Sunday, October 26, 2014

A quick hello...

I have a wonderful drash brewing in my brain from last week's parsha, but I haven't had the opportunity to write it. In the meantime I wanted to share with you something I came across on PostSecret. I think it nicely demonstrates the multi-faceted nature of adoption, which is made even more complicated when adopting from the foster care system because that generally means that the child was forcibly taken from his or her parents.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Going kid shopping

(Just in case you were wondering, these are random "adoptive children," not the three we saw at the event.)
The social workers were trying to yell over the drums in the next room. "Try to spend your time equally with all children! We don't want to make any child feel left out!" Their words were drowned out by the enthusiastic African tempos infusing every molecule in the downtown Oakland building.

We were at an Older Youth Matching event, where prospective adoptive families would learn to drum alongside foster care youth (ages 9-16) who are available for adoption. It was the first time I had met any foster youth. I was anxious. I didn't expect that I would meet my future child, but I was afraid I would accidentally make a child feel rejected by another adult.

After being dismissed by the social workers, I rushed off to the bathroom, returning to the drumming room just a minute after the start time. Children and adults already had drums in hand, learning a new rhythm that soon infused the entire classroom. The energy bounced off the walls as we learned  different instruments, never having the opportunity to talk with or play with one another. I had a lot of fun at the event, but the event was poorly organized (no introductions, no interactions, and of the ten or so kids there, just three were foster youth). Ultimately, all the poor organizational setup was okay, because there was no child available for adoption that caught my attention.

This event was typical of our experience at Family Builders. They are great - they have nice staff who are dedicated to their mission, and they are leaders in the foster/adopt process. Unfortunately, their experienced, competent, and knowledge staff of social workers are not administrative or event-planning professionals, and a number of times during this process we've learned critical information in passing. We are happy for this trade off - their fantastic staff of social workers will (hopefully) help us adopt the right child for us - the most important part of this process - but sometimes we walk away frustrated because we still don't have information.

I do not mean to disparage the organization or our social workers. I think this problem infuses all agencies of this type. Always there's a trade off between the actual work and the administration of that work. When lives can literally hang in the balance, I understand why they focus their resources on the children. But as prospective parents, embarking on a life-long choice that promises hard, but fulfilling, work, it feels like this process hinders understanding unnecessarily.

We are stilling waiting to hear back from the half a dozen social workers about the children we are interested in. We're now in week two, so I hope to hear back sometime this week or next (we were told it takes two to four weeks, on average), but I am not holding my breathe. Administrative efficiency (like quick communication) is not a skill I expect social workers to have in the chaos of trying to care for foster children.

So, we wait, pretending we're not on pins and needles for some new information that won't come for weeks or months, and try to live our lives.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bereishit: In the darkness, in the light

"In the beginning, the earth was formless and void." The darkness overshadowed everything. Are there even things in the darkness? There's at least water in the darkness, the parsha infers, but darkness penetrated that too. The darkness was everything, it was everywhere.

For anyone who has ever experienced depression, this is a good descriptor. The warmth of the world can't penetrate the darkness, for the darkness is everything.

My family has many examples of mental illness and depression. When I was in sixth grade, my father told me that everyone thinks about suicide. People who claim differently are lying. By that point in my life, I had already started cutting my body, scars had started to form in protest of my childhood. I considered myself a coward because I couldn't do the thing I wanted most, to play out a scene from The Virgin Suicides.

I asked my elementary school friends at school the next day if they ever thought about death (I did not dare use the word suicide). There was a subset of us who were a death admiring group, others who scoffed at the idea. In retrospect, I can't believe we're all still alive today - that I'm alive today. I wonder if all kids are messed up like this, or is it just that the messed up kids seek out other messed up kids? (My adult life is the first time I've ever associated with - and enjoyed - people who weren't from broken homes. I can't believe I even married one of those people.)

"And G!d said: Let there be light, and there was light." Seeing the light is not this easy. It's a long process. For me, it was being kicked out of my childhood home, living with my moms, going to college, getting a job, going on meds, going on different meds, and finding Kate. Each of those steps put more distance between me and depression.

This is why I want to adopt. I want to be a step toward a child's wellness. I cannot "fix" him or her, but I can support him or her on the journey toward finding their whole self, toward finding the light. I want the best for that child, to help them heal from their trauma and become the best person they can be. My scars are old, my wounds have healed, and I want to help someone else heal. I want to bring moments of light to places that are dark, because I know the darkness and I know the light. In the darkness you don't believe there will ever be light, but the light can come. And in the light your heart can grow, and your life can be beautiful, amazing, and full of life.

Friday, October 10, 2014

V'Zot HaBerachah: Bright and curious with a good sense of humor

My dreams were chaotic last night, featuring expulsions, unconquered and unknown. I woke up tired, unready for the day, but the day came regardless. I dressed, ate breakfast, and left the house with sleep still in my spirit. Kate and I went to the Family Builder's office to look at profiles of children new to the foster/adoption system.

Sitting in the conference room, my heart was guarded. Just a few weeks ago, we had chosen four profiles. Two children were taken off the "market" and one we decided wasn't the right fit for us. We still have not heard back from the other social worker about the other 11 year old. I was not hopeful that today would be any more fruitful.

