3 Things to Bring to the E.R.

During the last weekend in February, I had to bring my foster son to the emergency room. (He’s OK now, and he was probably OK then, but it was a better-safe-than-sorry situation.) My husband was out of town for the weekend at a cabin in the woods with a bunch of his best friends—it was his (and his twin brother’s) 50th birthday, and I was not about to interrupt it with a phone call to come home. So I called for reinforcements (a friend who let me drop my other kids at her house) and headed to Children’s Hospital.

In all of the hullabaloo, I was not thinking clearly, and I neglected to bring three key items that are crucial for any foster parent who is bringing her foster child to the hospital.

Don’t make the same mistakes I did! Here are my three tips to remember if you have to bring a foster child to the E.R.

BRING YOUR PLACEMENT AGREEMENT

You guys. I showed up at the E.R. with my foster son and no paperwork proving I had the right to consent to his medical treatment. What a rookie mistake!! If you have to bring a foster child to the hospital, for goodness sake, bring your placement agreement.

Fortunately—pro tip—I had scanned the agreement and saved it to my Google Drive, so I was ultimately able to produce proof that I was, in fact, authorized to consent to his treatment. But it took nearly two hours for me to access my Google Drive because my phone battery was dead when we got to the hospital.

Which brings me to point number two…

BRING A PHONE CHARGER.

For the love of all that is holy, keep a charger in your purse. My word.

I spent six hours in the emergency room that day, and most of that time, my phone sat on the communal charger at the nurses’ station on the other end of the floor from the room we were parked in. I needed to be in touch with the friends who were watching our other kids (did I mention my husband is out of town?!) and my teenager, who was out for the day and had no idea what was going on. I also kept receiving voicemail from my foster son’s previous foster parent, who had received a call from the hospital when I brought him in, because she was listed as his caregiver. Since I could not produce proof that I was his foster parent, they called her (naturally). She was worried, and we kept playing phone tag because my phone was off/charging when she called and then I missed her when I called back.

So I sat there watching mindlessly numbing cartoons with my child while my phone charged so I could turn it on, check in with everyone, and then turn it back off to charge some more.

Which brings me to point number three…

BRING SOMETHING TO DO.

I had nothing in my bag for my son or for me to do. No magazines, no books, no nothing.

There was a television in the room, which had a few cartoons to choose from, so my son was happy for a while. But when the remote control was not working properly, and he could not find his way back to the show he had wanted to watch, he grew frustrated. Then he grew bored and started acting out.

I really wished I had brought some crayons, paper, books, etc. for him—not to mention something for me to read! Without my phone, it was just me and my child in a tiny exam room waiting for an indeterminate amount of time. (We were there for a psychiatric evaluation, not a physical injury, so once he was calm, we were not considered high priority. Also, because our visit was a result of an incident that had taken place earlier at home, neither of us was in a great place emotionally. We were both on edge, which made sitting in a small room together all day hard.)

If you are a foster parent, you will likely experience an unexpected trip to the E.R. or urgent care at some point in your journey. Whether it’s a sprained ankle from falling on the playground, a bump on the head while a toddler learns to walk, an episode of violent rage, or suicidal ideations, it’s always important to be on the safe side and have a doctor weigh in. When that time comes, remember this list and don’t be caught off guard and unprepared! Remember to grab the placement agreement, your phone charger, and a good book or two.

You’ll thank me later!

Photo via Canva

Processing Grief in The Time of the Virus

Week One of being homebound by the Corona Virus was really sweet in our house.

I knew that getting a routine in place right away would be important, so I created a plan that included a lot of structured play time, outside time, and a little bit of academic learning time.

By Week Two, I felt like I was hitting my stride. I repurposed a set of drawers to create a Homeschool Station. I collected a bunch of online resources. I added a “Morning Meeting” to the schedule to build in time to connect with my kids and communicate the plan for the day.

However, in Week Two I also started wearing the same clothes two days in a row. I stopped fixing my hair and just wore a hat every day. I started noticing some signs of stress: headaches, stomachaches. And I felt so tired.

We have now finished three weeks in self-quarantine, and my headache is almost constant. My brain feels fuzzy—on Thursday, while making dinner, I opened a can of soup and started pouring it into the garbage can instead of the pan on the stove. I am feeding my kids, but not myself until well after lunch time.

Like pretty much everyone on the face of the earth right now, I’m in Survival Mode, and one thing I have learned about myself is that I am very high-functioning in Survival Mode. In some ways, this is me at my best: getting things done, managing people, problem solving. But it can only go on for so long. Pretty soon—like, last week, I’d say, grief begins to set in and things get really, really hard.

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief lately.

We had a Coaching Call about grief a few weeks ago. Our guest speaker was trauma and adoption therapist Barbara Tantrum, whose new book, The Adoptive Parent’s Handbook: A Guide to Healing Trauma and Thriving with Your Foster or Adopted Child,* is available for pre-order now. In that call, which is available as a digital download here (through April 12), we talked specifically about the grief children in foster care and foster parents themselves might face. Barbara gave some great insight and suggestions for how to process that grief.

