Saturday, September 26, 2015

Adoption Blog #6: Waiting

 Now I understand why pregnant women don’t like to tell people that they are pregnant until they are certain that everything is fine, especially if they have lost a child and/or have been unable to carry it full term. As I wait, having done all that I am supposed to do, people ask me what’s going on with my adoption.  I know I opened the door, but to be honest being asked constantly
, not by the same person, but by different people can add to my anxiety. I am forced to talk about what I can’t do anything about at this point.  I can only wait.  I have been reminded again that the system is overburdened, that the system is run by people who have their own lives and issues and that mine will not necessarily take priority, that faith is not knowing but continuing to hope for the best… I know it takes time. For me, it has been over a year since I started this process.  However, some of my friends and well-wishers have only come to my story a short time ago or during this waiting segment; this is not where my story began. But I still must wait and continue to prepare to receive my child.  One can never be over prepared or fully prepared to parent a child.  I have never been more anxious and looking forward to my life to be drastically interrupted. And I don’t even know, I’m sure, what all that will entail.  I’m looking forward to it because it is not about me.  I have never had some overwhelming desire to be a mother, biologically. And it has nothing to do with loving children. I don’t even fully understand why. But I do have a deep commitment to make a positive difference in a child’s life at this time of my life. 

What am I doing while I wait? Making adjustments. I teach evening classes and so I have not been a morning person, not consistently.  During this waiting period I am turning my body clock around, instead of doing a drastic 180 when she arrives. I have commenced going to bed early (or at least laying in bed for three hours before falling asleep at the time I would have normally gone to bed late). That will take time too! I have writing commitments that I am trying to get a jump on knowing that it will take time when the child arrives to work out a new or different writing schedule. And I know there will always be interruptions. I decided it is time for me to get a primary care doctor, rather than just going to specialty physicians. I am taking care of the stress I have had for some time in my lower back, which has turned into sciatica.  I need to be able to stand in long lines with less physical discomfort and so I am in therapy for my back. A week before I started therapy I had a marvelous hot-stone massage from a masseuse that definitely knows which muscles need the most attention and how much attention; my back felt brand new for several days.  That will be my long term therapy, and I will need to budget for it.

I am making other adjustments during this waiting period as well, and I am sure I will discover others. So I will try to be grateful for this time even as I look forward to the future. Hopefully in the next week I will receive a report on the child I am interested in adopting. Nevertheless, I pray each day for my child to be that she is safe and well-loved in the meantime.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Adoption Blog #5: I finally had my first home study visit!

As some of you know from a recent Facebook post, my journey to motherhood is on track.  I have finally been assigned a licensing caseworker and she made her first home visit with me shortly thereafter. Yay!  I am very pleased with the experience, professionalism, expertise, and compassion that my licensing worker brings to this process.  She has worked as an adoption worker as well as a foster care caseworker.  She brings over ten years of experience to the ministry of helping me through this life altering journey. In
addition to several forms that Ms. K, as I will call her, required that I fill  out during our first home visit, she checked the temperature of my hot water; it was too hot (more than 120 degrees F). I have a temperature control dial on my hot water heater, so I have attempted to cool it down. Ms. K will recheck it during the second home visit this month. Ms. K also had to measure all the rooms in the house to make sure there is adequate space for the number of people who will be living in the household including the child (just me and her). She had a gadget that she placed on an opposite wall and it beamed a red light to the other end giving her the measurements from wall to wall -- cool. I think it is a laser distancing tool. She also asked about any medicines I take and whether they are properly stored away. The only medications I take on occasion are aspirin, Aleve or Ibuprofen, which are kept in the medicine cabinet or in my purse. That seemed to satisfy Ms. K.  

When the child first enters my care, she will be a ward of the state and thus in foster care while in my home until the adoption is finalized. Thus, the state will make sure that every effort is made to maintain a safe and healthy home environment. I had to develop a home evacuation plan in case of a fire or other emergency, submitting a copy to the agency and keeping one for myself. I will discuss this plan with the child when she arrives in my home. Also, a phone must remain in the home at all times for emergencies. Since land lines are being phased out, it is now acceptable to have a cell phone that is always kept in the home (along with emergency contact numbers). Check!

Something I never thought about as a safety risk was the small pond behind my apartment. Post the first home study visit, Ms. K informed me that I must put an alarm or bell on the patio door that faces the pond. To my surprise there are several types of wireless bells or alarms that can be easily installed. I purchased a set of two for about $15 at Home Depot, placing one on the sliding glass door and one on the screen door as well. As soon as one opens either door a loud shrieking sound alerts me that the doors have been breached. It took me less than five minutes to stall them.

