Archive for March, 2011

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farewell to a friend

March 30, 2011

After school every day, Lee or I will ask Mara what she did at school. Her first two answers are always the same, though they don’t always come in the same order. She’ll say, “I ate [whatever it was she ate]” and “I Shauna.” She’s been fascinated by her classmate Shauna since day one, and luckily Shauna liked her back, though one of her teachers thought there was a bit of a triangle dynamic where Mara swooned over Shauna while their classmate Shonte thought Mara was just the coolest thing ever. All three girls played well together, though, and got along well.

Yesterday and Monday, Mara’s answer about school included “and no Shauna!” Not knowing what was going on, we’d say, “Oh, that must have been hard for you to miss your favorite friend. Maybe she’ll be back tomorrow!” Today, though, Lee asked someone in charge and learned that Shauna’s family has moved away and she won’t be coming back. So when Mara was talking about moving to a new house to be able to play with Shauna, maybe she was connecting this with having been told that Shauna has moved to a new house. Maybe she thought she’d eventually be able to live with her beloved Shauna, which is not how it’s going to work. We have a lot to talk about with her, I think.

I’m planning to talk to the head teacher about what the transition was like for the class and how Mara’s addressing Shauna’s absence within the classroom. Maybe she can draw a picture and we can forward it along to Shauna with a note from us moms saying how much Shauna’s friendship meant to her. Meanwhile, though, Mara apparently started crying and calling Shauna’s name while Lee was trying to get her to sleep last night. After all the losses in Mara’s life, we’ve never really seen her grieve before, though we’ve seen moments of sadness and hints of loss.

I do think Shauna was Mara’s first friend, maybe first crush and first love in certain respects too. Even though her other foster family had kids in the same general age range as Mara (3 and 4 when she was 2) everyone’s feeling was that the two of them did things together and Mara either trailed behind or did her own thing. I think she was vaguely fond of them, but she’s been very clear about not wanting to talk about them or contact them since she’s been with us, though I still bring them up in case her answer changes. Now that she’s got language skills and is just older than she was before, though, she’s able to be friendly with the kids in her class and especially with Shauna.

For a long while, Mara’s word for a stranger was “friend,” as in, “Look, Mommy, a friend!” when we’d see a child walking across the street from us. That seems to have been overtaken by role descriptors like the ones she uses for people in books: princess (for a woman or girl in a skirt), mommy, daddy, grandma, grandpa, little boy, or little girl. She briefly thought that Lee and I were little boys and that my bearded father was a little girl, but she seems to recognize gender cues pretty well now and “little boy” or “little girl” seem to be settling as standards.

Shauna was just a little girl, though one who was almost as tall as Mara and who seemed to be especially kind and gentle. At a time when Mara needed it most, she was a friend. Even if Mara forgets her (and I don’t know how the hypervigilance works as a child ages and matures) I know Lee and I will always remember her and the times we smiled about her. Mara has a special finger symbol she makes when she mentions S-is-for-Shauna not unlike her own Mara M. Someday we’ll get to tell Mara these stories, tell her about the time she got frustrated because Shauna and Shonte both annoyed her by playing with the tulips I was carrying when I came to pick her up and then Shauna hugged Mara to make up for it in a way that was genuine and gentle and caring, kissed Mara on the cheek. She had a sweet and easy smile and I was so moved to know for sure that Mara’s adoration wasn’t unrequited.

Mara will have more friends, I’m sure, but today I’m grieving that this first and strongest one is gone. Maybe it seems silly that this loss is hitting me so hard, but Mara has lost so much and it’s really breaking my heart to know that Shauna is now gone too. I’d thought a lot about how to help a child like Mara deal with the losses that being involved with the foster care system brings, but I guess I hadn’t been ready for the losses of standard parenting and the way Mara’s history magnifies them. I just know that Shauna will be missed by all of us.

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movin’ on up, maybe

March 28, 2011

A week ago Sunday, I mentioned to Lee at brunch that I had in fact softened a little on my stance that we shouldn’t move, and in fact I’d been yearning after some very cute houses on the market. That afternoon, we looked at one house we decided wouldn’t work and met a realtor we liked a lot.

