Archive for May, 2011

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meow

May 31, 2011

This is a very long post because I wrote it in stages over the last week and don’t want to go back to edit it into some sort of coherent, shorter narrative. Sorry.

We took Mara over to the Piano House on Monday night a week ago because we had to check in with the contractor who’s doing the many small fixes we need so the FHA will let us get our mortgage. Lee walked Mara through what will be her room, the playroom beside it, and our room just beyond that. Mara seemed to understand and didn’t seem to be bothered by it, or at least isn’t yet. In fact, later she was able a few times to show off her rooms to people who’d stopped by, and that definitely seems to give her ownership of the story in a way that she likes.

Then we had dinner at the pizza place a few blocks away, then headed another few blocks to pick up the surprise that Lee had promised Mara. We brought a little gray kitten, to our current house in part so the kitten can help Mara make the leap to the new house. We were told originally that the kitten was about four months old, but our vet guesses she’s at seven months, meaning she was born when Mara moved in with us.

We’d first seen this kitten on the night we walked over to the Piano House and then to our friends’ back yards two blocks away. There was a kitten sitting on the fence there, totally unafraid of our dog and apparently very kid-friendly. I commented on how much I’d like to have a second cat again and Lee surprised me by saying that if things went well with the new house and this outdoor cat still needed a home, the cat could live with us. Last weekend I made her call our friend to ask about the cat’s whereabouts only to hear that a neighbor’s daughter had moved the cat to her own nearby neighborhood, where the cat had been in a fight with another cat that left one leg injured. The neighbors there took her inside, got her to a vet, and started looking for a home for her. The word went out to the historical district neighborhood email list not even a day before we called our friend there for a cat update.

So now we have two cats. On this blog, I’d been calling our older cat Thing One but since his little brother Thing Two died almost two years ago now, it seems weird to continue that trend with this new little girl. Instead, I’ll change his blog name to Lionel and call her Leona, in tribute to some of Mara’s favorite fictional felines. It’s been a week now, and after we took things very slowly over the first few days, Lionel and Leona are getting along pretty well.

One reason for that is that Leona turned out to have another injury from her fight that we hadn’t known about. Well, we knew Lee had felt a scab on her upper hip near her tail, but the doctor who saw her before hadn’t noticed or treated it. On Friday night, it became abscessed, which was about as much fun for Leona and for me as her caretaker as you might expect, and we got her in to the vet on Saturday to get the hair nearby shaved and some antibiotics. Mara was in the room to watch how Leona doesn’t get scared about shots but doesn’t like the vet to hold her and look in her ears and so on, which let us talk about how it’s just opposite how Mara feels about her own doctor.

As if this post isn’t long enough, I’ll now add that Mara dealing with Leona’s fear is one of the major reasons we wanted a cat. Mara is learning to connect emotions, but we thought helping her project things onto Leona might make the transition to the new house easier. So when Leona was scared to be in a new place in her first night with us (though, as we all agreed, happy to be in out of the thunderstorm!) I suggested to Mara that maybe she was a little scared when she first moved in with us, before she knew who we were and what our house was like. “No!” she adamantly replied, “I was happy!”

I’m not quoting her because I think it truly reflects how she felt or because I think it means we’re a success as a foster-adoptive family or anything like that, but it’s certainly true that Mara is a remarkably happy child, good at making do in pretty much any situation. Lee and I talk a lot about how this is different from Lee as a child, where she saw her separation from her parents as a sort of defining tragedy that overshadowed her otherwise basically happy life. Mara is resilient, and it looks like her new cat Leona is too. As we move into a very open new future, that certainly makes life easier!

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on my mind

May 26, 2011

There’s work being done on the piano house so that it can meet the FHA requirements and we can soon be done with paperwork and move in. Well, do some painting and then move in, I suppose.

