Toddler Facts!

While it is widely believed that toddlers are best equipped to survive when in captivity, conventional wisdom suggests that they rarely remain subservient to their captors. When scientists observed a focus group known as parents, over 99.9% reported that at some point in the rearing of toddlers, there had been a drastic shift in the dynamic of power, wherein, the toddler demanded and the parent responded. These responses ranged from preparing meals to the toddler’s liking to wiping fecal matter from the toddler’s behind in an attempt to remove the presence of an offensive odor the toddler neither notices nor minds.

As a result, various books have been produced over the decades written by experts ranging from clergy, wherein shaming said toddlers became the mainstay for parents to guilt their child back into submission, to philosophers. A rare breed of narcissistic navel-gazers who express their feelings in terms of colors. Engaging in full-fledged negotiations with the toddler at his eye level, later to discover they’d been robbed of their inner peace and dignity, left only with the fresh scent of patchouli oil.

While both views have merit in some parallel dimensions, where panda-tear latte’s are served with every meal, there are really no 100% effective methods of re-calibrating the balance of power. Instead, there are a list of truisms that seem to reverberate across the board in this particular focus group. Understanding the facts surrounding toddlers is the first step to gaining insight into their tactics. They are as follows:

  1. Your toddler likely has a close connection with his more primitive animal kingdom counter-part, the monkey. Never is this more evident than at nap time, when placed inside his enclosure, which resembles a prison in every aspect minus a secure ceiling. That singular omission will cost you much of your sleep. The walls of this enclosure are generally polished to a slick sheen; this will slow your toddler, not one bit. The power to weight ratio of a toddler is 6:1. This finite math suggests that, even at full extension, a toddler can lift himself, using his heel as a lever-point, up and over a wall, taller than he, in just under seven seconds. Times vary based upon the weight of the diaper he is wearing at the time of escape. For this reason, it is not advised that you change your toddlers diaper upon request, as it is likely a tactic to lighten his load for a faster escape time and would, otherwise, remain perfectly content to sit in its contents.
  2. If your toddler throws his food, this means he has had enough of your sub-par cooking for one meal. This does not mean he is full, nor does it excuse you from your kitchen duties, as you will now be expected to clean up after him in preparation for his next meal. In addition, never should you think for one second that whatever you were planning on eating that day is suddenly yours. Even if the amount proportioned for your toddler, which was the exact same thing, was just swept from the floor, indistinguishable from what used to be a remote control (or clicker for anyone with a grandtoddler at home). On the contrary, any bite you consume will likely cost you dearly during the negotiation tactic known as The Tantrum. You may choose to ignore this tactic, but this will likely only prolong this tactic indefinitely and annoy you without recourse. More often than not, you will cave like the Minnesota Viking’s stadium lid, sacrificing the majority of your own meal into topping-off your little bottomless pit. For this reason, toddlers are often referred to as America’s #1 diet and exercise program, turning P90X into T24/7X, now available at beachbody.com.
  3. If there is a single dirty spot or item in the house, it will be found and spread across all surfaces, starting with his cleanest shirt and freshly washed hair. From there it will be distributed in the following manner: Dry-clean only fabrics, electronics priced highest to lowest; finally, anything with sentimental value will get what remains. If they can’t find a dirty substance, they will manufacture one. For this reason, many parents have found that keeping a basin of rancid water in a small room at toddler level for easy access is the safest way to control the distribution of toxic waste. In this scenario, the above items will merely be collected and thrown haphazardly inside, making them easy to find and fun to retrieve for the whole family.
  4. Nothing shows off your personal class and sophistication like foam bumpers on the corners of your handmade cherry furniture. Where carefully placed items of value were once displayed, remote controls, cell phones, keys, wallets, open-top beverages, tissue boxes, and various electronic devices now lay. This not only keeps everything of meaning to you in one convenient space, it also motivates your toddler to monkey-climb your shelving to obtain these items. In fact, the simple act of placing an innocuous item, such as a half-drunk, cold cup of coffee on a high shelf, will immediately invalidate whatever distraction you previously gained with the $500 in colored plastic noisemakers, currently strewn across your living room floor. Those are garbage now, and your coffee is suddenly your toddlers sole purpose in life. Put it in a tippie-cup, you say? Go ahead. He won’t want it anymore, and will, instead, occupy his every waking minute focusing on removing the lid.
  5. Disposable income with toddlers will, most definitely, be converted into disposable diapers and wipes. An investment without a return, despite the fact that deposits are made routinely, usually upon the fastening of the final snap of a onesie or the securing of the final strap on a car seat.

The above is not an exhaustive list, by any means. Nor does it offer you a single solution to these problems. If I had the answers to these problems, I would not be writing this blog to you. I would be in robes on a mountain in Tibet. But, solutions aside, the toddler, with his messes and constant need for every ounce of your time and energy, is still, far and away, the most wonderful thing you could ever have your life turned up-side-down for. I have been blessed with two. A CTRL-C, CTRL-V of one another; yet, somehow, completely unique to themselves. Two identical individuals with two sets of needs, wants, and desires.

It makes life fun and sleep scarce. If I were to leave you with one piece of advice it would be this: Your stuff is unimportant and replaceable. The time you spend (jokingly) in servitude to your toddler(s) will quickly be your favorite thing in the world to return from work for. Otherwise, you would just point the nose of your vehicle North and drive until the engine consumes the final drops of fuel in the tank. From there, you would walk further in the same direction until you collapsed in exhaustion.

Then you would crawl.

Continue…

The Joys Of Parenting

I am titling this post, ‘The Joys Of Parenting’, because, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, has apparently already been taken. I guess this Timothy Burton fella has twin boys also.

Crazy coincidence.

