Monday, February 23, 2015

Giving in and giving up

This used to be a fun place. Stories about derby, family fights in Walmart, peeing or not peeing in the bushes next to the valet stand..... Ah, we have had some good times.

But the last few years this journal of mine has become downright depressing. People grab tissues before they start reading, or message me that they can't get through my post at work. I am bound and determined to change that, because the next book I write will not be about the emotional roller coaster of fostering. And I think I need to change directions here first, so that the book might have a better chance to follow.


It is almost impossible for me to write anything until I write about the boys.
We gave them up yesterday, and they were moved to a new foster home.
And I am going to tell you about it, and let you judge me and flame me because god knows I am doing that to myself already. But there may be someone out there who needs to hear this because they are feeling trapped or scared or guilty, and I want them to read about my experience and just know that this happened. And that sometimes, it happens.

I am actually sitting here writing this while I sob, because there is no way to even begin to broach this subject without wanting to simultaneously cry and throw up. It's a reality that many foster families experience, but it was a first for me, and so utterly traumatic that I am not sure where to go from here. Part of this is that I am so completely, utterly exhausted I cry at the drop of a hat anyway. I am exhausted physically, emotionally and yes - even for this godless soul - spiritually.

What started out as an answer to my prayers became a living hell. And I am not using those words lightly. Two babies, brothers - in a terrible situation, needed a family to care for them when their own family could not. We never take two children. We never take toddlers. Babies are what we do. Period. Middle of the night feedings, round the clock care, and a newborn for Christmas. It wouldn't be the first time. But a toddler? No. I just...... well.... maybe? Sure. I can do it. I mean, it was the week before Christmas. And when I walked into the CPS office, I knew I had done the right thing. The newborn still had the sticky tape on his skin from the tubes he had been fed with in the hospital. The toddler - exactly 10 months older even though for the life of me I couldn't make that math work - was seemingly without rules or routine. And when we got back to the house I discovered one other detail.
He was angry. Very very angry.

The last two months have been spent comforting people almost 24 hours a day.

Comforting the newborn with thrush, jaundice, digestive issues, an infected eye, a fierce diaper rash, and all of the extra care needed for an infant born with meth in his system.

Comforting the toddler who was suddenly without his mother, who had been exposed to meth for most - if not all - of his life, first in the womb and then via breastmilk, and who was no longer the baby even though he was, in fact, still a baby.

Comforting Lucy, who got the news that her beloved Ella had been reunited with her biological family and that two babies had moved in and taken "little sissy's" place, from her teacher during school lunch.

Comforting Max, who adores babies and was taken aback when the toddler started screaming and simply did not stop. For two months.

Comforting my husband, who realized that a new baby had taken up residence in our bedroom and he was probably never going to get laid again.

For the past two months I have rarely slept for more than 2 hours at a stretch. Every member of our family - including the baby - has been hit, bitten, kicked, punched and head butted by a raging toddler. We have had our entire life, and any semblance of order or schedule, ripped to shreds. We were living in what felt like a communist state - not just at the whim of Child Protective Services, and a crazy visitation schedule that interrupted naps 3 days a week, but also under the control of a small, bowlegged dictator with a dimple and an inner rage that seemed boundless most of the time. We were in a constant struggle to comfort a child that would not allow himself to be comforted.

We were trying to give equal attention and one-on-one time to two children who needed all of our attention all of the time. If I picked one up, the other would cry. And if I put one down to pick up the other, there would be more crying. I couldn't do anything right, and everything felt wrong. The toddler was constantly in danger, chewing on anything he could find from shoes to power cords to door hinges, slamming fingers in drawers that had child-locks on them, and sometimes simply snapping those child locks into two pieces during one of his rages. The baby was always uncomfortable, despite switching formula, sleeping propped up, adding probiotics to his diet, removing dairy, and dosing liberally with gas drops.

I knew this case would be hard, but it felt impossible at times.

I was determined to see it through. I did not want to cause any disruption, I wanted to keep them together, in a safe and quiet home that I had always been able to provide. We just needed to give them some time to settle in, I assured everyone.

And then after the first month, I thought maybe we were turning the corner, and that perhaps things were getting easier. The baby had settled in nicely, and the toddler was sleeping, well, a bit more. At least at night. Naps were not going well at all. In fact he refused to be put in a crib at all.

I was fooling myself. And when I read a letter my son wrote telling me that he didn't think he could live with a toddler anymore, and when my daughter told her teacher that it was horrible to be at home, and when my husband sat me down and told me that I was not being very nice to them because I was so strung out from trying to keep everyone safe and fed and clean and where they needed to be when they needed to be there.... well. I listened. I heard them.

