Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Uggh! Taxes

Yep, that is what I spent all morning doing, taxes. With much hair pulling, a few tears of frustration and some near name-calling of my dh, we managed to get everything together and it is off to the accountants. Whew, what a relief. Now we just have to figure out how we are going to pay the taxes owed!!!

On a totally separate topic, where do the clothes go that wander off? I mean many of my childrens' clothes, particularly but not limited to socks, disappear and are never seen again. They disappear right here in my own home and even diligent searching by mother who is trying not to spout profanity as she is faced with the dismal failure of passing down any organization or housekeeping techniques as evidenced by the disaster that is the room, closet, set of drawers, bed underside, etc.. Where do they go? Are the socks off dancing somewhere with the missing tablespoons? And the shirts happily cohabiting with the missing drink glasses? But it must be in another dimension because they are not physically anywhere in my house.

The beginning point for this rant? Douglass came home from military school in his "at ease" uniform, basically grey sweats, sweatshirt, t-shirt, gym shorts, white boxers and white socks. They are required to return in said uniform this afternoon. I asked him to immediately remove all pieces of said uniform and deposit it in a very specific place so that I could wash all pieces and he could go back properly dressed so that he did not get demerits. A good plan, yes? Well, somehow, mysteriously, the t-shirt has gone missing. I have ripped the house apart, and it is nowhere to be found. Of course, it could not just be any old grey t-shirt, it had to be a logo t-shirt, so I can't just pop out to Wal-mart and buy another one. I guess he will start the new session with a demerit. I am very frustrated!!!!

But aside from the t-shirt issue he is all ready to go back, we got the supplies for his college class. He is so proud of himself, as well he should be, that I did not even try to palm off the left-over school supplies we have sitting around, we went and got all new stuff for his college adventure. He has the check for his books and his tuition waiver came through.

He has been busy calling and visiting everyone, his old therapist, his mentor, his friends at our church. I have barely seen him. He seems so happy and much more confident and engaged in the world. Such a nice change.

His big brother is taking him back to the military base, and this is making Douglass feel very proud. He worships his big brother and in true big brother fashion Bart often has very little time for him. So it was a really nice gesture when Bart volunteered to drive him back.

Well I am off to Wal-mart to buy another grey t-shirt, maybe no one will notice that it is logo less since he will have his sweatshirt on top. Here's hoping.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Weekend Reflections

We have had a lot going on here lately, it was a busy, busy weekend. First of all we had a quick foster care placement, a weekend of respite with Dancing Baby Girl, Douglass home on a pass from the military school, my oldest son's girlfriend visiting on her way back to college, and Kendra's friend with us unexpectedly as she had a blowup at home and needed a place to stay. As my husband said, "Thank God we have a big house...". I forgot to mention that one of Douglass' friends stayed over one night of the weekend also. Then on top of that it was Easter with all the demands of Easter baskets, Easter Egg hunts (see picture, we had to hide the same eggs over and over for her to find and each time it was just as joyful as the first time), church services and Easter dinner.

Now no way can we compete with the intensity of people that some of the larger families are dealing with, but it was a busy weekend for us nonetheless. It wasn't the number of people, it was the comings and goings, we never quite settled down at all.
I loved having Bart's girlfriend Kara to visit but felt I had almost no time to really spend with her/them. She is a treasure and I hope he knows that.
Douglass is only home for 3.5 days and we have had a lot to fill the time. Before he even unpacked his bag he was off to soccer with his old team on Saturday. Saturday night was with friends and then a friend overnight. Sunday was time with all his church friends and then Easter dinner. Today we did shopping and the psychiatrist, and dinner with his mentor. Tomorrow before he goes back he will have lunch with his previous therapist and case manager and tell them of all the success he is having. He plans to thank them for all the help they were to him even when he couldn't recognize it before.
I am glad that his pass isn't longer as I am not sure we could convince him to go back willingly. This is a hard challenge he has taken up and the lure of home with the TV, video games, friends and good food is quite strong.
He was sharing his binder of important things with us and it brought tears to my eyes to see all the cards and letters that folks in our church congregation had sent him. The letters uniformly were uplifting and offered him encouragement and praised him for his courage. It was wonderful to see the many adults with whom he has developed relationships over the years really step up to support him. I love that he is feeling the love of God expressed through them.
I will be sad to see him go tomorrow but I know that he is embarking on some new life adventures. He takes his first college class starting on Wednesday. I am so proud of him, and I think he is proud of himself.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Dancing Baby Girl Weekend

We had Dancing Baby Girl for the weekend again this weekend. She is the former foster daughter we had for almost 3 years from the time she was 9 mos old until just after this past Christmas. We have a good relationship with the birth parents and we see her a couple of times a month. Her case is the main reason we have stepped back from foster care after 19 years. Our anger and despair over the state's actions is making us seriously consider our continued participation in the foster care system.

We cherish the time we get to spend with Dancing Baby Girl and look forward to her visits, even though she is a 3 yo with major attitude issues. It is the return to parents that is just so hard, she doesn't want to go back to them, she considers us her home and her family and she does not understand why she can't stay with us. Each visit as the time to go back approaches she starts to plead, "I stay here with you, Mommy, I love you, I be good girl", then she starts to scream, "I no go," etc. At this point she usually tries to run and hide or she starts to tantrum and gets destructive of her toys. Most days it advances to her attacking whichever of us is trying to gather her up and get her into the car, she is screaming, clawing. kicking and trying to bite. After she is buckled into her car seat though is the worst, then she slumps there in despair with quiet tears coursing down her face and looks at me with the most hurting eyes imaginable and whispers to me "I love you Mommy."

We really thought this transition would get better as she developed a relationship with her birth parents and to some degree it is getting better. She is no longer plagued by extreme abandonment anxiety where I can't get out of her sight and she no longer has terrible nightmares. I was hoping she would be able to feel comfortable enough with her birth parents that she would not see us as a loss but them as a gain.