It all began shortly after breakfast, when I cooked the boys pancakes and a childhood favorite of mine, eggs in the hole, or, eggs on the graph, as we called it growing up. The idea being that you cut a hole in a piece of bread and drop an egg into the void. When you’re finished, you are left with a fried egg fused to a piece of toast.

The boys had had a long day the day before, playing with other kids at the homes of some good friends of mine, and, as a result, were too exhausted for bath time that night. So, they slept with dirty feet and I settled for a baby-wipe wipe-down. Now, as any parent knows, the best way to do things is by grouping as many tasks together as possible, hereinafter to be known as multitasking. A compound word I just made up. A fact of which I am convinced because no sane person would ever come up with such a ridiculous notion. The theory of which makes perfect sense, and the application of which has about as much place in a parents vocabulary as would the phrase, that was easy. Nonetheless, the concept of washing off the previous day (and brownie a la mode) with the following morning’s egg yoke and syrup had Genius written all over it. 

(I know Sugar Nazi’s, I know. It’s the Holidays…Let this one slide, please.)

As fate would have it, however, the phrase, Best laid plans, came bubbling to the surface in much the same way as what happened next did.

The enthusiasm of my multitasking (trademark pending) was matched by enthusiastic twins, who joined in my efforts by grouping bowel movements into bath time. The first of which felt like a punishment for thinking I had gotten away with something after both boys woke up this morning with only wetness banked in their Huggies. But it began to feel personal, after taking the boys out of the water and sitting them on the tile while I dredged the murky depths below, sanitized the basin, and refilled the tub with clean water (which, for dramatic effect, I’m going to say I fetched, bucket-by-bucket, from a nearby stream…in the snow…barefoot). A process that clearly took longer than the bladder of an 18 month old could tolerate, and I suddenly realized that it hadn’t been the warm bath water I had been kneeling in for the past ten minutes.

So, the moral takeaway here is this: Do one task at a time. Multitasking (Great word for a fantasy novel) is for suckers and Windows-based operating systems, which require Adobe and system updates every time you power them on.

But bath time aside, this week has been pretty great. With the boys sleeping soundly through most nights now, we are able to get through the day with fewer naps. That gave us the time to explore the Christmas Tree farm with another buddies family, where we picked out and later decorated our first tree together. And, by, decorate, I mean the Webster’s definition: “verb; to make upright and strangle with colored lights.”

(Why are water-proofed diapers not a thing?)

And , that, my friends, is the news from Lake Wobegon (for all you Garrison Keillor fans out there).

‘Till next time…

Continue…

Week 1

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this has been ‘about what I’d expected.’ I can say emphatically that it has been a steep learning curve. For starters, they are twins…identical in virtually every visual way. That alone creates a few unique challenges, and after changing the same child’s diaper twice in a row, I put a little pen mark on (we’ll call him, Chip, for the purposes of this blog) Chip’s hand to avoid this mistake for future diaper changes. In truth, the error was, in part, due to the matching pajamas only an inexperienced parent would put identical twins in, but the genetics, here, are at least partly to blame.  I’ll take that small visual trickery though, because those genetics also produced two of the cutest, happiest, and healthiest toddlers I could ever have hoped to care for.

I feel I owe it to other parents of twins to dispel the myth that twins are easier because, ‘they entertain each other.’ This is common to hear from people, presumably twin-less people, who make this seemingly reasonable statement. While it is true, at times, it is just as true that, while one is being pulled from a cabinet the other is elbows deep in a porcelain basin full of toddler-high cool water; While one is happy, the other, full tantrum; While one diaper is clean, the other is in full blow-out. Even as I write this, I’m watching one twin on the baby monitor attempting to nap, while his brother uses his body as a stepping stool to get his leg over the crib wall…Oh yeah, did I mention they can climb right out of the crib, at will? That was a fun surprise on night three, when I finally got them to bed and myself into the shower. Caught completely off-guard by (We’ll call the other one…you guessed it…Dale) Dale’s bleach blonde head, now wet to his ears, peering in around the shower curtain. The pitter-patter of Chip’s little feet stomping on the tile floor behind him.

Bath time is a whole different challenge. Fortunately, the boys love creating claims on my flood insurance policy, so there’s that, but, at the same time, they hate having the shampoo rinsed out of their hair and they fly out of the water on full tip-toe, hands clawing at my shirt like they’re being waterboarded, every rinse, which is protested, just prior, by throwing their heads in exactly the wrong way to avoid actually waterboarding my children. Somehow, I’ve managed to avoid the inhalation of soapy bath water, thus far, but it feels like a huge win for the three of us, each and every time. Their favorite part of bath-time, however, is the few minutes they get to splash around as the water slowly drains, followed by the naked run through the house as I attempt to re-diaper them both before one of them pees on the carpet (A race I have already lost twice in the first week, btw).

This experience has created a lot of personal growth as well. Not, as well…More, it has created a lot of personal growth…period. I went into this with zero parenting experience, while the two of them had a combined three years of experience being babies then toddlers together. I went from never having grocery shopped…not really, ‘shopped’, anyway, to making multiple trips to the grocery store in my first week. I’ve also turned my brand new three-year-old stove, into a thoroughly used appliance during the same time-span. A week ago I was a bachelor. My diet consisted of take-out and pizza. I didn’t cook. I bought the stove because it came in the set and there was a hole in the cabinets I needed to fill. Now, I have two boys who will eat almost everything I put in front of them, and continue eating until I stop.  They’ll eat a whole PB&J each, a whole corn dog, right off the stick, and a pound of tatter-tots between the two of them. Sadly for them, they only get those foods once in a while. Thankfully, they also eat half of a large chicken breast each and love peas. To get nutrients in them, we’ve gone to making smoothies. If I knew how to make money blogging, believe me, I would have an advertisement for the Vitamix 780 inserted right here, because that thing makes spinach and kale invisible in a frozen fruit and yogurt smoothie. Once we figured out they couldn’t get the fluid through the small holes in the tippie-cups and they weren’t reject the concoction, it’s become a favorite for the boys who have learned that the purple drink comes with the straw.

