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.”

monkeyjoes

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.”


Savoring

07/24/2013

IMG_9635

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.

IMG_9634

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.

IMG_9637

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.


Respite and IKEA

07/16/2013

While we were out of town kid-free Jason and I had to find places for Ali and Buzz to stay, of course. Ali was easy. My parents were willing. Since we lived with them for 10 months last year and Ali goes there all the time, it was a pretty easy transition for her. We did a lot of FaceTime and sending photos and videos back and forth, which helped a lot. I’m so thankful for technology!

Buzz was a little trickier. It was too much to ask anyone to watch both kiddos together (I totally understand!) so we needed to find another home for Buzz to stay. Our new family case worker was awesome about sending out an email and locating a family that was willing and available. The other family’s case worker sent their contact info with a little note “heart in the right place” next to their names. I can’t tell you how much peace of mind that gave me! I talked to his respite foster mama at length before the trip and sent her a detailed list of his routine and likes/dislikes. They were grateful for all the info and I was thrilled that they cared enough to ask in advance about his favorite foods, books, activities, etc. She sent me reports and some photos during our trip reporting that he was doing great and such a sweet boy. She also kept in touch with Buzz’s mom through texts, pictures and videos lik we usually do. Buzz’s mom and I both hated for his sake that he had to be away from our home for 9 days, but it went as good, if not better, than we could have hoped for. It was a little rocky transitioning back to our house the first day. It was hard to interpret his emotions…sad, confused, scared…but I’m not exactly sure why. We did our best to explain to him everything that was happening and what to expect next. By the next day, he was pretty much back to his usual self. It sounds like he didn’t talk much at their house but he came back with some new words and expressions, and it’s been fun to hear what he learned: “that way!” “wait!” with his hand held out, “oh ok.”

I had planned to have an extra day of staycation when we got home before returning to the work/daycare routine but we ended up with 2 days (because Jason opted to drive through the night!) I’m really glad we had that time to transition back to a family of four again. Both of our kids caregivers did ALL of their laundry before pick up so I only had 3 loads to do when we got home, rather than 4 or 5. Thank you, thank you!

I looked at tacky over-priced Key West souveniers for the kids at several shops and just couldn’t bring myself to do it. We stopped at IKEA in Orlando on our way home and I picked out a big stuffed animal for each of them…or in Ali’s case a stuffed vegetable. She loves broccoli so I thought it would be funny to get her a big stuffed broccoli. There’s a video of her showing off Miss Bocki on my Instagram feed. Buzz loves dogs so his toy was an easy choice, too. He acted completely uninterested in it while we were still at his respite house but then fell asleep holding it on our drive home and has slept with it every nap and night since then. I asked him if dog has a name and he said “Woof Woof.”

IMG_9509 IMG_9514

We got a few things for ourselves, too. Some of it won’t appear until future posts when it’s assembled and/or photographed. These were easy, though. New towels, bath rug and shower curtain for the hall bathroom:

IMG_9518


Dun Dun Dun…

07/03/2013

The stomach virus strikes again. I can’t believe I’m writing about this but it’s basically been consuming all of my non-working, waking hours lately. You know I mentioned getting a nasty stomach virus last week? Well we’re pretty sure Ali had a milder form of it last week too. Buzz had a little bit of symptoms but seemed fine. On Sunday evening, I woke the kids up from their deep slumber so we could go to a Nashville Sounds game. I got free tickets from work, their was a concert beforehand and the weather was cloudy an 79 degrees so we were all set up for a perfect evening. Before the game started, we could tell something was up. Ali was just eating it all up. She LOVES adventures, people, crowds, mascots, music…all of it. But Buzz was not acting like his usual wild self. It was kind of nice at first…during the concert he just stood next to me and held my hand or wanted to be picked up. But once we got to our seats he was really trying to get comfortable and acting really sleepy. We only stayed for 1.5 innings and realized we better go. As soon as we got home, he flopped on the sofa in the playroom. I checked his temperature and he had a fever. As soon as I turned to walk out of the room he threw up all over the place. I took a sick day on Monday to take care of him and Ali while Jason ran a bunch of errands. Tuesday morning Buzz still had a fever so I left both kids with Jason and went to work. Before lunch time I got a text from Jason that he wasn’t feeling well. By the time I got both kids down for their afternoon naps, Jason was definitely sick with the same dang stomach virus. I hate that thing. I hate that it’s taken over a week to move from person to person. I hate that it started with me.

I’m praying that Buzz is well enough to go to day care today and that Jason is able to rest and get his strength back. Possibly, I’ll be able to go in to the office. Good grief. It has been a week! We have a lot of fun planned for the next few days so I’m ready to kick this thing to the curb.

