The Social Worker

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This essay originally appeared on the Respite Redefined Newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

The social worker is the person who decides the fate of our family.  She’s the one that presents us in the match meetings and to other social workers, telling them about our family and how we’ll be a great fit for children in the system.  No matter how much paperwork we complete, no matter how long I spend dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, no matter how pretty Future Children’s bedroom is, no matter how prompt or late I am in replying to her emails, it’s all up to her.  She’s the one that has spent just a few hours with us over the course of the last few weeks and now she’s supposed to know everything there is to know about us. And she surely does know a lot.

She knows all the practical things, like how many bedrooms are in our home and if our first aid kit is locked away.  She knows where we sleep and that one of my daughters has a pink room and the other has a floral comforter. She knows that our kitchen is tiny but our living room is large and we have a playroom in our basement.  She knows by looking around our house that I can’t keep up with the laundry situation and that I will most likely always have dirty dishes in the sink, but she also knows that even though we have two dogs I always have clean floors.  Well, mostly.

She knows a lot of things about our past, since that’s what helps shape our character into the humans we are today.  She knows I have one sibling and that my husband has three. She knows I’m from Texas and he’s from Maine. She knows I grew up in a large house with two teachers and that he grew up in a smaller house with a machinist and a secretary.  She knows that when I was five I wanted to be a teacher and she knows that I achieved that goal. She knows that he wanted to be a pastor when he grew up and that even though he isn’t one any longer he does like his current job. She knows that before we ever met we wanted a large family that we grew through adoption.

She knows a lot of things about our marriage.  She knows we got married on a Saturday night in the backyard of my childhood home where I wore a long dress and he didn’t wear a tie.  She knows that we were both young and naive about where life was going to take us. She knows we’ve moved eight times in the last nine years and she knows that we’re tired of moving.  She knows that year five of marriage was pretty hard and that we make sure to talk every Sunday night about our week ahead so we’re always on the same page about our schedules.

She knows that I’m the talker and he’s not.  She knows that I’m the worrier and he’s even-keeled.  She knows that I would love a baby at some point and she knows that neither one of us really and truly care what age our next child is.  She knows that we both love a good movie and a good book. She knows that I’m indoorsy and he’s outdoorsy but we both equally love staying in on a Friday night and going on a weekend camping trip.

She knows a lot of these things because we’ve had to tell her.  She’s had to pry and pry and pry into our lives until it was awkward for all of us.  That’s how she knows that we lost a baby during our first adoption process and it was really really hard.  It’s how she knows that getting our first kids put us both through post partum depression because we just weren’t expecting what was going to happen.  It’s how she knows that we persevered well through our first unemployment season but that the second one almost broke us. It’s how she knows that we’ve wanted our next future children for a long time but that we waited until we were in a good place to bring them home.

She knows all this and thus our fate rests in her hands.  She holds all the power over who will come next into our home.  She gets to present all this information in the match meetings and to social workers with the idea of making us out to be the perfect family for that kid.  And so I have to trust this woman, who I have known only a few weeks, who has only been inside our home a handful of times, who knows a lot about me even though I know nothing about her, and she has now become the most important person in my life.

How am I supposed to trust that this woman whom I barely know will get all the things right when presenting our family?  How can I trust that even though she knows hard things and practical things that she also knows the most important things?

Does she know that the love for my current children overpowers me sometimes?  When we’re out running errands I just sometimes stop and look at them and marvel at how beautiful they are and how lucky I am to have them.  Does she know that my current children have become my best little friends? Oftentimes I have tears streaming down my face because they have made me laugh so hard.  And I can always count on them to hangout with me when I’m bored and lonely.

Does she know that though I have never even met Future Children that my love for them overwhelms me?  My husband and I are often on our knees every night praying that they are loved and taken care of that they know they’re wanted even if they don’t know by whom.  Does she know that I cannot wait to cry laugh at their jokes? That I cannot wait to hangout with them when I’m bored and lonely?

