Our First Beach Trip

Another summer has flown by and thankfully we were able to squeeze in a trip the beach this past weekend. We only live about 50 minutes from the coast, so it honestly should not be this difficult of a task.

I have always loved the ocean… not the glitzy glamy part with board walks and fried dough, but the quiet parts… the off the beaten path parts…. the sound of the waves crashing against rocks…. the smell of the salt water…. the grit of the sand… and even the slimy seaweed! Growing up, we visited coastal Maine many times throughout the summer. The ocean was my safe haven. A place where happy memories were made away from the darkness of living with an abusive step-father. In all the years since that chaotic time, I have never stopped loving the ocean! It has always been my refuge.

Seeing Daffy at the beach was amazing! She said she has been before, but some of the things she said made me question that. When we first arrived she asked “Does this lake connect to the ocean?” and of course we explained it was the ocean. She entered the water following Goofy and Pluto going much too deep for my liking considering how strong the waves are. She ended up getting knocked down by a wave and got water up her nose. She seemed stunned by how disgusting the water tasted. She made sand castles and laid in the sun. At one point, she got up and wrote her full new name and the date in the sand and was really excited for me to take her picture beside it! My heart swelled.

I am so in love with this little girl! Every single day with her is a gift! Of course I love all the incredible “firsts” we have been able to experience with her this year, but I also look forward to the things we will do again and again over the years. Traditions are what families are made of.

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Celebrating Daffy

Daffy has celebrated her very first birthday with us…. she  has officially turned 10 years old!

Saturday morning a friend of mine took her out for a special birthday breakfast and to get a pedicure! Daffy was planning to get balloons painted on her toenails…. imagine her surprise when the woman doing the pedicure showed Daffy her own toes with Hello Kitty on them…. the exact theme of Daffy’s party! Aren’t they adorable??

Saturday afternoon we honored her special day with a party with many of our closest friends and family. Among the guests were her Fairy Godmother  (@abuggleslife), Jessie, Woody & Buzz (her former pre-adoptive family), Mickey’s parents and many of our closest friends and their children. Daffy had a fabulous time being the center of attention and received many beautiful things. We had bought her an iPod Touch which was definitely a HUGE hit. In fact, she told me the next day that when she blew out the candles on her cake, she had wished for an iPod!

On her actual birthday, I had set up a call with her birth Mom…. the first time they have spoken in more than 3 years! I was a little worried the call would be overly emotional for both of them, but I felt that of all days for them to connect, Daffy’s birthday was it! The call went fantastically! Neither of them cried and her birth Mom was totally appropriate in all she said. I was really happy for the both of them. A few hours after the call, a package arrived for Daffy from her birth mom. She had gotten Daffy the Nintendo 3DS game that she really wanted and sent a few other things that belonged to Daffy as well, including 2 of her jewelry boxes and some pictures from when she lived with a foster family in 2004. Daffy was thrilled to have these things back. I wish I could have read her mind as she looked through each item, I am sure remembering days gone by.

Overall, I think her birthday went as perfectly as possible and I am thrilled for her that she was able to share her special day with so many people who love her so intensely! She is blessed … & so are we!

A few random updates

Daffy’s Art from Summer Academy

A few random updates from the trenches…

Donald

It’s been an up and down week for Donald. He did not return phone calls Friday or Saturday. He did not call on his “call day” (Monday). He screamed at me with disgust on Tuesday that he didn’t want to talk to me . Yesterday we had a pleasant conversation that lasted a whopping 13 minutes. In fact, he talked to Daffy (at her request) and told her he loved her as they hung… the very first time he said that to her since he left at the end of January. Weird.

Donald’s birth mom visited with him last week and reported that things seemed different. She said he hadn’t acted as loving as he had at prior visits and that she felt he was conflicted. She & I are currently trying to schedule a visit together with him so we can have an open dialogue about what his hopes for the future are. We feel like he tells each of us what we want to hear and are hopeful that if he sees us as united for him that he will be able to finally be honest.

