The Beginning Part 2

Taking a baby, 2 year old and a 3 year old in was more of a challenge than we could have ever imagined. Our “honeymoon” period with the kids was really nonexistent.

When you take the classes to become a foster parent, they tell you all sorts of horror stories about children that have been in care. Week after week, they literally try to scare you. I assume they want to prepare you for the worst possibly scenario and also make sure you are serious. We sat there, knowing their were rough kids out there, but knew that wouldn’t happen to us. We also were certain that if we had a child like one of “those” kiddos, we’d love them, be consistent with them and “fix” them; that’s all they needed, right?

Our oldest child, who was 3 by the time we got him, was far beyond any horror story we heard in classes. He hit, bit, kicked, spit, scratched, pinched, tried to poke eyes out, threw things, jumped on siblings, intentionally wet and pooed his pants… If put in the same bathtub or a wading pool with a sibling, he’d grab them and try to hold them under water. He could not be left alone for a second. He spent better part of every day in time outs spitting for hours on end. We could not physically punish him, so we’d have to stay close by him to make him stay in his spot. Every time you got near him you became the victim of all his rage. He lied incessantly, for no reason at all at times. He acted out sexually. He had serious eating issues.

In all that we faced with him, the scariest part of all of it was how much pleasure he took in doing harm to others. They cried, he laughed. It was scary! It was impossible not to picture him as a future psychopath.

Despite his behavior at home, he charmed the socks off of everyone he met outside the home. He never met a stranger. Everyone thought he was sooooo adorable. He was so manipulative I can’t even begin to describe it. At 3, he told me how to do everything, how to drive, where to turn, how to cook, sweep, fold clothes….. It took an entire month with our counselor who had years and years of training and experience with this type of child to recognize that our son was manipulating her and running their sessions.

We committed to loving him, but liking him, was an entirely different matter. The state made us take them to daycare. At first, I was adamantly opposed to them not being at home with me. I took them a few hours a day a couple of days a week. Soon I began to live for the days when someone else would watch him for a while. Everyday when I went to pick them up, I was greeted by a swarm of children all wanting to tell me how many times and ways my child had hurt them.

If you haven’t already guessed it, he has Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD. Getting him diagnosed was a nightmare. He was so young, no one on our team saw any need for anything but a consistent home. After the diagnosis, the counselor wanted us to get him “labeled” as a behavioral or therapeutic level child. (Our state has differing levels of foster kids and parents: traditional for “normal” kiddos, behavioral for those with beyond normal behavioral issues, therapeutic for extreme kiddos and medical for those with medical issues. How a child is classified determines how much the state pays you and what options are available to you in caring for the kids). When I approached our caseworker, she chewed me out in front of the entire foster team as nothing but money hungry and threatened to take the kids away. I was stunned to say the least. We were very close to being able to finalize the adoption and being rid of our “wonderful” case-worker, so against the counselor’s recommendation, we dropped it.

Nine months after we took the children into our home, the adoption was finalized. At the age of 45, we became the parents of 6 children. I am now one of those “weird” people with a mess of children. Because our older set of children are out of the house, it still feels like we have 4 kiddos (one is still a foster placement). I still have a hard time spitting out that I am the mom of 6.

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The Beginning

Sometimes our normally chaotic life, kicks it up a notch and gets down-right nuts. In the last few weeks one kiddo has had surgery, another a broken leg, we’ve had mononucleosis in the house along with every flu and virus that is going around. I have had my hands more than a little full and blogging has taken a backseat to caring for children and family.

When I started a blog, I intended to start at the beginning of our adoption story, but I kept having other ideas. I thought it was about time that you learn a little about how we got here.

At some point in my childhood I had a Sunday School teacher who had a heart for adoption. I don’t remember how old I was, but I vividly remember her talking about little girl babies in China who were not wanted and frequently discarded. I decided then and there, I would adopt someday. When I married, I shared my passion for adoption with my husband, who wasn’t quite as excited about the idea. I knew to adopt successfully, both of us would need to be on board with the idea. So for twenty years I prayed that the Lord would either take away my desire to adopt, or he would give the desire to adopt to my husband, Terry. I admit to giving occasional hints about my desire, but I didn’t beg or nag.

We had met our freshman year of college and married young. Our oldest daughter was born a little more than a year later and two more children followed. Our life and our house were full.

Somewhere a little past the age of 40, I slowly quit praying. We only had one child left at home, we were settled and life was easy and good. Although my desire to adopt never went away, I decided Terry would never share my passion and I gave up.

