In the Throes of Grief
artist mom me to leave. My gift to him was a good life and his gifts to me continue to come into clarity. Grieving, Artist Mom
Artist Mom: on being legally freed for adoption
Boys, When I'm having big feelings your mother tells me to just let them come. To breathe into it. This week I left for a couple days to do just that. I want you to know that the woman who gave birth to you but could not raise you did a very brave thing this week. Instead of keeping you in foster care any longer than the near 2 years you've been in it, she agreed to let you be adopted. By us. The two people you know as your parents. The magnitude of her choice causes me to feel both great relief and enormous sadness at this time. We have sat with her for many hours through the lengthy process of her trial. We have come to appreciate the things about her that are good & worthy & human. This, in contrast to the choices she made which will impact all of you for the duration of your lives, is a dichotomy not easily balanced or reconciled. You will always know where you came from & we will always be transparent with you as your development will allow. On the day your birth mom relinquished her legal right to parent you, we were not there. This pains your mama, as not only did she wish to tell you about that day from her own perspective but more, because neither of us wanted your birth mom to be alone. This is a very sad thing. No one should have to do a thing like that all alone. You will always know who she is & you will see her as you age, if you wish. Know that we will support your individual choice & your relationships with her however they may shape over time. When your mama & I were first dating, I recall a conversation about luck versus destiny. A pragmatist, I am not a proponent of the former & she, an optimist, does not believe in the latter. And while I still feel mostly the same, as evidenced by the tattoo on my chest, her argument won me over regarding one exception. At the time, we were both working intimately with families in crisis & kids in care. She said to me, "your theory of everything happening for a reason does me no good when I'm talking to kids who've been treated so poorly. What am I suppose to say to them - this was your destiny? No. This was bad luck." And this is where I say to you that this news of your being legally free to adopt also brings to the foreground that we are choosing to adopt you boys and not your older brother & sister. We know that this may not make sense to you. Perhaps ever. You will someday know my story & that my siblings & I were separated & this is not a thing I would wish for any kid. We also know that we cannot do for all 4 of you what we can do for two of you. That is no more your destiny than it is ours. It's just the way things turned out. It is just luck. We got you. You got us. And while this brings me unspeakable joy, the scenario makes me so very sad right now. We are hopeful that your brother and sister are adopted by parents who will be what they need & that they will wish to continue building on the foundation we are laying & the bond you are creating. Boys, you have made me a mother. I imagined my first round of this very differently only because I was limited by not having known this type of journey an option. Adoption. Our first choice. Know that you are loved. Let us move forward. -Mom (the artist) Read the Therapist's response here artist mom Artist Mom: on being legally freed for adoption
Visit Day (part 2)
It's a visit day. We didn't tell him before dropping him off at school. Sometimes we do. But today we didn't. He's been so anxious lately. Perseverating over food, where we are, where tiny is, where the dogs are, struggling over small limits. Getting easily frustrated, then spitting or throwing things. He traverses loving, hugging, cuddling, "carry me carry me carry me" with the opposite, total shutdown. Sometimes we just sit with him. Sometimes we breathe with him. Sometimes we hold him accountable in the moment. Often we read and talk about feelings when his brain is in a place where he's a more available learner & less flooded with emotion. But today we didn't tell him. And we're not picking him up before nap so he can have grounding time at home before a chaotic visit. We'll pick him up post-nap. Give him more good food. Sing songs on the drive & hold for him that feelings get big, bigger, biggest, and then they come back down. After his visit, we'll jump back into our evening routine & do what we do. Because part of foster parenting includes helping him figure out his relationships. Part of parenting him is helping him manage the tough stuff. And part of loving him, is loving all of him. Artist Mom artist mom
A better parent: my life's work
my behalf while I spend my life working endlessly to meet it in the middle.   -Artist Mom artist mom
Maternity Leave, Adoption, Foster Care: A Reflection
family during what is surely going to be an adjustment for all however you slice that pie. -Artist Mom artist mom
Magic In My Kitchen
I witnessed magic in my kitchen this morning. There was something about the crayons and then there was a body checking out and then there were tears. It wasn't about the crayons because it's never about the crayons. But the tears came and the tears stayed and we let the bus pass us right by and showed up late for school. Because when the tears come, you let them. We have a kiddo who cannot cry. Who only rarely rage sobs. A kiddo who actually tries to push the tears back into her beautiful eyes. A young lifetime of unpacked sadness beginning to bubble to the surface. That's the thing that happens when you feel safe. That's the thing that happens when you begin to think about receiving love and trust and when someone can help you put words to the feelings. This is the beginning of the road to healing. These are the moments that invite change. We are headed to see their birth mom today. The woman who delivered them into this world. Who carried all 4 of them in her worn body at such a young age and who could not ever take care of them in the ways they need. That's the narrative now for where they are developmentally. Open adoption was never a choice for us. As in, we don't believe in an alternative. Kids have the right to know and be in the know. And. Visit days are unbearably painful. They're a lot for everyone. The kids, us, their older brother, his pre-adoptive dad, and their mom. Everyone's deepest feelings around loss and sadness and anger and pain and guilt and anxiety manifest in a variety of ways across the spectrum. I saw magic in my kitchen this morning. I am the support team in these most difficult moments where therapist mama has all the words and all the touch. I could never have these hard conversations in the ways that she does. I'm just not that skilled. But I'm so glad that she is. -Artist Mom [CHANGE] #30WriteNow artist mom
Boys, a letter to your big brother
You came to live with us in the summer of 2016 when you were 5. You had been in foster care for two years and the older woman who took care of you and your sister had a large home, but things in her life had changed and she needed the whole of it for her growing family. You spent many weekends with us before then and so you knew our home well, and you knew your baby brothers lived with us, and you knew we loved you all. In this year of 2016, in the state we live in, there are many people and many houses but there are not many people with foster homes. When children are born to parents who cannot take care of them, the government looks for other people to help. Right now, there are not enough helpers for the number of kids who need safe and caring and loving grown ups and homes. There are not enough blended and brave families with kids who are born to their parents and kids who are adopted by their parents and kids who live with their foster parents until the right family is found for them. We know that the world is full of beautiful people who have yet to discover they they are the family I am talking about. We are hopeful that more grown ups think about and fall in love with children who need families but we know that right now this is not happening fast enough. In the summer you came to live with us, you and your big sister moved in for a weekend, while the grown ups in charge searched for a home for the two of you to live and grow up big and strong in. They were looking for a family that wanted to adopt you and be your parents forever. We had a plan that weekend, which was for all of us to go on vacation for the 4th of July, and after the holiday, we would help the two of you move and then in the future you would come over for sleepovers on weekends and our family and your family would spend special holidays and create rituals together. Though your brothers lived with us and we were in the process of adopting them, we thought of ourselves as your aunties and that seemed to work for you, but it was also very confusing for you. That long weekend came and went and there was no family and immediately we were having conversations with the grown-ups in charge about how long we could take care of you. We were very worried and this was the beginning of a very difficult period of time for your younger brothers and for [therapist mom] and me. At this time in my own life, you may remember, I was at work a lot. I left early in the morning and sometimes could sneak in a hug and a hello before sliding you back into bed. You had a lot of nightmares and sometimes slept good and sometimes slept bad and when you woke up early in the morning, it was very hard for you to be in charge of your little body. You may also remember [therapist mom] was home with you and your brothers and sister a lot. We called her a college teacher and she was on her summer break from teaching with lots of time to cook and play and bring you and your sister to and from camp and parks and museums. We wish we could have lived like this all the time, except with me home more often, but this was an adventure we could only embark on for a short period of time; this became clear very early on and we pushed through many things which felt impossible to hold you in our home for as long as we could while a family was found. They still have not found that family, and tomorrow we drop you off with your social worker, where you will begin a new chapter in your very young life. That’s some of the logistical stuff. Now, let me tell you how I’m feeling. After your baby brothers and big sister were sleeping, we gave you a special goodbye book full of pictures from your summer adventures. You looked at it twice, deliberately and smiling so happy. You said, “this is so great.” And you meant it. (You are a genuinely kind and insightful kid-really advanced in this area for your age). There is a photo for everything we wish for you to remember from this summer. After our special time (you, me and [therapist mom]), I tucked your very small body into bed, sprayed your special keep-the-monsters-away spray and kissed you goodnight. I went into the bathroom and thought I would be sick from the pain of all this, and instead, cried and cried. In fact, all day today and for many weeks now, we have both snuck away to find quiet places to cry and release the sadness that we feel in our tummies before returning to the four of you and moving through this period. I wonder how you will remember this summer. You grew so much. You tried and fell in love with lots of food like spinach and seaweed and hard-boiled eggs and hummus. You also loved your cheese pizza and pasta and ice cream, of course. You slept better over time and practiced so hard using new skills to share toys and tell people what you needed. When you are a grown man you may understand that there are choices which grown ups have to make that are very hard and feel very unfair. We have to steal ourselves from spinning our wheels in the soft shoulder of all these big feelings and think about what is best for all of us. That is also what grown-ups do. They have to think about what is best for everyone. Your moving on tomorrow is an agonizing choice that we made together and I believe it is the right one for you. I believe it is the right one for your brothers and sister. And I know it is the right one for [therapist mom] and I. You deserve a family that can give you all that you need and by prolonging the process that sets that journey in motion, we are setting you up for failure and we are setting ourselves up for failure. And because your future is so uncertain and because we love you so very much, we are very, very sad. We are hopeful, but we are sad for many reasons. Some of which are deeply private and some of which are obviously human. I’ll end with this. You will know us as you grow up and I keep thinking about that. I keep thinking about what its like to be in a position to rally for you and all that you deserve in this world and to do so from the sidelines, because I do believe some force will step in and you will call them mother and father or mother and mommy or dad and poppa or some loving variation thereof. And they will want to know what we learned about you while you were with us because they will be so invested in your little heart and your little mind and your healing body and we will always know how tall you are and what your favorite dance moves are and what things you are curious about. In this great season of change and uncertainty these are the things I’ll be thinking about. And though this is likely not a letter I’ll send and more a cathartic release for me during what will surely be an era to change me forever, I wish to thank you for making me a better mom. A fuller person. A stronger fighter. -Foster mom (The Artist) artist mom
InteGRITTY.
