Monday, May 31, 2010

Hopeful Harambee Kids

Our family has attended Harambee Summer Festival for the last 12 years of its 16 year existence. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important parts of our family's year, every year,  and it is a significant part of our family history.  The world of Harambee is weaved into the fabric of our family culture every single day of the year. 

We are a stronger family, we are a BETTER family, because of Harambee.

I cannot begin to state what Harambee has meant to my kids throughout the years.  7 days of being surrounded by other kids that get it ALL.  Get being black in a majority white country, get being adopted, get being adopted trans racially and internationally, get multi racial families, get special needs.  Those 7 days make the other 358 days of the year bearable. Their friendships are life long and so, so important.  I am the mother I am, and my kids are the young men they are today, in large part because of our relationships at Harambee.

In a few short weeks we will join another 80 families for our week of camp.  Campers, Trailers, Tent's and loaded minivans will pour into beautiful Naramata, BC for a week of tears, laughter, fireside chats, football games going long after dusk and our precious family will be once again all together.  Counsellors will come to help support families struggling with attachment or racial issues.  Fana Soro and the Miyanda dancers (several of whom were Harambee kids originally) will come to share their talents and mentor youth.   The big kids, who were once the little kids,  will hang around with the little kids, who were once the babies and the circle of love and friendship will continue as if it was never broken.

And this same time, just down the road from camp, in Penticton, BC  Rihanna will be having a concert. RIHANNA.  OK, so this doesn't mean much to me but this does mean ALOT to the kids at camp.  Rihanna is someone that many Harambee kids see themselves reflected in.  A beautiful, black young woman with amazing talent, even if her history is somewhat complicated.  Just like our kids. 

Tickets start for this concert at $95.00 which means that for the vast majority of the kids coming to Harambee Camp, and their families, attendance won't be an option.  So us Harambee Moms are trying to put the word out.  I am not sure who you know or who, who you know, knows but if you possibly know anyone that would be willing to help out a great group of around 200 African Canadian and African American kids meet Rihanna, attend her rehearsal or even, possibly attend the concert we would appreciate help!

SUNFM is the sponsoring radio station  Def Jam  is her producer

It can't hurt to ask, right?

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Year Ago Today

I had other things I wanted to write about, but I would be remiss not to note that it was a year ago today I was laying on the couch, sore and emotionally exhausted.  Shel was stumbling around the house still reeling from the shock of losing his job and dealing with his wife having a cancer diagnosis.

The phone rang right around lunch time.  Strangely, it was from our local Ministry of Children and Family office.  A familiar voice was on the other end of the line.  "Jen" she said, "I know you are off work, and I am in a desperate situation.  I have two babies here and no where to place them locally, would you even consider becoming a foster parent again while you are off on medical leave?"


We hadn't been foster parents in years.  Our file long ago shut down by our choice.  We had zero interest in EVER dealing with the government agency and its craziness ever again.  We were done. 


Completely and totally DONE I tell you.

So we said we would talk about it.

And then we called back and asked for more information.  Two baby girls.  They would be separated tomorrow because there were no open homes with two available infant beds.  This was a last desperate shot as the social worker went through a list of people she knew in the community that might be interested in foster parenting.   Need lots of love and support.  Would probably be going home by August.

So we said we would have to talk it over with the boys when they got home from school.

Now, you have to understand how many "serious family talks" we had had with the boys in recent weeks.  First there was sitting them down to tell them that their Grandma Nan had died.  Then there was the whole "Papa is very, very sick" talk.  Then just a few days later there was the "This is a big surprise but Mommy has cancer too and needs surgery right away" conversation followed shortly by the "Crap, Daddy lost his job" chat.  Our kids had been through alot.  We all had been through alot.

So when those boys got home from school and we said we needed to have another family talk, a look of shock and horror but mostly deep fear crossed all their faces.  Babies were a breeze to talk about in comparison and the phone call was made to the social worker one minute before her office closed for the day.

Caden's bed was shoved against the wall and a playpen set up next to his bed.  He would be bunking with Tanner for now.  A cradle was placed carefully in my room. I put the call out on facebook that I might be needing some baby girl clothes and friends came by with box after box.

The babies arrived shortly after supper.  Precious, perfect and stunned into complete and total passiveness.

Our family had grown by two.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Walk a Mile in my Moccasins

Despite accusations to the contrary, we do not think "race" every minute of every day.  We do, however, do whatever it takes to ensure that our home, and the world that touches our kids, is as safe for our children as possible.  Our family - our ENTIRE family - is multiracial and multicultural.  My black kids are growing up with First Nations sisters, my First Nations kids are growing up with white brothers, and my white kids have black brothers and brown sisters.  And they are ALL family.  My family.  Our family.  

