Wednesday, November 16, 2011

National Adoption Day - November 19th

National Adoption Day is this Saturday, November 19th. For those of you who aren't familiar with it,  National Adoption Day is a special Saturday where courts open their doors, and judges (family court and otherwise) volunteer to hear and finalize as many adoption cases as possible.

Maricopa County (Phoenix Metro) has had the largest National Adoption Day event for the last 3 years. Our teachers have told us that it is a carnival-like event. They have entertainment, games, face painting, photography, gift bags - and lots of kids who have their adoptions finalized. It's a great feel-good day, and there are tons of smiles!

I've heard that it's a great day, and I think we're going to go downtown to see it in action.

For those in Maricopa County, you can see the details here:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Family Photos...

As part of our adoption process, we need to put together a life book. This book will be a representation of our family to CPS, and will be used during our "red flag" meetings - when a group of specialists (CPS, child advocate, our adoption specialist, and other family specialists) will review a child's file and determine the best set of parents that fit the child's needs. We will not be in those meetings, so the only visual of us will be this book. It will also be shown to the child to give them an idea of the family that will be adopting them. Although the courts will also have our exhaustive home study details, the pictures will speak volumes. In fact, our trainer mentioned that she was in a red flag meeting last week, and that the group had serious concerns with one of the families, because the grandparents "didn't look very happy" in their picture. I'm not joking. So pictures are super important.

The only problem? We don't have any.

Well... we don't have any good ones.

There are several reasons for this.
1. We don't take a ton of pictures except for when we travel. We generally travel together, which means there are rarely pictures of both of us in the picture.
2. I'm not photogenic - or I'm actually way uglier than I think I am, but I'm going with not photogenic.
3. J cannot smile on command. I wish I were joking, but he sucks at it. He looks like he's being tortured, or half asleep, or mad in every picture. So finding a pic that has both of us, where I actually look like a human being, and he is smiling is nearly impossible.

Eileen, you must be exaggerating.

You think so? We made a conscious effort to take photos during our recent trip to Boston. And here are some of the beauties.

Cute picture of us at dinner in the North End.

Attempt #1
Dinner with rainbows... (and yes this was a digital camera...)

Attempt #2
Blurry Couple.

Attempt #3
By the way, IRL I swear I do not have a double chin...

Attempt #4
Success?! You know, minus the fact that there is a statue of a man smoking cigars between us...and my chin is tilted up to prevent imaginary double chin.

Normal Happy Couple: 

Less Normal Happy Uncomfortable Shiny Couple:

Uncle D and Auntie V:
Perfect, one shot.

Now let's try J and Eileen:

 Round 2: In which J refuses to take his sunglasses off.

Hey, evasive actions were needed here.

There were about 10 more attempts at this one before we gave up, switched direction, and tried to include the whole family. Remember that part about the unhappy looking grandparent?

Take one.

Nana holding her tummy does not indicate that there are any body image issues here, of course.

And an eye-roll for the trifecta! Awesome.

 OK last (pathetic) chance is the Patriots Hall of Fame...
Yes, our eyes are both closed, even though we're inside and there was no flash. I don't like parts of that quote anyway...

Yup, best one yet. Again, taken with a stupid-proof, took glorious pictures of trophies and rings, and everything but the owners camera.

Drum roll please... this is our LAST chance.... on the balcony of a bar (we don't drink) looking over the stadium on a day when there is no game... super romantic, and just what you want to put in your life book, and we have...

Thankfully, one of the people in my adoption class takes family portraits. So yes, we'll be trying her services!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Being a Loss Expert

Fair warning, this is a heavy post. Feel free to skip, if you're looking for jokes. That will be next week.

This past week's class was about loss and grief. It was a somber class, but focused mostly on how our own losses - and the way we have handled them - can actually be strengths when considering child placements. Basically, if you've lived through loss, you're a better fit for a kid who has experienced loss. You can support them better than someone who hasn't experienced one. Conversationally, if you haven't dealt with a loss, or are still struggling with a loss, it can be a need of yours, and can indicate that you wouldn't be a good fit in certain situations. People shared their losses in the class, and it was hard, but also very uplifting.

Courtesy of

For the purposes of education, I'll give a couple of examples of things people in the class shared.

Strength - one person in the class was adopted, her birth mother was a teen mother. She also became a teen mother, and gave her first child up for adoption. She has since raised her other children (without teen pregnancies - cycle broken!), foster children, reconnected with her birth daughter, and is now looking to foster teen moms to give them the skills that they have not received about parenting. I mean wow. This woman has experience as an adopted child, a birth parent, and a resource parent. By the way, she's around 35 years old, open, honest, funny, has an easy comfortable relationship with her husband, and is potentially my new idol. Say it with me - resiliency! If you were an adopted kid, wouldn't you want this lady in your corner?

Courtesy of

Need - After this woman shared, another woman spoke up, and said that she would really struggle with working with teen moms, because she is still dealing with the fact that she's infertile. She felt like she could see herself feeling bitter that she is so ready to have her own children, but these teen moms - who may not be as prepared - have no problem with pregnancies. This was possibly the best comment of the night, because it was so open, and honest. It's a fair point, and gave me a new perspective.

