Within minutes of receiving our first placement we were hooked. Those big blue eyes and chubby cheeks they both had. Going back to work would never be the same. Life would never be the same. The acceptance and reality of that change is not just a one-time deal but a constant ever “reminding” feeling.

Why is it ever “reminding” instead of just “is”?

For me it is because as a foster parent I know that nothing is permanent. Often I go along in what feels like my normal and then I am reminded that my life is a bit odd and not quite normal. It is like walking along thinking you are on firm ground when you then realize you were walking on top of a board covering a quagmire.

So how does that apply to my reality of school aged children?

We do not have any children of our own. In terms of our fostering journey, we have only had one school aged placement and that was for just one day. We have yet to really experience first day school jitters.

Yes we have dealt with daycare. And before this week I would have said dropping kids off at school is a similar feeling to dropping kids off at day care, but it isn’t. At least that is my feeling.

Daycare is a place I can choose to have my kids in, job or no job. Even mothers’ day out programs are at their base, optional. Even though I feel they are very necessary for a mom or dad. Every parent needs a break at some point.

School on the other hand has a more permanent feeling. No longer can you just drop by when errands are done or your work day is over. There are specific drop off and pick up times. Rules are rules.

I have been dreading this year. First because it meant I would become a weekend aunt. Then after plans changed, and we were asked to have a more active daily role, I dreaded all the things parents dread. I was worried I would not know things (very important things), be tardy, forgetful or worse. Am I a good enough role model? Please no phone calls about dirty words!!!

And my biggest worry… what am I going to do when I miss them more than they miss me?

Of course I have been working towards a balance of letting them be kids and striving for independence. But the reality that you have done well and have a good balance, well sometimes that reality knocks us flat. We are proud that they are prepared and confident but we miss the “mommy, please stay.” In this case I would have liked a goodbye hug or a wave of dismissal.

Rent-a-Dad took our eldest nephew, with his mom my adopted sister, to school on Thursday. We did photos outside of our home with both boys even though JoBe wouldn’t have his first day yet. I gave my hugs and kisses and then said goodbye. Rent-a-Dad got to feel his first day jitters with our oldest nephew.

My first day jitters didn’t hit until the following day when we took JoBe to school. A month prior I had to soothe JoBe’s fears about attending school without me. He has always loved making friends. When he attended daycare as an infant he loved that experience too. My worries were about him realizing I wasn’t staying. I shouldn’t have been worried. He handled the whole thing like a pro.

After getting into his classroom, we found his cubby, he washed his hands and we worked on writing his name. Once he was finished with the tasks the teacher gave him he asked if he could play. That was it.

Tasks were done and he was ready for us to leave. No hugs, kisses or goodbyes. I didn’t feel totally deflated as he had given me hugs and kisses when we got out of the car. But after all of preparation for school, he was definitely ready. I was so proud… and a bit sad. Thankfully I had plenty to keep me occupied from doctor appointments to helping my brother with his move.

At some point early in the day I did have a moment of panic. The age old question that enters a parent’s mind from time to time “what if I am not needed?” Followed by the one that enters stay at home parent’s minds “What am I now going to do with my time?”

I knew I would be a bit sad when the boys started school. In knowing that I took measures to make sure I wouldn’t have time to focus on any sadness that might linger. Well in some ways it wasn’t that simple. Life has been reminding me I have plenty of things I have neglected over the past so many years of toddler life.

Truth is I am never truly bored. I have so many irons in the fire that having a little bit of free time may make me feel giddy, or even nervous, for a bit but reality always clicks into place. The little bit of free time I did end up having meant I could have a sit down lunch with my mom after a doctor appointment instead of my grab and go lunch that I have been used to for months. I also sneaked in some blog maintenance and a tiny bit of actual writing.

No, I don’t think I have to be too worried about what to do with myself. The reality for me of having school aged children is making sure I have all my ducks lined up so the boys have what they need. We are all very proud that the boys were as ready as we could all help them be for their first big day at school. I am just a bit sad that they are so growing up so fast.

When asked what are some of the challenges we have faced as foster parents the largest one is always re-unification because there are always mixed feelings even when you are rooting for the birth family to succeed. Also in the top five are keeping up to date on DCS paperwork/classes and appointments as well as working with the birth families and the first 24 hours (first day).

So what challenges can be expected with the first day of placement?

 

Getting to know your new family member…

With every placement call foster parents can expect a certain amount of information like race, sex, and age. Sometimes the other details like allergies and family history are only found out through conversation with the birth family or even a visit to the doctor. None of that information really gives you an idea of what the temperament or needs of a child really are. That information you can only find out through getting to know your placement.

