Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Love/Hate relationship with Children's Museums.

Let's just be honest.
I don't play.

I'm not the mom lying on the floor building a huge block tower (bad knees) or organizing a massive art project (big mess) or baking 100 cupcakes (takes too long) or out riding bikes or playing tag or - good lord no - going on a family hike.

I like my kids, I want them to be happy, I make sure they can do all of these fabulous things - just not with me.

Is that wrong? It's okay. I don't mind being wrong. I am not going to force myself to do something I didn't even enjoy as a child. As a kid, I liked to read and roller skate. End of story. I still like to do those things, and thankfully so do my kids, so it's all good and they don't want to play with me anyway thank goodness. I do grownup things, and they do kid things, and then every so often we do something special together that we all enjoy wholeheartedly.

Like going to children's museums. I really like taking my kids to museums.
In theory.

However, the children's museum would be a lot more fun without other kids. And their parents.

I know I am not alone. At the Science Center this weekend - a place that is not exclusively for children but is definitely geared towards the grade-school set - there were a bunch of us parents on the sidelines, parents who had spent a crapload of money for an adult admission and were clearly hoping the crowd might thin so we, too, could try that slalom ski simulator, or use our brainwaves to move the ball across the table, or maybe even take that rotating rock climbing wall for a spin. I mean, we weren't going to take the spot from a child. This is all about them, right?
 At least, in theory.

So I shut my mouth and applied more hand sanitizer.

And then two grownups in a row each got on the skiing simulator, despite the line of kids behind them, and went not once, but twice, and continued to stand on the simulator long after the word "DISQUALIFIED" flashed up on the screen and the ride was over. Someone had to actually tap one guy on the shoulder and tell him that his time was up.

During the overly-long wait, a crowd formed. Kids started cutting in front of my kids. And then parents started cutting in front of my kids. And then watch out, because I was no longer going to act like a mature, refined grownup. Who cares if other kids were waiting for a turn?

Dammit, I was going to climb on that skiing simulator and RIDE THE SHIT OUT OF IT.

(Side note, it turns out that riding a skiing simulator is actually much harder than it looks. And you know, kids have a lower center of gravity so these sorts of things come much easier to them. Ahem.)

And then, just as it was about to be my turn, a kid who could not have been more than 6 years old stepped right in front of me and climbed on the simulator, pounding on the start button like he was a game show contestant. I stood there, wondering what, exactly, had just happened. I was clearly in line and had been there for quite some time. I had been walking towards the simulator when he leaped in front of me.

I was not pleased.

His mother must have felt my eyes burning into the back of her neck because she turned around, looked me up and down and said "You weren't waiting to ride this, were you?!" Her eyes widened with surprise (which was really just barely disguised disgust) and when I said, as magnanimously as possible, "Oh, it's fine, he can go" she smiled brightly and turned on her heel just in time to watch the word "DISQUALIFIED" flash on the screen and to see her son begin pounding on the start button to take a second turn.

And that is when it dawned on me that the only thing worse than a badly behaved child  - or a museum full of them - is a badly behaved parent. After 3 hours of coaching our children to "let the next person have a turn", and "make sure you aren't cutting in line", and "please let everyone off the elevator before you get on", and all of the other constant gentle reminders of manners and courtesy that parenting requires, only to watch other parents set the poorest example possible (and their children behave accordingly) it occurred to me that, actually, none of us were having much fun at all. Rather than feel shame at wanting to try out an activity or exhibit, I felt disappointed that the adult admission cost twice as much as the kids, and yet I was not able to actually experience the center without getting all Lord of the Flies-meets-Survivor in order to actually touch anything, never mind enjoy myself.

As we went to leave, I looked around. At the hands-on activities, where parents and kids were jostling for position, at the building room, where kids were stepping up and knocking down other children's creations - or commandeering them entirely, at the outdoor exhibit, where children were running and screaming and shoving, even in front of the snack bar, where some kid threw his popcorn on the ground and kicked it all over because he didn't get a Slush Puppy, while a mother fed a toddler hard boiled egg and managed to smear egg on every surface, along with spreading both egg and pieces of shell liberally across the floor for everyone to step in. A hard boiled egg? Really?

This was not fun. This was like being in a psych ward. Parents wandered past in a daze, holding juice boxes and coats, clearly wondering what the hell they had been thinking and why they didn't serve alcohol at the snack bar.

Silly parents, that's what your fancy Hydroflask is for.

But taking my cue, we left. And went straight to a pub where we could all relax and have a conversation, and I could teach kids the important stuff like how to choose a wine, what the different kinds of beer taste like, and how ordering several appetizers is just as acceptable as choosing one entree. Better, even. And they even gave out crayons and paper, then hung the resulting masterpieces on the walls with titles, descriptions, and prices.

Though I think we can all agree, the work is priceless.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Giving in and giving up


This used to be a fun place. Stories about derby, family fights in Walmart, peeing or not peeing in the bushes next to the valet stand..... Ah, we have had some good times.

But the last few years this journal of mine has become downright depressing. People grab tissues before they start reading, or message me that they can't get through my post at work. I am bound and determined to change that, because the next book I write will not be about the emotional roller coaster of fostering. And I think I need to change directions here first, so that the book might have a better chance to follow.

However.

It is almost impossible for me to write anything until I write about the boys.
We gave them up yesterday, and they were moved to a new foster home.
And I am going to tell you about it, and let you judge me and flame me because god knows I am doing that to myself already. But there may be someone out there who needs to hear this because they are feeling trapped or scared or guilty, and I want them to read about my experience and just know that this happened. And that sometimes, it happens.

