Instant family: going from 2 to 5 overnight

Three Together

Siblings Alexis, Max and Alex, June 2012

Jacob and Trina have always been the adventurous types. Within a few years, they earned their Doctorates in Psychology (Jacob in pediatrics and health psychology and Trina focused her work on victims of childhood trauma and abuse), traveled around the world, and spent two years in Costa Rica with the Peace Corps.

When it came time to start a family, no two people seemed better equipped. But as any parent can tell you, nothing can totally prepare you for the emotional investment of raising children. And the emotions become even more complicated when diving headlong into the foster-to-adopt process. Add to that equation not one child, but three, and you can imagine the true adventure they are now on.

Deciding that 3 really is the magic number.

Raised in families where adoption was a part of their daily lives, they always knew that they would one day adopt, too. The question was never ‘if,’ but ‘when’ and perhaps more importantly, ‘how many?’

“We didn’t really talk about how many kids we would adopt until we were filling out the paperwork and it questioned, ‘How many children are you licensed for?’” Trina explained, “I looked at Jacob and asked, ‘Two? Three?’” That’s when they considered a sibling group. “We talked about the importance of keeping siblings together,” Trina said, “as well as knowing that we didn’t want to go through the process multiple times.” They decided that three would be their answer.

Several months later, three siblings were at their door. Trina had literally only hours to prepare. The social worker would be bringing Max, Alexis, and Alex to their new home for dinner and the only type of food they had in the house was vegan. Trina recalls scrambling to the store for some mac and cheese and other ‘kid-friendly’ foods; the first challenge of many in navigating instant parenthood.

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Childcare for 3?  No problem!

Finding childcare on the fly for three kids would be the initial hurdle, a frustrating task for even the most experienced caregivers. Alexis was in her last month of the school year, so they also had to enroll her in their district. Luckily, a neighbor worked at a day care program that had openings for the two boys and also a summer program that they could attend. What a relief!

And then, life happens.  Not long after the children moved in, Jacob and Trina needed to travel out of town to attend a family funeral. They had respite care lined up for the kids with their cousin. The catch was that the children would have to stay with their cousin, not in their own home. In the past, the siblings had changed homes quickly and without knowing what was happening. They were terrified to sleep anywhere without Jacob and Trina, worried that they wouldn’t see their new parents again.  So leaving the kids – regardless of how short the stay – was very emotional.

The attachment question, times 3.

Jacob and Trina both have professional experience working with child victims of trauma and abuse. During the foster-to-adopt process, they worried about the children’s development, especially attachment issues they were facing. “It was really hard,” Trina states, “not just because we didn’t know whether or not the kids would be leaving us, but because seeing the kids not have stability and not knowing what their future holds for so long was so hard on them.” The effects of attachment issues can range from being too open and affectionate with people in one moment to pushing them away the next.

Despite their preparation — foster care trainings and backgrounds in child psychology, Jacob and Trina often felt overwhelmed,

“Nothing could have prepared me for the depth of emotion that was involved,” Jacob said, “just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”

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Adoption Day, November 2013

Trina noted how important it was to have self-compassion during the process,

You have to be comfortable with your own difficult emotions and forgiving of yourself when you make mistakes,” she said.

And you have to be prepared to rely on others. Jacob and Trina had Deborah, their social worker at Amara. “It was wonderful to have someone we could email and call with questions throughout the process and get a very timely response. We are very grateful for all of her help,” Trina said.

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Max and Alexis with Deborah, their Amara social worker

The family adventure continues.

Today, Trina and Jacob are not the strictest of vegans, eating vegetarian at home.  Their adventures often don’t take them beyond the borders of their own neighborhood, let alone to distant lands like Costa Rica. There is still no TV in the house. There is a ready supply of board games stacked up to the ceiling in the bathroom.

As Peace Corps volunteers, Trina and Jacob helped people build better lives for themselves. Now, their best skills are put to the test daily as they build a new life for their own family.  As parents of Max, Alexis, and Alex, they are on the greatest adventure of their lives. And they wouldn’t give it up for the world.

