It’s complicated.

A few weeks ago, at the doctor’s office, we were discussing the fact that William hadn’t gained any weight.  She commented that maybe the “real” mom was thin.  I was so focused on answering the question and taking the super-mature opportunity to say that she was actually over-weight, that it didn’t register right away.

Real mom?  What should I get upset about first?  The fact that you said that in front of my impressionable, and already confused by his past, 8 year old.  Or the fact that, wait a minute, I thought I was his real mom.  The woman who neglected and endangered them gets the title of real mom.  But, the one who adopted them, turned my life upside down, takes care of them every day, (insert other dramatic mom statements here), etc…I’m, well, I guess I’m the mom, too.  Just not the real one?

It’s important to point out that the doctor is a very nice person, didn’t mean anything by it and was only using it for clarification.  But, there are better ways to clarify, for sure.  I also know what probably bothered me most of all was that I said nothing.  I just stewed about it later (obviously, much later.)  The good news was I didn’t make that mistake the next time.  While on vacation, the “real mom” was referenced, I don’t even remember why.  I almost said nothing and then quickly realized that it would become the biggest memory of my vacation.  So, I said, “Oh, you mean the biological mother?” and then answered the question.  The person then realized and said “Oh, yeah, I probably shouldn’t say it that way.”   Well, look at that, I’ve educated and headed off an obsession on my part! (sort of) ( :

Foster care adoption can be complicated.  But, I have no regrets.  Given a choice between having biological children and these 3, I’d pick them every time.  But, I do sometimes wish that they were, in fact, bilogical.  Not for any big, bad reason.  Just so they would be all mine, in every way possible.  And, I’d never have to hear the term “real mom.”

Sometimes it is fun to pretend.  In a waiting room, a woman was talking and relating to me about how her husband is very dark-skinned (can’t remember where he was from) and how you never know what your kids will look like with such different skin-types of the parents.  Brian wasn’t there, so she didn’t know that my hubby wasn’t black; rather very white (maybe a little pink).  I realized she thought mine were biological.  I didn’t correct her.  I enjoyed just being a typical mom who had typical kids in a typical way, for a moment.  And, quite frankly, I sometimes forget that they aren’t biological.  I couldn’t love them anymore, if I had given birth to them.  They are in my heart, they are my heart; which is a way more important organ than the belly…

But, of course, they are not biological.  They are adopted.  And, that’s ok, too!

There was a time that an aquaintance looked at a family picture on facebook and commented that she couldn’t decide if the kids looked more like me or Brian.  What??  Now I enjoy pretending they are biological, but we all know that they are not and they are, in fact, black.  And, that’s in fact, very ok.  And, it’s ok to acknowledge that.  I don’t wish they were biological because I’m ashamed of any part of who they are or who we are all together.  I’m just possessive.  It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that my son had a whole 5 years of existence before I met him.  Someone else got to be his mom and the fact that she did such a crappy job is the only reason that I get to do the job now.  It’s hard to understand even when you understand it.
 
So, yes, it stings when you mention their real mom.  I guess it’s my own personal “r” word. 

I know one day they will ask about her.  We’ve already talked to William about it a little.  Although, the topic hasn’t come up in a couple of years.  It’s going to be hard to answer those questions. Especially since there’s not a lot of positive to report.     

I try not to think about what will happen if they want to find her.  It’s hurts too much.  I do know that it would be wrong to stop them.  Well, I think it would.  Is it wrong to try to spare them the disappointment?  No.  But, it would still be wrong.

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Antwan, the warrior poet

Antwan’s personality has always fascinated me. Anyone who reads my facebook, knows he’s a walking “kid who says the darndest things.” ( :  From the beginning, he has been strong-willed, but very sweet and gentle.  Brian used to call him a “warrior poet.”  He’s very strong and all-boy, but has the ability to show the compassion and sweetness that I never thought possible for a child his age. 
The moment that Lizzie arrived, he loved her.  He doted on her, protected her, and, just loved her.  As she got older, he wanted her with him, at all times.  If he was going in his room to play, he would call her in with him.  If she cried, he would look for a pacifier.  He was a natural.

