Archive for August, 2011

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still maybes

August 22, 2011

There was no visit this weekend. Samara didn’t respond to texts or calls and then when she did it was with a promise to call later. It was a text I sent saying that I know visits are stressful and hard time-wise and that we’re willing to wait until the rest of the family is ready that prompted her promise to call, so I think that message got through.

Things are extra complicated here because we believe Samara exaggerated some of Mara’s problems because she wanted to have Mara removed from her home but didn’t want the state to also take Mara’s little sibling, whom she’s been raising since birth. I’ve seen foster families on blogs I read go through these kind of contortions and I know it’s complicated and difficult. I wouldn’t be surprised if she feels guilt about this and this is one of the things standing in the way of reunion. From our perspective, we’re willing to take the generous view that she was doing whatever she could to get Mara the help she needed and while that involved twisting the truth a bit, Mara was exhibiting some problematic behaviors and that clearly wasn’t the right long-term placement for her, so the end goal was the right one. I can’t blame someone who’s dealing with child protective services (and who isn’t able to get permanent guardianship of the child in her care since they aren’t blood relatives, which is a whole other post) to be hesitant about involvement with child protective services. So there’s that piece.

And on Friday Lee got a call from the main social work office asking if we could take the youngest two kids of a large sibling group. Lee’s inclination was no because she’s scared of taking kids who are just coming into care, where we don’t know what their needs are or what their case goals will be. I was inclined to say yes because they needed a home and we have room, though we don’t have beds set up and the logistics would be challenging. I would have been willing to skip our vacation, which Lee was not willing to do. We went back and forth a bit before agreeing that this was just the wrong time to be having this discussion. So I sat at my desk and cried a bit because I know the last time there were black siblings, absolutely no one would accept them and they had to go into private foster care and I didn’t want that to happen to this sibling group too. Apparently Lee was the only person on the list of foster families asked who did call back, so we get a gold star for that. The social worker trying to find a placement also agreed that our reasons (particularly travel) were good ones and was able to let us know that they’d found someone who would take the whole large sibling group, which is of course ideal. So that was a relief, but also a reminder of what we need to be ready to deal with soon. It’s made me think more and I don’t think having three kids in the below-school-age category is in any way ideal for us, so I’ll talk more to Lee and maybe we can have a sort of flow chart of preferences so we’re ready next time we get a call.

Lee thought about it and came back Saturday saying that in the future she would be open to a placement like that, that she would be willing to just do foster care. We’ve also decided that other than Rowan because of the promise we’ve made to him, we’re not interested in being a resource for teen boys right now. One of the reasons Mara didn’t do well in Samara’s house is that having teen boys around triggered some of her fear of adult men. She’s made huge progress with that and hasn’t had any problematic interactions in a long, long time, but we really want to make sure she’s healthy and secure on that front when we’re looking at family-building. It’s sort of in the teen boy job description to be surly and emotionally volatile, and those are things that might make Mara scared and uncomfortable in ways we really don’t want to deal with now. So even though most of the adoptive placements we were offered were for teen boys, that’s off the table unless we can be reassured that it’s really a perfect fit.

There’s also the visit piece of things, where Lee got bitter about how Samara hadn’t responded and said, “Well, this is the last time I put up with that! If she’s not responsible enough to do visits, I’m not even going to bother!” I didn’t bother telling Lee that the visits are not, in fact, all about her. I know that this is partly her own history talking, where visits with her birthdad Richie invariably meant waiting around for him to show up, which he’d only sometimes do and then when he did would leave her disappointed in other ways. (I can’t find a YouTube link to the scene from Arrested Development where the son waits for his dad to come take him fishing every year only to have the dad blow him off to spend time with a different girlfriend each time, but that basically hit home.) Dealing with disappointment is going to be a big difficulty for Lee in managing Mara’s visits, I know, and we saw some of that this weekend. I think that means I’ll keep being the one in contact with Samara, even though I think Lee would benefit from direct contact that would humanize Samara and reassure Lee about her intentions. Oh well.

Mara didn’t seem too upset about missing the visit, since I’d been very clear to say that maybe she’d get to see her beloved little sibling. We did some extra cuddling and coddling, I’m sure, but mostly it was just a normal family weekend. She’s very excited about seeing my extended family at the beach, so we’re focusing on that and keeping talk about her family exactly where it has been, part of our daily life but not something we’re drawing special attention to either. She still wants to hug and kiss her little sibling. I still tell her every time that I love that she’s so loving and I hope she’ll get to do that soon. I really, really do.

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new and old family

August 17, 2011

Lee signed the papers last week that say she intends to adopt Mara and that the state sees this as the appropriate outcome. We’ve gotten a new lawyer who’s going to file more papers and work to shore up my parental rights as much as possible under the gay-unfriendly laws. I have much more to say on that, but I’ll make it another post.

We’re also gearing up for a trip to see GiGi (the name my paternal grandma chose as Mara’s term for her) for a big family celebration of her 85th birthday. This will require our family crossing to another country, which I’m hoping will go well. We do have all the information required for the border crossing, but I worry, of course. Mara is thrilled both about the beach and about seeing GiGi again, since our last visit involved Christmas and copious snow. She’ll get to meet more of my extended family than she did then, plus it’ll be a vacation. This feels very significant to me in cementing her place in the family, but mostly I’m just excited about getting to spend a few days with my toes in the lake.

