Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Family Relations

In response to Moving On, Ina asked:

How are you getting along with your sister now?

Very little has changed.  Shortly after FosterEema and Danielle moved out, I wrote her a letter to share the news.  About two months later, she wrote back, sharing some basic news about her kids.  I answered that letter but haven't heard back.

Earlier this month I called my sister and left a message asking for her to contact me.  Our father was in the middle of a health scare, and I wanted her to know what was going on.  She never returned my call.

I am grateful that father turned out to be okay.

Our relationship is pretty much as it always has been.  Friendly, cordial, but not as close as I would like.

My stepmother is nicer to me now that FosterEema is out of my life.  Suddenly, it seems like she wants to be friends again, after years of estrangement.  While I am happy to see more of my father as a result, and I'm happy that relations have thawed between me and my stepmother, I can't simply forget.  Her conduct has left a mark. I can't pretend the past 15 years haven't happened.

My relationship with my mother continues to be difficult.  It seems she is able to get along with only one of her children at a time, and she recently patched up her seven year estrangement from my sister. They'll be spending time together this Christmas, which I think is a good idea, even though it means I'll be on my mother's "no good" list for a while.

I'll admit it's something of a relief to be on the outs with my mother for a bit.  She wanted to take my divorce personally, and she always had a mean word whenever FosterEema came up in conversation.  While I didn't want the divorce, I'm not angry.  I don't spend my time wishing my ex ill, and it pisses me off when my mother is intent on bashing her.

It sure feels odd to defend my ex from my mother, that's for sure.

All in all, it feels like very little has changed with respect my family relations.  Though really, I'm not sure that I expected them to change.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Moving On

I've heard very little from Danielle since she left in early October.  I received two one-line messages on a social media site -- one in time for my birthday and another for Thanksgiving.  Other than that, I've heard nothing.

I've not heard much from FosterEema as well.  She mentioned that Danielle had contacted her asking for a certified copy of her adoption papers.  Other than that, there seems to be little news.

Other than a few random contacts through social media, I don't think anyone else has heard from Danielle, either.  She's moved on.

FosterEema has moved on.

I am moving on.

Life is substantially different now, not having the constant worry and conflict.  I no longer find myself fretting over what destructive thing Danielle might do next.  I wake up in the morning, and I don't have to steel myself for difficult behaviors.  I don't have to remember deescalation practices or proper parenting techniques.

I can just be.

Life is much easier.  The constant stress of arguments and potential violence is gone.  I sleep better at night.  I no longer have to lock the master bedroom door.  My life mostly revolves around taking care of my house, my birds and my job.

Time has gone by so fast.  It's hard to believe that:

  • It has been almost a year and a half since FosterEema asked me for a divorce.
  • It has been eight months since FosterEema and I signed our get.  (Jewish religious divorce papers)
  • It has been almost five months since FosterEema and Danielle moved out.
  • It has been two months since Danielle turned 18.
In some ways, my life is very much the same as it was in the "before."  I am still surrounded by many of the same possessions and I work the same job.  Still, much is different.  My living space is much cleaner, and I have a much stronger sense of peace.

I'm also dating someone new.  I met him online a year ago, though we didn't start seeing each other romantically until after FosterEema and I signed our get.

Yes, I'm seeing a gentleman.  I'm sure it's a surprise to some of you, especially after knowing that FosterEema and I were together for 14 years.  From my perspective, it isn't much of a surprise -- I dated men exclusively before meeting FosterEema.

After being with FosterEema for so long, I will admit to there being a bit of an adjustment.  When I am out in public, nobody gives me a second glance anymore.  When I hold hands with my sweetheart, people don't generally notice.  When they do, we receive approving smiles.  I imagine people thinking, "Isn't that cute, a 40-something-year-old couple still holding hands."  When people talk to me about him, they never refer to him as my "friend" in a vaguely disapproving tone.

It has been an odd adjustment after living in queer space for so long.  Now, I get to experience heterosexual privilege in a way that's much more real and personal.  Sure, I experienced it before, when I dated men in the past, but somehow I never really noticed just how much easier it is to be straight until I lived and loved in queer space for 14 years.

It's an adjustment, to be sure.

As near as I can tell, FosterEema is happy as well.  We don't communicate much anymore, other than exchanging a few basic texts that are all business-related.  Occasionally she'll send me a message that she's heard from Danielle, but pretty much our communications are confined to exchanging information about client projects or legal loose ends.  FosterEema has a new job, which she claims to love, and she's made plenty of new friends in her new city.

I'm glad for that.  While I do miss FosterEema's friendship, now that we've had some time and space apart, I don't miss the romantic part of our relationship.  I guess some partnerships aren't meant to last, and this one ran its course.  Although I never would have been the one to ask for a divorce, because I was fully committed to our marriage, I do not see the end as a disaster.  We've parted amicably, and though it wasn't a separation I wanted, it has been an opportunity for growth and new experiences.

