September 2014


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Hello there, person doing your best to raise good kids in a crazy world.

If you are like me, you’ve read the books or the blogs, and you’ve nodded yes to some and no to others, and along the way you’ve embraced some kind of parenting philosophy. Maybe it has a name. Attachment or grace-based or whatever.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A philosophy is a safety net, and if anyone could use a good safety net, it’s me. The parent. The mom who is amazed and overwhelmed and torn and consumed by the loves I call my children and who Does Not Want To Mess Them Up.

It’s nice to be able to say I am a such-and-such parent and to read what so-and-so says about it all.

The thing I’m wondering, though, is if parenting by philosophy is really parenting out of fear? There’s a little if-I-do-this-my-kid-will-become-that in it. And I totally get that. About a thousand and six times a day I think I’m screwing my kids up because I didn’t do whatever fill-in-the-blank thing that parents are supposed to do, now. I used time-out because I hadn’t yet read that I am actually supposed to use time-in. Or I asked my kid to say thank-you when such-and-such philosophy says I shouldn’t force politeness, or I didn’t spank when clearly God said I should, or I homeschooled or didn’t homeschool or homeschooled when I should have unschooled.

I don’t know. I don’t want to be wandering around in this parenting gig without any guidelines. But guidelines can turn into rules which can turn into boundaries which can turn into tribes which can turn into wars. Sounds kind of like… religion.

When it comes right down to it, I parent eclectically, and I bet you do, too, if you think about it. I bet your parenting, like mine, is a mix (or a mess?) of how you were raised and what you’ve read and what your friends are doing and what feels right.

If you want to call that a philosophy, that’s okay. You share yours and I’ll share mine. But most of all, let’s love each other and laugh together when our kids are funny and cry with each other when they’re not, and let’s tell each other what great jobs we are doing. We are, you know.

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Multiply this number by these numbers, then move over a column, blah, blah, blah, and then you should have the right answer.

It’s twenty minutes and I can tell he’s heard more blah than teaching and I am frustrated and so is he.

I don’t get it.

I can’t do it.

I hate this.

But what he is really saying is I hate that I suck at this and I wish I could get it because I feel stupid that I don’t.

Evil math. The bane of our homeschooling existence.

As many times as I tell him he’s so super smart at so many things and he’s not defined by his math skills (or spelling, for that matter) and he has so many unique and non-scholastic type gifts, well, there’s still THIS struggle, day after day.

The thing is, I think it’s kind of good for him to have a burden. It’s good to learn that some things are just hard and take a lot of work and require perseverance. And it’s important to learn to accept that when it comes to ability, some people are better than others. Doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying.

A burden isn’t all bad. I just don’t want him to be crushed by it, you know?

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I get questions about fostering on a pretty regular basis. People are curious, or they’re thinking about it, or they are in it and wonder if they should be.

To be clear, I’m not an expert. I’ve not been a foster parent for as long as many people I know who have spent years and years and years providing foster care for dozens of children. I’m not a saint or a perfect parent or miraculously endowed with more patience than anyone else.

I’m an ordinary Jane who has three boys she loves to the moon, and who has spent some time caring for other people’s children through the foster system.

But people seem interested and fostering is an important part of my life, so here are a few things I’ve compiled. Since you asked.

1. Be prepared to say hello.

This might seem obvious, but it’s a curious experience to say hello to a child you will be taking into your home for an extended and usually uncertain period of time.

Sometimes, I pick kids up from a designated location, usually a government office. Sometimes a social worker brings a kid to my house. Regardless, I’m always surprised by the resilience of these little people. I’m amazed at how a child whose name I just learned and about whom I know next to nothing will look into my eyes and take my hand and walk out to my truck, without a second thought. Or, how a little one will show up on my doorstep and enter and ask what’s for supper, as if landing on strangers’ doorsteps with garbage bags full of their toys and clothes was the most common thing in the world.

The experience of meeting a new child always spins my head a bit.

To prepare, I try to have a room ready. A bed with clean sheets and an empty dresser waiting and if I know the name ahead of time, a little welcome sign on the wall. A happy  space, as much as possible, and some food for the belly, and that’s really about all I can do.

2. Be prepared to say goodbye.

Again, obvious, because most of the children who come into care will move on at some point. Back to mom or dad or grandma or the auntie that popped up on the radar.