On the first day, at least one adult in the household will need to stay home while arrangements are being made for school and/or childcare. If the foster home is a two-parent household, having both parents at home for the first day can make the transition into your home a little less stressful. One foster parent can deal with phone calls and paperwork while the other one can focus on the child. Rent-a-Dad and I have often shared the load of placement chores which have even included shopping for clothes and most importantly diapers and formula!

Having both foster parents accessible on that first day can help the placement(s) adjustment to your home easier. No one ever really knows what is going through their mind or how they were truly treated at home. Sometimes the new placement will bond quickly with the foster-mom while other times it is the foster-dad.

 

Finding common ground (getting past the awkward)…

When the placement involves a baby the most awkward moments are really just trying to find out what type of feeding/sleeping schedule the baby has been on. The older the child is that comes into care the more awkward the first day may seem even when you are a veteran foster-parent.

The first 24 hours always feel a bit rushed with all the preparations needed for the system and possibly school. Then there is the stress of finding out the likes and dislikes of the child(ren) so you know what to feed them or maybe you want to buy him/her a toy so they can feel connected to your home. Some first days feel magical while others feel like you did 100 things wrong. Take a deep breath and be as kind as you can be to your placement and yourself.

One piece of advice that we received in our training was take the pressure of cooking a home cooked meal off the table. Ask your placement(s) what their favorite fast food restaurant is and go there. First you don’t have to worry about what they like or don’t like. Second going to somewhere familiar (even if it is a different location) takes some stress off the placement(s). Your placement(s) is scared and worried about what is going to happen to them. Having a meal at a familiar location shows your placement(s) that you care about them and their feelings, even if it is only on a subconscious level that they recognize this. While eating the kid(s) will most likely feel more like opening up to you and share more of their likes and dislikes.

 

Getting all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed…

If the placement process happens over the weekend you may have a reprieve from the stress of paperwork and scheduling. Actually the paperwork itself is fine. At most you are talking about reading over 5 to 10 pages, some initialing and signing. The real time consumer happens not within the first few hours of a placement but generally twelve hours after when the placement is registered into the system and is assigned a case-worker. Then the process is all about finding out when the first CFTM (Child and Family Team Meeting) will be held; when the health assessment needs to be done at the health center; if a doctor visit is needed (and if so which doctor to use); if a clothing allotment is needed when the caseworker can get you that voucher; and if the kids are school aged then all the fun that entails of getting them registered at your zoned school and all the things needed to get your placement(s) prepared to have a “first day of school” there. All in all the first day (first 24 hours) of a placement can often feel like boot-camp.

 

Setting a schedule for the upcoming week…

This can feel like the hardest task of all. In the case of emergency placements where family are still being sought out as possible care-givers for this placement there may not be much that has to happen the very first week other than registering for school. When the placement is seen as temporary (estimated 3 to 6 months) or something more permanent then getting events scheduled for the first week is imperative as it can set the tone of how you interact with the birth family and DCS. Our first placement felt a little too easy and there was a reason: no one informed of us of who the case-worker was and the case-worker did not have our correct information. For our second placement we had to re-arrange our schedule to ensure all of the doctor appointments and meetings could happen within the time frame the court wanted.

Most times a court date is established within the first 24 hours of a case. We received our placement one afternoon and were in court the next day.

When I reference how important it is to get a handle on your schedule for the week following a placement, what I am really meaning is if the first day feels a little too easy then it was. Try to clear your schedule and prepare for some bumps in the road.

 

The beginnings of developing a routine…

Setting up a routine can take time with any child. While the child entering your home is new to you they are not (generally) brand new to the world. While you are getting to know your placement ask them what kind of schedule did they have at home. If they are too young to talk or really know, and you feel lost, turn to Google or some other search engine. There are millions of articles out there that give sample schedules for various age ranges. Don’t expect that you need to strictly follow any of these examples but rather use them as guidelines. The older the child the harder it will be to get a good routine set up. Lead by example. The more often the child(ren) see how you handle yourself and your schedule the more likely they will be able to reach their own goals of a healthy routine. Setting the foundation sometimes feels like the easy job. Just remember Rome was not built in a day. You still have to set a good foundation to get good results.

Most importantly about any first day challenges: breath. In looking back at the first day of each placement I think the best advice I can give is be flexible and try to enjoy the messy moments. There will be confusion, worry, concern and fear for your placement and possibly yourself. Treat them like a family member with all the love and care you have. Keep in mind that this is a day (more than any other) that this child(ren) needs your compassion, kindness, and tenderness. This day is all about them not the foster parent, not even DCS. Do something special like buy a toy, go out to McDonalds (this may be very special to your placement), let them pick a movie to watch or a game to play. Our emergency placement liked that Rent-a-Dad played video games with him and that we went to Chick-fil-A so he could play (more than eat!).