Tuesday, May 29, 2012

There are way too many kids without parents.

"Nearly 81.5 million Americans have considered adopting a child. If just one in 500 of these adults adopted, every waiting child in foster care would have a permanent family."


I ran across this statistic, the other day.  To me, it's both inspiring and depressing.  It's kind of amazing that it would take that little to solve the problem, but also disheartening that not even one out of 500 people adopt.  I talk to people all the time.  We're a walking PSA for foster care adoption.  The fact that my children are clearly not biological puts us in the position of ending up in conversations with strangers.  And, we do.  I have encouraged many, many people to actively explore adoption because many, many people have told me that they have considered it.  I don't think I've talked to 500 yet, but I sure hope I've gotten a couple to at least look at a websites that I recommend.

Last week, William got into some trouble at school for cheating. I was very upset, of course, so he wasn't getting a lot of enthusiasm from me on anything. To start off my exciting list of consequences, I sent him off to clean his room. I almost always include that in a consequence because his room is almost always messy. And, well, that just bugs me. :)

On one of his trips out of his room, (it's amazing how many times a child needs to come out of a room that he should stay in), he brought me a note. It said "I love you more than my video games." He was referring to the xbox and was quoting what Antwan said to Brian, a few days ago. William doesn't always know how to express himself and knew that Antwan had gotten a reaction when he said it. So, despite the fact that it was not remotely relevant, he tried it out. And, yeah, he got a reaction.

I gave him a hug and told him I loved him, too. Then, I asked him, "You know that, right? I'm very upset with you, but I always love you."

He looked at me with a confident smile that seemed to say, I knew it but wanted to hear it, and said "I know."

Then I realized that he does know. Despite all my mistakes, and I make them, he knows. I am constantly worrying that I'm not giving him enough emotional support, that I'm not hugging enough, laughing enough, smiling enough, or listening enough. But, in that moment, he confirmed the most important thing, I am loving him enough.

I want my kids to feel secure in our love. It came easier to Lizzie and Antwan as they have the luxury of not remembering anything else. But, William had to learn that he could take my love for granted. I'm sure his moments of doubt are not gone forever, but we're on the right track.

It matters so much that he knows that he's loved because he didn't always have that. And, unfortunately, there are way too many kids out there, right now, who still don't have it.

There are 107,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted.  (Not to mention all the kids who are in foster care waiting to find out what their futures will be.)  107,000 kids.  Let's break that down, that's like... Wait, I really don't need to break it down because that's like 107,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted!   And, that's just awful.   And, this year, 20,000 children will age out of the foster care system without being adopted at all.  20,000 kids will legally become adults and have to figure out how to actually be adults all at the same time.


There are all kinds of depressing statistics associated with how well that goes, like...

*most lack a high school diploma.
*only 6 percent go on to earn college degrees.
*40 percent will at some point be homeless.


National Foster Care month is a month to be grateful for the foster parents who take care of these children and to be reminded of these kids who's life of constant insecurity is their normal. Of course, I'm generalizing. I don't know how each child feels and there are definitely foster parents who give their all to make these kids feel secure and loved. But, the fact is if a judge or a case worker somewhere decided for whatever reason that a change needed to be made, any of those kids could be moved somewhere else, just like that, and the foster parents would have to say goodbye and good luck. That makes me feel insecure just thinking about it.

I grew up with both of my parents. They were there.  They loved me and I never, ever doubted that. I didn't realize how fortunate I was to just be a kid and know that my parents would take care of me and love me. But, I really, really was.

I am proud that I have adopted my three children.  We have saved them and they have definitely saved us.  

Three children seems significant until you consider that it only brings the grand total number of children who are waiting for homes down to 106,997.  But, still it's something and it helped. My kids have a future of security and love with parents who think they are just amazing.   They will get the chance to love us, think they hate us, think that we don't understand anything, and eventually (hopefully sooner than later!) like us again.

Every child deserves that. 

But, this year, 20,000 won't have it. 

That's just not right.

Forgive my repetition, but... "nearly 81.5 million Americans have considered adopting a child. If just one in 500 of these adults adopted, every waiting child in foster care would have a permanent family."


Wouldn't that be awesome? :)

*Visit for information on adopting a child and other ways to help! :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's National Foster Care Month, so I have another my foster care themed blogs!  :)

When the topic of foster care comes up, there are certain reactions.  A couple common ones are that foster parents are amazing or that they are just doing it for the money.  I know that there are "bad" foster parents out there, just like there are "bad" parents out there.  "Bad" police officers and "bad" teachers.  But, I've never met one.  I'm sure some get into it for the money, but I've never met them and if that's the case, they are not making a profit.