And when I heard my daughter scream while I was in the bathroom, I knew, even as I struggled to pull up my pants, and ran out still clutching toilet paper in my hand, I knew it had to stop. When I saw her crouched on the floor trying to wrestle her finger out from between the toddler's teeth, when I saw her tears and heard the baby crying in the corner and saw that no, I really couldn't leave them alone for even one second, well.... I stopped. I got ice and bandages, and put my daughter out of the toddler's reach even as he continued to lunge at her. I sat down and picked up the phone and called CPS and said "We can't do this anymore." I stared at the huge bruise on my arm, watched my daughter rocking in a corner, saw the welt on the baby's cheek where the toddler had thrown a toy on his head while I was changing his diaper that morning, and I realized in one gut-wrenching moment that I was not doing either of them any good. That I needed to let someone else give it a try. The state wouldn't separate the boys, wouldn't let me keep the baby and let the toddler check out a new living situation - even just for a few weeks. I couldn't just have the toddler moved, I had to give them both up. So I did.

It makes me sick in my heart to pin this on a little boy, a gorgeous vibrant little boy, who needs more love than I could possibly give him. But that is what happened. We could not live with this child. This is not to say that someone else cannot, which is why I have faith that he just needed to be in a different type of situation, Maybe a place with other small children to play with, maybe in a place that was not the place he was brought to when he was taken from his family. I just have to believe that there is a home out there where he can feel safe and a family who can make him feel happy and loved enough.

Because it wasn't working here. I learned, in the hardest possible way, that there are going to be times you have to say "no". Times when you have to say "enough". Times when you have to say "I need a break" or "this is not a good fit for our family". And I am learning that it is okay. It is. It has to be. Someone has to come first - and sometimes, that person is going to be you. Or your family.

People who have seen me with our foster babies have frequently called me an angel, told me I was a blessing. I am not an angel, I am an exhausted human being. I have handed in my halo and cut off my wings. I know that there are people who don't understand, and who are disappointed in me.
Or disgusted with me.

I know I am.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2 under 1: Remembering to put on a bra is good enough for now

Hi there.

For the last month I have written so many posts in my head during middle of the night feedings, only to have them erased when I wake up in the morning. Actually it feels like every thought in my head meets the same fate these days.

I am trying, man. I am trying. But this is no fun at all. On the outside, it might look great now and then. The boys are beautiful, and sweet. The photo ops are plentiful. But there are a lot of issues here, and as we struggling to figure it all out, and find the boys the help they will need to navigate the world around them, it is exhausting.

It's not just the fatigue.

It's trying to get the babies to sleep - maybe even at the same time. Maybe even somewhere other than my arms.

It's figuring out why they are crying when you are woken out of a dead sleep, and resolving the issue before the cry escalates to a blood-curdling shriek and they wake up the entire house. Usually we hit shriek status almost immediately, so as a result it sounds like I am living with a herd of howler monkeys. Especially at 4am for some reason.

It's remembering to bathe on a regular basis. Or maybe just get my hair wet and comb it.

It's holding back the tears when I finally do take a shower, and then instantly find myself covered in barf - or worse - while I am still wrapped in a towel and trying to brush my teeth.

It's learning to live with the screaming and crying and reminding myself that they are safe and loved, and that I can't do more then I am doing. That sometimes they will have to wait, or sit in a playpen for a few minutes while I, oh I don't know, poop. Alone.

It's doing everything with one hand. Everything.

It's coming to terms with leaving your grocery cart at customer service and apologizing for having to leave in the middle of shopping because someone's diaper leaked and someone else is hungry even though they were changed and fed before we went in.

It's taking the time to make sure they eat before they go to visit their mom, because chances are they won't get more than a bottle of formula while they are there.

It's celebrating when I get everyone in the car and actually drive away from the house on the first try.

It's feeling proud of myself when I leave the house in clean clothes and a bra.

It's the sense of accomplishment when I get the kids where they need to be when they need to be there, or when I both remember I have an appointment and actually get there on time.

It's washing AND drying the laundry, and then actually putting it away. It might not be folded, but it's not on my sofa.

It's realizing that I might actually need a minivan, and then finding a way to avoid driving one after all.

It's having a community that understands that when I get a new case, I have to clear my calendar for a while, and not making me feel terrible when I don't show up.

It's admitting I need help, and having friends and family show up to save my ass, cover me at work, or just sit and hold the baby so I can take a nap.

None of this comes natural. None of this is easy or fun. But it is keeping me sane. And saving my marriage. And giving my kids a mom who can still function most of the time.

Not all of the time. But it's good enough for now.

It has to be.

This is all I've got.