Telling A Story

I started this bog primarily to have a safe place to share our personal story. I wanted to document every step, every challenge and every success. While my goal for this blog remains the same since I began it in November 2011, it has also evolved into something much more. The stories I share I here allow me to connect with others in similar situations, some of whom leave me comments with amazing suggestions because they have been there, some simply to say they care and still others to thank me for sharing my experience so that they don’t have to feel alone in this crazy process of adopting through the US foster care system. My hope for the future is that I will be able to add valuable resources that will inspire others to take this incredible journey, one that will not only change a child’s life, but also their own!

I’ll be the first to admit I am not a great writer, but I have always enjoyed the process. Writing things out helps me to process my own thoughts and feelings. It helps me to keep things in perspective and helps to guide the choices I make after seeing the written words.

While adopting from foster care is one of the toughest challenges I have faced on a day to day basis, my life has always been filled with dramatic ups and downs. From the time I was in elementary school, people would often comment that I should “write a book!” Having heard this so many times throughout my life, I think it has become a part of who I am. I am not yet a “published” author (well, actually I am, if you count the scrapbooking craft book I wrote in 2005, but that’s really not the same), but I AM an author. I do have a story to tell…  a story that has value and a story that could impact others. I haven’t figured out that path just yet, but I have plenty of time to get there.

On that note, I would like to share with you an exciting new book project that I am considering submitting to called, “Undeniable Love: Heartfelt Adoption Stories“. This project sets out to share with the world the heart wrenching and undeniable love that affects all involved with adoption.  Their goal is to share all sides of the adoption spectrum with the world, as well as those that will soon be or have previously been blessed by adoption. This book will serve as an inspirational tool showcasing the real and raw emotions associated with each journey. It’s intended to reach the hearts of everyone impacted by adoption.

If  you have an incredible adoption story that you would like to share with the world, visit their  Submission Guidelines  for details. The final due date for all submissions is October 31, 2012. I hope to see many of my foster and adoption friends published!

Fulfilling My Childhood Dream

But I’m warning you! Once you’re grown up, you can’t come back.

–Peter Pan

I saw this Peter Pan quote last night and all I could think after reading is was “Thank God for that!” I wouldn’t go back for anything in the world! I have many painful memories of childhood (a story for another post). From the time I was little, I wanted to be an adult. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be a mom. Beginning at age 7, I use to fantasize that I was the first (& youngest!) child to get pregnant sitting on toilet seat. I didn’t even understand the birds and the bees at that time, I had just heard that you couldn’t get pregnant sitting on a toilet seat! I played with baby dolls, pretending they were my own well past normal ages. As I grew older, people said the teen years would be happiest of my life. They told me to cherish those times. I prayed to God they were wrong, because my teen years were filled with misery, insecurities, loss and pain.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I began dating someone much older. I couldn’t wait to be an adult! On my high school graduation day, at age 17, I moved in with the man I had been dating for about 10 months, without looking back and never to return home again. Within just a couple of months, I became pregnant with Snow White. This was my life’s calling. Although I knew it would be challenging to be a teen mom, I also knew that this is what I was meant to do… my purpose in life! I have never questioned that even for a moment.

I have not always been the perfect mom, but I have always loved my children with all my heart. I cry when they are in pain and I rejoice at their successes. The time I spend with them are the very best days of my life!

Adding Daffy to our family by way of adoption truly feels like the completion of a cycle and the perfect completion of our family. She couldn’t be more like us if she was born to us! I look at her growing and changing every day and I thank God for the opportunity to her Mom…. her “REAL” mom.. the one who dries her tears and applies band aids, the one who cleans up puke off her bedroom floor, the one who attends her school events and the one who works hard to help her overcome her past loss and trauma. In many ways, her history is different than ours, but she is still very much our daughter and I look forward- with hope- to sharing our lives with her and loving her forever and ever!

At age 38, I truly believe I am living the very best part of my life! Despite all the recent trials, I know I am doing what I was meant to do. I have never been more sure of anything! If I have any say at all, Daffy will be a part of our “happily ever after!”

