Thank Goodness the Last Day Approaches!

Another school year coming to a close. I’m probably a little more excited than the kids! Super Tall Guy quietly mentioned this morning, “I feel bad for you, Mom.” Thinking he might be remorseful for having woken me up in a very annoying manner, I replied, “Why’s that?” He answered, “Because you have to keep going to work all summer and don’t get to just stay home.” So very true. So very sad.

But despite going to work during the day, I will have much less work at home in the evenings! I will no longer make a turkey and provolone on “white” bread (PB&J goes on “brown” bread) every evening and ponder what else to throw in the lunch box. Puppy is going to miss the crumbs from this daily event, but I sure won’t!

I will no longer call boys in from the neighborhood baseball game (“But it was just my turn to bat!!”) to do homework. I will no longer have to supervise homework progress, erase mistakes and require correction, and unfurl rage-crumbled papers and smooth them out to begin again. I will not be collecting quart-sized containers of yogurt, washed and labeled to take in for class experiments. I will not run back into the house for the cello every Monday morning and worry about it on Tuesday as well. I will not stress about who has which afterschool program and who’s going to be picking them up today.

And, I am thrilled to avoid the daily review of the double behavioral charts of the first grader and the need to sign-off on the “smiley-face, frownie-face chart” (later converted to the “positive star chart”) as well as the green-yellow-red calendar square requiring my initials, not to mention the occasional “super bad behavioral slips” received by the first grader. I will not receive a phone call about detention in a 6-year-old for at least the next three months. And, I will no longer lay awake at night pondering why Mr. Ornery has had such an extraordinarily ornery year and what would be a better way to help him.

Super Tall Guy in his early morning lull this morning also whispered,

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

Apparently I might have accidentally recycled some homework before I should

“I might even miss school this time.” That was a shock! He actually enjoyed third grade. He enjoyed his teacher. He got along with his classmates. He made tremendous improvement in developing responsibility and taking on the role of a student. He surprised me numerous times with information about which project was due when and “I probably should do a few questions tonight, Mom, so that I don’t have a whole bunch to do the day before.” Huh. His IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting took about thirty minutes. (“Making progress.” “Doing well.” “Keep it up” ….slight tweaks….done!).

Mr. Ornery’s IEP meeting took about three hours and we wrapped it up when we realized kids were being dismissed at the end of the day and my two were waiting in the office. If you think parent-teacher conferences are exhausting, try a whole afternoon with a table full of education staff – principal, learning support teacher, reading specialist, speech therapist, primary teacher, school psychologist – going over in fine detail all the “issues” your child is “struggling” with, the biggest of which is “school.”

Mr. Ornery does not like school. Mr. Ornery is not a “student.”  Mr. Ornery is a class clown. Mr. Ornery acts out. Mr. Ornery rushes through his worksheets because he wants to have them “done” so he can go outside for recess. Mr. Ornery asks whether he got on red the day before so that he can figure out if he’ll get outside for recess today. Mr. Ornery doesn’t want to sit still. Mr. Ornery wants to smell his smelly-markers. Mr. Ornery does not want to be in school.

Mr. Ornery does not have any intellectual or learning disabilities according to all the evaluations. Mr. Ornery has “other health impairments” affecting his learning. So Mr. Ornery now has a “positive reinforcement” IEP to help him make gradual progress toward the goal of being a good student – sitting in his seat, taking his time and putting his full attention to his work. Mr. Ornery’s IEP states he needs to have frequent structured break times. My greatest triumph is that the IEP prohibits taking away recess as a “consequence” of behavior. His first-grade teacher sighed and muttered under her breath at that, but it makes no sense to take away active gross motor time for an active kid and take away the physical activity that will prime his brain to learn more for the afternoon.

