with the physical and/or emotional fallout after visits?"  "What do you send to visits?"  I posed these questions to our "Foster Friday" panel for this month's topic.

Andrea (Live With Laughter) - Stress has become so normal to me.  I practically reach for the Xanax before every visit.  Will he show?  Will he stand up Baby M again?  What relative will he bring?  What girlfriend will he bring this time?  I hope it's not the one I want to slap.  Oh, Andrea, stop judging her and give her a second chance.  

Everyone in the car?  Wait, I forgot the extra diaper bag.  Shoot.  Oh, did you just poop,you've got to be kidding me!  I know I had to wake you up from your nap, please be happy.  Seriously, now you just pooped. Oh &^% we're going to be late.

Okay, we're here.  Everyone out of the car.  Gosh, why do they have to keep this office so hot?  It's like they're punishing us.  Oh Baby M, what's wrong?  Oh, you just saw him walk up, time to scream bloody murder and break my heart.  Okay, places everyone, smile plastered.  Oh hiiiiii, how are you guys, we missed you the last two weeks.  Oh, car troubles, I see.  Do me a favor and send a text next time.  Okay, see you in an hour.

Okay everyone else, back in the car.  What can we do to kill an hour?  Thoughts, is he okay, I hope he stopped crying, I hope being around him won't make him change his mind about signing, I really hope he stopped crying.  Okay, back in the van, let's go get M.

Hi baby, did you have fun?  Let's spend 20 minutes saying goodbye.  Shoot, what I have Baby M call him?  Um...  Say bye bye to umm...  *mumbles a name*...

Stress has become a regular part of our lives.  I'm always nervous before meeting new parents.  I try to smile and be nice. The nervousness never goes away.  What if this is the visit where they decide to blame me and start yelling?  What if this is the visit they bring him something he's not allowed to eat?  It goes on forever.

My babies have been young.  There's not been fallout from visits with them other than being tired from missing naps.  I'm thankful I don't have to deal with that.  I have no wise sage words for you this week.  It stresses me out each and every week.  I try to stay calm, crack a joke with the social worker, smile until it hurts.

Cherub Mamma (Cherub Mamma) -  Visits are a unique part of fostering.  They certainly take an emotional toll on EVERYONE involved!  I've found that my own emotional balance is thrown off on a visit day.  It's hard for me to share the cherubs.  (Especially since my little ones have been with us for so long without any contact with their bio family.)  There's a lot of compassion fatigue.  I want to shelter the kids from potential rejection if their bio family doesn't show up.  (I'm typically pretty vague about who we are going to see exactly.  My kids are little enough and visits are new enough to them that they don't have expectations in place right now.)

I think my biggest piece of advice is to realize that visits ARE difficult.  It's OK to acknowledge that visits are hard on us (the foster parents) too!!  A lot of effort is typically put into helping foster parents understand that visits will be difficult for the children.  So I guess I'm here to say, "We need to take care of ourselves too."

How that looks will be different for everyone.  For me, I'm personally having to re-frame my entire approach to visits.  Dude and Dolly have been with us for over a year now.  For that entire time they have had VERY limited contact with their bio family.  Now though, they are scheduled to have weekly visits with their mom and monthly visits in Dallas with their grandma (the person the State ultimately wants to place the children with).  I'm literally trying to rethink things and almost pretend that this is a new placement.  Frequent visits are what I expect when kids first come into care.  It's a lot harder when the kids have been "mine" for a year and I haven't had to really share them yet.

During their first visit to Dallas I decided to do something special with our core family.  We found respite for Pumpkin and took off to an amusement park.  It gave me something to look forward to prior to the visit actually taking place.  When Dude insisted over and over that he did NOT want to go to Dallas I was able to not drown in that emotion.  I simply reminded him that the judge said he had to go.  Then, because we were so busy that weekend as a family unit, I didn't dwell on the difficulties I knew Dude was likely going through being separated from me.  Both sides survived.

From personal experience, I don't recommend ever doing the transport to and from an unsupervised visit.  I did that this summer and all Hell broke loose when I ended up having to report abuse that happened over the weekend.  If at all possible, I recommend having a social worker or transporter look the child over before the visit and have that same person look the child over when they return.  It might be difficult if you don't have willing parties to help with this.  But I learned the hard way what happens when a foster parent reports physical abuse on a child in their care.  Investigations are NO fun!!!

