Baby Bird Time

fighting imposter syndrome one blog post at a time

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Does Your Face Light Up?

This post started as a comment on Janet Lansbury’s blog post, The Most Powerful Way To Love A Child. I debated posting it there, then I debated emailing it as she often shares parent feedback on her facebook page. Then I realized I’m paying for webspace I don’t use, and that for so many years, I wanted to tell some of our stories and couldn’t. For the first few months we spent as a family together, this quote and photo were constantly present in my mind. Gradually I forgot. Life got busier and more chaotic and the “honeymoon period” – from my side, not theirs – faded. (Interestingly enough my children never had a “honeymoon” phase, what I got with them from day one was what I have had ever since. I need to state that very clearly now because I think it makes the following story even more meaningful. I also need to state that I don’t think that is normal and that ours is only one single story).

 

Around the time that I met my children, more specifically when I met my daughter, since we met first, I came across an unattributed quote on the internet, something to the effect of, do your eyes light up when you see your children? I’m not really into unattributed quotes so I searched for the source, which turned out to be Toni Morrison in this video with Oprah:

 

 

As usual, the video and actual context is better than the unattributed quote.

 

The information I got regarding my children before I met them was overwhelming negative and remains shockingly nonrepresentative of who they have shown themselves to be. For both children, I was painted a picture of nonresponsive, avoidant, near feral children. I was told they wouldn’t make eye contact. I was told they ignored adults and purposely (at 15 months!) avoided their name. I was told they screamed for no reason and banged their heads on their cribs. I was handed a plethora of armchair diagnoses as if they were free magnets at the county fair.

Before we met, I had no idea what to expect.


I took the following picture of my daughter within 2 hours of her arrival. It may have been within one hour. It may have been within 45 minutes. I can’t be certain because I can’t pull my phone records from that day without calling AT&T and sitting on hold for a while, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter that much anymore.

 

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We played peekaboo with the Baby Faces book.

 

But they don’t make eye contact. They avoids adults. They doesn’t listen when their names are called. They scream for no reason.

 

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(Everything has a reason).


We were essentially strangers. When these photos were taken, I had spent less time with her than I have spent with the guy who repaired my hot water heater.

I have more photos from that weekend and the weekends that followed. Hundreds, if not thousands. I have videos. At first it was unconscious. I was photographing her because it felt completely right and natural. I had had a previous sibling group for respite, the same situation in which I found myself with my children, with my daughter that first weekend. I had only remembered pictures existed on the second or third day. I took a few pictures of those children playing with soap suds in the sink to remember them. That was about all. It was an afterthought. And I loved them as much as I could that weekend. They were my little buddies and I took them to a visit and I missed them. That was what made me realize this could work, because it went from BUT WHY WOULD YOU ENTRUST AN ACTUAL LIVE HUMAN CHILD TO ME?! to hi, I’ve never met you before, guess we’re in this together, come live at my house for a while.


But with my daughter I was taking photos like a mama. It just happened and I didn’t realize it until much later. As we went on, I also began taking them as a meansof amassing an arsenal of evidence. Evidence of what, I wasn’t entirely sure. Evidence of who she was: a beautiful, engaging, funny little girl. She loved to play peekaboo. She exchanged in a playful give and take with me at every turn, feeding me Cheerios, crawling away and turning back for me to chase her, sharing her excitement over toys. I have videos of her hysterical giggle, videos of her attempt to say woof “fffff”, videos of her feeding me Cheerios in the backseat of the car.

 

It was in the context of all of this that I ran across the Toni Morrison quote. In the midst of Cheerio exchanges, picture taking for some greater purpose I didn’t yet know, and “fffff” at the neighbor’s dog, I found the quote that resonated with me. Does your face light up when you see your child? I think that mine did during those late spring months. I can see it reflected in her eyes.

My intention in writing this post isn’t to call anyone out for being a liar, except, you know, if the shoe fits… (as an aside, my son’s didn’t. Fit, that is. He has new shoes now. Lots of them. So many shoes. Tiny shoes, everywhere. I can’t stop buying shoes. Send help).

 

My intention is now to say this: regardless of what was true or not true, look at her eyes. Look at her eyes.