Sometimes I question whether this is even good for her, to continue to see us and be at our house for visits? Would it be easier for her if we just disappeared from her life? She had such extreme RAD issues when she first came to us, I was her 4th official placement (that is a long and sad story for another post) and she had been passed around among family members since birth. And we were really able to overcome much of the damage and develop deep reciprocal relationships with her. What damage would it do for us to be seen as abandoning her also?

But you know, it is about me also. I don't know how many more of these scenes I can take, each time my heart is ripped out of my chest and thrown in pieces to the floor. It takes me days to recover my emotional equilibrium. I need to move forward myself. I hate the incredibly helpless feelings and overwhelming sadness that overcome me at the end of each visit. My baby girl trusts me and loves me and I have to make her go live where she doesn't want to go. OUCH.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Douglas Will Visit This Weekend

We will be going down to the military base tomorrow to pick up Douglas for his weekend visit. (That is him with the dorky grin on the left). Although we have spoken with him on the phone every week it will be the first time we have seen him since January 17th. So we are pretty excited. Even his 14 yo sister Kendra is giving up her social life of Saturday to go down and watch him drill, she actually admitted that she missed him.
He is doing so well in this program, it came at exactly the right time for him I think. I was so opposed to the idea that he had to really lobby me to even give it consideration and here he is flourishing. Sometimes we don't know it all I guess. But who knew that a military style structure would work for a kid with severe ADHD, Tourettes, PTSD, bi-polar disorder and a serious lack of motivation.
There is part of me that is definitely finding it hard to accept that my last baby boy is growing into a man. Don't get me wrong, I am excited that he is developing skills that will lead to independence (something we were really worried about him not achieving). I am just feeling very nostalgic for the wonderful years of homeschooling when he really became my pal. We were able to stay closer longer than with my older sons and I will miss that.
I am going to bed with strong anticipation of seeing him tomorrow and hanging out with him for 4 days before he has to go back.

A Total Delight and Joy

We have been blessed with the presence of a 9 yo these past two days and I have nothing but good to report. I am not even talking about obvious honeymoon behaviors. This little darling is intelligent, articulate, plays well by herself, is self-suffiecient but not above being nurtured, she is an awesome artist, above is a sample of her work, and she is sweet.
Look closely at the pictures the amount of detail is amazing. The audience in the foreground and the tiebacks on the curtains are great touches, and all this with poster paints and a cheap crayola brush.

I am delighted that she is going to her forever family today (I trained this couple so I have extra pride) but I wouldn't mind keeping her in a selfish way. We are not doing any more adoptions right now and that is what she needs, not another transitional family. Luckily I will get to do respite for her.
It is amazing that the family members didn't want her, but they adopted 4 other of their foster children and did not adopt their own granddaughter, don't know what the deal is there. But these other new parents are getting a gem.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Be Careful What You Ask For

Well it wasn't too many posts ago I was reminiscing about wanting the thrill of new placements and voila, we have a 9 yo girl tonight. We'll cal her DJ for now. It is very short term, she has disrupted from one relative placement and is on her way to an adoptive placement, but the adoptive placement is not quite ready for her. So until Friday or Monday we have a new one to get to know.

She is very talkative, quite smart and very capable of playing by herself (a rare gift). I am sure that there are many issues, but I figure for just an extended weekend we should honeymoon our way on through. We don't have to worry about school until Monday and we can just hang out, go places and entertain ourselves. She has lots of energy so we will keep ourselves busy at the zoo, the science center, do a little shopping, take the dog for a walk, etc.

One benefit of the whole thing is that I got my 14yo to clean her bathroom and sweep the hall and stairs. A little cleaning goes a long way.

Off to put the little one to bed, she is really, really small for a 9 yo. I think I am happy or at least excited.

Back In The Flow

Last night when we got back from the hospital it felt as though we had been gone for a long time, instead of just overnight, but by this morning it feels as though we hadn't been gone at all. Right back into the flow of issues, minor crises, and tasks to be done.

The surgical procedure went well, but was inconclusive. They did not find anything specific, some anomalies, some possibilities but no answers. Now mind you I don't want them to find horrible problems, but it would be nice for them to be able to point to a specific problem and say "that is what is causing all the pain and suffering and here is how we are going to fix it". Instead we have some possible leads to follow but nobody really seems to know how to fix the problem since they can't really find the problem, although everyone agrees that there is a problem. How is that for fun?

Some background on all this. My 3rd pregnancy was a huge surprise to everyone, myself included. We had our two big boys, 9 and 7 at that point, and we were in the final steps of adopting the sibling group of 3 that we had fostered for 4 years. I was going back to work full-time for the first time in five years, and then God laughed. So we were pregnant again, as I had had a number of miscarriages before the boys came along we didn't run right out and tell everyone our glorious news.

At the first ultrasound, we got bad news, this would not be a viable fetus, as the development was all wrong, the organs were outside of the abdominal sac and there were major structural deformities. We were sent to a specialist. 2.5 weeks of nervous anguished waiting and the specialist says, oh no this baby is physically developing okay but she won't live long once born. We were like WHAT?!?! Turns out they were seeing inflammation in her bowel that led them to diagnose significant Cystic fibrosis and if the inflammation was that acute at this early stage of development then the baby would not live out its first year. None of that made sense to us, as there was no history of CF on either side of our family. My husband, the statistician that he is, began to question the doctor on his numbers and called into question his certainty. At which point the doctor got angry with us and announced that if we weren't going to follow his recommendation to terminate the pregnancy than he washed his hands of us.

We left that meeting totally stunned and in shock. There was a lot we couldn't process, but we both knew that we weren't going to terminate so we left it all in God's hands and moved on. It was scary, I had all sorts of deep, dark scary moments of unfaith, but always knew that whatever happened we would deal with it. After all that it was an uneventful and relatively easy pregnancy. I mean no problem, right?, 5 kids under the age of 10, 3 of them with special needs and a full time job and pregnant. But yeah, it was a good time for our family.

In the delivery room you could hardly move because there were so many specialists waiting around for this baby so they could do specialist things. But when she was born she was fine, no breathing issues, no deformities, nothing that anyone could find wrong, except for some difficulty keeping her temperature regulated. They sent us home on day 3.

On day 4 we were back in the NICU with a dying baby who had sepsis and needed emergency intervention. But we got through that and moved on with no apparent long term effects. Then at 4 months she was back in the hospital fighting for her life with major bowel infections. They scoped her and found many, many bleeding, infected ulcerations and she was diagnosed as being allergic to soy and was put on a special diet, as was I, since my breast milk was her only sustenance until she was over a year old when they let her have orange and yellow vegetables. Still, no one could tell us exactly what was wrong, one specialist said she had immature bowels and would grow out of it by age 2. I asked if she didn't grow out of it by then, what then? And he said, oh they would diagnose it as something else. Very reassuring, I assure you.

The first 2.5 years of her life she went from specialist to specialist, she had severe asthma and horrible eczema, we had major reflux, projectile vomiting, failure to gain weight, constant diarrhea, and yet we had no clear diagnosis or plan. One doctor would start her on something and another specialist would argue with that one and our heads were spinning. She had trial medications, she had test after test, but still no diagnosis.

Our pediatrician was the most wonderful support and gave me the best advice through this. He said "don't treat her differently than the other kids, if she wants to do something let her, let her grow to her own highest potential, do not coddle her just because she is ill" So we just acted like we had a normal life and that it was normal to do all of the hyper sterility things associated with her food prep. Somehow we did lead a normal life, we went camping (in a tent) across the country when she was 17 months old, for 6 weeks. She went to day care, she had birthday parties, she begged to signed up for dance, etc.

Then at around 3, many of her issues just subsided. We stayed on a very restricted diet and she still had asthma treatments on a daily basis as well as allergy treatments, but we went into a wonderful period of remission. Then when she was 6 or so she got worse, she became hyper allergic again to foods, her asthma got worse as did her eczema and she got pneumonia and then mononucleosis. Again with the specialists, again with the no answers, again with the remission of symptoms at about 7.5 years.

Then we went into a very nice long period of relative normalcy. I thought, ah ha that specialist was right, she grew out of it. She could eat almost everything her peers did, she started to grow to a more normal height and she became obsessed with dance and soccer and living life.

Then about 3 years ago, at age 11, things started to slide downhill again. She became unable to digest many forms of protein, her reflux became a serious issue. She had constant diarrhea, intense abdominal pain and vomiting episodes 2-4 times a week. At the same time she intensified her dancing, began performing in community theater and auditioned into the Youth Performing Arts High School as a dance major.

Which brings us up to date. Nobody knows for sure what is wrong, why her system cannot absorb food well. The pain, diarrhea and vomiting remain a mystery. Everyone agrees that they are there, that they are not symptoms of an eating disorder, etc., but nobody can tell us why this happening and more importantly what to do about it. She is missing way too much school. There are many days she can't dance and dance is her life she will tell you. She has a restricted social life because she is overly tired and often fighting off minor illnesses as her immune system is so effected she seems to get every cold etc that comes along. And she has a very restricted diet and a weird eating schedule, she has to eat 5-7 light meals a day (try fitting that into the school schedule) All this at a time when the most important thing is to fit in socially.

So we wait our 3-5 days for the test results and we hope that this time finally these new specialists have a clue for us.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Surgeries, Special Needs, and Anxieties

I have spent the afternoon getting ready to go to the Children's Hospital tomorrow, as my 14 yo Kendra is going to have some diagnostic tests done that involve a little surgery. We won't actually have the surgery tomorrow, but the surgery is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 AM and the hospital is over 2 hours away, so we are driving up tomorrow and spending the night in a hotel.

This surgery is causing me all sorts of anxieties and I am not totally sure why. She has had this proceedure at least 3 other times in her life and it is not any more dangerous than ever going under anethesia is. I guess I am worried about what they might find.

We know something is wrong with her digestive system, we have known that since her ultrasound in utero, she has seen a multitude of specialists, had surgery several times, been on special diets all her life and yet 14, almost 15 years later not a one of the specialists has been able to give us definitive answer about what is wrong and how to fix it. WE want some answers, we want a course of treatment that will lead to an improvement in her overall quality of life, and we want it sometime before she becomes an adult.

Having parented kids with speical needs, both as an adoptive, foster and (birth, first, regular, whatever) mom I know just how elusive that diagnosis and course of treatment can be. But it is still immensely frustrating to have to go through all of this and not have answers. Especially as she is getting to the age when I fear her own issues with fitting in and being part of the peer group may make her resistant to suggested therapies, or send her seeking her own self-mediactions for the ongoing pain and discomfort.

Anyway wish us luck and I won't be around for a couple of days, I expect to be back posting on Wednesday if not very late Tuesday.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Sewing Room

My sewing room is a complete disaster right now. As I was afraid would happen when the room had no doors, only doorways, lots of junk has migrated from the washroom and the game room into MY space. I am trying to get excited about cleaning it up and getting back into my quilting. I have about 7 projects that I am working on, yeah sort of working.

With a baby for the past three years I just wasn't able to get involved in things that required pins and sharp scissors. Nor was I able to carve out much time to just get down in my room and be by myself. Thus the disaster. I think a picture of my sewing room should go in the dictionary under the definition for entropy, def. 4 "a doctrine of inevitable social decline and degeneration."

Adding to the clutter/mess frustration is the fact that my sewing machine is barely limping along and that after I gave it an emergency lobotomy before Christmas. I desperately need a new one, but somehow it keeps dropping to the bottom of the list of priorities. Since I use the machine for quilting and dance costume making, and not the practical everyday clothes of the family, it is easy to say that it is a "want" expense not a "need" expense. But perhaps I should compare the cost of a new machine to the cost of therapy for me and see if I can change my concept of a "need".

