Archive for the ‘foster care’ Category

She LOVES me! She really LOVES me! (not…)

Anyone who is raising a child with reactive attachment disorder knows that love and caring is not always reciprocated. In fact, often the children are so hostile that we wonder what we are doing wrong and what have we gotten ourselves into? Raising Marie has been like that. Coming to us from living with a mom who allowed unspeakable abuse, Marie was not ready to love anyone. Not letting me touch her, in fact, shoving me away or hitting me if I tried, it took six months for me to reason with her that I needed to have a way to show her that I loved her. She graciously allowed us to fist bump. Our fists met with a minimal amount of touching as I signed “I love you” in American Sign Language with the other hand. As a mom, I desperately needed to be able to share my love with her, whether she accepted it or not.

Through the years, she allowed me to hug her. I would put all of my love forth in that hug, deep, sincere, emotional… Whether she actually got any of that through osmosis, or whether she just tolerated my hug, I never knew. But I felt better doing something to demonstrate my love.

When she was about 14 years old, we were at a carnival and she spotted a photo booth. She had always been fascinated with these contraptions, and she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me over to it, sticking her other hand out for the money to put in it. As we sat inside the booth and the camera clicked, a miraculous thing happened…she turned and KISSED me on the cheek. Whether it was her excitement over the photo booth, (and the demonstration photos on the side of people kissing,) or whether she really felt an emotion and wanted to kiss me, I’ll never know. But I choose the latter. In the picture below, you can see the emotion on my face as she does so. After SEVEN long years!

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Well, a couple of years have gone by, and she and I regularly hug and kiss (she offers me her cheek.) Not much had changed in that department. UNTIL I went to the open house at her school. She saw me walking down the corridor while she was standing with a group of friends. She came galloping towards me, wrapped her arms around me with such force that I almost fell over, and gave me a huge kiss ON THE LIPS! Then she proudly told everyone that I was her mom. SHE LOVES ME! SHE REALLY LOVES ME!

To Find or Not To Find, That is the Question

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Many adoptive parents are faced with the dreaded request from their kiddos…they want to reunite with, or at least find out about, their biological families. Of my four adopted children, only one expressed an interest in doing so. The thought struck fear into my little, mom heart!

Angel came to live with us as a foster child at the age of three, still having weekly visits with his mom and four siblings. His parent’s rights were terminated shortly afterwards and his siblings were adopted by an aunt. We kept in touch with his aunt, and the siblings visited a few times. Within a year, however, the aunt relinquished custody because their bio mom kept interfering…meeting them at the bus stop, trying to take them, and so forth. (His bio mom was a mentally ill drug addict with HIV and she could be violent.) The four children were split up and placed in shelters or foster homes here and there, and our life carried on as usual. Angel accommodated well in our loving family, and we lost touch with his siblings.

One day when Angel was a teenager, he came to me and said he wondered where his brothers and sisters were. I did, too, as my heart had always ached for these children for whom a normal family life was not possible. It would have been easy to tell Angel that he was in our family now and his bio family no longer mattered, but that wasn’t true. As a young Hispanic man, who looked nothing like his Caucasian parents, he had a right to know more about his heritage. If I didn’t support him now, he would only look himself in a few years when he became an adult.

I contacted the social worker in the Department of Children Youth And Families adoption unit to have her look into Angel’s request. Within a few days, she called back. Because the siblings had aged out of the system, their information was no longer available. However, she DID have Angel’s aunt’s phone number, which I gladly took. Angel bravely called his aunt, and started to cry immediately when she started to cry when he told her who he was. She had continued to have a supportive relationship with his siblings, but she had always longed for the one who was adopted…Angel! They talked on the phone for hours as she filled him in on their history and he filled her in on his. But, most importantly, she gave him the telephone numbers of his siblings.

Angel savored the numbers at first, but, one by one, he called them. Each had led a difficult life; the boys having lived in shelters and group homes and the girls in and out of foster care and never adopted. But they were still tight as a family, proud of their Hispanic heritage. They had each other. And now Angel had them, too!

Angel and one sister, who still lived in our state, met for a long, glorious lunch! They found each other immediately at the restaurant because she looked like a female version of Angel. They ran to each other and screeched and hugged and cried. They found out they both have the same laugh (AND same dry sense of humor.) They have kept in touch since that lunch date, and talk on the phone regularly.

Angel’s other sister died from leukemia when she was twelve…a sad, lonely death with no family to call her own to support her.

