Archive for February, 2010

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making progress (slowly, slowly)

February 23, 2010

Church went well. I think a lot of people were going out of their way to be friendly to me and I appreciated that. I was able to talk to the woman who sent the first email, who was kind and friendly and said that things were good between us and that the rest of it (whatever “it” was since I’m not aware of any of the chatter there apparently was about my atheism and my email) was “a lot of hullabaloo over nothing.” So we’re good! I ignored the woman who sent the second email and was careful not to look at her child, which was difficult since the entire service was led by the children. I’ll be tutoring tomorrow and I assume her children won’t be there.

Anyway, Monday I was able to write to Elizabeth to ask her if she could find out who Rowan’s current worker is. She hasn’t been able to figure it out yet, but she’s working on it and she and I wrote back and forth several times throughout the day. One of the things she had to tell me is that she’s been able to sign us up for Therapeutic Home training. (That’s not the technical name for it, but I’m still trying to keep our state a little bit hidden and our terminology is a bit more unique.) This hasn’t been held in our area for over two years, so she’s making sure as many of her families as possible are able to take it.

The way things work in our state, everyone who wants to be a foster or adoptive home through the public system takes the initial 30 hours of classes and does the homestudy and all that good stuff. Then you only need something like 4 hours of classes a year after that to keep your study up-to-date but I don’t know the exact number because we exceeded it several times over. However, for families doing foster care there’s also an option to be trained to support children with higher levels of special needs. There are two medical levels, one where the parents get training on dealing with medical conditions and one where (as I understand it) one parent has to at least be a nurse and be the stay-at-home parent, and then there’s the Therapeutic Home training we’ll be taking, which helps parents be prepared to deal with the behavioral and mental health issues that many children in care have.

So for the next two months, we’ll be back to weekly classes. We’ll get to meet a single mom who lives near us who’s also working through Elizabeth to be an adopt-only home and hitting some of the same barriers we are, so Elizabeth hopes we’ll be able to be a resource to each other. There’s also a couple where we talked to the mom earlier (though I’m not sure I blogged about it) who adopted a teen who’d been on Elizabeth’s caseload and have been foster parents for years and parents of biological children with special needs. She was hilarious and smart and so we’re looking forward to this from a social or networking perspective.

But the truth is, it will also make us more marketable to be able to say that we’ve got this certificate (or that we’re working on it, when we start) that says we’re prepared to deal with kids who have certain problems. We’re hoping it will be something that will make social workers take us more seriously since we haven’t really parented beyond the days we spent with Rowan. And while Rowan would probably be classified as needing a Therapeutic placement, showing that the state officially thinks we can handle that should be a plus.

At any rate, it can’t hurt. I’d rather have more information and training than less and I can see a lot of good coming from it. I think it will also just help us feel like we’re getting somewhere when we do get back in the habit of spending our evenings once a week on foster/adoption stuff. So this is the plan for the next few months and the plan for the next few weeks is that our homestudy should finally be filed and we’ll be able to get a copy to AAN and get moving there again. Bit by bit, I think we’re getting somewhere.

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other complications

February 21, 2010

I still had more to write about last night, but my blogging muscles were weakened and sore and so I went to bed instead. I’ll give the adoption-related bit first because it’s easy, then talk about one more wrinkle in the church story.

Our homestudy still hasn’t been approved, a month after it was filed. We’re not sending out our old study with Adopt America Network now because we’re afraid we’d immediately be disregarded since the homestudy they have has expired. We got a letter from the state agency yesterday and I was excited, assuming it was our homestudy approval notice. Nope.

Apparently we were turned down as a potential adoptive home for Jay. That’s good, because we decided back after Thanksgiving that we should go forward with Rowan and that we didn’t want to be considered for Jay. Jay sounds in certain ways like Linda B’s Andrew; Jay’s diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (and Lee and I figured under the right circumstances where having two moms would be a plus there we could deal with it) and he has some severe delays, but unlike how I think of Andrew he’s also angry and violent and diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Because his violence had been increasing rather than decreasing lately as he gets nearer the time for discharge from his RTC, we decided it didn’t sound like a good fit. But apparently his worker never got that information.

The good news is that the reason we were rejected is that they’ve apparently found a family for Jay. I know we have to be realistic about the problems we can handle, so it’s always encouraging to see evidence of families who can handle different things from what we can. (I initially wrote “more” but I remember how Elizabeth was so adamant about certain parts of Rowan’s history that would have caused some experienced parents to avoid him, whereas they weren’t a problem for us.) Jay’s biological brother — separated for adoption purposes — is one of Rowan’s best friends, and he’s supposed to be on track to be adopted by a former foster family. I hope that’s also working out.

At any rate, in the year our homestudy has been active, within our state we were accepted for Ezra and decided we wouldn’t be able to parent him. He’s now on the adoption track with the woman who’s been his foster mother for the last four or so years. We were rejected for Mychael with no explanation given, though we’ve heard from the grapevine that a worker’s homophobia was a factor. Now we’ve been rejected for Jay because there was a better fit, and since we don’t think we were a good fit (since, for instance, we want a kid we hope can be safe with animals) we agree that we wouldn’t have been the right choice. And then there’s Rowan, who was old enough to say he didn’t want to be adopted by us and we respect that and support him as we can.

