Trauma is _____________.

 

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Trauma is a kiddo melting down while at the happiest place on earth. Shriveled up in a ball, body shaking, crying so hard it hurts his head, burns his throat, and makes him nauseous. Trauma is the scariest thoughts or feelings at the most inconvenient of times. It looks like a foster kiddo peeing his pants in fear at the sight of a police officer because that police officer reminds him of that one time his dad beat his mom, almost to death, and as a result, he lives with strangers. It’s having to immediately pull the car off the freeway because the siren of a passing ambulance triggered unbelievable anxiety and fear for the 7 year old that moments before was playing legos in peace. Trauma is the child that stands over my bed at 3am, making sure I haven’t left him. Trauma is that child that asks me hundreds of times all throughout the day if we have enough food. “What’s for breakfast?” “What if I want more” “Will there be milk?” “Will we have snacks?” “What kind of snacks?” “What’s for lunch?” “Mom, did we have dinner? I can’t remember!!!” Trauma is the child that’s scared to leave my arms at school because she doesn’t know if she’ll ever see me again. Trauma is a child calling me “Mom” after only knowing me for hours. It’s a child begging me to stay forever, after less than a week in my home. Trauma is the girl that screams all throughout the night, haunted in her sleep by god knows what and we hold her and rub her back and we pray for the nightmares to end. God, why won’t they end? 😫 Trauma is a little girl living with strangers because her parents sold her to pay for basic things that you and I take for granted. It’s ordering a seatbelt cutter off of Amazon, hoping it arrives the same day, while holding a precious young teen who is experiencing suicidal ideation because their world feels too heavy for them. Trauma is mean and ugly and raw. It rocks its victims to their core, taking their breath away, stealing their feelings of safety, security, warmth and love. It’s a kindergartener throwing chairs at his teacher, ripping posters and artwork off the walls of the classroom, destroying everything he can because he’s angry… his emotions are too big for him and he doesn’t know where these feelings are coming from or how to deal with them. It is that child that pushes me so far to see how I’ll respond because everyone before now dumped him off at the social worker’s office when things got hard. Trauma is the child that arrives at my house in the middle of the night, reeking of cigarettes and urine. “Hi, my name is ____________.  The kids call me ___________ or ___________. Are you hungry? Here’s your bed, here’s the bathroom, here’s your jammies, this bear is yours. Do you want a hug? Can I rub your back?” It’s a child acting out on a family vacation because in his last placement, he was moved again to another strange family’s house immediately following a family vacation…just when he was starting to feel at home. It is that child that hoards food so bad you find a stash of fermented shelf unstable food under their bed along with ants. It’s is trying to breath through your mouth and act as nonjudgemental as possible while you clean up a child that made themselves vomit. It is crying into your pillow for one minute after bathing a child that responded with such terror and horror at the sight of a shower / bath. As if they were in severe danger. It is hearing a child say they’ve never had a bed before. It’s is muttering “efff it” and giving the kids their favorite cereal for dinner because they’ve had a shit day… and you did too… and you’re not about to make them eat another one of your “healthy” paleo experiments… and besides, you didn’t have time to pick up groceries on your designated shopping day because the school called 6 times and you had to go deal with a kid getting expelled from school, and work sucked and “did I pay those bills yet?” and the house doesn’t meet your cleanliness standards, there are 12 loads of laundry that need to be done, 4 beds that need to be made because the kids had accidents, and you are tired and angry and empty and wondering “why am I doing this? I miss my care free life. And traveling. And reading novels in a nice quiet bath.” It is watching a child flinch because even though you were only redirecting their negative behavior, they were expecting you to hurt them physically… because that’s what they are accustomed to. It is checking your teen girl’s tablet to make sure she’s not at risk for trafficking. Checking her wrists and legs to make sure she’s not using her shaving razor to cut. It is stripping a baby down after a visit with their birth family to check for marks on their body, praying to god there are no burn marks, bruises or signs of abuse from the 3 hour unsupervised visit they returned from. Trauma is relentless; unpredictable emotions, uncontrollable feelings, flashbacks, distractions, grogginess. It is a random recipe of self preservation, hyper-vigilance and dissociation. It is deep emotional scars that affect learning, relationships and growth. Trauma is trying to ground yourself in the midst of a panic attack that creates such intense physiological symptoms, that you think you are dying. But you’re not. And you know it; you just have to push through it. Keep going.
Trauma is processing events with a professional and seeking guidance so as not to trigger our kiddos.

