July 15, 2020

If you want to go fast, go alone . . .

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
African Proverb
 This was the proverb in the movie 'The Good Lie.'  It has stuck with me.  

If you didn't see the post before this, you will want to read it so this will make sense.  

One of the things I asked the woman (Betty) that I called after seeing her at Christmas mass was how long ago did you start the adoption process?  

Betty:  Oh, they had to speed our license through.  We did our Pride classes over the summer and a file crossed Amy's desk in November and she reached out to us and the kids were perfect for us.  We had them by Thanksgiving.  

Me:  mouth hanging open, gut in knots, they started so long after us?  What?

Amy explained that she did have a file cross her desk that ended up working perfectly for Betty's family.  Of course I understood that there was no guarantee that we would have a similar experience.  

Fostering:  in Illinois, they do not terminate parents' rights until they have found a match.  So, if you  adopt kids from DCFS you must first foster for 6 months until you are eligible to adopt them.  Betty's kids were in that situation.  Turns out the foster home that they were in previously had planned to adopt them, but when the kids didn't attach to them, they decided NOT to adopt and the file crossed Amy's desk.  

Over 6 months later and Betty and her family are in the adoption process.  Her college kids and high school kids have been home during the pandemic and the whole crowd has had a wonderful bonding experience with the new siblings who are around 9 and 11. 

Should we foster:  We considered this, but the goal of fostering is reunification with biological parents.  If the parents do not get their act together (and they are given many chances), then they will get the kids back.  This happened to a woman whose sister is a friend of mine.  I reached out to her.  She fostered a couple of kids as tots and believed that she would adopt them and in the 11th hour the kids' mom managed to meet the court's requirements.  No one believed that this would happen.  Poof.  Game over.  I was not sure I could do that, and ask my kids to do that.  Get attached to kids and then have them leave.  Definitely a need for this kind of ministry.  Hats off to these people.

Fast forward to this spring:  I have inquired about hundreds of kids since we got licensed.  The websites do not always reveal their issues.  My worker can find things out from the adoption sites usually.  Sometimes even when a kid has been earmarked as 'mild' in terms of issues, there are different interpretations of 'mild'.   

Different websites:  We feel like Amy thinks outside the box more than Ashlyn did.  She has introduced us to different websites.  In the spring I inquired about a couple of kids in Illinois who were available for adoption (after the 6 month fostering deal).   Initially their narrative stated that they wanted to be adopted in a family with no other children.  I inquired anyway.  Their worker got back to me and said that they would consider us despite our butt load of other kids.  

Leading up to May 1, '20:  We had a conference call.  The workers described their issues, stuff we could handle.  Amy was on the call with us.  We all agreed to move forward.  

A few things:  the kids were 13 and 11.  A little older than our initial plan, but I told myself that Reg is 14 and he still needs lots of parenting.  They were being fostered by a couple who hoped to adopt them.  Then those people attached to the younger brother but the sister and the mom did not get along.  So they didn't want to adopt.  

*Gonna assign them nicknames of Sister and Brother just like in the Berenstain Bears children's books*

May 1, '20:  Coach and I had a zoom call with the kids and their workers.  This is not the kind of thing Amy is in on, but we call her after to tell her how it went.   Brother (11) was having a very hard time.  I suspect that they were just recently surprised to learn that they were not being adopted by the current couple.  Sister (13) was chatty with us.  We felt the call went well.  

We had another call a week or two later.  Brother sat to the side and cried most of the call, refusing to say hi.  Sister talked to us.  She had really good questions.  "Why do you want more kids if you already have 6?"  Us:  We feel like we are good parents and we could offer kids a good home and we have a strong faith and we feel called.  "Are people in your family racist?"  (kids are African American) Us:  no.   "Do you have set bedtimes?", etc. 

Home visit:  We aligned all the kids' schedules to make sure they would be here.  Brother, sister, and their worker Teesha showed up to our house over 30 minutes early  Who does that?  Coach happened to be home because his last patient had cancelled.  Imagine if he wasn't even home?  

