Archive for December, 2011

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birthday girl

December 13, 2011

Lee has been a bit impatient with Alex lately because he’s unable to be quiet in the mornings unless I’m there with him reminding and shushing him, because he spills something at every meal, because he climbs on things he shouldn’t climb and crashes his toys and does all the things that I thought she wanted when she said her ideal child was a “naughty boy.” Today, though, she was awake for a change when he popped out of bed, which is what happens as soon as I turn on the lights in the morning. “Leeeeeee! Is today a nice day — for you to open presents because it’s your birthday?” She was so delighted and really emotionally overwhelmed by that.

So yeah, it’s Lee’s birthday. Leah (her birthmother) sent her a card yesterday and she opened it and read it, which is good. I love that connecting to Mara’s sadness and to Mara’s family has pushed how she feels about her own. She’s been hanging old family pictures from both branches of her family in the hallway toward our kitchen, and I love it!

I’m also super proud of Lee because initially she’d hoped I could get Alex and Val to stay with their former family caregiver for the evening so we could have a family dinner out, then decided that they’d realize it wasn’t fair to them. (I was pushing for a babysitter and a dinner for just the moms, but that may have been for reasons that were more selfish than celebratory.) After looking at her options, she decided the best thing to do was go to dinner together as a full family and then a basketball game at her school. That’s the kind of decision I’ve wanted her to make for the whole time Val and Alex have been with us, and so she got all sorts of praise from me for that.

Then it turned out that the basketball game wouldn’t start until 7:30, when the kids need to be in bed. And then today we found out it was actually canceled. So she gets the credit for being willing to go, but a friend of hers who was supposed to go to the game is going to come over so we can sing and do presents and then they’ll go out together while I do kid care. Once the kids are in bed and Lee has had some fun and got to feel like the kind of grownup who has fun, she’ll come back home and she and I can watch a tv show or something before we fall asleep.

It’s been such a huge help to have Lee as a more active parenting partner lately. I understand some of her reservations and hesitations before, but she’s embraced her role and is making great progress. The fostering part of this year has been so tough on her and thus us, but she’s thrilled about being Mara’s adoptive mom. And we managed to buy a house, move into it, and start making it our home! (Oh, and sell our old house, which was also a huge relief.) She’s a year away from one of those huge milestone birthdays and I think Mara and I and whatever other kid(s) we may have at the time will be better able to make it a celebration than I was this year, but she has a lot of people who love her and have benefited from her presence and activity in their lives. She and I are still learning about what we can do as parents and as partners, but we’re managing to do it in ways that pull us together rather than dragging us apart. That alone is a big one.

So happy birthday, love, and I’m glad you don’t read here but that you respect that blogging helps me and that sometimes visiting the friends I make from blogging helps me even more. Once Alex and Val go home, I think we’ll take a trip to a big city where I can see some blog-adjacent friends and we can build some exciting new memories as a family. We have a lot to look forward to before then, too.

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Picky/pica

December 12, 2011

Mara really isn’t a picky eater at all, though she likes some things better than others and isn’t afraid to express those preferences. (She’s picked up “disgusting” from Val, but all three kids understand that both that and “looks/smells like yuck” are off limits at the dinner table, though this sometimes requires reminders.) She is, though, fascinated by another sort of Picky, her name for Pippi Longstocking, whom she adores in the vaguely awful mid-80s musical movie version and now the book that we’re reading.

I’ve been thinking a little more about Pippi lately, about to what extent her bravado covers up her fears or whether I’m being silly to even think about that. I think about how Val really isn’t a good liar and yet she sure seems to want to be believed when she’s telling her stories, so I try to let her know that I don’t believe but that I respect her need to feel heard. I think about how Mara alternates being fearless and too nervous at the playground and how I wish Alex would show a little more of the latter, though his feats of athleticism haven’t led to injury yet. I see how gentle all three of them are with our animals. They all have that mix of too old and too young for their ages that is really probably just part of being their age but also part of having complicated histories.

