Monday, July 30, 2012

Am I Wrong to Not Want to Look Young?

There were many concerns we had adopting a teenage girl, most of which any adult could guess with a little bit of common sense. There were also many adoption issues that came up in our conversations: Will Haben ever truly see us as parents? Will she ever want to call us mom and dad? Will she want to be here at all? And of course there were concerns about the outward appearance of our family. (Just in case you forgot: we're white and she's black). What I failed to take into consideration was my age, and apparently the age I appear to be.

Maybe it's because I began teaching full-time at age 22 and my students have always been teenagers. Maybe it's because I primarily interact with 17 and 18 year olds the majority of my days. Whatever the reason, I don't think of myself as being close at all to the age of a teenager.

Realistically, to be mistaken as Haben's biological mother, I would have given birth at the age of 14 (plausible). I also would have conceived her with a man of a different race (also plausible). But this is not the issue we run into in public. We don't meet people who wonder whether or not I had Haben at a young age or if her father is dark-skinned. Instead, we get treated as "friends." And somehow, I never saw this coming!!!

When we first began the process of adopting Haben I was told by the agency that we were younger than the normal applicant and less experienced, which could hinder the adoption process. This made sense to me, but luckily the social worker in charge of Haben's case was open-minded and didn't see age as a barrier. Because of this I failed to see how this could affect our daily lives.

The first time I noticed this was while we were still in Haben's previous state at an ice cream shop. While a woman was trying to squeeze past us she said, "Excuse me girls." It just didn't seem like something that would be said to a mother and daughter, but I still didn't think too much of it. Since then, the obvious assumption that we are two girlfriends hanging out has become increasingly clear and there have been many instances... though one stands out among the rest:

I saw an advertisement on television for a dress shop about 40 minutes away that was going out of business. I thought we could check it out and if they had any great deals we could buy a homecoming dress in case she decides to go (which she's already decided will happen, by the way). I did this for two reasons: 1) This mom is cheap and 2) This mom thought it would be fun to let Haben try on fancy dresses! When we got there we immediately saw absolutely gorgeous gowns all for about $50. The deals were fantastic. Of course Haben was super excited and started grabbing every beautiful dress she saw, draping them over her arm to try on.

Soon after, the shop owner came over and started scolding Haben for the way she was carrying the dresses. In a very harsh tone she said, "You can't carry my dresses like that! You're not the only customer I have and you're going to rip and snag the dresses for the next girl!" Haben laughed it off (too excited to care) and said, "I'm sorry. I'm a wreck, I know!" But the lady wouldn't stop. She continued to nastily scold Haben on our way to the dressing room. She LITERALLY talked non-stop, repeating herself over and over "This is my shop! And I care about my products. I have other customers, you know? You're not the only one in here!" (Ironically she failed to see the "other customers" that heard this and left within seconds of entering the store).

Now at this point I was getting irritated. I know your store is going out of business lady, and it's probably upsetting, but my kid is 15 and excited. Give it a rest. So, I calmly (but firmly) said, "Okay, we get it, we're sorry. We heard you... the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time you said it." Well, this made her stop in her tracks, point her finger in my face and yell, "I said it one time!" It seem futile to point out this was an outright lie, so instead I said "Okay, we're sorry," while she continued to repeat herself until we got to the dressing room.

She then hung the dresses and began lecturing us on how to try them on. She zipped open a dress, caught the tag and said "I'd like to murder the person who attached this tag!" This made Haben laugh, which then made the woman grab the dresses and say, "I think you two need to leave!" I saw the panic on Haben's face and felt terrible. I wasn't leaving the store without her getting to try on dresses, even if it meant supporting this woman and her establishment. So I said "No, we're fine. We're sorry" (again). And then the woman asked "Are you two even serious about buying a dress?" This seemed like an odd question to me, and before I could answer, Haben said "Yes! My mom and I drove 40 minutes to be here!"

