The first days

10/12/11 – our first full day together as a family.  We got up and had breakfast in preparation for our mini day at school for Mickey.  On this day Minnie would also go down and meet Nikki, who would provide her daycare and eventually after school care for Mickey. Nikki was a neighbor who ran a licensed daycare from her home and she was also a dear friend.  I was very excited to get Minnie in, as she had a decent waitlist, but all the stars aligned.

The two hour mini day at the new school would take place in the kindergarten classroom with Mrs. B, Mrs. L., the other students, Mickey and Minnie and myself. We did stations, circle time, played and generally did Kindergarten for that two hours.  I was interested to see at just 2 weeks after her 4th birthday, Minnie was totally comfortable in the class. She joined another group and left me and Mickey. Mickey was clingy and scared.  He loved Mrs. B and Mrs L though.  They would play a huge role in our next couple of years, so I was comforted by the fact that he adored them instantly.  I didn’t yet know that this would be true for Mickey with 95% of the adults he meets and this would ultimately become a red flag for attachment concerns. Along with the two teachers, we also visited Mrs. Z, where he would spend a portion of his day working on reading, writing and math – all areas of struggle.  She would also add him to her daily social skills training class, as it became apparent that he needed it.

By the end of our mini day, Mickey was very excited about starting school the next day. We also had the first of our 6 monthly case worker visits from Elise.  This is a requirement within 24 hours of placement. To describe that visit as chaotic would be an understatement.

10/13/2011 – Mickey’s first day of school

Reports from the school were good.  They were pleased with how he did.  They noted some anxiety, but overall we were all relieved.  The first of many text messages was received from Mrs. B. This is also the day that I had intended to meet Jesse to pick up the Medicaid cards and prescriptions that she had forgotten on “gotcha day” . She had an emergency placement coming and had to cancel, so she mailed them.

The rest of the week at school was fairly uneventful.  His excitement and medication gave us a brief honeymoon period. Even uneventful Mickey days were tougher than with your typical child. Mickey had no boundaries at all and complete separation anxiety.  He had attached himself to the parapro, Mrs. L, like a new appendage.  But, there were no significant meltdowns or incidents of hurting people.  We called that a success back then (and on a bad day – we still do). He did get for WOW cards for behavior that week and he wasn’t sent home once, so there were some great moments.  Those would come with much less frequency in the months to come.

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Gotcha Day

I arrived at the DFACS office with nerves and anticipation.  I was greeted by paperwork, paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork.  Insurance and subsidy information was provided, guardianship and adoption intent paperwork was signed.  Jesse brought the kids into the conference room. Mickey and Minnie were both crying. Mickey clung to me, Minnie to Jesse. After good-byes were said and many tears were shed, I followed Elise to Mickey’s school to withdraw him.  We then headed to our county’s main office to enroll him there. The kids had calmed and the tears had stopped. But, Mickey was running was running all over the office, climbing on furniture and was out of control. He had gum when he left the office. Approximately one mile from the county office, he was playing with the gum (sticking it on the window, his sister, the seats of the car) and after repeated warnings, I told him to give it to me.  He freaked out! Animalistic is the only way to describe his behavior next. He twisted and came out of his booster and seat belt. I pulled the car over into a parking lot. Mickey opened the door and made an attempt at a run.  He was hysterical – screaming, hitting, kicking, crying, clawing, biting. Minnie was in tears.  He climbed in the third row after his escape was unsuccessful. It took nearly an hour to calm him. It was scary.  I left the incident bleeding and confused.  This was the worst we had seen to date.

The rest of the day was entirely uneventful. As we had seen before his behavior after a meltdown would return to normal, if not overly calm, while those around him remained completely shell-shocked. That night, thanks to his new school, I was able to walk Mickey through what to expect.  They had recorded a video of each of his teachers, including PE, Art, Music, Technology, General Ed, Special Ed, Speech and OT.  His general ed teacher, Mrs. B. also detailed the morning routine and the schedule, so that he knew what to expect

Visits

After the initial meeting we set up the visitation schedule.

