Fostering

Time

What do you fill your day with?

It seems in the summer at our house there is a lot of empty time. I wrestle with letting kids sleep until noon but acknowledge that if I make them get up there isn’t really anything for them to do. All they want to do is watch TV (him) or read (her) and I struggle with letting them do either of those all day.

We have talked about things they could do… about crafts and going outside and connecting with friends … but they aren’t motivated to do any of them. They want to sit… in front of the TV or with a book. With Covid-19 shutting so many activities down there is little opportunity to even schedule their time!

I have realized that it takes creativity to fill your unscheduled time. Imagination is critical.

Creativity and imagination in kids grows best in a secure and emotionally rich environment. Kids who are fearful and insecure don’t have the resources to invest in exploring and playing. Many foster kids come from a place of lack, both emotionally and physically and have not learned to play. I wonder how the other mother helped them fill their time? There is no information from the kids on this. Play seems like a strange concept to them.

Which brings us to this place where we as two fifty something adults are trying to teach two kids in their teens how to play! It’s not the best case scenario! Our default is to schedule activities to fill their time, which doesn’t solve the original problem, it just keeps them busy part of the time.

So if you have kids that know how to play… don’t take it for granted! What a gift imagination is in the life of a child. Encourage it and give them opportunity to indulge their creativity. I watched a Mom in a waiting room (stripped of all toys thanks to Covid-19 protocols) engage in an imaginary tea party with her son. She could have dismissed him, embarrassed to play along with other adults watching. She didn’t. The imaginary tea was consumed with gusto! The cake, pie and cookies that were offered were gobbled. In a fit of silliness tea was tossed and garbage scattered… and then picked up and deposited in the garbage. Without a single real object being involved! Imagination!

What a gift imagination is. It filled the time waiting.

It is what we need to fill the empty summer. Hopefully boredom gives it room to blossom. We shall find out.

What do you fill your time with?

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Black Lives Matter

We are a white family raising two black foster children in an increasingly complex climate of racism.

I have been trying to understand the issues and sort through the media hype for the facts. People have been asking me how we are talking about it with our two foster kids.

The short answer is… we aren’t.

It isn’t a current topic in our house.

We are sheltered from it in the place where we live. Our kids attend a very international school with immigrants from all over. Our community, although primarily white, seems to integrate people of other colours without drama.

On the surface all seems well.

But can I just take it at surface level? My gut tells me there is more to it. I find myself reading over what I have written so far and wondering if I’ve used the right language. Who will take offense at the words or phrasing? Who will judge me as uninformed or ignorant because of how I articulate my thoughts? The entire issue brings a new level of anxiety to my world. Not primarily for me, but for these two precious children we have been entrusted with and the family they come from. What challenges may they have ahead of them stemming from racism.

A great illustration by Nathan Pyle

I am not innocent of the pitfalls of racism. I find it pops up in the strangest places… my frustration with being on the phone with someone who obviously does not speak english as their first language is an example. I want to learn… I need to learn to understand. I can’t just find a black author that says what I want to hear and say I’m not racist because I like what they say. My thoughts and opinions are a work in progress shaped by the world I have grown up in.

So here are some of the thoughts I’ve gleaned from the media storm that has surrounded the tragic incident of a black man being killed by a white man.

There is a difference between saying “I’m not racist” and being “anti-racist”. We all have to wrestle with how active we need to be to disassemble racism. Not being a part of any overtly racist activities may not mean you are a part of the solution, it just might mean you haven’t had opportunity for your underlying prejudices to surface. How you can engage in anti-racism actions is an individual choice based on your community and what you have witnessed. Allow people to make their own choices on how active they need to be in the fight against racism. But please understand what you are asking for and fighting against.

Not all police are bad. Matter of fact most police are doing a tough job and serving their community well. Seeing the worst of people over and over in their line of duty is hard on them. We don’t help by slandering police and allowing bad attitudes to continue in our communities. I have very little tolerance for those who promote the idea that police are all power hungry bullies. Some of the stories of how police are being treated in US communities right now are heart breaking. Choose to speak positively about those who are seeking to serve and protect your community. Look for opportunities to believe the best and encourage your local law enforcement.

That being said, abuse of power is never acceptable. They have been placed in a position of trust and are asked to hold to a high standard of moral behaviour on the job. Breaking that trust should never be excused or minimized. NEVER!

Not all black men deserve to be given martyr status and sanctified just because they were killed by a white police officer. Look up the facts. George Floyd was not an innocent man. He had a long record of being on the wrong side of the law. There is some talk that he was turning over a new leaf but the facts from that day don’t support this narrative. I believe in second chances, third chances, fourth chances! I believe people can change, but I believe change will show in the actions of those who are making it happen. He was not innocently accosted… he was in fact severely impaired by the drugs in his system. But he did not deserve to die! There is no justification for how he was treated. Neither do I believe he deserves to be immortalized and used as an example of police brutality. When is the last time there were protests all over the continent for a white, Asian or Latino criminal who was killed by police? Those wrongful deaths happen too…

Protests do not bring about the change needed but there is some value in highlighting an issue through peaceful protests. Letting our elected officials see how many people are willing to come out in support of an issue carries weight. What we do after the protest in our homes, neighbourhoods and organizations is what will change things.

I am puzzled by the rioting and looting. What purpose does that serve in bringing awareness to the issue? How does damaging property and looting stores promote the idea that black lives matter and police brutality needs to end? And to those who would argue it is not protesters looting, but looters looting… I have not seen a looting spree that is not linked to a protest (or natural disaster). Those that organize the protests can not be unaware that they are providing an opportunity for those who are prone to violence and opportunism. Those things work against a clear presentation of concern for the issue. I am thankful that the protest that took place nearest to my home was primarily peaceful and I am proud of our police force that took a knee in support of the movement.

