Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gratitude Tag

Someone tagged me! Here are five things I am thankful for this year (in no significant order).

1. My best friend and team mate in life, Dave. When he was gone in China this month I felt like part of my soul was gone too. He is the most patient, gentle, loving man. He is a great husband and father.


2. Mateo's birthmom. She may have messed things up in her life, but it was no mistake giving birth to the baby we call our son. We are so thankful for adoption and the opportunity to love Mateo with all our hearts. I am thankful Mateo's birthmom was courageous enough to carry him full-term and allow social services to find a family for him without a fight. She is a brave woman and I hope we get the chance to meet her someday.

3. The best kid in the universe, his feisty personality, and everything he has taught us in the last year!

3. My best friend (and her husband) Devan and Scott. They keep me sane, grounded, and laughing every week. It sucks that they live so far away but I'm happy they are willing to run up their phone bill talking to me almost everyday and visiting at least twice a year.

4. Family! My mom who is the best Nana ever and has a great relationship with Mateo. She also watches Mateo overnight for us every time she has vacation days. My grandma who I can credit for all the good things about me. She is the greatest role model I had while growing up and gave me my heart for needy people.


5. Our jobs which we love and are passionate about and which give us the financial resources to own a home (albeit very small), afford food and all the basic necessities, allow us to give to the ministries we feel led to, and luxuries like going on vacation to Disney after Christmas!!!

Yes, I guess you can say I'm thankful for Disney World.

Now I'm tagging: Devan (via facebook), Melodie, Heather, Scott, and Rachel

Happy Thanksgiving, again!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eyes

Mamarrazi blog picked "eyes" as the theme for this month. So here is my version of eyes.



This is Mateo after a bath about one year ago. I love how dark and deep his eyes are and how long his lashes look in this picture. He really is a handsome boy!


Hint: If you click on the picture you can see it bigger and the detail of his eyelashes



This is my cousin, Frankie, he is five years old and has the biggest eyes!


Both shot with Canon EOS SLR



Monday, November 24, 2008

Justice's Tips for Adoptive Parents

Again, I have reason to believe I am important somehow. That people want to know my opinion and hear what I have to say. This may not be true but it's the only reason I can justify keeping up this blog. So, in the theme of National Adoption Month, here are a few tips for adoptive families that are awaiting their child. So, no credibility here, just what I learned from Mateo. Maybe you can get something out of it or maybe it is further confirmation that I am a self-obsessed, know-it-all, who thinks she is far more important than she really is and you'll never visit my blog again. Either way, here it is.


1. Be prepared to not be prepared. What I mean is, know that you will have feelings and emotions that you didn't expect to feel. And that is okay. You really can't be prepared for what this will be like.

2. It's a good idea to be prepared for stupid questions and assumptions from others who don't understand adoption. Sometimes these people are ignorant and inexperienced. Sometimes they are curious and don't know better. And sometimes they are just mean. I've found most of the time, people are just uneducated about adoption etiquette. Example; at Mateo's adoption party an old friend says to me, "so you're not gonna have any kids?" Another time, after noticing Mateo wasn't talking as well as other kids his age someone asks, "is he slow?" and "will he ever be normal?" It's a good idea to have some pat answers for these situations.

3. Know that you will have feelings about being a transracial parent (if you are going that route), even if you think you won't. Hidden prejudices will come up for you, your family, and your friends. You may experience some negative comments from people you thought loved you, and they probably do, but haven't had to think about what they say before. Again, have responses ready, you will have to do a lot of educating.

4. Flexibility is essential. You may have to change your plan and tactics as your child grows and develops, and as the attachment strengthens. Be open to new ideas.

5. Be patient! Give the child time to adjust and don't expect to see results right away. But be happy with the small successes. For instance, it took Mateo almost a year to learn how to go down a playground slide by himself. Which is a small success for a typical child his age. But for us, we about had a party when he finally did it. I called our friends and family to let them know and they were just as excited. You would have thought he won the Nobel Prize or something. But it does make life better because we don't take the small accomplishments for granted.

6. Expect ups and downs and set-backs. Mateo is constantly cycling through behavior problems and emotional problems. I can't say what he'll be like 6 months from now. I don't know what behaviors patterns are gone forever or will be back in a matter of a few month or a few years. He can regress quickly in certain circumstances as well. This is normal for a child with a background of trauma. And all adopted kids have experienced trauma. Even if they have not been abused, they've had trauma just in losing their birthparents.

7. Be prepared to change your preconceptions of parenting and erase what you think you know about parenting. Throw away your parenting experiences because it won't be the same. This is especially true for parents adopting an older child.

8. You may have trouble relating with other parents who have not adopted. You may feel like you're looked at differently or feel like an outsider. This is why it's important to get to know other adoptive families.

9. Take care of yourself!!!

10. Get help quickly if you feel you need it. There is nothing wrong with seeing a counselor or therapist. And there is nothing wrong with asking for professional help for your child either.


I will be doing a final Adoption post before the end of the month, then it's back to my normal funny stories and rants. Have a good Thanksgiving everybody!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Daddy and Mateo Video

Here's a video montage I made for Dave. I am just obsessed with making these videos so I'll make one for any reason at all. My next post will be tips for adoptive families by yours truly. I know, I probably give myself much more credit than I deserve. Just trying to go along with the National Adoption Month theme.


video

Friday, November 21, 2008

How to Become a Foster/Adoptive Parent

Like I promised in the beginning of the month, here are the steps to becoming a foster or adoptive parent. Keep in mind, this is how it works in my state of Connecticut, but I'm pretty sure it's similar in other states as well.

1.) Attend an open house at your local social services office. They usually hold them once or twice per month. My state has them twice a month and you can find a list on our state website. At the open house you should hear a presentation about the process, the kids, the system, etc. You should also be able to ask questions.

2.) In my state, the next step is to have a social worker come to your house for a short preliminary interview. This is to be sure you have an appropriate living arrangement for a child (i.e. no exposed wires, lead paint, construction projects, etc). Usually they will ask you a few questions about what your looking for and a tour of the house. Then they will perform extensive background checks to be sure you are able to be licensed. If all is clear...

3.) You will be invited to attend a class. In my state, it is 10 weeks of classes, once per week for 3 hours each. This is when you learn even more about working with the system, the legal process, the kids, the birthparents, etc. This is also an assessment period for the social worker to get to know your family and for you to decide if this is the right path for your family. The classes are tough and give you lots to talk and think about. During these classes you will also be completing a lot of "homework" and paperwork.

4.) After you complete the classes, the social worker will write what is called a homestudy. This is a compilation of a written summary and pictures of your family. The social worker will also do a series of interviews, usually once individually, then once all together. They do pry into your background and experiences a bit. They will ask about your upbringing and are pretty nosy, but it is in the best interest of the children in care.

5.) After the homestudy is completed, you are licensed! If you are just fostering you will probably get kids right away. They are usually matched to you by the office "matcher". There is one, or maybe more, social workers whose sole responsibility is to match the kids coming into care to a family that will take them.

If you are adopting, the process is different. After completing your homestudy, it goes into the central office of the state. When a child comes up that a social worker is looking for an adoptive or pre-adoptive home for, the placement team picks several homestudies that fit with the needs of the child. Then they have a meeting where all team members read the homestudies and the child's file, and then rate the families for the best match. Whichever family has the most points, wins! Well... basically.

Who Can Adopt?

~ over 21 years of age
~ rent or own a house with adequate space
~ able to pay your bills and support a child
~ single men and women
~ same sex couples
~ grandparents

Who Can Not Adopt?

~ anyone with a violent criminal history
~ anyone who's had a substantiated abuse or neglect conviction with social services
~ a registered sex offender
~ anyone who lives with someone with a criminal history, sex offender, or abuser

I have some blogger friends that have adopted internationally :) While I am so happy for them finding their child(ren) and are glad their are people willing to build their families that way, I am a huge advocate for adoption through foster care. So, of course I have to talk about what I think are the benefits of adopting this way versus a different route.

1. Shorter wait time. Licensing takes, on average, 4 months. After being licensed we got our son in 2 months. So, in total, it took 6 months to have our family. This does vary, however. If you are only willing to accept a white healthy infant, I can tell you right now you might as well go elsewhere. It just ain't gonna happen. The more open you are to disability, race, age, gender, the faster you will be placed. Of course, you have to do what you are comfortable with.

2. MUCH lower cost. Actually, in CT there is NO cost. Every part of the process is free. And actually, the state pays you to care for the child before the adoption, then most adoptions continue with a subsidy until the child is 18yrs. In our case, Mateo is considered medically complex (because of a peanut allergy) so we get twice as much per month as a typical child until he is an adult AND free health care and college tuition.

3. Did you hear me correctly? FREE COLLEGE TUITION! Well, in CT, but more states are offering that as well. And free health insurance. We don't have to pay a single co-pay.

4. Most of the time you know more information with state care kids than with kids adopted overseas. When you take a placement, you are given the child's file with every detail the social worker's know about that child.

5. Usually no language barrier.

6. Pre and post adoption support groups, family events, advocates, and support through the state agency and social workers. This is where my job kicks in! We do a Christmas party, beach day, family picnic, bowling, scrapbooking party, Harvest fair, amusement park day, and more every year for our foster/adopt families. Here is where we get support and encouragement from others in our similar situation.

There are plenty of pros and cons to every type of adoption. I would encourage anyone to research extensively and consider every option before making a decision. Either way you do it, adoption is a beautiful choice.

If you have any questions, I am happy to oblige if I can. And I hope everyone would consider how they can help a foster youth in their area. If you don't feel you can handle fostering or adopting, there is a need for respite providers (overnight babysitters) and youth mentors as well. I can promise you, you won't regret getting involved in the lives of foster children.

Christmas Card Pictures

Here are some pictures we took today trying to get something good for our Christmas card this year. A couple of them came out good so I thought I'd post them so everyone can see how cute my little family is! And wouldn't it be even better with another little one?



Here's our serious look





A cute father/son moment



I think we're gonna go with this one
(although I'm quite mad at my hair, but that's not unusual)



Just some more cuteness!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

National Adoption Month

So here's our one year later video made for Mateo's Gotcha Day, which was August 29. Tomorrow I'll post about the process of becoming licensed to foster or adopt and how you can get involved without having to become a parent. Without further ado, here's a brief, happy view of our experience with Mateo the last year. If you've seen it already, sorry.



video




Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Conclusion

Okay, so we are nearing the end of our story of Mateo's adoption. About 9 months after he came to us, things began turning for the better. Ironically, that's also when we finalized the adoption. On May 23, 2008, we legally adopted Mateo. It was around this time that he stopped his extreme rages, tantrums, and aggression.

I wish I could say everything is perfect, but that is not the reality. Mateo still has some self-control and impulse issues. He has very little tolerance for being out of his routine, being hungry, overwhelmed, or over-tired. He has quite a temper and gets frustrated easily. This interrupts his development because he doesn't have the ability to problem solve through situations. He still hits and scratches when he's mad, this problem goes along with the self-control issue. But he responds well to time-outs and we continue to work on this. Mateo also becomes overstimulated easily and then he gets very hyper, loud, and rough. We have to use a lot of calming down techniques when he gets this way. And we always have to be conscious of the volume of our voice and emotions. He also has a significant speech delay, partly to do with the cleft/lip but not entirely.

But the difference between parenting him now versus just a few months ago is amazing. And it just gets better and better as time goes on. I can take him out in public and not feel like I have to explain why he is acting a certain way. Our attachment is that of a normal parent and toddler. We are most definitely his mom and dad and he loves us!

But Mateo is also very sensitive to loss and sometimes overreacts to certain situations that trigger some memory or negative feeling. I can't always pinpoint what it is or why, but sometimes I can just tell he's having an emotional purge of something from his past. I wonder if this will always be with him, showing up when normal childhood hurts happen. The loss of a pet. A friend moving away. Changing teachers in school. Will this elicit a huge emotional response? Will he wonder if we're gonna leave him too? I guess we'll see.

In a way, I envy other parents for being able to bond with their child so easily and naturally. Especially since I feel like we had to go through hell to get what other parents have for free. But in another way, I am glad we had to fight for his love and trust. It makes our bond stronger because it wasn't given freely. The fact that we did go through hell proves to Mateo the commitment and unconditional love we have for him. And we all know that we can handle anything he throws our way. And that is actually a comforting thought.

I am falling in love with him more and more everyday. Now when people ask me if I love being a mom, I can answer truthfully, yes!

Tomorrow I'll post another video. And for the rest of November, since it's still National Adoption Month, I am going to promote adoption through foster care. I'll give more information about it and how you can become involved. After November my blog will go back to it's original intent of being a place to vent the frustrations and humors of being a parent.

Pictures from Adoption Day!



Friday, November 14, 2008

Famous People Were Adopted Too!

Adopted:

Faith Hill
D.M.C.
Dave Thomas
Edgar Alan Poe
John Lennon
Langston Hughs
Aristotle
Malcolm X
George Washington Carver
Ray Liotta
Sarah McLauchlin
John Hancock
Melissa Gilbert
Nat King Cole
President Gerald Ford
Scott Hamilton


Famous People Who Were in Foster Care:

Marilyn Monroe
Eddie Murphy
Dave Peltzer (author)
Dr. Ruth
Cher
John Lennon
Ice T
Babe Ruth
Willie Nelson
Eleanor Roosevelt

Betcha' didn't know that!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Adoption Video

Okay, so I promised a video, and I actually have several. One of them I posted in August on Mateo's Gotcha Day but I'll post it again for my new readers later this month. Here is the first one. It's longer and more of a photo/video montage. I made this one for Mateo's adoption party we had in June. The second one is more fun and tells our story a bit. I also have two other videos montages. One with Mateo and Daddy, and one with Mateo and me. I'm a little obsessed. I'll post those this month too. I'll just bombard you with sappy videos that only a parent can love.




video

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Single Parenthood

I hate being a single parent! My husband has been in China for the last week and a half and won't be back for another week. No offense honey, but if you decide to kick it before Mateo turns 18, I will probably join match.com, eharmony, speed dating, the Bachelor, Survivor....and whatever else it takes to find someone who can pay half the bills and wash the dishes. Cause this sucks! So do me a solid, hon, and try to stay alive for the next 30 years or so. I'd appreciate it. Now here are some random pics.


how cute is this hat?




Nana got him this T-shirt and it's so perfect for him!

Anger Part II

If you've just started reading my blog, I am in the middle of telling our adoption story about our son, Mateo. If you'd like to read from the beginning, go to the archives and read from "Let's Start at the Very Beginning". If you missed my last post because of the election drama, it's called "Stage 3 - Anger" and is just before the "Race" post.

So, here's where we left off. Mateo was very angry and was directing that at us with hitting, kicking, scratching, throwing toys, destroying his room, etc. The guest speakers from the Attachment Institute of New England told me I look stressed and resentful and that I needed to get some help. In shock from their astute assessment, I decided that maybe it is time to get some professional help. So I called a variety of agencies and services to find out what my options were. And I have to say, two women I spoke with from two agencies were just wonderful. They didn't know me. They didn't owe me anything. But they gave their time to listen to my story over the phone, offer their advice from their own adoption experience, they gave me several book and website recommendations, and they also gave me a couple phone numbers of adoption specific counseling. The very next day I called "Dr. Gray" for an appointment as quick as possible.

Dr.Gray was awesome! She helped me to see things from Mateo's disturbed little point of view. She encouraged me to be consistent even when things didn't seem to be working. She helped me sort through my own feelings and reactions to what was going on with Mateo and the adjustment of becoming a mother in such a challenging way. We also set up a plan for how to address the aggression in a neutral way as not to inflame the situation but apply some discipline as well. This involved a lot of empathy and patience, in which I had to regroup and make a new commitment to. I also had to schedule more breaks, date nights, and time off for myself. My husband was very supportive of this and agreed to take over on the weeknights for me. We also came up with a strategy to deal with specific behavior problems. Some of that included more cuddle time for calming down and time-out in a pack and play where he can be safe but away from the situation. And we stuck with this enough to make a difference in his behavior and his relationship with us.

Coming up next....what Mateo is like now and what we expect for the future. And I'll post both of our videos I made about our story. Tear jerkers for sure so come with tissues!

....to be continued....

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Race

I am not black. I have never been judged by how I look. I have never been turned down for a job because of the color of my skin. I have never been assumed to be on welfare, uneducated, or less worthy because of my race. No, I have coasted by on white privilege, and not even known it. I do not understand what it feels like to be a minority in this country. I have not experienced hate, prejudice, intolerance, or discrimination (institutional or otherwise). I have blond hair and blue eyes and Eastern Europe ancestry. I have not had to fight to get respect in this lifetime.

But because I stood before God, a judge, family, and friends on May 23, 2008, and said that I WILL raise this little boy into a man and do what is right by him, I have to try to understand. I am limited in my experience and knowledge of how to raise a Puerto Rican African-American man. But my God, I have to try. And because I love my son with all my heart, I have to try. I may not know it all. I may make mistakes. I may miss things here and there. But I have to try.

We are not a white family anymore. We are a multi-racial family made up of Swedish, Native American, Italian, German, Puerto Rican, and African ancestry. I have blond hair and blue eyes, my husband has white skin and freckles, our son has beautiful dark olive skin and curly brown hair.

Today I read that a 9 year old biracial girl wants to be the first African American woman president. I've watched black grandmothers cry for the future their grandchildren can have that they never dreamed of. I've heard little girls and boys of all racial backgrounds yell with excitement, "he looks like me!" as parents looked on with tears in their eyes, knowing this day will change their children forever. I have felt that. Even with my white skin, and blond hair, I have felt that pride knowing that we are changing the world. For our children, we are changing the world. For Mateo, I am changing the world.

It may not be perfect. Racism will still exist. Discrimination and social injustice will still run rampant in our country and the world. But for once, hope is alive. I hear it all over the world. And hope can't be wrong. Hope breeds courage and strength, motivation and passion, with hope people can make their OWN change. Wake up people! Wake up Christians! There are more important things going on than abortion and homosexuality. Wake up and open your eyes! There's war, and not just in Iraq. There's hunger, and not just in third world countries. There are people starving for truth, hope, love, and someone to care about them. The Bible mentions these issues far more than it references the things we've been politicizing in this election.

Why don't we use our energy to send shoes to children in Africa who've lived their entire lives without them? Why don't we pool our money to support rehabilitation services to women rescued from the sex slave industry in our very own country? Why can't we stand together for justice and equality instead of arguing semantics and Bible verses? There are far more horrific things going on in the world than what I've seen people spend an awful lot of time fighting about.

Wish I could be as proud of my faith as I am of my country right now. But I will continue to have faith and hope for my brothers and sisters. I will continue to fight against social injustice and what I believe are the issues God calls us to. I will continue to look at my own sin and selfishness and have hope that will change too. I will pray for the people of my faith just as hard as I will pray for my country, my president, and my children. God bless.

Stage 3 - Anger

For any of you who are new readers, I am finally writing our adoption story from beginning to, well, whenever I feel like it I guess. If you'd like to catch up from the beginning, go to the archives and click on the post called "Let's start at the very beginning". Thanks.

While I'm calling our experience stages, I am not a psychologist or an expert by any means so take this all with a grain of salt. I'm just writing about our experience. And also, we had about a week of a honeymoon period, but from what I've heard others say, this stage can range in time from a few days until a year or more. I believe every experience in adoption is different and unique per child and family, including the length of the stages (which I made up, so, again, there is no credibility here).

So the next "stage" we experienced was anger. This was mostly directed at us but also at the dog, furniture, and most of the toys. I'm guessing, correct me if I'm wrong any of you psychology people out there, that this anger is because of the injustice done to him and he needed to express his disapproval of it. That may be, but it was sure hard to live with! Anytime, and I mean any time, Mateo didn't get his way, he would tantrum and rage on and on and on. And he was a persistent little bugger. But his tantrums were not typical toddler tantrums, instead of kicking and screaming on the floor, he would run at me full speed and attack. Hitting, scratching, punching, kicking, thank God he never figured out about biting. If he couldn't get at me he would hit the dog, if he couldn't get the dog, he would bite and throw his toys. And I don't mean a little toss of a block or lego, I mean picking up the largest toy he could find and chucking it across the room or sometimes at my head. He meant business!

So we did what every parent does and tried the time-out method. For those of you out there that are spanking advocates, sorry, but that just wasn't gonna work in our family. Not only do I not believe it is the most effective approach for typical kids, but it certainly would have done more harm than good in our circumstance. But, I don't judge others for using it as long as it doesn't cross the line into abuse. So, per Super Nanny, we started the time-outs. This seemed to backfire. We would sit him down, he would get up, we would sit him down, he would get up, lather, rinse, repeat, until he realized that if he got up we would come to him and he could get a good swing at us. Do you see how this was counter-productive? We were putting him in time-out for hitting only to give him more opportunites to hit us. We also noticed our bond was suffering during this process. The more we got angry at him and tried to "punish" the behavior, the more his bond drifted away from us.

Then I read on an adoption forum that time-in's were an effective way of disciplining unwanted behavior without breaking the process of attachment. This was our new strategy. We focused on the aggressive behavior because we felt that was the most important, and every time he hit or threw something at us, we sat him on our lap for a one minute time-out. The whole time we would say to him something like, "we love you very much but we can't let you hit us, we will keep you safe." As we used this more and more, we noticed the aggressive behavior began to decrease and our bond began to strengthen again. This was really the first time we saw a lot of progress!

I wish I could say that everything was better after that and he didn't have the hitting problem anymore. But one thing we are learning about Mateo, he works in cycles, and behavior tends to come back around eventually. After seeing improvement with the time-in's, we thought we were over the hump. He was still very persistent and would cry and cry and cry for something for hours if he couldn't get his way.

However, just a short while later, the anger was back. And again, mostly directed at Dave and I, and especially me since I was home with him more. This time the time-in's were not working. He would escalate until he was so worked up that it took me having to restrain him in order to keep him from hurting me. We were both getting frustrated and nothing was getting better. It just seemed as if Mateo could not calm himself down when he was near me. He would just keep attacking me over and over no matter what I did. But once I gave him space away from me, he would calm down very quickly. So we put a baby gate in the doorway to his room and that was the new area for him to calm down or have a time-out. For a while this worked. He just stood at the gate until the one minute was over. But after some time he started to protest being put in his room. So he would do anything he could to make us mad while being in his room. He would throw things over the gate at us, like shoes and clothing and books. He would pull all the covers off his bed and open his bookcase drawer to slam it closed over and over. He would bang on the walls and kick the door. Anything he could do to draw attention to himself. This aggravated me to no end! I needed help but didn't know where to go.

Sadly it got to the point where I couldn't remember any of the good things that I liked about my son. When people would say, "don't you just love being a mom?" It was all I could do to force a smile and nod when in my heart, I felt like a big fake. I didn't love being a mom. Being a mom was ruining my life! I was so jealous watching other families interact. The children behaved well and seemed to love their parents. Why wouldn't my son do that? What was I doing wrong? Every day I woke up and told myself that today would be a better day. I would be more patient and loving, I would handle everything perfectly and in doing so, Mateo would be better too. But I didn't know that this was not something I could control. And that's the hardest thing to have to learn. You can not control your child's emotions. I could not make Mateo love me, not even with all the hugs and kisses and patience and understanding in the world! I couldn't fix his hurts either.

What finally happened was that I went to a support group at my local DCF office, where the therapists from The Attachment Institute of New England were speaking. There was a question and answer period where I got the chance to explain the problems with Mateo and get some advice. Well, while they were very smart, the advice they had for me was irrelevant and because of his developmental delays, their solutions wouldn't have worked. But the most powerful thing they did say was, "it's pretty clear by looking at you that YOU NEED HELP!" Wow. That really hit me. Have things gotten that bad that you can tell I'm stressed, frustrated, and angry just by looking at me? I didn't think it was that obvious. It was actually kind of embarrassing cause everyone was looking at me and nodding their heads, while the therapists told me that by not taking care of myself I was actually making things worse for Mateo. I think they could hear the bitterness, resentment, and exhaustion in my voice.

So, help is what I got. And continuing tomorrow (hopefully) I will tell you exactly what that help was and how it worked. And now...I must leave you with three words...

to be continued
(please come back)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

PLEASE Read This for Our Children!

I really hope that in this day of age, with the first African-American president in office, we are doing justice to the next generation we are bringing up by teaching tolerance. Of course I am passionate about this because my son is a minority and my future children will also be minorities, but our world can't change if multi-racial families are the only one's teaching our children about racism. It has to be everyone! Whether you are a white family raising white kids, interracial marriage with biracial kids, adoptive families, step families, kinship families, it shouldn't matter. Everyone deserves and needs the message of tolerance. So I want to ask, what are you doing to teach your children, not only tolerance, but appreciation and love for people who are different than you are, whether it's by skin color, cultural heritage, gender identification, sexuality, language, etc.? You, as parents, are the ultimate teachers for your children, and what you do matters! Remember, they learn more by what you do than by what you say.

Here are some things you can do to teach your children social justice. First, do not turn a blind eye to racism and prejudice. It does exist. By teaching your children that it exists, you are giving them the ability to see it for what it is and begin to abolish it. White privilege is taught unknowingly by our parents, teachers, and communities. You can stop this by acknowledging it!
This is probably the biggest and most important step. There are lots of resources online about teaching tolerance. My favorites are:

author Tim Wise, has a book called "White Like Me" and a website www.timwise.org
www.antiracistparent.com
www.tolerance.org

I am referencing a list I read of questions for transracial adoptive parents to ask themselves, but I think it's important for ALL parents to ask themselves. Does my child have adult role models that reflect all races? Who does my child see on TV that positively and accurately reflect different races? Does your child see professionals of minority races on a regular basis instead of only working in service jobs? Do you have books in your house that represent characters of all races and are historically correct? Please, try to integrate this into your set of values for your children. Even if you think you don't need to, you do. It's your responsibility to foster a better world for our children. And it's always better with love.



I can not put into words the way I feel about the possible impact this current president can have on our lives. This picture says everything. It gives my son hope. And it gives me hope for my children's future. Because you see, if an African-American man can be elected as president of the United States, with our long history of racism and injustice, what does that mean for my son? It means that Mateo will know that he is capable of anything. He is empowered by his color instead of being defined by it. Obama has the potential to be one of the most influential role models for the upcoming generation of minority children. Let's pray he lives up to that potential.

And please, do your part in preparing our children for a new world full of diversity. It's very possible that in our lifetime, white will be the minority. So let's prepare for a time when we can truly be color blind.

Dear Mateo,

Today a black man made history. You were sleeping and have no idea what this means. But I pray that not only does this create a better world for you, but you can look at our president, see your face mirrored, and that will give you all the motivation and ambition in the world! I am proud of our country for rising up from our history and doing the right thing. I hope, Mateo, that you will learn about this election in the history books in school and feel proud to be who you are. A strong, smart, biracial American capable of anything!

Love, Mom.

Yes We Can!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Stage 2 - Grieving

I think we left off at having Mateo home about a week. Stage 1 was the honeymoon stage. He was a happy, easy child, then something switched. He became very irritable. He was cranky all the time and started crying a lot. When he would cry I would hold him close to me to comfort him and he hated it! He would literally push me away, wiggle away, and anything he could do to get away from me. But I had to hold him. I had to force him to receive comfort from me so he could start to bond instead of continuing to shut-down. He resisted and fought this. And what's even sadder is that when he was grieving (and I knew that's what he was doing just by looking at his face) he would roll his head back and cry with his eyes closed. Every few minutes he would open them, look at me, then close them and start crying again. You could just tell he was wishing me away. It was awful and it made me feel awful. What kind of horrible person I must be for taking him away from the only person he loved (his first foster mom). Having read many attachment and adoption books, I knew that I had to keep up the fight for his trust and dependence. So even though it felt like torture, I continued to force him to sit on my lap, facing towards me, to rock to sleep or calm down. Most of the time he fought and fought until he did fall asleep. Most of the time I was crying with him. It broke my heart to see my baby in such turmoil. And as a new adoptive parent, all you want is a normal mother-child bond with your baby, but when your child doesn't want that, it's the worse feeling you could have.

So everyday, over and over, Mateo would cry on my lap until he fell asleep. Then we figured out that this was happening about the same time every morning and afternoon. Up to this point we had been following the schedule written by his former foster mom that said he took only one nap at 1pm. Well, it started to become obvious that he needed two naps, one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Once we switched this around, it got a little better. Then came the rages. There was the crying and whining with the eyes closed when he was tired or overwhelmed, but also there were long drawn-out rages that lasted hours. Most of the time they would start quickly, die down a bit, then pick back up when something little happened to trigger it. And it would go on and on like this all day. I'll tell you what a rage looks like for a toddler. Screaming, writhing around on the floor, wriggling in my arms, kicking, stiffening his body, screaming louder, and completely unable to be comforted. This was exhausting.

At this point we were full swing into an attachment based routine, which does help, and is vital for any adoption but especially a toddler. I put him in the maya wrap and we went for walks every morning and every afternoon. I also held him in the wrap around the house while I cooked or cleaned and sometimes for no reason at all. I hand fed him with lots of eye contact. We did massage and skin to skin contact with lotions that were calming. We played lots of peek-a-boo games and tickling. We didn't allow friends or family to hold him or feed him. We kept him in the house as much as we could. As I said, I even quit my job so he didn't have to go to daycare. We did everything we could to promote attachment, short of co-sleeping because of several reasons (my husband is an extremely light sleeper and Mateo had breathing problems that made him snore very loudly. It's just not something we could manage, although it is great for attachment.). So we did everything we were supposed to but still the rages were happening on a daily basis.

Mateo was also very unpredictable. I never knew what would trigger him into a giant rage or what would make him laugh and smile. He was also very confusing when we did happen to go out somewhere to play. Sometimes he would cling to me in fear of the new environment and other times he would go up to complete strangers and want to play with them. And most of the time the strangers he liked were men. This made me very self-conscious. Usually it was just Mateo and I that would go out to the park or mall play area because my husband worked during the day and we needed something to do. And Mateo doesn't look anything like me. When he seemed to like strange men more than his own mother, I thought that people would start thinking I kidnapped him. He would pick a specific person that he decided he liked, and he would crawl to that person (always a man) and touch him or put his arms up to be held, then I would go and say something funny and pull Mateo back and distract him. But Mateo would just keep going back over and over and over until we left cause I was embarrassed. I kept thinking to myself, why do you like that person instead of me? I'm your mom! I'm the one who's playing with you and vying for your love every day!

I've got to stop for a minute and recognize the important people in this process. My family, who threw us a baby shower and were very generous to make sure we had everything we could need for him. They were also understanding of our desire not to play "pass the baby" and kept their distance without being offended. My mom especially had read up on attachment issues and how important it is to establish certain boundaries in the beginning and soon had become an attachment advocate educating anyone who would listen and praying for him to become a normal happy little boy. My best friend Devan talked on the phone with me pretty much everyday while I vented and asked millions of questions and worried endlessly and doubted my abilities. Without these people in my life I don't think I could have gotten through all of this, at least not with my sanity in tact (mostly). And my husband was awesome. Not just in bonding and being a daddy to Mateo but also in understanding and supporting me. We found out just how great of a team we really are.

After months of this, I started to think we would never have a normal bond. But he was making progress bit by bit. His rages were getting shorter. For a long time, when I held him on my hip, he would rotate his torso so that his upper body and arms would be facing out and away from me. And he was always very tense, like he couldn't relax in my arms. This started to get a little better, he could relax more. But I just wanted the process to be over! It's so hard to give and give and give and not get anything back, especially when you want it so bad. I just wanted my son to love me, like any parent does. I think it was around Christmas that Mateo started to give hugs and kisses spontaneously. And he also started allowing us to comfort him. Instead of pushing us away when he got hurt, he would nuzzle into our shoulder or chest just like a normal kid does. Can you believe it took that long for just a simple thing every other child does naturally? These are the little things most parents take for granted, but when Mateo first cuddled into my chest without being forced, it felt like I had won the lottery. It was amazing! Even now when he does it, it just feels so good, knowing how hard we worked for it.

There is so much I could say about all of this, but I want to pause to talk about his development at this point. He was delayed in all areas when he first came to us. I believe that this is because during one of the most important ages for development, he was feeling unstable and unsafe in his environment and therefore could not explore and grow like most kids. Between 9 months to a little over a year is when most kids start walking. They explore with standing and cruising along furniture, testing out their legs and abilities. When they feel confident and secure they begin to walk. Mateo could not do this. He didn't even want to try because he didn't feel confident or secure. This is natural for a child who's experienced a big trauma or change. But based on the note I read from the last pre-adopt family, they were pushing him to walk and learn sign language. Then note said, "he is lazy so you have to make him walk everywhere," meaning by holding his hands since he couldn't by himself yet. So when he came to us he had negative associations with walking. We didn't push it but once in a while we would stand him on his feet and hold his hands to see if he would take some steps. When we did this he would scream on the top of his lungs as if he were in pain. So we stopped pushing him to walk altogether and just let him do it in his own time. Well, that time wasn't until he was almost 18 months. But what a big accomplishment to watch! So all that time he was still crawling around, most kids were learning to run, jump, and climb. He's been behind in his gross motor skills and just recently has caught up substantially. Believe me, the first time he climbed a slide and went down by himself, we about had a party. It's these little things you have to celebrate as an adoptive parent (or parent of a special needs child for that matter).

His language was also delayed, and still is, significantly. We started him in Birth to Three as soon as we could to address this. But he wouldn't and couldn't improve until he felt safe. So that was our primary goal. I felt like there would be plenty of time to catch up on the little things, but feeling safe and loved is the biggest need we have as human beings.

So for several months we lived the grieving stage, which stretched on in some subtle ways, but was mainly over. Up next, the angry and vengeful stage! Stay tuned, this is where things really get fun!

...to be continued...

pumpkin picking - one of our first outings
obviously it didn't go as well as expected


one of our first cuddling memories
this was Christmas Eve right after waking up from nap

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Walk Me Home

Here are some staggering facts about children in U.S. foster care. There are about 510,000 children in the foster care system across the country. They are ages 0-18 and cover all racial and socio-economic backgrounds. The majority of the kids waiting for adoption are over the age of 12 years. This is the hardest group of kids to place, and sometimes all they need is someone to care about them in order to succeed.

About 129,000 children in foster care are waiting for forever families. Sadly, more children become available for adoption than are adopted. In 2006 - 79,000 children became legally free for adoption, however, only 51,000 were adopted. That means more than 26,000 kids age out of the system every year. To see a photolisting of just some of the children available for adoption from foster care, visit www.adoptuskids.com and click on "waiting children".

My husband, who happens to be passionate about statistics (you see what I have to live with) came up with this formula. Based on his research, it would take just 3 in 1,000 married Christian families adopting just one waiting child to completely eliminate children lingering in foster care waiting for a forever family. Absorb that for a minute... 3 in 1,000 (.3%). This is not an insurmountable problem. That's not counting single Christians, non-Christians, grandparents, etc. This is just existing Christian homes. So, my question is, what's preventing those 3 families from stepping forward?

Below is the music video for a song written by country singer Jaime Fox about children in foster care finding a home. It is really touching if you have a few minutes to watch it. Next post I'll continue with our story.

Part II of the Beginning

Here's where we left off....Monday morning my support worker called to ask if we wanted a 14 month boy for a pre-adopt placement that was low legal risk, meaning the social worker was pretty sure we would be able to adopt him. After saying yes, yes, yes, and hanging up with the social worker, I called Dave to tell him to get home now cause we had some shopping to do. Then I called my mom and said, "are you ready to be a grandma?" To which she replied "heck no", but didn't really have a choice. She made plans to come up that week to visit and made me promise to email pictures as soon as he gets in the door. Funny how I remember every detail of these first moments. Then I attempted to call my best friend in IN about 50 times, but she was otherwise occupied doing something far less important than talking to me about becoming a parent in two days. And she continued to do whatever she was doing, I don't know, working or something (I know, how dare she, right?) for, like, the next 4 hours. Way to be a friend Devan, you're supposed to be available for me all the time! Eventually she called me back while we were shopping and was in total shock about everything happening so fast. She also made plans to visit, which required flying from several states away so I guess she's an okay friend. I also called my work, where I was a contracting as a massage therapist, and told them I would be taking a couple weeks off. Well, a couple weeks turned into a couple months which turned into quitting my job. Sidenote: now I work part-time as a recruiter for foster and adoptive parents so it worked out for the best.

Dave came home from work early and we went to Target, Walmart, Babies 'R Us, Toys 'R Us, and anywhere else we could drop about a grand on baby stuff. I've never been so happy to buy diapers (that faded quickly). I think I was on a high that I'll never experience again. Of course, it will be similar with our second child but we'll have a bit of a distraction with Mateo. Then we looked at about fifty thousand baby names. Of course we had a running list of names we liked previously to hearing about our son, but none of them seemed to fit a puerto rican african american little boy. After spending hours upon hours looking at all sorts of hispanic names, we narrowed it down to two. Gabriel and Mateo. We picked Mateo (despite some second guesses due to my sudden realization that Mateo sounds a lot like potato) because we liked the nickname "Te" and also because it means "gift from God" in some weird way having to do with early Latin translation of the root word of something or other.

There were a couple reasons we decided to change his name. One, because he was never called his birth name, Aurelio. He had been called a different name in each foster placement. Two, the name given to him was his birth mother's boyfriend at the time, who DNA testing later revealed was not his birth father, so there wasn't much significance there. And three, Aurelio would have been hard for other kids and people to pronounce. But we did keep it as his middle name.

So, we decided on a name and then....we waited. For 48 hours to be exact. We didn't sleep Monday or Tuesday night. On Tuesday, Mateo's social worker, who is a very pleasant woman and completely in love with Mateo, came over to the house to show us his file and picture and tell us all about him. I don't think I stopped smiling the entire night. We tried to enjoy the last moment's we had as just us, but we couldn't stop talking or thinking about our son. Wednesday afternoon could not come soon enough.

And of course, the social worker was late bringing him over. I sat on the front stairs wondering out loud what was going on, how could she be late, what if something happened, what if the other family wouldn't give him to her, and generally driving Dave crazy right up to the moment when she pulled into the driveway. When she opened the car door and said, "Come meet your son," I almost lost it, but pulled myself together as not to create a scary crying lady first impression on my son.

I can vividly remember my first glance at my son and what he felt like to hold, and now I'm starting crying thinking about it. He was tiny, that's all I could think about at first. He was about the size of a 10 month old. He had a big smile but I noticed the scar a lot because I wasn't used to it. His skin was beautiful, he had all ten fingers and toes, and soft curly brown hair. He wasn't shy, he came right to me when the social worker took him out of the car. He felt so light, like carrying a doll. I just wanted to hug him and squeeze him and love him. But at the same time, it was kind of weird that this lady was handing me a complete stranger that I was supposed to love and take care of forever. It's much different than giving birth. Mateo already had an entire year's worth of history and personality that we had to get to know. And, of course, the big fact that I was now the 4th mother Mateo had in his 14 months of life. Something that was going to effect us far more than we thought in that moment.

So, with Mateo in my arms, his social worker said goodbye and drove away leaving us with this little person we have no idea what to do with. He was perfect the first few days and nights. He went to bed early without any problems. He wasn't walking, but could crawl and pull to standing. He couldn't feed himself or say any words, but he was very friendly and social. He made us laugh and seemed like a perfect, happy little boy, and we couldn't understand why anyone would give him back. Well, little did we know in those innocent moments, what monster lay beneath the surface (so to speak, although I still call him my little monster, but mostly cause he's really loud.).

Dave and I didn't sleep the first week. This is what the first few nights sounded like.

Do you think he's still alive?

What?

Like, you don't think he could've just stopped breathing or something, right?

I don't know. Does that happen?

All the time. I read it in a magazine.

Well, turn the monitor up. See? He's snoring. I think it's okay.

But I wanna play with him.

Good point. Let's wake him up.

For the first few weeks I was literally running on adrenaline and caffeine. All I can say is thank God for Dunkin Donuts coffee coolattas. I may have single-handedly financed the new bathroom renovations at my local Dunkin Donuts solely on coffee purchases made by my husband and I. Actually, one of the first things Mateo communicated was the understanding that the Dunkin Donuts logo meant munchkins. I never realized a child so young could spot every Dunkin Donuts store anywhere we drove, whether he had been there or not.

After putting him to bed the first night, we sent an email out to all our friends and family with 3 pictures attached. We avoided taking Mateo out to meet people or having people at the house because we needed to bond with him and also assure him we were his parents so he could begin to trust and depend on us. This, as it turns out, was a difficult process. But I had an appointment for a bridal party that I promised I would do on Friday morning because they couldn't get anyone to cover. So my mom came to stay with Mateo for a couple hours while I went into work. I was so so upset about this. Mateo was a pleasant child but not affectionate or cuddly at all. He didn't want to be held or hugged and would make sure to face outward when we carried him. I'll talk more about this and other attachment issues in my next post. But when my mom came over, he got very clingy to me. He laid his head on my chest for the first time and held onto my shirt with his hands like a little monkey. He didn't look scared because he smiled at my mom, he just didn't want the one person he was getting to know to leave. But what he must have been thinking and feeling at that time just breaks my heart. My mom was almost crying watching me with him. I didn't want to leave him. Not even just for a couple hours. My mom assured me that he wouldn't remember and it wouldn't ruin every chance of attachment we had and that he would be napping most of the time anyway. He didn't even cry or anything when I left. Even still, I cried like a baby the whole ride to work. Just knowing my poor baby had his world turned upside down and now I was supposed to be his new mom and I was leaving him already. That was the first time I cried for my son.

I think at this time, we knew there would be a tough adjustment period for Mateo and us to deal with. But we definitely didn't know the long, long journey that lay ahead of us. And things would begin to change the very next week.

....to be continued....


I feel so bad for my little guy when I look at these photos and think
about what he must have been feeling


first photo with Mommy (first morning with us)

first photo with Daddy (first evening with us)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Let's Start at the Very Beginning

I knew I wanted to adopt, for as long as I can remember. Our son was born in June 2006, we didn't even know it. Ironically we took our first step toward adoption exactly one month later by attending an open house presented by the department of children and families (known as DCF). Mateo was losing his first mother and we were filling out applications. Mateo was in the NICU recovering from complications and we were getting excited about the possibilities for our family.

Mateo entered his first foster home shortly after birth and stayed with this loving older woman for one year. Dave and I began taking the mandatory training classes with DCF and becoming licensed for a pre-adopt placement of a child (boy or girl) ages 0-3. Mateo was definitely born with his own unique personality. His first foster mother tells me he was always an anxious baby, preferring to meet his milestones on his own terms and often later than most his age. But he was happy in this first foster home. He had his first surgery to correct his cleft lip when he was 3 months old. His second surgery to repair the palate was at 9 months. At this time DCF knew that his case would be going toward termination and so they began looking for a pre-adoptive family for him. They chose the "Smith's".

This is when Mateo lost his second mom, right around his first birthday. The Smith's had an older adopted child and they ran a family farm. Mateo needed a lot of attention. He was grieving the loss of his foster mom and needed lots of patience and understanding. But they wouldn't change their lives to meet his needs. He wasn't doing well in this family and they were becoming frustrated with him. My son was so young and fragile but learning too quickly the world is unsafe and unreliable. He was sad, lonely, and shut-down. At the same time, we were painting a bedroom, setting up a crib, and buying stuffed animals to decorate. We had no idea the trials our son was facing.

The Smith's kept Mateo for 2.5 months and then called the social worker to have him removed. Their reason...he cried too much. So DCF called for an emergency meeting to find the next pre-adoptive family for him. I got a phone call about this meeting from my support worker but was told it hadn't been decided yet which family was the right family for Mateo. But we learned a bit about him, like his age (14 months), his medical history, and his name, which was Aurelio (more on the name change later). As soon as I heard about him, I was in love. We had a whole weekend to wait to find out if we were chosen to be his family. Of course, my emotions were like a roller coaster. I tried not to get too attached but couldn't help imagining the possibilities. I also tried to keep this between Dave and I until we knew for sure, but I just couldn't hold it in. I told my best friend and my mom, who were equally as excited.

The social worker called the following week to tell me they picked someone else. I was heartbroken. I tried to pretend that everything was okay, there would be another child for us, but I couldn't stop thinking about him. But we had to move on, so to take our minds off it we bought a brand new expensive couch to replace our old one thinking it would be a long wait until we had a child. Ironically, the very day after purchasing our couch, my support worker called and said exactly these words, "how would you like a baby on Wednesday?" Today was Monday. I didn't ask any questions, I just said "yes!" It was our little boy from the previous weekend. He was meant to be ours after all! The family they had chosen before us had recently moved and their new home wasn't licensed yet. We were the runner up. I should probably have been offended we were only 2nd place but I didn't even care. We had a little boy! And he was coming in two days....

Emergency trip to Babies 'R Us!!!!


First time we saw our son, a photo from his social worker
I can remember an overwhelming feeling of peace
coming over me when I saw his picture,
that he was mine and I would love him



....to be continued....