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I Want YOUR Quote in My Book.

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Photo by Tekke

I’m writing a book (and have three publisher appointments this month).

Goals: 

a. present an accurate view of foster care

b. inspire people to step up and foster (or if they can’t foster, to support those who do)

I’d appreciate your input. Comment below to answer all or some of the questions (or write whatever you want). Be as detailed or as brief as you like. Alternately, send your response to casey@hypervigilant.org if you’d rather. 

Also, if you’re willing, please repost this to your blog or other outlet directing people back to https://hypervigilant.org to post answers so I can collect them.

THANKS for your help!

*In your response, please include a name (pseudonym is fine) for quote purposes. 

  1. What is your experience with foster care?

  2. Is foster care important/necessary? (please explain why/why not)

  3. Was your experience positive or negative, and what made it so?

  4. Who should foster?

  5. Other than the obvious (e.g., people with legal or abuse issues, etc.) who shouldn’t foster?

  6. What are legitimate reasons to foster?

  7. What are not legitimate reasons to foster?

  8. What do kids in foster care need most?
  9. What do potential foster carers need to know?

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Put on Your Armor, Part 1

Do you slip into stilettos to run a marathon?

Would you slather on sweet-smelling lotion before slogging through the Everglades?

Have you ever heard of Mt. Everest climbers leaving all the sub-zero gear at base camp?

A little closer to home:

Do you take Monopoly money to the market, leave your gas tank on empty before a road trip, or forget to feed your kids (or your animals…or yourself) for three days?

Of course not. How ridiculous.

Every day, all day long, we plan our day and prepare for those plans.

How is it, then, that we invite children who’ve experienced trauma into our homes with so little preparation?

In a perfect world, a good social worker will thoroughly understand the child’s case and recommend training or reading material for the caregiver weeks ahead of time.

We don’t live there.

We reside in reality, where wonderful social workers are buried in paperwork and policy, or are overburdened by the number of cases they’re assigned. They’d love to provide training and make recommendations but simply have no time.

Or, as was our case, the workers are less than stellar, burned out, close to retirement and just wants to clear their desks with the least possible effort.

The responsibility, then, falls to us.

We must prepare to become experts in order to defend our children.

What excuse do we have for ignoring available information? 

Read. Learn. Recognize. Advocate.

 

 

A Letter to My Son

My dearest boy,

This year has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever lived. Let’s speak with honesty: you created most of the mountains and valleys.

Some people say hindsight is 20/20 regarding past mistakes. This phrase means that when we look back at the past, we have a clear picture of the choices we made, as well as the ability to see how the present might be different if we’d made other choices.

I see so many mistakes in our beginnings, due in part simply to ignorance. In some cases, these mistakes were coordinated by individuals trying to cover their wrongdoing. Sometimes, our vision was clouded by the possibilities. Other times, we were just too exhausted to see the right path.

In almost every case, the mistakes were not your fault. Unfortunately, those mistakes are partly responsible for your current location, in residential treatment—which doesn’t excuse your choices to be violent and oppositional, but provides some explanation.

Mistakes – in Hindsight

1. Ignorance

I read almost every adoption book available in this hemisphere in preparation, but don’t have any memory of advice to procure a liaison. We met you through friends providing respite care for your foster family. Rather than working through an agency, I called Social Services directly.

We ended up with the worst social worker on the planet. She wrote you off as problem kids, destined to continue the cycle begun by your birth family. She made clear her feelings that we were not qualified to be parents and threatened to remove you anytime I suggested you needed special services. As a result, I was hesitant to fight for the services you truly required. I was unaware of the many supports available to us.

2. Intentional Misinformation

Only a few months ago, I noticed the name of a therapy group mentioned in your paperwork. Searching my files, I found nothing, so contacted them. They sent me the original intake and notes from the six month time-frame they worked with you and your sister.

The documents outline clear recommendations for special handling due to your trauma situation and attachment issues. These same documents list the many times therapists attempted to involve the social worker, the consistent lack of interaction, the outright resistance to attending to your special needs.

The case is noted as closed out because they were unable to get necessary paperwork signed by the social worker, which prevented moving forward in treatment for attachment issues. These documents were sent to the social worker to be included in your file, but they were either never included or she removed them.

Reading documentation of the extent of your abuse and seeing with clear hindsight how we could have made your transition to our home so much less traumatic makes me physically ill. The room spins around me and I want to throw up. I want to scream, to weep, to track down this irresponsible human being and somehow make her see the damage she’s done to you.

3. Indomitable Belief

Your dad and I fit together like two pieces of a puzzle; together, we can accomplish almost anything. He is the logical, realistic, creative piece. He sees both the potential and the pitfalls. I am the dreamer, the visionary. I see what CAN be, but not always what IS. We both look for the good, but he recognizes solid truth, while I choose to believe the best, even if it means ignoring the obvious.

When you arrived, you were five. You did not know all the letters of the alphabet, but when I started helping you match letters to words (a, apple) I found that you knew curse words for letters A, B, C, D, F, G, H and more. In hindsight (there it is again), I should have realized the glint in your eye as you said, “S, sonofabitch,” meant you were testing my mettle with intent indicative of things to come.