But now, here we are as a global community living through an unprecedented time of stress, and grief is going to become a huge part of all of our lives. Students are grieving the loss of school, friends, beloved teachers, and normalcy. High school and college seniors are grieving the loss of end-of-school-career traditions, like prom and graduation.

As we make our way through these days of The Virus, it is imperative for our mental well-being that we make time to deal with our grief.

Grief that is not dealt with manifests in many ways, including physical and emotional unwellness. For someone like me, it looks like headaches and yelling at my kids, extreme anger, feelings of depression and lack of motivation. It looks like not showering, not getting dressed in actual clothes, skipping meals, and drinking too much (coffee, wine, whatever).

So what can we be doing now to address our grief and process it in a healthy way?

  1. Recognize the stages of grief and take some time to reflect where you’re at in the process. According to the book On Grief and Grieving*, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This past week, I realized I was somewhere between anger and depression. Recognizing that and taking a good look at where I am was what I needed to help me move toward acceptance and the sixth stage of grief, which is finding meaning. I’m not there yet, but I am hopeful that I’m on my way.
  2. Name your grief what it is: GRIEF. Take some time to talk or journal about what you miss and what you’re sad about. I miss time alone. I miss seeing my kids’ teachers at drop-off. I miss going to church. I miss going to the zoo, which is something we would be doing at least once a week right now. I miss feeling like the world is predictable. I miss the conveniences of life that I took for granted.
  3. Take care of your body. Are you eating too much or not enough? Sleeping too much or not enough? Exercising too much or not enough? How’s your hygiene? Be honest as you assess yourself. Tend to your physical well being. For me, this means taking a 20 minute walk or jog every day, just up and down my street for 20 minutes, and doing an online yoga class for at least 15 minutes. It means showering every night before bed. It means getting dressed in actual clothes, not putting on sweats that I can wear, sleep in, and wear again. This means eating oatmeal for breakfast (even though I have no appetite), fruit for snack, and drinking plenty of water (not just coffee, which is what I crave when I’m stressed).
  4. Find something to laugh about. I had one of my worst days as a parent in a long time yesterday. I was awful to my kids. But later, at dinner time, we started talking about “Mom’s Worst Moments” over the years, and as the kids talked about some of the worst things I’ve done and said to them, we were all laughing. Everyone is stressed. But everyone is also eager to laugh. We are watching funny videos with our kids, and I’m checking in with my favorite late night hosts (God bless Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert). I also love all the parodies I’ve been looking up—this one is particularly funny to me, and you cannot go wrong with The Holderness Family on YouTube.
  5. Find someone to help. I’ve been reaching out via Marco Polo and FaceTime to my single friends who are doing this thing alone. We’ve been laughing together about how this is a time of extremes: for them, extreme time alone. For me, extreme time together. I’ve been sending money to food banks and supporting some low-income families in my kids’ school with food and help with rent. Yesterday, we took a kite outside and flew it in front of our next door neighbor’s window as their only child, a three-year-old boy we adore, watched and laughed from the safety of his living room. These are things I can do, and as an Enneagram 1(w)2, helping others helps me. What can you do?
  6. Find the “Isolation Blessings.” That’s what my mom is calling them—those good things that are happening because of the Time of the Virus. We had 30 people witness our adoption of our foster son last week via Google Meet, rather than the few who would have joined us in person. Our children with disrupted attachments are getting what they need most: time with us. We are in closer communication with our neighbors (albeit via email) than we’ve ever been. I’ve been in touch with many friends I had lost touch with in the past month, because we have time and we’re thinking about one another (yay Marco Polo!) We made an offer on a house yesterday, and the sellers accepted it rather than entertaining other offers because they don’t want a lot of people coming in and out of their home to look at it. My mom is teaching music lessons to my kids twice a week via FaceTime.

We don’t need to put a lot of pressure on ourselves in this season. We don’t need to “get things done” or “use this time productively.” We are grieving. We are surviving. We need to be gentle with ourselves.

But we do need to take care of ourselves. My friend Rebecca Beidel, a marriage and family therapist in New York City, shared this article recently and commented,

We need to take care of ourselves and each other during this time. The trauma is real. Reach out for the help you need. Be honest with someone about your struggles. Stay in touch with friends and family. Don’t isolate inside your isolation. Come out of your room and do something to connect with others. The virus is a real threat, but there are other damaging effects we need to take care to avoid.

I’d love to hear how your journey has been during this Time of the Virus. Where are you in the stages of grief? How are you coping? And how are you taking care of yourself?

Featured photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

Post photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

*Affiliate link. I receive a small commission when you purchase this book from Amazon using this affiliate link.

A Touch of Class in the Wee Hours

My day starts with coffee.

Yours too?

Alarm goes off, I think about staying in bed but know that I really need my Alone Time before the kids get up, so I roll out of bed, put on my robe and slippers, and pad down to the kitchen.