My only other piece of advice is on what to bring to visits.  Here's my opinion...  In most places it is up to the biological family the child is visiting to meet their needs during the visit.  However, in many cases, the bio family is typically unaware of what to do or bring.  Because let's be honest, if they had all their parenting cards together, odds are their kids wouldn't be in care.  That said, it is technically not my responsibility to bring anything to a visit other than a diaper bag or a change of clothes.  It's up to the parent to provide food and entertainment if necessary.

But these kids have to come home to me.  I have to pick up the pieces after the visit.  I've decided that even though I'm possibly enabling the bio family some, it's more important that I continue to meet the needs of the kids whenever I can.  So, for each visit my kids go on, I send a bag of toys that are "visit appropriate."  Coloring books.  Crayons.  A doll.  Cars & trucks. etc.  If my kids were bigger, I'd probably send a board game or two.  Maybe a deck of cards.  I try to send thing that I know (if they chose to anyway) the bio family could participate in too.  I do not send anything that is crucial it must be returned.  I do not send toys that if broken or lost would cause bigger problems.  (i.e.: my forever kids have to share all their toys when in our home but foster kids cannot bring "my" kids' things on a visit)  I don't think the foster kids should have to suffer through a mind-numbing visit without anything to do.  If allowed (which we are not) I would also send a snack.

Visits are incredibly emotional things.  I'm not always convinced they are good either.  But they are a reality. Recognizing that they can be difficult for everyone is the first step to handling things better.  Take care of yourself, my foster parenting friends.  And if you're not fostering, see if there's something you can do to support someone who is.  Meet them during the visit time for coffee.  Help out with the kids left behind (either bio, adopted, or other foster) so the foster parent can focus on the child who IS having a visit.  Or just lend an ear when the foster parent needs to vent.  And remember, just when everything seems to fall into place - someone in The System will change it all and you'll be back at square one all over again.  Thus is the life in Foster Care Land.

Dani - We have two placements right now, and the visits for them are so totally different!

The hardest visit is for the two brothers.  One is 22 months and the other is 39 months.  I have to wake them both up to get ready to go.  I still haven't figured out if it's better for me to wake them up way early so the can eat first, or to let them sleep a bit longer and take their breakfast with them.  Neither work out well, but I am trying to find the lesser of the two evils.  The older of the two loves to go to "the big house" and see his bios.  They see their mum first for 1.5 hours and then daddy and grandma for 1.5 hours.  So it's a long visit for them, and by the time they're done, they are DONE!  It doesn't help that they fill them full of crap and candy the whole time so they are on a sugar high/crash.  The younger of the two really doesn't care about seeing them.  He doesn't cry, but he isn't as excited either.  The more he bonds to me, the less he wants anything to do with them.

IF both bios show (a rarity) then I can expect the rest of the day to be a disaster.  They boys have such big feelings and they just don't have the language skills to deal with them.  I try to tell them that it's okay to miss mommy and daddy, it's okay to be mad that you aren't with them all the time, it's okay to be sad.  But at not quite 2 and just turned 3, they don't even know what they are feeling well enough to put it into words.  The day is full of temper tantrums, head banging, screaming, fighting, etc.  By the end of the day they finally seem to have worked it out some.  I can hold and rock them and help them regulate themselves back to normal.  Thankfully, they bounce back quickly and the next day is back to normal.

With the other placement, visits are harder and easier at the same time.  The baby is three months now and doesn't really care who he's with.  That makes the visits a lot easier.  The harder part is that the mum is in rehab, so on visit days, I have to be gone from the house and the other boys for 6 hours or so.  Since he's so little (and was born with a host of issues), my partner and I are the only ones who can deal with them for that many hours.  The SW picks us up and we drive the almost two hours to rehab.  Then the visit, then the drive home.  It makes for a long day!  Bio dad still gets his weekly visit, but rarely shows up.  His bios have no clue how to take care of him and thing shoving a bottle in his mouth to get him to stop screaming is the best thing to do.  Unfortunately, it's not.  So while we don't have the mental/emotional issues with him and visits, we do have the physical ones.

Thankfully I get along well with all bios.  They know that I'm not trying to steal their kids...  that I'm just taking care of them until they themselves do what they need to do to get them back.  I'm so glad I don't have to deal with bios who try to cause trouble.

