Archive for November, 2012


Change of Plans

November 27, 2012

Actually Nia did NOT have a visit today. About 4:15, 45 minutes after the visit/counseling session should have started, I got a call from Nia’s mom asking if I knew where she was. I knew it was the mom’s caseworker’s turn to do transport but she didn’t answer when I called her number. I eventually got through to the front desk, where I was on hold for 10 minutes before they accidentally hung up on me. When I called back, the front desk was closed and I couldn’t get through to anyone. Awesome.

Meanwhile, I’d sent Lee an email asking her to drive over and check whether Nia was at the after-school program and left a message for the head of the after-school program to see if Nia was there. I checked back in with Nia’s mom to let her know I didn’t know yet what was going on, only to find once I was on my way over there that she had been asked to leave the counseling center once Nia was an hour late.

The after-school program director called back to confirm Nia was there just before I called the family caseworker again and started to leave her a message, at which point she picked up the phone to tell me she’d completely forgotten about doing transport but that now that she looked at her calendar she wouldn’t be able to do her next scheduled transport either. Nia’s mom is supposed to call her in the morning and the worker knows she’ll be angry. I was in the car at this point and by the time I got to the counseling center Nia’s mom had already left and so I had to just call her and let her know what had happened.

So basically I spent 45 minutes not knowing where Nia was or whether she was okay, and that time was even longer for her mom. Most of that time was spent on the phone with various people, just like last week when Nia’s mom couldn’t get a ride and called me to cancel, which meant making sure our worker who was picking Nia up knew to bring her back to the house and then our worker had to call Nia’s mom because just hearing it from me isn’t good enough and we had to let the counseling know what was up…. The state is doing transport because this is a time when I have to be at work and Lee needs to be getting Mara from school, which means spending 30-45 minutes on the phone the way we have the last three weeks (in the first of which Nia’s mom was half an hour late, which would normally have meant they had to cancel except it took the driver so long to figure out what was going on and whether to take Nia home that her mom showed up and they did the visit) is really not how I need to be spending my time.

So in case anyone wondered whether foster care is frustrating, of course it is. Nia sobbed when Lee told her she wouldn’t be seeing her mom, but now she’s mostly cheerfully playing the Wii and we’ll take her out for a special dinner at the neighborhood restaurant she likes to keep her mind off her disappointment. It was frustrating to have her mom cancel the visit last week, but it was extremely upsetting to know she was forgotten by the person who’s in charge of her case. (As Nia’s mom pointed out, if this worker is the one who insisted they do the visits at the counselng center, shouldn’t ahe care about getting Nia there?) Again, I feel lucky that I’ve tried hard to let Nia’s mom know that we respect and support her as much as we can, because she absolutely didn’t lash out at me or take her frustration out on me. I’m the one who had to deal with the afteremath for Nia and her mom and our worker is going to complain to the other caseworker’s supervisor that this is not my job, but of course I do it anyway.



November 27, 2012

I haven’t written about Mara’s pica in a while. There wouldn’t be a ton to say. I mean, she’d do pretty well for a few days and then I’d catch her eating a raisin box again. And she’s back to pulling her hair out at nap time every day and eating it or sometimes chewing holes in the blanket. She finally managed to eat something that caused enough (luckily still minor) cascading problems that I ended up spending two nights in the ER with her a month or so ago. But we’re fortunate that our local children’s hospital’s feeding team is going to do an intensive evaluation of her and work on some sort of treatment options.

Her school director is getting frustrated, since most of her inappropriate eating goes on there, and I’ve been at my wit’s end trying to find hairstyles that work with the places her various missing chunks are growing in. Her misguided eating isn’t extreme and doesn’t seem to be doing any damage, though that could change at any moment with the wrong bite, but it’s upsetting and scary for those of us who are trying to keep her safe.

Mara's locs

So as of last weekend Mara has 36 largish two-strand twists that we’re going to grow into locs. I parted them so they’ll be easy to keep flat-twisted or cornrowed and made them bigger than most little girls get because the point is to make them hard for her to break off if she gets into the habit of pulling again. Meanwhile we’ll make her hair less accessible while she deals with overcoming her urges to pull (while drinking and while falling asleep, so I know these come from her baby instincts) and see where it goes from there. When she’s ready to handle loose hair again, I’ll cut them to a reasonable length and detangle them and we’ll go from there. Lee had locs for about three years and Mara remembers them fondly, so she doesn’t have any negative associations with the style and I think she’ll like that all she has to do is wash them and occasionally get a retwist, though she’ll probably miss hair time too.