The Foster system in which we seek to serve is involved in the battle against racism. I believe the current stats indicate that 70% of kids in foster care are indigenous. That is where Canada’s racism runs deep and gets ugly. There has been a lot of work done to educate caregivers in the system and work towards a mutual respect and understanding. There is a need for more.

There is also a growing number of children from immigrant families. We will need to continue learning the issues faced by families who enter Canada and face racist attitudes as they seek to establish a new life for their family. Then we need to figure out how to dismantle barriers that are rooted in racism. I guess we will have a front row seat on how that happens in the next couple of years as we try to help these two kids navigate the public school system, get jobs and participate in the community.

I have heard the phrase “Do the best you can with what you have.” for years. I recently saw it written this way…

Do the best you can with what you know.

Then when you know better, DO BETTER!

unknown

We all need to be willing to learn and then do better if we are going to see changes that will bring peace to our community and our world.

So learn about the issues. Don’t just read what you agree with. Read the other side of the issue and think honestly about what is being said. Then act according to your conscience. Love and respect those who think differently.

Yes, black lives matter.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Over reaction

Heave

Gag

Hork

Whimper

Heave

“Just breathe”

Pant, pant

Heave

Yup, this is what I was hearing as I stood out of sight listening.

What hideous thing was happening. What grotesque task was being undertaken. What cruelty had we imposed on this poor girl?

Well, let’s add some back story.

We have a dog and a cat. Our dog is a 12 year old schnoodle who is totally devoted to me and mostly tolerates kids. She has her own unique set of characteristics and is not fond of being picked up or cuddled. She does love to be petted but on her own terms. Our cat belongs to my son. She’s eight years old and very friendly. She’ll lay down next to just about anyone and purr loudly at the slightest pet.

The Other Mother’s children arrived at our house terrified of animals. She was afraid and she passed on that fear to her children. They remember being so scared of Dixie when they first arrived.

They are now completely comfortable with our animals and the numerous other animals they have met through our friends and families. Matter of fact they’ve become quite the dog lovers, a testimony to the amazing dogs they have met in the last year!

This has led to the question of having their own pet. They know that each of my kids had their own cat, as well as assorted other pets, but they want a puppy.

Our conversations about the responsibility of owning an animal inevitably get around to the messy business of cleaning up after them. She assures me she will do this, but she won’t clean up the poop in our back yard. Matter of fact she has up to this point refused to clean the toilet in the bathroom.

The kids each have chores and about twice a month they clean the bathroom they use. He does the downstairs bathroom like a pro now, but there was a fair bit of drama in the beginning. She is younger so we didn’t require her to do as much, but she has wiped down the sink and counter and polished the mirror for a while now… but not the toilet.

So I pointed out that “If you can’t even wipe down a toilet in a bathroom twice a month how are you going to pick up dog poop everyday?”. She assured me she could do it, so I gave her a goal. If she cleans the entire bathroom (toilet included) every second week for the next three months without being reminded or whining about it… we will consider a puppy.

Which led to today’s sound track!

Gag

Heave

Gasp

Pant pant

Gag

She wiped down the toilet.

Now let me assure you this was shiny white porcelain. No scum ring, no skid marks… maybe a little dust behind the toilet seat, possibly a hair or two. Too much information? It didn’t even look like it needed cleaning!

It had been thoroughly cleaned less than 6 days ago.

But she cleaned it. At great personal cost if you listened to the soundtrack! No whining, no complaining. It is amazing what she can do when she has a goal in mind, and I think we might be in trouble!

When is the last time you wanted something enough to wrestle through the gag reflex, sacrifice your personal comfort and go for it?

In the midst of the mess (but one spotlessly clean bathroom)

Marny

Fostering

Meh

My kids use the word Meh to describe that blah feeling…

It’s kind of how today feels

You know those days… you just feel irritated by the smallest things…

But you don’t have any feelings about most things…

a comic from one of my favourites Nathan Pyle

It is perfectly summed up by Nathan Pyle in Strange Planet. I just want to go back to bed.

I’m tired of Covid-19. I’m tired of kids who are either struggling with school work or bored. I’m tired of making meals. I’m tired…

The reality of the same thing day after day is wearing on me.

So… what do I do with that?

Remedies for Meh include but aren’t limited to:

  • Get out in the sunshine
  • Talk to a friend
  • Do something creative
  • Exercise
  • Plan something you can look forward to
  • Count your blessings
  • Do something to bless someone else
  • Laugh
  • What would you add?

I am struggling to want to do any of them, even when I know I will be glad to be out of this funk.

Sometimes we just need to get out of our own heads and start doing the things that will make a difference.

I can do this. I have before and I will again. I am aware that this is not true for everyone. Bad days have won for many people.

The other mothers that I do life with have faced different sets of challenges in this season. They have made choices to deal with them. We are all different.

We will continue to be there for each other. The other mother of the children I now care for did not have that. I am aware again today of how hard it must have been for her and for all the others who tried to go it alone!

So tonight I will go out and celebrate a dear friend reaching a milestone birthday! We will laugh together, eat yummy food together and be thankful for all that we have come through. We might even make plans to celebrate the end of this weird season of Covid, cancer, kids moving out, and all the other challenges that have tried to bring us down!

Something to look forward to!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Empathy

It seems this season there have been a lot of things that have caused people disappointment and stress.

  • missed graduations
  • cancelled holidays
  • re-imagined wedding plans
  • lonely hospital trips
  • modified birth plans
  • lay-offs
  • unexpected job terminations
  • disrupted placements
  • interrupted connections

All these things have resulted in grieving and pain for many. I have listened to the stories and shared in the sorrow and pain of others. How do we do this well?

