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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  1. I am doing kinship care now. Federal laws require that states that receive assistance with their foster care programs (I would guess all of them) preferentially place children in foster care. I receive the same training, licensing and reimbursement as someone in a non-relative placement. Additionally, ours is one of a handful of states that requires that when efforts at reunification fail, family members be given preference when an adoption is planned.

    And, it is still so very draining. I am contracted with the state to provide care for my grandson. I can’t let a parent who is refusing to participate in supervised visits take the baby for an unsupervised visit. I become the bad guy. I fear our family’s dynamics have forever changed. I also realize that having the baby in my home is creating tension between the baby’s father and I; tension that would mean that he might never allow me to see my grandson should he gain permanent, physical custody.

    I have loved having my grandson in my home. None of my children came into my home as an infant. So, I am even enjoying diapers and middle of the night feedings. But, I really don’t know if I would recommend this to other families. The emotional risk is too high.

    We are hoping for an open adoption too.

    • There is such a huge disparity in terms of the kind of support states offer. In our state, reimbursements are significantly lower than for foster care and they don’t have an assigned caseworker the way we as foster parents do, so the same worker who’s working with the child’s parent is also working with the kinship caregiver. In a good situation, that could be really good, but in a bad one it creates a lot of problems.

      Our state puts kids into kinship care if at all possible, but once they go from a kinship placement into foster care, it’s often hard to get them back into their families. Every single child who’s been in our home from respite on down has had at least one relative placement before entering foster care, and I don’t really think all of those placements needed to fail, though some (including the one truly abusive one) did. If the caregiver families had gotten the kind of support we do, I think some of them could have done better and lasted longer. But yes, Mara’s family has also been hurt by the emotional fallout of decisions about which kids would go where. I really admire the grace and forgiveness of her aunt Samara, who’s raising the four oldest children, but her life has been so much harder than it would have been if she hadn’t taken on the commitment,

  2. Thorn, this was a really nicely written reflection on your time with Mara. We’re dealing with some complicated health-type issues with our foster baby’s biofamily that have put a temporary stop to visits, even with the grandma, who is really trying, which is a struggle for us. We want our foster baby’s family to know us and to be comfortable with us so we can work towards some sort of relationship with them, whether the baby stays with us or not. I really admire the work you’ve done to lay that foundation.

    I’m also getting involved in an interstate sort-of-kinship issue with a cousin’s half-sibling who is making some poor choices. It’s not a cut-and-dry case, particularly because the mom’s not even due until August, but it will be interesting to see how things develop. I’ve offered to call CPS to report some things the mom has been up to, and the family has taken me up on it, so I guess I’m involved for good now!

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