Aliens among us

I’ve come to the realisation that having foster children is like having an alien from another planet arrive in your home.
They have no idea of our ways, and we of theirs.
We don’t know their medical issues.
We don’t know what they eat.
We don’t always understand their vocabulary (especially the little ones, it’s always tricky to get their ‘words’).

They arrive and we assume that because they have been in the universe for ‘x’ years, that they have certain knowledge about how things work, but they don’t. Whether they have come from their biological families, or from another foster family we make assumptions about these little ‘aliens’ and we’re pretty much always wrong.

So, I plan to keep reminding myself that these little people are ‘aliens’ and treat their time with us as a learning experience. Time for us to learn about them, and us to teach them about our world. Hopefully this little thought will help when the little kidlets push buttons and try our patience.

What have you done to help yourself stay sane through the button pushing tests?

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Emergency! Emergency!

It was the end of a long weekend, I’d just dropped “Kelly” home after her weekend of respite and was getting ready for a nice relaxing afternoon off before going back to work the next day when the phone rang. It wasn’t a number I was familiar with so I hummed and ahhhed about whether I felt like answering the phone. Ever have those days?

I didn’t pick up, and when the phone stopped ringing my mobile started….clearly someone was determined to talk to me, so I answered. It was someone from our agency, they had a little problem and was wondering if we could help. “Ben” needed somewhere to stay for the night. An emergency, just one night, something had happened, and seeing as “Ben” already knew us could he stay with us for the night. Of course, what on earth could be wrong?

Several phone calls later and we were able to find out little “Ben” was having a bad day. He’d been in the city with his “Jerry” and ‘mum’ shopping for the day and was having a meltdown. So much of a meltdown he was in the police station and mum refused to take him home, thus the emergency bed for the night being needed. Turns out, he was so upset, he’d been punching ‘mum’. Not a good thing to hear, and once this information came to light MM was a bit reluctant for him to come to us seeing as I would be home alone with him for a few hours as MM was working.
We expressed our concerns to the agency, and were reassured that he had settled down in the police station and that if he did start acting up all we had to do was call the 24 hour number and they would come and get him.

The people from the department had talked to “Ben” about coming to our house for a sleepover and he was back to being happy little “Ben” and was excited about it, so a couple of hours later he was dropped off by two people from the agency. “Ben” took one on a guided tour of the house and showed them ‘his’ room and ‘his’ bathroom while the other caught me up on some information about the situation and reassured me that if he got out of control I could just call and someone would come.

Well, our little overnight emergency lasted for a week. Not bad seeing as we weren’t even registered to do emergency care at this stage. Apparently we were given special permission to do it just this once so that “Ben” could be placed with people he knew rather than strangers. The week that he was with us gave the agency and department time to work with ‘mum’ to see if he could go back there once the situation had settled down and when that didn’t work out they found a family member able to take him in. It was nice being able to give people the time to do what they needed to do.

To find out what happened next for “Ben” read Where is he now.

R’n’R

Ma and Pa have taken a 5 day holiday (their longest trip away since moving to the farm) and we are the farm sitters. It’s peaceful, quiet, no phones ringing, no interwebby and no emails.
Just fresh air and animals.

At the time of Ma and Pa booking their holiday, MM had been not working for a few months, so it was going to be a lovely break. It’s a free holiday for us. Fridge and freezer are always full, no accommodation to pay for, what more could we ask for?

What we didn’t bargain on was MM getting called to work for a month and our ‘holiday’ right smack in the middle of that month. So, it became a question of, does he say he can’t do the week we are away or does he commute to and from the farm or do I go to the farm and he stays home?
Answer, he commutes. We can’t say no to the work,( he doesn’t get any welfare payments when not working so we make do on my income – extreme budgeting!) and my darling wouldn’t hear of me staying alone at the farm, so he opted for the 3 hours of driving every day. He gets home exhausted from work and the driving, and I am exhausted from just being here. I am sure it’s the air. Oh, and maybe the 15,000 steps a day walking around the farm (Pa loaned me his pedometer when they left, and it has surprised me how quickly the steps add up).

Today, I just went and sat on a rock out in the paddock with the cows. A few bothered to lift their heads up to see what I was doing, or maybe it was the 3 dogs they were interested in. Yes, 3 dogs. Ma and Pa’s 2 and of course, Bella is here on holiday with us. It was so relaxing, just listening to the magpies and the galahs, the odd moo from a cow and baa from a sheep. The sun was shining, the sky clear and blue, and all was right with the world. No car sounds, no peoples. Just peace and quiet.

MM, I am so sorry you can’t enjoy this with me. I know that if you were here, we would just grab a picnic blanket and sit out in a paddock with a good book and some sandwiches and a bottle of water and not speak, but just enjoy being together and relishing the silence and let the sunshine melt all our stresses away.

