Judicial Review in Review

Yesterday, we had our second Judicial Review (JR) since the boys have come to live with us. The first one wasn’t worth writing about. We went to court, CPC said they wanted a three month continuance, and the judge said ok. This one was far more frustrating.

First off, court day is always a pain in the butt. My husband and I have to pick up Mom, drive 20 miles, pick up her daughter, drive another 5 to court, then we sit in a hallway with three bored kids plus a bunch of other bored kids for about 45 minutes. We then go in, the kids meet the judge for 30 seconds, and then they are dismissed and not allowed back in court. But we have to stay… Not sure how other people make that work, but that is why my husband always comes. His job is to take the kids somewhere else until Mom and I are done. Mom and I get to wait for another 1-3 hours for her case to be called. So she spends it being nervous and complaining about being nervous, and I spend it reassuring her that absolutely nothing is going to happen. Because so far, nothing ever has.

This time started out just like last time, with the only difference being that Mom’s husband was going to be there. She married him at 15, they split a year later, and he’s been incarcerated since before her kids were conceived. But, Florida law states that because they were married, her kids are also his kids unless he decides to give up his rights, and he does not wish to do so. Now, prior to yesterday, she has said many horrible things about her husband: he was physically abusive, he only wants the kids as a way to control her, etc. Yesterday, the story changed. He’s “a really good guy.” He’s “only fighting for his rights to help [her] get the kids back.” She believes that since he can’t do his case plan in prison, they can’t terminate his rights and therefore the kids can’t be adopted out. She’s partially right, but the court can terminate her rights regardless of anything he does, and she’s actually working toward getting her kids, while he is not. She was super nervous to see him, and at first I assumed that was because any normal person would be nervous to see their abusive sort-of ex-husband who technically has rights to their kids. But NOOOO….

She was nervous because she is freaking infatuated with him. When they brought him through the hallway into the courtroom, he said “hey baby” in a seductive voice and gave her this look, and she looked just like a 15 year old who’s long time crush was actually showing interest for the first time. After that, she had to excuse herself to the bathroom to calm down. Then she started pacing back and forth in front of the courtroom door because she could see him through the little slit of a window. Every time she made a pass she would say “He’s still looking at me.” or “Why is he looking over here?” or “He’s staring at the window even when I’m not there.” Always with a huge smile she couldn’t wipe off her face. I tried to get her to sit down. I tried to get her to stay away from the window. I tried to talk sense into her.

“What would your fiance think if he was here right now?”

“It’s not like that. I just… We’ve always had that spark. And he’s such a good guy.”

“What’s he locked up for again?”

“Stabbing a guy in the neck.”

“Yeah, sounds like a good guy. I think I’m glad he won’t be out for another 5 years.”

“But it’s not like that. He’s always been so sweet to me.”

“I thought you said he was abusive.”

“Well, we were both on drugs.”

“You were 15.”

She put her hair up because she wanted him to see the tattoo of her fiance’s name on her neck. The problem is, it’s also her husband’s name. When I pointed out that he’d think it was for him, she giggled and said “But it’s not…” When I said, “True but he won’t know that,” she giggled again and said “I know, but…” She spent the next 30 minutes agonizing if she should put her hair back down because “he’s always liked my hair down.” And because he shook his head when she started to put it up (in front of the window, of course) It’s such a conundrum trying to decide between being obedient or flattering to your violent convicted felon husband who you ARE NOT IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH. She also decided it was too hot (I was freezing) and she needed to take off the black pants she had picked for court. She had skull and cross bone leggings underneath. I argued with her for a LONG time about whether her leggings were appropriate court wear, and I finally won. Thank God. Of course one of her arguments was that they matched her (covered) tattoos, and that her (very tattooed) husband would like them.

Once the pants issue was settled, she went back to pacing, or even just standing in front of the door. Her husband blew a kiss. She blew one back. And then nervously told me about it and went back to the door. Her husband mouthed “I love you.” She turned red, smiled even wider, ducked her head down shyly and shook it like someone uncomfortably receiving a much-wanted compliment. She mouthed something back, but she never told me what. Possibly because that’s when the bailiff came to reprimand her for communicating with the prisoners.

When I’ve yelled at her before, she’s gotten shy. When my husband makes even a disapproving facial expression, she agonizes over what she did to upset him. When her fiance gets angry, she apologizes a billion times, getting quieter every time. But at court, when the bailiff is lecturing you, when acting like beaten dog would be the obvious best course of action, what does Mom do? She gets an attitude. So she’s arguing with the bailiff, getting louder and louder, the bailiff threatens to throw her out of the courthouse and not allow her to attend her review, she’s acting all tough and like she doesn’t care, standing up to the bailiff like they are about to get in an actual physical altercation right there in front of the courtroom, and I’m at a complete loss as to what is happening and what, if anything, I should be trying to do about it. Luckily, five seconds after she yells at the bailiff that she wasn’t even looking at the inmates -she was trying to find her caseworker- the caseworker walks out of the courtroom right behind the bailiff, and I say, “Look! There’s [Caseworker]! You can talk to him right now!” And thankfully, the bailiff walks away, allowing Mom to be somebody else’s problem. We get her calmed down and the caseworker goes back into court. I make her sit next to me and she agrees to stay away from the window.

