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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Prodigal Daughter Didn't Return

Danielle's visit turned out to be substantially different than what I expected.  She came to town a week early, interfering with plans for me and my sweetheart to leave town to visit his mother.  We had to change plans at the last minute so we'd be in town and available to attend Danielle's birthday party.

Despite all her talk about moving back, by the time her birthday rolled around, her plans had changed.  She planned to go back across the border after her visit, but promised to sign up for Job Corps on her way home.  She'd stay with her biological family until she could enroll, and then she'd get on with her life.

The plan sounded really great.  It's a shame she didn't follow through.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  Danielle has always talked a great talk, but rarely followed through on achieving goals or doing things that required much in the way of dedication or effort on her part.  As far as I know, she's still living with her biological aunt where she's not going to school and doesn't have a job.

For the most part, her visit was pleasant.  I guess I got something of a quasi-apology for her past behavior.  She admitted she had been a "difficult child" and had regrets.  I can only guess what she meant by that, because she didn't elaborate.

It sounds like her life with her biological family has been less than wonderful.  Danielle reported that a family member had been stealing her clothing and selling it for drug money.  Another family member is seriously ill, leaving Danielle in charge of childcare.  While I guess she is being useful, I worry that she's not developing the skills that will lead her to success later in life.  That disappoints me.

Still, I am relieved that she decided not to move back to town.

While Danielle stayed with FosterEema for about two weeks, I saw her only a handful of times.  Since we had to change our plans to pay my sweetie's mother a visit, we were out of town the second weekend she was here.  We didn't see her when we returned, because we came home with a very bad cold and didn't want to share the germs.

We invited Danielle and FosterEema over to have waffles as a celebratory birthday breakfast.  It was odd having the two of them in the house.  Even though this is the home we had shared for years, they both felt like strangers.  In a way, it was almost as if FosterEema and I had never been a couple, and Danielle  was never our child.

Odd feeling, that.  I give lots of credit to my sweetheart who was kind and polite to both of them, even though he has no reason to be.  He is a good man, and I'm grateful to have him in my life.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Prodigal Daughter Returns?

While the title of this post might seem a little odd because I am Jewish, I still thought it somewhat apt, given the circumstances.

I've heard secondhand that Danielle plans to return for a visit.  At last word, she'll stay with FosterEema for a few days.  After that, my understanding is that she plans to move back to my fair city.

No, she will not live with me.

At last word, Danielle was hoping to move in with a male friend she knows from her time at the charter school.  I don't know who he is, or anything about his living situation, but I fear this could be a recipe for disaster.

Just the idea of Danielle moving coming back to town has stirred up a lot of big feelings for me.  The truth is, I'm not entirely sure I want to see her.  While it's been nearly a year since we've had any face-to-face time, I feel reluctant to bring her back into my life.

While I've done my best to forgive Danielle for her final explosion in 2013, I haven't been able to forget what she did.  She caused hundreds of dollars of damage to the house and hit me hard enough the police arrested her and sent her to juvenile hall.  It was the sixth time we had to call 911.

I'm not without sympathy or empathy for her and her problems.  I also see that a year hasn't been enough time for her to change in any meaningful way.  Danielle hasn't completed high school or gotten her GED.  She's not working.  She's spent the last 11 months bouncing from one birth family member to another.

My stepmother often repeats the phrase, "Wherever you go, that's where you are."  I think Danielle has moved about thinking that all her problems are caused by the people around her.  Before FosterEema and I split, she blamed me for her difficulties.  Once she and FosterEema had their own place, suddenly everything was FosterEema's fault.  As she travels from home to home, the same problems reoccur, but Danielle doesn't understand her role in them.  People are, it seems, grossly unreasonable for expecting her to contribute in a meaningful way to the household.

I fear that Danielle will move in with her male friend, only to discover that all the problems she had living with me, FosterEema, and her birth family are still there.  Sure, there will be different people, but the difficulties always seem to be the same.  She hasn't learned the world doesn't owe her a living.

It's sad.

My biggest worry is that she'll end up blowing out of her living situation and end up on my doorstep, homeless.  My sweetheart and I have discussed this possibility, and we both agree that we cannot allow Danielle to live with us.  While my man is a very sweet and generous soul, he isn't ready to take on the role of stepfather to an extremely troubled, and sometimes violent, young adult.  I do not wish to again live with a young woman who verbally and physically abused me.

If she ends up homeless, the most I can do is be a sympathetic ear and to offer the best advice I can in the moment.

I hope it doesn't come to that.

Even my father and stepmother, who have long been Danielle's most ardent supporters, feel the same way.  While they are okay with her visiting for a few days, they've made it clear they aren't willing to live with her.  My stepmother remarked that Danielle clearly needs help, but she won't take even the smallest steps to help herself.  We've suggested she enroll in programs like Teen ChallengeJob Corps, or return to high school, but so far she hasn't shown any interest.

Without a diploma, GED, job skills she has guaranteed herself the hardest life possible.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Who Got the Goldmine and Who Got the Shaft?

In response to An Overdue Update, r. asked:
So on to the important stuff-- Who got the birds and the show car?

The short answer to this question: I did.

Our African Grey, Sir Spudly, died in February of 2012.  Moonie, our blind macaw, has had several massive seizures over the past two years.  Her balance is affected, so she tends to be pretty inactive.  Cognitively, she's just not the same bird, though in some respects, she's more easygoing now. Chicken, our small cockatoo, is Chicken.  She's fine.

