One Less Lonely Girl

Patience, love, and strength–that’s some of what it takes.

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

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It’s been a year since our foster girl first pointed out she could kill me with a steak knife–and it wasn’t the last threat on my life. Each time she casually mentioned killing me I casually responded that I had no fear of death and if she wanted to kill people she’d end up in a jail for evil kids who all wanted to kill each other. I said, “Go for it if that sounds like fun.”

It occurred to me today that those threats ended some months ago. She hasn’t picked up string beans off the floor of public restrooms and eaten them in a long time either. My big fear before picking up M last year (the week of the all important county fair) was that I’d find her unattractive. Yes, I’m that shallow. She was cute but a wreck. She was eager to be taken home (by…

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An Invitation to Contribute to “Letters for Them”

If you could write a letter to your birth mother or birth father, what would it say?

Here’s an invitation for adoptees to do just that–through a project by an adoptee at Rhode Island School of Design:

 

Hello!

I’m Robin, a junior studying Graphic Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. I recently launched a project called Letters for Them. This is to be an ongoing project, and I’m hoping some of you will join me in this work.

Kindergartner Robin and her mom, 1998

Kindergartner Robin and her mom, 1998

A little background about me and my work, I was adopted when I was eight months old from Hefei, China, and as a young child I always struggled to fully understand my story. As I’ve grown up I found that art helped to work through and express the complexity of thoughts and emotions. Even now at RISD, I’m constantly looking for ways to explore my personal history in my work.

For a while now I’ve had this idea…It all began when I found some old drawings I had made as a kid (maybe six or seven years old). They were letters that I had written to my birthparents when I was first beginning to understand where I came from. They were never sent as neither I nor my mom know my birthparents nor had any way of contacting/finding them.

One of Robin's childhood letters to her birth mother

One of Robin’s childhood letters to her birth mother

My mom and I went back to China between my senior year of high school and my first year at RISD. While there, we were able to visit my orphanage, which has changed quite a lot. We saw my file, which as we had expected, offered no new information as to who these unknown people were/are. Since then I continue thinking about what I’d want to say to them if I ever did have the chance to meet them. Letters for Them came as an idea that perhaps other adoptees think about this as well. Wouldn’t it be cool if we all had a common place to send these technically unsendable letters? Thus, Letters for Them was born.

Leter received for "Letters for Them"

Leter received for “Letters for Them”

Letters for Them is an open invitation to any and all adoptees. No matter how old you are or where you were adopted, whether you know your birthparents or not, if you are an adoptee, you are invited to participate. This is meant to be a public, open space for adoptees to write to their birthfathers and/or birthmothers.

To learn more about the project and ways to participate/get involved please visit: http://www.lettersforthem.com/.

Thanks!
Robin

Adoption: Teary-Eyed Blessing or Horrific Abuse Factory

by Marisha and Luanne

You know those happy adoption stories that the media loves to feature? Adopted woman meets birth father just before he dies and all is well. Yay! Five siblings have been in foster care for three years with no hope of reunification. They are adopted by a middle-aged librarian and all is well. Yay!

The media loves those stories and so, too, do we. By “we” I mean our culture. We eat up this stuff. It makes us feel as if all is well with the world.

We don’t look behind the stories to see that this woman had to wait until she was 55 to meet half her DNA.  She lived through being a baby, a child, a teen, a young woman, a pilot, a mother, and now a first-time grandmother without this knowledge. Without knowing how he felt about her or if he even knew about her.  Without ever meeting him.  We don’t like to think about what those kids have gone through in order to have this happy “ending” (which it is not–an ending or unendingly happy either) with the librarian. Or what baggage they all (librarian included) bring to the table.

On the other hand, the media loves horrible stories about adoption. The child who is locked in a cupboard, fed only scraps, and eventually discovered weighing thirty pounds at age eleven. The child of a celebrity who either dies of a drug overdose or accuses her adoptive parent of abuse who is always identified as “adopted son” or “adopted daughter” by the press, as if that is a title or name.

By the way, all of our examples except the celebrity ones are made up, but representative of what we’ve read.

Why does the media do this? Apparently it is what we demand. We want these superficial and dangerous images of adoption. We want to tear up with joy and we want to fill with outrage.

What we don’t seem to want to do is think rationally and with common sense about adoption.

What would happen if we did? What would change about how our culture sees adoption? And how we treat adoptee rights and issues?

What do you think?

The Education of Empty Nesters

by Luanne

Usually when I sit down to write a blog post it writes itself. It’s not that hard to look back at how adoption issues touched my family when we were younger. It’s not difficult to figure out where I stand on contemporary adoption issues, especially after doing some research and reading other blogs and articles.

But I’m not sure how to write this post because the territory feels so uncharted. I’m talking about being the parent of adult adoptees. Maybe this blog post is to sort out this role in my head.

