Archive for the ‘fostering’ Category



April 15, 2013

This is not a post I’d ever entirely expected to write. I mean, I’d found Rowan on facebook a year or two ago after last seeing him the day before his 16th birthday, before we had Mara, and then talked to him intermittently on the phone throughout the next year. But his phone number changed and so did his address and he never responded to my friend request, and so we went through more than a year of silence. I knew he was out there somewhere, thought of him graduating and getting older, turning 18. A month or so ago, I looked for him on facebook again, saw that he was now living in our town, and sent him a message saying I hoped he was well, that we still think of him often, that I regret some of the choices we made but that being a parent of any kind is hard and that I’m sorry he had to be our test case and that we couldn’t always give him what he needed. He wrote back something sweet and suddenly we were friends.

Last week I picked Nia up from her after-school program because her worker was coming over. As we were driving home, I stopped at the stop sign two blocks from our house and there was Rowan ready to cross the street in front of me. We recognized each other simultaneously, I rolled down the window to ask where he was going and whether he wanted a ride, and he hopped in. (He was going “over by where I ran away from you that one time,” because this kid is nothing if not honest, as I noted when he did run away from us that one time!) He of course didn’t know anything about Nia, but they said hello and he was kind and chatty in his questions to her. He was happy to meet Mara, too, and immediately wanted to check on the animals he remembered, cuddling our dog while he talked to us a little about what he’s been up to as he reconnects and now draws back away from his birth family and what his recent life has been like.

Our worker showed up within 20 minutes so we can’t have talked long, and then Rowan was off again with directions on how best to walk as far as he needed to walk. He’s taller than I am now, but he grinned and hugged us, asked Lee to help him apply for college even though I know that’s a job that will mostly get delegated to me. Our awesome worker got to meet him for the first time and didn’t think there was anything odd about us seeing him and just bringing him home. It just feels right to have had him here, to have found some small way to let him know that he’s still connected, that the girls know about him (and have more questions they want to ask next time) and that we haven’t forgotten about him. Lee and I reminisced and laughed a lot that night after the girls had gone to bed, just like we had a lot of good memories to talk about with him in that short visit.

I am so grateful that I got the chance to be a sort-of parent to Rowan. We never were paid a cent for the time we spent with him because it was always considered visits or respite, never even got mileage reimbursed for all the times we drove to the other end of the state to pick him up from his residential treatment center even though we were supposed to get that. And yet at that time in his life, we were the only adults he interacted with who weren’t being paid to do so, and that ended up being worth far more than anything the state would have given us. That he has some warm memories from his time with us, that he’s held onto photos and letters and gifts makes me so happy. It means we did what we wanted to do in showing him we cared for him even if we weren’t able to meet our original goal of becoming his family through adoption. I didn’t use the “mom job” language we use with the littler kids then, but I got the idea that we could reach out to him, feed him, connect with him meaningfully. I know it meant something to us and I now know for sure that it still means something to him. Lee and I have been so lucky and so loved and it just amazes me.



March 6, 2013

As I’ve said a few times, Mara has been telling me that she wants me to go live somewhere else so everyone in the family can have brown skin. Two nights ago, she elaborated that she wanted Nia to go with me so that she could move her South Asian best friend in to be her little brother. I don’t know if I’m dealing with this the right way, but I didn’t get upset or anything, just pointed out that she knows her friend’s parents and that they are taking care of him the right way and that he shouldn’t need a foster family because of that. I didn’t really take it seriously because I know she’s working out her own view of the world and not trying to hurt my feelings.