Trauma is an invisible wound. Purveyor of billions of dollars in research, services, billable hours. It is an overwhelming amount of booze and pills and habits that would break your mother’s heart. It is shame and lust. It is begging for mercy. It is trying to keep it all together. It is the kid that’s hardest to love and bond with. It fuels burnout, making this foster life so difficult.

I was told by one of my kids’ therapists this week, “You should consider seeing a therapist just for yourself. The things you witness and experience as a caregiver for kids with trauma may be creating your own trauma.” I laughed because realistically where am I going to find that kind of time in my INSANE (ly wonderful life) and because there is some truth to what she’s saying. BUT instead, I bought a subscription to Sirius XM Satellite Radio so I can listen to the comedy station non stop in my car…. because laughing is cheaper than therapy. And it’s fun. And because trauma is sometimes avoidant coping. We laugh, we smile, we tell the world everything is fine … even when it’s not. Even when we are choking up water from the sea we are drowning in. It’s okay.

Trauma has made my kids resilient. They bounce back. They are tough as hell. They are brave and funny little warriors who understand far more pain than the average human being. They crack jokes at moments that would bring another to their knees. But not my kids.

Resilience.

 

Fostering Teens

Video: What It’s Like to Foster A Teen

I tried to find some trendy info graphic listing out the Top Ten Reasons to Foster a Teen” but obviously came up with nothing.

I will say this – it is AWESOME and you should consider helping a teen. Like right now. Quit reading this, call your local Children’s Administration, and get the ball rolling on your license. Together we can get these kids out of shelters, off of office floors, out of hotel stays under the supervision of social workers and in normal loving homes where they belong. (Have questions or concerns about the process? Send me a direct message and I’ll give you my cell number so we can talk. The good. The bad. The ugly… it’s mostly good.)

I got a call from my 15 year old foster daughter via the school landline today around noon. She was calling to “say Hi” and also to see if it would be okay for her to stay late after school and get some help on her geometry homework during tutoring hours. She wanted to make sure 1) it was okay with me and 2) if I could please pick her up at 4:30pm in front of the school. Uh, YEAH! I’m so proud of this girl and how hard she’s working to meet goals and create change for her life.

Did you know:

  • less than half of foster youth graduate high school or receive their GED
  • foster youth switch schools on average 1-2 times per year and are twice as likely to be absent from school than other students
  • foster youth lose an average of 4-6 months of educational attainment each time they change schools
  • foster students also have lower enrollment rates in community college, and have lower rates of persistence for a second year of community college than other disadvantaged students
  • median earnings among employed former foster youth were just 59% their peer’s income. Former foster youth are also more likely to rely on government assistance

 

 

 

Broken & Hopeful

 

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The Japanese have an art called Kintsugi by which broken objects, such as pottery, are repaired with gold. Instead of covering it up or trying to make it appear “brand new” again, the flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, adding to its beauty.

Brokenness. Another “side effect” of fostering. All day I have been preparing for the hurricane that is DEPRESSION. Self diagnosed, of course, because I’ve never actually taken the steps or time to see a clinician about it. And I probably won’t for a while. Maybe never. I made a pact with myself that I would reach out for help if I ever felt unsafe or helpless. But I know it’s there. And I know I suffer from it. And there are some things I can do to help lessen it’s effect: keep my house clean, keep sugar and caffeine intake low, keep my essential oil roller blends close, drink plenty of water, and get at least 8 hours of sleep. It’s like watching dark thunder clouds roll in before a big storm. This morning I woke up and just knew; the clouds are coming. Activate self preservation mode.