It took a very long time to walk through the template for the IEP and make decisions about goals and how progress would be measured. Having some background in education and psychology and medicine, I felt I was keeping up pretty well until we got to the question of whether to keep him in a “regular” classroom all day, or pull him into a “learning support” room for most of the morning for the language arts. So much new jargon and arguments for and against each situation and then the room turned to me and asked, “So what’s your decision?” “Oh, you don’t have to make it right away – the sooner the better – but you can think about it for a few days.” And I replied, “What am I thinking about again?” Done. By that point, I was done. I couldn’t figure out if they were the experts and knew what they were doing, or if I was the expert and knew what we should be doing. All I could think about was what a huge responsibility this was to figure out by myself and how do people who have less formal education and training in this arena advocate for their children?

“Of course,” says the learning specialist, “all this may change if Mr. Ornery comes back as a different kid next year.” I mean, he could come back as a “Tom” or “Jerry.” But I’m pretty sure the “suggestion” was if his mom gets him a diagnosis of ADHD and gets him on a stimulant. Maybe that would solve the issue of “school.”

Yes, I sure am looking forward to the summer break. But I’m not sure any of these “issues” are going to disappear this summer. “Four more sleeps” and then this year is done!

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Just a few (like 10) of the Challenges of Single Parenting

I read a headline the other day about a single woman adopting a set of 6 sisters,zoo boys and I thought, wow, what an amazing thing to do. She fostered them and wanted to keep the sisters together (you know, it’s National Foster Care Awareness Month). It’s a great thing to do. It’s also a very difficult thing to do.

There’s a growing number of women parenting “by choice,” with rates rising in particular for women over the age of 35 (you know, like me 🙂 ). There is no accident or illness or divorce that left us with our hands full of kids. Instead, we decided for a whole host of reasons that we could and should become a parent.

My decision was more a natural flow from having fostered a child for 18 months and being given the option of adopting. I can’t say it required much decision-making. I already felt like his mother. I already acted like his mother. It was the choice that I wanted. I could not have foretold eight years later when I’m now parenting three young boys, that I would spend so much time contemplating my choice.

So here are a few thoughts on the challenges of single parenting.

