The First Week of Sixth Grade

Em working on her 6th grade composition and critical thinking

A Decent First Day

Ah, the return to homeschooling!

It certainly had its fits and starts. I knew I had a cleaning later in the afternoon and I also had some errands to run, but I expected we had the morning free.

We started out, as we usually do – me reading to Em in the library. We are nearly halfway through Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose and enjoying the book. After I read the requisite chapter, Em practiced her cello. It is in dire need of tuning and we will need to bring it to the open house at Harmony Project tomorrow to get it up to snuff. Meanwhile, it sounds rather…different.

We had just settled into our first spelling test when my dad blew his whistle downstairs. Apparently he missed his ride to the senior center. So we put it down, drove him to the senior center, and ran errands since we were out, before returning for a snack, and to unpack a box of fresh hardy succulents we will be planting in the yard this week for our science project.

Em missed six of 25 spelling words. They were little mistakes, mainly caused by nervousness, and she knocked them out of the way the next day, scoring 100% on her second attempt. That means she is done for the week!

Dividing fractions – be afraid, be very afraid!

Basic Schedule

Our schedule is as follows:

  • 6:30 Wake up and Mom reads to Em
  • 7:00 Practice cello for 20-30 minutes
  • 7:30 Tidy room, do chores
  • 8:00 Fix and eat breakfast
  • 8:30 Begin homeschool
  • 11:30 Wrap up homeschool and eat lunch

It doesn’t always work out like that. Because I’m running my housecleaning biz, the schedule fluctuates, sometimes dramatically. For instance, two out of every four Mondays are “homeschool free days” in which all that Em is required to do is practice her cello and read 1-2 chapters of a book of her choice.

One out of every four weeks we don’t have a spelling list to practice because both the Monday and the Tuesday have back to back cleanings and it would be Wednesday before we could tackle the list. That’s not enough time if it is a particularly demanding list.

Evaluate and Adjust

This week and next are a process of evaluation and adjustment. Take Pre-Algebra for example. We tackled dividing fractions today and it took an hour and a half to work our way through twelve questions! We wrote them out on the board, and there was some fair amount of teeth-gnashing and wailing, but we got through it. It did make me realize that I was unwilling to do that three times a week. Once is enough, thank you very much!

So Far It Looks Like This…

Here is what I gave Em to read over:

Fall 2018 Homeschool

Schedule, Areas of Study and Expectations

Mondays: variable

One Monday (in a 4 week period) you will accompany me to the Anderson’s and read to the littles while I clean. We will do the rest of homeschooling in the afternoon.

One Monday (in a 4 week period) will be regular homeschooling in the morning.

Two Mondays (in a 4 week period) will be a “free day”

Tuesdays: Every other Tuesday from 8:30 – 11:30, on those same Tuesdays we will go out on a field trip as well.

Wednesdays: mix of home curriculum and LEARN co-op classes – once every 3 weeks I have to clean the Chapman house in the afternoon

Thursdays: variable

Every other Thursday – homeschool from 8:30 – 11:30

Alternating Thursdays – independent study

Fridays: Every Friday from 8:30 – 11:30

Language Arts:

  • Faber’s Book of Beasts – reading poems and creating our own – one per week
  • Weekly spelling list (repeated until 100% accuracy) – 3 tests per 4-week period (no spelling on week with double cleanings on Monday and Tuesday)
  • Grade 6 Comprehension and Critical Thinking – one per week
  • Creative writing with writing prompts, letter writing, or a book report – 2x a week

Mathematics:

Social Studies:

Science:

  • Darwin and Evolution for Kids – Read from this book and do the suggested activities
  • Weekly science experiments
  • Monthly visits to Science City with a friend (or two)

All the Rest:

  • Health – What’s Happening to My Body for Girls – one chapter a week with Mama
  • Entrepreneurship – Read one chapter from Kidpreneurs each week and do the quiz.
  • Self-Improvement – Read one chapter from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens each week
  • Music – Harmony Project and practice five mornings a week for 20 minutes a day, add a minute of practice for every time Mama has to remind you to get to/keep practicing!
  • Learn Spanish with Mama by using DuoLingo on her phone 3x week
  • Art – Practice your art regularly. Challenge yourself, enjoy the process and improve with each project!

Powell Gardens – Butterfly Festival 2018

What’s Missing?

I had originally settled on reading Don’t Know Much About Geographybut after paging through it, it just doesn’t fit with her interests and I’ve already got several books/subjects to wade through. So geography is completely missing from the curriculum. She will get a lovely month-long dose of geography and travel during her trip to Europe, so I’m not too worried about it. We will probably go ahead and study the countries that she will be going to and consider that as good enough for now.

Physical education is not listed, but neither is our regular outings with a lovely group of homeschoolers in the Northland that do activities such as ice skating, visiting Powell Gardens, and park days. In other words, she will get plenty of P.E.

Well on Track

By this afternoon we had finished most of the requirements for the week. She will still have her daily cello practice, the timed tests in the basic math skills, and required reading of a chapter a day (she reads a chapter per day from one book, I read to her aloud from a different book).

