Monday, November 30, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: Summary

Setting out to do 27 blog posts in 30 days may seem easy, but I just barely squeezed them all in.   Some of these were easy to write, some were emotionally difficult to write, some letters it was hard to choose what to write about as there were so many options, other letters I had a difficult time coming up with a topic.  Dave asked me if I felt like a cheated by using Xmas for X - nope not at all! With all the posts I tried to give an honest representation and share the good along with the not so good.

 Here are links to all the posts with an added bonus of Dave's version at the end.

A is for Attachment
B is for Birthfamily 
C is for Counseling
D is for Doubt
E is for Emotions
F is for Finances
G is for Grief
H is for Happiness
I is for Independence
J is for Judge
K is for Karate
L is for Lucky
M is for Mistakes
N is for Nature Vs Nurture
O is for Open
P is for Patience
Q is for Questions
R is for Respite
S is for Superheroes
T is for Trauma
U is for Unexpected
V is for Victory
W is for Whining
X is for Xmas
Y is for Yes
Z is for ZZZZ

When I would sit down to write Dave would try and guess what the topic of the post was going to be.   I have to say, he was never once correct.   One evening after a beer or 3 we decided it would be entertaining for Dave to come up with his version of the ABCs of adoption.  Maybe it was just the beer talking but I transcribed his musings.   (I also stole one of his ideas for an actual post).

A is for asshole.  Sometimes it is you, sometimes it is somebody else, but somebody is always an asshole, more often than not it’s the cat.

B is for beer.  Before kids I had to sneak beers during the week now nobody cares if I drink during the day.

C is for Cheerios.   I expected many more Cheerios in the house with a child.   For my first 15 years of life there were always Cheerios around.

D is for dark.  That is when you sleep.

E is for elphabet.   That may not be how you spell it but that’s ok.

F is for Fat.  Well that is what the kid says I am.

F is for Fear.   I am feeling the fear.  

F is for F*#!  I already put an F down.  Note from Dawn see E Dave doesn’t even know how to spell alphabet, how can he be expected to get the alphabet correct.

G is for God.   There is none. 

H is for help.  You need lots of it.  

I is for Iowa State. I don’t know why. 

J is for Just in Time training.  That’s how your adoption training is you get taught just as it’s too late.

K is for kid.   The word I use when not wanting to refer to the child by name.  

L is for lost.   I was thinking of the TV show but I haven’t seen that in quite a while.   Lost for answers.

M is for mom, mom, mom, mom, mom.  Over and over again, then repeat. 

N is for nonsense.  There’s a lot of nonsense.

O is for Oh my God!  The only reasonable response to most things.

P is for please.  Constantly asking for things to be asked for with the word please, no matter how ridiculous.   Insist that please be tacked onto everything.

Q is for quiet.  Never happens.  When it does it's awesome or terrifying.

R is for repetitive.  Definitely repetitive.  Did I say repetitive yet?

S is for Super Mario Bros.  One thing we can agree on. 

T is for Time for Bed.  That’s a good time. Which isn’t far separated from my bedtime. 

U is for Uranus but that doesn’t help.  Other than Uranus what starts with U.

V is for violence.  Avoid if possible.

W is for wimpy.   Try to avoid wimpiness.

X is for XXX.   No more x rated action. 

Y is for yes.  Occasionally an answer but rarely.

Z is for zoo.   No reason, or because we live by one, or do we live in one.  Nobody ever knows. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: Z is for ZZZZ

People sometimes ask what we miss the most about our pre-kid days.  For me, it is the ability to sleep.    I am a person that needs 8 hours of sleep a night in order to feel refreshed.   The last time that happened was on a business trip a month ago.   Unfortunately once I wake up I have a hard time going back to sleep.  For the last month junior hasn't been sleeping well, which has definitely had a impact on us.   He would wake up around 4 AM and come tell us he had a nightmare and couldn't go back to sleep.

 Nightmares are to be expected but I quickly saw a difference and realized that some nights he had nightmares and other nights he just woke up to go to the bathroom and wanted me to put him back to bed.   Nights where he had a nightmare I would hear him jump out of bed and coming running into our room.   He stood by the edge of the bed shaking and found it hard to talk.   I could relatively easily get him back to bed and then I would lie awake.   Nights he was just awake, he would go to the bathroom first and then casually come into our room, going back to sleep was not in the cards for either of us on these nights.    Over the last week he has been sleeping through the night which is great. I still am having a hard time making it through the night without waking up.

With his sleeping trouble over the last month he has also started to nap.   For a year he has only napped if he was sick or after a long plane trip but now they seem to be a regular occurrence.   He naps in the car, on the couch, and today he managed to take a nap at Century Link Stadium.   This last one perplexes me.  Century Link is not a quiet stadium and I was a bit worried about how he would react to the noise.   We gave him ear plugs and he still was having a hard time with the noise, I was afraid I was going to have to leave.  He decided to cover up under a blanket (a strategy he uses at home when he is overwhelmed or upset).  A few minutes later I took a peek and he was sound asleep.  I guess his bodies need to escape the noise at the stadium took over and he was able to sleep.  After that he managed to stay until the end of the 3rd quarter.

