What A Difference A Year Makes!

In my world, this past year has been filled with major changes and accomplishments.  While my late discovery has often felt like the worst thing that could have ever happened to me, it has also proved to be quite the rebirth. Like a nudge to move forward, a poke, or even a kick in the pants- I’ve been guided to new directions.  Like a birth, it has been bloody and painful!  Sometimes it’s been a quiet voice, no go this way, other times a freight train dragging me along the right track. Whether one calls it luck, serendipity, or God’s plan; I’ve been blessed and I appreciate it all, the good, the bad, the great, the sad.  Possibly, this folab blog needs to be changed to rebirth on a roller-coaster?

One year ago:

The book I had been working on felt like it was becoming out of reach and I considered the fact it may not get published.  At least not the way I had hoped and planned.  The publisher, Daniel & Daniel, moved Late Discoveries, my baby, my blood sweat and tears (overly dramatic?) under the Fithian Press umbrella. Which was something they could legally do according to the fine print, and in hindsight has been no issue.  Next problem- the book cover design; horrible southwestern art with colors of the earth and cacti. Sounds like a beautiful landscape vision, but no… it was not, and I don’t even like the desert.  After a few other changes, and then the design, I was ready to pull the plug.

An added rub; I wasn’t completely happy in my volunteer positions, not enough here and too much there.  Things fit and then they didn’t, blisters of confusion grew.  Did I need to resign from one group and do more in another?  Was there too much “adoption” in my life?  Who really had my back?  Overall, feeling like you don’t fit in, well it’s the worst!  Enough said!

My girls, daughter Ashleigh and wife Teri, had two little foster kiddos last year.  I don’t think I’ve ever known them to be so sick, so often, and well, vomitous.  New word; meaning to vomit a lot, having vomiting occur in your home often.  To say the placement was a challenge, for many reasons, is a gross understatement.  To be the mom, only helping on occasion because of our distance, killed me!  So, of course I advised too much, and offered, “If it were me…” suggestions, and well… it was just damn hard!  With many CPS problems, hurting babies, challenging parents and caseworker- it was a miracle that all thrived.  Emerging from the chaos, two amazing women who took on challenges that most adults will not go near, my girls. Such incredible young foster moms, who didn’t give up.

And finally, Hayden,  he was graduating from ASU, getting his degree in Film and Media Production.  His future a bright Los Angeles blank slate, or maybe a NYC crowded-life-slate… either way, it was open. Wide open to hopes of a job in production on a series, or if need be- a job in production of cocktails, aka bar tender, while waiting.  With a great resume of film and photo, he was prepared.  He was open to whatever…  I was open to worrying about all of it.  He had the world at his feet, but also his feet (and the rest of him) vulnerable to the world.  As I’m sure all the parents of adult kids will agree, we worry as much now as we did when they graduated from kindergarten.

I’m omitting the details of my husband, Mike for many mortgage related reasons.  Plus, he’s not even adopted, who’d be interested to hear about his changes? Lol… Actually he’s the cheerleader behind all of us.

In comes 2012! BANG!

My girls said goodbye to their kiddos as they returned home to their mother.  At the same time, after many attempts they announced that Teri is pregnant!  Much to our delight, our granddaughter will be coming into the world in late August.

In addition, they started a company, One Little Starfish.  They design, hand craft, and sell amazing things.  This organization was created to support best practices for adopted/fostered children by granting companies who promote ethics in adoption and foster care.  

They have a unique STAR which has been added to necklaces, pins, key chains, ornaments, and bookmarks.


Hayden
 achieved working in production for the ABC series, “Cougar Town”, and then the show ended early.  Blessing in disguise, for sure!  From Culver City, CA back to Arizona with work on reality TV, the “Ice Loves Coco” show, in between.  My Documentary Filmmaker-at-heart is now a Mortgage Banker, licensed in eight states and federally, and rocking the mortgage world.  My words, not his of course.  Whatever he does, whatever he “produces,” be it movies or loans, maybe a family in the future, my goal is his happiness.  The same is true for my girls.  Just want happy campers!  I did so much for too long that wasn’t for my happiness, so my kids hear it… all the time.

