Tag Archives: fostering

Free government cheese? SIGN ME UP!

Call me cray-cray, but one of the things I’ve been excited about in this whole fostering process is getting approved for WIC – the government program for women, infants, and children that gives you what the wise ones in power deem to be “powerful, nutritious foods”. It’s a great program, and I’m all about getting things fo free, so when we got our very loud and very hungry sibling group of three, and two of them are under 5 (age cut-off)….well, I couldn’t take it one bit longer. I had to apply!

Here’s my experience, in case anyone is as obsessed with WIC and government beans as I am. (I’m expecting approximately one person fits that bill and will read this post)

On Wednesday at 10am, I call the central WIC office to get an appointment. I’m on hold for an entire hour, but I will NOT be discouraged, and go about my business while waiting patiently. Someone answers and I stumble for the phone to get my appointment. I’m shocked when I get an appointment for the next day at 8:45am! But then the woman on the phone tells me something horrifying. I MUST BRING THE CHILDREN IN TO THE APPOINTMENT.

I’m sorry. Bring a 21-month old and 2 1/2 year old into a government office for what is likely to be hours? Is this worth it? Still, I will not be swayed, and I furrow my brow and clench my jaw to prepare for THE WAIT.

The next morning, I drop off Z at school and take T and B to the WIC office. We check in and wait about 45 minutes until we’re called into Room 9. The kids were terrific! They sat in the double stroller and ate non WIC-sanctioned Scooby Doo cereal with red dye 40 while I watched on loop the epic WIC movie about which foods are WIC-approved and which are contraband. 45 minutes is a long time when you’re in a stifling waiting room with two toddlers, so I pretty much memorized the entire thing.

When you take your WIC checks to the grocery store, pay attention to what is allowed and what is not allowed. Ask for store assistance if you have any questions.

With your checks, you will receive beans. You may purchase 16 ounces of dried beans, or up to four cans of any type of bean. Gourmet beans are NOT ALLOWED.

Just hold on one cotton-pickin minute. What the hell is a gourmet bean? I text Steph and she tells me I must clarify with the workers and ask them to re-make the movie. I sigh and continue to memorize the movie.

When purchasing WIC juice, you may get up to 64 ounces of APPROVED juice. If you purchase Juicy Juice brand, only Apple is covered. The rest are NOT ALLOWED.

WTF? Why is WIC all sketchy about juice-blends? It’s still 100% juice – just different ones, all mixed up in the same can. I’m truly perplexed over this one, but don’t text Steph about it because I’m tired of her shenanigans and impractical demands.

Finally, we are called back into room 9, which is perfect timing, because the children have just finished eating their red dye 40 and are starting to become monsters. The first room is where we get certified. I show the worker the children’s court-orders for placement in our home. We also weigh, measure and check the children’s blood level. Apparently if they’re anemic, we get Super-WIC. I don’t know that we’ll ever find out what that means, because both of their iron-levels are fine. This vegan momma is doing a-ok. T is pretty much a demon in the room because….well, they got their fingers pricked. Who wouldn’t be. I try to tell her about future child-birth and surgeries and things that will hurt way worse than getting her finger pricked, but she has the audacity to not care.

Once we leave room #9, we head to a second waiting room before seeing the WIC nutritionist. She asks me if I have any concerns or goals I’d like to work on before our next visit.

Well….T won’t touch vegetables with a ten foot pole. But what do you do?

She whips out a laminated chart. I am not joking. I wish I’d had the prescience to snap a pic, but all I could do was stare. It was a beautiful 1980’s chart of cute little faces and animals made out of veggies. Like funny faces and caterpillar kabobs that use 10 different raw vegetables to paint a scene.

Ummm….I have five children in the house.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be making a rainbow face from multi-colored peppers and cherry tomatoes that T won’t eat anyway. But thanks!

Next up, we went to another waiting room before being called to window 12 where we picked up our WIC checks. Hooray!!! This was the moment we’d been waiting for. I had to sign for each check we got, and we got a lot. They gave me three months worth for T and B.