I am hoping that sleeping patterns return to normal for all of us soon.   And then when he hits the teenage years I can once again lose sleep at night but for different reasons.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: Y is for Yes

This is a word that I seem to use very infrequently.  I wish I could use it more often but that is just not possible.   There are days when it seems like the only word I say is no.  

  • No, you can't wear shorts out, it is 40 degrees outside. 
  • No, you can't put a hat on the dog. 
  • No, you can't watch TV all day. 
  • No, the doctor did not tell you I should let you use the tablet more often. 
  • No, you can't drive the car.  
  • No, you can't play with fire.   
  • No, you can't have a sister or brother.
  • No, a sugar glider would not make a good pet.
  • No, you can't build a robot to do your chores for you.  
We don't want to be the parents that always say yes but boy it sure seems like sometimes we never do.  I'm sure some of the requests come from testing limits and boundaries, while others are due to him just being a 7 year old boy.  

I read an article recently from a mom about what would happen if you spent the day saying yes to whatever your child asked and the thought of this filled me with dread.  The idea of a "yes-day" while in concept makes sense, wouldn't work for us.   Junior needs predictability and structure, we are also constantly having to remind him that he is not in charge, giving him a day where anything goes would not end well.   Junior can't wait until he is a grown up and he can do whatever he wants and doesn't have to listen to anybody - good luck kid.   As time goes on, maybe we can give him a yes day but for now  we will stick with the choruses of nos.  

ABCs of Adodption: X is for Xmas

Throw out any concept you have of holidays, kids have their own ideas.    Last year I was looking forward to taking junior to visit Santa, he unfortunately had no interest in going.   I didn't push it, and I wasn't willing to force him to do something that might cause anxiety for him or result in an epic meltdown.   I remembered as a child being so excited to go see and Santa to tell him what I wanted, for junior he just wasn't interested. 

On Christmas morning I expected him to come running into our room at an early hour, excited to rip into his presents.  The reality was Christmas morning was just like every other morning, he woke up at his normal hour, came into our room and cuddled.   We had to ask him if he wanted to go see what Santa brought.   

My only guess is that he had previously been disappointed at Christmas so he wasn't getting his hopes up.   We had learned from his birthday a few months before that the number of presents was much more important than what he received so we made sure he had lots of little presents to open.   He was much more excited on Easter than he was on Christmas.  

This year is a little different.   He has already visited Santa and I got the picture I was hoping for.   His list of what he wants is much longer than last year and more keeps getting added to it every day. Christmas morning will be a little different though since we will be on a cruise.   Last year we started what will hopefully become a tradition of  going on a family vacation.  Last year we left the day after Christmas, this year we will actually be away on Christmas Day.  We are preparing him that Santa can't bring many presents to him on the boat, most of his presents will be at home waiting for him when we return.   We will see how this works out. 

We are trying to also teach him that Christmas is about giving to others.  We donate food and toys to the animal shelter, he loves this as he gets to visit with the cats and dogs there.  We also purge his closet and toys and donate those, in the past we took the items to Goodwill.  This year and going forward we will be bringing items to Treehouse for Kids an organization that helps kids in foster care.   Given that junior spent 3 years in foster care we want to be able to give back to other kids like him.   

Thursday, November 26, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: W is for Whining

It seems like not a day goes by without somebody whining - sometime it's the child and sometimes it's the adults.   Trying to figure out what is causing the whining and how to get it to stop is a mystery.  Sometimes the whining is legitimate and sometimes we are truly puzzled.   Last week junior was looking through catalogs and saw an advent calendar, this led to him immediately asking for it.   I told him we bought him a Lego advent calendar which led to lots of whining that he didn't want a Lego one and it was stupid, he hated the one we got him last year, etc.   In this case I just chose to ignore the whining.  

Whining is common with toddlers and pre-schoolers but we have a 7 year old, shouldn't the whining stage be over by now.   While in calendar months he is 7, but emotionally he has regressed and is acting more like a 3-5 year old.  Regression is common and can actually be seen as a good thing in the long run.   Junior has gone back to a time in his life when his needs weren't being met and is reliving that time.   This allows the brain to rewire itself and for him to heal.   I comprehend this but it doesn't make it easier to deal with the constant whining. 

Often there is no logic to the whining, we try to let him know that we hear him but that doesn't change our answer.  Instead of battling the whining we are letting him learn from natural consequences:
  • He whines that it's not cold and he doesn't need to wear a coat.  Fine he can go outside without one, he then realizes that it is cold and he should have listened to us and put on a coat.   
  • He whines that he doesn't want to wash his hands before helping cook dinner, I start without him and he then misses out on helping. 
 I tend to counter the whining with wine for me.   