This was beautiful, but scary when we didn’t know, for sure, that we’d get to adopt her.  I worried about how Antwan (and William) would recover from losing her and, most likely, never seeing her again.  Thankfully, we never had to find out. 

He loves her and I love how close they are.  Being only 18 months apart, they’ll only be one grade apart in school.  And, I think it’s clear that nobody will ever mess with Lizzie, as long as Antwan’s around. ( :

So, today I called, “Let’s go outside!”  Antwan said “Wait, Mommy, I’m fixing Lizzie’s hair!”
The only thing that surpised me was that Lizzie was letting him. ( :

My son thinks I’m a dinosaur.

Before bedtime, William was reading through his favorite dinosaur book.  He loves dinosaurs.  Pointing at one, “Mom, do you think this looks like what you look like when you get mad?”

Me- “Maybe a little.”
William – “You know, if you were a dinosaur.”
Me – “Sure.”
William – “I’m going to call it the Mommysaurus!”
Not the bedtime conversation I was expecting. ( :

How not to style a black child’s hair.

Before the boys, we talked about the possibility of adopting black children.  We knew we didn’t care, on a personal level.  But, we worried about how society would react and, if it was a girl, we worried about how we would do the hair.

 
When the call came about the boys, we instantly knew that, no matter what, we wanted them.   We also joked that the hair would be easy since they were boys.  And hair care was fairly simple, before our Lizzie came along.  
We were so paranoid, at first.  A week after getting the boys, we were going to meet with our current landlord about renting his house.  We asked my niece to babysit because we were afraid that he would have an issue with us having black children.  Looking back on it, that seems so ridiculous, but, like I said, we were paranoid.  Of course, he eventually met the kids and thought nothing of the color and thought it was wonderful that we adopted them. 
So, we moved our boys into a very white area.  That wasn’t our original plan, but here we were.   There are very few black children in William’s school (currently only one other black child, in his grade).   And, definitely no other trans-racial families.  It was a little freaky.
Since then, I have learned that people are afraid to point out that the kids are black and are sometimes, uncomfortable, when you do.   But, at the core, most people don’t care.   I used to think that people were staring at us.  They were and they still do.  But, what I’ve come to understand is, they are curious, not judgemental.  Brian and I are white and we have 3 black kids.  And, yes, it is odd. 
We don’t get the confused stares in our area much now because everyone seems to know who we are.  We definitely stand out.  We joke that we’re local celebrities.  Cashiers will comment on how big they’ve gotten.  Random people at the park will talk to us because they recognize us.  On a very small scale, I get what it must be like to be an actual celebrity. (I have even found myself fixing my hair and make-up before going to the store, in case I’m recognized…lol)  
So, back to the hair.  With the boys, if I just asked the stylist to cut it really short, it worked out ok.  And, it would look pretty good for a few weeks.   But, then came Lizzie.  Since then it’s been a learning process.   I have received so much advice from random black women that I’ve encountered.  The first question is usually, “what are you putting in her hair?”  I’m grateful for all the advice.  But, I still don’t know what I’m doing.  Well, I know what I’m doing, I’m just not doing it what I should be doing. ( :  This is evidenced by the woman who recently offered to braid Lizzie’s hair (after stopping me in a parking lot) and the cashier who wrote down some moisturizer names while I was checking out.  I find this kind of hilarious in a bumbling white-mom-kind-of way.  But, Lizzie’s hair still looks kind of bad. 
All I can do is continue to try different conditioners, moisturizers, oils, etc, and keep putting in the clips and the headbands.  All the while, I’m hoping she’ll figure out how to do her own hair, at a young age and that she’ll forgive me when she looks back at her pictures. ( :

In the end, there are many things to learn when you adopt out of your race.  I have learned that people are pretty amazing, that it really is hard to do the hair, and it’s all worth it.  ( :

Adopting Lizzie

I had to go to the courthouse, the other day, to try to replace some lost paperwork, from Lizzie’s adoption.  I hadn’t been there since the day that we finalized her adoption.  It was such a happy day, but I had definitely enjoyed not going back.  As soon as I walked in, I got an anxious feeling and had to remind myself that this was just a business trip.  There would be no court proceedings and no sightings of the biological parents.  Even though I knew that it was be unlikely that the biological parents would be randomly wandering the courthouse, I looked for them, the whole time, anyway.

