Archive for February, 2012


annoyed by the adoption establishment: prioritizing family

February 29, 2012

Kevin and his co-conspirators starting from Land of Gazillion Adoptees have deemed this “Why the adoption establishment annoys me” week. In my little corner of the foster and foster/adoption world, the thing that’s most on my mind is support for reunification/family placement or lack thereof.

One of my favorite new-to-me bloggers is Mary of Noah Baby Blog. She and her husband are raising (as legal guardians) and may eventually be adopting her sister’s son. I believe some of little Noah’s siblings are in placements with other relatives, but at least two are in foster care. Mary had a fantastic recent post about the support that she gets versus the support that his siblings’ foster family gets. If she got even some of the financial support (say, partial pay for daycare while she and her husband work) that the foster family does and will probably continue to get if their adoptions are finalized, as we do (to my surprise!) for Mara, she and her husband would be able to afford to raise Noah’s siblings with him. Instead, the family is split up and there will probably be TPR and the siblings will be adopted by a family that has no legal requirement or even encouragement to keep them in contact with their brother.

All of the kids who’ve been in our home for respite or otherwise have been here because they were in relative placements that failed. I understand why the state aims for relative placements first, because it’s good to keep kids in familiar environments and connected to their families whenever possible. It’s also much cheaper for the state than foster care, at least in places where there isn’t parity in terms of the amount of training and subsidy offered. Val and Alex were in a relative placement before they came to us and are in one now until their parents are able to do the last few things they need to on their case plan, though since the economy is bad enough that “find independent housing” had to be removed from that case plan since there was no way even with two incomes their parents were going to be able to find and afford appropriate housing in this environment, the kids’ parents are living with them and their custodial relatives.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the class privilege Mara has because she lives with us and how we can help her siblings. Last month, we took three of them to the college where Lee teaches to watch a basketball game in part because it was a fun, casual time to hang out and in part deliberately because each time they’re on a college campus will make them feel more comfortable about eventually belonging on a college campus. But then there’s Mara, who goes to preschool on a college campus and sees it as totally normal (as I did as a faculty child) and went busting into a closed-door meeting in Lee’s dean’s office to drop off the valentine she’d made for the dean. I’m not trying to imply that the life we’re giving her is better than the one she would have had if she’d been able to remain with her family, but it’s different in many ways. She’s getting exposed to different things, but she’s not around other kids all day when we’re at home, doesn’t know how to play marbles like her little brother, doesn’t wake up every morning and look at people who look like her. It would have been better for Mara to stay with her family, and the system recognizes that and privileges intra-family placements for that reason. In this case, her available family members were honest about their limitations and after Samara was unable to meet Mara’s special needs, which were more significant then than they were when she came to us after another foster placement, they knew enough to ask for more help even though that meant losing access to Mara and in fact losing contact with Mara for over a year.

Mara misses her family and particularly her siblings every single day, and she’s very open about telling us this. From what I’ve learned since meeting them, at least the one who has a particular bond with her also mentioned her almost daily in the years they didn’t see each other. At this point, we’re seeing her siblings once a month, but I think we really need to step that up. And one reason we need to do more is that, as I said before, her aunt is feeling burned-out and overwhelmed. Honestly, I have a hard time imagining anyone who wouldn’t feel that way when raising eight kids (four of them Mara’s siblings) solo while working full-time and living in public housing without a car. I know the kids’ grandma helps out and various neighbors do too, but all of them are people living in poverty in this awful economy, people who are themselves overwhelmed and scraping by. I’m not privy to what sort of stipend if any the state gives her for taking care of Mara’s siblings, but I know that ours is a state like Mary’s where that amount wouldn’t even come close to the post-adoption subsidy for Mara’s care. I know that child support isn’t getting paid when it’s supposed to, and so day after day Mara’s family is dealing with economic insecurity and exhaustion.

Mara and her siblings are all hurting because their parents couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t, weren’t allowed to parent them. That’s the hard fact that all foster and foster-like placements begin with and flow from into whatever comes next. I don’t know the details of any of the stories but Mara’s, and I’m learning that more and more of those were different than we’d originally been told, but I know the broad strokes of things. Samara, who’s been raising Mara’s youngest sibling since birth, is in the uncomfortable position of having only temporary guardianship because she’s not a blood relative to this three-year-old and lost her long-term relationship because she and the man in her life disagreed about whether she should take in Mara when she did. The aunt raising the oldest children is being worn out because of lack of support and