So, what’s changed in the past seven days? I now know that I love these boys like they were my own flesh and blood, both as twins and as individuals. I can now tell them apart by their facial expressions and personalities, their laughs and cries, and by which area of the house they return to for mischief. Dale calls me Dada and chip calls me Mamma, and technically, at least for now, they’re both right. I get to wrestle around and sword fight with paper towel rolls, but I also have to kiss the booboos and sing to them at 3 AM when they wake up scared. They deserve a mom and dad. They got me, and I will do my best to fill both of those roles as best I can.

This first week has been challenging in ways I never imagined and, at the same time, has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I look forward to the little breaks during naps, but can’t imagine going back to a quiet house all to myself.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this next week goes as I begin to reincorporate my work schedule into the mix. It’s been hard while I was with them 24 hours a day. It’s going to be much more difficult moving forward, but these boys are not my only responsibility. I still owe it to my employer and to my devoted crew to give them 100% of my attention during the hours I’m there. My employer, boss, and crew have been wonderful in allowing me the time to focus solely on these boys. Now, I owe it to them to move back into working full time, devoted to their success and our success as a team as well.

Continue…

Licensed!

As is sometime the case in life, things fall into place in a way which oddly mirrors your version of “Best Case Scenario”. Far more rare, are the instances where circumstance exceed your wildest expectations. As it so happens, my best case scenario (as anyone who has been following my blog can attest) was to be licensed by Thanksgiving and have a placement before Christmas. For me, the idea of seeing the excitement on a youngster’s face Christmas morning — rubbing the sleep from his eyes, the cautious first few steps toward the living room in Santa-red footie pajamas and a wide-toothed grin as he approaches a lit Christmas tree towering over top gifts, his name in big bold letters. The excitement building as he spies an empty cookie plate and milk-stained glass, proving that Santa found him, even in his new home — is the greatest Christmas gift a new parent (or foster parent, in my case) could ever hope to receive.

But, as it would happen, my wildest expectations were exceeded when, ahead of the issuance of my license, I received a call from Social Services stating that two 18 month old boys had just entered the system and they were wondering if I would be interested in having them placed with me.

That’s right…Twins!

If you remember from an earlier post, I asked to be licensed for up to three children, in case there were siblings also needing placement. Twins are rare and I’d never even considered the possibility that I would be offered such an wonderful opportunity, especially for a first placement. But suddenly, I couldn’t imagine having anything else, and as soon as I enthusiastically accepted, I began ordering duplicates of everything. Cribs, car seats, high-chairs, pajamas, matching Jellycat stuffed animals, etc. The realization settling in that I had spent the past three months getting half prepared. Fortunately, there exists a perfect universe where my excitement fueled anxiety can stretch it’s legs: Amazon.com

This was far and away the most exciting phone call I can recall ever having received! Dwarfing past calls that said things like, “Escrow has closed on your new home”, and, “Congratulations! You’ve passed the California Real Estate Broker’s Exam.” It seems like only yesterday that, “You have my blessing to marry my daughter,” was the pinnacle of good news I’d received over the phone. Now a distant and fading memory of what, after this call, suddenly felt like a lifetime ago. So much of life has been this way for me: One chapter ends, the next begins. All to often, the people that occupied the pages of my story remain locked away, left behind for one reason or another in the story of my past. Separation may be the most difficult part of life for me, and my current choices suggest the future will likely hold more of the same, given the temporary nature of foster care in most cases. Adoption is less common and, until final, exists only in the form of hopeful expectation.

But with loss comes gain; with endings, new beginnings. And, these boys will be my life, at least for awhile, and that feels pretty great to say.

Within a half an hour, I had already begun making the transition from one kid to two, and by the end of the weekend, everything was in place. A complete top to bottom transformation in less than 72 hours.

A short few days later, I received a long awaited message. “You’re Official! Your license was signed today.” This was a huge milestone for me, but seemed somehow underwhelming in light of the news about the twins. Truth be told, I really like the Social Worker I’ve been working with for licensing, and am disappointed that we will not be in touch as often now. She has been a huge advocate for me, and has made this process far more enjoyable, not to mention, manageable, than I’d ever imagined it could be. Whether she knows it or not, she will be receiving updates on the kids from me from now on, and I hope we will continue to stay in touch. We’re friends now. Both she and her co-worker have been supportive of this journey since day one, and I hope they both know how much I appreciate the job they did. I wish I could acknowledge them by name, but that, unfortunately, would not be prudent. I am, after all, responsible for keeping the children’s lives as private as humanly possible. That includes the team of people responsible for bringing the boys into my life.

Today, I was shown pictures of the boys. They are beautiful, with the blondest hair I’ve ever seen. Identical twins. Both of them grinning from ear to ear. The pictures were taken by the family they were temporarily placed with. Two of the nicest people I’ve met; both of whom seem to genuinely care about the twins. It was a privilege to meet them and get a little insight into what the boys are like. I am anxious to have them with me, but could not feel better about where they are between now and then. Tomorrow, I get to meet the boys in person and spend the day getting to know them. This isn’t always the case. In fact, I would guess that this is rare. I leaped at the opportunity to meet them and hope I can sleep tonight, despite my excitement.

A few days from now, the boys will be placed in my home.

