The joys of failure

Just a warning – this is a venting post – read with caution as I just needed to get this bit of the story out once and for all.

Did you ever try so hard at something and still failed at it? I have. The measure of a person is if they get back up, brush off the scrapes to their egos (and possibly bodies)  and try again until they succeed. Sometimes I get up, sometimes I stay down – but either way – I always try. My daughter does too.

So now we are about eight weeks into this adoption thingy. We are still in the foster parent stage. I can say that this process of becoming a foster parent has been both equally rewarding and frustrating. Hug a social worker today- they are overloaded, stressed out and still manage to cope with it all with dignity. And if you know one in my neck of the woods – hug them twice for having to put up with me. I can be feisty.

I have learned a lot about teenage girls. As a foster parent trainer, parent to boys and former teacher, I thought I had a pretty good idea on how kids worked. I was wrong. So very very wrong. But, truth be told, there is much joy (and frustration) in the learning process. I would not trade it for the world.

I have also learned that I am not a fan of the education system at times. Which is the purpose of this blog post. In fact, I think that those people who allow children to fall through the cracks of the education system should be held accountable. Held accountable in ways that are probably best not written about on a public blog. (if you know me – you know exactly the devious plans that come up in my head when it comes to this sort of thing)

The story of the big bad high school who huffed and puffed and almost blew my daughter down is as follows….(ok maybe not that bad – as I am sure that most kids in this particular district have a better story – but this is my blog and I have creative freedom here – cut me a break)

To start – She was placed in a home prior to ours. Her 25th(ish) home since she was 8ish years old or something ridiculous like that.(we don’t have the complete history yet so we guess based on what we know to this point).  With being placed in that home – she had to switch schools – again – for like the 25th (ish) time or something ridiculous like that. So you have this teenage girl – who is already a grade behind – starting a new school (for like the third time this school year) – and she started at the end of the year. March-ish.

So enter the school with it’s fangs and angry eyes and claws and stuffs. This particular high school (which is not in the wonderful independent school district that my boys attend) decided that placing her in an English class was too much trouble as their English classes were “full” – can you tell I am a bit bitter over this? How are they “full” – considering that my daughter definitely needed this class. I could strangle someone. It is just frustrating. Full. I just don’t understand. I can’t even begin to understand.

I can tell you that if she would have been placed with me when this happen, I would have lost my mind over this decision and a superintendent would have been contacted – along with a lawyer, an advocate, and anyone who may have listened. I think I mentioned that I can be feisty. But alas – hurricane Dusty was still forming offshore at this point in the story.

It gets better (or worse depending on your level of sarcasm). So two weeks into this new school – her IEP meeting is scheduled. The IEP meeting, required by federal statute, is convened at least once a school year to plan an educational program that is tailored to the needs of each child. The child’s “team” attends the meeting: teachers, therapists, parents, school administrators, and any other invited parties. As she was not placed with me – I was not invited – despite multiple attempts on my part to participate as she would be placed with me for the remainder of her education. (The bitterness is starting to flow like the dark side but that is neither here nor there – what was done was done – there is no going backwards.)

If you don’t know what an IEP is – here is a brief synopsis: An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP. That’s why the process of developing this vital document is of great interest and importance to educators, administrators, and families alike.

The IEP has two general purposes:

  1. to set reasonable learning goals for a child, and
    2. to state the services that the school district will provide for the child.

Each child’s IEP must contain specific information, as listed within IDEA, our nation’s special education law. This includes (but is not limited to):

— the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, describing how the child is currently doing in school and how the child’s disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general curriculum

— annual goals for the child, meaning what parents and the school team think he or she can reasonably accomplish in a year

— the special education and related services to be provided to the child, including supplementary aids and services (such as a communication device) and changes to the program or supports for school personnel

— how much of the school day the child will be educated separately from nondisabled children or not participate in extracurricular or other nonacademic activities such as lunch or clubs

— how (and if) the child is to participate in state and district-wide assessments, including what modifications to tests the child needs

— when services and modifications will begin, how often they will be provided, where they will be provided, and how long they will last

— how school personnel will measure the child’s progress toward the annual goals.

Let’s just say, once she was placed with me – I received a copy of said IEP. You know, the written statement, required by a federal statute, that is specifically designed to meet her very specific needs?   To say, upon reviewing the IEP, that I came unglued would be understatement. There were some choice curse words, a lot of calls to friends to vent and a thrown paper or two as I was making valid points to those that would listen about this IEP.

As a former teacher and current child advocate, I am VERY familiar with the IEP process. This IEP left a lot to be desired. A lot.It was a hot mess. (I am being politically correct here as to not seem like a psycho about to explode about this issue.)