But their histories, their races (even if race IS a social construct), their historical cultures are important pieces to their individual identities, and to our identity as a family.  I can't "love away" their race and raise my kids to be color blind, nor would I ever really want to.  Our differences make us unique, interesting and they are very, very real. 

I love the things that tie my children together with sameness, like our shared experiences, our shared love of our extended family, our personal family history, our faith, our love of taco night and Space Mountain.  I can also equally love and respect those things that make us different.  That St. Patrick's Day was my Irish grandmother's favorite holiday and that Daddy's Norwegian grandma made excellent lefse and that slavery directly impacted my sons' great-great grandparents, and that my girls' great-great-great grandfather was a Chilcotin Warrior, and that three members of our family immigrated to Canada and that six of us were born here. 

I can honor and respect that all of my children have unique, complicated and different histories that affect their present day realities.  That doesn't make me race obsessed, that makes me honest. When my minority children walk out my front door and face the world the first thing that others will see is their race.  That's not right or necessarily wrong it simply is.  And when that happens, I want all my kids to be proud of who they are, and who they were, and who they will become.   I want them to know that white, brown or black and they are valuable, important and worthy of being treated as such.

We don't teach our kids to look for offense, but we do teach them to expect respect.  We identify prejudice when we see it, and explain to them the faults in those that think that way.  We talk about the differences between being a black teenage boy and being a white teenage boy.  We don't talk about those differences because we LIKE them, we talk about them because they exist.  I HAVE TO explain to my kids about racism, prejudice and the complicated histories of all their ancestors because if I don't I fail to prepare them for the real world they will have to live in without my covering and protection. 

Teaching your minority child - or in fact ANY child -  to respect their own history and to be prepared to deal with a majority world that disvalues all things "different" cannot begin when they enter the school system or as they prepare to leave for college.  It's not one conversation, or one picture book or that single token black friend.  As a parent, it has to be a conscious decision to become aware, to become uncomfortable, to challenge your own perceptions and prejudices and to accept, and even grieve, that your child's reality is not your own. 

My daughter wears moccasins.  Not because she doesn't have shoes (she has many, many pairs of shoes), not because there is anything wrong with shoes, but because it is a symbol of her history and a nod of respect to her culture. And that is me, her mother, consciously laying a foundation for her to grow up to first know, and second value, her personal and sacred history. 

I will teach her to respect that personal and sacred history.  I will teach her to expect it to be respected by you, and what to do when it's not.  I will also teach her to fight to protect the value of your personal and sacred history.  From that can come no harm.  

Monday, May 24, 2010

We left. We came home. We all survived.

A year and a half ago or so Shel and I won a cruise through a hockey fundraiser.  We could never take it.  There was cancer and death and then the girls came and I don't know about in your family but I don't have alot of people knocking my door down offering to babysit 6 kids for a week.  And so that winning ticket expired in December, 2009 never redeemed.

In March my sister casually mentioned that she had found incredibly cheap flights to Disneyland (as in $37 cheap) and would we or could we consider going with her.  So, on a whim,  I called the agency we had won our cruise through and asked if there was any way that we could convert our expired prize for a cruise for two into a family trip to Disneyland.  And they said yes.  I was shocked.  A cruise we didn't really want to take could turn into a family trip we REALLY did want to take.  The only glitch was we had to take the trip by June, 2010. 

Alas, in March we did not have custody of the girls.  They also did not have passports.  Plus they are 14 and 24 months old and although the idea of leaving the girls behind was awful, so was the thought of trying to drag them through Disneyland. 

I don't leave my kids.  Ever.  At least not willingly and not happily and oh the guilt as I even considered taking the boys to Disney for 5 days while leaving the girls behind in the arms of adoring relatives.

The guilt, I tell you,  was crippling.  Which might have been why I didn't mention it on here. 

We took a week, then two and talked it over.  Finally I came to a conclusion, there was no way possible I could pass up on the chance to spend this time with the boys in Disneyland for FREE.  They too deserved this amazing opportunity and the girls, well, they would have to survive without me for 6 days. 

I prepared and planned and fussed and worried.  A four page typed schedule left behind. A photo album of us, blankets made to smell like me, lots of time spent with those who would be caring for them.  I pulled out every attachment resource I could find to prepare the girls for the separation.  Although excited for the trip I was quite honestly sick with worry. 

So we left and had an amazing trip.
We got to spend some big kid time with some incredible brothers who really, really deserved some focused attention from mom and dad.

And then we came home.  Antsy might be an apt word to describe me as we pulled into the driveway.  All those fears, worries and stresses came flooding back.  Had I set attachment work back a year?  Had I destroyed the girls' trust in me?  Would they be angry?  Hurt?  Mad?

Happy girls had been fine being doted on and spoilt rotten by those that love them. And now they were so happy to see their family.  Excellent eye contact, lots of cuddles and oh the joy to be reunited.  It was a good thing.  A very good thing to go.  It was a very good thing to be home.