And for me, my book, Late Discoveries is out, being bought up in stores, online, and electronically.  It has lovely cover art taken/edited by my son, Hayden. Whew!  However, the biggest accomplishment has been interacting with other LDA’s, adopted kids and adults, mothers who lost their children to adoption (much like mine did), and learning from each and every one. While I hope my book helps someone, I must say,  I’ve been helped beyond belief.  (Pictured with me are clockwise from the top left corner; Mary, Lin, Kathy, and below me is Sue, Colleen and Martha.) I am looking forward to new adventures and branching out to help fostered/adopted youth learn and grow from their experiences.  This is where “openness”  is leading me, back to foster kids, but in a different way this time.  My program (in the works) I’m calling, Letters To Heal, is part art therapy, interactive workshop, and a new way of working through the complex issues of being fostered/adopted, and all while trying to be a kid.

What I’ve learned this year more than anything else; you get back so much when you give.  Life is a “one day at a time” event, a process where we are given all we need once we are open to it.  Be sure to visit my new blog over at Blogher where I was chosen as a spotlight blogger.  Often times, its not what we wanted but what we needed, in order to grow and to learn.  We are, after all, continually fine tuning ourselves to be the happiest most productive people we can be.  What a difference a year makes, and I can only imagine what a difference a granddaughter will make!  I can hardly wait!

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I’m WINNING!

She’s still here; I still hear her voice in my head.  She’s with me sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.  It’s like the mother/daughter marriage that does not end with, “Until death do us part.”

Hayden

Hayden M. Bennett, graduate

When Hayden graduated from ASU, “Go get’em Hayden,” my mother’s voice merrily skipped through my mind.  She really loved him, and hoped to see him graduate.

Her ultimate goal was to see my kids get married, but that wasn’t meant to be.

At times I’m chased by her words  or advice, like an anvil falling on me; I feel flat as Wile E. Coyote.  She spent significant time spreading thick layers of doubt about what I couldn’t be, how I should look, and how early I should wake in the morning.   It was clear she wanted me to be like her, and I could not have been more opposite as a child or an adult.  I always thought there was something wrong with me.

However, rounding out the memories of Mother is the clear message she gave to me within a dream over a year ago.  It was like a precious gift.   She was the very best version of herself, happy and carefree with her mom and gramps by her side.  That would be her ideal eternity.

In my dream she wasn’t angry or rude in any way.  No signs of controlling things or being passive aggressive. All the bad behaviors must have been left here on earth.  Maybe in her belongings encircling a ring, or folded into a pocket-book.  She was as clear and warm as Arizona in early June.  I’m not gonna lie, the dream was the turning point for me.  Whether it was created in my mind, sent from my mother, or God – it was the single most important moment for me since my mother passed away.

It’s been over two years that she’s been gone.  Some may feel like that’s a lot of time passed and others who have lost a loved one believe it’s still early in the healing process.  I can say that remnants remain from years of my mother plastering me with negativity and doubt.  I recognize what she did (and why), but still there are times where I roll along like an unbalanced wheel on my car.  I go through the motions with an odd jiggle or shimmy.  Usually, it’s only a big issue when I try to go too fast.  If I’m taking things slow, there’s a tiny shift, slight bump in the road (so to speak) on occasion – that’s it.  But it’s there.

Now is the time I find it necessary to proclaim to the world that I am WINNING.

I'M STILL WINNING!

No, not like Charlie Sheen,

I’M WINNING!!! GIVE ME MY TIGER BLOOD…

(bleh)

Rather more like a qualifying round for the LDA Survival Trials at the next Olympics.  My parents did what they did, for whatever reason… right?  Right.  My mother treated me many different ways for a host of reasons, and it’s in the past, Right?  Right.

I’m thankful for all I learned, the things I understand better, and knowing I am still somewhat unbalanced.  I own my jiggle or shimmy.  And that’s okay.  It has all shaped me.  Yeah, it would have been a bit simpler to start out with a better shape, but… what can I say?  Only, onward and that’s winning.

It is difficult to hold dear only certain things, the good things about my mom.  I can report that I try recalling only the best, as  I am never without my “Rosy’s.”  (You know… my favorite glasses.)  Even if I have to put mom away for a while, aka out of my head, I choose to be happy.

