Archive for October, 2012

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balance

October 30, 2012

Two years ago, Mara moved in with us. Just over a year after that, her adoption was finalized. Since she was removed from her mother’s care just before her second birthday, she’s now been with us longer than she was with her mom, longer than she’s been in any placement. One more year and she’ll have been with us longer than all of her life before us. Wow.

Our latest milestone with Mara has been two night-long trips to the ER in the last week for a series of related by now-resolving problems. I am so grateful we have a wonderful children’s hospital 10 minutes away and it was absolutely as pleasant for her as it could have been under the circumstances. I’m still sort of dragging from missing that much sleep during a very busy week at work, but we’re getting by. We had a fantastic doctor-nurse duo on our first trip that made me think of this article about doctors managing pain by creating calm and trust and Mara was so impressed by the experience that our second and in some ways less pleasant visit was still comfortable for her because she knew what she was doing and that she could trust the hospital and its staff. We’ll still have to see a specialist about her propensity to eat things that aren’t food sometimes, but we’ve known for a while that we’d need that and we’ll make it work.

When I think back on those first days and that terrified, brave, drooling girl who was my own personal barnacle, it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come. Mara is so bright, thoughtful, self-assured, kind. I just can’t say enough great things about that kid. We moved her party from her actual birthday to this weekend so that she and Lee, who has strep, will have plenty of time to recover, but we’re waiting to hear whether her dad can come to dinner with us on her birthday. Then she wanted to make sure her siblings were invited to her party, and that’ll actually mean that each older kid who’s already coming will have one of Mara’s siblings of the same age and gender to play with, which works well. Her big requests are for a pinata and a Play-Doh Ice Cream Shop, both of which are in the works. We’ve seen so much growth and change in what is really a short time.

Nia is growing and changing too, with another tooth getting loose. Her mom is having to make the leap to mix the Nia-of-now with the Nia she remembers, six months younger. I’m being reminded how important it’s been to push Nia to be a kid and not feel responsible for adult concerns. I hope that her mom will come around to that way of thinking. She has an amazing daughter who has so much more to offer than her cuteness, though I agree she’s very cute. There’s more I could say that I won’t, but I’m trying to be aware of how I can feel frustrated when her mom criticizes the way we do things (hair not long enough, which I really can’t control, and not enough focus on literacy, which I also think is entirely inaccurate) that it’s much worse for her and the scrutiny on her life. I know she and I disagree on which things in each of the two households need to change, but I can guess how hard it must be that there’s not a lot we’ll have to change because of her displeasure but she’s going to have to change a lot of how her household ran if she wants to keep Nia safe there. Change is hard.

But now Lee and I have an amazing daughter, a wonderful family, a strong love between Lee and me holding things together and making life easier. Nia has already spent more time with us than she had with the prior foster family, and she’s loving school though chatting too much. I meet with her teacher this week to talk about her academic progress and how we can help fill in some of the gaps she carries from last year. I remember when Mara first moved in and we’d said that our goal was for her to be indistinguishable from her peers without a trauma history by the time she starts kindergarten next fall. By one year in, we were pretty much there, but she’s still growing and doing better and better all the time. We’re so lucky that she and Nia both have pleasant personalities with a lot of resilience and drive. So much of their success is due to their own hard work, but it’s meant so much to me to play my part in it. That means I still spend a lot of time with a no-longer-so-little girl or two seemingly velcroed to my body, but the payoff is so great.

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… and a team

October 23, 2012

I forgot to add in the last post that when Nia and Mara decide to do the same thing / eat the same food / use the same color cup / wear matching clothes / ask for similar hairstyles, they always say “because we are a team!” This comes pretty equally from each of them and whichever decides to make the “team” always gets support from the other. I’m sure it’s reassuring for them to have that matchiness. I never had a sister and it’s not something the brother after me and I really would have done, but it cracks me up that they both want apple juice “because we are a team!” and I can support that.

