My Lost Decade

Reflections on Ten Years in Foster Care and my life since.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What it takes to overcome obstacles

What is it that makes some of survivors and other people unable to cope in the face of adversity? I have been asked many times why I think it is that I have been so successful, while other foster kids wind up homeless, addicted or incarcerated. The most honest answer I can give is that I don't know.

I have a lot of theories that I am happy to share. Maybe my early memories of my maternal grandmother and her love for me somehow sustained me through tough times and made me stronger or the fact that my birth mom has always felt I walked on water and I did not want to disappoint her with failures kept my nose to the grindstone. Maybe it was my aunt telling me how smart I was and how I should go to college some day that kept me from becoming a teenage parent. Maybe it was supportive foster parents, an involved case worker, good teachers or a circle of friends who generally did not do things that were immoral or illegal tht kept me away from drugs and alcohol. Maybe it was some combination of all of these or maybe those things have nothing to do with me making good choices. I do not honestly know.

My foster dad and my social worker continue to claim that I have some sort of internal fortitude that pushes me to fight when other people would surrender. If that is the case, it must not be genetic. No one else in my biological family has this instinct to rise above. If it is not genetic and it is not a product of the treatment I received from early childhood until now, then how did I get this magical power to see the light at the end of every tunnel and keep going until I get there? I do not think their internal strength, as wonderful as it sounds, is its own entity, but a result of something greater.

Am I about to make an argument for the existence of God? Sort of. Bad things happened in my life. I would not wish them on a child, but I would not unmake their existence in my own life. The thing is, I never was dealt any more than I could handle, with the support of the people who were in my life at the time. I could not have handled all of these things completely on my own, with no support, so I had to learn how to reach out for help, but I do not consider that a bad thing. It brought me closer to people and gave me an insight into the humanity of my fellow beings. Bad things happen to us all, but knowing that there are people there to walk with us through our hard times can make it a lot easier. It seems like my life is an argument for divine design merely by the fact that someone or something brought me the people I needed at just the time I needed them, like angels among us.

So what kept me off of drugs, in school, not pregnant and out of jail? In my mind, it was the right people at the right time, caring about me and acting as the hands of God. If a foster child is floundering, the first question I would ask is if they have an adult who they feel close to. If not, that should be the first priority for their worker.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What lies ahead

I sometimes think foster children would benefit greatly from their foster parents knowing what is in the future for them. A lot of the foster parents I have spoken to have said that the future of the children they love is a major worry for them. They wonder if this child will wind up homeless. Will they finish high school? Will they create another generation of foster children? Will they become a substance abuser?

These are all valid concerns for any parent to have about any child, but I think with foster children it is that much more apparent how possible these fears are.

I sometimes find that I do not have the words to console foster parents or to help them know what to do. Since I do not have the pressure of a foster parent standing before me right now looking for the answers, I thought I would take this opportunity to list off some of the things I credit with me not making those bad choices that lead many foster children back into the system.

A good, realistic connection to my biological mom. I always knew what I could and could not expect from her. There was no fantasy about her coming to rescue me from my foster parents' rules. If I did not obey my foster parents and she heard about it, I got a hard time from her. Also, she was the best mom she could be, in spite of her disabilities. I learned that good parenting is the most important thing you can do and that I shoudl appreciate the fact that I will have the faculties to do it to the fullest and should not cheat myself or my children out of that opportunity.

A safe distance from dysfunctional family members, but with the ability to know what was going on with them. I was never forbidden from having contact with them, but they were far enough away to not be a disruption to my life. I could see the mistakes they were making and the reprocussions, but was not subject to the consequences of those mistakes.

A good case worker who was present all ten years I was in care...and beyond. She wrote letters of recommendation for me for college, came to my wedding and still sends me Christmas cards every year.

When I did happen to be in bad placements, I had friends whose families accepted me and treated me as one of their own. I still have connections to two ofthese friends and their families.

Foster parents who encouraged me and made me feel like my dreams and goals were in my grasp. I knew from the age of ten that I could and would go to college as a result of these foster parents.

A D.A.R.E. officer who made it about more than drugs. It was about choices and what you wanted to get out of life and how the choices you make lead to specific outcomes.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


When I was in care, there were things that my foster parents just did not talk about. I think that they thought if they did not discuss them, then I would be blissfully unaware. Perhaps a normal child would have been. Not being a normal child, I frequently knew way more about what was going on than they suspected. I think this is due to a heightened sense of intuition. When something happened in my birth family that my foster parents knew, but I was not told about, I would sense something was up and start digging for clues until I found out what was going on.

This has served me well in my adult life. Keep in mind that I have no medical training as you read this. Just recently, one of the men in the group home where I work started having aggression issues which would be proceeded by a glazed over look in his eyes and a fall. We could not tell what the root of these issues were, as every trigger we knew for his aggressions was ruled out. I started talking to the staff and got a feeling like he was having seizures. I talked to the facility nurse, whom I do not normally agree with and she came to the same conclusion as I did. We took him to the ER that night for aggressions (sometimes an after affect of seizures because they diorient and confuse people) that we could not handle and the doctor looked at me like I was nuts when I told him to watch for seizures and told him why. The doctor said there was no reason to believe our guy was having seizures based on my statements and he wanted to send him back with us. Fast forward 24 hours and he is having BAD seizures in the hospital.

The weekend before that, I was talking to a foster family who told me how their foster daughter, a sixteen year old girl, correctly diagnosed a co-worker's leukemia based on bruising on her co-worker's back. I am sure that symptom could indicate dozens of diseases, not just leukemia and I thought it was odd that she intuitively came up with the right one. I could not get it out of my head, but now I think there is a reason why that convesration stuck with me. The next Tuesday, one of my co-workers mentioned bruises on her back that seemed to appear for no reason and would not go away and the fact that she has not been feeling well. I immediately heard the conversation about the sixteen year old diagnosing leukemia again in my head and I felt compelled to tell her she needed to go see her doctor and have him look at leukemia. Little did I know that she was already seeing her doctor for this and one of the things that he is worried about is leukemia. He is worried enough that he told her to quit her job and think about moving in with her parents.

Another recent weird intuition moment was when I started thinking about cutting back hours at work. I needed to do it partially for myself, but also felt (for no logical reason) like my mother-in-law is needing more from me than what I have been able to give while working 60 hours a week. I told my husband this and he said the she had not said anything to him, but to talk to her. I initiated the conversation with her and she immediately got a guilty look on her face. Within minutes she was telling me about how she has fallen more than once doing silly things like hanging pictures, nearly fell on the ice outside one day when no one was home and how she had made other risky choices that could have left her with a broken hip (she had them replaced last year) or worse. She had been feeling like she needed someone with her during the day but did not want to to say anything because she did not know how we could possibly make it work.

I guess the whole reason I am posting this is to tell foster kids to follow their intuituion on things, the let foster parents know that secrets are not always as safe as you think with foster kids in the house and to ask if anyone else has had similar experiences.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Imparting wisdom

It is so funny to me that people care what I have to say about foster care. I have a lot of experience in the system and I speak/write about it passionately, so maybe that has something to do with it, but it still shocks me, after 8 years of presenting about foster care, that people really want to listen to what I have to say.

So what brought that on? I did a foster parent training over the weekend and there was the usual group of foster parents who liked seeing that the kids they are taking care of have a hope of making it in the real world. I am used to that. There was also a couple there who wanted me to kind of mentor their foster daughter, which I am more than happy to do. They met me for the first time Saturday morning and by Saturday afternoon they had told their foster daughter about me and how she needs to connect with me. That is what stuns me. I guess something I said had a huge impact on them, but I am not sure what.

Also, I will be going back to Washington DC in March to speak on Capitol Hill about foster care for the second time. I feel truly blessed to have done it once and getting to do it a second time is totally unfathomable to me. I am being invited to do this and the people who invited me value what I have to say so much that they are paying my way to DC and letting me moderate their briefing.

Not only that, but when I do not get to blog for a long time, I get e-mails from total strangers saying that they like the blog and that I need to write again. It absolutely makes my day to know that what I have to say here is ringing true for someone, maybe giving them hope or insite into a child in their care.

I do not think I could be much luckier than this. Thank you for reading my blog. I am going to send a thank you to the people sending me back to DC as soon as I get back from there. Would it be out of place to pass out thank you notes to the foster parents who I train? I really feel like I should. Not only do they open their homes to children like I used to be, but they value what I have to say and REALLY TRY to be the best foster parents they can be by embracing my ideas, advice and knowledge. They are some of my greatest heroes.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Questions for "The Sperm Donor"

I have a dad. He is married to my foster mom, he taught me how to drive a tractor, ride a horse, be thrifty with money and he gave me away at my wedding. Since I have never met the man who impregnated my mom, I do not consider him my father. I long ago decided that "The Sperm Donor" was a more appropriate title.

