Category Archives: Foster Parenting

Hodgepodge and Miscellany

It’s been a while since I wrote anything really substantive in this space. That’s not an apology so much as an observation. Things have been busy. I’ve been busy. I probably could have made myself blog more than I have, but if I’m forcing myself to do something I don’t like…well what’s the point in that. If I’m going to do things I don’t like, I’m at least going to get paid for doing them.

But there are a few things I thought some of you might like to know. First, Thing 1 and Thing 2 are out of our house once again and working toward a more permanent placement with some relatives. They packed up everything last week and headed out of state. The odds are decent that I won’t see them again, at least not for a very long time. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t cry when they left. But I would also be lying if I told you that I wasn’t at least a little glad that they’re gone. Between their school schedule, and trying to spend time my wife and our baby, things were stretched a little thin for us. I’m looking forward to having a little more free time to write.

Speaking of writing, I’m working on a new story which I think is going to be titled, The Death and Life of the Human Electrode, which is about a homeless superhero. And I’ve got one out for beta reads right now called In the Shadow of Doubt which is about faith and giant spiders and a tribe of squirrels that lives in a world-tree.

In other news, the parenting adventure continues. Baby AJ is now mobile. Which means you’ve got to keep an eye on him, because if you don’t the next think you know you’re hearing the thump of the trash can in the kitchen and when you get there he’ll be eating used coffee grounds right out of the filter. Really.

Also, he likes dog food for some reason. I’ve tried to convince my wife that this is a possible way to save money over all that expensive formula and baby food she keeps buying, but so far she’s not going for it.

Here is a video of him wearing pants on his head:

 

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The More I Learn, the Fewer Answers I Have; Thoughts on Round Two of Foster Parenting

We’re foster parents again. A couple of weeks ago Thing 1 and Thing 2 came back to us. Their mother is in trouble again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so conflicted about anything in my life.

On the one hand, of course I’m happy to have them back with us. They’re great kids, both of them. But on the other hand…

I’m not even sure how to say what I want to say. It’s easy to have opinions about things that don’t affect you. You see an item on the news and you’re immediately able to form an opinion. Gunman shoots up a mall, kid commits suicide after being bullied, mom leaves her baby in a trash can, you see these things and you think you’ve got the answer, simple and obvious. If only you’d been there things would have turned out different. If it had been you in that situation you’d have never made that decision. Only it wasn’t you. You didn’t live that life. Maybe you would have done things differently. Maybe not.

So yeah, it’s easy to say “some parents aren’t responsible enough to properly take care of their children and after a certain point they’ve lost the right to be parents. The kids are in danger, worse they’re growing up in an environment that could corrupt them for life.”

But you’re not the kid. You’re not the one who says goodbye to his mother knowing he’s forever lost the chance to be raised by the one he loves most in the world. You’re not the one starting over from zero. You’ve got your Christmas. You’ve got your family.

Looking at it from the outside I know the state made the right decision. But from the inside…

We were watching Doctor Who last night, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”. Great episode. And after the Doctor and his associates defeat the evil bad guy and save the day, one of the characters who’s new to the whole TARDIS thing tells the doctor, “There’s something I want to see.” Now I’ve seen this episode before. I know that Brian Pond is going to sit at the door of the TARDIS with his legs dangling off into empty space, tea cup in his hand, and stare down at the blue expanse of the earth below him. But when Thing 2 hears “There’s something I want to see,” he pipes up and says, “I bet it’s his mom.”

Think about that. Put yourself in the TARDIS. You can go anywhere in the entirety of time and space. And the one most important thing to you in the universe is being able to see your mother; the mother that anyone with half a brain could tell you is unfit, irresponsible, a bad influence. But you don’t care about any of that.

Because you’re eight years old, and it’s Christmas, and your mom is never going to tuck you into bed again.

So yeah, I’m glad to have the boys back for a while. In my head I know it’s probably for the best in the long run. But in my heart I can’t quite square it. Because sometimes the best path isn’t a good path. Sometimes life is so screwed up pretty much every available option sucks.