Teesha had to take brother back outside because he was practically hyperventilating.  Eventually they came back inside.  We all sat on the deck and chatted.  It went well.  Brother eventually spoke a bit.

Teesha (Worker):  We are just going to have to take this slow.  He is having a hard time.

2nd home visit:  This was supposed to be an hour, but Teesha decided that since brother was doing well they would stay for 2.5 hours.  Tank had planned to give someone a landscaping quote but I didn't know that.  He cancelled the quote in a text because they stayed so long and he was TICKED.  I told him afterwards that he could have just said, "I need to leave for a job, I will see you next time."

*Tank was not engaging at all with Brother or Sister.  He just sort of shut down and this gave me pause.  Was he just mad about the missed appointment or was this his struggle with change and would he eventually come around?  

Next step:  this was supposed to be an all day Saturday visit without the worker present.  But at the 2nd home visit Teesha asked me if we could do an overnight.  What happened to slow?  She also asked me if we would consider only adopting Sister as the current foster couple would be willing to just adopt Brother.  *Can things get more screwy than that?*  I said, no.

Overnight visit:  And by overnight, I realized that she meant ENTIRE weekend.  I said sure and we told our kids to please plan to be here part of the time, but they could also see friends, and the older boys would still caddy.  Since Brother and Sister would be here the entire weekend, we opted not to make our kids be here 100% of the time- plenty of time to spend time with them and still do a few things they wanted to do.  Come and go, just be present while you're home.  

I could write so much about this visit, but overall it went well.  All the kids got along.  Mini appeared to be on the verge of tears a few times (but insisted that she wasn't) and I finally made her talk, (picture dark lit room, dangling light bulb, threat of no food . . . I kid).  She was worried that Sister and Brother's life of NO STRUCTURE would be too hard for us to deal with.  I told her we were testing things out and if we decided to adopt them, Daddy and I would be the ones dealing with their lack of structure.  

Hesitations:  Monday morning after the weekend visit, Teesha called me.  My stomach dropped when I saw that it was her.  Why?  The visit went well, why was I so anxious to talk to her?  

Looking back, I saw my two high school kids struggle off and on.  Tank just continued to not engage.  Mini flipped back and forth from comfortable to freaking-out-style worried.  And, Teesha was under the gun because the current foster people wanted to be done with their commitment.  She needed to rush things to make sure she had a placement for Brother and Sister once the other couple gave their 2 weeks notice.  

Coach seemed to take a purely spiritual approach and I felt I needed to examine all angles, for both of us.  I have a strong faith, but I also need things to make some sense.  I didn't want to take them for the 6 month time period and THEN decide, oops this won't work.  Even though that was allowed, it would cause more harm then good.  I was unsure.  Despite all of this I told Coach that fearing the kids had no other alternatives, I felt we should just take them.  

2nd overnight:  Teesha asked me when she called that morning after the kids had just left if I would take them for a 2nd visit overnight during the week - as in, in a few days!  I told her I would look at my calendar and let her know.

Me:  *I paced.  My stomach was in knots.  I talked to a few close friends to bounce things off of them.  My friend Jane gave me this advice:  DO NOT MAKE THIS DECISION MOTIVATED BY GUILT.  Holy crap, of course -she was right.  This new approach made me relax.  Just figure it out, but don't do anything because you feel guilty.  

I spoke to Betty (in the process of adopting), shared some of my hesitations and she had some great insights.  She has a daughter with Downs Syndrome and she told me she HAD to know that this was a good fit before she took the kids because she would never be able to explain to her daughter "These are your new siblings, oh, never-mind these are not your new siblings."

Amy urged me to agree to the next overnight simply because if the current family gave 2 weeks notice, and we were asked whether or not we thought this was a good fit then we would have had 2 overnight visits under our belt to reflect on vs just 1.  

I texted Teesha and said, OK.

