Our Imperfect Lives


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Visitation

One of the many responsibilities of foster/pre-adoptive parents is making the children available for visits with their biological family. Biological parents who are at least partially in compliance with their DCF service plan and have not had their rights terminated by the courts are given supervised visits with their children. In our case these visits were one hour each week, but since the DCF office is a bit of a drive from our home, the visits are now every other week for two hours.

Technically it is the ongoing case worker’s responsibility to provide the transportation to and from visits – but they love it when foster parents can help out. With us, we provide the transportation whenever we can and with Meg being a teacher, who decided to take the summer off from working (pre-kids she would work summer school and such), she’s been able to provide the transportation to and from the visits. We decided that this would make the visits a bit easier for the kids.

Not to say that the visits are particularly hard on the kids. In fact, Sport gets excited when we tell him he’ll be having a visit with his Dad. Sunshine hasn’t spent much time with her biological parents, but doesn’t seem to be impacted negatively aside from all the time in a car seat. However, recently, we’ve decided to only reveal the news of the visit once the kids pile into the car and head to DCF. And unfortunately we had to learn this the hard way.

We stopped telling Sport about his visit a day or two beforehand after a few visits didn’t happen. The first time it was that Dad didn’t show up for a visit. In his defense, the visit was changed for that week and he claims to have not been told and he showed up later that afternoon. Regardless of what actually transpired, our kids got stuck at the DCF office crying – Sport upset that he didn’t get to see his dad and Sunshine upset that she had spent several straight hours in her “bucket” also known as the carrier that clicks into the infant car seat base. The social worker, presumably expecting to leave at any minute, didn’t even remove Sunshine from her seat while in the office.

After Dad’s no show/time confusion, the social worker instituted a practice, which actually seems like a fairly common practice for many workers, that requires Dad to confirm he will be coming the day before the visit.

The next time it was on the morning of the visit. Dad had confirmed the visit the day before. We told Sport who was coming and where he was going – the social worker was coming and he was going to see his Dad. Marcy had stayed home with the kids to wait for her arrival before heading to work herself. Then, about thirty minutes before she was to arrive, we got the phone call. The social worker had a migraine and was cancelling the visit.

Sport was upset.

Thankfully, Sport recovered fairly quickly and he only cried for a short few minutes. Marcy was able to get him settled down and get both children packed up and off to daycare. While the experience could have been worse, it wasn’t one we appreciated.

This summer we’ve had two additional missed visits: one Dad cancelled and another he just never confirmed. With our new system of not telling Sport that a visit is coming up, the missed visits came and went without any fanfare.

We do find it somewhat peculiar that before this summer (excluding the supposed mix up) Dad had never missed a visit, at least not while the children were placed with us. Now (at least to us) seems like the ideal time for him to see the children as much as possible and to “make nice” with the social workers, because the trial is currently ongoing. Next week two court dates are scheduled, which another two in September and likely more to come.

Although, we certainly don’t mind the missed visits – it’s one less thing we need to worry about. And who knows, it may be strengthening the case to keep the kids in our care (or it may have absolutely no impact – who knows…?) Sport may be noticing that he hasn’t seen his Dad in a while. This morning, with no prompting, when discussing what he was going to do after preschool, he asked if he was going to see his Dad. He was not going to see his Dad after school and while a visit is scheduled for tomorrow, it had not yet been confirmed so we weren’t going to mention it. We merely responded with a, “No, you aren’t going to see your Daddy after school but maybe soon.”

Sport kept pressing, asking about going over to his Daddy’s house – “No, Sport, we’re sorry, but you can’t visit your Daddy at his house.”

Sport continued on the subject asking if Daddy could come to his house – “No, Sport we’re sorry, your Daddy can’t come visit you at our house, but maybe you’ll see him soon.”

Thankfully he didn’t ask why.

While we do of course have to make ourselves and the children available for visits and social worker meetings, we still have time to fit in lots of fun activities in this summer! Check out some more of our adventures here:

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Legal Rigmarole

So far there have been a lot of legal steps that have gone into Sport’s and Sunshine’s DCF case and we’re certainly not anywhere close to being done with the courts and the lawyers and the motions and arguments and all the fun legal rigmarole. However, up until this point, none of them had really involved us – but that all changed about two weeks ago.