Both Rowan and Ezra are in care through our region, though both are in placements hours away. For both of those processes, we had workers advocating for us and things went fairly smoothly. For both Mychael and Jay, the process of evaluating us took a long time, probably months in Jay’s case since we’d asked to be removed before the beginning of December. The rejection letter is just a form with one box checked and that’s all the information we get. Right now, Elizabeth was planning to get back to me a week ago about two brothers I’d asked about, but she probably hasn’t been able to get in touch with their worker yet since that’s what was slowing her down before. The last set of brothers I asked about changed workers three times in the month she spent trying to get information and we eventually gave up since no one would return her calls or even ones from the state-level adoption coordinator. They’re still on the photolisting. I guess we’re seeing patterns here now.

One thing that didn’t make it into my church discussions but that I wanted to add was that our church is an independent church founded by the pastor, but the pastor’s wife is (going to be? I don’t know the timeline) ordained in a common liberal denomination. The church community has spent the last year discussing whether to go ahead and join that denomination, though they would be able to also remain part of the confederation of LGBT-friendly black churches they’re in now, or whether to stay independent. Being part of a denomination would mean having the resources of that denomination, perhaps being able to worship in one of the churches that’s pretty much empty now as believers age, having more programs for the kids and a nationwide support network. I think that the connection is going to happen and it will probably happen soon.

On the other hand, that denomination — at least around here — is mostly the domain of liberalish white people. I was at the local church of that denomination in our town Friday night for a steel drum band concert, which was fun, but Lee doesn’t have much patience for their slow, liturgy-heavy Sunday services even though she adores their gay minister. The River City denominational community is mostly (though not entirely!) like that church, not like the one we attend where the music is lively and people speak in tongues and worship loudly and individually. Finding a balance that will let the church transition into denominational membership without losing its spirit is something that the pastor has been working on the whole time I’ve known her, and perhaps because Lee and I come from backgrounds different from most of the congregation it’s something she’s talked to us about often.

So when I realized at least one person in the congregation thinks I’m a demonic force, I worried that what I’d done had been inappropriate because it was going to poison the church against white liberals, as if I had an obligation to be a model minority to keep from being an example of what folly it would be to get involved with people like me. I do know that my being white and more educated (not to mention nerdy!) than the church norm is something I’m aware of, just as I’m aware that my atheism and my childhood Catholic religious education
are both pretty far removed from the experiences of many of the churchgoers when it comes to what constitutes worship and religiosity.

Honestly, if the email forward had been a joke saying you know how white people be (as Lee often does joke to me in private) I probably wouldn’t have responded as I did. It’s still a stupid email forward, but I can understand why these women could want to blow off steam about living under white privilege and I doubt I’d have spoken up. While I’m one of a tiny number of white people within the congregation, I still benefit from white privilege and they’re still facing prejudice and minority status in plenty of other aspects of their lives, whereas this is not the norm for me. I’ve never felt any judgment or tension about my race from anyone except the other two white regulars, one of whom seemed really over-friendly (and I can understand she was trying to make me feel welcome, probably, or assuming I felt out of my element and would need extra support) and one who seemed to avoid me (but who seems to be a prickly person anyway and has gotten more friendly as we’ve stayed longer).

Anyway, these are all things that are banging around in my head as I look at our lives. I don’t know if I’m not blogging as regularly because of twitter or if it just doesn’t feel like anything major or coherent enough to warrant a blog post is going on, but this is what I’ve been up to mentally at least.

Oh, and I think today’s the day to change my biographical information here to let on that I’m in my 30s and to note the death of Thing Two. Thing One had his appointment with the vet yesterday and while the vet agreed with my aunt (who’s also a vet) that it’s usually goods for housecats to have cat friends who live with them, she wouldn’t necessarily push it in our case if Thing One seems happy. He is happy, though that may just be the pheromones in the little diffuser that have totally changed his personality. At any rate, he’s sitting on my lap purring loudly right now as he tries to fall asleep, so I take that as a good sign while we take our time to figure out what’s best for him.

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our new connection with Rowan

February 21, 2010

Rowan called last night at 9:30, right when his phone privileges ended. The Friday before, I’d called him from the car while we sat in a snowy parking lot at the restaurant where we ate on the trip to my grandmother’s house. Then, he and I talked for several minutes then about generic things before he asked to be passed to Lee and then had to get off the phone. I was able to get across most of the information I wanted to, that we cared about him and were interested in hearing about him and helping him as we could. I asked if it was okay with him if we kept in touch and he was very positive about that. He’d obviously been very taken with the letter I sent him and he said he was working on a response, which I believe is a big endeavor for him because his low self-esteem makes him very critical about his communication skills and his literacy problems make writing physically/intellectually difficult. I’m excited about this, though, and I’m working on a letter for him now. I figure I can easily send him updates every two or three weeks, since it’s something he enjoys. The current letter will also involve suggesting a way I could be a resource during the upcoming trial if he wants that. I’m trying to let him make as many decisions as he can but put the options out in front of him so he knows what they are.

When he called this time, he sounded a lot like he did in the times we talked to him before his visits. He was clearly in good spirits, though the first thing he did was ask about my grandmother’s health (since I’d mentioned that as part of the reason for our trip the week prior) and was pleased to hear it’s improving. He told me about how he’s doing in school, that he’s starting to enjoy math for the first time in his life and recognizing that a lot of his underperformance in the past was a result of his fear of facing what he didn’t understand. Now that he has a teacher who works with him on his specific needs, he’s able to get the hang of things he should have learned long ago but didn’t.