As far as I know, no therapy has been set up for Donald yet. As much as I feel his case worker understands his needs, I feel that there is no sense of urgency for him now that his sister is being adopted. I have no leg to stand on as his “former foster mom”, but feel that a fire needs to be lit to encourage the state to work to get him help and get him to permanency. I will definitely be bringing this up at the next team meeting in September.

Daffy

Daffy starts school in 6 days. She isn’t thrilled to be going back, but I feel like she really needs it (not that she has a choice, LOL). She does so much better with tasks to complete than with an abundance of free time.

She is extremely excited about her birthday party tomorrow! I have some concerns that this could be a very overwhelming day for her with so many people here for her, but I am going to try to keep things light and positive. Mickey and I made the decision to allow a phone conversation between her birth mom and herself next week on her actual birthday. Her birth mom has been very appropriate and I am confident that she will not do anything to destroy the relationship we (birth mom & I) have been carefully building with her.

Alice

I learned Wednesday that Alice is being evaluated at a psychiatric hospital and her next destination is unclear at this time. I’m disappointed that things did not go in a different direction, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since respite didn’t “save” us either. If Alice does return to her foster home, we will be ready and willing to support them.

Other posts currently in the works: My Adoption Story Part IV and an update on Tink, so check back soon! 🙂

7 Practical Ways To Foster Attachment in Adopted Children

I am not an expert and I don’t pretend to be. I have, however, learned a few things about attachment since we started this journey last fall. Here are my top 7 practical ways to foster attachment in older adopted children:

  1. Implement chat time.
    Each night before bed, Daffy and I head to her room for “chat time.” This allows her time to unwind and process her day. Initially we talked about simple things like “What was the best part of your day?” as we got to know each other, but as our relationship has progressed, we have talked about far more serious issues like the abuse she suffered while living with her biological family and her fears of her biological brother. This is a time that she and I both look forward to. She’s been telling me recently that she can’t sleep without having our chat time and I kid with her that I will have to come to her house when she is married so we can still have our nightly chats! (She assures me her husband will do it, LOL)
  2. Read books together.
    The books don’t always need to be about foster care or adoption, but if you are looking for adoption or foster care related books, here are a few I highly recommend. Reading these books has been incredibly helpful to Daffy. I can see her connect through the stories, gaining a sense that she is not alone in her experiences and learning to trust that we will finally be her forever family.
  3. Cook together.
    Give them the chance to succeed. Daffy and the family support specialist baked muffins together during one visit and for the next week that followed, Daffy wanted to bake every single day. She was so proud of her new found ability! Spending time together in the kitchen allows for low intensity conversations. These are the moments that, one at a time, build attachments.
  4. Touch!
    Touch adopted children as often and in as many ways as is appropriate based on their history- hugs, hand holding, foot massages, a pat on the back… just keep touching! Daffy & I have created our very own handshake-style good night kiss involving kisses, hugs, funny faces and handshakes! It’s something that she and I share that connects us exclusively to each other. She beams when other people see us do it, knowing that its unique just to her and me.
  5. Play!
    Get down to their level and interact. This was really uncomfortable for me at first, but I learned some amazing things about how Daffy’s mind was working when I joined her in playing with her Little Pet Shop and other toys. I could see her hopes, dreams, and even fears play out through the way she played.
  6. Enjoy family meals together.
    Our family never sat around the table together for meals before Daffy came to live with us. We were busy people with busy lives. We felt connected and this didn’t seem important to us. Once Daffy moved in, we saw this as a critical time together- a time when we weren’t meeting with a therapist or social worker, a time when there was no battle over homework and a time where the tv was OFF. This was (and is) time that we could spend all together sharing and getting to know each other.
  7. Have realistic expectations.
    Above all, know the battle you are facing. Read books on attachment. Surf the internet for blogs of people that have gone before you in similar situations. Accept that adopted children will have attachment issues (whether it’s full blown Reactive Attachment Disorder or somewhere else on the spectrum). Understand that your adopted child will not attach to you in the same way that you will attach to them. Give them space when they need it, but don’t be afraid to push sometimes, too. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees when it comes to attachment, but know that the work you are doing with your adopted child WILL pay off. You will see miraculous gains if you give it time.

