Friday, November 29, 2013

My Boy Is Finally Finalized! He's Kaleb Parker now. :)

One thing can always be said for us.  We never do things the simple way.  Sometimes that's because of random circumstances.  And, sometimes, it's because of me.  You see, there's a reason that Brian calls me Lucy Ricardo. :)

When we finalized with the boys, it was definitely due to random circumstances.  The car overheated which caused us to have to sit in a parking lot, instead of getting to our finalization in time.  The rest of our family was there, but we were freaking out on the other side of town.  Luckily, it was a group adoption event and they were able to pass us over and come back to us. 

Here's that story...

This time, I lost the debit card.  Yeah, that was me.  I didn't realize it until we were getting close to the time to leave.   The kids and I were going to run to the store and then to a friend's work because it's possible that I left my camera in her purse.  You can't go to an adoption finalization without a camera. :)   And, when I went to confirm the location of my debit card, I realized that it wasn't there.  No problem, I thought, Brian has it.  Well, I think that we all know that Brian didn't have it...  Several minutes of pocket searching, van searching, and wallet searching ensued with no luck.  So, then, I decided to panic instead.  Have you ever tried to take a trip to the other end of the state with no debit card and only a few dollars in cash and no access to your money because it's a Sunday?  It's not easy.

So, what does a grown-up, mature woman, wife, and mother of four do in these situations?  I called my parents and cried.  My parents are not the kind of people who lose debit cards, so they don't really know what to do with me, but, boy, do they have my back.  Or, more importantly, they have their grandchildren's backs.  So, a couple of hours later, we were heading out of town with borrowed money and anticipation.

We could now focus on the fact that we were about to officially become a family.  :)

Thankfully, the trip was uneventful.  We made it to Fort Myers at 7:30pm instead of mid-afternoon like we would have without my antics.  But, we made it!  We checked into a hotel that had us in two rooms on separate floors (we got that fixed), got McDonald's to go, only to discover that they had messed up the order (we ate it, anyway), and we collapsed tiredly into our beds (well, Brian and I did, at least).

I laid there in bed, thinking.  When you're going to become a mom, there's a lot to think about.  But, mostly, I thought about logistics.  Are the camera batteries charging?  How early do I have to get up so that I have enough time to dye my hair (I can't finalize with gray in my hair!) and to do Lizzie's hair (if you've ever tried to do a black child's hair in a hotel room with spinny chairs, then you know that it's extra challenging..)?  Would I have time to stop for the pantyhose that I forgot to buy (probably not)?  And, what time should I get the kids up?  I think that's when I dozed off.

I got up early.  I dyed my hair.  I woke up the kids with obnoxiously cheerful songs and it all went as smoothly as it could, with 4 kids involved, and we were on our way.  That is, until I realized that I left the battery charger in the outlet in the hotel room.  So, I went back in, got another key and rushed up to the room.  That's when I realized that I gave the clerk the wrong room number and had to run back down and get another key.  I was in rare form.  It's almost like I had something else on my mind...:)

Finally, after all this, we were actually on our way!

We got to the courthouse with about 10 minutes to spare and found out that you have to take off your shoes to go through security.  This made me regret putting myself, Lizzie, Antwan, and William in boots.  Haha. 

Eventually, though, we got to the courtroom where, of course, we waited around.  Kaleb got a "congratulations on being adopted" quilt, we got hugs from the Guardian At Litem, and the paralegal agreed to videotape for us.  And, finally, we were called in.

It was different from how we do it in Jacksonville.  We didn't stand up, make statements, and I'm not even sure if we raised our right hand.  It was informal, but, at least, it was happening. :)  And, then she started to say the words.  She started to say the words that do make it final, makes him our son and, officially, a Parker.  That's when I started crying. :)  And, when she was done, I went in for my hug. 

(Weeks before the finalization, I had warned him that I was going to hug him and he needed to let me.  I thought it was important because, occasionally, in the past, he had jokingly dodged the hug; even though, we both know that he loves them.  I needed him to know that this wasn't the time for that.  I had earned the dramatic hug, darn it! ;)  He joked and asked what would happen if he did and I simply said that it would break my heart.  I wasn't taking any chances on this one! haha.)

