Archive for the ‘adoption practice’ Category

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goal change

April 29, 2013

Last week was the “goal change” hearing for Nia’s case, meaning the time where the judge looked at how much progress had been made in her 13 months in care and weighed in on whether it was worth continuing reunification efforts. Since there had been a preliminary version of this the last time they were in court, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. Services to Nia’s mom have been discontinued and her case goal is now adoption. The state should terminate her parents’ rights sometime this summer and she will be free for adoption after that.

This means that the moment when we/Lee are going to have to commit to adoption is getting closer. That got a bit murkier in the week before when we ran into one of Nia’s relatives at a birthday party for one of Mara’s classmates, who is a cousin on the other side of one of Nia’s cousins. (And yes, that makes us two-for-two in coincidental family contact with the girls’ relatives thanks to the community college!) The relative claimed not to have realized that their branch of the family would be eligible to request placement (which I’d mentioned in direct conversation this summer when we met previously, but whatever) and yet also was now apparently serious about trying to bring Nia home rather than have her be adopted. Because all her relatives live in the next state over, our state is not going to seek them out and they have to make themselves known to the worker. That’s exactly what Lee had been hoping and praying for, that there would be an appropriate relative placement for Nia so that we wouldn’t have to be in the tough position of either refusing to adopt because we don’t think Lee is going to be able to do better at connecting to her and meeting her needs for the next dozen years or adopting her even though Lee isn’t yet comfortable with the idea and forcing Lee into changes she doesn’t want.

As it turned out, the relative wasn’t serious enough about wanting placement to manage to call before court, despite multiple explanations from both Lee and me about why that was essential. Since the reunification phase of the case is over, the state is not interested in looking into other relative placement options. Our worker tried to push this a bit, but I don’t think her view has gotten any traction. It sounds like this relative is just going to be told that it’s too late and that Nia is now headed for adoption. Personally, from some things I know and have observed, I think that’s most likely how it would have worked out even if the relative had been screened and vetted, but Lee is sort of shaken to have that last hope for another alternative taken away.

I’ve always said that I thought Lee would get better with the idea of adoption once she was no longer guarding her heart against reunification, and I guess we’re about to find out how true that is. Nia’s mom called me after court and was surprisingly calm and lucid. Her preference would be that Nia go to the relative (though it had never occurred to her to suggest that relative in the first place) but stay with us if that can’t happen. When we saw Nia’s grandmother this weekend, she said the same thing. So I’m honored that they trust us with Nia and can see that she’s healthy and cared for properly. At the same time, I feel awkward and guilty to know that we’re not as committed to her as they might think. Concurrent planning is really emotionally hard, and I think this is more common than people probably let on. Lee was up in the night comforting Nia during a series of nightmares Nia was having and I’m really impressed with the job she’s been doing as a parent to Nia, but that doesn’t change her underlying discomfort.

I also had to talk to her mom about the plan for Nia to repeat first grade. She’s made huge leaps in her reading and steady progress in math, but she’s still just not where she needs to be to cover the material first graders are expected to know. The plan is to keep her with the same teacher next year so she can be the expert who helps the younger kids learn the ropes. Her teacher and workers and Lee and I all agree that this seems like the best balance, that letting her soar and be a role model will be a much healthier fit for her than letting her start another grade significantly behind the other kids. She’s such a bright girl, but she has a lot of trouble listening rather than talking, staying on task without reminders from an adult. I’m grateful that this doesn’t mean she’s getting diagnosed with anything as she would be at a lot of schools, because I agree with her teacher that it seems to be immaturity and her personality rather than an underlying condition, but she makes things harder for herself and hasn’t learned yet how to stop that. There will be a number of her classmates retained, too, but most of them are going to other classrooms. And we’ve talked with her best friend Katrina, who repeated a grade the year she was adopted out of foster care and is now glad she did. But still, telling Nia’s mom — who puts a premium on Nia looking cute and working hard at school — that a year’s progress wasn’t enough to make up for the disrupted year of kindergarten was hard and I hedged more than I probably should have. But she was understanding about it and supportive of the rationales. She wants to see Nia succeed.