We have bio relatives for a sibling set of 3 visiting these next two weeks. Everything leading up to the moment they got on their plane last Friday indicated that they were going to be involved, intentional and serious about getting acquainted with the kids we are caring for. I made plans over a week in advance to meet them over brunch… I had orchestrated, in my mind, what was to be the “perfect” day and more importantly, a magical day with low pressure and fun opportunities for the kids to connect with their relatives. The grandparents blew us off… then met up with us later, spent 2 hours with the kids, and then decided they were exhausted and done. The next day was similar… and then the following day they decided to “take off” and have a break…. another day has passed that we haven’t heard from them. These grandparents, who are like 150 years old, are supposedly in the process of getting their license so that they can take the kids. There are so many twisty side stories about this whole situation, but you get the gist – 3 kids who have endured hell and all signs lead to “Hell Ahead.” I don’t get it. Maybe I never will. I just want so damn bad for these kids to have a happy ending. Parents to show up for them at their graduations, to push them to reach big goals and dreams, to take them on magical trips around the world, to teach them, to love them, to give them a lifetime of memories… nothing that’s happened to them makes sense. Nothing about the current plan for their future makes sense. I just can’t understand why these amazing kiddos have had it so hard. Or how anyone can imagine this potential upcoming move to be good for them.

We have three kids who are terrorized in the night by their dreams. The youngest often screams throughout the night – the oldest frequently runs into our bedroom, mid night, covered in sweat, stifling his cries, making sure I’m still there. The middle child falls asleep sometimes at meals or in school (of course that is after he’s finished running down the halls, asking teachers “what does this mean?”, waiving his middle finger high. He keeps us on our toes!) There is beauty to their brokenness. Just like the broken Japanese pottery repaired with gold, they are extraordinary beings – sharing a deeper connection with one another, empathy towards others, and seeking love and affection and fun in (mostly) healthy ways. I dream of the day when they will sleep peacefully and feel 100% safe. I wonder how much trauma this potential future uprooting will cause / set them back.

I AM hopeful for them. Because of their resilience, these kids WILL be okay. They will make do with what they are given. They will survive wherever they end up. And they will know that people like us LOVE them. And nothing is set in stone yet… maybe a more suitable relative will step forward for these kids. Maybe.

 

Legally FREE!

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“A child born to another woman calls me Mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.” – Jody Landers

My sweet J’s,

Today is the day you became legally free. What this means is that at trial today, and after years of hard work and with the help of handfuls of professionals, a judge terminated rights of your birth parents. It’s a tremendously sad thing – to be legally free – a ward or orphan of the state – but it’s also equally happy in our case because it means we are another step closer to adoption where we will earn the privilege of being your Mom and Dad FOREVER!

Being legally free also signifies that we will have a closed adoption. We get to close the  door on a past in which put your safety and wellbeing in jeopardy, and ensure that’s never compromised. We will get to make ALL the decisions for you, once you’re adopted. We are so extremely grateful for your birth parents, we’ll continue to pray for them to be well, and we will be open to answering any questions you have when they arise. And if later down the road they are sober and safe, and you want to meet them, we are open to that. In the meantime we will continue to talk with the highest regard for them for they unknowingly gave us our greatest blessings yet – YOU!

Today we focused on the good. And we celebrated with “legally free” cake. You requested we sing the “Happy Birthday” song to you so that you could blow out the candles together.

Big J was especially excited to hear about becoming legally free because he can’t wait until the day adoption closes and some of our rules change.  (Like mandatory life jacket in a foot of water or in the hot tub when Mom and Dad are sitting next to you.) “I’m FREE,” he squealed with such delight! “I’m FREE!”

We dream of a future for you that’s so bright. Dream big, my loves!!

The next steps for us will be to wait for our newly assigned Adoption Social Worker to meet with us for monthly Health & Safety Checks (the torch gets passed from our current Social Worker) & to retain an attorney to guide us through the adoption, and we hope to be done in the next 6 months. See you at the courthouse!