The End Of The Road… Or Is It?

Monday night as I was laying in bed (trying very hard to fall asleep), the 11 o’clock news came on. I didn’t pay much attention until I saw the logo of our agency flash on the screen with a voiceover sharing that the agency is closing. Saying that I was stunned doesn’t begin to describe my feelings. I had to blink several times to be sure I was actually awake and not in some horrible nightmare. How could our agency be closing? I immediately grabbed my cell phone and emailed our social worker, quickly followed by an email to our case worker. I felt hurt and betrayed that the first I heard of this life-changing information was on the news. My mind was racing… How could this have happened without warning? What would this mean for Daffy? Who would do the 3-5-7 work? Who would be our social worker? Which agency would we go with? Who would do Donald’s TF-CBT work? How would this impact the decision of the state about Daffy’s permanency? Our agency has always been in our corner and always fought for Daffy’s best internet. I felt very small and very alone.

Within minutes I heard back via email from our social worker sharing that she herself had just learned of the news that day. It was at that moment, that I realized how selfish I had been in my thoughts. How could I be thinking only of how this would effect our family when hundreds of people were now losing their jobs? Our sw did her best to calm my fears assuring me that our license would be transferred to another agency and promising to make her recommendations on our case loud and clear. As tears streamed down my face, we emailed for a little bit longer and then she suggested we meet the next morning. I happily agreed. From the start, our social worker has had a way of being able to calm me and to sooth my fears. She is extremely well educated and experienced. She doesn’t sugar coat things but still has a way of being kind and reassuring. (Note: How quickly I heard from our sw is just one tiny example illustrating her commitment to our case and how she has always been there for us.)

Tuesday morning our sw and the family support specialist from the agency both showed up with coffee and we sat and chatted. It wasn’t like our previous meetings. It was more like 3 old friends chatting (albeit about something sad) and I loved that feeling.  Our sw shared that cases that will wrap up by December will remain with the agency unless there is reason to believe the cases will go into 2013. She is fighting hard to keep our case and get Daffy adopted by the end of the year. This has always been our goal, but now the stakes are even higher.  If the state decides that Daffy can not be adopted without her brother, that would mean moving to a new agency and a new sw… more changes for kids have already had way too many disruptions in their lives. There are still so many variables, so many things that could derail us from our goal, but knowing that things did not change over night was somewhat helpful. During our meeting, the sw and family supoirt specialist were particularly open about their feelings about this case and am really excited that they will be able to be more vocal and honest going forward now that their agency does not need (or want) referrals from the state. This could really be a game changer. It didn’t remove all of the political obstacles in this case, but its definitely a win for us. Ironic, isn’t it? Our agency closing may turn out to be a blessing in disguise? Weird.

There is still a chance we will be transferred or that our sw will get another job and leave the company before the end of December. That scares me, but no matter what happens, we will march on in this fight. I feel like we are LITERALLY fighting for Daffy’s life and I will NOT give up, but it will certainly be easier if our agency is on board to see things through to the end so I am keeping my fingers crossed and saying my prayers!

Donald’s Bad Weekend

Wow! What a weekend! When Mickey called Donald on Sunday, he said that he had run away and got poison ivy all over his body. Before Mickey could ask for details, Donald said he didn’t “feel like talking so long” and hung up. I promptly emailed the clinician and asked for details.

The next morning we received an email about Donald’s weekend. Apparently Saturday started with an altercation with a peer and some [quote] “awkward” behavior following. Next, he pulled an apple peeler on staff with the intent to do hard. Finally, he and another peer decided to run away. They were apparently brought back by the police an hour later.

