Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Transitioning again!

I'm terrible at maintaining a blog. Someday I hope to get better at this, but then again the whole point has been to keep our friends and family update on our comings and goings. With that said there hasn't been much to report on until now.

John finished his last academic semester. People, this is a huge milestone for us. One we couldn't be happier about. He did well and survived. 

Things have been moving right along at work for me.

And the foster situation has stalled yet again. 

Recently it has been determined John and I will be making our 3rd move in 4 years at the end of July. Let me just say for someone who hates moving I do it a lot. And quite frankly I still stink at it. John was placed in Bulverde for his internship year. Bulverde sits right at the north outskirts of San Antonio, which has pretty much been our home. We are excited about that. However this is a difficult move for many reasons. 

1. We decided to down size from a 3 bedroom house to a 1 bedroom apartment. There are several reasons for this.

2. It means I have to transfer and build a caseload from the ground up again. 
3. We are moving away from friends. 
4. We are leaving a church family we adore and has been incredible. Irreplaceable!
5. This is the hardest reason; our foster situation will be put on hold. 

After much prayer, many many conversations, and lots of thought John and I decided it was for the best. Again the 1 bedroom apartment makes child raising challenging and in foster care impossible. We could have gotten a 2 bedroom, but it would not be in the area we will be in, meaning it would have been far from John's new church. I need to work more this upcoming year, and would not have been able to dedicate as much time to children. John needs to focus on his internship and will not able to pick up my slack in parenting. Honestly if we already had children in our home we would have figured out a way to manage, but since we don't currently have children in our home, it made more sense for us to just put it on hold for 10 months. 

That is the plan, only put it on hold for 10 months. Our file will be transferred from Dallas MCH agency office to the San Antonio MCH agency office. We will maintain our license, continue our trainings, keeping our file up to date. Once John is finished in June 2016, we will once again set our sights on fostering.

Our tentative plan is to aggressively pursue adoption and foster at the same time once John is completely finished and graduated next June. Meaning if it is possible, and we want to find an agency willing to let us keep one spot available for foster placement and actively pursue adoption at the same time. That may or may not mean looking at the children on the waiting list for home. We want to continue to foster as long as possible. In our short inexperienced time we have learned fostering is a pain in the ass. There I said. I laid all the cards on the table. It really and truly is. The doctors appointments, records, social workers in and out, licensing, following state standards, etc. It is EXHAUSTING and time consuming. But I cannot think of a single thing more worth my time, energy, and love, which is why we are putting it on hold for 10 months. I don't want to kinda foster. I want to do my best. I want to give these children all I can, and we had to be honest with ourselves. Due to various circumstances we will not be able to give it our best for 10 months. Our hearts haven't changed. In fact this has been the hardest part of our transition. I can't express the amount of consideration (and tears) we gave this choice. Fostering has been such a special and beautiful experience. We wouldn't take back our brief time we have had with the children we have fostered so far. It has brought us more heartbreak than we could have imagined, but it has brought more joy and love that we ever thought possible. So much so it made all the heartbreak worth it. Can I say we made a life altering influence on the children, no. But they did on us. 

Even though we are having to make this transition we are looking forward to the doors and chapters it will lead to. We coming close to rather big chapter in our lives ending; the "John and Ashley finally finish school for-hopefully-ever" chapter. You see, one of us has always, and by always, I mean ALWAYS been in school. Most people finish school by 22-24. Nope, not John and Ashley. We have built our lives around the academic calendar and couldn't be happier about putting those days behind us. While we have enjoyed learning, we are ready for both partners to be free of the restraints graduate school puts on a person. 

This summer brings about a lot of change. We are slowly trying to prepare ourselves. Starting the packing 36 hours before movers come is a terrible way of moving. I know because we did that for one move. It was not pretty. Nothing was pretty about that! So let's just say I am planning, prepping, and packing now with the hopes things will be smoother later. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Hardest Part of Foster Care

Foster Care is not easy, and no one said it would be. I think some assumed John and I were naive to this fact, but we weren't. Remember 9+ months of training. We knew it was hard. But the hardest part........