Mostly, I'm left with the sense of knowing that it's time to move on to the next thing…whatever that might be.

Friday, November 15, 2013


35 days have passed since Danielle's 18th birthday.  The last I heard from her was 34 days ago.

I am not surprised by the lack of communication.  In the end, it was pretty clear there wasn't much of a bond between us.  FosterEema has received some texts from Danielle, most of them focused on Danielle's desire to come home.

FosterEema, quite understandably, has been steadfast in her refusal to allow Danielle to live with her again.

Danielle accused FosterEema of abandonment.

I found myself shaking my head when FosterEema shared that round of communication with me.  Danielle was the one who, against all advice, withdrew from school, packed up all the stuff she could carry, and moved out of state.  It was she who made the decision to leave.

How is FosterEema abandoning her by refusing to rescue Danielle from an unwise adult decision?

For the record, Danielle is not at risk of becoming homeless or starving.  She's staying with members of her birth family.  As near as I can tell, she's simply suffering from a case of The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence.

Abandonment?  I don't think so.  FosterEema explained that Danielle had made decisions about how she treated people for the past seven years, and that she had also made the choice to move out.  Part of being an adult is to experience the consequences of one's decisions.

I agree.

I'm also sad.  I've been monitoring Danielle's social media accounts, and so far I haven't seen her post much that would indicate she is being productive.  She hasn't posted that she's enrolled in school or found a job.  She has written remarks that suggest she has been drinking.


It's incredibly sad.

Although my posts might imply otherwise, I don't spend a lot of time dwelling on Danielle.  FosterEema and I did the all we knew how to do.  Perhaps it wasn't enough, or the best.  However, we did fight for her.  We tried to do the right thing.

Was it the right thing?  It's hard to know.

These days, I spend most of my time working, repairing the house, and cultivating a new relationship.  My life is incredibly peaceful.  I no longer have to lock my bedroom door at night, worrying about what Danielle might do next.  I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

My finances are in order.  My house is clean.  While I still feel somewhat overwhelmed when I think about all that has transpired over the past seven years, I realize that it's over.  It's time for me to move on to the next thing, whatever that is.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Cycle Won't Stop Here

Less than a week after Danielle left the state to go live with her biological family, she began texting FosterEema.

Danielle wanted to come home.  She claimed she had tried to make a go of it, but things just weren't working out.

Tired of Danielle's constant verbal abuse, threats, disrespect and disobedience, FosterEema politely replied that Danielle was free to do as she wished, but she would have to find somewhere else to live.  She also pointed out that a week was hardly enough time to really make a go of anything.

I won't go into all the details of the exchanged that followed.  As you can no doubt imagine, Danielle was pissed.

That very same day, Danielle posted a comment on a social media site complaining about what a terrible day it had been.  A few days later, she posted something that suggested she might be drinking.


Danielle has not contacted me.

More than anything, FosterEema and I wanted to stop the generational cycle of poverty, substance abuse and child neglect.  We wanted to make sure that Danielle was the last in her family to suffer.

I fear she has already started down the path so that the next generation will endure her fate as well.

Adoption professionals try to sell the idea of forever families and making a difference.  I'll say it's a compelling motivator.  Who doesn't want to make a positive difference in a child's life?  The idea becoming a happy forever family sounds really appealing. 

And, maybe it works out for some.

But there are some kids who are too broken, to damaged, for anyone to make a real difference in their lives.  

Did we make a difference?  Of course we did.  Still, in the larger scheme of things, I realize that we haven't broken the cycle.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Failure or Success

I think most parents would be disappointed if their child withdrew from school on his or her 18th birthday.  Certainly that's not the future that we imagined, all those years ago, when we adopted Danielle.

Looking back, I can't remember what I had imagined for her.  Certainly when we started fostering and the extent of Danielle's problems weren't known, we had great hopes for her.  We figured she'd be able to catch up, graduate from high school, and eventually go on to college.

We hoped that we'd be able to break the generational cycle of abuse, neglect and unwanted children.

I fear we didn't make much of a difference, or at least not the difference we wanted to make.  We wanted to give her a successful life.  A high school diploma was just one step in that process.

Will she enroll in high school in her new city?  Unknown.  I don't know if I'll even hear from her.  When she arrived at her destination, we exchanged the following text messages:

Danielle: Made to XXXX
Me: Glad you are safe.  Good luck to you. :-)
Danielle: thank you

And that's the last I heard from her.

So in large measure, I feel as if we failed.  We wanted to "fix" Danielle.  We wanted to take her out of the impoverished and abusive life that she'd led for her first decade and give her something better.  We wanted to give her a leg up into the middle class.

