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Monday, August 8, 2016

Bedtime

Solana, the happiest baby on Earth has decided that the terrible twos will actually start at the age of 1. She is stubborn, independent, and loud. Really loud. 

She's always had this fake scream that sounds alarming unless you knew it was fake which she uses often when she is displeased. However, her latest thing is to throw full on tantrums. Screaming, crying, hitting. She's quite the frustrated drama queen. When she is really mad she will bite you and then scream "De-De-de-de-de!". Clearly telling you to go take a flying leap. Bedtime has become challenging. My sweet little baby who would go down without so much as a peep, threw a full on tantrum on the stairs when I told everyone to say goodnight to her. An hour and a half ago.

During this rough night I had her rocking in my arms, quieted down but still whimpering from being upset. She was clutching my shirt, my bra, for dear life. As I kissed her tears, mine started to fall.

I whispered to her "I'm not your forever mama. I'm just temporary. One day it will be someone else putting you to sleep.You will have to learn to fall asleep in another home so please let's get through this phase because you have been here 75% of your life and if this is how you react to the familiar, I'm afraid the unfamiliar will be too much for your Papi."

And then my head wandered to the dark place where I wished that maybe she would react this way and he would decided this was too hard and call me up to come get her, forever. And then I felt immediately guilty and selfish and I started to cry harder because how could I wish such obvious misery and pain on my beautiful baby girl Solana. 

Foster Care Adoption in the Media

I was really excited to learn that one of the gymnasts on the USA Woman's Gymnastics Team was adopted from foster care.  So often, we only hear of the negative outcomes for kids in foster care. Being able to give my kids an example of a young girl as an Olympian who had a similar experience to them, makes my heart happy. It was disappointing to come across this story: nbc-announcer-apologizes-for-comments-about-simone-biles-parents

You've probably already heard about this but Simone Biles was adopted from foster care by her maternal grandfather and his wife.  I guess these details are important (to some) because she is biologically related to her (adoptive) father and as written, one is (I guess) supposed to gather, not biologically related to her (adoptive) mother.

I suppose any story about an adoptee will give the details behind the adoption as they do make up the adoption story. And for some adoptees, these may be important details. To others, maybe not so much.

Apparently the NBC announcer, Al Trautwig,  made on air comments referring to her parents as her grandparents and then sent out the following tweet to clarify some Twitter criticism for not referring to them as her parents: "They may be mom and dad, but they are NOT her parents."

Wait, what?

The tweet was deleted and he apologized but its a teachable moment.

The language of adoption is important. Adoption is complicated. Its wrought with emotion and pain.  Insisting that adoptive parents are not parents is an insult to everyone involved. It makes their relationship seem illegitimate. Like it doesn't matter. I've read articles that talk about how her family came together. How their family attended therapy for two years to build trust.

I know this work. I've done it. And I know that it's exhausting fielding questions in the super market. I can't imagine doing it on the world stage.

But it's a teachable moment and I hope this comment will open the conversation in the media up to understanding how adoption, and adoption from foster care work. And then maybe we can educate the world on why more needs to be done for our kids in crisis. Because let's face it, this has garnered a lot of attention, while other kids have died and no one said a peep.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thunder

We've had some pretty bad storms here in Chicagoland. Sarah's PTSD kicks in during thunderstorms and tonight she knocked on my door and said she couldn't fall asleep and didn't know what to do.

This was huge! Huge. Bedtime was already going to be tricky as the town next to us had fireworks tonight and they were so close to us, the finale shook the house. She was already triggered heading to bed.

In the past, she's shared memories of being with her biological family and being made to walk outside during evening storms to another building to use the bathroom. We have no idea if this was once or frequent but we do know that she was under the age of 5. This coupled with her witnessing of domestic violence means that loud noises and darkness are triggers to her PTSD.

Most kids are afraid of thunderstorms. But as I Kaye's in her bed with her, I could feel her entire body shake. But we reached a point where she could trust me enough to 1) tell me there was a problem 2)tolerate my safe touch, 3) allow me to lay with her and calm down. I told her sometimes people say the thunder is the Angels bowling. We talked about how to ask our angels for help. I reminded her why she is afraid of storms. We focused on listening to the rain on the roof and we counted the time between lightning bolts and thunder claps. She said the last trick helped and when I felt her body calm, I left her to sleep. Which she did.

It's so hard to see my kiddo at a total loss of how to self soothe but I am so proud that she was able to tap in and use her tools to get help to get there. But man, 5 years later and the trauma and danger are still real for her. It's moments like this where the Mama Bear in me wants to hunt down the idiots who were supposed to be taking care of her and give them a taste of their own medicine.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

She is His Daughter

Solana started in-home visits with her Bio Dad this month.  She'll be in the car longer than she is actually at the visit.  Bio Dad is going to ride with the driver both ways so that she isn't alone in the back seat and he can get more time with her.

This is all very hard to wrap my brain around.  We said no to her placement with us because it seemed too much to handle.  We changed our minds to keep her safe and because we thought the possibility of her eventually leaving us was pretty slim. We didn't really factor in a Bio Dad.  None of the others ever showed up to work their case plan. I'm glad that she does have someone showing up for her. She deserves that. All kids deserve that.  And that's why these conflicting feelings knock me on my ass.