The new profiles aren't marked and so you try to figure out if we've seen "Sarah" or "Jacob" before, or was it a kid who looked like Sarah, who liked reading like Jacob. We quickly skipped past the more familiar pictures, and read the profiles of the less familiar ones.

Just like in trying to get pregnant, there is a rhythm in trying to adopt. Every month there are new kids from the "exchange meetings," where social workers trade family and children profiles, trying to make a match. After these exchange meetings, the profiles are brought back to the office and we go into this conference room to find out if there's a kid for us. If there's a kid we're interested in, our social worker submits our home study for the kid. And then we wait.

Except, today we didn't wait. We had asked our social worker a number of questions about this one child, and she diligently followed up with the kid's social worker. After answering our questions, she said, "The social worker is more than willing to accept your home study." And we said yes. We submitted our home study (and expect it to be accepted soon) for a child. She's a 9 year old girl who is bright and curious with a great sense of humor, according to her profile.

This week we'll celebrate Simchat Torah. We will have reached the end of the Torah and immediately after concluding, we will begin it anew by reading the first chapter, describing the creation of the world. Even in endings, the world never ends. Even after social workers have said "no," there is still a social worker who will say "yes." After infertility, there's still creation. After death, there is still life. After an end, there is a new beginning.

Because social workers said no to our family, we can now say yes to a bright and curious girl with a good sense of humor. Next, we hope, is a disclosure meeting where we learn all about her - why she was placed in foster care, what she's like, what she wants. Life keeps moving forward, always. That is the pesky reality of life.

This month we asked our social worker to submit our home study for six different children's profiles. Later, our social worker called to let us know that we can only submit for four different profiles. There's a rule that we weren't told - you can only submit for one profile per county (to show your interest in THAT child.) Just another bump in the ever-bureaucratic bumpy road.

But in the mean time there's a 9 year old girl, who is bright and curious with a great sense of humor, who we will be able to move forward with.

We also are interested in seven other children. There's the defiant 9 year old who loves to sing and dance. There's the sibling set, 7 and 8 year old girls, who are both bright and outgoing. There's the adorable, active, and sweet 5 and 7 year old boys. There's the young 12 year old girl who loves animals. There's the cute 6 year old, dressed in a tutu, ready for more structure in her life.

Some of these children we have some questions about. Some of them have siblings that aren't currently up for adoption, and we don't want to take a child hours away from their brothers or sisters. One is Native American. We are sensitive to the cultural history of White families forcibly taking Native children. We don't have any connections to Native traditions, and don't want to perpetuate racist adoption policies.

But for each child there will be questions. Today, right now, I'm going to celebrate a small victory - getting our home study submitted for a bright and curious 9 year old with a good sense of humor. I'm going to celebrate a life that continually presents me a new way to start anew. Chag sameach! (Happy holiday!)

A NOTE: Our "yes" at this point means that we have declared our interested in the child and nothing more. If our home study is accepted (as it sounds like it will be) that means that we will have a disclosure meeting, where we learn all about the kid. After a disclosure meeting, Kate and I then decide if we would like to move forward with the child. If we say yes at that point, then that's our kid (barring any unexpected judicial intervention). So, right now, it's a qualified yes. It's a yes, please give me more information. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sukkot: I can only decorate the present

This week Kate and friends built a hut in our backyard for sukkot. The colorful fabric walls and leafy roof remind us of the forty years the Israelites wandered the desert, our meandering relationship with life and Judaism. It is an agricultural festival, more proof that we are powerless, dependent upon a fickle earth that determines its own fate.

The sukkah is an impermanent structure. It is supposed to be able to fall down (and we unfortunately demonstrated that fact during the building process, before we reinforced the walls). You live and eat in the sukkah, joining together with friends and family. The sukkah connects us to our ever-changing landscape, the unpredictableness of life and weather, and reminds us of the luxurious nature of modernity. 

Today our social worker emailed us with an update. The two girls, 5 and 8, are no longer available for adoption. One of the two 11 year old girls is matched with another family. The other 11 year old, the one we took a chance on with limited information in her profile, she is still available. Our social worker submitted our home study for her. She said that the matching decision takes, on average, two to four weeks. Again, we are waiting.

This process is an ever-changing landscape, where you can’t let your heart imagine too much, but also can’t hold on to your heart too tightly. From four choices there were three and now there is one. Maybe next week we’ll take next steps. Or maybe next week there will be zero, and again we’ll wait for the “right” child’s profile to be found among the stacked papers. 

It feels like the sukkah’s walls are caving under the weight of powerlessness. There is nothing I can do to help quickly find our kid. I can only wait, reflect on my own impermanence, and luxuriate in our last days/months/years of childlessness. Like my father, I was destined to be a parent, but I cannot write a child into my destiny, I can only beautifully decorate my present. The weather will come no matter my opinion, just as the Sukkot holiday will be celebrated across the globe. A child will come when it’s the right time. Hopefully next year, we’ll build a (reinforced) sukkah with small hands, we’ll dance with the Torah together, and our family will be infused with our child’s spirit. Until then, I celebrate the holiday with loving friends and rambunctious animals, luxuriating in the beauty of our lives.