Archive for March, 2010

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Lee’s extended/extending family

March 31, 2010

As I’ve discussed before, Lee’s bio parents, Richie and Leah, both had children besides her — though none together — but only Lee was adopted and raised by Richie’s parents. Leah has an older boy and a younger girl, both of whom were part of Lee’s life when Lee was growing up. Her son was raised by his and Lee’s maternal grandparents and Leah raised the youngest child herself. Despite their different upbringings, all three worked hard in school and ended up with what seem to me remarkably similar outcomes, all getting the same terminal degree and working in similar fields, even in the same big companies at different times. Neither of them have had children, though both are straight and married.

One Richie’s side, things are more complicated. Richie was not a nice guy in a lot of respects. He was an addict at various times and did a lot of the cruel and foolish things addicts do to people who care about them because they care about their addictions more. But he was charismatic, I know, and could be charming and because his goal was to be a ladies’ man he used that in his favor. I’m not sure if any of his relationships would be considered successes according to his partners in them, but we know of three other children from those relationships.

Yesterday, two of Lee’s siblings spoke to each other for the first time. Shasta and Timothy are both Richie’s children and both have white mothers. Timothy is second after Lee, and Shasta is much younger, close to my age. Lee hasn’t spoken to the middle brother, Darron, though he and Shasta have lived in and around the city where Lee grew up and they’ve spent some time together in the last few months.

These stories aren’t mine to tell, but it’s fascinating to see the similarities they all seem to have to each other and to their shared biodad. I know I’ve written here about how Lee has attachment problems we attribute to her first 18 months when she was being raised by Leah, a situation where we think sometimes Lee would cry and have a loving mother show up to meet her needs and sometimes she would cry and then be left alone. That kind of uncertain attachment seems related to the way that, as an adult, she’s a very black-and-white thinker, so people are either very dear to her or total let-downs. She clicks with people immediately (maybe Rickie’s charisma?) and cares deeply about those new and somewhat superficial friends, but she has a hard time going deeper and actually maintaining connections that require work or sacrifice from her. And her tendencies are different from what we consider attachment-related her relative who was raised in a loving home for his first 18 months while his mother recovered from TB, but then wrenched away from what he’d known to a separate and also loving family.

I don’t know what Shasta’s life was like as a baby, though she was only a few months old when her father Richie died and so she necessarily grew up without him in her life, being raised by a mother who was very young and even more by her mother’s mother. Timothy had him around longer, while his parents were still married, but I’m not sure what life was like for him. So I’m not trying to diagnose either of them. I’m not trying to criticize the parenting they got because I just don’t know much about it the way I do with Lee’s own story.

And yet one thing Shasta and Timothy (who’d had lots of contact with Lee in the past but had lost touch more than five years ago) have in common is how clearly they connected to their absent family members. Shasta has been leaving flowers on Richie’s grave for several years now. Timothy is an artist who’s drawn several versions of a day he spent playing with Lee when both were children. Even when Lee wasn’t really thinking about them, they knew about her (either in the abstract or as an individual) and kept that knowledge alive.

Both of them also seem to warm to people more slowly than Lee, though Timothy and I were cracking each other up during our first phone conversation. They’ve both really expressed gratitude to Lee for her presence in their lives, which I don’t think is something she feels for them particularly. (Or for anybody, since she’s almost pathologically self-reliant.) She’s enjoyed talking to them and hearing about their lives and families, but she doesn’t feel like she’s now getting a piece of the puzzle she’d always been missing. She can say “I love you” but I can tell it doesn’t mean the same thing to her that it does to them. If they met in person, I’d wager she’d feel and know it, but for now this contact seems like something pleasant for her and essential for them.

And yes, I keep looking at this through the lens of foster care and adoption. We’ve ended up talking to both Rowan and LeeLee when they were here about how Lee is reconnecting with healthy but estranged family members now that she’s an adult. This is something both of them will almost certainly deal with, and I think they appreciated seeing how it can work in practice. I don’t know whether they’ll be scanning and tagging photos on facebook like these three are, scrutinizing a face for familiar features. But they’ll have to navigate openness and separated-ness, and I appreciate having the reminder that everyone does this differently.

It’s complicated, very complicated, but it’s also wonderful to see. Lee has always considered Richie’s siblings (her adopted siblings) to be her brothers and sisters, but now that they’re all past retirement age, it’s exciting to have a newer crew of brothers and sisters who may not share much of her experienced history but still share her DNA In some ways, the adoption gives her an extra edge because she’s able to tell them in great detail what their grandparents (her adoptive parents) were like. They all have some stories about Richie’s failings, but also his sweet moments. I’m glad they’re able to share these memories and build new ones together.

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no placements yet

March 24, 2010

Elizabeth let us know a little bit of what went on at the placement meeting yesterday. My (probably inaccurate) understanding is that there’s a weekly meeting for the workers where each kid who’s going to need a placement ASAP is introduced. Beyond this, there are also the regular emergency placements that come in when kids are removed from their families or even more sadly from foster/adoptive families, as happened just a week ago.

Anyway, this week’s kids were 15-year-old LeeLee, who had spent the weekend on respite with us, and a six-year-old boy. The six-year-old ended up being taken off the list because he had to go to a more restrictive placement and when he comes out, he’ll probably be back in the private system again. We haven’t heard yet what decisions were made about LeeLee. We said we’d be willing to help out, but we didn’t step up to be her home.

I don’t feel as conflicted about that as I expected I would. I mean, if they come back in a week and are still looking for a home for her, we might do it. I think we could be an adequate placement, maybe even a good one. If we had a good belief that this would be a short-term situation, we’d probably do it, but the idea of spending the next three years with her is a little intimidating. We’d do it if she needed it, but we decided we weren’t going to push ourselves forward to be their first choice. Personally, I’d hope she could find a single parent home where she’d be the only child, get the attention she craves, but not be able to triangulate. And although they didn’t tell us she had any history of false abuse reports, her storytelling plus our being lesbians in a pretty conservative area left me really, really nervous about the potential for that to happen down the line.

Our worker is a big believer in families needing to click. If LeeLee had been our first placement, we probably would have said that we did click. Although we could see some of the personality quirks that would get annoying over time (and she could presumably pick up on some in us) she was pleasant, polite, easy to have around. And yet it wasn’t the same as it was with Rowan, whether because he was someone special or just because he was our first.