*Rachel Ervin is a mom, freelance writer and editor from Tacoma, Washington, where she works primarily with the online magazine, Post Defiance.  Discover her recent interview with Ira Glass and follow her thoughts @RacheErvKorbski.

 

 

How do you have the capacity to love 78 children? The Madisons show us how.

“Oh, we talked about it before we decided to be foster parents,” says Karen Madison very matter-of-factly.

“We did?” questions her husband Ted with a crooked smile on his face and twinkle in his eye.

Ted, Karen, and their daughter Kristin on the day they adopted David

Ted, Karen, and their daughter Kristin on the day they adopted David

As a child, Karen always wanted to have an orphanage.  As a newly married couple in 1967, their home wasn’t quite equipped to care for scores of children simultaneously.   But they could care for one or two additional children at a time.  Multiply that over two decades, and the number of children they cared for, diapered, rocked, fed, clothed, and loved totals 78.  Yes, you read correctly:  78.

The Madison’s came to Amara to adopt a child on June 6, 1968, on the day that Bobby Kennedy died.  They called Medina Children’s Services (the present day Amara), and met their social worker, Marjorie Schaller.  And they still stay in contact with Marjorie to this day.  Because after adopting their daughter Kristin, and then their son David a year later, they contacted Medina about fostering children.  This was a family with the capacity to love children, and let them go.  They would go on to foster 76 babies and toddlers.

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Kristin, David, and a baby they were fostering during the holidays

Their adopted children were a few weeks old before they could meet them, before they could take them home.  Karen knew this meant that someone else had cared for them, had held them, and had loved them for weeks before she could be their mom.  This was her chance to pay it forward.

 ”I wanted my kids to know that there wasn’t a minute that went by where someone didn’t love them.”

In real life, this means that Karen and Ted possess an enormous amount of flexibility and patience, an almost infinite ability to love.  Pick up a four-month-old the day you are leaving on a family camping trip?  No problem!  Have two kids in high school and an infant still waking up in the night?  You got it!

Their true capacity to care and love for children in the most selfless way might be most apparent in how they said good-bye to them.  For the children in their care, going home to their new family became celebrated as their “Happy Day.”   A celebration!  Whether the children were with their family for a day, a week, or a few months, this was their special day.  They went with new clothes, with teddy bears, with all of the love and hope that Karen could possibly squeeze into each child to ready them for their family, their forever home.

In the end, Karen got her orphanage, one child at a time.  One Happy Day at a time.

Ted, Karen, and their family celebrate David's wedding

Ted, Karen, and their family celebrate David’s wedding

We at Amara are grateful for the Madison’s capacity to love children in need.  For their service to these children, we are honored to award Karen and Ted Madison with the 2014 Stella Mae Carmichael Award. Karen and Ted continue to be inspired by foster parents who care for children in need. Karen now actively serves our troops and their families with the USO.

Beyond Lucky – what to say when families foster adopt

When people find out that my younger son is adopted a very common phrase I hear is, “Oh he’s so lucky!” While his adoption was finalized over a year ago, our family continues to provide short-term care for babies waiting to be adopted, and I frequently hear “What a lucky baby, to get to come to your house!”

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New shirts & silly brothers

I understand the sentiment of these statements. Our friends and family are trying to tell us that we are good parents, a good family, and will provide lots of care and love to little ones. I appreciate this affirmation and take these comments as a compliment, but they always make me cringe a bit too. It’s that word, “lucky”. No one in foster care is “lucky”. A baby relinquished at birth, alone in a hospital room, is not “lucky”. The lives of all these children have started with a tragic, sometimes sudden loss of their entire family.  They often live in more than one home before they finally find their forever family. Adoption, no matter how wonderful in the end, is always rooted in loss.

