A Season of Rest (Or Perhaps Activity)

I haven’t posted in a long while about our foster situation, and those who follow the blog to keep up with that aspect of life for K and I deserve to hear the news that there is.

There’s not much. We’ve decided that it’s best for us to refrain from taking a new placement on until K has finished seminary. Since she’s working full-time and going to school (and will have to commute to Dallas a few days each week starting next Fall!), it’s best for us that we wait until she’s got less stress and activity going on and we’re both a bit more settled. I don’t understand how she does it as it is except for the fact that she’s an amazing woman.

We will provide respite care for other foster families on occasion–essentially taking a child or set for a weekend or a few days when their foster family needs a break or has to travel. This allows us to stay as an “active” family and not have to start the entire application process over again when we’re ready for our next placement.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy the time that’s just the two of us (and our Corgi Berwyn, who may be the neediest child ever). We’ve been enjoying the opportunity to be “adulting”, which for us does not mean the burden of living up to all of life’s responsibilities and adult demands but doing the things you don’t have permission to do when you’re a kid–like staying up late to watch TV and eating candy for dinner. It’s a word we’re taking back. I’ll let you know if we have any success with that.

It’s a year-and-a-half of a last hurrah before we transition again to the chaos and joy of raising children.

So, if you don’t see much on this site about children for a while, that’s why. Of course, you don’t have to have kids in your own home to be learning about them, and if I have any interesting experiences I’ll be sure to share them here…

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Gone

Abe and Bess have left us. Yesterday, K and I took them to the Child Protective Services center to drop them off so that they could be delivered to their grandparents, who are taking custody of them for the rest of the pendency of the CPS suit and perhaps beyond. Regardless, they are no longer “ours.”

They never were, really. I don’t mean that to say that they weren’t for all intents and purposes our children while we had them—that will always be true. What I mean is that we never had anything more than a temporary and ultimately fleeting possessory interest in them in the greater scheme of things. But does any parent really have anything more in any child? I’m not sure that life is predictable enough to say “yes” to that.

We knew that this was coming since late last week, but we were waiting for things to be finalized for the drop-off. So, days before, we’d packed most of the kids’ things into boxes and stashed those boxes into our guest room to keep the kids from wondering what’s going on and getting upset. Those items that were theirs that they frequently used or looked for we left out for them. We tried to continue the routine, knowing full well that it was the end.

Late Monday we got the call that we’d be dropping them off the next day. Bess had an eye appointment scheduled for Tuesday morning that CPS asked us to keep, so, apart from a midday meeting, I took the day off to be present for the process. K took the whole day off as well.

Bess was extremely sweet during the doctor’s appointment and very calm, even while they dilated her eyes. When we started to leave the office, though, she had a nuclear-intensity meltdown. My guess is that her over-enlarged pupils caused her pain and confusion when she hit the sunlight. Regardless, it was something of a cranky day for her, and K and I both wondered if somehow she knew.

We were supposed to go to the CPS center at 2 p.m. but were asked to delay until 3. At about 2:15 we loaded up into the car. K had already put the boxes and the last of the stuff into the trunk; Bess hadn’t asked about the bags piled near the door earlier in the day and the last of the loading of things happened while Bess was napping.

Per our usual, vacation bible school songs played over the car stereo while we made our way down the highway. Everything seemed normal. Except for us. K and I exchanged glances that wordlessly communicated the unease we both felt.

The experience itself was surreal. The drop-off occurred at the same facility where the kids had their biweekly visitation with parents, so even as we walked the last few steps of our journey together, neither Bess (who might have) or Abe (who wouldn’t have picked up on anything, I think) knew that anything was different. With our CPS social worker, we walked them up to the playroom in the building and turned them over without any fanfare to the staff there. Everything moved quick, and we didn’t upset the kids, so there were no long hugs, no “last words” and nothing to mark the significance of the event.

We told the kids we love them and said “bye,” just like we’d be back in a few hours to pick them back up. Bess smiled at us and waived, and then the door was closed and they were gone. That stung some. I don’t know what I expected, but the lack of closure was palpable, really.