... and this is when it all changed. The woman gave me an odd look, smiled, patted Haben on the back and said, "You're just giggly aren't you?"

Uh, what just happened? And then it hit me... until Haben referred to me as "mom," the shop owner thought we were two teens coming in to try on a bunch of dresses for fun, leave them all in the dressing room and walk away without giving her a single cent. I later brought this up to the woman, and she admitted this to be the truth. Although it didn't completely excuse her behavior, it at least made sense.

And what stinks is there is not a darn thing I could do about it. Since that day many others have assumed we are two teenage friends. Even at the dentist today, it was clear the woman bringing us back to the room thought I was a good friend there for support.

All the fears we had weren't needed at all. Haben DOES think of us as parents and she DOES call us mom and dad. What we didn't anticipate was how hard it would be to explain to OTHER people that we are her parents. Not only do they get confused when she calls me mom, they then argue with me that it can't be true, which just highlights our unorthodox family and make us feel like we have to prove we ARE a family.

I guess I should be happy I look younger, and often Haben is happier she looks older and more mature. But at then end of the day, I just want to look like the family we are because like it or not, I am not her buddy; I am her mother and she is my daughter, and those titles mean more to the two of us than I can ever explain in line at the ice cream shop or in the middle of a dress store.

Now tell me this photo doesn't have mother and daughter written all over it!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

IT'S [ANOTHER] GIRL!

I'm back... and I'm public again. The private blog wasn't working for me through blogger, especially since there was a limited amount of readers I could invite, so after a break and time adjusting with our new (wonderful) daughter, I have returned to the blog world, with a new announcement.

....but first things first: How's Haben? She's wonderful. I cannot imagine adopting a more perfect daughter for our family. She fits in so well, and we are continually surprised by her beauty, strength and wisdom. Although it has only been a little over two months since we met her, we truly cannot imagine life without her.

Our beautiful daughter Haben
She is currently playing soccer and volunteering in the special needs room at our church . She will also be volunteering an an art camp for inner city youth at the end of this month. She is also looking forward to our family vacation to Disney World in a week, as well as youth group camp and a trip to Upstate New York with my husband's family in July.

Has it all been perfect since day one? Absolutely not. But our lives were not perfect prior to Haben either. I can say, however, that is has been more wonderful that we ever could have imagined.

Haben is also looking forward to one more upcoming event in her life: the birth of a new baby sister!

That's right, I am pregnant with a healthy baby girl, who is due October 29th. God really had a plan after all. He just needed to lead us to Haben. Without the infertility, the losses and the struggles, we would not have our beautiful 15 year old daughter. Once God was finally able to move mountains to bring us together, he blessed us with a pregnancy as well, both equally special and miraculous to us.

Our baby girl, on the way!
I had a student tell me that she was going to use our story whenever she encountered an atheist, and that just made me smile. I love that we got to be a product of God's love and devotion... and all it took was a little faith.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. John 5:14-15

Saturday, March 3, 2012

IT'S A [TEENAGE] GIRL!

So... we have some pretty big news to share!  We are adopting a teenage girl from the U.S.!

I don't want to say everything just yet, as there are still a lot of legal steps to navigate, but I will provide you with some limited details:

She was born in Ethiopia and was adopted by a family in the U.S. about 2 1/2 years ago. For varying reasons, the placement did not work out. She is currently living with a great social worker in the Midwest.

We have spoken extensively with the Social Worker in charge who has also sent emails back and forth between us and the current caregiver, as well as the girl.

This week we plan to start talking more about the logistics. We have spoken briefly with our lawyer, as have the current adoptive parents. We also spoke with her current adoptive parents today, and they feel excited and positive about this match. Our tentative transition plan is to travel the first week in April and spend about a week there. The agency has developed a transition plan that would span over the course of six days so she is not abruptly introduced to us then driving across state lines.

