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Archive for the ‘Adoption/orphans’ Category

We picked up Valentine (the 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe we’re hosting for the summer, not his real name) from the airport on Tuesday afternoon, on our way back from a two-night trip to Ontario in our RV. It was Clara’s first trip in the RV, and unfortunately, she was not a happy camper.  She had a hard time going to sleep in a strange place, so her nap schedule and bedtime were completely disrupted.  There wasn’t enough space in the RV for her porta-crib, so we put her on the big bed between Don and me.  We don’t normally co-sleep, so that made it harder for us to get a good night’s rest.  All this to say, I was not exactly well-rested when we picked up Valentine, and when we got home we had all the unpacking and laundry and stuff to do from coming home from a trip.  It was not the ideal situation, but with everything else going on, it was the only time we could squeeze in a trip to Canada before Valentine came (he’s not allowed to leave the United States while he’s with us; he has a single-entry visa).

2.  Although I would have liked to have taken a day off to get caught up, I figured it would be best to jump right into our summer weekday routine to set appropriate expectations for all the boys. Thus we started “summer lessons” on Wednesday.  During Clara’s morning nap, we had “together time” with a song, a prayer, a short Bible story, and a nursery rhyme (it’s quick—I don’t want to bore Valentine because I know he doesn’t understand most of it).  Then Peter and Simon went to another room and Peter read the first chapter of A Bear Called Paddington out loud to Simon.  Meanwhile, I read Where Is the Green Sheep? to Valentine, pointing and using gestures to clarify the important vocabulary words.  He laughed at some of the pictures.  After that, I introduced the first two phonics flash cards and he practiced the sounds, then I showed him how to write the letters and he practiced writing them.  I had debated whether or not to work on reading with him; I think improving his oral English is more important, but for a small investment of time, I think it’s worth building a foundation for reading in English.  That was it for lessons for the day for Valentine; Peter and Simon had a couple other things to do, but everything was done before Clara woke up from her nap except for Peter’s saxophone practice.  Yesterday was much the same; we re-read Where Is the Green Sheep?, reviewed Wednesday’s phonics flash cards and added the next two, and practiced writing the new letters along with a review of the first two.  I also taught the subject pronouns “I” and “you” and used a PowerPoint presentation with eye-catching photos (adapted from one that I made when I was a French teacher) to introduce ten useful verbs.  We had fun acting out “I eat”, “you drink”, “I play”, and others.

3.  On Wednesday, I made a point to stay home during the day to give Valentine time to settle in. He had fun playing with our toys (we have lots of toys!).  His favorites so far seem to be the Nerf guns and the Hexbugs.  After dinner, we went for a walk to a nearby lake.  On the way, we saw a turtle laying eggs.  We also found several holes littered with empty turtle eggs and a turtle that had been run over.  Valentine found a frog and we saw a fish that someone had just caught.  We were buzzed by innumerable dragonflies.  Valentine’s orphanage is in a city, so he probably hasn’t had many opportunities to experience nature like this.

4.  Yesterday, I took Valentine shopping. We were told to expect him to bring little or no clothing besides what he was wearing.  He actually brought a backpack with more than we expected, though still not much.  Fortunately, we are able to mostly outfit him with hand-me-downs from Peter.  A friend generously gave us $100 to purchase the clothing items he still needed, along with other things.  We bought underwear, socks, shoes (he came wearing sandals), and a matching swimsuit/swim shirt set.  I gave him 3-4 choices for each item and he enjoyed picking which color/design.  He asked me (through pointing and making begging/praying hands) for a Lego set, a fidget spinner, and candy in the check-out lane, but didn’t seem upset when I said no.  Our hosting organization stresses the importance of not spoiling the kids during their first week so as not to set up an expectation for the rest of the hosting period.  Besides that, because he’s limited to an airplane carry-on in what he can take back with him (and is expected to return with the clothes he brought), we’re planning to focus on giving him experiences rather than “stuff.”

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5.  Communication is limited, but we’re getting by. My cheat-sheet definitely helps.  The visual display I made for the morning routine (eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, etc) is handy—I can just point to a picture instead of trying to pantomime everything, and I saw Valentine looking at it on his own to remind himself what to do.  Google Translate has been useful for things that are harder to act out (like, “You can play outside when you want, but tell me before you go and don’t go beyond the white fence.”)  Unfortunately, our internet has been excruciatingly slow for the last couple days, which makes Google Translate hard to use.  The boys are getting along well; you don’t need language to make funny faces, poke someone, steal their pillow, shoot Nerf guns, clown around, play tag, race toy cars, or lots of other things that boys like to do.

