Our little girl loves to read. This is big because last summer, her confidence around reading was non-existent but now she can sit with books for a long time on her own. She loves that I write books and will ask me now and then, “How’s your next book coming along?” which makes my heart melt completely. Continue Reading
So, last week we packed up our little Squirrel and hit the road. By now, we were old pro’s at traveling together and navigating the potential stress of hectic airports. She had her stuffy. Lollypop in her mouth. Mama Lynn’s hand. Special snacks in tow. We were ready. What I was not ready for was how beautifully, generously, and authentically my AZ family would embrace her when we arrived. Here are 6 things they did to make my girl feel like their girl…even if they aren’t related by blood. Continue Reading
Maybe it’s the scent of summer in the air: talk of Go Girls! Camp, family vacations, and lots of time in the pool. Sometimes with trauma, a season change is enough to snap us out of fight or flight.
Maybe it was Mothers’ Day. We created an altar to celebrate and integrate the idea that 4 different mothers all belong to our little Squirrel. Maybe this ritual healed some part of her.
Maybe it was meeting her sweet doppleganger—a 6 year old boy that our best friends are adopting. She got to feel competent—like, “I went through that,”—and access her big sister self. She got to feel part of a club of kids with gay parents; kids who have past lives no one really understands. “I think maybe he’s my new brother, Mommy,” she said.
Maybe it’s the neurofeedback sessions we started. When crazy levels reached an all time high, we decided extra nervous system support was the way to go. Twice a week we go together, getting side by side treatments in hopes that our bodies can find some sense of peace.
Maybe it’s taking a forced break from a friend who she’s been fighting with at school. Their dynamic went from intense to a little toxic and the school has been supporting them beautifully to take space. We navigated conversations with the other girl’s parents with respect and a mutual concern for their emotional safety.
Maybe it’s that Lynn & I didn’t give up. We cried and tried every single thing we could think of to help this little girl feel loved. Maybe after months of testing us, we finally convinced her that she is safe here. That we are not going anywhere. (Even though we fantasized about it…Mexico anyone?)
I have no idea which of these interventions helped shift the tide of panic in her little system. Maybe all of them wove together like the blankets my Mom made each of us when we were little.
All I know is that this morning there was laughing instead of screaming. Last night, there were kisses instead of thrown objects. All week was filled with love songs and imagined mermaid dance-offs. Pet names and giggling. Piggyback rides and birthday parties for her bunny. We have our daughter back. I don’t know how long we have before trauma steps in again and steals her away from us but my plan is to soak up every precious moment we get.
I love you, Mommies
Please can Mama Lynn come in for one more hug and kiss
This is different
Deeply relaxed for
the first time
We woke up early and snuggled up with Squirrel in her bed. “Happy Gotcha Day!” we cheered, covered her face with kisses while she squealed. She opened the card with the kitty holding a heart (her two favorite things right now) and really took in the words we wrote—how we’ll love her forever, how she can’t get rid of us now, how we’re so happy to have her in our family. She opened the heart necklace on a gold chain and put it on immediately.
We moved into the living room where I’d set up three tiny candles. They were inside robin eggs, forming a nest. When my dear friend gave them to us on the day Squirrel came a year ago, I knew I’d wait and light them on Adoption Day. We each took an egg candle and lit them one at time before adding them back into the nest. This simple, quiet ritual was my favorite part of the whole day.
We put on the special outfits that we’d modeled for each other in a fashion show the week before. Fuchsia and gold, blues and purples. We ate egg pie with broccoli, curled our hair. None of us had ever gotten ready for an Adoption Day before. It was a weird and mystical holiday that we’ll celebrate every year from now on. We were “nervouscited” as my daughter would say.
We parked by beautiful Lake Merritt. We walked up to the Alameda Superior Courthouse and were intercepted by an expressive arts therapist with a purple ribbon wand. Our superhero friend, Phil performed an interpretative dance right there on the street in downtown Oakland. We all cheered and felt the love. We went through security. We took the elevator to the 7th floor where we met up with our social worker and began the 45 minutes of waiting our turn. There were three other adoptions that morning and it was first come, first served.
