Friday, March 30, 2012

"Foster Friday" - After They Leave

It's been nine days since Monkey went to live with his daddy, and we are all doing our best to adjust to a new "normal."  So far, things are going really well!

I have to admit, I was kind of a wreck from the day that Monkey left until Sunday night.  I was so afraid that his dad was going to change his mind about me keeping him, and I just wouldn't ever see him again.  I can't tell you how relieved and happy I was when he showed up a half an hour earlier than I expected him on Sunday night!  :-)  Now that we have a week down, and a pretty good idea of how we're going to do this, I'm breathing much, much easier, and am finally able to start moving on with everything else in my life.

With Monkey's return home so new, it's made me think about how different my life is when my kiddos enter and leave.  It's always an adjustment for any foster family, but for me...  For me, the change between being "single, full-time working, foster mama" to "single lady with no kids and a cat" is a drastic one, especially after a long-term placement.  I think it would be different if I had a husband and/or other children at home who still needed me, but to go from having a child be my whole world to absolutely nothing...  Well, the silence can be deafening.  I was sort of wallowing in that silence until last Sunday night when Monkey came back.

Now that I know he's going to be with me half of the week, I'm finally allowing myself to get excited about other things and making plans.  I get to be Monkey's "Mama" from Sunday night through Thursday morning, and now I have the time to really spoil my other kiddos on the weekends!  We're starting up our "Saturday Crew" again tomorrow, and I know that Heaven, Booger, Banana, Buddy, and Ka-Diva are just as excited about that as I am.  :-)

No more wallowing in self-pity or crying in a silent house for me!  I'm taking a couple of months off from fostering to look for a three bedroom place so I have more room for more kids.  And in the meantime, I'm making the most of my "free" time by spoiling all of my other kids rotten!  Somehow, I don't think they'll object.  ;-)

So how do the rest of you cope after your children leave your home?  Do you do anything special?  How do you allow yourselves to grieve?  What helps you the most in dealing with the loss?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wake Up and Live...

My sister just posted this on her FB page, and I had to share.
"So Buddy said something so deep and so beautiful last night that I can't stop thinking about it! Out of the blue he asked us, "Do you think that we are all really asleep and dreaming right now on Earth and that God is just letting us dream about this life? And when someone dies it is their spirit and God deciding that it is time to wake up and REALLY start living in Heaven?" Whoa! I'm sorry, but that is a very beautiful take on things and extremely deep for a 7 year old!"
Sometimes these kids can really take your breath away with some of the things that they say.  Most of the time, they have me cracking up.  But this...  This was beautiful and absolutely perfect!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bittersweet Goodbyes

Well that was positively AWFUL and WONDERFUL at the same time...  Monkey's dad desperately wanted to bring him home today, so we said okay (doing paperwork tomorrow).  When he came to pick him up, he was in tears.  Not only tears of joy for himself, but tears of sorrow FOR ME...  Makes me like him even more than I already did.
He thanked me over and over for everything that I've done for Monkey and their family and told me how very sorry he is that this is causing me pain.  I tried not to cry, but it totally didn't work (especially because HE was in tears!)  He was so hesitant to leave because he didn't want to cause me any more pain, so I kind of had to eventually kick him out the door. :')  Monkey will be back on Sunday, but for now, I'm just gonna cry a little bit, say goodbye to what WAS, and try to focus on creating a new "normal" for Monkey, me, and his dad.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mixed Emotions

Court is tomorrow, and my emotions are pretty much all over the place.  That's certainly not unusual in Foster/Adopt Land, but Monkey's case has been so different from my others that the mixed emotions seem even more amplified this time.

I'm happy for Monkey and his dad.  His dad has worked so hard and has been through a lot in order to bring Monkey home.  He's missed out on so much during this first year of his son's life, so I'm glad he's going to be able to be there from here on out.  Monkey's father loves him so much, and I know how difficult this past year has been for him.  I'm genuinely happy that he has been able to work out the things that he needed to work out in order to be the best father that he can be for Monkey.

I'm sad that my role in Monkey's life is going to change.  Going from being the one making the parenting decisions to being the babysitter is definitely going to take some getting used to.  I've been "Mama" for nearly a year.  Trying to force myself into another role when my heart still says, "I am Mama" is definitely not easy.

