Tag Archives: foster care

Four Years Ago

Four years ago, Hope was here for a pre-placement visit. She spent two weeks with me, including Thanksgiving. I was a hot mess during that visit.  

I hadn’t got to a place where I really understood my soon-to-be daughter. In fact, I didn’t have an effiing clue. Looking back with clarity and a little rose-colored grace, I know that we were both trying our hardest to hold it together. It was scary as all get out to figure out how to be a family, but the alternative seemed like failure so the possibility of this visit being a disaster was a non-starter. We were doing this. 

But I hadn’t lived with anyone but the late, great Furry One for more than a decade. I lived all over my house. Hope’s room was still transitioning from a guest room. I was used to my mess, but no one else’s. I hardly ate meat at that time, so I had this super vegetarian friendly house. I didn’t buy snack foods; I didn’t buy ice cream (I was also about 30 lbs lighter, but who’s counting…). My house was not adolescent-friendly. It wasn’t even a little bit.  

But I was doing this thing. It was our second visit—the first one having been a month before and only about 4 days long. It was polite, hotel based and what I would probably call, more like kid-sitting than trying to start a mother daughter relationship. We had fun, but it wasn’t even parenting-adjacent.  

But during Hope’s trip to what has become our home, I felt like I was more in control. This was a home game. I would entertain Hope. I would introduce her to yummy, healthy foods. She would get to meet her new family for the first time. We would go visit what would end up being her school. We would pick out things for her room.  

We would bond and it would be glorious.  

But honestly, it wasn’t. I was bored senseless at the museum where Hope did her damndest to show me she was brilliant. She ate all of the gummy vitamins I bought her in one day. She showed her single digit emotional age more times than I care to remember. I fielded questions about why she did some of the things she did, which was hard since I didn’t have a clue why. I even managed to drop the Thanksgiving turkey all over the carpet right outside my front door in my condo building. It was a messy visit, literally, figuratively, emotionally. 

In the evenings I cried. The responsibility of caring for a kid was new and exhausting. I chugged a lot of wine after Hope’s bed time. I chronicled my experiences as a fledgling parent. I questioned if I was really cut out for mothering Hope. I doubted everything I knew about everything I thought I knew. I worried that backing out would be a shameful failure from which I would never recover. How could I reject this kid because I really wasn’t sure I wanted to give up my single carefree lifestyle? But as I cried and boozed myself to sleep during those two weeks, and as the day for Hope to return home drew closer, I found that my tears shifted to anticipating the pain of being separated from this scared kid who just wondered if I accepted and wanted her.  

It was all pretty humbling.   

Those two weeks, four years ago, Hope became my daughter. She was a scared, hot mess of a kid, who needed endless love, support, therapy, and permanence and an occasionally stern talking to. Even as we boarded the plane to take her back to her foster family, I couldn’t have known how I would come to love Hope. I loved her then, but my heart nearly hurts when I think about how much I adore her now. 

Four years later, I see so much growth in both of us. Lord knows we struggle on the daily. I mean, really, really struggle, but we’re so much farther than we were back then when we were trying to figure out if this family was even going to be a thing.  

As for me, specifically, I think I may have gotten the hang of this parenting thing; it’s still hella hard, but I think I’m doing ok. I’m not so secretly annoyed by how much food contraband has migrated into my house under the guise of being “teen friendly.” I bumbled along until I made a few parent friends. I got over my guilt about not going to PTA or band parent group meetings. I don’t like them; I’m not a joiner and as a single parent with a kid in multiple kinds of therapy, parent groups rank dead-arse last on every list. I made peace with only occasionally selling fundraiser crap (but also opting sometimes to just send a check because really, do any of us need a tub of pizza dough and ugly wrapping paper?). I also resumed my travel schedule, which I know puts a huge strain on us, but the experience has taught me a lot about Hope’s maturity and attachment to me. That girl loves her mommy, but doesn’t stress too much because as she says, “I know you’re coming home.”  