It isn't being handed a crying shaking confused child while your social worker wished you luck

It isn't being handed a child with only the clothes on their back
It isn't holding the child who won't stop crying because he is a new scary place
It isn't watching your child be uncomfortable for weeks, because of their new environment causing them to be fussy and/or looking uninterested
It isn't all the doctors' appointments
It isn't trying to schedule all those appointments, considering your work schedule, your husband's work and school schedule; while the doctors and specialists couldn't careless about all those things
It isn't dealing with insurance
It isn't waking up 10 times in the middle of the night or sleeping in their room because they are scared and haven't adjusted to their new environment
It isn't the dealing with the aftermath of parent visits
It isn't dealing with various people coming into your home, constantly making sure you are a "suitable" parent
It isn't daycare telling you the odd things they notice
It isn't people staring and asking random (and sometimes inappropriate) questions because your kid is obviously a different ethnicity
It isn't worrying and trying to give your child all the experiences they need and deserve so they can catch up developmentally
It isn't learning their personalities and all the little tricks you can do to keep your child happy and calm
It isn't the slightly panicking every time you take your child somewhere new because you have learned they have anxiety and these situations make it hard on them
It isn't trying to juggle discipline, understanding various behaviors because this is a a child from a hard place vs development
It isn't numerous people watching you 
It isn't the crazy questions you get about your fertility when people find out you are fostering
It isn't the trying to juggle what to pack and not pack in the weekend parent visit bag, because you don't want offend the parent, but you want your child to have everything he needs for a wonderful weekend
It isn't knowing your child has become comfortable with you, but would still choose his biological parent if given the choice

The hardest worst part is packing up and watching a child you love with all your heart leave your home, going to a place you may never know is truly ready and good enough for him. 

We can do our best as foster parents. We love these kids with everything we have. John and I truly love as they are our own kids knowing full well they are going home. But we never know if these families have really done everything they can, if they are really prepared, if they won't relapse and end up in the same situation that caused them to have their kids placed in foster care. These families are from hard places and unfortunately that is always the situation they face. We have to watch these kids go back and pray like hell it works out for everyone without ever knowing the outcome. 

It is the hardest thing John and I have ever had to go through. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Heart Broken

I kid you not, Wednesday evening I was talking to my BFF when she asked how the foster thing was going. To which I responded, “Its not”.

As many of you know November brought us our first broken hearts; which is why I [We] neglected the blog. Neither John nor I wanted to talk about it. We were brought two precious girls that we fell in love with instantly. They were sent back home almost as quickly as they came. It left us devastated because we felt the home they were being sent back to wasn't ready for them. Not only that, but John and I fell in love with the girls faster than we expected. We knew the love would be there, but there was a part of us that wasn't sure exactly how we would feel. Let me tell you, we loved them immediately. It doesn't take long when you look into the eyes of terrified kids, then feed, clothe, bathe, and diaper 'em. It happens so fast. We knew they weren't ours, but from the moment they were in our home we were determined to show them as much love and care as we could. [When a kid is under our care under our roof, that kid is our son or daughter, without reservation.] We thought we were going to have a year to do that. We spent the weekend we lost them crying and being mad at the world. [Husband Edit: The whole situation is a long story that doesn't need repeating, except to say that Ashley is the person that keeps me from speaking my mind when I am angry, and this time she told me to say whatever I wanted. I absolutely did. I still sleep like a baby.] Then we questioned our ability to foster. I mean here we were left with emotions we truthfully didn't know what to do with. After some wonderful friends came over to console and let us know that out feelings were completely justified and okay we told our agency we needed a couple of weeks to regroup. After about two weeks I sent an email saying we ready if they needed us. Well Christmas came and went, along with New Year's, and most of January.

About two weeks ago John and I went to dinner and discussed what our next step should be. Was this God's way of saying we weren't ready, was there no need, did our agency think we couldn't handle it? We had no idea what to think. We decided to wait and do our best to put it in God's hands. If our home was needed for someone we would be there. When Yoli asked how the foster thing was going on Wednesday I started thinking our timing was bad.