The next morning, I was getting dressed for work when Mara woke up and went in to snuggle with Lee, who takes her to school later than Nia and I have to make our own morning trip. Suddenly I heard hysterical sobbing and went in to find that Mara was losing it over the thought that I was getting ready to go to work and never come back. I scooped her up, took her back to the rocker in her room, and eventually got her to calm down and talk to me. Obviously she’s learned that sometimes parents go away and don’t come back, so I knew that was part of her worry, but I decided to flat-out ask if she was feeling sorry that she’d told me she wanted me to go away, and she agreed that that was her impetus. We had the usual talk, about how it doesn’t matter what she says or what she does, that I’m going to keep being her mom and keep loving her. I think she felt better, though I can tell some of her sadness and confusion is still swirling around inside her.

Then yesterday Nia came home from school with a card she’d made me that read I LOVE MY MOM, which she confirmed was meant for me. She’s called me “Mommy” like Mara does, most recently saying “I need Mommy Time too!” and things like that, but I’ve only heard her refer to me as her mom once before. We’re quickly coming up on the anniversary of her removal and are expecting to see some behavioral and emotional fallout connected to that, and I think playing with putting me in that “mom” role is part of that. However, she blew the positive momentum she had going by passing Lee a card she’d made her that read I HAT MY MOM. On the plus side, she’s never actually called Lee anything close to “mom” before, but the negative side is pretty obvious. Lee’s feelings were hurt, which didn’t seem to have occurred to Nia as a likely outcome, and Lee stayed sort of cranky for the rest of the night, having a little conversation with Nia about how we don’t say “hate” (which she knows is on Mara’s banned words list right now) and how saying that is unacceptable, which is probably not how I would have put it but still what she was feeling. I’m not sure what feelings Nia had been trying to convey, but think it was a joke of sorts but also a comment on how she likes me more than she likes Lee most of the time.

One of the reasons I haven’t been writing here is that I keep reading all this stuff about how someday your children will read everything you’ve written about them. I know that’s true and I know it’s a possibility and so it’s been very hard to think about how to write about the confusion we feel about whether to agree to adopt Nia if her mom’s rights are terminated, which is a process that will probably begin as early as next month though stretch on from there. Lee and Nia butt heads a lot. Lee is not having the trouble she did with Val and Alex, but she’s a better adoptive and pre-adoptive parent than she is a foster parent. The uncertainty unsettles her and triggers some of her own concerns and just generally doesn’t bring out her best. I think some of this is race-based, that Nia also doesn’t expect the best from Lee because she knows what black moms are like and how they can let you down and be inconsistent. So they come at each other with their fight-or-flight responses at the ready and then wonder why things aren’t comfortable between them.

Also, Lee doesn’t know a ton about child development and since Mara is behind Nia age-wise, we’re going through stages with Nia first and some of them scare Lee. “Will she keep dropping her pencil on the floor while she does homework forever?” I dunno, probably not. She’s SIX, and soon she won’t be six anymore and she’ll do different things. Probably some of them will be annoying, but a lot of them will involve greater responsibilities and so forth. I’ve seen her grow in her time with us and I’m really not worried that she’s going to become a monster or anything, though I too have concerns about how good I’ll be at keeping up with her stereotypical girliness and how extreme her extroversion is. 

If her fairy godmother showed up and said that she was sorry she’d been away but was ready to take Nia to a magical home where she’d be surrounded by friends at all times and have round-the-clock nurturing attention and get to watch magical Disney shows that aren’t all about looking cute to get a boyfriend but would still make her happy and where her clothes would always meet her standards as “cute,” well, I think we might be relieved that she’d be going somewhere perfect for her but very sad to see her go. I really have a hard time imagining how crushed Mara and I would be to lose Nia, because just thinking about it feels overwhelmingly sad. I think Lee would be very sad, too, but guarding her heart as strictly as she has means she doesn’t have as much to lose either, and I realize that’s the point. 