I have helped my daughter see places she never dreamed of—I’m currently trying to work out details for Spring Break in Greece, and I also get to see the world through her eyes. I’ve learned that I can still be selfish with my stuff and my time and that it’s ok. I have learned to say both yes and no when appropriate. I have new metrics by which to measure choices—what’s the impact on my family? Is it worth my time? Do I enjoy it? Do I really want to? I’ve also tried to create a framework for my daughter, who as far as I know, will be my only heir, to eventually experience financial freedom. I figure I’ll probably work until I keel over—partly because I enjoy working and partly because I’ll need to keep earning. But Hope? I’m doing my best to set her up to have a comfortable life filled with lots of choices, because choices equal freedom.  

Four years later, I’m an ok mother. I’m learning to be happy with being an ok mother. Mothering/parenting is hard work. Maintaining multiple identities is hard work. Centering my daughters needs in my life is still hard work. I’m doing ok at it all. There is always room for improvement. During the next four years, Hope will hopefully enroll in college, maybe even finish an associates degree. She will vote in her first election. She will get her driver’s license. She might move out into her own place. She probably will have finally visited South Korea (if we’re all not blown off the map yet). She’ll have many more passport stamps. She will continue to grow, continue to heal and thrive. And I get to watch from the front row. It’s the best reality TV show ever. It’s amazing.  

As Thanksgiving approaches, I needed to sit and just ponder that first visit to our home and how we’ve changed. I am incredibly grateful, and super proud of the hard work we’ve put in.  

Here’s to four more years.  

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Help is a Dirty Word

Hope has been my daughter for going on 3 years. It’s amazing how time flies.

This summer, we have spent quite a bit of time working on attachment and academic help. I’ve realized that Hope really has blossomed in some ways this summer.

We have some pretty amazing talks these days. She is really opening up. She has been pretty compliant when it comes to going to tutoring. Her compliance in doing chores has improved a lot as well.

Recently, she dropped something on me that really stunned me into silence though.

We were sitting in the car talking. It was kind of heated. I was trying to understand why asking for help was so difficult for her. Why did she also always refuse help? Didn’t she realize I was killing myself trying to help her be successful, to be her personal best, not for me, but for her. Why on earth was it difficult to just say yes sometimes. Why was it hard to just say, “Hey mom, can you help me?”

We’ve had this conversation before.

We’ve had this conversation several times. Her response is always the same: nothing, silence.

The affect was flat; the emotional walls went up and I would eventually just drop it.

Until one day recently, she responded to my inquiry and I was silenced by the disclosure.

In a nutshell, Hope had been in the foster care system so long and been through so many families that even after two years in a forever home, she loathed even having conversations about needing to be helped and being helped. In Hope’s experience so many people in her life have wanted to help her and their “help” resulted in:

  • Experiencing emergency removals and placements.
  • Portraying her parents as horrible people.
  • Long term foster care.
  • Moving her stuff in trash bags to a new foster home that would be in a better position to “help her.”
  • Being made to take Tae Kwan Do because it would “help” her manage her anger even though she hated it.
  • Being medicated.
  • Being told her math skills were bad enough to qualify for a special math program that made her feel dumb.
  • Having to go to daily private tutoring all this summer.

And the list goes on.

Asking for, receiving or being forced to accept help has never made her feel good about herself, never. Why would she ask for help when her self-esteem was already so low? Why would she trust anyone, even me, to help her and that it actually would result in a better quality of life?

In her mind, help was and is associated with the breakup of her family, being shuttled around and not wanted, having no voice in her life and having her low self-esteem validated.

Help is a dirty trigger word for her.

That was a serious lesson for me to learn. It never, ever occurred to me that she would have such negative association with the concept of help. It silenced me. It broke my heart and just underscored how deeply hurt my daughter has been over her life. Efforts to keep her safe and to rebuild her life remain threatening to her.

We didn’t talk about it for a few days. I mean, what could I say to her at first?

We eventually sat in the car one evening and had a good talk about what help is supposed to be; what the potential for “help” could be in her life and how “help” is designed to make Hope the best Hope she can be—not for me, but for her.