We saw our dream house Thursday, though there are some plausible backups if that one doesn’t work out. Our house went on the market Friday. That realtor has put a FOR SALE sign in our front yard and I worked so hard all weekend to get things decluttered and to move things to my parents’ house and to storage. I still need to get through three more closets and tidy the basement, but that’s pretty minimal in the scheme of things. (And Lee needs to get all the dog poop out of the back yard, plus I’ll do a little more planting there while the plants that are already planted grow, but that’s a separate job.) People are coming to lay carpet in the dining room and living room on Thursday and at some point this week, we’ll have the team who built our bathroom come work their magic on our bedroom, which needs paint and a few repairs.

So yeah, we’ve gone from not expecting to move for a long time to really, really hoping we can move in the next few months. If not, the plan is that we’ll take our house off the market and adopt Mara and live here. But if we can do it, we’ll be heading for a bigger house with a much, much bigger yard that would be a fantastic place for a dog and a kid to play. (Or two kids, since apparently Rowan is really excited about the idea that we’re trying to have an extra bedroom. Hmm.)

I did explain to Mara what was going on, after first saying that I’d been doing spring cleaning. I didn’t have time to manufacture an explanation and declutter the house for photos in two hours on Friday evening. Saturday we talked, though, and Mara doesn’t seem troubled by the idea. She made us agree that she’d be allowed to invite her best friend/girlfriend from school, Shauna, over and then that was that. I brought her along to the storage unit so she could see where we were putting things and that (most) things that were leaving the house wouldn’t be gone forever, but she seemed fine with it at this point.

I know that doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to make things go smoothly for Mara. I’m just hoping that since she’s very connected to us, she’ll be able to trust us to take care of her and we’ll be able to be present and give her the support she needs. Her language skills are also way beyond where they were when she had to move last summer or in fall of the year before, and so she’ll be able to help us know what’s going on inside her if it does end up stirring up emotions.

So yeah, things are kind of moving quickly for us. It would be nice if the selling part moved quickly, too, because we aren’t in a position to pay two mortgages at once and I think I mentioned that I really, really want to be able to buy this other house. So life will be a bit busier for a while, but I hope there will be payoff down the line for us as a family.

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not unexpected

March 24, 2011

I went to court for Mara’s annual hearing, which meant enough sitting around that I had a chance to finish the book I’d been reading. Then we got hauled into the courtroom, where it turned out the lawyers for her parents as well as her guardian ad litem all thought that the social worker had summarized everything properly in her analysis of the last year presented to the judge. So the judge accepted the summary, which says Mara is doing well and her problematic behaviors are improving, with a special note about the improvements in her speech. As far as I know, the judge also accepted the recommendation that Mara’s case goal be changed to adoption from “return to parent,” which is always the default in situations that don’t involve drastic abuse even though neither parent has ever asked for custody of Mara or shown a willingness to work a caseplan that would lead to regaining custody. Their lawyers know this and that’s why they had no problem with the change of goals.

We’re about six weeks away from the TPR (termination of parental righs) hearing, and since it’s the same players as were in the courtroom this week, the outcome of that one is pretty much a given. After termination, Mara’s case worker will no longer be her family’s worker because that part of the case will be considered closed. Instead, our worker will take over as her primary worker (which makes sense anyway, since she’s the one who makes monthly visits) and will start the adoption paperwork.

We know what lawyer we’re going to use for the adoption, but I guess we need to talk to her. We know what we can do legally to shore up my rights in a state that won’t let us co-adopt, but it’s not clear whether that’s paperwork that can be filed at the time of the adoption or not until after the adoption has gone through and Lee actually has full rights to make decisions about Mara’s care.