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: V is for Victory

With what may seem like endless amounts of setbacks it is important to celebrate the victories, however small they may be.   Finding the positives at times can be challenging, but without them it is hard to see the light of day at times.  Some of the small victories we have celebrated recently:

  • Junior didn't wake us up until 5:45 AM.  I would much rather sleep another hour or two, but this is so much better than being woken up at 2, 3 and 4 AM.   
  • We get daily progress reports or point sheets from school.  At the beginning of the year junior was earning only 10-20% of the available points.  When he got to 50% it was cause for  huge celebrations.
  • Junior played independently by himself for 30 minutes.  
These may not seem like much but they are signs of progress and we are trying to focus on the positives.   A year ago junior couldn't go more than 5 minutes without needing us for some reason, and asking him to play by himself was impossible - last weekend we asked for 30 minutes of quiet time and we got 40!   We were thrilled.

The look on junior's face when we tell him how proud we are or make a big deal out of what may seem to us as a small accomplishment is worth it.  While he isn't composing sonatas at 7 years old or starting his own company he has come so far in the last year and that is cause for huge celebrations.  

ABCs of Adoption: U is for Unexpected

   Learn to expect  the unexpected, especially where children are concerned.   Going into the adoption process I wasn't sure what to expect and I can't say whether the experience met my expectations.   There are definitely things I expected, but there have also been some curve balls along the way.  

One of the biggest surprises for me though was the reactions from others I have shared our journey with.   I write this blog mostly for me as a way to process information and events, and to share details with our friends and family.  I don't have a huge following and I don't do anything to develop one.  I try to share the good along with the bad while still maintaining some level of privacy.   What I didn't expect when starting this was to become an inspiration or role model for others.  The first time I had somebody tell me they made the decision to foster to adopt based on information I shared with them I didn't know how to respond.  This information came after a rough patch and to know that my venting could inspire others was shocking.   I figured my ranting would scare people away not make them want to follow in our footsteps.   

It catches me off guard when somebody who has read my blog or who I have spoken to in person tells me that they admire or respect what we are doing and how adoption has touched their lives.   Part of me feels we are just like any parents - we have good days and bad days, we love our child, teach him right from wrong, try to protect him and we will fight for him to get what he needs to be successful.   Then a friend reminds me that no, not all parents meet the above description.  

Parenthood is hard.  It doesn't matter if you are a biological parent, adoptive parent, foster parent, or step parent; you may have become a parent for the first time as a teenager or in your 40s , we are all part of the same club and we all should be admired and respected for taking on the tough challenge of raising children.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: T is for Trauma

Imagine the following scenario.  You are sitting at home when the doorbell rings.   The person that comes in tells you to gather all your belongings and to go with them, no questions asked.   You are whisked into a waiting car and taken to a strange location, far away from everything you know and love.   Along the way you constantly ask questions about what is happening and where you are being taken, you don't get any answers.  You are told this is your new home and the strangers living there are your new family.  Sounds pretty terrifying.   This is the experience of many youth in foster care.

Children that have been in foster care have experienced trauma.  As a result of the trauma experienced adoptees may be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is triggered by a terrifying event that was either experienced or witnessed Episodes can be triggered by dates, scents, sounds, or environmental surroundings.  What happens when an individual is triggered will vary widely as the body tries to protect itself from a perceived or real danger.

As a parent of a child with PTSD we would love to be aware of all triggers and avoid them whenever possible.   This isn't possible or feasible, instead we have to learn as we encounter them and develop coping strategies.  It helps to have a team of people working with you that understand trauma, we are fortunate to have this.

One of the symptoms of PTSD is nightmares or inability to sleep.  We have been in the midst of this for a couple of weeks and it is exhausting.   So far we haven't been able to figure out a strategy to resolve the early morning wake ups - strategies that have worked in the past are no longer working.  I am hoping that this phase passes soon, or we figure out some new strategies as we are all walking around with dark rings under our eyes.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: S is for Superheroes

Being the parent of a young boy I have come to learn a lot about superheroes.   What has surprised me is the number of  superheroes that were adopted or did not live with their bio.  Off the top of my head I knew of  Batman, Superman, Spiderman and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; but there is a surprisingly long list.

With junior's love of superheroes we talk with him about the fact that many of his heroes are just like him.  They have faced great adversity in their past and were not raised by their birth parents, but they have become amazing and strong.  Junior has in his room a sign reminding him that Superman was adopted too and we frequently remind him that "he is just like Superman."

Each superhero has a different story some were sent to live on another planet to keep them safe (Superman), some lived with an aunt and uncle (Spiderman), some had parents who died (Batman).  The same is true for adoptees.  Each of their stories is different and unique.   It doesn't matter the circumstances that have resulted in them not living with their birth family, they are not alone.

I don't know why there is this pattern, but I am glad there are positive role models that can show junior that he is not alone.  There are others out there like him that feel the same pain he does and can inspire him to be something great.   With some people thinking that children that have been in foster care are troublemakers or will become juvenile delinquents it is great to be able to plant a seed that maybe you can be the next Superman.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: R is for Respite

A little over the year ago I'm not I knew the definition of the word respite, now it is a word we use regularly.  From the definition of respite is:
a delay or cessation for a time, especially of anything distressing or trying; an interval of relief:
Basically respite in foster care and adoption is time spent away from your child to relax and recharge. Respite can be anything from a few hours to a few days.   To say that parenting a child with a trauma background is distressing or trying may seem harsh, but it is accurate.

