Monday, November 8, 2010


I’m a lawyer and should be drafting an appellate brief. But blogging about diabetes and my two wonderful children who have it is so much more fun.

My 14 year old son Trent was diagnosed a few days after his fourth birthday. Due to my husband’s vigilance, Trent was well cared for at home. We were lucky to find a no-nonsense babysitter who, after being told Trent had diabetes, said, “OK, so I prick his finger to get blood and then what?” She took on the challenges of diabetes with aplomb. Trent was asked to leave the daycare he was attending when he was diagnosed in June 2000. As a lawyer, I learned about Section 504 and the IDEA Statute and convinced the daycare (on the campus of a community college) that they had to take him back. I didn’t really want him to return, but I wanted to prove my point. I was subsequently able to use Section 504 to get him enrolled in a public pre-k program. With Trent on the pump in August of 2000, we faced another legal situation with the public school. However, with some ingenuity, and help from Crystal Jackson at the American Diabetes Association, we worked through that as well.

Now, ten years later, Trent is a freshman at a selective public high school. Here’s what I have learned in the ensuing 10 years since diagnosis:

1. is the best place for support and information on the internet or anywhere else. (See the parents’ list and message boards and chat rooms and conferences.) Someone at CWD has certainly experienced what you are going through with regard to your child’s diabetes and can point you in the right direction for help (including referring you to the right people as I was referred to Crystal Jackson).

2. You do not have to wait to have your child placed on a pump. 10 years ago, it was very rare to have a newly diagnosed 4 year-old on a pump. We were told by the endo that we had to wait until we learned how to use insulin. We told then endo we would find another endo who would prescribe a pump if she didn’t. She prescribed it. It is now routine to prescribe pumps for newly diagnosed children. This is a good thing. Contrary to the “old school,” it is just as easy to administer insulin through an insulin pump as through needles. It is just a different delivery mechanism. A mechanism which, by the way, makes it possible to administer the tiny doses of insulin that toddlers and babies require, and that allows for basal rate patterns to more closely match your child’s needs.

3. I had been very hesitant about pumping. I didn’t like the idea of seeing my beautiful baby hooked to machinery; it made diabetes so much more visible 24/7. My husband was insistent and I am glad he was. It means you don’t have to force a fussy toddler to eat when he doesn’t want to and allows him to eat whenever he wants. This has to be good in terms of avoiding “issues” with food. Moreover, when your toddler arrives at school with medical equipment that is more expensive than your car, the school takes notice and believes diabetes is as serious as it is.

4. You are lucky if a parent or a babysitter is able to help with diabetes care. My family was always uneasy with helping. I was lucky to find a babysitter. If you can’t find such a person on your own, go to and find someone in your area with a child with diabetes and give each other a break. You will need it. Don’t turn down help.

5. Learn your rights in school and learn about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Amended Americans with Disabilities Act. You may need to become a legal expert to advocate for your child. I used Section 504 in a very unique way. Section 504 requires a public school to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled child. There is no description in the law that says what those accommodations are, except that they be reasonable. So, when Trent was diagnosed in the summer before pre-k and I had not had him tested the prior year for the gifted school, I asked that they test him for the school late as an accommodation. I wasn’t asking them to admit him if he didn’t meet the academic requirements; only that they test him out of sequence. They did. He was accepted to our gifted school and I didn’t have to send him back to where he was not wanted.

6. After diagnosis, take some time to grieve. Your child will be OK, but you will need to grieve the realization that you can’t protect your child from everything. Believe that with time, while it won’t get easier, it will become a new “normal.” Don’t forget to take time to care for your children without diabetes; the diagnoses will require sacrifices and grief on their part as well. They also need special attention.

You may find that diabetes actually brings good into your life. Don’t be surprised. For our family, we have learned to eat better and become experts on nutrition. We have made friends that are as close as family. We even adopted a baby daughter with diabetes.


My husband and I had two children by birth, Trent and Michela, but were never able to conceive more children. We loved our two, but always hoped perhaps to get pregnant again or adopt. When we heard about a baby through a contact at CWD who had diabetes and was in foster care in a neighboring state, we immediately called the social worker. Considering the state of the foster care system in this country, everything went relatively smoothly. We learned about Maya in August 2007, had supervised visitation with her, and were lucky to have her placed in our home within two months. Thus, she came to us when she was only 9 months old. (Being a lawyer helped again; I pushed through the legal requirements and even stretched a few to meet our needs.) My husband and I became foster parents. With our children, then ages 10 and 8, we were all thrilled to have Maya in our lives. In December 2008, we adopted her and officially became a family. We continue to have good relationships with her biological family through an “open adoption.” It is appropriate that November is both the official month for raising awareness of diabetes and adoption!

Maya was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of one month old. Her mother brought her to the emergency room in a state much like Type 1 ketoacidosis. She was life-flighted to a university hospital. When we brought Maya into our family, we believed she had Type 1 diabetes. She came to us wearing an insulin pump strapped to her back as she crawled. Being a part of the online diabetes community, we had learned that infants who were diagnosed with diabetes under six months of age might have a rare form called Monogenic Diabetes. It is a form of diabetes caused by a mutation in a single gene; an inherited gene or a gene that mutated in utero. Because none of Maya’s biological parents has diabetes, we know that her gene mutation (a mutation to the Kir6.2 subunit of the KCNJ11 gene) must have occurred in utero. (Thanks to Professor Hattersly in England for discovering monogenic diabetes.) We had her tested (a simple cheek swab) for the genetic form of diabetes and discovered that she had it. Over the course of a week in the hospital, we witnessed a miracle in the making. As the doctors decreased her insulin and increased doses of glyburide (an inexpensive type 2 medication), Maya became independent of exogenous insulin. (Thanks to Professor Philipson at the University of Chicago for guiding us through the transition.) Today, we only give pills to Maya to control her diabetes.

We feel as though we are the luckiest people on the planet to have adopted the daughter we always wanted and to find she has a form of diabetes that is easier to treat.

So, if you are newly diagnosed, be prepared for the unexpected. You may find joys you never imagined.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Open Adoption: Slicing Through the Concept of Family

I have been thinking about open adoption and what it is at its most basic element. It has been suggested that open adoption is about sharing of information at its core. I tend to agree that sharing of information is a significant part of open adoption. For instance, I love calling Maya’s mother (biological /first) and sharing information: telling her about all of the new events in Maya’s life -- that her teacher is crazy impressed with her ability to speak in front of the class and that the music teacher is floored with her singing abilities. I love sharing these events with Nikki because I know that she is as proud of her Maya as I am. I also love when Nikki’s grandmother shares with me the names of the Native Americans in the family going back many generations. I have gathered much ancestral information on Nikki and Maya’s genealogical tree from the information I have received. I don’t want Maya to lose that part of her history as a result of being adopted. I want her to be a proud Native, Japanese, Cuban, African, German American raised by her Catholic Italian mother and her Mayflower descended/Swiss Mennonite father. I know how crucial my ethnic and religious upbringing has been towards the making of my identity. I want Maya to have an understanding of her ethnic and racial background in order to develop a fully formed view of who she is.

