Our First (Official) Family Photo Shoot!

The excitement of Adoption Day still has our family buzzing and feeling electric!  WOW!  It’s interesting, because nothing has changed, but EVERYTHING has changed!  Now, we’re busy planning sleepovers (since for 3 years she wasn’t allowed to sleep any where that wasn’t a certified foster home), getting passports for family vacations, (my parents are wanting to take us all on a Disney Cruise, and they want to take Mariah and my niece away for a week to Niagara Falls this summer), booking sleep away camp, and transferring all of Mariah’s documentation at all of her respective places.  You know, getting adopted seems like it means a lot less time with Mamas and lots more time with everyone else! Hmph!

Just a few more things to square away to transition Mariah out of Foster Care and into her Adoptive home.  And clearly, since you already know we do Milestone Parties pretty huge, Mariah will be having an “Oh-FISH-ially Forever Family” party which already has preparations under way and has an invite list of approximately 150 people!  You know, something light! LOL!   A colorful underwater extravaganza  with fish and octopi and mermaids GALORE!  Should be pretty amazing.

I hired a friend of mine to take some photos for us.  Jesse Rinka, you have outdone yourself again, friend!

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The judge was asking Mariah how she felt about her adoption. “EXCITED!!!”

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Papo paying close attention to the judge AND his bottle.

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Does this even need a caption!?!

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If anyone wants to know what my life is like? THIS! In a nutshell!

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OFFICIALLY A FAMILY!!!

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Mama being silly (as usual) to get some laughs and giggles from everyone.

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Annnnnndddd, they’re off!

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Whenever we go out, I can almost guarantee that this is the scene you will likely see. I’m sure you can tell, she’s the princess!

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Hugs for everyone!

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With her beloved grandparents. Her relationships with them individualy is so beautiful to watch. It reminds me of the special times I shared with my grandpartents and the special memories I always treasure in my heart.

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Our girl!

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“For those determined to fly, having no wings is just a little detail.” Jane Lee Logan

A Letter to My Daughter…

…on the night before her adoption…

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My favorite CooCoo,

Before you came to join our family, mommy and I wanted to be moms really badly, but Mommy was having a really hard time getting her body to grow one, and Mama wasn’t sure her body would be ready for it either. We decided that maybe being foster parents would be pretty awesome, and we would get to spend some time with some really fun (and cute!) tiny people and do our best to give them a good life and a place where they could feel safe.  We didn’t  EVER think that we would be so lucky to have God help us find each other.  Mary, since you joined our family everything has changed! Actually, we weren’t even a family until you showed up! It was just “Sammie and Callie”.

I remember everything about that day.  Mommy and I were sitting on the couch, all day, drinking hot chocolate, waiting for Ms, A. to call us and let us know that you were on your way.  When she finally called,  mommy and I started to get nervous.  We didn’t know what to expect!  We walked back and forth to your room several times to straighten the toys on the shelf, open and close the curtains, fluff the pillows and pull the comforter taut, adjusting the lampshade on your night table to make sure it lit up all the books that were our favorites growing up that we hoped you would love as much as we did.

The next 3 hours passed very quickly, but also REALLY slowly!  We watched TV, I chewed on my nails, mommy fixed her hair A LOT, and we sat thinking about what it would be like to have a daughter, even if it was just for a little while!  As we imagined our lives with a beautiful little girl in it, we were startled out of our seats when the door buzzer sounded.  I went downstairs to be greeted by a woman that told me that you were asleep in the car and that it had been a pretty exciting and scary day for you because you were taken away from your birth mom (super scary and really sad) but you got to go on your first plane ride EVER (which she says was super exciting for you).

I walked over to a small white car and noticed a little pink ball of fluff in the back seat and a white cardboard box sitting next to it.  Suddenly, the fluff moved, and that’s when I realized, that fluff was YOU!  I opened the door to these big, gorgeous green eyes, and I picked you up in my arms and carried you back to our apartment.  You had just turned 6 years old, but in my arms you felt much smaller that.  You put your head on my shoulder, and my heart knew I would always be your Mama.

It was just after midnight but we gave you a yummy snack, we watched some TV, and we showed you your new room.  You weren’t happy about any of the changes at first (we know how hard it was on you), but after a few weeks, it was like we had always been together.  Like we had always been a family.  Since then, a lot of things have changed (some good, some bad, some happy, some sad), but through all of those things, we have been a family and we have always gotten through those times with love.

In the 3 years since we’ve been a together we have seen you grow so much.  We have seen you not really know your entire alphabet and the sounds the letters make, to reading Harry Potter with me at night.  I’ve seen you go from coloring outside the lines to making fantastically colorful creations that our friends and family are so proud to display on their fridges.  You are the best big sister EVER, and whenever people take care of the 4 of you they always say, “We don’t know WHAT we would have done without Mary!  She is so helpful and really loves her brothers!”  That makes me and mommy feel really proud of you!  You have gone from a quiet, reserved, shy kindergartener, to a fierce, strong, soccer loving, friend making machine, with a smile that lights up the whole room!  CooCoo, you are the best kid that could have ever come to our family!  We are so, so lucky!!!