“He’s so lucky” also bothers me because it feels like a judgment against my son’s first family. When people say he is lucky to be with us, it implies he was unlucky to be with them. While they were not able to provide a permanent home for him, they all love him fiercely and did the best job they were able to do. Having the people who love you be unable to care for you is not lucky.

While I have a hard time hearing that statement, especially the word “lucky”, I have a harder time figuring out how to correct people. I don’t want to make my friends and family feel bad for giving me a compliment. At the same time, I feel like it’s my job to provide a bit of education and context when it comes to foster care and adoption, seeing as how it’s been a big part of my life for the last several years, and will always be a part of our family’s story.

Maybe I can offer some ideas for something more meaningful to say when someone tells you they are providing foster care or pursuing (or are in process of) adoption. So here are a few suggested alternatives to “what a lucky baby”:

“Do you need anything?”  When a child is placed in your home through foster care it can happen very quickly. We only had a few hours from the time we first read about one little girl to the moment she was dropped off in our living room. It was overwhelming, and I would have loved someone to come by with dinner! Sometimes in that busy time of transition it’s hard to even figure out what you need, let alone ask for it. If you know someone who has recently had a child (of any age) placed in their home consider showing up with coffee, or a meal. You will probably not be turned away.

“What an exciting time for your family!” When our son was first placed in our home it was indeed a big, exciting time of change for our family. It’s also exciting every time I get a phone call telling me about a baby who needs short-term care. I think it’s ok to acknowledge that having a child placed with someone you know is exciting, even though the reasons they are there might be hard, sad, or unknown.

“You’re going to do a great job.”  I think this is a nice, direct way to say what the “what a lucky baby” phrase implies. If you think a family will be great parents or caregivers, you can say it directly. It’s always nice to know someone has faith in you and thinks you’ll be a good parent.

As I’m writing this my boys are running around playing some sort of superhero game I only vaguely understand. They are laughing, chasing each other and having a great time. They both have a forever family where they are cared for and loved.

That’s not being lucky, that’s what every child needs and deserves.  

Open adoption, one son’s perspective

When I was eleven,  I was invited to take part in a foster care support group for kids who were in touch with birth families while in foster care.

Damien, age 11, with his adoptive mom, Judy

Damien, age 11, with his adoptive mom, Judy

My story was nothing like theirs. All the other children reported having felt abandoned, unwanted, mistreated … by both birth and foster families. It never occurred to me that Diane (my birth mother) didn’t want me … just that she couldn’t take care of me …very different than not WANTING me. It, of course, wasn’t until much later that I found out why.

I remember a few times with Diane when I was really little. I remember a Halloween when I wore a Garfield costume with a really uncomfortable mask. I remember wax colored clothes after I, age three, had thrown crayons into the dryer.

I don’t actually remember anything of foster care time. I don’t remember the foster families from pre-mom (Judy) time. I don’t remember the part mom talked about in her blog post. What I do remember is sleeping in the “cat” room during remodeling of the house. And going to pre-school with Mary S. And the gigantic desk behind which the judge sat on the day I was adopted on January 20, 1986.  I was four and a half years old.

The judge emphasized that not only were all the other family members (Stephan, Cari, Sean, mom & dad) adopting ME, but also I was adopting THEM. That day, I remember Mary S. told everyone in my pre-school that I’d gotten a new family.

Once I was adopted, there was an absence of Diane in my life for a period of time. Mom says she thinks this was three to six months, so I could “bond”.  After that, I saw Diane several times a year…zoo lights several times, Wolf Haven once … good and relaxed times for seeing one another.

When I was in 5th grade we moved to West Seattle, close to where Diane lived. Though I then wanted to see her daily, I now know that she & mom did some behind the scenes work to figure out how this could actually work. There had to be a working phone for me to be in Diane’s home. A working phone, a place to sleep, and place for me to keep things for me to spend the night were needed for me to be safe. There needed to be insurance on any car if I were to be able to ride in it. What I knew is that I got to see Diane more often, and was eventually able to stay for a sleep over.