After that, we unceremoniously moved the kids’ stuff from our car to the social worker’s and headed home.

When we arrived at home, emotionally exhausted, we determined (mostly at K’s insistence, though it turns out her insistence was wise) to put all of the kid stuff into the kids’ rooms and close the doors. We tried not to dwell on the days’ events.

This morning, though, when I got up (a little later than I’ve become accustomed to, admittedly) and prepared to go to court, the house felt empty. Gone were the little voices, gone the plaintive cries and giggles of joy that had filled our early mornings, gone the busy rush of preparing children for school.

K received a call this morning from our CPS worker to let us know that the drop-off to the family went well last night and that the grandparents were very grateful for everything we’ve done. They asked to have our phone number so they could let us know how the kids are doing going forward; we of course agreed.

That last bit, even communicated to us second-hand, helped substantially. I’d been turning over in my head lately thoughts about what it really means to foster as a Christian, and one of the defining things that I kept returning to is that the Christian ought to be there to build up everyone involved—even the parents from whom the children were removed (if safe for the children), because they’re hurting, too. We should make the whole process about others and not ourselves to the extent possible.

Easier said than done, and while a part of me has a good feeling for doing what’s good and right (I think), I’m still a mix of emotions. Part of me is relieved that they’re gone, jealous of my time as I tend to be. But part of me feels the loss deeply.

Still, I have to say the worst thing about the aftermath (or even once others knew that the kids would be leaving us) has been the looks of pity (it’s probably actually sympathy, but from my point of view it’s currently hard to tell the difference) and excessive praise for what good people K and I are for fostering. We’d just rather not hear about it; we know that we’re not entirely selfless in the matter—we first got involved to adopt children of our own, after all.

We’ll take some time for ourselves to decide what the best next step is for us, and what our timeline looks like for us to start the process again. In the meantime, I should have a lot more time available to write!

First Day of School

Maybe “school” isn’t the right word for it; at five months (Abe) and almost two-and-a-half (Bess), there’s not going to be a lot of hardcore academics. There will, I’m sure, be the learning of things  just as important–how to make friends, how to deal with the unexpected, how to adapt to unfamiliar places (already a competency for them).

Yesterday afternoon we got the call that the children had (finally) been approved to attend the Montessori School where we’d wanted to put them. Some background:

One of my partners at the law firm has her son there in the nursery; her daughter just graduated into kindergarten from the school. On top of that, this partner’s husband is a Montessori-certified teacher himself, so if it gets the stamp of approval from him, that speaks volumes. We toured the facility some months back before taking our placement and were well-satisfied.

Here’s the rub: private school is expensive. The school was solidly out of the price range for a church-worker and a young attorney with a start-up law firm. But, foster children are sometimes eligible for pre-public school education to be paid for, and the Montessori School just happened to be one of the two places approved by CPS for such funding.

When we first got our placement, the original CPS worker had told us that she’d filed the NCI (the funding program) paperwork for us, but that it could be 30 to 45 days before we’d get approved. “No problem,” we said and set about using vacation time to each each work half days in the office and half days at home.

This week K was bound for Dallas to attend internship orientation for her seminary program. We knew this in advance and hoped that the NCI would clear before then.

Thus, it came as a shock when we found out mid-week last week that the NCI paperwork had in fact not been submitted. Fortunately, we now have a good team behind us–our DePelchin clinician has been excellent all the way through and we now have a solid long-term CPS worker who knows the ropes.

Our CPS worker faxed K the paperwork we needed to fill out the same day it was discovered that the first worker had not submitted anything, and we were assured that things would be expedite as much as possible.

That left me taking off three days of work this week to manage the kids. I had great help from our parents (with whom it was nice to get to spend the time), but it was still exhausting. So, when we got word yesterday that they could start today, we were both relieved. I’m finally back to the office full-time, where spare moments can be devoted to writing instead of chasing little ones. At the same time, it does feel strange to spend so much time apart from them today.

I’m excited to find out how the first day went (and excited to have another full day in the office tomorrow)!

