Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vayeitzei: Next Steps in the Path to "Home"

This week I have learned many things:
  1. Finding a food that starts with “j” is hard for 7 and 8 year olds (and a 26 year old), and I love making up new (alphabet) car games.
  2. I love children. I mean, really love them. I find them energizing (and exhausting) and am good at marshaling playground antics and engaging overactive or shy little people.
  3. Olives can make any food have one, two, or three eyes.
  4. Driving over a thousand miles in under a week (back and forth between Sacramento and Berkeley) is exhausting and exhilarating when you have two adorable kids in the car with you.
  5. It takes less than a week to fall in love with your children.

The second time we saw the girls, they ran to us and gave us hugs, melting our hearts. Less than a week later, we took the girls home for a day to show them our house. During that visit, S asked Kate to play "mommy" and the girls asked who slept in the second bedroom. They told us they loved us and we reciprocated (because it is true!). There was an incident with the dogs and it became clear we’ll have to choose between the puppy and the girls. The choice was hard, but easy. Girls, of course. (Btw, anyone know anyone who wants a really sweet, cute puppy - details here. We want to have her placed before December 19.) On the drive home, they asked how many other children we were hanging out with. We gave the coy answers the social worker told us to say, resulting in tears and fears of abandonment. Leaving them at foster mom’s was so hard that night.

A few days later they came “home” (their words, not ours) and slept over. They asked questions that break your heart and exposed their desire to be part of a loving family. We called their social worker the next day and said we loved the girls – they’re perfect! – and … can we take them to Thanksgiving? Can we take them forever? Can they be ours yet? (Okay, I might not have asked all of those questions exactly.)

And the social worker said YES! When she said that she will submit the paperwork and we can have them for Thanksgiving, I jumped exuberantly, making the social worker – over the phone – laugh with glee. She said, “I can see you jumping and running to get Kate,” which was, of course, what I was doing. So, on Tuesday, the girls’ social worker requested the court’s permission to place E and S in our home. The court’s response is expected to take a few weeks, but we hope the sisters will live with us full time after December 19.

I want to say something about this week’s parsha, Vayeitzei, and connecting it to travel and divine intervention, and promises about your descendants, but right now I’m too tired. Between the girls (driving, social workers, paperwork, shopping, parenting) and finals I’m getting little sleep. I’m also thinking about Ferguson, about racial injustice, about the fact that we’re going to be parents to two girls with darker skin. About the fact that we’re going to be parents. To two girls.

This week I have learned many things, and I can’t wait to learn what it’s like to be a parent to E and S, two sweet, spunky, energetic, loving sisters who will shortly be our daughters.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cute dog available for adoption

We must re-home our adorable 6.5 pound 10 month old Chihuahua/Miniature Pinscher puppy. She is playful and sweet, full of licks and loves for her moms.

Unfortunately, as much as it breaks my heart to say this, she must find a new home. Her human owners are in the adoption process with two second grade girls. The girls and puppy have not been getting along (though Pursey's been great!), and Pursey's mothers don't have time to properly train or love this adorable puppy while helping the girls transition into their new home.

She was mostly potty trained prior to winter, but has been more hesitant to go out since it's become colder. She pees mostly on her potty pad, but has recently started peeing in extremely inappropriate places after our cat (nicknamed "the pee-er") started marking in extremely inappropriate places. Pursey is a very good follower. :)

Pursey is a playful puppy who loves her animal siblings. The ideal home will have another dog and/or cat (she loves playing with our cat, Logan), patience to reinforce potty training during winter months, and lots of love for an adoring, energetic puppy.  Pursey is highly food motivated - which makes training fairly easy - and loves to cuddle when she forgets about her puppy energy.

There is no time urgency, but the sooner the better (ideally by December 19). If you or someone you know is interested in this amazing dog, please let us know.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Children FAQ

S loves taking photos with my phone
The girls were on the tire swing, challenging me to push them higher, and madly giggling when I let go.  One of the girls asked me to stop - she was getting dizzy - and I slowed down the tire swing.  S started squirming to get down, but stopped when E asked me a question:

E: Are you and Kate sisters?
Me: No, we're married...It's like sisters.  We love each other very much and live together -
S: I knew it!!!
Me: - but we didn't grow up together.
E: Oh, okay.