This morning as I was getting Nia dressed, I reminded her that she’s seeing someone special today. Her eyes lit up and she had a sly smile. “It’s Lulu Whitney!” she laughed, using Mara’s mom’s nickname that Mara uses as part of the name when talking about (Lulu) Veronica. If “Lulu” is going to become the honorific for birth/first/biological mom around here, I’m okay with that too.

Lee and I talked a little in our counseling session yesterday about the stresses of having two kids as opposed to one, how I’m spending way too many of my waking hours on parenting-related stuff and yet for a lot of it there’s no good alternative. What I think it’s sometimes harder for Lee to see than it is for me is what a joy it is to have two, what pleasure they take in each other’s company. (I mean, Lee sees that and knows its value for Mara, but it doesn’t have the same emotional impact on her that it has on me, probably because they’re dripping apple juice on the table while toasting one another and whatnot.)

I also think it’s good that I’m such a minority in my own home now. Mara has another girl with brown skin and curly hair right there with her, as does Nia. They both tease Lee and steal her hats off her head when she’s sitting down and go to her for hugs and tickles. They both come to me for talks and cuddling. Lee and I have been spending a lot of time focusing on tag-teaming or giving each other breaks, but really there are a lot of times when all four of us are together and having fun that I do have that same feeling, that we are a team. Maybe I need to just grab onto that and get us all some matching ice cream cones or something.

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sisters

October 23, 2012

I probably wrote here that Mara and Nia made it three months without an argument, which isn’t quite right. We were a day or two before the three-month mark when I heard “Mara needs to just leave me alone and STOP talking!” “You not TELL me, Nia!” But really, at this point (a week shy of four months) that’s still where we are. The two of them get along so well. And sure, yesterday Mara asked for an extra lollipop for Nia and then ate it and told Nia about it, at which point Nia blew up and announced that she’d saved a pack of Smarties she got from her teacher for Mara and now she was going to eat THEM, but it’s all normal stuff and they don’t take it personally even when Mara has asked when Nia can go back to her own family and Nia has cried that she doesn’t like Mara. (In both cases, those have happened while the kids were processing things about their families or their grief about missing them, which is still a topic that brings out amazing empathy in them. When Nia said she didn’t like Mara, Mara sort of shrugged and said, “It’s okay to cry, Nia. I think you miss you mom.” and then Nia cried more and didn’t complain about Mara wanting to sit in “Nia’s” carseat anymore.)

Part of why this works is that both girls are awesome! Cheerful and easygoing, thoughtful and imaginative, they complement each other well. Lee and I have been trying to make sure we do things with the girls individually, but that usually means putting up with whining and crying in the car about “Why can’t SHE come TOO???” before getting to wherever we’re going and having fun as a duo. They understand that they have different preferences, but they still enjoy doing things together and finding things the other would like and bringing them to her attention.

Part of it, too, might be the novelty. Nia’s previous foster home had an 8-year-old girl who shared Nia’s room and they were close, but I think Nia felt like a tagalong a lot of the time, being taken to her ball games and trying to keep up with the trio of friends who ran around the neighborhood and spent every day in the pool. There were boys, too, but she definitely didn’t consider them brothers and it doesn’t sound like she used “sister” as her word there. Now, though, she gets to take the nurturing, teaching role she loves, gets to be the one to show Mara how to do things, and that’s a good fit for her personality, which I think might be why she’s open to the idea. Mara knows and loves her sisters on her mom’s side, but never actually lived with any of them. Her 6-year-old sister is not much like Nia, though all three get along. So in some sense Nia’s filling in a role that would have existed for Mara if her family had been intact, but I don’t know whether this hypothetical world should include Trinity being able to achieve what she might have if her early life had been different. (Trinity is having a hard time and I’m not doing what I could to reach out to Mara’s family and help. I’m aware of this and it eats at me, but I’m trying so hard to have boundaries that mean not destroying myself to try to help other people. I may regret this deeply in the future, but I’m afraid I’d regret it if I got more involved too and let balls drop at home. I can suggest resources and try to get professionals involved and interested, but I just can’t be there on a day-to-day basis.)

