Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Love and bonding through food

Many children have food issues and children from foster care are no different.  Food evokes a lot of feelings.  Children may have been neglected and starved and find themselves eating too much or too fast.  They may refuse to eat at all, or may refuse certain foods.  They are literally in survival mode..."I have to eat as much as I can right now because I might not get fed again for a long time." Perhaps refusing to eat is literally the only control they have over their life.  Or maybe there is a very negative memory associated with a specific food.  They may also steal food from the pantry and hide it in their room.  I don't want to spend a lot of time on the negative behaviors in this particular blog, but rather introduce the fact to my readers that might not be aware of how difficult and emotional sitting down to a family meal can be for a child.  I want to share how food issues played out in MY family.  However, here is additional information if you would like to read a little more and gain some tips on food issues with your child.

When K4 joined our family, I actually had not given a lot of thought to how important food would be in the bonding process.  About 3 days after we had met K4, I planned a meal that happened to be a family favorite...a recipe that had been given to us by a Filipino friend in California.  The dish is called "adobo" and I highly recommend it if you haven't tried it.  Anyway, K5 sat down for dinner that night and her eyes about popped out of her head as the fragrant aroma of one of her favorite Filipino dishes filled the dining room.  To be honest, I didn't think much about it at the time.  I plopped the giant rice cooker on the table next to the pot of adobo and just started serving the meal.  Years later K4 was asked at what point she knew she belonged in our family and she said it was that very night!  The night I served a native dish that she loved and had missed terribly.  She said that she was shocked that a white family cooked filipino food let alone owned a rice cooker!  Her statements got me to pondering about  familiar food being important to us and how important familiarity is when life is hard.  For most people in safe and secure households, the closest example I can find is craving comfort food when you are ill.  Not just any comfort food, but food that that is made the way your mom used to make it.

After K4, "the boy that got away" stayed with us for 2 weeks of respite care.  I immediately requested recipes of meals that he liked but nobody seemed to know.  I even asked him after he arrived in our home and he just kinda shrugged his shoulders.  He didn't seem to have any specific fears or anxieties around food and I just stuck with meals that had been family favorites.  However, every night that his face smiled with delight and he said he liked a dish, I would print off a copy of that recipe.  By the end of his two weeks with us I had made up a mini recipe book of his favorite meals at our house.  I will never know if anybody ever made those dishes for him again, or if they did make them, whether or not he had good memories about our family,  but at least I tried.

When K5 joined our family she started out as a picky eater.  There were times I wanted to pull my hair out because I couldn't seem to accommodate her.  She refused to eat anything with pepper for instance. It turns out this was a traumatic memory for her.  Apparently another foster child had pulled a prank on K5 and she ended up with large amounts of pepper either up her nose or in her mouth.  I have never quite figured out the story.  Regardless, she definitely showed signs of needing to control the meal.  She WAS however a great salad eater!  Music to any mom's ears really!  So, I stopped putting pepper in my dishes...to the frustration of the other children, K2 specifically!  He got over it though as he realized that he could add pepper himself at the table - usually much more than I would have added, much to his delight.  K5 did not like this at all because she didn't even want pepper at the table, but I clearly stated that she could control HER food and not anybody else's at the table.  In time, probably at least a year, I slowly started adding small amounts of pepper to the dishes again.  As she gained confidence in me, she started trying new foods in our house and is now one of my best "new dish guinea pigs," but her favorite dishes remain spaghetti for dinner and pancakes for breakfast.  I can't even begin to tell you how many nights we ate spaghetti in the evening when she first moved in.  I know there were weeks that we literally ate it 3 times!  After several months of that - I truly never wanted to eat spaghetti again!