His older brother, Fernando, lives in Florida. And looks just like an older version of Angel, judging from the pictures they exchanged on their phones. They talked and texted often. His brother had lived in group homes and then in a homeless shelter when he aged out of the system. Following a job lead to Florida, his brother obtained a job, found a wife, and had 2 children. He and his wife work 2 jobs to make ends meet, and “Grandma” lives with them to care for the children in their one bedroom apartment. They are incredibly HAPPY, especially his brother who now had a family to call his own!

Angel’s 18th birthday present was airfare to visit Fernando for a week. Alone. (Yes, I trusted him!) He is a mature young man with a good head on his shoulders. (Plus I did check his brother out to make sure he did not have a criminal record, unlike his oldest brother who is in prison for selling drugs. HE had chosen his mother’s lifestyle…) Getting off the plane in Florida, Angel was welcomed with open arms into Fernando’s family, everyone crying and gathering around him in joyous celebration. Angel still laughs about his two young nieces, grabbing him at the knees for hugs, almost toppling him to the ground. He visited for a week in their tiny apartment, sharing their meager food, (and becoming the hero uncle when he ordered take-out pizza and Chinese food!) He came home with a new sense of self and contentment. An adult who knows who he is. For his birthday every year, he will be asking for a plane ticket to visit Florida.

Of course, this is my story of what happened to him. I have asked Angel to write a few words, and he did as follows:

“It was an amazing feeling to finally have contact with my biological family. After years of waiting and wondering, my questions would finally have well over due answers. Ever since I was able to remember who they were, I had an empty feeling in my heart. When I was adopted the empty feeling was satisfied but not filled. when i was able to hear their voices, my heart started filling up with happiness and joy. When i finally saw my brother and sister, it was overwhelming and exciting! That doesn’t mean I don’t love my adoptive family. They have done a lot for me, but you really have to go though what each adoptive kids been through to truly understand it. It’s natural to wonder where you come from, especially when you don’t have the ability of asking the people that brought you into the world.”

Literally, God Will Provide…

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In my years on earth, miracles have happened that have strengthened my belief in God. Whether it be my daughter, Dinora, gaining hearing after being deaf, or the provision of a wildly disputed passport showing up in our mailbox just in time for her travel to her birth country when she was a teen, I have been blessed. But I’ve never been more surprised about God’s ability to provide until today…

We have to share our cars now that Angel is driving, and today was my turn to take the big family van. Being short on money this week, I fished out a one dollar bill that still clung to life in the bottom of my purse. Victory! When stopping for gas, I could go into the convenience store to get a bi-i-i-i-i-ig drink of Diet Coke to last me the day! Once in the store, I put my la-a-a-a-a-a-a-arge cup under the spigot and filled it to the brim, excited at the prospect of getting such a delight for only 89 cents! Looking up, I suddenly noticed that this was not an all sizes pay same price kind of store, and that a large soda was $1.49! My heart skipped a little bit when I realized I was going to have to go out to the van to dig up some loose change in the carpeting or under the seats to pay for the soda. Just as I was putting the lid on the cup, the store owner struck up a conversation. “That’s a big van for you to drive,” he said. “I have five kiddos and our family all has to fit,” I answered. “Yeh,” he said, “But it must be really difficult to drive that thing.” I just laughed and shrugged. I was just about to tell him that I was going to have to leave my drink on the counter to run out to get more money (hoping to dig up another 3 quarters,) when he said suddenly, unaware of my financial situation, “God bless you! The drink is on me.” I smiled and said an enthusiastic “Thank you!” He could not have understood how much this gesture was seen as a blessing, (especially because when I got back to the car I could only find six pennies, two dimes and a nickel.) God provided a Diet Coke so large that I had enough to drink all day, and I still had a dollar left in my pocket! Maybe no big deal in the scheme of things, but, to me, it was a personal affirmation that God DOES provide!

Similarly, another provision surprised me today. Having recently saved up enough to buy a flat screen television to put on the wall, we have been remodeling our living room. I washed and hemmed some new curtains and shampooed the rug. Without the large, old television cabinet, the room looked much cleaner and brighter EXCEPT for our 25 year old couch that displeasingly hugged the wall, looking like an old walrus, slumpy and bedraggled. (The couch was so old that I could not count the number of stains, or the times the skirt had been super glued back on because one child or another had ripped it off in a PTSD or dissociative fit.) I would buy a few throw pillows to brighten it up, I thought to myself, just as my phone rang. It was a neighbor, one I always wave to but don’t talk to too often. They were getting new furniture, she said, did I want their leather, L shaped couch? It was still in good shape, she explained, and they paid $6,000 for it, but they were looking to redecorate. DID I WANT IT???? DOES POPCORN POP? DO FERRIS WHEELS TURN? Yes, yes YES! Of course I wanted it! What an unexpected surprise! How wonderful is God, who provides even when we don’t ask! That is truly a Being that sees inside our hearts.

