Archive for the ‘twisty little passages’ Category

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quiet

July 30, 2013

I haven’t written here in a long time. Back in December, I basically left twitter after realizing I wasn’t being a particularly great person there. Then in May I went across the country to see some friends and it drove home how much I sort of need friends more than I have them and then I stopped reading all the hundreds of blogs I used to, though I dip back in sometimes. Instead I’ve been trying to just get through some tough things we’ve been getting through around here. I don’t really have much to say about that and I realize it’s stupid to start a post like this, with the explanations and apologies, but I don’t know what to say but that. But.

Mara and Nia are at YMCA camp for the summer, which has been somewhat less than ideal but still mostly fun for them. Mara won’t participate in group games and since the kind of people who grow up to be Y camp counselors were presumably not the 5-year-olds with no interests in group games, this is baffling and alarming to them. I’m with her, so we haven’t pushed hard for her to change her style. She’s finding things she enjoys. Nia, too, is carving out a niche for herself there. She turned 7 this summer and lapped her addition to our home last summer, and I think both of those have really bumped her up in her level of maturity and security. She’s able to get herself under control instead of blowing up when frustrated, and she’s just able to handle everything better. At court this week, our/my willingness to adopt will be entered into the official record, though her parents’ rights won’t be terminated until probably sometime this fall and it will be another few months after that before adoption can happen.

The adoption stuff is still messy. Lee is angry that Nia had family members who wanted to adopt and who were denied (by their home counties, because they’re all out of state, though physically close because we’re in a border town) and I don’t know if it’s because of her own difficulties clicking with Nia or because she herself was adopted within her family and sees the value of that, but she’s angry with the caseworker and lawyer and probably just the world in general that things didn’t work out for Nia to be able to go with people who’ve known her since she was a baby and who love her and want her with them. On the other hand, staying with us means she can see them frequently and in her case, there’s at least one relative where I’d be okay with her doing an overnight every so often, and we’re not there with Mara (mostly for logistical reasons, because Nia’s relatives just aren’t raising as many other kids as Mara’s are.)

Oh, and we’ve gotten to spend a little time with Mara’s siblings, who seem to be thriving in their new kinship home. I need to arrange a time to get all the kids together again before school starts, and it’s amazing to me that we’re already running out of time there! Mara will be in kindergarten and Nia in first grade with her same teacher as last year, but this time testing slightly ahead of starting-first-grade levels rather than being a year or two behind. Again, the security that a year with no moves brings (almost certainly the first in her life, now that I think about it) makes a big difference and she’s excited about knowing the ropes and being able to show Mara how the school works. She’s so serious about her job as Big Sister and the two of them just get sweeter and sweeter together, which amazes me.

And because I probably shouldn’t just hide it between the lines, Lee and I have had a rough time, not because of lack of love but just because it’s been hard to be in the same emotional place at the same time. She has a new job, which is alleviating some stresses and creating others. I think we’re making progress now, but there have definitely been days, weeks when it’s seemed like we’re two single moms who live in the same house and just pass each other periodically, perhaps asking whether there’s extra toilet paper in the upstairs bathroom but perhaps just nodding in vague recognition and moving along. This is not what we want and not where we need to be, and while I am constantly trying to make sure that the girls aren’t feeling negative impacts, things will be better for all of us when things are better for us as a couple. It hasn’t always been clear what the best way around or through might be, but today is a good day and I just keep working and holding onto hope about the changes I want to see. And I’m keeping the kitchen cleaner and sometimes sweeping the floor more than once a day, and if I can do that, I’m sure I can do anything.

