Aug 172015

childrens museum play kitchen3

There are things you imagine being a parents means.  Before you actually have kids you imagine all the wonderfully good, sunshine and gentle breezes type of things.  The people around you who already have kids try to add in some reality – no more sleeping in, the ‘Terrible Twos’, helping with homework, worrying about who their friends are, and so on.  While you know these are going to be a part of the reality, in the big scheme of things, they do not seem too horrible.  After all, for most people, they made it to adulthood and their parents are still sane.

However, this picture is not always what happens.  What about when those ‘trials’ turn into larger things?

Sometimes those sunshine and gentle breezes turn into cloudy or stormy days.  At first, the umbrella you have on hand is sufficient. “A little rain is normal in life.”  But when it begins to rain harder, sometimes you need to find a different umbrella.

Part of some changes we have made in the past year was looking for answers.  This involved having people become a part of our lives whose services we previously did not need.

When the changes first started, we thought the process would be a few weeks from start to finish.  Here we are, almost 9 months later, and we are still in the process of changing. We are in the process of changing, all of us. Seems that it was not necessarily our umbrella that was broken, but that we were just using the wrong umbrella for this particular storm.

Not only were these people not a part of my initial picture of how our lives would look when kids were added, but neither were some of the questions that accompanied them.  Here is a paper we  have seen several times, and which makes me always pause and think, “I never thought being a parent would include filling out this.”

Here is a copy of the Parental Stress Scale sheet we have been given several times to gauge how stressed we are as parents.  Just out of curiosity, have any of you, who are NOT foster/adoptive parents, ever thought of filling something like this out?  How would you feel if you were asked to do so?

Some of the questions make me pause and really think.  Then I begin to wonder if I would even stop to ponder these things if life had held all the sunshine and gentle breezes I thought it would?  Do ‘normal’ parents even consider how satisfied they are a a parent or whether their view of the future is more optimistic because they have kids?  Then comes question 14.  How is that for being asked to bare your soul?  While you know you are not being judged, you still feel as if there is a “right” and a “wrong” answer.

The scale is meant to give a general sense of how stressed the parents are, in hope of gauging whether things are improving at home.  They assume that if the parents are not stressed as much then progress is being made.  The problem I have is that it is all subjective.

“I am happy in my role as a parent” will have different answers on any given day, depending on what just happened.  Did we just go through an few hours of kids yelling at me, ignoring me, making a mess in the rooms I just picked up?  Then I probably am not very happy and it is hard to remember the day before when we baked cookies and the kids surprised me by showing me which numbers were even.

However, if we have just had a great day where everyone was on schedule, the kids were happy with the ‘new’ toys in the toy room and have been entertaining themselves all morning, then I am most likely seeing rainbows in the sky from all the sunshine after a storm and feeling quite chipper, forgetting about the battle of wills the day before.  So, which day is it that I happen to be asked to fill out this paper?  Toss a coin and you will find out.

It is still an interesting thing to go through, making you stop and look around.  At times I forget that my parenting experience does not mimic that of my parents, my siblings, nor most of my friends.  This is just another example of  how unusual our parenting experience is at times.

Aug 112015

Oak tree stand with path and bench park

There are things I wish I had actually realized, and not just known, a few years back.  This is one of them – The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning  While they are talking about tests and the stress put on students in conjunction with them, I read it in light of a parent of kids who had early childhood trauma.  No THAT is stress, and it does have an affect on kids of all ages.

When Jack and George were young I wanted to make sure they were not missing anything in any areas, academically and socially.  Early Intervention was called in early on, and George was enrolled in the Early Childhood program in our area.  If you had been a bug on our wall, what you would have heard around here might have sounded like an episode of Home Speech Class 101.  We talked in shorter sentences, encouraged the correct pronunciation of words, over exaggerated the sounds of certain letters, spent many evenings on the porch naming the kind and color of vehicles going by, etc.  I am pretty sure it would have been quiet entertaining as my husband and I are NOT speech therapist in any sort of way.

There were other areas we were trying to work on, but speech was top of the list.  That in itself was enough.  The stress our kids were going through at that time was more than any kid should have to go through.  Being taken from all you know and moved (several times) in a short time frame between people you do not really know, to then end up in an area that is unknown to you, in a family that has different routines and expectations … it is enough to stress out even an adult.

I knew trying to reduce stress was the most important factor to any kid learning and retaining information.  Even now I am fully aware of how extra stress will lessen the amount of information that can be retained.  What I did not realize was how little the stress needed to be.

The realities of standardized tests and increasingly structured, if not synchronized, curriculum continue to build classroom stress levels. Neuroimaging research reveals the disturbances in the brain’s learning circuits and neurotransmitters that accompany stressful learning environments.

Even neurotypical kids are affected by the levels of stress in a class room when it comes to test taking.  But the research did not stop there, thankfully.  They used this information to find ways to combat and reduce this stress level.

With brain-based teaching strategies that reduce classroom anxiety and increase student connection to their lessons, educators can help students learn more effectively.

