You Are A Saint

Day 8: Autism Awareness Blogathon

Actually, I’m not. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am most definitely not a saint.

a book I don't have
image credit: Jossey-Bass

From the outside looking in, you may think that I am doing something extraordinary. Actually, I’m not. I’m doing something that lots of people do everyday. It’s called parenting. I’m parenting a few more children than the average bear, but not all at the same time.

I am often asked why I became a foster carer. This is what I tell them:

When I started out as a foster carer I was keen to contribute to my local community. I figured that if I wanted to live in a community that cared about me, then I needed to do something that demonstrated and contributed to the values that are important to me. These days, it’s more about the practical reality of being a foster carer. It’s become part of who I am and how I live and it’s incredibly satisfying despite the challenges.
For those people who think ‘I could never be a foster carer, I’d get too attached to the kids’ I say ask yourself if you’d be willing to care for your brother or sisters children if there was a family crisis? Would you love them despite the hardship of the circumstances? And would you be willing to hand them back to their parents once the crisis was over? Yes, you get attached to these little people who come into your life. You don’t stop loving them because they are no longer in your care. It’s good to know that someone is able to help when there is a need and I am happy to be able to be that person when it comes to the kids in my community.

When I became a foster carer, I knew that there was a likelihood that some, if not all the kids would have ‘special needs’ – you don’t end up in foster care for nothing. But like most parents, having a child with a disability is not usually on your wishlist.

I have travelled a similar road to the one that birth parents do when they learn that their child has a disability – overwhelming love, heartbreak, fear, hope, acceptance.

I also feel lucky. I’m lucky to have these kids in my life. They give me so much that I also tell people that I get far more from fostering than the kids get from me. Of course, I give them everything I can, but they give me so much more.

So I’m actually a selfish, lucky and thankful parent of a child with autism (and a couple of other little darlings as well).

Removing Children

 

This week in Australia, a television program called Insight was screened on one of our free to air channels. Insight has a forum style format where a moderator/journalist directs the discussion of the invited live audience of about 50 people representing a diverse range of opinions and experience. It really is a great program that has been successful now for many years.

The format works well and each week topics relevant to what is happening in our world, our country and our communities are explored in what is usually a compelling and deftly handled conversation.

This week the topic was ‘Removing Children’ The format was changed slightly so that the four special guests were sitting on the podium with the presenter. They were two young adults who had been removed from their families during their childhood, a foster carer and a father (appearing anonymously) whose children had been removed and who had worked successfully to be reunited with them.

Of course this topic is one very close to my heart. So, along with my many foster carer colleagues, child protection workers and the many people who work in support of children and families, we were all glued to the screen. Finally the issue that dominates our personal or working life (or both), our hearts and our homes was being given some air time.

I came away from watching the program feeling quite disappointed. I realise that one hour is simply not enough time to explore such a complex issue in great depth. However there were gaping holes in the discussion that left the television audience no wiser as to the decision making process that leads to removal of children or even the key issues we face as a community when it comes to child protection.

There were no representatives from the ‘Dept’, not a single politician and though there may have been people who work to support families & children in care in the audience, they did not get the opportunity to speak.

The main discussion centered around the young people and their experiences of trauma and abuse from both their birth families and from the system that was supposed to be protecting them. It was painful to see the young woman being questioned when she was not comfortable or equipped. The young man was more worldly and at 30, was older and better able to discuss his experiences.

The dad was brave and honest. His acknowledgement that it was the right thing for the department to remove his kids at that time was telling. The foster carer did not get a chance to say anything of much value, though I’m certain he would have had a lot to say given the appropriate questioning.

I do believe there was enormous value in the discussion that took place. Most people are lucky enough to never need to darken the doorstep of the child protection system. For them, it’s mysterious, dangerous and unspoken. This program did shed some light for those people.

As a foster carer though, this is the world I inhabit. The department may be the ones during urine tests and going to court, but I’m the one (of many) working to help children live through and heal from their trauma, to build positive relationships with their bio families and the important people in their lives, to help mums & dads and extended family learn about good parenting and supporting them in their efforts to reunify.

When that is not an option we are the people in your communities who step up to raise your children, whether it’s for a week end or  a lifetime. Foster carers play a pivotal role in helping our communities. We’re volunteers who live our values out in real time. Kids are the product of our community values, not just of a mother and father. So what is that saying about us as Australians right now? What is that saying about you?

Insight: Removing Kids

2 years

A letter for your 2nd birthday

Dear N,

It was your birthday on the weekend. Another big milestone for you little man. You have been living with me for 18 months now – how lucky am I? At 2 you are a real little character: totally loveable, incredibly good looking, extremely intelligent, super musical and with a sweet and charming personality. What an amazing boy you are!!

You’ve had a very busy weekend. You had a sleep over with your cousins and a lovely birthday cake with them on Saturday (your actual birthday). After that you came back home and then on Sunday afternoon we had a birthday party here with your friends.