I asked our worker about how the adoption could be impacted if we were to move, and it loks like once we file the petition (May or June at the earliest) we’d want to have our address accurate throughout. So Lee and I are going to look at a few more houses today, but I think the plan is that if we don’t find something that’s clearly perfect for us in the next short while, we’ll just stay where we are and focus on stabilizing our family structure. We’re going to see a house today that’s ready for occupancy and had its bathrooms redone in ways that look very similar to the choices we made when redoing our bathroom, so that seems like a potentially good sign for an aesthetic fit, but we’ll see. Although Lee is getting very excited about moving because it’s something she’s wanted to do for so long, it’s not anything we’re going to do unless it’s definitely right.

Oh, and everyone else seems to be feeling better after the sniffly weekend. I have another sinus infection and bronchitis that left me pretty much unable to speak for the first half of the week. So that’s been fun, and now I’m taking medicine that makes me incredibly dopey. At least it’s also making me feel better now. But that explains why I haven’t been around here much even though there are things I’ve wanted to write.

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some pleasant surprises

March 21, 2011

We had a good weekend. Mara and I spent pretty much all day together Sunday, brunch with Lee and then church for just the two of us. We were all a little sickly and slowed down on Saturday, and that worked too, though Mara and I also had fun at the park when she was feeling active in the beautiful afternoon weather.

Mara’s annual court review is later this week, so I’ll be attending that. That’s when her case goal will be officially changed to adoption. I’m not sure if our state specifically puts adoption by foster parent as the goal or if it’s more general, but at any rate our intention to adopt her will be officially noted. I’d been expecting to also see Rowan that day because he was going to have to testify, but the awesome news is that he won’t have to testify because his abuser decided to plead guilty. This was the last of the outstanding legal matters concerning him, and he’s thrilled that he won’t have to testify anymore and we’re delighted for him. I’m sorry I won’t get to see him, but I have a little care package ready and I’ll just send that along to him at his foster home.

The other surprise is that we ended up looking at a house yesterday. Lee’s been wanting to move since before Mara came into the picture, while I kept urging her to slow down and make sure our house is in good selling condition first. Since Mara’s been here, though, Lee is really bothered by how cramped we are in a two bedroom/one bath house. I don’t think it’s all that bad, but Lee really can’t stand clutter and, well, three-year-olds require frequent changes of clothing and all the laundry that requires and have toys and whatnot and that’s just the way it is. So Lee’s been wanting and wanting to move and I’ve been holding back both for money/realism reasons and for Mara’s sake.

In Mara’s two placements preceding us (her previous foster family and Samara’s family before them) she did okay when she transitioned into the family but then melted down when the family moved to a new home. While we were her third placement within her first year in care, ours was the fifth house she’d lived in, and so I’ve been insisting that it’s not fair to Mara to make her move again. On the other hand, we know from what they told us that the foster family at least didn’t respond in an optimal way when Mara was frightened, upset, wanting to be held all the time. We also believe that she’s attached to us in a way that she wasn’t to them, plus that her ability to talk now lets her express things better than she could have before.

Anyway, Lee was up late into the night worrying about how we could figure out a way to fence this particular house that would make the back yard usable for the dog and for children, and it really doesn’t add up. Adorable as the little 1940s place is — and it has a charming main floor with more space than we’re used to, plus a large basement where we could add a room and a full attic that could also become a bedroom or something similar — it’s probably not the most practical choice for us right now. And so we’re looking at other options in our own town and suddenly thinking this might be more doable than we’d previously thought. Even if we don’t go through with moving, I think Lee’s finally willing to prioritize some of the cosmetic and inexpensive changes to our house that would make me happier in it. (Hint: wallpaper border from the previous owner NEEDS TO GO!! That’s pretty much all I want, a decent paint job. Well, and a new bedframe, but that’s in the works eventually anyway and I can wait.)

So I don’t really know what we’re doing except that we’re not hurrying anything and I’m good with that. Plus, Lee and I were able to talk to each other and share how we felt and what we thought and come to shared conclusions, which is always rewarding. We’ll figure something out and we won’t be in this house forever, but I know we can make it all work, or at least work well enough.

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other people writing

March 18, 2011

Other people are writing about things related to what I’ve been thinking about and talking to Lee about lately, so I wanted to quickly link to them and say what I have to say too.