When Mara’s school director had first suggested we consider locs over a year ago, Lee was horrified by the idea and I agreed that we’d try to keep her within the cultural norms for hairstyles in our area, which don’t generally include locs for preschoolers. When I brought it up again this time, Lee immediately said that it sounded like a great way to deal with Mara’s hair problems. The last time I brought Mara to see her mom, Veronica mentioned that she’d had locs in the past and had always thought they’d fit Mara’s personality someday. I think this also made me feel like I had the freedom to make the choice without having to feel too guilty about it. Yes, I’m going to look like a stereotypical white mom of a black child who can’t manage loose hair, but I’m sure people were making other judgments about me anyway and I know I can’t control what they think.

I think Mara’s going to look so cute with locs because she looks so cute no matter what. I mentioned that Lee has a hard time dealing with Nia’s need to be reassured about her cuteness, but these are two girls with dark skin and highly textured hair who are not going to get the message that they’re adorable from the world at large and need to be hearing it from us. I know their moms know this and that their desires to have the girls look good spring from a real awareness that the world is different for them than it is for white children. I know there’s a class component, that because Lee and I are wealthier and culturally different from their families, we’re making different choices. So name brands don’t mean as much to me (though some do to Lee) as self-expression does. The girls are always clean and almost always match well, though sometimes that’s a power struggle that’s too big to take on, but I do know that they look different than they would if they were with their families and I don’t have a good solution for that other than to be open with their moms about it, to invite input and try to incorporate it respectfully.

I haven’t gotten a chance to let Mara’s mom see her new hair yet, though I hope we will soon. I suspect she’s avoiding me because I tried to talk to one of her sisters about the pregnancy situation, although she invited us to Thanksgiving. We had to skip that meal because Mara was under the weather, but the girls spent the long weekend eating all sorts of tasty food and having lots of fun. Now Nia is visiting with her mom and tonight we’ll take it easy and maybe let the girls watch a movie while I work on Nia’s hair a bit, since hers still needs regular refreshing. She’s a talented hairstylist herself and will work on twisting and beading her dolls’ hair while I’m working on hers. Today marks five months she’s been with us and seeing how much her hair has grown is one clear marker of that time, though seeing how normal it feels to have her around is even more clear. I’m glad she’s getting visits now, but also impressed she was able to handle it when a visit was unexpectedly canceled last week and that she’s navigating emotionally complex situations with a grace that’s remarkable for a girl who’s not yet quite six-and-a-half. They’re amazing children, these two. (I’m sure all children are, but forgive me for having an extra soft spot for these two I love so much.)


Adoption Blogger Interview: Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan

November 14, 2012

For the third year in a row, I’m participating in the Adoption Blogger Interview Project and this year I got paired up with someone who basically needs no introduction in the adoption blogging world, Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan.

Kristen and her husband Mark are both therapists and she brings wisdom, experience, and an active Christian worldview to her writing. Kristen and Mark became the parents of four children within four years, starting as foster parents for their son Jafta (almost 8) before his adoption, and continuing by giving birth to their daughter India (6). The long process to adopt their son Kembe (6, born on the same day as India) from Haiti ended after Kristen and their youngest child, biological daughter Karis (3), were able to bring him home with them after all three of them survived the devastating 2010 earthquake. Her compelling story and adorable children have made her something of an ambassador for conversations about transracial adoptive parenting to the general population that doesn’t think about those questions much, and it’s interesting to read adoption blogging that’s at least as focused toward people who don’t know much about the reality of adoption as toward those who are in the trenches.

Kristen posted her questions and my answers on her blog this morning and now I’m posting my questions with her answers in italics.

Getting the big one out of the way first, when there are so often admonitions against “artificial twinning” and adopting out of birth order, can you explain why and how you and Mark chose to do both in adopting Kembe and how reality has or hasn’t met your expectations?

