Meeting with the Principal

Hubby and I met with our kids’ principal for an hour yesterday. It was a good meeting. I felt very much like he was taking my worries, creating an action plan, and would execute it perfectly. Whereas the public school meeting ended with a bunch of tasks for me at home, and the onus was placed directly on my shoulders, he did the opposite. He listened to what hubby and I had to say and created 4 action items that he would perform (or have someone at the school perform) for Anne. Basically, Anne will repeat fourth grade next year. She should have been held back in second grade, or third grade, but no one was responsible or in-charge enough to either a) see that this needed to be done due to her lack of foundational knowledge b) have enough control to get it done. So she was passed along the public school system with poor addition and subtraction skills and now she can’t multiply or divide. Fractions are a challenge. And that’s just her problems with math!

So dear principal will be working with Anne’s teacher and the school’s learning support teacher to come up with some study skills that she can work on both at school and at home. She will receive accommodations for homework and tests so that the work is more manageable and so that she begins to retain some information rather than just memorizing it and then forgetting it. I feel that less pressure and a more realistic amount of time spent doing homework will benefit her greatly.

I hate for her to hate school. She’s in 4th grade for goodness’ sake! She has a long way to go.

I am thankful for a principal that will pray with us for our daughter and her journey. I am thankful for a learning support teacher who celebrates the small successes with our children and shows them that they are great just as they are, made in God’s image.

I am relieved that this burden has been lifted. It is out of my hands and dealt with. I can go on to conquer something else, put my mind to something else!

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Tough Cookies

There are tough weeks in everyone’s lives. Work, school, kids, parents. Whatever. This was a tough week. I feel like I got hit from all sides and my whole body aches. Dealing with Anne’s school. Dealing with Anne’s counseling. Dealing with work. Dealing with a nasty three year old. Dealing with a cranky husband. Dealing with pee in pants and kids hitting each other. I was just over it. I was exhausted. Am exhausted. And then I got mad. When will people be grateful of the sacrifices I make every day. Why can’t they see how much I love them, to do all of this. When will they care? Then I got angry, but a good angry. Like, I can do this. And I thought about having to meet with Anne’s new principal for the same reason I had to meet at the public school, and I vowed to myself something. I WILL NOT LET THEM DOWN. These kids have had 200 people let them down in their young lives. I will not be one of them. It can be the most exhausting week of my life and I will not let them down. I am here for them, whether it’s roses and cupcakes or pee and vomit and aggression. They can’t get rid of me. I am here for them. Forever.

Brains

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, researching, meeting and talking about brains recently.

We’re still working out with Anne’s school what needs to happen. I have met with her 4th grade teacher and the education support teacher at her school. They have copies of her goals for her behavioral health and her most recent IEP evaluation.

She continues to fail math despite the fact that teacher isn’t even grading the division portions of the tests.

She also continues to fail History and Science, despite studying.

I refuse to continue the path that she is on and graduate her to the next grade when she fails to learn the information in her current grade. It has gone on too long. She needed to be held back in 2nd grade when she was getting 50% on those tests but the teachers and administrators were too caught up in her story to do any background on her foundation of knowledge. Hubby and I are in agreement that she will not start 5th grade if she is not doing better with her grades. I haven’t heard yet if she will have additional testing done since her last IEP request was in Spring of 2013.

I also met with Anne’s behavioral specialist this week regarding her current schedule. She definitely agreed with me that it has been very strenuous and it’s an intensive program to master when you are still working at attachment at home and struggling in school. I will hear tomorrow or Friday whether they can cut back her hours to two days a week. Even then, her program will be prolonged. We know that this is not a sprint to the finish, it is a marathon to mental well being. We just want to make sure that if she is spending these kinds of hours (11 hours a week) that she is getting something out of it.

I have not cut back on Huck’s visits. His counselors have a new case load so they have only been coming once a week. I have also taken the liberty of sending all of the girls upstairs with our mother’s helper so that I have just Huck to focus on. This way we get more of his issues resolved. Not that he talks about anything in depth but the counselors can give feedback that he will at least hear and it isn’t me regurgitating the same lecture over and over again. He is still having issues wetting his pants at school. I spoke with the school nurse who spoke with his teacher and they have him going solo a couple extra times a day. This has not yet helped. Huck’s counselors would like for me to take him into the doctor in case it is a medical problem. We will see when that happens!

