Archive for the ‘homefront’ Category

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endings

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.

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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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growing familiarity

June 1, 2012

Last summer, our neighborhood wasn’t yet our neighborhood and we decided to go on the garden tour to get a look at things while we waited to find out whether the bank had gotten its act together and was going to have all the mortgage documents done in time to close on our house as scheduled. So there we were, seeing the beauty of the neighborhood, hopeful that we’d soon be a part of that and terrified that our dreams were about to fall apart.

Not quite a year later, our new (110-year-old) house just keeps getting better and better. We’re gearing up to go on the garden tour with a friend of mine from work and my mother, though Lee and I will also be working the welcome booth since we’re garden club members. I remember the excited stress last year, introducing ourselves at times, holding back in case we didn’t end up able to close on the house. Now, though, we’ve got our own garden and I’m hoping we can be the “beginner garden” on next year’s tour, though I don’t expect to do anything fancy until Mara’s older and doesn’t use the whole back yard to play. She chose the vegetables she wants and helped pick out what flowers we’d put in. There are two blueberry bushes that won’t bear fruit this year because the dog ate all the unripe berries but should be ready to meet her blueberry needs (which are extensive!) next summer.

This year we’ll be walking around a neighborhood that is and feels like ours. We’ll go past the house where the dog wears little boots when the garden is wet, the block where Alex’s one friend from preschool lives, the house of the other family who adopted from foster care, the blocks where Mara and I deliver the neighborhood newsletter each month. We are part of a community now and it sometimes it shows up in ways I don’t expect or things I take for granted.

This may not be a natural segue, but I pay a lot of attention to how Mara talks about her parents and how that’s evolved. We talked last night about all her names, that she’s got her first name from her dad and his ancestor (though she likes to use the phrase “first name” as something that flows out of “first parents” and consists of her whole pre-adoption name with her old last name) and her middle name from her mom in honor of a friend and then her two last names from Lee and me. I don’t currently regret that we dropped the last name she got from her mother, because she absolutely identifies with that part of her identity and with being a part of that family despite not sharing the last name. Her brothers have their dads’ last names, so she’s not the only one of the siblings who doesn’t have the family name.

And then there’s the issue of her mom’s name and what to call her. It’s funny because last summer all she wanted to do was talk about her dad and it was easy enough to respond to that with empathy, saying, “Hmm, maybe your dad does like pizza; lots of people do!” or “I wish we knew what your dad was doing and I hope we’ll get to find out soon.” I wasn’t sure at the time whether that was because she had good memories of her dad or because missing her mom was too raw and she wasn’t ready to feel it yet, but I’m definitely tending toward the latter interpretation. After the last time we went out with her relatives two weeks ago, she finally called her mom by the nickname (let’s say LuLu) her family uses for the first time . We’d dropped her sister and cousins off and headed off to a festival where Mara could watch some folk dancing and she reached for me and wailed “I want LuLu” and started sobbing. There is something so primal about this sadness, and I hate that I have to tell her that I’m sorry, that I wish we could see her mom and I hope we will as soon as her mom is ready for that. (Lee has asked me not to go to the projects where I know she hangs out to look for her, and I’m respecting that. If she no longer has my number, and I’m not sure she has the phone I text sometimes to ask, she knows what relatives and caseworkers she could approach if she wanted to get a message to us.)

Mara’s latest major game has been pretending to be a baby koala. This can be annoying from the parental side of things, since koalas want to be held and cuddled at inopportune moments and they also don’t talk. This means you can ask her to do something a few times before she says, “I’m being a koala!” and then you have to ask if she’s a koala who can talk, which is usually the case once she realizes it makes the game easier. She’ll also say, “Mommy Koala!” and I have to say, “Yes, Baby Koala?” before she’ll tell me whatever it is she wants to talk about. She’s started asking me to be LuLu Koala and it’s hard for me to know how to respond to that. Mostly I say, “What would LuLu Koala do?” because this always ends up being another conversation about mom jobs and I don’t want to minimize the good things her mother did but I also don’t want to pretend that everything was great in their home when Mara was a baby, because that’s clearly not the case. For now, I let her set the tone the same way I did in not trying to invent any stories about what her dad might have done or might be doing. That worked out well, but I have a feeling this won’t be as satisfying for her. Figuring out how she feels about her mom, about all of us who are her moms, is going to be a life-long process. But she’s making progress and I’m so proud of that in her.

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mixed updates

April 16, 2012

We met with our worker last week. Our file is still on hold because we’ve been waiting on something the pediatrician needs to sign since the first week of February (calling and/or visiting weekly to try to get it pushed to the top of their list) but that’s okay since we’re not really ready for a placement now anyway.

We talked to her about Mara’s siblings’ visit and she gave us some information about Val and Alex, who have had good and bad things happen to their family in the time since they left us. Right now, they’re living with the parent who decided to make better choices and with the relative who had them before they came to us, and I hope that will be a stable and safe situation for them.