I am determined to improve her basic math skills so that there is absolutely no hiccups when figuring basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. After three days of timed worksheets (one each of subtraction, multiplication and division), I did an extra step with her.

We counted how many she had answered on each worksheet, divided that number by three (she has three minutes to answer as many questions as possible) and then divided by 60 to learn how many seconds it took her to answer each question. Multiplication was the quickest, then division, followed lastly by subtraction. I’m teaching her some shortcuts that I hope will help her increase her speed. Accuracy doesn’t seem to be a problem, but less than half, sometimes as little as 1/3 of the questions on the worksheet are answered in three minutes. So there is room for improvement.

The next couple of days we can coast quite nicely, now that the bulk of the work is done. She seems to be enjoying (or tolerating) most of it rather well and with a decent attitude.

Hooray for homeschooling!

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A Foundation of Communication

The first few months after she was placed with us, my foster daughter’s mother had no visitation. That has changed now, and with the very real possibility of her returning to her mother at some point in the near future – we wanted to open the lines of communication.

We adore Little Miss, and we want the best for her. As foster parents, we know that the first priority of foster care is the preparation for reunification if possible. It isn’t a matter of who can provide the better home, it’s a matter of returning a child to their parent(s) IF the issues have been resolved to the court’s satisfaction.

In the case of Little Miss, it looks like the issues will be resolved soon. But having wormed her way into our hearts, we also care about what happens to her after she leaves our home.

“We need to build a foundation – one of trust and compassion,” I told my husband and daughter. “That way, we have done everything that we could to care for her and hopefully convey to her mother that we are not the enemy here.”

If things go downhill, if a job is lost or other issues arise, perhaps the mother will turn to us rather than go it alone. We can’t provide financial help, but we realized we both want to see the best happen for Angie, and we are more than willing to watch her or care for her again if the need arises.

So I asked a friend who also fosters, “Do you think I could write a note to her mom?”

She told me I absolutely could. And frankly, that was all the encouragement I needed. I had Em find me a nice, blank composition book and wrote the following two entries.

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

Hi!

A friend who is also a foster parent suggested I use a book to update and communicate with you and I thought it was a great idea. I’ll plan on sharing some day-to-day adventures and info, not just so you know of any issues, but also because as a mom, I know how much you miss [Little Miss]. She is a real sweetheart! I hope this keeps us connected better and that will be less unknown. If it were me, I know how much I would want to know.

In a couple of months my daughter is going on a trip with her grandmother for a month. I don’t know what I’m going to do, it will be so hard. In any case, I know it isn’t the same, but I can relate in other ways.

I know you are working hard to get her back, and as I told you when we first met, she is safe, well-loved and cared for, and she is waiting for you. I have faith that, although things move very slowly in courts, that you will be reunified with her soon.

You can ask me questions, let me know anything I need to know in regards to your daughter, and I look forward to us all being in better communication during this difficult time.

-Christine-

And then today I wrote the following entry. She hasn’t read the first one yet, but she will get both of them today.

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

-Daycare, Nature, and Songs-

I wanted to share a little of [Little Miss’s] day-to-day with you.

Monday through Friday she is in a very nice daycare. It is in the same building as where my husband works and they are wonderful with her. She’s playing with other children, they have their own private playground, and they learn different themes each week. Last week’s theme was the ocean.

[Little Miss] has started singing in the car and at the house. It is super-cute. Her favorite song is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

We are building a fence on our property and there is a large yard. She wanders around, digging in the dirt, screaming when she finds a bug, and singing at the top of her lungs.

Recently my 11-year-old was at a Harry Potter summer camp and yesterday she and [Little Miss] were in the yard with sticks yelling different magic words. This must have stuck in her head, because today she found a little wand in the toybox and has been wandering about with it telling everyone “I magic!”

I washed her hair yesterday and picked out the snarls this morning but left it natural so you could work your magic on it. You make it look so good! She is looking forward to your visit today!

-Christine-

I will give the book to the parent aide when she comes to pick her up today…

 

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Why Do You Want to Leave Me?!

There are some movies that just get you right there in the feels. When I need a good “feel good/pick me up from the doldrums” movie, I pull out My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

My husband and I quote from it all the time. Our favorite lines include:

“What you mean, you no eat meat?…S’okay, I fix lamb.”

“Any minute now he’s going to figure out I’m so not worth this.” And then the woman’s brother says, “Yes you are.”

That second one just makes me tear up every time. It’s so beautiful.

The last line that I will often repeat is the title of today’s post. When the daughter (and main character) wants to take some classes at the local community college her dad’s face crumples and he wails, “Why you want to leave me?”

And I’ll admit it, that’s how I feel about Em’s upcoming trip to Europe.

Yeah, you heard right, my little girl (okay, not so little, she will be twelve) is going to Europe with my mom for a month.

Is it possible to die from empty nest syndrome?

They leave on October 10th and you would think it was tomorrow because I’m already in the throes of a panic attack. A thousand what if’s crowd through my brain, and I’m not alone, my hubs admitted to them as well.

