Friday, June 21, 2013

VBS Week

Tonight is the final evening of Vacation Bible School, which I am directing, despite the fact that I have no experience besides being a very low-responsibility volunteer a few times in the not-recent past (like high school and college!) But I figured I'd take advantage of my WAHM-status to do more at church, and I can't resist an opportunity to both organize and theme-decorate (my two greatest skills!) so here we are.

It's gone well! We're doing Cokesbury's Everywhere Fun Fair theme, which I keep describing as "county fair meets world's fair," since it's carnival-type decor with some exposure to other countries as we learn how to love God and love our neighbors who live both near and around the globe!

We start each evening with the opening skit between me and the puppet, Godwin Merrifeather, and some great volunteers lead the music!

 Then the kids, in three groups, rotate around to crafts, games, Bible story, and supper.

The country themes get woven throughout the sessions, starting with a display up front during the opening gathering, and then have cultural elements in the crafts, games, and food—and even in the Bible story, a little bit! Here are my displays for Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Zimbabwe. (I've had to wonder, if other countries were doing a "USA" display, what would they put in it? Cowboy hats and cheeseburgers?)

Here's the United Kingdom—then dinner was fish (sticks) and chips, and Matt even wove the British theme into his Bible lesson by making his Innkeeper (telling the Good Samaritan story) into a Mr. Carson-type character!

What a creative hubby I have! One of the little girls, upon seeing him in the tux, stopped in her tracks and said, with great fanfare, "Mama-mia!" 
Here he is as Zack the Tax-Man (i.e. tax collector Zaccheus!)

It's been an exhausting week (don't forget several big work deadlines on top of getting my ducks in a row for each day of VBS!) and tonight it will all end with our Family Fun Fair, where parents can join their kids toward the end of the session for a carnival of games, fair-food, and a little performance of a few of the songs the kids learned. It's been fun, and I hope the kids have learned a lot too!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Cutest Superhero Party

My friend Nancy threw her daughter, Becca, the cutest superhero party last weekend! And since she's not blogging much these days, and my girls had such a great time, I'll take the liberty of telling you all about it (though you'll have to forgive the photographic focus on my own kids)!

Nancy had felt capes for all the kids that they got to embellish themselves from a wide array of shields, hearts, flowers, lightning bolts, stars, etc. It was the iron-on felt, so after arranging their pieces, the kids got in line to have a grown-up helper seal them with the iron. Then the kids could decorate their foam masks with stick-on foam pieces, and put on their silver armbands (tin foil over Starbucks cup-sleeves!)

Claire (i.e. me!) got to make a cape and mask too, and she looked so cute! If there had been a lightning bolt sticky, I might have used it on the mask, since people have mentioned her forehead scar is like Harry Potter's! 

Once all the kids were fully geared-out, they began their superhero training, first testing their super x-ray vision by finding glow-necklaces in a dark room (one kid at a time so they weren't running into each other!) Then we headed outside (the party was held at church—yet another benefit of being a PK!) for a superhero training obstacle course and super-strength training with a pinata!

Back inside for cake and presents, Claire gave up on her spoon almost immediately, grabbing the whole piece of cake off the plate with both hands! (See how her wound already looks so much better, only two weeks after getting four stitches? They didn't dissolve like they were supposed to, so we had to get them cut out after ten days.)

I know Nancy had been debating the concept of opening presents at the party, but after a big Facebook discussion with lots of people's input and ideas, I loved the path she chose: having a second chair up front for the gift-giver to come up and sit while Becca opened their gift. It helps minimize the free-for-all of present opening at kids parties, and help the birthday child connect gift and giver more directly, and the giver gets to help open the gift and see the birthday child enjoying it.

It was such a cute party, the superhero costumes make a great addition to the sparkly pink stuff filling our dress-up box, and I loved seeing how even girls can enjoy a superhero theme! Happy birthday, SuperBecca!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

We Love Daddy!