6.  We set Valentine up on our Wii; Peter helped him make a Mii and we registered him on Wii Fit Plus. That was my surreptitious way of finding out his height and weight.  I looked them up on a CDC growth chart; his height would be at the 50th percentile for a boy who is about 8 years and 3 months old.  I’ve heard from a few different people that the kids from the orphanages in his country tend to be about the size of American kids who are two years younger; Valentine is 10 years old so that seems accurate.

7.  After three biological kids and a developmentally delayed 3-year-old foster child, it’s kind of nice to add a child to the family who is already potty-trained.  🙂

More 7 Quick Takes here:

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It’s hard to believe that Peter finished school just a week from yesterday.  We’ve had things going on pretty much non-stop since then.  He left on a Boy Scout camping trip that night and was gone until Sunday.  Both boys went to Totus Tuus (the Catholic version of vacation Bible school) this past week.  However, there were different shifts for younger and older kids.  Simon went during the day and Peter went in the evenings, which meant four trips a day into town for drop-offs and pick-ups, not counting trips into town for other reasons (grocery shopping, library, immunizations for Peter).  Don was super busy and stressed as he was preparing for a major work event Thursday night, so I did most of the driving.  Poor Clara had to have her nap schedule shifted around because of it and didn’t get as much of my attention as usual.  Wednesday night was a Totus Tuus potluck, which was fun but meant that Simon and Clara were up past their usual bedtimes (and Simon was already tired from all the stimulation of day camp).  Thursday night was Don’s work event; the kids and I made an appearance there before I had to drop off Peter at Totus Tuus and get Simon and Clara home and to bed.  Yesterday (Friday), my dad arrived in the late afternoon.  He is riding his motorcycle to Alaska; yesterday was the second day of his journey, as he started in southeastern Michigan.  Today we hung out with him and did some repairs on our RV; we’re leaving tomorrow for a short trip and my dad will be heading off in the opposite direction.  I would rather stay home and relax for a couple days instead before “Valentine” (the orphan we’re hosting this summer, not his real name) arrives on Tuesday, but Valentine can’t leave the United States while he is with us, so we’re taking a quick trip to Canada while we can.  We’ll be picking Valentine up from the airport on our way back home.  I can imagine that it will blow his mind to be picked up from the airport in an RV.  I did say in the welcome letter I wrote to him (which one of Don’s colleagues helped translate into Russian and which he will receive tomorrow) that it’s a two-hour drive from the airport to our house, and I showed our house in the video I made for him, so he should understand that we don’t live in the RV, but I’m sure it will still be somewhat shocking.

I plan to share the hosting experience here on my blog.  Realistically, though, it’s hard enough to find time to blog now, and I’m sure I’ll be even more tired when I have another child–and one who speaks little English and is not used to living in a family setting–to take care of.  So I’m not making any promises as to the frequency of blog posts or the level of detail that will be forthcoming.

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A year ago, I was starting my third trimester of pregnancy and dreading the next year.  Excuse my language, but I knew it was going to suck.  I was already exhausted and perpetually uncomfortable, and I knew it was only going to get worse until the baby was born.  Then there’s that oh-so-fun newborn stage of being woken up every couple hours, followed by the stage of not-quite-as-bad but still constant sleep deprivation.  Plus, we live in a place where winter is really winter, so I’d be carting around a baby and dealing with snow gear for a baby and a preschooler (and myself) every time I wanted to leave the house.  I figured that it would take until spring came this year before life started getting easier.

I must admit that the past year has not been as bad as I expected.  It hasn’t been a piece of cake, by any means, but it hasn’t been completely miserable.  The main reason has probably been that Clara slept for relatively long stretches (5+ hours at night from about five weeks on) and started sleeping through the night when she was about six and a half months old, so I haven’t been as sleep deprived as I was when Simon was a baby.  (I made a point to promote good sleep habits with her from the start because I remembered how awful I felt for the first year of Simon’s life, until I got him sleeping through the night).

While I never have enough time to do EVERYTHING I should/want to do, and there are plenty of days I’m too tired to do anything productive once all the kids are in bed, I am keeping up with things overall.  In fact, I’m feeling good enough about how things are going that I’m up to taking on a new challenge this summer.  We’re planning to host an orphan from Eastern Europe, a 10-year-old boy.