This HAPPEIGH reminder hangs in my office.

Do I feel different about family now?  YOU BET.   It is uber-complicated to explain?  I didn’t think so initially, but alas… it is.  To the non adopted crowd, please don’t react coldly to what is an emotional issue.  Really, for any circumstance, not just adoption.  Take a moment and think what it feels like to be in an adoptees shoes.  Or a mother who lost a child to adoption, what difficulty she must have moving forward.   Do I want to know things, like who my dad is?  YEP, SURE DO.   And finally, the big question:  Why can’t I be happy with the family I knew and focus on that?  Well, because you can’t be lied to for 43 years about who you are and your beginning and not be affected.   Whether you’re unbalanced, off the charts pissed, accepting, or have “those” days lying down with a tear soaked pillow, being a late discovery adoptee is being twisted at your core.  Think wet towel… rotate it in opposite directions until all the moisture has dripped off.  And then freeze that center twisted part.  Now your twisted core remains that way and you move forward with the uncomfortableness inside.  That’s how it feels.  At least how I describe it.

I believe many of us grab hold of the things that are near and dear in order to survive.  For me, faith is the core and I hold on to what I’ve been given.

What's your life saving ring?

In addition to Mike, my white knuckle grip is on my kids.  They are my only blood relatives, and while I know family means all sorts of things to many and comes in all forms, my two kids are golden.  It means something to me that I have this special connection to them, in addition and over and above the rest of my non blood family.  They will never be strangers who blow me off, they will fight to understand and care for me, no matter what.  What I have with them is priceless.

Not to mention my kids are incredible adults!  Take a second to read, you’ll see what I mean.

Ashleigh, Teri, Little A, and her Sweet Baby Brother are a family, for now.  And while this foursome is in place, I know in my heart that Ashleigh (and Teri) do their absolute best for the kids and love them totally.   Ash and Teri have created a very special foster home.  They both spend a significant time planning what would be best for two of “Gods greatest gifts.”  From trying to get pics of the kids parents for the fridge, to services that both little ones need.

I often hear from people whose view-point is that CPS isn’t fair to parents and that children should be kept at home and the family supported.  They feel the money used to support the child in foster care would be better served supporting the family.  To which I say, every circumstance is different and the best thing we could do is advocate for the best child protective service program in every state.   We have a VERY long way to go!  I think the parents who get the shaft is far more infrequent that the hundreds of children who are subjected to a different kind of abuse by CPS.  Whether it’s due to lack of quality case managers, or social workers who simply see this as their first job, or the issue of funding an acceptable number of case managers… they mostly do a disservice to the group of people they are supposed to serve.  Just because a child is now safe does not mean they don’t need anything else.

I can promise that my daughter and I are advocates for one reason, the child who finds themselves in care and become wards of the state.  We’ve both advocated for swifter returns home, when it’s appropriate.  It all comes down to what is in the child’s best interest.  Please, feel free to pose any questions or share your comments and continue this discussion.  Maybe there are things I can learn from you, and you may be able to gain insight from me or Ashleigh.

And next up is Hayden.  Have you ever known anyone to own a dream, one they will never give up?  I really haven’t, until Hayden.  Not only is he smart, committed to his dream, he’s an amazing person who’s filled with a great sense of humor.

He graduated Cum Laud with a Film degree from ASU, Herberger Theater of Fine Arts.  He studied film and media production and made many shorts, music videos, and his final documentary short project, denied.  Along the way he has taken incredible photos and even shot the cover art for my book.  Check out videos, http://www.vimeo.com/user2728819/videos or the rest including photos at, http://www.krop.com/hbennett/portfolio/59507/#/

Hayden loves the entertainment industry and has an understanding of the future in entertainment and what’s possible, where things are going, and how it can change people’s lives.  I’ve met some co-workers and teachers, and they all say the same thing, “He’s going to make a difference in this industry one day.”

I love my family, but I am unconditionally bonded to the greatest treasure in life:  M.A.S.H. (Mike, Ashleigh, Susan, Hayden)  The treasure began with Mike after high school, and then in 1986, and the last addition joined in 1989.  Over the past 25 years I can honestly say that God created something unique in us as a unit.  No matter what the four of us do over the rest of our lives, the blessing of M.A.S.H. will go un-paralleled.   I know my kids have already made a difference in people’s lives, and the best is yet to come.