The kids had deteriorated and were throwing their shoes and screaming at me and the worker, so at that point I gathered my checks, my kids and my will-power and walked out the door. OH! But not before asking if I had to bring the children back the next time I come. I don’t. 🙂

The next day, I had my daughter babysit the kids while I hauled my butt up to Publix to use the first round of checks. I only used half my checks because I’m a little unclear about what to do with 6 gallons of milk. I’ll use the second half next week.I used my trusty WIC pamphlet to help me navigate the complex world of WIC-sanctioned foods.

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Here’s a zoomed-in version of the milk section.

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When I went up to the register, I dutifully separated my WIC items from the rest of my purchase (wine, soy milk, gourmet beans) I told the cashier that I was a virgin WIC-er, and she gave me a small frown. I’ll tell you what, though. That frown turned upside down super-fast because I got an A+ in selecting the right foods! She told me I did better than most people. I was proud of my 100% accuracy rate!

I snapped a pic of my spoils below just because I am ridiculously proud. Remember – this is just half my loot for the month!!!

My loot:

* Six boxes of Cheerios (You get 36 ounces. Boxes are 12 ounces each and they were BOGO – Hollah!!!! )

* 1 pound of the proverbial government cheese

* 1 dozen (cheapest version from chicken) eggs. (Yes, they clarified that)

* 3 gallons and 1 quart whole milk.

* 2 loaves 100% whole wheat bread.

* 2 bunches of Chiquita Bananas.

* 1 gallon orange juice

and last but not least

*4 cans of NON-GOURMET beans.

Total savings this trip? $50!! It might have cost me $70 in babysitting and 3 hours of my life in order to get this, but WHATEVER! Free food!

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Can’t wait til my trip next week! I basically get all this stuff again, except I’m going to switch out and get some JJ apple and peanut butter instead of the beans. It’s ok, though, because I’m a fancy beans kind of gal. 🙂

PS. On a serious note, I am super appreciate of our government programs, and gladly pay my taxes to help those less-fortunate than our own family. I had WIC for my older children about 20 years ago, and am not at all ashamed to say that food stamps and welfare helped us survive during many hard years. To all the haters that think that people on food stamps are sitting on their couches eating bon-bons – you’re wrong. I am the face of welfare and WIC. And I most certainly didn’t sit around eating bon-bons. Gourmet beans? Maybe. But you can’t judge me for that.

 

 

 

 

Taking Exquisite Care…Foster Kid Update

Someone here in Jacksonville, FL  won the lottery many years back. As in literally won the big bucks. They live in the Riverside area – a beautiful sunlit historic district with homes dating back to the 1840’s. The neighborhood is gorgeous and quaint – tree-lined streets, tons of parks, locally-owned businesses, and charming and unique houses.

The house that the lottery-winners own, though, has honestly become an eyesore. Knick-knacks crowd the windowsills, and stuff spills out onto the yard. At some point, the owners got the house coated with a paint that should last the life of your house. Honestly, paint shouldn’t last forever. It looks weird and plasticky and I can’t help but shake my head every time we pass the house.

The paint – seeing as how it’s everlasting –  is still there, as bright and garish as ever. But under the paint, the wood is rotting. The window boxes are falling off the house, drooping depressively. The whole thing just looks sad – the utter excess of the clutter coupled with disrepair.

What the owners aren’t quite grasping is that you can’t just take care of something once and then leave it alone to rest on it’s laurels. You have to take constant and exquisite care of the things in your life – whether that’s a physical thing like a house, a car, your animals, your friends, your children, your partner…..anything in your life that’s worth having is worth taking exquisite care of.

That being said, I’m doing a shitty-ass job of heeding my own advice. Steph has forsaken me and left for an out-of-town work trip. This morning, I found myself trying to wrangle 5 children into the car for the morning deposit of the foster children at child care. FYI – when you have 5 screaming children, you forget to do things like STRAP THE CHILDREN INTO THEIR CAR SEATS.  That would be 2 that I somehow forgot. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t constitute taking exquisite care of my beings. I’m also pretty sure I might be an unfit foster parent, but for some reason they’re still letting me do this.

Right now, life is overwhelming with 3 foster kids in the house and 16 month old twins. Often, it’s complete pandemonium, with children screaming, kicking, flailing and generally proving the theory that when children are taken from everything they know and placed in another home with strangers (us) – all hell breaks loose.