It has me spiraling a bit. I’ll admit it. I think about my eldest in times like this. In the year since she distanced herself from us, I see far more clearly than I ever did that this is not a one-off thing, that she has been projecting her own agenda since her late teens and that I truly have been foolish in believing things would improve between us. She has her truths, I have mine, and they simply do not mesh.

It also has me examining my beliefs on family. What does it mean to be family? The images and concepts in my brain do not mesh with reality, and I have struggled for decades to reconcile them.

Our culture doesn’t address alienation very well. It isn’t the accepted story of our lives. We tell our friends, “Just give it time, it will get better, your kid will come around.” When the reality is sometimes it doesn’t. Or even our relationships with our parents. “It’s a blessing what you are doing for your father.” Reality check: I think he’s a real dick.

And after spend the past 19 months examining my relationships, or lack therof, with my parents and my eldest, hard truths have emerged.

Truth #1: That I no longer want a relationship with my eldest. EVER. Knowing she has been spinning lies for over a decade, embellishing upon the embellishments until the truth no longer remains, and using it as a crutch is unacceptable to me. To throw away the deep love that I have had for her, to do her best to discredit it in every word and deed, is hurtful and wrong. I spent months trying to blame others for that turn of events, convinced that a couple who had worked for us and who we had believed were our friends had turned her against us simply for the joy of creating hurt and havoc in their wake. But she is not stupid, she has a mind of her own, and she has been walking down this path far longer than I care to think about.

Truth #2: That I have zero respect for my father, who lives with us. Having taken into consideration his life choices, his complete lack of respect for anyone in his life (especially me and my husband) and his refusal to accept any responsibility for himself – I find that less contact with him is far better for me. He is now attending what is essentially adult daycare for five hours per day, five days per week. And the sigh of relief that escaped me when he left my house this morning was a big one. He lives with us for two reasons: 1) with no assets and little in the way of SSI, he would not find any decent nursing home (and he needs one, believe me), and 2) The state pays me to care for him and that helps move our plans of renovating two houses into rental homes and assuring that our future is not dependent on our children caring for us.

It sounds awful – both of these truths do. It sounds unacceptable in the face of societal expectations. Yet I will stand here and defend my ground because I am living this reality. My eldest has said that “abusers should not have a voice” while tossing out fabrications and distortions of the truth to pander to her readers. It is sickening and it is sad. My dad lies to the doctors and tells them we won’t feed him a diabetic diet when the truth is that he refuses to stick to a diabetic diet and regularly gorges on carbs, causing even more damage to his body.

I remember when my eldest left her husband and moved in to our house in 2015. She was freaking out because she wasn’t making money, had no job, had no prospects and was terrified she was being a financial drain. I told her she was family, that she was a citizen of the household and that we would make it work. Yes, we were struggling, and yes, she did need to do her part, but she needed to be patient with herself. We loved her and wanted her and supported her and she would find her way.

I never dreamed it would turn so hard against me 18 months later. That she would take those beautiful moments and twist them into something else, discount, ignore and lie about our time together, and try to financially hurt us at the same time as I was emotionally reeling as I tried to understand why this was happening.

I stopped reading her rants on May 6th, 2018. Right in time for Mother’s Day and a few days after that my 48th birthday. That final straw, the insanity of actually suggesting I would try and pull some legal hijinks and try and force my way into my future grandchildren’s lives by enacting grandparent’s rights was not only ludicrous but stupid. Not to mention incredibly paranoid. As if I would want to force a child who had been raised to hate me (“Let me tell you story about your evil grandmother”) to come and visit me. Seriously, what the hell? That was when I realized how deluded I had been about the person she was. She had grown up with nothing of me and everything of her dad in her.

I put a block on her site – easily removed – but it reminds me that I have blocked the site and urges me to go find something else to do saying “you have better ways to spend your time.” Although it is a struggle, I have left it in place. I have also blocked her emails and deleted her contact info – it is what she asked for and wanted. She wanted me to leave her alone and by god, that is what I am going to do. The only thing I haven’t honored is her request to “stop talking about [her] on my website.”

My website, my rules. I figure once someone tells you to fuck off, you get the right to make a few decisions on your own.

I have wondered what I would do if I ran into her – out and about. Turning on my heel and going in the opposite direction would be the best option. Who knows, by now she is long gone. Back to the West coast.

What is the point of me saying all this? Why share all of this?

I grew up alone. As in only child, super shy, and truly intimidated by others. They had the life I wanted. They had cousins, brothers, and sisters, loud and noisy houses. They had intact marriages (most of the time), and fun grandparents who fed them tons of sugar and let them run and play and didn’t freak out if they got muddy.

They had these rich lives, with tons of shoulders to cry on, hands to catch them when they fell, and their hours filled with squabbles and adventures.

I dreamed of that life. I fantasized about it. I read the Emily books by L.M. Montgomery and sorrowed for the girl, all alone like me. I decided I would not be that person, I would not live that life. I would have kids, plenty of them, three at least, and my story would be different.

Ah, the lies we tell ourselves…

And when menopause struck, I jumped into fostering, hoping for the best, fearful of the worst, with a brave face and even braver words. And I know our first placement, a sweet and fun little girl, will go back to her mother. She will return to a life that is simpler, less rich than ours. She will go back to a life that has uncertainty, poverty, food insecurity and more. But those aren’t good enough reasons for her to stay.

It won’t happen today or tomorrow or next week. It might be months. But it will happen. So we fall in love and we wait for it to break our hearts. And I struggle with answering the big question – is there a point where the heartbreak (from my eldest, from this little one, from the fear of anything happening to my beautiful girl while she is in Europe) becomes too much? That the risk of pain outweighs the possibility of happiness?

That’s what made me cut the ties finally with the eldest. Fully and completely. Because I know that, no matter if that slender hope of reconciliation were to happen, I would never trust it (or her) again. I would be a fool to.

There is so much joy in being around children. Especially when they are your own (or even temporarily your own). And there is so much sadness and heartbreak in losing them.

You don’t get the sad much. I’ll smile and tell you I’m good, I’m fine and everything is all right. But I love my children with such a deep desperation. It brings me to the edge of the abyss at times. And I just needed to share that for once.

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Affordable STEM for the Win!

I don’t know about your kiddos, but my daughter LOVES science. And I’m all about nurturing that love wherever I can. We signed up for a Union Station membership which allows us access to Science City anytime we want to go. Our pass allows for four individuals, so it is a fun place to visit with another mom and child in tow.

And then today, this little gem came sailing across my Facebook feed. (Thank you, Tina!)

Amazon has rolled out a subscription service for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) geared toward three different age brackets: 3-4-year-olds, 5-7-year-olds, and 8-13-year-olds.

The price is a flat $19.99 per box and you can choose to receive one a month, every other month, or once every three months.

I chose once every three months and I am looking forward to surprising Em with it. I’ll write a review of our first package, due sometime in the next week, when we get around to doing it. It might be a while, Em has four solid weeks of day camp ahead of her!

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And Along the Way? Have Some Fun!

Recently, Em asked for some flavored lip balms. I found a cool pack of soda-flavored Lip Smackers on Amazon and she was tickled to get them.

And then today? I stopped by Dollar Tree where everything is a dollar and I couldn’t help myself, even at a dollar a pop, I bought one of each flavor they had!

Em is off spending the weekend on a boat with one of her best friends. When she returns, she will find this on her bedroom door…

And that leads us to the spare bedroom/Dave’s office…

 

Which leads us to my favorite two rooms of the house…

Which leads us to the homeschool/art room…

Can you guess where we are going next?!

I can’t plant the next one until a special someone falls asleep for the night, because it will be hidden in her room!

And after that, well, the poisoning reference is an inside joke here. We apply flea meds to all the pets on an annual basis…

And recently we were given a large amount of Diet Pepsi, so…

It is a fun treasure hunt for all of the different varieties. I won’t be home – but I’ve asked our friends to record a video of the girls running around the house reading off the clues.

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Stop the Hamster Wheel, Take the Time

Little Miss, supervising our work in the yard this weekend.

A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook that really resonated with me. You can view it here. I have been actively trying, for the past six years or more, to be more present with my child.

My mind is filled with ideas, plans, dreams, and a “to-do” list a mile long.

I’m a Type A, “it’s all on me” type of mindset. If someone is going to ensure we have a decent retirement, it will be me, through financial planning and investing. If we are going to have a meal plan, groceries for whatever food needs we need, or a well-organized kitchen, that will be me too. If I want to have paths in my garden, I’ll be the one to build them, and so on…

My point is that I don’t tend to look to others to handle things. I might assign tasks, but I’m the one with the task list running through my head.

And sometimes the noise it causes in my brain is overwhelming. And right around that moment, Em will walk in, a hopeful look on her face.

My blue-haired beauty ready for swimming at CocoKey

“Cuddle?”

I smile at her, stop what I am doing and get up. She’s eleven, almost twelve, my one and only. She’s growing up, almost a teenager, so each time she asks, I think, “This might be the last time she asks me.”

We lay down in bed, sometimes read or turn on the tv, other times just talk about whatever comes to mind. Her head pillowed on my arm. Sometimes we have tickle fights, other times we talk about body changes, books we want to read, or upcoming events and plans.

The point is, I try hard to stop what I am doing and be with her. I’m reminding myself daily to do the same with Little Miss, our foster daughter.

She comes in, first thing in the morning, and I smile and sing the good morning song.

Good morning, good morning and how do you do?

And you say, Good morning, good morning, I’m fine how are you?

She smiles and I see her trying to remember the words as she repeats “Morning! Morning!”

I can’t turn off Type A, and honestly, I wouldn’t even want to try. Type A gets things done. Type A makes our home run smoother and gives us a solid foundation for the future. Type A is the “get ‘er done” gal that makes five times the work happen in a single day.

But sometimes, I have to rein it in. Get off the hamster wheel and remember what is important here. Not the money, or the house, or the retirement or the financial goals – not even the yard that I love so much – but those moments when Little Miss asks, “Bug go ka-choo?” (her favorite book is A Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!), or Em asks for cuddles or to go swimming.

