Friday, July 31, 2015

What I Learned as a First-Time Foster Mom

I am a resource gatherer. When I find myself in a new situation, I like to find out all my options for navigating it. What do my friends do? Who are the experts and what do they do? What books are recommended? Podcasts? Videos? Although it can be overwhelming, it works for me. As much as you read into something before it happens, you don't know how you will be feeling and what factors will affect you. I also like to record thoughts and experiences; it allows me to look back and see where I was and how far I've come (or not.) We always think that we'll remember just how things were, but somehow, that's usually harder than we think.  I write this to remember, to inform, and to share with others who may be heading out on the same journey.

These are the things I learned early on as a first-time foster mom:

What I learned as a First-Time Foster Mom

1.  There will be multiple plans in place – A,B and C – when a child is removed from their home.  We were called several times once we were active just in case Plan A or B did not work.  You might be open to children aged three to six, but with limited homes, you will likely be presented with a child outside of your preferred range (except for a child under the age of one as you need Safe Babies Training for that.)

2. There are many people involved with many appointments. There's my own social worker (called a Resource Social Worker), the child's social worker, the child, birth family (including extended and all it's intricacies), doctors, lawyers, teachers, child development team, respite care etc. There is also a lot of paperwork to fill out. Write down every phone number and email address that you think you may ever need because you will need them.

3. It can happen very quickly. Usually as a foster parent, you get a phone call where the child is described to you (as much as they know) and then you need to make a decision within the hour. Once that decision is made, the child can be in your home almost immediately.

4.   Transitions can be tough. Find out what makes them feel safe. For example, holding a special toy as they go into the car or bath or bed. Figure out if they prefer to be held in your arms or holding your hand when moving into a new situation. Take your time in those transitions to make them feel safe.

Transitions with foster children

5.  It is lonely. I am a very open book. I like to share, share, and share some more. To keep my own life private is difficult because I work through feelings by letting them all out. I love community. Find "your people" who are your listeners, resources, pray-ers, and encouragers. You will likely cry a lot in the first few days due to exhaustion and the sheer magnitude of all of the layers involved.

6.  You can make a difference in a short amount of time. The hours and hours spent with the child will slowly allow them to trust you and they will begin to feel safe. Smiles and giggles may be seen and heard sooner than you think. They will "thaw out" and their true personality will start to emerge.

7.  Your biological kids may pleasantly surprise you with all their love and compassion; they may even offer up their own comfort items to the child. They will initiate new games and connect to the child in a different way than you might. This is truly special to be a part of and I'm pretty sure Kai was the recipient of the first smile.

8. Food is your friend.  Find out what they love and stock up; be sure to take favourite snacks along with you. Keeping blood sugar levels regulated is so helpful with their behaviour, just think about how you feel when you're hungry or thirsty.

9. Like parenting any child, there is no "right way" to do things. There are wrong ways – physical discipline is not okay when fostering. Sleep is a big tricky one. Do you stay with them as they try to sleep? If so, how long? When do you try to get them to self-soothe? Listen to your gut and heart and err on the side of softness.

10. Routine. Routine. Routine. My lack of spontaneity has come in handy.

11.  The nights are difficult and likely harder than you think they will be. It takes a while for the child to feel safe and that is a must before they will have a good (or decent) sleep and therefore YOU having a good night's sleep. A routine before bed along with a nightlight, white noise, and comfort item all help, but usually your presence in their room, until they are asleep, is best (this is the conclusion that I came to after weighing all the options and advice.) You can read or be on a computer, but just be in the room. My friend suggested that I rethink this time because I was feeling like my "me time" was gone. Now I see 7-9 pm as my time to work uninterrupted (in a dark room) on the computer, catch up on emails, or read a book. Hopefully this "me time" in the dark doesn't go on for too long though, I would like to be able to go out at night. We are also experimenting with essential oils.

12.  You will celebrate some seemingly small milestones. For example, if a child finally holds a toothbrush after screaming any time it gets near, celebrate. If they then let you make brushing motions outside their mouth, cheer! And if they let you brush their teeth for the first time, that means they are feeling a whole lot safer with you. Cheer and celebrate and they'll likely let you do it again.

