Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Traumatized as a Child

As foster parents, we see the results of true trauma in our children.  It reminds me daily of how very fortunate I am that my scars are minuscule and were unintentionally inflicted.  Oh, I was traumatized alright!  Just not in the ways you might immediately think if you are in the foster parent mindset.

The Big Scary Barn
The Barn that Moo-ed - It looks innocent enough, right?  A fun little barn with cute little animals and farmers and such to entertain a young child for hours...  Not I, my friends!  That stinkin' barn let out a "moo" louder than fighter jet every time you opened the door.  If my animals couldn't fit in the hayloft, they just had to hang out in the elements because you'd better believe I wasn't about to let whatever giant monster cow that was hiding inside out of there!  Here I sit, a 38-year-old grown woman, and I'm having heart palpitations just thinking about it.

Oh, How Sweet...
The Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Movie - Sure...  Rudolph and his little girlfriend look all sweet and adorable.  They lure small children in with his shiny red nose and make them feel sorry for the poor little guy when the big reindeer make fun of him.  Just when you're feeling comfortable watching and are fully invested in cheering the sad and lonely mammal on despite the odd claymation setting, they throw this in your face!

What the HECK?!?
WHY?!?  Why would they DO that to unsuspecting little children?!?  That is seriously uncool.  To this day, I flip the channel to something else...  Anything else...  any time this made-for-television movie comes on.  That googly-eyed abominable snowman still gives me the heebie jeebies, and you'd better believe I will not be subjecting Bug and Monkey to this kind of childhood trauma.  Not ever!

The Face of Trauma in the Making
Spit-Cleaning - There are certain things that I swore I would never do to my children.  Licking my fingers to clean their faces was one of them.  I still remember the feeling of slimy fingers to my face as my mom scrubbed away at one thing or another.  I think she must have missed the memo declaring spit-cleaning must stop by the age of 2 (3 at the very latest) in order to ensure those memories remain locked away and never remembered.  I remember watching in horror as Ryan Seacrest did the unthinkable to Idol contestant Haley Reinhart one fateful evening and spit-cleaned red lipstick off of her face in front of millions on live television.  If that isn't trauma, I don't know what is!  I can almost guarantee that poor girl still has nightmares.  I know I do, and I haven't been spit-cleaned in well over thirty years!

Can't Believe I Did This to My Baby!
Yes, I was traumatized.  Fortunately, not enough to need psychiatric intervention...  I was lucky in that my mother never once took me to see Santa Claus at the mall.  "Lucky," you might question, "Don't all children want to see Santa?"  I urge you to take a look at what I did to poor Monkey for his first Christmas, and tell me if this looks like "he wanted to see Santa" to you.

What about you?  Do you have PTSD flashbacks from seemingly good things gone wrong from your early years?  Please tell me you do so I don't feel so weird about sharing mine!  Lol!

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Forever" Mom...

Today is National Adoption Day, and for many families today was a celebration.  It was a day to dress up in their Sunday best with their loved ones gathered around, stand in front of a judge, and after months (sometimes years) of waiting, be granted legal status as a permanent forever family.

Today was supposed to be that day for Bug and me...

When I first learned that Bug's adoption wouldn't be occurring today due to typical problems with red tape and paperwork, I was heartbroken.  I have been a foster parent for five years.  I have loved children with everything I had and let them go.  I have suffered loss.  I have mourned empty arms where my little ones should have been after they left my home.  I've been a mom for five years, but not one of my children is legally "mine."  I had myself a nice little pity party upon turning the calendar to November, seeing "Adoption Day" circled in red, and knowing that I would have to continue waiting to be a "forever mom" a little bit longer.

That's when it hit me like a tons of bricks.  I am a "forever mom!"

I have three amazing young people who know me only as "Mama," "Mommy," and "Mom."  I have a beautiful 20-year-old daughter who I never would have met had Booger Bear not been "mine" for a year.  Heaven is everything and more that I ever could have asked for in a daughter.  I have absolutely no doubt that Booger Bear was brought to me because the girl who would later become his mommy was meant to be the forever daughter of my heart.  She's a grown woman now...  a mother herself...  and I am so very thankful that she is a permanent part of my life.  There's no piece of paper telling us that it's "forever" - just a bond and the love that we know is there.

I have my 2 1/2-year-old Monkey who has been my whole world since he was two months old.  This little guy has brought me more joy, laughter, smiles, and love in the past two and a half years than I ever thought possible.  He has brought out a fierce "Mama love" inside of me that I never knew I could have.  His father and I work hard to give him the most normal and loving life possible, and I challenge anyone to ever tell him that I am not his "forever" Mommy.  I am the only Mommy he knows.  I am the Mommy who has kissed every hurt, snuggled before every bedtime, and put his favorite toys in Time-Out when he starts pitching fits because they won't do what he wants them to do.  There is no piece of paper telling us that it's "forever" - just a mutual understanding between his father and me and a shared love for an amazing little boy who needs us both. I am most definitely his "forever" Mommy, and for that I am eternally blessed.

And then there's my Bug...  He's my 14-month-old bundle of daredevil stubbornness with the most amazing smile and huge hazel eyes that you've ever seen.  This little one will soon be my only legal "forever," when his adoption is finalized (hopefully) before the new year, but he has been my forever son since I opened the door last December to a tiny barely 10-pound two-month-old with an "old soul" face.  He is the one who's going to give me a heart attack before the age of 40 due to his "have no fear" attitude and fierce determination to accomplish whatever task he is attempting at the moment.  This little Bug has a firm grip on my heart, and I am so thankful that he is going to be my first legal "forever."

So on this National Adoption Day, am reminded in the best of ways that I am a "forever mom!"  I might not have a signed piece of paper declaring that by a judge, but I have a blonde-haired Bug sawing logs in his crib, a laughing Monkey hugging my leg and asking "You want we sing 'Jesus Loves Me,' Mommy?" and an email from my amazing daughter just checking in with me today.  I am blessed!


Enter Giveaway Here

Please check out the other foster/adoptive parents who have contributed to the National Adoption Awareness Month Blog Tour and Giveaway by clicking the photo above!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Race is On

It's been two months since Bug was legally free for adoption, and not a darn thing has happened since!  I think I would have a lot more patience had they not dangled a National Adoption Day adoption in front of my face, but ever since the day that I turned the calendar to November and saw "Adoption Day" marked in red knowing that it's NOT going to happen that day, I've been a thorn in the backside of all of my caseworkers, supervisors, directors, etc.  Today, I decided to take matters into my own hands and create a "contest" of sorts between the different agencies and CPS to see who can get Bug's adoption finalized the fastest.  Could this be considered bribery?  Perhaps.  I call it being proactive!

I currently have emails into two different agencies and CPS directly (not so) patiently awaiting responses from someone...  ANYONE...  giving me some idea of who will actually be handling the homestudy portion of Bug's adoption.  Contestants in my little contest include:

1)  My agency - When I changed agencies last year in order to follow Nice Lady (aka. The Greatest Case Manager of All Time), I didn't realize that the new agency was not yet licensed for adoptions.  When it became clear early on that Bug's case was heading that way, we weren't all that concerned because the agency was just waiting to get its adoption contracts approved by licensing.  That was six months ago.  We are still waiting.