As we sat in the heat of the echoey building, I noticed our daughter started to leave her body. Her eyes glazed over. She winced every time her photo got taken by the photographer we’d hired. The amazing community we had with us—a Go Girl teaching artist, two grandmas, and dear friends with their adopted toddler—rallied and gave Squirrel snacks, toys to play with, hugs, presents and chances to run around and burn off steam.
When our turn came, I gave Squirrel a chance to ride piggyback into the huge courtroom. I could see she was terrified. “Mama, this is hard,” she whispered in my ear. We raised our right hands and promised to tell the truth. Then, our judge came to get us—a sweet, older man in a long black robe. He led us all into his cozy office. He was an absolute dear. When Squirrel wanted a chance to sign all the paperwork, he let her. He waited patiently as she drew pictures of Christmas trees all around her name. He told jokes about how adopted kids are just like all other kids- they still have to clean their rooms. Then, he asked if Lynn and I promised to be her forever parents and take care of all her needs. We did. We do. We will. Always.
We went to feed the ducks at the lake while Mama Lynn paid the final court fees and signed more paperwork downstairs. She walked up to a window under the “Adoption” sign. It was positioned directly next to a window under the “Restraining Orders” sign. Not everyone in court was there to celebrate.
We ate lunch on the dock and Squirrel came back into herself, flirting with the waiter and pretending to take all our orders by scribbling in a Hello Kitty notebook. We opened the beautiful gifts from my mom—a silver jewelry box with Baby Girl’s new official name and the adoption date. And a silver frame engraved with our new family name. The Johnson-Kenny’s.
The rest of the day was a blur of naps and wine and dancing and hugging as many friends stopped by to love on us. We read Squirrel cards and texts from cousins, Aunties, Grandparents. She smiled again and again as she repeatedly got welcomed into the family. She stayed up past her bedtime, ate too much sugar and ended the evening in tears…evidence that Adoption Day truly is a holiday.
We gave birth. The labor pains were worse than I could have imagined but I already forgot them. It’s a girl. A beautiful, strong, creative, hilarious, fierce little girl. And she is really, truly ours. For better or worse.
I’d dreamt about this day for years. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew it would feel big. “Forever Family” kind of says it all. BAM! Tied for life. We’d been told by our social workers, friends who had adopted and family therapist that the lead up to the actual adoption could be a hard one.
“You might doubt your decision,” we were told.
“Your child will really start to act out,” we were warned.
“Mostly you won’t remember why you wanted to do this in the first place,” we heard again and again.
Wow. Good times. Can’t wait. And yet, here we are on the other side. Lynn brought our adoption certificate to our daughter’s school this morning and officially changed her name. We’re REALLY a family now. So how’d we get from there to here? Here’s a timeline…
Monday, Oct. 5th
Got an e-mail from our social worker that after fostering Squirrel for one year and 2 days, a court date had been set to finalize the adoption. It would be Oct. 16th. We had less than 2 weeks. Tears of relief, joy, excitement. No more weekly social worker visits. No more reports about us. No more writing for permission to travel, cut her hair or give her medicine when she’s sick. We were free! We invited all our family and friends who had adopted. We hugged a lot. We felt like badasses.
Monday, Oct. 12th
The Squirrel’s best friend asked me, “Are you really her mom?” I stayed calm and asked a few questions. I learned Squirrel had been telling kids on the playground about her birth family and making them promise not to tell. She started feeling different because she has two moms…and is being adopted…and misses where she’s from. Sigh. I hoped we’d have a little more time before the identity angst really started in.
I HATE being questioned about whether my mothering is real. When you tried getting pregnant for eight years before taking two more to adopt, this question is very loaded…even if the one who asked it is a 6-year-old girl. I put my feelings aside and talked it through with the girls. Then I put my daughter to bed and cried my eyes out. Who knows if I’ll ever feel like a “real” mom.
