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National Adoption Day

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Yesterday was National Adoption Awareness Day. This has become the day that counties across the United States invite families that have come together through adoption to join in a celebration at the courthouse. The adoption process has been streamlined to just a lot of paper shuffling, signing and notarizing. As a matter of fact, it was just an ordinary Tuesday when our paperwork arrived in the mail telling us that we are now a forever family! I love that judges and courts now celebrate this moment with families!

We were hoping that the formality of the court celebration would help the kids understand that this is now their forever home. Kai has still been holding onto the hope that reunification with his bio-mom is possible, and Imani just doesn’t understand permanency, and is still concerned that she will have to leave and go live somewhere else.

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Among my joy and celebration, I had to set my feelings to the side.  “Why?” you ask. because for our little 7 year old, this was not a celebratory time. His face said it all, mixed feelings of loss and the new feeling of safety and security he has been experiencing for the last two years.

His bio-mom will always be his ‘mom’. I understand and respect the love he has for her. I try to keep the fading memories he has of her alive, with questions and observations thrown into our conversations; “Your voice is beautiful, just like K’s”… It’s difficult to process fostercare for children. It’s more difficult to understand foster-adopt. All they know is that this parent they loved is all of a sudden gone from their lives, and new parents, strangers are inserted. When you try to look at it through their eyes, it really is a strange idea.

The heart of a child is an amazing thing. It’s loyal, unconditional, and tender. So with this I held my children tight, and balanced my outward emotions with my inward joy, knowing that one of my children was mourning his past, while I was celebrating his future!

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What’s in a Name?

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What’s in a name? Well, actually a lot! A name can hold your past, present and future. It’s how others identify us, and often how we identify ourselves.

When we had a therapist suggest that we offer letting T change his name, leaving the trauma of his past behind with it, and moving forward with a fresh start and a new name we weren’t sure what he would think of the idea. To our surprise, he embraced it! He Immediately chose a new name! The name he chose was Kai, which I later looked up and the meaning of Kai in Hawaiian is Sea. After a little more research, I also found this:

In Basque, Kai is a common word meaning “pier of a harbour” and a variant of the first name Kaio (from the old Latin name Caius) In Burmese, Kai means “strong” or “unbreakable” In Chinese, Kai is a common name that can have one of several meanings, including “triumphant.

I think this is very fitting! After several weeks, of letting Kai sit with his name, and encouraging us to call him that, we went ahead and publicly announced it. I sent a note to the principal and his teacher, letting them know what has happened and the ‘why’ behind it.

It was about 3 weeks later, that I was standing in the ‘walk-up’ carpool line at school, when one of the TA’s ran towards me yelling, yes yelling! “T does NOT want to be called Kai, so why don’t you just let the kid be called T!”. Completely taken back, and understanding that this was not the place or time to discuss this I just stood there dumbfounded.  It wasn’t until I got home and sat with the heaviness  of the day, that I began to cry. I am the first to admit that I don’t always know what I am doing, and rely heavily on the advice of ‘experts’, and what speaks to my heart. Parenting is challenging, parenting five kids is more challenging, but trying to navigate the healthiest path for my five children that have been through varying degrees of trauma can be down right exhausting, and at times lonely.  This attack felt like a kick while I was down, I was already working through Kai’s latest school transition.  I later wrote a letter to the principal outlining what had happened today and restating how we came to this decision, and that it was Kai who chose the name. The reply I got back was shocking:

Good morning,

Sorry for what happened yesterday.  I looked into the official file we have and we do not have an official name change for T/Kai.  Until we have such document, legally we need to call him Torrey.  Once you have the document, please give us a copy as soon as you can.
Thank you,
So, basically, children can not be called by their nic-names or shortened names? I call Bullsh*t! I pointed that out to her and let it go.
At this point Kai has switched schools again. The Montessori program he was in was not a good fit for a child that has never had structure in their life. He is now at a public school with strong EC resources.
As for me, I will continue to grow that thick skin, and advocate for my children….whatever their names are!
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It Takes A Village: The Guardian Ad Litem

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In the county I live in, right now there are over 600 plus children in the foster-care system. Each one of these children will be appointed a Guardian ad Litem. This is a volunteer position, and currently our county is in desperate need of people willing to step up and become a child’s advocate.  Guardians ad Litem serve as court-appointed advocates for abused and neglected children who come to the attention of the juvenile court system. Judges depend on testimony and reports from the Guardian ad Litem to inform their decisions about how to protect each child from further harm and meet their needs.