Good question! In terms of adopting out of birth order . . . I naively assumed that Kembe would come home before his 2nd birthday, and the other kids would have been 2 and 3 at that time. I thought that they would be so young that the birth order thing wouldn’t be an issue. Obviously, it took much longer to get Kembe home and he joined our family at 3 1/2, after I had added another baby to the family. I can honestly say that the birth order thing still hasn’t been a huge issue for us. My oldest was still the oldest, and the baby was still the baby. Kembe sort of slipped into the middle and it has worked out well.

In regards to artificial twinning, I think it might have been different if we adopted a “twin” of the same gender, but Kembe and India (our “twins” who even share a birthday) have very different interests and personalities. There is no competition between them. India is bookish, artsy, and introverted. Kembe is outgoing, athletic, and active. They have a very easy relationship.

I respect that you don’t talk in detail about your sons’ struggles that stem from their early lives, but your talk about “orphanage culture” has made me curious about your thoughts on the general differences in outcomes between problems within a family and/or prenatal situation that lead to foster care adoption and the group care experience in an orphanage (with or without significant time with family beforehand) that lead to what we talk about in our family as “coping strategies” that may have worked in the past but aren’t ideal for healthy family life.

I think this will vary based on individual circumstances, but to generalize I would say that the average foster home in the US provides more attachment opportunities for a child than an orphanage in a 3rd world setting. The foster care system has rules in place to make sure that ratios are reasonable. You would never see 1 caretaker for 10 or 20 kids like you might see in Haiti. In the US, social workers are visiting the home, making sure there isn’t neglect. I would venture to say most orphanages in 3rd world setting would be in grave violation of US foster care standards. That being said, I still think kids in the foster care system may experience neglect, and may exhibit attachment disorders based on neglect in their family of origins as well.

I loved the way Kembe was recognized as Haitian on your recent trip to Haiti though Jafta was not. How do you deal with having a black American son and a black Haitian-American son when nurturing their connections to their birth cultures and self-identities?

I don’t know that we are winning on the Haitian side of things. For one, Kembe has had no interest, and has even been rejecting of all things Haitian. I’ve tried to honor that – it has been clear that he doesn’t like talking about his past, and even the language is something he wanted to quickly shed. In addition, we live in a place where there aren’t many Haitian immigrants. But the few times we have tried to make connections, he has really balked at our efforts. I feel like we’ve put it on the back burner a bit, and we will keep revisiting it until he’s ready. It’s much easier to assimilate him into an “African American” cultural identity along with his brother, and I suspect that he will choose to self-identify that way. Still, our family has a deep connection to Haiti and we will continue to visit and try to nurture a connection for Kembe.

I’m one of the people who tends to have a kneejerk negative response to the Christian Orphan Ministry concept, and I think part of that is because my children are not orphans by any standard definition but they still have parents who can’t/won’t/don’t care for them, and my instincts would lean more toward a Global Ministry for Kids Who Should Be in Foster Care or something like that, Orphans+. One of my biggest pushes at the local level is to have better support for kinship caregivers. Every child who’s ever been in our home has at some point prior been in a kinship placement that didn’t work out and I suspect that if the kinship caregivers had been given the kind of institutional and financial support (really not a ton!) that we get as foster parents all but one would still be there. So with my biases out there, what role do you see for Christians who feel called to minister to orphans in encouraging kinship care and family preservation? Why do you find the “orphan” language compelling?

I completely agree with you in regards to kinship care. I think that the term “orphan” is compelling because it’s sad and dramatic, and evokes an emotional response in people, but there are a lot of us working really hard to change the way people respond to the “orphan crisis”. For me, any child living in an orphanage should have someone working on a permanency plan for them. If they were abandoned for financial reasons, then the people funding them to stay in an orphanage ought to funnel that money towards them being care for by family. Unfortunately, this just isn’t as compelling to people as “building an orphanage”. But there are a growing number of us talking loudly to try to advocate for this kind of orphan care, and of course for adoption when that absolutely isn’t an option. My opinion is that an orphanage should only be a triage center. I don’t think children should grow up in an orphanage. They should be reunited with family, and if that cannot work a non-relative family should be found.