Friday, March 14, 2008

Yearning for the old days

This is how our house used to look, lots of kids, all engaged in life together. Usually at least one cute baby and then olders with various issues. Since we often had kids placed with special needs we would have various peices of therapy equipment about. And the whole house was decorated with odd socks. Somehow none of the children who come to live at my house like to keep their socks or shoes on.
Now, though, we actually have a long weekend this weekend with no one at home! The permanent kids are all about grown, our youngest at 14 is on a high school field trip. We are on a sabbatical with foster care as our last placement was one of the most emotionally draining of our 19 year career. So it is just me and dh, and the cat and dog for the next few days.
In response to the unaccustomed quiet my usually very mellow and calm Lab has become hyper needy and demanding of my attention. The cat is just, and has always been, psycho.
I miss the adrenalin rush of answering the phone and getting a placement call. The mad rush to arrange sleeping quarters, make space in drawers, etc. And then the frantic first few days of doctor's appointments, school arrangements, clothes buying, and all that fun stuff. I miss getting to know new kids. learning how to help them adjust to their new life and our family. Mark me as very weird, but I do miss driving around in our 15 passenger van, with the kiddy songs cranked up, every body talking a mile a minute, some happy, some not so happy.
There are lots of things I don't miss all that much, the rages and screaming temper tantrums, the placements where we have had to be extremely vigilant so that no one, human or animal, gets hurt, the piles of laundry, dealing with state social services and the whimsy of their placement decisions, and the days when I haven't even had time to take a shower, let alone have any me time at all.
But lately as I have driven around in my "little" van with just me and NPR news most of the time, I am beginning to think that me time might be overrated, at least for me. Right now I am apparently the only one in the house who is anxious to get back into foster care. My dh is very not ready and my 14 yo daughter is enjoying having me all to her self right now. I have agreed that we are going to have a just our family summer and then I am insisting that we get back into some placements. I am going to up our youngest age, we are getting too old for infants, sleep has become too precious, we will be looking at sibling groups in the elementary range, we have done our fair share of teens and really aren't interested in those issues right now either. i know our agency will be mighty happy to have us back.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It Must Be Spring

It must be Spring! I am on one of my self-improvement, home-improvement kicks. My to-do list of miraculous makeovers for health, weight, garden, interior decorating and organizing, and general life improvement (I want to learn Chinese?!?!) has exploded. I am getting out the books, doing the research, I have plans and drawings, and job assignments. That's the part my kids hate the most, when I decide to self-improve they don't get why they have to help!

Of course, most of it won't get done, but I can dream can't I? Realistically getting the improvements done little by little with a master plan, etc. is the way to do it. But in my life of chaos I have to grab the odd hour or day of relative calm and financial largess and just go for it. I have discovered that I can generate more enthusiasm to finish a half-stalled project (both my own enthusiasm and my husband's) than I can to start even a desperately needed one. So, whenever I have the energy I begin projects all over the place like a whirling dervish.

The bulbs in the front garden peeked up before the snow and luckily they survived, I am expecting flowers any day. So that means it is time to get the back vegetable garden in shape. We are starting from scratch this year, I am hoping to get the bed laid and the compost spread and a few tomato plants in, but I am saving my big planting plans for next year after we break in the garden.

Despite all these wonderful plans, I need to focus most of my energy on my own body. Last year was an extremely stressful year and I responded in truly healthful ways, NOT! So it is back to exercising and back to eating for nourishment instead of emotional deadening. I have no delusions that I will ever be skinny but if I can stave off pre-diabetes and high blood pressure/cholesterol I will feel good about myself.

Time for my walk and then I am treating myself to a Portabella Mushroom Pizza lunch. Yum and healthy and low everything.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Loving and Letting go

I have been trying to construct this blog for two days, I don't know how many drafts I have rejected already, but I can't get this topic out, yet I desperately need to. Given our recent upheaval in our foster care life the subject is very tender. To make it that much harder my good friend just let her foster baby go into a wonderful adoptive home. Both of us are in the dumps emotionally and sharing misery doesn't seem to be the answer.

Going into a foster care placement there is the understanding that by the very definition of foster care this is a temporary placement. Unless one is taking the foster to adopt route it is imperative to believe that the child will be returning home and act accordingly. Nonetheless we take these children into our hearts and our homes and treat them the same as if they will be with us forever. There are warnings about not loving too much, about not getting too attached, but as a Mom I can not keep myself emotionally uninvolved with any one of my children no matter how long or short their stay. And some of them, due to circumstance, personality or fate, grab your heart right back and so it hurts and feels as though your heart is being ripped to shreds when it is time to let them go.

I am not sure how to resolve this. I cannot be the mother I want to be to these children if I cannot open my heart to them, but opening my heart makes me very vulnerable. Although we have adopted some of our foster children, I feel my true calling is to be a foster parent and to work to mentor the birth families and really try for reunification. We have had many wonderful successes in this endeavor over the years and I will share in another post sometime. My husband and I truly enjoy mentoring these families, many of whom have not a clue about how to parent or be a family. And we stay in touch with many of our placements long after their return home.

Maybe I am just burnt out, maybe we need a little break, maybe I am tired from struggling with the clueless state social workers we had assigned to this last case, but really I just want my dancing baby girl back. After almost 3 years we had bonded to an incredible degree and having her taken out of my home was and has been an emotional train wreck for me and my family. It hasn't been a picnic for dancing baby girl either.

This has not been the most coherent post and it probably won't be the last on this subject. When I can relate the story with less emotionality I will give some details, suffice it to say I am sad and I am not sure how to get un-sad.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

More Fun on a Snowy Day

Well after exhausting outside possibilities we were all stuck inside. We had watched the videos we rented, made some good food and were all a little restless and bored. So we got out the games and had a wonderful time playing a variety of interesting types of games. We played some card games, some board games and some generally funny games. It was refreshing to not have a single person storm away mad, not have a single board swept off the table in frustration, etc. My husband even enjoyed learning some new games that had been staple home school favorites so we whipped his behind in them but that was fun also.