Does she know that a part of me feels missing because I know someone is out there who belongs in our family but I do not know who that person is?  Does she know it kills me that I’m not the one kissing the boo-boos and bandaging the scrapes and feeding them cereal for dinner? Does she know how much I’m worry about them?  Are they getting enough sleep? Are they getting enough food? Are their clothes warm enough? Did they get what they wanted at Christmas? Is someone giving them enough hugs? Is someone wiping away their tears?  Are their teachers nice to them? Are they doing well in school?

I don’t know how to convey this to her, this social worker I barely know, without looking like an utterly crazy person.  So instead I tell her all the things she wants to know and then some–because I’m the talker–and I answer her emails as quickly as I receive them.  I struggle with getting the paperwork in on time but I make sure all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed. I try to make it look like I’m being patient, even though I wish I could drive to her office and stand behind her and look over her shoulder as she puts our family profile together.  I’m working really hard to trust this stranger to fight for our family and present us in the perfect way at the perfect moment, but it’s really hard.

I’m glad she doesn’t know how badly I bite my fingernails when I’m worried or how I bake cookies and stress eat the batter or how I’ve stopped sleeping at night.  No, those are things she doesn’t need to know. She just needs to know everything else.

Pride in the Wait

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Pride often sneaks up on me. It’s always there, of course, asleep on my shoulders, but I’m not always aware of it until it wakes up and rears its ugly head in my face.

It’s been over 400 days since we started our second adoption from foster care process and we still have not brought home our child.

There was that first match meeting which was postponed for months only for us to not get picked. Then there was the adoption disruption. And then, more waiting.

We took family photos and captioned them things like, “Last Christmas as a family of four” and “Last time we’ll ever do ___" and instead we’re ending a school year and heading into the summer and still there are only four of us.

This was not how it was supposed to go. We were cocky. We had planned our calendars. We had requested maternity/paternity leave. We had postponed our own trips, wanting to save outings for next child. We knew we’d have one or two more children by now. We knew 400 days would not go by until we were a family of 5 or 6.

And yet we’re still waiting.

The feelings of failure have been strong. More so with this second adoption than we’ve ever felt in our infertility journey. At this point in 9 years of marriage it’s almost expected we won’t have biological children. No, it’s less shameful for us to not have birthed a child than it is for us to not adopt again. I mean, we attend our foster care support group regularly! So we need stories to add. We regularly speak and preach about why people need to enter into foster care! Where is our new child(ren)?!

It’s been hard. Dejecting and hard. It’s hard not to take it personally when you’re not the family that’s picked for a child (even though we make it a point to pray and rejoice knowing that child has a family). It’s hard not to take it personally when an adoption disruption (even though we’re rejoicing in seeing fruit from that hardship). It’s hard to put non-refundable deposits on summer trips and vacation homes and use pen to fill our calendars with plans because shouldn’t we wait? The What If Game is repeated over and over in our home.

At the end I know it will be worth it. I know because I’ve walked that road and even though it was significantly shorter I know the outcome will be similar.

At the end it will be worth it. I just wish we knew when the end was going to be.

Redoing The Room

I can’t bring myself to redecorate The Room.

I said I wouldn’t. I said and promised my husband I would. not. touch. it. until Future Child(ren) came and made her decisions because I once decorated a Future Children’s room four times before Future Children actually came into existence. So I swore I wouldn’t redecorate this room, even though the closets are wonky and the paint colors are terrible.

But then She came in and made the decisions and things started progressing and got done and the beginnings got decorated and then She isn’t coming back here. She decided on lots of white with a little bit of gray and I was going to surprise her with twinkly lights suspended from the ceiling.

I can’t walk past that room without seeing the comforter and sheets we picked out for her in the doorway, so we keep the door closed. I can’t go in there without seeing things She tacked to the wall, so the husband finally took them down. I can’t see that room without seeing her so now I need to redecorate it, even though I promised and I swore that I wouldn’t.

But I have to redo it and strip it of it’s character so i don’t keep seeing her. It’s what must be done.

Dear Foster Momma

by Guest Writer Erin

Dear Foster Momma,

I know you’re not who you thought you’d be.