K6 was probably my most difficult, aside from my son with autism, for refusing foods.  K6 is pretty much a junk food addict.  In the few short months she lived with us, I literally couldn't get her to try anything new.  She refused rice and all vegetables in my home, but get her anywhere near fast food and it was double cheeseburgers and extra cheese pizzas all the way.  Honestly, I never did make any progress with her.  I couldn't, she was just plain too stubborn about it.  I decided that at her age (remember we adopted her at age 18) it was more important to try to form a relationship with her and so I prepared food that the rest of the family would eat and she just picked at hers.  I found that our family quickly fell into a routine of just eating out.  We have always eaten out "too much" due to our busy schedules, but while K6 was here I realized that there were weeks that we never ate at home.  Honestly, I don't know what else I could have or should have done during this time period.  I will say however, that she had a dish she liked to cook.  Fried chicken, and she was very good at it.  I have never been a huge fan of fried chicken but I certainly do like it!  Anyway, now anytime I eat fried chicken I think of K6 and it makes me a little sad.  Sad that I couldn't really help her and sad that the fried chicken I am eating doesn't measure up to what SHE cooks!  Of course, none of this time period was good for my waistline...

Then K7 arrived.  He had food issues all right.  Sneaking into the fridge, hoarding food in his bedroom, literally eating non-stop all day long and begging for food constantly.  Remember he was only 4 years old.  Granted some of the medication he was on turned off the satiety messages from the stomach to the brain.  Because of this fact, his previous family severely limited the amount of food he was served and the poor guy felt hungry all the time.  During his "respite" week with us, his previous mother was adamant about portion control and would push me on it every time she talked to me.  He was only allowed 1 small slice of pizza for instance and I was to ignore him when he cried and begged for more (I ignored HER by the way, not him).  She told me that 3 tablespoons of mac and cheese was his limit and only half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  She even told me to limit his chicken nuggets in the McDonald's kids happy meal and that he had to have diet pepsi.  Do you see the nutrition trend here? This woman seemed to have severe control issues.  On one visit she had with him, he asked for milk with his fast food lunch with her (since that is all I would let him order) and she wrinkled her nose at him and said "you don't like milk, you will have diet pepsi."  I was absolutely speechless.  Anyway, that first week he stayed with us, we had a home cooked meal every night.  In fact, he LOVED my sister-in-law's chicken enchiladas.  He was a good eater and would try anything I served, but within 5 minutes of completing a meal he would start asking for more food and if I said no, would become very anxious.  I finally showed him a drawer in the fridge that I kept stocked with fruits and veggies that he could snack on anytime he wanted.  I bought special treats that he knew were only for him.  My other kids understood that we were dealing with food anxieties and left K7's "special foods" alone, but used the opportunity to tease me mercilessly and claim that K7 was my favorite!  Over time, as he got off medication and gained trust that I WOULD feed him, it became unnecessary to have "special food" for him.  However, we did have to set a specified time that he can ask for a snack.  Within six months, he could read the digital clock in the kitchen for "10 o'clock snack time."  Unfortunately, he is still listening to the clock to tell him when to eat, rather than his body, but hey, it is a work in progress.

When his old family arrived that first weekend for a visit, I presented a checklist of medication administration as well as a documentation of the foods that he ate the previous week.  (I left out that he was so desperate for food between meals and snack times that he ate a stick of butter out of the fridge when my husband and I weren't looking.)  She barely glanced at the paperwork, but did make a point of saying that she prefers to stick with "kid foods with him because he is just a baby and can choke."  Although she did say that she might "baby him too much."  Her comments made me remember the first day he was with us when I went to pick up K3 from a sleep over.  There were apple trees along the driveway and the mother picked one and gave hit to K7 to snack on.  A nice, fresh, organic apple.  He munched on it during the drive home and eventually I asked K3 to take the core from him.  K3 looked at him and put her hand out only to have him spit seeds out of his mouth into her hand.  He had literally eaten the WHOLE apple.  I relayed the story to his previous mother and she stated that apples are a choking hazard and she had never let him have one.  I literally had to teach him how to eat an apple!!!  Anyway, he LOVES apples and somehow decided that since apples are good, they should be GREAT when combined with chicken.  He literally asked for "apple chicken" for weeks.  I thought maybe this was a dish his old family made and requested a recipe but was told that he only ate kid food like hot dogs and mac n cheese in their home and they didn't know what he was talking about.  K1 decided that this was unacceptable and got on the internet and searched out recipes.  K1 was determined to find something that K7 would love.  K1 bought the ingredients, spent the entire day planning and preparing this special meal for K7.  The food was good, but watching my then 16 year old son absolutely dote on my new 4 year old son was the absolute best thing in the world.  We have tried a few different recipes since and I think we have found a keeper!  Apple Chicken stir-fry!  I know this blog is long today, but I would love to share this recipe with you since it is so fast and easy!  Please keep in mind that we are LARGE family and as such make LARGE quantities!

