Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Who Took Care Of Me When I Was A Baby?

As we were getting out of the van the other morning, Antwan randomly asked me, “Mommy, when I was a little baby, who took care of me?”

I kind of wanted to lie.  I didn’t technically take care of him when he was a little baby.  (Although 13 months is still very much a baby.)  I sure wish I had and I feel like I did. 

Yes, still a baby. :)
I kind of wanted to lie, so I did.

I looked at him and defiantly said “I did.”

But, I knew that wasn’t entirely ok or true.   I know some parents who adopt don’t tell their children until later, when the time is right. And, of course, if you live in a sitcom, the kids find out on their own, accidently. And, it's very traumatic, for about 15 minutes.

But, I don't live in a sitcom, despite the fact that I feel like I do sometimes. I also don't really have the option of not telling my kids that they are adopted. I'm guessing they'd figure it out pretty quickly. There are, after all, a couple of clues. ;)

We have talked to Antwan about being adopted. I will bring it up, in passing; hoping to make it part of normal conversation. We talk about it every year on the placement and finalization anniversaries.   I ceremoniously tell the kids how happy we were when we were told that we going to be their parents. But, Antwan's 5 and I doubt that he really gets it. And, why would he?   But, of course, William does. He remembers.   It's hard to believe that William was 5 when our lives together got started.

So, I don't know if the question came from the fact that Antwan was starting to get it or the fact that he's 5 and 5 year olds ask weird questions. The only thing I really knew was that it was an early morning reminder that there was a part of his life that I wasn't part of. And, as much as I'm glad that I'm here for this part and all the other parts, I wish I had been the one to take care of him when he was a baby. Although, I'm fairly certain that he would've been pretty high maintenance, so I probably should count my blessings. ;)

Anyway, in my typical "speak first, ponder appropriate response" later manner, I lied to my child. Of course, I knew as I said it that I would have to take it back. But, I think I just wanted to pretend for a minute.
Then, I awkwardly added "Well, when you were a little baby, someone else took care of you. Then you came to me and we adopted you and I became your mommy. Now I take care of you and always will."
first outing together

Hey, that wasn't bad! :)

Antwan didn't say anything and I didn't know what else to say, so I went back to rushing them out of the van and into school.
Adoption's a funny thing. It defines you and doesn't all at the same time. I don't really like hearing the phrase "adoptive mom" because I feel minimized. I'm just their mom and it doesn't need to be qualified. (Although I get the need for a clarifying title, in certain situations.) But, I'm also very proud that I adopted. And, I am particularly proud that I adopted these kids and that they are mine (all mine!).

I gotta say, I have enjoyed the fact that Lizzie and Antwan definitely don't think of me as anything else than mom. Not their mom now or their adoptive mom. Just Mom. And, I have wondered about William. I know he loves me and thinks of me as mom. But, does he dwell on the former care givers (or lack there of) and the fact that he is adopted? I don't know. But, I do know, at least, that he is pleased with the arrangement.

I also know that the time of blissful ignorance for Antwan is coming to an end and I guess I better get ready. At the beginning of the VPK school year, he started talking about our skin colors and how he wished his was pink like mine. And, now, he is asking inquisitive (and oddly timed) questions about his past. I guess I've got some explaining to do.

It's so much easier when they can't talk. :)
I will take care of you forever.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Points For Honesty?

Lizzie and Antwan are very close.  There are the typical brother/sister moments, of course.  But, in the end (and most of the rest of the time), they've got each others' back.
Antwan is very protective of Lizzie and I enjoy the knowledge that he'll only be one grade ahead of her in school.  God help the kid who decides to mess with Lizzie while her big brother is around.
William and Antwan used to share a room.  That was before I hid a camera, in a desperate attempt to see what they were really up to at night.  Turns out, they were up to a lot.  So we decided to try out a different living arrangement.  Lizzie and Antwan became roommates. 
Gone was my wonderful plan of making her room a girly, princessy paradise.  We moved in all the boy stuff and the room became even less organized than it already was.  Didn't know that was possible! ;)
I may not have a pink room, but it did get much more peaceful in the house. 
Most of the time, Antwan and Lizzie like going to bed because they enjoy hanging out.  (And, most of the time, William enjoys having his own space.)  Of course, they don't enjoy it as much when it's time to turn out the lights and go to bed; but transition time kind of rocks.
Last night, after a long day, I had my fingers crossed for an easy bedtime.  Lizzie and Antwan were in their room, not making much noise at all. 
So, I waited a few extra minutes before calling "Lights out!"
There was no response.

