10 Things you do Reflexively after Having Kids!

  1. Maintain at least one child-length distance from the galloping child in front of you as you go down stairs. It is nearly impossible to predict the sudden stop three steps from the bottom to pick up a crumb, fix a twisted sock, or oh wait! To jump off the step! Of course he was going to jump. (step 3, step 4, step 5….Quit it!!)
  2. Tense every muscle in your body to prepare for impact as a flailing child comes hurtling towards you at full speed. The possible damage is entirely unpredictable and best to assume defensive posture with wide stance and arms reflexively protecting sensitive body parts.
  3. Pick up the discarded bandaid, the teeny tiny Lego hand, the empty juice cup, the hallwaytoy blockade, the shrugged-off blankie as you walk by, all the while promising yourself that “next time” you will most certainly and definitely require the kid to do this menial clean-up. After all, it really is such an important part of their early learning. Next time.
  4. Avert one’s head at the slightest sound of air intake made by any child under age 5 (or even age 10 for that matter). You knew coming into this parenting assignment that you were going to get puked on, peed on, pooped on, but really….a full-force cough spewing droplets right into your own face? Just not right.
  5. Kiss a boo-boo. Any boo-boo. Knees. Toes. Fingers. Bellies. Foreheads. Even if it’s not your own child, because we all know the golden kiss heals all boo-boos (or at least temporarily stops the screech!).
  6. Nod and mumble “Uh, hmmm” repetitively to signal that you are paying “close” attention to the lengthy detailed story emitting from a child’s mouth even though you have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about (including sonorous descriptions read from Pokemon card collections). Clarifying questions are sometimes needed if you’ve become completely distracted, but notice a word or phrase indicating that you might actually need to know a bit of this information.
  7. Inspect all toilet seats as you approach. There really is no need for the cold wet discomfort of knowing you forgot this time. They are boys, after all.
  8. Run your fingers through a kid’s hair as they cuddle up against you. The soft curls. The fine strands. There’s nothing quite like it as you send messages of love through their body without saying a word.
  9. Jump sideways and backwards at the sight of a falling sippy cup. There is no greater pain than 8 ounces of milk inside a plastic projectile colliding with one’s big toe…unless, of course, you consider unexpectedly stepping on a Lego. It’s a nightmarish toss-up.
  10. Catch your kid’s eye in the rear-view mirror or before the school play or in the midst of a soccer game and flash them the “I-love-you” signal, letting the warm flush of love course through you as they grin back reception of your message.

Parenting is subtle. Day in and day out you usually don’t notice the patterns and reflexes that you’ve developed. Some are protective. Some are loving. All are because you’re inextricably tied to this delightful little being.

Savor the craziness. It doesn’t last forever.

Ten reasons why foster parenting is so hard

  1. You just have no idea when your phone is going to ring and a caseworker is going to ask if you’d like to take on a kid. Sometimes you’re just waiting and waiting eagerly. Sometimes you’re crossing your fingers saying “I’ve got three right now, I’m feeling a bit busy, thank you, but….” And sometimes they ask if you can pick up a kid within 15 minutes!
  1. You just have no idea how long a kid is going to stay with you. It might be three days for a “shelter hearing” when a relative or someone else is found to take the foster child, or it might be 6 months and 2 days, or 18 months and 9 days, or at least 18 years and the rest of the kids’ life once you’ve adopted the child.
  1. You just have no idea when they are going to schedule a “visit” for the child to see his or her biological parent and once the child goes off in a stranger’s car, when the child will return to you. If the parent shows up for the visit, it might be a couple hours. If the parent doesn’t show, it might be just a round-trip in a car. You just have no idea how truly irksome this is to have little control over your schedule.
  1. You just have no idea whether to get rid of some of the 3T boy clothes you still have in boxes or whether you should keep them just in case another kid comes along. Do you take the carseats out of the car or shove them in the trunk?
  1. You just have no idea how much paperwork you’re going to have each time the caseworker stops by for a visit. And when one agency decides to stop their foster care services and you have to switch to another agency, you have another thousand and five pages to complete, and clearances to run, and home inspections to prepare for.
  1. You just have no idea how each child is going to respond to arriving in your house. You can’t predict if they’ll cuddle right in or scream for hours. You don’t know if they’ll throw punches at the wall or help with the dishes. You don’t know if the other children are going to be thrilled with a new “friend” or wish that they were gone. The uncertainty is huge because everyone is reacting to a major unexpected change.
  1. You just have no idea how painful it is to have a child leave your house with only a few hours notice and realizing that you likely will never see that child again in your life, despite being the one and only parent the child has had in the past 10 months. The empty space hurts.
  1. You just have no idea how protective you can become of a child, caring for them the best you can and wanting so badly to advocate for their well-being.
  1. You just have no idea how frustrating it is to not really have a voice for a child. You provide the 24-hour a day love and care but have no influence over the bigger picture. You wash and feed the child, watch them grow, encourage their development, treat the fevers, but no one wants to hear your point of view.
  1. You just have no idea how quickly your heart is going to fall in love with the child in your home as you rock them to sleep and kiss their scrapes and bumps. You tell yourself that you’re keeping a distance, that you’re not really attached, that this is just “foster love,” but your heart never listens to that anyway.

