Our Imperfect Lives


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Now a Loving and Officially Legal Family

Shoes

Holy Cow, it’s been over 6 months since we last posted (sorry about that!) and a whole lot has happened with our family. First off, as we said we would in our last post, we finalized the adoption. We also had the kids’ first post adoption visit, birthdays and a slew of other exciting adventures and a few bumps in the road (e.g. ‘big emotions,’ tantrums, tears and the like) for good measure too.

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Well, you’ve probably been waiting with great anticipation to hear about the adoption finalization… It was a grey and rainy day, but we all put on our brand new – bought just for this court appearance – matching outfits and headed to the courthouse. Per usual with us, we were almost late, but we made it on time and we were greeted by the kids’ attorney at the security check point. She was able to tell us where to go and who we needed to talk to, which we were very grateful for since the court house is a pretty big place and we had no idea where we were going. She also told us that she had already ushered in some of our family.

We were very fortunate to have a nice big crowd for the occasion supporting us and our whole family – Marcy’s parents, Meg’s parents, Marcy’s sister, Meg’s sister-in-law and niece, Meg’s aunt and uncle, Meg’s best friend and her husband and son, our adoption worker, our family resource worker and the kids’ attorney. We also met the DCF attorney for the first time, who didn’t necessarily need to be there but was kind enough to make an appearance and introduce herself.

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Before we all packed into the small family courtroom there was still paperwork to be done, so we headed back downstairs to see the clerk (the kids stayed upstairs with our families and were showered with attention). There we went over all the details on the kids’ new birth certificates which would include us as their parents and feature their new legal names – they would now share our last name (since the last name comes from Marcy’s family, the new middle names both were drawn from Marguerite’s family).  The clerk also assured us that if the kids got a little rowdy in the court it was OK; the court proceedings would be very casual.

When the judge was ready and the courtroom was ours, the bailiff showed us all in. The four of us sat at a table normally intended for attorneys and waited for the judge. A few minutes later the bailiff asked us all to rise and announced the judge; in she walked, a blonde slender woman probably in her early 40s wearing the iconic black judge’s robe. She was very pleasant. She read over some legalese about the adoption which only took a few minutes then she asked Sport and Sunshine who was sitting with them at the table –Mommy and Mama.

One of the more endearing parts of the very short process was when the Judge asked Sport and Sunshine if they agreed to adopt Mommy and Mama. They agreed (well mostly Sport as Sunshine was too young) and then were invited up to the Judge’s bench to sit in her giant chair and ‘sign’ a certificate that stated they were adopting Mommy and Mama.

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The certificates were adorable. They were the perfect amount of official and playful; they were covered with little celebratory balloons and confetti, referred to Marguerite and Marcy as Mommy and Mama and yet still included some official sounding language and it was embossed with the official seal.

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Sport and Sunshine couldn’t truly sign the documents but they scribbled a bit and then we took lots of photos standing at the bench under that state seal on the wall. We were official. And we spent more time in the court house taking photos and chatting than during the adoption proceeds. While the finalization hearing may have been short, it was incredibly important to us as a family.

Sunshine really had no idea what transpired that day, we’re surely the only parents she knows since she came to live with us at three and a half months. However, Sport understood a bit more. He knew it was an exciting day. He knew that he was getting special clothes, balloons and books. He knew all eyes were on him. He also knew that he would be taking Mommy and Mama’s last name, just like Mommy took Mama’s last name when we got married and became a family. And he loved all of it.

However, when we climbed in the car and headed off on our 30 minute ride back home for a celebratory lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant (after all it was Cinco de Mayo), it became clear he was feeling what we call ‘big emotions.’ He was very quiet for a while and deep in thought. Then out of the blue he declared he didn’t want to change his name.

We knew what those thoughts meant. We knew he thought in his very smart toddler mind that he was losing his birth parents. He was in part right, his relationship with them was changing, but, and this is a very important but, they will always be his birth parents and we did (and continue to) make sure he knows that. His name changed but his connection remains.

His sad, ‘big emotion’ feelings didn’t hang around long that day. We had a wonderful family dinner with just about everyone who attended the court proceedings, plus or minus a few. The meal of course included a big chocolate cake, much to the delight of our chocolate loving kids.

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The day after, things as a legal family didn’t change much. We still loved each other just as much, we still went to school, daycare and work and we all still had to follow the same house rules. The primary difference was that our children were officially ours and we didn’t have to worry that they would be moved. Well, and of course their middle and last names.

Other notable changes due to the adoption were that we could add them to our dental and healthcare insurance policies. This was particularly important as we had chosen a dentist that didn’t accept the state healthcare insurance, which was the kids’ primary coverage prior the adoption. We’d also stop receiving funds from the state.

While the money we received from the state for the children wasn’t much, it was enough to cover much of the daycare cost. We received the normal daily allowance for a foster child, which is intended to cover room and board costs, as well as a seasonal clothing stipend. We were fortunate enough to receive a small reimbursement for part of Sport’s daycare (which covered a very small fraction of the cost). We also considered ourselves immensely lucky to have received a free, state funded daycare spot for Sunshine.  All of this would now come to an end – or so we thought.