Right now, though, there’s no fairy godmother on the horizon and all her known family members have been ruled out as options. So I’m stuck with feeling like we are not the best family for her in the whole entire world, but we’re a family where she’s found a place for herself and has flourished and I realize that’s not nothing. When she and Lee do end up stressing each other out, my initial response is to be sympathetic to Nia because Lee needs to act like the adult she is, and yet we have a policy of backing up each other’s parenting decisions as much as possible, so usually I’m walking a fine line there. And ultimately, there’s this family that we already have and if I believe Lee is not going to be able to function effectively and appropriately as Nia’s mom — which I’m not at all convinced is what’s going to happen, but it’s my worst-case scenario — then I can’t sign off on an adoption and I’m going to have to agree to break my own heart and have them find a new home for her. Ugh. 

Lee is actually not a bad foster parent, and I want to make that clear. She’s not hurting Nia or hurting Nia’s feelings inappropriately (and you have to understand that Nia claims Lee hurt her feelings by asking her to put her dirty clothes in the hamper, so basically she’s six) but just doesn’t have the same sort of connection she has to Mara and doesn’t seem willing to put in the work she’d have to do to get to that point, or at least not while there’s still some chance Nia might go home. All of this, too, is heartbreaking for me because it turns out I’m pretty good at being a foster parent, and so here’s that whole potential future closing off to me because Lee can’t and won’t keep up. Of course it’s selfish of me to be hung up on that, but that’s part of it. Being a foster parent is just too much for Lee, though she’s still convinced it would be easier for her with a boy than with a girl and that she really wants to parent a boy, which will probably happen because she’s getting calls from the state pretty regularly.

I’m terrified to do more and I’m even scared to put this out here because I imagine people will talk about me and ask how could I even contemplate bringing a little boy into a home where he might not be loved and treated equally, where he might end up having to leave to go to another foster home rather than back to family. I know that stuff, really, and I’m honest about it. All of this is brutally hard for me, and there are plenty of times I’ve thought that we should just quit and not risk it. But if Lee is convinced she can do better and I’m convinced she can do better, I want to give her the chance to do that. And maybe adding a third will make it easier for her to find better emotional space for Nia. Maybe it will be a failure and they’ll both have to leave and we’ll close our home. I have no idea at all.

I didn’t really plan on going into so much detail here. Like I said, it feels inappropriate to even be talking about this, but it’s also what’s on my mind all the time. It will be there when I pick Nia up from school and hug her and ask about her day and when she bounds into the living room to hug Lee and talk to Lee about what went on at school. The truth is that she loves Lee, too, and Lee admits that she loves Nia even while she’s guilty about feeling that the love she has isn’t enough. They’ve both just been pushed off the path of easy, exuberant love by their tough early relationships with their moms, and I know they have the capacity to get through it and figure things out, especially the one of them who’s had decades to work on it. But Mara’s fantasy of a home for her and Lee is not on the table at all and wouldn’t be a good idea even if it were. We have the family we have and that will include Nia for as long as it can, I honestly hope forever. At least all four of us can enjoy it as best we can for what it is now, and most days we do that.

Whatever happens, I got to be a mom and I got to be loved, and that’s huge and so much more than I once would have thought I could have done. I have a lot of thoughts and big feelings about coming to the end of fostering in the next year or so, but I’m so glad and grateful that I got a chance to do it and I have so much love and respect for the children and families I’ve gotten to know in the process. I wouldn’t change that part for anything.


beginning reader

March 4, 2013

Today Nia took a folder with her read-a-thon money to school with her. At our last PTA meeting, the principal and head of the PTA had agreed that surely every child would be able to raise $10, which actually seems pretty unlikely to me. But if the class averages $10/child, they’ll get some sort of reading-related treat I no longer remember and if the whole school hits a high enough target, the PTA will be able to bring in a theater troupe to perform for the kids and any extra money will go toward buying books they can read at school.

So at any rate, Nia went off to school this morning with enough money to subsidize half her classrom’s expected minimum level. I hope that means her class will meet its target! I’d said something on facebook about the drive, thinking that some of my relatives who know her might be interested in contributing or that I could hit up our neighbors without having to have her walk across the street. Instead, I got donations from friends from all over, parents and foster parents and non-parents, teachers and unemployed folks and my coworkers. I am so overwhelmed with this kindness from people who care about Nia and her schoolmates, probably half of whom have never even met Nia.