I was determined to help you read; reading—and writing—was and is my survival. I knew that reading would help you heal. Would take you places far away when your reality became too heavy to bear. You were determined to learn. Within a year, you were reading full sentences. Less than six months later, you were reading a full year ahead of your grade. Every visit to the store, you brought me a book, pleading for a purchase. (I could easily reject a toy, but always bought a book.)

Your choices amazed me. Precocious. Intelligent. Many were beyond your reading ability, but you sat sounding out words, absorbed. From the beginning, I believed you and your sister were meant for big things. I saw this as confirmation of your special abilities.

You were obsessed with World War II, with military vehicles and aircraft, with the social injustices brought about by hate. I celebrated your intensity. One day, you carried an enormous coffee-table book about Vietnam toward me. My mom and aunt, with us for the shopping trip, were amazed at your choice. You were disappointed when I replaced the book (a documentary including pictures of dead bodies, which was a rule-out).

Upon returning to her house, my aunt found a black and white military documentary and asked me if I thought you’d be interested. No dead bodies filmed; I approved, and you watched it for hours. They began purchasing old war documentaries for you to watch during our visits. Everyone was amazed at your focus regarding all things war. I saw a savant. Imagined the leader of a nation forming in front of me, rather than a mind obsessed with violent images. And I still have hope.

4. Incredible Exhaustion

I do not blame you, truly, for what you had become by the time you arrived at our house. A wild animal in the body of a malnourished, neglected little boy. Like a modern-day Mowgli, you howled and screamed and struggled to communicate. You fought and snarled and ate with reckless abandon.

The foster family who kept you for eighteen months gave up long before they requested release; they had a limit. Consequently, they did little more than house you, missing important opportunities for early intervention.

Unfortunately for us all, when you arrived, there was no transition plan, no gradual acclimation to these new adults and new surroundings. During the first five years—and especially the first two, when the social worker still worked for the department—we found little support.

Some of this was our own doing; afraid that any glitch might cause the social worker to yank you from our home, we did not reach out to some of the people who might have provided strength. Of the few people we involved through necessity (people we saw each week at church or work colleagues covering for us), many walked away after a few interactions. You were too wild, too disrespectful, too dangerous to their children, too much work.

A few people continued to hold us up, but we were never comfortable leaving you with anyone untrained. Respite care workers were few and far between. We had no reprieve for almost six months, when we managed a weekend away while a trained mentor stayed with you. Watching you dismember and disembowel your teddy bear while staring at her menacingly was her breaking point. She stayed until we came home, but she never returned.

We didn’t have time to ourselves, not a date night, not a moment of true rest, for almost a full year. Even when we finally managed to coordinate a respite weekend, we were not able to relax because the caregivers constantly called us to ask for over-the-phone intervention.

When your behavior was horrible, we our only recourse was survival—you were unmoved by carrot or stick. (Actually, for the first twenty months, a literal “stick” was illegal since we were still fostering…but you get what I mean.) NOTHING worked.

Although frustrating, we also understood the lack of concern for consequences. If you’ve lost everything in your life, a redacted dessert for kicking your classmate means nothing. Understanding, though, is one thing. Finding relief is another—trying and failing to find a way to guide your behavior tested our limits. We found that prevention was the only option. We could never rest; scanning the environment constantly and guessing your next move consumed my day.

After the adoption, we felt more secure in pursuing options for support and finally received approval for in-home counseling, mentoring services and even more respite (although this was still limited). Even so, moments of true rest were few and fleeting.

Every parent makes bad decisions sometimes; exhaustion compounds the problem. I fully accept the responsibility for the times I raised my voice in frustration beyond acceptable decibel levels. The times I screamed when I should have walked away. Losing my crap completely over stepping barefoot on Legos.

I’m sure that our exhausted reactions in the first five years contributed to some of your angst.

If I could travel back in time, there are many things I’d do differently, in hindsight.

For the record, bringing you to live with us is NOT something I’d change.

I know these are not the only mistakes made in your short life. The list of people who’ve failed you is extensive, beginning even before the first moment you breathed Earth’s atmosphere.

You have a difficult road ahead, but from here, the opportunity to make (or avoid) mistakes becomes yours. You hold your future in your own hands.

As you told your therapist, you live with a Protective Grizzly Bear and a Pit Bull who Never Gives Up. Unlike that first foster family, no matter what happens, we will always call you ours. We will always love you.

Moving past the mistakes, releasing the desire for retaliation, opening your mind and heart to others…this will be a lifelong process. And it will be YOUR choice.

I pray that you will be able to see your way, clear and straight, to healing—and to HOME.

I love you.

Bad

I live in a room

The door is locked

My mother is on the other side

I have a blanket

It’s okay

I’m okay

Sometimes I sleep

Sometimes my mother brings me food

So I eat

Sometimes I poop in the corner bucket

Mostly I wait

One day, strangers open the door

One is a lady

This is bad, she says

Very bad

Very very bad, the others nod

I look around at my room

My room is okay

Do they mean me?

Am I very very bad?

Police come to my room

Police get bad guys

This is bad, they say

Very, very bad

And then they get me

I never knew I was bad

They don’t take me to jail but almost

There are other kids

The lady screams at us

BE QUIET!

BE STILL!

STOP PULLING ON THE DOOR!

She sits on me

I’LL TEACH YOU. BE STILL!

I bite

The stranger lady comes back

She takes me to a new place

No biting! Be good, okay?

