When your kids are little you can be surround by daily milestones and lessons. Your life is filled with teaching manners and being in awe of how smart they are. When they come from trauma the normalcy can trick you into comfort. Then your beautiful child says something that punches you in the gut. And you stop and try your best to comfort them. And you work hard at speaking softly and carefully and hope that it helps rewire their brain. And you kiss them goodnight saying your nightly mantra.
“You are smart
You are strong
You are beautiful
Black is beautiful
Your skin and you hair is beautiful
You are loved
You are safe
You are home.”
And you leave them to sleep hoping your words fill their head with strength and you go to your room as your heart breaks.
My hands look glow in the dark. I've always been one of the palest of my friends. My skin is freckled more than anyone I know, but I'm still very white. My whiteness is magnified as I gently rub your forehead. I sing your favorite lullaby that you asked for "Long ago, please?" Yes, against your gorgeous deep skin I look glow in the dark.
This was a big day. We had court. A distant "kinship" requested Bear and Bee be moved to them. DHS looked at all the facts and chose that remaining with us was for their best interest. But they filed a motion to go before the judge to state their case. So for the last 4 months we have been on edge. Our adoption date came and went. They are not yet "ours". Even though they are in every way that really matters. So here we were going to court. It was interesting to get to sit in on the case this time, being "informal". We sat in the back of the tiny court room and watched silently. DHS testified and was questioned. CASA testified and was questioned. Then I was asked some questions. Then lastly the "kinship" testified and was questioned. After a long and tense couple of hours the judge ruled that given all the facts it was in their best interest to stay and be adopted by us. Which was a huge sigh of relief. And a huge sigh of loss. When it comes to children's lives there are no winners, and there are a lot of losers. The duality of celebrating our impending forever while also mourning their loss is a very confusing and difficult thing to process. Bear is old enough to remember. He remembers his Mommy and Dad. He misses them. He loves looking at their pictures I requested. He talks about them randomly. He talks about going to his "other house" randomly. How do you have a conversation with a 3 year old that they will never go "home"? Carefully, that is how. Slowly and carefully. So we begin together.
We celebrated with getting you a big boy pick.
"Momma, let me do you hair."
"That isn't meant for my hair. Do you see my hair? What color is it?"
"Yup and what color is your hair? Let's go to the mirror."
"My hair is brown."
"Yeah, almost black. Because you got your beautiful hair from your beautiful Mommy."
A huge smile spreads across your face.
"You got your hair from your Mommy, but guess what you got from Momma."
"Your heart. Momma gave you your heart."
And another huge smile spreads across your face.
Because this amazing little boy doesn't have to choose. He will always have a Mommy who loves him very much whether he sees her or not, whether it is a safe, healthy relationship or not, whether she makes good choices to be in his life or not. She loves him. Undeniably. And he is allowed to love her.
And he has a Momma who loves him very much. Who will be here for the boo-boos, and the rock-a-byes, and the milestones, and the tough and tender moments.
Our roles are different. And that is ok. Because we are just two Moms who happen to love the same kids.
Sometimes you get overwhelmed at loud noises and crowds. You are three and your trauma gives you near constant fight or flight. You hit your limit and you lose control. You look around with wide eyes looking for an escape from this awful feeling that happens nearly everyday. You don’t want to get in trouble and you don’t know why you can’t use your inside voice. Then your Momma pulls the stroller hat over you to shield some light and she asks to hold your hand with a smile. And it buys you 10 minutes so you can watch the pretty dancers. You make it through the show and even get another 10 minutes or so before the melt down hits. So you cry. And scream. And try to get out the energy burning in your stomach. And then it’s over. And you get home and you dance while brushing your teeth. Because you really did like it.
Welcome dear friend. What I am about to write is my own thoughts. It only represents me and my experience. It is not an attempt to represent other foster journeys, my children’s journey, the foster community, the black community, or the multi-racial community.
I have talked quite a bit about personal experiences such as the trip to the Walmart a few days ago. They are albeit feel good stories that hopefully teach you a little back story behind what you may see when in public. I hope you view that screaming child or tired Momma a little differently. I hope you are changed for the better. And I know those are high hopes for my humble little blog. So I will continue to try to simply share my experience.
When I go out in public I feel like I am in an interview for a job that I desperately believe in and need.
Like all moms I feel a pressure to instill good public behavior in my kids and I feel pressure to demonstrate I can handle my kids. Cue foster care. As my last blog hopefully showed, trauma significantly changes our children’s ability to make good choices in public as well as how I parent that child acting in response to their trauma.
