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Posts Tagged ‘why we do it’

“That I get to live with you and Andrew.”

Me, “Well, I am glad that makes you happy and it is wonderful to live together.  But that is an external thing.  What is a thing about you, from the inside, that you love about yourself?”

“That I can love you and Andrew and that I can love other people.”

Amen to that, world.  The ability to love others should be everyone’s favorite thing about themselves.

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Warning: spoiler alerts ahead.

Our family loves to read Elephant and Piggie.   I dryly read the part of Gerald the Elephant while Blitzen reads Piggie the Piggie with exuberant expression.

Our most-read title is “We Are In a Book.”  Our heroes romp playfully together until Piggie mentions that the book will end on Page 57.

“ENDS!?!” screams Elephant.  “The book ends?!”

“Yes,” says Piggie.  “All books end.”

We read those pages again and again, Piggie/Blitzen wisely helping her friend Elephant confront his existential dread.

 

Our latest read has been the story of Marley, a rambunctious, joyful 100-pound dog who lived life in a big way.  Before we started, Carrie and I sat down and talked to Blitzen about how the story would end.  After a few days of reading, we reminded her of the sad ending ahead and asked if she wanted to keep reading.  She responded “Yes!   I can’t stop now.  I have to keep reading about Marley!”

We read about the time Marley’s owner rode a toboggan down the snowy hill behind his house. Naturally, Marley jumped on and the two sped down, hanging onto each other, out of control, screaming, laughing and trying to steer clear of trees before landing in the river.   Blitzen loved every page of Marley’s misadventures.

We finished the book last night and the three of us sobbed together in bed, talking about endings.  We talked about our dog Stan and scattering his ashes under a tree in Central Park.

Blitzen drifted to sleep, then woke up.  “Marley was as wild as the wind,” she announced.  “I hope my dog is wild as the wind too.”

 

There will be many more Blitzen-tagged posts on Carrie’s brilliant blog.  We’re still inventing our family, still learning from one another, still in the middle of our story.   But all books end.   Foster families, like Blitzen’s beach sculptures, are monuments to uncertainty and impermanence.

Carrie and I have made a choice to live and parent like page 57 is a long way away.   When you speed downhill with someone wild as the wind you hang to each other and savor the ride.

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Systems suck, particularly the child welfare one.  Andrew and I had to do a court thing yesterday and it was so stupid.  It had nothing to do with Blitzen and her parents or permanency, it had to do with her board rate which was mysteriously changed a year ago.  In a lot of ways, I just wish money wasn’t part of the equation — we certainly are not doing this because we are deluded into thinking that there will be monetary gain of any kind.  In fact, if we didn’t have the jobs that we have and the bosses that we have, being foster parents would almost certainly be having a negative impact on our careers and earning potential. But, of course, everything about the child welfare system is about money and not just the board rate.  But that is probably a longer and very different post.

All this to say, we went to court to ask that the former board rate be reinstated because we believe that the funds help us meet Blitzen’s needs in the way that she deserves to have them met.  We have worked very hard to figure out what is best for Blitzen.  Many of the things that have contributed to Blitzen’s tremendous improvement over the past 20 or so months cost money.    But the money is not the point of this post.

The system is designed to be completely adversarial – in every direction.  Everyone is conditioned to assume that everyone else is trying to get away with something.  Our court meeting was 7 minutes long and it turned exactly as we wanted it to because 1) we were right 2) we were prepared 3) probably the subject of another post again – we’re well dressed, overly educated and white.  But in that seven minutes, I was asked 3 times who I was because my name  wasn’t on the piece of paper in the judge’s hand (although he had a big old file in front of him and surely my name appears somewhere!), Andrew’s name was on the paper and my name is not the same as Andrew’s.  It went a little like this:

Judge: “And who are you?”

Carrie: “Carrie Ann”

Judge: “And you are?”

Carrie, pointing at Andrew: “We’re married.”  For the record, as proud as I am to be married to Andrew, this is not how I usually describe myself.  Keep in mind that Andrew has already introduced himself but by name only and wasn’t asked any of these questions.

Judge: “You are the wife?”

Carrie: “I am the wife and foster mother.”

Judge, kind of skeptically: “You live with the child?”