A few of my feelings on the above events:

  1. If we are considered his family to the point that the clinician has been pushing for home visits, why would staff NOT have called us to let us know that Donald was missing??? And furthermore, why would they not have mentioned it before putting him on the phone Sunday night? Its completely inappropriate for us to learn of this type of information from Donald himself.
  2. It’s Tuesday night and we have yet to see the Critical Incident Reports from Saturday’s events. The clinician told us yesterday she was still trying to get ahold of the staff that was on duty during Saturday’s incidents. Ummmm, communication break down, much? Tomorrow will be 4 days since the events that took place and his clinician doesn’t even officially know what happened?  How can she have already taken him off the safety watch without all the details? I swear, as long as I live, I will never understand her.
  3. He pulled an apple peeler on staff and you think he is ready for home visits??? Fat chance. I have said from the start that we were not willing to take him back here until he was safe. We do NOT expect perfection, but we DO expect to be safe. That is NOT too much to ask. Clearly the  2 weeks that he has been “on level” do not indicate safety. Pretty sure I said that at the last team meeting, but the clinician just ignored it and continued to push her own agenda. God, I hate her
There are lots of discussions to be had as a result of this weekend’s incidents. In addition to the consult we have scheduled on Monday, we have added a “pre-meeting” to discuss the questions for the trauma specialist and a post-meeting to discuss the call as well as have another team meeting before our quarterly court check in later in July. There are so many things changing and happening right now. Literally within each day there enough ups and downs to make me feel dizzy!
Praying that one day soon this ride will stop and we can all get off and live happily ever after.

The Clinician Strikes Again

Every week I receive at least one email from Donald’s clinician that pisses me off to the point of increased blood pressure and a serious amount of swearing. The emails usually come on Friday afternoons (although this one happened to come on Thursday).

He [Donald] did ask when he will be able to go on a home visit.  I tried to talk to him about his past behavior while at your home and how he may have scared you, but he shut down.  He stated he was here because of that, and he has been doing well with his anger.  I suggested he ask you about it, but I get the impression he won’t since he seems reluctant to discuss his role in why he is not in your home.

The big thing I got out of this meeting with Donald is that he has questions about his future and the not knowing is really stressing him out.  His mood throughout the meeting was all over the place, and that seems to be consistent across settings lately.  I know last night he required a Benadryl PRN due to escalation and not being able to control himself.  Today I assured him that the team is working on a plan, but I don’t think that will be enough.   I know we do not know what his future will be at the moment, but maybe Minnie and I could talk to him together about why he is not going on home visits that way he hears it from both of us?  Provided of course you are comfortable with this Minnie.  I just feel we need to give him something at this point.  He is starting the hard work about his past, but with nothing to work toward it can be difficult to maintain that motivation.

Honestly, where do I begin to address the many issues with this email? You told Donald that he “scared us”??? Are you kidding me?? I can’t begin to express why I am not okay with this. If, having known him for 3 months, you dont know about his need and enjoyment of controlling and instilling fear in others, you should probably head back to school or find another field to work in. Clearly, working with Reactive Attachment Disorder pre-teens in a residential setting is not for you.

Furthermore, are you sure scared is the right word? How about you try assaulted? Attacked? Kicked? Bit? Pinched? Scratched? Choked? Screamed at? Exposed yourself to? Terrified to the point of installing locks on all bedroom doors? Locking up all kitchen knives? How about digital RAPE and sodomization of the family dog? Does any of that come to mind?

Home visits? Really? We have taken him “off campus” only on 3 occasions in 3 months. Our weekly visits currently last 1 hour and sometimes he asks us to leave early. His mood is all over the place? He required a PRN due to escalation and not being able to control himself? But you think he is ready for home visits??? Really? You want me to drive him one hour each way to bring him back to the environment where he viciously attacked our family including choking his sister? No. Just no. And the fact you think this is even therapeutically warranted makes me question whether you should even be assigned to his case. You CLEARLY do not understand the risk he poses nor do you understand how this would be setting him up to fail. Again.

So you think you & I should sit down with Donald to discuss his future? Hmmm, let’s see… neither of us knows what his future holds. Neither of us single handedly make decisions about what his future holds either. The team has not made any decision beyond saying that the SOONEST he would come back would be April 2013. You dont want to tell him this yourself, so you have decided that WE should sit him down and tell him? Really? I remember you sitting across from me at the last team meeting. I know you heard me say that if I had to make a decision right now, we would not be taking him back. You also heard me say that his sisters therapist is going on record to recommend that these children should not be placed together. You heard the adoption specialist support this. You heard her recommend a consult to reinforce this. Yet, you maintain that you & I should “talk to him about his future”? Do you think he is ready to hear those things? Or are you suggesting that I lie to him and give him hope for a future that he would never be able to maintain? He has not received ANY real therapy since he left the psychiatric hospital in February, yet you believe you know what he is capable in the future? How things should go? Have you reviewed his records beyond the fluffed up adoption history that you were given? Have you seen the pattern of abuse he has subjected ALL former foster families to? Have you listened to his sister’s numerous requests for protection from him?

He has nothing to work towards without being led to believe he will return to us? I disagree. How about he needs to do this “hard work” so that he can survive in this world without ending up homeless, a high school drop out, jailed or worse. Or he should do this hard work so he has some hope of stable relationships in his lifetime? Do any of those things matter to you? Or is this just a race to the finish line so you can call yourself a success?

I am biting my tongue for now and letting the rest of the team deal with you. And I am very grateful that they have decided to transfer his TF-CBT to another agency to handle. Its his only hope because if his future lies in your hands, he is doomed.

Daffy Gets Her Hamster

We have had many issues surrounding pets with both Donald and Daffy. Obviously Donald’s issues have been far worse (I posted a little bit about that here), but Daffy has certainly faced her own struggles with being agressive particularly with the cats. Along with her therapist, we worked out a plan that she could earn her own pet with the hopes that being able to claim ownership of a pet would allow her to believe that living with us IS permanant and also give her a sense of belonging by having her “own” animal, not just the pets that lived here before she came in January! Initially we had planned to let her earn a fish, but her therapist suggested that a fish wass not cuddly enough to meet Daffy’s needs, so we altered the goal for Daffy to be able to earn a hamster instead! This has been an ongoing goal for about 4 months with several set backs and delays (mostly due to her attentional issues, but also due to some inappropriate handlings of the cats). This morning, Daffy finally set her mind to it and finished the last few things she needed to accomplish to make the long awaited trip to the pet store (namely, washing the cage since it was a hand-me-down).

Tonight, Mickey and I took Daffy out to pick out her hamster. Her eyes were wide as we walked in. I think she was stunned that they day had finally come. The store had many different types available and she checked each option carefully. Finally she decided on a white hamster which she promptly named “Snowball.” Despite the fact she has been working on this goal for a long time, I suddenly felt like I hadnt prepared her at all.I really want her to be successful, even though she has many odds stacked against her, primarily her impulsivity and her attention issues, but also the fact we have 2 cats and 2 dogs who would love a hamster snack for themselves. In her own mind, the biggest challenge her hamster faces in her brother, Donald. (Daffy previously wrote a letter to the team expressing her fear that Donald will harm kill her hamster when he returns.)

On the ride home from the pet store, I reminded her about what the pet store employee had told us and the conversation went a little something like this:

Me: Ok, Daffy, remember what the guy told us. Snowball needs time to get acclimated and to settle in, so you can’t be handling him all night long.

Daffy: I know!

Me: Remember when you moved to the group home? You needed some time to get settled in and to learn to trust that the people there would keep you safe.  Well, Snowball needs the same thing.

Daffy: (Quiet for a moment) I was so scared that first night.

I didn’t push for details, but she made her point loud and clear. She “got” what I was saying on a very primal level.  I thought I was brilliant (lol!) to be able to tie together the need for the hamster to settle in with Daffy’s personal life story in a way she fully connected to! I am excited that she has finally earned her own pet and hope that this will be an amazing tool to many more lessons along the way.

Pluto’s Big Scare

If you follow me on Twitter, you have probably read my stress this week. While its no way related to foster care, its something happening in our lives and effects everyone within our family, so I have decided to document the events to date as a part of our journey.

The kids had an early release on Wednesday for their last day of school. As has been our family tradition for 13 years, we always go out for ice cream on the last day. We took the convertible and headed to the next town. I was sitting next to Pluto in the back seat and noticed that his neck seemed swollen on the right side behind the right ear. I asked him about it and he said he had noticed too and that it was bothering him a little. He said it was there when he woke up and that he thought he might have slept on it funny. It looked like a swollen lymph node to me so I told him if it remained there the next day, I would make an appointment “just to be sure” everything was okay.

Wednesday morning he woke and it seemed just as swollen, so I called to make an appointment. Mickey took him to the appt so I could stay home and work. What I thought would be a routine appt for the doctor to say “Yep, its a swollen gland, he will be just fine” took a wild turn. The doctor was quite concerned about the fact that the lymph nodes are only effected on one side. She was also concerned that he doesnt have any other symptoms that would indicate Mono (like fever,  fatigue, sore throat, etc). She decided to send him for blood work right away and set up an ultrasound for that afternoon. I would expect that she would normally just call with the results, but she even went so far as to schedule a follow up appt in the office the next day. She also prescribed Keflex in hope that if there were some kind of infection that it would reduce the swelling.

Pluto had his blood taken and then went for the the ultrasound later that afternoon. (I stayed behind because Daffy had a meeting with her caseworker.) The tech asked that he wait while it was read by the radiologist. In my experience with ultrasounds of all sorts, they usually send you on your way unless they are concerned. She came back and said he could leave and Mickey asked how it went and she said the results could only be share by the doctor but that the report had already been sent! What??? Within a half hour?? Of course, my fears intensified.

Yesterday, Pluto went to the follow up appointment where we received the results of the testing. The results of the ultrasound read:

Findings: There are multiple submandibular and left carotid chain enlarged lymph nodes. The largest short-axis lymph node is 1.5cm.

Impression: Carotid chain adenopathy and submandibular gland adenopathy, which may be due to inflammatory or infectious etiologies. Neoplasm is less likely but not excluded. 

The blood work results showed a slight increase in the AST and ALT live functions. It also shows an increase outside the normal range of the Absolute Lymphocytes, Absolute Reactive Lymphocytes and Absolute Monocytes.

The doctor said that with it being Thursday and the fact that the remaining results of the Lyme and Mono tests are thought not to be back until next week, she took the liberty of scheduling an appointment for Pluto with a specialist for today (Friday). She said she believed the next steps would be a CT scan and a biopsy.

There are so many complicating factors. I am HOPEFUL that its “just” mono, although she doesn’t think thats likely given that the nodes are only swollen on one side and they would typically be swollen on BOTH sides. He also does not have any other symptoms of mono. The doctor also mentioned that if it were being caused by an infection that the 4 doses of Keflex that he received should have brought down the enlargement of the area, which it did not. Things just aren’t adding up. My mind is racing in circles reviewing the little information we have, knowing that we simply dont have what we need to determine whats going on.

They say the fear of the unknown is the worst. I couldnt agree more!

Daffy’s Scrapbook

Yesterday I took Daffy to therapy where she received a scrapbook her birth mom created for her 3 years ago. This scrapbook, along with one for her brother, sat in the closet collecting dust at the state offices. This really distresses me. How could someone’s life be so meaningless as to carelessly place it on a shelf never to be looked at or shared in 3 years? Is this what our case workers think of our foster children?

As an adoptee, I know first hand how important those early pictures are. I lived my life for 24 years wondering if I was as homely as an infant as other people around the world. Somehow, without pictures, it felt like that time never really existed, like I was nothing until that first photo was taken by my adoptive parents at 6 weeks old.

For this reason, scrapbooking has always been close to my heart. I created my first “real” (read: acid-free-hobby-as-we-know-it-today) scrapbook  in 1998, but I have been a photographer since my adoptive Dad bought me my first Minolta when I turned 14 and I was a collector of momentos long before that. Pieces of life…. moments caught in time…. the tiny bits of reality… these are the things that form the true memories of our lives. I have created, literally, thousands of scrapbook pages. My work was published in countless scrapbooking magazines (some were even international!) and I even co-authored a scrapbooking idea book. I maintained a scrapbooking related blog/website for 6 years. And then it became my job. I went to work for a scrapbooking manufacturer and my zest to preserve of family history subsided. I switched to digital scrapbooking for a while as a diversion from traditional scrapbooking in my day job. Eventually, the company I worked for jumped on the band wagon with digital scrapbook supplies, too, and crushed all personal scrapbooking for me.

