Thursday, July 23, 2009

Strong in the Broken Places

Read an awesome article today about how we should change the way we think about so-called "attachment disorders" in adopted kids and give credit to kids who attach and detach intermittently, because they are demonstrating resilience. Highly recommended read. It also includes this Hemingway quote:

"The world breaks everyone. And afterward, some are strong in the broken places."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

More progress!

OOoooooh! Things are moving along now! It's hard not to worry about being disappointed, like failing to impress T with what awesome parents we are. I'll have to practice being my better self. We have a date to meet up and spend some time together the weekend following this one. The week after that, assuming he still feels like we're worthwhile, we'll meet his foster mom, and after that we can coordinate visits through her as we wish. For our first meeting, I suggested go-karting. I hope 15 year old boys are still into go-karts. I feel like I'm the one who's up for adoption!

I had a long long talk with his adoption caseworker and she's great - articulate and very familiar with him. She gave me some valuable information, and I'm going to stop writing the details of what I learn, because this seems like it might actually develop into a long term relationship, and I don't want to violate his privacy or expose him to my friends and family with information he might not choose to share. But the information confirmed the gut sense we have about him, and our feeling that nobody on the planet has ever been more deserving of adoption. And also more ready! For a 15 year-old, he seems to have given it quite a bit of thought and to have an express goal of finding a family. And she reiterated that he's totally psyched that we're interested in him, which I just love, especially in such a reserved and thoughtful person.

I've also been getting some feedback from peripheral people about the race issue - some of our friends have an opinion about transracial adoption that they want to share. It comes up, because one of the first questions people tend to ask is "What ethnicity is he?" I was genuinely surprised at how blatant people are about their curiosity and misgivings about transracial adoption, but I guess I shouldn't have been. I asked the social worker if T has had an opportunity to express his thoughts about being adopted by a white family. She laughed and said, "Oh yes, of course I asked him!" She said that after he met us, she also said to him, "They're white - whaddya think?" And apparently he said "Yeah I know. That's cool." The social worker said that the older kids tend to be quite pragmatic on this issue. I'm pleased he was given the opportunity to define his feelings about it on his own terms before and after he met us. That's kind of all we needed to know. I'm doing some reading about transracial adoption, books written by parents and adoptees who've been there. I don't have specific concerns about it really - I want to do the best I can to provide any kid in our life with the opportunity to define his identity as he wishes and give him access to the people and stories that can help him do that. But this situation is so complex and fragile on so many fronts that I just figure our cultural differences are one more part of the equation that we'll navigate. (My current plan is to make gentle fun of our whiteness if we get over the initial hump of getting to know each other, so that our nasal voices and jerky dancing and lack of acumen with southern cooking become a joke between the three of us. We'll see how that goes.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Best Day EVER

Today I think I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my whole life. Whatever complexities come afterwards, this day is perfect. We heard back from T.’s social worker, who had an opportunity to tell him about our interest in him. She said this: “He really liked you guys. He remembered you both and is very interested in having you host him. He got a huge smile on his face when I told him that you were interested in spending more time with him. He tends to be more on the serious side, seeing his mega-watt grin was a real treat!”

So huge. And so so easy – so natural in its own weird way. We have so many decisions to navigate now – and so many awkward getting-to-know-you moments! But OH MY GOD I’m so happy.

I can't say anymore - I have no urge to analyze or stories to weave. Just waiting for the next step down this road.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pins and Needles

Yesterday we went to a party in Malibu on a private beach. We drove one of the kids from South LA, which took about two hours in traffic. The kid – he’s twelve – spent the last twenty minutes of the drive yelling at the top of his lungs “I’m bored! Bored! I'm bored! Bored! Bored! Bored! Bored!” That was after telling us fanciful tales of the gun he carries, and the ski mask he wears when he’s doing robberies and the hit CD he recorded at his father’s recording studio. (His assessment form described in my previous post does say he tells tall tales.) He interrupted his manic chant briefly to bark like a dog at a passing car so loudly that our car shook and we attracted notice from a nearby motorcycle cop.