 

That’s the difference between your face lighting up and the “critical face” Toni Morrison describes. It’s the response to what Dr. Karyn Purvis refers to as “gentle eyes”. When my daughter was placed in my arms she ducked her head and turned away. Her response was completely appropriate for being handed off to a stranger. I remember in that moment feeling that if that reaction was the extent of our relationship, it would have been enough. I remember feeling a flood of overwhelming love and protectiveness for the child I didn’t yet know. I remember thinking that if she never spoke to me, never responded to me, never looked at me, it would have been enough because I loved her like I have never loved anyone or anything.

And I saw her. I held her. I think she knew it. I had no expectation, because I had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to feel like I was holding my daughter.

Regardless of what was or wasn’t true about what came before, what was true was this: the behaviors that I was told to expect never happened. Not during that weekend. Not during the next. Not during the next six months.

 

It’s since been two and a half years.

 

There was behavior. Some of it was not in keeping with my parental ideals of pacifism. But the behavior that I had been told about never happened. The descriptions I was given about both my children were so inaccurate in light of who they are when they – I hope – feel safe and feel loved.

That’s the difference, I hope, of being seen. That’s the difference of “does your face light up.” The children described to me in the paperwork were never the children in front of me. Are they ever? The children described in the paperwork were either a lie, or a textbook example of the human fight, flight, or freeze response. They were children living in extreme stress and fear. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because both are equally inaccurate, tragic, and nonrepresentative of who they actually are.

 

 

 

How To Survive The Foster Care Licensing Process

Spoiler alert: Nothing about it is any worse than the rest of adult life. It is paperwork and driving to places and going to classes. If you’re been out of the education world for some time and the thought of “going to classes” triggers anxiety, we can even call them “meetings.” We could call them sitting in a room eating free food if that is more appealing.*

Because it’s not that bad! And it’s not that difficult!

Except no one is saying these things to the point where I almost wonder… am I not supposed to say them? Am I breaking some unwritten code of foster or adoptive parenting? I don’t think so, because I have a stack of papers shoved** — I mean carefully filed — YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT TO BE A PERFECT PARENT! — in a kitchen cabinet and they have all kinds of confidentiality clauses but not one of them ever says also you have to act like licensing is terrible. And yet that’s the narrative that is out there.

Let me repeat: It isn’t. It isn’t. It isn’t. Nothing about it is terrible. It is moderately time consuming for a while… unlike parenting, which is super time consuming all the time.

The way the internet talks about it, you would think getting licensed as a foster parent was the equivalent of getting into Harvard. Guys. Guys. It’s not. It’s really, really not. It’s nerve-inducing because it is unknown, but so was driving and so are electronic voting machines and so all you need to know is push any button other than Trump, okay? Because that’s the one that ushers in the apocalypse.

(And if you just got angry and want to stop reading this blog now, I am going to assume I have just done the foster care world a favor. Because the licensing process is likely going to be a more neutral and less subjective screening process, like: are you a felon? Is your house built on a sinkhole? Do you think knives are fun toys for toddlers? But that’s not my thing. I have no proverbial dog in this fight).

Obviously the agency has guidelines in place for a reason and the licensing process took some time.  The majority of that time was due to my procrastination. It was not difficult. I don’t know how to emphasis that more than I already have. Learning to drive was way harder. Applying to college was way more stressful. Sitting on my couch talking about myself… not so much. I get that this will vary based on situation and personality, but when literally all of my adult life has been spent applying for one thing or another — jobs, apartments, houses, credit cards — this is not rocket science.

 

This is essentially a broad overview of how the licensing process went for me:

 

Me, sitting on my patio in the sun reading a book and drinking a smoothie: Look at all this free time, hahaha. Who needs this. I want to be a parent!

Agency: Okay cool. Do these things.

Me: *does them*

Agency: Okay cool. Parenting is now a thing that you can do!

And that is the shortest and most flippant summary of the most emotional few years of my life. Yet as vague and avoidant of all the real feelings as it may be, it is still kind of accurate. The difficult part came after this.

 

*Your experience may vary. Eating free food is not a licensing requirement. However, this was how it happened for me. In the interest of transparency.

**There are enough organized foster parent blogs out there in the world that I feel compelled to tip the balance the other way. My filing system = I know it’s in my house somewhere!