One minute I'm fine. Readily working to co-parent. Gathering pictures for him and sending update emails. And the next thing I know I'm making her bottle and the tears just start to fall across my cheeks. Its like I'm grieving her even though she is still here.  Its like maybe if I do the grieving now, when it comes time for everyone else in the family to grieve, I'll be strong enough to shoulder all of that and keep us moving forward.

And then these thousands of little moments that I get to experience with her and am trying to memorize forever hit my heart and make me realize that I missed out on so much of my kids' life. And it just kind of exhausts me.

And its different from when the Fab Four left.  I'm not concerned for her safety. I know that we will always have a connection to her. She seems to have a loving supporting family that she will be living with. Which is all we can ask for as foster parents.

But there is this hope, that is in the heart of our family, that her Bio Dad will see how much she is the missing piece to our family and the bond she has with her siblings and that he will decide that this is more important than his own love for her. And it breaks my heart that this is a hope of ours. That we want this guy to go through the pain of not having her everyday, so that we don't have to. And it makes me feel yucky.

So many people have said, she belongs with her siblings. How could a judge not see that is in her best interest? 

How do any of us determine what is in her best interest? 

Really it's up to a 22 year old individual who's only experience with parenthood is a few hours a week at the library. Now that's not necessarily his fault, but it certainly isn't a realistic picture of what parenting an infant entails. I can't assume he's not up to the task, but I do know that I've spent more hours awake with her in the middle of the night than he has spent with her in total. He doesn't know her best. None of the people making decisions about her life do and none of them will take into consideration the best interests of my kids. There is no "greater good" provision. It's just another way that the kids loose out in the system of foster care. 

When she wakes up she toddles into her sisters' room and yells for them to wake up. Then she teeters across the hall to her brother's room. She steals his stuffed puppy dog and then claps when he grins at her. 

But if she stays with us she looses her culture and her roots and family that loves her. Would she forgive him for taking her away from her siblings? Would she forgive him for placing her for adoption? No one wins in this scenario. Not fully. There are legal rights but nothing to guide the emotions. 

If he lived closer, it might not seem so bleak. We could help. We could be around all the time. But he lives 1 1/2 hours away. Keeping connected is going to take a huge effort. His support system is there. Ours is here. 

Tomorrow's birthday party will be our first attempt to create a relationship out of these circumstances. He is very excited to spend extra time with her. This makes me feel that adoption really isn't an option or on his mind. And why should it be? She's his daughter. 

I can only hope that the system won't drag this out and the steps we take now will lay the groundwork for some sort of relationship in the future.






Saturday, July 2, 2016

Mr. Mohawk's Birthday Party

We spent the evening at Mr. Mohawk's birthday party. It was so great to see the Fab Four and Maria. The house they moved into  has a huge backyard and a garden. So much space! 

It was pretty clear that LM and Gabby were avoiding us. I specifically asked Gabby to sit and visit because I knew she couldn't help herself. She let on that LM is angry with us. She feels we have overstepped our bounds at times and feels replaced by our adopted kids. For these reasons she doesn't want us around.

We invited them to spend the 4th with us and spend the night. It seemed that it was up to LM and that she wouldn't want to come over. Maria said she would let us know but my gut tells me we won't see them.

I am so, so, grateful that three years later we are still included in any event. But I miss them and wish we could see them more often. I wish I could fix the awkwardness with LM and have a conversation about her feelings. I understand her reaction and imagine that's how a lot of kids would feel in her situation. I also know her heart and I'm sure she also feels guilty for feeling that way.

I have to admit I cried when we got in the car. I know they are safe and doing great but I still fear they will disappear and it hurts that it seems LM is actively wishing for that. I long for those kids that I knew so well and it's hard that I don't know them like I used too.

The emotions are so complex. I don't yearn for them to be "mine" anymore because they are exactly where they should be. But I love them so much. 

It triggered a bunch of fears about Solana returning home and while that is still a while off, I'm really sad and upset about it. Trying to work through the fears because I can't change them. 

Those of you who regularly take babies- I don't know how you do this. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Are You Sure?

Love all the comments! So interesting to see how everyone handles the name change aspect. True Story, Sarah asked me how to spell her new last name tonight. And her first.....(Face Palm)

One of the questions I got was why we didn't need to be at the final court hearing.

Each county in Illinois does their adoptions differently. In theory we could have filed the adoption in any county in Illinois. From what I can tell each requires two hearings. In some counties the family goes in person to the 1st, in others you go in person to the last. Some counties only do adoptions two times a month, others four days a week.

The county their case was out of was almost 2 hours away and very small county. Our attorney wasn't familiar with their procedures but offered to file in that county if we wanted to. We liked the idea of the same judge handling the adoption but by the time we got the point we could actually petition for the adoption we decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

The county we live in has a bit of a lag between petition and hearing dates, but would have had us go in person on the day it was final. The drawback was there would be no cameras allowed at all. No phones with cameras are allowed in the building. So we decided not to file there.