Some Clarity

A few weeks ago, K and I met with the ad litem in the kids’ case (the attorney appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the children). He’s a good guy and provided us with a lot more clarity about the situation than CPS has.

Unfortunately, the news was not the news we wanted to hear. Not only does the ad litem believe the children will be going back to family, but he indicated that they would likely go back well before the twelve months for the permanency plan is complete.

We’re likely to have Abe and Bess for a few more months, but it is very unlikely that the two will be our “forever family,” as they say. The upside is that the ad litem believes there will be a safe place with family for the kids to return to: the situation was described to us as “a good family with a wayward daughter” (the mother of the children). That being the case, it probably is in the best interest of the children to return to family members who can love and care for them. But that will not make it easy to let go.

I’m not sure if knowing this far in advance is a good thing, either. Yes, it gives us time to prepare for the day when we will have to send the kids away; if worked through properly, that could prove very helpful. Conversely, if we don’t work through the impending loss in a positive way, it could be quite the opposite. Most of all, K and I must be careful not to guard our hearts too much–we need to give these kids all the love we can in the time that we have with them. And, nothing is done until it’s done. Despite the high likelihood that the kids will go back, nothing is a sure thing yet.

This puts K and I in the awkward position of needing to decide what our plan  will be in the likely event that the kids go back to family. We’ve started to discuss, but a plan is still in the works. We’ve decided it will be best to take some time off before accepting a new placement to make sure we’ve properly worked through our emotions. How much time has not been decided. With our available time away from work largely exhausted for the rest of the year, our next placement would need to be school-age children if we accept a placement sooner rather than later. If we want to try again with small kids, we’ll likely need to wait until 2017. No decision has been made about this.

In the meantime, we’re going to focus on getting and giving all the joy we can, continuing to strengthen our relationships with Abe and Bess and providing whatever we can to brighten their futures, whatever that future may be.

Homecoming

It is eleven-thirty on a Wednesday morning. I am at home, having gone to work earlier today even than this morning person cares to. My career obligations at a satisfactory point to wait until tomorrow, I sit at the chair in front of my computer, an old piece inherited by K and made from quality wood worn smooth by hands running across it, arms resting upon it and socked feet perched upon its lower supports, the padding where I sit long collapsed to a thin suggestion of cushion. It strikes me vaguely as a chair-shaped worry stone, smoothed by time and comforting to the touch. But that’s a matter of my perception more than the state of the chair itself.

Today, Abe and Bess embarked on their first visitation with bio-mom since their removal. A case worker from CPS kindly picked them up while K was at home and I was working and will be returning with them soon. So I sit here, typing to escape from worrying about what happens next.

Tomorrow, they will have been with us for five weeks. Time they’ve spent getting settled in, coming to trust us, starting to feel safe. On the one hand, I cannot imagine what their mother has been through this past month, walking around with two empty spaces following her where children had been. She should get to see the kids, and they should get to see her. K and I long before this process began decided we would support visitation with biological family during and even after the process of fostering and adopting, so long as it’s healthy for the kids.

As with so many things we think about intellectually and completely fail to really grasp until we’re in the moment, my thoughts are selfishly not on the good that will come from the meeting with bio-mom, the potential establishment of some sense of continuity and the reduction in long-term trauma that can come from the maintenance of relationships where appropriate, but instead about where my relationships will be when the kids return. The work K and I have done in loving and caring for Abe and Bess, their development of love for us, will it all be dashed against the rocks of remembrance?

In my heart I know that it’s foolish to think so, that the belief that love is a zero-sum game we play with the world is a falsehood that leads so many of us astray. It is not K and I against bio-mom, and only our making it so will push things in that direction. The insecurity I feel now is about me, not about the kids. It’s about my selfish desire to claim ownership over the children. There’s no place for that here, and no good to come from it. So instead, as I write, I try to use these words to center myself, to remember what I’m about and who I want to be to these children. This post is my pseudo-self-therapy of sorts.

And it seems to have worked. I feel ready for the kids to come home, done worrying about what will happen and ready to constructively start thinking about what I can do to make things easiest for them when they arrive.

