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Eureka!

2012 May 10

Okay, now I get it.

After years of working with children as a volunteer in Sunday school, clubs, after school, and so on, and having parents and grandparents come up and thank me… well now I get it.

"Light Bulb" by Graham Soult

I used to shrug those off as mere politeness at worst; their encouraging me at best. We need the latter because sometimes we, as volunteers, don’t think we’re getting anywhere with the kids and, frankly that we’re sometimes just glorified babysitters and that almost anyone else could step right in and do just as well.

But now that we have two of our own, at least for now, I understand that when some parent told me in the past I’m in their prayers, chances were pretty good that I really was. When they told me they were thankful I was there every week they really meant it. I know because now I really mean it.

At worship we sit behind Keith, a Sunday school teacher. He leaves right after to make it to Sunday school for our kids. I knew before we had the kids that he taught, but now I find myself looking for him and heartened when I see him.

Having been a Tuesday night Ranger for first grade boys’ club the last four years, I’ve received many gifts and thank you cards. I looked at these and just things people do.

Now that “Ethan” has Ranger John, Ranger Curt, and Ranger Matt; and “Josh” has Ranger Mike and Ranger Dave week in and week out, I know that a lot of prayers come from parents, many of those in gratitude for the time and dependability of these men.

I know because this is how we pray for the faithful volunteers who touch our boys’ lives.

Little Pitchers

2012 May 1

In the movie, A Christmas Story, the father comes back into the house after having left for work because that %$#@ Oldsmobile had frozen up on him again. The mother gives him a warning that the boys may pick up on his colorful language by singing, “Little pitchers.”

"Listen Carefully" by Chris Chidsey

Obviously, we want to watch our language around kids. The easiest way to combat their using bad words is to always be able to tell them, “We don’t talk like that, so neither should you.” Even though I didn’t grow up that way we’re doing our best to see that the kids in our house do as long as they are living with us.

But the real lesson here is that kids have big ears! They hear everything even when you don’t think they’re paying attention. We’ve seen time and time again where adults say things thinking that since the kids are engaged in something else, like play or coloring, that they don’t hear – but that’s never true. They are always listening.

For example, a few weeks ago a friend of ours called to inform us that his elderly aunt died. She had been in  a nursing home that kept a cat. This cat would camp out at on a person’s bed before they died, sensing somehow that the resident was close to the end. Jennifer and I were talking about this quietly in the kitchen while the boys played in the living room.

A few days later at dinner, Josh (not even close to his real name) asked us, “Did you know that cats know when someone is going to die?”

So why not use this “talent” for their benefit?

Let them hear you on the phone or out in front of the house telling your friend how well the kids are doing in school; that they had a good baseball game; or how well they cleaned up their room. This works best on top of telling the kids directly things they are doing well and that you’re proud of them for what they’ve accomplished.

It’s safe to say that kids in foster care have heard and been told all kinds of negative things about themselves. As a rule it takes about 16 positives to cover over a negative. Also, these kids are generally skeptical and may not believe you at first when you tell them nice things about themselves; they may have trouble accepting the compliment because they don’t believe it.

But “overhearing” you reinforces what you’ve been telling them all along:

There are great things about them that they should know.

Don’t Look at Me When I Talk to You

2012 April 27

“Look at me when I talk to you!”

Rearview Mirror by Gail Rau

We’ve all heard that one before, at the very least as children. As parents we use the phrase as a command to the kid to face what he did, but more often than not we use it out of frustration and even as a sort of punishment.

To the kid it sounds like berating and is more apt to dredge up painful memories of verbal abuse and out of control emotions from an adult than help him conquer the behavior.

With foster children this is particularly unnecessary; sometimes even counter productive.

Without looking at you, while walking the dogs or taking a drive, your foster kid will eventually tell you why he’s afraid of the dark. Sitting on your lap with his back to you, the kid who would never admit to anything will not only admit that he kicked his little brother; but he’ll tell you why.

So if you have to tell them anything, tell them: “Don’t look at me when I talk to you.”

“There’s Nothing to Be Afraid of…”

2012 March 21

Photo by Carlos Rosemberg

These are words we just don’t use.

Our youngest is afraid of the dark. Even though Ethan (not even close to his real name) shares a room with his older brother Josh (again, not even close to his real name), at least three bedtimes a week he expresses some concern over the night time wanderings of monsters, zombies and other intruders.

Given some of Ethan’s experiences with people tramping in and out of his former home and some of the things he’s seen I can understand where that comes from; but also a large percentage of little boys and girls are afraid of the dark.

We never invalidate Ethan’s fear by telling him there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Instead, we make our case.

