Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fostering to Adopt. Not Easy but worth it.

"Dragon*Con is the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe!"  (  And, it happens every Labor Day weekend.  We had been going for years.  We had gotten to meet our favorite celebrities

and spend time with Brian's side of the family (he's from the Atlanta area).  And, we always spent a lot of time talking about how much fun kids would have there.  (It always came back to kids.) 

And, after all these years of going, this year, in 2008, was going to be very different.  Because we were getting ready for our first Dragoncon with kids.  We were focused on getting the boys ready and figuring out how we were going to afford the trip at all, with two new sons.  We couldn't even begin to imagine that just a few days after we'd come back, our lives would change again and I would get the other call that would "change our life."  It was the call that turned our world upside-down, the call that introduced us to the frustrating, but well-intentioned side of the system.  This was a side that we had been spared by adopting children who were already available for adoption.  It was the call that would steal my sleep for a year, due to late-night feedings then later followed by nights of endless worrying.  But, it was one of the best calls ever because it brought me my Lizzie.

A wise man once told me that things work out how they are supposed to.  That was Brian.  He is my Ricky to his Lucy Ricardo (yes, he calls me that).  He is the eye of my storm.  He is whatever other random analogy I can come up with.  He is logical and I am ruled by emotion.  So, when we were waiting to find and be found by the boys, he would tell me that he knew things would work out how they were meant to.  I took great comfort in these words, even though it did not make me feel more patient.  But, he was right, it did work out like it was supposed to and we became parents to William and Antwan.

As we went through the year of Lizzie drama, Brian continued to assure me that things would work out and he was right.

But, even Brian had no words on the day that we came the closest to losing her.  It was a day that we listened in horror as the biological parents' lawyers told the judge that they had been staying off drugs, but in reality, they hadn't been tested.  It was a day that he granted unsupervised visitation pending a successful home study.  (They later failed the home study because they failed drug tests.)  It was a day that Brian tried to cut the grass when we got home and could barely do it because he couldn't stop crying.  And, on this day, in court, I couldn't say anything because I wasn't allowed to.  It was a really bad day.  It was the worst day. 

I had never known what it would feel like to lose your child.  And, for us, she was; regardless of what the law said, at the time.  Thankfully, I only got to the point of feeling like I might lose her.  And, wow, it was awful.

I write this from the adoptive parent's perspective.  The system is not designed for us and, quite frankly, it shouldn't be.  It's designed to try to reunite children with their biological parents, if at all possible, and to protect the children.  Biology wins and, in many cases, it should.  Anyone getting involved in the foster-to-adopt side of the system needs to be ready to endure visitations, court dates, constant changes and possible losses.  This is exactly why we didn't want to get involved in it.

Yes, it is one of the surest ways to end up with a baby...eventually.  But, we wanted to be parents to the children that were meant to be ours, regardless of their age.  Sure I wanted a baby, I'm only human.  But, I also wanted a child.  And, as I pondered cribs and mobiles, I was also looking into the faces of older children on my computer screen.  And, then I knew I didn't care.  I just wanted to be a mom to the child that needed me to be his/her mom.

The first child that we fell in love with was an 11-year old. Her name was Elizabeth (the name we had chosen long ago for our daughter).  There were many children after her, of all ages.  Some we were officially passed over for and some we didn't hear anything about after inquiring.  The waiting was hard and made me a little crazy.  But, then there were William and Antwan.  And, life was good. 

So, off we went to our weekend of geek.  We all dressed up as pirates and the boys were batmen.  It was fun.

We came home from our weekend trip.  We were happy, exhausted (wow, it's less relaxing with kids!) and broke (wow, it's more expensive with kids!).  We had no idea that we were, in fact, about to end up with a baby.  But, we were.

So, I got the call.  The biological mother had another baby.  She's 2.5 week olds.  She had drugs in her system (and cigarettes, we later learned), but seems alert and was healthy.  Any potential disabilities wouldn't show up until later. (But, they didn't.)  The process would be expedited and she would be ours very quickly.

Two days later, Lizzie arrived and a year of blissful happiness combined with seemingly endless torture begun.

We didn't know that our experience would be pretty much the opposite of expedited.  We didn't know that caseworkers would schedule last minute visits, then other caseworkers would schedule last minute visits to make up the other workers' last minute visits because they quit or got fired (both things happened).  We didn't know that I would agree to transport Lizzie to a visit, then spend the rest of the afternoon vomiting because it upset me so much.  We didn't know that Antwan would get upset and confused every week when the driver took Lizzie away for three hours.  We didn't know that we would find ourselves in the exact situation that we had decided not to put ourselves in. 