Since K7 has moved in a little over a year ago, he has grown so much.  I do believe that the lack of nutrition and the severely limited portions were contributing to his lack of growth.  In the first month he was with us, he grew an inch and in the next 12 months, he grew 5 inches.  It is amazing what lots of love and nutritious food can do.

This is the picture from the actual dish we ate last night.  Mmmmm.  Yummy.

Apple Chicken Stir-fry

Walmart family size pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 yellow onion, sliced
3 cups carrots, thinly sliced
1 can water chestnuts
3 Tbls olive oil
2 tsp dried, crushed basil
2 cups sugar snap peas
2 Tbls water
2 medium granny smith apples, cored and thinly sliced

  1. Stir-fry chicken in 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick skillet. I actually add some parsley flakes to this.  Remove with slotted spoon and keep warm.
  2. Add onions and carrots to the oil in the same skillet and cook until tender.  Stir in water chestnuts, snap peas and water.  Stir-fry for about 2 more minutes.  Add apples and fry until they are warm.
  3. Add to chicken
  4. Serve over hot rice

Saturday, February 18, 2012

ethnicity and adoption...why I am mad.

There is a secret in the adoption world.  Nobody really wants to say it...but everybody knows it.  It is shocking...and shameful.  It is race.  Our nation's foster children are at a disadvantage because of nothing more than their ethnicity.  I know I have already made some of you angry.  I am sorry, but please hang with me because it is the truth.

For instance, if you are a childless couple looking to adopt a baby from a private agency and specifically ask for a hispanic or african american child...you may very well be turned away.  That is because agencies know that the demand for ethnic babies is very low.  Most minority birth mothers are informed that their baby will be hard to place or turned away.  It is an ugly thought isn't it...that our society rejects anything other than a HWN (heathy white newborn) but you know it is true.  Here is another shocking thought, were do those babies go?  Well, foster care, but they aren't always adopted...because of their race and the stigma of the "foster care" label.

Here is an interesting news clip-it is only a few minutes long...notice how the social worker works so hard to "not say it."

Lack of Demand for Adoption Creates "Special Needs" Title For Some Babies.

You know what is even harder to place in an adoptive family?  An older child of a minority ethnicity - and if they have siblings their chance becomes almost ZERO of finding a forever family.  Yes, I am talking about foster kids again.  Why are there not enough families for this kids?  Why do people only want HWNs?  I truly don't have an answer for this due to the fact that I have 4 children of various ethnic backgrounds and I am so BLESSED to be parenting them.  I can't imagine passing them over due to race.  My 11 year old was placed in my home at birth from FOSTER CARE...she is a beautiful hispanic girl.  She was NOT an abuse or neglect case...she was relinquished by her birthmother in order to provide a "better life."  Although I don't know for certain, I suspect she may have been turned away from private adoption agencies.  My Korean son came to me at age 4.  My filipino daughter came at age 14...  We did an adult adoption of an 18 year old...and she is part native american indian.

Recently, K5 was helping my husband manage an adoption information booth at our church.  As an over protective parent of my kids from foster care, I worried about her feeling like she was somehow on display as a poster child.  However, she was adamant about being at the booth.  When she was asked why it was so important to her to be there, my 14 year old had some interesting insight.  She said she wanted to be there to help people feel guilty.