2)  Alternate Agency - My agency director (who is a foster parent through a different agency) spoke to the director there and asked her if it would be possible for her agency to license me strictly for adoption so I can finalize on Bug.  She said "Sure!  No problem!"  That was two months ago.  Nice Lady and I both asked again last week, and never received a reply.

3)  Bug's FAD Worker (DFPS Adoption Worker) - I have spoken to him one time since Bug's case was transferred to him.  I know he's swamped with National Adoption Day coming up, but it sure would be nice to know what (if anything) I can do to speed this along!

Potential prizes for whoever gets me my baby the fastest may or may not include one or more of the following:

1)  My initial thought was a cash prize, but then I realized that DFPS might frown upon that.  No money will exchange hands, but no one said anything about a generous donation that might include:

2)  Office supplies!  I know that my agency workers all end up having to buy their own office supplies.  I'd be willing to bet they'd be doing a happy dance of joy if some generous benefactor (or grateful adoptive mother) were to bestow upon them a multitude of Sharpies, notebooks, mechanical pencils, gel pens, binder clips, etc!

3)  Training videos created after 2010!  I have been with three different agencies.  I have seen the same video of the boy destroying the rose bushes and his foster mom in her plaid wool skirt and button-up, long-sleeved, ruffled blouse at all three agencies over the past five years.  If I have seen that video five times, can you imagine how many times the agency workers have had to watch that thing!?!  I do believe the promise of a fashion-forward training video might just be enough to sway one of them into doing my bidding.

4)  My services in the organization and paperwork department!  I have been with three agencies over the past five years, and every one of them have asked me to train their foster parents in paperwork, organization, and time management.  Get me my kid, and I'll have plenty of spare time to lead those training sessions...  Just sayin'...

5)  Cookies!  When all else fails, you can never go wrong with the promise of sweets.  :-)

So I sent Nice Lady an email earlier today telling her about my scathingly brilliant idea and letting her know that the game is on!  I have no idea if it will lead anywhere, but a little proactive maneuvering never hurt anything, right?


*** UPDATE - In the midst of writing this post, I received messages from ALL THREE of the contestants within approximately fifteen minutes of each other.  I think they must have heard about my little contest.  I guess now we'll just see who gets me my baby the fastest and becomes the lucky winner of some awesome free-flow ink highlighters!  Apparently office supplies talk in the not-for-profit world of Foster/Adopt Land!  ;-) ***

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Friday, November 8, 2013

"Foster Friday" Panel - Saying Goodbye

The world of foster care is full of "goodbyes."  Foster parents, birth parents, family members, friends, and most of all, the children have to say goodbye to people they love time and time again.  This month our "Foster Friday" panel touches on their personal goodbyes.  For some, the emotions are still raw as their goodbyes have been recent.  For others, what they thought were goodbyes turned out to be new beginnings.

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."  ~Winnie the Pooh

Debbie (Always and Forever Family) -

March 2012 we knew we would soon be saying goodbye to our foster daughters who we cared for and loved for almost 5 months. We were happy to see them united with their Grandpa but at the same time very sad to say goodbye.

As I was packing up the things for our little Ladybug who had just turned 2 she sat on our bed with me and looked at me questioningly. I tried as best I could to explain to her that in two nights she would be sleeping at her Papa's house but how can you really explain that to a 2 year old. She started picking up her things and asking me if it would go with her. I answered yes and then she picked up her doll. I was reminded of how little they came with when she and her older sister came to our home 5 months earlier. This doll was one of the things. The emergency foster mom had purchased it for her. She was so attached to this doll I hunted down a second one for fear of this one being lost. This was her security item. It was then that I scooped her up and held her tight. To reassure her of my love and trying for a moment to just stop time and keep her safe from anymore loss and pain.

Two days later we loaded our van with all their things and barely had room enough for all of us. We spent some time with the family and even had dinner together before it came time for goodbye. I told our almost 4 year old daughter to say goodbye to her sisters. And then we watched as she walked over to this precious Ladybug whom she had struggled with loving while she was with us and she gave her the sweetest hug knowing just how much she was going to miss her.

We tried to hold back our tears as we prepared to walk out the door. The oldest was doing great and understood what was going on. Little ladybug however wasn't all that clear. We had visited their home before a few times but she always came home with us. As we opened the door to leave she was in her Papa's arms and we said "Goodbye Ladybug" and she finally realized what was going on. She turned quickly to look at us with concern as we closed the door. All we could do was cry as we walked back to our empty van for the long quiet drive home.

Thankfully, it wasn't goodbye, it was only see you later. We have seen them a few times since that day and were even able to be there when their grandparents finalized their adoptions earlier this year.

Dena (Momat40.com) -

Saying goodbye is a really difficult subject for me right now, so this post has been hard for me to even start.  On September 27th, my Baby Girl left to go live with a great grandmother.  I’ve had to say goodbye to other foster children but none of them affected me the way this one did.  From the moment that I found out about it, I tried to prepare myself mentally for the moment that I would have to say goodbye to this child who had been my complete joy for the last 16th months.   The day before she left, we took her to dinner at her favorite restaurant and then took her back to my parents so that she could run and play.  She loved playing in my mom and dads sunroom.  When it came time to leave, my mom and dad gave her big hugs and kisses and then I took her home.  We played a little at home, and then it was time to put her to bed.  The next morning I woke her up and got her ready for school and took her to school as normal.  The only difference is that this time, I wasn’t going to be picking her up in the afternoon.  After I dropped her off, I was an emotional wreck.  

Over the next few weeks, I tried to be strong for my new foster daughter (she arrived on 9/23, so I didn’t want to take the chance of upsetting her).  However, I don’t think I really believed that she wasn’t coming home until this past weekend.   Once I turned over her things to the caseworker, I just piled my baby gear into her room and shut the door so that I didn’t have to look at it.   Probably not the healthiest thing to do, but I wanted to be strong.  When it hit me this weekend, I decided that the first thing I needed to do was tackle her room.  

Just recently, a friend of mine told me that I could pull some pictures together to add to her file in the event that when she turns 18 and requested them, she could learn about her time with me.  That fact has really helped me over the last couple of days, so I have been preparing some pictures of my family and I with her.  It’s bittersweet to look through those old pictures, but I honestly have to say that I feel better knowing that if she ever requests it she will be able to know just how much I love her.   Every person grieves differently but for me, it’s more about remembering the good times and then focusing on the positive that I had 16 amazing months with a beautiful child who completely changed my life.  

Now, I’m trying to move on and looking into straight adoption from other foster care agencies.  Fingers crossed that I will soon be able to fill this hole in my heart.  

SWrkr24/7 (Eyes Opened Wider) -

Wow, tough topic! But one I have been thinking about more and more as I anticipate a long term placement. 

So far, good-byes have been relatively easy. None of my voluntary placements have stayed longer than a week, most more like two to three days. So, while I always adore playing, snuggling, and nurturing each one - it is very easy to keep the end goal in sight. 