There’s a new book on the shelves tomorrow but you won’t see it in our home. The author’s name comes up often, in the form of, “Why didn’t she want me?” Followed by my daughter's own internal response, which remains both her deepest question and the answer to it: “Because I was bad.” My birth mom couldn’t take care of me. My Nana made me leave. They didn’t want me. Will you give up on me, too? I want this woman and her wife out of our life but they’ve been woven into the narrative that is her story and our family’s story. Which is to say, we will work out all the ways they come up for as long as it takes. And today, it feels especially difficult because I read an interview the author gave and it brought me right back to the heart of it. My birth mom couldn’t take care of me. My Nana made me leave. They didn’t want me. Will you give up on me, too? You can hide behind your online life of curated feeds and lifted quotes. Photos of other peoples’ work and an echo chamber of fans. You can bury yourself in the comfort of your fireplace reading room. Write an op-ed here or there, using big words for this or that. Co-opt hashtags and movements birthed from the death and life’s work of others. You’re deceiving a lot of people but you’re not fooling me. It may seem like you’re living your lives without a goddamn consequence in the world. But then I remember that for the rest of your lives you’re going to look into each others’ faces and know that the other person chose to abandon a kid. And you’ll find all kinds of ways to convince yourselves that that’s ok, but it takes energy to convince yourself that that’s ok. And eventually something else will happen in your life that’s going to bring up all this unresolved stuff. Nobody gets to escape from the type of pain you caused and made. It just doesn’t work that way. -Artist Mom [WATCHING] #30WriteNow             artist mom
Command Center: how to organize a busy family
artist mom (4 min read) Man, every damn day feels like an ass-kicking in our home. From the morning routine to several appointments super far away, to pick-ups and drop-offs and colds & potty training & deciding who's gonna make dinner, who will do baths. Gah! We try to divide & conquer, but...we really like each other. And mostly, we really like being around each other. Big sis is in school 5 days a week. Sweet is in preschool 3 days a week. Tiny's in speech twice a week. We have 2 dogs, 2 cars and no childcare. *grabs megaphone* NO CHILDCARE. We commute into and out of the city at least 10 times a week, an hour each way (which is actually about 11 miles away. RUSH HOUR. That's a minimum of 10 hours in the car with 2 littles M-F. We're talkin snacks, books in the car, getting out the door on time, having enough to eat, bathroom breaks, and COFFEEomgCOFFEE. We've just been plugging along in a bit of a rushed daze prioritizing the night before and, since I lost my job a few weeks back (18 days ago - but who's counting) I've been desperate for structure. So we came up with this. Step 1: Prioritize We sat down for no less than 3.5 hours last weekend (no joke) and mapped out the next 4 weeks with 4 pieces of paper and each day of the week on the paper. Hour by hour. We outlined all the nuances and decided who would do what. From this discussion we prioritized the following as most important to get organized around: Pick ups and drop offs and what time do you need to leave Picking out clothes and packing lunches (the night before) Appointments, appointments, oh my! Dinner Day-to-Day: who's doing it? Meal planning? Grocery shopping? Kids' activities and appointments throughout the week When does therapist/actually working mom need to be at meetings or grading papers or training or whatever When does artist mom/launching career in a new direction need isolated work time Weekends - how to keep them fun, have some routine so we don't all unravel and focus on family Give the kids some autonomy and opportunities to work on executive functioning skills and imagining their week Step 2: Design user-friendly, simple, dry-erase, Tiny-can't-reach-and-destroy location for Command Center We had a large-ish space of wall that's off to the side but still within the spaces we enjoy, so I got to work with a simple design that was easy to use and easy to manipulate. Upper left: Aerial view of the overall week for grown-ups. M-F is separate from the weekend bc I couldn't find an alternate clearance Michael's frame that we could fit M-Su in. Right corner: A detailed, hour-by hour of our scheduling needs 4 weeks out, for reference. And an area where we can plan meals. With templates. The kids' calendars. Our Bigs listed out all the things they think they do on a day-to-day, week-by-week basis, as well as special activities like going to the beach, visiting family, adoption parties, doctor visits, show & tell, etc. After brainstorming a list (with excessive help), Kiddos created art cards. These are basically 2/5"x3.5" cards designed in photoshop or word, laid out on an 8.5x11" sheet of paper with 9 cards per sheet. I laminate them so they last and let them decorate with stickers and markers. All of this is really for fun and buy-in. I think if they create the coolness, they'll be more likely to use it. you can also just cut out pieces of paper about the size of baseball cards and you're good. Storage of kids' art cards. Obviously their initials aren't G and S but if they were, this is where their cards would be stored. On any given day, when we are trying to plan ahead and imagine the future (dinner, soccer, feeding dogs, shower) they pick out the cards and put them on the corresponding day in about the same order they would play out IRL. Parking lot. This week, the types of things that landed here were setting up a hair appointment at a beauty salon for big sis, grocery items we didn't want to forget and car-related stuff that got overlooked. There's an extra container for dry erase markers. Not shown: the $2 IKEA clock, which we use for helping the Bigs gain a sense of time passing. How much is 5 minutes? 15? If they have a half hour to play, we use a dry erase marker to note the start and stop of that time, so they can begin to internalize when they should clean up and what the passing of time feels like when you're eating, getting ready for school, playing outside, building with legos, etc. Step 3: Use it, refer to it, move shit around as necessary, take a pic and set it as your home screen * All frames were bought on clearance at Michael's Craft store. Kids' calendars are plastic with velcro attached to cards and plastic to move cards around. Grown-ups calendar, parking lot and clear clipboards (Staples) are all dry-erase marker friendly. You could scrap ALL OF THIS and purchase Idea Paint to create one giant dry erase wall, if you wanted to. You know, like the fancy startups do. -Artist Mom
Kids + Pics
I want all the kids in my care to feel like they matter. One of the things I think a lot about is how few pictures kids in foster care have of themselves. I have the luxury of looking back on albums & boxes of old photos my parents took of my brothers & I. They are the thread that wove the narrative of my youngest years. I know what I looked like with missing teeth, or was wearing at my first day of kindergarten. My baby books validate my growth & early milestones. My first Christmas tree. How my body & style & identity evolved over time. It's all right there. I can access it whenever I want. My story is documented & that makes me feel like I matter. Feeling important & worthy was so firmly part of my early childhood that I still benefit from that foundation as an adult. When a 6 week old baby boy was placed with us before Christmas last year, we picked out his first Christmas outfit & had his first picture taken with Santa. He'll always have pictures of his first Christmas tree & his first snowfall. His Mom celebrates Christmas. His older brother and sisters celebrate Christmas. It was important to us to do this very normal, celebratory thing for him. Here's the thing, though. We are two white women whom often foster black, biracial or mixed kids. I'm an artist with trendy hair and tattoos. My better half is a therapist who easily passes for stereotypical 'straight.' We get a LOT of stares in public. This feels concerning to us. Recently, we became more interested in building community & began looking for families that looked similar to ours. While hunting, we noticed there seem to be 3 schools of thought about photographing children who are in foster care: Don't. Do. And do, but don't show their faces. I get it. Totally. I can empathize with the urge to want to celebrate these precious little ones. I understand the stuff that comes up. Like...do we send pics to parents & families of origin to share their child's growth while with us? What do we pass on to their social worker for their file? Do we share pics of them with our own friends & family via social media to express our love & invite others into our journey as foster parents? And what about facial recognition software? Sometimes it feels like a tough call. I've seen some pretty creative cover-ups on Instagram; stickers, banners, shadows, text, cropping. I think people have the best of intentions. And while I can't speak to the intentions of others, I can tell you ours. With great power cometh great responsibility. In this day of digital overdrive, the opportunities for documenting our stories are abundant (obvi). There are apps for shooting & editing photos & videos we take on our phones, and social media outlets to share those moments. Instagram lets us share our images and push our creative agenda forward; Twitter gives us a voice; Facebook creates community; Soundcloud actually records our voice for the world stage. Here's where we're at with this. We believe it's important for people to see all types of families (and we happen to think ours is pretty special). We know that one way to stomp out stigma and spread awareness about blended & same-sex families is simply through exposure, & we know that images can be powerful. We take a lot of pictures. We shoot a ton of video. We do a lot of fun stuff as a family. We celebrate a lot of triumphant moments. We document difficult times when we feel it's appropriate to. That said, we feel strongly that it is (A) our responsibility to protect the identity and safety of our kids while honoring our family journey in this world and (B) to document our kiddos' growth while in our care so that their lifelong narrative includes having visual access to this period of time in their life. -Foster Mom (the artist) artist mom
Siblings
