Tag Archives: childhood

You Can’t Fix “The System”

No one sits behind their desk and says “Lets emotionally scar a child”.

No one speaks out in a courtroom and tells a judge, “Your Honor, we need to ensure this child ends up with RAD.”

No one sits at your dining room table and says, “We really ought to set this baby up for complete emotional failure in life.”

In foster parent circles, you hear a lot of people saying, “The system is so broken! It must be fixed!” And indeed it is broken. Like the public school system, it is a one size fits all path. So while slight variations may be made here or there, it’s designed to work for the average case— whatever that is.

In my county, young children are not supposed to end up in the system terribly long. This is a good thing. But what is supposed to happen and what does happen are two different things. A child whose life hangs in the balance. A baby who has formed attachments to people other than their parents for months or even years, suffers from the instability of belonging nowhere. An older child passed from home to home, racking up a line of diagnoses and worsening behavior with each disruption. A teenager, ready to age out, with no real hope or plan of what comes next.

So we should speed up the process, right? Well, if we reunite these children too quickly, their parents will fail. Often times, parents have a long history of struggles to overcome in a short time. Addiction, mental health problems, abusive tendencies, and the like cannot be fixed with the swish of a wand. These hurdles can take a long time to overcome. We set children up for failure and re-entry into the system, we risk their physical and mental health, and sometimes we risk even their lives by reuniting too soon.

But, if we terminate parents’ rights too quickly, we needlessly rip families apart. This leads to resentment on the part of the adoptee. We see depression, RAD, we see regret, we see that a family may have been reunited if the parents only had more time. We see two families worn down and broken.

So what’s the fix? How do we “reform the system!”? I don’t think there is an answer to that. Call me a pessimist, but there is no fix that would work in a one size fits all system. The system, “broken” though it may be, is the most effective formula for the middle cases. The ones on top and the ones on bottom get the short end of the stick, but there simply has to be a middle of the road procedure they slap on every case.

Individualizing every case would be ideal of course. But this would require so much more manpower, so many less hard and fast laws, and so much more personal interpretation of the rules on a case by case basis by the decision makers. While that sounds great, it is, of course, a lawsuit nightmare waiting to happen. You terminate the rights of one parent at 3 months into the case, give others 6 years, and you’re asking for revolt.

So what happens? What happens is you sit awake all night with a screaming baby on visit days who is torn apart by anxiety because you left her with a stranger for a few hours. Except that stranger is her mother. You have a little boy, so shaken up by instability that he eats obsessively, hoards food, and steals more for later, because it’s the only thing he can control. You have a preteen girl punching holes in walls, completely conflicted by the stability she gets in one home, and the love she feels for her mother— no matter how unstable her mom’s home may be. You have an adolescent boy shooting up heroine to stop feeling the rejection he has felt from being bounced around home to home for the majority of his life.

So, no. There are no lawyers asking to inflict RAD on a child. There are no social workers providing drugs for foster youth. There are no judges sentencing small humans to a life of depression and instability— but it’s still what’s happening. Fix the system? I don’t think you can.

Sound bleak? Yeah. It is. I’m worn out. I’m weary. I’m tired. I’m wrecked. What can I do? What can you do? If we can’t save the foster care system, how do we make a difference?

By taking the punches— sometimes literally. By being a child’s rock to cling to when they’ve been shipwrecked in a stormy ocean of instability. By praying for that baby while you rock him, since he is too small to understand why he is so scared of visit days. By advocating for resources when you are personally tapped out, and that young lady needs clinical help. By not giving up on the child— even when you’ve given up on the system.

You cannot control the system. You cannot control the parent. You cannot control the judges, lawyers, and social workers. You cannot control the child sometimes. But, you can control the conscious decision to keep going.

So. Tired though we may be. Exhausted. Wrecked. Jaded. Bruised and broken. Soldier on. Keep going.

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Visitation Day Blues: Kid Edition

As we all piled for our morning cuddle on the couch the kids asked what the plan was for the day. I told them, “Don’t forget, you guys need to pack your backpacks with quiet activities, today is visitation.”

Captain, my oldest asked, “Is it the one where we go to the coffee shop?”

“No, that’s the other visit. Today is the one where you need to sit quietly in the car in the parking lot so your baby sister can sleep while the baby is visiting with his mom.”