I really like how Brené Brown explains it in this clip.

Empathy. It is right and good to listen without judgement and share in the pain and disappointment of someone. We are meant to share in the struggles of others. It eases the burden for everyone. But too often we carry away and accumulate other people’s sorrow or offenses. Taking on someone else’s offense can become toxic to you. You do not have broad enough shoulders or a big enough heart to carry it all. You weren’t designed for it.

I see this most often in families. A wife carries the offense that was committed against her husband even after he has resolved it. A parent carries an offense committed against their child long after the child has moved on. Grown children carry resentment for perceived injustices against their parents.

I feel it as we hear about a disrupted placement for a little guy we have had in our home for respite. He is moving to a new foster home next week and my heart hurts for him. I want to be indignant on his behalf. I want to judge the other mother who isn’t able to continue loving this little guy well. I can not.

Often we refuse to let others move on by resurrecting the pain and offense for them. It’s not helpful.

What do we do with these feelings after the opportunity to empathize is passed? How do we learn to let go? Where do we put them so they don’t grow and fester in us? For me that answer is found in giving them to Jesus.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

The words are simple! The reality of letting go is often hard.

I’ve heard it said that when we hang on to bitterness and offense it is like drinking poison and thinking we are hurting the other person. Even when it wasn’t our offense or pain it still applies. It’s not effective to carry other people’s struggles! You don’t help anyone. I have to bring them to the God I know cares about all people deeply, and choose to leave them with Him. People are responsible for their own hurts and offenses. We can listen, empathize and help them move towards healing and wholeness.

You might write it out in a journal, or vent to someone, or maybe you have found it easy to let things go. Whatever the process, our mental and emotional health is important. We need to deal with our own disappointments well, and look for joy in the everyday things so we are able to empathize with others.

I hope we all choose to continue engaging deeply with those who are struggling through this season. Don’t shy away from the pain others are dealing with. We need each other. But don’t try to carry it all. Find a way to let it go and look for joy daily. This is where the freedom to thrive will be found in this season.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Learning

I don’t know how you feel about Math but I used to like it! I used to be quite good at it. Math makes sense to me! My brain works with numbers. I like the simplicity of knowing that if you put the numbers in the right place in the equation or formula and follow the rules you will always get the right answer! So simple!

My feelings about math are changing as I try to help a Grade 8 student with math. Algebra was never hard for me…so I find it perplexing that it is for him. It seems so simple… follow the rules… the answer happens. Where is the difficulty? Apparently it is not that easy for everyone!

Talking louder doesn’t help him understand. Talking slower doesn’t help him understand. Going over the same point again and again doesn’t help him understand. writing it on a piece of paper… nope. Making him repeat it… nope. I’m running out of tools in my toolbox!! And then we started geometry…

The fact is that you can’t just jump into the middle of math and expect to understand concepts that have been built on earlier learning. My learning happened bit by bit without any interruption. It provided a solid foundation, so I was able to continue to build.

Example of an actual daily math problem for my Grade 6 student

Steady learning provides a good foundation. If you don’t understand basic multiplication and division then algebra is doubly confusing. If you constantly make mistakes in addition and subtraction you wind up with wrong answers. If you try to do the final geometry project before going through the worksheets that teach you how to do geometry, you’re in for a frustrating week! (True story!! Just happened! A whole week struggling to do something he hadn’t learned yet!)

Seems to me dealing with crisis is kind of like that. If you were living paycheque to paycheque in the good times, the bad times will be your undoing. If you were using unhealthy coping skills in the relationships in your life while things were going well you’re probably a disaster in the midst of these circumstances. Trying to deal with a more complex situation reveals where we were no longer learning, just coping!

So do we just need to throw up our hands in despair and declare bankruptcy? Get divorced and give up our children because we’ve realized we never had it all together in the first place? I hope most of you laughed at that but for many people this might seem like the inevitable outcome to the current crisis. It’s not! This can be a wake up call that helps us to realize there are things we need to learn.

As Covid-19 puts new pressure on already fractured systems what can we do? We can choose to hit the reset button and start learning on almost anything. If your finances are a disaster stop and learn. Dave Ramsey has lots of great resources that we have found helpful. If your marriage is a wreck stop and get help! There are great books on every aspect of marriage, as well as counselors, conferences and support groups to help you learn. If you’re a parent, there are so many resources available to help you parent well. It doesn’t always come naturally! Choose to learn. You don’t have to figure it out on your own. We made a commitment at the beginning of our marriage to be life long learners and we have kept that commitment.

A small sampling of the books on my shelf that my family have learned from!

Learning should never stop. Can you tell me one new thing you learned in the last month? If you can’t, you might want to think about something you want to know more about. Preferably something other than Covid-19!!

There is a season of change ahead for all of us. This idea of “returning to normal” is going to be blown to bits. We will all need to learn a new “normal”. The ability to adapt will be a big factor in the days ahead. I guarantee you that if you are willing to learn new things the coming season will be easier for you!

The other mother could not adapt fast enough to her changing situation. It seems she might have been overwhelmed and gradually gave up hope. She had too many barriers to learning. Willingness to adapt is the first thing we need to be successful. All the resources in the world are not helpful if you aren’t open to using them.

So what do you want to learn about in the coming weeks? It can be as simple as trying a new recipe or craft, or as complex as learning a new language. What we’ve learned is that being willing to learn in one area makes it easier to learn in another. As strange as it might seem, learning to knit can open pathways to help you learn to communicate with your spouse.

If only it was as simple as math…

Don’t think it’s too late to change. Choose to learn, choose to adapt, choose to aim for the best future possible!