  1. You are it. The final word. The absolute decision maker. Whether that’s sitting in your kid’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting and deciding what is the “best classroom” option for your 7-year-old, or deciding whether or not you will move ahead with eye surgery for the 5-year-old who’s eye wanders on oblique gaze, you are it. Figuring out what school district would best meet the needs of the kids. Which toothbrush to buy. What to make for dinner. Do we start karate or not? Replace the TV or leave it broken? Everything. Sure, I have a lot of support. I have many friends and family to bounce ideas off and get advice. But the final decision is mine. Sometimes that’s nice and sometimes that’s scary.
  2. When you are way beyond tired, have hit your limit, or are otherwise just “done” with the day….there’s still three little boys. They still need dinner. They still have sports activities or homework to get to. They still need a bath. They still want you to read them a bedtime story even if your eyes sting with exhaustion. They’re really not concerned about how you’re feeling. No, they’re not.
  3. If you want to get away, you have to line up a babysitter. For anything. A night out. The grocery store. A work meeting. Getting some exercise. And finding a sitter can take time and make you much less spontaneous than you’d like to be sometimes. And sitters make every activity or event more expensive as you count up the number of hours you’ve entrusted someone to care for the kids! I used to be a night-owl, now I dash home as quickly as I can.
  4. Your phone is always on you. Always.running with phone If the school calls or the daycare center number shows up on your “silenced” screen, you answer it. Always. If you’re running the marathon relay, you answer it. Always. You never know when one of the boys is heading to the emergency room.
  5. You worry about getting seriously ill or in an accident yourself and who would take care of the boys. On days when you’re not well, you set your alarm every 15 minutes to get out of bed to make sure they haven’t broken a bone or a lamp. You let them fall asleep with their Kindles in hand as long as they’re giving you some peace and quiet. And, you actually make your doctor appointments and think about your health a little bit (see, there is a benefit!).
  6. You get to be the “Bad Guy” every….single….time. You get good guy times too, but you are always the Bad Guy. Always the Meanest Mommy in the Whole World. There is no “wait till your father gets home” or “go ask your Mom.” You have to decide in the moment and have your yeses be yeses, and your noes be noes. Constant discipline, constant evaluation of your discipline technique, constant enforcement….it’s pretty draining.
  7. When you are stressed or tired or happy or sad, there’s no buffer for your emotions. There’s no one to assist with a little “honey, why don’t I take the kids for a bit?” And the kids have started to figure this out. “Hey, Little Guy, you probably want to listen to Mom before she gets really mad at you,” I overheard Super Tall Guy recently advise his little brother. Yeah, think about it little dude, we’re this close….this close…
  8. You have such pressure to be there at all the kids’ events and activities, because there’s no other parent to make it to the games or the concert, or the school play. I altered my first job as a physician because I was expected to be rounding in the hospital on Christmas morning and that wasn’t going to work for me when I was the only parent the boys had for Christmas morning. There are a lot of sacrifices, a lot of guilt and a lot of trying hard to make it all work, but it doesn’t always.
  9. You worry about job security even when you’re a well-educated, “marketable” person. You realize that your income alone is spread among you and the kids and mostly your income is for the kids. I can’t remember the last thing I bought for myself other than socks (and paying that “babysitter” to get away for a few hours).
  10. You have to maintain everything about the lives of three other individuals in your head at all times (this on top of work responsibilities, friends, your own junk, etc). What do they need for school (“a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, Mom, for the experiment”) and what homework is due when. When was the last doctor’s appointment? Is the prescription ready to pick up? What’s their birth date? Who has soccer, baseball, Tumbling & Trampoline, gymnastics, flag football and karate when? Did they eat any fruit today? Did I RSVP to that party for Super Tall Guy? What’s their shoe sizes for when you come upon a sale? And the hardest thing of all – what “consequence” did I tell which kid that he had after school today?!?!
  11. Oh, and a “Bonus” one: You are eternally grateful for your family and friends who jump in when you need help. You realize the importance of living in and being in community and the need to nourish and tend to those relationships. Despite being a strong introvert and wanting more “quiet time,” I’m grateful that there’s people nearby just in case….

ducksAnd lastly, when you’re single-parenting, you just want people to understand how complicated it is. That even if this situation was and is my “choice,” it doesn’t make it any “easier.”  Like most parents, I’m doing my best at the moment. Some days can get pretty dark and draining and tiring and you’re just putting one foot in front of the other and making it through. But you do make it through. So know that I sure appreciate everyone’s encouragement and support and patience when I’m not as available as I used to be or as fun as I used to be.

But hang around, I’m still here. I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m parenting. It’s a good thing (and these little guys better appreciate it some day!). Because I love them enough to do this.

Foster Parenting in 5 “Easy” Steps – Think about it!

It’s Mother’s Day. My eldest woke me up at 6:38 to ask if he drawing2could give me his gift yet. I said “A gift would be leaving me alone and letting me sleep in.” He asked, “Why isn’t there a Children’s Day? Can’t I just go downstairs and get your present? Are you ready to get up yet? Okay, I’ll wait until 7:00.”

He will be ten in twelve days, but I met him two days after his birth when he became my “foster son.” A couple years later, he became my son and I was a mother for the first time! May is National Foster Care Month; a time to raise awareness about foster children and their need to be loved and cared for in their moments of transition.

Foster children range in age from newborn to the late teen years. They may stay in a placement for one day or for a couple years. They are like every other kid. They play, eat and sleep. They have fears, hopes and dreams. And like any child, they need someone to love them, encourage them and guide them as they grow.

There are few things more challenging, and yet more rewarding, than being a foster parent. Almost anyone can become a foster parent. Foster parents can be single or married. They live in apartments, homes and town homes. They live in the city, suburbs and the country. They come from every walk of life and are alike solely in their desire to make a difference in the life of a child by providing a home of comfort and love.

