Planting Seeds

It has been a month since little Evan left our home. After his worker stopped his family visits, his behavior became worse than it had been since coming to our home. He was throwing tantrums that lasted for hours where he would scream, bang his head against the wall, and throw things. We were also getting bad reports from school, everything there had become a struggle there like it was at home.

As I have said before, having this chaos brings on stress for the whole family. Our daughter was complaining of stomach pain and nausea. The last two weeks he was with us, the stress was really taking a toll on my body. I went to the doctor to make sure I didn’t have hepatitis A, since there are so many cases reported right now. I was vomiting every day and had diarrhea. I was negative for hepatitis A. My doctor said she believed it was stress related.

Three days after Evan left, all of my symptoms were gone. He was going to respite until a bed opened for him at the residential facility. I have not heard anything from his worker since he left. They are not obligated to tell me anything.

Every day I think about him. I wonder what he’s doing. I wonder if he thinks about us. I wonder if we made any impression on him at all. My hope is that we planted a little seed in him that will continue to grow throughout his life.

As a mother, I feel like I failed him. I know that I tried but I really thought I was going to be the one that didn’t give up. Admitting that I was not able to fully help him or handle his outbursts hurts my heart.

Keep on keepin on

Acts 20:24 King James Version (KJV)

24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

Today, I feel like giving up. I have never been afraid to admit my shortcomings nor am I a person that feels they have something to prove. An admirable quality in my eyes is determination, something I have always been lacking. Why then, am I finding it so hard to give up on this child?

There are days that he makes me completely miserable. He pushes and pushes until I feel I have nowhere to go. Tonight he refused to pick up his blocks, so I sent him to bed. It was only about ten minutes before his usual bedtime. For the next two hours, he screamed, slammed the door repeatedly, threw things, and banged his head against the wall. It was impossible for anyone to sleep while this was going on. During that time, if I had a white flag, I would have waved it until my arms gave out.

Ironically, I really do feel like he has improved since coming to live with us. Our good days used to be few and far between. Now, they are about half good, half bad. For this reason, his team decided to put off residential care and see if he continues to do better. The only thing is, when he’s bad, he’s bad. Gray areas do not apply to him. He got in trouble at school today. I asked him why he was disrupting class. His answer? “Because I wanted to.” Plain and simple. Most questions about his behavior are answered with “I wanted to,” or “I didn’t want to.” To him, that’s reason enough. To me, it’s frustrating.

If I knew there was a family out there that would take him and love him, I would probably admit my defeat. It’s not that I don’t care about him because I do. I have grown to love him. I just worry about my family and what this is doing to them. Also, I worry about myself. My health is suffering. I have new lines on my face, I’ve gained weight, and I just feel crappy. Stress is no friend of mine.

Worry is constantly conquering my mind. The what if’s could go on for days. My choices have the ability to change his life as well as the lives of my biological children and my marriage. How can I ever know what is the right thing to do? God would not have given me this child if he didn’t want him here. Or, maybe I have done my work and it’s time to move on.

Friends, I ask you to please remember my family in prayer. A few days ago I was praying and when I was finished, he looked at me with his big blue eyes and said “You forgot to say please help the children. You always say God please help the children to do what they are supposed to do.” He was right, I had forgotten to say that. I always ask for patience and understanding with my children and for God to guide them. This shows Evan is listening! He’s observing me as a mother and even though he doesn’t appear to be, he is taking it in.

Sometimes getting my thoughts out gives me clarity. Unfortunately, tonight I’m just as confused as I was when I started. I will continue to pray for patience and understanding. From now on, maybe I will lead with the part about the children behaving!

Progression isn’t enough

Three months before his fourth birthday, he wasn’t potty trained and was attached to his pacifier. He spoke the F word like it was his job. Racial slurs flew from his mouth. He had three little fingers and one thumb folded down while proudly displaying his middle finger. He could not be contained. Several social workers had to form a circle around him to keep him from running. It took hours to get him in the car and secured in his car seat.