Shirley Temple in  The Little Princess, 1939

Shirley Temple in
The Little Princess, 1939

I used to love the Shirley Temple movie where she’s an orphan living in an attic. Then her dad comes back – reunion! Smiles all around. What I got were parents, biological mom and adopted family who worked together.

It is a happy ending for me.

 

Damien and Judy, 2013

Damien and his family, Christmas 2013

 

The first time I met my son

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Michael, November 2012

The first time I met my son, Michael, was at a pizza restaurant in Everett.  That night, I didn’t know that this boy would be in our lives forever.  Joined by Michael’s social worker, the woman he was living with and her son, we made awkward small talk and took turns running around the restaurant after Michael.  He was clearly a cute, energetic little guy and I was excited to get to know him. Yet in that moment, I did not assume he would one day become my son.

You see, we had been through this before. When you are placed with a child in foster care, you often don’t know that you are meeting the child you will one day adopt. I knew we *might* get to adopt Michael.  After having a previous child reunify with a birth family, I had stopped making assumptions.  Our reality was that the future was unknown.

I also remember the first moment I looked at Michael and knew for sure he would be my son forever. Almost exactly one year after that night at the pizza place, I got a call from that same social worker telling me that it was finally official; we would get to adopt Michael. I sat down on the kitchen floor with the phone in my hand, not fully believing what I was hearing. Then Michael walked into the kitchen and I hugged him, knowing for the first time that he would be with us forever.

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Michael and his forever family, Amara Family Celebration 2013

About the author:  In 2010, Kari and her husband Kelly began working toward an adoption through Amara. In 2011, Michael was placed with their family, and his adoption was finalized almost exactly one year later in 2012.  Kari and Kelly continue to be a receiving home for Amara, providing short-term care for infants. Read Kari’s previous blog post, From Foster Child To “Bug”: Nicknames that Told Me I Was His Mom.

Meet Kari and her family at our Adoption Information Meeting on Saturday, February 1stPlease contact us to register.

Holes in my heart

This June, Trayvon joined our family. With his adoption, he became our son and he also became a big brother to Isaiah, who we adopted two years ago through foster care.

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Isaiah, Trayvon and Amber

Our sons have such similar stories.  Trayvon accepted Isaiah as his brother before he accepted that he had new parents. In the car they talk about how many homes they have lived in, how many moms they have.  What family means. They’re able to share that with each other. And we’re discovering how they are willing to share parts of their story with us as well.

Earlier this week, Trayvon looked at Nate and said: “Daddy, I keep you in my heart all the time.”

I was sitting with the two of them and after telling Trayvon that he was so sweet to say that, he turned to me and said in a deadpan: “Not you Mommy. I don’t like you. Just Daddy.” I just laughed and we went to play a game of family baseball.

I must have somehow worked my way into his good graces, because tonight over dinner, Trayvon turned to me and told me: “Mommy, I keep you in my heart all of the time. Not just Daddy.”

Then began one of the most interesting and moving conversations I have ever had with my children.

Trayvon: “Mommy, I have holes in my heart. Eleven holes. And the holes get filled with pictures of people who are special to me.”

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Trayvon, age 6

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Isaiah, age 4

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Me: “Wow, Trayvon, that is really amazing.”

Trayvon: “I have pictures of you and Daddy and Isaiah in my heart. There are other people in my heart too. Mommy, do you have holes in your heart?”

Me: [holding back tears] “I used to have two holes in my heart, but they got filled by some very special little boys.”

Trayvon: “Me?!? And Isaiah?!?!”

Me: “Yes, you and Isaiah. Now I don’t have holes in my heart anymore.”

Isaiah: “I have holes in my heart too! And they are filled with you and Daddy and Trayvon!”

Me: “That’s pretty special, guys.”

