A dream come true

On Saturday morning, I woke up in a panic following a dream about being late for foster parent training—so late that I missed it completely.  I had to remind myself that training wasn’t until 6:00 p.m. that evening.  All was well.

I must admit that I thought it was a bit odd that my new agency was offering foster parent training on a Saturday night at 6:00 p.m.  It’s not like I had big plans I had to cancel, but I thought it seemed strange.  That’s why I checked and double checked with my agency this past week, and it was confirmed.  As recently as Friday morning, I sent an e-mail to confirm the time and location of the training, and all was correct.

So I was a bit surprised when I pulled up to the confirmed location at 6:00 p.m. to find that I was the only person there.  And I don’t mean I was the only person there to be trained.  Just that I was the only person there.  At the locked building.

I pulled up the e-mail on my phone to ensure myself that I wasn’t crazy.  I called the number for the agency to ensure I wasn’t just missing something.  I pinched myself to ensure I wasn’t dreaming. 

But in fact, it was a dream come true.  I missed the training.  The staff member from my agency who gave me the incorrect information apologized Monday morning for giving me the wrong time and causing me to miss the training that took place earlier in the day.

It’s frustrating to be ready to foster, but be prevented from doing so by all the hoops along the way.  And then even more frustrating to miss a hoop I tried my very best to jump through on Saturday evening.

These things happen, though.  We all make mistakes from time to time.  And I tend to think these things don’t happen by accident.  God must intend to slow this process down, and I know from experience that when that is the case, He has a good reason.

Therefore, I will slow down and wait for the next time this particular training is scheduled.  And in the meantime, if I have any dreams about winning the lottery, I promise to buy a ticket.

Aced it

I am very pleased to report that I passed my fire inspection with flying colors.  In fact, the assistant fire marshal who serves as the inspector said that I was the first foster home she had ever visited who passed her inspection on the first try.  You might say I aced it.

To be fair, I must admit that the whole inspection, which took about 20 minutes, was worthwhile.  She used “fake smoke” to test my smoke detectors, which seems to be a better method to check whether they actually work than simply pressing the self-test button—or simply looking at them.  And she was a wealth of information about fire prevention and safety tips.

She also taught me something I didn’t know.  She said that children under the age of 15 will typically not wake up to the sound of a smoke detector.  That’s why there is a new invention that allows you to program your own voice into the detector in the child’s room that uses the child’s name, because children will respond and wake up when they hear their own name.  Weird, right?

I didn’t want to tell her that I still sleep as soundly as a young child, and I am not entirely sure I would wake up to the sound of the smoke detectors either—whether it was saying my name or not.  In fact, I have friends who love to tell stories about me sleeping through the sound of fire alarms.  Can I help it that I sleep well?  It is one of my special gifts.  Good thing that doesn’t make me an unfit foster parent.

The other wonderful thing I heard this morning is that she is averaging at least one foster/adoptive home fire inspection per week now, and she noted that “there must be something in the water,” because this is a steady increase.  It does my heart good to hear things like that.  There is such a need, and I am thrilled that others are getting on board!

I mean, really!?!

I’m a fan of Saturday Night Live. What can I say? They make me laugh. And this weekend, they brought back a sketch from several years ago called “REALLY!?! with Seth and Amy” as part of the news segment Weekend Update. The concept is to report on something seriously ridiculous in the news and follow it up with “I mean, really!?! Really!” They poke fun of everyone from a whole host of celebrities, to big corporations, and of course the government.

Really?!?
Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers

We’ve all been there. There are moments in life when circumstances seem to defy rational or logical thought and you ask yourself “Seriously? Is this really happening?” Hopefully, you are not there often. I found myself there this morning.

As stated in a previous post, part of the requirements for the fire inspection that must be performed to maintain my foster care license is that my fire extinguisher must undergo an additional inspection performed by a qualified professional. It didn’t matter that I just purchased the thing. It had to be inspected, and the fire department provided me with a list of those who could perform such a service.

