Our relationship with our foster son’s mom

07/31/2013

Buzz is our third foster placement and all three placements could not have been more different as far as the scenarios, outcomes and our interactions with the children’s biological families. Jason and I have hoped to be able to develop healthy relationships with a each child’s parent(s) but with Buzz’s placement it has actually happened. His mom loves him deeply and was terrified when she was told he was going to a foster home. He had originally been placed with a family friend that didn’t work out and DCS made the choice of his new home (ours) back on May 3. She was picturing a crowded group home and afraid her baby boy was going to be eaten alive. We tentatively called her the next day, as his case worker had urged us to do, and we were able to put her mind at ease some. She also gave us some information about his favorite foods and activities. The next day we met her for our first visit at McDonalds. She was emotionally fragile but I think she was quite relieved to see that we were a normal, happy family and we were going to take good care of Buzz. She generously shared her side of the story and we shared with her some of our background and experience with DCS. When it was time to go she wrestled with Buzz to get him into his car seat in our van. Poor little guy was so confused and distraught. I stood at the back of the van biting my lip, watching the emotional and physical struggle and feeling helpless. When she turned toward me, I saw that it had taken all  her remaining strength to hold it together in front of him. I offered a hug and she cried. And then I cried as I choked out the words. “It sucks. I know it sucks. I promise we’ll take good care of your baby.” Jason offered to pray. The three of us huddled together in the parking lot while the kids cried in the van, and Jason prayed for strength, courage, peace and grace for all of us.

We always tread lightly at the start of a placement, concerned that we establish some appropriate boundaries for our family, our time and our privacy. So far no one has ever taken advantage of having our phone number. Ali’s biological mom texted a few times before she lost our number (and hers) and I treasure those texts. Buzz’s mom has texted me often but never in an intrusive way. She texts almost every night to tell him goodnight and that she loves him. She asks how things are going. I tell her when we’ve had a fun adventure or when he’s learned something new. I text her photos. We tried doing video chats a few time but it was very one sided – he couldn’t really grasp the concept. We tried to get together every Saturday but she was gracious and understanding when Jason and I were too busy. One weekend four weeks into placement when we couldn’t figure out a time to do a visit, she sent him a video text message instead. I refer that as the turning point for him. He had cried plenty of times before and I knew he was hurting but he wasn’t able to express what he was thinking. Sometimes he would look at her photo and say, “I want Ma. Right there.” I’d say, I’m sorry buddy. I know you miss her. I wish I could do that. He’s say, “No! I want Ma!” When she sent the first video message, he sat down on Lucy’s bed and savored it. He watched it over and over again, gently touching my phone screen. After watching it several times he came to me with little tears rolling down his cheeks. I offered him a hug and he collapsed into my arms. I turned off the stove where I had been working on dinner and I sat with him on the couch for probably 15 minutes while he grieved and I talked to him about some of his feelings and what was happening.

Later that evening, I saw what I believe is “the real boy” for the first time in a month. He was sweet, helpful, obedient and affectionate. He had dropped his wall of defiance. We sent a video back to his mom and she could see that he was sad. We had a good conversation about how he was processing his emotions. From that point on, she has sent him videos a few times a week and we’ve sent videos back to her too. I’m so thankful that we had that discovery and I’ve recommended it to a bunch of people at DCS to suggest to other families. I’m thankful for Buzz’s mom’s commitment to communicate and remain present in his life when they can only see each other in person once a week.

Because Buzz isn’t old enough to communicate with her very well, I do a lot of it for him, which means that his mom and I talk quite often, usually through text messages and at our visits. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well through 3 months over a mutual interest in making sure a little boy is loved and well cared for. I told my mom a few weeks ago, getting together for a visit with her has started to feel like getting together with a friend. We laugh about the funny things the kids do, share stories, complain about the system and how slow things move. She has been kind to love Ali and give her attention at our visits, too. She often brings gifts for Buzz and has surprised us with gifts for Ali sometimes too…a new outfit from Old Navy in her favorite color, yellow, and a very thoughtful birthday gift, too.

A week before the hearing that we were fairly confident would result in Buzz going home to her, she said she thinks Buzz is really going to miss Ali. I agreed, and that I knew Ali would really miss Buzz, too. I haven’t explained to her yet how much I’m going to miss him but I hope she knows. She must know how much we love her son. She said her friend had asked if we would all keep in touch and she had said she was going to leave it up to us. I’m glad she mentioned it, and in such a sensitive way to give us the decision and control. I told her I’d definitely like to keep in touch and suggested we could babysit for her sometime or get together for a playdate. I told her we would definitely want to hear how Buzz is doing.

I don’t really know where we’ll go from here or how things will play out over time but I can truly say, I am so happy to have formed a relationship with Buzz’s mom. I’m proud of how hard she has worked to jump through all the hoops the system as set up for her. She has never lost control of herself even when she’s been so very frustrated and sad. She has never given up. She has never quit fighting for her son. Curious friends and outsiders often ask if we’re hoping to adopt Buzz and I’m always quick to explain that his mom has been working very hard to get him back and she’s doing an awesome job. We will always be willing to be there for him if/when he needs us in the future but at the same time, Jason and I have felt from the beginning that he’s not ours. It’s not that we’ve kept him at an arm’s length but we knew that his mom was fighting for him. We have loved him and cared for him as a son, all the while knowing he belongs to someone else. He has another mom. I’ll always be “A Ma” but not “My Ma” or “Mahi” and that’s OK with me. That’s what we signed up for. We’ll always feel like A Dad and A Mom to him, but fully accept that he has another mom and dad, his first mom and dad, his biological mom and dad. I hope that his mom will continue to allow him to keep a piece of his heart for his auxiliary mom and dad, and for his sister/friend Ali…his “Ah-ee.”

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Buzz has figured out that he’s been seeing his mom more this week and now every time we leave the house he says, “Mahi?” If the answer is not “Yes, here she is right now” he gets upset. Last evening was probably our last “official” visit with her. We met at Monkey Joe’s—a warehouse full of bounce houses, arcade games and junk food. He and Ali both had fun bouncing, climbing and sliding. Buzz (surprisingly to me) really seems to understand that he’ll be going back with his mom soon (Fri hopefully) and the goodbyes are getting harder…more angry. We spent the first 10 min of the drive home screaming “No! I’m mad! I want Ma!” Good using your words, Buddy! Ali and I screamed too for moral support. And then, he was fine. A few minutes a later he said, “A Ma, I’m sorry.”

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Two Years Ago

07/30/2013

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On July 28, 2011 Jason was in Norway. I was lying on the couch reaching Choosing to See, feeling sick and sorry for myself. My phone rang around 9 or 9:30. It was a placement worker from DCS wondering if we were available to take a 16-month-old girl that night. I told her probably but asked if I could call her back in 5 minutes. I attempted to call Jason but it was around 2am for him and he didn’t have his wifi turned on. I called my mom and asked if she could help. I called the placement worker back and said yes. Just like that, I snapped out of my self-centered mood and started scrambling around the house. I regretted not keeping up with the house cleaning, dishes and groceries…I had been lazy since Jason was out of town. I made sure the crib had clean sheets, even though I had checked it 100x already. I pulled out whatever toddler clothes I could find. It seemed like just minutes later she was at the door with a social worker. She looked tiny, shy and scared as we filed out paperwork and she hid behind the worker on the sofa. As soon as the worker pulled out of the driveway, my parents came over. They helped us get settled in, sort through her minimal belongings and make a plan for the next day. Ladybug fell asleep quickly drinking a cup of milk as I read her The Little Engine That Could. I laid her in the crib and she stayed sound asleep all night. I, on the other hand, was up most of the night keeping vigilant watch like a dumb first time mom, which meant I was exhausted by the time she woke up. While she was eating breakfast in the morning (cheerios and a banana my parents brought over the night before), I set up my computer so Jason could meet her through Skype. He had called me as soon as he got the message in the middle of the night for me, morning for him. When she saw him on the screen and he said hi, she said hi and smiled back at him. That was the first word she had spoken since she arrived. Just like that we became parents!


Still Here

07/29/2013

We were hoping that court on Friday would result in Buzz returning to his mom for a 90-day trial period. Instead, due to some lack of diligence on the part of DCS, the judge pushed it back another week. This coming Friday is another hearing that will most likely result in that expected outcome, whether or not DCS has provided the services that they’ve been ordered to provide to Buzz’s mom. The judge flat-out told me that I don’t need to come to the next hearing, which is good except that…if Buzz is at day care, how/when are we going to do the hand-off of him and all of his belongings? I guess I’ll leave that to his case worker to figure out.

We did have one step in the right direction at court on Friday. The judge approved unsupervised visits for Buzz and his mom. That means we don’t have to be present. We celebrated by going to pick him up from day care early on Friday afternoon (it was around 3pm) and then meeting back up with his mom in the parking lot of the courthouse so she could take him out for the rest of the evening. We met back up around 7pm. She did a good job explaining to him what was going on because he had no problem coming back home with us. Saturday morning I met her at the mall and she took Buzz out for another fun outing. We met back up early afternoon and then he crashed at our house, due in part to the amount of sugar he drank and also because he was coming down with a cold and fever (as was his mom).

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We were really hoping for the transition to happen on Friday but I’m trying to be positive. There are some benefits to a gradual transition and it gives us a lot of opportunities to explain what’s going to happen to Ali and Buzz. Buzz’s mom said that while they were at the zoo on Saturday he took off running after a stroller that he thought was ours, looking for Ali. He was disappointed to find out it wasn’t her. These two are going to miss each other a lot.

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As sweet as this photo might look, I spent most of the day Saturday breaking up fights over toys between Ali and Buzz. What is it with two-year-olds? I had tons of options pulled out of the garage…cars, trucks, baseball mits, balls, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, ride-on toys…and they always want what the other one has.

 


Phone Photo Friday

07/26/2013

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I never did manage to get a blog post written for yesterday. I have two half written…one about how much Buzz has grown and changed over the past 3 months and another one about my relationship with his mom through this experience…and I never could bring myself to finish either one. So much emotion swirling around and I’m just not ready to share it yet.

Last night on our maybe last night with Buzz, we got takeout from Calypso Cafe, went out to ice cream at Jeni’s with Grandma and Grandpa, played with bikes and bubbles in the driveway and then had a glow-in-the-dark bath before bed. It was a fun night and I didn’t get teary this time. (Last time I thought it might be his last night with us I started reading him one of my favorite books Sleep, Baby, Sleep at bedtime and I started crying.)

Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!


Savoring

07/24/2013

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I’m thankful that I get to work at home on Tuesdays and Thursday so I can spend 4/7 days a week with this kid. I love her so much it hurts. (Pics from yesterday.) She is too stinkin cute.

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It was really difficult to leave for work this morning while she was calling out to me, “Mommy! Mommy!” and I had to just ignore her. Breaks. My. Heart. I love my job and somedays I’m thankful to be out of the house but other days I cry on my way to the office… it’s one of those days.

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I might be a little extra emotional due to hormones. Also, we’re savoring our time with this little guy because he might be leaving on Friday. There is a hearing scheduled for 1pm on Friday and as far as we can tell there is a very good chance he will be returning to his mom, which would be a good thing for everyone. But it will also be sad for Jason and I. And especially for him and Ali…they’ve become best friends over the past 12 weeks. Nothing is ever for sure until the judge makes his decision but we’re mentally preparing. We’ll wait until tomorrow evening to try to explain anything to the kids. Last time we thought he was leaving I ended up (surprising myself by) being an emotional wreck the night before. Praying for strength! He was outside with me this morning while Lucy was doing her business and came up to me for a spontaneous hug. He’s grown so much since he arrived at our house on May 3rd… I’ll definitely be writing about all of that soon.


Ali’s 2nd Birthday Party

07/23/2013

Every time we ask Ali what her favorite color is she says, “yeyow.” Since it’s consistently been a favorite, I decided to make her second birthday party yellow themed: yellow balloons, yellow frosting on funfetti cupcakes in yellow wrappers, yellow streamers, yellow cups, yellow napkins, yellow foods (pineapple, chips, bananas, pretzels, lemon cookies, lemonade…another some other colors of food, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, salsa, veggies and dip.) I dressed her, Buzz and myself in yellow but never mentioned to anyone else to wear yellow. I was pleased to see how many people decided to come dressed in yellow. Her party was very sweet and special. She got pretty overwhelmed by gift opening time. Overwhelmed for Ali means quiet. After the second gift was opened she dropped it on the floor and went over to sit on Grandma’s lap for a minute. When she finished opening the second to last gift (the book Everyone Poops) from Grandma, she wanted to sit on the couch and look at it; disregarding the room full of friends waiting to find out what the last package contained. I ended up opening it and was then swarmed with kids anxious to open it up and play with it—the Little People Happy Sounds house. The night before her birthday, we met Buzz’s mom at Chik-Fil-A for a visit. She brought Ali a very thoughtful gift: a gray and yellow outfit, the yellow headband she wore to her party, a Curious George DVD and a new baby doll which she has insisted on sleeping with every night since then. Her crib is getting quite crowded!

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Just in the past couple of weeks she’s been obsessed with animal crackers. I saw this idea on the side of the box.

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Jason went along with all of my ideas and planning for the party and graciously did whatever I asked him to do…take out the trash, blow up 15 balloons, make spearmint sugar paste for the pineapple, etc.

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He’s also really good at tossing Ali into the air.

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She’s a Daddy’s girl for sure.

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Ali showed Grandma the new baby from Buzz’s mom.

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Aunt Ginger and cousin Eliza.

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Uncle Dan, Nana (Jason and Dan’s mom) and the birthday girl

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I tried to get pictures of everyone there but I missed 4 of the kids. 😦 Sorry Jaron, Eli, Everly and Ezekiel. I’m blaming it mostly on the little boys being too busy. Did you notice all of the little girls sitting calmly at the table?

