Saturday, February 25, 2012

New Artist in the Family

Lately Ben has started doing more drawing. This is one of his recent creations: a family portrait of the Knapps next-door. His style of drawing people makes me laugh every time I see it. I like to think that I keep my laughter to myself, but I have to admit that sometime they're so funny that I can't help but crack up at his drawing.

Description of this picture:
"This is a crocodile. [Pointing at squiggles to the left] These are his things that squish up his food. ('His intestines?') Yeah, those."
A few minutes later: "Actually, it’s a toy crocodile. He has a flashlight in his mouth."
More minutes later: "Actually, no, it’s a real crocodile. His friend bit his leg and tore it off. ('Wow, that’s not a very nice friend, is it?') No. And then he got a cast from the animal doctor. Then the friend went to the animal jail. And he’s not strong enough to get out."

It's fascinating to watch Ben draw a picture. He'll draw a little bit and then make up a story to go along with what he's drawn. Usually the pictures involve people fighting. Then he'll draw some more and change the story as he goes. Sometimes his pictures and accompanying story get very complex. By the time he's done with the scene, it'll be a mess of lines and squiggles and strange-looking people which tells the story of an epic battle between good and evil.

Ben said this was a chicken. It looks like one crazy chicken to me.

Some day soon I'm going to make one of these books for each of the kids' artwork. I've been taking photos of their artwork ever since their first scribble. I don't like saving the actual papers because we don't the space (and, let's face it, I can't stand clutter). But how cool would it be to have a nice, compact book that contained hundreds of their paintings, drawings, and other creations? Very cool indeed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Six Days

Baby P napping through a (rather loud) baby shower

Our latest foster care experience lasted six days. We got "Baby P" on Thursday afternoon and she returned to her mom the following Tuesday afternoon. 

We are getting a lot of short-term, short-notice, newborns since we are an Emergency Shelter Home. When a child is taken from the birth parents, it is usually a sudden, unplanned event. The children we get, as an ESH, have little warning, and often are far more likely to leave our care in a matter of days once the situation is figured out by the social worker. If the child ends up staying in foster care and/or adoption, we would be high on the list so the kid does not have to move again. 

Anyways, this is a random list of things I've learned from our latest three placements.

1. It has been so important to have a clear idea of why we are doing foster care, and set it in the forefront of our minds. Our main intention for doing foster care has been to bring children into our home to show them love and care for however long they need. Adoption is secondary. There came a time last week when we had to make a very quick, and very difficult decision. Because we knew that our objective basically boiled down to helping kids now, we were able to make a good decision. 

If our objective was to find a child to keep, it would affect so many of our decisions. Do we take a placement we know would be very temporary? Do we do our best to accommodate birth parents and push for reunification? Do we bond and love a child whose future with us is likely short-lived, and will never remember us?  Those are critical questions that have different answers depending on your motives. You can't hide your true motives when the hard and painful choices come.

2. The first few days of bringing a baby home (even a healthy, happy baby) will be very difficult. The baby is in a foreign environment with new smells, sounds, and sights and they plain just miss their mama. With our last placement, the baby was fussy, didn't like to be put down, didn't sleep during the day, and woke up four times a night - for the first two days. On the third day, she was like a brand-new kid! She smiled when I picked her up and talked to her, she started sleeping through the night for 7-hour stretches and started napping during the day like a normal three-month old. 

3. We should trust very little that we are told about the case we're dealing with, even from authoritative sources, like the case worker. We've realized that there are so many people involved in the process of removing a child from its parents and placing it in a foster care home. Each person sees a different slice of the picture and relays only that information to us. Often, the information is incomplete or incorrect. Core facts in the story are constantly changing as more is revealed, investigated and clarified over time. Which leads to....

