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.