A Long Line of Goodbyes

 

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I watched another baby leave yesterday. She was buckled in her carseat and munching contentedly on her goldfish.  Happily oblivious that this moment was another goodbye in her growing line of goodbyes – and another in mine.

She was our fifth foster baby.

We have said goodbye to babies in treatment center hallways, fast food parking lots, hotel lobbies, and our own front yard.  I have stood as minivans pulled away, after a day of trying to seal every moment into my memory.  I have packed little bags with tiny clothes that I have folded one last time.  I have kissed tiny cheeks quietly and quickly before letting them go.

When a baby comes into our home, we get nearly no information.  We might be told an overarching reason for why they came into care – but sometimes we don’t even get that. We often don’t know what they eat, when they sleep, or where they have been living.  Sometimes, nobody remembers to tell us how many caregivers they had before coming to us, if they have received any medical care, or even their last name.  We piece together their broken histories.

One of our placements arrived with medical equipment, medication, and a diagnosis that we weren’t aware of until we dug through the giant trash bag carrying his belongings.  Another had been hospitalized just weeks before coming to us, and we didn’t know until we saw it written on one of the pieces of paper hurriedly handed over to us when she came.

Some babies have arrived with bright smiles and open arms, immediately willing to trust us. And some we have won over. Some babies have arrived not knowing how to eat. Some have slept through the night for a few nights until they realize there is someone here who will wake with them, feed them, comfort them – and then it’s months before they sleep through the night again.

And so, we begin learning. We soak in this little human. Everything takes on a baby orbit. We try to learn his signals, his preferences, his fears all as quickly as we can. It is a crash course in tiny form.

We study her. We sit with her through therapies, medical procedures, and diagnoses.  We become her voice in the middle of so many voices. We remind the social workers that scheduling needs to accommodate baby naps. We fight for evaluations when a little one still isn’t able to eat like a typical baby her age. We make phone calls and send emails, we research and seek out resources, we get louder when no one is listening.

And we do the mundane.  We wipe messy faces, we change oh-so-many diapers, we hunt for missing sippy cups. We show him what it feels like when grass tickles the bottom of his feet, we blow bubbles on the front step, we wrap her in thick towels after bathtime and call her “fishy.”

Love quickly pours in and fills the empty places left by the last goodbye.

And then the time comes.

A plan is made for baby to return home, or to a relative, or to an adoptive family. So I fold the clothes, I pack the bag, I gather the photos. I sing the song, I give the kiss, I hand the baby to waiting arms. I turn around and walk away.

And the line of goodbyes grows longer.

We willingly enter baby orbit – again and again.  And then we say goodbye – again and again.

Because that is what love does. Love breaks itself open so that the beloved can break a little less.

with hope and gratitude,
Jennifer

(this post was first published at Her View From Home)

for more about our family’s foster care experiences, read When the (Foster Care) Honeymoon Ends and I Will Help You

Let's Come Alongside Foster Parents

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I wrote this article in May having no idea I would soon become a foster parent myself. My intention was to encourage us to support foster parents who shoulder a heavy load in our communities. I feel a little sheepish publishing it now, but as I step into this role myself, I hope I will have more insight to offer as I learn from experience.


Let’s Come Alongside Foster Families

She buckled into my car having only known me three minutes. As we drove, she drew in her notebook chatting happily about the fish and mermaids emerging from her pen. She told me about the teeth she’d recently lost and the new ones taking their place.

In the waiting room, we sat side-by-side, while she waited for the therapist. Even the fish in her drawings were losing teeth and getting grown up teeth.

She may want to be an artist, like her mom, when she grows up. Her mom draws pretty roses. She also might cut her long hair and mail it to her family so they won’t forget her.

Each week her foster mom has multiple appointments for the children in her care, resulting in many hours of missed work. Monday she stayed at work while I did a little driving; it was a small task for me and eased a burden for her.

As much as I would love to do foster care now, our family isn’t quite ready, but we want to help.

This leaves me with a question, how do we come alongside foster families in our communities?

As an adoptive mom with children from “hard places,” I’m no stranger to the demands of kids with hefty trauma backgrounds and special needs, but there are differences between parenting adopted children and foster children.