Tuesday, Oct. 13th
We learned that despite their best efforts, two weeks notice was (of course!) not enough time for most of our family members to fly in from out of state to be at the adoption. I felt deeply sad and afraid. This would be a long road with this kid. Will we get the help we need? Will we ever really feel like a family? It feels like we’ve established a strong attachment, but will her loss and grief ultimately be too much? Fear started eating me alive. I cried most of the day until I picked her up from school. Then we went to family therapy. Help! Help! Help!
Wednesday, Oct. 14th
I met Squirrel at school before the end of the day to help her with “sharing day.” I’d arranged with her teacher to be there and help her present photos of her birth family to the class. She told them all about her past mother, siblings, cousins, grandma, and Aunties. Her energy was focused and confident—she needed her new friends at school to know all this about her. She fielded their questions with the answers we’d rehearsed in therapy. “I used to have a dad.” “I live in Oakland now because there were some problems.” “I don’t want to talk about that part.” She asked for my help only once.
I stayed silent as she spoke her truth even though it was painful to me. Wouldn’t it be amazing if she wanted to tell all her friends about her fabulous new moms and that she’d be getting adopted Friday? WOO-HOO!!!!
I also felt proud of her. And moved by how hard this week must be for her. I’ve never gone through what she has.
It was getting very, very real. I think we were all terrified.
Thursday, Oct. 15th
A dear friend of many years gave me some great perspective. “Of course you are panicking and crying uncontrollably and exhausted and feeling alone and slightly desperate. You are giving birth tomorrow…right? Any other mother pregnant with a 7-year-old would feel all those things. Give yourself a break. You’ll feel better once it’s done.” YES.
My mom and her partner arrived that afternoon after driving for two days to get to us. They brought a truckload of gifts. They hugged us and kissed us and made us feel loved. My mom gushed about how great we were doing and how far Squirrel has come over the year.
That night at bedtime, I asked Squirrel if anything was bothering her or worrying her about the adoption.
She asked what would happen in court.
She asked what it meant to officially be a family.
She asked why we picked her.
She asked what happened to all the kids in the group home where we got her from…”Are they still there waiting Mama?”
“Yes, Baby. Many kids are in foster care all over the country. They are hoping for an adoption day just like you are going to have in the morning. They want a forever family who can keep them safe and love them all their lives. I’m so, so happy we get to be your parents now. I love you more than mermaids love to swim.”
“Baby, you are just getting bigger every day! On the inside and the outside,”
I hear myself saying again and again. The Squirrel loves standing up with her back against the inside of her closet door. “Here’s a pencil, Mommy! Mark how tall I am!” I do, even though the day before we did the same thing. The mark on the wall hasn’t moved but I know this isn’t the kind of growth we’re really tracking. “I think these shoes are too small for me, mom. Let’s give them away to a littler kid. My feet are getting bigger,” she says with pride. Her feet have been the same size all summer. But she’s right. Her growth has been SO enormous, we’re all looking for measurable ways to track and celebrate it.
To that end, here’s a poem for my girl…
She used to scream and shake in the pool. Now she kicks off the wall like a mermaid.
She used to hide her head in her hands. Now she sings on the stage.
She used to cheat at CandyLand. Now she can follow the rules.
She used to hate getting out of bed. Now she dresses herself in a flash!
She used to have all her baby teeth. Now they keep falling out!
She used to fall down a lot. Now she leaps, ronde de jambes, and does pirouettes across the floor.
She used to yell and kick and throw. Now she asks for what she needs.
She used to cry for every good-bye. Now she hugs, kisses and says, “Bye! Love you!”
She used to say “I can’t read.” Now she says, “I’m good at it.”
She used to say, “I can’t do it.” Now she says, “I just need to practice.”
She used to feel bad and hurt her friends sometimes. Now she mostly keeps hands & feet to herself.
She used to wake up wet. Now she wakes up dry.
She used to have hair in her face. Now, she has purple bangs.
She used to hate her feelings. Now she lets them out.
She used to wonder if we were safe grown-ups. Now she knows for sure.
She used to be a little girl. Now she is a Queen.
May we all have the courage to keep learning and growing the way this child does.