Welcome back to Blogville, nice to see you again. I’m sipping a chai latte today as I find it comforting. What is your beverage of choice today as you visit?
I was walking in my neighbourhood one day this summer and I came upon a big evergreen tree and I recalled that its owners light it up every Christmas season. Then I noticed that the string of lights was still there even though it was June and I felt the urge to take a picture for some reason. I guess I just felt drawn to the image.
At first I thought I was affected by that pre-decorated tree as a symbol, or marker of the passage of time for us all, when we get to an age where it is too cumbersome or too dangerous to put up and take down decorative lights every year. Ironically, as trees age they grow taller, and stronger, while as home owners age, they often lose strength and dexterity and should maybe reconsider climbing an icy ladder leaning against a tree in a snow bank. Noticing that they were leaving the lights up all year, hidden among those prickly branches, was indeed a stark reminder of the passage of time, and it made me a little sad. For some reason, instead of deleting it, I simply filed away that picture.
Some weeks later I was waiting for some of my grandchildren at their school bus stop and I noticed a second big evergreen tree, also with lights hidden in the branches, disconnected from any power, but there, waiting. So when I came home I started scrolling through my photos looking for the tree picture I had taken earlier this summer. Suddenly I knew what the trees actually meant to me! I realized that they were more symbolic to me than I initially realized. Those trees, with their hidden lights reminded me of children and youth currently in, or from, foster care. Suddenly I became aware that this symbolism may be important and relatable when talking about fostering, adopting, providing kinship, and customary care, or any alternative care really.
Children and youth in care often develop a thick skin, like the bark of a tree, to protect themselves. They develop attitudes, not unlike prickly needles of trees, in order to protect the softer, more easily bent branches, like their feelings. Just like some saplings, children and youth in care may have suddenly been pulled out of one environment and placed in another. This may have been an unexpected, emergency kinship or foster care placement. Attempts to thicken their skin and bring forth protective attitudes is usually a coping mechanism for helpless children or youth to help them feel like they have some control in the chaos. After all, the more prickly the needles on the tree, the harder it will be for you to see through to the unplugged, powerless string of lights woven around the tree trunk.
Beneath those prickly branches, if given a chance, is something beautiful and magical, just like a string of lights hidden in a Christmas tree. I sometimes feel that helping a child or youth fit into a foster family and/or adoptive family can be like trudging through deep snow, (navigating the child welfare system), trying to find the best Christmas tree. One must move the branches slowly and carefully as some trees have layers of ice and snow protecting them that will drop on you in an effort to make you leave them alone. Please, do not let that tough exterior deceive you. Once you put that tree on your sleigh, take it home and let its branches begin to thaw, you will usually find that one teeny, tiny, sparkle that lets you know there are more beautiful lights inside to be discovered. You are just going to have to work really hard to find them.
I believe that sometimes, in the beginning of new relationships, it is enough just to stand side by side, ‘batten the hatches’, and protect children and youth as much as one can through the storm of being in care, or having been in care. So, to begin with, simply bring that tree in, put it in a sturdy stand, and start looking for why the tree lights are hidden and disconnected from their power. Sometimes it seems that for every light you find, another layer of ice thickens, or a needle grows bigger and sharper to try to keep you out. Don’t let that stop you from finding those shining lights! Trust me, it will be worth it!
Children and youth often respond more to actions than words and the best action is always in being there and your willingness to listen. Sometimes, saplings are planted and replanted so many times it makes it difficult for the roots to accept the nutrients from the new soil and will require a little more planning and effort. Sometimes you have to drag your belief in the child or youth’s worthiness around with you like a pile of soil, and a bucket of water, always ready to nurture! Many times that child or youth will stomp on that pile of soil and dump the bucket of water because they don’t feel worthy of nurturing. You must be ready to accept the child or youth, if not their behaviour, for who they are, what they mean to your family, who you believe they can be, and what they can accomplish.
Along with your pile of soil, your bucket of water, and your belief in the child or youth’s ability to cope and accept your nurturing, there are many tools that can help you to safely empower the beautiful lights inside of that tree. However, sometimes you do not have all those tools at hand. You many need to trudge and trudge through very deep snow until you find just the right tools. You may need someone to help guide you safely through the snow, someone to help you uncover the right tools, or even someone to just help you pull the sleigh. You can help children and youth reconnect their power by plugging in the right services, after all, not all of us are electricians!
