Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Children's Books

I've ordered a dozen books from Barnes and Noble to browse them before I buy them.  I'm looking for the perfect set of children's books that relate to foster care issues.  So that I have the list all in one place, I offer it here.  When they arrive, and I skim through them, I'll come back and post my thoughts.  All of these books are listed at Amazon for ages 4 and up, though if you get these for your own kids, use your discretion.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Over the course of childhood a journey is taken in the area of independence that is predictable and generally similar through (American) human history. Pre-mobile babies are completely dependent on their mothers not only for physical supplies, but even for things as simple as sitting up.  Once those legs get going, the toddler and three-year old kids have a kind of yo-yo effect:  being attached to the mother provides them unconditional safety to bounce out into their environment and explore.  They'll wander out into the room, or other areas of the house, or the accessible areas of a familiar place, and then rocket back to their mother for reassurance that it's all okay. 

By between late-three and six years old, a child is usually confident enough and independent enough to find excitement at the start of school, where they are able to create a surface attachment to the teacher for safety to explore the classroom and learning away from their mother all day long.  After that it's all a rush of data collection until the start of puberty, when these things begin all over again on a larger scale. 

We value independence, and so we rejoice to see our very young children accomplish previously impossible things.  We encourage them to be independent, to help with the chores, to clean up after themselves, to slow down and think, to recognize and talk about what they need so that we can teach them how to get it.  This is in a family where the environment supports normal development.

I grew up in that kind of environment, and so it's my instinct to encourage and support our children's learning in that way.  Most folk in the foster arena mostly agree, as far as life skills, and chores go.  But think about it: When a three year old comes into the family from a torn and traumatic situation already knowing how to gather all the elements from a kitchen and create a sandwich, is that because they were taught independence or because they've had to find their own source of food for so long?  When they are just three and already potty trained, is it because they were ready and supported in learning, or because they're smart kids tired of sitting in filth when no one would change them, or because adults screamed and hit when they made a mess? 

Some people think that it's helpful, at least at first, to do absolutely everything for the young child; in essence to start them over in infancy for a brief period of time so they can attach properly.  Providing basic needs for the child immediately every time, not to mention anticipating them, does wonders for healing children damaged in this way.  I used this method for the first few months with B. & L. and it was exactly the right thing for them.  They were desperate and scared.  W., on the other hand, seems simply confident, and so I do encourage him to help himself - sometimes.  The red flags start waving when his independence is coupled with a bossy attitude, and then we rein it in a bit and talk it over.

I guess the bottom line really is in how you view children.  A friend's perspective is that they're not raising children, they're training future adults.  And our young future adults are people like you, and deserve the respect and assistance that we would give to our neighbor or our coworker, with a lot more love and personal attention.  Parenting wisdom says, "Choose your battles", which seems to me as if we think it's a war.  Sure, sometimes it feels like it.  But if I go through my days always feeling as if I'm fighting with my son, it's simply not going to work.  And I realized that the days that felt like a war were either because someone in the family did not get a basic need met (sleep or food, usually) or because the adults are making unreasonable or unnecessary demands.

So the three of us, and anyone who visits, are a team, with four simple team rules:
  1. Obey*
  2. Be kind
  3. Be safe
  4. Have fun
*Hopefully it's obvious that Rule 1 is for the kids to obey the adults.  However, we have also agreed as a team that the adults will not command anything that is frivolous or unnecessary, keeping the instructions within the categories of rules two through four.  If there is resistance to a command, we explain which rule it supports and how, and in nearly every case, compliance follows.  If there's a problem with a broken rule we call a team meeting to discuss what should be done.  Sometimes the offender gets a chance to fix the problem, and sometimes there is discipline, agreed upon by the team.  Sometimes the adults call a team meeting to suggest alternatives to a previous plan.  Children may call team meetings too, though W. hasn't figured that out yet.  Parents also are required to follow the last three rules, and if we're not having fun or if W. feels that our words or actions lack kindness, he tells us. Then we get a great opportunity to model apologies, repentance, and a readjusted attitude (which we do grudgingly).

So what does this have to do with independence?  Everything, really.  One or the other of us is with W. every moment of the day except when he's sleeping. We do our own things alongside him, he asks us permission to accomplish some task, and we arrange the environment so that he can do it himself - as long as it fits within the rules.  If he wishes to do something that we feel isn't kind or safe, perhaps because he doesn't really understand what's involved, we can have a team meeting and discuss the procedure, or we can announce it to be a team project and work together. He can also spontaneously ask for "teamwork please!" if he's being independent and gets stuck.  Lots of things are team projects right now, which grown-ups usually call "playing together", but as he gets older that will happen less and less.  He can do what he likes, and be what he likes, and clean up the messes he makes, while still knowing that his needs are met and he is loved. 

So far he's thriving.  It's amazing what being treated like a person will do for someone.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tentative return to blogging

And within a month, just before Christmas, we went from no contact with birth family to a family placement and empty house.  The chaos of the summer and autumn, and then the horrible gutwrenching devestation in the following months of winter, had the reasonable result of no blogging.  There was no way that I could put my feelings into words, nor could I really even think about any topics related to this blog that didn't dissolve me into tears or depression. 

After a bit of healing time, we were blessed with little Dubs, a new SU3.5.  He's resilient, and not currently in need of any additional therapies, which is a blessing.  He's also young and male and been through a lot, and we're constantly in odds with the opinions of others in his "care team", for lack of a better descriptive term. 