Last night we were over there dropping off the toilet we’d just bought and one of the men working on the bathroom had brought his two sons, ages 4 and 2. I had Mara bring her jump rope up from the car (because she’d begged for a jump rope and she loves that it starts with J, but she has no idea how to actually use it) so she and the boys could play with it. They did just that for about an hour, also sliding down the little hill from the lawn to the sidewalk, though I told Mara she was only allowed to do that when there was a mom watching. Although none of the three of them ever figured out how to jump over a rope that wasn’t already lying flat on the ground and possibly not even that, they had a great time. This is exactly what I wanted for Mara, a chance to play and move her muscles and have fun. It was clear she loved it, too. I’m hoping her first evening at the piano house is a sign of what’s to come.

In less happy news, I’m still thinking a lot about transracial adoption even though what we’re doing isn’t exactly or entirely a transracial adoption. Today I watched this heartbreaking trailer for a documentary on colorism and a transracial adoptee’s suggestions for white parents adopting transracially.

This adoptee’s key points were that adoptive parents should 1) adopt more than one child of that race; 2) participate in the child’s ethnic community; 3) recognize privilege and that they can’t buy their kids’ development or “success;” 4) relate to their child’s culture. I don’t know if we will adopt another child, but Mara does have Lee to keep her from being “other” within our family. I do know I’ve carved a small place for myself in online black communities and our church, but I don’t know if that’s enough or what it will mean to Mara as she grows older. I’m basically doing it for myself anyway, to become the person I need to be to live this life in an interracial family. And we’re talking again about what to do when Mara finishes preschool. Living where we’ll be living makes me want to send her to the public school, though Lee’s still strongly pro-Waldorf. We’ll see. I do think we’re doing well on the cultural front, at least. I mean, we’re/I’m doing well on all these fronts, I guess, but it still sometimes feels inadequate to me. I’m very muddled about all of it now.

Oh, and speaking of adopting again, it’s been nine months since we went to visit Colton and then he decided he didn’t want to be adopted or move out-of-state. After I sent him a little birthday present, he sent me a message recently asking if he could come visit us if it was okay with child protective services in his state. I have no idea if this means he’s thinking about adoption again or what. If he is, we’d have to hurry because he’s already turned 17 and there’s a six-month waiting period between placement and adoption according to his state regs, oh and also I’d have to make sure Lee would still be okay with doing this since I’m not sure she’s thought about it. She was cool with the idea of him coming to visit, though, and we’ll see whether he follows through and whether there’s funding for it. I’m just glad we’re a part of his life, whatever happens. He’s a great young man. He is still living in the same group home/foster family and seems to be doing well there. I like knowing that he’s in a good place with people who care about him.

The other part of potentially adopting again is that we’re open to any of Mara’s siblings who might need homes. I was thinking yesterday about child support payments. I wonder if Mara’s extended family might have been willing to take her in if they’d known they could count on getting child support money. I hadn’t quite thought of it in those terms, but it may well have been a factor. I do believe that knowing they wouldn’t have to pay child support was one of the reasons Mara’s parents didn’t fight termination of their rights, though it’s all a lot more complicated than that. I hate the way our culture is set up to encourage poor children to suffer more.

Tonight is Mara’s last tumbling class. I think we’ll be able to sign her up for a combo tumbling-and-swimming class for the summer, which I think she’ll love. She’ll have to have a new teacher, though, which will make her sad as she loves the teacher who’s taught her tuck-straddle-pike and how to walk a balance beam and, well, not how to do an unassisted backwards somersault, but that’s because Mara’s been too impatient to keep trying when she loves the forward rolls so much. This teacher shows remarkable patience with a bunch of kids (now down to only two) who run around wildly and pay no attention except when it’s their turn to do things. I’m glad we’re not over-scheduling Mara at such a young age, but she’s loved these 30-minute twice-weekly classes.

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pick-up lines

May 12, 2011

“I like you dress,” Mara told our social worker at the end of the visit yesterday. In the last month or two she’s picked up the idea of compliments, possibly from her classmate Shonte, whom I’ve heard use them as conversation openers before. Shonte has speech delays, too, and I’ve wondered for both of them whether this functions as something that lets them talk to a person in a way that gets a positive response every time rather than the confusion they might get if a stranger were trying to understand their regular speech.