We were asked on Instagram about our thoughts on fostering siblings, so I thought I'd weigh in here on the blog, then ask you all to do the same in the comments here or IG should you feel inclined. For context, Tiny moved in first, when he was 6 weeks old. (We knew he had 3 older siblings, but hadn't lived with them). Mr. Toddler came about a month later at age 2. We hadn't intended to foster any kids long-term. At that point, we were a hotline home for emergency placements, which worked better for our schedules. We also thought of it as a way to get our feet wet. Challenges for Us Here were some of the challenges for us. Developmentally, the boys are in separate worlds. Not only because of their chronological ages, but because of their trauma history & the amount of time each had spent in their original home before being placed in protective care. This poses a variety of challenges; work schedules, daycare pick-up/drop off, appointments (we essentially doubled the number of appointments with doctors & providers & the boys were very sick all winter), food and sleep. Tiny slept on & off, as one does when they're a newborn. Mr. Toddler had night terrors & was up 1-2 times an hour every night for a few months. Sleep deprivation was (and still is!) a real challenge. It has certainly taken an unexpected toll on our professional lives & has challenged our relationship in unforeseen ways. We've also grown in remarkable ways. A couple other things. Tiny had straightforward baby needs for a long while like eating, sleeping, snuggling & pooping. Mr. Toddler was behind developmentally & had some catching up to do. He had also experienced some big transitions in various homes & daycares & was separated from his older siblings. A number of our earliest photos on Instagram capture this period of time. Very sad. Very tough. Visits with bio mom & siblings were emotionally difficult, uncomfortable & kinda generally heartbreaking. We blogged about them as well. We were quick to put rituals & routines together for consistency & he slept in our room with us until he slept solidly through the night. We also changed his diet over time to help heal some hair & skin issues & to give his guts a chance to loosen up. Little man was in rough shape. So sharp. So sweet. So earnest. So precious. We weren't sure if we were a good match for him at first & initially thought he might do better as the youngest kiddo in a 2 parent home with older kids or zero kids. Now, we wouldn't have it any other way. Mostly, for the pros. Pros It is a sacred & beautiful thing to witness two young brothers getting to know each other. These two are inseparable now. It took Mr. Toddler about a month of being in our home to even acknowledge Tiny. It was as if he just didn't see him. He was so confused. Still is, but in different ways. About 3-4 months into his new life with us, he started nurturing Tiny by mimicking what we would do. If Tiny cried, he'd yell, "Bottle!" And demand of us that we take care of Tiny straight away. He'd say "Bee-bee cry! Bee-bee cry!" And watch us help Tiny. He would bring him toys & coo & eventually rub his face & arms in a soothing, albeit toddler, kind of way. He also started to really let us hold him. Like, his weight would drop in that only-a-toddler-weighs-this-much kinda way. Heavy. Soft. Vulnerable. Beautiful. And he has been able to move his little mind & body & heart forward in healing ways that allow for him to continue catching up developmentally, but not rush into the world of "big boy" just yet. He missed a lot of his own baby time and having Tiny around is a great opportunity for all of us to appreciate this once-in-a-lifetime period. And Tiny has benefitted in immeasurable ways. He has an older sibling around to be silly with, to learn from, to wrestle with, to share toys with. They are keen to where the other is when they're both in the same room. Sometimes doing their own thing, always doting on each other. Our hope in the near future is to arrange sibling visits with their older two siblings, when the time is right for them & when the time is right for us. When you commit to raising 2 kids under 2 until further notice you become, what I now refer to as, a pop-up family. You don't get 9 months to prepare your body or your house or your friends & family. Everything changes. There is no real way to fully prepare for it emotionally, financially, spiritually or otherwise. If we could change a couple things we would have talked more with our support system about our plans so it wasn't such a shock across the board. We would have started couples therapy earlier in order to have a place to talk about this new life & lifestyle. We would have identified people who could help with watching the boys on occasion to give us breaks & to allow for us to keep some consistency for our two dogs, who've equally made the ultimate sacrifice for us as new moms. And. We would have probably put together a baby shower (x2!) to help us acquire the things you need to properly care for babes when you're a family of 4. If I could offer one slice of advice, follow your gut. If you're not ready, say that. If you're unsure, say that. Don't be pressured into taking more than one kid if you and your partner don't feel ready. Or, at least, mostly ready. What about you? If you're a foster parent(s), what say you on this topic for inquiring minds? -Foster Mom (the artist) artist mom
Timeouts
Yesterday I posted a picture of Mr. Toddler in timeout and some interesting discussion surfaced in the thread following. I felt the need to flesh out some of my own baggage with timeout, in addition to sharing some thoughts that may or may not be useful. These are totally my own views and not meant to offend any parenting style. We can totally agree to disagree. For context, I worked at various residential treatment centers for children in state custody for several years. During the latter part of that time, I was a lead trainer for crisis intervention and behavior management. At that time, the agency I worked for was muddling through its own intervention crisis, of sorts, and had put together a training model that merged snippets of previously used interventions and emerging, evidence-based, best practice. My struggle with the resulting blended model was that I did not believe it took into account individual kids’ trauma histories, strategies were not therapeutic and staff had difficulty keeping up with the changes, instead relying on their own parenting philosophies while working with these very tough, damaged kids. The result was a lot of people trying really hard to do the right thing and think about what was best for kids in care but in the moment, ultimately relying on inserting their own adult authority. Timeouts were a frontline intervention rather than focusing on any prevention. Adults got punitive, things got consistently shame-based, kids were isolated from groups for long periods of time and their behavior typically escalated rather than deescalated, and ended in terrible physical restraints. In essence, kids continued to dig themselves into a hole of consequences because agency systems and adult expectations (level systems, sticker charts, individual philosophies) got in the way. Kids were not only not learning from mistakes and not building skills to negotiate stressors, they were also often unclear about what their initial 'offending behavior' was. Awful. Trust was impacted, relationships between kids and adults were damaged, kids were further traumatized and the overall culture did not serve children in the way that they deserved. I’d like to believe that timeouts have come a long way since this period of time in my professional life. I’d also reeeeallly like to believe that kids in foster care do not resemble kiddos stuck in institutions (group homes, residential treatment facilities, hospitals, other congregate care). Depending on the age of the kiddo and the number of homes they’ve transitioned to/from and the extent of their trauma history and the broader impact on their social emotional development…I struggle to separate the two entirely. Don’t get me wrong. I think there are lots of people working in the trenches who are good people working hard to do right by kids. I think people have different definitions of what this looks like and I certainly think one of the biggest challenges for social welfare agencies is to develop protocol and treatment plans that work for individuals rather than broad groups. I think that some strategies are more effective with certain kiddos than with others and I get that timeout has a place in the worlds of some families. I don’t think they have a place in ours. Here’s why: Rewind to last night. Here's what happened. Mr. Toddler has a pretty solid bedtime routine (which we’ve worked super hard to establish). He gets home from school and plays inside or outside, dinner, bath, PJs, books, and bedtime. We have a pretty sweet flow that works well for him and all of us. Mostly. In the last week or so (since starting a third daycare in almost as many months) he has started to melt down more frequently throughout the night (before dinner when his blood sugar is lower and he’s exhausted). Mr. Toddler, at an agitated level, looks like whining or whimpering, saying ‘no’ more frequently to basic requests, being generally inflexible, more moody and easily agitated. This agitation escalates to being disruptive with an increase in gross motor activity. He throws food, plastic silverware, his sippy cup, or rips off his bib while sitting in his high chair during dinner. He becomes pretty much unable to reason with in this stage. We usually ask him to take a breath more frequently and this sometimes helps. He’s not outrageous, as he’s still so little, but tough nonetheless. We also remove the amount of objects he can throw and try to slow things down for him. As he digests his food, his mood improves. Literally. You can see it happen. We transition from dinner to bath (he often needs to be hosed down) because it triggers a transitional shift for him in the night; he cognitively and somatically knows we’re inching toward bedtime. Bath time is awesome. It’s relaxing. He loves the bubbles. He gets quiet time to himself and we get a moment to breathe and set out pajamas, books, medicine and Tiny ready for bedtime. And then the shift. Mr. Toddler does awesome until he has to put his pajamas on. He jumps from agitated to disruptive to dangerous almost immediately (thrashes his body while screaming-basically not in control of himself). I use the term dangerous loosely here, as he is so young and so small. Though, I did hear a quote once on This American Life about how the only reason more toddlers don’t kill people is because they lack the strength. Or something. Sometimes he shakes, rattles and rolls until he stops on his own and moves forward. Sometimes playful redirection from us is effective. Sometimes we have to wrestle him into his PJ’s because it’s too late and its just time. So we A) let him do his own thing until he comes around B) try to problem-solve with him or C) assert our parental authority and give no choices. Ugh. Enter: the timeout. We’ve called it both “taking a break” and a couple times, timeout. The discrepancy is usually indicative of our mood, to be frank. When we have more energy we ‘take a break’ and ‘try again.’ When we are exhausted and feel out of options and just want it to stop, we try to shake it up with an isolating intervention; ergo, timeout. And therein lies one of the biggest problem for me: isolating. It just does no good. Not for a toddler. At least, not for our toddler. This is not behavior I want to continue. I don’t want this little guy feeling so distressed right before bedtime and I don’t want us to feel like we’re putting out small fires or grasping at straws. From my perspective, timeouts are meant to stop behavior. In the way past, if I was ever going to ask a kiddo to take a timeout, it was to stop their behavior. It was because they just needed a moment. If that behavior stopped on the way to timeout, I would tell them that they didn't even have to ‘sit’ a timeout. If that behavior didn't stop on the way to timeout, it was more than likely going to escalate. I knew that then. I know it now. In Sum What I didn’t do last night was, in the moment, revisit why Mr. Toddler was struggling to put on his pajamas and then make a choice. I wasn’t curious. I was tired. I wasn’t thinking of myself as the one responsible for investigating the meaning of his behavior, I was just spent. And Tiny was crying and needed a bottle. I know my kid. I know that knowing my kid is half the battle. I know why changing his clothes can be triggering for him. I know why the word timeout, in and of itself, is triggering for him. I know why bedtime can be triggering for him. It has to do with his trauma history. It has to do with the fact that he’s a toddler. It has to do with the fact that we just moved him from the co-sleeper next to our bed to his own toddler bed across the room and despite how pumped we are about it and how exciting we make it sound for him, a little bit it sucks. I. Know. These. Things. But in the moment? Poof. Gone. I also know that I’m not teaching him any useful skills in those moments of desperation. Zip. I know that little moments add up over time and that this is how behavior is learned and shaped. I’m ok with the occasional fail but I’m not down with doing damage. The balance I hope to strike with Mr. Toddler in these types of situations is to explore the meaning of his behavior and to work with him/teach him to manage that behavior. To help him develop a skillset that will allow him to tolerate the frustration and regulate the emotions that come along with negotiating his life’s stressors. In toddler ways, in school-age ways, latency-age ways, in pre-teen ways, in teenage ways, in young adult ways. I’m pretty good with everything but the toddler and preschool age range. Mostly, I find him so unreasonable. Also, totally lovable. And. This is how I know I’ve met my match. -Foster Mom (the artist) artist mom