There’s no conclusion here, no simple but poignant thought, no cute little wrap-up. This is life. Sometimes it sucks. When it doesn’t, be thankful.

Of Fatherhood and Futility

I don’t know how to start this.

Well, there. At least that’s something written. Maybe the rest will get knocked loose now.

The problem I’m having is that sometimes I have so much to say I don’t know how to make my ideas into words. Oh for the days when the words dance in my mind for hours on end begging me to tweak them here, prune them back there. But sometimes my thoughts are too big and complicated and messy to fit together properly in words.

But maybe lets start with this: I’m going to be a dad and I’m mostly okay with that.

A few weeks back I made a post about how I was freaking out, scared out of my mind that I was going to somehow do something wrong, screw up my kid’s life, but now I feel like the freak-out phase is finally coming to a close. I’m not sure “confidence” would be the right word to describe my feelings about fatherhood. Probably “resignation” hits it on the head a little better. I’m realizing that whether I’m ready or not this is something that’s going to happen, so I’m resolved to be as ready as I can be and praying that God will take up the slack.

That is of course assuming this kid ever gets here. These last few weeks have been really rough on my wife, and by extension they’ve been rough on me because there’s nothing I can do to help her. Part of the problem is that for the longest time we weren’t sure when the baby was coming. Of course my wife has an official due date, but because of her diabetes the doctor has been planning on taking the baby early, and due to the high risk nature of her pregnancy for that last couple months we’ve been on tenterhooks thinking, “What if its this week? Or the next?” Which after while turns into, “Is this kid ever going to come?”

I have this vision of my wife in bed two years from now, her belly horribly distended, unable to move from her bed, and the doctors telling us, “We’re going to give it just one more week and see what happens.” There’s a story in there somewhere.

But now we’re locked in for a date early next week, so most of that anxiety has gone, and left me with the mental energy to worry about other Things. Thing One and Thing Two to be precise.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that me and my wife were foster parents for nearly a year, and we had the great privilege to open our home to two wonderful kids who for the sake of anonymity (and let’s be honest here, also because it’s kinda cute) I have referred to as Thing One and Thing Two.

I haven’t written about them in a while, partly because I didn’t know what to write. See, a couple months back Things One and Two went back to live with their mom. Now you’d think that having two kids that have been in your life for the better part of a year would be an emotionally troubling experience, but the truth is that for a while I didn’t feel much of anything.  In a way I was happy for them. I saw how much they loved their mom, and what’s more I saw how much that she loved them. Truth be told I’ve never seen a woman more laser-focused on anything before in my life.

She got herself a job within a few weeks of being back on the streets (no easy feat in this economy) and worked really hard to find a place they could all live together. To tell you the truth, she almost put me to shame with her passion and focus. And I thought to myself, “If she can be so driven and work so hard for her kids what more could I hope for? Sure she’s made mistakes, but now that she’s got a chance to start over again she’s gonna make the most of it.”

Only from what I can tell, that isn’t what has happened. Once the kids were back with her things started to fall apart. First it was little stuff, stuff you could write off to her scattered brain or quirky personality. But then the problems escalated. She lost her job. She’s become more and more difficult to contact. And whenever Thing One’s friends from Boy Scouts go to visit they bring back reports of strange goings-on at the house.

And part of me just wants to scream, “What are you DOING? I know you love these kids. You had a choice and you chose to bend over backwards to prove you could be the right kind of mother and now you’re letting it all fall to pieces. Don’t you understand these kids need stability? Can’t you see that the road your on is eventually going to land you back in jail and them back in foster care again?”

And the thing is, I love these kids too. I wasn’t a perfect foster parent, but I did what I could to give them some semblance of stability. But I’m afraid it wasn’t enough. Nothing I tried to do for them is going to survive in the maelstrom of their mother’s collapse. Instead they’re going to be left to build a life on a foundation of shifting sand, led by the example of a mother who can’t maintain any semblance of consistency, tossed from home to home like unwanted baubles. And how are they supposed to grow up into proper young men with a life like that? HOW?

