This Week…

…has been a tough one. Between struggles at work and home it’s been tougher than most, and is taking its toll on my body. I learned a very important lesson last year that has helped me through weeks like this: “Today was tough, but tomorrow will be better.” I continually have to look for the “better” in each day. It’s not always easy to find (this week especially), but it is there. 

I consider myself to be a strong person. I also know I have many weaknesses. In the span of 5 days, I have been cursed at, flipped off, slapped, punched, kicked, stepped on, and talked down to and ignored (and that’s just at work)! I have also been disrespected, talked down to, ignored and argued with at home. My body is sore and my mind is exhausted. I have stood firm and broken down. I have shown my strengths and stubbornness and been reminded of my weaknesses. 

Through it all, in the smallest hints of progress, I am able to see the “better” that today brings when yesterday was so difficult. I work with elementary school children who fit in the severe classification of special ed. They range from low to high functioning, and from physical and mental deficits to behavioral and emotional deficits. Some are non verbal, while others are verbal to the extreme. I find that some days it’s very difficult to get out of bed in the morning (like the mornings after a bad day), and others I wake up feeling like “Today, something good will happen.” 

It really is the small things that keep me going. 

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We’ve been adjusting…

…to a new family dynamic over the past few weeks. T left for a “visit” with mom, and now lives with her parents, R is being homeschooled while we wait for the court date to arrive (where hopefully Jay will be granted shared custody). For a boy who probably never enjoyed school, homeschool is a big struggle. The classes don’t fit his needs and testing for an IEP takes time. We see the frustration building in him as he tries to complete his daily lessons. We try to reassure him that all we want is for him to try his best. If he does that, then we don’t care about grades. At this point it’s just about learning better study habits and work ethics. 

Work has become more difficult and stressful for me. I need my job. I love working with the kids (most of the time), and I’m learning so many great skills that are helping me at home. The drama at work brings back bad memories of high school though. I feel like I’m a pretty good employee. I work hard, am self motivated, I know what my bosses want from me, and I try to live up to their expectations. I’ve only worked for my boss around 2 months longer than the others I work with. My boss and I being the newcomers, I knew there would some issues, but I didn’t know how many. I’m requested by others, which I love, because that means I’m doing something right. My boss trusts me to do my job without wasting time or being on my phone. I see a need, and I do my part to fill it. It’s simply common sense in my mind. My coworkers all feel jealous and have made their jealousy known to myself, my boss, her boss, and others…many others. I don’t feel like I’m getting special treatment, but they see it differently. I’m given extra responsibilities based on my work ethics, and because I ask for them. My coworkers don’t see this. I feel like I’m always under a microscope with them. I’ve learned a lot of great techniques from my coworkers. I try to show appreciation to them for helping me when I need it. 

I have certain lines I won’t cross on the job. I will not be behind a partition alone with a child, and I won’t go into the boys bathroom, because in my line of work lies are often told by children as a means to control the situation. I’ve had children threaten to tell their parents that I hit them, called them names, said they stupid, etc. My response to these threats? “Please do!” I can safely respond this way because I have witnesses to attest to the untruthfulness of these claims. 

I had a recent incident that involved a young man going into the boys bathroom by himself. After he had been in there for quite some time, I knocked on the door, pulled the door open enough for my voice to be heard inside, and asked the boy if he needed help. He indicated he was on the toilet and didn’t need help. After another bit of time passed I asked a male employee to go check on the boy. He said the boy was on the toilet but completely undressed from the waist down. I thought to myself “Great! Now how am I supposed to handle this?”

With my boss waiting with me in the hallway we decided it was time to have another male employee clear the bathroom so I could go in and help the boy. When I finally got the all clear I got a look from the male employee that said “brace yourself!”, and I went in with the employee and found the boy had been waist and elbow deep in urinal and toilet water. His clothes were soaked and I was the one that would have to clean him up. Over an hour of him kicking and screaming through the cleanup process. I was exhausted, missed my lunch break by over an hour, and I felt like I couldn’t get myself clean enough. I told my boss that I was leaving the boy with her so I could take a timeout. The loudest thought in my head after that incident was “If they’re still jealous of me after this, then I’ll gladly go get one of them to handle any future situations that are similar to this one.” 

