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Some thoughts on bio parents, birthdays, confidentiality and the joys of mandatory visitation.

I was wishing I had a better network of experienced foster mom friends today. This afternoon was full of so many thoughts and doubts and questions and emotions-mostly just the one emotion (grrr). I struggled to channel some faceless, tireless, gracious and patient foster mother….it worked, kind of.. meh, maybe not.

Usually, when the chips are down, I have my wonderful mom friends to turn to- poop colors, tantrums, sleep training, and everything in between. With a foster child here, there are unfamiliar feelings of secrets to be kept and stories that aren’t mine to tell.  It’s a job and there is a very important confidentiality piece which I respect greatly- but it’s also parenting and my life. And I can’t share it with those closest to me.

Let me back up. We have had a heck of a week with Patches. It was her birthday last week, so we wanted to make it a special day. We wrapped presents, made a cake and took pictures- it was important to me that we have something to send home with her that would say this birthday happened, it was documented and she mattered. I deleted the dozens of unhappy ones. This is a piece of my favorite..

As the cake approached her, she stuck her finger right into the frosting and into her mouth. She looked happy.

Here is one of her comforting her new baby.

So that day was pretty sweet, or at least that portion of that evening. Throughout the last week, each day has been sharply divided into pieces. There are two different flavors: Patches here and Patches not here.

There are pockets of content, happy playing. Her eyes are sweet and vibrant, she giggles and dances. Then, something unexpected might happen. It might be a sudden loud noise, or just that the kids get too loud. Maybe she trips and falls. Or it might be nothing at all.

Then, Patches leaves. Her eyes hang a little lower, and she is no longer there. She becomes unresponsive to her name or anything at all. Her body is limp. This can last hours or even all day. It will often turn to drifting in and out of sleep, no matter how much sleep she has just had. She just checks out or “disassociates”.

I truly didn’t realize the damage that can already exist at such a young age, and how high the price can be. There is no quick fix. How much can be undone over time and with patience and a safe home remains to be seen

Meanwhile, we have been ordered to attend visitations with Bio Mom, three times a week, two hours a pop. The best word I would use to describe these experiences would be, “AWKWARD”.

Today I went for such a visit, and it became clear that Bio Mom is going to be creating some complaints about the care in my home. One of the many examples of this was when I walked in and she said (not to me, but about me to the social worker) , ” Can I bring her some clothes tomorrow? Because she is obviously wearing the same shoes and pants as last time.”

This struck me as odd for several reasons. One, the last visit was nine days ago. Do you find it unacceptable to repeat a shoe, a week apart? A day apart? How about the shoe of a two year old emergency foster child?

Two, they were different pants, and again, are we not wearing the same pants in a two weeks period? How fancy…

And, three… three could be more like three  through 47. There are dozens of reasons why this is focusing on the wrong part of the story. I could have said a million things to just shut her down and put her in her place and remind her of why we were here in the first place. Why she was less and worse and wrong. Yep, I came home and relived the visit with The Dad and acted out all the harsh and witty retorts I could think of.

Then I remembered what I was doing, and not why we were here, but why I was here. It is not about me, or her, it was about Patches.

I had left feeling defensive and insecure about the unreasonable complaints and forgotten how those exact  feelings were multiplied by a thousand for Bio Mom. Ever time I saw her for a visit, she was reminded of the mistakes she has made, how she had gotten here and how she had lost the only thing that matters. The social workers knew the complaints were silly, so why did I care?

I became embarrassed and overwhelmed with empathy when I thought of how I had taken the complaints so personally. I am committed to continuing to root for Bio Mom no matter what she does to try to change my mind, until the time comes when Patches goes home or doesn’t. Judging her and deciding whether she “should” go home, is not my job or my place. I only  wish her a gentler, happier road from here out, one that will include her children and the support she needs to feel some successes.

If it will bring her some comfort, she can complain all she wants. If it will make her feel bigger, I will let her make me look smaller. Because none of that matters.

Now, to end on a less dramatic note, look at these beautiful eggs from my beautiful chickens!

Any foster parents or fost-adoptive parents have any advice or experience in interacting with Bio Parents? Would love to hear from you.

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Uncharted territory.

After some introductions from the other children that were met with Patches burying her face in my shoulder,   I took her to have a bath by herself. She didnt splash and laugh or wiggle when I placed her in the warm water. She sat still, looking ahead or down with no expression on her face. Her body language was scared and tired, her tiny back rounded over. Occasionally she would glance at me. I talked and narrated what I was doing and sang in my softest, most buttery Disney princess voice. She let me gently wash her hair and body, and I took the opportunity to love her and also to examine this little body. I looked for clues, anything that would indicate what kind of world she had just been taken from.

Her hair was clean. Her nails were trimmed. A tiny bruise on her thigh had the familiar, round bandaid mark from an immunizations trip to the doctor. I breathed. Maybe she had been cared for. Maybe she had a loving family and had just had a really crazy night full of mistakes. I could handle this.

Hooper came in and invited himself into the bath. He was so excited to have an unfamiliar toddler in his bath tub. He splashed and laughed and wiggled, like two year olds should. He showed her his bath toys. She fought it, but he won and she laughed.

Once she was dry and dressed, the first day home with Patches was similar to the first day home with a new baby. I felt unsure about every move. She was different than my two year old. I knew how to meet his needs, I knew what every facial expression and voice meant with Hooper. Patches was a different story.

For about 90% of the first day, Patches was a limp little doll with her cheek on my shoulder. If I put her down, she would slither to the floor, face down, and bang her head if I didn’t scoop her right back up.

The only words she used were, “Keeta” and “Doddy”. The Cat and The Dog were also the only things that really made her smile.

Not that I blamed her- have you met The Dog??

She was terrified of The Dad, the gentlest man I know. He wanted so badly to be able to comfort her, but had to strategically settle for being gentle and affectionate with the other children and me within her view, but not with her. If he was within a foot of her, she reacted with a crumpled face and arched back, before hiding in my chest or slithering to the floor. She obviously needed to relearn that men can be safe. I had no idea why.

I experimented with different foods. I learned quickly that she needed to be presented with one or two tiny bites at a time. If I gave her an entire meal or snack with a pile of cut up pieces. It would all be in her mouth within seconds, and she would be gagging until I scooped most of it out.

This was another example of how emergency foster care is a lot of trial and error. I called my agency at about 9:00 am to check in about what paperwork needed to be done. They didn’t even know I had been placed with a child. They told me a case worker from the agency and one from the county would contact me by the end of the day.

They didn’t.

That night, long after The Dad had put the other small people to bed, she fell asleep on my shoulder and I laid her into her crib. I suddenly realized I missed my kids. Had I given them any of myself today? Had I hugged them?

I went and looked at their carefree, sleeping faces.

Tomorrow will be better.