This post is linked to: Blog Link Party with Rebecca Cooper, Mommy Brain Mixer and Thriving on Thursdays.

Daddy Moments

While riding in the boat this weekend, I noticed that Daffy seemed sullen. I am not sure what was on her mind, but she was very quiet and withdrawn. Mickey  must have noticed the same thing. I heard him call to her and considered looking back to see if she was getting in some sort of trouble, but decided I was enjoying myself on the front of the boat too much to engage in whatever Mickey was clearly able to handle on his own.

A few moments later, I heard him gently giving Daffy instructions on how to drive the boat. I whipped my head around to find that Mickey had called Daffy up to the controls! My heart swelled! Over the past 9 months, Daffy has not gotten nearly as close with Mickey as she has with me. I think, in part, it’s because of the domestic violence she witnessed in her birth home at the hand of her birth father and, in part, because of having lived in a group home run by women for the 2.5 years prior to living with us. In any case, witnessing the two of them sharing this moment was incredible!

Mickey explained to Daffy how to find a fixed point on the horizon and steer the boat in that direction. When she overcompensated because the boat didn’t react to her slight movements, he was patient in guiding her to turn the wheel back. Even at moments when I was sure we were headed for collision with another boat head on, he didn’t become alarmed. He calmly explained to her how to right the boat and waited patiently as she corrected it.

Throughout, Daffy was glowing. The excitement shown in her eyes and I saw a closeness between the two of them that I have never seen before. I was overwhelmed with emotion, tears in my eyes, seeing Mickey’s perseverance. He has faced greater challenges than I have in this journey to become the parents of such a beautiful little girl. He has fought against the odds to win Daffy over, and in that moment, I was sure he finally had.

Meeting Daffy & Donald’s Birth Mom

Ahhhhhh, well this post is now 5 days over due. I could kick myself for waiting so long to blog, but you all know there is never enough time in the life of a busy biological/foster/adoptive Mom!

Last week we met Daffy & Donald’s birth Mom. I had been really excited about meeting her, but the day we were to meet, she sent an email saying she didn’t “support” waiting until after Daffy’s adoption to see her. Ummmmm, well, okay then…. clearly we should go against everything that Daffy’s therapist is recommending to let you see her ahead of the adoption? On what grounds? Oh yeah….. the fact you had your rights terminated because you were abusive and neglectful to your children. Grrrrrrrrr… I know I shouldn’t be so bitchy, but her email really put me into a bad mood that day. Maybe it’s wrong to feel like I was the “good guy” for supporting her having a relationship with the kids, but I had been feeling like I was a saint for my going above and beyond my own limits to support this and her email made me feel used.

So, fast forward to the actual visit…. we arrived right on time and saw that the Birth Mom and the Adoption Specialist were already waiting outside the diner where we had agreed to meet.  My stomach was in knots. We parked and Mickey and I walked over and were introduced. Birth Mom stuck out her hand quickly so there was no weird indecisiveness about whether or not we should hug. (I have to admit, though, there was a little part of me that hoped that we would both be so overcome with emotion that we would embrace. I am such a dreamer….)

Shortly after we arrived, the clinician and the case worker both arrived. It was too difficult to get a table so the 6 of us decided to order take out and eat outside at a picnic table. In retrospect, I wish I had done more planning with the team about a list of topics to discuss. Things felt very strained as the birth mom and I tried to avoid eye contact yet both act jovial as I updated her as to how her own biological child has been doing for the past 6 months. I can’t express the level of weird that this reached.