So, it was with confidence that I went for the hug and I could feel him lean into me.  I cried and hugged and thought how awesome this moment was; and, how great it was that he was really in the moment because he wasn't pulling away.  That's when I heard his muffled voice, "Wow, this is a really long hug." 

So, he was humoring me about the hug, haha, but not about being happy.  :)

We all stood up.  Everyone was smiling.  Then the paralegal came over and told me that I had run out of space on my memory card, but she got everything that she could.  So, it is likely that she got the judge talking, but not the actual finalization.  I haven't been able to bring myself to look at it yet and that is my biggest disappointment.  But, perspective is important.  He is still my son, now, even if there is no video footage of me smothering him with a hug. ;)

We left the courthouse, feeling good.  My family patiently posed for several pictures. 

We had lunch with his Guardian At Litem who is the greatest.  And, we drove home.

Kaleb slept a good portion of the way.  Lizzie, Antwan, and William made as much noise as they possibly could because, apparently, they had enough of being cooped up.  Brian and I were over-joyed to be home, get out of the van and out of such close quarters with the children that we love so much.

We went to bed about as quickly as the kids that night.  We were exhausted and Brian was getting a cold.  But, we were going to bed as a family and that was pretty cool.

I sent them all to school the next morning on inadequate sleep and I went to work.  I did a little gushing at work and a lot of thinking.  (Maybe not so much working...)

There has been a shift since then.  I know that Kaleb feels more secure.  I think that we all do. 

If I needed any more proof, I've got this.  The other night, I tucked him in (just like I have been doing for weeks.)  This time, he said "I'm glad that I have a mommy now to tuck me in every night."

I said that I was glad that I had a son to tuck in.  He laughed and said "No, you're not.  You just want to go to sleep."

That was also true.  I am always exhausted when I am tucking him in.

But, there is no doubt that I am really glad that this boy is my son and that he settles for my low energy tuck-ins, every night. :)

And, I'm also thankful to have a husband who finds the humor in the fact that he found the debit card on the floor, a week later.... :)



Saturday, November 16, 2013

What's Going To Change When You Finalize Your Adoption?

I'm kind of quiet at work.  I'm not really sure why.  Well, it doesn't really have anything to do with this story, anyway. I'm just setting the mood. ;)  Anyway, when I mentioned with an oddly calm tone that we are finalizing on Monday, my co-workers weren't ready for it.  But, it didn't take them long to start reacting happily in high-pitched voices.  Of course, I'm not feeling calm.  I'm aware that this is a very big deal.

Then my co-worker asked, "what's going to change?  What can you do now?"  I didn't know how to respond, at first, so she continued "Can you add him to your insurance?"   I confirmed that I could.  Although, I have to admit that it won't be first on my list.  His insurance through the state is actually pretty good and he's entitled to keep it until he turns 18.  I listed a few things that we could do like adding him to our dental, changing his name (that will be at the top of my list), and saying goodbye to the system, in general.  I pointed out that we will now receive a monthly subsidy to assist with living expenses.  This is because he is classified as "special needs."  (Translation.  Because there are so many children in the system; if a child is black, part of a sibling group, or over 8 years old; the child is considered special needs in Florida.  P.S. This is very sad.)  The subsidy and the free college were both things that we had no idea about when we started the initial process with the boys; but, man, have we been grateful for it.  I said that we could do all that stuff.  And, we moved on to the next question.

"Are you going to have a big celebration for him?"  I felt bad when I said "Well, we usually go to lunch."   Sadly, this lunch will be on a smaller scale because we have to travel to Fort Myers for the finalization, instead of finalizing locally.  Although, I'm sure we will get together with the rest of the family at some point.  The fact is, I would love to have a huge celebration.  I would've loved to have one each time.  But, when we became parents, we gave up having extra money to throw parties and extra time to plan them.    So, a lunch will have to do.  But, lunch works out because we all love to eat, after all. :)  I added that he's been with us since the end of June so it's kind of a technicality.  I said this to imply that we had already celebrated, which we have, in our own way.  We've celebrated by doing what families do.  We've watched TV together.  Played games together.  And argued about homework together. 