At any rate, Mara and Nia are “sisters” to one another because that’s what best describes the relationship to them, and I think it makes sense but I’m not always sure what to do with that idea. They’re almost inseparable best friends of different ages who live together at least for the time being. When people ask me if they’re twins, which happens all the time, it’s easy to say “No, 6 and 4!” and let the conversation go on to how tall Mara is. (Nia’s 85% percentile for height and weight and Mara’s within an inch of her at 16 months younger, so height is noteworthy for both girls.) When I’m out with Nia and people who don’t know about Nia see us and comment how big Mara’s getting, it’s easy to introduce Nia and point out that she’s someone new, and luckily she’s very understanding about that and enjoys the attention. It’s much more rare that I’m asked if they’re sisters and I try to deflect the question because I don’t want to lie and say yes and I don’t want to devalue what they have and say no and also it’s really not anyone’s business. I really need to get them to weigh in on what they prefer right now.

(Sorry, readers, that there will probably be a lot of marginally vapid posts like this. One of the ways to feel like I have time to myself is to get back to writing, and that includes writing here. That means I need to find my creaky way to say my little things.)

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ambivalence

October 22, 2012

Some parts of fostering are weird and hard, and being open to mutually exclusive outcomes is definitely part of that. I hope that if Nia goes home, it will be because her mom is ready to be the parent Nia needs. I hope if she stays with us for good, it’s in a way that’s respectful of her history and that leaves room for her family on an ongoing basis.

I met her mom for the first time last week, and later that day she and Nia got to have their first conversation in almost 7 months. They’ll be starting supervised visits soon, too, but that really doesn’t mean that everything is ready and meeting her mom made it clear to me how much she loves Nia but also how many challenges she’ll have to getting all the things she needs to get done accomplished. I’m not going to talk about this in any specifics since it’s absolutely not my story, but I do wonder what I would have been like if the tables were turned. I could see in my case getting depressed and being sure I could make a call tomorrow or even that it would be easy for me to find a job once I had a car but then not work on getting a car…. I think that’s a normal response for parents who have their kids taken into foster care, and fighting the urge to bristle at every single bureaucratic hurdle must be hard. But it’s hard and scary to watch from the other side as someone is so sure she can do everything she’s supposed to do, that she shouldn’t even have to do everything she’s supposed to do because it’s really not applicable in her case, but then can spend this much time crossing the first hurdle that would let her talk to her child. (Part of that is caseworker error too, unfortunately.)

Anyway, they talked and Nia didn’t have any fallout from it. Then I reminded Nia last night that she’ll have a conversation again today because that’s when they’re scheduled, and she was really unhappy about having to do that. I mentioned that she’ll probably be starting visits and explained again how the structure will work, and she was very uncomfortable about that idea. But then when I said that we’d pick her up after and bring her home to our house, she was really annoyed because even though she knows of course that she can’t go home with her mom yet, she wants to go home.

As Mara was snuggling with me last night at bedtime, she said, “I wish Lulu Veronica [her name for her mom] had white skin.” Usually she’s wished I had brown skin and she’s said once or twice that she would rather have skin that was white like mine, but this is a new one. I didn’t push to find out whether she was saying this because it would have made her skin white or because it would make Veronica more like me (or vice versa) or what, but it’s really interesting to watch her process all of this. (An aside to that, the last time I took Mara to see Veronica, she was introducing me to friends and family and repeatedly used “ghetto” to describe me, meaning that I’m understanding and non-judgmental. I’m really hoping Mara won’t pick that one up.)

Since I’m speaking of terminology, Mara and Nia are absolutely clear that they want to be called “sisters” and will often say “My sister says….” to other people. Lee apparently told Nia not to call me “mommy” like Mara does at some point (per Nia) but not long after yesterday’s conversation about visitation asked if she could. And when I was talking to Nia’s mom, she asked about Mara’s name and when given it said, “Damn, they even sound like they should be sisters!” because the real versions have several sound adjacencies. So I guess all of us are in this foster care overlapping holding pattern of sort-of-sisters and mom jobs and visits and awkward conversations. What I didn’t say at first and should have is that I liked Nia’s mom a lot, can see where Nia gets a lot of her personality and spark. She liked me and seems to appreciate what we’ve been doing and that Nia is safe and looks happy in the photos I gave her. I hope we can build on that affection as we move into whatever comes next.

