Monday, January 6, 2014

Did you like Philomena?

As good as the film Philomena was,  the screenwriters took license with the original details; if you want the real story, read the book, originally titled the Lost Child of Philomena Lee. The entire plot (loosely based a true story) hinges on whether the birthmother/adopted son are able to find/connect with each other.

In this case, the connection between birthmother and son was able to be established fairly easily for a few reasons:

1) The adoption was international, so there was an accessible visa record for the baby, which furnished the parents' names
2) The adoptee became well known, and had financial wherewithal, so he was easy to trace
3)The adoptee was male, so he never changed his name (after infancy/the adoption, when it originally was changed by his US parents)

Most adoptees (such as my brothers) have no such assistance. Although they have registered, they are unable to locate their birth parents or find information about their genetic and historical heritage. Most developed countries (including Great Britain) have open records for adoptees once they reach age 18; the US lags behind. Even slaves had access to their birth records...

If you start on this page and read through, it explains the situation for US adoptees and birth records:

Since the story of Philomena did have a US component,  I thought the filmmakers missed a chance to note (in the black and white follow-up statements at the end) the continuing inequities for adoptees that exist in this country.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

text of speech given on Sunday

There are things I don’t believe I do well, and don’t like to do (funny how those go hand in hand) and giving a speech is one of them. I’m grateful ….that this talk is limited to three minutes. It’s a measure of how much I love this church that I am up here speaking to you;Kevin and I feel that we receive so much more from Grace Church than we give. We give when we are asked, and ongoing, in whatever ways we can think of. It’s one of those principles of life that hopefully one discovers early on- the more you give of yourself, the more involved you are, the greater benefit you receive . This idea of giving is intrinsically linked to gratitude. Giving of oneself makes one more aware, more grateful for blessings. The more involved one is at Grace, the more blessed one feels, the more grateful. It’s a paradox, but that’s how it seems to work.

To me, gratitude is essentially an awareness.

Spiritual thinkers through the ages have posited that what we put our mind on grows, or becomes our reality. I can’t help but be reminded of those I work with as a mental health nurse…daily I meet folks who cannot stop thinking of ways to kill themselves, and sometimes they take action. In order to make an assessment, I have these odd conversations with folks in which we dispassionately discuss how they planned to jump off a bridge, take pills, or run their car into a bridge abutment. Taken out of context, anywhere else such sentences would appear as totally incongruous or even blasphemy…and yet they are spoken on the path to healing, or they wouldn’t be spoken at all, just suppressed. One has to acknowledge the present awareness in order to begin to think of living again.

On the gratitude scale, a person whose mind is constantly occupied by suicide cannot be simultaneously counting their blessings. As with many types of mental illness, a person’s equilibrium can be compromised because certain thoughts,certain emotions, predominate and become the entire awareness to the exclusion of others. It can become a negative habit of mind; the converse is also true, that maintaining a practice of gratitude is a habit of mind as well.

It’s possible that maintaining a mental stance of gratitude may even be self-protective, as it demonstrates awareness. Certainly, when we thank God in prayers, we are in this stance. Apparently the early American pilgrims built seven times more graves than they did houses, yet despite their losses, the enduring tradition they have bequeathed us is a day of Thanksgiving – fast approaching, I might add. Nor is it an accident that many of the words associated with gratitude speak to holy origins – words like benediction, invocation, blessing, and grace , to name a few.

We can demonstrate our practice of gratitude by giving, praying, doing good works, acknowledging, and maintaining awareness. I will close with these words from the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson:

'There are two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.'

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Evidence that I May Have Become an Old Fart

1)  I  email harangues to academic libraries who remove book jackets from all their books, arguing that it reduces visual appeal, promotes the use of e-books, deters browsing, and will put librarians out of work.

2)  I cannot abide the use of spandex in my long sleeve shirts, jeans or pants- nay, in any garment. Within an hour of wear my knees/elbows seem convinced they are undergoing selective waterboarding.

3) Recently attended the movie Pitch Perfect with our two female exchange students, along with a row of college girls seated behind us. At various moments, the actors would break into song. I knew not one of the words of any of the songs, but those around me enthusiastically sang everything, indicating these were major hits.

4) "Modern" cut pants liberally expose my middle-age spread. When one bends over, the 'coin slot' is revealed in all its glory.

5) I always pay the parking meter.

6) I vote in primary elections.