I know how you nodded your head in the foster care classes, agreeing with DCS and their system. I know how you put trust in caseworkers to do what’s best for your kids. While you knew that your babies were one case out of 30 they had to carry, you felt confident. But then the contact with their family case manager dwindled. And all of a sudden things didn’t seem to be in the best interest of the children. And you know it’s your job to support the system, but it’s becoming difficult. When surprises continue to arise, you grow weary. Very quickly you see the flaws of the system and you wonder how you could be so naive.

I know that while you waited to become licensed you read and read and read on how to advocate for birth families. You educated your family and your friends. You prepared your heart. You reached out and asked how you could help. You pleaded with the Lord to change hearts and situations. But then all of the trauma that the children in your care begins to surface. You begin to feel anger about circumstances beyond your control. It becomes harder and harder to see the good.

I know how you anxiously awaited your first placement. I know how you believed that you would love with all you had and yet hold on loosely. I know you said that while it would be hard, you would be able to say goodbye- that goodbye would be a good thing. But then you brought home a baby from the hospital and you didn’t sleep for 3 months. Those sleepless nights bonded you together. Your heart grew in ways you never imagined. All of a sudden ‘goodbye’ seems unbearable. The thought of not hearing their first words or watching them walk is unfathomable.

I know how you wonder if all of this is worth it. I know how desperate you are to change the system. I know that this is harder than you thought it would be.

I also know that you are doing the best you can. I know that you’re a good momma. I know that what you’re doing matters.

 

Homeschooling and Foster Care

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by Guest Writer Lauren

My oldest was a newly fledged five year old. It was the year that we had to enroll him in a Kindergarten. We had been, for lack of a better word, “homeschooling” for preschool and loving it. What I didn't want, going forward, was to isolate ourselves from our community. I was worried that if we kept going, if we kept homeschooling, it would be for all the wrong reasons. I was also worried that if we sent him to public school, if we changed things because the financial burden was suddenly minimal, that it would be for more wrong reasons. I was worried we were going to be sending him off on some save the world mission. Something not fair of us to ask.

Basically, any way you looked at it I was worried.

We seemingly had two choices. To enroll him in the local school, the one that tipped above the poverty line, or to keep him home, in our nice little bubble. I couldn't decide. I'll never forget the day we sat in the car after touring a homeschool enrichment program. After more lengthy conversation, I told my husband I couldn't decide. I asked him, point blank, to tell me what to do.

As a wannabe feminist, it was terrifying. He said, “Let's homeschool. If it sucks we'll just send him to school later.”

So, we did. We continued to talk and work our way through what we were hoping and wanting.

We decided (together, I should add) that our goals as a family and our vision for his childhood included him staying at home with me. We would later figure out the curriculum and ideology but for now we just wanted more time at home. And time we had.

I'm increasingly grateful for it as the years go on. Our hearts have always had an inkling of aching for more and a little after this life decision we made another. Little by little, email by email, orientation after orientation, in what felt like eternity but now seems like a blink, we were certified Foster Parents. The dichotomy never really occurred to us. Taking our kids out of the system while at the same time opening our homes to the kids incredibly deep in a different one. It seemed to fit all those initial worries going into the educational system. About isolation and community and vision. It was too much to ask my five year old to save the world on his own but it was not too much of us to do it together.

I laugh at myself now. I never really quite realized the impact foster care would have on our schedule. Vision or no vision. The family visits and doctor appointments and home visits and therapy (both in and out of the home). The behavior curve and emotional needs of everyone. How changing any one thing can alter your rhythm incredibly. How important rhythm is for a homeschool.

I know you are curious as to how it works for us. We've been in the thick of it for three years now. Somedays I'm curious too. Especially on bad days.

Usually after an initial placement we tuck into our little home. Cancel classes and events. We work slowly through our books while we coordinate with the county. We do all the things any foster family does. We just do it together. You see, for us education is our life. It's not the math textbook or the penmanship. It's not history or civics. It's our life as a whole. And that life includes, on a daily basis, kids that need a home that loves them.

We have a saying in our home: “the baby is the lesson.” And that applies to our foster care commitments too. “The system is the lesson.” A lesson in patience. In hospitality. In sharing space and time and materials. It is a lesson in community. In homelessness. In the effects of drug use. In the prison system. It is a lesson in a family unit. A lesson in the pain that comes from a broken one.