Still, information sharing is, for me, not the most essential aspect of our open relationship. It’s nice to have access to all of Maya’s medical information and familial history. And to share her accomplishments. But more importantly, our open relationship has thrived as a result of us all – my family and Maya’s first family – opening our hearts to each other. We have used this wonderful tool of adoption to expand our family and to bring more people into our family that we might not previously have had. We have used the tool of open adoption so that Maya can have more people in her life that love her to the bone. Our belief has been that having more people love a child cannot possibly be bad. So, we open our hearts and homes to one another. My heart and home is open to Nikki and her family. They have opened their heart and homes to us.

It takes a certain capacity to love new family members unconditionally, merely because the circumstances dictate that such unconditional love is best for all. But, somehow, so far, we have managed this. If Nikki’s family wanted to look closely and find something we have done with Maya that they disapprove of, it wouldn’t be hard. Surely our methods of raising a child are different from their methods. Nikki’s family has not done this. They have been nothing but supportive of the way in which Maya is being raised. Likewise, when we go visit there, we are confronted with ways of handling children that we might consider less than ideal. Still, we respect the rights of Maya’s family to interact with her as they interact with others in their extended family.

Maybe that’s what is at the core of open adoption. It is not merely sharing information. It is not merely opening your heart and home. Open adoption requires people to open their minds and expand their understanding of what constitutes a family. It requires being open to a new kind of family and being open to seeing that family as valid as the traditional family. Open adoption requires people to slice open the entire concept of family, redefining it to include both a child’s birth family and a child’s adoptive family. Blasting open the concept of family mandates that people involved in open adoptions remain open to experiencing the uncharted adventures that lie ahead of them. Indeed, families in open adoptions need not only remain open to the adventures, they need to embrace them. And they need to shine their lights outward so as to open the minds of others who are not so lucky.

For other views on open adoption, see

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Moon Shadows

I don’t know how it happened. I mean, I know. But I can’t believe I let it happen. It just happened so slowly. Over time. It wasn’t one thing I did or didn’t do. Rather, it was like the tide eroding at the dune’s edge. Little by little, stealing away form and shape. Who would have ever thought it would come to this?

My husband has been encouraging me to exercise for years. For years I have had any number of excuses. I had to work. I wanted to join a gym to work out. I was healthy enough.

Until recently.

A few weeks ago was my 48th birthday. I had to face the truth. I have a three year old and I want to live a long healthy life so I can be there to watch her into her forties. To do that, I would need to be in good physical shape. I don’t need to win races anymore. It’s not like in the old days. I just need to be out there. So, for two weeks my husband and I have been going to the Roosevelt Highschool track to work out in the evenings. (Who am I kidding? What I have been doing looks nothing like a work out.)

It has been unbelievably hot this summer. I can’t remember summer heat that has affected me like the heat this summer. I haven’t been able to accomplish very much, including cleaning the house. It has been too damn hot. That’s my excuse anyway. So, instead of running during daylight hours, we have been going to the track after dark – when we hoped it would be cooler.

If I hadn’t been there and seen it for myself, I would never have believed it. We weren’t the only crazy ones running by the light of the moon. There is a veritable cadre of people who clandestinely appear at the track after dark at 9:00 p.m. The young black sprinter with his long tight sinewy legs, practicing his sprints and stretching. The dark-skinned hurdler, gliding over hurdles like a gazelle. The thin white woman with her long blonde hair and skinny legs, ipod connected to her ear, running up and down the stadium stairs. And the father, maybe a decade younger than Tim and me, yelling to his boys interchangeably in English and Arabic. Or was it Hebrew? It was hard to tell. The actual words just disintegrated in the air before they reached me across the field. (Seeing his children play in the dark at the edge of the track brought to mind children I had once read about who had some condition where their skin couldn’t be in sunlight; their mother took them behind their house to play at night. Under the moon.) The father had good form and was covering his miles at a fast clip, checking in on his children with each quarter mile.

Then there were Tim and I. Tim had been running one mile three times a week for years. Last year, he stepped it up to three miles and began to swim on the off days. Many a night he could be seen running around our block which makes a circle – six laps to a mile. With Trent and Michela, when they were young, and lately with Maya, we often waited for him to round the bend and yelled “Go Daddy Go!” from the front lawn.

I hated running around the block. The street banked from the high center of the street to the lower side by the curb. It always hurt my knees to try to run there – on the few other occasions that I tried to exercise. So it was I who told Tim that if he would run with me at the track, I would exercise with him. He agreed and has come to enjoy the track as much as I once did. His form is not the best; he lopes and his arms swing from side to side somewhat, instead of efficiently going back and forth. But he makes pretty good time around the track. Three laps for every two that I run. And two laps for each one that I walk.

The very first day I approached the track I was excited. I had run many a race in high school on various tracks. I had made good friends and learned many life’s lessons from my coach on the track. Just walking on, I thought about striding around and feeling good, like I always had. (Some dust-covered trophies in the attic and newspaper clippings would testify to my former ability to run a 2:18 half mile and a 5:15 mile at my best. I had been our high school’s scholar athlete the year I graduated. Previously this had been awarded to the best football player who could maintain a C average. I was the first girl to receive it and the only graduate to attend Harvard.)

That first day is when I realized what had happened to me. I may have felt like I could just hop on the track and run a mile. But my 48 year old body would protest otherwise. With each slow small step that I took, portions of my body began to hurt. My upper thighs. My calves. And my knees. Oh, my knees! All the extra weight I have carried for 30 years have taken a toll on my knees. I was reminded of Coach, who used to faithfully run, if a bit wobbly, around the track and on the streets with ace bandages or braces around his knees. I had reached *that* age.

The first night, after jogging/walking a mile and a half, my aching legs wouldn’t let me sleep. I had to take Ibuprofen to ease the pain. A couple of nights I jogged/walked two miles. So far, that is the farthest I have made it. All the while, I am reminded of the days in high school that we ran twice a day to train. Early in the morning, my friend Eileen would come knock on my bedroom window to wake me so that we could go run around a field 20 times or the equivalent of five miles. In the evening, we would have practice around a track at a neighboring school, where we had to jump the fence, because our school was too poor to have a track. Or during cross country, we would run out in small packs, grouped according to how fast we could run, and run for 7 miles or more.

I still need someone like Eileen and am grateful to have Tim, who nudges me each evening to come with him to the track, even when I have excuses: “I have to cook. I want to go to Shanikqua’s house and watch my new favorite TV show.” Tim is gently persistent.

So many memories flood back into my mind and keep me going on the track. My coach would say that every mile is like putting money in the bank. Each one makes you stronger, no matter how slow you go. So I push on. In two weeks, I think I have saved about 12 dollars! Me, with my wobbly knees and ace bandage.

And I am reminded of a wonderfully inspirational speech I recently heard by Jay Hewitt about his iron man competitions. In his speech, he describes pain and depletion of a magnitude that I can only imagine. He describes thinking that he can’t make it any further. And then asking himself, “How bad do you want it?” He concludes by advising children with diabetes (he, himself, has Type 1 diabetes), “You may not win, but you will do better than those who never tried.”