IMG_9398 IMG_9399 IMG_9401 IMG_9407 IMG_9416 IMG_9423


Baggage

06/27/2013

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

IMG_9252

Buzz (not real name), our foster son, rarely has his hands free. I noticed the first day he was with us that he was always carrying at least one toy in his hand, if not 5 toys like in the photo above. He’s very clingy to his stuff. “By!” is how he stakes his claim over whatever is in his hands or pockets (which translates to mine), and it doesn’t matter if it’s really his or not.

The poor kid  had almost everything that belonged to him stripped away, so I can understand his deep rooted desire to claim, hold, own things around our house. I’m thankful that his mom brought us a lot of his favorite toys, pillow, and clothes so that he does have a lot of familiar objects here. We have issues over sharing everyday. Ali has been forced to share just about everything that she believed to be hers alone (toys, home, parents, attention) so we expect Buzz to share what he believes belongs to him as well.

The bigger issue is that all of that baggage is weighing him down. It’s hard to actually play with a toy when he has 4 other toys in his arms, afraid to set them down, to release his claim. One day in the pool he had the three cars (in his left hand in the above picture) and all 4 of our diving sticks in his arms…and he was trying to swim! Dude! Put the toys down so you can use your arms!

I’m hoping as he continues to feel more secure here that he’ll be more comfortable letting go.

We had a foster care review board meeting on Tuesday that he was required to go to (although he’s 2 and didn’t say a word!) so I had to take him. It was quite interesting. We were told at the start of his placement that Buzz’s parents had the simplest plan to reunification but yet it seems there are still hiccups and snags coming up along the way. Even though everyone on the board (mostly older white ladies) commented on how cute he is, and he was well behaved and played quietly with toys while the grown-ups discussed his family and his future, I could tell the stress was affecting him—his bodily functions, his behavior when we left, the visible sadness on his face as we were driving away.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.


Weekend Update

06/25/2013

IMG_9307 IMG_9320

Friday night after the kids were asleep Jason and I started preparing our house for our first party—a house warming party! We’ve been in our new home for 6 months but it took us this long to find a weekend that worked for both of us and to feel like we were settled enough.

IMG_9330

Since court was pretty uneventful on Friday, we had a visit with Buzz’s mom Saturday morning at a newer city park a few miles from us. This is the first time we had had a chance to check out the splash pad. It’s pretty great and it’s totally free. Thank you, Nashville! This is the only picture I took because it was hard to stay dry. Buzz is in the background by Ali’s forehead. He LOVED it! Ali wasn’t so sure.

IMG_9336

I gave the kids early baths on Saturday since I knew they’d be up late at the party. When Buzz saw that I was putting a dress on Ali, he ran to his closet to pick out a nice shirt. I helped find matching shorts and then he picked out the flip flops for both of them. I had my new Pandora station running and they decided to dance together. I took a video to send to Buzz’s mom. I wish you could see the huge grin on his face. It’s very similar to Buzz Lightyear’s grin here:

IMG_9338

This was at the end of the party when just our BFFs were still there. We attempted to get a typical smooch shot of Ali and her buddy Jaron but they were too quick (although there was kissing a-plenty!) It was way past their bedtime and these two were getting so silly, especially Buzz. Again, I wish you could see his huge grin.

IMG_9341

Buzz got into a rare kissing mood…he kissed me, our friend, Jason…and then I suggested he give Ali a kiss. 99% of the time he refuses affection from her. She’ll sneak up behind him to give him a hug and he squeals and tries to get away. This time he gave her a big, long kiss! They really do love each other even though they drive each other (and us) nuts most of the time. Like brother and sister, I guess.

IMG_9342

When I finally crashed into bed, I had to stop to take a photo. This room has been the most neglected design-wise. We finally got new curtains and hung them the day before the house warming party. We had tubs of out-of-season clothes and piles of extra blankets that I finally packed into our closet. (Why didn’t I do that months ago?!) It looks so much more clean and relaxing now. I’ll be posting some more about this room as it progresses. We picked out new bedding but haven’t purchased it yet. After that, we’ll be working on night stands, lamps, an accent wall, and artwork.

IMG_9345


Four Pairs

06/24/2013

We’re all still here.

fourshoes

Court on Friday was pretty uneventful. If you followed the comments on Friday’s post you probably noticed that we were expecting to have court and we thought there was a good chance that Buzz’s mom would get him back. I wasn’t planning to go because I was too busy to take another half day off of work. I was notified that we were all ill-informed at it was supposed to be this Friday. Then his mom went down there and got them to move it back to this past Friday again. She ended up going before the magistrate but he explained that she actually needs a trial, not a motion to appeal (if I understand correctly…what she explained to me…) and that is scheduled for July 1. So we continue to wait.