AmFam had a series of three posts (one, two, and three!) today on the story she told herself about her adopted Chinese daughter’s birth family and how that story changes as she saw their faces and learned their names.

I’d been thinking last night about the stories I tell myself about Mara’s family and then Lee and I looked at some photos I’d found online of people who might be aunts of Mara’s, turning our heads to say that yeah, I could see that being the same forehead, the same angle of the cheeks, maybe, maybe. We have so many questions about her family that we may get answered someday but don’t have answered now, and while Mara’s not at a stage where she’s asking those questions, I hope she’ll be able to go directly to the source when she is.

I was also struck by Kevin Hofmann’s latest post about differences in discipline between white and black families. Lee still remembers how shocked she was in her youth to learn that her sister Grace (bio-aunt, and now back in the nursing home after recovering from the flu and her hospitalization!) didn’t spank her children and didn’t think spanking was effective. I was raised in a home where my parents only spanked us to really make an impression, basically for toddlers running into the street and nothing else.

When I was tutoring at church Wednesday, I had Mara with me. She was doing a puzzle and amusing herself while I worked on math with two eighth-grade boys. At one point, she said, “Be quiet, Mommy!” and the boys both went “Oooooooooooh!” because they thought Mara was going to be in big trouble. I explained to them instead that Mara was allowed to express her preferences, but she also knew that her moms wouldn’t always do what she wanted. I also said that she’s not allowed to say “Shut up!” but we’ve said that “Be quiet, please” is an acceptable alternative and one she even uses on the cat, which they thought was hilarious. I explained that usually when she asks us to be quiet it’s because she’s pretending that one of her toys is asleep, which is what turned out to be happening this time, that she’d finished the puzzle and “puzzle has a nap!” She’s not trying to control what we do, just keep us in her game.

Still, I was struck by how immediate their response had been and how we’re not raising Mara to that particular norm. I know both their mothers and like and respect them, so I’m not trying to imply that they’re bad parents or bad people because they’ve spanked their sons and taught them never to say things like “Be quiet!” to their elders. I didn’t talk about spanking with the boys, but if they’d brought it up I’d have said (truthfully) that we’re not allowed to spank Mara while she’s in foster care but also that we think discipline works best through non-violent methods and plan to continue that even if we’re able to adopt her.

We’re still very early in this whole parenting thing and it’s clear that discipline is one of the areas where Lee and I differ somewhat in terms of how we think we should approach the subject. Lee is more arbitrary about whipping out “Do you want to sit on the stairs?” when she’s getting frustrated by what she’s doing, while I say, “Mara, you’re doing x and you know you’re not supposed to. You can have a do-over and do it the right way or you can sit on the stairs.” My way tends to lead to less hysterical crying on her part, but I also do it less often and in situations that are already less emotionally heated, so it’s hard to tell. Lee does need to stop asking Mara why she’s crying, though, since that’s not a question she can ever really answer and it just makes things worse, and so we brainstormed last night about things she could say instead that might have better results.

Anyway, I’ll stop now. I want to write about attachment and also definitely about hypervigilance after a conversation I had yesterday with Mara’s teacher, but I’m hoping I won’t have to write about a weekend in which all of us were congested and unhappy. Mara’s prescription for allergy medicine is helping her and I think if Lee and I get a good night’s sleep, we’ll be okay too. Ah, spring!

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a catch-up post for any newer readers

March 16, 2011

The thing I wrote about class implications of hairstyles a month ago is being reposted on Love Isn’t Enough and so rather than writing what I was going to write today, I figured I should do a quick introduction post in case any new readers click through and wonder where the hell they are. Really, though, I’d gotten a comment recently that even my current readers don’t always know who I’m talking about. So here’s the history of this blog in a few paragraphs.

My name here is Thorn, though because we’re doing foster care I don’t share any real names or locations. I’m in my 30s, white, atheist, lesbian working in an office. My partner is Lee, who’s in her 40s, black, Baptist(ish), and a professor at a community college. Lee was adopted within her own family (paternal grandparents) after moving from her parents’ care at about 18 months. We started our classes to be certified to adopt from our state’s foster care system in summer of 2008. After a lot of discussion, time, thought, agonizing we decided to be open to foster placements rather than solely trying to adopt. Mara was our first foster placement in fall of 2010.