13.  Self-care. You cannot care well for others if you are not looking after yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Accept and ask for help. Care often falls on the woman because the child may feel more comfortable with females; make sure your partner knows how to help you. I am so incredibly thankful that Gary is home for the next month!

14. Thoughts and feeling will vary especially at the very beginning. From "I don't think I can stand this child one minute longer" (usually at 3 am when they've been crying off and on for hours) to "I love this child and can't imagine them leaving" so make sure you have a sounding board. If you have to, leave the child in a safe place for five minutes, vent as much as you need, and go back in.

The learning never ends, and fortunately, I love new ideas and information. The tricky part is who or what to listen to (as in any situation) but if you take all advice given, and work it so that it fits your life and heart, you can find a plan that works. And prayer, oh boy, I don't think I've ever prayed so much or asked so many people for prayer.

This is just the beginning for us. I wonder what my "What I Learned After Being a Foster Parent For a Year" post will look like!  If you have general questions about fostering,  I can try to answer them.


Pin here for later:
What I learned as a first time foster mom

PS Here are some great videos to watch on adoption and fostering children from hard places.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thankful Thursday

This week I am thankful for:

1.  Thoughtful friends.  Not only did I get this great book bag, there were books inside.  Happy early birthday to me!

2. 100 weddings.  Gary and I have met so many great people and have learned so much!  GC Photography will be coming to end (likely) July 2016.  We're looking forward to what adventures may come our way :)

3.  The love between these three.  Look at their morning cuddles on the couch...they just love being together (most of the time!)

4.  Nya doing so well at the dentist.  She had to get a filling and it's not a pediatric dentist so I wondered how she would do. She was fantastic.  She actually laid on top of me while having it done, just in case, but next time she'll be just fine doing it on her own.  She's showing you the red bracelet she got as a prize.

5. Swimming lessons.  All three kids are in it this week.  How did Nya get so old?! She loves feeling like such a big girl.  Gary also takes them to the outdoor pool every single day because he's awesome.

6.  American Ninja Warrior.  Such a fun show and keeps these kids active with their aspirations of being on the show one day ;) 

7.  Resourceful friends.  I love the variety of friends that I have.  I can approach them with questions on anything from parenting to fashion to recommended resources.   Thank you, friends.  You know who you are!!

8. You.  Seriously. Thank you for reading.

9. Prayer. Sometimes, that's all there's left to do.

10. Gary being home for the summer.  I am so incredibly thankful to have a parenting partner (and best friend) at home with me.  Our summer may not be that exciting but it's been good for our hearts and minds.

Apparently I need to take a few more photos of my kiddos this week.  Taking 3,000 pictures this weekend burned me out a bit ;)

What are YOU thankful for today?


Monday, July 27, 2015

When My Kids Get Married

Gary and I photograph a lot of weddings.  I've become so emotional throughout the wedding day because I just imagine my own kids saying their "I Do's".  Nya putting on her wedding dress.  Kai dancing with me.  Gary and I walking Nya down the aisle.  Koen's childhood slideshow–I've got some good photos for that one.  Gary and I giving a speech (I couldn't get any words out at my own wedding so it's doubtful I will be able to at theirs–I cry so easily.)  Maybe they won't get married, but if it is their heart's desire, I hope it happens.

I pray that they choose their spouse wisely.  It's probably one of the biggest decisions they'll ever make.  I hope that they are wonderful partners by working hard to make it the best relationship that it can be; respecting, listening, and being thoughtful.

I hope that whoever marries into this family desires a relationship with us, you know, the "old people"–I promise I'm fun!

There's not a lot I can do about it other than model a great marriage, talk about respect and relationships, and pray about it.  Any other ideas? 

Do you think about this too?  


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thankful Thursday

This week I am thankful for:

1.  Visiting Gold Creek Campground at Golden Ears Provincial Park.  I love visiting people who are camping :)  We get the perks of camping and then go home to sleep in our own beds!  The campsites are so big and there were endless things for the kids to climb on.

3. Swimming in Alouette Lake.  Nya LOVES swimming and we love her floaties (from Costco for $19.99)

5.  Beautiful sunsets. 

6.  A great family day at Science World.  We went while Kai was at camp and the kids really enjoyed the dinosaur exhibit.  They've been able to go a few times this year because of the family free day and winning passes :)  I should really look into an annual pass because they really do enjoy their time there.

