Archive for January, 2010

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off and running

January 31, 2010

I’d been wanting to see the movie Off and Running for the year or so since I’d heard of it. As the documentary telling the story of a headstrong black teen athlete adopted by white Jewish lesbians, it sounded right up my alley. Apparently the publicists for the film thought so too, since they found my blog and asked if Lee and I would like to see the movie. It opened in New York City this Friday and will air later this year on PBS. Last Thursday, Lee and I watched the dvd version the publicist sent us.

Avery Klein-Cloud, the teen whose story forms the core of the documentary, is trying to figure out her identity and her place in the world. Raised in a largely white Jewish environment and elementary school, Avery is now in a majority-black public school where she has to navigate the complicated identities she has as an extremely talented runner trying to fulfill her own potential and as a transracially adopted young black woman who is the daughter of lesbians (and a Jew, as made clear in a scene where one of her teammates sends our a fervent prayer in the name of Jesus while Avery prepares for a running meet). Partly to understand where she comes from (and thus, it seems clear, to feel a sense of more genuine belonging among her black friends) she tries to make contact with her birthmother in Texas. When that doesn’t give her the results her want and her older brother (also adopted, but more comfortable in his identity as a person of color) goes off to college, she ends up both creating and trying to avoid tension in her mothers’ home until she gets to the point where she decides to take off, leave school and leave home to see if that will help her put her troubles behind her.

I’m glad we saw this movie after the most recent time Rowan stayed with us, because I think it changed my sympathies a bit. I understand many of the reasons why Rowan ran away when he was here, but even that understanding didn’t make it much easier to sit at home and wait for him to return, hoping he was safe. I know he was trying to navigate his own white racial and cultural identity in relation to parts of his background story, trying to integrate his Christian beliefs with the ways Christianity has been used against him. I saw a bit of him in Avery while I watched the movie, but mostly I saw myself in Avery’s mothers. They tried to be supportive of her need to find her birth family even as they were scared she’d end up hurt by what they found. They tried to keep their faith in her even when they saw her hurting herself by skipping school or hurting them, skipping a meaningful ceremony. Again and again, they showed their love, their growing understanding that if she wanted her hair braided as a teen she’d have to do it at a salon rather by her mother as she had as a child. And then they waited and waited while she stayed away from their home, while they didn’t know where she was or what she might be doing. Although I only know a little of that feeling from the time we spent with Rowan (or should I say without him??) I immediately opened to it and identified with them.

At the same time, I can see some of why Avery finds her family life frustrating. Even though she and her brothers (the youngest of the three kids a Korean adoptee) obviously love each other and love being a part of their family, it’s also clearly hard on them to deal with their racial-adoption histories (basically inseparable) and the fact that they’re the children of lesbians in a world where that’s far from the norm. Her older brother claims not to be affected by being adopted and to have no interest in his birth family but then writes beautifully about how he’s going to study genetics and biology as a tribute of sorts to his biological brother, born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and cerebral palsy, whose destiny could easily have been Avery’s brother’s instead. And while Avery’s mothers are supportive and loving, they do say some things that from this side of the screen seem cringe-inducing even if good-intentioned.

As the movie ended and Avery ran on to the next phase of her life, Lee turned to me and said, “Is that all???” and I know what she means. The movie’s over, but it’s clear the larger story isn’t. This is just a tiny glimpse of Avery’s life, though there are many tantalizing hints of other stories that could be pursued further. For people living their lives steeped in adoption issues and questions about the creation of racial identity, there might not be much surprising or new here, although I still enjoyed seeing the details of a specific family. And unlike an adoption blog, everyone in the family gets a chance to tell some of his or her story!

I’m trying not to give away too much of the story, but I think there are so many great things in here. Avery talks to her classmates from her Jewish school and has to deal with their erasure of her blackness. She and the other student of color were both adoptees (both, in fact, adopted from Texas via the same agency) and it’s clear that as much as everyone else wants to tell them that neither of those descriptors should define them they’re still very meaningful to the girls themselves. Avery’s boyfriend is black and Christian (and maybe an immigrant from the islands, if my reading of his vowels is right) and while he clearly accepts and loves Avery, they have a lot of cultural differences to overcome in finding a balanced relationship. Avery has a lot of decisions to make about whether to try harder to connect with her birthmother, what decisions to make about college and her future, how to find a place for herself as a black woman within her family, what she would do about an unplanned pregnancy, how good her running can be and where it could take her. These aren’t all stories with easy explanations or simple endings because Avery’s very presence resists oversimplifications. She’s a strong, big-hearted, thoughtful woman with a lot to say about herself. I’d love to hear more from her, but I’m glad we got this taste.