I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Continue…

 

Home Inspection

When people hear that you are getting licensed for foster care, there are really only three questions they ask:

  1. Why are you doing this? That’s a fair question, the answer to which can be found in my first post, “The Day I Decided To Become A Foster Parent.”
  2. How can you be a foster parent as a single man who works? The same way a single mother does. The same way I began selling real estate at the age of 18. The same way I’ve achieved everything of meaning in my life: Hard work and commitment. My life has been filled with difficult challenges; none of which are as meaningful or worthwhile as this, and none ever will be or should be, for that matter. Challenge is where I thrive. I’m as prepared as any natural parent has ever been; more than many, I assure you.
  3. Isn’t getting licensed a really difficult process? Yes; And it should be. Consider the “ask”. Please,  place in trust with me – a stranger – the well-being of another person’s child.

And, for this reason, question number 3 is the focus of this post.

I’m not going to make an exhaustive list of the requirements which have to be met for licensing. They can be found online, and differ by county and state. I’m also not a social worker, and am, therefore, not the best source of information on the topic. What I can say is, while the requirements are exhaustive and take a considerable amount of time to meet, it is worth it. Don’t allow your imagination of the looming requirements transform into a giant, weaponized gatekeeper, whose sole purpose is to defeat you at every turn.

The expectations are both reasonable and manageable. They need to know who you are, what type of person you are, what your motivation for doing this is, and, ultimately what kind of parent or legal guardian you will make, regardless of whether or not you have children of your own who have not yet died in your care. Keeping a child alive is — let’s be honest — the easiest part of being a parent and the bare-minimal requirement. What’s the hardest part? I’ll let you know when I get there, but I imagine it varies child-to-child, and there is no one single right answer. Any parent might have a different answer and each one of them would be correct.

The last of my requirements were met today, with the passing of my home inspection. I’m not going to tell you what is required to pass a home inspection, because that would be both tedious as well as boring. But here are a few things I did in advance, some required; some not so much. I turned my water heater down. My water temp is 102°, which I’m told is perfect. For additional help on this, it happens to be the “A” on the temperature dial. Not sure if that is consistent across all water heaters or not; that happens to be the temperature of that setting on mine.

All weapons should be out of sight: guns, locked; ammo locked in a separate container from the firearms. Knives, even displayed on a high shelf, need to be put away out of reach. Kitchen knives kept in a drawer need child safety latches to ensure they are not easily accessible. This makes sense, but catches me off guard every time I go to get a utensil and the drawer is yanked out of my grasp by the latch I forgot I’d installed a few days earlier. It sounds funny, but I’ve lived without child safety latches my entire life. I’ve been slow to adjust, like the time I microwaved a honey bear, not realizing that 30 seconds in a sealed contained would cause the pressure to squirt lava-hot fluid all over my face. Add to that the sticky nature of honey, and you’ve got an entry level napalm.

Try wiping that out of your blinded eyes in a panic…

I don’t really care for honey anymore, but you get the point. I’m a slow learner. And, also, I need to think about things now, that I’d never really had to consider before. Like medications. A Medicine cabinet is great as an adult, and a treasure chest of death for a child who discovered he can monkey-climb his way on top of your bathroom vanity and open the lids with his little monkey hands. Kids are smart. They only pretend they need us in order to keep us doing chores for them around the house. Don’t think this means you can call their bluff, though. They are very committed to their roles and will starve before they break character.

(Disclaimer: I am kidding. Do not starve your child. They are absolutely dependent on you to meet their basic needs for survival… Yes, we do live in a world where this needs to be explained. Where adults have to be told not to use electrical appliances in the bathtub, and where lead-based paint gives way to latex.) 

Fire extinguishers. Self-explanatory. I’ve never owned one; now I own two. Household cleaning supplies (as well as industrial strength if your name is Dexter, Bateman, or Heisenberg) need to be out of reach, locked up, or behind child (and, evidently adult) proof safety latches. Paint, etc.; same thing. Garage/storage; out of reach or locked in a cabinet.

Water features, including child-sized pools, are not allowed without gates to block access. Think about it. The county is responsible for making sure the child is safe where he’s placed; not their birth-parent(s). It’s a liability thing, and they take that responsibility very seriously. You’ll need to, as well.

Beyond that, the requirements are centered around your homes adequacy for sustaining human life in reasonable comfort. Can you heat and cool it? Can you see in the dark whilst inside of it? Will it keep the pitter-patter of Autumn’s rain from waterboarding a baby during the night? Again…All very reasonable expectations.

In short, while I did thankfully pass on my first inspection, I spent two months preparing for it. I had surveillance added to the exterior of my home and upgraded my third-party monitoring (not required). I bought diapers in every size up to 27 lbs (not required). And numerous other over-the-top amendments to my lifestyle in anticipation of this youngster. In short, this child will be safe, warm or cool depending on the weather…obviously, fed, well clothed, and loved. And when he reaches a point where he/she can read this, it will still be another decade before he/she will know who the above referenced fictional characters are (Walter white, I mean. Obviously Heisenberg was also a real person, who can rightly be learned about at a younger age).

Background investigation, interviews, references, documentation for everything imaginable; Finally, with the passing of my home inspection, I can now legally have a child placed in my care. It likely will not happen until my license is fully processed…but it may. And I am ready. More than ready…Ecstatic! I can’t wait to vaguely tell you nothing specific about this child, while explaining in vivid detail cherry-picked stories about our experiences together. Anonymity is the right of this child as well as a legal mandate. In a perfect world, this would not need to be the case. But, in a perfect world, foster care wouldn’t exist, so here we are. My goal, after placement, is to include you as much as possible. Out of respect for this child, names and details about him/her will be kept private. Out of respect for you, the reader, the rest will be told exactly as it occurs.