Fast forward five months and you will find where we are today. Thanks to the foster mom he had right before coming to us, he doesn’t use a pacifier and he is potty trained. I haven’t heard him say the N word since the first day he came to us and it’s been a few weeks for the F word. He still uses other undesirable words on occasion, but for me, that’s a big improvement.

We are still trying to teach him about personal space. Hitting, spitting, pinching, kicking, pushing, tripping, and biting are a work in progress. There are definitely deep-seated anger issues. His obsession with guns and killing doesn’t seem to be letting up. The tantrums we experience are the stuff parent nightmares are made of. The defiant behavior and incessant chatter are enough to make any sane person question their sanity. No matter how many words I use, there is no way to truly explain it all. Yet, I have grown to love the little guy.

Earlier this week, there was a panel of interested parties that met to discuss Evan’s case. Their recommendation was that he go to residential care. I didn’t even know what residential care was. It’s like a group home. There isn’t one parent or set of parents, there are employees that work there in shifts. The children have their own bedroom and bathroom. There is one living room and kitchen that they share.

Yesterday, his worker called and told me they were looking into a new program for younger children like him. He will be there for 90 days. I asked if he could come back to us when he’s finished with the program. She said only if our home is available and we are open to adopting him. I was assured that I will be able to visit him while he’s there.

Eleven weeks ago I had never seen his face. He had not yet made me laugh by making silly smiling faces and saying “cheeth.” I had never heard of GAD and I had definitely never seen a child this hyper. I didn’t know the exhaustion and stress that is brought on by such a nonstop kid. Eleven weeks have changed my life.

Never have I been so afraid for anyone’s future as I am right now. I tried looking up the program but with it being so new, there is very little information available. My fear is that he will be around so many troubled children that he may pick up more bad behaviors. I feel we have made progress and he is comfortable here. He has made a connection with me as his mother figure. Will this move set him back? Is he going to think I abandoned him?

So many thoughts go through my mind. My heart is broken. Everything is so uncertain. No one knows for sure if this program will help him. We don’t know if he will be able to come back to us.

Trying to see the positive side, I realize I will have so much less stress. I can go in public again without humiliation from him telling a stranger they are fat or old. Just imagine all the sleep I will get!

Guilt starts to take over and it’s unbearable. How dare I look for joy in a time like this. I’m not reading a book or watching television. This is real life! A life that will forever be changed by these 90 days. There is no way for me to know if that change will be positive or negative.

Monday I will receive a call letting me know if they have a bed available. My trust is in the Lord. Everything happens according to his plan. I have to believe the social workers are doing what they believe is best for him. They have seen many more cases than I have. The system has been in place long before I became a foster parent. So for now, I wait.

He calls me mommy

A few days ago I had to pick Evan up from school early because he had an appointment. His class was lined up to go to the gym. When a teacher saw me, he told Evan it was time for him to go. From the front of the line, he turned around and ran to me. I picked him up and he wrapped his little arms around my neck. He said “I’m so happy you are here!” I smiled and told him I was happy to be there too. It’s moments like these that remind me why I foster. At this time, I am his safe place. His face lights up when he sees me. In these moments, I almost forget how much he loves to push my buttons.

When we got home from all of our running, the kids went to play while I started dinner. Most of the time I play music while I’m in the kitchen. It’s not uncommon for my husband, the kids, and I to dance around to music while dinner is being prepared. Evan loves music and dancing. I’m guessing that’s what made him come back to the kitchen. He danced around while I finished up. When dinner was ready, I told him to tell everyone to come and eat. He walked to the bottom of the stairs and yelled up “Mommy said dinner is ready!”

Most of the time he calls me by my first name with Ms. in front of it. It was never discussed what he would call me, that’s just what he does. Recently, he has started calling me “mom,” “mama,” or “mommy.” Since the first time he spoke about his biological mother, he called her by her first name. Sometimes he says “my mommy, ____” but usually he just says her name.

Trying to imagine how confused he must be is impossible. He has been moved from home to home, with different parental figures at each one. He deserves stability. My days aren’t easy, and my nights are even worse. I am sleep deprived from his abnormal sleeping patterns. On an average night, he is the last child to fall asleep. He usually wakes me up yelling my name two or three times during the night. On non-school days, he is the first person up. There are no naps during the day.

