Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

A little over four years ago Mr. Something and I were newly engaged and both still living at home with our parents. We decided to do the “smart” thing and look for a starter home instead of paying rent. We ended up buying a duplex in a new development, lured by the idea of new construction, (hopefully) no hidden problems, and the freedom to make our home the way we wanted it. It was a little further out than we had originally wanted but looking within our price range, closer to where we work, we could have only afforded a thirty year old condo with one bedroom and a parking place. Knowing it was our 5-7 year plan we didn’t want to bank on having decent resale for such a place and thought that a two bedroom, 2.5 bath, duplex with a 2 car garage and a nice yard would be easier to sell when we were ready for the next step.

At the time, 5-7 years seemed like a long way off. Yet, here we sit, 4 years later knowing that we are, and will be for a while, in the same situation as many people. Stuck. Our developer has even stopped building duplexes because they can now build the single family homes for the what the duplexes once sold for! So we sit on an unfinished street knowing that people are coming into our neighborhood with the budget we had, and affording 4 bedroom single family homes… forever homes.

We never intended this to be our forever home, especially since we are both commuting 45-60 minutes each way to work. With only two bedrooms and zero storage, I never imagined having children in this house. I know many people have made happy families in homes much smaller than ours but I don’t think I could handle both of us being an hour away from our kids while they are at school.

The excitement that THP now brings to me has begun to alter that image. Still certain that this is not our forever home but thinking of ways to “make it work.” I can’t help but wondering if I am getting ahead of myself.

Last weekend we were invited to our friends’ new home for a bonfire. It’s a beautiful old ranch with a big yard in a top school district. My friend made the jape, “Yeah we learned from your mistake and held out for our forever home. We’ll be here until we are 60.” I know she didn’t mean to insult and I really am so very happy for them, on the doorstep of their own somedays. Yet, part of me ached to be there. My 30 mile commute has worn on me over the last few years but now that our next step is slowly becoming clearer, the ever-elusive forever home seems so far away. I am not, by any means, ungrateful for the beautiful home that I have, and as I mentioned, the picture of this home is changing. But I feel like I’m stuck walking in too-small shoes and there’s a marathon on the horizon. I’m jealous of my friend’s just-right shoes as I see her up there, toeing the starting line.

It’s a wrench in the timeline. We are, of course, still in the “Educate Yourself” step in this process. We have not, in fact, decided on anything for sure yet. But children, adopted or not, would stretch our current shoes uncomfortably. Perhaps I need to be browsing for a realtor instead of adoption agencies. The cart can’t pull the horse.

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Please select your every hope and dream from the list below.

I am and always have been the internet version of a window shopper and there are many dangerous places for people like me to lose themselves on the internet. I have the app versions of eBay, Etsy, PetFinder, Realtor.com, and more. It makes my husband nervous. Granted it’s much easier to order a beautiful handmade scarf from Etsy than it is to run out and buy that beautiful lake house that I found, and let’s not talk about the heartbreakingly adorable dogs and cats in desperate need of a home. Yet, despite the let’s-be-realistic factor, it’s something I enjoy doing.

I was put off at first by the state photolistings of children in the foster care system waiting to be adopted. It felt like PetFinder and that unsettled me. These are human beings! Making them searchable, letting you eliminate certain races or special needs with a tiny little check box upset me. It reminded me of my first year in the working world. I was a brand new elementary education major with a decent amount of hope. I had accepted a job as a teacher’s assistant as a last minute grasp. The school year had already started and I was without a job. It wasn’t what I had wanted but I soon settled comfortably into the special ed. office and got to work one-on-one and in small groups with some amazing kids that were doing their best to overcome their own struggles to simply keep up and learn. It was a great year and I was proud to beef up my resume with this year’s experience and begin my search for my own classroom once again for the following fall.

As I was knee deep in cover letters and online applications, my assistant principal came to me with his laptop in tow. “I know you’re looking for a job. I want to show you what it looks like at our end so you know what you are up against.” He sat next to me at the too-small table, his knees banging the edge. He opened his laptop to a search page with various options. At the bottom of the search page there was a list of prospective teacher’s names (thousands!) and links to their uploaded cover letters and resumes. “Let’s say I want to find candidates that have at least five year’s experience, I click here…” Zap! The list shrank. “Maybe I also want candidates with master’s degrees.” Zap! The list shrank again. With each click hundreds of names disappeared and the reality set in. Here I was spending hours on online applications, composing perfect cover letters, mustering hope, imagining the faces of my future students and I could be eliminated with a single click. Forget about administrators not reading my resume, how many had not even read my name! “I’m not trying to discourage you or knock you down. I just want you to know that anywhere you can do a little more to get noticed is worth it.” I appreciated his insight even if it did make me feel like I was going to be working with hourly assistant’s wages and living at my parents’ house for the rest of my life.