One thing I haven’t really talked about on the blog and won’t be able to for some period of time is that Lee and I are facing a potential job crisis. Everything is very much up in the air for the next two weeks or few months or maybe more if things go badly, but right now we don’t know quite what’s going on. And so we decided that until we have clarity, we’re not going to make any attempts to adopt Talia. Adding a new child to a home that might be losing part of an expected source of income and that’s dealing with the stress of the uncertainty not knowing about that creates just doesn’t seem fair. So now what will happen is that Talia’s worker will do a general write-up of her and email it around to the other workers in our area to see if any have families who might be interested. She’s a smart, sweet child without any mental health diagnoses or some of the harder-to-parent behavioral issues some children have, so I suspect there will be people who could picture adding her to their families. Our worker suspects the goal is going to be to get her into a home where at least one other child is non-white so she can have some sort of cultural connection, but it didn’t sound like she knows of any other open homes with a black parent. (We actually know one, but I don’t think they’re looking for her age group.)

If everything works out reasonably and we have a plan for the future, we’ll try again. I just know that neither Lee nor I can feel comfortable taking on more stress right now. For the most part, we’re managing fine with what we have and supporting each other, but I don’t want to do anything to upset the balance we have now. We’ll still be trying to increase our active commitment to Mara’s family during this interim time, so we will be strengthening connections even if they’re not with Talia for now.

Then yesterday we were at another house in our neighborhood for a brunch party and I looked out the door and saw Lee hugging Alex. We’d been told they were back in our community and I was sad when I’d seen Alex’s old preschool class get off the school bus Friday and he wasn’t there. But then suddenly there they were, with two other kids from their extended family and a parent and another extended family member. They were walking to the park and Mara and Val just threw their arms around each other. We agreed to meet them at the park, where Mara and I ended up hanging out for about two hours while the kids all played and I talked to the adults about what’s gone wrong and why their family social worker still isn’t doing all the things she’s supposed to do. The great news is how much is going right. After a bad fit in a heavily academic kindergarten classroom at her new school, Val is now back with the teacher who loves and understands and challenges her. Alex, on the other hand, hasn’t been to school at all since he was with us, which is definitely not ideal. He and Mara are only six weeks apart but are on different sides of the kindergarten age cutoff, so he’ll be expected to start school in the fall.

Lee has always said that if Alex saw me again, he’d be all over me demanding hugs and so on like he used to. I wasn’t surprised that this wasn’t the case, that he let me pour him water and talked to me but was clearly all about his parent. He was having a great time in the park (constantly reminding us that “I survived!” each time he came out of the underbrush around the edge) and he didn’t need me for extra support or security like he used to when he honestly couldn’t be sure he would get his family back. Both he and Val have grown a bit and were happy to be outside. Mara loved seeing them, and all the kids have missed each other. I didn’t press their parent on why no calls were ever returned and it really doesn’t matter. We’ve made it clear that we’d be happy to babysit or help out as we can, but that it’s going to require their parent (or the relative guardian) to ask. I have nothing emotionally tied up in either outcome there.

There were a lot of great moments, like one I can’t remember word-for-word but when Alex said something very dramatic and his parent said, “Hmm, well I guess we’ll see!” or something with exactly the same phrasing and tone as I would have used. We talked about how much Val still loves side ponytails and I confessed that I was glad about that since you don’t have to worry about symmetry and I’d mostly be doing her hair while she was in the process of waking up, so any style that lacked precision helped! The kids’ parent said that Val announced the other day, “Thorn says it’s okay to talk about skin color!” so I reiterated where that conversation had come from and that I’m not surprised that it’s on Val’s mind after moving back to the city from the country. Basically it was an easy, comfortable conversation.

When our worker was at the house, Lee had said that she thought I missed Val and Alex and I’d said that I didn’t think that was the right word, though it’s one Mara uses and I think very true to what she experiences. I didn’t miss them in terms of wanting them back with us, but I did think about them and wonder about them and how they’re doing. Now I have at least some answer there. They’re a year out from the family crisis that threw them into out-of-home care and they’re living with one dedicated and committed parent who’s spent that year making things right. They’re still not quite at the point where that parent can regain custody, but I think that has more to do with the social worker’s priorities than what the parent has done. They’re very clearly part of their family fully again, and incredibly happy about that. It was so good to see them and to know that, and I do feel I have a better sense of closure if I don’t end up seeing them again. (But seriously, our town is only a mile across or something and I imagine we will cross each other’s paths again.) So that part was very positive.

This week, our handyman will come out to start scraping the three layers of wallpaper off our bedroom walls, so eventually Lee and I will have a nicer sanctuary for ourselves. I’d suggested postponing this when the job uncertainty arose, but Lee was adamant that we have enough money for now and we’ll be okay whenever whatever’s going to happen happens. Our yard is looking great as all the plants we’ve put in the ground are soaking up rain and sun and thriving, and it will be nice to have one more room inside done too, especially one that means so much to me. Even with the hard parts, I feel so lucky about the life we have and the joy that we’re having living it. I’ve barely written about Mara here, but Mara’s role in my life is huge and better every day. She’s just getting more and more amazing, and Lee and I are overwhelmed by how much we love and are impressed by her. This is a good life that we have, and I love that.