Rowan definitely fit, definitely clicked. I could tell from his body language that he was comfortable with us, too, and I’m glad he likes keeping in touch with us (especially now that the team he hassles Lee about has been knocked out of the big tournament and he’s going to be crowing about it next time we talk!) I think that comfort was one aspect of why he found it difficult to be with us, why he ran away. And so I especially want to leave open our commitment to have a place for him if possible if he ever needs it, though he’s insistent now that he won’t.

LeeLee’s about six months older than Rowan, but they both have three years of high school left, if all goes well. If we took in LeeLee, we’d be an all-girl house for the duration of her stay. Lee, who liked LeeLee a lot, seems more set than ever in her preference for boys. For me, it largely has to do with saving a place for Rowan if he ever does need it, if he can ever manage respite or something longer. The “click” goes both ways, and I think that in every way but perhaps location, we’d be the right family for him if he decided he wanted a family, which he may not. And if he does choose to go to another family in another part of the state, I don’t think I’ll be hurt by that. I’m not in any way counting on having him back, but I do want us to be his safety net if we can.

So that’s where we stand, with no placements and no request yet to take LeeLee for the weekend again. Tonight I should go hang out with my knitting group and Lee and I will take it easy and get things tidied up. I did a lot of planting yesterday and I’m hoping some of our daffodils will finally, finally bloom in the next few days. It’s spring, and as my favorite spring song tells me, “the river is rising / the birds are returning / the earth is promising / Love / (or something like that).” Yes.

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Open Adoption Interview

March 22, 2010

The ever-fantastic Heather came up with the idea of an Open Adoption Interview Project to celebrate one year of the Open Adoption Blogroll. Because Lee’s intrafamily adoption was open and I write about my view of her experience and because we hope for and encourage openness of varying kinds for children in foster care who might be placed with us, I’ve been a proud member of the blogroll from its start.

I was lucky enough to be paired with Michelle, who keeps the blog Four Gardners and Me. Michelle and her husband adopted a baby from foster care because they had experience raising a child with diabetes and there were no families willing to take in a baby with diabetes (who also happens to be one of the cutest children of all time). I’m so glad she was willing to give such thoughtful answers to my questions. She has now posted her interview of me

1. You seem to write relatively rarely but when you do, you have a very clear and beautifully written story to tell. Was that conscious and how do you think that setup shapes your blog’s “story”?

Writing in my blog only rarely is a result of two factors: First, when I write, I want it to be about a discreet idea or event. I want my posts to have the shape of an essay or a short story. I don’t want to just ramble. Unfortunately, I don’t often think of meaningful things to write about. And when I have had concepts or ideas come to mind, they have slipped my mind just as quickly. I need to be more organized and keep a pen and paper with me at all times — to jot ideas down as I run around the grocery store or sweep the floor or get out of the shower.

The more basic reason I don’t write more often is that I can’t seem to find time. I care for Maya (age 3) and our two other children (Trent age 13 and Michela age 11); handle a few legal cases (on a pro bono basis); keep the rest of our lives in order; and volunteer with the Children With Diabetes organization and the American Diabetes Association. (These organizations are our lifeblood since my son Trent was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes almost 10 years ago.) Blogging is still only a small part of my life. A part I would like to dedicate more time to when Maya goes to pre-k next year.

I think the story of my life with my Four Gardners would become more cohesive were I to write more often. At the moment, I think my blog contains a few pearls, but they are not strung together very well. Ideally, I would like my blog to read like a nicely knotted strand of pearls. Opera length.

2. The first post of yours I ever read was the one in which the woman at the store asks if you’re your daughter Maya’s mother and then, realizing how much Maya looks like her mother Nikki, who’s also present, asks if you’re Nikki’s mother too. I love the way you are willing to have a flexible relationship with Nikki that doesn’t seem pinned down by specific terms, one in which you’re very clear that you’re both Maya’s mothers. How did this particular kind of openness come about for you?

That instance in the fruit and vegetable market was very funny to Nikki and me. When the cashier asked if I was Nikki’s mother, I went through the options of what I could answer and decided to agree that I was Nikki’s mother as well as Maya’s. I chose that route because it is so hard to explain to people who Nikki and I are in relation to Maya. Closed adoption is SO entrenched in the culture and people’s minds.

The people in Nikki’s town know Nikki as Maya’s mother. They remember when Nikki gave birth, when she brought her baby around for everyone to hold, and when that baby was diagnosed with diabetes and life-flighted in a helicopter to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Except for Nikki’s immediate family, other people who have met me know me as the woman who “has” Nikki’s daughter. (Nikki’s family recognize me as Maya’s other mother.) The people in my town remember when Maya first came to me, how unexpected it was, and how we all were entranced by her as if in a spell. If they think about Maya’s first mother at all, they imagine a young mother who gave birth to my daughter. It is rare for people to see Nikki and I with Maya together. Especially in my town, because Nikki rarely visits here. (I am in New York and she is in Pennsylvania. I usually drive to PA because Nikki doesn’t have a car and all of the family there want to see Maya.) So people in my town don’t know what to think when they see the three of us together. If I am not in the mood to explain, I let them think what they want to. Which is what happened at the grocer’s in the post you mentioned.

How did Nikki and I and her family get to this point? To start, I am pretty straight forward. I don’t have one personality with my family and a different personality at work and a different personality for strangers. I am up-front and out-there and in-your-face. As is my style, I decided to write to Nikki very directly when she was deciding whether to raise Maya, during the time that Maya was in foster care. This was before we met. I wrote honestly and told her that if she let us adopt Maya, I would always let Maya have a relationship with her biological family. At about the same time, I met with Nikki’s mother and grandmother. I was moved by how much they loved Maya but felt they could not take care of her. I discussed with them frankly about how we envisioned our relationship unfolding. I remember asking Nikki’s mother, “We can make this work, can’t we? We can make Maya feel as though she was born into one part of her family and raised in another part?” She agreed that we could. We hugged, filled with hope for our plan.

Shortly after we learned that Nikki had agreed to allow us to adopt Maya, we met with her and talked about changing Maya’s name and what Maya would call Nikki and me when she started talking. I suggested that I be referred to as “Mommy” and that she be “Mama Nikki.” (A little egocentric in retrospect.) But, as time progressed and Nikki’s family referred to Nikki as “Mommy” when we visited, I just went with it. I didn’t think that using Mommy in reference to Nikki would mean that Maya would not consider me her Mommy. As time passed, we all got more fluid in referring to one another. Nikki and I are now both Mommy. Sometimes she is Mommy Nikki. (I am rarely, if ever, Mommy Michelle. Being the primary caretaker has its privileges, I suppose.) Maya does not seem confused by having two mothers. This is her normal.

I have always tried to remain true to my commitment to Maya’s family and to the belief that Maya’s family of origin is now my family. And I have worked to have Maya feel as though she was moved from one part of her large family to another. That is how I approach Nikki and her family. And I believe that is how they approach me. I knew when Nikki allowed us to adopt Maya that I was also adopting Nikki in particular (as a sister or daughter or niece or some other close familial relationship) and adopting Nikki’s family in general.

It helps that I truly like Nikki and her family. We are from very different “worlds” at this point in our lives. I am firmly entrenched in the middle class of educated professionals. (But I grew up in a working class family with little education and I pride myself on being able to get along with people from all walks of life.) And they are firmly part of the poorer, undereducated class in this country. Still, our goals and desires for Maya are the same. They are thrilled to see her growing and developing so well. They are glad to know she is happy. And they are proud of how smart and witty and pretty their child is. And so am I. We share that. In sharing that, all of the superficial things that segregate people — class, ethnicity, education, religion — all of those things melt away.

3. I’m not sure if I’m reading your story right, but it looks like you went into foster care/adoption specifically because you knew Maya was out there and needed a home. You weren’t blogging then, so I’m curious what your experiences with social services and the placement/adoption through foster care were like.

My husband and I weren’t looking for a child or to be foster parents when we heard about Maya, a baby with diabetes, in foster care in Pennsylvania. However, we had always wanted another child so I immediately sought to get into contact with her social worker when my friend mentioned her. (My friend and colleague from my diabetes work was her nurse.) And from the moment I talked to the social worker in Pennsylvania, I wanted Maya to be part of our family. Thankfully, the social workers in Pennsylvania were thrilled with Tim and me as prospective parents. They had gone through their list of waiting families and could not find a placement for Maya. They worked hard to expedite the process for Maya and us. For instance, as soon as our clearances in Pennsylvania went through, even though we did not have any foster care training or classes, they allowed us to visit with Maya out of Catholic Charities for a couple of hours. Until that time, for a couple of months, I drove two and a half hours to Pennsylvania to visit with Maya for two hours at Catholic Charities. I then drove two and a half hours home again. Three times a week. My family came with me one time per week on Saturday. The Pennsylvania social workers were great.

New York was another story. They were all lovely people, but the bureaucracy was difficult to cut through. Were we to have waited for the county’s home study personnel to conduct our home study, we would have waited months. Instead, because we are lucky enough to have the resources, we were able to hire a private home study agency. We pushed a home study through within weeks. After that, it was just a quick visit by
the state to approve our home.

The next problem arose because Maya came from another state. When a foster child is moved across state lines, the two states must enter into an “interstate compact” whereby the state to which the child is moving agrees with the home state to supervise the foster parents until the adoption goes through. It is very unusual for a child to be placed out-of-state unless they are going with a relative. As a result, frankly, New York didn’t seem to understand what they had to do to enter into the interstate compact. They also couldn’t obtain New York Medicaide for Maya for many months; we risked having here with no insurance, knowing that we might have to pay for medical care if anything were to happen. However, we were so in love, we would have agreed to almost anything just to get her home. Also, luckily, I am a lawyer. By researching and educating myself, I was able to educate DSS and advocate — and push — to get the necessary paperwork through the system.

The problem which took the most time to resolve was getting good fingerprints from me. While my fingerprints went through in Pennsylvania without a hitch, New York could not get good prints. It didn’t matter that there are prints on file somewhere in New York and at the FBI because all lawyers must be fingerprinted. They insisted on taking new prints for me. This meant that our status as foster parents and pre-adoptive parents was set back almost five months — approximately a month and a half for each of three sets of prints that were rejected. (In the end, they abandoned all hope of getting good prints and settled with running a social security number check on me.)

During the time that we waited for fingerprints, again Pennsylvania social workers stretched to accommodate us. They allowed Maya to be transferred to our custody when it was clear that she was attached to us and cried when she wasn’t with us. They agreed that as long as I cared for Maya part of the month at a friend’s house in Pennsylvania, which was approved, I could bring her back to New York for part of the month. In that way, as long as Maya did not leave the state for more than a month, the placement was not considered an illegal out-of-state placement.

All while visiting her and having her in our home without insurance and waiting on my fingerprints, we took our foster care MAAP training. Three hours every Saturday for ten Saturdays. At first we laughed that we, the parents of two children already, were being required to take parenting and foster care training classes. However, in the end, we made good friends in that class and found it interesting and thought provoking.

The final difficult situation came when Nikki began to work to get Maya back. At the beginning, we had been informed by the agency that Nikki would be unable to get Maya back. But then Nikki began to work to get her back. So, it became a roller coaster ride that we hadn’t anticipated. We worried about whether we would lose the baby that we had come to love, but felt that we could not take a baby from her mother. As I stated, I wrote Nikki a letter. I also put together a scrapbook and photo album of Maya’s days with us. In the letter, I offered to help Nikki with Maya’s care if she chose to resume parenting. I offered to keep a crib and toys at my home and take Maya any weekend that Nikki felt she needed a hand. I wrote that we would support any decision that Nikki made. Alternatively, without ever having heard of “open adoption,” I suggested in my letter that we would be happy to adopt Maya. I promised that if Nikki allowed us to adopt Maya, we would not take her from Nikki and her family. I promised that we would continue to allow Nikki to be a part of her life. (We didn’t see any reason not to extend the circle of people who loved Maya. Again, this was even before I had heard of or read anything about “open adoption.”) The day that we heard that Nikki had decided to voluntarily surrender her rights — but only if Pennsylvania would promise that Tim and I would be Maya’s parents — we were relieved.

We have since kept our foster care home “open” in the event that any other child with diabetes is in need of temporary or respite care. Because if we don’t take them, children with diabetes in our county wind up living in a hospital until a family is trained to care for them. So far, we have had one 13 year old girl come to stay with us for respite care since adopting Maya. But we have also had to turn down a few children, sadly, because we felt over-extended.

All in all, we heard about Maya in August of ’07 and she was adopted in December of ’08. I am told and have since seen that we were lucky to have resolved things so quickly. (My girlfriend has had two sisters in her care for almost four years now, in the hopes of adopting them. She has had them since the younger girl was two days old and the older girl was two years old.) So I know that our experience was unusually quick and simple. Even if, for us, it felt like a roller coaster ride that never ended.

4. It’s interesting to me that Maya’s Type I diabetes was enough to make her too much of a special needs “risk” for other families to be interested in her, and yet that it was also the hook that convinced you you could meet her needs. What are the pluses and minuses of being a two-time parent of children with diabetes? Do you have advice for other parents raising or planning to adopt children with diabetes?

It angers me that families waiting for infants would not take Maya because she has diabetes. That could have been my child Trent that they were rejecting if I were unable to care for him. It seems discriminatory. And a bit selfish. If they had given birth to a child, they would not be guaranteed a child with no disabilities. They might have given birth to a child with diabetes, as I had. (There was no history of diabetes in my or
Tim’s family, so there was no reason to believe it would happen to us.) And yet, I understand — and appreciate — that they did not accept a child that they knew they were not prepared to raise. It would have been unfair to take Maya when they didn’t want a child with diabetes. Adoption is not the time to try to be “generous” and overcome prejudices or limitations. In my opinion, adoption is best if it is largely a selfish decision where the parents want a child and believe that their lives would be enhanced by a child as much, if not more, than the child’s life would be enhanced.

The irony of the situation with Maya is that, while families waiting for infants turned her down because they did not want to administer insulin injections for the rest of their child’s life, it turns out that Maya has an extremely rare form of diabetes that does not require injections. She has monogenic diabetes. Monogenic diabetes is a genetic form of diabetes that a baby is born with. A single gene has been identified as being responsible for causing the diabetes. It was a huge discovery by researchers in England and caused quite a stir in the world of diabetes a few years ago. There have only been discovered 500 or so cases of monogenic diabetes worldwide to date.

When we got Maya, it had not been determined that she had monogenic diabetes. In fact, I had asked if she had been genetically tested and was told that she had been and did not have it. The truth was that her endocrinologist was not knowledgeable enough to understand monogenic diabetes. Once we had her tested and determined that she had monogenic diabetes, we weaned her from insulin injections. She still pricks her finger several times per day, as do children with Type 1 diabetes, but Maya takes pills — not injections — to manage her blood sugar levels.

As with Type 1 diabetes, if she does not get her pills, she will die within days. But unlike Type 1 diabetes, her blood sugar levels are very stable. There is little risk of her having a low blood sugar and dying immediately or having high blood sugars and damaging her organs over time (leading to death). Monogenic diabetes is much easier to manage and presents very little risk of death or complications in the future as compared to Type 1 diabetes. The families who turned down the honor of caring for and adopting Maya made a bad decision. She has turned out to be a joy and her diabetes is relatively straight forward to manage.

However, had the other families accepted Maya as a pre-adoptive child, she might still be on insulin injections today. Many doctors still have not heard of monogenic diabetes. (Babies are either diagnosed within months of birth or they die.) Sadly, had they known Maya had monogenic diabetes when Maya was diagnosed, she might not have been taken away from Nikki. No one would have questioned whether Nikki was able to administer pills appropriately. (They did question whether she was able to give injections appropriately. Yet, after having read the medical records, I know that Nikki was was doing a fine job. As did Maya’s endocrinologist, who refused to participate in the proceedings to take Maya from Nikki.) So, it is another sad irony that Maya might not have even been taken away from her mother had they diagnosed her correctly. I feel somewhat guilty about that and about the fact that the care of Maya is much easier now than when Nikki had her. But I am comforted to an extent by knowing that Maya might not have been correctly diagnosed had she not been placed with me. I am also comforted in believing that Nikki has come to accept and believe that Maya is in the best home for her.

In answer to your other question, I have tons of advice for parents of children with diabetes, but that is better left for another time. As for adopting a second child with Type 1 diabetes, a family best think hard about the adoption. Even with Maya having monogenic diabetes, it is hard to have two children with diabetes in the family. But there are many biological parents who have given birth to two and three children (and more) with Type 1 diabetes. So it is possible to handle. But it takes a special breed of person.

5. I don’t know if you’re comfortable talking about your husband and his side of the family, but I’m fascinated by knowing he comes from a Mennonite background and a family enlarged by transracial adoption himself. I know and like a lot of Mennonites in our community and particularly respect their non-coercive missionary work. I’m curious how Maya fits into his family tradition and experience.

My husband was raised in Goshen Indiana. His father was a math professor at a Mennonite college, Goshen College. After giving birth to two sons, his parents decided they would enlarge their family by adoption. Tim’s father is originally from New York and so they decided to work with a New York agency to adopt. At the time, it was difficult to place mixed race children. (Tim’s three siblings are Jewish and black, while Tim’s biological parents are Swiss and Dutch and English, mostly.) This was in the mid 60′s and early 70′s. Before the Association of Black Social Workers had announced that they were opposed to white families adopting black children. Tim’s family was raised in an entirely white community in the midwest and, when they traveled, they dared not travel in the south for fear that white or black people would treat them poorly. In the extended family by contrast, the relatives were supportive of their inter-racial family. Tim’s grandmother in New York had taught in Harlem with Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s widow, and was proud of her family. And another of Tim’s Mennonite cousins was adopted from China. (She has recently located and visited her first father and two sisters she never knew she had.) So, within the family, as much as in any family, it was a cohesive family experience.

In retrospect, Tim and I have come to believe that it might have been better for the family to have lived in a more diverse community. We hope that Maya’s experience will be more diverse here in New York. While we live in a white neighborhood, the children’s school is truly international in feel, with nationalities from around the world represented and whites being the minority of the student body. One of Tim’s sisters also lives
within walking distance and another sister is just a train ride away in Manhattan. We hope that Maya’s aunts (and uncle) will help her navigate her way through Tim’s family and the experience of being adopted into that family. Tim’s parents have told us that they are pleased that we have adopted Maya. They feel a special connection to her. I imagine they also feel affirmed as parents. They did such a good job raising a transracial family enlarged by adoption that we see that as a good way to expand our family.

While Maya and Trent and Michela have not been raised as Mennonites (I am Catholic and have loosely raised them Catholic), we share many of the values of the Mennonite faith, and especially the values of Tim’s parents’ church — which was “kicked out” of the Mennonite conference for accepting gay church members. Tim’s sister — who got her masters at Yale — once confided that it was nice to move “back” to New York and, thus, not to stand out as the only person of color anymore. However, she has also told me that she feels like she can cross the bridge between many communities as a result of having been born black and Jewish and having been raised in a white Mennonite family.

Our hope for Maya is that she can live in a world where she does not stand out either for being adopted or for being a person of color. Our hope for Maya is also that she can live in a world that doesn’t require an entire bridge to go between racial and religious communities. But, if bridges are still required when Maya grows up, we hope that she feels comfortable crossing them. We hope that she feels she has benefited from her unique and diverse family.

6. As I said above, your blog is very well-written. I know you’re a lawyer and thus in a wordy profession, but do you have other writing outlets?

I have a small group of close friends whose children have Type 1 diabetes. We communicate daily by e-mail, being spread across the country. I also communicate with Tim’s family, also spread across the country, by e-mail. On occasion, I send to them a story or an essay that I have written. They are always very complimentary and supportive of my continuing to write. Other than that, and the legal letters and briefs I write (and editing of my children’s homework), I have no outlet for writing. I probably should have followed my dreams, after taking writing classes at Harvard from renown writers, but it seemed too impractical at the time. I focussed on finding a career that would be stable and allow me a good living. I don’t regret my choices today, but I do find myself focussed more on spending my days doing things I enjoy. My hope is that I can create a new life for myself.

7. You started your blog about a year ago without a single clear purpose or focus. Are you happy with what it’s become? Do you have an intended audience? What would you like to see from your blog in the future?

My only purpose when I started was to write about my life with my family — because I find I can write best about things which I know well. I just wanted to write. To fill that longing to put words on paper and, through those words, connect with others. One sadness I have is that I have not been able to do as much writing as I would have liked. Another sadness is that I have not written as much about Trent and Michela, because they are both such unique and spirited souls. They make good fodder for a writer! So, I am not entirely happy with the scope of my blog. Though I am relatively happy with the content that is there.

In the future, I would just like to write more. To fulfill that need that I have to communicate. My ideal audience would be those people who appreciate reading about the nuances, and the hilarity at times, of family life. A subset of that audience, of course, would be families with children with diabetes and families touched by adoption, foster care, or racial issues.

I hope that participating in this interview will lead some of my intended audience to my blog. And that they enjoy it!

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so fostering REALLY IS faster

March 22, 2010

Our worker Elizabeth is going to a meeting about kids they know need placements today. One is a six-year-old boy; one is LeeLee. I knew we should have made a decision about her last night! I think Lee’s inclination will be to say no because she really wants a boy and since we have one bedroom as long as there’s a girl in the house we’re a girl-only house. We may also say that this boy has behaviors we can’t handle, since she’s checking whether he’s safe with animals. Don’t worry; I won’t be updating every time we have a potential placement. But I will be going through people’s blogs to make sure we’ll be asking the right questions.

We should be on the master foster home list by the end of the week and start getting calls that way. It’s scary but exciting. Lee seems thrilled. We also got a list of all the trainings being offered this year. Elizabeth recommends we take the ones on grief, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and child sexual abuse. I guess Lee will be the one making those decisions!

So yeah, that’s what’s up. Things are changing, I hope for the better.

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decision time

March 22, 2010

We got LeeLee back to her foster family just fine. I think the foster mother was annoyed that I didn’t confront her or punish her about the stealing, but I’m sure she noticed that the things she’d taken were no longer in her bag and so she knows we know. For me, that’s sufficient. I think the respite was a success.

And then Lee and I talked. I did tell her that I’m sad and frustrated that all my work sort of gets swept away by her unwillingness to continue with the class. She doesn’t really understand that and kept saying that I could keep going to the class if I was getting something out of it, but I had to realize that we weren’t going to get certified and she doesn’t want to deal with that level of therapeutic parenting anyway. I kept saying that it wasn’t that I was getting anything out of the classes but that I wanted the certification. Anyway, she’s not going to budge and so she just emailed our worker Elizabeth to say that she’s quitting the class.

She also wants us to switch to being a foster home, which is fine by me since I’d been open to that anyway. Lee asked Elizabeth for clarification, but I hope it’s something that can be changed without requiring huge work to our homestudy. Our preference is for school-aged children.

I don’t really know where all this is going. Lee also wants a timeline, but I made her agree that our original June deadline was unrealistic given that it’s March and our homestudy from January isn’t live, so on that timeline it could easily be May before we became an official foster home (though I suspect that will work more quickly because there’s a need for it).

Lee apparently has a lot of resentment that she didn’t do anything special in her term off last summer because we were waiting around and hoping to be matched. She considers this basically a waste and says that since she’s getting older, she doesn’t feel like she has that time to spare and wants to use it for fun things for herself or for parenting, but not for waiting. We agreed that she can plan a small vacation for the two of us for this summer. If we end up parenting before then, we’ll either cancel it or arrange respite. (Traveling as a family wouldn’t be an option since it involves leaving the country.)

She can also figure out little trips for herself, too. We were already planning to make a trip to see her sister Grace in her nursing home and also maybe her biomom Leah out in the deep Midwest. I’ll be home because I have to work, but that will also give us flexibility if we do get a placement. I can hold the fort until Lee returns. That way she’ll get to feel whatever it is she needs to feel about her summers and I’ll get my desire to keep our home open.

And then six months from now, when October begins, we’ll have our answer. Either we’ll hand our license in because nothing has happened or we’ll have a child or children in our home, in which case everything changes.

I’m writing this sort of clinically because I don’t totally know how I feel about it. Lee’s very ready to move on, which partly has to do with stress she’s dealing with at her job and partly is just her impatient personality. Me, I’d stick it out a while longer, though I’d also have made other choices differently. Lee’s not willing to budge on these items, so that’s how they are.

As I’ve been writing this, we’ve gotten an email back from Elizabeth. She says that all we’ll need is for her to notify her boss and click a box in the system and we’ll be live as a foster home. She’ll be getting a list of kids in the region needing placements today and she’ll let us know if any sound promising for us. She said we’ll certainly be getting calls and that we should know we can always turn down placements and it won’t be held against us. She didn’t seem bothered by Lee’s decision that we’ll be quitting the class.

So, I guess welcome to the newest foster parenting blog around! You know I’ll let you know what happens next.

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trust AND verify

March 21, 2010

LeeLee’s out at the park again, so before I made the salad we’ll be eating when she gets back, I went up to her room and went through her things. I realize Teenaged Me is somewhere screaming about rights and privacy, but it seemed like the easiest way to manage things. I took back what was mine — a bag and a half-used container of eyeshadow, either of which I’d gladly have given her if she asked — and put her things back the way she’d had them. We’re also pretty sure the tampons she has were originally Lee’s, but we’re not going to begrudge her those, especially since it seems she might have been lying when she said she didn’t need them.

I’m not going to say anything to her about this. She’s crafty enough that she tried to make the bag look like she’d been using it all along (though not enough to take out some telltale belongings of mine) and scrunch it at the bottom of her backpack, so she’ll certainly notice their absence and yet I’m assuming she won’t come to me to ask who took the stuff she stole from us in the first place. (For some reason this makes me think of Maggie Estep’s piece “Scab Maids on Speed, where she and her fellow hotel cleaner steal drugs from guests under the assumption that no one will call the front desk whining “THE MAIDS STOLE MY LUUDES, MAN!”)

Anyway, I’m sure it will be reassuring to her foster mom that while LeeLee wasn’t disrespectful and didn’t show attitude or talk back, she did indeed steal and we assume lie while she was with us. It’s also reassuring for us that we didn’t approach it as the end of the world, just as one more thing we have to deal with. If she were staying longer, our response would be different, but in two hours she’ll be back in her foster parents’ car and custody.

So that’s what’s up here. She seemed to enjoy church, though it wasn’t as “totally wild” as the Pentecostal church she attended with a prior foster mom. (And something makes me believe this isn’t a lie!) Tonight she’ll be gone and it will be our quiet little couple-plus-pets again, and so I’ll get Lee to either sit down and talk or (more likely) commit to a time in another day or so when we’ll do that, after we’ve both decompressed.

While there’s still two hours where things could go drastically wrong, I think we’re probably on course to call this a good weekend. I’m not thrilled about going back to work Monday, but I’m glad I’ve had a break. This really wasn’t hard or bad.

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and more

March 21, 2010

Because writing that last post left me lying here on the couch feeling vaguely uneasy, I’m going to just write about that a little to see if my feelings become more clear.

When LeeLee asked about more respite and other placement decisions, I told her that there would be many issues at play and that just because we’ve enjoyed having her here this weekend — and I stressed that we had — didn’t mean more respite or a local placement would be the right decision for all of us or that the workers involved would think it was. There was no way I was going to commit to anything or give her false hope, but I also didn’t want her to feel like it was a referendum on her character. I reiterated what she’d already heard from both of us, that we had gone into this hoping to be an adoptive home and that if we do shift to fostering it’s going to require plenty of mental work and paperwork.

And I don’t know what the hell I want to be doing. I definitely think it’s easier on me to have a teenager in the house than a little kiddo (no offense, Foster Ima) and that I enjoy being able to talk about schoolwork and so on, but also being able to go lie down when I have a headache and know that she can sit in her room and listen to music and draw and that’s just fine. I don’t think I’ll be able to agree to ages as low as Lee wants just because I’m scared. I’m scared that Lee won’t hold up her end of the bargain (even though she always has when there’s been an actual kid involved, I know) and I’ll be stuck doing way too much of the work and I won’t be able to handle it.

So, um, I’m afraid of failing and so I’m setting a lower bar for myself, right? This is not new behavior and not a great idea in general, because I also don’t give myself enough room to succeed when I’m acting like that. Ugh.

But I have to separate how I feel about Lee’s commitment and my frustration with her and her very strict thinking about things from how I feel about my own commitment. It seems to me that many (most?) foster/adoptive couples have one member who does more of the emotional AND physical gruntwork and it’s not exactly that that’s holding me back, because I do expect to be the one playing that role. I just really want it to work out for us, for us, and I know I’m not responsible for being the one who makes things easier on Lee, that she has to navigate it herself, but I worry it’s going to bring out some bad or passive-aggressive tendencies in me, and I don’t want that.

I know we’re in a situation where we don’t really know what we can handle until we handle it day after day after day. Somehow that sounds scarier to me in a foster context than an adoptive one, even though that doesn’t really make sense since the adoptive commitment is for life. I guess maybe I’m just getting used to the idea of a change of plans?

I don’t know that I’m able to make any more sense of things by writing, either, really. I think it’s going to take a whole lot of talking with Lee to figure out what we’re doing and why and how and all of that. I’m scared of failing but I’m also scared of quitting, and it’s seemed to me that we’re getting closer to that if Lee’s not even willing to put up with one weekly class. Maybe I’m having to deal with my own failures as a micromanaging pushy partner or something, too, because I know life isn’t going to turn out the way I want it to or envision.

I’m scared and uncertain. At this point, I’d say the odds are we wouldn’t move toward having LeeLee come to stay, but that may change and I could be wrong. And I have no idea what we’d do instead.

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so far, still so good

March 21, 2010

LeeLee was not really a chatterbox yesterday, which makes me think the first night must have been partly nerves. She had a lot of fun and was totally appropriate at my parents’ house for dinner and at the farmers’ market in the morning. LeeLee spent much of yesterday afternoon at the park a block from our house, sending frequent text message updates. I dropped by unannounced twice with the dog (from both directions) and Lee went down and played ball with her for a bit. She seemed to be following all our rules as well as we can tell, though obviously there’s more room to sneak a cigarette or do anything else if adults aren’t right there. There were a lot of adults watching little kids in the park and she seemed to stick to the ball courts, so we’re okay with it.

We’re very much working on the “trust, but verify” model now. She doesn’t seem to have stolen anything, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t. I’m not going to get into a power struggle with her over the stories she tells because I don’t have any vested interest in whether or not they’re true. (I was sort of getting into this in the comments to the last post, where I got good advice from Mothering4Money, who’s been there and done that times 50.) I’m not going to challenge her on the details, just pay attention as a listener and note how she seems to be crafting her stories, some of which are probably largely true and some of which are probably not so much.

LeeLee did ask yesterday if there are other foster homes in Our Town. She claims she’d asked her worker to be placed out in the county where she is now and that the worker didn’t think that would be an option and now she’d like to suggest Our Town. (There are a lot of foster homes out in that county, but they seem to be mostly farm families who can and do take a lot of kids at once, and LeeLee’s foster mom also told me that they’re looking for a place where she’ll get more individualized attention and work.) She asked if she could keep doing respite with us, though this was her first respite. I think some of her positive responses about being here are genuine — she does seem to honestly enjoy our pets and she was clearly having a good time playing Pictionary — but I’m not about to fall for how much better this is for her than her current foster home. I’ve said to her that everyone prefers vacation and little kids tend to like babysitters and grandmas better than the people who care for them every day and have to tell them “no!”

So could LeeLee come here to live? What if that meant she’d be here for the next three years of high school? We don’t know yet, and it’s funny to compare it to Rowan, who has more obvious problems and yet who would have been a YES. Lee and I discussed this a little last night and I think our answer was that if she needed a short-term placement (say, through the end of the school year) then we could commit to that, though it’s unlikely that this would be the scenario they’d be looking at. If we do anything with her long-term, we’re going to want to get a chance to read her file and really know what’s up and what her future options realistically are. Although it would be a foster placement rather than an adoptive one, we’d want to go in with the same amount of information and as much commitment as we can manage.

For Lee, it really would mean grieving her dream of a little brown boy that’s what brought her into this process in the first place. And I think potential crazy lying could be a problem for her, just given how hurt she was that Rowan would run away after I’d told him what it would do to me. For me, I’m not sure what my hangups would be. That I’m scared of the responsibility, probably. Lee’s decision to quit classes and switch to fostering has made me feel sort of sad and useless, as if I’ve put so much into this and nothing I do matters as much as her whims. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about any of this. And yet if we go into fostering, we’re always going to have to make these kinds of decisions, probably with even less information than we have now. So yeah, I’m muddled and it’s sort of a mess.

In two hours, I’ll make breakfast and we’ll go to church. Then we’ll have lunch and walk LeeLee to the river, because she says she’s never been there. It probably won’t be long before it’s 5:00 and time to get her in the car to bring her back to the halfway spot where we’ll turn her and her medical card over to her foster family. Then Lee and I will have time to decompress and talk and think, since I imagine we might be hearing from LeeLee’s worker soon. We’ll see how things go.

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taking it easy

March 20, 2010

Lee is upstairs sleeping still, but I get a little antsy when we have teens in the house, so I came down here to make Lee’s coffee and be awake for a while. 15-year-old LeeLee is awake up there, but hasn’t ventured downstairs yet. I think the cat just went to visit her, because he’s not down here and has stopped making noise. So maybe I can squeeze in an update before she’s officially up for the day.

She seems like a nice girl for respite, and we’re all getting used to her having some name overlap with my Lee. She’s been easy-going about everything we’ve asked her about doing, though we all ended up going to bed early rather than watching a movie together last night. We did show her the neighborhood and went to the local pizza parlor, and she pointed out places you could see across the river where she’d lived long ago when she was there. She claims to be a city girl and she does seem to be relieved not to be way the heck out in the country. Today we’ll head to downtown River City for the giant farmers’ market and then later have dinner with my family. Since LeeLee has gone to a Pentecostal church in the past, she’s interested in church with us tomorrow. Then in the early evening, we’ll meet up at the gas station where I picked her up and hand her back over to her foster family. I don’t anticipate any problems.

That said, her foster family is clearly fed up with her. They have three foster kids in the home, her at 15 and two 14-year-olds, one of whom has become her best friend. That girl is at a family visit for the weekend, which I think makes the weekend separation easier on both of them. LeeLee isn’t doing family visits at the moment, apparently by her choice. But she was able to show us a baby picture of her that she has saved to her phone, and that was cool.

According to the foster mother, LeeLee is a “crazy liar,” though that’s the standard blog term and not the term she used, but that she’ll lie about everything for no reason. She’s also stolen some things from them and she smokes. Both Lee and I talked to her about the smoking (“not in the house!”) and she said to us and to her foster mom that she doesn’t have any cigarettes now, that her access to them is through school. We’re choosing to just be noncommittal about any stories she’s telling, because it’s clear that she does like telling stories. There’s no trouble getting her to talk (although apparently she’s been giving her foster mom the silent treatment lately) and we heard a whole lot about a whole lot of things last night. It presents as more-or-less normal for a girl her age, and I’m sure a lot of it has to do with attachment stuff, growing up without the attention she wanted and trying to get as much focus as possible on her now.

She hasn’t done or said anything inappropriate. She’s definitely cool with having lesbians caring for her, though I don’t think she’d been forewarned. She says got in trouble at school recently for challenging a teacher who said homophobic things and insisting that she wasn’t sorry and would do it again if given reason to. This could be a story she’s just invented, but it was plausible enough and gave us a chance to talk about the benefits of arguing respectfully and thoughtfully in situations where that’s appropriate. She did recognize that another pair of women in the pizza place were also a lesbian couple, which sort of surprised both Lee and me. She keeps an eye on things, clearly.

(She’s coming down now! She did, and she and the cat and I looked on YouTube for her talent show performance from the other night, which really doesn’t seem to be there.) Anyway, Lee and I are trying to just work with what she gives us and not undermine her foster family but also not assume that their take on her behavior isn’t tinged with the frustration and burnout they’re feeling now. It’s a balance, I think, and I’m pretty comfortable with where we are on it.

Now, if we do become a foster home, we’re discussing what we’d be open to. This is going to push Lee back into wanting young kids so she can have a 5-year-old boy. When I pointed out how she’d just told me that listening to a 15-year-old talk for three hours was exhausting, she said, “Okay, well, maybe 7!” I have no idea where we’re going with this. Realistically, if we open our home they’ll probably ask if we’ll take LeeLee. I don’t know what the answer to that question will be, but she’s good for respite. She’s polite and friendly, likes sports, likes us so far, which is easy when we’re not requiring much of her. When Lee heard me talking to the foster mom, she was so alarmed that she sort of wanted to back out (which is not something we would have done anyway and also I was trying to convince her all of this was what you’d expect for that age; what’s her problem?) but she’s now glad that we have LeeLee here.

Now everyone’s up and making plenty of noise, so I’ll sign off. We’ll all do our morning routines and then head over to River City for some tasty treats. I’m expecting another good day.

