Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Benefits of Literacy

Sass was horsing around at the dinner table the other night. She hunkered down with the bent over back of an old woman and declared: I am goin' out PIMPIN' tonight!

I am sure my face said it all. Little Bit sat chomping her green beans, her black eyes watching us carefully. "Sass," I said in my attempting to be calm but probably not succeeding voice, "that is not a nice word. Please don't say it again." "Well, what does it mean?" "It's just not nice." "If you tell me what it means, I will UNDERSTAND that it is not nice." Hmmm, she had a point there. I looked at Little Bit, trying to figure out how to explain something to an almost eight year old that a four year old shouldn't hear. "Well," I started as Bit stopped mid-chomp to listen, "it's when you ask someone to pay you for S-E-X." "Ohhhhhhhhhh!" Sass said, as if completely understanding that very vague meaning. And then a very excited: "Oh!! I am so glad I can SPELL!!"

Monday, October 27, 2008

Loving My Neighbor

That was the topic at church yesterday....You should love your neighbor as yourself. It was odd timing, I thought, because all week I had been struggling with that very idea. This was all sparked by reading Little Bit's initial court report, the one that explains in detail why she was removed from her home, what happened to her, what someone failed to do for her....Reading court reports is hard. It brings me to tears every single time. Most days, I can compartmentalize things in my mind and convince myself that my children's stories are from a bad made-for-TV drama. In reality, though, their stories are real. Attached to those stories are the people who were supposed to care for "neighbors". And so I find myself searching for the compassion I have felt for the families of previous kiddos. Maybe it is ok to have both feelings, though. Maybe I can feel compassion for a mother who doesn't have her child with her but still hate the reason why. Or maybe loving my neighbor is done by loving my neighbor's children while she can't.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Things today that got a Wow! or Yay! response (I love my easy to please children):

1. "Little Bit, it's time for a nap. I'll read you a story."

2. Sass got a gift card for her birthday to the Half Price Book Store.

3. "Yes, we can do the Thriller dance before bed."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pretend Play

Little Bit is not one to express emotion. She has cried only once in two weeks (because it was bedtime). She has two buttons: Happy and Angry. Both are used regularly. Tonight, she told me that she will "never ever" cry, because only babies who want milk are allowed to do that. Her feelings come out in her pretend play though, so my ears stretch out like an elephant's when she plays alone. Her two toy dogs were having a conversation yesterday. Dog 1 (in a big labrador type voice): You need to go back to your mommy. Dog 2 (in a high squeaky chihuahua voice): I can't. I have to stay here. But I am safe. But I want my mommy. Dog 1: But your mommy wants you back. Dog 2: I know, honey, she just can't have me right now.

Ready to Thrill the World

The girls and I are ready for our big day tomorrow. By "ready" I mean that Little Bit has her witch costume out and can lie on the floor like a zombie, and Sass knows all the words to the thriller tutorial we have learned. Let's not even discuss what MY thriller abilities look like. We are ready to join in breaking the Guiness World Record for the most people dancing the Thriller dance at once. Sass knows her stuff. Her beat is a bit off, her monster claws a bit limp, but the enthusiam is there. I have spent the past 6 nights laughing to the point of tears at the energy present in this house when Michael Jackson sings his song.

I wonder if this opportunity had come up three months ago, would Sass have agreed? Would she have danced around in her pjs night after night and brushed her teeth while saying: Oh snap, two, three, four, shake-a and-a up-a?" I doubt it. Tomorrow, though, on her 3 month anniversary of being here, she'll strut her stuff just like an almost-8-year-old should.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Waiting is Hard

That was one of the mantras that the 2nd blond brother and I shared regularly. Waiting for his turn in the bathroom. Waiting for the pledge of allegiance at school to begin. Waiting for his turn on Candyland. Middle brother had a hard time waiting even for his turn at a drinking fountain when he was second in line and the kid before him was already walking away. We spoke those words so regularly that I could say, "Waaaaiiiii--" and he would immediately finish "--ting is HARD."

It is really hard. Sass and I are figuring this one out in the hardest possible way. She is on her way out. She has been on her way out for what seems like a month now. But the big ball of bureaucracy that is the child welfare system is holding things up. Somewhere out there, whether it is still in the form of an unwritten report or in the form of an unsigned (by a zillion people) approval, is Sass's green light to leave the foster care system. But she is still here. And we wait. We wait to plan Halloween. We wait to schedule afterschool activities. Mostly though, she waits, and I wait with her, to start her life in what should be her forever home.

And so she ends every weekend, and starts every week, with a telephone exchange with the relative who, like us, is waiting. "Maybe I'll get to see you this week." says her relative. "Yeah, maybe" Sass replies. "We just don't know how long we have to wait."

The Honeymoon is Over

It's official. We had a lovely six days of being a family of three when two of our family members decided to be not-so-lovely anymore. Sass has decided that being followed around by a four-year-old who calls you "Sister" non-stop is no longer cute. She has demonstrated finesse in avoiding sitting by, speaking to, modeling for, or helping our new little one. She pleasantly suggests that Little Bit choose HER face painting design first, even though it is evident that her purpose is to not have Bit copy her.