Lastly I’ve been thinking about my uncle’s passing. We aren’t 100% sure what happened on December 9th, but in the doctor’s opinions it sounds very close to what happened to me almost a year ago. Something happened with a blood vessel or an artery that caused a bleed and his brain swelled. It could have been an aneurysm or a stroke. I am very aware that his fate could easily have been mine too. I am grateful but also cognizant of every day. It’s hard because I know his body just failed. Some mechanism in his body did not work and he died. We go along every day as if we are invincible, but something that’s the smallest molecule on the planet can kill you in a minute. I’ve had a lot of epiphanies since his death and I’m sure that I will have more. I am trying really hard every day to not sweat the small stuff. I am a controlling person so that is very difficult. But when my uncle died no one cared what car he drove or what job he had. He was loved by his friends and family and an inspiration to so many people. That is what counts. So beyond trying to be a good friend and a good wife and a good sister and a good mother (phew! exhausting), I decided to call the agency and open our home to respite care. I love our kids and even though it’s only been 6 months (6 months since placement, can you believe it??), I think they are ready to help heal other children. They also enjoy socializing with other kids and we certainly have the room for it!

Gone Too Long

Sorry I’ve been MIA folks… planning and attending my uncle’s funeral out of town has been tough. I figured I’d come back with a bunch of pictures to show y’all and then give you an update of where we are! I know I left you hanging with the behavioral health stuff. There’s a few more extra of Madeline just because her teacher is so good at sharing photos with me and also I’m home with her two days a week so I just get more time with her! She also traveled with me to Raleigh last weekend to lay my uncle to rest so I included some pictures of us traveling.

ali mary

Happy Birthday Jesus party at school, she was entertained!

ali pic

She loves to take “pictures” with her hello kitty phone. She pushes the button and everything! I crack up every time.

cousins

Playing the piano at my mom’s house and tolerating my nephew. She is not a huge fan of younger children and he touches her things way too much so it makes her very unhappy!

kid's table

It was mainly adults who attended the funeral so here she is at dinner at the “kids” table!

ninjas

These two got matching pjs for Christmas and it has been awesome!

sleepy ali

Delayed at the airport almost 3 hours coming home. We were both so exhausted!

Behavioral Health

I think we’re at our end with the current behavioral/mental health situation.

Anne goes to her “intensive” therapy three days a week. She gets picked up from school at 2:30 and either hubby or I pick her up from the counseling office at 6:00. They cover a breadth of therapy approaches, including individual and group therapy. I’m not sure what certifications the counselors have but there are two “mental health professionals” that she sees on occasion (seems like every other week or so). She’s been there almost four months and they have worked mainly on coping skills, including getting through the adoption and the holidays. They have yet to really delve into issues with her birth parents/birth family. I have not noticed a huge difference in behavior but it is always nice to have her counselor reinforce what we go over at home. She has told me on occasion that she used one of her coping skills before “hitting” one of her siblings but in general I don’t think her aggression, resentment or sibling rivalry has really been addressed. I have talked with her to see what she thinks will help her the most. She said that the one on one time with her counselor helps much more than being in group with the other kids, and that she’d rather go one day a week than three. I realize the importance of the counseling, especially at the age of 10. I’m concerned at the actual amount of counseling she receives in ratio to the number of hours a week she is away from home. I think we feel her absence a lot and she misses being at home and seeing her siblings. Anne has her 6 month evaluation at the end of January to determine whether she continues in the program (a formality for insurance) and I’m thinking of using that time to discuss our options. I know that she needs counseling and neutral sources for information and encouragement. I’m just not sure how much she is getting out of this intensive program versus the number of hours per week that she is there. I also think that being at home more often would keep her from being so overwhelmed at school and feel more attached to myself and hubby.

Huck is still in the Family Based Behavioral Health program. Our “team” comes twice a week for 45 minutes to an hour. When just June comes, we stick to the schedule and she has a clear cut idea of what to go over. We’ve done things like talk about emotions and what happens when we bottle them up. We’ve read books regarding parents loving their kids no matter what their behavior is. She’s a very calm presence which works well in our home, but just her visit causes a ruckus every time. Her team partner, we’ll call him Ed, does not come with a concise picture of what needs to go on. He derails the visit every time, as if he doesn’t understand the agenda or doesn’t care. He actually has gone against June and given an opposite opinion on a matter of things. I don’t particularly care for his personality or his methods, but I’m also partial to June because we’ve been with her since the start of the program. I have actually told the program supervisor that I would prefer if only June comes, but it is a team based approach so that was denied. We are at the point that we feel a more individualized approach for Huck will work better. He likes having attention all to himself (what kids doesn’t, especially what sibling of four kids doesn’t!) which we learned over the Christmas break when we had no issues, either behaviorally or physically. The Family Based approach is a wonderful concept. This program usually helps natural parents who are working towards regaining (or keeping) their children from foster care. In fact our children and their parents were under this program before when the children were at home. Technically, my husband and I have been at discharge level since the start of the program. The only reason they can continue is because our son, who the program is billed under, is not at discharge level. But I’m not sure how much more my husband and I can learn to help. We’ve gone over a lot of parental philosophies and behavior charts and June keeps telling us that we’re teaching her more than she’s teaching us. So if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do and not seeing huge changes, maybe it’s time to try something different? I hate to switch already after I fought so hard for this but I hate to waste another month of aggravation if we could see big results after chasing another avenue.

