Are You Somebody?

Have you ever read one of those stories about the toddler who was critically dehydrated after being left alone in a crib for days, crying while her mother got high?  Or the one about the eight year old boy who was hospitalized after being beaten by his father with a baseball bat?  Did you think to yourself “somebody should do something about that?”

Did you find yourself outraged after reading a story about a child being taken from their family on trumped up charges?   Did you wonder why someone doesn’t help grown ups deal with addiction or mental illness so that their children could live safely with them?

What about that story about how the foster care system is filled with cold, uncaring social workers who lose track of where children are placed? Or about the greedy foster parents who spend the foster stipend money on themselves while feeding the kids just once a day? Did you think to yourself “somebody should do something about that?”

I read these stories.  I was outraged.  I thought somebody should do something.  Then, I realized that I am somebody.  I became a foster parent.  A good one (or least to the best of my ability).  I love the children, care for them, advocate for them at their schools or therapist’s office or in the courts.  I advocate for their biological parents, too, helping them get their voices heard, their needs met, and have a real chance at getting their children back.  I volunteer to help out the foster care agency and help train new foster parents.

You could do this, too.  All you have to do is Be Somebody.

If you want child abuse to end.  If you want families going through hard times to be given a fair chance.  If you want the “system” to work as well as it can.

All you have to do is Be Somebody, the somebody who steps forward to be a foster parent.

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This post is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up on the topic of foster care / adoption memes.  Check out the link for other great voices on foster care and adoption!

10 Foster Kids and Counting!

We’ve seen 10 kids come and go since we started our journey as a foster family in 2013. Some have stayed with us for nearly a year and a half, others just a handful of days. But one thing has become abundantly clear to me. I love being a foster parent!

I love cuddling the ones open to a hug. I love playing in the sand at the beach with them. I love teaching them how to cook, how to use a bicycle pump, or how to dust the furniture.

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When kids in care are in our home, there’s a hustle and bustle that energizes me. Is there a family visit, a social worker dropping by, a sporting event, school science night? Have the children been bathed, is it time for homework, time for meds, oops ran out of milk let’s’s run to the store?

There’s the thrill of meeting of a child and learning his or her distinct personality, likes, dislikes, needs, and rhythms. Joyful loves spaghetti and would eat mounds of it, but Turkey doesn’t care for pasta. Helper wants to say bed time prayers every night with us, but Jumping Jack doesn’t believe in God and is weirded out by the whole concept of religion. Watchful calms down best when left alone in his “safe place” for a few minutes, but Explorer wants to have his back rubbed. Excited and Watchful are both early risers, but while Excited wakes up in a sunny, bouncy mood, Watchful needs the quiet routine of setting the table before engaging with others.

When you have foster kids in your home, there’s the joy of watching them overcome the trauma in their lives. Joyful stopped burying her nose in a book all day long and was willing to reach out to make friends. Harry Potter started using words to encourage his brother, rather than constantly insult him. Another learned that bed wetting as a pre-teen happens to some people and that wearing appropriate undergarments is not a big deal.

I love watching my husband and permanent children develop even greater kindness, empathy, and understanding as they are confronted by our foster children’s more challenging behaviors. My husband searched out the recipe, got special ingredients, and cooked a Filipino dish to help comfort Big Ben with a familiar, favorite food. Sassy willingly worked out differences with another child who was being aggressive. Silent One has learned to be unruffled by tantrums.

Last weekend, we said goodbye to Harry Potter and Explorer. We’ve been asked to take two brothers for two weeks in August, which we’re debating as the timing is not great for our family and we would prefer a long-term placement. We were asked about a four year old girl, but luckily her grandparents have stepped up and she won’t be coming into care. We talked with our social worker today, who asked us if we’ll be home over Memorial Day weekend in case there are any emergency placements.

But at the moment, it’s quiet. I’m seated on my sofa, sipping tea, with my dog beside me. And while that’s nice, I can’t wait to see who will walk in the door next, get to know them, care for them, and watch them transform their inner hurts.

Of course there are days when I wonder “why the heck did I sign up for this,” but all in all….Life as a foster parent is a joy and a privilege!

Why we adopted, fostered, birthed our children

I’m a mom three ways – through adoption, by foster care and via my own pregnancy.  Depending upon which kid I’m with or talking about, it will come up how that child joined our family.