We were very lucky! Our Guardian ad Litem was/is an Angel. She took this position seriously, and never missed an appointment, court date or home visit. She did it with a smile on hr face and love in her heart. She has become an extended family member, and knew and fought for the protection of our children before we even met them.

A lot of people I encounter are concerned about the amount of children in the foster-care system, but are unable to adopt or foster a child. This is just one more way that someone can help the children without making a life-long commitment to the child.

What exactly does the Guardian ad Litem do? This is taken from the website:

Volunteer Responsibilities

  • Visits the child and keeps the child informed about the court proceedings.
  • Communicates with the Attorney Advocate to develop legal strategies to further the best interests of the child.
  • Gathers and assesses independent information on a consistent basis about the child to recommend a resolution that is in the child’s best interest. 
  • Interviews the parents, guardians, caretakers, social workers, and other service providers, and reads records related to the case.
  • Seeks cooperative solutions with other participants in the child’s case. 
  • Writes fact-based, child-focused reports for court hearings.
  • Attends and participates in court hearings and other related meetings to advocate for a permanent plan thatserves the child’s best interest. 
  • Testifies, if needed, to inform the court of the child’s situation.
  • Ensures that the court knows the child’s wishes.  
  • Keeps all records and information confidential.
  • Monitors all court-ordered services and keeps the court informed about the needs of the child.
  • Consults with local program staff for support and guidance.

If you have love in your heart,  passion for justice and a little extra time these children need YOU!

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They’re Ours!! Adoption Finalized!

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1 year, 9 months and 8 days after meeting our three youngest children for the first time they are ours! Adoption complete! What does this mean for our family?

  • No more home visits!
  • We get to make all decisions regarding our children (without counsel from The Team)
  • We are free to travel anywhere and anytime with our children, without special permission and notes
  • No one can take them from us. No changed minds, or family members suddenly appearing
  • We all have the same last name! We are now the Le Chevalliers!
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My White Privilege Does Not Apply To My Children

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Before adopting I didn’t really know about ‘white privilege”. Maybe I did, but honestly, I really didn’t give it much thought. But now that my heart is intertwined within several cultures/races I am hyper aware of how races, other than whites are treated in the United States.

I would be doing my children a huge disservice if I did not try to ‘walk a mile’ in their shoes, if I did not help to prepare them for their futures, as Black-Americans and as Latino-Americans.

We (Whites) don’t like talking about race. It makes us uncomfortable, mainly because we are afraid we’ll say the wrong thing. But the conversations need to begin and continue, and not stop until the ignorance, fear and misunderstandings are replaced with love and acceptance . I have found that my children have helped me bridge those uncomfortable conversations. When it comes to our children,  we are often forced out of our comfort zone to act on behalf of them. We often do for them things we would have never done for ourselves.

The conversations I have had with my children  so far, are very generic and have just begun to scratch the surface of topics like Martin Luther King, Slavery, and the injustices against the Maya in Guatemala.  As they mature, so will our conversations. My hope is that I can stay at least 2 steps ahead of the stupidity and racism, preparing them in an age appropriate and realistic way for the future.

I don’t know what happened to Michael Brown on that evening in Ferguson, MO, but he deserves the same due-diligence we would give any one of our teenage sons gunned down in their youth.   Every time I see in the news that another Black teenager has been gunned down I think of the conversations I will have to have with my sons. They are not allowed the privilege of throwing on a sweatshirt and looking ‘sloppy’, for fear of being labeled a ‘thug’, or pulled over and asked for their ‘papers’.

Until we join hands and become that “One World, One Love” Bob Marley sang about almost 40 years ago, I will continue to weep with the Mother’s of the sons that are unnecessarily judged, harassed and yes sometimes killed because they did not posses the privilege of being white in America.

 

 

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LEGO my EGO

One of the things I have been able to take advantage of, are the classes offered on adoption, behavior and various coping skills that we can teach to our children and replace the old coping methods that no longer serve them. Recently I added a new tool to my toolbox of ‘Mom games’ that masquerades as really fun ‘regular games’.