Of course I don't want to discredit Little Bit in her ability to be, well, an annoying four-year-old either. Little One wants the same flavor donut, must eat breakfast in the same manner as Sass, and will only wear her dress-up clothes if Miss Sassafras wears hers. Beyond that, she is loosening up and letting her personality shine. Have I mentioned before that her nickname may end up being "Spitfire?" I guess it is good though, that she is becoming herself after a week of figuring out exactly how things go in this new life. Even if herself is the self that screams from the backseat as we pull into the Pumpkin Festival today: I am NOT looking at pumpkins. I am NOT going to like it. I am NOT going to have fun and YOU can't make me!

Ah, but I have the pictures to prove her wrong.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Haircare 101

I attended a 2 hour workshop titled "African American Haircare" in the spring. It was highly likely that I would need that skill at some point. Now I do. This is some of what I have learned:
1. Rinse child's hair.
2. Put leave in conditioner in child's hair.
3. Carefully comb out every knot without ripping a single hair from her head.
4. Loosely braid hair down back for bedtime.
5. Wake up in the morning to find that child "got bored" while falling asleep and took her protect-me-from-the-rat's-nest loose braids out.
6. Attempt to remove rat's nest from hair.
7. Ask Sass to fetch scissors.

Clearly, we are still working on the hair care thing....

Emerging from the Turtle Shell

Little one, who still has no nickname that has stuck, is beginning to stick her little head out of her shell. Her little turtle neck has stretched a bit this week to try her first day of school (loves it, but not the work), her first ever shower (loves it too, but not the water on the head part), and her first brussel sprout (gotta start 'em early, I have learned). As with the rest, she is figuring out who she is, who "we" are. I have been told that she has told several that "Tammy is not my real mommy. My mommy is in jail." She put me through 20 questions earlier this week about why Sass lives here and where her mommy is. She's figuring it out. And Sass and I continue to figure her out. Just gotta come up with a nickname now.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Most days, I am naive enough to think that children do not see color. Sass, for instance, describes the only African American girl in her class as "the one with beads." But in a room of foster children, where almost everyone is in a "multi-colored" family, it's pretty clear that the kids recognize color.

Sass and I have slowly come to the realization that it is, in fact, easier to just say we are a mother-daughter pair. We look enough alike. The fact that she calls me by my first name is still a puzzle to the average bear, but we can usually escape questions this way. Now, though, with our petite friend, we have become a family that doesn't really look like a normal family.

Four foster sisters at tonight's support group sat by us for dinner. They represent three different ethnicities. "Are you her mom?" one asks me while pointing to Sass. "Yes." "Well, are you HER mom?" she asks, pointing to Petite. "Yup." "Well, how can that be? You aren't all the same color?"

This is the same girl who, when I asked her foster sister dressed in a Cheetah girl costume which Cheetah girl she is, interjected: Well, DUH! The BLACK one!

So much for my theory....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Newest Critter

To mark my one year anniversary of fostering, Lutheran Social Services gave me a present: another critter. This one arrived yesterday, tie-dyed teddy bear in tow. While most times in the past 24 hours, she has had the deer-in-headlights why-am-I-here look, she has let her four-year-old personality come out in a few ways:
"Oh no, I do NOT eat beef." she says as she stuffs a beef corndog into her mouth.
"I don't drink Sprite anymore. I stopped that a long time ago."
"Wow, I LIKE brushing my teeth!"
"It was fun today when we ate pizza and dessert."
And at 8:30 this morning, "You two," she tells Sass and me, "it is WAY too early to be up in the morning."

Just wait till a school day rolls around......

Friday, October 10, 2008


1 year of fostering
Calls on 58 children
Ranging in age from 6 months to 14 years
31 boys
27 girls
9 kids in my house
7 boys
2 girls
Ranging in age from 21 months to 9 years old
Staying 4 days to 3 1/2 months
All in 1 year

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


On the daycare playground:

Friend: Is that your mom?
Sass: Yeah, that's Tammy.
Friend: But is she your mom?
Sass: Yeah, that's Tammy.
Friend: But is Tammy your mom?
Sass: Friend! Aren't you listening? I said that's Tammy!!

End of discussion, likely leaving a 2nd grade friend a bit puzzled.

At the CPS office:
Caseworker: What's your favorite thing about living at Tammy's?
Sass: I have a bedtime.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Other Mothers

Miss Sassafras had a visit with her mother today. It was the first visit she has had in the more-than-two-months she has been here. She was nervous----finger picking, sitting up straight, silent for the whole car ride kind of nervous. What if my mom is mad at me? What if she doesn't come? All valid concerns for this 7 year old. As it turns out though, she DID come and she WASN'T mad, and that was all we needed--for today.

As I sat in the waiting room, I thought about meeting the mamas of my kiddos. I have met the mother, and sometimes the father, of seven of my nine children. They have thanked me, hugged me, and asked me to give messages to their kiddos. They have introduced me to their boyfriends, mothers, cousins, and sisters. They have never once treated me poorly or been unkind. It is hard, at times, to remember that no matter what these mamas have done to or have failed to do for their children, they are still human beings who deserve respect, similar to what they give me.

Imagine my surprise during this thought process when the door to the waiting room at the CPS office opens and in walk the parents of Gentlemen Tall and Short. They took one look at me and said: Tammy! Oh, you'll get to see the boys! The mom hugged me. The dad shook my hand. The kids came running in seconds later with big open arms, ready to hug and with plenty of stories to tell me about their new school.

As they ran off to visit with their family, Sass and her mother came out. We walked toward the exit and Sass' mom stopped me and said: She is doing so great. Thank you.

So yet again, I am surprised. Surprised by the respect they feel for me and by the compassion I feel for them. Surprised. And thankful.