7. Nya Bear winning her first contest through the summer reading program at the library.  The book is called "Because" so now that is their funny answer for everything.

8.  Freckles.

9.  A safe and stable home.  I am thankful that I grew up in one and that my kids are experiencing one.

10.  My sunshine.  So sweet.

I hope you are having a great week.  Please let me know what you are thankful for today!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Toy That Never Gets Old

You know how there are some phases that kids go through that don't last a long time?  Where you get frustrated for purchasing something that they "have to have" and they play with it for just a month?  There is one thing that my boys have played with for YEARS.  Cars.  They love them and Nya does now, too.

The boys received their first Hot Wheels set for Christmas of 2010.  Kai loved his Trick Track and I have to admit it was pretty cool!   Recently, the kids had the opportunity to play with the Hot Wheels Super Speed Blastway.  They worked together to set it up and made a tournament out of it.  They tallied up which cars sent the most flags flying; this kept them busy for a whole morning.  

I like that the tracks are removable so that it takes up less space.  Nya likes that the "popcorn" goes flying.

I appreciate that Hot Wheels can be used by every kid in our family; aged 3-9.


Don't forget that there are a lot of ideas online on how to incorporate Hot Wheels cars into learning through the Hot Wheels FUNdamentals Learning Program.    Last time we did a math lesson and this time Koen practiced his printing and creative storytelling. 

If anyone wants to come over and play with some Hot Wheels cars, we have a bin full!  Gary's mom even kept all of his from when he was younger so that the kids can play with them when they go to her house.  Guess I'll be keeping mine for my grandkids, too.  


PS Here are the kids back in 2012 playing with their Hot Wheels over the Christmas holidays.  Nya was so small!

Monday, July 20, 2015

When My Son Went to Camp

He was ready for camp. Me? Not so much.

As soon as we dropped off our oldest son at his first-time camp experience, I felt uneasy.  Did we make the right decision encouraging him to go?  Why didn't we ask a friend to go with him?   Would he tell someone if he was lonely?  What if he didn't wear sunscreen?  How would he do with such a late bedtime?  How safe were they really around the water?  What if he needed me?

Throughout the week-long camp, my stomach was in knots.  If I thought about my almost nine-year-old Kai Bear, tears welled up in my eyes.  He had only stayed over at grandma's house before – this was a whole new territory for the both of us.  We had not allowed him to sleepover at a friend's house and here we were letting him have a massive sleepover with 500 strangers.

As hard as it was for me, I know it was beneficial for both of us.  I'm "that mom" who loves to know everything; bowel movements (yes), dreams, friends, thoughts, get the idea.  My instinct is to hold them close, probably too close.  He was hesitant leading up to camp and unsure of whether he truly wanted to go or not.   He loves almost all activities (as long as they aren't crafty) and I knew he would just need time to get over the initial nervousness that any new experience would give him.  I could have easily swayed him to forgo camp but I felt that the benefits would outweigh any hardship.

I remember the first time leaving him when he was a six-week-old.  Gary and I went to a movie and then rushed home to see if he was okay.  To be clear, I was the one "encouraging" Gary to get home as soon as possible and I'm still this way (which doesn't make for the most relaxing date.)  Over time, we took baby steps in "releasing" him; from a sleepover at grandma's to preschool to kindergarten, the distance and/or time apart increased.   Having your kids go to school is an emotionally transitional time as a parent; you need to trust someone else to speak into your child's life for a large portion of their day.  We have gone away without the kids several times but they were always together and we had daily confirmation that everything was okay; I need that "all is well" text.

By having a piece of my heart two hours away for six days, I was forced to let him go just a little bit more.  I needed to trust him, the camp, and God.  Worrying about it wouldn't make a difference– I just had to hope and pray that he was having the time of his life.

Sometimes it's hard to let go; my instinct is to protect my kids emotionally and physically, especially emotionally – don't hurt my kids' hearts!  There are some hardships in their day to day because I don't help them with everything, and I actually just can't; it teaches them problem solving and also shows them that there are consequences to their decisions.  There are many new situations to navigate as they grow up; I know I won't always be right there to do it and they are going to have to learn to step up while I step aside.  No matter what, I hope they know that their mom is cheering them on and praying for them whether they are in the next room, at camp two hours away, or off to university at the age of 18.