When we started the adoption process, we were thrilled that it was basically free.  We knew we could afford to take care of a child, but also knew that we didn't have tens of thousands of dollars to spend to adopt a baby.  We didn't know about the other incentives until we had taken the MAPP classes, filled out applications, and were obsessively searching the photolistings.  Turns out that if the child is labeled "special needs" in Florida (and most of them are), you receive a monthly subsidy for the child until he turns 18.  What did this mean for us?  It meant we were able to afford for me not to work, so I could stay home with the kids.  It did not mean that we were rolling in the dough and making money off the kids.  It's a help, not a cure.  This is how I know that foster parents are not getting rich and if they are doing it for the money, they are doing it wrong.

Growing up, I always wanted to be a foster parent.  After watching a "My Two Dads" (at least, I think it was "My Two Dads") episode when the judge took in a teenage foster kid, I knew that I wanted to do that.  I didn't plan to adopt 3 young children and not have any biological ones, but here we are.  :)  (And, here is great.) 

The day that we agreed (happily) to take Lizzie was the day that our official experience with foster care started. 

Official Daddy and daughter picture

What we were told would be an expedited process actually turned into a year of basically being foster parents without the perk of being labeled as foster parents or receiving any of the benefits of that (i.e. financial help).  We were categorized as a non-relative placement.  I always thought that was an odd term for us, as we were parents to her brothers and they were our family.  And, of course, the second I held her, she was my family, too.  But, technicalities count and that's not the point of this blog.

Always a family

The point is, for a year, we were acting as foster parents.  A case worker came out monthly to check on Lizzie and her living situation.  We even had a worker come out as early as 8am because she just couldn't figure out another time to do it.  Lizzie had weekly visits with the birth parents.  The driver would pick her up and take her (and my heart) away for 3 hours and then bring her back.  If they didn't show up, she would bring her back early.  We were always thrilled to have her back early, but I would often be running errands or trying to work.  I'd end up meeting the driver at gas stations and grocery store parking lots to get my girl.  Very early on, I had to quit my job.  I couldn't keep up with my work and all of the Lizzie obligations.  Let alone, my boys' needs. 

This is when I started to really appreciate what foster parents have to do.  Foster parenting is not easy.  If you foster parent, it consumes your life.  But, that's the thing, if you foster parent, it should consume your life.  Because you are a parent.  These kids deserve someone who will obsess about them.  They need someone who will understand that they have issues and they can't just make them go away because you want them to.  They need someone who will deal with a little bureaucracy to make their lives a little better and a little less lonely until the state figures out what the best permanent solution is.

From what I can tell, there are a lot of improvements that could be made in the system.  Just like everything else in this world.  Some of the case workers could be better, some of the foster parents could be better, and some of the arbitrary rules could be better.  But, if people don't step up and help; how do things get better?  And, for every thing that is wrong, there is someone working hard to make it right.  There are tons of really hard working people out there, trying to make it better.  I know because I've met them.  I've met them in real life, on twitter, and on facebook.  They are there.

I often hear people complain about the system, complain about the workers, and complain about the foster parents who aren't that great (because they are the ones who are more likely to get the press). At times, I have been one of those people.  But, it's also true that Antwan and William's case worker brought them Easter clothes after they had already been placed with us.  They got balloons and I got flowers at the Finalization because someone worked to make it extra festive.  The case worker of my children's biological brother drove for 3 hours to meet us, halfway, so that the siblings could spend time together. 

There is a lot of good going on, too.  And, I think it's important to remember that. 

Last night, I watched a video from Family Support Services of Jacksonville.  At the end of the video that made me want to race out and adopt another child, there was a great line.  "If we don't take care of the children in our community, who will?" 


This is my cause, this is the foster parents' cause, and it's the cause of a bunch of awesome people who work in the system. 

Wanna do something?  Check out for ways to help!!  :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Which Hand Do You Eat Your Chips With?

So, May is National Foster Care Month.  I have good friends who are foster parents.  And, it is true that it takes a special kind of person to do it.  Because I don't know if I could.

We were just starting the adoption process.  And, as I was looking at the faces of the older children online, I also thought about the possibility of adopting a baby.  When adopting from the system, if you want an infant, for the most part, you have to go the "foster-to-adopt" route and hope that you end up with the option to adopt a baby that you foster.

One night, I spent a lot of time reading about the process while Brian was at work.  I was officially inspired when he got home.  Because, although I'm a big supporter of older child adoption, I'm also human and thought it would be really cool to adopt a baby.

