Stuck

Like so many dwarves wrapped in a spider web and hanging from a tree. Thank you, Tolkien, for the visual image.

I’m trying to even pinpoint what I want to say and figure out how to make it sound true, yet concise; complete, yet honoring. Sometimes the truth is just messy.

Sometimes foster care is.

Three weeks ago from tomorrow we dropped Baby T off for a weekend visit with another foster family and two of his brothers. That was the last time we saw him. He did not come back to us.

And I mentally blasted DHS because, really, thanks for the notice, you guys.

We could have pushed for the 5-day notice they are required to give us, but in the end since we knew they were going to move him we felt it was better for him to go ahead and stay rather than come back to us for a few days and then go back again. And being with his brothers is also a good thing. But still.

And now we’ve been back to a family of 8 for the past three weeks. And it’s been one big blur. I’m finding that managing the lives of at least 7 people (7, since Craig generally manages his own) is really kicking my butt. Every single night I open up my computer and email myself a detailed list of who has to be where and when. It looks an awful lot like this one from last Wednesday:

  • 7:15: Craig takes Katie and Millie to school
  • 7:55: I leave with A5, R4, Maddie
  • 8:05: Drop A5 off, head to R4’s school
  • 8:40: Drop R4 off, head to Eye Doctor
  • 9:15: Eye Doctor with Maddie
  • 10:15: Walmart for meat and cheese tray supplies
  • 11:00: Home, drop Maddie off to do school
  • 11:45: Leave for school – pick Katie up and head to school
  • 12:30-2:30: Durin’s Day Festival
  • 2:30: Craig heads to R4’s school and picks up R4, Megan heads to North Campus and picks up Millie
  • 3:00: Pick up Millie and go home, Craig picks up R4 and brings him home
  • 4:30: Pick up A5
  • 4:45: Take Maddie to Guitar
  • 5:00 Figure out dinner
  • 5:45: Leave to pick up Maddie
  • 6:00: Pick up Maddie
  • 6:15: Finish feeding anyone who hasn’t eaten. Mad scramble to prep house for City Group
  • 7:00 City Group

Add to the insanity that a schedule, similar in length, yet different in implementation combined with trying to figure out the logistical, physical, and emotional needs of everyone here and it’s a wonder I’m not on some kind of antidepressant yet.

The boys have had to deal with so much grown up stuff in the past few weeks it’s a wonder THEY aren’t on some kind of antidepressant yet. Seriously. So much has happened that I decided to seek therapy services for them. I made an appointment based off the recommendation of my foster care support worker only to be forced to change it by the boys’ social worker. I did some digging around and found I do have the ability to push on this, but I never know how hard to do this. I pushed a little. I said I’d stick with the social worker’s preferred place for 6 weeks but if I didn’t see improvement in the boys, I was going to seek collaborative services between her preference and the place I wanted to go with. Seems reasonable, right? I got this email today, “I appreciate your concern for the boys but OKDHS has custody of this case. And we make those decisions regarding the children. Please be [in] compliance with our process.”

Y’all. I’ve tried and tried to be nothing but supportive for OKDHS, but this email right here? It makes me want to OPEN UP A FREAKING CAN.

Because I don’t really see OKDHS comforting little boys who wonder why their life sucks. I don’t see OKDHS taking these little boys to the park. I don’t see OKDHS desperately creating sticker charts and reward systems to motivate little boys to follow the rules. I don’t see OKDHS rocking little boys when the rules simply don’t make sense and they can’t handle them. I don’t see OKDHS micro-managing where I take little boys to the doctor. I don’t see OKDHS giving one flip about the education of these little boys. I DO see us doing these things. We are the ones parenting these boys. We are the ones taking them to the park. We are the ones navigating them through the rocky sea that is their life. We should the the ones who make these important decisions too.

At the very least we should be allowed to give input.

At the very very least we should be treated with the same respect they expect us to treat them with.

And I could very well be taking this way too personally, but I just feel like this is a power grab and not one that really seeks for the best interests of the boys, but just a way to say, “I’m making this decision and you can’t change it. So there.”

This is foster care. And sometimes it makes absolutely no sense.