The 2nd visit went well, but it was during the week and we intentionally went about life as usual.  Biological kids were working or seeing friends and I was babysitting and Coach worked most of the time.  

While there were some definite issues I knew that they were issues that over time we could address.  It was also really hard to remind myself that at some point they would have their own friends and activities and they wouldn't just be sitting in my house whining that I don't allow cartoon network on 24/7, or in Sister's case movies on her phone.  I did let Brother watch cartoons after he read for 20 minutes.  Sister refused to read.  

I told them my kids have to do a chore each day, like unload the dishwasher, put away their laundry, practice music, read for an hour AND then they can sometimes watch TV or hang with friends or go to the pool.  I also became aware that while these ARE the rules, they are not really being followed currently by my biological kids (I have other friends who say this is happening everywhere - it is pandemic mode or something, also I have older kids who just work and I am not ordering them to read and there is a trickle down) .  

I started to mini-panic because HOW was I gonna get these two on the right page if my kids were not there.  Coach leaving me on my own and breezing in after dinner both nights didn't help my mental state.  I felt overwhelmed.

Issues:  screen time, unlimited phone use, horrible eating habits, and entitlement.  The entitlement took me by surprise.  Brother and Sister get $60 a month allowance at current foster home, they eat out most nights, they only need to keep their room tidy, and they COULD NOT understand how my kids could survive if they saw a sweatshirt or new top of the line basketball shoes for $200 and did not get them because they weren't on sale.  

Brother:  You mean if I save $600 for a phone, I cannot use $600 for a phone? 

Me:  Not in my house.  

Therapist:  *my therapist insisted that we talk to each of our kids and ask what they wanted to do.*  

Lad:  yes,  

Ed: whatever Mom wants - her happiness is more important than anyone's and she will be dealing with the tough parts of this the most (um, at this point I turned to Coach and took a small bow saying:  Well, I did something right), 

Tank: no, look for someone younger

Mini: no, but I feel bad because I think they like it here and I don't think they have anyone else to live with (insert tears)

Reg: sure

Curly: OK

Timing:  By the way, can we visit the timing of all of this?  Thanks to the pandemic, my bedrooms are maxed out - not how I envisioned bringing in two more bodies.  For a long time we only considered adopting two brothers which would be easier with the same gender and bedrooms, but eventually we decided that by the time everything played out a few of our older boys would be out of the house anyway.  

Because I really don't have a photo to go with this post,
 I thought I would share this ginormous bag of skinny
pop that I just found in the pantry.  Not one morsel left
in the empty bag, but why not leave it there
 for someone else to throw away?
A boy and a girl, would mean that one girl would have her own room and 3 boys would be in our super big boy room (this would include Tank, who was not sure he liked that).  Ed would be on the pullout in the basement (there is a bathroom there) till he could go back to college, and we would move the computer out of the study and into the living room and give Lad the study as a bedroom - hopefully temporarily until he gets a job and can move out.

We had the option when we put on the kitchen addition of making the crawlspace a room in the basement, but Coach refused.  Dang.  

Mini and I joke that we just need to write a letter to Property Brothers and invite them to do one of the blow plans:  

And:  this empty bag of granola
on the counter top.
 I think we can all agree my people
are lucky that I am here to serve.  
Because I am a visionary, I shared with Coach during all of this that we could make a bedroom over the garage, (we could easily extend the hallway through the current master and just make old master into bedroom and throw a new master over the garage - the master bath would still be accessible from the new master.  Are you humming the Gnarls Barkley song again?) or we could move the garage out a bit and stick a bedroom behind the mudroom, etc.  
Coach:  Please, stop thinking.

Thinking, well that is a tough one for me to stop.  I have one of those over-worked minds that goes into overdrive, apparently.  I am not wound super tight, I swear.  I am able to chill quite often, but something big sends me sorting things out in my head.  Double checking how things might work out.  I could not imagine that things would play out the way that they did.

The next part of the story is the part where we are thrown under a bus and we ponder life and question EVERYTHING.  We had the best of intentions.  Never in my wildest dreams . . . 


