Archive for April, 2012

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a year and a half

April 30, 2012

It was only eighteen months ago that we picked Mara up from her prior foster family’s house and brought her home. In the 18 months prior to that, she had moved from her mother’s care to her aunt Samara’s and then moved from one apartment to another with Samara and her family, after which she entered foster care with her first foster family, who also moved houses while she was with them. With us, she’s moved from the little house to the piano house last summer and had Val and Alex move in and then move out. That is a whole lot of change for one little person, but she is doing so amazingly well with it nonetheless.

In the last week or two, she’s suddenly stopped saying “I miss my family!” or “I miss my daddy!” every single day, the way she had been for maybe a year. I don’t think this is a sign that she misses them any less, but I think she knows we understand. Especially since having her siblings stay with us, I’ve made a point of saying, “I miss Trinity!” or “Don’t you think Andre would like doing this?” and I know she says that sort of thing too. During the parent-teacher meeting, her teacher clearly knew her siblings’ names and some of their preferences (that the little brother likes marbles, specifically) just the way she would for any of Mara’s classmates who live with their brothers and sisters. One of the things I’m most proud of is that we’ve been able to get her in touch with her family, and I’m so impressed with how her family has welcomed us and made us part of the family too. Mara comes from wonderful people, which is not a surprise when you see how amazing and gentle she is but it’s still a delight.

Getting to know her family has also made me think more clearly about how poorly kinship caregivers are treated in our state. I feel a push to educate other foster families about the benefits we’ve seen to an open adoption and everyone about how much more support people like Mara’s aunt Odelia deserve.

In the last 18 months, I’ve become a mom, though still not one with full legal standing. It turns out that a lot of the fears I had about parenting were unfounded and that most of what I do has come naturally to me, though that may be partly because I spent so much time thinking about parenting before I actually did it. I’ve stopped being dissatisfied with the way I look because I don’t want Mara to pick up on that, and it really was almost that easy to let those worries drop. I’m generally more kind to myself than I’d expected, though I’ve certainly made my share of parenting mistakes. I’m a good mom for Mara, and I’m willing to say that. And despite hitting serious low points when Val and Alex were with us, Lee and I are a better team than we’ve ever been and getting better all the time.

As for Mara, I took her to church yesterday and as we walked back to the car she was looking at some cats sitting on a porch. She said, “Why those cats looking at me? I think they think, ‘What’s that beautiful doing???'” I love that she thinks of herself as a “beautiful,” though I know challenges to that are coming as her own sister changed Mara’s Mii icon for our Wii to have lighter skin and straight hair, a message she herself had probably internalized by age 4. I love that Mara is smart and poetic, that she is cuddly and independent, that she’s musical and can draw for hours. She’s gentle, kind, intuitive, loving. When we brought home that sad, scared girl 18 months ago, we saw the spark in her eyes that told us she’d be amazing, but our Mara and our life with her are so much better than we’d ever imagined.

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mixed updates

April 16, 2012

We met with our worker last week. Our file is still on hold because we’ve been waiting on something the pediatrician needs to sign since the first week of February (calling and/or visiting weekly to try to get it pushed to the top of their list) but that’s okay since we’re not really ready for a placement now anyway.

We talked to her about Mara’s siblings’ visit and she gave us some information about Val and Alex, who have had good and bad things happen to their family in the time since they left us. Right now, they’re living with the parent who decided to make better choices and with the relative who had them before they came to us, and I hope that will be a stable and safe situation for them.

One thing I haven’t really talked about on the blog and won’t be able to for some period of time is that Lee and I are facing a potential job crisis. Everything is very much up in the air for the next two weeks or few months or maybe more if things go badly, but right now we don’t know quite what’s going on. And so we decided that until we have clarity, we’re not going to make any attempts to adopt Talia. Adding a new child to a home that might be losing part of an expected source of income and that’s dealing with the stress of the uncertainty not knowing about that creates just doesn’t seem fair. So now what will happen is that Talia’s worker will do a general write-up of her and email it around to the other workers in our area to see if any have families who might be interested. She’s a smart, sweet child without any mental health diagnoses or some of the harder-to-parent behavioral issues some children have, so I suspect there will be people who could picture adding her to their families. Our worker suspects the goal is going to be to get her into a home where at least one other child is non-white so she can have some sort of cultural connection, but it didn’t sound like she knows of any other open homes with a black parent. (We actually know one, but I don’t think they’re looking for her age group.)