One more thing…

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Think back about your first day of high school. If you can’t pinpoint first day, then your first memories, experiences that you recall about high school. Were you nervous? Scared you wouldn’t fit in? Worried about what people would think of you – your clothes, the way you looked, the way you talked, the backpack on your back, the brand of shoes on your feet…. did you sleep well the night before or did you toss and turn? Did you find your classes okay, among the sea of students in the seemingly never ending hallways? Did any familiar faces greet you in your classes, the hallway or cafeteria? Were you shown kindness?

As I sat there in the student services office with my 10th grade foster daughter on the first day of school, I was once again in awe of her resilience. And burdened with the sadness of the reality of how many hoops our foster youth have to jump through. It’s no wonder less than half graduate high school. Sobering, isn’t it? We spent two hours the day before at the school doing tour stuff, paperwork and calling social workers and attorneys for transcripts and info and records with the objective of having everything ironed out and perfect for today. We woke up at 5:30am to be at school the moment the doors opened at 7:00am. 40 minutes later and her first period class started without her because her file was not put into the system. It wasn’t a priority to the registrar… ouch, I thought. Is that coming from a place of privilege? Am I in the right being annoyed that they didn’t set her up already? My girl’s file sat on the desk for more than half of the day the day before. (In case you are wondering, I kept my mouth shut. In an effort to be a good-ish role model, and because teachers and school faculty are HEROS, I bit my tongue when I wanted to lay into any one of the 4 women who sat within 3 feet of her file all day yesterday.) Really?!?!? Are you FREAKING SERIOUS?!? The file sat ALL day on the desk. In fact, it hadn’t even moved from where I left it yesterday morning. Did they realize how difficult this day is? That she’s nervous. That this school is easily 4 times (or more) larger than any other she’s attended? That it’s her birthday week – her QUINCE – and she’s living with people who were strangers 5 weeks ago? That she knows nobody here? How much time, inconvenience, would it have cost them to pick up her file (completely COMPLETE & with transcripts) the day before and enter it into the system so that she could start her first day on the right foot? It might not have been a priority for the registrar, but to me it was. I took the day off work to focus on setting her up for success this school year… it was ONE MORE THING. One more obstacle she didn’t need, one more X on her back, and today of all days.

I wondered what she’s feeling, this sweet girl, as she sipped on her white mocha that we picked up on the way to school. Celebratory Starbucks for the first day. I hoped she’d be okay. I hoped she knew that she’d get through this day just fine. I hoped she would make friends easily and find some comfort this day and week. That she wouldn’t worry about what’s happening at court tomorrow for her. That she wouldn’t worry about where she’ll be welcome. The list of worries goes on. As if life isn’t hard enough, foster kids have to juggle social workers, CASA (court approved special advocates), attorneys, attorneys for special circumstances, court dates (where sometimes they spend all day in the court room), family visitation, therapy appointments, foster family support groups, etc… it’s a lot for anybody to handle, let alone a 10th grader.

There is a saying that goes “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Think about it, BE about it and have a great day!

N

 

Fostering

My precious J’s,

You might remember a time when we opened our home to other foster kids. I don’t know if, when you read this, we will still be fostering. I hope so, but only time will tell.

A few months after we received you into our family, we had to start preparing to get our foster care license (Every foster family’s journey looks a little different. Sometimes it is required that the foster family have their license before receiving a child. But because we knew of you as friends of friends, we were an exception called “suitable others.”). As we attended classes and trainings our world was shook by the information of just how many kids there are in foster care and how the number of willing and able foster care homes available falls short of that number. That every night dozens of kids are displaced to sleep in offices or hotels under the supervision of social workers. Your Dad and I started to think that although our purpose is to be your forever parents, maybe we were also put here to provide a safe temporary home to other kids that may be on the path to reunification with their birth families. To help them heal, to be in a safe home, to experience the joys of family vacations, dinner together around the table, homework time, movie nights, bike rides, etc… Or perhaps to help a teen transition into the next phase of their life and gain independence with a little support. To be their cheerleader and remind them that they are worthy of and able to achieve any dream.

When a child is taken into protective custody, it is a traumatic experience. They did absolutely nothing to ask for or to deserve what’s happening to them. They may have witnessed a crime, or experienced some form of abuse or neglect. They have been separated from their parent or caretaker, and possibly even their sibling(s).  They may end up spending hours in an office while a social worker puts them into the system and tries to find them a willing and able foster home. It is the worst day of their life. Watch ReMoved, a powerful short film which follows a girl through the foster care system, starting with being taken into protective custody.

