I had a few trips planned in the month or so after Evie left, and just generally wanted some down-time before I got another placement. Originally I had planned to tell DSS that I would be taking a break until the middle of August. But then I didn't want them to pass me over if they needed someone for an infant that was likely to go to adoption. So I decided not to tell them anything, and just see what happened when I got the next call. (I really don't think I would be able to say no to that infant). I actually haven't gotten a single call since Evie left. If I do in the next few weeks, I would almost certainly say no to a 2-5 year old; but would probably say yes to a baby. I do know that things will always happen the way they are meant to, so I'm just hanging out and waiting to see what happens.
Now that my house is empty and I have some time to reflect, here is a list of things I would have done differently with Evie and/or Tank. Some of these are minor details, and some are huge things; and all will probably affect what I do with the next child that is here.
1. Not called Evie's mom every night. It was good for her to talk to her mom, but I think the negatives outweighed the positives. And I think had I known she was going to be here for more than a month or two, I probably wouldn't have started it anyway. I didn't like that our phone calls meant that Evie's family knew exactly what was happening every day - it gave them ammunition to tell lies on me or to scrutinize every little thing that was happening. It really stirred up Evie's emotions when she would talk to her mom, and at the beginning she would cry at least once a week when she talked to her. Plus, it was really inconvenient.
2. Called Tank's mom sometimes. She sent her number, and I never called her because he couldn't talk to her anyway. But I should have communicated with her at least to let her know her baby was okay.
3. In light of the first two things above, created a confidential phone number. I did end up getting a number through G**gle Voice when Tank left, but Evie's family already had my number. One of the first things the investigator said when Evie walked through my door was that I needed to call her mom to get instructions for her meds. I didn't even think about it, and I just called from my cell phone. There could have been some safety issues with the family having my actual phone number - which could have been connected with my name, which then could have been connected with my address. Thankfully, it all worked out and I didn't have any concerns about my safety with Evie's family, but I will definitely be more cautious next time and will give out a number that can't be traced to my name.
3. Taken the kids to their own doctor. I spent a lot of time trying to track down both Evie's and Tank's immunization records. I relied on the caseworkers to do the legwork for me. I didn't really think about it until after the fact, but I could have just made the kids at least one appointment with the doctor they had been seeing to get any needed medical information and records. In both cases, I did know the doctors' names long before I actually got the records; and they wouldn't have been more than a 30-minute drive. (Plus, in my state, I can get reimbursed by Medi-caid for mileage taking the kids to doctors' appointments, so it would have been fine to travel one time.) I would have made that first appointment, and then gotten their records transferred to my preferred pediatrician that is closer to my house.
4. Made a laminated list of medications. I often wrote out a list of Evie's medications and dosages for sitters or when she would stay overnight with someone. It would have been much easier if I had made a list.
5. Personalized Evie's room. I did get her a "girly" comforter shortly after she came, but I would have put her drawings up on the walls, or let her pick out some decorative elements so the room would feel more like "hers." Again, I think this never happened because I didn't think she would be here that long.
6. Immediately asked for a picture of Evie's mom and her and framed it for her room. I did eventually do this, but it would have been good to have this reminder of her mom from the get-go.
7. Not made assumptions about the case. Now I'm not so naive and hopefully won't make the same mistakes in this area, but I shouldn't have assumed that Evie would only be here a month or so. This really affected my bonding with Evie. And it also prevented me from letting her fully participate in her life here (see #8 below). I know a lot of things now that I didn't know then, and generally I know now to have no expectations, except to expect anything.
8. Signed Evie up for things. Because I didn't think Evie would be here for long, I didn't sign her up for dance class or swim lessons or really anything else. I even paid for field trips several weeks at a time last summer at the daycare (instead of paying for them all at the beginning of the summer) because I was thinking she wouldn't be here the whole summer. I have to realize that there is going to be a chance that I will lose money if the child leaves before the class/sport/etc is over, but that is a risk I need to take so that the child can do everything I would try to do with him if he were my own.
9. Offered Evie a different name to call me. I hadn't really thought about this fully before she arrived, and so when she asked my name that first night, I told her "Miss Allison," which is what my kids at work call me. That always felt too formal. Everyone I had read things from online said that the kids (especially the older ones) would end up calling you whatever they felt comfortable with, but I think I should have offered her a much less formal name from the beginning. I want some sort of nickname that would be something no one else would call me, but I haven't come up with one that I love yet. So if anyone has any suggestions, let me know!
10. Hugged Evie more. I think at the beginning I held back because I didn't want to overwhelm her, but I'm sure she would have been fine with more hugging and physical contact; and I think this would have helped with the bonding as well.
11. Maybe been a little less pushy with food at the beginning. I'm not 100% on this one, because I think part of the reason that Evie ended up eating vegetables and pretty much anything (she didn't always like it, but she ate it) was because I made her eat things from the beginning. But I think it would have been ok to serve pizza and chicken nuggets and spaghetti during the first week while she adjusted to everything else in her life being completely different and upside down, and worried about the vegetables after a week or so.
12. Had less rules at the beginning. Going along with #11 above, I should have just allowed her to adjust to a new house and new smells and new people and not being with her mom, before I really started having firm rules about her table manners and putting her toys away.
13. Stayed out of work more than a day. Evie arrived on a Tuesday in May. I took off Wednesday. I really felt like I needed to go back to work on Thursday, because I had already missed two Thursdays in the 4-6 weeks prior (and my patients come on the same day every week, and their appointments are cancelled if I'm not there, so I didn't want the same patients to miss appointments three different times in the span of 6 weeks). But I think that shouldn't have mattered, and I should have stayed home at least one more day to help us both get settled. (Being out of work with the placement of a foster child falls under FMLA, so one of the phone calls I made the first day should have been to get my FMLA set up so that I could stay out however many days I felt like I needed).
Hopefully this list will help some first-time foster parent make better decisions in the beginning than I did; and I know that I will do some things differently next time based on this list.
Evie was supposed to have a medical appointment yesterday - one I made a while back. I got a text reminder on Thursday, and then got a text today saying, "Evie is past due for an appointment." She didn't show up yesterday. I suppose I could have forwarded the text reminder that I got. But I gave Evie's mom a list of all her upcoming medical appointments and the phone numbers to all the offices, and she's a big girl and should be able to handle it. This makes me sad.