Friday, May 21, 2010

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

Tanner and Caden have lived a life without much loss.  Their hearts open wide easily and without reservation to everyone.  Tanner wishes for a family with twelve brothers and sisters, Caden approaches social workers on his own and asks them to place more children with us.  "A brother next" he says, "just don't tell mom, she will say no". Their joy and enthusiasm at the girls arrival knew no bounds and I was confident that they would love the babies with all their hearts.   And they did.  Easily, quickly and still.

Greg remembered the loss of before.  He remembered his mom crying on the couch, and the dark cloud that
descended over our family.  In only the way a 15 year old can see the world, he has no tolerance for those that put their children's needs behind their addiction.  He was scared. Scared of the unknown, scared of being hurt.  Scared to love.  It took him three, maybe four, days to risk his heart but when he did the rewards were enormous.  Jayde, our tiny attachment destroyed baby clung to him. 

Her big brother that looked different than anyone else in her world that had ever failed her.  He was safe and gentle and loving.  And she cracked her heart open for him.   This big brother that would pick her up when he got home from school and kiss her good morning when everyone else merited a teenage grunt.  Oh how she loved him first and she loved him fiercely.   And today, as her heart has grown to love everyone in her family, her Greggie calling to her with a "How's My Pebbles?" sends her scampering for a hug.  

Eric protested, as he does every change, that he was unwilling to cope or compromise and he certainly would never love another child.  Ever. Or you know, until dinner. 

In Taya Eric has found a soul sister and in Eric, Taya found her best friend and most committed playmate.  She is a mirror reflection of his intense, curious, strong willed and dynamic self.  They could not be more alike and in parenting this precious Taya I catch a glimpse of the baby that was Eric.  The baby I never knew.   

Without a doubt, Eric adores both girls,  but in Taya - in her struggles for control and attempts at understanding, and dismantling,  her world with its limits and boundaries, and our struggles to parent another dynamo on two legs without pulling our hair out- he sees his protege.  And they are inseparable.  My two who feel like twenty, love.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Recent Favorites

I was mute for so long.  Unable to share the ups and the downs.  Our photos full of children I was not allowed to claim as my own.  It brings me great joy to share now. To share our journey from tiny ones that arrived one breezy spring day to growing, thriving, amazing toddlers that fill our home with joy.

 To challenge those who read at how big your heart can grow, to ask what you are being called to do.  To shout from the roof tops that I am blessed. 

My heart was broken, and oh how that space in my heart aches for she who once filled my arms, but oh I am blessed beyond  my wildest imaginations.  I was not sure I would ever again smile with my eyes.  And I do.  I am perfectly, wonderfully, amazingly blessed with daughters I did not know one year ago.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Earning a Nick Name: Part 2

Miss Tiny was only tiny until she found the right end of a bottle, and then the right end of a spoon and then the right end of whatever she can get her chubby little hand around. 

Jayde is perfectly happy all the time.  Content, easy going, and an absolute goof ball who lives to entertain.  She loves deeply, giggles loudly and sleeps very, very little.

I was her seventh mother.  She didn't make eye contact with me for at least 4 months.  I held, I cooed and finally I sang.  And she would glance.  And then look.  And then stare.  And now she loves.  Oh how she loves.  With her entire entire heart and her chubby thighs she loves. 
And she is loved. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Earning a Nick Name

Our family is taking a much needed sabbatical this week in a land far away so for the next few days I will be veering off the serious topics, ignoring any comments needing moderation and sharing with you some of the craziness that has been our past year.

Miss Curious EARNED her nickname and continues to earn it every day.  Every minute of every day she spends trying to figure out and then conquer her world.  No cupboard lock, no door handle, no restriction holds her back. She is our crazy girl and we love her.

She is intense and hysterical.  Full of vim and vigor and quite possibly the future dictator of the world.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Openness Agreement: Part 5

And so with much help and input, and a special thank you to my friend Brenda Romanchik at Open Adoption Insight we came up with an agreement that met both the girls' needs for stability, the parents desires for visitation, and our need for safe boundaries.   There was a reason for every point, for every section.  Although we fully believe that when things are going well we will have more than one visit every two months, we needed to address the reality that when things AREN'T going well the parents are still guaranteed a visit every two months.  In the end this agreement, our honesty, made it possible for the parents to make a decision they could be happy about.

Communication Agreement

We, __________________, and ______________ mutually agree to enter into this good faith communication agreement. We understand that the basis of this agreement is a belief that it is in the best interest of the children, Taya and Jayde, to have continued contact with their biological parents, siblings and any appropriate extended family while still maintaining the stability and permanence of their placement in the family of ___________________. The best interests of the children, including their emotional, physical and spiritual health will take precedence during all interactions between all parties.