Biting is bad.

Very, very bad.

This house is cold

I don’t know these people, another strange lady and a man

The man is loud and big

I hide from him

Come here, let’s see who they brought!

The lady laughs

Poor thing.

Why does she think I’m poor?

He reaches under the table

I swing my fists and crawl away

He grabs my foot and drags me out

He is laughing, too

Tough little man, we just want to see you.

I kick my other foot and uh oh blood everywhere

He stops laughing

She yells and brings ice for his nose

STAY under there, then!

Ungrateful brat.

The lady comes back, rolling her eyes

At the next house she says

Watch out he kicks and bites.

He’s wild, like an animal.

There is a big boy here

He says he’ll kill me in my sleep

I scream and scream

His mother says

SHUT THE HELL UP!

He hits my head every day

For months

He pinches

And touches

And makes me

NO

He will kill me if don’t

Or if I tell

This is too much

I slam his head into a wall

And kick and kick and kick him when he falls

The stranger lady moves me again

She says

This one’s violent.

Watch him.

I don’t understand any of this

These people are strangers, too

They smile and try to hold my hand

I just want to be safe

Don’t touch me.

I will not be sat on

Or dragged

Or hit

Or touched

Or scared

I will keep them all away with my spiky mean

No one will ever hurt me again

I am bad

I am very, very bad

 

***

I wrote this one day as I tried to imagine early life through our son’s eyes. He was a wild, screaming child when he and his sister arrived.

He came to us terrified and determined to keep himself safe, a need that still causes him to struggle to interact with others, to sleep and to feel secure.

As he grew more able to articulate his memories, much of his behavior became understandable, even when apparently unreasonable.

Hubby and I work hard to soothe his terror and tame his PTSD.

I’m Going In…Part 2

I didn’t get what I wanted last week.

(Click on the “last week” link to go back to Part 1.)

I marched into the meeting armed with a thick file of psychological testing, neurological testing, notes I’ve taken through the last five years and a box of thirty-odd adoptive parenting books. I wanted to show the team we’ve done due diligence and our homework. Our daughter’s in-home therapist accompanied me.

A few days prior to the meeting, one of the lead therapists in the assessment company spent several hours on the phone learning about our situation. I’m sure she’s also thinking of the financial gain of a new client but she seemed very dedicated to helping our girl get what she needs. She even offered to join the meeting by phone. However, the night before the meeting she called to let me know the community services rep told her not to call. I thought it was a little strange; using every resource seemed like a good move to me, but I figured this wasn’t the rep’s first rodeo. She must have her reasons.

As the meeting started, I explained our situation, laid out the path we’ve taken to try to find answers and explained why we feel having an assessment (which is a large expense) would be helpful for our daughter. Several companies nationwide in the U.S. provide the service; some appear to have better results than others and many are very far away. This company is our closest option and has received great feedback from former clients.

The meeting facilitator asked for additional information about the company. I began handing out the company brochures as the community service rep spoke up. “Unfortunately, no one from the company was available to join us for this meeting, so we don’t have additional information.”

Wait, what?!

Mid-reach over the big oak table with a brochure, I locked eyes with the rep.

“Actually, she was available. She called me last night stating that you told her not to call in.”

The rep flushed, then said, “Well. Yes. I did. I have to say, the behavior discussed here is nothing like the sweet young lady who sat in my office.”

For half an hour. She saw my daughter for thirty minutes. She thought I was making this up?

The facilitator’s eyes flicked back and forth between us, possibly concerned I’d jump across the table.

I gritted my teeth and

sat down on my inner WWF wrestler* alter-ego,

who really wanted to pound the rep.

*Her name is Tai-Chi-Mama and she wears a cape. 

Our girl’s therapist told the group she’s familiar with the program and thinks this partnership would be very helpful. Unfortunately, she was a young newcomer and many of the team members were…seasoned. Although they were mildly interested, her words held no sway with the group.

Another team member spoke up just then, explaining that she’s seen excellent results from the assessment with some of her own young clients. I’m not sure why she didn’t say anything earlier; maybe she was waiting to see if I needed help. Her testimony turned the tide from good-luck-getting-that-approved to we’re interested but not sold. 

I still didn’t get what I wanted.

The facilitator told me I’d need to go back to our adoption district and request the funding in a process that can take up to two months (color me not thrilled) by going through the social work team (double not thrilled).

When we adopted, the head social worker in the original district was horrible and the director wasn’t much better. If you’ve been reading a while, you’ve probably seen a few of those painful posts. Telling me I’d need to work with them again was tantamount to directing me to attempt firewalking.

I left the meeting somewhat discouraged. Thankfully, the meeting facilitator offered to call ahead to the social worker. Since the request came from the team, the social worker couldn’t completely shut me down.

Let’s stop here for a quick sing-along: 
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

Today, I got what I needed.

The social worker called. She said,

We’ve had trouble building trust with a lot of our older families because of what happened in the past with other social workers. I want to let you know that things are very different now. I’m here to help you and I want to get your daughter what she needs. I’ve sent you information about the process and some paperwork to get it started. Oh, and let me tell you about a few other resources that may be helpful…

Several of the options she suggested weren’t even on my radar. And to think, if we’d been approved in the beginning, I would have never talked with her.

Sometimes, we think we aren’t getting what we want.