Christmas Magic Roundup 2016
We careened through December like a Rusty Chevrolet (shout out to my roots) without breaks despite what we thought was kickass planning. But man, the pics are beautiful and the memories so great. Lemme ‘splain. We want our kids to have happy and healthy childhoods - which means we have to deconstruct a lot of our own baggage and bring to fruition a different vision of childhood than what we know (obviously in all things parenting, this extends well beyond just Christmas). In so doing, we’re weaving together the pieces that make sense with the wishes we have for our own kids while carving out something we brand as our own. There were a couple important things Therapist Mom wanted to carry forward from her childhood that were super special and a couple things I did not want to repeat from my own. This was our 3rd Christmas with Tiny, 2nd with Sweet and 1st with Big Sis. Each year we nail it down a little more and try to enjoy the process. This year, we were far more intentional throughout the whole month and what emerged was an overblown buffet-style Xmas Magic for 2016. The following were our big-ticket items, how we graded our success and some things we’d change for the rolling out of future seasons of magic. But first, a short video capturing the essence of it all: Christmas Magic: B+ Raising readers over here. We do books every night before bedtime. We thought it would be fun if the magic of opening gifts collided with the magic of reading. Every. Night. We purchased a mix of used and new books throughout the latter part of the year so we’d have a solid variety of 25. TWENTY-FIVE. We wrapped every single one. The setup: The wrapped books were accompanied by this adorable neon and pastel “candy tree,” which the kids would look for as soon as they were out of bed each morning. We would wait until bedtime to unwrap and read. Repeat the next day. We’ll likely do this again next year. 3 things we'd do different next year: Not use glitter wrapping paper. Ever, actually. Avoid the baby board books – Tiny could get in on the action once in a while but we didn’t need to include so many board books (feedback from Sweet). “UGgggggghHHHH, MOM. Another baby book?” Wrap them ages in advance. Like, Easter?   The Advent Calendar: B Our planning brought this grade up from a C. Execution brought it down from an A. The kids’ excitement kept it slightly above average. We were not looking to start Mommy Wars, but man, if we were… Here were some of your lovely comments when we posted the Advent Calendar on the eve of December 1st. Top tier. Your posts always warm my heart. I love this! Makes me want to do Christmas Magic when I have kiddos! I stole this from you! Can I be your child? Best. Moms. Ever. Wow! I feel like Scrooge McMommy! Gotta work on this! We'd like to move in please. Be there in the morning. I want to be like you when I grow up! Y’all were s i g n i f i c a n t l y too kind and very cute. Thank you for your votes of confidence. We crushed about half of this; it was just too much. The kids got locked into the routine of it, which made it a real struggle when we needed to break stride – very much the opposite of how we’re working so damn hard to raise them: flexible and patient. Weekends got tricky with weather (COLD, just didn’t feel like moving) and sometimes life just doesn’t allow for so much time in the car with 3 littles.   3 things we would do different: 2 or 3 big tickets for the month (one of which will be the Polar Express) not 1 or 2 each weekend More notes or quotes from Santa vs things. Or Something. The kids became a bit more entitled than excited about this and 25 days is a loooooong time. I think next year we will work in Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and doing more or making more for others and less receiving…maybe tie in the Elf. Maybe.   The Elf: A- We half-assed this most of the time but the kids talked most about #SparklesTheElfChristmasMagic. They ABSOLUTELY loved her. We used the story that #SparklesTheElfChristmasMagic helped keep our tree and Christmas Magic books company and she shared the kids "hopes and dreams" with Santa. As in, Sparkles job was to share with Santa the things that mattered to them, kind gestures they made and wishes she had for their Christmas season. They likely understood none of this, but her deal wasn't to narc to The Big Man. So that might be the most important take away. The Bigs knew she would lose her Christmas Magic if anyone touched her, so the time Tiny ripped her off the Candy Tree did not go so well. There was a collective gasp in the room. Then I think we played the 3 second rule and made her disappear until the next day. 3 things we’d do different: Level up our game and leave a teeny tiny door on the wall the night of Christmas Day so the kids would know that she left. Have her interact with the kids and their toys more – like, draw on their hands in the night with a colored marker and let them find the marker with her in the morning when they go look for her. Hey, I’m the Artist. Of course I want this to get messy. Create a book of her shenanigans to give the kids as a gift.   The Polar Express: A+ This was arguably everyone’s fave event of the season. It was truly magical and a small break for us moms. Our favorite things were the seats we sat in, which allowed us all to snuggle together on the train ride up to the North Pole and the ride back. We were contained and entertained just enough with hot chocolate, Polar Express snacks, the lights, caroling and jingling our bells. We also stayed the night prior at one of the Residence Inn’s bedroom suites, which offered some personal space, a kid’s area and an eat-in kitchen for our own food. There were few guests so more than once we had the pool and hot tub to ourselves. And when Tiny was up late into the night, we could run the halls to burn energy without being disruptive. Also, they served us a ridiculously elaborate continental breakfast. The beds were comfortable and PEOPLE CLEANED UP AFTER US!!!! 3 things we’d do different: Book the hotel for the same night as the ride vs. the night before. It was a 3-hour drive from where the Train departed and the drive home was a bit brutal. As is the case after one visits the North Pole. Obviously. Pack more snacks. Don’t show the movie.     Christmas PJs: A+ There is not one thing we would change here. These PJs seal the deal for the season and bind our kids (and cousins!) together in the best kind of group mentality way. Hanna Andersson we are waiting for you to ask us to be your ambassadors. *winkwink*   Christmas Gifts: B+ Downgraded for quantity, upgraded for quality and aesthetic. We did some early stalking on Craigslist for 1 big-ticket item each for Sweet and Big Sis. We scored in both departments; American Girl spa set, hairdressing station with accessories, and trundle bed sheet sets. And for Sweet we found him the entire Thomas the train set (something ridiculous like 70 t. We also did a fair amount of cyber Monday surfing and online sales like whoa. But, in concert with gifts from family and the Department of Children and Families (still in our lives) and a month long of Christmas Magic, we were far heavier on the material side than we anticipated and are now working out where to put it all. TBH, it feels a little like we need to purge, which kinda takes away from the intended magic of it all. One major highlight here – Big Sis did some shopping at her school’s Christmas Bazaar and at a Winter Fest (with food trucks!) that we all enjoyed together. It was a real joy to witness her choosing, wrapping and eventually giving. She was so proud and really nailed each of our personalities. She is so thoughtful and captured the real essence of the season for us. 3 things we’d do different: Less is more next year. Do more baking and playing together. The only special thing I remember from my own childhood Christmas’s: A letter from Santa accompanied by a savings bank. Whatever the kids save, Santa will double so they can each shop/make for each other. This Christmas was incredibly heartwarming for us. While there are some things we’d do different to make life a little easier for us and the season a little more meaningful for all of us, overall, this was a big hit. We were talking the other day about what to do when the kids no longer believe in Santa and agreed that we would probably do something similar to this mom's amazing plan. Until then, we'll be schemin' away, capitalizing on one of the most magical pieces of childhood. Get at us over on Instagram to share the best and worst of your holidays. Happy New Year! (Short slideshow below) -Artist mom artist mom
Mom, Mama, Mommy & Supervisor