Technology is a scary thing. It has done so many wonderful things but there’s a dark side to it as well. Gone are the days of thick manilla envelopes showing up on prospective employers’ desks. If they just open it and see what I have to say in my cover letter….
Now people can be eliminated with a click, something as thoughtless as a blink. They won’t even feel the weight of my story in their hands. It’s a scary prospect and it made me feel like a number, not a face with a story and hopes of setting up a cozy book nook and seeing my name stuck to a classroom door with sticky-tac and funky letters. Luckily, I was given that chance the very next fall in that very same school because after that eye-opening conversation, I worked my ass off to be seen.

I hadn’t thought about that conversation, now seven years ago, in a long time but coming across the foster care photolisting brought me right back to that too-small table seeing my future erased with an administrator’s click. Ever the window shopper, I didn’t allow my feelings to throw me off track and I looked through page upon page of hopeful face. I read the biographies of five year olds and eighteen year olds, sibling groups of eight, children so afflicted with maladies they are living in medical care centers instead of homes… I was determined not to eliminate any of their stories with a single click.

As I waded deeper into “Step 1: Educate Yourself” I began to see the photolisting as something different. When I was hired on as a classroom teacher there wasn’t just an empty room waiting for me. There was a team waiting to work with me, a school community looking for my contribution, and administrators hoping to nurture long-lasting professional relationships. Of those thousands of names on the list all would have been overjoyed at the prospect of a job but how many would have been truly happy there? Ready to commit to a lifetime in the district as I have grown to do? It’s not about wiping away hopes and futures with a click, it’s about finding the right fit, to love where you find yourself, and putting the dreams of a different someday away.

I’m a frequent visitor to the photolistings now. Mr. Something is providing an interesting contrast, he doesn’t want to see it. He’s afraid he’ll see that one picture of that one child, feel so connected and not be able to do anything to help yet. That helplessness is daunting here in “Step 1: Educate Yourself.” I, on the other hand, am looking for different reasons. I need to imagine myself in “Step 5: Engage in the Placement Process” I need to know that, even now, there are children whose stories call out to me. Children who would make me click that “Inquire about this child” link and push me through the door. Window shopping no longer. There’s a world of difference between admiring through the window and opening your wallet. Ugh, my analogy may have just stepped dangerously close to “buying a child” but I hope you’ve followed.

Perhaps I have already seen the faces of our someday children or perhaps the faces I have seen are simply helping me to decide what is just-right for our little family. Either way, I am grateful for their brave smiles and stories. Thank you.

Learning and Growing

Just when questions and worries threaten to cloud the skies over me the universe sends me the answers and reassurances that I need. Mr. Something and I are continuing to work our way through Dr. Ray Guarendi’s Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It. Less than an hour after my last post, with nothing but what-if’s? buzzing around my head and we came to the following passage (p. 42)…

“The number of people wanting and willing to adopt would be higher except for one thing–they’re scared. An adoption colleague of mine calls it “the fear factor.” It’s fueled by a group of worries and what-if’s? that have the potential to squash any serious thought of adopting.

Psychologists advise that one way to reduce the controlling power of fears is to challenge them rationally. In other words, what is the real likelihood they will happen? What is the actual probability something will adversely affect our lives?

Surveys have shown that most people fear more those risks less likely to befall them–shark bites, terrorists attacks, air crashes, abductions–than those more so. I won’t identify those here for fear of raising your anxiety.

So too in adoption–the anxieties that keep some from adopting are, thankfully, far less real than the media, the conventional wisdom (an oxymoron) and popular notions present. Let’s rationally confront some common worries much less likely to occur than is pervasively believed.”

Weight lifted. Clouds parted. Again, it all seems so simple. Thank you, Dr. Ray! I have noticed as the hustle and bustle of the work week takes over, the worries and doubts settle around me. But one conversation into it with Mr. Something and I remember that we are a great team. We’ve been on the same page every step of the way and I am stronger with him by my side.

I am knee-deep into another great read. Award-winning mom blogger, Kelle Hampton, has published her first book this week. I have been following her blog, Enjoying the Small Things, for two years as she has blogged about her journey of growth and discovery upon giving birth to a girl with (unexpected) Down Syndrom. Bloom By Kelle HamptonIn her book, Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected, Kelle was reflecting on reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller and shared this precious nugget of insight (p. 2)…

 “The book spoke of the power of challenges–how living a life of comfort does nothing to make us grow, and how hard times shape us into interesting, developed characters. By the end of the book, I was inspired. Inspired to write a new story for our life–inspired to face challenges and leave my comfort zone and go through hard things because that is what turns the screenplays of our lives from boring to Oscar-worthy.”

It lit a fire within me. Although I have always been a rule follower something within me always longed to dance to the beat of a different drummer, to do something different, something more. Is this my chance?

Last night we watched the second half of an incredible video that I found on the Adopt Us Kids website. Two hours of personal accounts from foster care adoption families, adopted children, and men and women that aged out of the system provided a big slice of adoption education for us. It was an incredible overview of the benefits of foster care adoption and the first steps to take. I highly recommend it for anyone considering foster care adoption.