You won’t regret it!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

One Year

Today marks the anniversary of the day these two kiddos came into our home! Hard to believe they have been here a year and yet it seems like they’ve always been here!

I remember the day well. I was supposed to be going out that evening to participate in a Soup Sisters event with my Mom, sisters, aunts and cousins! I was really looking forward to it. When I was called about taking in a set of siblings I was moderate in my reaction. This was not the first time we had received a call and the last two hadn’t resulted in a kid arriving at our home. I was fully expecting to still be able to go out that evening. Then suddenly they were there… and the journey began. My evening was much different than planned.

I asked them what they remember about the day they arrived at our house. He remembers being afraid of our dog, and happy to get the room with the bigger bed. She remembers picking the gray room… and then it’s blank until we were eating at McDonalds.

We had to take them out and buy clothing that evening as they came with nothing. When we were done shopping at Walmart we ate at the McDonalds there. McDonalds was familiar to her and it felt reassuring. He was probably fearful of much that evening, but he remembers the dog.

I have been trying to figure out how to celebrate the anniversary!

Our curbside pick up anniversary meal! Thanks Taste of Ukraine.

We just celebrated the 30th anniversary of our marriage. We made a purposeful choice 30 years ago to commit ourselves to each other whatever the journey might hold. 30 years later we’re still learning, growing and enjoying the adventure. It is an anniversary worth celebrating!

How do you celebrate the day they came to us. They didn’t choose to be apprehended. The other mother didn’t choose to lose her children. The kids didn’t choose to be plunked in a strangers house and asked to adapt. They had no idea what the days ahead would look like. We did not anticipate that the other mother would disappear, that she would choose to run away from her difficulties… and her children. We did not foresee that one year later we would still be a family.

A sign we spotted on a recent canoe trip down the Sturgeon River

All of that heart break doesn’t deserve to be celebrated. But…

There are two children in my home today who were homeless a little over a year ago. Two children who are secure in the fact that they have their own room and clothes that fit for every season. They have parents who want to see them succeed, who listen when they ask questions and who are helping them understand the world in which they live. They have positive connections with their bio family and a whole pile of connections with ours! They are loved, and they know it!

That is worth celebrating!

So we will mark the day. There will be some level of somberness as we remember why this family of ours came into being, but there will also be joy as we reflect on the journey that brought us to this point.

There are discussions about permanency starting.

I don’t know what that means for them yet.

I don’t know what that will hold for us yet.

Only time will tell what this time next year will look like! Today we are thankful for them and all they have brought to our lives.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Mice in the Kitchen

I got up on Saturday morning to a rustle in the kitchen and the pitter patter of little feet running down the stairs as I entered the kitchen. Hmmm

The evidence in the kitchen was plain as day… a clip lying on the counter, the pantry door open, and a red solo cup sitting beside the fridge. I walked over and peered into the cup to see … marshmallows?

I could hear some whispers at the bottom of the stairs and very quickly came to the conclusion that our two weekend guests had been in the kitchen and had been caught in the act. As Mike entered the kitchen I said loudly,

“There were mice in the kitchen this morning!!”

His look of concern disappeared as I motioned to the evidence in the kitchen.

“Apparently the mice wanted marshmallows, although I am pretty sure marshmallows aren’t fruit.”

This comment referred back to our conversation before bed the previous night in which we explained that our Saturday morning routine is pretty laid back and Mike usually makes a big breakfast for everyone around 10am. We had told them that they were welcome to an apple or orange or a yogurt if they were hungry in the morning before breakfast was ready. I hadn’t expected them to be up in the kitchen before we were though.

Mike continued making coffee and I went into our living room to sit down and do my morning reading. From there I could hear the whispering at the bottom stairs due to a heat vent we have. I listened to panicky whispering and exclamations from one sister to the other as to who’s fault this was. Truly I was finding it all quite funny and was chuckling to myself wondering how they were going to get out of this one.

When Mike finished getting the coffee going and the pets fed he decided to reassure them that they weren’t in trouble in hopes of having them come upstairs. He did this by peering comically around the top of the stairs and asking what they were up to.

What he saw was a little girl crying while her sister tried to convince her to go back up stairs with the incriminating bag of marshmallows in hand.

With some reassuring that they weren’t in trouble and no one was angry they came tentatively upstairs and surrendered the bag of marshmallows. The tears didn’t stop. The level of anxiety seemed unwarranted to us, but we don’t know their history at all. Mike assured them they weren’t in trouble but that we don’t usually eat marshmallows before breakfast and sent them back downstairs to watch TV … with their cup of marshmallows.

I’m glad we responded calmly and saw the humour in it. The teachable moment came later. When she was calmed down and there was some day time activities behind us I was able to ask her why she had been so upset. Her answer was that she knew she was doing something that she shouldn’t have been and she didn’t want us to be angry at her. I asked her how she knew she was doing something wrong… we never told her she couldn’t have marshmallows… she didn’t really have an answer, she just shrugged and said she knew.

“That was your conscience,” I told her “When we know something is wrong and feel uncomfortable about it we always have a choice. We can choose to listen to that voice and stay away from the bad things or we can choose to ignore it and do it anyway.”

“I knew I shouldn’t take the marshmallows” she said, “but I wanted them.”

“The marshmallows aren’t a big deal, but you are right that you shouldn’t have taken them. The thing is you will have that feeling that something is wrong about other things… things that might have more serious consequences… and if you ignore it now you are more likely to ignore it then. If you choose to listen to that feeling you can protect yourself from a lot of heartache and pain. Who made you feel so bad about the marshmallows?”

She had to think for a minute but then she said “I did, because I felt bad and was so scared.”

“If you had waited 5 minutes and asked us do you think you might have felt different?”