Carrie, getting really pissed now and Andrew, smiling, because he thinks he gets to witness a fight and that it is possible that if this line of questioning continues, I may get even angrier and make the judge cry: “I am the foster mother of record, I live with the child AND the husband.”

Judge: “What is your address?”  Seriously, it was a test — he was trying to catch me.

Carrie, saying my address in a tone that would refreeze the polar the ice caps: “address” which of course is the same as Andrew and Blitzen’s.

ACS worker and case worker interject, “We’ve worked it all out – the rate is reinstated, we just need to sign off on it.”

And we were done.  But, really, did it need to go to a judge?  Circling back to money and resources, the number of people that we interacted with yesterday was astounding – 2 security officers at the court house entrance, a woman to read our paper and give us a number, 2 more security officers on the courtroom floor, another lady to read our paper and take our name, a lady to call our name and take us to the judge, a ACS worker, our case worker and the judge, and of course, the car fair lady (we politely declined to be reimbursed for car fare because we have unlimited metrocards).  11 people, 1 hour total (counting all the security lines and paper reading ladies) to fix something that never should have been broken.  Which perhaps sums up the system perfectly – lots of people, lots of money, lots of resources to fix something that never should have been broken.

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2012, what a year.

Busy, overflowing, joyful (sometimes), miserable (sometimes), feels like we are moving forward in this crazy, amazing adventure (all the time).

I recently told a friend that as exhausting as this is, as difficult as it is for me on many, many days, when I look back and when I look ahead, I am glad that I am having this experience at this time with Andrew and with Blitzen.  I admit that, occasionally, when I look at the right now, I think ‘wtf, why am I doing this?’  But that feeling quickly passes (usually) and I put a quarter in the swear jar  Blitzen made me because I thought ‘f’.

No matter how difficult this is or where we end up, I am fairly certain that I will be glad that I have done this particular thing in this particular way.

Looking forward to another year of growth (my own, Andrew’s, and Blitzen’s) and love (shared between me, Andrew and Blitzen).

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The middle school kids at Blitzen’s school performed a play about Anne Frank recently.  Blitzen loves the theater so we took her, thinking that we would need to leave before the end.  We talked a lot about the story before hand, let her know it might get scary or too sad and that it was ok if she wanted to leave. This is the kid that asked me to turn off Happy Feet when the little penguin was shunned by the other penguins and had to listen to music all alone on a pitiful little ice flow floating in the ocean by himself.  But Blitzen was really fascinated by Anne Frank’s story, so she stuck it out through the entire performance and asked lots of questions.

Blitzen continued to be very interested so we got a great book about Anne Frank from the library  this week and it is a current favorite.  Blitzen is rightfully quite outraged by the story, often stopping us during the reading to look closely at the pictures (it is really beautiful illustrated) and to talk about what might be happening in the text and images.

Blitzen has a burning desire to understand things —  she is curious about people, the world around her, how things work, why people behave the way that they do.  Makes parenting Blitzen a joy and a challenge.  So many great questions to answer and sometimes there are not very good answers.

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Is really a bitch, excuse my language. It infects everything.  It makes you tired, depressed.  It makes you say stupid stuff like, ‘Pull over right now, I can’t tolerate this, I am getting out this second.’ And open the door while the car is still in emotion motion.

I am exhausted by working every day to climb over, break through, run around, dig under Blitzen’s impenetrable wall of anger and pain.

So, I am done. I quit. I am going to live on a desert island with books and margeritas where all the inhabitants have taken a vow of silence.

But not really, because it doesn’t work that way.  If you need me, I’ll be drawing up yet another set of plans to get through the wall.

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Blitzen said to me and Andrew during a recent rather rowdy dinner hour,  “I had a donut and hot chocolate after school.  I ate too much sugar – I am jumping off the walls.”  And indeed she was.

Blitzen is, how shall I say, energetic and lively.  She is a very kinetic kid and needs to be moving all of the time.  Some of her more anxiety driven physicality has toned down a bit over the course of this year but she still needs to expend a tremendous amount energy in order to focus enough to think and function.  A perfect example of this is that Blitzen couldn’t sit during dinner for the first 6 months or so that we knew her.  She would stand for almost the entire meal, eating and using some semblance of table manners but she would be up.  Now, she can sit and converse (as long as we’re talking about mermaids or another topic of interest to her).  She still fidgets and wiggles which is ok by me and frankly, I am used to it – Andrew is a fidgeter too!  But it wasn’t until her self-confessed ‘jumping’ that I really noticed how far she has progressed in this area.

