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Thursday, December 27, 2007

When It Happens

I'm not sure this story will mean anything to anyone else, but since I have been asked several times to share more about foster care, I thought I should.

You know how sometimes you will imagine a certain situation and try to figure out in advance how to handle it so that you don't get caught off guard? I do that sometimes, mostly because I panic and do the opposite of what I would have had I the time to think it over. For 15 months I have been contemplating a scenario that had me worried, and today it came to fruition.

When a child is placed in foster care here (Ohio), the amount of contact a parent gets with the kids is determined by the severity of the charges that brought about the removal. With our youngest son (his sister was not yet born) it was pretty bad. Mom was caught with packages of steak down her pants in the store, she was positive for drugs (as was dad a week earlier when he was carted off to jail), the baby was being left in the abandoned building they were hiding in, and the neglect was severe and apparent by his complete lack of emotion/eye contact and the fact that he would sit for hours at a time and stare off into space. An exam revealed that his back was totally flat, meaning he was left lying on it all the time, and he had no muscle tone to speak of. So mom and dad got an hour of supervised visitation a week and that was it. The only thing more severe would have been for them to have no visitation at all.

I believe they came to 3 visits before they disappeared. We were still required to be there on time until they had missed enough to cancel visitation until further notice. Then it was pretty great, not having to add that trip to the physical, occupational, and speech therapy twice a week as well as numerous doctor visits (including MRIs and complete hearing evaluations, etc.) AND the special preschool.

We had another little girl at the time who's mother was in a rehab house, so we would drop her off there for the hour visits. It was literally a house with parking right out front, and I had to take the girl to the door and sign her in. They were not allowed to come get her. I was never more than 25 feet from the kids, but it still made me very nervous. One day I was dropping her off and the lady in charge said to wait a minute because the mother was downstairs and she needed to ask me about a possible schedule change. So I stepped inside and waited VERY impatiently for her to come upstairs, looking out the door often to see if the kids were OK. She finally appeared and we had a quick conversation about the schedule, and I said it was Ok with me, but everything had to be approved by the caseworker as well.

I went out to the car and started it and was at the end of the driveway when my oldest said, "Mom? Do you see that lady in the back yard? She came over and asked Tyler if he remembered her? She said she was his mom." I think I literally hit the brakes and everyone lurched forward. I looked in my rear view mirror and sure enough it was her. So when we got to Wal-Mart, I called the caseworker and told her what happened. Her reply was, "Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. Jess is a client there now." I wasn't sure if I was madder at the caseworker for not telling me, or Jess for approaching my kids in the car when she had no authorized contact with her son.

When I went to the house for the next visit, I was extremely anxious. When I think about it, the times I have been physically anxious to the point of panic in my life have pretty much been in foster situations. I say that not to scare anyone off, but to prepare you for what the reality of it all is. I rolled up the windows, locked the doors, and left my oldest with instructions to honk the horn if she came near the car again. At this point it was not a matter of feeling like we were competing for the child. I learned early on not to put that kind of 'stock' into kids in our care because the out come is so unpredictable. My concern was 1. traumatizing the little boy, 2. getting in trouble for allowing unauthorized contact, 3. anything stupid she might try with my kids to get back at me for 'taking' hers. I picked up the little girl I was dropping off and RAN with her to the door. I rang the doorbell three times in 5 seconds! As soon as the door opened, I pushed my way in, put the little girl on a chair, wrote something illegible on the line where my name went, and ran back to the car. It was speed Olympians would envy. Everyone was fine as I tried to get my shaking hand to steady so I could unlock the door. I got in and rolled down the windows, breathing a little easier, and started the car. I backed into the turn around, and just as I was putting it in forward to head out the drive, I saw someone standing in the driveway in front of me. It was her. She walked over to my window and said "You're Amy, right?" I want to stop here for a second and say that when they tell you in foster training that you will have anonymity; it is a load of crap. I've had biological parents get hospital bills with their kids' names, my name, address, phone, and date of birth mailed to THEIR house! So, I couldn't exactly lie. I said yes. She moved to the window behind mine, where her son was sitting, and started to talk to him. This is one of those times when I froze and did not know what to do. We were told over and over not to treat the parents badly, and not to upset the kids more than is necessary, and I personally have a hard time NOT reaching out to anyone who needs help. When I was younger I would spend my allowance on canned goods and give them to this man who had no job and stood outside K-Mart with a sign that said "Will work for food". I still have trouble with taking in abandoned animals. When no one at church offered to house the missionaries that came to our church, we took home five young men. 14 people in a 1900 square foot house- but I loved it!