Because the writing will wait.

The retirement, while important, doesn’t need ALL of my time.

Childhood is fleeting and time waits for no man (or woman).

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Enter the Seesaw – the Push and the Pull

Some books I bought recently at the bargain store…

It began the last day of school.

The doubt.

The longing.

Em was suddenly unsure what she wanted to do – return to homeschooling or return to public school in the fall.

And I will admit, I was of two minds.

On one hand, I thought of the hours we would spend together. I don’t just love my child, I like her as a person. I look at Em and think, We have so few years left together before she begins her life, how can I even think of missing a single moment?

I thought of the joyful a-ha moments when she is struggling over a concept, a task, and there is this sudden dawning of understanding. The grin spreading across her face and how her eyes brighten when she finally gets it.

I love those moments. I love to see them, to be a part of making them happen. I love our conversations and her curiosity and thoughtfulness and open heart.

And on the other side of it, homeschooling takes time. The time that I could be spending writing, gardening, creating some of the local DIY art stuff I’ve been obsessing over lately. It’s been lovely to have hours of alone time, mornings spent recharging my introvert batteries and preparing for an evening of running around and preparing dinner and being a mom and wife.

At Em’s recital with Harmony Project KC

So I gave her a week of summer break, watched as she flew away to San Francisco to see her grandparents, and when she returned, I said, “Now we need to discuss whether or not you will be homeschooling in the fall.”

Long ago, when I was quite young, maybe no more than seven or eight, I wanted to live with my dad, but I worried about how my mom would react. My dad suggested we make a list of pros and cons. To this day, I have suggested this very thing to my child as a way of working through the different aspects of the decision.

We cleared some space on the blackboard wall…

I wrote most of this as she dictated the wording…

Pro: Can bring your own food  Con: Everyone might want some and it takes time to prepare it in the morning and plan for it in shopping

Pro: There are good teachers  Con: Can be more strict than Mom (by the way, I’m not sure how I feel about that – I thought I was overly strict but apparently not!).

Pro: Friends every day. Con: Bullies every day and also disagreements with friends.

Pro: Science labs (she loves them – thank you Ms. Grammer for making them so fun) Con: Work before the labs (apparently “clean your room” is a dreaded phrase in school as well as at home)

Pro: Poetry Con: Can be difficult

Pro: Teachers reading books to us  Con: Other kids talk during reading

Pro: No pro to time spent in a day in school Con: Time spent in a day at school

We didn’t even touch on her biggest issues with school…

  • Having to hold it until the teacher let her go to the bathroom
  • The short time they had to eat lunch
  • Little or no recess time
  • No wiggle room for time off – we can’t just take off anytime we like and go on a field trip, to a friend’s house, etc.
  • The likelihood of homework assigned in sixth grade and certainly in the grades beyond

Caught in the act…

We discussed my work schedule, possible all-day playdates, her impending “job” of reading to our friends’ littles twice per month while I clean their house, and some of the books she would be studying this year.

I told her I wanted her to know all mathematics basics like the back of her hand – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – sharp and quick since they are the building blocks of all other mathematics.

“Give me a division question,” she said.

“What’s twelve divided by four?” I asked.

With little hesitation, she said, “Three!”

Em in Science class at Whittier

I smiled at her, “That’s great! You will be done with the skills building in no time,” I told her, “We will do timed worksheets and before you know it those answers will be ingrained in your mind.”

She grinned.

“So, what do you think?” I asked.

“I want to homeschool, but I also want to see my friends and my teachers.”

I love that she wants to keep connections with her teachers and her friends. Em has always been a kind-hearted child and enjoys a wide range of friends. I want to encourage that behavior – the world is always better when you have an army of friends and mentors ready to help you through it. But I also didn’t want her to misunderstand the situation.

Emergency plan for finding dogs when the gate is open…

I explained the difference between seeing her friends and spending time with them at school. “If you are envisioning coming for a visit like a homeschool rock star m’dear, set that notion aside. School is not for socializing, and the teachers will not be okay with you disrupting classes. You can offer to help out your teachers from last year, and we can make arrangements for you to see your friends outside of school, but keep in mind what school is intended for.”

She seemed to understand that and we discussed ways for her to balance homeschool and her social life.

So in the end? We are “on” for homeschool this fall. For now, however, we have a couple more weeks of lazy days before four weeks of Campfire day camp begins. Time for sleeping in, relaxing, and seeing what fun we can get up to.

Like today, for instance. My afternoon cleaning has been rescheduled to Sunday and I’ve asked her what she wants to do. I’m sure she will come up with something fun!

How I love this girl!

Homeschooling spelling tests

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The Last Day of Fifth Grade

Today is Em’s last day of fifth grade. And I have mixed emotions about it, I really do.

Last August, in the throes of self-doubt, fears that I wasn’t doing right by her, feelings of overwhelm, and more – I made the decision to put Em in public school for the first time. I had spent my childhood, and most of my eldest’s childhood, as well as all of Em’s childhood, completely and totally against public schools.