This is something we’ve talked about doing for several years, but haven’t taken the plunge until now.  There were various reasons we didn’t–planning an international move and expecting a baby were two pretty good reasons, but most years it was just due to the garden-variety lack of funds.  This year, there were no pressing reasons why we shouldn’t, and I have the money.  I’ve been saving for an international adoption, but I decided to use some of my money to host.  It was a difficult decision, because it’s a lot of money to give a kid a fun vacation.  However, it’s not really that much money to give an orphan a real chance at finding a family, which has to be one of the best things you could possibly do for someone.  Many orphans who come for hosting are subsequently adopted, by their host family or by another family.  People are much more likely to adopt an older child that they have met and interacted with, or that someone they know has met and interacted with.  Even if we don’t decide to adopt (and we’re not talking about adoption now), I can advocate for this boy.  Ultimately, I thought it was better to do something real than to keep sitting on the money and waiting for “someday.”  After so many years of being interested in adoption and hosting, I can finally do something, and I’m excited to do it.

I’m not going to share identifying information or photos of the child we’re hosting on my blog, but I will share stories and reflections.

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I recently received some questions about adopting a child with HIV.  As I was responding privately, I realized that some of my answers would make a good blog post.  First, my disclaimer: I don’t have a child with HIV.  However, this information is distilled from reputable sources, including families that do have children with HIV.  By sharing it, I hope to make HIV less scary.

If you haven’t read it yet, you might like to start with the basic info about HIV that I shared a few months ago.

I’ve been interested in HIV adoption for quite some time, since Peter was a baby.  I followed a blog by a woman who adopted two kids with HIV from Ethiopia.  Her sharing her experiences showed me that it was doable.  I did some research on it then, but because we were planning to move to Canada and we had a lot of debt, it wasn’t a good time for us to consider adopting.  At that time, Canada didn’t allow the international adoption of HIV+ children.  HIV adoption fell off my radar for a few years.  I only learned earlier this year that Canada now allows international HIV adoption.  I re-joined the HIV Adoption Yahoo Group, where parents who have adopted kids with HIV and those who are thinking about it can ask and answer questions, share resources, and support each other.

A common message of parents who have adopted kids with HIV is that it’s not really a big deal.  With advances in medication over the past decade, HIV is managed pretty easily.  Most kids who are on medication have a viral load that is undetectable (they aren’t cured of HIV, but the level of the virus in the blood is so low that current instruments cannot detect it, and their immune systems work just as well as if they didn’t have HIV).  Caring for a child with type 1 diabetes or severe food allergies would have a much greater impact on a family’s lifestyle than caring for a child with HIV.  Basically, they take medication twice a day, and see a doctor every three months.  Medications are available in a liquid form for younger children and as pills for older children and adults.

HIV is only spread from mother to child (through birth or breastfeeding), sexual contact, or contact with blood.  Most children with HIV who are available for adoption were infected at birth.  Parenting a child with HIV would certainly require careful attention to sex education when the time comes.  I suspect that if you looked at the entire life cycle of a child who is born with HIV, that the influence on their sex life is probably the greatest impact that HIV has on their life (well, in the developed world, anyhow).  As for blood, based on my eight years of experience as a mom so far, there haven’t been many occasions when I’ve come in contact with my kids’ blood (the only time I can think of is during one of Peter’s nosebleeds).  It would be prudent to have gloves on hand that could be worn if necessary, but it doesn’t have to be a big concern.  Especially with older kids, unless they’re bleeding profusely, you can just have them wash their own blood off (I learned that in teacher’s college).  Away from home, teachers, coaches, Scout leaders, paramedics, et cetera are supposed to take universal precautions against coming into contact with other people’s blood, so there’s no need to worry about that.  If the child is on meds and has an undetectable viral load, the chance of spreading HIV even in the case of an accidental exposure is pretty small.  In short, the child is not putting anyone at risk, and it’s not necessary to “warn” people that the child has HIV.

For most families, the social impact of having an HIV+ child is more of a concern than the medical aspect.  There is still a lot of stigma associated with HIV, a lot of fear and misunderstanding.  Many parents choose not to disclose their child’s HIV status, or to disclose only to close friends and family, because of fear of discrimination against their child.

I hope that has been a helpful introduction to the topic.  There is plenty more information and discussion out there if you’re interested in learning more.

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This morning, our social worker brought over paperwork for us to sign; we have been approved for an adoption subsidy for D.  When she first mentioned applying for it last month, I felt weird about it.  We didn’t even know that these subsidies existed.  We certainly weren’t out to try to get money for caring for D.  In fact, when we first started the process, we didn’t even realize that we were going to be paid for fostering him.