Flying Pink Elephants

I am only about two dozen pages into Dr. Ray Guarendi’s Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It but I am already enjoying his easy manner and sense of humor. The book is organized into a question and answer format which makes skipping over sections that don’t apply to us (international adoption or infant adoption) really easy. He takes a no nonsense look at raising foster care children and addresses a question about whether or not six is the age where children become “too old” to adopt because their personalities are set. His quick reply of “No,” feels so common sense. Are any of us the same people we were when we were six? This is not to undermine the lasting effects that abuse or neglect have on a child but it makes tackling them not seem so daunting or impossible. It’s the age old question of nature vs. nurture and I have remained firmly in the world of “both” since my psych 101 course in undergrad.

Day after day during my stolen moments of reflection I always come back to the same question, am I strong enough? I like to think that there is something within me that has taken me this far. Which is really not so far at all. It’s the life equivalent of window shopping at this point. Maybe not even windows, I think I’m just flipping through the catalogue. The catalogue didn’t even arrive in my own mailbox. Perhaps it’s a few months old sitting in the magazine rack in the waiting room at the doctor’s office! Am I going to toss it aside the moment my name is called and move on with my life? What if nothing ever feels right? What if we move forward and have nothing but regrets? I suppose I could play the “What if” game until the cows come home, it’s something that I have very little patience for with my own students. I always throw “What if a pink elephant flys through the window?” at them to throw them off.  I suppose I should take my own advice every now and then. “What if’s” are never ending and will get you nowhere.

For now I’ll continue to leaf through that catalogue, maybe dog-ear a few pages. Thanks for listening.

New Book

I love when answers fall into my lap! A great new resource for foster care adoption coming out in May!

How Does Your Child Grow

I am excited to tell you about the release of my new book on May 8, 2012:

Successful Foster Care Adoption – Emotional Journey, Uncommon Love

“Imagine yourself traveling far from home on an epic adventure that will change your future and the future of a child waiting to become part of your life. Filled with hope and anticipation you know only the general direction in which to go and are not certain of your final destination. Your confidence comes from knowing you have a competent guide, and that your GPS is charged and leading you in the right direction and soon you will arrive safely home as a family with child in tow. Welcome to your adoption journey.” – Successful Foster Care Adoption Emotional Journey, Uncommon Love

This is a comprehensive guide to help you navigate state adoption and parent your adopted children. If you, or someone you know…

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Instant Family! Just Add Water!

A smattering of THP conversations ensued over the last few days. I love how Mr. Something or I will bring it up like we are already in the middle of the conversation even if it is the first mention of it that day. “So… how would you feel about a sibling group? Like two at once?” Certain he was going to call me crazy, I was surprised when he was totally open to the idea. (I really need to give Mr. Something more credit!) I have been reading many stories written by adults that were adopted as a children and there is always an underlying theme of not fitting in or wondering about the unknown genes that made them who they are. Wouldn’t the journey be eased if you had a sibling by your side? A blood sibling that shares your past, however harmful or painful it may have been. I had a perfectly delightful upbringing but I still couldn’t imagine going through it without my sister by my side. So, perhaps our options have grown. We have always agreed that two would be a great number, why do they have to be one at a time?

I have spent a fair amount of time on www.adoptuskids.org and have found it to be incredibly helpful and informative resource. They lay out seven steps in the adoption process, the first being to educate yourself. We are firmly lodged in that step. Today we took our education beyond my laptop screen and wandered into the parenting section of our local bookstore. Image Just standing in that particular section made me feel like I was playing dress-up in my mom’s too-big high heels and costume jewelry. Yes, I’m almost thirty but I still have difficulty thinking of myself as an adult, forget about considering myself as someone’s mother! There was a small but good selection of books on adoption. I quickly scanned the back covers and weeded out the international adoption guides, the infant adoptions, and the “Idiot’s Guide…” (I know they can be a great resource but Mr. Something and I agreed that wasn’t quite where we wanted to start.) I settled on Adoption; Choosing It, Living It, Loving It by Dr. Ray Guarendi, it seems to be a great overview of the entire process without focusing too much on one area. Mr. Something and I are looking forward to reading it together. If anyone has any additional resource recommendations to help us “get our feet wet” it would be greatly appreciated!

ImageAs we stepped up to the cashier the man ringing us up looked over our purchase. “Adoption, huh?” I smiled a nodded, not sure where the conversation was going to go. He proceeded to share with us that him and his wife adopted an infant girl six years ago. They received the call that they had been selected on the day she was born and hurried off to welcome her into their family without so much as a crib ready to go. He also shared that they have now been waiting for four years for child number two to join their family. He asked if we were interested in domestic or international adoption and we were quick to share our thoughts about foster care adoption. He wished us luck and we were on our way. It was my first real live conversation about the THP and I was immediately grateful for the book in my bag. I want to know more, I want to talk more. I want to discover if this is to be our story.