We received a phone call from our adoption worker who informed us that we needed to speak with the DCF attorney regarding a motion involving the release of our home study. The attorney told us that bio Dad’s attorney wanted to present another adoption option and in order to do so needed to see what other adoption option (us) they would be competing with. We were also told that the other adoption option was to be Sport and Sunshine’s grandmother, so we assumed this was Dad’s Mom and there was a new player in the game. As it turned out, the grandmother referenced in relation to the motion was bio Mom’s mother, who had already been denied by DCF as an appropriate placement. Of course that was little comfort.

After speaking with a few other adoptive parents we learned that it’s pretty common for birth parents to present last minute adoption options either as an attempt to stall the court proceedings or as a hail mary to keep the child or children close and/or in the family.

What was apparently uncommon was the request to have our home study released. No one we’ve talked to about the situation – adoptive parents, foster parents and even our adoption social worker – had any experience with such a request.

Both the DCF attorney and the children’s attorney expressed to us that they would argue against the release of our home study. We don’t know the details of all their arguments, but the children’s attorney argued that any adoption placement proceedings, including the release of our home study, is irrelevant until the termination of the parental rights (TPR).

The TPR arguments were scheduled for the following week.

Now, if the home study was to be released it would be redacted and supposedly never make it into the hands of the bio parents – only their attorneys. Nevertheless the bio parents would find out some of what it says, including that we’re a same sex couple, which we don’t think they knew about prior. And even redacted – it’s a very personal document. The dad’s attorney may not get to see our names, the city we live in or our places of employment but the whole document, all 15 pages of it, is about us. It tells about our coming out stories, our relationships with our families and each other, our decision to start a family through DCF, our thoughts on parenting and more. It’s a pretty deep delve into our lives.

The document is so personal that a couple of the experienced foster/adoptive parents that we asked about this situation were not only surprised, they actually worried that if prospective foster parents knew that their home studies could get released they might reconsider fostering.

The impending release of our home study didn’t change anything for us and while we were far from overjoyed with the idea, we weren’t so distressed that we’d head into court to try and fight it, which was an option. We had nothing to hide. Yes, they would find out we’re a same sex couple, but in our great liberal state of Massachusetts where we lesbians have all the same rights as heterosexuals and legally cannot be discriminated against solely on the premise that we’re lesbians, we’re not too concerned about our “big secret” being let out of the bag. Our only concern with being revealed as a same sex couple was that dad would be distracted by it when visiting with the children or look for petty reasons to complain about the kids’ care simply because he didn’t like us.

A week later the date rolled around for the motion to be heard in front of the judge and the dad’s attorney won. DCF handed over a redacted version of our home study.

The next trip to the court room for the attorneys was on the docket for the following week – at least it was, but the court dates were pushed forward for reasons unknown to us.

We’re not holding our breath for any good news on the legal front. New court dates have been scheduled for Tuesday, June 2Friday, June 19, and Monday, July 8, but time will tell what actually happens on these days. Since it’s in family court the courtroom is closed and we cannot be present. Nor will the kids be present at any time.

We’ll hear about the hearings in the abstract, if we’re lucky. However, if the bio parents agree to relinquish their rights and sign an open adoption agreement, then we’ll be contacted.

As always, we’re trying to keep this from putting too much of a damper on our days. Right now we’re a couple of lucky ladies with two beautiful kiddos living under our roof and while they both drive us a little batty from time to time we love having them in our lives. We’re continuing to show these two nuggets, Sport and Sunshine, what family, love and fun is all about.

The kids joined us for our annual pilgrimage to the cape for Memorial Day weekend and they had a blast! And just in case you don’t believe us, here are a few photos from the beach to give you a glimpse at how awesome the weekend was:

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Legal family or not – boy are we lucky!


