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 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

  • 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.

Back to reality

Last week was spring break. We had a great vacation. Evan went to respite because our family desperately needed a break. Respite care is when one foster family temporarily keeps another foster family’s children.

The foster mom that kept Evan was full of things to tell us when we picked him up. She is a seasoned foster parent and she was deeply disturbed by his behavior. She said she had never seen any child with behavior as bad as his. While at her house, he did the same things he does at our house. He is very defiant and tries to start arguments constantly. He does not like authority and throws a temper tantrum any time he doesn’t get his way. Getting him to pick up his toys after he plays is a nightmare. He yelled at her and told her he hates her. He told her that he wants to be a girl.

He was put on medicine for ADHD a few weeks ago. I have said from the beginning that I couldn’t tell any difference from the medicine. The respite foster mom told me the same thing. There were no naps while he was with her and he refused to go to bed. During the night, we are lucky if he sleeps six hours and very rarely does he sleep through the night. Most nights he wakes me up by screaming my name around two or three. He did the same thing at her house.

I felt sorry for this lady and she felt sorry for me. We both agreed that something needs to be done. There are still four more months until he goes for neurological testing. While I am hopeful that the testing will show something, four months seems like an eternity! Most days I’m not sure how I will get through. So many times I have heard stories about foster children and how the system failed them. I feel like the system is failing Evan.

Nothing that has been said by me, or his previous three foster homes has made any difference. This child needs help! There have been two different social workers tell my husband and I that this was the hardest case they have seen as far as the child’s behavior. I know social workers are very overworked and I’m sure there are guidelines they have to follow, but I can only do so much.

Since coming to our home, he has started preschool. His principal recommended after school care, so I started him with it too. After speaking to his case manager, his therapy has been bumped up to three times a month instead of two. I signed him up for soccer, hoping being part of a team and having that time to run would be good for him. We have a sticker chart at home that focuses on behavior. After consulting with both an RN and a nutritionist, I have changed his diet and started him on vitamins. So far, none of these things has made any difference.

After having been away from him, I feel even more discouraged. Sometimes stepping away really opens your eyes to the truth and severity of a situation. Now, it’s back to reality. It’s back to physical and verbal aggression. It’s back to lying, manipulating, temper tantrums, and confrontation. I haven’t given up on him, so for now, this is my reality!

Mommin ain’t easy

Parenting is hard work! It’s even harder when the child hasn’t always been yours. My biological children have always been with me. If they are afraid of dogs, I know why. If they don’t feel well, I recognize the signs. When they are having a bad day, I know what to expect. I don’t wonder what all they have endured in their little lives. I never think that a certain thing they say or do is a direct result of being starved and neglected.

My heart hurts. I want to do what is right for him and what is right for my family. There are always doubts, what if the parent judges are right? I’m not sleeping much these days and my anxiety is at an all time high. Some days I think things are getting better and other days, I’m not so sure.

Yesterday I made Evan sit in time out after breaking several toys that don’t belong to him. He did his usual and threw a tantrum because he didn’t want to go to time out. Then he yelled at me “I don’t like you!” I’ve been at this mom game for over 13 years and words like these still sting! I told him it’s okay if he doesn’t like me, he was still having a time out. A few minutes later he told me he loves me.

He had therapy yesterday and all of the people that work at the agency were telling my husband and I how much he has changed since being in care. They say he has really progressed. This gives me hope that things will soon start to get better.

Everyone knows best

When you have a child like Evan with bad behavior, you become exposed to a whole new level of parental advice and even parent shaming. So far, I’ve encountered two types of people through this journey.

Person one hasn’t spent much, if any time with Evan. This person talks about how cute he is and how his behavior isn’t his fault. They often tell me how they would take him home if they could. Even if they don’t say it, sometimes I get the feeling that they think I am exaggerating about his behavior. Or, perhaps they think they could do a better job than I am at caring for him. While I agree that his behavior is a direct result of his environment the first three years of his life, reading a story and living it are two different things.

Person two often times started out as person one. This person has spent a little more time with Evan. Person two still hasn’t seen the whole picture but has a better idea of how everyday life is. This person tells me I’m crazy for dealing with this. They question why I do foster care. They say I should “get rid of him” like he’s an old shirt I no longer wear. Once again, I get the sense that they judge me as a parent for having him in our family. They make comments about what he is doing to our biological children.

I have one person that doesn’t fit either category. She is a foster parent herself and has had some children with some of the same behaviors. We listen to each other without judgement, and sometimes that’s all we need. She encourages me. We are able to talk about the changes we witnessed with different children.

As for person one and person two, I’m sure there is someone out there that could do a better job. When it comes to my biological children, I also worry about how they will be affected in the long run. I hope they learn compassion and love but only time will tell.

For now, this is our family and this is our life. We are stressed and sometimes frustrated. All things aside, I look at this little boy sleeping at night and I know his belly is full and he is safe. That’s enough for me to get up tomorrow and try again.