And wouldn't you know it, Friday I got the call! A two year old boy needed a home. I was really surprised. I managed to stutter out a “yes” when our social worker asked if we would take the placement. I called John, who was just as surprised. I gathered my thoughts and took a peek in the kids' room and...great. Nothing but girls' stuff. I packed up the girl clothes, rearranged somethings and begged the social worker to call me as soon as she knew sizes, but then I remembered how last time we were told sizes and it was wildly incorrect. Little Tiger (as we will call him) wouldn't be coming until Saturday morning. John and I decided to go to dinner and run some errands for a couple of items. At dinner we both panicked. Would we fall in love just as fast with this kiddo? Would we compare him to the other kids? We were really concerned our last experience might cause different feelings.

Saturday afternoon our social worker arrived with Little Tiger wrapped in her arms. He came with the clothes on his back and 1 sheet of paper giving John and I legal responsibility. He hadn't eaten or napped. Our social worker tried to put him down only to have him cry. After we all figured out there was no way for her to leave with him feeling comfortable she passed the screaming crying child on to me. John walked her out while Tiger and I sat in his room, where I rocked him for 15 min before he stopped crying. He had never been away from his mom, in a new place with people he had never seen, hungry, and tired. I won't lie, I cried too. I was sad that any child had to be separated from his mom due to homelessness. It wasn't fair to him or her. It was heartbreaking.

Sunday he did okay. After church we were finally able to get him to eat a little. Then the three of us went clothes shopping. He laughed and talked the whole way there. In the clothing shop he and John ran around, played with toys, caused mischief [Husband Edit: Not mischief. More like shenanigans. Maybe even as little as a hijink.] while I got the clothes. He still hasn't eaten very much and he seems sad more times than happy, but he is slowly adjusting. We all are. Our wonderful church family and friends have wrapped us in love and prayers just a quickly and abundantly as they did the first time. Gifts of toys, clothes, prayers came in which has made our jobs so much easier.
Yes, John and I fell in love just as quickly as we did last time. Foster Care is a wild adventure with many tears and smiles along the way.....or so we are learning.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Stomping My Foot in Frustration

As many of you know, John and I have been saying month after month, week after week, "We should have the license soon". Well, that day may never come (I am being slightly dramatic since I am mad, of course). 

Months ago I tried to get my fingerprinting completed, but someone misspelled my name when they put it in the system; not John's last name, just mine, which as you might recall is the same as his. Social worker called 3+ weeks ago and says we are all done. Time to sign official licensing paperwork and be on our way. Not long after that email came the, "Uh oh, I forgot you still need get fingerprinted" email.  If you have ever been fingerprinted then you know it is not quick. You make an appointment weeks out to secure a 10 min time slot. I mentioned all this in a previous post. Long story short, social worker came over with paperwork and said "Let's go ahead and have you sign, I mean I am sure you do not have anything crazy on your record. As soon as your fingerprints and background check come in we will send your paperwork for final review to the supervisor who will then send it to the VP of the agency who will sign your license. You should have it in no time."

 A week later I was able to get fingerprinted. Then we waited and waited. I was told the week before last they had the results, but the director was going to be out of town Wednesday-Friday; so we should have something the next week for sure (which was this week). I sent an email yesterday. 

      At 3:45 today I received an email with a list of items we now need due to a new policy that went into effect September 1st. 

This means if everything had been done, through no fault of our own when we were told it would be done we would have been licensed 6 weeks ago, and this new stack of paperwork they need now would not be an issue. Would you like to know what they need?
     1. 60 Days worth of pay stubs (already turned in a month's worth but now they want more due to the new policy)
     2. Last year's tax return (thankfully my amazing husband knew exactly where it was
     3. Household expense report (we turned in a financial snapshot our director thinks will be good enough meaning it probably won't be, because let's face it that is how the system works)
     4. Possibly 2 itemized banks statements (I am not doing this because that is taking it too far. Tax return should be more than good enough.)
     5. Renter's Insurance policy: the declaration page (I turned in an invoice which shows coverage, policy dates, company, and payment, but somehow this is insufficient.)