As it turned out, the state allowed us some “transition time.” They just failed to communicate that to us. As a result, Sunshine has been able to continue full-time at her home daycare provider (who we love). Luckily, when the transition period ends, we should be able to move her to a private pay slot at the same daycare. We learned about the transition time from the central office that handles paperwork for the daycare provider we use. We do find it curious that we weren’t notified, but we certainly aren’t complaining. Daycare is expensive and every little bit helps.

As for our exciting adventures this summer, you’ll have to stay tuned. We’ll be sure to get another post up soon! Until then here are some teaser photos to enjoy:


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The Court Date

It’s been a while since we announced the court dates and we’re sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to know what happened, so drumroll please…… nothing. That’s right nothing happened, well nothing besides a paperwork error and a continuance.

Part of the court proceedings includes an investigation conducted by a neutral third party who will submit a report to the court. This report was supposed to have been completed on February 23, before the trial dates, but someone incorrectly marked the due date as March 23, so it wasn’t ready in time.  Thankfully the kids’ lawyer, K, pushed for the rescheduled date to be sooner rather than later and the judge scheduled the trial for the next available opening – May 21 and 22.

While we were of course disappointed to hear that the case was continued, we’re glad we “only” have to wait until May, because it could be worse – a lot worse. A couple who we took our MAPP classes with (for those of you who need a quick refresher those were our Massachusetts Approach to Partnerships in Parenting classes that were required to become certificated foster parents) also had a court date scheduled the same week for TPR (termination of parental rights) and also had a continuance. However, their case was continued until 2017!

Although hearing about the pushed court date was a bit of a headache, trying to schedule a time for the court investigator to come out and meet with us and the kids was an even bigger headache!

We can only assume that since the investigator’s report was supposed to be due on February 23rd that it was assigned sometime before then. However, we only heard from the investigator once the kids’ lawyer reached out to her the day of the continuance. Then we went back and forth for two weeks before deciding on a date. The date we decided on of course coincided with Meg’s doctor’s appointment, but she decided to reschedule since picking a date had turned into such a hardship.

The Sunday night before our appointment with the court investigator we got an email  – she had to cancel. Ugh. She offered up another date, which of course was inconvenient as Meg had an appointment after school in another town and wouldn’t be home until after five o’clock. The court investigator had suggested meeting around three or four o’clock. Wanting to be as accommodating as possible, we agreed to the new date on the stipulation that we meet after five o’clock. She never emailed back.

The day before the proposed rescheduled meeting Meg called to try and confirm the appointment but didn’t reach the investigator, so we were still in limbo. That night we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Meg’s parents. Sport had a grand time. He played with Meg’s parents’ dogs, a golden retriever and a yellow lab, played with the special toys that Grammy keeps at her house for Sport, and got to eat a giant cookie shaped like a basketball. Sunshine, however, was not feeling too sunny. She spiked a fever of 102 degrees and was very uncomfortable. We were without children’s Tylenol at Meg’s parents’ house so Marcy had to make an emergency trip to the store to buy some. After the medicine kicked in she was able to calm down a little bit, but only if she was being held.

Basketball cookie

The next day, the proposed day of the rescheduled appointment, Sunshine was still warm and she added diarrhea to her ailments, that we would soon find out also included a double ear infection. It was a work from home day so Marcy could try and nurse little Sunshine back to health. She was a relatively happy little baby in the morning, even playing a while before the diarrhea and red bottom really kicked in.

Working from home

Right around the time Sunshine started going downhill and she was crying uncontrollably, Meg called to let Marcy know that the court investigator would be at  the house at five o’clock perhaps beating Meg and Sport home. We weren’t prepared. We wanted to tidy up the house and fix a few things that we had been meaning to get to every weekend for the past couple of months. Of course, Marcy had an hour or so to get ready, but Sunshine wasn’t having any of it. She needed to be held and consoled.

Thankfully the house wasn’t a complete disaster. The court investigator came over and gave us a run down about how anything we say can be used in court, yada yada… We kind of figured that and we weren’t planning on saying anything that we wouldn’t want to be disclosed in court. Although just to note, what we said could be used in court but not our identities. We would be completely anonymous –Ms. X and Ms. X.

We chatted about how the children were doing at daycare, how they’ve adjusted to our home, the milestones they’ve achieved, and more. Then to finish up the meeting Sport proudly lead the investigator up to his room and then to Sunshine’s.

We were glad to finally get the meeting with the court investigator in the books. Despite being very busy, she was very helpful and professional. An important step in the adoption process was done.

In addition to meeting with us, the investigator would meet with the biological families as well as doctors, daycare providers, and pretty much anyone playing an important role in the lives of the children.

Now we wait until May…

And for this week’s photo break we bring you photos from a trip to the Ecotarium with Marcy, her brother Matt, her sister Missy and the kids:

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Information, Glorious Information

We went into this knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be a normal placement. A normal pre-adoptive placement would have included a disclosure (a sit down with social workers who would reveal every scrap of information the department knew about the children) and more preparation time. We had neither. As a result we’ve been a bit lacking on the information front.