Arriving somewhat shattered, we immediately spotted the kid we’re really interested in – I’ll call him T. He was meticulously and fashionably dressed, with bright white socks pulled up over his ankles, old-school black sneakers, long black shorts, and a very clean t-shirt. I learned later that his current foster mom is out of town, so he’s temporarily staying in a “substitute foster home.” Any credit for keeping his clothes so neat is his own.

He’s 15 and very shy with adults. He attends these events with his younger brother, with whom he has never lived. I wanted to be careful not to put any pressure on him. I know from reading what his social worker has written about him that he’s been frustrated that nobody has expressed interest in him yet. He “presents” (as the social workers say) as very standoffish and disinterested. If I were he, I would do the same. I think his behavior suggests that he’s intelligent enough to understand what the event is about, how high the stakes are, and to protect himself from disappointment.

We all headed down to the beach where a volleyball game was getting started. I went up to T and his brother, introduced myself and reminded them that we had washed dogs together at a previous event. He looked alarmed, but he also shook the hand I offered immediately. I asked if they wanted to play volleyball and he shook his head no. I said, “Are you sure?” and smiled. He shook his head no, but he stood rooted in place, and he smiled quickly. I said, “I could keep asking until you say yes.” He shook his head and smiled again and looked down at his feet and I let him go.

Later he went upstairs for a moment and re-emerged in a second outfit, one he brought with him for swimming. Long orange board shorts and a tank top, no socks. He has the stretched appearance of a young teenager whose bulk hasn’t caught up with his height yet, and he holds his head on his long neck sort of like a turtle. He stood quietly at the edge of the water with just his toes in the waves, near the group playing volleyball but out of reach. After several minutes, I saw him notice a seal swimming offshore. He cocked his head to the side and watched it with a far-away expression.

Later, we were playing flag tag with the kids and he came and stood on the periphery. I had a hunch that sending an emissary might work better this time, so I grabbed one of the young college-age coaches who had come to organize the games for the kids. “There are two young athletes standing over there and I know they’d like to play but they need to be encouraged,” I told him. That worked great –the boys responded to the coach immediately. They lined up for the game behind us, and I heard T. speaking to his brother, softly, telling him just to stay put in the back of the line up until the scrimmage was over, so he could hold on to his position – a defensive strategy, calculated invisibility.

Later we played a little volleyball with a big group. He’s a natural athlete, easy and confident. Eventually he drifted away from the game and went to sit by himself, very still, watching and listening. He reminds me of a cat. His younger brother hung in – asking me how the game is played, why the sun made spots in his eyes, and offering his sandy ear for me to clean for him. He wasn’t particularly interested in me – he’s just a bit hapless and in the habit of being taken care of and told what to do.

Our agency told us both boys want to be adopted together, but we had a hunch that isn’t true. We sought out the boys’ social worker and told her the truth. “We’ve met T. twice and we think he’s great,” we said. “We’d like to offer to host him on weekends, and we’re interested in adoption." We also explained that we didn't want to put T. on the spot. We suggested that she talk to him about us, and pass along any questions he has.

She had to chaffeur the boys, which added up, return trip included, to about six hours in the car for her. Her enthusiasm about our offer was limited, for no reason other than she seemed tired. But she did tell us that T. had no interest in being adopted with his younger brother – in fact, he finds his younger brother quite annoying. A brief attempt was made to unite them with their birth mom, with whom they’ve never lived, sometime last year, and when that fell through, T. committed himself to the idea of adoption and he’s been frustrated by the slow progress toward that end ever since. In fact, he recently told the social worker that he expects he may not be adopted, and he wants help preparing for "emancipation" - that's what they call the time when the kids turn 18 and are booted out of the foster care system without any further support. He's planning ahead.