I hope you’ll stick with us.

‘Till next time…

Continue…

 

 

Excerpts From “The Connected Child” with notes by Elijah Cain. -Part 1.5

Before I continue this series of posts, I would like to state that I am in no way qualified to offer advice on dealing with issues stemming from childhood trauma, give parenting advice, or pass judgment on anyone’s past, present, or future decisions, mistakes, or realities. Furthermore, not all of my conclusions are set in stone. Like any reasonable, thinking adult, I reserve the right to alter my opinions when presented with new and better information. This particular segment of posts dealing with the issue of childhood trauma represents a small part of the learning path I’m on to try and prepare myself for the road ahead. I’m sharing with you, my readers, as a way to better digest the information I’m taking in and pass it along to anyone who may benefit from the things I’m learning. Lastly, while I care very little for the opinions of others, especially of those who have no vested interest or stake in my eventual outcome, I care a great deal for people as a whole, and, by no means, intend for anyone to feel judged or offended by anything in these posts.

The issue of unwanted children in this country is heartbreaking to me, and, most likely, to anyone who is not a textbook sociopath. If you’ve read more than one of my posts, and did so because you’re interested and not simply because you know me, you know that there are things I struggle with internally, especially where it comes to the issue of child abuse. I was not abused, neglected, or molested growing up. If you’ve read my previous post, “Support System“, you know that I had a great childhood which I had the privilege of sharing with an amazing family, in which, I’m including my closest friends. With that said, I’m not sure that having experienced any one of those horrific events at some point in my life would have better prepared me for this challenge or given me a deeper understanding of how to help a child through it. But do not misunderstand me. I am not looking out of the window of my ivory tower, searching for some child lucky enough to be rescued.

What you have before you is a man who desperately wants to be a father, and if it is in anyway possible that I can help a child overcome some form a childhood trauma in the process, than I feel it is my responsibility, and, of equal importance, my privilege to do everything I can to prepare myself for whatever lies ahead. I owe this to any child I am blessed with, regardless of the length of their stay or whether or not the potential for permanency exists.

In short, I am not dispensing medical advice, parenting advice, or judgement. I hold strong feelings of frustration toward those who hurt children by way of neglect or abuse. But, I also believe that people can change and I believe in forgiveness. I believe in reunification and reconciliation. I believe in one’s ability to overcome insurmountable odds in order to achieve something greater than themselves. A parent who faces his or her own demons and seeks help for their struggles in order to reunify with their child, has done exactly that. And you have my respect; but, more importantly, you’ve regained  your own. And, God willing, you will have earned back your child.

If I lose the ability to adopt a hundred children temporarily in my care, due to reunification with a birth parent who has undergone such a transformation, I am okay with that. More than okay. Overjoyed.

Why?

Because, ultimately, I doubt that any trauma a child might experience could ever be more emotionally damaging or lasting than the feeling that they were unwanted or unloved. That they were not worth the effort. That nobody fought for them or cared enough to pay attention to them.

So, if you’re a parent who has been on the other side of Child Welfare Services and you want desperately to reunify with your child or children, I want to encourage you with everything inside of me. DO IT! Whatever it takes. Do it. You owe it to yourself and your child. Put in the work. You can do this! There are so many programs available to you. Will it be easy? No. Worth it? Absolutely. Like nothing else you could ever do.

And your child will forgive you.

Once they know you care enough to fight for them, they will forgive you.

They still love you.

Fight for yourself; Fight for them. ‘Till next time…

Continue this journey

Excerpts From “The Connected Child” with notes by Elijah Cain. -Part 1

In the orphanage, baby Donnie has the crib farthest from the nursery door. He lies in soiled diapers for hours at a time and is the last baby fed by the attendant. Left untouched and underfed, he does little but stare at the sterile walls and ceiling. The back of his head has become flattened from remaining in that position so long.” — (The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family by Karyn B. Puris, David R. Cross, & Wendy Sunshine.)

For the remainder of this series, all content taken from “The Connected Child” will be italicized. Please refer to the above link to purchase, or to find more information about this book. 

“An infant lying in a crib in a sterile institution may compete with forty other babies for the attention of a scarce caregiver. During the first weeks, the institutionalized baby will cry, but when no one responds, eventually the crying stops. Orphanage nurseries tend to be eerily quiet because babies there quickly discover no one comes when they cry. For these tiny ones, their earliest communications are effectively silenced.

Instead of receiving reassuring and nurturing embraces from a mother, the institutionalized baby experiences the world as a cold and impoverished place. There is no affectionate sensory bath, there are few sounds, and whitewashed walls reduce visual stimulus. An institutionalized child misses out on a great deal, and is at great risk.”

NEGLECT

This is one of the most heartbreaking and troubling aspects of childhood trauma for me to wrap my mind around. Probably, because it’s so easy to avoid and the consequences of neglect in the early stages of childhood development can cripple a child, well into their adult life. In some cases, the lack of human contact has even lead to an infant’s life functions failing, resulting in death.

A baby who is well attended to, will spend the very first moments of life wrapped in the arms of a nurturing mother. Feeling her warmth, listening to her coos and she strokes his or her cheek. Early cries are met with comfort and feelings of security as his needs for nourishment are met. Already, the baby has learned to trust adults and begins to form attachments with them. When a baby is born premature, and spends its first few days — sometimes even weeks or months — in an incubator, Doctors have discovered that the mere act of someone reaching in and stroking the baby’s cheek a few times a day can result in the baby gaining weight twice as fast as one who does not receive this very basic human interaction.

As children grow, they form bonds with people based on the neurological pathways that are formed during these early stages of life, even before they can consciously articulate their need for affection; yet, their ability to make connections with others dictates the quality and depth of all the other relationships they will experience as they move through life.