Our foster daughter, Mara, is three, black, and attends preschool/daycare at Lee’s school. Mara has lived with us since the end of October and is doing very well. Her parents are not contesting the termination of their rights, which is now scheduled to happen in May. After that, the plan is for her to become a legal member of our family. We also hope she will have ongoing connections with her family, particularly her siblings. At the moment, she has no visits with anyone in her family.

I also write about Rowan, who is white and 16 now and lives elsewhere in our state. He visited with us at Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2009 because his worker thought we would be a good permanent placement for him. He liked us a lot but did not want to be adopted and ran away during his second visit, hoping to make contact with his family. We have stayed in contact with him since then, through two moves in foster homes, and while I don’t really expect him to ever become a legal part of our family, he’s part of our family as I think of it. He grew up in the same housing project where Mara lived as a baby, which has given him an extra reason to think of her as part of his tribe. They have not yet met, but they’ve talked on the phone.

Last summer, we were also approved as an adoptive match for Colton, also 16, who lives in a far-off state and is black/white biracial. He also decided against adoption and we didn’t hear anything from him for a long time, but he’s been reaching out a bit recently. He’s a fantastic young man with a lot of promise and it’s exciting that we still get to be a small part of his life.

I’m sure there’s more I’m leaving out, but those are the basics of who we are, at least. I’m happy to answer questions in the comments.

Oh, and since I mentioned this in the hair post, I’ve been styling Lee’s hair for the last four years and she’s been natural for almost all her life. A medium afro that didn’t get much attention from her was her signature style for most of her adult life, but we played around with various twists for a while before she decided she was ready for locs three years ago. We started her locs from finger coils and last summer trimmed it into a bob so her hair would be more-or-less one length. It’s back to being long enough for a ponytail, which is what she prefers. She does not like sitting still to get her hair retwisted, so she’s basically semi-freeforming at this point. She has grown to generally like her locs, especially because they mean she never has to comb her hair. I am the hair stylist for everyone in the family. Mara is much more patient and compliant than Lee even though Lee is able to drink a beer while I do her hair, which you’d think would help!

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Mara’s progress report

March 14, 2011

I’m still not feeling entirely like myself, so I’ll do a quick post on how things are going after Mara’s first two-and-a-half months in school, so basically two months at home with me and then the time since January in school.

Two of the kids from the class she joined have left and two new ones have joined. It’s still a class of ten, but now it’s four girls and six boys, and heavily majority-black. I believe there are only two kids younger than Mara; she’s definitely on the young side and definitely, definitely on the tall side.

The first focus when Mara joined the class was on having her learn to follow instructions in the class and to speak more clearly and loudly. Her speech just keeps getting better, and the teachers basically understand her and she’s learned to talk directly to her classmates rather than try to get a teacher to intervene. And other than the one incident where she didn’t get in line with the rest of her class, Mara’s behavior has been excellent.

A lot of what Mara has learned in school has been social rather than academic, mostly because she entered the class ahead of most of her peers. She knows all her letters and what sounds they make. She can count to twenty and recognize all the numerals, though not necessarily apply them to the numbers they represent once she hits double digits. The goal is for each kid to recognize his or her own first name; Mara knows all her classmates’ names as sight words.

The latest goal for Mara had been to get her to be more social. She tends to play on her own and observe the other kids. In the last few weeks, though, she’s really started interacting more and having more fun. We hadn’t realized this was a problem since every day she tells us first what she ate at school and then what she and her best friend/crush Shauna did together. Apparently some of that must have been just things Mara saw Shauna do or else it was a tiny part of her day, but she’s now doing a lot more playing. For a while, the youngest girl, who also has speech delays, was apparently looking up to Mara and following her around and sort of mimicking her and mooning after her while Mara probably did the same to Shauna, who’s one of the oldest kids, but now all four girls are a pack and play together well. Mara also has lots of friends among the boys, especially during outdoor play, when her size helps her fit in better with the older kids.