What’s your favourite thing to do for some R’n’R?

Wheeeee….splatt

The time was finally here for “Ben” to have a ‘sleepover’ at our house. “Jerry” wasn’t going to stay too as his ‘mum’ thought he was too young. We didn’t think so, and it’s not really respite for mum if she still has one of the kids, but, her call, so “Ben” only it was. The plus side is that “Jerry” is quite demanding of attention, in the cutest way. He will interrupt a conversation with “excuse me” and then proceed to talk without waiting to be acknowledged. We had to quickly work out what was going on and get tough by stopping him from interrupting. Cute that he says “excuse me”, but he had to be told that doesn’t automatically mean he can just start talking. By just having “Ben” on his own, we were able to spoil him and make more of a fuss of him, so, a good thing for him.

After “soccer” and lunch we spent the afternoon at a playground with a HUGE slide there. We spent over an hour ‘sliding’. I have never laughed so much and poor MM, came home with bruises and carpet burns, which of course, makes me laugh even now. I can hear you asking, how on earth did MM get carpet burns and bruises?

Well….
The boys started the afternoon ‘sliding’ in the regular manner. Individual slides and together, but as the time wore on we all got more creative.
In my infinite wisdom thought it would be good to get some action photos and videos of “Ben” on the slide, so I went down the slide backwards so I could film us. All you can hear is my squealing and “Ben” laughing, whether at my ‘girly’ squeals or just the fun we were having, I don’t know.
Then we had a race. I went down backwards to film it, and then the boys raced down. The result, a pile of bodies at the bottom of the slide laughing and being laughed at by all the onlookers.

“Ben” got quite creative with ways to slide.
There was the human sled…MM on his belly with “Ben” sitting on his back using him as a sled. Thus the bruises down MM’s thigh…car keys in his pocket!
The triple decker sandwich…MM on his belly, me laying on him, and “Ben” sitting on me. Poor MM.
The tummy races….both boys laying on their tummies and racing to the bottom. At the bottom of the slide there was outdoor carpet, thus MM’s carpet burn from, slipping of the slide and sliding on the carpet.

A great day was had by all.
A great way to tire out one little man and one not so little man.
A great way to ensure “Ben” got a good nights sleep.

I don’t think anyone at the park for an instance thought we were not a ‘real family’ and for the day, it felt good to be a ‘family’, having fun and being crazy together.

Respite for Easter. What the…??

It seems we are going to have another visit from “Blake”, the Easter weekend.
Now before you all hop up and down and call me all sorts of names, we’re happy to provide respite for the little man. We’re happy to provide respite over Easter. But, I’m not happy that respite is required.

Does “Blake” have some challenging behaviours…yeah!
Does “Blake” push your buttons….yeah!
Does “Blake deserve to spend a special weekend with his ‘family’ …HELL YEAH!!!!

Ok, so, I might have plans to spoil him.
I might be a bit excited about having a little person in the house so I can do the Easter Bunny stuff.
I might be happy to have him here so soon so that we can see if the sleep progress we made works again and
I know my family will treat him just like all the other grand babies (maybe more spoiled to be honest), but..

I believe he should be home.
I believe he should be with his foster family.
I believe he should be made to feel included, and that regardless of behaviour he is part of the family.

I can’t imagine how he must feel about this.
I can’t imagine how his behaviour is going to be that weekend.
I can’t imagine what must be going through his little head.

This isn’t our first Easter with kiddies.
Last year we had “Kelly” for the 4 days over Easter.
We have had kids due for mothers day, but that’s a no from me, I don’t always cope well with mothers day, so, having kids around isn’t a good plan.
We’ve even had a kidlet scheduled for their birthday, and it was going to go ahead, until a BIO-family member got the all clear to visit from interstate so they stayed home.

So foster carers……

Negotiate with your respite people. For us it’s school holidays. We could have provided care during the following week instead. Maybe you could have a different weekend.

I know these little people come with some pretty big baggage, and they have their challenges. That’s why we do respite. To help you, to provide you with some ‘sanity’ time so that you can continue to be the best carer you can be, to help keep these placements working so that these precious little peple don’t get moved on to the next person because they just got too hard. I know you need and deserve respite (and a medal) but they deserve to be a part of your family, to feel loved and wanted.

So, if your respite weekend falls on a special event weekend, birthday, Easter, Christmas, Mothers Day, Fathers Day…please think about the impact on the little person if you still send them off to respite.
Ok, they might have fun, they might get spoiled, but they aren’t with you, their family.

Ben and Jerry

“Ben and Johnny” were two little brothers we were asked to provide respite for.
Well, when you’ve seen them in action you can understand why their single foster mum needed respite. They were just full on, standard for their ages I know, but everyone needs a break and that’s what we’re here for. Filling in where grandparents aren’t able to.