Well the IEP – I can fix that when she transfers to the school district that my boys attend. I am fairly certain the guidance counselor there will also come unglued about her circumstances. At least I would hope she would. What I can’t fix is the fact that she struggled in almost all of her classes, was lost and confused through most of the end of the school year and is now cramming 6 months worth of 2 classes (one being the English class that the school failed to place her in) into 2 weeks of summer school. I can’t fix that. I can just help her through it. And keep my frustrations in check. A lot.

Upon being placed in my home, I had to get her school information switched over to mine. Oh my goodness – what a mess. It would have been a comedy if it wasn’t such a tragically hot mess of an issue. A month in, I finally got to speak with someone who was vested in my daughter and her needs. Mr. C. – named protected for privacy issues – was absolutely wonderful with helping me help her. Seriously – this man went above and beyond. Though it was a little too late in the year (like the beginning of May) – his help at least facilitated her passing what classes she passed. He was a gem – an no nonsense gem of a teacher who I wish I could pay to follow her through high school. In all honesty – without him – she would have just been another student who failed ninth grade. Another kid that slipped through crack. It is heartbreaking.

Let me stress – if you are a parent, foster, adoptive or other, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE advocate for your child. Here is a wonderful link with some tips and pointers – read it – become educated on the process and do it …Tips to advocate for your child

So now we are finishing up summer school – and hopefully through all the hard work – 10th grade is on the horizon. It will be fine and work out – but in the meantime, we work – we fail and we keep getting up.  Our egos a little more bruised but with a healthy determination (and some threats of banning a cell phone until good grades start rolling in) – we will be fine. She will be fine. The failures will continue but next time, she will have back up in the form of mom and the ability to get up on her feet and put up a fight for what is right. All I have to do is manage to keep my cool and not slip into “Philly mode” when dealing with the next three years of school. Wish me luck. I am pretty feisty.

 

 

 

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Attack Llamas, the birthday of my oldest, Laughter and that dreaded first night

The night that my soon to be adopted daughter came to our home was a crazy one. Why wouldn’t it be. That is the backdrop of my existence. Always this shy of crazy. Case in point, 23 years ago, on that very night, I was about to become a teenage mother to my oldest son. My oldest son is an amazing young man who is funny, compassionate and super intelligent. He is a lot like his smart ass mom. Pride can not even come close to what I feel about his life right now. He is just wondrous. It is beyond words.

When I had him, I was a senior in high school at the time. Yeah, I probably should have mentioned I was a hot mess as a teenager. Wild. I made my poor mother question her sanity. Everything comes around. Because that night, in addition to wishing my amazing oldest child a happy birthday, I got my daughter. A hot mess of a beautiful teenage girl. Life is a circle.

So I guess this part of the story starts with the laughter of a small child and my concept of wanting an attack llama. An attack llama (?!?!)- you say while questioning my tenuous grasp on reality. Yes. I want an attack llama. Ok let’s veer off the road of my adoption story for just a second. Just imagine donning your Sunday best for a stroll through town. A beautiful and majestic llama walking at your side. You run into someone you dislike and with one word, Felix the Attack Llama just hauls off and spits right in the face of your enemy. Brilliantly Diabolical you say! I agree wholeheartedly and so did a small boy on the very night that my daughter came to live with us. Abruptly. Very abruptly.

I have already stated that I work with foster parents. On occasion, I get to hang out with the kids. The night that the daughter came to us, I was doing both. While waiting on foster parents to show up for training, I had the immense joy of hanging out with a giggling 12 (ish) year old boy. I bring up the giggling because the last time I interacted with this small thing of a child,  he was hysterically crying, just having spent his first night in foster care. That crying day, we watched a pig on YouTube eat a cupcake. (if you have not seen Esther the Wonder Pig, do so … it might just shine a little light in your life) and he watched, through his tears. No words were spoken. Just the sounds of a cupcake eating piggy. It was heartbreaking. But he went to an amazing home. And his story will one day have a happy ending.

That night, the night of the daughter, it was truly wonderful to see this small thing smile so brightly after the buckets of tears he must have cried back in the beginning of his foster care story. I wanted to see more of that smile. So my diabolical llama plan was hatched and giggles were abundant. Life was grand for a moment.

