Addicted

As you more than likely know, we brought home a sibling group of four in the beginning of 2015. We went from a household of three to a household of seven overnight. To say we were overwhelmed would be an understatement. But one of the first things we noticed was our son’s addiction to video games. He (Chief) was a month shy of 11 when we got him.

Now when we were told about the kids from CYFD, one of the things we were told was that he had been diagnosed with a learning disorder and he liked to play video games. “Okay, no problem,” we thought. However, the extent of it was not told to us. For the sake of this post, I am going to focus on the video game addiction and how it intertwined deep into his brain and personality. Socially he was awkward and behind. He was and still is a quiet kid. But when he did anything, draw, play it all centered around video games. He only drew video game related characters and scenes. He pretended (more like thought) he was in a video game. Seriously, it was strange and at times scary. We’ve all heard the stories of foster kids killing their foster parents. Well, those fears weren’t too far from home or our mids. To engage him in normal conversation was very hard. He hadn’t had much practice at it.

For the sake of everyone’s sanity we didn’t pull the plug on the video games right away, even though it was obvious that not only our second oldest son had a problem, but so did the other two. Our youngest soon got too used to watching videos, albeit educational. We did go through the gaming devices that they came with and got rid of the questionable games, apps, etc. We started to limit the screen time as well.

We also noticed that when the kids would get off of their devices or stop watching anything they really struggled transitioning back into reality. They would remain in a fog state for some time. The longer the screen time, the longer the fog time. It changed their attitudes and behaviors, never for the better. Today, they are very rarely on the computer for anything, unless at school. Video games are a thing of the past. Movies are only occasionally on the agenda. T.V., well, we don’t have one and don’t watch it online either.

Chief had the hardest time with the restrictions. Honestly, gaming was all he knew. No matter where they lived growing up, how little money they had he was never without an XBox or gaming device. In foster care he was able to stay up very late playing video games, watching inappropriate things without any supervision. It was a means of escape for him. He hated when we’d limit screen time or actually take away his devices as a consequence. He had withdrawals. But it was okay.  Not easy, but okay. We knew it was for his best interest.

Like I said we didn’t go cold turkey with him or the other kids, and at first, we watched way more movies than we ever did with our oldest two. Seriously, the movies started out as a way for all of us to be able to sit in the same room without chaos. But today after a long and hard, but definitely not the hardest battle, he has changed SO much. His sketch pads are filling with everyday items, happier storylines, and he’s even made up his own characters. His imagination has soared. When he plays he plays how a “normal” kids should play. I can’t remember when we have seen him act out video games. He reads. He creates. Best of all he engages. You should see his smile. Chief has really matured and grown into a funny, sincere young man. He knows he was addicted. He still wants to play from time to time but even though he hasn’t said it I believe that he is grateful we took the stance we did and took away screens of all sorts. (You can read a bit about our stance on screen time here)

A side note on learning disabilities and screen time. They do not and should not go hand in hand. It only hinders brain development and growth. What kids with LDs need are hands-on experiences, outdoor fun, books, engagement from adults, real life. They need to be challenged to learn, not pacified. They need to see what they are capable of in the real world, not some fantasy digital world. Though he still has his academic struggles, he has made great gains. He is learning to use his brain in ways he never has. He has even stated that his brain would hurt in the early days with us.

I also want to state that Chief was not the only person in our house addicted to electronics. His was just the worst. Yet God used it to reflect and show us our own shortcomings and pitfalls where electronics were concerned. Isn’t it funny how God does that? Sometimes our children are the perfect mirror.

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Media Fast

Our pastor recently challenged our church to a two-week media fast. He had been preaching on the dangers of media and video addiction. Until we got our younger kids we lived pretty old school, no TV, rarely a movie, very limited time on the computer for our kids and for us. Other than the occasional show on the internet and watching the Red Sox via MLB.TV our screen time was limited. I plan to write a future post about our families reality with video game and technology addiction. For now, I want to focus on the media fast results.

Our pastor introduced us to the Glow Kids book. Let me tell you it is a MUST read, kids or no kids. I simply cannot recommend it enough. We have been reading it as a family with the older kids and individually as well. It will open your eyes in more than one way.IMG_2654

So, the results of those two weeks without media. Well, for the kids there wasn’t much of a negative change. (Again more on this in a future post.)

