Archive for July, 2011

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not doing orphan care

July 25, 2011

This is going to be the first of probably a bunch of posts as I talk about what I feel comfortable sharing of how Mara’s processing her impending adoption and her growing understanding of her first family, how all of that is triggering Lee’s attachment difficulties but also helping her heal from and review her own early history, and what we’re doing to try to finally get Mara back in touch with her family.

Anyway, I’m giving this a provocative title but don’t expect there to be much here that’s actually shocking. I get frustrated with a lot of Christian churches’ “Orphan Ministries” for many reasons, including that I’m not sure it’s appropriate to talk about kids who have extended family and/or a living parent in their lives as orphans, plus that it seems like a marketing ploy to get people to care about something they should care about without fancy branding techniques, plus that I just don’t like evangelical movements and don’t think it’s a plus for more kids to be raised in Christian homes, though it’s not necessarily a minus either.

So at any rate, Mara’s parents rights have been terminated and we’re past the point where her parents could have appealed that ruling, so legally Mara has no parents right now. We signed the caseplan that her goal is adoption by us, but until we get there she’s in legal limbo. And yet none of that changes how she relates to us or to her memories of her family.

All of this came to the forefront when she had a second crying fit at the same parking lot as the last one, making us more sure than ever that something big had happened there. This time, she was able to tell us, “I lost my daddy.” Sometimes she embellished on the story a bit, telling us he had a car or that he liked to eat rice. Sometimes she tells us about an iguana, and I have no idea if there’s any truth in that part of the story. We deal with it in the most matter-of-fact way we can. “Yes, you did lose your dad, Mara, and I’m sorry. I hope he’d be proud that you can do XYZ now.” It’s a bit harder to manage, “Hmm, an iguana? I’d never heard about that before.” Still, she says the iguana was big and her dad was little and this is the story she’s telling these days….

It’s a story she tells every day. Every day she says, “I lost my dad.” Sometimes she wants to talk about her mom, whose name she can pronounce better. (She did start talking about her dad the other day and both Lee and I thought she was saying “cereal.” I figured it out from context the next day and told her that I was sorry we hadn’t been able to understand her the day before. “Right, in the car I said [Dad's name],” she responded, satisfied to see I understood. She often talks about her siblings, too, especially the one who’s almost exactly a year younger than she is and so would have been almost one when she started living with that sibling’s caretaker, Samara, and not even one-and-a-half when Mara left Samara’s care and entered foster care with strangers.

So now on my iPad I have to allocate two of the screens in my browser to pictures of Mara’s parents so that they’re accessible to her wherever we are when she wants to see them. (I’ll be honest here and say I had a friend I met in the online adoption world take copies of their mug shots and change the background, make it more neutral and less threatening. They were each arrested for minor and non-violent reasons around the time of Mara’s birth, so she has those pictures and knows that she was a baby when her dad’s picture was taken, that she was inside her mother waiting to be born when her mom’s was. These are the only photos we have of them.) She asked a lot to see them, often wanting to be held while she looked. Now she doesn’t ask for them more than daily, but she knows they’re there, has memorized their features.

We’ve kept up the vocabulary we’ve used throughout Mara’s time with us because we didn’t want her to think she was responsible for all the moves she’s had in her short life. We’ve talked to her about mom jobs and how it’s important for a mom to do those jobs and that if she can’t do them appropriately, someone has to help her or find a new place for the child. We say that our monthly social worker visits are about checking that Lee and I are doing the mom jobs rather than about assessing her and her progress. This is all as true as if we put it the other way, but we’re trying to make the focus something she can understand. She knows that her mom and dad are not doing their mom jobs and dad jobs for their other children, that it’s not just her. She doesn’t talk much about her emotions about this, but I know she’s processing it.

It helps Mara to know that Lee was in a similar situation when she was eighteen months old. She’ll say, “Mama lost her daddy too.” At one point, she even added, “Mama lost her dad. That’s why she needed Grace.” We’d never talked to Mara in much detail about Lee’s bio-aunt/adopted-sister Grace as someone who cared for her, but Mara has had a real interest in Grace since Lee’s visit months back when Grace was hospitalized with the flu and we were all afraid she might die. Mara talks sometimes about Grace being sick, pointing to pictures of her. And yes, she somehow understood that Lee had needed Grace the same way Mara needed us, needed someone who was willing to step up and do what needed to be done.