If only I had a good book to read I would be completely content right now. But I did not plan well and forgot to go to the library before being snowed in. And I forgot to add a working fireplace to our house so this snowy evening is not quite perfect but sure comes a lot closer than many, many, many we have had.

Fun in the Snow

We have spent the day playing in the snow, even the dog who has previously detested the wintry mix that passes for snow in this region had fun.

Waiting on the sledding party

Well I am up way too late, hanging out waiting for the girls to get back from sledding. My older son (24) called at about 11:30 PM and offered to take my 14 yo and her two friends (who were having a sleep over at our house) out to the park to go sledding. With some trepidation I agreed, mostly I am concerned about injuries, since I am not the mother of the 2 friends and it was a little late to call and ask permission.

But with plenty of bundling, mismatched gloves and all, and lots of admonishments both to the younger girls and the older supervising male I let them go. I am trying hard not to be too restrictive and controlling of my 14 yo just because I know all the bad things that could happen out in the world. My older boys feel strongly that I shelter her too much. And she is such a good kid that I need to acknowledge how responsible she is and give her more privileges. It is just hard to trust the world with my baby.

Despite the fact that I feel strongly about the equality of men and women and have definite feminist leanings, I realize that I let my boys do so much more independently than I am comfortable letting my daughter do. Some of that is just reality. She was stalked briefly by a pervert neighbor who still lives behind us and who still gives us the creeps, the cops are aware and watching him. And girls seem more vulnerable in our unsafe world than boys. It is also true that my boys always had each other to do stuff with, so that when I let them have some independence they were doing it together and she does not have a built-in companion as her direct older siblings are not capable of making good decisions on their parts or on hers, and lead pretty restricted lives due to their behaviors and choices. Nonetheless I am trying to be more open to opportunities for her to safely get out from under my wing and test her own wings a little.

They must be having fun because they have been gone longer than I credited them with being able to stand the cold. My daughter is an absolute wuss when it comes to being cold. I am hoping they get home soon so that I can go to bed, I am fighting off a major sinus headache, probably triggered by the storm front we have moving through. We have tons of beautiful glorious snow and I can't wait until morning when I am going to make a snow person even if the girls feel they are too old for such shenanigans.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Yes, we are having snow. I love snow, here in Kentucky we almost never get snow, at least good snow, we seem to specialize in something called wintry mix, which is essentially slush falling from the sky and making icy roads. I grew up in New England and snow is something I have missed for 20 years now.

In just a little while I am going to get on my boots and go out and make a snow person or two and if I get really adventurous I will make a snow angel.

Last night we graduated another class of perpared foster/adoptive parents and it was great to think that at least 12 more kids have a shot at family now, more if they will take sibs. This was a great class, I can't wait for them to get kids.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Post Training Blues

I am tired and fighting the blues this morning. I often feel this way after an evening spent training foster and adoptive parents. Don't get me wrong, I love training, I am passionate about passing on valuable information and teaching important skills to help parents succeed at this incredibly tough job they have taken on. I also think I am a pretty good teacher and interesting speaker.

It is really the magnitude of the job that gives me the blues. I want to just go home with each and every family in my class and spend some quality time helping them implement the learning. Too many of these families are close to disruption and they don't want to be, they just don't have the skills to do it well.

I do love the "Ah Ha" moments though, those wonderful breakthroughs when you can see that the parent has gotten a vital insight into their child and is completely reevaluating their understanding of the child's behaviors and their own responses. We were talking about the attachment cycle, (actually that wasn't really part of the lesson on therapeutic communication, but it is amazing how relevant that cycle is to so many things) and how meeting the child's needs builds trust (in this case the need to be heard or listened to). This one adoptive mother who has really struggled to understand how her children's earliest experiences could possibly be affecting their behavior now as teens finally put it together. She was able to see how her children's neglect in those crucial first two years of life could set up a whole world view that made it very hard for the child to accept love, understand safety and security, and truly believe that they were a lovable and capable person.

This woman has been very resistant to the training up until last night, she has argued that a lot of what I have spoken about doesn't apply to her situation, etc. So it was really nice to see her finally put some pieces together and accept that her kids, despite the many years of wonderful parenting she has done, still carry around issues from their youngest years. I am hoping that the "Ah ha" moment might lead her to recommit, as she is very burnt out and has basically given up and just can't wait for the kids to get old enough to get out of the house. But I know that one "ah ha" moment in class will not really do it, she is one of the ones that I just want to go spend a lot more time with and help her implement some of the strategies and let her see some positive outcomes. I could just see me, "Super Nanny" to the foster/adoptive family set!

To digress, I just love that show, "Super Nanny". I love it for 3 main reasons, first I do think many of her strategies and ideas are right on, logical and appropriate discipline strategies, second she does a good job of holding the parents responsible for their attitudes and issues, and third I just get a kick out of seeing "normal", as in not foster/adoptive children behave so badly, it makes me feel better about my own kids and my own parenting.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Valuable Skills Our Children Learn

Every so often when my children have to experience a particularly violent or horrific breakdown time of one of their siblings or when they are the target of aggression or sexual acting out from those same siblings I worry that growing up in our family may be abusive in its own ways. But then I get pleasantly surprised by how much of value my children learn by living through such experiences.

Kendra(pictured above) my 14yo birth daughter (the delightful surprise that arrived after we adopted the sibling group of 3 and 9 years after her next older birth sibling), has been having some difficulties with a classmate at school that has essentially been threatening her and attempting to bully her. This girl is 2 years her senior, a Junior to Kendra's Freshman status, and also a dance major at the Youth Performing Arts High School (YPAS). They all had their huge annual recital this past weekend and it is something that freshman don't usually dance in unless they are invited. Well, Kendra was invited to dance in a modern piece that one of the teachers choreographed, not a solo or a starring role but it was an honor to be able to dance at the Dance Concert as a freshman. This Junior girl was not particularly happy about the Freshmen but didn't single Kendra out until there was a problem with the costumes.

