Respite

*Warning!* This is something I am very passionate about. 

Respite is just a fancy, DHS term for a break. It’s when someone else (crazy enough to say yes) takes care of your kids for you, for an extended amount of time. This may be a couple hours on a Saturday or possibly an evening away, or every so often it’s an overnight or once in a blue moon it’s several overnights together at once. Regardless of how long it is, it is VITAL. Anytime I talk with a fellow foster parent who is struggling, whether it’s in their marriage, with a certain kid, with themselves, really any struggle, my first question is “when did you last have a break?” 9+ times out of 10 they can’t remember the last time they had a break. 

In order for me to be the healthiest, happiest, most Jesus-like version of myself that I can be, I need to be recharged. This recharge looks different for everyone… But for us, it looks like (at least) monthly date nights, like my husband kicking me out of the house for an evening at least every other week, it looks like me dropping the littles off at the babysitters at least once a month so I have the time the bigs are at school all to myself, it’s waking up early to have time to read my bible and pray and have a cup of coffee before the day gets going, like play dates on Saturdays, like overnights when we can… And today? It looks like going away with the love of my life for 4 days of much needed rest, relaxation, recharging, and time to just be a married couple. 

You CAN’T and SHOULDN’T do it all, 100% of the time. You need a break. You need to carve out what that looks like for you. You need to model for your kids that it is important take that time. You need to be all of who God made you to be, and that requires time to figure that out. So… Swallow your pride. Realize that life will go on without you. And get a babysitter. Right now. 

Exhausted.

Life is hard. Being married is hard. Parenting is hard. Fostering is hard. Owning a home is hard. Life is hard. However, all those things are even more amazing than they are hard. But it is also COMPLETLY okay to recognize that it’s hard. It is completely okay to have a crappy day.

That was yesterday for me.

I was away at a retreat last weekend. It was an amazing break away from the daily grind. A chance to be away from the kids, a chance to recharge. It was a chance to hear other ladies stories, to laugh and to cry. And it was exhausting. I love hearing people’s stories, but I get so wrapped up in them that it takes me a bit to decompress. We hardly slept the whole weekend, and in general I came home way more tired than when I left. Yesterday was my decompress day. So the kids decided to push… and push… and push… (and not nap). The day I was so looking forward to all weekend, a chance to hug my girls, to soak them up, to just play, turned into a day where I was counting down to bed time. AND THAT’S OKAY.

Every day is not like that. I have really awesome days. But I have to work at it to have those awesome days. I had to make the choice yesterday that I was going to have a great day today. I made the choice yesterday to walk to the grocery store to get fresh veggies so I could start my day off right today. I made the choice to go to bed early yesterday because I knew we would be up multiple times throughout the night with the baby. I made the choice to say yes to a play date at the park this morning so that I would get out of the house and enjoy the sunshine and conversation with a friend. But that’s just it… they are all choices.

I could choose to let the toughness of fostering get to me and I could give up. But instead, I will make the choice to prepare as best as I can for tomorrow, and the next day and the one after that.

You have a choice… what are you going to do?

HelloGoodbye.

A week ago we received a phone call for a placement. 3 pm on a Friday when we have gutted our kitchen and are in the process of putting it back together. We had no kitchen sink, no cook top, no stove. We were improvising. But that’s just how it always works!

Anyways… we got the phone call. An 11 year old girl. We said yes. She arrived about 5 pm. K is tall, slender, pretty, and scared. She is somewhat shy yet doesn’t have much “stranger danger”. We had a wonderful weekend. She joined right into our chaos, L loved having a girl to play with that was her age. She has been desperately missing M and the friendship… no, sisterhood… they had. We thoroughly enjoyed K. She started to get louder and louder and share her opinion more and more. She has a wonderful sarcasm about her, which fit right in.

We knew she had court Monday, since they always have court within the first business day of being in care. K wanted to go to court. It was a day off of school for our kids, so I arranged a last minute sitter for our crew and packed up and took K to court.

They were running behind. Really behind. As in an hour and forty-five minutes behind. But I had a choice of what to do for that hour and forty-five minutes.

When we got to court, got through security, K ran straight to her mom and embraced her in a 5 minute sobbing, crying, hug. Then proceeded to move through each and every family member that was there, giving them hugs and sitting on their laps. There were about 15 family members there so it took her a bit. I stood off to the side, slightly awkwardly.

The birth family. This is such a fragile relationship. As the foster mom, I never know what the birth family thinks of me. I rarely know if they’ve had experience with child welfare or not. I am often times the enemy. Even though I am not the one who took their child, I am currently the one who has their child so it is very easy to blame me. This first encounter with the birth family is so crucial.

