Sunday, June 29, 2014

Things you don't expect when you move to Hawaii

1. Extreme Use of Chopsticks
everything, including rice and soup, is eaten with chopsticks

2. Hitch hikers with surfboards
optimism at it's finest

3. Socks and slippers
But not - I repeat NOT - socks with sandals. Big, big difference.

4. Moldy Leathergoods
Don't even bother bringing that leather jacket with you.

5. Turtles on the beach
It's like Animal Planet, but in real life.

6. Mayonnaise on everything
Would you like some mayo with that mayo?

7. Baby Luaus
200 people and a band? That's pretty low key for a first birthday party around here.

8. Cold Weather
Everything is relative, but when the temperature dips below 70F people walk around in parkas and wool hats. Throw in some rain and they Lose Their Shit.

9. Hot Weather
It's hard to say for sure, but September may be the hottest month. Around these parts extreme heat has more to do with the absence of any cooling tradewinds, rather than overall temperature.

10. Infrequent trips to the beach
Who has time to go to the beach? People on vacation. That's who.

11. Costco. Your one stop shop.
When our realtor told us to go join Costco, we laughed. She wasn't kidding. It is the only place on island to go for diapers, milk, bread and other assorted items if you live on a budget.

12. Avocado snobbery
All year round, we have amazing avocados growing all over the island. Over 200 varieties. And some are much, much better than others.

13. It's not that expensive
Don't get me wrong. It's expensive, and if you don't use common sense and some smart shopping, you won't even live paycheck to paycheck - you'll end up living credit card to credit card. *

14. Your Maui Family
Many people find that - by moving to the most isolated island chain on earth - they found themselves less lonely than they ever were on the mainland.

*Some recommendations for the newly slippah'd: start carpooling, bartering, and shopping at farmers markets and mom-n-pops, cut back on all things refrigerated, split Costco trips with friends (because who needs 50 rolls of toilet paper?) and you will find some hope.

** The nice thing about moving 5000 miles away from your biological family is the opportunity to create your own family - which means you finally get to choose who to spend holidays with. Almost everyone you know on island has a plan for the holidays - and it is usually an open door policy. So if you get invited, show up with a dish, a bottle of something to share, and an open heart. You are creating more than community - you are creating family.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

All of the things that will always be mine

I was just looking at our photos from Father's Day and Mother's Day over the years. The one consistent detail in most of the photos, as our children grow impossibly large at our side, is that there is almost always a new baby. A different tiny baby every year. None of them more than 6 months old.

Each child has been returned to their biological parents before the next set of photos, replaced with another little wizened face looking up from their usual spot on our lap, or cradled in our arms.

Every day I have several unrelated conversations about when and how Ella will go back to her mother. Because I am sure she will go back. Eventually. All of our foster children have been returned to their biological families, and I expect that to continue. But the knowing does not make it easier to talk about, and somehow it is the thing people want to talk about most:
How much longer?
Can't you just adopt her?
Why can't she just stay with you forever?
How will you do it? How can you stand to do that? Won't you miss her?

And I realized something - something that I am going to work hard to change:

Rarely does anyone mention her mother in a positive or supportive or understanding way. Including myself.
We forget to consider whether her mother misses her, or how she is doing given what is - to me - the unimaginable circumstances of not having her baby with her.
Ella's mother is an anonymous entity who had her child taken away.
End of story.

But she is not anonymous to Ella. And so I need to set the tone - and it should be one of compassion. I must remind myself every day, through every frustrating schedule change or ridiculous bureaucratic snafu, that all of this upheaval is hard for Ella's mom, too. And if I share my feelings about all of the challenges we are experiencing, I need to also share my hopes and goals for this case and what encourages me to feel optimistic about the future - for Ella and her mother, together.

It is not helpful for anyone to be angry, or to focus on what isn't working - not just with this case, but with life in general. I have to remember to stay positive, to speak with love and compassion about all things Ella.

Every foster case involves some combination of sadness, loss, poor decisions, bad luck, and a family that is facing a really difficult time. But foster care is supposed to be the beginning of the upswing. This is their "rock bottom" and the only place to go is up. So we should be positive and hopeful that now - with the baby safe and the parents addressing their issues - things are going to be better for everyone. As long as the visits happen on schedule, and I can see the progress being made - both in the relationship between parent and child, and also as the parent finds their path and starts the long journey to reunification - I am happy for everyone. I enjoy my time with the babies, and I enjoy watching a parent turn their life around and begin again. Sometimes, it takes a little longer for parents to get with the program - like right now - and it is a struggle for me to remain positive about their future, because they really aren't doing much to improve their present circumstances.

"...when parents are completely disconnected from the child, when they act as though there is no rush to get their act together, as though the child is a toy to be played with and then put away, when they continue to abuse drugs, when they have no idea what their child weighs, or how to put on a diaper even after 7 weeks of visits, when extended family is offered custody and they suggest that maybe they could "just visit the baby instead" those times I am not worried about them regaining custody. Instead, I become the mama bear. The gate closes. The smiles and friendly chit chat at visits fades. And I hold the baby closer. Because someone has to. Someone has to hold this baby, put him first, get up with him each night and greet him each morning. Someone has to want to be his mother all the time - not just for 90 minutes a few times a week." 

from "Giving the Baby Back"

I am trying, through the recent spate of cancelled visits and obvious disorganization of everyone involved, to remain positive. I keep track of all the missed visits, but I have come to realize I should also note the visits that are NOT missed - because those are equally important.

