Hooligan Zoo

Two Zookeepers… many Hooligans… It's always feeding time at this zoo!

“Those People”

I was once speaking at a PRIDE foster parent training course, and I usually like to hit a few main points that I wish had been hit for us, or things that I’ve just come to realize over the years that we were fostering.

I was commenting on how important it is to create a kind and caring relationship with the biological parents of the kids in our care.  How it was considerate, how it made things easier for all of us, and how it’s important to remember that these are not OUR children.

A woman at the meeting commented that she didn’t understand why we would go to such effort, that the bio parents should simply be grateful to us for caring for their children.

When I explained that these parents love their children, she was disbelieving and dismissive.

I was floored.

At the audacity.

Of this woman, making blanket statements from her position of privilege on people who had not been given the same advantages as she had been.

“Those people” love their children?  Then why are they taken away?  Why don’t they do what’s best?

And here’s the thing, friends.  Hear me when I say this.  Those people, those daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, those people, those mothers and fathers, they love their children as much as you love yours.

Zayda’s first visit with her mom after she came into care was eye opening.  Her mom’s first comment was, “Oh, she’s so clean!  She’s in foster care, and she’s so clean!”

My heart was absolutely shattered.  This young woman, this woman who herself had grown up in foster care was shocked that a foster parent would provide a home where her child would be clean.  What must she herself have experienced to be surprised at that?

Another foster parent friend of mine had an experience with the parent of one of her babes that was fairly similar.  My friend was in her van traveling with the parents of the babe.  The mom commented that CAS had apprehended her child because of neglect.

My friend asked her why she thought that was, what she thought that CAS was calling neglect.

The mom responded that her baby was NOT neglected.  That she herself KNEW what neglect was, that she herself had LIVED neglect, and that she was providing so much more than she had for herself when she grew up.

So, my thought is this.  As parents, as people who have grown up even in typical “good enough” homes, we are always striving to do more and to do better than our own parents did with us.  What if these parents, these parents who lose their children, what if they are also doing their very best to do better than what they were given?  They are leveling up from what they know, from how they were raised, but that level was so low, leveling up is simply not good enough.

How can anyone say that those people do not love their children?

That those people don’t deserve help?

That those people should just know better?

Do they not deserve the same advantages, the same opportunities to learn, to fail, to try again, that we all have had?

When I talk about fostering, people are always surprised at how vehemently I defend the parents of the children that we’ve had.  Of all of the children we have welcomed into our home, only one child did not have parents who also grew up in foster homes.

How can we expect adults who have not known healthy attachment to be able to attach in healthy ways to their children?

We all know that the system is broken, and that (most of) the people working within the system are doing their absolute level best for the children.  If foster care worked, we would not have generations of people growing up in the system.

We had one father who once told me his entire heartbreaking life story.  Afterwards, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “no one has ever listened to that and not blamed me.”

Parents deserve our compassion.  And by giving them our compassion and grace, we allow them to see a little bit of what being good enough can be.  And that may be something that they have never before experienced in their lives.  How is that not good for their children?

 

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”                                   Romans 15:1-3

 

**disclaimer:  there are absolutely cases where people have children and mentally and physically abuse them who do not deserve a second chance.  That is an entirely different story.  In our case, and I think in the majority of cases when young children are apprehended, it is because of neglect, where the parents do not know how or what to provide for their children.**

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The Other Side

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That little guy up there, he was only supposed to be with us for 6 weeks, but was instead with us for 7 months.  He was 4 months old when he came to us, and is almost one now.

He left us on Monday, picked up amongst many tears from us, and from the workers, and was placed in what everyone is hoping will be his forever home.

The transition took place over about 6 weeks.  He gradually spends more and more time with his family, spends overnights, and then he’s just gone from us.

Those 6 weeks are some of the hardest that we ever do as a foster family.  You have this deadline of them leaving you hanging over your head.  You have no control over where they go.  If you’re especially lucky, you have amazing workers (we did) who continuously seek your input as you have contact with where the child is going.

So, just about every day over those six transition weeks, we are packing up the babe who has become a HUGE part of our family, all for the purpose of allowing him to transfer that trust to someone else.  We know from the moment that a child comes into our house, that they will be leaving.  That doesn’t make it easier when they leave.

Ephraim has the most outwardly hard time with transition.  He acts up a little, is more weepy…  Talya will have her brief moments, and then go off and flit around the way she does.  Zi is the most verbal.  She outright says, “this sucks.”  Cries a little, spends a LOT of time with the little one in question.