We failed.

And yet, we did make a difference.  Granted, the difference we made was much smaller than we'd envisioned, but it was there just the same.

When Danielle came to live with us at almost 11 years old, she didn't know how to read.  She didn't know her alphabet.

I taught her to read.  I used a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  It was a great help.  Night after night we sat together and went over the lessons.  It worked.  In just over three months, Danielle went from being completely illiterate to being able to read Dr. Seuss.

That made a difference.

Wherever she goes and whatever she does in life, she will carry my gift with her.

We also managed to help her reach the age of 18 without any pregnancies.  By keeping her away from boys and insisting she receive an implantable contraceptive, we made a difference in her life.  While she's still starting out at a huge disadvantage by not having a high school diploma, at least she's not starting off even further behind by too-early motherhood.

That's something, too.

Now that Danielle has moved back with her biological family, I feel a mixture of sadness and relief.  I'm sad because we wanted so much more for Danielle.  We weren't the right family for her, and we never should have adopted her.  Given the choices available (adopt her or return her to foster care) we did what we thought was right.  We didn't get the help or resources we should have received.  We did our best, even though it wasn't good enough.

I'm sad too, because I don't believe that there was a mythical "perfect family" out there for her.  If we had given up, she would have gone back to foster care.  Just like her older biological half-sister, she would have bounced from home to home to home until she aged out.

I am also relieved.  Danielle will no longer be able to hit me or my former spouse.  She will no longer be able to damage my property or make violent threats without consequence.  I no longer have to live in fear of a child or sleep with my bedroom door locked.

Danielle's behavior didn't improve (as some suspected it would) after she and FosterEema moved out.  When I'd speak to FosterEema, she'd tell me, Danielle is Danielle.  Her pattern of disobedient, defiant, and disrespectful behavior continued.  She made threats of violence.  She began to ditch school. FosterEema (with her insurance from her new job) began seeing a counselor so she could better cope with the unbelievable stress.

In less than three months after they moved away, the situation became untenable.  Although Danielle completely believed that everything would be just perfect once I was out of the picture, she simply found a new person to combat.

I fear that it won't be long before she repeats that pattern with her birth family.

Even my extended family feels a huge sense of failure.  They all fought so very hard for Danielle.  My father paid many thousands of dollars in attorney's fees to help us fight to keep Danielle. My extended family invested their hearts and their time trying to help her, to bond with her, and to love her.

Danielle did the one thing that everyone wanted her to avoid.  She quit school.  She left without saying goodbye.

In the end, I think that Danielle was never our daughter.  Her heart, her mind and her soul always remained with her birth family.  We always knew that she would one day return to them.  We'd just hoped we'd be able to keep her long enough for her to finish high school.

While the so-called professionals love to sell the idea of a "forever family" to prospective foster and adoptive couples, I think the reality doesn't exist.  This is especially true with older child adoption where the kid knows, loves and misses his or her biological connections.

And perhaps, it is as it should be.

Danielle never should have been adopted.  We never should have been forced into the position of having to choose between adoption or sending her back to foster care.  Ideally, she should have remained in our care in a permanent fostering arrangement until her 18th birthday.  She should have received better mental health care and preparation for the day when she'd return to her family.

We did the best we could.  Danielle is out in the world and on her own.  Only time will tell whether her life will be a failure or a success.

Friday, October 11, 2013


It has been over a year since I posted here.

Today Danielle turned 18.

If there is anyone still hoping for updates on our story, here they are.

In July 2012, FosterEema asked for a divorce, though the reasons weren't what you would expect.  She decided that she would like to pursue relationships with men.  There was no infidelity, no affair, just a change in her orientation.

Last February, Danielle exploded.  She did considerable damage to the house and attacked us, injuring me.  She spent 21 days in juvenile detention, received some heavy duty counseling services (ones that we had requested and had been denied years before) and six months probation.

In April of this year, FosterEema and I signed a get, a document that grants a Jewish religious divorce.  We've delayed filing for civil divorce in order to to make the paperwork simpler and to maintain our health insurance.  Now that Danielle is an adult, I expect we will be filing soon.

We remained together as family, with FosterEema and I functioning as platonic roommates, until July of this year.  The original plan was for us to remain together until Danielle's 18th birthday, but FosterEema found a job in a neighboring county that required her to relocate.  Danielle moved with her, as I was afraid to be left alone with her.

Her challenging behavior continued after the move.

Danielle was scheduled to graduate from high school this coming June, but she has decided to withdraw.  Her biological half-brother, who lives in another state, has sent her a bus ticket.

While I'm happy that Danielle will finally get what she wants -- to be reunited with her birth family -- I fear this decision is not in her best interests.  I fear this move will prevent her from getting her high school diploma.

But of course she is an adult now, and she can make her own choices.