Then I found this article in the Toronto Star.  In case you don’t feel like reading it or the link has expired, here are a few statistics from the article.  It says that about 82% of children in the care of Ontario Children’s Aid Societies have diagnosed special needs and that foster care costs an average of about $45,000 annually per child.  Foster families receive about $18,000 annually per child, but the average subsidy for adoptive families is $4350 (it’s not clear whether that’s the average for all families who adopt, including those who get no subsidy, or whether it’s the average amount of subsidy for those who receive a subsidy).  Some Children’s Aid Societies offer generous subsidies and some don’t provide subsidies at all.  In 2009, a “provincial expert panel…called for adoption subsidies for all parents who adopt children over age 2 and for every child with special needs.  Led by David Johnston, now Canada’s governor general, the Expert Panel on Fertility and Adoption estimated that annual post-adoption subsidies of between $9,000 and $15,000 would save taxpayers $26 million annually within five years and $36 million annually after that.”

I feel better about accepting the subsidy after reading those numbers.  D does have special needs and it is likely that he will need continued support for them.  The plain truth is that he is more challenging to parent than a typical kid, as are many of the kids in foster care (through no fault of their own).  These kids deserve permanent, loving, stable, supportive families; it’s not fair to them if the system is rigged so there is a financial incentive to keep them in foster care.  The parents who are willing to step up and commit to these kids should have access to resources to help them do it, even after an adoption has been finalized.

Our social worker says there is an expectation that the province will be standardizing subsidies sometime in the next few years.  I think that’s a great idea.  It’s not fair that some people get subsidies and others don’t, when it has nothing to do with the needs of their children but just the policies of the particular CAS that happens to serve them.

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I feel like I need to address the comment I made previously about sometimes questioning whether we’re the best family for D.  I hope that it isn’t taken the wrong way.  We made a commitment to care for him the same as we would a biological child and we do.  I believe we are a good family for him.  He has grown and developed in positive ways during the time that he has been living with us, and we expect him to continue to make good progress.  We’re happy to have him with us.

I think my questioning stems from our relationship with his grandmother.  Our situation is different from most CAS adoptions in that D’s grandmother voluntarily placed him for adoption.  When his information was presented to us last summer, one of the biggest risks was that his grandmother would change her mind (and she did get cold feet, stalling the process for a couple weeks).  So during the weeks before D was “apprehended” (or formally came into CAS care), we were very conscious of how we presented ourselves to his grandmother.  We tried to make her feel as comfortable as possible with us as people who would adopt her grandson and raise him, knowing that if she wasn’t comfortable, she could back out and we would lose the opportunity.  The first time we met her, she expressed two main things that she wanted–for him to maintain his knowledge/use of French and to have ongoing contact with him.  At that meeting, I told her straight out that we aren’t francophone, but that we would support his use of French.  We were entirely sincere when we said that.  I’m a French teacher and Peter attended a French-language school last year, so we definitely felt that we could support D in being bilingual, French/English.  We didn’t realize the extent of his language delays at that time, and I’m not sure that she really understood how delayed he was either.

We are glad that overall, D’s grandmother thinks highly of us as parents.  She has complimented us numerous times and seems to be pleased with the care we provide for D.  However, she doesn’t seem to like the fact that he now prefers to use English (which he can now speak much better than French).  She was visibly upset when I told her that the university clinic assessed his language skills in English and will be providing speech-language therapy in English.  We respect that the French language is an important part of her culture and something that she wants D to share, but we feel (and our social worker agrees) that it’s more important for D to learn English at this point–we are a majority-English-speaking family in a majority-English-speaking community.  D’s grandmother sort of talked herself into feeling a little better about it by commenting that since he’ll be going to a French school, it will balance out.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he probably won’t be going to a French school this fall (a decision which our social worker supports).  I feel like we’re letting her down by not promoting French more, and that’s why I sometimes wonder if we are the best family for D.  Our adoption worker had told us that we were chosen because we were the only adoptive family awaiting placement in our CAS in which someone spoke French.  They could have searched outside our CAS for a francophone family elsewhere in Ontario, but that would have made the transition period more difficult (due to a greater distance to travel for pre-placement visits) and would make it more difficult for D’s grandmother to see him regularly.  I assume they considered those things and decided it was better to place him within the local area.  They chose us because they believed that we could provide what he needs; I need to trust that they made the right decision.

It’s not the easiest thing in the world, to take someone else’s child and make them your child.  I think it’s a good thing for me to be sensitive to where D came from and what it has meant for his grandmother to let him go, but I think it’s been holding me back in claiming him as my own child.