“Johnny”, cute as a bug and very hard to say no to. A very affectionate and loving child.
“Ben”, older, not as cute, not as snugly, and generally a little more stand offish.

Our first meeting was at a park, neutral territory. Present were the boys, their “mum”, mum’s PSW, and us. Upon arriving we got greeted with a hug from ‘Johnny’ and well, ‘Ben’, he was in time out already. Not the best way to greet him, as we weren’t supposed to talk to him while he was in time out.

We spent about an hour at the park. We chatted with the boys , and when they were running around, we got the ‘goss’ about each of the boys from mum and PSW. It was a good hour. Time to work out what strategies we might employ with the boys and find out what they love doing.

The following week we had the boys come to our home for an afternoon, only a couple of hours. Just to spend some time with us without “mum” being there. We went to the park, did some jigsaw puzzles and checked out our spare rooms. The ‘boys’ room at that time was set up as a giant tent with sheets hanging from the ceiling and pinned to the walls and both mattresses were on the floor to make it like going camping.

A couple of weeks later they were back but this time for a full day visit.
We started with “Bens” first soccer game for the year. This was followed with a trip home to get changed and have a snack before heading up to the farm. We are so lucky to have the farm to go to. Always a crowd pleaser.

The boys had such a great day.
I had a couple of moments of freaking out, not being used to little boys.
Little boys that wanted to climb all over the hay stack.
Little boys that wanted to run around everywhere, seeming to be everywhere all at once.

Little boys with no fear. “Ben” just wanted to run around and pat all the cows, and yes, they’re quiet cows, but with their size, it’s better to err on the side of caution, so we introduced a new rule “need to hold the hand of an adult in the cow paddock” just to “Ben” down a bit. Nothing like being a human anchor! But, it was good to be able to slow him down and get him to learn to talk to the animals on his approach and teach him that when he’s just running over to them he can scare them, so just walk nice and slow, and they’ll let you give them a cuddle.

A really good first full day together.

The picnic

Yah!

Our agency had an Easter picnic and guess who was there?
Little “Catelyn”.

We knew she was going to be there, so it was something I was really looking forward to.
I know, a baby isn’t going to remember me.
But,
To get to have another cuddle.
To get to see that gorgeous little cherub face.
To see how much she’s grown in the 6 weeks since we looked after her.

The best part, it was the day that she moved on from her emergency care family to her ‘forever family’….well, as forever as the courts decided.

So, how did the picnic really go?

I made a CD with all of the pictures we took of “Catelyn” for each of her families, old and new, so that they each have some baby photos of her. Turned out a handy way to introduce ourselves to the new family.

MM managed to get a cuddle. The new family asked if we wanted a cuddle and he ran to her, I mean LITERALLY ran to her. I have never seen him run. I didn’t know he could *giggle*. But, somehow I missed out on a cuddle. That’s ok, I still got to spend some time with her she seeing that cute smile and her little teeth. “Catelyn” was teething when she was here, and now she has 4 teeth!

And guess what? I got a bit teary. Ridiculous I know. What can I say. I’m a sook.
I still want to be a “mum”. To have a little person all my own. “Catelyn” was such a lovely baby, it makes me want one. It’s that moment it hits me, that as an emergency and respite carer, no one will ever really think of me as their mum, and despite a few people telling me this is such an amazing thing we’re doing, loving and caring for many children rather than just one or two, having an influence on many, there’s still times that bring me to tears wanting one of mine.

Is that selfish?

Some assembly required

“Blake’s” Ba-ack.

Part of our plan to get the little man to sleep without howling is keep him busy and even busier.
We have more planned to help with the sleep see Snoopy saves the day

So, tonight, while waiting for the lasagne to cook we asked if he would mind giving MM a hand to assemble a play castle. ‘Mans’ work after all.
It’s not a big job, but it made him feel helpful and we’ve been putting it off, s0 now it’s done. Yah!

We never would have imagined that he would be so taken with it. That’s our issue, it’s a pink and purple castle, and my neice called it her fairy castle when she owned it, so, we thought a little man would not have a bar of it. We were gladly wrong.

“Blake” helped assemble the castle, and then as the self appointed King proclaimed that it needed cleaning, so, we his minions were sent for cleaning products. We three got stuck into cleaning, well, MM and I cleaned and somehow King “Blake” just made it muddy.

The King has spent many hours in the castle this weekend. He has used it as a tank blowing up the enemy (poor Bella), as a race care track (the slide made a great track), as a production line (the slide doubles as a conveyor belt), as a fort where intruders were told to get off the property and at one point part of the roof was removed and placed in the middle of the lawn as a boat and with a length of gold ribbon he was able to fish.