The MASH unit from a few years ago.

Life’s a process, and the processes in my family are swirling around these days with so much hope and optimism. 

Mike is our rock, our core, a great husband and father who’s career has been… well like this:

For me, I’m a mom, a wife, a friend, a fellow late discovery adoptee and FOLAB, an advocate, and soon to be a published author.  For my kids in their lives and their life’s work, it’s a time of change and sometimes chaos.  Doing your best and letting your actions show what you stand for is not easy and sometimes messy.  It’s called “hard work” for a reason.  They don’t call it, “Whiny baby easy stuff.”  You know?

Having the best possible understanding of my beginnings has increased this special bond with Ashleigh and Hayden.    If I didn’t know the wrong things; the detrimental behaviors, and dream flattening hold from my mother – I couldn’t be who I am today, for me or them.

As Glinda the Good Witch explained to Dorothy, “You always had the power.”  Sometimes it takes a big event in one’s life to see what or who was keeping us from our power.

It's all about fine tuning it!

What’s the Big Deal?

At support group meetings, out of town conferences, and blogs here and there I hear about people who claim to be, “Adoption Abolitionist.”  To which I shake my head with a combined eye roll.  There are even buttons promoting such.  If one is handed to me, or put into something that is given away, it promptly makes it to the round receptacle in the corner.   In one instance, I found several left for others where I was getting ready to do a workshop.  My space, my choice to be free of this ridiculous button;  zzzing, click, clack – clunk, and into the garbage it goes .

I would however, like to ask an Abolitionist, “Why would you want to deny an innocent child, who was abused (or at the very least neglected) by their parent(s) the ability of being adopted?  Do you want every single foster child to remain a ward of the state until they are 18 and have their formative years defined by being a foster child?”  Adult fosterees claim that to be a new level of hell.

What is wrong with a foster child being adopted by a loving capable person(s) who wants to love them, give them a family, help them to grow up to be the best individual they can be in this world?  Which by the way, whether adopted or not, they will grow to be part of societies future.  Not to imply that all adopted foster kids get the perfect family, just as all adoptees do not get the best adoptive family.

Many adult adoptees feel they are continually hurt by some part of their adoption or childhood, and cannot move away from the hurt.  Whether they are not able to deal with the broken bond and realize that is the core of everything, or continually struggle with birth and adoptive family issues, it’s a substantial ongoing battle.  Now add to that, being abused (and all the forms that one singular word can take) as a child, and then eventually the understanding that your parent allowed their rights to be severed from you.  Isn’t that hard enough, isn’t that enough to deal with?  No, the “Abolitionist” wants that child to remain a ward of the state (whether they are two or twelve) and some how grow up to be a descent person.   Clearly this was not thought through.

As someone who has been extensively involved in the foster care system, I can attest that most parents are given AMPLE chances and support in which they can keep their rights and have their child returned.  I often grimace when I hear the name of the agency, Child Protective Services.  Most often, especially at the beginning of a placement, the agency could easily be named, Birthmother Protective Services.  They are provided so many services, along with a parent aide which is in place to help the mother succeed in having her child(ren) returned home.

*Side note, I have to comment that the number one reason I have seen parents fail, and horribly so, is when they are addicted to drugs and their parenthood status is blown to bits like an exploding meth lab.  Not by the state, by their own addicted hands.  I have no clue what that is like, to be able to forget your children and be all consumed by the meth-life blood drug.

I could not do foster care today.  I am not the same person; Mommy Sue is long gone!  I’m a FOLAB, who also found out I was in foster care as a stopping point on the way to adoption.  (As many newborns experience when a private adoption is not planned.)  Mommy Sue never had an infant who was “stopping by,” but even if I did – I wouldn’t see the child in the same way.  My eyes have been opened to the passing of children from one place to another, whether it’s an infant who will be adopted or a child “protected” by CPS and placed in to the foster care system.   I see so many problems in adoption and foster care that it has caused me to misplace my rose colored glasses.  It was in this depressed state that I longed to find my boot straps; only to be guided towards them with the clue ~ “They are probably near your rose colored glasses,” Ashleigh texted the other day.   Ahh, such insight!