Not too long ago, D’s grandmother took him out without us for the first time since he was placed with us on October 1st.  She asked and I just didn’t feel like I could say no, even though I didn’t feel ready for it.  It’s not that I was worried about what she might do–she used to take care of him full-time and she has behaved very appropriately towards him since he came into our home, so I knew she wouldn’t hurt him or take off with him or anything.  I was more concerned about how D would react to going with her, if it might affect his attachment to us.  She picked him up at our house, took him out for about 50 minutes, and brought him back, and it all went smoothly.  D seemed fine with it all; he seems to have completely accepted that he lives with us now.  In a way, seeing her take him out and bring him back helped me realize that he isn’t her child anymore.  She hasn’t taken care of him in over four months; she’s now working full-time again (she hadn’t worked in about three years, since she began caring for him) and seems happy to be moving on with her life.  He isn’t his birth parents’ child; they haven’t cared for him since he was an infant and they weren’t able to care for him appropriately then.  So whose child is he, then?  Technically, he’s the government of Ontario’s child, but soon he will be ours.  I’ve been very careful since the beginning not to “claim” him too soon, so I wouldn’t be as hurt if it fell through.  Even now, I have to explain that he’s my foster child and that we’re in the process of adopting him, because he doesn’t have our last name and because legally, I have to add “foster parent” after my name when I sign paperwork for him.  (And some things I can’t sign, like the consent for his surgery–that needs CAS approval.)  Once we go on adoption probation (AP), we get to use his new name, and we can have him baptized.  Of course, he will legally and formally be ours after the adoption is finalized in court, but I think he’ll feel like ours when we go on AP and we get to use our last name for him.

On the subject of his new name, that’s something else that his grandmother won’t like, but as our social worker has reminded me several times, he will be our son so we get to decide what we want.  We will keep his first name the same and will give him our last name.  Currently D has two middle names, one from his birth mother’s family and one from his birth father’s family.  His grandmother had asked us to keep the name that comes from her family.  However, I don’t feel like it’s fair to keep one and not the other, I don’t really like the name anyhow, and I wanted to give him a middle name that came from us.  So we’re going to give him the middle name that is Don’s grandfather’s middle name, Don’s father’s middle name, Don’s middle name, and Peter’s middle name.  To me, that seems like a strong way to claim him as part of our family.  However, I guess that means that if we have any more sons in the future, we’ll be stuck using that same middle name.

We were going to have D baptized near the end of this month, but we had to reschedule it because we’re not on AP yet.  The church doesn’t do baptisms during Lent, and we didn’t want to do it at Easter, so we’re looking at May 20th for his baptism now.  I asked one of the priests, who had to call someone in the diocesan office to see if it was okay, and got an answer that his baptismal name doesn’t have to be the same as his legal name.  Our plan is to use all three middle names (the one we’re giving him and the two he has now) at his baptism, as a way of respecting the name given to him at birth without having a long, cumbersome legal name.  Considering that his grandmother considers herself Catholic and wants D to be baptized (though she never got around to doing it herself), I hope that will be enough for her.  But even if she’s not happy with it, oh, well.  It’s not her decision anymore.

It’s rather a pain to register a child to attend a Catholic school here if they haven’t been baptized, so we’re just going to wait until May to deal with that.  It’s probably a good thing that it’s making us wait another three months, because I’m sure D will continue to make good progress in his English language acquisition in that time.  At this point, we think it’s unlikely that we’ll register D in a French-language school for next year, because all the French schools are full-time, 5 days a week, and we don’t want to put him in such a French-heavy environment if he’s still significantly delayed in English.  He needs to know *a* language before we worry too much about the second language.  We may register him at a regular English-language school or we may send him to the French immersion school that Peter attends now; either one would be half-time (2-3 days a week).  Our goal is to get him up to speed in English by the end of next school year and then transfer him to the French-language school for senior kindergarten, but we’ll just have to wait and see how things go.  We haven’t decided 100%, but we will probably move Peter back to the French-language school this fall.  It would be kind of annoying to have two kids at two different elementary schools, but we want to send each of them to the school that we think is best for them, so that may well be what happens.

This is a long post, but all this stuff has been swirling around in my brain for some time, so it feels good to get it out.

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CAS finally got a copy of the court order granting crown wardship (it was granted on November 12th!), so they gave us a new letter to cross the border with D.  This time it’s good for six months.  With any luck, the adoption will be finalized before we have to get another one.  So we’re going to visit my parents this weekend.  Yay!

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