We know that you have a lot of feelings about finally being adopted.  You’ve told us about your excitement and your fears and concerns, and I promise you that Mommy and I will always listen to you and we will always try our best to give you honest, open, and loving answers to your questions. Sometimes, you may not like the things that we have to say, and sometimes those things will make you feel pretty sad, but it’s important to remember that we would never do anything to hurt you, and we want to always tell the truth, because remember what we always say at Casa Mendez, “This family doesn’t lie to each other because if we lie we won’t trust and if we don’t have trust, we don’t have anything.”

We love watching you grow.  We love watching you laugh.  We love watching you play.  We love watching you learn.  We love watching your relationship with your brothers. We love YOU.  You, You, YOU!

You’ll always be my best girl,
Mama

(PS – be prepared for the BARRAGE of pictures that will flood my next post!!!)

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Almost 3 Years…

On March 28th, it’ll be 3 years since Mary has joined our family and stolen our hearts.  It’s been just over two years that Mary has been the greatest big sister anyone could ask for.  It’s been just under 10 months since Mary’s mom signed over her parental rights.  It’s been 2 weeks since we told Mary why. And now, FINALLY, two weeks from today, this long, drawn out nightmare will be over, and we can start writing this new part of our journey as Mary’s forever family.  And I can’t even describe what this family feels like right now…

When we told her that we finally got a date, the excitement that she displayed was incredible! Her cheeks got flush, she started sweating, her eyes aglow, and if you know my kid, you know there is nothing better than that smile of hers, but this one?! WOW!  I  wish there were some type of device that could bottle up the joy in children’s squeals when they recognize that they are getting the things they’ve always wanted.  I’d take it with me everywhere and listen as a reminder of unadulterated joy!  It was such a beautiful moment for Callie and I to share with her, and we relived it again several times after Mary was sound asleep.

We’re just as excited as she is for it!  She’s REALLY gonna be ours!  And not that she hasn’t always been, because she has, but now, no one can ever SAY it! Not unless they want a damn paper cut from how freaking fast I will whip out that damn adoption certificate! Don’t play wit me! But this just rounds out a pretty amazing week of awesome news; great times with great people, celebrating my sisters pregnancy and the coming arrival of the new baby (boy is my guess!), promotion, and now adoption finalization date! Friends, life is pretty freaking good….

Conditions…

Another Christmas has come and gone, and I couldn’t be happier that all the holiday madness is over (for the most part!). The kids had a blast!  They opened up all their presents (AT 6:30 AM!), had our new favorite holiday tradition of Christmas Pancakes (just some green and red sprinkles in the batter)IMG_6440.PNG, went to my sisters, and spent time with family.  They haven’t stopped playing with their toys since Christmas morning.  You have no idea how fun it is to pry a toddler off of a balance bike while he grips the handle bars and wraps his legs around it, to the point that you just carry him AND the bike to the changing table and figure out how to NOT get poop on everything.  That LITERALLY happened!  Levi!  And my house is impeccable now that Noah got a mini vacuum that REALLY works. “Come on Nene, follow mama, and you clean, ok!?”  We haven’t had a scrap on the floor, what with the toy “real” vacuum, and our real human vacuum (Austin)!  Mary has been dying to ride her bike, but NY has had less than perfect Holiday weather filled with unseasonably warm weather with loads of rain, and the one day that was beautiful, we were just so busy, but she has flown her remote control hummingbird all over the house, and into ever single wall, sooooo…

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And since we are speaking of Mary, part of her adoption “contract”, if you will, is that her mom would sign over her rights under very specific conditions that have been agreed upon.  The two main conditions (which also have conditions!) are a monthly email with 2-3 pictures of Mary and a brief snippet of what her month has has been like, i.e. “she is doing well in school.  She scored two goals at soccer 2 weeks ago.  We’ll be on vacation next week and she’s looking forward to it”.  Simple as that.  Not über crazy and not too involved.  I get it.  She just wants to know OF her biological daughter, and I can’t say I wouldn’t be the same considering the circumstances.  She also gets a quarterly visit.  One visit every 3 months, 4 times a year.

Initially we thought everyone on our end would be ok with this, but we didn’t consider Mary’s behavior/emotional well being with the continuation of visits, and ALSO knowing that her birth mom has her baby sister and not her has been a real source of the constant PAIN IN MY ASS that I’m dealing with as far as Mary’s conflicting emotions are concerned.  We’ve noticed that this is a continuous cycle with Mary every time she does/doesn’t have visits, or whenever she does/doesn’t see her mom.  The behaviors, the anger, the sadness is the same regardless of whether these visits happen or not.  In August, mom missed her first visit, which led it be a little over 6 months since Mary had any contact with her birth mom.  She was great all summer, up until the week before she knew her visit was coming.  Then mom missed the visit, and all hell broke loose for about 6 weeks, behavior-wise. 3 more months pass.  Mom shows up in November, with a trove of gifts, which of course sends a whole slew of different messages.  And then the ” I really love my mom.  She’s a good mom because she buys me cool and pretty things” conversation happened, which was really hard to reign in because…ego…

I guess the whole reason I’m bringing this up is because her birth mom emailed me back this time, the day after Christmas (even though I send the monthly email on the first of each month, and she never writes back!) to ask for us to please consider inviting her to Mary’s birthday party.  That it would make her year, and that she would want nothing more than to share Mary’s special day.  Uh, EXCUSE ME!?!  Now?!  After 3 birthday invites?  So of course, despite trying my hardest, my alter Petty LaBelle showed up, and the response was so protective and almost guttural, verbatim, “Hi there.  Unfortunately, Mary is have a huge “Adoption Day Party” (her choice) and we’ve decided to forgo a 9th birthday party and will instead be spending a weekend at an indoor water park with her best friend and her favorite cousin.  Hope you have a Happy New Year.  Stay blessed! ~Petty Labelle” .

