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Oh MAN.  I guess some of it is I’ve just finished recovering from the intense, but brief, bug that Husband now has.  (And so I had to go tuck him into bed just now, while after my vomiting, I had to clean up after myself and continue to supervise five children.  Okay, that ‘supervising’ did turn into three hours of old “Magic School Bus” tapes while I slept.)

Right.  So the visit yesterday went really well.  I met Mom face to face, and enjoyed talking to her.  I hate to let on too much to the caseworkers and such, but our relationship so far is great.  I actually enjoy talking to her, while the other moms have merely been an obligation I didn’t mind too much.  I don’t think we’d be friends IRL, but for bio-moms, she’s awesome.

She gave the kids a reasonable amount of presents.  Some of the things were a little weird/crappy (really hard paint-by-numbers for Mark, a dress-up outfit for Nikki that’s obviously too small) but somehow I doubt reunification would ever come down to that.

They got a book from dad, who I found out is NOT supposed to have our phone number or contact with kids – we’d gotten a brief phone call from his jail a few days ago.  Whoops!  Mom apologized profusely for giving him our number, and I guess I believe she didn’t know, because he had phone contact with Nikki and Mark at the relatives, so why not now?  I’m half-tempted to argue they should have contact, but I also like the idea of the fewer people with our phone number, the better, and maybe there’s something about him they know that I don’t!  I think he gets out within a few weeks, so I guess we’ll be okay until then.

I also need to get them both into the doctor to check on this rash they’ve had since they arrived.  It’s worse on Nikki, covering her lower abdomen, one shoulder, and her thighs.  It looks sort of like staph (and we’ve had problems with that more times than I want to think about) and sort of like pimples.  It doesn’t itch her, and I’ve got no clue what it is.  She came with a steroidal cream from early this summer, but it obviously hasn’t worked!  Mark has a small patch on his neck, but it looks different, so maybe it’s not even the same thing.

(Because I’m so paranoid, I did a quick search on various STDs, and it seems none of them have symptoms like this.  Whew!)

Plus we scheduled another visit with Mom for next week before school starts, so that’s a four hour time commitment that will pay me $35 (50 cents a mile, baby!).  And I had to schedule the psych eval for Mark (mid January, another morning of school he’ll miss) plus another worker came by today for a visit (because Marge is in another county, one of our county’s workers does the monthly home visits.)

So looking all this over, I guess none of it is usual or everyday, but when I combine it with my usual and everyday, plus all five kids home from break, I’m just not finding enough time to finish anyth

This morning was to be a playdate for Luke, and this afternoon was first visit with Mom.  So of course, I woke up three times last night feeling like I was going to vomit.  I finally did this morning, and I feel super achy.  So I had to cancel the playdate, and spent 20 minutes trying to get a hold of Marge.  The drive to the visit is 35 minutes one way, and I don’t think it’s safe for me to be doing that.  AND it’s a two-hour visit, so I was going to have to hang around that whole time, while feeling puky.

Luckily, Marge got a coworker to pick up the kids for the visit, and Marge can drive them back if I’m not feeling well enough to come get them.  I really don’t mind the drive too much, just the waiting around.  But we’ll see; Baby and Junior both had this (massive vomiting and tired) happen to them in the past week, and they were fine again in 12 hours.

and I mean that in the plural noun sense, not the singular verb sense.

So far, it’s been a good Christmas, especially for our first one as foster parents.   I certainly hope there are many more, but this one has been mostly a success.

One of the biggest problems is due to the fact that Mark and Nikki’s relatives provided two big sacks of gifts for them.  Some problem, huh?  It was quite a blessing.  However, their family, it seems, does the traditional ‘open-everything-at-once’ on the 25th.  And then Christmas is over.  Husband and I decided several years ago to spread out the present opening over the whole Christmas season, a la The Twelve Days of Christmas.

(We still haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer on when Christmas officially ends.  It seems there are three big choices: Jan. 6 (Epiphany), the Sunday after (Baptism of Christ) or Feb. 2 (Candlemas), depending on your denomination.)