Courtesy of

So, for our homework, we need to put together a list of our own situational losses (unexpected, unprepared for - death of family member at a young age, divorce, job loss, pet loss, adoption - anything that causes you to grieve). Then we need to apply our own sets of strengths and needs for certain tasks of foster and adoptive parents. Some examples:

- I feel comfortable about "shared parenting" with birth parents - if not in person, then at least through helping the child have a positive self-concept and feel positive about self-identity and roots. (we have strong strengths and strong needs for this one)

- I understand if I choose foster care, I have an obligation to help the child return to their birth family (we're mostly needs on this one)

The final important concept that we covered was developmental grieving. It's the concept that there are things you cannot grieve about until you get there (like a woman who lost their mother when she was 8 cannot grieve the fact that Mom will not be at her wedding until her actual wedding day) or the re-opening of wounds due to situations, frequently coming during holidays, birthdays, and generally 'happy' occassions. Imagine you're a kid, and it's Christmas in a new home. Your family used to watch White Christmas together, but your new family doesn't. Wouldn't you feel sad that the tradition had died? Wouldn't you miss your old stocking? All of those feelings are valid, but certainly not what people who are excited about Christmas are expecting. Sometimes, you need to be aware that these feelings are out there.

Courtesy of
Fascinating class, and I walked away feeling like there was a lot to absorb - so thanks for reading! By writing it out, I feel like I can understand it better.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Strengths vs. Needs

One of the early important topics that we've been discussing during the first few weeks is the concept of strengths vs. needs assessments for children and prospective parents. I really like the concept, and the way that it manifests itself, and I want to use it in other areas of my life, so I figured I would share it.

Courtesy of

*Disclaimer* everything that I'm talking about in this scenario is made-up. I do not know a child by this name, nor am I personally familiar with a child who has experienced these things.

Jacob (most popular boys name in the US so far in 2011) is 8 years old. His dad is not in the picture, and his mom has recently been sentenced to prison time. He is in a foster care home, where he refuses to come out of his room, or do chores - even when asked. He misses his mother and talks about her all the time. He has gotten into fights with boys at school, during recess.

Ok, so you read my made up story, and what do you immediately think? This kid is angry, he's withdrawn, he's sad? All true, but none of those things really give you any traction on how to help Fictional Jacob. So... consider when you take that story, and put it into a strengths/needs assessment.

  • Jacob can form healthy attachments, because he misses his mother
  • Jacob has a strong will, and holds to his convictions
  • Jacob needs to find a way to express his frustration in a more constructive manner
  • Jacob needs to feel a sense of bonding to an adult male who can be a positive role model
Courtesy of

See how the strengths are shown even through his behavioral struggles? See how the needs indicate WHAT to do to help this kid who is struggling with a loss that he can't express?

I *heart* this idea big time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Adoption Training Class!

I am a big dork - I really like to learn. When people ask what I would do if I won the powerball, I always say that I would go to school forever. I'd take random classes on things I didn't know anything about. I'd soak up the opportunities to learn. This is important because our adoption training classes are starting this week. You need to know that my pencils are sharpened, and I have fresh notebooks that are just waiting to opened. I love any class that is going to teach me something I don't know. In this case, I don't know a lot. Since I have no idea how it will go, I'm going to do half of this post before we go, and half afterwards. That way you can get a fuller range of emotions. I may have no idea how it will go, but I have a lot of preconceived notions. :)

Love school, love apples. Chalk, meh.

BEFORE: It's Wednesday morning, and our first class is tonight.

Things I know:
  • Training will last for 12 weeks
  • The classes are from 6:30pm - 9:30pm (EEEK, I go to bed at 7pm people!)
  • There will be prospective foster parents and adoptive parents in the class
  • Our pre-training paperwork is due on the first night (I finished two days ago, thank you!)
Things I keep thinking about:
  • I've been told that this class could be renamed "1500 reasons why you shouldn't adopt" - which scares me, maybe, just a little bit.
  • I have a hard time believing that everyone will have completed their paperwork. Maybe I just think I'm better than everyone else, but I generally enjoy paperwork, and this was a slog. So, there's a small part of me that hopes no one else finished, and we can go to bed home early.
  • J and I feel strongly about not fostering. For us, it's just not the right choice - and as much as we want to help kids, it has to be something that isn't emotionally devastating for us. Based on the fact that we see Syd approximately 30 days out of 365, fostering just isn't a healthy option for us. That said, I'm feeling kind of like the lone atheist in a crowded room-  based on the situation right now in AZ, I'm worried that there will be a lot of pressure to foster, and I'm going to keep politely and respectfully refusing. Even if/when J succumbs.
I'm the kid raising her hand. J's the kid with the spaced out look in back.

The Temperature: Lukewarm

Right now, we have actively not committed to anything. We want to have a family, but we also still really love our lives together. We've chosen to go through the classes to educate ourselves, and prepare for the possibility if we choose to move forward after the training classes. However, for us, going through 12 weeks of training does not mean that we HAVE to adopt. My choice to write this blog is to capture our thoughts as we go through the steps of the process, but I will not feel obligated to adopt because of it. So, though it's potentially exciting to take the classes - and today could, in retrospect, be a big day for us - it's not a defining day. It's not going to shape the remainder of our lives unless we choose to adopt later down the road.

So the first class went well. I didn't run out of the building screaming madly about the freaks at Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, but I also didn't drive away honking the horn in excitement and waving a banner out the window that we would be adopting. It was a pretty dry, informational meeting, though it sounds like it will perk up after all the initial rules and definitions have been reviewed.