All of my children denied me sleep when they first joined our family. I am no stranger to puffy eyes and coffee. The difference is that the other three were infants and he is four years old. Either way, he needs love and patience just like they did. He needs understanding even if he doesn’t understand himself. I am over scheduled, I am sleepy, I am mommy.

Baby steps

Have you ever seen the movie What About Bob? In the movie, Bob suffers from several phobias. His psychiatrist has written a book called “Baby Steps.” After learning about the book, Bob repeats the words “baby steps, baby steps, baby steps” with everything he does. At this chapter in my life I feel like Bob.

On Thursday we went to Evan’s psychiatrist appointment. I was able to share most of what has been going on with her. She changed his medication from once a day to twice a day. She said if this doesn’t help, there is nothing else she can do until he turns five. I asked her about Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Medication to treat RAD cannot be given until age five, and the medication is an antipsychotic. I feel very uneasy about a five year old taking antipsychotic medicine. Her suggestion was that I find a hospital that will provide inpatient care for him. She said she doesn’t know of any place that takes children under five though. Why is five the magic number?

When we got home from his appointment, I needed a moment to collect my thoughts. Hospitalization is something I would really like to avoid. Of course, I want the best care possible, but I think that should be a last resort. Ultimately it’s not my decision. As a foster parent, I have guardianship, not custody. Decisions regarding medical care are up to his physicians and the state.

Doubt reared it’s ugly head and invaded my mind. “Am I really the right person to be caring for this child? Should he be in a home without other children, so he has more one on one time? What if this medication doesn’t work? Has anything I have done so far made any difference?”

While I sat there at the kitchen table with my face in my hands, Evan came in and handed me a toy knife from the kids kitchen center. It was from a Melissa and Doug set. The knife is made of wood and doesn’t have sharp edges. He had broken it in half.

“Can this knife do this?” He asked me. I told him that it wasn’t supposed to be broken in half and for the thousandth time, I explained to him that we should treat toys kindly and not break them. If all of the toys are broken, he will have nothing to play with. I asked him why he had broken it and like always, his response was because he wanted to. Preparing myself for the storm that was going to follow, I told him to stand in the corner.

Much to my surprise, he walked over and stood in the corner. There is a first time for everything! He cried a little but he stood there. There were no shoes thrown, no screaming or banging his head against the wall. He did not make his body go limp. He did not scream at me about how he doesn’t like me. When the timer went off, I told him his time was up and he ran back in the other room to play.

Baby steps.

For most people, this incident sounds insignificant. Big deal, my child had a time out and didn’t act like the world was ending. For me, this was a huge deal! It shows progress. Consistency is so important when parenting. It may have taken seven weeks but he now knows that when he is put in the corner, no amount of screaming, yelling, throwing things, or any other negative behavior is getting him out of it.

Is it possible that he is exactly where he is meant to be? Maybe I am the mom he needs. What if seeing my other kids being disciplined when they misbehave is helping him? For seven weeks, each day we have stayed in the same place or taken a step backwards. This morning, I woke up one step forward. It may have been just a baby step, but it was a step just the same.

Knowledge is power

Anxiety is such a jerk! I feel exhausted all day long but once I get my pajamas on and climb into bed, I’m wide awake. Last night I was in bed by nine o’clock but didn’t go to sleep until after two o’clock. I was too busy reading posts in foster parenting groups about different behavioral and mental disorders in children. Who knew there were so many? Evan has been diagnosed with ADHD but my training through google.com has left me unsure. (Humor)

Seriously though, I would read a story the foster parent shared and then I would look up the signs or symptoms of the disorder they were describing. For several weeks I have suspected that he may have fetal alcohol syndrome. From what I gather, there is no way to know for sure unless the birth mother admits to drinking while she was pregnant.

Another thing I found was sensory seeking disorder. I copied this from understood.org.