As I run around the track, I think of my children, and my coach, and Jay Hewitt. And I hear the melody of my earrings. “Clink clink, clink clink!" The harmony with each step I take. “Shuffle, shuffle." And my breaths keeping time. “Huufff, huufff, huufff.” The sprinter runs by. “Pitter patter pitter patter!” The hurdler glides. “Whoosh!” The young girl runs up and down the steps. "Tap tap tap tap.” The father passes me on the outer lane and my husband laps me again. My knees go “clickety clack.” Under the dark sky, as I chase my moon shadow around the track, I am determined. I may never win anything again, but I will do better than if I had never tried.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Some Random Musings on My 48th Birthday

1. I’m not baking my own birthday cake. Instead, I am doing what our foster child, Livie (wonder how she is), suggested last year: I took one of those shrunken half gallons of ice cream (mint chocolate chip because you can’t get peppermint in the summer) and let it melt a little. (Not difficult in today’s heat and humidity.) Then I spooned it into a store-bought oreo cookie crust and placed the plastic cover of the crust on top upside down. Put the whole thing in the freezer to re-freeze for dinner. Better than Carvel at a fraction of the price.

2. I am also not cooking my birthday dinner. Trent has promised to cook. I know he makes a mean tilapia, so that will be good. I only hope he cleans up after himself because I’m not cleaning either.

3. Last year at this time, we had a foster daughter Livie because her biological mother wouldn’t let her travel to Canada with her foster family for vacation. She had type 1 diabetes. Each night I got up and went from her bedroom to Trent’s to test blood sugars in the middle of the night. It was tiring for eight days. I can’t imagine how people with two kids with Type 1 do it. (Maya doesn’t need testing in the middle of the night. She has a rare kind of diabetes and is very unlikely to go low – and never seriously low.) I wonder how Livie is doing. Last time I heard, her foster parents decided it was too much work and wanted to give her back to the state. (Pisses me off. Don’t we all want to do that with our kids? But we don’t!) Mental note to check up on her.

I think I’ll keep my three kids this week. Trent is starting to be very useful at 14. He’s strong and can carry heavy loads. And he’s interested in cooking. Michela is always funny. Just as her friend Angela once commented, “This family is no fun without Michela.” And Maya is funny and endearing. Besides, she has actually slept in her own bed for three nights in a row. That’s almost a pattern.

I think I’ll keep Tim too. He’s good for a lot of things. But that’s fodder for another time.

4. It's been a good day. A man in the supermarket gave me a coupon for paper towels on sale because I helped him locate the right size. Don’t you hate when you get to the counter and the check out lady says, “That’s not the size that’s on sale!.” Almost as bad as when she yells out, “I need a key. Food stamps!.” That’s never happened to me, but I’ve seen it. My pharmacist did yell out once, “Ms. Rago? Ms. Rago? I’m sorry we don’t have any more of your ______ medicine in stock.” Um, what? Why don’t you tell all of CVS what meds I am taking?

5. Another reason why it's been a good day is that it started with a telephone conversation with one of my dearest friends. (Even if the conversation was about bacteria she picked up from eating chicken in Paris last week.) I also received a phone call from an old flame. Not bad after more than 25 years, I figure. And no client has called to yell at me and demand that I be more accountable. That, in itself, makes for a good day.

6. I’m 48. Almost half way through with my life. I hope I can make the second half better than the first. And I hope I can get in better shape. The supermarket tabloid declared that Zack Ephron, at age 50, has an amazing body. Well, no one’s gonna declare my body good enough for The Star. But I hope it’s good enough to pass a stress test by the time I turn 50. Mental note to start exercising.

After the ice cream cake tonight. . . .

(P.S. The cake above is the one I baked for Trent last week.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Maya always says things that make us take a deep breath and look at each other in shock. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes we are amazed. Like when she hid under the dining room table and announced, "Oh, no! Daddy is coming. He's going to recognize me." She is three years old. Going on forty. "Recognize?" Really? And then there was the time she told me, "I absolutely do want to go to Starbucks, once I finish what I am doing." You "absolutely do want to go?"

Of course, those times were better than when she turned to me and told me she was going to "kick my ass." I pretended I didn't hear her because I didn't want her to think I was as shocked as I was! She has never said that again.

Well, this week, we have had a few more amazing statements by Maya:

As she was putting on her sandals, to wear under her princess costume, she announced, "I have to put my sandals on so that I can look FABULOUS." Fabulous? Um, OK.

Then, today, she saw my brother Tony, her Uncle Tony, for the first time in a long time. He picked her up and kissed and hugged her. She said, "I remember you. You weren't nice the last time I saw you. But now you are nice." My brother Tony can be gruff, so we all laughed.

Lastly, our house is under a bit of construction. With a new roof and gutters being put on. And walls ripped out to put in french doors to the deck and to build new closets. So, when we went to my sister Marissa's house today, and Maya saw Marissa's kitchen ceiling ripped out, she looked at it carefully. (Marissa's air conditioner had leaked so she was none too happy about the gash in the ceiling.) Maya turned to Marissa and said, "Oh! I didn't know your house was banged up like ours is!" Banged up? That's actually very close to how I feel about how the house looks.

We continue to be amazed by Maya's skilled grasp of the English language and her use of intonation to get across her meaning. When she starts counting spoons in Spanish, we are blown away. But that's a whole 'nuther story. . . .

Monday, May 31, 2010

When Maya Looks Back

In the shower today alone (without Maya) for the first time in a long time, I enjoyed having the entire showerhead to myself. I imagined a day when I would be able to take a shower without Maya asking to get in with me. Then I thought, “Don’t hurry up these years by wishing them away. Savor the moments. Most people don’t get to do babyhood and toddler-hood a second time with the benefit of hindsight and having experienced it once before. You know how fast the years go.” And I thought about all the things I will miss when Maya gets older. I will miss how she plays at my feet and chatters to herself, singing songs she has recently heard and, sometimes, even practicing curse words she has heard. (Ooops!) I will miss how I hear her feet paddling along the wooden floors coming to my bed in the middle of the night and how, when she arrives eye level at my bedside she quietly, and in her best voice, asks if she can sleep next to me, “for just a little while.” I may even miss how she wears my Tupperware on her feet and skates around the kitchen floor or spreads every block and toy on the living room carpet.

Sometimes I am saddened for the mother who gave her life, her Mommy Nikki, because she misses a lot of these little milestones: Being able to open the refrigerator all by herself. Being able to identify all the vegetables on her plate – and liking them! Being able to pour a cup of juice. Being able to climb up onto the toilet to reach the sink and brush her teeth. Being able to take off her own clothes or put on her own seatbelt. Every day, Maya learns something new. I try to keep Nikki apprised and to let her enjoy in the small miracles of our life when she is here or when we go visit her. I have her brush Maya’s hair (Nikki is much better at that than I am). Or test her blood sugar or choose her clothes or read Maya’s favorite books or snuggle in bed with Maya during the night.

People ask if this isn’t confusing to Maya. I don’t think it is. It’s her normal. She will happily announce to people, “I have two mommies!” Most of the people we are with understand what she means. Sometimes people look at me wondering if I am a lesbian. I laugh and let them wonder. Lately Maya has been re-telling the story of her birth and that of her siblings, Trent and Michela., checking with me in a questioning tone to see if she has it right ‘”Mommy, Trent and Michela were taken from your stomach by the doctors and then brought to you to take care of them?” I answer, “Yes, Maya.” “I was taken by the doctors from my Mommy Nikki’s stomach and then brought to you?” Even though this is a pretty shorthand version of the truth, I agree with her because this is how she seems happy envisioning things at the moment. Little by little she will understand the full details.