The environment I’m working in is becoming more and more unbearable as my coworkers hostility towards me grows, I’ve decided it’s time to put a stop to it. I’ve conferred with my boss, and am scheduling a meeting with her boss. None of my coworkers should be concerned about days that I have scheduled off, what my work schedule is, what my assignments are, or what I do during my lunch break; after all, I’m not concerned about theirs. I don’t clock in early, and I dont sit around on the clock. I have to stay late more often than not, and it’s not by my choice. I don’t always get to enjoy a full lunch break, and I go to work regardless of how big my migraine is, or how crappy I feel (unless I’m contagious). Not my coworkers though. 

I am doing my best to show up to work everyday with a smile on my face, leave worries of home outside of work, and be involved and engaged while I’m on the clock. It is difficult, but not impossible. 

Update: My patience at work is beginning to pay off. Staffing changes were made and it was made clear to everyone involved that it is only because of my boss and myself that we have the program available to help the kids, because of the 2 of us we have a strong foundation on which to build. Things are looking up, although we are still seriously understaffed. 

I think it goes without saying…

…that our home is full of stress, and often negativity, and not necessarily brought on by the people living in it. Rather it is often the outside influencers who bring it into our lives. That being said, the way that I handle these stresses often adds to, rather than takes away from, the feelings of stress and negativity we all experience. It is difficult to stay positive when you feel like you can never do enough good to achieve a good outcome.

I have a hard time seeing the good in the events that affect my life because it is overshadowed by the mass amounts of negativity that I have thrown my way everyday. Getting yelled at for enforcing rules, being hit by the kids I work with, having parents send me nasty messages because they are too ignorant about what is going on in our home to see (or accept) the good that we are doing,

The good that I see on a daily basis is precious to me. The smiles when kids at work “get it”, the support that we as a family get from the parents who see the good we do (or at least the effort we put into trying to do good), the growth we see in our kids. While these positives may be short lived, they are no less important than the negative, in fact the good is so much more important than the negative, it’s just difficult to recognize the positive as often as we recognize the negative.

It’s overwhelming to start a new, high-stress job; have a new (almost) teen join our family,  and start homeschool because we can’t get guardianship of him, and keeping up with court orders that allow others the opportunity to negatively impact him; have a child leave our family when we’ve seen so much progress, and almost constantly worry about him losing that progress in his new environment; having to place so much responsibility on our newly graduated almost 18 yr old; the start of a new semester, and losing hours at work. I know that my stress is more than some deal with, and I’m also fully aware that others see my stress as trivial. My stress is sometimes more than I am able to handle.

Working in SPED is giving me more tools that I can use to help me be more positive. I’m learning to point out more of the good and ignore more of the bad. This a talent that doesn’t come natural to me, although some of the people at work seem to think it does. I’m grateful I have a good place to learn and practice these new skills. As I push through the tough times and work towards being happier I can see that I can have a positive impact on others.

“No good deed…

…goes unpunished.” Isn’t that how the saying goes? Haven’t we been punished enough?

I wish it didn’t hurt so much to have my brother tell me that he doesn’t want our family at his sons missionary farewell. He wants the weekend to be all about his son, and I get that, I really do. I have never once questioned the safety of my family around my siblings or their children. I have never jumped to the conclusion that they are a danger to be around, or worried that they would cause a scene and detract from whatever celebration was going on. We have always opened our doors to my siblings and their families and welcomed them with open arms. That’s why I hurt every time I think about my nephew leaving for his mission soon. Sending someone on a mission is something that we will never experience with our own children. None of our kids are active in the church, all but one is engaged, married, or has children. But because we have brought children into our home who, for one reason or another, are not able to be with their families, we are no longer welcome to stay with my brothers. Even though they knew before they agreed to let us stay with them, that there was a good chance we would have both T and R with us. Now, we are being asked to get a hotel room, and to stay away except for the 1 hour farewell at church.

So let’s lay this out: R is not able to live with his family because he used to be violent; he has been in our home for over 3 weeks and has shown no sign of violent behavior, not to mention the many visits before being released from residential treatment; he is happier than we have ever seen him; we are his only hope, his last chance, at a family/home life, his other alternative being to return to residential treatment where he would stay for the rest of his life; my brother asked us to find another family to place him with while we come up for a one hour visit; we would drive for 6+ hours, each way, to spend one hour sitting in church, and maybe a few minutes saying “hi” and “bye” to family, plus we would paying for a hotel room; my brother assumed that R would not be able to cope with being around a lot of people, but he didn’t bother to ask any questions, he just said R isn’t welcome, but R is as much a part of our family as any of the other kids; all of this is based on an experience my brother’s friend had with adopting a child which resulted in the child being returned to state custody and the adopted parents divorcing. R is not his friends adopted/unadopted child. R has spent the last 3+ years in residential treatment to have his issues identified and to learn how to live with them and appropriately deal with them.