But here are some of the things we did instead of watching, playing, and/or listening.

 

IMG_2612After dinner wiffle ball.

IMG_2616Sorting through LEGOs from eldest son’s work. This was seriously relaxing and addictive.

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Chalk drawing.

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IMG_2611Just beginning outside. Can’t beat this sky.

IMG_2638Photobombing the tree climbers.

IMG_2639Trust falling from the tree.

We baked cookies. Hung out as a family. Played LOTS of board games. Had friends and family over. Went hiking. Just did more stuff together.

Did we get bored, of course? But boredom can lead to great imagination. Did the kids cheat on the fast? No, they are freed from those addictions. Me? Yes, I checked Instagram here and there. I checked the Red Sox scores. My blog posts were prewritten so all I had to do was push publish. BUT, I wasn’t chained to my phone. Even though I did start cutting back before the fast, I know I could SO easily go back to listening to podcasts, checking this and checking that all of the time. So, for me, I need to keep my phone off of my person and in an out of the way place. I have enjoyed the quiet, though too much quiet made me uneasy. I have enjoyed not being as distracted. I have enjoyed a clearer mind. For Hubby, it was a positive experience as well.

If I could encourage you at all to do a media fast yourself and as a family. It will be WELL worth it. Look around you when you are out. How many kids have devices keeping them entertained? How many people are walking around looking down at their phones? How many people have earbuds in, intentionally disengaging from society? How many times do you look at your phone, computer for non-essential things? How many times do you use the electronic babysitter? You may be surprised at what you see and observe. Also, read the Glow Kids book. I am seriously thinking of buying a bunch and handing them to our kids’ school principals, teachers, to family members, etc. It is just that good, that important, and that convicting.

IMG_2641Saw this shirt while thrifting. Thought it was so fitting during our media fast. If you do this fast, I’d LOVE to hear how it went for you and your family.

Statistics Smistics

The other day I was reminded yet again just how much is stacked against our younger children.

The latest statistics from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data for FY 2014(link is external).

415,129 children were in foster care on September 30th, 2014, a 4% increase from 2012

264,746 children entered care – that translates to a child entering care every two minutes in the United States

238,230 children exited foster care

107,918 children waiting to be adopted on September 30th, 2014

60,898 children waiting to be adopted whose parental rights (for all living parents) were terminated

50,644 children adopted with public child welfare agency involvement

Who are the 415,129 foster children?

Sex

Age

Race

52% male
48% female

39% 5 years old or under
23% 6 to 10 years old
22% 11 to 15 years old
16% 16 to 20 years old

2% American Indian/Alaskan Native
1% Asian
24% Black or African American
0% (525) Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander
22% Hispanic (of any race)
42% White
3% Unknown/Unable to Determine
7% Two or more Races

Where are foster children living?

  • 4% Pre-Adoptive Home
  • 29% Foster Family Home (Relative)
  • 46% Foster Family Home (Non-Relative)
  • 6% Group Home
  • 8% Institution
  • 1% Supervised Independent Living
  • 1% Runaway
  • 5% Trial Home Visit

Why did the 238,230 children leave care in 2014?

  • 51% Reunification with Parent(s) or Primary Caretaker(s)
  • 7% Living with other Relative(s)
  • 21% Adoption
  • 9% Emancipation
  • 9% Guardianship
  • 2% Transfer to Another Agency
  • 0% (1,138) Runaway
  • 0% (326) Death

Gender Preference in the US

*Gender Requested by Adoptive Parents
70-90% Girls, 10-30% Boys

*Gender of Children Awaiting Adoption in U.S. Foster Care
Same ratio reported for 1998, 2000, and 2001
48% Girls, 52% Boys

*Gender of Children Adopted from U.S. Foster Care, 1971-2001
64% Girls, 36% Boys

*Gender of All Adopted Children in the U.S. Under Age 18
According to The year 2000 U.S. Census
53% Girls, 47% Boys

 

When I heard the latest statistic, which isn’t mentioned above, my first reaction was to feel a bit disheartened. I felt like one more heavy brick was being stacked against our kids. But then that fighting spirit in me began to grow. My God is bigger than any statistic! He can overturn any negative stat and turn it into a positive one. Our children have overcome so much already. Yes, the tables may be stacked against them but I stand on the power and grace of God. The giver of life, the Redeemer, the father to the fatherless, husband to the widow, healer of broken hearts, sustainer, grace and forgiveness giver…I really could go on and on. I choose to believe in who my God is and His power, not the statistics that peddle their way into lives attempting to destroy them.