So last week I contacted the provider closest to my home and asked about setting up an appointment. I was told I could stop by any time on Monday morning between 8:00 a.m. and noon and they would have someone there to meet me. Therefore, I arrived at their location this morning at 9:00 a.m., but I drove by it the first time, as I thought that surely could not be it. I mean, really? Yes, really.

After I circled the block and decided all those red fire extinguishers were a pretty good sign, I parked and knocked on the door, but no one was there. Really? Then I called the number and a man answered who said he could be there in 20 minutes. I pointed out that I had called in advance and made an appointment, and he said, “oh yeah, I forgot about that. I’ll be there in 10.” Really?

Twenty minutes later, the guy arrived and took my fire extinguisher from my outstretched arms. I couldn’t wait to see what he would do with it to inspect it. Would there be a machine used to test it? Would he weigh it? What would it entail?

After he looked at the device for all of 5 seconds, he took out a tag and fastened it on to prove it had been “inspected.” That’s right, he LOOKED at it. It took him longer to walk back out to his truck to make change for my $20 dollar bill than it did to inspect my extinguisher. I mean, REALLY!?!

Really? I am required to drive over and pay some guy who doesn’t even keep appointments to look at my extinguisher to say it is safe and operable. Really!?!

Really? The trained fire department inspector who is scheduled to come to my home (for a fee of $100) couldn’t look at the extinguisher in the same way that this guy did? Really!?!

Really? Am I not trusted to ensure that the fire extinguisher I keep in my home, designed to protect my home, myself, and any children in my care is safe and in good operating condition?  Really.

Cha-Ching

Renewing my foster parent license is beginning to hit my pocketbook. Unlike the parents who have their own children, if you intend to foster children who are in the custody of the state, then you have to prove that your home is safe.

The Health Department has to perform an inspection (for a fee of $60). They check for things that are so basic (such as whether I have running water) that I question why the Health Department is required to perform that check. Couldn’t my agency check on all of those things (without a fee)?

And then there is the fire department. Since this is a recurring requirement, I have had a fire inspection performed on my home three times now. Each time, the inspector from my local fire department has explained that this is a free service they perform.

But now my local fire department has a new inspector. And this inspector informed me that the fee for the inspection is $100. I thought that seemed like a pretty steep increase. I can understand that budgets have been cut, and perhaps this can’t be a free service anymore, but to go from $0 to $100 seemed a little extreme. I wrote back to the inspector and asked about the fee, explaining that I was just a little surprised by the amount since this had been a free service for those in the community serving as foster and adoptive parents before. And here is the reply I received:

“Regarding the fee, the last inspector likely neglected to send an invoice – please note, we won’t be requesting payment retroactively.”

Isn’t that so kind? Thank you for not billing me retroactively. I really appreciate that since this new inspector also required that prior to my inspection, I had a certified technician come out and inspect my heater to prove that it is safe (for a fee of $109), and on Monday morning, I get to take my fire extinguisher to be inspected by another company in town. My inspector doesn’t care that I just bought a brand new one; I am required to pay a professional to certify that it is fully operational.

So far, I have invested $280 in government bureaucracy. I wouldn’t blink an eye if I was asked to spend that much money for something that a child in my care might actually need. Clothes, books, toys, summer camp, you name it. But this seems like a real waste.

And people wonder why there aren’t more folks willing to serve as foster parents.

Next steps

Serving as a CASA was a privilege, and I really enjoyed the experience. I’m so glad I had the opportunity, and if you are looking for something meaningful to do with your time, I would strongly encourage you to consider serving. (www.becomeacasa.org)

For me, the hardest part about being a CASA was keeping that experience separate from the rest of my life. Due to confidentiality, I can’t share the details of the case. That’s the same as when I foster children. But the big difference, and the biggest challenge, was that I couldn’t introduce the children I was serving to any of the amazing people I am so blessed to have in my life.

The most important thing I bring to the table as a foster parent is my incredible support network. I don’t know how I ever became so fortunate, but my family, friends, church, and co-workers are simply the best. They are why I know that ‘family’ isn’t only determined by blood, marriage, and court orders. And I want any child I serve to know them and be blessed by them as well.