Like all parents, adoptive parents grow into their roles and those roles change as the children get older. The parent of a baby is different from the parent of a young child is different from the parent of a teen.

But what about the parent of an adult? Isn’t that where we’re supposed to wipe our hands, satisfied that we did the best job we knew how to at the time? We can say have a good life, call me a couple of times a week, and I’ll see you on the next holiday!

 

I’m starting to think it’s not quite like that for the parents of adult adoptees.  At least it hasn’t been for us.

While my kids were growing up, my husband and I knew adoption was a big issue and that doctors and counselors and teachers didn’t credit it with being as “big” an issue as we felt it was—for adoptees, not for parents. These adults seemed to look at things through the lens of parenting, not of growing up as an adopted person. Sometimes hubby and I would grumble to each other that so-and-so didn’t really get it. And sometimes we would wonder if we were over-estimating the influence of adoption on human emotions and identity and personality formation.

What’s strange is that although we did recognize that adoption was a key element to who our kids were, we still just didn’t get it. But that’s also because our kids didn’t get it. They didn’t understand that adoption had an effect on them, and they didn’t realize that it could be behind—or partially behind—some problems that they had.

What had to happen first was that our kids had to grow up. Then, as adults, they began to learn more about themselves.  But they can’t do that completely on their own during the most stressful years—the years just past high school and college where people decide who they are and what they will do with their lives.  Hubby and I had to learn this new territory with them. We couldn’t do it for them.  We couldn’t even help them do it. But we had to go through our own process alongside them and be there for them in any way necessary. We have to go through process. I’m correcting the tense because we’re still going through it.

This stage for the adoptee might not come until decades later for some, but I would argue that in many cases that is because the parents weren’t taking this journey with their child. In today’s adoptive families, there is often times so much more knowledge and understanding than there was in past decades. That means that a lot of parents of children today will be parents of adults in not too many years, wondering as hubby and I have how to negotiate this new territory.

Maybe we need something in place that helps guide older teens and adult adoptees in their 20s—and their parents as well—in learning the role of adoption in their own character development and relationships.

Do you think it’s possible to create support for newly adult adoptees and their parents?

What Happens After the Headlines

A thought-provoking post. If you’re not sure the blogger is correct, look at the image!

An Invitation to Parents of Adult Adoptees

by Luanne

Guest blogger Lisa and I are at the stage where our children are adults. We can’t find a private Facebook group (or any, for that matter) for Parents of Adult Adoptees. So we are proposing to start one IF there is enough interest.

What seems amazing at this point is that their problems as adult adoptees at times seem larger than when they were children. And their relationship with their adoption changes, too. What they feel and think at 13 is not the same as at 18 and not the same as at 24 or at 29. Who knows what it will be like as they age into their thirties and beyond.  We want to be knowledgeable about ways to be supportive to them.

Here’s your invitation:

If you have older kids, 17, 18 and above, would you like to meet in a Facebook private group to discuss issues relating to our adult adoptees in a supportive environment? If you do, ask to join here. We can’t wait to see you over there!

Fla. social worker finds unlikely home for troubled foster child – CBS News Video

This CBS evening news story really touched me.

Fla. social worker finds unlikely home for troubled foster child – CBS News Video.

Here’s a 2nd article:

http://young.house.gov/press-release/representative-young-congratulates-eckerd-adoption-specialist-connie-going-angel

Why I Am Recommending “The Fosters”

by Luanne

If you don’t know, The Fosters is a brand new ABC drama about a contemporary family brimming with diversity.  The family includes parents Lena and Stef, a lesbian couple; Brandon, Stef’s biological son (his father is Mike, Stef’s partner at work–she’s a police officer); Jesus and Mariana, twins adopted by Stef and Lena, Callie, a foster child, and Callie’s bio brother Luke, also a foster child. The executive producer is Jennifer Lopez.

As you would expect with a network drama featuring teens and children, the actors portraying the kids are adorably cute/beautiful/handsome.  Their house is perfect for them. Their school is ideal (on the beach). The two moms are gorgeous. And they probably don’t get a lot of the stuff about foster care and adoption just right. It’s not a slice of life. It’s a drama with heightened plots, dialogue, and characterizations.

If you want to read thoughtful conjecture about what is wrong with the show’s presentation of the subject, you will want to catch Robyn’s review at The Chittister Family.  In fact, I highly recommend it.

Nevertheless, I am going to give the show a recommendation. I have rarely seen a depiction of a foster child in the past that is positive.  What I have seen are attempts to demonize foster children–to show them as somehow contaminated by the system and therefore “worth less” than a baby who has never been “in the system.”  I’ve seen both adopted and foster children (and adoption and fostering) as joke punchlines.