Anyway, it’s usually worked for us.  But with Mark and Nikki’s presents, things have gotten off-balance.  I unwrapped and checked their presents, but then I rewrapped them, so I don’t know what they will be each morning until they open them.  That came to a head on Saturday, when Nikki unwrapped socks and shoes, Mark unwrapped two pairs of shoes, and Junior got a cool dinosaur fighting toy.  Yeah, I don’t blame them for having green eyes and grumbling voices.

So I guess I’ll either have everyone open all their presents, or I’ll have to try and give my kids lame presents too.  It’s all a bit complicated for me; I like Christmas to be as simple as I can make it, and this is just not working like it usually does.  But I really like my Christmas traditions!  Whaaa whaaa…

Oh, and one more minor fail: this morning, Nikki unwrapped Battleship (the game).  An odd choice for a 5-year old girl, yes?  I thought so too when I checked it, but I’m not here to question their choices, so I let it go.  It just occurred to me they probably mislabeled it, and it was supposed to be Mark’s, which also makes sense because Nikki has 3 extra presents.

So it’s the day before Christmas, and Nikki and Mark have been here a week (tonight).  I think they’ve settled in well, especially considering how different our rules and culture are from theirs.

We’re still wrestling with the food: last night, I made a ham, a side of beets, side of green beans, and side of cauliflower.  (Not just plain, but each with some sort of seasoning/roasting/ dressing, etc.  I don’t even like cauliflower, and I thought it was pretty good.)  To his credit, Mark tried a teeny bit of each side dish – sort of licking it- but he couldn’t manage to actually eat any of it.  Nikki flat out refused it all.  She tried to eat the salad, but didn’t want any dressing – see what I mean?  Their food refusals don’t make any sense.  Anyway, she didn’t get a second serving of the ham, and left the table in tears.  Not big dramatic tears, but quiet ones that I had to run after her to notice.  She told me she missed her mama, so I held her for a few minutes, and then we called her mom.

They’ve talked with her at least once a day since Monday, and the calls are very good.  The kids are happy and Mom seems happy (with mixed-in sadness at missing them.)  Mom thanked me a bunch for taking care of her kids and she told me she was so glad I was nice.  She seems capable enough of getting clean and working her plan.  She told me all about how normal their lives were, and I believe her, until a few years ago, she and their dad sort of slid into drugs.  But Mom’s been clean for a few months, so she’s got a good start.  There aren’t many other options available for Mark and Nikki; I hope she can make it.

Their relatives gave Marge two big bags of Christmas presents for the kids – great!! That helps a lot.  I’m cynical enough though that I’m unwrapping each one to check for appropriateness and smoke smells (the clothes she brought smelled like smoke, and so far, I’ll be setting aside one way-too realistic looking machine gun until Mark goes back.)  And then rewrapping it, of course.

So it seems like we’ll have a plentiful, and snowy, Christmas.  Praise God!

Since Thursday night, when Mark and Nikki arrived, we’ve had lots going on – local concerts, family holiday parties, settling them in, etc. – so dinners have been not their usual balanced selves.

I made pizza the first night, to make them more comfortable (that’s my trick – what kid doesn’t like pizza?)  Next night was, unfortunately, hot dogs and green beans.  Next night was a party with mostly meat and various kinds of dip.  But even the miniscule amount of vegetables they’ve been asked to eat so far has sent them both into fits of refusal and near-choking.

I’m serious.  They’ve both told me they don’t like vegetables, they don’t eat vegetables and their family never serves them vegetables.  Luke has almost thrown up while swallowing the few bites that’ve made it into his mouth – I think because he’s trying to swallow them whole.  He says chewing makes the vegetable juice go in his mouth.  The rest of the time, he sits there with his fork in his hand, staring at it like it’s a forkful of fish heads.  He just can’t bring himself to put it in his mouth!

Last night’s dinner made it crystal-clear the magnitude of the problem.  I made chicken pot-pie, with generous amounts of cut-up carrots and peas in the pie.  I figured those two are the most benign of the real veggies (I’m not counting potatoes or corn, but Mark said he doesn’t eat potatoes anyway, unless they’re potato chips.)  Plus, they’re covered in cream of chicken soup.  But no, they were too recognizable.  Both kids refused to eat any.  They wouldn’t even eat the biscuit part!