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preparations for Mara’s future

March 30, 2012

Mara has a late fall birthday, well after the kindergarten cutoff in our state, so she’ll have one more year of preschool in which she’ll turn 5 and then start kindergarten the year after that. Yesterday, Lee and I went to her preschool on the community college where Lee teaches to participate in the once-a-year parent-teacher conference.

If I were a good blogger, I’d link back to the post about last year’s conference and the other one about why we decided to move Mara up into the pre-kindergarten class at the end of summer even though she’d be one of the youngest kids there. Sorry. At any rate, I’m tired and just doing a quick run-down now. And Mara is great! She’s fully able to do everything she should be except color inside the lines, though she spends hours on very detailed drawings, and a few verbal markers like consistently using “ed” to mark past tense. Although she’s one of the youngest (and tallest) kids in the class, she’s really come into her own and is doing well in terms of peer interaction, no longer insisting on playing by herself. She is academically the strongest kid there, and all the teachers are sort of challenging themselves to come up with activities that will surprise and engage her, though her teacher was quick to add that Mara’s good about participating even if she already knows what’s going on.

When we went to get Mara after the meeting, the student teacher who was working with her dropped the “gifted” word and now Lee’s thinking again about what that might mean for Mara and her academic future. I was more happy to hear the rest of what this teacher, who’s in a wheelchair, had to say, that Mara is emotionally attuned to what’s going on and that she understands the teacher’s physical limitations more than the other kids do and is better at anticipating how to help and following verbal instructions when this teacher can’t show with her body what she wants the kids to do. I knew from very early on that Mara was bright, but seeing how loving and kind she is, especially given what I know about her history, is incredibly moving to me. I also love that her teachers value this, and that they’ve taken our lead and given her room to talk about both her families, so they know that I take her to the park and Lee watches basketball with her and her littlest brother is three and likes to play with marbles. I love that she’s getting so much positive support for expressing how she feels.

I’d had another big conversation yesterday afternoon, this time with Mara’s aunt Odelia. We’re invited to the family Easter celebration, whatever it’s going to be. We’re also going to do something new while the big kids are on their spring break and bring three of Mara’s siblings — Franca, 9; Andre, 8; and Trinity, 6 — to stay with us for a couple of days. I’m figuring I can take all four kids to the zoo or if it’s raining the museum center on the first day and then on the other day we’ll just hang around the neighborhood and go to the parks in walking distance. Their oldest sister will be staying with her dad in our town and she’d previously described the house as being right near the ice cream parlor, so maybe we can use that as an excuse to see her too. I’ll get the kids Wednesday night and probably bring them back Saturday so they have time to prep for Easter. This should give Odelia a break and she’s not sure whether her biological kids will stay with her and have some solo family time or go to a neighbor’s house so she can completely decompress. She’s very grateful we’re stepping in to give her that break, but also absolutely on the same page I am about keeping the kids in each other’s lives in a more active way.

I’m not anticipating any problems during the visit, because all three have said in the past they were open to the idea and I think doing it together should give them a chance to rely on each other if they don’t feel comfortable about something. The oldest two are very independent and the youngest needs a lot of affection and reassurance, but I think we’ll be able to balance it well. I’m looking forward to seeing Mara on her turf with her brother and sisters, which is not something she’s gotten to experience since entering care. She is absolutely thrilled about it and can’t wait to see them again!

We haven’t had any updates about Talia, but her worker knows we’re potentially interested and we’ll be talking to our social worker the week after Easter and I’m sure she’ll have some information then. Since Talia is still waiting for her parents’ rights to be terminated (TPR) there isn’t an official pre-adoption case summary, so our worker has asked Talia’s worker to pull some information together and then at some point the four of us will sit down and talk. I know one of Lee’s concerns was about whether the local school does a good enough job for gifted students to meet Talia’s needs. Since Lee’s going to be thinking about that again in relation to Mara, maybe I’d better go pick up a packet from the gifted services coordinator and let her have a look. (Mara would be eligible for gifted services in kindergarten because I think she’ll be reading by then; she’s certainly already at 4 academically beyond where Val was in late September of her kindergarten year. Talia’s fluid reading and general inquisitiveness have convinced me she’d qualify based on test scores and/or parent or teacher push, which is what it would take to get Mara in too.) I’m more ambivalent about gifted programs than Lee is, and neither of us was in one in the modern sense, though we both got chances to do extra things on our own or in small groups because we were academically advanced. I mostly just got to keep a book at my desk so I could read quietly when I’d finished my work and go to the library every day at recess to get a new book, though I eventually also skipped a grade. Lee got bored and feels she didn’t reach her full potential because she wasn’t being challenged. I’d say it was mostly choices I made that kept me from reaching mine, but there you go.