Both my preschooler and kindergartener groaned. This is the least favorite day of the week. We eat an early lunch, every one goes potty, and we load up into the van and head to the other side of the county for our fosterling to visit his mother for an hour. Because of when it’s scheduled, my little ones end up stuck in the car for two and a half hours. I don’t like it either. Trying to keep my older kids quiet and occupied so that my youngest can get some sleep is stressful. On good days, she gets half of her normal length in nap. On bad days, it’s a 5 minute nap and a whole afternoon of meltdowns. It’s not easy on our foster baby either. Some how it always works out that he gets awoken to go to the visit or awoken once we get to the visit. Lots of interrupted sleep usually equals a very long day with lots of crying, nap fighting, and fussiness for him.

“Mom, we don’t like this visitation day! It’s boring!” I sighed as the day had just started and the complaining was already starting. Milkman looked at me sleepily from the corner of the couch where he spent the early morning after a very early wake up call from our foster baby. We trade off nights, so I actually got sleep last night, but I couldn’t say the same for my sweet husband.

As much as I wanted to reply, “Stop complaining, too bad!” I realized this was a teaching moment. “You know what guys? I don’t necessarily like this visitation day either. It’s stressful for me trying to ensure every one is quiet in the car. But… Well. Do you know why we do this? God says that we need to care for orphans and widows. Do you know what a widow is? It’s someone who has lost their spouse and has no one to care for them. Do you know what an orphan is?”

They looked at me blankly.

“An orphan is someone who either doesn’t have living parents, or their parents cannot currently safely care for them. The foster children we’ve had in and out of our home are considered orphans. So we actually have a really important job, because we are obeying God when we care for foster children. We don’t just do this because babies are cute— even though they are! We do this because we love them, and have a duty to obey God, and this is how our family has been called to obey. And one of the jobs of foster families is to make sure foster children get to see their parents.”

They nodded slowly. Well, the older kids did. My youngest, Peachy, was dancing around like a wild maniac to Celtic Christmas music. Never a dull moment.

Milkman chimed in, “Can you imagine if you only got to see mama and papa two hours a week?? You would miss us so much and we would miss you so much, right? The baby’s mommy wants to see her baby.”

I continued, “Exactly! And that’s one way we can serve his mommy, too. She loves her baby. So I know that visitation day is kinda lousy and boring for us. But it’s a sacrifice we make together as a family to obey God and to serve the baby and his mommy. Can you understand that?”

“Yes, mama.” They replied. I’m sure they didn’t feel super happy to go on with the plan for the day, but at least they now knew there was a valid reason behind their boring day ahead.

Sometimes teaching moments are hard to come by, and sometimes they fall perfectly in your lap, like it did for us today. My kiddos do sacrifice a lot for our family to continue fostering. While it’s not as much as Milkman and I have to, it’s a decent amount for very young children.

I hope they know, for as long or short as we have to foster, it’s not just something we do for the heck of it. It’s something that takes self sacrifice. It’s something that is hard to do. It’s something that takes giving up our schedules, preferences, and desires. It’s certainly not something we do for praise from others or accolades. But, most importantly it’s something that we do in love and obedience— together. As a family.

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To the Average Foster Parent

Thank you…

For getting up 7 times in the night with a screaming baby who doesn’t share your DNA.

For googling ways to comfort a baby born addicted to meth, when you feel at a loss.

For crying over biological parents’ loss— even if they don’t seem to feel that loss so very much.

For singing lullabies to the stranger who moved into your home today and assuring her that she is safe.

For quietly patching holes in walls after uncontrollable tantrums.

For advocating on his behalf to school teachers, coaches, and friends.

For the moments when you stand under the shower shaking with righteous anger on behalf of a child who has had their innocence robbed far too young.

For driving miles and miles and miles each week to appointments, visitation, and therapy.

For getting the cold shoulder or worse from biological family members and responding in love.

For building a relationship with her mother, and seeking to mentor and model what a healthy family looks like.

For trying every possible way to help a child with RAD, when everyone else has given up.

For supporting reunification when you know your heart will snap.

For being willing to become a forever family when her family has disappeared.

For taking the punches and responding with “I love you.”

For being willing to risk.

In case no one else has said it, I will. Thank you.

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5 Things I Learned While Living Without Netflix

So, we moved!