I wish I could spend a few hours every afternoon visiting orphanages and holding babies for a few minutes a day, making eye contact with them, interacting with them, and quieting their discomforts. It would be such a small thing that could easily improve their entire developmental process. Consequently, it is for reasons such as these that the United Sates has moved away from orphanages in favor of the Foster Care System. Sadly, by the time some of these children experience their first loving interaction, it may be with a stranger, or, worse, from someone looking to victimize this child by taking advantage of this need to satisfy their own perverse desires. Some of the children in Foster Care have experienced both of these before finding a safe and nurturing environment, only to discover that they don’t trust their new family, and are unable to connect with them. Many Foster Families have become frustrated because their placement doesn’t seem to connect with them. They make minimal attempts, only to send them away in hopes of finding a new, less damaged child to love.

This is tragic on every level, when you consider how much of it can be avoided by the simple act of holding a baby close enough to hear your heartbeat and feel your warmth. To willingly deny a child this basic early need is, in many ways, the most hateful thing a person can do, short of physically hurting, starving, or otherwise abusing their infant child. But, furthermore, as a Foster parent, knowing that you have, in many cases, missed that early window for forging a bond with your child, patience and understanding are key. Almost no child is going to remember that early neglect, nor will they be able to understand or articulate their need for closeness. In most cases, they will have defenses in place to protect themselves from what has become a foreign and uncomfortable experience, and it may take months, or even years, before a child has become comfortable enough to trust you and begin to form a lasting attachment. Sadly, not all of them will be given enough time with their Foster Family to see such improvements, before being reunified with their birth parent(s) or before “blow-out” occurs in their current placement for failure to connect.

It is for this reason that I chose to borrow content from the above mentioned book, and share with you the need for understanding the various types of early trauma many of these children have been exposed to. It’s never to late to love a child or provide one with a safe place to sleep, where meals are readily available, where they can begin to learn and grow and trust again. But it will take patience and you will be stretched to the limit, time after time, for the possibility of helping a child work through their early stage neglect or childhood trauma. And, that possibility, alone, is worth the effort. That, alone, is worth the pain. That, alone, is worth the sacrifice.

This is the first of several posts dealing with childhood trauma. The content of each is unpleasant to say the absolute least. But, in trying to understand it myself, I am forced to think about these things and learn techniques to help a child work through them. As a result, I have been on an emotional rollercoaster ride where, at the highest points, I’m filled with tremendous joy, looking forward to this exciting challenge, to the lowest points, where I find my mind going to dark places, where I have a hard time not imagining police finding the bodies of some of these horrible people in shallow, unmarked graves, inside a world where abortion has been replaced with sterilization.

Just being honest.

To me, there is nothing worst than a human being who can willingly hurt a child or rob one of their innocence. And, I apologize for dragging you down this troubling path with me, but writing to you is my therapy. You are my coping mechanism. And together, I hope we can tackle these issues, one child at a time.

Until next time…

Continue this journey

 

 

 

Approaching The Finish Line

I’m at a point in this process where my sprint feels like it’s through deep quicksand — getting increasingly more excited, having completed my course requirements with the County, but entering into the eye of the storm, so to speak. That quiet pause between licensing and child placement.

By which I mean, the first month was spent in an overwhelmed panic, desperately gathering furniture and supplies for the babies room, getting the required documents together, medical requirements completed, and background finished. I’ve completed all but the final interview and home inspection now, and that, I’ve been preparing for throughout the entire process, so there’s not much left to do. My last big hurdle was that my only vehicle was a single cab pickup truck. I’ve now solved that problem with a truck swap my sister proposed. Given that she loved my truck and her’s had a back seat, it made the decision somewhat of a no-brainer. While I also loved my truck, my desires have to take a backseat (no pun intended), coming in second to the needs and safety of my eventual child.

Now, I’m finished with everything I have any real control over, and am feeling the dull and anxious pain of my own impatience as I settle into what could potentially be a long and arduous wait for placement.

So, what to do?…

Here’s what I’m doing: First and foremost, I’m reading virtually every article, blog post, and book I can find on parenting, understanding the unique challenges of raising a foster child, and preparing myself for the transition from the bachelor lifestyle, responsible only for myself, to that of a single parent solely responsible for the care of a small child. A transition I have wanted to make for years, and now, edging closer to that eventuality, excites and terrifies me.

Planning for the fatherly responsibilities of raising a child is the fun part. Dreams of taking my son fishing and working on cars together, soccer practices and field trips, are all exciting privileges to look forward to. Handling the administrative responsibilities is in my wheelhouse, so to speak, but will be a whole new set of welcomed obligations I’m going to have to adjust to very quickly. As mentioned in my earlier post, “A Few Thoughts On Foster Care”, there are foster families who have earned a bad reputation for taking in foster children as a means of supplementing their own income. Nothing could be further from my personal motives, and to avoid the temptation altogether, I plan to open a second checking account for foster care subsidies . That way, there is a personal accountability in place to document that the money provided by the state is being used, in its entirely, to take care of the costs associated with the child’s needs. That way, there will be a charge in the account and a matching receipt to substantiate that charge. Not only will this remove any temptation to use the money to buy an Xbox, it will also make an audit from the State a breeze, should they ever choose to look closer into the management of their funds.

I am also gathering a list of resources on the best ways to plan for college expenses. Another point illustrated in the above mentioned post, is the alarmingly high statistic of foster children who become high school dropouts and the contrastingly low percentage who attend, much less graduate from college. My child is not going to be one of those statistics if I have any say over it. He is going to finish high school and have the resources needed to attend college, if he so chooses…which I sincerely hope he does. If not, that money will be for his wedding or a down payment on a house. But, a portion of that subsidy will always be set aside for his future. I would do that for my biological child, and my foster child will be shown the same love.