Our job as foster parents is to love these kids as if they are our own, knowing all the time that they will be leaving us.  People talk a lot about how awesome it is for the kids in our care that we do this, but I think that we are equally benefited.

It’s incredible to us that we are given the privilege of seeing their milestones, soothing their hurts, in some cases, helping them catch up a little.  We truly believe that it’s a privilege.  When the child’s family can’t give them what they need, we’re able to for the short time that they’re with us.

The benefits to us as a family, and to our kids?  Oh man.  I have seen our kids grow and become such giving little creatures.  They instantly accept every single child that comes into our house.  Without question.  That child becomes a part of our family right away.

Our kids do diapers, they rock to sleep, they do bottles.  They don’t complain.  They love it.  And they miss them when they aren’t here.

8 foster kids have come through our house in less than 2 years.  And it still isn’t any easier when they leave.

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Believe it or not, we are not heartless.

“I would love to foster, but I don’t think I could ever let the kids go.”
“I don’t know how you let them go.”
“I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t send them on.”

We hear stuff like this ALL the time. A friend said to me yesterday that someone said to her that she didn’t know how we can let the kids go, and my friend was mad. Mad that it implies that we are heartless people, mad that it implies that we don’t care, that it implies that we can just have kids come in and go, with no feelings whatsoever.

It so isn’t true. We grieve. Our hearts break. There are tears for a long time after someone leaves us. It is so hard, so very very hard.

But, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary. Fostering is hard, yes, so many parts of it are hard, but that doesn’t make it not worthwhile. Doesn’t make us cold and heartless for being able to let them go.  God doesn’t only ask us to do the easy things.

Yesterday we said goodbye to a wee little thing that had been with us for 7 months. We’d been through a lot with this little girl. Two, almost three, hospital visits for respiratory issues. Lots and lots of access. Typical baby stuff.

We watched her grow from this wee little thing who just laid on the floor, to the terror that she is today. Crawling like a maniac, getting into things, bullying the other little girl we have now. We got to see her personality develop like crazy.

Sleepless nights, feedings, diapers, we did all of that. We loved her like she was our own, while always remembering that we would one day have to let her go.

And let her go we did. It took five weeks to transition her back to her parents. Parents who Ja and I both like very much, parents who themselves had a crappy start in life, spending most of it in foster care themselves. Parents who are trying very hard to be the parents that the toad needs them to be.

My anxiety level grew as we got closer to the “official” date to have her go home.

Zi, at one point during the transition, commented that she wished Toad was just gone. Because then the pain could stop.

Eph said yesterday that it’s so hard, but it’s totally worth it.

A friend sent me this fantastic article, and this part really touched me,

I texted my friend, Nancy: “Why are we doing this again? It hurts so bad.”

Nancy: “Because if we aren’t there to be Jesus with skin on, his mom may have never felt Jesus’ hands and feet restoring her family and those kids may have never felt safe and clean and loved and valued. It does hurt. Praise God that your heart is still tender for these kids and not calloused!”

The most common misconception about foster parents is that they have hearts made of steel. I can assure you that this heart is not made of steel. It’s tender and bruised. But I have a God bigger than the hurt. A God who comforts me, heals me, and prepares me to love another child in need. A God who uses my hands and feet to point to Jesus.

God gave us an incredible support group.  We had so many people checking in on us yesterday, and a wonderful friend not only brought dinner (and icecream!), but also sent me this email today;

God understands more than anyone the sacrifice you have made and how your heart aches giving up these precious munchkins. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Him to turn Jesus over to the likes of us! One day He will heal your heart, hold you in His arms and thank you for caring for His babies.

And you know what?  They’re all His babies.  Yours, mine, the ones that just pass through here for a short time, they’re all His.

Yes, it IS hard to let them go.  It’s one of the hardest things that we’ve ever had to do as a family.  It hurts us more than I can say.  The tears that we shed are many.  It creates an ache in my heart that doesn’t ever go away.  But?  My God is big.  He is bigger than all of it.  And He keeps us going until the next child comes, and we are able to soothe the hurt with the ability to help and love someone else who needs it.

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6 Months, 6 Kids

I started this post many months ago, and am only just now feeling prepped to finish it…

This foster parent thing is quite the ride, I tell ya. Full of ups and downs, falling in love, letting go… exhaustion, worry… really all of the things that you experience being a regular parent as well.

I think the difference with the foster thang, as we like to call it, is that you’re loving these kids IN ORDER to let them go. We’re the stopping place. We’re the place where we try to fill them up with as much good stuff, love, stability, food, as we can, before they go on somewhere else. Whether that’s home, to an adoptive family, or what have you.

