Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Severance

 Today, little one, there was a hearing for your case. I honestly hate writing all those words. I hate that you have a case file, a case plan, a case manager, an attorney, a judge. Don't get me wrong, since you were born substance-exposed to a mother who can't care for you, I'm glad you are safe. I just hate that you weren't born safe and celebrated. 

Your mother hasn't been achieving any of her goals in order to reunify with you. She refuses contact with her DCS case manager, with her attorney. She willfully misses attending court hearings. She was not present today when the judge announced that she was granting the motion to change your case plan from reunification to severance and adoption. 

The judge, the attorneys, the case workers present: this is their job. It's a noble thing, to protect children and help families and I'm grateful they are all doing it. But it was hard to listen to everyone speak and for the mood in the metaphorical room (it was a telephonic hearing, so we didn't see any of them) to be relatively mundane and ho-hum. For them, it was just another day. But not for us. And certainly not for you. 

I am excited to get to be your forever Mama. I love you so much. I feel humbled and honored to be able to know you and love you and guide you and celebrate you for the rest of my life. My heart though, sees another mother losing her son. My heart feels this loss of yours, this separation from her. I cannot celebrate that. I cannot dance joyfully and hold you to my cheek and have pure happiness; that feels wrong. There is no joy without the pain, and there is no pain without the joy, and so we are all wrapped up together with this ribbon of duality. 

We still have a ways to go, sweet one. In a month, there will be an initial severance hearing. No knowing what comes next until we find out whether your mom attends that hearing. If she doesn't, the judge will sever her parental rights right then and there, and your case will move over to the Adoptions unit, and we can pursue your adoption date. We don't know who your biological father is, so the court is posting a 90 day John Doe paternity ad. His rights cannot be severed until that 3 months has elapsed. 

What I do know is that tomorrow and the next day and all the days after that, you'll be here. You always have a home with us; you are one of us already and nothing will ever change that. I know you'll be loved and cared for and safe. That's enough for me, until you can legally become a McGill. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Here We Go Again

 In April, when we finalized J's adoption, our licensing worker asked what we wanted to do about our foster care licenses. I think our mouths hung open in mirrored surprise, as we hadn't even begun to consider *that* yet. We asked the worker to list us as Respite Only for the time being. 

A few months passed. Into the summer we headed, and again our worker checked in. At that point, all three kids were home for much of summer break, and it felt too overwhelming to voluntarily add in another child. We asked to stay on the Respite Only list. 

In August, we did end up providing a few days of respite care for our own worker's 8 week old foster baby. It was very fun to have a baby around, but also felt overwhelming, with J only having just turned 2 and being a bit of a loose cannon. We agreed, we weren't ready for foster babies. But I was also unwilling to simply close our license - my concern was that J was going to end up with a new little sibling coming into the system, and I wanted to make sure to provide a safe place for that baby. 

We celebrated E's 9th birthday at the beginning of September with a family dinner. We didn't know that someone new was on his way. 

A week later, T came home from work and sighed heavily as she asked, "Have you seen the post on the agency group tonight?" My stomach dropped. 

"No..." I responded slowly, as I whipped out my phone to check the post. 

Two newborn babies needed placements. Two newborn babies were headed from the hospital to the DCS offices that night. 

I swallowed hard as I felt cold fingers grip my throat, encircle my lungs. 

"We can't." I croaked. T looked at me with sympathy. 

"It would be too much. We're not there yet." she responded quietly. 

We put the kids to bed, and stretched out together on the couch to watch something. I kept glancing at the post. Watching the 'Viewed By' number grow higher and higher, with no responses on the post. 

I kept thinking about those tiny, vulnerable, innocent newborn babies. Sleeping in cribs in an office, with some poor DCS worker who would rather be home with their own family. I thought about how instantly cherished our two newborns had been, and how these babies didn't have that. All babies should be cherished. 

I touched T's arm. "But... what if we *could* do it?" 

"Hmm?" she paused the show. 

"A baby. I mean, it will be hard, but... isn't it more important that a baby have a safe, loving place to be than the fact that it will be hard for us? When we're placed so perfectly to be able to do it?" 

