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

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A 7 Year Old’s Insight

Mary has completely turned her behavior around.  We started a pretty neat reward chart for her, and she gets cool stickers on the chart when she completes the task.  Thing like brushing her teeth and washing her face twice a day, tidying her room and making her bed, cleaning her station after dinner, and listening to the adults in her life.  Going on 2 weeks now and she hasn’t missed a sticker.  It has a section that says “Things to Work On This Week”.  Usually we try to keep it positive, like instead of saying “not lying”, we say, “always tell the truth”.  Instead of saying “not being rude and fresh” we say, ” Having a positive attitude every day”.  Every week there is a “prize” or a privilege that she has gained back.  Last week, she got to attend my nieces pool party, and have chips and cake and candy, and hang out with all of her cousins.  She had a blast!  What does she say in the car on her way home?  “It’s fun to have my privileges back!”

This week, she was allowed to ride her scooter, and last night at the outdoor concert, she had ice cream for the FIRST TIME this summer!  Yeah, we’re evil!  Whatever!  When she wasn’t brushing her teeth everyday, we refused to help her rot her teeth out, so last night, she ate that ice cream so fast, mmmmming, and ahhhhing for 15 minutes!  This week, her prize?  Family Movie night!  It used to be our every Friday night weekly routine.  We would be showered and pj’d by 7:30, all on the couch with hot chocolate and our own private bowl of popcorn.  We would let Mary pick her favorite movie, all get cozy under the blanket, and have 1.5+ hours of silence, while we all cuddled and watched together (usually something Callie and I loved when we were younger and wanted to introduce to Mary like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” or “Teenwitch” or “Ferngully”).  Then we would have her wash her face, brush her teeth, and both Callie and I would tuck her into bed.  This hasn’t happened since June.  You have NO IDEA how excited this kid is about Family Movie night!

I think this reward system is really working.  I think that she can see what she has done and has something tangible, like seeing 7 stickers on her board at the end of the day.  Also, it’s helping to teach her multiplication!  She’s also been a lot better behaved and a little calmer, and I think the fact that we are giving her back her privileges incrementally gives her something to work towards.  She still doesn’t have her electronics privilege back (TV time, iPad time, and computer time), but this Friday will be the first day she has seen TV (aside from sneaking it in for a few minutes at my parents) since the beginning of July. We’ll slowly add 30 minutes of TV a day after school to unwind before she has to start homework.  HOLY CRAP!  In 6 days, I will have a second grader!  That’s just wild!

I’m also wondering if Mary not seeing her mom for over a month could also be helping in her feeling safe and secure again.  The therapist said that she feels (because she has seen it in other cases) that Mary acts out because she actually LIKES being in trouble.  Well, not likes likes, but that when she was with her mother she always had to play the adult.  She always felt like she had to take care of her mother (she still says it now…”If you adopt me, then who is gonna take care of mom when she is older?”), so us reprimanding her and “putting her in trouble” makes her feel like a child in turn making her feel safe.  (Psychology is so interesting and totally not black and white at all!)  And also, you know, attention. So we have changed all of the negative attention to positive attention, and when she does something that we don’t necessarily like, instead of going berserk, we just redirect and try out best to ignore the negative behavior.

Yesterday, Mary and Callie were home and having a conversation.  Mary came out of her room saying, “I have a lot of feelings today..” so Callie asked her if she wanted to write them down, or if she wanted to talk about them.  Mary wanted to talk about them.  Mary’s mom is pregnant (well, was pregnant), and she was due on Aug 29th.  Mary doesn’t know that mom had the baby because we haven’t told her yet.  The main reason is, mom knew they were going to remove the baby and was supposed to call the case worker when she went to the hospital to give birth.  She never did.  She gave birth 2 weeks ago, and didn’t let the worker know until last Wednesday, via EMAIL, and gave them 2 addresses where she could possibly be, and hasn’t been at either for the past 2 weeks.  They have a private investigator looking for her.  So, we have no answers for the hundred questions Mary will ask.  We can’t say “I don’t know” to everything.  So when she was talking to Callie, she was asking about her mom.  Where is she?  Is she going to show up to the next visit?  Is the baby born yet?  Where is the baby if she IS born?  And the main emotion she was feeling?  Fear!  She is scared that her mother is going to run away with the baby (go figure!) and that no one will find her.  She wanted to know if mom was still making bad choices, and that she was worried that her sister wouldn’t be safe.  She was scared that her sister would learn to make bad choices too and maybe go to jail when she is older.  She was petrified that her sister would be taken away and go to another foster family.  She mentioned that she wished her sister could come live with us so that we can teach her “the right thing like you are teaching me!  So she could learn to be a good girl and make good choices and not bad ones.”  She is still being the adult, worrying about the choices that her mom will make and the consequences that follow.  This kid hangs on to that so tightly!