In the spirit of not being able to take care of all my beings, I had to call uncle and tell the children’s caseworker, guardian ad litum and placement specialist that WE ARE IN OVER OUR HEADS. Even with all the help we’re getting (we have the best friends and family!!!), I feel like I’m running a child care for about 1 bazillion behaviorally disturbed toddlers. Don’t believe me? Count the shoes below. That’s a bazillion shoes!

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It’s just too much. I can’t take good care of all that I’m responsible for. Late last week, we had the big call where I told  7 people-in-authority that we couldn’t do it. It was awful. I felt judged. Like I was the annoying high maintenance foster parent who wouldn’t do her job and leave them alone.

It was embarrassing making that call, but it had to be done.

Because it’s mine and Steph’s  job to make sure that our family’s  life doesn’t end up looking like that god-awful house in Riverside. Spray-painted perfectly on the outside, but falling down on itself underneath the shiny. Ain’t happening. We care too much about this family to pretend that we are stronger than we are.

We’ll see what happens next with the foster kids….it’s still day by day. In the midst of the hard days, though, I feel like we’re learning a valuable lesson about resolve, care and tenacity. Our family is definitely richer for it.

 

We’re brand new foster parents! The down and dirty of our first two weeks

Steph and I got our first foster care placement on December 31st. I was at the grocery store, choosing a perfect avocado, when my phone rang and I saw who the number was from….

The call was for a respite placement – a foster mom had a death in the family and needed to go out of town for a week. Could we take an 18 month old, a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 year old sibling group while she was gone? YES! SIGN US UP! I was so excited, and immediately called Steph, then posted on Facebook. Tons of warm wishes came flowing in and I walked around Publix humming,  busily filling my cart with all kinds of kid-friendly foods.  I checked out at Publix and told the cashier what was going on. We laughed because I had come in for 5 things, and come out with $200 worth of groceries. She wished us luck and I walked out beaming. We were ready to do good work!

We were going to have FIVE children in the home! This was the minute we’d been waiting for – what all the hard work was for. Our house was about to be filled with laughter and joy!

Oh dear. The reality and my vision couldn’t have been more polar opposites.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when we signed up to become foster parents. But I might have had an image of a busy, bustling, happily noisy home, with Steph and I taking time out to attend, sequentially, to each child. A loving gesture here, a firm but kind redirection here. All the while feeling like we are good people and we have this.

What we were not prepared for was for our house to feel like a war zone. I don’t want to speak for Steph, but this is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So far, there are very few happy moments. Mostly, it’s just hard. Really, really hard. We’ve been told that being a foster parent is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, and honestly we’re not feeling that. People tell us it will come.

Kids do well with routine and structure, and when their little worlds are turned upside down, all hell breaks loose. I joked with the caseworker that we had more screaming in our home in the first two days than I had experienced in my entire life. Except it wasn’t a joke. It was real. Poor August hates loud noises and every time T (2 1/2 year old girl) would start screaming, it terrified him and he’d melt down. Liam got pushed, hit and screamed at that first week, which had never happened to him before. And the kids were unpredictable – one minute Liam would reach for a toy and it would be fine. The next minute he’d do the same thing and they’d whack him on the head. Poor little guy.

In one of my low points, I told a friend what we were going through. She said words that really resonated with me. “You must feel like your family has been hijacked.”

We almost didn’t take the kids on long-term, because we felt way over our heads and because we were worried about what it would do to our kids. But the foster mom they were with was worn out. She was a single woman, worked full-time and then came home to take care of the children. She was exhausted and wasn’t wanting to do it long-term. And, it seemed like we were making huge progress in the one week we had them. So, Steph and I had a long talk and decided we could do it.

With the behaviors and intensity of the children, and the sheer number, we knew we couldn’t do it on our own, so I turned to Facebook and asked for people to sign up for shifts to help us with dinner/bath/bedtime routine. Within a day, I had 15 people reach out and sign up for their turn to help! It feels so good to know that we’re not doing this alone, and when someone walks in the door at 5pm, I feel instant relief like someone strong is here with fresh energy.