But as I keep hoping for a long term (someday adoptive) placement, I admit it is getting harder to let them go. That was definitely the case with my mos recent placement. Five months old and so darling. I called her "The Magical Sleeping Baby" because she was SUCH a good sleeper. (Having a non sleeper is my biggest parenting fear!) 

But I really hoped she might end up being a long term placement. Not that it is at all appropriate to hope that a child can't be safe in her parent's care! In fact, even as I hoped I felt guilty! But I was still very sad when it became clear that the eventual plan was for her to go to her aunt. 

Until I met her Aunt. 

She was wonderful. She was loving and nurturing. She was so excited to have her niece come stay with her. 

And while my hope melted away...I was filled with a sense if peace. 

I believe children belong with their families. If they can't be with their parents, extended family is the next best thing. Keeping my focus on my core values about family is imperative for me to get through all the goodbyes that foster care is likely to throw at me. 

At least until the child comes and I don't have to say goodbye. 

Karen A. (Nuggets from the Nut House) -

The feeling of "goodbye" is fairly fresh- Savon left our family two weeks ago today, at the time I'm writing this. Our goodbyes have been so different. The one that devastated and damaged us the most was our first...

Piglet had been with us for ten months. Mom and I took her and dropped her off at her parents for what was to be her first overnight visit. I don't think we even had a planned return date, visits were just being increased and we were going to see how things went. When Mom and I arrived back home after dropping Piglet off, my little sister was crying. Dad came into the kitchen and quickly told us why. Piglet's parents' worker had called. The judge had signed some paper, and she was officially back in the custody of her parents. Wait, she was in the custody of her parents. She had been with us since birth, so they had never had custody for her to go "back" to. I can't even describe the emotions we went through. The only reason we are still fostering is because of Piglet's parents' reaction. They said it wasn't right, that we didn't get a chance for a proper goodbye. They wanted us to come pick her up the next day as we were supposed to! We did. We've maintained a very unique relationship with Piglet's family. Since then, she's come back to us- many times to visit, and then one day as an official foster placement. Then we said goodbye again (I said goodbye over Skype as she left the night before I came home from finishing my year at university). And since that second goodbye, we've had her come for more visits so that we can continue to be there for Piglet and her family- wherever the future takes us. 

Thankfully, we haven't had any real "goodbyes". As I've said, we've maintained close contact with Piglet and her family. With our second, B, we've had some contact- some phone calls, a Christmas visit, and attending her first birthday. Since Savon went home recently, we have not had contact with his dad yet. We don't want to scare off Savon's dad, or make him feel like we're intruding or examining him. We want to wait for a visit so that Savon has time to bond with his daddy.

One practical way to ease the transition for the baby is that sometimes Mom will sleep with a few receiving blankets before the baby leaves. That way they smell like her, and when baby goes home, their caregiver can use those blankets for comfort in the early days. When one of our babies goes to their "forever home", we send along the outfit that they came home from the hospital in (for the ones that applies to). We put it in a Ziploc bag and label it. We also buy Baby's 1st Christmas ornaments for each of our babies- 2 identical ornaments for each baby, and we pick ones that can hold photographs. One ornament goes on our tree each year, and the other ornament goes with the baby when they leave. The last "goodbye tradition" we have is so special to our family. We go to Build-a-Bear. We get a sound piece, and gather around it as a family. We record ourselves saying, "We love you, ______!" That sound piece goes in the hand of whichever teddy we choose for that baby. The staff has been so great with us when we do it. Having us rub our dreams into tiny velvet hearts, kiss it for all the boo-boos to come, hug it for when they need a friend, and on an on. Yes, we cry. For Piglet, her Molly bear has been with her through a lot since she left us. And when needed, a simple squeeze of the hand will remind our babies of the message we want them to always remember, "We love you, _____!"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Might Have Been...

I found out last night that Monkey's birth mom passed away.  Not from the cancer she had battled and overcome, not from her drug or alcohol addiction that she was recently beating, but from a random, freak illness...  Monkey barely knew her, but I pray that his father and I will have the right words as he gets older and has questions.  

When I wrote this letter back in July, I had no idea that three months later Monkey's birth mom would be gone.  I meant every word, and I wish more than anything that Monkey would have been able to have BOTH of his mommies in his life.  Until the day we meet again in Heaven, I will hold our little boy twice as long and love him enough for both of us.


Dear C,

The last time I saw you a year and a half ago, I was comforting your hysterical infant while you cried silent tears.  It was your scheduled supervised visit with Monkey, and for once you showed up.  You stood there and watched as I tried to reassure your child that he would have fun with his Mommy, to which you uttered the words that broke my heart.  "It's okay...  To him, you are Mommy."  You weren't angry or bitter like some birth mothers would be.  You were utterly defeated.  That visit was your last.  You never came back.

There are so many things that I want to say to you...  So many things that I want you to know about our little boy...  At 28-months-old, sixteen months after Monkey went home to live with his Daddy, I am still his Mommy.  Monkey's no longer the newborn who you held in your arms in the hospital.  He is a non-stop bundle of energy, talks like a 4-year-old, and is so full of love.  Your "American English baby" as you once called him is picking up bits of Spanish from his Daddy, and definitely keeps us on our toes trying to follow his conversations in a mix of his two languages.  I know you'd be so proud of what an amazing little boy he has turned out to be.

I think of you every day, and pray that you are okay.  Every time Monkey throws himself into my arms and smiles up at me saying, "There Mommy is," I think of you and grieve a little for what you are missing.  I grieve for what Monkey is missing by not knowing the Mama who risked her own life to have him...  The Mama who always cuddled her baby boy and smelled like Loves Baby Soft perfume...  The Mama who immersed herself in English lessons because she wanted him to understand her...  The Mama who hung on my every word to learn even the smallest details about her baby boy...  The Mama who won her battle with cancer and who tried so hard to overcome the addictions and depression that resulted from that fight...

I want you to know that I love Monkey with a Mama's fierce love.  I want you to know that I will try to love him enough for both of us.  I have no doubt that you love him.  During the year that you tried so hard to overcome your demons, I saw that love firsthand.  I know that the only reason Monkey is here at all is because of the love that you had for him even before he was born.  You carried him against medical advice.  You fought so hard for him before he was even born.  You fought so hard during the time that he was in foster care, but as hard as you tried, you just weren't able to heal.  You fought for him though...  As hard as you could...  And I want you to know that I will make sure he knows that when he's old enough to understand.

I pray every day that you are still fighting to heal.  I pray that you can feel our hope for you even when you don't have that hope for yourself.  I told you one time that Monkey needs you, and I still believe that is true.  My hope is that one day, Monkey will be walking the stage at his college graduation and looking out to see both of his moms loving and cheering him on.  The mom who gave birth to him and who fought and overcame her demons in order to be a positive influence in his life...  and me, the mom who raised him, who kissed all of his hurts, and who loved him with a Mama Bear love so deep that I was changed for the better.

Until that day, I will love our son for the both of us.

With love and hope for the future,

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gonna Have a "Sister Mom"

So what do long-time foster/adopt moms do when their houses are at or near legal capacity, but there are more siblings from the same group who need a forever home and to maintain relationships with their biological siblings?