We hereby agree that the basic standard for communication between Shel & Jen  (hereafter referred to as Permanent Guardians) and Mom / Dad  (hereafter referred to as Biological Parent) regarding Taya and Jayde  (hereafter referred to as The Children) will be as follows:

#1) One goal of the Permanent Guardians will be to maintain openness in the relationship based on the appropriateness of the Biological Parent. Each relationship with the individual Biological Parent will be considered separately. The private life and activities of the Biological Parent will only be considered if it affects The Children.

#2) The Permanent Guardians agree to make a phone number, an email address and home address available to each Biological Parent so long as they are appropriate and it is safe to do so. In turn, the Biological Parent agrees to maintain this information in confidence and not provide it to anyone without the express permission of a Permanent Guardian. Biological Parent agrees to provide a contact phone number and email address to the Permanent Guardians. All parties agree to keep the other informed of future changes in contact information.

#3) The Permanent Guardians agree to facilitate a minimum of six (6) supervised visits per calendar year between The Children and Biological Parent for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. One visit will be made available during each two month period (Dec/Jan, Feb/Mar, April/May, June/July, Aug/Sept, Oct/Nov) but will not accumulate. Effective 2013 and forward, a minimum of four (4) supervised visits each calendar year will be facilitated. One visit will be made available during each three month period (Jan-Mar, April – June, July – Sept, Oct – Dec) but will not accumulate. The Permanent Guardians and Biological Parent consent to the visits being held in a home or an appropriate public venue based on a mutual agreement. Visits will normally be scheduled to be 2 to 4 hours in length. This visit schedule will be renegotiated in good faith should either party move out of the greater *local city* area.

#4a) It is understood that the Permanent Guardians may choose to invite the Biological Parent to attend additional family events such as special occasions, outings or holidays with prior arrangements. All stipulations regarding visits apply in these circumstances and these additional visits are at the sole discretion of the Permanent Guardians. It is understood that there may be extra people in attendance at these visits (extended family members and/or friends of the Permanent Guardians and/or The Children) and the purpose of these visits will be the event in attendance rather than the primary objective of visits. (an example of this would be birthday parties, beach days, sports events, school plays etc)

#4b) Regularly scheduled visits and / or additional visit requests will be initiated by the Biological Parent and will be scheduled for a time, location and length that is convenient for all parties, with the best interests of The Children taking precedence. There will be a minimum of 48 hours from requested visitation to a scheduled visit to allow Permanent Guardians to prepare The Children for the visit. It is understood that the Permanent Guardians will attempt to accommodate visit requests and the Biological Parent will be understanding of scheduling conflicts. The goal of visitation will be to be flexible and respectful of the children’s activities, family life and relationships.

#5) The Biological Parent agrees that there shall be no illegal drugs or alcohol consumed by the Biological Parent prior to the visit or during the visit or the visit will be terminated at the discretion of the Permanent Guardians and all future visits suspended until Biological Parent has completed treatment. Visits will not occur at Correctional Facilities or Treatment Centres.

#6) The primary objective of these scheduled visits is to facilitate and maintain a relationship between the Biological Parents and The Children, but it is mutually understood that the Biological Parent may request that extended family members participate in a visit. The Biological Parent agrees to inform the Permanent Guardians a minimum of 48 hours prior to a scheduled visit of any extended family members/and or friends that will be in attendance at visits. The Biological Parent agrees to ensure that any extended family members and/or friends requested to be in attendance will comply with the following criteria: must not be a registered sex offender, must not have any recent history of violence or criminal activity (3 years), must not be suspected of being intoxicated or under the influence of an illegal substance, must not have any prior convictions of domestic violence, weapons charges, or child abuse charges, must be willing to be respectful and appropriate to all parties in attendance at visits. Failure to do so will mean that future visits will be restricted to the Biological Parent only.

#7) A Permanent Guardian will supervise all visits and it is understood that the Permanent Guardians will terminate any visit should they deem the actions of attending parties to be inappropriate or continuing the visit to not be in the best interest of The Children. This would include but is not exclusively limited to threats or actual violence, drug use, criminal activity or the children displaying extreme distress during the visit. Further visits would be suspended pending mediation.

#8) The Permanent Guardians agree to provide an email update with a minimum of three (3) pictures of The Children on a monthly basis to the Biological Parent for the next 36 months, and quarterly thereafter. These pictures may include other members of the Permanent Guardian’s family. Digital copies of pictures will be provided annually.

#9) The Biological Parent will be invited to phone the Permanent Guardian weekly at anytime that would be considered appropriate (during day time hours) for an update on The Children, or to email as desired.

