Be More like William and Callie

On Thursday we went to court to procure guardianship for Callie. The closer we got to her 18th birthday the more we were dreading it. We’ve been through this process 4 times before and our last time was just 2 years ago so we know the drill. The drill being to expect lots of waiting in places where volume matters, stillness matters, control of behavior matters. All things that Callie wasn’t able to control. That was before medical cannabis(BMC).

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We arrived about 40 minutes early  because we always think the early bird gets to go first. Not necessarily. So Callie and I walked upstairs and all around the courthouse area where we could walk. She’s a speed walker so that took about 10 minutes. We sat back on our bench, Daddy-O was on one and Callie and I on the other.  I ran to the bathroom after our speed walk and when I came back a young man was sitting next to her. He was impeccably dressed in a stylish suit, with a slick new attache case in his lap, polished and groomed from the top of his head to his shined shoes. He chose to sit by Callie. No stranger ever choses to sit by Callie.

Callie immediately engaged him in conversation about her roller coasters and he was all in for conversation. They chatted about roller coasters off and on and we discovered his name was William, he was a brand spanking new lawyer and this would be his first case in court. Don’t know exactly what his case was, but this courtroom is for guardianship, which he was definitely not there for, and probate/estate cases. 

At one point Callie looked him up and down and told him he looked like a magician and William thanked her. We all chatted for probably 15-20 minutes and it was time to enter the courtroom so we parted our ways.

The courtroom was already crowded as we waited as long as possible but there was a place where we could sit with Callie between us. Now the courtroom, in case you’ve been lucky enough to avoid one, is like old day libraries – quiet. Whispery quiet. Callie is not a whispery kinda girl and she is generally only good with her own noise, not anyone else’s. There were also parents there with a daughter who would occasionally make noises. Callie kept looking over, but when we reassured her the girl was okay Callie accepted that. A reminder – never would have happened BMC.

Now I know judges have important jobs. We’d had this judge before. I appreciated how he talked respectfully with the adults who had intellectual disabilities and included them in the conversation. However, this judge made this packed courtroom wait at least 10 minutes before he arrived. That may not seem like much to most people but here’s the thing, most of the parents who were there were tap-dancing and holding their breathe that their adult children’s behavior would stay in check while they waited. He also did not apologize for his lateness and as a real stickler for promptness, I think that’s just rude behavior. Judges should not be above the law, including the law of civility. Ever. 

Six other families went before us and every time we waited for the clerks to call the next name Callie would ask – am I next? Thankfully the actual process took only about 3-5 min. per family. A court visitor had visited every person, generally a physician’s report had been submitted, it’s really just formality and frankly an area our judicial system could streamline. There may be some situations where a court date seems reasonable, but for the vast majority the adults we families are seeking guardianship for, the need is clear and there are more pressing matters which need attention, in my opinion.

When it was finally our turn Callie sat at one table with the county appointed lawyer representing her, someone neither of us had every met, and we sat at our table with our county appointed lawyer, someone we’ve met because she handles all these cases for our county at no cost to us. I don’t know if that’s the case everywhere, but we certainly appreciate it. She answered the judges questions about whether she wanted her mom and dad to continue to help her make decisions  and such with a firm yes. Whew. She held a roller coaster picture, but didn’t attempt to discuss it. Whew. I should probably mention that we had given her a little bump in her MC(medical cannabis) for this occasion.

When we were dismissed we rushed out the door. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to thank William and wish him well on his first case and his future career. Later I mentioned to Daddy-O how cool it was that William chose to sit by Callie and spent the time to talk with Callie. He looked at me, paused, then said, I think William was pretty lucky to have Callie to take his mind off of how nervous he was about his first case. How right he was and how quick I am to worry about whether she’s “bothering” someone or is being inappropriate. However, William clearly found her to be someone worthy of his attention as well as Callie found William worthy of hers.

It did make me smile to imagine that every time William thinks about his first case he will remember Callie with the hot pink ear protectors who love roller coasters. I’m pretty sure William is just the kind of lawyer we need in this world.

She’s 18 and All That

Callie turned 18 last week. Yesterday the court visitor came to deliver legal papers to Callie telling her that we were seeking legal guardianship for her so we could continue to care for her and make decisions for her as we are now. She asked Callie if that was okay. Callie, the AMC (after medical cannabis) version, calmly answered her questions as best she could – it’s Friday, no school on Saturday or Sunday, we’re sitting at the table, in a chair, it’s after school time – basic questions presumably to test her competence.  For those who know her you will be amazed that she held her usual handful of roller coaster pictures and didn’t once – not once did she talk about them. That’s our AMC girl. It’s amazing.