By God’s grace, our kids will rise.

The Road Ahead pt.2

Just last night, the sermon at church was about God’s purpose versus our preference. While the topic can refer to a number of examples in my life, this story came flashing in quicker than a preteen girl can change moods. (Part one of this journey can be read here.)

The decision on whether or not to go forward with adopting the four kiddos we met in the northern part of our state was really already decided for us. It was up to us to answer. We knew once we met them that they were “the ones”. We knew in a way that can’t really be explained. Hubby, our eldest son and I just knew. Hubby a bit less, but he still knew.

I NEVER imagined God wanting us to adopt four.at.one.time. NEVER. I even spoke to God in my heart, “but God, four?!” We were not set up for four, we had not planned on four. Our plans were a bit (very) different, but yet there was this underlying peace, that God was with us. God’s purpose versus our preference.

September 2015 we met our kids, we didn’t bring them home until February 2016. We missed all of the ‘big” holidays with them. When we met them in September, we decided to take the next step rather quickly. We met with our caseworker, his manager in the CYFD office and video conferenced with those involved in the kids’ case. There we were presented a Reader’s Digest version of the kids’ life, personalities,  behaviors, etc. We asked questions, lots of questions. Then it was go home, talk about it, think it over, pray. Then onto the next step. The is where the hold up was. This step required LOTS of paperwork. With four kids, there is a tree’s worth of paper involved just for this one meeting. The copy machine in our kids’ CYFD office was broken. Let me remind you that when you are dealing with foster care you are dealing with the government. We were hoping to bring the kids home by Thanksgiving. No fixed copier. I called everyone I could think of. Thought of EVERY possibility to get those papers copied. No fixed copier. Let me tell you that was one sad Christmas. We missed Thanksgiving, we missed one of the boy’s birthdays, and now we missed Christmas.

At this point in the game, the kids were still not told that we wanted them. To me, this was the hardest. We knew how we felt. We knew how hard we were trying to bring them home. They had no idea what had happened to the family they met way back in September. Did that family even want them?

I don’t remember when, but I ended up getting ahold of our governor’s liaison. He helped us before, and he came through big time for us again. Not only did the kids’ CYFD office get one brand new copier, they got two! From then on it was pretty smooth going.

So, with the biggest black binder, I have ever seen, Ms. L (the kids’ caseworker) came here to have the next meeting.  Again, more reading, more questions, more notes were taken. Go home read, think, talk, and pray. Onto the next step: calling the foster parents, teachers, etc. of our kids. I had my list of questions, my spot on our bedroom floor where each call was made. For one call, despite using a translator we really didn’t learn much about our little one. One foster mom was headed to the ER at the time I finally reached her!! Yes, the ER. She wasn’t sure if she was having a heart attack or what!?! Okay, so here’s the part where I am like let’s go get our son NOW! Can we break some rules? (If you know me, breaking rules is NOT my thing at all.) I had to leave it, leave him in God’s hands.

Needless to say, there was a LOT of waiting and a LOT of praying and too much fretting on my part. Once we did all we were supposed to do here on our end, it was time to give the final answer. Nothing we had read, nothing we were told changed our minds. We said yes.

Puppets, Scared Dog and Good Times

On a much lighter note, this week thus far has been appointment free other than taking The General to his speech and OT!!

I have also had the privilege to work alongside our eldest son as he has taken on the project of fixing up the Children’s Church puppets.

YEARS ago I was involved in the puppet ministry and actually hand made four puppets along with another fellow puppeteer.

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These poor puppets have seen better days. We fixed up the tears, broken arms, and holes.

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Gave them all a good shave. Took years off of them.

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Removed old, missing eyes. Replaced them with new, bright ones.

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He fixed their hair, gave them new clothes, tongues (not shown here) and a few got accessories. A lot of work, but so well worth it. I love working alongside my son and seeing our new kids see behind the scenes and all the work that goes into these. The General LOVES the Granny.

The funniest thing was we had them all set up like this in the dining room, where the dogs go in and out. Our big dog would not come in with them in there. Hubby had to put them all in the playroom before she’d come in the house. They can give you the impression that someone is there at first glance.

The Road Ahead pt.1

As the clouds cover the mountains in our back, backyard an off and on mist like drizzle dampens the thirsty ground, I actually share a Facebook a two-year-old memory on my page:

“So, today is THE big day that we get our kids. I woke up feeling a little off (okay more than a little). I couldn’t put my finger on it until my dad texts me and asked if the labor pains have started. THAT’S it!! Mental labor pains, emotional labor pains. Yes, I am totally feeling the labor pains. I am not going to lie, taking on four kids is pretty huge. I try not to think of what God has asked us to do very often, as the responsibility can seem too much. I just take one day at a time with a big goal in mind. I am much more excited than scared, but so much has gone into this time, into getting kids, these kids, so many “what if’s” that we have heard for two plus years. Life is never going to be the same for us…but then again it wasn’t from the day we met them. Thank you all for your support and help and prayers through this all. You honestly don’t know how it strengthens me. Okay, I need to get off and finish getting ready we have a lot of road time ahead of us.”

When we went to a CYFD sponsored adoption event hours away, we had no idea the outcome. No idea if we find “the” kid or kids. No idea if our adoption journey would continue on the three-year long road for finding our child/children or if God’s GPS would lead us on a completely different path. All we knew was there were some kids a few social workers had for us to meet. We knew their names and ages, and some workers provided a bit more information. As the event went along we met most of the kids on our “list” and none seemed to click. I kept asking about the sib group of four we were told about. Half way through I had to use the porta- potty and literally ran into and a 10-year-old boy who would soon be our son. He was coming out of the porta-potty as I walked passed. I quickly scooped out the other kids that were nearby, four of them, who look to be about the ages we were told.  As I answered nature’s call I listened to see if any names were spoken by the group washing their hands at the portable washing station. None. As soon as I was done I headed over to the station myself. Again, trying to check out the kids without looking like a stalker, also trying to still my heart at the little one on the stroller reaching his hands out to me. With clean, dry hands I made my way to the only adult in the group. I introduced myself to her. Ms. L replied; “You are the one!” and we proceeded to make quick small talk and she introduced me to the shy, apprehensive sib group standing before me.

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(Us at the adoption event in our red bandanas.)

Now, there are no words to really explain how you feel when you meet kids who could one day be yours. You want to take them all into your arms at once and run away with them. At the same time, you want to walk into this as if you had to choose between door number one or door number two. Door number one being the “Let’s walk away now and wait for an easier road.” Or door number two: “What the heck are we doing? What the heck are we waiting for? What the heck are we doing?” no turning back door. I had so many questions. I wanted the event to stop so we could just talk to the kids, to their worker and really get to know them. And boy, oh boy, could I just squeeze the little chubster in the stroller.

I hurried to find Hubby and our eldest son so they could meet Ms. L and the kids too. I’d like to say we played it cool, and not seemed too eager, like many of the other parents looking for their child. But part of it is a bit blurred. I know we milled around with Ms. L and the sib group for a bit. At one point I mentioned that when Little Man in the stroller held out his arms to me, I wanted to grab him right up. To which Ms. L replied in her (sorry for any racial tones here) stereotypical welcoming African American woman voice, with her all-encompassing personality, “Go right ahead.” “Really?!?” I took that happy boy right into my arms and was he heavy!

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(Do you see the lady in the jean skirt and white tank top? That’s me next to our eldest son. The little feet right in front of me belong to our soon to be youngest son.)

Again, much of that day was a blur, so many thoughts, so many emotions are involved in one of these events. I do remember the turning point was at lunch. When Ms. L let us eat with the kids. I quickly looked up ahead at what was being served, told the kids and got their orders. It was hot, it was dry and like I said it was a bag of mixed emotions for the waiting parents and waiting kids. So small talk didn’t always come easy. While we sat at our table eating, some picking at hot dogs and burgers we tried to ask the most neutral questions as possible, trying to find out as much as possible in so short a time.

As the event came to a close, and “our” sib group made an early exit, we were left to decide, left to talk about the road ahead, left to comment to the unknown or not. I still remember sitting on the edge of my seat trying to remain ladylike in my jean skirt while removing the enormous amount of goat heads from my brown and teal mary jane crocs. Non-stop talking was going on, while we took off our red bandanas and contemplated out future. The road home was a long one, made even longer both the weight of the decision we faced and the wait of starting the journey ahead.