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A Return to Sabbath Rest and Meals

I am possibly the worst technology offender in my house. On one hand, I don’t feel like I’m as dependent upon it as I probably am; on the other hand, I know I utilize it far more than I really need to. As we came home from our family Thanksgiving yesterday, I woke up this morning feeling like I could very well lose the day. I could get sucked into a waste land of Facebook and Pinterest and the like and give in to the perpetual, “Can we watch another movie?” request by any one of six kids in this house.

And in truth, we did do a fair amount of that this morning. But sometime before lunch I decided: We needed to return to our old tradition of taking a media/electronics fast from 5pm Saturday to 5pm Sunday and bring back the intentionality of a thought-filled meal time. Now then, I didn’t plan this well in advance and we had a lot of chili leftover from last night’s dinner, so I didn’t stress over the meal. I simply set the table as nice as I could for a chili supper and we gathered around to eat, pray, and read from the Bible together. And I discovered that really it isn’t the meal that sets the tone so much as it’s the intentionality that does. Chili on china communicates something far different that does chili served in a paper bowl.

I’m writing this post on Sunday night, so our media fast has come to an end for this weekend. It was a fairly fascinating exercise. Our kids played better together than they had in a long time. I was primarily concerned about the boys, but they just followed our lead and didn’t mind. The girls played Legos with them and they pulled out cards for some Nerts. Chloe did some extra baking. The girls decorated the Christmas tree. We read some books. I reorganized both the fridge and the pantry. Craig reorganized his study area and we shuffled around a lot of books. We even fired up our ancient victrola for a bit.

Oh, and we got a lot more sleep.

It shouldn’t surprise me like it does. I’m so resistant to pulling back and doing this, yet when we do, the blessings of efficiency and peace and rest and enjoyment just abound. It just so happened that this was also the first weekend of advent, but that wasn’t the driving force behind this decision earlier in the day – I just took one look at the calendar and realized our whole family desperately needs this time.

And so here we go. We are making an attempt to return to our weekly Sabbath meal and technology fast. Since our church meets at 5pm on Sunday nights, I think I may propose the fast go from 7pm Saturday to 7pm Sunday, or I could just suck it up and do a 26 hour fast. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

At any rate, it was a lovely way to bid adieu to November and tip our hat in the direction of December. I already have our meal for next weekend planned and I’m looking forward to it already.

 

Family and Foster Care

We took the boys with us to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. They’ve been there before. We spent Easter there too. The boys tend to follow the lead of the girls in figuring out what to call various members of our family, so since they call us Mom and Dad, the boys call us Mom and Dad. They call my parents Nana and Papa, so the boys call them Nana and Papa. Lady Belle belongs to our family, so Lady Belle belongs to them. That’s just the way it is.

When the boys were with us in the spring, it was just the six of us. They saw pictures of the baby we’d had before them, but that’s a little too abstract for 3 and 4-year-old boys, so they didn’t understand. Then they came for a visit in August and it was the normal six of us plus one extra baby. Then they came back in October and it was still the six of us, only this time we also had a 13-month-old. They never asked why or what or how, but just accepted it as the weird way things seem to go sometimes. So I thought they understood that we care for other kids sometimes and they are in that group of other kids we care for. I thought they understood that the six of us live here all the time.

So it shocked the snot out of me today on our way home from Owasso when I heard A5 ask one of the girls, “So who is your mom?” She pointed to me and said, “She’s my mom!” He probed further, “I mean, who is your first mom? Is she your first Mommy?” Again she answered, “Yes! She’s my only mom. And she’s the only mom for all of us girls.” He said, “Really? Did you grow in her tummy?” She told him she did. He got quiet as he processed that.

And we all got quiet for a moment as we processed that. Because it never once occurred to me that he would think the girls are in the same situation he’s in, yet now that I think about it it makes complete sense.

And it makes me sad again. Because what he so desperately needs is a permanent, stable home, where he can love with confidence and live with security that the people he calls Mom and Dad will be Mom and Dad to him; today, next week, next year, and forever.

And I often wonder if he will ever get to experience that. We do our best to make the boys part of our family and treat them like part of our family and love them like family. Yet at the end of the day, they legally belong to the state of Oklahoma. And the state of Oklahoma can come in at any time and move them somewhere else and we have no say in that.

And I think that’s a tragedy. Because family doesn’t treat each other that way. Or it shouldn’t.

