Honest Words

A few months ago I was plowing through audiobooks like crazy during my hour+ commutes to and from work. I wandered a bit from my usual fictional fantasy genre choice and explored the nonfiction section of my local library phone app. Without meaning to I came upon Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos and embarked on a “read” that was akin to long chats with a good friend that simply gets it.

2013-04-03-instantmomThe book is autobiographical in nature and briefly highlights Nia Vardalos’ rise to success with writing and starring in My Big Fat Greek Wedding as well as her subsequent projects. This storyline is told in conjunction with her struggle with infertility and her road to discovering foster care adoption. She is candid about her experience with being matched with and adopting her two year old daughter from the foster care system.

More than once while listening to Instant Mom I caught myself nodding along and proclaiming, “Yes!” Nia explains it herself in the beginning of the book, being a private person made writing and publishing such a personal and honest account of her experiences extremely difficult but she saw the value and need for positive press for foster care adoption. The tricky part of listening to audiobooks is that I couldn’t easily dog-ear a page or reach for my highlighter when encountering passages I wanted to hang on to, so as soon as I finished listening I bought a copy and began to reread to find the gems that made me want to shout, “She gets it!” So without further commentary here are a few of those prize nuggets from Instant Mom that resonated with me.

“I was surrounded by positive stories of adoption, but of course the scary ones kept me up at night. And the media did a good job of it too. It’s just human nature to pick up on the things that cause us anxiety. I could hear a hundred fantastic adoption stories in a row and then be stopped in my tracks by one negative one. There was always some story of some drifter who’d decapitated a store clerk because he’d once been adopted. Or wasn’t adopted. Or something. Googling ‘adoption’ took me to strange places. It was all a late-night Internet search haze.”

“We were at the swing set at a park and he’d heard from a mutual friend that Ilaria was adopted from foster care. He asked, right in front of my daughter, ‘Aren’t you afraid she’s damaged?’ Truthfully, this man’s only crime was saying such a dumb thing within my daughter’s hearing range. I actually don’t judge the question because I myself once had these same prejudices about kids adopted from foster care. I worried they’d been through so much that they might not be affectionate or would have trouble bonding or would be violent. It’s ironic that we’d all be more likely to bring a stray dog into our homes than a child. A stray dog has fangs and can eat our faces as we sleep. An innocent child just needs love. I’ve done adoption fund raisers and have met children from abusive backgrounds who were raised in loving foster homes–the kids are doing just fine. They’re well adjusted and doing average things like you and me–graduating from college, getting married, holding down jobs. Many of them become social workers and help kids much like themselves because they were raised by kind foster parents who treated them with the respect and kindness all children deserve. Sure, many kids live in not-great conditions in foster care and group homes. But I’ve met inspiring families: parents who adopted kids from terrible backgrounds. The kids then become happy, well adjusted and do well. Loving kids, providing them with comfort and safety, is what it takes. Plus a lot of patience. And so many people do it. So many adults have changed kids’ lives. You will rarely hear these stories portrayed in the media. But I have met them at the many adoption fundraisers I get to be a part of now. I have met adults who were willing to get into these kids’ lives and let them know they’re loved. They’re the most valiant people I’ve ever met. To be honest, they’re also quite average. They’re not superhuman. They’re just people who stepped up and said to a kid: hey, you deserve better. So no, the kids are not damaged goods. They’re just kids looking for guidance and love–like all of us.”

“Most of us have been around kids from many varied backgrounds. We’ve seen that ten-year-old boy who stomps toys into pulp. We’ve met that six-year-old girl who eats snot. We’ve known that fourteen-year-old girl who entertained the football team behind the bleachers. Were any of those kids adopted? No, they’re being raised by their biological parents.”

“Additionally, I see now in preschool all the kids are going through something, from hitting to learning disorders to anger issues, to shyness to crying fits to over-assertiveness . . . because kids are kids.”

“Yep, we’re all kind of strange. Can any of us really be defined as normal? Nope. Therefore, I’m not afraid my daughter will display issues because she is adopted. She may have issues, sure. Just like any kid. Just like I did. Just like you did. Uh-huh–yes, you did. And so did I.”