While I'm sad about losing Monkey as my son, I'm thrilled silly that I am still going to be a significant part of his life (at least for the foreseeable future).  He'll be back in my arms every Sunday night, and I can continue to love him and watch him grow up. 

Throw in a lot of frustration with Monkey's mom and disappointment that she hasn't been able to step up and do what she needs to do in order to be a positive influence in Monkey's life right now and that might sum up the mixture of emotions running around in my head right now.  It's hard because I have so much compassion for her.  I like her.  But I am having a hard time maintaining that compassion when I would throw myself in front of a train for her son, and she is "too emotional" to even visit him regularly.

Actually, add in a bit of apprehension as well.  After what happened with this exact court date with Booger Bear (the one where his caseworker had told me for weeks that they were getting an extension so we could start transitioning him, and then told me literally 60 seconds before walking into the courtroom that they were moving him to his dad's that day and that he just wasn't coming back home.  As in the last time I would see him was when I had dropped him off at daycare that morning.), I am understandably skeptical when it comes to these hearings.  Anything can happen.  While I am fairly confident we know how this is going to turn out, there's always that part of me that think the system is going to screw me over (pardon my language).  I am, after all, just the foster mom.

But I have to admit, all of the "less than positive" emotions seem to be far overshadowed by the good ones this time around.  :-)  I love seeing foster care work!  I love seeing parents step up and truly make positive changes for the good of their children.  I love being a part of helping families who deserve it stay together.  Foster care is hard, and it is far from perfect.  But it can work.  And it's cases like Monkey's that give me the strength to continue on for the next little one and their family who needs me.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Deadbeat Dads"

In less than a week, Monkey will no longer be "mine" if everything goes as planned at the hearing.  I'm not nearly as much of a wreck as I thought I would be though.  Monkey's case is so different from all of my others in that I've had time to prepare, transition, and develop a good relationship with his dad.  It's also different because I know he'll be right back in his room on Sunday night.  :-)  One way that Monkey's case is not so different from my others is that it is his dad who has stepped up and is regaining custody.

Looking back on my kids and their exits out of foster care, four out of my six were released into their fathers' care.  I know the term "deadbeat dad" exists for a reason, but when it comes to my experience in foster care, it has been far from applicable.  My kids' fathers have moved heaven and earth to gain custody of their children.  In Monkey's case, his dad has done more than what CPS has required of him.  I have no idea if this is a common phenomenon when it comes to foster care or not, but in my kids' cases, their dads have really stepped up.

Over the past month as Monkey's father and I have been working together to transition him home, I have seen his dad in action.  And I can honestly say that I have absolutely no reservations about Monkey leaving my home for his father's.  I think that's probably a very rare thing in foster care, but it's the small things that I've witnessed firsthand that reassure me that Monkey is in good hands when he's with his daddy.
  • Monkey racing across the room just as excited to see his daddy as he usually is to see me.

  • His dad always taking the time to come in and greet and pet Kitty Cat Tommie when he comes to pick up or drop off Monkey for visits.  I mean, really...  Anyone who takes the time to spoil and love on my cat has to have a good heart, right?!?  ;-)

  • Dad calling to check in on Monkey earlier this week to check on him and see how he was feeling after getting over his ear infection.

  • Monkey coming home last week on a cold, rainy day dressed appropriately in a hooded jacket and bundled in a blanket while his daddy carried him.  (Dad looked like he was freezing in nothing but a t-shirt and jeans, but that's a man for ya! :-)

  • Dad asking for my opinion on different baby products (ex. what works, what do I like, etc.) and always wanting to know what types of things Monkey prefers.

  • Getting the play-by-play rundown of everything care-related that happened with Monkey while he was with his dad.  Seriously.  The man practically tells me how many individual peas the child ate while he was with him!  It does reassure me though, so I'm happy to hear that Monkey passed wind at 12:36pm if that is what his father wants to share with me.  ;-)

  • Watching his dad pat his back, tousle his hair, kiss his cheek, etc. without even thinking about it while he's in the middle of a conversation with me.  All things that I do too when I'm holding Monkey...
Monkey left with his daddy this morning for a long weekend visit, and as much as I miss him when he's not with me, I know he's well-loved and cared for while he's with his father.  It definitely makes fostering much, much easier when you aren't afraid for your child when they leave your home.  I know so many of you have had to return your children to the exact same situation that they were originally removed from, and I know how scary that is.  I am just very, very thankful that my kiddos have gone to good places, and that the term "deadbeat dads" definitely doesn't apply when it comes to my kids.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Foster Friday" - Explaining "Family" to Young Children

For my latest giveaway, I asked entrants to submit their ideas and questions for "Foster Fridays" topics.  One that immediately stuck out to me was a question that my sister asked.