Me, again - "Lights out!"


For reasons, unknown to me, I yelled "Last chance!"
I then realized that I had just threatened them with their last chance to turn out the lights and go to sleep.  Maybe not my most effective parenting strategy...
Either way, there was still no response. 
Grumpy, I dragged myself out of my recliner.  (Hadn't intended to do that anytime soon.) and headed to the room.
I found them, both lying in Antwan's bed, playing with their Batman toys.  They barely even noticed me.
Still in official grump mode and notquite ready to embrace the cuteness (but, wow, it was cute!), I said "I called lights out.  Are you just ignoring me???'
Lizzie said "no," but Antwan, casually said "Yes."
I didn't know whether to admire his honesty, hope that he didn't really understand the question, or get offended.  I opted for not knowing what to say to the unexpected response.  I sent Lizzie back to her bed (she wasn't a fan) and turned the lights out myself.
And, I never heard another sound.  (Like I said, it was a long day.)
Sometimes he hangs out in her bed, too!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Doing The Right Thing

Since we were contacted by Patrick’s case worker, I have learned a couple of things.  I’ve learned that some people have strong opinions about pre-teen boys.  And, I have learned that the more someone tells me to do something, the more determined I get to do what I think is right.

And, what do I think is right?

What I think is right, is not necessarily trying to adopt him.  But, it’s not necessarily not.  What I really think is right is staying open to what is supposed to happen.  Brian and I both believe strongly that things happen for a reason.  If I got pregnant on our honeymoon, as was my master plan, we may never explored adoption.  It might never have occurred to us.  I’d like to think that we would have, but probably not.  And, if we had never explored adoption, I wouldn’t be the mother to 3 absolutely, amazing, wacky children.  But, I didn’t  get pregnant and we did explore adoption and I am mom to these wonderfully crazy, little children.  And, that is what was supposed to happen.  If you told me that I could snap my fingers and have that baby in my belly that I wanted so badly, but I wouldn't have William, Antwan, and Lizzie; the answer would be no, a million times no. 

This is why when the Patrick “storyline” began, we were both ready to let things go ahead and unfold, not to be redundant, but as they are supposed to.  Most people immediately wondered if we were going to try to adopt him.  It's a fair question and one that I don't mind answering; even though, I don't actually have an answer.  Some tried to squelch the idea right away, out of fear that we'd do something impulsive.  The thing is, we are aware that he's not a stray cat.  We're not going to let him stay because he keeps showing up at the door.  We also don't have to decide today because it's not like the Lizzie situation.  She was 2.5 weeks old and they were trying to place her in an adoptive home as soon as possible.  We had to decide and went with our guts (after our guts talked to each other a lot.)  And, as it turns out, our guts are pretty smart.  (Ok, enough of the gut talk!)  Lizzie is pretty amazing and our lives wouldn't be the same without her. 

So, when my big sister expressed her concerns, I didn't get upset.  She's earned that right.  This is not to suggest that I liked it.  No one wants to be told things that they don't want to hear. :)  But, it's ok.  And, when my mom was worried that we'd act impulsively, it was also understandable.  (After all, she's watched us rescue a lot of our stray cats...)  

The facts.  He's 12.  He's been through too much.  He's got issues that I have yet to see.  And, he's their brother. 

I'm ok with the concerned look in people's eyes because it's a concerning situation.  But, it's also exciting.  Regardless of how it is or ends up, these kids now have an opportunity to get to know each other.  There is currently no bad in that.

Ok, this is what I'm officially not ok with.   

