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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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*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
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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.