Archive for August, 2012

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positive feedback

August 23, 2012

I’ve been hearing a lot from Colton lately. He’s 18 now and has graduated from high school, though college isn’t quite as imminently in his plans as I’d hoped. He’s still living in the same foster/group home and I believe working enough hours that he’s able to still be in foster care, though I don’t know the details on that. He’s gotten chatty on facebook and then must have found my phone number on something I’d given him and started texting periodically, though he understands that I’m not going to be as prompt or constant a respondent as a fellow teen might be.

It’s been two years this month since we flew out to meet him after being matched with him as his potential adoptive family. Then there was the month or so where no one was returning our calls, where we knew something was going wrong and didn’t know what. Then finally we got word from him that he felt so bad about it but just couldn’t bear to leave his state and restart his life in a different region and timezone. We were really disappointed but tried to be gracious and supportive, left the lines of communication open and told him we hoped to see him thrive and succeed wherever he was. And then we opened as a foster home rather than adoption-only and promptly got a call about another teen boy and I seized up and couldn’t imagine putting our hearts on the line that way again, and so he went somewhere else and then a few days later the call came that there was a three-year-old girl who needed a home where she could probably be adopted. We switched from moms-of-teens mode to the moms-of-Mara world and haven’t really had a chance to look back.

I don’t want to get into any arguments about adoptions being “meant to be” because it completely gives me the creeps that there are people who think their God wanted Mara to be hurt and neglected and abandoned so she could end up with us, even if that’s not the way they’d phrase it. But it’s certainly worked out well for us to have Mara and if we’d had a teen boy moving in, we wouldn’t have had room (physical or emotional) for her. I can’t think about that possible reality without a sense of loss about the good times I’ve had with Mara and now Nia and with Val and Alex when they were with us. It’s not anything that I dwell on often.

Colton, though, has been thinking about things a lot, about how his life would have been different if he’d chosen to come with us instead of staying put. Now he’s older and feeling constrained by his small town, ready to see more of the world. He regrets losing that chance when he had it and wishes he’d chosen to go ahead with the adoption. Rowan had said similar things long ago, though not so much about adoption, that he wished he’d come back to us instead of being stubborn about other things. I guess it’s nice that we’re two for two on teen boys wishing we’d been their parents! It’s a weird feeling and weird situation, though, and there definitely were times (especially with Rowan) that I kicked myself about whether leaving the decisions up to them so much was really the best way to deal with it when it always meant they’d end up somewhere else than where I wanted them to be, with us.

Colton’s rationalization of all of this is that he didn’t feel ready to call us Mom then, though he has grown enough he thinks of us as mom-like now. He thought we deserved to have someone who could call us Mom, which is sort of ironic since the only child who has with any consistency is Mara. But that’s the way he tells the story, that he was nobly thinking about what we deserved and in an O. Henry-worthy twist ended up realizing that what we deserved was what he wanted to give us himself. Oh, and he’s said we would have had a hard time dealing with him, to which I responded that it’s a teenager’s job to be volatile and willful and make parents roll their eyes and have to catch their breath.

But I’m putting this out her to remind myself that the story isn’t over on any of us. I said that I’ll never see Val and Alex again, but I don’t know that. They were four and five when they were with us, and I could see them recognizing me someday when they’re older, someday when they’ll still recall that I did what I could for them and their family. If that happens, I won’t be holding my breath for thanks or gratitude, but what means more to me than Colton’s praise for us is seeing him smiling in his Chuck Taylors at prom, noting how diligent he’s been about his job all summer, laughing to myself that we’re the grownups he’s coming to for relationship advice.

He wants to take a road trip someday, get away from the places he grew up and see something different where he doesn’t have to think about how no one from his family came to his graduation and everyone in the community knows he’s different and more constrained because he’s in foster care. He says he’d love to come see us, and I know we’d be glad to put him up for a few days, see how he’s grown into his smile after three years in the same home, take some more pictures to show that he’s taller than Lee and I are now. I don’t know if this will work out any time soon, but I like that it’s something he thinks about, that he wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be too disruptive for the girls to have an extra body around the house for a week or less.

He’s growing up, in some ways grown up already, and I only got to be a tiny part of that experience and yet I’ve seen how it’s made a difference to him. I’m not vain enough to think I’m a purely positive force in the universe or anything like that, but we’ve been going through some hard times (not related to fostering or parenting) lately and I do appreciate getting this kind of encouragement. And I love hearing him, though he seriously needs to stop calling me “ma’am” just like Mara’s mom, who’s within a year or so of my age, should definitely not ever ever ever call me “Ms. Thorn” again. One thing I am not is Southern in my attitudes and style, I suppose. I am not his mom, not “ma’am,” but still something, and that seems to matter.

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back to school

August 22, 2012

I’ve been putting off writing this post because I didn’t know what to say or how. The good part is that I took Nia to school this morning and she’s officially a first grader, with a teacher who seems empathetic and kind and who isn’t bothered by the fact that Nia may have had less preparation than some of the other kids in the class. Nia was adorable and excited as I took her through the breakfast line and I’m hoping she’ll still be positive about the experience when she gets home.

