Sunday, June 26, 2011


Today marks the Ironman here in our fair part of the world. 2000+ athletes plunge into an icy cold mountain lake for a refreshing swim, then, hop on their bikes to ride the winding roads and, finally, run for a few miles to round out the experience. The competitors come for a variety of reasons—to prove they are the best, to boldly go where few have gone before, to confirm they can conquer a personal demon. The one thing they all have in common is…the finish line. All of them want to see it, to cross it, to languish in the victory that is on the other side.

What few people realize is some of us run that race every day. We start out day early--maybe not to the shot of a starter pistol—but early nonetheless. It may be a door or window alarm, an argument between kids or the sound of liquid flowing where it shouldn’t—and that is just the start. From there, it is on to the urine wars followed by room decontamination (from the afore mentioned urine) and the inevitable “I won’t eat that” for breakfast (sensory issues occur randomly!). The race continues throughout the day and includes a variety of side games including shoe dodging, poo scraping, “where’s B(7) now” and, the ever popular “which appointment am I racing to.”

Given the huge emotional needs these kids have, we must stay attune to the ever-changing moods and potentially harmful interactions. As role models and security guards, we are ever mindful of our actions, reactions and distractions. One wrong move, one step off the path, and our race turns uphill with scree and rain confounding our progress. Sometimes, it feels as if a landslide has occurred and we have no bulldozer to move the rocks. Bedtime finally rolls around, the sweetness of silence punctuated only by the thump, thump, thump of feet making their curtain calls—water, insomnia, desire to talk about their past.

The tri-athlete, by midnight, will have called it a day—either hit the finish line or hit the wall. It will be over, finished, one for the books. As for those of us parenting special needs kids, midnight does not bring the end. Instead, midnight rolls around and finds us sleeping, one ear opened to any nocturnal needs. The finish line looms in the distance, months or years away. Some of us will never get to it, never feel the victory of crossing the final line. For others, the line will not signal victory but more angst as the uncertainty of a world unprepared opens to an equally unprepared child. So, as I ache for those victories, I must adjust my focus. Perhaps it is not one finish line I should be looking for. Perhaps it is little tiny lines, some barely perceptible to the naked eye, some only visible to another walking with me.

I salute the courage of the tri-athlete, the commitment to completing a near impossible task. Bask in your personal victory. Then, pull up your bootstraps, slap on your grubbies and encourage those who can’t quite see the finish line!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Frame a Foster Parent

Becoming a foster parent was a life long goal of mine. My husband just went along with it. After all—Happy wife, happy life.” Our first adopted child was adorable in his inability and we have grown to recognize his uniqueness in our home and this world.

Our decision to add to our family was not difficult. After all, we had 4, one with special needs, what was 2 more? We were excited about the two little girls and tolerated that they brought their little brother with them. We were assured that they would heal together and were predicted to have a fairly normal life. They came with the label “minimally impacted by their previous environment,” which didn’t sound all that scary.

As life would happen, the three were more than 2 handfuls when it came to their behaviors. Our home quickly turned upside down with these “minimally impacted” children. So, in keeping with accepted practices, we enrolled them in counseling and other behavior programs. We kept track of them, monitored them, played with them, took them on hikes and bike rides. We built a new playroom for them, decorated their bedrooms, played games, celebrated birthdays.

However, one day, it became too much. One of the girls accused the other of inappropriate behavior. She revealed this to her counselor, obligated to call Child Protective Services. OK, this couldn’t be too bad. This will help the children get the assistance they need, right? WRONG!

We learned quickly that the system that brought the children to us with little more than a cursory explanation of their past would now turn on us and blame us for their behaviors. The healers became the hurters. We were quickly turned into the enemy and taken to court.

Long story short: We are no longer foster parents and have been warned not to allow the children’s behavior to escalate to the point where we require legal involvement. If that happens, the judge warned, the children would be removed from our home. Oh, and that help the children were going to get? As far as the state is concerned, since it is not the children with the problems (obviously, it must be the minimally sufficient parents), they must not need any help.

We have learned lessons experienced by many people greater than us—it is not if a foster parent will get sued, it is when. It takes a special person to be a foster parent—one who is willing to go to jail for the deeds done by those before them. The “system” is not in place to provide healing for hurting children.

So, how do you frame a foster parent? The answer is easy. Place kids into their home.