And now I feel HORRIBLE about it!  I mean, there was other stuff in the email that she wanted addressed (Mary’s current size, her favorite show/activity, what she’s into now [Descendants!], how her holiday was, what she got, etc.) which I had absolutely no issue with, but I was so caught up in the BS of kind of proving she’s OUR daughter now, that I forgot to be kind to her.  I can’t imagine the struggle.  I can ABSOLUTELY imagine what it’s like to not have my children, and it is the WORST feeling I have ever felt just THINKING about it!  And I should have been kinder, but also, the freaking audacity!  The times that we have invited her, she hasn’t shown up.  In fact, she promised Mary a cake, and fell of the face of the earth, so my “guarded” feelings about Mary’s day were totally warranted, but maybe my delivery was a little too much.

I’ll be kinder next time, placing myself in her shoes, but also, by being honest and beginning to address some of the issues we have with her, will communicate what OUR needs are to keep Mary’s heart safe and happy.  My gut tells me that Mary’s mom will be around, and despite everything, so long as the relationship improves and the honesty and trust us there, I’m pretty ok with that. In what capacity she’ll be around is still unclear, but I know their hearts are very connected, and I can’t see myself not honoring what my daughters heart is telling her, but I also know that sometimes we don’t make the best choices when we ONLY let our hearts lead the way.  Life experience is huge, and Mary has had tons but her loyalty is blinding…also, 8 years old!  Mary will learn things in her own time, as she should.  She will develop a relationship with her birth mom at some point, but for right now, we are in charge of those interactions, and reiterating who we are to Mary and to her birth mom, the gentle reminders of “you lost your opportunity to be in charge here” for birth mom, and also trying our damnedest to give love and hope and opportunity to the woman who gave us one of our most precious gifts…

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Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes…

In May, we went to family court to start to determine what was going to happen as far as Mary’s permanency was concerned.  Mary’s birth mom felt that if she didn’t commit to signing a Conditional Surrender ([CS]signing over your parental rights with certain conditions attached) she would never be able to see her daughter again.  She figured that the court would see her as unfit and decide in our favor and that the termination of her rights by the court and not of her own volition, is not what she wanted.  Signing over her right would allow her to negotiate the terms of the surrender, and she would essentially be in charge of her own fate.

Before court that day, in fact, once they switch Mary’s track from reunification to adoption, Callie and I had been discussing what the conditional surrender would look like if Mary’s birth ever even considered it an option (initially was very adamant that she would NEVER, EVER sign a surrender!).  We decided initially on no visits and bi-annual emails.  Eventually, we put our own feelings aside when we really started listening to Mary and what she wanted.  She absolutely wants to be able to see her mother and her baby sister and loves them dearly.  Having grown up without knowing or having access to my biological father has affected me in ways that I didn’t even know until multiple therapist have brought it up!  After really talking this one out, we wanted what was best for Mary emotionally, developmentally, and mentally.  We figured keeping her connected to her birth mom was important for her, and as her moms, we wanted to make that happened.

A few days after all of the paperwork was signed in court, we doubled down on our promise to Mary about keeping her connected to her birth family by sending her mom an email.  We wanted to makes sure that if we were going to begin to foster a relationship with B-Ma (Birth Mother), we wanted to establish some ground rules and really, tackle the elephant in the room. That BY LAW we are now her mothers, and BY LAW she was not.  Callie and I sat over the course of the next couple of days deciding the best way to address our current predicament.  Callie has a much more gentle and well rounded approach. I am a lot more direct and tend not to sweeten or soften things up, so most of our time was spent reviewing the email and her telling me that I can’t call her a ” drug addict who needs to get her life together because you have two kids that aren’t in your care, and how many damn chances do you need?!?!”.  We sent an email expressing our concerns about beginning a relationship with her and how her behavior and  inability to be consistent and present for Mary is detrimental to her.  That in order for our relationship to work and for her to be a part of Mary’s life besides the 4 quarterly visits a year, we needed to be able to trust her.  We needed to be able to take her word.  We needed to be able to communicate effectively. That we needed to see for ourselves that she was committed to being an active member of Mary’s life.  Of all those things though, our emphasis was TRUST, because honestly the only information that we have to go on and the only experiences we have with her have proven to us that “trustworthy” is probably the last quality would we would think of to describe her.  In fact, if actually asked that question, I don’t think “trustworthy” would be a word that we would even think about!  But, we sent the email.  And, she responded, an was so happy and excited that we were willing to give the opportunity to be in her daughter life.  We’ve been corresponding quite a bit.  In fact, she even bought Mary a ton of summer clothes and sneakers, a new writing journal for her stories, and underwear and socks.