This is what I am looking to accomplish with both our kids.  The stress after school, along with a very tired brain, makes doing homework with George very challenging.  With Jack, add in sensory issues that increases his stress levels, and the school day can be one big battle if we are not careful.  (After all, that is what was happening in public school for him.)

Knowing that adding pressure to the situation will only back fire on what you are trying to do, actually alleviates that situation some.  It means that I do not have to be more of a drill sergeant or require more practice at some things, though there is a time and place for that.  Sometimes it means that we need to look at the environment and see how we can make the kids more comfortable, relaxed.

This brain research demonstrates that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are motivating and engaging. Positive motivation impacts brain metabolism, conduction of nerve impulses through the memory areas, and the release of neurotransmitters that increase executive function and attention. Relevant lessons help students feel that they are partners in their education, and they are engaged and motivated.

Positive motivation.  Now that is a goal I would like to work towards in the upcoming months.

Jul 102015

roller coaster date

If you saw my Facebook page this morning you would have seen this message:

“Still feeling a bit bummed about having said “no” to a placement last night.  The rainy weather necessitating the donning of a sweatshirt in JULY is not helping with the mood.”

It was going to be longer, but then I remembered that pet peeve of mine.  The one where people post really long status updates to their FB pages and I have to click ‘more’ to see it, then ‘more’ again to open a new window and read the rest.  Yup, that is what this morning’s posting was turning into.  So I came over to the blog to share the rest.

It was also turning into a whine fest.  I was dwelling in the past, regretting the decision I had made, even though it was probably the right one.  It is not often I second guess my answer to the calls from our agency.  I even called my mother to make sure I was not being completely self centered.  Of course, once I got a hold of her I remembered that it is a lot of because of her and Dad’s willingness to help others that I am in this predicament in the first place.  Maybe she wasn’t the best person to talk to.  But she listened and pointed out a few things I had not thought through.

You see, the child needing a home, and they needed it last night, was our ideal age, but it would have only been for a few days (while the pre-arranged foster family got some things straightened out, minor details and all that bureaucracy). This all sounds easy enough at first, and I really was torn.  But upon further thought I knew what would come after the night.  

  • There would be days where it would have made life not ideal, schedule wise – a trip out of state all day Saturday, watching a friend’s kid 4 days next week, an OT appointment Monday, therapy appointment Monday, doctor appointment Wednesday, and a car that can only hold 3 kids.
  • We are leaving for an out of state vacation at the end of next week.  We could have rented a larger vehicle to drive, but not sure they would have approved us taking the child.  (This one would not have kept me from saying ‘yes’, but it is something to keep in mind.)
  • Our house still has the smell of a paint can (from the new insulation).
  • Our extra bedroom has no ceiling, no door, and no furniture in there at the moment.  Well, that is not completely true.  There is a dresser covered with a plastic sheet, and the light fixtures are on a built-in shelf.  🙂
  • Due to the age of the child, they could have either shared our room or (if the right gender) the boys’ room.  That would have worked if the child was a decent sleeper and not withdrawing or dealing with drug exposure.  I did not get that far into my questions to ask.  I was still stuck on logistics when I gave my answer.
  • Most of my items for a kid this age are either toward the back of our, now stuffed full, closet or are things I would have had to call around and borrow.  After being a part of MOPS for the past several years, I knew exactly who to call to help find things.  So again, this could have been done, but it would have left less time to pick up the house and prepare it for such a little one.  Or, if needed, to actually go to the hospital and pick them up.

tow fire truck

Normally I would have said yes, after all, it is only a few days. I mean, we can pretty much stand almost anything for a few days.  It was very hard, and I felt my stomach drop, when I felt like I should say ‘no’.  It was so tempting to call back and second guess myself that I put the phone down.  If I started out by second guessing myself, that is exactly how the whole thing would have gone, me second guessing myself about second guessing myself.  That is a dangerous hole to fall into.

After getting up this morning I realized that I had forgotten to tell the person something I have said before, “We can’t commit to anything long term, but if you need someone for the night or the weekend, we can do that.”  Not sure why I did not say that last night.  Perhaps someone else, the next person on the list even, was meant to be called?

Even though we could have figured out things for a few days, with a new placement comes additional appointments an visits. If they were looking for a longer term we would have been willing to completely disrupt life right now and add a new stress.  This really was that good of a call, fitting to a ‘T’ what would have worked for us right now. We have never had such a (seemingly) perfect call such as this and I am not sure if we ever will again.  Though this is the second call this week, so who knows.

The first call this week, while technically in our range, was obviously more than we had room for right now.  I had no regret or second guessing about that call, though I do wonder if they were able to keep the kids together.  Maybe because I was already aware of the reasons that placement would not work, and had told myself those reasons were automatic no’s, it did not bother me after I hung up.  Like I said, the call last night was the ‘perfect’ call, but not at the ‘perfect’ time.