We are told that she is very excited and, after looking at our photo book, says we're "adorable." Of course we think the same of her!  She is absolutely beautiful. We are also awaiting word from her regarding the color of her room. We said we would paint and furnish it in advance, but she could help decorate it when she gets here, which she is excited about.

She is currently being home schooled, so we plan to stay home with her the remainder of the year and then enroll her in public school in the fall.

I know I haven't answered many of your questions - How old is she? Where does she live? Can I see a photo?  And I promise to answers those in time, but I am being intentionally vague to protect her at this time. You also may want to know what happened in her past and why her current placement didn't work. And when it comes to her past and her history, I am going to keep that private. That's her story to tell if and when she's ready.

We know this won't be easy, but we are excited and ready to provide her with a stable environment where she can heal. We will also stay "in line" for our Ethiopian adoption, and she is excited to travel back to Ethiopia with us one day.

You may also be wondering how this all happened. Were we matched through our domestic agency? The answer is no. This all happened because of this blog. An adopted friend though our international adoption agency's yahoo group had commented on a blog entry of mine, and a friend of hers had seen this on facebook. She then sent me a friend request, and when she received a profile of this girl, she forwarded it to me (and we instantly fell in love).

We were actually sitting in the Ethiopian restaurant in Pittsburgh, celebrating Valentine's Day (in the same city and same weekend Sean had proposed), when we read her file and saw her photo for the first time. From our understanding there were 10 families very interested and considered, but the social worker (and the girl) felt we were the best fit. We got the official call on Thursday letting us know.

I want to thank all of our friends, family and co-workers for being so supportive through this so far. We will continue to need your support and prayers throughout this process.

I also have to thank Lindsey (http://almcrock.blogspot.com/) who introduced me to Kim (http://alittleloveinyourheart.blogspot.com/) who introduced us to our future daughter. Lindsey and Kim are both adopting from Ethiopia. Kim actually has referrals for FOUR children and I know they both could use your help, so check out their blogs for ongoing fundraisers.

I am also thinking of making this blog private in the near future. It's bittersweet because the openness has allowed me to form new friendships and networks of people, but I also don't want to expose this teenage girl's life openly on the internet. I will be thinking more about this...

Overall, to say we are excited would certainly be an understatement! We knew God had the perfect plan for us, and we recently thought it would be an American teenage girl; though she is an American citizen, and though this is a domestic adoption, we are amazed that God led us to an Ethiopian beauty. I would not change the last two years for anything, as this is exactly where we are supposed to be.

May he grant you your heart's desire and fulfill all your plans! - Psalm 20:4

More updates to come...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Does D-O-N-E really spell done?

We are officially done completing and waiting for adoption paperwork.  Wow!  We started all of this almost one year ago. In some ways that year flew by, while in other ways it seems to have taken forever!

Our home study was actually approved January 3rd, though we didn't find out until a couple weeks ago. I am not sure why, but at this point it doesn't matter.  Now we search and wait.  Our agency has submitted our home study for many sibling sets and individual girls in the U.S. and we wait to see if we're being considered.  As I've said before, there are many reasons why we may not even be considered, so this could be a long process.

On the international front, we are currently #65 in line for an infant boy, which is actually five spots farther down the list than when we were DTE in October. This occurs when a family not originally in our group adds their DTE date (since this list is "unofficial") or a family broadens their age or gender request. We are #68 for an infant girl, which is actually five spots closer than in October - yay! We are #33 for twins or siblings under 4 (one spot closer) and #12 for siblings that have one older child over 4 (three spots farther).  Finally, we are #17 for a boy 19-36 months (one spot farther) and #28 for a girl 19-26 months (two spots farther).

If we hadn't been approved for concurrent adoption, those numbers would be pretty discouraging, but we recently had the most referrals in a week that I've witnessed since I've been accepted into our agency's adoption group. I have to believe there will be movement.