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When I say we adopted Silent One, a common question is why did you adopt?  Did you have problems conceiving?  Did your insurance not cover fertility treatments?

When I say we fostered Watchful or Joyful or one of the other eight delightful children we’ve welcomed into our home, a common question is why do you foster?  Isn’t too hard to “give the kids back”?

When I say Savvy is my biological daughter, the common question is how old is she?  Unless they know that we have adopted / fostered, and then they ask if we conceived her after adopting.

The answer to why we have adopted, fostered, and birthed our children is pretty straight forward.  Because we love children and believe they should have families that love them.

No real mystery here, folks.  Having kids in your life is great.  End of story.

This blog is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up.  Check out the other great blogs – they’re worth a read!

No Bohns About It

A Hard Foster Placement

Over the years, we’ve fostered children with many challenging behaviors. But an upcoming placement has given us pause.

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We’ve said yes to kids who self harm, have medical issues, are depressed, lack empathy, wet the bed, tantrum, refuse to eat, disassociate, and more.

But we just said yes to two boys who can’t have pets in the house. And we almost said no.

I am embarrassed to say that trying to parent kids without our trusty, loving dog around just sounds really hard.

The thing is, our puppy is always eager to love on us. She’s quick to forgive. She always there with a cuddle when you’re feeling down.

God knows when you foster, this kind of unwavering support can be in short supply.

So, for the limited time that the next two boys are with us, our dog will be vacationing with a friend.

And we’ll have to rely upon our all too human selves to muddle through.

How to Make a Bed for Foster Children

Many things go into preparing to be foster parents. Having been a foster mom for a couple of years to eight different children, I recommend giving some thought to bedding for the new kiddos.

1. Waterproof Mattress Pad. A waterproof mattress pad is a foster family essential. Bedwetting is more common with foster kids, even into their teen years, because bedwetting can be aggravated by stress . Kids who didn’t get enough to eat may also hoard food in their rooms. Depending upon the food, you could end up with some gloppy messes. Protect that expensive mattress!

2. White Bed Sheets. Why white? You may want to bleach those bed sheets – see the reasons in #1 and in case of lice (happens to all kids). Boys and girls are equally fine with white. White is good for all ages – those super cute Elmo sheets are awesome to little kids, but the older set would be mortified. Kids may come with a favorite blanket and white will match it guaranteed. If every sheet is white, you can wash them all at once – no worrying about sorting lights, darks, and whites. And trust me, you’ll be doing enough laundry as it is.

3. Soft Blankets. A little extra comfort from a soft blanket can help ease a child’s troubles. Children in care have gone through trauma and night time can be particularly difficult for some. Perhaps the night was when bad things happened, like sexual assault or their parents reached maximum drunkenness or it was when they were left alone. Kids often keep themselves too busy in the day to think about the trauma, but the memories surface as they try to fall asleep. Kids can also be prone to bad dreams. A child can snuggle, pet or rub a plush blanket or one with a satin trim to help soothe themselves.

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4. Neutral Bed Spread. Again, neutrals work with both boys and girls of all ages. I like blue for a bedspread, but gray, green, and black could work, too. The right neutral can be mixed and matched with a variety of paint on the walls and other beds. Why is that important? Because you might need to reconfigure your bedroom set-ups if you take in more than one child. A sibling set of two could be one boy and one girl, meaning separate bedrooms. But it could be two girls (or two boys) and you want to put them together, so that when your family comes to visit you have a guest bedroom – or when their third sibling comes for respite.

5. Flare: Stuffed Animals and Throw Pillows. To rescue your foster child’s room from becoming too blah or too sterile, you can add easy-to-swap-out “flare.” I often put stuffed animals on the bed. Most kids like big stuffed dogs or teddy bears, though I’ve gotten some “older kid” items like animals or characters from popular video games. Throw pillows can do the same trick.

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6. Hypoallergenic Pillows. If you’re going to buy new pillows, play it safe and get hypoallergenic ones. Why run the risk of red eyes and runny noses if you don’t need to?

7. An Extra Throw. We do both long-term foster care and short-term, respite care. Some kids are used to cool bedrooms and others prefer warmer. The easiest solution is to provide an extra blanket folded on the end of the bed for them to use – or not. It can also add a bit more flare to your neutral bedspread.

8. Bed Furniture. If you need to buy more beds, but don’t have lots of money to spend, consider buying twin beds from a flea market or garage sale. A few quick coats of black, white or grey paint and they’ll all match each other. [Note: Don’t paint cribs as teething babies may chip off the paint and eat it.]