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Sleep, Glorious Sleep

When Sport and Sunshine first came to live with us they were good sleepers. They would nearly sleep through the night with little trouble. Sunshine wouldn’t even cry for a bottle. We had to set our alarms just to make sure we woke up at some point during the night to feed her. We theorized that in her previous home crying didn’t get her a bottle at night so, she just stopped crying, but it’s only a theory and we’re not really sure why she was so quiet. Now Sport, on the other hand, slept through the night like the little champ that he is. However, he did have some trouble actually getting to sleep.

The first couple of nights as parents one of us sat in the room in a chair waiting for Sport to fall asleep and our chance to slip out of the room hoping to miss all of the loud squeaky floor boards. Then we spent the next week or so weaning him off the necessity of having us in the room to be able to fall asleep. It was a relatively easy process because we don’t think he actually got that upset with us leaving the room. When we first left him alone he pulled out what we like to call the fake cry. Yes, he was upset but it was more of an act than actual crying – there were no tears and he stopped once he realized he wasn’t going to get what he wanted.

Around the time we got Sport to the point where we could have story time, say good night and have him go to sleep on his own in his big boy bed in his very own bedroom, Sunshine figured out if she cried at night we’d come give her a bottle. We no longer had to set our alarms and there would be no more sleeping through the night. However, she only woke up once each night and it was midway through the night so we were still able to get a decent amount of sleep.

However, fast forward a month and half and sleep is starting to become a cherished treasure that seems to be in short supply. Sunshine has started teething and as painful as that is for her it’s also pretty painful for us. She’s had some pretty fussy nights where she hasn’t been too interested in sleeping the whole night through. If it was only Sunshine who was having sleeping problems, we might be able to take care of her and still manage to be bright eyed and bushy tailed.

However, Sport has also developed a bit of anxiety around sleeping in his room. This anxiety appeared after his first visit with his biological parents where the social worker picked him up. Again we theorized (because we have such a vast knowledge of child psychology) that the problem might have arisen from being taken away by a social worker, as his previous visit while in our care involved us personally driving him to the DCF office. But now that we’re both back at work, we’re taking advantage of the social worker’s ability to provide transportation.

Thankfully, the first bout of anxiety didn’t last long. We were back to normal sleeping patterns in a couple of days. Unfortunately, this pattern repeated itself after his most recent visit. This time around had been a bit more tricky and it has involved more real tears and more high pitched squeals – our favorite of course.

This time we’re not sure what the root of the problem is (yes even with all that vast psychological knowledge of ours). It’s possible it was just the visit with his biological parents. We are not ruling out the overstimulation of two big family parties in one week on top of a big holiday celebration for Thanksgiving, followed up with the confusion of a schedule change and not being in “school” (aka daycare) for nearly five days due to the holiday. Or, perhaps it’s a compilation of it all. Whatever the cause, it has resulted in actual sleep not setting in for Sport until as late as 10:30 at night (normal sleep time is 8:00 PM).

Day one of this round of anxiety was managed with a car ride after an hour of crying and screaming. At one point he was so worked up he was actually having a hard time catching his breath. We were happy to get him to sleep but car rides are not a long term fix.

Day two included the same vicious cycle as the night before but we increased the amount of time we spent in the room. We started with sitting next to the bed and then slowly moving out of the room. Sport was so hyper-alert that every adjustment or move we made he popped his head right back up and on came the waterworks. He ultimately fell asleep with Marcy standing just inside his door – but sleep didn’t come until about 9:00 PM.

Day three we took a slightly harder stance and did not stay in the room at all while he fell asleep, but instead went directly in our room right next door. This started off a bit rocky with him trying to make his way in our room by first sitting on the floor outside and then slowing sliding into our room.

After his sneaking into our room we told him we’d shut the toddler gate in the door of his room (which was put there in part to keep our two dogs out of his room but, let’s face it, it’s mostly to keep him in when necessary) if he didn’t stay put. He didn’t want that gate shut. He was given the choice to go back into bed or sit in his chair; he chose the chair. That was the last we heard of him for the night. We later found him sleeping on the floor next to his night stand where all of his books are kept. After feeding his sister in the middle of the night he did manage to finally crawl up into his bed. His sister’s crying likely woke him up just enough to realize he should get in bed.

