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(Background info: Peter joined a 4th grade class at our local elementary school in March after being homeschooled for almost two years.)

Peter seemed to adjust well to school.  It wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t expect it to be.  Getting him out the door on time was a challenge, as expected.  Fortunately the bus stops on the road we live on at both sides of our property, so if it was at the first stop as he was leaving the house (where he usually gets on the bus), he could run to the second stop and make it.  He only actually missed the bus once.  Packing his lunch isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it wasn’t too bad.  Getting him to do his homework was not as difficult as expected; in fact, near the end of the year, he actually did it himself before being told a few times.

Every Monday, he brought home a sheaf of papers–his work from the previous week, along with a newsletter from the teacher.  I always went through it all and was generally pleased with the quality of his work.  He started school a few days before the beginning of the final quarter of the year.  He brought home his report card on the last day of school on June 5th and his grades were excellent, so he adjusted well academically.

Behaviorally, he seems to have done better at school than he was doing at home, but still not quite where we’d like him to be.  I did get a couple phone calls from his teacher and he had a behavior referral to the office.  Overall, though, I think he wants to behave.  I think that with more maturity and more experience in the school setting, his behavior will improve.

All in all, having him go to school has been a positive experience.  I think the expectations (both behavioral and academic) placed on him in school and the opportunity to socialize with other kids during recess are good for him.  It has certainly reduced my stress level, though even without homeschooling Peter, I still always have more work to do than I can possibly get done.

Back in March, when he started school, I was so fried that I couldn’t consider doing any more lessons with him.  As summer vacation approached, however, I decided that we should continue our tradition of summer lessons.  I chose them to fulfill one of two purposes: either because it was something he wouldn’t get in school or because it was something he needed some extra practice in.  Thus, for the things he won’t get in school, we are working on finishing the US/Canadian history sequence that we started at the beginning of grade 3 (yes, he will get US history in school, but we’re doing the two countries’ histories woven together and he really enjoys it) and he’s doing French workbooks, using French educational apps, and watching tv in French to keep up his knowledge of the language.  (Informally, he’s also reading in French–he just finished the second Harry Potter book in French.)  For the things he needs a little more work on, we’re continuing our spelling lessons and cursive handwriting practice from where we stopped earlier this year, and he’s playing some games/apps to practice math, especially multiplication and division facts.  We didn’t do lessons last week because we were travelling, so we started this Monday.  Three days in, we seem to have made the transition back to a semi-homeschooling lifestyle without much difficulty.  Fingers crossed that it continues to go smoothly.

Terrariums

Today we made terrariums.  It’s a project I’ve been planning for months (I bought the used coffee pots at Goodwill back in March), but I couldn’t find appropriate little plants in town (we live in a fairly remote area).  I was able to stop and pick some up in the “big city” on our way home from vacation last weekend, so we finally were able to complete this project.  If you’d like to make your own, you can find instructions here.

Terrarium 1 Terrarium 2

Orientation: check

We had our foster care orientation meeting this afternoon.  The social worker was here for two and a quarter hours.  We mostly sat outside because the weather was nice.  She went over a lot of the basics of foster care–what it is, how it works, the steps to become licensed.  She ran through it pretty quickly, knowing that we already had a good understanding of most of it from our previous experience.  She answered our questions about how things work here.  We signed a check-list of topics that were covered in the orientation, which allowed her to give us an application for licensure. In addition to the application form (a straightforward form that will go to Lansing), she provided a folder with a large pile of documents–laws, policies, procedures, and more paperwork for us to do.  We have homework: we have to set up an appointment for fingerprinting, get medical forms completed for everyone in our household, get an employer reference for Don, get three personal references, fill out a financial information form, and I need to do first aid training (Don did it in the fall as a Boy Scout leader).  They will count our PRIDE training from Ontario (yay!), but we still have to complete 12 hours of training before we can be licensed.  The orientation and licensing process can be counted for 6 hours, the first aid training counts as an hour, and we can do some independent work (reading, online courses, or watching videos) for the rest.  We were relieved that we won’t have to drive to the agency’s office (2 hours away) to do in-person training.

After our lengthy discussion outside, the social worker did a walk-through of our house.  She got a feel for the overall layout and the bedrooms, discussed how we could handle the pellet stove as a possible safety concern, and checked to see that we had the appropriate number/placement of smoke detectors and a carbon monoxide detector (that was easy; the people we bought our house from must have been a little neurotic about smoke detectors because we have eight of them in our house).

All in all, it was a good experience.  I feel comfortable with her and I think I will like working with a small agency, instead of a large, impersonal organization like our previous agency.

Our May special dinner was a celebration of Victoria Day this past Monday.  Victoria Day is sort of the Canadian equivalent of Memorial Day, in that it is the “unofficial beginning of summer” holiday.  It recognizes Queen Victoria, who was queen when Canada became a country in 1867.

We barbequed brats (which we called “super hot dogs” for Simon, because he loves hot dogs and was suspicious of the brats) and had corn on the cob, baked beans (Heinz Maple Style, brought back from our recent trip to Windsor), Sun Chips, and watermelon.  Since Victoria Day celebrates both Queen Victoria’s birthday and the birthday of the reigning monarch, I made birthday cupcakes for dessert.