But, is the finalization really a technicality?  No.
And, will anything change? Yes.

Why does it matter if it's finalized?  It's not just an excuse to have lunch.  The ability to make sure everyone's last names match.  Or the chance to catch up on some bills.  It's because it makes it real.  Really, really, real.  It's the knowledge that just because you didn't give birth to this child, you have complete control and rights to him, just like a biological child.  It means that the only difference with this child and my sister's child is that the biological connection is not there.  But, it doesn't mean that he's not mine.  It means that I don't have to worry when a case worker comes that something will go wrong or that he'll get mad at me for making him do his homework and complain to a Guardian Ad Litem.  (He has never done this, by the way.)  I know that he'll complain about me many, many times, over the years, but it will be in the same way that other kids complain about their parents. won't be to someone who is paid to care about him.  It means that he knows that he is ours.  He knows that he is ours, forever.  He knows that he belongs somewhere.  Sadly, he was promised that before, in his previous adoption, and it didn't work out.  But, I think he knows that it's the case now.  He knows that it's too late for us to change our minds and that we have no intention of doing so, anyway.  It's beyond a choice and has been for a long time.  He knows (I hope) that I can't promise that I won't be overly emotional and sometimes unreasonable, but I can promise that I am always going to be there, anyway.

So, after we finalize, will anything change?  I don't know.  Maybe not in an obvious way.  We'll go to lunch to celebrate, but, also, because we need to feed our kids.  We'll drive home and tell Antwan and Lizzie about a million times not to make sudden high-pitched noises because it scares Daddy when he is driving.  We'll go home and feed our children again.  Lizzie and I will go to her Girl Scout meeting if we, miraculously, make it back in time.  We'll put them to bed.  We'll collapse in exhaustion and then get our second winds and stay awake way too late.  I'll wake up in the morning, grumpily, and get them out of bed.  I'll nag Patrick to brush his teeth, Antwan to get dressed, Lizzie to eat her breakfast, and William to wash his face.  I'll take them to school, wish that I could collapse in exhaustion, but head to work, instead.

It will be like any other day.  But, the difference is it will be 100% our day.  Our future.  Our forever.  And, that is worth celebrating.  Even if that just means, giving hugs as I rush them out of the van.  And, I might grumble in my head and wonder why it takes everyone so long to get out of the van, but, all the while, I will be so grateful that they are mine to rush.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Kids Say The Darndest Things And It Needs To Stop.

We are very proud that we adopted.  Just like I know many others are proud that they adopted.  We have never hidden it from our kids (not that we really had a choice, haha) and never shied away from using the word.  We talk about the milestones.  We talk about the journey.  We talk about it.  With our 13 year old, we don't talk about it in the same way because he's 13 and wants to pretend that the whole thing isn't amazing.  But, it is and we know that he's on board. :)

The other day, I was glad that we talk about it.  Patrick was waiting for me after school.  This gave him a few minutes to talk to other students because it's possible that I'm usually near the end of the line.  (Being punctual is over-rated, right? Right?).  A kid who it turns out lives in our neighborhood was messing with him about Halloween.  We had left a bowl of candy outside the door because, of course, we were all out trick-or-treating. :)   So, the kid was saying stuff about how he and his friends were going to go back and take all the candy.  Blah, blah.  Typical obnoxious teenage stuff.  But, then he said that they didn't because "that's ok, we'll just let the adopted kids be happy."  Then, he, apparently, saw my son's face, thought better of his comment, and headed home.  It wasn't the worst thing that he could have said.  But, it certainly wasn't the best.

When I got there and he told me about it, I wasn't sure what to say.  This might be the first time that anyone had implied that being one of the adopted kids was anything but a good thing.  Even with the elementary school, it hadn't gone beyond a "You're his mom?"  with understandable surprise in their voices.  When that happens, I usually respond with a smile and say something to the effect of "Yep!  How about that?" :)   And, life moves on.

But, this kid said it like it was a bad thing??  I think that's what I said to Patrick.  Or maybe I just thought it.  But, the point is, I don't get it.  You're saying it like it's a bad thing.  When, in all honesty, it's the best thing that has happened to all of us.  We are a family because of adoption.  In this bizarre, exhausting world, we are together because of adoption. 

When Patrick told Brian about it, he responded with something that we have told William; the reminder that we chose them and this kid's parents had to take what they got.  I hope that doesn't sound too harsh.  But, we're just trying to give them a little edge here. :)  And he added the question of "How confident is he that his parents would be happy about that if they knew the things he was saying?"  Later, Jennice (my friend/babysitter/godmother to the kids) had a similar emotional response when she heard about it. 

Meanwhile, Patrick seemed fine.  The kid has a thick skin for the outside world.  He has had to.  Brian and I were still the ones ranting, long after Patrick had moved on to getting his afternoon snack. 

It makes me mad because it's just not cool, but also because I want to protect my kids from all of it.  Everything.  But, I can't.  And, that's, also, not cool.

In the mean-time, I have to take my own advice and try to have a sense of humor about it.  Because, in the end, all of the rude kids in the word can't touch us.  We are a family.

So, the other day, on our way home, the kid was riding his bike in the neighborhood and Patrick made the mistake of pointing him out to me.  In the absence of many other reasonable options, I said that I was going to glare at him.  So,  I did.  As we drove by,  I turned to give him the angry mom look.  And, guess what?  He was looking the other way, totally oblivious to me. haha. 

Greatly disappointed, I continued home.  We got in the driveway and I hopped out to see where he went.  But, guess what?  He was gone.  This kid was really working against me!  Patrick promised that he had glared, on my behalf, and, got ready to head inside; until I started down the driveway, muttering things like "Where is that kid?  Where does he live?"   This led to a jokingly dramatic scene of Patrick dragging me into the house and saying things like "Mommy, get in the house!"   :)

I don't know what I would have said if I actually encountered the kid.  I would hope that I would've let him know that his comments were inappropriate.  But, of course, in middle school, that could've made Patrick's life more complicated.  This is, sadly, the reason that William doesn't want me to email the school about the kid who is messing with him at school. :(

So, all I can do is stay proud of who we are, do our best to keep the kids proud of who they are, remember not to take things too seriously, hope that these occurrences are unusual, be ready for the big and the small talks, and, apparently, put an alarm on the Halloween candy. :)



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Congratulations! It's A Boy! A Teenage Boy!

It’s been a journey.  That’s how people always start these stories.  Going through the adoption process with Patrick has been a journey.  It’s like traveling to a new country by boat or train or some other slow and unsteady form of transportation.  Definitely not an airplane, though.  While airplanes have turbulence sometimes, they are so darn fast.  This process didn’t feel fast.  Anyway, on with my analogy.  It’s like traveling to a new country and then having to live there.  The journey is over and then the real adventure begins.

Through these last few months, I’ve had my share of doubts and concerns.  Just like I'm sure that he has.  Not big, dramatic doubts.  I mean, I knew that I loved him.  I was just afraid that my life would always be like this.  A little chaotic, with constant attempts at juggling, and very noisy.   I never wanted to send him back, but I was scared about how it would be since he was staying.  And, I definitely didn’t like everything that went along with the last few months.  Case workers, fingerprints, physicals…not fun.  While I appreciate the importance of these things, (I really, really do); if I’m going to clean my house, I want it to be because I want to clean the house, not because a case worker was coming.  Well, wait, that would never happen, I would never “want” to clean the house.  So, maybe it’s good that they force the issue. ;)  But, the stress of a virtual stranger coming in and not knowing if she would see or hear something that she didn’t like; well, it wears on you.  Especially, since we were done with our 90 days at the end of September and, there we were, in mid-October, setting up our local case worker visit and arranging for a new Guardian At Litem to come, as well.

Why?  Partially because the case worker from south Florida quit.  Anyone who has ever dealt with the system knows that everything can change when a case worker changes.  We went through 4 or 5 workers with Lizzie.  Yeah, that was stressful.

