Now She’s 6

On September 19th Athena turned 6. It was a relatively small celebration. My parents weren’t able to come over for dinner which is usually part of the festivities. We went to their place the weekend before for a bit of cake. And we’ll get together over Thanksgiving when my sister and her family are down and my mom is back from a conference out west.

When I have foster children, I’m prone to extravagance. Athena arrived three months before her 2nd birthday. I made her a dress, a cake, invited a fellow foster family over for dinner. There were streamers, balloons, party hats, and fancy plates. It was all picture perfect. Since the adoption took place, I’ve slowly been moving away from that self-inflicted pressure.

Last year we celebrated with friends at a local indoor playground then had my parents over for dinner. Some of those friends have since moved away and the playground is closed on Saturdays. Athena would have been happy to replicated last year’s festivities but that wasn’t possible.

So we had to come up with something else. She selected a Frozen birthday cake – made by her favourite cake maker. The picture we saw on-line had one Olaf. “For the birthday girl,” I said. Athena couldn’t imagine not sharing. She ordered three Olafs so that she, her sister, and our foster child could each have one. I’m continually surprised by Athena’s generosity.138

Our foster child was leaving early the day of Athena’s birthday for an overnight visit, so we had cake the night before. Then opened presents after breakfast. Athena picked out the colours for the tutu I made her. She spent the morning playing with her new toys (including a Frozen patio set). 214

Then we headed to McDonald’s playland. I’ve been living in a small town for over seven years now. I forget what the city is like on a weekend. The line up to order food was nearly out the door at McDonald’s. And the playland was crowded with kids from a birthday party. We got drive-thru and went to a secluded park. Athena was happy to run around the baseball diamond with her sister.

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At home, they watched a movie Athena picked out at the library. There was popcorn with candy Athena chose from the Bulk Barn. This year’s birthday was all about Athena making choices. Sometimes that’s hard for her. She doesn’t always know her own mind. Often, as an accommodating second child, she defers to Raine – who is very opinionated and always knows what she wants. But Athena was able to make choices on her own. She didn’t even tell Raine about the three Olafs on the cake. That was a surprise Athena planned for Raine and our foster child. She also picked out a movie and candy, ignoring Raine’s suggestions. Not that I want her to disregard those around her, but Athena could stand to know her own mind a little more. So that’s what this birthday ended up being.

It was low key and not very impressive, but Athena was wildly happy. And, I suppose, that’s all that matters. There’s no need to impress social workers with elaborate parties. I’m now free to live in a manner that satisfies my child. As the day evolved, I decided to enjoy the liberty. That made the celebration, small and casual as it was, a source of joy instead of something I felt the need to apologize for. Athena was happy. That’s all that I needed to worry about.

And now she’s 6. Growing and changing, Athena continues to amaze me. She’s often silly and loves to laugh. She’s quick to forgive and eager to give all she has. Birthdays always remind me of when she arrived – shy and shut down. My lovely daughter is nothing like that now. She’s full of life and love. I’m so glad she’s mine.

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For the Love of Carrots

Saturday mornings, I have a booth at the local farmer’s market. In hopes of getting some extra money for a newer vehicle (which you’re welcome to help with), I sell tea, granola, muesli, and organic bread. 029

Intending to buy a bunch of fruit from one of the vendors, I didn’t pack very many snacks for the kids this week. The regular fruit vendor, however, did not show up. That suited Raine just fine. The vegetable farmer beside us has carrots she really likes.

I sent her over to buy a bunch. But she came back with two. Raine spent five hours either talking about her love of carrots, eating them, or caressing her face with the carrots. Freshly picked, the dirt from them smeared all over her face and hands. But she didn’t care. Didn’t even want to wash them before eating them. Bags of chips were turned down as she begged for another bunch of carrots.

The grower of these carrots, in his mid-20’s and childless, kept commenting, “I’ve never known anyone to love carrots quite that much.” He flippantly invited Raine to come pick some this week. She, of course, thought him to be serious and asked me to fix an exact date and time.

He tried to explain the toil involved in harvesting carrots, mistakenly thinking this would deter Raine from wanting to come. It didn’t. She assured him, she’s very strong and certainly up to the task.  “I can even pick up my sister and she’s much heavier than a carrot,” Raine explained.

She took his business card, promising to be there because “I really love carrots.”

As most people are, the man was completely overwhelmed by Raine’s tenacity. He gave her a bell pepper as a parting gift.

The entire drive home, Raine continued talking about her love of carrots until Athena finally shouted, “We know! We know you love carrots! Stop telling us!” Yes, for the love of carrots, could you stop talking about them for a moment, I thought to myself. But out loud agreed to think about taking her to the farm to pick some.

This is How I Became a Mother

The story began in March of 2011. A case manager called asking if I’d be interested in fostering “a 3yr old girl with a severe brain injury. She’s likely very delayed.” I said yes.

A few days later, the brightest and most articulate child I’d ever encountered arrived on my doorstep. I wasn’t expecting a fair skinned child with blond hair and blue eyes. The last name had conjured another image in my mind as I hastily prepared. Turns out the brain injury was linked to a fall as an infant. The hospital reports had been slow in coming. And the injury was possibly exaggerated in order to qualify the child for specialized care.

The social worker explained Raine had a younger sister who had remained at the previous foster home. A family doctor recommended the separation since Raine was thought to be aggressive towards her sister.

Before leaving my caseworker said, “I’m praying Raine’s sister moves here and you get to adopt both of them.”

I laughed. It seemed utterly impossible. Even when Athena, Raine’s sister, moved to my home three months later I didn’t expect the girls to stay. There were other plans moving forward. Everyone else in my world seemed pretty certain, but I wasn’t.

Then, suddenly, adoption was on the table. I told the social worker I was interested. Still, I wasn’t sure this was where our lives would head. The social worker was thrilled and determined to make our family a reality.

The case moved over to an adoption worker who wasn’t thrilled with me. She decided Raine and Athena would fare better in another adoptive home – specifically a two parent home.

My heart broke when I received the news. Upon the advice of a friend, I decided to appeal that decision. Filling out the paperwork, I remained unsure if God would open this door or keep it closed. But I felt compelled to do everything in my power to keep Raine and Athena. If they left, it would be with the knowledge that I fought to keep them. I wanted to imprint on their spirits the fact that I wanted them – something contrary to the message they’d received up to that point.

Three years ago I sat before a panel of three women. Facing off against the director of the adoption department and the lawyer for Children’s Aid, I had to prove I was the best mother for Raine and Athena.

I was intimidated and lacked the resolve of the witnesses who testified on my behalf. I’m certainly not the best mom in the world. My case wasn’t built on that, it rested on the fact that I’d been successfully parenting Raine & Athena for over a year. As far as I could see, that mattered. Another foster family had found the task too difficult and asked for the girls to be removed from their home. I knew the challenges involved in caring for them. Without any illusion, I was willing to sign up forever.

The lawyer for Children’s Aid highlighted my apparently obvious disadvantage in being a single parent without a steady job. My income at that point was entirely from fostering. Even with the newly instituted government subsidy for adopting sibling groups from foster care, my income would remain meager. I listened to all the reasons why Raine and Athena would be better off without me. I remembered the adoption worker’s statement when she informed me that she’d chosen someone else to adopt the girls. “You think the kids care, but they’ll forget you in a week. Once they’re somewhere else with new toys and things, they won’t even remember you.” I hadn’t won Raine and Athena’s affection with things but by steadily proving myself to be safe and trustworthy. I’d created an atmosphere of peace for them by being clear and consistent. Everyday, without knowing what it would hold, I’d been building for the future. I wanted them to be secure and satisfied – not with things – but with heartfelt connections.

In my closing argument I presented not my perfection but my certainty that I want to parent these children. You’d be shocked to know how many adopted children are returned to foster care when families find their challenges more than they can manage. I understand how and why that happens. But I was sure it wouldn’t happen in our case if I were given the chance to adopt Raine and Athena. That sort of commitment has nothing to do with income.

I also appealed to the importance of stability. Athena, not quite 3yrs old, had lived with 4 different families. Gaining her trust had taken a great deal of time and care. The specialists involved with her had seen her with the previous foster parents. They were amazed watching the terrified little girl gradually grow deeply attached to me. The team begged to testify as to the importance of that connection and the possible harm in breaking it.

After three days the hearing concluded. I waited nervously for the response. It came one day when Raine and Athena were at daycare. I was home alone – my older foster children being away at camp. For about 10 minutes I stared at the envelope delivered by courier. I was afraid to open it. The ruling of the review panel was final.

Bracing myself for the decision, I pulled out the official document. My eyes couldn’t read beyond the initial statement that it was in Raine and Athena’s best interest to be adopted by me. I sat down at the dinning room table and wept. The fight had taken all of my strength. I was relieved that none of us would face the heartbreak I’d foreseen.

Hearing the news they would stay with me.

Hearing the news they would stay with me.

We would be a family. I would be an official mom, no longer just a placeholder or temporary care giver. Without pregnancy or the difficulty of labour, I became a mother. Never having gone through that natural process, I make no comparisons. This was our unusual journey. Three years into the adoption, I don’t regret the decision. It’s not always been wonderful. But it has remained unusual. When they’re grown, I trust, it’s a story that will make my daughters proud. I’m not a perfect mom, but I really wanted to be theirs. And I still want to.