We have had the tremendous honor of being a safe landing pad for handfuls of kids taken into protective custody over the past six months. You both have been so amazing with sharing your parents, your puppies, your home and your toys with these kids as they transition to safety. And our therapist has held your hands and mine every step to process and to gain new skills as we make room in our hearts and home for these kids. You are deeply generous and have the most sincere hearts. I am so lucky and proud to be your Mom.

My wish for you throughout this journey on which our family has embarked, is that you find grace, not perfection. To know that you are worthy. You are enough. That you don’t have to chase Pinterest perfect anything. That your past doesn’t define you, that you don’t need to “try to measure up” to anything. That the good life is real, raw, slow, and rich with flaws. Take risks and know that we will be here to catch you.

You are loved more than you will ever know, my sweet boys.

Thoughts of Adoption…

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My beloved J’s, we are a month away from trial with your birth father and there are so many things happening behind the scenes. Court dates for dependency. Pre-adoption planning meetings. Counseling. Conversations with your therapist regarding how to best go about this transition.

The biggest question this week is – Do we go for a closed adoption or an open adoption? Your birth mom has already been terminated, meaning she has lost her rights to you, but there remains a chance for your birth father to have some sort of rights. Although very limited and infrequent, and we aren’t talking visitations, we are looking at perhaps sending him a Christmas card with a photo of you once yearly. Giving him the opportunity to hold onto something of you – a photo, an update that you’re alive and well, hope for your future, something tangible. We really want only the best for you. Is keeping this door open to a past that put you in danger really what’s best for you? Are we being selfish by wanting to slam that door closed and deadbolt and chain latch it? I wish we had more clarity on this matter. Two thirds of the professionals working alongside us on your case are advocating for a closed adoption. A new professional that joined the case this week is telling us to consider an open adoption because it poses the least risk – meaning, if we had a closed adoption, and there was a loophole, we could potentially lose you later down the line. Very slim chance, but still a risk I don’t think we are willing to take. It’s all very confusing. And maddening. And ridiculous. What do we do?

Yesterday Big J had a meltdown because he’s angry that we have all these restrictions placed upon us by our “social worker” (State Licensor) that we wouldn’t have if you were 100% ours and adopted. This week he is upset about having to wear a life jacket in the hot tub even when Mom & Dad are sitting right next to him… or to walk in 2 feet of water at the beach… or the water slides or Great Wolf Lodge. There are certain risks we cannot take because if something were to happen, you could be taken from us. Just like that. Gone. So we worry. About the bruises you get on your shins from romping around and rough housing with each other. The road burn Big J got when he flew off his scooter coming down the hill from school. The falls. The scrapes. The questions professionals are always asking you during our check ins; How did you get that (bruise or scrape)? Do you feel safe here? Do you get enough to eat? Sometimes I wish we could put you in one of those giant inflatable bubbles and keep you tucked away from any danger.

“I WANT TO BE ADOPTED TODAY!” Big J screamed. “WHY WON’T YOU ADOPT ME ALREADY?” It’s frustrating. I know. Us too. Believe me when I say you don’t have to worry about this. It will happen. You see, there is a ton of bureaucracy that happens before adoption. So many steps and so many things that have to align. And if your birth father makes any appeals, the process could be stalled another 18 months. Another reason we may consider an open adoption… Hang in there, we love you.

We are going to have one heck of a party when that day comes and is CLOSED!

Dear Birth Mom

Dear Birth Mom,

I don’t know you. I’ve never met you. But I know of you and your story. I’ve tracked you in jail and sent our social worker to meet with you. I’ve prayed for you. And I’m grateful for you. Because of you we have so much love and light in our home. We’ve got 2 J’s. Two of the most hilarious, resilient, amazing boys.

Today on my front porch during our routine health and safety visit with the boys’ social worker, we were informed that effective today, your rights to the J’s have been terminated. It makes me horribly sad that you are missing out on these two incredible boys. And ecstatic because they are another step closer to being ours forever.

I want to thank you for giving them life. Out of all the options on the table and regardless of the substances they were exposed to while in the womb, you gave them life. A chance. An opportunity. For that we are indebted to you. I know you love them. I know that you want what’s best for them. I know you wish things were different. In a way I think you did the best you could with what you had but you knew that it wasn’t enough. You knew that living in a junk yard or a car, or letting them dig through trash for food, like animals, or exposing them to crime and drugs was f*cking bullsh*t.

I saw your Facebook post at 3:26am on Mother’s Day – a repost of a video from 2015 of tiny versions of our J’s jumping in a kiddie pool, giggling and goofing around – it looked like pure joy. I’m so glad you got to experience such a great memory with them. They are absolute treasure and we are so privileged to be able to give them the life that they deserve. Maybe you will get to see them again someday. Maybe it will bring your heart peace to know that they are thriving and successful. I want that for you.

Who knows… maybe we will be sitting next to each other at the J’s high school graduations. Or dancing with them together at their weddings. Or planning baby showers together. (Who am I kidding? I’m such a control freak…. that probably won’t happen, but it’s a nice thought… maybe you’ll be there though with a 10 year sober chip in your pocket).

I wish you well. I wish you enough. Take care of yourself.

With love,

N & M

Big J at the Principal’s Office

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Big J – You are the sweetest, kindest, most sincere little boy so it surprises me to hear that you struggled like this today. I knew there would be conversations about you pushing boundaries with your new found freedom as a big kid. And, I knew that a trip to the principal’s office would be inevitable… after all, we signed up for this. I just didn’t think that it would happen on Day 4 of Kindergarten. Seriously?!?!

We probably need to take a parenting class so we can learn how to best help you in these types of situations. The idea of adding another class / time commitment to our already insane lives makes me feel a little sick. Right now your 5 year old self is sitting at a desk with me in our home office, working on your Costco Kindergarten workbook. I’m enjoying this time with you to chat one-on-one and to just be next to you.

“I lost my happiness,” you said as you described the incident in detail to me. Sounds like it was a hard day. I know the feeling. Transitions are hard. Monday’s are hard. Life is sometimes hard. Tomorrow is a new opportunity, a fresh slate – just keep on keepin’ on. There is a village that loves you more than you’ll ever know.

Class of 2030

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Tomorrow, September 6th  (this was published until the day of kindergarten) is your first day of kindergarten, Big J. You’re excited for this new beginning. We’ve met your new teacher and played together with the toys and the pretend kitchen and the sea animal figures in your new classroom. We know that your teacher doesn’t assign seats so you’ll have many opportunities to move around the classroom and make new friends, and sit on pillows or chairs or crates; whatever you decide. We are especially excited that each student in your class will get a Microsoft Surface Tablet to learn on. WOW!

We have been trying so hard with the school district to keep you at the school where you attended pre-school (Head Start) these past 2 years. This is a school that you are familiar with; you feel safe there, recognize the teachers and you know the footprint of the school. Secondly, this is the school where your little brother, who you’ve spent just about every day with since he was born, will attend. It seems cruel that the school district wouldn’t understand. Despite having been the very first parent to submit a transfer waiver to the district back in February, and despite all of our letters from social worker, CASA, our therapist, people who know important it is to keep you and Little J together, we have been waitlisted by the district for that school and it’s looking like we are not getting in. They made a bad call and it’s not fair. We’ve taken this and made it a teachable moment on authority. It’s really important to me that you and your brother respect authority – your teachers, teacher aides, coaches, youth group leaders, principals, employers, law enforcement,… your president, etc… We respect authority even when we feel that they are wrong, and that they made a bad call. We follow and make the best of it.

I’m so proud of you. You have had such a positive, open mind about this new school. And brother will join you next year. I’m excited for you, my little dove, to explore the world, learn new and exciting things, take risks and share with others the kind, sweet, hilarious personality you possess. You ARE AMAZING!

I pray we get to be the parents looking up at you as you receive that high school diploma in 2030.