It turns me inside out when those I’ve called, “friend” or “family” turn a cold shoulder, blind eye, or callously comment, “Yup, the system still sucks,” followed by a foolish rhetorical question, “What’s the big deal?” It is soo not rhetorical to me.  We are talking about a child, societies children – WAKE UP!

If we (in the adoption realm) believe in “The Primal Wound,” and others who understand loss, and the damage of separation, do we figure that a child is mortally damaged and therefore it doesn’t matter if we continue to inflict pain?  Foster kids who are removed from abusive or neglectful homes should not continually be damaged by those charged to protect them.  Once they are removed from danger, is it okay to move them again and again? Or place them somewhere inappropriate?

CHECK.  Placed child in temporary home. neeext.

Mrs. Clark needs the kids moved asap, they are picked up and driven to the only home who answered the phone in that hour of crisis. CHECK.

When some are in a good, appropriate foster home – is it okay to torture them with excessive visits and time in a car? (Without any knowledge of why they are in care and the case plan?)

Today, my daughter who is brave enough to do foster care these days, called with an update on her foster children.  Last night she and Teri (her spouse)

Ashleigh & Teri McGill

waited for the kids to be returned home after a visit with their mother.   They were late, long past the designated time, which was excessive to begin with, and resulted in a very late bedtime routine.

The children are driven three days in the week to visits with each birth parent who gets four hours of visit time.  And, when you take into consideration visits take place 75 minutes away, (with driving time) a typical visit day means they also have a two and one half hour drive in conjunction with a two or four-hour visit. Which equals between four and a half hours up to seven SEVEN and half hours.  Oh, and there’s also the time it takes to pick up another sibling who is at a different home.  Make sense?  No, because it makes sense to no one!

Birth mom and dad want visits differently during the week, and apart.  (They are no longer together.)  So the children spend a horrible amount of time in a car with two different parent aides;  who do not have the kids’ best interest in mind, they are parent aides and advocate for the parent(s).  Not sure why the neglectors get special treatment and the children are delivered for a visit nearest them without their own advocate.  

It should be deeply disturbing to all who read this that these innocent children are treated this way; it is bad enough they were not loved and cared for by their parents!  Now they are a task or a check mark for caseworkers, aides, and supervisors; just part of their job. (One that they are doing poorly, if you ask me. Certainly no one can see the big picture, at least I would hope not.)

I am still in strong support for a name change to what it really is; Birthparent Protective Services.  Hey if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… I’m saying it’s a duck.  The offices who employ those who do their job and do what is in the best interest of the child can keep their CPS designation, would be my rule if I were the boss.

The children were placed for a month where it was easiest.  This home did nothing; basically they suffered a bit less.  But it was best for the parents, so that’s what CPS chose, a relative.  The placement fell apart, thankfully, and for a couple of weeks now the kids are in a safe, nurturing, and loving home.  Yet, their hands are tied by poor communication and decisions made that are not in the child’s best interest.

Granted, they are not being abused or neglected by this long drive I have issues with, or by the visits themselves (at least one would hope.)  So there’s a little diaper rash, inconsistent care, and lack of stability – they are safe now.  Call it good, someone suggested to me. 

Oh, it’s anything but…

A little girl comes rushing in the door, greeted by a friendly face-kissing dog and her enthusiastic foster mom. 

Ashleigh, anxiously reading her face says, “Hi, ‘A’ I’m so happy to see you, what do you have there?” Pointing to a new toy from Mom, “Ooh you have a ‘item’ that is so cute.” 

Little ‘A’ smiles briefly, seems happy to see her foster moms and the “face-kisser,” giving him a pat and a hug.

The Sweet Baby Boy – “SBB” in the family is brought in, and welcomed and loved as well.  And it is way past bed time, but thankfully they did get dinner, so it’s on to the bed time routine, about two hours delayed.

One of “A’s” favorite things is helping; she loves to help with her “SBB” and pick out the little six month-old jammies, etc.  But, not tonight.  After the smile that greeted the dog and her foster moms, it went away, very far away.  Doing simple things, fun things she loves, and all eye contact…gone! At least for the night.  In addition to her not feeling well (they all have a cold) she has the lost-stare.

