Family Planning with Foster Care

As of Thursday we will be officially done with our foster care classes, 30 hours of discussion on discipline, loss, grief, strength, and needs. We have filled out every piece of paper known to man, and when finished with that stack of paper, we were handed new stacks to fill out. We filled out profiles of our family, discussing how we live our lives and who makes our decisions. Do we have any communicable diseases or a jail history? Our marriage license, my divorce papers, social security cards, driver’s license, health forms, FBI checks, and insurance forms have been turned in. However, as time consuming as the classes have been, the hard part is just beginning.

Sometime in the not-so-distant future, a social worker will come to our house to interview us and make sure our house is a safe and healthy environment. They will make sure that our smoke detectors work and check to make sure that medication is under lock and key. We will sit down to talk and I will inwardly fret that we have framed horror movie posters in our living room. While we have pleasant conversation, I will fight the desire to blurt out, “Please know that I don’t approve of murder and the wearing of a mask made from human skin. We just really like Rob Zombie.” On my fireplace is a painting done by Selena that says, “There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.” I will quickly explain that it is the opening line from a book that I found to be beautiful and I am not a knife enthusiast. Still, the home visit isn’t the hardest part.

Once our paperwork is stamped with a big red approved, we wait for a phone call. At some point a child will need a family and they will call us to see if we should be that family. On what I can only assume is the worst day of that child’s life, we will meet. They may be scared, angry, or confused, and it will be our jobs to put them at ease. To give them structure and support. Hopefully we will bond and make a difference in a child’s life. Perhaps the child will need a forever family and we can be that for them. But in the here and now, all we can do is wait.

Carvell and I talk about our “faux baby” sometimes. We wonder if it will be a boy or a girl. After a lifetime of female children we have a difficult time imagining life with a boy. We wonder if they will be a different race than us and make plans to be mindful of cultural differences. We talk about football season and how different it will be with me trying to care for another person in the stands. That may seem like a silly thing to wonder about, but football consumes us from August to December. We eagerly anticipate adding to our family while also fearing other aspects of foster care. How do you parent another person’s child while also absorbing them into your family? We know there will be visits with the birth parents and then the emotional fallout from those visits. We are mindful of court dates that may not go in the way that we think is best for the child. We are unable to plan for our life with a new child because we know nothing about them, not their sex, age, interest, motivations, needs, or wants. Our “faux baby” is a concept that is waiting to become a reality. When you are expecting a child through pregnancy you have nine or so months to plan and dream, but when you want to adopt through foster care you can only wait until the moment you receive your first phone call. Still, I don’t believe this will be the hardest part.

My concern is I don’t know what will be the hardest part. Will it be the dealing with a system that is heavy with problems? Will it be the time, energy, and changes to our family structure? Will it be the emotional and physical issues that can come from abuse or neglect? There are more questions than answers and I am someone who likes answers. I can worry an issue until it is a twisted knot, loops turning in on each other until it is a maze that cannot be undone. While I struggle and worry about what happens next there are also things that I know for sure: In Kentucky there are approximately 6,800 children in the foster care system and my family can help at least one of those children.

 

 

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Trying My Best to Love Me

This week on Facebook, the radio, and news there was much discussion about a meme showing a very physically fit woman and her three children. The heading said, “What is your excuse?”  There was much discussion both supporting and vilifying this photo. I came down on the side of “if the heading had said, ‘I am proud of what I have accomplished,’” I would have had no issue with the post.  There are many ways to be healthy and many bodies to be healthy in. Size is not always an indicator of health, because like meth y’all. You can be thin and be anorexic. You can be thin and a meth head. You can be all different types of unhealthy and be thin. It needs to be repeated that size is not a sure fire way of determining a person’s heath.

I have body issues by the dozen. Some days I change clothes three times because I feel constricted. I huff and puff and yell that I am too fat to wear anything. Other days I feel like I am a womanly fertility God and meant to be worshipped. Every day is different and I have a sneaking suspicion that some of this is hormone driven. I am me and this is the body I live in. I am beautifully flawed (we all are) and I think it makes me interesting. When people meet me I don’t know if my weight is the first thing they notice? Maybe they say, “Why is that fat lady saying ‘fuck’ so much?” Who knows what they think?