So I just sat there while she grilled him about our house and was he happy and after what felt like an eternity, the woman in charge of the rehab house came out and yelled at her that she was not allowed to do that and to get back inside. As she walked in front of the car, I thought she looked pregnant, but I couldn't be sure. The whole way home I was preoccupied with beating myself up about how I should have handled it. I did not want to scare Tyler. I did not want to make an enemy out of the woman who was supposed to get him back for many reasons. But I also knew I had set a precedent of allowing her to step on me and the rules without confrontation.

A few weeks after this incident, I was informed that her initial 30 day 'isolation' period was over and that we would be having visits again. Because she was starting over, though, they would be at the DJFS office, for which I was profoundly thankful. I also learned that she was, indeed, pregnant, and the caseworker said they had made a deal that she could keep the baby with her in rehab if she stayed clean, but if something happened, would we take the baby. We said yes. We had been wanting a baby for a long time, though we knew this was far from being an adoption situation yet, and we agreed in the beginning we wanted to work to keep siblings together.

So fast forward about 4 months. The baby was born and living with mom in the rehab house. About six weeks after the birth, though, mom disappeared, leaving the baby with the counselor on duty, and when they searched her room, they found several prescriptions (filled) for Vicodin. The baby came home with us and I had a very hard time remembering that she was not ours. About this time biological dad appeared again, saying he had completed a rehab stint himself and was ready to do whatever it took to get his kids back. So he had visits with them while mom was AWOL. She eventually reappeared, and the plan was for the two of them to get the kids back together. (I know, it’s a crazy roller-coaster ride of a story)

So while they did the parenting classes, outpatient rehab, and several other requirements, we had weekly visits at the agency. Jess was always looking for something to get me in trouble for- Tyler's fingernails were too long, then too short, his hair looked like it had been cut without her permission, he had a bruise on his cheek (from the seizure incident I talked about previously), she hated the helmet he then had to wear to protect his head, she hated the orthotics, the shoes we bought to fit over the orthotics, etc., etc., etc. While I did not worry about her word holding any water with anyone in authority, I had heard of cases where the parents complained enough to get the kids removed to another foster home. I guess the idea is if they can prove everyone else sucks, they’ll get the kids back. That scared me because we had become attached to these kids and wanted to either be 'friendly' enough to keep up with them when they went home or keep them if they did not. Throughout this time, I was physically anxious as well, and sometimes with good reason. Once I covered the baby carrier with Maggie's baby blanket because all the others were in the wash, and it never came home. Jess lied and said we never brought in a blanket, and the caseworker was not paying any attention to have seen one or not. That broke my heart, because one of my fears with foster/adopt was how it might affect Maggie. We got into it to make sure she had siblings, but I was always worried about the cost of building a family that way. Another time we were getting out of the car and just as I went to shut my door, the baby put her hand out and her finger got caught in the door jam. Oh, how I cried! And we were on our way IN for a visit. Jess screamed at me immediately, and tried to get the caseworker to write me up, but she said it had happened with her own kids and the finger was fine. There were many more small incidents, but they culminated in a very real physical toll on me.

By September the caseworker was talking of the kids going home before Christmas, so we put ourselves in that mode, praying and preparing. I had a pain in the pit of my stomach at the thought of them going home, but trusted Yahweh that I did not know all and that He was in control. I was worried, too, that they would not be able to handle the special needs, since they were making fun of the helmet and saying he was perfectly fine when they had him. Suddenly in October they disappeared again, without a word. Christmas came and went and nothing still. It was an emotional and physical reprieve for me. In January the county petitioned the court for permanent custody of Tyler because he had been in care for 2 years at that point. They won, and we signed intent to adopt papers. Then a letter arrived from Jess to the caseworker that she knew it was too late for her little boy, but she was determined to get her baby girl back. That lit a fire under me. I was hopping mad. I hated the law that each case plan has to be 2 years when it was obvious that she could not make the right choices for one kid. And I wept bitterly at the thought of this baby waking up in the middle of the night in a strange place wondering why I had left her. By this point, it was about the kids being mine. I had left the 'foster parent' role for the 'true mother' role and was not going back. Then Jess sent me a letter.

It was ridiculous, both from a grammatical standpoint, and a common sense standpoint. She went back and forth between judging me ("How can you possibly give enough love to that many kids?") to telling me I had no right to judge her ("All I did wrong was being a drug addict. I know mothers who have done worse!") and just in general was nothing but a burr in my side. By this point, it had been 5 months since she had seen the baby, so they were able to file a petition for permanent custody under the abandonment clause! Hallelujah!!!!!!!!! When it was granted and we could sign the petition to adopt her as well, I felt some relief, but I was also very anxious to get it completely done. Jess had started working at the McDonald's in town, so I couldn't go there any more. Then she started working at the library (homeschoolers without a library!?!) and I just got the impression in general that she was stalking us. Well, of course we had one paperwork nightmare after another. The state couldn't find our license on file, judges were out for vacation, and on and on. It was October before we got a court date! Crazy!!!!

At the hearing (or whatever you call it cause it was just a giant photo-op) when the judge said "These children are now completely and legally your" I couldn't hold it in anymore. I cried like a crazy lady. After our dinner out, we came home and took a nap. I never take naps because I get headaches, but I was totally exhausted. It had really taken a toll on me physically. That night about 12:30 my mom called me. She was kinda quiet, but I could tell something was wrong. She had gotten a call while in the shower and the caller ID was the biological parents. I was flaming mad again. Why did they call my mom? How did they know this was the adoption day? How far would they go to see the kids again? Would they hurt my family? Kidnap the babies? I felt totally violated. The next day I found out they called the caseworker as well and left her a message that they were writing a book about their experience. Then a week later there was a poem in the local paper from Jess (she signed her full name and all) about how her kids were taken from her and how it broke her heart. That just made me madder. She chose the drugs. She had 2 years and a million chances. But by this time, she had been fired from all those jobs and I was free to go about my life again, though always looking over my shoulder!

So December came. It had been 15 months since the kids had seen their parents (praise Yahweh they weren't with me any of the times I ran into her) and we decided to put together some pictures for the Grandma, who said the kids needed to be somewhere else because if she took them, the parents would never stay away. She knows someone who knows us and they told us how she was sad about the kids and since it wasn't her fault, we thought we would give her the pictures so that she had something of them. But I did not get them mailed on time. I was also worried that if Jess found out, she would come after me for not sending her something, or would take it as a sign that she could contact us. But I also wanted the Grandmother to have something and felt it was wrong for her to suffer because of the bad choices of her son and his girlfriend. Every time I tried to go to town to mail them, though, something happened. For whatever reason, I did not get them mailed. Then it was Christmas Eve.

Now, I have told you all of this background story so that you will understand the full implication of what happened next. It was dusk, but still light enough that we could see outside. A car pulled in and stopped at the end of the drive. Someone got out and tied something to our address post, and I thought it was Jess. Then they left. It was a letter. In the letter she said how much they missed the kids and wanted to come over and give them Christmas gifts. Countless emotions ran through my mind. First was sympathy. I felt sorry for her and could not imagine the pain of losing my kids. Then I felt vulnerable, that she knew where I lived and wanted her kids back and that I would have to be hyper-vigilant so that they would not 'disappear' suddenly. Then I felt defensive and wanted to scream that she would invade my space and upset my kids (they all saw her EXCEPT the two littlest!). Then I felt annoyed that her stunt would bring out behaviors and memories in my other kids when I had just gotten them almost 'normal' again. Then I felt jealous that she thought she had any right to the kids who were now and forever 'totally and legally mine'. Then I got mad. I was really mad. All of those emotions combined made me feel like she was stepping on the rules again. She thought she could force her way to my kids because I had been powerless against her when I was JUST the foster mom. I half yelled at Gary that this was another reason to move out of state, that she would never leave us alone, and that she was creating problems with our OTHER kids as well.

I also went into hpyer-think, because all the times I had imagined the confrontation and what I would do, I never imagined it in my own driveway. I always thought I would see her in the store and she would come and take the baby out of my arms like she used to do. Or she would pick up bubby despite his protests like she used to do. I never thought it would happen here. And I tried to imagine what I would say if she came back, but I never could. I just couldn't play that one out in my mind. And I believe it was the Rauch HaKodesh that wouldn't allow me to imagine it, because when she came back, it was Gary who confronted her.

I was not feeling well yesterday, so I took a nap (and got a headache). Then I couldn't sleep because I wasn't tired, so I stayed up watching a movie, and in turn I slept in this morning. I would have gotten up when the baby called for me, but Gary knew I was worn out from the last few days, so he shut my door and kept the kids quiet. I woke up at 9:40 (man that's late!) and opened my eyes, but I did not move at all. I could faintly hear the kids in the living room with Gary and I smiled when I realized what he had done. And then I heard the dog bark, though that doesn't alarm me because he has an ongoing thing with this deer that likes to taunt him from the woods. But then someone yelled "a car is here" and before I even had a chance to roll over, a small but panicked voiced yelled "It's Jessica!" I flew out of the bed, though I was still in my nightgown, and ran out in the hall. I grabbed the two littlest and took them in my room. Gary was heading toward the front door. It seemed like forever until he came back. Then I saw the gifts in the living room, and I got a little upset at Gary for accepting them because now she will think she can show up whenever she wants. But then he showed me the pictures she had left. One thing our kids always get upset about is that they have no pictures of their lives before they came here. For some that is years of a missing life. We have tried to get pictures from anyone who knew them, or even from the parents, so when she offered pictures, he took the gifts as well knowing it was a compromise worth the risk. She had asked if she could come in and he said no. That made her cry.

And all at once I was reminded of why we are not supposed to walk this life alone. I couldn't imagine what I would do in that situation, and I believe Yahweh knew I couldn't handle it. He didn't allow me to worry about what I would do, and He spared me from actually facing it. Instead, He sent my husband who is stronger. Had it been me, I would have felt intimidated. I am never unaware of the fact that the kids were not born of me. I feel the hurt when the oldest four refer to their biological mother as ‘mom’. I always feel like I have to compete, and that makes me feel inferior. I also remember the frustration of not wanting to upset Jess and how that set the precedent of her walking over me and how she always tried to get away with more when it was me than she did with Gary. And I know that the crying would have been hard for me, not to feel for her and want to help her in the only way I knew- to let her see the kids. Because despite all the feelings I have ever felt toward her, I also fully understand the driving love force for the child born of your own body. It is very real and when I have put myself in the place of the parents who lose their kids, I would imagine doing ANYTHING to see them again.

I do not know how people who are single deal with these issues, as I know several single mothers who are foster/adopt parents. What I have learned, or rather seen reinforced again in my own life, is why Yahweh meant for kids to have two parents. Why the woman is the weaker vessel. Why we compliment and complete one another in our marriage covenant. Why we should bear one another's burdens.

I have tried to think about what I would do if she comes around again, but have not been able to play that scenario through in my head, and I am not going to push it. There is a reason why, and whatever that reason, I am just going to trust that I will be the voice of the True and Living God regardless of what I face. Maybe that was the trouble all along- I was preparing myself instead of relying on Him. And rather than take up so much room in my mind with all my hypothetical scenarios and how I would react, I think it better to just fill my whole mind with His Word and the Rauch HaKodesh and not try to react out of my own 'wisdom'. And knowing that, just like knowing my husband was here and I did not have to face it alone, has lifted that heavy physical burden from me and allowed me a chance to experience the joy of my life for the first time in a long time. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have concerns about what may happen, but I have been reminded that I am not here alone when it does. I don’t have to do it by myself.


a soldier's wife said...

I can't even imagine going through what you and your family have gone through, but I'm so glad that you and your husband have your faith and God's strength to be with you on this walk.

Audrey said...

Wow, I'm exhausted just reading that I couldnt imagine actually going through it. It's very apparent though that you are under YHWH's protection.

I was raised by my dad from about 18 months on and never knew my bio mom until I was 16, then not again until I was 20. I never could understand her choice to choose drugs and herself over me, because I am so opposite. You would have to pull my children from my dead hands before I would give them up.

Dont let her still your peace though, it is obvious that you are in HIS will and HE will bless you for that! Enjoy being those babies mommy!


Lovin' Life Liz said...

What a story, and way to lean on God!!

Lovin' Life Liz said...

Thanks for your comment! I can not stand tornadoes and snakes either! But the lowish cost of living is rather nice! :) I think I am starting to dislike snow more than tornadoes, its getting old!

I used to work in child welfare--so I def. know its a difficult system to work with. I totally admire foster and adoptive parents and the gifts they offer to children!

Anonymous said...

whew what a post my dear friend, I do hope things are getting settled with you now. It was nice playing catch up on your blog this evening and the pictures of you family are just great, you have a heart of gold!

MommaofMany said...

I had a BirthMom follow us home and bring presents to me trying to get us to do "secret" visits. I reported her, of course, and gave the gifts to the social worker, and then birthmom got SO mad at me! She eventually got the kids back, as we knew she would. The birthmom of the sibling group we adopted has, thankfully, never bothered us. I do wonder if we'll ever run into her at the store or something, but we haven't. She was in a town about 20 miles away the last time I heard about her, which was a couple of years ago.

Blessings to you and your family!