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starting/stopping

March 19, 2010

We have a 15-year-old girl coming over for a respite visit through the weekend, though her foster mother hasn’t actually let me know where or when we’ll pick her up or anything like that. More on that later, I’m sure! I still need to get her room cleaned and the bed remade since the last person to sleep in it was my brother, but that shouldn’t require too much work and we should be able to manage a decent weekend for her. She lives way, way out in the country, so we’ll be going downtown to the farmers’ market and I don’t really know beyond that what we have planned, probably mostly taking it easy and seeing what she wants to do.

The other stuff, though, is harder to write about. Last night was session three of our Therapeutic Foster Home training. The old man who talked about “colored children” is still annoying and goes off on tangents all the time about things like why he’s opposed to parental visitation (!!) and was much of the reason we didn’t cover all the material we were supposed to last night. He drives Lee up the wall and the class is about as boring (at least in the “Hi, I’m a social worker and I’d like to read you this PowerPoint slide!” presentation style we’ve come to expect) as I’d expected it to be. I’m actually enjoying the glimpses I’m getting of the dysfunction in the system, that we’re at best 50% compliant on a lot of the national standards, that of the couples in the class only a few have ever even met their child’s worker even though that should be pretty standard. “Enjoying” isn’t the right word for that, of course, but I like having information and I’m glad to be getting it.

Lee is fed up. She’s annoyed that people like the old man have children in their homes. In fact, the only people in the class who haven’t had placements are our neighbor — a single woman who’s an adopt-only home, though she just got her first respite placement this week — and us. Everyone who has adopted or is adopting has first had that child in their homes as a foster placement. Even though we knew this was how things worked and that the vast majority of kids are adopted by their foster families, I guess it hadn’t seemed as real to Lee as it does now.

I’m not sure I can do justice to her arguments because I’m not sure I understand them, but she wants to quit the therapeutic training and switch to being a foster home rather than adopt-only. She just doesn’t want to have to sit through any more classes (though I’m not sure the time we’ve spent so far will count toward our training requirements for the year) and she thinks the whole process of training, being active, being proactive has been a complete waste of time for us. She’s not willing to do more even if it means it would mean we’d be more likely to get an out-of-state match and be eligible for a bigger subsidy. She’s over it, and she was in a horrible mood so I didn’t press the issue.

I guess I’ve been waiting for this day to come. I knew she didn’t want to take the Therapeutic Family training and I pressured her into it because I did and do think it would be good for us, as frustrating as it is to have to be graded on how well I can reword sentences from the training book. Rather than force Lee to do her homework ahead of time, I’ve let her go underprepared even though I know that whether or not we get certified depends on our level of participation and the quality of our homework. I’m just fed up, too, and I don’t want to have to micromanage a 40-something woman. (And while it’s clear that the weird old man’s wife does his homework for him, we’re all supposed to be responsible for doing our own work and everyone else seems to manage fine.)

So I don’t know what’s going on. I’m staying calm and not arguing with Lee about this until she’s being sensible and can talk rationally. Maybe having a teen girl in our house will change her attitude some, but I don’t know if it will get better or worse. Lee doesn’t want to just keep doing respite because she thinks it’s a waste of time, too. I guess she didn’t understand how it worked because she was bothered to hear that this girl is being placed with us because they were just desperate for anyone to take her for the weekend, not because anyone necessarily thought we’d be right for the job. I don’t know what she had been expecting since that’s exactly what I anticipated, so I don’t really know what to say here either.

I see a few ways forward. If Lee decides she’s not going to participate at all, that the bureaucratic challenges are too great, then we’re going to have to just stop. I’m not willing to try to parent with a partner who’s not going to be my partner in parenting. I’ve always said I’d choose the relationship over parenting if it came to that, and I guess just knowing that I’ve said that before lets me see how this has always been a tension.

I’m hoping if Lee decides we should become a foster home that she’ll continue with the training class, unlikely as I think that part of it is. Since our homestudy still doesn’t seem to have been filed at the state level (since being sent in back in January) I have no idea how long it would take to get that changed to being a foster home. I imagine it might be faster, especially if we were looking to take teens or other situations where the workers would really need us. It might help to be eligible for the extra subsidy and to just have the extra training the class provides, though I’ll go ahead and read the rest of the training manual regardless so I can get the information that’s there.

All of this may mean stopping any attempts to adopt from other states, though I don’t know. If we’re going to have foster placements and we only have one bedroom for kids, it seems to me that our focus has to be on them and that it would be unethical to be trying to move someone in there permanently when there’s a temporary occupant there already. Lee may or may not be okay with this, because she doesn’t understand why there isn’t interest in us on the national level, why we haven’t gotten positive responses to our requests.

For a while, Lee’s plan was to find a private agency that would work for us — well, for me to find one, since she didn’t seem to be doing anything on that front — and have a new homestudy done. She wants to “pay money if it will get us a kid” and at this point the two ideological points that are holding us up are her willingness to take on a consumer mindset (that we’ve paid our dues and deserve something in return) and her belief that if our attempt at adopting doesn’t work out it’s because it wasn’t meant to be.

Me, I think we’re dealing with a lot of inept bureaucracy and we were always going to be a hard sell in certain respects and while we’ve been dealing with our old, bad homestudy we might have been nearly impossible. Maybe it’s never going to be easy to convince social workers that an interracial lesbian couple — one of whom has dealt with sexual assault and an abusive relationship, the other of whom was adopted herself in complex circumstances, both of whom have had diagnoses of depression — would be great parents even though they’ve never parented before. And we haven’t been as proactive as we probably could have been, maybe because of my hangups about ethics and doing things “right” according to my own arbitrary standards.

Lee just sent me an email to say she doesn’t know how she feels and that if I feel like I’m doing all the work it’s because I have been. I know she’s under the weather now. I know some administrative stuff about her job has been frustrating her too, and she’s not doing well at brushing that off. I just offered to do the primary parenting tonight so she can go to bed early and get the rest she needs and then trade off a bit tomorrow. I’m willing to make extra efforts, but not unreasonable ones.

We both need to figure out our limits and boundaries, and until we do we’re stuck in this situation where we’re both frustrated and unhappy but unable to resolve anything. We’ll talk more after the weekend, and presumably throughout it. Things are just complicated now and I’m frustrated, so I’m going to focus on making our guestroom clean and our home as pleasant as possible and working from there. I can only do what I can do in all of this.

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