As I rock Mara to sleep every night, we talk about her family. I tell her the names I know, how old her siblings are. I remind her of the chronology of her family placements. Last night she said, “I want talk!” and then “No more talking!” and I was glad she felt able to speak up for herself. I know this is not a conversation that has an end.

From our new house, I drive to work through town rather than on the highway the whole way most days. That means that, as far as I know, I’m driving past the housing complex where Mara’s mother lives most days of the week. She’s maybe ten blocks away from us and we know where she works, though ambushing her there seems wrong. Then I drive into the next community and pass two blocks from the school I assume her siblings attend, sometimes take the other route home where I pass the boarded-up house where Samara lived when she first took Mara into her home and family. I know that Mara’s father is out there somewhere, living off the grid where the government can’t find him easily. I know Samara could find him, but her phone’s turned off again.

I think it’s important for Mara to re-meet her family soon because of all of that, because if we don’t make it happen in a way that’s respectful of everyone and gives everyone time to process and prepare, it’s going to happen when we’re in the grocery store and I call out Mara’s unique name, when we’re at a street festival and see another child who looks just like her. I absolutely believe it would be important for Mara to have those connections even if we weren’t close (and I also understand where Lee’s fear about all of this comes from) but it’s imperative now because we can do it and because I think she’s making it very clear she needs it. She’s asked us to find her dad, and I’ve told her I don’t know if we can do that, don’t know if he’ll want to be found. But we can find his parents, I know, and send them pictures of her and an explanation of why we’re looking. We can find the siblings she has on her mom’s side and get to know them and their caregivers.

We can give her more than she has right now, which is names she recites as a litany and little stories she’s building around that grain of truth, that she lost her dad. But not lost forever, I hope, and as the one doing some of those mom jobs now, I have to make sure I do what I can to get her what she needs. The social workers don’t think she ever knew her dad, though he acknowledges her. I saw her eyes widen when she first saw his picture, though, and I believe that whether or not she saw him last in that parking lot, she remembers something about him in the recesses of her hypervigilant mind. (I also believe she’s focusing on her dad because he’s farther removed, because her separation from her mom caused her much more pain and trauma, not because being in a two-mom home is making her yearn for a dad. We’ve talked about this some, though. She’s quite clear that even while she had a foster dad, her “white dad” she still missed her “black dad.”)

So that’s what we’re up to these days, talking about her dad and her brothers, since she now says “sisters and brothers” rather than “sisters and sisters who are little boys.” We talk about her mother and her mother’s friend Samara who’s raising her younger sibling and her mother’s relative who’s raising the older ones. We talk and rock and then she falls asleep and, more often than not, sleeps through the night in her own bed. If she calls out for “mommy” I know that she’s calling for me and I wake up and respond, but I know that doesn’t mean that I’m the only mom, just that I’m the one who does that mom job. And so of course I do it.

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little delights

July 19, 2011

Since I’m still only able to use my brain for house stuff, I figured I’d write a list post of sorts about things we love already in the Piano House.

Stained glass windows! One in the living room, a lovely geometric pattern, and another in the bedroom right above it, where Lee and I sleep. That one has more of an Art Nouveau look, lots of curves and a stylized shape reminiscent of a fleur-de-lis in the middle of it, gentle purples and greens.

A stained glass window in our bedroom would probably strike me as the most decadent bedroom thing ever if we didn’t also have a small adjoining dressing room. We’ll be getting the glass french doors that separate them fixed and on soon because why not use original doors if they’re there in the house? It’ll be a while before we rip the wallpaper from the two rooms and get them painted, but they’re still lovely. (And the dressing room could double as a nursery if we ever needed that. That’s still a weird thought, but in my mind almost all the rooms do double duty based on how the family could expand.)

Trash pickup is twice a week and recycling every week, both of which are double what they were at our old place. Trash pickup is on the alley behind the back yard, so we don’t even have to drag cans to the curb, just keep them there beyond the fence, out of reach of the hungry hound.

We did indeed head a few blocks over to the pizza parlor last night. The pizza was fantastic and cheap, plus we ended up meeting a boy who’s a month younger than Mara and lives in the next block. We have another friend who lives in that block and his youngest looks to be three or four and is, like Mara, fascinated with the snails on our block. Potential friends!

Really, all the neighbors are wonderful. The elderly couple next door spend most of the day on their porch and know everything about everybody, but seem very pleasant about it. They didn’t quite know how to deal with our relationship, but are managing now and they (and their dog) are very sweet to Mara. I’ve been able to hear from other neighbors about the house’s history, about fixes they’ve made to their houses, about the people who lived here before us.

The bathrooms are both well on their way to being decent. I can even live with the floral wallpaper on the clawfoot tub, I think. Hmm, this isn’t quite as much a positive as the others. But still, it’s so rewarding to see those nasty tobacco rivulets running down the wall and then wiping them away.

The kitchen is huge. Even beyond its being a major step up from our tiny prior kitchen, it’s just huge. And supposedly as of this afternoon it’ll have a working dishwasher!

We’re under strict instructions from the realtor to get rid of our crowded cottage-style garden at the old house, so I spent two or three hours in yesterday’s brutal heat ripping out some lavender my mother will keep and probably a hundred irises, with more still to go. I think we’ll use them carpet the hill where Mara likes to slide even though it’s too steep for her to do it safely. She’s very careful about flowers, so that’s probably the most effective deterrent we can manage.

I just feel so lucky to be living in this house, even though I managed to lock myself out and my keys inside last night, even though I’m sore and exhausted. I can barely believe my life is this great.

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at home

July 18, 2011

We were so worried about how Mara would adjust to living in the Piano House, and we’ve set it up so that she hasn’t been back to the Little House for a week. Even just the branding campaigns I did around those names (because, you know, the Little House is a great house but it’s just toooo little for a growing family, eh?) seems to have helped her process the transition. Mara is thrilled about having a playroom and front and back lawns that are hers. She helped me choose and plant the flowers on the porch, and she and Lee water them together daily.

It’s been a week since the move began, and we’re settling in. Mara’s room should be painted today and we’ll be able to move her back in there at night, which will make her happy. The first thing we did was get the living room totally painted and decorated, which means there’s one oasis of comfort for all of us to retreat to when it’s too frustrating to look at more boxes or sleeping on a bed with no frame while the frame is used to stage the Little House or whatever it is that’s bothering us.

Our neighbors are great. We’re starting to make friends. Last night we were able to walk two blocks to have dinner with one of the families that wrote a reference for our adoption file. I was so impressed with how comfortable Mara is keeping pace with a boy who’s eight (I think) and how much more verbal she is than the last time we were there a few months ago. She kept herself amused and we all gorged ourselves and then walked to the community garden where that family has a plot. It was a fantastic evening, and a kind of community that we didn’t have one city over. (I was going to talk about how the shopping options within walking distance were better there, but since the yarn store moved to the new city before we did, I shouldn’t speak too soon!)

There’s plenty of other stuff going on and I still want to write about attachment, about religion, about why Mara seems to miss the dad who was out of her life by the time she was 18 months old at the latest much more acutely than she misses her mom. For now, though, I’m still stuck mostly moving and unpacking and cooking now that we have a working fridge where we can keep food. I know the blog has been quiet lately, but I hope that’s because I’ve gone into a cocoon and will be better when I emerge.

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movin’ on up

July 10, 2011

I’ve been quiet here because we bought the Piano House on Tuesday and since then have been in a frenzy of trying to get it cleaned and ready for move-in. At this point, the plan is for moving trucks to come tomorrow, though Lee is nervous about our level of preparedness and may have a different plan when she wakes up.

Mara is doing well with the move, meeting the neighbors and their dogs, frolicking in the yard and then suffering bug bites all down her legs. (Okay, that last bit may not qualify as “doing well” exactly, but it’s a normal kid experience, at least.) She may have some stress and regression once we actually move in, but for now she’s just going through the litany of all the toys that will move with her and I think that seems to be reassurance enough for her that we really are sticking together as a family.

There’s a whole lot more I want to write about, but I suspect everything will have to wait until we’re settled in our bigger house with bigger possibilities. And have I mentioned that one of those bigger and better things is that we’ll have a dishwasher? I’ve been saying that after this headache I never want to move again, but the dishwash should make it all worthwhile!

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