When my oldest nephew received his mission call, we all gathered around the computer and waited anxiously for a call that didn’t come in time for us to hear him read it. Their reason for excluding us? They couldn’t get skype to work right. So why not call us? There was no shortage of phones in the room. We could see them all in the video they sent us the next day.

We brought T and R into our home, into our family, because they need us, and we need them. We can’t have more kids of our own, and it’s painful to feel like we are constantly being punished because our family isn’t like the my brothers families. We started the processes of fostering and adopting, but work and school had us moving too much, and the cost to continually move our families case around was more than we could afford. In vitro was not an option because of the cost as well. Multiple attempts at using donors, all ended in miscarriages; miscarriages that each left me feeling more broken, worthless, and alone than the last.

When we got the call from T’s mom that she needed us to take him for a while, well, it just felt like the right direction to take our family in. That was the beginning. Then Jay’s brother called and ask us to consider taking R in, if and when he was ever released from residential treatment. We deal with one nasty parent of each child, and one good parent. We are almost constantly put down, verbally (sometimes through texts) abused, put down, and second guessed by the nasty parent of each child. We hear, at least once a week, that we aren’t doing enough for these kids, by parents who don’t see, don’t know, and don’t ask what we do, how we do it, or why. We see how selfish the parents are because they don’t put their child first, ever! Their nasty phone calls or messages are all about the pity party they want everyone, including their children, to throw for them. These kids are essentially our foster children, although the state is not involved, the parents and the courts are. We fight for the, when the world would sooner lock them up and walk away from them. We tolerate the abuse from nasty parents towards us, but not towards the kids. We tolerate a good parent questioning us and siding with the nasty parent. While the other good parent is trying to remove the other nasty parent from the situation altogether for the benefit of the child.

All we really want is a complete family, in whatever form that comes in for us. We may never be able to complete our family, and we certainly will never be able to complete it the way my brothers all have, with 3, 4 and 6 kids all born into the family. I’m hurt that my brother would not ask questions about R. I thought he would always have my back, but this time he didn’t. I don’t know how to move on from the hurt I feel. All we wanted was to support my nephew, and to be there to share in the celebration. Instead I just hurt that my brother doesn’t trust us, or R. He’s never even met him.

It’s not fair! Because of the decision we’ve made to open our home to help children, my family is pushing me away. I never really felt like I belonged in my family, and this just makes it worse. I worked so hard to build good relationships with my brothers only to have it overshadowed by the past of one child.

Do you ever get that feeling…

…that there’s another, possibly better, way to go about something? Maybe you mishandled a situation, and it didn’t end well. As you replay the situation in your head, you realize that there was probably another way you could’ve handled that situation which would’ve resulted in a better outcome. As a parent, I feel that a lot! Like after yelling at one of the kids because I was too upset in the heat of the moment; or not thinking about the consequences my actions, or words, would bring about. There are even times when I think about actions that could’ve worsened a situation and still resulted in a better outcome.

I wonder if second guessing is as prevalent among other people as it is for me. I take my role as parent and guardian very seriously. I often find myself replaying situations trying to plan a better course of action if a similar situation ever happens again. Unfortunately I usually end replaying them in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping. This is one major drawback of being an insomniac. My mind races at night, and I can’t sleep, while during the day I feel like a zombie. I was talking to a sister-in-law last night and she said that her husband is somehow able to ignore the crazy that some people try to bring into their lives, but that she struggles because she can’t ignore the crazy, she gets upset by it. Jay and I are the same way, he can ignore it, but I can’t help but get upset by it. Balance. It’s hard to come by.

I went out on a limb last night to help someone I don’t have any positive feelings for, only to have it backfire and remind me, yet again, why I don’t have any positive feelings for them. So here I am at 5:30 in the morning, still awake, replaying the events of last night. 

I am a step parent, as well as a natural parent. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is that in order to help your children flourish in a blended family situation you have to have a respect and love for all of the other parents in your children’s lives. I still struggle with this as some of the parents of the newest children in our family do not even attempt to reciprocate any form of love or respect for us. The situations involving these parents are destructive to the children. These are the moments I replay most often in my head. 

