29 November 2011

Parenthood Strikes - Reflections upon a month of being a Foster Dad.

  Just a few days after having made that last post, Mary and I were blessed with the placement of two foster children.  Now, because these are foster kids from the CPS system, I can't post their names or photos, since it's a "privacy issue" according to our foster care agency.  The oldest is a boy, Z, who is 2 years old.  He's a handsome young man who is very sharp, and quite helpful.  He also has some temper issues likely a result of being 2, and of having been through some rough times in his life where he didn't get the attention he needed.  These issues have waxed and waned depending on our situations, which I'll get to later in this post.  His little sister, K, turned six months just a bit ago.  She's a very happy baby, and has wrapped me around her little finger in record time.

  In the first two weeks, I was Mr. Mom.  My wife has a job that allows her very little paid time off.  In fact, their company is going through a rough patch.  There have been layoffs, and she's had to take Fridays off without pay for the past few weeks, and will be getting a week without pay in December.  This is a set of time-buying maneuvers by the owners to keep the doors open until January, when their business traditionally picks up.  What this meant is that after the placement, taking care of the kids during the day was 100% me.  Which was fine.  In theory.

  I learned almost overnight how to change diapers, make formula, what the proper amount of time in our microwave was to heat said formula, how to change and put to bed a 2-year-old...  I also learned that while juggling two small children it is impossible to do anything that requires concentration.  My schoolwork started to fall behind, and in an 8-week semester, that can be deadly.

  Let me say that before we were placed with the kids, I had taken a step that was quite out of character for me, and began seeing a councilor.  My work plays for an employee assistance program, and under EAP any employee can get a free 8 sessions of counciling.  I had reached a point in my life where I knew something wasn't right, and maybe it was time I did something about it.  So I'd been seeing Lisa, my councilor, for about a month when the kids came along.  I talked to her about my inability to rest, my overactive mind that wouldn't shut off at night, my attempts to hold our group of freinds together after some events started to pull it apart...  So yeah, I was not in a great place before the kids arrived.

  The arrival of our children was initially a very happy event.  Mary and I had worked for this for literally years, we'd taken classes, background checks, fingerprints... all the hoops you have to jump through to become foster parents.  And there's a lot of it.  So this was the fulfillment of a goal we had shared since we got married.  Becoming parents is part of growing up, right?

  Then the sleepless nights started.  Or in my case, got worse.  My anxiety and worry started getting worse.  I was worried about falling behind in school.  I was worried that both our cars needed work and we simply didn't have the money.  My sleep became so shallow that any little noise Z or K made in the night had me snapping awake.  I quickly got to the point that I couldn't fall asleep at all - since I would lie awake waiting for a child to cry.  My mind just told me not to get too comfortable, because as soon as I did I would be changing someone or making a bottle.  Then we discovered the water leak that's currently got two of our walls opened up and our insurance company involved.  I'd reached a breaking point.  I could no longer take on any more worry.

  In addition to the stuff that was bothering me before the placement of kids, now we had so much more to deal with.  There was the mechanics of having two small children - feeding, changing, playing, etc.  There was the paperwork involved in foster care - and there's lots of that.  There's visitations with the birth parents, which of course take place on the other side of Austin.  There's medical visits, both because we have to get them taken care of as a part of our foster care (well checks) and due to visits K and Z have needed for illnesses.  There's childcare arrangements, which still haven't been totally taken care of.  Did you know daycare for a toddler is $600 per month, and for an infant is $800?  Luckily, CCMS takes care of that cost after it kicks in, but it took three weeks for it to kick in.  K was in daycare one day before a fever took her back out of daycare.  And who had to take time off work to care for her?  Yup.  Me.

  Now, that isn't Mary's fault.  It's just the way things are.  But the stresses from all directions started to close in on me.  I felt trapped in my own home - and I started to develop an additional feeling of anxiety at the thought of being home.  Especially after the water leak situation developed, I no longer felt at ease or comfortable in our house, and I looked for reasons to work late or to otherwise stay away.  Mary took this as me not wanting to be around her or the kids- which was not strictly the case.  The water leak and subsequen opening up of the damaged walls and week of drying equipment meant we spent a week living with my grandmother.  During this time I called Lisa, who I hadn't seen for a month, and said I really needed to talk.

  I'd tried to tell Mary about my feelings of anxiety.  I tried to tell her that I don't want to feel this way- and I realize I'm having some very irrational fears.  But knowing the fears are irrational, and dispelling them are different things.  Talking to Lisa helped quite a bit.  She suggested, among other things, that I may want to try anti-anxiety medications.  I told her thanks, but no thanks.  I need to keep my head clear to take care of my family.  I don't cotton to mood-altering drugs.  It takes me a lot to just take OTC medications.

  In any case, Mary takes my anxiety personally.  She also takes it to mean I no longer want kids.  This isn't what I'm thinking at all.  What I want is to understand and alleviate my anxiety so that I can sleep well, and be the father these kids need.  I don't want to feel like an alien in my own home.  I don't want to have a sense of impending doom like I live in the Amityville house.  I want to be calm, on an even keel, and drive on.

  I thought some gaming would help, so I organized a small game to try to do something "old school" that would take me back to the carefree days of youth where weekends were weekends and we played stuff like Traveller, Star Frontiers, BECMI D&D, Marvel Superheroes, etc.  We played Traveller.  I started to fall asleep a coupla hours into the session.  It made me miserable.  I can't even GM reliably anymore.  Ugh.

