Category Archives: South Florida Region

A Night Out

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

Pierre and X-man. Yum!

Pierre and X-man. Yum!

My husband, Pierre, and I planned a much-needed dinner night out and brought X-man along with us. 

The restaurant was an amazing Italian place in the Grove, with a young man crooning live to Frank Sinatra songs.  Pierre was tired from a long week, but we felt that a night out would encourage and recharge.

Unfortunately, being more disturbed than pleased by the busy restaurant and the Micheal Buble look-alike, X-man started to whine … and then howl. I saw the struggle in my husband’s eyes as he said, “This was a bad idea.”  With Xavier in his arms, Pierre stood up and walked over by the bar. That’s when something magical happened …

Pierre starting singing “a la Frank Sinatra” while he danced with X-man in his arms. Across the room, I could see the frustrated toddler disappear in front of my eyes.  With X-man’s arms around the back of Pierre’s neck, they looked each other straight in the eyes. Xavier grinned and stared, mesmerized as his father sang to him.

So much love!

So much love!

I was so proud of my husband. He dug down deep and found more to give. That “more” was enough to entertain and transform our boy for the rest of the evening.

Back at the table, Pierre continued to play and interact with X-man. He kept him entertained by chewing on his arm and razzing his neck . X-man gave back with smiles, laughs and sparkling eyes.

Xavier, who normally has to compete for our attention along with our three other children, felt like the center of our world for the evening. Instead of a quiet night out for my husband and me, we had a bonding time with our son.

One of the great things my husband and I love about being foster parents is that it helps us each of us to continually grow and become “more” as a person.  In order to meet the ever-changing and challenging needs of our kids, we feel a constant drive to become better parents and better people.

The most important reason to become a foster parent is to dramatically change the life of a child. But as a bonus, it’s a great road to self-actualization and an impetus for personal growth.

Editor’s note: If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, please visit www.fosteringflorida.com

The Storm

Guest post by Summer, daughter of foster parents Denise and Pierre. Summer will be entering her junior year of high school at the Academy of Arts & Minds in Coconut Grove, FL. She majors in creative writing but also loves to draw.  She has chosen to stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood.

Denise and Summer

Denise and Summer

Today is a day, just like yesterday was, just like tomorrow will be. For some the days are filled with joy and laughter, for others sorrow and pain. Every day someone dies, while another is born into the world. One man may be a CEO, while another is his over-worked employee.  Day in and day out, people thrive, no matter what their circumstance of living is.

My life – the life that seemed impossible of escaping, was among certain circumstances that made it seem as if I was alone. I believed that I was weak and that I was nothing. I thought that if I just closed my eyes and wished it away everything would vanish. Fact is I spent every waking hour trying to earn the praise of people who were not well enough to give it, that is until the day I awoke to a new reality.

Summer's beautiful smile!

Summer’s beautiful smile!

I don’t ever think I will part with the raw emotion that evoked me that day I was placed into foster care. I was confused and in utter denial. I hated the people who were saving me because I had gotten so used to the way I was living. I blamed them and hated them.

I knew what was happening and why it was happening. However, I couldn’t accept what I had been given. How was I supposed to accept that there were people out there who genuinely cared about me?

The moment I arrived at my original (and current) placement I forced myself into thinking I was on a vacation of some sort. I protectively avoided associating myself with my foster parents and spent hours on the computer. I did this for months until I felt comfortable enough to reveal my secrets.

Summer's artwork - she is such a great artist!

Summer’s artwork – she is such a great artist!

The purpose of this article is not to explain my past, but to hopefully relate to you, as the reader. In this labyrinth of a world we live in it is important to know that you are not alone in your endeavors. It is true that no one will ever go through what you did but there will always be people who have gone through similar things.

I whole-heartedly believe that my journey in foster care has been one that has and will continue to change my life. There is not a day that has gone by that has made me wish to not be where I am today. At some points it has been difficult, however, I find myself able to continue to live, and to breath- all under this new light.

If I were to describe the process of emotion I went through during the separation of my family and me, I would compare it to a storm. When the storm begins it is angry at the world below it, much like I was. The winds and rain continue to hold out for some time before eventually calming, and when they do you are left with a new horizon. A horizon much clearer.

Christmas photo with her new family.
Christmas photo with her new family.

18 and Alone

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

Denise and Summer

Denise and Summer

Summer, our 17-year-old daughter, had an independent Living planning meeting a month ago. At 17 1/2 years old, we are nearing the six-month mark until she ages out of foster care. So we met with her Independent Living Coordinator to discuss what her plans and options are when she turns 18.

The meeting started out well. Summer is a smart young lady. She will end the school year with mostly A’s and a few B’s. She loves to write and draw, and is majoring in creative writing at the charter arts school that she attends. She is artsy, laid back and fun, with a little bit of quirky thrown in to make her all the more interesting!

During the meeting, we discussed Summer’s strengths and the qualities that she has to be successful. We also discussed her weaknesses and where she was in relation to improving. We discussed her short and long term goals, which are to graduate from high school and then from college. I think both Summer and I felt the meeting was positive, and it was so encouraging for me to hear her discuss and plan for her future.

But then her independent living counselor asked what her plans were in regards to living arrangements after she turns 18. The first answer went off without a hitch, “I am going to stay with Denise and Pierre,” but the coordinator wanted her to come up with a plan B, and even a plan C, “just in case things change.” Both Summer and I insisted that she would continue to live with us. I reiterated the fact that Summer wasn’t going to graduate from high school until she was 19 1/2 and that my husband and I wanted her to stay with us until then, and even through her first years of college. But the IL worker remained adamant that she should come up with some other options.

What made this part of the conversation so difficult was not that the case manager was out of line. She remained positive and encouraging while she stayed resolute that we discuss other living arrangements. Summer answered that she could find an apartment. I answered back that with the money she was going to receive, it was more realistic that she could rent an efficiency. But Summer and I both had difficulty in coming up with an option C. The independent living coordinator informed us of a house in which former foster children each had their own room, but shared bathrooms, kitchens, etc. So that became our option C.

As we discussed these other options, I felt my heart fall down to my feet. It was just sobering and scary for me to think of her going anywhere right after she turns 18 in November. We’ve only had two years to model healthy living, encourage expression of emotions and teaching life lessons. As a mom, I feel that we’ve only had two years to encourage, love and care for her. When Summer and I discussed it afterwards, she said that she felt the same fear.

Summer's beautiful smile!

Summer’s beautiful smile!

Summer came to live with us a little over two years ago. Being the oldest of five siblings, in many ways Summer is mature beyond her years. Before coming into foster care, she had too much responsibility piled on her shoulders in caring for her siblings. She is a loving, caring, respectful and compassionate young lady, whose trials in life have fine tuned her into a sensitive soul. She has integrity, a clear sense of right and wrong, and a desire to help others.

But in other areas, she is behind in regards to developing the work ethic and emotional maturity to ensure her success. She has made tremendous strides in learning new coping skills when under stress. But she still has times when she falls back into old habits and needs someone to help her see it and transition out.

In regards to her consistency in her schoolwork, she’ll do well for several weeks, only to suddenly misstep . She has needed someone to help her regroup and get back at it. We now receive a weekly progress report from her school, informing us of her grades, whether or not there are any missed assignments, and comments from her teachers. This tool has helped us to work on both her consistency of work effort and also her attention to detail in regards to her school work.

Summer has made tremendous strides. I admire the way she has embraced this new phase of her life. She is relentless in wanting to leave behind all the dysfunction that was her prior life, and is resolute in her dreams for her future. She amazes me. But we are all works in progress. She just needs more time to ensure her success. She still needs us in her life.

It is unnerving and literally earth shattering for us to think of her leaving our home when she turns 18. From our standpoint, it is just not a viable option in regards to ensuring not only a successful future, but also a healed and whole heart. In regards to Summer, we are resolute in our commitment to her for the rest of our lives. I dream of her future, and can’t imagine my future without her in it!

But what about so many foster children that don’t have a family to stay with when they age out at 18? On Jan. 1, 2014, Florida foster youth will have the choice to stay in foster care until they are 21.  It will also provide a safety net for the youth, a place to go back to when they need it as they enter adulthood. For those children who are still in high school or those with plans to go off to college, it will raise the likelihood of their success. I am so thankful to Gov. Scott for recently signing the bill into law. I am also thankful Summer will be able to participate in the program. It was the right thing to do.

Every Life converges to some center, expressed or still, and exists in every human nature a goal.

Life is indeed insipid for those who have no great goal in hand.

I don’t claim that I have already arrived or that I am as yet fully mature, but I keep struggling.

                     (Based on the words of Emily Dickinson and Horace Bushnell)

The “F” Word

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

In our home, we absolutely, positively don’t use the “F” word. We don’t like it. We try never to refer to our children, especially in their presence, as a “foster” child.

My daughters and I were at a mother’s day tea party and someone asked me if Summer, our 17 year old was mine. Although Summer is still not, and probably won’t be, up for adoption before she ages out of the system, she still is my daughter. I wholeheartedly answered “Yes, I got her when she was 15.” And that was the end of the discussion.

I applaud the concept of the term “foster child,” in which children are cared for in homes other than their own.  Although my husband and I salute the concept of fostering and the history of the word, to us, on an interpersonal level, it signifies that a child is different from our other children.  The word “foster” implies emotionally that they don’t quite belong.  Although it is an accurate legal description, it doesn’t work for our family.

From a legal standpoint, it is important that they are not identified as a foster child, but I say that from an emotional standpoint, it is just as important. Children need to attach and to belong!

Whether a child will be with us for a few weeks, years or permanently, they all become equal members in standing.  They all receive the same love, concern and care. They are all my kids! Even if they are planning and yearning to return to their moms and dads, they are still a member of our family, albeit temporarily. I tell them they just have a second family.

Denise and husband Pierre

Denise and husband Pierre

Lunch with Mom

Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.

Photo of lunch

Lunch time! From left to right: Isabella, Daniella, Summer, Denise and X-man

Yesterday Summer and I had lunch with her mother. As we munched on artichoke dip and tortilla chips, we talked about the past and about the fond memories of their life here in Dalton, Georgia. We were just passing through on vacation and wanted to stop into town to reminisce. In her vulnerability she mentioned how close she had felt to her mother during the time they lived here. Summer ordered the ribs.  I ordered corn dogs and hamburgers for the kids and a mandarin chicken salad for myself. Summer’s mom, Paulette, didn’t order anything. Not because she wouldn’t have wanted to, but because she was there in spirit only; she passed away four years ago.

Leaving on summer vacation the day after X-man was discharged from the hospital, we had just visited for several days with Summer’s youngest sister, who now lives with her uncle in Georgia. As we were driving in the northern part of the state, not far from the Tennessee border, Summer said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we passed through Dalton.” I remarked that after having driven through almost the entire state, what was the likelihood that we would happen upon her childhood town in the last 30 miles before we crossed into Tennessee?

But as luck, or destiny, or happenstance, would arrange it … we came upon Dalton! Of course, we HAD to drive the route through town. Summer reminisced continually about what a happy time that it was for her.  Not remembering exactly what years they were here, she estimates that she was between 8 and 10 years old.  Passing by a school, she said, “The best school I ever went to was in this town.” She commented that she wished her father hadn’t made them move back to Miami, where they ended up homeless shortly afterwards.

Having lived in the same house for the two years they were in Dalton, Summer spoke of the uncommon stability that her family found here. Her mother was working as a waitress at Applebees. As we drove down the hill and around the next bend, there sat the Applebees. We went in to eat lunch.

As we sat in our booth, Summer remembered the times that her mother occasionally brought her to work, pointing out where she would sit and color while her mom finished her shift. We spoke, like we often do, about all of her mother’s good qualities. But this day, we didn’t shift the conversation to the painful. Summer just wanted to remember the good, “the years in this town were ones in which I can remember feeling close to my mom.”

At Applebees, one of the waitresses was particularly friendly and took the time to say hello to all the kids. She got them extra crayons, and walked Xavier a few feet down to the big party room so he could see it. Summer commented that her mother worked as a waitress and how friendly her mom was with people, “just like our waitress.”

As we drove out of Georgia and into Tennessee, Summer mentioned how happy it made her to not only go back to a town of her childhood, but also to the fond memories: “It was good to remember.” She also mentioned how about what a good place she was in her life right now, and how happy she was to be where she is. I wholeheartedly agreed.

The best thing that we can do for our children is to give them the space to talk, to mourn, and to reminisce.  Feeling safe and secure in her life right now, Summer often speaks of the chaos that was once her life. But it takes time to develop the perspective that is lacking when one is not only a child, but a child in survival mode. It needs to be done at each child’s own individual pace.

As Summer remembers and talks about the pain and trauma that she’s endured in her past, it is my hope that she can move through it and find peace. I am not her therapist, I am her mom. I wholeheartedly wish that I could have spared her from her painful past and I tell her so. We have sometimes cried together at the horribleness of it all. Other times we respond with humor at the irony and craziness that was her life. But it is my hope that as Summer reflects on her past, now secure in her present life, that she will know unequivocally that her past does not define her future.

But for today we focused on the happy memories. In the past, Summer and I have felt that her mom has been with us in heart when we’ve gone to Denny’s to celebrate her mom’s birthday or have had an in-depth conversation about her. But there was something extraordinarily special about today. Today, Summer was able to go to a tangible place where fun and happy memories took place. She was able to vividly remember, and miss, and love the mother she had while she lived here. What a special gift she was given yesterday!