Development Assessment

Development Assessment

Reflection – Friday evening.  I’m sitting here with a Smirnoff’s Ice – Raspberry and listening to Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy.  I recount the day’s events, as well as the dreaded child development assessment. 

I had one of those days today when I wake up and get the three kids out the door to their three different schools.  Then I get to have my time.  My time to fall apart.  It’s ok to cry.  And it happens.  A day when everything yucky comes to the surface.  Like the children’s book by Judith Viorst.  I had a crappy, weepy, awful day.  Could anything go well to lift my spirits?  My week started with a few appointments Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons for my daughter.  The child with special needs.

I endured a three hour interview on Monday at a children’s hospital’s development and rehabilitation unit.  My daughter got to draw, eat a snack, and answer a few questions, like:  Who lives in your household? Do you have friends?  I got asked all the other questions filling up the remainder of the three hour time. Questions like:  Could you talk more about that? Could you describe situations?  Could you talk more about that so I can visualize how that looks?  This was precisely the reason why I had dreaded this appointment, I was wiped out that evening. 

I will receive a detailed report in a few weeks.  But at the end of this interview, the psychologist offered a brief assessment:  Most likely, my kid was deprived her first year in life and also in her foster home of three years.  She didn’t get her emotional needs met.  There was likely a food scarcity in BOTH homes.  I interrupted to point out that several of the people in the foster home were morbidly obese…

The clinician reported that food scarcity is common with obesity — the unstructured meal times, the ups and downs of food amounts.  She went on to tell me that my child received little to no structure and stimulation in the foster home which would explain the simplistic play behaviors, the lack of coping skills and the obsession with food and tv.

I thought to myself while she talked: I know, I have heard this, why were we on a six month waitlist to be seen here?

The psychologist said to lower my hopes and expectations as she won’t be changing anytime soon. “You basically need to lay down a different foundation, as you slowly remove the old one.”  Really? I said, somewhat sarcastically.   She continued, “Yes, expecting her to change quickly would be like letting your original foundation just crumble and fall apart without any support in place.”

Somewhere I hear my sister and brother-in-law laughing.

She said my kid CAN change over time, a long time, if the parents and every teacher is consistent each and every time with the same rules and repeated direction of adaptive coping skills.  Wow, I thought. Long time. Each and every time. Every single adult at home and school. Yeah! No problem.

Perhaps my depression is now better understood. Tuesday I informed my child’s therapist after another play therapy sand table session what was discussed at the children’s hospital.  She had more to say on this matter.

Friday rolls around and I couldn’t stop crying.  Every time I thought I had gained composure, I looked at myself in the mirror to get cleaned up. And every time, I saw my puffy eyes and eyelashes coated in Kleenex dust.  And every time, I whimpered: is she ever going to change?!  

I picked up my child at dismissal time at her school.  She tossed her name badge to her teacher when she saw me.  I waited for her teacher to make eye contact with me and to call out my child’s name.  Then my kid turned to face her teacher and pestered:  Did I have a good day? Did I? Did I? Did I have a good day? Did I?  Her teacher continued to dismiss the other twenty first graders, but stopped.  “Well, let’s talk to your mom about what happened.”

As I hustled closer so that Ms. T could tell me how my child stole a dinner roll from someone, I bumped into another mom’s arm.  I looked back and apologized.  The woman was wincing and rubbing her right shoulder.  Yup.  That was the finishing touch to my sh*tty day.

Resentment and Negativity

Resentment and Negativity 

Our First Year of Adoption – Final Part

“Resentment is poison.” I’ve heard that saying and I repeated it daily to myself for over a year. Whenever I thought about the foster home and where she lived for over three years, I felt bitter, angry, acerbic feelings towards them. We adopted a kid that had experienced trauma; we also got a kid with so many bad habits that needed to be reshaped or eliminated. I felt overwhelmed by how much we could address in therapy and at home. After months of living with her, I felt genuine concern over how much we were offsetting the balance of the household.

post adoption resentment and negativity

Spring – a time for renewal

The summer she moved in with us started out with a bang. She literally moved into our home the weekend after school let out. Everyone was happy and eager to go to the pool and to sleep in and to play outside. The boys loved going to a field two blocks from our home — they were in and out of the house all day long. They returned for bathroom breaks, water bottle refills, and food. They got tan, they always looked sweaty, they had fun. Even before she moved in with us, I had romanticized the idea of joining them with our third child. Next to the field is a playground. Every day I took her. And every day after walking past our house, she burst into tears and cried out that she was too tired to walk there. The same when returning to the house. The child who had been a couch potato in her foster home had very little energy living with us. Once we got to the playground she did manage to climb the play structure and slide down a few times. She seemed to love doing chalk drawings on the blacktop. She eagerly approached strangers – young and old – to engage in conversation.

