Tis’ The Season

It’s that time of year. The one time of year that you feel bombarded with holiday festivities. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all back to back in a row. Before one holiday has even come and gone the stores are already making way for the next. In the past, this was the time of year I looked forward to- spending time with family and friends, getting gifts for people, and heading out to holiday parties. But this year all of this was changed.

While I did have kiddo for Halloween, I knew that soon I’d be sending him home. Soon I’d have to tell him it was time to leave and that I couldn’t protect him anymore. I didn’t realize that “soon” would be the following week. Even though he was here and we spent the evening with family, in the back of my mind thoughts surged like electricity about the conversation and us parting ways. I really wasn’t up for another cry-fest…they were too hard. The last time I had said anything to kiddo about going home (in fact it wasn’t about going home; it was about a visit) he broke down hysterical and held onto me for dear life. Mind you kiddo is a 12 year old.

Fast forward to kiddo being gone and just celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. I felt numb. Well….I felt numb during those times I wasn’t sad…or angry………or choking back tears. What was I thankful for? What had felt like “my” family had just been torn from me. I wasn’t thankful- As I sat and thought about it, there wasn’t one thing I could think of that I was thankful for. I mean sure, we are all thankful for food and shelter- family and friends, but this was different. The loss I felt (feel) from kiddo was casting a shadow over everything else. Again, I get the whole idea of fostering. They are not YOURS. However, when a child has been removed 4 separate times and both his worker and lawyer start talking to you about guardianship, it’s hard not to imagine life any other way.

In a couple weeks it’ll be Christmas; by far one of my favorite holidays. As a Christian, it’s a day to celebrate the gift that only God could give to us. The logical part of my brain knows this and wants to feel joy. My heart, however, is still broken and I wonder if and when it’ll ever change. This whole experience has taken a major toll on me in so many ways. My heart hurts each day, I feel like I’m going through some depression, I don’t want to be around other people, and, worst of all, it has shaken my faith. I hate to even write that, but it’s my truth.

How do things like this happen? How do we as a society, in 2016, have such a broken system that a mother who has lost their child 4 times get them back. Not to add that the child said multiple times to multiple people that they did not want to go back; that they were scared of what would happen to them. How does this happen, but yet other parents are losing their children because their house is “unlivable”. I would stretch it enough to say that kiddo’s house was “unlivable”. It’s easy to pick out the scars on his body from the physical abuse he dealt with in his past, but who’s looking at the emotional scars caused by all this? Who’s watching to see if this home is truly safe and “livable”?

Right now I dread the seasons…the holidays. Each day that passes reminds me that, while I have family, my “family” is gone. I can’t call or text…not a Skype message. Nothing. It’s not like they just moved away and you’ll see them later. It truly is like a death in the family. My family. And, right now, I continue to be in mourning.

Time is Relative

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Time is a funny thing. At times, it feels like time drags it’s feet; like a slow, painful wait at the doctor’s office. And then at other times, it feels like time rockets as fast as possible turning weeks and months into flashes in one’s memory. It’s funny, sometimes time plays both roles simultaneously. Time is full of tricks, but not all have a funny punchline.

It’s been a full two weeks since kiddo went home. A full two weeks I’ve been unable to hug him, tell him I love him, make sure he’s okay. In some aspects it’s felt like a lifetime. I wonder daily if he’s happy. Is he feeling like he’s wanted? Have things changed enough that he actually feels like part of a family? Daily these thoughts course through my mind, sometimes so badly that I find I can’t focus on anything else. At these times, time moves at a slow drag. Then when I think about kiddo being here, it feels like only yesterday I was laughing at his goofy antics as we sat on the couch.

I think about kiddo all the time. Not just him going home, but just everything altogether. It’s felt like I’ve known him a lifetime; that I’ve loved him more than anything else forever. Truth is, in actual time, we’ve only known each other for a little over 9 months. Funny how time works. How one event, one choice can change your life and perspective so much. And to think I actually took some “time” to even consider taking kiddo as a placement. How much different would my life be right now? Would a different placement have had the same effect on me? I question this all the time.