Positive reinforcement.

Or something.

The most important thing, in all of this, is not my cancelled summer vacation, or how foster parents are taken for granted and have very few rights in the system. That is not what I should be concerned about when there is a baby to care for. I have had to remind myself of that sometimes, though I am embarrassed to admit it.

I am not selfless. And sometimes I miss the point of all of this. Of why we do what we do year after year......

This is about Ella. And her mom. 

I think of her mother often, you know. I think of all the things that she is missing: her first Mother's Day, the first smile, the first laugh.

The slow transition of Ella's face;

from awake and alert to asleep and at peace

 staring into my eyes until she drifts off.

Eyes shifting from bright and dancing in the fading light, to fluttering, then closed.

Lashes resting at last on her impossibly round cheeks.

It happens the same way every evening, and her mother has never once seen it.

The hours that Ella and I spend "talking", with me asking her questions, and her cooing in response. The loud breathing in her sleep, her giggle when she wakes up to another day, her squeaks and chuckles as she rolls around sucking on her fingers, so pleased with herself that she can barely stand it.

And the huge grin that spreads across her face as I peer into her crib and say good morning.

Her mother has never woken to that beaming, gummy smile and the gurgling laughter.

I know I have talked exhaustively about the end of a fostering - I wrote a book about it for goodness sake - but I don't think I have really put too fine a point on what I take away from every case. For every child that has been a part of our family, they leave with a small piece of my heart. However, it is what they leave behind that keeps me moving forward to the next child who needs a home.

All of these moments will always be with me. The memory of them will bring a smile, or a tear. Or both.

And at the end of this case, maybe I will direct my attention towards improving the fostering experience for the foster parents and their families - because this system is pretty broken right now.

But it is not hopeless. Just like everything else related to foster care, I have to remain focused on the positive, and remember that the only place to go is up. With Ella's smile greeting me every morning - whether from her crib, or later from a photo saved in a file on my desktop (along with the photos of many others) I just know it's going to be all right.

Monday, June 9, 2014

And then my spirit, it was broken. Hashtag: first world problems

As I wrote this post, I started out using *** instead of spelling out the F word. But I am my father's daughter, and the fact is that the more agitated we get, he and I, the more F bombs we drop into the conversation. So fuck the asterisks.

For SIX DAYS a bright green rubber finger puppet in the shape of a frog has been sitting on the bathroom floor.

Right in front of the sink.
Right next to the toilet. 

It has been killing me, this fucking frog.

As an experiment, I have left it there, lo and these many days, waiting for someone - SOMEONE BESIDES ME - to pick it up. I should not have bothered, I knew how it would end. Every day, leaving it there has eaten away at my soul, and yet I persevered. I never breathed a word of this little green frog, as he was knocked around the floor, first to the left of the sink, then to the right of the sink. Up against the wastebasket, next to the rug, and finally, right in the middle of the doorway, pushed to and fro every time the door opened and closed. Gathering dust and hair day by day. I refused to pick it up. I refused to ask anyone else to pick it up.

For six long, painful days.

Until tonight, when it was joined by some unidentified round metal.....thing. And because I was afraid I might hurt myself stepping on it, or that it was an important part to something, I picked that round metal thing up. 

And while I was down there, I picked up the fucking frog finger puppet too. 

We are one week into this "vacation" and I have begun taking a daily dose of anti-anxiety medication in addition to my antidepressant because OH MY GOD THE CRAP IT IS EVERYWHERE AND NO ONE IS DEALING WITH IT BUT ME.

Laundry is washed and dried and sorted, and there it sits. Never to be put away.
Mail is brought in and stacked on the counter, where it sits. Never to be opened.
The dishwasher full of clean dishes while the dirty ones collect in the sink. 
Recycling piles up by the door, the dog is left unwalked, the backs of every chair festooned with sweaters that have been removed and tossed casually. The rugs need vacuuming and the floor needs sweeping.

And still I wait for someone - anyone - to do any of it of their own volition. To complete a task not just without being asked - but without my assistance in any way.

I don't know why I bother.

This morning as I drove the kids to camp, I asked Lucy to get out the sunblock and put it on her face.
"It's not in here, Mom!"
"Of course it is," I said. And I knew it was. 
She insisted it was not. 
I assured her it was. 

She began pulling everything out of the bag, throwing it across the backseat in a huff. "It's not in here, I'm telling you!"
"And I am telling YOU - it is."
A few moments later, I spotted her as she opened the tube and began applying the sunblock to her face.

I had the good sense not to say a word.