A few nights ago I lay on the couch and watched The Little Couple. Saidee climbed up next to me and asked if she could lie on my boobs. I laughed and said yes, she snuggled up and asked questions about the show, because that is what she does.

“Momma, why are they little?”

“Well, Baby they were born that way.”

“Who is Zoey?”

“Zoey is a little girl in India that they are adopting.”

“Why?”

“She lives in an orphanage and needs a family to love and take care of her.”

“Like Annie?”

Soon she stopped asking questions and I felt her become heavy. Her breath was rhythmic and I could hear a slight snore. On my chest was the head of a six year old that has no question of her place in this world. She is safe, loved, and protected. I worry that I have inadvertently passed on my own body issues to my children. To help keep this little girl from feeling bad about her body I need to be more self aware about the things I say regarding my own body. 

So, to answer the meme I say. I don’t need an excuse for not looking like you. I look like me and I am okay with that, or at least I am trying to be.

I am a size 22 and I am many things: friend, daughter, wife, mother, student, employee, funny, smart, occasionally hateful, and occasionally insightful.  Most of us have a lot going on and don’t need the added pressure of being asked, “What is your excuse?”

That Time My Kid Was Kind of an Ass

As a parent I have always felt like my one job is making sure that my kids aren’t assholes. Overall, I am feeling pretty good about my success rate. The oldest two are neither racist nor homophobic. They are witty and have opinions. They work, travel, and have varied interests. I know that Kiaya would never walk down the mall corridor with her hand in someone else’s back pocket.  I don’t think that Selena would do that, but I do think she may have at least once made out behind a mall Pro Active machine. Selena has a larger sense of whimsy than her older sister. The one I worry about is Saidee. She is the youngest, only six as of this post, and she is our princess. She is sweet and loving. She weighs a lot and still wants to be carried to bed every night. She is our third daughter; she is both the youngest child and an only child, due to the large age differences. She also had an invisible vampire friend named Spike.

The girls and I are TV people. We love it and many of our conversations revolve around the lives of fictional people. We talk about them, dissect their intent, worry about them, and question their decision making. Here are examples of text messages I receive:

“What is Meredith going to do without Christine? Christine is her person, Momma.”

“If Jesse dies I don’t know what I will do. They won’t kill Jesse, will they?”

“I have really thought about it and I think I could be Jax’s old lady.”

“I need you to make sure Supernatural and The Walking Dead are Tivoing.”

These messages are not unusual; they happen at least twice a week. One of our biggest bonding experiences is a love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watched the show when it was originally on and I may or may not have cried once when I missed it. On a list of 100 things I wanted in a mate, number one was someone who will shut-up while I watch Buffy. They don’t have to like it, but they do need to be silent. Kiaya was the first to jump on my Buffy bandwagon and later Selena. It was Kiaya who introduced Saidee. They would spend long hours cuddled up together watching on the portable DVD player and later the laptop. The questionable parenting skill part comes into play when I bring up that Saidee was three when this practice started.

Saidee was never scared of the violence, she was oblivious to the sex, and didn’t get the humor. What she did get was the knowledge that if something went wrong you could blame Spike. Spike was a few hundred years old vampire who looked like Billy Idol. Actually Billy stole his look from Spike. He was funny, crafty, evil (but with a heart of gold), and the best part was he wasn’t all whiney and put upon like Angel. The three year old was pretty quick with blaming everything she did wrong on that blonde vampire. Some of his crimes included: coloring on the walls, coloring on shoes, throwing toys, shredding paper, and trashing bedrooms. Spike was a busy invisible friend/petty criminal.

To Saidee, Selena’s room is a fascinating land of things she isn’t allowed to touch. It is a toddler Vatican, filled with figurines, paintings, art supplies, and treasured baby dolls from Selena’s youth. Much of Spike’s atrocities took place in Selena’s room. We once found a strip of blue fabric on the floor. When I asked Saidee what it was she shrugged her toddler shoulders and said she didn’t know. When we found a second strip we began to investigate and noticed that “someone” had taken scissors and cut up the bottom half of Selena’s sheets.

“Saidee why did you cut up the sheets?”

“I didn’t.”

“Saidee, it was you, you are the only other person in the house.”

“I didn’t do it.”

“Saidee, really.”

“It was Spike.”

At this point we have tears.

“Saidee it wasn’t Spike it was you. Please, admit it.”

“It was Spike. Or it was my toes.”

I put a high premium on creativity; but come on, this kid and her vamp were just being assholes. Kiaya and Selena were busy when they were little, but their busy was nothing compared to the busy that Saidee and Spike laid down. I refuse to blame the 15 year age difference. I am still young and spry, right?

One night I had been in the back of the house and had lost track of the toddler. Only a few minutes had passed when I started walking towards her bedroom. With each step I took I heard a small voice.

“Spike did it.”

“Spike did it.”

“Spike did it.”

With each step I took her voice became louder and more insistent. It held a panicky waiver.

“SPIKE DID IT!”

I found her covered in lipstick. Most of her face was covered in a lovely Revlon wine color. It was on her hands, the wall, and the mirror. She cried hot tears and swore that this was all the work of that blonde vampire. Carvell had come running and we were unable to stop laughing.

“God, Heather, that vampire is a fucking asshole,” he laughed.

Eventually Saidee stopped blaming Spike. We tried to convince her that he had moved, that he had packed his bags, blacked out his windows, and drove off in his DeSoto. She really just outgrew him and no longer needed someone to blame her crimes on. Oddly, I miss him sometimes or more likely I miss the three-year-old she was.

One of Spike's crimes, of course.

One of Spike’s crimes, of course.saidee spike 1

 

Putting an Actual Face to Food Stamp Use

This week the House voted to cut $4 billion a year in food stamps, which is about 5% of the almost $80 billion-a-year program. This new bill would “tighten eligibility standards, allow states to impose new work requirements, and permit drug-testing for recipients, among other cuts to spending” (Associated Press). Apparently, the House has been reading some of the e-cards on my Facebook news feed. Of course, I get that this is a huge issue and most of us work very hard to feed our families and accept no assistance to do so. For most people that is a point of pride. It comes from a long and steady line of pulling ourselves up from our boot straps and national pride, but sometimes in this life shit happens, and sometimes people need to ask for help. I know, I have been one of them, more than once.

I was a teenager when I gave birth to my oldest kids, 17 when Kiaya was born and 19 when Selena made her appearance, and like a lot of teenagers I had a raging ego, a case of know it all, and no discernable skills. I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 18 and worked a part-time minimum wage job at Kroger while my boyfriend (later husband and even later ex-husband) worked full time. We were not out of our teens, had a rent payment, utilities, car insurance, and two babies. Things were tight and we received food stamps. This was in the 90s when “food stamps” were paper monopoly money bundled into books of $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100s. They were cumbersome to handle and refused to tear from the books. They stuck together and made a distinctive crinkle that could be heard, what felt like, all over Kroger.

Most of my grocery shopping experiences took place with Kiaya in the bucket seat of the shopping cart and Selena in her car seat. I would put the food around them like an intricate puzzle. Mac and cheese, ramen noodles, spaghetti noodles, sauce, pork and beans, off brand soda, baby food, and whole milk wedged in the open places of my cart. These foods are not healthy. These are not leafy vegetables and fresh fruit because healthy food is often expensive food and what I concentrated on was filling food. Food that can be stored for a near eternity without going bad was the smartest way to shop. So with my cart, kids, and food, we would head to the check out line. I would strategically check out the lines to find the longest one because the chances of someone coming up behind me were less if the line was long.

As my food would move across the conveyer belt, I would try my best to separate any paper products or nonfood items. Diapers, baby wipes, paper towels, and baby powder had to be kept separate because food stamps didn’t pay for those things. When my food items were checked out, I would receive my food stamp total, and the next part of the humiliation would start. One of the reasons I worked so hard to make sure that I was last in line was because paying with the stamps took forever. The monopoly money was not to be torn out of the book until you were ready to pay. It was even printed on the books, just in case you forgot. I think this was to help ensure against fraud, but to be honest I am not sure. Another reason I always choose the long line is because mental math is difficult for me. Making the experience even more frustrating was the money would stick together, so you would have to separate the coated money, and recount a dozen times before you finally were able to pay. It took what felt like an eternity.