9. Bedrails. A twin bed can work for little ones if you add bedrails that keep them from falling out of the bed.  If you don’t what these are, Amazon has some examples, though you can easily get them at Walmart, Target, or other such stores.

So, now you’ve made a bed for a foster child.  Let’s hope the kiddos will make their bed, too. 😉

The First Hours of Respite

Ever wonder what the first hours of respite are like for foster care?  This evening we welcomed three brothers aged 14, 13, and 9 to stay with us over the weekend while their foster dad is out of town.  Here’s how it’s gone down so far.

On Monday, the placement worker emailed us asking if we could take three boys for a couple of days, beginning on Friday.  All we knew were date, ages and gender.  Since we were interested, she emailed us more info – a paragraph on each child listing their name, a sentence about their individual personalities, one or two of their interests, their academic performance, and the medicine they take.  We asked for the diagnoses to go along with the medication and whether their symptoms were well controlled by medication.  So with this scarce info we said yes.

We drove half way to pick up the boys, agreeing to rendezvous with their foster dad in the parking lot of the local grocery store.  We had no idea what they looked like, but knew their foster dad drove a blue Ford Explorer.  We saw a car that we thought was them, but when we waved and they didn’t wave back – well oops!  Not them.  Another Explorer approached.  We waved and they waved back.  Yay!  We found them.

They pulled over and everyone piled out.  We introduced ourselves and the boys immediately jumped into our car.  I made a bit of small talk with the foster dad, who we were also meeting for the first time.  But it was cold.  And we were in a busy parking lot.  So after 2-3 minutes my husband and I hopped into our car and drove off.

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Food’s always an easy topic, so my husband asked the boys if they liked pizza and, if so, what they’d want on theirs.  After an enthusiastic yes and a lively conversation on the merit of pepperoni over plain cheese, we called in the order for delivery.  We moved on to the topic of sports.  Basketball was a favorite so we talked up the hoop in our neighborhood.  Two things for the kiddos to look forward – a great way to overcome the weirdness of staying with strangers.

When we got home, the boys wanted to see their room right away.  They dropped their stuff off.  A few awkward moments while our teens were figuring out how to find common ground.  A quick suggestion of video games solved that.

We purposely have video games for up to 6 or even 8 players, so a large group can all play at the same time (no having to wait for your turn!).  But a few of the remotes had dead batteries, so I made a quick run to the grocery.  Since I was at the store anyway, I picked up syrup for tomorrow’s pancakes.

While I was on my battery run, the pizza came.   We let the kids watch anime while eating.  Then back to video games.

So that’s the first two hours.  And we’re all having fun.

Adopt a Teen????

Last year, I attended a foster parent training and something extraordinary happened.

Before class started, I walked over to say hi to a fellow foster mom.  She was sitting with her foster child, a teenaged girl.

The three of us began to talk.  Her teen foster daughter was cool.  Smart.  Funny.  We talked about fantasy books and music and art.

And I walked away thinking, hey, we should consider fostering teens.

If that was my sole takeaway, that in itself would have been awesome.

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But, last weekend, I saw that that teen girl is available for adoption.  She’s listed on AdoptUSKids.

For the first time over the many years I’ve browsed AdoptUSKids, I actually know someone who is featured as searching for a family.

Her picture is a little dorky.  The paltry eight sentences summing her up don’t do her justice.  There’s  no video.  If I hadn’t met her, I probably would have skipped right over her entry.

But she is so much more than her profile on AdoptUSKids.

And then, as I was writing this blog, my husband popped over to where I was sitting at our dining room table.

And I said, hey remember that girl?  She’s looking for a family.

And my husband says maybe we should think about adopting her.  ADOPT?!?!?

This is mind blowing.  Because we haven’t been planning to adopt anyone.  Because we had never thought about adopting a teen.  Because we already have two teens and I don’t know how they would feel about us adding a family member so close in age.  Savvy is at boarding school and we don’t want her to feel like she’s being replaced.  Silent One is a teen boy – is it weird as a teen to suddenly have a teen of the opposite gender be a family member?  And how do you afford college?  And the biggie – what’s a relationship with an adopted teen like?

I don’t know, people.  How crazy is it to be considering this based off a short 5-10 minute conversation we had a year ago?