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the Christian thing to do

January 26, 2010

Lee and I are supposed to have dinner tonight with our church’s pastor and her new wife, who’s also training to be a pastor and who spends most of her time in her home/seminary city but visits here as much as she can. We were all going to get together for a talk when Rowan was staying with us, but since he ended up going AWOL and having to be returned to the RTC that didn’t work out. So now the four of us will be getting together because Lee and I will be at a bar mitzvah this weekend and will be missing the retreat for couples that the church is hosting. Oh, and because I’ve sort of volunteered to redesign the church website, which is dire, and I want to get the pastor’s input.

So yeah, I guess it’s “our” church even though neither of us is officially a member. On Wednesdays, we spend about two hours tutoring kids there. Lee works mostly with the youngest, ages seven to nine or so, while I focus on foreign languages and I’m supposed to be helping the teens prep for their ACTs but they’ve been bad about showing up lately. I’m going to talk to the pastor tonight about making an offer to pay the test fees for any kid who gets through some amount of test prep with us, which I think would be enough incentive that the parents would push their kids into it. And then on Sundays we set a time that we’re going to leave because 3.5 hours for a church service is ridiculous, but sometimes we stay the whole time from 11:30 to often 2:00 or so. I also help out with the soup kitchen once a month and I set up an email group so they can send each other prayer requests. I guess maybe it is true that we’re more active than a lot of the members are.

While I’ve told the pastor that I’m not a believer but that I do believe I should make myself useful in this world, we haven’t explicitly talked about my atheism. That will probably happen tonight, and I’ll be glad to get it out of the way. I’ve been sort of feeling like an impostor sometimes lately because I sit and hear the churchgoers talking about how they can’t imagine how anyone could get through life without Jesus and I just feel sorry for their lack of imagination more than anything else. I’m not bothered by the speaking in tongues or spirit possessions (in the most positive sense, I suppose; nothing “demonic”) because I’ve decided it’s not any stranger or sillier from my perspective than any other sort of prayer. But at any rate, I’m very much an anomaly within the church community (it’s a safe bet I’m the only atheist, but I’ve also only ever seen 4 other white adults out of the several hundred total attendees who’ve been there in the months we’ve been attending) and sometimes that rankles a bit.

This week my attitude at church was particularly bad because I had to go see the doctor on Friday to get my medical form filled out for our homestudy update. I didn’t need a full physical (though I did want an old prescription renewed and it also turned out I had a sinus infection) and so I agreed to take whichever doctor was available and wasn’t at all worried once I saw it was the doctor who’d released me from the hospital after my gallbladder surgery years ago and who seemed perfectly competent, if a bit crisp. This doctor talked about how she thinks foster care is a calling and wanted to know about our experiences with Rowan, which I’ve put into well-practiced if somewhat trite sentences. She seemed pleased that I feel we were able to help him and that we intend to remain in his life.

She asked a few questions about my health history and made her notes on the paper. Then she asked whether I attended a church, which I figured maybe meant there was something about a support system or psychological health or who knows what on the paper, since I hadn’t really looked at what she needed to fill out. I told her that I did attend but wasn’t a believer and explained a little bit about why I don’t mind going and find it gives me time to contemplate my relationship. She wanted to know what I got out of it spiritually and I said I wasn’t spiritual and thought the conversation was done. She then told me what she’d prescribe for my sinus infection (though she hadn’t, in fact, told me I did have a sinus infection until that point) and she said, “Also you should go to church and read the bible because I am a Christian and I think God is the answer.”

I was stunned and my heart was pounding. I don’t know if I said anything to that. I certainly did not say OH HEYELL NO! as I wanted to, because what I wanted was for her to fill out my form so I could get the homestudy updated and so we could eventually be matched. She walked out of the office and that was that. Except it wasn’t, because I was furious at her and at myself for not saying anything to her in response about how unprofessional she was being and how it’s that kind of behavior that makes me resistant to Christians. (She also made me take a tuberculosis test since that’s still listed in the paperwork even though we were assured both last year and this year that it’s no longer necessary. I don’t blame her for this thoroughness; the state is being silly in not updating paperwork to reflect what’s really needed. As expected, I do not have tuberculosis and I have been able to turn in my form.)