Maybe we aren’t.

And maybe, just maybe, not getting what we want is…good.

Preventing Adoption Disruption, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

  • Keep Sibling Groups Intact

In general, keeping sibling groups together helps prevent disruption, although there are a few exceptions.

According to Adoptuskids.org‘s fact sheet about sibling groups, children placed separately are at higher risk of emotional problems; siblings placed together are less of a disruption risk.

One study listed in James Rosenthal’s paper followed 47 children placed as part of sibling groups. None disrupted.

  • Be Reasonable in Your Expectations

Forget the Brady Bunch, June and Ward Cleaver, and Andy Griffith. Think CSI, NCIS, Law and Order.

There IS no perfect family. Adoptive situations tend to magnify imperfection. Everyone is stressed. After the honeymoon phase (six months if you’re lucky…three days if you’re us), kids with trauma are black holes waiting to implode, behaviorally speaking.

The most sobering finding in this study* concerned the prevalence of behavioral problems…Children often experienced behavioral problems many years after placement.

Therefore, parents adopting a child with behavioral problems should anticipate the possibility of continued problems rather than a marked decline following an initial adjustment to the home.

Behavioral problems are the single largest source of stress for families who adopt older and special needs children

James A. Rosenthal, Outcomes of Adoption of Children with Special Needs (Emphasis mine.)

*Rosenthal, J.A., and Groze, V.K. Special-needs adoption: A follow-up study of intact families. New York: Praeger, 1992

Get ALL the information ahead of time. Request pre-adoption education beyond just the home study process. We got a taste of possible issues during that 10-week course, but in-depth classes, suggested/required reading material and workshops about RAD, mental illness, behavior and PTSD would have been invaluable. Demand copies of all paperwork (medical, info regarding previous placements, etc.) BEFORE the adoption is finalized.

Our social worker balked at sharing background information because she didn’t believe we would “last;” therefore, she kept vital information from us regarding behavior, number of placements, nature of reasons for removal from foster families, etc. I was fairly certain our kids required occupational and speech therapy, but the social worker blew us off. When I received the full file, I found that another foster parent had the kids evaluated but never followed through. Had we known, we could have started therapy much sooner.

  • Find an Advocate

If your social worker isn’t supportive, request someone new. Our first worker left us feeling inadequate and ill-prepared. The second worker helped us finalize adoption less than six months after she took our case.

Advocates don’t have to be social workers. A family at our church became one of our greatest supports. We barely knew them when the kids arrived. The husband is a now-grown adopted child; he had a greater understanding for our situation than most people. He and his wife continue to show our family kindness at times when we need it most.

An ally in your corner is essential.

(Rosenthal’s study) found that social workers’ ratings of parents’ capacities were highly predictive of an adoption’s outcome.

If they had doubts about parents’ ability to deal with an emotionally nonresponsive child, the adoption was more likely to disrupt.

Practice Notes, Vol. 21

  • Plan for Respite Care

Respite care is time (hours, days) away from the children. This is not negotiable. You must have time to yourself. Yes, this is one of the “two most important” points.

We all want to be Superparent. None of us is. Take time away from the kids, for everyone’s sake. A few hours to recharge or even to grocery shop without hearing “Can we get this? Or this? Or this? Are you buying this? Why? Are you getting that? Why not?” can give a whole new perspective.

Finding group support is another great way to recharge. An agency near us provides once-a-month support services. Parents meet in one room; activities keep the kiddos busy in a separate location.

Put respite care and childcare into place before adopting. For single parents, create a “tag team” support system. – –MN Adopt Fact Sheet

Another adoptive mom and I occasionally “trade” kids. It gives her adopted son a chance to shine, as he’s on his best behavior outside their home. For parents of RAD kids, chances to encourage their children can be few and far between. I make sure to praise him in front of her at drop-off, which gives her the opportunity to give him positive feedback. It’s good for everyone.

Parenting traumatized children can be traumatizing.  So we need to work on our own “stuff”.  This means finding (and doing) what sustains and heals us. This can/should include seeking your own therapy; finding times to retreat/get away from your family and stressors; exercise and healthy living; doing something just for fun; connecting with your partner and friends.  Many of us may view this is selfish or a waste of time.  But remember that you are the greatest catalyst for your child’s healing.  That means that your child and your family need YOU to be strong, energized, healthy.  You can’t give more than you have — so replenishing, refreshing, and regulating yourself needs to be a top priority.

Attachment & Trauma Clinic, Therapeutic Parenting

  • Don’t Give Up

This final point is most important. So many others have counted these kids out. Some days are hard. Some weeks are difficult. Some years are exhausting. With determination, though, we have seen improvement. It’s a roller-coaster, for sure, but hang in there. Nothing worth having comes easily.

Finally, have you or your system given up on any children? Given up on finding a permanent home? In other words, how many alternative planned permanent living arrangements are you overseeing? Are you absolutely sure that the young person doesn’t know anyone that he or she wants to develop a close caring relationship with? Have you asked them lately? Are you sure there aren’t adults who have known or know the young person that would not be willing to develop or strengthen a caring relationship with the young person? Have you asked them lately?

David Sanders, Casey Family Services, delivering plenary address at the Third National Judicial Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas. (Emphasis mine.) 