2 hrs on 9/3

6 hours on 9/10

1st overnight 9/16-9/17

1st weekend 9/23 – 9/25 (the kids’ birthday weekends)

2nd weekend 9/30 – 10/2

3rd weekend 10/7-10/9

Move in date 10/11

Plus Wednesdays at McDonald’s for the first two weeks. Friends brought toys, pajamas and bikes and I busied myself getting their rooms ready for the first visit.  I painted the little Minnie’s room pink.  I added Spiderman to Mickey’s. I hand painted their names for the walls (hers had tiny daisies and his spiderwebs). Our first visit was spent playing.  Our 2nd visit was much the same.  There was no mention of why they were visiting or why they had rooms there.  On that visit we went to lunch with my parents at a local pizza place.  My dad had grown impatient and they both really wanted to meet the kids.  The kids were both all over the place at lunch, but my parents were as enthralled as I was.  Note to self – begin training for appropriate restaurant behavior.

Our 3rd visit was the first sign of the challenges to come. Mickey hit Minnie several times.  When I asked him to stop, he screamed and ran behind a chair in the living room. It is hard to describe the scream, but it is mixed with a pant and sounds like ah ah ah ah ah at full volume while rocking on his feet, knees bent, behind a chair.  This lasted 10 minutes while I tried to sooth him.  We then went back to the cookies we were making. I also found out that Jesse had told the kids that I was to be their new mom. Both kids seemed ok with this though they didn’t really seem to understand it. They loved their rooms. Mickey slept on the floor of Minnie’s room and I sat in the room with them for an hour after bedtime until Minnie fell asleep. Mickey’s meds sent him out within about 20 minutes after finishing the second book.  My cat sat at the door trying to figure out who these two little people were.

After the kids went to bed, I read the letter found in their luggage from Jesse. She offered her phone number and some basic tips for the kids and wished me luck. The kids went home around 6pm the following day via transportation provided by DFACS.  This company was hired to keep Jesse and I from having to deal with each other and was insisted upon by Elise.

The following weekend was our first full weekend – Friday to Sunday evening. It was also the kids’ birthdays – 6 & 4. I decided to pick up my niece and rent a bounce house for a small family party, with only 1 other child, two neighbors and my parents, brother and niece. We didn’t want to overwhelm the kids.  Included was Nikki, who would provide daycare for Minnie and after school care for Mickey. This weekend showed me quite a bit of Mickey’s struggles with the following directions, getting overwhelmed and frustrated and non-stop energy. I also saw a sweet funny excited little boy who held my heart.

The following week, I was invited to attend Mickey’s IEP meeting at his current school.  This would be the shorted IEP meeting I would have in nearly 4 years. Jesse and Elise were in attendance. Jesse, Elise and I also worked out a new transportation plan that had us meeting at an in between spot to exchange the kids, after transportation had dealt with a very upset Mickey and failed to buckle Minnie in. At the IEP meeting, knowing he was leaving the county, we focused mainly on existing behaviors rather than fututre planning. At that time he was getting academic support and speech only – there were no behavior or OT supports in place.  They suggested that I call his new school and set up a meeting to get started on the new IEP in our county. I did that day.  I spoke with the vice principal, Mrs. P. I would come to know this woman very well in the next year, and I found her helpful and even a little excited about Mickey’s attendance. We met the following with with his team. Mrs. B would be his general education teacher, Mrs. E his OT, Mrs. Z his special ed teacher, Mrs. B the speech therapist and the head of special ed, Mrs. C. We formulated several plans for placement and dealing with behaviors we knew about.

His general ed teacher, Mrs B., along with her parapro Mrs. D, were experienced teachers – in fact, 2 years later, after little Minnie had her for kindergarten, she retired.  She would be an integral part of our surviving the first year. She remains a dear friend now. They ordered a rocking chair for him to not have to sit still, we formulated behavioral supports, and OT and speech plans during this meeting.  It lasted 2.5 hours and we were ready for his first day of school on 10/13, though he would attend a mini day on 10/12, with me and Minnie.

In the meantime our weekend visits continued with relatively few issues.  Jesse had written me a note asking for updates or some degree of contact after placement.  By this time, we were tentatively building a relationship, mainly based on our weekly pick ups and drop offs and a few letters.  I agreed to some degree of contact, but I hadn’t decided what yet.  This was strongly discouraged by the caseworker.

The first meeting

9/1/2011

I worked that day – it was a Thursday.  It was also my 35th birthday.  I was useless at work as I couldn’t think of much other than the meeting.  I was excited and scared to death. What if they hated me. What would they have been told?

I arrived at a McDonald’s near their day care about 20 minutes early.  Elise and the kids were about 20 minutes late.  I saw Mickey and Minnie through the windows of a blue VW jetta. My heart was pounding.  They walked in and I had a lump in my throat.  We ordered Happy meals and headed to the playground.