The social worker told us that the next step would be to organize some sort of social outing with T and his current foster mom (he’s only lived in his current foster home for a few months), because she has to “get to know us” and agree to the plan for weekend hosting. And she’s out of town, so that could take a couple weeks. Our instincts tell us to move on this right away, because if it turns out that he likes us and we get through some weekends together intact, we might like to offer to have him live with us full time before the new school year starts. But this process moves at the pace of the bureaucracy and doesn’t respond much to instinct.

We didn’t try to talk to him again after that. We figured the social worker would likely pass along the message, and he might feel overwhelmed. Later in the evening, we were down on the beach watching the volleyball game as the sun set, and he came down and circled the group, then climbed up on a distant rock, and sat quietly watching us from afar. After about 15 minutes he went back up to the house and when we went upstairs, he was gone.

We still had to drive the little maniac we brought with us back to south LA, so it was a late night. Fortunately he was tired on the return trip. All I can think about is T. I share his frustration with the process – and it’s not clear that there’s anything we can do to speed it up. So now we wait – for exhausted social workers and chaotic agency people to facilitate the next step. This process is incredibly awkward, in every way. I fear disappointment most of all – that he won’t like us, or he’ll change his mind about wanting to be adopted, or some other circumstance will interfere. There is something about him that I can't easily summarize that makes me feel like he's the only one for us. But it’s hard to indulge my own fear of disappointment when I consider his. He is reserved and dignified and diligent in the way he approaches these events, and I’m going to try to respond in kind even though I don’t feel nearly so cool. Most of all, I want to give him space to make a decision about whether we are right for him. I mistrust my own sense of urgency and I'm wary of pushing him.

More to come.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

And Again

I just had a huge moment, because we just read our first "child assessment" forms. To be frank, I was in a down cycle again - not sure we're doing the right thing, overwhelmed by the process. Then somewhat out of the blue, our agency sent us these "assessment" forms for some kids we had expressed an initial (and reserved) interest in meeting.

And, whaaaaaaaaaaaah, I'm up again, up so high I'm ready to jump in my car and drive across the county and pick this one kid up RIGHT NOW. Which is totally insane, and I definitely need to calm down. Yeah. I'm not using any names and I don't think it's a violation of privacy to explain in brief that this kid, who is extremely solemn and shy in person, has been in 13 foster homes in 15 years. He wants to go to college and he really really wants to be adopted. And his report says he sometimes struggles with feeling angry, although he has no significant record of misbehavior - a day of skipping school here, a little school fight there.

I understand angry and I feel fine about working with it. I believe anger, within reasonable parameters, is the wind that blows things around so they don't settle into a depression-inducing infection. So that's not freaking me out one little bit. If I'd moved foster homes almost every year of my life, I'd be way past mad. And despite all of the above, this kid (whom I've met and found to be solemn and interesting and self-possessed) gets pretty good grades, excels at sports, and wants to go to UCLA. I hung out with him and he was incredibly mature, even somewhat elderly for his age. Extremely withdrawn - but so obviously in there, you could almost see him thinking.

But what's got me itching to bypass all the process and just adopt him right now is that the report says that he is feeling frustrated because he's ready to be adopted and wonders when there might be a match for him and whether anyone will want him. He's waiting, and that kills me. It really really kills me. It sets off this crazy instinctive thing that I don't even understand, like I want to benchpress buildings or something.

I don't think I've ever felt as emotional about anything as I do about this - I don't think I even thought I was capable of so many feelings. And that probably makes me vulnerable and sets me up for a total rollercoaster. But I just can't help it or stop it.

So here's the immediate problem: we've got a date to take another kid in the program to two events this week. And that kid's assessment form reveals a personality which, though charming in many ways, is not the right fit for us. (We weren't offered the assessment form until after we made the commitment.) I don't know what to do, except I know I'll absolutely make good on our commitment to take this other kid to the events. But my fingers are itching to call the agency right now and tell them we don't just want to host the first kid on weekends - we want to offer him a permanent home. Before school starts this fall. I don't even think that's possible. I can hardly wait until Saturday to see what happens.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Today, just a quote...