How will she come to view the circumstances of her life when she is older? I don’t think we can really know. Open adoption is still very much an “experiment” in some sense. (Although in another sense, it is a very tried and true tradition for family to raise another family member’s child, when the biological mother is unable. In our case, the only difference is that we became family with Nikki through Maya; we weren’t family prior to Maya’s birth.) Indeed, raising children in and of itself is as much an experiment. Before becoming a parent, no one has had experience in raising their children. And no one knows what the outcome of his or her efforts will be. That is the definition of what an experiment is, in my book. Trying something you’ve never done before and having faith that it will work out for the best.

Towards the middle or end of this "experiment" we call our lives, when Maya looks back, I hope that she sees that her mother and I worked at making the best choices for her life that we could. I hope she remembers the fondness that Nikki and I share for one another. I hope that Maya does not view my role as a person who has taken away another person's baby, but rather loved her enough to want to bring her and her family into my life. I hope that she sees that Nikki had little choice once the state got involved, but made the best choice for her under the circumstances. I hope that she sees how both her families worked hard to become one family for her sake -- because we all love her. And that both families compromised in order to make the situation work.

I hope that Maya will look back fondly on the times we took her to visit her brother and cousin and aunts and uncles and grandparents and mother and sisters -- on holidays, on their birthdays. I hope she sees how I always thoughtfully pick presents for her family and make sure that I don't forget them. And that I share the best photographs, pieces of artwork, and life stories with them, so they can be as proud of her as I am. I hope she will look fondly on the times her mother and other family members came to see her in her home, with her adopted family. That she enjoyed showing them her latest milestone: riding her tricycle; moving into a big girl bed; painting pictures and hanging them on "her" door in the kitchen.

I hope that she is proud of her birth family as much as her adoptive family. I hope she gains a skill for dealing with people from all walks of life, having walked between the two worlds of her two families. I hope she views the situation as lucky: to have two families even before she marries, when she will have three. (Unless by crazy coincidence, she marries a man from an open adoption who will also have two families! In which case she will have four families in her life!) Not to mention the family that she may one day create. I pray in my heart that she will not find any of us a burden. And that she will know that I did not find the openness of her adoption a burden. I hope she knows I enjoyed it -- I get to brag about her to the only other people in the world who love her as much as I do. I hope she knows that the openness was as much for me, as for her and her mother. I couldn't live with her adoption any other way. Maybe under some other circumstances, I would not have chosen this. But in this instance, for our entire extended family, the openness of the adoption is ideal.

***For other thoughts on how parents hope their children will view their open adoption, see here:

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Fake Birth Certificate

When a child is adopted, the local government issues a new birth certificate to the family. The new birth certificate essentially obliterates evidence of the child’s past, as though it never happened. Instead of showing that a child was born to the parents who actually gave birth to her -- and then indicating that the child is adopted into her new family and has a new name – the new birth certificate is issued as though the adoptive parents gave birth to the child on her birthday. In our case, Maya’s newly issued birth certificate asserts to the world that Tim and I gave birth to her in Pennsylvania in the exact hospital and at the exact moment that she actually was born. Her mother’s name – the person that actually did give birth to her – is nowhere to be seen on the newly issued birth certificate. Nor is her biological father’s name there. Instantly wiped out and erased by the government. Kind of like being in the witness protection program. The government creates a new identity for an adopted child and issues official government documents to perpetuate the lie. The only difference? Adopted children generally don’t need protection from anyone, particularly not from their original families. In the instances where children might need protection from abusive original families, perhaps this fiction is warranted. But, for the most part, adopted people WANT their original birth certificates and the only people they need protection from are the government bureaucrats that continue to deny them this fundamentally important information.

We have what is known in adoption circles as an “open” adoption. We have essentially extended our family to include Maya’s family, so that hopefully Maya will feel that she has not been ripped from her roots, but merely replanted in another part of her family garden. So, for Maya, she will always have access to her original birth certificate. She can ask her mother to see it when she is with her because we have a very good relationship with Maya's original family. But the original birth certificate no longer has any legal effect. It is null and void, essentially. As though her birth to her mother never really occurred the way that it did. It is as though the original birth certificate created a marriage and the second birth certificate represents a divorce decree. But instead of creating a new type of paperwork to represent reality – that Maya was born to a first set of parents and adopted to a second set – the government has taken the documentation that already exists and tries to make it seem as though the reality were different. The government tries to make it look as though Maya were born to Tim and me. Like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

I am completely comfortable with the fact that I am Maya’s mother. I don’t need her birth certificate to erase the existence of her original mother in order to make me feel like I am her mother. I know I am her mother. I feel like the birth certificate I have is a total fake. I would prefer if it said that Nevaeh Nikol, born to Nikki and Y.A. on her birth date at the hospital in Pennsylvania, will now be known as Maya Nevaeh Nikol, with her new parents Tim and Michelle, of New York. Why can’t the government create some new documentation to evidence the reality that we know to be true instead of insisting that it’s version of reality is the only one that it will document? Tim and I had never even heard of the town where Maya was born until we got involved with adopting her. We had surely never set foot there. It feels like such a sham to have government issued documents, with raised seal and all, claiming that we gave birth to her in a town we had never set foot in. I can’t begin to imagine what that feels like to a child or even grown adopted person. I imagine it gives one an instinctive sense of the irony of life and government authority.

I have asked my girlfriend who is adopted how she felt. She is an adopted person who has no interest in the mother who gave birth to her. She says she would just tell her "Thanks for doing the right thing. I have had a great life." I find this to be a little bit of denial. But what do I know? I am not an adopted person. I just can’t imagine not wanting to know my biological and personal history. I am like that. To her, her history is that of her adoptive parents, period. The history with her biological parents is irrelevant. Anyway, she doesn't feel the birth certificate is fake and says she sees it as necessary to show that she is the legal child of her parents.

I feel as though there must be another way -- particularly in an open adoption. In the days of closed adoptions, when parents tried to hide that their children were adopted, I can see the necessity of the fake birth certificate. It looks just like a real one. Unless one conducted a C.S.I.-like fiber test to determine whether the fibers are consistent with documents on the date of birth, it would be impossible for anyone to tell that the fake birth certificate is a government-issued forgery. I guess if you want your child to live a lie, the fake birth certificate serves you well. But when a child is always told that they are adopted and there are no secrets, I would think that the government could create a new kind of document to commemorate the new family relationships. I’ve heard of “born again” but even when one is “born again,” a new birth certificate is not issued. I don’t think a new birth certificate is appropriate for adoptions either.

I am fully behind the movement to open all original birth certificates to adopted people. I believe that the government has no right to be in collusion with the original parents in denying a person access to their original history. I don't understand why the parents’ rights are given more weight than the child's rights. Why does a parent have a greater right to erase history with the government’s blessing and complicity (and perhaps live in denial of ever having given birth)? What about a child’s right to know his or her own personal history? Who decided that the parents' wishes were more valuable than the child's right? The child had no say in the entire situation. The parents had some control over their choices. It is a screwed up system where the government surreptitiously works with parents to erase the evidence of having given birth to a child, in total defiance of what the child’s wishes might be.

With my daughter, when she gets old enough to understand, she will be able to see her original birth certificate at her mother’s house. Even if it is null and void. I may just explain to her that “your mother has your original birth certificate. I have the fake one they created because the government is too stupid to understand that I don't need to have my name on your birth certificate to know that I am your mother."