We remind him that his brother is right there in the other bed. We’re next door. The dogs will know before any of us if someone or something is lurking about or around the house.  Even the cats, who he loves, would alert us if something wasn’t right.

Having a flashlight within easy reach on his night stand helps, too. And it comes in handy for late night trips to the bathroom, which solves another problem.

This way we make Ethan and Josh feel protected and watched over without us telling him he’s being silly or some other nonsense because he’s afraid of the dark.

After all, the dark can be scary.

Sure… But Won’t Foster Parenting Make Me Gain Weight?

2012 February 27
by Kent

bathroom_scale

Right along with ‘eating celery burns more calories than the food has’ and Big Foot this is a complete, total myth likely started by the diet companies.

In all seriousness, it is possible to gain weight around kids as some of the food choices change and we’re tempted to frequent more fast food restaurants where we can end up finishing their fries rather than seeing them thrown out.

Here’s where, as a professional parent, you have a leg up on everyone else. You are trained to approach things more intentionally. One of the bigger problems you’ll be helping your foster child with will center around food. Whether it’s eating too little because of medication or other issues; or eating too much because they don’t believe you’re going to regularly provide meals you will need to find ways to get proper nutrition into that kid.

These problems are understandable because most, if not all, of the children that come to your home will not have experienced regular meals at regular times, let alone healthy snacks. Being on prescription drugs for ADHD presents other challenges, many of which have to do with food that you’ll want to read up on.

Regular meal times and healthy snacks will help you at the weight game too! Kids learn the most from watching you. So we’re not just talking healthy snack choices like apples and carrot sticks for them and potato chips and soda for you.

In fact, given the hyper-activity of kids in general, you are going to want to limit sugar laden caffeinated soft drinks in favor of good juices and milk. That’s going to go a lot easier if you’re not downing two liters of Coca Cola or Mountain Dew while telling them it’s not good for them.

You may also consider throwing together a big salad for yourself on those evenings when your feeding your kids chicken nuggets and Kraft macaroni and cheese; when you do take them to one of the fast food restaurants skip the fries on your order and poach a few from them, making a game out of it.

Finally, try chasing an eight year old around for a weekend and see if that doesn’t burn off some calories!

Foster parenting causes weight gain? Don’t believe everything you read.

 

Photo: “Bathroom Scale” by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Friday On My Mind: A New Beginning

2012 February 21
by Kent

winter_bridge_1

Moving day is Friday. That’s when our two guys come to live with us for as long as they need us. 

Things have happened and changed – like the publish days – since  I started this blog, but from the beginning I said I wouldn’t be telling you things about the kids who come here, and I’m sticking to that. They are entitled to their privacy. If you know us you’ll meet them soon enough.

I can say we are excited and, I may add, scared out of our minds. I’m sure they are too. Moving from the foster home they’ve been in to ours, another school district, leaving friends behind…

And unable to wheedle a promise out of a couple of adults about just where their permanent home is going to be. Even as much as those two adults want with all their hearts to say, “Here! It’s here.”

They’ll be here Friday.

 

Photo: “Winter Bridge 1” by Colin Brough

Things I Learned from My Mom While She Thought I Wasn’t Paying Attention (3)

2012 February 14

cutlery_on_red_plate

I remember talking to my friend, Page, about growing up and how things were for us, when she commented, “We didn’t have strangers coming in and out of our house. Some kids today don’t know who they’re going to find when they come home from school or even when they get up in the morning.”

This struck me later when we were in parenting classes and the discussion turned to the importance of letting the kids know what was happening next, how the week was going to go, and when we do things like eat breakfast or have dinner; all of which is a departure from what most of the kids we’ll be exposed to are experiencing. More than just the “House Rules”, the idea is to replace the uncertainty and disorganization with predictability and structure.

But I already knew all about that.

When I was a kid my mom would let us know things, usually well in advance and always repeated. As we got older we used to laugh about it and tease her; but now that I’m even older I appreciate what she did for us and know first hand why it’s important to do the same for kids today; especially those in foster care.

We knew dinner was at a certain time, and if it wasn’t going to be at that time we were told the new time and why. We knew what were doing the next three weekends in advance. We had a predictable routine and if anything was going to change – and it rarely did – we knew about it in advance.

The example that came to mind when I was talking with Page was the time we were going to have an overnight guest.

We knew a lot about this gentleman a week before he arrived. We knew how he knew my father, where he was from, why he was coming to our town, when he would arrive and when he would leave.

We were reminded of all this the day before he arrived and the morning of his arrival while we were getting ready for school.