We're still painfully new at this mom thing. In recognition of Mother's Day, we hash out a few things. First = Therapist Mom. Last = Artist Mom. In our home there are three of us to celebrate on Mother's Day. Three women who comprise the mothers in our boys' life. Two women are raising them and around every day, and one who is around twice a year and present almost every day in some way. I've been thinking today about how becoming a Mom happened for us, for me. I became a Mama when my 2.5 year-old began calling me Mama. Before that I was the adult responsible for him, loved him something fierce, felt bewildered by him, protective of him, and was sure we were a temporary life for him. He called everyone "Ma" when he moved in. Cashiers, ladies on the street, other Moms at playgrounds. There was not an intimacy demarkation to the name, just what he called all friendly women. He called me Ma until he learned my name. Almost every kiddo we have had in our home takes far longer than I would have expected to hear our names. I knew we were getting somewhere good when he began calling me my first name, and then Ma, as in Mama [Therapist] and Mama [Artist] to help him distinguish which Mom he wanted. He stuck to that for awhile and then eventually dropped the first names and we became Mama and Mom. He did go back and forth depending on how his day at daycare was, or how tired or how recently we had a family visit. Once a relative heard him calling me Mama and that went rather badly. I tried to help him out by not escalating the fight, but not backing off either and making it sound as if he was just out of line here. So hard. And during this time I had to travel. I have to travel for work every few months, and it is terribly hard on all of us. I red-eye there and back, I FaceTime, I leave surprises and letters and countdown visuals around but it is hard for little people when one of their parents leave, so I have cut back as much as I can and travel maybe three times a year now. Last summer I went away for the first overnight since Mr. T moved in and when I walked in the door he was excited to see me, confused and then immediately began calling me by my first name again. It was as if he could intentionally withdraw the intimacy we created, or withdrew to protect his heart. It was so fast and iron clad it felt intentional, but we know 2.5 year-olds have nowhere near that much self control. It was visceral and he pulled way back for weeks. He and I moved back into a routine, built up rhythm and over the months I became Mama again. We have had a few setbacks, and when we do I gently tell him the story of families again with dolls, and dollhouses and visuals. I have one house where kids and a Mom live, we talk about how he lived way back with his birthmom, we talk about what happened and why he left, then he moved to many homes, then a foster home and the story that happened there, then the story of how he moved in with Mama and Mom. And now he lives with Tiny and Mama and Mom in a house and we are a family. It feels important to me that I orient little kiddos to the who/what/where of their lives. It's so confusing, and they are so little, he needs a story about his life, he needs details that are age appropriate and clear and don't change over time. I wanted him to have a clear story about who we are, what a Mom or parent is, and what friendly strangers, social workers or other foster Moms were. In typical development, kids do not grow up open to the possibility that anyone can become their Mom. That role is filled and finite. My kids have had several Moms of varying intimacy and safety, and now us. They need a story and clarity, and I'm also a firm believer that kids need to have intimacy demarkations - Moms help you in the bathroom, feed you, take care of you when you're sick, kiss you and are your people in the world. Some kids get one Mom, some kids get a few Moms of different kinds. It's confusing and not necessarily the ideal developmental construct to have muddied when you're young. So I was a Mom, and was called Mom way before I felt like a Mom. We were not looking to adopt when we became foster parents, we weren't even looking to have kids in a forever family way for a few more years. I was so happy and ready to love and care for little people and then help them on to their next step. And then I became a Mama and we became an adoptive family. It was probably last Fall that I began to really feel like a Mom to both my boys in a permanent and primal way. Commitment, care, becoming a parent in the kids-first-everything-else-waaaaay-second sorta way came easy for me, and maybe the word I'm wanting to find here is the terrifying love that Mamas have for their babies, that terrifying love came when I felt myself becoming their Mom. I look at Tiny sometimes and he feels like an extension of my heart, like a part of my body is just woven into him. It's so intense and so crazy. I was hugging Mr. T tonight after putting on his jammies and he hung around my neck being silly for a few minutes, and I just stood there with him for as long as I could until he let go. A part of my heart steadies almost every time I get to hold them close; it's not even conscious, it just happens. My whole body craves their little hugs and sticky fingers and beautiful smiles. I say this all to my Mom friends and they nod knowingly. This is just a part of the wild world of falling madly in love with the kids in your life. And I do believe it's falling in love, you all come together in this work of building a family with previous lives, beliefs and internal templates. There is no welcoming kids to your life in foster care or adoption- there is only the life you all create together, all together. Life is merely the stitching together of many moments, and likely building a family is no different. To all the Mamas in my life, to all the Mamas in my boys' life: your love and life gave me permission to be right here. Thank you. Foster Mom (The Therapist) You can always move forward but you can never go back. And you have choices about how to move forward. For me, those choices require learning a thing I did not previously know how to do or that I believed I possessed the capacity to fulfill; being a parent. Becoming a parent has unearthed a wealth of shit I didn’t realized I needed to work through. I always knew I’d be a mom, though I’m not sure if that’s because I wanted it or because I understood that this was what girls do. I suppose now I feel like a member of some elite club, but because there’s not much about me that’s traditional, I imagine it will take time to feel fully affirmed by this tribe and comfortable within it. Sometimes being a mom feels as natural as my skinny jeans and vans while I’m dancing. Other days, it feels a lot like I’m wearing a dress while shootin hoops - foreign, uncomfortable, ridiculous. There has always been a yearning deep inside me to care for kids. I was a gentle child. I played with my Barbies and their babies. I played with my own baby dolls. I played with the baby brothers and sisters of my friends. And because I come from a home where there was minimal supervision, little structure and no parental oversight, my role as the oldest sibling in a group of three was such that my real life care-taking was never about pretending. It was about surviving. It was about fighting and scrapping and never giving up and wanting for my brothers the best that I could give them so that they would be ok people. It was about logistics and being practical. It was about finding resources where there was none. It was fully sacrifice. I was terrible at it of course, because kids make terrible parents. But it set me up for what was to come next in my life, which was taking care of a lot of other people's kids. First by babysitting, then through internships with young people who were incarcerated, and then in my first career as a supervisor in residential treatment facilities. For 12 years this was my gig. I thought I would crush the parenting thing - until we started fostering. I thought I would be a shoe-in for foster parent of the year because of my background. I fell into working with kids in crisis because I was a kid in crisis myself. It seemed like a natural progression but was likely not the smartest life choice. I had to do a lot of work & growing up to reach a point where I could move through the vicarious trauma and do good work. I never really got there emotionally but I did get really fucking good at my job. I was a young supervisor and my first big job was overseeing a dorm of 10 girls, ages 5-10. 60 kids lived at this place and I was responsible for 10 of them. I worked 12 hour days and had a salary of $26,000. I did not have my degree and I was an external candidate. Many of the folks I was hired to supervise had applied for the job internally and did not get it. I was eaten alive by both the kids and the adults. I lasted 6 months at this facility and it impacted me deeply. I don’t think I fully understood the nature of the work, nor could I get on board with the magnitude of the damage a place like this does to children. This was the type of last resort place for kids with severe emotional disturbances, major mental health issues or behavioral challenges and whom also do not have parents or family to care for them. This was an institution. A step down from hospitalization & a step up from lock-up. And the problem with institutions is that they're great at manufacturing outcomes & not so great at raising kids. A lot of kids stuck in foster care end up in residential treatment facilities where they eat, play, live & grow. It's crisis-driven, fast-paced & the wrong model for nurturing childhood. Though I left this place shortly after arriving, I merely moved on to a larger, more dysfunctional agency because I believed I was meant to work with these kids and the adults charged with their responsibility. In doing so, I allowed myself to be shaped into the type of person that got results at the expense of nurturing. In this type of environment, there is a lot of talk about de-escalation techniques. Positive reinforcement. Behavior management systems and sticker charts. Privileges and punishment. Time in and timeout. Kids have to demonstrate compliance, ask for permission to go up & down stairs, they're never out of a staff person's eyeshot & frequently physically contained. There's the hustle and bustle of the shift change from the folks who woke the kids up in the morning, got them off to school and cleaned up the house, to the folks to come in at noon for staff meetings, get the house ready for the kids to come home after school and prepare for the toughest part of the day; evening. There are transitions, transitions, transitions. Snack-time, free play, ADLs, dinner, movie time, bedtime. My philosophy in helping kids succeed was a combo of skills-building, confidence through competence, collaborative problem solving, experiential learning, art therapy, wilderness therapy & straight up humor. My skill-set was coveted & for kids who didn't have parents actively in their life - I was the next best thing. This is what I told myself. You could pair me up with the toughest kiddos & I would transform them. I believed this to be the good fight and birthed a parenting ethos out of this. But in a place like this, you’re not allowed to hug kids. I learned a way to be with kids in ways that were very effective in that environment and that environment only. I learned how to nurture a child's well-being and self-worth without touching, or having physical contact, because you're not allowed to. You don't you hugs, you do side hugs. You don't hold hands, you make up funny handshakes. You do high-fives. Kids don't sit on the laps of grown-ups. There is no carrying kids on your back or your shoulders, and any occasion which you would carry a child or otherwise touch a child is followed up with an incident report to justify the action. There is no love here. Parentified at a young age, I moved into a career which felt like an obvious match. By the time we began the process of becoming foster parents, I anticipated another natural progression, which would transpire into full on parenting. I suppose I could not have known how terribly wrong I was or that so little of what I’d practiced most of my life would not translate into taking care of other peoples’ children and eventually raising my own. Though I was making guardian choices daily, I had no idea what it meant to be a parent. And I certainly didn’t know what being a mother would look like for me. This is our 2nd Mother’s Day with the boys and in many ways, it feels like the first. I have a lot to figure out. Then again, who doesn’t. Foster Mom (the Artist) artist mom
The paradox of choice