This afternoon as we drove to meet a friend, I asked Max to grab my phone out of my purse and see if I had any texts from them. A few moments later he looked at me, wide-eyed. "It's not in your purse." I resisted the urge to swerve off the highway and dump the contents of my purse on the floor.
"Are you sure?"
So I pulled into a parking lot. "Everyone get out of the car and find my phone, it has to be in here somewhere." (Because the alternative - that it was sitting on the side of the road somewhere - was just unthinkable.) We emptied tote bags, unbuckled the baby's carseat, rooted around under seats, pulled the stroller out of the trunk, dug through the glovebox and the door pockets to no avail. 

And then I remembered something. I had taken Max's word for it.

I went back to the front seat, and pulled my purse open. My phone was sitting there, right on top of my wallet. I walked back to the trunk, where Max was dismantling the storage compartment of the cargo area. 
"The phone was in my purse."
"Are you serious?"
"Yes. I am very, very serious."
"OH?!" I surveyed the scene. The baby was in her carrier in the front seat, the base hanging out of the back door of the car by the seatbelt. The stroller was in three pieces on the ground behind the car. Two  totes and the diaper bag had been dumped out in the backseat. A water bottle rolled under the hood of the car next to us. Receipts and wadded up kleenex blew across the parking lot like tumbleweeds as we stood there in silence.

I am being driven slowly, ever so slowly, out of my mind. 
It's not just my family, mind you.

It's everyone.

Last week I ordered two sandwiches at Safeway and by the time the guy behind the counter had sliced the bread I was about ready to throw myself over the counter and shove him aside to do it myself. Every move was belabored. There was much staring into space and deep sighing as I paced around the soup display trying not to let on how BATSHIT CRAZY he was making me. And then I began to have a massive panic attack. If I had never had one before, I would have dropped to the floor and begged someone to call 9-1-1. My heart was pounding in my ears, My face was hot, my extremities numb, my breathing labored, my vision dizzy. My throat burned and my eyes watered. People's voices echoed around me as I hung onto the display of Doritos and nonchalantly tried to catch my breath. I finally staggered outside, as the guy began slowly spooning coleslaw onto one of the rolls, one shred of cabbage at a fucking time.....

I literally could not take it for another second.

I threw the car door open and collapsed face first on the seat, grasping for my bag as Max and Lucy stared at me, mouths agape.

"Uh, mom? Are you okay?"
"Yeah mom, are you okay? You don't look so-"
"I need my medicine." I managed to get the words out through my throat which was tight, and over my tongue which felt swollen. I was so glad I had decided to keep these pills with me just in case - I had never needed them more than I did at this moment. Max tore my purse apart, popped the child-proof cap, and started spilling pills out onto his palm. "How many?"
"Just one, are you trying to kill me?" I smiled, weakly. Lucy raised an eyebrow.

Eventually, the sandwiches were made, but the problem has not been resolved.

Today I got my toenails painted.

As I sat there with the baby in my lap, I watched this man slowly - ever so slowly - paint one. nail. at. a. time. stroke. by. stroke. His hand shook. The polish rolled off my nail and onto my toe. He dabbed at it and soldiered on. In the end, my toes looked exactly the same as they do when I let Lucy paint them - only when she does it it's free and I don't have polish on the bottom of my foot afterwards.

And then I had to pay for it. Because the alternative - demanding that an actual nail tech paint my toes instead of her friendly uncle who means well - was just too much to bear.

And through it all, over the last few weeks, I got these texts. They were from two different numbers. I had no idea who either one was, and the only thing they had in common was - and I am not joking - venison.

Now, it is random enough to get a random text about venison from a stranger. But to get TWO texts about venison, from two different, unidentified people, well. That takes some doing. Each time I got a text from one of these numbers, I replied back politely letting them know they had texted the wrong person. And the senders would apologize. And then another text would come through a few days later. Not a lot of texts. 4 or 5, maybe. But all sent to me mistakenly, and all discussing....venison.

And then while I was watching this man apply polish liberally to my toes at a snail's pace, I got a voicemail.

About venison.

I swear to god I am not making this up.

And I listened to the whole message, and then I kind of lost it a little bit. Because the person who left the message - almost a minute long - started out by saying "Sorry, I guess I have been texting the wrong person, and I don't know how that happened, but I deleted her number and I thought it would be best to just call you.... So we have the venison steaks, and some salad, maybe you could bring some bread....." and it went on.

She deleted the wrong number. She deleted the wrong fucking number from her phone, and she was going to keep calling me, and texting me about fucking venison because she could not figure out how to look at the message I sent saying "you have the wrong number" and then delete that phone number from her contacts.


Of course not.

Now I know that these are not big things. Taken individually, these should not even be blips on the radar.
A slow deli guy. A rubber frog. A wrong number. These are not earth shaking problems.

"You need to calm down" I hear you saying. "You are over-reacting. Maybe you should up your meds." And to that I say YES IN FUCKING DEED I DO.
But I also need to find a way to deal with the fact that we are one week into summer vacation and I already think I might have to go outside and break something, in a dramatic smashy shattering fashion. Maybe throw some plates at a brick wall or something really satisfying like that.

This is going to be a very, very long two months. Unbearably long.
Thank goodness I have all of this venison medication to get me through.
Also, I hired a housecleaner.
She starts tomorrow.