Thursday, December 30, 2010

Heartbreaking things abused kids say

"I love you, brother. I'm never gonna abuse you."

That's what Big Guy whispered to Little Guy while holding and kissing him this morning. Afterwards he started talking to me for an hour about how confusing it is when your family beat you but you still love them. This kid has the weight of the world on him - He is so convinced the judge is going to send his brother back to family again and he'll end up getting beat like Big Guy did.

Sometimes I don't know how I parent these kids without sobbing all the time or losing all faith in humanity.

Sorry I've been MIA. I have a lot to post about but am overwhelmed about trying to recap the last few months. Especially about the out-of-state relative Big Guy hasn't seen since he was a toddler, who appeared after the kids have been in (or in Little Guy's case, in and out) of foster care for six months and wants to take both children.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Chanukah! And more adventures in Trans-Faith Parenting.

Wishing you a Happy Chanukah if you celebrate.

With the weight of last week's heavy news (re: potential distant birth relative who wants to take the kids) it's hard to let myself fully enjoy the holidays, but I have gotten a kick out of choosing gifts for the boys... even if they are going to bankrupt us ;-P

This is their first Chanukah so I've had to explain a lot of times to Big Guy that no, we don't wake up tomorrow morning to find gifts waiting for us. And no, you don't get lots of gifts every day. And no, you don't just get toys and fun stuff... some nights you will get things you need rather than things you want. He is having a hard time with the idea that he might get some gifts he won't like.. and an even harder time with the idea of only one gift each night. He also seems convinced he will only get one gift for Christmas and it will be something he doesn't like. I think it's the anxiety of having the holidays with someone other than his mom and not knowing what to expect that are what's making him sound really entitled, selfish and spoiled when the topic of holidays and gifts come up.

Challenging consumerism and money obsession in a kid who you didn't raise for his first 9 years is really, really challenging. Big Guy is completely obsessed with how much money we're spending on him versus his brother, how many gifts he'll get, etc. This kind of thing makes part of me wish I hadn't gotten so many gifts for them and was instead doing what my parents always did with us for Chanukah... very small gifts (mostly practical) each night, something really big and fun for the family (an experience, such as tickets to a musical) on the last night, and lots of opportunities for family activities and charitable giving. Instead, I feel backed into the whole "must make Chanukah as appealing to the kids as Christmas" game, which all Jews know is futile and also cheapens what Chanukah and Christmas are actually about. Oh well, it's our first time having kids at the holidays and we'll just have to feel it out, and eventually create our own family Chanukah traditions that are more meaningful.

Lest you think I'm denying my boys Christmas, since they are not Jewish they will do Christmas at the home of some non-Jewish relatives (which is where Santa will leave their Christmas gifts and we will fill their stockings). I really enjoyed doing the stockings - I bought adhesive foam shapes at the dollar store and they sticked beautifully to the Christmas stockings I bought them at the drugstore. I really like buying little tchotchkes to fill them. I never wanted a Christmas tree when I was growing up, or any of the other trappings... But I always thought stockings seemed so fun. Sometimes it's the little things that are so appealing. I do not believe in mixing the holidays or mixing religions with one another, I think it waters down the integrity of the traditions. However, as long as our kids are not halachically (in the eyes of Jewish law) Jewish, I see no reason not to help them enjoy Christmas.

I am betting by the 8th night of Chanukah Big Guy will have the entire bracha (blessing) on the Chanukah candles memorized, by the way. It's really cute how excited he is about a holiday he didn't even know about until a few months ago!

How Do I Write About This?

I don't know how to write about what's going on lately. It just seems too hard to put into words.

How do I write about how after 6 weeks I have finally fallen in love with our 18 month old Little Guy, and how strange it is to find that I fell in love more easily and quickly with a behaviorally challenged 9 year old than an absurdly adorable cuddly 18 month old when once upon a time I had thought what I really wanted was a baby? (We were signed up for ONE child ages 0-5, remember? Haha).

How do I write about how hard it has been to let myself love the baby the way I love his brother, with the constant possibility of him being sent to his dad (who used to beat Big Guy) has been hanging over our head?

How do I write about how scary it is for us to be missing so much work/school because Little Guy has been sick with very little break for the entire 6 weeks he's been here? How I worry every day that Sarah will lose her job because of her excessive absences, and how my grades are suffering just as I am about to apply for graduate school?

How do I write about the complicated feelings I have about Patty, whose sweetness and simple-mindedness I have discovered is also used to manipulate others, and who will tell us she wants us to keep the kids and then hangs up the phone and calls The Agency to report that she thinks it was our fault that the baby was having seizures?

How do I write about how well Big Guy is doing when he also just disclosed about a time a family member threatened (and possibly even tried) to kill him?

How do I write about how Big Guy's has been ornery, argumentative and oppositional since the baby's been here when he a) told the psychiatrist this morning how scared he is of the baby going to (the baby's) dad because he worries the baby will get beaten and b) turned to me yesterday and said "I love y'all to death. Which really means I love you infinity."

Most of all... how do I write about the fact that The Agency just out of the blue dropped the biggest bomb of all: That after 6 months of the kids being in (or in and out, in Little Guy's case) of foster care, a distant aunt that Big Guy hasn't seen since he was a toddler has suddenly appeared... And that she's a licensed foster parent in a nearby state, and says she wants both kids?

How do I write about how I believe in family reunification (and how incensed I am about how the child welfare system destroys Black families in particular), when I also I think this move would be the absolutely the wrong thing for Big Guy after this many months of  being with us, because of his emotional and behavioral issues and strong bond to us and how much he's thriving with us? How do I write about how stuck I feel about finding out if we have any recourse to fight this?

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Little Guy is staying! Until at least the next hearing, which is in January!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Seizures and court hearings.

Warning: This post is long, but I would feel so appreciative if anyone took the time to read it and share their thoughts or words of support... or even just prayers.
Little Guy has been with us for 2.5 weeks and it's been a total joy. Except for when he started having seizures, unexpectedly, last week! I was sitting in the waiting room of Big Guy's pediatrician's office, waiting for Big Guy to go in to have his hives checked out. He'd woken up with horrendous hives all over his body and I kept him home from school. The baby was sitting across from me in his stroller and started to shake. I thought maybe it was shivers from a fever, but when he started blinking his eyes and scrunching his face over and over, and his eyes would sometimes roll up 1/2 way and then he looked drunk afterwards... I was so scared that I ran crying to the receptionist and said someone needed to look at the baby. That office doesn't even take Little Guy's insurance, but the doctor who usually sees Big Guy was fantastic and checked him out pretty thoroughly. He diagnosed it as a febrile seizure but said that we should either make a neurologist appointment or take the baby to the pediatric ER to have him checked out. We chose to go to the ER. They sent us home, saying that if it didn't happen again in 24 hours than there was no need for any follow-up or EEG, but that we should bring him back if it happened again. Well, the next day he didn't have any fever at all... yet it happened again. Long story short, he spent the weekend (Fri-Mon) hooked up to an EEG and Sarah and I traded off staying with him 24/7 and staying with his brother. It was really scary and stressful.

While in the hospital with the baby, we got to meet Little Guy's dad Gerald. That was fascinating (he's so much older than I expected!), and in some ways reassuring since at tomorrow's hearing the court may well send the baby to dad. It's a little less scary now that we have a face to put with the name and we have seen him interact with the baby. Patty also visited a lot and was grasping at straws to try to blame us for the baby's seizure. E.g. "You said you wash his hair once a week? In our culture we only wash hair once a month. Maybe that's why he is having seizures"... and so on and so forth. Nevermind that the baby has fine, soft hair that's not at all like mom's thanks to a) him being a baby and b) his dad being part white and part American Indian in addition to being Black. His haircare is not going to be exactly like hers or the rest of her family's, but I'm not sure she's aware of that. Of course earlier in the same day she was complementing how we did her boys' hair and saying she wished she could do it so well!  I feel for her because it makes sense she'd be concerned about whether we know how to take care of Black childrens' hair and skincare needs, but she was grasping at straws because she had no control. She usually trusts us pretty well (enough to place her baby with us voluntarily!) but we also learned that, as CPS had warned us, she can often twist peoples' words. To be fair, her baby was sick, she's paranoid and has a low IQ so everything is scarier and more confusing for her than it would be otherwise, and she doesn't have custody of him so all she can think is that if only the baby'd stayed with her this never would have happened. But she also showed up unannounced, and woke the baby up when he was already asleep for the night (needless to say he hardly slept that night). She called all the time. The nurses told us she called the hospital at midnight because she was freaked out. We both have a lot of empathy for her, but we were so underslept and stressed after being with the baby for days at the hospital that she was really just contributing to our stress and we ended up having to set limits with her about when she should call and when she should visit and for how long.