My experiences had been mediocre at best, some of my eldest daughter’s had been downright damaging, and I was firmly convinced that public schools – and especially the Kansas City Public Schools that struggled with accreditation, poverty, and violence – were just about the worst place I could put my daughter.

If I hadn’t been inches from a complete spiraling meltdown, I never would have done it.

But guess what? I’m glad I did.

I took her to the “meet your teacher day” back in August and introduced myself to each of her teachers. Her homeroom teacher, Ms. L. was a petite woman barely taller than some of her students. Her big eyes, young face and kind heart hid a spine of steel, however, and I watched her in action later on in the semester and knew Em was in good hands.

Her reading teacher was an older, no-nonsense gospel music singing woman who had been teaching longer than I have been a mother. I’ll admit she rubbed me the wrong way at first, but she also expected good behavior from the kids and quickly warmed to Em.

Her science teacher Ms. G, was a warm, humorous woman and I could see that Em was instantly excited about being in her class.

The list goes on and on. Each of her teachers were responsive to my questions, engaging and kind to Em, and showed me that they were truly invested in each of their students’ education.

 

Today I received a photo of Em playing her cello at the talent show from her science teacher, along with the note, “Thank you for sharing your amazing and outstanding daughter with me this year.  She has enriched my year and the lives of those around her! “

All through the year, I have received updates, mainly from Ms. L, her homeroom teacher, and Ms. G, her science teacher, along with pictures, like this one from last Friday:

Which made me laugh.

I will miss the extra time I have had each day to write, even as I look forward to spending more of my days with my wonderful daughter. Time flies too quickly, after all, and I don’t want to miss any of it. In the fall we start homeschooling sixth grade and will move through the grades until the end of the tenth when I plan on enrolling her in the Early College Academy. She will be able to earn her Associate’s degree by the age of 18.

But that is all in the future. For now, all I can think of is how those last days of school felt for me as a child. No matter if I was in public school or private, they were bittersweet. The familiar faces of friends and teachers seen one last time before disappearing into the warmth of summer, the promise of pools and summer camp and plane trips to see family. Leaving the world you have lived in each weekday for nine months, replacing it with another.

Change.

Growth.

A rite of passage.

I cannot thank the teachers at Whittier Elementary enough. For their kindness, their dedication and open hearts. They made a particularly painful transition easy, and in doing so, helped me realize how much good I have done already and how much more I am capable of as we return to homeschool in the fall. I’m glad to say I was wrong, that my deepest fears did not come true, and that Em was able to see what public school was like while learning and growing and connecting with other adults and children.

p.s. After I posted this, Em came home, took one look at me and burst into tears. Even as she misses her teachers she is excited about homeschooling in the fall. She told me about her last day, her eyes and nose blotchy with tears, about the teachers who were retiring or leaving, and the others who were being reassigned to different grades and subjects. Saying goodbye was bittersweet for her, my sweet girl wears her heart on her sleeve!

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Heart on a String and The Great Unknown

Em and Little Miss examining the wild violets

The Great Unknown

Today someone asked me, “So what happens next?”

I shrugged and smiled, “It’s not up to me. It’s up to a judge and damn, I would not want that job, not in a million years.”

“So it could go either way? When will you know for sure?”

I shrugged again, “The wheels of justice move excruciatingly slow. All I can do is wait.”

We were talking about my foster daughter, Little Miss, who has only been in our lives for three and a half weeks now. Three and a half weeks – that isn’t long, but in that short amount of time she has first discombobulated us, then walked with us into a new schedule, a new reality.

A Decent Schedule

Each weekday morning, Em wakes at 6:30 with her alarm. I read to her for half an hour and Little Miss usually wakes up in the middle of it, calling out from her crib. Em runs to go get her, sits her in between us, and I finish the chapter and we snuggle up, all of us, sipping coffee or tea, and talking to Little Miss.

A diaper change and clean clothes, a touch up of the hair and we are off and away to daycare and work.

The evenings are filled with dinner, regular trips to the park, and a little tv in the evening before reading a book and bed.

And yes, there are tantrums and tears, but there is also laughter and hugs. Toddlers are a mixed bag of fun and freakouts, and Little Miss is as normal as they come in this arena.

An Awesome Older Sister

Em is, by the way, an amazing older sister. She is firm, loving, and responsible. I so enjoy watching the two of them interact. Little Miss responds in kind, calling out “Em-yee” when she sees her each morning or evening.

Heart on a String

Here is the reality, the face of foster care for our little family. It’s a love story, of sorts, with an uncertain and unknowable ending. You take a tiny child into your home and I challenge you to NOT fall in love.

I jokingly say to my husband that children are cute because if they weren’t then we would eat them after the first tantrum or unexpected mess.

So, after the initial shock of “Holy hell, a strange woman just came by my house and left a small child on my doorstep!” I did what most sane, normal, loving people would do in my position. I fell in love.

You can’t help but love this little girl. Her tight, pencil-width curls. Her bright smile. The way she chugs chocolate milk like she’s at a frat party.