“God Don’t Make Junk”

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This used to be my mom’s favorite saying. She believed it all of her life, but never as much as she did after the birth of my brother, Curtis. When she was pregnant with him, she was unknowingly exposed to German Measles, thus affecting him with Rubella Syndrome.

Curtis was unfortunate to acquire all of the accompanying diagnosis; he had a severe hearing impairment, congenital heart disease, an intellectual disability, an odd head shape (like a smooshed pear,) a cleft lip and palate, autism and was legally blind with crossed eyes that wiggled back and forth. (Additionally, when he was a teen, he developed schizophrenia, but that’s for another story…)

Because I was only 4 when he was born, I thought he was the cutest thing in the world! He was my BROTHER, after all. I delighted in feeding him formula through an eye dropper, trying to quell his kitten like hunger cries. I loved to rock him in the rocking chair, all bundled up and warm. He was a delight to me!

Curtis’s life in our family was as amazing as mine. Loving, adventurous, interesting, and accepting. Anywhere we went, I would explain to quizzical stares that he was born like that and he might look different, but inside he was the same as everyone else. In fact, he had an amazing sense of humor and would laugh at anything! He loved to eat peaches and watch Sesame Street. As I extoled my brother’s virtues, I could see their stares soften with understanding and acceptance.

The “gawking” role was reversed when I was a parent, and this moment is etched into my mind. Francis and I were at the zoo. He must have been about four years old because I remember pushing his sister, Dinora, in a stroller. Nearing a pen of vastly ugly pigs snorting mud, Francis exclaimed, “Look, mom! One of the animals got out of the cage.” I looked over and saw a horrified mother with a toddler in a stroller. A disfigured toddler, with a gaping mouth like Curtis used to have. And the child was snorting bubbles and drool. Taken aback and horrified by what Francis said, I took his hand and we walked over to the stroller. I smiled at the mom and told her what beautiful eyes her child had! I asked her if it would be okay if we touched him, and Francis and I leaned over and gently rubbed the child’s chubby little hands, which opened and closed in excitement. “He really seems to be enjoying the zoo!” I said, as we parted, smiling knowing little smiles at each other.

I then took Francis aside and explained that God makes all types of children, and “God don’t make junk!” His observational comment was an innocent one, (especially because he is legally blind,) but it provided an opportunity for a valuable lesson.

Every mother wants to be proud of her child, and to have others share in her positive feelings. Every child is a joy! Imagine yourself in the mother of a disabled child’s shoes. Have empathy for that mom. Join in her admiration of her child, and maybe you will also internalize the concept that “God don’t make junk!”

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For more stories about Curtis’ childhood and our adventurous family, please, read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

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I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

A Miracle Saved My Life (A Story for Mothers of Teenage Girls!)

In her senior year in high school, Dinora was scheduled to go on a trip to Greece with her class. When I wrote to the Department of Health to get a copy of her (adoption) birth certificate for her passport, we were mortified to learn that the birth date on the birth certificate and the birth date on the other legal documents were was different! Thinking it was a simple mistake at the Department of Vital Statistics, I called. “No,” they indicated, “That was the date that the court gave us at the time of the adoption. The only way to change it was to go back to court.” I was horrified and sick to my stomach. Visions of deportation bounced in my head. Dinora, of course, was furious at me. Taking a chance, I sent in the Passport photos, a copy of the adoption certificate, (which had no birth date on it, only the adoption date.) and a copy of Dinora’s Guatemalan birth certificate in Spanish under her birth name. I prayed that although it was unconventional, it would be enough evidence for a passport. Dinora was scheduled to leave for Greece on June 5. By May 28 the passport had still not arrived. Dinora was confident it would come, as she is confident everything comes to her. I was not confident at all, and dreaded the day I’d have to face Dinora’s wrath because she couldn’t go to Greece. Around this same time was Dinora’s senior prom. She had chosen a dress several weeks prior, and I repeatedly asked her to try it on so it could be hemmed. Dinora, who was only 4 foot 11 inches, repeatedly said it would be “fine” because she was going to wear “heals”. She was a busy high schooler and didn’t have the time to try it on. On the morning of the prom, Dinora tried it on before school and came crying to me that the dress was way too long. It was a beautiful, silky cream color, and I am not at all domestic, so I didn’t have a clue what to do to hem it. I ran to the sewing store and bought hemming tape. “I can TAPE it up!” I thought excitedly. It made perfect sense! Nice and easy! I got out the iron and began to iron on the tape. The problem was twofold…the dress had a flare bottom and the hemming came out lumpy and crooked, and also the heat from the iron was melting the silk in the dress! It looked ruined and AWFUL!!! I promptly put the dress down, ran into the bathroom, and threw up. Several times. “Please, God,” I prayed, “I’ve never asked you for anything.” I threw up again “Please, please, please I am on my knees here, please help me out here. I am over my head with this problem.” I knew if ever I needed a miracle, this was it! Still shaking, I got an idea. I ran to the phone book and looked up tailors. There was one about a mile away, so I gathered the dress up and rushed to the tailor. “I need you to fix this!” I almost screamed as I burst into the store. The tailor took one look at it and said “But this dress is ruined. See, here, where you’ve scorched the fabric?” “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE help me!” I begged through tears. He said he would try but could promise nothing. He could have it ready by the following Friday. “NO!” I screamed like a wild woman, “I need it by 4:00 pm this afternoon!” The man was shocked. “I’ll pay any amount of money” I continued to beg. Reluctantly, the gentleman agreed and I burst into more tears of hopeful relief. I drove home to wait until 4:00, and when I got home and opened the mailbox, there was Dinora’s passport for her trip to Greece! I went back to get the dress just in the nick of time for Dinora to get dressed for the prom. It was a miracle, (and for only a charge of $5!) The dress was hemmed and in perfect condition! It was GORGEOUS! He pointed out a few minor spots in the back of the dress where the material was scorched, but he said most of the bad spots he was able to hide under the hem. This was a TRUE miracle which I would appreciate forever. Of course Dinora did not have a clue what I went through for both her passport and her prom dress. She was appreciative, of course, as was I!!!

 

************ For more stories about Francis childhood and our adventure with foster children, please, read my book. Here is a link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11 The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Mothers, Help Your Sons Grow Up to be Fathers…

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My oldest son, Francis, grew up amongst a caravan of foster brothers and sisters. Specializing in newborns and infants who had been affected by prenatal drug exposure and addiction, our family was usually comprised of my husband and myself, Francis, his sister, Dinora, who had been adopted from Guatemala, and one or two foster babies. Despite the fact that Francis is severely visually impaired, he played an active role in child care, frequently holding a little one, feeding a bottle and changing diapers. When going to the mall, he and his sister would proudly push the double stroller. (With the 2 of them, he could be a pusher without having to see where he was going…) Throughout his childhood, sixteen foster babies lived with us, and caring for them was just a fact of life.

Francis is now an adult with a Ph. D. from Cambridge, a well paying dream job, a wonderful wife and a cozy home complete with a grill for grilling steaks and a lawn to mow. And, as of three weeks ago, a newborn baby. My week spent with his little family renewed my faith in the power of what is learned in childhood. Without even knowing it, I had trained Francis how to be a good father! He bundles his little girl up in a baby blanket, like I had bundled up those babies who were going through withdrawal. Newborns like being in a tidy bundle because they arrive with strong startle reflexes and without much control of their arms and legs. By pulling her arms and legs in close and securely wrapping a blanket around her little body, baby India can feel safe and secure. When she is awake and alert, Francis rocks her and sings songs to her, songs that he heard me sing so many years ago: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Hush Little Baby,” and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. Even though she couldn’t possibly know the songs, the sound of his voice quiets her, and these songs are easy to sing. When he is expertly changing her diaper, he plays “This Little Piggy” with her toes, gently pulling her feet to his mouth to kiss. He exaggerates the “wee wee wee home” by tracing his finger from her toes to her chin, tickling her slightly before kissing her forehead. And while she sits in his arms on the couch, ready for bed, he reads her books with very large print; “Goodnight Moon”, and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”.

On the evening before I left to fly home, he looked over at me and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to practice on all those babies years ago. All of his friends are having babies now, he said, and they are all in a tizzy. Because of the practice HE had, he is a confident parent and not at all nervous with India. I realized that by being a foster parent to infants, I was not only caring for little ones, but also nurturing parenting skills in my oldest sons, skills that will ensure he will be an awesome father!

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For more stories about Francis childhood and our adventure with foster children, please, read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

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