The concept of respite came as a surprise to me, but we have embraced it whole heartedly.   When you first are presented with the concept of taking a break from your child it takes a while to warm up to the concept.   "What kind of parent would I be if I need to take break from my child to survive? "  The answer is perfectly normal.

The first time we met junior was for a respite visit.   In theory he didn't know that we were thinking about adopting him,  it was just another respite visit for him.   He was used to it.  After he moved in I did wonder if he thought when we sent him to respite if we were trying to find other parents for him.  For the first few respite visits we chose to use his previous foster mom which provided some continuity and he knew she only fostered kids.

Finding respite providers for an overnight visit is challenging as prior to the adoption they need to be certified foster care providers.   During the 10 months that we fostered junior we had  four overnight respites.  Since the adoption we haven't had one.   We have had a number of date nights which are great, but a full 24 hours would be heavenly.

Friday, November 20, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: Q is for Questions

Sometimes it seems like we are swimming in a sea of questions.   We ask ourselves questions on a daily basis, we are asked questions by others, and we are bombarded with questions by junior.   Below is a sampling of some of these questions.

Questions you ask yourself

  • What type of adoption is right for me? 
  • What characteristics/traits do I want in my child?
  • What characteristics/traits don't I want?
  • What would cause me to not move forward with the adoption?
  • What have I gotten myself into?
  • When will I be able to sleep again?
  • Am I crazy?

Questions you get from others
  • Why did you choose to adopt?
  • How long was your child in foster care?
  • Why was he/she in foster care?
  • Aren't you worried there is something wrong with him?
  • Are you sure you want to adopt an older child?
  • How are things going?
  • What can I do to help?
Questions your child asks you?
  • Why can't I live with my birth family?
  • Why did I choose you for a family?
  • What happened to the family you were born to?
  • Can you call my birth mom?
As I am writing this he asked the following questions:
  • What are you doing?
  • Why did you write a question mark?
  • Who are you sending this to?
When I told him I was writing a list of questions he came up with these to be added:

  • Who was the president in the 1940s?
  • How poisonous is a black widow?
  • Where did they make the first beer?
  • How long did it take the Space Needle to get built?
  • Which do you prefer an orange tree or an apple tree?
  • What's the prettiest flower?
  • What's our car - A Ford, a BMW, a Honda or a Toyota?
Note to self... don't write posts while junior is still awake.

Questions vary as you go through the process and depending on the day, the week or the month the answer to the questions will vary.   Some are easy to answer, some we choose to answer vaguely, and some are very difficult to answer. How do you answer the question "How are things going?" when you are going through a difficult patch and it is taking everything in your power not to lose control on a daily basis.   Please don't be offended if you feel like you are being blown off by an answer to a question.   It probably isn't you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: P is for Patience

Being around screaming children can try anyone's patience, not just parents.  The waiting at the beginning may seem like a big test of patience.  You have to patiently sit through hours of training, you have to wait patiently while the home study is completed, and then you have to wait for your match, you then potentially have to wait for termination of parental rights, and finally you have to wait for finalization.   Basically you have to be a very patient person during the process.  This isn't always the easiest thing to do.  For those that have battled infertility having to be even more  patient this can be incredibly frustrating.

But the true test of patience comes after placement, as the child and parents attempt to navigate having a new family member in the home.  Routines are changed sometimes with very little time to prepare.   With a biological child there are 9 months to plan and adjust, with adoptees you may have less than 24 hours before a child moves into your home.  We had a whopping 4 weeks from finding out about junior to him moving in.

It sometimes seems like junior has the magical ability to find our buttons and push them non-stop.  There are times when I just want to scream, but I know that is not the answer.   Biologically junior is 7 years old, but lately he has been acting more like a 3-5 year old.   Where I once had a very independent boy who had no fear and felt no pain there is now a whiny, needy, cries at the drop of a hat and is afraid of everything little boy.   Today I heard cries for help from the bathroom, what was the emergency that needed my attention... the toilet paper had fallen off the holder onto the floor.  Is he capable of picking it up and putting it on himself, absolutely.  Did I have to do this for him today yes.   Did I want to tell him just to fix it himself, absolutely.  Instead, I had to take a deep breath, comfort him and put the toilet paper back.

This is very trying and exhausting.  It is also very common as adoptees navigate through the sea of emotions they are feeling and start re-living years where they were neglected as they are now getting their needs met.  The regression will be pass, for now we will be as patient as we can and figure out how to cope with it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: O is for Open

We are an open book when it comes to adoption, I think this blog is a good example of that.  While we don't share all of the details about junior's past in public forums we do share the highs and the lows.   His past and his story belongs to him, it is not our place to talk about it.  

We talk frequently at home about adoption and what it means.  We talk about his birth mom.  We talk about previous foster families he lived with.   He knows it is ok to talk about his past, it is ok to miss people from his past, and it is ok to feel that life isn't fair.