Then she says, “You know why that bailiff hates me?” I’m not sure what I was expecting. I think I was probably expecting some sort of immature guess as to why the bailiff was “picking on her.” That’s not what I got. The bailiff hates Mom because she slept with the bailiff’s husband. And because, when she got mad at the bailiff’s husband, she broke all of the windows in the bailiff’s house. And, she says, that’s out she found out the guy was married. I wish I could say Mom was a pathological liar, but most of that story is probably true. The only part I question was her not knowing the guy was married.

A little bit later, we get called into court. I feel like that is what this post was supposed to be about. But it’s not. Because nothing ever happens in court. She got another three month extension. No one was surprised. The judge did say that if nothing has changed by the next JR, CPC needs to have new plan. I wonder if he would have said that if she had been there alone, or if he was also understandably irritated by the tatooed, skinhead convict who’s presence had been useless yet dramatic and spoke with deafening silence of Mom’s continued poor life choices.

Mom had to take a drug test in court, which showed evidence of the marijuana she had admitted to smoking the night before. I was waiting in the hallway for her when they decided to bring the prisoners out. Not one to go silently, Mom’s husband treated all of the residents of the hallway to a interestingly dramatic exit.

Husband: “I didn’t say I was going to stab YOU. I said I stabbed three OTHER guards.”

Guard: “You better watch what you say.”

Husband: “Why? You gonna put me in the box? I ain’t scared a the box! I done did five months in the box! Box don’t scare me!”

My foster kids’ legal father, ladies and gentlemen! Mom came out, and I told her what happened. Her response? “Well he did.” *huge smile and look of appreciative awe* ” Did he really say that?” *giggle* Yeah. He sound’s like a really great guy. I’m totally not concerned about what is going to happen when he gets out prison. I still have no interest in adoption, but this is the first time I’ve been seriously concerned about the kids eventually going home.

She changed out of her pants and we left the courthouse. As soon as we were outside, she started running around the building. I yelled “Where are you going??” after her as I jogged to keep up. She “just had to see if the prisoners had left yet.” And since they hadn’t, we had to wait awkwardly 50 feet away until they did. She didn’t see her husband again because they load them up inside a garage through the back of the van, but we weren’t able to leave until the van drove off. I’m not looking forward to the next review. My husband is supposed to be working, but I’m debating having him take the day off and stay with her at court while I go to the park with the kids. It’s just not an experience I can explain well enough… or have any interest in repeating.



The Trauma of an Empty Meth Bag

Bubblegum has been a demon child for the last two days. On Thursday, he woke up and was immediately difficult. Tantrums, arguing, hitting, and refusing to follow directions were just some of the lovely behaviors I got to deal with before I quite literally dropped him at school and made a hasty exit. When I picked him up, his teachers said nothing about his behavior, but we didn’t even make it all the way to the car before he started up again. He was so bad that I fed him at 4:00, knowing he was going to be sent to bed early, and at about 5:00, he crossed that line. Little Goat was only slightly better and also got an early dinner and bed. Neither of them actually started behaving/sleeping until about 9 pm, and until then, I was constantly in Bubblegum’s room telling him to stop kicking the wall, pounding on the door, ripping his clothes off, and screaming. After I finally got him to sleep, I spent some time thinking back and trying to figure out ANYTHING that could have caused him to be so bad for an entire day. It took a while, but the epiphany was when I realized that he had also been bad Wednesday night, starting about 45 minutes after visitation. I had taken the kids to Wal-mart while Mom was at Substance Abuse, and after behaving for most of the trip, it was like a switch flipped. When we got home, it was bedtime and Bubblegum had yet another meltdown. I handed him to my husband, making sure to dodge the kicks and punches, and walked away. Since I didn’t deal with the behavior, it took me a while to remember it, but once I did, it all made sense:


We had visitation as usual on Wednesday. I picked up my four-year-old, Ethan, from school early and then went to get Bubblegum (3 yo) and Little Goat (2 yo). We picked up Mom, got M (1 yo) from daycare, and headed to Burger King, leaving my husband to pick up my seven-year-old from school. This has become our standard visitation routine and it works fairly well.

On the way into Burger King, I noticed a small pink ziplock bag on the ground. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it, though I did make a mental note that it had probably held ecstasy since there were some circular pill-sized imprints in it, and noted that 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of drugs. Honestly, one year ago, I may not have either.