7) I tell my kids that when I was growing up, we didn't have malls, video recorders, cable TV, Old Navy, cell phones, or computers, let alone "social media". We played entire sides of  LPs and read the album covers, rode bikes and made brownies. The idea of always reaching people instantly was off the table. When you ran out of gas, you waited patiently for a good Samaritan. They can't conceive of this existence.

8) When I see women out shopping wearing kiddie-print flannel pajamas, I am horrified and think of them as slobs who can't bother to get dressed.

9) I just started texting in the past year.

10) My mother thought that only gypsies had pierced ears, thus when I finally got them, it was considered risque. Now they won't stay open so I can no longer wear the damn earrings anyway.

11)If I don't hit the hairdresser every three weeks, I sport a 1/2 inch silver skunk stripe as my part.

12) The sight of  men with tattoos is abhorrent to me, let alone women.

13) I  yearn for the days when major music artists actually had bands, and everyone knew how to play at least one instrument well. Today, that is a rarity.

14) I can't be bothered to download music online, and thus still buy CDs, which I find inadequate in fidelity compared to the sound of LPs.

15) I still read books.

16) I drive a 2004 Buick Century.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Adventure Begins

So this is the year we take on two 17 year old female foreign exchange students from different countries, and I start  the second nursing job in  six months. September brandishes the starting gate; and truth be told, am I not just superimposing a waning bandage over a persistent case of empty nest syndrome? Mind you, the sixteen year-old is only in eleventh grade and  already I muffle rising panic.  The twenty-four year old is gone, the twenty-one year old rows away his senior year of college whilst polishing off  Arabic and eyeing Egypt with fervor... them's horses  are out 'o the bahn.

My year perrenials (a new verb I just coined) in September, even before I was an educator. For someone who attended no less than seven institutions of higher learning on her way to earning three degrees, the school calendar is hard-wired in. We won't count the half-finished technical writing masters at University of North Texas or the paralegal certificate, those educational u-turns... nay, verily  I proclaim with a straight face that every single learning experience continues to be utilized and applied to this very day.

As far as the premature case of empty nest, it may well be the result of  attempting to adopt a total of seven older children over six years and retaining just one. Have the other six been adopted by anyone? No, but  most would have if  the state Department of Children Youth and Families would just listen to their parents in the trenches. The photo above was taken three  kids ago. Do you think in the old days, when many offspring died, that parents marked the passage of time by using the deaths of their children? Instead of fall or spring or a number, that time would be known as "when Sandy left us" .... losing a child in a failed adoption is nearly as traumatizing as the death of a child. It has a way of stopping you in your tracks, putting life on hold.  This year alone, we'd  already lost two kids, following one last year...the most recent two I can't bear to talk about just yet.

They are not the reason we won't attempt to adopt again; that honor lies with the last, the final state social services caseworker who repeatedly lied and back-stabbed us over the course of 15 months. Lest you think I have it in for this class of person, I will say that my previous experiences with such workers had in fact been uniformly positive. Alas, this misguided woman was backed by her organization all the way to the very top. I was personally told by the head of the organization that the children would be taken away if I didn't toe the nonsensical party line,  and then, as they had repeatedly, the organization contradicted itself. They made up new rules that applied only to our family, and subsequently refused to honor those selfsame rules when the shoe was on the other foot. The subject defies sensibility; there's a book in it somewhere. Invariably, in my life when it's time  to move on and I still think this is something I need to be doing, it requires a whopping dose of something really nasty to turn me off. Finally I heeded the message, though I can't keep the kids out of my life just yet.

On a lighter note: our newfound international student exchange organization is dubiously blessed with an acronym that had to be penned by a non-English speaker. In all sincerity - phonetically, it is pronounced "Assy". Kevin and I run around the house making "assy" jokes and mimicking fake "assy" commercials, replete with butt shots, such as " Assy come home" which poses a nice double entendre on the international student side of things.  The poor girls haven't arrived yet, but when they do, it will be our special pleasure  to begin teaching them English slang.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

According to a 2011 report by the Evan B. Donaldson foundation,   ,

fewer older youth are  being adopted from foster care than at any time in the last ten years.

"Adoption of older youth, as well as subsidized guardianship (discussed later in this paper), are important ways to create such relationships for youth at risk of aging out of care. Each legally formalizes a relationship with an important adult or adults, removes the youth from direct involvement in the child welfare system, and typically continues state financial support, access to medical care through Medicaid, and ongoing services through the subsidy."