The reality of being a foster parent is that you will fall in love with a child that isn’t yours by birth. One that takes a piece of your heart forever and irredeemably placed on a string that may travel far away from you.

Love is simple and it is also rather complicated. It’s easy to love, and it’s not so easy to let go.

What Is a “Better Life?”

Within the first 24 hours of a placement, a foster parent is tasked with taking their new foster child to the doctor to get checked out. And here I was, still half in shock that after all those months of paperwork I actually had what I had been waiting so long for.

A nurse, helping me go from one destination to the other, said, “Well, you know she’s better off with you, anyway.”

And my heart twanged with that.

In the weeks since I have met Little Miss’s mom, and I know enough about her situation to know that, if things were weighed by opportunity and disposable income, then yes, Little Miss would indisputably be better off with us. There are thousands of children you could say the same about.

Being poor isn’t a crime, though, and the nurse’s words bothered me. They bothered me because she doesn’t know the circumstances of why Little Miss is with me. Hell, I barely know the circumstances.

Thankfully, as I said above, it’s not my job to decide where she goes, but I fear that we will measure our time together in months at most.

When That Day Comes

You can love a child to the ends of the earth and back and not have that love returned. Or you can love, and be loved in return, and still lose a child. I’ve experienced the first scenario, and honestly, I rather expect the second scenario.

That said, love does not have a price tag nor a boundary attached to it. I want to believe that I can face the day that Little Miss returns to her bio mom with grace and with love. For me, that’s what it means to be a foster parent.

I recently read an article about a couple who had fostered and adopted a child. The author wrote, “So often people say they love children too much to open their home and then see them leave, but I find it hard to use the argument of having ‘too much love’ that forces you to keep that door closed.”

I have been asked, multiple times, “Aren’t you afraid of getting your heart broken?”

The answer is yes, of course, I am afraid. I walked into this, eyes open, knowing what it meant. That I might find the perfect child, the one who felt so right in my arms, so much a part of me that biology aside, we were meant to be a family.

Little Miss’s middle name is my first name. She turned 2 1/2 on my 48th birthday. She is left-handed like me.

She fits so well within our family. So yes, I will be heartbroken.

The only cure for heartbreak is to open my heart again.

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One Week As a Foster Parent

Em and Little Miss examining the wild violets

I was sitting on the porch with a new neighbor, learning more about her, when the phone rang. Heck, I didn’t even hear it. My daughter came to the front door, phone in hand.

“I have a 2-year-old little girl who has just come into care,” the woman on the other end said, “are you interested?”

I asked for more information and she gave it to me. A day or two earlier, I told myself, If the call comes in, and it is a child two years or younger, just say “yes.”

“Sure, bring her on over,” I said, my heart rate increasing. My voice sounded calm and the worker said she would call when they were on their way. I hung up and turned to my neighbor, “Well, it looks like I’m getting a child dropped off in the next twenty minutes or so. My first foster placement.”

The woman had just mentioned that she never wanted kids and she paled slightly as I explained that we had just received our foster care certification. “I’d better get going, it sounds like you’ve got your hands full!”

Thirty minutes later, Little Miss arrived in our lives.

A Traumatic First Night

She was absolutely adorable – cute curls and a tentative smile. Her big brown eyes regarded me solemnly at first and then later she smiled, a book in her hand. A book. She’s a girl after my own heart!

Within minutes of arriving, she fell down three or four stairs, landing on her head, right in front of the social worker. Em screamed in horror, Little Miss got up and brushed it off like it was no big deal.

Later though, when I tried to give her a bath as the social worker had suggested (and oh boy did she need one), Little Miss began to scream, cry and fight us. We gave up, wrapping her in a soft towel and rocking her until she calmed down.

I turned around twice and it was 9:30 and past time for bed. And that’s when the real heartbreak began.

I turned the lights off, then opened the curtains to the street below. The streetlamp lit the room in a soft glow and Little Miss stopped the crying that had begun with the dimming of the lights and began to pat the edge of the window that she could reach, “Mommy, where you?” She called softly, over and over.

And something deep inside me broke at hearing that.

It was an hour before I could get her to sleep – her crying, me crying, the music playing as I gently rubbed her back.

It was another hour before I was calm enough to sleep as well. I kept imagining what it must be like for her – how frightened she must be, away from everything familiar. It broke my heart.

 

We Are NOT Heroes

You know who are real heroes? The ones that take those kids who set fire to their foster home, kill or maim animals, or who threaten their caregivers and everyone else with violence. Kids with severe behavioral issues who might NEVER be okay. Our foster care training instructor gave us a peek into that world – “They will pee in your shoes, destroy the belongings you love the most, and set fire to your house” – that was my takeaway from STARS training.

We aren’t the heroes of this story.

We had to agree with a larger age bracket, that of zero to six years in age, but we also have the right of refusal and our certification worker had noted our preferences of age 0-2 years.

I’m being honest here, I didn’t know that I would be able to handle a child who was older, who had been through the wringer and back again, one that had seen or experienced abuse and neglect. I was protective too of Em, who deserved to have a good childhood, one that wasn’t sidelined by traumas that would take up all of our time and energy.