So, the hearing is tomorrow that determines whether Little Guy stays (at least until the January hearing) or goes. Either the judge could say that dad still has to jump through certain hoops to be able to get the baby, in which case we'll have him at least until January when they will reconvene and reevaluate... or he could go to dad tomorrow or Friday. Because of this new medical info (seizures) and all the follow-up that needs to happen (MRI, etc), as well as the neurologist's concern about the baby needing an Early Intervention evaluation due to possible developmental issues, I chose to call his lawyer. I filled her in and she implied that she would be arguing for him to not go to dad yet, especially given this new information. She certainly said that they would need to make sure whoever the baby's with can meet his medical and developmental needs. In the meantime, we are making the appointments he needs and if dad takes him I'm going to ensure that CPS gives him adequate info about what a seizure looks like, how to administer the medicine we were given if the baby has one, the importance of controlling his fever, and the dates and times of the appointments that we made.

CPS is going to argue for the baby to go dad, but it looks like the baby's lawyer may argue for him not to go yet. Angel, our caseworker, says that the judge is the same one who sent Little Guy back home (see bullet point #7 of the post that link sends you to) early in the summer due to lack of proof that the baby was being neglected or abused, and the fact that the removal was really because mom called CPS saying she couldn't handle Big Guy's behavioral issues. This judge is unpredictable and CPS never knows how to predict how he'll rule. So we're holding our breaths and trying so hard to trust that the kids will be okay even if they are separated. This is so, so hard. I don't know if I'm more worried about the baby or about Big Guy, who is doing so well but could really be set back by this huge loss of having his brother taken away again. I have to believe we'll all be okay. I have no other choice if I don't want to fall apart.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Removal Trauma Affects Babies

The baby didn't sleep hardly at all for the first 5 days, which was hell on earth. But we now have him sleeping through the night, which is such an accomplishment! It's amazing how 4 months (the time it's been since he was with us last) can make such a difference in a kid this age. When he came to us at first, he was very easy and chill and slept through the night from the get-go. This time he has intense separation anxiety, trouble sleeping, etc.  You can see how the trauma of removal from his mom has affected him so much more. It makes me so, so sad that Patty had to do this. As happy as I am to see them together, and as much as I know that Patty probably made the right choice for her kids and herself, I am keenly aware of the loss she must be experiencing. What's harder to wrap my head around is what this loss means for the baby. What are his thoughts and feelings? How does he process the change in environment? He is not verbal yet so it's hard to know. But I could see the fear and confusion the first night he came to us.

In which things get so much more complicated and nervewracking

Remember how I asked whether Patty knew what she was doing when she called CPS and asked them to take Little Guy and bring him to us? Well, when he got to us at midnight last Monday night, we opened the very small bag she sent with him, and out tumbled his Halloween costume. So yes, she knew this was not going to be a few days of respite after which she'd easily get him back like last time. In our subsequent phone conversations she's expressed some ambivalence and sadness but she also seems to be very aware that Little Guy is going to stay with us for a good long time. She has made it clear she'd prefer he stay with us, and that the boys be together, than for the baby's dad to take him... but she doesn't have any say! Dad is fighting to get him (which would break the boys up for good since they have different dads). Patty doesn't think it will happen because of his record and other factors, but she also might not realize that a criminal record or drug history or history of not being involved in a child's life does not automatically preclude CPS from placing a child with their birthfather.  An aunt is trying to get the baby, too, but the lawyer has said it's unlikely they'd choose her over us. The fact that the baby could go to his dad is definitely a source of anxiety for us. It would be different if they had the same dad who was fighting to take both of them, in fact I'd be happy for them if they had a dad who was stable enough to parent them. But that's not the case. Their dads are both very sketchy (baby's dad has a domestic violence history in addition to other things) and have never parented them, and would be unlikely to maintain their relationship with each other unless it was court-ordered. As is often the case with foster kids, they are probably more attached to each other than to their mom, let alone to their dads, who have never parented them.

It is also sad for me to realize how "wanted" our Little Guy is, while Big Guy is not. His dad is supposedly fighting to get him, but we don't think it's very likely to happen. His aunt has no interest in him, neither do any of his other family members. Little Guy's dad, who he thinks of as his step-dad, isn't interested in him. Nobody wants to take a 9 year old with behavioral issues. He is "damaged goods" to most people, whereas his brother is just a bundle of sweetness and giggles. This hurts my heart.

I am not so worried about these boys leaving us, I'm worried about them losing each other. They have such a special bond. Little Guy toddles around after Big Guy all day long, like a little puppy dog. No one can make him giggle the way that Big Guy does. Having his baby bro around brings out the protective and nurturing side of our big boy. Seeing them together is incredibly moving after the four months they were separated. It breaks my heart that they could be separated again, and it's taking everything in me to live in the present. We only have today, and all I can do is try to make today as wonderful as it can be for these boys. It looks like there's very little chance the baby will go anywhere until the January court date at the earliest, and maybe not even then. So we're going to keep on keeping on and try not to panic. Anything could happen at any time... or nothing at all could happen, and these boys could stay together and with us. The worst part is we won't know for a good long time, and we have to find a way to accept that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I sure didn't imagine this happening so soon.

It's 11pm and I'm up, sleepless, because Little Guy is coming back to us tonight! I did not expect this, not now. I knew the possiblity was high of it happening down the road, if/when his needs became too much for a cognitively challenged mom to handle. But four months after he went back home to mom? Geez. I found this out not from the after-hours caseworker calling, but from Patty (mom) herself!

We called Patty so Big Guy could say goodnight to her, and she asked to speak with me and let me know she called the CPS 800 number tonight and told them she was overwhelmed and couldn't handle things. She wanted to know if we could take the baby. Does she know what she's doing? That she may have put one of the final nails in the coffin when it comes to getting Big Guy back? That CPS isn't going to remove and return Little Guy over and over indefinitely before they take him away for good? Who knows. More on this later. For now, I am filled with a mixture of sadness (for Patty), happiness (to see the boys reunited) and total overwhelm (at the thought of suddenly being a parent to two children, after 4 months of barely being able to handle one). Big Guy is doing really well right now, and I think having Little Guy here will be great for him but suddenly having to share the attention may also cause some regression. We'll see.

We don't know when they'll get here, so I'm going to try to grab a few winks while I can. Tomorrow I need to go to our storage unit and pull out all the 18-24 months clothes I put away there just last week when we finally took Little Guy's stuff out of the kids' room to make more space for Big Guy's toys.

Please wish us luck! We're about to embark on a serious rollercoaster - Two brothers of two very different ages, with two different dads who may continue to drop in and out of the picture, with one very challenging but sweet mom, and with two very different sets of needs.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Antidepressants Are a Beautiful Thing

Our boy has done a complete 180 degree turn during the past week. He has gone an entire week without a single tantrum (by which I mean no hitting, punching, throwing things, threatening to hurt himself). That is probably the longest he's ever gone since being with us. He's been happy, smiling a lot, telling us he loves us a lot (unsolicited statements like "I love you, Ima..." or "I love spending time with you, Mama..."), and totally fun to be around. He's earned new privileges, he's talked about his feelings instead of acting out, and he's been pretty much like a "normal" kid with fairly severe ADHD. He's had no aggression or violence or angry outbursts. It's pretty incredible.

Family life has been a total joy lately, which is such a relief from the constant struggling of the last 4 months. There have been difficult moments, things are far from perfect... but they are so, so much better. I think the Prozac is working, and allowing the therapy to be more effective... which is giving credence to our belief that Big Guy's violent tantrums were not just behavioral but instead were due to a combination of anxiety, depression and PTSD. He's only been on Prozac a few weeks, and just this week we upped the dose, so it's possible things will get even better from here. I can't help feeling like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop - How can this be real? How long can it last? But I'm also starting to let go and just enjoy these times... and giving him loads of positive feedback about how awesome his behavior is and how much fun he is to be around.

Big Guy told us last night that he's being good so the judge will let him go home. It broke my heart to hear him say that, because it means he really still thinks he was removed because he was bad and he can go home when he's good. But it was a good opportunity to let  him know that being happy and being well-behaved will help him in every aspect of life, no matter where he lives. Whether he goes home or is adopted, he will have a better life and more privileges if he can behave respectfully and he feels good inside. We reminded him he isn't in foster care because he is bad, that he's in foster care because mommy has problems parenting (problems she is working on right now), and that we can't promise that good behavior will mean he gets to go home.

At first I was worried that raining on his parade like this might make him start acting out again, but my dad reminded me that there's no way that Big Guy was able to keep up such amazing behavior for an entire week purely out of willpower so he could go home. If that was the case, he'd have been on perfect behavior from the beginning of his time here. I think he just had an easier time behaving the way he'd like to behave because he's less depressed and anxious, plus he's been working in therapy on internalizing that hurting us isn't going to make him be able to go home. When he saw his behavior being so positive, it may have renewed his hope that now he can have enough self-control that he can behave well at home so that mommy will want him back and the judge will send him back. So I don't think he's going to regress simply because we are giving him reality checks about his power to make the judge send him home to mommy. He looked so deflated after I corrected him, I wanted to cry.