We bought bunk beds.  We have been wanting some in William's room.  We thought it would be nice if he could have a sleep over and actually have somewhere for his friend to sleep.  And, to be totally honest, I've always wanted bunk beds, so his friend, sleeping over, might be me.  :)

I became more anxious to buy them when we realized that Patrick would most likely be visiting sometime in the summer.  He would need a place to sleep.  So, when I saw a set at the thrift store.  I calmly (excitedly) explained to Brian that it was a sign (because you never see bunk beds at the thrift store) and we should buy them (immediately).  They were also cheaper than any I had seen anywhere and I'd been doing my research.  So, we bought them.  We are now the proud owners of a set of bunk beds that still reside at the thrift store; because we have no way to get them home.   Spoiler alert: If you're one of my real-life friends, you might be getting a favor request!   Especially, if you have a truck.  Please answer your phone... ;)

Anyway, while paying, I got into a conversation with the cashier.  She's a nice lady who has also adopted transracially out of foster care, so I feel bonded to her.  She mentioned that the boys would have fun with the bunk beds.  I agreed and added that their 12 year old brother would be visiting and he'd now have a place to sleep.

She looked at me, intently and said "Just to visit?  Not to be in your home permanently?"

Yes, I answered, we were currently just planning visits.

"Oh, good  You've never been there, you don't know.  You couldn't pay me to take someone else's 12 year old...."

She said more.  How much they eat, etc.  But, I was stuck on the phrase "someone else's."
Doesn't she get it?  He isn't someone else's!  He's a dependent of the state.  He belongs to the case worker, the foster mother and the system.  (On a side note, by all accounts, the foster mother is wonderful and I met the case worker, so I know she's aweseome.)  He's not the birth mother's because, well, she sucked.  He's not his last adoptive parents' because the whole thing evidently sucked.  He deserves to be someone's.  Every kid does. 

For the record, the cashier really is a very nice woman and I know she had no intention of offending me.  Much less, get me rushing home to write a blog. ;)

It just bothered me and made my heart break for him a little more.  What has happened to these children is unfair.  And, it is not their fault.  He is not someone else's random 12 year old.  He is this 12 year old.  He is my children's brother.  He is a kid who likes wrestling, his Nintendo 3ds, and his siblings. 

So, I don't care if he's 2, 12, or 22.  He can come visit.  He can eat too much of my food.  My kids already do that, anyway.  And, I will try to make him feel loved.  That much I am sure of.   

And, that is definitely what I think is right.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

My kid's a nice guy.

From the beginning, which in William's case was at age 5, we have tried to instill compassion and courtesy in the kids.  William's counselor recently told me that kids with ADHD (like William) don't have empathy.  I quickly decided that was either just not true or that William was one of the "good ones."  Because every day, I see him doing more and more to make me proud and show me that an effort is being made.

Case in point.  We were at an arcade.  As we walked by, I saw a mother and daughter drop a cup full of tokens.  Now I'm proud of the fact that I always try to do the right thing, blah, blah.  But, I dropped the ball like they dropped the tokens  I was distracted by something and just kept walking.  When I glanced back, I realized that William wasn't with me, anymore.  Instead, he was over by the game, helping the mother and daughter pick up all of their tokens. 

I stood there, in awe of my son.  I realized that, yes, we had successfully instilled compassion and courtesy in him.  But, here's the thing.  You can't fake pure kindness.  No one would have thought anything of it, if he had kept walking.  Not even me.  He didn't look to make sure that I saw him do it.  Instead, he was so determined to do it that he forgot to let me know that he wasn't still walking with me.  His instinct was to stop and help. 

When he finished helping, he came back over to me.  I was almost in tears.  I hugged him and told him how proud I was of him.  He seemed a little confused by the attention.  But, I'm willing to wager, he didn't mind it one bit. :)

I've had many moments of pride in the past four years, but this was a big one. It was just a simple thing, but I bet it meant a lot to the them.  It definitely meant something to me.

It really hit home, yesterday. I found a cool tv stand at the thrift store which, of course, I just had to have. It's short and on wheels.  So, after paying, I was awkwardly pushing it towards the door. When I was about 2 feet away (about the distance of the mother and daughter who had dropped their tokens), a woman came in the door. I saw her glance at me and then continue walking. It would've been awesome if she had taken that extra moment to hold the door open for me, but she didn't. And, she wasn't under any obligation to do so. But, it would've been nice.   My mind went back to William and I knew that he would have. 