#10) It is understood that the Permanent Guardians do believe that contact with Biological Parent(s) is currently in The Children’s best interest and do hold dear to the values of Open Communication. The Children’s preferences will be considered in regards to visitation once she / they have reached the age to make an informed decision (approx. age 10) at the discretion of her/their Permanent Guardians. Her/their preferences will not alter the previous agreement of email or phone contact between the Permanent Guardians and Biological Parent(s) until The Children reach the age of 19. The Biological Parent agrees that until The Children are of the age of majority (19) that all direct contact (including phone, text, email etc.) between The Children and the Biological Parent will only be arranged with the informed consent of the Permanent Guardians.

#11) The Permanent Guardians agree to encourage and be supportive of a relationship between The Children and their Biological Parents. The Biological Parent agrees to be supportive in conversations to The Children of all parenting decisions made by the Permanent Guardians (including but not limited to health care, education, discipline, place of residence) and understands it is the sole responsibility of the Permanent Guardians to make such decisions. The Permanent Guardians will be referred to as The Parents of the children using terms such as Mom/Dad/Parents. The Biological Parent will be referred to as the Mother/Father of The Children using such terms as Mama /Inkwol or another term of endearment of the Biological Parent’s choosing. It is mutually agreed that at all times this parenting agreement will be referred to as permanent and at no time will The Children be made to feel that either their place of residency with the Permanent Guardians or their contact with their Biological Parent is temporary.

#12) All parties agree that maintaining The Children’s connection to their Chilcotin heritage is very important. The Permanent Guardians commit to making reasonable efforts to provide opportunities for The Children to be exposed to and learn about their traditional heritage and language. The Biological Parent agrees to be supportive of this process and provide reasonable support in this endeavour.

#13 ) We understand that this is a working agreement based on the development of our relationships over time and it may require modification due to time and circumstance. We realize that this agreement is not legally binding, but is to be upheld in good faith and with mutual respect. We agree to review and rewrite this agreement if necessary on a yearly basis, to be reviewed on or around the beginning of February of each year based on the request of either party. If no review is necessary, the current agreement will carry forward. If we encounter difficulties in the interpretation, application or modification of the agreement, we all agree to ask for the assistance of a mutually agreed upon mediator in resolving any such difficulties.

Signed on ___________________________________________

Friday, May 14, 2010

Openness in Foster Care: Part 4

I do not want to paint things with warm tones and romantic hues so that those reading think this was an easy journey.  There were some very, very hard moments. 

I already mentioned the parent getting arrested during a visit I was supervising, right? 

And then there was that whole "come home from our family vacation to a destination 2000 kilometers away EARLY because a parent "had to have" a visit on their birthday".  That they confirmed every day for the three days we travelled home.  That they cancelled, after we were home.   

Then there was the family camping trip we drove home from in the middle of so that the girls could make their planned visit that the parents cancelled at the last moment because "they were too busy".  And then we passed them on the highway hitchhiking to a party. 

Or the birthday party they HAD TO attend so we rescheduled and reorganized and then they didn't even call. 

And there was that time they showed up to a visit in our home and something DEFINITELY wasn't right.  Or sober.  Or happy.

And those times our paths unexpectedly crossed and a parent was covered in cuts and bruises from a horrible beating.  And was drunk.

There were cancelled visits.  Visits that ended early.  Visits where inappropriate things were said.  Visits where inappropriate people showed up. And stayed.  Some times there were requests for rides and meals and gifts.  Some times I could say yes, and some times I didn't know how to say no.

There were some scary times, some times that made me very, very frustrated and some times I was fearful.  But of course it wasn't just hard for me.

Because there was also that time mom asked Taya to "come to mommy" and she stood between the two of us and cried because she didn't know which way to go. 

Or the time we saw mom at the mall and she tried to pick up Jayde, who screamed in terror and reached for me. 

And that time at the end of a visit when mom told Taya that "mommy's leaving now" and Taya panicked thinking I was going and refused to leave my arms for the rest of mom's stay. 

There was that time the baby was sick and mom didn't know what to do, and when she tried what she knew, the baby screamed uncontrollably and then threw up all over her. 

Our relationship grew past those uncomfortable times, those awkward moments, those painful experiences because we were both committed to having a relationship for the sake of the girls.  I was willing to speak up and address the pain from their perspective.  I was willing to forgive and forget, over and over again, and keep hoping for the best next time.  And I was willing to accept that better time next time might not ever come. 

When permanence became imminent I took a risk.   The professionals around us advised us to simply let things happen.  Let the court order permanence.  Let mom and dad have it forced upon them if necessary.  But I wanted a relationship and I wanted honesty.  I wanted to make them promises I would keep, and give them boundaries that I could live with.  I wanted to build the foundation of our relationship that would be strong, for the sake of the babies in the middle.

I emailed.  I facebooked.  I asked and questioned.  I thought and wrote and then re-wrote a contact agreement.  And then I emailed it to mom and gave it to dad and waited.  Would our expectations meet their expectations?  Would my being honest about the boundaries I could live with cost me the chance to parent the girls?