We knew from the beginning that "Oppositional-Defiance Disorder" and "ADHD" didn't fully encapsulate what was going on with this child. I'm so glad we finally found professionals who agreed that we needed to dig deeper into the psychiatric issues. Big Guy is happier, calmer and so much more focused. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me. Even if it's temporary, it's a huge gift. Times like this remind me that all this hard work is worth it. And you know what? In the (unlikely) change that he does go back home to mommy, who is so limited in so many ways, I think it would be great to send him back as a happier, less aggressive, more well-adjusted kid who is easier for a cognitively limited mom to parent. I finally understand what foster parents mean when they say that they get satisfaction out of reuniting with their families a healthier kid who's done a lot of healing and learned new coping skills.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Baruch Hashem! Investigation over.

Praise G-d. The investigation ended as quickly as it started. It was a mere formality - The school had to report what happened, but made it clear to the investigator that they weren't concerned. We've done a good job keeping them apprised of his behaviors at home and we also notified them as soon as he got hurt the first time. The investigator made it clear she wasn't concerned as soon as she walked through the door. So all is well. They didn't even really speak to Big Guy, as when they stopped by school he refused to show them anything or talk to them, and she didn't think it was worth trying to convince him to talk to him. So we just answered some questions, she was very nice and said we'll get a letter clearing us within a few weeks. I have to be diligent about contacting CPS to put us back on the list when we're cleared, in case Little Guy re-enters the system... because while you're being investigated, your home is "closed" to all new foster placements.

It was painless, other than the waiting. I really appreciate how respectful and friendly the investigator was. She apologized for it taking so long to come out - She was out of the office right after our holidays ended. I am just so glad Big Guy was on good behavior when she came - it would have been stressful to have her looking on as we handled him punching or kicking, though I'm sure it would have made a point as to how he got hurt in the first place! He was great tonight, even if he wouldn't eat the chicken shnitzel I cooked special for him.

The morals of the story:

1) If you think an allegation can't happen to you... It can. And it will. We are educated, middle class folks* who are completely anti-corporal punishment, have child-positive values and treat our kid with respect even when we're being physically pummeled by him. We don't have neighbors that hate us. We have a great relationship with (birth) mom. We have great relationships with all of the professionals involved in our foster kid's life. Big Guy hasn't made false allegations per se. We've documented everything a lot and are quick to call CPS if he ever makes a threat of some sort or his behavior is particularly difficult or he gets hurt. We've done (almost) everything by the book... and it still happened. But guess what? It's also not always the end of the world.  I will be a lot less freaked out if (when?) this happens again.

2) If you ever injure your child by accident, there is no such thing as documenting it too much.

3) Having open lines of communication with your foster kid's school social worker, school nurse, and teacher is really helpful if/when an investigation happens.

*This is not to say educated or middle-class people don't abuse their kids - Instead, I'm referring to the fact that we are privileged within the child welfare system. My non-scientific observations are that middle class, educated people are less likely to have allegations made against them and more likely to have them dismissed. We've already seen how the foster care licensing people didn't even look at anything that was on their safety checklist because once they saw what was clearly a nicely decorated, white, middle class home they seemed to lose interest in checking the bath water temperature, the fire and carbon monoxide detectors, etc.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Allegation Non-Update

Apparently the investigators are taking the allegation so seriously that a week has gone by and they haven't returned our call. Geez. I called our foster parent advocate organization and hopefully I'll hear back, as they are supposed to help walk you through the process.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who left supportive or informative comments to my post about this issue. It helps so much to feel like we're not alone, and that there are people rooting for us.

Monday, October 4, 2010

On a lighter note... Kids and religion, or "Kids Say the Darnedest Things"

Life goes on, despite the way our lives have been turned upside down by knowing anything could happen at this point (see my last post). Things continue to be silly, fun, crazy, and upsetting, in turns.
This post is about something on the lighthearted side of things.

I know I'm not the only one who's wanted to curl up in a little ball and disappear when one hears the things their foster child says to their (birth/first) family about what the foster family has told him or taught him. Or even just implying they've been taught something that goes against what their birth/first family did or believed. Here is a recent favorite. On the phone the other day, Big Guy said:

"Mom, I don't believe Jesus is the son of G-d. It doesn't make any sense."

I wanted to die. Oy vey, just what we need... Now mom is going to think we are brainwashing him with our heathen Jewish ways! He was on speaker phone with mom, as always, so I tried to steer the conversation in a direction that would make it clear that we were encouraging him to think for himself. Mom didn't seem upset, she half-heartedly tried to argue but she didn't understand Christian theology clearly enough to really accurately portray what Christians "should" believe. I don't think she was upset at all, but she told him he should go to church where he can learn about Jesus. Big Guy has never asked to go to church, so we've never taken him.

The truth is when we've been asked we have been very honest with Big Guy about what we believe, which is that Jesus was a real man and probably a very good man but was not the son of G-d any more than we all are. We've also told him it is totally fine for him to believe differently, and we've patiently and without bias (to the extent possible) explained what Jews believe and what Christians believe (and even a little about Muslims and Buddhists lately). He's asked if he can be Jewish and we've told him he can't make that decision until he's older. We've asked him about his experiences going to church and sometimes even turned the TV onto the gospel channel for him. We've taken him to synagogue only for festivities, never for religious services... though we could if we wanted, if he consented (he just does not have the patience to sit through hours of chanting in a language he can't understand so I'd never do that to him). He takes part in rituals in our home as much as he wants, but there is never any pressure whatsoever. We will take him to the home of Catholic family members for Christmas and Santa will deliver his gifts there. We will also give him gifts for Chanukah, so he'll be one spoiled little boy in the month of December!

One thing I live about Big Guy is he has many big, deep, theological discussions with us. He has a lot of thoughts about life and death and G-d and religion. Lots of questions, too. Sometimes when we talk about religion and spirituality, I just shake my head at the "low IQ" designation he was given.

Other embarrassing moments have been when Big Guy tells mom that she does things wrong because we do things differently. We are very careful not to say she did things wrong when we explain to Big Guy why our rules or customs are different, but it still gets portrayed that way when he speaks to her sometimes. I remember the first such instance was when he said "Why did you give me Haw@iian Punch? It's poisonous!" because I had explained that we don't give kids "juice" that has food coloring in it because we think artificial food colorings are dangerous chemicals for kids if they consume too much of them.

Do you have any stories like this? Please share, and give me something to laugh about!

The word says it all.


Yes, that's right. It's what you think it is. After all this time, all the days when we felt like we couldn't do it any more but still held on, all the times we got kicked, hit, peed on, or cursed at... Going on four months of hanging in there with this amazing child in hopes he can begin to heal...  After all this time, at a time when we're finally feeling like we can do this... like we are no longer in crisis mode and we're actually holding our heads well above the water... when Big Guy is finally making some progress...

...We could lose him.

We haven't gotten any clear answers but we don't think Big Guy made the allegation, we think it's the school reporting that he had visible injuries (which he sustained when we tried to keep him from throwing things at us and hurting us... and which we immediately reported to the school social worker and to CPS). If that's true, then they probably did the right thing by reporting it - It should have been a red flag for them. But that doesn't make this less scary. Our family hangs in the balance, its destiny decided by an investigator who doesn't know our family (and doesn't know a lot about Big Guy's case). We are lucky enough to have our caseworker, therapist, etc in our corner. They have all seen his tantrums, seen how violent he can get, and seen how we handle them. They all think we're doing a great job. Our caseworker seems to think her opinion will weigh heavily on the final outcome. I hope she's right.

We could lose him. But it's not us that I'm worried about. It's him. It's Big Guy who has everything to lose, because CPS says the next step for him is Residential Treatment.

I have no idea what to expect of the investigation. I know they already tried to talk to him at school but he says he didn't talk to them because he didn't want to miss class (!)

Pardon my language, but screw this. The last thing we needed was this anxiety and fear, when we were finally feeling some semblance of calm at times in our home and our hearts.

Please pray for this sweet boy, who deserves to stay with a stable family who doesn't give up on him, not an institution.

NOTE: This entry may self-destruct if I decide it was stupid to post about this.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's goin' on.... and a plea for help.

Oh dear, it's been a while since I've updated, huh?

Did you think maybe I stopped posting because we threw in the towel and our boy got placed in a therapeutic foster home? Rest assured, we're still hanging in there with Big Guy and don't have any intent to stop.

It's partly the Jewish holidays - Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Simchas Torah... They have taken up a huge part of my time for the last month. It's also partly that there's so much to say and I know I'll never be able to update you on everything that's going on.

Here is a bullet list of just a few of the many things that have happened since I last posted:

  • His team (case workers, etc) decided if this placement fails he will be placed not in a therapeutic foster home but in a Residential Treatment Center. Holy crap, talk about pressure on us! We feel so strongly, as does his therapist, that at this point he does not need an RTC, he needs a family. It's one thing if we adopt him and then he needs RTC, because he'd have a family to visit him all the time and then to eventually come home to. If he went to RTC right now we'd have no rights to even visit him and at most he might get a weekly visit with mom and an occasional visit from a social worker. 
  • His therapist asked me "So, how does it feel living in a residential treatment center?" Because he acknowledged what everyone else is coming to realize, which is that we are basically providing a residential treatment center and therapeutic foster home without the training or compensation.
  • Big Guy's therapist is excellent and Big Guy is starting to talk about his anger, why he takes it out on us, his sadness, etc.
  • Big Guy has been revealing more abuse history. I'm feeling so angry I just want to kill everyone who hurt him. I have to laugh that I told people when he was first placed with us, "He doesn't seem to have any kind of major abuse history, at most maybe a little emotional neglect." Warning to first-time foster parents like us: Never, ever believe that the story you think you know during the first month or when a kid's placed is anything near what the full truth is.
  • We found a great psychiatrist who is starting him on an anti-depressant! Hallelujah! She actually gets that it's not just ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder that are happening here, and she diagnosed him with PTSD after we had been increasingly feeling that some of his behaviors are trauma reactions.
  • We have been talking to Patty (Big Guy's mom) a lot and learned from her more about her own and her mom's mental health history which has helped us understand the situation better and also helped us inform the psychiatrist. We have an awesome relationship with her...
  • ...Which makes it so frustrating that CPS has decided we shouldn't be allowed to supervise visits. Because an outside agency that CPS contracts with is now doing visits at their offices and doesn't allow any contact between birth families and foster families, we cannot see her, and Little Guy (Big Guy's baby brother who we had for the first week that Big Guy was with us), at all. She literally enters through a different door than us, we think, so we can't even "run into her" in the waiting room. It's awful. So much for our dream that we could help mentor and support her. Basically CPS has made it clear they want to build a case to terminate her parental rights, even though she is parenting her baby and her older kid has only been in foster care 3 months with us. They have a foster family who is very competent and has a good relationship with the birth mom, a birth mom who never hurt her child directly, and a foster child who isn't traumatized by contact with his birth mom... The perfect situation to allow a mentoring relationship between foster and birth family or at least to allow more casual visits outside a clinical setting. Yet they don't want to make more work for themselves or risk her actually getting help from us, so they're screwing everyone in the process. Nice.
  • School started and life became much more manageable because of everyone having a set schedule, so we no longer feel we're living in constant crisis mode...
  • ...However, around the time school started Big Guy stopped sleeping through the night. He woke us up no less than seven times last night. He simply cannot and will not sleep without a grown-up in bed with him (please, spare me the lectures and horror stories about how foster parents should protect themselves from abuse allegations by never ever laying down with a child. It's the only way to keep from multiple violent meltdowns at night right now, and if those meltdowns are hard to deal with during the day they are impossible to deal with when half-asleep). His anxiety is so out of control. Usually I go lay down with him when he wakes us up, but end up falling asleep and waking up hours later in horrible pain because his bed sucks and I have a bad back. If anything is making my life feel unmanageable right now, it's not his tantrums or violence... it's the lack of continuous sleep and how we're held hostage by him at night because he wakes up multiple times and is terrified to go back to sleep without us with him. Have I mentioned I have idiopathic hypersomnolence, and am therefore supposed to get 9 hours of sleep a night in order to safely drive? Haha.
Any suggestions on how to deal with the sleep issue, experienced mamas and papas? He's already on 3mg of Melatonin and is taking his Risperdal at night as well. He has nightmares but frequently he wakes up without having nightmares. I hope the SSRI will help. I feel like the parent of a colicky infant, who feels ready to kill someone due to weeks and weeks of interrupted sleep.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Dear Big Guy

    Dear Big Guy,

    You are fast asleep after a night of anxiety attacks that woke you out of a sound sleep. You have been asleep for an hour, though I keep expecting you to wake up any minute. I don't know if it was the Chamomile Calm drops I gave you at 5am (I am still amazed at how well they work) or the imaginary circle I drew around you to keep the bad dreams away or the guided meditation I did with you in the middle of the night as a last-ditch attempt to get you to sleep. All I know is your skinny little body is curled up in your massive bed and you look peaceful, finally. You are so handsome, so little, and so angelic when you sleep. You look innocent, not like the wild creature that tears apart the house and tries to punch and kick and bite us. Mama and I know you are a creative and kind little boy, no matter what your behavior might look like someitmes. You deserve to feel good, not to suffer. You deserve to be happy, well-rested, and calm. One day you will know what it is like to not be so fearful or angry, I just know it.

    I love you deeply, honeyboy. I wish I could sneak in there and give you a kiss on your silky-smooth cheek (the most kissable cheek I've ever encountered!) but I'm afraid I'd wake you up.

    Dear G-d

    Please let the new psychiatrist we are taking Big Guy to today be kind, good at listening, and full of ideas. Ideas about what is going on with him and what to do about it. Please let her take seriously the fact that he was up for 1.5 hours last night afraid that he was dead ("can kids be half-dead?" he asked my partner), that he'd have nightmares if he went back to sleep, and that we were going to die (he kept saying "I love you, mama. I really love you, mama" in a scared voice over and over to my partner... which is not normal for him). He said his heart was pumping blood really fast and "beeping" really fast (he thinks his heart beeps, not beats). He was a wreck. Please let the new psychiatrist take seriously the fact that our house is in danger of being destroyed during his rages and that we are in danger of being hurt. Please let her understand that he has a gentle and sweet soul, which is why he gets so depressed when his behavior is out of control. If she has more clarity about diagnoses, great. But I care less about diagnoses than that she can do something to help take the edge off for him so that he can work more productively on changing his behaviors and coping better with his feelings. A kid who is so anxious they are refusing to go to sleep (or waking up 10 times during the night like he did Sunday night) and is so out of control that they fly into physically violent rages is not in any place to be doing productive work in therapy. We aren't big on medicating kids, but this child is clearly not on the right meds right now and he is suffering. So please let this woman be compassionate and insightful, and have some idea of where to go from here. My sweet boy deserves this.

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    L'Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year!

    L'shanah Tovah (Happy Rosh Hashanah / New Year) to everyone.

    I know I'm way overdue for an update post, especially after my last post which was written amid a major crisis. Suffice it to say, we are still holding in there with Big Guy (though just barely). We are more in love with him each day, and he is more and more bonded with us... and the tantrums continue to be out of control and sometimes real violent. The Agency continues to be unable to give us any real support, I'm starting to wonder if they're secretly hoping we'll "give up" so they can send Big Guy to a residential treatment center and transfer his case to another agency. But we're trying. We're still trying... with all our heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears (literally).

    My prayer is for this new year to bring peace and calm and self-love into this sad, angry, hurt boy's heart. And, while we're at it, I hope this new year brings us a good psychiatrist with some new ideas about meds; a continuation of the good work that's finally happening in therapy; a lot of fun for Big Guy riding his new bike; increased trust in ourselves and each other; and a greater percentage of family time spent doing fun things and just loving and enjoying each other instead of spent managing violence and rage.

    We are off to spend the holiday with family and friends for 3 days (two are Rosh Hashanah, the third is shabbos [the Sabbath]). I'm hoping Big Guy can handle it, and maybe even enjoy it.

    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    From bad to worse.

    I love this kiddo so much. But we are this close to giving up. We feel like we're in way over our heads right now. I feel resentful at The Agency for putting a kid who needed a therapeutic foster home in with non-therapeutic first time foster parents. I am angry at the people who caused this beautiful little boy to have all these problems. I am sad that we have to worry that we can't do this any more. The bottom line is, we cannot keep missing this much work. This child requires two adults to keep him (and the house, and us) safe when he is having a tantrum, and we cannot provide that when we both go back to work. I am so terrified. I love him more than I've ever loved anyone, in a way I've never loved anything. I want the best for him, he deserves only good things in life. But this child's violent rages are so much beyond what we "signed up for" (a joke of a phrase in the foster world) and are putting our jobs, our home, and our bodies in danger. I called The Agency today and said they needed to find a way to provide more supports if they want this placement not to disrupt. I never dreamed I would even be saying the word "disrupt." But if we cannot keep him safe, then we are not the right foster family for him. We are not giving up - We are keeping trying. We are giving all the professionals and opportunity to put a better support system in place for us. I just don't know if they can.

    In the past few days:
    -I got punched in the eye (thank G-d for glasses, and 70-pound weaklings), on purpose but I don't think he really wanted to hurt me
    -I got kicked in the shin, on purpose
    -I got hit repeatedly with pieces of plastic, on purpose
    -The crib and the changing table have almost been broken, on purpose
    -The fan and overhead light have almost been broken, on purpose
    -A lightbulb was shattered, on purpose
    -The screen in his window was almost pushed out
    -Dents were made all over his walls, using the plastic top of a humidifier
    -Sarah's been hit hard in the middle of the head with a piece of metal
    -Sarah's been cursed at over and over and over
    -I've hurt my (already bad) back trying to drag him into his room when he's refusing to stop breaking things
    -We've had him threaten to tell The Agency we're abusing him, over and over

    And so on, and so forth. This is just a part of the list. The hardest part to wrap my head around is the sweet, angelic, lovely child he is when he's not raging.

    I want this to work.

    I want this to work.

    I want this to work.

    But I don't know if this can work.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    When foster kids threaten false abuse allegations

    This one's to throw out there to the foster-blogosphere: What do you do when your foster kids threaten to make false abuse allegations against you? It seems to come with the territory with older foster kids, from what I hear. I want to hear how you deal with this.

    I have to say that it really freaks me out when, during tantrums, Big Guy threatens to tell CPS we're abusing him. This only happens when he gets mad at us and has a massive tantrum (he becomes like a totally different kid during these tantrums). He learned some time before he entered foster care that you could theaten someone by saying you'd report them for abuse. He seems to understand that CPS is who you should tell. He's so naive and immature, and didn't come into care due to an abuse allegation, so it's pretty clear to us that someone must have told him that he could get grownups in trouble this way. Being a foster parent to an older kid is scary. It's scary partly because you hear warning stories about how it's a matter of when you'll get an allegation made against you, not if.

    As much as I know that Big Guy's therapist, caseworker, etc. think we're doing a great job and respect us and don't suspect us of abusing him... if he made an allegation they'd be obligated to investigate, and that investigation alone could be very traumatic for all of us. I know people it's happened to, and even when they discover that the allegation was BS, it turns peoples' lives upside down. We had to have a conversation tonight with Big Guy about how lying is not okay, and I finally let him know that if he lied and told someone we were hurting him, he might be removed and never allowed to see us again... and reminded him he wouldn't be sent back to mommy, which when he's mad at us is probably what he'd like. I had tried for so long to not say anything like that, but I think it's time he understand how serious it is for him to lie about something like this. He is not a liar. This kid really can't seem to lie. But you never know what he might say when he gets mad enough at us, and it's just so scary to think that not only we would pay the price... he would pay the price. We reiterated the importance of honesty. We emphasized that we would never hurt him and we don't believe in hitting children (and reminded him of our anger that he was beaten by relatives) and told him if we ever did hit him he should tell somebody, so that he'd understand that we're serious about kids being safe. I hope we dealt with this the right way. I can't ignore it any more. As usual, we are writing e-mails to caseworkers and therapists to let them know what he said - I make sure to constantly have them document his threats.

    By the way, when did Big Guy make the most recent and by far the most serious threat of making a false allegation? Mere hours after he told us for the first time, out of the blue, "I want to stay with y'all forever. I don't want to have to leave."

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Yup, that just about sums things up

    After Big Guy calmed down from a horrific tantrum this evening during which I got kicked in the shin and both Sarah and I had various items thrown at us, he sweetly pointed out "But I didn't break anything during my tantrum. I tried really hard not to break anything." He clearly wanted a pat on the back, which Sarah had to give him because my shin still hurt too much for me to feel charitable. We suggested that maybe now that he's had a tantrum that didn't involve breaking furniture or lamps, we could try stopping hurting people during tantrums.

    That basically encapsulates how things are right now. Tantrums are still intense and violent, but progress is being made with the help of a wonderful behavioral therapist. We have adopted a zero tolerance policy towards whining, which is helping us get him to use his words (and a non-whiny tone of voice) to ask for what he wants and teaching him that when he asks nicely, he often gets what he desires. We have been much more "tough love" (not in a mean way, but in a boundary-setting way where we don't give him attention if he's doing undesirable behaviors and we don't try to over-explain why we're saying no when we say no). It seems like a little progress may be happening. Then again maybe I'm being overly optimistic because he's only been home for a few days so I'm not exhausted from his constant tantrums yet.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    In which I become a complete hypocrite

    We are big on scrapbooking in this family. While Big Guy was in the hospital we printed extra photos of Little Guy and Big Guy that we've taken over the past two months so that we can help Big Guy make a scrapbook of his own when he comes home - Before he went to the hospital we took him to pick out a scrapbook and he picked one that is light pink with roses all over it!

    I felt a little uncomfortable. A small, hypocritical part of me wanted to steer him towards something less girly. I thought to myself: What will mom think? What will other people think? What does this mean? And then I realized how ridiculous I was being. Who am I to be the gender police, after all? I'm a tomboyish, queer woman who likes boy things much more than girl things (generally speaking). Though I follow a religion that is highly binary in terms of gender, and I'm comfortable with that for the most part, I do not believe in overly enforcing gender roles in young children. Yet maybe it's partly because I'm gay that I feared him buying the pink flowery scrapbook. Same-sex parents are under much more scrutiny in terms of our childrens' "gender performance." If your boy is too girly, it's probably because you're a "man-hating lesbian" or you're trying to "turn him gay." If your girl is too boyish, it's probably because you "hate all things feminine" or she's "confused about gender roles". Much as I know these things to be false (the majority of gender non-conforming children have straight parents, after all) I still fear making Patty uncomfortable, making The Agency question our judgment, etc. 

    Ultimately, I said "screw it" (in my head, that is) and chose to not care. Big Guy needs to feel proud of his things, to feel ownership, to express himself creatively. If a tacky rose-covered scrapbook is going to help him with this, then more power to him. When he was first with us he asked us, "Can I take dance classes? And would they let me wear purple lipstick there?" One of the things I've missed most while he's been in the hospital is all the ways he makes me laugh.

    By the way, I printed some extra photos for Patty but now I'm actually thinking I'd like to just print out one of those photo books they sell at W@lgreens and Sn@pfish and the like, when I see a coupon for one again.

    My baby's coming home!

    Hoo-boy. I haven't been updating because life events have felt so overwhelming and huge and I've needed a break from being submerged in Emergency Management Parenting (I should trademark that) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week... a break I've had because Big Guy's been in the hospital. That hospital stay they said would probably be 3 days? Well, it turned into 2 weeks. Baruch HaShem, he's coming home tomorrow. I think they probably kept him there longer than they needed to, but ultimately I think he did really well there and the psychiatrist and other staff seemed really good. He's had a med adjustment and everyone feels he's ready to come home. I'm finding that I'm nervous about him coming home - Will he be angry with us? Will his behavior revert? Will the bonding that was happening before he left be erased and we have to start from scratch? But we've stayed a very active presence in his life, visiting whenever we can, talking to him about what fun things we want to do with him when he comes home, telling him how much we miss him and trying to get him to acknowledge the behaviors that led to his hospitalization since he still seems to be in denial about them. We've done everything we could to reassure him that hospitalization wasn't a punishment for bad behavior, and that we were eager to have him home with us again.

    I've missed Big Guy so much and I'm glad he's coming home despite a little bit of fear. The plan is to pick him up tomorrow evening and then take him out to dinner, then come home and do the bed routine. We'll see how that works. Often he does better in environments that are not our home, so going out to dinner seems like a good way to ease him into being with us and being out of the hospital. Friday we're going to the beach with my sister, her girlfriend, and my parents. I'm really looking forward to that. I tend to hesitate to tell Big Guy what we're doing the next day in case he a) sabotages it purposely or b) unintentionally acts out to an extent where we can't take him to do that particular activity. So most plans remain a surprise until the last minute. However, I think tomorrow night I'll let him know we're going to the beach Friday because he's been looking forward to it all summer. He's never been to the beach! Besides, it's not a "privilege" that I would take away from him - It's something we've already planned to do, and he behaves really well around my parents, who he adores. So (famous last words) I can't imagine anything happening that would get in the way of us going. 

    Things we've done while Big Guy has been gone:

    • Scrapbooked all day with Sarah - What a gift! I thought I'd never scrapbook again after the insanity of the last 2 months
    • Taken a late-night trip to the huge WalMart that recently opened near us (I hate WalMart as a company and dislike giving them my money, but being broke will make you do crazy things sometimes)
    • Cooked tasty food from scratch
    • Slept late... sometimes very late
    • Gone pee without worrying about closing the bathroom door at night - Funny how one notices the littlest things!
    • Went through the house getting rid of books and other stuff in order to make the house look neater and to make more room for Big Guy's toys
    • Lots of cleaning
    • Paid a lot of bills and done a lot of paperwork that I wasn't getting done when Big Guy was home
    • Did a lot more work (for pay) than I got done during the entire rest of the summer
    • Bought Big Guy some cute clothes for school
    • Slept in some more
    • Did those things that couples struggle to find time to do when there's high-intensity kids around
    • Got taken out on a really lovely date for my birthday

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    In praise of good caseworkers.

    There is nothing like a good caseworker. Seriously. I just told our caseworker, Angel, how fantastic she is when she called me... because it's true. I had feared the worst, based on friends' experiences with being foster parents and hearing about the lousy caseworkers they had. Instead, we got an experienced and truly caring caseworker who not only cares about our foster son but also cares about his mom. I appreciate her so much right now, her support is helping us feel like we can get through this.

    We have been really lucky that all the professionals we've worked with so far are really competent and caring and respect us.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Big Mama & Fat Mama

    Remember this post about how Big Guy couldn't decide what to call us? Well, I just remembered I hadn't shared here about his most recent idea of what to call us. A few days before he went to the hospital, he asked me, completely seriously... "Can I call you Big Mama and Fat Mama?" He wasn't joking, nor was he attempting to be offensive. I burst out laughing. No, honey, you cannot call us Big Mama & Fat Mama.

    I asked him which one of us would be which, but he couldn't decide. And I'll readily admit, after all, we are both big and fat.

    One of Big Guy's biggest obsessions when he was first with us was talking about how we were fat. We taught him the word chubby, which he didn't know (he's 9 but has a very limited vocabulary for a child of his age and intelligence level). We tried to teach him that fat is not a bad word, just like gay (another word he used as a pejorative) is not a bad word. It's just an observation, and though we shouldn't tell someone they're fat because it might hurt their feelings, it's not really an insult. We made it clear it doesn't hurt our feelings and that we're comfortable talking about the fact that we're fat and he's skinny, which is a topic of serious fascination to him. He loves science so we've talked about what calories are, why peoples' bodies are different, etc. Sometimes it's just as simple as saying "G-d makes people with all different kinds of bodies, isn't that cool?" Other times he wants a science-based explanation of why he's not fat. Good thing I'm in the healthcare field!

    Signing off,

    Big Fat Mama

    This love.

    The love I have for this boy is so overwhelming sometimes. We've been bringing Big Guy food from (blech) McD*nald's or B*rger King when we visit. He knows that we don't eat at McD*nalds or B*rger King because we keep kosher, and we don't take him there. We take him to a kosher fast food place sometimes, and we have our relatives and his mentor take him to eat non-kosher fast food now and then. So when I brought him a Kids' Me@l from BK at the hospital, he was shocked. He said "But you're not allowed to go there!" He was horrified at the thought I had gone there - LOL! I didn't want to tell him I had actually bought the food for him, because I had a feeling that would mean when he got home he'd expect us to take him there. So we told him his grandma and grandpa (Sarah's parents) bought it for him. This made him very happy. He was equally thrilled when I told him his other grandma and grandpa (my parents) missed him a lot. "They miss me a lot?" he repeated, with an eager look in his eyes. "Yes, baby, of course they miss you! They love you!"  He is so impacted by the unrelenting love and positivity he's been getting since moving in with us. His self-esteem is very low and he doesn't really believe he deserves to be loved, but when we deliver a hand-written note from one of our friends or relatives each time we visit, telling him how much they miss him... you can see how happy it makes him. When we tell him how much we love him, or that grandma and grandpa can't wait 'til he comes home so we can go to the beach... his eyes light up. He's just so, so lovable. I pray one day he will know that and feel that.

    Yesterday's visit went swimmingly. Big Guy was hilarious, sweet and funny the whole time. He made us laugh so hard with his running commentary while we played cards. We called my dad and he spoke to him for a little while. He let me stroke his back while we talked, whereas last time he wouldn't let us touch him at all. He even let us hug him goodbye, though he was constantly worried someone was looking through the window and would see him hugging us (horrors!)  He seemed happy and calm. It doesn't feel as scary to have him in the hospital now that he's telling us he's happy there, now that I see that he's doing well, now that we've talked to the psychiatrist and feel that he's sensitive and competent. The gut-wrenching fear I had on Thursday night when we brought him to the hospital has been replaced with something calmer and more hopeful. But I miss him. I miss him so much. Who knew that after two months you could be so in love with a child that it hurts to be away from them and all you want is for them to come home, even though the day you brought them to the hospital they'd hit you hard with a wiffle ball bat?

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    The good bad news

    Today's "good bad news":

    The psychiatrist finally returned our phone calls. Sarah spoke with him and said he sounds good, was respectful, took our concerns seriously, and said that he is absolutely not discharging Big Guy this week and without any med changes, contrary to what the social worker had told us yesterday. He thinks Big Guy will probably come home towards the end of next week. This makes me really sad because I miss him and don't want him to have to be away from us for that long. But it is also a HUGE relief because the idea of them sending him back home with nothing having changed whatsoever was terrifying, and I couldn't believe they weren't taking seriously our concerns about his depression (which he's not being treated for currently), his dissociation, etc. Sounds like they are now taking those concerns more seriously, and they do indeed plan to start med changes today or tomorrow. Some of what happened yesterday was likely miscommunication - Social workers are often not filled in by psychiatrists on what their plans are. But some of it may also be the additional info we provided the social worker yesterday about the abuse history that Big Guy has been talking about increasingly, the dissociative-seeming episodes he has after some of his meltdowns, etc.

    I'm sad Big Guy will be in the hospital for so long, but I'm glad there's some hope that some change can happen while he's there. In particular, they'll have time to see if med changes make any difference for him. Explaining to him each time we visit why he's not home yet despite his good behavior is going to be hard.

    Monday, August 9, 2010


    Compounding my frustration with the psych hospitalization seeming like a totally pointless waste of time, is today's interactions with "Patty", Big Guy's birth mom. She was at the meeting with the social worker at the psych hospital. She brought Little Guy (her other son, our former foster baby) and it was really nice to see him and make him laugh. We were warm and friendly to her, as usual. But I wanted to throttle her when we were informing the social worker about the fact that Big Guy been talking a lot about physical abuse he'd experienced at the hands of another family member... and the first thing she asked was "did he say if I was there when it happened?" Um, yes he did. He said you were there and you were laughing while she beat him. Seriously, you care more about whether you were implicated than knowing what happened and how it's affected him?

    I am struggling with my patience with her. I have generally had a lot of empathy for her and wanted to support her in any way we can. We got into foster parenting hoping we'd have the opportunity to mentor birth parents to help them attain reunification (though CPS has gotten in the way of this at every turn.) We believe strongly in supporting reunification and helping first families/birth families get the help they need to be able to parent, yet since all the abuse stuff has come out, I'm finding myself feeling less patience for her cluelessness, her bad judgment, and the way she's more concerned about whether Big Guy's mad at her than dealing with what she did wrong that led to her no longer being able to parent him.

    Patty is sweet, and she loves Big Guy. But not only is she unable to parent Big Guy, I'm also starting to doubt that she could ever parent him no matter what support is provided to her, and I'm worrying increasingly about whether she can keep Little Guy, her baby, physically and emotionally safe. Her judgment is so poor and due to her cognitive disabilities and mental illness, it's unlikely to change significantly. I would love to see her get parenting services that are available for people with developmental disabilities (DD) but because she didn't get DD services when she was young, she's not eligible for them. She's gotten more services than CPS has ever provided, though... all to keep the family intact and avoid having to remove the children. Now that she's lost her older son (she called CPS to take him) the court isn't even sure what services are left to give her. She's had intensive parenting training and so much more, and is unable to assimilate the information. It's so frustrating. I want her to have the best possible chance to parent her kids, and she is compliant with showing up to classes and appointments... but is unable to process any of the information in a meaningful way.

    I could tell many more stories about the things she said today, but I won't. I really am trying to access my empathy for her. I can totally understand why she couldn't handle Big Guy's outbursts - We barely can, and there are two of us with above-average intelligence and more family support than she has. But I still feel so angry that she stood by and let him be hurt by her sister.


    Big Guy is still in the psych hospital. We made peace with our decision once we saw that the unit is really quite fine and the staff is really nice, and though Big Guy refused to see us the first time we visited (he was really angry), he's seen us each subsequent time and seems to be doing well. Yesterday he said "it's fun here." Um, psych hospital FAIL. It's not supposed to be fun, buddy! But I'm glad he's not miserable, I certainly don't want him to be suffering.

    So Big Guy is okay, but I still have steam coming out of my ears right now. They are refusing to alter his meds because they haven't seen the behaviors that we hospitalized him for yet. They say "we don't want to rush things, it might take a while for us to see them" but when we asked them how long they keep most kids for they said "7 days." Um, it's already been 4 days. So basically they are making it sounds like they're going to discharge him on Thursday, with no med changes, no aggressive or self-destructive behaviors observed, and basically it'll just return to business as usual at our house. They said something like "Well, a lot of times it's behavioral issues that need to be dealt with in the home, not psychiatric issues." Seriously? So in the meantime, while we deal with the "behaviors", it's totally normal that we spend hours wrestling him to keep him safe? It's totally acceptable that he's trying to run into traffic, and that he sobs for hours on end, that he can't stop his outbursts and then feels horrible about himself and asks us to beat him, and that he becomes dissociated after his tantrums? We can fix all of this with good parenting?

    Even if we could fix all of this with good parenting, we need to keep ourselves and our belongings and this sweet little kid SAFE while we get more services in place to help with behavioral interventions in the home. We are approved for 2 hours of therapy and 2 hours of behavioral assistance each week, but he couldn't even make it to his next appointment last week! The neurologist said he needs to be under the care of a psychiatrist, but he couldn't even make it until his psychiatrist appointment! Even if these issues were more behavioral than psychiatric, if he can't behave safely while we continue our behavioral interventions, nothing is going to change.

    BTW, the psychiatrist hasn't returned our calls and didn't show up to the meeting. So the only info we have is filtered through a social worker, who's not the one who makes any of these decisions. I've had it up to here.

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    How we ended up in the psych ER

    Yesterday neither Sarah nor I could work because it took two of us to keep Big Guy safe, and even then he was hitting and trying to jump out the 2nd story window, and things like that. This is after a week that included him running into the street and refusing to come back to us (once on a street that had little traffic, once on a street that has a lot of speeding traffic)... Having tantrums every day... and saying things like "Do you hate me? Do you want me to die?" in a sad little voice while in the bathtub. His tantrums just escalated and escalated. He broke a lamp and threw a lot of our (and his) belongings across the house. He cried, he yelled, he threatened. He refused to leave the house every morning. But the worst part was that he is so, so sad. And so, so frustrated with himself.

    For a kid with ODD it can take a LOT of sadness for it to come out as child-like (i.e. appropriate) tears and sobs rather than just angry wild-animal tantrums. But we've had a lot of both recently, and we knew something was not right. Obviously we don't know what "right" is with this boy, since he's only been with us 2 months so far. But we knew something was different than usual in the way he was acting. The difference was that he was excessively sad and even his acting out seemed to stem from that instead of just from testing. In addition, he was unable to stop his tantrums, or recover from them. Instead, I think as he'd start to come down from them he'd start to realize what he'd done (in other words he'd perceive that he had physically hurt the people he loves, destroyed his room, made us upset, exhausted himself, etc) and then feel so bad about himself that he thought he deserved to be punished... So he'd act out even more, seemingly trying to get us to punish him. We have gathered that he thinks he deserves to be beaten, kicked out, or have the cops called on him. So "punishment" means one of these extremes, which are the things he is accustomed to. When I have told him during his tantrums, "Baby, you deserve to feel good. You deserve to be happy. Please stop punishing yourself,"... his response is things like "No, I deserve to feel bad. I deserve to lose all my privileges. I deserve bad things."

    I called Big Guy's care manager, and said that our rope was really fraying and we needed help, pronto. I explained that being held hostage by this child, and having him continue to try to harm himself or us, was not an option for us... but that we did NOT want to give up on him, and didn't want him to think we were going to abandon him when the going got tough. I said I didn't know what to do. She quickly recommended that we take him to the psych ER for an evaluation. He hasn't had a psychiatric evaluation in quite a while and when we tried to make an appointment, we couldn't get one until the end of September. We have tried to convince his doctors to tweak his meds, but they hemmed and hawed over it. What the care manager explained is that in the psych hospital he can stay for a few days while they change his meds. It's easier and safer than going through med changes while living with us, as they can observe him carefully.

    I really didn't want to do this. I was so fearful he would hate us, that it would set him back in terms of his progress emotionally, that it would undermine his trust in us, that things would be worse when he got back to us instead of better. But I called all the people I know who have professional and personal experience with this stuff, and they all reassured me that it was the right thing. As I said to the caseworker "This really isn't about his behaviors. His behaviors are unmanageable right now. But it's really about the fact that he deserves to feel better than this." It is physically painful to see your child hurting and unable to talk about it, and unable to stop themselves from acting in ways that get them further into trouble emotionally and in terms of family consequences.

    The horrible part is they don't have visiting hours today, so our boy is going to think even more that we're abandoning him. We're trying to get through to the psychiatrist to fight for an exception to the rules due to his history of abandonment issues and his being in foster care for only 2 months with us, because we think not seeing us every day would be very damaging for him. But they haven't returned our calls.

    I wish I could stop feeling like I've failed him somehow by needing to take him to psych hospital. I wish I could stop feeling like a bad mom because I couldn't magically handle his behaviors and help him feel better. I know better than this. But my brain hasn't yet convinced my heart that we did the right thing and that he'll be okay, largely because he has two dedicated foster moms who can't wait for him to get out, who will advocate for him to no end, and who would do almost anything to help him continue to heal and grow.

    I broke my own heart last night.

    The hardest thing I've ever had to do was to leave my screaming, sobbing, scared, sad little boy at the psychiatric hospital.

    We spent 9.5 hours in the psych ER last night, listening to mentally ill and drug-withdrawing folks screaming and talking delusionally (the guy in the next stall kept yelling things like "Why does everyone keep ignoring me? What am I, a criminal? Did I murder someone? I don't remember!") Oy. Anyway, they ended up admitting him. The psychiatrist was very nice and explained that she really felt that he needed to be there for a few days and they needed to look at his meds. She agreed with our suspicions that he is on too much ADHD medication which is making him more aggressive than he would be otherwise, and that it might not be good that he's not being treated at all for depression. We'll see what the child psychiatrist thinks.

    I am so, so sad. I miss him terribly. This hurts so bad. I feel like I betrayed him somehow. I will never forget his despair when we left him last night. I pray that he can get some help feeling better. As I will continue to remind him, we cannot wait until he is home. We are not abandoning him, though I'm sure it feels that way to him because of his life experience. But we cannot allow him to be in danger and putting us in danger, and he needs professional help in feeling less out of control.

    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    Feeling like I'm failing

    I really feel at this moment in time like I can't do this. I cannot physically wrestle with a defiant, oppositional child all morning who refuses to go to camp which means I am unable to work or go to school. I can't have my partner, "Sarah", missing work so much that she is worried her job is in jeopardy, because our boy refuses to leave in the morning. I cannot have everything in my house broken, though that seems like the least of our problems right now. I cannot allow myself to be bitten, spat upon, hit with a wiffle ball bat, and sweared at. Sarah is being amazing right now and trying to keep him safe while I have a few minutes to lock myself in the bedroom. Bless her. She had to leave work because I called her today, sobbing that I just can't do this anymore.

    And yet I am doing it. I have no choice. The only option available right now is respite, which I fear would set Big Guy back a lot because of his abandonment issues (mom kicked him out because she couldn't handle his behavioral issues). I cannot screw this child over. I really don't want to cause more disruption and more issues for him. But how can I keep going? How?

    Times like this I really don't know how we do it. And I really laugh at all the people who talk about how much progress Big Guy's made since he's been with us... because at times like this, I think they must be hallucinating.

    Where is my sweet, kind, adorable boy? He disappears behind this mask of an angry, self-hating, wild animal child. It is so hard to remember that the sweet boy is still in there. But he is. And that sweet boy deserves to have a chance to learn how to feel more comfortable living without that mask. Which is going to take a LONG time, and a lot of work. I just really really hope we can make it. I prayed so hard last night after I said the bedtime she'ma that G-d will help him love himself and learn that it's okay to feel good. He is so incapable of allowing himself to feel loved or to feel good, and so he sabotages everything. Aggressively. We are so committed to him, but we also have to keep ourselves safe and we have to keep ourselves employed and functional in the world - Those are non-negotiables.

    It is so hard loving someone who feels horrible about themselves... They will push you away in any way they can. This is true of adults, too, but with kids it's so much more intense.

    Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    When you pass the test

    This story goes out to Foster Ima from Frum Fostering, who I'm guessing will appreciate this.

    Big Guy asked DP this week if "when you pass the test, can you drive on Saturdays?" She had no idea what he was talking about. "What test?" she asked. Turns out he was referring to the fact that he knows we follow the Jewish laws that forbid driving on Shabbos (our sabbath, which is Friday night and Saturdays) except in a serious emergency. Big Guy isn't Jewish and has been fascinated and perplexed by all the rules we follow - We don't make him follow them, obviously. But they affect the rhythm of all of our lives since we are religious Jews and there are foods we don't bring into our home and things we don't do with him on our sabbath. Apparently he got the idea that somehow if you follow all the laws strictly enough for a while, you've "passed the test" and then you can stop following them. As DP said (to paraphrase), "I guess he thinks if we're good enough about following halacha* for a while, we've proved ourselves and should be let off the hook. Wouldn't it be wonderfully convenient if it worked that way?" Indeed it would, DP. Indeed it would.

    *Jewish religious law

    Mom, Mother, Ima, Mommy

    Big Guy has been asking to call us mommy for a while now, and we've firmly but lovingly said "it's too soon, it would hurt your mommy's feelings." But he started doing it anyway. He's been playing around with different words, but definitely making it very clear he doesn't want to call us our first names. So we finally had a conversation with him tonight about what he'd like to call us - We feel we should each have a different name and it shouldn't be "mommy" since he already has a mommy, whose feelings we want to respect and encourage him to respect. We gave some suggestions (like Ima & Mama, or Ima & Mama-B, which he rejected). His ideas?

    Idea #1: "Mom One and Mom Two" ... Um, no way, buddy. I am not a robot. And it makes it sound like one of us is better than the other. Plus, it reminds me of Bob One and Bob Two (aren't they characters from some Dr. Seuss book?)

    Idea #2: "Mother X and Mother Y" (with X and Y being our last initials). Heck no. There is no way you are calling me mother, sweetie pie. That makes me feel way too old and way too British.