The other county we live very close to is very big and they do adoptions nearly every day of the week. There was virtually no wait time for a court date and they allowed pictures in the hallway (not in the court room).  The drawback was we had to go to the 1st hearing and wait on the finalization date to be communicated to us.

So that is how it happened that we weren't there. So we have two adoption days. The day we went to court and told the judge we wanted them to be ours forever. And the day that it was official.

I asked the kids last night about their feelings about the adoption being final, final. Simon said he forgot it happened this week. Smiley said "It feels like my birthday. I don't feel different than six even though I'm seven." Stella said it didn't feel different and when I affirmed her feeling Sarah spoke up that she felt the same way but was worried that would hurt my feelings. "It's a big deal but it doesn't feel that way and I thought that would hurt your feelings. It just felt like a regular day."

I told her that I completely understood and that maybe it meant that we handled the transition so well as a family that we didn't need a piece of paper to tell us what we already knew. They all agreed and then went back to eating their dinner.

But I have to admit I'm a little weepy this week about it. We were at a baptism today and the priest was giving his homily (sermon). He was from Uganda and was talking about traveling to his homeland to visit and his journey back to the US. He talked about being "home" and how we all just want to feel stability and safety, no matter where "home" might be. We want to belong to one single place. 

It was a moment where I felt like the words were meant only for us. Meaning in the message for sure.

A little later a friend of the family member who's child was Baptized was reminding me we had met before. After finding out we had 5 kids, she was all "I think the last time I saw you, you were pregnant."

I was like- "Nope, don't think so!" She was all "Are you sure?".

A little later I told Hubby that I should have said "Nope, just fat." And he was like I was going to say that as a joke but I wasn't sure how you'd take that. 


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reader Question: Did You change their names?

Yes we did. We actually started using their new names shortly after their good bye visit with Sheila last August. So the only name that really changed this week was their last name (kind of, one of them actually had our last name). We had started using them so we wouldn't have to try to do a name change mid-school year. Plus the kids had only been in the school the last 1/2 of the year so they didn't know everyone yet. The school was great about going with the new first names.

At some point Simon spontaneously asked his teacher if he could change his name tag on his desk to our last name. He was tired of waiting on the legal stuff. He started to write Simon Almost Last Name on his papers. So we asked all the kids and they asked for the same update. Their report cards and benchmarks still had their legal names. 

The name change was a bit cumbersome at first. We sounded like owls because someone would ask for a person by their birth name and we would all answer "Who?". Within a few months the slip ups were less and less. And now it almost never happens unless we have to use the old name for a reason. 

Each of them kept part of their birth name. And in various ways each of the kids had input into their new name. Stella was the one most resistant. She kept "Stella" as her middle name (her request) and we gave her the name of my Grandmother. Sarah had two middle names and picked one of them to keep as her middle name. We gave her a new first name and then argued abut how to spell it. My argument was if she spelled it the shorter non-traditional way people would mis-pronounce it her whole life. I lost. Sure enough on adoption day the judge made that very mistake. (Moral: Mom is always right.) Her middle name also is the same as my BFF so there is a family connection.  

Simon's nickname stayed the same because that's just who he is. I couldn't picture calling him something different but didn't like his first name. So we named him a more formal name with the same nickname (think Nickname Rob changed from Robby to Robert). He also had two middle names and picked the one that is the same as my brother's name. He now insists on being called his formal name which breaks my heart. (But also his nickname and Sarah's name rhyme so that causes some confusion that I didn't consider.) Finally, Smiley had her birth middle name become her first name and she was given my Mom's name as a middle name. I really disliked her first name. It was cute while she is little and all dimples but when she turns 23 going for her first job no one was going to take her seriously. 

I had to rattle their legal names off at the pool the other day (despite being full siblings- Simon and Sarah had different last names) and Simon asked me how I remembered all of that! I told him because I was his Mom. :)

We met some opposition in family members about changing their "real" names that their "real" mother gave them. We explained the new names were an important part of the claiming and bonding process. Especially since there were multiple kiddos. And as parents we have a right to name our children. We also reminded them that we are in fact, real parents.

Name changes are something that every family needs to decide for themselves. I've been asked if we adopted Solana if we would change her name. I actually like her first name and our nickname for her. I have a longer version of her name I call her when I'm being silly or stern so maybe we would go with that. I wouldn't keep her middle names though so maybe we would give her a new first name like the other kids but keep her nickname similar to Simon. But that's a lot of hypothetical. 

To her credit Sheila has made an effort to use their new names since we changed them. We had a lot of discussion on what they would call Sheila at the visit. We have introduced the idea of "Birth Mom" as a term that others will recognize. The kids never referred to their other foster parents as "Mom" so First Mom didn't go over well with them. I suggested we call her Mommy Sheila since they used to call her Mommy. (They don't really refer to me as Mommy, I'm just Mom.) I'm probably the worst at remembering to refer to her as something other than "your Mom".  They used Mommy, or Mom or didn't call her by name. I could tell when the kids were talking to me instead of her so it wasn't a big deal. I'm sure with time this will get more comfortable.

Did you change your kids' names at adoption? Do they call you something  different? Share your experience.