If everything works out reasonably and we have a plan for the future, we’ll try again. I just know that neither Lee nor I can feel comfortable taking on more stress right now. For the most part, we’re managing fine with what we have and supporting each other, but I don’t want to do anything to upset the balance we have now. We’ll still be trying to increase our active commitment to Mara’s family during this interim time, so we will be strengthening connections even if they’re not with Talia for now.

Then yesterday we were at another house in our neighborhood for a brunch party and I looked out the door and saw Lee hugging Alex. We’d been told they were back in our community and I was sad when I’d seen Alex’s old preschool class get off the school bus Friday and he wasn’t there. But then suddenly there they were, with two other kids from their extended family and a parent and another extended family member. They were walking to the park and Mara and Val just threw their arms around each other. We agreed to meet them at the park, where Mara and I ended up hanging out for about two hours while the kids all played and I talked to the adults about what’s gone wrong and why their family social worker still isn’t doing all the things she’s supposed to do. The great news is how much is going right. After a bad fit in a heavily academic kindergarten classroom at her new school, Val is now back with the teacher who loves and understands and challenges her. Alex, on the other hand, hasn’t been to school at all since he was with us, which is definitely not ideal. He and Mara are only six weeks apart but are on different sides of the kindergarten age cutoff, so he’ll be expected to start school in the fall.

Lee has always said that if Alex saw me again, he’d be all over me demanding hugs and so on like he used to. I wasn’t surprised that this wasn’t the case, that he let me pour him water and talked to me but was clearly all about his parent. He was having a great time in the park (constantly reminding us that “I survived!” each time he came out of the underbrush around the edge) and he didn’t need me for extra support or security like he used to when he honestly couldn’t be sure he would get his family back. Both he and Val have grown a bit and were happy to be outside. Mara loved seeing them, and all the kids have missed each other. I didn’t press their parent on why no calls were ever returned and it really doesn’t matter. We’ve made it clear that we’d be happy to babysit or help out as we can, but that it’s going to require their parent (or the relative guardian) to ask. I have nothing emotionally tied up in either outcome there.

There were a lot of great moments, like one I can’t remember word-for-word but when Alex said something very dramatic and his parent said, “Hmm, well I guess we’ll see!” or something with exactly the same phrasing and tone as I would have used. We talked about how much Val still loves side ponytails and I confessed that I was glad about that since you don’t have to worry about symmetry and I’d mostly be doing her hair while she was in the process of waking up, so any style that lacked precision helped! The kids’ parent said that Val announced the other day, “Thorn says it’s okay to talk about skin color!” so I reiterated where that conversation had come from and that I’m not surprised that it’s on Val’s mind after moving back to the city from the country. Basically it was an easy, comfortable conversation.

When our worker was at the house, Lee had said that she thought I missed Val and Alex and I’d said that I didn’t think that was the right word, though it’s one Mara uses and I think very true to what she experiences. I didn’t miss them in terms of wanting them back with us, but I did think about them and wonder about them and how they’re doing. Now I have at least some answer there. They’re a year out from the family crisis that threw them into out-of-home care and they’re living with one dedicated and committed parent who’s spent that year making things right. They’re still not quite at the point where that parent can regain custody, but I think that has more to do with the social worker’s priorities than what the parent has done. They’re very clearly part of their family fully again, and incredibly happy about that. It was so good to see them and to know that, and I do feel I have a better sense of closure if I don’t end up seeing them again. (But seriously, our town is only a mile across or something and I imagine we will cross each other’s paths again.) So that part was very positive.