“You would have said I couldn’t have marshmallows!” was her reply.

“Maybe, but we would have gave you something for a snack and your morning would have been happy! Was the marshmallow worth all that crying?”

“No… not really.”

And the moment was over and there was other mischief in the day. When bedtime came she sought me out and gave me a hug and I said “Goodnight! And marshmallows aren’t fruit.” and she smiled.

I don’t know if she will remember the conversation or act on it. We plant seeds and hope that they land in fertile soil. I’m thankful for the opportunity to speak truth to these girls.

I am thankful for that voice that tells me when I am headed the wrong way in my thoughts, words or actions. Holy Spirit often speaks quietly to me and I too have to choose to listen or ignore. I am a fairly typical human being who likes to have what I want when I want it. Being self centered often leads to doing things that aren’t in our best interests. It might be the sarcastic comment aimed to sting, or the second helping you know you don’t need. The delay you justify instead of getting the task done or the situation you choose to turn a blind eye to because you don’t want to get involved. The list could go on and would be different for all of us. Do you choose to listen? Or ignore?

So I am thankful for little mice in the kitchen who gave me reason to ponder what I do with that little voice that tells me not do do this! How many of my hardships began the moment I ignored the prompt and did what I wanted anyway?

Do you ignore the prompt and regret it later? May you have a mice in the kitchen moment too!

In the midst of the mess,

Marny

Fostering

Respite

res·pite/ˈrespət,rēˈspīt/noun

a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.

When you step into being a Foster Parent one of the supports they offer you is respite. The idea is that you can access 48 hours every month where the kids in your care spend time with another family or care provider so you can have a break. You might need it to spend some time focused on your bio children or time to reconnect as a couple.

It’s an amazing thing to have available to you. It’s a little harder to access in reality than on paper, but it’s there for you. We have had two kids with us for 11 months and have used respite twice. It was such a weird feeling to drop them off at a strangers house and walk away. We enjoyed our time “off” but it never felt quite right. The hope is you find a great place for your kids to enjoy a weekend so that it is a break for everyone.

The truth is we have been doing really well with these kids and didn’t feel we needed a break. The definition states “a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant”. We did not find ourselves needing relief because our situation was not difficult or unpleasant!

With our bio children we were able to have them spend time with family so we could have a holiday occasionally. It was enough! Why should it be different for our foster children. The reality is we probably needed respite regularly in our early years of parenting but it wasn’t available… so we learned to get through the tough times with our kids and each other. That has become a part of our journey. We are in a better state of emotional health now than we have ever been and it makes a difference.

We were looking forward to a 10 day vacation in May to celebrate our 30th Anniversary. Thank you Covid-19 for squashing that dream! So we will make the best of the time we have and be thankful for how well we are doing in the midst of all this.

We have started doing respite for other families. The first child we had over I was worried about how it might upset the balance of our household. As we stepped out and served another family in this way we were truly blessed! We had a great weekend with him and he enjoyed our busy household. With 7 people trying to stay busy in the same space there was lots of potential for conflict, and there was none! So we said yes to the next one and this weekend welcome 2 girls to spend time with our family. Our goal is to be a place where they enjoy their time away and allow their Foster Parent to relax and not worry about them. We’re in process with our second experience of providing respite and it’s going well.

In the midst of Covid-19 I think there are many families in need of respite. They keep extending the time we need to remain under the current restrictions… which may be difficult and unpleasant for some. There have been new pressures put on everyone and not all people are coping well. Don’t be afraid to reach out to another family. Offer what you have. Maybe it’s time, maybe it’s resources, maybe it’s just a listening ear. You reaching out to others might be the blessing YOU need in this time. I recognize that there are restrictions and social distancing rules to be honoured, but it doesn’t mean we have to be paranoid and self-centered.

This situation is going to surface all kinds of fractures in families and there will be repercussions for many for years to come. There will be people will be in need of respite. How can you take the time in this season to become a place of peace and safety in the midst of this storm?

I read a great clip about the fact we are not all in the same boat but we are in the same storm. I don’t remember who wrote it to credit them but I thought it contained a lot of wisdom. The boat you are in makes a big difference in how you view the storm! My boat is doing well! How is your boat?

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Taken for granted

As we enter week five of being home with kids and the restrictions keep getting tighter I have heard a lot about what we have taken for granted.

  • stocked grocery shelves
  • kids at school
  • family occasions
  • coffee with friends
  • playing in the park
  • hair cuts
  • manicures/pedicures
  • dinner out
  • travel
  • health
  • sports
  • movies in the theatre
  • the list continues…

When you look at these things you realize just how blessed we have been! So much of how we live is framed by ease and convenience. We have done what we wanted, when we wanted to do it with whomever! And we assumed it was normal, maybe even our right. We often complained at minor inconvenience. Grumbled about perceived injustice.

Covid-19 has changed that for many of us. A trip to the grocery store that gets everything on the list is a blessing. The thought of having to make lunches and get kids up to go to school seems like heaven when we now have them underfoot all day. Those family occasions you grumbled about attending because of timing or location are now longed for. The things we have given up have taken on new significance.

Having Foster Kids at home 24/7 has taken things to a new level as well. Our kids had missed almost two years of school when they came to us eleven months ago. We were on track to finish their first uninterrupted year of school in a long time… connections were being made with peers, academic habits were being established. And then yet another disruption in their lives! We took for granted that we would provide a stable year for them… we were wrong. I wonder how many times the other mother found herself in that same situation.

We could all learn a thing or two from teachers right now (pun intended). Three weeks in and I have a new appreciation for them, not because of what they did in school everyday, I always appreciated that, but because of what they have done in the last three weeks to adapt to this situation. They are still doing their very best to educate students. They have been learning technologies, rewriting lesson plans to be delivered online, figuring out how to assess work and help students… all the stuff we took for granted! Many have had to set aside how they have educated for years and start over… and they are doing it!!