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self-indulgence

October 19, 2012

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but now it has to be sort of different than it would have been earlier. First, because today marks two years since Mara (sort of) entered our lives and so I’m thinking back about those years. The one-year anniversary was horrible and I won’t link to anything going on then, the strain to our relationship over how Lee couldn’t handle having Val and Alex in our home. Now the smaller strains in our relationship is because of me, because I’m so grateful for all Lee has been doing but then there’s this bitter misery that surges out of me sometimes and I’m sad/scared/regretful/lonely. It’s not like any depression I’ve ever felt, but I know I’m not being fair to her by crying at bedtime or lashing out angrily out of nowhere, so I’ll be talking to our counselor about what I need to do.

That was the part I hadn’t really expected to have to write, but I’m not doing as well as I want to be. I’m doing fine as a mom, but I’m worn out and worn thin by stress on our lives and by how isolated being a parent (at least the way I’ve done it) has made me not from people but from ideas and time and quiet. I need to recharge somehow. Lee is a wonderful partner in so many ways, but nurturing my overthinking and introversion isn’t easy or comfortable for her. Working on the idea that maybe what I need is more of other people who aren’t Lee, I’ve been making myself go out alone to some event once a week or so. It was great to see my friends at the knitting group and I had a lovely time at garden club, but it’s not the same as having intense and meaningful conversation or whatever it is that I want and am not getting. Sleep, too, is something I’m not getting enough of, but that was so bad when Alex would wake me up all through the night that a few hours of Mara kicking me or being sniffly and miserable doesn’t seem like anything to complain about in comparison even if in reality it’s a problem.

What I wanted to say about all of this before the mopey part is how grateful I am for the friendships I’ve made with all these people who know me through words on a screen. One friend pushed me to start a little self-indulgence fund for myself, and I think of his catchphrase when I make little purchases of lotion, a new pen, some gin. Another friend thought of me (and the rest of our friend group that’s still somehow holding together years after leaving the messageboard where we met) while overseas and sent me some beautiful waistbeads. I’d already been wearing one set (well, two sets but I’d almost immediately broken one of them by accident) that were a little too bulky for my taste and clear, but I like waistbeads for the way they remember to be in my body. She sent tiny seed beads, the blue of my eyes and then one that’s a yellow and grayish blue that’s actually my high school’s colors. I put them on the day I brought Lee to my high school reunion, again trying to put myself into a new situation with people who are both familiar and unfamiliar. Since then, the dark blue has split on its own while I was lying in bed, maybe because I’d tied it more tightly than turned out to be comfortable (and yes, I’m aware that this is the thing that symbolizes me and also being aware of and situated in my body and yet I haven’t fixed my alienation from it, right) and it’s sitting on my bedside table waiting for me to find a needle that will let me put the missing beads back on the string and retie it around my waist.

And I bought a bedside table at an antique mall where the girls were amazingly well-behaved. Now Lee is happy because she wants my side of the room to be tidier and it really is nice to have something that’s mine where I keep my pens and my books and the journal where I’m doing some writing about all the things that can’t go here. I am still reading but not writing in any context as much as would probably be good for me. Maybe I’ll do more here, but I spend more time wondering about what’s appropriate to discuss, what’s worth saying.

In case anyone was wondering, the post2 title is from Lisa Germano’s “Happiness” when I say it in my head, because that feels more accurate than the “self-care” that’s the usual phrase. It can mean the same thing, a quiet lunch with a book, a hot bath, but I’m deliberately giving myself little luxuries and enjoying them and do want to be honest with myself about because I’m not ashamed of it.

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