With me, he wanted to talk in some detail about why his worker Angela left her job. I’ve just been looking through Facebook to get the timeline right, but I’ve known for a month now that she was quitting her job. She’s been gone all of February, basically. But she never got in touch with Rowan or his brother to explain that she was going or what was happening or why. As Rowan tells it, she sent an email to their facilities saying she couldn’t be their worker anymore but that was all they knew about it. I was able to tell him what little I did know and thought it was appropriate to share, that she was facing burnout and was looking for a social work job in a slightly different area but hadn’t found one yet.

While I know Angela plans to keep in touch with Rowan, she and I had talked about how her leaving could come as a shock to him since she’d worked with him the whole time he’d been in care. I was really surprised to hear she didn’t get the message to him personally. I’m also saddened — though maybe not surprised — to realize that some other worker has custody of Rowan and his brother Forrest and neither boy has any idea who that person might be. Rowan said he hoped it would be a good social worker and then quickly backtracked, making sure I didn’t take offense at the idea there could be a bad one! I told him I hoped it would be someone who’d listen to him and make an effort to understand him and work with him to set the path that will be most beneficial, and he agreed that was what he meant by “good.”

When Rowan talked to Lee, he did something that seems very characteristic of him and perhaps of other kids in care. He has questions that he’s obviously been hanging onto for a while and getting the answer seems to mean a lot to him even if the answer isn’t particularly helpful or compelling. This time, he wanted to know what it meant to take 60 hours of college classes. When Lee’s explanation and her math showed him how this could be two hears, he was relieved because that’s what a staff member had told him too. He didn’t say why he was asking, but little things like that come out a lot. I take it as a good sign that he views us as the people he can ask for answers he can rely on. He can ask about the history of integration in local college sports and I’ll help him look it up, or we can talk about what it means to be a member of an Indian tribe. Lee seems a little annoyed by these seemingly random conversations, but I think they’re a positive in building a relationship.

I’m a little worried about Rowan because he does have TPR hearings soon, plus the trial in which he’ll have to testify, plus he has a new worker, plus his Court-Appointed Special Advocate didn’t show for the meeting they were supposed to have and didn’t give him any reason for missing, plus he doesn’t know who his current social worker is, plus the staff in his group are going to be moved around (I guess so kids don’t get too comfortable with one set of staff members) and there are some really excellent people on his staff now. But I’m also enjoying getting to know him as Rowan himself, not as Rowan-who-might-become-our-child. (If I’m being honest, I’ll say that I think there’s a possibility that if we do keep this contact up for a few more months or a year, he might change his mind about living with us too. And if we have a free bed, we can find a way to make that work, but I’m not counting on it and it’s not a goal of my interactions with him.)

10-minute conversations are not long, but I’m glad we got one on each of these Fridays. If he still can’t reach his brother when time is running out tomorrow, we may hear from him again. I think that will probably be the routine for a while, and that’s fine with me. We always have plenty to talk about and it’s good just to hear his voice and hear that he sounds strong and happy. I think that more than anything else has gotten me over the grieving I was doing about this being sort of a blown placement and my worries for him and for us.

I’ve told him many times that I’ll do whatever I can to help him out. He asked me to find out who his caseworker is, so I have a request in to Elizabeth for that information. I’d like to know anyway so I can talk to this person to explain who we are and why we’re involved, but it seems more pressing now that I know Rowan has a need too. Even if this doesn’t work out, he’ll see that we’re trying and that there are adults who make an effort for him. He got to see me talking to Angela and to others about trying to make a visit between him and his brother happen, and I do think that had an impact on him. I’m not saying all this to make me sound like the good guy or make it seem that Rowan needs to be grateful for me, but I do want to be someone he can rely on (within healthy boundaries) and I’m glad we’re working toward that now. It seems to be good for both of us.

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back to church

February 21, 2010

I have so many other loose ends to tie up, but first I’ll talk about the outcome of what I talked about in my last post, the email I sent letting people in the church know that I’m happy to be an atheist and that I don’t appreciate anti-atheist messages from Christians.

I’m talking about this now because tomorrow morning we’ll go to church and I’m sure my perspective will change after. Really, it’s changing pretty regularly now. At the moment, I’m dreading having to go to church and talk to people and be worry about who’s thinking things about me or who’s heard rumors about me. On the other hand, I’m glad to have it out in the open and I do feel I acted appropriately.

See, there must have been a lot of chatter behind the scenes, because on Sunday I received an email the pastor sent to me and to all the people who’d received my initial email. She commented that my disclosure had been upsetting or surprising to some people but that she thinks this is a good thing because it’s going to remind leadership and the church at large that being an open and affirming church means just that, meeting people where they are rather than constructing artificial barriers. It was a lovely email, though I was so queasy when I got it that I had Lee read it aloud to me. The only response to it was a supportive one from our friend Jorie’s older sister, who’s one of the church trustees.

On Monday, I got an email from the church Mother who had initially forwarded the anti-atheist joke email. She apologized for her thoughtlessness, saying that she would never have sent it on if she’d realized an atheist might be reading. I immediately responded with what I hope was a polite email, saying I understood that her intentions weren’t bad and that I had merely wanted to give everyone involved a news lens for looking at the situation. I told her how much I appreciate the wisdom she brings to the church (because while her email forwards are frustratingly shallow, she does a great job selecting biblical texts and leading reflections) and that I know I’ve made plenty of decisions that I wish I could undo and that I hope no one will judge her harshly for this one since I don’t. It turns out she doesn’t actually know who I am, so we’re supposed to say hello to each other after church tomorrow.