Minnie was shy and reserved. Mickey was curious and asked me a ton of questions.  Minnie went and played on the playground with some other children.  Mickey played for a minute or so at a time and then would come back to the table.

I was able to ask both kids questions – favorite colors and things I wanted to know in order to customize their rooms. I snapped a few photos and we said our goodbyes.  We were there about an hour.  Mickey had held my hand.  Minnie gave me a hug.  I would take those photos, still on the camera straight from McDonald’s to my birthday dinner with my parents and describe their newest grandchildren.  We were all beyond excited.

Match Meeting

8/23/2011

I arrived at the DFACS office of the neighboring county with a mix of excitement and nerves. We went back to a conference room deep in the maze of hallways within the DFACS office.  In the room was myself, Elise, Nomi and briefly Elise’s supervisor. I was informed that Jesse, the foster mother would be joining us later in the meeting. Elise opened a large folder and we got started.  The first thing I found out was that Mickey’s name was not what I had been told – that was his nickname and he was the third in his birth family with the same name.  He went by his middle name. The rest was basically going over history – medical, family, legal and DFACS history. From the history I discovered that the birth mother used alcohol and drugs during her pregnancy with Mickey and alcohol with Minnie. Mickey also tested positive for methamphetamine at birth. The alcohol was admitted to by the birth mother.  Mickey was 3 weeks premature and Minnie was full term.

Records were somewhat spotty for Mickey’s first three years, while in the care of his birth parents.  He was in an early intervention program for developmental delays. There was a mention of stitches in his head, several different addresses, some mention of asthma and other basic medical information.

The DFACS paperwork showed that the kids went into care around 3.25 and 1.25 years old.  Parental rights had been terminated 10 months prior to this meeting, after a 3rd relapse by the birth mother.  School records for Mickey from Pre-K and the first couple of weeks of Kindergarten raised the second red flag.  There were significant behaviors reported and he was rarely completing a fill day of school, yet he had been moved from a special needs pre-k to a mainstream kindergarten classroom.

While we were nearing time for Jesse’s arrival, Elise reiterated the story of the foster parent’s desire to only adopt Minnie.  After nearly 3 years in their home, they only wanted her.  She warned me to take everything Jesse said with that in mind.

Jesse entered the room and I could tell she had been crying.  I was angry with this woman.  I don’t know if it was motherly instinct or just disgust that she could discard this little boy I hadn’t even met, in favor of the pretty green eyed girl, but I disliked her and I felt no sympathy. She was asked to tell us about the kids.  She provided food likes and dislikes, clothing sizes and preferences (Minnie likes sparkles and dresses but nothing tight on her arms – Mickey didn’t care much about clothes). Minnie was described as a loving and charming little girl, obsessed with baby dolld, pink and princesses. When she got to Mickey, she described a troubled child – he threw tantrums, was non verbal when he entered foster care, he slept only when medicated. He was aggressive and clingy, had no boundaries and had been sent home the previous school day for pulling down his pants in the middle of class, screaming and kicking the teacher.  They were frequently kicked out of McDonald’s because of his behavior, he was disruptive at home and school and had been kicked out of several day cares.  She also hinted at obsessions – teeth brushing and spiderman.

Angry, I asked if he had any good qualities.  She cried when she also described him as a loving and affectionate little boy with a vivid imagination.  He loved people – especially one of his much older foster sisters.  He loved loud trucks and racing, spoke up a storm – though there were significant speech challenges for which he was receiving speech therapy. I could tell she loved him and my heart softened a little.  I noted all the challenges she mentioned.  I would be glad I did.

She seemed to be trying to talk me out of this match.  I wouldn’t know why for months.  She also provided a list of medications – Ritalin for ADHD, Risperdol, which she said was an absolute lifesaver and Clonodine for sleep.  She noted that before the Clonodine, he would sleep maybe an hour and then wake the entire house up.  This would go on for days until he would crash for 20 hours or so.

Jesse cried through most of this meeting and hugged me when she left and told me how much she loved them both.  She also wished me luck with whatever I decided.

After the meeting, I was told to take some time to think about it.  It wasn’t needed.  I already knew that these were to be my children.  If it is possible, I loved them already.  My caseworker and I spoke while walking out and she told me to call in a day or two with a final answer.  On Wednesday, I did and gave her the go ahead.  August 24th, 2011. The first day of my journey to motherhood.