I’ve had some good goodbyes (and by good I mean planned and thoughtful), and I’ve had some terrible goodbyes (and by terrible I mean last-minute and with no process in place to provide any kind of closure.)

The goodbyes are hard, no matter what. Occasionally, there is time to do it well. I had a little girl who left almost five years ago. Because we had notice, we had time to visit the coffee shop one last time, buy flowers for her teacher, say goodbye to the kids in her class. On the day she left, she and I walked around the farm, saying goodbye to the chickens and the kitties, and we packed her things together and we took some pictures.

It was still painful. She cried when they took her out of my arms and I could hear her sobbing as they drove out of my yard. It was still painful, but it was a clean kind of pain, because I knew I had done it the best way that I could.

Often, though, there isn’t much notice and little time. Those are the goodbyes that linger, unsettled, like a belly ache.

No matter the situation, the letting go is the hardest. It’s tough, knowing that this baby is headed out into a world in which I no longer have any control or influence.

But if we all shied away from the tough things, well, there wouldn’t be much left to do in this world.

3. Be prepared for some humiliation.

I don’t think I’d considered this, really, when I first started fostering, and it’s been a challenge for me, that’s for sure. But if you foster children, there will be some humiliation involved.

A kid will steal something, or run away, or swear in class, or say things about your family to strangers in the grocery store. And word might get out, and people might talk, and, surprise, not everyone will think fostering is a wonderful thing.

I was in a meeting one night, in a town forty minutes from my home, and I received a phone call from a strange woman saying she had picked up my foster daughter from the side of the road where she’d found her walking alone, late that night.

My boys had been babysitting and for some reason this little one got upset and left the house without anyone realizing. She was headed into town to find me(!) when this woman saw her and picked her up and took her to her house.

She said her brothers were beating her up, and she didn’t even know her phone number, the woman spat accusingly into the phone.

Of course she wouldn’t take my girl back to my house and of course she called the police. Thankfully, two of the social workers who’d been attending the meeting I’d been at came with me to the farm where my foster daughter was hanging out, happily eating ice cream and quite pleased about all the commotion she’d caused and the attention she was receiving.

I, however, was beyond humiliated. What would this woman say about us in our little community? What would she say about my boys? About my husband and I?

A little humiliation is part of the package. If you are going to foster, you need to be prepared for it.

4. Be prepared for people to think you are in it for the money.

People want to know what you make as a foster parent. Frankly, it’s about $.80 an hour. I figured it out, just for you. Unless you have a higher needs child who requires you to be involved in an above and beyond kind of way, like cleaning poo off your walls on a daily basis, or providing some kind of medically required intervention. If that’s the case, you might end up at about $1.30 an hour. Of course, this isn’t actually payment. It’s an amount out of which you buy the things the child needs, like food and clothes and maybe a pretty pink blanket for the new little one’s bed.

Yes, some people are in it for the money and their homes are overcrowded and there are kids in foster care who aren’t being loved or properly cared for. I’m sure that happens. If you are thinking about fostering, don’t do that. Seriously.

But if you are a friend of someone who fosters, please don’t assume that’s why they are doing it.

I once shared my excitement with a friend over receiving a bag of hand-me-down clothes for a foster child, and her response was along the lines of, but you get an allowance to buy them clothes, don’t you?

Yep, I do. But when I’m gifted with hand-me-downs, whether for one of my biological children or for a foster child, it helps me out.

People say lots of funny things, God love ’em. You gotta be prepared for that.

5. Be prepared for both full hearts and broken hearts.

Foster children might bless you with their love. They might hug your neck and whisper I love you in your ear and be sweet and adorable. Or they might not. Or they might, and then scream bloody murder when they can’t have ice cream for supper.

There might be sweet victories that warm your heart, and those are blessed moments. But the broken-ness in these little lives can be overwhelming, and as a foster parent you are the one who takes the brunt of it. Not the social worker, not the biological parent, and not the judge who’s making all those decisions that are affecting so many lives.