In particular, foster placements are often sudden and very little is known in advance. What size of diapers does the baby wear? Does the toddler wear pull-ups? What kind of formula for the infant? Older children have unique needs too.

It’s not likely that a foster family will have a wide stock of diapers, clothes, shoes, etc. in every possible gender and size, which results in many errands being run in the first days of placement. This is the time when children, and foster parents, need calm and stability.

There are many unique demands on foster parents.

  1. Medical Appointments

There are time requirements for doctor, dentist, and eye doctor appointments. In some states, a full physical has to happen within 7 days of placement and a dental exam within 14 days. There may be multiple follow-up appointments due to minimal prior care.  These must be done by Medicaid providers who often have wait lists; it may take many phone calls to schedule appointments.

  1. Family visits

These visits are usually twice a week. Foster parents transport the children to and from visits. If the parents of the children are not living together, and both have visits, the number of visits may increase.  These visits are emotional for the children and stress is high afterward often resulting in acting out and disrupted sleep each time.

  1. WIC visits for younger children

These must be done in person with the children present.

  1. Therapy

Therapy is often required once or twice a week.

  1. More Visits

Monthly social worker visits. Guardian ad litem visits every one to three months and monthly CASA visits. If the foster family works with an agency, there will be a monthly visit with the agency social worker as well.

  1. Training

Each state requires a specified number of training hours for foster parents. For example, Colorado requires 32 hours of training each year, 16 must be in-person classes with no kids present.  This means finding childcare for training, when the parents might really rather use it for respite.

These demands place a heavy weight on foster parents who are caring for children with significant needs.

Our communities and churches are filled with people who can help – we need to mobilize them. I dream of a team of women driving children to appointments, and of college students (trained and background checked, of course), babysitting for foster parents, allowing them a much needed, and free, date night.

How about an on-call team running last-minute errands for families needing diapers, formula, clothing, or school supplies for newly arrived children?

Could we deliver meals or even pizza to foster families once a week?

The options are endless – we need to ask foster families what they need and connect them with folks who will meet that need.

Let’s not make it more complicated than it is.

As I pray with my children each morning, we simply need to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Next Monday, I’ll pick this sweet girl up from school again. This time, I’ll know her name, and I’ll remember to ask if her wiggly tooth fell out.

She has one more person who knows she is precious and prays for her, and her foster mom has two more hours to work each week. Hopefully, there are more ways I can help and we’ll figure those out as we go.

As for me, I’m not a foster mom yet, but I get to serve a child in a tiny way, and that is good for my heart.


This article was originally published on Her View From Home. Since its publication and my surprising leap into foster care, we’re finding our new rhythm and balance as a family. I’m no longer driving this sweet girl to her weekly appointment, but thanks to the new ministry we’re starting in our church, we quickly found a new volunteer to take my place.

with hope and gratitude,

Lisa

What I’ve Learned After Two Weeks as a Foster Mom

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Our journey into foster care is two weeks old now, so let me tell you everything I know – it won’t take long.

  1. I don’t know much at all.
    There is a steep learning curve and I’m in it. This was a respite stay that became a placement – not the typical way one becomes a foster parent. We have been scrambling to get licensed and I think we’re nearly there. We’ll have six months to complete our training.
  2. There are a lot of people involved.
    I’m constantly meeting people with different roles and responsibilities. I need a chart showing who everyone is and what their responsibilities are. I’m pretty sure I’m calling the wrong person about the wrong thing most of the time.
  3. There are lots of boxes to check.
    Sunday night I wrote my autobiography, quickly and simply, but I wrote it. We’ve reported our monthly income and expenses, asked friends to be references, been background checked and fingerprinted, and given our doctors permission to share our medical info.  Did I mention it’s all worth it?
  4. Safety matters.
    We’ve put up a new smoke/carbon monoxide detector, rehung the interior garage door we had taken down to repair the weather stripping, our well is being tested, and we’re getting safer by the second.
  5. There are rules and regulations to learn.
    I’m reading about rules and regulations – like not crossing state lines. I haven’t actually read that one yet, only heard about it. Did I mention we practically live on a state line? I’m pretty sure that running to our favorite pizza place doesn’t count. Or does it?  One more thing to find out.
  6. Teen girls have a lot of stuff.
    Beza and Zoe (nickname) have the biggest bedroom in the house and they’ve managed to fill it with clothes, shoes, and stuff. Beza is in Colorado at camp this week, so Claire has migrated down to that bedroom adding some of her stuff too. Mercy, they have a lot of stuff! I think we need more shelving, or magical storage space.