This week, our handyman will come out to start scraping the three layers of wallpaper off our bedroom walls, so eventually Lee and I will have a nicer sanctuary for ourselves. I’d suggested postponing this when the job uncertainty arose, but Lee was adamant that we have enough money for now and we’ll be okay whenever whatever’s going to happen happens. Our yard is looking great as all the plants we’ve put in the ground are soaking up rain and sun and thriving, and it will be nice to have one more room inside done too, especially one that means so much to me. Even with the hard parts, I feel so lucky about the life we have and the joy that we’re having living it. I’ve barely written about Mara here, but Mara’s role in my life is huge and better every day. She’s just getting more and more amazing, and Lee and I are overwhelmed by how much we love and are impressed by her. This is a good life that we have, and I love that.

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fun with Mara’s family

April 9, 2012

I am only going to give the broadest overview here, because even that could easily get lengthy. Mara’s littlest big sister, Trinity, and the next two older kids, Franca (9) and Andre (8), were ready when I picked them up from their aunt’s apartment after I finished work Wednesday. We drove over to Lee’s school to pick Mara up, and then went home. The three kids spent just about every waking moment (and, in many cases, sleeping ones) together until I dropped them off again on Saturday afternoon. Then Sunday was Easter and I spent about six hours with Mara’s extended family.

Mara’s family is full of such fun, sweet, good people. Even her mom, who’s the most obviously troubled of all the family members I’ve met, was pleasant to talk to, open and generous. It’s a little awkward but also flattering how many of these relatives I’m meeting have thanked me for bringing Mara back, for keeping her connected. (I was the one doing the driving and supervision during much of the egg hunt time, so Lee wasn’t there for a lot of this.) One neighbor in the public housing complex where Mara’s siblings all live said that everyone knows about us because there aren’t any other adoptive families bringing kids back for visits post-adoption. I’m sure that’s not entirely true and I’m also sure that we’re more visible because I’m white and because we’re a two-mom family, but the truth is that a lot of these people have lost relatives to the foster care system if they were unable or unwilling to be relative placements for those kids and that’s a grief that doesn’t get addressed much. Apparently just seeing Mara with her siblings and her cousins (and her new cousins, since we’ve finally met two of her mom’s half-siblings from her mom’s dad’s side) affirms that it’s possible and makes it clear how much people are yearning for this kind of connection. From the adoptive family’s perspective, they may not be doing anything to make that connection happen, but that’s one of the reasons I feel like the responsibility is on me as the adoptive parent to do the work of following up, staying in touch, keeping Mara in contact with her past and her family.

Oh, did I say I was only going to talk about what happened and not overthink it? Yeah, anyway, the overthinking is mostly in the category of what we can do next, what we can do on an ongoing basis. I’d be inclined to just agree to take these three kids once a month to give their aunt a break and give them sibling time. Lee thinks that sounds like it’s too often, but then we get into my worries about whether the cousins who live with them will keep on feeling left out. In almost all these family units, there are also half-siblings, so there are already situations where one dad is present and another isn’t, one gives big gifts to make up for his absence and another doesn’t acknowledge his kids at all. Now we add to that the adoptive parents of a family member who aren’t quite sure where they belong…. It’s complicated and hard, and I don’t know how we can help. I’ll be talking to our worker during her visit this week about resources for Mara’s aunt Odelia, because there really must be more out there than she’s able to access at this point.

Anyway, Mara loves her brother and sisters and all four kids had an amazing time. Lee and I love them and had fun with them too. But while it wasn’t much work while they were around, I’m exhausted from the social whirl and some bad sleep lately. I’m ready for a break, and this week I’m going to be lucky enough to get one. Lee and I have counseling, which I’m looking forward to, and we’ll also have some time alone as a couple, which has been rarer than it should have been. We’ll meet with our social worker without Mara in the house, which will be great since we’re going to have to talk about Talia at least some. (Oh, and it sounds like Talia and Andre were school friends before Talia entered foster care, but that’s a long story and potentially not a relevant one except that I knew there’d be some connection between the families.) And I will take naps! I really really will! It will be heavenly! But so was this long weekend with family, really.

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