Heather (Us) - The easiest thing for me is to use visit times as "Me Time."  I try and schedule things I want to do but things that aren't important enough to find a sitter. (i.e., get my toes did, get my hairs cut, sit on my butt and stare at the wall, or take my hubby out on the town. :-)

So far we have only had 6 years old and younger kids, so we would tell them the day of about visits.  We also learned VERY quickly to not plan anything after visits if at all possible. We have found the kids need to go right back into our "boring, structured life."  I have noticed after the first few visits mom and dad usually start changing the kids' clothing, so I never send them in clothes that I am not willing to part with. Then with future visits I send them in the clothes that their parents changed them into on their last visit.  I also request the parents let me know at least a day before if the kids need to be dressed for something special (i.e., being outside all day, swimming, pictures, etc.) I try to have one specific toy or blankey that goes with them to visits and back home from visits.

Other than that, hold your breath, jump in, and ALWAYS be kind to the biological parents.

Carly (C and C Family) - Going into foster care, I never knew how I would handle visits.  They are stressful.  There's a kid that is in your home that you love and want and the person on the other end loves them and wants them, too.  You need to try and make the visits successful because the reality is the goal is always initially reunification.  So, I approached visits in a way of what would I want if I was the birth mom.

I have only had babies/toddlers, so I always packed food, snacks, bottles (when appropriate) or sippy cup, diapers, wipes, change of clothes, toys, teethers, books, etc.  Whatever my foster child would need to make the visits successful.  Biomom will likely want to try and feed them, play with them, and keep them happy.  I always packed in a nice diaper bag that was used specifically for visits so I just had to re-stock it for the weekly visits.

You don't want to forget something as important as a pacifier that would cause distress to the child who is the most important factor in the visit, so include everything they would need to be happy.

I remember when my first foster baby was going to visits and she was a baby and it was summer so I wasn't always putting socks on her.  Biomom was concerned that she was "always sick" because she never had socks.  From the moment I learned that, she always had socks on at every visit.  Now I know she was sick because she had Reactive Airway Disease and it was not the socks, but if that is the only control this biomom can exhibit, I can do that to make her happy.  When I was told my second foster baby was having her visits in a room that was cold, I included blankets in the bag for visits.  I included anything that could make the visits more pleasant for all parties.

Not all foster parents do this, but I always wrote notes or letters.  Sometimes they were 2-3 pages long, sometimes it was just a paragraph, but it was important that I gave them an update.  It would include anything new they were doing, new words, stats if they had a doctor visit, places they had visited, i.e., the first trip to the beach, how they were eating, how they liked the dogs, anything I could think of that the birth parents would want to know about their child.  I almost always included pictures with these letter.  The kids did crafts at daycare so I usually included a few of these for them to keep.

I also tried to attend some visits.  Both hubs and I work full-time outside the home and it wasn't always convenient, but it's important to get to know the birth parents and for them to get to know you (if it's safe).  They got to see that we loved their child, too.  It makes them more comfortable with the care that their child is receiving.  In the end, for our second foster daughter, I am sure it helped them to determine to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights.  They knew us, they knew the love we gave their daughter.

My biggest regret with our first foster daughter is not attending more of the visits and not taking more pictures.  I always assumed we had more time with her biomom than we ended up having.  Her rights were terminated and I went to the final visit with camera in hand and it was the first visit she missed.  I missed my opportunity to get any additional information from her and take additional pictures with her of our precious daughter.  So attend and take advantage of every moment when you can.

Mama P (Fostering Love) - Visits:  The good, the bad, and the fake.

We have actually had a great experience with visits.  We have mostly had babies or toddlers for visitations, which makes things slightly easier in that they do not process things the same way as a preschooler or older child does.  We have also been very lucky in that we have been able to forge meaningful relationships with almost all of our bioparents.  This makes the transition wonderful.

In *OurCounty* we are required to be the transporters and supervisors for visits, of which there is no designated place available to us.  If the parents are only allowed supervised visits, we must meet at McDonalds, a park, or library, etc.  So far this has been both good and bad.  Good, because it keeps us in the public eye for safety and it is a neutral non-stressful place for the children.  Bad, because it is a pain to find a sufficient space when you have a crawling or toddling noisy infant, especially during cold and flu season.  With Peanut, our current placement, we met at the park until his mother complained about the "unbearable" heat (which bothered neither Peanut or myself).  Now we meet at McDonald's which is germy, confined, and there is nowhere for him to crawl around or be free.