What really amazed me was that Mary is really and truly processing her life.  She understands that her mom isn’t bad, or a bad person, and honestly not even a negligent asshole of a parent.  She’s just a young girl who has made some really bad choices and is suffering the consequences.  She loves her mom, and we tell her that all the time.  We encourage her to draw and write and think about her mom, and we never say anything bad about her. Mary is making these distinctions on her own.  She knows mom makes bad choices and that those bad choices lead to mom’s privileges being taken away.  I think she is really making the correlation now.  And the more Mary grows and understands the world, the more I am in awe of the little woman she is becoming; pondering, processing, and persevering….

When “Mom” Shows Up…

It’s been MONTHS since Mary’s mom has shown up.  Last time was sometime in early March to be exact, but just once and Mary didn’t even get to see her.  Before that was mid January.  We’ve dealt with meltdowns, turmoil, questions like you wouldn’t believe, and really, thing that shouldn’t be asked by a 7 year old. 

“Is my mom dead?”

 “Is she sick in the hospital?” 

“Who’s gonna take care of my mom when she’s old and sick?” 

“Did she have the baby yet?!”

“Is my baby brother or sister gonna be a foster too?!”

“Did my mom forget about me?”

“Does my mom not love me anymore?”

These shouldn’t be things that a 7 year old should be concerned with. Does my mom still love me, should NEVER be a question that a kid asks, let alone even starts to think about.

Friday, Mary’s mom showed up.  It took about 100 emails, countless phone calls, visits to her home with no response, and a ton of prayers, both silent and outloud, with Mary leading, before FINALLY! last Wednesday, she showed up to the caseworkers office.  She left a note stating her new address. No number. No time to be contacted.  No, “Hey Lady! I’m alive and well!” Nothing! Smart on her part, considering EVERYONE who has ever dealt with the foster care system in our county KNOWS that the workers ALL have court on Wednesday.  Super smooth.  

The worker shows at her house.  No answer.  Karen (our worker) sends a letter to meet her Friday in her office.  Surprisingly, mom shows.  “I love my daughter and I want to see her! When can I see her?! I didn’t f*ck up too bad, did I?” ( Im pretty sure she batted her eyelashes a little when asking).  By law, she is entitled to visits.  By our judge, she has to take a toxicology test and not test positive.  Our caseworker claims that when she saw her, she “didn’t look intoxicated”.  I think looks can be deceiving. 

Mary has completely been a different child since we have been getting more honest about the outcome of her case.   180 different!   The therapist says the not knowing was causing severe anxiety.  We agree.  “We may be your forever family, honey” we say to her. 

“You’re just my real moms,” she says.  

“I’m gonna be a Mendez too!” she’s vocalized.

“What if the judge makes me go back with Mom and I wanna stay here?!” Good question my CooCoo. Really. Good. Question.

She has a visit with mom coming up on Thursday.  Her next Tuesday therapy visit was cancelled. Not good.  She has no idea she might be seeing mom.  We have no idea what will happen after she sees her.  We’re scared we have to start all over again. My heart hurts to know that she’ll cling to her mother and probably cry most of the visit and I can’t cuddle her and tell how much we love her and love having her in our family.  We’ll have to wait until she gets home, in a fit of resentful rage, wondering why she has to come back to our house, and not back with mom. It’ll be hard.  Really hard.  With lots of tears and snot, and that’s just us! Poor Mary will have nightmares, not want to go to school the next day.  Need more attention than we can muster with me working full time and Callie watching 3 kids until I get home, 2 of which are hardly 5 months old. 

Will mom hate us and will it taint our “relationship” when Mary tells her mom we said she’s “sick in her brain”, because you know, you can’t always see “sick”, our child friendly way of saying “dealing with addiction”?  Will it be more difficult to see Mary and spend time with her if, you know, this screwy system ends up sending her back home? Will the caseworker defend us when mom is flabbergasted that we would “badmouth” her to her own flesh and blood?!

We are unsettled today, gearing up for this visit.  We are considering a conditional surrender just to get it over and done with, even though that’s not really what we want.  We love the shit out of Mary.  She’s our one and only daughter.  She’s our baby.  She’s our heart.  She’s Mamá’s best bud.  I’m nervous, and I can’t shake it.  It’s gonna be hell in a day and half a time.  

We’ll be strong, we’ll push on and keep on trucking like the family that we are, but someone will be angry, someone will be resentful, someone will be jaded, and I just hope and pray and wish that it’s not Mary.  That it’s not us.  I never thought I would be *that* foster parent.  The one that wishes that the bio family will screw up so royally, that there is no other option by adoption. But I am, because now (and always) we love her. So fiercely. So wholey.  So…with everything! We worry about her. And we want the very best for our little girl….

TPR Revisited

From the day that Mary was brought into our home, we were convinced not only by Mary’s connection to her mom, but also by the words of several social workers, resource workers, case managers and therapists, that Mary would be inevitably returning to her biological mother within a years time.  We should have known better!  Every other placement we had, we were told that the children would likely be freed for adoption, but within a few short weeks, they were all transitioned to a relatives home, and Callie and I were left licking our wounds, sad and crying on our couch, as we cuddled and caught up on weeks of TV that were impossible to watch when you have toddlers who would not benefit from watching the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.  Mary has been a different case all together.  Considering her background and the hard work that mom had done in the past to get her back, we just sort of figured that Mary’s time with us was finite, and would eventually come to an end, no doubt breaking us all over again.

Over the past 3 months, Mom’s performance has been…less than stellar.  Actually, to be totally honest, no one even knows where Mom is, yet again! Since January, she has shown up for 2 visits, then goes MIA again.  Her excuse usually is that she doesn’t have a phone or she’s been working umpteen hours, but we all know that it isn’t that case.  Turns out mom is newly pregnant (about 4 months and decided to announce it to Mary at their last visit almost 3 weeks ago [which must make Mary feel really terrible because baby gets mom, but she doesn’t] but told the case worker that she isn’t really sure what she wants to do yet – sigh), and has had several other issues that go against the plan to get Mary back.  During the time that mom has been missing meetings and visits and therapy and anger management and parenting and her outpatient treatment program, we have been encouraged to not tell Mary the truth. We have been told to tell her that mom is working, or that she wasn’t feeling well, or that she had to cancel because of the weather, all the while dying inside because Mary isn’t your average 7 year old.  She grew up and socialized with adults most of her life, so she is well aware of the things that are going on, excellent at reading social cues, despite her OBVIOUSLY playing dumb (she does this too us ALL the time…”Where are we going Saturday?” after overhearing us say we are going to my parents from 3 rooms over!).

Wednesday morning we had a permanency hearing for Mary. We got all of the kids ready for the day.  Callie’s parents dropped Mary at school and came back to watch the boys.  We grabbed our notebooks and paperwork and head to county court to find out what would be happening with Mary for at least the next 6 months.  At our last home visit, our case worker told us that she was going to file a TPR, and if we were willing to adopt Mary.We quickly answered “YES!”.  Now this is something that I haven’t really spoken about because, well, as foster parents, you sort of expect to love all of the children that come into your home, but you never really know how you will connect with them.  I have a pretty awesome relationship with Mary.  Callie and Mary’s relationship, on the other hand, is a bit…strained.  I know that they both love each other dearly, but there is something about both of their personalities that don’t really mesh well.  My take on it*** 1) Mary is very attached to her mother.  Callie is very motherly/maternal.  Mary will not allow Cal to be her mom, because in her eyes, well, she doesn’t need one because she has one.  Callie feels rejected and subconsciously acts on it. Because I am more like “dad” which Mary doesn’t really have, it makes our connection different.  2) Callie is the disciplinarian.  I am not.  She has follow through where I have “but their just kids!”   It’s more fun to be with me than Callie.  All that being said, we have been struggling with making the decision that is best for our family, because after all, adoption is forever.  After much contemplation and weeeeeeekkkkkkssssss of talking it over, we decided that what is best for our family is to give all the love to Mary that we would our biological children, all the attention that she deserves and a chance at belonging and being part of a healthy (albeit crazy!) family.  She is THRIVING and excelling in our home.  She has done a complete 180 from when she first came to us.  And aside from all of that, how could we be willing contributors in the ruining of her life?  More transitions, more people that in her eyes “don’t love her and leave”.  It’s something that we wouldn’t be able to deal with.  Financially, we will be a hot mess, but we’ll figure it out.  We always have, and we probably always will.  (And potentially, if Mary’s moms baby goes into care, taking on another infant to keep siblings together—no need to tell us we are out of our minds….we know!)

We meet up at court with our case worker (we’ll just call her Krista from here on out), her attorney ( the county attorney really), Mary’s mom’s attorney, and Mary’s attorney.  We sat and spoke for about 20 minutes before our case was called in.  To all of our surprise (read:we were not surprised), Mary’s mom didn’t show up.  The lawyer was trying to contact her.  Krista was trying to contact her.  No answer.  They called relatives who tried to get in touch with her, and no one could reach her or confirm her whereabouts.  For some strange reason, my heart was so heavy for Mary in those moments before the judge said she’d give her another 10 minutes and the benefit of the doubt.  We step out of the courtroom.  We all knew she wasn’t going to show.  She didn’t want to hear it from the judge (who has been seeing this same case for apparently the 1087 days that Mary has been in the custody of the county).  10 minutes later, we all go back in.  The judge does not look happy, even with the 50+ snow globes adorning her desk (no seriously, like 50!!!).  After being sworn in, our worker gives her all of the details.  How mom has been missing, and that all of her therapies and programs have been cancelled due to non-compliance.  That they reduced her visits from 2 hours unsupervised weekly, back to 1 hour supervised bi-weekly and that mom still isn’t attending.  How despite all attempts (phone calls, emails, home visits, contacting family, and snail mail), it has been near impossible to contact her.  Her own lawyer, even made a point to say in court, that she no longer wants to represent her client and wants to be relieved because she is tired of chasing her around (in more words).  The judge was not happy.  She asked us how Mary was doing in our home, and what behaviors she has been exhibiting.  We were very candid and forthright with our answers.  She was having a hard time emotionally, but we were doing our best.  By the end of our 5 minute spiel, the judge had heard enough.  She changed the permanency goal to “Adoption”, and told our case worker that she wanted the TPR complete and on her desk within 90 days.

When we got home from court, we hung out with our boys and my MIL for about an hour before we went to speak to a lawyer about Callie’s job situation (another post, BUT turns out we have a case! And we’re gonna pursue it thanks to the New York State Division of Human Rights).  When we got home after that, Mary was waiting for us, as usual, to ask us how our day was.  We have a dry erase board in our kitchen that we update every month in different colors so that everyone knows what their appointments and activities are for the month.  On April 15th, our calendar said COURT.  She asked us if court was for her.  Callie and I looked at each other and decided that it was best to start letting her know the truth and begin to process what is happening.  We told her that it was, and that it was a very important meeting.

MaryWas my mom there?

Me:  She was supposed to be honey, but she didn’t show up.  A lot of people were really disappointed and sad at her today, including us.

Mary: Why was everyone sad?

MeBecause today the judge needed help deciding if you were going to go back to live with Mom soon, or if you were going to be staying to live with us maybe forever.  When your mom didn’t come, the judge didn’t really know what to think, and couldn’t ask your mom some important questions to help make her decision.

Mary: (with a weird grin on her face, she slowly walked backwards out of the kitchen and around the corner loudly whispering) Ooohhhhhhhhh kkkkkkkkkk….

MeCome back here coocoo…this is important…

Mary(hysterical and in tears)  But I really miss mommy, and I really wanna go with her.  I mean, I love living here, and you and Callie and the boys, so it’s not that, but I really wanted to go back with mommy!

Me: Would living with us forever be so bad?

Mary No,it’s good, but I just miss mommy!!!

Me And mommy misses you too honey.  Just because she can’t take care of you doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you with her whole heart.  She just has a difficult time making good choices that will keep you together.

And she hugged me, hard, for a long time, and cried into my tummy, telling me she loved us, and followed me around the house for the next hour, probably distracting herself from all of the thoughts that were going on in her head.  We spoke to her therapist and told her we were going to be more honest with her (in an age appropriate way) and that it would probably be really good to start working through and sorting through some of that stuff during her sessions.

Friends, I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but by the looks of it, we are going to be going down this adoption road sooner than we expected.  Mary might one day in the near future be a Mendez.  But in 90 days, the TPR will be filed, and the journey continues.  Her mom can appeal, but after 1087 days in care, and a judge that has given her 8 tries to get it together, I don’t think any number of appeals will help mom.  There is also the option of a conditional surrender (mom signing over her rights with “conditions”) but we would REALLY have to consider that…our little girl has been hurt enough.  We understand that these things can take anywhere from 1 1/2-3 years…so we’re waiting, patiently, nervously, for Mary to finally have her forever family.