Archive for October, 2009

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changing demographics

October 23, 2009

Two big things happened in our homelife yesterday. First, I got a notice from our worker at Adopt America Network that we’ve been selected to go to committee for one of the boys we’ve asked about. He’s 10 and lives far, far away from us, but there are many reasons why we might be a good home for him and apparently his worker likes us. So we’ll be one of however many homes they consider and we’ll see from there how things go. It’s out of our hands.

That email came at the end of the workday, but when I got home I found our little cat, Thing Two, curled up dead at the bottom of the stairs. After breaking down completely, I was able to take care of the other animals, wrap the body, and meet Lee over at our vet’s office. Our vet is great. She lives on a big farm and has a place there where she buries pets she’s treated, so that’s where Thing Two is now. (I’m crying just writing this.)

So since I’d gotten a Kreative Blogger award from SocialWrkr24/7 and from Carmel I’m going to cheat a bit and not write “seven things about me that readers may not know” but share seven of the things we discussed last night about Thing Two and our 23 months with him.

1. Only my earliest readers would know the story of how Thing Two’s entry into our home as a kitten was what helped domesticate our dog Pocky and make her more ready to be around kids. He had us all wrapped around his little paw, even when he was peeing in a potted plant to get Lee’s attention or scratching the couch while she slept (ditto) or finding a way to get into our heating ducts from the basement.

2. When Lee and I moved in together in 2007, we butted heads a lot. I was moving into her space but didn’t always want to follow her rules about how best to use it and didn’t want to give up all my stuff just because she already had stuff. It was rough for a while there, and I found myself deferring to her a lot because I thought it made both our lives easier. When I insisted on getting a kitten, though, I held my ground even though she thought it was a horrible idea and that a kitten would trash our house. As always happens in these stories, Thing Two ended up being her absolute favorite pet. And when we went through hard times, I’d look at how she was with him and know that she could love deeply and honestly and selflessly on someone else’s terms even if she had a hard time showing all those things to me all the time.

3. Thing Two was not smart in the slightest. I don’t think he ever even learned his name. And yet he was absolutely loving and adorable. We spent so much of our time with him amused by his antics and his pure sweetness. I told Lee that he brought nothing but joy into our lives and that now it’s our job to keep it there.

4. Thing Two integrated the bar where Lee worked as a bartender while putting herself through grad school. At the time he came home with us, that bar was letting people bring their dogs in. (I personally think that’s kind of gross, but I’m not a dog person.) We’d been joking for a long time about how unacceptable it is to have pro-dog bigotry in a happily queer bar, and so one of Thing Two’s first nights at home when Lee had met a friend for drinks, I called to ask if I could bring him over. Even the woman with cat allergies (cat allergies being the excuse for excluding cats) and he was the hit of the place. He slept in one bartender’s hoodie pocket, he cuddled with the woman with allergies, who couldn’t keep her eyes off him. We got incredibly cute photos of him curled up in a martini glass. And I came up with the brilliant idea of creating a kitten delivery service to bring kittens to bars when there’s tension or violence. I could make millions implementing that idea, and instead I’m sharing it with my beloved readers! Anyway, dogs are no longer allowed at the bar (except the owners’) and neither are cats, which seems like a fine decision to me. Everyone who saw him there still asks after him, though. Just that little amount of time with him was enough to make happy memories in many lives.

5. Thing Two’s big brother Thing One (they share a mother but are from different litters; we suspect Thing One’s littermate may have been Thing Two’s father, which could have made him more susceptible to genetic problems) was the reason we got a kitten. I thought he shouldn’t be home alone during the day and so I pressured Lee into the kitten thing. Poor Thing One tolerated his little brother and they napped together regularly, but Thing One is a smart little loner. Thing Two always wanted to be in everyone’s business, jumping on keyboards, throwing himself on his back in front of the dog so she could lick his belly. Thing One learned to be an incredibly patient brother, never ever fighting back harshly no matter how many billions of times Thing Two jumped him to tussle, always being wiling to move over a little to make room when his brother wanted to sleep on him. Thing Two had that effect on all of us, made us love better with his guileless pushy sweetness.

6. I have never really held a dead body before, certainly not one I loved. As I carried him up the stairs at first, knowing there was no way I could feel a pulse when his muscles had already gone hard, I couldn’t stop hoping or crying. And then I called Lee, called the vet’s office, took care of things. I’m glad it was me who found him, because Lee would have had a much harder time with it. This situation is giving me many occasions to be glad because things could have been worse. It’s reminding me that loving brings heartbreak, but that doesn’t invalidate the loving.