On the hardest day, when the oldest had a meltdown at the hospital where I had taken my son August for a check-up, I came home and felt defeated. We weren’t strong enough to do this. The kids needed someone who could give them more. That night a friend came over armed with kid-friendly food from Publix (apparently my idea of kid-friendly and what the kids would actually eat were very different!) and helped whip everything into shape. We sighed and knew we could do it for another day.

Having these kids have given the phrase “one day at a time” new meaning for me. Every day it’s a new challenge and I’m not sure we’re the ones to do this work – maybe someone else could do it better – be more patient – or have better success. But we hate to have the children move yet again to another home. We don’t want them to feel like they’re being given up on. So each day we start new and gear up to do it all over again.

Things have started getting a little easier – we’ve engaged with their mom and met her twice out at a park and restaurant before having her come to our home last night for the first time. She helped with T’s hair, and did the dinner/bath/bedtime routine with us. I may or may not have had a glass of wine while she handled her children and did “mom” duty. It actually went great. The kids act better for her than they do for us.

I also asked for a behaviorist to come into the home to help us with some of the troubling behaviors. Specifically, the oldest “Z”(5), is defiant, and won’t do things like…oh, go to bed, get up in the morning, get dressed, put his shoes on, etc, etc. That has been really difficult for us because in order for us to keep a household of 7 running smoothly, we need for the children to help us out. We also wanted help with the two younger two and their aggressive behavior. I’m not trying to get my throat grabbed and scratched again….The behaviorist came in today for THREE HOURS and met with me to go over each child and the behaviors that are a problem. We have a good game plan and are going to initiate a token system for the two older ones to help give them immediate feedback for good behavior. I also felt like all I was doing was penalizing and taking away privileges for bad behaviors, instead of turning it on it’s head and rewarding for good behaviors. So, the therapist is going to help me do that. I’m so thrilled!

That’s a snapshot of our first two weeks. Everything changes from day to day, so I’m going to try to do a better job of posting to the blog – even if it’s just short snapshots of how our days went.

For now, we’re barely holding our heads above water. Every time I think “I can’t do this anymore” I literally get a text, phone message or Facebook message telling us that we can do this. Yesterday I had four people randomly reach out to us, including one message that started out “You don’t know me, but…..” After I finished reading that message, I smiled, and knew we could do it for one more day.

 

 

Operation Home Study – Isn’t our home lovely?

As part of our journey towards becoming foster parents, we have been getting ready to have a home study. The words “home study” are enough to put fear in many an adoptive parent’s heart.

A stranger comes into your home and peeks into cupboards and closets and bathrooms to make sure you’re a good housekeeper and that everything’s kosher. Our housekeeping these days? Meh. Back when I was working full-time, we had a housekeeper come every two weeks. Now that I’m no longer working, that fun task falls to Steph and myself.

We had to have the bedrooms ready to show – with space for each child that will be placed with us. We will be licensed for 3 children, and we won’t know genders or ages, so Steph and I busted our butts over a 2 day period to turn two rooms from this:

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To this:

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Gorgeous Girls’ Room

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Sweet little boy room

Our house was also the cleanest it has been in a long time. Here’s a pic of the play room with Liam making an appearance:

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For our home study, we had to do the following:

  • Have beds and a week’s worth of clothing for each child we are going to be fostering
  • Purchase 2 fire extinguishers and have them tagged and officially inspected.
  • Lock our alcohol up (thank God we have a liquor cabinet!)
  • Lock all of our medicines and cleaning products up
  • Show that we have a first aid kit
  • Show that we have a ladder for the second floor, in case of fire
  • And a lot, lot more

Five minutes before our case worker arrived, I did a once-over on the house. How would we look to an outsider who was considering putting children in our care?

Everything looked good, except for the two tommy guns by the front door. WTF, I asked Steph? She shrugged. Must have been left over from the Halloween party we threw on Saturday, because we don’t have guns in the home. Except for on home study day.

I wandered in the kitchen. Four bottles of wine sitting on the counter in various stages of full. At this point, I about gave up and left them there. If the state doesn’t want a bunch of winos, then so be it. 😉 Again, it was from the party, so I quickly put them in the very full liquor cabinet. I squished them in there, like how my belly goes into my pants these days, and slammed the door shut.