Today, just a short quote that I came across while I was looking for a phone number online. I'm not in the habit of quoting Oprah, but it stuck me as a succinct statement of something so important and I was relieved by her clarity. The foster care system sometimes has so many rules to navigate, the basic motivation seems to get buried.

My wish is that children be be treated as people, not as property; that their rights as human beings on the planet, to food, shelter, education and health, be taken seriously. - Oprah Winfrey

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Begin Again

Today we braved summer Saturday traffic to Laguna Beach for a treasure hunt with a crew of Colombian orphans. (Our agency runs two programs, one for LA foster kids and one for Colombian orphans who come over for the summer. Our primary commitment is to the foster kid program, but, like most of the potential parents in our program, we’ve been attending the summer program events as well.)

For the last couple weeks, we (mostly I) have been feeling a little bit lost. The overall process of getting matched with a kid is longer, more confusing and less predictable than we expected. What’s more, the Colombian kids are so different than the LA foster kids that spending time with them caused us to reconsider all our motivations. (The Colombian kids are younger and remarkably better adjusted than the LA foster kids – I can’t explain why, except to guess that the nuns who run Colombian orphanages must have a better grip than the cumbersome California child welfare bureaucracy.)

After the event today (hours in the hot sun interacting with rambunctious 10 year old boys without the benefit of a common language), we were tired, and instead of trying to reach immediate conclusions, we went to the beach. We waded in the water and lay on the sand. After awhile, we were ready to talk again, and it took just a few minutes to figure out we both felt recommitted to our original goal of taking in a local foster kid. We got there for the same reasons: 1) there are thousands of older foster kids in Los Angeles who have little chance of getting out of the institutional foster system 2) our motivation isn’t really to become a traditional nuclear family, so we have flexible expectations that make us well-suited to the foster kid program.

Beyond helping us sort that out, the event today was time well spent because we got to have a long conversation with the head of our agency. She’s a huge personality, always “on” and dedicated to promoting the needs of the kids. At times that can feel like a hard sell. “How about this girl?” she’ll say. “Let me tell you , she NEEDS a family right away and I think she’d be GREAT for you two.” In the beginning, I found this off-putting. But after getting more familiar with the system, I see that it’s probably what’s required. She’s got a lot of well-intentioned potential parents who are somewhat tentative, and she’s got a lot of teenage foster kids with few prospects for adoption, living moment by moment in shaky foster home situations. So if she throws herself into matchmaking with a certain aggressive fervor, that’s probably warranted. She’s kind of like an EMT, in that she doesn’t have time to pursue perfection - she just needs to staunch the bleeding, and that’s a noble enough ambition.

Anyway, she had her picture book of foster kid bios, which she seems to take with her everywhere, and we flipped through it together. We’ve already met more than half the kids in the book, so we had some first hand knowledge to contribute to the discussion. At one point, she paused, looked at me, and apropos of nothing, said “You know what Roseanne Barr says about the foster care system? She says we need to blow the whole damned thing up and start over.” Then we went back to flipping through the bios, kind of like trading baseball cards but with very high stakes. By the end, we’d agreed on three or four kids who seem like a good match for us (this is the third or fourth time we've had such a conversation with her, but the kids circumstances change so often you have to revisit all the time), and she left in a flurry of text messaging and hand gestures, assuring us that she’d be in touch to set up opportunities to meet them.

Big week this week, as we have two upcoming events. We’re picking up some kids and driving them to a private movie premier, and we’re heading to a private home in Malibu for a beach party on the weekend. (Some other time I’ll write about the surreally large territory considered “Los Angeles” by the DCFS and our agency – it seems to extend nearly to Las Vegas on the east, nearly to San Diego to the south, and halfway to Fresno on the north – which translates to a LOT of driving kids to and from events.) I’m going to try to make a point of setting aside my native instinct to observe and analyze and instead do my best to throw myself into it, taking a cue from the head of our agency – part of my dawning awareness that we’re navigating an inexact process best met head on with willpower and energy.

Site Meter