If all goes well, before we go we’ll also get to visit with Mara’s family. She still talks daily about her little sibling, whom she wants to hug and kiss. She doesn’t seem to have as much emotional connection to the older sibs being raised by her aunt, but I go through their names and ages for her too. I hadn’t heard back from Samara for two weeks after calling her, so I sent her a text last night. She and her kids have moved to the same housing complex where the rest of Mara’s siblings live (and where Rowan grew up) and she suggested we visit there this weekend to meet all the siblings and possibly at least one grandparent. I don’t think that will be any more emotionally complicated for Mara than just seeing the younger sibling and Samara and her kids after a year and a half, and I think it’s a very good idea for all of them to meet Lee and me at once so they can make their own decisions about us rather than hear from whichever family member otherwise would have met us first. There’s still a chance that Samara will back out, stop answering her phone, or not show up, but I think she’s serious and I have a good feeling about this.

Lee was still feeling worried and hesitant about visitation when our worker came over last week to get signatures for the adoption papers and do her monthly visit. I think much of this is coming from Lee’s past, where she knows how emotionally difficult her visits with her birthmother Leah were and so she doesn’t want Mara to go through that pain and unease. It’s obvious to her, though, that this is what Mara’s clearly telling us she wants and needs and that there’s already pain there, that Mara clearly feels sadness about having “lost” (her word, and an apt one) her family. Our social worker looked at Mara, who was bumping down the front stairs and laughing, and said, “Look, I’m the worker here. This kid is staying with you forever unless you choose otherwise.” I know that’s not absolutely true and that there are things we could do that would keep us from getting to adoption, but it was what Lee needed to hear and I think it made a difference.

I do think we’ll have a visit, and I predict emotional fallout from all of us afterwards, which will probably mean I get to be the one who listens to and cares for everyone. At least I know we’re not far away from our beach trip. And it’s a start, all of this.

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Rowan has plans where he is

August 1, 2011

Rowan (the 16-year-old who has been with us in short-term placements and chose not to be adopted by us) called last week, except it turns out that he didn’t mean to call and had put us on speed dial to call later and then given his phone to his girlfriend to hold while they were at the county fair, which led to her calling my phone by mistake. So we played a bit of phone tag until I was able to finally talk to him at a time that worked for both of us.

School starts in a few weeks where he lives. Before that, though, he’ll be doing pre-adoption training. Apparently in the private foster program, he has to do some sort of graduation from the program to be able to be adopted. Last I’d heard, he was still adamantly against adoption, so I was a little surprised he’d chosen to have the foster mother he’s lived with for almost a year now adopt him. I know he was under a lot of pressure from social workers to go this route, but I also knew how conflicted he was about adoption, since the truly bad things in his life happened while he was in an adoptive placement (with people who are also his biological relatives).

I wasn’t actually hurt to hear this news, as I’d previously feared I might have been. I felt neutral, really. I want him to have someone to come home to. I do still think it might be us at some point, and he knows that’s still an option. (After he and I talked, he and Lee discussed that as part of a long conversation about adoption and her experiences with it, which I think was good for him. Unprompted, he thanked her for the commitment we’ve made to him and the connection we have with him, saying he knows we didn’t have to do it and that it’s meant a lot to him. Now that feels good.) His foster mother is a good person who clearly cares about him and if this is what she wants, I’m sure she’ll be serious about her commitment to Rowan and his future.

Still, I have some misgivings. Rowan talked about how uneasy he feels about the decision, about the guilt he has. At this point, he’s mostly feeling that he should do it because he’d hate to choose not to and then wish that he had, because he’s hoping that down the line he’ll think, “Well, I didn’t want to be adopted, but it turned out to be a good choice!” I told him none of us can read the future and he has to trust himself and his ability to make good choices. Lee reminded him that he’s lived there for a year already and has one more year to go before he turns 18, so he has a pretty good sense of what being adopted in that family would be like.

The major thing that nags at me, though, is that Rowan and I had yet another conversation about what is “normal” for people who’ve experienced trauma. As far as I know, I’m the only person he talks to about things like that, so we usually have deep conversations when we do talk. Still, I shouldn’t be the only person who’s being asked, “Hey, is it normal to still have bad dreams about abuse even years after it happened?” in a situation where everyone who’s involved with his care knows about his history and should be setting him up with positive tools to be able to deal with this kind of thing, should be expecting him to encounter and address the very real and normal impacts of trauma. It really frustrates me that this isn’t happening for him, though I know my approach is probably more direct than the usual for foster parents, and I think his foster mother’s approach is to sort of look at these teens as being normal boys who’ve had a hard time, and I can see why she’d want to do that and help them feel like they’re not being stereotyped or marginalized because they’re in foster care.

Still, I told Rowan what I’ve often told him, that in some sense he grew up in a war zone and his body and his brain learned to react accordingly. That does a number on you and it’s a mistake to assume after all that that he’s indistinguishable from the other kids his age at school because he’s a good person and a hard worker, because he looks like he’s gotten past it and is doing okay, because he hates to be in talk therapy. I’m glad that adoption means he’ll have a family to fall back on in adulthood, because that’s just a good thing to have but also because if he’s not addressing the things that make life more difficult for him now before he’s an adult, he’s going to have a harder time getting through those adult years while also figuring it out.

So I don’t know what’s up with Rowan exactly. I hope the adoption training is non-coercive so that he can really make an informed decision as much as possible. It hasn’t even been two months since he called us saying he wanted to live with us and then called back after talking to his new social worker to say, no, never mind, everything was okay. He is, indeed, a normal boy at 16, going through all the drama and stress that all kids do. On top of that, though, he has to make decisions about his future, about his direction in life, that seem more major than what college to attend or whether to go to prom. And even those kinds of decisions seem life-or-death at the time, can bring lots of waffling and pressure. I hope Rowan chooses well and wisely, that he’s proud of himself for making a choice. I’ll still be around to answer his questions whatever he chooses. That’s all I can do.

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