Sunday, April 13, 2014

Foster Kids, They're Out There.

I was waiting outside of the library with one of my clients; waiting for it to open.  (I work with adults with disabilities, by the way.)  A teenager who was sitting on the ground, made a comment about how big my purse was and then asked me a couple of questions about library cards.  I answered, they opened the doors, and we all went in.  I didn't think anything else about it.  But, then, as I was trying to get my client set up on a computer, I hear the teenager asking the general population for help.  The people, nearby, looked unsure or unwilling to help, so I went over and helped him out.  Then he asked me if he thought that the librarian would give him headphones.  Since I was pretty sure that they wouldn't, I agreed to let him borrow Antwan's if he promised to give them back. 

Then we ended up at the computer next to him.  Then he spent the next half an hour asking me random questions about how to spell words, how to friend request and block people on facebook, and whether I thought that a cut on his hand was infected.  He also borrowed my phone to call his mom.  By this time, I had figured out that he had a a special need of some sort.  My guess would be that he has a combination of Autism and ADHD.  Hard to say.  Either way, I have to admit, it was getting tiresome.  And, of course, a bit unprofessional for me since I was supposed to be focusing on my client.  Around the time that I was becoming officially weary of the interruptions, he referenced his mom, but then clarified, "Well, foster mom."

Oh crap, now I'm involved. 

For the record, this story does not end with me saying that I have a teenager asleep on my couch.  Although, I'd be lying if I were to say that it didn't cross my mind.  Brian would be lying if Brian said that he was completely joking when he texted me back to say that he could sleep on the couch until we could turn the dining room into a room.  But, the fact that he's in foster care didn't mean that I could just take him home, of course.  Nor are we in a position to take that on, anyway.  But, it sure was a painful reminder that there are kids out there in foster care, right now.  As he sat there, talking to me, It occurred to me that I hadn't actually ever met a foster child who didn't eventually become mine or that my friends' weren't fostering/trying to adopt.  I hadn't run into 1 of the 250,000 kids that enter the system each year.  Until this day.  Here he was, loitering at the library and driving me bonkers. 

As I sat there, philosophizing on how much the whole thing sucked; he suddenly said that he had forgotten about a meeting that he had scheduled with his case worker and he was soon borrowing my phone again.

I listened to him argue with his worker and refuse to tell her who he had been hanging out with last night and saying that he was going to leave if she was coming to the library and denying that he was high.   (That was when I started looking hard at his eyes to try to figure out if he was, but who am I kidding, I had no idea.)

When he gave me the phone back, he started talking about how he and his case worker argue, but they always make up.  He asked me if that's just how life is and I said "sometimes."  He asked if my son and I argue and I told him that we do.  Then, I decided to go ahead and butt into his life.  I was pretty sure by this point, I had earned the right. :)  I started with reminding him that his case worker was on his side and that he probably shouldn't keep secrets from her.  He kind of ignored that and brought up that he wasn't high and that he only smokes cigarettes.

Me - "How old are you?"

Him, with the unmistakable eye flicker of someone who is trying to lie -"I'm 18."

Me, with a smile -"You're lying to me.  I can tell, I'm a mom."

He laughed - "Ok, I'm 17!  But, I'll be 18 in six months!" 

My mind raced with worries of what would become of him and whether he was going to be set up with an independent living program, stay in foster care or try to do it on his own; as he rambled about when his birthday is and exactly how far away it is.

After a few minutes, he said that he was going to wait outside for his case worker.  He promised me that he wouldn't leave before she got there.

Then, a few minutes after that, when my client and I left, I anxiously looked around and saw that he was gone.

So, of course, I called his case worker.

I explained that I was with him at the library and that I was worried about whether he had ditched her. Much to my relief, she told me that his foster mom had picked him up. 

Hoping that my call would make a little more sense, I explained that I had adopted so I kind of understood his situation.  She asked me to save her number and call her if I ever see him around again.  I told her that I would, of course.  I mentioned that he clearly had a lot going on his head and she agreed, emphatically.  "Yes, that's a very good way to put it.  He definitely has a lot going on in his head."

I don't know what my purpose in writing this is.  I don't really have an anecdote to go with it or a life lesson.  Except, maybe this.  This kid shouldn't exist.  Not in this way, anyway. 

He should have a home, a permanent one.  He shouldn't have a close relationship with a case worker because he's been on her case load for 3 years.  He should be fighting with his parents and asking them if his hand is infected, not a stranger at the library.   No matter how awesome she might be.   ;)

But, that's not how it is.  And, it makes me sad.  Really, really sad.

I wish that I could get this kid out of my head.  But, that's not the answer, either, of course.  Ignoring the problem solves nothing.  Either way, I guess, for now, I'm going to have to trust the universe on this one.

All I know is that when I got home, I was really glad to see my kids.  I'm really glad that no matter what struggles we go through as a family, they will know that they have a family.  Every child deserves that. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Foster Care, Sibling Rivalry, and Minecraft.

The other night, amidst cries of protest, I cut off Minecraft time for the night.  This was after listening to all of the bickering over caves and mineshafts that I could stand.  Since there was only half an hour until bed, anyway, I thought that we would watch tv for a bit and then the first round of bedtimes would occur.

But, what I got was an unexpected family meeting.

Earlier that day, when William and Kaleb were cleaning their room, William came out to tell me that Kaleb was complaining about all of William’s stuff on the floor and that it was upsetting him.  Experimenting with a new technique, I told William to go tell Kaleb that they should both just worry about their own stuff and not comment on the others.  I then waited for Kaleb to come out with a comment, but he didn’t.

I was glad that William had been brave enough to say something.  He is the kind of kid who will internalize, bottle it up, and let the resentment brew.   Well, I guess that speaking up made William feel better, too, because, before I knew it, he was getting all of his issues off of his chest. 

William and Kaleb are very different kinds of people.  They have both spent time in foster care and it has affected them in different ways.  Kaleb had to fight for everything and experienced a ton of rejection in his childhood.  So, he is competitive, a bit of a bulldozer, and extremely sensitive to feeling like his opinions aren’t being heard or that he’s being treated unfairly.  What he struggles to  understand is that even if his opinions are heard and efforts are made to treat him fairly; in a family of 6, he sometimes still won’t get his way.

William came out of foster care, feeling insecure and worrying that people won't like him.  He once told the neighbors that he could swim, when he could not, so that they would think he was cool.  (I was glad that I intercepted that one.)  Part of his issues with lying have always stemmed from his fear that we wouldn't like him anymore if we knew the truth.  We’ve told him countless times that it’s not true and that we will always love him.  But, the early years are called formative for a reason and they sure formed the fear in him.

They are both good boys.  They are both important.  (In fact, that was my meeting catch phrase- that all four of them are equally important.)  But, put them together and you’ve got one dishing it out and one taking it.  Kaleb is not mean to William and he is definitely not trying to hurt him.  But,  sometimes, he does, anyway.

So, we all sat there.  William and Kaleb went back and forth and I tried to mediate.  Meanwhile, Antwan, from my lap, stated that he had no issue.  You see, he thinks that Kaleb hung the moon and Kaleb likes that he thinks that, so that works out well. :)  

William said that he feels like he is always making Kaleb mad.  He feels like Kaleb won’t be there if he needs him because he makes him mad so much.  He thinks that Kaleb loves Lizzie more than he loves him.

I explained that Kaleb might get aggravated, but that doesn’t mean that he’s mad.  (I also mentioned that Kaleb could be a little gentler with William.) I told William that Kaleb would get over it if he got annoyed with William and that William should try not to take it personally and not worry about it, as long as he wasn’t actively trying to upset him.  Again, Kaleb agreed.  I assured him that Kaleb would have his back no matter what and Kaleb agreed.

I reminded them, both, that this is still new.  It’s only been since the end of June, after all.

Lizzie.  I gotta say that I'm tired of this topic.  Kaleb has accused us of favoring her, now Kaleb is being accused of the same thing.  I explained that Lizzie is the baby girl and there are just different ways that people react to a baby girl.  I explained that it doesn’t mean that we love her more, though; just like it doesn't mean that Kaleb loves her more.  I repeated my catch phrase about how equally important they all are.

I said to William, “You wouldn’t really want Kaleb to pick you up and cuddle you like he does to Lizzie, right? “

William surprised us by saying that he would.  Kaleb pointed out that he is only a few years older than William and it would be kind of weird.

And, in the midst of it, Lizzie came over, anxiously.  I asked her if she had something that she wanted to say.  “Yes!”

“Ok, go ahead, Lizzie.”

“Robin punched Two Face!  Like this! (demonstrated)  I didn’t know Robin could do that!  (more demonstration)” 

She had been playing Lego Batman on her 2DS.  She had come over to update us on her progress and, unknowingly, providing comic relief. :)

The way that we all laughed when she did that reminded me that, arguments or not, we are the Parkers and we’ll be ok.

We talked some more.  It went on for about an hour.

In the end, I was tired and a bit worried about my boys.  Even though, I knew that what I told them was true; it's perfectly normal for siblings to clash.

Then Kaleb did something that reminded me what a gentle soul he is, underneath all of his bravado and defense mechanisms.  He called William over.  And, he picked him up and gave him a big, cuddly hug.

And, you know what, it was kind of weird.  Haha.  But, William was thrilled and we're a little weird, anyway.

So, that’s when I knew that we would be ok.  Even though, they were back to bickering about Minecraft, the next morning.  :)