Our non-local case worker in south Florida changed.  Our local case worker in North Florida received no notification and had to get contact info from me.  Lots of new paperwork was sent.  Our case  was sent to a committee to be reviewed.  Then more new paperwork was sent.  New questions were asked.  I started freaking out a little and  worrying that  something was going wrong??

So, the local case worker made her visit.  (She’s awesome, by the way.)  She didn’t know why the process was taking so long.  She thought that she had read something about them planning to finalize on November 23rd.  She said that she’d be back next month.

The day that the Guardian At Litem came, I think I was almost at my breaking point.  It was a new person and who knew what she would ask, look at, or think.  I was frantically cleaning the house which already looked pretty good because Brian had worked on it that morning.  (I like him.)  I was cleaning what he cleaned.  I was cleaning what I cleaned.  And, I was cleaning what wasn’t dirty.  And, I was cleaning what needed to be cleaned.  I’m not proud of how grouchy I was during the whole thing, but it worked out and it would seem that my family has forgiven me.

She came.  She was super nice.  She didn’t know that we were already done with the 90 days, the paperwork, or anything else.  She thought that the process had just started.  She didn’t know why we were still waiting.  She also won over the case-worker/GAL weary teenager.  That was a first.

I was losing my mind.  Every question that I asked seemed to be greeted by vague or confusing responses.  I was losing my mind.  I know that I said that already, but it bears repeating. 

Finally, on Friday morning, the non-local case worker emailed me, simply saying - “Please call me at the office.” 

My dramatic thoughts -- What does that mean?  What did she find out about us that I didn’t know existed.  Something has gone wrong!  Are they going to take him away?

So, I called and spoke to my case worker for the first time.  (We had communicated via email up to this point.)  I have to admit that I was a little surprised by her pleasant voice.

And, she said “Congratulations, it’s a boy!”
As it dawned on me that she was telling me that we were officially approved, she went on to discuss logistics, finalization dates, and lawyers.  I hung up the phone and said goodbye to a lot of anxiety that I didn’t realize that I had.  Months of anxiety –gone.  I didn’t realize how much of my stress was just about the uncertainty of it all and not about him at all.  

It might be my imagination, but I think that he feels better now, too. 

The next day when we were out and about, Patrick told me that Brian had a talk with him about Lizzie and his jealousy towards her.  Patrick doesn’t understand why Lizzie gets so much attention.  Usually, I respond un-helpfully by pointing out that she’s 5, the only girl, and darn cute.  (This was after several unhelpful talks where I explained that we loved them all, but people tend to address young children with a different tone, it's no reflection on him, etc.)  So, I asked Daddy to talk to him!  And, thankfully, It seemed to help. 

Then Patrick said “I always wondered why you didn’t have children of your own.”

I had heard that expression and been asked that question, but never had it hit so close to home.  And, never had it been more important to answer the right way.  I responded with “I do.  You are all my own.”

In the middle of a pumpkin patch that he was vaguely annoyed to be at, I told him that they were all my own and not being biological had nothing to do with that.  I put my arm around him and told him that he was my son, already, and that soon it would be legal, and then he would be completely stuck with me.  I don’t know if it meant anything to him, if it helped, or if he just thought I was being dramatic again.  But, I know one thing, I know that I needed to say it and I needed to hear it.  Because I definitely felt it. 

Now I realize that it was silly to be afraid that my life would always be chaotic, unsteady, and noisy.  I’d be better off just accepting it.  It was all of those things before Patrick and it will continue to be all of those things, just a little more so.  I like a challenge, anyway.  I mean, my blogs would be pretty boring if I had time to think things out in my head. ;)  I’d end up writing about clothes and shoes, if I had time to think about them or extra money to shop for them. 

So, here we are.  We have traveled to our new country.  Let’s call it 6 Parkerland!  The boat made me sea sick, but had a pretty view.  Our journey is almost over and our adventure is about to begin.  The good news is that I think I’m finally ready.  No, I know that I'm finally ready.    :)