Lee and I are especially charmed that Mara’s favorite of what we privately call her pick-up lines is, “I like you glasses!” She feels a bit left out that Lee and I wear glasses and she doesn’t and she’s fascinated by glasses, but whether she realizes it or not this is often a particularly appealing compliment for people who aren’t used to hearing nice things about their eyewear.

We had a parent-teacher conference yesterday and we agreed with her teacher that we understand most (but not quite all) of what she says. Her peers, however, are not as good at discerning what’s going on and she’s not as good at pushing to be heard there. One of the classroom goals for her is to teach her to speak up with classmates rather than try to get a teacher to intervene, especially since all the teachers do is tell her to talk to her classmate directly. I wonder, though, whether it lets her sort of practice what she’s going to say before she talks to her peers.

Mara’s insecure attachment problems in the past didn’t manifest as being superficially charming, so that’s not what I think is going on when she compliments strangers. She would latch on to just about anybody, but it was in a desperate way, as if she just needed to have a warm adult body there in case the rest of her world melted away. Now, though, she’s reaching out in a very deliberate way and clearly enjoying the positive response she gets.

Really, that positive response is part of what makes me glad she’s being social this way. If all goes well and we get to live at the piano house (and while I’m throwing out ifs, how about if the sellers agree to pay for the fix that would keep raw sewage from seeping into the basement, please!) we’ll have neighbors who will remember that their first interaction with us was Mara sweetly chirping, “I like you puppy!” She makes people feel good and she knows she’s making the people feel good, and I think that as much as any response that she gets is what makes this a rewarding strategy for her.

I’m glad Mara seems to be social. She’s also entirely adorable, which is not a minus either. If we’re able to move to the piano house, we’ll still be in a majority-white neighborhood but in a city that’s more like 20% black than the 5-10% black one we’re in now. Mara is very large for three and a half, more like the size of a five-year-old. I know that that and her dark skin and her coily hair and of course her two moms will encourage people to push their unconscious expectations onto her. Mara may seem babyish or delayed because she’s acting her age but looking older than she really is, which I think was sort of a problem in her previous foster home. She may seem too active because people expect black kids to be too active and, again, she’s three. I’ve been thinking for a long time about these things and how to watch for them, how to respond to them. I’m sure Mara’s compliment stage won’t last forever, but I like that for now she’s got her own way of starting new interactions on a positive footing. Whatever people may expect of her, they’ll get to see that she’s kind and insightful and generous. I appreciate that. And oh, oh, oh, I like her!

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“congratulations and good luck”

May 10, 2011

As I recall it, that’s what the judge said to Lee and me at the end of yesterday’s termination hearing. I think we can take that as a sign that she’s going to terminate Mara’s parents’ rights, which was always pretty much a given since Mara’s had no contact with either parent in the last 15 months. Neither parent attended the hearing, which is kind of what we’d expected. We were there, though, and the judge was glad we were witnessing it both because we could understand what went on and because we’ll eventually be able to answer Mara’s questions about the process.

The day before was the Sunday dedicated to celebrating mothers, so I took Mara to church to see mothers who are butch/studs and called “brother” and the church mothers (elders) who started their lives in male bodies and me as her mommy with skin that doesn’t match hers. Then the pastor spoke about the need to honor our biological mothers who gave us breath regardless of what they did after that and the people — men and women — who mothered us at the times we needed that. During the altar call, I asked Mara if she wanted special prayers and since she said yes, I carried her to the front of the church where the minister who’s also a social worker (though not on the child side of things) put her hands on Mara’s shoulders and said a special prayer for her mother, for all of us who are mothering and have mothered her. And I cried a little then, just as I cried a little when the termination hearing ended.

I’m going to write more later about what it feels like to be trying to raise a child in this black lesbian church as a white atheist, but for now I want to separate out the parts that are about parenting in daily life from the more theoretical side of things. And daily life means I told Mara about the judge a little bit without explaining in too much detail what things meant, just that the worker who checks that Mama and Mommy are doing the mom jobs right (which is how we explain social worker visits) spoke to the judge about how we are doing with those jobs and the judge. We talked about it a little more and I brought it back up this morning (specifically referring to her hair, how the judge was happy that she’s learning that her hair is a mom job and that she’s not pulling it much anymore) and I’m trying to incorporate that as part of her story so she understands some of what’s going on. It’s weirder to write this because I’m leaving out so much for the sake of her privacy than it is to actually talk to her about it.