The God’s honest truth is this: I need this child in my life as much as he needs me. My reward will be in having the privilege of becoming a dad. There is nothing that will be out of reach for this kid if it is within my power to provide it, or, otherwise, empower him to achieve it.

As a final note, I refer to this child throughout many of my posts as “my foster child.” Understand that it is my goal to make this child my forever child. Never once will he be referred to as “my foster child” when speaking of him to another person or when speaking to him directly. This is a term I’m using for clarification in these posts only. He is a kid, nothing more; nothing less. And, God willing, he will be my kid. No different than if I had been a part of the process that brought him into this world. And, while I may not have enjoyed that part of the process, I will most definitely be a part of the process that ensures he is successful in it, free of labels and the stigmas associated with having begun his life in a government run social program though no fault of his own.

Continue this journey

Support System

In my first post entitled, The Day I Decided To Become A Foster Parent,” I made the statement that I would be doing this alone. For clarification’s sake, by “alone” I mean, as a single parent. That is not to say, “without help.” I would like to take a moment to draw attention to the tremendous support system I have in place, assisting me in and through this process. A support system, I should add, who will be very much a part of the life of my son, well after the completion of the licensing and placement process.

My support system began with the tremendous example I was given in my parents, and primarily my mother, Cathy, who is, for me, the very definition of self-sacrifice and love. Let me tell you a little about my mother. As a very young woman, she chose to give birth to me knowing how difficult her life would become as a single mother, going against the advice of friends and family to get an abortion. My father, also young at the time, was in no position to raise a child, either financially or through example by which a young boy should live.  He split, and my mother chose not to pursue child support, so as not to share custody. A decision which, for personal reasons to him, was the best decision for me at the time, not necessarily for her.

She moved to California, away from friends and relatives, where she chopped kindling to start our wood burning stove and walked considerable distances through the snow to get me to where she babysat for the extra money to provide me with the things I needed. To this day, I can remember my mother working long hours to make certain that I woke up Christmas morning to presents under the tree. On birthdays, she spent hours designing a cake that represented whatever interests I held at that age. A practice that continued years later, for each one of my brothers and sisters. She let me be a boy, even doing things that scared her as a mother, knowing that I needed those challenges in order to one day become a dependable man. To this day, I cannot recall a single day where I was cold or hungry, or missing out on a single class trip because it was too expensive to send me. I was always well dressed — albeit, much of the time from second hand stores — and clean. I never went to bed hungry or celebrated a birthday where I wasn’t surrounded by her love and by friends we had made along the way. Today, she is attending foster classes with me and buying bedding for my kids crib. Saving pictures of nursery ideas to Pinterest to show me later, and making sure I have everything I need to care for a baby.

She is Grandma, through and through.

When she finally married my step father, Scott, I was seven years old. I have had a loving father in my life since that day. He is the owner of a tree service, and has taught each of us the value of education and instilled a work ethic in me and my siblings that has been a bedrock foundation of our adulthood. He has always been faithful to my mother and provided for our family. He is, and forever will be, my dad.

Soon after the addition of my father, came my brother James. A kid I teased mercilessly as a big brother with eight years between us and little else. He has always been my little buddy and someone I can barely remember a time in my life without. I could spend a whole lifetime trying to recall all the laughs we’ve shared together over the years. He is now 28 years old and a foreman for an oil pipe-lining company in Colorado. James is someone I can count on and someone I miss on a daily basis. He is the only one of us to have ventured out of the state (or our home community for that matter) and build a successful life. He is with a wonderful girl, who we look forward to seeing every time James comes home to visit.

Two years later, came my brother Stephen. I still remember his quiet, yet devious personality. Something he has carried into adult hood, and is a quality so unique to him that he seems almost larger than life at times. He is now married to a beautiful woman and they recently gave birth to their first child, a little boy named Thomas, who has become our family’s pride and joy. Last year he started his own landscaping business and is the first of us to own his own tractor (which I still haven’t gotten to drive). He is busier than he could have imagined, and with his work ethic and integrity, I imagine that is unlikely to change.

Two years after that, came my sister Ashley. She was the most beautiful baby girl and has grown into a beautiful woman, inside and out. From the first time I held her, I have been in constant awe of her. I wish everyone reading this could have the privilege of knowing her, because she has a personality that is magnetic and a laugh that is infectious. She manages responsibilities with grace and poise, always quick to wrap her arms around anyone having a bad day, and let them know how special they are. She now manages a retreat center and is attending College part time, yet still manages to find the time to go through the foster care licensing process alongside me, so she can help care for my child while I’m at work.

And, last but certainly not least, two years after that, came my equally beautiful sister, Caitlyn. I honestly lack the words to express how much that girl has meant to me. Her energy brightens up even the darkest room, and nothing is quite as memorable if she isn’t a part of it. Being the baby of the family, she was blessed with four dads and two moms. A default that I’ve been slow to transition out of, even as she, herself, reached adulthood. I remember holding her as an infant, feeding her from a bottle, and it honestly feels like yesterday. She turns the heads of men everywhere she goes, and that is a constant annoyance to her overly protective big brothers. She now works at a prestigious vineyard, and graduated from cosmetology at the top of her class. She is one of the most genuine and sincere people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

The four of them made growing up such a rich experience and I hope that I have lived my life in a manner they can respect and emulate. They are so much better than me in so many ways, and I don’t deserve even one of them, much less all four. As adults, they are four of my best friends. I love the people they have become and could not be prouder of any one of them.

The loving parents who raised the five of us are going to be the grandparents of my child, and neither he nor I could be more fortunate. My brothers and sisters, his Uncles and Aunts.