For the sake of the children, visits have caused me to exercise a fair amount of superficial or "fake" charm and acceptance even when I want to be ugly and possessive/protective of MY babies.  I feel as though visits are an opportunity to make a real difference for the children.  I use this time to point out the great things about their child, ask about family history "who does he look like?", "Now who did he get THAT from?" or other questions that help me build a story for the baby if we end up as an adoptive situation or if the child goes to an adoptive home from ours.  Not only that, but I am able to indirectly give them some pointers on things they can do to make their lives easier as parents.

An example would be the time at the park where BioMom was struggling to keep Peanut still, and I suggested she let him crawl around on a blanket in the grass.  She was very uptight about him not touching the grass, etc., but I got down with her and showed her how she could use the moment to interact. I just got on Peanut's level and said, "Look at the green grass!  It feels cold and tickly!  Let's tickle your mom with some grass!"  I didn't boss her or even have to say anything; she therefore learned parenting skills by observation.  I showed the confidence to step in and interact with both of them happily, she didn't feel judged by a silent observer, and Peanut had a stress-free play time.  I feel blessed to have such opportunities!

aka. Mimi - I think the easiest way for me to talk about family visits is to answer each question individually.  Visits can definitely be a huge source of stress for everyone involved, and it helps to try to be prepared beforehand.

"How do you prepare your kids for visits?" - This is an easy one for me, but I'm afraid I'm not going to be much help to you.  :-)  With the exception of Angel, my kids have all been infants and toddlers.  There really isn't a whole lot of explaining or emotional preparation that goes into getting a 9-month-old ready for a visit with his/her parents.  They're just happy if someone changes their poopy diaper and feeds them.  They definitely don't understand the whole "You're going to the CPS office to see your parents today" speech.  It makes things easy on that front.

"How do you deal with the stress leading up to the visits?" - While I don't have to worry about pre-visitation stress on my children's side, I am usually a hot mess until the weekly visit is officially over.  The source of my stress is almost entirely related to weekly conflicts with scheduling and transportation.  Because I work full-time outside the home, I depend heavily on my children's caseworkers and/or transporters to take them to their weekly visits.  There have been many cutbacks and layoffs in our local area, so the visits are often spur-of-the-moment on different days with different people picking them up, and I know nothing about them until I pick them up from daycare care.  I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHERE MY KID IS AND WHO THEY ARE WITH!  I want to know ahead of time so I can send their visit bag, photos, etc.  I want to know so I don't schedule a doctor's appointment and go to pick up the baby only to discover THEY AREN'T THERE!  I tend to be stressed out until the visit for the week is over, and I know where my kids are for the rest of the week.  Monkey's visits were so sporadic that I finally offered to take the time off work every week to transport myself.  The only stipulation was that they kept the visits consistent on the same day at the same time.

"What do you send to visits?" - Like Carly, I send a diaper bag with everything my kids will need to keep them comfortable and happy.  Many people will tell you that it is the bioparents' responsibility to provide those things, but I am not comfortable with that.  What if the bios don't show?  What if the transporter's car breaks down?  What if there is a scheduling conflict that keeps your child away longer than anticipated?  I want to know that my babies have what they need.  I also feel that packing a bag serves as a "teaching tool" for the parents.  They can see the types of foods that their baby is eating/drinking.  They can see what size clothing/diapers their child is currently wearing.  They can see that their child is loved and care for.

I also make it a point to send photos, notes, mementos, etc. on the weeks when I am not able to transport to the visits myself.  I know that the parents love them, and really do appreciate that I take the time to include them in as much of their children's lives as possible.

"What about when they have longer, unsupervised visits and overnights?  What do you send then?" - By the time my kiddos start to have unsupervised visits and/or overnights, I have usually established a pretty good relationship with their birthparents.  I try to tell them everything they'll need to know beforehand, but I always send a written schedule and "Things About Baby" note along with that first visit.  That note includes a list of baby's favorite foods, tricks for naptime, etc.  For the first visit, I send everything they will need (ex. food, diapers, wipes, clothing, a couple of bottles/cups, toiletries, a few toys, etc.) so they can see exactly what their baby is used to and can have an example for the next week.  After that first visit, I only pack a "regular" diaper bag with things that I would normally pack if I went to the store with the baby.  By the time overnight visits are granted, they should be well on their way to reunification, and their parents need to prove they can provide for their child.  I also send their "comfort items" if they have any.  To this day, Monkey continues to go from my house to his daddy's with his favorite blanket and Mr. Bunny (his stuffed bunny rabbit).