We learn a lot in our Foster Care training about trauma and how it affects the kids in our care. It doesn’t just apply to kids in Foster Care! We all need to understand how trauma and/or disruption impacts us! Find yourself on the chart above and ask where you are and where you want to be. This situation doesn’t have to be all negative. We are all going through this together. Perhaps it will give us new empathy for our kids? We need to be reminded our outlook will help shape whether this is all negative or whether we find the positives and grow.

For many of our kids there will be opportunity for healing as we manage this disruption with love and patience. For them disruption probably meant disaster in the past. They may have watched the adults in their world fall apart when things changed. Their anxiety might be high. We have the opportunity to show them something different if we choose to. It will be messy and we may not feel up to the task, but one day at a time and we can model a healthy way to deal with disruption.

There are other things we took for granted that have now become incredibly valuable.

  • Time at home
  • Rest from all the busyness
  • the ability to adapt
  • the technology to connect
  • the dusty board games you haven’t played in years
  • The backyard
  • The patience you didn’t know you could have
  • The baking you just hadn’t got to for so long
  • Meals around the table with no where to rush off to.

I hope that we don’t just focus on what we are missing… I hope we choose to look at what we have gained! Truly we are safe at home, not stuck at home.

So take it easy on yourself! Breath. Relax. You don’t have to do it all never mind do it all perfectly! You just need be a safe place to weather the storm. Count your blessings. Then count them again. I guarantee there are more than you realize. Figure out what you need so you can be your best in these trying times. You can’t change the circumstances but you can change your response to them!

Learn the technology and connect with others. Video chat with coffee is actually pretty therapeutic when you can’t meet in person. Reach out to others regularly because people do better when they try to care well for others. Find space and time to be alone in a crowded house when you need it. We are all in this together.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Interruptions

There have been some big interruptions lately! Jobs interrupted. School interrupted. Occasions interrupted. Sports interrupted. Routines interrupted.

How are you dealing with it? What keeps you grounded in the midst of all the change and interruption? Do you live in a place of fear of what’s next? Do you withdraw to avoid the next change? Do you worry constantly about everybody and everything? You can choose your response. Looking for the blessings and choosing not to sweat the small stuff can make a big difference as we face the future.

Dealing with change is not my favourite… I’ve shared that before. In the midst of these big interruptions which I feel I’m handling fairly well, the little interruptions are driving me crazy!

I can handle that the kids are home from school… but do they have to ask me something every five minutes… all day… no matter what I’m doing! I can handle that hubby doesn’t have work anymore… but why does his routine mess up mine! I can handle not going out… until I remember this means my favourite weekly coffee doesn’t happen. And for the record… I don’t miss sports at all!!

How do you deal with interruptions?

This is a small glimpse of what children in Foster Care deal with. They live in a space of life interrupted. For many of them interruption is just normal. Their homelife was interrupted. The parenting they should have received was interrupted. School was interrupted. Friendships were interrupted. Then they come in to care and we hope to provide stability for them. But a new home and Foster parents is an interruption. As Caseworkers change it is an interruption. And now Covid-19 has provided yet another interruption.

For our kids interruption has been the norm. They talk of where they lived, the schools they attended, the people that have cared for them so casually. Yet my heart breaks for the lack of consistency. They seem to be dealing with it all fairly well. And yet…

  • Maybe their lack of attachment to stuff is a defense mechanism since they have no idea how long they’ll have it. Owning things has been interrupted.
  • Maybe the nonchalance about friends is a way of coping with the changes they expect to come. Knowing people has been interrupted.
  • Maybe the need for constant reminders about the normal routines is because they’ve never had “normal” routines long enough for them to become the norm. Stability has been interrupted.
  • Maybe the need to know what the next meal will be comes from a place where the next meal wasn’t a sure thing. Nutrition has been interrupted.
  • Maybe they live expecting the next interruption.

It’s also Good Friday. A significant day in the calendar of faith. I think of what an interruption this day was for the disciples. Their hopes and dreams were interrupted. The days events did not fit in their idea of what Jesus was supposed to do. Their long awaited Messiah was dead… They sat in that space for a couple days. Let’s allow ourselves to process what interruption means for all of us. We know from history that Jesus death was followed by his resurrection. That event changed the world at that time. We don’t know what the world will look like after Covid-19. We are living in the days of interruption.

So as we wrestle with the new normal caused by the recent interruption of Covid-19 I hope we all look with new eyes at those who face insecurities as a normal part of life. Count your blessings as you wrestle with interruption because it is new to you! Be thankful for the consistency you enjoyed and let’s continue to hope that better days will return. This season of interruption may have given you a new level of empathy for those who lack the stability you enjoyed. What are you going to do with that new information?

Did you count how many times I used the word interrupt? 😉 Was it starting to annoy you?

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Birthdays

Our foster kids had birthdays this month! They have shared with us that they have never had a birthday party with their friends! This makes me feel sad. We enjoyed making our bio kids birthdays a special event with friends and family. The day they entered our lives is worth celebrating!! Our kids probably have at least one great memory linked to a birthday party with their friends. But having a friends birthday party for a 14 year old feels a bit daunting!! We are way past pirate cakes and treasure hunts in the playground here!

The other mother chose not to celebrate her kids birthdays this way. Maybe it was cultural or maybe she just didn’t have the community connections or mental health to pull it off. Her kids were raised in Canadian culture though, so they felt the gap.