I didn’t hear anything until 8/29.  Elise conference called me and Nomi to set up a time to meet Mickey and Minnie for the first time. Sept 1, was the day decided.

The matching process

After approval was received in late November 2010, the match process began.  For me, this was the most frustrating part of the journey.  I was given permission to look for kids out of state, with an understanding that for the first 6 months, the state would only cover the costs of the home study on kids from my state, and I would have to pay out of pocket if I matched out of state.  I didn’t care.  I scoured the photolisting sites – TARE, AdoptUSKids, Wendys Wonderful Kids, NWAE. My state utilized AdoptUSKids, but I wasn’t limiting my search to GA.  I submitted inquiries on 13 children and got my hopes up.  I started a new job in January of 2011, but continued my searching.  In April, I got a phone call from Nomi, saying I had matched to a little boy from my home state.  He was 7.  I got excited, but Nomi tried to keep me from getting too excited.  She didn’t think it was a good match – his caseworker had picked me, but there were issues.  So, I attended a match meeting.

They presented information that broke my heart.  I knew that this wasn’t my son.  His level of needs was significantly higher than I was comfortable with, bordering on medically fragile.  He was on the moderate to severe side of emotional issues, health issues, behavioral issues, was not potty trained and was relegated to a wheelchair 80% of the time.  My home was not handicap accessible. I didn’t say no out of hand.  I went home and researched possible special needs schools and daycares, tried to figure out what I could do to make my house more accessible, etc.  My heart broke for this little boy and honestly, I think of him often.  I did say no and the wait continued.

On August 16, 2011, I was notified of another match while at work one day.  A voicemail and an email – I had matched to sibling group of two – a boy and a girl ages 3 & 5.  Nomi was very excited and thought, based on the information provided by Elise, the kids’ caseworker, that this was an excellent match.  They were only 18 miles from me in a neighboring county.  Both were physically healthy and had been in only one foster home.  I was given some basic information was asked if I wanted to move forward with a match meeting where I would get more information. I enthusiastically said yes.

Nomi emailed me the very first picture I would see of my children – Mickey and Minnie. I cried in the middle of my office when I opened that photo.  I called my mom and told her the news.  I shared with my friends and coworkers.  I knew.  I knew that these were my children.  I had chills and my excitement was absolutely palpable.

I also got a two page summary of the kids – first name, time in care, diagnosed mental/medical issues via email. Nomi also shared a story with me that should have raised red flags, but didn’t.  Either because I was too excited or because I didn’t know any better.  The kids caseworker informed Nomi that the foster parents only wanted to adopt Minnie and not Mickey. She was told that the foster mother would try to make Mickey out to be a monster with significant behavior issues because she wanted the two kids separated. She swore up and down that the only diagnosis Mickey had was ADHD and was a perfectly normal 5 year old – just a little hyper.  My initial thoughts were “what kind of horrible person would split up siblings? This foster mother must be a monster!” I was angry with her and had already decided that I didn’t like her.  I anxiously awaited the match meeting with was to be the following Monday.

Before the kids

1/2/2010

After almost a year of trying to figure out how I was going to build my family, I made the phone call today.  I am 33 years old and have all but given up on finding someone to marry and have children with.  Truthfully, I haven’t given up – I am just frustrated. Five years later, I still hold out hope that there is someone out there. But, I really want children and I have decided that I am not getting any younger and I don’t want to keep waiting. I also started to prep my family for the choice I was making.  They were initially supportive, if a little concerned.

The phone call was to an adoption agency – actually three calls.  After extensive research I had narrowed it down to 3 that I wanted to talk to.  Over the next week, I made my choice and started the home study process.  I met my adoption specialist, first at her home and wrote the first of three checks to pay for the home study.  We spoke extensively about what I was looking for in a child and why I had made this choice.  I came away excited.  The process would be extensive, the cost too, but I was moving forward.  I left that first meeting with paperwork to take for background checks and fingerprinting.

There would be two more meetings and two more checks written over the next 2 months.  Each meeting we spoke more and what we discovered was that, while private infant adoption was the route I had chosen, I wasn’t all that concerned with the child being an infant.  We even began to talk about sibling adoption.  She asked the question that would change my life. “Have you ever considered foster care adoption?”  I hadn’t.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I told her I would research, as her agency didn’t do that type of adoption.  We went ahead and finished the home study, but by then I was fully interested in gathering more information on foster adoption.  I had called the state hotline and was given information on an informational session in a neighboring county.