Somehow, in the midst of his exhausting ADHD, questionable choices, and determination to dance and sing almost every minute of the day (the boy is never tired!); he has turned into such a truly nice boy.  Well, really, he was a nice boy, all along.   

Very proud of his Bunny hat/nacho container!
There are many things that I have tried and will try to teach my children.  But, on that day, William taught me something.  And, turns out learning is fun.  And, you know, educational. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Can we adopt my brother?

"Can we adopt Patrick?"

We were eating dinner and William asked the question suddenly.  I don't really remember how we reacted, but, in my head, it was very dramatic and movie-like.  The table got silent for a minute and the question hung in the air...well, dramatically.  In reality, Lizzie and Antwan were probably making tons of noise, as they tend to do throughout dinner.  And we probably answered his serious question, in between "Lizzie, sit down and Antwan eat your food."

We had told William the good and bad news that morning.  The bad news.  His brother's adoption had officially failed and he was back in foster care.  The good news.  He wasn't deeply troubled and currently in a hospital like we had been led to believe.  We explained that, yes, adopted children can be returned.  But, no, it would never happen to him.  Never, ever, ever.  I repeated it several times.  Most likely, more times than necessary.  But, it wasn't that long ago that he admitted that he still worries that he'll have to go back.  So, I think it's ok that I erred on the side of overkill.

William was happy.  He mentioned his brother a couple of times at breakfast and then didn't say too much about it.  That's about right for a 9 year old; especially a 9 year old who doesn't know how to talk about serious stuff.

So, when he blurted out the question, Brian and I were definitely surprised.  Not really that he was asking, but that he was asking so soon.  We fumbled around with vague answers.  We don't know if it's even possible.  We don't know yet, how he's doing.  But, we promise to keep an open mind.  (God knows, we owe him that much.)  All the while, Brian and I exchanged looks and I continued to remind myself to choose my words carefully.

Then William started to "sell" him.  Patrick (official code name!) could help babysit.  He could go with us to DragonCon and dress up as "Men In Black" in the parade with them.

DragonCon 2011 parade

He could help me make "pie in the face" videos.  That one was my fault, really.  I joked that I wondered if he would mind getting pied in the face.  Clearly, I wasn't successfully choosing my words carefully. :) 

Not your typical day at the zoo.

His last reason was that he could take Karate with them.  And, I allowed myself a moment to imagine how cute that would be.

It was so sweet and so sad.  These are, of course, really bad reasons to adopt a child.  And, the fact that part of my son's reality involves him trying to figure out a way to be with his brother just made me so sad. 

I'd be lying if I said that the possibility hadn't crossed my mind. Well, both of our minds, really.  We had already discussed the idea.  And, many people in my life, knew that we had already pondered it and were quick to give their thoughts on it.  But, despite the concerns of some of those around us, we are aware that it's not something that should be done impulsively.   

Up until this point, we hadn't told William that we had already arranged a visit.  Brian's idea was to surprise him, that morning.  It was a great idea and I loved it.  But, sitting there at the table, listening to William, it was too much for me.

I looked at Brian.  "I can't take it." 

He knew what I meant.  "Are you sure?"   (Perhaps Brian wanted to wait because he knew how crazy William would end up driving me, with his excitement, haha.)

But, I said I was sure and then blurted out that we had arranged to see Patrick on the Friday of our upcoming mini-vacation in Orlando.

From that moment on, William was over-the-moon.  He talked to Lizzie and Antwan about it.  He talked to me about it.  He talked to Daddy about it.  He talked to the cashier at Publix about it.  He talked about it.

And, from that moment on, I was full of curiosity, concern, and excitement.  I talked to Lizzie and Antwan about it.  I talked to William about it.  I talked to Brian about it.  I did bite my tongue at Publix, though.  :) 

It was a hot topic.