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Open Adoption – Biological Parents

Open Adoption – Biological Parents

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 6

The truth is, I really did not want an open adoption. Initially, I was eager to explore international adoption.  I think part of that fantasy was whisking away a child from tragic conditions and letting her start a new life with us in the U.S.  I imagined meeting with the staff of an orphanage and receiving her case file. I would have information on her biological parents. Later we would decide if we wanted contact and how to go about doing so.open adoption - biological parents

In reality, we adopted a child from the state foster care system.  While she lived in a foster home, she had sporadic visits with her biological parents — who were no longer a couple. Over time, they were deemed no longer fit and the judge changed her plan to adoption. Over time their interest in keeping contact diminished.  Both failed to keep their appointments with the court mandated mediator. Months after she moved in with us, we were told there was not a mutual agreement in place; we would not be able to maintain contact with the biological parents. Sorry. Actually “wooo-hoooo!” was my response. Yes!

Who knows what things may be like when she is an adolescent; when she re-examines her values, ponders her life’s path and questions her identity. She may want to re-establish contact. We don’t know what forms of social media will be in fashion and what efforts are needed to find her biological relatives.

For that first year, I wondered about them. Not in a strange, inappropriate way. More along the lines of wondering about the grocery store clerk who helps you each week. Or the custodian at school who makes eye contact and gives a little nod in passing. Or the owner of the black lab that you see often on walks– she comes from the opposite direction, is bundled up with a scarf and walks briskly. I just wonder about people sometimes.  Maybe I did think about her birth parents more deeply. Did they agonize over the responsibilities of child caring? Were they relieved, maybe a little, when the judge changed the plan to adoption. Did they berate themselves? I wondered if they made efforts to change their ways and turn their lives around.

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Developmental Delays

How Old are You?! (Trying to Understand Developmental Delays)

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 5

“I’m freakin’ out!” was something I heard too much. I asked her: what does that mean? She shrugged. I said: say words that you know. What are you trying to say? She whispered: I don’t know. My youngster pointed to her upper chest and asked me the name of the body part.  I answered, “That is your chest.” No! she shrieked and she pointed with both fingers. I replied, “Oh, those circles are called your nipples. Every kid has them. “ No, no! she yelled back. She then snapped at me that those are called her boobies. We picked up my son at his friend’s house. She yelled out the window, “Say goodbye butt. Bye butt! B-utt, b-utt!” My son was horrified. She was not even four at the time when these situations occurred. She had been with us a month.  

Our therapist noted that I would benefit from some additional support. Maybe a group for foster and adoptive parents. Maybe blogs? Maybe my own therapy. I kind of wondered where I could find others who would understand my state of mind. I was baffled over the stuff my four year old was doing. Was she a tyke or a teen?

We were told our child was probably raised by the four teenagers in the foster home. Our therapist noted based on her behaviors, she most likely received a lot of verbal attention and was given food to soothe her distress. Our job was to nurture in an emotional way, paving the way for attachment and adaptive functioning. Our job was to help her be a little kid.

Over several months, I enrolled her in ballet, then swim lessons, next tumbling, and climbing. During class, she often stood there watching and barely moving. There was a marked stubbornness to physical activity when we were at home. We would all try to engage her in games of jumping around, kicking a ball, raking leaves. The four of us just wanted to have fun with her. I said, “Try to move around a little, could you try?” She answered, “I will! Just sign me up for another class.”

The first two years in our home, I taught her how to play with toys. Every day, a few times per day, I sat on the floor with her watching and played out games. I acted out dramatic scenarios and funny sequences with playhouse dolls, horses, and Fisher Price little people. I dressed dolls and cooked them meals, using the play kitchen stuff. I took the dolls to the “doctor’s office” and used the medical kit items to give them exams. I gathered sticks, rocks and leaves from our backyard to make mud stews and fairy houses. She watched every move, with huge wide eyes.  I then moved onto reaching out to her, encouraging her to play and join in. Often I was met with resistance– no, she wanted to only watch. Or a shrug to indicate that she was clueless. Sometimes her tears let me know she felt on the spot.  After a year of doing this daily, I burned out.

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Explaining Adoption to a Young Child

Explaining Adoption – Her Adoption Story

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 4

I received advice on explaining adoption and telling our child her adoption story. One suggestion was to let her tell her story when she is older and ready. Another was to say to others, “It’s personal.”  Another was to provide just simple facts when asked what happened to her… ? Does she have attachment issues?  What about her real parents, what happened? All of the professionals involved in the foster care to adoption program stressed the need to accept the past rather than deny it. I wonder how to preserve the past and protect her from damaging details. Whether she was planned or unplanned, her birth parents messed up repeatedly and she suffered.