Mara’s sisters called on Saturday. I was supervising one of the other kids in the bathtub and my phone rang with a chipper nine-year-old on the other end. Mara was so excited about the call, but from what I could hear mostly talked in nonsense words rather than trying to explain herself. She was ecstatic about it when I talked to her about the call, just glowing. Then she had a horrible night where she didn’t feel comfortable in her own skin and seemed to be fighting bad dreams, after which she woke up itchy and eventually frighteningly bumpy. The hospital diagnosed hives when I got her there and it was a relief that they went away as quickly as they’d arrived. I can’t think of what other than that unexpected family contact was something new that might have been a trigger, but if family visits mean we’ll have to load up on benadryl, I’m okay with that and I know Mara would be too.

One essential thing we learned on our last visit with Mara’s family was that one of her older siblings also has pica, that in fact this sibling once ate almost an entire shoe, which is funny in retrospect but I’m sure scary at the time. While Mara’s preschool director had suggested her pica could be part of a sensory processing disorder of some sort, I’m more inclined to think it lies somewhere on the OCD spectrum and that it’s one of several self-soothing techniques she developed as an underparented baby. When she drinks out of a cup with no lid, she often won’t touch her hair, but drinking out of a sippy cup or a straw seems to take her back to her “bottle” feeling and she immediately starts tugging gently on her hair, which is also something she does at bedtime.

Because of the pica, we get Mara’s lead tested twice a year and she’s still in the safe range and I’m pretty sure the documentation shows that the one time she tested high (well before she came to us) was because of contamination on her finger rather than in her blood. She knows not to eat her hair if she pulls it out when she’s bored at naptime or her blanket when she’s bored at naptime, but eventually being bored will take over and she’ll do those things if one of her teachers doesn’t notice and pass one of her chew toys to her, in which case she’ll chew that and not eat anything and also not pull out her hair, though she may pat or tug it. We still rock her to sleep at night in part because I don’t think she’s ready to go to sleep on her own without eating inappropriate items if she’s frustrated. The incident report from when she ate a plant at school last week signals that it, too, was during naptime, so we know that’s the key.

Beyond that, though, I just have to be aware that things might go in her mouth for her to chew and possibly eat. I’ve been trying to avoid hair beads because I want protective styles for her fast-growing healthy hair, but also because beads and barrettes often end up in her mouth and then maybe her stomach. She’s only eaten a few really worrisome things, but occasionally there will be a stick or some dirt or ice (and I’m so guilty of that last one, and yes, I’m probably generally anemic) and no real pattern to what might have made them appealing one day and not the next. Well, ice is always appealing to her and to me, but she doesn’t show any of the deficiencies that sometimes can trigger that. She doesn’t have unfettered access to the freezer, so ice is a rare treat and usually only available when we go out to eat.

We had to reschedule her four-year checkup because she had a sinus infection back at her birthday time, but she’ll get checked by a dentist and by her doctor in the coming weeks and I’m sure we’ll have more official input from people who know more about what we should expect and what’s going on. For now, I’m inclined to think (as I said) that this is partly a remnant of her time alone as a baby and the nutritional deprivation that at least sometimes went along with it. It’s also probably got a genetic component since a sibling she was never raised with and who had (I think) a different sort of upbringing has the same issue. I’m not sure if I’m inclined not to call it sensory just because I’m inclined not to or if I’m missing out on insight there, so I’ll check into that and also maybe let her start trying gum and seeing if I can get her to spit it out rather than swallow it.

Part of all of this is that I want Mara to be healthy, but it doesn’t really bother me if to some extent she wants to metaphorically walk backwards, do some of her Pippi thing. She needs to learn that she doesn’t eat anything that isn’t food (or, um, ice, which is basically a food because hello, water!) and we’ve been working on that since she was first placed with us, with considerable success. That doesn’t mean she’s not going to eat anything inappropriate or that I’m going to take away her chew toys, but her pica episodes are getting much more rare and (at least until the potted plant) less dramatic. Because I see progress, I’m hoping that as she gets more attached to us and more comfortable with her life, she’ll feel less need for the satisfaction pica brings her. She’s growing up, and I hope pica is one of those childish things she’ll be able to put aside, at least to some extent as she finds her way. As usual, I have faith in her.