Ms. K did not leave me without my homework. I had to complete an eighteen page self home study that asked me in detail about my upbringing, my parents and their backgrounds, my siblings and my relationship with them growing up and now, all the schools I attended, what I learned from my parents and what I would do differently, my knowledge of child development, what values I would install in my child, my parenting style, the demographics of my neighborhood, the schools my child would likely attend, what recreation facilities and parks are available, my faith and religious habits, my work history, etc etc. I sat down for hours to reflect and complete the self home study. This was a good and helpful exercise. I am becoming more and more aware of how planning, intentionality, and consistency will be my some of my closest allies.  Another lengthy form that I had to complete was a self assessment of the characteristics and challenges I was not willing to deal with or would be willing to deal with with appropriate training -- issues like bed wetting, aggressions, withdrawal, sexual abuse, children who are on medication, mental disabilities of various levels, etc. I know that it is important for me to be realistic about what I can physically, emotionally, and logistically handle. I know that some issues could arise later in life, but I must be honest with myself in terms of my situation now. I will, of course, continue to work/teach (God willing), but also to write. This expectation figures into what kind of issues I can handle or want to handle. While I plan to devote the necessary time to the child  I adopt to ensure she is well nurtured (educationally,emotionally, spiritually and physically) and loved, I cannot lose sight of self care and nurture. I will certainly have to rearrangement my life, but I don't have to give up my other goals, as some seem to think or have suggested. Someone recently said to me that I would not be to write anymore. I feel that a big part of what I do or do not continue to do is up to me and my ability to be creative and take care of myself while taking care of my daughter. It will certainly be an adjustment(s), and it will likely be quite rocky at first. But I believe it is doable, and with sanity.

Over my lifetime there have been people (non family) to offer me help, but when the time came to do what they offered, they fell short -- too often. So I was (and maybe still am) a little worried about my support system.  All of my immediate family (siblings, nieces, nephews) live in Ohio. Since I started on this journey several people outside of my biological family have said that they would be a part of my support system when I need someone to step in and care for my child in emergencies, particularly. I was told that people will promise to help but whether or not they will submit to the needed background check is another thing. So far the three people who offered to be a source of support have submitted to background checks. I am grateful!  I am also grateful for sisters who have adopted (one a baby and another a teenager) who have stepped forward to offer a listening ear and/or advice -- they know who they are. At a later time and with their permission I might mention their names.

I was also very pleased when Ms. K offered to reach out to the caseworker of the child I am interested in adopting. She has requested a report on the child and when it arrives it will be shared with me. Keep praying for me and for my child to be--wherever or whoever she may be.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Adoption Blog #4: An Adoption Poem

I wrote this poem and posted it to Facebook on June 1, 2015, before I started my adoption blog. Later I may be able to talk about the significance of this poem.

Mitzi Smith 

we have not met
not in my flesh
but what i know
you hope
to become
somebody's child
i hope
to become
somebody's momma
like you
who loves laughter,
barbie dolls,
riding your bicycle,
kick ball, and
Dr. Seuss
And me
And I, you
i believe
we will meet
and read
green eggs and ham,
and so much more.

Sandra Bland: Gender, Race and the Politics of "Sass" -- Feminist Studies in Religion (FSR) blog post

Here is an excerpt from my blog post on the Feminist Studies in Religion (FSR) blog.  You can read the full post at: 

"Sandra, the twenty-eight year old black woman who was subjected to a violent encounter with a Texas trooper and later died while in custody, was criticized and demonized by some for having the nerve to ask questions and to talk back to or to “sass” (as the old folks called it). Ironically, Sandra understood that her “purpose” was to return to “Texas and stop all the injustices against blacks.” She should be remembered, her mother stated, as an “activist, sassy, smart, and she knew her rights.” Unfortunately, sassy and smart black women are not a cherished or celebrated breed when racism and sexism interconnect and prevail."

Check out the other powerful posts on the website as well.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Adoption blog #3. Not all Agencies are Created Equal.

According to the foster care/adoption literature, websites, and media ads, there is a tremendous need for foster/adoptive parents in this country. Consequently, one might expect that the road to adoption for eligible potential adoptive parents would be relatively smooth. But this is far from being the case. I am not saying that anybody should be able to adopt or foster a child or that there shouldn’t be a valid process and standards. But on my journey I am hearing that in too many cases the road to adopting a child out of the foster care system is very discouraging, sometimes painful, and even impossible.   In fact after sharing my disappointments, stops and starts, some people have suggested that I consider adopting a child from overseas! However, I am not ready to give up. I should not have to give up on adopting a child in my own "back yard." I admit that I did not expect the kind of experiences that I have had thus far.