Her eyes were telling me that she wanted to help the babies, too, but we were both intimidated. We continued to talk ourselves into doing it and then out of doing it again, over and over. It was becoming late. T sighed. She began telling me about reading something that really struck home with her in Glennon Doyle's book, Untamed. She read me the quote.

"Heartbreak delivers your purpose. If you are brave enough to accept that delivery and seek out the people doing that particular world-changing work, you find your people. There is no bond like the bond that is forged among people who are united in the same world-healing work.
Despair says, 'The heartbreak is too overwhelming. I am too sad and too small, and the world is too big. I cannot do it all, so I will do nothing.'
Courage says, 'I will not let the fact that I cannot do everything keep me from doing what I can.'
We all want purpose and connection.
Tell me what breaks your heart, and I'll point you toward both."

That was it. Glennon Doyle helped us see that our hearts and hands could do this work.

Ten pm. We dialed the number for the person doing placements for our agency. She answered, of course. We explained that we were ready to accept placement of one of the newborns. 

Then something unfathomable happened. 

She asked us to PICK A BABY. 

"What? How do we pick a baby? They're both newborns. Just send one our way." we said. 

But she insisted. She called the DCS unit for any more information they had. Privacy laws and respect prohibit me from sharing any details of their cases, but both babies were removed at birth for the same, all too common reason. None of the information she called back with was particularly noteworthy. We ended up choosing the younger infant, because we figured that maybe his symptoms were less severe. The DCS Placements Unit called us to confirm some of our license information and then said they were bringing the baby to us. 

He arrived at 11pm, in all his beautifully perfect soft newborn glory. 

Every time we've received a new foster child, the moment they are handed off into our care is surreal. Sign one document, here you go. Here's a trash bag of their stuff. Bye. It's especially poignant with a newborn coming home from the hospital. 

I had vivid flashbacks to bringing home our two fresh newborns. The amount of anticipation and excitement and fanfare. Grandparents all around, everyone draped over couches and armchairs just to get a glimpse of these tiny new people. It was a drastic contrast to the way baby C came to us in the darkness of night, buckled into a cheap car seat with "DCS" hastily stenciled on its side, and a clear plastic hospital bag of items for him. The man dropping him off carefully unbuckled him from the seat and promptly handed him over to T. He needed to take the car seat back, of course. I signed the Notice to Provider, making him officially our foster placement, and the man gave a wave as he headed back out into the quiet dark, back to the office where yet another baby still waited.  

We looked at each other. We've shared this look many times over the years. The "what have we done" but also "this is exciting and joyful" and also "I feel a bit panic-stricken". Words weren't required in the moment. 










Now, this child is nearly 12 weeks old. A lovely, charming baby whom we all adore. Our days are full. Our hands are full. But our hearts are full, too. 

Social worker visits. Appointments. Specialists. Meetings. Hearings. Parental visitation. Fighting the state's reimbursement system every month. Searching for cans of formula that are affected by a national shortage, unable to utilize our formula benefits. Even among all these things that require our time and efforts, I see and acknowledge our privilege. I now work from home. We make more than enough money and don't have to worry about the financial aspect of losing formula benefits or whether the state is going to reimburse us in a timely fashion.

Every day, I look at your charming, earnest little face and tell you how loved you are. I wish I had answers for you, sweet one. But until there are answers, I swear you'll have our love, and you'll be safe and cherished. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

July 23rd

 











One year ago, we waited. The midsummer’s heat hung heavily in the air, its blanket of humidity a promise of rain to come. The sun was sinking below the tips of the mountains as we stood together in our small front yard, holding hands and watching the street.

One year ago, a white Nissan SUV pulled up in front of our house for the first time and parked on the curb. Two handsome young men gathered a bag of carefully packaged ice creams in containers and lifted a bucket-style carseat out of the vehicle. Our eyes met as they walked up the flat stones that lead to our front porch, where we had a small table for the kids to sit and eat ice cream and chairs for the adults.









One year ago, we saw your face for the first time. With questioning brown eyes and apple cheeks, you watched us crowd around you. There were many introductions made that July evening, as we were all strangers to one another.

Amidst a global pandemic, carrying both the grief and joy that can come from joining families via adoption, our hearts grew.

