Monday, March 23, 2015

Marathons

I go to church in Oakland, and yesterday, the Oakland Marathon ran right past our side lawn.  The pastor made good use of this fact in her sermon.  Marathons make good metaphors.  One thing she mentioned is that long-distance runners hate when spectators tells them that they're "almost there" when there are still miles to go.  Those final miles, in fact, are the hardest and most painful, and the runners are not "almost there."

Right now, this feels like the story of my life.  I feel like I'm on so many long-distance journeys, and I'm starting to feel it,  I'm trying to finish my first novel and get it epublished before summer, and I have so few hours in the week to devote to it that it seems like it will never get done,  And then I get to thinking about the sequel and when I'm going to find time for that, and I'm overwhelmed.  Then there's the Lupus, which is a journey that will probably never be over, and right now, I'm in the hills, hoping for some flat stretches around the corner.  Then there's our effort to adopt a second child, a process that began over two and a half years ago.  Even when we do match with an expectant mom, those last days of waiting and hoping and not knowing are brutally long, and you don't feel "almost there" until you're sitting in a hotel room looking at a baby with a dumbfounded look on your face.

So when I limp by and you give me some water, please don't tell me that I'm "almost there."  Just remind me that I'm looking good and that I can do it.  I'll do the same for you.  ;-)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Arkansas Re-homing Atrocity

This story has pretty much all the triggers, fyi.

Sometimes adoptions get "disrupted" after finalization.  There are cases when it is in a child's best interest that he or she join another family because their current one cannot meet their needs.  This tends to happen to older children with extremely difficult-to-handle emotional and behavioral problems.  Sometimes the family wasn't honestly informed about the child's issues pre-adoption, and the child poses a significant physical danger to to others in the household.  Sometimes disruption is done with the supervision of professionals, and the child goes to a family with a valid home study where the parents have been trained to help a child with severe issues, or they go to a residential treatment program for those with mental illnesses.  It is always a tragedy, but sometimes is a tragedy with the transition conducted in a responsible, loving manner.  This post is not about one of those times.

"Re-homing" is a term used in the adoption community when parents simply give their adopted child or children to another family, often with minimal vetting and no supervision by any sort of adoption professionals or governmental agency.  They just sign over guardianship and wash their hands of a child they no longer want in their house.  It's a horrible practice that leads to lots of abuse and trauma for the kids, as you might imagine.  It's something most people never would consider doing if they had a bio kid with difficulties rather than an adopted one.

In Arkansas, a state legislator (R-Crazytown) named Justin Harris adopted two little girls, age 2 and 4 at the time. The elder one had been sexually abused in the family of origin.  Mr. Harris and his wife were allegedly informed of the child's emotional issues.  They were, in fact, strongly discouraged from adopting the children by the girls' foster family and by various social workers who felt that the couple were not equipped to handle their needs.  They ignored this advice, because Jesus, or something?  Anyhow, they adopted the girls against advice, allegedly by exerting pressure on the head of DHS, whose budget Mr. Harris just happens to oversee on his legislative committee.

After about a year of doing things like locking the older girl in an empty room for hours at a time and conducting exorcisms failed to heal her trauma (shocker, I know), they turned the girls over to some guy who used to work for them-- at their government funded super-Christian preschool, natch.  New dad promptly began raping the older girl, and he is now in prison.  The girls are now apparently doing okay in yet another new family.  Mr. Harris, of course, blames everyone but himself and his wife for this horror show.

Adoptions that go terribly awry tend to do so because best practices are ignored by agencies and hopeful adoptive parents.  For some reason, this seems to happen more frequently in a certain part of the Evangelical community that is really into promoting adoption and large families.  Most of these situations could be prevented if people would simply do proper research, listen to people who know what they are talking about, think things through, and not take parenting advice from wingnuts,  I don't just blame the adoptive parents in these situations.  Many of them have the best of intentions when they decide to adopt.  Agencies and DHS need to do more to stop bad placements.

Reasons I think you should not adopt an older child with a history of trauma or other special needs

1)You think love is enough.

Everyone wants to believe that love is enough to heal a broken heart.  It isn't.  Love is necessary but not sufficient.  You also need knowledge and professional help to assist a traumatized child in recovering, attaching, and learning to thrive.

2)  You think you can pray it away.

I go to church every week.  I pray every day.  But God gave us brains so we can use them.  We have psychologists.  Go to one who specializes in adoption and trauma.  You can pray all you want in the car on the way there.

3)  You already have a boatload of small children

High needs kids need lots of attention in order to recover.  That is kind of their whole bag.  There are only 24 hours in the day.  You think God will make a way?  Maybe his way is another family with fewer demands on the primary caregiver's time and energy.

People act like there is no way to foresee that a mom home-schooling five other kids under the age of 12 can't handle a 4-year-old with an emotional problem or a health issue that requires four doctors' appointments a week.  Anyone who has a grip on reality can see that train wreck coming.  It isn't fair to the new child nor to the ones you already have.  Why do agencies let people do this?

