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Baggage

06/27/2013

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

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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.

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Grief and Kids in Foster Care

06/10/2013

There is way too much in my brain to fully unravel here but I’m going to get started on it. To put it plainly, we’re dealing with a lot of behaviors (misbehaviors) from Buzz on a daily basis. It can quickly become exhausting. I often hear, “That’s a two year old for you!” or “My kid does that, too!” and I know that’s part of it. But there is also a huge ugly beast named Trauma. If you’ve seen Buzz have a tantrum or stage a protest while we’re out in public, you’re getting a glimpse of the kind of things we’re dealing with at home when he’s comfortable enough to really let it out.

I explained to a friend and former foster parent last week that I feel like 20% of the time he’s sweet, kind, easy going, helpful, obedient, loving… My hero Karen Purvis would call this “the real boy.” Then 60% of the time, Buzz opens his mouth and the beast Trauma (mixed with typical 2 year old defiance, sure) lets out a shriek like a pterodactyl, balls up his fists, flails, cries, screams, pouts, stomps, runs… (Deep breath. Deep breath.) Then the other 20% he’s actually sweet but I can’t shake the pterodactyl filter off or I’m still took stressed out to realize he’s back to “the real boy.” This friend knew exactly what I meant and we agreed that the majority of the people in our lives only see the sweet 20.

Buzz’s mom and I have been keeping in touch daily with texts. I send her updates and pictures and ask questions about Buzz. She checks in on him and sends him sweet messages. We’ve also Skyped a few times when we couldn’t work out a time for a weekly visit. It was helpful for her to see him but he wasn’t grasping the video chat concept very well. He doesn’t talk much so instead of responding, he’d duck and hide from the camera most of the time. One evening instead of Skype, his mom sent him a video text message.

He sat down and studied my phone with intensity while she was talking to him. Tears welled up in his eyes. “Ma,” he told me, pointing to the phone. “I want Ma.” He watched it over and over and over again while I was in the kitchen starting dinner. I turned around to see him standing there, handing me my phone and reaching out for a hug. I turned the pot on the stove down to low and I held him. For a long time. I talked about how I feel when I miss someone that I love and how it makes my heart hurt. I told him it’s ok to be sad and that I know he misses his mom and dad. He nodded and held my hand. He just snuggled and rested with me for probably 15 minutes. Dinner could wait. Buzz needed comfort and I’m glad I could offer it.

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Then an awesome thing happened. He was totally well behaved, the sweet 20, “the real boy” ALL EVENING. I lost track of time as I was playing with the kids in the playroom. Ali was sick and getting quite tired so I decided to put her to bed and then come back to help Buzz clean up rather than put them to bed at the same time like usual. I told him my plan and that he could keep playing for a while longer while I got Ali down. As I was tucking her into her crib, I could hear him shuffling things around in the playroom closet. I assumed he was getting out more toys. I flipped off Ali’s light and rounded the corner into this spotless playroom! He put every single toy away in the right spot—even tiny wooden blocks in a cart, the train arranged on top of the bookcase, and puzzles and blocks away in the closet. I was astounded!

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Last week was a bit of up and down with behavior and Buzz’s mom sent several more short video messages for him. She and I are both learning as we go here but it really seems to be helping him. Yes, it does stir up sadness a lot of the time but he’s working through it, accepting comfort, letting out some of those really big feelings in a healthy way. When he tells me “I want my mom,” I can offer him my phone to watch a video message from her rather than just apologizing. It’s working.

I’ve also been soaking up Karen Purvis teachings like a crusty dry sponge. Have I mentioned that she’s my hero? I watched this one called Better Understanding Our Children: An Overview of Common Challenges Faced by Adopted & Foster Children” by Dr. Karyn Purvis and felt encouraged and empowered to better deal with his behavior. She mentioned a statistic from a study that found children in foster care experience PTSD at 2x the rate of war veterans. In children, PTSD is displayed as inattention, hyperactivity, irrational outbursts and in some kids, violence or aggression. I’m not saying Buzz has PTSD and I have no interest in a diagnosis but he’s unquestionably been through trauma (any child who has lost or is separated from his parents is living their worst nightmare) and he definitely exhibits some of those behaviors.

I really hope that we can help Buzz to navigate through these choppy waters of big, scary feelings. We pray every night for his parents and that he can be reunited and home with them soon. We pray for Buzz’s peace and healing of his heart. We pray for wisdom, patience and understanding for Jason and me as his foster parents.