Anyway, probably the biggest thing to come out of the visit was the birth mom stating that she needed to see Daffy before the adoption to find out if she “really wanted to be adopted.”  She said that she could not stop fighting for her until she knew that adoption is what Daffy wanted. She went on to say that she had met with a lawyer about fighting to stop the adoption and fighting to get Daffy back. We all sat in stunned silence as we listened to her talk. My thoughts were racing a mile a minute. I knew that if I was in her shoes, I would want to know the same thing. I wouldn’t want my kids to think that I ever gave up on them for even a minute. That said, I also felt it was a really “ballsy” move on her part to try to get us to agree to let her see Daffy before the adoption (which Daffy’s therapist has advised against on multiple occasions). I felt that it would be asking A LOT too much of Daffy to ask her to sit in front of both of her families and ask her to choose, especially when there is no “choice” to be made. Daffy is nine. She doesn’t get to decide what is in her best interest. The state makes those choices (at least until we adopt her in October.)

Somehow we managed to get through that part of the conversation without it coming to blows and finished our visit about an hour and a half after it started. As we were parting ways, I asked if it would be okay for me to get a picture taken with the birth mom. I have scrapbooking in my blood, and this was a HUGE moment, I couldn’t let it pass by without a photo. I later learned that the birth mom was “really touched” that I asked to have my picture taken with her. That was probably the moment I realized how little she knows me.

How would I feel if my children were taken from me? How would I feel when, 4 years after TPR, being asked to come back onto the team to help one child while the other was in the process of being adopted? Would I trust that the state who had mishandled the case so badly to have finally chosen a family that could love my daughter like I had? Could ANYONE love my child like I had? I have a ton of empathy for this woman, this woman who birthed my child, this woman who has never for a single moment stopped loving my child. I honestly can’t say that I would ever stop fighting either.

As we left the visit, I received a text message from the caseworker asking me to call her. That was weird in and of itself, because caseworkers here dont give out their cell phone numbers. Anyway, I called her back and she was mortified at what the birth mom had said about considering trying to stop the adoption and reassured me numerous times that this was not possible.  She shared that the plan is set and the plan is final… we WILL be adopting Daffy. I told her that we hadn’t been all that stressed about it, figuring the time line was too close for things to change anyway, but thanked her for her support. (I feel like this caseworker is the person that has almost single handedly saved Daffy from her fate of displaced adoptive homes and her brother’s ongoing abuse. Her text /call is just one of a million reasons I have to thank her….)

Fast forward to today. I received the first email from the birth mom since we met last week. I can’t put into words how intense these email communications are for me. She is so raw, so honest. She apologized for coming off hard and seeming threatening to the adoption. She shared that she had talked with friends, family and even another foster parent and that she had come to realize that asking Daffy to make a choice is something she should never have to do. She went on to say that all she wanted to know is that Daffy is “happy ,safe,  loved  and well taken care of” and that she knows she has those things with Mickey and me. What more could we possibly ask of this woman?

I am impressed time and time again with her. I don’t mean to minimize her role in having the kids taken away in the first place- she made some very bad choices- but in the past few months, she has gone above and beyond the expectations of what the team has had for her. She has made herself available for every requested meeting and visit (all while dealing with her own issues with a new husband and stepdaughter at home- something I will not be sharing on this blog). She has acted appropriately and said all the right things to both kids, despite her own feelings of loss and turmoil. And most of all, she has done this without being in therapy herself. I honestly feel like she is the super hero of birth moms! She has put the needs of the kids above herself and there is nothing I respect more.

I wrote her back today thanking her for her honesty and reassuring her of my plan for her to  have continued contact with Daffy. There was a little part of me that wondered if I should mention “if appropriate”, but I left that part out. If she has been this incredible this early on in the process, I believe I can only expect good things from her to come! 🙂

On a side note, she also wrote to Daffy again this morning. I forwarded her email to Daffy and then  required Daffy to check her email. Daffy logged in, read one of the 2 birth mom emails that was waiting, checked and replied to several other emails, read the second email from her birth mom and then signed out. I asked if she was planning to reply and she stated that she wasn’t in a “typing mood”….. UGH. I KNOW that her birth mom must be assuming that I am saying something negative about her (or at at the very least, not encouraging her to reply), but that is completely not true. I considered MAKING her reply, but a her therapist’s voice in the back of my head reminded me I need to let her do this at her own pace and in her own way, even though I might look like the bad guy stuck in the middle. *sigh*

Would I Do It Again?