So at this stage in my life, I feel that I can best use my gifts by becoming a foster parent again.

During my last experience, I became painfully aware that I needed to find a new agency. While my agency was wonderful and supportive with Hope and Faith, and also supportive during my time with Samuel, I simply have different values than the leadership of this organization. I won’t say any more than that, but the point is that I am agency shopping.

After an awful lot of research, consideration, and prayer, I think I have found an agency that is just perfect for me, and I am really excited about the possibility. They don’t know about me yet, but I am working on their 17 page very detailed application. I understand they need some very personal information, but do they really need to ask my weight? Geez! Not even my mother knows that about me.

Stay tuned as I work through the process…

Special place

When Hope and Faith left my care, they went to live with their adoptive parents (who were and are dear friends of mine), so I became an “aunt” of sorts. I still have the privilege of being in their lives and watching them grow up. And boy, have they grown up! Faith is in middle school now, where she was recently named Student of the Month. And Hope is in first grade and just recently lost her two front teeth (don’t worry, it doesn’t slow her down one bit). I am so grateful for my relationship with them and their family.

Samuel returned to his biological family, so that situation was a little different. I wrote before that I wanted to give Samuel his space and the opportunity to completely forget he was ever in foster care. In other words, I don’t reach out to him to give him that reminder, but I welcome him contacting me. We went for a long time without any contact, and then out of the blue, I received a phone call. He gave me all three of his names, in case I forgot him (believe me, that will NEVER happen!).

Last night, he called again. We visited for a long time, and I can tell you that he hasn’t changed a bit! Samuel is playing football now, which means that he has to keep his grades up and watch his behavior–both of which are good for him, and I pray that he sticks with it. The conversation was awkward at first, like it would be with any other member of your family that you hadn’t heard from in a long time, and then we quickly found our rhythm and it was like it old times.

Once family, always family. All three of these kiddos will always have a special place in my heart.

Case Closed

I tend to like books and movies for which I can predict the ending. The ones where the guy gets the girl, the orphan finds a home, and everyone lives happily ever after. In fact, if I hear in advance that a movie doesn’t have a happy ending, then I would rather just skip it. So it’s gratifying when something in real life has a happier ending than I would have ever predicted had I been reading the book.

When Samuel was returned to his family, I looked for my next challenge, and I found it with an organization and I came to know and respect through my journey with Hope and Faith. CASA (which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate) is an organization that works within the court system to make independent and informed recommendations to help the judge decide what is best for the child. While every child in the system has an attorney to represent the child’s interests in court, that attorney represents their client—the child. And sometimes children don’t know what is best for them. Of course kids want to return to the parents, but that’s not always what is best. That’s where a CASA comes in to the picture.

So about a month after Samuel went home, I started the process to become a CASA. It was sort of similar to the process to become a foster parent—without all the home visits. There was paperwork, an interview, and then 30 hours of training plus three hours of courtroom observation. I have to say that I really enjoyed the CASA training. I learned so much, that I think I may have learned more than in my 40 hours of foster parent training. I wish they taught a little more about the court system and what to expect in foster parent training.

As a foster parent, I was simply told when we would have a court hearing, and I would show up. I never understood how all the pieces fit together, and I certainly never got the impression that these hearings were part of some planned process. But now I have such an understanding of the system that completely baffled me before. It was like someone finally placed the “you are here” sticker on the map at the mall. I learned a lot of the lingo and more about the roles of various players. The CASA experience was worth it for the training alone.

But the experience was so much more than that. While I have to keep all the details of my case completely confidential, I can share a little about my experience.

When I became a CASA, I thought that it was all about the kids—and it is. But in order for me to make sound recommendations to the court about what was best for the kids, I had to spend a lot of time with their family too. I visited the various family members in their homes, and tried to get to know them, know their hearts, and know what they were capable of. Was there drama? Of course there was drama. I think that is expected for any case in the system. So I was never bored, and some months required more of my time than others. I learned a lot about coping with a massive amount of phone calls and sifting through what was important, and what really wasn’t. I tried to be a good listener.