Numerous studies have shown that children who age out of foster care or emancipate will face high rates of homelessness (up to 49%) drug and alcohol addiction, and incarceration. Due to their lack of supports and previous emotional challenges, young adults who leave foster care without a family will disproportionately drain resources and end up costing 'the system'  or the state far more than children who have been adopted.

The Donaldson report highlights state efforts  such as "You Gotta Believe"  a New York based agency targeted solely to recruiting adoptive parents for older youth. How difficult would it be to form a similar agency for the five New England states, whose goal was to prevent ANY youth leaving care without a family?  Organizations such as Adopt Us Kids ostensibly serve the same purpose, but if my experience is any guide, they serve largely as a front. Over the course of two years I submitted more than ten homestudy packets  to social workers listed on that site for specific children  as 'requesting homestudy' . I heard back ONCE from one Ohio  social worker who said  the child pictured  was not yet available...and never heard from him again. From the rest I never heard anything, though the same children I inquired about (multi-racial sibling groups) continue to be pictured as available for adoption on the site YEAR AFTER YEAR (and today).  I had more luck using a state site  through Maine social services when I submitted requests, and also through the Maine Heart Gallery site which has since been eliminated ; in that instance I heard from workers by phone,and was even invited to two Maine 'adoption parties', but again that effort was not productive. If I, as an educated, motivated, trained foster parent with homestudy in hand, knocking hard on the door, cannot get through what reality faces other potential adoptive parents, who may not even be licensed foster parents yet?

My point is that states are not doing enough to get older children adopted, and in fact have made few changes to the way they operate social services  to specifically meet the needs of older children at risk of aging out. Programs such as You Gotta Believe  are an excellent response to this need; the question is, why is this organization such an isolated phenomenon?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Don't adopt in New Hampshire

In  case you contemplated adopting from the state of New Hampshire- there has been no media attention to this fact - in July 2011 the New Hampshire (NH) legislature  eliminated all special needs adoption subsidies  save for the most physically handicapped of children. The facts are: most children available for adoption in NH are older and have significant mental health needs and challenging behavioral problems/ These facts pose an adoption barrier that our legislature clearly doesn't understand.

Many states do have adoption subsidies, in recognition of the fact that if you adopt a child at 13 there isn't much time to save for college, or that you will end up paying for  more specialized therapies, possibly private school, childcare (even for a 15 year old, I cannot leave mine alone) and before and after school care.  There are numerous studies  which show that adoption subsidies prevent adoption disruption and promote healthier adoptive families. And these subsidies are only HALF  funded through the state, as the other portion is provided by the federal government, who recognize that NOT having older children adopted is in the long run a far more expensive proposition for both state and federal government. But we don't tend to think ' in the long run' here in America, where the concept of family planning cold be seen as  either contentious or archaic, depending on your perspective.
My husband and I have adopted  one child  (at age 13)  from the state and are now in the process of adopting two siblings ( 9 and 13), a process that, due to  foot dragging by Brentwood court won't be complete until spring of 2012, possibly later.  All these  children are special needs  and two out of three have significant mental health issues due to their previous abuse and neglect.

At minimum, emotionally these children are 3-4 years younger than their chronological age, and they require omnipresent supervision. Never mind the fact that after years of neglect, you want to give them swimming lessons, piano lessons, camp...such children need structured activities or they behaviorally self-destruct, and they have been deprived  of all the things they need to enrich their lives, grow and move forward. To give you an idea of what I mean  when I say their lives need enrichment - for starters, many children that we have encountered in the system have never had a birthday party, can't tell time, can't tie their shoes - all due to neglect.

According  to the NH foster adoptive parent association, most people  who adopt in this state are socioeconomically lower middle class; having been to many trainings  with fellow  foster adoptive parents, I would agree with this. One sees  lots of old beater cars driving out of the parking lot at the end of the training day. It would be great if loads of  New Hampshire's upper middle class parents were lining up to adopt the hard to place older special needs kids ( like Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, based on a true story), but that isn't the reality.

Adoption in 2010 and 2011 was  cushioned by a federal tax credit of  $12,000+ per child  that was made refundable; that is, a refund of that amount on your return. Prior to 2010, no such refund was available. So for a brief window, a window that closes  12-31-11, there was an opportunity  to at least mitigate  New Hampshire's subsidy blunder.