What I haven’t seen before is a depiction of foster children as real children with real problems who are worthy of love and attention.  That’s why I like this show: it reminds all of us that there are hundreds of thousands of foster children out there who need society to step forward and “claim” them as valuable members of this society.

I admit that I’m a sentimental person, and the show tugs on my heartstrings.  I found myself weepy during both episodes.  No excuses.  It’s a sentimental show at times, but that’s ok with me because the whole idea is to capture the hearts of the audience for kids who need people like Stef and Lena in their lives.

If you haven’t yet started watching, you can watch the first two episodes for free at the following link. It will also give you a written overview of the show.  Enjoy!

http://beta.abcfamily.go.com/shows/the-fosters

Three Ways a Mother, Part II

Interview by Luanne

“Being a foster parent means you are giving a piece of your heart away and you may not see it again.” Kat Mendoza

Part I can be found here.

On Friday, we introduced Kathy Mendoza and her husband John, as well as their foster, bio, and adopted children.  Kathy, or Kat, is a stay-at-home mom and John, who was born in the Philippines, is a federal police officer.  They have a transracial and diverse loving family.

Here is the second part of my interview with Kat.

How did you choose whether to adopt from foster care, a local adoption, an international adoption, etc.? What factors did you consider? Do you still feel the same way you did when you made the decision?

Adoption was always a by-product.  It is only the right option when it is a fit on all sides. And, yes, we feel the same because we will do it again when the situation is right. But we do not need the paper to say who is or isn’t our child.

What has surprised you about your foster children and your son by adoption?

How resilient kids are. They are absolutely no different from my step or biological sons. They are mine, and I get the same moments of pride and joy with each.

What would you like to see changed in the system?

The system isn’t what needs to change; it is society’s views of the children in foster care and the children who have been adopted. People assume something is wrong with the child. I believe that this is a cultural thing. There are cultures where it is not only more accepted, but normal to foster or adopt.

What qualifications do you think it takes to be a foster parent? An adoptive parent? An adoptive parent in a foster adoption?

Just being open. They say being a parent means having your heart walking around somewhere else, but being a foster parent means you are giving a piece of your heart away and you may not see it again.

It is supposed to be that way.  As a foster parent, you have to be open to the fact that the child may not stay.

There are misconceptions. I have actually had people tell me they were surprised we do it because we can have kids–that they thought only infertile couples do foster care or adoption.

Do you have resources that help you? If so, what are they?

We were blessed with awesome social workers.  Since we just moved and are in the process of having our license changed to a new county, I have high hopes that we will be as lucky here.

But the best support are other foster parents. No one will understand what you go through unless they have been through it. And what works in a clinical or school setting is not going to be as effective as the tried and true home methods of other parents!

Do you have a little story about your children you would like to share?

The most recent thing my oldest told me was he wished we could get his younger brother so that we could straighten him out. This is the same “child” who told me after his graduation that if it wasn’t for us he didn’t think he would have been there that night.

That same evening I watched two of my kids graduate, beating the 50% odds.  I cried from happiness.

Have you volunteered or worked with any agencies for foster children or adoptions?

I have spoken at the last class given to prospective foster parents each year.  Later on, when I would see them, they would tell me they have taken my suggestions.  These include making sure the biological parents get pictures, the kids are sent to visitations with their parents in clothes the parents send, and starting a scrapbook or Lifebook for the kids.

Also, I have held a few offices for our local Foster Parent Association. We worked to make sure other foster parents had more opportunities to fulfill their continuing education requirements and that they understand what their rights and responsibilities are.

What do you want the general population to know about the foster system and the adoption system?

It is a personal decision to foster or adopt.  I have heard so many people say they couldn’t do it, but these are the same people who have stepped up and accepted my kids without any shadow of a doubt. We have been blessed with friends and family who didn’t have a choice in the matter, but have been supportive without hesitation. More people could do it than they realize.

However, there are many other ways to help. People can mentor, donate, the opportunities are endless.

Has your experience with fostering and/or adoption affected your politics? In other words, is it a topic you watch for during election season?

I have yet to hear of any politician run on a platform covering foster care or adoption. In fact, through fostering older kids, I have seen their advisory boards push for and receive change. They ask for treatment to be changed, they lobby our government, and they have been with our governor and president when new bills were signed making the situations of the children better.

What do you think motivates you to foster children?

Our motivation is to give back, but John and I have different reasons. I had an idyllic childhood and feel I couldn’t appreciate it and value it enough if I was not trying to make the childhoods of others better.

A family took my husband under their wing when he came to this country.  By doing so they gave him opportunities he would have had a hard time copying, so he feels he should do the same for others.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Even from the unknown public we have received acceptance, for the most part. People will stop to tell me what a beautiful family I have or how cute my kids are. People have stopped me to say I’m doing a great job with my kids. I have yet to come against negativity.  In fact, the “worst” has only been good-natured curiosity.