I went from enemy attacking llamas to foster parent training where I discussed the behavior of foster children and why they act as they do. I can break it down in a few sentences. Children need healthy ways to express the sadness or anger they feel about the losses they have experienced. Children use behavior to show what they are feeling. They also use behaviors to get attention. Sometimes this is the only way they have learned to get attention, to get their way or just generally relate to the rest of the world. Usually, behaviors are learned responses and children need time to learn new ways of behaving. Behaviors are the language of the child’s emotions and the symptoms of their needs. Everything that we expect and believe – about ourselves, other people and about the world we live in – is learned through experience. If you experience violence, guess what you will display. It is sickening that kids experience violence. That is why foster parents are so important. To allow children to be children. To weather their hurt and to get through those dark moments where all hell is breaking loose. Because you get through the storms, there is always light on the other side. That is why foster parenting is necessary and worth it. For that light.

I teach people how to possibly navigate through these moments with a smidgen of grace, patience, laughter and decorum. Sometimes it works. Other times, you had better get creative because our kids do.

How does all this relate to your daughter Dusty? Well I am glad you asked. So immediately after teaching a class on the challenging behaviors of youth in care, her social worker, who had been trying to desperately get a hold of me for hours, called. Guess who was acting out at her foster home? We figured that might happen. See my thought is that we are dangling this carrot of an adoptive home in front of a very hungry little rabbit (or teenage girl) and she can almost taste it. But it is small nibbles. A phone call here. A visit there. A home that she had wanted for so long, but only in bits and pieces. I would have acted a fool too. In fact, I would have probably out done her foolishness. But I am hot mess. Those who know me will attest to my overly dramatic side.

Needless to say, said social worker asked if I would go get her. So let me explain. This is not how it was going to go in my mind. It was going to be a storybook placement. With balloons, welcome home banners, laughter and a professional photographer who would capture this moment in our history as beautifully as I pictured it happening. Throw in a “World’s best mom” sticker on my chest and you have my fairy tale. Yeah – I think that we can say I am dreamer, but I am not the only one. (go with the song that is now stuck in your head)

This is where the ominous dark and stormy night comes in. Every good story needs one. So I grabbed my other half and we journeyed to the south on storm covered farm roads to go get my daughter. The wind was blowing. There was hail. Lightning. Very dramatic for a middle of the night pickup. (ok it was 9pm and just a thunderstorm and a highway, but dammit, there has to be some great story telling moments here, let me have my moment.)

What made this even more complex is that my attitude throwing, eye rolling teenage princess was not expecting us to get her. We had been telling her that it would be weeks before the State would place her with us. There was a process. There was paperwork. There was stuff that had to be done ..yadda yadda yadda. (The social workers involved pulled out some serious miracles to make this one happen so she didn’t wind up in yet another placement) – so when told she had to leave her current foster home, she just assumed it would be her social worker coming to take her to yet another home before she could come to her “forever home” (cue Sarah McLachlan) – more people to get to know. More rules to follow. Another bed that wasn’t hers. More damn time before her adoption process could start. She was a wreck. And it was partly her fault. And she knew it.

We pulled into the driveway and knocked on the door. I walked in to find her tear stained and swollen eyed from crying. My heart broke but the mom in me came out. I hugged her. Told her to gather her things, apologize to the foster mom for the atrocious attitude and told her in my mom voice that we would discuss this further in the car. No games from me.

That first car ride was interesting. A grounding from her phone and stern “what were you thinking, you know better, knock that crazy crap off” conversation was about the extent of it. All while the storm raged on outside. And a storm raged on in the car.

Long story short, we talked about our behavior expectations, attack llama’s and her soon to be older brother’s birthday. We talked about her options for calm or for crazy but either way, now that we had her, she was stuck with us. And I mentioned that there was no where she could run that I couldn’t find her to drag her butt back home to where she will always be loved. She laughed, giggled, and life with my daughter began.

One more thing. There are no llamas in my home. But I do have a very old and very grumpy basset hound. After things got settled, the boys welcomed their sister, the unpacking finished and I had a moment to breathe and process everything, I snuck down the hallway to her room where she slept. Her first night in her home. No balloons. No welcome home banner. No professional photographer. But I what I saw convinced me, once and for all, that despite the naysayers and personal fears, I did the right thing.

Low and behold what I did see? A very old basset hound sleeping at the foot of the bed of my very new teenage daughter, watching every move that I made with protective droopy eyes. Her protector. In her room. She was home.

And I learned that it is ok to trade every day routine and no attack llamas with a sleeping teenage daughter and her doggie… through the storm and into the light … and now the real work begins … adopting a teenage girl from foster care … what does the next chapter hold … who knows and I don’t care because she is home …

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#fostercare #adoptionofateenager #family #llamas #bassethounds

“Are you crazy?!?” You wanted to adopt a teenager from foster care?” – Yes, yes I did

Ok so I have no idea what I am doing. Not with the choice I have made to adopt a teenager. That was the easy part. But this blog. I initially started posting my journey of adopting a teenage girl through the Kentucky foster care system on Facebook. Where my friends could see it. Where my family could see it. Where I could post as it went so I could track the adventure for my soon to be daughter. Someone mentioned I should blog it. I was hesitant. I am not a writer by trade. So bear with me .. this is an ongoing story of adopting a teenage girl. One who has already stolen my heart. And probably some of my sanity. But isn’t that what teenagers do? Drive you crazy.