Friday after school, both girls went to the dentist and then we had a celebratory dinner out afterward. I took the girls to the bookstore down the street from the restaurant. Partly I was being selfish (and seriously, had me obsessed and dreaming furiously all weekend!) but I also wanted to get some new books for Nia to try to read.

On Saturday night, Nia read Mara a bedtime story for the first time ever. We’d had to go to a special shelf to find “level 1″ learn-to-read books at the bookstore, but we brought some home and Nia had puzzled through one with me in the afternoon (with some special help from Mara, who was able to sound out “sad” when Nia couldn’t) and then read it with a pretty high degree of comfort again that evening. Lee was astonished to hear her fluency because normally Nia is not much of a reader, though she enjoys writing and doesn’t generally make a fuss about doing her homework.

At this point, we’re all taking it as pretty much a given that Nia is going to be in first grade again next year. If she’s still with us, which is the most likely outcome, she’ll have her same teacher again. Her teacher has been there long enough to have been my teacher if I’d gone to the school and next year is her last year before retirement, but she’s still active and involved and I really like her, as does Nia. She thinks that Nia’s problems are not learning disorders (and the fact that Nia managed to learn a whole year’s worth of math in 3 months suggests the same) but a combination of being young — just 6 and a half when half the class has already turned 7 — and having gaps from her kindergarten and early childhood experience. If she can come in next year already knowing what the rules are an in a position to be a role model for less-experienced kids, which we know is a situation she loves, we all think she’ll be able to find a niche for herself where she can really succeed, especially if she can remember that she really does need to stop talking sometimes!

Now, though, first grade is so academic in ways it never used to be. Kindergarten is, too, and Nia started kindergarten last year in another state, then sometime in the fall was withdrawn from that school when her mom moved to the city where Mara’s siblings live, at which point she was eventually enrolled in a new kindergarten there, though not at the same school Mara’s siblings attend. (I’m curious about that and don’t know whether all the city schools each get a share of the kids from the public housing area or whether it’s that some streets in the development go to one school and some to another and because Nia lived up by Mara’s Grandma Joyce and not down by the siblings and cousins that she got bussed somewhere else.) One of the problems that brought her mom to the state’s attention was an inability to get Nia to and from school appropriately, though her mom was also active with homework and cares very deeply about Nia’s academic success. So then almost a year ago, Nia was removed from her mom’s care and sent out to a rural McMansion suburb where she was the only black child and the only child who couldn’t read in her third kindergarten that year for the two months or so that school lasted, and her teacher seemed (going by what I see on the papers Nia saved and what Nia’s prior foster mom said) to be uncomfortable figuring out how to meet Nia at her level and so chose to ignore her rather than try to get her up to speed or get supports in place to help her.

In any event, we enrolled Nia at the high-poverty school with a go-getter principal near us. I know most of our neighbors pay to send their children to private schools rather than be part of our city’s public school system, but I’ve been so impressed with the education Val and now Nia have gotten there and look forward to having Mara join in next year. I also feel more and more strongly that if more of the parents from our neighborhood <em>did</em> send their children, that the school would be a whole lot better. But from our middle-class perspectives, it’s hard to think about having to fund-raise to get something that seems as simple as a theater performance, and yet that’s the situation this school is in and the reality for the other kids who live in our city, who aren’t making it to the zoo and the children’s museum and art museum as often as Nia and Mara are, who don’t have the home libraries that we and our neighbors do. Okay, I’ll stop before I take off on a rant, but the more time goes by the more I’m taking it personally when I can tell people feel some kind of way about “those kids” when those kids are MY kids.