My journey formally began two years ago when I attended an orientation at a large local foster/adoption agency. There were only about five prospective foster/adoptive parents present, which seems to be about the norm. The facilitator was so negative that if I had any doubts about adopting she nurtured them. I cannot remember one positive remark that might have been said at that orientation. An agency can be candid and realistic without being overly negative.

A year later I regrouped and signed up to attend an orientation at another local agency that was recommended to me.  Two heterosexual couples (one black and one white) and two single black women, myself included, attended the orientation. Of the six, only four attended the follow up mandatory PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education) training (takes place on three Saturdays). The other single woman and I expressed our interest in adoption only. She wanted to adopt her grandchildren out of the system. Much of the PRIDE training was conducted by an experienced foster care parent, a mature and retired African American lady whose biological children were grown and out of the house. Many people don’t know that most foster parents are fifty years and older. She and her husband foster only boys with disabilities, the difficult children to place. Their foster children are of various races and ethnicities. She shared a wealth of experience and wisdom with us. I was hopeful that I had found the right agency for me.

At both the orientation and the PRIDE training, attendees were asked to fill out the same application form. On the form we were asked whether we planned to adopt or foster, the gender, how many children, and the age range. I discovered during the training that in Michigan there cannot be more than fifty years difference between the child and the adoptive parent. One of the only ways around this rule is if one fosters a younger child or baby and the baby/child becomes a permanent ward of the state (parental rights are terminated) and thus available for adoption. Then the foster parent(s) may be given priority as adoptive parents regardless of age difference, if there is no eligible biological family willing to adopt the child. On each application I wrote that I wanted to adopt one female African American child at least eight years old.  And when verbally asked, I reiterated my intention to adopt. Each time the response was "we recommend becoming a foster parent first." Those conversations should have been a warning to me.

In the last segment of the PRIDE training two African American teens from Wendy's Kids shared some of their stories with us and then responded to questions. Both young ladies struck me as very intelligent, talented, and sincere. One became a ward of the state when her mother died. Her aunt had promised the mother to take care of her daughter but the aunt got married and the child no longer fit into the scheme of things. Both young ladies stressed that potential adoptive parents need to get to know them personally and not rely on words written about them in a file, which may or may not be true. A white male who was there with his wife asked the teens why they wanted to be adopted when they both were almost eighteen years old. I reminded myself that “there are no dumb questions.”  The teenagers responded that everybody wants to belong somewhere no matter how old they are. There was hardly a dry eye nor an untouched heart in the room. 

When the training ended, we were told that we would be assigned a licensing worker within two weeks to set up home visits and that meanwhile we should collect the items we would need for that visit (e.g., reference letters, criminal background check, TB test, physician’s report from physical exam, etc).  I had already begun collecting the items and had almost everything checked off the list. After a week I was impressed to call and follow up with the agency. The licensing supervisor was in a meeting so I left a voice message. She did not return my call, so I called again. This time she took the call and said to me that "nobody gave me your file." She proceeded to interrogate me on the phone, and finally claimed that there was not a great need for adoptive parents for African American females age 8-10. I challenged her statement; all the literature her agency gave to us and that I have read says otherwise. She said that she would get back to me. When she did not get back to me in what I felt was a reasonable time, I followed up by faxing a letter recounting her conversation with me and cc'ing the president of the agency. Within a few minutes of my sending the fax, she called me stating that they only have one case worker who does the licensing I need and that case worker would not be available for three months. I responded, “then please give me an appointment with her in three months.” "I will need to contact her," she responded. I said, “please do so. I don’t think this is an unreasonable request, is it?" The licensing supervisor never got back to me, but instead sent me a letter stating that they are a small agency and are unable to meet my needs. The letter named other agencies I might try. The one I am using now was not listed in her letter. The good thing about this whole fiasco is that my PRIDE training is transferable to any licensing agency.  In my current agency, I was told that the licensing processing should start immediately upon filling out the application to become an adoptive/foster parent. This had not happened with me.