I left it on the ground and we continued into Burger King. We had a pretty normal visit and when M’s foster mom arrived, we walked back across the parking lot to get her car seat and load up Ethan, Bubblegum, and Little Goat in my car. After everyone was buckled, Ethan said “look mom! I found a pretty pink bag!” I looked back and saw him holding up the little baggie that I only vaguely remembered from an hour an a half earlier. I asked him if he found it in the parking lot, and he proudly answered “yes!” Mom and I made eye contact and she jumped out of car and got the baggie from him. She looked at it closely for a second and said “This is meth. I’m going to go throw this away.” She ran off to the trash can while I fished a wet wipe out of my purse and told Ethan to wash his hands with it. When she got back, she decided Ethan wasn’t doing a good enough job and re-washed them more thoroughly. When she got back in her seat, her hands were clammy and she was obviously jittery. She said her heart was racing and that she hadn’t been that close to drugs in at least six months. The circular marks were from someone crushing the crystal meth using the back of a pen.

Of course, the kids were confused. Why were the adults freaking out over a BAG? And not just a bag, a teeny little pretty PINK bag? They started asking questions, and being drug naive as I am, I left it to mom to answer most of them. In retrospect, that might not have been a great decision since she had just triggered a relapse response to the presence of drug paraphernalia and kinda needed to focus on herself in that moment.

When Bubblegum couldn’t understand the explanations Mom gave, and whined for the third or fourth time about wanting the pink bag back, she said something to the effect of “NO. That bag had DRUGS in it and that’s what got you taken away from me.” Now, she’s told the kids numerous times that drugs were the reason for their removal. She has always been honest about her UA’s and substance abuse classes, and has told them that certain people couldn’t visit with them because they were still using drugs. But never before has she connected the dots in a way that bothered Bubblegum. He didn’t act concerned by that comment either, and neither Mom or I thought anything about the wording. For us, there was no new information. But for Bubblegum, everything changed.  “This thing – that I was just holding in my hand – is the reason you got sent away.” He asked exactly zero questions about what that bag could mean for his future, but 45 minutes later, he had processed the information and registered fear. Was Mom going away again? Was he getting sent to a new home? Would he ever see her again? What was happening and when? UNCERTAINTY. WORRY. TERROR.

This morning, I took him to school. He was awful. He fought with everyone, including me. And I got the fun surprise of finding out that after ripping his first pullup, peeing in his second and asking for a diaper which he also peed in, he took his second peed in diaper off and threw it on the floor so that he could wet the bed more easily. Trying to get four uncooperative kids to school while also taking care of all that mess did not put me in a fantastic mood, but I knew I had to get through a busy day and also reassure Bubblegum.

Mom doesn’t have a phone right now, but luckily we had already planned to meet up so I could help her clean up outside her job, and she borrowed a friends phone to see when to expect me. I explained my thoughts on why Bubblegum has been acting up and asked if she could come with me to pick him up from school and offer some reassurance. She did and also had a talk with him about the pink baggie incident and how it was not going to change anything. She said he told her he was afraid he’d never see her again. I let him know that I’d already told the caseworker all about it and that we were proud of Mommy because she did a good job throwing away those bad drugs. I haven’t seen him smile that big in a long time. I’m happy to report that the rest of the night went okay. Not fantastic, but back to normal. And tomorrow is a fresh new day.

When I flipped out on bio-mom

I keep telling myself I’m going to start posting regularly, but every day that I have extra time, something comes up. I haven’t even been able to volunteer at the school regularly lately, even though I thought for sure school starting would herald in some extra free time. This is the first year in seven years that I’ve gotten time to myself regularly, and it’s just not as sweet -or as abundant- as I expected. Dropping the kids off at school takes about an hour and fifteen minutes every morning, and picking them up takes about an hour and a half. Between those times, I get five hours and 25 minutes to do dishes, laundry, cleaning, whatever my current project is (lately it’s been landscaping), and any errands I want to do sans kids. It apparently also involves taking the kids’ mom to the ER repeatedly, driving her to look at rental properties, taking her to the grocery store, and dropping off leftovers when she didn’t have money for food. I still feel that she has the ability to be a decent mom and that her kids should eventually go back to her, but I really wish I could force her to take financial literacy and parenting classes AND ACTUALLY PAY ATTENTION AND TRY TO BETTER HERSELF.

We had visitation yesterday (I’m still supervising all the visits), and afterward we went to Wal-mart for a bit of shopping. (My shopping, because of course she has no money.) That was the first time I yelled at her in front of the kids, and I seriously lost my shit. It was one of those moments where you yell at somebody at then 30 seconds later you feel like you’re coming out of a daze and can’t remember exactly what you said. But I remember why I yelled, and hopefully the fact that I don’t do it often will make the message stick.

