I have been asked to write something that won’t make people cry, so I’m going to try my best. If you cry while reading this post, I’m not taking responsibility.
Okay, so big changes since we last talked—we welcomed Sister F, Baby E’s half-sister into our home. We had had some contact with F because the girls attend visitation with their mom together, so we saw her regularly in the car with the case assistant when E got picked up.
She’s beautiful and funny and full of energy. She’s almost 19 months old, so while she seems old and big compared to her almost 6-month-old sister, she’s still very much a baby.
Here’s the short story of how she came into our care. Like I mentioned, we saw her regularly, so we knew a little bit about her story. She was removed from the home the same day as E, but she was placed with an adult half-sister. This is fairly common as kinship placements are almost always plan A. E was placed with us because no one on either side of her family could pass a background check. Because F has a different dad, his adult daughter was the first choice.
We knew that there were some problems with the placement—that the case worker and assistant had some concerns. F’s 21-year-old foster mom (and half-sister) was caring for four children under the age of five, a difficult task for anyone. The case worker decided it was in the best interest of everyone (overwhelmed foster mom AND baby) to move F. That decision was made easier because we expressed to the case worker that we would always be open to taking E’s siblings if that was ever needed.
Additionally, E and F’s mom said she wanted F to live with us. We feel really encouraged that the girls’ mom trusts us enough to believe our home is the best place for both of her girls. (Interesting note: Mom also has two boys who are not in state custody. I hope there isn’t a need for them to enter the system.)
So on February 10th, the Johnson Quartet turned Quintet became the Johnson Sextet—but we prefer to call it the Johnson Ensemble at this point.
I’d say our time with F so far has been better than we expected. She came to us with a double ear infection and a mean diaper rash. We found out quickly that under the mess of tangled hair were the prettiest curls you ever did see. One of my favorite things is giving her a bath and brushing out her hair which falls below her shoulders and then watching it twist and bounce itself into curls as it dries.
The challenges so far have been mostly about breaking bad habits—throwing food, screaming, tantrums, hitting and kicking—all of which happen when she’s tired and/or frustrated. She had one word when she came to us—hi! And she used it all the time for everything. Within a few days of being with us, her vocabulary exploded (and continues to grow). We’ve had to teach her how to communicate using words instead of the various bad habits she’d picked up along the way. We’ve nipped a lot of it—she signs “finished” instead of throwing her cup and plate when she’s done eating; She says “bite” or “please” when she wants to try something on our plates; she says “help” when she needs us for something out of reach. It’s a process, and some days are tiring, but like I said—her progress has been rapid and somewhat miraculous.
We met with a developmental and speech therapist who had been enlisted before we were F’s foster parents because of her delays. They weren’t able to come to our house until about three weeks after she came to us. After spending an hour working with her and observing her behavior, they had no major concerns and encouraged us to continue doing what we’re doing because it’s working.
Our biggest struggle continues to be trying to establish routines and boundaries for children who need them desperately (as all children do), while working within a system that works against their routines and boundaries. When I start to get frustrated, I remember that F is in our care 93% of her life (she sees her mom twelve hours a week), and E is in our care 88% of her life (she sees her mom twelve hours a week and her dad eight hours a week). Factoring in missed visits or visits that are cut short, those percentages are even higher. On days when I’m frustrated or angry, I have to believe that the progress we make in that majority share of time can withstand any losses during the time that they aren’t with us.
If that sounds like I’m dealing with this rationally and calmly, please know that I still hate it every single time they leave our house, but I meditate on the serenity prayer often.
The boys continue to be a big help. F follows Ben around like a little sheep in the mornings. Often when she wakes up from a nap while they are at school, she stands at the bottom of the stairs and shouts their names thinking they might be up there ready to play with her.
And let me talk just a teensy bit about what it’s like watching Scott be a daddy to girls. Mmmmmmmmmm…I said I wouldn’t write anything that might make you cry, so I’ll just say this: that “wrapped around her finger” thing that people talk about? It’s real, and it’s happening in our house times two.
Three months down.