For a very long while it looked like it might.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Openness in Foster Care: Part 3

The summer progressed with various visits around our community.  A picnic with cousins at the beach, playtime with Granny at the park, another drive out to the traditional home of the girls' family.  But we live in the north and the weather was becoming cooler and we realized that the days of pleasant outdoor visits were coming to an end.

It was time to make a decision and open up our home to visits.  We had built a great foundation and had an always civil and sometimes friendly relationship but this was a giant act of trust.  Greg and Eric had taken far longer to warm to the girls' parents than Tanner and Caden.  Greg and Eric viewed them through the lens of children who they themselves had been in foster care.  Missed visits were met with anger and fierce feelings of protection for the babies.  During visits, the boys tended to be possessive and protective - easy to redirect but I could still sense their reluctance to share the girls with biological extended family but also, mostly,  reluctant to trust them with the babies they loved. 

There were many conversations with the boys, and many triggers faced.  It was not easy, not by a long shot, but it was still the right thing to do.  It was not my job to force the boys to like the girls' parents, but I did want them to understand and respect the role they had in the girls' lives. To invite the parents into our home meant that we had to be sure that Greg and Eric would be comfortable with sharing their home as well.

It took time, but we did want the girls to see us working together and we did want the girls parents to see where the babies were living.  We still assumed the girls would be reunited with their parents, probably by November, and through my attachment lens, I did want the girls' parents participating in our daily routine of parenting.  And so we gave our address.

It was at this point that our destiny irrevocably changed and our relationship with the parents forever exited the honeymoon stage.  Although my emotions were torn, my intentions were pure.  I wanted the best relationship between us and the parents for when the girls returned.  I wanted the parents to be experiencing the joys of giving a bath and tucking the babies into their own beds.  I wanted them to join us for meals. 

And so they did.  Once, twice, three times.  But slowly, as their comfort with where the girls were and who the girls were with increased, so did the lure of their past.  A month, maybe two would pass without a visit or a call.  Their relationship ended and dad chose to step out of the parenting process completely. 

Mom struggled to be consistent and make the changes she needed to make.  It was a difficult time.  It became clear that reunion was less and less likely to be imminent and our attachment to the girls became stronger.  The future was increasingly difficult to predict.

One cool November afternoon I stopped off at the social worker's office to bring Miss Precious (remember baby girl #3?) to a visit with her parents.  As I passed through the lobby I saw the girls' mother, sitting, waiting for an appointment with her social worker. We had not heard from her since the first week of September and I had been sick with worry as to her fate.

She hugged me.  I hugged her aunt who was with her.  We chatted and laughed like old friends.  She asked about the girls and I shared stories of their growth, and how I showed Taya her picture every night before bed.  Mom wiped a tear from her eye.

She asked me if I knew what tomorrow was.  I did.  Tomorrow was mediation where mom and her lawyer, and the social worker and their lawyer would sit down with a mediator and draw up a binding plan for permanency for the girls.  Complete steps one through four and get your children back.  Fail, and another plan is made. 

Mom asked me to attend.  She asked me to attend as HER support person.  She asked me to attend as her friend.

Tomorrow came and I drove out to the trailer court where she was staying with a relative.  They were supposed to join us but were too hung over to wake up.  On the car ride over to the meeting room she asked if I would consider taking custody of the girls if she could not parent.  I was in shock. She expressed her love, her desire to parent, her wish that she would do what it took, her intention to DO what it took, but she wanted to know if she couldn't, would I.  I called Shel.  Quite literally a 30 second conversation changed the course of our family.

We arrived at the meeting.  Two social workers, two lawyers, a mediator, mom and me.  Mom grabbed her lawyer and expressed her desires to her.  She initially asked me to sit in on the meeting and I declined feeling it best for them to talk alone.  They returned, before the rest of us even had a chance to sit down, with a 3 month plan for reunification and if that failed, a request that my husband and I apply for custody so as to avoid the girls being delegated to a life of foster care.  What was supposed to be an 8 hour meeting settled in a matter of minutes.  We all signed our names on the dotted lines.

Twice weekly visits, housing, counselling, therapy.  If successful the girls would begin the process of return in February 2010 with reunion completed, by the lastest in August of 2010.  If unsuccessful, the termination process would begin.   We walked out of that meeting with her promises ringing in our ears.  She would do it this time.  She wanted to parent.  She would, she could. 

She didn't.  Not for lack of love.  Not for lack of desire.  Not for lack of support.  Simply, she couldn't.  Not yet.  Maybe not ever.

Between that date and our February court date she made contact once. We showed up for that cold February day but she did not.  The judge glanced down at the mediation agreement and asked if we were present.  We stood.  She asked us if we were still willing to parent the girls and we stated we were.  She directed us to downstairs and file our custody papers immediately. 