“The fear of the unknown can be a powerful deterrent from anyone adopting. Again, I am not suggesting parenthood is for everyone, so if you feel it’s not for you, I agree your life will also be wonderful without kids. But if fear is stopping you, please don’t let it. I’m wondering why as a society some of us are afraid of what an adopted child might do to us, when it was the Menendez brothers who shot and killed their biological parents. No adopted. Shot their parents while they slept. Shot them. Sleep tight, everyone.”

“A bonus in raising a child you don’t have a biological tie to is you will never saddle them with watching their every move and declaring they musical talent as ‘that’s from your dad’s side; his old Auntie Beulah played pianola.’ Or their bad penmanship as ‘well, there’s Grandpa Frank’s meat paws once again.’ Also, when someone says, ‘Your daughter is beautiful,’ you don’t have to murmur modestly. You can just boomingly and boisterously concur at the gorgeousness that is your kid and even point out her perfect bow mouth and tiny fairy ears, ’til that person backs away slowly. The benefit in raising the child you got to adopt is you just get to watch them unfold and become who they are.”

Through honestly and humor Nia tells it like it is. Her book is candid and refreshing and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of stepping into foster care, is already involved in the foster care world, or knows and cares about someone that is fostering.

On the home front, we don’t have much to report. Last week, my first of summer break (yay!), I emailed our new licensing rep (#3) at our new agency because it had been weeks since I’d heard from her. She confirmed that she has received our information and wants to meet with us next week. Why, oh why, is it so difficult to give us more than a few words worth of  a response? Do we have to redo our home study? Where in the process are we right now? Time will tell.

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One Year Later

“Our journey as human beings is not about following a pre-ordained path, but about creating that path. Life rarely makes any more sense when things are done ‘in order.’ Life makes sense when we are centered in our hearts and we let go of resisting how our unique journey needs to unfold in its own beautifully unruly way.” -Christine Mason Miller

Today was an important day and Mr. Something and I felt it all weekend. One year ago today we sat across the table from each other at a local Mexican restaurant and I tossed the idea of growing our family through foster care adoption in his direction. I had no idea how he’d react or that  year later we would be anxiously awaiting a call from our agency to begin foster care licensing classes, a call that we were told that we would get within two or three weeks. Today marks the beginning of week four. I am fully prepared to be patient with system timelines but should an agency be keeping a new, eager couple hanging like this? It’s difficult to know where to put my patience if I don’t know what is “the norm”.

Despite the lack of a ringing phone we did a fair amount of celebrating this weekend. We spent the day running errands with a second agenda of trying to find something special for our second bedroom. It’s a bedroom that has housed an extra T.V., a hand-me-down couch, and runoff storage for Mr. Something’s clothes. The curtains, being held up with a tension rod, are leftover from my junior year dorm room. Then, they served as closet doors for the open storage in that long-ago tiny space. The walls are builder-white, the room has never been much of anything, but soon it will need to start taking the shape of an actual bedroom. A bedroom that will someday house our tiny humans, a space of their own in a new and strange place. For now, it represents something that we can do as we wait and wait for the phone to ring, for our story to begin.

TIt's Okay to be differenthe something special we ended up finding were books. Anyone that knows me, knows that books are my weakness. They are my favorite gift to give and my own overflowing classroom library is one of my favorite places in the world. Books can be genderless, ageless… the perfect first purchase for someday children that bring with them so many unknown variables. Without much thought I knew what I would choose, the simplistically poignant and positive messages of Todd Parr

We chose It’s Okay to Be Different, which shares sentiments that range from, “It’s okay to be adopted” to “It’s okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub.” I’ve used this book yearly in my classroom and love it’s message. The second book is The Family Book. It highlights how very different families can be and finishes with the statement that all families help each other to be strong. Love! (We also plan on adding his We Belong Together to our collection as well but they didn’t have it at our bookstore.) It was a sweet way to commemorate this little one year idea-versary. special-families-bundle

After a few more stops we ended up back at that same Mexican restaurant and toasted to what the next year would bring. I remember our conversations a year ago and how Mr. Something wanted to wait a year before pursuing the idea. A year felt so impossibly far away, and now here we are. We’ve had a lot of conversations over the last year and I can’t remember any that one of us had concerns so great that it would deter us from this path. Of course there are worries and the great unanswerable questions but it amazes me how right it’s felt since the beginning.

The evening ended with a trip to Home Depot to collect paint chips for our second bedroom. I have spring break in a week and it’s time to start turning that room into a home.