So we tried to fill the gap and help them experience a birthday party with friends! We got through one birthday successfully at the beginning of the month! Party with friends happened at an amusement park. Great connections with friends, memories were made! Then Covid-19 swept in and everything changed! The new found connections with peers were lost as isolation became the norm. The look on his face when I told him he couldn’t get together with those friends in the coming days broke my heart. For him it has been a long stretch of isolation and loneliness… before Covid-19 stepped in! Her birthday had to be postponed… no friends over. But we celebrated at home as best we could!

Each year that we celebrate a birthday is another year to reflect on. What marked this year as unique for you? Was it a good year? Did you enjoy an adventure or two? Did you check something off your bucket list? Did you meet a goal you’d set for yourself or complete a long task like education or building a business? Were there challenges in the past year that make you glad the year is over? How do you define the past year?

The past year for our two foster kids holds some black marks that they might rather forget. But it also holds some really good things. They arrived in Alberta one year ago today. They’ve been in Foster Care for almost 11 months. There have been a lot of firsts for them in this past year of their life. So how will they choose to define the year? The choice is up to them…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens

As we face the current challenges that this year has brought what will we choose as our takeaway? We can focus on the negative impact the economy has had on our community or the restrictions Covid-19 has inflicted on us all, or we can choose to look at what has brought us joy and hope this year! I am thankful for our continued ability to be Foster Parents who are engaged in making life better for kids at risk! I am thankful that we continue to be healthy! I am thankful that this year we have taken steps to live intentionally in a way that honours who we are and who we are becoming!

I will choose to look at birthdays with a new perspective this year! The day someone enters this world changes things forever. There is no one else exactly like you. You have something to bring to the world. We never know how many birthdays we will have or the circumstances in which we will celebrate them. But they are worth celebrating!

So as you navigate the world Covid-19 has forced upon you I hope you choose to celebrate the occasions, enjoy the little things and look for the joy! Spring will come! How you remember this time will be up to you!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Tension

Covid-19. Just mention it and you feel the tension. What is the right response? Are we doing all we can to stop the spread? Are people taking it seriously? Is the media exaggerating? What’s the big deal anyway…it’s rarely fatal? It’s just the flu, are we going to shut down the world every flu season now? Do I really have to be home with my kids for the next 6 months? Why did everyone buy all the toilet paper?

The opinions are many, the perspectives varied, the reactions heated.

Tension

How do we act responsibly and yet not bury ourselves in fear. How do we continue to live well and care for those around us? How do we accept and support decisions made by authorities that may have a negative impact on our economic situation and freedom!? How do we deal with accepting restrictions when we are unlikely to be personally affected by Covid-19 in a detrimental way? Can we do it graciously just to help others?

Our Foster son recently came home upset and told us he has been being bullied. It is a loaded word in the current school environment. Zero tolerance for bullying is a motto tossed about freely. Bullying is not acceptable… ever… for any reason. No one should have to feel unsafe at school, physically or emotionally.

The tension comes into this situation when you try to have a clear definition of what is bullying and what is not. When your friend teases you, you laugh, and maybe even feel loved and accepted. When someone else teases you it can be labeled bullying. When you’re goofing around with your friend and they push you into the locker, or grab your hat off your head and throw it down the hall, you pretend to be angry with them and then head to the Rec Centre together happily. When someone else does it… it is bullying.

We’ve all heard it said, or said it ourselves… “I can say things about my sister/brother/ spouse that are less than flattering but “”Woe to you!” if you do!” The same actions from the perspective of a different relationship changes everything.

So for kids in school bullying is muddy water! Our kids are new to this school. They come wanting to make friends and believe the best in everyone. Kids in school are required to “be nice” to everyone in class and in front of teachers. This gives the illusion that everyone is friends. A child who struggles to comprehend the social cues that guide interactions is at a disadvantage. At face value they are all friends. And what’s a little roughhousing between friends… especially teen boys!

The true tension is who are your friends in the ever changing landscape of school? How do we teach our kids to be wise in reading the intentions of others and yet encourage them to be a friend to everyone? How do we navigate something that was interpreted differently last week when they were friends but isn’t okay this week because they aren’t? How do we help them be strong in the face of teasing or bullying and yet take it seriously when they tell us they have been bullied. Really our actions are judged by the level of relationship.

The reality is that we all should treat people like we want to be treated! Jesus calls us to love others. I believe that means to treat everyone with respect and compassion. Bullying is never respectful or compassionate! Friendship always should be! Let’s model what respect and compassion for everyone looks like for our kids. If your words about someone are not respectful and compassionate you shouldn’t be saying them. If your actions aren’t respectful and compassionate you shouldn’t be doing them.

So what does relationship look like in the midst of Covid-19 and social distancing? Our actions say more about how we love people than our words ever do. We show that we truly love our neighbour (translate that to the others in your community) when we choose to stay home, protect the vulnerable and not go out for non-essentials. We show love in this new reality by reaching out to others and checking on them through whatever means are available. Truly this is a test of relationships! Who will you choose to stay in touch with in the midst of the challenges? What will loving others look like for you when you have a directive to isolate and stay home?

Encourage people

Speak hope

Share laughter

Be good news.

Be someone who eases the tension.

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Making room for the new

Well, I bought a new kettle! If you missed the back story to this please read last weeks blog!

Have you ever seen how many kettles there are to choose from? The styles and options and price points are almost endless! I did a lot of looking online and reading reviews and deciding what features I wanted/needed. I could have gotten bogged down in the information and kept boiling water in a pot for weeks… but action was required.