We find ourselves a sister mom, of course!!!  (kind of like a sister wife - from a distance - and without having to share the oogy husband...)

After spending all day in court for Bug's TPR hearing last month, I got in my car and grabbed my phone to make my "update" phone calls, only to discover that I had four missed calls from one of my foster mama BFFs.  I immediately knew that something was up because she wouldn't have called that many times in a row knowing that I was in court that day unless it was important.  Turned out, she had a proposition for me...

The biological sister of her newly-adopted sons needed an adoption-motivated home.  My friend was at capacity and couldn't take her, so she was doing the only thing she knew how in order to keep this little girl she loves safe.  She called me and asked me to consider becoming this little girl's forever mom.  Because we're friends, we would be able to keep the children in contact with each other as they grow up.  We'll both have information regarding all of the children - medical histories, behavioral issues, things that arise about their backgrounds, etc. that might be able to help the other mom in the future.  She loves this little girl so much, and desperately wants to find a good, stable, forever home for her, and immediately thought of me.

I will admit, I was very torn in the beginning.  I had literally just got out of court where I learned that I would be able to adopt Bug.  I hadn't even had a chance to process that or to celebrate that my baby boy would be mine forever!  I was kind of looking forward to a CPS-free existence for a little while, but over the course of the next few days, I simply couldn't get that little girl out of my head.  I had lots of reasons to say "no" - "How on earth am I going to be in three different places at once with three different children on three different schedules?"  "Is it fair to Bug and Monkey to bring in a third child when things are finally calming down?"  "Is it fair to this little girl to bring her into a busy home with young children when she so desperately needs undivided attention of her own?"

After talking it through with my parents and sister, we had all reached the same conclusion.  How can we say "no" when we all have so much love to give her?  Sure, it's going to take all of us to make sure all of the kids get to where they need to be when they need to be there, but we're already doing that!  We sat down with our day planners and worked out a gameplan.  We're going to make this work!

So on Friday, I'm making the three-hour drive to meet the little girl who just might be my new daughter!  I'll be spending the day with her and her caseworker and probably meeting with her counselor and foster parents.  Please pray that it goes well and that if everyone agrees that this is a good fit for her, we can have a smooth transition.

As hesitant as I was after that initial call from my soon-to-be sister mom, I am thrilled silly and so blessed that I have this chance to be exactly what this little girl needs.  Her mom...  Forever.

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Foster Friday" Panel - Extended Family Involvement

They say "it takes a village to raise a child."  That saying takes on an entirely new meaning when talking about foster care.  As foster parents, we ARE a part of the "village," and if we're lucky enough, our extended families and friends step up and choose to become part of that village as well.  It doesn't always happen.  In some cases, our families and friends chose to distance themselves after we made the decision to foster or adopt.  For whatever reason - mostly fear, I imagine - some of our loved ones just can't be a part of our foster/adopt journeys.

Read as our panel discusses our personal experiences with how our loved ones have chosen to be (or not to be) a part of our children's lives.

Karen A. -

We have been fortunate to have very supportive extended family. I wouldn't say our extended family plays a very significant role in our foster babies' lives simply because of distance. My grandparents live 15 minutes from our house, but the rest of our family is not extremely close (distance-wise).

However, the people at our church have played a significant role in our foster babies' lives. Our church family has been very supportive of our family's fostering journey since the beginning. My mom works part-time as our church secretary. I can't begin to tell you how great our church has been as far as being flexible with Mom's work schedule. Mom also brings the baby to the church with her when she works. Instead of people being upset about the playpen and exersaucer taking up room in the office, most people love seeing the babies when they come in to the church for various reasons. Mom is "supposed to" work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9:30- 2:30. I don't know the last time she worked those hours. She frequently has to change the hours she works due to last minute visits/meetings/appointments and we are so grateful that the church leadership has given mom their blessing to treat these little ones as a priority.

Some of the church members have been blessings to us in such sweet ways. One family brought us dinner when Piglet first came home. One lady has made baby blankets for Piglet and Savon so that they will have a comfort item with them wherever they go.

We could not continue on this fostering journey without the support that our church family has given us. We are so blessed by them.


Amanda #2

We live about fifteen minutes from my in laws and my mom lives in another state. My mom has met our foster children twice, and she immediately took them in as her grandchildren. She played with them, cared about them, and worked to bond with them. She has also provided me with support over the phone. My in-laws have likewise tried to treat them like the other grandchildren. I know that my mother-in-law had a hard time at the beginning because she didn't feel bonded to them. My in-laws have really made it possible to be able to foster. With seven very young kids, they have picked things up from the store, brought over dinner, babysat...a lot. I truly feel that I couldn't do this without their help, and the few friends who have also helped.

We have only had one short placement and we will be adopting them, so we have not had a typical experience. However, I appreciate that even though our parents think we are crazy and that now was not the best time to foster, they have been supportive and loved the children.

Kylee (Learning to Abandon) - 

Most of our extended family lives out of state/across the country and has never been actively involved in our foster care and adoption journey. There was never excitement expressed when we announced we were adopting or gifts sent in the mail. When we initially started, most of them didn’t understand why my parents would want to foster, when they already had 4 biological girls and a stable, comfortable life. Then, when the decision came a year later to start adopting, that was an even harder thing for them to grasp. I know my parents had to get to the place of recognizing that even without 100% support from an extended family, we had to do what we believed the Lord was asking us to do.

Flash forward 13 years and now, while many of our extended family members still don’t fully understand why we desired to adopt (hey, sometimes WE don’t fully understand), they respect us for it. They have seen the way these kids (my siblings) have changed our lives and I believe they have grown to love them in their own way. Through the years, especially recently, my extended family has said things to us or made comments that show they do in fact support us, even if they don’t fully understand what led us to this crazy life. One of my aunts loves coming to visit us once or twice a year, and she always brings gifts for my younger siblings, and comes ready to spend time with them. It’s been really neat to see that relationship progress.

One thing that has always stuck with me was an email my aunt sent our family when we announced we would be adopting my two youngest siblings. At the bottom, she quoted Blaise Pascal: “The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.” 

To me, this quote sums up my family’s journey of foster care and adoption perfectly. To our extended families, and to those not directly walking this hard-traveled road, it looks weird and radical, strange and impractical. But they know our hearts. They know that even if our decisions don’t make sense and don't support a comfortable lifestyle, we are answering a calling on our hearts that could not possibly be ignored. 

Karen C. (Our Foster Journey) -

We have been beyond blessed when it comes to our extended family! Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins all just jump in and play their role to whomever is in our home.

I have to tell you, when we first started doing this, their "perfect world" bubble got popped. They had a hard time wrapping their mind around what these kids came from and the fact that it was happening in their own backyard!

One of the "grandpas" has asked if I need to have my head examined because we can't say no. He of course says it in love and just marvels at what my husband and I do.

Our extended family have thrown birthday parties and going away parties.  They go above and beyond at Christmas. They hold Easter Egg hunts for our littles (we are the only ones in the family with little kids) and barbecues on the 4th of July.

Our family has stepped up and supported us in a way we could never have imagined!  Our kiddos get to experience family and unconditional love whether its for a day, a month, or a lifetime!