4)  You're adopting out of birth order

Do not adopt a special needs 3-year-old when you have or are expecting a new baby.  That high-needs kid needs to be the center of attention for at least a couple of years.

5) You have an authoritarian parenting style

I'm not saying you can't have rules and structure in your home.  I'm saying if unquestioning obedience and submission to authority is what you require of your children, a child with a trauma history is not a good idea for you.  Quite frankly, I think it's a terrible idea with any kid, but with a traumatized kid, it is a disaster.

You can't punish kids into forming healthy attachments.  You can't use the rod to make them trust you.  You certainly can't regularly lock them in a room all alone with no toys or books for hours on end because you think they are possessed by demons and expect that they will get better.  That makes you a child abuser, not a parent, and they shouldn't let you adopt a hamster much less a child.

6) You're going to treat your adopted kids like second class citizens in their own home

Your new kids will be able to tell if you treat your bio kids' health, safety, and happiness as more important than your adopted kids' health, safety, and happiness.  Kids aren't stupid.  How good do you think that is for attachment?

7) You have a savior complex.

It is noble to want to help a child who needs a family.  It is horrible to place obligations on a child to be grateful to you for "saving" them, or to teach a kid that their home country is a horrible place you saved them from, or that their family of origin was terrible.  It's wrong to adopt because your church is putting pressure on you to do so or because you want to look like a saint or a martyr.  It's gross and harms the kids.


Families in crisis need more resources.  Particularly in international adoption, once that adoption is finalized, sometimes parents have nowhere to turn for help.  Mr. Harris claims DHS threatened them and refused to help them when they asked for assistance, and that the head of DHS knew about the rehoming,  If true, that is a real problem.  But in in addition to providing resources for these families, more care needs to be taken pre-placement to ensure that the fit for the child is a good one.

The Harrisses abused these girls and then turned them over to a monster.  They should experience consequences for that.  But they also should never have been allowed to take those girls home in the first place.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

This SAE thing . . . I can't even

I'm sure all of you, rock-dwellers aside, have heard about the SAE racism scandal at the University of Oklahoma.  The school seems to be taking things seriously, expelling both the fraternity and some of the ringleaders.  Now one of the kids' parents have issued a statement which reads like one part apology, one part denial, and forty-six parts white privilege.

Now, I can kind of understand where these parents are coming from.  They don't want everyone to think their kid is a monster. They probably think they didn't raise their kid to be racist.  White people seem to think that unless you're a card carrying Klan member, you can't be a racist.  We think that if we don't consciously think or say, "I think white people are better than everyone else, and I hate Black people super much," then we're not racist.  We don't acknowledge that racism is instead a system of oppression that affects all of us.

I don't think this young man's parents sat him down when he was a kid and said, "Son, I want you to hate Black people."  That isn't how you wind up with kids who would sing that song, not most of the time.  Hey, maybe they never even used the n-word at the dinner table.  But there are plenty of ways white parents pass down racism to their kids without even noticing.  I'm going to focus on anti-Black racism for the moment, since that is the case with the SAE issue.

A (very) partial list of ways you can teach your kids to think of Black people as "less than"

1) When an unarmed Black kid gets shot by the cops, calling him a "thug" who had it coming instead of acknowledging that Black kids are more likely than white kids to get shot for the same behavior.
2) When an unarmed Black kid gets shot by the cops, posting "police lives matter" memes, as if cop killers routinely walk free in our country and we really need to be reminded that their lives matter.
3) Bringing up "Black-on-Black crime" every time someone tries to talk about police brutality, as if the one cancels out the other, or as it Black people don't care about that, too.
4) Using the terms "race baiter" or "playing the race card" when a person of color tries to talk about their lived experience.
5) Laughing at cartoons of the President picking cotton and eating watermelon.

"But Anne Margaret," you say, "I would never say any or do any of those things!  Surely my child cannot grow up to think singing a song about lynching is funny."  Well, buckle in for some "racism lite."

Some more ways you can leave your kids racially ignorant in ways that will eventually cause them to hurt other people

1) Refusing to talk about race with your kids because you think that somehow this will cause your kids to grow up to be "colorblind" or simply because you don't ever think about it much, because, hey, you don't have to think about race.  After all, you're white.  Newsflash: we all see color, assuming our eyes work correctly.
2) Not acknowledging that racism still exists and discussing it with your kids (in age appropriate fashion) when examples arise.
3) Whispering about race like it's dirty: "You, know, Kenny, in accounting . . . [whispers] he's Black."
4) Refusing to talk about the ugly parts of American History that have shaped our country into what it is today. (I'm looking at you, Oklahoma.)
5) Pretending we live in a "post-racial America" when our culture sends constant messages that white is better.
6) Not ever interacting with people who are different from you.


I  know it is hard to talk about racism.  Do you think I enjoy explaining to my Black child that people who looked like me used to own people who looked like him and do horrible things to them?  Do you think I like teaching my kid to never wear his hood up and to always keep his hands where the police can see them?  Do you think I like talking about Black people being denied the right to vote?  Do you think I want to talk to him about what to do when someone does or says something racist to him?  I do it because I have to in order to try to keep him safe, mostly from white people whose parents couldn't be bothered to teach them properly.

Black people have to do this shit with their kids every day since forever.  It's time for white people to step up with theirs. Read a damn book, broaden your horizons, face reality, and talk to your kids on a regular basis about these things. 

Those SAE parents wanted to tell everyone that in spite of his mistakes, their son has a good heart.  You know who else always says that?  The mothers of those unarmed Black boys shot dead in the street by the police.  Then tons of people make fun of them for being "ghetto" and call their dead babies "thugs." 

And that is how you get college kids who think singing a song about murdering a Black man to prevent him from joining a club is funny.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Five Life Lessons from Disneyland, in No Particular Order

We recently made our first family trip to Disneyland.  It was, in the words of our five-year-old, "totally epic."  I had a lot of time to mull things over while standing in line for tickets, standing in line for rides, standing in line to meet characters, standing in line to avoid standing in later lines, standing in line to eat, standing in line to pee, standing in lines for a bus to another line, etc.  Here is a summary of my musings, and I won't even make you stand in line to read them.

1) Don't force your kids to do things they aren't ready for.

This applies to many areas of life, but Disneyland makes it uncomfortably obvious in the weeping, screaming faces of children mid-meltdown.  There is no point in bringing a kid younger than five to Disneyland.  You will pay a lot of money, and everyone will suffer.  Between the skeletons freaking everywhere and the overpriced toys around every corner, you are well and truly screwed if your kid is not old enough to have some degree of control over his feelings.
 
This lesson applies to many areas of life.  Perhaps a 3-year-old doesn't need tutoring or to be playing three sports, for example.  Perhaps it's okay that my kid needs a nightlight, hasn't yet read War and Peace, and still wakes up with a wet pull-up in the morning.  I'm pretty sure that by the time he leaves for college, he will possess both literacy and bladder control.

2) Churros are yummy.
 
Enough said.

 
3) A place that is fun can still be casually racist.
Tiana.  Iridessa. The Black baby dolls singing "It's a Small World." There, I've listed all the Black characters I saw at Disneyland who aren't shooting poison arrows or wearing hats made of bananas -- and only the singing babies had curly hair.
Does this statement mean that I think everyone who works at Disney is a racist, and you can't go there ever again, and if you have fun there you're a terrible human being, and I don't want to be your friend anymore, and we should feel guilty for being born white?  No.  
 
Does this mean that I think white supremacy and white privilege are pervasive in our culture and I saw that in stark relief at Disneyland?  Yes.  Does it mean that it makes me sad that my Black/Indian kid sees very few people there who look like him?  Yes.  Do I think white people need to be more aware of and self-aware about these kinds of issues and be a part of fighting the good fight?  Yes.

4) Personal interaction makes a bigger impression than dazzling technology.

You know what my kid loved best at Disneyland?  It wasn't the amazing rides, though Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters was a big hit.  It was meeting and conversing with Captain America and getting to fight Darth Vader in the Jedi Training Academy.  He loved interacting with the characters and staff and playing pretend with the other kids on Pirate Island and in Toon Town.  He loved telling his tales of adventure to anyone in earshot back at the hotel.  He loved spending time with his parents and his birthmother and sharing his excitement with us.  The joy was in the interaction and the relationships.
Kids don't need an expensive trip or pricey gadgets to make happy memories.  They just need us and an adventure of their own making.

5) Good things come to those who wait.
 
We did a lot of waiting in line, as I may have mentioned earlier.  My kiddo was a trooper.  After every ride, I asked him if the wait was worth it.  Every time, he said that it was.  We never knew for sure while we were doing the waiting of course.  We had our moments of doubt.  Maybe Nemo will stay lost, we thought. Maybe all the animatronic children singing "It's a Small World" will come to life and kill us all in their first step to world domination.  Maybe I'll barf on Star Tours.  Okay, that last one is a bad example since it almost actually happened.  The point is that in the end, generally, our perseverance was rewarded.  
 
Good things come after a time of waiting.  Good things can even come during a time of waiting.

This is a lesson we hear often in the church: look at Advent and Lent.  But sometimes in our daily lives, we want everything to come so quickly.

This is a lesson I often struggle to remember as we wait (over 2 years so far this time around) to see if anyone out there will choose us to raise her child.  It is a lesson I have to repeat to myself as I struggle to make progress writing my stories and getting them published in my very limited free time.  It is a lesson I often forget when I get impatient with my health, when Lupus seems to be winning and my treatments seem to struggle to make any headway.
 
When I get impatient, I need to remember that when I look back at periods of my life spent waiting, those aren't bad memories.  The journey still contained joy and growth and fun.  I also need to remember that every time I've been seemingly stuck in an endless line, that every time the days have crawled by with little to show for them, when I got to the front of the line, the ride was still worth it: better, even, than Astro Blasters.