In compliance with the CS, we’ve been in touch with Mary’s caseworker (since she is technically still a ward of our county, Dept. Of Social Services is still responsible until adoption is fully granted) who is responsible for setting up the first meeting of these quarterly visits. After going back and forth most of July with B-Ma about making arrangements for a visit in August, they decided that Mary’s Visit with B-Ma would be 8/2.  Our worker ended up having a family emergency that day and had to reschedule. So they did, for 8/9, but because of transportation issues with Mary going to camp outside of our county, they had to reschedule the visit again to submit a request for out of county transport and it required 14 days to approve.  Visit now scheduled for 8/24.  After emailing a few times, and B-Ma being in contact with the caseworker, everything was on track.  Wednesday morning, we sent Mary to camp with one of the outfits her mom had given her and a huge smile on her face.  She boarded the bus, gets to the facility, meets her worker, hugs him, gets in the elevator and heads up to the visiting room only to find out that B-Ma….

Didn’t show up!  She didn’t freaking show up!  After all of the emails, all of the confirmations, all of the arranging and re-arranging to accommodate her!  After a clean drug test 3 days before.  After having discussed in detail what her missing visits does to our daughter and how it is so detrimental to her!  After all of that and you don’t show up?!?!?!   Are you serious!?!  And you want to know why?!  Because her boyfriend, the new babies father, didn’t leave her a Metrocard (A $2 and 75 cent fucking card!) to take the bus, and she didn’t bother calling, better yet, EMAILING the worker who has NO ACCESS to his computer during a visit, until 11:20 when the visit started at 11!  You guys!  You have to read her email and her desperation to see her daughter because 3 months is “the longest I have gone without seeing my baby”, which is bullshit because she disappeared for over 6 months a year and a half ago!  And then you don’t fucking show up?! So, our worker, who is incredible, took Mary outside to the waterfront, to eat Icee’s and play I-Spy, and after the hour was up, put a really upset kid back on a bus to camp, to sit in her own sorrow the rest of the day.

Luckily, it seems like Mary is kind of over her B-Ma, and we’re cool with that.  I think that she is starting to recognize that her mom is just never really gonna be good at making the right choices.  Despite the days events, she was in one of the best moods I had seen her in all summer.  I think the concert at the park, gourmet grilled cheeses for dinner, unlimited use of my Pokemon GO app, and ice cream cones before bed helped make it better, for sure!  But I couldn’t let it go!  I wrote.  And I wrote. And I wrote.  And Callie edited, edited edited!  And an email was put together reminding B-Ma that that was strike one of two, and that we aren’t going to be doing this anymore.  That Mary is our daughter and we treat her and love her like our own flesh and blood.  That she is our first baby, and that as parents we would do anything to protect her from being hurt.  That we would do anything to ensure her happiness.  And that we would not allow her to continue to hurt her. No, we will NOT be rescheduling your visit.  You can see her in November.  And NO, we will not make up lies and tall tales to protect Mary from your inconstancy.  And mainly that we, unlike the system, are not paid/inclined to give her a million chances, and that we will absolutely, without question, no longer tolerate all of your fuckery!

She hasn’t responded.  Not sure if she will.  Callie blames her missed visit on forgetfulness.  I blame the forgetfulness on pregnancy brain…oh yeah, I filed to mention…She’s pregnant again…

 

She Knows…

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Tuesday evening, the elevator climbs up the 3 floors to our apartment.  Before I put my key in the door, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for what will possibly be a tough night of explaining what happens next and trying to manage loads and loads of tears, but before I turn the key, I hear squeals and laughter.  I slowly open the door, and the boys are sitting on the floor stacking a few boxes and knocking them down, thinking it is the most hilarious thing they have ever done/seen.  I hear voices in the kitchen…more laughter.

Mary and Callie are talking.  Mary is sitting on the step stool, elbows on her knees, chin resting in the palm of her hands.  She looks…happy…which is not really what I expected.

Hey my two favorite ladies!  How’s everything? What are you talking about?!

I have a lot of feelings.

Hmm, you do?  Well, what are they?! Wanna talk about it?!

I was talking to mommy about it.  I was telling her I went to parenting. (Mary goes to parenting for an hour once/week.  Her and her mom meet with a therapist who monitors and corrects/applauds/helps with positive and appropriate interactions)

Oh, yeah!  And how was it?  Did you and your mom play games?

No, we just talked.

About?

Adoption.

Oh!  Well, that’s important stuff to talk about!  And what did she say about it?!

She said that I’m getting adopted.

SHE DID! ::GASP:: And how did that make you feel when she told you that?

It made me feel really happy and really sad at the same time.

You wanna tell me more about that?  Why happy and why sad?

Sad because I won’t see my mom so much anymore.  I can only see her 4 times a year, so that means I can only see my baby sister 4 times a year, and I won’t be able to see my family, like my Titi (mom’s sister) or my grandma (who passed away right before Austin was born and mom still hasn’t told her) or my cousins in Florida, that I forget their names, and that makes me sad.  But happy because I never have to leave again and I can stay here with you and mommy and my brothers, and we can be a family. Oh, and I can sleep over Wita’s house with Izzy whenever I want!!!