Then they ran away to the jungle gym and we played freeze tag.  I had never come out to a child before.  It was kind of awesome.

That day was magical.  It was two days after our pre-placement meeting with the girls and we waited - not very patiently - for them in the park.  Once they spotted us, they came running up and hugged Kate and me.  Their foster mom said they were looking forward to seeing us again.

We saw them at the park yesterday as well. We rallied other children to play freeze tag with us and we ran and climbed.  I discovered that I love playing with kids - they come with few expectations of how things should work and are great at being silly.  I especially love playing with E and S.

Before, I thought I was lucky to find Kate, that it could have been another person perfect for me, but I just happened to find Kate early in life.  Now I understand it to be fate.  I feel like E and S are our bashert, our family soul mates.  They're silly, thoughtful, and just overall perfect for us.  I can't explain it, but I feel so lucky to be able to have them as our kids soon.  I feel even luckier because the foster-adopt system is not easy to navigate and we really had no idea who these children were until after we said "yes."

Unfortunately, this process comes with two scoops of flexibility with a flexible cherry on top. We are in control of very little and have very limited information about what we should expect. It's frustrating, and made harder trying to explain this over and over again without being negative about our overworked social workers who are loyal to a system that has children's best interests at heart, but not necessarily an individual child's best interest.

There are a lot of questions about this process, from us and from you.  Many of these questions we can't answer (which frustrates us very much!) So, here are the questions you have asked, and the limited responses we can give:

How old are they?
Seven and eight, both in second grade. We don't know why they're both in second grade.

What is the timeline?
There are a few things that make this question so difficult to answer.  First, the timeline is set by the children - in theory.  We move at the pace they're ready to move.  We call and report in periodically to let the social workers know how everything is going.  Second, the move to our place must be determined by a court.  After the social workers agree that we should move forward with E and S, they put a request into the court for the move.  This should be just a few weeks, but it's 1) the court, and 2) during the holidays, so we don't know how long it will take.

We do have some (not a complete) idea of how the actual meetings go, though:
Disclosure meeting (done): Learn more about the children and why they were taken from their bio home (this does not include a lot of information)

Pre-placement meeting (done): Meet the children with their placement social worker, regular social worker, foster mom, and your social worker (but only in theory. Our social worker stayed home.)

Worldly meetings (started): Meet the children out in the world. In our case, a playground. Let the girls get to know you and feel more comfortable with you. Increase time with them.

Home meeting (this week): Take the children to your home to get familiar with the space.

Overnight visit: Girls spend the night at our place

We then get to tell the social workers we want them, really, and she requests to the court permission for placement!! This takes a few weeks.

Continue to have overnight and "worldly" meetings until they get to come and live with us forever and ever (or until they're 18.)

After they're placed with us, it will be at least a year until their adoption. This, again, will go through the courts and takes time.

We hope to have the girls in our care by late December, but it could be early January, depending on court timelines and our own schedule.

Do they like animals?
We really hope so. They haven't been around animals much before.

What do they look like? What is their race? 
They are bi-ethnic, Hispanic and Caucasian. We can't tell you what they look like - or post photos on Facebook or other public mediums - while they're still foster children (which will be until they're legally adopted by us.)

Why were they in foster care? How long were they in foster care? Were they exposed to drugs? Do they have any health problems?
These questions are ones we cannot answer. This sort of information are for our children to share when they're ready, not us. It is their story and we cannot tell it for them. We can tell you that they're two wonderful, resilient girls who are currently without major medical problems.

When can I meet them?
We don't know yet. We have to take everything on the girls' cue. We're so lucky to have a large family and community, which can be overwhelming for anyone, especially two children. We're excited to invite you to play with us when they're ready.

Are they Jewish? Are they baptized? Are they Catholic? What will happen when you take away Christmas?
As foster children, the girls have a right to have their own religion. They will live in our home, a Jewish home, and we hope to celebrate with them the amazing holidays of the Jewish calendar. At the same time, they have grown up with Christmas and we don't want to take that experience away from them. We will celebrate Christmas - and possibly other Christian holidays - outside our home with family and friends who are not Jewish. If we have them in time for Christmas this year, we hope to celebrate it with the girls' (stable) biological family.