Just in case you missed the first 2 times I said it, this is all newly required information, September 1st.......this year, as in 30 days ago. 

Disappointed and demoralizing are putting it delicately when describing my [Husband edit: Our. Definitely OUR.] current feelings. John, again being the amazing person he is and whiz at filing, knows where most of these documents are, allowing us to turn them in tonight via email. However, who knows how slow everyone else will move on their end? I can't tell you how excited John and I were this week when we thought there was a chance we would have that license in our hot little hands. The crushing disappointment is an unfortunate  reminder the system we are getting into is broken. What has had me in tears this evening is realizing how frustrating this has been and we don't even have kids in the home yet. John and I were reminded that big ugly hurdles are yet to come. We never thought it would be easy, but we did think getting the license would be slightly easier. 

I cannot express how strongly John and I both feel the call of God on our lives to foster, but that doesn't mean it is easy by any stretch. Today was a rather harsh reminder of how difficult navigating the foster system is, and we haven't even really begun. To think about the kids whose lives, health, safety, happiness are dependent on "the system" is scary. Our future children will need love and prayers more than I think we ever expected. We will need love and prayers more than we expected...especially for patience and understanding for all those who work within in the system, I think everyone is doing their best. I hope. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Rose by Any Other Name (to be dramatic of course)

I have failed in writing frequent blog posts. Truthfully, nothing exciting has happened or been worth reporting on the foster care front or home in general. 

-John started his crazy semester. He was told under no circumstances should a seminary student take Moral Theology and Systematics in the same semester. I mean the titles alone say taking the classes at the same time is a bad idea......but what did our fearless leader do? He decided to take both classes at the same time. I'm sure this is all in good fun, but really it is nutty. Did I mention he is also taking Hebrew? Yeah this may end up being worse than the time he waited until his very last semester of college to take Physics. As John would say, it is an adventure! Work is going well. The church is moving right along into its busy fall season. Pumpkin patch, financial campaigns, and of course, the preparing for Christmas [Husband edit: "Christmas is coming" are the words of my house for all time]. 

-My own job stuff is going smoothly as well. I am enjoying my new job, love my patients, and am learning a great deal. With the exception of some not fun car issues 2 weeks ago, things have gone well. 

-We have a new dog named Pippa. She is very sweet and I think will make a good companion for kiddos, if not the cats. 

-We were able to finally get the opportunity to spend some time with some of our best friends who are finally moving back to Texas. 

-Kids' room is finished. I will hopefully get pictures taken and posted this week. 

-Basically, we have finally started to fall into a rhythm and routine which has been absolutely amazing. I don't do well with chaos yet. 