And there are children right now hoping for a family, especially the older children (Check out the Foster Goodness project). If you’re ready to consider foster parenting, here’s how to start in five “easy” steps:

  1. Consider whether you’re ready and your network of family and friends is supporting you. According to one foster parent, “Adding a foster child to your family is like adding THREE new kids at once.” Generally you will be spending more one-on-one time with the foster child and juggling new schedules and new needs. Be ready to accept these new challenges.

Consider your physical and social-emotional health in terms of whether you’re able to meet the physical and developmental needs of a child. It helps to have a sense of humor, a willingness to be very flexible, and an ability to work well with others. You also need to know that you are able to “let go” of the children after their stay with you. They might stay two days or two years, but in general the goal will be to reunify the child with his/her biological family and you must be willing to help with that reunification.

It’s also important to make sure that your family is ready. If applicable, is your spouse or partner as eager and willing as you are? How is your family structured and will adding new children fit into your current life and daily routine?

Finally, strengthen your support group. Garner the support of any family around you. Find other foster parents to connect with, ask questions of and learn from them. Talk about your plans with your friends and ask them to support and help you.

  1. Evaluate and organize your house. Every foster family will have to pass a “home inspection” and have at least one empty bedroom for a foster child. In addition, the house must meet sanitary and safety standards, such as child-proofing, smoke alarms (which work!) and fire extinguishers. While many people might take the following items for granted, every foster home must have a toilet, running water, a working heating system, and a telephone.
  1. Choose a foster care agency and apply to become a foster parent. Every county in the state of Pennsylvania has its own Office of Children and Youth/Family (CYF) which manages the foster care system. In Allegheny County, the CYF office contracts with individual agencies to recruit, train and maintain foster families. When CYF needs to find a home for a child, they call one of the agencies and that agency then calls a potential foster family that they think would be a good fit for the child. (Click here for a list of agencies in Allegheny County.)

There are numerous agencies that recruit and maintain foster families. Each agency has a slightly different “flavor” in terms of its initial training of foster families and the amount of support provided along the way to foster families. It is generally recommended that interested individuals call at least three or four agencies and attend “open house” or orientation events to get a feeling of which agency might be a good match for them.

  1. Undergo training to become a foster parent. Usually each agency provides its own training and there can be a wide range of time commitment, typically between twelve and thirty hours. In addition to the training to become a “certified foster parent,” each year foster parents are required complete a certain number of “maintenance” training hours. Training covers such topics as expectations for foster parents, child development and discipline techniques, first aid and CPR training and much more.
  1. Keep your phone with you at all times in anticipation. You have absolutely no idea when it will ring with the question, “Hello. We have a ___ age little boy/girl. Would you be interested?”

The fact that the child can arrive within a 15-30 minute window, makes you want to have some essential items available. If you’ve decided to foster infants, having some diapers in various sizes, basic clothing, and bottles sitting around can be helpful. For preschool and school-age children, it helps to have a “welcome bag” for the child with some toys to engage them when they arrive. Have your family and support group on stand-by to jump in and help you the moment that you get a call.

Most importantly….

Be ready.

Be ready to hurt. Be ready to cry. Be ready to love and to let go.

Be ready for intense joy and deep sorrow.

Be excited.

Be humbled.

Be strong.

Be brave.

Be courageous.

Be there for a child who needs you.

 

And, if you know foster parenting is not a commitment you can make, there are many other ways that you help. Consider supporting agencies that are doing the work by visiting their websites and making a donation or becoming a volunteer. You might also reach out to families in your community who are foster parenting. You can help by providing meals, offering to provide childcare or run kids to activities. Or consider becoming an advocate for foster children by becoming a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.

It takes a village to raise up the next generation and there is a place in a child’s life for you.

 

Additional resources: