Archive for February, 2011

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in sickness

February 28, 2011

We didn’t have the greatest weekend here. On Wednesday after our social worker visit, Mara felt sick enough that she refused dinner, which is a first since she’s been with us. Instead she slept, and it was clear she was feverish. On Thursday, we she and Lee stayed home from school and the doctor diagnosed a sinus infection. We also were able to get an accurate weight, since Mara was too sick to fight the way she usually does at the doctor’s office, so that was the plus to it. She’s on medicine now and getting much better, but she’s wanted to be held pretty much constantly all weekend.

We still managed to have fun and had at least one outing per day. Friday we went to the library and to the county building to renew my car tags. Saturday we went to dinner and rode the little bus that makes a small circuit around the city’s south end, which is something Mara loves. Sunday we went to the zoo, where I carried her in my Ergo to save my back, and then to my parents’ for dinner, after which she played music and helped my youngest brother and his girlfriend make cookies.

Oh, and I did all the things in that last paragraph without Lee. On Thursday, we also got word that Lee’s sister Grace (her biological aunt, oldest daughter of Lee’s paternal grandparents, who raised and adopted Lee) had been hospitalized and was in grave condition. Lee flew out to her home state and won’t be back until tomorrow. Those first 24 hours after Grace’s heart seemed to be failing and her lungs filling with fluids were key and she managed to pull through, surprising her doctor. She was able to talk to Lee and to her visiting son a bit, and Lee had originally dreaded the trip but now seems very glad she went. For the moment, Grace seems stable and if she keeps going like this will probably be released back to her nursing home within the next week or two.

Back at home, though, I’ve had to deal with a lot of uncertainty from Mara, who misses her Mama a lot. I don’t know if I buy the theory that kids with attachment problems only let themselves get sick when they can believe they’ll be nurtured and healed, but this is indeed the first time Mara’s truly been sick in at least the last year and a half. And she needed a whole lot of nurturing, being held and rocked and tended to pretty much all the time.

Last night, she was weeping hysterically (which makes her nose run more, which means I need to wipe her nose, which makes her angry and weepier) and I finally took a hint from Dawn and said, “Look, I know you’re sad and scared (because she’d agreed that that was what she was feeling) that Mama is gone, though you know she’ll be back Tuesday. I wonder if you’re also sad because you’re thinking about all the other people who used to take care of you.” She sniffled another yes, and so I kept going. “You know, Mama and I want to take care of you forever and be your moms and make sure you’re okay. Even when you’re all grown up and can take care of yourself, we’ll still love you and be your moms.” And then she quieted, nuzzled into me and was asleep within a minute.

I know it’s not as easy as this and that just because I can get her to stop crying and go to bed (go to BED go to BED, PLEASE, BECAUSE YOUR MOMMY IS EXHAUSTED!!) that I’m actually resolving any of her underlying concerns. But it worked, and that’s the part I’m hanging onto. And when I told her teacher to expect regression in Mara’s language, she said she’d already noticed Mara was having trouble focusing and listening last week, which I’d seen at home. We talked about some reasons that might be happening and how we deal with it. I love that we have someone so thoughtful and insightful as part of our team and as part of Mara’s daily life.

So we’re pushing along. I’m supposed to travel to Orlando this weekend and I’m nervous about how it will be for Mara and Lee, but they both need to figure things out for themselves without me around. And Mara needs to know that I can go away and that I’ll still come back to her. This might be a hard lesson and I suspect it will be hard on both of us, but this is the time it’s going to happen, whether or not it’s the best or easiest time. We’ll get Lee home, we’ll have the TPR hearing, I’ll take off and hang out by the pool and talk to a ton of moms I love online. Then the family will all be back home next week to regroup and make sure we’re getting what we need and keeping things on solid footing for the next stage of our lives together. I’m still so grateful that we get the chance to do it as Mara’s moms.

Even at her most frustrating, she’s amazing and I’m so impressed by her tenacity and resilience and all the ways she’s figured out to survive and thrive. She’s one wonderful girl, though I have to admit I’m glad that I get to work today and she’s back to school. This break is better for both of us! And if she needs me to hold her all evening again tonight, I’ll do that as long as she needs it. I get to because that’s what it means to be her mom, and I trust I can handle that.