With all this openness the one thing that is closed is the adoption.   Open adoptions are very common in infant adoptions, with foster to adopt they are less common but they do occur.   An open adoption is when the birth family and adoptee maintain contact and potentially have visits.  The contact may with a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, sibling, etc.   it really depends on the situation.   In some situations it is decided that continued contact is not in the best interest of the child which leads to a closed adoption.   The only person from junior's past that we have had contact with is one of his previous foster moms.  It is hard to answer questions about why he can't talk with previous foster families or his birth family in a way a 7 year old understands.  

With social media it isn't possible for adoptions to stay closed forever.  Once a child is old enough they may establish contact with their birth family through social media.   This does worry me, but I am hoping we have at least 5 years before we have to cross that bridge.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: N is for Nature vs Nurture

The nature vs nurture debate can be examined in detail in adoption.  I have always believed it is not just one or the other but a combination of both.  There are some things that are just in our DNA and no amount of environmental influence will change that.   Other things can more easily be influenced by environmental variables.  When junior was placed with us he was a Denver Broncos fan, by the end of the season he had decided he no longer liked the Broncos and instead was a Steelers fan.   This decision was clearly influenced by his environment of having a dad who is a die hard Steelers fan.

Junior has also developed the following likes and interests

  • His favorite food is sushi
  • He is very interested in taking photographs
  • His favorite baseball team is the Chicago Cubs (and he thinks the Red Sox are ok)
  • He wants to go to London
A year ago this list would have been very different - part of that comes from being older but the larger part comes from imitating his parents.   

On the nature side of the argument he has unbelievable athletic skills - this is not something that either of his parents possess.  It only took him a few minutes to learn how to throw a perfect spiral, he can connect bat to ball more often than not, he has surprised adults at the basketball court when he makes a shot, and he is begging us to let him learn how to play hockey.   As he gets older I am sure we will see more traits and skills emerge that are part of his DNA.   

Surprisingly this topic can end up causing issues for adoptees.   What can seem like an innocent school project can send an adoptee into a tail spin.   Being asked to make a list of traits you inherited from one parent or another can be a trigger for some kids as they don't know.   We need to be prepared to ask teachers for alternate projects if this arises down the road.   

Friday, November 13, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: M is for Mistakes

Nobody is perfect, but in the days of social media it may seem like that.   There was an article circulating recently about how social media makes us feel worse about ourselves.   Most people only share the positives in their lives, which makes people feel inadequate or that they should be doing more.   Everybody makes mistakes and nobody has a perfect life, even if it seems that way on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or other social media.  

Clearly if you've been reading this blog you know that I share the good as well as the bad or at least I try to.  I don't strive to be a perfect parent, or provide the perfect life for junior.  If we attempted to that we would fail and feel miserable.  We make mistakes as parents, all we can do is pick ourselves up, brush it off,  and move on.  

Dwelling about the mistakes we have made and how we may have accidentally inflicted more damage on our children can cause a person to go crazy.  Recently junior was getting very frustrated when he made a mistake with his homework and would over-react - ripping up papers, threatening to throw his homework in the garbage or throwing pencils across the room.   We took time to point out the times that we make mistakes and how we act when we do.   Learning that mistakes are common and how to handle them is a skill that some people - adopted or not never learn.  

I don't want to be a perfect parent.  I will make mistakes and that is ok.   I will learn from some mistakes and I will repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over again.  I will apologize for mistakes I made, but I won't fall victim to constantly saying "I'm sorry".   Hopefully through this we are setting a good example for junior.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: L is for Lucky

Using the word lucky to refer to an adoptee as lucky is very controversial and can cause some adoptive parents and adoptees to get upset.   As I have mentioned in other posts adoptees have suffered grief and loss, they may have suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of those they have trusted.  They have had instability moving from home to home often without a chance to say goodbye to friends and family or without an explanation of why.  

Does having a stable home and loving parents make somebody lucky?  Are children lucky that they have a warm bed to sleep in and don't go to sleep hungry?  These sound like rights that ever child should experience, not only the lucky ones.   For ever child that has been adopted there are still hundreds of thousands of children that have not yet found their forever homes.  Are these children the unlucky ones?  

I understand what people are attempting to convey with the comment of "Isn't he lucky."  I don't know another way of phrasing this that doesn't diminish the circumstances of the past for adoptees.  
In terms of luck, we are lucky.  We are lucky that he has come into our lives, he makes us laugh, it is amazing to watch him grow and learn.  We are lucky that we have the resources to share our love of travel with him.  And yes we are lucky that we all found one another  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: K is for Karate

This may seem like a stretch but bare with me for a moment.  Karate and martial arts can provide a number of benefits to any child in terms of learning self defense and being an energy release.    What you may not know is that many karate programs also teach skills to instill qualities to help children succeed throughout life.   There have also been some articles which indicate that martial arts can help PTSD in veterans, if it can help PTSD in adults, why not kids?

We stumbled upon karate and martial arts completely by chance but I feel it is providing additional benefits to junior.   The program we have him in teaches the principles of Black Belt Excellence teaching concepts such as courtesy, respect, discipline, self control, citizenship and others.   We have been able to incorporate this into strategies at home and at school.   Last month they learned about discipline and phrasing "I-statements" to achieve goals.  An I-statement is stating what you want, what you will do to achieve it and what you won't do that could stand in your way.