There was a film that popped up on social media a while ago. It was a beautiful film about a beautiful, blonde little girl who was apprehended and placed in a home with a woman whose patience and discernment eventually resulted in this young girl being reunited with her younger sibling. Lots of people sent me the link and asked what I thought about it.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I thought and I refrained from public comment at the time. Because, as I shared with one friend, I might wish to be as patient and wise and enduring as the foster mom in the movie, but the reality of it all, in my experience, is very different.

Most of my children have not been beautiful or blonde. Some of them have drooled or spit when they talked and some have had scars and more than one has had lice. And the reality is, I am not always patient and occasionally I struggle with discernment. And the other reality is, reunification with siblings can a hard thing. Often, siblings have different dads which means there are multiple families involved. It can be so complicated and there is so much dysfunction and unlike a movie, there is not always a happy ending.

6. Be prepared to struggle with your feelings.

Really. You will feel all the things. You will feel excitement, resignation, anger, disappointment, joy, concern, confusion. As much as you’d like to think otherwise, you will not love them like your own kids. You will love them differently, and you will learn that differently is not bad. And when that difficult child is moved, you will be shocked to feel a combination of sadness and relief.

7. Be prepared to take advantage of the “system” and be prepared to feel guilty when you do.

I have a little girl, barely three years old, right now. She is the most precious thing. I can hardly stop taking pictures of her, she is so beautiful and pink and sweet. I confess I’ve gone and fallen in love with her.

But one of the first things I did, after she arrived, was register her in PreK two mornings a week, and in daycare on those afternoons. I did that because I know I need that break. I need to know I have some time and space for myself and for my boys. And I feel guilty about that, but I am doing it anyway.

I’ve heard expressed, more than once, that foster parents are being paid to take care of these kids and they shouldn’t be plunking them into daycare. I always try to say, gently, that foster parents, unless they have some kind of support or respite, will burn out and leave the system.

If you are a foster parent, take advantage of whatever services are available to help you and your family stay healthy.

8. Be prepared to be an advocate.

These kids are vulnerable. They are part of a system that requires them to come and go, from home to home and from school to school, and they need someone on their side.

I’ve sat in meetings with school authorities and with social workers, advocating for what I felt was best for one of my kids. I’ve testified in court and I’ve sent emails to wherever you send emails when you disagree with a decision that has been made. Things don’t always work out like I’d like, but sometimes they do, and then the hassle is worth it.

9. Be prepared to both care about and dislike the biological family.

I’ve struggled with this, honestly. I am in the position of dealing with the fallout from these parents’ problems, and it impacts these kids I grow to love. I’ve always tried to be respectful when dealing with the moms and dads of the kids in my care. I’ve been angry with them, sure, but I’ve tried to be polite and respectful.

The truth is, their kids love them, and would choose them over me any day of the week.

10. Be prepared to wonder, often, if you are doing anything good or making any kind of difference.

I don’t know what to say, really. Time will tell.

Fostering is like most things, in that it is both a blessing and a burden. You can talk to people doing it, and read about it, and take the course the government makes you take, but you won’t really know how you’ll be with it all until you actually do it. If you are thinking about fostering and would like more information or if you have any questions, please leave a comment, or email me at janellerosss@yahoo.ca.

And if you are a foster parent, doing your very best today in the midst of hugs and kisses and tears and parent visits and paperwork… Bless you!

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Happiness, I’ve decided, isn’t really the goal of a marriage. Or relationship. Or whatever you call what you have.

I mean, it isn’t good or bad based on how happy he is or I am on any given marital day. Frankly, I’m a little suspicious of people who claim bliss, all the time. I wonder if they’re telling the truth, the ones who say we’ve never had a fight or he always does this or she never does that.

I once heard a friend say she’d never seen her parents fight. I used to wish my children could say that but, you know, no. Now, I wonder. Maybe they’ve seen us fight, but they’ve also seen us make up and forgive and stay together and grow. So there’s that.

I don’t know if happiness can be a goal in anything, really. I love being a mom but it doesn’t always make me happy. I love writing but, again, sometimes it’s more of a pain than a pleasure.

And I love being married, except when I don’t.

I think I have a good marriage. I can even say I have a happy marriage. But it’s two people, People, so there’s conflict at times, and goal adjustment, and give and take, and we all know that, don’t we.

In our marriage, my husband and I have experienced – individually and collectively – moments, days, and even seasons of unhappiness.