You had such a lot of fun even though it was a rainy day. There were 10 kids here all together and you made the most enormous mess. You drank lemonade and ate little sausages with sauce (your favourite!) and then we had the birthday cake. It was a chocolate monkey cake with chocolate doughnut ears and mint pattie eyes. Everyone stood around and sang ‘happy birthday to you’ while you ate the brown m&m nostrils and then they helped you to blow out the two candles.

It was so funny cutting the cake, some kids were saying ‘I want some eye’ or can I have some ear?’ and pretty soon there was just a few crumbs left on the plate.

We gave you a red ukelele for your birthday. You call it your ‘tah’, like guitar only easier to say. You were so happy to get it you sat down and played it for about 20 minutes non-stop – not bad for a 2yo boy! I sent a photo of you playing it to your mum and it made her so happy. You really love music and you are getting more and more interested in singing songs, dancing and playing any instrument you can get your hands on.

You have a few favourite shows. You love the Wiggles and anything they do will keep you entertained. You are just starting to join in and sing some of the songs and do the actions. You also love Fireman Sam. You often come up to me during the day to say ‘Wiggles’ or ‘Sam’ or ‘teeeveeeeee, teeeveeeeeee’ and hand me the remote control. I try to limit how much tv you watch, so we do lots of play downstairs in the garden. You love the sandpit, where there are lots of trucks and things to dig with.

You really love everything to do with cars and transport. Each morning as we wait for L’s school bus to come and pick him up, we all sit on the front step to watch the cars, trucks, bikes and people. Although our street isn’t too busy, we get enough traffic to keep it interesting. You name each vehicle as it goes by.

But your favourite day is rubbish day. When you hear the truck coming we must STOP EVERYTHING and run to the front door to watch the rubbish truck come to empty our bins. We wave at the driver and he waves back at you. We say ‘bye bye rubbish, don’t come back!’

What a wonderful little brother to L and big brother to J you are. They both love you so much. Sometimes L is hard to play with, but you don’t care and you just get in there and make him play with you as much as possible. Even though he often pushes you away, you love to give him a big cuddle and because you are a very clever little guy, you have worked out that if you cuddle him from behind, then he can’t push you away. So smart! You have a fun running game that you play together that involves running, screaming and giggling your heads off from one end of the house to the other. You also love to get in and have a good rough & tumble wrestle. Every, single time – you come out on the losing end. But that doesn’t stop you – oh no!

With little J you are very sweet and gentle. You stop to give him a kiss or to pat him on the head. You also enjoy sitting on him, which J doesn’t like at all, so it’s lucky you don’t do that too often. At the moment you are both enjoying playing in the ball pit. It’s a blow up contraption that holds a whole pile of balls. You guys have so much fun in there chuckling and rolling around, sticking your hand through the holes in the wall.

fun in the ball pit

Well beautiful, happy second birthday. Love you

Brother!

I felt the need to post today because, being February 29, I won’t have the chance to do this for another four years. So here we go.

Today, as I went to pick up baby J from his cot after his afternoon nap, N followed me into the bedroom. When J looked up and saw his (foster) brother through the bars of his cot, he was so thrilled, his smile just burst out of him. They reached out towards each other and touched hands. I smiled and thought, ‘brothers!’

They are not related. They share no genetic code. They are from two very different cultures on opposite sides of the world. But here in my home, they are brothers. In the truest sense of the word. Bound by love.

It’s relatively early days for these two with J only 8 months old and N about to turn 2 (on Saturday). There’s a lot of wrestling and rough and tumble that goes with being brothers. Somehow through all that body contact, that pushing and testing their limits a bond is formed and it is formative.

Together with L, they make up my crew. My noises with dirt on them.

Then I read this beautiful, heartwarming and hopeful post from Try Defying Gravity

I hope you do too.

Here’s to brothers…happy leap year!

three brothers!

Letter to a beautiful girl

To my darling little A,

As I am writing this – you are 9 months old. You are a beautiful little girl who is laughing, crawling, babbling, exploring, pointing and loving life. In a few days you will be meeting your new family and your whole world is going to change. Right now they don’t even know who you are, but I know that your Mum & Dad will learn to love you just as much as I do. I know just how lucky they are to be able to have you as their little girl and to see you grow into an amazing young woman.

But right now, I am the one person who knows you the best. I know all the little things that make you happy, how to hold you to calm you down when you are upset and where all your ticklish spots are. Here’s a few of the things I know about you now that I think will always be a part of you:

You have a big personality – you know what you want and you won’t stop till you get it. You have a quick temper, but when you feel safe and loved, you are the most sweet, charming and delightful little person. You are very passionate and very intelligent – I know that nothing will stop you from achieving any goal you set for yourself. The people who love you will need to be very patient because it takes you a long time to feel safe and secure, but once you do, your love is an incredible reward.

You are such a special little girl to me and I love you very much. You will always hold a special place in my heart. I hope that one day I will open the door and find you there. If you have any questions about the first 9 months of you life, I hope I can answer them for you. It’s been a privilege to be the first person to really know you, and to love you because of who you are. I wish you the absolute best in life – I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

Lots of love