We didn’t think that Mary would be able to absorb this huge news and process it so quickly, but it’s 2 days later and all we see is the hugest change in her behavior and her demeanor.  She’s always been upbeat, funny, helpful, but lately it hasn’t been at the level that it’s always been.  She’s been dragging her feet a little more, being a little more whiny and complainy about the tiniest things, short of patience, lots of errors on her homework from being careless and uninterested, but just in the past 2 days she has somehow, in some weird way, flourished.  It’s like she became a whole new kid, literally overnight!  She set the table without being prompted.  She’s not only been brushing her teeth, but FLOSSING without having to be told.  Her bed has been made the past 2 days before I am even up in the morning.  Not a single mistake on her homework in the past 2 days.  She can concentrate.  She’s been sleeping (she was having severe anxiety and hasn’t slept soundly in a couple of weeks).  I mean, who would have thought that just KNOWING that you aren’t leaving again can make such a huge difference.  That same afternoon she came home with a Green Card from the after-school program.  I don’t know, but it can’t possibly be a coincidence that Mary hears the news that she is going to have a forever family after 5 years in foster care and gets rewarded for EXCELLENT behavior.  I don’t know why we were expecting her to be beside herself, and lost.  She has expressed over and over again that she wants to be adopted.  We should have known that this news would flip her life around, but in an amazing way.

When Mary went to bed, Callie and I talked.  Mary and her mom met with the parenting therapist from 2-3pm , and then Mary went on her own to touch base with her individual therapist from 3-3:30.  Mary’s therapist had called Callie and told her how it went down.  Lisa, Mary’s mom, explained that the judge had made the choice to make Mary adoptable.  She told her that she would only be seeing her 4 times a year.  She also said that Mary could see her whenever she wanted as long as we thought it was ok, and the parenting therapist cosigned that ish!  Callie and I were pretty upset about this, but luckily Mary had told her individual therapist that it was said, and she corrected it right away telling Mary that the judge said it was only 4 times and that was it, and also confronting the parenting lady and telling her that it was inappropriate to agree with that.  We aren’t really fans of the parenting coach.  This is the same lady that let Mary’s mom tell her that we aren’t her parents and that those aren’t her brothers, and Mary came home really hurt and upset about it.

Mary asked mom some hard questions.  “Why didn’t you do the right thing so you could get me back?  Why didn’t you make good choices?  Why is it so hard for you to make good choices?  Don’t you love me?”  I can’t imagine being a mother and having my kids ask me questions like that.  But the interesting thing, the one thing that we absolutely did NOT expect…Mary didn’t cry.  The whole time.  Not once.  In fact, when she got home, she shed about 3 tears, probably because she felt safe and comfortable enough with us to do so, and just because we know her so well, we knew that they were forced, almost like she thought that was what we expected.  It was like she was fighting to keep the smile OFF of  her face.  Friends, this kid is so, so happy, despite it taking her away from her biological family, it has cemented her place in her, permanently, in ourd. Her chosen family.  The place where her heart is.  That is all we wanted for her…safety, happiness, and permanency.  We’re almost their friend…we are almost there…


Day 4 of Operation No More Bobo’s is a success!  They haven’t asked for bobo’s once today and they are both currently napping!  Thanks the bobo gods!

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WHAT 5:30 PM LOOKS LIKE AFTER 2 DAYS OF NO NAP!

Permanency

Yesterday we had court for Mary.  We didn’t know what to expect except what we had heard, which was mostly, sit back, listen to what they are saying and prepare for this to go any way.  That didn’t sit very well with us, but having had other friends who had gone through TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) we know that it can be quite the lengthy process.  Kids have to be in foster care any 15 out of 22 months before a TPR is filed and then after that the trial and disposition and finally a decision from the judge.  Depending on how long the child has been in care dictates (for the most part) how long the TPR process will take.  With Mary having been in care for over 5 years, we kinda knew this was gonna drag on and on and on.  Moms reluctance to give her up would make this last even longer! So, we showed up at 9:30am ready to lock our butts into the cold wooden seast and listen to what the caseworker was going to testify to.

Now, when you’re at a hearing, the evidence that is presented is ONLY from when the TPR is filed and before that.  Nothing after that. Since the TPR was filed, mom has been pretty consistent (guessing she doesn’t wanna lose her kid) but it’s a little too late.  They would be testify and providing evidence from moms WORST year.  The year that she disappeared for half of and tested positive on all of her drug tests for the other half and left all her different treatment programs (rehab, anger management, parenting, individual therapy).  Not a good look.  But we sat in the waiting area with our caseworker, her lawyer, and Mary’s Lawyer.  A few days ago Mary’s lawyer came to our apartment to interview Mary.  We weren’t allowed to sit in, which was a little unnerving, but Mary has been pretty adamant about being adopted but STILL seeing her mom if she was.

As we sit there, Mary’s mom’s lawyer walked over to us (the whole group, not just Callie and I). The caseworker’s attorney (let’s just call her Alyson) suggested to Mary’s mom’s lawyer that she should sign the consent.  The “consent” is a document that’s almost like pleading “no contest” in a court of law, except you admit guilt but no evidence is heard against you.  Makes it pretty hard for a judge to determine and prove negligence if there is no evidence, so then we go to the disposition where everyone can make their case, EXCEPT the Department of Social Services (DSS) won’t be able to use evidence from BEFORE the TPR, only AFTER! This is mom’s best option because if we were to use the information from AFTER the TPR, mom has a greater chance of getting Mary back, and Mary could potentially go home.