I do correct terminology when people use the expression “real kids.” There was one time a friend of a friend stopped mid-sentence asking where our one child got his curly hair (I was in a phase of straightening my own all of the time), and we laughed because he looked at John and myself, then walked away. We figure he concluded our son was the by-product of an indiscretion. If he had stuck around we would have been happy to explain. My oldest son has been mistaken for daddy before. He or myself will say he is big brother or I am his mother. I only wish that in our culture we could look past the label of foster or adopted child as quickly as the diversity of my family has been accepted!

Also, I want to add something for people to know: teens aren’t automatically harder. Yes, they will try you, but all teens will. I know that I did with my parents! And I have run into situations where teens are easier than some younger kids, just because you can reason with older kids. You can walk through problems and emotions more easily.

This has been an amazing experience for my biological son. He asks to see his big brother and friend, and the kids I have had previously. He once told me that when he gets older he will ask God to find him a little boy that doesn’t have a daddy so he can be the daddy.

The more you reflect on your situation, the more you think of . . . .

Here’s one more.  Just the little everyday things we have taken for granted–photos, holidays, trips–they are all amazing to experience with children. Taking one of my kids on their first roller coaster ride will probably be etched in my memory forever. You get to experience everything again through new eyes. Going clothes shopping have been memorable experiences with my kids. It might be cliché to quote Winnie the Pooh, but the littlest things do take up the most room in your heart!

John and Kat

John and Kat

Three Ways a Mother: A Story of Biology, Adoption and Foster Care, Part I

Interviewed by Luanne

Meet Kathy Mendoza and her husband John.  Kathy, or Kat, is a stay-at-home mom and John, who was born in the Philippines, is a federal police officer.  The children in their family help create the diverse blend that is their family:

  • foster daughter Shy, 21, African-American, she has “aged out” of foster care and is mom to a toddler
  • foster son Day, 20, African-American, he’s in a semi-independent living program
  • John’s son Bran, 18, Caucasian & Filipino, he’s in college
  • bio son J, 7, Caucasian & Filipino
  • adopted son T, 3, African-American & Caucasian

Kat was kind enough to allow me to interview her for our blog.  Here are the results, Part I.

What kind of goals regarding children did you enter adulthood with? Did you plan to adopt? Care for foster children? Did you want to go through (or did you go through) a birth experience?

I only wanted four kids and it never occurred to me how they would come to be mine. I was always open to foster care and adoption. I did have J biologically.

I remember asking my mom why she didn’t adopt. I was her miracle baby, and I know she wanted more. I wasn’t raised with my half-siblings, so I felt I was missing out and didn’t want to have an only child.

How has your family life changed from what you expected?

I have more kids than I had planned on, and I am not done. I don’t know when that feeling of being finished caring for children will happen. I joke I am trying to catch up with my grandparents who had 21 kids!

How did you first get started on the path to fostering children?

I have always wanted to. My grandparents fostered back in the time when single moms had their children removed until they were independently stable. As I was growing up, one of her girls drove across the state with her mom to see my grandmother. I saw it as a positive experience.

My husband was not always as sure until he started working for the juvenile justice system.  The state started a program encouraging employees already working with kids to foster. When John approached me my first thought was ok, what took you so long?!

When did you first get licensed in foster care? What did you go through to get licensed? Do you have to reapply and if so what is the process like?

It will be five years this October that we were licensed. We started the previous March with the nine week classes.  During the summer we had our home study, family study, health department inspection, financial check, background checks, personal referrals, medical forms, and fire marshal inspection. Each year we are relicensed, and most of the same is done, but it isn’t a burden in any way. We also have to have so many hours of education regarding children each year.

Do you continue a relationship with your foster children after they leave your care?

Absolutely! My two oldest are mine.  We talk on the phone, text, chat online, and my door is always open! Our oldest son’s best friend has become one of our unofficial kids as well. I still try to keep in contact with a couple younger kids. Even the kids I have only had for weekend respite, I still ask about. A kid may leave my home, but they do not leave my heart! And they need to have the continued contact, no matter their age or circumstances.

What bothers you the most about the situation your foster children have been put in?

That they are in foster care in the first place! That something bad happened to them and the people meant to protect them most didn’t. That I can’t just wave a magic wand and make it all better.

What do you want the general population to know about foster children?

They are great kids who they can help. Children aren’t in foster care because they did something wrong. They aren’t in the system because they want to be.

They need support in their lives.  They need the village, and anything helps! And they are my real children (yes, I was asked that and responded they were all made of bubble gum and cotton candy).

Anything you would like to add at this point in our interview?

One special thing from my oldest son: he told me he wants to foster when he gets older, too. No matter if he does or doesn’t, it meant a lot to me because it shows the impact we have had on him.

Find Part II here.

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