Buzz Visit at the Mall

02/19/2014

Guess who we saw on Saturday! It is such a gift to be friends with this boy’s mama and to get to watch these two kids playing together again. I told Ali once that Buzz was “kind of like a brother.” She answered, “A brother and a friend.”

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Also, this kid has grown so much! I knelt down to give him a hug and I had to half-stand back up. He’s out of the toddler sizes already and he’s not quite 3.5.


Bee Flew North

12/31/2013

OK, actually she was driven North. I mentioned before Christmas that Bee was given an unexpected family pass to spend the holidays in Wisconsin with her grandparents and extended family. We met her grandma, great-aunt and great-grandma for dinner at Chilis the Friday before Christmas to get to know them a bit more before the send off. They’re very sweet people and I know Bee is in good hands. DCS extended their permission until January 13, her next hearing date because her grandma was planning on coming back down for the hearing anyway. It’s kind of weird…we technically still have a foster placement, Bee is officially still our foster daughter, but she’s not here. Although we do miss her, it’s been a nice break, too. After Buzz left I realized the unnatural circumstances that often come with foster care where the number of children in a household sometimes decreases. An additional child is a big adjustment and then reducing back down to one child from two feels like such an easy break. We’ve been enjoying soaking up lots of time with our amazing 2.5 year old Alianna. She is such a joy and a delight. Also, we got to see Buzz again. He and his mom came to the Christmas service at our church.

Bee all packed and ready to go. Have you ever seen a foster child come with such nice luggage?!

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Two of her three Christmas presents from us. I opened them the night before she left.

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Send-off day.

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We soothed ourselves with ice cream after the send-off dinner.

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Ali showing off a gift from our neighbor, pocket babies.

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Christmas church service:

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Buzz came back…

12/30/2013

with his mom for dinner! (Side note: Our current foster placement is nicknamed Bee and our last foster placement was nicknamed Buzz [Lightyear]…Unintentional!)

Buzz was with us for three months, May-July this year. He returned home to his mom at the beginning of August for a 90-day trial period. She passed all of her requirements with flying colors and Buzz is now officially out of state custody. I could share his real name, I suppose but I’ll keep it Buzz for now. His mom did give me permission to share photos of his face though.

We got together for visits a couple times during the 90-day period and it always took Buzz a long time to warm up to us. I imagine it stirs up all kind of mixed feelings about being separated from his mommy for so long. We’ve all become like friends/family through this foster care experience so we’re hoping he’ll get more comfortable with seeing us. Buzz’s mom wanted to celebrate with us once he was finally officially out of custody. I felt like it was the right time to finally invite her to our house. She had only known the general area where we lived. I figured she’d enjoy seeing where he spent most of 3 months this summer. We were all hoping it would be healing for Buzz to come back to our house again too, and then to leave with his mom. Closure.

So Buzz and his mom came over for dinner two days before Bee arrived (in November…I’m posting this late). I didn’t take a lot of pictures because these two got crazy once they got over the initial awkwardness. At first Buzz was clinging to his mom and wouldn’t even let her put him down. Eventually we moved to the playroom and he couldn’t resist playing with Ali. He’s taking gymnastics and karate so he showed off lots of moves. Ali now knows how to build a tower of blocks and chop it down with a “Hi-yuck!” as she says.

Their dinner visit went really well. It was also loud and crazy and reminded me of how stressful and tiring that season of our lives was. I’m really thankful that we were able to be there for Buzz and his mom during that time but I’m also really thankful they’re back together.

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Boundaries

08/13/2013

I don’t think much about my personal space—the imaginary hulu hoop sized air around me—until someone invades it. I’m sure it’s happened to you, too. You meet someone for the first time and within minutes she’s talking with her face less than a foot from yours. You take a step back but she doesn’t get the hint and moves towards you again. Similarly, I had boundaries in my life that I wasn’t aware of until they had been crossed by Buzz, our recent foster son. The two major ones were related to sleep/wake times. These are personal and different for every person, but I hope to encourage you if you have boundaries you’ve allowed other to cross – reclaim your personal space!

First it was at bedtime. Buzz would get very emotional and needy (AKA stalling…) at bedtime. In order to help ease his transition, I would put Ali to bed first and rush because he was a distraction to her. She would get upset but I knew she’d recover and go to sleep on her own. I’d end up reading him a couple more books in his room, saying night time prayers, letting him watch videos his mom sent saying goodnight, put on music and then, by his request “stay,” I’d set at the foot of his bed until he fell asleep. After a while of this, Jason challenged why I was doing this. It was dragging out his bedtime longer and later and eating up my very limited time at the end of the day for me (doing dishes, tidying up, writing blog posts, showering, laundry, spending time with Jason, paying bills, etc.). I started reducing the time I would sit in his room rather than waiting for him to fall asleep. 10  minutes. 5 minutes. I stuck at 5 minutes for a while and Jason challenged me again – “LIke a bandaid, ” he said, quoting Seinfeld, “Right off!” The first night that I kissed him goodnight and left his room without answering his plea to “stay!” he cried for a minute, then Jason went in and told him to stop and go to sleep. He cried for about 30 seconds more and then went to sleep. That was the end of that! I got my nights back. I also realized that it was unfair to Ali to be rushed to bed and to lose that one-on-one time at the end of the day. At that point I started alternating. One night I would read books to both kids in Buzz’s room, tuck him in and then go with Ali into her room to tuck her in. The next night I would read books to both kids in Ali’s room, tuck her in and then go with Buzz into his room to tuck him in. They both really seemed to like and understand this system and would always remember which night it was for books in which room.

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The second area of boundary crossing was in the mornings. Parenting Buzz was our first experience with a kid who sleeps in a bed rather than a crib. That was a level of freedom around the house that required us to set boundaries for his safety. We were totally learning as we went. The first time he let himself out of the house during nap time was a huge eye opener. After some very serious talks and consequences, we didn’t have any repeat incidents, though we had to remind him several times (during waking hours) not to let himself out of the house without permission. He’s a smart kid but also very resourceful. The problem with mornings was that his wake times were all over the place. 5:30 one day. 7:00 another day. I’d have to wake him up at 8:30 another day. My pre-Buzz morning routine was to wake (gradually…)  at 6:30, spend time with God and a cup of tea from 7-7:30, take care of the dog and get ready for work from 7:30-8:30. Ali would get up around 8:30 too. Buzz’s random wake up times hijacked my mornings.  I lost my easing into the day, my alone time, my quiet time with God, my chance to take Lucy for a walk, my time to shower and get ready uninterrupted. (Side note: I’m very intentional about being the first one up so I can prepare for my day and prepare to receive my family in the morning.) It took me two months to realize that I didn’t have to give up my mornings. I was my choice. I am the parent. I could set a boundary line around this sacred time and enforce it. We got a special clock for Buzz’s room that lights up when it’s ok to come out of the bedroom. It took him a while to get the hang of it but it restored my mornings for the most part. I’d often have to take him back to his room, where he’d pout and fuss but eventually he would look at books or pick out his clothes for the day and wait until the clock lit up (at 8 am, if you’re curious).

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There were lots of other areas where boundaries were crossed and then more clearly established (just as with parenting any child) but these two areas were key to my sanity and my relationship with the rest of my family during the 3 months that Buzz was with us. They also gave me some wisdom and experience before we gave Ali the same freedom.

This is part 1 of a 2 part prelude to my post about transitioning Ali to her big girl bed that’s coming later this week.


Saying Goodbye

08/02/2013

From Instagram this morning:

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I sent him off to day care this morning with this: “If your case worker comes to pick you up, don’t be scared; it means you’re going home with your mom. If I come pick you up it means you’re coming home with me. I’ll always love you. There’s a place in my heart that’s only for you. You’ll always be a part of our family and you’re always welcome at our home.” Hearing at 11 CST. Prayers appreciated.

From Facebook later this morning:

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Back to a family of 3 again. I’m so happy for “Buzz” and his mom! And I was doing just fine emotionally until his mom started sending me the sweetest texts to say thank you to Jason and me and promising to keep in touch. Foster care working the way it’s supposed to work…to God by the glory! What a wonderful answer to prayer.


Reflections from the Maybe Finish Line

08/01/2013

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It’s been three months since a shy and wide-eyed little boy showed up in our kitchen at 1am on a rainy Friday night. When I look back at the pictures from his first weekend with us my first thought it, wow, he looks haggard! Poor guy was exhausted. The first week he had a hard time sleeping and would get out of bed, turn on the light, pace around, sometimes curl up with a blanket on the floor or in the chair in his room, dropping books and sippy cups and generally keeping everyone awake. By the end of his first week he was sleeping in his bed with the light off and it was no small victory. Several times in the weeks to follow he would get frightened by a sound a night, jump out of bed, put his shoes and jacket on and get ready to haul out of there. I’m happy to say that hasn’t happened in a long time. He’s even been fairly good about staying in his room in the morning until his Ok To Wake clock lights up. (More about that another time.)

I’ve already written about his progress in expressing his emotions. Buzz doesn’t talk well. He talks a lot but doesn’t articulate very precisely. That means it’s often hard to know what he’s thinking or feeling or even asking for sometimes, and it’s frustrating for all of us. Through a combination of learning and attempting lots of new words and me learning his “language” I feel like we’ve made great strides in our communication. He’s great about saying “thank you” and “your welcome.” He still defaults to “I want more” instead of “more please” but he’ll ask nicely (vs. tell me what he wants) if I remind him. He always wants milk to drink and we’ve progressed from pointing at the fridge and saying, “right there” to “ba” to “bilt” to “milt” sometimes. Progress, see! He’s getting better about apologizing after hurting someone/something or being disrespectful, though it still sounds like he’s saying, “I die” instead of “I’m sorry.” But it’s wonderful that he’s starting to develop true remorse for his actions rather than just seeing what he can get away with. Here’s an example:

Sometimes Ali and Buzz play together in the playroom while I’m in the kitchen. Often it results at some point with Ali crying and Buzz meeting me in the hallway to say, “Sorry!” This happened recently. “Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to Ali,” I said…again. I followed him into the playroom. Ali was upset but didn’t seem hurt. I’m guessing he had pushed her out of his way to go down the slide and she had fallen down. He told her he was sorry just as I had asked. I suggested he help her up. Much to my surprise, he bent down and gave her a hug. And then a kiss. And then helped her up. Oh my heart! This is the boy who usually loudly protests and pushes her away anytime she tries to give him a hug. I think he must have actually felt bad for hurting her!

He can be so sweet and helpful when he wants to be. I believe this is one of his gifts and a strong pillar of his character. I affirm it every time I see it. He can be so defiant and mean sometimes, so careless—pushing other kids out of his way or stepping on other kids’ hands or toys. And then other times he’s the most thoughtful, helpful kid I’ve ever seen. The other day I was helping Ali practice peeing on her potty chair. He went off to her room to get a new diaper for her without me asking. When she’s done, he’s always eager to take care of cleaning out the pee pan. Sometimes I have to ask several times but he is an amazing help for cleaning up and organizing. He remembers where every bit and piece goes and makes sure everything is in it’s place—all the blocks are accounted for, Ali’s babies end up back in her crib, his shoes goes in the organizer in his closet, his empty cup goes in the sink, an old sticker or bandaid goes in the trash can, his backpack is hung on it’s hook. Yesterday I was scrambling to get both kids ready and out the door on time. He helped me out by feeding Lucy, picking out and putting on his own shoes (wrong feet but good enough!), picking out Ali’s shoes and putting Lucy in her crate when it was time to go. Gosh, I’m going to miss that! I guess I need to do better about giving Ali chores. If he was with us longer, I think I would start making specific chores for Buzz to do everyday to earn rewards – he really seems to flourish there and is so proud of himself when he’s accomplished a task I’ve asked him to do.

I could tell he had grown a lot since he’s been at our house because pants and shorts that were loose now fit snugly. I weighed him the other day and not surprised to see that he had gained 3 lbs. in 3 months! He’s a tall and thin little guy. He’s also grown 2-3″ taller. Is that possible?!  He’ll be 3 years old next month and he’s been wearing 4T clothes (3T bottoms when he arrived but now they’re all getting too tight, and pants are definitely too short) and size 9 or 10 shoes depending on the style. He’s pretty clumsy…falling, tripping, running into stationary objects and other kids…which is probably due to how fast his body is growing. At the same time, he’s very athletic. He’s got a great arm for throwing balls and is great at riding on the balance bike we’re borrowing from a friend. He runs fast and is a great climber.

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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.”