I guess that's part of what pisses me off. Why does the government think that I have to be on her birth certificate to be considered her mother? There are mothers that give birth and mothers that don't. Why does the government continue to insist that there is only one type of mother? Why does the government only recognize one type of mother? If they recognized adoptive mothers as legitimate mothers, they would give us an amended birth certificate or some document that represented our reality. Instead, if you're not the parent that gave birth, they will create a whole new fiction to make it look like you did. As though I need their documentation to tell me that I am my daughter’s mother. As though I need for them to obliterate Maya’s mother who gave birth to her and who loves her, for me to be a mother to Maya. Typical government: if the reality doesn't fit their story, they make the paperwork thick enough to cover the reality and make it look like the story they want to present.

Maya is lucky. In some ways. She will always have access to her personal history and original birth certificate. But she still must grow up knowing that the government sought to obliterate all evidence of her relationship with the mother that gave her life. Others are not so lucky. And they won’t know their history until we stop allowing the government to perpetuate the fiction that a child can only have one type of mother: the mother that gives birth. We must stop allowing the government to force our reality to fit their fiction.

Stepping down from my soapbox.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tearing Down the House

We are in the midst of renovations. Anyone who has been through renovations will understand how this all unfolded after losing several shingles in a storm. Anyone who has been through renovations with a spouse will also understand how renovations bring to the forefront marital and familial conflicts -- and accords -- over what a home should look like.

Tim and I bought our house 17 years ago – at which time the home inspector told us we had 10 more years left on the roof. So we knew we were on borrowed time. Then, a few shingles began to break away with each storm. They were brittle to the touch and broke easily when retrieved from the front lawn, or worse, the neighbor’s front lawn. Our roof problem was becoming hard to hide or ignore.

Then came the severe spring storms that struck hard in Westchester County generally – and on our roof in particular -- recently. We could no longer delay getting a new roof. Why had we waited so long? There are several answers. Fear may have been one of the main reasons. Fear of the mess and upheaval that a new roof would entail. Fear of how much it would cost. Fear that there would be conflict over how best to do it. (Tim and I both have very strong design opinions.) There were other related reasons: the house had three layers of roof: the first cedar shake roof from 1921 (the underside of which one could see in the un-insulated attic), the second dark green asphalt roof; and the last speckled green and gray asphalt roof, probably dating from the late 60s. This meant that we had to shovel off all three layers and start over again according to the City Building Code. (Indeed, I believe the new code only allows two layers of roofing before it has to be ripped off – good for roofers; not so good for homeowners.) Tim has always wanted a very light colored roof – like those seen in Florida – to deflect the heat. I always thought they were inappropriate in the Northeast. I have always wanted a slate roof -- but I knew that would be out of our budget.

Another reason we waited so long is that we had always hoped to raise the dormer to the attic, along with insulating, so that we might use all of that untapped real estate – used now only for storing projects we had hoped to complete but long since abandoned; college and high school memorabilia; and “valuable” things set aside for prosperity. (Having spent time up there recently, I realize that my idea of “value” has changed over the years. I also realize that I don’t have as much time for “projects” as I once thought I did.) So, re-roofing meant not only putting on a new roof, but making other improvements at the same time.

And, once we have the carpenters coming. . . .

Closets are so scarce in our home. People just didn’t own many things, it seems, in the 1920s. As a family in the third millennium A.D., we have always needed more closet space. Or, at least I have. My clothes have been spread throughout all three bedrooms in the house: dresses in Trent's room; suits in Michela's room; and casual clothes in our room. I dreamed of a large walk-in closet where I could keep all my clothes together. I thought one would fit nicely where our upstairs terrace stood. I rationalized: we rarely use the terrace. (The terrace is accessed from Michela and Maya’s room and Michela has never been keen on my plan to “steal” her terrace.) We had also talked about taking Trent’s closet, which backed our room, in order to have another large closet along one wall of the master bedroom. (We are equal opportunity thiefs; Trent is equally unhappy about our stealing his closet and making his room smaller by building one in the corner.)

And, we need to knock a hole in the wall and put in French doors to the deck that Tim has been building for years now. Why not do that at the same time we put on the new roof as well?

And so, here we are. Thick in the middle of renovations. No room has been spared. To start, we had to go all through the house and take down the paintings so that plaster and saw dust didn’t wind up coating the surfaces. In our house, that was a day’s work in and of itself. Maybe because my mother didn’t like us to hang things on her walls because she wanted to keep the plaster intact. Or maybe because I can’t stand the idea of empty space. Or maybe we just enjoy a lot of artwork on our walls. For whatever the reason, in our house, we have numerous paintings on every horizontal surface. Bedrooms, hallways, living room, dining room, office, bathrooms, staircases. They all had paintings that had to be removed and bagged for protection during renovations. Then they all had to be placed somewhere where the contractors wouldn’t put a hammer through the canvasses and where Maya wouldn’t ride her toy train. After that, contractors’ paper had to be taped down on the floors to protect the wooden floors from damage. (The guys Tim works with are VERY careful. But still, damage to floors is hard to avoid during construction.) Lastly, plastic had to be draped over everything to protect it from plaster and saw dust. In fact, we never did put plastic over our bed and I swear that I have woken with plaster dust between my teeth and on my tongue many mornings now.

Choosing and purchasing materials is one aspect of renovations that I hope not to go through again for a long time. Tim and I finally did settle on a 50 year architectural roofing tile that reflects the sun to keep heating costs down. (I didn’t know why we chose 50 year shingles when we will be dead by then. Maybe Tim is optimistic about our longevity? I figured we could get the 30 year shingles and leave the kids with the problem.) I chose the color from among the colors that Tim approved: a light gray with green specks. It has turned out very nicely, even if some portions remain to be completed.

There were architectural materials we did agree needed to date to the 1920s in order to be in keeping with the rest of the house. We had purchased vintage French exterior doors at auction many years ago to put in the dining room, so they waited in the garage to be installed. We agreed that the walk-in closet needed a vintage French door to allow the light to come into the bedroom from the closet. Accordingly, I drove to Harlem to Demolition Depot and paid $325 (bargained down) for a used French door from the 1920s to fit the space. (I’m sure I had seen many on street corners being thrown out in the past years that I never picked up because I never knew I would need one.) We used the tall, vintage, double cabinet doors that I had scavenged from my friend’s apartment renovations for Trent’s closet doors. And we took the windows from the dining room to put in the raised dormer. We would use the vintage outdoor light fixtures from Fort Dix that we purchased at a tag sale to light the terrace and the deck. The terrace would get terra cotta tiles, like my grandmother’s terrace in Italy. And the old copper gutters would be replaced with new copper ones, which would age to a nice green patina over time. We agreed to hire a man to skim plaster over the sheetrock inside so that the new walls would match the old plaster ones and wouldn’t look so straight and naked. And we would have men skim stucco on the new outside walls to match the original tudor stucco.

Suffice to say, we have survived most of the decisions and much of the destruction. I now know more about construction and renovating than any woman should. (I won’t even get into the finer details of insulation: fiber glass versus shredded jeans?) I will just be glad when this is all over.

And we finally have the new roof that we have needed for so long. . . .