My irritation with Mom started at visitation. Little Goat found a penny on the ground and was showing it to Ethan. Bubblegum saw him and started screaming that it was his penny. Ethan offered to hold it for Little Goat until we got home since he was the only kid wearing pants with pockets. Bubblegum proceeded to try hitting Ethan while Little Goat slipped the penny into Ethan’s pocket. I sternly told to Bubblegum to “come here.” He ran. I had to go get him, and carry him kicking and trying to punch me in the face, back to the bench. I held him in my lap, making sure he couldn’t hurt me. Once I got him calmed down, I started trying to talk to him about Little Goat’s penny and how I had watched him pick it up off the floor. In comes Mom, back from smoking her cigarette. Bubblegum immediately starts screaming and flailing again, trying to make a show of how horrible things are for him. Mom asks me what he is upset about, and I tell her. She tells me that Bubblegum found three pennies on the way back from the bathroom and must have dropped the one that Little Goat found. So I get Bubblegum halfway calm again, and talk to him about the fact that somebody dropped the pennies he found, and walked away. Now they are his. If he dropped a penny and walked away and Little Goat found it, now it belongs to Little Goat. I was almost done explaining (which was really me asking leading questions so he’d feel like he came to the conclusion himself) and Bubblegum was fairly calm, when Mom says “You want some money? Here. I have 32 cents. You can have it. Now you have even more money than you had before, so everything is good, right?” Facepalm. Your kid just threw a tantrum, hit another child, ran from me, kicked me, and attempted to punch me in the face, and after hearing what happened, your solution (to a problem I had basically already solved) is to GIVE HIM MONEY!? Are you freaking kidding me!?! So then Ethan says “I want some money!” and she told him she didn’t have any more. You know, because she gave it all to the only kid that WASN’T behaving. I wanted to step in and fix this horrific parenting idiocy, but in the moment I had no idea how, so I let it pass.

Fast forward to Wal-mart. Mom reminds Bubblegum that he has money and he can go buy something with it while we’re at the store (Way to rub it in that the good kids don’t have money!) I steer them to the shoe aisle because while I really don’t want to continue rewarding Bubblegum, he does need new shoes. Little Goat decides he must be getting new shoes too, so he takes his off and waits patiently for someone to get him some new ones. Mom is engrossed in finding the perfect shoes for her angel (Bubblegum is her obvious favorite) and doesn’t even notice. When I see him standing in his socks and tell him to put his shoes back on, he starts tearing up. He looks like he’s on the verge of a tantrum when I get one of his shoes on and realize that it is also way too small. So he gets to pick out new shoes too. Now everyone is happy except Ethan, who feels left out since he’s the only kid not getting new shoes (Ronan stayed at home). I told Ethan that he and Bubblegum needed a few more shirts too and I’d let him pick them out since they share clothes and he didn’t get to pick shoes.

When we get to the clothing section -after I made it abundantly clear that only Ethan was picking out shirts- Mom starts showing Bubblegum clothes she knows he’ll like. I don’t know if she wanted to make him throw a tantrum, or thought I’d just buy him whatever he wanted since that’s what she does when she has money, or what the plan was, but I refused to buy him the shirt she got him excited about, which was also the wrong size and long sleeve when I specified wanting short. When he said he wanted it and I said no, she looked at me, looked at him, looked back at me, and said “what am I supposed to tell him now?” Umm… no. Tell him no. Wasn’t that obvious?

It was hard to find short sleeve shirts even though it’s still 90 degrees outside, but I did eventually get two shirts that Ethan liked. The whole time we were looking, Mom continued getting her kids excited about things I wasn’t going to even consider buying. At one point she said “Oooh look, Mickey! Do you want that?” And when Little Goat said yes, she ripped the tag off and handed it him. I asked her if that was the price tag, and she shrugged and said “I don’t know.” I looked. It was. Then of course, Bubblegum wanted a tag too, so she asked him what kind of tag he wanted and was ready to scour the clothing section for the price tag of his whims. I wasn’t going to let that slide, and said something to the effect of ” Really Mom?! This is not okay! Be a responsible adult. It’s not that hard!” and then I turned and walked away. Five seconds later, Ethan is whining “I want a tag too…!” And Mom starts to hand him one. I notice Bubblegum has one and Little Goat still has his.

And that’s when I lost it.

Again, I don’t remember exactly what I said. I know I blocked her from handing my kid the tag and told her NO, She was NOT going to include my kid in this kind of of behavior. I told her she was being immature and irresponsible and that if she had ever worked in retail she would understand how much of a pain in the ass she was being to the cashier that would eventually try to ring up that shirt, the associate that had to do the price check, and every single person waiting in line. I feel like I used the phrase “responsible adult” at least six times, referring to what she clearly is NOT. I don’t think she took the tags away from her kids, but she put Ethan’s down. And while we immediately went back to our relationship as normal, she later told Justin that he would have to ask me if he could buy a sucker with his money because she didn’t want to get in trouble again. Her phone is shut off right now so I haven’t talked to her all day, but I’ll be interested to see if any of it sunk in.

On a positive note, I lectured her about her spending habits about a week ago, in reference to the day I had to bring her leftovers so she could eat, and I mentioned the fact that while I do spend a lot on big ticket items (We recently had a driveway poured, got granite countertops, bought $600 in river rock for my landscaping, and are planning to buy a third car this weekend), I am frugal when it comes to everyday purchases that don’t last. As an example, I pointed out that I always buy from the value menu when we go to visitation at Burger King and I always drink water. Yesterday’s visitation was the first time I’ve ever seen her order from the value menu. Normally she buys the most expensive combo on the menu, because why not? I’m paying.

So I guess, long story short, things have been a bit tense. I’ve been increasingly frustrated. But maybe the fact that I’m finally talking to her (or yelling at her) about the things she needs to change will end up being for the good. Only time will tell.

June update

It’s been over two weeks since the first time I talked to my foster kids’ bio mom. We went from no contact at all for the first two and a half months to daily contact immediately, at least via phone. The first week we spent Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday together. The second, we saw her Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So far this week, I saw her today (Monday) and we will spend all day tomorrow with her. Bubblegum calls her every night before bed and sometimes also during the day. Since we first connected via Facebook, she also now has access to an archive of pictures and anecdotes from the past few months plus all of the updates and pictures that I still post regularly. As I get to know her more, along with her history, home life, acquaintances, etc, I do worry a bit more about the kids going home. I still feel that she has the potential to be a good mom and I’m definitely rooting for her, but I worry about some of the other people that would be in their lives, and especcially in their home. I am still going to help her however I can and hope that her situation continues to improve but while I continue to be outwardly oblivious, I am also going to quietly archive my concerns in case I ever feel they need to be addressed in court.

For example: She told me at the first UA I drove her to that she had gotten herself exempted from taking blood-based drug tests, because as a previous intraveinous drug user, she was afraid regular blood draws could cause her to relapse. So she only has to do urinary analysises. A few days later, I was taking her and her boyfriend to the museum and park for a family day with the kids and she started explaining to me about how she had told the biological father (who has no rights and cannot get them) that if he wanted to see the kids, she wanted him to have daily drug testing for a month plus drug testing right before every visit. Her boyfriend chimed in that bio dad needed to be blood tested since there are so many ways to get around a pee test. Mom looked uncomfortable and said she would be fine with just a drug test. Boyfriend said “no, he needs a blood test because you know there are a hundred ways to get around a pee test. Hell, you can just use baking soda.” Mom quickly made an unclear but vaguely agreeing sound and the matter was dropped. It was very clear to me that she didn’t want me to put those two conversations together and Boyfriend, not having been in the car for the first conversation, was just digging her a deeper hole. I am very drug illiterate, but I feel she is currently clean, and that conversation will make me extra vigilant for changes in her behavior that could be a sign of a hidden relapse. She also has a sometimes violent alcoholic living with her at the moment. She doesn’t want him there, but it’s her boyfriend’s dad’s house, so she doesn’t really get a say. I’m hoping he’ll get himself kicked out before any unsupervised visits or reunifications plans are discussed, but if not, I’m prepared to bring that info to the court’s attention as well. I think if it meant bringing the kids home, her boyfriend’s dad would make the right decision. I’ve met him several times too and he does seem to care deeply about the boys. I also hope that if I ever do have to bring up my concerns, it doesn’t completely sabotage the relationship Mom and I are building or prevent her from earning her kids back.

One thing I find interesting about this whole situation is the perspectives offered to both sides. Mom and I are both pretty open people (except obviously I’m not going to clue her in to the fact that her openness with me could hinder her reunification if she gives me reason to believe the kids wouldn’t be safe) and we’ve been open about how other people have reacted to our new relationship. I told her how people keep telling me not to ever have her over to our house (while we were on the way to my house for the umpteenth time). She told me that she’s been asked if she’ll let the kids keep in contact with me after they come back home, and the askers are usually shocked when she answers with a resounding yes. She even put my number in her phone as “the boys’ other mom.”

It’s really not surprising that people who have had their kids removed or care about someone that has have such a negative opinion of foster parents. And it’s no surprise that the (usually) more affluent, “how could anyone do that to their kids?!” people have such a negative view on people whose kids are removed. What continues to surprise me is that it’s so hard to change that opinion, even for a single person. I’m not asking people to rally behind every alcoholic, drug addict, child abuser, or neglectful parent, but only to trust me that my kid’s mom is worth the trust and effort I give her. She isn’t asking her friends to believe every foster parent is helpful and kind, but to believe her when she tells them what I am doing for her and her family and allow her to *gasp* like me as a person.

So far it’s been an interesting ride, and things have gotten so much easier with her around (Well, except my gas bill. We do a LOT of driving). Bubblegum is having fewer meltdowns and when he does get upset it’s easier to bring him out of them. He also knows he can’t just scream about wanting his Mommy every time he doesn’t get his way, because I’ll offer to call her. He’s never told me to do it, but it’s probably because he knows she’d back me up every time. He was even good for the entire overnight trip for his EEG. He wasn’t happy about the other kids going to Grandma’s without him, but he only cried a little. He was good for the car ride, the restaurants, the hotel, getting up at 4am and having to take a bath and stay awake, the hopsital, and the tech that attached all the sensors to his head and tried to make him stare at strobe lights. He actually fell asleep before she was done prepping him and slept for the whole test, including much of the strobing. They were supposed to call if anything was abnormal, and nobody called, so I guess that’s good. Now we have the long wait until October when we finally get to meet with the neurologist. Maybe in October, we’ll bring Mom with us.

More on Mom

Today I picked my kid’s bio mom at 8am and took her to do some assessments for her case plan. I brought Bubblegum and The Goat with me so we could do a visit in town after. The assessments took until about 11:00, by which time I was hot and tired from taking the kids to the park and mildly annoyed from trying to get them to be quiet at the library. And hungry. I was going to take them to Burger King because they have a play place, but then realized how awful of a visit that would be. “Hey kids, here’s your mom. Now go play!” So we went to Golden Corral instead. Mom continually surprised me with how well she interacted with both the kids and me. I had told her previously over Messenger about Bubblegum’s complete lack of knowedge coming to us and his difficulty learning. I mentioned my uncertainty if it was neglect or head trauma related. She showed some concern, but through text messages it’s really hard to tell how much. For that matter, she could have been getting defensive or feeling out her possible future SSI check. Over text, who can tell?

At Golden Corral, she started feeling out Bubblegum. She asked him about the foods he picked out- what they were called and what colors they were. When he got gummy bears for dessert, she asked him what color they each were and make sure he had it right before he got to eat them. At the same time, she was encouraging and praised him when he got things right instead of shaming him when he didn’t.  With how low Bubblegum was when he came to us, I did not expect his mom to even know how to work with him let alone take a pro-active interest. She said when he left her at two-and-a-half he could could count to eight, and knew most of his colors and all of his farm animals and their sounds. After watching them together, I believe her. Though it still doesn’t completely answer the question of neglect at Grandma’s vs car accident (or both), I am leaning more toward the car accident being a major contributing factor. I hope we can get him to sit still for the EEG next week so we will know more.

While she took charge of working with Bubblegum, she deferred to me contantly on anything I could possibly object to. She didn’t pick out what the kids ate or drank unless I said it was ok. She told them she wouldn’t get them dessert unless I said they earned it. She made sure her kids knew that I was in charge and they needed to listen to me. It was weird since they are her kids, but also extremely helpful since they still need to listen to me when we get home. I have heard so many horror stories about bio moms who tell their kids not to listen to their foster parents and try to undermind their authority, but even without those stories, I would have expected her to come to visits with the attitude of  “While I’m here, they are my kids. You’re just here too.” Kind of like we all have when we take our kids out somewhere with a friend’s family. The friend is only in charge of our kids if they are babysitting because we aren’t there.

She had similar thoughts about me. She has told me numerous times that I’m her angel. That she has never heard a single good thing about foster moms before, but that she is so glad her kids have me and she couldn’t have asked for a better family to be caring for her kids. She says she was ready to give up before I contacted her. She could never be ok with letting her kids go, but with nobody willing to help her, the possibility of getting them back was seeming more and more… impossible. The day I told her I would not let her lose her kids because of a transportation problem, she cried. She has hope again, and she is looking forward to our next judicial review, almost four months away. She says as long as she has my help, she knows nothing can keep her from getting her kids back. That’s one heck of a emotional turnaround in the span of about four days. She still seems shocked that I am willing to help her so much, but to my husband and me, it just makes sense. We became foster parents to help families – isn’t this what it looks like?

After Golden Corral, her visit technically should have been over. But… Ronan wanted to go see a movie that was playing at the library as part of their summer reading program and I invited her to come with us. Once again, she took care of her kids, but made sure I was ok with them getting snacks and drinks before she got them anything, and always made sure things were fair between my kids and hers. She also asks things in a way that doesn’t make me seem like the bad guy if I say no, and doesn’t ask if she can just wait and follow my lead. When they got bored with the movie, she asked descreetly if it would be ok to let them play in the library while Ronan finished the movie. We went into the main part of the library and did puzzles, and once again she took the initiative to work with Bubblegum, helping him figure out puzzles that were a little too hard for him and working on counting and number recognition when he picked out a big number train floor puzzle. The puzzle was of a train full of zoo animals, so she talked to him about the animal names too. When Bubblegum wanted to color, she got coloring pages for all of the kids and talked to my kids like they were her own. She thinks it’s awesome that we take the kids so many places and has asked to go to the aquarium with us some time, even knowing that tickets aren’t cheap (she made sure I knew she would pay her own way), that the car would be crowded, and the drive is two hours each way. We are planning to get together again this weekend to go to the Museum of Natural History, and she will see them tomorrow when I take her for yet another assessment.

I can’t say the kids are acting any better now that Mom is back in their lives. Sometimes I think Bubblegum is actually acting worse. But it’s just another adjustment. Like everything else, once it becomes commonplace, it will also become easier. And this adjustment is for the better.

Meeting Mom

Today I actually met my foster kids’ mom face-to-face. I was so nervous about today that I barely slept last night. I kept expecting something to go wrong and the meeting to not happen, and today she told me that she had been expecting the same. Amazingly, today went very VERY right.

In our county, all visitations have to be done at the visitation center. It is a very unfriendly place for everyone involved. It is also 19 miles from our house and 26 miles from the kids’ mom’s house. Since she doesn’t have a car and is trying to avoid bad influences from her past, transportation is a constant problem. After 2 1/2 months, she has finally managed to convince the case manager to try to find a solution. Coincidentally, that came right about the same time that I found her on facebook and we started talking over messenger.

I texted the case manager Friday to ask if I could drive Mom to visitation or if that would be a problem for the court since she and the kids would be “unsupervised” in the car. I texted our new case worker the same question on Sunday, and called at 7:00 this morning. I had decided that today there would be a visit. Period. My plan was to try to get an answer as early as possible. If I was told no at 7am, I would have just enough time to drop the kids off at daycare (6 min), pick up Mom (17 min), deliver her to visitation (40 min), pick up the kids from daycare (28 min), and drive them to visitation (28 min) before the 9:00 visit. Afterward, I’d have to do it all in reverse, totalling four hours of driving for a 90 minute visit. I was really hoping they’d say it was ok to transport her with the kids and cut my drive time in half.

I called at 7am and got no answer. I told Mom that if I didn’t hear back, I was going to take it as implied consent and would be at her house at 8:15. At 8:00, the kids were getting on their shoes, and my phone started ringing. It was the new caseworker. A string of cuss words ran silently through my head as I grudgingly answered the phone. This was the call where she was going to tell me I couldn’t transport Mom with the kids and it was much too late to transport them seperately. This was the “something wrong” I had been expecting. The caseworker asked me who I was and what did I want to do? Apparently the text I had sent (“Hi, I’m [The Goat] and [Bubblegum]’s foster mom. Is it ok if I give their mom a ride to visitation tomorrow? We took our training in [other] county where foster parents can supervise visits, so I’m still not sure of all the rules here.”) was too ambiguous and needed clarification. But that’s ok, because she not only told me that I could transport Mom today, but that the case manager wanted her to ask me if I’d be willing to supervise visits from now on. Um, YEAH!!! I have been told multiple times that foster parents in our county can’t supervise visits, so I have no idea why I am getting this opportunity, but Mom and I are both thrilled. Not only will she be guaranteed the opportunity to see her kids every week, but now they can have video chats and Mom won’t have to miss special days like The Goat’s upcoming second birthday. Plus, Mom lives closer to me (and in the opposite direction) than the visitation center, so this will save me time and gas. And make it easier for me to transport her to places she needs to go for her case plan.

Today I picked her up and we drove to the visitation center for the last time. They promptly told her that she would have to wait in a seperate room from the kids and me until her visit officially started. We looked at each other like “this is f—ing crazy” as they quickly closed the door in her face. A minute later, they opened the door again. Apparently, Mom had been removed from the visitation schedule for missing two visits. So we did the shopping I had planned to do while everyone was visiting and then took Mom to do her UA. Chris and I had set up babysitting for the afternoon, so I called the caseworker and asked if I could supervise a visit tomorrow since we were unable to have one today. Yup, no problem. Their only stipulations were that we meet at the same date/time every week when possible and start out having our visits in a public place until everyone gets comfortable with each other. We’re already comfortable, but whatever. I got home about 5 minutes after the babysitter arrived. We unpacked groceries and then took Mom home on the way to town. If DCF was worried about Mom learning where I live, I guess they are out of luck. Interestingly enough, she says she has walked past my house several times after I got guardianship of her kids, and she did notice kids playing outside. She just never looked to see that they were her kids. We both agree that while it would have been nice to meet earlier, it’s good we didn’t meet that way.

The aftenoon was fantastic. Nothing says “there are no kids here” like watching Deadpool 2 in and empty theater and then going to Chili’s for appetizers and a skillet cookie, which we were able to eat hot and without interruption. I feel completely refreshed and content – and ready to take on the world.