"How do you deal with the physical and/or emotional fallout after visits?" - Most of the fallout that my kiddos tend to experience after visits is physical due to missed naps, drastic changes in schedule, and being fed junk during visits.  The main thing you can do is try to get things back to "normal" as quickly as possible after visits.  They tend to get overstimulated, so I've found it's always best to have a calm, boring day once they come home.  I always try to find out what (if anything) their bios gave them to eat during the visit and adjust what I give them based on that.  If they had a bunch of juice, they'll get milk or water only from me for the rest of the day to try to avoid diaper rash and rotten teeth.

When 16-year-old Angel was with me, visits with her parents were always difficult for her, and visit days were usually resulted in upset stomachs, headaches, and crying.  I can't say that I blame her.  She and Booger Bear had a joint supervised visit with her parents every week (Booger was her bio son), and she usually spent the majority of her visit watching her parents play with Booger and virtually ignoring her.  I eventually convinced her caseworker to limit Booger's visits to every other week in order to give Angel some one on one time with her parents without the distraction of the grandbaby.  

Booger Bear by far had the most emotional difficulty due to the fact that he had an insane visitation schedule.  By the end, he had 8 hour visits with his dad, 3-4 hour visits with Angel after she moved to another foster home, and occasionally supervised visits with his maternal grandparents nearly every day of the week!  Not having any kind of set schedule when he was used to having one, as well as not knowing from one day to the next who was going to take care of him was terrible for him.  Nighttime was the hardest.  It always took at least an hour of rocking and comforting before he would fall asleep, and at 17 months, he still didn't sleep through the night.   He would wake up multiple times, crying "Mimi hug!  Mimi hug!"  He would usually fall back asleep after he saw that I was still there, but having a toddler crying for you in his sleep is heartbreaking especially when you know it could all be avoided if CPS would have gotten their act together and not subjected him to months of craziness when they knew he was going home to his dad.

While visits can bring on lots of big feelings, stress, and physical fallout, they can have lots of positive results if everyone involved participates and works together.  I truly believe that the continued relationships that I have with my kids today are direct results of the relationships that I began to develop with their parents during the time they were with me.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Foster Friday" Q & A - The Name Game

With so many new adoptions in the works for many of you, the subject of changing your child's name has come up quite a bit recently on different blogs and support groups.  When I received a call a couple of days ago to submit my homestudy for an adoptive placement of a 2-month-old baby girl, I started wondering...  Would I want to change her name?  Yes.  She's so young I doubt she knows her name right now anyway.  But that made me think...  

How do you make the decision to change your child's name when they are older?  18 months, 3 years, 8 years, 17 years?  At 18 months old, would I have changed Monkey's or Booger's names if I'd been able to adopt them?  They knew their names at that age, and an 18-month-old certainly isn't going to understand why everyone is suddenly calling him something completely different.  An older child would.  They might even be excited about process and concept of helping to choose their new name.  So many thoughts running through my head on the subject!!!

I started thinking about all of my foster kiddos, their names, and how I would feel about changing them if I had been able to adopt them.  I thought about baby name books and how most people go about choosing names for their children.  I thought about how a completely different name might affect my little ones verses how a new name might be welcomed for others.  (I tend to overthink things, I think ;-)
Banana and Her "Mad" Face :-)
Mimi's Personal Naming Rule #1:  Avoid Terms of Endearment and Names Associated with Peace Signs and Bell Bottoms

My first foster daughter's name was one that I definitely would have changed.  I'm not quite certain what her mother was on when she named her, but I am fairly certain whatever it was wasn't exactly legal.  Munchkin had one of those super long, hippie, endearment names similar to "Honey Autumn Moonbeam Doe."  Having a term of endearment as your child's first name can really freak a mama out when random strangers call them by name.  When that child is a foster/adopted child, you definitely don't want to hear their name coming from the mouth of an unknown person.  In Munchkin's case, I probably would have kept one of her middle names and changed her first name.