If we care about families, which I’m not convinced we as a culture do, we need to support parents even when they’re poor or young or overcoming addiction or dealing with hard times. We definitely need to support the aunties and grandparents and friends who step into the gap when parents and their children need help. We do indeed need to support foster parents, empowering them to act as advocates for children in their care while also being honest about what kind of job they’re taking on and how much is expected of them. I haven’t even mentioned adoption yet because adoption should be a last choice. Mara’s family, including her parents, tells me that they think Mara’s case was there, that there was no way for anyone else to come forward to keep her in the family. I can’t make the money appear to change that history, but I do think it was mostly money and the time it takes to manage large households like both Samara and her other aunt are doing already that kept Mara from going to or staying with them. Does that mean I think her adoption was unethical? No, but in a better world it might not have been necessary. All I can do with that, though, is go on being her mom and calling her aunts and buying a birthday present for her sister and her cousin and taking the kids sometimes so their caretakers can have a break. I can’t give her her family as it would have been, but I can choose not to take her away from her family as it is now, big enough to include all of us.

You see that I’m not really taking on blame here and I’m not blaming Mara’s social workers, either, all of whom cared about her (and, in the case of the family worker, her mom too) and did what they could to help her. I think this is a widespread blame, which is what makes it an “establishment” issue. Adoption was a good thing for Mara in that it’s going to keep her in our home, in our family. She doesn’t have to worry about moving again, doesn’t have to have a social worker visiting every month and writing a letter every time we take a vacation. I think it absolutely would have been a bad thing if we hadn’t been able to find and connect with her family, though. For her as a four-year-old, this is absolutely core to who she is and having the mom she generally calls My Francesca and we call her mom doesn’t in any way take away from having her Mommy and Mama in our house. She knows the logo of the place where her dad works and gleefully points out another location on the drive to school every day. Her identity and role in those families didn’t get terminated when her parents’ rights to her did. But the state did what it thought was best for her and placed her for adoption with us, just as her siblings were placed with relatives rather than placed in foster care, as they should have been. It’s the difference in the way we’re treated that just isn’t right, isn’t fair, isn’t in the children’s best interests. But until we start caring about poverty and what it does to children, that’s not going to change.

I’m so grateful for people like Mary, for Mara’s relatives, for Val and Alex’s relatives, the people who step up and offer their couch to a relative who’s just gotten out of prison, a child who needs a place to stay, a neighbor who needs a favor. Lee and I sometimes get those, “Oh, what a great thing you’re doing!” comments, but we’re doing this deliberately because we chose to and planned for it and arranged our lives (with varying degrees of success) to be able to do it in the way we wanted to. We weren’t in Samara’s situation of just being told, “Oh, your little one’s sister is going to be put in foster care if you don’t take her in, so will you?” (I mean, we could very well be in that situation, but we know that going in and we know what resources we’d have at our disposal if we said yes like I suspect we would.) I’m not saying the people who do relative care are saints; they’re people with all the complexities and frustrations that all people have plus the addition of suddenly having kids with the same needs as other kids in foster care but typically less safety net to support them than many foster parents have. Children are indeed being left behind, and I know I’m trying to step up and do what I can to make sure that Mara’s siblings and cousins won’t be among them. But the change we need is so much bigger than that.



February 27, 2012

I dozed for most of the afternoon yesterday. Mara’s littlest big sibling’s birthday party had been postponed, so we had some time off. Lee took Mara to the park and then they read and played downstairs and I rested.

I’ve been working on my garret, the attic room above our bedroom. There’s a bed there, now, and a big round table by the window that looks out over the neighborhood all the way to the church tower in our old town we could see from our bathroom window in our old house. I still have to assemble one more bookcase and then I’ll fill those up with yarn and see if that can get rid of all the big plastic bins that I’ve been dragging around for too many years. And then that will be my little (well, big) hideaway, a room of my own. Right now, the middle room up there is a playroom and the back is Lee’s room, which isn’t really decorated and now no longer even has a tv since we moved hers down to the new family room. If we end up parenting a teen, I suspect the playroom would turn into the teenager’s room before Lee or I would give up our spaces, but we’ll see. It’s amazing that our house has so many options.

I’ve also been falling under the spell of having a house that’s almost 110 years old. I read a book about The Red Rose Girls who lived and created art together in Pittsburgh in the early part of the 20th century and that got me thinking about whether we’re even the first all-female household in our house’s history. (Then watching the excellent documentary Slavery by Another Name made me wonder about what race relations were like in our town 110 years ago.) At any rate, my birthday present to myself was to buy a bunch of scraps of Liberty of London fabrics and start quilting by hand, English paper piecing method. The idea was that I’d have something portable that would rest my arms if they were tired from knitting, but instead I’ve been doing tons of sewing and no knitting for the last two weeks. I’ve made a cushion cover with an appliqued flower of paisley hexagons for each level of the house (blue background in my garret room, green in the family room, beige in the living room) and I’m about 15% of the way through a largeish lap quilt.