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kids being kids

December 6, 2011

The St. Nick gifts, chocolates and a teddy bear for each child, were well-received this morning. Mara did confess that “I pick them by myself at the store!” but Alex scoffed at that since he knows Mara’s not allowed to go to the store by herself. They were mostly too excited about the loot to worry about where it had come from. Tonight we’ll be decorating a gingerbread house (which I’d hoped to pass off to my mother, but she’s sick and so I have to stay in and manage things) and then our holiday preparations will be pretty much done and I’ll just be getting the kids through the rest of their school weeks and then staying home with them until school starts up again.

Val took her own advice from yesterday and made herself a “letter” from her incarcerated parent with pictures drawn in and lots of wiggly lines to be the words. She has it in a pocket of her backpack so it’s there when she needs it. I complimented her on her initiative and I really am impressed that she decided what she wanted and then made sure she got it! We also had a better morning because I woke her by telling her it was time to put on her dress rather than a shirt. Well, also probably because I made her go to bed extra early. That’s going to be the norm for a while, because she really does need 10-11 hours of sleep, though that means we don’t get a whole lot of time at home awake in the evenings.

On the not-so-great side, she’s been doing a fair amount of stealing, though she’s not very good at it and so far I’ve been able to either head her off at the pass (easy since she’s drawn to fancy pens and markers, so I know to do a tally before letting her leave school) or get her to return things. I’m not really sure how to deal with this other than by just saying, “Welp, I know you took that from somewhere, so was it the afterschool program or the museum?” She’s not necessarily going to tell me the truth, but I can strong-arm her into returning it somewhere. Her at-home parent hadn’t noticed her taking things she wasn’t supposed to have but is definitely fed up with her talking back and just generally not wanting to be compliant. We all attribute this mostly to feeling emotionally mixed and out of control in her life right now. (I also think she was a lot more successful at manipulating people to get what she wanted in previous family setups and I know she’s still managing that pretty successfully at school.) It’s just hard to deal with, especially when she’s started feeling like she’s a bad kid because she keeps getting caught doing stuff she’s not supposed to do. Here, too, extra sleep has a huge positive impact. If I can get her into a time out at a strategic moment (soon after getting home from school, especially) she’ll take a nap and then do much better, but I can’t make her fall asleep. Lee and I are both making efforts to spend more time one-on-one with her because I think she’ll do better if she can get attention in positive ways and we reinforce that.

Alex is holding up well and doing better at preschool and daycare these days. He no longer needs an elaborate good-bye ritual and he trusts that I’ll be there to pick him up at the end of every day, though he’s occasionally irate when the driver is Lee instead, which isn’t ideal. He needs a lot of time with me, and I’ve been carrying him in the backpack sometimes. (I needed to do that with Mara too this weekend. It helps them feel better and lets me get things done, but when I’ve already been dealing with intense back pain is probably not a great long-term plan.) He’s doing a lot of “repembering” (his word for “pretending” and one of his few consistent mispronunciations) and does a good job playing by himself when the girls are paired off doing their own thing, though he’d really be happiest if I watched him all day and all night. He plugged the end of a paper towel roll with a pinecone and slid it over his arm to turn himself into a robot, which was awesome. I love his creativity and how intensely he feels things, though it can be hard to redirect him without hurting his feelings.

Mara is going through a defiant phase with us, but doing well with Val and Alex. I think that she’s headed toward a growth spurt, which usually seems to be preceded by this mix of what seems to be misdirected fury and emotional neediness. I haven’t spent enough time with Val and Alex to do more than just guess about what signals they might be sending (though, really, a year with Mara is in some ways not a long time) and I appreciate having their parents’ input too. It’s another reason I feel like we’re working as a team to provide consistent care. For the most part, though, Mara’s still being hilarious and she’s always friendly and fun when interacting with Alex and Val. She’s gotten better at having boundaries, knowing when she wants to share her toys and when she doesn’t want someone who tends to break or lose things to get a second chance.