It’s such a different inquiry from any line of questioning I had related to my biological kids. With them, I voluntarily commented on my labor experience or a teething issue in a moms playgroup. Others would contribute a personal anecdote. We’d laugh or gasp in response. Whereas, with any curiosity related to my adopted daughter, the questions are:  “Did you meet the birth mom? Do you still have contact with her? Was there abuse?” It’s so different.

I have struggled with the concept of her story. It is entirely up to me to inform her on her past. It is up to me to go over the events and turn them into memories. Do I want her to know what happened to her when she was a baby? What about the foster family and their child caring practices? How about the first three years she has been in our care. Do I recount the turmoil and exhaustion we have experienced? The weekly sessions in therapy?

One counselor we worked with kept reviewing all the parental figures. Mommy number one grew you in her tummy. Mommy number two was your foster mommy.  And now you are with your forever mommy, Mommy number three. Seriously? In my view, it goes more like this. First lady went through a pregnancy and delivery. She made a number of poor decisions which got the State involved; she neglected her baby. The second caregiver chose to foster only and to pass on adoption. She let her teenagers help out often with childcare. So what numbers are the teens? Mommies three, four, five and six?

I feel like my role as forever mommy trumps the others. I am the Mother of moms. I deserve more credit than they do for what I am doing here. I have worked really hard to parent her. I’m not denying their roles in her life, I needed the others to get my child adopted. I just don’t understand the necessity to call them mommies. They were people in her life. The counselor working with her to prepare for adoption called the birth mother “sick”. Another concept that is troubling to me.

explaining adoption to young child

A mother bear wishes for a cub, who loves hearing his adoption story.

I have told my daughter that her first mommy had a lot of problems. The caseworker took her away from her first mommy and daddy because they did not know how to take care of a baby. The foster family took care of her while the judge made a decision– it was a very important decision. The judge took a very long time. The foster mother and the foster family gave her a place to live, food to eat, and a bed. They hoped that the judge would make a good plan for her. The judge decided that S should be with us because we know how to take care of children. We do not have any problems and we will be able to take care of her forever. The judge knew that we wished for a little girl and we wanted a third child.

That is a brief version of the story I tell her whenever she asks, which is often. I feel her need to hear that she was wished for.  I feel the yearning for being wanted. I just don’t know how to reconcile her early beginning from my tale.

Part 5 – How Old are You?!

Adoption Expectations

Adoption Expectations – Wishing for a Young Child

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 1

I wanted to relive the preschool years. I had no desire to have another biological child– to go through a pregnancy, delivery, and a hormonal roller coaster. Did that, did that twice. I did not miss the sleep deprivation, the teething, diaper changes and all those day to day moments of the first two years of life. I wanted to adopt a young child. I wanted a girl. I wanted to skip over the three years and get right into imaginary play, conversations, storytimes at the library, questions while we went on neighborhood walks, ballet lessons at the community center, frequent changes in clothing after jumping in puddles and making mudpies, a partner while I ran errands, a helper when baking.

We adopted our daughter when she was three years eight months. She was verbal, she was toilet trained, she slept through the night. She did not know how to play with toys, she could not tap into her imagination, she could not follow simple directions. She threw tantrums when denied anything, her requests relentless.

Wishes, desires, anticipated life situations. Be prepared to be flexible and give it all up. That should have been the inspiration for me to hang on the wall. Not the painted wooden ones with messages of “Hope” and “Dream.”

She refused to play with toys. She fell when running a short distance. She burst into tears when told to drink water. She screamed at me while I was driving: turn here! go faster! don’t just stop, keep going! She climbed onto the counter to reach a knife, waved it at me saying, “Here you go.”  She stuffed pieces of paper into her nightlight. She squeezed toothpaste all over her bedroom rug. She took her clothes and tied them into knots.  She chewed teeth marks into the edge of the dining room table. She constantly interrupted family members during dinner time. She ripped pages out of books. My daughter demonstrated inappropriate behaviors the week she moved into our home. I know we didn’t teach her those things. She was raised by other people, who used practices very different from my own.  She endured experiences that are almost inconceivable to me as a parent, yet for her, real. Will her early years forever impact on and haunt her?

*

I am still mourning the wishes I had. My daughter is now six and in grade school.  We did not become regulars at story time. We do not bake together. I’ve readjusted my hopes for her, and for us. I hope that in time, she will realize we have given her a better life. I hope in time she will develop strong passions and friendships. I hope in time I will experience her strengths more often. I hope in time we will have fun, shared activities. I hope in time I will enjoy her company.

Part 2 – Off to Therapy We Go!

 

Traumatized Young Child- What does that look like?