I don’t want to end on the down note of all the things I beat myself up about. I’m just trying to throw all the boring updates out here so that maybe I can say something more interesting next time. The girls are doing well. I’m holding up well enough, and excited about some of the things I’m doing this year in my new role as a parent representative on the school’s guiding council and in planning training events for fellow foster parents. I know my time as a foster parent is winding down, though Lee still wants a boy, and I’m trying to figure out how to give up something I’m actually good at and turn it into something worthwhile in another context. We still see Rowan regularly, though he’s thinking about moving back to his last rural town again maybe. Even as I marvel at how Nia has grown in a year into someone so self-possessed yet hilarious, how Mara in almost three years has gone from a loving wordless lump to a tall and graceful storyteller, I think I’m most delighted to see Rowan smiling comfortably, taller than me and not leading an easy life but still doing it on his terms and finding some happiness in it. I’ve been so lucky to get to be a part of all of this.

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on Sand Creek and Storytelling Selves

May 8, 2013

One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is write here about books that aren’t about fostering or adoption but I think nonetheless give insights into the fostering/adopting experience. (Actually, in the past I probably wrote here or at least on GoodReads about the importance of really reading and thinking about the stories of enslaved families for an understanding of racial conditions impacting the current child welfare system.) Anyway, today I want to go ahead and start, and I’m going to start with books friends of mine have written.

Ari Kelman and I got to know each other in non-adoption nerdy internet contexts. He’s a history professor who has a new book out, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek and I really enjoyed reading it and don’t think I’d have found it without knowing him already, which is one reason I want to talk about it.

Not long before reading Ari’s book, I’d reread Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare by Dorothy Roberts, and while I absolutely agree with her driving argument that black children are over-represented in foster care and adoption from foster care for reasons stemming from racism on a lot of fronts, the anecdotes she used to buttress her arguments kept leaving me saying, “Yeah, but!” I mean, every time Mara’s mom introduces us to one of her friends or relatives, that person will tell me about being Mara’s regular babysitter. Now, maybe Mara’s mom just went through a lot of babysitters, but you’d think that if there were that many other people keeping an eye on Mara, some of them would have noticed the problems that brought her into care, no? And so I don’t entirely discount the truth of what these people tell me (and certainly not in the case of the person who gladly volunteered she’d routinely given Baby Mara soda and Cheetos and then napped while the babies watched tv, but also not in the case of the elderly relative who sheltered Mara and her mom when they didn’t have anywhere else to go) but I also think that what they’re trying to tell me is that they cared and care about Mara, that they wanted to see her do well when she was in their care and want to see her doing well now. In some cases, especially with the family, they’re giving me the story they’ve told themselves about why and how they did what they could for her that absolves them of some of the guilt or grief they might feel about losing her to foster care and adoption. This is totally normal behavior and makes a lot of sense to me, but can be understandably frustrating for the foster-adoptive parents who are hearing these stories about how great everything was until foster care came along.

So while Ari doesn’t talk about foster care and Dorothy Roberts does nothing but talk about foster care, it struck me that his book was better at covering the dynamics of how and why people tell themselves the stories they want and need to hear, which is a topic that’s long fascinated me anyway. (And to be fair to Roberts, she’s very clear on the racist cultural narratives going on and how they were shaped and who benefits from them, which I do find both useful and true, but she didn’t go as deeply into the individual side of the things as I would have preferred. I still like and highly recommend her book!)

I’d describe the Sand Creek Massacre as the violent destruction of a peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment in Colorado in 1862 by soldiers from the fort supposed to protect them, possibly under the belief that they were actually harboring anti-white criminals. From the start, you get soldiers who understood their grisly attack and the destruction and mutilation that followed it as justified and justifiable, the leader of the attack who hoped to use it to further his political goals, surviving tribe members whose leaders and families had been destroyed and who could no longer keep faith in the peace system, and military men who’d refused to participate in or support the massacre. So far, so simple, right? But then you add well over a century of propaganda and selective memories, in which the massacre is commemorated as a Civil War battle on a monument at the Colorado state house while the Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants of the survivors have ended up on reservations where the massacre is seen as a deep source of collective pain and the trauma that followed. (It also somehow ends up getting mentioned as part of the backstory in the latest Iron Man movie, but despite Mara’s brief interest in running around in Iron Man’s iconic Black Power Salute-esque pose, I’m not likely to see that any time soon and can’t really say more about it.)

So by the time there starts to be interest in an official historical designation for Sand Creek, not only are the descendants deeply invested in a story they’ve carried for generations and feel is being disregarded, so are various landowners who believe (but can’t always prove) that the massacre took place on their properties and what to be well-compensated for it, the national and state officials who need to try to tease out truth from exaggeration to find and mark exactly where the massacre occurred and how to acknowledge its ambiguities, not to mention amateur historians and historical reenactors and the overwhelmingly white townspeople who aren’t sure how to feel about a potential influx of visitors. And all that’s even before the September 11 attacks in the midst of the process of preparing the historical site make it controversial to even talk about a monument to American troops who acted dishonorably, who are going to be portrayed as bad guys rather than heroes in a political context where words like “evil” are getting thrown around freely.

My favorite quote Ari got was probably near the end of the book: “I think I know what I know. But what I know is still pretty limited.” Basically any of the participants in the process to create the National Historic Site could have said it, but not all of them would have had the self-awareness to do so and Ari is fantastic at teasing out what people do think they know, but also why and how. He’s (mostly implicitly) making a larger argument that this is how all history works, piecing together incomplete and biased sources to try to find a meaningful workable narrative, and that was part of where I think it overlaps with the weird world of foster parenting. There are plenty of people involved in a case who think they know what’s going on but can’t share that with everyone or who enter something in the computer under the wrong kid’s name so a child is suddenly tagged with a sibling’s diagnosis or who get the child’s name wrong in the first place (which has happened to all three girls who’ve been in our care and is what I was originally planning to write about today) or who jump to conclusions because they think they’ve seen this story before or because it resonates with something in their own histories. None of us foster/adoptive parents, birth parents, caseworkers are ever going to know what happened to our beloved children in the gaps in their stories, and all children remember their lives with selective biases just like the rest of us do.

What I know about my girls and their families and my parenting is indeed pretty limited, but what I can control about that is my willingness to be open to multiple readings of that limited knowledge. Sometimes there’s someone like the one National Parks worker late in the process of haggling over how to reconcile various survivors’ and later visitors’ memories of the location who was able to find a plausible reading that validated all the major viewpoints and created a response that respected everyone’s truth. Sometimes, much as I hate talk about “agreeing to disagree,” I just have to be at peace with knowing that different invested parties are going to see things in mutually exclusive ways, especially in something as personal as a child’s life, safety, or custody. As Ari delineates so clearly, not only do people carry intergenerational pain through the personal stories they believe and use to define themselves, but people also create emotional connections to symbols and stories that then guide their identities and behavior. I look at this as sort of the definition of being human and accept that I’m more obsessed with the idea than your normal person, but I find a lot of meaning in looking at what people find meaningful.

In fairness to people who don’t have that inclination, when I tried to explain what I found exciting about the book to Lee by starting with a “plot” summary, she said, “That sounds boring as hell!” and, well, I guess that’s her story. She wouldn’t necessarily agree that understanding Mara’s and Nia’s families is helped by reading about slavery and debt peonage and the Great Migration and the Black Panthers, but to me it helps I can’t connect them to their ancestors directly, though we’ve got some access to those stories, and yet I can be aware of the larger narratives that lie behind theirs. I appreciate having Ari’s book to add to that mental backdrop not because it speaks to their history specifically but because it speaks to a history that includes incompleteness, uncertainty, and a somewhat satisfying ending that still doesn’t and can’t tie everything up because the world is still going and people are changing and we all only think we know what we know.

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prodigal

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.

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Easter Sunday

April 8, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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remorse

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.

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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.

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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.

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unexpectedly

November 27, 2012

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

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

Mara's locs

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

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

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

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

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Adoption Blogger Interview: Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan

November 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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a long post tightening some loose ends

November 12, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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