Last summer, while we got to know you and your uncles, I sometimes wondered if it was going to work. I wondered if I could do it; if I could be your Mama when you had these men already who cherished you so deeply. I’d never parented in this slow, transitionary way and I worried that I would not be able to be enough for you.

Today, we celebrate that we’ve known each other one year. Today, I am a better human and a better mama than I’ve ever been before. Today, you are legally our son and we have two more brothers and one more sister than we did a year ago. We have joined all our lives in this inextricably magical way, and the path forward is clear to me.

Together.

Always together.





Sunday, May 9, 2021

About Mothers

 There's a writer I follow on social media whose work consistently robs me of breath. A month ago, she posted that she was giving a writing workshop the day before Mothers Day, specifically to create a piece of writing about our own mothers. I registered right away. 

Although I have been writing about my mother for years, I was excited about learning from someone whose writing I admire very much. I was also anxious about writing and reading my piece aloud for the group, but I wanted to try. 

I pushed my sewing machine back into the center of my crafting table and made space for the laptop. I closed myself into our little craft studio and locked the door behind me, after warning my kids to please give me this time and space. (Don't worry, T was home, but they love interrupting anything they can!)

In the workshop, we listened to several different poems and pieces written about mothers. We participated in small writing sections, with prompts and purpose, and then we were given thirteen minutes to craft a letter to our mothers. There were some prompts that could be used if desired, but it was designed to be anything we wanted to write. 

I found words pouring forth from my fingertips as they flew across the keyboard. My wife always asks me, "What are you typing so furiously over there?" I guess I got my dad's heavy fingers. 

My mother isn't hard to write about. She's my center. She's my foundation. She's my best friend. But it was interesting to read over my piece after I wrote it, because I felt like I was not fully present during those thirteen minutes. The teacher instructed us to not stop writing. Do not go backwards to correct or review. Don't lift your pencil. Keep going. 

And I did. 

After the time was up, we broke into small groups to read our pieces and give each other feedback. My group, and indeed the majority of the workshop population, was older women than I. I spotted a single man, who did not end up in my group. As I listened to these women read what they'd written about their mothers, I wondered if my piece could possibly stand among these pillars of strength and imperfection. I couldn't even really remember very well what had come out of me, so I was sweating and emotionally on edge from all the pieces I'd been hearing. 

Voice shaking, neck and ears flushed with anxiety, I read. 

"Dear Mom,

I find you always in water. The boiling of a pot, the rushing water in a sink of my children’s dishes. The burble of the coffeemaker and the whistle of my tea kettle. The sound of hot liquid flowing into a ceramic mug. You have always been the ocean, you are it and it is you. Rushing, strong, crashing waves but then receding, lapping at my shores. Constant and unending. The salt of your tears always pulls at my insides, our spirits intertwine and it is impossible to not cry when you cry. Summers in the swimming pool, days of laughter and sunscreen and bowls of fruit. And then you rinse your hair out in the yard, always under the hose.

Water, like you, can change the shape of everything over time. Sometimes the water diverts, and sometimes the water carves its place in the rock. Yielding but also insistent.

Over my adulthood, I’ve watched you continue to grow. I don’t know if I really knew you when I was a child. I knew your bottomless love and selflessness, but I didn’t know you. I made observations about how I knew I wanted to parent my own children, admiring your presence and your commitment to us and noticing even then how you put us first.

Now that I’m a mother myself, we’ve discussed that your selflessness is a problem for you. Prioritizing yourself sometimes seems impossible. I’ve watched you find truths that took you to your knees, but you got back up and kept looking, even though you were hurt. I’ve witnessed you stand taller, refuse to be talked over, become more steadfast in your convictions, and make your voice louder. You are surer of your voice now than I’ve ever known you to be.

You no longer have children in your home to shepherd. Your rescue puppies are gone, and I know you feel sometimes rudderless. This time is yours. Time you never wanted anyway, but here it is and here you are and I have to say, I am incredibly and repeatedly stunned by my pride in you. To see the work and efforts you’ve gone through to plumb the depths of despair and still hook your fingers around a small pocket of purpose is something I didn’t know I’d get to witness you do."