Thrown a Curve Ball

K and I met with our DePelchin Clinician and our CPS Case Worker this past Wednesday afternoon. In general, the meeting went well, and it’s clear that the kids have settled in, feel safe and are happy. But our CPS worker threw us a curve ball–a doozy of a curve ball.

When this placement was first pitched to us, CPS had told DePelchin (and thus DePelchin had told us) one story about the reason the kids had been put in CPS custody. As part of that reason, we were told that the parents had reported that they had no family members available to care for the children. Since K and I are fostering with the goal of adoption, that seemed like a lower risk that the children go back to the parents or family than could be the case. When the children arrived later that day, we got a different story about the reason for the kids’ placement with CPS. That was annoying, but we had committed and weren’t about to change our minds about this placement simply because wires had gotten crossed somewhere.

On Wednesday, though, the CPS worker told us thata not one, but two family members were trying to go through the process to have the children placed with them. For the time being, this would be for interim care while the case proceeds through the court, but these family members would also have priority over us for adoption if parental rights were terminated.

These family members will have to go through all of the training, review, background check and other process that we had to in order to be cleared for possession of the kids. We have no idea of the likelihood that either could actually successfully complete the licensing process, but now we have a huge “what if?” placed in our way and the risk of us not being able to move all the way to adoption has greatly increased. To be sure, we had nothing close to a sure thing to begin with, but the new information shot into me fear, trepidation and anxiety. Understandably, I think, I’m angry and upset about CPS’s willingness and ability to share accurate information.

How much does this really change? Practically speaking, very little for the time being. I have fallen in love with Abe and Bess and I’m going to treat them as my own for as long as I can. What has changed, I suppose, is the realization of a certain conflict related to my own parental feelings. I now find myself unapologetically praying that the kids’s biological parents and family will fail so that they can be my forever family. Make no mistake, I am ready and willing to do whatever is necessary for the best interests of the kids, including letting them go if needs be, but I’m also pretty convinced that K and I are their best interest.

This potential struggle of conscience is something we’d anticipated early in this process, and I thought I’d come to terms with it quite some time back. What I didn’t anticipate was the fierce protectiveness and attachment of parenthood that settles deep in your heart and gut and latches on. This puts me in a weird possession, but perhaps one every parent feels–that unrepentant resolution that, if it’s the kids or someone/something else in conflict, it’s the kids every time. I’m not settled on the morality of this position, its righteousness or its place in my theology. Not by a long shot. For now, all I can do is describe how I feel as I sort through things.

Just Give Her the Damn Goldfish!

I should have expected that having children would be a study in the human need for control. Our training for foster care on trust-based relational intervention (TBRI), which K and I found very helpful, made sure that we understood that there would be issues of control and authority in raising children (how could there not be?). That said, the intellectual knowledge of the thing and the experience are two things separated by a sometimes expansive gulf.

And so, it should have been no surprise that I’d have to spend some time thinking about my own need for control—both in the microcosm of my relationships with my children and in regards to life in general.

We are not allowed to withhold food from the children as a tool of compliance or discipline—nor do I think that doing so would be constructive, effective or beneficial. But that doesn’t stop food from sometimes being a struggle. There are very few things that we’ve discovered that Bess doesn’t like to eat, which is a blessing in and of itself. Sometimes though, she tells us that she wants one thing and then changes her mind, or gets served something we know she likes and she demands something else. This sort of a struggle is frustrating, to say the least.

There are some things we don’t make available to Bess—we don’t give her soda (she came to us already familiar with drinking straight from the can) and we very much limit her access to sweets (making me quite a hypocrite given my own sweet tooth, but it’s a hypocrisy I can live with). Otherwise, when she’s hungry we feed her and she gets to eat until she’s full. We serve her a lot of fruit, yogurt, milk, cheese and other things, and now that she’s settled in a bit more we’re trying to focus the offerings to be as healthy as possible. But sometimes, she just wants Goldfish, and nothing else will do.

At times like this, my initial instinct is to refuse her. I took the time to make her something else to eat, and she ought to eat that, dammit! Both the training we received and common sense dictate that this is not a fight worth having. So why do I feel a need to “win” that fight rather than avoiding it altogether?