It is a simple mantra that can be repeated "I want ____, I will ________, I won't________."  We have written this on junior's desk at school and he has tried to teach this to other students.   Each day or week he thinks about something he wants and comes up with a statement.   For example he wanted to go to a Lego class and knew if his behavior at school wasn't good then he couldn't go.  He came up with the I-statement of "I want to go to Lego class, I will listen, I won't run away."

If we had tried to teach him these skills, they would have gone in one ear and out the other.  With it being tied to karate and coming from elsewhere it is helping.   Next week he tests for a new belt, he is very proud of the progress he has made in karate and is enjoying teaching others in class.

He knows that if he uses karate on others then the classes will stop, this actually helped us curb some aggressive behavior he was exhibiting at school.   Karate seems to be helping him to develop self-confidence and skills to be able to handle his anxiety and stress.   This is a great compliment to the counseling he receives, and will hopefully allow him to channel his frustration and anger in positive ways.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: J is for Judge

A judge issues a decree to terminate parental rights, a judge also issues a decree that an adoption can be finalized.   Without a judge an adoption would not be possible   For adoptees that are in foster care, the judge can be a larger than life figure.  This is the person that is deciding who they can and can't live with.   Junior was told from early on that the judge would decide if and when he could see his birth mom.  Even though he had never met the judge he talked about her frequently.   

When he got mad at us he would frequently say things like "I'm going to ask the judge for new parents."   It didn't matter that he had never spoken to a judge, he just knew the judge determined who he could live with.

To make adoption day a little easier we decided to go visit the courthouse and see the judge a few months prior to finalization.   We thought if he had a chance to see the courthouse, a courtroom and meet the judge it would be less scary on finalization day.   I don't know whether it made a difference or not, as he didn't say much on either of the days.   

I have heard that judges will petition to perform finalizations, as it is a happy moment in a process that is filled with sadness.  Based on our experience, I would say that is true.   The judge that presided over our finalization specifically requested our case as she had been involved in junior's case early on and for a short period of time.   We had to agree to allow her to preside over the proceedings and ensure there was no conflict of interest.   We thought it was great that she wanted to participate and be involved so many years later.   

Monday, November 9, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: I is for Independence

No matter the age,  children that have been in foster care can appear to be fiercely independent.  This occurs as a matter of survival.  Over the years they have had to learn to take care of themselves and to take control.   Seeing this in young children can be shocking as your instincts tell you they should be reliant on adults and need help.

We try to balance junior's need to be independent while still maintaining control and providing structure.   It is important for them to feel like they have what they need but know that they aren't in charge and calling the shots.   Many adoptees have experienced hunger and neglect, as a result they have learned to fend for themselves - if they don't feed themselves then nobody will.  

Junior has learned to ask permission to do things, but he doesn't always do it.  The bottom shelf of the refrigerator has fruit and  snacks for him, he also has a snack bucket in a bottom cupboard and one in his locker at school.   When he asks for a snack we rarely say no - exceptions are if it is a few minutes before dinner or right after a meal when he refused to eat what was given to him.   We will sometimes direct him towards certain items like a piece of fruit or yogurt, but often we let him pick what he wants.

Lately,  thanks to Master Chef, he has been wanting to cook complete meals for us.   He has two cookbooks, and a set of knives and oven mitts from The Curious Chef.  He is still learning how to safely use the items but we are slowly letting him do more in the kitchen on his own.   Some gentle guidance is also used to direct him towards things that are actually edible.  

Yesterday, he wanted to make me lunch.  He started suggesting some strange collection of ingredients, thankfully I was able to direct him to food we actually had and would make a good sandwich.   He toasted the bread, shredded the cheese, and asked me to heat up pulled pork for him.  He was so proud of the lunch he made me.

Even though he is independent at times, he still reaches out for comfort and reassurance.   When he first was placed with us, he would rarely cry after falling (which he does frequently).  Lately there has been an increase in tears after stubbing his toe or falling down.   He seems to have realized that when he is hurt there is somebody there to comfort him and he is not alone.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: H is for Happiness

I figured I would lighten things up a little bit as some of the blog posts this week have  been difficult to write.  I don't want people to get the impression that adoption is all doom and gloom, there are some definite positives and happy times.  Sometimes it is hard to focus on the happy times but those happy times are what gets us through the stormy times.  

Below is a list of 10 things that make each of us happy.

My list:

  • My family
  • Cuddling
  • Books
  • Being able to travel
  • Sleeping in
  • Surprising others
  • Giving back
  • Wine
  • Spending time with friends
  • Bubble baths

Dave's list of things that make him happy:  

  • Christmas music
  • Going pee when I've had to hold it for a while
  • Money
  • Sleeping in
  • Pumpkin beer
  • Fremont brewing
  • Showing friends around Seattle
  • Steeler football
  • Iowa State Basketball
  • Traveling

Junior's list of things that make him happy (he actually gave me 11):

  • Ice cream
  • Christmas
  • Soccer
  • Boats
  • The sun
  • Movie theaters
  • Gold ribbons
  • Money
  • Master Chef
  • Cooking
  • Smiling
I don't know what it says about my husband and son that I am nowhere on the list.   When I mentioned that junior informed me that mom, dad, the dog and the cat are also on his list of what makes him happy.   Dave then decided he wanted to add Red Rocks to his list.    