One thing I do know is that my girls have big hearts and they have taken in  Zoe as if she has always been part of their lives. They’ve played numerous games of Life, listened to music, tried to persuade her to dance, baked cookies, cooked dinner, decorated bedrooms, and gone to the farmers market for mini doughnuts.

I overheard Beza say, “I like you. I like people who’ve been through hard times.” She left off, “Like me,” but that’s what she meant.

They understand each other – they can relax with one another. No need to be fake around our house; we’re not strangers to hard times.

We still don’t know what is going to happen, we only know that we’re glad she’s here and thankful that God chose us for this time in her life.

Last night Wogauyu said, “Zoe, it seems like you’ve always been here.” She replied, “If I leave, you won’t even remember me.” I said, “That’s not true. We won’t forget you – already, we won’t forget you.”

We have a good father who loves these kids so much – what a privilege to get to love them too.

[note: Since writing this I’ve learned that we can cross into WA state or Montana to a nearby city for the day without permission. If we travel overnight, we need permission. I just submitted our travel plans and hope we’ll be able to take Zoe with us to Whidbey Island this summer. You know how much we love that place!]

[I explained to Zoe that I have a blog and that I will never write anything about her without her permission, nor will I share her story. Most of what I write about foster care will be what I learn in my journey of becoming a foster mom. Also, she chose the name Zoe as her blog nickname, it is not her real name.]

Lisa

The Only Daddy They May Ever Know

We are still in the thick of toddler-foster-care-transition around here, so it has been a challenge to find the time to write.

But I didn’t want to let Father’s Day slip by without a bit of reflection on what a gift it is to see my husband step into the role of Daddy – over and over again – for vulnerable children.

We fully realize that for some of the children who come through our home, he may be the only Daddy they ever know.

What a tremendous honor.  And what a tremendous sacrifice.  I am so thankful to be on this journey with him.

Happy Father’s Day to this each-and-every-day father to the fatherless.

J Greg and Pamela

with hope and gratitude,
Jennifer

 

When the (Foster Care) Honeymoon Ends

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Before                                                         After

 

Like many new relationships, a new foster placement often comes with a “honeymoon period.”  Everyone is on their best behavior for a while – there is a lot to learn about new personalities, and everyone treads lightly as we figure each other out.  The honeymoon may last two hours.  It may last two days.  It may last two months.

But the honeymoon ends.

The first couple of weeks tend to come with a big adrenaline rush as well.  There is so much to do and arrange and coordinate during that early time – that extra energy boost is needed to carry foster parents through.  The adrenaline brings with it the stamina needed to get children acclimated to the routines and expectations of a new home, along with all of the new environments and people a child experiences (doctor, dentist, caseworkers, therapists, church, school, friends, extended family).

But the adrenaline fades.

Sadly, the adrenaline seems to fade right around the same time that the honeymoon does.  The stresses of being abruptly dropped into a completely new place with new people, new smells, new food, new routines (or their first routines ever!) takes a heavy toll on kids, and the stress begins to surface to the top, showing itself in challenging behaviors.

Our newest girls, a young toddler and an older toddler, have been in our home just over a month now.  And the honeymoon seems to be ending.  Challenging behaviors are appearing.  The adrenaline is gone, leaving behind post-adrenaline weariness.  The novelty of getting to know each other is wearing off.  Some hours are excruciatingly long as we wade our way through the beginnings of this next phase.

This is when screaming tantrums, defiance, sleep troubles, potty troubles, safety concerns, and food issues swirl in what may feel like a never-ending cycle.

This is where the rubber begins to meet the road of foster care.

This is when I find myself sometimes too tired in the moment to even remember to pray for wisdom.