We’re looking into adding even more time in a class for Mara. We’re going to be joining our local YMCA so that we can all have a place to work on things we need to work on, and for Mara that will mean finally getting to start tumbling classes! We’re also planning to put her in the most basic swimming class since it’s not clear yet how much she learned while living with the other foster family and their back-yard pool. She loves being in the water and has a good kick, but I think she’ll do best beginning at the beginning. And maybe she’ll want to play soccer, which for three-year-olds means wandering around on the grass and kicking a ball, which sounds right up her alley.

She and I hit up two museums — history and science — this weekend and had a great time. She loves the zoo and the art museum and the giant greenhouses too, plus the library is a perennial favorite. I’m just trying to expose her to as much culture as we can and see what sparks her interest. I was a bit surprised this weekend to see how strongly she was drawn to the harps at one event we attended. She had fun playing with a small one on the floor, but looked overcome with reverence when she got to pluck and strum the full-sized version the woman presenting had brought. So hmm, had never thought about that as an option for her, but I pointed out how the strings are just like the strings on her ukulele, to see if it ups her interest in the instrument she already has.

When I think about the Mara who moved in with us four and a half months ago, she almost seems like a different kid. I was thinking about how many songs she knows now, compared to “Twinkle” and “Barney” as the only request she knew how to make then. She uses full sentences and so do the toys she “talks” for, who are usually checking in on each other’s emotions and whereabouts. She’s gentle and easy-going, right now going through a stage where she sort of plays with being scared (“Aaaaah! I scared!” when at most she’s a little uneasy) so she can let us comfort her and help her get more comfortable with new things.

And oh, she eats! She was cracking us up at a fish fry Friday by insisting that there was “chicken” in the seafood bisque, because “chicken” is her generic word for meat. She still turns down broccoli (though she also asks for it) and was not happy when my mom gave her shrimp cocktail sauce when she expected ketchup, but she loves food and I’m so glad that we focused on the feeding structure we did. Lee still tries to say, “Hey, Mara, just try one bite of this!” and it has never, ever worked. Someday she’ll learn! But Mara will watch us eating and want what we have, so she had cranberries last night (insisting that they were first strawberries and then blueberries; perhaps you sense a trend in her certainties!) and enjoyed them and asked for more.

Mara’s talking a lot more about skin color lately, too. She likes that she and I have brown hair and she and Mama have brown skin. (Honestly, I think Mara’s hair color is lighter than mine or Lee’s, while her skin usually seems a shade or two darker than Lee’s to me.) We talked about how some families are all white-skinned and some are all brown-skinned (and she knows that “black” is another term for this) and that others are some of both like ours. She knows that some families have a mom and a dad and some have two moms like ours and some have two dads and others have just one parent or a grandma or something else, and that families like ours are represented by the rainbow flag she loves when she sees it, usually as we’re driving past bars. Her toys and dolls like to talk about daddies, but she hasn’t asked us why she doesn’t have a daddy herself; I’m not sure to what degree she thinks of dads as normal since she’s only ever lived in one home (the other foster family) where she had one.

I asked her whether other people at school talk about brown skin and white skin, since that’s obviously been on her mind lately. She told me that they do, so I asked who talked about it, wondering whether it’s her peers (since two of the other girls are black like Mara and the third is white/black biracial, and so has a parent structure like Mara’s) and she said, “I do!” When Mara moved in with us, she didn’t like to look in the mirror. Now, though, she loves to watch herself dance or make faces, loves to be in the bathtub and put lotion on her lovely brown skin. She loves running her hands through my hair especially since my recent short haircut and she loves playing with Lee’s locs. Her bald spots have grown in and are now completely covered with her tiny, tight curls.

Okay, so this didn’t end up being a short post, though it was fast and easy to write. We’re just so impressed with Mara and how well she’s doing. She still has challenging behaviors at times (oh, I am not convinced I’m good at parenting pica!) but she’s just a fantastic kid. I’m so glad she moved in with us when she did so we’ve been able to see all these changes and all this growth. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

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overlaps

March 11, 2011

I have so much to write about, but I’m getting over something that may have been food poisoning and which has left me absolutely drained and exhausted. I’m extra grateful to my Orlando housemates for putting up with me and helping out, particularly on the medication front for the day I needed to fly.