So I think the problem is recognizing the food.  It seems to be most severe with veggies, but other foods that look strange too are rejected.  I asked Mark what his family gave them, and here’s the list: chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, hamburgers, lasagna.  Nikki added mostaciolli and pizza.  I think I’m going to cry.

Actually, those foods are not that bad.  I make all of them (except for mac and cheese) for dinner a lot.  But I make them with veggie sides, and if Mark and Nikki don’t eat those, I’m doing them a disservice.  Nikki is already at the 90th percentile in weight-for-age charts, and Mark is at 75th.  They are both around 40th for height.  You can print CDC growth charts to use – we were tracking Daughter’s height for a while and I find the charts sometimes handy – although I don’t need a chart to tell me Nikki and Mark are overweight.  They’re not really flabby (yet) but their eating habits plus their body size leave me very concerned. (Although they are okay with fruit – Mark at a whole apple the other night after refusing to eat a bowl of steamed peas.)

So I’m desperate enough to get out the cookbook I swore I’d never use – Deceptively Delicious, the one by Jerry Seinfeld’s wife.  First, I really don’t like the concept.  Hiding vegetables so kids don’t learn to actually enjoy them for what they are? Please.  (Although to be fair, she really emphasizes serving vegetables normally mostly.)   BUT I’ve never had kids who refused every single non-fatty meat I’ve set in front of them.  Second, I’ve only ever tried one recipe from it (mozzarella sticks with cauliflower) and it sucked, so I just put it away.

Anyway, I’m thinking of using it now.  Most of the time, our kids get served a little of everything, and they have to eat all of it before they get more of any one thing.  I tell them they don’t have to eat it, but they can’t have more otherwise.  I’ve tried that with Mark and Nikki; Nikki just shrugs it off and doesn’t eat anything, but Mark really gets upset.  Last night, he was even crying.  I REALLY don’t want that to happen.  I DON’T want to turn meals/food into a battleground.  I treasure mealtime as a family time, and I don’t want to ruin that for Mark.  I don’t want him to view healthy foods as the enemy, as something that causes him pain.

But I also don’t want to let him eat only what he wants.

I feel really stuck.

but I can’t ask Mark about it!

All day yesterday, I was noticing how he smelled.  Not awful, and I certainly hadn’t noticed it the first night, but he had been running around the house and playing, so he’d gotten sweaty.  I mentioned a few times to him during the day that he would need a bath.

After dinner, I asked him if he took baths or showers.  He told me neither.  I (still not getting it) laughed and told him it was time for a bath then and to go upstairs.  He refused, looked really scared, and ran and hid in a closet.  He told me he had ‘accidents’ in the bath, and I (still not getting it) told him not to worry about it, I deal with poop all the time, and he won’t be in trouble.  He still wouldn’t come out.  Long story short, he told me through a crack in the door that something bad happened to him in a bathtub.  I didn’t push it any more after that, and I feel really stupid for not picking up on his feelings/trauma.  We compromised (very gently) on him wiping down with a soapy washcloth in the bathroom.  He managed to do that fine, and seemed much calmer afterwards.

Okay, so now I know he REALLY needs a therapist.  I’m dying to reach out and help him, but I know I’m not a professional and it’s not my role.  I have absolutely NO CLUE what his bathroom trauma could be; obviously, my mind runs the gamut from rape to having to clean the shower curtain.

More than that, I just feel so SAD.  He does so well through the day, and knowing that there’s some part of him though that is that scarred makes me want to cry.

So I will be calling Marge right away on Monday.  The bath thing, plus a few other medical issues, lead me to suspect I’m going to be feeling a lot more sadness in the future.

I found out some more this morning about the sexual abuse allegations in Mark’s family.  Based on that, caseworker (call her Marge) asked me to take Mark to the hospital for one of those all-inclusive sexual abuse medical exams.   Yippee!

I hustled up some babysitting from family, called several different numbers at the hospital to find the right place to take him, and once I finally got the correct office, found out they don’t do the exam until after the child advocacy center interview.  (Just like the therapist.)  She was surprised Marge didn’t know that, so it must be pretty standard protocol.