We were the ones who chose foster care. They didn't have to come along for the ride. But they have. We will be forever grateful for our extended family and their supporting role in our life.

Dena (Momat40.com) - 

Extended family support is very important to foster parents, especially single foster parents.  I have been able to rely on my parents on more than one occasion for babysitting, pick up and drop off at school and even help in setting up or moving beds when the time came.  If I didn’t have that support, it would make it extremely difficult for me to foster; however I don’t think it would stop me.  As always, I would find a way, ANY WAY, to make whatever I needed to happen, actually HAPPEN.   

My parents live in Indiana half of the year and then winter here in Florida.  When they are here, we spend an enormous amount of time with them.  We have dinner together as a family, we go to local festivals and events, we celebrate the holidays, and try to take advantage of the time that we have together.  Over the last couple of years, my parents have grown to love several of my foster children as their very own grandchildren and when the children leave it’s just as hard on them as it is on me.  

From the very beginning they were very supportive of my decision to foster, but as time goes on, I feel that my dad is becoming less supportive because of the heartbreak that he sees me go through every time that one of my kids leaves.  I truly hope that one day soon, I will be able to adopt through foster care, so I continue to hold out hope and encourage my parents to hang in there with me.  The thing that I keep telling myself, is that even though I haven’t been able to adopt as of yet, I have made a HUGE difference of the lives of some very special children.  That along with the dream of one day becoming a forever mom, is what keeps me going on this journey.  

Debbie (Always and Forever Family) -

Our extended families haven't always understood our decisions but they have grown and learned along with us at their own pace when it comes to adoption, openness and fostering. It has been a blessing to continually see them change through the years and accept the decisions our family has made to foster. 

My in-laws are such an amazing couple and such a support. Sadly we don't live close to them right now but that has not stopped them from stepping up to help other foster families. They went and signed up to help foster families by being available to give foster parents a night off or time for whatever else we all need. They will watch their children for them. When my father in law told me this it brought me to tears knowing how much they are blessing other foster parents. 

Our first placement was two girls who were only with us 5 months and we knew after 1 month that they would not be our forever daughters. But for my mother in laws birthday they flew out to see us and meet our girls. 1400 miles just to meet our foster children who they knew they might not ever see again. 

Amanda S. (Fostering Hope & Love) - 

When hubby and I first began our PRIDE classes in 2010, I kept advising him to tell his parents. I’d had numerous conversations with my family and our friends, answered a ton of questions and garnered lots of support. For some reason, hubby just wasn’t comfortable sharing our big news with his very supportive family. We’d almost finished our PRIDE training before hubby casually mentioned to his dad that we were almost licensed foster parents. Needless today, my father-in-law was not pleased to be given such big news in so cavalier a way! He called my mother-in-law and demanded to know why SHE hadn’t told him we were becoming foster parents, which led to my poor MIL calling hubby and insisting that he call his dad back and explain that he hadn’t told his mom, either! 

Once we got past that minor snafu, we were extremely blessed to have the full and unwavering support of our immediate and almost all of our extended families. Our first placement ended in a pretty awful  (totally unfounded) allegation incident so it took a little while to convince our families that we wanted to continue to foster after that. Eventually we were able to move forward with everyone’s support and blessing. We live across the country from all of our extended family, so they play a different role in our kids’ lives than nearby grandparents and uncles (hubby and I each have one younger brother) would. We call them on the phone, we Skype, we celebrate our too-infrequent visits and we use the distance to open a dialogue with our soon-to-be-adopted son, D, about how we miss our mommies and daddies, too.

My immediate family has jumped into foster-grandparenting with both feet. My mom considers any kids in our home her grandchildren, whether they are here one day or one year. My dad comes to visit and just dotes on the kids and my brother takes particular pride in his “uncle-ing” abilities. We often Skype with my family and D loves to “call them on the ‘puter.” They ask about the kids, encourage us as we support their families and the goal of reunification and rarely ever offer an unsolicited opinion or advice. When I do ask for input, my dad in particular is even good at reminding me that we WANT these kids to reunify if at all possible and helping me reframe my views when I begin to lose perspective.

While my in-laws have never wavered in their support of us, they have held back a little bit emotionally, and I don’t blame them. They love and engage with the kids when we’re all together, including putting forth superhuman effort to create a magical Christmas experience when we get home for the holidays, but they don’t reach out as much when we’re apart. I think they’re afraid of getting too attached, and I have no interest in pushing anyone past their comfort level. We truly just appreciate what they are able to give. Of course, the minute I announced our impending adoption, all bets were off. All I can say is that D is pretty much the luckiest grandkid I know.

I know how fortunate we are to have such support. We don’t get (many) questions from our families about why we don’t have bio children or why we do what we do. When I get a new placement call, our parents are excited for us and when we have to say goodbye, they provide unconditional love and sympathy. And then they don’t call us crazy for doing it all over again or tell us that this is what we signed up for, we knew what we were getting into or any of the other million things I know other foster parents hear. Being a foster parent is hard enough, I can’t imagine doing it without the emotional backing of the people most important to us.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"You Know" Photo Series

Due to the great response to our "You Know You're a Foster Parent When..." posts, I decided to create a photo series on Trippin's FB page dedicated to some of our favorites.  Here's a little peek at what's in store!

We're even taking reader submissions!

Reader Submission

If you'd like to add your own to the series, simply email me at:
Message me on I Must Be Trippin's FB page.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Evolution of Home Visits

It dawned on me this morning after a home visit from Bug's caseworker that my "level of preparedness" (aka. housecleaning prep-work) for CPS-related home visits has definitely changed over the past five years.  I realized this fact as I went to get my purse and head out the door for work and noticed what was in the pile of clean laundry that had yet to be put away on my dining room table in full view of the living room where we had our visit...

That's right.  A big old pile of Mimi's "unmentionables!"  If someone had told me five years ago that I would leave my undies on an eating surface directly in front of a caseworker, I would have told them they were crazy!  As I grabbed my purse and left the house today, I simply thought, "Well...  At least they were clean!"  This pile of lingerie blatantly greeting a CPS caseworker had me reminiscing about past home visits and reflecting on how I have evolved as a foster parent over the past five years.

I remember my very first potential placement call.  I was at a restaurant eating lunch with my mom, and I panicked at the thought of someone "official" coming into my home to bring me a child.  I believe I had some dishes in the sink, some dirty clothes in the hamper, and quite possibly some dirt on the ceiling fan.  (OH, THE SHAME!!!)  My mother ended up heading over to my house to clean like a madwoman while I went back to work, only to receive the phone call that they had placed the baby with someone else.  The cycle continued for several months.  Every time the phone rang, I would rush home to scrub, mop, put away laundry, do dishes, take out trash, vacuum, rearrange the refrigerator, etc.  Never having had an actual placement, I had no idea what to expect.  I wasn't taking any chances.  I call this the "Immaculate as a Museum" phase.