Now we’re over a week into this anxiety and after a bit of crying and defiance he’ll stay quietly in his room, but for right now he prefers to stay in his chair and not his bed. He’s still sleeping in his bed and a couple of nights he has fallen asleep in his bed, but for the time being we’re just happy he’s getting comfortable with being in his room alone again. Although he’s still falling asleep too late. And while we enjoy having the added time alone in the morning while he tries to play catch up, we’re working on getting sleeping time back closer to 8:00 PM.

Nonetheless as we’re managing this little problem, we’re having a good laugh with the odd positions we’re finding him in:

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In the Home Stretch

We can see the end of the tunnel – the completion of the process of becoming eligible foster parents is in our sights. Our first two home visits (well really three as we ended up having to split our one-on-one interviews with the social worker into two separate visits) are as they say “in the books!” Next up is our final visit, which we will hopefully set soon for the next week or two, and then just paperwork on DCF’s side.

Our last two visits with the social worker were different because she met with us individually, so we’ll each give you a brief, and I’m sure riveting, account of our experiences. First up, since she had the first one-on-one meeting, is Meg:

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This is my first attempt at blogging (I usually act as the editor) so bear with me. The purpose of our individual meetings with our social worker was to shed some light on our individual experiences, perspectives, concerns, and so on. What I have found surprising about this process is how detailed some of the questions were.

When asked about my fondest childhood memory I had to say summer camp. Not that the rest was unpleasant, but camp was my favorite place. I have always enjoyed being independent, so living on an island and choosing my own schedule of activities (usually sailing, archery, crafts, swimming, and outdoor education) was the best. There was something simpler about camp friendships – maybe due to the lack of phones, hair dryers, make up, boys…? In fact, I still dream about being at camp pretty often – even though I last attended as a counselor in 1998. I hope we can (afford to) give our kids a similar opportunity.

When it comes to parenting I imagine our kids will have more “baggage” than we did and will therefore be more challenging to parent. We didn’t really have rules or punishments that I can recall growing up – but we didn’t push the limits too far either. (Did we?) I think one of the most important values that I learned about parenting from my parents was the importance of spending time together, and I feel very lucky to have so many great memories – whether at home, museums, camping, or spending time with our cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. We were lucky to have so many people that cared about us. We are lucky now to have so many friends and family supporting us as we become parents.

Last, but of course by no means least, is Marcy:

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Well my one-on-one was short, sweet, and pretty dull. I generally don’t have much to say, particularly to people I’m not close with, but I also have a tough time looking back at my life and picking out singular moments as being the happiest of my childhood or the toughest. Thankfully my sad attempts at self reflection shouldn’t have any effect on our abilities to become foster parents.

I had a happy childhood. Like everyone I had fights with my siblings, I skinned my knees, and I had bouts of getting teased at school – but nothing that I can look back on and say, “Oh, that was a very difficult time to overcome.”  The mythical idea that high school was a torturous experience wasn’t true for me, I rather enjoyed high school. I loved being a high school athlete and I had a small but great group of friends – many of whom I’m proud to still consider good friends.

I also struggled to answer questions about my parents’ parenting methods and how my methods might differ. This again comes down to my recollection of my childhood being pretty great – I don’t have many, if any complaints. I think I turned out pretty well rounded and the same pretty much goes for my siblings.

It is interesting to note that our social worker observed something Meg and I have recognized for a long time, which is that we balance each other out. Meg is the “ying to my yang.” Things that I struggle with are often her strengths, and vice versa. We’re a perfect match in so many ways.

 


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Seems We’re Taking the Scenic Route on this Journey

We’ve had a bit of a lull in the process, which is why we’ve been MIA in the blogosphere for the past week. Well, also because Meg has been a whirlwind of educational fun with lesson planning, tutoring and the like; plus Marcy has been coaching and fawning over her flora, willing the grass seed she planted to grow with all her might. So, even though we haven’t been doing anything with our home study we’ve still been doing a lot.