You’ve managed to find a niche for yourself as a serious blogger with a wide readership. Has writing about parenting for such a broad audience changed your parenting or how you present it online? How do you manage balancing the trips for you or you and Mark or you and a child or two with the day-to-day concerns of raising four children? (This is a totally selfish question because Lee and I have our first weekend trip scheduled for next month and I just agreed to be on a committee that will take two days of the week prior to that, so the reality of all of this is sinking in now.)

I’ve always been pretty open about my parenting online. I’ve never been the type to pretend to have it all together, and I think I’m asking as many questions as I’m answering when it comes to parenting. I like sharing what works for me but I also LOVE getting feedback, and I do think the feedback makes me a better mom. As the blog has grown, I have dealt with the same problems that any mom with a growing business has dealt with. It’s a constant juggling act over here. And yeah. . . the travel thing. Usually I limit business travel to 3-4 nights, and typically leave at least 2 months between each trip. Even that gets hard. I’m trying to incorporate the kids with my travel more and more, and I’ve been saying no to more things. At the same time, I think every parent should get away with their partner from time-to-time, so I encourage you to go for it! They will survive. :)

And we are indeed going for it! I think our next-door neighbors have passed their background check to be able to keep Nia overnight, so the girls will get to spend three nights next door and Lee and I will get to have some romantic meals in airport restaurants and a really fun time in a fun big city before zipping back to our normal lives. I’m grateful for the encouragement from Kristen and for her gracious and thoughtful participation in the interview project.


a long post tightening some loose ends

November 12, 2012

Mara turned 5! My parents came over to open presents and then we took her out to the cheesy Tex-Mex place she loves with a quick stopoff to pick up her dad to be her surprise guest. She was absolutely delighted and it was great to see her trying the bites of fajita he shared with her and getting more and more happy as the evening wore on. Lee and I have always had a rule that we’ll avoid birthdays at restaurants that make a public fuss about birthdays, but for your children you ignore all that and so the servers (who know us all too well since this is our default “Ugh, I can’t bear to make dinner!” place and who adore both girls) sang to Mara and brought her sopapillas as she sat there in her dad’s arms and beamed with delight.

Her middle siblings (10, 9, and 6) came over for her birthday party that Saturday, and then her one best friend’s mom said their family (with older siblings 10 and 8, so you see why I was excited about this) couldn’t make it. Her other best friend did come, though, as did a few of our adult neighbor friends. Much pizza was eaten and the kids had a great time. Mara’s brother managed to smash open the piñata we’d bought because Mara has always wanted a piñata, and all the kids scooped up the bead necklaces and recycled Halloween candy and little wooden animals I’d stuffed in there.

Mara’s siblings also confirmed what I’ve basically known for a long time: their mom is pregnant. Because of a misunderstanding (to put it nicely) with their aunt about what time I was bringing them back, I ended up taking them to see their mom. She still hasn’t said anything about the baby to me, but they confirmed that she told her sisters back in July when their grandmother died, which is when I first had a bad feeling that what I was seeing was a baby bump. Although their mom has told me she’s trying to regain custody of the middle three (oldest is 17 and spends most of her time with her dad now; youngest just turned 4 and has been with family friend Samara since birth) it seems that she hadn’t seen them in a month or two and the catch-up was kind of awkward. The older two have the same dad who’s supposedly trying to get custody of them, but he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry about that either.

All of this told me a couple of things. The first is that we need to be ready for a baby ASAP because I don’t think Veronica’s life situation is stable enough now that the state would be okay with releasing a baby to her. It’s possible she’ll have someone lined up to take the baby from the hospital as she did when Samara stepped in, but at this point the family has seen how hard things have been for Samara and Odelia in getting the help that they need (from the parents who owe child support and from the state) that I think people would be less likely to step in this time around. So we’ll be first on the call list from the hospital, and even though Lee and I had come up with a list of things that needed to be ready in our life before saying yes, I can’t imagine us saying no. This would be Mara’s little sister (from what I hear from one sister, and from what I thought I overheard from one of Veronica’s friends a month or so ago) and the idea of being able to take a child who starts out like Mara or her six-year-old sister Trinity but doesn’t have to live through the things that shaped them in their early months is just irresistible.

