Nia’s been in our home three weeks today, which is one of those things where it feels like it’s been longer because our routines are so easy, but also seems like it’s been no time at all. Lee and Mara left last night for the family reunion, and Nia has been so upset about Mara’s leaving. (I’m not getting worried that she didn’t cry when she left her last foster home but she sobbed hysterically about Mara leaving. I think all of her emotional responses are triggered by the cumulative effects of all that’s gone on in her life this last month rather than just what’s going on at the moment.) We had a good evening, though, and I shouldn’t have trouble keeping her occupied and happy until it’s our turn to travel.
Her case went to court earlier in the week and we’d been hoping that the judge would rule on visitation with her grandmother, but he apparently didn’t. She was very upset about that after we saw Mara’s family and I told our worker that and she pushed things around to get the other caseworker to agree to supervised visits. So this weekend I’ll be taking Nia to a park to see Grandma Toni for the first time in at least four months and maybe more and both of them are absolutely thrilled. Grandma Toni had a full background check because she wanted to be a placement resource for Nia and while she wasn’t approved to be a full-time caretaker, the issue was not that she was an unsafe influence on Nia’s life. I’m really glad they’ll be getting to spend some time together, especially since even if Nia’s mom gets her act together, it will be at least a month before any visitation would start there.
And of course a lot of people don’t think Nia’s mom will get her act together. When I talked to Nia’s lawyer, she asked me if we’d be willing to adopt. I did the standard hedging thing I think you’re supposed to do of saying, “Nia is an awesome kid and we are committed to helping her transition back to her family’s care in a healthy way. If that’s not possible, we would be honored to adopt her.” Later last weekend, I talked to Nia’s former foster mom and learned that she’d told Nia the reason she’d be moving was that her mom wasn’t doing the work she’s supposed to do and the former foster parents are too old to have her stay with them forever, so she needed to go to a place where she could stay forever. (Not that the former foster mom ever asked me if we intended to adopt her if the chance came up, and also sheesh, what an inappropriate thing to say to a kid!)
So three weeks in, there are already conversations about adoption. Part of it is just about understanding adoption and foster care. She really does seem to get that Mara’s parents didn’t do what they were supposed to do but they still love Mara and Mara’s a great kid, which I hope is something she can analogize to her own life if her parents don’t start following the caseplan. She knows about Lee’s mixed feelings about her birthparents and how much Mara loves and talks about hers. She’s had a lot of chances to talk about her own feelings and memories about her family and her former foster family.
Last night on the way to dinner (celebratory pizza after swim lessons to give Lee and Mara a fancy send-off!) Nia was talking about the school she passed and when she’d go there. I said, “If you’re still with us, you’ll start there in third grade.” She said, “Oh, I’m going to stay with you forever! My mom isn’t going to do the work because she doesn’t like when people tell her what to do, and I want to stay with you anyway. I don’t love my mom.” My response was, basically, “Well, none of us are the ones who get to make the decisions about where you go so we’ll wait and see what happens. If you want to talk to Lee about feeling frustrated with your mom, she would probably understand. I don’t know if Mara ever feels like she doesn’t love her mom, but it’s fine to feel however you feel.” Nia had a few more things to say, but not much.
On the way home from dinner, Nia started talking about the future again. She said, “I want to go live with my mom now. I think she’s ready for me now. But I need you to tell her that I don’t want Dora sheets anymore because Dora is for babies. I want Juffa Beaver sheets because I love Juffa Beaver!” (And yes, I’ve let her hang a Justin Bieber poster in her room, though she still has regular sheets.) I think the two outbursts are pretty characteristic of how she feels right now. She’s getting comfortable here, attaching to all of us but especially to Mara and to me, and yet she’s also feeling conflicted or guilty about that. She does love her parents, but she’s aware of the things her parents did that hurt her and that she’s hurt by being forcibly separated from them.
We’re all sort of emotionally conflicted. I’m glad that Grandma Toni will get to meet me, because that means that if the case does end up going in the adoption direction, she’ll trust us and know that things are going to be okay and she’ll still be involved. She’s been excited that I have Nia call her every few days, when before she was apparently going weeks without talking to Nia. My experience with Mara’s family was that by getting to know Samara so that we both trusted each other, I was in a much better position to handle the family as a whole and be accepted by them because I already had some safe support behind me. I think it’s meant a lot to Grandma Toni that I’ve been open to her stories about how things worked within the family, and I know she’s grateful that I intervened to make visitation happen. She’s said that her goal is to get Nia to a family member or to make sure she doesn’t bounce around in care until she’s 18, though neither of us are likely to drop the word “adoption” into the conversation any time soon.
And yes, I’m the one doing the heavy lifting on family contact again. Because of Lee’s history with her own open adoption, going into this with an open heart is hard for her. She’s gotten so much out of knowing Mara’s family and she’d absolutely agree about that, but she’s still not ready to make the first move. And I’m okay with that. We’re doing so much better this time around at making room for each other’s weaknesses. She knows that in the first month of placement I’ll be focused much more on keeping the kids busy than on keeping the house acceptable, and she’s been picking up a lot of that slack. I know that she’ll try hard but get exhausted quickly until she catches up to the two-kid pace of life, and so I make sure we schedule plenty of breaks for her. Right now we’re doing some parallel parenting as she’s headed to the lake with my family and Mara and I’m here with Nia and the pets. I’m so glad to have her as a partner in all of this, even if we’re not always equal partners.
And wow, it’s only been three weeks, only been a month since we even knew Nia’s name. (I’m adjusting to the new spelling of it. Did I tell my blog that her name was spelled wrong when entered into the computer when she entered foster care, just like Mara’s and Val’s before her? Yeah. Like Mara’s, the “wrong” version is the more phonetic one, but here I’ve gotten confirmation from her grandma that the original spelling was intentional and so I’m going with that and getting used to it again. Oh, and sorry about all the parentheticals, but that’s how I roll.) Today she’s off playing miniature golf with her class and tonight we’ll do her hair and watch a movie and eat ramen with chopsticks, be like a normal mom and daughter having a special night. And we are just that, whatever else we are and may be. And I like it.