Other changes  the state Department of Social Services  has made compared to prior  years: prospective adoptive parents  are given little, if any  weight in the adoption process. The state  has insisted  that our kids visit  with a former foster parent we really don't care for, going so far as to mandate monthly overnight visits- at a time when we are attempting to bond with these children and create our own sense of family- our objections were denounced and we were made to feel as if we had a problem. I was told  by the head of  DCYF that  if  her foster parents  weren't doing as the state wanted, maybe they shouldn't be  foster parents and the state could place the children elsewhere. The implied threat was clear; do what we say or you can say goodbye to these kids.

So as prospective adoptive parents, be ready to take your kids visiting  to the jail, to  the relatives that abused them, and  to former foster parents you can't stand;you'll do what the state tells you to do, even though you are assuming all of the risks and taking all of the responsibility. Once the state begins termination proceedings,  you will be providing all the transportation to all these aforementioned visits you don't want, because  the state no longer provides  it and they will make you do it.

I've since learned that the changes to adoption subsidy law were brought in by newly elected libertarian legislators, who want to eliminate the role of the federal government in this state
( sponsored bills pending in the legislature to wipe out the Affordable Care Act), so the fact that subsidies are 50% paid for by the federal government is actually  probably the reason they were eliminated, in addition to pure ignorance.

These legislators would never take it upon themselves or their family to adopt an older special needs child from state custody and have no experience or knowledge about this population, but they want to make the lives of those who are willing to do so far more difficult.

My sincere advice to prospective New England parents who are looking to adopt from foster care - consider Rhode Island, Maine, or Massachusetts - forget New Hampshire.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pushin' Fifty

For the second time this semester I have shown up to a class that doesn't exist. The first time the prof canceled it late and I never got the email; today the schedule  had been switched, so this class still showed  on my syllabus dates, but I am apparently here on the wrong week. If I were the professor,  I would have put out a reminder or at least a new syllabus/schedule with the new dates; if only I ran the world.

I should have known there was no class, because we had class last week and this one only meets on alternate weeks. But I've slept, and not slept, since then. This semester my schedule calls for three twelve hour shifts weekly  at my clinical site, plus three classes a week. Last semester took the prize for the most academic work required and entailed shuttling between two separate clinical sites...why did I think this semester would be easier? Each one is hard in a new way.

So I make the best of it here in the library as a study day until my 4pm class, which will actually happen, surrounded  by young people  who could easily be my own children, as I have one son already graduated  from college  and another a sophomore.  I rarely question this, but today I wondered- what am I doing here and who am I I paid an overdue library fine.

It was really windy today and I'd worn a hat, so my hair looks frowsy and my eyes are red from dust blowing in them and reading too much late at night and perhaps allergies, something I've not had before. The library accounts woman taking my check looked wonderingly at me as if I was stoned.  Middle age is so incredibly humbling.  Time was when a feeling of incompetence could at least be partially salvaged by a glance in the mirror... there was still satisfaction to be had from looking good outside, a kind of self-reinforcing feedback loop. That's all shot now. In photos I discover  developing jowls, replete with a new fold of skin at the sides of my chin. And this after I gave up sugar, and then artificial sweeteners, three weeks ago. To add insult, I somehow seem to have managed to gain weight from this gambit, though I am eating less. Signs of decrepitude seeming to mount, and I'm not even fifty yet.  Humbling, I tell you.

I wonder at that younger me, in my thirties - did  I really think my looks would last forever?  I didn't consider it at all - nature's gift was assumed. I guess I anticipated a much more gradual decline. Since everything's falling down, now, too late, I ready for the next onslaught.   Pensively  I observe the older women during choir rehearsals, noting impending signs of aging- the doubling chins, receding gumlines, skin like a leather handbag - all this and more will be mine. A classmate  from prep school dies, and I mull over the obituary photograph...hmmm, she looks pretty good, and she'll never look older than now. Death as a blessed release from signs of aging- can it be that fearsome?

In a few months, I'll don the cap and gown for a third time and then some hapless establishment will hire me as a new nursing grad. Those first few years of experience will be the hardest to acquire; after that people will assume I've been in nursing  forever, since I'll look well seasoned  and have some idea of what I am doing. Only  my resume will know the truth, a document I hope won't get too much updating in the coming years.

Is this why folks take up gardening, bridge, and watercolors, because  they need to learn to derive satisfaction  from other sources? I'm a novice at all three, so what was I spending my time doing before? Whatever I was doing, there's an increasing sense  that it's too late for any more reinventions, death itself for a chameleon like me. This could be my last career.