Archive for May, 2008

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more on race

May 27, 2008

I read the the story in The New York Times about whether race should be a factor in adoption from foster care. While I understand the MEPA restrictions and why an anti-discrimination policy would be considered necessary for the children in foster care, disproportionately black, I don’t think it has in fact served that purpose, as discussed in the article. So while I’ve assumed that Lee and I will be adopting under some MEPA variant, I also have assumed that our racial makeup will work in our favor under the table or on a subconscious level or whatever you want to call it.

I know that being in a lesbian relationship puts us at a disadvantage. My understanding is that we wouldn’t be eligible to adopt children from the state nearest ours, which has a particularly restrictive “marriage defense” policy. And yet while our state isn’t delighted at any official level about adding us to the ranks of lesbian parents, I think they’ll be happy enough to have a black woman specifically seeking black children that they’ll gladly overlook it. I don’t know that this is true, don’t have any even anecdotal evidence. As long as MEPA’s in effect, we can’t really find anything even at the anecdotal level because being honest about whether this matters could get a worker in legal trouble.

So now instead we’re in this weird don’t ask/don’t tell zone. I do think it matters that I’ve researched how to style hair that isn’t like mine. that I’ve taken care of Lee’s with great success. It matters that Lee’s family has personal ties to desegregation figures who will show up in our children’s history books. It matters that we plan to move from our somewhat integrated suburb with a fairly poor school system to one where non-white children are far more prevalent even though the public schools aren’t as strong (on the whole) as those in suburbs far more affluent and white than either of our options. The decisions we make about churches, holidays, music, role models all bring in questions of race. It’s not that either of us has stereotypical ideas about what it means to be black, just that we think the more role models our hypothetical children may have, the easier it will be for them to find a place.

So I guess what I’m saying is I want extra credit, except it’s not about me. I guess if I’m going to go with the school metaphor, this feels like it’s little overachiever me again working on a group project just like in grade school. We’re all going to get the same grade at the end, but I just couldn’t live with myself if I weren’t overprepared nonetheless. And little grade school me has grown up to be me here now, still mad at a system that doesn’t work the way I think it ought to work. Part of the transition to being a parent is going to be learning to overcome my mental tendencies to yearn to be philosopher-king. The system is what it is and my interests in reform need to come out of ethics rather than My Little Story. I know being a mother will be humbling, and as I said I want to be (over)prepared.

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Welcome!

May 22, 2008

A few days ago, I started clicking the links in my blogroll to make sure they were accurate. Clearly adoption bloggers pay close attention to their stats, because I’ve suddenly had readers flowing in. Okay, and I pay attention to my stats at this point, which of course is how I know.

I just wanted to say hi and that everything here is now public and fair game, but also not particularly interesting. Adoption itself is still well in the future. Mostly I’m going to be talking about myself for a while and then once the adoption prep classes start, that too. But you’re welcome to comment, link if you so desire, send me emails saying that if I don’t get over my wordiness no one will ever read me, whatever.

I also want to thank you. I’ve been reading adoption blogs for probably four years now and I’m thrilled to be joining a community of smart, thoughtful, kind people who’ve given me encouragement and an education, even though I didn’t let you know at the time.

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Lee’s Story

May 21, 2008

Obviously Lee’s adoption story isn’t really mine to tell, but I’m going to put the basic narrative out here the way she tells it when she tells it to people, which is often. Most people who hear about her and her background get this as part of her story. She clearly sees it as something essential to her identity that she’s her grandparents’ daughter. I don’t ask her to analyze the story and its personal meaning much, though I have some theories about what she thinks about things and why, so what I’ll be giving is just my version. I’ll talk in greater detail (probably too much detail!) about myself and my background later on, but I keep alluding to this story and want to get it out directly.

I’m not sure if Lee’s birth father ever lived with his wife and daughter, but I know that when she was 18 months old Lee was living with just her mother in an apartment. Once it was clear to a neighbor that Lee had been alone and crying for several days, she called a maternal aunt of Lee’s, who came over to check things out. Realizing her niece was being neglected, she phoned Lee’s paternal grandparents, who drove down to get her and never relinquished custody after that. While Lee was malnourished and had pneumonia, she quickly bonded to her new family, her 50-something retired grandparents and the older uncle/brother about 10 years her senior.