In terms of our current situation with foster care, we are waiting. Waiting and waiting... and waiting seems to be more like it. After an exhaustive amount of online trainings we finally finished. At the very beginning of April I had issues getting fingerprinting/background check completed because of a misspelling with my last name.   It probably doesn't help that I didn't do any name change paperwork until a year after our marriage and only then did I change my name on about half of my documents. Now I only have my driver's license and credit cards to change over, but I finally got my professional license, insurance, SS, and some other random documents into my married name. I love my husband with all my heart, but if men want women to continue to change their names, someone needs to come up with a better system. It is not pleasant. Like the loving wife I am, I made John go with me last year to the SS office. I was not about to deal with that mess alone. [Husband edit: Spoiler alert- it was a very hot mess.] We walked into the office at about 11:00 AM (which was our first mistake) and proceeded to the electric kiosk. From there we had to choose one of the options as to why we needed to be seen. To be fair, I felt there might have been some slight ambiguity in which category we were supposed to sign up with. I made a selection and received a number, at which point time becomes strange.       I get number B202 or something and quickly look at the progress screen- which is currently on B97. About 30 minutes pass and now we are on B110. Executive decision: this isn't working. I suggest John go and get a separate number from one of the other categories/lines. Maybe one of those is moving faster. John makes a choice and gets number E98 and they are currently serving E46 (I can't quite remember our exact numbers, but you get the idea.). I am overjoyed. Surely the new and wonderful E line will move faster. It does not. In fact it quickly becomes apparent that this race is almost neck and neck in terms of which number will be called first, so I guess the joke is on us. Or karma or something. It must be some social experiment the SS office does to see who tries to game the system. A painfully long 2 hours and 20 minutes later John's number comes up. We go to the super "friendly" SS clerk who briskly asks, "What are you here for?" I say, "Name change." She says, "Oh. You have the wrong number. That isn't E." An infinitely long moment passes. I must have given a death stare because she quickly informs me that she will let it slide...just this once. I think, "Good lady, 'cuz I ain't getting married or changing my name again. This name will be on my tombstone so no need to inform of what will or will not happen next time." [Husband edit: Baby, you SO gangsta!] After that experience I was good for a while on the name changing experience so I didn't do any other documents for about 6 months. 
-This encounter does inform a later one:
So back to foster care. There was an issue in April. I waited and waited. Our agency tried to fix the issue with no luck. Finally, just last week, our agency informed us that I can go and get my fingerprinting requirement completed. I took the soonest appointment in a small town about 45 min away. I get there ready to get this over with (remember this has been an issue for months). A lovely individual calls my name and I walk up to the front. She says, "I need your paper and DL." She proceeds to look at both and here is the best part, "Oh ummm, ma'am you cannot get this completed today because the name on your SS card and name on your DL are different. Another infinite moment passes. I want nothing more than to scream and hit someone. Mostly myself. I say, "I have my birth certificate, marriage license, professional license, anything you want. Please trust I am me and I have to get this done today." I don't know if she was fearful of what I might do or if she saw the look of desperation on my face and was moved by pity, but she said she had a plan. "Okay well I guess I put your married name under and alias or something." I'll take it", I said. 10 minutes later, shockingly without the loss of life or dignity, I had been federally fingerprinted and put in the system. 

Literally, and I mean literally, every single piece of paper is completed and ready for approval. We are just waiting on the official signature of the agency VP and we will be licensed and on the list. This has been a crazy roller coaster and lesson in patience. Probably something that will come in handy with kids. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Finally Felt Like A Grown-Up

As the title implies, this past weekend I finally felt like an adult. You see, John and I have been in school for a very very long time. John is currently in grad school working on his M. Div and will hopefully be finished in 2 years. Even though we have been grown-ups (paying bills) throughout our time in school, something about continually making plans around an academic schedule sometimes has us feeling stunted. It doesn't help that society has various ages for when a person can do something. 21 to drink, 18 to join the military, 18 to vote, 25 to rent a car, etc. It takes a long time for someone to reach an age where they are no longer restricted by age to do something. 

In my mind adults have kids. I have always thought I would feel like an actual adult when I am in charge of taking care of another human being. I explained this to my father, who insisted that he at the age of 54 he still doesn't always feel or act like an adult. I suppose adulthood is all theoretical anyway. Some countries consider adulthood to begin at ages 13. It was only in the last 100 years or so since people commonly married at 18. Needless to say feeling and being an adult do not happen at the same age for everyone. 

This weekend I was on my way to Houston to a continuing education course for work. Upon arrival at the hotel I checked in and quickly changed. I was picked up by one of best friends from elementary school for dinner and drinks. She is an attorney working for a law firm in Houston. Seeing her looking all lawyery (professional and elegant) it hit me, "Geez, we are adults". I played on the swings with this kid at recess, played with animal erasers, had sleepovers with ridiculous amounts of candy, talked about boys....you name it. There I was looking at us in the mirror while we were talking about careers and kids. It was the craziest thing to see this person I have known almost my whole life and to realize how far we have come and where we have gone. I'm not sure this gal knows how special I think she is or amazing she is so her being an awesome attorney is not surprising, but us being so grown-up is sometimes. 