On occasion someone would come up behind me in line and I would be scared that they were judging my purchases. I always worried that I was being judged if I bought Kraft mac and cheese instead of a store brand. Sometimes I would feel the need to justify my purchases to total strangers or apologize if separating my items and paying took too long. There were multiple times over the years that I relied on the government to help me feed the girls. I was grateful for their help. When I heard that they had started to use a debit card system I was grateful that some of the humiliation was taken away, and if I see someone use one of those cards, I stand patiently and smile. I don’t know their situation: they could be a grandmother raising grandchildren or a mom or dad who has lost their job. Sometimes, we fall on hard times and it is okay to accept help.

Fraud happens. I get that and I have known people who have done it; selling the use of their stamps or card for money. I know that some questionable businesses allow illegal purchases in exchange for the “stamps” and then are reimbursed by the government. I don’t know how to fix the fraud; those that are dishonest have always existed and found a way to make life difficult for others. However, I also know children who don’t have enough to eat and families that have used the system correctly in their times of need. I have been one of these families and I know these families. Now you know one too.

In Defense of Autumn or Pumpkin Haters Gonna Hate

I have seen them lately: fall haters. They are lurking around social media posting memes about yoga pants and sweatshirts. They are on Pinterest, right now, turning their noses up at the white chocolate cinnamon pumpkin latte as we speak. “Ugh,” they say, “Can we wait until at least October before we start with the pumpkin?” My answer is, “No, fuck you; I want my damn pumpkin now.” And if I so choose I will drink my white chocolate cinnamon pumpkin latte while singing a Christmas song and decorating my house with festive gourds. I may drink my white chocolate cinnamon pumpkin latte while singing the national anthem; we just don’t know the craziness that will happen when I finally get my first pumpkin fix of the season. I am one of the pumpkin people. I truly love it, and my friend Rachel is the one who brought me on the pumpkin bandwagon. She brought me a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie to work one day and I never looked back.

Even before pumpkin-infused everything, fall has always been my favorite time of year. Fall means no more sweating. Fall means new school supplies and the delicious hunt to find the perfect Trapper Keeper. Fall is new clothes and blue jeans so dark that your fingernails, underpants, and thighs are indigo, almost the same color as a plump blueberry or the night sky. Fall is driving through neighborhoods with dads and kids raking leaves into ditches. Every one of these things brings me back to living in Farley in the fifth grade. In the fifth grade I wanted to own a blue jean jacket more than I wanted almost anything; it was the thing to have. I wanted to roll the sleeves up and cover the front with buttons of my favorite bands and funny sayings. These buttons would open doors for me. They would let the world know just how cool and original I was. People would see my decorated jacket and clear the way for me. Other girls would want to emulate my style. This denim jacket was going to change my life – that is if my parents ever decided to buy me one.

That denim jacket wasn’t a dream for long. One fall afternoon I rode home with a stomach full of worry. The teacher had given us our mid-term grades and it wasn’t good. I had a D in math, my lack of interest and ADD had won, multiplication was the big loser. My anxiety increased as the bus rumbled through the neighborhoods. Each bus stop brought me closer to my impending doom. The squeak of the breaks said, “Mom is going to be mad.” The release of the hydraulics as the door opened said, “They are going to be disappointed in you.” The bus kept moving and my fear grew. When the bus got to our house, I exited slowly trying to buy myself time and a plan. I was the James Bond of lying, the best, surely I could find a way around this D.  Mom met me at the door with a denim jacket in hand. I broke down and cried; I loved the jacket but she needed to return it. I confessed my D and cried until my eyes were red and my nose was snotty. Mom, of course, acted disappointed and said she would tell Dad, but I could keep the jacket. That jacket had lost some of its mojo, and it didn’t make me one of the cool kids, but it and that day are a firm and unwavering autumn memory.

That is what fall is to me, redemption.