One thing is for sure; the time I’ve had with kiddo has changed me. It’s made me a better person. It’s made me look at choices and make decisions based on not what I wanted, but what would be best. It’s shown me that I can be so strong and focused and protect without worrying about myself. The time with kiddo has also shown me a pain I’ve never felt before. When people say “you’ve broken my heart” or claim to have a “broken heart” I often wondered if they knew what they were talking about. I can say now, with no hesitations, I completely understand the saying. I literally feel as if my heart has been broken.

I don’t for one minute regret the decision I made when it comes to fostering kiddo. The good, the bad, and the ugly…I would do it all over again just to have had the time we did together. He’s made me a better person and I thank him for that. I do wonder if I’d be feeling this way had kiddo went home under happier circumstances…but that’s a question left unanswered. I’ll never know. What I do know is this; If kiddo ever needs me I’ll be here with open arms and no hesitations. And if two weeks ago was the last time I’ll have saw kiddo then I hope we are both better from our time together. I hope we both have grown; have learned something. I don’t know the future; only time will tell.

The Unknown

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It’s been just over a week since “kiddo” had to leave. I’m still hurting, sad, angry, numb…..Feelings come and go in every moment of the day. Sometimes it only takes a song on the radio that he loved, that fast food restaurant we would always stop at; the little things. These little things flood a wide range of emotions and sometimes I feel like it would be easier to just forget. Unfortunately, that’s not an option foster parents, or anyone for that matter, get.

It’s easier during the day. I’m at work and I can get side-tracked and keep busy. Even when people ask the dreadful “have you heard anything?” I can still push through. Typically, I find I go into advocacy mode and am able to talk about a flawed system or what I felt went wrong in his case. I can tell about how he begged to not have to go home and how he would say that I didn’t need to worry because it wasn’t going to work this time either. This is the easy part of my day.

It’s when I come home that’s most difficult. Walking through the door without kiddo trailing behind. Getting ready for dinner and setting out a single plate. Those little things that bring out such big emotions. At the end of the day it’s all those little things that you hear others complain about that make you really envy parents. What I’d give right now to have to pick up dirty clothes or clean up a mess of food left on the table.

I think the worst part is the unknown. You go from knowing everything about this little person and their life to nothing. And, in the quietness of an empty house, your mind races. Is he okay? Is he scared? How is he feeling about the new school? Does he remember I still love him and what I told him about God’s plan for him? All of these (and more) questions race through my head when I sit alone. And they continue to go unanswered. Because, at the end of the day, a foster parent is asked the impossible; Love them like they were your own, then give them back when the time comes. But part of loving them like your own means becoming invested. Wanting what’s best for them. Having a general interest in what is happening in their world. When they go home you’re cut off from that. You have no more knowledge that they are safe, happy, okay, thriving. Nothing. Not a word. This is just another ugly side of the work foster parents have to do.

I sometimes think “really?” Why would anyone do this to themselves. And I think there’s one answer we all come to; When it works, it’s a blessing. But how often does it really work? How many times are families reunited and, truly, it’s successful? I’m not saying successful in terms of they don’t lose them again. I mean truly successful. How often do children return home and have a chance at life? Go to college? Make something of themselves? I don’t know that answer. How many times are children pushed back into unsafe households? Unstable ones? Households they don’t want to be a part of again? I really don’t know that answer either. All I can say is add one more to the list…it happened last week.

A New Normal

Normal…It’s a pretty subjective concept. What is normal? Prior to fostering, normal for me consisted of going to work, hanging out with friends, spending time with family, shopping; you know…normal things. One theme centered around my normal; it was mostly (okay all) about me. I did what I wanted to, didn’t do things I didn’t want to, and pretty much was content with my life. Sure, I served at my church’s youth ministries, but that was because it was something I wanted to do. Something I enjoyed. This sense of normal all changed when I began fostering kiddo.

Almost immediately I knew I cared for this little guy. To be honest, I thought the beginning was going to be much harder than the end. Would he like me? Would we mesh? Would he be angry he was being placed in my home. Instantly all of these questions and doubts faded when I met him. I still remember every detail of our first meeting almost as if it were a movie I could replay in my mind. I remember being anxious at the agency waiting for him to arrive. You see nothing is ever “normal” in my life. When I arrived 3 minutes late to the agency, I was frantic to get up to their office only to find out kiddo wasn’t even there yet. They had been in a minor fender bender and were just getting on their way.

When I went down to meet him, kiddo ran up to me and said “Hi, I’m ******” with a contiguous smile. Instantly I knew things were going to be fine. I knew I already cared for this kiddo, but it wasn’t until later that I found a love in my heart for him. Our new normal had begun. Getting ready for work in the morning was replaced by getting kiddo up and ready (he is NOT a morning person). Going to dinners with friends was swapped out with cooking for him and I. Weekends were no longer spent figuring out where to meet up with folks. Instead, they were spent anxiously awaiting for the time to pass so I could go pick him up from a visit. Everything about my normal changed and I was fine with that. I wasn’t living for myself. Instead, I was living for us. Choices I made didn’t only affect me anymore. I had to think about us.

Like I said; instantly I knew I cared about and for kiddo, but it took some time for a true love to form. I remember tucking him in one night, as I did every night, and us saying our prayers. Afterwards, he started up a fairly generic conversation. At first I assumed it was a ploy to get out of going to bed, but quickly the conversation got deep. He started telling me about things that had happened to him both with his mom and at other foster homes. He talked about how all of the foster homes he had been to told him that he was always welcome only to have him moved at some point. As we finished up the conversation, he looked up at me and said “other foster parents told me I would stay with them, but when you say it I trust you.” In that moment my heart melted. I knew that what I felt for this little guy was far more that compassion or caring; love had begun. It was weird; I didn’t care about my old normal. I was happy to do nothing but spend time with this amazing kid. When he went home for the first time I think I was most sad that my normal was going to change again.

Fast forward about a month. Kiddo came back after being kicked out for the 1st time. Only days into the stay a realized it was going to be for a very brief time; a cooling off period. I didn’t let myself get too comfortable with him being back because I knew it was going to be short-lived. And, to be honest, nothing was normal about this return. It was a juggling act. The 2nd time, however, felt much different. From all of the conversations with his worker, his lawyer, therapists….it seemed as though he would be with me for some time. We quickly slipped back into our old normal and I was beyond thrilled to have that back. It felt safe; comforting…Like wrapping up in your favorite blanket. Just good and cozy.

It wasn’t long before that blanket was ripped from both of us. We found out court was ordering him to be returned home, we got the news the date had arrived, and he was gone. But where does that leave me? Where does that leave my normal? I can’t go back to my old normal again; it doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to hang out with friends or go on completely random adventures. There are too many questions when I do. Too many people interested in “how’s it going?” or “did you hear anything yet?”

How’s it going? Sometimes I imagine the expressions I would get if I told the truth. It’s going like this; I get up in the morning exhausted because the night before I couldn’t sleep. Every time I close my eyes an instant replay goes on of kiddo’s face when I had to leave him. I spend 8 hours a day at work trying to stay focused only to find my mind wandering back to “how is he doing?” I’m starting to hate my job because every time I have a classroom visit and look at the children I’m reminded that when I leave work it’s to go to an empty house that no longer feels like a home. Once there, I muddle through feeding the dogs and sometimes eating something myself, but mostly just laying on the couch sleeping off and on because staying up only means I’ll be looking around at reminders of when kiddo was here. Then it’s finally time to go to bed where I pray to God to give me peace and understanding…to take the anger, pain, and hate out of my heart, and to be with me because I feel broken. Is this my new normal?

I can tell you this was not how I felt the 1st go around. I was sad I didn’t get to see him every day, but mostly I was happy a family was reunited. I was happy because he was happy. Knowing how much he wanted to go home and be with “family” gave me such a joy that my sadness was dampened. This time was different. There was no happy reunion. That was replaced by a child crying that they didn’t understand why they had to go home when their parent missed visits. Tears because this child didn’t feel like anyone heard him except me. Pain and exhaustion because, at his age, he felt like his childhood was over and  he “didn’t really have a good one.”

Why? Why do we do this to children in foster care? Why are children removed multiple times yet parents get another chance to get it right? At what point do we say enough is enough? When does a child’s voice get heard? If all of this is affecting me this much, how on earth do we expect children to function? The truth is, right now, I don’t get to have a “normal.” My new normal is wondering if kiddo is safe. If he’s happy. If he’s feeling loved and if he feels wanted. Because a system failed to take proper steps to see if it was even possible to bring this family back together or to give the family a chance to work through some issues in therapy, I get to have all of this as my new normal. A new normal I never signed up for…

A House He No Longer Called Home

After what seemed like a lifetime, the day came that I finally received the call; Kiddo was to return home. The paperwork was in and required us to make the transition happen within the next couple days. My stomach sunk. I had to tell this kid who wanted nothing more than to stay in this loving, safe home that it was time to leave. Sure, we both knew this was coming, but actually saying it was much harder. At least before the paperwork was in we could pretend that it was just a bad dream.

As I mustered up courage to have this difficult conversation, I thought to myself “this just isn’t fair.” And it wasn’t. Mom had missed the last two out of three visits, one being with the therapist so they could discuss the issues in a safe place. The hearing brought nothing up about the emotional abuse kiddo had went through, not once, but two times when he was kicked out of the house. Sure, mom didn’t say “never come back”, but what she did say weighed much more on him.

I went down stairs, asked kiddo to stop playing the video game and began to talk. Instantly he knew this wasn’t one of our normal talks. “I have to go back don’t I” he said to me. I was crushed. He wasn’t quite crying (yet), but his eyes were welled up and his voice trembled. We began to talk about what day he would be leaving and how the whole process would go. At some point he stopped me and said “I don’t get why I gotta go back. She didn’t even come to the visit. She doesn’t care. This is my home.” Again, I had to force back tears because, in a lot of ways, I felt the same way. No, not that I thought he should stay forever, but there needed to be several safeties put into place; one being some visits prior to the move.

We packed up clothes and began to gather everything that he had gotten within the short 3 month stay he had this time. “This sucks” he said to me. “I’m just going to be back in a week or two” he added. Why should he feel any different? That’s exactly what happened before. At this point I can’t. I can’t even think of words to say to him. I finally come up with enough strength to say “God has a plan; I know it doesn’t seem like that right now, but He does.”

Then the day came. He went to school and said goodbye to all of his friends and teachers. Afterwards, we headed to my parents so he could say goodbye. The whole trip to the agency he squirmed and looked around; as if he was looking for an escape. Once we arrived at the agency we put his clothes and toys in his worker’s car and said goodbye. I hugged him and didn’t want to let go. I got back into my car and waited for them to pull off. The entire time I don’t think he broke eye contact; he just looked out of the window and waved. He tried to shoot a smile, but it was apparent it was for my benefit only. We both pulled off and he was gone.

These are the instances everyone needs to hear about. We hear about children torn from their families and just wanting to come back, but we (or I) rarely heard about situations where the system failed children. What about those kids? Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my kiddo. All I can do is pray he is safe and happy. It’s all I have to hold on to.

And We Wait…………..

After the shock of court dismissing the petition for kiddo to stay in care wore off we started the waiting game. It was only a matter of time. While kiddo started to stress I immediately started planning.