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When we go to court next week she will have her own court assigned lawyer to represent her and it’s a he so that should be super interesting. We should take bets on how long it will take before she asks him for a kiss. I give it about 2 minutes and that might be waaay too long. Although many other behavioral concerns have abated, pursuing kissing is still an issue at school.

We have bumped up her cannabis dosage a bit since we began. We’ve left the nighttime level as is since any sleep issues she’s had have basically waned and oddly enough she is more wakeful during the day. We used to catch her sleeping on the regular in the afternoons after school. Now I’m thinking it’s because she wasn’t sleeping soundly and in spite of sleepiness being a possible side effect of medical cannabis it is not for her.

She does have an increase in appetite – but – we are better able to get her to eat healthier foods now. She was very persistent about eating carbs – chips, cereal, crackers, granola bars etc. Don’t harp on me about – then just don’t have those in your house – because there are 6 other people who live here, one who struggles to put weight on and sometimes, for us,  it’s ok to have those things. Now talking her in to a healthier choice is not a huge battle that we rarely won. Now she’s reasonable and can be cajoled in to eating beans, broccoli or meat first and then having a small bowl of chips.

We also ventured out two places before cannabis I wouldn’t have tried. She wanted to go to a Halloween store. She is generally very specific about what stores she will go to and why she wants to go – either a dollar store or a thrift store for princess books or coloring books . That’s it. We walked around the store and looked at the displays and then I talked her in to taking a brisk walk, all walks are brisk with Callie, around the mall. We bought nothing. It was a pleasant outing – again pleasant outing not generally a descriptor for being out with Callie. Usually more like stressful, exhausting or whew glad we got that out of the way.

Now that she is 18 she is also eligible for leisure activities designed for adults with intellectual disabilities. I signed her up for a pumpkin craft. I knew we might have to bail if someone “annoyed” her with their sounds or she decided she didn’t like the craft, but none of that happened. She did get up and danced to the Halloween music they were playing in the background a time or two which was perfectly acceptable and she was finished before anyone else and she asked one person to kiss her but….overall it was quite the success.

So onward and hopeful we go.

 

 

Callie’s Road

Our girl Callie turns 18 this week. Here’s a short synopsis of where we’ve been and where we’re going with our girl. The road has been long and arduous but now we have renewed hopefulness.

Callie arrived to us via the Texas foster care system. She was 2 yrs. and 9 mos. old. She was a micro-preemie born at 23 weeks and weighed just 1 lb. 6 oz. and spent her first 246 days in NICU. We were told she was abandoned in the hospital and so had no one to visit her or care for her but hospital staff which, we were told, were too busy to hold her or comfort her. Her list of medical issues is vast.

  • Respiratory Depression
  • Acute renal failure
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity
  • PDA – Patent Ductus Arteriosus – surgery to repair
  • Cor Pulmonale – enlargement of right side of heart
  • GERD – Gastoesophageal reflux disease
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage
  • Apnea of prematurity
  • BIH – Bilateral Inguinal hernia – surgery
  • IVH – Intraventricular Hemorrhage or brain bleed Grade III

It’s a frightening list and she also had a G-tube placed in her abdomen for liquid feeds before leaving the hospital.

All this she endured without consistent family by her side. We were told visits happened for awhile at the beginning but tapered off and eventually stopped. There are a million reasons why that could happen but all that matters to me is that Callie survived all that trauma alone and that is not something you ever get over.

Trauma takes it’s toll – forever. It shows itself in a variety of ways. It saddens me that there are many people think those who’ve suffered trauma should “just get over it”. I have no trouble reminding them that this will remain with her forever and you’re lack of patience/understanding will not make it go away. She has huge issues with sound sensitivity. It makes sense to me that with all the hospital sounds – beeping, buzzing, alarms – that bathed over her during those 246 days now cause any sudden sounds to bring her trauma to the forefront. For a long time she had a “fight or flight” response. Thankfully we found that noise canceling headphones and those help a lot with that, but sometimes she simply has sensory overload and can’t stop her response. It’s our job as caregivers to sense that and help her avoid being overloaded. Sometimes it’s possible and sometimes we are blindsided by it. We do our best and try to make sure others who care for her do as well.

During our first years with her we were able to stabilize her health with a progressive team of medical professionals especially a doctor that helped us heal her gut – long before gut health was a thing. Callie got off all her meds, and she came with many. No more asthma or gut issues.