  Mary has accused me of wanting to go back to our old lives, and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't an attractive option.  I'd love to decrease my stress levels.  The problem is I've fallen in love with these two children, and if they left my care I know I would worry about who was caring for them, where they were, and what more I could have done to care for them.  My friends and some of my family think that Mary and I shouldn't have them just now, that there are issues that need to be squared away.  I used to think these issues were all me, but those same family and friends are telling me that they believe Mary could use some counseling, and that a lot of our problems have to do with her preconcieved notions of life and parenthood.  They tell me I'm doing too much, worrying too much, and I've had more than one person say they're concerned for my physical and mental help.

  Well, here's the deal.  I want to slow down.  I want to de-stress.  But now, I have these two beautiful children who are depending on me.  Mary's salary won't come close to paying the bills.  That burden falls on me - whose paycheck covers all our bills and a bit of gas & groceries.  She can't take off work when they have appointments, visits, or are sick.  I have to take care of that.  House has issues?  I deal with insurance and plumbers and contractors.  These are things she can't wrap her head around.  I'm trying to offload as much as I can so she can help take some of this off my shoulders, but there's just so much of it that for one reason or another she can't relieve me of.

  K and Z need me to keep on keepin' on.  And I know, several of you have reminded me that if I have a mental or physical breakdown I won't be doing anyone any good.  That's true, and I'm mindful of it.  But if I can't find any other way to slow down, I'm going to have to keep taking care of business - because somebody has to.  I just pray that sometime in the near future, I can catch by breath, get my focus back, and have some fun for fun's sake.  I want to be able to sleep at night without millions of worries plaguing my mind.  I want to be able to relax and not constantly have my head in "general quarters" mode ready to jump up and react to potential kid problems.  I want to feel like there's time to, oh, shower, without feeling guilty about having my eyes off the kids.  I got a big dose of that guilt this morning before work.  And I took a French Shower (thanks, Old Spice deoderant!) and got my ass to work.

  So, I am not happy.  My wife is unhappy that I am unhappy.  Not so much because *I* am unhappy, but because she thinks I am unhappy due to the children.  You see, having children was apparently the whole point of our getting married 12 years ago.  So, if I'm not happy with the children then our marraige isn't worth a whole lot.  Or so she tells me.  So, if I can't handle this transition and something results in the removal of K and Z, then it's my fault, and our marriage is pretty much over.

  Like I needed *that* on top of everything else.

  Look, to whom it may concern, I have had over a month now to become bonded to these children.  Yes, I kinda favor K, who favors me.  She's very much a foster daddy's girl.  She cuddles with my dirty shirts and it stops her from crying.  (Little trick I learned from babycenter.com)  I also love Z, even though he gets on my nerves with his temper issues and screaming.  But that aside he's also a very smart, very helpful little boy.  He brings me diapers and wipes when K needs changing.  He brings us bottles when she wants to be fed.  At heart, he's a good boy - he just needs guidance and love.  And that's what I hope we can give him.

  So I love them both.  I also love my wife more than I think she realizes.  It hurts me that I'm out of the equation most of the time.  I feel like I'm the thing that's necessary to keep the finances rolling so she can be mommy.  If I'm not actively engaged in something in direct support of the kids, I get the guilt complex.  She tries to give me "my space" so I can relax, but she doesn't fathom that I simply cannot relax with my mind being the way it is right now.  No amount of time or quiet is going to calm me, I fear.  That's why I'm seeing a freaking councilor.  I did not choose this.  I do not *want* to be showing this kind of frailty, weakness, whatever you want to call it.  It sucks, and I feel that I'm not hacking it as a husband or a father, and I wonder how my elders ever survived all of this.

  That's what kills me.  I know every dad who ever was worth the title has been where I am.  Why, then, am I affected on such a profound level that I find myself losing the ability to function on a day-to-day basis?  I'm fatigued, forgetful, irritable...  I've had physical issues that I've been told are probably psychosomatic reactions to stress.  Upset stomach, I've vomited a couple of times for no real reason, I wake up with my legs feeling like I've done a 20-mile ruck march and I haven't even taken a flight of stairs in the previous 24.  All of these are telltale signs of stress and a poor reaction to it.  If my dad, stepdad, grandfathers...  if they all handled this crap without complaint, why can't I?  Am I really this screwed up, weak or pathetic?

  So no.  Not happy right now.  Not happy at all.  I have moments of happiness, like when K is asleep on my chest and all seems right with the world for just that wonderful, warm, glowing minute.  Then the world creeps back in and I'm seeing bills, and damage to our home, and things that need to be done, and a wife who's coming to resent that I have a harder time with all of this than she does.  Life kinda sucks.

  In other news, Traveller and Star Frontiers.  If you made it this far in this post, you deserve my thanks for reading a rant I'm pretty sure only one person on the planet is actually going to read.  I promise my next post won't be this heavy, and that I'll actually discuss some gaming stuff - specifically, CLASSIC gaming stuff from the 70s and 80s that I've been trying to read for recreation, when I can.  Even that release is denied to me though fatigue and inability to focus.  But I digress...  I do have some fun stuff to talk about, and I'll try to post about it this week, since I'm out of school.

Take care, folks.

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