Mimi's Personal Naming Rule #2:  When Bestowing a Clearly Cultural Name Upon Your Child, It Is Wise to Use a Name from THEIR Culture

When Monkey came to me, I found it rather amusing that this 100% Hispanic child had a decidedly Irish first and middle name paired with a very, very Hispanic surname.  His last name is so culturally-rooted that even my company's translator had difficulty pronouncing it!  Would I change it now?  No.  I love his name.  I might have even used it had I been able to have little Irish babies of my own.  But had I wanted to change Monkey's name to one with a cultural ring to it, I don't think I would have chosen one that leads you to expect a red-headed pasty white boy with an Irish accent.

Mimi's Personal Naming Rule #3:  PUH-LEEZE Don't Get All Creative with the Spelling!

When Booger Bear came through my door, his paperwork was a mess!  I quickly realized that was because his birthmother decided to take some creative liberties with the spelling and no one had a clue how she wanted it spelled.  I wouldn't have changed his name...  But I would have corrected the spelling so the poor kid wouldn't have to spend his entire lifetime explaining that "No, it's not a typo."  Unfortunately, Kelly didn't change it when Booger went to him, so my special boy is probably going to grow up with people thinking that he is "special" in other ways because he doesn't know how to spell his own name.  The sad thing is that it's been so long now that I really have forgotten how his name is supposed to be spelled!

Mimi's Personal Naming Rule #4:  When Enlisting the Assistance of Your Preschooler in the Re-Naming Process, Don't Take Their Suggestions TOO Seriously

When Christy found out she was having the Mini Munchkins, she wanted to include the Big Twins in as much as she could.  They spent hours going through names and bouncing ideas off of each other.  Buddy chose a name for his little sister, and kept pushing it on Christy for months leading up to the birth.

     *** Butterfly Crystal ***

Christy finally asked him why he liked that name so much, and he responded with "girls' names should be beautiful, and that's a beautiful name!"  Christy compromised by telling Buddy that he was right, and that she would save that very special name just for him so he could use it for his daughter when he became a daddy.  (Well played, Christy!  Well played!)

Ka-Diva was much more practical in her approach.  Any time I asked her what she thought, she would reply with single syllable names like "Kate" or "Bart."  When I asked her about her name choices, she told me that her name was too long and that she just thought she'd pick easy names "so they won't run out of paper."  "Run out of paper," I asked.  "Yeah.  I always run out of paper when I write my name!"  :-)

Mimi's Personal Naming Rule #5:  Put the Breaks on the Crazy

I'm all for allowing my children some freedom of expression and promoting creativity.  However, when it comes to them being solely responsible for choosing the name that they would like to have on all of their legal documents for the rest of their lives, I say "Put the breaks on the crazy."  I can totally see Miss Banana walking into the room and announcing, "You may call me 'Princess Consuela Bananahamac!'"  Um, yeah...  I'm gonna go with "no" on that one.

Sooo...  My questions to all of you are...

"How did you decide whether or not to change your adopted child's name?"

"How old was your child when you changed their name?"

"If your child was young, were they confused?  How did they adjust?"

"If your child was older, did they participate in choosing their new name?"

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Foster Friday" Guest Post: Love is Colorblind

Hey, Y'all...  Well to start, I am not blessed with artistic writing like our Tammy, so bear with me!  My name is Natasha, and my husband (Donald) and I have been fostering (try to adopt) for four years now.  I had always wanted to foster children since my early 20s.  When my husband and I moved in together, I brought it up and he was all in!

We knew going into it that we were not the "typical" foster parents.  We were young and black.  Our first class we attended was on my 26th birthday, and my husband had just turned 30 the month before.  I remember the instructor asking for our opinions and just general class discussions.  There were two older white couples sitting behind us, and almost every time I had answer for "what would you do in this situation," I could hear them say things like "They're young.  They don't know." and things like that.  So badly, I wanted to turn around and say, "oh, but lady, I do know!"

My mother is white, and my father black.  I didn't know him growing up.  I was raised an only child in the early 80's in a small country town in Texas.  Being biracial in this small town was far from acceptable.  I remember standing on top of toilet seats hiding in the restroom all day in elementary school.  I wanted so badly for someone to look like me.  My hair, my tanned (year-round) skin, my full lips...  I grew up thinking and being told I was ugly.  My mother was raised in an orphanage in the 50's, but there was no segregation in there...  They were all "unwanted" children.  So she taught me to be strong through all of that.