My Foster Kids Aren’t Lucky

When we were taking our foster care classes, they told us that all of our friends and the people we met would tell us how amazing we are for fostering, how lucky our foster kids are to have us, and tell us they could never do it because they would get too attached. They seemed to think these statements were laughable and ill-thought-out. I thought they were overreacting. I mean, we are pretty fantastic, and our foster kids, while not lucky to be in care or for the circumstances that placed them there, would be lucky to have been placed in our home instead of in an overcrowded home with less involved or caring parents. Also, I’ve never gotten attached easily, so ok, maybe it would be too hard for the normal people I was hypothetically talking to.

I never expected to have a conversation about foster care that left me thinking “What the hell is wrong with you?” Last weekend, it happened. We were at a party for my husband’s boss, and a guy my husband has worked with before but doesn’t see often asked about our foster kids. My husband introduced them and told him their ages, and this guy crouched down to talk with Bubblegum. I expected a normal “Hey buddy. How are you doing? You having fun at the party?” Nope. Instead it was more like “So how do you like living with Chris and Holly? They’re pretty great, huh? I bet you’re having a LOT of fun. Of course you’re having fun. You’ve got some really awesome kids to play with. You’re really lucky to have such awesome people taking care of you… I’m sure you know that. Well you make sure to be really good for them, ok?”

It was like a train wreck in slow motion. We were both standing there wanting to stop it, but how? What could we say that wouldn’t make things worse or cause a scene? In the end, we just stood there, silent, flabbergasted, and then said something to the effect of “You’re always good, aren’t you Bubblegum? Wanna go play with Ronan?”

That day I actually understood why the people running our classes thought those comments were so darn idiotic. Because yeah, he’s not lucky. And while he enjoys living with us, he’d ditch us in a New York minute if it meant he could go back to Mom or Dad. And about those awesome kids he has to play with… did you like your siblings when you were growing up? My kids can be awesome, but they can also be assholes. And they like switching back and forth pretty frequently. Plus I think Ethan is having jealousy or insecurity issues, so his switch has been stuck on “asshole” pretty often lately. But remember, those kids are awesome, whereas Bubblegum better behave. The message there is pretty clear, though I’m sure it wasn’t the one intended.

I had a conversation with another party-goer (my husband’s boss’s dad, no less) that, while less problematic, was still awkward and confusing. I got the feeling he wasn’t altogether sober, so that probably didn’t help. He started out telling us that his son had told him we were foster parents and thanking us for our service. (I’ve never understood this. I don’t understand thanking firefighters, police, or military either. It’s their job, that they chose, and it probably didn’t affect you in the slightest. I understand thanking teachers because people usually thank their kids’ teachers, not some random teacher they meet at Wal-mart or McDonalds. I also find it very awkward to respond to…. um, thanks for thanking me? You’re welcome? No problem? We do our best?) Then he said he bet it was hard having our own kids AND foster kids. I responded that I really don’t think it’s any harder than having four of our own (Financially it’s definitely easier and I’d never put my bio kids in daycare since I don’t have a job, but it sure is easier to not have all of them all day long.) Then he said “I suppose. And if you have one, four’s not that much different.” Um, what now? I never said that! Four is a whole world of difference! That’s like saying having an adult roomate and twin babies are the same thing.

With one kid, crossing a road is simple. He holds your hand or you carry him. With four, you can’t carry anybody and they fight over who gets to / has to hold who’s hand and somebody lets go halfway across the road and it’s impossible to get their hand back without letting go of everybody else and by the time you get where you were going you just want to throw them all in a cart, but logistically (and assuming there are carts) that doesn’t work either. The house is never quiet. They don’t all nap, they go to sleep and wake up at different times, and take turns waking up in the middle of the night. Somebody is always sick, which means everybody is. And somebody is always thirsty, hungry, or screaming. I’m not saying it’s easy. But other than an increase in seemingly irrational tantrums, foster care has NOTHING to do with it.

Now at this point, if you don’t have experience with foster care, you may be thinking I’m oversensitive. That nothing a person said to me about foster care would have been taken well. That I’m blowing this out of proportion and that these people were only trying to help. I should learn to accept people’s gratitude. Well, you’re kind of right. They were trying to help, or connect, or understand, or SOMETHING, and I do need to figure out how to respond to “Thank you for all you do” because that’s not going away. But I am ok with people thanking me when it makes sense. My foster kids’ mom thanked me multiple times for everything I do for her kids and am willing to do for her, and while it still felt awkward, I get it. And she is welcome. For everyone who has absolutely nothing to do with my foster kids, I’d really prefer something to the effect of “you have a beautiful family” or even “you’re such a good mom.” Let me say thanks. I know how to do that.