Ashleigh holds her and rocks her, as she’s not able to see her books (or even Ash) past the lost-stare.  Ash holds her like a baby, which “A” seems to crave, giving her all the love and compassion she can release through her arms and body.

“I know it has to be so hard ‘A’,” Ashleigh says, “I want you to know, your mom loves you very much and it has to be hard to leave her.  Teri and I love you, too and we are here for you.  It must be so confusing, sweetie.” 

Little ‘A’ keeping her head hidden to her chest starts to tremble.  Keeping very quiet, she sobs letting her broken heart show ever so slightly.  (Why she is broken, and how she is feeling… one can only guess.)

Through tear-filled eyes, “Oh ‘A’ – I love you, I’m here and you’re going to be okay,” Ashleigh reassured ‘A’ and herself.

While Teri is getting “SBB” into bed, his flat affect speaks volumes.  This baby doll also blinks his lost-eyes while love is poured onto him.

They all welcomed their routine this morning, which will last until the weekend when it starts all over again.  Hopefully the smiles continue to return after the visits and long drives.  Ashleigh and Teri will do all they can, they will support and love “A” and “SBB” as long as they can, as much as they can, and will keep attempting communication with CPS.  They are “Foster Care” – and whether the kiddo’s are returned home or adopted, they will be loved. 

That’s the big deal, there are those who do it right, and we should all support them in whatever way we can.

Ash with our first AZ bundle-o-joy, this may have started it all!

Oh okay, there’s the old boot straps… happy to have found them. And my glasses are firmly in place, returned for my rose-colored viewing pleasure. Thank God!

Pull my finger

Up ahead in a dark tunnel I see dancing golden flicks of light.  As I get closer I can see candles, quite a few.  They’re on a beautiful big cake.

I’m on a straight-away now and going a bit slower.  I lean up as I pass and read, “Happy Birthday!”  It’s my beautiful red head, Foster K and she’s sitting right in front of the cake.  Her sky-blue bright-spirited eyes shoot right through the dark.

“Happy Birthday, Hon – Wow… Fourteen, right?” I ask her.

“Yeah… finally,” she chuckles, just before taking a deep breath, blowing out the candles.

I am turned, watching the scene as it gets smaller behind me.  The tunnel is filled with a sweet birthday-candle smoky haze.

“Hey Sue… Love you!” She shouts at me.

Oh… wow…

I turn and sit forward, unable to speak.  Suddenly I am thrust through double doors that take me out side.  I am unaware of what’s around me as my heart is deeply touched by Foster K.  The scene glistens and its all a blur.  I am profoundly affected by this special young lady.  Tears of joy land one and then another on the sapphire-blue safety bar.

While I’m guided up a small hill, and then down, I think about Foster K.

I’ll never forget the first time I met her; she was barely three years old.  Starving for everything, she needed to be out of this place. With her long red hair, big voice, and capable body I knew my life would never be the same.

She moved in the next day and it wasn’t long before I thought I was in over my head.  Her strong personality (cussed like a sailor) and will to survive (by not letting anyone in) made me realize – I had met my match.  I knew that deep down she really needed me, even if she did beat her fists on the side window, screaming from her little car seat, “Let me out of this f***ing car!”

She had been torn apart physically and emotionally, and let’s just say- it got worse before it got better.  Finally, the nightmares, self-mutilation, and lack of impulse control drained from her little body as it didn’t stand a chance against a determined mother on a mission.  Together with my family, we provided therapeutic foster care and we could all see the miracle that was K.  We filled her up with love, music, and fun.

By five years old,  she was soaking up everything.  She was smart and had a terrific sense of humor.

A social worker witnessed this one day when Foster K raced up to her at the front door and said, “Pull my finger.”  She pointed her index finger out and then held it up higher, “Quick, pull it… Do it!”

Yes, you know what happened.  As I sat mortified, pointing directly at my husband, Foster K’s laughter engulfed the room and spread amongst us.

Everything we poured in to this child, we got back (obviously) and still do.  She is filled to the brim with joy.  As I continue to see her on this journey, I’m always reminded of how incredibly blessed I am; to have been her mom when she needed me, and now her friend.