Thus began the 4 month roller coaster we had no idea how to get off of.   It ended in a way I never dreamed possible, but the time  in between  was hell.

Racism and Advocacy

I am stopping the series on openness momentarily to address racism from the white, euro centric perspective.  On another blog I commented that the portrayal of First Nations people by white people who appropriate their traditional dress for Halloween Costume, or to dress of their children for silly pictures,  is at best insensitive and at worst blatently racist. 

I am being shouted down as someone who is looking for offense and is going to raise my children to be offended by anything and everything.  Added to their logic is their "proof" because  Disney did the Pocahontas movie so HOW can that be RACIST?

So if you are stopping by as a result of that discussion I will let you take the time to read about my perspective yourself.  You want to raise a child who isn't racist?  Subscribe to these two sites

If you are interested in reading about the true story of Pocahontas click the link.

If you really think its still ok to to dress up in costume of another group of people I will simply ask you to read this which comes from a larger article found here

American Indians (With or Without Cowboys)

Considering the backlash against Native American mascots in sports, it should be no surprise that donning an American Indian costume is likely to rub some the wrong way. Whether you’re a kid dressing up as an Indian during a Thanksgiving play or an adult rooting for your favorite sports team while wearing faux war paint and a headdress, you’re likely to get a reaction because these costumes typically paint Native Americans as cartoonish and savage.

Throwing cowboys into the mix only adds insult to injury. When European “cowboys” settled the Americas, they not only set out to appropriate Native lands but to decimate or neutralize the indigenous population. “Cowboys and Indians” parties make light of the atrocities committed in the name of manifest destiny. A January 2009 editorial written by college student Tefari Abel Casas Fuchs reveals how emotionally damaging “Cowboys and Indians” parties can be to Native American students.

In addition to these issues, the sexy Pocahontas costumes on the market for women are racially offensive as well. Not only do they sexualize Pocahontas, a young adolescent girl, but Native American women generally. All too often, the sexual relationships Native American women had with European settlers were exploitative or abusive, with Native women regarded as the derogatory term “squaw.”

Being respectful costs so little.  Why not try it?

*I am not approving comments that tie the conversation directly back to another website.  This blog, my blog, is a record for my children of their adoption and journey to our family.  I have explained my POV, I have stated I was sorry if anyone was offended by my explanation, as I was by the racist use of historical regalia for silly entertainment.*

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Openness in Foster Care - Part 2

That first visit at the park set the stage for many more over the next several weeks.  It allowed us to talk, for the babies to be passed comfortably back and forth between all of us.  I found out priceless information about their routine and their histories.  Mostly it allowed me to see Mom and Dad as people struggling with huge issues but people, parents, that also loved their children.  I believe that it also allowed them to see us as people who loved their children too. 

To be clear, I don't advise this with every situation, but with this family, and with the full support of our social worker, we were able to spend this time together.

I chose to hit the hard topics directly.  We knew that the parents were very upset that the girls were in a white family.  I told them I honored their desire and that I was willing to do anything they felt was important.  I explained that we were a minority family already and I could understand that desire to want the very best for your child.  I told them I wanted to learn.  I asked them to teach me.  All anger and resentment towards us disappeared with that one conversation.  We became allies in the education of the girls on their Chilcotin heritage. 

That's not to say it was easy.  June was a series of strange events.  Because our visits were held in public locations, often in the center of our community, random extended family members would frequently show up. Often times I felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who came by to check me out and say hello to the girls.  Sometimes visit participants weren't sober and often they smelled strongly of various smokey substances.  At one visit an extended family member got hit by a truck, at another a parent was arrested mid-visit on an outstanding warrant while I sat there dumb founded and complete unsure as to what was the appropriate foster parent response in that circumstance.  It was complicated and stressful and still completely right.

There were a few instances that stick out as setting the tone for our entire relationship, and they happened very early on. 

It was a sunny Thursday afternoon and again we were meeting at the park.  It was crowded with groups of children from the local elementary school who were on a field trip to play in the water park.  We found a quiet corner and laid out our blanket in the shade.  The babies played and we chatted together exchanging pleasantries and sharing stories of the newest antics of the girls.  Suddenly Tanner, my then 11 year old son, came galloping across the grass. I had forgotten he was part of the field trip group and he was completely  unaware of the "visit" taking place and only had eyes for the babies. 

With a brief "hi mom" he immediately hugged Taya and reached over to coo at Jayde.  "Come meet my new sisters" he called to a friend and I froze and turned to look at the girls' mother.  Instead of anger I watched a smile spread across her face.  I quickly introduced Tanner to the girls' parents and he immediately accepted them as new friends.  This one interaction, with Tanner so uninhibitedly loving the babies and so obviously happy to be part of their lives built a foundation for how both Mom and Dad viewed all the boys.  If you were to ask mom today why it is she likes our family so much, the very top of her list would be the boys.  She shares frequently with anyone who asks that she loves to watch how much the boys play with the girls, and how happy she is that the girls have big brothers "to keep them safe".   Of the hundreds and hundreds of pictures I have sent her over this past year, her favorites are the ones of happy girls cuddled into happy big brothers. 