    Gotta keep working on this, because I want him to call us things he's comfortable with but I really don't think I can handle being Mom Two or Mother Y.

    Oh BOY.

    You know you're really a parent when you're giving a child a bath and you have to say:

    "Um... buddy? It's okay to touch your pee-pee*, and I'm sure it feels very good, but that's something you need to do in private, not in front of your foster mom while she's giving you a bath. We only do that when we're alone, so I'm going out of the bathroom and closing the door now. Let me know when you're ready for me to come wash your hair."

    *To clarify, I used the accurate anatomical term, but he insists on calling it a pee-pee anyway, and I don't want people to find my blog by searching for the real word!

    Monday, July 26, 2010

    Things I should post about at some point.

    Just a few things I'd like to write about when I can find the time:

    1) The situation that led to Big Guy (and, initially, his brother Little Guy) being placed with us

    2) The way I feel totally abandoned by most of my friends and much of our family since Big Guy became part of our lives

    3) The fascinating conversations we have with Big Guy about race, skin color, ethnicity and hair

    4) Figuring out how to discipline a child with intense behavioral and emotional issues

    5) How surprisingly wonderful some of the support staff are that we've been working with through the Agency, school, etc.

    6) Some of the hilarious things Big Guy says over the course of a day.

    7) My concerns about his mental health

    8) What keeping Shabbos (the Jewish sabbath) looks like when you have a 9 year old non-Jewish foster child

    9) Addressing Big Guy's negative feelings about gay people and Jews, and some of the amusing conversations that have ensued

    Why I've been M.I.A.

    It sounds cliche to say "I just haven't had time to post"... but it's really true. Since my last post here's a brief version of what's happened:

    1) We got licensed as foster parents

    2) I finished up a pretty intense semester of school

    3) I continued to struggle with several health issues that give me a lot of pain and fatigue

    4) We got a call about an allegedly gorgeous 1 year old girl in perfect health who was a rare "truly fost-adopt placement" (in the words of the caseworker who called us) in that the TPR process had already started and she had been in a kinship care situation that was no longer working out due to nothing related to the baby. My hands shook, I could hardly contain myself. And then 1/2 hour later we got a call back saying "Uh, just kidding. We found another family member." We both felt really sad for a day or two, but praying for the baby and feeling happy for her that she was able to be with a family member got us through that.

    5) We got a call about a teenager. Um, what? What part of "0-5" don't you understand, Agency?

    6) We got a call about 1 and 9 year old brothers in mid-June. Because we are completely out of our minds insane we said YES! Little Guy, age 1, was a chubby and delicious and unusually adorable bundle of sweetness. An easy baby who slept through the night, was easily comforted, and adored his brother, Big Guy, like nothing else. He followed him around the house like a puppy dog and belly-laughed every time Big Guy yelled or whined or threw a tantrum. Big Guy was handsome fellow, with a sweet neshama (soul). Kind and helpful and funny and affectionate, when doing well... and extremely behaviorally challenged when not doing well. Diagnoses include Oppositional-Defiance Disorder (ODD), ADHD, depression, anxiety, impulse control disorder, so on and so forth.

    7) After a week with us, our Agency totally screwed up their court case, which led to the judge requiring that Little Guy being returned home... but not Big Guy. So now the boys became separated, and for the last 6 weeks we've just had Big Guy, whose honeymoon period ended after 2 or 3 weeks with us. Since then we've been spending most of our energy managing his incredible tantrums and outbursts, which include throwing and breaking things, turning over furniture, threatening to run away, and threatening to hurt himself. In between those challenging episodes, he shows how much some of his behaviors have improved, he shows how much he's bonded with us (he's now asking if he can call us both Mom, and even though we told him we thought it was too early and we didn't want his Mommy to get upset, he's started to occasionally call us Mom-type names), he a pleasure to be around, and he amuses us ceaselessly. School says he's doing better since he's been with us. All his social workers are impressed. Yet at home, we are struggling with how much we are in love with this boy yet how totally clueless we are about how to manage some of his behaviors.

    8) So, we're foster parents. It feels like it's been a lifetime. This has been the longest 6 weeks of my life. We know rationally that we're doing a great job with him, even if emotionally it doesn't always feel that way. It seems like Hashem (G-d) must have known what He was doing in leading a 9 year old with intense behavioral issues to our family instead of the 0-5 year olds with mild to moderate needs that we had originally signed up for. Except at the very most difficult times (when I am exhausted and hurt and angry and frustrated and sad and burnt out, and feel utterly isolated and unsupported) I feel like this was totally Meant To Be and I am so grateful that we've had the opportunity to learn how fulfilling it can feel to parent an older child. I miss Little Guy so much. We see him at Big Guy's weekly visits, and sometimes get to hold him. I am angry they have been separated - Angrier than words can express. At the same time, it's amazing to me the ways in which parenting an older child can actually be more satisfying than parenting a baby. I never would have dreamed I could handle this. But so far, I can. Just barely.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Not much of an update.

    Still waiting to hear that our homestudy's been approved and they're sending an inspector out to give our physical apartment their stamp of approval. Unfortunately as of right now we wouldn't pass because there are a few things that need to be fixed, but we're working on it. So things could happen very quickly. Then again, we're being told that in our count one can wait a year for their first placement if they foster ages 0 to 5! This is so different from what most of the foster parents I know have experienced, it kind of blows my mind. We're not even talking about "foster-adoptive placements", but about any foster care placement at all. Hopefully doing emergency/after-hours care will help our house not stay empty for a whole year, but we'll see. I'm feeling kind of bummed at the thought of putting together our new crib and having it be empty for that long. But only G-d knows what's in store, I suppose.

    Freecycle rocks

    We have gotten hundreds of dollars worth of baby and toddler supplies (ranging from furniture to clothing and beyond) via Freecycle lately, which is so amazing. We don't have a lot of extra cash lying around and are also big on minimizing our consumption of new items when possible for environmental reasons, so it's great to be able to reuse all this awesome stuff (some of it brand new or barely used, all of it in great condition). We've gotten a glider, a changing table, bags and bags of baby and toddler clothes, great baby toys, a Boppy, formula samples and more. It's also a fun way to meet new people. Folks have been very supportive and offered us lots of supplies when we've mentioned we were becoming foster parents, too. In fact I connected with another local foster parent on Freecycle when I posted in a posting looking for baby clothes that we were about to become foster moms. (Note to self: You owe her an e-mail updating her on how things are going.)

    If you've never checked it out, I recommend it... You can find the official local lists through the site linked above, but there are unofficial Freecycle lists on YahooGroups, too. It's easiest to turn e-mail off so you only read the posts on the YahooGroups site, but the problem with that is you miss the chance to see new listings as soon as they post and try to be the first responder (first responders don't always get the item but they have a better chance). So when I have time to read the e-mails I have them come to my inbox individually, and when I don't I either do digest version or web-only. It's a little overwhelming at first if you live in an area with a busy Freecycle list, but it's well worth it. People give away a lot of junk but they also give away a lot of awesome things in really great condition and are unexpectedly generous. I think Freecycle is a foster parent's best friend.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Homestudy completed. What next?

    Our homestudy is finally done, and we should be licensed within a month or so. Right now we are trying to decide whether we want to do after-hours emergency placements. I would love to hear your experiences with that.

    We are being told we could wait for an entire year for our first foster placement even after we opened our age range up to 0-5, that's how few kids are in the system in our county and how many foster parents wanting small kids there are. It's so bizarre, given that in most places they are desperate for foster parents and never seem to have enough homes. But it's partly because our state has made some strides in keeping families together, which is ultimately a good thing. Believe it or not, we could get matched with a waiting child for straight adoption through the state before we ever get our first foster placement. Part of our desire to do emergency placements is just not wanting the "Baby Room" to be empty for a year. It would also let us "get our feet wet" and get some experience parenting foster kids so that by the time we have a child stay for longer we are more confident as parents. I also think it might increase the chance of us getting a longer-term placement sooner, since if an emergency placement ends up staying in the system (most go home or to family members within a few days) we would have the first opportunity to be a longer-term foster home for that child. We're leaning towards starting emergency placements in the late spring and only accepting ages 0-2 for emergency (0-5 for regular placements). Passover and some other things that are going on make March a hard month for us to have our first-ever foster care placement, so we wouldn't open our home for emergency after-hours placements until at least April. Obviously if a longer-term placement or potential adoption comes up before then we'll definitely consider it, though.

    I have all these rants in me, some of which I've started writing out as posts... and then I get scared to post my true thoughts on some things about the foster care system, about other foster and adoptive parents, about race/racism, about politics. I've blogged before and I just hate how nasty people can get when they are anonymous. Yet I decided to start this blog, and so now it's just a question of how much I want to put myself "out there". For the time being I'm playing it safe, but hopefully I'll get up the courage to write about some more controversial topics soon since that's what's on my mind. I'll put the comments on moderation just to avoid the inevitable.