When I started talking to Brian about it, he did something that he doesn't do very often (partially because it almost never works...), he stopped me in my tracks.  He told me that it was a bad idea for me.  That it would destroy me if they took a child away from our home.  And, he was right.

It didn't take me long to realize how right he was and also to know that the age of the child was not the critical factor, I just wanted a child.  So, I dropped the idea and went back to scouring the faces of the kids on the various websites.  That turned out to be the right decision. 

This is why I admire the foster parents who take the children in, love them, take care of them, and move on when they move on to what is hopefully the best situation for them.

When we adopted the boys, I did lose sight of that for awhile, though.

I have always been a little (lot) insecure.  I have a need to be validated and those who are close to me, put up with it because they love me.  It's not because I'm selfish or narcissistic.  But, as a formerly, extremely shy and insecure child/teenager/young adult; it's hard to shake the doubts that creep into my head.  I'm exaggerating a little, I'm not a total basket case.  But, I do worry. 

This is why when William came to us with tons of memories and anecdotes about his foster parents – “Granddad” and “Nana,” it was hard for me.  I worried that I wasn't enough.  He had very few memories of the birth mother who he was removed from at age 2.  He remembered the fun highlights like “she didn’t feed me.”  But, not much else.  But, Nana and Granddad had taken care of him for a couple of years. 

He was constantly bringing them up.  And, it was totally understandable.  But, it interfered with my dreamy "nothing-else-matters now" visions.  I felt like I was competing.  Really, Brian and I both did.  It was an odd and slightly ridiculous sensation. 

But, we both listened to him talk about his foster parents and, as difficult as it was to hear, we did understand that he needed to talk about it and we let him.   I talked to him about the birth mother, too, on the more rare occasions that he brought her up.  In my head, I thought, don’t you love me?  What about me??  But, thankfully, I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut. 

Time passed and, almost without noticing, the Nana and Granddad talk had decreased.  And we settled into being a typical family.  (Whatever that means.)  Just like we wanted.

I know that William still struggles with the past and remembers that he was once in that family.  Of course, he does.   And, occasionally, without warning, it comes up.

The other night, we were sitting at the dinner table.  William was eating chips and dipping them in hot sauce.  Gross.  :)   He asked what hand I eat my chips with.  I checked and confirmed that it was my left hand.  William and I are both lefties, so I kind of assumed that he did, too.  But, he pointed out that he eats them with his right hand.

Then he said, “Eating chips with the right hand used to run in my family.”

This, I was not expecting and I waited to hear exactly which family he was referring to.

He elaborated.  “My foster family used to eat chips with their right hand.”

Not only was it super odd, but it stung a little.  I resisted the urge to look him in the eye and tell him that he must always eat chips with his left hand because this is his one and only family.  Not only would that have been over the top, but, of course, we’re not his one and only family.  He’s got 2 biological brothers and a sister who are not in this family, but are his family.  He’s got the foster parents who were his family, even though they aren’t anymore.  And, of course, he’s got biological connections to other people he knew once, will know one day, or never will.  It makes my head hurt.  And, my heart.  

But, this month, I am reminded of the other side.  Nana and Granddad may have been my unintentional competition.  But, they also deserve my gratitude.  They were the ones that kept my sons safe until we were able to come for them.  William had amazing manners, excellent grammar and vocabulary, and, most importantly, he had an attachment to them.  He felt safe in their care and felt bonded.  And, I believe that is part of the reason that he was able to bond so easily to us. 

I don't know if I could do it.  I don't know if I could take care of a child, fall in love with him (because I would), and give him away.  Lucky for me, they could.  There is a huge demand for adoptive parents, but there is also a real need for foster parents.  The system needs more people who will step in and care for these kids until their forever homes are found (with them or elsewhere). 

So, Nana and Granddad did what they needed to do.  They provided care to the boys, took them on trips, and instilled such a Spiderman obsession in William that he introduced himself as Peter Parker when he started VPK.  I'm not sure that last part was in the foster care handbook.  But, you get the point. ;)  They did this, then they stepped back and let us have them. 

So, as much as I wanted to pretend that William and Antwan's existence started on the day that we met.  It didn't.  And, really, that's ok.  They are here now.  And, we will always be grateful to their foster parents for keeping them safe and secure for us until we got our hands on them. :)

*And, since it is National Foster Care Month and we are an AdoptUSkids spokesfamily, I'd just thought I'd mention that if you're interested in foster care, adoption, or other ways to help, please, check out!   They'll help you out. :)