I’d better stop writing before I start crying. I just had to get some of that off my chest. I don’t know if it matters that I’ve written it down here, that I’ve sent it out into the world, this bundle of my thoughts, flickering and weak like the flame of a candle. But that’s what I do. I write. I share. And every day I face the fear that nothing I do will ever have made any difference at all.

The Trying of Your Faith

Over the few short years of my adult life the single most important thing I have learned is that there are only three ways to get good at something: practice, practice, and practice. Unfortunately, just knowing that you have to work hard to get good at something, doesn’t make the actual process of working and practicing any easier.

Which is why, not more than a few weeks ago I was pulling my hair out with frustration at not being the foster parent I really wanted to be. I was coming unglued inside, wondering if I had made the right decision, trying to figure out what had happened to my formerly tranquil life. In short I was in short supply of patience.

Probably my least favourite verse in the Bible is the one that says, “The trying of your faith worketh patience.” It basically means that if you want to have more patience you have to endure lots of things that make you impatient, which is why when I was coming up my dad always told me, “Son, never pray for patience.” And though there were plenty of things my dad told me that I might not have heeded as much as I should have, that one I followed.

And now I’m sorely in need of patience and I’m getting it the only way you can get patience. Practice, practice, practice.

But the good news is, the trying of your faith does work patience. Or, to put it differently, there’s only so much hair you can pull out before you go completely bald.

Which is why I’m happy to announce…drum roll please…the return of my sanity!

Okay, so maybe that’s just a bit more dramatic than necessary, but it’s true. Things have really been looking up over the last few weeks. My nerves haven’t been as frazzled, my patience has not been wearing as thin, and on the whole me and Ashley and the kids have just been happier.

I think it helps too that we’re all finally figuring out our roles in the household. For instance, I am figuring out that I can tell the kids what to do, and the kids are figuring out that it’s really a good idea to listen and obey.

There are still issues to work on, still things I need to strengthen in my life to become the man and the father I would like to be, but at least now I feel like I’m on the right track.

I still worry whether the things I have tried to teach Thing 1 and Thing 2 will have any real and lasting impact on their lives, but I can say without question that they have had an impact on mine. I feel surer of myself, more confident that I can be the father I need to be to nurture my own child into the person he ought to be when the time comes.

Because, like everything else worth having in life, being a good parent doesn’t come easy; it takes hard work and practice.

And thanks to Thing 1 and Thing 2 trying my faith, I’m that much closer to where I need to be.

A Conversation Upon the Winning of an Inferior Prize from the Spinning Game in the Lobby of Walmart

His prize was cooler than mine.”

“His prize was a deck of Old Maid cards. I don’t think that’s winning any coolness awards.”

“I wanna play that game again.”

“You want to play the game that took your dollar and gave you a prize you don’t like?”

“Yes. Can I have another dollar?”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I wanna win the gift card.” [Long pause.] “What is a gift card anyway?”

“You want to win something that you don’t know what it is?”

“I think it for getting people gifts.” [Another pause.] “What is a gift card, Mr. Al?”

“I do not believe this.”

“I think its a thing for buying gifts for people. You remember the time when I said I wanted a little dirtbike for my birthday Mr. Al?”

“Yes. I remember all of those times.”

“You didn’t get me a little dirtbike for my birthday.”

“By the time I’m able to afford one of those, you’ll need a big dirt bike.”

“No, a little dirtbike.”

“You’re not picking up what I’m laying down, kiddo.”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

“If you bought me a little dirtbike, I could go places. And you couldn’t catch me. Then I would play the game and get a gift card. Except…what is a gift card, Mr. Al?”

[This conversation with Thing 1 made me smile. I don’t know if I’ve done it proper justice here. You have to give the kid credit though. He’s got a laser-like focus on what he wants. Also, I know that “dirt bike” is supposed to have a space in it, but that’s how he says it: Lil’ dirtbike. Almost like it’s all one word. That makes me smile too. And now I’m turning into that weird guy that won’t stop showing you pictures of his really ugly newborn even though you’re a complete stranger, and if you did meet the kid he would almost certainly have the personality of cauliflower, because the majority of newborns really aren’t that interesting in my experience. So I’ll shut up now.]