And Ethiopia is never far from our minds. We recently celebrated Valentine's Day in Pittsburgh and had dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant called Abay Ethiopian Cuisine:
We enjoyed it, though it is definitely trendier and doesn't have the same ambiance or appeal as the Ethiopian restaurant we went to in Cleveland. Some people may like that better, but I preferred sitting in a hut!

Also, you may have noticed the "tickers" on the right side of this blog, counting the wait time for both adoptions.  Hopefully someday soon one of them will stop ticking.

And if not, that's okay too, because it really isn't about us anymore:
"Adoption is not about finding children for families, it's about finding families for children." 
- Joyce Maguire Pavao 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I have a secret...

Well our domestic home study should be finalized any day now. I was told that our agency had to put aside their work to complete paperwork for an audit and that it would be done last week. So now we are hoping for this week!  While one part of me thought, "Oh well, we've waited this long, what's another week or two?" the other part of me thought, "Wait a minute!  We've waited all this time, and now another week or two!"

But knowing it will be any day now is suddenly making it so REAL. Even though we are open to a broad age range (infant to age 14), we are really feeling like it will be an older girl, possibly even a 14 year old. If you're reading this, especially if you're part of our everyday lives, we hope you are as excited about this possibility as we are!  I say this because so many people I have discussed this with are not.

I know that everyone is trying to be helpful, but this is such an exciting time in our lives, and the negativity hurts.  If it helps to ease your fears, know that we have not jumped into this blind. In fact, I can confidently say we most likely know more about this than you do.  And yes, I know you have heard from a friend [of a friend] that supposedly had his/her child taken away by the birth parent even though this friend [of a friend] wanted to adopt the child. And  I know you know of a friend [of a friend] that fostered a child or adopted a child from foster care and he/she was "bad."   And I am sure you truly believe all of this and truly believe you are helping us... but this isn't helpful.  I'm sorry.  I feel like I finally need to say that because I generally just smile and nod whenever someone tells me this for the hundredth time.

But I have a secret to share with you... Ready? No child is perfect, and all children are "bad." But when a child is neglected, abused, unwanted and abandoned he/she may act out even more.  We know this and we are not expecting a fairy tale.  I have read so many books my head is swimming with true tales that are sometimes too horrific to believe, but they don't deter me, they simply remind me of why we are on this journey.  These children need us as much as we need them.

So please, if we announce the adoption of our 10, 12 or even 14 year old girl, don't tell us we're "crazy," that we don't know what we're getting ourselves into, and please don't jokingly say, "I have a teenager - you can borrow her for a few days."  If you're not sure what to say, think of what you would say to a woman who was pregnant: "Congratulations!" or "How exciting!" Because I guarantee we feel the same as a pregnant woman. We too are expectant parents.

If we're so passionate about an older child, you may wonder why we're even keeping ourselves open to a private infant adoption. And the answer is... only God knows who our child is. Although it is true that there are way too many children in foster care, that doesn't mean they are all matches for us. Just because we are fully open to an older child doesn't mean it will work out that way. There are certain needs to consider for the child, in addition to location, race, religion and simple wants and desires. But I do want everyone to know this is a definite possibility for us, and we hope you can share our joy.

Before I go, I'd love to share a beautiful analogy written by Gay Courter in "I Speak for This Child," which chronicles her life as a Guardian Ad Litem (a volunteer speaking out for the best interests of foster children). Gay Courter is also the adoptive mother of Ashley Rhodes-Courter, the author of "Three Little Words" (see my last post for more info about this amazing memoir):

"Stability. I thought about a recent lecture I heard on the importance of permanence that compared children's emotional security to a bucket. If a child's needs are met, if she receives the love and attention she craves, the sturdy bucket does not leak. But as soon as she is abused or neglected, tiny holes begin to puncture the bucket, and the vital fluids that maintain a child's stability start oozing out. If a child who enters the social service system isn't maintained with transfusions, the essential elements slowly drain away. Even worse, the system itself is capable of widening the holes, or even punching fresh ones. Moving children from place to place, treating them unfairly, not meeting their needs in a timely manner-all contribute to the leakage. Eventually it will not matter how fast you try to replenish the pail; like a sieve it empties itself instantly."
http://www.amazon.com/Speak-This-Child-Stories-Advocate/dp/0595168396/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327890414&sr=8-1



Saturday, January 7, 2012

three little words [that aren't i love you]

Still waiting. 