With each passing season I get to shake off the sins that I committed and start fresh. Starting at the beginning of September I look ahead to football games and cheering for our town’s high school team. Although I hate being around that many people, I get excited for the kids’ excitement. Every year I wait for that one night where the air smells like burning leaves. On that night, I inhale deeply and then hold the air in my lungs. I let go of summer in that moment. Until I smell the leaves, I will fill my Pinterest boards with soups, sweaters, and pumpkin latte pictures. I will obsess about that moment when I turn my heat on and the house is filled with the smell of dust burning off the coils. I will continue to think about coats, jackets, and sweaters. I will wait patiently for a cup of hot chocolate and a bowl of chili. That is autumn to me, a season filled with dark cool nights, and want.

Somewhere at the beginning of March I will start to want flip flops and skirts. I will have a day when the urge to put my hands in potting soil is so overwhelming that I almost can’t control myself. I will want long days, thunderstorms, and the sound of lawn mowers to consume me. I love how our wants and needs change with the season. Sometimes we have to wait for the planet to give us exactly what we need.

To read the absolute best thing ever written about fall, follow this link:

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/its-decorative-gourd-season-motherfuckers

A 21 Year Old Grudge

When I was in high school, a junior to be exact, I walked in on adults having a conversation about me. I was 17 and pregnant. I wasn’t the first girl to get pregnant and I most definitely wasn’t the last. This was a time before shows like Teen Mom made celebrities out of young mothers. According to Kiaya, who was the fetus involved in that adult conversation, I was the first teen mom. As if Jesus himself didn’t have one as well.

On that faithful day I walked to the school office to ask about getting an excuse. I had an OB/GYN appointment the next day and would need to be away from school the first half of the day. I knew that I would need an excuse if I wanted to attend my junior prom which would be held that Friday. There were pretty tight rules about leaving school on the day of prom, because hair and nails were obviously not as important as English and math. The powers that be had obviously forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. As I turned the corner I heard this sentence, “Well, you know that Heather has ruined her life. She won’t do anything with a baby.”

I stopped and my back stiffened. I remember the pure shock I felt. I remember the ugly outfit I was wearing: a purple and orange flowered baby doll dress with matching bike shorts. That outfit should have been considered a crime against humanity. It was truly hideous. I also remember the anger. I was pissed. One of those all over body rages where your arms feel numb and your fingers feel electric. With my anger brewing I walked into the office. The woman who thought I would amount to nothing looked shocked to see me. She pursed her lips and asked me what I needed. I explained that I had a doctor’s appointment the next day and was going to prom as well. What did I need to do for an excused absence? “We will need a detailed doctor’s excuse.” If they needed a detailed excuse I would give them a detailed excuse.

That year was filled with tiny horrors for me. A great deal of time was spent thinking about how I would tell my parents. There was my first pelvic exam. My breasts leaked in history and I had to ask to be excused. My pee smelled of hell due to the prenatal vitamins and I tried to time my peeing so no one would know how bad it smelled. I count the day that I heard the woman talk about me as the changing point. Heather would be a victim no more.

In the early 1990s the health department was run like a cattle ranch. Teen girls lined up early hoping for a low number so they would be the first called. Pregnant girls, with expanding waist lines, stood in long lines holding on to empty cups to pee in. One by one we would be led into the bathroom to pee in a cup marked with our initials. We would line those cups up on a rolling tray and then we would sit and wait for the doctor who was taking his turn at ranch Questionable Decisions. The process normally lasted about four hours. I was glad that I liked to read. When my turn finally got there I asked a nurse for a favor. I wanted her to write down every thing that happened. From dipping the test strips into my urine, measuring my stomach, to every detail of the pelvic exam; I wanted every second on record. The nurse asked why and I gave a quick summery. She was more than willing to go along with me. After I was done she handed me back the paper and wished me luck. I returned to Reidland High School a little after noon on the day of my prom.

With my five month pregnant belly leading the way I walked into the office and gave the talker the excuse. She read it and looked up at me. “Detailed enough for you?” I asked. “I hope this doesn’t ruin my life.” Her eyes were a little wider as she handed me my excuse for class. I had just had my first “how do you like those apple” moment.

That night I strapped a bright blue size 24 dress to my body; a spray of sequence against one lactating breast. I danced and talked to my friends. We ate an overpriced meal and went to a cabin at the lake. I slept through about half of the fun at the cabin as I was growing someone’s hair.

