Friday, August 31, 2018

The Call No Adoptive Parent Wants

Yesterday, my phone rang.  These days, I get so many unwanted calls from spammers and robots that I don't answer unless I recognize the number.  I let the call go to voicemail.  Usually, robo-callers don't bother to leave a message, so I was surprised to see that the caller had left one.

This is the message that I received:

Hi this is <name> at <county> Child Welfare Services.  If you can, please give me a call back at <number>.  I'd greatly appreciate it.  Again, my is <name> with <county> Child Welfare Services. <number>.  Thank you.  Bye-bye.

My first reaction came from all the times we dealt with CWS in the past.  A flood of adrenaline sent my heart into overdrive.

What are they accusing me of now?

Then I remembered.  Danielle is an adult, and she's living on her own.  It wasn't me that they were calling about.  It was Danielle.  I called the worker back, left a message, and within a few minutes she returned my call.

As typical, the worker wasn't willing to share a lot of information.  Danielle had just given birth to her second child, and "someone" (I am assuming hospital staff) had seen something of "concern."  The worker wanted to know if I knew whether or not Danielle used drugs.

"I've been expecting your call," I told her.

I always knew this day would come.  It's taken longer than I figured.

And the cycle begins again...

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Sad Farewell

It has been a long time since I've posted, and an even longer time since Roc Rebel Granny was active on her blog.

I have a bit of sad news.  Granny passed away on Friday, May 20, 2016.  She was a very great lady and always kind to me.  She'll be greatly missed by her family, friends and many of those in the blogging community.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Circle Game

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

It has been over eight months since I've last posted.  I've thought about writing from time to time, but other than a bit of news I received late last summer, there hasn't been much to say with respect to the subject matter of this blog.

The news?  Given Danielle's story, it's not terribly surprising, though it was disappointing just the same.  I had learned that Danielle was pregnant and expecting her first child.  While that tidbit in and of itself was bad enough, the story got worse.  Although Danielle was living with the baby daddy, it turned out he was married to, and not divorced from, someone else.  He and his wife have at least one child that has significant medical problems and disabilities.

I think the situation is very, very sad, and quite concerning.  The photos I've seen of this fellow on social media lead me to believe that he has strong gang ties, which can only lead to a bad end for him and Danielle.  I'm not terribly surprised about this either, since I remember she once told me she was attracted to "bad boys."

The day Danielle turned 18, she withdrew from school.  The very next day, she traveled to another state so that she could be reunited with biological half-brother #2  That didn't work out, and she ended up moving back to our state to stay with half-brother #1.  Predictably, there were problems.  Finally, she ended up in another country, living with her maternal aunt.  There was strife there as well, so she ended up moving in with her baby daddy.

I briefly saw Danielle for lunch, with my folks, one afternoon in October.  She was visibly pregnant, due in January, and planned to stay here in the United States with half-brother #1 until she had her baby.  She didn't have much to say for herself.  She talked about how difficult it was to cook, given that she didn't really know how.  I couldn't resist gently teasing her, because FosterEema and I had tried to teach her, but as with everything, she had refused our guidance.

I didn't say as much as I wanted to say.  I held my tongue because Danielle is 20, and she's long past the age where I have any influence over her lifestyle choices.  Even if our relationship was good, I doubt she would want to hear my thoughts on her situation, which would have boiled down to, "finish your education, get a job, and make a quality plan for your child's life."

Lunch was awkward.  I gave Danielle a hug when we parted, and she patted my back in an odd way.  It felt like a hug from a stranger I had once known, but whatever connection we had once shared was gone.  I wished Danielle well, and told her to stay out of trouble.  That advice, I think, came far too late to be of any use.

Even if it had come on time, I am sure it would have been dismissed.

Shortly after our lunch date, I learned via the grapevine that Danielle had gotten into some sort of dispute with half-brother #1 and had left.  She visited FosterEema for a few days, who put her on a train.  I assume, but don't know for certain, that she left the country.  As for what exactly happened, I don't know.  Her social media account has been inactive for nearly two months.

The other day, just over a week after the event, I heard via the grapevine that Danielle had given birth to a low-birthweight baby boy.  Other than the baby's gender and weight, I have no details.  Given his size, I can only assume that his future, just like his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother before him, will not be easy.

The cycle repeats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mother's Day

If you live in the United States, you are probably well aware of what's been dubbed the "Hallmark Holiday" known as Mother's Day.  This is a day where, at least in modern times, we send our mom flowers, take her out to brunch, send her a card, and generally let her know how great she's been all these years.

Believe it or not, the holiday has some pretty dark roots.  According to National Geographic:

It was founded for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace. And when the holiday went commercial, its greatest champion, Anna Jarvis, gave everything to fight it, dying penniless and broken in a sanitarium.

It all started in the 1850s, when West Virginia women's organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis—Anna's mother—held Mother's Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College. The groups also tended wounded soldiers from both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.

Interesting, no?

As for my holiday, things were pretty quiet.  My sweetie and I went up to visit my mom. She fixed us a nice meal, I showed her how to do a few things on her tablet, and fixed (just by touching) her non-functioning TV remote control. We sent her and my future MIL some flowers.  It was a nice day.

Later that evening, I sent a few text messages to FosterEema.  Even though we aren't together anymore and don't see each other very often, we are still somewhat friendly. I wished her a "Happy Mother's Day" and asked if she had heard from Danielle.

She had not.

FosterEema reported that she rarely hears from Danielle.  When she does, it's only because she has called to ask for money or favors.

Am I surprised?  No.  Am I disappointed?  Only vaguely.

While I'd hoped for more from Danielle, she is who she is.  She's a victim of the decade of betrayal and broken relationships she experienced before she was placed in our home.  Her seven years with us weren't enough to magically cure her childhood of abuse and neglect.

Recently, I bumped into a prospective adoptive mother whose heart was full of dreams and the idea that she'll be able to adopt a perfect child from somewhere.  I tried to give her a dose of reality, and explained that any adoption, even a private one from a supposedly-healthy birth mother, is based on loss.

Adoption isn't the beautiful miracle that people want to believe.  Adoptions happen because a mother doesn't want, or isn't willing to do the things to keep, her child.  I find it hard to understand how a kid can thrive when they learn of that basic rejection of their humanity.

Yes, there is a need for loving foster and adoptive homes.  But even the best can't make up for a child being unwanted by their birth family.  Nothing can.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Can Foster/Adoptive Parents Ever be Fully Prepared?

In response to Guilty for not Loving a Troubled Child, see wrote:
I think the main problem is that you did not know what you were getting into when you adopted a child who went through all kinds of Trauma and abuse. The second problem is that you had no proper counselling [sic] by your side to help you bond with a traumatised child. And so the bonding did not happen.

I think the truth is, no foster or adoptive parent will know what he or she is getting into until they have already signed their name on the dotted line.  While I think that our county did an okay, but not stellar, job in offering training classes and teaching us what to expect, there's a big difference between knowing about something academically, and actually living it.

When I got my first parrot, I spent a lot of time reading about avian care.  I studied behavior, diet, and basic first aid.  I learned about blood feathers, the signs of illness, and how to properly keep a cage clean.  When I finally brought my bird home, I knew everything I could know from a book about the fundamentals of caring for my new friend.  However, there was nothing on paper that could describe what it was like to cuddle with a creature that looked like an alien life form, or the absolute fear one experiences when rushing a feathered companion to the vet.  You have to live it to understand it.

I think the same was true for our experience as foster and adoptive parents.  While they can teach you all sorts of things in training classes, they can't fully explain the emotional impact of what it is like to be investigated by Child Welfare Services because your kid levied false allegations against you.  They can't convey how hard it is to be up half the night (and then have to go to work the next morning) because your child was raging.  They can't describe what it is like to live with a child whose behavior makes you feel like you are being eaten alive by minnows.  While no one bite hurts all that much, it's the accumulation of them that wears you out, drags you down, and makes you despair.

Our one mistake, I think, was in not recognizing that the foster care system really is as bad as many people describe.  When FosterEema and I started our foster parenting journey, we read many blogs that had a lot of really negative and scary things to say.  FosterEema chalked it up to something she called "Internet Amplification Syndrome," or the fact that unhappy people tend to blog like crazy, while happy folks just shut up and live their lives.

We didn't fully understand that yes, the foster care system really is as bad as people say, and yes, some of the behaviors that foster and adoptive kids exhibit really are as crazy, dangerous, and maddening as people describe.  We couldn't believe that the system was so profoundly broken, but it turned out to be true.

See is correct in saying that we didn't receive the appropriate counseling along the way.  That is absolutely true.  We recognized, based on the reasons Danielle had been taken into foster care, that she needed counseling.  She did not receive qualified and experienced help.  Worse, we found out much later (from an inside source who later separated from the county) that the counseling Danielle did receive was more of a fishing expedition to find out whether we, the detestable queers, were doing anything inappropriate.

We later came to find out our friends Jack and Jill had their adoptions delayed because of their relationship with us.  Apparently, some sick people in the county assumed there must be something wrong with our friends because they were willing to build a friendship with people like us.

While I don't want to blame discriminatory practices for everything, I certainly think that played a role in our family not receiving the services we needed.

After the whole thing was said and done, we ran our story by a civil rights attorney.  She told us that we definitely had a case, and if we'd sued for discrimination, we'd likely win.  However, she warned, we'd probably spend the next ten years in court, and it would cost a lot of money.  We opted not to sue, because we couldn't imagine spending more time in another lengthy legal battle.  The year we spent fighting for Danielle was enough.

Still, I have to ask the question if better counseling services would have made much of a difference.  Danielle would still be Danielle.  I don't think a better professional in our lives would have stopped her from hitting us, from raging, or from making false allegations.  While it might have done more to help us feel better about the situation, I am sure it still would have sucked.

Would it have changed my feelings toward Danielle?  Probably not.  I can't imagine, under any circumstances having a warm and squishy heart for someone who calls me names, breaks my things, and punches me.  In any other world, those behaviors are unquestionably abusive; I am not the type of person to feel good about someone who mistreats me.

Does that mean I never cared about Danielle?  No.  I cared plenty.  I still care.  I also realize that she is over the age of 18 now, and she's going to do whatever it is she's going to do.  Am I happy that she quit school, hasn't finished, and doesn't have a job?  No.  Can I do anything about it?  Nope.

I rarely hear from Danielle, except for an occasional one-liner through social media.  FosterEema hears from her from time to time, but usually it comes in the form of requests for money or favors.  The latest is that one of her biological relatives has demanded FosterEema take off a whole day from work to get some paperwork from the juvenile court.  FosterEema has already completed this errand once before and provided said documenation, so this time she's leaving it up to Danielle to figure it out.

I frequently have to remind myself of the following phrase: not my circus, not my monkeys.

The question is, can foster/adoptive parents ever be fully prepared for the life that lies ahead?  I'm not sure that it is possible.  While you can attend trainings, read blogs, and hear stories directly from friends or family who are already in the trenches, it's not possible to know what it's like until you have been there.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Guilty for not Loving a Troubled Child

The meaning of the word "love," when applied to a troubled child, has been a subject of some debate on this and other foster/adoptive blogs over the years.  The blog talkinrealhere has a really good post on the topic.

Realmom writes:
I hear so many parents of troubled kids say, I don't really love my child. They feel guilty, it's a hard thing to say, and they feel like the worst human being on the planet because they don't "love" their child. Well, I beg to differ, parents.

I do not love Danielle in the way most people think when they bring up the subject of their children.  Still, I don't carry the guilt about it that some parents do.  It was and still is hard to hold warm fuzzy feelings in my heart for a child who was so insulting, so manipulative, so uncooperative, and so violent.

Realmom went on to say:
...Do you do the best that you can in any given moment? That, my friends, is love. That is action.

There's more.  It's worth reading, and it echoed what I was trying to articulate all those years ago.

When I think of Danielle now, I just feel sad.  She was terribly damaged before she ever came to us, and I'm not sure that her troubles are the type that can ever be fixed.  Now that she is a young adult, I rarely hear from her.  She's more likely to contact FosterEema, but when she does, it's generally because she wants something, like a bus ticket or some cash.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Was Your Heart in it?

In response to The Prodigal Daughter Didn't Return, Ina wrote:

" was almost as if FosterEema and I had never been a couple, and Danielle was never our child."

This is really striking. Is it because your heart was never in it, the adoption I mean?

Was my heart in the adoption?  The answer to the question isn't so simple.

By the time we were ready to sign adoption papers, our family had been put through the wringer.  We had spent a year fighting with the Department of Social Services both in and out of court.  We'd spent huge amounts of my father's money fighting a protracted legal battle, and endless hours of our time taking parenting classes to prove that we were fit.

At the end of that year, it was pretty obvious to us, our attorney, and the judge that the county's reasoning for objecting to the adoption was based on purely on discrimination.  Our county has a reputation for treating same-sex couples poorly, and we were not the first to have been put through the wringer in this way.

By the time we were asked to sign adoption papers, I was physically and mentally exhausted.  By the time we sat down with our eighth social worker in two years, Danielle's behavior was starting to become violent.  She'd slapped and hit me.  I was having second thoughts.

It wasn't that I wanted to pitch Danielle out of the house.  I didn't want her removed.  I didn't want her to be placed somewhere else.  Still, I wasn't sure I wanted to adopt a child who was physically abusing me.  I worried her behavior was going to become substantially worse, and I wanted to make sure the proper resources were in place for her.  I thought it would be better if she remained in foster care, permanently placed with us.

Unfortunately, that wasn't an option.  The county had issued an ultimatum: adopt the kid or we'll move her elsewhere.  When we agreed, our social worker Nasty Number Seven was completely against it.  We weren't your average, run-of-the-mill, heterosexual couple.  When Danielle started to act out and we asked for help, Number Seven used it as an excuse to issue a removal order, which created the year-long fight.

I didn't want to fight the removal.  I figured it was a custody battle that we didn't have much chance of winning.  However, the decision wasn't mine alone to make.  FosterEema wanted to fight, and my parents wanted to fight.  Even my sister, who was historically very unsupportive of my relationship, agreed.  So, fight we did.  It was pure luck that we were able to find an experienced and skilled attorney at the right time, and that my father had the cash to pay for his services.

In the end, I fought for Danielle, not because I wanted to fight.  I fought for Danielle because I genuinely believed that she would be better off with us than the alternative.  She was a difficult kid with many issues.  When we were in court, one of the concerns raised wasn't about our fitness as parents -- there was question as to whether Danielle was adoptable.  The judge not only had to rule in our favor, but he also had to rule in hers as well.  The question was, if we weren't willing or able to adopt Danielle, would there be other families waiting to take her?

Our attorney told us that the question of her adoptability wasn't a slam-dunk, considering her myriad challenges.

The night before we were to sign our adoption papers, I expressed my misgivings to FosterEema.  She told me that if I failed to sign, our relationship was going to change.  I took that to mean that she would leave me, which I didn't want.  She desperately wanted to be a mother.  Honestly, I didn't want to be anyone's biological or adoptive parent, but I also wanted to keep my relationship with my partner.

I felt backed into a corner.  The next morning, when Number Eight came with her pile of papers, my hand hesitated.  Despite my profound misgivings and the knowledge I was making the wrong decision for me, I signed.  Why?  Because I knew it was the right decision for Danielle.  Also, my relationship with my partner was more important to me than arguing over the adoption of a child that I knew wouldn't stay past her 18th birthday.

Why did I know Danielle would leave?  She'd told us so, many times.  Both directly and indirectly, she let us know that while she did care about us on some level, her heart and her soul were always with her biological family.  She had a longing for them that transcended everything else.  I knew that whatever happened, she would be with us temporarily.

I made a decision that was the best I could make, given a list of less-than-optimal choices.  Danielle, I think, would have been happier if she had been allowed to remain in our home as a permanent foster child.  She wouldn't have had to struggle with divided loyalties.  We could have parented her, to the best of our abilities, knowing that she was always going to be someone else's child.

Older child adoptions don't magically erase years of abuse or bad parenting.  Kids grow up in crazy environments, loving their biological parents, because it is what children do.  They mature with a very warped sense of normal, because the feelings a child has for her mother are incredibly strong.  With rare exceptions, no matter how dreadful the home environment, children want to return to it.  While I think that everyone in our case cared about each other, it wasn't and could never be the same as Danielle's feelings for her biological family.  Would it have been different if she were our biological child?  Probably.  Would it have been different if she had been adopted at a much younger age?  Possibly.  It's hard to know.

It wasn't her fault.  It wasn't our fault.  It wasn't anyone's fault.  Danielle's heart was with her biological family.  As for me, while I absolutely wanted the best for her, it was hard to feel "in love" with her.  It was difficult because I knew she would never feel that way about me.  It was difficult because she was often physically and emotionally abusive.

Love is a complicated thing.  It is both feeling and action.  While I think I demonstrated my love for Danielle on a daily basis by fighting for her, by advocating for her, and by trying to teach and guide her, I don't think that I felt "the joy of being a parent" that many people describe.  Parenting Danielle was difficult and challenging far more often than it was easy or fun.  While I think she benefitted from the adoption, I know did not.  I suffered for it.  FosterEema suffered for it.  In the end, our marriage suffered for it.

I signed Danielle's adoption papers because I thought that it would be measurably better for her.  Bouncing around from foster home to foster home doesn't do any child good.  Her half-sister lived through that experience, and she was incredibly angry and unhappy because of it.  She was often furious at Danielle because she wanted to be adopted but never found a family.  "I would have killed for the opportunity Danielle is throwing away," she would say.

In many areas of life, there aren't clear-cut answers.  While there are some decisions that are easy to make, like taking job x over job y, there are other choices that aren't so painless.  Danielle's case wasn't black and white.

Would Danielle's adoption have been more successful if she'd been placed with a different family?  Perhaps.  The truth was, there wasn't a "perfect" family waiting in the wings for her.  The only options available to her, and to us, were imperfect.  We did the best we could.

During her last visit, Danielle said that she was grateful we had adopted her and that we had fought for her.  She said no one in her biological family had ever done that.  What we did meant something.

Did we make the right decision?  I think so, even though it cost us so much.  In the end, I think FosterEema and I paid a very heavy price for that choice.  While I think Danielle was better off for us fostering and adopting her, I think it was a very bad choice for us adults.

This morning, I went in to the clinic for my annual physical exam.  All of the staff that knows me commented on how much happier and healthier I seem.  I explained that it had been nearly 2 1/2 years since FosterEema asked me for a divorce, and almost 18 months since she and Danielle had moved out.  While I didn't ask for the divorce and I didn't want it, I am much happier for it.

It is a relief to live in a home where there aren't daily arguments and insults being hurled in my direction.  I feel like a huge burden has been lifted, knowing that I'm not at risk of being beaten, or having my property destroyed, by a child who lives with me.

So was my heart in it?  I don't think that the question can be answered with a simple yes or no.  In the end, I tried to do what I thought was the right thing.  It turned out not to be, in many ways.

When I was speaking to my nurse practitioner today, she commented that my ex and I had really been put through the wringer.  "This is a case of no good deed going unpunished, isn't it?" she asked.

In many ways, I think she was right, though I didn't adopt Danielle as my good deed for the day.  I adopted her because I thought it was the right thing.  It just turned out not to be.