The part that makes me so sad is that while I’d been assuring her once she moved in that she’d get to meet Val once she went to school, that’s not possible anymore. While we were on vacation, I got the message that Val and Alex had been taken back into foster care. At this point, only one of their parents is able to work toward reunification and the caseworkers suspect that there just won’t be enough time for that parent to be successful and so the kids will end up on the adoption track.

I am furious and heartbroken about this. Their parent made a big mistake (and was the one who called the caseworker to confess and try to find a resolution) but I believe this parent was a good and loving parent and that this is a family that could have succeeded with the right supports.  I don’t let the parent off the hook for that mistake, and if history is any indicator that parent doesn’t either, but it’s not the whole story of who the parent is. So now Val and Alex are living somewhere out in the affluent suburbs with a family that works for a private agency rather than the state. I offered to do respite or talk to the foster family to help ease the transition, but apparently they’re not interested in support from outside their agency. I will probably never hear from Val or Alex again, though I think I’m going to try to reach out to their parent.

Now that I’m writing this, I don’t really have the stomach to talk about what is wrong here. Maybe I should shoulder some blame for pushing for Val and Alex to return to their parents before their parents were ready, but I truly believe their parents were as ready as they could be and that some of the crashing and burning (like the other parent violating parole and ending up back in jail) was probably necessary. When they came back into care, I couldn’t offer to take them in because we can’t manage the logistics of four car seats and because Lee and I can’t risk our relationship like we did when we had all our problems while Val and Alex were here and we couldn’t find peace. We knew they wouldn’t come back to us, but knowing they’ve gone to someone else makes me feel like such a failure. I worked so hard so that they’d feel like it was normal that they’d been in foster care just like they didn’t feel a stigma about having an incarcerated parent, and I suspect that now that’s gone too, that now everything is going to be harder on them.

There seem to be a lot of foster families who do well with young kids, who can have a whole pack of little ones running around and everything seems to go smoothly enough. Lee and I aren’t like that, and we know that about ourselves. One aspect of that is that we’re more proactive and intense about our connections with kids’ families than the average foster family around here. I have so much contact with Mara’s family that it’s hard to imagine adding another family I’d see as often. I talk to Nia’s grandmother a few times a week and we’d been seeing her for multiple hours every weekend until we mutually decided to take a break last weekend and this one to get other things accomplished. Val and Alex are probably with a family that’s well-suited to their needs and personalities in a way that ours wasn’t, but it’s less likely that they’re with a family who will push as hard for their parent to succeed as we did.

I’m not mad at their parent. I’m mad at the caseworker, who from day one has tried to take the easy way out for her regardless of how it made things harder on anyone else. I know she’s new at her job, but at one point the parent told me, “You know, I just don’t think she understands anything about being poor.” I think that pretty much sums it up. If you don’t have empathy for a parent who hasn’t managed to pull together the money to graduate from a mandatory class, which means racking up more fees for each mandatory class after what would have been graduation, that’s a problem. If you don’t have empathy for someone who’s trying to decide how to get to a drug test 15 miles away during the time he’s supposed to be at work and while he has no car while both keeping down a job and appearing at all drug tests are part of the case plan, you’re not imagining what it must feel like to make that kind of choice. If you don’t see how putting someone in jail for felony non-payment of child support for a ludicrously low amount is going to then hurt that felon’s chances of getting a job good enough to pay meaningful child support in the future, you’re not getting it. And I know that laws are laws and policies are policies, but there are plenty of laws that are made to hurt the people who really don’t need to be hurt more, whether or not that’s the intention. I’m sure the voters love it when politicians talk about denying housing or food aid to people with drug convictions, but when those people are in sobriety and out of jail, where are they supposed to live and what are they supposed to eat now that they’re stable enough to get their children back if they can manage housing? I really think housing was the missing link for Val and Alex’s family, that if they had been able to live somewhere as a family unit rather than crammed into spare space at relatives’ houses and tangled with the dysfunction and just regular stress of the extended family. And yet their parents were told that the wait for housing if they could even get on a list would probably be at least a year and in another 9 months, Val and Alex will have been in foster care for 15 months of the prior 24 and the state will be expected to start Termination of Parental Rights

I admit that I don’t understand why Mara’s parents never tried to regain custody of her and I’ve never asked them. I don’t know whether they could have managed it if they’d wanted to, and so I don’t press them about it. I’ll never be 100% sure that adoption was necessary in her case, but I think after two years of abandonment it was the appropriate choice and her family respects and accepts that.  I do know that Val and Alex’s parents fought with every tool they had to regain custody and to do so as better parents than they had been before Val and Alex went into care. I believe their active parent has so much potential to be a great parent, not just one who loves them but one who has insight into them and their specific strengths and growth trajectories. And yet that will probably never happen, not because the parent won’t try but because anything the parent does won’t be enough. Dealing with noncompliant parents like Nia’s and Mara’s is hard for the kids to understand and hard for me to understand, really, but dealing with this situation is just breaking my heart.

But now I get to pick Nia up from school and hope I’ll hear about the good times she had and the good friends she made. Somewhere, I hope Val and Alex are having the same conversation with someone who cares for them as much as Lee and I care for Nia. I hope they’ll be fine. I hope they’ll do well they are. But I’m so, so, so sad about how they got there. I know I might drop Nia off again next year with kindergartener Mara by her side, but I hadn’t really known how much I expected to see those two familiar faces there too. And now I probably won’t and they are gone, really gone.

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