I will admit that for 21 years I have been holding a grudge against that woman. A grudge against the person who said, “Well we won’t have to worry about the baby being very smart.” A grudge against, “It’s always the quiet ones.” Everything that I or my kids accomplish is a middle finger in the face of those people. Every scholarship and award is a fuck you. At times I feel petty for feeling that way. A better person wouldn’t still feel that way.

I am coming to terms with not being a better person.

Advice I Gave to My College Age Daughters

This world is a tough place. Sometimes it is the bully tripping you as you walk between the rows of desks in the sixth grade. You trip and your face flushes with embarrassment. Other times the world is the loving mother making you brownies for after school, without even knowing a bully had tripped you. This ebb and flow is what makes life both fantastic and frustrating. When Kiaya went to college I had the idea of leaving her Post-It notes all over her dorm, gentle reminders of advice that I had given her over the years.

The first note stated: Do not do anything that would make me call you an asshole. While other parents may give specific advice, I preferred to cover everything with a simple rule; I started using this personal golden rule when they were very young. I simply told the girls to do nothing that would make me think they were an asshole. I thought of this as a blanket statement as it covered almost everything:

Talking too loud on your cell,

Standing in a busy walkway,

Loudly cursing,

Being those asshole kids who put their hands in each others back pockets,

Being racist or homophobic,

Flunking out of college.

My asshole Post-It covered all that with one simple sentence.

Kiaya’s second Post-It stated: Always wear a cardigan. It will make you look cool. This note worked on multiple levels. First I am mildly obsessed with a casual coolness that I feel I lack. Cool kids wear cardigans; it is just a fact of life to me. Right now open a Google search and type “cool people wearing cardigans”; one of the people will be The Dude from The Big Lebowski. I personally can think of no one cooler than The Dude, his coolness traipses time as even my five-year-old sees Jeff Bridges and says, “Hey Momma, look it’s The Dude.” My thought was if Kiaya feels awkward (and if you know her, you know she does) she could wear the coolness of a cardigan as a shield. The other thing is that a cardigan will keep you a magic comfortable temperature, neither to hot or too cold nor too heavy or light. Cardigans are the perfect accessory.

My third Post-It said: Do not become an alcoholic trollop. College is a time for living and experimenting and I get that, but I also know that dependency can be a bitch. I do not live in a world where I think my children will never have sex or try alcohol. I just don’t want either act to be consuming. The Post-It could have read, “Please, don’t be the hung over girl doing the walk of shame with her panties in her purse,” but that seemed rather long.

I left Kiaya other notes as well, one simply said, “Kiaya, Stop talking. Love, Mom.” If you know her, you know that it was good advice.

Selena left for college the following year and she too received Post-It advice. While both of my children are intelligent (naturally – hah!), Selena has a sense of whimsy while Kiaya is very linear in her thought process.

For the first note I wrote: Condoms are cheaper than diapers. It has been my personal goal that my children get past the age when I got pregnant without being pregnant. Kiaya sailed past hers with no problem. Selena has now passed hers as well and I couldn’t be happier. Babies are expensive and easier to prevent than to care for. I want my daughters to have experiences that I didn’t get to have. Go to school, travel, have adventures, and do it without having a baby attached to your hip is the message of that particular Post-It.

Selena’s next note said: Boys will rape. Never drink from a glass a boy hands you. I have seen Veronica Mars so I feel I am an expert on date rape drugs. Of course, I do not believe that all boys rape, nor do I believe in victim blaming, but I think that being diligent about your surroundings is important. Walking in pairs and letting someone know where you are is just a smart way to live on a college campus. Really, it is a good idea for almost every living situation. My current parenting advice is to forbid my children from traveling to India, as India has been a little rapey recently.

The third note stated: Only I know everything, remember that. This was written tongue in cheek because Selena has a history of thinking she knows everything. She was my very own Clarissa Explains It All. I wanted Selena to know that it is okay to take advice from other people and it is okay to admit that you don’t know or understand something. It is normal and how we grow as people. Accept input, if you don’t like the advice you receive, discard it.

Just like with Kiaya, I left Selena other notes as well. One simply said, “Selena, Shhh…not so loud. Love, Mom.” If you know her, you know it was good advice.

Saidee leaves for college in 13 years. I need to start working on her advice now.