And the other thing we have to worry about is what’s going to happen to Trinity. I think their aunt Odelia is reaching her limits after raising these four kids for the last almost 6 years. The oldest is already mostly out on her own and has support (of some sort) from her dad’s side of the family. It looks like there’s finally a push to get the next two’s dad to step up, too. That leaves Trinity, whose needs are highest and whose other options just aren’t there. And whether or not there’s a baby in the mix, I don’t think Lee and I are in a place where we could take on a second six-year-old and throw off everything else that we have here. She needs a home like ours, therapeutic, patient, intensive. I’m just hoping someone local has been reading Blitzen’s story and thinking, “Gee, that sounds like what I’d like to do,” because I think that’s exactly what Trinity will need. You know, if she ever ends up in foster care, which we don’t even know she will. But we love her and it’s heartbreaking to see the ways Mara has surpassed her in speech and other skills when even six months ago there was more of a gap. It’s heartbreaking, but we also have to know our limits and are trying hard to do that. So these are the kinds of conversations we have to have.

Nothing I can talk about is happening in Nia’s case, though I think I was able to do something that I think will really help her in the long run by getting a professional who’d begun acting extremely unprofessional caught doing so and (I think) moved off the case. Nia and her mom are talking once a week on the phone and having 90 minutes of group therapy (PCIT) every week. Court doesn’t happen again until late winter, and I don’t expect anything to change before that, though her ever-optimistic mom does. One unexpected bonus of the visits is that Lee has gotten really frustrated with Nia’s mom for her significant focus on Nia looking “cute” and I think this specifically pushed her to open her heart more, because it’s something that drives Lee crazy about her own birthmother, Leah. Nia doesn’t mind the “cute” comments and we knew she put a lot of emphasis on how she looked, but her mom has been implying that some of the things Nia chooses aren’t cute enough and I’m trying to help navigate letting Nia choose her clothes (within reason) and letting her mom accept that this is what’s going on and be okay with it even if she’d rather be able to match Nia’s clothing to her own. (As a sidebar, I suspect part of this is that Nia’s mom grew up in care and so she sees something like intentionally non-matching socks as a “foster child doesn’t even have matching socks!” thing, but she seemed fine with it when I let her know Nia had pointed out the batch of unmatched socks and that this was popular with her school friends. But that’s just a guess, and I don’t expect Nia’s mom to open up to me.) At any rate, something about this helped Lee make a big leap in loving Nia, and I appreciate that.

And then way back before Mara came to live with us, we were worried about what would become of Lee’s bio-half-sister Shasta’s daughter, Kara, who had been living with Shasta’s mother in what seemed to be an increasingly inappropriate setting. That’s one story that does seem to have come to a good ending at last. There was a funeral in Lee’s family that seems to have brought out another half-sister but also showed that after a crisis in which several of Lee’s relatives who barely know Shasta or Kara were asked if they’d take custody, the state finally returned Kara to her mother’s care. I don’t know the details of all this because Shasta and Lee had a falling-out of sorts, but I have a lot of faith in Shasta’s abilities to be a really good mom if given the chance. Kara’s a teenager now and I’m sure this will be hard for both of them but I think it’s going to be really good in the long run, just as I thought two years ago.

Lee and I are doing well. We had a date night Friday after a neighborhood party celebrating the work we and others had done on behalf of some school board candidates. We got to connect in a new way with some neighbors and have some new playdate options on the table, including with the girl who’s now 8 or so but was adopted from foster care at age 6 and immediately bonded with Nia despite neither of them knowing about the other’s history. Even better than a date, I got to spend an hour or so in the quiet house by myself while Lee took the girls to church Sunday. She’s been unhappy with the church we attended that I’ve written about so much here and she’s trying to find a replacement. Unsurprisingly, the Presbyterians are too formal for her and the visiting brass ensemble was too noisy for Mara, but sitting on the couch sewing and eating crackers with yogurt dip was absolutely perfect for me. I’m looking forward to a repeat of that next Sunday and to finding quiet, calm spaces wherever I can. I need it, and we need to keep our strength up for whatever’s coming next.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43 other followers