Life hit us hard when I was around 12 years old, and we began to live in different women's and homeless shelters.  Life was pretty much unstable growing up after that, and I could write a book about my life.  Believe me!  I remember not opening up or listening to adults and counselors because they never told me, "Hey, I have been there, and look at me now!"  They just did their job, got in their Lexus, and went home at the end of their shift, while I stayed there with angry, bitter women.  So when I grew up and out of my circumstances, I wanted to help other children.

Our third placement after Donald and I began fostering was "Munchkin" (*** Sidenote from Mimi - Yep!  The very same Immobile Munchkin who was initially placed with me! :-).  She was our youngest at the time at 11 months old.  When we got the call for her, we were so excited!  Now, I'm not gonna lie to y'all...  I was shocked when I opened the door to see a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby!  I had assumed by her name that she was black! (hahaha!  I still laugh at that moment. :-)  Munchkin was also in a full body cast from a broken femur and a helmet from a non-related surgery, neither of which CPS had told me about (gotta love CPS and their "we tell you everything we know...")  At first I assumed the stares, looks, and whispers were because she was so young in a full body cast, so I paid no mind.

A few weeks later, we received a call asking if we could take Munchkin's older sister "Princess."  Of course, we had no idea she even had a sibling!  Princess came to our home that night around midnight.  She took to me instantly.  She did not know how to read or write, yet the school system was just passing her along because she was "a good, quiet kid."  We weren't having that, so before we knew it she was making 80's and then 100's on her weekly spelling tests.  We were so proud of her growth!

We were a family in the house, but as soon as we all stepped out together or the girls and just my husband, it was always a problem.  When Donald was with the girls alone in public, many, many times people would ask Princess (right in front of my husband) if she and her sister were okay.  Once an elderly woman even wrote down his license plate number and reported it as "suspicious."  He took the girls to the park once without me, and he said he was watching Munchkin from a short distance playing with another toddler.  When he walked over to her, a white lady came literally running toward him and frantically scooped up her daughter.  It hurt him to always be judged like that with the girls.  He is a 250 pound teddy bear!

CPS would always remind me that the girls were only with us because "they needed a stay-at-home mom" because of all of the doctor appointments that Munchkin had and that I was the only one they could find.  Princess would ask us why all of the workers (play therapist, CASA, CPS, speech therapist, and agency) would go into her room, shut the door, and ask her every month if we (more so my husband) ever touched her or her sister.  I would tell her that they just wanted to make sure she and her sister were safe.  She would say, "but you're already doing that!" (Gotta love that kid!)

At one point when their CPS worker asked me "How do you keep them in touch with their culture" for the sixth time, I had finally had enough.  I was really, really tired of that question by that time.  My response was "Open your small country county eyes!  (I knew we were the only black foster family that particular small county had dealt with)  I AM HALF WHITE!!!  My mother is white!  And these girls are actually a fourth Hispanic.  I have many Hispanic friends, and I teach them what I know of Hispanic culture.  And we see white people everywhere we go!!!"  Needless to say, that was the last time she asked me that question.  But as we all know as foster parents, once you bump heads with the kids' worker, you can pretty much forget about adoption.  From that visit on, Munchkin's caseworker would have me remove the baby's diaper and would check her whole body including the bottom of her feet (which I still don't get) every month.

One of the most hurtful situations that brought back a lot of my childhood issues regarding race was when I was in my car with Munchkin and a white dude pulled up next to me in a big diesel engine truck and began to make racial slurs towards me.  He saw that I had a white child in my car and called me a ni**er thief.  He said she deserved to be with her own kind, let out a huge burst of smoke out of his exhaust pipe, and purposefully filled the inside of my car.

It was always hard at Princess' school when it was time to pick her up.  They always had different teachers outside, so I always had to have proof that she belonged with me.  They were used to seeing black kids with white foster parents...  not the other way around.  Children would ask Princess, "Why are they black?"  She thought it was mean to call us "black," but I explained to her what race is and to never judge anyone by the color of their skin.

I love that girl dearly.  I will never forget one night she asked me, "How many stars are in the sky?"  I said billions and billions.  She replied, "That's a lot.  That's how much I love you."  I will always cherish that moment.  She never wanted to leave.  She would always ask us if her mom could live with us so they could all be safe.  She wanted us all.  She wanted both of her moms.  They day they left, Princess asked me to promise to never forget her.  They thanked us for teaching her how to read and write because now she could "teach her mom how to read."

My husband came across the girls about a year after they left as they were walking along the road.  Munchkin screamed out "Daddy! Daddy!"  He wanted to go to her, but their mother made it seem as if he was a strange, scary black man and he noticed people watching so he just kept going.  He said the girls watched him until they couldn't see his car anymore.  I have run into Princess once.  I pray to see her again soon because it's been too long.

I know many of you have black foster children and have adopted black children.  I say "thank you for showing people that love is color blind!"  At the same time (remember that I am a realist and blunt :-), remember to acknowledge and embrace your children's differences.  Let them know that you love their tangled hair, their smooth rich brown skin, and their dark beautiful eyes.  Let them know you embrace their differences.  When it comes to nicknames like "Chocolate," make sure they are okay with them.  I know I hated it when my family would call me "Heinz57" or "Oreo."  It was just another reminder of "Hey!  Look at me!  I'm different from y'all!"  And of course, as a child, I never said anything because no one asked me how it made me feel.  Keep loving these kids!  I will keep loving these kids!  And society can just kiss my bronzed booty because any child...  black, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever!...  is going to experience and know love in my home.  They will see what love is between my husband and me.

When I was a child, I wished there were more black foster mothers.  Even now, at times I wish there were more black foster mothers on support groups like me so I can be completely honest.  I seem to be the only one every time.  I am hoping to start a group for African American foster families or to speak to my worker about getting something together.  I'm not a "lay down and be quiet" type of gal.  :-)  My husband and I try hard to be an example for other young African American families, and we have motivated a few to foster, but I want to reach more!

If it wasn't for fostering, I would still not know what it feels like to experience love as a mother.  Now that I know...  That's all I want to be.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bad Vegetarian, Bad!

It's been a week and a half since I revealed my grand plan to become a vegetarian in support of my BFF's 30-Day run at Veganism.  I thought today would be a fine time to report on my progress.

Day One - No meat whatsoever!  This is easy!  I am totally rockin' this whole Vegetarianism thing.  Hooray for broccoli!!!   I am down with the herbivores!   Potatoes...  They're what's for dinner!

Impossibly Easy Southwestern Pie
Days Two & Three - On a mission to locate awesome vegetarian recipes.  Searching online and finding some super-yummy stuff.  Created a "Vegetarian Recipe" board and started pinning away.  I can't wait to try my hand in the kitchen!

Day Four - Ohhh...  You know what would make these recipes really good???  Meat!!!  Still haven't eaten any, but that Southwestern Pie would sure be yummy with some hamburger.

Nutty Mixed Up Salad
Day Five - Went to J@son's Deli for an office birthday lunch and got the absolute best salad I have ever had!  "The Nutty Mixed Up Salad..."  Organic field greens, grapes, raisins, dried cranberries, apples, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, feta cheese, raspberry vinaigrette dressing...  Granted, it had grilled chicken breast in it, but I didn't think about that until I was finished.

Day Six - Katie informed me that I am officially "the worst vegetarian ever" just because I had chicken in my salad at lunch yesterday!  Glad I didn't mention the pizza rolls that I had for dinner tonight...  I don't think those should count though.  There's barely anything in there, and I think it's fake "meat" anyway.  :-)

Day Seven -  Man, I really want a taco.  Like the kind with shredded beef from Fuzzy's...  I wonder if I could be a vegetarian most of the time, but with an occasional "cheat day."  Like an "a little meat for two meals out of the week" is okay kind of thing...  I think that's acceptable.  I'm going to Fuzzy's!

Mimi's little insomniacs after they FINALLY crashed.
Day Eight - Got a late-night phone call from Heaven asking if I could keep Booger and Banana overnight so she and Kelly could take care of a little emergency that had come up.  When they came to pick up the kids afterwards, they brought me a Chili's giftcard as a "thank you" and wished me "good luck on that whole vegetarian thing" (giggle giggle).  I wonder if Chili's chicken fried steak could be considered a vegetarian dish...

Day Nine - Made a pork tenderloin that I've had up in the freezer for dinner.  Can't just let it go to waste, right?  I wonder if I could be a 2/3 vegetarian...  Like "meat-free for two out of three meals of the day..."  Works for me!  Or maybe I could just give up red meat so chicken and pork could be fair game.  That sounds doable!

Day Ten - OMG!!!  I WANT POT ROAST!!!  I haven't made a pot roast since last winter, but boy oh boy does it sound delish...  Forget this mess!  Katie is on her own!  I am officially a "vegetarian who eats meat."

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

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