My group was incredibly supportive and sweet of my piece. A couple of women even commented that they thought it ought to be published, which I found to be such a high compliment I barely knew how to express my gratitude. They all told me they hoped I would share it with my mom. One writer commented that if she'd received a letter like that from her daughter, she'd probably do something silly like have it tattooed on her in its entirety. I gave them all my word that my mom would get it. 

This morning, I sent it to her. She's my mom, she's no stranger to my writing or to my love. She loved it, because she loves everything I do. It makes my heart sing to have this relationship with her. 

I felt the gentle presences of those other six women from my group, when I sent my mom the letter. Those other six daughters, all whose mothers have passed on. I was the only one who got to send a letter today. I carry those women, those incredible writers and loving, angry, unresolved, yearning, confused, joyful daughters with me on my shoulders. I hope they felt that they were with me today. 

Mothers and daughters. This is something that transcends us all. Everyone has a mother, at least in the way that every child was brought forth from a womb. That mother may have died, or been forced to give you up, or loved you the rest of her life. But once we become mothers... we are connected to this timeless network. This universal and yet painfully unique experience of mothering. As vast as the sky and as detailed as the shape of our fingernails, we are all one and we are all completely our own. 

To mothers. That deepest and most complex relationship. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

Broken Horses

Not only did we end up with 4 copies of Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile so we could attend a handful of the virtual book tour events, but I also downloaded the audiobook because she recorded 30 songs to include in it. We listened to it during a quick getaway to Flagstaff this weekend.


I was struck, as I often am, with how powerful it is to find myself in someone else's stories; to see myself reflected in someone else's song.  It reminds me of the power of marginalization. The power of making people feel "other." The microaggressions that on the own are inconsequential, but build up to such a heavy weight over time. It happens so slowly that you don't notice until you reach the breaking point and become "that angry lesbian" making mountains out molehills.  Or, like this weekend, you are caught unprepared by seeing yourself so clearly reflected back in someone else's experience, that you are able to set down the weight and know that you are not alone, you are part of a community. They weight is lifted, the isolation is broken, if only for a moment.

Brandi Carlile has provided me with moments like this for so long. I remember in 2008, as I was trying to get the courage to propose, I came across a video they recorded during their UK tour that included a cover of "I've Just Seen a Face." Hearing a woman sing those words changed the song forever. Sorry Paul, it is now a Brandi Carlile song. 

I've just seen a face
I can't forget the time or place
Where we just met
 
She's just the girl for me
And I want all the world to see
We've met, mm-mm-mm-m'mm-mm
 
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgBpgOZr6-Q, start at 2:25)

 
Moments like this have taught me how much representation matters.  How much we look to the outside world for acceptance and value. I fight against this, I don't owe anyone conformity. So the excitement and comfort that come with each of these moments of community are tinged with guilt and self doubt.  

Being a parent is hard. A and I often appreciate that the lack of gender roles in our marriage takes away a layer of expectations, especially around parenting. However, being a queer parent can be incredibly isolating. To be reminded we weren't alone in our struggles to carve out our little corner in such a herteronormative space was very impactful. 
 
I am eternally grateful for the wonderful community we found in our birth center. I became a member of the community advisory board and we are now friends with the amazing nurses and midwives who helped E and C come into this world.  However, we were always "other." It was challenging to set aside the protective, defensive shell and see the families and medical providers in the group as our new community when our experiences were so fundamentally different. 
 
As we've connected with other LGBTQ families, it often feels like coming home. There is an ease, an unspoken understanding. This doesn't mean I don't value all of these other relationships, because of course I do. Rather, it reminds me of the value of things like our Rainbow Families group that met monthly before the pandemic. It makes me excited for the day we feel comfortable meeting in-person with the other queer families in our foster care agency. It makes me incredibly grateful for our new family that we adopted along with J.

 I have three children. One birth certificate lists me as "mother," another as "father," and the third should arrive in the coming weeks with me listed as "parent." A isn't even on E's. I often make a joke about this, but that is just to cover up the fact that it hurts. We were quoted $2000 from our lawyer to adopt E & C during J's adoption so we would both be listed on all of them as "parent," and not have to worry about the state recognizing our rights if something happen to one of us.  If we waited it would be $4000 to do it in a separate hearing.