Medically she was stable, but she had many other struggles to overcome. Although she craved human touch, she could barely stand to be held at first. Slowly but surely she tolerated it and eventually she sought out hugs and laps to sit upon. Now she seeks physical touch, maybe not always appropriately, but I remind myself that it is better to teach appropriate touch than to have a child who can’t stand to be touched.

She was neither walking nor talking when she came. Walking was thwarted in her foster home due to being cribbed and car-seated most of the time.  She accomplished it quite quickly once she was freed. Talking on the other hand was another story. She wasn’t just not speaking she wasn’t making a sound – any sound. She didn’t yell, scream, cry, babble, nothing. There was no purpose in sound making as there was no one to respond to her sounds ad thus she had stopped.

Fortunately we found an amazing speech pathologist who worked with her and taught us how to encourage her to make any sound, then specific sounds, words, sentences and she was on her way.  This is not to say that her language and speech skills are at her age level or that everyone can understand her at all times, but she can communicate her needs most of the time. The most difficult language issue we have with her is that she isn’t, thus far, able to answer the “Why?” question. So when she does something harmful to herself for instance if we ask – Why did you cut your lip? – her answer is – Because I cut my lip. For me that is the most difficult part because then we’re playing mind reading games and that’s never accurate.

Over the last 8 years, basically since puberty started, her behaviors have become more severe, less manageable. She has become self-abusive. She cuts her fingers, lips and other body parts with scissors. She bites and picks at her lips and fingers. She has little tolerance for other’s sounds – chewing, coughing etc. She is more insistent, repetitive, aggressive in her requests well demands. Her attention span shortened as well as her patience. She threw herself off of a speeding ride at an amusement park miraculously without severe harm. Terrible road rash, but no broken bones or stitches. It has become unsafe to take her to many places.

She is on three different medications for attention, impulsivity and mood issues. All have helped and some were tried but the side effects weren’t tolerable. They help some, but still her anxiety levels soar and often taking her places seems like a long-shot gamble that could go all kinds of south – and have. I have had to chase her down and lie on top of her to keep her from running in to traffic when the “fight or flight” adrenaline surge hits. Even at home when we have company or our grandchildren over we are on constant vigilance. It is exhausting. For all of us. I am now 63 and don’t think I could catch her anymore if she ran and we just can’t care for her forever and living choices for someone with her needs are limited.

In August our state added Autism to the list of qualifying conditions for the use of Medical Cannabis. Callie just received her official diagnosis of Autism one year ago today. We didn’t need convincing. We’ve read about families who have had great success with their kiddos and frankly we had nothing else to try. Behavioral therapies, sensory diets, gluten-free/dairy-free diets – we’ve tried just about everything. Again, there was some success or improvement with each one but not enough.

We went through the process to register her and last week saw the dispenser. We started her on low dosages Friday night. She slept like a log and has every night since then. Not at all usual for her, but lack of sleep seemed like a minor problem to us amongst all the other concerns.

At school on Monday she had her IEP and only a couple staff members knew and every one who didn’t wanted to know – what was up with Callie today. She was a completely different kid. She was calm and relaxed – words NEVER used to describe our girl. They even had a fire alarm and she calmly left the building before it went off, which is in her plan but she’s never happy or calm about it, and waited it out. They could not believe it.

We were extremely hopeful about it, but it is a far quicker and effective treatment than we could have hoped for. And yes, it is early to jump to the conclusion that this is the silver bullet, the panacea. The thing that makes the world safer for Callie and Callie safer in this world. But hope was elusive before and now feels like there may be cause for it.

Now, perhaps there are those who have strong negative feelings about medical cannabis. That’s fine. We also had a daughter who had severe cerebral palsy – intractable pain – over the last few years of her life. Nothing helped for long and it was excruciating to witness. How I wish we’d had cannabis for her. How much better her life might have been, shortened or not, if she’d been able to live it without constant, constant pain. Unless you have lived through or with the hopelessness you feel as a parent caring for a child who is clearly living a pain-filled life with no relief and no hope for relief either physically or emotionally then perhaps you can’t understand and if you can’t I’d ask you to reserve judgement. We want Callie to live her best life and I was not willing to say no to anything that might help.

If you are on board with the medical use of cannabis I’d ask you to advocate for it to become legal throughout the US because until it is legal we have to pay out of pocket for it , about $200 a month, as it’s not covered by medical insurance like any other medication. We can have her on all the psychotropic drugs we could get for free. That just doesn’t seem right to me, but as tight as our budget gets, like any other parent we will find a way to cover what is necessary for our child’s health and well-being. I also know we have resources other parents may not have and so they can not take advantage of something that might change their child’s life for the better and that is not right.

Now we are days away from her legal adulthood. We have filed for legal guardianship, as we have for 5 others in our family, and will go to Social Security to file for disability and listen to the interviewer ask her a million questions she can’t answer – Do you own land? Have you worked for the railroad? – I mean it’s a ridiculous list of questions for a kid with reams of paperwork that’ll tell you she clearly qualifies. We’re also not allowed to answer for her so…it’ll be a story I’m sure. If they let her start talking about roller coasters, an obsession – we could be there for awhile.

 

 

 

Just Wanna Blend

I was looking for a fabric the other day with lambs on it for a project for my daughter and this was the only one I could find.

Dictionary.com defines Black sheep as:

  1. sheep with black fleece.
  2. person who causes shame or embarrassment because of deviation from the  accepted standards of his or her group.

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In case I haven’t been clear. I’m white and this daughter is African American with dark skin and she has not caused shame or embarrassment in any way shape or form. Ever.

She has a hysterical sense of humor and I held the fabric and thought about the jokes we could make and almost, almost went to the cutting table. I looked at the line and saw two African American women there and put it back. Not out of fear of what they might say or think, but because looking at them reminded me of the message I did not want to give my girl.

Micro-aggressions hit my kids in many various ways. They are in a racial minority, being adopted whether trans-racially or not is a minority and being part of the LGBTQ community is a minority. I catch myself as often as I can but still slip up and say something about how Cousin Jeff is just like Uncle Joe or your friend Sue looks just like her mom. You get the picture. When you are adopted, trans-racially or not there are constant reminders that you are different. It is on me to minimize my contribution to that and I admit that I am still learning, apologizing and correcting myself on the regular.

Yesterday my girl said she came out of school with a new friend whose mom was waiting for her and she said – oh, are you adopted too? Mutual adoption high-fives occurred. Of course I didn’t even have to ask her about their race because obviously their races didn’t match, otherwise there wouldn’t have been immediate recognition. Always happy when those serendipitous acknowledgements of – I’m not alone – occur for my kids.

Over the summer I was out and about with Callie and she draws a lot of attention wherever we go. She wears neon pink sound protectors due to severe sensitivity to sound and walks very quickly, not always aware of obstacles, including people, in her way. She can be loud or ask awkward questions or get into people’s space. She makes an entrance everywhere we go.

I remember thinking on one outing this summer that I would just like to walk around like most everyone else and blend, just blend. Sometimes you just don’t want to stand out like the black sheep on this fabric. Sure sometimes people like to stand out from the crowd – fly your freak flag – be unique – we encourage that in this family, not that we have a choice really, so embracing is generally the best strategy, but sometimes though, you just want to be part of the landscape and just melt into the crowd and rather than being observed by other people be the observer for a change. Let your eyes scan the crowd rather than feeling them all on you.

Senior Pictures

Last weekend we had senior pictures taken of our two graduating girls. They are 9 months apart in age and became sisters when Callie was 2 yrs. 9 mos. and Little Sis was 2 years.

Quick note about the names of my kiddos. I will be using real names mixed with pseudonyms. It may not make sense as people who actually know us will know who I’m talking about but that’s what I’m going to do. I will be using Callie’s real name as I plan to blog about her often. There are reasons as to why that is acceptable to me and reasons as to why I won’t do that with other family members and that’s enough said.

My girls are different in so many ways. Callie has intellectual disabilities, autism, anxiety etc. She had a real difficult start to life as a micro-premie who was essentially abandoned in the hospital. She’s had a really tough time, but she persists like no other. She is truly amazing.

Little Sis was with us at 6 weeks, was cared for well before she came to us which is not to lessen the trauma/abandonment that all adoption may bring, but she is an overcomer like no other. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been an easy road, but she is in an amazing space now and we are so very proud. She is smart, sassy and super secure in who she is.

Taking their pictures was bittersweet for several reasons. Whenever your kid is taking senior pics you just can’t believe that time is here. No matter how many times you’re here and we’ve been here 10 times before, our first was our long term foster son in 1988.  Also bittersweet as the last girl we graduated was our Shannie whose senior pics popped up on my Google “Rediscover this day” – today. She died about 7 months later and senior photos, let’s face it eventually they’re not all that important, but these….these were never more important to me. Especially important is the photo of the three of us – her dad and I. Neither one of us was prepared for a photo but I was never happier to be photographed in my less than perfect glory because it’s the last picture of the three of us that we had taken where she was happy and feeling good.

In homage to their big sister each of my girls wore a special necklace of mine in their dress up outfits picture that Shannon also wore. Little sis who isn’t particularly sentimental also wanted to be sure they took a picture together, holding one of Shannie’s stuffed lambs, sitting in front of Shannie’s apple tree. My heart was full seeing them in that space honoring their sister.

I must also mention that our photographer is a young woman who has taken all our family photos and was also Shannon’s personal care attendant for years. I’m forever grateful for her and her gift of photography which captured our beautiful girl and her smile – the way we want to remember her.

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More than Serialadopter

I have thought and thought about returning to blogging. A couple of the sticklers I wrestled with, still wrestle with, is how to protect the privacy of members of my family and rethinking my own identity. When our Shannon died almost 3 1/2 years ago I changed. I began to change over the year or so before her death as well let’s just say there was a lot of family stuff going on both before her death and since then. Some of it is shareable and some of it is definitely not my story to tell. I want very much to honor that as well as to speak my own truth and I wasn’t sure how I would I do that.

I was also not at all sure I wanted to continue to use the name Serialadopter for a couple reasons perhaps most importantly because my view of adoption in general has evolved. But, the reality is I am a serial adopter. I’ve adopted 9 people and caring for them has been the driving force in my life.

I always know I am second best because the desired scenario for any child or parent is always that they would be born into a family who planned for them, was prepared for them and even if they weren’t either planned or prepared for those parents would have the support needed to be the best parents they could be. Specifically for the majority of our children, all would be born healthy and all parents would be supported in caring for them. Why would we want anything less for the children in this world? I try to be the best second best I can be and I’m ok with knowing that.

That being said my focus will be different than it was previously. When our Shannon was still alive we knew we’d care for her until we simply could not anymore but now we are getting close to having the last of our 5 children reach adulthood. Three who are still at home will need care for the rest of their lives and we are trying to figure that all out and hopefully, eventually, what life after daily caregiving looks like. Right now it’s totally a pipe dream.

I’m also hoping to share specifically about our nearly18 year old daughter who was just officially diagnosed with autism this past year and her/our struggles with mental illness/behavioral issues and what we are trying and have tried. Which, in short, is everything. More on that later.

Again, the past 4 years have changed me in ways I never imagined. Mostly, in spite of the painfulness of it all, for the better. At least I think so.

 

 

 

Someday the Dream might be Realized

Monday was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day and it’s always a day of reflection for me, both because of my personal experience as a young child hearing Dr. King speak, then after waiting in a long line having the opportunity to shake his hand. Mother told me to look him in the eye and never forget and I never have. Who could have imagined then that I would become a white mother raising black children and that we would still be hoping that someday his dream might be realized.

With all the racial events of this past year, especially the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve given a lot of thought to white privilege. As my children become teenagers I often think about their safety in a society where the violence and death of black people does not seem to be as concerning as of those who are white. It’s certainly not a new concept, but frustrating when you grew up in a time where you complacently thought, maybe just hoped, we were past all that. Ignorant and naive because of my white privilege. I wasn’t living it every day as my children are beginning to.

My black children have lived in a white privilege bubble of sorts. Because they have white parents, they weren’t scrutinized as they shopped or made friends or perhaps in school once the color of their parents were known.

As they have grown older and moved away from us, venturing out in to the world alone, that is changing. I often now walk a few steps behind them to see how people view my children. More than once my husband or I have been there to step between them and a store clerk questioning their motives when touching merchandise or merely walking in a store. Our white privilege bubble won’t always be there, and I grieve for the times they will have to verify their right to shop, or simply be wherever they are.

We know that black young men, children really, are viewed as adults at a far younger age than caucasian children. My tall 12 yr. old son is no longer seen as a child. I learned early on to refer to my son as little man, both because historically the word “boy” has been used to denigrate black men’s manhood and because I wanted him to think of himself as a man from early on.

I know I haven’t done the best job preparing them for what is to come, how can I when my mere existence  has shielded them from conversations that might have come about naturally in a black family’s life. They are often annoyed by my desire to have these conversations and I get that too. Who wants to believe there are those who look upon their color with suspicion and fear and oh, how I wish we were much further along in the struggle Dr. King worked to end. To believe that struggle is over is to belie reality and for my children’s sake that is something I can not do.

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