The agency matters, as successful adoptive parents have told me and as I have found out. And all are not created equal, nor are all licensing and case workers. Since I am still going through the process I will not reveal at this time on my blog the names of the agencies to which I refer. Pray with me that the current agency with which I am dealing will demonstrate compassion, professionalism, and competency. Pray for me that I will not give up or give in to a less than optimally functioning system. Pray for the child that I hope to eventually mother and nurture that she is safe and loved, in the meantime.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

SayHerName: Sandra Bland

On July 10, 2015, a Waller County, Texas police officer name Brian Encinia set in motion events that tragically, needlessly interrupted Sandra Bland's life. Bland had returned to Texas to accept a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University in Texas, more than 1,000 miles from her home in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois. Sandra Bland had graduated from the historically black college in 2009 and was returning there as a student ambassador, according to her family. Three days later on July 13, 2015, Sandra Bland was "found dead" in her jail cell, without the possibility of resuscitation.

Officer Encinia stopped Ms. Bland, so he later claimed, because she failed to signal while changing lane. This was information he felt she had no right to ask for or to know, until he was good and ready to reveal it, regardless. I have seen thousands of people in my lifetime change lanes without signaling or while signaling and have yet to meet one who was stopped by police for said violation--somebody out there may know one or two or be one of the few. But based on the seemingly doctored footage of the encounter between Ms. Bland and the Texas cop, he never informed her of why he had stopped her or that he was placing her under arrest. Yet he immediately attempted to control her movements to make her submissive, regardless, by asking her to stop smoking the cigarette she had in her hand. Ms. Bland was asked if she was irritated and she said yes because she did not understand why she was being stopped. The officer, in my opinion, was baiting Ms. Bland into a hostile encounter. He saw that she was irritated and so said, "You seem irritated. Are you irritated?" I believe he wanted her to verbalize her irritation with him for the dashcam. Her words he wanted on tape, but not his violent actions. In response to this compliance (the verbalizing of how she felt at his request), the officer then told Ms. Bland to get out of the car, hoping, I believe, to increase her irritation, escalating the situation. She asked why and refused.  The officer then further escalated the situation, reaching into her car, grabbing her, and yelling "I will light you up." At that point Ms. Bland got out of the car with her cigarette in hand; the angry trooper with his overbearing presence compelled her out of the path of the dashcam. The dashcam is there in order to protect both citizens and the cops. She needed it more that day than he--and I believe he knew this. It seems that the police officers did not want what they were about to do to Sandra Bland caught on video tape.  I could not bring myself to watch the entire video of Sandra Bland's tragic encounter with the Waller County, Texas trooper, but I heard and saw snippets of it on the local news. Even in snippets, it is painful--too painful to fully digest in one sitting, or at all.

And after three days Sandra Bland was dead in her jail cell; authorities immediately notified the public that she had committed suicide by smothering herself with a plastic bag.  Today, The Huffington Post reported that the DA stated that Sandra Bland swallowed large amounts of marijuana while in custody.  I guess she got the marijuana from the same source she got the plastic bag that snatched her last breath--her captors??! 

It haunts and hurts me that Sandra Bland died after an encounter with a cop for what was supposedly a minor traffic infraction, if one occurred at all; that she would not have died had she not been stopped for no clear reason on July 10, 2015 by trooper Encinia. The police are supposed to protect and serve and not escalate and brutalize citizens. Some have said that Sandra Bland deserved the mistreatment she received from Encinia and the other officer present at the scene because she was "combative" and not submissive, regardless. It has never been enough for black people, or women in general, in this country to be submissive. And for women (men and children) who live with or encounter abusers, no amount of submission is enough. An abuser will tease and test his victims in order to extract anew the level of submission said abuser needs, demands at any given time in any given situation. And black women are expected to be doubly submissive because of their race and gender. It was deeply disappointing to see women (I expect it of many men) justifying Sandra Bland's death because she spoke her mind (as if that in itself is a capital offense), audaciously asked why she was being stopped, refused to stop smoking in her own car and initially refused to exit her vehicle. I don't believe Sandra Bland would have escaped this encounter with only a warning as the police officer claimed in the "video". Abusers like to blame their victims with statements like "If only you had done/acted a certain way" or "if you had not provoked me." I believe the officer stopped Ms. Bland in order to harass her, hoping she would be the "angry black woman" at whom he might justifiably direct his sense of entitlement and rage.

 A lot of women have been taught by church and society that they are to be good "foot stools" for men, and when a woman "acts up" or refuses to be that foot stool, that "biblically" submissive woman, then she is seen as deserving any violence inflicted upon her. It can be explained away. Women who have not broken loose from this type of thinking, of course, include themselves in the mix. So they do all they can to be "good girls" (I even heard a female minister not long ago at a breast cancer event talk about the book she wrote about how women can be little girls again and thus become good marriage material) always submissive to male authority and abuse.