When I first started to play, I thought “No way am I going to be able to create anything cool/interesting with these LEGO’s (this was my first lesson).  Everyone sat down with a ‘kit’ in front of them, this was not a regular LEGO kit. This kit contained webs, ladders, people, flowers, money, and various other traditional blocks (unfortunately they are not for sale. But, I am sure they would be very easy to put one together from a LEGO store). The play helps kids to express feelings and creativity and gain important skills that can be transferred to a classroom. This is how the game is played:

Choose an attitude, perspective or feeling you would like to work on or explore, (it can also work well with something as simple as ‘create a robot’ or a ‘make-believe bug’ etc…) Now, by using the LEGO-kit translate that into a LEGO model. After 5 minutes, everyone shares their model.  There are rules to sharing:

Here are the rules:

  1. Everyone shares.
  2. When done sharing the listeners say “Thank you for sharing’ (I found this to be the most difficult because I really wanted to compliment the models).
  3. Do not touch anyone else’s model.
  4. Do not touch your model while other’s are talking
  5. Questions about what is on the base plate ONLY.
  6. Do not compliment.
  7. Do not interrupt someone else’s story.
  8. If they say its an XX it is an XX

Here is my “Bug”- It’s a Momma bug and the netting is helping to protect her babies in her pouch. The tools that this bug has to help her babies include (from L-R) , The first tool pictured is a flower to add love and creativity to her children’s lives, next is a phone that represents communication with her children, the brush represents the care and grooming she needs to give to her children and  a magic wand to make all the boo-boo’s and sadness disappear……..I know you want to compliment my rockin’ model…but it’s against the rules!

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“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

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The last meeting I had with the school did not go well. The paths we have in mind for T are growing wider. I questioned why he came home with soda and chips “Well he bought that with his allowance” (so as long as he brings his own money he can buy whatever he wants with it?) Then I questioned the choice of chocolate milk with every meal, and mentioned that I consider that a dessert. “Well I have NEVER considered that a dessert!” “…..and this is why he has gained 18 lbs in the short 3 mo he has been here”. I shot back.  I also mentioned that he would be returning to his school next week, just for the week so that his charter-school eligibility would be secure. I could tell that she was not happy about that.

I was surprised that she did not continue the conversation with me, but instead chose to talk directly with the Social Worker. Yes, the social worker/state are still the legal guardian, but anyday we will open our mailbox and find that the adoption is final.

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The conversation began with the Social Worker mentioning two prescriptions that the school had sent home, and that I chose not to fill. It completely boggles the mind, that they are quick to medicate, but won’t even visit the idea of good nutrition, and imagine that there is a link between behavior and nutrition. I also mentioned that he is not getting daily therapy like I was led to believe he would be receiving.  “Well, no, but the counselors are more skilled at working with kids with challenges”.

Lastly, and the core of the conversation revolved around his education.  I am not happy with this school, and want him back with us, and back at his original school. I think he needs stability, security and love, (and therapy and proper nutrition).  She thinks that that our Charter school is not equipped or experienced with working with kids that come from hard places.  I reassured her that I was ready to do what ever I needed to do, even if it meant ‘volunteering’ in his class everyday so that I can help with any situation that came up.

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She continued to argue the point that a public school was better for him, and pointed out that when he was at a public school while living with his bio-mom(3 mo of Kinder) he did fine. “Well, for one, he wasn’t depressed, and missing his bio-Mom, I pointed out that  was probably the difference not the school.” Then she says…  “Besides, you know I don’t think he is comfortable at that school, you know he is where he came from, and I think that school makes him feel inferior” hmmmm, that is quite a statement  ” coming from a social worker. Then I told her “But, this is not who he is becoming…his potential is far greater than that!” besides, the school is more diverse than a public school, with the Spanish emersion component, it attracts as many Latinos as it does white and black students, and the fact that they wear uniforms also puts them on a level social-economic place.  I continued to listen and silently nod through the phone, knowing that we both have our own plan for him, and that it looks very different, until she said “You know, the kids were taking away because they (the parents) did not have their best interest in mind”…Wow, all I could say was ” “I think we can agree, that we all want what is best for him. we just have different opinions of what that looks like”

If parenting is the hardest job in the world,…what is foster parenting?