In addition to my wonderful family, I have some amazing friends, all of whom have both encouraged and supported this decision, and have offered to help in any way I need. A couple of my best friends, Daniel and Ryan, are also doing foster care with their absolutely amazing wives and natural children. I will be leaning heavily on their experience. My good friend and boss, Patrick, took time away from his busy schedule to help me rebuild a flight of rotting stairs so my child could be safely moved up and down them without risk of injury to him or anyone carrying him. I have so many irreplaceable friendships that would never consider a request for help an inconvenience; or my kid, anything other than a tiny extension of me. He will be surrounded by family no matter who is around him.

I would like to end this segment by saying that, at 19 years of age, I finally met my biological father. He told me that missing out on my life was his single biggest regret, and through mutually shared tears, he and I began to get to know each other. We now speak reasonably often and share a love for the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders. We have grown to love and appreciate each other and we now have a great relationship. He has a wife named Peggy, and has introduced me to another brother, Andrew, and two more sisters, Crystal and Kelly. Andrew is a great guy, and I’ve recently been fortunate enough to spend some time getting to know him. Crystal is teaching English in China, and Kelly is the mother of three beautiful children. I very much hope to meet my nephew and nieces someday soon.

As a final mention, I am becoming fast friends with my Social Worker, Emily. She has truly been a Godsend from the beginning, and I look forward to getting to know her closely as we work together to make this whole thing happen. In fact, everyone I’ve met with Social Services and CWS have been incredibly helpful and supportive, and I can’t say enough about the people who have chosen to be a part of the process of matching children in need to loving families. Much of their job can be difficult but is absolutely crucial for the safety of so many children who experience abuse or neglect. My hat is off to you.

Overall, I am blessed beyond measure and — thanks to this amazing support system — I am in a great position to raise a child. He will be surrounded by friends and family, all anxious to be a part of his life and watch him grow up. So, when I said I would be doing this alone, I did not mean, by myself. This kid will never be out of the view of people who love and care about him, all rooting for his success and adoption into the world’s greatest family.

Continue this journey

Preparations

This is the exciting part, as anyone counting down the days until a baby’s due date can attest. The thrill of eliminating clutter and barely used gym equipment doubling as clothing racks, to make space for a new family member. Deciding on a decorating theme, shopping in previously unexplored isles of your neighborhood department stores, the list goes on and on.

After much internal debate, I’ve decided on an aviation theme for two reasons: The first being that it is very easy to find boyish decor when searching for aviation related bedding and adornments; the second, because his prospective father is a pilot, however distant and unaffordable that hobby has become. Revisiting old maps once used to navigate the open skies above the mountainous terrain of my rural hometown, now pieced together to form the majority of Northern and Central California, proudly displayed above a cherry-stained crib. That, and two hand-made wooden airplanes, a Corsair and a Cessna 310, mark the beginning of a slow and methodical transition into baby boy land.

Across from the crib where a power-rack once stood, lies a toddler bed made up in navy blue linens, a matching diaper changing station next to that. In the opposite corner, two matching dressers filled with onesies from newborn to 18 months. There is no guarantee this baby will be an infant, so I need to be prepared for anything up to three years of age. My collection of clothing and diapers reflect that readiness.

In my bedroom, there is a co-sleeper filled with newborn clothing, toys, and accessories. The living-room holds an assembled Pack-N-Play, and an Eddie Bauer (the pride of the collection) high-chair stands in the dinning room in the place where my mini-bar once lived. My 16 year old Lagavulin and 12 year old Glenlivet now occupy the vacant space of my range-top cabinet in lonely solitude, symbolizing the changing of a single man’s bachelor pad into an even cooler, age appropriate bachelor pad for two.

From the licensing side, I’ve attended 3 out of the 4 required classes and completed the first of 3 interviews. I am expecting to be licensed by early to mid November, and waiting for placement with the possibility of having a child by Christmas. It is a long-shot and a time frame my Social Worker has cautioned me from hoping for too strongly. And then there’s the other possibility, and the most sobering reality I am forced to come to grips with: I can meet all the requirements, have the perfect child placed in my care, love him as my own flesh and blood, and end up having him reunified with his birth parent(s), never to see him again. The idea of this has caused more than one restless night’s sleep.

Here’s the reality: Fulfilling the dream of holding a baby of your own, only to be pried from your grasp through the process of reunification, is a very real possibility. One that I sincerely hope I never have to experience, but am fully prepared for. If the only solace I can take from this is the knowledge that during the time he was in my care, he was fed, cared for, and loved, than I can live with the hole his departure will most certainly leave. Ultimately, there is nothing more grounding for a child than the knowledge, for him, that his parent(s), imperfect though they were, chose to fight for him; The knowledge, for me, that he won’t have to go through life believing he didn’t matter to the people who should have loved him the most. The knowledge of those two facts make this reality bearable and the emotional risk acceptable.

But there will be many tears shed. That is my job as his foster parent. His job is to enjoy care-free bowel movements, make messes with his spaghetti, and ensure that no member of his household gets more than two or three consecutive hours of sleep.

It should never be the concern of a child, whether or not he or she goes to bed hungry or struggle to stay awake because his parents fought all night in the next room. It should never be the concern of a child that they look presentable in public or that their health is being properly monitored and attended to. It should never be the concern of a child, whether or not they have a clean, warm place to sleep or whether that place will be with people he knows, or with complete strangers to him. It is the right of every child to be a kid, free of those concerns. Free to jump in puddles and color outside the lines, without the fear of abuse.

If those conditions are met, than I will be grateful for my time with him and excited for all the possibilities his future holds.

Until next time…

Continue this journey