Because it had been a while since we first reached out to our social worker, we decided it was time to drop her another line – boy are we glad we did! As it turns out our MAPP trainer never sent our paperwork to our social worker and who knows how long we would have been waiting if we hadn’t followed up.

After we reached out to our social worker and MAPP trainer, and discovered what happened, we got our paperwork to our worker. So, we might be getting a slow start on our home study, but the child, or children, that is meant to be part of our family will find a way to our home regardless of when we’re eligible foster parents. Our worker has since reviewed our paperwork and now we’re on the calendar for our first home study appointment. We’re making our way to becoming eligible foster parents – wahoo!

While we wait out the next couple of weeks until our first home study visit we’ve decided to take a stab at our one page family profile. This will be a document we can use like a business card. We can hand it out to social workers at events as a quick way that they can get to know us and decide if we might be a good match for a child in need.

Naturally we’ve been trying to keep an eye on our own interests and growing our family by doing all we can to be prepared, but we also have loved ones who are close to the DCF system looking out for us too. This is particularly exciting because what we’ve learned about the placement process is that it has a lot to do with who you know, well more accurately who knows you. A child’s social worker needs to ‘know’ us, or at least get a really vivid picture painted of who we are to make the decision that our family is right for the child. This is where our loved ones, a friend that Marcy grew up with who’s a social worker in another region of the state and Meg’s aunt, who works in the juvenile court system, can be very beneficial. They both have already offered to share our story with their coworkers and help us network and find the match we’re hoping is out there.

While our path may have been the scenic route up to this point we’re enjoying the ride and the immeasurable amount of support that we’re getting from our friends and family.

 


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And the Wait Goes On…

Well we should probably get used to waiting, as we’re likely going to have to do a lot of it during this whole process. Right now we’re still waiting to hear from DCF about when our home study will begin. However, as we wait it is comforting to know we aren’t the only ones from our MAPP Class still waiting. Out of the nearly twenty people in our class (9 couples and one lovely single woman) only two or three couples that we know of have heard from their social workers.

For those of you who don’t keep up with the local news, there is a lot of hubbub going on at DCF. Recently, over the last year or so, three children have died that were involved with DCF and a lot of what goes on in the department has been brought into question. The negative attention is so significant that the DCF Commissioner resigned this week. A new commissioner has been appointed, but who knows what that will mean for us.

In fact, all of the changes going on at the top of DCF could have absolutely nothing to do with why we’re still waiting to be contacted. Of course it could also mean that everyone is moving a little slower and a little more cautiously – we just don’t know. What we do know is that many social workers are over worked, so we want to walk the fine line between being a bothersome nuisance and attentively following up. If we don’t hear back by early next week we’ll send another follow up email.

We’ll continue to keep in touch with some of our classmates from MAPP so we’ll have an idea if we really are falling behind in this certification process, or if everyone is moving along at the same pace. At least at this point there are several others in the same boat – so we have no reason to be concerned.

For now, it’s business as usual; we’re living our lives and moving forward. We’re continuing to tackle projects around the house and we even booked an anniversary trip for June.

We’ve also started to collect photos to use in creating a “Welcome Book”. The Welcome Book will be a way to introduce a child to our home and our lives. It will include photos of our house, our neighborhood, our cars and more. Friday was a beautiful spring day, so after we finished work, and  we were ready to kick off our weekend, we took our very rambunctious dogs – even our almost 10 year old beagle was playing like a young pup –  for a walk to our local park; there we took a few photos of the playground, the basketball court and the path by the river. The neighborhood children and teens were even nice enough to be out and about to make playful (unknowing) cameos in our photos. (Photos coming to the blog soon!)

We also took a photo of our cars in the driveway, but now we have to take a new photo because – we bought a new (used) car! And… we’re officially old – you know just in case there was ever any question. The car we bought is a “family car.” It seats 6 and has sliding doors. Sometimes it is classified as a station wagon. Marcy insists that it is “not a minivan.” Meg is thrilled to have a working a/c for the first time in years. In case you are a “car person” and would like to see for yourself, it’s a 2012 Mazda5 Touring Edition.