Anyway, we don’t know anything more about the big things than we did previously, but we’re filling in some potential lines of where our lives could go and trying to make the best of it now. I have no idea what will happen with Talia, nothing but a safe guess about whether Mara will go on being outrageously awesome. I’m just so glad Mara has so many people (both her families, her teachers, her friends) supporting and encouraging her. I hope that wherever Talia ends up, she’ll have much of the same.

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Mara being her marvelous self

March 21, 2012

Mara has been under the weather for the past few days, first featuring a slightly high temperature and general whininess and listlessness and now some fairly nasty congestion. Lee is feeling sinus pain, too, and the downside to this beautiful weather is definitely going to be the pollen count.

When Mara is feeling needy these days, she wants to pretend she’s being breastfed or at least talk about it. I have to admit, it feels a little weird to hear, “I breast you now, Mommy?” but I think it’s a stand-in for the idea of nurturing for her. We’re lucky enough to know from her early medical records some of what her mom did when she was a baby, so we’re able to talk about how she got her nutrition. I think she’s fascinated by this because of the Babies movie, in which all four babies are breastfed, but it’s something that’s taken on almost talismanic significance for her. We have to remind her that we don’t have milk for her because she wasn’t born from our bodies, and that her mom Veronica doesn’t have milk for her because the milk dries up and goes away when the baby doesn’t need it or isn’t drinking it anymore. She knows that, but she has really strong feelings tied up in the story of being fed by her mom when she was in her mom’s care and what we have and haven’t done for her since, and I know all of that is getting tied up in the concept of “breasting me,” as she’d call it, but I don’t know exactly what or how.

So in the middle of one of these epic breastfeeding conversations on Sunday, Mara said very thoughtfully, clearly gauging my response, “I not love my mom Veronica.” I immediately told her that however she felt was how she felt and that was fine, that she would make her own decisions about who she loved and could always change her mind. I also said that Veronica loved her but, again, that she wasn’t able to do the mom jobs and take care of Mara. Apparently she had the same conversation with Lee later in the day, and Lee’s response was just like mine. Mara had had a feverish meltdown the night before in which she got really mad at me for telling her (while trying to get her to come out of her time out on the stairs) that I loved her. Early on, she used to get really angry if Lee or I would tell her we loved her after she’d done something she knew was wrong, but this weekend’s major version was the first we’ve seen in a long time. She furiously didn’t want to be loved, and then the next day she wanted to try on not loving someone huge in her life. I know she’s processing all of this and I’m glad she finds some of the words to do so. Love is a big and scary thing, and I think Mara recognizes that. In the meantime, she cares for her dolls gently and lovingly and was pretending to breastfeed her bathtime doll last night.

Mara’s speech went through a huge improvement while Val and Alex were with us, and she now speaks in sentences and paragraphs, stories linked together with “decause, decause, decause” and all sorts of wild invention. She has trouble with prepositions, especially remembering the difference between opposing pairs. She uses “for” if she’s not sure what else to say, and I love “You play for me, Mommy?” because it sounds like such a queenly demand! She also is still inconsistent on the gender of pronouns and remembering to use possessive pronouns. Both of these strike me as the kinds of problems people (like me!) have in learning second languages. I’m not sure what was in Mara’s head before she knew how to speak, but I do suspect she’s approaching English differently than if she’d learned it all as a baby. She’s also hugely interested in sign language and will sign while walking down the street. I don’t know if this is because she had a lot of physical dexterity before she was able to talk (though she didn’t learn any ASL until she was with us and already talking, though with major delays) and so expressing herself through her body feels comfortable or what, but she has a particular interest and we need to figure out how to support that beyond letting her practice with some of Lee’s coworkers who know or teach ASL and watching Signing Time videos over and over.

She’s good about mimicking pronunciations if we push her to do that, but her everyday pronunciations are good enough that strangers have no trouble following her even if her sounds are not exact. She’s also really interested in spelling, though she tends to start with the first letter and the last letter, then fill in with the actual end of the word. Last night “cup” ended up CPUP and I think that’s pretty common for her, as far as I can tell. I try not to push her on this, just watching where she’s going with it and answering her questions if she wants help with a tricky vowel or a silent letter. I’m sort of surprised that spelling is coming before other kinds of reading, but she loves spelling and is interested in it and I’m fine with whatever works for her. She’ll often finger-spell along with spelling out loud, and maybe having the signs to go with it is part of the appeal. I don’t know.

I should have some cute Mara stories to cap this off, but I sort of don’t. It feels like most days are full of cute Mara moments, that this is just our reality now. She’s such a sweet, loving, insightful kid and I love getting to cuddle with her and read her books and do her ever-growing hair and watch her playing, singing, dancing. She’s been riding her little scooter on our front sidewalk and I drew a line with chalk to keep her away from the stairs down toward the street and then added an octagon with STOP in it. She immediately grabbed the chalk, added a long tail to be the stop sign’s stem, and kept decorating. She still sometimes complains about being “presteration” and gets more, um, “presteration” if you suggest she means “frustrated” instead. While Talia was here, she announced that she’s also able to get “purious”, which is “very angry angry and presteration!” (She doesn’t normally switch Ps for Fs; just two times there and not in other cases I can think of.) Despite having such a strong vocabulary of negative feelings and of needing to say at least once a day that she misses her family, she’s still an amazingly happy girl with infectious enthusiasm. It is so fantastic to get to be one of her moms.