I try to think of ways to lessen the emotional blows, but I can’t. There have times, in my distant past, that I’ve been so unhappy with the consequences of my choices that I’ve tried to cause others to feel as much pain as I do, it’s called being a bully. Some of the parents feel it’s ok to bully their children in order to be respected. Fear is not respect, though, it’s just fear. The reality of the situation is that each parent has to unselfishly give up their control in order to show any level of respect and love for the parents who are raising their children. Giving up control over trivial things is hard enough. Giving up control over your children sometimes seems impossible. I do my best to embrace the differences people have. I’m the first to admit that I’m still struggling to embrace some differences, but I try. 

Acceptance is so easy to fake for a short time, and disgust can be hidden for a while. The truth is constant and can only be the truth, although ones perspective can make their truth different than another’s. The hard part isn’t accepting that we have to tolerate certain behaviors from destructive parents. The hard part is actually tolerating them and then picking up the pieces in the aftermath. We teach. We struggle. Everyone does in their own way. We also rise above, most of the time. We are human, and not perfect, after all.

After days like today…

…I find myself wondering why we do this. Why do we take in other people’s children? I know going into it that there will be struggles along the way, both major and minor ones. I know that there are parents who all get phone calls and video chats and who create unnecessary heartaches. I know that there will be times when no one gets along and others where everyone gets along. 

It doesn’t take me long to remember why we take in other people’s children. We do it because every child deserves a chance; we love them; we want what’s best for them; we want them to be happy and to feel a sense of safety and security that they didn’t feel elsewhere.

One parent decided to call one of the kids and tell them that they will never be living with that parent again. Then he hung up on the child. This was after a week of no phone calls. I promptly called him to find out what’s going on and to let them know that their approach was unacceptable and causing undo stress on the child. I was yelled at and hung up on, and then sent multiple messages that were full of hateful, hurtful, and down right mean things meant to hurt me. In one message the parent said that I was never good looking, it was only my personality that kept people around. Another said that my motivation has always been to keep their child and to make the child my own because I’m unable to have more children of my own. I received a total of 17 messages, and every one of them was written to hurt me and my family and to put the blame on everyone besides the parent. One even said “And don’t think I don’t understand that you’re keeping every single text I sent you so you can use it to get a f****** restraining order…” Here’s the thing. I don’t scare easy, and I have no need for restraining orders. I’m not afraid of him. I have enough self esteem that I don’t really care if someone finds me physically attractive. If you don’t want to be around me, then don’t be around me. If I don’t want to be around you, I will not be around you. It’s not rocket science. My self esteem and self respect do not revolve around what you think of me. The fact is that you placed your child in my care, and while you have convinced yourself that it’s only because you needed a break, the truth is that you had a mental break, you were not physically able to take care of your child (your child was taking care of you), and you even admitted to me when I picked the child up from you that you had relapsed and started using again. I spent the better part of this afternoon picking up the pieces of this broken child because the parent was unable to keep the child out of the mess the parent finds himself in. One of the last messages stated that the parent wanted me to stay up all night with them, talking to them, so they don’t do anything stupid. So after 16 messages of putting me down, and tearing my life apart trying to make me feel as bad as the parent feels, they have the gall to ask me to stay up all night and help them out. Because what, raising their child isn’t helping them out enough? 

Then, during anothe child’s scheduled video call with his mom, the mom realizes that my child is in the room and instead of talking to her son, she spends the next little while telling me that it is in the court order that no other children are allowed in the room during her time with her son (which, by the way, is complete b.s. and evidence of how ,anipulative she is). She demanded that I make all the children leave the room before she would talk to her son. All of the children in our home, except my daughter, have parents outside of the home that they have contact with. All of the children know that when one is talking to a parent, the tv is paused, and no one is to interact with the child on the phone, or try to but into the conversation with the parent. My child is an adult, so the moms point is invalid anyways, but I will not allow anyone to dictate how my home is run. I will not allow the children to see the parents disrespecting anyone in my home. I turned off the video chat service when she made it clear that she was more interested in yelling at me and trying to make demands than she was in talking to her son. She is allowed only 3 hours of contact with him a week, and she would rather yell at me than talk to him. I don’t understand. We will try again when she is supposed to have her next phone call with him. 

We do not say anything negative about the parents of the children, not around them, and certainly not to them. Just as my daughter did with her birth father, the children are allowed the freedom to form their own opinions about their parents without our biases being involved. So far, the children each have one parent they like to talk to, and one parent that they dread talking to. Still, we try to encourage them to communicate with each parent. We have given them a voice and taught them to use it. They know that their thoughts matter here. We do the best we can for these children, for our family. We are an extra blended family, and life is tough. We get by; we manage. We are protectors of the innocent and we are their guardians. We will continue to fight for them. 