Happy Father's Day to the wonderful father of my kiddos. Kate and Claire are so lucky to have such an awesome daddy!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Foster Care Q&A

I'm by no means an expert on foster care—we got our official approval only about six months ago, and have had only two placements! But I still get asked a lot of questions about our experiences and fostering in general, so I thought I'd answer a few of the questions that seem most common.

Can dual career households foster? 
This was my first question when I contacted the Department of Children's Services to express interest in fostering. Their answer was, "absolutely, yes, we want resource families to be financially stable," and she explained that there are day care vouchers/subsidies/whatever. And in our training, we met several single women who foster, so obviously they have jobs outside the home and foster as well. All that said, I am so glad I work from home now so that I have the flexibility to go to Child-Family Team Meetings (CFTM), go to court, etc. when the kids need it, without running it by anyone (not to mention all the other benefits we've found in our new arrangement!)

Isn't it hard to let go of the kids? 
So many people say "I would get too attached to ever let them go." I'll admit, I still sometimes miss Faith, our first foster child who was with us for just eight days. If she had been with us eight weeks or eight months, I'm sure that feeling would be even stronger, but the truth is that we're not in it with the intention of keeping these kids forever, and it's not about our feelings anyway. We do it to provide a much-needed service to the community and help these kids when they need it. 

On a related note, I do worry about the families that go in to foster care with the intention of adopting. The social worker leading our training spoke harshly about the folks who just want to foster babies with the hope of adopting one (because they often say "no" when they get calls to foster an older child that they wouldn't want to adopt), and I imagine it would be very hard to genuinely work toward the child's reconciliation with his or her family if you are personally hoping parental rights are terminated. But, that's their business, I guess, and I know the couples we met during training that hope to adopt are providing an important service while they wait for the child that will become theirs.

Doesn't it frustrate you to let kids go back into a bad situation? 
Obviously, the purpose of a child coming into custody is to protect the child and remedy the bad situation by getting the parents help that they need (it's not always abuse, mind you, but could be homelessness or extreme poverty, and the parents need assistance with housing or utilities—or maybe it is drug rehab or parenting classes, but let's not assume all these parents are dangerous to their kids or others). All that to say that kids don't necessarily leave custody into a bad situation. They may leave with a relative, like Faith did and Theresa probably will soon, and have a family member assume that long-term parental role.

Isn't the system really broken? 
The "system" in general is broken. By that, I mean our social structure of generational poverty, an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, cultures of violence and drugs . . . there are a lot of problems in society. Ideally, child services and juvenile court address or at least do not exacerbate these problems. I read some blogs written by foster parents in other states and there definitely are systems not working for kids. There's one in Texas I read where the social workers are determined to send the kids to an unsafe relative, and the foster mom has had to hire a lawyer of her own to advocate to let the kids be adopted by her (I'll link below). 

But from our first PATH (Parents as Tender Healers) class onward, I have been very impressed by our DCS here in Nashville. They seem to take a very redemptive approach, with reunification (with family) an initial goal, and if that is not possible, permanency within 6-12 months. Every move a child makes is another trauma adding to the baggage he or she will carry, so the goal is to not let children be shuffled around to numerous foster homes, stuck in the system, for years. Our meetings at DCS make me feel all warm and fuzzy, seeing how all these social workers and advocates come together to work for what is best for a child and family. 

Do people just do it for the money?
Hopefully not, and this is part of the reason (like mentioned in my first Q above) that they want to ensure foster families are financially stable, not seeking extra income from fostering. Foster families do get paid, subsidizing the resources they put into caring for the child. Matt and I have speculated you would have to have several foster kids and not buy them much of anything in order to make what you'd call a profit from fostering. I keep a spreadsheet separate from our family budget to log expenditures for our foster kids and the board payments we receive, mainly to make sure they come about even and that we aren't either running a huge deficit or profiting personally from fostering. On our personal family budget, I don't include board payments in our income or the specifically foster child purchases in our expenses.