Every three months, we would have a status hearing (sometimes more often if something big was happening), and I would be responsible for writing a report for the judge to read with recommendations for how I thought the case should go. It was a little intimidating at first, but the cool thing about CASA is that you have a supervisor who is a staff member who can help you with anything you need. My supervisor was wonderful at working around my schedule, coaching me through court reports, tough phone calls, and everything else that came up along the way.

Caseworkers change, judges change, attorneys change…all those people are paid to do their jobs full-time with overwhelming caseloads, and in a world as tough as this, turnover rates are understandably high. CASA volunteers focus on their one case and commit to see their case all the way through. That’s one of the things that makes them (us) such an important part of the process. By the time we were 14 months in and participating in court-ordered mediation, I could predict the responses and motivating factors of the various family members. But the other parties, who had changed over the course of the case, and didn’t have as much time invested with the family could not. I became one of the experts because I was one of few consistent people as time went by.

When I was first assigned to this case in September 2010, I never would have predicted the way things would work out. I thought I knew what would happen; but for once, I am happy to say I was wrong. Things didn’t turn out like I thought they would. They turned out better. And during the visits that I have made over the last two months since all was worked out in mediation, it has been abundantly clear that this is the right thing for the kids in my case.

Part of being a CASA means a commitment that once the case is closed, you sever all ties with the kids and their family. So while I won’t know for certain, I have faith that things are going to work out for this family. And today I got to hear those two little words that are “system lingo” for they lived happily ever after: case closed.

Sharing

I’m really excited about this coming Sunday because I have the opportunity to join with some amazing friends (including Hope and Faith’s parents) to share our experience with foster care and adoption with folks at our church.  We feel called to share our experience and allow God to use that in whatever way He has planned.  That might mean someone else will be called to foster or adopt, or it may mean someone may step up to become a mentor or a CASA. Or maybe it will be a reminder to all of us of God’s unconditional love for His children.

For those of you who can’t hear these wonderful stories and meet these friends in person, you can see a little of what you are missing here.

All I can say is how incredibly blessed I am to have precious people like this in my life. I’m so grateful we can share this journey together.

Adventures end

When I taught fifth grade, I always thought the last day of school was bitter-sweet.  While I looked forward to the conclusion of the school year and the fun of summer (though full time grad school wasn’t the most fun way to spend a summer), I also hated to say good-bye to the students I had taught and nurtured over the past nine months.  OK, so there were always one or two I didn’t mind bidding farewell, but that’s not the point. 

As the kids left my classroom for the very last time, I expected hugs and thank yous, declarations that they would miss me, and promises to come back and visit.  These are the things I pictured in my head anyway.  But when the final bell rung, none of that happened.  Instead, the kids screamed “summer!” and bolted out the door without looking back, ready to embrace their freedom.

That’s kind of how my good-bye with Samuel went down.  There was no more of a farewell than if I were dropping him off for an afternoon play date.  There was no looking back, and the only tears were my own—after I pulled the car out of the driveway and around the corner. 

The tears I cried were not tears of sadness.  They were really more of an emotional release, a way of me marking what I recognized as a significant moment—even if no one else did. 

It’s important for me to remember that I didn’t serve as Samuel’s foster parent for Samuel or even for other foster children out there.  It’s not because I want any kind of appreciation or gratitude.  I served as Samuel’s foster parent because it was what I was called to do, and it is my hope that answering that call glorified God in some small way.  That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what I try (though admittedly unsuccessfully at times) to live my life to do.

You may have noticed from the long hiatus I took in between my last post and this one that I will be blogging on a much less frequent basis.  I write about my adventures as a foster mom, so when I’m not a foster mom, it’s hard to find material.  There are a couple more posts left in me as I reflect on this experience, but I can’t predict when they will come out, so just stay tuned.

I can’t yet answer the questions of if or when I will foster again.  I don’t know yet.  My work schedule makes it impossible for me to foster from January-June 2011, so I plan to take at least a year off (from foster parenting, not from work—though don’t I wish?).  I am tempted to truly take a year to live comfortably and unchallenged, but I know that’s not what God called us to be.  Therefore, I am looking into several options to see what that next uncomfortable challenge is supposed to be.  There are lots of ways I can help foster kids without having them come live with me.  Maybe I will write about those adventures over the next year.  After all, even without a child in my direct care, I will forever remain Foster Mom.

