Our new housemates

We have put our foster care application on hold because of other developments.

Back when I was an undergraduate student, I volunteered as a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters.  I was matched with a girl named Shamela, who was in 6th grade.  We were formally matched for two years, until her family moved away.  A year later, they returned to the area and we kept in touch, though we were not formally matched again.  We have maintained contact off and on over the years since.

In the interest of protecting her privacy, I don’t want to share too much about what her life has been like.  Suffice to say, it hasn’t been easy.  Don and I decided to invite her and her 2-year-old son, Ja’Quan, to come live with us for a while so we could help her get her life on track.  She is also pregnant with a baby girl, due in January.

She arrived just over a week ago and has had a busy, productive week.  She has been hired for two different jobs; she was hoping they would have complementary schedules but they don’t, so she’s chosen one and starts training tomorrow.  She’s on the list for subsidized daycare; as soon as they have an opening in his age group, Ja’Quan will be able to attend Monday to Friday, 8:00-4:30.  She’s also met with a parent educator who has given her lots of information and resources.  We had a picnic dinner at a park on Lake Superior last Saturday and she was impressed with the natural beauty; she’d never been anywhere like it.  She attended church with us on Sunday and commented on how friendly everyone was.  All in all, she’s learning her way around and settling in well.

The biggest challenge initially was that Simon and Ja’Quan are sharing a bedroom and they had very different sleep habits.  Ja’Quan was used to staying up to 10 or 11 pm and sleeping until 10 am; Simon is used to going to bed around 8-8:30 pm and waking around 7:30-8 am.  Ja’Quan was used to having his mom stay with him until he falls asleep, and Simon is used to me putting him to bed and leaving the room so he can fall asleep alone.  We’ve been changing Ja’Quan’s sleep habits to be like Simon’s.  It hasn’t been fun, but it’s starting to pay off.

The ongoing challenge is that Ja’Quan needs a lot of supervision, and I’m the one who’s here doing the child-minding during the day when Shamela is off dealing with stuff.  I’m glad to be able to help her, but it is a strain.  He still naps in the afternoons, which is a welcome break, but I feel like I need to give Simon some one-on-one attention during that time, so it’s not a real break for me.  I will definitely appreciate it when he starts daycare.

Back-to-school season

It is that time of year again.  The beginning of a new school year approaches.  Excitement and anxiety mingle as we prepare to start another yearly cycle of learning.

Peter will be going to school for 5th grade.  Yesterday was “packet pick-up” day at his school, where we got his teacher assignment, school supplies list, and miscellaneous paperwork to fill out.  He is happy that he got the teacher he wanted, the only male 5th grade teacher at his school.  He starts the day after Labor Day, so he still has two and a half weeks of vacation left.  Even though I do feel that going to school is best for him this year, I am a little sad not to have new homeschool curriculum to do with him this year.  After six years of homeschooling/afterschooling with Sonlight curriculum materials for history and literature (pre-K through grade 4), we’re not moving on to the next level in the Sonlight curriculum.  Although we’ve made good progress on our US/Canadian history sequence over the summer, I am projecting that we’ll only be 5/6 of the way done with it when school starts.  I do plan to finish it, but since Peter has such long school days (he has a long bus ride), I don’t want to push it when he’s in school, so we’ll do it during school vacations and it may take until next summer before we’re done.

The bright side, however, is that Simon is 3 1/2 now and I’m planning a fun preschool year with him.  I made up flexible lesson plans by listing what we’ll do during an entire week instead of making daily plans, so I can adjust each day’s schedule according to what else is going on in life.  We’re going to read books together, do Montessori activities, work on phonemic awareness and phoneme-grapheme correspondences (pre-reading skills), work on concepts of quantity/shapes/patterns (foundational math skills), do some art, and practice French.  I plan to enroll him in gymnastics classes again and continue to go to story/craft time at the public library.  Additionally, I expect to take him to the free parent/tot ice skating sessions (once they have ice in the arena) so he can start learning to skate.  It should be a great year!

I met a lot of kids in Haiti, but there is one boy whom I think about often.  He has so much potential to grow and develop if he had the love and resources of an adoptive family, but he does not have a family coming for him.  I worry about what will happen to him if he’s not adopted.  He is only one month and one day apart from Simon in age, but their lives are so different, and will be even more different if he’s not adopted.  I’ve thought about adopting him, but we’re looking at $20,000+ in exterior renovations to our big old house over the next year (replacing windows and siding), so it just doesn’t make financial sense for us to start an international adoption now.  I’ve settled for sponsoring him, sending money every month to help pay for his care and getting an update on him every other month.

Recently, this little boy was featured on COTP’s blog (COTP = Children of the Promise, the orphanage/social service center where I volunteered).  I am sharing the link to his story here in the hopes of giving it wider exposure.  Please share his story.  I would happy to share more information about him privately with anyone who is interested.

Paperwork mailed

Today Simon and I went to the post office and mailed a large envelope to the licensing worker at our foster care agency.  It contained the official foster care licensing application that goes to the state of Michigan, the paperwork we got from our fingerprinting appointment, a financial worksheet (our income and expenses), medical forms for all four of us, a certificate of good health and vaccination for our cat, a reference from Don’s employer, a release form for our prior foster care agency to be able to share information with our new agency, and my certificate of completion of first aid training.

This stack of paperwork gets our file opened in Lansing, but we still have a few licensing requirements to meet.  The biggest is the training requirement.  I’m almost done with mine, but Don hasn’t even started.  He’s been working hard for the past several months on a project that’s due three days from now, so I’m not bugging him about doing the training until after that’s done.  We also have to have the old well on our property filled in and registered as abandoned with the state, along with a few minor things done to our current well (new well cap, installation of a pressure gauge and pressure relief valve).  We have a quote for the work but haven’t scheduled it yet; Don wants to talk with them (I got the quote) and he can’t deal with it until next week.  Finally, out of our control, the agency has to finish our homestudy, and I don’t know how long that will take.

We are asking to be licensed for up to two children, but we don’t want two unrelated children, so if we have a single child placed with us, we’ll stick with just one until he/she leaves.  If we have two siblings placed with us, they’ll have to be the same sex since they’ll be sharing a room; I don’t plan to have Peter or Simon share their rooms.  I originally was thinking of 5 as a minimum age was so that any kids placed with us would be school-aged and I wouldn’t have to live with them 24/7 (a surefire recipe for burn-out–which I experienced with our previous foster child).  After learning that foster kids are automatically eligible for Head Start (8:30-3:30 Mon-Thurs with transportation provided), we expanded our age range to 3-9 (we don’t want any kids older than Peter, who is 10).

I’m guessing that our license won’t be issued until some time in early fall.  I’m on a Facebook group for foster/adoptive parents in Michigan; people downstate report that they are getting calls for placement the same day as their license is approved, but up here, I don’t know how long it’ll be after we’re licensed until we have a placement.

(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.


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.


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