It’s been so great to see “Blake” doing more creative play this weekend. Other weekends he has needed more direction, but thanks to one hand me down castle, the little man has had a great weekend being different characters.

To do list…old clothes for dress ups to enhance the play. Any suggestions for keeping the costs low?

How has the agency helped you as a carer?

How haven’t they helped us?

They trained us and interviewed us for seemingly an eternity, and looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There have been challenges we have faced that we just went into auto-pilot mode for and the training kicked in and took over. With our very different backgrounds (MM has 4 kids and I have none) there have been times I thought we would disagree about how to deal with issues, but the training has been so good that we are on the same page.

They are at the end of the phone 24/7 if we need help and yes, we have had to make some out of hours calls.
We had a child with medication that wasn’t supposed to have any.
We had a child due to be dropped off and over an hour after we were expecting them we hit the panic button and called to find out if they knew something we didn’t.
We had a carer call and ask if we could just take their munchkin in for the weekend as their other respite carer wasn’t home when they tried to drop them off.
We were getting a late night emergency (10 pm the kiddie was getting dropped off) and the agency requested we call them on the emergency number to make sure she got there.

Ongoing free training is available. Last year I did an online course about resilience and recovery. Was fantastic. Reinforced what we’re doing, and gave us ideas of things we can do to help these kids recover from the trauma that they have had in their little lives.

My amazing PSW….I say she’s amazing, but that’s only because I can’t think of any better words to describe her…checks in all the time to make sure we’re going ok. Nothing ever seems too much. If we have questions, or problems or brainwaves, she’s always there for us. I couldn’t imagine this journey without her.

Snoopy saves the day

We did it.
But how did we do it?

Well, that is the million dollar question. We don’t exactly know.

“Blake” has been back with us this weekend and we did it.
We got him to go straight to sleep both nights.
No “I want another drink”.
No “I need to go to the toilet”.
No coming downstairs.
No tears.
Most importantly….No howling.

So what did we do?
The answer is, we did a LOT of things differently.
We asked his PSW and social worker what to do. They actually didn’t help much other than to tell us that he does the ‘howling’ thing every night at respite, it’s not just for us (should that be a sigh of relief for us? or should we be frustrated that no one has tried to get to the bottom of this? I’ll do both!)
We asked our PSW what we could do.
We read books.
We racked our brains.
What we came up with was this:

From our PSW and the team at our agency – yes, a team approach. She asked around and they came up with – the little man is confused and not able to express himself, so when he’s unwinding in bed he’s thinking about loving being here and having fun with us, but misses his mum at the same time and can’t process that mixture of emotions.

Also, the fact that he comes from both a big bio-family and foster-family, then suddenly here he is an only child with 2 adults paying him attention could also be overwhelming him a little bit.

So, night 1, after dinner we had a chat about what changes were going to take place this weekend and why.

We explained that we were going to get him to have a bath at night instead of a shower in the morning, that he could have 2 short stories, or 2 chapters of a book, and what the ‘reward’ would be the next day for going straight to sleep.

Night 1, argh, who would have thought it would take him 20 minutes to get into the bath? We certainly didn’t. (that’s a story for another time) But, bathe he did, sort of. Out he got, and ready for bed, 2 chapters of his book and with a reminder about all the fun for tomorrow at the farm if he went straight to bed, we crossed EVERYTHING, and waited.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. 5 minutes, nothing. 10 minutes, nothing. 20 minutes, are we all clear?
It seems we were.
We checked on him just as we were going to bed, and wrapped tightly in his little arms was Snoopy. My poor old teddy, who is closer to 40 than either of us would like to admit to.

Night 2, and this time we’re sure we’re in for a long night as a couple of hours before bedtime “Blake” had a bit of a meltdown. We figured with our good fortune the previous night and the meltdown, we were in for trouble for sure. But we stuck with what worked last night.
Bath (straight in tonight, yah!) 2 chapters of a book and then bed.
As we were leaving his room a little voice followed us with “I miss my mum”
My turn to handle this one.
I went and sat on the other bed in his room and we had a quiet chat about how it must be confusing, having so much fun, and missing mum. “Blake’s” reply? “Yeah. Can mum come to respite too so we can have fun together?”
Instead, we agreed he should go to sleep and dream of all the fun things we did during the day so he can tell mum all about them the next day and Ta Dah!
Straight to sleep….again!!!

So what was the magic?
Well, it might have been the bath.
It might have been spending almost an hour unwinding and getting ready for bed.
It might have been us empathising and verbalising his conflicting feelings.
But, my money is on Snoopy.
Both nights Snoopy was in a bear hug, so Snoopy, this one’s for you buddy.

Thank you for all my good nights of sleep as a little one, and now thank you for helping our little one get some sleep.