Mom’s lawyer went back to where Lisa (Mary’s mom) was sitting.  She gave Lisa the information and came back about 10 minutes later to explain to us that Lisa would be willing to sign the consent if, and and only if she can get an additional one hour visit every week.  Alyson and Mary’s lawyer (Saul) were both completely against it.

“That doesn’t even make sense! We’re in TPR! We can’t give her MORE time with the child! It’s counterproductive. Absolutely not!”

So Lisa’s lawyer went back and told her.  She was gone for quite a while.  She came back and said that Lisa would not agree to signing anything unless she got more time with Mary.  Our car worker called her supervisor to speak to him and see if it was something that was feasible.  After several more minutes, and sweaty palms, the caseworker’s supervisor decided that if mom would sign the consent, an additional visit a week would be the best option, and we could proceed with the case and the department would have one less thing to worry about (that’s mine and Callie’s take on it).

“I represent my client and what she wants and there is NO WAY I will agree to one more visit! My client wants to be adopted, and another visit a week is out of the question on the grounds that it would cause too much confusion for my client and remove her from school even more than the 3 days a week that she already is,” boomed a voice from the corner.  Saul is a small guy, about 5’6″, bald shiny head, small elvish features and tiny voice, but when his voice came through, we all knew this was a non-negotiable.  Lisa’s lawyer called an attorney meeting with the judge.

All 3 attorneys entered the courtroom and left all of us outside to wonder what was happening.  What felt like an eternity later (probably only 10 minutes though) all 3 attorneys returned, Saul and Alyson to where we were sitting and Lisa’s mom’s attorney to the opposite side of the area.  Saul said the judge said “ABSOLUTELY NOT!  We are in TPR and there is no way I would approve an additional visit.  This is not a permanency hearing (where they make decisions about visits, treatment, next 6 months) and it’s not beneficial for the child.  And I would tell your client that if she’s adamant about seeing her children, she may want to sign a conditional surrender because that’s her only guarantee to see her child.  We’re terminating her rights! She needs to understand that.” Callie and I are sitting there not saying anything, kid of taking it all in.  This is so new for is, and we had loads of question brut it was all going so quickly but also really slowly and time was crawling but feeling like we were in fast forward. We see Lisa’s attorney walking towards us.

“Do the terms of a surrender stay the same?”

All eyes on Callie and me. Blink blink.

“Us?!”

Nods in our direction.

“4 visits a year. Quarterly. No holidays, Mothers’ Day, or birthdays.  Monthly email updates with pictures. Anything else at our discretion.”

“What about 6 visits a year? Every 2 months?!”

Callie, “Absolutely NOT!”

She walks away. She comes back.

She’ll sign the consent.

Everyone looks at each other and then look at me and Callie.  What the heck are they looking at us like that for?

“Wait?  She’ll sign the surrender?” says Mary’s lawyer.

SHOCK! She’ll what?!?! She’s gonna surrender her rights?! Somehow Callie and I heard consent, not surrender.

“Yes, she said she’ll sign the surrender so long as those conditions apply and so long as Mary is adopted by Sammie and Callie.”

Callie’s eyes brimmed with tears and Mary’s lawyer told us not to get too excited.  There are a series of questions that the judge would ask that most parents, upon hearing, change their minds about surrendering.

“We have to go back to the office and draw up the paperwork.  Everyone be back by 1:45pm.  I’ll inform the judge that she is surrendering.”

So we left, had lunch with my parents, had a Sangria because THE NERVES, and made our way back to the courtroom, waiting impatiently for them to call us in.

“PARTY FOR COLLINS.  COLLINS!” screeched through on the loud speaker.

Sweaty palms, light feet, we made out way into the courtroom.  I don’t know how any mother could have heard the words the judge said and not break down.  Are you of sound mind making this decision?  Have you had any alcohol or drugs today?  Do you realize that you are going to be losing custody of your child today once these papers are signed?  DO you realize that a day, a week, a month, a year from now, you cannot take back this decision?  All of those were asked, but the one that took my breath away, that left an ache in my heart for what this mother was doing/about to do, “DO you realize that once you sign these papers and walk out of this courtroom, your child will be a STRANGER to you in the eyes of the law?” “Yes, I understand”.  My heart broke for Mary’s mother, for the first time since having met her.

A stranger…and it’s double sided because she IS a stranger.  She’s BEEN a stranger.  But somehow not.  And as her penned hand mechanically moved across the paper, probably collecting tears and ink stains along the way, it was not lost on us the gift that she was giving us, the gift and the life that she was giving Mary, and we realized then that she loved this child more than we had expected.  That she loved her daughter so much that she was willing to give her away to give her her best chance, and all in one moment I had a new found respect for her.  A desire to make it work the way that divorced parents did, because really, more people loving our daughter is something we would turn our nose up to.  For the second time, she was giving Mary life, and for a quick moment, I loved her.  Genuinely, deeply, and unselfishly.