Five years ago, over the course of a couple of weeks, God used several small events to lead me back to prayer. I ran into numerous people who were fostering or adopting and were very vocal. There was an article in the local paper about foster care and adoption.

I said a few quick prayers that basically consisted of, “Lord, I still want to do this, help.” Then, I was helping our youth pastor’s wife decorate for a wedding shower for another pastor. Casey was and is passionate about adoption. She began talking about adoption because it’s what she does. When I made the statement that it was something I had always wanted to do, she really got going! She along with another youth leader convinced me to pray about it one more time. She knew every foster child in our large church and knew the stories of several international children as well. There was one little 9 year old boy she really wanted to find a home for. I decided that a 9 year old would not set back our easy life too far and I agreed to pray.

I think it took two weeks for me to work up the nerve to tell Terry that I was praying about it again. I didn’t know it for a few days, but he also prayed. He admits that his prayer was a little half hearted, but God answered very loudly and clearly showed Terry his heart for children who don’t have families.

As we both continued to pray about how to proceed. We both felt like we would be adopting three children, not my little 9 year old boy. I think it took both us awhile to work up the courage tell the other we were thinking three children. We prayed about a sibling group of three from Haiti and also started the classes to become foster parents.

As we were finishing our classes, our agency asked us to consider a sibling group of 3 that were 10 months old, 2 and 2 (11 months apart). My reaction was: Absolutely not! I had no desire to go back to three in diapers! My previously reluctant husband was like a kid on Christmas morning. He teared up just looking at their profiles. I became the one that God had to work on. Although I was more than a little apprehensive, it quickly became clear that these were our children.

In addition to their stair-step young ages, the oldest child had serious behavior problems. We had heard the horror stories in our foster parenting classes about children with serious issues, but he was 2, how bad could it be? The little girl, we were told, may be mentally challenged. The baby was a lifeless, crying blob with a HUGE hemangioma on his forehead near his eye. We were convinced these were our kids and submitted our homestudy.

We were eventually chosen by the children’s team for placement. We had nothing. No beds, no car seats, no clothes, no toys, no sippy cups, no highchairs no boosters seats; nothing. And, I drove a Mini Cooper and my husband a mid sized sedan. We were given three very small children all at once and very little to go with them. The previous foster parents did provide some clothing for them, but taking them all at once was a very expensive proposition and our life was turned inside out and upside down.

To be continued.

Caught off Guard

As a mom of 6 and foster parent of 1, I should be prepared for almost anything. Lately though, I have found myself caught off guard a lot. Sometimes it’s silly things that catch me off guard; like our foster daughter, Ali, finding it necessary to wake me up at 3:00 am to tell me she had an itch.

Sometimes it is frustrating things. For example, now that the newness and cuteness of our children has worn off, our free babysitters have disappeared. I don’t know why I expected more support than we have gotten; but I did. We are the ones who adopted, no one owes anything, I just had unrealistic expectations that didn’t pan out too well.

Lately though, it has mostly been my own feelings that have thrown me for a loop. We have been foster parents for four years now and had more than 25 children through our home. I have been here before, but I am finding myself surprised again by my feelings.

I am surprised at the depth of feelings that I have for our non-biological children. I never had any doubt that we would love them as much as we did our biological children. But, it goes so much further than that. I guess I expected there to be a difference of some kind between our children and our children. I know I did because of how upset I get when I hear stories of how far people go and how much they spend getting treatment so that they can have children that are “theirs.” I know I would have felt the same way if we had been unable to conceive many years ago. Now I get so defensive when I hear the terminology because all 6 are our children.

I also know that the warm fuzzy feelings you should have for your children take a while to grow for foster children. When you fall in love with that special someone it starts out with simple attraction, maybe a little flirting. Then maybe you hang out together, have long phone conversations and get to know each other. If you are still attracted to each other, you may meet their family and share meals together. Over time you find yourself falling in love before you commit to each other and head down the isle to a permanent life together. The process is completely reversed when you take in an orphan. When the phone rings, you have a only few moments to think and pray before committing your life to a child. You have no idea what the outcome of that commitment may be. You are allowed to ask questions about their behavior and situation, but rarely is the person on the other end able to provide good answers. You commit to love a child and then in very short order they are dropped off to you. You won’t know each other at all. Both of you will have expectations, habits and standards that the other will not live up to. It’s uncomfortable but you are now committed to love them, even though they don’t love you and may treat poorly.