Saturday, November 7, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: G is for Grief

Grief and loss is a large part of adoption for the adoptees, the birth parents and the adoptive parents.   Many people reach the decision to adopt after experiencing miscarriages or infertility.  Taking time to grieve the loss of not having biological children is necessary to be ready to adopt.  

Adoptees all experience grief and loss.  The level of grief will vary based on individual experiences, but even children adopted at birth will grieve for their birth family at various times throughout their life.   Grief is tricky and tends to rear its head at inopportune times.

It can seem like a child is trying to sabotage birthdays, holidays or other special occasions.  When in fact they are overwhelmed by feelings of grief.   Anybody that has experienced the loss of a loved one will know how hard it is when certain dates on the calendar approach.  The same grief is experienced by adoptees as they grieve the loss of families they lived with or never knew.   For children in foster care that have had multiple placements the grief can be compounded with every move.  

Grief in children can look very different to grief in adults and may seem more like anger or defiance.  As a parent it is difficult to see your child in pain and the gut reaction is to try and fix it to make it go away.   However in this case it isn't something that can be fixed, the loss that is felt will never go away.  It may lessen over time and he may learn to express it in different ways, but this will always be a part of who he is.    I can't begin to understand the sense of grief and loss he feels, all I can do is wipe the tears away, hug him and tell him it is ok to feel these things and agree that life is not fair.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: F is for Finances

Dave looked at me and said "You're on F, I bet I can guess what it is."  No Dave I don't swear (at least not that often).   While yes the F-bomb is a potential topic for F, I went a different route.

Many people shy away from adoption as they are concerned about the financial aspect of it  Infant and international adoptions can  cost families over $20K.   Foster to adopt is a much less expensive route to adoption.   If you work directly with the state or county the cost can be next to nothing, if you work with a private agency the costs will be a couple thousand dollars.

When we were first referred to a private agency by the county I was hesitant as I equated private agency with big bucks and I wasn't prepared for that.   Luckily as we researched the private agency we realized that the cost weren't astronomical.   After the finalization the county reimbursed some of the expenses we incurred becoming certified as foster parents.  

The costs we incurred were:

  • First aid/CPR certification 
  • Training
  • Home Study 
  • Networking
The first three are required if going through a private agency or the county/state; the last one is what we got from going with a private agency.  Without the networking aspect, I don't feel we would have been matched with junior.  The cost was minimal for what we got in return.   

The other more controversial aspect of foster to adopt is the subsidy that foster families receive.   Hearing news stories or comments about how people only take on foster kids in order to make money makes my blood boil.   The subsidy is designed to reimburse the foster parents for childcare expenses.  But, the amount spent on food, clothing, child care, activities, etc is more than the subsidy covers.   

Post adoption we continue to receive a subsidy for junior's care.  This subsidy does not cover the out of pocket expenses for counseling or the fact that we may have to send him to a private school that can address his anxiety and PTSD.  We are grateful for the subsidy, but we will not be able to retire early as a result of this.   

Thursday, November 5, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: E is for Emotions

If you ever want to go on an emotional roller coaster then adopt a child. The number of emotions you feel while going through the process and then after is immense.   Here's a brief list of some of the emotions felt before being placed:
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration 
  • Worry
  • Doubt
  • Excitement
  • Relief
After being placed in addition to all of the above there is also:
  • Awe
  • Love
  • Dread
  • Grief
  • Helpless
  • Hopeful
  • Vulnerable
  • Surprised
  • Amused
  • Proud 
  • Annoyed
  • Anger
  • Scared
It is possible within a brief period of time to feel all of these or go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  

A few weeks ago I got a call from school at the start of the day, the day after a very bad day at school.   The dread seeing the caller ID was followed quickly by relief and surprise when I was told junior wanted some words of encouragement from me.   We had a brief conversation and I sent an email to Dave saying how proud I was that he asked to call for me and I was hopeful that it would be a good day.   Fast forward 45 minutes and another call from the school and all those emotions are gone and the only thing left is feeling helpless and frustrated.

The one constant through all of these emotions is love.  While there are days that we are frustrated, annoyed, angry and hearing shouts of "I hate you" we continue to love this little boy.   We tell him that while we don't like the way he is acting and are upset we still love him.    

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: D is for Doubt

Doubting decisions is common, some people may be more prone to second guessing decisions than others.   For parents I think this is even more common.   One thing that many adoptive families don't talk about are the doubts they have about whether they made the right decision to adopt and whether the child is the right one for them.   

This is hard to say but there was a time during the process that we weren't sure whether we were making the right decision.  We were open and honest with our team about what was going on, we spoke to our counselors about it and we asked to delay setting a date for the finalization.   