I think this is turning point for us.

I am hopeful that her disclosure means she is feeling safer and willing to work with me to take advantage of all the opportunities in her life [note the word I DIDN’T use!].

So, for now, help is a dirty word in our house. It will come back into our vocabulary at some point, but using different language with Hope is an easy fix if it means increasing the likelihood that she will accept the things she needs to improve her life.

 


The Losses are Real

I never understood the gravity of real loss until I became Hope’s mother. I look back and realize that there isn’t much at all that I’ve lost in my 43 years around the sun. Sure, I have grieved for long gone family members; lost some friends. I have grieved deeply about my infertility. I’ve lost some sentimental tangible items along the way.

And certainly each of these losses have touched me and either created or smoothed my edges. But, honestly, beyond the loss of fertility, none of my losses have been earth shattering, grand scale life altering.

I am fortunate.

I am privileged.

I think about that every time I trip or kick over an emotional rock in an otherwise innocuous chat with Hope.

There is so much loss in her life; it permeates her skin, her breath, her beating heart. There are times when the memories of the loss are just overwhelming, all consuming and it’s like she watching things on a loop in her head.

I see this a lot with Hope. And I still struggle to really understand what that means, what that must feel like. I don’t know what it’s like to try to put the shred of memories in my life back together because they are like broken, scattered marbles that were dropped down the side of a hard faced mountain. #trauma

When I think about it, I mean really think about it, I totally understand why it’s so hard to get her up in the mornings. I wouldn’t want to get up and consciously ponder all those things for the next 18 hours or so either.

Hope has some summer reading to do for school; recently she commented that she had no interest in reading the books that were assigned. At my initial inquiry what was it about the books that she didn’t like, she indicated that it wasn’t really about the books.

Hope said she loved to read when she was little, would curl up with books and read for hours, but she stopped reading when she went into the system. Her beloved books were lost to her; she doesn’t know what happened to most of them. She only was able to salvage a few; they are on her book case in our home. Hope briefly talked about how some of the books were so sentimental and they were just…gone, gone like so many other things that were lost during that time.

As it turns out, sitting down to dive into a good book triggers memories of all that’s been loss for Hope.

I thought back to my various efforts to get her to read over the last couple of years. I tried everything I could to get her to read. She read a couple of things; mostly faked it, though. I had no idea I was essentially saying, “Hey spend the next couple of hours thinking about losing everything, especially the stuff and the people who meant everything to you. No, DO IT NOW!!”

I just had no idea, but now I do. I told her I understood.

I’ll still encourage her to read, but certainly with a lot more sensitivity than before.

I hope there will be a time when Hope’s life isn’t consumed about all she’s lost—not for my sake, but for hers. She’s still a little girl though (even at 15), and in reality, all the trauma wasn’t that long ago. The path to healing is a long one, with lots of potholes. I am learning to be patient with her. I’m also learning to empathize more deeply. I realize just how fortunate I’ve been in this life, and I want Hope’s life to flourish. I want her to have faith again.

To get there though, we have to wade through loss like we’re in a mud bog, praying that it doesn’t take us down. It might be all in our heads at this point, but make no mistake—it’s all very, very real.


Adoption Culture Wars

So in the last few weeks I’ve had an opportunity to shift focus. Instead of writing, I’ve spent more time reading. I’ve been a little more active on a couple of online support groups (long time followers know I think these spaces can be a bit iffy). I’ve rested my brain. I’ve found new stories, learned about new foster care/adoption organizations, followed the #NAM2015 and #FliptheScript movements. It’s all been fascinating, largely because I’m a voyeur/people watcher-studier at heart.

Amazingly I will be getting some more time in a few months to have this breather when I have my other hand surgically repaired.

Of all my internet cruising, I found that there really are a few culture wars going on within the adoption community.

Though culture wars are fascinating, they are rarely pretty.

Where oh where do I begin?

How about the #ShoutYourAbortion/#ShoutYourAdoption trend from a couple of weeks ago? OMG, seriously, folks can’t have nothing. Folks who aren’t necessarily a part of the conversation have to clapback about ish that is really not their business.