I do think her new school has a lot to do with it.  The children are just not expected to be still and stationary all day.  A lot of planned physicality is included in the curriculum but they also move as a group from class to class, they do not need to sit quietly in their seats for the entire day – they can find the place and position that is comfortable for them.  Standing is ok. Kids can move like kids need to move. And I can really see the positive impact on Blitzen.  She is not using all of her mental energy every day trying to remember to sit in her place and squashing her impulse to wiggle.  She is not bottling up all that energy.  Therefore the liveliness is less likely to leak out all over the place.

Whenever I have one of these ‘ah-ha’ moments, I am reminded of how far we’ve come in what is soon to be a full year.  It is stunning to me what a controlled but not controlling environment can do for children especially those exposed to extreme trauma and chaos.

 

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I’ve been privileged to meet a few people in my lifetime, so far, that put out all light, no darkness. Their aura, their being, their essence is so positive, so loving and embracing, so filled with kindness, humor and forgiveness, that the brightness that is at their core seems to leak out of their pores and shine on everyone around them. I was lucky enough to experience this type of presence over the weekend.  And it renewed me, filled me with energy.  Listening to someone that is truly a leader, not just a person of power but an inspiration to humankind, reminded me that my main job in life right now, maybe forever more, is to help Blitzen to find that light in herself and others.

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When we started this blog, Andrew and I, I think we mostly wanted to force ourselves to produce a record of what we expected would be an unusual, amazing, heartbreaking, confusing, joyful journey.  And it has been those things.  It has been a little bit of an electronic lifebook of the past year plus, a public journal of our attempt to parent/love/engage/give to a creative, bright, sad, angry little girl.

For me, the blogging has been way more.  It has been something that I have done for myself in a way that I did not anticipate.

I really enjoy writing – who knew?  It is cathartic and liberating and forces me to be mindful and experience this experience now, as it is happening.

It has also built a community of support.  When I feel tired or like I am not a good parent or think to myself, why on earth did I sign up to do this exhausting, maddening job? Somebody always hears me and responds in a way that makes me take a deep breath and reminds me that I can do this.  That I am doing it and I am doing it pretty darn well, actually, so I should let go a little bit and accept and relax.  And often the responder is a total stranger which is oddly validating because, wow, someone that doesn’t even know and love me, is taking time to send me good internet vibes.  How thoughtful, how kind, how helpful it is to hear from you, internet peeps.  And I also feel, as corny as it sounds, that creates an atmosphere of love for Blitzen.  She doesn’t know about it but I do — a kind of shockingly large number of geographically diverse people are rooting for her and interested in her story.

All this to say, thanks for talking me into blogging, Andrew.  It has totally been worth it.

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Andrew and I were asked to participate in a panel discussion hosted by our agency for folks considering becoming foster parents.  The audience was a group of people that had almost completed their MAPP training and were working toward becoming certified foster parents.  Some will make it, others won’t.

We sat on the panel with a young man who grew up in a care and a woman who is the parent of a child that was briefly in care but now works at our agency as a parent advocate.  These were 2 extremely inspiring people.  They were funny and smart and had taken what seemed to be a whole frickin lifetime of lemons (they were both very young) and made serious lemonade.

And Andrew and I are just, you know, us.  We don’t feel so inspiring most days, we’re just trying to work through this thing.  And that is why the agency asked us to participate, I guess.  Our former MAPP teacher thought that we would be perfect because even though we have only been foster parents for a short time, we’ve actually had a considerable number of experiences – good and not so good – that represent the roller coaster that foster parenting can be.

We are fortunate enough to now be sharing our lives with a vibrant, creative, bright and beautiful child.  She is also a child that has experienced significant trauma and she is really, really pissed off at the world.  She has every right to be but it is not always easy living in the vortex of someone else’s anger.  And I hope that we were able to communicate that to the group.  That and the fact, whatever your worst fear is about being a foster parent, it will probably happen and you will face it (hopefully with grace and humility and look toward learning something new about yourself) and then you will move on.  And you will, most likely, still be a foster parent.

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