You just have no idea how your love and your hugs and your home can make all the difference in a child’s life, comforting them in a moment of chaos and giving them layers and layers of love to buffer them through life’s future troubles. They may stay with you. They may return home. They may more on. But your touch is always written upon their life.foster

You just have no idea how wonderful it can be to be a foster parent.

Think about it.

Some kid somewhere out there needs you to be brave enough, strong enough, creative enough to say, “I just have no idea….and you know what? That’s okay.”

 

 

On Mothering and Foster Parenting for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day and Foster Parenting Awareness Month coming together kind of makes me reflective – though not reflective enough to type through the exhaustion of Mother’s Day evening! It might have been the four hours of shadeless, 92 degree sun while the boys practiced and played flag football that got to me. Yes, that is what mothers do on “their” day, apply SPF 70 sunscreen to survive the brutal battlefields of youth sports. And yet, when I turned to the mother beside me and said, “This is what makes mothering fun – watching your kid run and jump and cheer and smile,” she smiled and nodded in agreement.

And these rare moments are a good thing because those little beings don’t always make you proud to be their mother. Take their recent rock launching incident at a friend’s house, for example. Or the kicking out of the stained glass window! Or a host of other ways they torture mothers!

Mothering is one of life’s biggest challenges and it starts right from the beginning. For some, mothering appears suddenly, unexpectedly with cheers or big sighs. For others, it might be the joyous moment at the end of a long wait or years of careful planning. It might stop and restart to the dismay of the expectant heart for some.

Or it might putter down the long road of foster parenting. “Hi, I’m his foster mom,” is the awkward phrase that tries to encapsulate one’s care of and affection for a child and yet a distance that is forced to exist. The foster mother has all the responsibility for caretaking of the child – feeding, clothing, bathing, sleeping, getting homework done, reading, worrying, laughing, crying and treating the fevers. Yet the mother has no true responsibility in terms of decision-making. The foster mother asks for permission to take the child on vacation. She asks for medical decisions on his/her behalf. She can’t speak up in court to inform the judge on what’s really in the best interest of the child. When it comes to what will really affect the child’s future, the foster mother is silenced. “Love her, but don’t get attached.” “Treat him like he’s your own child, but don’t make any decisions.” It’s a hard space to be in and sometimes it doesn’t feel at all like mothering. But to the child – it is everything that is important. And for 27,419 children in 2012 – the foster family became the forever family.

Yes, mothering is a journey. It is not an arrival. The path is pretty wide and there’s a lot of leeway for stumbling along and doing things your own way or for trying something new. There are smooth parts and bumpy parts and lots of hiccups along the way. There’s singing and dancing and laughing and crying. And there’s certainly a great deal of pain ground deep within the furrows of the path. There’s distractions and dead ends and wrong turns and celebrations. So it’s pretty important to travel along in the company of other women. Sometimes, they’ll help you carry some things to lighten the load. Sometimes they’ll jostle you a bit to get the smile back on your face. And sometimes they’ll pull you back onto the path when you’ve gone a little over the edge and you reach back for a strong hand. Travel among the women. It’s your only hope.