I never did get exact names on the other eight people that Trayvon holds in his heart, but I know that he holds those from his past close to his heart too. I think that this is his way of figuring out how to keep all of the people who he has loved close to him and in his memory. I have always loved Trayvon’s thoughtful nature. I hope that as he gets older, he will always share with me his feelings and the way in which he is creating his own story each day.

 

Closure: The open adoption spectrum

I have had the great fortune to get to know Amara’s wonderful staff over the past year. Their love for the birthparents they work with, the prospective adoptive families they serve, former adoptive parents and the adoptees themselves, is clear. This is true in many ways, including their interest in promoting Closure as a source of educational material for their clients.

Some members of the Amara staff with Angela and Bryan Tucker following the screening.

Some members of the Amara staff with Angela and Bryan Tucker following the screening.

Personally, I am so thankful to be in an open adoption relationship with my birth family, something with which I did not have for the first 26 years of my life, and something I know that Amara cares deeply about. As some adoption professionals say, openness is a spectrum.  Some relationships are sustained by using special anonymous email addresses; some relationships involve monthly get-togethers in the home, or a neutral location while others vacillate somewhere in between.

My newly open adoption is no different, some months our relationship is closer than other months – not too dissimilar to long distance friendship relationships. I hope adoptive parents can view the relationship with their child’s birthparents in similar respects, whether the adoption is truly closed, semi-open or very open, there is always room to invite the spirit of the child’s birthparents into the home.

Bryan and Angela Tucker field questions following the film screening.

Bryan and Angela Tucker field questions following the film screening.

Fantasizing, or speculating that positive character traits may come from their birthparents (i.e. musical ability, athletic talents, artistic interests etc.), or discussing specific details from the birthparents tone of voice, handwriting, or their facial expression during a photo – these are great ways to keep their spirit ever present.  Not only might this attitude towards openness acknowledge an understanding of your child’s early and perhaps difficult beginnings, but it may also help the adoptee to assimilate their own narrative as their identity takes shape. I’m thankful that Amara is working hard to keep adoptions open, whenever possible.

Further information on Closure, with DVD/ Digital download available on December 1st!

*At Amara, we are grateful for the opportunity to sponsor the recent Closure screening with Good Hair Salon and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. Our gratitude to Angela for continuing to share her experience.

Closure: How it spoke to us

Two weeks ago, my wife, Erica, and I were invited to a screening of a film about adoption. The documentary was called Closure and we had no idea what to expect, after all, if there is one thing we have learned on our own journey so far with Amara, it is that every adoption story is different.

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Upcoming screening on November 21, LHPAI

Watching the film from the perspective of a future adoptive parent, it felt like everything in the film was a lesson from which I could learn. 

Closure focuses on the journey of Angela as she tries to find her biological family.  Her husband, Bryan, is behind the lens throughout the whole process.

Angela had been adopted in a closed environment and is now in her mid 20’s, married, and interested in finding her birth family.  She had very little to go on and the film is as much an entertaining detective story as an adoption journey.  I found the most interesting part of the film to be the very different reactions her biological father and mother have when meeting Angela for the first time.  Bryan captured on film their feelings, as well as the feelings of Angela’s adoptive parents.

The film helped assure Erica and me that an open adoption situation, when possible, is better for the child/children. We would encourage any parents considering adoption to view the film with an eye towards both the topics of closed/open adoption as well as transracial adoption.  By the end of the film a strong mix of emotions will probably come up for any prospective adoptive parents.

"We would encourage any parents considering adoption to view the film" Marcus and Erica

Marcus and Erica

Erica and I would like to sincerely thank Angela, Bryan, and both of her families for making this film and allowing us to glimpse a very emotional and personal part of their lives. Their willingness to openly share this story toward closure is a credit to them. The rest of us are lucky to witness such an amazing journey.

On Thursday, November 21, at 7 p.m., Amara will partner with Good Hair Salon and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute for a screening of Closure. You can learn more about this event through Facebook. Amara families wishing to attend are eligible for discounted tickets. To R.S.V.P. for this special rate, contact Laura at 206.260.1714.