The New Ride

We had been researching cars and were planning to buy a new one soon, as Meg’s car was on it’s last legs (it was a 2001). Our salesman was a super sweet guy and a graduate of the high school Meg teaches at, but he graduated before she started teaching. We’re happy that we made the decision to buy and that he’s the one who got the commission.

It may still be a while before we have children to cart around in our family car but we’ll be riding in comfort with a moon roof, Bluetooth, and heated seats(!) Meg’s old car and Marcy’s car have manual everything, including the transmission. We’re also doing all that we can to not focus on waiting for the next step in the adoption process.


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Officially MAPP Graduates

Last week we finished our very last MAPP Class – Wahoo! The MAPP Certification is good for 5 years, so let’s hope we get placed with a kid or three before then!

Our last class was one of the more emotional classes, not necessarily because the discussion topics pulled at our heartstrings more than others, but because we weren’t just discussing hypotheticals and ifs and maybes. We had the opportunity to watch several short video clips of youth discussing their experiences growing up in foster care. Real teenagers telling their very real stories. One of these stories was a girl who attended 13 or so high schools before making the decision to just drop out and get her GED; “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was when she transferred to her thirteenth school and was told she would be a ninth grader because not all of her transcripts and credits followed her to this last school – when she should have nearly been finished. This girl’s story was sad, but at the same time inspiring, because after all of that she was attending community college. She signed herself back into the foster care system after aging out so she was still receiving state help, but she was working to make something of herself after persevering through difficult times.

Another story came from a young man who lost his parents in a car accident. He was placed in what was thought to be a loving and nurturing home. However, after several years in the home the father, a preacher, decided that the young boy was teaching his biological son his “Mexican ways” ( he was Venezuelan) and had him removed from the home.

Some of the other stories were more positive. A young girl who was placed with a family who she stayed with for many years and gave her the love and support a child needs and deserves. All of the stories were heart wrenching – and inspiring at the same time. The story of the child or children we are placed with may share some of these stories and they may not, we won’t know until the time comes.

While the class was eye opening in ways we also know that we have a lot to learn about the process and the experiences and troubles children may have. For now though we’re focusing on our next step, which is to have a home study done.

The home study can take two to three months. Our understanding is that the inch thick packet of questions we had to complete as part of the MAPP class will be nothing compared to this process – lots of personal questions, self reflection and evaluation by DCF. In addition to all of that, this process will include an inspection of our house to make sure it’s safe and adequate for a small child to call home. So naturally, we’re viewing this impending process as motivation to cross a couple of items off our relentlessly expanding list of home repairs/improvement projects.

We love our home and we think it will be a perfect place for children to live and grow. It’s large, but not huge, it’s cute and comfy  – and it’s over a hundred years old – so it has some quirks and is in need of a few updates. Some of our electrical work hasn’t been updated since before disco was cool so that has been our first plan of attack. Thankfully, this is actually the easiest task because it’s going to be done by someone else: a licensed electrician.

We do have a myriad of other tasks that we’ll be doing ourselves, some of which are already underway. The important thing for us to remember when we start home improvement projects is to actually finish the project. We’re great at getting projects about 90% done and then getting distracted. A great example of this is when we tore down some ghastly retro paneling and a drop ceiling in our hallway and added a chair rail in the hall and staircase.  We’re so close to finishing – we just need to fill in some gaps and touch up some paint, but it’s been at the nearly finished stage for months. We’re hoping to fix that soon. (We can pretend that we haven’t finished because we’ve been waiting to get an electrician in to install a hall light but that would be a lie – anyway we’ll have a light by the end of the week!).

We’re hoping to hear from our area DCF office to schedule our first visit of the home study and while we wait we’re making our list, checking it twice and diving in. It may still be months until we are eligible to be placed with a child and we’re going to be as productive as we can in that time. Who knows how much (or little) time we’re going to have once we do get placed with a child – or children?!