So whatever the type of mother – bio mother, adoptive mother, step-mother, his mother, her mother, tiger mother, tired mother, lax mother, strict mother, helicopter mother, world’s best mother – take care of yourself, take care of each other, and hang on. The road continues on.

Needing a good cry….and some duct tape.

Ever have that feeling – that if you could actually find a moment of quiet, you’d like to fill it with huge sobbing tears. But they’re all stuck inside because you just don’t have time and don’t have the “space” for it.

Yesterday morning I was the keynote speaker at a conference on healthy living. Yes, I was somewhat eloquent (or at least not too boring) as I talked about how we caregivers rarely we take care of ourselves and yet how important it is that we do. A day later when life has snow-balled upon me, I’m a hot mess of emotions and struggling to find those “coping” skills that seem so academic yesterday.

Image credit - www.steveholt.com

Image credit – http://www.steveholt.com

Here’s a few coping styles:

  1. Identify the emotion: I’m sad-mad as Oh so eloquently put it in the recent movie “Home.” I’m sad that my mother had to leave an event where I was being honored as a volunteer for my work on the crisis nursery because my babysitter had the Home-Oh-Catgall to text and say, “A minor issue at work and I’m still here. I can’t help you tonight.” Bless my mother for saving the day (after my sister already “saved” the middle child when he poked himself in the eye….since my dad who was “watching” the kids was on the couch having spent the last 20 hours in the emergency room for chest pain two days after having surgery on his fractured wrist to put the six pieces back together!). Just a bit too much for the brain to process and the sadness made me oh so mad.
  1. Release the emotion by calling a friend to complain bitterly about the lack of responsibility and commitment in my sad-mad situation, but hold in the tears as the start of the work day rapidly approaches. Being that today was a “doctoring” day, there’s no dialing down of emotions, there’s an on-off switch so that I’m present 100 percent to those seeking me for comfort.
  1. Calm some stress by texting a friend: Very important to have a pediatrician as a friend (despite the fact that I’m technically in that category too) when your kid looks in the car mirror as he climbs in on the way to school and says, “Look, Mom, there’s blood in my eye.” How did I not notice in the rush to get the three of them up and out the door this morning?!? Come to think of it – I called that pediatrician friend first thing in the morning to calm my racing brain and texted her later in the day to calm my racing brain and texted before bed too! Very important to have patient pediatrician friends. Very good coping mechanism.
  1. Run away by getting outside into the sun and letting the endorphins burn off some of the stress. It’s a temporary avoidance technique as a quick check of work email during the cool-down walk is guaranteed to start the surge right off again.
  1. Find the duct tape to put the door back together and hold the glass in becauseduct tape you can’t find a hammer (maybe it went to the sister’s new house) and you can’t call your dad to fix it because his arm’s in a cast and you can’t figure out any other quick solution as you pack the kids into the car to tire them out at the playground, hoping it will get them to sleep earlier and you to a moment of peace quicker.

Prolonged activation of the stress response system can become toxic to the body. I know that. I talk to people about that quite often. I give lectures about its effects. But sometimes it’s more than I can do to find a moment for a good cry…. The duct tape was easier to find today.

 

 

 

Do not “Play” with adoption

The First Guy has been abandoned by four “mothers” and he has yet to reach his 11th birthday. And the last woman is the one who promised to “love and hold” him forever. You know that term – a “Forever Family” – that’s what adoptive families are supposed to be.

When The First Guy was nine months old, he was placed with his paternal aunt as his mother was running from the drug gangs. She decided after three months that she couldn’t care for an active toddler given her medical conditions and her own children. He came to our house where he fell in love with my sister – the woman he bonded with – the woman he came to believe was his mother. And yet, that’s not how the “system” works. He was returned to his biological mother for a few months until he came back into care with us at age 3 and with his 18-month old sister. Once again, his mother seemed to stabilize so he was sent home until at age 5 he was “too much to handle” and was admitted to the mental health ward. After a crazy couple weeks, the judge ruled he needed to be in a “therapeutic foster” home rather than with the woman he considered to be his mother. He lived in this new foster home, was adopted by the family, and last week was abandoned to a group home.

He’s ten. His aunt gave up on him. His biological mother couldn’t handle him. From his perspective, my sister left him (against every bone in her body but by court order) and then his forever family visited him in the group home and told him, “I’m not taking you out of here.”

You do not play with adoption. Adoption is a choice. Adoption is a commitment to a child. Adoption is a responsibility. Adoption is a heart-ache and a joy. A loss and renewal. It is messy and difficult sometimes.

But adoption matters

To the child.

Did you know that about 5 percent of adoptive parents change their mind and “rehome” the child? It’s referred to as a “disruption” (I get them all day long… “Mommy, can I have…?” “Mom, where is my…?”) It is more common with children adopted from foreign countries or at older ages. It is a combination of families not being prepared enough before adoption and not having enough support services when trouble arises after adoption. And there’s a disturbing underground aspect to it as well as investigated by Reuters.

Let me tell you – there have been some hard days since my first adoption. That moment in the court room when I pledged to love and hold this child as my own – “as if he was my biological offspring” – was an incredibly solemn moment. It sunk into my heart. I held it in my hands. Tears streamed from my eyes as I looked into the face of Super Tall Guy and said, “Yes, I promise.”

I promise to hold you when the world gets too big and the emotions rage against the confines of your body. I promise to kiss away the bloody knees and put you back on the bike. I promise to clean up after you, make you dinner, nag you until the homework is done. I promise to forgive you when you hurt, to grant justice and mercy, to mete out consequences as needed and follow all with the reminder of my love.

When I whisper “always and forever and no matter what” every night with a kiss, I mean it. My promise is sealed within my soul.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy's wooden rocking horse.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy’s wooden rocking horse.

You do not play with adoption. Treat it with respect. Children actually are not as resilient as we’d like to pretend. We only say that to make ourselves feel better. To erase our own guilt. To comfort ourselves that they will be okay – they’ll “get over” being abandoned.

Adopt because the child needs you and you need him. Take the solemn vow. Hold it in your heart. Seek help and resources when you need it. I will not judge. I know there are situations more complicated than my own and that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are so difficult to parent and to love. But I also know that we have witnessed the damage of breaking a child’s attachment and of moving them around. We have cried and we have held on to hope. We know the focus needs to be “what is best for the child?”

The First Guy started to visit my sister this weekend. He may once again become part of our family – this time forever. We are definitely open for prayers and wisdom. This would be a whole new journey.

Always, forever and no matter what.

 

“Legally Free For Adoption”

Her name is Jaleah. Her video on the PA Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network Facebook post caught my eye last week. I stared at her profile late into the night. She’s 15 years old, a beautiful girl, and is “legally free for adoption!” With the exclamation point! The phrase bothers me. It’s not like she’s a dog in a shelter (though she could very well be living in a shelter).

 

She’s a girl in the process of becoming a woman. She’s a dreamer envisioning her future. She’s a child craving a family, wishing for someone to sit in the audience to clap and scream her name as she bounces through her cheerleading routine. She’s a fragile, vulnerable teen looking for a family.

I’ve heard teens are hard. I’ve heard that teen girls can have so much “attitude” as they push and strain and yearn for independence. I’ve joked that I’m happy to have boys so that I won’t go through the teen girl “drama” phase.

And yet, it seems to me that this is such a crucial time in a child’s life. As they push and shove and strive for independence, they still cling to the comfort of knowing they are loved and that someone will always be there for them….no matter what they do.

But what about Jaleah?

Her profile weighed upon my heart this week. Jaleah and all the teens who are waiting for a family (almost 21,000 teens across the states in 2013). Maybe they pushed too far for independence and crossed the line they didn’t intend to and find themselves without that family they thought would always be there for them. Maybe they made a bad choice which led to another and then to another and before they knew it they were in over their heads and yet fighting the consequences so hard they couldn’t see the shovel digging deeper. Maybe it had nothing to do with them and their family imploded or fractured and they found themselves drifting in the hull of the “system” coasting further and further from the world they once knew.

Do you know that if no one steps up and says “I will” in front of a judge in a courtroom and becomes her Forever Family, Jaleah will never have someone cheering her along? She will stop her gymnastics and cheer activities without someone to drop her off and pick her up. She will walk onto the stage to receive her diploma and throw her mortar board into the air with lackluster enthusiasm. She will struggle with college applications and give up when it’s becomes daunting. She will walk down an aisle in white without a man in black beside her to bless her new union. She will welcome a new baby into the world and dream of what it would be like to have a beaming grandmother cradle her newborn. She will sit with her loneliness and think of what might have been. “Aging Out” of the foster care system without a home is too costly when these children have lower rates of high school graduation, higher rates of homelessness and unemployment, and greater engagement in the judicial system.

Without a family, Jaleah might wilt. Or she might beat the odds and chart a completely different course.

But it just seems that life would be a little bit nicer if she had a family.

She wouldn’t mind having younger siblings (or a dog) it says in her profile. She’d like to continue her activities, it says. She’s going to have tough days like everyone else. I read the profile over and over and I sit. I have a set of three who might enjoy a big sister. But my house is so full. My heart is so stretched. My hands are so laden. My schedule is so packed. My boys are so demanding.  What am I to do?

What I can do is pray for a family for Jaleah. And what I can do is continue to tell everyone I meet about the children who are waiting. (Click here!)

The children who are “legally free.” The children who desperately want something that seems so simple. Their commitment and parenting needs would be costly, but their gratefulness would be huge.

They need someone who loves.

Think about it.

Untreated ADHD is Just Exhausting

That was my conclusion last week. The effort that it takes to get the 8-year-old ready for school in the morning is more than my 8-hour work day. The decibel level of some of the spontaneous explosive noises in the car is worthy of heavy metal concerts. The number of “re-directs” I utter in those first two hours makes me comparable to a drill sergeant with new recruits.

That’s it. That’s what I decided last week. It’s exhausting.

And it might be feeling more so because I have this carrot dangling in front of me of finding the “right treatment” – the magic pill that’s going to help his brain focus better and control impulses more. I’m so eager to find that control, because let me tell you – tonight’s lack of impulse control escalated from putting the car window up and down, to swatting his brother, to throwing his pencil at the dashboard, to repeatedly hitting my shoulder with his flip-flop. It ended with me tackling him to the floor and holding him tightly until the fight left and his 101 pounds sat on my lap on the kitchen floor while I hugged him. “Bear hugs and kisses” my friend says – “bear hugs” to hold them until the anger leaves and “kisses” of love….because I love him.

But it’s exhausting.

Given the extreme reaction to his first medication, we decided to trial the intermediate acting one, hoping to get better sleep. And given his reaction of five hours of pressured speech, we decided to start at the lowest dose. So for a week, Super Tall Guy swallowed 10 mg of metadate sprinkled on apple sauce (much easier than swallowing a pill!). After a week of no observed change in behavior, I increased it to 20 mg. Still nothing…except for staying up later at night just a little bit each night so that by the weekend, when I increased it to 30 mg, we had a blow-out fight (see above!). I couldn’t figure out whether to attribute this explosion to the medication increase or the fact that for almost two weeks he had gradually gotten more and more sleep deprived – a sure trigger for explosive behavior.

Either way, it’s exhausting.

Tonight as I tucked him in, I asked him to review what went wrong while in the car earlier. He played with his toy truck as I listed some of his behaviors, you know, to prompt him. “You played with the window when I asked you to stop. You were hitting The Little Guy. You threw your pencil. You are a dog. You ate a cow.”

“I ate what?”

“Never mind.”

It’s too exhausting.

(I have a new prescription in hand….waiting for the weekend to watch for side effects.)