4. Learning to be flexible. This concept is still being pounded into us, and we're slowly getting better at it. We are planners by nature. We are not obsessive, but we take comfort in organization.  And now, so many decisions are made by other people which have a great impact on our lives and schedule. To some degree, in becoming a foster parent you agree to hand over control of some of your life to government workers. We have been eating out a LOT lately, out of necessity.  
- What, there's another visitation tomorrow that you JUST told me about, and it's during my kids' nap time? 
- Oh, now instead of just a visitation, the baby is actually being returned to her mom in an hour? Gather her things and say goodbye quickly!
You paid a non-refundable fee in advance for a Women's Retreat? Sorry, you have a new placement to pick up a few days before and won't be able to go.
- You gave your Women's Retreat ticket away, thinking you were not going? Well, the child is not coming home, so you can go again, and you need to buy another ticket because you just gave the other one away. (Actually it all worked out in the end and we didn't have to buy an extra ticket, but it was close!)
- We just showed up at 3 PM to pick up a new placement, but we need to wait at the assessment center, with our kids, for 2 hours since the doctor ordered some last minute tests just as we were about to walk out the door. No time to make dinner. Time to eat out again. 

5. I need to start letting go of the idea of having a clean house. It is really difficult to get anything done with a baby in the house, beyond keeping us all fed and in clean clothes (and barely even then). However, I am also seeing that having a solid routine helps tremendously when adding another child to the mix. Baby P fit right into our schedule, after some tweaking.

6. Try not to cancel any plans. We tried to keep life as normal as possible, even if that meant that things got a little crazy for a few days. We can't continually make plans and cancel them whenever we get a new placement. During the few days we had Baby P, I had a few play-dates with friends, ran my usual errands with three kids in tow, had friends over for dinner, helped throw a baby shower, and helped set up for my mom's group. Which goes back to #4: learning to be flexible (and relaxed)!

Now we're back on the call list at the children's shelter, so we could get another placement any day. Luckily I got a full night's rest and managed to pick up the shambles that was my house before we get any more calls!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Happy 4th Birthday, Ben!

You turned four last week. Since you're the youngest child, your turning four hasn't really been too emotional for me. In many ways, you seem like such a big kid that it feels like you should have been four a few months ago. (Also, you've been telling people that you're four for the past half-year, so I feel like you should be five already!) You can do so much for yourself now: get your own snacks, clean up your messes without being asked, dress yourself, and help with your laundry. 

You're very physical. You're great at playing catch, you're a fast runner, and an amazing climber. Your dad and I are thinking we're going to have to put you in sports someday. In the photo above you were having the greatest time doing flips on my bed. You have a competitive nature. You turn everything into a race- eating breakfast, running out to the car, getting dressed in the morning- and you hate to be last.

You are a kind brother. You share willingly with Tommy, and you even gave him one of your gifts to open on your birthday. You love people and you talk to strangers as if they're already a friend. You give everyone hugs, and you'd give them kisses too if I didn't curb that practice! 

I looked back at this post from when you were 3½ to see how you've changed in the last six months. You still complain about doing work around the house, but not as much as you used to. Sometimes you'll even ask me if there's anything you can do to help around the house. You no longer look at books upside down- for a while we were a little worried that you had some learning issues because of your preference to look at books backwards, read things backwards, and write backwards and upside down. Now that you're reading and writing more, I can see that was just a short-lived phase.

Benji, I'm looking forward to watching you grow into a kind, friendly, outgoing boy. I can't wait to see what God has in store for you this upcoming year.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Our Newest Charge

We've been the foster parents of this baby girl for two weeks now. Well, we're technically her foster parents, but we haven't actually brought her home yet because she's been in the NICU. I can't say very much about her here, but I can say that she's really cute. And she's very awake and aware of her surroundings, alarmingly so for a such a young baby.

We've gotten a lot more experience navigating the world of foster care. We have learned to be very loose and laid back about our plans. We are normally such planners that we like to prepare as much as we can when we know something is going to happen. Well, when you do that with foster care, it often backfires because things can change so quickly. With this little one, we thought she was going to come home the next day after getting the call for her. So we made plans and preparations for a newborn to come home within 24 hours. We cancelled some things and shifted other things. I cleaned a lot of things (what is it about babies that makes women want to clean things?). Then plans changed and then we thought she'd come home the next day. Then plans changed yet again, and we found out we weren't going to get her for at least another two weeks. Lesson learned: Don't make plans, because they'll most likely change anyway.

We've been doing our best to visit this little one while she's in the NICU. She's in a hospital forty minutes away, which makes visiting difficult, especially with kids and a working husband. But we're doing the best we can, thanks to generous family and friends who have offered to watch our boys while we (and sometimes just I) make the trek up to the hospital. We're all looking forward to her coming to live with us soon.