Archive for June, 2011

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Go the F to Sleep

June 24, 2011

I haven’t actually read the Go the Fuck to Sleep book everyone keeps linking to, just the parts people quote, but it’s sort of on my mind.

Also on my mind is that we close on the refinance of our current house (“the little house,” in terms we use with Mara) Tuesday and then at least three days after that but I hope not much more will be able to close on the Piano House and I’ll stop being so nervous all the time. I don’t quite trust that everything will work, but the hardest parts are behind us and I’m so excited about the opportunities ahead of us.

So sometime next month, Mara will start sleeping in her new room in the new house. We’ve worked on getting her comfortable so that she knows her way around and can even give tours to people explaining what each room will be used for, but she’ll be a little farther from our bedroom than she is right now. Since she’s gotten through the whole week dry at night, I think we’re on the right path there, but she still wakes in the night and either calls for me or comes to get comfort on a fairly regular basis.

We’re a little uncertain about how we’ll make all that work when there’s a longer hallway between the two rooms. It’ll be our room, playroom/guest bedroom, small bathroom, then Mara’s bedroom at the back of the house. Lee started worrying yesterday that maybe we should bring Mara’s bed into the playroom, which would defeat the purpose of a having a playroom and also of creating a buffer of sorts between adult sleep space and kiddo sleep space. I think we’ve come to the agreement that we’ll keep a light with a timer on the landing on the stairs, about halfway down the hallway, to make sure that visibility is okay if Mara does end up getting up in the night. And of course we’ll expect plenty of regression in general but specifically in the sleep arena as we go through the move.

The bigger sleep issue has to do with timing, though. I’ve been getting Mara up at 6:30 every morning and getting her washed, dressed, fed, and ready to go. I then zip off to work whenever I need to while Lee, who’s sluggish in the mornings, works through her own morning routine and then takes Mara with her to school. Now Lee is off for the summer and Mara’s school time won’t start until 9:00 in the morning. Lee would prefer to let Mara sleep until 7:30 or 8:00, meaning I’ll already be gone and unable to help out with anything, which puts extra burden on Lee. (On the other hand, she then gets to stay home all day, which offsets some of that burden! I’ll be working.)

The problem with a later start time is that Mara’s not going to want to go to bed at 8:30 if she’s going to be sleeping until 8:00 am and then having something like a two-hour nap at school. She’s much prefer to stay up until about 10:30, though 8:30 wasn’t generally her preference even when she was getting up earlier and involved a certain amount of pushing for us.

As an aside, we’re still leaving bedtime more Mara-driven than most parents of three-year-olds probably would. Sleep clearly brings up a lot of stress from her past and it seems clear she was getting bad sleep while with her prior foster family, so we wanted to make sure we focused on making sure she felt safe enough to sleep well rather than pushing her to sleep in a way that would be more convenient for us but would leave her nervous and pulling her hair and having nightmares and whatnot. So she falls asleep in our arms, which isn’t something you can push quite as much as a child falling asleep in bed alone at a given time. I felt reassured that taking sleep stuff slowly was on Deborah Gray’s list of attachment tips for the first year of placement and do think we’re mostly on the right track.

That said, bedtime is a fair amount of work for us moms, especially if we insist she start at a semi-regular time that’s earlier than she’d prefer. If Mara’s going to be going to bed later and getting up later, she starts to crowd the time that I want to be able to go to bed myself so I’m ready to wake up at 6:00 or so and get myself to work. This means that either I’m staying up late and being grumpy and impatient as a result or Lee gets stuck with both night and morning duty, which doesn’t exactly seem fair. I can sweeten that deal by taking weekends and letting her go out, since she has more social needs than I do, but I’m not sure what that will do to her summer.

Things will change when we move, I’m sure, and we’ll adapt to work with that, but I’m thinking a lot about sleep and how to make sure we can all get plenty of it. I know I’m going to need it, and that much as she may fight it sometimes, Mara needs it too. Suggestions, friends who’ve managed all of this before?

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and something’s just lost

June 22, 2011

Still bad news on the housing front so far, though we’ve got a plan to get resettled, get our current house marketed by a sensible and responsible realtor, and go from there. The bank still keeps insisting they can make things right in a way that will be acceptable to the seller, but I don’t really see that happening. By the end of the week, we’ll

I would have been sort of mopey anyway because this week marks a decade since the loss of Mara’s mother’s second child and I’ve heard that she thinks of this loss daily and can only imagine that she feels it more strongly when the anniversaries come around, which I know is how I respond to grief and trauma. Mara had been acting out a bit at school on Monday and it wasn’t until later that I thought that maybe this was part of the cause, that maybe Mara associates the time around the solstice as time when she couldn’t rely on having a responsive mother, when she’d get more scared than usual and do things that would get her attention even if that attention was negative.