Friends, we have had times of such miserable-ness, I wondered if we could survive. The thing that made the difference, if you’d like to know, was honesty. I don’t mean honesty between us, although that is super important, too. I mean honesty out there, in the world. I mean the kind of honesty where we quit pretending we were perfect and all was just grand, thank you very much.

When we decided the struggle was not going to be our little secret, we got healthier. And when we got healthier, we got happier.

It could have been different. If one of us had decided it wasn’t worth it or gave up or got too tired, we might not have made it. It takes two, it’s true. And if your marriage hasn’t worked, I’m not judging and I’m truly sorry. But if you are in the midst of the struggle and you think there might be hope, I’d encourage you to talk about it. Talk out there, with someone you trust. Be as honest and as transparent as you have the courage to be.

I won’t lie to you; I was terrified. I was terrified when I told my husband I was going to talk to someone about our marriage, and I was terrified when I met that older woman that day for lunch, and I was terrified when I shared my heart with her. And honestly, she didn’t really help much. She was sweet and she listened, but she didn’t fix my life.

It was the experience of telling the truth that was the game changer. Our marriage didn’t automatically become beautiful and happy, but the way we dealt with our problems changed. It all became very real and urgent, and we just kind of quit covering for each other.

We aren’t perfect, now, and neither is our marriage. We don’t have all the answers and there are probably other people out there with better advice. But here’s mine.

Be honest. Tell the truth. Don’t fake it.

It worked for us.

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I’ve been the one who agreed to everything. Need a hand, a babysitter, a ride, some help, a Sunday School teacher, an organizer? Sure, I’m your girl. I mean, I used to be your girl.

I couldn’t say no to save my life, back in the day.

But I grumbled. I fussed because I was busy and tired and behind and late and oh my goodness, I could get grumpy.

There’s been some good stuff written and spoken, these past years. Lots of stuff about saying no and finding your passion and being true to yourself and how sometimes all those yeses are really about trying to seem like something special in the eyes of others. Stuff about wearing masks and taking off masks and letting go of expectation.

I read that stuff and listened to those words, and for a while I said no to almost everything. Which was kind of hard, but not actually as hard as you might think. It was a relief and I relished the space I gained.

But honestly, I think all my no’s made me a tiny bit lazy. I hid like a shy child, behind the folds of God’s apron, petulantly claiming that’s not my gift or that’s not my passion. Kind of sucking my thumb and pouting a little, and He was a patient mother when I needed him to be. But He nudged me out, finally, and gave me a little push because, He said, you can’t hide here forever.

I’m stepping out, now, somewhere on the road between the cowardly yeses that kept me feeling safe and busy, and the childishly justified playground of my no’s. I’m looking for the Holy Spirit intersection between being true to me and it’s not all about me. You know?

It’s a journey.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

Psalm 84:5

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Today, September 9, is FASD Awareness Day. I was not aware of such a thing until a few days ago, when I cried on Facebook about the challenges of FASD (or whatever the acronym) and why no one seems to talk about prevention.

FASD. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Babies born brain-damaged because their mothers drank alcohol while pregnant.

According to FASworld.com, a Canadian organization dedicated to raising awareness of the social costs of FASD, nearly 30% of expectant mothers still drink alcohol while  pregnant, making Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world.

Statistics are hard animals to tame, though. According to canfasd.ca,

There are currently no confirmed statistics on the number of people who have FASD in Canada. The most commonly cited estimate is 9.1 per 1,000 live births or roughly 1% of the population. This is an estimated rate extrapolated from studies conducted in the United States. Based on the currently accepted prevalence rate of 1%, the annual cost of FASD in Canada has been estimated at approximately $7.6 billion.

and,

FASD is recognized as a significant issue in Canada. It is currently the leading known cause of developmental disability in Canada and has life-long impacts. Governments are working to measure prevalence and to determine the most effective intervention and prevention programs. Every year, millions of dollars are spent in an attempt to improve outcomes for affected individuals and their families. However, we do not have a clear understanding of the most effective supports for the capacity required to deliver cost-effective, accessible and sustainable prevention, intervention and diagnostic services.