So on Sunday I was hemmed in because there are too many of us to fit comfortably in the church building and I had a hard time dropping how angry I was at the doctor and how sick I am of hearing from Christians all the time. The obvious response to that is that I should stop going to church, probably, except I don’t want to give up the service I’m doing through the church. Well, the more obvious response is that I probably would have been more patient if my medicines or the tea I’d had Saturday afternoon hadn’t kept me to about three hours of sleep before I woke on Sunday. So I suppose I’ll talk to the pastors about this, maybe, or maybe just wait and see if my mood improves.

At the adoption training conference Lee and I attended last fall, we got to talk to our state’s adoption coordinator, who’s as unreligious as I am. I had commented that I thought the Christian musicians performing and the presenters who talked about their faith were maybe not appropriate during a publicly-funded conference, and he wholeheartedly agreed. He told us that it’s not legal for workers to discriminate against us because I’m not Christian but that realistically it might happen and even those who are okay with an interracial lesbian couple may still have a preference for Christians. He hopes that’s not part of what’s going on, but he agreed with us that we had to consider it.

As I understand it, one of the reasons our state seems to have relatively fewer children in the photolistings than other states of similar size is that once the state outsources kids’ care to private agencies, their information doesn’t get transmitted back to the state very well. Again, this isn’t how the system is supposed to work, but how it does work. This was something we ran up against when we were looking at Ezra. There are probably some other kids his age who are free for adoption but because they’re in private foster care it could be a long time before they end up on the public photolisting and the private agencies will try to recruit adoptive families from among their own ranks. These agencies are largely religious and I haven’t done anything proactive to make them aware of us, though I know the Catholic organization that’s prevalent in our area is actually good about making placements with same-sex parents.

I’m not going anywhere in particular with this. Lee has said that her June deadline isn’t a hard deadline, since neither of us sees a whole lot of hope we’ll be matched by June, especially since there’s no way of knowing when our homestudy will be filed at the state level and how long it will take us to get a copy afterwards and whether all the other problems we’ve encountered will be significant for us. I should probably be strong and motivated enough to want to make any kind of connection I can that might help us, but I’m sick of being rejected by Christians and I think that’s one thing that’s holding me back. I will be getting back in touch with the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids coordinators for our state, whom we met at the conference. I’m also just tired of being the point person, but realistically I’m not sure how much Lee can or will do because she gets frustrated so easily and I’m afraid she’ll just give up. Or would that be better than my knowing that I could have done more and didn’t? I hate how bogged-down this makes me feel.

Right now all we can do is wait until our homestudy is settled and look at our options there, I think. And I just got an email from Lee that dinner has been postponed until Thursday, so I’ll have a chance to spend tomorrow with some smiling kids who might leave me a little less fed up with certain versions of Christianity. So I’m active in this church, doc, and when Lee was reading Proverbs the other night she read me something about how what you do in life is more important to God than what you do in worship, which she thought described me pretty well. Although she’d always wanted a Christian partner, Lee’s very accepting of my beliefs and the fact that I don’t have much overlap with her there. I’m so grateful for that, for her and for all the people who are good supports to me and to us, many of whom are Christians too. I just need to ignore the haters and keep moving, I suppose.

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how the system works

January 21, 2010

I still haven’t talked to Rowan. He only gets phone calls once a week and he wants to prioritize talking to his brother, which I understand. I was planning to call him Sunday night right before the phones close at 9 pm, but I got busy doing dishes (doing dishes! What was I thinking???) and missed the window of opportunity. I’m writing him a letter now. I’ll try to talk to his counselor and see if there’s another time he can get calls yet, and otherwise I’ll be trying more proactively this Sunday. It’s been almost a month since he was here for his Christmas visit and I don’t want him to forget that we’re thinking about him.

That’s even more pertinent now because I found out on facebook this morning that Angela — my high school classmate and Rowan’s caseworker since he went into care — has given notice at her job. So now he’s going to be moving on to some new caseworker. And while he had his differences of opinion with Angela, he also knew that she cared about him and she’d been one stable force in his life. Now he’s not going to have her in the same capacity, and so I do want to remind him that he’s not losing us. I have to also remind her that we don’t want to lose touch with him and hope that she’ll pass along our information and interest to his next worker. Angela hasn’t been in contact with us at all since Rowan was returned, so I want to be extra sure she knows what’s going on in our minds.

Luckily our worker Elizabeth is very supportive of our commitment to Rowan and I know she’ll do whatever she can to keep us in touch with him. This is one place where I can see it’s a real benefit to be working with kids from our region; their workers are here too. Elizabeth and Angela don’t work in the same building (they’re in different counties and about 10 minutes apart) but they have contact with each other and are part of the same networks.

Elizabeth has sent in our homestudy update. One of the things she wrote in it was that when she was asking about the teen brothers from the Middle East, she was unable to get a response from their initial caseworker, the caseworker they were moved to when their first caseworker quit, or the caseworkers’ supervisors. The boys are still on the photolistings and no one ever responded to her emails or phone calls. Even within the state, things don’t work smoothly. Even in our region, communication isn’t exactly smooth but it’s certainly easier to manage than when there’s a greater distance.

Elizabeth also put in a reimbursement request for the miles we drove to transport Rowan to and from his RTC. It turns out we’re not getting paid for doing respite care for him because this is something that families work out from their own board payments and no one really knows how to work it out when he’s staying at an RTC, plus it sounds like Angela didn’t do the paperwork clearly. That’s fine; the amount per day is pretty minimal and we were happy to have him as our guest. However we get paid more than $0.40 per mile, which at 1200 miles driven over our four total trips adds up to over $500. In many states, you wouldn’t even get $500 to care for a child for a month, and here we are getting it (maybe, if the reimbursement is approved) for having him in our car for something like 11 hours. This doesn’t sound like a good allocation of resources, but the driving is usually done by staff rather than parents and so I guess we’re being treated like staff and reimbursed accordingly.

The farther we get into this whole process, the weirder it all seems. We’ve been talking and decided that next week I’ll email Elizabeth and ask about whether she thinks we should send in our study on one of the older special needs kids in our state while we’re waiting to hear more about the 7-year-old whose parents’ rights are near termination or if we should just hold off until there’s some clearer answer about him. We’re both kind of taken with the cute stories she told us about him, but on the other hand we can’t wait forever to see whether he becomes available if we’re trying to make good use of our time.

And I hate that we have to talk about this in such consumer-ish language. I really don’t like how it makes me feel to talk about our best options and gaming the system and who will be available when. But that’s how it works and we have to work with the system as it works today. It is frustrating, but it’s what we signed on to do.

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some bad days, sort of

January 14, 2010

Today is one of those rare times I find myself wondering what child would want to be raised in this household. I’m not depressed, just tired. I’m leaving emails from Claudia in my inbox because I can’t see what would make a worker want to send any of those smiling faces a thousand miles to be upstairs from me here (where it currently sounds like the dog is nosing around where she doesn’t belong, but I can’t get up and look because the purring cat would have to leave my lap). Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a better answer.

Tomorrow will be one year since my first grandfather’s death, the second following nearly six weeks later. I’ve been sort of gearing up for an anniversary sadness, but it occured to me today that there’s no need for me to bother with that. Instead today I decided to celebrate the anniversary of the last day of his life by doing the sort of thing he’d have wanted me to do, so I treated myself to a delicious lunch and even ate dessert, sat alone in my booth and savored the book I’d brought with me.

Yesterday we went to tutor at the church only to find the place locked and no children there. I haven’t emailed the organizers to find out what went wrong, but I promised Lee I would if she’d promise to give the program one more chance. Once we got home, she spent the rest of the night in and out of the bathroom, sicker than I’ve ever seen her. She was feeling better by morning but I made her stay home today and made an early-morning grocery run to make sure we were stocked up on soups and Gatorade. She’s sleeping now, says she feels fine.

Our lives are plenty full if this is what they end up being. I know that and I remind myself of that to keep from getting too attached to any future. And yet I have those moments where I feel unlovable or whatever the adoption experience analogue to that is, like maybe no one should want us and that’s the reason they seem not to. But I also know Elizabeth sent in our paperwork today with her glowing recommendations of us. I know Claudia is sending me dozens of listings because she believes I can do it. I know it’s possible, but hanging too much on the possibility makes me sad too.

For the rest of today I’ll try to look at reality as it really is, stick to my literal knitting and see if I feel I’ve accomplished something by the time I go to bed. That shouldn’t be so hard, and then tomorrow we start anew.

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my girl

January 13, 2010

I know I’ve written a lot in the past about how Lee has never been open about her sexual orientation on the job before this job and this relationship, and that opening has taken a lot of time and work for her. Yesterday was our anniversary, but it was also a Tuesday and Tuesdays have been the night this term when we go to her chef colleague’s class in the culinary division of her school. We sit in the dining room and are served by students in the hospitality class food that’s made by the students in the cooking class. It takes a very long time, but the food is generally fantastic and we have a lot of fun doing it.

So yesterday was our anniversary, and Lee told her chef friend that. He decided he’d have his students do something special for us (as practice for the kind of special event they might be faced with in the real world) and it was going to a be a surprise for both of us. We were there with one of our usual dining partners, Lee’s best friend at the office (who started teaching at the same time she did but is currently working as an administrator) and another coworker Lee really likes, whose husband died in an accident this fall and who has been on Lee’s mind a lot since.

First, the student serving us brought out prosecco for us all to drink and Lee’s coworker toasted our relationship after being told that our anniversary was the reason for the celebration. Then we found out that the theme of our dinner was “pairings” and that each course would feature two different dishes to drive home the idea of relationships. So we each got to eat a crab cake paired with mushroom terrine, then a tangy salad of greens with almonds and blue cheese paired with a lovely caesar salad, then a beef filet paired with turkey osso bucco over some fantastic white beans, and finally a tiny slice of flourless chocolate cake and a little pot of pumpkin crème brûlée. Yummmmmmmmmm!

Anyway, I’m not writing this just to brag about how great it is to be friends with the people who run the culinary program — though it is! — but because I know I’ve written in the past that it was incredibly awkward for me to feel that Lee sometimes liked being public about me and sometimes didn’t want me to give any sign that we were in a relationship when it was hard for me to know where those lines were drawn.

A few weeks ago, we were walking down a street in River City talking and I started to put my arm around her and then drew back because sometimes in public she gets worried about who will see her. And she looked at me and said, “You know, I’m 47 years old and I think the least I can do is touch my girlfriend in public!” and then put her arm around me and we walked down the street holding each other gently. Just like anyone else would.

I know it’s probably sort of sad that I’m shocked and thrilled when we have those moments of normalcy and acceptance. I don’t expect rejection. I don’t think of our commitment as being any less than that of any of our straight friends. I don’t have the same hangups about coming out that were drilled into Lee by the rejection and bigotry she faced when she was first doing it. It’s easy for me to just be myself, and yet moments like last night or that moment on the street make my heart sing and make me realize that I do still expect a certain amount of burden or unfairness or difference. I guess I have work to do too, but I couldn’t be doing it with a better partner. (And I’m not just saying that because she gets me access to great meals, I swear!) We’re both working hard and helping each other be better every day. I hope this year will be our best one yet!

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restarting, after a fashion

January 12, 2010

Our worker Elizabeth came over and we got all the paperwork done for our new, improved, good-for-one-more-year homestudy. We talked a lot about our time with Rowan and how we felt about it, and she’s going to write that up in our report and let us see a copy to fix any factual errors before it goes in our permanent file, which is a good strategy I’d recommend to other people in the division. (I’m still bitter about this. And there’s still no resolution on fixing our old homestudy, but she’ll at least be able to add the corrections when she adds her comments.)

She’s really thrilled about how well we did with Rowan, which is kind of funny because while we were fairly proud of ourselves we didn’t view it as anything special. She says she’d have expected new families (and many of her more experienced ones) to refuse to readmit a child who’d gone AWOL, so she was really impressed that we were firm but supportive. She made a lot of notes about how we tried to help Rowan connect with healthy members of his birth/prior adoptive family and how we’re maintaining an ongoing commitment to him. I hadn’t thought of any of this as special because it’s so easy and seems so obviously like the right thing to do in this case, but there you have it.

We’ll also hear more later in the week about a little boy she thinks might be a fit for us. (I tried to sell her on the idea of how Rowan made it clear that we can handle a teen, but she can see us managing little and cute and I don’t want to rule out that option either.) This kid is the youngest of a sibling group of five who are at this point heading for TPR and for being sent to different households. The oldest two she doesn’t think would be appropriate for us because of their behaviors, but the youngest three (boy age 10ish, girl age 9ish, and the little boy is 7 and the one she knows best) could be options, especially the youngest. I’m always hesitant about the idea of splitting siblings, but I know that’s not my call to make and that decision has already been made, though as in Rowan’s case this is something the judge could overrule (I believe). Elizabeth is going to talk to the youngest’s foster mom (the other four are in RTCs) and talk to the family caseworker about us. So we’ll know at least a little more soon.

Anyway, there’s a biracial 7-year-old out there whose worker knows us, and that’s potentially a big plus. There’s plenty of legal and other uncertainty, but there’s also a smart and funny kid who loves aquatic reptiles, and we could at least meet his reptile needs. We’ll have to wait and see how the rest of it goes. We’ll also be working with AAN still. I haven’t been able to find out for sure if we’d be eligible for the fantastic wraparound services she’s been telling us about if we adopt from another state, but a kid from our state would be eligible for in-home therapy and a case coordinator (who’d help us manage the kid’s medical, psychological, and educational needs and meetings) plus up to 10 hours per week spent in the community with something like a personal care assistant to work on various therapeutic goals and give us some respite. If we do a special needs adoption from the state, this setup is a given (and the reimbursement is significantly higher than we’d get elsewhere) but I really need to find out for sure what our options are if a worker anywhere else shows interest in us.

I said a while ago that this feels like one of those books where someone does a certain thing for a year and gets a lot of money to write about it, except it’s been sort of grueling and irregular. I do feel we’re in a much better place starting Year Two (or our last months of it, given Lee’s deadline, which will place us at about two years from the start of this blog and the start of our training classes) than we were a year ago. Older, maybe even wiser. And it’s our anniversary, so we do have this one more holiday to celebrate together as a couple and probably more to come.

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miscellany

January 8, 2010

It’s snowy! And I’m wearing my Christmas gift white fluffy bathrobe, which makes me feel like I’m under a lovely warm drift of snow myself. The dog is in heaven with the snow and wind, but the rest of us are plenty happy to be indoors.

I’m having fairly regular dreams about Rowan, about him running from a lot of different locations, about how I have to then explain that to whoever’s there. In writing that sentence, I automatically wrote his real name even while thinking Rowan. I even had one dream in which I was the one who ran away and then I had to deal with the fallout upon deciding to return home. Obviously I’m still working through this stuff!

But our worker Elizabeth will come over on Monday to talk to us about how to get our homestudy updated (and fixed, I hope hope hope hope hope!) by the end of the month, when it expires. I haven’t yet seen my doctor, which I need to do, but she hasn’t given us any of the other things we’re supposed to fill out and so I can’t feel too bad about that.

We’re getting child suggestions from AAN again, and so far that’s going pretty well. One situation we hadn’t really considered before is a little boy who’s always lived with his brother (I assume, given what comes next, biologically half-brother, but whatevs) and who’s available for adoption when his brother isn’t yet. So if things happened to work out for him, we’d be open to then bringing in a sibling if that was how things ended up working out legally for the brother. I’d always figured if we did a sibling adoption it would be both kids at once or else like the situation Atlasien and M4$ and many others have faced, where a child already in their care has a baby sibling who ends up needing a home. This version is a new one, but appealing in certain ways. And hey, it’s snowing here and the temperature is typically hellaciously hot where this kid lives, so you can do the math on what sort of a chance we have of any of this working out. It’s all about stretching the imagination at this point, I think.

I updated the Timeline page to reflect what’s gone on since last spring, when I last updated it. Since we only have until June to get something done (before Lee turns into a pumpkin or whatever happens when she reaches the end of her willingness) I’m sort of appalled by how little I’ve done in the past year. It certainly felt like a lot and it was a lot of emotional work, but I wasn’t as proactive as I probably need to be in order to make things happen. But by the same token, almost everything that goes on is out of my hands. It’s a nasty balance.

I think I’m going to try to call Rowan tonight. I know his worker Angela is slammed with work and she hasn’t talked to him or his RTC workers since when she called my cell phone as we were driving him back there. I don’t know if he’s allowed to receive calls (even from us) yet, but it’s worth a shot. One of the gifts in his stocking was a little wooden cross I bought him and he’d talked about finding a necklace to wear it on. I’ll ask if he’s still interested and whether he’d rather have cord or chain, then pick one up and mail it to him. It’s going to be a long time before he goes off-campus again but I’d like him to have the option to wear a reminder of his faith and of our faith in him.

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thinking about fit

January 5, 2010

As I’m thinking about Rowan’s time with us, I’ve had to think a lot about what makes a kid fit into a certain home and what can stand in the way of that. I mean, Lee and I have made out huge lists for our workers of what medical/psychological conditions we think we can handle — HIV+, OCD, etc. — and what we can’t — wheelchairs in our 2-story house, children who aren’t safe with our animals — and also recognized that there’s still a chance that a child who’s not in our preferred categories might be appropriate for us. So we’re open to that and flexible, just as we’re somewhat flexible on gender (except Lee still really wants a boy) and race (Lee’d prefer biracial/black but she absolutely loved Rowan, who somehow manages to be even paler white than I am) and only categorize because it makes it easier to narrow down on a few (hundred) potential kids than send our files out on everyone.

When Angela and I were talking, I could see a lot of ways Rowan could be a good fit with us. Because I’d been a victims’ advocate for a long time, I’m sort of used to having some of the sensitive conversations he’d need to have down the line (and I did end up talking about my own rape and subsequent abusive relationship because he wanted to address that topic). Both he and Lee had been adopted by their biological grandparents, though with very different outcomes, and they prefer the same sport as layers and spectators. They practice the same flavor of Christianity. He likes to write, as do I. We were told he was charming, endearing, and polite, which made me worry he was just a master manipulator. Oh, and he was probably gay, so he needed to be in a house where that wouldn’t be a problem. And he was being treated for ADHD, which has been a driving force in my brother Matthew’s life and therefore in mine since I’m only three years older than he is.

In reality, I’m not convinced ADHD is an appropriate diagnosis for Rowan, who’s an incredibly laid-back person when he’s comfortable. I think it’s more likely that when given a diagnostic test the combination of his low level of literacy and the way his uneasiness (and PTSD) manifests itself in fidgeting got him flagged and medicated. But I’m not a doctor, and if he’s not going to live in my house I’ll never get much say in how he gets diagnosed or treated. The point is, I was expecting a kid who might be like Matthew, when I got one who was quite different. A lot of things were different, and generally in more positive ways than I’d expected.

I mean, I didn’t know how readily I’d connect with him, that by the time we reached the end of our initial three-hour car ride he’d be tentatively joking with us too. I didn’t know the cat would rest on his lap and sleep on his bed. I didn’t know by the second visit he’d go out of his way to disparage teams he thought Lee would particularly like just to see what her response would be. I didn’t know that he’d open up about his abuse so readily or that he’d be openly conflicted about his sexuality in the way that he was or that he’d trust us enough to be honest about sensitive topics. I didn’t know he’d flop down on our couch and look like he just belonged there, that he could hold his own in our conversations, that we’d all watch A Christmas Story and Elf and even a Mariah Carey concert and laugh at the same parts. I didn’t know after he was so tidy on his first visit that on the second visit his room would be strewn with clothes and his bed only marginally made. I suspected at first that he’d run, but I didn’t know he’d do it until he did.

In the car as we brought him to our house for Christmas, Rowan was playing an electronic 20 Questions game he’d gotten as a gift at the RTC. Sometimes looking for a child has felt like playing 20 Questions. You’re able to get some broad information and maybe some specifics but you still don’t know if you’re talking about a chicken coop or a billiard table, if you could be right for this child or if it would be a horrific mismatch. So we send out our flawed homestudy and we hope someone will be able to make good decisions about what kind of child would fit into the room we’ve carved out in our home and our hearts for one (or two, which is still an option). It’s sort of ridiculous because the fit on paper doesn’t matter as much as the fit in the home, but you need the former to get to the latter. And then you can have kids like Rowan who really fit in beautifully but still aren’t in the right place in the family. (Can you tell I’m still holding out hope that even if we give up on adoption at Lee’s June deadline, when he’s ready we’ll be here for him?)

I have no idea how the professionals make all this work. Until Rowan came, I hadn’t been sure we could even make the fitting work in our own home! I do know it’s possible and I’d like to see it happen. After talking to Lee tonight, we’ve agreed that tomorrow I’ll write back to Adopt America Network and get us placed on the list for active seekers. We’re going to keep moving forward, but also thinking about what’s gotten us here. I think that’s the only way.

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January 4, 2010

I know I’ve got some blog awards to respond to, but I’m being lazy and taking a mental health day from work and that seems to mean blog work too! I just got off the phone with Rowan’s counselor and I’m thrilled with what she had to say and how responsive she was to me. She and I are very much on the same page, and she definitely wants to see us stay in touch with him even though she also thinks it’s unlikely he’ll be ready to be placed in our area any time in the near future. Maybe things will change after the trial, which is coming up soon and clearly weighing on him in a major way.

Yondalla had a great post about her foster son Gary’s views of his upcoming termination of parental rights case and it made me think a lot about Rowan because there’s a lot of overlap in their experiences and perspectives. The major differences are that Gary has lived in a home setting with Yondalla and her family for a while now (almost two years, maybe? How long have I been reading that blog???) and he has an established relationship with them. Gary’s also 17, and while Rowan thinks he’s completely mature at 15 we all know that he’ll have grown and changed within the next two years. And from what Yondalla has written publicly, Gary hasn’t dealt with the kind of extreme and long-lasting abuse in the home where he grew up that Rowan has. So Gary’s dealing with how to give up on people who gave up on him. Rowan’s dealing with having to testify against people he loves who badly hurt him and his beloved brother and also with having his ties to that family and perhaps his brother severed even though that’s not exactly what he wants. And wow, that would be hard for anyone who’s an adult to deal with, let alone a 15-year-old.

I learned today that right before he left for his Christmas visit with us, Rowan told his caseworker Angela that he wanted to back out because he thought it would be too much pressure and he didn’t think he could deal with it well enough. She basically told him to suck it up and try, which he did. But I do think part of the reason he was throwing around so many mutually exclusive ideas was that that’s how it feels in his head and heart right now, like he’s being torn between a lot of lives that don’t map well together. I mean, he was happy with us and I could tell that by his posture and presentation and how well he was sleeping. At the same time, he was uncomfortable being happy with us because we’re gay and he’s struggling with whether it’s okay for people to be gay and also happy, uncomfortable that we were able to care about him and listen to him even when what he was telling us was that he didn’t want to live with us, uncomfortable because he’s not used to being the only kid and getting to make his own decisions about what he wants to eat when and so on, uncomfortable because he doesn’t have a framework for understanding love as being fully distinct from pain or misuse of power.

Dawn emailed me earlier to point out an article explaining how normal it is for teens in care not to have faith in adoption in part because it can involve the fiction of a “replacement family” after the old family has gone away, which is not of course how it’s going to feel for the kid in question even if this is how the law looks at it. For Rowan particularly, one reason he claims he’s not interested in adoption is that (at least in our state) once a relationship is adoptive, parents are no longer bound by the foster care rules about not being able to physically discipline children. For a kid who’s been abused, that’s major! For him, part of feeling safe is knowing what people are legally allowed to do to him, and while he’s at his RTC or with us he understands those boundaries. Even if he trusted our intentions — which I think he does — he wouldn’t be able to have that legal reassurance, which is apparently something that means a lot to him.

I’m still feeing terribly sad for Rowan, though I’m relieved to know that he’ll be staying where he is and that his counselor is encouraging our ongoing involvement in his life. But I’m also working through how I feel about being the strong, sturdy one during all of this. Yesterday morning I wrote a poem about him. Yesterday evening, I found I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d been doing exactly a week before when we knew he was okay and back with us, when we had to make the decisions we did to get him back to his RTC. Today I took the day off work and slept in late, which is rare. To drive home the point that I needed it, I had a long and elaborate dream in which I ran away from home and then came back and saw how upset various people had been and how scary I’d made my life.

Now even though it’s well into the afternoon, I think I’m going to venture out to treat myself to a nice lunch and then get some errands run. We’re back to life as usual — or, rather, a new and improved version of it. Lee’s been super helpful and we’re working on changing a bit of who’s responsible for what. We may finally becoming the normal kind of family where the person who cooks (that would be me, generally) doesn’t also have to do all the post-cooking cleanup. I don’t think it’s a resolution or anything, but I think having the experience we did with Rowan has made us both more grateful for each other, and we’re each taking the opportunity to make this clear when we can. I’m sure that will get duller in time, but for now it’s lovely. I have someone taking care of me and looking out for me as I muddle around through things in my own way, though she’s also making suggestions about what I could or should be doing. To me, that’s what family is. And yeah, I don’t think Rowan’s exactly ready for that, but I’m so grateful he’s got a counselor and staff members who do care about him and want him to do well. We’re on his side too. He may never have exactly the conversations Gary and Yondalla are having, may still never get to have a mommy, but I’ll still love him and care about him and be there for him to the best of my abilities and as much as he’ll let me. I still think he’s an amazing kid. I’m glad he’s got others on his side who agree.

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