It was a very hard time for us when we got Lizzie.  It was hell, really.  Well, it was hell and heaven, for lack of a less cheesy way to express it. ( :  Lizzie was one of the three best things that happened to us and we were so grateful for her.  She was amazing and I loved everything about her.  And, I spent every moment, terrified that I would lose her.
 
So, this is what happened. 

Life was starting to settle down, a little.  At least, we were finding some sort of routine.  It was hard to keep up with two boys, but it was getting easier.  I was still working part-time and luckily, the people I worked with, seemed to enjoy it when the boys had to come along.

On September 9, 2008, I was sitting on a bench inside Walmart.  I looked at my phone and realized that I had missed a call from the agency that had matched us with the boys.  I had no idea what it could be, since we hadn’t had any contact since finalizing the boys’ adoption. 

I listened to my voicemail, they said that there was another baby born from the same biological mother and were we interested.  I guess it shouldn’t have totally surprised me.  I had heard of this happening and even though, I had pondered the possiblilty, I didn’t really expect it.  Also, the biological mother was the fertile type and had given birth to (and eventually lost) 5 children.  But, regardless, it was still extremely surprising. 

After talking to Brian, I called for more information.  She told me that it was a girl and she was 2.5 weeks old.  She said the adoption was basically a done deal and they would just have to go through the process, which would be expedited, due to the woman’s previous time in the system.  I know that she believed that she was telling me the truth, but, unfortunately, she couldn’t have been more wrong.

So, I told her I’d call her back the next day and Brian and I talked all night, even though, I don’t think there was ever any doubt what we were going to do.

When I called, the next day, to tell her that we wanted her, I was terrified.  I was afraid that they would really bring her to us and afraid that they wouldn’t.  I barely had my head above water and I was agreeing to take on a new-born?  We must’ve been out of our minds.  But, at the same time, she was their sister.  Therefore, she was already part of us.  I loved her already.  And, the idea of having the chance to let my boys grow up with their sister and not doing it because it would be hard; well, that’s would just be wrong.  Obviously, amidst my internal freak-out, I was also excited.  She was a baby and she was a girl.  I was getting the opportunity to get the best of all worlds: my boys and a baby girl  And, I’d finally have a face to put to the name that we had picked out years ago.  ( :  (She’s named after my grandmother).

So, while I waited for them to call back, I worried that they wouldn’t.  But, they did.  She called and, casually, said they’d bring her tomorrrow.  Tomorrow?  Not only was the idea of taking on a newborn in less than 24 hours a little scary, but, also, we were unprepared.  We didn’t have a crib, a car seat, nothing.  We were living paycheck to paycheck; and payday wasn’t until the day after tomorrow.  Ugh.

That was when I was reminded how great people are.

All my friends were excited.  Everyone told everyone.  Before I knew it, friends of friends had gathered things for us.  By the next night, we had a car seat, clothes, bottles, a diaper bag, a loaned bassinet, a promise of a crib, and, a Lizzie.  And, she was perfect.

So, as I just tried to survive the days with three kids and no sleep, my done deal started to turn into anything but.  The visitations with the biological parents began.  First, every other week, then, when the judge wanted to insure they were given a fair chance, it was increased to every week.  At least every month, a case worker would come to check on Lizzie and look through our house and open our cabinets.  While, I understand and respect that there is a process and it’s important that the biological parents are given the opportunity to get their lives together, it was very difficult since we had not signed up for any of that.  Plus, we knew so much about the woman’s history and could see all the manipulations that were happening.