 

One Epic Muffin

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Last night I got banished to my room for a good chunk of the night. I kept getting questions from downstairs, though, like, “What’s the difference between baking powder and baking soda?” and “Do we have any shortening?” (I only use shortening for pie crusts and I’m stingy with it. Everything else gets butter only). I finally went downstairs for a moment and they had a box of blueberry muffin mix on the counter. I asked what they were doing and they said they were making muffins. I paused for a second and said, “Um, you don’t need to add that stuff to a mix you know, right?” Chloe didn’t miss a beat, but said, “Oh, but these are EPIC muffins!”

They did make muffins, but they also make this strawberry cake and we served it up late tonight after our normal Tuesday activities had finally come to an end. And it was fantastic.

So it’s official. I’m 40. Funny, though, it feels an awful lot like 39.

On the Eve of My 40th Birthday

On the eve of my 40th birthday

I resonate with this dreary gray

Not because I’m half a breakdown away from a mid-life crisis

But because there’s just so much I want to say

Life has been busy. La la la. Everyone’s life is busy, right? I know that. And I hate playing the busy card. Yet here we are, smack dab in the middle of the busiest time I’ve ever known.

And it’s true: I turn 40 tomorrow and I’m not loving that. I know it’s not considered PC or Christian to care about your age like it makes one squat bit of difference. I don’t fear being old, but I don’t love the process of getting there. This age, this 40, I see it in others’ eyes – to those who are younger, my age has lost all credibility. To those who are older, my age hasn’t yet gained any in the first place.

I sit here on my last night of my 30’s doing what I’ve been doing for weeks, nay, years: being present. Little boys attempt to drift off to sleep, but want someone nearby while they do. And so I sit. This is what I do.

And I fume over some issues with their case and the way several conversations with their caseworker has gone lately as they seem to be power play related and I can’t for the life of me figure out why she, who is the first to critique where they’ve been, doesn’t pull a little more for us as we also try to help these boys have the best life they can.

Because this is just not the way things are supposed to be.

And I fume over my emotionally perceived injustice that our 13-month-old was removed from us earlier this month so that he could be in another foster home with two of his biological siblings. Yes, I understand why it happened, I just didn’t love the three hour notice. Oh, and we miss him.

Because this is just not the way things are supposed to be.

And I mourn over the continued struggle I see in my mom as she battles ALS and the way my dad is caring for her.

Because this is just not the way things are supposed to be.

And maybe that’s the thing. Maybe I’ve been waiting for 40 years for things to become as they ought and I’m finally realizing that not only is that never going to happen, life is just going to continue rearing back its ugly effects of the fall and fire bombing them out in all directions.

Our church, for as much as I love it, will never be perfect. Because look who attends it.

Our school, for as ideal as I think it is, is never going to be all things to all people. Because we have a lot of different people who attend it.

Our health, for as thankful as I am for the current age we live in and our accessibility to treatment and prevention options, is not going to hold out forever. And even if I make an idol out of good healthy living, or abandon my responsibilities altogether, there will always be things out of my control.

And I sit here thinking that if I were going to sugar coat where I am, I would be saying, “This is the best time ever!” And yet my heart is heavy because it isn’t. And I know it never will be. And I understand why. But just the same, I wish it were.

 

Megan Goes to School

I was asked to come to A5’s school today. Before today, I’ve been called by the teacher multiple times so she could inform me of some of his behavior issues in the class. I’ve been making excuses for him for weeks, while simultaneously trying to teach him of the need to listen to and respect his teacher. So after talking to the teacher today she felt everyone would benefit if I sat in on the class for a bit. I agreed and headed over to the school.

I would love to say glowing things about what I saw at the school. Indeed, for my long-standing philosophical critique of the public school system in general, I’ve done my darndest best to be supportive here because this is what we’ve got to work with. But after sitting on the class today, I can tell you without a doubt that had it been any of my four biological kids, I would have snatched them up, walked out, and never looked back.

I was simply appalled by what took place in the classroom simply from a classroom management point of view. Namely, there was none. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that a classroom full of 5-year-olds will feed off each other, particularly when there is no expectation of good behavior or teacher respect present at all. I’m not a fan of teaching kids that it’s okay to follow the pack, but I do understand it when it happens. And for as frustrated as I’ve been with A5 for his reported behavior in the class these past few weeks, after today I completely understood it. Every kid in the class acts that way.