Your turn!  I’d love to hear your ideas for eliminating disruption. Add your voice below.

Blogging Brand: Who Needs One?

Back to what I learned at WordCamp.

WordCamp US 2015. In a word: FabuSuperEducatioFunExpialidociFrabjous.

“It seems very pretty,” she said…”but it’s rather hard to understand!” -Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Don’t give me that look. Lewis Carroll and Mary Poppins made up words.

And because of a ridiculous addiction to etymology, I just learned that Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, often attributed to Practically Perfect in Every Way Mary, appeared in use prior to the movie. And it’s the longest word in the English language. I love Google. 

My tenth grade English teacher informed us we could break language rules and make up words once we knew them all (rules AND words) or when we become famous—whichever is first.

Right, then…I’ve done neither, so…

WordCamp 2015 was Fabulous, Super Educational and Fun. And Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. And Frabjous.

The fourth thing WordCamp taught me is intertwined with the second.

 

Epiphany # 4: Every blog needs a BRAND.

Advertising utilizes many forms of brand. Here are a few:

Characters:

Think of the GEICO Gecko. Joe Camel (“Cool people smoke Camel”). Marlboro Man (“Real men smoke Marlboro.”) And yes, smoking is a bad idea. I’m just pointing out characters everyone knows. Keebler elves. The Planters Peanut. Ronald McDonald (a bit creepy, but recognizable).

Colors: 

Coke. UPS. John Deere. Here’s a fun little test to see if you can identify the brand by trademarked color.

Symbols: 

Amazon’s arrow/smile (“We get it to you fast and make you happy!”). FedEx’s subtle arrow (hint: it’s negative space). The Nike Swoosh. Coke’s ribbon. And perhaps the most recognizable symbol in the world, those Golden Arches.

Words:

Certain trademarked words become so famous we forget they’re brand names. No one (at least around here) says, “I cut my finger. Please get me a plastic bandage.” We say, “quick, I need a Band-Aid!” Xerox. Velcro. Chapstick. Bubble wrap. Dumpster. Fiberglass. Ping Pong (yes, really).

Some trademarked words lost previous status due to common use, like aspirin or WAIT, WHAT?!? heroin. Yes, Heroin was a Bayer trademark, back in the day. Yowza.

If you’re neurotic like me, check out this link for more. (Yep, I read them all.) The website also includes chuckle-inducing generic names. 

Here’s the point of this little advertising lesson. 

  • I need to brand my blog.

Create a character, use a photo or symbol, find a color, word or phrase. Or hey, all of the above.

Thanks to my conversation with this guy (who also has a cool blog),

DSC_0018

Dennis Hong speaking at WordCamp US 2015. Photo Credit: Casey Alexander, Creative Commons License

I realized the current “brand” on this blog is

  1. unrecognizable
  2. limiting
  3. confusing

and it’s time for a change.

  • The original plan: a play-by-play (and honest) description of our lives, centered around the definition of Adoption: “Adoption =” 

In other words, my intent was to illustrate a clear picture of what Adoption is. What adoption “equals.”

A blog with titles like “Adoption = Fun” or “Adoption = Difficult.”

Nobody got it.

Or, if you did, you’re astute, intelligent, and/or my mother.

Prior to WordCamp, I began using “Casey Alexander” as the brand, but Google proclaims that the most recognized “Casey Alexander” is a guy who worked for Sponge Bob.

How can I compete with a guy whose boss wears quadratic clam diggers and lives under the sea in a prickled yellow fruit? Or something like that.

Alsothere’s this.

Casey Alexander is the worst I’ve ever seen for a few reasons…wrote the absolutely BORING, HORRIBLE, BULL…

and this

So Casey Alexander (One of the worst writers in the history of Animation) has apparently stopped writing…I could go on all night with how happy I am this idiot no longer writes…

Right.

Although you may think it would be a fun prank—or a true statement (just wait until you see what I write in response, you jerk I mean, your opinion is always valid and welcome even if we don’t see eye to eye)—these were not written about me.

This is a good time to consider re-branding.

Dennis encouraged me to pick something timeless; the kids will grow up (or matriculate to Military Academy). My life, someday, will not orbit adoption. Or, at least, our adoption.

I plan to always, always, always advocate for children.

I’m passionate about adoption, foster care, fair treatment, child development, trafficking (fighting it—not participating—although…there are days…oh, HEY, sorry, did I say that out loud?), orphan care and child survival rates in developing countries…and I’m a little bit loud about all of it.

  • The new brand:

Our kids became available for adoption about six months after they moved in. We brought them into our home without the assurance we’d be able to keep them, but we were determined to ensure they received every possible accommodation—just as we would for “our own.”

Social Services didn’t like me.

Well, to be fair, OUR social worker didn’t like me.

The relationship started out a bit rocky due to my apoplectic fit. I found out the worker lost our fingerprints, delaying our approval to foster and requiring the children to live with a temporary foster family. (This, I took in stride. Shi—Lost paperwork happens.) The family was local but outside our school district.

I asked the social worker to request that the school board make an exception to allow the children to attend our elementary school, in spite of location, due to the circumstances.

Otherwise, the children would have three different families, three different homes AND three different schools in 40 days. To me, this seemed excessive. And avoidable.

But.

She didn’t want to do the extra paperwork. (Since then, I’ve made this same request in order to enroll the kids in a school with better accommodations for their special needs. It required ONE piece of paper.)