The arguments for and against keeping siblings together in foster care are strong. What I hear mostly is folks leaning toward the former. Though both elicit strong reaction, the latter enrages people. As many people know, the boys have two older siblings. We are in the process of adopting Tiny and Mr. T but not their older brother and sister. I'm unclear if I'll ever articulate how awful this feels. Worse, I don't know that it'll feel better with time. I'm not sure it's suppose to. I don't know. I can't quite reconcile it. And so here I am, on the eve of picking them up for their second sleepover, unable to sleep. I'm ruminating over why we do this, whether this is the right choice, how difficult their departure will be and the joy and weight in the responsibility of it all. This weekend and always, I suppose. The 2 of us with the 4 of them for the larger part of the weekend is the weekend. The workweek remains exhausting as we still search for our stride. On the weekends, I often just want to lay low. Catch up on all that I missed from the week. Be present with my family. I know getting the kids together is important. I know this because I was a kid separated from my siblings. It occurs to me from time to time, that if I ever had to call up Sally Field tears on a moment's notice, I could refer to the deep-seeded pain and anger I feel in my core about the loss of my brothers. And yet I know we are making the right choice and the best we can do is get them together and create a situation where they can develop relationships with one another. Big bro and big sis don't really know Tiny and Mr. T hasn't spent much time with them for the last couple years. And none of them have ironed out how to play together. We also have them over so Mr. T can see that big bro and big sis are okay. He needs to lay eyes on them. My toddler boy is working things out in his head constantly, and asks about them almost every day: "You call [foster parent's name] and see if ____ and ____ can come ovah?" "I play with ____ and ___?" "Where ____ and ____ come from?" "Where'd they go?" ... To the best of our knowledge, there is no family identified for the boys' brother and sister. And there might not be one in the near future. Kids get stuck in foster care. And we're unsure if they know visits with their birth mom have ended. I don't think anyone has told them yet. There are a lot of things I wish to be different about this scenario. Here's what's keeping me up: Are we doing the right thing by having them over and then sending them back? What message does this send to Mr. T? What questions will they have tomorrow and how can we answer in a way that will be helpful at minimum? Are we doing damage? I could go on. We got into foster parenting to provide respite and emergency care to latency-aged kids. We were really good at helping 11 year olds understand what was happening while they transitioned from their homes to foster care. I don't think I could have imagined then, where we are now, with these dynamics unfolding. They asked us if we wanted to adopt the boys' older brother and sister and we said no. We made that choice. We know we can't do for all 4 of them what we can do for 2. I have to keep telling myself this. I believe it fully, because it's what is best for us and for the boys. But, if they aren't adopted in the near future, I don't think its what is best for them. The reality of this feels irreconcilable. -Artist Mom       artist mom
The most wonderful time of the year...almost!
It's always felt important to us to create experiences for our kids. Day-to-day routines that ground us in our familial rhythm. And seasonal rituals (my BlogHer friend, @Jumpingwithmyfingerscrossed is a huge inspiration for me on the latter). We want our kids to grow up feeling connected to each other, to us & to enjoy the variety of adventures each season brings. In the summer, we do beaches & bad food, fall is very much about apple picking & orchard life, along with warm layers, walks in the woods, and baking apple crisp. Spring...still have to work that one out. But the first half of winter...OBVI THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! Last year we had so much fun building up the holiday excitement in our home (and setting up those dinosaurs XMAS eve!). From cooking & baking to a post-Thanksgiving visit to "Santa's Workshop," to Christmas & Holiday music on the daily. We celebrated full on for an entire month and took our time stepping away from it come January. Tiny was too tiny, but Mr. Toddler - the spirit fully moved him. One thing we super wanted to do but didn't pull off - partly schedule, partly the boys were so young - was an advent calendar that offered something small & special every day of December. We were aiming for "time together," and not necessarily "things." Make special cookies one day, craft together another day, drive around in pj's listening to XMAS music & looking at decorated houses, maybe even the Polar Express. We did not pull it off but we've been inching toward our 2nd season as a family & I think we're doin alright in the planning department, so far. The fall will always be busy for us; Tiny's bday, Halloween, TxGiving festivities with extended family, Mr. T's bday...plenty of time to plan for a CHRISTMAS MONTH. This year, we wanted to incorporate our love for the smells & sounds of the holidays with our love of reading and have been on a thrift quest to collect a used Christmas book for every day of our advent calendar. We read to the kids every night & they're starting to read to us. What better way to combine great loves?! We've got 21 books so far - 10 more to go! What about you? We'd love to hear about your favorite family rituals this time of year (or any, for that matter!). Drop a note in the comments here or here! -Artist Mom artist mom
My First Talk About Race With My 8 Month Old Son
I was running errands with Tiny today & I noticed a black woman staring at him with hearts in her eyes. He sees her, too. Gets all "shy guy" and smiles while leaning into me, his security blanket. He then stares right back at her & they lock in for what feels like 5 minutes but is really only 5 seconds. They were having a moment together, from afar. A moment that I didn't quite fit into as his white, tattooed mom. They share something I'll never belong to. And I'm ok with that. Variations on this scenario happen frequently. I often don't know what to say at this juncture in my parenting travels. When we recently spent a month reflecting on race, class & our transracial/fosteradopt family, one of my biggest takeaways was to start talking to my kids about race & racism at a young age. So, as we're walking out of the store & waving goodbye to her, I do that. Tiny is sitting in the cart & we are making our way to the exit. I nuzzle his nose with mine, then say to him loud enough for her to hear, "She has the same beautiful skin color as you." This was my first conversation about race with my youngest son. -Foster Mom (the artist artist mom
Disruption: A Foster Care Fail, Part 1
My partner, whom I respect deeply and fully adore, isn’t ready to talk publicly about her thoughts on all things Big Sister. I respect her choice. In many ways, she has been a compass for me as we both navigate these parenting waters. Her wisdom and humility are invaluable, holding clinical best interest and compassion over me in a world where I lead with passion and authenticity. We operate differently but not separately, oftentimes with polarity, but when we overlap, we complement each other well. When we disagree, we learn from one another. We have always been two voices here and now is certainly no different. I have some things to say now. Each summer since the boys came into our lives has been transformative and 2017 is no different. While therapist mom teaches weekly, I’m with the boys, working on several side projects, soaking up some version of a maternity leave I’d hoped for back when we adopted. Quite the opposite from summer 2016 when all 4 kiddos were with us and she was primary parent while I worked long days. This year, we’ve also been gifted access to a house near the beach, making our way to the shore as frequently as we can to discover the healing ways of the ocean. Its air is thick and damp, staining skin and hair with sweet salt and sunshine, ushering in much needed laughter, quality time together and breezy, sleep-filled nights. The tide’s consistency anchors us to one another in ways more healing than anything I ever imagined. Our boys spend the mornings learning how to ride their bikes, sand dunes and conservation land lining the paths. Late morning is reserved for fantastic feats of daring during low-tide exploration, followed by long naps, afternoon adventures, poolside swims, seafood, cotton-candy ice cream and boogie boarding. We’ve discovered the waltz of lightning bugs, the joys of evening bubble baths and the weight of our exhausted heads sinking into pillows while sharing in the delight of bedtime magic through books on pirate treasure hunts, hermit crabs hunting for homes and the adventures of other little Black boys. If I oversaw the manufacturing of every kid’s childhood, these would be the building blocks. We are doing all the normal things we’ve waited so long to enjoy. Settling into our collective bones as a family of 4 who’ve had anything but a traditional journey to this point. And we were reveling in the finality that we worked toward and sacrificed deeply for so that every kiddo in this story would reach a happy ending. Until about 2 weeks ago. When Big Sis left our home the first week of June 2017, much preparation, tenacity and sacrifice had taken place before that pivotal moment. From the onset of welcoming the boys’ older siblings into our home, launching them was always our #1 goal. We were clear with each other and we were clear with them. We knew we could not possibly raise all four of them as we were not resourced to meet their individual and collective needs. Instead, we actively devoted our lives, at the cost of many things, to help ready them for pre-adoptive homes and forever families. Our commitment to them was to lay the best possible foundation on their paths to permanency by creating a home for them to heal, to get to know each other as siblings, to eat good food, to have routines and consistency, to have fun, to frame who the people and players were in their life, to advocate for them and ensure continuity of care across all channels; medically, educationally, after school and summer camps. And when the time came, to support their transition. This wasn’t a decision we made lightly, nor was it always a clear path. We were filed on. I lost my job. She put hers at risk. More than once we considered separating. Our community expanded and contracted, leaving a smaller group of friends and family who understood and stood by us. We invested in what we viewed as success at the cost of many things because we believed there to be no more important goal than security, safety and family for all. We anticipated we would need to absorb more than we might be able to handle, which is, in part, why the boys’ Big Brother left our home earlier than we would have liked. Our job has been to hold the reigns while raising the bar, working above and below radar, within and outside of the system, to reach a place of launch for all our kiddos. Because they deserve no less. For Tiny and Sweet, this place of was our little family of 4. For Big Brother, it has been with his pre-adoptive family. And for their oldest and most vulnerable sibling, the just and timely arrival of an adoptive family that would carry Big Sis into her 9th year and beyond. There are no fairy tale endings in foster care, there are just families who work hard. There is always work and courage and patience and tenacity and the building of resilience. And occasionally, a good enough story of relative success. There is the understanding, every day, that the child in your arms has suffered deeply. Beginning often with the trauma of the separation of that kid from their birth parents and ending with no clear path in sight and a lifetime of shame for folks who could’ve done better. Investing in kids is always worth it. Even without a return. There is no glory here. There is no easy road. If one seeks such a path, one should listen to the voices of adoptees and the lived experience of folks who’ve traveled these roads before making promises to kids only to steal them away. One should take care that the choices one makes are altruistically in the best interests of the child one seeks to lift or claim to love. Should a grown-up be unclear about their intentions or capabilities, have any doubts or an alternative agenda, my recommendation would be to just go get a fucking puppy. Or a plant. You can dress either of them up or put them on a shelf to take pretty pictures. That would be preferred. Someday, when she’s old enough, I think she’ll agree. More later. Artist Mom artist mom