There was a lot of back and forth.  And, a lots of scarey moments.  But, in the end, after several weeks of dodging drug tests, both biological parents tested positive for drug use.  We weren’t happy that they were on drugs and we weren’t trying to tear apart a family.  But, we knew they were on drugs and that was not safe for Lizzie.  So, we were thrilled when the truth came out.

After that, things did get simpler.  Basically, they quit.  And, in the absence of any reason to show that they deserved her back, the parental rights were terminated.

After a year of anguish, we were finally able to adopt Lizzie on September 29, 2009. 

You don’t always realize how much something is affecting you, until it’s over.  I had forgotten what it was like not to have nightmares or to wake up in the middle of the night and not immediately start to worry.  After adopting Lizzie, I was able to sleep again.

It took a long time to believe that this was my life and these were my children.  But, they are. 

After that, we moved on to just being parents.  ( : 

Adopting William and Antwan

The other day, was our 3 year anniversary, of the boys being placed in our home. It was the day that my life changed forever. My life changed when we were told that we had been chosen for the boys, then again when we met them for the first time, then again, when we brought them home. It was the happiest and scariest day of my life.

I always wanted to be a mom. My earliest memories were of naming my future children (they were Sandy and Johnny. Yea, I had seen “Grease” too many times). I spent years, I hate to say it, but, yes, judging how other mothers did it and thinking how much better I would. I didn’t mean my thoughts, mailiciously, but I did take mental notes of what not to do. It’s always easier to see other mistakes and I was watching. As I tried not to resent them for being able to have children, when I couldn’t, I watched them, so I could do it better one day.

Then, I became a mom and I was ready! It was then that I realized that I didn’t know a damn thing. It’s amazing how you forget everything you think you know, when it’s rally time. As time went by, I found myself making the mistakes that I vowed not to make and finally understood. But, flawed, confused, and tired; it was time to make a go of it. And, I went.

The first night that the boys spent with us was long. William was a bundle of energy and, understandably, over-stimulated. Early in the evening, after dinner at Burger King, he asked to watch “Monsters Inc.” We set it up. He watched for about 10 minutes and moved on. About 20 minutes later, he asked us to rewind it so he could watch it again. Anxious to make him happy, we did. He watched about ten minutes and moved on. About 20 minutes later, well, you get the point..

Antwan was pretty easy-going. He was only 13 months, adorable, and was content just to hang out and play with the toys. What I remember most about the first night with Antwan is that I convinced myself he was sick because he felt a little warm. This is when I realized that I didn’t have a thermometer. I would later understand that Antwan is hot-natured and sweats very easily. But, that first night, I was sure something was terribly wrong based on my budding mothers’ intuition, slightly high body temperature, and the fact that he was tired (after a long day).

Regardless, we survived the night.

I don’t remember sleeping that night, but I must’ve because the alarm woke me up.

I set it for 5am (I did this for 2 or 3 days). I got up and cleaned. I swept and mopped the whole house and did all the dishes. My main reasoning was that we had a 20 year old cat that had bladder control issues. So, I wanted to make sure that the floor was clean before Antwan was crawling all over it. I was only able to keep up this pace for a few days because I was beyond tired. Taking care of 2 kids, all of a sudden, and getting up super early introduced me to a level of fatigue that all my years of staying out all night and dancing had not prepared me for. I was tired. And, I wouldn’t be that tired again until Lizzie entered the picture, some months later.

As ironic, sad, luck would have it, my cat passed away right around the time that I realized that I couldn’t keep getting up so early. I was helping William feed our animals; we had many. As he was feeding the turtles, I looked over and saw that Judy was dead. I wanted to fall apart, but I didn’t want William to see her, so I said nothing (my first practice at being a real mom, I suppose). Instead I aimed him towards the turtles and ran back to get Brian who came and moved her. Later, when I had time, I cried, a lot. Brian remains convinced that Judy stuck around long enough to make sure I got a family like I had always wanted and then she just let go. The animal lovers might agree. The others might think he’s a little crazy for saying it. But, I believe it’s possible and it does comfort me.