So today I will expand and let you peek into a little more of what goes through my mind and things I am constantly taking into consideration when in public. I am not saying any of the following is a good thing to be worried about. I am not saying I handle these concerns correctly. I’m sure I am making many mistakes, judgements that are unnecessary, and I hope to continue to look for reliable resources to shape my parenting and my perceptions.
As a white Momma (and I say that as lovingly as I can) to three beautiful black children, I have another layer of concerns when in public. I feel a commitment and pressure to act a certain way and present a certain way.
When we encounter other people who are black I frantically check that I put lotion on my children’s skin and their hair has retained the moisture I diligently put into it that morning. Because taking care of, and pride in, your skin and hair as a person of color is very important. It is a part of your identity and a part of your culture. Natural hair was something of shame for as long as slavery has existed. It was used as another means to assert control. Beautiful natural hair was expected to be shaved or covered. Hence the 60’s and 70’s and civil rights movements. Embracing your natural hair was a new source of freedom and pride, for many it was also a connection to their roots and heritage beyond slavery. To much of the white community, natural hair and Afros became a symbol of rebellion. With the centuries of historical context I completely understand the importance of taking pride in your skin and hair and I want my children to grow up accepting it as a part of who they are and a part of what makes them beautiful.
Each night as we do our hair before bed we say a mantra. “I am smart. I am strong. I am beautiful. Black is beautiful. My skin and my hair is beautiful.” Every day they hear these words. Every day they declare these words. So when the inevitability happens of someone saying something ignorant about their hair they will be prepared with an armor of confidence to lovingly educate them and better the world, or at least not take the insult to heart.
I’ll be damned if this white Momma does not prepare them for the harsh world they will encounter.
I’ll be damned if this white Momma does not teach them the importance of who they are, all of them, skin and hair included.
I’ll be damned if my children miss on out an important part of their culture because circumstances landed them to be raised by a Hispanic daddy and White Momma. So when that black family walks by I rightfully feel the pressure to check that I am doing all that I promised myself I would do.
The other major pressure I feel is way less empowering to discuss. And I am way more ashamed of it. So please give me grace. And please educate me, especially people of color.
I have mentioned we live in a predominantly elderly, white town. Sadly my children may be one of the few experiences many have with people who are black. And that is a very heavy burden for my small children to bear. And it is not fair. And it is not right. And sadly I cannot yet change that for them. So when my three year old dealing with a trauma that has nothing to do with his skin but an experience that he never should have had to endure. When he is thrashing on the floor and screaming at me in the throes of a panic attack. When he screams “I want my Momma” and it is not me. When I have only two options to let him ride out the attack on the floor or hold him to keep him from hurting himself while gently saying “I know buddy, I’m so sorry. I’m here. You’re safe”. These people who have no context, see a white Momma unable to handle an out of control black child. And they are confused and uneducated and in the true sense of the word, ignorant. They often see a confirmation bias, even if unconsciously, that black children and black people are uncontrollable and dangerous. And I want to desperately tell everyone the story. I want to stop and have coffee with each person and discuss how what they are seeing is a representation of their trauma and not a reflection of their race. I want to help break down their prejudice both conscious and unconscious. Because the more people understand the better the world will be for my precious children.
But I can’t. I can't betray my children’s confidentiality. It is their story to tell, when they are ready, and how they decide to tell it. And it is not their job to educate the world. It is not their burden to be a calm and loving example to break down other's perceptions. And so, in my failing I feel the burden to keep them as calm and polite as possible in public. For more than their benefit of learning to become successful adults. For more than the benefit of proving I can do my best as a white Momma to these beautiful kids who do not look like me. But also for the unfair, the wrong, and the sad benefit of representing the color of their skin.
So I keep learning. I read everything I can. I talk as humbly as I can to people of color. And I recheck my intentions often to make me a better Momma to these beautiful babies who deserve to best.
"Do you know what this is? That’s right lettuce. What about this, do you know what a carrot is? Good job! You are so smart buddy! Let’s count how many banana’s momma is getting. Do you like apples? Do you want strawberries, aren’t they your favorite?"
Shopping with a foster placement can be rough. There is a lot of stimulus. They see a lot of food options from their previous life that are not the healthiest. You try to get things they will like or try. And lastly there are limited options if/when a meltdown begins. But we keep trying. Because it will help him be a successful adult. Facing triggers in small, controlled opportunities helps him rebuild a narrative of what being in public means. And let’s face it. Sometimes you just need to go to the store because you have no food to feed your three toddlers and you are home alone again so you have to take your said three toddlers with you.
