Saturday, June 25, 2016

Another Respite Placement

This month we did respite care for two different sibling groups.  I wrote about the first group here

The second sibling group was a brother and sister as well- the older sister was 7 years old and her younger brother was 2 years old which means that for a couple of days we had two 2 year olds, one 3 year old, a 7 year old and an 8 year old under one roof.  Speaking of which, I saw this and it seemed extremely accurate to me:

While I'm on the topic of kids and summer, is it just me or are kids less heat-aware as children and much more heat-sensitive as they age?  For example, begging to go outside at the absolute HOTTEST time of the day.  "Do you not realize it's burning hot right now and you could be indoors playing where it's cool and air-conditioned?"  I have thought that or said it out loud to my kids when they beg to play outside at noon on summer days.  Needless to say, most of our outdoor ventures during the summer are early in the morning or in the late afternoon or evening but NOT during the middle of the day.

Back to this sibling group: I will refer to the girl as "Kari" and to her younger brother as "Zeke". Two-year-old Zeke reminded me of a little stocky caveman who used only a few words and many grunts to communicate.  He was pretty easy to care for as long as he was fed and had something to keep his attention.  I think he was able to settle in well in large part because he followed his older sister's lead.  And she was not shy.  At all.

Like her brother, Kari was somewhat stocky in her stature as well so she appeared to be much older than her seven years- perhaps ten or eleven.  In fact, my oldest daughter who is over a year older than Kari and average in her build looked downright petite when the girls played together. 

Kari not only looked older than she actually was but in some ways she also seemed more mature and responsible than most children her age by the way she watched over her little brother (parentification, anyone?), helped clean up around the house, and made sure that all of the kids shared their toys with each other or used good manners.  However, I was reminded that she was still a 7 year old when she would want to show off for me and clamor for my attention- whether it was performing a song she made up on the piano or doing a trick on the trampoline or showing me how she arranged stickers to decorate a piece of paper. 

Children of all ages need attention- not just younger ones with their constant "Look at Me!"s  "Watch What I Can Do!" but children in middle childhood and tweens and teens as well.  I think they just "ask" for it or "perform" in different ways.

I don't know a whole lot about why Kari and Zeke came into care but I do know that the reason they were placed with the foster family they were placed with is because they had adopted Kari and Zeke's half-brother.  With that in mind, I thought it was interesting when, during a moment of playing "doctor" (Kari grabbed the Fisher Price Dr's Kit from our toy room and insisted that I be her patient as she measured my blood pressure, gave me shots, and listened to my heart), Kari handed me a baby doll and announced, "And now you just had a baby.  And you get to stay in the hospital with your baby for ten days!"

ME: Ten days, Wow!

I must have been smiling or had a funny look on my face because she immediately looked at me and asked, "Is that how long you were in the hospital with these kids?"

After verifying that "these kids" were my children since only one of them was in the room I answered,

ME:  No- they didn't come from my stomach in the hospital (although I did bring two of them home from the hospital as newborns) because they were adopted.

Kari's face remained stoic.

ME:  Do you know what that means to be adopted?

KARI:  Because their mom couldn't take care of them?

ME:  Well, no- not exactly.  M's birthmother (I was nodding in M's direction as I spoke) could have taken care of her but she wanted M. to have a mommy AND a daddy so she chose my husband and I to be her parents.

M (Interrupting excitedly):  Isn't is cool how my birthmom's name is on my bike?!

ME:  Yes.  And how that was the name of the horse you rode that time we went horseback riding, too?  True stories- we thought that was serendipitous in both instances considering M's birthmom doesn't have an unusual name but it's not an overly common name, either.

I went back to explaining to Kari . . .

ME:  But my other children's birthmom couldn't take care of them.  So they were in foster care . . .

(as soon as I said "foster care" I wondered what feelings it would produce in Kari but she looked unfazed)

ME: . . . and that's why we were able to adopt them. 

Kari went back to playing with the doctor's kit.  I thought it was interesting that when I brought up adoption in the presence of a foster child with a half sibling who had been adopted, Kari  immediately associated the phrase "adopted" with birthparents not being able to care for a child.  Sometimes that's the case but many times it's not.   Many times a birthparent would be able to care for a child and they might make an exceptional parent (or they already may be an exceptional parent if they have children) but they want to give their child something more than what they can currently give them- whether that be a two-parent family [as in the case of our daughter's birthmother] or a life free of poverty and domestic violence and the effects of addiction [as in the case of our youngest children's birthmother.]

One last thing I'll add about an advantage to fostering a sibling group with a younger and an older child: It was very helpful to have Kari's help when trying to decipher Zeke's cave-man language as well as being able to ask her about his food preferences or what worked well to calm him down when he was upset, etc.  

Friday, June 24, 2016

Our First Teenager

I recently did something as a foster parent that was a FIRST for me.  I got out of my comfort zone and expanded my horizons with the last placement we took- in large part due to the fact that it was a respite placement of two siblings- and I knew that it would be for less than a day.  

We've done respite for other foster families before so that wasn't new to me and we've taken sibling groups so that wasn't new to us either, but it was the ages of the children we recently watched in our home which was a first for me.  I feel most comfortable caring for babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers and my protective husband most assuredly feels safest not bringing any children in our home who are older than our oldest child (who is almost nine).  However, since I knew that this respite placement would only be for an evening I said yes to a sibling group of two- an eleven year old and a thirteen year old.  Did you catch the suffix of that last age?  A TEENAGER!  I said "yes" to having a teenager in my home despite having no experience ever parenting a teenage before.  