On fitting day the costumer was busy with another group and one of her student assistants brought over the costumes for Kendra's group and starting handing them out. The Jr. did not want the costume assigned to her, it was a medium, and she grabbed Kendra's small and made Kendra take the medium. it was upsetting to Kendra at the time but she wasn't sure how to respond and just went with the flow. At the first dress rehearsal it was obvious that the Jr was not a small and the medium was falling off of Kendra's shoulders so the teacher and the costumer made the Jr give up the small and take the medium. She was literally busting out of the small, but she was deeply offended that anyone would think she needed a medium, these are dancers and they do have a lot of body issues. so she turned her anger and _itchiness onto Kendra.

She began to harass Kendra, "Give me back my costume, you know that is my costume", etc. Mostly Kendra just ignored her. But the day of the first show, after most people had left the dressing room to go on stage for a number the Jr got Kendra by herself and got very insistent about Kendra giving her back the costume. She was cussing her out and threatening her. As Kendra was relating this to me later I couldn't help but feel concerned for her safety and I started to get all Mama Bear protecting her cubs feeling with thoughts of calling the school administration just then, etc. But I took a deep breath and I asked Kendra how she handled it and her reply was classic. "Oh Mom, I just handled her the way I always dealt with Annie's blowups, I think this girl has mental health issues too."

Well I was curious now, so I probed further about exactly how she handled it. She said that she had learned that when someone starts to go ballistic on you you need to stay calm, lower your voice and just keep repeating what you want them to hear or do in a non-confrontational manner. She said she just kept repeating to the Jr that she knew the Jr was upset by the change and that they should go talk to one of the teachers together. Kendra offered to go with the Jr to talk with the teacher, she expressed sympathy for the fact that the girl was upset, but she never bought into the threats nor did she back down and give her the costume. She used strong I feel messages to express herself and did not escalate the situation further. As other students came back from their number the Jr whispered to Kendra, "this is not over @#&@%" and stormed out of the room. Interestingly enough, though it was over, the Jr did not say another thing to her about the costume, or anything else, the rest of the days of the show. Kendra was a little leery and on guard in case the Jr retaliated in other ways but nothing happened.

I was proud of how Kendra had been able to use calming techniques, reflection of an other's feelings, empathy, and strong I feel messages on her part to deal with a difficult and possibly explosive situation. I asked her if she had been scared, she acknowledged that she was worried and uncomfortable, but she said that she was not scared of the girl beating on her just then because she didn't have most of the physical signs of really losing it like she had learned to look for and run from in her siblings. She was more worried that the Jr would retaliate by trashing her makeup box or something like that.

What I was most proud of was that Kendra was able to walk out of the confrontation with her dignity intact and she showed that she was not going to be easy pickings for bullies. So maybe living in our chaotic, sometimes violent and unpredictable household has taught her some good life skills. It seems that she has picked up some of the "handling" techniques that we employ a lot. She jokingly calls it "psychobabble" and hates when we use it on her, especially when it works! I was also relieved to know that she can pretty calmly evaluate a situation for her safety and that she has a good sense of when to bail out of there.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Quite a contrast or intro to Douglas

Douglas and Kendra in Halloween Costumes 5 years ago. Who knew he would be a military cadet in 2008?

Well Annie's dismissal of me from her life only lasted about 12 hours :-( . While I was on the phone again with her last evening I got a call waiting and it was my 17 yo son Douglas. We had missed his phone call on the weekend so I was eager to take it and basically shooed Annie off the line.

Douglas is our adopted son, he is the younger half-brother of Annie and Brooke (whom I have not yet introduced) and he is currently attending a military school at his insistence to finish his high school education. Douglas faces unique challenges in his life as he was born addicted to crack cocaine, he has a seizure disorder related to the cocaine addiction and multiple learning disabilities. We had one professional help us to understand his many issues, by explaining that due to the cocaine exposure in utero his brain has been hardwired differently.

As a youngster he was the ultimate handful, hyperactive to the nth degree, extremely impulsive and very bi-polar with an emphasis on the scary mania. He was extremely aggressive without being mean if that makes any sense, he had no concept of the impact of his behaviors on others, including hitting, pushing, etc. On top of all that he was cute as a button and could choose to be soooo charming that most adults were very indulgent of his behaviors.

I pulled him out of school after he had failed the 5th grade twice and still didn't recognize all of his letters. Despite that, the school system was going to push him through to middle school in a mainstream class because at the middle school level they told me they didn't do pull-out, they only did collaboration. Because none of his issues fit neatly into a diagnosable category he was not eligible for a self-contained classroom unless I wanted to put him in the behavior classroom and he was really not a behavior problem.

I had no idea what I was doing, I had never thought about homeschooling before, I knew no one who did it, had never read up on it and if I had applied any logic to the situation at all I would have run screaming for the nearest padded room. I basically volunteered to spend 24/7 home alone with one of my most difficult children. God was definitely guiding me in that decision because it was the best stupid choice I have ever made. Removing Douglas from the stress of a negative peer environment where he was the butt of the classroom and letting him come home and find his own interests and his own way worked like a dream. With in 3 months of working 1 on 1 with him he had learned to read and then he just took off. His main interest was and still is History.

Not everything was gravy, we still had a lot of difficulties, but we were no longer pressured with outside expectations. We also had the time to address many of his emotional and mental health issues that were impeding his ability to make progress. He had therapy 6 hours a week with 2 different therapists, he had a therapeutic aide who worked with him, initially 20 hours a week, he had occupational therapy, all during "school hours" so that he now had time to participate in "after school" stuff like soccer, archery, ballroom dancing, basketball teams, etc. Because of his therapy demands having to fit in around the school day he had not been able to participate in a lot of those opportunities before we started homeschooling. And within 6 months of leaving school he had calmed down enough that he started making friends in the neighborhood. You have no idea how much my heart welled up with joy when the young boys would come knocking at the door to ask if Douglas could play.

As I said I am glossing over so much, we still had the screaming temper tantrums, the throwing of chairs, the breaking of windows and the very scary attempts to self harm. But now that he was home with me I became so much more aware of his triggers, his needs and his snapping points and I was able to work with him so much better in establishing a set of acceptable behaviors, useful consequences and push him towards self-awareness and finally self-regulation. We had many, many, many conversations that went like this. "So Douglas did you get what you wanted with that behavior?" "How do you think you might get what you wanted?" What is another way you could choose?" and we used a lot of analogies such as bashing your head bloody trying to batter down the brick wall blocking your path rather than developing the skills to climb over the obstacle. Many days I was so exhausted I just wanted to give up the homeschooling but what kept us going was the incredible progress we could see on his self-esteem and his sense of himself as a worthwhile and capable person.

That's a lot of history just to enable you to see why we are so incredibly proud of him right now. Douglas had basically dropped out of life these past two years, he refused to continue working towards his high school diploma, he refused to get a job and all he did was sleep or play video games (when he had the privilege, which was not often) All of us were concerned about his depression but he seemed okay just totally unmotivated to do much of anything. He was not defiant, he did the chores I asked of him, kept himself mostly hygienic and his room within the bounds of decency. If I initiated something social he went along with it, but he seldom called his friends or set up anything. He was just sort of there. And he stayed just sort of there for almost 15 months with no ambition, no motivation, no plans.

Then one day he brought up the idea of his going to boarding school, specifically military school. I was extremely apprehensive because he does have a fascination with weapons, blood, gore, and that kind of thing. He had a plan, he had found out about this Challenge Academy that was run by the National Guard and he had me read up on it. We talked to the admissions folk and my husband and I decided what the hay, let him try it, it is the first thing he has been interested in in a long time.

The first two weeks at the school were hard, he definitely was not accustomed to that intense a level of structure. Nor was he accustomed to some of the rough characters who were at the school also. He had to resist being pushed into fighting, to the point that once he took a beating from one of the bullies but still walked away without having thrown a punch. He wrote us long letters about how unhappy he was, etc. but that he didn't want to give up, that he knew this was something he had to do to prove to himself that he could make it.

Anyway it has been about 7 weeks now and he is having a very different experience. He called last night to let us know how he was doing. He has made honor level 2, 1 of only 5 in his platoon so far. That means he gets 2, 10 minute phone calls a week and lots of other privileges. He has started working with the supply department to earn some money. And the biggest news of all is that he will be starting at the local community college/technical school next week taking a college course that he tested into. He says that the commander complimented him on his marching/drilling and that the Sargent has continually complimented him on his cleaning of the barracks and organization of his own stuff.

His big goal when he comes home on his pass at Easter is to get together with his previous therapist, therapeutic aide and case manager. He wants to take them out for coffee and thank them for all the work they have done with him and all the good advice they have given that has helped him make it so far. He was being sincere in his desire to let them know that they did a good job with him.

This is quite a contrast from the phone call I had been having with Annie. She has gotten herself into a situation that is not positive but she only wants to blame everyone else and she does not want to take any responsibility for the actions that got her where she is or for the actions that she needs to take to get herself to a better place. And then there is Douglas right now, not only accepting the discipline of his chosen environment but learning to work with the system to get ahead and to take advantage of the opportunities provided. I am so incredibly proud of his maturity. And thankful that I got a happy phone call from one of my children.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Not such a Bad Weekend

I was just rereading the previous entry, and if that is all you know you might have thought we had a lousy weekend. in fact, it was a pretty nice one, the temp was above freezing and it was not raining too much of the weekend. My 14yo Kendra had a major Dance Concert to perform at her school the Youth Performing Arts School on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. In between she had her studio dance classes and some time with friends. I was the co-chair of the reception committee for these concerts so was kept busy myself.

We had the blessing of having a former foster child who now lives with her birth parents come to spend the weekend. She is three and a bit of a handful but we love staying in contact with her and are so thankful that the birth parents understand her need to stay connected to her past. We went on a bike ride to the playground and got all muddy, yeah! We walked to the store and bought bubbles and looked at all the signs of Spring. She remembered, without prompting, Easter from last year and can't wait to do an Easter Egg hunt again, and be at the Sunrise Service, but she wants to bring 2 blankets this year instead of 1 because it was too cold. Then she painted some pictures and the table, her hands and her shirt. We cooked some bread and I don't know how the flour got on the topside of the ceiling fan blades?!? And then she helped me clean up and I am not sure I will find things again, she carefully put all the remotes under the couch inside an empty shoe box, they took awhile to find last night!

My oldest son Bart (24) went to an Ultimate Frisbee tournament at a college about 3 hours south of here and it was just that much warmer and drier that he got a little sunburned!! Quite an achievement for the 1st weekend in March around here. He had a great time, he loves playing Ultimate Frisbee.

In addition my husband and I actually got to spend a little bit of time in conversation with one another without interruptions. This is a rare and treasured event. Don't tell any of our kids, because someone will break something or come down with a deadly disease just in time to sabotage, but it really looks like we will have no children at home for a weekend in two weekends. We are racking our brains trying to figure out what to do with ourselves, NOT! At first I was troubled by the fact that we did not have enough disposable income to get away for the weekend and then I realized that it will actually be wonderful to be in our own home with no demands from any one and a schedule that only has to answer to our desires.

Circular spiral arguments that go nowhere, or the intro to Annie

Well we had our emotional reserves sapped this weekend with one of those circular, spiral emotional outbursts that our adopted 18 yo (almost 19) daughter is so good at. I resisted for so long the possible diagnosis of her having Borderline Personality Disorder, mostly because it was such a depressing diagnosis. But each day it is becoming more clear that that is what we are working with. I really think Borderline Personality is just adult Reactive Attachment disorder. That is at least my lay person's understanding as it looks exactly like all the reactive attachment behaviors we have struggled with for so many years.

Anyway, Annie is living away from home, in another state, at a rehab facility for people with brain injury. She moved there from the psych hospital and was in and out of the psych hospital several times before that. This facility offers an amazing array of services for rehab, speech, occupational and physical therapy, job training, social skills, anger management, independent living skills, drug and alcohol counseling, etc. IT was such a miracle that Annie was accepted and that Medicare paid for it. (Annie was shaken as a baby and has brain injury related to that). But Annie has refused to take advantage of the programs offered, instead presenting such a danger to herself that she has been moved to the most restrictive setting, but it is not a lock down facility. Whenever she can she goes AWOL and engages in drug activity and other unsafe stuff with strangers she meets on the streets. Then when she gets tired of being on the lam, she hangs out in public view where the cops can pick her up and return her to the facility.

This cycle of behaviors was not what our exhausting circular argument was about, at least this weekend. Annie will be 19 in April, in all likelihood Medicare will no longer pay for such a high level of treatment, whether she needs it or not (especially since she has not been progressing under the program for almost 2 years). She will be transitioning to a group home level of care in April. We made it clear she could no longer live at home since her behaviors were such a danger to the younger children in the home and since she developed a wonderful tool to argue with, if we said no to her druggie boyfriends coming to the house or to her staying out all night, she accused my husband or older sons of raping her. We have no interest in being the subject of THAT witch hunt again.

Anyway we have been working hard with the case manager to try to find her a suitable placement. Funny, but none of the programs want her. Annie has been busy sabotaging all efforts, refusing to sign release of information forms, having major outbursts of negative behavior whenever an interview was planned, etc. But she also is on the warpath to get out of the rehab program, and is quite adamant that she is just going to sign herself out of the program and go live on her own.

One of the pieces of major discontent she has expressed is that we won't let her live with this young man that she has been talking with on the phone, who lives in our city. We have gone back and forth on this for several months. She has never met him in person but she assures us that they love each other and even though he is older (26 or 28, we don't get a straight answer) we shouldn't worry about him because he is a good guy. Of course, he won't let her live with him for free so we would have to agree to pay her rent and stuff, but she is sure this is the best option.

Well after much pressure on her part, my husband finally agreed to talk with this man on the phone. My husband talked with Annie for a long time and told her that he would have a lot of questions for this man and that he would tell this man the whole truth about Annie to make sure that he was comfortable keeping Annie safe. Well, at that, Annie got all defensive and started yelling that she didn't want us to talk to him and we just didn't want her to be happy, we were mean, we didn't love her, we didn't know what she needed, and why couldn't we just trust her, etc. And she hung up on my husband. So we didn't know if the young man was going to call on Sunday or not, we didn't know if Annie was going to go AWOL or not. He didn't and neither did Annie (which was a relief)

But this Monday morning, at 6:23, I get a call on my cell phone from an unfamiliar out of state # which I missed. Then the voice mail buzzed in and it was Annie leaving me an angry message in which she announced she wasn't coming back to our city and she was going to talk to her case manager about finding an apartment in the city where she is (4.5 hours away). And that she was going to be her own guardian, etc, etc. But not a word about this young man and the plans to move back here to live with him. Oh, and we are not her parents any more and I need to stop hiding the information about her birth mom because she is going to find her and she knows that she is just waiting to hug her and welcome her home.

If only it were truly what is going to happen!! I wouldn't mind at this point being thrown out of Annie's life for a while. That sounds so harsh but the amount of turmoil associated with just phone contact with her is so exhausting. When she was in the home she was a physical danger to the other children and the animals, and she manipulated our lives so that the household was in constant chaos with her at the focal point. If I had any hope for improvement I don't think I would feel so drained, but all of her cyclical, spiraling behavior just seems to be heading downwards, with no end in sight.

I still remember the beaten, bitten, cigarette burned child who came to my home and when released from the social workers hand, scurried to hide under the desk, her face screaming with huge tears rolling down it but not a single noise coming out of her. All the times we tried to hold her and cuddle her and she would stiffen and throw her body away from ours. The way she watched with such hungry eyes as the other children sat next to us for story time or were carried or hugged, but how she refused to let herself be touched, kissed, hugged, patted, carried, you name it. The numerous times the therapists, psychiatrist, social workers, etc. suggested that she would be better off in the psych hospital, we resisted with all our might, hoping that keeping her in our home would make her feel safe and stable, we only gave in when at 15 it was a choice between the psych hospital or criminal charges and we accepted the suggestion that the hospital would be better for her than the jail.

I still wonder if there was something more we could have done, another strategy we could have tried, another of the many therapies we somehow missed trying? If there was really anyway that we could have broken through her wall of pain and let her know that she truly is a person worth loving, and that despite the fire setting, the sexual aggression towards other children, the attacks on each and every one of us, the destruction of her room, the running away, etc. we still love her very much and wish with all of our hearts that she could be a part of our family. I used to tell her all the time as a child, when her response to my statement "I love you Annie" was a screamed "I hate you and I want to get away from you", that it didn't matter she was stuck like glue to this family and there was no getting out. Now I know she really is hoping(on one level, anyway) that she can get that glue unstuck, and I need to find the strength and resolve to refuse to let her go.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

1st Entry

I am new to this blogosphere idea so I have spent some time wandering around reading and experiencing an interesting variety of blogs. My goal in blogging is to be able to talk out some of the experiences I have had in the past years as a parent, foster parent, adoptive parent and person, not necessarily in that order.

As some of my experiences involve confidentiality issues I am still exploring how to deal with those and remain honest in my ruminations.

It is strange to putting my thoughts out here, they mostly knock around, endlessly in my head. I am not sure how interesting this will be as it often doesn't seem too interesting even to me, but we'll have a go.