I don’t know whether she was ever officially considered a neglected child, whether this was government-sanctioned kinship care. I do believe her birth mother was coerced into relinquishing rights to her daughter, though stories differ about the details and Lee believes the ends justified the means. Lee was eventually officially adopted by her grandparents, whom she already called “mom” and “dad.” As an adult, she’s very clear about not using “mother” as a term for the woman who birthed her, named her, raised her for the first months of her life. They do talk on the phone every few months, and last visited each other a few years ago. I’ve never met her, but I sort of think it’s something we should do as a couple before we adopt. Lee does have sporadic contact with her half-siblings on that side, only one of whom was raised by their birth mom, and all have ended up very conventionally successful adults. I don’t know what the others thought of their childhoods, but the families made it a priority for the half-siblings to see each other periodically during their younger years.

According to Lee, she never went through a stage of wishing she could have lived with her birth mom, believing that life would have been better under some other circumstances. Always an optimist, she seems to believe that she has lived in the best of all possible worlds. Her (adoptive) parents do seem to have been wonderful people and wonderful to her, both looser and more focused in parenting styles than they were with their own biological children. There are pictures of them all over the house, and although I’m not religious, I stop by one particular one every day and tell her mother that I am doing my best to help her beloved Lee be happy. I don’t really believe the message goes anywhere, but it’s a good way to orient myself toward positive intentions while I’m making coffee. What I haven’t really talked to Lee about, though, is that I’d say the same to her birth mom and hope to get a chance to understand her better someday, even though I’m not some dispassionate sociologist who can just ask her about her process and her pain.

Lee’s birth parents clearly made some foolish and selfish decisions — something all of us do — but they gave the world this strong and beautiful woman I love. Her adoptive parents shaped and supported her. And as an adult and a lesbian, she’s forged her own identity. I know she feels she was profoundly blessed and changed by the fact that she was raised and adopted by her (grand)parents, and that this is related to her belief that adopting will change her life for the better. It’s not that she thinks it’s a magic cure for sadness or pain, just that she’s already lived some of the love and work it takes to build a family.

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demographics

May 20, 2008

It’s strange to be the one with the power to choose. As we’ve talked about our adoption plans and as I’ve gotten more and more involved in the tangles of what’s ethical and what’s better than nothing in a bad situation and so on, it’s gotten even stranger.

So here’s why we want the kinds of children we “want,” what I told the R&C worker I talked to last week. Lee has always dreamed of parenting a black or biracial toddler boy. It’s something she mentions a lot when we’re out in public, that she wants her son to do this or that. But she was making that plan before I was in the picture and without much thought about what it would mean to be the 50-year-old mother of a kindergartener or to have to change diapers, and she’s been willing to adapt to something that suits us both better. So what we’re looking for is a small sibling group (2-3 children), preferably at least partly black, all under 10. Because we both work, babies aren’t ideal, but I imagine we could manage a 2- or 3-year-old. So her dream boy could still fit in, but he’d probably have at least a sister or brother. This is fodder for a later post, but while I want the adoption to be as open as safety allows, Lee is hesitant in certain ways that relate to her own adoption history and the way she defines her family.

Age: I’m in my late 20s. Lee’s enough older than I am that she’s closer in age to my parents than to me, a few weeks older than my favorite uncle. This doesn’t matter much in our everyday lives and in fact when people ask how old we are she always tells them we’re both 35, which is a believable lie and probably more like reality than the actual truth. But I feel strange about parenting a child who’s not young enough to be biologically my child, even though I’m not looking for a family that will look like it was created “as if naturally” since that’s not even possible. Still, it’s a hangup; I don’t want children who are closer to me in age than I am to their other mother. So for me, 10 is (give or take) the maximum age right now. Really, anyone born after 1996 or so would do fine, but earlier than that would make me a little itchy. Maybe training will change this and make me less uneasy.

Race: We’re in an interracial relationship already, so racial issues are something we think and talk about on a daily basis already. In our state, as in many others, black children are disproportionately represented in foster care and thus when available for special needs adoption. While we haven’t decided to necessarily limit ourselves to the waiting children in our state, it’s noteworthy that there’s a particularly low age at which black children are automatically granted special needs status because they’re “hard to place.” Because of this, it seems like it would be a better idea to have some of these black children moving into a home with one self-aware black mom and one actively anti-racist white mom than, well, in some of the alternatives. I’d be open to any race, basically, but my Spanish is at pidgin level and Latinos are the other major non-white group represented in our pool of local children, so the question of how much linguistic cultural access they need would play into any such decision. Basically, though, it’s pretty clear that in our state’s system “black” is the least valued group a child could fall into (not necessarily in terms of how the individual workers respond, mind you, but just at a macro level) and so we see no reason not to commit to that.

Gender: Lee wants her little boy. I’ve had younger brothers, so there’s a part of me that’s always wanted a girl just for selfish variety. But I’m totally flexible, and what we both want most is a good match.

Siblings: There are a few reasons for this. Lee has sort of a mystical origin story about how her brother (birth uncle) begged his parents for a baby sister, not realizing that it wasn’t physically possible for them any more, only to end up a big brother years later when baby Lee moved in. I have siblings and am closer to them in adulthood than I was growing up, a result of both age and temperament. There are a variety of reasons for wanting siblings when we adopt beyond the personal. Politically, I think it’s important to keep sibling groups intact as much as possible. Lee wasn’t raised with any of her half-siblings, but she still values her connections with them. There’s also the issue of attachment and bonding, and while being part of a sibling group is no safe sign that a child will be able to avoid RAD issues, it could help. Plus, since we’re committed to special needs adoption, there’s the issue of what our state considers special needs. Even a group of two is big enough to qualify for some financial, medical, and eventual tuition support. While we’re not trying to get a cut-rate adoption, this is an issue. Again, it doesn’t hurt. And we plan to have one go-round through the adoption process and be finished with our family, so this seems like one reasonable way to get to that goal. I’m really not liking how I sound in this paragraph especially. Maybe it’s something I can elaborate on later, because I don’t want to sound like I think I’ve got some creepy rescue narrative going on or that I’m being glib about trying to get children who will fit my lifestyle. Some of this relates to Dawn‘s recent post at Anti-Racist Parent, but I realize that when I talk about race and when I talk about siblings and when I talk about cost, all of these are tied up in my wanting to do something specifically for children who are being told by this system that they’re devalued, but I don’t mean I expect them to be grateful and I’m not doing it because I’m a crusader or anything like that. I’m just a realist, and I want to do what I can because I can.

So, Reality: We mentor two girls, sisters who are over our age range, through a program in River City. They’re white. When a situation arose where we worried they might be going into the system somehow, which turned out not to be the case, I worked out everything in my head to calm myself down in figuring out whether we could manage to care for them if their parents couldn’t. We love these girls and the answer was unequivocally yes, that it would be (relatively!) easy and fulfilling to have them in our homes. So we’re open to what comes. I’m just noting this all so that I can see down the line what does and doesn’t change.

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weekend commitments

May 19, 2008

The folder from the trainer arrived in Saturday’s mail. I guess I was hoping for something more substantial, but at least we’ve got the dates and locations for our training sessions (beginning mid-July) and information on how to get in touch with the social services workers who’ll be helping us through the process. I admit, it made my heart race to look through this just as it had when I first called. I feel like I’m finally making progress toward a goal I’ve had for so, so long.

Of course, Lee and I cemented our new path to parenthood by having a ridiculous argument Friday night. I realize that the real downside to being in a lesbian relationship is that it’s double the PMS you’d get living with a man or being on your own. I’d generally say the benefits more than outweigh that, but nights like Friday put that to the test. I’d been hanging out with a friend and Lee was spending the evening with my brother, but we’d both had a few drinks and ended up at a local bar. And somehow within a few minutes of seeing each other again we ended up in our standard, seemingly irresolvable disagreement. She wants a girlfriend who’s going to support her and have her back in an argument, whether she’s right or wrong. I want a girlfriend who’s never going to expect me to compromise on what I believe to be the truth. And so both of us ended up huffy about how we shouldn’t have to compromise our principles in a relationship and blah blah blah. It’s sort of scary to see how even two people who understand each other well can so quickly move into being unreasonable and hurt. Saturday, we did a lot of things separately and talked a bit and by Sunday all was well again with lots of apologies on both sides. I’m sure this is going to come up again and I know it’s something that’s basically sitcom fodder, but I hate that we both fall so easily into thinking that we’re right and good and all that stuff. This time around, I had an easier time dropping my anger and being loving and forgiving sooner, but that’s not always the case and it’s something we both need to improve.

I’ve had blogs before, but starting this one is hard. I don’t suppose anyone will see it until I start clicking links or making comments on the blogs I follow. Though I’m using pseudonyms, I want to be as honest as possible. (Not that my other, public blogs have been dishonest; I guess I’ll have as many parentheticals here as anywhere else.) And so I want to start by saying that I’m the kind of person who’s starting a blog two months before starting training because I’m so excited and want to be part of the adoption blogosphere I’ve been reading for years and years, but also I want to be the kind of person who isn’t going to pretend she’s perfect or anything other than flawed and kind of annoying a lot of the time. But I remind myself also that I can be loving and forgiving, and hope my future readers will be the latter.

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puppy love

May 17, 2008

Lee’s hound mix, Pocky, came to her almost three years ago in somewhat complicated circumstances after surviving a natural disaster in which she lost contact with her previous owners. Lee suspects Pocky had just lost a litter because her teats were swollen, but the vet claimed that it’s not that easy to tell. In any event, Pocky was wild. She ate woodwork, furniture, a hole in the wall, destroyed whatever she could. By the time I came into the picture, she’d calmed down significantly but would still leap the fence and escape if given the chance and certainly ate the odd shoe. I took her to obedience class after I moved in, which helped us bond and made me more comfortable with her and now we enjoy napping together and taking walks and so on.

Before I moved in with them, I started bringing my cat, Thing 1, over for weekend visits. Pocky was 50 lbs. to his less than 5, but they’d race each other around the house and got along okay, though things were edgy. Once we moved in, Thing 1 took to spending a lot of time up high, out of the reach of the eager dog. We called them Bonnie and Clyde, though, because if they were alone for a few seconds Thing 1 would knock something down from wherever he was and Pocky would chew it up, letting him play with the scraps.

Then Thing 1′s mother had another litter of kittens because the woman who owns her STILL hadn’t gotten her fixed, and I tried to convince Lee that we should take one in to keep Thing 1 company while we’re gone during the day. She was reluctant to have another being in this fairly small house, but I talked/pressured her into it and as usually happens in such stories little kitten Thing 2 ended up by far her favorite.

He was tiny, under 1 lb, when we brought him home and Pocky immediately went into mother mode. She carried him around in her mouth and even now whenever the two boys want to spar like cats do, she comes rushing into the room and breaks them apart so that no one will hurt her precious catbaby. (They’ve learned to do their fighting in total silence when she’s not shut in her room so that she won’t notice and come disrupt their fun.) In the first week he was home, whenever she was out of her crate she was within six inches of him, keeping tabs at all times. Thing 2 never seemed to mind this attention, but now he’s almost as big as Thing 1 and getting into his teen cat stage. When Pocky tries to carry him in her mouth, he yowls. I don’t think it means you’re not my mommy! as much as I’m not a baby anymore! and Pocky will drop him and then lick his face and belly while he licks her floppy ears before they fall asleep together. But she still keeps trying and we consistently hear little kitten shrieks — not pain but annoyance — and know what’s going on.

This is a fairly obvious and clunky metaphor, I suppose, for a whole host of adoption issues, but that’s why I like real life; even rough metaphors can be good ones. And another thing to remember about metaphors is that I’m the one who’s making this mean what it means to me. Who knows what these animals really think about each other when I’m not anthropomorphizing them? I get to tell the story this way because I’m on the outside. I’m putting this here at the start of my blog to remind me about subjectivity and storytelling, so that maybe I’ll pay as much attention to myself as I do our beloved animals.

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Yesterday

May 16, 2008

Yesterday I called the department of social services and gave them my information as a prospective foster-to-adopt parent. Lesbian parents adopting in our state fall into a gray area, not clearly prohibited from co-adoptions or second-parent adoptions but not encouraged either. We’re hoping we’ll be able to take advantage of this and find a sympathetic judge who can make us the co-mothers we consider ourselves. I was relieved that the training coordinator wasn’t bothered at all that we’re a couple, was in fact delighted.

So after years of research on my own, years of dreaming on my partner Lee’s part, we’re finally officially on the path. The state has our contact information and we should get our initial paperwork today or tomorrow. In mid-July, our 10 weeks of classes will start. And the whole rest of the adventure spools out from there.

Yesterday, I also went to talk to the counselor I used to see, whom I’ll call Keisha. I’m going to be having sessions for a while because I need to work through issues with my self-esteem, learn to trust myself more. I have what she called a “mother wound,” a feeling that because my mother has always hurt me and goaded me I’ve internalized that kind of thinking about myself. I’m going to have to confront her to be able to free myself from that thinking, according to Keisha, and to let me exist as an adult in her world. So I’m sure I’ll talk a bit about my mother on this blog, because much of the reason I’m afraid of mothering (even though the rest of the time I think I’d be a great mother, with special qualities and experiences compatible with the problems children in foster care may have faced) is because I don’t want to become like her.

Lee has serious mother issues, too, and I’ve been pushing her to deal with the leftovers before we go through the adoption process, because I’m afraid it will dredge up parts of her history she thought she’d recovered from but perhaps hasn’t entirely. She’s always convinced she can change herself when the need arises, though, and because I love her I want to let her try it at her own pace. But I’m a worrier, so I worry.

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