Friday, September 30, 2011

From non-relative placement to forever mom, looking back to 2 years ago (September 29, 2009)

On September 11, 2008, a  case worker brought Lizzie to us and we fell in love.  We were contacted because we had already adopted the boys.  In the first conversation, we were asked if we would like to adopt her and advised that it would be an expedited process.  We said yes, but then things got complicated, and almost went horribly wrong.  Because we did not have a foster care license (We had adopted, but never fostered.), we were classified as a non-relative placement.  Through the year, we learned that meant that we had no rights, no financial assistance, and no idea what was going to happen next.  We also learned that there was no end to the love we had for this amazing little girl.  On September 29, 2009, after the biological parent rights were terminated, we went before a judge and he made her legally ours.  And, then I breathed again.

We were getting ready to go to the court house, like we had so many times, in the last year.  But, this time it was different.  This time the kids were coming along.  This time we were all dressed up and smiling.  This time, we weren't wondering what was going to happen.  This time, we knew that Lizzie was about to legally become our daughter.  It had been a long year.  There were lots of ups and downs. A lot of sleepless nights.  A lot of tears.  But, on this day, everything would change.  I couldn't guarantee that there would be no more ups and downs, sleepless nights, or tears.  But, I could guarantee that when I went to bed that night, I would be Lizzie's mom.  And, that was going to be perfection.

When we walked into the courthouse, I couldn't help but look around for the biological parents; even though I knew they wouldn't be there.  But, I did see one of their attorneys. She and another attorney stopped to admire Lizzie and the boys.  They started to discuss who the kids looked like and call her by her birth name.  I was instantly upset.  Aside from my gut reaction, it was also a confusing conversation for the boys to hear.  Then I realized that after a long year of playing the game, being patient with all the changes, staying silent (because no one was listening anyway); I finally didn't have to.  I told them that I didn't want to hear about that on this day.  They weren't expecting my response and I didn't understand why they weren't expecting my response.  But, they stopped.

We headed to the court room.  Family and friends were there.  Court house employees were there.  Our current case worker was there.  Our original case worker who no longer worked for the agency was there.  Our attorney was there and the attorney who had refered us to her were there.  Many had gotten emotionally involved.  The judge came in and the adoption finalization began.  For the first time when we stood in front of the judge, he was talking to us.  On all the previous court dates, we had stood silently, as events transpired around us.  We were there to answer questions on the well-being of the child.  We were not required to be there.  But, we were.  We were there to make sure everyone knew we were there.  But, not anymore.  Today, the judge was smiling.  Everyone was smiling,   Today, he made Lizzie our daughter.  It was a blur.  I remember trying very hard to speak slowly and clearly.  I remember trying to hold a restless Lizzie.  I remember when he said that she was ours.  I remember crying and I remember the bailiff coming to me with a box of tissues.  I remember feeling the unexplainable feeling.  It really is such a strange thing to love a child as your daughter for months and months before a bang of the gavel makes her your daughter.  But, that was what happened and it was amazing,  We left that day as a family, just like we were when we walked in, but different.  Because for the rest of our lives, no one could come and take her away.

During our year, we had met many people.  Some were wonderful, some were apathetic, and some were somewhere in between.  I had such anger towards the system.  But, not anymore.  I think that's important to say.  It was a traumatic year and many mistakes were made.  At the  heart of it, most people were trying to do the right thing; even though, I didn't always agree with how they were going about it.  In the end, Lizzie was protected.  And, she ended up where I, of course, believe she belonged.  It's a complicated thing, trying to decide the futures of these children.  And, these children are reliant on employees of these agencies, lawyers, and judges to make that call.  Lizzie was placed with us.  We were told that we could adopt her, but then told, maybe not.  The boys bonded with a sister that they might lose.  And, the biological parents bad-mouthed us and judged how we cared for her.  It was not easy.  And, while it was totally about us, we had to remember according to the system, it was not.  We were in charge of keeping her safe and healthy.  The focus was whether the biological parents would complete their case plan and do what they needed to do.  But, in our case, they wouldn't.  In the end, they wanted the drugs more than they wanted her and we wanted her more than anything in the world.  Would I do it again?  Yes.  Would I adopt from the system again?  Absolutely.  Would it drive me crazy? Probably.  Would it be worth it?  Yes!

Right after court, we went to lunch with the family.  Later, we went to dinner with our friends.  We came home and put our kids to bed.  I don't remember what I did on September 30th.  I know it was a Wednesday.  I know William had to go to school and Brian probably went to work.  I probably bummed around the house with Lizzie and Antwan.  Or maybe we went to the park.  The only thing that I know is that I was happy.  Really, really happy.

                                                             Video of the finalization!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Raising My Self-Confident Child.

My Antwan.  He's smart, compassionate, and a fast runner.  Most things come easy to him.  He's absolutely beautifiul.  And, in many ways, he's become my biggest challenge.  William is eager to please and is insecure.  Therefore, he really tries to do what I ask of him.  Antwan is eager to please, but not the tiniest bit insecure.  And, therefore, will only sometimes try to do what I ask of him.  The rest of the time he will simply explain why he didn't.