And my kids are wonderful! The girls have been asking about getting more chores and so yesterday they scrubbed the bathroom and couldn’t wait to show off its shine to Lee, but also practiced dusting baseboards and bumping down the stairs on their bottoms while holding rags to the sides to dust the edges along the hideous carpet runner on the stairs. They played well all weekend while Lee and I were different strains of sick and pitiful and I know I’ll come home to big hugs and big smiles tonight. Then after dinner, Nia and I will sit down and maybe Mara will follow us and we’ll all read a story, or Nia will read to us. She’s grown up so much in the time that we know her and I’m so proud of that and excited about where it will take her next.



January 3, 2013

We have a lot going on right now. Lee’s sister (bio aunt) Grace died on Christmas morning after about a month in hospice. Today Mara and Lee are flying out for her memorial service and so Mara can meet Lee’s family and see where Lee grew up. I get to hold down the fort with Nia and the pets and hope that everything goes well even though Mara’s first adult tooth just broke through her gum and she’s been decidedly not happy about much of anything lately and even though Lee promised she wouldn’t go back for this funeral because she didn’t think she could handle it. I think it will be good for both of them and good for bonding them in a new way.

On Christmas Eve, I got a call from Mara’s aunt Odelia while we were at my aunt’s house eight hours away, feasting and enjoying ourselves. I knew she’d be having a hard time on her first Christmas without her mom, but it was even worse than that. The state had removed Mara’s three siblings still living with her as well as her four biological children. Her children were placed with paternal family and Mara’s siblings went first to a neighbor and then to their great-aunt while her daughter waits to pass a background check to be able to take them in. It’s not clear to me exactly what happened, but I really wasn’t surprised that things had come to a head and the home was no longer safe enough. Odelia is not going to try to regain custody of Mara’s siblings. She would prefer that they go to us, because she thinks no one else in the family can raise them properly.

Lee and I would prefer not to add three children to our home right now, because I’m not sure we could handle the stress. But we also love these three and have always said that we wanted to be a resource for Mara’s siblings. As a middle ground, we’ve agreed that if the initial kinship placement doesn’t work out, we can keep them for a few weeks while a better placement (kinship or foster) is found. I’ve made all of this clear to our worker and the supervisor of Odelia’s caseworker, though I don’t know what it will matter in the long run. Regardless of what we want, if they come into foster care proper we will get the call and we’ll have to make a decision. Well, we’ll make the decision that I’ll take the parental leave I’m due for a new foster placement and we’ll take them on short-term so they have a safe home where they know the people and know the rules and know the place while something else gets figured out for them. I guess.

(What I want is to have Trinity come live with us. I think that eventually paternal family might come forward for Franca and Andre, who’ve had more contact with their dad and his family this past year. I don’t see that happening for Trinity and her needs are the highest of the three, which makes it less likely there will be a family member volunteering to meet them. It would also be sort of insane to be adding another 6-year-old when we have a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old already and are feeling stretched a bit thin at times by just that setup. But it’s what I’ve always wanted, and there’s still a chance Nia might go home, in which case I’d definitely end up heartsick if we didn’t step up for Trinity when we could have and instead ended up with just Mara, not that having just Mara wouldn’t be wonderful in its own way. On the other other hand, it’s likely Trinity is the kind of kid who will blow placements and we’ll end up with her again. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. Lee feels pretty strongly that adding Trinity would be too much, but it’s Trinity! I’d love to have the other two too, but she just needs so much and loves so much and has lost so much that she’s in a special separate category for me.)

At any rate, I’ve told the family that I’m willing to do respite this weekend when I’m home with Nia, in part to see how Nia does with the siblings. She’s spent significant time with them twice and had a great time once she warmed up (which is not a hard process for such a friendly extrovert) but I know it would be hard for her to have to deal with “sharing” when she considers Mara her sister but that doesn’t mean Mara’s sisters are her sisters and so on. Plus Nia wants to spend as much time as possible with her best friend Katrina, a neighbor who was adopted out of foster care and whose mom is Nia’s favorite of the first-grade teachers. We’ll have plenty to keep us occupied regardless of what happens, and I think that’s sort of a mantra for the family at the moment, how we’re living all of our lives. There is plenty going on even when nothing’s going on and we’re managing through that all right so far.


there and back again (or something)

December 19, 2012

Lee and I made our big trek to NYC for Lee’s birthday last week and had a wonderful time, spent way too much time in airports, and spent way too much money all over the place. It was great, especially because the girls were having so much fun with our next-door neighbors that they didn’t even want to talk to us when we called. I don’t think I could have talked myself into the trip if we’d just been leaving Mara behind, but knowing that Mara and Nia would play together and keep each other company gave me the opportunity to be relaxed about taking our first trip since we went to meet Colton two and a half years ago, and doing something new really paid off and all four of us (plus our neighbors) had a fun weekend.

Suddenly it’s the week before Christmas, though, and I’m dealing with getting ready for all of that along with talking about gun violence and managing how Nia is sad about missing two weeks of visits with her mom because of the holidays. Her mom had asked me to have Nia’s hair ready for her to style at this week’s visit, which is hard since Nia goes to school all day before a visit and Nia’s mom likes her hair straightened with heat before she braids but I don’t have a straightening iron even if that were something I was interested in doing to a 6-year-old’s hair, so instead Nia apparently spent the entirety of the play therapy session having her hair braided and crying about how it hurt and how she wanted to play, which is not going to make the therapist more impressed with her mom’s parenting. On the other hand, her mom made some nice selections in the gifts she chose for Nia, and it clearly meant a lot to Nia to have a giant bag of gifts from her mom. I’d had Mara and Nia make ornaments and Nia gave her mom one plus some things she’d chosen at the store, and I gave her a new batch of pictures that build a little narrative of what Nia has done in each month she’s been with us. (Next week we hit six months together as a family of four, also about six months until the court will start terminating her mom’s rights as a parent if her mom hasn’t made substantial progress by then. I’m not sure her mom understands how quickly that time can go by, but on the other hand it is a lot of time.)

Before we went out of town, Lee and I were able to get Mara into the feeding specialists at the local children’s hospital. They confirmed that there don’t seem to be physiological reasons Mara would be eating things that aren’t food and that she does just fine when eating food, but we’re going to get a sensory study done and work with occupational therapists to come up with plans to try to find non-eating options that will meet the needs she has. We’ll also be getting some psychological support for her, though I don’t know the details of that yet. It’s been a huge relief to at least have a plan in place, although we’re very realistic about how our goal is to help her gradually learn to cope in healthier ways, not to try to overcome those behaviors completely. I mean, it sure would be nice not to have to worry about her chewing on things, but I don’t realistically think that’s in our near future and we can live with that.

I’m feeling really down on myself right now because I’m not the partner I want to be. I’m doing well enough as a parent and foster parent, but Lee and I aren’t getting what we need. I don’t think hauling the girls out of state to spend Christmas with my grandmother and extended will be exactly the rest and relaxation I was hoping for, but they will love it and I hope I’ll use it as an opportunity to practice being kinder to both of us. Tonight we’re going back to setting aside time to talk to each other in structured and comforting ways, something our counselor had been having us do. Just knowing that I have that to look forward to has already made me feel a little better. I appreciate that Lee’s willing to help me and keep me honest about the things that are hard for me. Right now, appreciating the good things I have is hard for me. I think taking some time to rest and reflect will help that, but what helps even more is that I do have so many wonderful things in my life and I’ll see three big smiles tonight. The girls and I are going to make some thumbprint cookies with the grape jelly they made at our friends’ farm and winery, and I think it’s hilarious that their first jelly-making experience includes knowledge of what varietals the grapes are. We’ve had some amazing times in these past six months, and I look forward to more.


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.)


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.



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.


… and a team

October 23, 2012

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

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

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

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


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