We have often been asked if we would “do this again”… what a difficult question to answer and one that is weighing heavily on our minds as we approach adoption. Once the adoption is complete, we will need to choose whether to transfer our license to another agency (and if so, which one) or to close our license.

If I had this situation to do over, of course I would do it again. I can’t imagine our lives without Daffy. She is our daughter, plain and sample.I have zero regrets. But, will we continue as foster parents or consider adopting again? I simply dont have an answer to that question. Sometimes I feel like we might consider it and other times I still feel too raw from those first few days with Donald in our home. Mickey often jokes about being ready and the kids all say they are for continuing as a foster family, but I can’t help but wonder if they say that because it’s abstract at this point. There is no worker knocking on our door asking us to take kids.

The number one thing that keeps me from being certain is the fear of failure. In many ways I feel like we failed Donald. This rocks me to the core and makes me doubt everything I once thought I was capable of handling. My mission to help kids in foster care has not changed, but I wonder if my drive and desire to help would be better served in another way.

At this point, I am leaning heavily towards closing our license and training to become a CASA volunteer. I want to be involved in children’s lives and I want to make a difference, but I just don’t know if fostering is the best route for us to continue. I am sure we will have many conversations as a family over the next couple months and I also know better than to say “never” because life has a way of doing just what it wants despite the best laid plans…

Daffy’s Story

This is the third in a series of Guest Posts by other Cast Members here at Foster Adoption. I asked Daffy to share her version of events from the time she first learned about our family through the hearing when we finally determined her adoption date. 

IT’S A PLANE OLD DAY AT THE GROUP HOME. ONE OF THE STAFF MEMBERS CALLS ALL THE KIDS IN FOR SUPPER AND THEN CALLS FOR EVERY ONE ELSE BY RINGING THE HOUSE BELL. AT DINNER ME AND DONALD GET BROUT INTO A MEETING! ME AND DONALD WERE KIND OF NERVOSE AT FIRST BUT THEN I SAW A SMILE ON OUR CASE WORKERS FACE SO I WAS FELT BETTER I DONT KNOW ABOUT DONALD? THENE THE CASE WORKER BRINGS IN A $1,000,000 AND THEN A NOTHER $1,000,000 I’M JOKING. SO ANYWAYS THE CASE WORKER PULLS OUT A PEAS OF PAPER AND ASKS US A FEW QUESTIONS LIKE….HOW ARE YOU? HOWS SCHOOL? WHAT DID YOU LEARN AT SCOOL?……THEN SHE PULLED OUT ANOTHER PEAS OF PAPER AND SAID VERY PROUDLY “DAFFY AND DONALD YOU HAVE A NEW FAMILY” DONALD AND I WERE SO HAPPY WE JUMPED OUT OF OUR SKIN AND SHOUTED FOR JOY!!!!!! THEN SHE SAID WE WOULD MEET THEM TOMORROW. I WAS REALLY EXCITED. DONALD WELL HE JUST SAT THERE WITH HIS MOUTH OPEN! I ASKED IF HE WAS COMING TO EAT BUT HE SAT THERE FOR ABOUT 15MIN AND WENE HE CAME BACK IN HE WAS JUST IN TIME FOR DESSERT. I COULDN’T GO TO SLEEP THAT NIGHT CAUSE I COULDN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT MY NEW FAMILY. THE NEXT MORNING I SPRUNG OUT OF MY BED AND WENE I FINISHED MAKING MY BED I HELPED THE OTHERS WITH THERE’S! WE DID OUR REGULAR CHORSE THEN I FINALLY GOT TO SEE THEM WENE I FIRST MEET I FELT NERVOSE BUT AFTER WE PLAYED GAMES AND DID OTHER FUN THINGS LIKE DRESS UP….AND THEN THE DAY CAME IT WAS A TUSDAY AND A very Very VEry VERy VERY SPECIAL DAY CAUSE I WAS GOING TO LIVE AT MY NEW FAMILY’S HOUSE! THE DAYS PASSED AND I LEARND ALL OF THE RULES AND MET NEW PEOPLE IN THERE FAMILY’S AND THEY ARE MEETING MINE!

-DAFFY, AGE 9

Saying Good Bye

Since receiving the news of our agency’s closing, things have gone far better than I ever could have imagined! Not only did we get the okay for Daffy to be adopted, but we even set the date! While our case will be wrapped up before the agency closes, my heart still breaks for the many kids in our state (and neighboring states) who are losing a valuable resource and for the many employees who will be looking for work during an already depressed economic time.

In related news, both of our closest workers from the agency have secured jobs. I am extremely happy for them both, but find it difficult to say good-bye. The family suport specialist who worked closely with Daffy on 3-5-7 work has already left to pursue another career outside of the social work field. Our sw (a true God-send) will be leaving the agency in late September.

In some ways, saying good-bye one at a time is better than saying good bye all at once. It gives us the chance to find our legs and learn to stand on our own. Mickey and I were talking about just that very thing yesterday and I truly feel ready, confident even. I have grown so much since we started this process. I have learned to truly advocate. I have found my voice.

Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before We Started The Foster Adoption Process

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings
Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before We Started The Foster Adoption Process:

  1. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids are some of the toughest and hardest to place kids in the country.
    There is a reason they are chosen among all foster children to receive these additional resources/supports. The trauma and loss these kids have endured are immense and NOT for the faint of heart.
  2. Adoption profiles are deceitful.
    When Donald’s profile said “he has struggled with managing his emotions“, it really meant he would physically assault our family and pets. When the adoption listing said “energetic siblings“, it really meant they both have ADHD. I wish we better understood social work lingo and had viewed their profile with more realistic eyes.
  3. Adoptive Histories from the state are not complete.
    In fact, ours would purposely leave out many important pieces of information including sexual abuse allegations and a history of abuse to animals. I wish we had taken more time to research the case files from the past 10 years. I wish we had asked more questions. Most of all, I wish I had had enough courage to call the state out on their part in why the kids have been in the system so long instead of letting them glaze over that in the adoptive history.
  4. Reactive Attachment Disorder can not be “overcome” with love.
    RAD is not like depression or anxiety. RAD can not be cured. Research, research, research. Read books. Read blogs. Talk to other parents with children diagnosed with RAD. Ask questions. This is a life changing diagnosis, not just for the child, but for the entire family.
  5. Different workers will produce different resultsDo not be scared of change.
    History does not have to repeat itself if the right people are working the case. I wish I had spent less time worrying about the changes that were out of my control and more time working to make a quicker transition.
  6. Concurrent planning is extremely important.
    These plans are not a reflection on parents or their abilities. They do not mean that a placement will fail, but they provide a safety net that will save precious time in a child’s young life should things not go as planned. I wish I had pushed harder for a concurrent plan for Donald.
  7. Terminated Parental Rights do not mean that the kids will not have contact with their birth family.
    Things are always subject to change. Be open to this, always keeping in mind the best interest of the child.
  8. Documentation will be a valuable asset.
    Set up a system ahead of time that works to chart appointments and results, phone calls, daily notes, etc.
  9. Siblings do not always belong together.
    Enough said.
  10. Most of all, I wish I knew that this process would be the single most challenging of my life with the greatest reward at the end!
    Despite the challenges, I have to trust that we got to this very moment because this is where we are meant to be. Our family has been forever changed for the better withDaffy & Donald in our lives and for that, I will always be grateful.

This post is linked to Top Ten {Tuesday}.