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Substitute Teacher

Trent came home from school recently. Said he had a frustrating day. When I asked why, he said, “I had that substitute teacher that thinks I can’t eat candy.” I already knew what this meant. Ever since Trent was 4 years old and in pre-k, there has been one substitute that gives candy to the entire class at the end of class. The entire class except Trent. Because he has diabetes and she doesn’t think he should have candy. Many times over the 10 years he has been in the school, he has tried to explain to her that he can have candy and that he merely needs to give himself insulin to “cover” the carbohydrates in the candy. She hasn’t budged over the years. Instead, she brings him a pencil. (He has a sizable collection of the pencils she has given him.)

Every year when Trent was younger, we went into school and had a little Diabetes 101 session with the class. We explained what diabetes is. We explained that Trent did not do anything wrong to get it. We explained that it was not contagious. We explained that he could eat anything as long as he had insulin to convert the glucose to energy. We answered questions. (“No, it is not at all related to AIDS.”) We talked about how Trent might look if his blood sugar was too low or too high. (“When little, the kids were always very protective of Trent and would inform the teacher if he looked funny.) And sometimes we had a little demonstration of how he checked his blood sugar by pricking his finger for blood and putting the blood on a strip in a glucose meter. (“If you think it’s gross, you don’t have to look. But Trent has to do this many times each day just to stay healthy and alive.”) Mostly, the kids were in awe that he was so brave and could check his own blood. They also thought his pump was “way cool.” The teachers were sometimes nervous and never real happy to see a needle or lancet in their classroom. But they were always impressed that Trent could calculate insulin doses for his H-tron or D-tron pump (pumps that Trent had before the new technology that calculates doses for the person with diabetes).

Sometimes teachers would make comments or do things that weren’t in keeping with our philosophy of diabetes. Our philosophy is that it is better to allow sweets and dose insulin than to deny them and risk Trent sneaking sweets without insulin. (Indeed, I once told Trent that if he asked I would give him ice cream for breakfast – and the insulin to cover – so that he needn’t ever sneak sweets. Would I really have done that? He never put me to the test. But he also never snuck sweets without bolusing insulin.) We tried to explain to the teachers that if cake and ice cream were healthy for the other children, it was also healthy for Trent. And that only foods that were unhealthy for other children were unhealthy for Trent. Too often, they didn’t get it. They often couldn’t get past the fact that they knew that their aunt Frannie or grandfather had diabetes and couldn’t eat sweets. Instead, they just assumed we were too permissive as parents. No matter how hard we tried to distinguish Type 1 from Type 2 diabetes, in some minds, it would not stick. Amazingly, even one of the school nurses didn’t get it and would give sugar free candy to Trent, assuming that he did not need insulin because it was “sugar-free." She did not understand that the sugar was not what we counted; that it was the carbohydrates that mattered.

We tried to talk to the teacher or the principal or someone at school whenever these misunderstandings arose and made Trent feel left out or segregated. But no matter who we spoke with, there remained the one substitute teacher that refused to believe that Trent could eat candy. She thought she was being protective and nice by bringing in pencils for him. But she didn’t seem to understand the issue from the kid’s point of view. A kid wants to be treated, usually, like the other kids in class. Especially when they are getting candy. So, when Trent came home again announcing that The Substitute With the Special Pencil for him had been at school, I sighed and asked to see his pencil. Instead of showing me, he went on to describe how he finally convinced her to give him candy, by showing his pump and how it connected to his stomach. Success! I thought. Finally, after 10 years. Given that Trent is leaving this school at the end of the year, to go on to high school, I thought this was a fitting end to his time at the school. Trent wasn’t so sure. It had been frustrating for him to endure yet another time. And, in the end, she would only give him one piece of candy. Even though she gave the other kids more than one piece. However, he didn’t miss the pencil.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

This week, open adoption bloggers are blogging about how money plays a role in their open adoption. For families who have adopted through foster care, money is an added element that colors the relationships. Here are the dirty financial details behind our open adoption from foster care:

Money is a topic rarely discussed when it comes to adoption. It feels too crass to even mention. But, the raw fact is that children are often moved from home to home like commodities traded on an exchange. There are websites with pictures of beautiful children available, providing an experience akin to purchasing books on (albeit with a lot more red tape and bureaucracy). It was this aspect of “shopping” for a child that led my husband to feel that he did not want to try to expand our family through adoption. When I pushed him, however, he always agreed that if we heard of a child in need, he would be happy to adopt a child.

It was in that context that we found Maya. Whenever I heard of an unwanted pregnancy, I offered our family as a resource to raise that child. Nothing ever came through. Until one day, a colleague and friend mentioned the beautiful baby in foster care that she had come across in her work as a diabetes educator. Apparently, even families waiting to adopt infants felt unable to adopt a baby with Type 1 diabetes. Catholic Charities was having a hard time placing the baby with an adoptive family. I immediately moved on the chance to adopt a baby. The diabetes did not scare us. We have a son with Type 1 diabetes. Indeed, because we had become old hands at managing “the beast” of Type 1 diabetes by then, we felt that we would be an ideal set of parents for this baby. We informed the social worker at Catholic Charities that we would love to adopt the baby in their care. No photo listing in hand. Sight unseen, we committed. That decision has proven to be one of the greatest leaps of faith we ever made. Maya has been a joyous addition to our family.

It seemed that we had found the perfect chance to adopt a baby and escape the commercial aspects of adoption that Tim (and I, if the truth be told) were uncomfortable with. Alas, we came to learn that even adoptions from foster care sometimes involve an exchange of money. Apparently, in an effort to get children from foster care into permanent homes, the federal government has made available financial subsidies to cover the care of raising these children. Harder to place children – racial minorities and children with medical conditions – actually “command” a higher price than white, healthy children. This means that families receive monthly checks for adopting children from foster care.

My husband was immediately opposed to the idea of accepting any subsidy to adopt a baby we wanted and had come to love. I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t see it as money for us as much as money Maya was entitled to. A government benefit. Like unemployment benefits. Who would turn those checks down when they lost a job? My reasoning was that we could put the check away for her every month and have a sizable nest egg for her college fund. My husband felt that Maya would share in our family wealth (or poverty) in the same way as our other two children did. She would be treated the same and wouldn’t have monies set aside that they didn’t have. “Fine,” I responded, “We can divide the monthly check in three” and make college funds for the three of them. The fact that this would be a significant amount of money – some parents in New York receive more than $1,000 per month per child – did not change his mind.

Later, in our journey of adoption, we had occasion to meet Maya’s biological mother and, if we wished, develop a relationship with her. Again I pushed my husband to accept the subsidy once we completed all of our foster care requirements and adopted Maya. He was adamant. Even for the time that she was in foster care and not “legally” ours, he would not accept foster care payments. I argued that we could use the money to help Maya’s mother and her mother’s other son. Tim told me we could do that with our own money, if I wanted, but that we were not taking money for the privilege of adopting Maya. For families that need the extra income to adopt a child, he didn’t have a large problem with the subsidies. But he felt that we were not in that situation. He did agree to accept the medical insurance that is provided for foster children who are adopted. There were a few reasons for this: she had a medical condition and might need expensive care in the future; her insurance was better than the insurance that we purchase as self-employed individuals for the rest of our family; and the state insurance coverage would guarantee that she got the medical care she needed even if we became unable to provide for it. My financially savvy side vehemently disagreed with Tim. I could come up with a number of valid reasons to accept the subsidy. But somewhere in my heart, on another side, I knew that taking the subsidy wasn’t right for us. We weren’t providing a service to the state by raising Maya. We wanted to expand our family. We had come to love her.