As I stood there and watched sweet K work around  the waiting room, my insecurities flare up like nobodies business. I could just stand here, I could just not make eye contact. I could just pretend like I’m doing something super important on my phone. I don’t know if they will like me. I don’t know if they will cuss me out, yell at me, or if they will hug me and embrace me.

“Okay Lord… what do you want me to do?”

“Shake each of their hands. Make eye contact. They matter.”

“Well alrighty then. Protect me because this is Your idea.”

By this time, K had worked her way around and was back to grandma and mom. I walked up and said “so, you want to introduce me to all these people?!” So she did. We walked around the room, K introducing me to each and every family member. Each one I reached my hand out, gave them a firm shake and made eye contact with a smile and said “Hi! I am Kelsey.” At the end of the line up there was a slight pause. This was the next crucial moment. So I go “Whew! Now just don’t give me a quiz!” laughter rang through the waiting area and I was in. I sat down with them and spent the next hour and forty-five minutes talking with the birth family. We laughed, we joked, we cried. They asked me many questions and I got to share advice from our experience fostering. Mom was pulled away from the pack for a few minutes by her attorney (who she literally just met). When she came back I got to share with her some info on just how awesome of an attorney she has. He is one of our other girls’ attorneys and I know him well. You could see this sense of peace and relief come over her when she said “Oh really? Ahhh.”. I got to talk with aunt about the church we attend and hear all about her church. There we sat, for an hour and forty-five minutes. Investing in each others lives for the sake of this precious girl, K. By the time they called us back for court, I walked in amongst the family. United. One front.

Court was great. The judge was amazing. She was thorough, didn’t sugar coat anything, held DHS to an appropriate standard, spoke direct and convicting words to mom. At the end of it, she ruled K could go home to mom and grandma with an appropriate safety plan in place. And I whole heartedly agreed. Yes, it would be tough to say goodbye to K, but this was absolutely right.

That is sometimes how it goes. Hello and goodbye all in the same breath. But I got to have an impact on this family. Who knows where it will go, but I made it. When we walked out of the courtroom, each and every family member shook my hand or gave me a hug and said “Thank you. Thank you so providing a safe and loving home for our girl” with tears in their eyes.

You are welcome. You are so, so very welcome.

That evening while we were waiting for her caseworker to pick her up, K said “well, I guess God heard all my prayers last night”. I perked up “Oh ya? You were praying?” “Yes, I prayed I would get to go home. And He listened!!” “That is wonderful, K! And you know what? He is ALWAYS there, always listening. Sometimes the answer is no, but sometimes it is yes. And you can always, always ask.”

This girl is one who wasn’t a fan of going to church Sunday… and now she is praying. Thank you Jesus.

Court.

Court is such a normal thing in our family and in all other foster families. It’s so normal now that I forget that when I say “I’m going to court” that it isn’t a normal thing to say. I forget that not everyone makes an appearance every couple months in front of a judge.

In foster care, there is a required hearing within 24 hours of children being removed from their parent(s) custody. Then there is another hearing within 60 days of the day they are removed from their home. After that, court is typically either every 45 days, 90 days or 6 months, just depending on the case and the permanency plan. We go to them all. That’s a lot of “your honor”s, fancy clothes and court verbiage you start to understand after a bit.

Going to court is just one way that we advocate for our kids. It is also the best way to get straight information about a case. I learn so, so much about our kids’ cases just by sitting in and listening to the case worker, the judge and the attorney(s).

In general (and this is just because I get asked about court often), the case worker will present the case to the judge, the judge may ask some questions, then the child’s attorney and the parents attorney (if applicable) will present, the judge may ask some questions, then the judge will ask the foster parent(s) to stand and share how the child is doing and anything else we would like to add. It is our chance to brag about how great our kids are! Then the judge will ask more questions of the worker and/or attorney, have the CASA (if present) present, they will determine what needs to be done by the next hearing, when the next hearing will be, and anything else that needs to be on record. We will then adjourn and be done.

Totally normal, right?

Baptism.

Sunday, February 7th, was one of those days that will be engrained in my head forever. It was the day we got to watch our 9 year old get baptized. But beyond just watching, I got to get in the water with her, pray for her and actually dunk her! It was a moment I will never forget.

This is why we do this. This is why we go through the heartbreak. This is why we fight so hard for these kids. This is why we keep saying “yes”. This is why we invest tears and emotions and love and our everything into these kids. This is why we do what we do. Changed lives.

This girl came to us knowing next to nothing about the Lord. All she knew was that mom would say brother was demon possessed and sometimes she would pray for him. That’s it. Yet over the last 6 months she has watched, she has learned, she has asked questions, she has read stories, she has seen how we do life. She has seen Jesus in the people around us. And she wanted in. She wanted to have what everyone around her has. So she got it! She gave her life to Jesus and she publicly expressed it. Her life is forever changed by this simple yet profound decision.