Although I would love to find out if I have any half siblings out there, that would mean having to go through "The Sperm Donor" to find out and I am just not sure at this time that it is worth it. I go through cycles of being angry with him for taking advantage of a young woman who was mentally challenged, being simply disgusted by the fact that my mom got no help from him in taking care of me and being saddened by the fact that I do not know anything about the genetics on that side of my bloodline. If I were to ever decide it was worth meeting "The Sperm Donor" though, in order to look into the possibility of having siblings, I would have a few questions for him.

1) What made you think it was okay to have intercourse with a girl with mental retardation?
2) Did you ever have contact with my mom after the night you got her pregnant?
3) Did you know she got pregnant? If so, did you offer to do anything to help her?
4) Did you threaten to hurt either of us if you ever saw us again?
5) What diseases run in your family?
6) Do you have any other kids? If so, how old are they and do you have contact with them?
7) Does anyone in your circle of family or friends know what you did to my mom?
8) If you knew my mom was pregnant, did you ever bother to find out about the baby?
9) Did you wonder how she would care for the child?
10) Did you assume she would get an abortion?
11) Did you ever see me after I was born?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What is most valuable?

I started a new job in November, and as the dates on my posts will reflect, I have been very busy with it. It is demanding, but I enjoy the work. The company values protecting the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. I love being part of this organization because I know the values they are promoting are good, right and true.

The problems begin with the fact that I live four hours away from my family (birth and foster) and MUST see them at least once a month. When I accepted the job, I made my boss aware that this was not negotiable. He agreed that it would not be a problem for me to be gone from Friday evening to Monday morning, as the job is Monday-Friday and he "only ever had to work direct care about three times in three years" that he had my job. I also informed him at the time of the interview that I am a foster care system advocate and do A LOT of volunteer work relating to that. I told him that I would continue this work in my free time and that I may use my benefits to participate in foster care events. This was not a problem, he said, as I can use benefits as needed. The job is salaried at 40 hours a week and it might sometimes require more or less time, but generally would require around 45 hours a week to complete.

Fast forward three months. I do not make the schedule for the facility, as this is the job of my second in command and one that she guards jealously. If she does not get the schedule filled, however, I am responsible for picking up hours not covered. This happens every week or two. I missed a visit home a couple of weekends ago as a result. I got to go home last weekend, but could not leave work until after 6 pm Friday and had to be back early Sunday afternoon to do payroll, which is due first thing Monday morning, takes four-six hours and cannot be completed until an e-mail is sent to my work computer on Sunday morning. I cannot get the e-mail on any computer, so I can not do this anywhere but there. There is no possible way that I could spend an entire weekend with my family and my boss should have known this at the time of the interview. Not only this, but I am being told that the foster care events I love so much, "might" be accomodated, but only if my second in command is able to fill the schedule, which I will not know until a few days before each event, long after I have committed to take part in it. To top it all off, I worked 50 and 60 hour weeks all through January and still could not keep up with everything asked of me at work and thus was told my boss that I need to work more hours.

So here is my I stay at the job because the company is good at the core and I already more or less committed two years, while neglecting my family and foster care plans OR do I let go of a job where I can impact the lives of people like my mom, after only three months, because my boss lied and I am stressed out by the workload.

I guess it is about what a person values. I value having work that is enjoyable and meaningful. In many ways, this job fits that criteria. I value seeing my family. When I do not get to see them regularly, my mental health suffers. I value my mental health, which is also adversely affected by not being able to keep up with this job. I value being able to speak out about foster care and educate foster parents. Without doing this, the bad things I experienced in foster care are in vane and the good things I experienced are less likely to be replicated for other kids. I do not want that to happen. I also do not want to commit to foster care events only to be told that I must break that commitment to be at work. I also know that there will come a time when I will want to get my non-profit up and running. When that time comes, I will have to quit this job anyway. I suppose I will keep working through this in my head until I come to an answer.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It's been a while...

Working too much...blogging too little, c'est la vie. Hopefully that will improve soon.

I did get to go home this weekend to see my mom and my foster family. It was a good visit. I am crocheting a blanket for my best friend's baby and there was a brief moment when my bio mom thought I was pregnant, so I had to explain that to her, but other than that, nothing to report with her really. I looked into becoming her guardian a week or two ago and it would cost me $500! Needless to say, I do not have that kind of money. I am thinking a program to pay for guardianship expenses would be a good thing to incorporate into my non-profit someday. I cannot be the only child of a disabled adult out there. There must be other people in my shoes.

My foster mom and I have been getting along better since I got married. I do not know if she needed that milestone to help her realize that I am not a kid anymore or what, but she has been treating me more like a competent adult and I am not the only one who is noticing. My foster dad said something about it too.

Better get going...I need to leave for work pretty soon. I will try to blog more later this week, although, if this week goes anything like last week, it probably won't happen.