How did he do?  He had a great time and said he enjoyed feeling like an adult (although I don't think an adult would store their wet bathing suit in the suitcase each day?!)  How did I do?  I stretched and grew and feel a bit more prepared for next year because obviously he can't wait to go to camp again.  For now, we are in the post-camp detox stage: trying to get back into routine with three kids and enforcing regular bedtimes.


PS Please tell me I'm not alone in this whole "letting go" thing!  When did/do you feel it the strongest?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lower Falls: The Perfect Family Hike

If you live in the Lower Mainland and are looking for a great family hike, we love Lower Falls at Golden Ears Provincial Park.  We do it once a year and enjoy it every time. 

This weekend we went with my sisters and their families.  It's 2.7 km each way and if you stop to throw rocks in the water (at the half way point) it's about an hour walk in each direction. 

I would recommend packing a picnic and just spending a good hour at this half way mark to enjoy the water.  It's not deep and the water is very enticing!  If we had bathing suits along, the kids would have gone in for sure.  Well, Koen did anyway.

At the end you have the option of climbing to the top of the 10-metre high falls or staying down below in the pools.

The hike itself is pretty shaded so it helps to keep you cool in the summer months.

You can bring a stroller along as the path is a relatively flat gravel one, but we opted for carrying Nya in the Ergo when she needed some help.

My only tip would be to arrive at the Gold Creek parking lot early because by noon, when we left, it was packed.

Have you done this hike?  If not, let me know if you try it!  If you want to pin this for later, you can find it here on Pinterest.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thankful Thursday

This week I am thankful for:

1. Just one more sleep until I get to see my Kai Bear again!  He's been at camp all week and I miss him a lot.  The hardest part is just having no idea how he's doing.  Although I've been apart from him before (for a shorter amount of time), I would always get a text or email from grandpa saying how he was doing.  I do have to say that there has been way less fighting in our house this week!

2.  Gary being home so I can work uninterrupted (for the most part.) Wedding season is always a busy one.  I usually edit for about 6 hours a day (let's be honest...1-2 hours probably gets sucked up by checking stuff out online and blogging etc).  

3. Date night!  I work during the day now so that I have my evenings free.  Gary and I went to see Hairspray–The Broadway Musical.   It was very fun and romantic!  Also a huge high-five to my dad for babysitting for us...saved us some serious $$$$.  He asked if we could provide coffee and cookies so he could have his friends over while our kids slept :) 

4.  Organization.  I love these little cubbies/lockers.  Our kids actually put everything away where it's supposed to go!

5. A husband that can paint.  It's very helpful that he used to work for a painting company.  Gary finished the stairway and upstairs hallway this week–it covered up the last of the original paint in the house from when we moved in 9 years ago.

6.  A husband that involves the kids.  I don't have as much patience for doing that; I know my limits and stay within it :)

7.  A basement to play in.  I love, love, loooooooooooooooooooove having a giant playroom for the kids to play in.  It gets messy but it's so nice to have all of those toys downstairs and out of my vision.  It's also especially lovely in the summertime as it's nice and cool.  

8.  Support groups.  Family, church friends, care group, mom group, friends,  blogging and fostering...there's so many different supportive communities that I can/do reach out to.  I love how the online community helps with this!

9. A night out to see Oliver!–The Musical. I feel totally spoiled that I got to see both productions of Theatre Under the Stars this week.  My friend Leah came with me.  The pre-show activities were really fun so if you bring kids, make sure you show up early (strong man competition, ring toss etc.) I also loved the sing-along and the kids did an amazing job.  

10. Koen.  I love this age (six.)  He is hilarious and becoming more responsible.  He has really started reading a lot better this summer which is probably due to the summer reading program and us reading with him 15 minutes each day because, well, we haven't been awesome at it this year. This is the one area where I feel like we invested in a lot more with child #1 and then let it slide.  Go, Koen!

I hope that you are having a good week!  What is one (or ten!) thing(s) you are thankful for this week?