A lesson in Grace. Overwhelming Grace. A lot of lessons for all of us.

While, at times, foster care feels more disruptive to our homeschool than conducive. It works for us because we've chosen, very intentionally, to do it as a unit. That means driving to visits together. That means the kids are home during home visits. Sometimes that means meetings in public with homeless bio parents. It means therapy waiting rooms together. It means making beds and laying out stuffies and showing the house to a new friend, together. It means tears on the stoop, together. It means welcoming their little brother home, in the middle of the week day, together.

The end of it is, the day to day is the simple stuff. Anyone can pick up a curriculum and give their kids an adequate education. Math will get done. Writing will happen. Books will be read. History will be memorized. The hard stuff is the life stuff. The overwhelming and confusing stuff. For that I'm beyond grateful that we get to do it all together, as a family, with bountiful time and curious hearts and open arms.

From Foster-Alum to Foster Mom

by Guest Writer Alexis

I remember the day they told me they wanted me to talk to my school counselor about the “situation” at my house. I was twelve years old. They spoke ever so gently to me about how my mom needed some time to “get better,” and how they would split the four of us up and send us to different family members. I remember the feeling of dread that crept over my body as I attempted to spit out the words, “but I can’t live without my mom,” before erupting in tears. They explained that it would be temporary, like summer camp. I soon realized it wasn’t my housing and guardian situation that would be temporary, but rather that I would be temporary in so many different families.
We were a wild brood, but we had many aunts, uncles, and cousins that tried generously to take us in. 

Life was different. There was structure, food in the fridge, clean clothes on my back, no unwelcome guests, and a clean house with no little critters running around. There were expectations and consequences, chores, and (my absolute favorite) rewards ;). People were always asking me how I felt, or if I had something I wanted to say to my mom or dad. They asked if I wanted to scream, cry, or even punch a pillow to express anger, but I remained stoic and composed, never wanting to ruffle any feathers. In truth, I was angry, sad, depressed, mouthy—a typical teenager, and then some.

Flash forward 16 years and I beat the system. According to the most recent research, only 50% of foster youth graduate high school, while fewer than 10% of foster youth graduate from college. This May 2017, I will be graduating with a Master’s of Arts degree in Elementary Education. Did I do this on my own? NO WAY! Every family placement I have been with had a hand in creating my eclectic personality that is driven, determined, educated, creative, stubborn, and just a pinch of awkward. They are more responsible for who I am today than anything. Because of this, I knew I was going to be a foster mom, even before I knew I wanted to get married or be a teacher. 
I knew God not only created me with a great desire to care for children, but also with a heart that had endured hardships in preparation for my own personal ministry.

When I look at my children, I can identify with the hurt in their hearts and the confusion in their eyes. I know what it feels like to think, “Will there be any dinner? I must shovel it all in before I lose my chance!” I know what it’s like to feel abandoned, alone, worthless, or to just want love and attention. As much as I know there are no words to make all the hurt go away, I know there are words that can offer solace, just a quick distraction from the emotions wreaking havoc in their hearts. 

I am a foster mom for many reasons, but this one alone is my driving force: it doesn’t matter where you came from, it only matters where you’re going. Every child deserves a chance to succeed. Many are met with opposition very early in their lives. Many doors are closed for them before they can even walk or talk. All eyes are often on them looking to see if they are going to follow in their parents’ footsteps, or venture out on their own, forging a new path for those to come.

Teach your children to blaze new paths. Show them they are worth so much more than they will ever know. Love them not “like” they are your own, but because they are your own. Know this: no matter how long you have them, they will always carry a piece of you, whether it be in a quirky personality trait they inherited from you, or their newly-discovered love of asparagus. Although they may only be your “temporary” children for a short period of time, you will always carry a piece of them, too. In its toughest and most painful moments, emptying your cup of love on your foster children will be reflected tenfold, and that is a beautiful thing to be a part of.