"How does everyone explain a foster relationship to small children? And what "titles" do you use to help them understand? For example... We have referred to my sister's long term foster kids as my kids' "cousins". They hear the foster kids call me "Aunt Christy" and my mom and dad "Nana and Papa". But then what is confusing to them is when the foster kids get sent back to live with one or both of their biological parents and they then have either limited or no contact again. The kids keep asking me if the foster kids were/are "really part of our family?". I think it is confusing to them because they have other "cousins" who are permanent. So I wonder how everyone else explains and "labels" the relationship?"
I know I have tried to explain that there are all different kinds of "families."  There are the families that you are born with, and there are families that you choose (kind of like how Mommy and Daddy weren't a family when they were little, but they chose to be a family when they got married.)  I've also talked about our biological family members who live far away and who we don't get to see very often.  Just because we don't get to see them, doesn't mean they aren't still our "family."  I know it's all a difficult concept to grasp for a couple of 1st graders who are trying to make sense of all of this. 

So how do you explain foster care to your young children?  What (if anything) has helped them understand the relationships they have with their foster siblings/cousins/etc.? 

Kylee - You weren't much older than my niece and nephew when your family started fostering.  Do you remember your feelings at the time?  What helped you the most?

With Monkey going home next week, this is going to be a fresh topic in our family.  Any advice you all could give would be appreciated!

Monday, March 12, 2012

First Overnight

Monkey had his first overnight with his daddy this past weekend.  It's kind of funny.  I've been saying for months how much I want these extended visits for Monkey and his dad in order to make the transition easier.  After this weekend, I'm beginning to realize that I needed these visits just as much (maybe more) than Monkey.  (Okay, so maybe I knew that all along, but now I'm just admitting it to myself. :-)
Monkey was busy "reading" when his daddy came to get him on Saturday morning, but as soon as he realized he was there, he speed-crawled across the living room and practically climbed up his dad's leg and into his arms.  He immediately started waving "bye-bye" to me.  I will admit that my feelings might be a little hurt by that if he didn't do the exact same thing  in reverse every time he comes back.  :-)

I went over the "bedtime basics" with his dad, showed him his favorite blanket and bunny rabbit that I packed, and raved about the virtues of Huggies Overnite Diapers and pointed out the one that I had sent for him.  I kissed my baby, told him I loved him, and told them both to have fun.  And then I had a mini panic attack when I shut the door.  (Hey...  You can't be calm, cool, and collected all the time!)

I spent my weekend shopping, cleaning, and sleeping, and Buddy and Ka-Diva came over on Saturday afternoon for some much-needed one-on-one (well, two-on-one) Fun Aunt Tammy time.  I will admit to staring at the clock all evening and wondering how Monkey was doing around bedtime.  I will admit to still sleeping with the baby monitor on.  I will admit to waking up at 6:30am, 7:00am, and 7:30am before finally making myself sleep in for the first time in ten months.  It was surprisingly the cat who eventually woke me up through the baby monitor!  He was wandering around the house, crying, and looking for Monkey!

When Monkey got back to the house that afternoon, he launched himself at me, waved "bye-bye" to his daddy, and then demanded to get down so he could chase Kitty Cat Tommie around the house.  Tommie was so relieved to see him that he didn't even care!  :-)

Monkey was tired, but happy.  His dad always fills me in on everything care-related, so I learned that Monkey coughed a little bit at night (fortunately it wasn't a bad episode...  Those can be horrible!)  He said it went well though, and with Monkey happily playing the rest of the evening, I believe him.  He ended up going to bed by 6:40 last night because he was worn out, and I had to wake him up this morning myself to get him ready for daycare.  I think it will take a little longer for him to get used to sleeping over there, but he seems to be adjusting just fine. 

