Archive for August, 2008

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almost on the road

August 27, 2008

Lee and I have a long weekend planned. We’ll be driving north to see my grandparents, out of the midwest and into the borderlands. I’ve always been close to these grandparents emotionally, but never geographically. At first, Lee and I were considering moving up there to a more progressive region of the country. Some things are good where we are and at least so far it seems that adopting in our state should be in some respects easier than doing it there. But I know when I get to the city and feel the cool breezes and familiar scents I’ll want to be there all the time the way I never have been.

Lee, whose grandparents and biofather are all deceased, loves my grandparents, loved them from the first time she met them. They can tell how happy I am with her and delight in their time spent with us. This is probably the last time I’ll visit my grandfather while he’s living at home full-time, but that’s absolutely the decision that needs to be made. His physical needs are just getting to be too great for my grandmother to handle, and staying in their current home would clearly lead to emotional stress for both of them. Still, it’s going to be hard to watch things changing.

I know I’ll be coming to it with eyes that have been changed by all the thinking I’ve been doing about adoption. I’ll be more aware of things that are familiar and how a child could lose them in disconnecting from a first family or foster family, how I can work to build traditions so that even far-off family can be in some ways close. I know I’ll be aware of the fact that this might be my last year as just Oldest Grandchild before becoming Mother of Oldest Great-Grandchildren. I’m stuck halfway between generations already in this big Catholic family, and the split between my youngest cousins and my potential children will only be a few years smaller than the gap between my age and that of my oldest cousins. Everything feels right to me, and it will be time to find out in person what my extended family thinks about us as potential parents!

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learning more patience

August 26, 2008

I just got off the phone with our caseworker!!! After I complained about how long it was taking to get one, now we’re matched (albeit with someone who hadn’t even looked at our paperwork until she was on the phone with me just now) and I’m excited and scared! She called while I was partway through the multi-hour process of doing Lee’s hair last night and so when we finished and checked messages we had a new style (I rerolled her dreadlocks and then flat-twisted the locks, for those who are into that sort of thing; when we take out the flat twists today her locks should be gently curled and completely dry) and a new step in our adoption process out of the way, so we went out for a drink to celebrate with a few friends of our, talking the whole time about how much we’re actually looking forward to not being able to do that.

Our caseworker, whom I’ll call Kate, claims that all the same-sex couples get thrown her way, which means she’s actually gone through several successful adoptions that are at least in some respect like ours. We’ll talk specifically about our strengths and needs when she comes over for 2-3 hours (!) in a few weeks, but she’s given me a long list of documents to get together before then. She was able to answer some questions about the kind of information they want from both of us regardless of who’s going to be the legal parent, and it sounds like there truly is absolute parity until we go up in front of the judge.

Even though I’m scared and have little moments of feeling inadequate, like my medical record won’t be as good as I want, my credit records not so impressive, my personal references more fond of Lee than of me (which, though they were all her friends first, is SOOO inaccurate when it comes to evaluating our parenting abilities and readiness), still I’m mostly excited, resolved, hopeful. We had what was in a few respects a rough weekend getting on each other’s nerves, but still it’s very clear that we’re good for each other and that we’re both patient and strong when the other needs us to be. I’m grateful for that now and sure I will be many times over in the years to come.

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Children Who See Too Much

August 20, 2008

Our local library doesn’t have a whole lot to offer on the topic of adoption, but luckily the River City library system is open to us and we can eventually get whatever we need there. Because I’m lazy, though, I’ve been working my way through things that look interesting at the small branch within walking distance of our house. One of my latest finds didn’t even mention adoption (that I noticed, at least) but still looked relevant, Betsy McAlister Groves’s Children Who See Too Much: Lessons from the Child Witness to Violence Project.

It’s a short book and I’m not sure who the audience is, since most of the point seems to be that children who observe or experience violence are affected by it and thus need familial support and often professional help to be able to recover from the experience. In the many anecdotes related, various parents and grandparents, police officers, or teachers underestimate the impact of overhearing domestic violence between parents or seeing a drive-by shooting or dealing with a near-breakin at home. Then the child gets referred to the Child Witness to Violence Project, goes through some sort of conversational and play therapy with a professional there who can then suggest a few changes to the child’s caretakers, and then goes home and is apparently healthy. There’s some fairly general information about child development and how this can be derailed by witnessing violence, what I found more interesting commentary on how to define violence and witnessing violence, and a final chapter about discussing 9/11 and terrorism with kids.

I’m not sure how well this applies to children who’ve gone through ongoing trauma, but I certainly liked the assertion that children’s fears need to be taken seriously, that adults have a tendency to think that children are less aware than they are. I don’t mean to minimize the book, either. I thought it wasn’t particularly academic or ground-breaking, but those can be good qualities too. Any child coming into our home is going to already be in psychiatric treatment, but I appreciated the reminder to pay attention to drawings and bad dreams, to anything that seems to be a trigger. People who are already trying to figure out how to deal with the violence in their children’s pasts would probably be better off reading this book than I was as a prospective parent, but I still enjoyed the read.

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patience

August 19, 2008

I swear, I’m not in any hurry to get this adoption finished. We’ve got plenty of training to get through still (our initial precertification and then we want to take a 12-week class on dealing with sexual abuse) and that’s not even mentioning that the spare bedroom needs to be repainted and furnished with something that isn’t a futon, plus a new shower might help and the house needs to be painted…. I’m very realistic (I think!) about the time this is going to take, and I think it’s a good thing that we’ll have plenty of time to be more prepared, more ready.

But what I don’t like is the part of it that’s out of my hands. I know I’m going to have to learn to deal with this, but first we were told we’d be assigned caseworkers by last week’s meeting. Then at the meeting they told us the teams would be gathering the following morning to figure out which of us would get which caseworker. Now we’re getting ourselves ready for another meeting and still haven’t heard one word about who’s going to represent us.

This is such a minor thing in one sense. I understand how it’s hard to get people together, hard to get something sent out the day you mean to. I’m not blaming the social workers for having better things to do than start the ball rolling with us. But I’m nervous and edgy all the time. I wait to hear from Lee whether the mail brought anything, whether there’s been a phone message. It’s not that I know who our options might be or have any particular vested interest in the outcome; I just can’t handle knowing that other people in the process know something I don’t know. And I want this sorted out now, though I know I’m being selfish and petulant.

It’s sort of been a revelation that I am so impatient and equally telling that Lee’s taking the wait more calmly than I am. Usually she’s frustrated and complaining about things not happening when they’re supposed to and I’m the one telling her to calm down and be forgiving and patient. Then again, she’d rather not make plans ahead of time, preferring to decide what she feels like doing when she feels like doing it, whereas I’m only happy if I have a billion mental flowcharts of how if one thing happens we could then do or not do something else.

Although pre-Lee I’d often assumed I’d end up parenting solo, I feel very grateful that I have her as a partner and ally. I’m sure I’ll doubt that periodically in the future when she’s insisting that our children will be unhappy if they don’t have brand-name shoes and I’m insisting that they must eat local and sustainable veggies, but it really helps to have a counterbalance. I find myself analyzing the other couples in our class — most of whom have been together longer than we have and almost all of whom are legally married — and thinking that even though they have those benefits, it really seems we know each other well and are on the same page when it comes to parenting. Maybe this is because we don’t have strong gender role expectations, but I’m comforted by it now.

So now I get to practice waiting and see what benefits I can get from that. I’m glad I’m waiting now and with the person I’m with, and putting it that way does take the edge off a bit. But I know who I am and what I prefer, and I think I’m always going to be someone who would rather know what’s going on, which is reassuring in its own way too.

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dreaming

August 15, 2008

Margie writes today about her dreams of her children’s first mothers (and their dreams) and her words hit me strongly because I’ve been literally dreaming about adoption in a new way this week.

I’ve always has stress dreams that manifest themselves as me having to take care of children. Whether that was my childhood recurring dream of nuclear holocaust in which I felt I had to round up the neighborhood kids and get them into a basement even though I knew in my heart it would do no good to more recent ones that seem to go on for hours as I evade international spies by hiding in bushes or maneuvering car chases while still paying attention to seatbelt needs, having to take care of children isn’t anything new on the dream front.

As Lee and I have gotten closer to adoption, I’ve had a lot more dreams that are more contemplative, where there are children playing and I know they’re mine, or I see her with them, or we’re at a park and waiting for them to come home. Sometimes they have names like Mariam or Marquis (though in my dream, Lee said, “At least we could change his name to Marcus!” and I said, “But I’m not really cool with changing names unless we have a very good developmental reason to do so.” and then I woke up and told her my dream and we had precisely the same conversation) but the important part is that I can feel the connection between us.

Now that we’ve filled out our profiles and are waiting to hear who our caseworker is, I’m having matching dreams. I woke up in a panic about after a dream involving a passionate debate about whether it would be appropriate to put children from families that don’t support Obama (even as I’m having some concerns about him myself, though that’s a different story) in our house, as if toddlers have strong political affiliations. All of my subconscious worries are about being judged, about in what way or family culture is lacking. In my waking life I do a great job taking care of Lee’s hair, but in my dreams I feel baby hair tangling around my oiled fingers and I start to doubt myself. I realize what’s going on here, but I keep waking with a pounding heart, fearing that someone thinks I’m not good enough. The amazing thing, though, is that even in my worry dreams that judging person isn’t me.

(As far as updates go, I’m aiming for frequent paragraph changes to help with my wordiness. I don’t know that it does in fact help much.)

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where we all come from

August 13, 2008

This week is the Culture meeting, and I’m looking forward to it. Lee is a little conflicted about how much to talk about being the only African-American in the room when we’re really going to be talking about race and culture, but I know she’ll do fine. (I know I gave a race stat rundown that implied there were more blacks in the class than in our population as a whole, but as the class has dwindled to a single-digit number of couples we’re left with just Lee and an Afro-Caribbean couple as the only obviously non-white members.)

Anyway, Lee’s planning to bring photos of her (grand)parents and explain her history of adoption and how that affected her life and defined family for her, rather than try to discuss the Midwestern black experience or talk about hair politics or make collard greens.

Although my parents are now deeply involved in folk music etc. of one of our ancestral cultures, that wasn’t as much the case when I was a child, so I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I’m bringing in a printout about my patron saint in order to explain the religiosity and martyrdom complexes I was taught to idolize in my youth and also a book in a dead language, something my father used in high school that became useful for me when I majored in dead languages.

My parents were rigidly Catholic, very invested in academics and mental life, but also managed to have a very diverse group of friends. When I was talking to my long-lost childhood friend, she talked about how my family was the first she knew who composted, first who didn’t have a tv. She was very impressed by the hippie aspect of our lives, but because my parents transitioned directly from being hippies to doctrinate Catholics before I was born, my brothers and I got sort of an unusual upbringing. I’d say that experience, that alienation from pop culture combined with an awareness of people/foods/books/songs from many ethnic backgrounds made me who I am now.

All of this was supposed to lead up to talking about how Lee and I watched Daughter from Danang a few nights ago and talked a lot about racial (mis)perceptions and family identity and ethics in adoption and a million other things, but I think I should make that a separate post. I will say, though, that perhaps it’s because she grew up absolutely immersed in tv culture and straightforward narratives that she got excited partway through and wanted to predict the ending, that Heidi/Hiep would be so overcome by the love of her birth family that she’d pack up her husband and children and move to Danang. I don’t know what narrative she had playing, part of one where she insists that her own adoption was nothing but positive (and who am I to doubt her? Especially when she’s shown a tendency with more recent events to be able to forget or lose negative memories faster than good ones — though where did she learn that trick?) or one where there are happy endings in life or what? Whereas I, watching, worried all along that there was too little preparedness, too little insight, too much of the human condition and pain about to well up. But as I said, this is another post. For now, I get to get my things together and go and talk with a bunch of Midwesterners about our cultures and the cultures our future children may come from. I’m trying to be prepared.

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I’m no angel

August 8, 2008

Cindy was wondering last month about how anyone could commit to the nastiness she faces without faith in God. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because I’m someone who does everything godlessly. I don’t know if I’ve talked about my spiritual life at all here, but basically I find religions fascinating but not personally compelling. I was raised by very serious Catholics and excelled in Catholic schools but knew from a very young age that Jesus’s story was full of remarkable metaphors but otherwise just wasn’t for me. I haven’t gotten entirely gotten over my Catholic-inspired obsession with self-martyrdom, but I’m working on balance there.

I’ve flirted with Islam periodically and have made incredible connections with Muslims, but the chances of finding any sort of community there that would accept the family I’m hoping to create seems awfully small. It’s only Muslim prayers, though, that make me feel anything. I get a lot out of many of the church services I’ve attended, but it’s moral and intellectual insight, not the kind of spiritual connection other people seem to get. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding everything and this is how everyone feels. All I know is that I have no interest in believing in a divinity who wouldn’t be okay with my tendency to doubt, question, wonder, even go through what’s so far been 20 years of unbelief.

I’m afraid I’ve now moved far away from Cindy’s post, but I was certainly reminded of it by this week’s training class. We had a visit from a health care professional who coordinates medical care/paperwork/IEPs etc. for the children in foster care, which is an interesting job in an interesting program. However, she was getting some of her facts wrong, didn’t know the plural of “diagnosis,” and just generally was rubbing me the wrong way. And then she started in on the God Talk. You know, “Y’all are just such angels to even want to do this. And it’s such a blessing to these children because they really are little angels. I just pray for y’all and all of those sweet, innocent kids….” And I leaned over to Lee, who had also not been digging this presentation, and said, “Okay, I’m officially f-ing sick of hearing about God right now!” My poor Christian partner looked startled for a minute but realized what I meant when I explained that it wasn’t the religion but the unprofessionalism that was pushing me over the edge. I want to know what to do if my child has an emergency situation; anything about how awesome God supposedly thinks I am should really be a conversation between God and me.

When we handed in our paperwork in class, there was a whole page talking about religion and spirituality in each of our individual packets. I made it clear I want my children educated about religion and I’m comfortable with them going to a religious institution they have an affiliation with already (as long as it has some basic respect for our family structure) or finding one as a family; I have no interest in converting anyone. Lee just talked about how she doesn’t have a church affiliation now but would like to find one that fits our family’s needs after placement. I’d been pressuring her through much of the spring to try out various churches with me and see whether they’d meet our needs so we’d have a built-in support network there. There’s still time for this if she changes her mind, but I gave up asking. I guess it’s not surprising that it’s hard for a basically Baptist black woman and an agnostic but respectful ex-Catholic white woman in a committed relationship to find a faith community where they fit in, but we’re going to have to do a lot of weighing of pros and cons.

I realize that most of my classmates do have faith guiding and supporting them, and the few who’ve said much about their church communities seem to have the kind of drive that gets people like Cindy through the rough days. I’m not going to compare what I can handle to what Cindy can because I don’t have any children now, don’t know how I’d manage what she does. But I do know that I’ve lived with people — children and adults, as a child and as an adult — who wanted to suck away all my time and energy, make sure I was always reminded how miserable I made their lives. I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but I know I’ve been able to get through it when I believed I was doing the right thing, not because there was going to be a heavenly payoff but just because I’m a huge fan of the social contract and the Golden Rule. I honor my commitments to other people, but I think I now have the mental health to be able to maintain boundaries and make sure at least my basic needs are met.

We’ll see whether I’m deluding myself, on the issues of belief or what I can handle or anything else. An old friend once told me, “Theory and practice are the same in theory but not in practice.” Don’t I know it.

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Solomon Weighs In

August 4, 2008

Our basic information forms are due at August’s first class so that at the following class we can be assigned to a social worker. This week’s class featured the woman who makes those assignments and we were encouraged to ask her any questions we had. So Lee and I finally did what we’ve been needing to do and asked how the department is going to treat us as a same-sex couple. Her basic answer was that matching decisions will be left to our worker’s discretion, but that the goal will be either for one of us to be the “adoptive parent” and the other the non-legal “support parent” if we want to go through with searching for a sibling group, or each of us could apply separately to be an adoptive parent. But we won’t be allowed to adopt the same children, so that gray area avenue is closed.

Of course, the first discussion in the car was who would be the legal parent, and I guess it’s a good sign that we each immediately nominated the other. Lee has always been fairly emphatic about the idea that if only one of us could adopt it would be her because (to paraphrase unkindly) she thought about it first and has wanted it for so long and also she wants a child with her last name. If instead of me she’d ended up in a stable relationship with a woman who had kids, that would have been it for her, but if she’s adopting she wants the children to be HERS. I’d always been kind of dismissive of this mindset, but I have to admit that all along I was thinking, “Well, I’m doing more prep work and I’ll probably be the more active parent around the house, so I should really be the primary parent.” Now, though, things are changing.

For one thing, Lee’s immediate response to the problem was that I’m more prepared and I’ll probably be more active in terms of making decisions about feeding, grooming, basic life stuff, so I should be the legal mother. I have to say, just hearing that made me completely get over my previous belief that this was sufficient. Instead, I argued that she’s got a higher salary and she’s the one who owns the house. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s the one who’s religious and black. As long as we can make an arrangement that our children will have hyphenated last names and I’ll have as much legal backing as a guardian as we can manage before trying to wrangle a second-parent adoption, I’m in. I know we’re morally aligned and as long as we have some sort of legal backup for that (though I realize just how risky this is, especially given we live in a state where marriage is outlawed and anything else we do a bit sketchy) and that’s all I need.

So we filled out the rest of our paperwork yesterday. I think her answers could have been a bit more complete, but mine’s probably the wordiest they’ve ever gotten so I’m not much of a gauge. After all the time I’ve spent thinking about it, I had no trouble describing how I was disciplined with guilt and shame as a child, how my biggest disappointment in life is that I’ve put up with things I always thought I was strong enough to avoid but my response to that is forgiveness and understanding of who I was then. I’m proud of my responses and I think they reflect me well. So now they go to the director of the foster/adopt program this week and she’ll do the first set of matching we go through and assign us a social worker. The plan is that I won’t become a legal mother, not yet, but that’s the only way in which I won’t be parenting if this all works, which I truly think it will.

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