 We were living in a 1,000sqft duplex in a nice 1970’s neighborhood. We loved where we lived, it was just the right size for our family, and had a nice big backyard. We had hoped to continue renting there until we could afford to buy, but when we got notice of a sizable rent increase, we had to start looking elsewhere. We looked at scores upon scores of homes. Everything was so expensive or in a bad area, and nothing seemed to be falling into place. 

Just as I was despairing and hope seemed lost, we saw an ad for an old Farmhouse that was renting for less money than our current duplex. It was 2,500sqft, and sat amidst acres upon acres (upon ACRES) of farmland. We went to look at it and found out there were 75 people who wanted it. Somehow (oh you know, probably God! Haha) we got the place. 

While nearly the perfect home, there is one huge drawback to living in the middle of nowhere: Crappy internet options. We went 3 entire weeks without internet. And you know what that means? No Netflix. For 3 weeks. Can you say #firstworldproblems? Well, anyways, it seemed like a big deal at the time.

Here’s what I learned living without Netflix for 3 weeks:

1.  I always thought it was the fault of Netflix that Milkman and I were up so late. Totally not. When you watch sitcoms before bed (we love Frasier! On our 4th time through, because I’m a creature of habit!) your evening post kids bedtime is broken up into 23 minute increments. If we turn on Frazier at 8:45pm, I know we can watch about 3 episodes and then we need to go to bed. 

Without Netflix to tell time by, Milkman and I either would watch a movie on DVD that was too long and stay up late, or we would just stare at the ceiling til 11:45, look at the time and say “Woah. We should go to bed. How is it almost midnight??” 

 Clearly my late bedtimes have very little to do with Netflix and everything to do with poor self-control!

2.  My kids actually CAN entertain themselves for longer periods of time without TV. Without a steady stream of Beat Bugs, Sarah & Duck, or Zootopia, my kids had to find other ways to stay busy. They spent more time outside, looking at books, and playing pretend. I feel like my children were more content since they knew they couldn’t just ask for a show and one would appear. 

3.  You don’t always need background noise. I’ll admit part of the reason Netflix is often playing in our home has 75% to do with needing to fill the house with some sort of non-kid voice noise. Being a stay at home mom can be lonely with no other adult interaction. Having Andy Griffith or the Great British Baking show on loop during the day with us seldom watching is how I can hear adult voices, and indeed, break up the time my husband is at work into episode sized chunks. 

With no background noise, I got to appreciate the sound of the neighbors’ chickens clucking, the sound of wind brushing through the leaves in the trees, and birds singing on my porch. I got to live in the moment a bit more, rather than just waiting or the next best thing to happen (that means Milkman pulling up the the house and me getting a break!) 

4.  I have a lot of CDs I don’t listen to anymore, with some really good music on them! This is kind of a result of no Pandora or Spotify rather than just no Netflix, but since the Netflix is usually running on the TV, and when we do listen to music, it’s streaming, I forgot about how much music I have! Captain learned how to work the CD player and would just throw random CDs on to listen to from my old collection. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Jars of Clay, Ace of Base, Nightwish, Funker Vogt… so many good tunes. We enjoyed a lot of dance parties!

5.  While we reluctantly enjoyed the lack of Netflix, because of the extra family time it brought us, the thing I learned the most, is I really freakin’ love Netflix. You could go broke renting from Redbox constantly, and even more broke buying DVDs of your favorite shows or movies, but Netflix is one heck of a sweet deal. For $8 a month with Netflix, you get more than what you pay for. Unlimited access to documentaries, kids shows, and Frasier? You don’t realize just how great it is, til it’s gone!

Our internet is still super lousy, and sometimes it’s so slow that Netflix can’t stream, but I gotta say, after 3 weeks with no internet and no Netflix, I wouldn’t willingly cancel my subscription any time soon.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Lockup: Women Behind Bars to go binge on. 

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It’s Not Cultural Appropriation If the Culture is Your Own

Hold on, and brace yourselves for the following post, because it may ruffle some feathers…

A couple of weeks ago, my youngest daughter wore the cutest dress. I wanted to share a picture of it on social media, but I hesitated. Why? Fear. Fear of someone seeing my see-thru-white, strawberry blonde baby in a Mexican dress and wagging a finger at me in the name of Cultural Appropriation.