By the time they arrived at our house, the kiddos were in an understandable but horrific state of mind. Like hyenas, if you will.

Imagine: You’re married to someone for eighteen months. You get along. Communication patterns are set. It’s not perfect, but you feel secure.

One afternoon, as you enjoy milk and biscuits, government officials appear.

“We’ve determined this spouse is not your best match. And, partly due to your behavior, they don’t want you here anymore. Pack your things. We leave in thirty minutes for your next destination.”

Numb, you follow the officials as they toss your belongings into black plastic trash bags and cardboard boxes. You thought they liked you. Or, at least, tolerated you.

The officials dump you at another house, with a new spouse and no explanation other than, “You’ll be fine here.” They leave.

Four weeks later, you’ve begun to settle into the routine. You’re still bewildered but no one has bothered to clarify the situation. This family is nice enough; maybe living here will be okay. Now if you could just figure out what they did with all your stuff.

And then those officials show up again. They leave. Can you relax?

Nope. The few items you possess are packed and you’re bundled into the family’s van, where you find the rest of your trash bags. The second spouse drops you off with a third, smiling. “Have fun!”

By this time, you’re in complete confusion and more than a little angry.

Somebody better tell you what the heck is happening. And soon. Before you start screaming.

Yeah. That’s the clusterfeather that showed up on our doorstep. (Spell check says that’s not a word. It is now.)

And our little story above doesn’t even bring into play the new school, new people, new lights, new buildings, new clothes, new foods, new sensory input, new terror. TWICE.

After I figured out that the social worker did NOT have the kids’ best interest at heart, MommaBear appeared. Enter: The Fit of Historic Proportion.

These kids were obviously having a rough time, but they weren’t even in regular counseling.

With Hubby’s full support (and let me tell you, I don’t know how single adoptive parents survive—they are absolute HEROES) I got them into counseling, occupational therapy, speech therapy. Worked with the school to develop an IEP, ensuring they received appropriate support (both academic and behavioral).

Annnnnnd fought with the social worker, then went over her head and worked with her boss and the county to get a behavioral aide to stay with the boy during class (then 5 and a school-escape-artist).

I have no idea why she didn’t like me.

Speaking with Hubby (and in front of me) she called me “hyper-vigilant.”

It wasn’t a compliment.

But “Hypervigilant” is the one positive thing that woman gave me in the 16 months I struggled with her. We (THANK GOD) acquired another social worker who managed to push the adoption to completion under six months from her start date.

Vigilant: keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties

Hyperprefix  1. above, over, or in excess: hypercritical  2. (in medicine) denoting an abnormal excess: hyperacidity 3. indicating that a chemical compound contains a greater than usual amount of an element: hyperoxide

I like the third definition for “hyper” best. “A greater than usual amount.”

For our children, I watch “more than usual” for possible danger or difficulties. Medical. Physical. Emotional. Academic. Interpersonal.

Hubby and I believe in cause and effect as well as cleaning up your own messes, so if they get a bad grade or, for instance, pour glue all over a desk, we absolutely support the school in whatever consequence is handed down. The administration knows our stance.

But I work with teachers, administration, counselors, doctors—any adult who can better support our children by understanding their background and situation—to prevent and ameliorate situations before they occur. Call me Hypervigilant.

When we go out in public, I’m always aware that previous foster families and even biological family members could be one grocery aisle away. It happens. Last summer, we drove five hours to a beach, stood on a pier and recognized a friend surfing, then saw another (unrelated) family we know. All within five minutes.

I’m on constant alert, scanning crowds and restaurants as we walk. Looking for any sign of recognition from an adult I don’t know. Yeah. Hypervigilant.

On days I’d like to give up, sometimes I actively remind myself to be Hypervigilant. Don’t toss that towel. Extra attention now will pay dividends in their future success.

Hypervigilant.

  • Hypervigilant has morphed from a snide remark into WHO I AM.

After that conversation with Dennis, the name snapped into place. My brand.

No matter my life situation, when it comes to protecting kids, I’ll always be Hypervigilant.

You may have noticed the new domain name already. If not, just thought I’d mention coming changes to the blog. If you show up and things look a little different…you’ll know why. But it’s still me.

Now it’s your turn! Take a look at your blog. Does it reflect your passion? Your personality? Who YOU are? If not, consider making a few tweaks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Side note: some guy in FarawayLandistan tried to sell me Hypervigilant.com for thousands of dollars, so…I picked the .org extension instead.  In creating your brand, research creative ways to name your domain. Here’s an older—but still useful—article to get you started. 

Adoption = Progress, Part 1

Our last five years in about five minutes (each).

Year One

I sit, chin in hands, watching as the tiny five year old builds a…something…out of the two disassembled captain’s chairs in the corner.

The old green dining room carpet, pilled and nubby under my feet, needs a thorough vacuum. I’m too exhausted to even consider cleaning. This undernourished creature and his sister, age seven and waif-like, have lived in our home for five days.

She does not fall asleep each until after midnight. He awakens most mornings at 3 am, screaming curses. I am working full time on fewer than three hours of sleep. I have no idea this will continue for almost a year. My oblivion is fortunate. If I knew what was coming, I might have a nervous breakdown.

We have survived three school days. Social Services insisted that we register them for school immediately. They arrived Wednesday at 4 pm. Thursday morning, we deposited them in their respective classrooms. And then Hubby stayed with the girl and I stayed with the boy. To keep them from wailing.

I’ve been at school the last three days, working with his teacher to keep him in the room. We’re asking the social worker to approve a behavioral aide. This child needs more help than he’s been getting. So far, she’s fighting me.

That’s okay. I’m stubborn. Vigilant, even. I will make sure these babies are no longer overlooked.

I gaze in wonder as he constructs some kind of bridge from the pieces of leather and wood. For a moment, it stands in precarious glory. His sister walks past and the slight floor vibration sends the creation tumbling to the carpet. He wails. I hear something else behind the frustration.

I hear a wild animal.

Scooping him up, I carry him to his room and perch on the bottom bed, trying to balance him without hitting my head on the bunk above. I can’t quite get far enough in and the mattress slides back; metal bed rails bite the back of my legs.

He screams and screams. I’ll be deaf, I’m sure. I hold him tight, attempting to soothe. He clings like a monkey, wrapped against me. Still top volume. While shushing and rocking, I say, “It will be okay. I love you.”

He rears back and looks me full in the face. “No you don’t!” he spits. He is rabid with rage. “You DON’T!” He pushes away from me. I reach, but he throws my hand away. “Don’t touch me!” He screams.

I stare at him.

Year Two

I sit, chin in hands, listening to the Principal.

“I’m not sure we can keep him here. He slammed her head into the cinder-block wall. She was just walking by, and he grabbed her. He’d been fine all morning.”

We were two weeks into the school year. He’d already been suspended off the bus; now this.

After begging, pleading, arguing and threatening, I’d managed to convince social services he needed a behavioral aide at school last year. She was approved in December and spent the second semester in his Kindergarten classroom. His self-control wasn’t fabulous but school officials conceded that, in her presence, his wild behavior was restricted enough for him to stay in school for full days. 

The aide had taken another job over the summer; we were already on replacement number two. The first hadn’t lasted a week. This time, they’d sent a young man, with the explanation that maybe he needed a additional male role model. I read between the lines: “he needs someone strong enough to restrain him if necessary.” 

I gave my boy a little card at the beginning of the week, “I love you,” printed in Sharpie marker. He was beginning to allow that maybe I did, but still never responded when I spoke the words. “You can keep the card with you as long as you behave,” I told him. “If you’re misbehaving, you have to give it up.”

He really liked the card, so for the first few days worked very hard to keep his disruptions to a minimum. I told the new aide to take the card if the boy was acting out. He was a young guy with a degree and the firm belief that I couldn’t possibly know how to handle this child—hence, his presence. He didn’t take the card.

Our guy’s behavior began to spiral out of control with the aide: screaming in the cafeteria, running around the classroom, pouring glue on his desk. Minor, compared to last year, but I was concerned about escalation. 

I bring my thoughts back to the principal’s concerned face. “Where is he now?” I ask.

“Library.” She says. “We couldn’t keep him in the classroom after that. She’ll be fine other than a bruise, but the little girl is very upset.”

I walk around the corner to the library and stop short, stunned. The boy is in the middle of the library, holding court on a special rocking chair. The “cool” one the librarian lets them use if they’ve had stellar behavior. Flipping my card through his fingers, he gazes, stone-faced, at his aide.

The aide is sitting on the floor, staring at his own shoes. A teacher, not my son’s, hovers at the edge of the library, hesitant to enter. I mutter, “Are you kidding me?” and stride past the magazine racks and colorful posters.

“HEY!” I say, standing behind the aide. My son hardly reacts; his eyes widen a fraction. The aide, though, almost falls over. “Whoa! I didn’t even see you coming. You’re like a ninja, man. Wow!”

I frown. “Don’t call me ‘man’—especially not in front of my son.” He nods, scrambling to his feet. Furious, I point to the hall and he follows me.

“Why is he in that chair? It’s a reward chair. Why does he have the card in his hands? I told you to take it if he acts up. Slamming another child’s head into a wall is definitely acting up. Why are you sitting on the floor? You are the adult. What is the problem here?” I glare at him, incensed.

Flustered, he wipes his hands on his khaki pants and says, “I don’t really know. I mean, he was sort of cranky this morning, but I got him to do about half his work, so we went to lunch and I bought him ice cream for cooperating—”

“WHAT?” I break in. “Are you KIDDING me? We’ve HAD THIS CONVERSATION. He CAN’T HAVE SUGAR. He gets crazy. You have asked me almost every day if you can take him for ice cream after school, and every day I have told you that you may not. So you bought him ice cream AT school?” I am fuming; I try not to raise my voice but am not successful.

“Well…” he stays, “in one of my classes, we learned that food can be a great reward tool, and I wanted to give it a try with him since nothing else seems to be working.”

I cut in. I’m not normally rude, but right now I can’t even think straight. “Yes, but he’s lived with me for a year, and you’ve known him for four days. I told you he can’t have it and you deliberately went against those instructions. I understand that at some level he is responsible for his own actions, but sugar puts him out of control.

As I’ve said before—if he has sugar, he’s maniacal within twenty minutes. So you thought you’d test it out AT SCHOOL. Maybe he would have slammed that girl into the wall regardless, but I’m betting not.

NOW, I have to deal with the school and a suspension and her parents—very likely because you thought you knew better than the countrified foster mama. Let me tell you something. We live in this county because we don’t want to live on top of people in the city: I’m no country bumpkin. I’ve worked with several levels of special needs children for fourteen years and I have my master’s degree. I have an undergrad in counseling. I’m not an idiot. If I make a request, you follow it. Got it?”

Like I said, I’m not usually rude, but I was P-I-double S-E-D. (Angry, not drunk, mind you. Just to be clear for my international friends.)

Incompetent aide in tow, I re-enter the library. “Let’s go. NOW.”

Meek and obedient, my son hands me the card. “You should take this,” he whispers.

As I sign him out, the principal tells me the girl’s parents have taken her to the doctor to be sure there’s no permanent damage. I grit my teeth, praying she’s fine. What we don’t need right now is a lawsuit. This year has already been Hell on Earth.

I stare out the window.

 

Continued…

 ***

Writing 101 Day 13 assignment: tell a story through a series of vignettes (short, episodic scenes or anecdotes) that together read as variations on the same theme.

Adoption = Gotcha Day!

I’ve read several views on Gotcha Day (“adopted kids love it,” “adopted kids hate it,” “it’s really for the parents”). For us, making it to Gotcha Day (the day we got ya) hasn’t been a simple journey.

Our first Gotcha Day celebration happened 6 months before the actual adoption.

Our social worker had some kind of personal connection with our kids’ birth dad and made things extremely difficult for us, showing up unannounced (which sent the kids into a tail-spin emotionally and behaviorally) and delaying paperwork. (She’s also the one who called me “hyper-vigilant” when I tried to get her to do her job and show up for school meetings to secure extra help for the kids.) Not my favorite person in the world.

We were very concerned she might continue to delay the adoption, so we asked if it was okay to throw a “Gotcha Day” party near the target adoption date. Color me manipulative, but in addition to celebrating the upcoming adoption, scheduling the party was a way to test the waters. If she nixed it, we’d know we were in for more problems.

She asked us to put it off several times but finally agreed we could go ahead. So, hoping to adopt that month but having no definite date, we invited everyone we knew to officially introduce them to our children.

Our girl had a great time being the center of attention. It was probably her greatest moment thus far in our home. I was happy to see her interacting and having fun. Our guy…not so much. He ran around with his buddies for about an hour, then realized people were playing in his room. With his stuff. Breaking it (not intentionally). Once we closed off his room to the general public, he calmed down but still stuck by my side and wanted to be carried. He buried his face in my shoulder and ignored the strangers wishing him well. At the time, his PTSD was in full swing, so in hindsight, he did great.

Even after the Gotcha Day party, the social worker dragged things on another six months. I was beginning to worry that we’d have to return all the beautiful towels and the six irons (oh, wait, never mind…that’s a wedding). Having to return the kids, however, was a huge concern. I think she really was hoping to move the kids again and somehow return them to the people who hurt them.

She has since “retired,” so I assume she was throwing wrenches into other cases, as well.

Don’t get me wrong—I know that there ARE people who SHOULD have their children back. I’ve read about several nightmarish situations in which parents (or someone on their behalf) reached out for help and it ended with unfounded removal of the children.

Finally, she acquiesced and set a date. May 10, 2013, the Friday before Mother’s Day. It seemed appropriate.

We stood before a judge and prayed she wouldn’t change her mind mid-court session. We made vows similar to those in a marriage, then signed the paper. Unfortunately, the court did not allow pictures; I really wanted a photo of everyone signing. As soon as we finished, we scatted. (Not the animal-poo kind. The rushing-out-of-a-building kind. I think we’d have had repercussions if we did the other scat.)

So, for the past two years, we’ve had a quiet family Gotcha Day celebration, just the four of us. The kids talked about our Big Gotcha Day, asking when we’ll have another, but I finally realized they aren’t actually into the big celebration. They just want another big cake. Instead, we go out to eat (their choice) and let them pick something from the Big People’s Menu instead of the Kid’s Menu (which completely blows their minds; so many choices!?!?!).

Today, Gotcha Day happened to fall ON Mother’s Day. Hubby and I decided to celebrate Mother’s Day on Saturday (more on that later) to give the kids their own day, and I’m so glad we did.

As we checked out at the restaurant, I said, “Happy Mother’s Day!” to a great-grandmother-aged lady waiting to be seated. She said, “Happy Mother’s Day to you, too,” paused, then finished, “if it applies.” I knew she didn’t mean anything nasty, but it made me pause (especially considering my earlier post). I kindly told her that I think all women should be celebrated on Mother’s Day. I did not tell her the rest of my thoughts: “Lady, you have no idea how MUCH it applies.” 

Sometimes, adoption is very difficult. The adoption process is overwhelming, but the even harder part comes as children attempt to wrangle emotions and mindsets to become part of a new family.

On days like today, though, it’s easy to forget the crazy mess. I am so thankful for both of my kiddos, and for Hubby. I can’t imagine my life without them, and I’m so glad to have a reason to celebrate finally getting from Maybe to Gotcha.

The Letter

Writing 101 Assignment: You read it a letter. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter. Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

 

The social worker brought a letter. Their family finally made contact. 

Should I burn it?

 

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