Beth Cotell said...

So are you going to make us wait until TOMORROW???? Not sure I can wait that long!

Fostering and adopting is such a tricky thing. Because you are right, you definitely don't want to bring them into your home and then change your mind. How devastating that would be for the kids.

Kari said...

I love that quote.

That's a lot to unpack.

Pat Birnie said...

I’m loving this story and desperately hoping for a happy ending! Again, you and your family are pretty amazing to go for this. Can’t wait to read the third instalment!

Busy Bee Suz said...

Oh my. This is a LOT. I don't know if I could tackle all the baggage that these kiddos come with; that's a tough one. It's one thing when it's your flesh and blood, you already LOVE your kids, these ones you have to get to know and parent at the same time.

I like your expansion ideas and let me know if Jonathan and Drew are coming for a visit...I'll surpervise.

I can't wait to read the next epidsode, but I'm also afraid knowing your heart gets broken.
Big hugs.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh this is intense to read. I can’t imagine what it was like to live first hand (for everyone). Emotional roller coaster. Those poor kids. Your poor kids. Poor you & Coach. Everyone with best intentions. Your friends with wonderful wise advice. And you are trying so hard to think through the what if’s so everyone is happy. Ernie you’re a great mom. And you have a big heart. Thanks for sharing this (even if you totally made me tear up).

(Also, a bit off topic but... hats off to your bullet point delivery method that you mention you’re using for these posts. Really meshes well with your writing style, makes clear what is happening, and did I mention the part where you made me sob with emotion?)

Prayers for a happy ending for all.

Ally Bean said...

The quote is profound. I like it. Waiting to see how this story unfolds...

Ernie said...

Beth - there is literally so much more to explain. I though I could squeeze it into a single post. I crack myself up sometimes. There was a lot to consider.

Kari - Yep, great quote. Maybe if I had taped it to my dashboard back when I had so many speeding tickets I would've remembered to slow the hell down.

Pat - It has been a journey and a half. Thanks for sticking it out and reading, I know I am covering a lot of ground here.

Suz - I am a silly girl, who never dreamt it would be this hard. When God closes a door, He opens a window . . . right? There are layers to this and I so wish Jonathon and Drew would be one of those layers.

Maddie- Thanks for the good thoughts and prayers. Most of the time I feel like I have a handle as far as being a mom and also in using my good intentions to expand our family and bring unconditional love and understanding, etc to kids who need it. In this next part I did not feel like this at all. I felt like garbage. Sad to say.

Ally - It is a great saying, and we came across it in a great movie. It set us down a path as no other movie has ever done before. The rest unfolds tomorrow. Thanks for reading as I know it is not-a-normal blog length blog. :)

Kara said...

My grandmother fostered babies for years. As in newborns up to 6 months. She loved babies, but not toddlers or teenagers, so it was perfect for her. This was back in the 60's and 70's and she was on some type of list. When a newborn was left in the hospital for whatever reason, she'd get a call and a baby would be taken to her house until it was adopted. It could be anything from a few days to a few months.

I don't think that I could foster or adopt. It takes a certain personality, and I don't have it. Heck, I'm at the time of my life that I'm looking forward to getting my kids out of my house, not adding to the amount of kids in the house. I'm cranky and crotchety at the ripe old age of 42 I guess.

Charlie said...

Cliff hanger!! What a tale so far, I can’t imagine what tomorrow will bring. I love Jonathan and Drew but I feel like I would also love to watch a show with you guys. Never a dull moment!

Ernie said...

Kara- your grandma might've had the right idea. If grumpiness limits people from adopting, then we are OUT. ;)

Charlie- I think you probably know not a happy ending at this point but the way it plays out. Ugh. And I have said it before, we probably could have made quite the reality show but then our show would most likely be cancelled due to the infinite number of bleeps. Swearing is to me as wine is to other people's winding down. See, if I sipped wine to unwind things would go south super quick.