The only school problem Mara has had lately is that during her nap time last week she ate a houseplant, although I’m not sure exactly how much she got down before a teacher noticed. The preschool director was in the room at the time and yelled at Mara to stop and not eat plants, which made Mara break down and cry hysterically since she’s never disappointed the director before. Lee was called and came up to check on things while I googled poison control details. Mara was fine and didn’t seem terribly bothered by the experience, though she’s said, “When I ate a plant, I crying!” many times since then, which is useful since we get to remind her NOT TO EAT THINGS THAT AREN’T FOOD! Ah, parenting pica is not one of my best skills. And the program director wants us to ask her doctor whether maybe it’s some sort of sensory processing problem where Mara likes the feeling of having something in her mouth, so I guess I’ll do that. The director said there’s a medicine she’s seen work for kids in the past, but she told Lee that and at this point I think the message is so garbled that I have no idea what she’s talking about. We’ll see and I’ll talk to her, but clearly the pica is much, much better but still not gone.

Here’s where I point out before the commenters do that I said all the kids are seeming needy and I know I’m only doing some of what I should/can/must to meet those needs. I’m feeling pretty needy myself these days, but I have a day off work this week to rest and knit and take a bath and maybe recharge myself to the point where I can have a child on each hip without them kicking at each other and complaining that they each want to be the only one being held. Now that Lee is willing to spend more time doing childcare, we’re able to parcel out more one-on-one child-with-adult time, which I do think (and 1-2-3 Magic also insists) should be key to helping them feel connected.

A friend has been talking and thinking recently about what it means to be a good-enough parent as opposed to a good one. I didn’t have an answer and I still don’t. I do think I’m being good enough in getting the kids dressed, fed, washed, nurtured, but I’m still not giving them everything they want. Because all three of them want access to parents who are inaccessible to them, I can’t give them everything they want and I’m usually but not always okay with that part of the job. I’m not trying to raise any of them to be spoiled and that’s not what I mean in giving them what they want, but all of this is just complicated. It’s sometimes hard to know what’s the balance of what’s acceptable normal child behavior and what crosses the line, whether it’s counter-productive to have different discipline strategies for different kids, how to deal with three different sleep schedules and preferences that don’t always overlap with my own desires for sleep. I guess it’s worth reminding myself that I’m good enough at taking care of little kids but don’t find it rewarding the same way I do dealing with kids who are older. So much of this is drudgery, repetitive drudgery, and I’m having a hard time with that. Luckily we’re all working with good intentions and trying to, as Val would say, “be easy” with one another. I think that will eventually get us where we need to go.

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different difficulties

December 5, 2011

Valerie and Alex spent the weekend with their family and got home late last night, late enough that they were extra unhappy about getting up for school this morning. They were also upset because they’re having to process a lot of grief about not living with the rest of their family now.

I’d been planning not to talk about this directly, but I’ve changed my mind and am trying to do it in as careful and respectful a manner as possible. About three weeks ago, one of their parents was arrested. I wrote about it somewhat obliquely at the time, but there was a week or so when none of us knew what was going on and what this would do to the case plan and so on. There have been times where because I have internet access and can look at jail and court records that are publicly available, I’ve known more about what’s going on and what the timelines are than the family members of the incarcerated parent, which feels very odd to me. Even though dealing with an incarcerated parent is pretty common in foster care, the way this has happened has been hard on all of us in different ways.

First off, as I said in my previous post, this change in circumstances is not a sign that the incarcerated parent has done anything “bad” or slipped back into dangerous habits. The arrest was for an administrative issue, that the summons to appear at a court hearing were sent to the family’s old address and then the parent either knowingly or not missed that hearing, which meant that a warrant went out for the parent’s arrest. The parent was apprehended and then taken back to the jurisdiction for a preliminary hearing. That was all happening during the week we were trying to figure out how to manage family visits for the kids.

