Poetry: A World Like This

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Winnie the Pooh
and Tigger too
couldn’t have dreamed
of a world like this.

A world where kids
stay doped up
on Ritalin and Prozac,
while drug dealers
work the swing sets
and slides
of a local playground.

A world where kids
with guns and the will to kill
run the streets
with cold, hard eyes –
their consciences seared
by the flames of abuse
and neglect.

A world where the innocent
pay for the crimes
of the guilty, and justice
has become a four letter word.
A world that I once loved
but now only seek
to escape.

No, Winnie the Pooh
and Tigger too
couldn’t have dreamed
of a world like this.

But the funny thing is,
I think our dreary friend
Eeyore
saw it coming
all along.

(Poet’s note: This poem was written back when I was a foster parent, inspired by much of what I saw in the lives of the kids I took in. This is not meant to be a strictly anti-psych-meds poem, but unfortunately, I saw many of these kids unnecessarily or overly drugged just to keep them quiet or avoid dealing with the effects of their trauma.)

I Miss Having Kids Around

Today my husband and I went to go see one of his students dance in a special recital:

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Seeing all the cute little kids dressed up in their costumes and dancing made me really miss having kids around. I used to be almost constantly surrounded by kids between foster parenting, volunteering with the kids at our old church, and working in the school system as a teacher’s assistant/aide. My favorite age of kids to work with were always the younger ones, 3-4 years old to around 6 or 7, although I bonded well with kids of almost any age.

At this point, I don’t know if my physical/mental health will ever consistently improve to the point that I can do those things again, but I miss them. I am thankful for the experiences and memories though.

Mental Illness Labels : Alphabet Soup Poem

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Yesterday I commented on a post by blogger Myloudbipolarwhispers about mental illness labels. In the comment, I explained how one of my foster kids once had a therapist who talked about the dangers of “alphabet soup”, which is when people start collecting so many labels (ADHD, ADD, ASD, PTSD, SAD, OCD, DID, BPD, RAD, and so on and so on) that they lose sense of themselves as a person or even worse, those treating them lose sight of their humanity and just see them as a list of diagnoses.

I shared in the comment that I even wrote a short poem about “alphabet soup”, which ended up in my book about foster care (From Both Sides). Myloudbipolarwhispers mentioned that she would like to see the poem, so I figured I would just share it in a post here, since it definitely fits the themes of this blog:

Alphabet Soup
By: Maranda Russell

Some good old-fashioned RAD,
a touch of PTSD,
just a hint of OCD,
a generous helping of ADHD
and a pinch of ODD
to taste.

Add it all together
and what do you get?

Alphabet soup…

and a kid
made entirely
of labels.

Feeling Torn in Half…

Last night I had a really bad panic attack. The situation that triggered it is a complicated one that has me feeling rather torn in half. As I have probably mentioned before, my husband is a special education teacher. He is extremely devoted to his work and his students and loves what he does. This past Monday, he found out that one of his prior students, a girl who is now 19, needs a place to stay. My husband would like for us to take her in. I am really conflicted about it.

My husband and I used to do foster care, so I’m not unfamiliar with taking in strangers and looking after them, but the reason we had to quit foster care was my deteriorating health. That worries me about taking in a new, adult person who has both emotional and developmental issues. It also worries me because we recently downsized into a much, much smaller house and the autistic side of me is deeply worried about having no privacy or time alone which is essential to my well-being. Plus, I don’t know where we will move all the stuff that is now in the extra room.

On the other hand, I do feel deeply for this girl who has been through A LOT. My heart aches for anyone who already struggles with physical or mental disabilities and then has to add the weight of being abandoned or alone. She is living my worst nightmare in many ways and I can’t help but feel compassion for her. However, having never met her myself, I also worry about whether we would be a good fit or not. Often, that is something you just can’t tell until you live together, and if we do take her in, there is a good chance we would need to keep her at least a couple years until she graduates school and is moved into some form of independent living housing.

I feel so conflicted and anxious.

Are You a Nowhere Man? All About Biases

The Beatles "Nowhere Man"
The Beatles “Nowhere Man”

I’ve said before that I think some of the best poetry snippets can be found in song lyrics. Not every musician or group writes great or even above-average lyrics, but when they do, I like to dissect the songs and really think about them. One song I have always felt a strong kinship with is “Nowhere Man” by The Beatles. I’m not sure many people really stop to think about the song as far as philosophy goes, but I find it full of a kind of zen-like wisdom.

I think perhaps my favorite lines from the song are:

“He’s as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see”

Do you know anyone like that? I know I sure do. I know people who are seemingly intelligent and caring, but are hopelessly blind to certain truths because they either don’t want to see them or because their minds are biased to a point where they can not see anything that doesn’t align with their personal beliefs. Even scientific studies have found this to be true…that our personal beliefs can affect our ability to see things clearly or even figure out simple problems.

When I used to be a foster parent, we had a class we had to take every so often that talked about how deeply bias affects us and the decisions we make, even when we are small children. A child who is biased to believe the world is cruel and unfair (from past neglect or abuse) will make their personal reality fit that view, even if their belief is not the current truth. They will see everything that they experience from that biased point of view and nothing will change their mind unless that bias changes.

I find that fascinating from a psychological point of view and have thought often of what that means when applied to human nature in general. Sometimes it rather discourages me because I understand that many people will choose to be blind or can’t help being blind to seemingly obvious truths no matter how much evidence they are given or how easily their beliefs could be disproven using logic and scientific reason. This makes me want to scream and shout in frustration sometimes. It also makes me worry about what biases I have in place that I don’t even notice. I guess the song was right when it asked, “Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”

New YouTube Video – “Behind the Scenes of My Foster Care Book”

This week’s video is a “behind the scenes” look into my popular book about foster care entitled “From Both Sides”. In this vlog I discuss the inspiration behind the book and share a few short excerpts.

I hope you will check it out! Feel free to comment and let me know what you think. You can also suggest future topics if there is something you would like to see me talk about.

To spank or not to spank – what kind of discipline actually works?

ErziehungsmethodeIt’s been awhile since I have written a blog post related to foster parenting, but something has been weighing heavily on my mind and I would like to share it and allow others to share their own thoughts on the subject. As a foster parent, it is absolutely forbidden to give a child any physical punishments. No spanking, no standing in the corner, no hard physical labor or military-type exercise. In fact, sometimes it feels like as a foster parent the only type of discipline left to use is privilege removal and time out.

Unfortunately, I find that most of the discipline options we are allowed to use don’t seem to actually work. It leaves me wondering, what if anything would work? I have heard some foster parents swear that if they could just spank the kids or make them do physical drills like they are in boot camp, that they could “fix” these kids. However, I’m not so sure about that. I have known regular kids who were spanked or raised with military-type parents and some of those kids still didn’t turn out well.

So what is the real answer? Unacceptable actions do certainly have to have some kind of consequence, but what kind? Even our foster childrens’ therapists and counselors seem stumped sometimes as to what will help. They often have us trying one behavior management program after another just to see them all fail. This also leaves me wondering if it helps to constantly be changing your gameplan when it comes to discipline, even if a certified therapist recommends it. Sometimes I start to get confused about what we are supposed to be doing because it gets changed so much…so imagine how the kids must feel!

So now I am asking all parents, whether foster, biological or otherwise…what have you found that actually works as discipline? What seems to be totally ineffective? Are you for or against spanking?

Review of ‘Man Shoes, The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband & Father’

Even though I normally only review books for children or young adults, I jumped at the chance to read and review Tom Watson’s new book, ‘Man Shoes, The Journey to Becoming a Better Man, Husband and Father’.  As a foster parent myself, I love to read inspiring true stories of former foster children who have beat the odds and went on to break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

As Tom Watson describes in his book, he definitely had a rough start to life.  By the time he was five years old, he had already been in 13 different foster homes and suffered severe neglect and abuse, both at the hands of his biological family and from some of the foster homes that were supposed to be helping him.  Mercifully, at the age of five, Tom finally found a real home, one that would eventually adopt him.  The Watson family showed Tom all of the love, acceptance, kindness and support that he had always lacked.

Of course, no child changes overnight, so over the remainder of his childhood, Tom struggled with many of the same issues many other children with traumatic backgrounds endure.  Even with the love and support of a stable home, it wasn’t until many years later that Tom Watson started to really change from the inside.  With the help of his wife and later his own children, Tom finally grew into the person that he was always meant to be, a great man, husband and father.

Of course, no life journey is without its tragedies and failures, but overall this story is an inspiring, beautiful story about healing and the search for a better way of life.  This book touched my heart in a way that is rarely achieved, and gave me hope that the children I am sharing my life with will have the opportunity to grow into the kind of adults I know they could be.  Tom Watson is a great example of what loving foster and adoptive parents hope to do for the life of a hurting child.

I would definitely recommend this book to any parent or spouse, regardless of whether they come from a background like Tom’s.  I truly believe that anyone could find encouragement and wisdom within the pages of this great memoir.

To find out more about Tom Watson and ‘Man Shoes’, please visit the book’s website, www.manshoes.net.  You can also visit the ‘Man Shoes’ Facebook fan page.

“Good Enough: A Shay James Mystery” Review

As a foster parent, I know it can be hard to find realistic stories featuring foster kids.  Most stories either paint foster kids as juvenile delinquents or as pitiful little angels with a Pollyanna complex.  I was impressed and refreshed to find a young adult novel which actually contains a realistic, but lovable young heroine in foster care.

The book, “Good Enough: A Shay James Mystery”, which was written by Brenda McCreight, not only contains an interesting mystery for young sleuths, but it also tells a story that many children share, a history of neglect and abuse.  Like many real-life foster children, Shay James spent much of her life with parents who put their addictions before their children.  She learned early to fend for herself and to expect her world to change at a moment’s notice.

Just when Shay finally finds some stability, her happiness is once again put at risk by the illegal actions of others.  Shay is happy to have found a foster home where she is comfortable, but what truly excites her is the nearby stable where she is able to ride and take care of horses.  However, Shay’s world is rocked once again when a crime occurs at the stable.  Unless the culprit is found, Shay and her friends are told that they can’t return to the stable.  Even worse, the stable owner is now threatening to sell the horses and the stable!  Determined to save the horses, Shay and her friends decide to investigate on their own.

Although Shay makes some questionable decisions in the book and finds herself in serious danger, she displays many fine qualities such as resourcefulness, loyalty, friendship, compassion and maturity.  By the time the story ends, Shay James has become a wiser teenager who has finally found what she was looking for all along…a place to truly belong.

Although any preteen or teenager would likely find the story appealing, I would especially like to recommend this book to any foster or adoptive children out there.  Undoubtedly, they will find that they relate to Shay James in many ways, and perhaps her story will make them feel less alone.  Any child who has experienced neglect or abuse should definitely give this book a try as well.

If you would like to buy this book for a child you care about, you can purchase a copy of the eBook from Smashwords or Amazon.com for only $1.99.