Archive for April, 2009

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those siblings

April 30, 2009

They’re a boy and a girl. Because we’re in a small and old house (Lee bought it on her own before even I was part of the picture, but we decided we’d rather adopt in a small house and move later than try to move first in this economy) we only have one other bedroom. And after the baby stage, kids can share bedrooms but have to be sex-segregated. So unless for some reason these siblings are being split up (and I hope not, because I think it’s usually good to keep siblings together) this will probably be the last we hear of them.

If these are the siblings I think they are on our state listing, they look absolutely adorable and I’ve looked at them before and been sorry we didn’t have another bedroom. But we don’t. So now we get to wait to hear back from Elizabeth about other children who might be a fit for us AND might fit in our house.

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blogging for courage

April 28, 2009

The lovely married ladies over at Fostering Pride decided to make today Blogging for Courage Day to celebrate the first day same-sex marriages are legal in Iowa thanks to a lawsuit brought on behalf of them and other couples like them.

So I’m supposed to write about something I’ve done that has taken me out of my comfort zone and the funny thing is that nothing springs to mind. So I’m going to give a strange example. Lee’s name isn’t Lee and this is the only place online I call her Lee, but she’s not from the internet generation like I am and so I don’t use her name online ever. She has a different sort of pseudonym.

I remember the night Lee and I first kissed, before I knew much about her beyond that she was witty and sweet and lovely, not to mention so desperate for a girlfriend she claimed that men were starting to look good. So I kissed her right there in the middle of a straight bar I was visiting for the first time, just blocks from where I now live. But that didn’t take courage; it took faith. I didn’t really think it out ahead of time but just trusted myself that if this was going to be a mistake it was a mistake I wanted to make.

I sort of feel that way about adopting too, though it seems a little flippant to write it that way. I don’t think this is just a crapshoot, not really the same as trying to get the attention of a woman who liked my smile so much she hadn’t even noticed my breasts…. But I don’t think I’m courageous because I don’t think I’m a hero or anything extreme like that. What I’m doing is making lots of little decisions every day that build up the momentum. I’m reading, thinking, working on improving myself so that I can do better. Maybe this is courage or tenacity, but I don’t want to give it some big fancy name when it’s just me plugging along and trying to do my best.

And I’ve constructed a blog persona for myself that’s different from the name-linked personae I’ve had in the past. On the night I first kissed Lee, I didn’t write that I had in my public online journal, but I made a little subtle allusion so that I would be able to go back and know, to read between the lines. Much of the early part of our relationship works that way, expressed as a sort of private cipher in my public writing.

Here, though, I try not to have that level of mediation. I may not say my name or where we live or exactly what we do, but I try to say exactly what I’m feeling because that’s the important part here. I’m sure I’m making mistakes and heading into blind alleys along this path. I haven’t gone back to reread what I wrote during the time we were trying to make a decision about Ezra, but I’m sure it was brutal to read just as it was brutal for me to live through it.

I’m not sure if that’s courage exactly either, but it’s a new sort of conviction. Here, too, of course I don’t tell the whole story. Parts of our personal stories are private and should remain that way, and I’m sure I’ll be even more vigilant about protecting the privacy and anonymity of any child we might raise. But I also feel an obligation or a calling to be honest about myself here, good and bad.

So I don’t know if I’m blogging with courage on a regular basis, but I’m trying to blog with honesty and that does mean going outside my comfort zone. It admitting my thinking is muddled when it is, not trying to put a good spin on my life that will impress anyone. I think that kind of commitment to honesty will make me a better parent. I hope so.

My state isn’t like Iowa (though one of the two of us has spent several formative years in Iowa and doesn’t generally think it’s the most happening place in the world) and we don’t have realistic hope of marriage equity arriving any time soon. The foster and adoption system is flawed here too, with the fact that I won’t legally be able to have any tie to this child(ren) as only the tiniest part. But we’re pushing to make a family anyway and I don’t think we’ll have the same large-scale success as Tex and Blondie and the other couples in Iowa. But as with my relationship with Lee, I’m willing to start small and live in the moment. I have no idea what will come of it, but I have plenty of hope. And maybe that counts as a sort of courage too.

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conversations

April 27, 2009

Last night was Lee’s big event and it was a huge success, although not so much for our relationship. We had a couple of miscommunications that led to each of us taking a turn looking through three floors’ worth of classrooms for the other, both of which ended up with someone feeling annoyed and huffy. So there was significant grumpiness once we got home (and I own up to sending her a snippy email) but we got to talk to a lot of people and were charming and lovely and all the good things we so obviously are, right? And today we got to do plenty of apologizing and processing, which has also been good.

I just got an email that changed where this post is going, but first I’ll say that I had a great conversation with Expert #1, Lee’s coworker who has adopted two children from the foster care system in her state and is in the process of looking for a girl age 9-12 or so to complete the family. She’s also in an interracial relationship and I have only met her and her husband a few times, but we all click very well and I got a lot of good information from her.

I also talked to a woman who sort of made up for my missing the adoption conference I wanted to attend. This woman is the wife of a guy Lee and I know but I’d never met her before, although it turns out that she knows several of my coworkers and they’d told me several times I should meet her too. Almost 30 years ago she was a pregnant teenager with no support from her Catholic parents and an older sister who had placed her child for adoption through the local Catholic adoption agency. When this woman had her baby, her social worker at the Catholic organization wouldn’t release the baby for adoption until she was sure that this woman realistically couldn’t parent. They went back and forth for quite a while and the worker ended up being able to get a support system built so that this woman could raise her child, who’s now grown up and a mother herself. I’m so glad to hear that there was at least one worker at the agency who truly evaluated moms and paid attention to what they wanted, helped them make their own choices instead of coercing them.

And speaking of making choices, the really exciting news is all the way at the bottom. We just got a series of emails from our worker Elizabeth. She’s talked to the permanency team and we’ll be setting up a meeting with some of the permanency workers soon. In fact, they were so excited about this idea that they want to make it a more formal process where they can get to know other potential adoptive families to be able to make better placement decisions.

The upshot is that just in talking with them and having them read our homestudy, they’ve already suggested three different boys — ages nine, eleven, and one older teen — they think would be good fits with us. I’m not sure whether I’m reading this correctly and it’s the kids who are nine and eleven or whether this is another situation but there’s probably going to be a placement disruption for non-adoption-related reasons (problems with the parents, not with the kids) for two black/white biracial siblings with minimal behavioral and developmental issues. I assume they’re two boys since we’ve been talking about boys, but it’s possible they’re sisters. (It’s also possible they’re a boy and a girl, in which case we wouldn’t be able to proceed. Because they’d be sharing a bedroom if we had two kids in our current house, they need to be same-gender siblings.)

Elizabeth won’t be able to get back to us about the siblings until she has a chance to read their file when she’s back in town later this week. I have no idea where any of this will go, but my heart is awfully light about this. Lee and I are both thrilled and optimistic. There are definitely plenty of options out there for us.

And how lucky are we to have a worker who responds to emails immediately? She’s also been in touch with one of her experienced foster-adoptive parents she’d told us about, who wants to talk to us soon. We’ll probably call her tonight so she can start mentoring and advising us. After that, who knows?

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a good place

April 25, 2009

I’m writing this from the side yard with our dog Pocky splayed out on the sidewalk in front of me and the baby birds in our eaves practicing their shrillest shrieks. I should really be potting some of the plants I bought, but I’m too lazy to do it now.

This morning started with the dog and me taking a walk to the post office and bank while Lee washed her car. Pocky and I stopped off at the home of some friends of ours who live a few blocks away from us. There are three generations of the family living in the house, and Lee was friends with the mom and dad first, though now the mom’s mother (who’s undergoing all kinds of extreme cancer treatments right now) and their college-aged daughter are also good friends of ours. Their other daughter rents the house next to them from them, and her two young sons live with her. That daughter has had various mental illness and substance abuse problems, and especially now that she’s had a second child it’s good to know that she’s in a place where the family who loves her can help her out as needed and make sure the children are safe.

Anyway, that ended up being a long aside. But when we were taking our adoption prep classes, one session was a Q&A period when we were supposed to bring friends and family who would be our support team. Because this family is very dear to us but also because I thought it would help the mom to learn about kinship care and talk to social workers outside of a context where she’s trying to get help for her daughter or grandsons, we brought this neighbor mom as well as my brother Matthew and his girlfriend. The neighbor mom is very invested in our adoption process and what we’re up to. She has a tendency to give Lee mom-type advice that drives Lee up the wall, but she’s a sweet and well-intentioned person.

But she’s also in a lot of financial difficulty. She doesn’t work and taking care of her mom during these cancer treatments is pretty much a full-time job. Her husband works in a construction-adjacent field and he’s gone from working tons of overtime to now basically having a part-time job. They’re both pretty depressed, but have to keep things running for their daughter who lives at home and their beloved grandchildren.

Anyway, when Pocky and I stopped by today the neighbor as usual showed off her lush back garden. Lee sort of teases her about being so garden-obsessed, but she’s built a beautiful green spot over the years, and many parties in our town take place there. This year, though, she doesn’t have any money to buy annuals and all her pots are sitting empty. The garden is gorgeous anyway, but I know it doesn’t feel the same to her.

After I took Pocky back home, Lee and I headed to downtown River City for the farmers’ market, which we like to do on weekends when it’s warm. I bought some meats and fish from the year-round indoor area, got some olives/pickles/Spanish ham from the deli-type place, didn’t even hit the Mediterranean food market because I could tell Lee was getting tired. We went to a wine tasting and then she had a burger and I had a mett sausage where there was someone grilling and selling food. Then from the local growers I got a container of local honey and some honey lip balm, some cinnamon breakfast bread for the brunch we’re having with friends tomorrow, fresh baby artichokes, some nice leafy greens. And I need to be planting the spikey coleus, eucalyptus, and one more plant I can’t even remember that I bought for a pot we have sitting empty. For $14 I got a big plastic pot with about ten different kinds of herbs growing in it, so I’ll have a bigger cooking garden than ever this year.

And I don’t mean this to be a story about how great I am, because I know I’m not, but I also got some fancy-looking annuals and dropped them by our neighbors’ house. In a time when I feel especially fortunate to have a job that leaves me with money for discretionary items, I’ve really been working to increase the amount I give to others. So we left some flowers for our friend because I know how much they mean to her. I’m looking forward to my own planting, but I also know hers will end up more impressive because she gardens with so much patience and love.

Tonight we’ll be taking the two girls we mentor to dinner and then to watch the school play at my brother Luke’s school. Luke was responsible for something to do with the music, either writing incidental music himself or recording some of what’s played there. We also know the drama teacher who directs the play and are looking forward to being able to tell him what we thought of it.

For now, though, I’m sitting in the sun and eating radishes, about to doze with a book. I just called across the fence to our neighbor to tell him I don’t mind if he keeps playing his reggae records while I’m out here.

This was a historically white, working-class German town, but it’s changing. Things aren’t as diverse as they were at the farmers’ market downtown, where at the wine tasting there was a man speaking German to one of the women pouring and a woman with a lilting island accent who asked me about where I bought my herbs and a few Amish boys were selling things and several other vendors were African or Latino immigrants. We heard different languages, saw all different hairstyles, smiled at cute kids of many different colors. And when I think about bring a child into our home, it’s easy to think of the benefits of having this kind of diversity as part of our life. On a daily basis, we live in a fairly white place but it’s still rare for me to take the dog for a walk without running into at least one black person. And plenty of people like the neighbor’s daughter are white adults raising mixed-race children. We see lesbians pretty regularly and the gay black man we met at the foster parent picnic has apparently gotten his homestudy certified and may even have kids by now; we expect to do respite for him once we’re ready for that.

I guess I’m thinking of Ezra again, because he’s not unique in our state. Although I believe the majority of children in foster care come — like him — from urban areas or the region clustered around the big cities, they tend to go to foster homes way out in the country. Last night Lee and I ate at a fantastic restaurant that serves food from Ezra’s foster mom’s home country. It was where we were supposed to go for my birthday, when we ended up not going out because talking about Ezra had become so divisive. I didn’t ask Lee whether she was thinking of him or his foster mom as she devoured the complimentary appetizers she would never have tried if they were just on a menu as fermented vegetables or what have you. But I was thinking of him and of his foster mom. I hope he gets to a family where he can go and eat that food in restaurants and keep in touch with that aspect of his upbringing, where he can see black men who are people and not just thugs on tv (or the president! which is positive, but not sufficient). I hope when we have a child we can do enough to find what we need to find.

I don’t have a summary of what I’m trying to say, really. It’s been a good day. It feels like a good start.

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stats

April 23, 2009

This is going to be one of those tidbit posts. I have more to say about locs since the last post was popular, but I need to sit down and take the time to do that, whereas tidbits are easy!

I haven’t been making an effort to read 50 books by people of color this year, but I have been tracking what I read. Because I had a few spare minutes, I went back and looked at the 66 books I’ve read so far. Not counting anthologies, 15 of those books were by authors I believe to be people of color (though there are also a lot I don’t know about) and 15 were by authors I know identify as gay or lesbian (no bisexual or transgender that I know about this year, though certainly in prior years) and 14 I read for adoption content. The adoption book count that does include One Big Happy Family, since I purchased that specifically to read Dawn‘s contribution. If I keep reading the books I’ve got home from the library now, my authors of color count will go way up and the others will pretty much stay the same. Hmm.

Another number figuring in my life is that this is the second day I’ve felt relatively healthy. I think that means I’m finally beating whatever my body has been fighting.

And the other big one is that I was on the Wii Fit the other day (that’s a rarity, especially since I’ve been sick) and it told me that I’m now officially overweight according to its BMI calculations. So assuming I told it my correct height (and I’m sure I’m within an inch, probably) and that it got my weight right, my BMI is now 25. As a person who used to have a lot tied up in thinking of herself as thin, that was sort of a relief.

I’m still planning to lose weight, but now it’s more about changing my body a little than it might have been if I hadn’t passed that magical boundary or gotten to the point where I’ve had to buy new pants. Because I was anorexic throughout my teens, I don’t think I ever really had the experience of growing into my “womanly” body. I’m not meaning this to be one of those things where people say “real women” to mean women who are heavier than the norm, but just that when my body was trying to bud and change to something softer I actively fought it and wanted to remain lithe and lanky and awkward.

When I starved myself, it had nothing to do with wanting to look like a model or whatever you hear in the standard discourse. I just wanted some measure of control and wanted to be able to feel pain like the hollow pull in my stomach that required me to push my fist in tight against it at night to quiet the hurting, like the way the skin rubbed raw against my school desk where the bumps on my spine and tailbone stuck out too far. I wanted to be a brain without a body. And now I’m trying to learn to be a body and a brain.

So now I can look at my body and I’m not really bothered by all the extra curves. I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’ve gained weight long enough that my image of myself has shifted. At this BMI 25, I don’t think people walking down the street would peg me as “fat” or anything. I just have an average-sized body (with really big thighs, which was true even when I was anorexic and the reason for the new pants) that would work for Goldilocks.

I haven’t kept a scale in the house because I’ve always worried that I’d get some kind of obsessive-compulsive thing going if I had one, more out of sometimes-unhealthy love of statistics than out of any desire to control my eating or my weight. (And I have largely gotten over my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, which also peaked when I was anorexic as a teen, but I do still feel a yearning to do more comfortable things like make sure my path to and from a place is vaguely circular or whatever it is that feels RIGHT.) But I decided to let the Wii Fit judge me and so far it hasn’t made me any more inclined to use the Wii Fit. That’s my plan now, though, to go back to healthier eating and to increased exercise. It’s easy with the sun coming up and flowers blooming to get back to taking the dog on a walk for a few miles rather than the few blocks that seemed sufficient when it was damp and cold. I’m getting back into bellydance and am better with a more-padded body than in my skinnier one. I have a lot of options.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here. It’s interesting that I can no longer identify as a thin person, but I don’t really find that I miss it or need it. And being a woman, I still can’t find clothes that fit right no matter what size I am. And clothing sizes are ridiculously inconsistent, certainly not numbers that will ever take on too much meaning for me.

But the same day it told me I was overweight, the Wii Fit also told me that my Fit Age is only two years older than my real age. I got new records on almost everything I tried. All that is stuff that matters more to me.

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Hair!

April 21, 2009

Lee hates when I take her picture. She scowls, makes horrible faces, just generally gets in the way, but I still persist. Still, it was pretty difficult when we had to put together a little scrapbook page during our foster-adoption classes and had incredibly few choices of photos of the two of us together and tons and tons of the animals. So this post is going to feature plenty of photos of Lee, but please take me seriously when I say that she looks far better in real life than she does in any of these. And the photos are all fairly small, but I’d be happy to send large versions to anyone who’d like more detail on any hairstyles.

See, Lee also doesn’t like sitting still to have her hair styled. For years, up to and including when we first got together, she looked like this:

Lee's loose hair, a sculped afro

Lee's loose hair, a sculped afro

She has hair that doesn’t lend itself to coils but hangs in a sort of wooly cloud (sometimes referred to as “cnapp” texture) and every morning she’d drag a comb through it and shove it into place as a sort of microphone-look afro. If she wasn’t at work, you’d never see her without her hat. She hated the combing, and once I was spending mornings around her I grew to dread it too.

Since I’d been looking into foster/adoption before we even got together and since as you know I tend to over-research, I’d already done some reading on how to style the hair of black or part-black children. It wasn’t a huge stretch to realize I could style Lee’s hair and keep her from having to mess with the combing every day. (I could probably have given her some better combing techniques, but she believes that conditioning does nothing for her hair and had no interest in changing, so I figured it wasn’t my place to push.) Eventually she let me try putting in two-strand twists and while I won’t show any photos here, I have pictures of many different sizes of two-strand twists we tried, as well as three-strand twists, which look fuller and more dense, and even the one time I added short yarn extensions to give her shoulder-length hair.

Then over the Christmas holiday in 2007 we decided she’d had enough and never wanted to comb again. I’d done lots of research on how to install dreadlocks (which we call “locs” in this house because it’s a differently politicized word, but I’m not very picky about the terminology) and she decided she was ready for them, which I hadn’t thought would happen so soon because she still was very focused on her hair being “tidy” and there’s no way to lock hair without a fuzzy stage.

Lee with dreadlocks: day one

Lee with dreadlocks: day one

I made Lee’s babylocs by simply twisting her hair. We kept it wet and I added some sort of loc gel (I think I used a mixture of Carol’s Daughter, olive oil, and shealoe) to each clump of hair I grabbed. I didn’t part evenly, but just eyeballed it. Lee’s hair is very thick and I knew she was never going to look “scalpy” enough for her parts to matter; nor was she going to be doing any intricate styles where the parts would show. When I had a strand of damp gel-coated hair, I just twisted it around my finger to make a coil and then palm-rolled a bit (the way I do that is just rolling it between my hands like making a snake out of dough) in a clockwise direction. The direction doesn’t matter, but that way I know what I’m doing and keep it consistent.

At first, we retwisted Lee’s hair every three weeks or so, because twists like these come undone easily. It would have been possible to start her locs from two-strand twists or braids, but I thought this would be the fastest way to do the original setup, though she does have one braid from hair that came loose between two locs and I braided it up rather than trying to bother to fit it back where it belonged and that’s my favorite loc! It turns out that her hair took well to the twists and her locs are round and healthy. I do think that braids tend to get bumpier because the hair is growing in several different directions, but much depends on the individual’s hair type as the process chosen to make the locs, and they all get to the same place anyway when they do lock up. This is the point where my yarn nerd self has to point out that locked hair is just felted hair, like a wool sweater that’s been sent through a washing machine. Warm water and agitation speed the locking process, and Lee and I both believe that if we had regular access to a shower she’d be even farther along than she is.

Lee's locs wild behind a headband

Lee's locs wild behind a headband

The above photo is from our trip overseas, so Lee’s locs were about six months old then. It’s most people’s favorite photo of her, because those wild, spiky locs really fit her personality. But she was still very worried about looking “professional” and wanted styles that would keep her hair down flat against her head. One good way for her to achieve this is to sleep with a silk scarf on her head, but that gets annoying and since I bought her a satin pillowcase to keep her locs lint-free at night she’s mostly just gone with that even though it doesn’t have the same loc-shaping effect. Every head is different, but Lee’s definitely started locking from her “kitchen” (the hair at the top of her neck) up and is loosest around her face, which is also the part that she wants to look tidiest for that “professional” look.

Lee's locs in two-strand twists (fall '08)

Lee's locs in two-strand twists (fall '08)

To that end, I put Lee’s hair in flat twists (like french braids, but using two pieces of hair rather than three) that she wore for a few weeks last fall when we were still taking our foster-adoption prep classes. This is an easy style and after we undid the twists, her hair stayed separated. Much of the maintenance of locs involves keeping the clumps of hair separate from each other so that at the root the locs don’t combine. She’s supposed to “pop” them after she washes her hair, running her hand down to the root to make sure each one stays separate, but in reality this doesn’t happen very often. Instead every month or so I get called in to do maintenance.

Lee's hair in small flat twists at the front

Lee's hair in small flat twists at the front

I did end up retwisting the front of Lee’s hair last night and applying a lot of olive oil to the rest of it for shine and conditioning. Nowadays I use a mixture of honey and olive oil to twist so that I’m not adding anything too heavy and what’s in it will wash out and keep her locs from having excessive buildup. The time before, though, I had just done the front part of her hair in flat twists and left the rest loose (shown above) so that she can keep her hair out of her eyes and off her face. Because of the haircut she had — cut by a white stylist friend of hers who hasn’t worked with black hair otherwise and worked on it dry and sort of hacking at random as best I can guess — some parts are much shorter than others. Because Lee somehow thought she wouldn’t have to deal with her bangs if she cut them short, they’re now extra short and we’ve had to restart the locking process. Locs seal from the bottom and in time get tighter toward the head. That’s why there’s generally a tiny afro at the root and then the tightly interconnected locked hair on the other end. Lee kept this style in for over a month, though we did wash and clarify with baking soda and then apple cider vinegar to keep her scalp from itching.

Lee's unstyled locs, Christmas 2008

Lee's unstyled locs, Christmas 2008

Lee with her locs under a hat

Lee with her locs under a hat

The photo on the left is Lee’s hair on Christmas morning, only one year into her loc journey. Her hair — like most cnapp hair, in my opinion — is GREAT hair for locking. It’s done incredibly well and now I don’t even usually retwist the back 80% or so of her head because it’s so well locked it separates on its own. (Essentially, she’s “free-forming” back there, though her front still gets direct attention.) And after all these months without daily comb attacks, the hair around her hairline has grown in beautifully and is almost long enough that it can be incorporated into the closest locs, too.

The photo on the right, though, is how Lee’s hair looks today. Even after all the work I did to make her look beautiful and all the complaining she did about having to sit still for what turned out to be less than 30 minutes, not to mention how apparently if I even looked at her hair it made her head hurt, even so she chose to wear a hat today. She even wore it to work, because her loc journey has made her more comfortable with the idea that there are many ways to look “professional.” She has two hats I’ve made her plus this one I’ve bought, and she wears her regular pre-loc hats too. I accept the reality that I’m going to have a scowling partner in a hat showing up in most of my pictures, but I love what’s underneath the hat and the scowl.

Lee used to have a very bad perception of locs, considering them unhygienic and unprofessional. She’s been so impressed with the positive reaction she’s gotten from students and coworkers about her hair, though, and now she’s an evangelist telling people how much washing helps the locking process (though she still doesn’t wash as much as I’d like her to; I keep threatening to send her to pay for a professional loctician and then see if she’s more interested in listening to my free advice!) and making them feel her hair to understand how healthy it is in its shiny compacted state.

Despite my complaints about her restlessness and whininess during hair sessions, I love them too. It’s incredibly intimate to have my hands in her hair and our bodies close to each other like that. It’s something I’d love to do with our child someday if that ever becomes an option, though obviously the dynamic would be quite different and not romantic! We’ve discussed children with locs and I’ve shown her blogs like Everything but the Kitchen Sink and Party of 5 where white moms have given their black adopted children locs, as well as black women I know online who’ve done the same for their bio kids. She was bowled over by the cuteness and would now consider it as an option at any age (at least for kids who are able to handle maintenance and frequent washing) and we’ll see what happens.

Lee isn’t yet a do-it-yourselfer about her hair and I don’t know if she ever will be. It’s always going to be my job, but it’s a job I take pride in doing well. I’ve learned a lot and still have plenty to learn, but it’s been a great process. I love thinking and talking about hair and am happy to answer any questions or give any advice that I can. I am just a white girl, as Lee likes to remind me, but she also tells everyone how proud she is of all I’ve done for her hair and her life. We’re a good team.

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good things

April 20, 2009

My test for mononucleosis came back negative. There’s still a chance I have it and just haven’t built enough testable antibodies yet or I have a different virus than the one the test measures. I’m in a busy time at work where I’m not allowed to take any time off, so I’ll try to see the doctor again this Saturday and see what’s going on with the fluttery uncomfortable feeling where I think my spleen is. Beyond that, I’ll just keep resting and making Lee do extra work, since she’s been so great about it.

Speaking of her greatness, this weekend Lee reorganized the basement a bit and we finally bought a dehumidifier she installed there. As my books and other belongings move out of the spare bedroom and into the basement, that’s going to be very important. She also grilled two excellent meals that we were able to supplement with salads and so on to get us through the whole weekend.

Oh, and on Friday we had our first major home improvement success for the year when workers climbed up and ripped off three layers (yikes!) of disintegrating shingles off our roof, cleaned everything up, and gave us a fancy new roof. We hadn’t had any leaks, but the condition of the old roof makes me think we got through this just in time. Now that that’s done, we can hire the same bunch to come back and fix and paint all the wood trim on our brick house. Then comes new storm windows and other fun stuff. But we’re getting done what needs to be done, which is important and kind of exciting.

Tonight when I get home I’m going to take a nap! Then after dinner it’s definitely time to restyle Lee’s hair. I hope there will be time for me to retwist all her locs if we watch a movie, but at least her hairline needs to be redone. She likes to look less fuzzy for work, and she’s had to resort to a lot of hats and headbands lately for that.

For the rest of the post, I’d like to say a few things I like about our caseworker Elizabeth. Although we were supposed to be assigned a parenting mentor (as recommended today at Adopting the Older Child) through a statewide program, we haven’t been assigned to anyone yet. This is the only disappointment we’ve had so far, and it’s well out of the control of our local office. I like our local people@

Elizabeth, though, is working hard to make sure we can try to connect with some of her experienced foster/adoptive parents so they can mentor us. She did this by asking permission from us to talk to them, talking to them and telling them about us and asking if they’d be interested, checking with us again to make sure we’re still interested, and then giving us their information and them ours so they can contact us. She never pushed anyone or pressured anyone and she made sure each of us involved had control of our part of the process so we can get the most out of it. This impressed me.

She was also telling us that one thing she’s learned to do is have a relationship as much as possible with the birthmother of any child on her caseload even if parental rights have already been terminated. (And I use the term “birthmother” in discussing these foster situations even though I generally prefer “first mother” because I think it’s less likely to create confusion than “first mother” in this situation. I also use it with Lee’s birthmom because Lee doesn’t like the term “birthmother” and I figure her vote is the one that matters. That’s also why I don’t capitalize “black” as some people do. (This is getting to be a very long parenthetical digression!)) She thinks it’s important to know as much as she can about where these children come from because it’s a great way to really understand where they are, what sets them off and how they see themselves in the world.

Elizabeth has gone out of her way to keep children who aren’t bio siblings but have lived for long periods in the same foster homes in touch with each other when they no longer live together if it’s something they desire and that is healthy for them. She goes on her own time to transport the girl she wants to stay with us from another part of the state to River City so she can see a girl she lived with for five years more than five years ago and it’s a relationship that’s important to both of them.

We had a long conversation about why non-white children are overrepresented in care. She gave us some examples of situations she’s seen where people seemed to be showing racism (foster parents uncomfortable taking black kids to have contact with birth family, but okay with white kids from same community with same or in Elizabeth’s thinking even worse legal/safety situation) and how she’s tried to respond to that. There are related class issues that are tied up in how a huge majority of the kids in our region who go into out-of-home care are coming from the same city, within easy walking distance of where we live but not in our county. She’s clearly thought about these issues a lot and it was a relief to me to be able to talk about what might most kindly be referred to as unconscious racism in the system.

She kept reminding us that she’ll do everything she can to make sure we get the post-adoption support we need. And because we’ve met other parents who’ve adopted, we do think this is true and not just an empty promise.

Elizabeth did mention that our state hosts mixers where potential adoptive parents can meet special-needs kids who are available for adoption, but she wasn’t very positive about it. She said that she thinks they’re problematic but that if we wanted to go she’d support us and make sure we were able to do it in a healthy way. Lee immediately chimed in that she thinks they’re creepy, which was great because I don’t want it to seem like I’m always the one pushing her to adhere to my rigid ethical standards. Elizabeth talked about how upsetting these are for some of the kids on her caseload and that she’d never force them to attend, but that some workers do.

I felt very much out of place when we took our initial training class because most of the other prospective parents hadn’t done any work to prepare themselves for dealing with traumatized kids, hadn’t thought about race and class and gender and sexual assault and emotional pain. I was surprised at the time, but I realize the class is just a gateway, an initial winnowing so we can do more training once we get through the whole process. I do think, though, that Elizabeth is right that we’ve done more mental preparation sooner than the norm and that as a result we really will be ready to parent.

And now I’m mostly ready to go home and take a nap.

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letter FROM my legislator

April 18, 2009

Only six weeks after writing to my state legislator about the bill that was pending to prevent unmarried couples from adopting or being foster parents, I got a response in today’s mail. Of course, it doesn’t actually mention that proposed bill, which got dropped and won’t be introduced until next year. I don’t know if that’s because my legislator doesn’t care about the issue or because she doesn’t want to have to admit what her position is on what’s apparently a hotly contested issue here.

Anyway, I got to hear about all the votes she made for this area, including a long digression about her efforts to discourage women from having abortions even though this particular bill didn’t pass either. And there’s construction coming and she weighs in on cigarette taxes and educational standards, though in a wishy-washy way on both fronts. The one interesting piece of legislation I hadn’t heard about is one that will require all convicted felons (or maybe anyone going to trial on a felony? I need to look into this more closely) to be drug-tested and then have court-mandated addiction treatment as an element of their sentencing. I can see potential pluses and minuses to this so I do want to look into the details, but that’s what I found interesting.

No word, though, on what she thinks about potential parents like us. Luckily Elizabeth loves us and by the time this bill gets reintroduced next year, maybe we’ll be far enough along not to have to worry about whether it will affect us.

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narrative theory and adoption blogs

April 17, 2009

There is no word from the doctors on the mono test. Tomorrow? Monday? Who knows? So to take what little mind I have now off that, I’m going to post a little bit about a conversation I tried to have with Lee after Elizabeth left last night.

A long time ago, I was in college majoring in dead languages, and my specialty was a very famous and very long poem about a guy who has a lot of adventures on a long journey, if you know what I’m saying. Anyway, it means I’ve spent time thinking about stories and how they’re put together and why they work the way they do. Lee doesn’t have this background, which is why my argument seemed nonsensical to her and perhaps – alas! – to my readers.

But anyway, I mentioned that Elizabeth tells a lot of stories about the children and families she’s worked with in her time with the department. The first story was indeed long (though it’s ironic that Lee was bothered by this given how long her stories tend to be, as my yarn group friends from the night before can attest) and involved a lot of “and then she was moved to this facility and after two months they decided they couldn’t handle her so I did this” followed by “and then they moved her to another facility and I did this again” and so on. Lee wanted her to just get to the point and in fact quasi-interrupted with a question about Ezra to show that she’d figured out the moral of the story. (And apparently Lee and I also disagree about whether stories do or should have morals, but apparently that’s not totally material.)

Anyway, my response to Lee was that Elizabeth had to tell the story that way. You can’t just say, “Wow, she was one messed up 10-year-old and now she’s a relatively well-adjusted 17-year-old” and have the story make sense. I think it was important to actually hear the same cycle over and over again with details added and changes in circumstances. We needed to experience the frustration of wanting to move her along as a corollary to the frustration of seeing this girl blow out of placements over and over again. She’d go into a residential treatment center that knew what her behaviors were and then when she exhibited the behaviors they’d discussed, the RTC would say they couldn’t handle her and wanted her to move on. And we heard this again and again because it happened again and again. The story needed to have that painful repetition so that the listener could absorb some of the pain of repeating circumstances.

I think there’s something similar that happens on the foster/adoption blogs. I’m hearing the same stories about children who need mental health services not getting them, parents finding insufficient support when dealing with violent children, the same stories from all across the US and into Canada (and probably farther away, but that’s as far as my blog reading takes me). And while of course the situations vary, the sameness is important, the fact that I’m assailed by these commonalities says a lot about where the flaws in the system are. The same things are broken and they’re broken badly enough that even reading these blogs can be a slog at times. On some blogs I have to steel myself to read what trauma has gone on in a given day, but it’s important to be reminded viscerally that the trauma does go on daily, that my little glimpse of discomfort is just one tiny reminder of the real thing.

Obviously the next step is to hop from talking about this as a narrative function to creating political change. I’m not able to do that part, especially not today. But I read because it’s important for me to read these things and absorb the documentation of pain and triumphs. What we’re building as a blog community is bigger than any blog, bigger than any of us. I just wish there were a way for the people who need to see to see.

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a great meeting

April 17, 2009

Our caseworker Elizabeth likes to tell stories, so we got to hear a lot of stories and this time Lee was more open to that. We heard an elaboration on one she’d told us before about a girl who was abused in her foster home, cycled through a bunch of psychiatric placements, and has now been adopted by her birthmom and totally off medications and in advanced classes in high school. We heard about some of the difficult behaviors some of the older boys on her caseload have, and she’s given our number to the foster/adoptive moms of those boys to get them in contact with us.

The plan going forward is that we can keep making inquiries about kids in the photolisting and getting their basic information to see if our response is Maybe or No. But more specifically, we want to focus for now on older boys who went into care from our area, which fits in with a departmental goal of returning children to communities like their home ones. That means their workers will be here in our part of the state, where we like the workers and they know us and will be able to make better matches and have better information about the children and us.

Because there are safety-based restrictions on women social workers traveling with boys over 13, most of the boys go on the caseloads of the two male permanency workers in our region. Elizabeth is going to set up a meeting for next month so we can have at least one of those workers over with her so they can get to know us and then keep us in mind for situations that come up or make recommendations based on the kids they already know. Elizabeth stressed again how much she likes us and how far we’re advanced past where most couples are in this process, that we’ve really impressed several people within the organization. And now we’re hoping to add the permanency team to the list, starting next month!

We’re going to get the room set up so we can do respite for some of Elizabeth’s other families. Elizabeth has had cases where adoptive families met the kids they ended up adopting by having them for respite care. We actually met one of the foster moms who will need respite when we went to the horrible waste-of-time support group to meet our learning requirements. She had just had her first foster placement, a newborn come and go that week, and the women running the group didn’t even let her talk about it because they were too busy gossiping. But we liked her and look forward to helping her family out, especially because she lives very close to us. Her family is foster-only because they’ll be moving in a few years, and they’re focusing on younger kids. That should be a good way for us to either say that we could handle a younger child or make it clear that that’s not where we should be heading. And we said we’d rather not be considered for a Safe Haven newborn if any of them show up. I assume there are plenty of other interested families and we didn’t get into this to have a newborn and feel fine about sticking with the older-child plan.

In other news, there’s a family interested in Ezra, though they haven’t gotten his file yet. Lee talked a bit about how she and I approached Ezra differently and what scared her about his file. I think some of the things Elizabeth told her actually reassured her. She said if this family doesn’t work out and we want to consider him again down the line, that’s an option. We’ll see, but of course for his sake I hope this is the right family and that he gets permanency soon.

And we’re going to do respite for a teen on Elizabeth’s caseload who’s been questioning her sexuality and had some really nasty backlash from people around her in the small town where she’s living. She comes up to the area once a month or so to spend a weekend with the girl who’s been adopted by her birthmother because the two of them were in the same foster home for years and have a strong bond, and Elizabeth wants her to stay at our house so she can see that there are people who are lesbians and manage to live healthy, happy lives. We’re not trying to sway her or pressure her to define her sexual identity, just be mentors of a sort and show her a world beyond the limited horizons hers seems to have.

Not on the adoption front, I should find out today whether I have mono. I’ve been happily assuming not, but the area that’s apparently my spleen has been quite sore and this morning my muscles were so tired that I wasn’t sure I could comfortably get out of bed. I’m not sure what I’m hoping except that I start feeling better soon.

And also last night Lee called her birthmother Leah and eventually also Leah’s daughter. We’re planning a weekend away together sometime this summer. They all share certain mannerisms although Lee grew up away from both of them. I can’t wait to meet them and learn more about them and her.

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