So, in an effort to remove the stigma from abortion, a hashtag was born- #ShoutYourAbortion—because well, isn’t that how “movements” are launched nowadays?

Anyhoo, not to be outdone and/or ignored in a story, folks launched #ShoutYourAdoption as a response to all the abortion shouting in hopes of apparently reminding folks that adoption is an alternative to ending a pregnancy and shouting out all the families who apparently “saved” kiddos from inevitably being aborted.

exhaustion

Yeah, I get it. I do. Um, ok. But why come?

The conversations became ugly and corrupted, because well, adoption is actually *not* the opposite of abortion, and because this is what happens when critical conversations are reduced to less than 200 characters. As someone who’s been on both sides of the conversation, I would understand how it might serve to push more women who question continuing a pregnancy into a closet and away from meaningful support systems that could lead to different choices.

We all have belief systems, view points and experiences that allow us to sort information/data into categories—good or bad. This hashtag culture war about shouting to remove stigma resulted in exacerbating the frictional relationship among women. Ugh, messy and more disturbingly stigmatizing.

Really, really unnecessary.

Oh, then there was the American Girl drama.

So, AG profiled an adoptee in a two dad household. Amaya looks happy and healthy and is surrounded by lots of love. Some folks went nuts because the story dared to tell the story of the girl’s family—namely the part about two dads. They were offended because reading the AG newsletter and being “confronted” with an adoptee story that features parents in a same-sex coupled relationship was tantamount to an “agenda” being forced upon them through the pages of a voluntary read magazine.

Fo real doe?

Oh good grief, just stop it.

The child was in need of a home with lots of patience and love, she found one. She found one with two dads, and if that’s the worst thing that happens to her moving forward in her life, I’m going to assume that her future is looking pretty bright. She is on her way and apparently doing well. But the adoptee and her future is lost in all the hullabaloo about gay parenting and the emphasis is put on the love lives of her parents.

Or rather the love and sex lives of her parents, because isn’t adoption all about the parents and not the adoptee?

Again, really?

And like I do in this post, those protesting make reference to a larger culture war at play; however, their argument advances a theory that we are all being hoodwinked and bamboozled into the fall of Rome, because of all the gay folks running around.

For me, this is just another distraction from a focus that should be on the foster children and adoptees. I’m not saying that folks are not entitled to their own values and opinions, but really, can we really, focus on making sure kids who need homes find homes with stability and love and not get hung up on a bunch of foolery?

And finally, it’s National Adoption Awareness Month in the US; it’s [always] time to #FlipTheScript. I personally love to hear adoptees tell their story and discuss their trials and triumphs in being adopted. I am interested in hearing about them, from them. I’m also interested in hearing from birth families and first parents. But dang if I’m still not seeing support group posts about adoptee gratitude, about feeling defensive and threatened, about how their adoptive child isn’t so pissy about being adopted. Sigh.

Just because everyone’s story isn’t palatable to the ear, doesn’t mean the story isn’t true, isn’t valuable, isn’t worthy of you just listening and being empathic for all one stinking month of the year.

And because we *can* actually walk and chew gum at the same time, you can meaningfully listen to adoptees flip the adoption script while still celebrating your adoption, your adoptive family and whatever else you want to celebrate during the month year.

flipthescript

Before I became an adoptive parent, I never would’ve guessed that there was so much drama in the adoption world. I was certainly naïve since it’s really just a microcosm of the world as we know it.

Adoption has been a beautifully difficult path for me. It would be nice if the community could treat each other with kindness and respect. So many of us really do live with some real challenges related to adoption; it isn’t easy. These culture wars and others mean that we end up living in relative silence; there’s no more air and space for the challenges to get the support that families need.

My wish for NAAM2015 is that we just be kind and supportive to one another, no matter what brought us to this journey or even if we made choices that didn’t bring us to adoption.

End adoption culture wars. Don’t try to be kind and supportive, just be kind and supportive. Life is hard; just do it.

Yoda


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