  • Stand too close when talking to others and not have a good sense of personal space. (Learn how one mom taught this to her son using the “elbow rule.”)
  • Have an unusual tolerance for pain.
  • Walk with loud, heavy steps.
  • Enjoy jumping, hopping, and bumping and crashing into things and people—sometimes to the point of being unsafe.
  • Not know his own strength. (He may rip paper when writing, break toys or hurt others by accident.)
  • Prefer “rough play” on the playground.
  • Touch people and objects often.
  • Seek out or make loud noises.
  • Chew on shirt sleeves or collars and other non-food items

He literally has every one of these.

Remember the lady I talked about that did respite for Evan last week? She has been texting me this week and she asked me if I was familiar with reactive attachment disorder. I had never heard of it, so I looked it up.

  • Disobedient-check
  • Defiant- check
  • Trouble sleeping- check
  • Argumentative- double check
  • Incessant chatter- one thousand checks

Out of the thirty signs that were listed, he had all, except four.

There were several things I looked up that I didn’t think fit him. The good news is that he has an appointment with his psychiatrist tomorrow. I am hoping she can give me more insight about these disorders. I don’t think I am qualified in any way to make a diagnosis. It never hurts to research things on your own though. If nothing else, I popped the bubble that I’ve been living in and learned about real issues that children and parents are dealing with every day.

Pete or repeat?

We have all heard horror stories about kids in foster care. These stories weighed heavily on my heart before becoming a foster parent. Stories of toddlers eating their own feces or rubbing it on the walls kept me awake at night. There was one story I had heard about children that were found eating a deer carcass because they had been left alone for days and were starving. Stories on the news showing foster teens that killed their foster parents in their sleep put a chill down my spine.

As for us, I never really worried about a child hurting or killing my family because our availability is only for young children. Of all things, my children being hurt in any way is my main concern. For this reason, our home is not open to any children that have been sexually abused, exposed to any sexual activity, or have acted out sexually or violently.

Right now, I’m not sure our story qualifies as horror, but it’s definitely not a story of tranquility. Up to this point, I have been reluctant to share all of the things Evan has done and said while in our care. Part of what makes me who I am is my ability to keep the peace. Confrontation gives me anxiety. Knowing people will be judging me based on what I write is a hard pill to swallow.

I am sharing our story because I know there are other children out there like Evan. I want to learn from other parents that have already climbed my mountains. More importantly, I hope reading my words will help another parent that is struggling. Sometimes we feel helpless but there is always help!

One day, my daughter was telling Evan about the baby chickens we had last year. She told him how she hoped to get more this year because the coyotes had got them. He excitedly spoke up, “I hope we get baby chickens this year so I can step on them and kill them!” I was so shocked by what he said that I didn’t say anything at the time. I called his case manager and therapist to let them know what he had said. They both agreed that he must be repeating something he had heard someone else say.

A few days later we had a home visit from the state worker. I told her the story about the chickens. She was concerned. When he came in the kitchen where we were sitting at the table, she asked him how he had been. He ignored her question and shouted “I wish I had a real gun!” She asked him why he wanted a real gun and he replied, “So I can shoot baby deer.” She told him how that wasn’t nice and he shouldn’t want to hurt baby deer. He quickly got distracted by the kids playing in the next room and ran in there with them.

To my relief, the state worker didn’t brush it off. She told me there are three things to be concerned about; children that talk about or hurt animals, children that wet the bed, and children that like playing with fire. He does wet the bed but from my experience, bed wetting is common with foster children. Anytime a child has experienced trauma, they have a greater chance of being a bed wetter. We have not had an experience where he had contact with fire. We are not smokers and did not burn firewood this winter. Still, he has two out of the three.

Again, I told his case manager and therapist. Again, they seemed unconcerned and said he had to be repeating something he had heard. The main thing that makes me uneasy is that he wants to kill baby animals. If he simply said he wanted to shoot a deer, I would think he probably had known someone that hunted. Since these two incidents, there have been a few more times that he has talked about killing baby deer. I was instructed to ignore his comments. If he is searching for attention by saying these things, I should not give it to him.

Luckily, we do not have any pets or I would be on constant alert. It is possible that he is repeating something he has heard. It is also possible that if we get chicks, he will step on them and kill them. For now, we will hold off on bringing any animals to our home. Still, I can’t help but wonder what could have happened in his little life that would cause him to say these things.