Mara had a hard time getting to sleep last night, but at one point she started talking about all the things we’d seen on our walk over to the piano house. She had a long litany of sticks and the squirrel on the tree and the bird statue that looked like the bird statue from The Cat Returns…. I was so proud of her because since I don’t pray, I’ve been making talking about the good things from our day and the people who love her part of our nighttime routine. While she sometimes wants to name people from school or from my extended family, this was the first time she’d taken over the job herself.

I have to take her mother’s word for it that she’s not capable of parenting Mara right now, and that’s what she told the social worker during their last meeting, what she’s reiterated throughout the time she’s been in care. Termination would/will mean Lee will no longer feel threatened by Mara’s family, afraid that someone will come forward to claim her. After termination, it won’t matter that Mara’s mother doesn’t want to comply with the judge’s orders to be able to see her child; if we want to arrange a meeting, we’ll be able to work that out between ourselves. Not having everything mediated by child protective services means Mara’s siblings’ guardians will be open to having visits with Mara. Ironically, legally separating Mara from her family means giving her the opportunity to be closer to her family than she’s been throughout her time in care. I know that’s a major priority for me and I think that now (or soon, once the judge rules) Lee will be comfortable with it too.

On the list of the people who love Mara and whom Mara might love that we go through every night before bedtime are her brothers and sisters, the ones that we know about. (I know there are others on her dad’s side and I do want to know them soon, but for now they just get listed as “all of your father Father’s Name’s other children.”) I don’t know what contact will look like with her parents, neither of whom have any history that would make them dangerous but both of whom have deliberately chosen to stay out of her life in the past. I do hope, though, as I’ve always hoped that Mara will get to know these other kids who live nearby and look like her. I hope she’ll get to grow up with more love, not less.

It was hard to sit in court and hear about the reasons Mara came into care even though in the scheme of things they’re fairly minor ones, hear the lawyer and the judge consistently mispronounce her name. I also got emotional when Mara’s worker testified about the progress she’s made in the last six months, all the things she’s doing that she couldn’t do before. We’ve had a good impact on her life, I know. We love her with all that we are. And it seems that in about six weeks we’ll be able to file adoption paperwork that will make her legally a part of our family. It is a sad ending, but it’s also a start, and I do think we’ve had good luck in our fit with Mara and experiences with her. So, yes, your honor, we’d be happy to see that luck continue and will do what we can to get Mara what she needs and deserves.

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wow

May 6, 2011

We’re in the process of becoming owners of a piano and the Piano House. Our initial offer was accepted. There was an inspection done today, though I’m a tiny bit scared to hear about the results tomorrow. The finance guy is getting all the financing in place. By mid-June, we could be living there. Yikes and yay!

This will be the first Mothers’ Day Lee and I have spent mothering. I have a feeling I’ll also be grieving since it directly abuts the day for the termination of Mara’s parents’ rights. I do think that’s something that needs to happen and I’m not sad because I think it’s an inappropriate decision, but I’m sorry her parents are missing out on her greatness. And oh is she ever great!

I’ll have more to say about all of this soon, thought I’d have more to say now, but I’ll leave it at this right now. We have a lot going on here!

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Easter and after

May 3, 2011

Mara has been with us six months now, which also means she’s three and a half! This is longer than she was with her relative Samara (about four and a half months) and not quite as long as she was with the foster family before us (almost exactly seven months before they gave their two-week notice and we were selected as her next placement) and for some reason that sort of amazes me.

We had a great Easter, time at church as a full family instead of just Mara and me, which has been the norm when we attend since Lee decided she found church too frustrating. I know it probably sees goofy that I’m this white atheist taking her to a black majority-lesbian church, but the longer Mara’s with us, the more I feel aware of what I just can’t give her as a white mom. Now, we’re lucky that she’s got Lee as a black mom giving her automatic connections as well as the incredibly important experience of just living with someone who looks like her, but I think about race a lot more than I think about Mara’s “special needs,” I think.