Friday my BFF and I went to day one of our training which was a 10 hour day. This friend and I became instant best friends in 2008 in our undergrad program for speech language pathology. We have been inseparable since then. Her and I spent so much time talking about what it would be like to be practicing speech language pathologists, what we would we specialize in, where would we work, what populations would we work with, etc. And here we were in Houston studying yet again. It was really interesting to think about far we have come. After our insanely long day we met a friend of ours from grad school for dinner. Over dinner and fro-yo we discussed our jobs, plans for the future, colleagues, treatment, travel, etc. It was an amazing dinner. I guess for me some of it was strange because 3 years ago we were discussing how we were going to pass the exam and still have a great time at the Harry Potter premier at 12:00 am. 

Ideas of when John and I would have children never crossed my mind at that time because it seemed years away. John and I were more interested in where careers and travel would take us. Our friends were getting engaged and married and now our friends are having babies. John and I never thought we would be foster parents. Now half of the conversations John and I have are about kids and foster care. I know these life changes are not a big deal, but it was just something interesting I couldn't help but think about. No matter what kind of plans you make you really never know where life will take you. So yes right now I feel like a grown-up, one with a plan. I am sure once children walk through our doors, my plans will walk out those same doors. I am sure it will include sleepless nights of me wondering if I am or ready to be an adult. I imagine in another 5 years I will have yet another (as John would say) an existential moment that will look nothing like I think it will now.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More Preparations

As I said last week, June came and went in such a whirlwind I am not even sure there was a June. We have been doing lots of prep lately getting ready to have kids in the home. I have spoken a lot about home preparations, but little about the emotional. 

More than ever before, John and I have been told, "It is going to break your heart when they leave you" or some variation of this. While I want to shout... every time... "I KNOW!" I will offer this quote for you and others to consider:

"They have to go someplace, the children you read about in the paper, the injured ones with burns and broken arms, the little ones found alone in cold apartments, the frightened ones in the scenes when parents are arrested on drug charges, the glassy-eyed teenagers sleeping on park benches."  -Kathy Harrison, Another Place at the Table

Anna, an incredible friend of ours and her husband are currently foster parents of 2 children. She is able to speak about this particular topic better than I can and she is wonderful with words. But she goes on to say the heartache we are signing up for is worth it because again, this isn't about us. This is about the kids.  I highly encourage everyone to read this.   The Inevitable Hurt In Foster Care And Why It's Worth It 

My heart is doing its best to prepare for what will come through our doors in possibly weeks. I am already loving and praying for our future kids just as a mother does when she is pregnant (I think, I haven't been pregnant so I guess I can't know for certain). But I know I already love them. I can't wait to meet them, see their personalities, watch them grow and change. I am so excited and yet so scared. Most days I feel lucky to get myself cleaned and fed and now I am jumping through hoops to get the opportunity to take care of some tiny people. 

The kids that end up in foster care need a safe and loving place to go. Those types of homes have to come from somewhere. Will our home be perfect? Of course not. Do I know what I am getting into or what to expect? I don't. Do I know what it is like to part with a child you love? I don't, but I am signing up anyway. These kids do not deserve to be punished or miss out on something because I do not want a broken heart. This isn't about me or John, this is about some kiddos who need a place to sleep. 

I am not naive. I know this won't make it easier or less painful when a child goes back, but the loss will be the side-effect of a far greater joy. Hopefully they will be leaving our home because they are being re-united with their family. Hopefully someone has done their part to recover and deserves another opportunity to parent. I was once told by some very seasoned foster parents, "nothing will ever prepare you for what you are about to do." I think she was speaking about both the good and the bad. 

So in answer to what I can only assume is a rhetorical statement about the heartache of having children leave our home, yes it will cause John and I to experience a heart break like neither of us ever had, but that is not a reason to not do this. We need our friends and family to stand behind us and say, "What do you need?" or "I am here for you." We don't need an "I told you so" because..................... we know.