I just want to update quickly that Mara’s next court date for her own case, her annual review, will be later this month and the TPR hearing has been rescheduled for May. It turns out that the same day as Mara’s hearing will be Rowan’s next chance to testify, which unfortunately he’s going to have to do one more time since the prosecutor and defendant in the other abuse case weren’t able to reach the expected settlement. So if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be showing up as the foster parent at Mara’s trial and the former foster parent and now witness support at Rowan’s.

Rowan is understandably freaked out and frustrated about having to testify about things that happened years and years and years ago yet again. He’s also been having a lot of emotional growth. I don’t want to write too much about this since he’s almost grown and he’s not living with us, but I am really impressed with some of the good choices he’s making and just wish he were getting better support with some of them.

When we talked to Rowan on the phone, Mara signaled that she wanted to talk to. He was cool with that, so they got to chat a bit about their shared favorite sport. I’m not sure if he’s ever really had interactions with kids her age, but he thought it was hilarious that she, too, will change her team allegiances to root against Lee. he liked talking to her and when I asked if he’d be interested in joining the three of us for a weekend at a state park or something this summer, he was genuinely excited at the thought.

He still signs off by saying “I love you” and part of my long conversation with him was about how he’s still conflicted about what his long-term goals should be, adoption or eventual emancipation. I reiterated what Lee and I have been saying, that he’s part of our family whether or not the law recognizes that, whether or not his current foster mom adopts him, and so on. I pointed out that there’s no legal tie between Lee and me and it doesn’t change how we feel or how we treat each other, and that clearly was something he hadn’t thought about before and it meant a lot to him.

He also wanted an off-the-record conversation with me about the hat he’d had me make for a bet he made with Lee. He said that when her home state’s namesake team and our home state’s namesake team meet in basketball (which may not happen until the tournament, if at all) if hers wins, he has to wear an ugly hat and vice versa. I, of course, was the one asked to make just such a hat, which I’ve now done. Rowan wanted to know if I’d make a hat that’s not so ugly and then if Lee wins the bet, spring it on her that he’ll be wearing the decent one instead. I’d been planning to do this anyway since the only other time I’d made him a hat was to keep my hands busy while he was AWOL from our house, and he deserves a reminder of better things. But having him ask me to do something for him — even in a slightly indirect way — felt good.

I wish we could do more for Rowan right now. I wish our home were still a resource for him, but with only one bedroom it isn’t. I’m glad that he’s in a good placement, but I understand some of his reasons for not being sure he wants to make it permanent. I also understand the reasons I keep telling Lee we shouldn’t just go buy a new house, even though any house we move into will have more bedrooms and thus rooms for more kids. (Mainly, the issue is that Mara’s move to our home was her fifth in a year, two other placements and in each of them the family also moved houses. In both cases, the move to a new house had a bigger and more obvious negative impact on her than did the move to a new family. So we want to be slow and thoughtful about this, plus it would be nice if the market improved enough that we’d get a decent deal for our current house, though many things are up in the air there.)

While home sick yesterday, I read Michael Oher’s new book, which I’d bought because I plan to pass it along to Rowan. I think it will really resonate with him, as it’s about how it’s incredibly hard work to get out of poverty and out of the foster care system to success and how it takes support and help from a lot of people along the way. I have no idea how Rowan’s adulthood will turn out, but he’s had the chance lately to make some decisions that would (in my opinion!) derail things and he’s instead chosen to do the responsible thing that will build toward a good future even if it’s less satisfying at the moment. He’s getting more insight into his family life and his role when it comes to letting his brother make his own mistakes. I don’t know what he’s going to need or want from us down the line, but I think we’ve earned a role as one of those helpers when he writes his autobiography someday. And whatever it means, for whatever it’s worth, we’re part of his family and he’s part of ours.