Lesson: Let kids know what’s going in the house, because it’s their home too. 

Photo: “Cutlery on Red Plate” by Yenhoon

How We Got Here (Part 3)

2012 February 10

hockey_5

I wasn’t expecting much from the urologist; my doctor had told me the CT scan showed a spot, a polyp, in my bladder. I didn’t even ask Jennifer to go in with me. I think it was when the physician assistant kept referring to it as “a mass” and using the word “tumor” that I became suspicious that maybe this wasn’t going to be the male version of a D&C.

It was Thursday evening, middle of December, when I learned I had bladder cancer. There was also another spot that showed up, a urethral remnant, that he was concerned about because if that was cancer it was in a place where it would travel, and the survival rate is a little low.

The only question left was whether I wanted my surgery before Christmas or some time in January!

Now it was getting ridiculous. I had to a new job to begin on the 27th of December and our home visit with the social worker the next day!

I needed to get this done. I scheduled outpatient surgery for the following Friday, right before Christmas. In the interesting way surgeons have of speaking, this was going to be “non-invasive” and I would be going home that day. Recovery would be a day or two and I would have a stint for a month. The rest would be just waiting for the biopsies.

The next morning I went for my pre-op physical. I got home in time to relax a bit before our home visit.

The visit went great! We really liked our case worker. Most of the three hours we were being interviewed based on what we’d written in our autobiographies and the answers on our questionnaires. The last ten minutes or so was spent looking around the house and getting the three or four things we needed to do before everything was final.

It was a long week, and I admit I was scared. But I had some things that gave me great comfort.

I had a wall of prayer around me. My church group prayed over me on Saturday and continued to pray throughout this process. All the guys at Kids Club and everyone in Children’s Ministry were on board, too.

Jennifer kept pointing out that we were called to the ministry of foster care. Pastor John Stanko, who I’ve mentioned here before, is always pointing out that God isn’t going to lead you to a purpose just to stick you!

During the week as I prayed and called out to God, “I’m afraid” I was reminded of something very personal between Him and me.

I’ve had two incidences where I’ve gotten a word from God previously. (Yes, we get those).

The first time was when I was a new believer. I spent three weeks praying that somehow Jennifer and I would be able to move to Kansas City where my family lives. At the end of the three weeks I was in my usual spot by the window in our bedroom and I heard plainly, “No.” I said or thought, “What?” I couldn’t possibly have heard that inside my head but so outside of it…. Again, “No.”

Firm and unmistakable.

Then something wonderful happened. I felt like I was being hugged. My entire body, my whole being, held. I’ve never been able to talk or write about this without feeling the good kind of chills.

It was that pleasant experience that kept coming back to me. With all the devil’s lies and his trying to take advantage of bad circumstances to tell us to give up, the week before my operation I was reminded that God wants to protect me because He loves me and He has a purpose for me. During that week one phrase kept with me: “I was the one who hugged you.”

I came through the surgery okay, but word to the wise: If you are ever offered a pain pill for the ride home do not, under any circumstances, say no.

I started my new job on time. Better still, the biopsies came back. The tumor in my bladder was low grade cancer, the surgeon got all of it, and tests on the bladder wall came back negative. The other scary piece? Negative.

A hat trick!

Final score:

The Nelsons and Jesus – 3

Perennial loser Satan and his pathetic devils – 0

Ladies and gentleman, Elvis has just left the building.

Later on today two kids are coming over to stay with us. So now you know how we got here and you know why.

We.

Won.

 

 

Photo: “Hockey 5” by Kriss Szkurlatowski

How We Got Here (Part 2)

2012 February 3

hockey_2

Like most of us I don’t like going through interviews, and I didn’t relish the idea of yet another career change. Especially after I had left a company to avoid a lay off, and now I was facing that again in the same year!

What I was most concerned about at that time was that we weren’t licensed as foster parents yet and that any disruption in my employment, being the primary breadwinner, would delay or impact that.

Maybe that’s what’s supposed to happen. Wait until you’re ready.

The first thing we did was ask people to pray for us.

I had gotten several interviews almost right away, which boosted my confidence. Last time I went through this it was months before I’d gotten anything. The day before Thanksgiving I had a marathon session with four people at a company I was very interested in.

Thanksgiving was spent with good friends, wonderful food and great conversation. Still working at my current job I had the next day off from work and was looking forward to some relaxation.

That night, getting ready for bed, I saw blood in my urine. I’d had the same symptom a month and a half before and, unwisely, ignored it. At the time, still uncertain about what was found in my mouth I just thought it was related and it wasn’t going to turn out well. Getting the good result from the biopsy I’d written it off as a fluke; perhaps something caused by the supplements I was taking.