When Donald & Daffy were first placed with us, they would often look through my scrapbooks. Donald would even take several huge binders into his room to look through in the mornings when he woke before everyone else. I felt pangs of guilt. I certainly didn’t want to keep our “past” a secret, but I could only imagine the sadness they both must have felt as they looked through the memories of our lives. We lived a normal life. And being in foster care for the past 8 years, they did not.

My friend, Rebecca from Love Is Not A Pie, shared a blog post with me as I was working on this post. I think she really said it best:

I’m so happy that she now gets to experience the simple pleasure that so many of us take for granted, of looking back at photos of her earlier years and saying, “Hey, that was me. Wasn’t I adorable?”

I have felt a growing need to begin scrapbooking again. These children need to know they are appreciated, celebrated and loved. Daffy has the scrapbook from her birth mom, now it’s time for me to tell the story of her “happily ever after” …

How Daffy Imagines I Spend My Day

For Mother’s Day this year, Daffy filled out a questionnaire about me at school. I was quite impressed with how well she knew me, considering we had met only 6 months prior! I had to chuckle at the fact she referenced TWICE my love of my bed and of sleeping! I won’t argue with her about either point, though, because she is right! I am blessed to be able to work at home and I do actually “work” online right from my bed! And, given some “free time”, a nap would likely be my first choice!

While both these statements may be true, there is so much more to how I actually spend my days. Daffy has no idea how much of my time is spent every single day quietly advocating behind the scenes for her best interest. Without her even being aware, I am constantly working to ensure her the very best future I can. I comunicate her needs and ongoing issues to her therapist and check in at each appointment. I update her case worker as to her hopes and dreams for the future. I tell her social worker about the things that are important to her and how our family is processing the changes to our biological family. I keep her Wendy’s Wonderful Kids worker and GAL updated. I research foster care issues, attachment issues and other mental health issues affecting her and her brother. I take classes online to be sure I am most informed and able to advocate for her unique needs. I attend foster parent support groups and trainings offered by our agency. I schedule and attend appointments and consultations to be sure her health needs are being met. I communicate her educational needs to her school team.  I plan and  schedule visits with the people who were important in her life before she came to live with us in January. And these are just the behind-the-scenes things!  But ya know what? As much as I do love napping, I wouldn’t trade any this work for all the naps in the world!

Thanks for the topic inspiration, The Blog Dare!

Daily Documenting Books from Paper Coterie

I don’t think I ever posted about the awesome journal I got for Daffy for Christmas…. it was in her stocking and when she saw it she was dumbfounded because Santa was able to get a picture of her from the prior year to include (thank you internet!). This is the journal we have been writing in back and forth lately. I see lots of letters in the future… its such a great tool for us to use to communicate in a way that we might not be able to verbalize!

Anyway, today while browsing one of my very favorite online deal sites, She Saved, I stumbled on a super cool new product from Paper Coterie…  its called a Daily Documenting Book! I am in total freakin’ love and MUST own one of these! Not only is this awesome, but ON SALE FOR 40% OFF right now!

I wish this had been around (or I had seen it) when we began this journey! It’s the perfect tool to document all those little moments leading up to adoption. You can add your own photos, too! Its like a scrapbook but in a super easy format!In addition to being the coolest thing I have seen to document your personal journey, I know many foster families are required to keep a daily log of their foster children’s lives for their case worker. Can you imagine anything more beautiful to document the ins and outs of foster life? How about presenting THIS to the judge while advocating to adopt your foster child?

I probably sound like a commercial, but I want to let you know I am not compensated in any way for this post. I truly think this is an awesome product and wanted to share it will all of my foster/adopt friends… right before I go order one for myself! 🙂