Concerned about my own parenting skills, I started reflecting on this. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about my own need for a semblance of control. Suddenly adding two kids to the picture has thrown everything in disarray—my schedule revolves around them and I have somehow to find the time to make a living and get some writing done. There’s not a great sense of control in my life overall at this juncture—though is there anything but an illusion of control in our lives ever, really?

I think that my desire to win arguments rather than focusing on the important stuff is about me trying to work out my own issues. Our parenting class instructor was wise to tell us to be on the lookout for exactly this sort of thing.

Perhaps above all, I tend to think of myself as someone who is more self-aware than most and, to a great degree, in control of himself to the extent that one can be. This experience has given me doubts about that self-conception.

At the end of the day, though, if I don’t learn from these experiences, I will certainly never have the kind of self-control I think that I do. So, I’m trying (“trying” being the operative word) to get over myself. If it’s not a matter of health and safety or some other significant issue, there’s not much reason for me to fight with Bess about it. Especially not so that I can feel I have some tiny amount of control in my life—there’s simply no there there (to borrow from Gertrude Stein).

When she wants to put on her own shoes, fine. When she wants things a certain way, we can do that. And when all she wants to eat is Goldfish—provided she’s generally still eating healthy—I’m just gonna give her the damn Goldfish. We’ll all be better for it, I think.

What We’ve Learned So Far

Here, in all its brief glory, is what I have learned about children in nearly two weeks of having them.

  1. They cry when they’re: too cold, too hot, hungry, full, getting in the car, getting out of the car, doing things they don’t like, doing things they do like, following instructions, disobeying instructions, waking up, going to bed, too wet, too dry, walking, being carried, riding in the stroller, going to the playground, leaving the playground, starting dinner, finishing dinner, taking a bath, drying off and for no discernible reason at all.
  2. They refuse to be reasonable. They don’t understand what’s good for them or what’s bad for them, nor do they seem to much care. They say “yes” when they mean “no” and vice versa. This is especially difficult for me, as I pride myself on being a reasonable and open-minded human being, most of my social skills are predicated on the other people involved being reasonable, and I generally avoid people who refuse to be reasonable to the extent I can.
  3. They are bad for your health. When food is one of your few remaining pleasures, you give up on all this “eating healthy” stuff. Give me sugar and chocolate; it’s all I have left. Exercising becomes part of your daily routine yes (toddler lifts, baby carry, etc.), but children do not understand that you do a set of reps and then you stop. Worse, when you have two at once, they conspire. When one has started to scream and you’re attempting to diagnose the issue, the other begins to see if s/he can scream louder–the surprise, competition and screaming are all great fun, I’m sure. When this happens often enough, all you want to do is bang your head against the wall until the throbbing pain coursing through your brain drowns everything else out and nothing matters. This is not good for you.
  4. They neither understand nor care that adults have needs and desires. There is only service.
  5. Small children have neither a sense of time nor much in the way of memory. If something caused them great displeasure yesterday, they’re going to try it again today just to see. They never seem to need something until they need it RIGHT NOW!
  6. They suck up all of your time. When you’re not tending to them, you’re wondering about the next time they’re going to need something. When they’re sleeping, you’re dreading the time that they’ll wake up.
  7. Somehow, despite all of this, they’re somehow worth it…

Fatherhood

Our housekeeper came yesterday. K’s been trying to work half-days to prolong her time off since I’m off work for a few weeks, so I had the kids by myself.

She kept calling me “Mr. Mom” because I was tending the children. I tried to shrug it off—I’m spending a lot of time lately learning to choose my battles. But it really bothered me.

You see, I’m not a babysitter; I’m not a guy playing at being a mom. I’m a father. That means caring for the children, spending time with them, being present, and doing all of the not-so-pleasant things that come with parenthood. It’s not a burden only for the female sex, nor are the privileges and the accomplishments of parenthood reserved for mothers.

We often say, “It takes a village,” to raise children, but we seem to mean that it takes a village of women. Predetermined societal roles and expectations do not appeal to me much; in fact, I find many of them detrimental to living life in ways that would be more meaningful, fulfilling and joy-inspiring.