Since there was no talk of splitting up after Sir Spudly died, we ended up getting a new baby African Grey.  Almost immediately after he arrived, my mother needed surgery and I had to stay with her to help out.  While I was gone, the bird bonded with FosterEema.  When I returned, I was given the position of least favored person, and he'd try to pinch me every chance he got,

A few months later, while I was out of town attending a parrot training seminar, FosterEema asked me for the divorce.  The plan was that she would take some (or even perhaps all) of the birds.  In the end, she wasn't able to find an apartment that allowed pets, so they stayed with me.

Chicken and Moonie, while they missed FosterEema at first, seemed okay with the changes.  The baby grey, however, continued to be nasty to me for a very long time.  His attitude improved when I took him on a road trip.  He decided, once we were in unfamiliar surroundings, that I wasn't as bad as he'd made me out to be.  We still aren't really buddies, but at least we have something of a truce. The truth is, I need to spend more time working with him.

As for the car, it's no longer worth showing.  While it was shiny and new when we bought it back in 2006, now it's just an eight-year-old import showing your typical wear and tear.  FosterEema and I dropped out of the car club years ago. Our weekly nit-picky wash, wax and detail sessions have long since become a thing of the past.

While it might sound like I got the goldmine and FosterEema got the shaft, I think our settlement was fair. We hammered it out on our own, and came to an amicable agreement.  While it is true I received a larger share of the material goods we acquired during our relationship, I  also took on all of the debt that went with it.  The house was, and still is, underwater.

FosterEema left with her personal possessions, an equal share of our joint bank accounts, and one car. She lived in the house for a year, rent-free, after asking me for the divorce.

While I suppose it's tempting to sing Jerry Reed's She Got the Goldmine after most divorces, I don't think it needs to be sung for our divorce.  We divided things up as fairly as we could, given the circumstances.  While it might have been easier to sell everything and split the cash, it's not possible to do when you have assets that are indebted to a level that's higher than they are worth.

If there is such a thing, I think FosterEema and I have managed to have a good divorce.

Friday, September 5, 2014

An Overdue Update

A couple of days ago, Decemberbaby left a comment on my post Family Relations.  I just got around to approving it, and realized that it has been a very long time since my last post.

You know the old saying, "the more things change, the more they stay the same?"  I would say it's pretty applicable to what's going on.

FosterEema and Danielle moved out well over a year ago now.  When they left, Danielle was confident that her life was going to be perfect once mean ol' FosterAbba was out of her life.  Danielle started having problems with FosterEema immediately.  There was no honeymoon at all.

The day Danielle turned 18, she withdrew herself from high school.  The next day, she boarded a train and then a bus to travel out of state so she could reunite with her biological half-sibling.  Less than a week later, she was on the phone to FosterEema asking to come home.  FosterEema said no.

Other than a couple of messages on social media, I have spoken to Danielle only once since she turned 18.  We only chatted on the phone for a few minutes, and it seemed like neither of us were happy about being pushed together.  My father, who was trying to be helpful, tried to "surprise" the two of us when I called his house and Danielle happened to be visiting.

These days, all of the news I receive about Danielle comes secondhand.  From what I've been able to piece together, things didn't work out with her first half-sibling, so she moved in with another.  That didn't work out either.  Now she's living with her biological mother and aunt in another country.  From what I've heard, she's not entirely happy with the living arrangement, but she has few options.  She never finished high school nor is she working.  I have also heard that she is "desperate" to have her birth control implant removed, and that she would very much like to get pregnant.

FosterEema is living in a city about an hour away, working at the same job she found after she asked me for a divorce.  While I rarely speak to her directly anymore, we stay connected on a social media site.  Her posts there seem to indicate she's happy.  I'm genuinely glad for that.

While I never would have asked for the divorce, and it was certainly unwelcome at the time, I am much happier for it.  My life has a lot more joy and substantially less turmoil than it ever did in "the before."

I am still working the same job, and living in the same house.  With the exception of my mortgage, I am debt-free.  My house, though in need of some significant repairs, is clean and tidy.  I have written, and published, a couple of novels.  I am still with the gentleman I mentioned earlier.  We have become quite serious, and he recently moved from his hometown to come live with me.

It has been:

  • 8 years since Danielle came to live with us
  • 2 years and 2 months since FosterEema asked for a divorce
  • 1 year and 5 months since we signed our get (Jewish religious divorce)
  • 1 year and 2 months since FosterEema and Danielle moved out
  • 11 months since Danielle turned 18

I am still in contact with a handful of people from my active blogging days.  Some of those folks are still parenting very difficult children.  When I speak to them, I hear and empathize with their stories.  I remember what it was like to feel so trapped in a situation where there was no real help, no respite, and no relief.

I can clearly remember the absolute irony of spending Valentine's Day 2012 with my soon-to-be-ex.  On a day when I desperately wished I was exchanging love notes and chocolates, we were sitting in juvenile court dealing with Danielle's most recent violent outburst.  Days later, we were again under investigation and had a pair of social workers interviewing us and inspecting our home.  Just like the previous five times we were investigated, we were cleared of any wrongdoing.

All I can say is that it does get better.  While it might not seem like it while one is living it, these kids turn 18.  They grow up.  Many want to return to their birth families and they do.

Despite what social workers will say, adoption isn't necessarily forever.  While it seems like the destruction, turmoil and emotional impact of traumatized kids will continue indefinitely, it eventually stops.  They move on.  They take their turmoil elsewhere.

Now I can sleep with my bedroom door unlocked.  I no longer have to count knives and scissors.

I'll close this post with a musical quote that comes to mind whenever I reflect on the past eight years:

Lately it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it's been.

~ The Grateful Dead