It turns out, I'm the one who desperately needed this transition time, and I am extremely grateful for it!  I never got that with Booger.  I just took him to daycare the morning of court and never saw him again.  I can't begin to say how grateful I am that he came back into my life six months later!  I can feel the difference with Monkey's case.  This time, I've been given the opportunity to prepare myself to let go of being his sole caregiver.  These last few weeks before he goes home have given his father and I time to develop a good working relationship and to make this transition easier on everyone.  But these overnights...  I think they're for me.  :-)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Foster Friday" - When Foster Care Works

You see this big, huge smile?  Well, I got to see it last week...  Not on Monkey, but on HIS DADDY as he came to pick up his son for his very first unsupervised, all day visit.  :-)

I've been trying for two months to get unsupervised visits for Monkey, so when I got a call from the Invisible One last Thursday afternoon saying that she finally tracked down his attorney on a beach vacation to get permission, I was thrilled silly!  The plan is for Monkey to go to his dad on monitored return at the next court date (March 21st).  Time is slipping away quickly, and if he is going to be able to go to a home that he knows and is comfortable in, and to a parent who is familiar with his schedule, likes, dislikes, etc., he needs to start spending a significant amount of time there!

So last Friday was his first, all-day, unsupervised visit.  We scheduled the initial transfer at the CPS office where we had been having visits all year.  The office wasn't open yet, so I was sitting in the backseat with Monkey while we waited for his dad.  He didn't realize we were there, and I saw him get out of his car and head towards the office.  He was positively beaming.  My Monkey's grin on a grown-up face...  :-)  I called to him, and he came running over.  He was so excited.  It was Monkey's 1st birthday weekend, and this was the first time in nearly a year that he and his daddy would get to spend more than an hour together, and unsupervised at that!  It was a great birthday present for both of them.

His dad told me that Monkey "was born on a Friday, so in days, today is his birthday!"  He had ordered a birthday cake for him as soon as he found out that he was going to get to spend the day with him, and was so excited.  We went over Monkey's schedule and the list of favorite foods, sizes, etc. that I had put in his diaper bag for him.  Then I shocked his dad by saying, "If you'd like to spend the day with Monkey tomorrow as well, the Invisible One said that it was okay with her."

*** Sidenote - This is the first time where I have had a caseworker tell me, "Honestly, I think CPS sucks at transitioning infants and toddlers home.  I'm totally willing to follow your lead on this.  You know what's going to work best for Monkey better than anyone.  You make the schedule, and I'll back you on it!"  How crazy-awesome is that?!?  The Invisible One might drive me to drink most of the time, but I'm all over this one! ***

So the schedule that I went with for this first week was 8-4:30 on Friday, 8-4:30 on Saturday.  I invited Monkey's dad to his birthday party on Sunday afternoon, but he's pretty shy, so I wasn't surprised when he said he didn't think he'd make it.  We did a 7:30-4:30 visit today, and he will have his first overnight this weekend.  I wanted to try to get three good day visits in before we tried an overnight.  He's starting to get used to taking naps over there, so hopefully bedtime won't be too horrible for him.  Monkey is rather particular about his bedtime routine, so I'm a little worried.  But hopefully he will be okay with everything being different if he's not here at the apartment.  He won't be expecting "normal" if he's not in his "normal" place, right?

Monkey's dad will pick him up at 8am on Saturday and bring him home at 4:30pm on Sunday.  If the glazed-over look of pure exhaustion after two day visits last weekend is any indication, I have a feeling daddy is going to be T-I-R-E-D!  :-)

So far, the visits have been going really well.  Monkey is always excited to see his dad, and never cries or has any hesitation about going with him.  He claps when he sees him, waves "bye-bye" to me, and they seem to have a great time.  When he comes home, he claps when he sees me, throws himself at me, and waves "bye-bye" to his daddy.  His dad gives me a rundown on what they did during the day, lets me know how his meals and naps went, etc. 

Honestly, if this is any indication of how it's going to go when Monkey goes home and I go from "foster mama" to "nighttime caregiver,"  I think things will work out well.  His dad has always been nothing but respectful, appreciative, and thoughtful with me.  He might have the emotional mood swings of a drama queen teenager, but I suppose I can be the "dude" in the working relationship if I have to be.  ;-)  He really is a good guy.  And I can definitely understand his desperation when it comes to being separated from his child for so long.  I'd be a basketcase too!

I guess, for me, even though I am once again going to suffer the pain of losing one of my babies, I think I've been one of the lucky foster parents who has been able to see foster care work the way it was meant to work.  I know so many of you haven't been able to see that when it comes to your children and their cases.  So many of you have had multiple cases go to TPR or worse, had to return your children to the same situations that they were removed from to begin with!  As horribly flawed as the foster care system is, it can work!  I've seen it several times already with my own kids. 