There was an email from our worker today asking if we’ll do respite for a little girl who’s going to need an adoptive family to see if she clicks. Mara’s family is looking for more active help from us in supporting her siblings, though I don’t really know yet what form that will take. Honestly, in thinking about taking in other children it’s made me worry about how we could keep up the relationship we want with Mara’s siblings. Even seeing them once a month seems like too little for her to really get to know them, and I know that she misses them every day. If we can do more to keep them in contact and keep her aunt who’s raising the big kids from being overwhelmed, that would be a good thing.

I’ve been buying potted tulip bulbs for Lee because they’re her favorite flower. We had a set of white ones flower already and today is the day the yellow-rimmed red ones will go into full bloom, I think. Then we’ll put them in the ground and next year she can have tulips of her own. Mara and I started a small batch of seeds (lavender, delphiniums, impatiens) last night and we’ll see how they grow. Mara is a planty little girl and she’s helped me buy and care for a lot of the plants we have throughout the house now. Lee and I have joined the neighborhood garden club even though our house doesn’t have much in the way of a garden yet. My plan is to plant two roses to grow on our back fence to the alley and add little plots along both side fences. I’d really love to rip out the hideous overgrown yews in front of the front porch (and this will get done before fall, since poisonous berries plus a kid with pica are a disaster waiting to happen) but I’m not sure yet what we’d want to plant to replace them and I’m hoping I’ll be able to learn. I’m also brainstorming ways the garden club could reach out to kids in Mara’s age group. I’ll bet a few people would be willing to show off their herb or flower gardens, and maybe I can lead a few scavenger-hunt walks for little ones who are learning to identify plants. Mara and I also have plans to plant a little garden based on her favorite bedtime book, The Rose in My Garden.

There are a lot of things with potential in our lives right now, but it feels like not a whole lot is happening, which includes all the blog posts I’ve left half-written in my draft file. Eventually I’ll move my laptop up to my attic room and have a home base there where I can sit and write, but for now there’s been a lot of taking out the recycling, deep cleaning the bathroom, cook and clean and rest and build and catch up on all the million things that didn’t get done when I was taking care of all three kids. Strengthening my relationship with Lee, which was hurt when she didn’t step up to the plate on being a partner in foster parenting, is a big deal too. We’ve managed to get mad at each other and talk about it and find forgiveness and understanding, but it’s a process that takes time. So is dealing with the quiet in the night when no little child is calling for me, and the fact that Val and Alex’s parents seem to be avoiding us or at least not returning phone calls. That’s okay and I’m sympathetic and will just send the box of stuff I have along with their worker if that’s what they need, but it’s a let-down and also a relief, a closure of sorts. Everything else in our lives seems to be full of not-quite beginnings, and that’s where I am right now. I’m quietly resting and renewing, getting stronger so I’ll be ready for whatever comes next.


just the facts

February 16, 2012

I have so much to say about Val and Alex going home and how our suddenly smaller family is doing (well!) but I’ve been felled by the worst stomach bug I’ve encountered in over a decade. I’m functioning and back to work today, but that’s about all I can manage.

The kids are doing well with their family, from what I was told when we talked Monday. Their mom called to ask if I had some paperwork the school needed because the version the social worker sent wasn’t clear enough. She said they’d had a good weekend and that they were talking about us but glad t be home. Alex said something like, “And can we go visit Thorn and Mara and Lee? I want to go their to Their Street and play and read and then leave!” which cracked me up because I’d had pretty much the same conversation with him in the days before he left us. He’s welcome to come back and visit, but he’s not going to live with us anymore.

To make that more clear to Mara, I spent much of the weekend rearranging what we’re no longer calling “Alex and Val’s room” but “the middle bedroom” or “the family room” so that it has bunkbeds along one wall in case we need to do respite and because we need a place to keep beds that aren’t in use (and, in turns out, in case we need to put one disgustingly sick family member into isolation) and I was able to move a couch that’s been in my parents’ basement for way too long to make a sitting area. I think we’ll even get a tv, even though I sort of hate tvs, and maybe move the Wii up there, something to make it a fun hangout place. If we ever end up having older kids again, Mara’s the one who’d be moved into that room, so we’d have to make lots of changes anyway.

And Mara has the bed that was originally Alex’s, though I finally bought the headboard with shelves that goes with it. She’d been sleeping on the top portion of the bunk bed but as a solo bed, which was nice because it gave that sort of cage effect toddler beds often have but wasn’t all that convenient for us to put her in or take her out as needed. So now she’s got a new bed and it seems to suit her fine.