Anyway, it was very symbolic. Seasons change, doors close and open, etc. Judy was gone and I was heart-broken. And, at the same time, I had two (soon-to-be) sons and my heart was complete, finally.

So, as I started to get a little more sleep and, sadly, a messier house, I started to think maybe I could do this.

The transition was natural for Antwan. He was a baby and, although, I’m sure he had memory of his foster parents, he settled in and had no trouble seeing us as the primary caregivers. I would call myself “mommy” when I talked to him because it made sense.

But, for William, we had been introduced as “Miss Emily” and “Mr. Brian” and we weren’t really sure when or how to make the switch. It’s hard to know how much a 5 year old understands about a situation that’s so hard for an adult to understand. We said he was going to come live with us, he said that was fine, and away we went with our new daily life.

The transition to mom and dad turned out to be no big deal; but, of course, a very big deal.

On one of the first days, a friend came over with some toys and clothes for the boys. She walked in and burst into tears. She introduced herself and said to William – “They are going to be your new mommy and daddy! Isn’t that wonderful?” William, casually, agreed. And, I silently, panicked. I didn’t want him to freak out, didn’t want to push him, didn’t want to do anything we shouldn’t do. I barely knew what we should do; so what we shouldn’t do, was even harder to figure out.

I honestly can’t remember if I said anything to him about it when she left. It’s kind of a blur. But, I do know this. Within a few days, we were mom and dad.

For Brian, it was at a Chick-Fil-A. He was in the play area with the boys and William mentioned that my friend told him that we’d be mom and dad. Brian agreed and asked him if that was ok. William said yes. He told him that he could call him dad when he was ready. He tentatively tried it out, a few minutes later.

For me, it was while playing outside at the water table, maybe the next day. In the same way, William casually brought it up. Taking a cue from Brian, I told him that he could call me mom when he was ready. He paused and, without looking at me, he said, “I’m ready now.”

It was by far one of the most beautiful moments of my life. And, my eyes are welling up now, just trying to type it. From that moment, I was mom and there was no more Ms. Emily. I was happy to see her go. I had waited a long time to hear someone call me mom and I thought it was awesome.

Not long after that, Antwan learned how to say “mama.” And, that was it, I was a mom. I just needed the judge to make it official and he did on May 9, 2008.

We were lucky. William didn’t have trouble bonding, like many foster kids do. He was ready and desperate to be loved. He never held back. He had his share of issues, still does, but willingness to bond is not one of them.

It does take a little more work to form the permannt bond with a new child who is not a baby. When you adopt an older child, you adopt his past. Even though, William was only 5, he had experienced 5 years of instability. He was removed from his biological home at 2, put in foster care, and then sent to live with us. He didn’t remember much about the biological mother, except that she didn’t feed him (his words).

As much as I hate to admit it, I couldn’t help but, feel, in competition with his former foster parents. They had fostered him for 2.5 years, but didn’t want to adopt. It was totally understandable that he would talk about them. It was selfish of me to expect him to forget. But, even so, it bothered me. There was this whole part of his life that I couldn’t touch and I wasn’t there for. It messes with your mind. We both always let him talk about his foster parents, though, and respected the fact that they were part of most of his young life. Even though, I had a hard time understanding them; we both told him that they were happy that he had a forever family.

Anyway, as time went by, it worked itself out, he mentioned them less and less. And, he saw us more and more as his reality. Today, William is my son and I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the whole world. It’s harder adopting an older child (but so worth it). Even though, he was only five, he still was seen as too old to many potential adopters. If I could have a random baby or William at 5, with all his quirks, I’d take William every time. I always say that I wish that I could’ve had William as a baby. Not because he was too old, just so, I could’ve protected him from the pain and spared him his issues. But, that’s not how it worked. The important thing is that I got William and I am so grateful for that.
Click here to watch the video that we made to celebrate our 3 year anniversary! ( :