When the kids went on their first family visit, their at-home parent didn’t tell them that their incarcerated parent was incarcerated. (I’m not criticizing the decision here; I hadn’t brought it up either and none of us wanted to worry the kids if this parent was going to be released at the preliminary hearing and back home in time for the visit.) Instead, the at-home parent said that the other parent was sick with something contagious and had to stay away. I was really uncomfortable with that tactic since I don’t like lying to kids, but again I can understand why it seemed appealing under the circumstances. But then came the Thanksgiving visit and still the kids were being told their other parent was just inaccessible for medical reasons, and I was really unhappy after that. Val had started worrying about her parent’s health, worrying about why she hadn’t talked to that parent in weeks. And while she was definitely enjoying visits and more frequent phone contact with the other parent, it was clear that she in particular felt a loss. (Alex isn’t as verbal or as obvious when something’s bothering him, but I think that he too was having a hard time and specifically demanding more from me, so it wasn’t just Val.) I had to call the other parent and make an ultimatum, though the parent immediately agreed that the kids deserved to know the truth.

The truth is that their parent is going to be in jail for another month, missing Christmas. I’ve made it clear to the social worker and their family members that I’m willing to take the kids to jail to see their parent there. The kids have been to jail for visits before they came into care and I know they don’t see it as something deeply stigmatized from the way they’ve mentioned it to me openly in the past. Right now, it sounds like their incarcerated parent is so embarrassed and angry about this turn of events that a visit isn’t the parent’s preference, but if that changes I’ll be ready.

The truth that we haven’t discussed much with the kids is that while their other parent is able to keep doing all the things the parents are supposed to be doing to regain custody, that’s just going to be harder as a solo person with only one income coming in. Lee and I both pushed their family worker to finally get on the ball and do her part of trying to help the family find housing, and she finally did do that. The timeline hasn’t officially changed and honestly I hope it doesn’t, that we’re halfway through our time with the two kids and their parents will be home and raising them soon.

I don’t know what it will mean if things go badly at the sentencing in January. Could they really reunify with one parent who’s going to have to work and get them to school and manage everything when they’ve been used to having both parents share the load? Money goes into this question too, where a family used to living on two incomes is going to be pressed by having just one. Plus there’s the twist that Lee and I said that if something happened that was going to significantly delay reunification, we’d want the kids to move to a home where they could stay more permanently. I’m choosing not to think about that side of things. I love the peace we have when I’m not caring for three little kids, but I want them to go somewhere better, go home when they go. I’m just figuring that for a non-violent offender who’s been holding down a full-time job, working hard to be an appropriate parent, avoiding any of the situations that caused the parents trouble in the first place, time served will be plenty and the parents can be reunited outside jail and get back on track toward reunification soon after.

I haven’t talked much about the future with Val and Alex, but they know that they’ll be with their family for Christmas and that their incarcerated parent won’t be there. I think they were both a bit relieved to hear the truth, and I’d given Val’s teacher and counselor a heads-up and let her know that they were both prepared to talk to her about it. I just found out that her school has some sort of support group for kids with incarcerated parents, and while I’m not sure that’s necessary or helpful for her in kindergarten, I’m glad to know about it. Val said she wants to have a letter from her incarcerated parent that she can keep in her backpack to look at when she’s stressed or sad, and I think that sounds reasonable. We’re going to work together tonight to send a letter and some photos and ask if we can get a letter for each kid back. Even though neither kid can read, having that should help them feel better.

I know we have a lot of big conversations coming and that the kids are going to have bigger negative feelings. They’d been facing a lot of that anyway, I think just getting more conflicted after they’ve been with us for long enough (two months) to feel settled here but also extending their family visits so that they’re very much aware of what they’re missing. It’s just hard, maybe more so at the holidays. I’ve talked with the kids a lot about when they’ll do Christmas with us and when they’ll do it with their family and that they won’t be missing out on anything, but I’m not sure if they believe me. To cover my bases, I’ll have St. Nick leave them presents overnight, because my classmates from German families always celebrated this and I don’t want them left out if schoolmates are getting little presents and they’re getting nothing. I haven’t had the chance to ask the parent I get to talk to whether this is a family tradition, but I’ll be doing it anyway. If St. Nick doesn’t come next year, well, that’s about a different kind of lie that grown-ups tell children (and one I feel very conflicted about, but it’ll be a “Well, these are your presents for St. Nicholas Day and what a surprise!” and I hope I’ll be able to avoid any conversation about supernatural invaders in the night) and all I know is that for this year there are a lot of people who love them and are hoping for the best for them and their family. That’s not a bad thing.

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