I attended that session with hope and it was squashed rather quickly.  The focus of that session seemed to be fostering.  I wasn’t interested in fostering, I just wanted to adopt.  As an aside, I think fostering is amazing.  Foster parents are a special kind of warrior – I just wanted to build a permanent family and not grow attached to children that may not stay. Yes, that is selfish, but I know my heart and I didn’t have what it took to be a foster parent. I discovered what I was looking for was a child that was “legally free”, meaning parental rights were terminated. The local DFACS office was not keen on us adopters.  They needed foster parents and they stressed that foster parents are often given the first adoption option once a child’s plan changes.  They told us it would likely be a year before they would even get to our home studies.  They suggested that we contact one of two private agencies that our state had contracted with to deal with us “straight adopters”.

I left the meeting energized, if slightly disappointed. I began researching the two agencies and made a choice to go with a Christian based agency that was located about 50 miles from my home.  I went to an informational session with them and was directed to a 40 hour training class that is mandatory for getting licensed in our state. They wouldn’t go any further until that class was completed and the ones they offered were not doable for me because of proximity.  I was told I could go to any in the state, so I began searching classes.  I discovered one that worked with my schedule and was just a few minutes from home.  It was 4 hours a night, 5 nights a week for two weeks.  The next available class was 6 weeks out.  I signed up.

I attended the class the last week of May/first week of June 2010. While in the class I discovered it was being presented by the other agency that I hadn’t chosen.  The class presented some pretty tough information – I was emotionally drained.  I sat in a room with approximately 25 other people that were there to renew foster licenses, obtain new foster licences or adopt.  Each of our journeys were as different as we were.  One family had fostered over 100 children in another state. I was the only single woman with no kids in the room.  The other singles already had children.

The class warned us of the trauma many of these kids have been through.  They talked about common behavioral problems, separated siblings, lost family connections, drug and alcohol exposure, attachment issues, food hoarding, etc.  All of these were fairly common issues that many kids in foster care struggle with due to lack of proper parental bonding, multiple placements, abuse and neglect. We were warned not to expect the child to be grateful for being taken in or adopted.  Some of this information was hard to hear, some was what was expected.  I finished the class and had felt a connection to the two workers presenting the class.  I spoke to them and discovered that they felt they could take my private adoption home study and use it toward the state adoption home study. That is when I chose to switch to that agency – FF.

FF called me about 2 weeks later, after reviewing the private home study.  Much of it could be used, but there were still state required things to be done in order to obtain a state approved home study.  I got the call while on vacation with my 14 year old niece at Disney World and the ball began rolling quickly.

Nomi, my caseworker, came to my home 3 times, as require, I got a TB test, a full medical screening, my 3 months of bank statements were reviewed, character letters from friends and family were submitted and I had to childproof the house and setup bedrooms.  I had to set my criteria for the child or children.  I had made the decision that I wanted to adopt siblings, though I was open to one child.  I learned in the class that siblings were harder to place, and I loved the idea of keeping siblings together.  I wanted the children under age 8, didn’t have a preference on sex (though I knew for sure it would be boys) or race.  I selected mild to moderate as the level of special needs I was able to handle.  I had to get new fingerprints with a different classification from both the GBI and the FBI.  And the home study process came to it’s conclusion in late September.  I was approved by FF and the file was sent along to the state for approval.  That approval came right after Thanksgiving.

Now what?

The beginning of our journey

My name is Mindy and I am a 38 year single mother (by choice) to a sweet and rambunctious 9 year old boy (we will call Mickey) and a glittery and kind 7 year old girl (we will call Minnie), adopted from foster care. We recently celebrated our 3rd adoption anniversary and I finally feel ready to document the process and the challenges that we have faced during our journey. Dates may be approximate, but the details are very real.  This isn’t a blog to scare anyone – I wouldn’t make a different choice, even knowing what I know now. I am blogging this to document and truly express our story. Names may be changed to protect the innocent and to protect my children. The first several posts will be catch up posts to document the adoption process.

If you are reading this, stay with me – I will get caught up.  I won’t sugar coat the challenges nor will I gloss over the awesome accomplishments. Adopting from foster care is an amazing experience.  It can also be one of the toughest journeys to go on.  Just a couple of months shy of having these two amazing kids for four years has taught me that anything worth having, is worth working for.  It has been work and there have been many tears, yelling, laughter and awesome memories made.