Our last trip was not as successful. Bear (3) did not earn the sucker at the end of the trip after repeatedly making poor choices. He was determined to earn it this time. And he tried very hard because he could sense that I had already had a pretty rough day. I needed this win and much as he did. So we gave each other some grace. And we said some extra I love you’s as we walked up and down the aisles.
I had precariously stacked the cart with all I could fit while have three children in the cart as well. My boys remained occupied with deli chicken poppers and their water while baby girl slept up front after finishing her bottle. I braced myself and made my way to the check out.
"Ok, you are so close to earning your treat. You have been such a big boy and made great choices. Give me some knuckles! I’m going to need you to do one more thing, can you stand next to the cart so we have somewhere to put our groceries after we pay and can you walk like big boy to the car?" He smiles at the opportunity of freedom and I can already see he is reaching his stimuli limit. I take him out and show him how to help open up the grocery bags for our cashier like my mom taught me as a toddler to keep me occupied. Cue a woman walking up behind us to check out that had smiled at us several times in the store.
We get a lot of stares at the store. So this wasn’t particularly unusual. First, my kids are freaking adorable. But second, we live in a predominantly white, elderly, town. So a young white woman with three very dark children who are so close in age is not a common sight to behold.
She smiles again. "Are you the one I heard asking if he knew what a carrot was?"
"Yeah!" I said oblivious, reminding the kids to use their inside voices.
She leans in and whispers "You a foster mom?"
"Yeah!" I breathed a sigh of relief being in the presence of someone who understands the secret community I am living in that moment.
"We fostered for two years until my parents needed full time care. I wish we could do more. It is so needed. I would like to pay for your groceries."
"You really don’t have to!" I said stunned.
"I know. I want to. Save up for the holidays that are coming. Thank you for all that you do."
And I knew this was meant to be. And it did not have to do with me, or my ability to pay for my humble grocery cart that I had raced through to get. No, this was not about needing monetary help. This was about my need today for feeling embraced by others who get it. And this was about her feeling like she is still able to help in the way she currently can. And this was about our children, even as young as they are, seeing there are good people who want to help us. This is about showing them to look for the helpers. And to be the helpers.
"Oh my gosh, thank you so much!" I said still very stunned after the awful foster care day I had had and in complete awe of the thoughts racing in my head about the gravity of it.
Even as this is happening Bear is hitting his limit and becoming overwhelmed. He is trying to get away from me, not listening, becoming increasingly louder, and beginning to rev up into a panic attack. I ask him if he needs a hug and pick him up and he melts into my arms. I caught him before the breaking point.
"He is one of our newest, so he is still learning how to be in public."
She looked at me with the smile of someone who understood what I had just said on a level only another foster parent can.
"Can I give you a hug? Boys can you say thank you to this nice lady?" I try to hold it together as she puts her card in the machine and then before I know it she whisks back to her cart and she is gone.
"Why you cryin’, momma? You sad?"
"No baby, have you heard of happy tears? These are happy tears. Momma is really happy. That was a very nice lady. She helped us because she could. And that is what we do. We help others when we can."
So I finally sit down tonight after a month and a half of not posting. Since I last wrote we were blessed to welcome Bear's baby sister "Bee" into our home and hearts.
All three kids have birthdays in the next month and will be turning 1,2, and 3. Life is pretty crazy with three under three. We have lots of giggles. Every day someone learns something new. But we also have a lot of toddler drama. As well as foster care trauma. A and I are keeping our heads above water because of the amazing village and support we have. Honestly 99% of the time, I feel like it is suppose to be harder than this. And I absolutely love each of my kids.
But there is another a reason I have not sat down to write. We've had a lot of hard moments. And I want to share the hard moments, the whole reality of foster care, but I feel blocked by so many things. There is a pressure for any parent to make it seem like we have it together. And I think the intricacies of foster care exacerbate that. I've talked before about how anytime we receive a new placement I wear make up every day for about a week. I feel like I have to show people I can handle/deserve to have more kids. But there is another pressure I don't really talk about but to a select few. The pressure to shield my kids from judgement of those who very honestly do not have the training and scope to understand all the trauma behind their behaviors. We go through hours of training and continuing education to learn about where our kids are coming from. What they have been exposed to. How that may affect them. The cyclical effects of poverty, neglect, and abuse. After my big emotion (and totally understandable, normal parental melt-down) I then remember to look at my kids and their behavior through the scope of trauma. I strip away my own judgments and reset my reaction. But after doing so I feel so totally alone. Which is why the foster care community is so essential. Support groups and talking with other foster parents is so pivotal to not burn out and go crazy. But we are all dealing with these things, so that rant and deep talk don't always come soon enough. And I think that is where I have been the last few weeks.