Are you putting your family at risk?
Maybe. But it's an infinitely smaller risk than we take every time we get into a car and drive somewhere. I worry a lot more about my kids getting into a car accident or even some crazy person coming into their day care with a gun than I worry about them suffering as a result of our family fostering. That's not to say there aren't risks; the reason we won't be taking older kids who have been abused is that part of their trauma may be expressed in abusing others. As our social worker advised, we ask a lot of questions before accepting a placement so we are aware of risks like that.

Actually, something I just saw on an Allstate insurance ad speaks well to this, talking about all the risks in life: "Bad things don't stop us from making lives better." Actually, I think it said, "...making our lives better," but the difference is also kind of the point. We don't exist just to make our lives better, but anyone's life we can.

Is it confusing for your kids to have other kids come and go?
I don't know what Claire thinks, other than "yay, someone else to hold me if Mommy is busy!" but Kate definitely understands the difference between a member of our family and a guest. We don't use the word "foster" with her, but call them "guest kids," putting them in a similar category to a relative or friend that visits for the weekend and sleeps in our guest room and to our homeless "guests" who dine with us on Wednesday nights at church in the colder months. And we keep Kate posted about what might happen with our guests, going to live with a relative or whatnot. It's about radical hospitality, and we're glad for our kids to grow up seeing that as normal.

Do you have to take every kid they ask you to?
No. When you get a placement call, it is definitely asking (or maybe begging) but definitely not telling you to take this child. They give you the basic info about age and gender and why they are in custody, and you can ask as many questions as you need to. I ask about behavioral things, abuse, school/day care, how long they expect the child to remain in custody, what the likely permanency goal will be, etc.

Something that intrigued me during our training—the lady that was so harsh against people who won't take teenagers (not including folks like us who have young bio kids to watch out for), said that the one thing she won't argue with is folks who say they won't take a child of a different race. If you say you don't want middle schoolers or something, she might tell you to suck it up, but if you say you don't want a black baby, she'll say "fine." She said she'd rather let some foster parents be racist than put a child in a home where they won't be treated kindly.

Can you take the kids on vacation?
I hear some places are stricter about this, requiring permission even to take a child across county lines, but here, we just need parental permission. (I say "just," though that could be a tough thing, if the parent is unhappy about their child being in care at all; they might not approve.) So we could have taken Theresa with us to Louisville in April, but we didn't want her to miss school, so she went to another foster family's house for a few days. That's called "respite care."

Interestingly, haircuts are another thing that require parental approval. That poor foster blogger in Texas I mentioned above, one of her kids has hair down past her bottom and begs to get it cut, but between a bio mom in jail and a difficult social worker, she hasn't been able to get the permission. Theresa got extensions while she's been here—hope that's okay!

Where can I learn more about fostering?
I think I just googled "foster care nashville" or something like that. I'd seen billboards for some of the private agencies, and honestly I don't know much about the difference between going through an agency and directly through the state, but I felt called to go through the state, for reasons I can't exactly articulate. So I would google it for your state or city area, but there are also national sites like AdoptUSKids, which has a lot of information and details about each state.

I've enjoyed reading some blogs by foster mamas, and it has given me a wider perspective of what fostering is like in other areas. The one in Texas I mentioned above, intervening legally to adopt the kids since the state is ignoring red flags about a family placement, is CherubMamma, and another favorite is Fosterhood in NYC, who is fun both because she's got an 8-month-old foster baby and a newborn foster-to-adopt baby, and she's different from the usual southern mom blogs I usually read!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Little Techie

So how's our little bruiser after Friday's accident? She's good; the skin already seems to be growing back together, like the nurses said, and she's feeling just fine—back to her techie ways, which I was planning to tell you about before her injury preempted it!

I know everyone marvels how little kids love phones and instinctively know how to swipe a touchscreen—they are "digital natives," after all, but I've always thought Claire was a little more techie than most. She's an "old soul," and examines things very analytically. She loves to fiddle with knobs and buttons and ANY kind of technology, from light switches to remotes to the sound equipment at church. (The nurse let her turn on the spotlight thing that would shine down while she got her stitches. She enjoyed that.)
Examining Daddy's iPod speakers
Working on her laptop

Here, you take this old phone. I've got work to do.