No.  I'm not going to spend thousands of dollars for something that we shouldn't even have to do.  To prove the legitimacy of our family. To tarnish the exciting addition of J to our family with the acknowledgment of the state's bigotry. Let's save that for another day.

The pain and guilt of this has been weighing on me lately. For a moment, while we drove down a mountain with such majestic views that you can't help but feel small, I heard another mother talk about how their family began with lawyers and awkward classes.  How she dealt with the internalized homophobia that convinces you that you don't belong in these spaces, you aren't really a mother. How she also surrounds herself with family, both biological and chosen, as a cloak of protection from these hurts, both big and small. I wiped away a tear and drove back to the real world, where these things fade into the noise of everyday and the weight finds it's well-worn spot on my shoulders.

 

To my family, my protectors: Thank you

I'm beginning to feel the years,
But I'm going to be okay,
As long as you're beside me along the way.
Gonna make it through the night,
and into morning light.


 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

This Is The Start of Our Sweet Little Story

 After the birth of our first two children, I loved writing out their birth stories. When I was doing the birthing, I cherished hearing the memories of all the other strong women in the room. I loved knowing what all was happening while I was focused inward. I chronicled those experiences, for myself and for Mom and for E and C to read for themselves one day. This one is for you, my youngest son.

Your story began on an unusually cool day in August of 2019. It only reached 99 degrees Fahrenheit, in a month where every day easily surpasses triple digits. It’s not surprising to me that, as a lovely little morning creature, you were already hard at the work of being born as the day dawned bright. In my imagination, I can see your mother breathing deeply and concentrating as she pushed you out to greet the day. You were born in a little bathroom only two miles northwest of our home, and I didn’t even know that someone momentous was breathing his first breath of the sweet, humid air that’s found in every place life blooms.

If I close my eyes, I can hear the cicadas sing and smell the creosote hanging in the summer breeze. Zinnias grew in our garden that August, and we had a yellow-bellied Siskin finch visit often who loved to eat the aphids that gathered under the leaves. Maybe we’ll grow zinnias again this summer, so you can see what the garden looked like during your birth.












I regret that I cannot account for every moment of those early days and weeks for you. I do know that you were loved. You had people who couldn’t wait to meet you, to hold you and look upon your small crinkled face. I’ve seen pictures of you as a little babe – even then, you were a skeptic of this bright new world. Your first mother and father loved you. They loved you as best they could. But you also were loved by your grandmother, your grandfather and step-grandmother. Your aunt, and your incredible uncles. 

We are so grateful that we get to know your uncles and aunt, and that you will have them in your life forever. We are thankful for the opportunity to maintain your connections to your birth family. It is our hope that one day you can reconnect to your first mother and father, to know them and to have them know you. 
































Your uncle B took you home with him in September, when your parents could no longer care for you safely. He and uncle A set aside everything to love you and raise you. I know from their stories that it was a year of duality. Utter joy at your small presence, while pushing the limits of pure exhaustion. They rejoiced in your growth, in your sharp intelligence and your easy laugh. You lived a life of love and cuddles and safety with them, but all the while your case, your future, was in limbo. Surviving in times of unknown answers and unending timetables is an incredibly stressful thing. Your uncles are two of the strongest people I’ve ever known. After many tears and long nights of discussion, they decided to see if they could find an adoptive family for you who would let them still be your uncles.










Meanwhile, we were pursuing our foster care license. We had one class left to complete, plus our home safety inspection before we could submit our application to the state. I received a text message one day from the worker doing our training classes, asking if she could call me later. I answered that of course she could and wondered why she wanted to talk. My brain offered up, “Maybe she’s got a baby for us…” and then instantly I laughed at myself because that was ludicrous. We weren’t even licensed. Later that afternoon, she called and wove a tale of two young men who were hoping to find the perfect family for their 11 month old nephew, a family who would accept them as a couple and also as uncles who wanted to remain in his life. It was all I could do to clench my lips shut long enough for her to finish the story because I wanted to shout, “YES! Yes yes yes!” to these young men and to this little boy who I had yet to meet. 

I wanted them all. Somehow, they already lived in my heart. 