It troubles me deeply that as with other black women, men and children who have been senselessly brutalized and murder by rogue and racist cops, authorities and the media immediately began attempts to smear Sandra Bland's character or to support the trooper's version of events. Elton Mathis, Waller County's District Attorney, said of Sandra Bland at a press conference Monday, July 20, 2015, that "This was not a model person that was stopped." And Mathis added "it was not a model traffic stop." He applies the phrase "not a model person" to Sandra, while using the same phrase to describe the "traffic stop" rather than the officer. He negatively characterizes Sandra Bland herself but to the traffic stop, not the officer, Mathis attributes vague imperfection. He depersonalizes the stop as if Trooper E was being rated for his performance in a training drill. But Sandra Bland's character is tarnished. And people who are branded less than model citizens become unworthy of justice. Historically, in this country black women were and could be raped by white men with impunity. If ever a white man was indicted for raping a black woman, he almost always avoided conviction by claiming that the victim was less than a model citizen. Rosa Parks was not the first tired black woman forced to give up her seat on a public bus, but she was a "model citizen."  The tag "not a model person" is in some form or another often attached to people of color and it conjures up a host of illicit activities in the minds of the public who are constantly bombarded with images of black people as less than model citizens. Black people are more often characterized as thugs, unjustifiably and perennially angry, drug dealers, sexually loose, needlessly belligerent, combative hotheads, lazy, etc..  Mathis immediately called into question Sandra's character. Elton Mathis' statement tells me that he himself is not a model person or a model DA; that he is biased. One more reason that we need an independent investigation; we need the justice department to step in.

It disturbs me each time rogue and racist cops and others (i.e., George Zimmerman, et al.) have sought to justify the murder of black people, they conjure up a narrative of fear. It is interesting that cops who commit police brutality against black women, men, and children default to the narrative of fear for their own lives regardless, as if we all are wild animals. You know how it goes: an animal is always an animal, capable of biting the hand that feeds or pets it and therefore should always be feared. So whenever they are killed, evoke the narrative. Why not? it has worked in the past and it has worked in our biased judicial system. And even some black folk have accepted the narrative, regardless. According to Officer Encinia, Sandra Bland struggled with him and kicked him in the shin, and this caused him to fear her. He feared her so that he slammed her head against the ground as he pinned her to the ground and she could not feel her arm. She cried that she was subject to epileptic seizures, and he said "I don't care."  He, the cop in possession of a taser and gun, was willing to jeopardize her life--because she allegedly failed to signal or because she supposedly kicked him in the shin. Yet, it was he who first threatened--and  I believed delivered on his threat when out of sight of the dashcam- bodily harm to Sandra Bland: "I will light you up."

As has already been noted too many questions remain: Why was Sandra's mug shot taken in a prison jumpsuit and not in the clothes in which she was booked? Where did Sandra get a plastic bag? If Sandra Bland became suicidal after three days in jail, which I doubt, unless she was further brutalized and forced to take her own life, where did she get a plastic bag? According to records, Sandra allegedly admitted to attempted suicide after she had lost her baby but stated that she was not now suicidal. It seems to me that authorities doing their due diligence would have made sure there was nothing in her cell that could have allowed her to take her own life, given such a history. Now the authorities are claiming that Sandra Bland had taken large amounts of marijuana while in custody. How could she do so when the authorities had taken her picture in a jumpsuit and thus had already searched her and taken all her belongings including her clothing? Where did she get the marijuana? What was the officer doing to Sandra when he forced her out of sight of the dashcam, and why did the female officer not intervene? In what ways was the video of the encounter edited? What was taken out of the video?

I travel alone quite a bit. I am black and female. And on some days I am "sick and tired of being sick and tired," and I might just be courageous enough to assert my right to know if I should be stopped by a cop. And that cop might be like Officer Encinia. He might refuse to tell me why I am being stopped and yet expect my full unmitigated compliance. Or I might comply but be bullied and provoked--everyone, most people, have a breaking point. Like other black women and men in this country, my life could be cut short by one trivial, unnecessary encounter with the wrong police officer. Our fears are real. Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, and many others, in marked and unmarked graves were real people who are mourned and missed by family and friends. For some it won't be real, the fear, the facts, until it happens to them or to someone they know. But now is past time to say "never again." #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter #Godrequiresjustice