On one occasion I was called by the social worker cancelling a scheduled visit because there had been a death in the family and the girls' parents had gone back to their ancestral community just short of an hour's drive away.  Instead of cancelling the visit, I asked if it would be OK for me to bring the girls there.  This allowed me to meet many extended family members, visit the community that meant so much to their family and show honor and respect for the deceased family member.   

Not very many people understood my decision to put myself in such an uncomfortable position.  I was alone, out of cell range and in an environment that many others had found extremely hostile.  I arrived with a condolence card, a pot of chili and their children.  And I was welcomed.  Looking past the run down shack, the broken furniture, the elder with severe dementia yelling at imaginary intruders from her cot in the corner and I saw a house that been home to many, many children.  I saw land that my girls ancestors had hunted and fished on for generations.  I saw and respected the connections I could not begin to really understand.

 Pictures of the girls family plastered the walls of this house.  Many of those children were lost to the system forever.  My girls' parents were gracious hosts.  Fresh coffee was made, salmon and moose meat given to me to bring home to share with my family.  I met the girls' one brother and his adoptive family.  I was cautiously received as a welcome guest. 

The next step, I knew, was to invite them to our home.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Openness in Foster Care - Part 1

I stood in the lobby of our local government office holding a child I had only known for 4 days.  My husband stood beside me holding her sister.   I watched through the glass doors as their parents approached the building.  They paused on the grass outside the doors for one last cigarette before the scheduled two hours they would be inside the small room with their children.  It was their first visit with the babies apprehended by social workers a few weeks before. 

I absorbed my first impression as I looked at them and honestly wondered why it was I was holding their babies.  The father was clean cut and well dressed.  Their mother still had a belly swollen from carrying the infant my husband cradled in his arms.  Her clean hair was pulled back into a neat pony tail.  I couldn't begin to fathom what they were feeling as they finally turned to walk into the building.  I suddenly realized that we were about to be sized up in the same way.

The white, unknown foster parents of their babies.

Suddenly I was uncomfortably aware that my husband was wearing the "World's Best Dad" shirt he had received as a Father's Day gift the year before.  I cringed and hoped they didn't notice and consider it an insult.  I pasted a large smile over what I am sure was a nervous grin and greeted them as they walked through the doors.  

"Look sweetie, it's your mommy"  I said.    Her mother approached with a smile as introductions were made by the hovering social worker.  The stunned and grieving baby solemnly stared at her mother as I handed her over and then turned and stared at me from her mother's arms.  Jayde slept through it all, still cradled in Shel's arms until at the last moment as they entered the restricted visiting area, Shel passed her, still asleep,  to her father.

We returned early,  1 hour and 45 minutes later and were greeted by an anxious visit supervisor waiting for our arrival.  "They are ready to go" she said and the parents hurried down the hall towards us.  An exhausted and cranky baby was handed to me as the newborn continued to nap. 

I left, sickened by the sterility of the process.  I wondered what they thought of us.  If they were consumed by worry for their children in the home of strangers.  I had been in the tiny visit room with the broken and dirty toys and worried about the babies in that environment.  I considered the attachment concerns that I was aware of with both babies and questioned the wisdom of simply passing the children back and forth with no opportunity for the girls to see us together.  I worried.  I fretted.  I stressed and I prayed.

The next day I called the social worker and asked if we could do anything different for visits.  She called the parents and asked them if they were interested in meeting outside of the office.  They desperately wanted out of that office as well.

Two days later I nervously packed up the babies and headed to our local town park.  I was now the Foster Mom and the Visit Supervisor.

It was an adventure that I felt woefully unprepared for.  Little did I know what would happen next.


Taking some time to reflect on the past year because it's been a heck of a year.
A year ago today I underwent a partical nephrectomy to deal with the kidney cancer that had been discovered in early April,  by accident and miracle when I was in the process to donate my kidney to my cousin. 

My precious, beloved Nan had just passed away and I was devastated by her loss.

We had just been told that my father was living his last months with Stage IV liver cancer. 

And I didn't even yet know that in two weeks my husband would be jobless.

It was a very, very dark time.  It seemed impossibly dark.

If you read here, you know how this chapter of the story ends. 

Today my father and I are cancer free, both given the gift of health.  Shel is working, at least a little bit.  And we have two babies that have filled those broken crevaces of our hearts.   This is a light time.  A very light time because after the darkest moment comes the brightest dawn.

But a year ago I did not know that.  I did not know any of that. 

So for my friends and readers that are in that dark time I send you this. It will be ok.  Really, press the link and listen. You won't regret it.