Often, my husband has already made coffee, but sometimes I get there first and I do it.

Either way, a few minutes later I’m sitting in the living room with my coffee, enjoying a bit of silence before the alarms go off in the kids’ rooms. (For some of the kids, the alarm wakes them up. For others, the radio going on lets them know they’re allowed to come out of their room.) Sometimes I read, sometimes my husband joins me and we have a chance to have some actual meaningful conversation instead of the business we usually conduct (who needs to be where when and who is taking whom there—whew!)

Last week, I had an hour between dropping my kids at preschool and needing to be back to chaperone a field trip. Not enough time to get home and get stuff done, but too much time to sit outside the school and wait.

So, I took advantage of the time and for one of my favorite hobbies: thrift store shopping. I showed up just after my neighborhood Goodwill opened and headed first to children’s shoes (where I picked up a pair of like-new pink Keens for my daughter) and then over to kitchen wares.

Some days I hit the thrift stores and don’t really find anything, but this was not one of those days. I hit the jackpot! A lovely vintage cape in fall colors marked half off, a beautiful travel tea mug with a built-in strainer for loose tea, and some adorable napkin rings for my mounting collection of mismatched fine china were just a few items I picked up.

But my favorite find of all was this glass French press.

coffee

Isn’t lovely?

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For some reason, when I have my coffee in this vessel, it reminds me that aesthetics really do matter. The feel of it, the fact that I need to take a bit more care than when I’m pouring from a metal carafe, the look of it – such beauty in the shape and transparency and the curve of the handle. I take a moment to select the mug that I want for the day—a scripture mug? The charming clay mug that was a gift from a dear friend? One of the owl mugs my daughter insisted on getting my husband and me for Christmas last year? The mug from my mom that reads, Good morning, Christy—I’ll be handling all of your problems today. – God?

Taking a moment first thing in the morning to remind myself that my heart, my mind, and my aesthetic preferences matter before doing the daily deep dive into tending to others (school lunches made? backpacks ready? everyone dressed? breakfast on? shoes tied? got your coats? is today show-and-tell? did you remember your project? etc.) can make such a huge difference in my day.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not above skipping the beautiful French press and slopping instant coffee into my mug. But those are not my best mornings. Those are survival mornings (and we all have those).

But I don’t want to make it a practice of just surviving the day.

I want to flourish. I want to thrive.

# # #

I recently took a trip with friends to Amsterdam. For 72 hours, I drank a lot of coffee in sunlit cafés and enjoyed long, lingering adult conversation. I walked along the canals and people-watched and danced to my favorite band.

It was such a gift.

But I can’t rely on those moments to sustain my sense of well-being. I need little gestures in my day-to-day life that remind me that I am not just a caregiver, not just a need-meeter, not just the shuttle driver (therapy! gymnastics! dance class! more therapy! swimming lessons! PTA! teacher conferences!), not just the mediator between squabbling siblings…

I am a woman who loves beautiful things and coffee and silence and solitude.

And sometimes a $7 French press from Goodwill makes all the difference in the world.

# # #

It took me a while after becoming a (foster) parent—a couple of years, in fact—to realize how important these little gestures would be for my sense of personal well-being. For a long time, I just gritted my teeth, put off those little moments and pushed through. We became parents of two children ages five years and five months overnight—there was a lot to do. I dug deep, wore clothes I could sleep in and go out in public in, cleaned compulsively in the middle of the night, and became an organizing fanatic—desperate for some sense of control in the midst of utter and complete chaos. I accomplished a lot that way, and I kept it together.

But I wasn’t flourishing.

And it wasn’t sustainable. Burnout was imminent if something didn’t change.

# # #

I’m working on a new program right now—a book and video series—that is called “The Flourishing Foster Parent.” It is born out of my struggles for the first few years, and the hard lessons I learned. I hope to have it ready by January—fingers crossed! It will be my best effort at helping new foster parents move past the season of surviving foster parenting and into the practice of thriving for the long haul. I am creating what I needed in that first year.

I pray it will help many. Too often we become satisfied by just getting through the day. But we weren’t made for that. We were not made to live in survival mode. And no one thrives and grows and flourishes when survival is the long-term goal.

# # #

Large, time-consuming, expensive opportunities for self-care are great and necessary every now and then. You need to plan for those and make them happen.

But they are not sustainable for the day-to-day.

Day-to-day flourishing lies in finding ways to fill your cup in small and sustainable things. For some it might mean getting to yoga a few times a week or showing up to a monthly support group come hell or high water. It might mean setting the alarm thirty minutes early so you can have some peace and quiet before things get cray-cray. It might mean seeing your doctor and being surprised when she suggests trying an antidepressant (and following her advice). It might mean hiring two babysitters for the evening, because that’s what it takes so you and your husband can go out on a date.

And it might mean treating yourself to a classy French press and making your morning coffee a more meaningful moment.

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