It is a challenging time, and from experience, I know it can last a while.

This is when it’s time to circle back to the basics:

Sleep is the best new start.

Everything looks hopeless and overwhelming when you’re operating from a state of exhaustion.  And unfortunately, the reality of foster care is that you will often be exhausted.  If you know that little ones (or bigger ones) will be waking you in the night, do everything you can to get to bed early.  Guard your sleep – and theirs.  Stick to a routine – naps when applicable and a consistent bedtime.  Even a consistent wake-up time is important – I’m teaching our toddlers that when they wake early, they need to play until I am ready to start the day.  It is a lot of training and structure – but when sleep falls apart, for you or for them, everyone starts to sink.

Greet each day like the new day it is.

Wake up in the morning ready to let the day before stay in the past.  Try not to carry forward worries or resentments from a bad day.  Start the day by telling Jesus how very much you need Him for the day ahead of you.  And greet children (especially the ones who woke you seven times the night before and intentionally peed on the brand new carpet) with a smile and kind eyes.

Good enough parenting is often the best parenting.

Let your standards fall a bit.  It’s all temporary.  Live with dirty bathrooms, order pizza when you can afford it, email teachers to let them know that you might miss a few forms here and there.  Do what you need to get through each day – letting the important stay at the top of the list and the unimportant sink to the bottom.

Noise-canceling headphones are a miracle invention.

I finally ordered a pair.  I’m highly sensitive to noise, and I wear them when the kids are particularly loud or when I need to concentrate on something. I picked a pair that still allows me to “hear” but takes the edge off.  I’m not sure why I have gone through 18 years of parenting without finding a way to buffer this particular sensitivity.  Figure out what your sensitivities and triggers are, and see if there might be a creative solution to ease the way a bit.

Say no to extras.

Sometimes, after a few good days in a row with the littles, I start to think we’ve “arrived” and this will be the new normal.  Then something as simple as a short caseworker home visit (with conversation about parents, visits, etc.) can throw everything off track for days afterward.  Foster care inevitably has these sort of bumps in the road  – in fact, the bumps are the road – this sort of situation happens every few days!  The world is full of reminders to these children that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be.  They miss their parents terribly – even when they came out of desperate and frightening situations – and they are in a constant cycle of grief, confusion, and fear.  It is so important to keep margin in your own life in order to be able to absorb these ongoing bumps and adjustments.  It is ok – even imperative – to let this be the only “thing” you do.  Don’t take on extra ministry opportunities at church, don’t volunteer to host the end-of-the-year classroom party, and don’t become “the mom who is always willing to watch a couple extra kids!”

And lastly,

Hold on to the lovable.

Some days, it is hard to see behind the behaviors and the rages to what is lovable. Seal those good moments in your mind (the crinkly-eyed smiles, the shared laughter, the successful moments) so you can focus on those when things are challenging.  Remember why you are a foster parent – you are doing the hard work of choosing to love vulnerable children through difficult times – times that sometimes make children behave in really unlovable ways.  Cling to what is good.

———

There is no doubt that foster care is a difficult calling.  There will certainly be times (many, many times) when you will wonder if you have made a mistake and whether you can really do this.

The honeymoon will end, the adrenaline will fade, and foster care will be hard.

So when that time comes and you are depleted, turn your weary heart toward the source of all compassion and comfort.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

with hope and gratitude,
Jennifer
Signature J and Jaso

If you’d like to read more about our family’s foster care experiences, try Ten Ways to Support Adoptive and Foster Families and Our Babies’ Mothers

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Self Care and Foster Care

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Self-care and foster care.  Mutually exclusive?  It definitely feels like it sometimes.

In our earlier foster care placements, “self-care” was something that happened a couple of months in – after we had found a routine and the initial whirlwind of appointments and visit scheduling had settled down.  Time is a finite commodity, and something needs to shift to make room for all that goes with a new placement, so it is most often the parents’ “extras” that drop to the bottom of the list.

In a sense, this is simply what needs to happen. And until very recently, I didn’t really like the idea of focusing on self-care anyway.  (I know that I am focused enough on myself and don’t need extra encouragement to take it any further.)