And that's about all I've got at the moment.  Hopefully I can think of more to write later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Around the house

As a wise man once said, "Now for something completely different!"

Fun things that have happened lately
  • The boys got their own rooms!  We spent the last couple of months spending an hour and a half each night trying to calm the boys down for bed, the bedtime routine that worked so well suddenly stopped working and our monkey boy (SU4) would lead the revolution against bedtime.  We got tired of yelling, time outs, screaming boys, the inevitable injuries from physically tantruming children.  So we split them up, moving Lanse's office to the loft, and converting the blue room into a perfect room for SU3.  They have their names on the doors, each got to tell Lanse where to hang posters on the walls, they are reveling (somewhat) in having their own clothes in their own closets and dressers, and - most importantly - the bedtime routine is back to twenty minutes now that monkey boy doesn't have an audience.  
  • While the boys were mid-switch, we bit the bullet and hired our friends from church to tear out the cat-pee-soaked carpet and install wood laminate.  We finally got rid of the smell, (drenched the sub-floor with Nature's Miracle) and the rooms look fabulous.  I'll try to post pictures when I get them off my phone.
  • SU3 is officially accepted for the Head Start program in August!  SUCH relief!  SU4 will be starting the public school 4K program, which is slotted for at risk kids, and they'll both be at the same amazing arts-infused school.  I'm so thrilled!  Oddly, due to differences in funding, SU4 will go to school for three hours every morning (standard half-day Kindergarten), but SU3's Head Start program is six hours - a full day of school!  I'm almost wondering if I can go unenroll SU4 and get him into the Head Start program as well, but I think there will be future benefits for him starting public now, as they'll get all his therapies on file while they're still (hopefully) with us.  SU3 is sufficiently adjusted that he won't be needing special services from public.
  • We got ourselves a mew kitten from the SPCA!  Her name is Moonlight, aka Moony, she's black and sleek - extremely short haired - looks a bit like an enormous rat.  She also has huge eyes and ears and I called her Dobby for a while.  She's been microchipped, and it costs $20 to change a name on there, so we'll stick to Moony until we can't stand it anymore.  In three minutes we head to the vet for her first post-adoption check up.  She and SU3 have hit it off, which is a lot of fun to watch, though SU4 really doesn't seem to like her... though he tries.
  • SU3 "Where are we going?"  SU4 "We're going to the church nervous!" (service)
  • SU3 (upside-down) "Momma, get me out of stuck!" 


It's easy to feel, most of the time, as though our job is simply to be parents - complete with everything you all know I mean by that.  In fact, quite often we struggle with anger for how vital we are in the system but how ill-treated we feel by those who require us.  Ignoring for the moment the personality quirks from each individual with whom we deal personally, (I have actually felt very encouraged and supported by the individuals with whom we've been working), the system as a whole is so amazingly broken that it's easy to feel that someone designed it to intentionally scorn those of us dealing incessantly with the emotional, behavioral, and developmental effects of someone else's crime.

Now, this isn't a pity-party post.  I understand that our social workers have 30+ hours worth of work to do in every 24 hour day, that there are not enough workers and not nearly enough money, and that this is a horribly heart-wrenching and exhausting occupation to choose.  I currently choose to believe that everyone directly involved is doing as much as they can for us, and that while my children are (obviously!) the most important creatures on Earth, each worker may have 10 or 20 or 40 most important creatures to care for who need much more worker intervention than our relatively stable boys.

That said, our job is not simply to be parents in the traditional sense.  We get to add a layer of administration and technicalities, that most parents don't.  The status of our children's living situation is at the beck and call of the gavel (though apparently gavels have gone the way of the caboose, judges here don't use them anymore) and we have the dubious honor of attending and - if the judge is amenable - having a brief say into proceedings.  Our first day in family court was at the beginning of March, and we had spent the prior month preparing ourselves emotionally for the boys leaving our home.  Surprisingly, there was what seemed to us a pretty basic problem regarding representation and the ruling was for a continuance in three months.  We received a call early May (not three months) that we were scheduled again; after a week of steeling ourselves and preparing, that appearance was canceled since it did not provide the three months required by the judge.

In early June we received another call: a new court date is set!  Three months?  Check.  Everyone appropriately represented?  Check.  That date was to be this Thursday (note the wording there...).  Due to a paperwork delay, one of the participants is unable to attend - which in this case is legally sufficient to cancel our court date.  Family court meets each Thursday; ten days are required for notice, so next week is out... then there's July 4 week where there's no cases, and due to that vacation, the 12th is booked solid.  There were a couple of slots left for the 19th, which they are going to try to get, but after the 19th.... wait for it.... one of the major players loses their representation and has to train in someone new.  Once we miss the 19th, all bets are off.

Not to mention that the addition of another month potentially changes the future plans for the children, as some things came in under the wire but without time to process them and now there's time.

We knew that this was a slow process.  Obviously, since we got the boys in October for a six-week placement and we're on month eight.  I had assumed it was due to the extreme working conditions placed on the social workers.  But for the entire legal system to be working (or not working) such that we are now on our fourth court date to set the complete life trajectory of these boys?  It's astonishing, and not in a good way.  Somehow, in some way, the foster revolution needs to overhaul this part of the system so that our children can receive closure and begin moving forward and healing while they're still young, so that they can heal and become amazing contributors to our world.