An American Crisis: 5 Foster Care Facts, 55 Creative Ways to Help
There are no fairytale endings in foster care, only families that work very hard & the communities who rise up around them. Right now, kids & families in our neighborhoods are engaged in a crisis so quiet that many people are simply unaware. Our neighbors are under resourced & overstressed, children are suffering. Many people believe that if we just took the money given to foster parents & funneled it back into struggling families, we would alleviate the need for the institution that is foster care. While that may or may not be true, Ellen can't save us all, so we've got some work to do. 5 things you need to know about foster care: Homeless Shelters for Children. These are an actual thing & they exist in neighborhoods across our nation as a last resort for children with literally no where to go. Kids here range in age from newborn to 12. Right now in our cities, kids are sleeping on the floors of cubicles & social workers' offices because they've been removed from their families of origin for safety reasons & there is literally no where else for them to go. Social workers drive around for hours at night with kids in their cars so that kids can get some sleep. They do this until the child welfare office reopens in the morning & the search for a "bed" can resume because there is literally nowhere for babies, little kids, or teens to sleep. Not all foster homes offer long-term care. Some foster homes offer emergency care on a short-term basis to eliminate the above need for numbers 1-3. These licensed homes are meant to fill the gap between a child being removed from their homes & being placed in a long-term foster home while the situations get sorted out. These homes can also offer respite (a break for foster kiddos & foster families) on a short-term basis. There is no nation-wide search or application for such a home. Every day people need to make the choice to become one by calling their local child welfare agency's office. And you need to be persistent. Because there is a shortage of temporary placements (shelters, foster homes, assessment facilities, hotline foster homes, kinship homes, hospitals & residential institutions) children are being left in dangerous, traumatizing & potentially life-threatening situations while random "spot checks" are conducted on reported homes by social workers & child welfare agency investigators because there is literally no where safe for these kids to go. When you open your home to kids in care there is no longer the family you were, there is just the family you are becoming, and will grow to be. You need a lot of support as you flex & stretch. In our home as foster parents & in our professional lives, my partner and I have interfaced & worked alongside struggling families & frontline workers for a combined 35 years across the US. We've adopted our sons from foster care & are soon adopting our daughter as well. We understand becoming a foster parent, working on the front lines or adopting from foster care aren't options for many folks, so we've come up with a menu of alternative ways to have a direct impact. The following is a non-exhaustive list with actions that will directly improve outcomes for kids in care, their families of origin, frontline social workers & the foster families filling the gap. Our challenge to you is to double this list in your own community. 55 ways to help families involved with foster care: Make a list of the people you know who are foster parents. Take your list of foster parents & directly ask them to create an Amazon wishlist of their needs. Circulate that list among your extended network & help meet their needs. Substitute "foster parents" with "families in my community who are struggling" and do the same. Take #1 & make it a workplace competition Take #1 and do it 4 times a year, every season change. Donate your time. What's your talent? What are you passionate about? How can you turn that into something you do once or ongoing that can be impactful? Donate museum passes, gas cards, YMCA family memberships, gas cards, monthly T passes, toll passes, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Applebees, Dominoes Pizza, Fire & Ice, Chinese, Thai restaurant cards etc to families struggling to make ends meet, to foster families or social workers who can disperse them as they see fit. Bake things for social workers. Kind gestures are far reaching for frontline workers. Paint visiting room walls. All child welfare departments have rooms for kids to visit with their families. Often times these rooms have no toys, are gloomy & could use a fresh coat of paint. Offer to paint a mural to brighten the rooms up. Volunteer at a men's or women's correctional facility/prison. What do you enjoy that you'd want to teach? Yoga? Literacy? Cooking? Drawing? Poetry? Tai-Chi? Google "food insecurity" & find out if a program exists in your neighborhood. If not, start one. If so, support one. Here's a great example of one working with immigrant & low-income communities through a public school system. Build a library of diverse books for your foster parent friends, a local laundromat or convenience store. Hereweeread.com is a great resource for diverse kids' books. Become a member of a local or community "mom's" group on Facebook where baby & kid items can be sold, bartered or donated. If you or a friend foster babies, this can be a great way to acquire used goods like a stroller, rock & play, infant swing, jumparoos, car seats & clothes. Be sure to check expiration dates & if you need help installing car seats, fire departments have an open door policy for showing you how to install correctly. If there is no such group, start one. Make meals & deliver them once a week. Pair up with a friend & cook biweekly. Offer one thing ongoing, pizza Fridays for example. Order takeout regularly & have it delivered if you can't sit with the family. Make sure it's kid-friendly. Become a Special Education Surrogate Parent for a kiddo in foster care. By proxy, foster parents fill this role but kids would benefit academically & pro-socially from knowledgeable folks working with their school supports, particularly if there's an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) involved. May is Foster Care Awareness Month - a great reason to intentionally expand your knowledge on the topic. November National Adoption Month - a great reason to intentionally expand your knowledge on the topic. Are you on social media? Follow Fridays are a great way to share the blogs or accounts of people you follow. Doing a search for #fostercare #fosteradopt or #transracialadoption are great places to start. Sponsor birthday parties for kids in Homeless Shelters & Domestic Violence Shelters. Talk to the folks who run domestic violence shelters. What are their needs? Business casual & business clothes for the women living there? If it's in your realm of professional experience, consider offering on-site mock job interviews, or donate your time to do art projects with kids. Offer to bring a meal & desserts on the nights you're on-site. It's a nice break for the staff & residents. Find out what they like to eat. Become a lifelong mentor. Support the work that others are doing. Especially former foster youth and adoptees. Caring Cases was started by a former foster youth & offers backpacks & luggage to transitioning kids, filled with hygiene kits, a blanket, pajamas & a book. adoptees. Angela Tucker is a transracial adoptee & at center of the documentary, Closure. Her "Adopted Life" episodes involve incredible interviews with young transracial adoptees & her husband, Bryan, has a new documentary about youth aging out of foster care. Alliance of Mom's supports Kid's Alliance & the NACAC is always doing big work for kids at risk of aging out without permanency. Offer small grants to teachers who are looking to do creative things in their classrooms. Make it competitive. Buy new tires, offer oil changes, toll passes, or internal/external car wash. We do a lot of driving to doctors' appointments, quarterly reviews, school meetings, weekly visits with families of origin & general travel. Food, distance, gas. It all takes quite the toll. Donate car seats directly to foster parents or social workers. Kids get shuffled around a lot, unfortunately, and car seats expire. See #12. Bikes, scooters & helmets. Recreational options are important for kiddos in general, but especially kiddos who may be behind in gross motor activities because of their early life situation. Seasonal gift certificates. This was huge for us. Last year, we scraped together the cash for memberships to: Children's Museum ($130 annually), Science Museum ($150 annually), Zoo ($130 annually) & the YMCA ($120 monthly family membership), Costco (way too much) & the National Audubon Society ($129). We crushed it in 2016 but when the memberships ran out, we were unable to renew them. These places were incredible for our kids & great for us. Each for very different reasons. iTunes gift cards for folks who's kids use learning apps. Lawn care. Our lawnmower died & was in the shop for almost the whole season. Eventually we had to pay professionals to service our big yard. One of those things that's not a big deal if your life is manageable. Oftentimes, for folks who foster, the day-to-day grind is really about your kids & family & things like yard work & deep house cleaning become unmanageable. Household maintenance & regular cleaning. See #30. Haircuts. Is this your passion or profession? I've seen folks I know set up shop in city squares or on the common & give free haircuts to homeless folks. What about back-to-school cuts? Braids or protective styles for natural hair? Great way to boost the esteem of kids & folks. After school timeframe is a 2-4 hour chunk of hellacious time for so many families. Kids in care often don't have after school programming as the slots for these places fill up quickly. Can you transport? Do homework? Other? Cover cost of camps & research the enrollment process. We are so busy we often miss deadlines by just a couple days Are you a photographer or videographer? Each state has a website of youth in care, waiting to be matched with pre-adoptive families. They often are languishing in care & don't have updated photos or videos for prospective families to view. Volunteer your time to take Heart Gallery photos, prom or Senior photos. Offer your timeshare. Life books, goodbye books & everything in-between. Photos are often how we remember some of the most important times in our growing up. The same is true for kids & young adults in foster care, but there are often gaps. With digital technologies at our fingertips, there's no reason why printing services like