 Happy with books, notebooks, binders, and an apple -

There was an interesting activity that we did as an ice breaker - Some people were given cards of types of children in the foster care system, and the others received cards of different types of parents. There were more kids than parents, and we had to go find a good fit. My card read "I am 9 years old. My biological parents are drug users, and I need to find a forever family who can help me deal with my past." I found a good match - a parent who has helped a family member deal with drug abuse - but even more, I met a really amazing woman who has 5 kids, and a soon-to-be foster daughter. She told me a story about the foster daughter that just rocked me to the core - more than any of the kids that we reviewed in profiles during the course of the night.

One of the things that I really liked were that we reviewing profiles of children who have actually been through the system. We used the profiles to go over things like child strengths/needs, risk and safety assessments, etc. I thought it was more powerful knowing that this child exists, and has been through the program than it would have been with a made-up example. This way, we get a better idea of the kids who would be coming to us.

Things I know:
  • All of the items above are still true
  • There are 34 people in our class, 16 couples, and two singles
  • Most of the other parents have not finished their pre-training paperwork
  • We will not be getting out of class early - ever
  • The classes are well structured, and we get agendas and packets for a binder each week (I love this)
  • There is a TON of info to go through, and we will not get through all of it in class - homework!
  • The trainers were very open to the idea of parents who were only interested in adoption
Things I don't know:
  • How we'll feel at the end of this program
  • How many paper cuts I'll have accumulated by the last packet (current count is 2)
Temperature: Still Lukewarm

Monday, September 19, 2011

Families are Complicated

One of the most frequent questions that we have been asked - by friends, family, and the agency - is "What kind of kid are you looking for?" There is no simple answer - there are a lot of factors to be considered, and that I'm sure will change based on the info we receive on training classes. We'll talk about that in another post. However, I'm almost certain that the people who are asking this question are really asking about race/ethnicity/creed. So that's what we're going to chat about today. I apologize in advance if any of my verbiage/word choice that I use is offensive. I'm intending to be respectful.

Bottom line - J and I don't care. At. All.

That might seem a little less than truthful - at least that's the impression I'm getting because everyone seems so surprised by it. But the reality is that we have a lot of diversity within our family and friends, and so it's not really a big deal for us. Kids are kids - brown, purple, green, yellow. It is not a deciding factor for us. Consider that we nearly went the route of international adoption, and that we considered the entire globe and settled on Ethiopia. Ethiopian kids are *generally* not white, with freckles and blue eyes. We were prepared for the multi-racial family, and the stares and the cultural sensitivity that is required. My biggest fear was - honest to god - that I don't know how to do black hair. I spent a lot of time looking for classes, looking at blogs, and finally decided that I would just ask someone who's hair I liked.
Different is ok. I'm sure I'm not the only person who's wished I could just put my hair into a certain position (fun braids with beads) and it would just stay that way. I'm also sure that a person with black hair has looked at my homeless tangled wavy mermaid hair with envy that it has body and moves. For me, it's more about education, and finding a respectful way to ask questions.

I mentioned that our families are pretty diverse. Our current 2 1/2 person family looks like this:
Ei: Biracial (Hispanic and white) - corpse white skin that does not tan, freckles, blue eyes, wavy brown hair
J: White - paler skin that tans well, freckles, brown eyes, straight brown hair
Syd: Jewish (she apparently counts this as race/ethnicity/and religious background, so I'm going with her definition) - medium skin that tans well, freckles, brown eyes, curly brown hair

We look basically the same - but we have very diverse backgrounds.

Now take it out a level:
Eileen's Dad: White
Eileen's Mom: Hispanic
Eileen's Full Brother: Biracial (Hispanic and White)
Eileen's Half Brother: Biracial (Black and Hispanic)

J's Mom, Dad, Brother: White
J's Sister in Law: Ethnic Chinese, from Laos

So just in our immediate family - we've hit: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian. We're missing Native Americans and Pacific Islanders (which combined only total 1.1% of of the US population), but that's it.
Yay Diversity!

Now to the religious stuff. One of the big "stumper" questions for future adoptive parents is "What are you going to do if the child has a religious background that differs from yours?" Ah ha! You think you've stumped us, but we've already been on that carousel ride!

I am an atheist. I'd like to say that I'm an einsteintonian (believing in quantum physics) but it's just not really catching on the way I want it to. The closest new-age term would be Noetics. We're connected by energy, it's been proven, it works in ways we don't understand. J also lives a secular lifestyle, though he's not quite willing to damn himself to hell for all eternity by using the A word (it can be pretty scary).

Syd is, as noted above, an active practicing member of the Jewish faith. She is considered an observant Jew - one step down from Orthodox, she observes the sabbath and all religious dates, eats kosher, but dresses in a modern way, and doesn't walk to synagogue. As a small child, if you asked her what day it was, she would tell you that it was Shabbat, rather than Friday, and she would tell you that her birthday was Svet 13, rather than January 16th. As she's gotten older, she's questioned us about our (lack of) faith, which came to a head over the summer as we had a rollicking debate about how I HAVE to believe in SOMETHING (which I don't, actually) and her trying to understand how I can only believe in the Santa Claus, family, Christmas lights, and gifts part of Christmas, but not the "Christian" parts. We have always supported her religious beliefs, and tried to learn about them. We've never tried to convert her, or point out flaws. We answer carefully when she asks questions.