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communication and more communication

March 6, 2012

Lee and I finally got started on our couples counseling and the woman we found is great! She also does attachment work and talked about how we have to prioritize ourselves as individuals, then our relationship, then children/work/etc. and immediately added, “But of course you have to factor in Mara’s attachment, so that makes the job much harder on you.” So yay, I won’t have to justify anything like why we do bedtime the way we do and why we don’t use babysitters as much as we could, though that part needs to change soon. Lee and I are both very happy with her and think this is going to be a great thing in terms of letting us process what went wrong so that she disengaged when Val and Alex arrived and how we can have better skills for the future.

On the Val and Alex front, still no phone calls. I just wrote to our worker to ask if I can give their worker the box of stuff we have for them once Alex’s class picture is available. Lee is really hurt and offended by this and has said, “Seriously, we took care of their kids and they can’t even call us back?” but I think that’s the reason why they can’t call us back, that it’s probably part of getting back to their normal lives that they get the relief of not having to check in with me all the time. Plus I know from experience how easy it is to let things you mean to do get away from you when you’re busy and it’s always awkward to have to call and say, “Yeah, so I know you called me a month ago and I’m sorry I’m just getting around to responding…”

We had a similar disagreement about how to deal with Mara’s family. Mara’s grandma likes to sort of get in the middle of everything and when I was talking to her a week ago, she put me in a position where I had to say the most polite, non-committal thing I could while knowing that it was probably going to get twisted no matter how I responded. So when Mara’s aunt Odelia, who’s raising the oldest siblings, suddenly stopped returning my calls about when we could celebrate Trinity’s birthday, I assumed Grandma Joyce had passed something along. I called a few times, because I know she often runs out of phone minutes at the end of the month and then can re-up in the first week, but I was pretty sure she was avoiding me and not sure how to respond to that.

What I ended up doing was talking to Grandma Joyce directly and saying, “Look, I think Odelia’s avoiding me and I don’t know if it’s because of the conversation I had with you or because she’s having phone problems.” Her response was a little evasive, but Sunday I told her that I’d leave Odelia a message that Mara and I were going to try to drop by to drop off Trinity’s present and then see how things went from there. Since Odelia wasn’t answering her mother’s calls either, her mom called her other daughter, who called Odelia and I guess passed along the message. I left Odelia a message that we’d be by and I understood if she didn’t want us to hang out but that

Lee didn’t know all the details of this but said she didn’t have a problem with me being pushy if I thought something was in Mara’s best interests (and Mara was desperate to see her brothers and sisters) but that it was rude of them not to call back and not fair that I was doing more work than they were, so I should quit and let them call me. Obviously I didn’t take her advice. Instead I took Mara to my parents’ house to pick up a lamb toy that belonged to one of my brothers as a kid and I knew she’d like in part so that even if the visit didn’t work out she’d have seen some extended family that way, then to the hardware store. I reminded Mara that Trinity might not be home and asked if she still wanted to try to find her. She was adamant that yes, that was what we wanted, so we headed over there.

I knocked on Odelia’s door and she was glad to have her son let us in. The three younger kids from her four and from Mara’s mom’s four were there, and Mara was initially a little intimidated by so many people in such a small room. She loosened up quickly, especially after Trinity (who’s 6 now and almost exactly the same size as Mara, plus strikingly similar in looks) hugged and hugged her and got all excited about her presents. Trinity, Mara, and Odelia’s three-year-old bopped a balloon around the room while Odelia and I talked. She had been avoiding me and she was also happy to talk to me in person, and I think we bonded and made a lot of progress in our relationship. We’re both oldest daughters and know about the kind of added responsibilities and resentments that can bring with it, and I think she appreciated the chance to vent.

After an hour or two at Odelia’s, I walked all the kids over to Grandma Joyce’s place to give Odelia a little break. By that point, Mara was clearly just one of the gang, though each kid had individually done something special for her to make her feel welcome and appreciated. Trinity and her young cousins wanted to know how I was her mom if Veronica is also her mom, not to mention Lee, so we talked about adoption and about what I am to them, which wasn’t something I really knew how to answer. I told them that I’m like an aunt, and the kindergarten cousin guessed that maybe I was more like a stepmother, since she didn’t have a stepmother, while Trinity thought I should be the “adoptive mom” to all of them. We definitely don’t have words in English for the kind of relationship roles we’ve got going here!