It turns out that these types of doubts are common in adoption.   In some cases it can lead to a disrupted placement, this usually happens when the adoptive parents don't tell anybody about the doubts they are feeling.   In our case we shared our concerns and were made to feel like this is normal, we were offered help and we moved forward.   

The doubts still exist, especially in the face of the challenges we are facing at school.   Did we make the right decision moving to Seattle, should we have left him in his neighborhood school here, can we help junior manage his PTSD.  I try to be optimistic but at times it is hard and I feel defeated.   Will I give up, no.  I need to learn to be better about sharing my doubts and fears with others as I know I am not alone, but sometimes that isn't the easiest thing to do.    

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

ABCs of Adoption: C is for Counseling

Counseling can be a critical part of adoption for the parents and the child.  Counseling can help children deal with trauma and loss, it can help parents and children attach and it can give parents a safe outlet to talk about their anxieties and fears.

At one point during the adoption process we were working with three counselors - one for the whole family, one for junior, and one for us.   This may seem like a lot but each three served different purposes and helped us in different ways.  After travel time to and from appointments was factored in we were spending between 7-8 hours a week in therapy.
Finding a therapist that specializes in adoption and attachment is not an easy task.  Trying to find one that takes Medicaid is even harder.   Medicaid is a benefit that some adoptees are eligible for, while in foster care all children receive Medicaid.  To me it would make sense that therapists with adoption and foster care specialties would accept Medicaid but that is not the case.  In the end it was more important for us to have counselors with the specialization than to have one that took Medicaid.
When we moved, one of the first tasks on my to-do list was to get junior set up with a new counselor.  This included countless phone calls to organizations looking for referrals.  I felt like I was being given the run around  or hitting a dead end.   I don't even remember what agencies I called and how I ended up getting the referral to our current therapist.    What I do know is that I am thankful that we found her.   She has been able to provide us with referrals to support groups and a pediatrician that specializes in adoption.

We fully expect to continue seeing counselors for years.  It may not be continuous, we may only need to check in on a monthly or quarterly basis but through the years there will be different issues that get raised which need to be addressed.

Monday, November 2, 2015

ABC's of Adoption: B is for Birthfamily

The triad in adoption is composed of the child, the birth parents and the adoptive parents.   Whether the adoption is open or closed, whether the child lived with the birth parents for part of their life or was placed with the adoptive parents at birth - the birth family is an integral part of any adoption.

While we have no contact with birth mom we talk about her on a regular basis and always in a positive manner.   There are pictures of her in the house, we talk about her at holidays and whenever junior mentions her.   We answer questions in a way that he can understand and process.   I imagine that as he gets older the conversations and questions will change.  What won't change is the attitude in which we answer the questions and provide information.

We will provide the facts as we know them.  We don't know everything but what we do know is that his birth mother loved him very much and did the best she could, but sometimes that isn't enough.   We know to never speak in a negative manner about her and to let him know it is OK to think about and talk about her.   This isn't a case of us against her and he can never think that.  

It is next to impossible to predict when questions will arise.   For me they always seem to come out of the blue and most often when we are driving or right before bed.  The bedtime I understand, the car I don't but it is not my job to figure out why, only to respond in a consistent manner.  

I am more than OK sharing a space in his heart with his birth mom.   We both love him fiercely and want what is best for him.   This isn't a contest as to who he loves more, if it becomes a contest we will all lose.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Adoption ABCs: A is for Attachment

In honor of National Adoption Month I plan on starting and hopefully completing the ABCs of Adoption blog series.  There are 30 days in the month and 26 letters in the alphabet, that should get me enough time.

I know that adoption starts with A but that is too obvious.  For me attachment is the bigger A word in adoption.  Attachment is defined as the ability to form a connection with another individual of significance.    Attachment is not a given, it takes time and in some instances it doesn't occur.
Whether attachment occurs is probably the biggest worry of adoptive parents no matter which form of adoption the child comes to a family through.   The concern goes both ways "Will I be able to attach to my child" and "Will my child attach to us."  If there are already children in the home, whether biological or adoptive, questions on whether the children will attach and bond to each other may also be raised.    

Many children from trauma backgrounds get diagnosed with attachment disorders, which can be a very scary situation.   They are averse to touch of any kind, avoid eye contact, or will seem to form bonds with complete strangers instead of their primary caregiver.  After years of abuse and neglect children can build barriers to protect themselves and learn not to trust.   Children may also feel a sense of loyalty to their birth parents which prevents them from forming an attachment.

We have been fortunate in that junior has formed an attachment to us.  We openly talk about his birth mom and encourage him to do so.  We let him decide what to call us and the day he decided we were mom and dad was a very memorable day.  

However we do still hear on occasion

"You're not my real mom."
"I want to be un-adopted."
"I didn't choose you."
"I miss my mommy."
"You're the worst family ever."

Does this mean he hasn't attached to us - no.  Does it still sting - yes.   At some point after these outbursts he comes to us for hugs and cuddles, apologizing saying he didn't really mean the things he said.   Attachment during adoption can be a lifelong issue or for some families it may not be an issue at all.  

Resources regarding attachment in adoption