The next step was to go out and buy it… which also took some intentional effort. But choosing it and bringing it home was not the most challenging part. I had to fit it into my kitchen! My previous kettle was short and stout… not many like that anymore and I had decided on a tall kettle. It didn’t fit where the old one had but my kitchen cupboard shelves are adjustable so I just had to move a shelf…

It’s a big corner cupboard over the sink. There was a lot of stuff in it! And it hadn’t been emptied in a while. Once it was emptied it needed a good scrub, then adjust the shelf height, and before cramming everything back in it was time to get rid of some things that hadn’t been out of the back corner in a while. What was left went back in and… I love it! So much better than it was (I forgot to take a before pic sorry).

All this effort just replacing a kettle! Think about how much effort it takes to change a mindset or habit. We often think that getting rid of the old is the hard part but in reality making the new “fit” and adjusting to the change is much harder. It requires knowing why the new is necessary, understanding the amount of change it will take to accommodate the new and putting in the time and effort to make it happen.

The other mother has been asked to change how she does life. She needs to provide a home with stability and structure to raise her kids. The process to make this change is tremendous. She doesn’t really understand or agree with why it is necessary so putting in the time and effort doesn’t seem reasonable. Change is hard.

What “new” things have you given up on because it’s too hard or it just doesn’t stick? (diet or exercise plan) Have you gotten stuck collecting information and just can’t get to taking action? (how many recipes do you have saved that you’ve never made) If you have thought through why you need the new and have decided it is what is better, you have completed the easy part! The hard part is making space in your life! It will require effort, it will require getting rid of some junk to make room, it will require adjusting how you do things until you are used to the new. If you stick to it until the new becomes normal… it will be worth it!!

As we Foster Parent we are constantly coming up against the effort it takes to make new things normal! It is worth the effort, both in our lives and in the lives of these kids!

Time for a cup of tea!

In the midst of the mess

Marny

Fostering

Wisdom

the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments:

Cambridge Dictionary

This week it seems like wisdom is the most needed resource and it’s playing a game of Hide and Seek. We have been taking courses and learning so much about how trauma effects the brain and all the other things that come into play when you are a Foster Parent. The realization that life is not an even playing field where we are all given the same skills and asked to engage in a fair game has been jarring.

There are things we need to learn to accept as the norm for the kids we have in our care. Things that were not typical in our own children or in the world we raised our kids in. We need wisdom to determine what to fight for on behalf of our kids and what to accept. We need wisdom to view the actions of the Other Mother and interpret them for her children. We need wisdom to use our words in a way that brings understanding and hope, not the opposite. We’ve all heard (and said) things that I now know lack understanding!

Here’s some things I wish were never said:

  • They are just lazy
  • If they would actually try it wouldn’t be an issue
  • Obviously they just need some discipline
  • What is the big deal with … they should just get over it
  • Just make a decision!! It’s not that hard
  • Quit catering to that child and show them you’re the boss
  • They are just manipulating you, you need to be firm
  • Why should they be treated any different
  • They need to drop the victim mentality and start dealing with life

So here is where wisdom comes in… most of those statements CAN be true. A child can be lazy or refuse to put any effort into something. Sometimes discipline is the answer. Sometimes boundaries are exactly what a child needs. They are not necessarily malicious or bad statements. But they are not ALWAYS true. Absolute truths are few and far between.

We have continued to learn that behaviours are symptoms. What we see on the outside comes from a internal reservoir that is the sum of all we are. If we have been given a normal healthy brain and body and are emotionally well the human potential is amazing! We are all capable of much more than we realize.

But if there has been damage to our person in the physical, emotional or mental… things get more complicated. We do not expect a person with a broken leg to walk up the stairs. We don’t say “they are just being lazy” or “they just need to try harder” when it is evident they can’t do it. We accept their limitations and direct them to the elevator, usually quite cheerfully and sympathetically. Mostly because we can see the cast and the limited mobility. Someone who struggles with anxiety might also be unable to tackle the task in front of them, but our response is rarely gracious and helpful. The reality is we are not all working from an equal platform when we tackle life’s challenges!

Our Foster Son has double jointed arms. He can put his arms in positions behind his head that make my stomach feel a little queasy. It is easy and natural for him, he thinks nothing of it when he does it. If he were to ask me to do it, I would laugh and tell him it’s impossible. I have no idea what it would take for my arms to be in that position, but it would require drastic and painful measures. I am simply not physically capable of it!

It is easy and natural for me to make decisions. I can look at a choice, evaluate my options and what the outcomes will be on each path and make an informed decision. It is easy and natural for me. When I ask him to make a decision I am asking him to do something that seems impossible to him. Just as impossible as me manipulating my arms the way he does. It is not a question of him being too lazy or not trying hard enough. He simply may not have the pathways in his brain that allow him to think through the steps required to make a choice. This is much harder for us to see, but it is no less real.

Recognizing where there are mental and emotional issues is sticky. We don’t always get the opportunity to have professionals make a diagnosis. In our proof focused society we like to have an x-ray that shows a broken bone, a doctor that officially confirms it, and a cast that the world can see. Most mental and emotional issues still go undiagnosed and the person living with them often is left feeling like they are some how less than others because of their challenges. So although there are times that we truly do need to try harder, focus more or stop making excuses. There are also times we need to accept our limitations and learn to work within them. There are also times we need to accept that someone else’s reality may not match ours and what seems simple to us may be an insurmountable obstacle for them.

Wisdom.

Where does it come from and how to we acquire it and exercise it? We all need the ability to use our knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgement. We all make decisions and judgements every day… they aren’t all good. Our decisions and judgments have the potential to encourage others or hurt them. I know my source of wisdom…what is yours?

Let’s try to be people who will choose grace over judgement, forgiveness over resentment and hope over condemnation. If someone seems to be struggling with something you think should be easy for them, let’s assume there is more going on than you know and choose to support and encourage them.

Watch your words… unintentional hurt is still hurtful.

In the midst of the mess

Marny