Traumatized Young Child

I embraced my new position of soon-to-be adoptive parent. I was educated on her early trauma by professional mental health workers.  My kid was removed from her biological parents as an infant. She was placed with a few different relatives, all of whom could not be long-term resources. She was transferred early on in her first year of life to a foster home, where she lived for over three years. We welcomed her into our home when she was 3 years 8 months. I anticipated several months of adjusting to our home. Three years later the storm has still not calmed down. 

traumatized young child

Peeling off the layers

Understandably, she has emotional issues because of being removed from her biological parents.  She may not remember her first year and what that entailed. But I am sure that somewhere in her psyche is this primitive response to not getting her meals on time and not being soothed when in distress. She is still aching for that satisfaction. She is like a bottomless well with us. It does not matter if we just spent two hours interacting — playing, cuddling, singing, reading, eating– she will turn to me and ask frantically what are we going to do now? and often with tears, she will ask: will you play with me now?  While leaving the children’s museum, she whined when are we going to the zoo? we haven’t gone! I let her pick out a decoration for an upcoming holiday, her response was why can’t I have three? The give me, give me, gimme syndrome. If you ask her thirty minutes after a huge feast if she is hungry, she will nod emphatically and say yes. It is never enough, she does not feel satisfaction or a state of content.  Continue reading

Post-Adoption Contact with Foster Family

Post-Adoption Contact with Foster Family

We adopted from the state foster care system. It was risky, the outcome unknown. We found our child from a single page narrative written by her caseworker. The first paragraph was about what had brought her into the state system– a few sentences about neglectful parenting. The second covered her placements. The next had a brief description of her foster household. Then, a few statements about the current lack of medical conditions or developmental concerns.  At the end, there was a descriptive sentence of a preferred permanent home. The caseworker was hoping for a loving, non-violent home where the caregivers are willing to provide to the child’s needs.  

Any child removed from their initial environment and placed in another home is likely to have an adverse reaction. A kid with multiple placements is more likely to be traumatized.  The age of the child can be an additional major factor. Our child was removed from her biological parents when she was an infant. She was placed briefly with a relative, then lived in the same foster home for 3+ years. When we read that she had been in this one home I figured we were getting a less traumatized, less problematic child. I was wrong.

When you adopt from the state foster system, you are adopting a child that will be susceptible to emotional disturbances related to the disruptions in their home life. You are also adopting a kid that was raised by others. Yet, no one tells you in detail about the nurturing and child caring practices used in the foster home.  I made assumptions about them.  No one told us what we had to do or should do or what is expected when it comes to contact with the foster family. I was not prepared for how different we could be.

Soon after we were informed that we were matched to our child, the foster mother emailed us. Mrs. Foster informed us of their daily schedule of activities– wake up time, breakfast, one tv show, outdoor time, lunch and so forth.  I was told by the caseworker to try and follow the schedule as closely as possible when she was in our home.

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Domestic Adoption from Foster Care

The Actual Domestic Adoption Process that We Endured

We plowed into researching options for domestic adoption. After making the decision to pass on international adoption, I called the 1-800 number and had a lovely conversation with a worker about adopting from the foster care system in Oregon.  It was a little strange to call the Department of Human Services. There had been a number of years when as a social worker I had been a mandated reporter and had to call the DHS hotline.  I had this conversation in December. The next step was to take classes, another round was scheduled for January.

We took several hours of classes at the local DHS site. The classes were in the evenings. At first we took turns attending, then we hired a sitter for the boys and went together.  Alone or together, it didn’t matter, these classes were boring, painful, and dry.  As a former social worker and as a decent parent, I could not believe the course content for these classes AND the questions from the class. One class was devoted to logistics of being a foster parent. The dos and don’ts. I did not get why I had to listen to countless questions of: when I buy a pair of shoes for my foster kid, what form do I use to get reimbursed. Or, when we go on a weekend trip to another state, why do I have to get approval?                                          

I really felt like so much of the coursework should have been divided between foster families, kinship homes and adoptive families. The fosters had different questions than the kinships, the kinships had all sorts of issues related to their kin being the children’s failing parents, and us adoptive people just wanted to get a kid into our home.  Finally we completed the course work and had permission to get assigned to an adoption worker. His name was Mike.  He came to our house several times to interview us.  We also had to fill out piles of paperwork, including essay style questionnaires on our childhoods, family of origin, interpersonal conflicts, methods for handling stress and childrearing.  He did a thorough walk through of our house checking off boxes on his list: bedrooms, smoke alarms, stairs and so forth. He interviewed the boys. He interviewed three personal references on us as parents. We both got background checks done. A part of me was impressed by how thorough the inquiries were, another part of me nervous. Would we pass the test?

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