But over the last year or so, I have realized that in order to fulfill the calling God has given me – parenting vulnerable children during difficult seasons – I need to be intentional about choosing self-care activities and opportunities that truly fill me up.

In order to do this well instead of absent-mindedly and ineffectively, I have to reflect on what will really make a difference in my days – and what will keep me equipped for the long obedience ahead.  Because parenting, adoption, and foster care are all “long obedience” callings.  

The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

(- Nietzche)

Yes, the quote is from Nietzsche.  But it is a good, good one.  Isn’t it such a clear picture of what faithfulness is? I want to be faithful for the long haul. I want to end each day, and this life, tired.  Tired because I have spent my days and my years walking in the long obedience of binding up the brokenhearted.

Finding ways to stay the course is important.  As I began to spend more time outside over the last year, hiking and snowshoeing, I realized how those pockets of time to be alone, think, and pray were spilling over into the rest of my days.  Those brief spaces of retreat and rest were filling me up for the busyness and the need in between.

I haven’t quite figured out how to fit in a hike yet with the two new littles; but even though they have been with us only a few weeks, I have found some regular self care moments are fitting into the schedule pretty easily.

Here are a few that are easy to manage, even in the midst of a new placement:

* Morning coffee routine – Once the girls are up and seated at the table with their breakfasts, I start my coffee.  Don’t judge, but I actually use three separate appliances and seven ingredients to get my coffee just right.  When the littler sees me pull out my coffee mug, she starts to ask me “toffee?”  Yes, sweet girl!  I’m getting my coffee!

* 40 Days of Refresh – I have this devotional from the Refresh Conference (2015) and pulled it out during our most recent placement.  It’s very easy to get through the short daily sections while the girls are eating. I alternate between chatting and reading and wiping up milk spills.  Just a glance of it sitting on my table throughout the day reminds me of what I’ve read that morning – all of which is so applicable to my life right now.

* Moment-by-moment prayer – I don’t have a lot of extended time to spend in prayer, but I am desperate throughout each day for God’s wisdom into parenting these little ones – and our bigger ones!  While I know I will feel some relief as we settle into routine and our days become easier, I don’t want to lose this close dependence.  Desperate moments bring a heightened awareness of our need for God and His presence and provision.  I learn to recognize it more and more through each placement.

* Play dates, park days, and visits with friends – Having toddlers again makes me remember how very much I relied on weekly visits with other mamas at parks, in kitchens, and in backyards when my four were little.  We are fitting these back into our schedule again.  It has been a joy to see each day through little eyes again, to remember what an adventure an hour with a friend’s bunny rabbits and chickens can be!

* The gym – In the weeks leading up to this placement, I was having a hard time getting to the gym regularly – even though I know how essential it is in keeping me energized and feeling strong and ready for what each day brings. Surprisingly, I have easily fit this into the routine with the girls.  Our gym provides free childcare in a brand new playroom – the girls love playing there, and I get an hour of self-care. It has made going to the gym easy again!

* Creating time with my older kids – Because our time each day is a finite commodity, and a new placement inevitably takes up more of our parenting time,  we work to make sure to create new pockets of time with our older kids. Bringing one of them along with us when running errands creates a good time for conversation and connecting (and we have found teens talk more easily when in the midst of another activity).  We also instituted Thursday family night with our last placement.  Time after the little one(s) have gone to bed, time with no screens, time to catch up as a family with our older kids.

* Date night – It would be easy to let this one drop by the wayside, but we try to keep it going.  We often have Wednesday evenings free when our older kids are at youth group, and we can fit in an easy date night then.  We are working to make that happen even with the two littles – whether it’s finding someone to sit with them while we grab a quick dinner out or eating an at-home special dinner on our own after they are tucked into bed.

———

I know that we are each on the road of a long obedience.  I pray for you now – that you would find time to reflect on what might fit into your days that fills you up and keeps you energized for the calling God has placed on your life.  I pray that you will be:

…strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.

(Colossians 1:11)

with hope and gratitude,
Jennifer

signature J and mia

for more about our family’s foster care experiences,
read What Adoption and Foster Care Have Given My Children
and Ten Ways to Support Adoptive and Foster Families

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