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waiting/marinating

March 3, 2011

Yesterday was the hearing to terminate Mara’s parents’ rights, except it wasn’t. When we got the notification from our social worker that there would be a hearing, the first thing I did was ask whether they’d contacted Mara’s dad, since I thought they were putting out general notifications because he was unfindable and I knew the deadline for that wouldn’t have been reached by yesterday. And what do you know, they hadn’t reached her dad and hadn’t been able to show paperwork saying something related to that, so the whole thing is being postponed until some later date.

I was kind of emotional about the whole thing, and in fact I’m doing a lot of emotional processing. I’m trying to figure out how much of the way I foster parent is based on just who I am as an individual and how much is more specific to being a pacifist and an atheist and, well, maybe there’s more and that’s what I’m trying to figure out. However, I don’t have time to write about it now, so this will all have to remain very mysterious. I’m not the parent I thought I would be, I’ll say that. I never thought I’d be able to ignore the hard stuff as well as I do, and when I see people who are getting tripped up by it, I wonder what it is that makes me different. (I’m not saying my different is better, just that it works for me. Well, except the part where I’ve gotten really frustrated with Lee pretty regularly throughout Mara’s time with us, which is probably my way of releasing stress when others would get mad at birth family or even the child.)

Anyway, I need to pack and be ready to fly to Orlando tomorrow. I have some knitting ready and a good book, plus apparently there’s an Elif Batuman article in the latest issue of The New Yorker, so I’ll get to enjoy that! Oh, and at some point I’ll find time to sit down and write about how fantastic Mara’s unbirthday was and how pleased Lee and I are that we did it for her. That time is not now, though. Now I get things done and then rest and then travel and then rest, I hope. That’s the plan, anyway.

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one-tenth

March 1, 2011

Today’s the day to fill out and send in my monthly foster care form, meaning Mara has now been with us for four months. That also means it’s four months since her birthday, a third of a year!

That got me thinking yesterday that at 3 1/3, she’s already spent 10% of her life with us. And wow, while in some sense it seems like no time at all, that’s something!

Mara’s been asking about birthdays. Her birthday was her second full day with us and she took a huge nap all afternoon and went to bed early, mostly bemused by the birthday bits. We threw the rest of her cake in the freezer and just kept on going at that point, but either because of something they’ve talked about at school or just the general environment, she’s been saying that she wants a birthday. Both Lee and I have had ours since she moved in, so she knows it means cake, candles, and presents. That’s exactly what she requested, in fact.

So tonight Lee comes home and I think we’re going to surprise Mara with a “birthday.” I don’t have much in the way of gifts, but I’m figuring if I swing by the grocery store, I can get some clearance Valentine’s Day teddy bear or something. I think what she wants is the experience more than anything. So she’ll get to have us sing to her and fuss over her and eat some of that cake. She’ll get to “blow candle,” just as requested. And she’ll get to celebrate having our family together again.

Last night, she didn’t want to sleep. We watched basketball at her request, which is what she and Lee do when Lee’s putting her to bed. She stayed restless, though, and kept talking to me. Finally I got fed up and called Lee just to talk to her. As soon as Mara had talked to her Mama, she put her head down on my belly and went to sleep. I know I’m writing a whole sequence of these one-thing-Mara-needed-before she-could-sleep stories, but I find it really interesting that it does seem to be about unlocking whatever it is she needs to feel comforted and safe and relaxed. Finding that magic word is just so satisfying, though.

Maybe tonight the “birthday” will do it. If not, I think I’ll welcome Lee back by letting her put Mara to bed and I’ll finally relax and get some sleep! It’ll be so good to have Lee back home and I know we’ve all been looking forward to it. Lee and I had been getting on each other’s nerves quite a bit in the last month or so, but this break has made us both appreciate each other’s contributions more. I’m thrilled she’s coming home but very proud that she pushed out of her comfort zone (because she hates hospitals and nursing homes) to be present for Grace and to have the connection she needed to have, even if this does end up being their last visit. I hope we’ve all learned about ourselves and about the strength of our little family, but most importantly we’ve gotten through it.

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