At 2:28pm on Tuesday, May 10, 2015, the judge announced that Mary was officially freed for adoption. We’ll talk to an adoption worker next week and start the ball rolling on paperwork and interviews and whatever else she needs us to do.  In just 3-6 short months Mary Mendez will be an official member of Casa Mendez.  It’s been official in our hearts for ages…

Mary, Our Best Girl

Sometimes I get really sad that I can’t legally post pictures showing Mary’s face, the joy that’s on it when she’s in her favorite place, sandwiched between her twin brothers and little tiny baby brother on her lap.  This kid LIVES for those brothers, and they absolutely adore her. They run up and down the apartment, sticking their head into her room, only to scream , “A-YA-YA” (their variation of Mary’s real name) and then run away so she will chase them.  When she gets home from school, she gives them all the kisses she has been saving for them throughout the day, and they love it.  Every second of it. And WE love it!  We love seeing her interactions with her family, her space, her things, because it reassures us that not only do WE feel that she is in the right place, but she feels it too…

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MY TIE IS ON POINT, BUT WTF WITH THE MUSCLES!!!! AND MARY ROCKING THE MID 90’S INSPIRED SIDE PONYTAIL!

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UGH, MY FREAKING HEART!

So where are we with Mary, you ask?!  NO-Fucking-WHERE, that’s where!!!  Our next court hearing is May 10th, and we officially begin the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) trial.  What does this mean for Mary and for our family?  It means that records from therapists, teachers, doctors, case workers have been subpoenaed.  It means that most if not all of Mary’s “providers”(including her caseworker) will be called to the stand.  It means that we have to sit on our hands while all of these people dictate the life of one of our kids, the kid that actually made us parents!  So it’s really, really hard.  From what we understand, this could take a while.  We’ve spoken to Mary’s lawyer (he strictly represents HER and what she WANTS, not necessarily what is in her best interest), and he will be out our place on May 2nd to “interview” her and see where she is at.  That little letter up there ^^^ is pretty telling.

But how is Mary?  Well, “all over the place” sort of sums it up.  Let’s go back about 2 months.  Mary was talking to her teacher and telling him that she didn’t feel very well and that she wanted to speak to Ms. Kelly, the school psychologist, because she “had a lot feelings”.  So he sent her to Ms. Kelly’s office so that they could have a chat. Mary expressed that she had so many feelings that she didn’t know how to feel (she told us all of this when she got home.  We are firm believers in the whole confidentiality thing and prefer she tells us things when she is ready, which she almost ALWAYS does).  Most of the time, she was telling us that she had a weird feeling in her belly that wouldn’t go away, like she was going down a roller coaster, and anyone who has experienced this sensation knows that that is EXACTLY what anxiety feels like, and how crazy and in tune with her feelings is she,  that she was able to vocalize what is going on inside.  She may not know what anxiety feels like, but she sure is having some.  As soon as we heard that, we gave her therapist a call and they have been sorting it out ever since.  CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is hard…so so hard!  Adults have a hard time with it, imagine being an 8 year old!  But this kid, she really is something else.

Her behavior has been less than stellar, and it’s been hard for us as parents to discipline her because we know that she is going through so, so much right now.  I can’t imagine having to “choose” between 2 families that I love and adore (she doesn’t have to choose, but no matter how much we reiterate that, she is still, in her mind, the one that makes the decision).  How do you “choose” between your birth family, who may not have necessarily always done the right thing, but that’s your REAL mom and your REAL sister.  Or your “real” family, where you feel the most loved, and wanted, and cared for?  As parents though, Callie and I have some serious behavior non-negotiables.  School work comes first.  ALWAYS.  There will be no playing or watching of the TV if homework is not done.  She stopped doing homework and stopped caring.  We saw it as a red flag because she absolutely LOVES school, but having recurring thoughts and anxiety makes it not easy to focus.  We don’t play with school though.  SO we are stuck between disciplining her the way we normally would but also taking into consideration that she has a hell of a lot going on.  Also, when mom is super consistent, and I’ll give her that, because she has been, Mary’s behavior goes all haywire! Then 3 weeks ago, Mary comes home with a yellow card from the after school program.  These yellow cards are warning cards.  2 yellow cards=a red card.  First red card=suspension.  Second red card is removal from the program.  We can’t have that!  Neither of us gets home until after 6, so the after school program is a necesity! What’s the yellow card for?  KICKING SOMEONE!  What in the fack!  That is our second non-negotiable!  We DO NOT under ANY circumstance, put our hand on someone.  We could preach the whole self defense thing which is cool for maybe an older kid, but for young kids, there really isn’t any reason for that, ESPECIALLY because there is no hitting at our house.  Callie and I may scream at each other once in a while, but never once have we disrespected each other like that.  She lost her privileges for a week.  3 days later, she comes home with another freaking yellow card!  SERIOUSLY!?!? Apparently, she was wandering around the school on her own, when she knows that it is the afterschool programs #1 rule. NO ma’am, so she felt that one, because it was Easter Sunday and she sat…the entire time…and the only reason we let her do the egg hunt was because my parents and siblings and aunts and uncles BEGGED us to let her.  So she had a whole 20 minutes for fun for 2 whole weeks.  One for the kicking, and one for the wandering off.  Not even 2 days after that, I get a call from the therapist telling me that Mary got into a fight at school.  For crying out freaking loud!  It’s all been handled and the past 2 weeks behavior has been incredible, which is great because with 2 very sick and whiny almost 16 month olds, our patience was very, very thin!