I am actually sitting here writing this while I sob, because there is no way to even begin to broach this subject without wanting to simultaneously cry and throw up. It's a reality that many foster families experience, but it was a first for me, and so utterly traumatic that I am not sure where to go from here. Part of this is that I am so completely, utterly exhausted I cry at the drop of a hat anyway. I am exhausted physically, emotionally and yes - even for this godless soul - spiritually.

What started out as an answer to my prayers became a living hell. And I am not using those words lightly. Two babies, brothers - in a terrible situation, needed a family to care for them when their own family could not. We never take two children. We never take toddlers. Babies are what we do. Period. Middle of the night feedings, round the clock care, and a newborn for Christmas. It wouldn't be the first time. But a toddler? No. I just...... well.... maybe? Sure. I can do it. I mean, it was the week before Christmas. And when I walked into the CPS office, I knew I had done the right thing. The newborn still had the sticky tape on his skin from the tubes he had been fed with in the hospital. The toddler - exactly 10 months older even though for the life of me I couldn't make that math work - was seemingly without rules or routine. And when we got back to the house I discovered one other detail.
He was angry. Very very angry.

The last two months have been spent comforting people almost 24 hours a day.

Comforting the newborn with thrush, jaundice, digestive issues, an infected eye, a fierce diaper rash, and all of the extra care needed for an infant born with meth in his system.

Comforting the toddler who was suddenly without his mother, who had been exposed to meth for most - if not all - of his life, first in the womb and then via breastmilk, and who was no longer the baby even though he was, in fact, still a baby.

Comforting Lucy, who got the news that her beloved Ella had been reunited with her biological family and that two babies had moved in and taken "little sissy's" place, from her teacher during school lunch.

Comforting Max, who adores babies and was taken aback when the toddler started screaming and simply did not stop. For two months.

Comforting my husband, who realized that a new baby had taken up residence in our bedroom and he was probably never going to get laid again.

For the past two months I have rarely slept for more than 2 hours at a stretch. Every member of our family - including the baby - has been hit, bitten, kicked, punched and head butted by a raging toddler. We have had our entire life, and any semblance of order or schedule, ripped to shreds. We were living in what felt like a communist state - not just at the whim of Child Protective Services, and a crazy visitation schedule that interrupted naps 3 days a week, but also under the control of a small, bowlegged dictator with a dimple and an inner rage that seemed boundless most of the time. We were in a constant struggle to comfort a child that would not allow himself to be comforted.

We were trying to give equal attention and one-on-one time to two children who needed all of our attention all of the time. If I picked one up, the other would cry. And if I put one down to pick up the other, there would be more crying. I couldn't do anything right, and everything felt wrong. The toddler was constantly in danger, chewing on anything he could find from shoes to power cords to door hinges, slamming fingers in drawers that had child-locks on them, and sometimes simply snapping those child locks into two pieces during one of his rages. The baby was always uncomfortable, despite switching formula, sleeping propped up, adding probiotics to his diet, removing dairy, and dosing liberally with gas drops.

I knew this case would be hard, but it felt impossible at times.

I was determined to see it through. I did not want to cause any disruption, I wanted to keep them together, in a safe and quiet home that I had always been able to provide. We just needed to give them some time to settle in, I assured everyone.

And then after the first month, I thought maybe we were turning the corner, and that perhaps things were getting easier. The baby had settled in nicely, and the toddler was sleeping, well, a bit more. At least at night. Naps were not going well at all. In fact he refused to be put in a crib at all.

I was fooling myself. And when I read a letter my son wrote telling me that he didn't think he could live with a toddler anymore, and when my daughter told her teacher that it was horrible to be at home, and when my husband sat me down and told me that I was not being very nice to them because I was so strung out from trying to keep everyone safe and fed and clean and where they needed to be when they needed to be there.... well. I listened. I heard them.

And when I heard my daughter scream while I was in the bathroom, I knew, even as I struggled to pull up my pants, and ran out still clutching toilet paper in my hand, I knew it had to stop. When I saw her crouched on the floor trying to wrestle her finger out from between the toddler's teeth, when I saw her tears and heard the baby crying in the corner and saw that no, I really couldn't leave them alone for even one second, well.... I stopped. I got ice and bandages, and put my daughter out of the toddler's reach even as he continued to lunge at her. I sat down and picked up the phone and called CPS and said "We can't do this anymore." I stared at the huge bruise on my arm, watched my daughter rocking in a corner, saw the welt on the baby's cheek where the toddler had thrown a toy on his head while I was changing his diaper that morning, and I realized in one gut-wrenching moment that I was not doing either of them any good. That I needed to let someone else give it a try. The state wouldn't separate the boys, wouldn't let me keep the baby and let the toddler check out a new living situation - even just for a few weeks. I couldn't just have the toddler moved, I had to give them both up. So I did.

It makes me sick in my heart to pin this on a little boy, a gorgeous vibrant little boy, who needs more love than I could possibly give him. But that is what happened. We could not live with this child. This is not to say that someone else cannot, which is why I have faith that he just needed to be in a different type of situation, Maybe a place with other small children to play with, maybe in a place that was not the place he was brought to when he was taken from his family. I just have to believe that there is a home out there where he can feel safe and a family who can make him feel happy and loved enough.

Because it wasn't working here. I learned, in the hardest possible way, that there are going to be times you have to say "no". Times when you have to say "enough". Times when you have to say "I need a break" or "this is not a good fit for our family". And I am learning that it is okay. It is. It has to be. Someone has to come first - and sometimes, that person is going to be you. Or your family.

People who have seen me with our foster babies have frequently called me an angel, told me I was a blessing. I am not an angel, I am an exhausted human being. I have handed in my halo and cut off my wings. I know that there are people who don't understand, and who are disappointed in me.
Or disgusted with me.

I know I am.