Part 4 of Things I Wish I Knew Before We Started Fostering
How I spent this summer wrangling bio and foster babies…
6, 7, 8 and 9.
It is nearly biologically impossible to have this amount of children in this age order as siblings under one roof, but here we are today, and I promised myself I would write this moment in time while it still existed.
Three of the four of my Irish Quadruplets are less than 17 months apart. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in. None of them are twins, and like any mother of any children can testify, none of them are the same. (I also have two teenagers, ages 13 and 15, but this post is not about them right now, so I’ll just use them for one moment to paint a more accurate picture of our family.)
They have different personalities, different needs, different backgrounds, and all of them are at different developmental levels.
It is awesome when the laughter floods my house because they all hit the same funny moment.
It is a nightmare when the differences seem to fill each moment with chaos and strife.
I thought about designing a t shirt as my stay-at-home-mom uniform, and the phrases on the back would vary depending on the situation.
Some days would read “Superwoman,” “Killin’ It” and “#winning at #momlife.” After all, keeping four kids in that age range alive, healthy, growing and happy is no easy task. Throw in my two teenagers with “teenage” interests and social schedules to boot, and I am sure it is a supernatural feat to keep us all going.
More days though, it feels like my t shirts should read “Referee,” “Damage Control,” and “Survival 101” for my uniform. Not that I want that to be my anthem or my theme song, it just seems to end up that way. Complete with yoga pants that have cookie crumbs, peanut butter smears and unidentified sticky substance (slime, silly putty and glitter glue, anyone???) all over them.
One of the things I could not have known before signing on for foster care was the amount of appointments that we would have on a monthly basis. When we first got little buddy, it was a madhouse rush to get all the things under wraps: doctor, dentist, psych evaluation, counseling and vision check to name a few. Then each of those visits turned in to more for follow ups, fillings, specialists, changing therapists and picking up glasses. All the while we are taking monthly training classes as therapeutic foster parents to continue in the education we needed for these kids, and multiple home visits per month to satisfy DSS and agency requirements.
At first, I ran on adrenaline, proud to cross these things off the list, privileged to be the one to sit next to little buddy as he saw clearly for the first time through glasses, and intent on getting him healthy and settled as we worked to reunite him with his parents.
After awhile, the 45 minute drives to visitation and appointments and waiting rooms with a traumatized, scared and stubborn four year old started to wear off the adrenaline rush. My sense of accomplishment slipped in to exhaustion, and my overwhelm with court dates and counseling and more dental work started to take its toll.
My other kids were missing me, and what had started as a “let’s just get little buddy situated first” had turned in to a year long of patterns that defined me as an exhausted mom who was shutting down everything they wanted to do. I toggled between what I knew I *had* to do and what I wanted so badly to do.
When things started looking more permanent and we saw some progress with our little guy, we started to laugh more about our situation than cry. We could do a few more things as a “normal” family,” at least enough to fake out anyone who stayed ten feet away for just long enough, and a smile had come to his face that made us start to hope he could be happy with us after all. We had hope, and that makes all the difference in darker times.
We had hope, and that makes all the difference in darker times.
Then we faced just one more tidal wave before we could forge ahead as a family: his sister also needed a Forever home, and we had initially gone in to fostering with the hope of adopting a sibling set, not wanting siblings to be separated if they ever needed to be adopted.
It seemed like the answer was plain as day: we had room for a little girl, her age range was right about where we hoped, she even wanted to come with us when asked, and it lined up with what I had seen in my heart oh so long ago.
We were petrified, but all signs pointed to “Go.” We signed the papers for her, and she moved in almost one year to the day that our little buddy had first come.
The challenges we faced in the months after she moved in were so different than I ever could have imagined. It wasn’t Little Sis that was struggling so much; she was still in the honeymoon phase, trying her best and adjusting, probably shell shocked from her fourth move in a year.
It was Little Buddy. He was a mess. He went backwards in progress almost 180 degrees and he was unrecognizable.
I stared at him one moment in the middle of a raging tantrum, almost as a spectator observing a sport, and instantly I understood what had happened: We had invaded his Safe Place. We had destroyed his Safe Haven.
Of course we didn’t really do that, and we didn’t do it intentionally, but this was his perspective: the last time he had lived with his sister, he was living in a nightmare. He was alone, afraid, in pain and confused. We brought him in and scared him to bits with our light, love, laughter and learning. He was just starting to believe that he could try to trust us, and here we went reminding him of his past life by moving his sister in. For keeps.
We were back to nightmares, sleep walking, violence and anger.
My husband often says to me, “I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t see it myself.” And in my heart of hearts, I was so grateful for the chance to be able to walk him through this fear at the age of 5 and 6 rather than have him keep it bottled up inside until he was twenty something and have it reflect in those relationships or stressful situation in adulthood.
It was still so hard, and every day the cure was the same: patience, love, training, repeat. Over and over again. It seemed impossible.
And then one day he started to smile again. And we started to breathe again.
And now we have four children ages 6,7,8 and 9 that laugh again.
There are days that I would give anything for a break from the daily shenanigans. Everything from laundry for 8, cleaning a house full of that many, cooking for even more, to all the daily Life Trainings at 101. Things like “wash your hands,” “no potty words,” “try that again” and my favorite catchall that I use in my trying-to-be-sweet singsong voice, “Kiiiiiindness…!”
The bigger obstacles that turn a mom into part therapist would be an even better break. Like, what if someone else just came in during a major meltdown and started practicing all the skills to talk the Littles off the cliff? I would LOVE to preserve some of that emotional energy!
I would settle for help with homework for an hour, dinner prep any time (even just putting the ingredients on the counter counts…!), or someone to stick a hot coffee in my hand and switch it to a hot tea when that one runs out. I’m not picky.
This summer with so many Littles with so many challenges was one of the hardest I’ve ever lived through yet. When I talk myself off the cliff, I can remember that next summer, each of them will be one year older, one year more settled, and one more year of walking farther past the dark times into the light.
If I was in a place that I could have coffee with that honest friend who would tell me what-for when I needed it, she would remind me that at one time this was the very thing I had prayed for, cried for, asked God for. Two more Littles that I could love into their best life, and help live their dreams once they were healed enough to realize what they were.
I would have never known that it would’ve looked like this, but here we are in the moment:
6,7,8 and 9.
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