It was the lowest-key special dinner so far this year.  I admit, I slacked off.  We didn’t do any crafts or decorations.  We did talk about Victoria Day, more for Peter’s benefit than Simon’s.  I plan to do better next year.  Even though we live in the US now, we want our kids to grow up with a sense of their Canadian identity.

I decided not to go with the second foster care agency I contacted.  The woman there who I really liked from my initial agency research has been promoted to another position and would no longer be the person we’d be working with.  Also, they are estimating 6-9 months to complete a home study, which seems quite long.

I contacted a third agency, one that hadn’t been on my list originally, but had been mentioned positively by two people on the Michigan foster/adoptive parents Facebook group when I asked for feedback about the agencies I was considering.  The woman I spoke with was enthusiastic, knowledgeable, took her time to talk with me (we were on the phone for half an hour and she never gave the impression that she wanted to get off the phone and get back to working on something else), and asked good questions.  We scheduled a meeting for next Thursday.  She said she’ll call me to confirm on Tuesday (I needed to check Don’s schedule to be sure it would work for him), and told me not to worry if that time doesn’t work, because her schedule is flexible.  She asked me to send her a copy of our prior home study to look over before we meet, so she can get to know us (I joked, or at least who we were five years ago) and so that she won’t have to ask us detailed questions about things that were already covered and haven’t really changed, like family history.  All in all, I feel more comfortable with her than I did with the workers from the other two agencies, and I’m looking forward to meeting her next week.

No meeting today

I got an e-mail on Friday from the worker who was supposed to meet with us this morning.  He had to cancel because he had received a court summons.  He offered to reschedule, but didn’t have a free day until the week of June 8th.  We are going to be out of town that week, so it would be a month until we could meet.

This seemed like a red flag to me.  I was already not impressed that he had not responded to a couple simple questions I had e-mailed him after he sent me the questionnaires, ten days previously.  I don’t have a lot of confidence that someone who doesn’t respond to e-mail and can’t meet with me until six weeks after I made the initial phone call (if it even happened then) would be there for me when I really needed them.  I posted about it on a Facebook group for foster and adoptive parents in Michigan and asked if it was reasonable or not.  While several people did mention that delays and rescheduling happen, many people agreed that it seemed like a red flag and encouraged me to switch agencies.

I have contacted another agency, which was actually the agency I liked best after my initial research (I didn’t choose them before because their office is two hours away and the agency I first contacted is local to me, which I thought would be more convenient).  We’ll see how things go.

Last week, I called a local non-profit agency and told the young man who answered the phone that my husband and I had been considering fostering and possibly adopting for a while and had decided to move forward with it.  (In Michigan, foster care is done both by the state Department of Human Services and by various non-profit agencies that contract with the state.  There are four different agencies that we could have chosen to work with besides DHS.)  He scheduled a time to come to our house for an initial interview/orientation—he’s coming a week from today, on Monday, May 18th.

He e-mailed me two questionnaires to fill out and send back to him, one for me and one for Don.  One is 46 pages long and the other is 26 pages.  (I’m doing the longer one since I have more discretionary time.)  Both have personal questions; the longer one also has info about our home and community.  They are the kinds of questions we discussed with our social worker during multiple home study visits the last time we did this.  It seems a little strange to me that they would send them to us before even meeting us (though I got the impression that he sent them because we had already made the decision to do it and he wouldn’t have sent them to someone who was just interested in getting more information).  It’s weird to write out the answers instead of discussing it (though I assume our answers will be discussed in future meetings); it almost feels like they’re asking us to write our own home study.

I dug up our PRIDE training certificates and our old home study to copy for him (it was a challenge—I knew exactly where they were in our old house, but not where they ended up after we moved).  We completed 27 hours of pre-service training in Ontario, whereas Michigan only requires 12.  When I was researching agencies, the supervisor at this agency had told me they should be able to count our Ontario PRIDE training hours.  Flipping through our old home study, it was amazing to realize how much has changed in our lives in the past five years.  We’ve moved twice, Don has graduated and found a job, I am no longer working, D was placed with us and then left, Simon was born, we started homeschooling and then stopped, I left the Catholic church and rejoined the Lutheran church…

It took a year after D left us before I was able to consider adopting again, and longer for Don.  After what we had been through, it just seemed too risky.  However, even just after D left, I thought that foster care might be a good fit for us.  The fact that we accepted D’s placement with the intention to adopt him and then decided not to adopt him is the reason that experience feels so much like a failure.  If we had only been a foster family, without the expectation for adoption, our experience with him would feel like a great success.  We helped him grieve the loss of his birth family after he moved into our home, helped him maintain a relationship with his grandmother (which whom he had been living), helped him grow and develop in many ways, and helped him transition to his forever family.  Now that Don has made it through his first school year in his new job, Simon is three and somewhat more independent, and Peter is in school instead of homeschooled, we feel that we have the time and energy to support a child placed with our family.  Although we may decide to adopt eventually, we aren’t seeking a placement with the intention of adopting.  Foster care seems less risky to us and it’s still a way to have a positive impact on the life of a child.

Taking our first steps on this new venture calls to mind one of my favorite prayers, which comes from the morning prayer service in the Lutheran Book of Worship:

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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