We’d had a lot of that with Mara this weekend, extra opposition, extra clinginess. I’m sure some of that is just normal for a three-year-old, but there seemed to be something off too. I talked to her last night about her mother, and she admitted that she thinks of her often. When I tried to talk in more detail, though, she started telling a long story about caterpillars that may have started out as an allegory of her as a baby but turned out to just be a story about magical caterpillars. She reiterated that she wants to have a sister who’s a little boy, something she’s been telling me for a few months now. I reminded her again that those are generally called “brothers” and that we’re not sure what the future will hold for our little family, reminded her again that she has both brothers and sisters in the wider community. Then it was back to caterpillars.

Mara starts speech therapy soon. She’s processing a lot about her story and about the way she views the world, which I often find absolutely charming. As she took her bath last night, she made each toy animal in there with her also take its own bath in one of the little plastic bowls she uses as tub toys. She comes up with figures of speech that just amaze me. She does get sad, she does feel hurt and need lots of extra hugs, but she also laughs and laughs and laughs in a way that’s infectious and makes Lee and me both feel better when we hear it.

I haven’t written much about how parenting has changed how Lee thinks about her own adoption, how her attachment issues are like and unlike Mara’s. I think about that a lot, though, and finally Lee is thinking about it too. Lee calls her birthmother Leah more often these days, talks to Mara sometimes about what it was like growing up and mostly not seeing Leah, seeing her bio dad Richie and thus being disappointed by him. I don’t think Lee grieves Mara’s disconnection from her birth family the same way I do, but I know she’s aware of it differently now than she was before we were parenting full-time. We’re all growing and changing, I know, and that causes some discomfort and growing pains for all three of us. Some of these days have been hard for us lately and even knowing why doesn’t make them much easier. I’m proud of how we’ve all figured out ways to lean on each other, to ask for a round of popsicles like Lee did or to be rocked to sleep like Mara wanted last night. It helps.

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something’s lost but something’s gained(?)

June 21, 2011

Don’t ask about house stuff, because the story changes every ten minutes or so. We’re told to keep trusting that it will all work itself out, but I’m staying skeptical until we get some conclusion. I’ll be really frustrated if it turns out that we got Mara all prepared to move to the Piano House and then we don’t move there, but I think she’ll manage okay, really.

One way Mara’s been managing lately is by letting us get rid of pull-ups! She’d been staying dry through the night pretty regularly and had started bragging to me in the mornings that she was dry, so I figured she was ready for an experiment. We’re only three days in, but with 100% dryness and two nights where she slept through the whole night in her own bed, I’m extremely happy with our Big Little Girl.

Mara has also had her first two swimming lessons and is already much more comfortable in the pool. We got a little vest that keeps her up in the water and yet lets her move, and she’s been loving her dog paddles away from me and so on. She’d also jump into the pool so I can catch her for hours, probably, or until my arms fell off. Our YMCA also has a splash park for little kids and I’ve been encouraging her to play there since it means I don’t have to catch her constantly, which is also nice.

We didn’t do anything special for Father’s Day except drop a Grandpa card with my dad. As Mara was drawing on it for him, she was singing “G-R-A-N-D-P-A, and Grandpa was his name-o!” I love seeing how much my parents love Mara, especially because we weren’t sure they were going to support our parenting at all. She’s made it easy on them, and adores them completely.

We did, however, cut off Lee’s locs. She’d been growing them for more than three years, though we’d done a major trim last summer to bob them to one length. They were mature and gorgeous, but her new tiny afro (less than an inch stretched) looks even better. Mara helped by taking each loc as I snipped it off Lee’s head and using them to make letters on the floor and belts for her dolls. She doesn’t seem bothered by the change and thinks that Mama’s hair is soft and bee-oooo-tiful!

Today is the first day of summer session at Mara’s preschool, meaning she’ll be going from 9-4:30, I think, and only Monday through Thursday. On Fridays she’ll be home with Lee, which should be good for both of them, but probably means that Lee will want to go out by herself on Friday nights to have some peace and quiet and watch tv or something. I can handle that, especially since Friday is usually library night for Mara and me.

We got a copy of the file terminating Mara’s parents’ rights. I noticed that it had Mara’s mother’s middle initial, which is when I realized that the reason I’d been surprised to see her middle name on the birth certificate was that I already knew her middle name and the birth certificate version also had a typo. So with two listed names and a misspelling in each, this is not the most accurate birth certificate of all time and yet I treasure it because it’s Mara’s.

We also have all we need to get Mara a passport, which we’ll be doing so we can slip up to the Great White North in August and spend some lake time with my extended family to celebrate my grandmother’s 85th birthday. Mara loved meeting her great-grandmother (my paternal grandma) at Christmas and asks after her often, so some beach time with her should be a real treat. Initially we’d thought we’d wait until Mara was adopted to get her a passport, but our social worker has successfully gotten passports for kids in care before and thought we might as well try. Now that we’re doing it, I sort of like that this will be one more document that has Mara’s birthname (typo and all) and information on it, something that will tie her history to her future as part of our family.

Is this long enough? I really don’t want to have to talk about painful house stuff, so I’ll say yes. And maybe soon I’ll have house news, whatever it is, that will be more interesting.

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OBC

June 17, 2011

I don’t want to talk about house stuff, because the mortgage details keep getting twistier and more ridiculously demanding and I just can’t handle it.

Instead, I’ll talk about Mara, since our social worker made her monthly visit yesterday. She brought Mara’s birth certificate, since it turns out that there are three copies in Mara’s file. I was so excited to finally get to see this, to know that we’d have multiple copies to give Mara.

For readers who aren’t deeply aware of how adoption works in the US, once Mara is adopted, we’ll get not only an adoption decree saying that Lee is legally her mother and she legally has this new name, but also an amended birth certificate that makes it look like Lee was the one there in the hospital almost four years ago giving birth to this child. This is weird and wrong as far as I’m concerned, but it’s how the system works now and we’re aware of that. That’s one reason we feel it’s really important to have Mara’s real, unaltered birth certificate telling her the true information about her birth.

Except, for one thing, her dad’s name isn’t on it. I was so sad to see that, since I know he was known and I know he accepted her as his child, at least eventually. Her one-year-younger sibling even carries his last name. So already, parts of her history are sort of written out of this document, though I guess the fact that he wasn’t listed is part of her history in a different way.

The other thing is that we’ll be changing her name from what it says on her birth certificate, not only by adding our own last names to the end but by altering the spelling of her first name, sort of. I’ve written about this before, but her birth certificate has two letters in her name transposed in a way that makes it look like it should change the pronunciation. The same thing happened to the sister just older than she is, as if the file read Glorai when it should have said Gloria, and she’s been called Gloria forever. No one’s suggested their mother has spelling problems outside of birth certificates, so I sort of wonder whether she doesn’t do well with the medications given in the hospital or something.

Mara’s name was always pronounced consistently (not as spelled on the OBC) but her mother initially used the birth certificate spelling and only later changed to the phonetic version. Mara was entered into the foster system computer with the phonetic spelling and it was only when she came to us and our worker pulled up the certificate that it was changed to the original spelling. Complicated enough? If not, there’s also the thing about how once we saw the original spelling we thought that maybe the error had been at the foster care level and called her by the phonetic pronunciation of the original spelling for the first few days until we got confirmation of how her mother said it, since the other foster family had refused to use her full first name and she wasn’t used to it anyway. Now Mara knows all her names, though, and this is part of her story too.

And so today I finally know her mother’s middle name. That’s something we can give her now, along with the official paper that has it written right beneath Mara’s own name. I’m so glad we have a worker who thinks it’s important to make this happen.

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changes on the horizon

June 14, 2011

Last week, we went and talked to the lawyer who will handle Lee’s petition to adopt Mara and then after the legal waiting period my petition to be considered Mara’s de facto parent. What we found out today is that on the same day we did that, the judge in Mara’s case entered the judgment terminating Mara’s parents’ rights. It’s not entirely clear to me how the waiting period for a potential appeal works, but we don’t expect an appeal anyway. The most conservative estimate would say that we’d be free to do our initial adoption filing by mid-July, though that’s going to remain dependent on bureaucratic paperwork getting done.

Mara has been practicing her new name, Mara LeeLast-ThornLast. She thinks it’s hilarious that she has both names and each of us insist we have only one, and likes to give us a daily rundown on which pet has which last name. You know, because the little cat is Leona LeeLast-ThornLast but the big cat is just Lionel Thorn sometimes. These things matter!

We’ve also been talking to her about her current name and the people who share it. We had a tough experience last night that I think was prompted by lack of sleep, when all three of us had driven in one car back to where I’d parked my car while I was at my transracial parenting class to keep my foster license active. When I got out of Lee’s car to get into my own, Mara suddenly erupted in sobs in a way neither of us moms had seen before. She asked for a hug and a kiss, still sobbing, but insisted she didn’t want to go in my car with me. I could tell she was steeling herself and the look in her eyes was just heartbreaking.

Sure enough, when we got back to the house a few minutes later and I was able to hold her, she acknowledged that she’d thought I was going to go away and not come back. At three, she’s had that happen a lot. She left her mother’s care (which involved time spent being cared for by someone other than her mother) right before turning two, and in the 20 months since then has been in three placements. She’s now been in our family longer than she’s been with anyone other than her mother, but she’s certainly had time to learn that sometimes people disappear. She’s had time to love us enough that she realizes losing us would be heartbreaking. I hope she can guess how much it would hurt us too. I went to bed so sad for her after rocking her to sleep, but she woke happy and headed into another normal day.

Next week, we close on the Piano House and can start slowly moving in. I have no idea where to find area rugs the size we need in the low price range we want. I don’t know which rooms we’ll paint before we move, what fixes we’ll need to make first. I don’t even know whether we’ll get to close on time, since the guy handling our mortgage is out of the office with a health emergency. But we’re getting there, and I think I’ve chosen the roses I want to plant along the back fence. We’re mentally shifting over to the new home, all three of us, and Lee and I are starting to talk about how to add to our family once we’re there.

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blogging actual mothering

June 1, 2011

Today is another Blogging for LGBT Families Day, and that blogging is something I’ve done in years past, once officially (when we’d spent a long weekend with my partner Lee’s biological/birth/first mother, Leah and once unofficially (when I’d just begun the blog and we were just about to begin our foster/adoptive training).

This year is very different from those other years. Mara has now been living with us for seven months, meaning her age is three years and seven months. She is charming and wonderful, growing physically and emotionally and intellectually every day. Her sense of herself as a beautiful black girl (which she knows is the term for people with brown skin like hers and Lee’s) is a point of pride for us, especially since she was so starved for that when she joined our family. We love her so, so, so much. And today Lee contacted the lawyer who will handle Mara’s adoption, which should be able to start rolling in another week or two. We haven’t heard for sure when the TPR was filed and thus when the 30-day waiting period will be up, but I know our social worker is on top of things and expects to have the adoption file ready to go the day we’re free to file for adoption. We still live in a state where only Lee can adopt, but at least one where we’ll be able to shore up my rights in a way the courts acknowledge.

Mara is one of the many kids in foster care we’ve encountered who can benefit from being in a no-dad family. She has had some issues with adult men that left her uneasy in their presence, though she’s working through that and doing really well lately. Her preschool has been focusing on families lately and all of her classmates already knew that Mara has two moms, one black and one white. I don’t know to what degree this seemed weird to them initially, but it’s clearly unremarkable now.

Maybe the family focus is why Mara’s been talking about dads lately. She usually goes back to her favorite movie, Ponyo, when the topic arises. Her quoted refrain: “He keeps me in a bubble. I swam away from home” I’m still not sure exactly what that means to her, but it’s what she often says following the word “dad.” Like Ponyo, she was born to parents whose adult concerns kept them from being able or willing to meet all her needs. Like Ponyo, she chanced on a family where she was loved and where she seemed to fit so she could grow and find a space for herself. Unlike Ponyo’s, that family is just Lee and me, no older brother like Sasuke, no dad. And I don’t worry too much about the no-dad part since I know there are so many strong men in Mara’s life and since I know that, unfortunately, her dad wouldn’t have been a big part of her life if she’d kept living with her mom, that he wasn’t while she was still there.

Still, when Mara announced the other day that she had a dad and her dad was Mama (Lee) we were a little surprised. We haven’t really pushed her on it, haven’t seen if it’s a way she’s commenting on gender roles or what. And gender is starting to be an issue here, with Mara suddenly wanting dresses a few months into her time in preschool rather than the boys’ clothes she’d preferred before. From the outside, it looks at this point like her friendships are with boys and her adoring “crushes” are on girls, but we don’t believe that has to mean anything for her in the long run, don’t know how much else will evolve for her as she grows and changes. I’m glad, though, that she’s in a home where it was fine when she wanted to wear pants all the time and it’s fine that she wants dresses (“princesses,” in Mara’s words) too.

This is a fairly inane post even though the life I live is so much more interesting to me than it was a year ago, two years ago. I am learning to appreciate the inanities better, to accept that tonight Lee will be at her meeting and Mara and I will pick up our cat Leona, who was spayed earlier today, and then decide whether to go to the library first or eat dinner first. I’m hoping to get a few braids in the back of her hair as we move to small box braids all over so she’s ready for swim class, but mostly we’ll take it easy, enjoy our time together. Those little moments don’t take the place of grand gestures or theorizing or activism, but they’re most of what I’ve got for now and I’m fine with that.

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