When playing on my keyboard, she often brings up the HTML for whatever page the browser is on. I don't know how she does this. I'm sure it's a quick keyboard shortcut that she just happens to hit a lot, but it happens often enough to feel like evidence of her innate techniness!

I dunno, Mommy. I'm cool. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Guess Who Needed Stitches First

When Kate made her first ER visit at age 2 1/4, we were surprised that it was for croup. Being the wild little daredevil she is, we thought for sure her first trip to the hospital would be in need of stitches for some crazy fall on the playground. She's now 4 1/4, attempting even greater gymnastic and playground feats, but still hasn't been back to the hospital!

No, it was Claire who required our mad dash to the ER last night. And the accident didn't happen in her dash to keep up with any of Big Sister's antics. In true PK (Preacher's Kid) fashion, the accident happened at church. . .

Matt was conducting a wedding rehearsal for a lovely couple in our church and I was taking photos as the bride's "official un-official photographer" of the wedding festivities. Kate and Claire were playing around the sanctuary, sometimes standing up with Matt on the chancel and sometimes weaving in and around the pews where I was sitting.

I took this adorable pic of Claire looking at a songbook, which might end up on, because it's hard to find "kids in worship" stock photos :0)

So Matt was instructing the wedding party on all their stuff, and then BAM! The kids were running down the aisle to the pew where I was sitting, Kate turned the corner and hopped up on the pew with me, and Claire was right behind her, but tripped and fell smack into the corner of the pew leg. I heard someone exclaim how directly she'd hit that edge, and when she stood up, she had a big gash in her forehead, and blood smearing out of it and under her nose. (If you're squeamish, now's the time to leave.)

From the moment I picked her up, I could tell it needed stitches. The one-inch gash was gaping a quarter-inch wide. Claire was crying at that point, but stopped as soon as I got her over to a sink and wiped some of the blood and was in "go" mode. I scrambled to grab our stuff and someone handed me a maxi pad to get the blood, and someone else got some ice, and we ran out the door, leaving Matt behind. (I figured he couldn't finish up the rehearsal quick enough, and someone said they would bring him over to us.) Once we were in the car, someone alerted me that Matt was coming, so we waited a minute and he hopped in the car too and off we went to the ER.

I was going to head to Vanderbilt Children's, figuring they could handle kids best, but Matt convinced me the closest hospital, Southern Hills, would be just fine and much less crowded, so we could be seen faster. Indeed, we didn't wait too long (though any wait when you've got a bleeding child makes you impatient!)

Claire was in good spirits, fussing only when I had to put her down for a second so they could get her height and weight, and then she was fine again. In fact, the wait once we got to our room was frustrating mainly because the kids were being their busy, curious, rowdy selves, and I was afraid of Claire injuring herself worse or getting germs in the wound. 

Happy girl stayed happy until the actual stitching process, where we had to swaddle her arms tightly to her and hold her down. I leaned on her and sang to her while she got four stitches. Matt and Kate went to get us some dinner (to pass the time and keep Kate from seeing the actual procedure). Claire was a trooper. She cried pathetically through the procedure, but once we released her, she cried, "Mommy!" and a hug calmed her down immediately.

The gap was too wide to use glue (what I was hoping for, since I figured it would reduce scarring) so they used dissolving stitches that should be gone within 3-5 days. The nurses assured me that baby skin, especially on the face, regenerates quickly, so the skin would probably grow back together in 48 hours, and she would be fine.

A popcicle (and one for Kate) made it all better. She's got a band-aid over it now to prevent her messing with it, but she's all good!

"Ha ha, church pew! You won't keep me down!" 

I'm actually really glad it happened in church, since no one will tell us not to take her back there, like they might a playground or something! (Though I wouldn't put it past Granna and Opa to come over to church and sand down the edges of all the pews! :0)

Happy 19-month birthday, Claire! The traditional gift is stitches. 


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