Mara was thrilled to see Grandma Joyce again and Franca, who’s 9, proudly showed off all the many, many family photos. I still haven’t seen any of Mara as a baby, but seeing pictures of her sisters with their puffy cheeks and big smiles gives me a pretty good sense of what she must have looked like. There was one moment where I could almost see Mara rehearsing in her head before saying, “Grandma! Grandma!” and the way she lit up when Grandma Joyce smiled and responded was so much like the way her brother and sisters lit up when she hugged them.

While the logistics — managing phone messages and somewhat sensitive conversations being held in elliptical ways because there are seven children rolling around on the floor and knowing that what’s said to one person will trickle through to others elsewhere — aren’t exactly easy, actually being together and having those conversations and watching the happy, happy kids is easy for me. When Trinity was sitting on my lap, I didn’t have some internal narrative of “Oh, this is what it will be like when Mara is six!” but it was just that she was sitting on my lap because, like Mara, she needs some extra attention sometimes to recharge her battery. When she hopped up, she was able to talk more clearly and play more happily and I somehow felt just comfortable in my role, aunt-like or whatever it is.

Grandma Joyce says she’s impressed with how polite Mara is and with my parenting, which is always rewarding when dealing with these sorts of race/class/history differences. She started to ask who did Mara’s hair (in four puffs that day) but I don’t think she heard my answer, so I can conveniently avoid assuming there would have been some criticism there. Mara was baffled about why Grandma Joyce was wearing a scarf over her hair, so she knows that’s not the norm in our household (though she also knows that Lee has such short hair that it’s not really applicable for her) and I’m sure we’ll get to the way I’m not meeting social standards with Mara’s hair at some point and I think I’ll be able to explain myself then. Her sisters and cousins all touched her puffs in amazement at various points in the afternoon. Her sisters all have relaxed hair and her cousins have a much looser curl pattern, from what I can see, and all but the oldest have been wearing heavily beaded cornrow styles most of the times we’ve seen them, which isn’t an option for Mara because she rips the beads off and eats them and any hair she pulls. (Sigh.)

I think that’s enough in the way of updates for the blog, though I could go on. I love seeing Mara with her brothers and sisters. The next time we see them, we’ll probably be bringing a few to stay with us for a day or two to give her aunt a break. I’m looking forward to that. I love them so much, like an aunt or whatever it is I am, like they’re my daughter’s siblings and so much like her in looks and sweetness and wicked humor that I just can’t resist adoring them. She loves them so intensely and I love that they love her back the same way. She fell asleep Sunday night holding the stuffed lamb from my mom’s house and the stuffed bunny Grandma Joyce had given her. While she misses her family every day, at least I know she knows how much she’s loved.

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fallow

February 27, 2012

I dozed for most of the afternoon yesterday. Mara’s littlest big sibling’s birthday party had been postponed, so we had some time off. Lee took Mara to the park and then they read and played downstairs and I rested.

I’ve been working on my garret, the attic room above our bedroom. There’s a bed there, now, and a big round table by the window that looks out over the neighborhood all the way to the church tower in our old town we could see from our bathroom window in our old house. I still have to assemble one more bookcase and then I’ll fill those up with yarn and see if that can get rid of all the big plastic bins that I’ve been dragging around for too many years. And then that will be my little (well, big) hideaway, a room of my own. Right now, the middle room up there is a playroom and the back is Lee’s room, which isn’t really decorated and now no longer even has a tv since we moved hers down to the new family room. If we end up parenting a teen, I suspect the playroom would turn into the teenager’s room before Lee or I would give up our spaces, but we’ll see. It’s amazing that our house has so many options.

I’ve also been falling under the spell of having a house that’s almost 110 years old. I read a book about The Red Rose Girls who lived and created art together in Pittsburgh in the early part of the 20th century and that got me thinking about whether we’re even the first all-female household in our house’s history. (Then watching the excellent documentary Slavery by Another Name made me wonder about what race relations were like in our town 110 years ago.) At any rate, my birthday present to myself was to buy a bunch of scraps of Liberty of London fabrics and start quilting by hand, English paper piecing method. The idea was that I’d have something portable that would rest my arms if they were tired from knitting, but instead I’ve been doing tons of sewing and no knitting for the last two weeks. I’ve made a cushion cover with an appliqued flower of paisley hexagons for each level of the house (blue background in my garret room, green in the family room, beige in the living room) and I’m about 15% of the way through a largeish lap quilt.

There was an email from our worker today asking if we’ll do respite for a little girl who’s going to need an adoptive family to see if she clicks. Mara’s family is looking for more active help from us in supporting her siblings, though I don’t really know yet what form that will take. Honestly, in thinking about taking in other children it’s made me worry about how we could keep up the relationship we want with Mara’s siblings. Even seeing them once a month seems like too little for her to really get to know them, and I know that she misses them every day. If we can do more to keep them in contact and keep her aunt who’s raising the big kids from being overwhelmed, that would be a good thing.

