Foster Care to Adoption

Happy Thanksgiving!

For us this holiday comes a week after adopting our foster child.

Some readers may remember some of the more harrowing events of the past three years — years filled with doubt, fear and moral dilemmas.

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This girl is thrilled that I can finally share her picture!

This summer after a host of obstacles (some created by the system and some by us), we were asked to make our final decision. I’ll be honest, my husband and I hardly spoke to each other for the month of August as we each grappled with the finality of the decision. I realized that I’d been sort of waiting for this girl to do something bad enough to justify backing out.

Foster kids have a way of pushing you to your limits, and I wondered what my limit would be.

The county gave us a month to decide. No more hoping the kid would do something insane so we’d have an excuse  to say goodbye. We had to decide if we could love this girl “as is.” Plenty of people told us to cut our losses. Even the county workers had said this girl was a “hot mess,” but … my heart said she was already family. One day as I walked the dogs my decision was made. Biblical love is really hard. You have to lean into the pain. You have to work harder and you occasionally have to step back to see how far you’ve come.

I’m basically a selfish person who wants to write books and ride horses all by myself. I don’t feel like helping others all the time, yet in some deep way I know we’re called to do it.

My husband was driving home from work one day and suddenly felt that he was Jonah fleeing God’s calling on his life. Despite it all he knew McKenzie was already his daughter.

Not quite the Hallmark happy ending but that’s real life for you.

Once the decision was made, a weight was lifted. Maybe that’s God’s grace. McKenzie has come a LONG way. We all have.

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McKenzie with my niece (her new cousin)

At the adoption McKenzie gave an impromptu speech before the judge. Three years ago she was so jacked up on meds and so traumatized she could only drool and occasionally threaten to stab people. Now with her two sisters (adopted by another family), her new family, and countless county and foster care workers in attendance she spoke from her heart with power and eloquence about finally having a family. I was so proud of her. Even my son got choked up. The county workers were sobbing.

I didn’t cry, but I did feel at peace. I remembered the day I first met McKenzie. I told my husband that I already felt like she was my daughter. That feeling ebbed and flowed over the three years, but on adoption day it was as if we’d come full circle.

 

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Just some of the members of McKenzie’s new family. The entire family is coming to our house to celebrate Thanksgiving and the adoption!

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

Testimony Farm

I shoot an envious glance towards this house every morning on the way to our foster girl’s school. The house has an elegant sign out front “Testimony Farm.” I can’t help but wonder about testimonies. The great thing about stories of calling or faith or redemption in public testimonies is that they have beginnings, middles and endings. Like this house everything appears tidy and finished. Of course it’s an illusion. Termites work, people die and houses crumble, but still . . . there is a longing for enduring testimonies that offer the assurance that one day we will be complete and all will be well with our souls.

Last night  our foster daughter (M) and I went on our bi-weekly sibling visit. M’s sisters were adopted only recently but we all knew it was coming and on this particular visit the sisters saw fit to make M feel how lucky they were and, by contrast, how sad they were for her. Kids do this to each other. One sibling emphasized the word “MOM” every time she spoke with her foster/new mom before turning to M to ask her if she was all right because it looked as though she might cry. M refused to be goaded.

As we sat in a quiet McDonald’s (because where else is there to take three young girls on a dark Monday night in Upstate New York) the girls repeatedly brought up their impending trip to Disney. “Wouldn’t you like to come with us, M?” one asked knowing it was impossible and seemed sort of gleeful about it. M let it slide.

As the adults chatted about watercolor paintings and anniversaries the girls laughed and joked. They sang made up songs to amuse each other until the youngest tugged her new mother’s sleeve and pulled her aside. “M said something inappropriate.”

I was pulled aside then. It seemed that M had made up a song about throwing babies in the trash. “Okay,” I said, “M often has a less than funny sense of humor and it’s usually related to anvils falling on people’s heads and car wrecks.”

The little girl peeked from behind her new mother. “M said she wanted to throw our new foster baby in the trash,” she whispered.

I didn’t believe her. Yeah, throwing a fictional baby in the trash isn’t a fantastic place to go with your jokes, but M spoke quite fondly of the new foster baby in her sisters’ family. I  went to M who sat watching the weather on the TV.

“Did you say you wanted to throw a baby in the trash?”

M said, “Yes. It was a joke in a song . . .” a look of panic flashed across her face as she glanced at her sister.

The sister’s new mom stepped in. “M, your sister says you wanted to put this baby in the trash . . .”

“No! She’s lying!”

The dinner ended abruptly, but as we walked to our cars the girls made sure to mention Disney one last time.

M stared after them as we pulled out of the parking lot and waved. They didn’t wave back. They didn’t see her.

I waited for M to say something. It came like a torrent. “Why do they get to go to Disney while we take care of stupid goats? I didn’t say I wanted to put a real baby in the trash and how come they look so pretty and I’m like trash? Everyone hates me at school and I try to be nice and they think I’m trash too. And my sisters hate my real mom and I love her even though she did bad things and why can’t you guys just adopt me already?” The talk went in long circles between sobs.

I said, “Well, M, I love you and don’t think you’re trash–it’s why I help you brush your hair in the morning.”