I realize that this will be ongoing. We will ebb and flow with counseling and therapy. I thought you all might like an update on the mental health front because it seems so elusive when you start out with fostering!

Heart Drops in Stomach

My sister Facetimed me yesterday when my husband was off retrieving our oldest daughters from his mom’s house. My nephew was wearing a onesie that said “guess who has a surprise?” and the back said “I’m going to be a big brother!”

Ugh. So happy and yet so sad.

End of the Year Review

2014 will not go down in my memory as an excellent year. It has been excellent in some spots but overall in nature it has been really difficult. I have learned a lot this year, but in most points I wish there had been a different path to these life lessons.

The beginning of 2014 started off rocky with my frustration with the home mortgage business, namely with Wells Fargo. They approved us for a mortgage on our new home for up to $320,000 and then were trying to deny us a mortgage for half of that. They tried to deny us based on not being able to use the documents that my husband’s employer sent them, which were sent in standard business format. Mayhem ensued because the movers packed up our North Carolina house when we thought we would be able to get into our new house so then our household goods had to sit on trucks until we could close on the new house and move in, weeks later than anticipated. So my daughter and I were technically homeless (we stayed with my mom but were not planning on doing so) and we had to pay extra for my husband to stay in his apartment.

Next to the rocky start of 2014 was on my drive from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, to get settled in our new house and finish unpacking. I was driving and thought that I got a full-on migraine with blurred vision (which I used to get a lot, especially in stressful times). Unfortunately it lasted until the next day, so I called around to get an emergency appointment (I didn’t have any doctors set up since we had just  moved). After a nerve wracking doctor’s visit and emergency trip to have an MRI done, the doctors concluded that I had a sizable stroke which was putting pressure on my brain and affecting my vision. I spent my birthday in the hospital, hooked up to IVs and having all sorts of tests done. Finally I was released with aspirin, Lipitor and Plavix in hand, to take the rest of my life to prevent any more strokes.

It was also in the hospital that the doctors’ found a hole in my heart, one possible cause of the stroke. I had heart surgery in May to close the heart.

June came and my husband started his last few semesters of (online) school to finish his Bachelor’s Degree in anticipation of applying for MBA programs in January. Not only did he end his education program with a 3.8 GPA but he did so while working full time and being a hands-on dad!

In July we were approved as foster parents for the state of Pennsylvania and one day later received the referral call for our three children. We accepted placement two days later after never seeing them or meeting them in advance.

The next month and a half are a blur, as I worked hard to acclimate the new children. I quickly realized the advantages of the start of school with three school aged children! I worked hard to get the oldest two in appropriate counseling programs.

The adoption of our kids went through as previously scheduled on National Adoption Day, which was celebrated in our area on November 7th. There was a lot of speculation leading up to the adoption of whether it would occur as planned, and therefore didn’t give our families a lot of time to plan to attend. We held a fun party for the kids and their anxiety levels went down substantially after the adoption.

In December my beloved Uncle went to the hospital for a scheduled catheter procedure much like I had in May and never left. He suffered a brain aneurysm and the swelling in his brain never went down. He was taken off the respirator on December 17th and passed away peacefully and swiftly. I miss him all the time. I regret not seeing him recently, but the bond we had will never fade.

My husband ended the year in the top 1% nationally for his position in his company so we will be getting a pretty awesome vacation in May to celebrate.

As I look back on 2014, I learned a lot but only through major struggles. There were many health scares in 2014 and it was possible for a while that I’d never get to drive again because of my vision. It was also very scary that the doctors were not sure what caused my stroke and therefore could not prevent another one. Although my husband and I had already decided to pursue foster to adopt it was sad to get the news from my cardiologist,  neurologist and OB/GYN that it would be very stressful on my body and dangerous should I ever get pregnant again. There something different between having miscarriages and trouble getting pregnant versus having doctors tell you that you shouldn’t get pregnant.

Well, here’s to 2015 and having a great year!