What can I do to help?
It's really touching how many of you have asked to help. It's hard to say what we'll need right now. A registry will be coming once we get a better sense of what they like/don't have. It makes us feel so loved that you want to share in our joy too. Thank you!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chayei Sarah: Give Me a Giggle & Give Me a Sign

I was shaking. It was hard to breathe. The light-filled conference room was a place to meet your children. Some parents visited their biological children, taken away by CPS. Other parents met those same children, years later, now up for adoption.

We had been waiting ten minutes, and each minute felt like an agony-filled hour.  Suddenly, a giggle from the other room filled every fiber of my being. I bolted from my seat, the laugh pulsating through my body and heart.  “That could be the laugh of one of our children!” I thought. A child we were about to meet.

E and S tumbled into the room a few minutes later, going directly to the toys lining the walls.  After them, their foster mom, social worker, and placement worker leisurely walked in.  My entire body was racked with anxiety, and my mind was blank as they said their names and I shook their hands.  The only thing I could concentrate on was E and S playing, their joy and giggles as they ran among the toys. 

Stricken by the importance of this moment, by their laughs and smiles, I stood frozen in place.  The ice thawed a little so I could make a basic sentence and I anxiously presented them with the toy we bought them, GoldieBlox. Soon they were building together, smiles big. 

GoldieBlox turned into Kate playing a game of catch with E while I colored with S.  S, confident and sweet, asked for help uncapping the markers. I complimented her color choices and she said thank you and asked to use my crayon after I was done. Behind me, Kate and E were giggling as the rubber ball rebounded against walls, ceilings, and their bodies.  Soon we were all playing a game of freeze tag.

How can you determine if this is the person who you should make a life with? Eliezer was sent to find a wife for Isaac and he asked for a sign from G!d to help pick the woman. He decided that the woman who offered to give his camels water – not just him – from the well would be the one destined for Isaac’s hand. 

That moment was fated, just like this meeting was. E and S’s giggles, kindness, and brightness won us over. There were no “signs” or absolutes in that meeting, just the potential for love. We were so lucky that their social worker said “yes” and that so many social workers before them said “no.” It was our destiny, our luck, that E and S will be our children, because they are wonderful people and I can’t wait to be their parents.

Yesterday we met E and S, the children that – G!d willing – will be our children. We met our children. Our children. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Vayeira: Laughing at Absurdity (The Disclosure Meeting)

She read horrific things from the stack of court papers before her, detailing the children's exile from a once normal family life.  Facts flew at us, hitting us in our hearts and making us conflicted, sad and hopeful at the same time.  We were told by Family Builders this is the beginning of the moment where you decide.  Forty-eight hours after the disclosure meeting is the only opportunity to vote: yes, these will be our children; no, I want to keep looking.  Anxiety mounted as the placement social worker's ignorance of the actual children became more apparent.

I asked, "What do they like to do for fun?"  I asked, "Are they religious?"  I asked, "Do they like to be silly?"  I asked "Have they ever been around animals?"  She answered with bureaucratic silence, shuffling through court papers as if the children could manifest themselves from the judge's orders.  Our social worker, silent through most of the meeting, said "That was a great disclosure meeting" as we left the building.  We left wondering the basic question of: who are these children?

How we were supposed to determine if these are our children based upon their parents' legal circumstances?

When Sarah was told she would give birth at ninety she laughed.  What a ridiculous thought that she could conceive after all these years of barrenness!  What a beautiful idea!  When she gave birth a year later she named Isaac after her laughter.  From Isaac's birth terrible things happened (Hagar and Ishmael were banished into a desert, Abraham tries to sacrifice Isaac), but beautiful things too (a new Abrahamic nation, a trust in G!d so profound).  Called forth from a moment of desperately wished-for absurdity, life, laughter, sorrow, and joy resounds throughout our history.

If I'm being honest, our absurdity began before that non-informative meeting.  The entire concept that you can "pick" your child is absurd.  Biological parents wait desperately to discover who their child will be.  Sure, they have a hand in shaping the person-to-be, but they are not the arbiters of their children's existence.  Our hand in shaping our children will still be strong, no matter the age or child we receive.

The pressure placed on this meeting was also absurd.  How could one hour-and-a-half meeting determine our family's future?  What a ridiculous thought that we could decide in a few hours, after all these months of preparation!  What a beautiful idea that these children will be ours!