“Yeah, I know you love me, but no one else does!” More sobs. She settled down for a second. “But . . . when you get mad at me –when I do something–I think you might–you know–send me away and hate me–like trash.”

Trash was the word of the night.

We got home and M returned from her room after getting ready for bed. She was holding an mp3 player we bought her when she still lived at the group home. “I have this thing . . . and I’m afraid to tell you . . . but I recorded words I’m ashamed of and everyone’s gonna think I’m trash. The lady at the shelter said I should let out all my sexy thoughts–like what my mom did. I can’t get rid of the thoughts.”

“Wait, do you mean in your head or on the mp3 player?” I asked.

“Well, on the mp3 player which makes me think about it all.”

My husband sat reading about the CUBS. “Here, M, give me the player.” In about 2 seconds he figured out how to delete the offensive recordings. “All gone,” he said and tossed the thing back. ” Let’s just keep music on it from now on, okay?”

M nodded gratefully.

My husband of little words continued, “Oh, by the way. You do realize there’s no turning back. I spoke to your case worker and the lawyer. The adoption is a done deal–just waiting for the paperwork.”

M covered her face and went to her room with her dog eagerly at her heels. We listened as she goofed around with the dog before falling asleep.

Today was M’s last visit with the psychiatrist. “I don’t see any reason for M to come anymore now that she’s off the meds. I see a bright future for her. One that I never would have forecasted looking at her paperwork. I guess it was meant to be,” the doctor said. “Please let me know when the adoption goes through. M told me before you walked in that she loves you and your husband and that you love her so I’m done here.”

And there’s my testimony (for the moment).

 

 

One Less Lonely Girl

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It’s been a year since our foster girl first pointed out she could kill me with a steak knife–and it wasn’t the last threat on my life. Each time she casually mentioned killing me I casually responded that I had no fear of death and if she wanted to kill people she’d end up in a jail for evil kids who all wanted to kill each other. I said, “Go for it if that sounds like fun.”

It occurred to me today that those threats ended some months ago. She hasn’t picked up string beans off the floor of public restrooms and eaten them in a long time either. My big fear before picking up M last year (the week of the all important county fair) was that I’d find her unattractive. Yes, I’m that shallow. She was cute but a wreck. She was eager to be taken home (by just about anyone including two men she pleaded with the day before on the golf course after escaping the first group home). The group home director told me not to feel bad if the placement didn’t work out since no one expected it would. As she helped load M’s stuff into our car she said, “Oh, and by the way, don’t let M near babies–she wants to strangle them. Okay, bye!”

Think of abuse.

Think of all the different ways in which a person can be abused.

Think a thick stack of reports.

M had seen it all by age 8.

She came to us highly medicated and had a visit with her mother in a public park that first week where her mother asked her to pole dance in the park. This triggered M and put her in the children’s mental ward for two months where they drugged her even more.

Think soulless zombie slobbering and shuffling.

We took turns visiting her a few times a week. We visited her daily once her mother surrendered her rights and her sisters were set to be adopted by a family who decided they couldn’t take M (fair enough–they’d done all they could do).

Let me just say that cider donuts and coffee got me through those autumn weeks of endless travel to the very depressing hospital.

Halloween stands out as a low point. M begged us to come see her in the Cinderella costume we got for her, but by the time we arrived the staff had blackened her eyes with zombie makeup. She was angry, crying and “unstable” (the word they use in such places when someone is beside themselves with sorrow). M wanted her real mother. She wanted us to leave. She hated us. The staff took her to the padded cell–in her princess costume– and escorted us out. Later that night M called and asked if we’d come visit the next day.

The young, hipster therapist thought she’d intimidate me with big therapy words. She didn’t like me questioning the crazy meds (some of which are actually marketed as “foster kid drugs”!!). BTW, I knew what the big words meant. They meant money for the institutions housing the foster kids. One day the therapist saw me coming and ran outside. I kid you not.

It’s been a journey. Therapists, mental wards, group homes, sibling visits and evenings spent with cops looking for M. Last year M came to us taking about 10 different meds. Now she’s on none. She was afraid of open spaces and small places. Last week she sat in the quiet field with the sheep and goats for an hour with me in silence. At the end of the hour she turned to me and said, “You know, you’re right. The crickets’ singing is relaxing.”

M rides her bike, feeds the dogs and walks them, cleans her room and weaves pot holders like any slightly bored 10 year-old girl in summer. She’s still goofy but I don’t think she deserves the label she came with: low functioning. Who wouldn’t be low functioning after the life she’s lived? I think she functions fairly well these days.

When she comes back on Friday from sleepover camp (we can’t believe she’s actually still there!), we’ll go to the fair and eat fried dough. She’ll probably still make a mess of it–but this year she’ll know how to clean herself up! We’ll visit her sisters who happen to be adopted by a farming family we’ve become quite friendly with who show cows at the fair. Soon, if all goes according to plan and we adopt M we’ll practically be family. I hadn’t expected a  new family. I hadn’t expected to love this weird kid, but that’s yet another reason why blogging has to wait.

It’s hard to write with a chatty girl over your shoulder.