In the waning golden sunlight of a July evening last year, the four of us waited with bated breath in our front yard to meet you. We had seen pictures of you, and we had done a video call with you and your uncles. But on this warm summer evening, I felt deep in the pit of my stomach that I was about to meet one of my children. It was surreal to think that I didn’t know you at all. I didn’t know what made you smile, what helped you feel safe, how you went to sleep easiest, or what your favorite food was. I suppose none of us know any of those things when babies are born into our families anyway. The uncles came bearing ice cream for all of us and carrying you in your car seat. For the first time in their lives, E and C abandoned their ice creams in favor of sitting in front of your car seat on the ground to smile at you and touch your wiggling toes. E brought out books and read to you, while C carefully examined your fingers and your nose and kept kissing your head. It wasn’t long before the kids dragged the uncles into our home to show them around. You demanded to be put down in C’s bedroom to investigate his cars and trucks and bookcase. I took a photo of the 3 of you for the first time, your heads bent closely together. It was then that I noticed your hair is nearly the exact same shade of brown as your siblings.






















After that first meeting, we planned family dinner nights. We got to celebrate your first birthday together, and Mom and Uncle A baked and decorated your cake. 

































We started to have you over by yourself for a few hours at a time. Our license was approved in late August, and we started having you for overnights the very next night. We were building many relationships. 

It is an experience unlike any I’ve had, to commit our lives to two adult strangers and a baby before we knew each other. We have all grown so close in such a short span of time. You were placed with us officially at the beginning of October, and that started the countdown clock to your adoption.

Now, as spring blooms and brings with it the Mexican gold poppies and orange globemallow, the last grain of sand in this hourglass has fallen into the base. Our time as your foster family has come to a close, little one.

 Today is Adoption Day. Today you are legally a McGill, a third child, second son, and fifth family member. You are cherished. Always.

This is the start of our sweet little story;
the part where your page meets ours.
No matter where the tale takes us tomorrow,
the story will always be of love.



Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Sleep Tight, My Love

 My littlest one. 

Somehow, it's already been six months since we met you. We've had the privilege of being part of your life for six of your 17 months on this earth. I find this... wondrous, and also, if I'm really being truthful, slightly sad. Sad in the most selfish possible way. I'm sad I didn't know you sooner. I feel greedy to admit this, but it's how I feel. I accept that I don't get to have memories of your earliest days. I am grateful to have the memories of you that I do get. 

Realizing that half a year has passed already since we met you has really set me back on my heels. So much has happened in six months, and I worry that I might miss something. I want to memorize you as best I can. 

I just laid you down for a nap before sitting down to write. You were so tired. I'd forgotten how much I love the napping ages. It's a moment of such peace and stillness, that instant that your body somehow burrows into itself, your weight deepens into my arms and my breast. You breathe a deeper breath and huff out a tired, sleepy sigh. I love that you let me rock and sing you to sleep. Thank you for indulging me. I know you are fully capable of falling asleep by yourself. That same selfish part of me wants these moments with you. 

At 17 months old, you are a mischievous grinning dust devil. Always busy, always moving, always watching everything so closely that you can go back later to investigate properly. I think if you could speak full sentences, you would sing out, "No time for cuddles, Mama! Things to do!" And I laugh and smile and clap my hands to watch your achievements. So when you're ready to go to sleep, I crave those small quiet minutes when you want to gently rub your owl friend's soft wing rhythmically back and forth on your cheek as you lay your head on my chest. I sing softly and quietly, knowing the reverberations of the song will vibrate their way from my lungs and ribs into your growing body as sleep takes you. 

Goodnight, baby. 
Sleep tight, my love.

I've sung these Tom Petty lyrics thousands of times, to each child in this family. I love to sing them to you. I love that you are a child in this family.

We've been listening to the song, "Carried Me with You" by Brandi Carlile from the Pixar movie "Onward" a lot lately. It often puts you in the forefront of my mind. Maybe I'll learn all the words and it can become a lullaby, too. 

If you bear a heavy load
I'll be your wheels, I'll be the road
I'll see us through the thick and thin
For love and loss until the end

Just know, darling boy, that you'll never bear a heavy load alone. You've got a lot of people who are walking beside you. 

Love always,

Mama