And mom was supposed to be there. She told her the night before that she would be there. We saved her two spots. We called multiple times, leaving several messages that morning. We prayed and prayed that she would get there. And she didn’t. This is so how these precious lives go… an incredible thing (getting baptized) hand in hand with such a tough, gut wrenching, sad thing (false promises, disappointment, failure). It just breaks my heart. I wanted nothing more than for her mom to share in this amazing joy. Yet she didn’t.

This girl though… she is resilient. She was sad, of course, but she moved on. And we celebrated with our close friends who are more like family. Community is a beautiful thing and our girls saw that this weekend. They notice and they comment on it. And they love it.

Changes.

One thing I still can’t get used to with fostering is all the instant changes. Literally, in an instant, your life can, and will change. Granted, the changes we go through are typically nothing compared to what the kiddos go through, but they are still life changing.

Every time the phone rings with the 503-646-XXXX number, my heart races. It’s DHS. Do they have another placement? Has something changed in our girls’ cases? Did I miss an appointment? I mean there are about 2,304 appointments all the time, so it’d be understandable if I did. We do get lots of normal calls from DHS though. Our beloved case worker of our oldest girls’ case is amazing, and she is GREAT with communication.

But still… Every phone call is an adventure.

Today’s phone call made our lives turn in a way that was completely unexpected.

We’ve had our 9 year old since July. She is amazing. She is the definition of joy. She is always, always smiling. She is loud, caring, and enjoys and THRIVES being in our family. She has made incredible growth being with us. In fact, her therapist is pushing to “graduate” her from counseling because she’s doing so well. AND she is getting baptized this Sunday!! We (us and our co-parent, DHS) have a long term plan for her where she will transition to a distant relative that is dedicated to being a long-term placement for her and her brother. But the plan was she would transition after her brother transitions and works through anything he needs to with his transition (he has major behavioral issues). We all were thinking it would be about 6 months, realistically.

Then the phone rang.

And now we have 20 days.

Her case worker read through policy and found that because it’s an out of state placement, and because we have the involvement of ICPC (because it’s an out of state placement), both kids must be placed in the home within 20 days. And her brother is starting his transition now.

So now things are different. Now we have to speed everything WAY up.

Now we have to disrupt this little girls life in a way she is NOT expecting.

Now we have to get on our knees and pray and pray and pray for this little life. That she is spared trauma. That she is welcomed with open arms. That her brothers transition is smooth. That she gets excited. That she continues thriving.

Now we have to let go.

And this is always, ALWAYS the hardest part.

 

 

Home.

1.21.16

 “Well, we finally got the official word. She isn’t going home.” Our beloved case workers’ voice trying to be upbeat while delivering a message we all knew was coming, but doesn’t hurt any less.

 

“Home” is such a relative term for foster kiddos. For some, it means anywhere they are with their bio parents. For some it is a particular house or apartment or shelter. For some it is mom’s car. For some it is grandparents’ house. For some it is the foster family they have been with for the past few years. For our kiddo, home is a tough one. She is legally free; her parents gave up their rights to be her parents long ago (as in many years ago). She has been in state care for 7 years. Can you imagine that? She hasn’t known where her home is for SEVEN YEARS. That is way more than the majority of her life. I sure can’t imagine that. But despite her life time in foster care proving she doesn’t have a home, she has been able to identify with her “parents” (the foster parents she’s been with for a couple years) as home. Then she was removed from that home. Then those “parents” moved to a new house in a new city. She’s never been to that “home” and now, she never will.

Grieving is an understatement. I hurt for her. I ache for her. I cry for her. She is smart, she knows this decision was coming. But the finality of it will hurt. The place, or rather the people, she knows as home are officially no longer home. She gets forced back into the waiting game, then wondering game, the “will anyone accept me forever” game. And I grieve for this little life. This life that has known nothing but foster care. This life that is SO resilient yet so, so fragile. This life that just wants to be accepted… forever. This life that deserves the best. This life that needs someone to come around her and tell her they are in it for the long haul, that they won’t be calling up DHS to have her leave their home when things get tough. This little life needs this and so much more.

So we will continue to provide as much of that as we can while we get to have her. We will help teach her what a family is. We will love her help with setting up our home together. We will accept her for who she is. We will grieve with her when we go on that walk with her caseworker tomorrow afternoon that will change her life forever. We will be here for her when she needs to cry about it. We will try to answer her questions as best as we can. Because we care. Because she deserves it and SO much more. Because we are committed to this. And Lord, you’d better hold our hand through this… You’re the one who got us into this after all.