Our Adoption Story: Pt. 4

Part one is here
Here's part two
Part three

Our placement started July 2, 2003. This was a very big step for all of us. It was during placement that they were returned back to foster care by the other two familes that originally had wanted to adopt them. I knew that Cimion & Shawna were hesitant and scared and they had a very right to be. here we were, the third couple telling them that we were going to be their "forever" parents and that they could trust us. To them, those words means next to nothing.

We met Jennifer Grillo (their case worker, on the right) and Sheila Aja (their guardian ad litem, on the left) at the DCF office.

We had to sign a ton of papers like paperwork giving us permission to get them medical treatment and enroll them in school.

When we were done, we sealed it with a kiss. Jennifer said no other couples had ever asked her to take a picture of them kissing after signing. LOL!!

At this point, we had been visiting with the kids since February and had done several overnight visits. It was getting difficult to move to the next level with them going back and forth between us and their foster parents. We tried to keep their lifestyle as close as possible to the one they had with their foster parents so they wouldn't get to confused. Things like bedtimes, certain rules, meal times.

When they moved in we spent a lot of time working on the house to accomodate three extra people and their stuff. School was out so we had lots of free time to hang out and get to know each other better.

Cimion was on his best behavior all through placement, as he had been throughout our visting period. We knew his true self would emerge soon and we were ready.

Cimion & Shawna continued with their speech/language therapy, occupational/physical therapy, med. check ups and mental health therapy throughout all this.
We also went to register Jacqueline for kindergarten. (If I knew then what I knew now, I would have homeschooled her from the start)

Some highlights during this three month period was the kids calling us mom and dad, Shawna telling me she hated me and Cimion insisting he had an uncle that was coming to get him. Never a dull moment!

During this time also, we started calling the youngest one by her real name, Jacqueline. She had been called Jackie up to that point but we weren't really fond of that name. Also their foster parents told the kids that they should start calling them by their first names, Pat & Bill, instead of mom and dad.

The following pictures were all taken during our placement, from July-October of 2003.

Swimming in our pool:

We invited their foster family over a lot during that time (and we currently still keep in touch with them). This was one of the visits with their foster mom Pat, foster brother Lance (who got adopted the following year by a couple not far from us and we enjoy getting together.) and their foster sister Jessica.

Playing dress up with Billy: (Isn't he a cutie?)

Jacqueline's 5th birthday:

Cimion's 11th birthday:

Continued in part five

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Day Fifty Five (some photos)

I've been trying really hard to post pictures at Forever Parents but for some reason, after I scan them they come out SO BIG!!! Blogger has a setting where you can resize pictures so for now I'm going to post some here.

I have two to start with...the first is Jacqueline on her 7th birthday. She's in our dining area before we painted the walls. Those sliding doors are no longer there either, they're now glass doors, kinda like french doors without the lines. Her hair is braided and pulled back.
I love this picture because her eyes are just shining and she looks so happy. :-)

I wanted to share something that I recently wrote on Forever Parents about her:

For Jacqueline Anne: age 7

I never though it possible to love another human being the way I love my Jacqueline.
She makes being a mother fun. She makes me enjoy being a mommy.

She makes me laugh with some of the things she says. Like the time she told me (thinking that my being a vegetarian and not having a job was somehow connected) that she wants to be a vegetarian so she doesn't have to get a job.
Or the first time I added some ground beef to ziti and she said to me "Well missy, aren't you becoming quite the little chef".

She makes me stretch the wrinkles out of my brain as she questions me on everything from abortion to homosexuality, from animal rights to racism.

Her smile lights up my heart.
Her laughter is the most beautiful sound I ever heard.

She tells me I'm the bestest madre (she's teaching herself Italian) in the whole world.
When we kiss goodnight she tells me she can't wait until the morning to see me again.

She makes me want to be a better person just for her.
She makes me want to make the world a better place, just for her.

I will tear the limbs off the first boy (or girl!) that breaks her heart.

She sings and dances and spins and twirls and sparkles and shines throughout our day.
She's thoughtful and kind and considerate.
She's funny and silly and goofy.

