Dellabee and Me

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Archive for the month “June, 2009”

Kid Truths: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Had Kids

These are some things I have learned since having kids – things that I was not expecting or prepared for by other parents. Just wanted to break the silence. These are in no order.

1 – Kids are gross. Not just in the standard, puke/poop areas, but little kids lack the social awareness and general knowledge of what is gross. For example, my kids love to crawl out of bathroom stalls – you know, under the door? Totally oblivious to whatever they are picking up from the floor. Yuck. Toddlers might be fascinated by dog poop, penises, or smearing their new sibling’s spit up. You get it, right. They are g-r-o-s-s.

2 – Kids talk all the time. Even when you are trying to listen to someone/something else. Especially if you are trying to watch a movie or listen to Oprah’s expert guest.

3 – Related to the previous item, kids are loud and there is NOTHING you can do about this. Dirty looks from librarians, other passengers on the plane or your mother-in-law will only bother YOU but will not impact your child in the least.

4 – You will fall in love with your newborn, but to the rest of the world he looks like a shriveled up little troll. Nobody will say this, of course, because it would be really messed up and also because it is temporary.

5 – Your relationships with your mother, your mother in law, and whatever siblings you and your spouse have will likely change once you have your first child. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not.

6 – Assuming you are female, you will contemplate leaving your partner within the first year of your first child’s life. Maybe not seriously, but it will likely cross your mind.

7 – Babies can have stinky ‘morning’ breath.

8 – When you have a second child, older people are freakishly interested in the first child’s adjustment to the new baby. I often felt like older relatives for some reason thought baby #2 would bring #1 down “a peg or 2”, as if he needed that.

9 – Of course your first child will eventually show his/her displeasure with your second child. It WILL happen, because it is normal. You do NOT have to insist that he/she is fine and not jealous at all because eventually he/she will be.

10 – Your pets, ie “fur babies”, will probably become neglected “second place” babies once you have kids.

11 – The nursery decorations really don’t matter.  Neither does the color of the swing, the style of bouncer, or the pattern on your Baby Bjorn. 

12 – ER doctors have the bedside manner of Guatemalan street peddlers and they all think new moms are somewhat retarded.  One ER doctor  gently told me that bone cancer “isn’t contagious.”  As if I was implying that, which I was not.

13 – There are no right anwers once you have kids.  You will be pulled in different directions about things you never thought mattered, like breastfeeding and cosleeping, vaccines and organic foods.  You might make up your mind about one thing but then change it when you have your next child.  Lots of people will try to tell you what is right, but this is really the only time you are totally, frighteningly, in control of the decisions you make.

14 – Guilt. He is your new roommate. Get used to him, but don’t feed him because he will only want more.

15 – Parenting doesn’t really get easier.  As time passes, the challenges shift into different areas – but there are always challenges. 

16 – The latest research suggests that in the nature/nurture debate, nature has more influence than previously thought.  So you do your best but know that your kid came into this world hardwired for things beyond your control – and if you can accept that, you’ll be ok.

A little more time

One of my friends from where I used to live died this morning.  Apparently she went to the ER Friday night with her husband because she wasn’t feeling well and they discovered that she was in kidney failure.  Because she had bone cancer.  Her organs began shutting down over the next few hours… and then she died.

Amy was  her name.  We were not close friends at all, had never moved beyond the casual stage of friendship that I often stall out at with people.  She was very kind, always smiling, never complaining.  She was happy.  She had 2 kids, a husband with whom she’d recently celebrated her 11th anniversary, a job that allowed her to work from home.  The chronic back pain she just couldn’t resolve ended up being the cancer that killed her.

As I read and re-read the postings online from others who knew this fine woman, the theme I see is that everyone felt she was kind, gentle, calm, generous – and most people said they didn’t know her that well, like me.

It suddenly struck me – she was reaching out to people.  She was trying to connect with her kindness.  She was, probably, as lonely as I was.  I misinterpreted her smile as that of someone who already had things figured out.  We were not that different.  We ARE not that different.

So now I am left with a pain in my chest and a new lesson learned from someone who I didn’t know that well.  I wish I could somehow rewind the last year and a half of my life so that I could reciprocate her offers of friendship.  I would return the phone calls, commit to playdates.  I would chat with her longer when I bumped into her, instead of inching away to continue shopping.  I would have gone trick or treating with her, and to the party she invited us to at her church – even though I don’t typically do church.  But I would, if I had the chance again.  Please?

I wish I knew the details so that I could process it all and move on, but I don’t so I am left to imagine the different scenarios and play them out in my head like a matinee.  Did she know when she left her house, her kids, her dogs on Friday night that she would never be walking through her front door again?  Did she know, after they figured out what was going on, that she had cancer?  Did she get the chance to see her kids’ sweet faces one final time, knowing it was the last time?  Was someone holding her hand when she passed away?  Was she afraid? 

I am betting that she was not thinking about things she hadn’t done, wrongs she wanted to right, past hurts.  She probably only wanted…a little more time.

People say that life is short, but you know it really isn’t.  What happens is we get so caught up in the past – things done to us or that we have done to others, the shoulds, coulds, woulds; and the future – the wants and get-to’s, gotta haves and somedays; that we forget life is happening right now.  And this is all there is, folks.  Life is making dinner, putting the kids to bed, folding clothes.  It can be dull, and not usually how we expected it to be.  But it is, in the end, what we will desire the most when our time is up.

Tonight, I sat next to my daughter on the couch and smelled the soap on her hands and felt her pull my hair as she twirled it.  I listened to her suck her thumb.  I looked at my own mother, and realized that her eyes have a real sparkle to them.  I watched my son trying to pretend that he wasn’t tired.  I thought to myself, my husband is pretty attractive in a t-shirt, which is true. 

It is a charmed life. Cherish it.  Now.

Therapeutic Foster Care

In the summer of 2008 my family took a hiatus from foster parenting.  I suffered a rather traumatic ectopic pregnancy in June and the county had concerns about one of our dogs.  At the end of the summer my husband and I decided that if we were going to continue to do foster care, we wanted to do it with older kids who we knew as much about as possible.  We had only had one placement with the county, three sisters who were 6, 2, and 1.  Having that many little ones in addition to my own 2 proved to be harder than I anticipated.  And the 2 year-old had some behavior issues that nobody warned us about, which added stress to the situation.

Private agency foster care was what we ended up doing.  Our agency placed kids that were generally 12-18 and all with clearly documented issues.  Most of the kids were involved with the juvenile department for some reason or another and could not return to their birth homes.  We completed training and became certified in November.  We were told, in training, that the kids referred to us would get to meet us and then we would all agree if it was something we wanted to do or not – which we liked, because it meant the kid had to have an  investment in being in our home.

Our referral was nothing like we had been told to expect in training.

First, he was 11.  Second, he was in a residential treatment program for mental health issues and did not have a juvenile record – this matters, I learned later, because the juvi kids are under the constant threat of being returned to lock-up if the placement doesn’t work.  Residential treatment is too expensive to put a kid back into if he doesn’t really need it.  Third, this child was part of a “new contract” with county mental health which meant that everything we had learned about process and protocol was not going to apply here.  We were essentially going to be the guinea pigs for how to make the contract work.

I have worked in children’s mental health for years, always with the disturbed kids that scared the hell out of most people, so I felt like I could handle this situation.  His issues coming out of treatment were related to the physical abuse he experienced with his mother, so I expected PTSD and depression.  There was also some question about ADHD vs. anxiety, and he was discharged to us on ADHD medication.  We were also told that he was good with younger kids and loved animals, was into the outdoors and hunting, and had an interest with the Marines that bordered on obsession.

Ok.

We visited him 3 times at the treatment facility to help decrease his anxiety over the transition into our home.  He chose to go to foster care as opposed to returning home with his non-abusive parent, but was still pretty ambivilant about it.  Our second visit to see him – the facility was 3 hours away – he refused to see us.  Honestly, it sucked to be making effort that was not even acknowledged, much less reciprocated.  I should have known then that my expectations were not in the right place but I didn’t see it.

I moved my 2 kids into one bedroom and changed the baby’s room from a cheery yellow to a warm brown.  I found a large bed and other furniture.  I chose a bedding set that was lodge-themed, with deer and trees, thinking the boy would find this comforting given his interest in the outdoors.

Did I mention he was discharged to us 3 days before Thanksgiving?

When he came to our home, he was super anxious and ignored everyone except for my husband.  This tendency to avoid females was well-documented and seemed to make sense given his history.  His first night with us he removed the pillows and comforter from his bed and instead slept with a dirty pillow he’d brought with him, a thin camoflauge blanket and a quilt the treatment facility gave to him when my husband picked him up.

He never used the pillows and rarely used the comforter the entire time he was with us.

He needed winter clothing and shoes so we brought him shopping once and never did it again because he was so controlling.  He argued with the salesperson about shoes, his feet, styles, until it became apparent that we were not going to be able to get honest feedback from him about the shoes as to if he liked them or if they fit.  I ended up going to another store without him and getting him clothes.  In return, he refused to wear the clothes for months.

He avoided me as much as he could, unless he wanted something and then he would seek me out to try to manipulate me into giving him what he wanted.  With my husband, he was always in his face and at his back asking him questions and trying to get him to interact with him to the exclusion of everyone else.  With the kids, he was cruel to the 4 year-old boy who worshipped him and sugar-sweet to the 2 year old girl – just to be mean to the boy.  My son would share things with him and ask him questions, and the child would act as if he didn’t hear him.  At first I tried to be calm about that, tried to explain to my little boy that the big boy had problems and he was living with us so we could help him learn how to be a part of a family.  Eventually, when things did not improve, I was unable to be calm about it and began confronting the child.  His response was “oh, I didn’t hear him” and then he’d talk to my son in a fakey, high-pitched voice.