Little ones are more malleable, better able to rebound and form new connections. For the two of us, with a child and pets already in the house, taking on a child within the 0-2 range just made sense.

I’ve been called a hero, a saint, and blessed over and over. And that’s very kind, but misdirected. We are simply operating as parents, however temporary or permanent this might be, to a little human who happens to be rather adorable.

Not My Child

There was a moment, well, a couple, on Days Four and Five where reality set in – on both sides. Little Miss realized we weren’t going to beat her or try to eat her and her behavior slipped into the range of a typical two-year-old – complete with willfulness, shrieking imperiousness, and tantrums.

And I looked at her and thought, “This is NOT my child!”

It is said that humans only have a capacity for identifying a small amount of those around them as familiar, as friends and allies. The others are, well, others. And that was the feeling that came over me, briefly, as her tantrums and willfulness intersected with my vision of a peaceful house.

It’s called reality, by the way. She was acting like a perfectly normal toddler and I was responding to an unfamiliar face and thinking not my kid. But for the moment, she is my kid, and so I took a deep breath and moved past it.

Past the feelings of frustration, of the wish to blame someone for bad behavior, of the instinct to stop the bad behavior ASAP. I breathed in deeply, looked into Little Miss’ eyes and recognized her needs – for boundaries, for clearly stated expectations.

“Hey, talk to me. Use your words, tell me what is wrong.”

And the screaming stopped. She didn’t tell me exactly what the problem was, but she calmed down enough to be reasoned with. And later, that evening, when no amount of reasoning or words could bring her down, we gently placed her in bed and gave her a few minutes alone. She screamed like a skinned cat for five minutes and then fell dead asleep.

She is getting used to our rhythms, and we to hers. We are learning what she will eat, and when she has eaten enough. There is learning, and compromise, by all parties. Instead of “not my child” it is “my child for now.”

Private, None of Your Beeswax

“Is that your grandbaby?” A checker at Walmart asked.

“So why did she come into care?” Asked another.

“Well, at least now she has a better life than she did before.”

None of these are fair questions or statements.

Little Miss has a right to her privacy. She has a right not to be paraded about and clucked over, questioned over her parentage or her parents’ abilities to parent, and frankly, the questions can only hurt.

I have yet to come up with a polite, yet firm response that just rolls off the tongue when asked why she came into care. I can see, after just a week, that she has been well-loved. That the love makes this situation both easy and hard – easy, because she is meeting the milestones expected for her age and responding well to boundaries and our expectations of her – hard, because I adore her and welcome her presence in our home and fear that letting go will be hard, very hard.

She has a right to confidentiality, so I will not be discussing the reasons she came into care. Frankly, it’s no one’s business besides those who care for her.

Learning Curve

As you can see from the picture at the top, Little Miss is African American and that has been quite the learning curve. Skin and hair care are a very real, very important aspect.

“Did she come to you like that?” Her caseworker asked me, pointing at Little Miss’ boogie hair and I was seized with anxiety.

“It, uh, looked a little better than that, and I, uh, didn’t know what to do with it.”

The woman’s mouth turned down in disapproval, “You need to get those tangles out before it gets matted. If it gets matted we will have to cut it off.”

I messaged my friend with mixed-race kids that day in a panic and begged for her help. And by the next day, we had a crash course on how to moisturize skin, scalp, and keep the tangles out of the hair and caseworkers off my back.

Little Miss looked much better as a result. And my anxiety over it faded.

To Love, and Be Loved

It hit me hard the other day. As we prepared coffee and tea in the early morning, while Little Miss, Em and my dad snoozed away,

We were talking about Dee, Em, and Little Miss and Dave said to me, “I know, you always have wanted a big family.”

I told Dave, “I just want to love and be loved. Nothing can replace Dee, nothing will ever replace her in my heart. But in the end, I just want to love and be loved. I don’t need accolades, false promises, or sentiments. I just want to surround myself with love.”

I am fascinated by how children change and grow. I love being part of the process, watching the milestones as they move, shift, change and become complex humans with emotions and dreams of their own.

Fostering, like the rest of life, is both easy and hard. Easy to love, and be a parent and give boundaries – I’ve done this, and I’ve learned, matured, relaxed, and enjoy it now more than ever. Hard, to know I might have to say goodbye long before I am ready to. People come into our lives, and we give a piece of our hearts to each of them. The thing to remember is that loss is a part of life, a good and natural part that, while hard, helps grow our hearts bigger. No matter how long or short of a time we have with Little Miss, that love is not wasted. I want to believe that it hasn’t been wasted on my eldest either, and that the love I felt (and still feel) is real and valid and exists – whether we ever speak again.

The same goes for Little Miss.

“I hope she stays forever,” Em said the second day we had her.

“I hope that she is loved, that she is happy and that her life is full of opportunity and love and joy, wherever she goes,” I said in return.

To love, and be loved, a lot of life’s problems can be cured just by that state of being.

 

 

Posted in Advocacy, Connections, Foster Parenting | Comments Off on One Week As a Foster Parent