Pondering Productivity

I don’t know what productivity is anymore.

It used to be I had measurable, easily quantified goals for my days. Write one thousand words, edit ten pages, finish building my death ray. You know, easy stuff like that.

Now I’m realizing that the things that matter most in life aren’t something you can really put a “percentage complete” meter on. The task “mold boys into respectable and stable members of society” doesn’t exactly have a sixteen step instruction guide with it. Ditto the objective “strengthen relationship with wife.”

This was the conundrum I found myself facing last Saturday tramping through the woods with the foster kids. I kept thinking to myself, “This feels too much like fun. Fun is bad right? I mean not bad exactly, but it doesn’t go anywhere, right? On the other hand, I do want to give these kids a thirst for something beyond the confines of a TV screen and- Oh look, a deer track!”

As you may have gathered my thoughts tend to ramble. But it’s hard not to feel guilty sometimes. It’s hard not to think, “I should be writing now instead of lying in bed with my wife just talking.” But the truth is, I’m pretty sure “lying in bed just talking” is the nobler of the two pursuits.

I’ve heard it said before that no one lying on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at the office, but I’m not sure that’s true, at least not in spirit. Because I can imagine lying on my deathbed, looking back over my life, wishing I had accomplished more with it.

And so, I find my mind once again returning to that seemingly ever-present theme of balance. Writing is a good thing. So is mowing the yard, or fixing the leaking sink. But I’m finding the most important tasks in life are the ones you never quite get to mark off as “complete”. Building a good relationship with my God and my family is something that’s going to take effort on my part every day for the rest of my life. And I have to continue to remind myself that those moments when it seems like I’m not “accomplishing” anything may be the most productive moments in my life.

Foster Files: The Conundrum of Normalcy

Life with children has been…interesting. Actually, I think the word I’m maybe looking for here is, “educational”. I know I touched on it in a previous post, but it still amazes me how much I’m able to learn about myself from living with these kids.

Which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Because on the surface it would seem I don’t have anything in common with them. My family is almost sickeningly normal. My dad is still with my mom after something like thirty years, they both love and respect each other, and they give me and my sister all the love and support anyone could ever hope for.

Contrast that with two kids whose mother has been taken away from them, and have probably never had a consistent example of what a father should be. And yet somehow in spite of the things they’ve been through they still seem strikingly…normal.

Of course occasionally this normalcy, manifests itself in abnormal ways. Take Thing 1 for instance, who, when asked about his parents, is not in the least bit hesitant to proclaim, “Our mom’s in PRISON!” with a big smile on his face.

That threw me for a loop for a while. I told him he didn’t have to tell people where his mom was if he didn’t want to, but he went right on volunteering information about his mother’s incarceration to complete strangers.

And then it hit me: he wasn’t ashamed of the fact that his mom was in prison. He was proud of it. Or rather I should say, he was proud of her. Just like I’m more than happy to tell people that my father is a pressman and about all the big machines he works with, Thing 1 is bursting to share his mom with the world, no matter where she might be, or what she might have done.

There’s this idea that people who have been through traumatic childhood experiences are somehow different from those of us whose lives have been comparatively normal. I’m sure there are examples of people who have suffered deeply from the pain their childhood brought. But what I’m realizing more and more, is that Thing 1 and Thing 2 are people. They’re kids, just like any other kids you might happen to meet.

They don’t need “special” treatment. They need the same things any other kids need. Consistency, discipline, instruction.

I’ve done my best to provide those things. My only fear is that I won’t be able to do enough. I don’t know how long I’ll have them for. I don’t know what their lives will hold after they leave me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to give them the tools they need to navigate the rough waters ahead. How much impact can I really make on a seven-year-old’s life in a span of time that’s likely going to be less than a year?

I don’t know. But I’m doing as much as I can.