She's my daughter.

The second one is me but it's from last year. I don't have any new ones so I figured I just post this one. I gained quite a bit of weight in the last year and it shows in this picture! My hair is also pretty long but it's pulled back in this picture. I'm in the front of our house but everything looks totally different now! That white fencing is now gone and it's brown. The stones I'm standing on is now totally cemented in and bigger. The house that's in the background is the house my mother just bought a few months ago. :-)

Today, the kids went into the pool for the first time, since last fall. We started out in the hot tub, which just got fixed yesterday after 2 months of it being out of commision. While we were in it, Jacqueline said she wanted to go in the pool (we have a fairly large inground pool that we maintain all year). Even though it's Florida, it's not that hot yet and the water is probably only about 65 degrees so I warned her it would be cold. She jumped right in. LOL Cimion & Shawna followed (they got in a little at a time) and they all stayed in about 15 minutes then they all got back into the hot tub. LOL

Our Adoption Story: pt. 3

Read part one here.

Read part two here.

We continued to visit with them on the weekends and talking on the phone during the week. Billy was able to get every weekend off for several weeks in a row so we could have time with them.
I felt very strongly that we not buy them gifts or take them to many places in the beginning. There is a tendency to give foster children lots of stuff, I guess to make up for the shitty life they have. But i think all that does is create more problems for them (and their parents) later on. Things can not replace love and attention. Once we've established love and attention and trust, then buying them things is not taking the place of anything.
Simply put, we (my husband & I) had to be enough. Just us...not what we could buy them.
So we had picnics, went to the park, hung out in our pool and played games, and during those times, we talked and we listened.

My mom & Jacqueline in front of our home:

This next post is from 3/18/03 and was titled "We just spent our first weekend with the kids".

I'm wiped out! LOL
Not so much from them doing anything wrong...just from having three kids in the house, well four if you count my husband. Guess who broke my gazing ball with the basketball on Saturday and a drinking glass by pushing a swing to hard on Sunday? No, not the little kids...it was the big one...the 37 year old one!
The weekend was pretty good. There was a lot of testing and watching us from all three of them. Their foster mom sent them with a lot of their toys so they had a lot to play with. She told us to keep all the stuff she packed at our house and that she would send them with more things every time we pick them up. They have more stuff than i did at their age! Cimion (the 10 yr. old boy) even has his own computer! We discussed how to treat my dog & iguana and that went over well. We went over some of the rules, like no hitting and not going into our bedroom.
We're picking them up again this Saturday and they're staying with us for NINE DAYS!!!!!!!! It's spring break and their case worker asked us if we would like to have them and of course we said yes. Our placement won't start until school ends so it'll give us a chance to get used to having them in the house.
Looks like we're moving right along.

Easter 2003, in front of our home (the white fence is lo longer there):

Over the next several weeks, we continued spending time with them, meeting with their case worker, talking with their foster parents and getting to know them, and then getting to know us.

Here is an update post I wrote on 5/503:

We're still visiting with the three kids when school is not in session, like weekends and holidays. When school is over, we'll do a 10 day visit, then they'll go back to their foster home for about 4-5 days, then they'll come back for a 3 week visit, which will bring us to the end of June. Towards the end of that 3 week visit, we'll meet with our case worker and let her know if we want to start placement. If we're all in agreement, they won't leave after that visit and our placement will start July 1 and continue for about 3 months. If that goes well we'll probably finalize late September, early October.

Things have been going okay, nothing we haven't been able to handle. Cimion (the 10 yr. old boy) is on his best behavior for fear that we'll send him back. It isn't like he's a behavioral child to begin with, he's pretty easy going but right now he's just to good to be true. I know he'll let his guard when he feels more comfortable and as he trusts us more. Chawna (8 next month, girl) is a handful. One of the issues she's got is terrible social skills; never says please or thank you, doesn't share, doesn't take turns etc. She's like a 2 year old in that way. She's got some other issues but this is the one that really needs some help fast. Jacqueline (4 yr. old girl) has been acting out lately (tantrums, whining) and it's all coming from this confusion of being adopted and having to leave her "mom". She's been with their foster mom since she's 9 months old and, to her, this is her mommy.