When we signed those papers back in May, we were sure that it was going to be eons of time until we got the call for our first little charge. It was, in fact, 5 days before we had our first placement. Four weeks later we had our second little charge, a week after that, our first charge went home, and then a week after that, we had a second little boy placed with us. That gave us a 17 month old boy, and a 15 month old boy at the same time.

The boys, Thing 1 and Thing 2 were with us for 5 months.

Thing 2 got to go and live with an aunt, and Thing 1 was adopted into an absolutely amazing family.

He was third generation to grow up in the system, his grandmother and his mother both grew up in foster care. Since he was placed with us, our entire church family was praying for him. For his new family. For God to touch his heart, and remain with him wherever he went.

When we got the call for the meeting to go and meet the potential adoptive parents, Ja commented that maybe it was the couple that we had taken the PRIDE course with. I laughed, because, obviously he was a foolish, foolish man, and there was no way that was possible.

Turns out, it was them! This wonderful Christian couple that we had really liked when we took the course. The woman and I hugged, with the adoption worker looking confused, caught up a little bit, and headed into the meeting.

I can’t tell their part of the story, but I do know this. She had been praying for faith. After so many years, years of infertility, years of trying to adopt, to finally get the call, she had been praying for faith that if this was God’s plan, it would happen. That she would have a sign. That it would be so obvious to her.

Later she said to me that it being us was the first sign. Then, the word faith kept coming up in the meeting, and her heart was singing, and she just knew that Thing1 was supposed to be hers.

We transitioned him to their home in a way that God could have only had his hand directly on. It was so smooth. The entire time, this couple were so kind and considerate as to OUR feelings, our hooligans feelings. They wanted to do everything possible to make it an easy transition for him to be in his forever home.

And, it really was. It felt so natural to be with them. The transfer of our little guys affections was seamless, and felt really right. I stopped being his momma, and truly, truly became Auntie Jamie.

Before the transition, when I got Thing 1 in trouble, he would run to her. Afterwards, when we were visiting about a month after the placement, she gave him trouble, and he ran to me!

We still see them and chat with them fairly frequently. In this case, I don’t feel like we lost a child at all, but more like we gained a family. They are very dear to us, and I still get goosebumps about the way the whole thing happened.

I know that God is always in control, that he can allow things to happen, but, I still get goosebumps when I tell this story and realize how very true that is. How none of this could have happened.

One of my Sunday School teachers said that she could one day see Thing 1 standing up in front of a group of people, telling his testimony, telling where he came from, how his cycle was broken. Gesturing at parents who have loved him unconditionally from the moment they first heard his name.

His new mom and I both hold that picture in our hearts. I can’t wait to see it actually happen.

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Personality Explosion!

It’s funny, we’ve had this little guy for almost a month now…  we thought in the beginning that he was settling in really fine.  He was pretty smiley and content with us from the very beginning.  Not too shy…  he seemed to be eating okay, although he does turn his nose up at water.  (Hint: two little drops of juice, just enough to colour the water, and he’s good to go!)

 
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A friend of ours said that she always thought it was interesting how foster kids that her sister had would really blossom over the time that they were there.  That they would just really come alive and explode with personality.  At first I thought that wasn’t going to happen here, because we had already started out on a good footing…

But, the past week and a half or so, my goodness.  We’ve had a few tantrums (I took markers away that were being used to colour on the wall… I know, mean, right?), which is really a good thing.  It means he feels safe.  It means he feels comfortable.  And that is exactly what we want for him while he’s here.

On top of the tantrums, oh my goodness can this boy eat.  And eat.  And eat.  His personality has exploded in ways I couldn’t even imagine.  He laughs, initiates games with us, loves to snuggle.  Reads books, comes to us when he wants something, and seriously, the belly laugh bears mentioning AGAIN.  It’s really incredible.

Our kids are enamoured.  We will all be very sad when he leaves us.  It’s all a learning process, this first little hooligan, for all of us.  Zi has learned to change diapers (she wanted to), Eph is LOVING having another boy around.  I’ll need a whole other blog post to tell about the amount of wrestling the two boys do.  Talya is absolutely thrilled to be a “big sister.”  She did tell Ja recently that it was hard though.  😉

She’s the one who seems to be the most affected.  Talya is more clingy, more seeking out our attention.  She’s had a few jealous scuffles over toys, but that’s all to be expected.  We’re making extra effort to read to her, and listen to her, draw with her, those kinds of things.

All in all, still an excellent experience.  Even our interactions with the little guy’s parents have been really good.

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