Coming Out Okay

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by Corrie

A few months ago our dryer began to make a high pitched noise. The manual we found said it was manufactured in 1982, so it made sense it was finally saying enough and asking to be put out of its misery. We bit the bullet and bought a stackable washer/dryer set on a Memorial Day sale. We were a lot like the Heck family from The Middle when it was finally delivered and installed.

“Does it seem like it’s putting in enough water?” Phil asked, “Because it doesn’t seem like it’s putting in enough water to me.”

All six of us crowded around the gleaming machine to study the water flow.

“I don’t know…” I mused, “I’ve never had this kind of a washer before. I hope it’s doing what it’s supposed to.”

For the next 47 minutes, I sat in front of the washer and watched. The clothes churned one way and then abruptly stopped and churned the opposite direction. It was oddly soothing in a mind numbingly boring kind of way.

For some reason, it made me think of the cycle I find myself in with my kids. Because listen, I love them like crazy, but underneath adorable freckles and overbites, my kids are kind of tyrants in school aged bodies. I recently bought my daughter a pair of pink and grey Velcro sneakers she absolutely begged for in the store. Literally the next day she came into the kitchen, threw them on the floor and screamed, “I’m never wearing these ugly shoes and you can’t make me!” The door shook the house when it slammed behind her. My mornings are spent measuring milk for cereal with a gallon in one hand and a ruler in the other so that every kid has the same amount. Still, though, there's complaints about getting too much or too little. My response time to “Mama!” isn’t quick enough, my answers to questions not entirely satisfactory. The demands and urgency of the needs seem to tumble over and over in an unending stream.

If I were a helicopter mom, this might be my shining glory. But I’m not. I’m a “your-lopsided-ponytail-is-good-enough, pack-your-lunch-from-what-you-didn’t-eat-yesterday” kind of mom. I sign permission slips with crayon. On my steering wheel. While I’m driving them to school. The demands for more, different, and now from the little people in my care clashes dramatically with my natural bent. So parenting high need kids is summed up in a single word: hard. Unbelievably hard. There are so many days where I feel like my favorite pair of jeans, swirling around in the wash, worn to their thinnest fiber. Hanging on by a thread.  

One of my kids asks for things with, “How come I can’t {eat an apple/play outside/get down some games}?” She’s always ready to be disappointed. I know I’m a good mom. But things like this remind me not all my kids believe that yet. So I’m working to step up my game. To pack snacks before outings and anticipate triggers. I’m learning patience for the incessant use of the M-word and the whiney voice it gets said in. I’m determined to win the hearts and trust of these little dictators even if it means not hitting the snooze to pack a fresh lunch. Because you do for family, right?

But yet…

I won’t be their God. I won’t teach them I can meet the deepest needs of their hearts. Never in my pursuit to be their safe and loving mama will I allow them to think I could possibly replace their constant, all fulfilling Father. I will never sense or meet all my kids’ needs. Thank you, Jesus! You knew them all and provided perfectly before the creation of the world.

After that 47 minutes of careful study, I know our new washer works just fine. Clothes come out clean, stains removed. And we tumble on against each other, my demanding kids and me, their laissez faire, let-it-float mom. Somehow in the cycle, by God’s grace, we’re coming out okay, too.

{whoop}

Corrie and her family live in South Carolina, where she spends her time raising kids (foster and bio) and doing diy on their old cape cod home.   She is a staff writer for Respite Redefined and you can follow her on Instagram @corrievanderploeg.

Halloween Links!

PHOTO BY  ERIN

PHOTO BY ERIN

Happy Friday!  Fall is in full swing and Halloween is right around the corner!  Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, here are some fun links from around the web.

Here's a great read about making Halloween fun for birth families and foster families...

...and another with some helpful tips about Halloween as a foster family.

Have some great barely used Halloween costumes?  Or are you just looking for a way to give back to the foster community?  How about donating costumes for foster families to use?

Littles will LOVE these free Halloween color pages.

We do a hand print craft every season, and I love hanging them up for each year and comparing the growth!  Here's this year's fall hand print craft.

An absolutely beautiful photo of a pumpkin patch.  Let's all go visit Erin!

Do you follow us on Pinterest?  You should.  This board is full of crafty autumn inspiration.