I keep telling myself it was the right answer. Then my husband, when I tell him about the call this morning, gives me the look of “why did you say ‘no’?” Making me question myself and having to remind him again that for such a short term placement, it is not worth it .  Stressing out about how we could get everything done, dealing with behaviors from our kidos due to going to a new place AND having a new person in the house, finding drywall contractors, putting the house back in a somewhat orderly fashion … who knows what else might come up.  If we were looking at a longer term placement, then it would be worth it, because I know that in two weeks life will be calmer than it is going to be in the next four days.  In two weeks, baring unforeseen events, if we were to get a call such as last night, then I for sure would say “yes!”

2 snowy seats and table

My Mother, in her infinite wisdom, which I will be quoting back to her at some point in the future, reminded me what I have already told myself, “You can not help out everyone all the time.”  My reply, “I know … but… but it was the perfect call!”  🙂  She knows her daughter well enough to remind me that the house will be finished soon enough, then we can invite more chaos into our lives.  And to think at one point I wanted to get a job working out in the woods, not seeing anyone for a week or more at a time.  This life is so far from that one, you would not even think I was the same person.  God must have known that a life of solitude such as that would not have been good for me.

Last year we said ‘yes’ to a call, while driving back home from vacation.  I’m starting to feel that there is a connection here … maybe we should start taking vacations at different times in the year.

Nov 182013

kid holding bird feeder with seed

I love my kids.  A lot.  I really, really do.  Even if I‘m not always perfect.  The kids aren’t always either.   And sometimes I forget why it can be even harder for them.  Cindy reminded me, yet again, how previous traumas can be hard to overcome.

It has been years since I first found her blog and began reading;  I can’t even remember how long ago.  There were times when my stress levels were too high, that reading there was just too much because it was too close to home.  A break was needed. I always go back though.  I get it.  I know what she means.

Then I forget.  Our current foster kids have been here so long I forget that their past still affects them.  Out of sight, out of mind for me.  I react as if the kids are not traumatized, as if they are “normal”.  Now, we don’t have it as evident here as Cindy does there.  She has just a few more kids than we do.  Okay, several factors more.  They also have had harder backgrounds.  Some things though are evident even with fewer kids or “not as bad” situations.

Early on in the placement of our current kids I read the following in a parenting book, “Follow through consistently every time and your child will learn that you mean business.  It may take 5 or 10 times, but they will start to see you mean it.  Stick with it.”  I laughed.  Loud.  Then I began to wonder if perhaps I was doing something wrong.  After 50 times they weren’t getting it.  Every day I would be consistent over and over again (one day I kept count but stopped at 20) with the rule, but they just weren’t getting it.  They kept pushing and pushing trying to do what they wanted.  Following through 5 or 10 times was not cutting it.  When I remembered that perhaps these kids weren’t getting it due to reasons other than my consistency I wasn’t so hard on myself.  Part of it could be stubbornness.  Part of it could be genetics.  Part of it could be past traumas.  Whatever it is, God has given my kids some perseverance beyond what I had at their ages.   I still forget at times that their past is very different than mine.

What I need to not forget it to keep on keeping on trying to raise them with lots of grace, love, and guidance.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars

Change is hard for them.  They really don’t respond well.  Two weeks of vacation was beyond what they were able to handle.  Even if it was to a place we had been before, seeing people they know.  Their routines were messed up, including not going to school.  Meal times (food is always an issue, even if it isn’t always obviously evident) were not the same, time wise and food choice wise.  And to top it all off, we weren’t in the same place the whole time.  There is a strong desire in them to know that home is still there, they will be going back there, their beds have not gone away and neither have their toys.  Towards the end of the first week, one kid asked if we were going home soon.  I actually felt guilty for saying, “No, we still have a week of vacation left.”

When we left for our overseas trip last year, the kids stayed with my parents.  We had to prepare them ahead of time, making it sound like an adventure.  It also helped that they knew the beds they were going to be sleeping in were the same ones they always sleep in when they go there, the stuffed animals would be the same, and the toys would be the same.  I knew that meals would be at consistent time and similar to what we eat at home.  The kids go there about once a month with us to spend the night, so while it was not home, it was very similar.  After three weeks staying there, they thought that was their home.  They didn’t understand why they weren’t going back there to sleep once night came around.  I almost cried.  Not because I took it personally, but because I knew where they were coming from and why.

container of fun pencils

All of this to say, after a week of readjusting from vacation, we have had a GREAT several days.  My post on Sunday came after a week of post-vacation behaviors.  It happens.  It is a part of our life.  Even our caseworker mentioned why they were acting up and that it isn’t uncommon for the foster families to really consider whether they can emotionally handle the results from taking a vacation.  Honestly, sometimes it is easier and more restful to stay  home rather than take previously traumatized kids on a trip.  Even a fun one.  One that they would really love.  Sometimes the fall-out isn’t worth it.  And sometimes, you I just need to remember what will be at the end of a wonderful vacation and lower my expectations for a few days.