When she comes out in the summer, she goes to a Jewish Day Camp, at a synagogue, every day. I even have a badge to get in - and I haven't spontaneously combusted yet. It gives her an opportunity to be with kids in her demographic, to speak Hebrew daily, and learn more about her culture - baking, plays, field trips, etc. The people running the camp know the situation, and remain friendly and welcoming. Her camp counselors have been extremely helpful when I have questions about acceptable kosher lunches, specific religious day requirements - and they have never ever had a "conversion" talk with us. I respect that so much that I've considered sending future children there with Syd each summer, even though they will likely not be Jewish.

So if we had a child who came pre-programmed with a religious background different from ours, and a desire to continue practicing that faith, we would support it in the same way - learn as much as possible, give them opportunities to participate in age-appropriate activities, and carefully answer questions about our beliefs. That's really all that you can do.

It's exciting to think about how many different ways a future family could manifest itself - one child, two? A boy and a girl? Two boys? Ages? Races? Religious background? It's like a kaleidescope of colors that changes every time you look at it. I have no idea what the stork is going to be bringing us, but I know that our family and friends will support us, and we will love our opportunity.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sisyphean Challenge!

For those of you following along, we're back to "current", having cleaned up the history piece of this adoption puzzle. The current state is PAPERWORK. Right now, we're trying to tackle the 85 pages of paperwork required in order to attend training class.

None of this paperwork will count toward our home study or dossier. (This is where I keep having to hold my tongue as I receive frequent word that AZ is hurting so badly that not only are the foster homes maxed out, but so are group homes, and juvi centers, and now CPS kids are now living in homeless shelters - yet it takes 85 pages for me to take a training class. I understand the reasoning behind it, but it still rankles my mortal soul.)

When I started reading other adoption blogs, I heard the word paperwork tossed out everywhere, but there were no clear descriptions of what they were talking about. So, I'm going to share some of the forms and questions that need to be filled out. I *promise* that I am not exaggerating or adding any fake questions. These are real, people.

Pre-Training Required Documents:
- Reference forms (2 relatives, 3 non-relatives)
- Official Application (15 pages)
- Training Profile (10 pages)
- Profile of Existing Child (2 pages)
- Profile of Family with Children (10 pages)
- Personal Profile (15 pages each)
- Personal Profile by Child (5 pages)
- Child's Medical Background and Immunization
- Criminal History Self-Disclosure (5 pages)
- Fingerprinting Cards (2 or 3 copies each, still need to confirm)
- DPS Waiver (each)
- DPS Application (each)

The hardest part of this was emailing J's ex - "Hey! Can you please take the time to sit down and walk Syd through all of this paperwork, and also send a notarized letter that we're up to date on your child support, and also go to the doctor to get her immunization and health forms filled out, so that we could try to adopt a child? Thanks! K, Bye!" Families are complicated.

I actually really like paperwork. It's like a test I know I can ace. I'm also fairly organized, so we have copies of all of our important documents, and I have things like VIN numbers, monthly expenses, and 10 years work and housing history that could be challenging to remember or track down. However, even I have been thrown by some of these questions - which are either ridiculous or incredibly difficult to answer.
Some gems:

From the Criminal History Self-Disclosure Form (keeping in mind that I don't drink, have never had a cigarette, done a drug, or gotten a speeding ticket - and I'm still a fun girl!) some of the acceptable, appealable offenses for prospective adoptive parents:
  • Involving or using minors in drug offenses - as long as it was 5 years ago, you're good to go!
  • Selling or giving nitrous oxide to underage persons - no biggie!
  • Theft, burglary, fraud, and forgery
  • Depositing explosives - what does this even mean?
  • Misdemeanor offenses involving child neglect - ok seriously, I don't even drink. Can we skip the paperwork, and save a kid from a homeless shelter now?
  • Misdemeanor domestic violence - a great way to raise children
  • Cruelty to animals - no one who is cruel to animals should get a kid. Enda.
  • Kidnapping!! KIDNAPPING. That's not even a wait 5 years until you can appeal offense.

Then it gets really messy.
From the Personal Profile packet:
When you were growing up, what were the ways your family showed anger?
Hmm... let me take some time to write a detailed reply that is honest, and yet reflects my family in the best possible light, so that we are well received. Typing... deleting... typing... typing... good!

When you were growing up, what were the ways your family showed disappointment?
Jesus, this is the same damn thing. Grr. Ok, let me try to rephrase the exact same info in a slightly different way. Phew, good thing I have a firm grasp on the English language.

When you were growing up, what  were the ways your family showed frustration?

When you were growing up, what were the ways your family showed stress?
*head desk* Ok seriously? This is freaking ridiculous. Can we go back to that whole I've never kidnapped anyone thing?

When you were growing up, what were the ways your family showed sadness/depression?
Tears - lots of tears, as they imagined drowning in paperwork and never being able to start a family.

More from the Profile packet - keeping in mind that we need to fill it out together:

What do you like least about being married and living with someone else?

What would make you want or consider a divorce?

What would you most like to change about your partner?

What do you dislike most about being a parent?

And finally, some nice jabs from Syd that she included in her paperwork (she's 8):

In what ways are you different from your Mom? I can cook.

Do you like to spend time with lots of friends, a few friends, or mostly by yourself? I love to spend time with my friends. I have lots of friends. I wish I could have more play dates.