Mara moved in with her prior foster family last March, so she hadn’t been with them terribly long at Easter last year. Still, it’s the first (and only, I think) holiday where I have photos of her, where I can see how she’s lapped who she was a year ago. I’m not thrilled with the quality or number of photos we have from that foster family, though I guess I can understand why they might want to take pictures of the kids they’ll be raising forever and keep the potentially temporary placements in the background or out of the shot entirely. So there are all these photos of their (all-white) family in Easter gear doing Easter things, and then Mara’s in a few of them, looking sullen and lost and yet so determined.

Now, Mara’s our girl. There are so many photos of her in her Easter “princess” (dress) and the sweater I made her. We’ll be able to show her how she looked dancing with Lee, swinging on my parents’ porch swing, curling like a giant baby in my arms. And yet I couldn’t look at any of them without seeing the ghosts of Mara-a-year-ago, sad and lost and resilient Mara. She has come so far in such a short time, and while that’s partly because she’s a good fit in our home and because we’re able to devote a lot of attention to her, so much of it is just part of who she is and how hard she’s pushed herself to thrive.

Mara’s speech has taken a leap forward lately, which is what I expected after a few weeks that were heavy with nonsense syllables, the sounds of talking. Now she can say things like “I don’t know!” and “What did you say?” She’s learning other phrases in context, too, our favorite of which is “You kill me!” in a forceful and deadpan way when she finds something funny. She’s also learned her last name, though she only told me once and since then has answered the question “Mara what?” with “Mara Little Girl.” We’ve joked a little bit once she’s gone to bed about whether this is more likely to be a Nation-of-Islam renaming or a lesbian-feminist reimaging, but at least she knows who she is right now, will know in her own voice what her name sounded like before her last names change to incorporate ours.

Termination of her parents’ rights is less than a week away now. I know it’s making me extra emotional, but since I went through the emotions back in March, it doesn’t seem quite as hard this time even though I’m more sure that it’s going to go through and be final. (Last time, they hadn’t spent enough time trying to locate and notify her dad that his rights were going to be terminated, although he’s been in favor of termination whenever it’s been discussed in the past, and so I don’t believe he’s being disenfranchised and do believe he’s deliberately made himself scarce.) I really don’t know what more to say about this.

And house stuff is still going. No one wants to buy ours at the price we asked for, which I think means we’re going to reduce the price a tiny bit to try to entice someone in. When the right person finds it, it will be a fit. This is a great house, but just too small for where we’re headed. By the end of this week, we should know whether or not we’re headed for a second mortgage on top of the one we have going. That’s something we said we weren’t going to do, but we also never expected to find a big, solid fixer-upper with fantastic bones in our dream neighborhood the next town over. There are six bedrooms, which means plenty of space for each of us to have our own spots to relax and decompress, but also plenty of options for Rowan or any of Mara’s siblings (and I hope my thinking and talking about that doesn’t sound morbid, since of course I hope they’ll stay all be able to stay with family and see us as a last best choice before a totally unrelated foster placement) or even Lee’s biological half-sister’s daughter, who’s once again having trouble in her placement with her grandmother in Lee’s home state. We have options, and while in some sense the list of kids we’d take in is not huge in the scheme of things, it’s also much better if we do have space that could be a nursery if we needed a nursery or that could split teens by gender on different floors if that’s what we were looking for too. This house has an incredibly low price and so we know that someone else may snatch it up by offering more money, but we’re still hoping it will work out and should know by mid-week. Mara calls it the piano house because there’s a piano in the living room. When we talked to the daughter of the previous owners, now deceased, she said that the family doesn’t want the piano, so we’ve asked for it in our offer and she was very positive about that. While I’m obviously biased, I think Mara’s unusually musical for a three-and-a-half-year-old and I’d love for her to have a piano to play on in our next house. And if it isn’t this one we’re looking at, it’ll be a different one. Things can change quickly in a year, six months, six weeks. I have to keep remembering that.

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