And that last sentence has the last big issue. Even though the case against Nia’s mom is concluded, the no-contact order the judge put in place is still in effect I guess until adoption or maybe just TPR. I asked the workers and lawyers if Nia would now be able to send letters to her mom and was immediately told that I’d be in contempt of a court order if I let any contact happen. Sigh. So she can’t get her daughter back and doesn’t have a caseplan to comply with to regain visitation but she’s also barred from seeing her daughter because she’s not following the no-longer-existent caseplan? Welcome to foster care, I guess! And we have to figure out if we do adopt Nia what role her mom and her extended family will play in her life. Right now, Nia can only see her grandmother, who would like to visit every weekend but I think is going to get scheduled for once a month plus special occasions because I think more would be overwhelming to Nia. (Ugh, as I’m reminded that she wants to bring family to a birthday party for Nia, and I’m going to have to tell her that the worker won’t allow it unless I can talk the worker into it somehow. Ugh.) All of this is harder in certain ways than it needs to be and it would be hard anyway to be talking to someone who’s losing her rights to her daughter even if you weren’t the person who’s been raising that daughter for almost the last year, and so on.

Nia doesn’t know about the changes yet, and I’ve sort of been putting them off because I don’t know how to answer the questions that will come up about adoption. I guess once Lee and I know that, I’ll move forward with talking to her. All of this is weird and hard, very different with a child who’s almost 7 than one who was still 3 when all these legal changes were going on. I’m a different person and parent than I was back then, too. I suspect the outcome will be the same, that Lee and I will arrive together at the courthouse for an adoption, this time to join these girls who already consider themselves sisters as legally part of the same family. I hope if that happens we can come to it as joyfully and peacefully as we did last time. I guess now that’s my personal goal.

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Easter Sunday

April 8, 2013

Some things have been hard at home lately, but the good things have been really, really good. We got through some very tough anniversaries for all four of us and have come out the other side more tightly bonded and with girls who are growing up so fast and with so much grace and wisdom (and silliness and defiance and all that good stuff too, granted). I am the one having a hard time at the moment, in way over my head with a few things I know I can tackle if I just buckle down and put in the effort and stop beating myself up, but ugh.

With that out of the way, though, I want to talk about going to church. Again. I know I’ve done this a lot of the years, but trust me that it takes a lot of mental energy to know where I stand on church as a white atheist going into this church that is almost entirely black, with a worship experience very different from the Catholicism I grew up with and a theology that (of course, since I’m an atheist) I don’t accept. There are tough parts like how Lee thinks I’m going to hell and won’t talk to me about it because it’s too upsetting for her. There are tough parts like how Mara, who’s doing much better since starting her occupational therapy, would spend too much of the music time with her hands over her ears trying to protect herself from the noise, and how she and Nia get jealous if the other is getting more of my attention (since I’m almost always the only parent there) and so I spend an hour or two with two 50-plus-lb. children on my lap.

I don’t know when I became an atheist, though the first moment of doubt I remember comes from when I was 4 or so and realized that if God was watching people all the time, then that meant watching them while they were on the toilet, which was gross and disrespectful and I was not cool with that. As an adult, I’m totally comfortable with what I believe, and remember during my teens dropping my recitation of bits of the Apostolic creed as I stopped believing in various parts until there was nothing left to say. (When I thought about this to write it up, I had to admit that I do believe in “the forgiveness of sins” except that I don’t believe in sins in the Christian way and so it probably doesn’t count anyhow.) At any rate, I’m an atheist and Lee has made it very clear that she doesn’t want me telling the kids, at least at this point, that I think religions are stories that are created by people to help people structure their lives and give meaning to a big, scary universe. For that reason, though, it makes me laugh that Mara insists on saying “The end!” after the “Amen” at the end of prayers at my parents’ house and that when Nia asked for a soothing prayer the other night Mara suggested she “pray for ‘happily ever after.’”

But regardless of my beliefs, Nia as a child in foster care has the right to be supported in her own religious beliefs and practice. As a 6-year-old, she doesn’t have much of either, but it’s clear that she and her family are (Protestant) Christian and I want to encourage and preserve that for her. This means I’ve bought her Bible stories with ambiguously brown characters and take her not just to a church but to a black church and pray with her every night as part of her bedtime routine. (Mara’s family is also Christian, though her mom has become a Jehovah’s Witness. I don’t think there’s an easy way for us to incorporate being part of any local JW community as a lesbian couple, but I can teach the girls about some of their beliefs, especially the ones that involve not saluting the flag or saying the Pledge of Allegiance or joining the military and so on.)

As I was driving home from church a few weeks ago, I said something to the girls about, “And you know why we go to church…” and Mara immediately peeped up, “Because at church everybody got brown skin!” So we ended up talking about how, yes, that’s a big factor. I would not take them to a majority-white church. It’s important for me to be the minority, typically one of two white people in the room. If I’m going to take them to church as a non-believer, I want them to get the “black church experience” so that when they grow up they’ll be able to draw on shared idioms with their friends, though that may be less of a factor in their generation than it is among my friends and peers. This way, they won’t have the experience I did of never see anyone speak in tongues until I was 30 and so on. They’ll also have some shared experiences and language with their families, though none of them attend our same church.

Even more important than that, they’re seeing other black lesbian-headed families. They get to talk to other kids who haven’t always been thrilled about having two moms. They hear people give testimony about having a mom who was absent because of drug addiction, about being a mom who was absent because of drug addiction, about growing up in foster care or being a foster parent, about the people who played parental roles for them and the ways they’ve created family within and beyond their biological families. The head pastor spoke recently about how hurt she was by the parents who didn’t care for her and how even the love of the grandparents who raised her didn’t heal that hurt, she had to learn how to be loved by a parent to make her peace with being loved by God. All of this resonates with the girls and means a lot to them, and I see part of keeping them in touch with their culture (distinct but overlapping with keeping them in touch with their families) is making sure they’re getting a nuanced view of people living in poverty like their families are, that race and class and gender and everything everything everything get mixed up together for us.

So for the first time, all four of us went to church together for Easter. Mara wore the same dress as last year and Nia had a new one, both of them with coordinating sweaters and flower clips in their hair. They brought new dolls (mini American Girls, Celine for Nia and Addy, and don’t get after me for going in for Easter basket presents because both girls have some sad Easter memories and I don’t regret giving them something extra special at all) and were able to play some and pay attention some and make it the whole three hours of the service, though Lee bailed after two to get home to watch basketball. They got so many compliments on how sweet they looked and how much they are growing, and I think it really matters to hear that from other people with dark skin, other people with locs, other people who are affirming that we are a family and they are part of it all.

Now that I’ve written all this, I’m not sure what I’m saying exactly. I don’t regret what we’re doing even though it’s sometimes a stretch for me and even though in some respects it’s made me less open to Christianity as a belief system I’d consider than I might be with less contact with Christianity, more secure and sometimes more frustrated in my atheism. And yet every night I pray with the girls, “extra love and blessings for all the people you love and all the people who love you, and may you sleep well with the sweetest dreams and go right to sleep” and I mean all that. It isn’t what I grew up with (the “God bless all good people everywhere” that led to one of my first rejections and revisions, since it seemed like the good people were the ones who needed blessings the least) but it isn’t too different either and it helps Nia get the transition she needs to going to sleep. It’s not how things worked when she lived with her mom, but I don’t think it’s incompatible with how her family would want things to work. In all of this stuff where I’m/we’re trying to connect with the girls’ cultures and histories and so on, that’s the balancing act we have to go through. And I think it’s good that it’s hard on me sometimes (or is that my Catholic youth talking?) to get through this element of what we do for them because so much of what they do with us is hard on them and I’m trying to make church as painless and meaningful as possible, though admittedly they still sometimes think it’s too loud and too long. It’s normal to them and that’s what I want and what I think they should get, and where they go with their understandings of divinity and the universe from here will be up to them at some point. I am just trying to teach them to listen, to learn, to love, and I think both Jesus and I can be cool with that.

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thinking about contact

January 4, 2013

In thinking about contact and what my obligations are to Mara’s family, my first priority has always been in keeping her connected to her siblings. (Even that is not entirely true, since the only other of her dad’s kids she knows is her one full sibling, but I hear from her mom that her dad’s older children are aware of her and want to meet her soon, which would be great.) I like both her parents and appreciate having them be a part of her life, but ultimately the choice of whether to be there or not is up to them. Her young siblings, though, didn’t get to choose to be separated from their sister and I feel like I have an extra strong obligation to make sure they don’t lose contact with her. (Obviously this is on my mind even more now that none of them are with the aunt with whom I’d cultivated a good relationship, though the great-aunt they’re with now was so lovely to me at Mara’s grandmother’s funeral and made a point to tell me to pass on the family’s love to my “wifey” too.)

And since I parenthetically brought up Grandma Joyce’s death before I meant to, I’ll say that some of my thoughts about family contact stem from all the emotions her death brought out in me. I’d only known her nine months and we were just starting to figure out what the dynamic between the two of us was, though we clearly respected each other’s love for Mara. So losing her meant not only losing that relationship but realizing how close I’d come to never having a chance to help Mara get to know her at all. Mara took her grandma’s death hard, and has been commenting on it every day for the last few months. Earlier this week, and partly in preparation Grace’s memorial service today, I took Mara to the cemetery where her grandma is buried, as is the sibling who died before she was born. We tramped through the snow and Mara looked at the dirt and we talked about how Grandma Joyce’s body was in that dirt and that’s why she can’t “be back alive” or come to dinner or any of the other things Mara has asked for. Then the whole way home, Mara and Nia peppered me with questions about death and the specifics of Grandma Joyce’s death and burial. Mara had a weepy meltdown later that evening, but since then she’s seemed better with the idea and doesn’t spend as much time talking about being sad about her Grandma.

She does still say, if she’s sad or thoughtful, “I miss my Grandma Joyce.” Before that, it was “I miss my Lulu Veronica” and before that “I miss my Daddy.” As each of those pieces has been filled in for her, she’s stopped (mostly) using those as catch-all terms for her sadness or discomfort or whatever it is she’s expressing. Before any of those, though, she used to talk sometimes about missing “My Papa who Lives in the Forest.” That was back when Lee and I had no contact with her family at all yet, and so we didn’t know if Papa and Daddy were the same person or what was going on. But at Mara’s great-aunt’s house at the family get-together right after Grandma Joyce died, Mara’s mom Veronica walked Lee a few blocks away to the big house where Mara’s paternal grandfather lives, where trees run down to the river. When Mara was a baby and before her parents separated, they lived for a while with this grandfather. I get the feeling Mara and her mom might have stayed there even after her dad was gone, but I rarely get much of a timeline from anyone on when things happened. So now we know where Mara’s Papa’s forest is.

But Mara’s dad has been clear that his dad doesn’t want to know Mara. Mara’s mom reiterated that too. I’ve googled him, though, and found a lot of interesting things. He’s the guy to talk to in our area if you’re interested in local black history, which I am. I found an article mentioning a black church where the stained glass windows were paid for and then dedicated in memory of parishioners, including an ancestor of his (and thus Mara’s). I believe that Mara was named for his mother, though she had the more traditional pronunciation and maybe spelling of the name. He’s been active in reaching out to other people in the community, but he’s cut his son off and they haven’t seen each other in quite a while, maybe years. Knowing that Mara and Lee would be gone for a few days, I brought home a dvd from the library that I know includes an interview with him. Tonight or tomorrow, once Nia is in bed, I’ll sit down and finally see Mara’s Papa for myself.

So the question is whether to contact him when I’ve been asked not to do so. Lee is inclined to say that if Mara’s dad says he doesn’t want to be in touch with Mara, we respect that. Me, I have a hard time believing that a man who cares so much about the children who attended the first black school in our town before our 110-year-old house was even built would probably also want to know his own granddaughter, or should at least be given the chance to make that choice himself. I want to send him a letter and a few pictures. Honestly, I’m not going to defer to Mara’s parents’ wishes on this, though I am waiting until Lee feels ready to do it. If he doesn’t want to know Mara, well, nothing will change on our end. But if he said something he didn’t really mean in a moment of bluster when he was sad about losing his granddaughter and angry with the parents who were failing her, I don’t want him to have that stand as his final decision about his role in Mara’s life.

And in all of this, as I talk about what I owe to the various people involved, the person who truly has my allegiance is Mara. She’s made it clear she wants to see her Papa again, which tells me I should get on the ball in contacting him, which is why I brought this movie home and will let Lee look at him (which she really wants to do) and hear him talk and see if that makes him real in a way that makes her want to contact him even if that’s not what his son thinks he wants. I don’t want to see an obituary and know that we missed our chance, though I also don’t spend all my waking moments hunting down the relatives we don’t know.

So I guess I do have a certain amount of clarity about this. In the last six months when Mara’s mom has complained about some of the things her sisters were doing or not doing, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to get in the middle of it. I didn’t get in the middle when one of the aunts was angry with Grandma Joyce and venting to me, and I understand why Odelia has talked to me about her frustrations with the kids’ mom because she knows that I’m raising one of Veronica’s other children and it will make sense to me even though I’m also not going to have the same exact frustrations because Veronica and I don’t have the same history. It’s been very clear that there are a lot of different versions of the truth running around that people tell themselves in order to feel okay about whatever they’ve done, and I include myself in that group. I don’t need to judge the veracity of the pieces when what I’m doing now is holding onto all of them for Mara so she can patch together her own understanding someday. I hope she’ll be able to do it not only based on what she hears but on what she knows and has experienced growing up in contact with her family. But I hope, too, that someday she’ll see those pieces of stained glass that are part of her heritage and maybe that she’ll see them with her Papa. She has so much love to share and I’m delighted that Lee’s family is finally getting to experience that in person, but I want that to keep expanding along all the branches of her family. I guess we’ll see how that goes.

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relief

December 21, 2012

I took Mara to see her mom, Veronica, yesterday afternoon. Her mom talked about how it’s going to be a depressing Christmas for her, but was lovely with Mara. We had some good conversations, got some pertinent medical history, and Mara was able to drop off the gift she’d chosen for her, proudly announcing “And it’s skin lotion!” Veronica and I both laughed about what a surprise it would be when Veronica opened it, and she had a candy cane for Mara. She got to see Mara’s beginning locs and was very supportive and encouraging about that and about getting Mara’s pica treated. She got to see Mara’s version of the moonwalk, which was adorable.

Veronica is visibly not pregnant now. There was a baby in the household, but the baby was seven months old and obviously not hers. I have no idea what happened between the beginning of November and now that changed things, but since she never told me she was pregnant I didn’t feel like I had room to ask. I was supportive in the general conversation about grieving during the holidays and I’m really glad she feels comfortable talking to me about some of the sensitive topics in her life. I really do like her, and it was great to see her looking as healthy as she did.

I know that one way or another, this is one more loss for Veronica, who’s lost so many loved ones already, but I was worried that no matter what, the state was not going to let her bring a baby home to the house where she’s staying. I was at least as worried that adding a baby to our lives didn’t seem like the right step for Lee and me, but that having Mara’s baby sibling go to another home also felt unthinkable. I’d been getting stronger and stronger in my resolve about saying no, but I’ve simultaneously been getting extremely sad about that.

I don’t know what happened and if I ever do it won’t go on the blog, but since I brought up the question of whether we would be making a decision about the baby, it’s a great relief to be able to say that this is no longer a concern. As things in Nia’s case seem to be trending toward termination of her mom’s rights and thus adoption, I’m glad we don’t have to factor a baby into the equation. And again, I can say what I’ve said before, that I hope Veronica won’t have another child until she’s ready and able to parent effectively. I would love to see it work for her, but I was really scared about how this would work out for all of us and I’m semi-selfishly glad that it somehow has without my having to be more involved.

Tonight, Lee and Mara are supposed to see Mara’s dad and maybe her little brother, who’s been visiting their dad more frequently lately. Veronica confirmed that Mara’s dad’s older kids know and ask about Mara, so we may be able to meet them soon, which I would like. I’ll do something with Nia’s hair (took out the ballies her mom had put in because the tightness was hurting her and the ballies were falling out of the bottom and she kept begging me to change it, which I think was for pain rather than aesthetic or emotional reasons) and she and I will go to a neighborhood Christmas party the next-door neighbor who kept the girls while we were traveling is trying to make a new tradition. I’m sure Lee and Mara will meet us there later, and the girls are excited to get to show all our neighbors “their” room where they slept! This weekend we set out for the land of cozy fires and family together, I hope without leaving their other families behind in any way except the physical. I will focus on the girls I have and all the families they have, the ones I know and the ones they know and all the ones we don’t know or may never even know about. There are so many people who love them and whom they love, and I’m so overwhelmingly grateful to be one.

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unexpectedly

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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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unexpected

July 18, 2012

Last Monday, Mara’s mother Veronica reached out to me for the first time since Christmas, saying that she’d been working on getting her life together and wanted to get in touch with us first and the rest of her family soon after. We talked and she did sound good and we made tentative plans to start working toward increased contact.

This Monday, I woke up to a facebook message from one of Mara’s aunts that Grandma Joyce, Mara’s mom’s mom, had died the evening before. While I would have rolled my eyes at this scenario in a movie, Veronica had been trying to reach a point of achievement that would impress Grandma Joyce and because she was taking the time to do that, she missed her chance to connect with her mother. Unsurprisingly, she was devastated, but she seems to have responded to this by getting closer to her remaining family rather than isolating herself again.

I explained to Mara that Grandma Joyce had died, that we won’t see her here anymore, that she’s not breathing or talking. Mara didn’t seem bothered by any of this and it didn’t trigger any of the grief or abandonment fears she has sometimes, though it did end up doing a number on Nia, who particularly misses her own grandmother.

Last night all four of us went to Grandma Joyce’s sister’s house. This sister hosted us at Easter, too, and had once tried to get custody of Mara when Mara first entered foster care, so there’s a lot of history there. She’s put up a pool in her back yard for the summer, so all the kids splashed around while we adults watched. Veronica was there and the disconnect between the children she really wanted to parent (“Andre, I don’t want you eating any more candy! You know I don’t want you getting bad teeth!”) and their obvious love and yearning for her and yet resistance to her in the parental role was awkward. At the end of the night, Mara said “Mommy!” and Veronica started to turn around, only to see that Mara was raising her hands for me to lift her up and hold her.

We met even more family, and Nia was initially uncomfortable with all the kids and all their noise, but eventually found her place and has asked that we invite Mara’s 6-year-old sister Trinity for an overnight sometime, with popcorn and a movie. Nia got to practice hearing how she explain why she’s with us “She’s staying with us for a while” and how to deflect questions about her mom if she doesn’t want to answer them. The adults were all very attuned to this dynamic, which makes sense since their family has had to deal with similar issues in the past, and they cut kids off when they were seeming too pushy about anything. Physically, Nia fit right in, though she and Mara can swim and none of the other kids can. One of the aunts said, looking at Mara with Nia and Trinity, “You wouldn’t know which two were the twins!” and of course none of them are twins, but she meant that there was enough resemblance that people might wonder. Veronica’s dad showed up eventually and got to meet Mara for the first time or first time in a long time, and then looked at Nia’s face and said, “Now, which one are you? You look just like your mama!” and I had to explain that, well, she did look like her mom but her mom is <em>not</em> his daughter.

The other funny moment was Mara’s oldest boy cousin, The Mayor. He’s very serious and thoughtful and seems to know everything about everybody (or at least think he does) and I have a soft spot for that because it hits a bit close to home. As I was loading spaghetti onto kids’ plates he asked if I’d heard that his grandma had died, as if we might have just showed up without knowing and stuck around for a few hours without picking up on it! I assured him that I had and that I was sorry, and he said, “You know, the one thing I don’t understand is that she lay down to take a nap and didn’t wake up because they said her heart wasn’t strong and it just stopped. But she had the biggest heart and loved everybody, and I just don’t understand that!” We talked a little about figures of speech, but he was onto something.

Grandma Joyce was a force of nature. You never had to worry about not knowing her opinion of something or someone. I still remember our first view of her while we sat on Samara’s couch and an overwhelmed little Mara boggled at all these relatives coming (back) into her life. Grandma Joyce walked in the door and tilted her head a bit and said, “So, are they the social workers or what?” Samara, who if I remember correctly is Grandma Joyce’s ex-stepdaughter and that can’t have been a relationship with no extra stress, immediately replied, “They’re her moms and they’re great and you’re going to like them very much!” and amazingly she did. I think the family honestly did just hope that Mara would end up with a loving family after she entered foster care and they decided that knowing that she had and having ongoing contact with her meant it wasn’t worth worrying that it was an interracial lesbian couple raising her.

I never made Grandma Joyce happy by letting her friend do Mara’s hair in tight cornrows with beads because I never agreed to believe like she did that Mara wouldn’t just pull the beads off and eat them like she does every few months when we repeat the bead experiment. And yet she accepted that Lee and I are Mara’s moms and we get to make the choices about what she looks like, even if that’s different from the other girls in the family. (And Veronica’s best friend showed up last night and said something about Mara talking “white,” which makes me so sad and emotionally tangled that I can’t even talk about it. Did this have to start when she’s <em>four</em>????) But she and I agreed on a lot of things, like how much the kids need each other and how important it is to get them out of the projects where they live and out into the bigger world so they can see the options that are available to them. She appreciated what we were doing, and she gave us bath wash and a little cross for Christmas and we gave her a framed photo of Mara to go with all the other grandkid pictures she so proudly displays.

I wish I had done more, the way people always do after a death. I wish I’d called her back twice when I left a message and she didn’t respond. I wish I’d gotten to ask if she knew what the other neighbors thought of Nia’s mom and their situation. But one thing this situation has brought out is how Mara’s mom and each of her sisters have told me they love me, they love us, they consider us family, and through my tears I was able to truthfully respond the same way. Grandma Joyce knew we loved her, too, and Mara got a good nine months of being four to known and love her. Grandma Joyce was a gift-giver, so we’ve got the snow globe that plays music that Mara keeps on her bed and the little bank shaped like a race car and the watch that she gave Mara to keep as reminders for Mara of how much she was loved and accepted, just like all the other grandkids were.

I’ll be at the funeral this weekend, though Lee and Mara will have already left for vacation. I know I’m likely to be the only white face there at a church where relationships like mine are frowned upon, but I hope I can hold my head as high as Grandma Joyce would have and come with the same spirit of acceptance and love that she would have, too. I am glad that through open adoption we got to know her, got to make her a part of our family and become a part of hers. I’m glad she knew Mara is safe and healthy, that we’ll stay in the lives of Mara’s siblings and cousins. Most of us who blog about open adoption complain at times about the way there are no right words to describe the relationships adoption creates, but she was Grandma Joyce and we loved her and love her. I can tell Mara that the stubborn glint in her eye sometimes and her fiercely big heart (in the metaphoric sense) and the history of heart disease on her medical records all come from Grandma Joyce, from a woman we all loved. And I’m glad about that part, at least.

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opening conversations

July 11, 2012

After Mara’s prayer request on Sunday, I got a text from a new number on Monday. It was Mara’s mom Veronica, who last contacted me in early January. This time she asked that I not share her number with the rest of her family. I haven’t, though a general point of our check-in when I talk to her aunts is whether any of us have talked to her, so I may end up spilling that detail at some point. She’s trying to get her life in shape and wanted Mara to know that she loves her and thinks of her every day. I responded that Mara’s feelings are very much the same, and we made plans for them to talk on the phone.

Lee was more freaked out by the prospect of more contact with Veronica than I’d expected, but since we had a date night planned already (!) we got to spend some of it talking about the pros and cons. She ended up calling Veronica, who only has talk minutes in the evening, to explain what it was like to grow up with her bio dad Richie always making plans with her and then letting her down. She wants to a have a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy with Veronica, which I think isn’t realistic, but I understand where she’s coming from. At any rate, she explained to Veronica why she’s so protective of Mara’s feelings based on her own history and that she’s open to contact as long as we all share the goal of putting Mara and her needs first. Veronica was very receptive to this, though I’m not sure whether she felt like she was being lectured or what.

So last night after swim class, I called Veronica. Mara, who’d been talking about it all day, had suddenly decided she didn’t want to talk. I put the phone up to her ear anyway and she immediately got chatting, “Hello, Veronica! I miss you! I’m good. I went swimming. I’m playing with chalk….” Veronica’s responses were totally appropriate and positive. She said she’s seen Mara’s oldest sister, who’s now living with her dad in our town and whom we haven’t seen recently. That sister is 17 now, I think, and old enough to navigate the harder aspects of dealing with her parents, so I’m glad they’ve been in touch. Then Veronica’s phone cut out and when she called back, Mara felt like she was over it and didn’t want to talk anymore, so I talked to her quickly. It sounds like she really is trying to build a structure that will help her succeed, which would be great. I’m a little nervous that she’ll try to regain custody of Mara’s little sibling, the only one who’s not in permanent custody although he’s been with Samara since his birth almost four years ago. If there’s going to be a custody change down the line, I’m hoping there will be some kind of middle ground that will acknowledge (as his and Mara’s dad does) how well he’s done with the stability he’s had in his life so far.

At any rate, we’re back in touch with Veronica and she wants to try to see Mara in person this weekend. I think instead we’re going to try to have a get-together where only Lee and I talk to her to make sure everyone’s on the same page enough and that we have the same vision of what visits will be like and so on. I’d be more comfortable doing this kind of planning casually, but I know Lee wouldn’t and I want to make this as comfortable for her as I can. I’m also hoping that clarity will help Veronica know what to expect and get to know us a little bit better. She’s still calling me Ms. Thorn even though I told her that’s totally unnecessary in terms of the relationship I want us to have and also just because there’s only an age difference of a year or so, and while having a meeting on our terms seems like it might reinforce that “we’re in charge” structure, I hope actually talking will help us break it down. I definitely think that will happen to Lee, who’s so quick to connect with strangers but so fearful of deeper relationships. If she can get that superficial hook with Veronica, she’ll feel so much more comfortable with the whole situation.

To try to be fair to Nia, I called her grandma and let her have some special phone time too. She was a little gloomy last night, I think because the reality of being with us for the long haul is starting to sink in. I was surprised that she didn’t seem jealous that Mara got to talk to Veronica when she’s not allowed to talk to her mom, but I think that’s because she understood that Mara has only seen her mom once in almost three years and so she was more sympathetic than eager to compare it to her own experience and pain. I also hope that she’s getting to see that we’re serious about keeping in touch with Mara’s family and that if we had the opportunity to do so with hers in a safe way, we’d do that too.

On that front, Nia’s lawyer (GAL or guardian ad litem) called yesterday to set up a meeting with her, though I’m not sure whether that means there’s another hearing coming up or just that she heard Nia had moved to our home. I liked her a lot and she was very understanding about how Nia wants some things (contact with her mom being core) that won’t be happening any time soon but that I wanted Nia to be able to feel that the lawyer was advocating for her wishes nonetheless. She talked to me about our household and how things are going, and then asked the question that is always hard to answer: if the case goes that way, will we be willing to adopt? I know my answer, but I said something like “Nia is an amazing girl and she really fits our family well. We want to see good things happen to her and we’ll support a return to her family if that works out or adoption if we’re able to do that.” I didn’t want to just say “YES!” and make it look like I’m pushing things in that direction, but the A-word is on all the experts’ lips more in this case than is usual at this stage of the process, and it is something we have to think about. If we’re able to adopt Nia (or anyone else), our worker will be changing our homestudy so that I’m the legal parent this time around. I think that plus hyphenated last names signals pretty clearly that we consider ourselves equal joint parents, as of course does our co-parenting agreement. So anyway, that’s officially on the table even though I don’t think TPR would happen for another year at least unless her parents decide to surrender their rights, which currently sounds unlikely.

For now, we’re just getting through normal life and all of these things going on in the background are part of our normal life too. The girls had their swim lessons and played in the splash park last night, so tonight is gymnastics and then we’ll get back to the weekly potluck we used to attend but left because there was a mean girl a little older than Mara who wasn’t being supervised or disciplined. Mara’s enough of a talker and Nia is protective enough that I have no worries about any bullying attempts, and there are older girls who should be fun for Nia to play with too. Last night we made yogurt popsicles and paper chains to count down the days until vacation, since Nia wants to know every day whether tomorrow is the day we’ll go to the beach. It’s sort of strange to make her chain of 15 days (two weeks from today!) when she’s only been with us  officially for 13 days so far. It’s so early, still, in whatever this is going to be for us as a family of four, but we’re working our way through it.

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