Rather than my typical M.O. of putting these things off, I called my doctor right away and was given a prescription for a urine culture and a CT scan. I think he was hoping for kidney stones.

At the same time I scheduled our home visit, really the last step in the process, for mid-December.

You should really put that off until you get these tests done. Find out what’s going on.

I wanted to get this next health obstacle over with as soon as possible. We had the home visit coming up, I was facing unemployment in January. If I was going to be starting at a new job and having kids in the house I had to get this done.

So there I was at the hospital on a Friday. I could walk in and get the culture done but had to schedule the CT scan for the following Monday. I’d also had some prescriptions for routine blood work my doctor had given me during a recent regular check up; these I grabbed at the last minute and had those samples taken as well.

In the parking lot afterward I was sitting in my car on the cell phone with the recruiter who had set up the interview for me. On the back of one of the prescriptions I was writing out the details of salary, vacation time and health benefit costs.

I was being offered a job at the place I wanted. They just wanted to know when I could start.

If you’re still keeping score:

The Nelsons and Jesus – 2

Satan and his loser friends – 0

 

Photo: “Hockey 2” by Kriss Szkurlatowski

How We Got Here (Part 1)

2012 January 31

hockey_1

We were licensed on January 13, 2012. We’re now waiting for the call. In the meantime, over the next several postings, I would like to tell you about some things that happened along the way.

 

Our pastor, Rockwell Dillaman, has often pointed out that when we are doing something that is God driven we will know we’re on the right track because Satan will be there to attack us.

We hit a period in our journey last year when we became lax, put off or “didn’t get to” some paperwork that we assured ourselves we would. As long as we were parked alongside the road everything was fine.

We finished classes in July, leaving with a final packet of questionnaires. They sat for the month of August and into September.

Earlier in the year we had emptied rooms, painted, planned. But after the classes things stopped. Maybe we were exhausted, even overwhelmed. I’d started a new job in April and was in the midst of my first quarter close while attending a month of classes. Mentally I was on overload. Even writing this now I recognize the excuses I try to encourage others to avoid in this blog.

At the end August, after more years than I care to mention, I stopped smoking. I didn’t want to be smoking around children, since I was going to be such an important role model. That was a first step in a month of uneventfulness.

Well! That woke someone up.

The first thing that happened was our cars began breaking down. Both being in the shop three times a piece, racking up repair bills of several thousand dollars.

Can we really afford to do this and children?

My new job had “Popcorn Wednesday”, where employees would volunteer to operate a theatre popcorn maker and everyone else would come to the lunchroom and eat popcorn. I’m not a fan of popcorn but began participating  to be social.

Later in September, I got a piece of popcorn caught under a bridge in my mouth, which led to a dentist visit. My dentist saw something on the roof of my mouth that he didn’t like. In fact, he was alarmed enough to stick his entire hand in my mouth, feeling under my tongue, and then giving me a lecture on smoking before referring me to an oral surgeon for further evaluation.

Maybe we should wait and see how this turns out first?

Right around that time we received an e-mail from our agency urging us to get a move on with our paperwork. Since I wasn’t sleeping that night anyway, I started on it right away.

For a week, we turned the TV off and spent each evening answering the questionnaires we had put off up until then. Jennifer scheduled our fingerprinting and physicals, and I took off work when I needed to; not when it was convenient.

After trying a treatment to eliminate one diagnosis, the oral surgeon took a piece from the roof of my mouth for a biopsy. A few days later, I was given a “heads up” that the branch office of the company where I worked would be closing and I would be losing my job in a few months.

Maybe we should get this all straightened out before go into foster parenting?

The words in italics are the kinds of things Satan was whispering to Jennifer, and would have been whispering to me if I’d been paying any attention at all. That’s not a compliment to me; I was being the least spiritual and trusting. My prayers were all in the form of, “God I know you love Jennifer, well she needs me. Help me be okay and find a job.”

When these things happened I worked harder getting things done toward the goal of fostering and Jennifer prayed harder.

We had also had a lot of prayer warriors around us. This would be a constant and expanding group of people who are very bold in their requests to God.

I am not contending that Satan did anything to my mouth or engineered the laying off of 125 people so he could get to me; the jury is still out on the cars. I do contend that the principalities are alive and well in this world and don’t want anything good to happen; especially anything that advances God’s purpose.

The biopsy results came back negative toward the middle of November.

In case you’re keeping score:

The Nelsons and Jesus – 1

Satan and his demons – 0

 

 

Photo: “Hockey 1” by Kriss Szkurlatowski