Letting go

When I talk about the fact that I am a foster parent, one of the most common questions I am asked is “how do you let them go?” I’ve only ever done this twice, so I am no expert at this, but I don’t think the letting go part is ever easy. It wasn’t intended to be.

I’ve never written about this before, but there have been few times in my life when I have encountered personal grief to the magnitude that I did when Hope and Faith went to live with their forever family. Keep in mind, that I KNEW I would still see them and have them in my life. Keep in mind that their parents are dear friends of mine, and I couldn’t possibly have had any more certainty that they were going to a wonderful home where they would be loved and cared for even more than they were with me. Even so, I grieved the loss.

People would approach me at church to congratulate me on the girls’ happily ever after family or ask how I was doing, and I would bolt to go cry in the bathroom. While shopping at Target I would see an adorable dress that was just Faith’s size or a toy I knew Hope would love and realize that people were staring because I had tears streaming down my face. It was embarrassing. I didn’t understand it. I can’t explain it. I was a mess, but I made it through.

When the girls went to live with their new parents, Hope and Faith’s mom asked me whether I thought it would be harder for me to live life with the girls or without them. I didn’t hesitate with my answer. I had already lived life without them for a lot of years, so of course that would be easier. But actually, one of the hardest things for me was to reprogram myself to live life without them. I would still leave work and drive toward Hope’s daycare some days. I would throw items into the cart at the grocery store for them because sometimes I would just forget. I imagine that a lot of parents who lose their children to tragedy or even those who become empty nesters share many of those same experiences.

If not for the assurances I described above, I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been.

Though it pains me to admit it, if I’m really honest, I was never as bonded and truly in love with Samuel in the same way I was with the girls. Maybe that’s because they were my first children.  Maybe that’s because he was a challenging 11 year-old boy who treated me pretty terribly at times (though one of the biggest reasons I became a foster parent was a challenging 11-year old boy who was one of my students years ago). Maybe that’s because I didn’t allow myself to become as attached, to protect my heart from enduring that kind of pain again. Or as Hope and Faith’s mom has told me several times, maybe it is God’s provision to protect Samuel and I both as His perfect plan unfolded. God didn’t intend for me to form a forever attachment with Samuel, nor he to me.

The constant contact I have with the girls won’t repeat itself with Samuel—and that’s OK. I found the words that appear on the CPS website in a letter from a typical foster family to a parent who has had their child removed by CPS are very fitting. The letter reads “We are your child’s foster parents and we will remain in your child’s life only as long as your child needs us. We will help your child deal with everyday life as easily as possible until your child goes home.”

I have to celebrate the fact that Samuel is going home. That’s where he wants to be the most. Who could blame him? I would want to be with my family too.

My desire is to do exactly what this letter says and remain in Samuel’s life as long as he needs me. I don’t want to force a connection in the future that neither he nor his family want. I don’t want to serve as a reminder of a time he might prefer to forget. That’s not what I signed up for. The purpose of this adventure was for me to help a kid who needed someone to shelter and love him for this season of his life. I did those things to the best of my ability. Should Samuel need me somewhere down the road, I think he knows I will always be here for him.

Samuel was surrounded by lots of folks here who care about him just as much as I do on Monday afternoon.  Lots of my family and friends, along with several new friends Samuel made along the way, as well as teachers and the principal from Samuel’s school all attended a send-off party in Samuel’s honor.  I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to have them walk along through this adventure beside me—to put their hearts on the line as well.  Now they must let go just as I do.

While there are certain aspects of “having my life back” that really appeal to me, I also realize that the “reprogramming process” will take some time again. I’ve grown accustomed to having him here, so I am sure there will still be a few instances when I walk into his room and forget he’s not there, or maybe I will buy something at the store because I am used to buying that item for Samuel. Letting go is never easy.  It wasn’t intended to be.