I am pleased by the prospect of more stay-at-home dads in the world, both because it empowers women to be the breadwinner in a family and allows men who are excellent caregivers to take on that role within the family. This arrangement shatters pretenses of bygone ages that a man’s role is to make money and a woman’s is to bear and raise children. The fall of these societal obstacles allows us to be more complete people, to use all of our skills and fulfill more of the life-roles to which we’ve been called.

Even more, we live in an economic era where single-income families are less and less feasible—particularly if both spouses want to have work-life balance. Y’know, that phrase, “work-life balance” is a very telling one, when you think about it. There’s work and there’s life, and never the twain shall meet it seems to say. I’m not sure that that’s entirely true, but it’s something worth keeping in mind.

Neither does a such a gender-defined set of roles allow us to understand same-sex couples or other non-cisgendered parents in any respectful (or even truly understanding) way. My experience tells me that anyone can be a great parent. Sure there are aspects of personality or expertise in certain skills that make some better suited than others, but neither of these have anything to do with sex or gender.

I consider myself a pretty traditionally masculine guy. Not the most masculine to be sure—I’m not much impressed by bodybuilding or machismo and such—but I do fit a lot of traditional male roles: I like the outdoors; I like to participate in martial sports; I’m a “identify and fix the problem, let’s not talk about it too much” sort of guy.

Gender definitions aside, I could see myself being a stay-at-home dad. If I could make a living writing and spend much of the rest of my time focused on the kids, I would find that very fulfilling. I like practicing law, and I do a lot of good work for people about which I can be proud. But pondering big thoughts and writing about them is my passion, and I’m very excited about the role I get to play in raising our children. To combine both would be amazing. Realistic? I’m not sure; making a living as a writer is extremely tough and not necessarily based on skill. But maybe it could happen.

My own desires aside, let’s keep in mind that parenthood is a calling for both parents; and our expectations of parents should follow suit with this: we should both expect fathers to be active parents and then not treat them as second-class surrogates for mothers.

 

Sleep at Last; Sleep at Last; Thank the Lord, We Have Sleep at Last!

Yesterday was full of firsts. It was our first time to leave the home since getting the kids, our first time for the kids to meet my sister and her fiance, and our first time to get a good night’s rest.

We still went through the rigamorole with the kids before bed time. Apparently, nobody really likes baths (though Bess loves brushing teeth) and sleep is the worst. We’ve found the secret to getting Bess to sleep, though. You put her in the bed and sit with her while she tantrums until, in a sudden reversal of fortune, she’s asleep. It really does happen in the blink of an eye, like Dorothy stepping out from the tornado and into Oz. Without munchkins and singing and candy. We’ll have to do something about the last part–in the midst of the exhaustion and occasional frustration, sweets are an easy pleasure.

Abe is starting to settle in, and we’re getting used to some of his rhythms, his different types of crying, and what he likes and dislikes. Though most of the progress we made yesterday had admittedly little to do with K and I; a friend of ours brought several types of bouncers and bascinets to try and the little man quickly found one to his liking. This is a Godsend, as he previously was only happy while being held, if not rocked or bounced. As K puts it, we’d have to Indiana Jones him into the crib when we hoped he was in deep enough of a sleep not to immediately awaken upon being set down. Like the victims of an alien predator, it’s our body heat that gives us away.

We can tell there’s bonding going on with both Abe and Bess. We’re starting to see Abe smile more and more (which we saw none of on day one), so we’re taking that as a good sign he’s starting to feel safe and comfortable. Bess is getting more and more talkative, surprising us that her vocabulary is broader than we first believed. We’ll need some work on speaking clearly, but I don’t think that’s too much of a concern at this age. She’s clearly very intelligent (which every parent says ever about their child; the difference is I don’t believe all those other guys).

K has taken the kids with her to church while she works; we’ll both have a little break at the expense of the church nursery. Time for me to write this post, try and catch up on a few work things, shave for the first time in three days, and hopefully get in some time for some fiction-writing, now that I’m actually rested enough to do some of those things!

More to come!