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twinkle, twinkle, little bat

February 23, 2011

Mara’s been a little bit under the weather lately, her sinuses pretty full. She doesn’t seem actively sick yet, but she was up much of the night Sunday kicking and snorting and thrashing, so we’d hoped she’d sleep hard last night. Instead, she was unusually hyper and wanted to run around. Even once I got her into her bedtime routine, we went two hours without any sign that she was actually getting sleepy.

I’m not sure why it seemed like a good idea but after the 700th time she said, “Mommy, hold you?” while holding me, I decided to change things up a little bit. Mara loves to hang upside down, have her legs around an adult who’s holding her and then flip over backwards to let her head dangle toward the floor, often for longer than we’re comfortable letting her hang. She loves doing somersaults and spinning, so obviously there’s something soothing about that kind of vestibular distortion or whatever it is for her.

At any rate, while she was holding me, facing me on my lap on the rocking chair, I let her lie backward so her back was along my legs and her head hanging down below my knees. She was wrapped in a blanket I held securely, but with her head upside-down. I rocked her this way for a few minutes and she immediately calmed down and her breathing slowed. Soon she was back in my arms and within ten minutes fast asleep. Now, she still woke up congested and cranky a few hours later, but getting her back to sleep then was easy.

Mara is usually very good at telling us what she needs. While we were on vacation, she needed skin-to-skin contact basically at all times, so for the first day I carried her in the baby carrier and let her sit on my lap while waiting for our meals and so on. It’s totally understandable that being in a new place freaks her out when she’s had so many moves and had the people taking care of her just disappear; she needs to feel safe and she needs to believe that we’re sticking around. So it was easy to see why she’d be my little barnacle, and it was easy enough for me to go along with it. It’s sometimes harder when I have to figure out on my own what she might want/need. It was a huge relief that I managed last night, and I’m writing this now to remind myself that it’s a mom job to make sure I’m thinking about that.

I had an immigrant friend in high school who said her favorite word in English was “backwards” and her “beck-vards” did have a pleasing lilt. I shouldn’t be surprised that one of Mara’s favorite words is “up-a-sigh-DOWN!” She loves how two and five fit together that way in certain fonts, how six and nine almost always do, how one and seven are close enough to seem like a potential for jokes. And then there’s W and M. M, as she reminds us each time we go through an alphabet book, is “for Mommy,” which of course I appreciate. Out of her sense of fairness and balance (and maybe budding OCD tendencies, but who knows with a three-year-old?) she insists that “W is for Mama,” though she knows too that W says “wuh, wuh” and is “for” words like whale and water and Wednesday. I’ve asked Lee to pass the “W is for Mama” along to the preschool staff so they know it’s a deliberate mistake, and not one we’re trying to get her to stop. It’s obviously meaningful to Mara that Lee and I have our similar and complementary yet different roles, and I think this is her way of expressing that.

I love how Mara uses language in general, where shank buttons are “mushrooms” and dresses are “princesses” and there are plenty of other stunning metaphors I’m forgetting. Both social workers (our foster worker, who visits monthly when there’s a child in our home, and the worker for Mara’s case, who visits quarterly) will be stopping by today and I’m glad they’ll get to hear Mara talk, get to see how even sickly she’s bigger and more openly herself than she was a month or certainly three months ago. She’s finding her voice, and we’re as charmed by that as we are by everything else about that little girl, head over heels for her as she’s flipping around and upside-down like our life now is. We’re all still finding our balance or our comfort in being a bit off-balance, but we’re making progress.

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shifting horizons

February 15, 2011

We got word yesterday about the date for the termination of Mara’s parents’ rights to her. We’d been anticipating early summer; instead it’s the beginning of next month. We have two more weeks before it, and then the judge will probably rule on the day of the hearing and 30 days will pass before the order is irrevocable and final. With all my talk of “if” for all this time, I don’t have much “if” in my mind or heart about TPR. Mara’s parents have made it clear in their words and actions that it is not their goal to raise Mara. They’ve more than met our state’s standards for abandonment, which is what this case is about and is a whole lot more clear-cut than a contested neglect or even an abuse case. So there’s that.

My heart still absolutely breaks when I think about this. I was in sort of weepy pain yesterday after hearing about it. It’ll be good for Mara to have a stable legal status (or at least be on her way toward one) but it’s still really sad to me to think about the legal breakdown of a family. A little girl asked Mara last night if she remembers her mom and dad and Mara said “Yes!” but I don’t really know if that’s true. It’s been more than a year since she last saw her mother, more than two since her father saw her last. I know she’s hypervigilant and remembers things incredibly well, but I’m not sure whether she does or will recall them. I don’t know whether she’ll know them in the future.

Termination of her parents’ rights is, of course, the step we need for Lee to be able to file for adoption. Lee and I have been getting on each other’s nerves a lot lately, which I’m sure is partly about transitioning into parenting and partly about not getting enough sleep but I suspect also about fears and memories from her own past. I know that while I’m grieving the loss of Mara’s family and feeling awfully conflicted about a future in which I’ll still have no strong legal tie to Mara once Lee can adopt her, Lee is absolutely terrified that Mara will leave us and won’t be able to relax about it until after termination. That’s why she’s afraid of family contact, afraid of everything. Even while I say “if we can adopt Mara” and she says “when,” I know she’s all tangled up in the part of herself that left her mother and familiarity as an 18-month-old and never fully recovered trust in the world.

Because I don’t have the time or emotional energy to get into that now, I’m going to give myself a little baby-book parable to think about instead. When you come down our stairs to the dining room, we’ve hung a mirror at the bottom of the stairs. Mara loves to be held so she can look at herself and make faces. This weekend, she managed to nab a solo sock from somewhere and took it down the stairs with her. She stood at the bottom of the steps hurling the sock at the mirror. At first, she hit the bullseye every time and cheered herself on, but then she made a mistake. Usually that’s where her perfectionism would kick in and she’d get fussy and refuse to play anymore. Instead, though, this time she got the sock back in her hand and started alternating hitting the mirror with hitting just below it. “That’s okay! You can try again,” she’d tell herself, just like I tell her when she makes real mistakes. And then she’d grab the sock and hit the center of the mirror. Again and again and again and again and again.

Mara’s a smart little girl in so many ways. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to help her from getting mired in perfectionism, and here she is figuring some of it out on her own. If Lee and I have been getting stuck in patterns where we get frustrated with each other and want an escape, maybe the answer is to keep pushing ourselves into the mistakes until they become manageable. Maybe it’s trusting that even when we’ve done something wrong and said something unloving, we’ll still get a chance to do it right next time. I know we’re still going to have heartbreaks in our future and TPR will be a part of that, but I’m looking forward to the satisfaction of when we do things right, too.

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playing with hair thoughts

February 11, 2011

I don’t usually use disclaimers, but I’m feeling like I should go ahead and put a big disclaimer right here. The first part says that I’m just trying to write down some things I’ve been musing about and I may well be wrong and am only applying it to our situation anyway, so please don’t feel like I’m judging anyone who makes decisions different from ours. I know that all of us are trying to do what’s best for our kids and that’s going to differ based on each family’s specific situation. Part two of the disclaimer is a direct appeal to emotion. It’s my birthday, so please go easy on me if you are in fact offended or bothered! I’m happy to hear disagreements or challenges, but I don’t want people to think I’m being mean.

With that out of the way, it’s probably going to be a letdown to know that I’m just talking about hair, though that can in fact be a fairly explosive comment. After we’d done hair last weekend and ended up with a row of bantu knots along Mara’s hairline and then little puffs everywhere else, on Monday we had to deal with the reality of Mara needing to find something to do during the two hours of school naptime when she wasn’t napping. Apparently her idea was to rip every tiny rubber band out of her hair and then (she says) eat it. So now even rubber bands join fabric ponytail Os and beads and snaps on the list of things that have gone out of her hair and into her mouth and thus are on the banned list until they aren’t in that category anymore.

I’d been lucky enough to find a new parting technique on a new blog and used my version of the crescent parts to put between 45 and 50 little braids into Mara’s hair on Monday night. It took a long time — Babies and Ponyo, with many breaks included — but she’s got a solid style that I’m hoping will get us two weeks if I occasionally touch up any braids that come loose. With each braid shorter than my pinky finger, they stick up all over the place especially after she sleeps, but we’re just figuring she’s three and this is what you do with a child whose hair is less than three inches long. (And no one’s going to disagree with me when I say that it’s frustrating braiding hair that short, right? You’ve barely got any braid in when you’re running out of hair to hold and ending up with a puffy loose end! I actually twisted the ends with pomade and then left barettes in for that first night so the braids would at least be tempted to hang down, but I’m afraid to leave them in longer and risk having Mara rip them out and damage her hair. I left snaps in her “bangs” braids and those were gone after one day, so now she can’t have those either.)

This got me thinking again because I’m pretty sure this means Mara will be the only girl at the school with braids like that. All the other girls who have small braids will have them bound or adorned in some way and Mara’s version is more of a boy style, though perhaps that’s because girls tend not to spend much time with the hair length Mara has. So after saying I want to do what I can to help her look like the other kids, I’ve gone ahead and given her a style that probably doesn’t, that again (like loose hair) may look to her classmates like a “boy” style. (Her classmates generally have braided/ponytail styles that look like they’re being worn by active three-year-olds, though the “mean” girl in the class always had tiny, precise, perfect cornrows that never got mussed at all.) And here’s where I say that we’re doing what we need to for our family. I could have tried to do a whole-head flat twist style where I find ways to weave the ends into the flat twists like I did on the spiral. In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do next time it’s hair time. However, this time I wanted stability and something she couldnt easily pull, and so braids seemed like our best bet.

A post on another new-to-me adoptive mom’s hair blog got me thinking more, too. She mentioned something I really don’t see much on adoptive blogs, that her daughter’s classmates are mostly also black and that they all evaluate each other’s hairstyles. The classmates’ interest ended up undoing part of what her daughter had in, yet that was a real sign that the mom had done a good job. My impression — which I’m sure has many exceptions — is that a lot of the bloggers I read who are white moms of black kids like I am are sending their kids to schools where few of their classmates are black. That means their kids have hairstyles that are unlike what their white peers are wearing but also might not have enough black peers to make it clear what the local norms are there.

And there are parents who don’t care about norms, certainly. I assume we all know about the white moms who just love their children’s curly hair and get comments about how it’s inappropriate to keep it loose and yet do it anyway. I get that, I really do. If Mara were wiling to keep headbands in or keep from tugging her hair when it’s loose, we’d probably do more twistout-type styles so it doesn’t shrink completely. I love the way Mara’s hair coils and want her to be proud of it, but we don’t leave it loose for more than a day or so because that’s just asking for tangling and hair-pulling.

We’ve been going to a potluck in a part of town that’s largely poor and black mixed with gay and gentrifying. It’s where the church we attend is located and also where I’ve been serving meals on one Friday a month to people who need a meal, which is a pretty big group in that area. At the potluck, the parents bringing kids fall into several loose categories — I’m focusing on the hippiesh parents with a variety of family configurations who let their kids pretty much run free and the single black moms who expect their children to obey them — and it’s not entirely clear yet where we fit. You can look at a child and know which of these categories he or she will fall into, partly because of hair. The parents who let their kids run also tend to let the kids do their own hair or make hair choices, so there are lots of lopsided ponytails and loose hair that doesn’t look well-conditioned and so on. These are cute kids having fun and it’s fun to watch them, except a few who are so out-of-control we’re considering not going back, but that’s a different story. Also cute, though, are the kids whose moms clearly have a weekly hair day the way we do. Each week, the girls come back with hair precisely sectioned off into twists or braids. Sometimes a twist will come free after a night of playing and I assume the moms just fix those up before school the way I do with Mara. I do suspect that part of the reason that group of single moms has been so welcoming to me is that Mara’s hair looks styled and they respect that.

We also see a range of hairstyles when we’re at church on Sundays, where the congregation is fairly low-income on the whole with no one I know of exceeding what I’d think of as getting-by middle class. Almost all the couples at church are butch/femme with the stud or butch partner usually having natural hair, cut short or cornrowed or in locs and the femme partner having relaxed hair or wigs/weave, though there are some locs and a few small afros in there too. The little little girls get puffs and then braids or twists when they’re big enough. Little little boys get cornrows or braids if their hair isn’t being kept short. Hair straightening tends to happen at age 6 or 7 and even some of the girls in that age range are getting what looks to me like traction alopecia. Even the straightened hair is often in cornrow/flat twist styles, sometimes with beads for special occasions up to maybe age 10. Microbraids with extension hair are common in the whole school-age range, and teens also often have either shorter relaxed hair or cornrow styles with colorful extension hair. Oh, and there are some particularly unfortunate wigs, and it particularly bothers me to see a tween in a wig, I admit.

All of those last options I just mentioned are things that we don’t want to do for Mara. We don’t think they’re healthy for her hair (on the whole; I know all can be done in better or worse ways) but they also just aren’t about who we are as a family, what our cultural and class expectations are. Now, some of that may have evolved by the time Mara’s getting to the point where she wants those styles, but at this point they’d be a clear Nope. We’ve told her it’s a mom job to take care of her hair and that’s going to be old enough until she’s truly old enough to do the job herself.

Even if we do keep going to the church, I don’t think we’ll follow the hairstyle norms of the church because they aren’t our norms. Lee hasn’t said that she thinks some of the styles signal that the wearer is lower-class, but I do think that’s part of her mindset and I do think it’s a realistic thought. Black hair sends a hell of a lot of messages, some intended and many assumed probably incorrectly by the person reading the message. I mean, Lee doesn’t have locs because she’s Afrocentric, more because she realized it meant she would never again have to comb her hair. And because it’s a fashion decision rather than a more spiritual one, we’d think and talk a lot before letting Mara have locs if that’s what she wanted. I believe in the end (if she were out of foster care; we’re not making permanent choices while she’s in care) we’d agree to let her look like Mama and it might be a good choice for her if she does end up as sporty as she seems now. But it wouldn’t be our first choice for a hairstyle unless she asked, and that’s partly because around here the only people we see whose kids are locked seem to be either white adoptive parents (signal: can’t handle the hair otherwise) and black parents who are themselves locked (signal: has some sort of cultural familial importance). Now that she has locs herself, Lee doesn’t believe any of the stigma about how locs are nasty or unwashed, but I know she doesn’t want anyone thinking that about Mara.

And if we do send Mara to the Waldorf school, she’ll be in class with the potluck kids with hippie-ish parents. The school norms will be kind of anything-goes (as long as there are no logos on the clothes; another point of difference) and yet just as we’d never relax Mara’s hair when she hits first grade, we’d wouldn’t start letting her styling it herself by making random pigtails and leaving the rest loose. (And I will say, the kids in this group who have black moms living with them have more of a style underpinning the freedom than the kids who don’t, though in all of this I’m dealing with a very small sample size!) Around school age, we’ll probably stop using beads in her braids. She’ll have more choice about what style she wants, but we still anticipate weekly hair time as the norm.

Basically, we’re middle-class people and trying to figure out what that means for this girl who will become middle-class by living with us. I said in the last post on this topic that I don’t want Mara to feel like she was rescued from economic or style inadequacy to join our family, silly as that may sound. I don’t want her to look down on the styles her siblings probably have (and I would guess they’re pretty much like the church crowd) but I also don’t necessarily want her to sport them herself, though we may find ways around that at times. Black culture is not monolithic at all and I’m describing the dynamic in our little midwestern city, but I think anywhere you go you’ll see some differences in hairstyle that do relate to whether a child is being raised by immigrants, African-American parents, or white parents, whether those families are wealthy, middle-class of some sort, working-class, or basically poor. I know the kids to whom I serve free dinners have their hair styled too, though on a Friday evening it’s often not fresh or neat.

I put up the disclaimer at the top because it’s hard to talk about class, and here I am as a middle-class white girl (age 31!) talking about it in ways that make broad generalizations. I realize that’s risky, but the point I’m trying to make is that we don’t make decisions about things like hair in a vacuum and I think it’s worth trying to gradually tease out how we do it, what goes into those choices. And we all know that “teasing out” is a phrase that holds a lot of meaning for people who do detangle coily-kinky hair like Mara’s, that it takes time and patience and gentleness. I’m afraid I may have failed on all three counts here, but I’m taking a stab at it.

So if you’re still reading this and you’re the white mom of a black child, don’t think this means I have some kind of magical answer about how you should choose to style your child’s hair. I’m only talking about our little bubble here, where we get to see what the professors who are Lee’s peers choose for their daughters as well as all the kids mentioned above and whatever’s on the hair blogs and what Sasha and Malia might be sporting at any given photo op. We’ve made our decisions (no relaxers being the key one) and are working out from that to figure out what we want to do. But unless you know the real diversity in your own community, you don’t know what kinds of things your child’s hair might be saying. And maybe you don’t care and just want your child to look cute by your standards, which is fine. I’ve gotten criticism for spending so much time on Mara’s hair because I shouldn’t care what other people think of it, and it’s hard to explain that to some extent I don’t care, but I only don’t care as long as I feel like I’m doing my part in the bargain and making it look like she is being cared for. She’s not a child who can be stigmatized because her hair signals that she’s not being loved, that she’s not having her blackness nurtured, that she’s getting lesser treatment because she’s in foster care. And this may seem ridiculous to people, but to me it’s meaningful and necessary and definitely one of my mom jobs.

I’m writing this now because I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep, and now it’s time to shower and wake Mara and put some leave-in conditioner on her braids and then eat one of the mini-cupcakes she and I made last night with breakfast. Then tonight Lee and I get to go out all by ourselves for dinner while Mara stays with some friends. Perhaps we’ll talk about hair. I know we’ll talk about Mara and the future and the choices we’re making. I really am so grateful I have this blog to let me figure out and talk through my own choices, but also to learn from others. This has probably been the best year of my life thanks to Mara’s introduction and I’m looking forward to more growth ahead.

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personal growth

February 7, 2011

My parents and all three of my brothers (known here as Matthew, Mark and Luke) came over to watch last night’s big NFL game, along with Matthew’s long-time girlfriend. Mara got to read books with my mother, play games with my brothers, and eat cheese to her heart’s content, so I’d say it was a success from her perspective.

She also got to show off her bedroom to the family members who hadn’t seen it since we quickly threw it together to prepare for her entrance into our home. I was just telling my mom as we walked up the stairs that the one light switch she’s not tall enough to reach is the one in her own room when she tossed her hand up and turned on her bedroom light, so I guess we’ve passed that hurdle.

Mara did have one more of her little meltdowns on Saturday, a fairly major one and certainly the biggest Lee has witnessed. She wanted to take off her seatbelt while in the car so she could hold me, apparently, but once I sat in the back beside her to physically hold the clasp shut and keep my arm around her, she fought like crazy to push me away. I started worrying she’d trigger an asthma attack because she was crying so much and congested to begin with, but eventually I got her to breathe slowly and deeply and she quieted down, though she held my head against hers for quite a while as she calmed down.

We still don’t know what’s going on with that exactly, but I’ll note that Mara has gotten through the entire night in her bed without disruption for the past three (four?) nights. She also has me convinced that she’s finally officially toilet trained, rather than perfect at school and still a little questionable at home. I’m sure there will be some accidents, but she’s gotten both control and signalling down and this weekend was a huge leap forward on that front.

So I guess she’s yet again gotten taller, but I think she also has had a lot of emotional growth lately. We or at least I may still see the meltdowns and fussiness, but I suspect that might be winding down, too. Today she and Lee are back to a normal school schedule after a break week and there will be two new kids joining her class (to replace the bossy “mean” girl and the boy with the Farsi name, if anyone’s keeping track) and so she’ll now be one of the experienced kids rather than the newest. I had a good conversation with her teacher about how much she’s changed and opened up during her first month at school, and it’s clear her teachers enjoy her as much as we do.

Last night, Mara was clowning around with my brother Matthew, pointing out all his facial features by name while he tried to evade her pointer finger. At last, he used both hands to cover his nose and eyes. “Knock knock!” Mara immediately responded, and sure enough he opened the “doors” of his hands to show exactly what she’d wanted to see. There’s just a sweet, smart, hilarious spark in Mara and I love that the people I love are getting to see it. I love that Mara is surrounded by so much love.

I was going to write more and then had to go away from this post for a few hours, so I’ll just leave it at this.

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what I call them

February 3, 2011

This is a post with something I’d wanted to talk about that I left off my list of topics yesterday, so surprise!

I only call Mara by that name when I’m also writing under this pseudonym. When I started mentioning Mara on facebook, I used “the little one,” which I totally stole from a fostering friend. One of my facebook friends eventually told me he found this really creepy and that I should call her something else. I asked my facebook friends what they thought, and there wasn’t real consensus. I didn’t respond, though, to the former classmate who suggested I just call her my daughter. (Nor did I respond a week or so later when she was complaining about how sad it is that a kid she knows through her work was returned to parents because foster care is a sham.)

I do call Mara my daughter sometimes. When I need to get buzzed into the parking lot at her school, I tell the person on the other end of the buzzer that I’m there to pick up my daughter, Mara. When other kids ask if I’m her mom (and they’ve always asked it that way, not if she’s my daughter) I say that I am. But somehow even though I don’t believe my feelings for her would change at all if someone showed up today with an adoption certificate saying she was legally ours, I’m trying to be careful about my words.

I’ve gotten criticism for doing this with Lee, too. Many of the people we know through the church we attend call each other wives even though they aren’t legally married. I don’t see this as problematic at all and I refer to people by whatever terms they use for themselves. However, Lee and I have decided we aren’t going to call ourselves married until we are married, which means living in a place where our marriage would be legally recognized. (And I do get a little creeped out when Lee semi-jokingly says things about what a good wife I am; I need to work on that, I guess.)

For us, saying that we’re partners is both true and a subtle commentary on the fact that our state insists that nothing more can be true. For others, saying that they’re married is a way of saying, “Look, straight people, our relationship is as meaningful and valid as yours!” and I can understand why they do that.

Our state also says that we can’t both be Mara’s moms if in fact we’re able to adopt her. For now, we’re both her foster mothers, but on the day we stand in front of a judge, we’ll be aiming for paperwork that only has Lee’s name on it. And yet, at that point my pattern will change a bit. Once Mara is adopted into our family, I will have no qualms about calling her my daughter even if the law refuses to recognize that.

For now, I say that Mara is our foster daughter when I feel a need to explain who she is. I say this beaming with pride and love, making it clear I’m not expressing any stigma. I want it to be clear to people that if she does go back to family (unlikely, but I always think about the future with that “if”) it wasn’t because we’d already adopted her and the adoption was invalidated, because there are already so many misperceptions like that out there. There are misperceptions of foster care anyway that I figure if I can give some positive spin on how it works, that’s a good thing.

Now that I’ve gotten all the way through this, it seems pretty ridiculous. And yet maybe that’s what I’m trying to say, that there are all these little decisions that are pretty easy for people in some positions (married straight people, legally and biologically related to their children) and not quite as easy for me. But I’m an over-thinker, so probably that would be true no matter what. Mara is my child. Rowan is my child. Lee is my love. We’re a happy family, as Mara keeps making me sing at bedtime. For now, that’s enough. But I want more!

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scraps

February 2, 2011

It turns out that probably part of the reason I was so frustrated and whiny early in the week is that I was incubating some sort of nasty stomach bug. I got to spend most of last night in bed and I’m feeling better, if a bit drained. Lee’s time with Mara yielded the first-ever instance of Mara shouting “Mama, Mama!” in the night when she awoke instead of yelling for me. (Oh, did I not add that part of the regression is that she doesn’t come padding into our room but stays in hers and shouts? Love it!) Anyway, miraculously, the less sick I feel, the less frustrated and wiped out I feel too. Huh.

Mara’s going strong. She insisted on taking a bath last night. Since that’s something she used to loathe, I was glad to indulge her. She got to play with her tub toy, Splashy the Turtle, and then made all sorts of waves herself. When I got into the shower this morning, Splashy was still there on the floor of the tub, gently swaddled in the washcloth.

When prompted about what she did at school yesterday, Mara told us that she played “princess flying” with her favorite classmate, (S is for) Shauna, and hugged and kissed her. I’m glad that we have a very experienced teacher who probably won’t drag us in and complain that seeing too much lesbian affection at home is having an impact on Mara’s behavior. I have no reason to believe this is anything inappropriate, but we sort of continued our ongoing conversation about when kisses are appropriate and when they aren’t. Previously, she’d kissed her teacher on the knee on her first day of class, which is where the whole kissing-is-for-family thing started.

There are a bunch of posts I’ve got percolating. I’m going to just throw down a list of them to keep myself accountable. If you have thoughts/questions/suggestions, you can put them in the comments.

I want to write more about hair as a class signifier. If Mara had stayed with her mother, she’d have been (as best I can figure) in a working poor household. She’d probably be going to a Head Start program with a free lunch program, just like she is now, though it probably wouldn’t be the one at the college and thus probably would be bigger and not as free to focus on her as an individual. The point is, we want to make sure that she’s not getting the message from us that we saved her from poverty and her life would have been ruined if she’d stayed with her mom. When the world at large looks at adoption, there’s a perception that wealthy families are automatically better. I want Mara to see some counterexamples.

I also want to write about Lee’s attachment issues and how I think she’s being triggered by parenting Mara. (I also think she’s making real progress in understanding herself and her own story, so this isn’t anything meant to knock Lee. She is who she is and she does what she can.)

Hmm, I know there’s more! I have a Zadie Smith quote about how we find connections and inroads into other cultures/literatures/experiences that I think is pertinent to transracial adoption.

There’s more, I’m sure, but this is all my pitiful little brain can manage for the moment. I’m okay with that, I think.

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