Fractured Perspective

At the end of February, our little one suffered a second bone fracture. A new one! Read about the original one here.

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Long story short the preschool staff let him climb on playground equipment too soon and he fell. We are also going to see a pediatric orthopedic doctor to have our son’s  bones checked, blood work.

Having a child with a physical disability even a temporary one helps you see things in a different perspective. It gives you a much deeper appreciation for what the parent/s and caretakers of children with long term physical problems go through.

Can we talk about just the sheer number of doctors appointments involved? And the paperwork! This alone can be a part-full time exhausting job. Thank God we don’t live far at all to most of the doctors we have needed to see, but even that takes time. Getting the wheelchair in and out of the vehicle, helping your child into the said wheelchair. Finding the wheelchair accessible ramp (which is never a short cut), handicapped parking is usually taken, navigating in and out doorways (thank you every place that has automatic opening doors). Keeping your child entertained during the inevitable waits. Keeping your child calm when he is freaked out, doesn’t want to be examined, x-rayed, etc. Comforting him and apologizing to the staff afterward. Then there are the pizza (or whatever food treat you bribed him with) runs you promised if he were brave.

The diagnosis: You always hope and pray for the best, but brace for the worst. Okay, bad, bad fracture…so bad they are calling it a break. I can do this for 5-6 weeks. You learn to look at the light at the end of the tunnel. Then you get told a few weeks in that your son isn’t healing right and may need surgery. NOT what any parent wants to hear. You get a miracle, no surgery! Praise God. The weeks are over, you pushed it through. The cast comes off and your son can’t even walk without assistance for more than a couple of weeks. Just when he gets to walking fairly well, he falls…a whole new fracture in the growth plate, nonetheless. More diagnosis, more tears, screams of painful fear, more comforting, more tests. More waiting. More pushing it through. More enduring, grinning and bearing it. And yet our situation is mild to what I am sure a terminal diagnosis is like.IMG_2191

The added workload: our son is four, too small for crutches. He is dependent on us to take him to the toilet, put him up to eat, dress and undress him. Sponge baths are hard for all involved. You would think we are torturing him every time. So draining. He is really good at getting around on his own. Whether that’s scooting on his bum or in the wheelchair. His independent nature helps him in this area. His active imagination also helps him not get too bored being pretty much home bound. This boy is an outdoor kid and it hurts that he can’t go out and play. In a sense, we have gone backward. He was just getting to the point where he could pretty much dress himself and other such independent skill.

The emotional wear: It is NEVER easy when your child is hurt, really hurt. I can totally handle normal scrapes and bumps. When it goes beyond the normal you want to go into mama bear mode, build your child a safe bubble for him to live in the rest of his life. But that is not practical or wise. With the leg cast, we have bumped into walls more than once. Even though our little son hasn’t complained too much about it at all, knowing how tough and brave he is still gets to you. When he cries out while getting casted “I want to go home” ugh, it still brings tears to my eyes and heart. Knowing how much he has spent in the doctors, hospitals already since he was born saddens me. The anger you feel towards those to let it happen. The frustration you feel when people are not their nicest when you are just trying to help your baby and are at your lowest for that day. When you feel helpless. Again, I can’t imagine if it were long term or terminal.

I have found an unexpected loneliness too. No one can truly know the struggle this puts on a family, an individual unless they have gone through something similar. Not everyone wants to hear your story or even notice there is a story. Also a-not-so silent judgment at the looks we get. We already stand out because of our ethnic differences pair that with a bright orange cast. I want to loudly tell some people “It NOT my fault. I DIDN’T hurt my baby!”

The decisions: We have had to make many medical decisions for our four-year-old in these past two years. Most have been the right ones, and one, well we really had no choice and it may have caused him to talk differently. Another we are totally opting out which not everyone agrees with. As a parent, you are ALWAYS making decisions for your kids, for their short-term and long-term future. Yet the medical ones seem harder, no matter how much research you do.

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(This pretty much sums up how we all feel about the whole situation.)

To wrap this extra long post up, I know I don’t fully know the depths of the hardship having a child with greater medical needs than a two-time fractured leg, but I have a much greater understanding than I had before. I have a greater appreciation for life when these things don’t happen. Also, I have a gratefulness to our God who has strengthened us through it all. At times when I should’ve broken, God gave me the strength to rise above and keep the victory.