Stay tuned for next time when I reveal the secrets of “How To Survive Buying Your First Home! Tip #1, Cry, Tip #52, Cry” and “How to Survive Turning On The TV: Find The Remote Or Resign Yourself To Being Amish.”

A few thoughts on not reading children’s histories and adoption fauxspiration

Don’t. Don’t not read them to make a point.

Okay, that is one thought.

I follow a handful of pages on Facebook that share foster care stories, and many of them are lovely. Every now and then, I see one that is seemingly lovely, and may even hype up the inspirational side of things, but that leaves me with an awkward feeling at the end of it. Most recently, the story was about how the parents refused to read their children’s file until finalization, for fear they would back out.

To some extent, I get it. I really do. My children came to me from a previous placement and the things the previous placement told me about them proved to be untrue but they made me want to turn around and run the other way. These things were not even necessarily bad, but hit on a few areas that I did not think I could deal with, due to my situation and personality. The fear that came from their careless and ignorant words was enormous. And I acted on that fear and initially said no. Fortunately, I got another (multiple?) changes to say yes. By the time we reached adoption paperwork, there was nothing in the file that was really news to me.

My memories of the adoption process are blurry. It flew, absolutely flew, and was a flurry of documents signed and scanned back and forth. I skimmed the wording of some of them the other day, after that story bothered me. Hadn’t I legally stated that I had read their contents? It was a very brief skimming and all I found was that maybe I had only signed that the agency had provided me these things, in writing. To be honest, I didn’t care enough to go through them with a fine tooth comb to determine the legality of signing and not reading. The story shared was likely not even in my county.

Also, regardless of any legal language, and regardless of all the fuzzy feelings a story like this invokes, I’m not on board the fauxspirational train that thinks this is impressive. I don’t think ignorance is impressive or touching. By the time we approached legalization, there was nothing that would have deterred me. After two years together, the paperwork likely isn’t going to tell me anything new, and at that point, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Our situation was different. And I know every situation is different.

But I don’t think it shows dedication or commitment to ignore a case file until it’s “too late.” I don’t think it is commendable. In my mind, feels more commendable, though not as appealing or easy to tie up in religious language, to stare everything in the face and say yes.

Your children didn’t have the option of not reading it (they lived it). Your children didn’t have the option of choosing your family. This just feels so complicated and problematic, in a situation that is already that way. I’m trying to sort out all of the reasons it bothers me and I’m not sure I can’t. but I keep coming back to, if it wouldn’t have changed anything, why not?

I understand being afraid of fear. I get it. I have anxiety about my anxiety. But something about this just rings so false to me. I can’t like it. I can’t find it impressive. I’m not touched by the story. I find it unsettling.

I had to sign some paperwork that hit right up against things that aren’t true. I literally had to sign a paper that said, no, I cannot adopt without a subsidy. And while that may be financially true because that is the only way I’m affording childcare, nothing about that statement is accurate. Given no other choice, I absolutely would have adopted without a subsidy. We would live in a box. We would live with my parents. We would eat ramen noodles. But we would do it. The alternative would have been worse.

I could have made a point with that box. I could have checked yes, never mind, we’ll eat ramen noodles, who needs daycare?, it’s a leap of faith!… but my family is worth more than that. It was a greater leap of faith for me to trust the (often very broken) process and believe everyone who told me everything would still move forward and this way, I would afford daycare. That no one would sit in an office and shake their head at me and say, “never mind, we’ll find someone else who isn’t this greedy. NEXT.”

I don’t believe it is worth it to make a point.

Our story has enough inspiration and enough beauty without manipulating it to create more. I have actively fought against some of it because I see how these things are crafted and manipulated to have meaning and a sense of “meant to be.” I have refused to say those words. I have refused to say those words only to have other, more unlikely individuals say them. I have told factual accounts of “on this date, this thing happened!” with as little emotion and as much flippancy as I could muster because I do not want to be manipulating anybody into thinking this is some beautiful and epic Hallmark movie. And they’ve still gotten chills. It makes me super uncomfortable. I was not trying to invoke them.

So I guess this is what I am saying:

Don’t not read your children’s history. 

Let the thing be as beautiful and broken as it is, without artistic license, and trust that that is enough.

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