Things are actually going well though! We have boundries, rules & consequences set in place. It'll be easier to enforce them when they move in and for right now we pick & choose our battles. We've met with their therapists & teachers and they all say that they talk about us in a positive way and that they want to be adopted.

Billy & I are attending the adoption conference in Orlando this weekend (Thursday-Saturday) and then picking up the kids for an overnight visit until Sunday so I won't be around until after that. We're looking forward to the conference, the agency is paying for our registration & hotel. I'll tell you guys all about it when we get back and the kids leave.

Billy & I with our adoption case worker Pat at a weekend long adoption conference in Orlando. She nominated us and we were chosen out of all the couples in our county.
Here is a picture of us with Pat, at the conference:

Continued in part four

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Day Fifty Three

What a great day today!

The weather was so beautiful that we spent most of it outside in the yard. I got a lot of gardening done, and it was badly needed. We have an area in the front that I planted some flowers in last year and some of them had died, so I replaced them and some just needed some tender loving care.
We also "planted" out artifical Christmas tree from last year. We decided to get a bigger one so instead of throwing this one out, we stuck it in the dirt and are using it as a bird restaurant. LOL Jacqueline & I put peanut butter and bird seeds on some very large pine cones and hung them from ribbons. Then we strung some popcorn and everything went on the tree.
Our next project will be a butterfly garden. :-)

Jacqueline was invited to to a birthday party/sleepover by one of her Brownie friends. Actually, it's the troop leaders daughter and they only live a couple of blocks away. We bought a really nice art kit for her to take as a gift. She's so excited to be going. :-)

Shawna is sitting on the swing in the screen room answering a letter from her penpal Casey. I was reading some stuff on Sandra Dodd's website and came across something that Casey wrote. Here is the link, check it out! There is also a link to some of her mom Mary's unschooling articles at the bottom of the page.

I wanted to share a picture of our iguana, Buddie. She's 8 years old and we've had her since she was a year old. She's very tame and is free roaming. Isn't she a beauty? :-)

Our Adoption Story: pt. 2

Here is the link to part one.

Our homestudy got approved and we continued looking at files. We found one of two girls and decided to meet them at one of the picnics. They were 6 & 7 year old and we deicded to find out more about them. About a week later we were told that the younger one was being to abusive to the other and they had decided to adopt them seperately but that the younger one wasn't ready yet and were we still interested in the older one. We decided to pass because we were really interested in siblings.
Then Pat called us to say that the three siblings that were in placement with the other family, had been returned back to their foster home because it didn't work out! Wow, talk about mixed feelings. I felt horrible for those kids, being rejected like that but I was happy that we had a chance to meet them.
Their caseworker, Jennifer called us and we set up an appointment to meet with her and read their file.
They had been in foster care for 4 years, having been removed at 9 months, almost 4 years old and 6 and a half years old. They had been seperated for a year because they couldn't find one home for all three but they did visits with them when possible. Their last three years in foster care was in one home, with foster parents Pat & Bill and two other foster children, a 5 year old boy and a 17 year old girl. We found out they were biologically related on the bio. mothers side (she's white) and that there had been three different bio. fathers, two black and one white, which would explain the difference in skin color, Shawna being white and Jacqueline & Cimion being biracial.
We read about the abuse and neglect they suffered while still in the care of their bio. mother. We all know child abuse exists but to read about it from police and court reports in detail is stomach turning.
We also found out that the failed placement was their second failed placement. My God! That is so damn damaging to these babies! To be rejected after being hyped once is bad enough but to have it twice is cruel. What the hell is wrong with these families??!! Don't they know these are human beings they're playing with? It makes me so sad to think about what they went through.
Because of their two failed placements, Jennifer wanted to wait a while before we met them and even said that Shawna told her she didin't want to meet anymore families. We spent about a month, meeting with Jennifer, reading their files, meeting with their teachers, former caseworkers and therapists. We knew more about these three than they even knew about themselves.

I went back to the archives of Forever Parents and found some of my old posts and I'm going to copy them here as I go along. I'll post them in italics.

This one is from 2/22/03 and is titled "A Possible Match"

We've been spending the last 2-3 weeks reading the file of a sibling group of 3. (ages 4, 7 & 10, two girls and a boy). We've met with their worker several times, the district supervisor and the guardian ad litem. We still have to meet with their teachers, therapists and foster parents. Their case worker gave us a copy of The Battered Child.
It's a little hard to be happy though. The only reason why these children are even available is because their biological mother negelcted and abused them and even spent time in prison for felony child abuse. It's a weird feeling for me to know that these childrens suffering is what's making this possible. Does that make sense and has anyone ever felt that?
Their biological mother is white and they each have different biological fathers. The middle child has a white b.father and the other two have black b.fathers, making them bi-racial.
The youngest one is basically doing okay and doesn't have any memory of her b.parents and the abuse. The middle child has been diagnosed with ODD & ADHD. The oldest one has been diagnosed with ADHD and is developmentally delayed. They had 2 failed placements and that sent up a big red flag for me. The information we received was that the first placement was over a year ago and failed after about 3 weeks because the couple was having marital problems and decided to get a divorce. The second placement was a few months ago and also ended after 3 weeks. This one ended due to several issues. One was that the wife favored the middle child and was ignoring the other two. Also the husband talked his wife into the placement and she wasn't ready for 3 children. The oldest told the wife that he hated her and she said that she felt that he would get violent, although he didn't and has no history of violence.
I think we're going to try and meet them Friday. We've been stopping ourselves from becoming emotionally involved until we meet them and we're doing a pretty good job of keeping a level head with this. The district supervisir did say that the middle girl has been diagnosed RAD and also possibly having PTSD. He said that so many of the symptoms are the same that it's hard to actually say she has one disorder over another and that it's probably a combination of several. He also said that whatever disorders she does have are mild to moderate. Although most of the physical abuse was directed at the boy, the middle girl was affected the most because she took on the "mother" role and feels responsible for her siblings.
*sigh* What problems these kids have in their short lives.

Finally the day came.
On February 28, 2003, we met them at a small picnic area off the Gulf of Mexico. Jannifer was there and also Sheila Aja, their guardian ad litem. We stayed about 3 hours and basically, just hung out and kept it very casual. We bought a camera and took some pictures and Sheila bought a couple of board games.

This is our first group picture:

Jacqueline (4 years old) was very quiet and in the shadow of her sister the whole day. Shawna (7 years old) was mean and controlling, especially toward Jacqueline and Cimion (10 Years old) was on his best behavior and told me he loved me. How sad.
As we were leaving, I asked Shawna if they wanted to meet with us again and she said "Okay, as long as you don't lie to us".

This post was from 2/28/03 and was titled "We met the kids".

Oh boy! We just got back from meeting the sibling group that we're considering. We spend about 2 hours with the three of them, their guardian ad litem and their caseworker. It went really well. The boy spent a lot of time with my husband, which is what the case worker had told us he would do. Most of his conversations with me were about his imaginary uncle that takes him places and does things with him. The middle girl was looking for attention, especially when we gave it to one of the other kids. The little was was fine and talked to both of us. All three of them are really cute kids and were on their best behavior.
We went to their foster house afterwards and made plans to call them during the week and to see them again next Saturday. It's hard to tell anything from the first meeting because like I said, they were on the best behavior. As we were getting ready to leave, I asked them if they wanted to get together with us again and they all said yes. The middle girl looked at me and said, rather seriously, "No lies, okay?". So sad that a 7 year old girl would feel it needed to say that. They've been hurt and they don't want to be hurt again.

This post is from 3/4/03:

We spoke to them on the phone tonight. The little one was all giggles and she sounds like Minnie Mouse so it was hard to understand her. The middle one is very cautious about this being they just had a failed placement last fall. She verbalizes what all three are feeling. The older boy is quite talkative and wanted to know when they could see our house. I'm wiped out just talking to them on the phone!!

Continued in part three

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The right choice

I love these moments.

These little moments prove to me that I made the right decision removing my children from school and choosing unschooling.

My 7 year old daughter & I were reading in our back yard yesterday. She was reading a book about ants and I was reading
Zen Parenting.

Over the last 11 months of her being out of school, I've discovered that she processes information by talking about it. I'm exactly the same way and it was nice to find out we have that in common.

After almost every page, she put the book down, looked up and talked about what she just read. She would say things like "Oh! So that's why some ants work in teams" or "I wonder how the queen gets the rest of the ants to work? What happens if they say no?" or "I didn't know there were so many types of ants" and "If we were ants, we could probably pick up a car because they can carry more than their own body weight".

As I was telling my husband later that evening, he agreed with me that if she had read that story in school, she would never have been allowed to process or examine the information in HER way. She would have to do it their way. She probably would have been told to be quiet and keep reading.

Reason #23 to take your kids out of school. :-)


Our Adoption Story: pt. 1

Pre-Adoption: Our Life Before

My husband Billy & I always knew we wanted to adopt. We had talked about it, several times, early on in our relationship. Personally, I never had the feeling that I wanted to be pregnant. I'm not quite sure why, it's just something I've always known. As a matter of fact, the idea of becoming a mother didn't occur to me until I was way in my 30's.

Billy & I got married in 1994, having been together 6 years before that. Our life was pretty wild when we met and continued through out our early marriage. We were very active in the hard rock/heavy metal scene in New York City and "sex, drugs & rock & roll" were the norm.

In 2001, our lives were forever changed and it was the start of a new chapter for us. By that time, we had sewn more than our fair share of wild oats and life was pretty calm. We had decided early in 2001 to move to Florida the following year. Buying a house in NYC is just to difficult (unless you're making mega bucks) and we didn't want to have to struggle each month.

My mother had recently remarried and they bought a winter place in Central Florida so we went there a few times to see how it was. We decided to buy a house there and they also decided to make a permanent move there. One of my longest friend, Adrienne, also lived in Florida (she moved when we were 16) and she lived about 30 minutes away with her husband & 3 kids so this was really something we were all excited about!

In August of 2001, Adrienne's husband George (everybody called him Squeak) died of a massive heat attack at the age of 42. We immediately flew to Florida to be with Adrienne and her kids. I can't even find the words to tell you how much we loved Squeak. Although we lived in different states, the four of us had become very close over the years and had visited each other many times. Just the previous year, Billy & I helped Adrienne locate her birth family and they had their reunion at my home. Billy took a short leave from work and we stayed in Florida for a while to help out and be close.

A short while after we flew home, the events of September 11 shook our world like nothing else. We lost two friends that day and more aquaintances that we knew we even had. My cousin is a firefighter with the FDNY and we attended some of the memorial services and funerals for some of the firefighters in our neighborhood. Our thoughts and what we dealt with regarding September 11 and the aftermath, is a whole other story that I'll tell at another time.

We were hurting because we lost Squeak and trying to comprehend what was going on around us in our devistated city when life had another twist for us. Two weeks later, my mother's husband, Tony had a heart attack and died, on their two year wedding anniversary.

This was a man who had become a father to Billy & I. The four of us lived in the same house (us in the upstairs apartment and them downstairs) and we were very close. To lose so many people and live through so much tragedy changed us in ways that would become a blessing later on and is a deep part of who we are today, which is why it's important to our adoption story.

Our plans to move to Florida were up in the air now, we had lost Tony, who was going to move with us and we had lost Squeak who was supposed to be there in Florida when we moved. Plus, our city was in mourning and we didn't feel right leaving so soon. After many soul baring discussions, we decided to make the move but didn't leave until early 2002.

Starting the Process:

Moving to Florida, after being born and raised in Brooklyn was a culture shock! It's actually been a very positive thing for us, we really like it here. And all we ever meet is fellow New York transplants anyway. :-)

As soon as we closed on our house, we started the adoption process. We had talked about adoption all through our relationship. We really weren't in a rush to be parents. We just kept talking and discussing and investigating all the different ways to adopt so they when we were ready, we would already know what we wanted to do. In the course of all our discussions, there were two issues that we felt strongly about.

One, we knew that we wanted to adopt domestically. We saw no need to look outside our own country when there are children waiting to be adopted here. Second, we didn't want an open adoption. We didn't want to have the committment of having a birthmother in our lives after the adoption was final. Sending pictures and possible visits was something we weren't comfortable with so we didn't pursue that route. We decided to adopt a child (already legally freed for adoption) through the foster care system.

Our Homestudy:

The first part of our homestudy was to take a 10 week MAPP class. MAPP means Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting. The class was designed to expose you to the realities that these kids face in their biological home and in foster care. It touched on a lot of different topics such as attachment disorder, sexual and physical abuse and we spent some time talking about our own childhoods. There were a lot of exercises that were designed to help us put ourselves in the childrens shoes.

I found it to be very informative and Billy & I participated in a lot of the discussions. The two women who ran it did a fantastic job. One of the women, Pat, was an adoptions case worker and the other (her name slipped my mind) was an adoptive parent. We were one of 6 couples and Billy & I both got the impression right away that the majority of the couples were looking to impress the agency and give all the "right" answers.

One time we were on the topic of different ways that these kids act out and one of them was inappropriate masturbation. When Pat said those words, you could hear a pin drop. I think one of the women actually gasped. LOL!! I was the only one who stayed calm and said that I would simply tell them to do it in private. All the parents joked that they were going to send me their kids when they hit puberty.

Towards the end of the class, we were assigned to a caseworker and we were thrilled that Pat took us on. We had started to build a connection with her during our MAPP class and we felt that she knew us very well.

She came to our home about a week later and we spent some time together. She said she was impressed with our openness and honesty during the class. She also said that she thought that because we were personally involved with September 11 and that we had lost so many close people in our lives, it would help us understand the loss these type of kids felt and that we would be able to understand the grieving process (which we spent time talking about in MAPP class). She also said that our "colorful" past would help us not be shocked at anything these kids did.

In the end, Pat would prove to be our loudest supporter and cheerleader but more about that later.

At this time we started talking to Pat more about what kind of child would be a good match for us. We mentioned that we wanted to adopt more than once, maybe over a few years. She asked us if we had considered a sibling group. We hadn't, but the idea interested us. We started looking at the Florida's photo listing of available children while our homestudy was being completed.

When I came across that first picture of my children (before they were mine, of course), it made me take a second look because it was the only multiracial sibling group I had seen. The picture showed "J" at age 3, "S"at 6 and "C" at 9. They were absolutely adorable and I asked Pat about them.

She told me that she had inquired about them and they were in placement with another family. Placement is the next step after you've been visiting with a child for a while. They move in with you for a period of 90 days. Once the 90 days are finished, you can petition the court to finalize the adoption. She also said that the picture was old and they were now 4, 7 & 10. I was a little disappointed that they were placed, but of course, I was happy for them.

We started looking at files and even went to two of the adoption picnics that DCF held. I have to hand it to the case workers at the agency we dealt with. They're a bunch of very dedicated people and they try hard to get these kids faces out there. Some people may not like their methods, but the goal is to get these children adopted, not worrying about offending people every person out there.

The only down side to Florida is they don't allow gay people to adopt. Florida is one of the few states that discriminate against gay people in this way. But that's another rant, another post.

Continued in part two

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A couple of weeks ago, my family had an anniversary. It was 3 years ago that Billy & I met our children. :-)

We spent some time looking at pictures from that day and talking about things that happened and how we felt. We've all changed so much from that day.

I've haven't blogged about the journey that led us to adopting our three children. Most of my posts have been about what's happening now. It may take me a little while but I'm going to start from the beginning with my Day Fifty post.