So, Friday morning, we were getting ready to go meet up with the case worker and Patrick.  I don't know why I was so nervous, but I was.  I re-did Lizzie's hair, at least 3 times.  I knew it was ridiculous to worry about what a 12 year old boy was going to think about his little sister's hair, but it mattered to me.  Finally, I realized I was being a little neurotic (I do that) and gave up. 

A little while later, we were sitting at McDonald's, waiting.  I couldn't eat anything and just kept fidgeting (I do that, too.)  It just seemed like such a big deal.  Oh, that's right.  It was a big deal.  Their brother was coming.  William who secretly hates being the big brother was going to get to be a little brother for the day.  And, Lizzie and Antwan were going to get to know him.  It was a very big deal. 

Then, I looked out the window and there he was. 

It couldn't have been more anticlimactic.  (That was pretty much a guarantee since I tend to build things up in my head.)  He was intently playing a Nintendo 3ds, which turned out to be exactly like William's.  (Yay for a bonding opportunity!)  He was polite, but quiet.  He casually hugged the kids and good-naturedly tolerated me when I rushed to hug him.  It didn't take a genius to see that he was an interesting combination of a typical teenager and a kid who has been through way too much.  The protective wall was firmly built around him and who could blame him for that?

Regardless, within minutes, we were alone with the four kids and some fun money to go next store to the Family Fun Factory.  So, we did.  And, we had fun.

Through the day, Brian and I saw glimpses of the kid that Patrick could be, should've been, or maybe we just saw the kid that he is when he's not around virtual strangers.  Either way, it was nice to see. :)

My favorite example.  At almost every meal, if there is a straw available, one of us is blowing it at someone.  It's a fun little tradition that has occasionally turned into an embarrassing moment when a straw is blown too far.  So, it was no surprise when one of my kids blew a straw at McDonald's.  Brian then used it as an opportunity to joke around with Patrick.  He made a comment about going after him and blew the straw.  Patrick looked at the straw as it blew over his shoulder and said nothing.  It was a little disappointing, really.  It suddenly seemed pretty unlikely that he'd be letting me hit him with a pie, anytime soon... ;)

But, a few minutes later, as he was coming back from getting a drink, he walked by and blew a straw at Brian.  He made a quick comment that the small straws blow better, sat back down and went back to his 3ds.  There's silly in there, after all!

Brian and I are big believers in things happening as they are supposed to happen. And, I don't know what is going to happen.  But, I know that William loved spending time with his big brother.  Antwan thought he was really cool and made sure to sit next to him as much as he could.  Lizzie is now calling him "Big Patrick" to differentiate from her friend at school who has the same name (and is now called "Little Patrick.").  We are going to set up more visits and I think we're all looking forward to getting to know him better.  Maybe we are meant to adopt him; maybe we aren't.  Maybe he doesn't even want to be adopted.  Maybe we are just meant to be the adults who allow him to hang out with his brothers and sister.  Who knows?  I don't.  But, I meant it when I told William that we'd keep an open mind, so I will.  And if Patrick will let me love him, at the very least, as my children's brother, then I will.  Because I have many flaws, but I am really good at loving kids. 


Goal 1: Reconnect siblings.  Check!

Goal 2: Hide the battery charger to both of their 3ds', in progress...   ;)

Boy Bonding

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sibling Separation in Foster Care

There are many things that happen when a child is removed from the birth family.  Some good, some bad.   In my opinion, the most tragic is sibling separation.  It's a reality of foster care.  Siblings are separated due to availability in foster homes, to raise their chances of being adopted, or for various other reasons.  Even as just a pair, my boys were passed over twice before we found each other.  The fact that one couple only wanted Antwan and the other didn't want to adopt black children; is disturbing, but also a lucky break for us.   

My three live together with us, but there are other biological siblings.

They have a sister.  She is probably about 23.  Brian and I have never met her and don't really have any idea where she is.  William barely remembers her.  I don't know too much about her except that she took care of her younger brothers when the birth mother wouldn't/couldn't.  I know that she was never adopted and aged out of the situation.  She is also the one that alerted the appropriate people when the birth mother was pregnant with Antwan and doing drugs.  She was worried about him.  I am grateful for that.  So, without ever meeting her, I'm pretty sure that she kind of rocks.