It will take months, a year or maybe even longer before the love that you give out become actual feelings for that child that last. You will ask yourself ridiculous questions from time to time to try and gauge how you are doing. You will have moments you want to give up and quit and you will have to remind yourself what it would do the child. Eventually the questions and fears fade and feeling grow. But it takes time and it’s harder than you expect it to be.

I am going through this now with Ali who has been with us for five months. She is by far the sweetest and easiest placement we have had in our home. She is bubbly, well behaved and delightful, but life was still simpler without her.

The thing that has caught me most off guard is how incredibly selfish I can be. I am shocked by my feelings of jealousy. We have tried to physically hug, hold Ali as much as she is comfortable with. As she has become more comfortable in our home and with us, she has become a very affectionate child.

Terry is an amazing daddy. He has done a wonderful job with her, allowing her to crawl up in his lap, holding her hand when we are walking in stores or into church. He treats her like she is our daughter. I love that about him. But, I still find myself having to fight my desire to find an excuse to break in between them. I am jealous both for “our” children and also for myself at times. It’s hard, but it is all as it should be.

Love that is worth having will never be free. It will always cost something. For us, this is not something we have done because we love children, although we do. It isn’t something we did because we couldn’t have children of our “own,” we have three besides those we adopted. This wasn’t a result of us losing our mind, although I feel like I have some days. We simply understand, at least in part the love God freely gave to us in adopting us. How can we refuse to do likewise when he asks.

The Bright Side

My last post, I shared a little bit about how the Christmas season isn’t really all that enjoyable in our home, but there is always a bright side. In our home it comes in many forms. Frequently we find the bright side in humor.

A year of ago, I did a daily Facebook countdown of the top 100 reasons I love my husband. One of my favorite things about Terry is how funny he is. Terry’s sense of humor has been a huge blessing to me in the good times and the bad.

When we added the extra stress of our little kiddos, God sent a little more humor our way packaged in a very small little boy whom I shall call Shmoo, which is his real nickname. He is the youngest of our little gang, but God gave him an extra helping of personality and a great sense of humor. I am sure you will read many Shmoo stories in the future, but for now I’ll just tell you two.

Honesty is a really big thing in our home. It has been one of our biggest battles with our little guys. Because we are constantly reinforcing the importance of truth and telling them that lies break trust and hurt relationships, we have always told them the truth about Santa Claus. We told them the story of the real Saint Nicholas that lived a long time ago and died, but now people continue giving to others like St. Nick did and that we need to give to others and help them like St. Nick did. They know we buy their gifts. They understand Santa Claus as a fun fairy tale, similar to Cinderella. We have also stressed repeatedly that it is a mommy and daddy’s job to tell their kids the truth about Santa, not theirs. We never lied to them about Santa, but really didn’t address him at all until last year. This year, only one of them remembered, Shmoo.

Christmas Day we were at my uncle’s home. He has a massive fireplace. Our daughter-in-law was sitting in front of it enjoying conversation with family. When she notice the size of the fireplace, she commented on how Santa wouldn’t have any problems getting down that fireplace. She continued talking about how many toys he could bring down in his bag and still get down the chimney. She wished she had a fireplace like that Santa could come down…….Shmoo was playing in the floor behind her playing and finally couldn’t take any more. He ran around the couch and climbed in her lap. He put one hand on each cheek, looked her in the eyes and said, “Ange, you know I love you, but Santa is DEAD!” Then he climbed down and went back to play.

Three years ago when Shmoo was the ripe old age of two, all three of our young children loved to sing! Christmas was no exception. They were adorable! They loved to sing! They sang so sweetly! We videoed them all singing several of their favorites. It was the cutest thing, right up until about December 7th and then it got a little old. By the time Christmas got here, I couldn’t wait until I could tell them it wasn’t Christmas anymore. December 26, when they started their 3 line rendition of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”, I smiled and informed them Christmas was over and we’d have to wait until next year to sing anymore Christmas songs. Two children through a fit, but Shmoo immediately very quietly sang, “Up on the housetop click, click, click, no more songs about Ol’ Saint Nick.

The past few years our life has been more than just a little difficult, but when you are looking for it, you can always find a bright side. Look for the good in life and in those around you. Life can be very painful at times. I pray that when life is hard; you learn to enjoy every sunset, every child’s giggle, every warm hug, each taste of chocolate, the scent of fresh bread baking. God is good and he does good for those who love him and serve him.