So, I’m not sure what our options are here, but I’m definitely on the hunt to find out. Hello, charter schools? You are about to hear from me. A lot.

Barrels Out of Bond

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The 5th graders are presenting on various chapters of The Hobbit this week and also having a Durin’s Day Festival. Katie was given first pick and chose another chapter, but upon seeing the disappointment in another kid, she gave it up and ended up with last pick. She got Barrels Out of Bond. In the end, she was pretty happy with the new pick. And I’m pretty happy with her selflessness in giving up her first choice, though she does stuff like that so often that other kids now sort of expect her to and I’m afraid she’s setting herself up to get taken advantage of in the future.

Ah, that fine line between serving and being manipulated. It’s a tricky one, no? At any rate, her board looks great. We popped over to the school today and set it up so I wouldn’t have to help her with it tomorrow morning. Because I’m all selfless like that. *wink*

Narnia’s White Witch

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The last time Maddie was in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she played the part of a ghoul. This time she was the White Witch and a darn good one, at that. Chloe was also in the show as both a unicorn and an elf. Both ladies did a fantastic job.

And I didn’t bring my camera. Wah. Here’s hoping some other parents got some decent shots tonight!

I carry your stories

Last Tuesday, the Tuesday that shall not be named, was a doozy on the schedule. Nevertheless, I knew I’d be in town anyway taking three kids to choir in spite of the fact that Maddie could not go that night because of her knee surgery. It just so happened that Citizens Caring for Children was hosting a Halloween party that evening for kids in foster care. It wasn’t far from the choir rehearsal and I had a feeling the boys would not be with us on the actual Halloween night, so I dressed them up and we headed over for some candy and booth game fun.

It was a super fun time for the boys and I was really glad I’d taken them even though I was drop dead tired. But once again I was struck by the number of kids there and the trade these kids’ lives have been forced to make, taking a series of fun events in place of the normalcy of consistent family living. When you stop to really think about it, it almost takes your breath away with the sorrow of it all.

Two days after this event I found myself in an unusual situation. I was simultaneously picking up Baby T from his parent visit while also dropping off A5 and R4 for one of theirs. I had probably the longest conversation with Baby T’s mom that I’ve ever had and she was casually volunteering some information about one of her other children that was simply heart breaking. Yet in the telling of the story there was no emotion present. She was just stating things as they happened, like this was normal life, and this was just the way things go sometimes.

And I wanted to cry for her. Later on I did cry for her. Because the story she handed over to me that night needed to be wept over.

Three and a half hours later I got inserted in the middle of another one that still hasn’t completely sorted itself out and I found myself consoling crying boys who found themselves stuck between loyalty and security. It’s an impossible place to find yourself, even when you are almost 40, let alone 4 and 5. On one hand, you know you *should* feel and do and be one way and on the other hand you know how safe and secure the other one is and you are conflicted. Do you give up one for the other? Is it possible to have both?

I see how easy it is for professional child welfare workers to distance themselves from the intense emotion of what they do. I’m not sure how you could really do that job any other way.

Yet it is a job that requires another way. Because we can’t just check these kids back into a file at 5pm on weekdays and say, “See you again tomorrow morning.”

Their lives require more. Their dignity deserves more. Their humanity demands more.

And so we give it. Because if we don’t give it, they aren’t going to get it. But in the giving of it, we are burdened by their stories.

And the weight is just almost unbearable.

Princess Candy Land

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A5 really wanted to play a game this evening. He had asked me several times from the time he came home from school and I just wasn’t able to when he asked. So when it came time for me to take the girls to choir tonight I asked Craig, aka: Mr. No Games Ever, No, Don’t Even Ask, if he would be willing to play a round of Candy Land with the boys. It was a Lordship decision for him for sure, but he did agree to do it. What he did not realize, however, was that since we said good-bye to almost all of our preschool level games years ago, I picked up this version of Princess Candy Land a few months ago when it was on clearance at Walmart. I popped it on the table and said, “Well, boys, the bad news is that it’s Princess Candy Land, but the good news is that Dad’s willing to play it with you.”

There were giggles from the girl squad as we heard the guys claiming their pieces, “Who wants to be Belle?” and “I’m sleeping beauty!” Seriously. Funny.

And so I snapped a photo, told them all I loved them, and left them to it. These three are keepers right here. Every one.