Ali starting to get tired and overwhelmed:

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Some of her birthday loot. Jason and I got her the owl puppet (IKEA), two dresses from H&M and the baby doll clothes. She got a bunch of bubble toys. After naps, we went swimming at Grandma and Grandpa’s and had pizza. Once we got home we broke out the new bubble wands, bubble mower, bubble gun, and banana scented bubbles. I think Ali and Buzz could have played with the bubbles for hours!

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All of her old favorites plus the newish Ms. Broccoli and new baby doll from Buzz’s mom, Elmo from Grandpa, and yellow bird from Jaron. I think we need to get her a big girl bed just to fit all of her lovies.

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After her nap she had two more gifts to open from my siblings’ families.  A frog bracelet and butterfly shirt from Uncle Jeff, Aunt Jess and Iris’ latest trip to Costa Rica.

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And a new Jellycat cordy roy Alligator for our Ali-gator from Uncle Aaron, Aunt Laura and Eli.

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It was really a perfectly wonderful second birthday for our perfectly wonderful little girl. We love you so much, Ali, and were thrilled to celebrate you!


Alianna Mae at Two Years Old

07/22/2013

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Ali, I have been looking forward to this birthday for a long time because I am tired of answering how old you are in months. We can now officially count in years! Your current foster brother, nicknamed Buzz here on my blog, is going to be three in two months. That means I can say we have two two year olds for now and it gets a lot of sympathetic responses like, “bless your heart!” and “you have your hands full!” We sure do. We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into when we accepted a placement for a little boy so close to your age. But God knew. As hard as it’s been, you guys have been so good for each other and have become best friends.

You are growing into beautiful, funny, loving, smart and outgoing little girl. You are friendly, polite and affectionate. You love music, dancing, jumping (high!), swimming, riding Dizzy, bubbles, wagon rides, slides, coloring, playing with friends and with your baby dolls and stuffed toys.  You always remind us to pray before meals, holding out your hands toward us and saying “pway.” Sometimes you pray: “Jesus. Thank you. Food. Amen.” Your current favorite book is Everyone Poops, which makes you giggle a lot. You also request Choco often, as in A Mother for Choco, which is  one of my favorites, too. You like to announce to everybody when “I toot!” You say dubbles instead of bubbles, meno instead of nemo, Nina instead of Nana, boop instead of book… I’ll miss those things when you finally get them all right. You’ve been really into counting and saying your ABCs lately, as well as Old McDonald Had a Farm and some other simple songs. We play our friend Phil King‘s album in the van a lot and you always sing along with “Fight On” and “Real Thing.”

This month Daddy and I took a 9 day vacation and left you with Grandma and Grandpa. I had never been away from you for more than one night at a time since you came to our home at 2 months old. I missed you a lot but we were able to FaceTime and send videos and photos back and forth which helped a lot. When we got back, I just wanted to soak you in. I delight in you, Little Girl! You are so fun and precious and sweet. I love to spend time with you. We brought you back a big stuffed broccoli toy (from IKEA) from our trip—your favorite vegetable ever since you were little—and you love it as much as I was hoping. I love that I know you well enough to know how to make you happy, although you’re such a joyful girl, you make it easy. You always answer that your favorite color is yellow so I planned your second birthday party around all things yellow. I’ll share about the party tomorrow.

You have a unique and powerful blessing on your life and Daddy and I love to see how the Lord unfolds your path. You are a very special little girl and for reasons beyond what we understand, God saw it fit to put you in our family. It was not random; it was not a mistake. Mountains were moved on your behalf and here you are with us now. We are so thankful and blessed to have you as a daughter. You bring so much joy and love to our home and our family. I love you, Alianna Mae!

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Your vocabulary is huge now and you’ll repeat just about anything so I’m not even going to try to mak a comprehensive list. Here are some common phrases and things you say:

I want to eat it.

Ali. Cookie. Just one. Just one.

Animal crackers. (100x a day)

Apple juice please. (100x a day)

I did it!/I want to did it.

I want to pee.

I peed! (in the toilet)

I love you Daddy/Mommy/Grandma/Grandpa/etc

Music please. (every time we get in the car)

I love music.

God bless you Lucy/Daddy/Mommy/etc.

Pray. Pray. Pray. Jesus. Amen.

Ali’s popsicle/shoes/flip flops/broccoli/hat/diaper/sunglasses/etc.

Awesome. (Always matter-of-fact; usually after a stunt on Dizzy)

JeeJee’s house! (when we drive past your buddy Jaron’s house)

Swimming/swim/Ali’s swimsuit (you LOVE to swim so you say it a lot)

Sorry Ali. (When someone else hurts you.)

Sorry/Thank you/Please (you are very polite)

Have more ______ please.

Only one/Just one. (how many cookies you’re requesting/how many bites of your cookie Daddy can have)

For my own records: At 2 years old, Ali is 33″ tall and 25 lbs. which puts her in the 25% percentile for both height and weight.