Now, please don’t think that we’re second guessing our decision, because that line of reasoning couldn’t be more off the mark. We absolutely adore these kids, even when Sport is throwing a tantrum or Sunshine won’t let us sleep.

Unfortunately, the adoption social worker assigned to Sport and Sunshine is the lone adoption worker in her office and she has a pretty hefty work load. That work load includes a list of disclosures that she needs to conduct and we’re a few down the line, so we wait. And wait.

Until recently, most of the information we had about Sport and Sunshine’s biological parents, aka bio parents, came from clues we found in the children’s medical records, early intervention reports, and even the newspaper. It’s not that the adoption worker was withholding information, she just didn’t know much. She was relatively new to the case when we were selected as the pre-adoptive placement for the kids and she didn’t have the information to conduct a disclosure. She’s been slowly pulling together information on the case and the kids. On occasion she’s actually asked us for information such as the medical paperwork from Sunshine’s birth.

The ongoing case worker who organized and supervised the visits with the bio parents had more information about them and the circumstances that lead to the kids being in state custody. And while we have heard that many ongoing workers tend to share as much as they can with pre-adoptive families without breaking privacy rules, this ongoing worker was extremely cautious about not breaking, or even bending, privacy rules and shared next to nothing with us.

On the one hand we know that DCF workers are overworked and under a lot criticism due to some very upsetting and highly publicized cases, so we try to be sympathetic. However, on the other hand we have this nagging feeling, based in part on our lack of information, that this case has been mishandled along the way. The original social worker assigned to the case seems to be no longer employed by the department and some of the paperwork from when Sport was first brought into care appears to be incomplete or just missing. We’re hoping it turns up.

Thankfully the social workers are not the only individuals with information about the case. After having the kids in our care for over four months, we finally met their attorney. She was a fountain of information! Her role in court is to express what she thinks the kids would say they want – if they were able to communicate it themselves. She told us right away that she thinks the kids would say they want to stay with us.

She has been with the case since it began – making her the longest tenured person with the case that we’re in communication with. She was able to give us information about Sport’s many placements in his short life as well as some additional details about why the kids were so quickly moved from their previous foster home into ours. She also shared information about what’s to come.

We knew that there were court dates scheduled for March 5 and 6 but we were a bit cloudy on the details. We were under the impression that the proceedings on those days were to have Sport’s goal officially changed to adoption in the courts and for the state to get permanent custody of Sunshine. However, the cases were recently combined and the department is suggesting that the biological parents’ rights be terminated.

This means that later this week could be a big milestone in our adoption process. The judge could rule to terminate parental rights. Terminating the parental rights (or TPR) is a critical step in our adoption process, because without it there is no legal adoption. Of course the judge could decide not to terminate their rights, or even to give them a bit more time to get their act together. We’re trying to stay as optimistic as possible while preparing ourselves for the long road ahead, because even if the judge rules to terminate the parental rights they can still appeal.

Their attorney did give us the impression that she’s somewhat confident that the judge will rule to terminate rights. She’s familiar with the judge and informed us that the judge also presided over the case involving Sport and Sunshine’s half brothers. We’re also told that this judge has a reputation for not wanting to drag a case out.

Since this is a family court case, it’s a closed court room, which means we can’t attend. Both the attorney and the adoption worker have graciously offered to keep us updated through text messaging. It will be important for them to be in touch with us during the court dates not just to try and ease our nervous minds, but because we’ve informed them we’d be amenable to an open adoption agreement.

While there will be added stress involved if we agree to make the kids available a couple of times a year for supervised visits with the bio family, there are also several advantages. The most obvious is that it could move things along more quickly. The bio parents might sign the open adoption agreement rather than going to trial – or they might sign it after the trial rather than filing an appeal. If that happens their parental rights would be terminated and we’d be free to adopt Sport and Sunshine.

We also need to remember that adoption is not just a celebration for a child, but also a great loss. The child may be permanently separated from their biological family members. For better or for worse, Sport and Sunshine’s bio family will always be a part of them – in their genes, their ancestry, and obviously their appearance. While the parents have not always made the best choices, it is obvious that they do care about the children. Supervised visits would allow the parents to see that the children are cared for and also allow the children to see how their bio parents are doing.

We would keep our lives private and separate from the bio parents – nothing about our private lives would be revealed, not even the city we live in. In fact, we would have to select a proxy who would be a contact point for the bio parents if we were ever to fail to comply with the adoption agreement. To protect the children, the agreement will have what’s called a sunset clause. This clause would allow for the visits to be terminated if the bio parents didn’t comply with specific requirements or if the visits prove to be detrimental to the children.

With whatever happens on Thursday and Friday, we’re going to continue to do everything we can for Sport and Sunshine. The legal aspect of their futures is completely out of our hands. We’ll just think positively and do our best to be prepared for whatever is to come.

To help with our positive thoughts here are some fun photos that bring a smile to our faces, and hopefully yours too. We took Sport on his first snowshoeing adventure:

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