Where things get a little weird is that on Wednesday I got another email from someone who hadn’t gotten the initial email from the Mother, hadn’t been a recipient of my response, hadn’t been copied on the email pastor sent out to the parties involved, though her wife has a position in church leadership and was a recipient of all the emails. She thinks it was inappropriate for me to try to correct my elder the way I did (which I thought was respectful and kind, but I realize I come from outside the dominant culture of the church, and Lee warned me after the fact that I might get flack for talking to someone older than me as if I might have more knowledge even on a specific subject) and that it was a petty issue. However, she also thinks that it’s horrible that I wasn’t open about my atheism from the start and she worries that I’ve demonically influenced her children by tutoring them. There was plenty more vitriol where that message came from, but basically she wanted to let me know that I’m an awful person and she’s appalled and she won’t let me even make eye contact with her children ever again.

I responded to her to say that of course I respect her wishes as a parent and will abide by them. I didn’t bother responding to any of the other stuff, but I did forward a copy to Lee since she’d been keeping up with the situation. Lee was livid at this email, but I was able to talk her out of responding to the sender. Instead she emailed the pastor with her own take on things, how she’s disappointed if this situation means we’ll have to leave the church but that she’d rather do that than see her partner treated with such disrespect and derision. The pastor called us back immediately to say that she’d gotten an even worse version of that email and we shouldn’t take it too seriously because she thinks much of the underlying problem has to do with interpersonal issues between the sender and the pastor and that the sender was just looking for a fight and I was a handy target. From what little I know, this seems plausible to me. The pastor reiterated that there are many people who consider us vital community members and that she hopes we’ll be patient and let this situation be a chance for the community itself to strengthen, though she doesn’t want to point me out as an example either.

So I don’t feel bad that I spoke out. Maybe there were better ways to handle it, since apparently the protocol within the church is to gossip about things a lot and then eventually go to the pastor to try to get her to intervene! I tried to keep this an email issue more than a church issue, but obviously I didn’t fully succeed. That’s partly because the kind of church where people think demons are active in the world (and I’m sure there are people among my readership who have this belief; I’ll admit my bias is that it’s easy enough for me to see why people might want gods and harder to see why they need devils too) is probably not the kind of church where people will be well-informed about atheism. Blah blah blah.

Basically I hate that I already feel like a weirdo there because I’m white, because Lee and I don’t consider ourselves married, because Lee and I don’t consider ourselves a stud/femme couple, because I’m more hung up on etymologies than other people seem to be and so I end up frustrated by scripture interpretation on a fairly regular basis, because I’m not a member but I actually spend multiple hours per week in service for the church community, because we’re childless, because I’m worried that I haven’t gotten to talk to the woman who commissioned a baby blanket yet and I’m afraid the yarn will be too dark…. It goes on and on and I’m sure that there are elements of many of those issues tied up in why I don’t want to go to a place where I know there are going to be people who think I’m bad. I don’t want to have to have interactions that might be unpleasant. I’m starting to wonder why on earth I’m the kind of partner who urged Lee to start getting out of bed earlier on Sunday mornings anyway!

But this is where we are, and tomorrow we’ll get up and go to church. Lee will stick by me so I have support when I need it, so I’m reminded that she loves me enough to stand beside me even though her beliefs are not like mine, and that I took on the job of finding us a church in the first place because I feel the same way about her. We’ll figure something out. I imagine I’ll still be an atheist, but I hope once I get through this first potential confrontation or challenge I’ll be a stronger and more comfortable one. I guess we’ll see.

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oh, church!

February 11, 2010

Lee and I have been attending a politically liberal evangelical church comprised mostly of black lesbians and their children since last summer. I’ve written a lot here about how uncomfortable at times to be little white atheist me in this congregation, but I’ve also carved out a place for myself, tutoring weekly and making friends. Right now I’m knitting a baby blanket for one member who’s going to be a grandmother soon, plus running the prayer request email list.

It’s because I have my email address affiliated with the latter that I get frequent email forwards from one of the church mothers. I have no idea whether church mothers are standard, but there’s a panel of older women (the one who emailed is a straight woman whose daughter is a trustee, and there’s also a lesbian whose daughter and grandchildren are members and two transgender women who don’t have families among the church that I know of but are definitely mother figures to many) who sit in the front row and run social events. I’m sure there are other functions to their job, but I don’t know the details because this isn’t something out of my tradition. I just know the church has a pastor and first lady (her wife, who’s also considered a pastor although she won’t officially have her divinity degree until spring), several ministers, at least one elder (who’s the minister of music and in fact quite young), a few deacons (all of whom are women), plus ushers and the mother board.

At any rate, today that Mother emailed me a “joke” about atheists. Lee had been telling me to tell this Mother that I don’t want emails, but I’m generally non-confrontational and it seemed easier not to bother her and just to delete or file them as the urge struck me. Today, though, I was annoyed, even though I’m sure she sent the email in hopes that it would help everyone on her list bond in shared Christian — um, I’m annoyed enough about this that I can’t come up with anything beyond “smugness or superiority,” but I’m sure she’d consider her intentions good.

I’m sure the Mother didn’t know that I’m an atheist. Several of the people I consider friends there do know, but if I’ve never had a substantive conversation with anyone I see no reason to walk around with a scarlet A on my chest or anything. I’ve talked to Pastor about it and she said I’m not the only non-believer in the congregation and that being all-inclusive means being all-inclusive. Her wife is even trying to convince me to become a church member, which she says doesn’t require any statement of belief. So I’m sure I wan’t being targeted, and quite the opposite that she thought atheists are so far out of the realm of anyone receiving the message that s far as I’m concerned, this is the same as if someone had sent me a racist joke or a sexist joke, albeit a fairly mild one. It’s encouraging in-groupiness and intolerance.

I checked with Lee about whether I’d cause unnecessary trouble if I responded and she said she hoped I would respond. So I wrote back to Mother and to all the people she’d forwarded the message to who had roles in the church (deacons, trustees, two ministers) and blind copied Lee so she’d know what I was saying. Here’s my message:

Mother [Name],

I’m copying the church members whose email addresses I recognized because I want to be clear to everyone involved that I am an atheist and I find this sort of “joke” hurtful and unnecessary. Please don’t forward emails to me anymore.

As is probably apparent, the forwarded story does not have any basis in fact but is a way for non-atheists to congratulate themselves for considering atheists fools and anti-atheists wise.

I recognize that in the flavor of Christianity practiced at [church], many of the members probably believe I’m going to hell because of my disbelief. I’m not bothered by that, nor am I by anyone who thinks I’m going to hell because I’m a lesbian. As far as I’m considered, when I die I’ll go into the ground and eventually become food for more life. At this point, I don’t have a need or a thirst for anything more than that.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done for [church] and Pastor knows I’m a non-believer and welcomes my service anyway.I have chosen to live a life of ethics and service and don’t feel the need for connection to any deity. If that makes me a fool, at least I’m a happy one.

Thanks,
[Thorn]

I have no idea what’s going to come out of this, but I don’t really care if there is backlash. Lee is very appreciative that I support her and she probably wouldn’t go to church if I didn’t push her, though she admits it’s been good for her spiritual growth. We both definitely wanted to have a home church in case we ended up matched with a child who wanted or expected a church community. There have often been sermons I’ve thought would have resonated well with Rowan and some of his religious struggles. So we’re comfortable being there in many respects.

But if we’re going to be there, the church community is going to have to accept that we’re an interracial couple and also not a stud/femme one. We don’t consider ourselves married. One is Christian and one is not. And yet we’re both doing a lot of work for the church community and especially for the children. I guess it’s good that if there are going to be sticking points we’re getting them out of the way relatively early, but we’ll see what happens. I sent that email almost an hour ago and have gotten no responses.

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indulge me, please

February 11, 2010

I turn 30 today (and am not fishing for congratulations since I’ve already gotten so many on twitter and facebook that I’ll be floating for days!) and indeed I managed to do it without any particular existential trauma. In fact, I woke very early this morning feeling calm and purposeful.

I’d gotten a great email from Dia that made me feel better about the distribution of emotional labor in our relationship, though I don’t think that was what she was trying to do. I’ve worried sometimes about Lee’s lack of patience, the way we were in some ways going to be a stereotypical adoptive couple with me doing the hard “mom” work and her dragging along and doing what interests her. Spending time with Rowan let me see how much she can and will do, and she’s been so wonderful to me in the week leading up to my birthday that I’m extra proud of her right now.

I haven’t had a chance to write my post about our second significant long-distance call last weekend, but we’ve made the first steps in trying to help Lee’s half-sister Shasta regain custody of her daughter Kara, who’s currently living with Shasta’s mom. For many reasons, it’s going to be sort of a slog, but we want to help her and believe she’s doing the right thing. I was initially very mopey about the legal prospects there, but now I’m just trying hard to be a good resource. The worst-case scenario is that Kara would come into foster care again, which I hope would at least invalidate the permanent guardianship agreement Shasta has signed. The law in their state isn’t totally clear and I don’t want to write too much about the details, but if we have to take temporary custody of Kara we will. I just hope she can go directly back to Shasta without a long battle in the courts or any more time in out-of-home care or a potentially dangerous situation.

I just emailed Elizabeth about two teen brothers (white) to find out whether they might be a fit for us. I think my new goal is to just keep pelting her with kids (and she only does the work for us after her other work is done, so I’m not keeping anyone from getting needed services) until she’s so sick of us that she finds us a match.

I haven’t been focusing on out-of-state matching because we’re in homestudy limbo. Our old, bad homestudy expired in January. Our new, better (now with 1 billion times more parenting experience, thanks to Rowan!) homestudy was filed in January too, but it’s sitting in bureaucratic purgatory still. This is entirely out of our hands, but I don’t want to make out-of-state workers look at us even less favorably by asking them to consider us when the homestudy Adopt America Network has is out-of-date and inaccurate. Our cover letter can deal with the inaccuracies, but that’s the end of it. So we wait.

I’m also waiting there because I’d been getting geared up to send Claudia an email to say that we wanted to talk to her more about how she can help connect us when I saw she’s gone in for emergency surgery. The link to her blog shows that while one blood clot has been removed, luckily the surgeons were able to save her sense of humor! She’s still facing complications from a blood clot in her heart (!!!) but seems to be doing okay considering that. Lee is praying for her and I’m checking regularly for updates on her condition.

So that’s where we are in Adoptionland. I was thinking about how many times I’ve said to myself that we should do x because this might be the last chance before we adopt and how obviously we still haven’t been matched. I’m not ready to give up. I told Lee the other night that I want to be a parent, and I think she was surprised by the directness of that comment. I’ve spent so much time trying to feel okay about whatever’s going to happen that I’ve sort of disconnected from what I do in fact want. There are so many situations outside my control, but I can accept that and still work on controlling what I can. So I guess that’s my resolution. At 30, I’m firmly an adult and need to do my best to act like one, to be my best.

I’ll start by going to dinner tonight with Lee, the oldest two of my three younger brothers and their girlfriends (one of whom I haven’t even met yet!), and our friends. I’ll get my work done and enjoy my weekend with my paternal relatives. I’ll let Lee pamper me a little, though I did feel a need last night to buy her a woolly sweatshirt from her favorite store for our trip northward and because I’m still not great at learning how to receive. I have a lot to learn still, but I’m happy.

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long-distance call #1

February 8, 2010

I didn’t get to talk to Rowan this weekend because on Friday he was talking to his brother, who had just earned the privilege of being able to call him and I’m glad of that! Still, I got to talk to his group leader about how he’s making progress and having to confront some tough emotional things. He finally got my letter late last week and was appreciative of it, apparently. If he keeps going the way he has been, he’ll be back to getting 3 calls per week again in another week or two. I tried calling back on Sunday, but since calling hours overlapped with the Super Bowl I wasn’t surprised when no one picked up the phone. Still, while I’ve only been able to say a few words to him since we returned him to his RTC a few days after Christmas, he knows I’m thinking about him and trying to maintain contact. That matters a lot to me.

As I’m sure I’ve said before, I don’t have a template for this kind of relationship and yet I want to pursue it anyway. Calling the RTC is extremely frustrating. I have to give his name, ID number, and house number. Then I get transfered to his house, except about half the time the connection gets dropped at this stage and another quarter of the time there’s no answer at the house level. So either I get through to the house, in which case one of the house workers (often someone not even affiliated with Rowan’s group, since I guess there are two groups in his house) will tell me that he can’t come to the phone for some reason and I can call back at a certain time. All of that takes about 5 minutes on average and I often have to repeat the process several times before getting any update about whether this will or won’t be a call night. So I although I haven’t had a real conversation with him, it’s definitely not for lack of trying!

But I do get updates about him, which is great. On the other hand, because I’m not in line to become his mom I feel a little skittish still about how much I can ask for. I didn’t press his group leader for any specifics on Friday, whereas a couple of months ago when we were gearing up for the visit and hoping there’d be a permanent placement, I would have felt justified in asking for more. Instead I do my best to read between the lines and I reiterate what we’re doing. This time, the group leader and I mostly just talked about how Rowan appreciated his letter and how it was a huge shock to him that his caseworker Angela has left her job and won’t be his worker anymore.

In that conversation, it was sort of easy because I was talking to a worker I like very much, who likes Rowan very much, who’s Rowan’s favorite and a special confidante. It’s not as hard to miss out on what’s going on in Rowan’s life when I have faith that he’s secure and supported by good people. This guy, who checked in with me reliably and also supported Rowan’s best friend outside the RTC in the time Rowan was AWOL from our house, seems great. Rowan’s counselor is a wonderful woman. They both think well of him and want to help him heal and succeed.

Things could be much worse than they are, for all of us. I think it would be a negative for him if we’d just cut off contact or punished him after he ran away. Or his worker or therapist could have disallowed our contact, which would have left me with a lot of nervousness about unanswered questions. He could be in a placement that isn’t productive for him, whereas he seems to be making progress and working on his problems where he is. Instead, even though I can seldom get through, I just keep calling, keep trying to gather whatever scraps of his story I can because I still hope that when he’s older I’ll be one of the people he counts on to help him put things together. I know he knows we’re waiting to talk to him. I have to hope that helps, because it’s all I’ve got.

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growing up?

February 4, 2010

In a week, I turn 30. I should probably be looking forward to this with either dread or anticipation, but for now it doesn’t mean much to me. So you, my lucky readers, will get to hear a mishmash of what I am thinking about this gigantic milestone or whatever.

The exciting part is that Lee’s been working for months to arrange for us to drive up and visit my paternal grandmother and my favorite uncle (and probably other relatives who shouldn’t be offended if they somehow find this blog, but everyone knows he’s my favorite and vice versa anyway). We haven’t been back to snow country since my grandfather’s funeral last January, which was when Lee’s car was totaled. I’m extra glad that we’re going when we are because tomorrow my grandmother is having triple-bypass heart surgery, so it will be good to be able to see for myself what her condition is next weekend once she’s out of the hospital. And Lee’s never checked out the local natural wonder in the snowy months, so we may do that while we’re there. All of those are good things (well, even surgery is good in that not having it would have caused bigger problems, I fear) and I’m happy about them.

I was a little frustrated yesterday because my parents had invited us to dinner on my birthday and then canceled so they can go to a social event that happens twice a month and so isn’t exactly a priority and also so my brother’s girlfriend can be there since they haven’t seen her in a while. That was the part that annoyed me, because my mom has made it clear in many small ways through the years how much she prefers my brother’s girlfriend to me. (They’ve been together for something like 8 years, since they were both at the end of their teen years. And I agree that she’s awesome! But she has her own mom to trumpet that, and her mom does a fantastic job of it. I guess I’m jealous?) Anyway, so there was that. But now instead we can go to a restaurant for a nice birthday dinner with just the two of us or the two of us and some friends or something, then stop by the swanky too-expensive restaurant where our friend sings with a jazz band every Thursday and have some sort of swanky drink and swanky dessert. That plan works fine.

I know Lee’s been looking for a present for me and there wasn’t much I could offer her. I want a new mattress and we mean to get one soon, but she wouldn’t let that be my gift. Just this morning I was inspired by Sheri’s post to ask her if she’d get me a steam mop, but she claims she’s already bought me a gift. When I moved in, we agreed that we could each push our most-hated chore on the other, so she’s responsible for vacuuming and I do the dishes. Except that now that we don’t have carpet, she increasingly thinks that there’s nothing to vacuum and all floors fall under my purview as the Mopper in Chief. A steam mop could make us both so happy! But either I’ll be surprised when my present turns out to be a steam mop after all or I’ll buy one my own darn self, I guess.

At most birthdays, I spend a little bit of time thinking about all the things I haven’t done and could have by this age. This year, that urge hasn’t hit yet. I mean, no, I’m not a published or professional writer. I don’t have advanced degrees. Unlike practically all my former classmates, I don’t have any children. I am not universally recognized as brilliantly insightful or any of the other things I might have dreamed of as a child. But I’m happy, which I spent a lot of my life assuming would not be a feasible outcome for me. Almost all the time, this is the way I’d prefer to be!

Lee rolled her eyes at me when we talked about this and said 30 is still a baby and that I still have time to conquer the world or do anything I want to do, because she’s a big-time cheerleader for me. But there are no guarantees and I want to just fall for the cliche that I want to do the what I can with the time I have. I can’t make huge goals because I don’t know whether at next year’s birthday we’ll have a child or children in our home or if we’ll be selling our house and leaving the country or who knows? I am not turning 30 as the mother of a 15-year-old, which could have happened if things had worked out with Rowan, and that absence makes me even less concerned about what 31 might look like. There’s a lot of time still and so many things that could fill that time.

Probably now that I’ve written this I’ll be mopey and petulant for the next week, in which case I’ll be honest and report that. For now, though, I’m just living in my largely comfortable life and seeing where that takes me. My 20s weren’t a decade of unbridled hedonism where I went out and danced and drank and made lots of friends or anything like that, because that’s just not my style. I’m not sure that my 30s will be much different, though I hope to be healthier during them and do have some specific goals for this year in that regard. I don’t really feel that I’m crossing over from one thing to something else but just going as I have been going. I’m just glad that at this point in my life it’s a path that I like, and I intend to do whatever I can to keep things that way in my future.

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the closet & the funeral

February 1, 2010

Years ago when Lee’s job first relocated her to River City, Lee started trying to make connections within the lesbian community here, which at the time meant she spent a lot of her free time in bars. In one of those bars she met an attractive and vibrant woman and they became friends. Later, when both Lee and the woman were single, that friendship grew into a relationship. Soon they were sharing an apartment and eventually they decided to buy a house around the corner from Lee’s girlfriend’s parents. Because she was clearly so dear to their daughter and because her own family was far away, the girlfriend’s parents welcomed Lee into the family as if she’d been one of their own. The four of them went out to dinner often, spent holidays together, took vacations together. Lee watched football with her girlfriend’s relatives and went to church with the family. But the catch was that the family wasn’t allowed to know that Lee and her girlfriend were, in fact, girlfriends.

Lee and her girlfriend were very happy with their lives and comfortable living a double life in which they were out to their friends and parts of their families but absolutely closeted in official terms. I’ve never asked whether they maintained a plausible second bedroom in the house or what, but the story was definitely that they were great friends who lived together and did everything together and just happened not to have had any boyfriends or interest in boyfriends in the time they’d been friends. Even in the ’90s, this can’t have been a wholly convincing cover story, but even if people saw through the deception they maintained the don’t-ask-don’t-tell version of the story.

Eventually, though, Lee and her girlfriend stopped being so happy. They decided they weren’t going to be able to become the people they wanted to be if they stayed together. So Lee’s now-ex-girlfriend kept their dog and kept their house and Lee moved across the river to start a new chapter of her life. But since they were supposed to just be friends, they had to come up with some sort of cover story for this. The ex’s parents still called Lee, still considered her family, still wanted to socialize with her, while the ex wanted Lee to stay away for fear that eventually Lee would spill their secret. Lee did keep in touch, but kept her ex’s parents at a distance even though it hurt her to do so because she loved them. When Lee’s own father died, the ex’s father was the one who bought her a ticket to fly her back for the funeral rather than drive for a day each way because she couldn’t pull together enough money on short notice. Lee always had a special connection with them and talked of them often.

I know I’ve written about this here before, because at one point early in the adoption process I gave Lee an ultimatum. If we were going to have a child, we were never going to tell that child that it was necessary to lie about our family structure. The child will have a right to tell or not tell as he pleases, but we’d never say, “Don’t tell so-and-so.” I still feel very strongly about that position and Lee agrees with me about its importance, but it put her in a rough position because she had her ex making her swear not to ever tell the ex’s parents that Lee was a lesbian and me saying that if she wanted them to know her future child she’d have to figure out a way to balance all of that.

I met the ex’s parents twice (letting Lee introduce me as a friend, because I am her friend) and I’ve emailed and talked to the ex on the phone (we share a hobby activity, though I’m careful to keep myself out of her sphere to keep things from being difficult for her) and I’ve heard about them for the whole time Lee and I have been together. Theirs was Lee’s healthiest long-term relationship and in many ways she’s measured what we’re doing against what she had then (favorably, I assure you!) and looked at how she’s grown. I think it’s been on her mind more lately because we’ve been talking about how liberating — though still strange — it’s felt for her to be out about our relationship in all aspects of her life. It definitely makes things easier.

Last night Lee went to the ex’s father’s funeral. I didn’t go with her, because we both feared I’d have put an arm around her when she cried or otherwise done something that would break the ex’s code of silence. The ex’s mother had called to make sure Lee knew about the funeral and said she’d hoped Lee would make it, and Lee was very glad she went. She got to talk to family members she hadn’t seen in years, and they all remembered her. But when she was recounting this to me, I think she wasn’t crying over the death (he’d been slowly declining for years) but because she didn’t know what to say about who she was or where she fit in with them. The ex’s family kept saying to Lee, “We miss you! You never come around anymore. Why did you stop hanging out?” and she’d hedge with something like how much she missed them and that she’d try to do better. She didn’t want to shift the blame onto her ex, but she was heartbroken that they’d think she just had stopped caring about this family she used to love. It was awful.

I don’t have a happy ending for this story. Lee came home and we sat together and talked about her sadness and her memories. I hung the flowers the ex’s mother had given her from the casket in the basement so they’ll dry. Lee’s going to talk to one of her ex’s relatives who invited her to spend more time with them so she can explain the situation and why she doesn’t feel comfortable being too close to the family anymore. She was able to hug and talk to her ex, comfort her a bit, think about how much both of them have lost. It was sad and it stays sad.

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becoming a man

February 1, 2010

This weekend, we got to attend Dawn’s son Noah’s bar mitzvah. They’d mostly invited family and local friends, but Lee and I were glad to be there (and I’m fairly sure Noah invited us because he likes us and not just because he knew I’d bring along a box of manga volumes I’d read that I thought he might like.) And I have to admit, we cried. For me, it wasn’t his sweet, pure voice or the lovely tributes from his family members that set me off; I was thinking about Rowan. And while I was incredibly moved by Noah’s sincere thoughts and the dancing he and his friends did at the celebration afterward, I’m most glad we went because of what I got out of the experience in processing my feelings about Rowan.

When Rowan turned 13, no one held a celebration for him and his rite of passage into adulthood. Instead, it was the year he left his family and went into foster care, never to return. By then, he’d already lived through very adult experiences and others that no one — adult or child — should have to experience. And with no offense meant to Noah (who’s fantastic!) it broke my heart to see one boy giving an honest example of a difficult situation as being the time he had to bike home in the rain and comparing that to the memories Rowan shared with me in the middle of the night when he couldn’t stop feeling anxious about all the pressures of his life.

I know and I’ve known for a month now that Rowan won’t be living with us, but he doesn’t leave me. We talk about him often and I’m reminded constantly about things he’d said, preferences he had. I was able to talk to him tonight for the first time in a month, but only for long enough that he could say he had to get off the phone but I could call Friday. That’s good, because he sounded happy to hear from me and because I got to hear his voice and know for myself that he was okay. It’s also good because it means he’s worked himself up to a higher privilege level if he’s allowed to get calls on multiple evenings. I’m glad of that, because he’d been doing well in his program before he went AWOL and I want to see him do well again. I don’t know if he got the letter I sent him, but I’ll be sending on something he’d sent off for while he was here and I want to check in on that and more with him when we talk next. I just want to know about him.

At the post-bar mitzvah party, Dawn did what she did best and said something wise that completely altered how I’d been thinking about things. She asked how the adoption stuff was going, saying that it seemed like we were moving in about 40 directions at once, which is accurate. I told her I was having a hard time looking at teens because I’d find myself comparing them to Rowan or thinking there was no way they could settle into our home as comfortably as he did (which is kind of ironic given he ran away, but it’s how I feel) and she just told me in the most matter-of-fact way that all parents feel this, that you fear you couldn’t possibly love another child as much as your first one. And yet you do and it’s how love works, but this worry is normal and also part of how love works. I’m not sure why I needed to hear that, but I definitely did.

So now I’ll call Rowan again on Friday and hope to hear what’s going on in his life. I have a bunch of tasks to do this week as we make sure our homestudy is updated and ready to go out again. I’ll contact some other former high school classmates who are also social workers for the state (I’ll say one thing, our Catholic girls’ school focus on social justice really paid off for a lot of us, and for those who weren’t sold on it the majority seem to be doctors or lawyers and doing well financially, so I guess there’s some balance!) to let them know about exactly what we’re up for and how to reach us if they can connect us with other workers. Maybe the most essential news is that Lee has decided June isn’t as much of a do-or-die deadline as she’d initially claimed. Now the goal is that in June we’ll revisit the process and make a new deadline. That alleviates a lot of my stress, because while we both have our strengths, Lee’s isn’t the kind of dull/painful administrative work involved in emailing social workers and evaluating photolistings.

I suppose Lee’s strength also isn’t taking the time it requires to call the RTC a few times to get through to Rowan. It was only my third try this time when I got him, but I’m relieved to have an actual plan for Friday. She’s at a funeral now (long story that should get its own post) but we can plan our Friday evening around calling him and then each get five minutes like we used to do. I think he still needs that kind of connection. I think I do too. I know at 15 he’s getting close to legal adulthood and he’s very independent, but I can always see the little child inside him and I hope he’ll have a chance to nurture that in the next few years. He may not look as sweet and innocent as Noah, but he has the same potential to trust the goodness of his spirit and rely on his faith to help him through the hard times. I hope to see both of them grow into their potential, make their bad choices and figure out how to make up for them, do surprising and wonderful things. I’m grateful to have known them both and know they’re making me better. I hope I can return that favor a bit.

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