As time went on other problems began to surface.  The child was quick to manipulate others into feeling bad for him, and if the adults involved with him did not communicate then he would basically run wild.  The downfall was the day treatment program he attended.  The staff was all female, and they had very, very poor boundaries with the students.  At intake the therapist working with this child said to him “we like to give the kids who come through here lots of TLC. Do you know what that is?” Of course he didn’t so she explained that they would be loving and nurturing.  She basically advertised to him “hey, I am an easy mark, play me for all you got” and boy did he.  In one of our earliest sessions with her as a family, I brought up that I felt he and I needed help with our relationship as we really didn’t have one because he was unwilling to engage with me beyond a “hey, I need a coat and the foster care money you get is supposed to be used for the stuff I need”.  So the therapist said to him “do you like Jennifer?”  And then she encouraged him to just “share his feelings” and he went on about how he didn’t like me at all and I was left to sit there feeling like somehow I had done something wrong just by being who I was.

The school issue was a big problem.  He’d go to school, fake cry and get away with not doing his work or anything that made him uncomfortable, and then come home and be horrible to everyone.  One time the agency caseworker was there and he went into the kitchen to have a sandwich – he had food issues and needed lots of limits and supervision around how much food he could have at one time, and he also would reject the meals I made in favor of making his own sandwich if he was in a bad mood – and announced that he couldn’t find the peanut butter.  So I said to him, from where I was sitting with the caseworker at the table, “it should be in the left hand side on the top shelf” and he looked up at me and said “I wasn’t talking to you.”  I was the only there who would know where the peanut butter was.

He did make progress.  One time he became upset over a cancelled visit with his father and actually asked me what he could do to calm down.  He accepted a blanket I made for him and kept it on his bed.  He allowed me to help him with his homework.  And lastly, one time, the day before he was being moved to a new home, he apologized to me for being rude. 

On the day he actually moved, he had already packed his things because he had decided after spending a week with a respite family while we were visiting North Carolina that he wanted to move in with that family permanently.  While he was at school I packed the remainder of his things from his room and expected to feel something other than relief, but that was all I felt.  When he came home, his new family arrived to pick him up and we carried his things to the car.  As he left, without a hug or even a wave, I surveyed my home.  And there, as a parting gift, were 2 paper cups on the counter that had not been there before he had come home.  In them, a mystery liquid…and maggots.

In hindsight, I think I was unprepared for how it would be to have a child like this in my home as opposed to at my job.  Having my kids complicated my ability to do what I needed to do with him.  He did not end up being good with animals or younger children – in fact, after he moved into our home we learned he had once tried to kill his younger brother by strangling him.  This information would have changed our decision to have him in our home, for sure.  I was also surprised at how easily hurt my feelings were! I thought I knew what I was doing.  In the end, all involved with this kid agreed that his issues stemmed from reactive attachment disorder – the worst label any kid in the system can get.  I do not have alot of hope for this child. 

Which is why I chose not to do foster care once we moved.  If I can’t feel there is hope for a kid, how can I justify the work? How can I criticize a child for being superficial or manipulative when I am doing the same thing just to get through another day?  I don’t think I helped this child at all.  It was, I believe, one of my biggest failures.

In the Beginning

My parents divorced when I was pretty young, and my father ended up living in a trailer park for about a year.  When my siblings and I would visit him (every other weekend), we got to know his neighbors and all the kids living in the trailer park.  At the bottom of the hill, there was a small house/shack – 3 little boys lived there with their crazy mother.  When she wanted to go out, she would put the boys in the bedroom they shared and locked them in until she returned.  She also used to hit them and was otherwise completely abusive.  The boys were close in age, had that “dirty kid” smell and look to them, and were otherwise unremarkable – but for some reason, they got to me.

I began campaigning for my mother to take care of the boys.  Why not?  Oh, the fantasies I had of saving them, cleaning them up, presenting them to the rest of my 3rd grade class as my special project.  Of course, it never happened and my father moved a year a bit later.  The boys, I am sure, went on to lead miserable lives.  I heard a few years later one of them died after being hit by car – unsupervised, I’m sure.

But in looking back on my life, I can point to this episode as the beginning of my desire to become a foster parent.  At 8 years old, I knew.  I also became very interested in adoption around the same time, and I was so puzzled as to why people would continue to make babies when there were already kids needing families here NOW. 

I am a former foster parent.  I had one trio of sisters whom we cared for for about a week.  Later I became a “therapeutic foster parent” for a private agency and cared for an emotionally disturbed 12 year old boy for about 4 months before moving out of state.  I believe that my foster parenting career was a big failure.

I am too tired to get into it all now, but I can say that things always seem much more “do-able” when you are a kid.

Writer’s Block

Sorry, I have been overwhelmed the past few weeks with “life issues” and now that I have a few minutes to write, a scorching case of writer’s block has infected my brain.

So instead I will leave you to ponder the most awesomest table and chairs set I found for the kids, because now I have to go upstairs and do my whole “insane mommy on the edge” routine since I just heard the sound of running in the bedroom above me – and it is most definitely naptime, not running time.

Enjoy.

 

IKEA Table and chairs

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