I tend to be somewhat cautious so I admit that I did have some concerns as I imagined the worst possible scenarios that could happen as a result of having two older children whom I had never met before- strangers, essentially- into my home for a couple of hours with my younger children of approximately 9, 3, and 2 years of age.  

-What if the kids swear like sailors or use especially vulgar language?  As a grown woman, I can handle that, but as a mom with young children in the home I know for a fact that my 2 year old is like a little parrot eager to repeat whatever new word or phrases she hears- especially if the result is ensuing laughter or extra attention.

-What if the kids bully my children because they're just "acting out" domestic violence they're used to?   Or worse?  Again, since I knew this would be a very short-term placement I was placated by the fact that all of the children- my own three and these two foster children- would be under my supervision and in my sight THE ENTIRE TIME they were in our home.  This was an assurance for me because I  know that things can happen in just a matter of minutes.  Nevertheless, I felt confident enough that if I were to witness something my Mama Bear instincts would kick in to preserve my children's safety which is top priority and hopefully I would have the restraint to separate the actions of any perpetrating children from the child themselves and not go ballistic.

-What if the kids talk back to me or sass?  If they do, they do and I can handle it.  Of course I may be muttering something in my head like "little ingrates!" or a passive aggressive, sarcastic "You're welcome for me opening my home to you!" while trying to keep calm on the outside but I'm a grown woman and I can handle it.

Those were my worries and concerns before taking our first placement of "older" children.

Here's what actually unfolded:

I will refer to these children as "Chloe" and "Cade".  Although Chloe and Cade were, in fact, siblings, they were polar opposites in personality.  11 year old Cade practically flew out of the car his foster mom was driving and started tossing a football around on our front lawn and made himself right at home.  His older sister, however, was much more reticent and waited in the passenger seat of the car for a minute or two before feeling comfortable enough to even come to the porch.

Chloe's foster mom seemed a little embarrassed about Chloe's hesitancy and apologized on her behalf but I said, "Oh- no problem at all."  especially since I had read the two or three brief sentences she had texted me a few hours earlier in response to my question, "So is there anything I should know about the kids?".  She replied that they were pretty much "normal kids" but did mention the fact that her teenage foster daughter is very quiet until she feels safe with someone.  Given what little I knew of the children's background and as somewhat of an introvert myself, that seemed just fine with me. Some people get uncomfortable around people who are too quiet or reserved, but I understand the need for space and privacy.

After the kids got here we spent part of the evening playing in the backyard and part of the evening indoors watching TV and playing X-box.  It was entertaining to watch my oldest daughter, who is somewhat of a tomboy, interact with Cade- they got along great.  Chloe took a couple hours till she warmed up to us and if anything, the kids were overly polite- I practically had to beg them to have some pizza and breadsticks which I bought before their foster mom brought them over.  I kept asking, "Are you hungry?  Please help yourself."  They both replied "We're fine." several times until I finally asked an hour or so later, "Are you sure you're not hungry?"  Cade explained that he didn't want to eat anything because it was "rude" to eat at other people's houses.  I explained that since he was a guest in our home and I was the one who offered him the food that it wan't rude at all.  Fortunately, they finally appeased and ate.

Cade was easy-going and talkative but I think the most that ever came our of Chloe's mouth was, "Is it okay if I put my feet up on the couch while I rest?" as she was laying down on one of our couches. "Totally!" I reassured her, since she had already taken her shoes off.  Then when she fell asleep (or perhaps she was just feigning sleep- who knows) I brought her a soft blanket to cover over with in case she wanted it.

Really nothing eventful happened during that time that Chloe and Cade stayed with us and that's actually a good thing.  No cussing, bullying, back-talking or even eye-rolling.  They were both good kids.  I was a little surprised when they left and Chloe turned to me and said, "Thank you for being so nice to us." because I wasn't being nice- I was just being regular.  I wondered if she had experienced something less than ideal in a previous foster home.

Although I was curious about the kid's background I didn't want to pry too much.  I did casually ask, "So how long have you been with your foster family?"  If I remember correctly it had been for several months so I had no idea if their case was headed towards adoption or reunification.  Chloe did mention with some discouragement in her voice, "We usually get moved about every six months." Again, I was curious but I refrained from inquiring and just said something like, "Wow- that would be hard.  I wouldn't like that."

So that was my first experience with "older" foster kids in my home and it went just fine.  I felt silly for worrying so much beforehand.  Of course, it was such a short time period that there probably wasn't even time to have a "honeymoon period" come to an end.

Less than a week later my RFC called and asked if we would be able to do respite for Chloe and Cade again- this time for five days while their foster family was on vacation.  Although I wanted to say "yes" my husband (the practical one in our marriage) reminded me of obligations we would have during the week that would make it difficult to take two more children into our home so I had to say "no".   And of course I felt guilty afterwards.  I didn't feel guilty so much because I felt that there was nobody else who could take them in, but because their foster mom specifically requested for me to do respite for her again because the kids felt comfortable being in our home and I know that Chloe would have to go through the process of being put in a stranger's home- yet again- and having to adjust accordingly.