Tonight I need to swing by Alex’s school to order his class photos, which are great because they’ll have pictures of all the kids and even I think their names, which should help him remember his friends. Then Lee and I are planning to take Mara to preschool reading night, which is at Alex’s other school and which I’d attended last time with all three kids.

Other than all the sick stuff, mostly life feels so relaxed now. It’s like the story about the family that was cranky about their too-cramped house and the rabbi told them to bring the goat inside, which made things worse, and so they brought the cow inside and so on and so on, until at last they took the animals back out and suddenly their house didn’t feel so small anymore. Even beyond the relief I felt that even though I was sick I wasn’t sick and the primary parent for three little beings, it’s just nice to have a chance to use the bathroom without anyone yelling through the door, to sleep through the night, to just have time and space and quiet to myself. That all feels terribly indulgent now, and I want to take advantage of it as much as I possibly can!

I have more to write, too, and more time in which to do that writing, but it won’t happen until I’m feeling better again.


official, bittersweet

February 8, 2012

The judge ruled this morning that Val and Alex will be leaving us this Friday, which is exactly what we expected. They’ll technically be in the custody of the relative their parents have been living with until the parent who was incarcerated can catch up on missed parenting classes and so on, but it shouldn’t be too long until they’re back in their parents’ permanent custody.

We’re ready for this, meaning that there’s dinner with my family tonight to give the kids a chance to say goodbye and basically all they have left at our house are the toys they sleep with and this week’s clothes (plus all the tons and tons of toys that are already there, so it’s not as if there’s any deprivation) and I’ve sent the rest to their family already so their room can be ready for them when they arrive. I did use one garbage bag in packing, but that was because there was nothing else we had that was both wide and long enough to fit Alex’s car and train tracks without requiring disassembly, so I don’t feel guilty at all about that.

I gave Val’s teacher plenty of warning about the impending move and, as I’d expected, she chose Val to be the Student of the Month for their class! Val will get to have lunch or something with the principal on Friday before she leaves and I took a picture with her next to her photo that’s hanging in the hall so she’ll have proof of her triumph. School is sometimes frustrating for her, and I think this is really helping her reframe her school experience as a success in a way that should be helpful when she has to start at a new school. I mean, it may be a little scary and weird to be in a new classroom, but surely the Student of the Month can handle it, no?

Alex, who’s more attached to me in general has been unceasing in his attempts to climb all over me and headbutt me like a cat who wants attention and give me hugs and kiss my cheek all the time. Last night as I was putting them to bed and counting down the three more nights we expected to have them there, he suddenly said, “I’m going to be sad, too, when we go back because I’ll miss you!” We talked for a few minutes about being happy and sad at the same time and that I’ll feel the same way, until Val told us the conversation had to stop because it was making her too sad! I love that these two are verbal enough to be able to express how they are feeling, which is something that was difficult and painful for Mara early on. Val, in fact, immediately mentioned that Mara understands this happy-sad thing because she loves us but misses her brothers and sisters.

How is Mara dealing with this? It doesn’t help that she’s under the weather, and I think the Alex-Thorn lovefest is making her jealous. She hasn’t said again that she doesn’t want Val and Alex to go and she does understand that they’re going to be leaving for good to live with their parents, but she’s also extra needy and I expect that to continue for a while. (I expect it will happen for Val and Alex, too, but dealing with that won’t be my responsibility.) This morning, she announced that she’d had a dream that Eeyore was standing in our street feeling sad. That certainly sounds Eeyore-appropriate and is also cool because it’s the first time she’s been able to tell me what she’s dreamed about, but I think it’s a reminder that I’ll need to be tugging out a lot of emotion-heavy conversations in coming days.

Tonight we’ll eat pizza and have some birthday cake. Tomorrow we’ll have going-away gifts and watch a movie or something where I’m sure I’ll have three squirmy kids trying to sit on my lap. And then the next day is the day that they’ll go and I’ll no longer be woken twenty times a night (no exaggeration!) but I also won’t get the beautiful moments, the smiles and the things they say that make me laugh or make me wish I defaulted to more patience and less exhaustion. I’m really not sad about it yet, not the way they seem to be. I’m thrilled for their parents and that this foster placement seems to have done exactly what foster care is supposed to do, keep the kids safe and cared for until they’re able to go home again. The three of us will be left making our home our own again, too. I have plans for their room and how to rearrange beds and I’m definitely buying a toilet seat that will be more comfortable when I have to sit on it to supervise baths. But this is it for our house being full of little kids. We’re not going to be open to placement of young’uns anymore because we know it’s not what we do best. I’m just so glad and relieved that (so far, fingers crossed for another 48 hours!) we’ve done well enough for Val and Alex.


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