What’s cultural appropriation (or CA as it is sometimes abbreviated)? Go google it. I know just enough to get myself into trouble, but not enough to explain it well. Basically, if someone from another culture “steals” a piece of a culture not their own, it is called cultural appropriation. If you’re white and wear dreds: CA. White and wear a Kimono? CA. White and paint a sugar skull on your face? CA. 

My daughter, as I mentioned before is suuuuuper white. But the dress she is wearing is from a culture her own, not stolen. My mother is Mexican. Her first language is Spanish. She was raised alongside her 12 siblings in the home of 2 Mexican American parents who spoke Spanish and had/have dual citizenship. My mother bought this dress from Mexico. For another one of her very white looking grandchildren, and this was passed to each of them, and now it is my little girl’s turn to wear it.

At any other point in my life, I would have posted this with pride! Look at my daughter looking adorable in this Mexican dress! Isn’t she cute? Isn’t she sweet?! But in today’s social media insanity, I hesitate. Because someone who doesn’t know me, may accuse me of stealing a culture that is my own.

Here’s the deal, it’s really, freakin’ important for me to expose my children to the rich Mexican culture my mother comes from. My mother married a white man, and I married a white man. My children have 1/4 of Latino blood in them. Growing up, I assumed I would marry someone who was also Mexican because I wanted my children to be steeped in Mexican culture. But that didn’t happen, so my white husband and I do our best to teach our kids about their Mexican culture. We teach them words in Spanish, and we use the correct pronunciation for words in Spanish. I practice rolling “Rs” with them, I say Spanish vowel sounds with them, we read bilingual children’s books. Putting my daughter in a Mexican dress is just another way I can introduce them to our rich culture.

I fear my generation has gotten so steeped in their separation of cultures, that many in the next generation are going to miss out on learning about mine. I refuse to tell my children that since they look white, they may not practice and enjoy Mexican food, dress, and culture for fear of offending someone. I refuse to hide in shame for putting my child in something that rightfully belongs to her. I refuse to bow to what my generation says is acceptable and not when it comes to this topic.

 I guess my point in posting this is to say, unless you know the exact ethnic or cultural background someone is from, save your judgement. It’s simply not your job to assume where someone has come from. And if we are told we cannot ask about someone’s gender, then you certainly aren’t free to ask someone what their cultural background is. It’s just not your business. It’s hard enough being mixed race without being constantly asked about it.

So now, after all that: Enjoy this adorable picture of my 1/4 Mexican daughter wearing a Mexican dress and playing with her full Mexican grandmother! Isn’t she adorable?

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In Between 

I’ve been quiet around here. It’s strange, and perhaps makes no sense, but the busier and more stressed I am, the more I tend to write. I suppose it’s a little escape, or, much like the pressure valve on my new instant pot (who else got one for Christmas??) a release from all the craziness that gets trapped inside when life is jam packed.

I’m in between. Our home for the last 2+ years is going to have the rent raised high enough that we can’t possibly afford to sign on another year. I’m packing up the house with out much of a clear picture of where we are headed next. We have reached one month without a Foster placement. Every day I wake up and wonder if today is the day we will get a call, and each day it doesn’t ring. 

But though I’m in between, I’m also soaking up the cuddles with my 3 bio kiddos. Captain is enjoying being read aloud to. We are currently working through Mr. Popper’s Penguins and just finished Little House in the Big Woods. I love how he tells Milkman about what we read later on. Mamitas is as sharp as ever. She’s a never ending source of Disney movie facts, and has a myriad of imaginary friends (one named Bubblegummy and another named after herself– who has an astonishingly similar life to her own.) Peachy is a wild child. Wordless jokes, funny faces, and the ability to play her parents like a deck of cards. She’s brilliant and every time she does something new (be it naughty or clever!) I am in awe of her.

And then there’s been time with Milkman. We’ve had 2 dates in the last month, as dates are hard to come by once we have another foster placement in our home. We’ve spent a lot of time talking, cuddling, and indeed– staring at our phones waiting for a call. 

We feel the same way. Thankful that we haven’t gotten a call while our own kiddos have been sick almost constantly this cold and flu season. Thankful for the time spent focusing on our children, and on our marriage. But also mourning the empty room in our home, just waiting for someone else to take it over.

We know God’s timing isn’t our own. We know patience is the key to surviving fostering, whether you have a full or empty home! We know that the right child will be here when the right time comes. 

But in the moment, we feel very much in limbo. Very much in between. 

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