Otherwise, she is still doing exceptionally well in school,  had even better grades on her report card then last time!  She’s really been opening up at therapy and working through her stuff, and also, she has been an incredible, loving and kind big sister and daughter.  Honestly, I hope the outcome of this whole trial is that she will be freed for adoption, because if she’s not, I might just break one of our #1 house rules, and just hit something!  We love this kid so deeply, that thinking of her not being a part of our family is heartbreaking.  Let’s pray that May 10th is the beginning of bringing Mary fully into our family, legally into our family, forever into our family…it just has to be that way….

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A BEAUTIFUL SATURDAY AS A FAMILY OF 6

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MY GIRL IN HER FAVORITE TREE

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MARY AND OUR NIECE IZZY

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LOOK HOW LEVI LOOKS AT HIS SISTER…THEY LOVE THAT GIRL.

 

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HER FAVORITE PLACE

When The Adoption Worker Shows Up

Yesterday, around 4pm, Callie and Mary met the new adoption worker.  She called on Monday to set something up to meet Mary for the first time.  It was pretty informal and it was just to give us a little more information about what the termination and adoption process would be like.  From what Callie told me, it was pretty uneventful, but with situations like this, we like to wait until the last minute to inform Mary because otherwise her anxiety goes through the roof, waiting and ruminating about how it will all turn out.  Usually we don’t even tell her she is having a visit with her birth mom until the morning of, nonchalant, as she is grabbing her backpack and walking out the door.  “Oh CooCoo, you might have a visit today with your mom! Have a great day!  We love you!”  She spends most of the day distracted at school, and then she only has 20 minutes to worry on the bus ride to see her mom.

After school yesterday (3:30pm), Callie let her know that the new adoption worker was on the way and that they were going to get to meet her.  Immediately, Mary shut down.  About 5 minutes later, she told Callie what was bugging her.  ” If I get adopted today, I’ll never get to see my baby sister!! Will I ever get to see my mom again?”  (When Mary had her visit last Thursday, her mom was supposed to bring her new baby sister to the visit but didn’t because it was raining…I know!  Don’t get me started!  Always breaking promises!).  She shut down because she thought she was being adopted right then and there.  Callie reassured her right away that the woman was not there to sign the adoption papers that day.  She was there to meet her and start to get to know her better, because we will be working together for a long time while all of the court and adoption things are going on.  Probably until all the way to 3rd grade! She seemed to calm down a little after that, but the whole time that the adoption worker was there, Mary wouldn’t even look at her.  She kept her nose buried in a book pretending to read.  She didn’t make eye contact, she was shying away from all of her questions, and acting like the shy girl that we haven’t seen since the first week she came to live with us 18 months ago.

When the worker left, Callie asked Mary how she was feeling, and she refused to answer.  She said she was reading her book.  When Callie asked her what she had read, Mary gave her the “oh shit! She knows I wasn’t reading!” face.  Callie didn’t push it.  She knew it was a lot for a 7 year old to take in.  A few minutes later, Mary asked, “Am I going to therapy this week?!?”  I love that she understands that therapy is where she can talk about these things and her feelings in a safe space, especially when she isn’t ready to talk to us yet.  Hopefully she’ll be able to sort some of those things out, and come home and pour her heart out, which is what she usually does.

How do I really feel about this whole situation?  Honestly, and I’ll be really candid here…I can’t wait for this whole shit to be over.  I can’t wait for my daughter to understand that everything that has happened so far in her life is not her fault.  She holds onto every. Single. Little. Detail of her past like you have no idea.  It’s her fault she was taken away from mom because “mom always listens to what I say and she didn’t listen when I told her not to go to Florida.  I TOLD HER!  I told her they would take me away again!  It’s my fault because she didn’t listen to me and she always listens to me!”  And then there’s the, ” I told mommy I really wanted a baby and so she had a baby for me.  Now they took the baby away, and it’s my fault!  I told her to have a baby and she always listens to me.”  This is what this parent has done to her child!  It’s frustrating and infuriating. I wish I could help her see that none of the circumstances of her life are her fault AT ALL!  In fact, they are completely, totally, and 100% her mothers fault, for making poor choices and having terrible parenting skills.  I wish that this adoption would move quickly, or that her mom would realize what is really best for her daughter, and just sign over her rights.  Callie and I are THOSE foster parents, the ones that always side with the bio-parents.  We really have no reason not to, because hey! Let’s be real here!  We’re all human, and people make mistakes, but when is enough enough!?  Callie and I were supportive and encouraging, and behind mom 100%.  We WANTED her to get her daughter back.  We’re not in the business of breaking up families, but it got to the point where we couldn’t support her choices and bad decisions any more.  We refuse to let Mary get hurt any more than she already has.  We refuse to continue to let her be a victim of poor judgement any longer.  We will fight, with everything that we’ve got, to give her a normal, stable life, with a family who loves her and does everything in their power to make good, strong, powerful choices for her and guide her life in the best direction we know of.  We love the hell out of this kid, and it kills us to see her go through the ups and downs of knowing that her mom loves her (she really does and they have a very loving relationship) but can’t seem to do the right thing often and long enough to give Mary what she needs.  I mean, imagine, you are on your way to adoption and mom misses so many of your visits, but has a new baby with a new dad that loves her, and gets to see everyday, and promises you that you’ll see the baby and then doesn’t show up? THIS friends, is what we are contending with…I really hope our love is enough…

MY LITTLE SOCCER STAR

MY LITTLE SOCCER STAR