I remember at court one of the workers stating “as his foster parent you can appeal the decision if you think it’s wrong.” Did I think it was? To be truthful, with the complete lack of questions asked by kiddo’s lawyer, the assistant attorney general, or even the referee at that point, no… I didn’t disagree with it. How can you disagree with something when the case isn’t even really presented? It was showcased as this; kiddo got upset and mom was stressed so she told him to leave. Not that he couldn’t come home; just to leave the house. Forget all of the horrible things she said during this time (find someone to adopt him, I’ll sign off on him, I don’t care if I lose my other kids too….you get the drift). All that mattered in the court’s eyes was that mom was saying he could return home. Hell, they didn’t even have the therapist that was present during the time all of this happened at court.

We scheduled a meeting at the agency that following week to develop next step plans. When I walked in I felt ambushed. Not only could I NOT file an appeal, the agency decided they weren’t going to either. Their feeling was, at the end of the day, mom said he could come home. Seriously? So we started discussing some supports to put into place. Remember, kiddo hadn’t seen his mom in 2 months at this point. Visitations were arranged, both at therapy and in the office. Mom managed to make it to ONE of them–not the one at therapy where they could actually discuss the issues.

So we waited, and waited, and waited. It started to feel like he was never going home and I was okay with that. Had mom changed her mind? Did something hold it up? Did someone finally being to think logically and decide moving this quickly was a bad choice? Nope…that’s just how long paperwork takes to process. The worst part was every day that went by just gave kiddo more hope that he wasn’t going to have to leave.

Court…or Something Like That

Trying to keep up with this blog can be exhausting. I get behind because, let’s face it, I have a life outside of my computer. I have a kiddo that gets the majority of my time. I have work, I have family…you get the hint. But I committed to this blog to give a foster parent’s perspective on all things fostering; the good and bad, and sometimes ugly. Court hearings definitely fall into one of the latter.

Kiddo has been with me for some time; about two months. There was a court date scheduled about a month into kiddo’s return stay, but nothing abnormal. It all revolved around the new allegation. Sitting at home I read an email from his worker telling me court went well, but they requested kiddo’s presence and the next hearing. No big deal. Not until I find out that he is to testify in front of his mom. While I was anxious and worried for kiddo, at this point, I still really didn’t think much of it. I mean, the courts want to hear from the children from time to time, especially when they are older and can talk about what’s happening. I was even less concerned because both his lawyer and case worker had already began asking if I was willing to do some sort of long-term care like guardianship.

Our court date arrives and we go. We ask for a blind to be put up so kiddo doesn’t have to stare directly at mom while talking. Let me say this; It was extremely intimidating and uncomfortable. Combine that with the fact that the opposing lawyers were, let’s just say, “unfriendly” to a child with ADHD who is scared of talking in front of his mom. They tried every which way to trip him up and make him appear to be the problem. After the grilling was over there was a sidebar which seemed to take forever.

Still feeling like everything was okay, we awaited the referee to return. Nothing was okay. Not in the least. Although kiddo stated things that mom had said when she kicked him out, stated that he just wanted to be with someone who wanted him, and added that he was scared of his mom, the referee delivered a heavy blow; Kiddo was ordered to return home and the allegation was dismissed. Apparently, it’s acceptable to kick your child out of the house as long as you don’t say they can’t return. You can say things like “get him out” and “I’ll sign my rights away” as long as you don’t say the words “they can’t come back”. I was instantly sickened. All mom had to do is say that he was welcome to come home and that was that.

We watch the news and wonder “man, how do children end up taking their lives” or “These parents hurting and killing their kids”….Situations like this build for these results. Kiddo had clearly stated he was scared and that he couldn’t keep doing this back and forth, but none of that mattered. The only thing that seemed to matter is he was disrespectful to his mom during an argument in which she kicked him out and, now that she had calmed down, he could come back. The referee even had the nerve to add “I know mom can be a hot head.” Are you serious!?! You know that and also know kiddo was physically abused not once, but twice and are still forcing him to return home? This, my friends, is how children wind up hurt, dead, lost, in jail and a number of other issues. Our system fails children everyday because we’d rather return children home to unstable households and give “chances” rather than show some tough love and say enough is enough.

My journey becoming a foster parent and being a foster parent….the good, bad, and sometimes ugly.