The problem with getting the CAC interview is that the abuse took place in a different (very far away) county.  The initial removal from their parents was in this county, but the relatives were all far away.  So that far-away county has to schedule the CAC interview and transport from here, turning it into a whole day ordeal.  And Marge made it sound like that county isn’t keen on getting the interview to even happen. Even the GAL down there is leaning towards not doing an interview – too ‘traumatic.’

Come on.  From what I know, this abuse has been happening for some amount of time, probably a few months.  The other allegations might even include STDs.  If this CAC interview thing doesn’t get resolved early next week, I’m getting pissed.

But I did manage to get their enrollment papers done in less than 24 hours, so as long as their old district gets their records over to ours ASAP, the kids can start back to school in January with all the other kids.  Nikki is not happy about leaving her class, but our kindergarten teacher is AWESOME so I think she’ll be okay.  Mark probably also is not happy about leaving his class, but he’s not admitting it.

Before Mark arrived, Husband (vehemently) and I (reluctantly) agreed, based on the circumstances around his entering our home, that we wanted to have some security at night.  We don’t have an electronic alarm, so we sort of decided to, well… lock his door from the outside after he was asleep.  I’m so embarrassed to admit that.  I bet it’s technically against some foster parent policy we agreed to, and I know it’s not good for a kid to realize in the middle of the night that they can’t get out of their room.

We weren’t going to tell him it was locked; we were just going to tell him if he needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night to knock on the door and we’d come open it.  I was also going to set up a monitor, so I could hear him (the bed he’s in is pretty squeaky.)

So that was all before he arrived.  Once he got here, we realized he’s a big kitten.  Doesn’t mean he won’t perp ever, but he just didn’t strike me as the type to sneak out of his bed at night.  That, plus our evening activities which kept us out until after bedtime, meant we ended up not putting a lock on the door.

Instead, I put some of our noisiest baby toys in front of his doorway.  And they worked: I did wake up when he went to the bathroom!  I think I’ll keep them there for the next several days until we get a good handle on what exactly he’s been through.

After getting the call this morning, I spent most of the day arranging beds and vacuuming.  You know, ’cause foster kids will totally judge me on the dustbunnies in the corner.  Anyway, after our problems with Poet, we decided right away to put Mark in his own room.  Junior will be in another, and the girls will have the big room.

Late in the afternoon (actually, it was dinner time) Nikki and Mark finally arrived.  They ran in the house as soon as I opened the door, threw their coats on the floor, and ran around looking for things to play with.  Not too many adjustment issues here!  Apparently, the worker spent most of the car ride telling them how there are kids at our house, and they were really looking forward to that.  So right off the bat, Daughter and Nikki became ‘best friends’ (their words, not mine) and Mark and Junior set up a train track and raced cars.

I’ve learned a little more about their past: drug involvement by their parents.  They spent the summer with relatives, but there were allegations of sexual abuse, so CPS took them out of the home.  So now they are here (and their older sister is in another nearby home.)

They are both polite and well-mannered so far.  They ate well, played well, and Mark really seems to want to help out with the younger kids.  I know, I know, after what I just mentioned above…well, I’ve kept him in my line of sight since he arrived, and I will keep doing that for, well, a long time I suppose.  He will be getting counseling, but first he needs to be interviewed by a child advocacy center, and I have no clue how long that could take to set up.

Both kids have at least grade level reading abilities, and they both seem to enjoy reading.  Hallelujah!  They’ll fit right in.  They like to talk, and they seemed open to talking about their feelings about being here.  Mark admitted missing his mom and dad and his other relatives, but he hasn’t appeared too anxious yet.  Nikki admitted to being sad, but then started giving me lots of hugs and telling me she loved me, so I think she’s mostly just confused.  They both fell asleep pretty easily, although Nikki REALLY wanted to sleep in my bed, or at least with Daughter.  I felt so bad saying no!

They both also want to go back to school (again, hallelujah!) but since tomorrow is the last day before break, I told them they won’t be able to start right now.  So it will be a busy week for me next week: all five kids home all day, and one I need to keep an eye on at all times.

But really, it’s all good.  Nikki and Mark, just like all our other kids so far, are really cool and I like them a lot!