I hope that those of you who desperately need to hear good foster care stories can look at my kiddos, follow our journeys, and see that good does exist in foster care.  And I hope that those of you who have your own "good foster care stories" will comment here on this week's "Foster Friday" (on a Thursday night ;-) post and share a little of your own experiences with us. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Happy Birthday, Monkey!!!

My little Chunky Monkey is officially a 1-year-old!!!  I decided to go all out and get super cute stuff for his party.  Monkey's going home to his daddy in 2 1/2 weeks, so I wanted to celebrate not only his birthday, but our year together as Mama and son.

The first order of business was to choose a theme.  I knew it was going to be monkey-related (how could it not be???), but when I came across this sock monkey party pack, I knew I'd struck gold in the party theme department.  I ordered it, and went Pinterest-crazy getting other ideas.

I ordered this adorable sock monkey crotchet hat for Monkey to wear in pictures.  This isn't Monkey, but we managed to get a good picture of the two of us together with him wearing his hat.  He kept it on for all of 20 seconds, but we were fast with the camera.  :-)

The menu included monkey bread (made by my BFF and her mom), banana pudding (made by my mom), caramel popcorn, banana chips, cut up strawberries and bananas, mason jars filled with various red and brown candies, and even Chunky Monkey ice cream (that I completely forgot about and left in the freezer ;-).

We had matching balloons, goody bags for the kids, streamers, and a decorative sock monkey on the cake table.  We even had a dancing sock monkey that a friend of mine gave to us because she knew we were doing the sock monkey theme.  The kids LOVED the dancing sock monkey (and by "kids," I mean the grown-ups.  ;-)

But the thing that made the party had to be the sock monkey birthday cake and coordinating smash cake!  (That red blob on top is actually Monkey's name in stand-up red letters.  I just had to blot it out for the blog.)  It was simply the cutest cake ever!  And it tasted good too!!! 

Monkey went from kind of bored and uninterested to sugar high baby on crack cake in a matter of about two minutes flat.  I've had three 1-year-old birthday parties since I began fostering three years ago, and Monkey's reaction was definitely the most hilarious.  He had us all rolling in hysterical laughter.  :-)  I SOOOO wish I could post the video and crazy-eyed baby pics, but this one will have to do.  :-)

The "Big Kids..."  Booger, Buddy, and Ka-Diva (Can you believe that two and half years ago I was having a 1-year birthday party for this little man too?)

The "Littles..."  Monkey, Butterfly, Banana, and Pooper...  Can you believe we have four 10 to 12-month olds in the family?!?

Have you ever had one of those days where you look around you and just think, "Wow... I am unbelievably blessed!!!"? Yesterday's party was one of those days for me. When I began fostering, I never would have imagined the way my life would turn out. I never would have thought that I would go from "Single Lady with a Cat" to "Mimi, Mama, & Mom" for kids who would come into my life not only directly through foster care, but also indirectly.

It's no secret how much I love my oldest "daughter." Heaven's brought me more joy over the past year and a half than anyone knows. I can't say enough wonderful things about her! And last September, I met Heaven's younger sister Kama, who has quickly become my honorary daughter #2. I would do just about anything for these girls because having them as my "daughters" just feels right.

Monkey's birthday party was so much more than just a birthday party for me. I got to celebrate all of my kids! My little Monkey, who calls me "Mama," who has become an additional appendage because he wants to be touching me at all times, and whose huge smile lights up my heart like no other... My Booger Bear, who calls me "his Tammy," who still needs Mimi hugs, and who knows without a doubt that he will always be my very special boy even if he doesn't quite remember why... My "daughters" who make me laugh like no one else, who make me feel loved and needed, and who I can't wait to spend more time with even after I've just seen them... My honorary grandbaby, Banana, who gives hugs freely, whose "cheese" smile never fails to make me laugh, and whose independent streak reminds me so much of her Mama and big brother that I can't help but smile.

Yesterday, we took our first "family picture" that included all of the kids and grandkids. Me and my brood and my sister with hers!  All twelve of us!!!  (And my mom thought she'd never be a grandma...  ;-)

Yesterday, I spent the day with my family. Unconventional though we may be, they're mine in every way that matters. 

Yesterday was amazing!  And I wouldn't change a thing...
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