Chatbooks, pinhole press or Costco books can't be printed regularly. Maybe this is something you coordinate. IKEA gift cards. That is all. Do a big grocery shop once a month. Legos, play doh, magnatiles, board games, Lakeshore Learning, oh my! Educate yourself. Google is your friend. How/why was the foster care system even created? Podcaster? Blogger? Interview a family. Elevate the voices of the folks doing the work. Financially resourced? Pay tuition, fees & offer year round summer housing for a former foster youth in college. There used to be more federal funds for this but there has never been enough. Access, entry & success to higher ed takes an army for a young person to successfully navigate. If you can wipe away financial burden, do it. Throw a virtual baby shower for a new foster family. Play chess the same time every week with someone in your community. Tutor or offer to be CORI checked to babysit in the home. Dentist & Medical. Kids get behind when they're shuffled around. If this is your profession, hoe can you help improve continuity of care Purchase & build bunk beds. See #37. Organize a fundraiser with your coworkers, family, friends, community for a specific cause. Do it quarterly. Report out on impact over time. Support ongoing social workers & their support staff - Literally send flowers, bake cookies or give them a massage gift certificate. Outdoor enthusiast? Take kids camping or start a local hiking group. In New England, the Appalachian Mountain Club has a strong program worth replicating called the Youth Opportunities Program (YOP). I'll never forget the first time I climbed a mountain with a bunch of latency-aged boys living in a residential facility. Looking at the world from the top of a mountain offers all the greatest real life metaphors imaginable. Get tickets to professional sports games, college games, ballet, theatre, Blue Man Group, etc. Give them away or bring someone with you. Same for musical concerts, festivals, amusement parks. Sponsor families in your community for Thanksgiving & Christmas. Pay heating bills in the winter. Foster parent training. ABA expert? Complex trauma? Behaviorist? Nutritionist? Transracially adopted? These are all topics foster parents would benefit from ongoing training & support around. Become a foster parent. Helping families involved with the foster care system need a village. What can you offer? We are more resourceful than we realize and when we combine our collective efforts to coordinate, plan & execute, the outcomes are powerful. We can keep families together. We can change the narrative. That's what we're going for here. -Artist Mom   artist mom
Radical Changes to Diet & Sleep
A few months back we recognized that our family was barreling toward crisis. Our grave issues around sleep had compounded, resulting in an overall collective under functioning. There was a palpable uptick in general disconnect between us all. Our kids were struggling with basic routines, transitions to school, working memory, executive functioning, toileting, hygiene, mood swings, sensory processing, and winding up in the mornings and down in the evenings. As moms, our ability to retain or recall information was increasingly concerning. We were doing the usual walk into the room with a task at hand, only to need to walk back to the room from which we came in order to recall exactly what it was we originally left the room to go do. Like, 4 times an hour. We were losing the ability to connect the dots. We were sore, fatigued, under slept, over anxious and cranky. Now, none of these things were new. They had merely become exasperated for one reason or another. Maybe it was the transition from summer to fall that we couldn’t quite recover from. Perhaps a culmination of life events over the course of the year. I think our general lifestyle caught up with us. When you’re parenting kiddos who’ve experienced great trauma and neglect at such detrimental developmental stages, and whom embody a mix of cognitive and speech delays, barriers to growing strong and healthy are aplenty, surfacing at various times in a variety of ways. This is not my area of expertise, but because we did not choose the path of least resistance, we are always trouble-shooting, problem-solving, rearranging, investing, growing, learning. There’s a sort of perpetual shell game underway in our home, rotating from resolving one issue to processing another, or identifying the need to reach out to this professional or that professional. I think it started to feel crisis-driven when neither of us were able to offer the other an alternative perspective. Every day was a marathon inside a marathon inside a marathon. If that is even possible. And it felt very much like we were busting ass merely to survive and yet things weren’t getting better. The opposite, actually. So, we took a risk. Three weeks ago, we met with a psychiatrist, specifically to treat one of our kiddos. This particular kiddo has historically not slept through the night, has had night terrors, shakes self awake while sleeping and takes 2-3 hours to fall asleep. Kiddo was also waking everyone else up. Now, kiddo is not alone here in struggling with sleep hygiene. We all have issues with sleep for one reason or another and for the majority of us, it is chemical. Hormonal. But our goal was to start with one kiddo. We believed that if we could get this kiddo in particular, a full night of rest, then A) the odds would improve for the rest of us to get better sleep and B) kiddo (and all of us) would have a better chance at functioning throughout the regular day vs. struggling every step of it. We could move from survive to alive. We were lucky, in that the psychiatrist was peripherally known to us and we were aware that, while conventionally trained, she was also into functional medicine and would not medicate without ruling out diet and nutrition changes first. We felt strongly about trying everything before introducing medication. As it turns out, the straw that broke the camel’s back was also the one that laid the beginnings of a path to wellness for our enture family. At least, that is the hope. I’m not going to get into the things I’ve learned about hormones, metabolism or epigenetics, eating from the rainbow or how/what foods we’re preparing. It’s just too much to sift through right this moment and I’m learning in real time. I’m chronicling parts of that journey here, if you’re interested in some of the details. It’s more for me to organize my thoughts, get some feedback from like-minded folks and to have a visual to refer to as I learn, discover and reflect. It's also a place where you'll find some of this playing out in real time with our kids. What I will offer up in the few moments I have left, are the changes we made and some of the initial results. A snapshot of this moment in time, as some of us are beginning to sleep a little better and all of us are eating significantly better. It’s not altogether clear which pieces are diet-related and which pieces are sleep-related, though I don’t believe the two are unrelated. On the contrary, they are more married than any mutually symbiotic relationship I’ve ever witnessed. Sleep We’ve made some shifts in who’s sleeping where and what we’re doing to encourage falling asleep. I’m not talking about essential oils, weighted blankets, bedtime yoga, noise machines, electronic sunsets or lowering the lights. We’re way beyond any combination of those interventions and we’ve experimented with all of them. For 3 years. Which is not to say that they don’t work for other families. For reasons I won’t get into, it became very clear that in order for our kiddo who struggles the most to get some sleep, we would need to turn down the fight/flight/freeze part of kiddo’s brain and reset circadian rhythm. To do that while affording opportunities for everyone else to get as much rest as possible, we isolated kiddo while we iron out the wrinkles by turning the playroom into a 3rd bedroom in our home. Kiddo is taking an effective dose of melatonin to fall asleep and as of one week ago, I am administering a 1am dose of medication to keep kiddo asleep through the night. What this means at this juncture, is that everyone is getting a little more sleep. And that's a big deal. Food What we put on the end of our forks and how we incorporate cooking and shopping for food and eating together have always been values held high in our home and close to our hearts as mommas steering this ship. We ate decent. Stayed away from most processed food and sugar, sugary drinks, fast food and general junk. We ate a fair amount of whole foods, fruits and vegetables. Fresh chicken, and healthy meals. But we were never hardcore. I would call the choices we’re making around food hardcore right now. And we ate out. A lot. 5 guys, shake shack, Chinese, Indian, Pizza/movie Fridays and Chipotle were vices in our often-chaotic life. We loved our beach food and our festival food and boy did we grown-ups enjoy our sweets. In order to find wellness, we cut out all the “bad” or questionable stuff that might be barriers to healing our bodies from the inside out: processed sugar, processed foods, MSG, dyes and chemicals, grains, gluten, dairy, soy and meats that aren’t organic and grass-fed. Cold-turkey, as it were. We swapped a diet spotted with bad calories for one rich with high quality calories. We’re experimenting with snacks and lunches that have high-quality, lean protein, low-glycemic foods, and healthy fats with omega-3 fatty acids. We’re eating foods “from the rainbow,” cooking with ghee instead of olive oil and butter and incorporating more herbs and spices into food prep. We’ve boosted Vitamin D3 and vitamin B’s, along with daily routines incorporating magnesium and probiotics/fermented foods to balance the good with the bad in our guts. Our portion sizes are smaller and more frequent, and we’re drinking 3-5 times more water. Here are some small changes we’ve observed in 3 weeks, in no particular order: Moms changes as a result of diet and sleep Increase in energy Softer skin Body odor is less strong More clarity and connected thoughts Increase in ability to pay attention and remember Decrease in cravings across the board Our taste buds have changed Significantly fewer headaches Less vertigo Better sleep for tx mama, maybe a little bit better for me Minimal inflammation Allergies not as significant Weight loss Kids' changes as a result of diet and sleep Moods are more stable, less highs/lows More energy at times when they would fall asleep sitting up Memories surfacing Thawing of emotions in a positive way Less gas and bloating Increase in appetite for whole foods, fruits and vegis Skin, scalp and hair a little more moisturized ongoing Bowel movements more consistent Increase in overall clarity and connection after first waking up Obvious change in ability to complete thoughts – more on point after waking up Maybe better sleep for some There’s no magic bullet here. We're not even close to a tipping point. It's hard to predict when or if that will even happen. It’s expensive and laborious. We are blowing through the dishes. Preparing almost all our food is time-consuming and not convenient for a family of 5 with young kids. We’re prepping and cleaning up in the kitchen almost constantly given the number of meals and lunches and snacks. And. we’re building a repertoire of options. Researching, experimenting, sourcing. It’s been exhausting and cathartic. Fascinating and necessary. And we’re engaging our kids in as much of it as we possibly can. For now and for their future. -Artist Mom artist mom
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