I have been hiding our lives. Sharing the beautiful moments that deserve to be shared. And meticulously painting foster care and children from trauma in a way that would make people want to learn more before seeing the hard parts.
So please keep all of this in context when reading the second half of this blog.
I describe my kids to others the following way. Bee (1) is super content, sweet, and happy. Bug (2) is my responsible one who is independent but still loves cuddles when he wants (like a cat). and Bear (3) is four kids in one.
Anyone who meets Bear in person immediate falls for his charming smile and his caring heart. And then if they make it past 2 minutes they see trauma behaviors that look like a defiant child. He. Gets. In. To. Everything. He vibrates from adrenaline. He came to us not knowing how to play with toys. He just kind of swung them around while getting into things. He has full blown, sensory overload, panic attacks at least once a week that look like the most disrespectful and hateful child you have ever met. And if you see one, especially in public, with limited options for me to remove him from the stimuli it looks like I am an incapable mother who can't handle my child. I get it. I would probably think the same thing too.
So tonight I sit tired after a blow up. I feel defeated after putting him to bed early when he hurt his brother in his overwhelming emotions.
I'm working on it. I'm working on being confident in my parenting because I do know the context, and the trigger, and what he needs. I'm working on learning more about how to help him with those big emotions and those hard moments. I'm working on not worrying about what others think in the moment and giving him what he needs to succeed and calm himself down. (Hint, I often have to ignore him which allows him to continue the behavior until he can self regulate) Because that will make him a successful adult who can calm himself down. And I'm working on taking care of myself and refilling my cup so I have something to give him and my other two amazing kids.
So tonight I stress cleaned my room. I'm going to take a long hot shower. I am going to listen to some podcasts because that is something I am trying. I will meditate using my Calm app. And I will start again tomorrow.
And even in the hard moments, it is still beautiful.
We tell ourselves many things to convince ourselves we can't be a foster parent.
"I don't have the space."
Foster Parents are not perfect. It takes love, empathy, creativity, an open mind, training, and patience, patience, patience. Being a successful Foster Parent takes many things, but not the reasons you are telling yourself "no".
So ask yourself. Why am I really saying no? Is it a good enough reason?
The following is a great video to show numbers of kids in care and the lack of housing options.
I wanted to take a break from all the deep, difficult stuff for a moment. I want to share with you one of the many beautiful aspects of fostering.
It's beautiful to see a family, a church, and a community come together to support the children in our home. This support comes in a variety of ways. Today I am going to take a moment to give a huge shout out to my Mother-In-Law.
Life has been a crazy transition to two under three. And Bear really has given us a run for our money in many ways. When I say he is energetic, this is an understatement. When people kindly tell us he is "quite active" we laugh. With his oodles of laughs and his tender caring moments comes a lot of chaos and hard moments. Now, I have worked with kids for years. I have babysat our friends 4 under 4 with my 1.5 year old and it was a breeze. But this new little puts all of that to shame. (Let me say, I wouldn't have it any other way. I absolutely love him and he has already made great strides to being a kinder and gentler boy who tries his best to listen.)
As we look towards the future and unsure when we are ready to reopen for a third, we knew we needed help. Let me tell you, it took quite a bit of strength and courage to ask. Asking for help is not weak. I remember when we first got Bug at 2 months old and I felt like I had to have it all together. Prove I was handling it. I killed myself keeping the house clean. I always put on jewelry and make up before leaving the house. I definitely felt that new mom, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest pressure to look like I had it in control. I also had that stereotypical "daughter-in-law" pressure of showing I was a good mother and wife. So after a year a half.... and this new addition.... and looking to our future.... I swallowed my pride and told my husband ".... maybe your mom would be interested in coming on Mondays when we are passing each other between rehearsals to help with the kids and do their laundry."
This has been the third week that my mother-in-law came over straight after work and began doing the kids laundry in the living room while they run amok around her and I get a few moments to clean the kitchen and make dinner. My husband races home from rehearsal and we all eat dinner before I rush off to my rehearsal. She helps my husband with their nighttime routine and puts them to bed. They then get a weekly chance to catch up and talk which has been a beautiful relationship to watch.