Ok, ready for action. The case worker showed up while I was upstairs in the attic helping Steph put away shutters that have been precariously leaning on our upstairs railing for oh….about 6 months. Suddenly, today, we decided they needed to go up in the attic. Ophelia let the case worker in and I hustled downstairs, out of breath from hoisting shutters up to Steph.

Welcome to my home.

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The caseworker was super nice. She’s very young – I won’t make any silly quips about her age in case she reads this one day. We really liked her, and she really seems to have her shit together, which is a relief.

Before the walk-through, we sat down with her for some time, and she asked us why we are interested in fostering, about our jobs, and what we like to do as a family.

We talked about how quickly the certification seems to be going. Her goal is to have everything in place so that the day we graduate from class, she can submit our packet to the state. She said that in her last class, she had a family certified 5 days after their class ended. She called to tell them that they were certified and she said the woman burst into tears, she was so happy. She had to interrupt her and tell her that there was more – that she had a 2-week old baby that they would like to place with her. I don’t know whether to smile or cry at this, so I did both.

We also talked a bit about reunification. Reunification is always the goal when children are removed from their home. But today was the first time that I heard a stat from her that 50% of the time, children do not go back home. That gives me such mixed emotions – sad for these families that are torn apart, and anticipation and excitement that adopting through foster care WILL happen for us!

The walk-through went great. She loved the rooms, and didn’t raise an eyebrow at anything – even the copious amounts of Halloween decorations we have up that make us look a little obsessed with the dark side. As she walked out the door, she turned and said “Let’s get you some children here!” I closed the door and smiled.

I still can’t believe sometimes that we’re doing this, and at how quickly everything is going. At first I was thinking we would have children by Christmas, but now I’m thinking it might be by Thanksgiving! Though it makes me sad to think of children being removed from their homes during the holidays, I hope that Steph and I can make it a little easier by making them a part of our busy, fun family –  for however long they are here.

Next up for us is our inspection by the Department of Health on Thursday. They’re visiting to make sure we don’t have any sink holes, craters in our walls, or otherwise dangerous things going on in our home. I think we should be okay there. Especially now that I’ve gotten rid of the tommy guns. 

 

 

It Takes a Village

Things have been so busy, I forgot to post this last week! It’s important to me to share, though, how much people have helped, so even though it’s a bit late….

We are one month into our journey to become foster parents. One of the next things on the agenda is to get a home study. I thought it was a month away, but nope! It’s going to be on Monday. As in, one week from today.

This is just the first visit (they come back a second time), but we are still supposed to have the rooms ready for the children. We have nothing.

So I did what any smart person would do – I appealed to my Facebook friends.

Within two hours, I had 25 responses offering

Toddler beds

Mattresses

Twin beds

Bedding sets

Toys

Books

Girls clothing and shoes

Boys clothing and shoes

Dressers

Gift cards (When we get our children, we’re going to take them to choose a toy or something special for their room to make them feel as “at home” as they can while they are with us.)

Isn’t that amazing? We are blessed with so many giving friends and family.

After my post, I promptly spent the next 2 hours personally responding to everyone and arranging for pick ups and drop offs. There were so many, I had to write it all out on a sheet of notebook paper to make sure I didn’t double book or take more than I needed.

Here’s the truth. People are good.  They’re just good. For every terrible thing that happens, there are loving, giving people out there who want to help in meaningful ways.

It takes a village to take care of our children. It takes everyone coming together to show our love to these children who have experienced loss and trauma. And though nice “things” don’t necessarily equate to love, the fact that 25 people (and even more from an earlier post) all rallied to provide us with items for children we haven’t even met yet – that means something more than just the clothing, or the bed, or even the gift card. It means a true wish to help a child and show them that there are people that care about them – people that they haven’t even met. I hope I can convey that in a way that is meaningful to these children.

I’m scared to be able to do right by these children and give them all that they need, but people’s generosity in helping us prepare makes me feel stronger. Because I know we’re not doing this alone. We’re all in it together.

PS. Since I’m publishing this post after the fact, I’ll share a sneak peek of the girls’ room!!

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