I’ve been buying potted tulip bulbs for Lee because they’re her favorite flower. We had a set of white ones flower already and today is the day the yellow-rimmed red ones will go into full bloom, I think. Then we’ll put them in the ground and next year she can have tulips of her own. Mara and I started a small batch of seeds (lavender, delphiniums, impatiens) last night and we’ll see how they grow. Mara is a planty little girl and she’s helped me buy and care for a lot of the plants we have throughout the house now. Lee and I have joined the neighborhood garden club even though our house doesn’t have much in the way of a garden yet. My plan is to plant two roses to grow on our back fence to the alley and add little plots along both side fences. I’d really love to rip out the hideous overgrown yews in front of the front porch (and this will get done before fall, since poisonous berries plus a kid with pica are a disaster waiting to happen) but I’m not sure yet what we’d want to plant to replace them and I’m hoping I’ll be able to learn. I’m also brainstorming ways the garden club could reach out to kids in Mara’s age group. I’ll bet a few people would be willing to show off their herb or flower gardens, and maybe I can lead a few scavenger-hunt walks for little ones who are learning to identify plants. Mara and I also have plans to plant a little garden based on her favorite bedtime book, The Rose in My Garden.

There are a lot of things with potential in our lives right now, but it feels like not a whole lot is happening, which includes all the blog posts I’ve left half-written in my draft file. Eventually I’ll move my laptop up to my attic room and have a home base there where I can sit and write, but for now there’s been a lot of taking out the recycling, deep cleaning the bathroom, cook and clean and rest and build and catch up on all the million things that didn’t get done when I was taking care of all three kids. Strengthening my relationship with Lee, which was hurt when she didn’t step up to the plate on being a partner in foster parenting, is a big deal too. We’ve managed to get mad at each other and talk about it and find forgiveness and understanding, but it’s a process that takes time. So is dealing with the quiet in the night when no little child is calling for me, and the fact that Val and Alex’s parents seem to be avoiding us or at least not returning phone calls. That’s okay and I’m sympathetic and will just send the box of stuff I have along with their worker if that’s what they need, but it’s a let-down and also a relief, a closure of sorts. Everything else in our lives seems to be full of not-quite beginnings, and that’s where I am right now. I’m quietly resting and renewing, getting stronger so I’ll be ready for whatever comes next.

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just the facts

February 16, 2012

I have so much to say about Val and Alex going home and how our suddenly smaller family is doing (well!) but I’ve been felled by the worst stomach bug I’ve encountered in over a decade. I’m functioning and back to work today, but that’s about all I can manage.

The kids are doing well with their family, from what I was told when we talked Monday. Their mom called to ask if I had some paperwork the school needed because the version the social worker sent wasn’t clear enough. She said they’d had a good weekend and that they were talking about us but glad t be home. Alex said something like, “And can we go visit Thorn and Mara and Lee? I want to go their to Their Street and play and read and then leave!” which cracked me up because I’d had pretty much the same conversation with him in the days before he left us. He’s welcome to come back and visit, but he’s not going to live with us anymore.

To make that more clear to Mara, I spent much of the weekend rearranging what we’re no longer calling “Alex and Val’s room” but “the middle bedroom” or “the family room” so that it has bunkbeds along one wall in case we need to do respite and because we need a place to keep beds that aren’t in use (and, in turns out, in case we need to put one disgustingly sick family member into isolation) and I was able to move a couch that’s been in my parents’ basement for way too long to make a sitting area. I think we’ll even get a tv, even though I sort of hate tvs, and maybe move the Wii up there, something to make it a fun hangout place. If we ever end up having older kids again, Mara’s the one who’d be moved into that room, so we’d have to make lots of changes anyway.

And Mara has the bed that was originally Alex’s, though I finally bought the headboard with shelves that goes with it. She’d been sleeping on the top portion of the bunk bed but as a solo bed, which was nice because it gave that sort of cage effect toddler beds often have but wasn’t all that convenient for us to put her in or take her out as needed. So now she’s got a new bed and it seems to suit her fine.

Tonight I need to swing by Alex’s school to order his class photos, which are great because they’ll have pictures of all the kids and even I think their names, which should help him remember his friends. Then Lee and I are planning to take Mara to preschool reading night, which is at Alex’s other school and which I’d attended last time with all three kids.

Other than all the sick stuff, mostly life feels so relaxed now. It’s like the story about the family that was cranky about their too-cramped house and the rabbi told them to bring the goat inside, which made things worse, and so they brought the cow inside and so on and so on, until at last they took the animals back out and suddenly their house didn’t feel so small anymore. Even beyond the relief I felt that even though I was sick I wasn’t sick and the primary parent for three little beings, it’s just nice to have a chance to use the bathroom without anyone yelling through the door, to sleep through the night, to just have time and space and quiet to myself. That all feels terribly indulgent now, and I want to take advantage of it as much as I possibly can!

I have more to write, too, and more time in which to do that writing, but it won’t happen until I’m feeling better again.