We've been doing a lot of that during the last couple of years, but there is one perk:

Reading.

I LOVE reading adoption books, and the wait certainly gives us ample time to do so. I've recently read some really great books regarding Ethiopian adoption, including No Biking in the House Without a Helmet (Melissa Fay Greene), From Ashes to Africa (Josh Bottomly and Amy Bottomly ) and I'm in the middle of There is No Me Without You (Melissa Fay Greene).

Books on adoption in Africa haven't been hard to find, but I hadn't come across any memoirs from the perspective of a U.S. foster child... until we went to our agency meeting over Christmas break. One of our agency's directors recommended the book Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter.  After beginning this book one evening, I stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish it.  

Wow. This girl is only a few years younger than me and her story of strength and survival is inspiring, informative and heartbreaking.  There were times I wanted to walk away from the words on the page because her story was so emotionally draining and I couldn't face it anymore.

She writes her story with the naivety of a child, allowing us to view the world through her adolescent eyes.  Her thoughts are raw and uncensored and honest.  There are heroes and villains along the way, but unlike a fairy tale, this story is true and close to home. Although we often like to believe our system serves the youth far better than any orphanage or other country's system, there are flaws and far too many of them. As I mentioned, the author is only a few years younger than me, so we are talking about a time in our very recent history that failed to help this struggling child and her younger brother.

Regardless of your interest in adoption, this book is a must-read, if only to open your eyes about our foster care system. Because I am desperately urging you to read this book, I don't want to give too much away, but I cannot help but share some of her words...

Her mother's words to her as a young child being put into foster care: "Sunshine, you're my baby and I'm your only mother. You must mind the one taking care of you, but she's not your mama."

A statement about her birth mother when she was a young child: "Naive and trusting, I always believed her, and in some way - even now - I still do."

After being placed in a new foster home, without her brother: "What had I done that was so terrible that I had to be taken away from my mother? I had no idea why she hand't been able to get me back. You think someone would have explained it in words a child could understand. Yet nobody did. I believed they were keeping secrets from me- but supposedly, they thought they were protecting me."

Upon leaving yet another foster home, and yet again without her brother: "I felt as worthless as the junk in my trash bag. Once again, I was the one being tossed out and thrown away."

A reflection about her mother's parental rights being terminated: "Until the court papers were finalized, there had been a chance that the tides would reverse, the world would stop spinning, and I would be my mother's Sunshine again. Until the judge signed the documents, everything else had been temporary. Once the judge ruled, I was an orphan. I had no parents, and no possibilities were in sight."

Upon entering a group home: "During the entrance tests, they gave me some sentences to complete. After I am afraid..., I wrote: I will never see my mother again; and after My mother..., I added: is on drugs. After My Father..., I answered: I really don't know my father. Finally, beside I need my parents..., I finished with: when I'm alone, feeling blue, and need someone."

Quoting a speech she gave in which she quoted french playwright Molière: "It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable."

Looking back at her years in foster care: "There was a time I didn't think I needed anyone; now I wondered how could I need these people so much." 
I'll let you read the book to discover "these people."

Another reflection: "Broken promises crippled me for many years. As the Courters kept their pledges to me, my faith in others expanded. Day after day, they were there for me; until one day, I not only felt safe, I did not want to leave. Maybe that is the definition of love."

From a Note to the Reader: "I represent thousands, probably tens of thousands of children who have been lost in the system. We are a chorus of voices that need to be heard."

Read the book to follow her heroic tale and discover what those three little words are [which aren't I love you].

Links and resources related to this courageous woman: