Today’s thoughts are dedicated to my parents, who likely didn’t get much sleep until perhaps I was a teenager. And have made it known that I’m getting what I deserve when one of my kids keeps me up!
Warning: This article will end up being a little PG-13, but please forgive me for that–I’m only quoting an 8-year-old! However, I’ll do my best to avoid offending all of your sensibilities by using asterisks copiously.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, at the moment I am unable to take long-term foster care placements. However, whenever I can I will take emergency and other short-term placements. Also, as I’ve written, I have always taken teenage boys as placements, especially long-term. A big reason for this is that I need to be able to leave the house from time to time without having to drag the boys along. Another reason is that younger kids confuse me. There’s just something about having no prefrontal cortex development that I have a hard time with.
Granted, teenagers’ brains are generally still broken, but at least, on occasion, you can reason with them.
That said, I have also had some opportunities to see the very long daily emails listing all of the kids that need a place to stay on a given day and I know that finding placements for them all, even if for a night, can be an hours-long process.
So from time to time I’ll bend my own “rules” and take a younger child for a night or two. I guess I do that because somewhere way deep down inside, I still have an empathy or two left to give, and I can imagine how awful it must be to not know where you will sleep that night.
Besides, I have always figured, “I can handle just about anything for one night…right?”
As it happened, I had an 8-year-old boy stay with me for two nights this past week. I honestly don’t know all of Kevin’s story concerning why he needed a place to stay, and I suppose it doesn’t matter much. I did know that the agency staff seemed to be familiar with his needs and the fact that he was, shall we say, rather “busy.”
The first night was a piece of cake. As often happens, the drop-off occurred fairly late in the evening, so he had been given his evening medication already and was very sleepy. About all I had to do was send him to the bathroom and help him get in bed.
For the second night, I had gotten the request earlier and didn’t have to work as late, so he was dropped off earlier in the evening. As was the case the night before, he was fast asleep in the car when they arrived. The transport driver told me that he had been given his bedtime medication before they left the office…which by my calculations was pretty early in the evening.
I Have Dad Talents
This time when he woke up to come into the house, he was pretty wired. I helped him make a quesadilla for dinner, marveling at my patience and talent as a dad. About the time we were finishing up with dinner, my girlfriend Katherine arrived to hang out. Meanwhile, Kevin was getting more and more amped up, using the back of a couch as his personal parkour course.
As we watched Kevin jump back and forth over the back of the couch, I now marveled at my lack of talent as a dad when it comes to 8-year-olds. So I whispered to Katherine, “I don’t know what time 8-year-olds should go to bed.” She advised me that they should probably go to bed about 8:00, and then we noted that it was now 8:15. Katherine, who is apparently better with little kids than me, was able to solve the “I-can’t-brush-my-teeth-because-I’m-scared-of-the-bathroom” dilemma with a suggestion that he brush at the kitchen sink. (Genius!) And he was off to bed shortly thereafter.
Because parenting is exhausting and I needed to get up for work at 6:00 the next morning, she headed home and I went to bed myself. I had a long work day ahead of me, driving a couple hours to provide several trainings before driving back and seeing my own clients.
As it turned out, that day was longer than I originally imagined.
I was awoken by the “melodious” sound of Kevin singing Kidz Bop tunes rather loudly around 4:00 in the morning. I was perturbed, but decided that it was basically harmless and my best course of action was to get some earplugs and head back to bed…after getting up to pee, of course.
And therein lies my mistake. I guess I should keep a Gatorade bottle in my room for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). Kevin heard me get up, and got up himself. And therein lies a second mistake: Even at 4:15 in the morning, when the house is quiet, you should still shut the bathroom door. Luckily, by the time he got out of bed, opened his bedroom door, and came into the hallway, I was nearly finished and able to turn my back to the open door. Also luckily, I hadn’t turned the light on, so it was pretty dark in there. (Maybe I should get one of those light up toilet seats!)
Kevin asked if it was time to get up yet, and I calmly explained that it wouldn’t be time for another couple hours or so and he should head back to bed.
Well, Kevin didn’t really want to head back to bed. First, he told me he was too “bored” to go back to bed, then too hungry, and then too cold. But I managed to get him to lay back down, gave him an extra blanket, and turned the thermostat up a bit and promised he’d warm up soon. And I went back to bed myself.
As I lay down, admiring my dad talents in getting him back to bed, I was greeted with the sounds of Kevin screaming, “BIG SHOT,” peppered with “F***ING B*TCH!”, and banging on the wall here and there for good measure.
I made a short, futile attempt to cover the racket with the soothing sound of frogs and a babbling creek (thanks, white noise app) but in short order I knew that the longer I tried to get back to sleep, the angrier I would become, and the lower Kevin’s odds of surviving until sunrise would be.
“Are You Making Coffee?”
So instead I decided, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” and we got up at 4:30. I needed to catch up on some house cleaning anyway. Kevin asserted that we’d gotten up because I was “scared” of him, and I informed him that this was incorrect.
Kevin played with the cat and tried to play with the dog as I did the dishes. When he was frustrated that the dog didn’t want to play, I explained that it was because we were up way too early and it was still time for Jackson to sleep.
Later, Kevin asked for some Doritos. As I calmly swept the floor, I told him he couldn’t have any Doritos since “it’s way too early for chips; we shouldn’t even be awake yet.” Kevin responded with several rounds of “F*** you, b*tch.” Then he added that the Doritos were probably old anyway and he didn’t eat old food, but he thought I probably did eat old food, as well as dog poop. (Let the record show, I do not eat dog poop, and the Doritos are still very fresh.)
While I was washing dishes, Kevin decided that it would be more fun to scare and chase the cat than actually play with him. I explained that if he kept doing that, Dingo would not want to let Kevin pet him or play anymore. Kevin turned and eloquently shouted “F*** you!” several times in the general direction that Dingo had run. It was at this point that I did have a small victory. When I explained that this was not a kind way to speak to the cat, and asked Kevin to think of five nice things he could say instead, he actually did it!
Things were a little calmer overall as I began folding laundry. (Thank goodness–I HATE folding and putting away laundry. The only thing worse than that is being trapped 2,300 feet underground in a Chilean mine for 69 days.)
When Kevin asked me if I was making [more] coffee around 6:00, all I could think was, “Yes, child, I sure am!”
Mercifully, the morning transport worker arrived a few minutes early and I was able to take a quick shower and head off to do the trainings.
A Couple More Thoughts
This situation illustrates the need for more homes that are willing and able to provide emergency care. Most times, it really isn’t this difficult; in fact, I would say that 33 out of 34 times (my personal statistics, not counting permanent placements), things go as easily as that first night. However, Kevin had to ride in the car an hour each way to stay in my home both days, and wait in an office bored all day, which surely (“Don’t call me Shirley!”) isn’t helpful for him in terms of self-regulation.
If there were more homes that were willing and able to take kids for a night or two, this problem would be significantly reduced. Frequently I hear people talk about how they wish they could be foster parents, but aren’t able to for one reason or another. Maybe you feel that way. That your season in life prevents you from being able to have foster children placed in your home for a long term.
If that is you, I ask you to consider providing emergency and respite care. As a respite provider, you’ll be helping kids stay in their current foster homes by giving the foster parents a much-needed break. I know of many cases where a regular respite provider has had the opportunity to build a relationship with and have a huge impact on kids in foster care. It could become a sort of mentor-ship.
The more people providing Emergency care, the better it is for everybody. Workers wouldn’t have to spend as many hours calling the same families over and over because there would be a bigger pool to draw from. Kids wouldn’t have to ride a couple hours in a car, only to arrive late in the evening, and then get up super early to ride in a car for hours again, only to repeat the process. Because there would be more placement possibilities, closer. Haggard foster families wouldn’t have to get phone calls from worn out workers late in the evening, because there would be so many other families that they found placements for everyone so much earlier in the day.
And the neat thing is, you’re always allowed to say no! If you get asked but already had plans for the evening, or have too much homework, or whatever else going on, that’s okay. There is never an obligation.
You still need to go through all the same classes and background checks to be licensed, but doing so will allow you to help out in a unique way.