So with phones shut down until sense and reason take hold, it is time to say goodnight. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better” ― Kevin Henkes, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

When someone hits rock bottom…

…I mean really hits rock bottom, they are appreciative of every thing you do for them. It’s easy to say you’ve hit bottom, but to behave as if you have is not so easy to fake. We experienced this when S contacted us Thursday. Actually, he contacted me. I forwarded everything that was said, by S and myself, to Jay. We called a family meeting and let J and T know what was going on. Jay was convinced that S was really at rock bottom, and that if we help him, the only direction S could go was up. Based on this information, J and T agreed that it would be ok for S to come home and we would support him in getting back on his feet, with certain stipulations: he was to get a job; fix his status with the national guard; send support to M and E; pay rent; apply for Medicaid; absolutely no drinking, drugs, smoking, or chemicals of any kind allowed on the property or in his system; and he was to be respectful and help out around the house. 

Jay and I went to pick him up Friday morning from a shelter an hour away. When I saw him, immediately my anxiety level went up. Thoughts of “oh no, here we go again” went through my mind. I hoped that things would be different this time around. I trusted Jay, and I wanted to trust S, but I had my reservations. 

From Friday to Monday our home had a dark cloud over it. It felt different just walking up to it. Clothes and dishes were left out and I was sounding like a nag because everywhere I went S had left a mess. No progress had been made to gather his missing documents to be able to find a job, he had made no effort to apply for Medicaid or contact the national guard. He grabbed T and threw him to the side when T was trying to play by blocking the walkway and asking everyone for a password. He made unnecessary comments in conversations that did not involve him. By Monday evening I’d had enough. I pulled Jay aside into the kitchen and started to fill him in on everything that had been happening. S came in, already agitated, and tried to join the conversation. He tried to say that he didn’t have time to get anything done because it was the weekend. I called him out on it because he spent his days sleeping and his nights keeping me awake, and he could’ve applied for Medicaid online, and I was able to reach his unit in a matter of minutes, which tells me he put zero effort into doing either. 

He started to play the victim and once again denied that E was his. She is 14 months old, and he still calls her “it!” I was furious. I got in his face and told him that he had sex, with my friend, in my house, and that whether or not he believed she was his, he was going to accept responsibility for her as long as I had anything to do with it. Whether or not E is his (and I fully believe she is, she looked just like him when she was born, and everyone else has accepted her), he broke the rules and the consequences are that he is now a father, and he must accept responsibility. He started yelling excuses at me, and raised his fist up to swing at me. My instincts must have been stronger than I knew, because before he could hit me, I reached up and grabbed him by his throat. The swings were coming, but I wasn’t going to let go until I was safe from the blows. Jay jumped up and grabbed him and told him to leave. S turned around and kicked a hole in our kitchen door. Everything happened so fast. He went outside, undressed down to his underwear, and started screaming for the “Mormons” to come help him, he was trying to wave down passing cars, and yelling obscenities. The police were called to remove him from our property. The police came to talk to me, and I told them what happened and Jay confirmed it. Which is totally different from what S told them, but I fully admitted that I grabbed him before he touched me. The police asked us to gather all of his things and bring them outside. We did, and the officers told us to go back inside and they would take care of everything.

Lesson learned, he’s out of chances. I know S blames me for growing up the way he did, although I was the one who pushed Jay to fight for custody of him and K. Their mom made sure that I was always the bad guy, and the kids always tried to play both sides. The children are now adults, and they have to decide for themselves what the truth is about their parents, all of their parents. I’ve read many articles and blogs about the importance of parents being accepting and supportive of the step parents in their children’s lives. I refuse to talk badly about other parents around the children. It’s not fair to the other parents, or the kids. I’ve seen the damage that can come from sharing negative feelings about others around the kids…the parents are a big part of each child, and who they will grow up to be.

I wish that we could trust all of our children, but 2 of them have already burned the bridges beyond repair, at least in my mind. We hope that they are able to learn the importance of good decision making and find success for themselves. I believe that S is not mentally capable of making decisions for himself, but we do not have the means to have him declared incompetent, and with R coming in only 3 more days, we can’t have the violence and disrespect in the home. There are certain things that can no longer be tolerated. We are R’s last chance at a family life. If we fail him, he will spend the rest if his life in residential facilities. He is still young (almost 13). He needs a family environment where he can thrive and use the skills he’s learned from the residential facilities he’s been in. 

As we grow together and learn from each other…