They have a brother who is 16.  After hanging out in the system for too long (because any time at all is too long), he was adopted by a local family.  They are very nice people and he is very happy. Sadly, we have lost touch with him. When my phone broke, as mine often do, I lost his mom's number.  But, the good news is, just today, I was able to track it down from the agency that had their cases.

Then there is Patrick.  That's not really his name, but I'm not sure what the rules on confidentality are and Patrick's a nice name.  So, he's Patrick! :)  He's 12 and was adopted a few years ago.  It seemed like he had his happy ending.  But, it turned out, not so much.  He had all kinds of issues.  They tried all kinds of things to help him; including therapy and a trip to Jacksonville to see his older brother and my three.  This is the one and only time that I met him.  It was the first time that William had seen him in a couple of years, at least.  And, it was the first time that he met Lizzie and Antwan.  That's seriously got to mess with a kid's mind.

They spent the day together.  It was amazing.  I am an emotional girl and was so overwhelmed by the fact that they were together, like they were supposed to be.  The only sad thing was that, of course, the oldest sister wasn't there. 

The day ended.  Everyone went back to life.  I brought home our kiddos.  The oldest brother went back to his foster setting (he hadn't been adopted yet).  And, turns out, Patrick went back to driving his adoptive parents crazy. 

Long story, slightly shorter.  It went from bad to worse.  From email updates, I learned that Patrick and his parents were all miserable and he showed no interest in being in the family.  Eventually, a psychiatrist labeled him as a sociopath (but didn't formally diagnose) and he was admitted to a hospital.

We sat down with William and tried to explain it to him.  But, how in the world do you explain something like that to your child?  Lucky for me, Brian was involved.  He's really good at that stuff.  But, no matter how good Brian is with words; William, obviously, was still very upset.  And, we were left to deal with his minor (although they didn't seem minor at the time) behavioral issues that followed, with no way to really make him feel better.  Because there was no way to feel better about it.  He was just a kid who didn't ask for his reality and was suffering so much because of it.  We were devastated that Patrick was in such turmoil and angry beyond words at the birth mother for damaging him so much.   

Time passed.  I didn't hear any more from his adoptive mom.  We assumed he was wasting away in an institution.

Then, the phone rang and it was his caseworker. 

Via voicemail, she explained that he had been returned to the system by the adoptive parents (Yes, that's actually allowed) and they were hoping to estabish some contact with his siblings.  I left a message saying, of course.

Then I proceeded to obsess the rest of the night about how he was doing.  Was he a sociopath?  Was he angry?  Was he a danger to our children?

When I talked to the worker, the next day, I asked how he was and she said he's doing great.

He's happy in his foster home, is on the A-B honor level, is in the 6th grade, and is an all-around sweet kid.  I was surprised and relieved.  And, then I almost cried.  (And, she probably wondered what was up with this crazy lady.)

But, we had worried about him for so long and he's actually doing well!  Such great news! 

He has some minor and not surprising diagnoses, but he's ok.  And, whatever happened with his adoptive family, it was evidently a bad combination of a bad match and a kind of messed up kid.  I can't explain it; I'm just so glad he's apparently ok now.  

So, we arranged to see him next week.

William was really, really happy when we told him that he gets to see his brother.  We explained that his brother had been returned to the system.  And, yes, that happens, but never, ever to him.  I hope he believes us.  Thankfully, he seems to. 

I'm not sure how to explain this to Lizzie and Antwan.  We have talked about Patrick.  There are pictures of both older brothers on our wall.  But, it's still such an odd concept for a child that age to grasp.  But, our life seems to be full of odd concepts, so maybe it will be ok.

They say that hate is a strong word.  But, I can honestly say that I hate that siblings have to be separated.  It's just not fair.  The victims get punished.  What's up with that?  But, it is what it is.  And, it can't be helped and there are no easy answers.  So, we'll make the best out of a still really, really good situation.  And. hopefully, in time, there will be more and more opportunities for each of them to connect.

But, right now, the important thing is, after all this time, the kids will spend an afternoon with their brother.  And, I will get to find out if he can put up with their emotional mom because I am so hugging that boy!