Imagine that today I am bringing a new child to live at your house. What do you hope this new person will be like? A boy, or a girl? How old? What will they like to do? What will they look like? Boy, 3 - but potty trained (thanks Syd ) would play with S's brother, and he would love to cook. He'd be tan like our color, and would have blue eyes (yay! She likes something about me, I'm the only blue eyed person in the family)

As I am driving over, what would you like me to tell the child about your family? My parents are divorced. You get to live with my Daddy. I live in Florida, and I hope we'll get along.

(And finally - as she realizes at the end of the last question that there will not be a question about where she wants the children to sleep - her biggest issue - she adds it herself ) Tell me about you: I live in Jacksonville. I go to ___ Elementary and I am in 3rd grade. I live with my Mom, my Daddy Michael, my step brother T, and my sister M. I go to Arizona in the summer and I go to the Jewish Community Center summer camp when I am there. The new child will have lots of love. The new kid will sleep in his own room.

We have about half of the paperwork filled out at this point, and need to have it all completed in the next 10 days. Here's hoping! *face palm* *rub eyes*

Monday, September 5, 2011

So many choices...

1For those of you who have not experienced the joys of adoption decision making, it can be very overwhelming.

Do you want to adopt? Foster? International? Infant? Private? CPS/DES? There are many options, and all have their strengths and weaknesses. For us, there is no perfect solution - by adopting another person's child we run many risks that cannot be controlled because it's not our genes, our health, our environment, our love starting the child/children out. Everyone who adopts picks a process eventually, and I wanted to share some of our thoughts and reasons. For the record, these were OUR personal preferences. I believe other people have the right to make other decisions that work for them.

The first thing that we reviewed and quickly ruled out was infant adoption of any sort. If you know us, you know that a lot of it had to do with the fact that I am dedicated sleeper. Sounds ridiculous, but it's beyond the mere desire of quality sleep (which frankly should be enough of a reason on it's own). I need 8-10 hours of sleep every night, or I become a very horrible monster. Even one night without adequate sleep can leave it's mark. Also, sadly for J, I am a very. deep. sleeper. Nothing wakes me up - not J trying to fix beeping smoke alarms in the middle of the night, not the house alarm going off, not being physically shaken and told I need to wake up because of "X" catastrophe. If someone broke in, I would sleep peacefully through the entire thing. That means in an infant situation, J would be doing ALL the heavy lifting - and as we recently learned with the smoke alarm incident, he would quickly begin to feel an overwhelmingsense of bitterness - not that I wasn't helping, but that I could sleep deeply through the chaos.

The second reason is that J is several years (8) older than I am, and so an infant adoption (with the 2-3 year typical wait) would make him almost 60 years old by the time the child graduated from high school. Love kids and all, but that's a little late to be getting your life back.

The third reason was that we both work, and we will both continue to work going forward. This made school age children (or close to it) a better choice for us.

And finally, J was a teacher for special ed kids when he got out of college, and found the process very draining for the parents. There are a variety of developmental disabilities that we believe we can support as adoptive parents, but their are others that we don't feel well equipped for - and most of those have manifested themselves by the time you get to school age. The big ones on our list are fetal alchohol syndrome, and impacts from drug dependencies.

So infant adoption was out.

Fostering was the next thing we looked into, and when we first reviewed it, the laws were set up so that the goal was ALWAYS to reconnect a child with the natural birth parents. That meant that the children could be in foster care for 5-10 years, and not be eligible for adoption, because the parent was still doing just enough to keep stringing the court system along. This was unpalatable for us for several reasons. First, J has a cousin who was fostered by his aunt and uncle since the day he was born, and yet they were never able to get legal custody of him (his birth mother committed suicide after he became an adult) and it was a very challenging situation for all parties.  The other thing that we really didn't like about it was the bonding with a child and high risk for losing them. J already has a daughter he doesn't get to see the way he wants to - adding another bond/taken away situation was not something he felt like he could live through again.

So foster care was out.

That left us with International adoption - so we thought at the time. China was our first choice (for those of you who don't know, I've always had an affinity to China, to the point where I held my eyes stretched for hours at a time as a child convinced that if I held them long enough, I would grow beautiful epicanthic folds). We quickly learned that neither of us qualified. I have a facial scar (yes that's one of the rules) and J was previously divorced. He could requalify after we have been remarried for 5 years, but by then he'll be over 40, so then that rule will disqualify him. Bleh. I want it noted here that we both met the BMI index requirements - China has some interesting qualification rules.

J felt very strongly that we should only work with countries that are following the Hague Conventions. The idea of adopting a parent's stolen children just did not resonate with him, and the Hague Conventions were set up to prevent illegal adoptions. That limited our choices for countries of origin. Not being religious limited our choices way more than I thought it would. Not being married for 5 years left us with 5 options - Colombia, Guatemala, Estonia, Moldova (WTH is Moldova?!), and Ethiopia. At the time Guatemala was a Hague Convention country, but under suspension, so that was ruled out. Colombia made us nervous because it required being in the country for an extended period of time, and the words Colombia were linked with "drug cartel" in our minds. Between Estonia, Moldova, and Ethiopia, Ethiopia was the best choice for us. J joked about conducting sports tryouts at the orphanages, but it really had more to do with the fact that there were rumors of major palm greasing needed in the former Soviet block countries, and we wanted to be able to have a legitimate adoption, without lingering questions or guilt.

We seriously considered Ethiopia. For a while that was the route we were going with. We liked that Ethiopia was religiously diverse (1/3 christian, 1/3 muslim. 1/3 jewish - this made Sydni thrilled that she had a chance at a jewish sibling) all living in harmony. We liked the perspective of the Ethiopian people, who are proud and loving, but completely overwhelmed with caring for their children due to famine and HIV. They were also open to transracial adoption, which most other African countries are not. We have a diverse family (another post coming later to discuss) so it wasn't a problem for us to adopt a child with a different ethnicity.

The problem was cost. The average Ethiopian adoption runs about $35,000. Both of our companies have great adoption assistance programs, and $10,000 reimbursements, and there is a tax credit for adoptions for about $13,000, so we could come close to breaking even. The problem is that we don't believe in credit, so we'd need to accrue enough in our savings to hand out $35K cash and still have a savings to support the new family. It was a big amount for us, but we decided to put our noses to the grind and start putting serious money away.

That was when we learned about the new foster/adopt program in Arizona. I was introduced to a woman who had recently adopted two boys from the foster/adopt program, and everything that she told me sounded fabulous. Aparently they had changed the rules so that birth parents were given a specific amount of time to get their act in gear (depending on the age of the child between 9-18 months). If that did not happen, the parental rights were severed and the child would be a ward of the state and immediately eligible for adoption. The agencies that supported foster/adopt would only pair you with children that were eligible for adoption. Oh, and it cost $800, which was reimbursed by the agency upon successful completion of adoption. They also had many older children and sibling pairs already waiting to be placed.

(Courtesy of

The foster/adopt (a.k.a CPS/DES adoption) seemed to meet all of our requirements, and allowed us to be able to make a difference right here in AZ. So that's the choice we have made.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pool Requirements

There have been many items/issues to be considered as we go through this adoption process. This post is on the pool - just one of those small things that has really annoyed us, so I thought I would share!

When we were looking for a home in 2009, we specifically wanted a house that had a pool. It was important, since J's daughter comes out in the summer, and it is frankly brutal here at that time of year. We were very lucky and bought a house that had a lovely backyard (by AZ standards - it probably looks like a side yard for most people, but lots aren't big out here). The most enjoyable part of the yard is that it's green, and you can't see most of the brick fence.

(We have never used the chimney thing - but there's always hope!)

Because many homes have pools in AZ, there is an unfortunately high drowning rate for children here. Every year the fire departments and news stations put out a "No Drowning" campaign, but accidents still happen. So, AZ law requires that every household with a pool either needs to have 1) a fence around the pool or 2) high doorknobs to all external doors. Our house had high doorknobs, which was our preference. Don't knock the doorknobs - Sydni is 4'6, and only this summer was she able to get enough leverage to open the door after three or four tries. I occassionally need two, and I'm almost 5'6.

The pool area was designed to have mesh fencing - and did have it when we purchased it, but somehow the mesh fencing disappeared by the time we moved in. We considered buying one, but never really got around to it.

When we started the adoption process, we were loathe to learn that the judges in AZ have refused homes without pool fences so frequently that no agency will accept high doorknobs as a viable security option. This did not go over very well at all. It was something that took us about 6 months to really agree to, and most of our reasoning was that we could use mesh fencing, and take it down once the children were fully adopted.

(That is not a real turtle on the step. It's just a mosaic turtle, who needs a name)

We found the agency that we really liked, and then we hit another snag. The agency that we're partnered with only works with children who do not have major developmental delays, are relatively healthy, and speak English - all items that were important to us. We also had a great recommendation from a friend, and that is worth it's weight in platinum. The snag? There had been an issue with a foster family who had a mesh fence and had taken it down to mow the lawn - and a child drowned. So, they do not allow mesh fencing at all. No mesh fences. At. All.

Insert an additional 6 month deliberation on the pool vs. the adoption.

When we had really come to terms with it, and said, "OK, the yard is really split in half anway, we could put a fence right down the middle of the yard, and that would be fine." we decided to jump into the training with both feet. We had our initial (exhaustive) home visit which went incredibly well, except for one piece of information - she had concerns that we would be required to put a fence around the entire pool, including this section:

Between the wall of the house, and the lip of the pool is approximately 2 ft (it might be 3 ft, but it's too hot to go out and measure it). Putting a fence in the middle of that not only blocked the view of the yard out of the livingroom windows, but also made it impossible to walk to the other side of the yard - where our good fruit trees are, the AC units, dog poop... things we need access to. This lead to the statement from one person in this family, who will remain nameless:

"F that. I am NOT putting a fence around the whole pool. I refuse to! I won't do it!! End of discussion!!"

Keeping in mind that it means you're also not adopting a child or two, that's a pretty heavy statement.

So, this lead to a panicked review of safety and pool regulations in an attempt to find a loophole - and if anyone could find one, it would be me. I'm a master of reviewing legalese, I should count it as a second language. :) Luckily I DID find a loophole, and so from there it was just hoping and pleading that DES would agree that it was an acceptable safety solution. The loophole was to "permanently disable" the windows from the livingroom and our bedroom that are along that wall. Lucky for us, this couldn't have been requested if the children's bedroom windows were there, or if the gate to get out of the yard had been on that side, as it would have prevented egress routes in case of a fire. So, since we never open those windows anyway (did I mention it's 107 degrees out right now?) we decided to do our initial pool evaluation with DES, and hope that I could convince them that disabling the windows was perfectly legal, and met all safety requirements (please, please, please, please, please!)

Good news! The DES guy was very friendly, and he immediately suggested my proposed solution, so I didn't even have to weedle my way into the discussion. He approved the plan to fence the yard in half, and even showed me how I could disable the windows.

Phew! We might actually get to the training class without another pool catastrophe!

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Did We Get Here?

My Side:
I've had an underlying hormonal issue since I was 20. I basically can't produce estrogen on my own, so I've been post-menopausal for 10 years. There are many symptoms and side effects, from which I spare you the vivid (ly red) mental picture, but suffice it to say that it's not natural for a 20 year old girl to be post-menopausal. Left untreated, it made me "functionally" infertile, which basically means that I could conceive, but not build a sufficient lining, and so would be a miscarriage machine.

In relation to this issue, but because of some of the other symptoms, I've done hormone therapy two times. For those of you who don't know, each time you do hormone therapy you increase your risk of cancer to the 10th power. My symptoms were bad enough that I agreed to that -- twice. So lucky me, having already gone through menopause, I got to go through it again backwards while doing treatments, then waited six months while it wore off in the hope that I would start producing it again myself (which didn't happen). Then went through menopause again. Early in the second round (after going through menopause for a 4th time) I started rapidly developing abnormal cell growth in my cervix, and we had to cut off the therapy immediately. The solution from there was to take double birth control indefinitely, skipping placebo pills, as a low grade hormone alternative.

(picture courtesy of

J and I discussed the possibility of a natural birth, but the reality was that it would be high risk. It would require another round of hormone treatment, with enormous cancer risks, which neither of us were willing to do. Even then, there would be no guarantees that I could carry. When we decided that we were definitely never going to go the natural route (before we had clearly defined an adoption path) I had a tubal ligation, and ablation done, so that I could at least stop taking birth control and go back to my natural (post menopausal and 30 lbs lighter) state. That would be menopause #5, and what I dearly, seriously hope is the last one.

The good news is that I learned about my health issues many years ago, and had plenty of time to make a decision on what was the right choice for me. Whether or not we adopt children, I am comfortable with the fact that I'm not going to have my own natural children - or have the horrible symptoms of trying to make your body into something it doesn't want to be.

J's Side:
J's easier. He makes beautiful babies.
(picture courtesy of ME, I take great photos :)

He actively talked about adoption before we even decided officially that we would not go the natural route. J has a big heart. He believes that there are very few ways that you can truly make a difference in your life, and adoption is one of those times. He is energized by kids, went to school to be a teacher, and worked in a special needs class, before he started his own family and needed to make more money.

J was also influenced by a childhood friend, who was adopted, and raised in a loving family. It always impressed him that the child was "one of them", even though he was adopted.

The hardest part about the decision process for him has been the situation with his daughter, who lives in Florida 11 months out of the year. He is concerned about the impact on her (in the other part of her family, she has an older step-brother, and a younger half-sister) not being the special only child when she's here, having to share a bedroom when she comes, etc. He's also most driven to this process because he truly wants to be an every day Dad, and he's not able to do that in his current circumstances.

The Decision:
We've talked about adoption now for several years, on an almost weekly basis. It's a big change, and we already have a great life. I think sometimes that makes it even harder - why make a huge change, when everything is going well? For a long time, I struggled with not having my Sunday afternoon nap. J concerned himself about finances and afterschool activities. We both didn't want to put a fence around the pool (we bought a house with high doorknobs for a reason... but that's an entirely different post). We went back and forth on the idea at least 100 times, and never stayed in a certain direction for very long. We went to orientation for the agency we liked back in December, and we only turned our initial paperwork in this July. So... we've given it a lot of consideration.

(picture from

Where we stand right now is pretty simple. In a cold-hearted, rational, logical approach is never ever ever ever ever going to get a family started (I'm pretty sure there's a reason why people are physically attracted to each other, because who would willingly give up Sunday afternoon naps?!). So, we agreed that we're going to sign up for classes, and see where we stand. If we feel good, then we'll get licensed, and then see where we stand. If that works, and we're commited at that point, we'll go for it. But the important thing is that we won't be feeling any pressure to move on to the next step just because we've started, or because I'm writing a blog, or because the family is expecting some changes. The right decision for us will be the right one - so now we're just looking for additional information, and training will give us that opprtunity.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Initial Home Visit

Hi All,

Welcome to my new blog, Adventures in Adoption. Long post initially - I promist they won't all be this long. A couple of housekeeping notes:

- For those (few) of you who have this blog on your following role, it has been repurposed from tri/running race reports, to now be focused on our adoption process. Feel free to unfollow, you won't hurt my feelings.

- Since it's being repurposed, the blogs from 2009 and prior are old blogs that I still want to keep, but they have nothing to do with adoption. :)

- We had our initial home visit this past weekend, and so I'm going to start with fresh details, then play catch up, so this is not exactly in chronological order.

- We are going through the process of a Foster/Adopt Adoption, or DES Adoption - basically, kids that are eligible for adoption through Child Protective Services. We will not be fostering children who are not eligible for adoption. If you have any questions, feel free to ask - but I'll be covering those details in another post.

About two days before the home visit, I started thinking that I needed to write everything down. Part of it was so that I would remember the details of this process to tell to children later. The other part was that a lot of the blogs I was reading/searching/hunting for info on the initial home visit didn't really say much about the details. There were no how to steps, no prep for what to expect. It was mostly "CLEANED EVERYTHING!!", followed by "NO sweat, 10 minutes, why was I panicking?" This was not very helpful when I myself was panicking. And this leads to my thanking my twitter and IRL friends for being soothing, calm, and answering questions like "Do I make the bed? Or is that too obvious? Do I unvacuum the vacuum lines? What do you think about flowers on the kitchen table? HELP!! I'm ironing the shower curtain and I can't stop!"

(picture courtesy of

So, in addition to my emotions and feelings for this process, I also want to let you know what I did - and how it worked out.

So, without getting into too much detail - once we decided on a US adoption, I had reviewed several agencies, gone to a Valley wide multiple agency orientation, and we decided on the agency for us. I filled out the initial interest paper (1 pg, nothing detailed) and handed it in. Within a day, our licensing specialist Diana called (and we were thrilled to get her, as we have some friends who recently adopted, and they had her as their specialist and loved her). She gave me her name, email, phone, asked for my contact details, told me she lived just a few blocks away, and then set up an initial home visit time and date. During that visit, she just wanted to get to know us, fill out some initial paperwork, and take a glance around the house.

This sounded like an absolutely adequate amount of information until... two days before the visit. That was when I realized that I had no idea what kinds of questions she would ask to get to know us (Favorite color? Am I a picky eater? Do I have a criminal record?), what kind of paperwork we'd be filling out (I was thinking everything from household income, to military release paperwork - which luckily I had handy), and glancing around the house kicked my OCD self into action.

In preparation, I was told by a family who was involved in a foster program that too neat is just as much of a turn off as too dirty. This killed me. Aparently, some agencies feel that Better Homes and Garden neat means that the family is completely unprepared for the messy monsters that will be coming to live with you. J and I are pretty neat in general. It's not that we clean every surface three times a day , but there's only two of us, and neither one is a slob, so the house doesn't really get messy. In retrospect, I probably could have cleaned off the counter tops, and been fine. But, instead, I rescheduled the cleaning ladies to come the day before the visit, cleaned out closets, reoganized the office, wiped away the vaccuum lines in all carpeted areas and the couches, swept the front courtyard, organized the pantry (things were starting to go OCD awry when the labels all had to be facing front), and yes, I ironed the shower curtain in the guest bath. But from there, I was struggling with too neat - so then I did a poll on bed making (end concensus was smooth out the comforter, but don't put decorative pillows up, let the guest bed and Sydni's bed stay made, and nice) and that lasted until about 2 hours before the meeting, when I did in fact put decorative pillows on our bed. I just. couldn't. help. myself. I also did a poll on clothing options (I wore nice jeans, and a comfy, modest black top, J went with red sox t-shirt, and khaki shorts), how many dishes I should leave in the sink (breakfast dishes), and what would constitute "lived in" (for me, scattering books around the house). I did all this anticipating she would be in the house for 10 minutes, and not look at any of it.

I was wrong.

The initial home visit took almost two hours. We filled out and reviewed mounds of paperwork, and she reviewed every part of the house to check for "potential issues" and give suggestions on things that we would need to prepare for the final home visit, after our training. I was so glad I had cleaned out the closets, you have no idea.

The good news was that I felt like she appreciated our (sometimes painful) honesty, she clearly liked the house - making comments about how big the closet was, how much she liked my bookshelves in the office, that she liked the floor plan, that we had a nice layout, and overall that we were clearly safety concious, and there were not too many changes to make. Also, for those of you following along, the smoke alarms did not chirp once while she was there. Whew. I think we made a good and realistic first impression.

The questions that she asked us were mostly on parenting. What experiences did we have with children? Had we ever worked with special needs or at risk youth? What were our preferences regarding age, ethnicity, and gender? All questions we were well prepared to answer. The paperwork is amazing. It was given in three segments - initial home visit, before training, and home study.

During the home visit, we filled out the following:
- Adoptive Families Central Registry Records Clearance (CPS background check)
- Initial Visit Questions (above)
- Adoption Orientation Checklist
- Agency Policies
- Agency Fee for Home Studies Agreement
- Department of Economic Security Release of Information
- Release of Information/Training Attendance

We were given large packets (to be discussed in a future post) to be turned in before training. Those packets included:
- Personal Profile (one for me, one for J, one for Sydni to fill out - each about 12 pages)
- 5 References - family and friends
- Application (16 pages, everything from householding info, detailed financial records, 10 years physical addresses, 10 years employment history...exhaustive details)
- Training profile (10 pgs)
- 3 sets of fingerprinting cards, each

I can't even think about the paperwork to be filled out for the home study, but it includes marriage licenses, divorce decrees, child support tables, medical reviews, counseling, CPR documentation, military discharge paperwork, credit reports, etc. It's amazing how little paperwork needs to be signed to have your own children, and yet if you want to do a good thing and raise a child without a family, well then, let's make sure CPS has your tally of birthmarks, previous haircuts, and blood type on file.

So from here, we're on paperwork duty (for those keeping track at home, the queen of papercuts has already received one from this stack - feel free to put over/under bets for the entire process tally in the comments). Our training class starts on September 21st, and we are tentatively optimistic!