From early on, it was clear that Antwan had an opinion on how the world should be.  It was a little funny when he was a baby, he would get all worked up when his toys were moved in spots that he didn't put them in. But now that he's 4, it's sometimes a little hard.  He has no time for these silly ideas about me being in charge.  We're a team.  He really believes that.  If he thinks I'm being unreasonable, he will tell me, with no fear (and no interest) of contradiction.  He's not a mean child.  He's not a rude child.  He's got a heart as big as...a really big state (I don't do geography.)  On most days, he will bring home extra candy from the treasure box at school, so he can share with us.  He just thinks that he's got it all figured out.  And, when I watch how he takes care of Lizzie and, even, William; I sometimes think he's right.   

We met Antwan and William for the first time on January 31st, 2008.  They were both so little and Antwan was still crawling.  (This meant that I was the one that got the first steps.  I'll always be grateful to the universe for that.)  He didn't talk much (but soon he did.)  It was clear that the foster parents took adequate care of him, but we don't think they spent a lot of time talking to him, as his language development is the only thing that is delayed.  It seems that he is about a year  behind.  It's all in his head, but he can't always get the sounds out clearly.  Now, with all the 4 year old thoughts floating through his head, he sometimes has trouble expressing them.  And others sometimes have trouble understanding him. 

The good news is Antwan has confidence.  If he is not understood, he will keep on repeating it, usually very patiently.

So, back to that compassion of his.

The other day, he was cleaning his room.  This really means that I was cleaning his room while complaining about how he trashes his room.  He does help clean, but needs specific directions like "put this there."  I look forward to the day when I can send him to his room and he'll clean it.  Will that day ever come?  I have no idea.  So, as I complained about the mess, he would answer, calmly, "I'm sorry, Mommy.  I'll try not to mess up my room anymore."  He and I both knew that this wasn't true.  But, he effectively stopped my rant.  Well-played, Antwan.

As I sat on the floor, picking up toys, he sat behind me and started to rub my back.  My back has been hurting a lot lately and, although, I hadn't said anything, he assumed, correctly, that it was. 

Then, he said.  "I'm rubbing your back to make it feel better.  When I get bigger and you get smaller, I'll take you to the little mom doctor to make you feel better."

He had just given me a scary glimpse into my future.  A future where I will be a little old lady whose large (Have you seen his muscles?) black son towers over me.  I don't want to be a little old lady and I hate going to the doctor.  But, ignoring that, I also felt very loved.  I am so proud of my high-maintenance, stubborn, ridiculously self-confident son who means it when he promises to take care of his little mom.  Although, I see many lectures from him in my future. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Adoption Placement Memories (3 years ago, I met my daughter.)

September 11 is a date that will be remembered by Americans everywhere, always.  It was a terrible day that shouldn't have happened.  But, for us, September 11th (2008) also represents a new beginning because it was the day that we met Lizzie.  I'm aware of the irony.  On the date when so many lost so much, we gained so much.  On this day, We held her for the first time.  We looked into her eyes and we introduced her to her brothers.  It was amazing, scary, overwhelming perfection. 

I wasn't there when the case worker brought her because I was held up at work.  I don't think I will ever forgive the universe for that.  But, when I came home, there she was.  It is a surreal experience to walk into your house and meet your daughter.  It would be a little over a year before she actually was, by legal definition, my daughter.  But, really, as soon as I walked into the house, saw Brian happily holding her, unceremoniously said "Let me have her!" and yanked her (gently!) out of his arms; she was my daughter. :)

As I've blogged about before, we went through a rough year.  The quick, easy process was anything but that.  But, on September 29, 2009, we finalized our adoption and she was legally Elizabeth Eileen Parker (my grandmother's name).    It's taken a long time to stop dwelling on the angst.  But, I did.  (Although, I still can't talk about it without wanting to cry.)

Now, I'm left with an amazing little girl.  And, at all times, when I look at her, I still feel a sense of awe that she is mine.  I have the same feeling with the boys, but, with them, I am spared an awareness, in the back of my mind, that they almost weren't mine.  Because once we were matched with the boys, it actually was a quick, simple process, although it didn't really feel that way, at the time.

Lizzie turned 3 on the August 23rd and, it was a fun day. 

It blows me away that this much time has passed.  When Lizzie turned 1, we knew that we were going to get to adopt her, but hadn't been officially able to yet.  When Lizzie turned 2, I was keenly aware and kept pointing out that it was the first birthday that she was officially ours.  For that reason, I obsessed about how we would celebrate and wanted to make sure it was  special.  (It was.)  But, this year, when she turned 3, she was my daughter and it was her birthday.  I still obsessed about how we were going to celebrate, but only because I am obsessive  I didn't really think about anything beyond that.  And, that was pretty cool.