Then Booger Bear and Angel arrived.  Being my first long-term placements, I was still learning the ropes.  After several months, however, I realized that no one ever left the living room when they came to my home.  Not once!  I began to cut corners a bit and only concentrated on perfecting the appearance of the main living area before visits.  Vacuum and dust the living room, make sure the dining room table was immaculate, and do the dishes just in case they happened to peer over the bar...  This is the "Formal Living" phase.

The next year Booger and Angel moved to their permanent homes, and more short term kiddos came and went.  Then Monkey arrived, and the monthly craziness of home visits began again.  I had been fostering for two years by that point, and was quite frankly getting tired of constantly having to hide all of Monkey's toys and scrub the dining room walls for bits of thrown food every time someone came to the house (which was at least once a week).  That's when my housecleaning routine before visits went from "Formal Living" to the "People Actually Live Here" phase.  I would come home about thirty minutes before the visit to straighten up the living room a bit and make sure Monkey's high chair tray didn't have the remnants of breakfast still on the tray.  Dishes in the sink, a pile of laundry waiting to be washed, and toys in the toy box in the corner of the living room were all perfectly acceptable.

Then I got a little foster care break between placements when Monkey was no longer officially in care and before I got Bug.  I had nine glorious months without having to really worry about anyone other than Nice Lady coming over.  Monkey was in full-blown active toddler mode, and I wasn't accepting any placement calls at the time, so I had no concerns at all about CPS-proofing my home.  I had a toddler who never stopped moving and playing and who had the uncanny ability to turn my house into a natural disaster zone in a split second.  I went from "People Actually Live Here" to the "I Have a Toddler - You're Lucky I Found the Couch" phase.  When I knew that Nice Lady was on her way, I would make a path through the toys from the front door to the couch.

Enter Bug nine months later, and I became the single, full-time working mom of a toddler and an infant.  That is when I hit the "It Is What It Is" phase.  I knew I was no longer a newbie foster parent the first time I told a caseworker "we should be home around 6:00pm.  If we're not there when you get there, just hop over the rail and wait on the patio if you want.  You'll have to ignore the mess.  The house has been taken over by the little people from which there is no escape."  She did beat me home, and I distinctly remember kicking a path through the toys, baby swing, pack-n-play, and other baby gear and throwing the burp cloths from the couch to the floor so she could sit down.

Today - nearly five years after beginning my foster care journey, I am fully into the "The Kids Are Alive and Happy, Aren't They? - Don't Judge Me" phase.  As long as there are no blatantly obvious health or safety violations, we're good to go!  I usually have a pillow mountain and a ball pit in the middle of my living room floor.  The dishes and laundry are in a constant state of "almost" done as my mom and I tend to tag team the chores.  If a caseworker comes for a visit when Monkey is here, they spend the entire time being entertained by a 2-year-old bilingual attention hog as he pulls out every toy and book in the house to give them a rundown on what's what, usually all the while also fighting off a teething Bug who digs through their purses and chews on their hair.  By the time they leave, they're too flustered to remember that my "unmentionables" are in a pile on the dining room table!  :-)

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Only in Foster Care...

"That Awkward Moment When Your Children's Bio Moms are Jail Buddies..."

Yep!  I received that late night message from my unofficially "adopted" daughter, Heaven, a few months ago.  Turned out her mom and Bug's mom met in jail and became fast friends.  Neither one had any idea that they were connected in any way.  Poor Heaven made the connection as she was visiting her mom and had to play dumb until she had a chance to talk to me.  Our 2:00am conversation went a little something like this:

Heaven:  "So...  Really weird visit with my mom today...  Wanna guess who my mom's new friend is?  ...That awkward moment when your two kids' bio moms are jail buddies..."

Me:  "Shut up!  Are you serious?!?"

Heaven:  "Dead serious.  She told my mom all about Bug and how she's considering adoption for him.  My mom doesn't know you have her kid, but they bonded when she told his mom that her grandson (Booger) was in foster care as a baby and had a loving home, blah, blah, blah..."

Heaven made the connection as her mom told her the story about her friend's (then) 8-month-old son named (Bug's real name) in foster care and a few other things that helped her make the connection.  Heaven said that it sounded like Bug's mom was going to be incarcerated for a while because she was being transferred to the same jail that her mom was being transferred to (another reason they became fast friends).

Heaven:  "My mom told her that you were a great mom to Booger and that you are there for me because she can't be and a lot of nice things about you.  She's accepted that you're my mom too.  :-)"

That whole statement made me want to cry because I've always worried that Heaven's mom didn't like me at all.  It would be totally understandable for her to resent me because Heaven and I are so close.  The fact that she was saying such nice things about me when she had no idea that her daughter had a vested interest in what Bug's mom ultimately decided meant a lot.

After talking for over an hour, we came to the point of trying to decide how to handle our new-found knowledge.  Part of me wanted Bug's mom to know that the awesome woman that her new friend had been talking about was actually the woman raising her son too, but at the same time I was worried that the connection might look like I was trying to sway her in some way.  It wasn't as if we'd planned this though!  I mean, really!  It's not as though Heaven's mom deliberately got arrested and put into the same pod in the same huge jail for the sole purpose of convincing Bug's mom to voluntarily relinquish her rights so I could adopt him.  The chances of them becoming jail buddies was so ridiculously minuscule that no one could possibly accuse me of anything, right?

By 3:30am, we had decided that Heaven would go ahead and tell her mom what we suspected - that the baby we call "Bug," the little brother that Heaven talks about babysitting all the time and who Booger and Banana talk about seeing at Mimi's house, is actually (Bug's real name), her new friend's baby.  Heaven was going to see her mom that weekend, and was going to tell her.

At this point, Heaven got frustrated about the whole situation.  Heaven loves Bug something fierce, and having this new development come up five days before the permanency hearing put us all in a bad predicament.  Heaven was terrified of saying something that might get me in trouble, but at the same time we were so very anxious to see what might come of the friendship that was developing between her mom and Bug's bio mom.  We still couldn't believe that they had even met!  There are hundreds of women in the jail that they were in at the time.  What were the chances?!?

That's when the conversation turned to more specific things like what Bug's mom was charged with, things that she told Heaven's mom about her past, how she felt about Bug, her feelings about her mother intervening for custody, her thoughts about adoption, etc.  Heaven's mom told her that she had a soft spot for Bug's mom because she was so sad and that no one ever came to see her.  I learned more secondhand from Heaven's mom than I had in the previous six months from anyone in CPS!  A lot of what I learned made me feel sorry for her.  My family and friends always tell me that I have a soft spot for bio moms, and they're usually right.  Heck!  I brought one home with me early on (Booger's bio mom ended up living with me as a foster placement for seven months)!  The more I learned about Bug's birth mom, the more I wanted to at least talk to her and tell her about the son that she had abandoned (although I certainly wouldn't use that exact word) and let her know that he is loved.

We finally said goodnight, and the next morning I immediately sent Nice Lady a message asking her to call me when she had a few minutes because I had an interesting predicament that I wanted to talk to her about.  She called me right away, and started laughing as soon as I told her that Heaven's mom was in "such and such jail" because she knew immediately what I was going to say.  We talked it through, and she talked to our agency director just to get his input, but the general consensus was that nothing bad could come from Bug's birth mom finding out that I'm his foster mom.  I had the "okay" from my agency, so the plan was in place!  Heaven was telling her mom!

That Sunday, Heaven went to visit her mom and told her what we had figured out.  Her mom ended up sneaking Bug's mom into the visiting area and Heaven held a recent picture of Bug up to the window so she could see him for the first time in six months.  When she saw his photograph, she yelled "Oh my God, that's really my son!" and she fell to the floor and sobbed.  Heaven's mom told her that he was very loved, and his mom had to leave right after that.  The whole thing broke my heart (you know...  that soft heart that I have for birth parents...)  As messed up as so many of these parents are, most of them truly do love their kids.  Some of them just can't seem to heal (like Monkey's mom, Bug's mom, and Heaven's mom for that matter).  It doesn't mean they're bad people.  They just can't raise their children in the way that their children deserve.

Heaven and I tentatively made plans to go up to the jail to visit both moms the following Wednesday morning.  I wasn't about to bring Bug with me.  I really wanted to avoid bringing my baby to jail if at all possible.  Heck.  I had hoped to avoid ME going to jail, but in this case I thought that Bug's bio mom needed to be able to talk to the person who was raising her son, and going up there before she was transferred to the other jail five hours away was probably the only way that was going to happen.  I knew I needed to let Bug's caseworker know what was going on first though.  I had no intention of doing anything that might jeopardize Bug's potential adoption.

The conversation that Heaven and I had while planning the potential visit was hilarious.  I was asking tons of questions about how the jail visit thing works, and Heaven was all worried about me being nervous meeting Bug's bio mom asking me "What do you say???  Hi.  I'm the person raising your son because you can't???"  I laughed and told her that I have had this conversation several times before (just not in jail), and that I probably wouldn't be using those exact words.  ;-)

I had to keep reminding myself that this was the same woman who never once asked to see Bug in the past six months that he was with me.  I had to keep reminding myself that I could have compassion for her because it was the right thing to do, but that didn't mean that I had to put her feelings before my son.  If I went to visit her, it would ultimately be for Bug.  Not for her.  It would be so I could tell Bug in the future that I met his birth mom and give him whatever information I could about her.  It would be so I could tell Bug that I had told his birth mom what an awesome son she had.  It would be so Bug could see me (his Mom) showing compassion to someone who needed it and hoping that he would do the same in the future.

As it turned out, I didn't need to worry about any of it because Bug's caseworker was hesitant for me to go.  I think I completely confused the poor woman when I tried to explain who was who and how everyone was connected.  She wasn't at all upset that we had made the connection, but she had the same initial concerns that I had when Heaven first told me about her mom's new friend - that it might be construed as me trying to pressure Bug's mom into voluntarily relinquishing.  In all honesty, I was relieved!  Court that day ended in setting a date for TPR (termination of parental rights), and things were looking very good when it came to Bug staying with me permanently regardless of what his birth mom wanted, so I'm guessing that visit wouldn't have gone too well.  ;-)

The next week I got another message from Heaven letting me know that she had talked to her mom again.  Apparently Bug's birth mom decided to tell Heaven's mom all sorts of things that you probably shouldn't be telling the mother of the young woman who loves your child like a fiercely protective older sibling.

... That awkward moment when your children's bio moms are jail buddies - and then the younger one  infuriates the older one to the point of screaming at her, so the younger one tells the guards that she's afraid the older one is going to hurt her, so they separate them and they never speak again ...

Apparently those jailhouse friendships don't last all that long.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Foster Care "Bucket List"

After nearly five years living in Foster/Adopt Land, I've come to the realization that I'm not going to be leaving anytime soon (even though there are some days when all I want to do is run screaming in the opposite direction).  Will I be a foster parent forever?  Probably not.  But foster care is where my heart is, and I know that I will continue to be heavily involved in this world for years to come.

Over the years, I've developed a sort of "bucket list" of things that I would love to do, become involved in, and accomplish when it comes to foster care so I thought I'd share it with all of you in "A-Z Thing" form (just to challenge myself ;-).  Some of these, I've already done, some I continue to do, some I am just beginning, and others I plan to do in the future!

Adopt a caseworker - I think all foster parents can agree that if/when we are lucky enough to find a good caseworker who clearly does their best for our kids, their families, and for us, we want to cut them a little bit of slack.  Caseworkers are overworked, underpaid, and generally unappreciated for the work they do.  I've worked with all kinds over the years, from bitter and angry and clearly hating their jobs to overworked but doing the best they can with limited resources.  When I find a caseworker who clearly wants to do their best for everyone involved, I want to help them out however I can.  I would love to be able to "adopt" a caseworker every year after I'm no longer fostering (that whole "conflict of interest" thing and all).  Find out what they need help with, offer to shop for their kids around birthdays and holidays, show up with office supplies, etc.

Become a CASA volunteer - Only three of my seven kiddos so far have been lucky enough to have a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) appointed to them.  A volunteer whose sole mission is to speak for an abused and neglected child to make sure they don't get lost in the System.  For many children, their CASA volunteer is the one constant during their time in care.  I definitely plan to volunteer in the future!

Clothing/supply swap for foster families - Over the past five years of fostering primarily infants, I have accumulated more baby gear, clothing, and other odds and ends than I know what to do with!  Now that I'm leaning more towards fostering PreK-1st grade next, I need to trade in the baby things for older child supplies and toys.  Wouldn't it be great to have a weekend where foster families could get together in one place and swap clothing, gear, toys, etc?

Donate supplies to foster agencies - Have you ever sat in a training class at your agency and watched a video on VHS released in 1980 three years in a row because your agency couldn't afford to purchase new material?  Have you had to bring your own pens and paper?  Does your agency case manger have to buy her own office supplies?  I love my agency, and love to show up with goodies whenever I have a chance.

Establish a foster/adopt ministry at my church - I know this would be a huge undertaking, but I truly believe that we as a church can do more.  Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but I do believe that every person has the ability to help a hurting child and the families who have opened their hearts and their homes to the children who need them.  We can do more, and I think it just takes one person to step up and call others to action.

Fundraisers for deserving families - I'm a sucker for a worthy cause, and my heart is all about children.  If there is a way to help a family in need, I'm all for it!  I'd love to help organize fundraisers for families who need specialized vehicles for foster or adopted children with special needs or help families with legal expenses.  $20,000 for one family can seem like an insurmountable expense, but if everyone who cares about that family donated just $5, we can do our part to help a child in need.  And who doesn't like a good bake sale?!?  :-)

Go-to girl for a fostering family - When I get to the point where I need a foster parenting break, I would love to volunteer to be the "Go-to Girl" for another foster family.  I would be the person they could call to make that initial Walmart run for diapers and formula while they're getting the house ready for a new placement.  I could help out with babysitting their other children while they do all of the initial doctor and dental visits.  I could bring meals on stressful days, do their dishes, or just be there to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on.  Being a foster family is a hard and often very lonely road.  I love that I have several people I can call on when I need the support, and I'd love to be able to be that person for another foster family!

Hospital sit for foster children - My first agency hired people to be part of a rotation of sitters who would go and sit with children in the hospital, talk to the doctors, fill out paperwork, etc.  The children have someone with them 24/7 while they are in the hospital, and it gives the foster parent (if they've already been placed) a little break.  I hate to think that a hurting child is sitting alone in the hospital waiting to be placed with a family or that their foster parent is exhausted and stressed out trying to be at the hospital as well as home with their other children.  If I could be a comforting presence for a child in a strange and scary place, why wouldn't I?

Inspire a family to foster or get involved in some way - Foster care has my heart.  While I have seen it at its worst, I have also seen it at its very best.  I have watched as a 12-month-old, sad, self-soothing little girl transformed into a trusting little girl full of smiles in a matter of weeks.  I have watched a young family grow into something great.  I have co-parented with a single father who just needed someone to help his raise his son.  My foster care journey has changed me in ways I never could have imagined, and I pray that my journey will inspire someone else to get involved.  Become a foster parent, become a CASA volunteer, help a fostering family, donate do a local agency...  It would be something special to know that my journey has inspired someone else to get involved with something that means so much to me.

Join some foster parent organizations - I can't believe I've been a foster parent for nearly five years, and still haven't joined a foster parent association or any other organization geared towards fostering families!  It's a great way to network and meet other families.

Keep an eye out for businesses and organizations offering discounts to fostering families and pass the information on to my foster mama friends.  Every little bit helps, and if you're like me and send your children home with complete wardrobes, toys, books, and supplies, restocking with every child can get expensive.

Lobby for positive changes in the foster care system - I know that foster care can work.  I have seen it first-hand more than once.  But I have also seen it fail miserably.  It is a broken system, and changes are most definitely needed.  If I don't stand up to fight for positive changes, who will?

Mail care packages to foster youth in college or the military - Teens and young adults aging out of care often have no one to look to for guidance or support.  They are sent out into the world with a small stipend and expected to make it on their own.  I'd love to ask the caseworkers who I'm close to if they know of any former foster youth who are trying to make lives for themselves and could use a little support and knowledge that someone out there is pulling for them.

Newsletter or online magazine for foster families - I'd love to put together a monthly newsletter or online magazine for fostering families.  Find authors experienced in handling the issues that are important to us, provide tips, have encouraging stories from foster families, etc.

Organize an annual foster/adopt mom's retreat and conference - This is my biggie, and is something that means a lot to me and a group of my closest foster mama BFFs.  There are retreats for moms.  There are retreats for adoptive moms.  There are retreats for Christian moms.  But we have yet to come across a large conference and retreat that is geared only to mothers who are fostering or who have adopted hurting children from hard places.  We're in the "how are we going to make this work" phase right now, and are tossing around ideas.  Hopefully in the next couple of years we will have our first go at it and grow from there!

Photograph foster children and their foster and/or biological families for their lifebooks - I love photographing every moment of my kiddos' time with me.  I want them to know that they were loved and happy while they were here, and I love capturing those moments on film (well, digital anyway ;-).  I'd love to be able to do that for other foster children and their families as well.  Photograph birthday parties or family outings...  Photograph children with their biological families during visits...  In some cases, these children won't ever have a photo of themselves with their biological families, so if I'd love to be able to give that to them.

Quit my job and foster full-time - Well, that's not going to happen, but a girl can dream!  I've always wanted a house full of kids and a crazy busy life.  Maybe I need to find myself a rich husband so I can be a stay-at-home mom!  :-)

Respite care for fostering families - I tend to do respite care when I'm between placements.  I know it's definitely needed!  For me, it's also a fun way to be involved with some great kids and be a part of foster care without having to deal with all of the stress, appointments, visits, caseworkers, etc.  You just get to be the nice lady with the fun house.  :-)

Send thank you cards and encouraging letters to foster families, caseworkers, volunteers, etc. - One thing that I have tried to do over the years has been to send encouraging letters, cards, emails, etc. to people I have met along the way in Foster/Adopt Land.  A "thank you" or an update to a CASA volunteer or caseworker letting them know they made a difference...  An encouraging word to a fellow foster parent going through a difficult time...  Several months ago, I sent Monkey's CASA an email update letting her know how our lives were going a year after he went home to his dad.  I thanked her for her part in making our unconventional little family a reality, and wanted to let her know that she made a difference.  I was shocked to find out from a friend going through training to become a CASA volunteer that Monkey's CASA read my letter during a training class!  I was so happy that I had taken the time to send it, and that it had meant so much to her.  A simple "thank you" or "you make a difference" goes such a long way when we need encouragement, and it only takes a few minutes to type an email or address an envelope.

Teach training classes - My agency is always asking me to teach a training class on documentation and organization telling me that they never worry about anything that I send them because they know it's right.  Flattery works, and I am awaiting further instructions on when I need to teach my class.  :-)  I've also offered to speak during PRIDE training for new foster parents.  I think one thing that was sorely missing from my initial training was practical advice from long-time foster parents, and I'd love to be able to provide that advice and support to new families now.

Unconventional family - It wasn't something I had planned, but the family that I have gained through foster care (though unconventional), is one that I wouldn't trade for anything.  If I had been able to adopt Booger Bear, I wouldn't have Heaven, Kelly, Kama, Banana, Monkey, or Bug!  And while I'm not a "legal" forever mom to any of my kids, I am a "forever" Mom, Mom-in-Law, Mimi, Mommy, Mama to all of them!  I can't imagine my life without my family, and I can't wait to see who we add to it over the years.  :-)

Volunteer at my agency - I love my agency, and as a fairly new agency, they are definitely in the "please help" stage.  I love to be able to help in any way I can, whether it's offering to file, helping Nice Lady with paperwork, offering to put together training materials, sharing information on area conferences or discounts, etc.

Write a book (or two...  or ten) - Book #1 is actually in the works as I type!  It's a (not-so) secret collaborative book written by myself and several other (somewhat) anonymous foster mama friends.  We are sooooo excited!  We are in the editing phase, and are hopeful to go to print (and Kindle) in the next month or two.

X-pand I Must Be Trippin's' content (yes, I cheated a bit on this letter) - I suppose before I add to the blog's content, I should make the time to sit down and write regularly again, huh?  Lol.  I post on the FB page at least once or twice a day, but sitting down and writing has been tough lately (especially while I'm working on the (not-so) secret book.  I'm trying to get better!

Yearly get-together with my favorite online foster mama friends - I think this should be on top of our annual foster mom retreat and conference.  I've been "friends" with some amazing women for the past five years, and meeting some of them in person this year was the best!  I want to start planning a yearly get-together with my foster mama BFFs so we can just sit and relax and laugh and cry and pray and act silly together before heading back to our crazy busy lives.

Zoo, picnic, or waterpark event for foster families during National Foster Care Month (May) - I know there are agencies and organizations out there that put together events during National Foster Care Month.  I just haven't really searched them out until now.  Next May, I'll be looking around and taking my kiddos out to enjoy some of them!  Maybe I'll be able to meet more amazing families in the process.  :-)

So that's it!  My Foster Care "Bucket List..."  I'm sure glad I've got some good years left in me because it looks like I'm going to be one busy woman!  Lol.  :-)  What about you?  What foster care-related things would you like to do?

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