It’s a huge problem. According to johnhoward.on.ca, some researchers estimate the rate of FASD to be ten times higher inside Canadian prisons than in the general population. Honestly, you only need to spend five minutes searching FASD online to learn how dire the situation is. Besides prisons, FASD children are filling our foster homes and our classrooms.

What you won’t find are prevention solutions. Because, as the quote above states, we do not have a clear understanding of the most effective supports for the capacity required to deliver cost-effective, accessible and sustainable prevention, intervention and diagnostic services.

Which means, basically, that this is a huge problem and no one knows what to do about it. Or maybe no one is brave enough to go there.

Here are a few thoughts from a not very politically correct, Jesus-loving, tired-of-the-bullshit foster parent.

If the only way to prevent FASD is to keep women from drinking (binge-drinking, especially) during pregnancy, then let’s talk about how to do that.

1. Involve the justice system. Make it illegal. An alcohol-abusing woman spending a few months incarcerated (or in a treatment program) is a much smaller price to pay than a life-time of caring for her FASD child. Harsh? Maybe, but if we are willing to take the child away from her after birth and put him into foster care, which is also harsh, we should care enough to intervene during the pregnancy.

2. Involve the church. Hello, church? Are we willing to take this on? Are there ways to channel women in need into homes willing to care? Are we willing to put dollars into this? Are we interested in thinking outside the box?

3. I don’t know. What do you think?

As a foster mom, I’m pretty sure almost all the kids I’ve had in my home have had FASD, although I don’t think any of them were officially diagnosed as such. If they were school-aged, they were diagnosed with ADHD and were on Ritalin. FASD is a hard diagnosis to make. The characteristics of the disorder become more pronounced the child gets older and he or she fails more of society’s expectations of acceptable behaviour.

The foster kids I’ve loved have stolen from me, screamed obscenities at me, and spit in my face. They’ve also hugged me and said they loved me. Sometimes they’ve done all these things within one hour. When a new child comes into my home I’m on guard, watching for signs. I’m evaluating behaviours and trying to decide whether the two-year old’s tantrums are normal or symptomatic. I’m wondering if there will come a time when this child will become unmanageable. It’s heart-breaking and gut-wrenching, because it’s not his fault he takes things that don’t belong to him and it’s not her fault she struggles to get along with the kids at school. These kids have to deal with so much more than normal kids and there is no cure and very little hope.

We are failing these kids. We are SO failing them and we are failing their moms.

It’s FASD Awareness Day. Awareness is great, but we need more than that, because honestly, we don’t have enough fingers to plug all the holes this tragic, preventable condition is creating.

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I’m wondering lately if my children are “rooted” because it seems like something parents should do for their kids, and I don’t know if I did it, really.

I’m wondering what it means, even, to be rooted. I’m thinking it has to do with giving the wee ones a sense of security, a feeling of family and tradition, a foundation of … something? Faith? Self-esteem? Confidence? Education?

I’ve been to the conferences, the ones that talk about giving our kids roots, and I think these might be some of the things they mean. I was at a homeschool conference once that was titled Roots and Wings: Giving Them Roots So They Can Fly. Which is a cool thing to say until you realize that it’s impossible. Roots and wings don’t go together.

They are two different things, you see. If you are rooted, you can’t fly. But I get the point of the conference, and I I’ve probably wished for both of these things for my own kids. Maybe I’d say roots and harvest, or something else besides wings, or maybe it’s just the nerdy word geek in me, making a fuss about nothing.

Honestly, though, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit.

And you know what? You know what really brings rootedness? Rain.

You can create the sweetest garden with the highest fence to keep out the deer and the best organic compost available and you can plant with the highest quality heirloom seeds, but without rain it’s just… unrealized.

I planted some flowers this spring. I cleaned the old, used up dirt out of my pots and I went to the greenhouse and bought the most expensive dirt they had and I planted those little baby geraniums and moss roses and a few snap dragons because my youngest son loves them the best. I snuggled them into the dirt and put them in the sun and I watered them with some pretend rain, and all those babies floated up and out of the dirt because there hadn’t been enough water on them yet to settle everything into place.

The dirt was too new and perfect and the plants weren’t rooted.

There are so many things kids need to grow up and thrive, but without a little rain, none of it will matter much. I want to keep my kids from drowning, that’s for sure. But trying to keep my kids from getting wet, it turns out, might be the worst thing I could do.