Wait...what?  I don't know about you, but that comment bothered ME...a LOT.  I definitely needed some further explanation.  K5's perspective was actually good.  Shocking, but to a large extent, right on the money.  She explained that she knew that most people just wanted to adopted babies, but our booth was about adopting older kids.  She went on to explain that the church sermon helped to make people understand that there were children in need and that those people would feel guilty and want to help.  She believed her presence in the booth would allow people to see the reality of foster care adoption of older children because she was a rare success story.  Needless to say, she won and we allowed her to help in the booth.  I think it some ways it is therapeutic for her to work to help other children in foster care.

Has this blog tweaked your curiosity?  Check out this blog by an ex-foster kid kid that was never adopted.

Please, if you are considering adoption...I beg you to consider the children in state care.  They deserve a  permanent, safe and loving home too.

Monday, February 6, 2012


It isn't often, but I am occasionally asked if I have any regrets about adopting out of foster care.  It is a tough question to answer because the truth of the matter is I DID adopt from foster care and I can't imagine my life without these precious people in my life.  That doesn't mean it was easy or that I enjoyed every moment.  There were certainly times when I thought I was going to go crazy.  Times I was so depressed I thought we would never make it.  It was hard work, much harder than I thought it would be.  During those times, I guess I did ask myself if we had done the right thing.

I longed for the easier days of parenting children I had raised from infancy.  I wondered if we had caused them harm by taking on older children that were so scared and demanded so much of my time and energy.  I wondered what life would have been like if we hadn't adopted them...but I don't think I ever regretted our decision.  I grieved for the past, but knew I loved these kids and that any other decision on my part would only make THEIR lives harder and their futures more bleak.  No, giving up was clearly not an option.

I do have one regret though.  One boy...I guess you could call him the one that got away.  Just a few months after K4's adoption was finalized, we were contacted by the agency to provide 2 weeks of respite care for a boy.  I can't remember exactly how old he was..but he must have been around age 8 at the time.  He was in a temporary "intake" home while social workers looked for a more permanent placement for him.  The intake family was going on a family vacation and since he wasn't really family...well, they just didn't want to take him.  I know that sounds harsh, but it is the truth.  I understand why, the point of a vacation is a BREAK from your job, but that is hard to do when your job is taking on older, traumatized children from foster care.  Thus, respite care is the answer, temporary foster care for foster parents.  Anyway, this young man stayed with us for 2 full weeks.  I was so bothered by him not being allowed to go on vacation, that my husband and I made a point of making his 2 week stay with us as "vacation like" as possible.  We hit the pool nearly everyday and made a point of going camping in the mountains that weekend.  We made frozen orange juice pops, and went to the movies.  At bedtime, I read him stories and tickled him.  I smoothed the hair on his forehead and kissed his cheek.  He wrapped his arms around me and told me about his biological family.  He told me about the drugs he watched them use.  He talked about being afraid to go back to the "intake family" because of how mad the foster mom would become when he made a mistake.  He talked about not understanding their rules and how he wasn't trying to be bad, but just couldn't figure out how to be good in her home.  I reported everything to his social worker.  After the two weeks, his social worker came to collect him and return him to the "intake" family.  She not so subtly dropped hints that they were still looking for a long term home placement.  She didn't know if he would ever be available for adoption.  My husband and I loved this little boy, but knew that we couldn't offer a temporary family life for him.  We commit to a child, and the idea of loving him and helping him return to a drug addict family was not something we could do.  I admire the families that can help reunite children with rehabilitated biological families...it just isn't something WE could do.  In the end, we said it was just too soon after K4's adoption and we were still trying to figure out how to be HER family and it just didn't feel right taking in this precious kiddo when we would not be able to focus all our attention on him.  I regret that.  Everyday.  I know now that we COULD have provided the love and support he needed-we were just afraid to try.  I heard later that he stayed with a friend of mine on another "respite" break and was eventually adopted by a man and his life partner.  From what I hear, it has worked out very well.  I am very happy that he found a family to love him and maybe that was God's plan all along.  
But, what if we had said yes?  What if he stayed with us as a long term placement that ultimately led him to be available for adoption?  What if WE had adopted him?  That was 6 years ago, and to this day, I regret saying no.