I cannot put into words how grateful I am for this help. How love and supported I feel. This is a rather unusual request. But this has turned into the biggest unexpected help I have ever received in the fostering journey. In life we have to remember our loved ones want to help. They want to support us. We just have to find ways we are willing to let them in and simply, humbly, ask.
To help her help us, as well as help the kids help themselves, I laminated everything. I feel super proud.
"I would get too attached."
Then you would be perfect! Kids need attachment more than adults need to be protected from it.
I am not scared of loss.
I am scared these children will never feel loved.
I am scared these children will not be safe.
I am scared these children will not get to be kids.
I am scared these children will be shuffled from shelter to shelter every 45 days**.
I am scared these children will grow up to perpetuate the cycle of abuse and neglect.
These children need healthy attachment. They need an example of what a family is suppose to look like. What does it mean to be a family member? How do I appropriately support my family? What is my expectation and responsibilities as a kid? (Kids in care often had to take on adult roles of caring for younger siblings or for their parents. Learning to be a kid can actually be difficult.)
These children need all of this a lot more than I need to be protected from loss.
"I could never give them back!"
No children are guaranteed. All children, even biological are a gift that can be taken away from us at any time.
The heart of this statement is like the previous. "I want to be protected from pain and loss". And I get it. It's hard. It hurts. I have cried many nights. But I know I made a difference. I did my best. I tried. I was a part of healing. Our children are better off now having been in our home. Despite the many hard and heartbreaking moments, I have never regretted any part of our Foster Care journey.
When the system is healthy, supported, and funded, it will be an honor to "give them back" because they will be going to a successfully bridged and healed family. You will get to remain in contact and continue to be another healthy adult in their lives to support them. When it is done right, you never really "give them back". Your time of bridging and mentoring merely looks different.
** Oklahoma implemented a very well-intended law. To keep kids from sitting in shelters for years waiting for caseworkers to find a suitable home or sometimes until they age out of care at 18, Oklahoma passed legislation to light a fire under the caseworkers tooshies so to speak. Children can only be placed in a shelter up to 45 days. At which time they will be discharged and need to be placed somewhere else. These are called "Emergency Shelters". All other shelters have been closing around the state. These “Emergency Shelters often share residency with other programs to help cut costs. One such shelter resides in the back portion of an assisted living facility for adults with disabilities. I have a deep passion for that as well, as my mother in law is a Habilitation Specialist. But step into the shoes of the children for a moment. They have been taken from the only thing they know and understand and without a foundational understanding of disabilities have now be placed to live with people who have disabilities. What do you think this does to their understanding of who they are and their worth?
I understand the intent behind this legislation, I really do. But with an overworked caseworker, underfunded resources, and dwindling foster/adoptive homes this means at 45 days the child will be moved to a different shelter, in a different town, with a different school, with a different therapists, and all new care takers. Every. 45. Days. If they are lucky they find a foster home. More often they get shuffled around further stunting their healing and education until they are accepted into a group home or mental health facility. Both of which handle more than just kids in custody. So the care is not as tailored to children from trauma, but children with mental health diagnosis or children who are struggling with Juvenile detention. Not getting the proper trauma therapy and support, and being a product of their environment, children in custody also begin to struggle with similar issues.
"DHS is so broken!"
Children in Foster Care don’t have a choice to be placed into this broken system. They have done nothing to be placed in to care. Foster Care is not where you go to "drop off unwanted kids". Foster Care is not where you place unintended babies up for adoption. Foster Care is not a punishment for troubled teens. Foster care relies only on the actions of children's care takers and situations beyond the children's control.
Why then do I have a choice not to be a part of this broken system? Why am I so privileged that I do not have to be bothered by the brokenness? Why do I hold my freedom of security and predictability more precious than the safety and care of innocent children?
This dear friends was the final nail in the coffin. When I reached this paradigm shift I had to be a part of the the solution.
DHS and Foster Care will never be "fixed" by good people standing on the sidelines making comments on the internet. This "broken system" will only be fixed by flooding it with good people and safe homes to give case workers too many options for children coming into care. It will only be fixed by passionate people who will speak up and advocate for the children and the system they are a part of. It will only be fixed by people who are convicted and work closely with legislators and DHS themselves on the ever shrinking budget and over worked staff.
Yes. DHS may be broken. I may be very frustrated with it at times. But let me tell you. It would not change or improve if I threw in the towel. It would only make it that much harder to have safe, loving, and stable environments for these children who are flung into uncertainty every day.