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in flux

January 13, 2012

Today I’ll pick up Val and Alex from school and then their parents will meet us at the house to take them for the weekend. Both kids are annoyed that their parents can’t just get them from school, and I’ve been framing it as how, well, that wouldn’t make sense because then they’d have the kids but not their clothes or toys or the lovey Alex sleeps with rather than just saying that no, sorry, they have paperwork on file at their schools that bans their parents from picking them up. Being partway to reunion is hard on kids, maybe especially kids like these who don’t really understand time. We can use little calendars I draw or just count down how many days, how many breakfasts until they’re with their parents again, but I still know that every day is going to bring the question of whether this is the one when they’ll be picked up and get to go with their parents.

Lee has been trying to talk to Mara more about her thoughts on Val and Alex leaving. Last night Mara’s input was that Val should go with her mom and dad but Alex should stay here and play with her! We explained that it wasn’t going to happen that way, but I suspect Mara still thought her version was better.

I know she’ll miss Val and Alex a lot, but I think she understands what’s happening. I love that all the possible duos within their little group of three work well. Val and Alex are used to being together at all times and love to play and sing together. Alex and Mara both have ridiculous four-year-old senses of humor and make each other laugh and laugh and laugh as their stories or jokes get more inventive. Val is very much into gender segregation, which is appropriate for her age, and she’s gotten Mara doing more “girl” things like getting frustrated trying to put shoes on Barbies and spending ages working together to fill the chalkboard with drawings.

Tomorrow, we’re supposed to pick up Mara’s three oldest (half)siblings — a 16-year-old I’ll call Desiree, 9-year-old Franca, and 8-year-old Andre — and take them to watch a game at Lee’s school. This will be the same scenario in which we met Samara’s brother last year, but these are three of the kids being raised by their mom’s sister Odelia rather than the one being raised by mom’s former stepsister Samara, so I haven’t gotten to hear through the grapevine whether he’ll be there too. This will be our first time with Mara’s siblings when we aren’t also with their guardians, which is why I’d initially asked to take the younger two. I think it will help Mara and us get to know them better (and vice versa!) to see them in smaller groups instead of among the dozens of extended family members who seem to be involved every time we have a get-together. We’ll keep doing those too and I know that Mara’s grandma and others will be there to see us when we get the kids tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to forging more personal connections too.

Oh, and Mara’s aunt asked us if we could find a mentor for Mara’s oldest sister, Desiree, or mentor her ourselves, which would be my preference. She and Lee love the same sport, so I’m hoping they’ll hit it off and I can bring her into my ACT prep tutoring at church when she’s ready for that. (If anyone remembers back in the first year of the blog when we used to formally mentor two young girls through a local program, one of them is now 17 and also will be part of this group because she’s reached out to me for help, which is pretty cool.) I’m hoping we’ll click with her and the one time we met her was very pleasant, so I’m looking forward to getting more time to talk, even though having three extra kids means having to borrow my mom’s van to do safe transport.

I’ve been thinking about open adoptions and the relationship I want us to have with Mara’s siblings and extended family. I was reading somewhere online (probably on Open Adoption Support) about a family saying they’d never let their adopted child’s birth family spend time with the child without their being present, and I realized that that’s not really my goal. I mean, at this point Mara’s not comfortable enough to be at her aunt’s house for the afternoon without us there but that’s because that’s how she is at this age, not because I have any reason to believe she wouldn’t be safe or cared for there. In fact, I expect she’ll eventually have overnights with the sister closest in age to her whether with us or with them, that I may even loosen a little of my control and leave her there to get her hair braided while I go out to get groceries or something. I read this comment and remember thinking huh, that I didn’t feel guilty about asking Mara’s aunt to let us take some of her siblings out, though I’d specifically asked for more than one at a time so it would feel more comfortable for them and for her. And I wonder if general classism would say that of course it’s fine for us to offer to take these kids who are living in public housing out for a meal and a sports event or to the zoo when the weather is nicer or whatever else, but actually taking our beloved daughter to the housing projects and leaving her there is something really different. I think my goal is to do what I can to help not just Mara but her siblings too feel comfortable with the kind of code-switching that means you can go to the projects or to the zoo or to a college and know what the local rules are, know how to behave and feel comfortable.

I think Mara’s family is in the same boat. They’ve made a commitment to considering us family, just as we’ve done with them, but it’s not entirely clear yet what that will mean. The aunt, Odelia, said something like, “Anything you or anyone can do for these kids is great. I never turn aside a blessing.” I do think that’s her attitude to parenting, and it would sort of have to be to manage being the single parent of eight, I think. She’s not trying to use us, but anything we can do to help enrich the lives of any of Mara’s siblings or cousins is going to be welcome. We’re interested in helping because it’s good for Mara to spend time with her relatives and keep them part of our larger family, but also because they’re all sweet, smart, funny kids just like Mara is and it’s a pleasure to be around them. I don’t have any idea how our little family is going to grow after Val and Alex leave, but I know that incorporating Mara’s family into our collective extended family is going to be a part of that. I think it will be good for Lee and me too. Knowing and loving Mara certainly has been!

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