7. Lee believes that things happen for a reason, and it’s helping her to look at Thing Two’s death as a chance to open our home to someone new, someone human. I had worried at times how Thing Two would handle her loving someone else so much she wouldn’t have time to baby him, how our child might feel when she’s so besotted with her little furball Thing Two. Of course I’m sorry that I don’t have to worry about those things anymore. I’m sad our child won’t know that whatever else may be wrong in the world, there’s a fuzzy little guy who still wants to cuddle with you.

But that’s where we are, in a house that seems too empty and too quiet. We still have each other and our love for each other. We still have great lives and are very fortunate. We’re sad, but we can support each other. And we’ve got a social worker who actually likes us, which is new! So we’re facing the future with joy, hope, sadness. None of this is what I expected when I started the day yesterday, but I know we’re going somewhere.

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values and white privilege, part one

October 22, 2009

When Lee and I were talking the other night about male role models for our hypothetical son, she mentioned that she can’t wait to introduce him to our town’s chief of police. Chief Friendly is indeed a nice guy and when he heard we were adopting, the first thing he did was offer to be a mentor to our son. He’s also a middle-aged married straight white guy, which is not all that unusual in his line of work. So we can let our son hang with Chief Friendly, but that’s not going to keep us from talking about how to interact with the police, how to behave with respect and deference and no backtalk, how probably if he drives over to my parents’ town often enough he’ll eventually be stopped just for being black there, how young black men in River City have been shot to death by police over nothing and we don’t want that to happen to him. All of that is going to coexist, needs to coexist in his understanding of the universe. I’m not trying to raise a child to be paranoid, but realistically we’ll need to be doing role plays and maybe making a card to keep in his wallet detailing What to do if… and just being ready for the bad side of the possible futures while also highlighting the possible good via people like the Chief.

Even though I’m white, if we are raising a black boy we’re going to be raising a black boy. (And after all the work we’ve been doing to think about this, it really does seem a little strange that there’s a white boy in the mix now, which I should probably write about in a separate post. But yeah, a white boy who might be gay needs to have some of the same self-preservation techniques when dealing with bigots and authority figures, so it doesn’t matter too much for that part of the story.) And just in being an interracial couple, we’ve been in situations like the one where the clerk at Victoria’s Secret was really solicitous toward me and totally ignored Lee, so we made a comment about that upon leaving and haven’t gone back (which is easy because they don’t carry bras our size anyway and the trip there had been to convince Lee she needed to get resized at a better shop). We stopped going to a local pizza parlor because when Lee went there for a meal alone, the waitress was scornful about having to give her a fork and a glass that didn’t have dried food on them, but when a white woman (clearly also a stranger) came in she was willing to take time off work to drive this woman to the store down the street she was trying to find.

This stuff happens and I know it does, but if I were out by myself as a solo white person, I wouldn’t be able to be as aware. I thought of this yesterday when I stopped for groceries after work and gave the cashier my credit card, only to see an error message come up. I pulled out my checkbook only to find that I’d used the last check already. I felt terrible not being able to pay, terribly embarrassed, but also panicked because several of my local facebook friends have seen unauthorized use on their cards lately and I didn’t want to think someone had drained my account. The cashier was very friendly, calling me “sweetie” and saying not to worry about it, although I was very obviously worrying until the same thing happened to a man two counters over and then another and it was clear that this was a storewide problem. Maybe this cashier was just a kind and positive person, but as a white woman dressed in (marginally professional) work clothes, I was in good shape to be a target for the assumption that I must not be the problem if my card isn’t being accepted. That is not a privilege I can pass on to my children.

I have more to say about this, which is why I’m marking this post as part one, but I’ve been specifically wanting to write about white privilege in the adoption of black boys since reading The Blind Side, Michael Lewis’s true-story book that’s being turned into a movie starring Sandra Bullock as the Starry-Eyed White Lady who gets to learn big lessons by raising a black star athlete. There’s a characteristic excerpt from the book available as a The New York Times Sunday magazine article if you’re interested. Judging from previews, the movie is going to have a really problematic white savior/happy ending narrative. The book has its problems too, though I learned a whole lot about football strategy.

When this very wealthy family takes in a black teen who’s failing all his classes but displaying athletic promise, they don’t actually legally adopt him. They started out by shuffling him around from home to home at the private Christian high school he was attending, but eventually he settled down with this family. They then started working to overcome his academic deficiencies so he could be eligible to play sports. He ended up being a football superstar of sorts, and they had to fight the NCAA to make sure he could get into the college of his (maybe slightly coerced) choice by pushing him through bogus mail-order classes and fighting an audit that claimed they’d only taken him in to groom him as a superstar for their alma mater. Notice that in none of this do I say anything about what the young man in question thinks about all this; his voice is pretty much absent from the book.

Where I’m going with this is that this very wealthy white family wants to make sure he’s going to know how to deal with wealth and being a wealthy Christian like them as he heads off to college. He’s fine with staying away from alcoholr, but he needs to learn things like what a “foyer” is and how to use fancy silverware. And then when he accidentally injures a child while attacking a fellow player who said something incendiary to him, the family is able to get this incident covered up rather than let it become a criminal case against him. The book very clearly cites this as proof that h’es living like a privileged white boy, that this is what would have happened to an elite white athlete at Ole Miss too. And my response is ewwwwwwwwwwwww.

But I have to think about this more, and honestly. That doesn’t mean I take back my response, but of course when we actually and legally adopt a child who’s legally free for adoption (unlike the boy in The Blind Side, whose mother still seems to have had custody of him though he wasn’t living with her) we’ll be trying to instill our interracial two-mom middle class values on that child. I’ll want my child to try new things and learn to eat with chopsticks. We’ll take him to watch some of Lee’s students in their basketball games, but also to the fine dining restaurant at the school where other students cook and serve fancy meals. We’ll do what we can to help him succeed academically to the best of his abilities. We’ll make sure he’s able to experience the hip hop and jazz and classical music and even my dad and brother’s ethnic music that this city has to offer. I know this is part of parenting.

I don’t have a good way to wrap this up, so I’ll just say that I’m thinking about privilege and the kinds of privilege that can be passed down or shared and the kinds that can’t. I’m thinking about how Lee will be the legal parent in part because down the line if one of us has to be disenfranchised it’s probably better for it to be the one of us who has the kind of amiable white face that brings about kindness in the supermarket, the one who has more nebulous kinds of privilege on her side. (Related to this is that I’m free to put her legal child on my insurance, which we don’t think would be an option where she works, and that’s a way for me to show I’m investing money in my relationship with this child. And I’ll be doing more of the stereotypical “mom” work, which should also give me a stronger claim to parenting. We don’t expect any of this to ever be challenged, but we have to think it through.) We’re trying to raise a child in a world where all sorts of disparities exist and knowing how to use the right fork isn’t going to make them disappear. But heck, why not use the right fork anyway while sitting around with the privileged people and talking about privilege, right? I don’t know….

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our privacy and pseudonymity

October 17, 2009

Because I just wrote a post that had a lot to do with Lee’s processing of her own adoption, I finally feel compelled to answer the prompt for the most recent Open Adoption Roundtable (or maybe that’s because my fever has broken and I’m loopy and stir-crazy, whatevs!).

My inclination is not to hold much back about myself online. Lee’s, on the other hand, is to be extremely private. I’m sure this has a connection with her being well into her 40s and me holding onto the very last remnants of my 20s; there’s a major generation gap for us when it comes to the internet, though she’s warming to it. But everyone who knows me elsewhere on the internet will know that Lee prefers pseudonyms wherever I am. Yet those who know us in reality know that they probably heard Lee’s adoption story the first time they met her, that she’s very, very open about very, very many things. (She uses that as a shield to hide other things, I think, but that’s another story.)

And so when I started blogging, I had to balance things for both of us. And there’s the other factor, which is that we actually want to adopt a child. And while I’d hope I’d be on the same page as a social worker who’d actually be placing a child with us, I didn’t want this blog to create any unnecessary drama that would stand in the way of our being matched or keep us from finalizing our adoption. And so easily googleable things are off-limits: our actual state and metropolitan area, our names, exactly what I do for a living, the names of any child we look at or social worker we deal with. Claudia gets to be pretty much the only recurring character in our adoption story who uses her real name.

I’m conflicted about that kind of silence, though. I mean, googling me under my real name would give workers lots of things I’ve written before about things I’ve read, about my take on politics, about what I like and don’t like in media. I’d really rather they be able to read what I think about pertinent things like ethical adoption and transracial parenting, and yet I can’t do that without exposing us and where we are. So the agreement is that my silence about the names lets me be honest about everything else. When I talk about Lee’s adoption story (with her permission) I’m glossing over some of the details but saying only things that are truthful as I understand them. And yet as far as the story of us as adoptive parents, if it ever comes to fruition, I’m not totally sure which way is best. I’m reminded when our state tries to bar same-sex couples from any kind of parenting (though it’s already set up so that we can’t both adopt and function as legal parents) that it’s probably good that we’re not open about where we are. And yet, maybe if we were more open people would see us as people and not as a scary lesbian menace. I just don’t know.

When I talk about children who are currently minors, though, I’m not sure what to do. It’s looking more and more like we’ll be a good match for the white boy teen boy from our region of the state whose worker found me through facebook because we were high school classmates. (See, real names are good for some things!) When we were seriously considering Ezra, I did give a few real details of his real story because I think it’s important that people who are reading — many of whom aren’t adopting from foster care because I read pretty widely in the adoption blogosphere and various bloggers there or readers from other places follow me home here — recognize what’s really going on in situations like this. So I talked about some of the layers of complication, how it’s hard to separate his current living situation’s stresses from his responses to medication and the conditions that cause him to need medication in the first place. I talked about it because I felt like this was a quasi-political issue where “outness” was important. I thought through it and recognized that if we’d gone on to parent him, I would still want (some) people to know that he’d had to spend time in a hospital because the state hadn’t been able to find him a better placement. His friends at school don’t need to know that, but people who care about adoption and adoption reform need to know that this kind of thing happens. And this kind of thing happens disproportionately to little black boys, who are routinely judged in many contexts as “out of control” or “rambunctious” when doing things that wouldn’t raise eyebrows if done by kids from other demographics.

But now we’re talking about parenting teens and I would still want to be able to blog about that. But as a teen, would I have wanted my mom to blog about me??? I don’t know how to deal with this exactly and probably much will depend on the actual child we end up parenting if things do work out that way. Maybe this is a wishy-washy answer, but it’s all I’ve got at this point. I know I’m not going to be more public than I am now, but I probably will try to scale back while still being truthful.

I talked earlier about “outness” and that is the phrase I use. I think it’s important for Lee and me to be out as a couple because it’s honest but also because it reminds other people not to say homophobic things, because it reminds people that it’s possible for women like us to be in love with other women, because it’s important for the two of us to be able to be open about loving each other. Somewhat similarly, I made the choice in college to be “out” about my history of on-campus rape because it made me public, because it meant that many, many, many women approached me and told me their stories, things they were afraid to tell other people. I was willing to bear any stigma because I saw an upside to making these stories public. I feel the same way about owning my history of depression diagnosis even though it involves hospitalization and very negative reactions to medication and other things people might find off-putting. It’s reality, and if you want to deal with me, I think I deserve that you deal with my reality and not just the parts that look good on the surface.

So am I blogging from the closet? Are we out here? I guess my answer would be that we’re out as much as we need to be. It’s important and potentially useful that I’m writing as a woman in an interracial relationship between two women wanting to parent an older child or children. People who need to find me can find me from that, and being Thorn for those purposes is as good as being who I am the rest of the time. Writing about Lee’s open adoption is important to some of the people in open adoptions now, even though as the previous anecdote about Madison proved things have changed a lot in the last 40+ years. And so we’re doing what we can with what we’ve got, and I’m okay with that. At least that’s my theory for now.

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voting for change and hope

October 17, 2009

So far, I’ve only been able to meet two other adoption bloggers in the flesh, though they’re both bloggers I’d followed fannishly long before starting my own blog (which feels kind of creepy to admit, but I think they know they’re the kind of bloggers who have fans, which I think is a fate I hope to avoid). Although she’s still not particularly interested in blogging, Lee is a fan of both these women and their parenting too. Amber‘s honest conversation about making school and neighborhood decisions to balance diversity with academic needs overlapped well with our own discussions lately, plus it didn’t hurt that her daughters are adorable (all the more so since we’d apparently met at Columbus’s filthiest playground and they seemed to be competing to see who could be covered with the most dirt by the end of the afternoon) and and that Amber is hilarious as well as insightful about international adoption and being part of a multiracial family.

And then there’s Dawn. We met her first at the baby shower she threw for her 5-year-old daughter Madison’s birthmom Pennie’s baby shower. Lee and Pennie bonded over being black girls from the flat parts of the Midwest who love some of the same music and run in pretty white social circles and have other bits of overlap. I think Pennie is the first birthmom besides her own that Lee has ever met, and I mark that day as the beginning of a change I’ve seen in Lee. Lee got to see how clear it is that Pennie loves Madison and that Pennie loves the baby she’s now parenting, though obviously he hadn’t arrived yet when we met her during the shower. And then Lee insisted we go over to Dawn’s house to meet Madison, which we did, and by the time we were able to drag ourselves away for the drive home, Lee was completely enraptured with this little girl.

Our next visit to Dawn’s house let us stay for an afternoon, where Lee and Madison talked about their hair and about how they’re both black and adopted and Madison affirmed that she’s allowed to feel however she feels about that. While Lee was adopted into her own biological family, so unlike Madison she was a black girl in a black household, she got mixed messages from her adoptive parents about how she should feel about her position. While her dad (bio grandpa) was loving and kind about his son (Lee’s bio dad) and Leah (her bio mom), her mom (bio grandma) loved Lee’s bio dad as a favorite child and scorned his ex-wife, Leah. Lee’s mom also saw the adoption in literal “salvation” terms, claiming that Lee had been so sick when she came to their house at 18 months old that she could have died if left in Leah’s care (though there are multiple other versions of this story). So Lee grew up knowing who Leah was, but also feeling that any kindness to her was a rejection of the mom who was raising her. I don’t think Lee’s mom would have wanted Lee to feel that way, wouldn’t have wanted Lee to feel pressured to believe a certain thing or behave a certain way, but kids pick up on this and it’s clear that Lee did. Even to this day, when her mom has been dead for years and years and Lee is a grown woman, Lee feels she can’t do certain things (call Leah on Mother’s Day, for one) without feeling disloyal to the mom who raised her.

We’d talked a lot in the early stages of our adoption planning about how it could be important for Lee to model a healthy relationship with Leah both for herself and for a child in our home, since many kids in foster care do have ongoing loyalty to and love for their birth moms. Lee was excited about this at first, and the last year has included improved relationships with Leah and with several of Lee’s bio-halfsiblings, one of whom she hadn’t seen in 30 years. But Lee also has trouble following through sometimes and long-distance relationships of any kind are hard, and so a fair bit of the work of actually making connections with Leah was falling to me because I’m able to be more sympathetic to Leah and I don’t have the baggage about the situation that Lee does.

Having Dawn and her family in our life has been changing all that. Lee and I have long discussions about Leah now, and about Pennie and Madison and Dawn (and the men in their families, too!). It was hard for Lee to talk about birth moms as a group with common characteristics, but feeling sympathy and fondness for Pennie seems to have opened her up to some of those feelings for Leah too. Seeing how Madison is both happy and vibrant and very conflicted about how unfair her adoption feels gives Lee new insights into how she can simultaneously tell the story of how she was a loved and happy child with the story of how she moped around as a child telling people who told her to smile that she had nothing to smile about. Those kinds of emotions can and do (and I’d probably even say should coexist in adoption, but when Lee was working with a narrative that told her that adoption was a pure good, she didn’t have the room to make sense of them.

I’m not saying Lee is stupid by any means, but I’m a big fan of how we create ourselves by telling stories about ourselves, how our truths create and are created by us. (I figure readers rolling their eyes at terminology like this can just get past my beliefs the way I do with people who talk about God on their blogs a lot; if I find the rest useful, I’ll roll with that.) Lee had a very complicated childhood, and even if she looks back and thinks of it as being idyllic, that doesn’t mean the complexities didn’t exist. Just as she didn’t feel she could officially come out to her (adoptive) parents even when she knew she’d been outed by others and she still brought girlfriends home for holidays as “friends” or “roommates” in a don’t ask/don’t tell scenario, she always knew her adoption story held more depth than she was comfortable talking about. And so, as is often the case, she took the comfortable way out and focused on the easy and good stuff and let the rest sort of lurk underneath. Now she and I are talking pretty regularly about the rest of it, and I think it’s helping her a lot.

Even at age five, Dawn’s daughter Madison doesn’t have that easy-way-out personality. She talked to us very openly about how it feels to be the only black person in an otherwise white family, that even though it’s a family of people she loves it feels alienating and unfair. She understands that she can love a lot of people and still not be able to put them together in a way that totally makes sense because I don’t think adoption ever does totally make sense for anyone involved, not if they’re telling themselves their whole truth. And Madison has a proud mama sitting there listening to her even when she says things that are painful to hear, loving her enough to recognize that sometimes there’s nothing she can do to truly comfort her.

I’ve often said that I think I’ll be a better parent because I’ve read so many blogs, seen what worked for other people. I know Lee and I will be able to be better parents because of the trust and dedication we’ve seen in Dawn and her husband. Another of my longtime blog idols, Jenna, nominated Dawn for a best adoption blog award. Even if Dawn hadn’t been able to help us in real life, she’d be up there on my list of best adoption blogs anyway. I’m not the only one she’s made think about tricky issues in adoption, parenting, homeschooling, being a feminist or a writer. She’s a fantastic person and I’d like to see her win here. Polls for this portion of the voting are open until Monday night and I’d encourage any of my readers to vote for This Women’s Work and to read what Dawn writes there. She’s helping make me who I’m becoming, and for that I’m very grateful. I’d love to see her win an award that could take her to another level of public awareness. She more than deserves it.

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something so obvious I totally missed it

October 13, 2009

I’ve written before about how Lee’s need for validation seems excessive and that I think it’s a response to her attachment problems that arise from her intermittent neglect as a baby. In recent days, that’s meant that she got really mopey about how our big bathroom renovation project was going to be a total disaster, which turned into elation when I was able to email her photos of the demo work, but then rinse and repeat for the whole mood cycle at least daily….

I also want to write a post about how she thinks of herself as a very empathetic person, but she’s only able to imagine what she would do in someone else’s shoes by mentally putting herself — with her own background and experiences — into that situation. She can’t really say, “Well, Jimmy hates driving in the dark, so he probably wouldn’t want to go pick her up at night,” but only expresses surprise that he doesn’t do what she’d expect because “Well, I would just drive over and pick her up now!” That kind of thing goes on a lot and I think it’s why it’s still taking her time to get used to meeting some of my needs. It’s always a stretch for her to remember that when I’m sad and frustrated I want to be comforted, even though when she’s sad and frustrated she wants to be left alone. She’s making a lot of impressive progress, but it’s on my mind.

So as I was thinking about writing a post about that particular lack of imagination, I found out yesterday there’s another situation where I haven’t been connecting the dots. See, I get email blasts several times a week from Claudia or others at Adopt America Network, profiles of kids who are waiting for homes. It’s easy to set aside the ones that are large sibling groups that wouldn’t fit in our house or kids whose medical needs are more than we can handle or kids who are in Florida, Utah, or Arkansas — all of which disallow us from adopting because we’re gay and/or cohabiting — and then I look through the rest to see if anything sparks my interest. If I see something interesting, I’ll forward the email to Lee to ask her what she thinks.

Yesterday afternoon, a bummed-out Lee told me that she’d been getting some profiles of kids too and that she’d started just deleting them because it felt like too much effort. At first, I was alarmed by this and thought it meant she wasn’t interested in adopting. But instead she’s back in her regular attitude and it was foolish of me not to expect it. We keep sending out our homestudy (14 times out-of-state as of today) and then we hear nothing back, not even from the workers Claudia has already asked about accepting a two-mom family. For me, this is about what I expect, and every time Lee’s questioned that I’ve tried to allay her worries by telling her that many people send out hundreds of requests and we should just keep trying and see what happens. I think I was totally misunderstanding her worry and I know I wasn’t responding productively. The times we’ve been turned down haven’t been as difficult for her as all the waiting has, and I wasn’t acknowledging that right.

Lee’s feeling whatever it is that not getting positive reinforcement makes her feel. If my theory’s right, there’s some part of her mind triggered where she’s still the lonely panicking baby who doesn’t know when or if if her mom will ever show up again to comfort her. Because we’re not getting a response, she wants to just push the issue away and not deal with it or think about it because that’s her coping mechanism and probably was when she was a baby too. And by wanting to sit down and have a little talk about it every time this comes up, I wasn’t making anything better for either of us. I wouldn’t see why she couldn’t relax about it and keep trying (especially when she’s the one who makes such a big deal out of being optimistic!) and she couldn’t articulate why she found it so frustrating and depressing. I mean, other than because it is kind of frustrating and depressing to see the profile of a kid come through one month after you’ve already sent your homestudy in on him….

So now we’re doing something different, “changing it up,” as Lisa would put it. Lee had me go into her deleted emails and forward any promising profiles to my email account. I got in touch with the intern who’s been sending profiles to her and asked her to include me, though I wasn’t clear about whether she should delete Lee completely and honestly I’d like Lee to still get little reminders as long as they’re not putting a burden on her. From now on, since what we’re doing is just sowing widely, I get to put in requests on any child I unilaterally decide I could imagine in our house. If we eventually get selected, then we’ll do the hard work of talking about exactly what we can and cannot handle. Until then, Lee doesn’t have to deal with the pressure of having all this hanging over her head and I have an email filing system and a nice little spreadsheet to explain what’s going on if she ever does get interested.

When we were at a party Saturday night hosted by friends of ours, a straight white married couple who own a shop in the next town over and who were references for us on our adoption application. Mostly because of my own crankiness, Lee and I had had a difficult afternoon culminating in the situation alluded to above where she did manage to come up and hug me because she knew I was sulking and mopey. Then she went out to get the heck away from me (which would make sense as her response presumably my foul mood had made her sort of sad and annoyed) and asked me to meet her at the party. I walked over to the party with all sorts of messy thoughts in my head, about how I’m not the kind of person she really wants to be with and I’ll never be “classy” enough and blah blah blah, reacting to things she’d never even said. And then I got to the party and saw how her face lit up when she had our friends’ little boy in her arms, how she talked very seriously to their older girl. And they loved her right back and in that moment I absolutely loved her too. Then we had a great conversation where we both apologized for our grumpiness and said nice things about the other and things have been fantastic between us since.

I spend a lot of times doing things that will make Lee happier, and because she appreciates positive reinforcement, she’s generally quite responsive. I get up earlier than she does and make her coffee (in large part as self-preservation, because she’s no fun at all before her coffee, but also because I think it must be pleasant for her to have coffee without having to make it) while I’m feeding the animals. In general, she doesn’t tend to reciprocate with that kind of behavior, the little gestures that make a difference. But the last couple of days she’s been practicing “acting like Thorn” and it’s been so awesome to have her make me a salad for dinner and do the dishes and laundry while I was working and she had the day off instead of just relaxing because it was her day off.

I don’t say any of this to make Lee sound like a thoughtless jerk, because she’s not! And I’m not any kind of saint either; I’m overcoming a tendency to be a doormat and trying to learn to be as comfortable doing nice things for myself as for others I love. I’m just pointing out that we’re different people with different histories and preferences and it’s only when we acknowledge and appreciate that that we’re able to be fully successful. Well, not “fully” successful, I’m sure, but better. We’re working on it and we’re getting better. The one good thing about all the time this has taken is that we’re using it to strengthen our relationship so we can know each other better and be a better team and better-prepared when (if, I know, if) we can actually become parents. And when she gets home today there should be a ring for her in the mail that I think will go with the one she bought me years ago. It doesn’t denote anything in particular, doesn’t change our level of commitment, but she felt ready for one and so I bought it and it will be just one more reminder that we’re in this together, that we’re different but we fit each other well.

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one-word meme

October 8, 2009

When I started this blog, I scouted around the adoption blogs making sure I wasn’t stealing anyone else’s pseudonyms and then set us down as Thorn and Lee, the names I’d preferred. It was only a few weeks before a lesbian adoptive mom whose name really is Lee started her own blog, and I’d already stolen her name for my partner’s pseudonym. I think Families R Built with Love Lee is my most prolific commenter and she’s certainly one of the many blogging moms I particularly respect and admire.

So since that Lee just gave me a blog meme award as an Over the Top Blog (and how!) I’m going to play along. Well, sort of. I’m too verbose to fall for the one-word answers that are supposedly required, so I’ll give myself the option to footnote parenthetically as needed. And I won’t pass this on because I’ve never been into that. But in part because I haven’t been able to make time to write my giant post on instilling white privilege in non-white adopted children and in part because I’m enjoying reading others’ answers as this makes its way around the blogs, I’ll play along.

My life, in one-word/one-phrase fragments:

Where is your cell phone? – bag

Your hair? – thick

Your mother? – trying

Your father? – warming

Your favorite food? – avocado?

Your dream last night? – bizarre

Your favorite drink? – visne (sour cherry juice)

Your dream/goal? – parenting

What room are you in? – work

Your hobby? – investigating

Your Fear? – forgetting

Where do you want to be in 6 years? – better, somewhere somehow

Where were you last night? – knitting

Something that you aren’t? – light on footnotes

Muffins? – with marmalade

Wish list item? – room of my own

Where did you grow up? – here

Last thing you did? – work

What are you wearing? – work clothes

Your TV? – hers

Your pets? – beloved

Friends? – yes, please! (though I’m bad at keeping up my end I think)

Your life? – amazing

Your mood? – muddled

Missing someone? – much, and several someones

Vehicle? – surviving

Something you’re not wearing? – earrings, as usual

Your favorite store? – yarn store I guess, but probably some imaginary store that has all the things I want in clothes, pens, yarn… actually maybe Ikea?

Your favorite color? – gray

When was the last time you laughed? – at home this morning

Last time you cried? – today teared up reading Michelle Obama’s family tree

One place that I go to over and over? – my head!

One person who emails me regularly? – my love

So thanks, Lee, and maybe everyone knows me a little bit better now, though I’m not so sure.

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family needed (not ours)

October 7, 2009

I’m sure a lot of the people who read my blog are already reading Corey’s excellent Watching the Waters, but I’m just as sure that some are not and it’s their attention I want to draw to it now.

Corey’s latest post explains why her family needs to disrupt her Haitian-born son’s adoption and what kind of dedicated family they’re trying to find for him. I have to admit I haven’t shown Lee this post because I know that Corey’s son’s behaviors go beyond what Ezra’s file contained and Lee was eventually quite sure she couldn’t handle Ezra. Maybe I should; maybe we should be checking out every possibility, but we are not what it sounds like this boy needs. He needs an experienced family who’ve lived through Reactive Attachment Disorder and are ready to do it again, who can fight for him tenaciously as he tries to learn not to hurt others. And I believe there is a family out there somewhere who would be able to parent this boy in a way that could help him reach his full potential, whatever that is.

I’ve been reading a lot about adoption disruptions lately, as many adoption blog readers have in the aftermath of Anita Tedaldi’s self-serving disclosures about the termination of her former son’s adoption and I left some probably unhelpful comments on one of O Solo Mama’s blog posts about disruption in general and about a specific comment she’d gotten that reinforced my belief that people adopting older children internationally are often seriously unprepared for what they might encounter and reminded me again that I think the level of training we get to adopt from foster care (in our state, this is the same as the training for foster parents) should also be required for those adopting older children internationally.

Even with all the training in the world, some families who adopt will unknowingly end up with children who, like Corey’s son, have suffered so much in their earliest years that they act out in ways far beyond what the family can handle or who create a situation where it’s impossibly unhealthy for other children in the family to go on being victimized. Just as because of abuse and addiction and mental illness, I can’t imagine a world where finding new homes for children away from their birth families, I also can’t imagine a world where all adoptions will be successful and none will have to disrupt in situations like this one.

Corey is very clear about some of the warning signs she missed, the many regrets she has, but also why she feels she has to make this choice for the children in her home and for the son who can’t come back to that home. If you’ve ever wondered about why and how disrupted adoptions can happen, hers is the post for you. I hope it will also be the post that gets her son one step closer to having a new family who can care for him appropriately. I do believe the whole incredible family deserves that kind of closure on the way to happier endings.

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Elizabeth came over tonight

October 7, 2009

Elizabeth finally came over to check in with us. We talked a little about the three boys in-state we’re looking at: the white boy who hasn’t even gone to Termination of Parental Rights yet and is in a residential treatment facility, though my social worker friend’s most recent facebook update makes me intrigued about movement there; the immigrant brothers who have some obstacles standing in the way of adoption even if their worker or his manager would respond to Elizabeth, which they haven’t so far. I gave her a list of 12 major errors in our homestudy, some of which (most notably the name of my company and the college I attended) are repeated several times. She’s going to try to get these fixed soon and then file the amended or new version with the state. I have a feeling this could take up to a month, given that her supervisor will have to approve it and she has no idea what the fixed version should look like. Then we’ll have to make another freedom of information request with the state to get our new version so we can send that to Adopt America Network so they can send it along to all the social workers who have copies of our current study and for any future children whose workers we want to read about us.

I have some thoughts about other things Elizabeth said, but first I want to pass along what I’d asked her last. Little Ezra — the first child we ever looked at, who broke our hearts because we decided we couldn’t effectively parent him — had been in a preadoptive placement the last time we’d talked to her. I asked whether that adoption went through. It turns out it didn’t because the plan to transition him to this new family was totally botched. His foster mother balked at having him leave her home and finally agreed to adopt him. She’s the only mother figure he remembers and he’s been there for years, so even though there are some problems with the town he lives in and some of the things in their home aren’t perfect, the goal is now for her to adopt him. If she once again backs away from that plan, he’ll be removed from her home. In that case, we’d probably look again now that there’d be more information on how he’s doing in school and so on, but we’re all hoping it doesn’t come to that and instead he can stay for good in the home he knows and where he’s loved.

Elizabeth reiterated her belief that we might not be able to find a child who meets our specifications through the photolisting because kids who don’t have huge issues either go back to their families or are adopted by their foster families. She thinks of the state listing as the last resort for kids who are never going to find homes any other way and some of whom the department doesn’t think will or should ever even live in families. I realize this is not how people think of photolistings and it’s not how it was described to us, but this is something she’s expressed several times. We’ve talked with her before, though, about how our state is one that’s not fair to black kids. At least sometimes they don’t get placements that are as good as what white kids do. There are a lot of families that aren’t interested in adopting or even fostering black kids. And so I have to believe that there are some black kids in group homes or in foster families that aren’t planning to adopt them, but because they’re doing okay and getting by, their workers aren’t bothering to have them listed. I do believe they’re probably out there “languishing” (as the phrase goes) somewhere we can’t find out about them. But I have no way to prove this or find out about them. It’s just a belief I have, and I act on that belief, just like I fear her belief about the kids in the listing being too much for us to handle probably subconsciously influences her actions and decisions.

We got some good information on in-home therapy options and wraparound services through the schools that sound great, though I’m not sure whether they’re things we could access them easily if we adopted a child from out of state. Although we’re pursuing these two in-state paths toward parenting discussed above, we do basically think that Claudia and Adopt America Network are our best bet for getting matched. After Elizabeth left, Lee asked whether maybe we should just be doing foster care and then seeing what happens. I’ve been thinking about foster care a lot lately though I didn’t think of it as a feasible option for us.

The state’s paying for us to go to a weekend-long preadoptive/new adoptive parent training next month, so we’ll do that first and get in all our training hours for the year. (Lee is annoyed we have to have training hours when “what have they done for us lately?” but she kept her moth shut and we’ll go to this training and we’re also planning to do an 8-week training early next year to be certified for a higher level of care, which I think is just god preparation for parenting the kid of kids we might be parenting.) We’re not going to make any decisions about anything until after that training downstate. And we’ll get a weekend away from our regular life in the process! And then Elizabeth will let us know when fixes are made to our study. The next time she comes over, it will be to sit down with us so we can do our yearly update to our basic information and we can show her we’re still doctor-approved and haven’t had any criminal or child abuse charges in the year. It has been a year. I guess either we’ll have a good reason to do the update next year or we won’t have to. Wow.

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