We met with my mom, MK, after the meeting and shared our frustration and dissatisfaction.  Being the wonderful mom she is, she later talked to a friend that runs another adoption agency and she then gave me his number.  We called him and he shared with us the adoption secret: this is not the only veto point.  We can say no after we meet the girls and they're not right for us.  We felt so much better after this phone call.

What a blessing it is to have been able to have that phone call.  What a blessing it is to be able to have my moms care for me so much.  MK jokes that when she met me, as a teenager, I was already "cooked," that there wasn't much else she could do to mold me.  Yet, she's the reason I want to adopt older children.  She molded me so much, more than she could ever know, to become the person I am today.  I am so grateful to have her as my mom, to have her watch out for me and call her friends to get adoption advice when I don't know what to do.  I do not know who I would be without her, but I know it would be for the worse - much worse - if she wasn't in my life.

I want to be that parent to my children.  I want to help shape them to be the best they can be.  My anxiety about this process is displaced by my trust that I can be that parent, that despite the delusion that you can choose your children they will be whomever they will be, and the fact that I am so well supported and loved by my family and friends that I know I can tackle anything.

We're leaning toward "yes," but here's the caveat: we can't tell you much about these children.  I know you have all sorts of really good questions - some of which we might even have answers to - but by law we can't disclose that information, and some of it is our children's to disclose.  So, in advance, thank you for your love and support and please let us take the lead with bringing up the topic and disclosing information.

If we say yes, the next step is meeting the children and answering our most pressing question: who are you?  We'll meet them with the foster parents and social workers, and we'll get to ask the foster parents all sorts of important questions about the children's identity and behaviors.  From what I understand from last night's conversation, THIS is the real veto point.

If we say yes, it might lead us to a really hard "no," these are not our children.  OR, we might be taking the first steps to acquiring our kids.  What a beautiful and absurd idea!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lech Lecha: What to ask before entering a covenant?

Lech Lecha was last week's parsha. I am sorry for the tardiness!

The newborn passed from one generation to the next, cradled by love and strong arms. Even though the ceremony had just begun, tears were already rushing down my cheeks. Before me was the miracle of life and love. The child was about to come before the congregation to share in the covenant of the Jewish people (circumcision) and receive his name, and I felt so honored to be part of the community, ready to receive him. I am amazed at this moment and so grateful I was able to share in it. Thank you, Noah, for this moment. Noah, may you always be awash with love, strong enough to sail towards justice, and smart enough to choose the righteous path.

In Lech Lecha Abraham accepted his covenant with G!d and circumcised himself. (Can you imagine?! I was glad the mohel's back shielded me from Noah's...) Abraham was able to accept his own religion; at ninety-nine he had the autonomy and consciousness to determine his religious destiny. But a newborn? How can we expect a newborn to be in a covenant with G!d when he hasn't yet figured out how to hold up his head?

"They" say that the baby and G!d are like virgin lovers on their wedding night. Before they know one another, they passionately make a vow to be together until the end of time. Like a good marriage, the covenant is a binding partnership in this world and the world to come.

I have a great marriage that began with a proposal three and half months after dating. I am not afraid of commitment, but I am afraid of choosing our child. Paralyzed by imperfect information, I am afraid that my choice will jeopardize my hard-won happiness. So often I flit between choices, afraid that another choice would have made me happier. I like to try on my options before committing, but in the child search process you have to make a lifelong decision after one meeting...without first knowing the child.

And this lifelong decision might be getting closer.

Our home study was accepted and we will be going to a disclosure meeting in the next few weeks. At the disclosure meeting, we will learn everything the social worker knows about the two second grade girls we picked out three weeks ago. They could be everything we were looking for, but I have no idea how to know.

What questions do you ask to find out if these kids are the kids for you? 

After the disclosure meeting, we go home and think about the kids. If we say "yes" then those are the kids that will come into our home. We'll be matched and the girls will likely be our adoptive kids in a year or two. How do you figure out if the kids are right for you? What would you ask? 

I am ready to make a binding promise, but I don't know how to say "yes." I don't know when or why I should say yes, or what I should know before going forward. I am ready for a covenant, a passionate family vow, but how do I choose the right child(ren)?