Our decision not to accept any subsidy to adopt Maya is one that I am glad we made. We have developed a fully open adoption. Maya’s mother Nikki has turned out to be an extended member of our family, as has the rest of Nikki’s large and extended family. Our family has grown exponentially with the adoption of Maya. And I feel good about that. I feel good about having been able to tell Nikki and her family that, while we could have received a subsidy to adopt Maya, we turned it down. (They must think we are crazy or secretly wealthy.) We adopted her because we love her as much as they do. Had we accepted the subsidy, I would have felt guilty in Nikki’s presence. It would have weighed upon me that I was receiving money that Nikki so desperately needed to raise the daughter that the government callously took away from her. I am glad for my husband’s insistence. And I know that I want as little government involvement in our lives as necessary. We have no ties to the government. In that way, our adoption now feels like a private open adoption, with no government involvement.

Still, as I imagine exists in private open adoptions, money – or the disparity of financial resources between our family and Nikki’s – is something that makes its presence felt at times. In little ways. Like the fact that I know that I will pay for Nikki’s entrance fee to a museum or skating rink. Or that I will pay for her meal at a diner or McDonald’s too. And, at holidays, I give her the standard Italian-American “envelope” with cash in it for her gift. I try to encourage her to save her money and not buy me or Tim anything for holidays. Sometimes she still does. And I always appreciate the effort. I also appreciate that her family doesn’t forget my children at holidays. So, to the extent that money plays a role in our lives these days, it is much like how money plays a role in the lives of me and my brothers and sisters. Because my brothers and sisters have greater financial resources than Tim and I, they will often pay for our meals at a restaurant or not ask us to chip in for a gift to our parents, but still say the gift is from us, too. In the end, in our open adoption, money plays a role in the same way it does in any family.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Introducing Thorn

"Production, Not Reproduction" is a blog written by Heather about her life as a mother of two children through domestic, open adoptions. Heather also organized a group of Open Adoption Bloggers, of which I am a member. In order to commemorate the first anniversary of the Open Adoption Bloggers, members were voluntarily paired with others and asked to interview their partner. (To read those interviews and Heathr's blog, go to I had the pleasure of being paired with Thorn who, with her partner Lee, has been a foster parent to children in respite care. They have also hoped to become adoptive parents of a child in foster care, as Tim and I are.

Thorn writes her blog "Mother Issues" at Her blog is very well written and evidences the thought processes of a contemplative person. In it, we read about the frustrations of wanting to be a parent to a child in need and being pressed upon by the very bureaucracy that is supposed to find adoptive homes for children. We are introduced to Thorn's partner, Lee, who also wants very much to have a child but feels beaten down by the system. Thorn tells their compelling story, including tales about the trials of an inter-racial lesbian couple. But Thorn doesn't complain about their life. Instead, she ponders and tries to think her way out of the problems they face. Her thinking is so clearly set forth that the reader can relate. Thorn is full of thoughts and thoughtful about everyone: Lee, the children they have cared for, and even me. (She interviewed me, showing effort with her questions and genuine caring. The interview is posted on her blog.) So, without further adieu, below is the interview between Thorn and me:

> 1. Tell me about your family growing up. What were their attitudes on
> race, religion, adoption?

My parents are politically conservative Catholics, but they've always
had friends of many different races and backgrounds. While there's no
adoption in my immediate family, my parents and especially my mother
are strongly pro-adoption as part of their anti-abortion views. Only
the youngest of their children has remained Catholic (and he's only
18) but they seem to be okay with that and just hope that like them we
eventually come back to the fold, which I don't see happening. As I
get older, we get along better.

> 2. Are there some aspects of your family of origin that you would like to
> continue with a child? Are there some that you would like to leave
> behind?

We always had family dinners and a lot of lively conversation, which I
think is an important way for kids to learn. We didn't have a tv while
I was growing up and while that won't be an option in our house (Lee
would DIE!) I hope we'll be able to foster an interest in books and
the outdoors and other things besides being passive consumers.

I don't think my parents did a good job handling the mental health
problems one brother and I had, though they eventually got better
about it. My mother has a lot of behaviors and attitudes that I really
don't want to perpetuate, because I know how they've messed me up and
left me feeling insufficient. I hope to be more open and less rigid
than my parents were, but I do appreciate a lot of what they did.

> 3. How do you think your (you and Lee) being gay will affect your roles
> as parents, if at all?

I worry about this more than Lee does, I think, and I'm very
conflicted about how I'll play a lot of the more stereotypically "mom"
roles, cleaning and having the emotional conversations and checking
homework and so on, while she's the one who's into sports and joking
around and grilling and watching tv. I hate that it breaks down that
way (though there are other ways to read the relationship that aren't
so gendered and I just get hung up on this because it's a hangup of
mine!) and yet it's important for us both to play to our strengths
while simultaneously learning to stretch. I'm sure we'll be able to
find a good balance.

I do think that our being gay and an interracial couple affects how
self-conscious or self-aware we are when we're out in the community as
a family. When we've had respite teens staying with us for the
weekend, that's been something I've noticed, that I'm very carefully
gauging their reactions to make sure they're comfortable with how we
present as a group. It's really hard to guess ahead of time how this
will work out.

> 4. What would you say to people who might say to you that you shouldn't
> raise children in a same sex couple? Or that a child should have a
> father?

The good thing about the kind of adoption we're trying to do is that
it's very hard for people to say, "You know, I don't think gays should
be parents. I think kids should have to wait longer in foster care so
that they don't have to have gay parents." That's just not an argument
most people make. The one child we got close to adopting (Rowan) is
probably gay himself and is not comfortable having a father figure
because at this point that's a role that causes him too much stress.
So I think we have specific benefits we can give as a family without a
father, though we do have many men in our lives who will be actively
involved if we parent.

> 5. What would you say to people who might say to you that you shouldn't
> have an open adoption?

A lot of people do have a preconception that open adoption isn't
healthy, especially in the situation of a child who's been in the
foster care system. I think, though, that children who have actually
known and lived with their first families may have more need to
maintain contact. That might not be contact with parents (though it
might!) but certainly could involve siblings, grandparents, and so
on. These kids have lost a lot in their lives and I hope even people
who are skeptical about open adoption can see that any healthy and
supportive connections can be a major plus.

Because Lee was adopted by her biological grandparents, her adoption
was always open and she knew who her biological parents were and was
involved in their lives although they didn't raise her. Even though
her biodad went through some rough times, seeing his experiences and
recognizing his addiction (for instance) as what it was let her deal
with that in a healthy way as a child, while some of his other
children have had to deal with it as adults after growing up with a
fantasy of what their dad must have been like.

> 6. What if your child doesn't want to see their biological/first parent(s)?

That's fine! There are many factors at play in adoption from foster
care. Especially in the case of a child who's been neglected or
abused, contact may not be welcome or healthy. I think openness is to
some degree the job of the parents. I'd want to make sure we knew
where first family was so that if the child was interested in contact
we could facilitate that in a safe manner, but I certainly wouldn't
want to push a child to spend time with his abuser or anything like
that. And yet we're always going to be open in the sense of
acknowledging that a child has other families (by birth and perhaps
through foster care or as in Rowan's case a previous adoption) and
that those are part of the story of who this child is. We can and
should keep that story alive (in therapeutic contexts for the
bad/hard/sad parts and in positive ways for the good stuff) as part
of creating our own story and life as a family.

> 7. What would a child of your dreams be like?

Ooh, this is a tough one! I do sometimes dream of babies, little
girls. And yet it's very unlikely that we'll end up in a situation
where I'll actually parent a young child. I think going through the
process of being trained and then looking at hundreds (thousands?) of
child profiles has pretty much robbed me of any dreams I might have,
but I also think that's a good thing. I hope that I'll have a spark
with a child, that I'll get to see a personality grow and flourish.
I'm really excited about what the reality of a child would be, but not
so invested in dreams.

> 8. Anything else that you want to tell people?

It was actually very hard for me to answer a lot of these questions
because Lee and I have been having a lot of difficult conversations
and I'm starting to have less faith that we will in fact end up
parenting. It's hard to talk about what I'd like us to do when I'm no
longer all that sure we'll actually get to do it, so I think you'd
have gotten a more lively interview if we'd done this a month ago. I
love my partner and I love the life we have. I think we'd make great
parents and I hope we'll get to find that out, but even if it doesn't
work out I'm glad we're trying to adopt (and now, I guess, become a
foster home). This process has been harder -- mostly bureaucratically
and emotionally, but also in other ways -- than I had expected, but
the real reason I'm sad and frustrated and annoyed by that is not that
we can't get a kid but that there are so many kids who need homes and
permanency and stability and aren't finding them. I hope we'll be able
to push hard enough to end up being one of those homes, but I also
know that's not enough.

Even though it may sound weird given that we've had so much
frustration Lee is ready to quit, I would really recommend this
process to others who are hoping to build families. My life has been
enriched by what I've learned and from the children I've met and I
absolutely think it's been worthwhile. Lee and I are a stronger couple
now and I hope we'll be able to be good parents. I'm glad we've been
able to have some impact, but I'll go ahead and acknowledge the cliché
that the biggest positive changes have probably been in us. I'm so
grateful for that.

And thanks, Michelle, for these great questions!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Two Heads of Cabbage

Two heads of cabbage. That was all it took for me to start feeling better today. I had spent the morning in the middle school discussing issues with the principal, vice principal, guidance counselor, and psychologist relating to my children. This made me feel helpless and hopeless. I try so hard with my children and, still, I can’t seem to produce the respectful, confident, hardworking, happy kids that I strive for.

So it was no surprise that I was feeling blue this morning. I always feel down when I am called into school about my children. I feel like a bad parent. And I wish that I had those perfect children that I see all around me in the school: children that are involved in all the right school activities; children that are always on the honor roll; children that are happy to be at school and enjoy the privilege of their education. (Well, OK. Maybe I imagine the other children to be more than they really are. But who doesn’t want their fantasies to be possible?)

I left the school and went home to pick up the baby to bring her to my friend and babysitter, Shanikqua. (Maya is already 3 years old and no longer a baby. But in my heart and mind, she will be my baby for a long time to come.) At home, it took forever to get Maya to cooperate long enough to get her dressed. This is one of the most frustrating things about having a 3 year old. I can’t control her the way I would like to. She actually has a mind and will of her own! When I want to get her dressed, she would rather jump on my bed and sing about the three little monkeys jumping on the bed. “Mama called the doctor and the doctor said, ‘NO MORE MONKEYS JUMPING ON THE BED.’” And when I go around my bed to the other side to get her, she slips from my grip, jumps down off the bed and runs away calling out, “Naked baby on the run!” Or “naked booty!” It’s all very cute and she is having a wonderful time of it. But when I want to pick up and go, I don’t want to play. Sometimes I am not in the mood for her ever-present smile and playfulness. Sometimes I just want her to come to me, stand still, let me dress her and go downstairs so I can brush her hair, test her blood sugar, and put her shoes, coat and hat on. But Maya? Maya always has a different plan about how things should occur.

After finally getting Maya’s coat and hat and shoes on, I strapped her in the car seat and left for Shanikqua’s house. -- That’s the other disadvantage of a three year old: you can’t just tell her to hop in the car so we can go. You have to coax her into the car when she would rather inspect the snow and touch and taste and smell it. (Maya is all about how things smell.) Then you have to strap her in before walking around to the driver’s side door. I had forgotten all those things in the years since Michela has grown up.

Once in the car, Maya still has opinions about what she wants to do and where she wants to go. Immediately, she tells me that she wants me to put music on. And she’s not polite. Rather, she says, “I want music!” For the umpteenth time I respond, “How do you ask nicely for Mommy to put music on?” Sometimes she just says, “Nicely!” And I think she really just does not understand. Other times, right on cue, she says, “May you please play some music?” Then, if I don’t put in the CD that she wants to hear, she cries out, “NO! I want the pink one!” Or, “I want reggae!” Again, I ask, “How do you ask nicely for Mommy to change the CD?”

Once we got the music resolved, I turned the car to the left at the stoplight and headed for Shanikqua’s house. Maya knew exactly where we were going when I made that left turn. (How does a three year old know directions to all of the places that we go?) Again, her plan was different from mine. “I want to go to Starbucks!” she yelled. Thinking that I could use a cup of coffee, I agreed. “We’ll go to the Starbucks near Auntie Shanikqua’s house.” At Starbucks, she wanted to hold my credit card, which I often let her do. This time, she dropped it in the grate on the refrigerated display case. I was in no mood to fish out my credit card from the depths of the cold metal. Still, once the kind barista helped me get it with tongs and long fingers, I asked Maya if she would like juice. “No,” she told me. Turning to the barista, she said, “I would like a cup of water with ice in it please.” “A child who would prefer ice water to juice; that’s a different one,” the barista responded. I shrugged my shoulders.

Needless to say, by the time I got through Shanikqua’s front door, I was ready to pull my hair out. I took off Maya’s coat and told her to go play with her friend. After a little small talk, I asked Shanikqua not to forget to test Maya’s blood sugar and handed her the envelopes she had asked me to bring for her. I was on my way out the door when Shanikqua pointed to a grocery bag tied in a knot sitting near the door. “Take that,” she told me. “What is it?” I asked. “Two heads of cabbage,” she told me. I must have looked a little confused. “I was in The Bronx and I saw a good deal on cabbage,” she explained. “So I bought four. Two for you and two for me. Take them.” I took the cabbage and left.

I was walking along the sidewalk to my car, carrying the cabbage when a nice warm feeling came over me. I was reminded of the many times I saw the old Italian aunts or my mother come into my grandmother’s kitchen through the back door carrying a paper sack with something in it. “Peppers were on sale at the A&P,” they would tell her in Italian as they placed the bag on the kitchen table. Or, “my cousin was in Patterson and bought bushels of tomatoes. You’ll need to cook these right away because they are ripe, but I thought you’d like some for gravy.” Or, “I baked five loaves of bread, so I brought you one.” Shanikqua is not even Italian, I thought with a chuckle.

Then I thought more about it. “That’s what good friends and family do,” I thought. When they see a good deal on cabbage, they pick you up a few. The sharing of bounty – and good deals on produce -- transcends race and ethnicity. Family and friends show their love and support for one another through the small gestures in life. I thought about how lucky I was to have a friend give me cabbage. And I hoped that my children, however they turned out, would be lucky enough to have a friend give them two heads of cabbage one day.

I tossed the plastic bag with the cabbage in it on the front passenger seat and turned the key in the ignition. With that cabbage, my worries melted away.