But, we did know we loved her and that there is no question that we would do it again.

I would take the tears, the fears, and something else that rhymes.  As long it would mean that I would have this perfect, almost 3 year old girl who is currently standing by my chair, inexplicably letting me type, as she flings Antwan's leapster into the chair, way too hard.  Because she is amazing; really, really amazing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Foster Care Memories After Adoption

Leaving the park today, William randomly says, " I'm lucky to have a family.  I would have had a bad life if you and Daddy hadn't found us."  It's random statements like this that stop me in my tracks, in one way, and then at the same time, I take them in stride because it's stuff that I think about a lot.

I don't know how it is for other parents.  But, I spend a lot of time thinking about how my kids came to be mine.  Sometimes, it's because it boggles my mind that this is our life.  Sometimes, it's because I'm thinking about their previous reality or what their future reality would have been without us in it.  Sometimes, it's because I feel pressured to give them a good life since we chose it for them, but other times I am comfortable in the understanding that life is not always parks and fun.  Sometimes, it's cleaning your room, doing your homework, and being dragged around to stores.  Most often. though, it's because I want to make sure that I don't lose sight of how much we wanted them.  And, we did. 

So, when William brought this up, I wasn't expecting it, but didn't mind talking about it.  I told him that I didn't know what his life would've been like, but I was glad we found him.  I pointed out that it's possible that he would've continued to grow up in foster care like so many other kids do.  (I said this to increase his awareness of how lucky we all were, not just to toot our proverbial horns.)

Then he started talking about his foster home.  He said that the other kids got all the special stuff and he didn't get anything.  After some dissecting of "William-talk," I figured out that he was referring to the biological children of the foster parents.  In all the training classes, they tell you that they want you to treat the kids like family.  But, unfortunately, William didn't feel that way.  That's another blog, though.  One that I can't write.  And, suddenly, it made sense why William gets jealous so quickly when anyone else gets something.  He doesn't make a fuss, but we can tell it bothers him and sometimes he acts out in subtle ways.  All kids get jealous and all parents should try to keep it as even as possible, including us.  But, with William, I now think it also feels like potential proof of his fear that he's not as important.

I really didn't know what to say.  I was standing outside the van, sweating, leaning in to talk to him about a really serious topic.  And, I had nothing.  I wanted to say something to wipe away all of his doubts, fears, and bad memories.  But, that wasn't going to happen.  So, I just told him that we were a family now and that he, Antwan, and Lizzie all deserved the special things and that we would do the best we could to give them the best life possible.

He seemed satisfied with that.  He talked a little more about one of his foster sisters and how she had the same past as him.  But, by the time I got in and turned on the air, he had moved on to Spongebob on the dvd player.

When we got home, there was a package for him.  I had ordered him a wolverine costume (his pick) and he had been anxiously waiting for it.  When he opened it, he discovered that the costume included the claws (I had made sure of this.) 

"You got me the claws?!"
"Of course, you gotta have claws."
With an extremely grateful and surprised tone.  "Wow, Mom, you are really nice to me." 

This was so sweet and so sad, all at the same time.  After three years, he was still a little surprised that I would make the extra effort for him.  It felt good to be appreciated and I want him to be grateful.  I just don't want him to be surprised. 

He spent the rest of the afternoon in the costume.  At one point, he came over, unexpectedly, and hugged me. "Thank you for buying this for me."

Like I've said before, he does a really good job of pretending that nothing bothers him.  I can't imagine what it's like to be uncared for by a biological parent, in almost every possible way and then put in a foster home where he felt second best (regardless of their presumed good intentions).  Then we show up.  I have to remember that he has spent less time with us than he has in all of his previous realities, so I suppose it's hard to trust it or to break the mental cycle of before. 

But, I do love that boy.  I love the fact that he is currently sitting in a spongebob chair watching tv while wearing a wolverine costume.  I don't really love the fact that he's messing with the mask so much that it will probably rip.  But, I guess I can live with that.  Cause, he's all mine now. :) 

I love those children more than I can ever say.  At the very real risk of sounding melodramatic, I think my official purpose in life is to be their mother and to do the best job I can.  Some days, I do a pretty good job (yesterday we had a tea party).  Some days, I grumble non-stop about the toys all over the living room (actually, that was yesterday, too...).  But, they do know I love them and hopefully, that will be enough.