There is no once upon a time in this story. No “dark and stormy night”. I currently train and license foster parents for New Beginnings Family Services in Elizabethtown Kentucky. I also am the event coordinator for Via Colori Kentucky, which is a street painting festival to raise money and awareness for foster children. (shameless self promoting plug – look it up .. it is the most awesome festival in Kentucky)

For three years, I have trained bunches of parents and they have taken placements of foster children. I have stood in front them, not as a fellow foster parent, but as their trainer. I encouraged them, prepared them the best that I could and taught them from a book. I am a mom – not a foster mom – but just a mom to two boys. I had no foster care experience outside of my training manual – yet week in and week out – I passionately trained foster parents to take on a role I had not.

One day, three years ago, I met this young lady, who was then just shy of 14 years old. There was something about this kid. She was a beautiful hot mess of a young teen, with a background of baggage that I could not even wrap my head around. But she had this wicked smile that lit up the room and reminded you that even though she had a laundry list of issues cause by the previously mentioned baggage, she was beautiful and she still knew how to smile. I melted. Right there in my office. Melted.

Our relationship started with a garden weed. I usually have purple hair and I sport multiple tattoos so I was the cool one in the office of all the staff (or so I like to think lol) – she loved my hair and my “coolness”. One day, on a visit with her then foster parents, she brought me a weed. Not a pretty weed mind you. A weed of epic “I just picked this up by the side of the street” type of proportions. I melted again. I dutifully taped said weed to my dry erase board and she smiled and hugged me. I do believe I have mentioned her smile.

Fast forward three years, she has had several almost adoptions but had yet to find that “forever” family. I hate that term – makes me think of lost dogs on a Sarah Mclachlan commercial – but eh – it works. I found out. My heart broke for her. I could sit here and tell you about all the changes I made, that my kids and my family have made in the last two months to even consider taking on this teenage girl, but that part of the story will come another day. Today – let’s talk about that first present she gave me – the garden weed.

Weeds, by definition, are wild plants growing where they are not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants. Kind of like teenagers in foster care. I see it every day. People come in, want to be foster parents, want to save a kiddo and always seem to want babies or little ones. They say “Little ones are great and young enough to turn around”…. I always twitch when they say this. There is not one thing wrong with wanting little ones. Kids of all ages that are in the system need love. And truthfully – I do not want little ones anymore – this job taught me that – teens are where it is at for me.

But my heart breaks a little every time, because I know personally how many teens really need a home. Really need a chance. Really need to not wind up aging out of the system without ever knowing that “forever” family. They are like weeds.

People seem to be scared of teenagers. There is a social stigma with teens in general and the social stigma of teens in the system — they are sometimes viewed as defiant, rebellious and hard to handle. They can be these things and more. But let me tell you something –  trust me, they are not deviant serial killers in the making who will feed your babies to dingoes in the woods for fun. So not the case. They are still just kids. Most of them are angry, not trusting and they have been let down and very hurt by so many people, it is easier to have a wall or behaviors that scare people from getting too close. And those behaviors can overshadow life. Like weeds.

I am not here to push people to run to the nearest agency and proclaim to the rooftops “I will foster teenagers” – (that would be fantastic though if you want to do that … just sayin) – I am just here to tell my story – her story – our story –  so with that, when I found out that she needed a forever home at 16 – I did not hesitate. Went home, talked it over with the family and just jumped into it.

Now mind you, I am not a mom to girls. My sons are 14 and 23. Girls are a whole different ball of wax. But we jumped and have yet to look back with any regret. I don’t think I will. There will some hard times coming as is expected of teenagers – but really, we are her chance to blossom and that is worth the hard times. In my book.

I digress, back to the weed. Last Tuesday night, after a few visits and some phone calls, we took placement of this girl. About 2 months early and not in the way I expected. Life immediately changed in a matter of a few short hours. That is where this blog starts and our story begins. Oh, just for the record – I still have that weed. It is little more than a stick now – taped to my board in my office three years later. And she still has her wicked smile. I saw it last week. When she walked into my office for the first time in three years and saw that weed – that stick of a disintegrating garden weed. She smiled. I melted. And our garden grows … a little differently then before .. but it grows …

 

 

#adopting #fostercare #teenageadoptions #fostercareawareness #gardensandweeds