As I said, my experience has shown that, as a defence mechanism, children and youth in or from foster care are often trying to make themselves appear bigger and stronger than they might be feeling, so they may present a prickly front just like those big evergreen trees! These children and youth have usually been through a trauma and are likely to be in self-protection mode, fight or flight. Foster parents are often the first to notice the little lights buried deep inside the children or youth in their care. Workers and counsellors can sometimes see through the branches as well and find more of those little lights. Looking past the prickly front, the thick branches, and the gnarly bark one can usually find the lights hidden within! The next step is recognizing that these little lights need to be attached to a power source, usually by belonging to a family, often an adoptive family, in order to fully shine!
If you are a fostering family, you will have many children and youth come through your doors. Some will fit the exact spot you hope for them, while others cannot fit, no matter how hard everyone tries. People struggle to admit it, but sometimes the reality is that this person just doesn’t fit with that specific foster or adoptive family despite all the supportive efforts but, given the chance, may be able to find the perfect spot in another family. Have you ever had a plant that looked wilted and sad no matter how much water you gave it or how much soil you added? Then you discovered that the plant just needed to be moved to where it would get the best light to meet its needs and it began to grow and thrive. Turns out, it just needed to find the right spot.
If you are considering adoption, make sure that you do your research, and that you take courses about trauma and attachment! In fact, take all the courses you can get about merging a child or youth into your family, and becoming their ‘right spot’. In addition, inform yourself about your community resources and how to refer yourself or be referred. Your future as a parent is worth it!
Thank you for your visit to read this blog. As always, I look forward to reading your comments about the blog. I continue to welcome emails for those who might prefer a less public forum. Please send your comments to email@example.com
Let’s talk puzzles
Hello friends! Welcome back to Blogville. Today I’m having a quiet herbal tea as I relax and chat with you. As I write this opening greeting I’m reminded that I finished my Wordle puzzle in three steps today. Makes me smile.
Just thinking about puzzles makes me smile. I LOVE doing puzzles! There is something magical about opening that sealed jigsaw puzzle box and pouring those pieces onto the table. There they lie, a mystery to be solved. I’m amazed at the fact that, though the goal is already known as the picture is right there on the box, we delve wholeheartedly into its re-creation. Everyone has their preferred technique, some complete the edges first, while others sort the pieces into piles of a specific pattern, like all the red pieces, all the pieces of one shape, and so forth. We have a family friend, Julie, whom my grandchildren and I agree, is a jigsaw puzzle magician. We watch in awe how she solves a puzzle section in five minutes that we have been struggling with all afternoon.
I have to share this puzzle story with you. One Christmas Julie drew my name in our group gift exchange. She gave me a 500 piece puzzle, no real surprise there. The puzzle was of medium difficulty (after all I’m no puzzle magician). ‘Open it, open it’ she said. Curious, I thought I was mistaken and maybe she just reused an old puzzle box for my actual gift. Nope, turns out she had individually wrapped each puzzle piece in the box! Now that is dedication to gift giving! Julie also noted that as she was finishing wrapping the last few pieces of the puzzle, the dog grabbed a piece and took off with it. Among the 500 wrapped puzzle pieces in the box was one misshapen, formerly soggy, carefully wrapped puzzle piece. Seriously?
While writing about this little story I was reminded of that gifted puzzle and found it in my closet. I grabbed a small knife, ironically also a previous gift from Julie, and began unwrapping the puzzle pieces. Initially I was sorting as I was unwrapping. I started by forming piles of amplifier pieces, guitar pieces, the edge pieces, but then, except for the edges, unwrapping and sorting quickly became an overwhelming task. So I focused instead on the task of just unwrapping these tiny pieces. Wow! I don’t know how long it took Julie to wrap these but unwrapping them was proving to be a lengthy project, but hey, I’m retired.
At one point I sent Julie a photo of the project. The photo included some unwrapped pieces, a pile of wrapping paper, and still so many more pieces to unwrap. I added the following text message, “omg JULIE!” to which she responded, “Hahahahaha omg. Didn’t think you’d actually make the puzzle!” Well, that sounded like a challenge to me. 3 HOURS LATER . . . all unwrapped. I thought to myself, ‘maybe tomorrow I’ll start completing the actual puzzle’ and went for a walk.
I also enjoy a good word search or crossword puzzle. For years all I could find were small clues to my birth history, like a challenging life puzzle. My mom would have a little clue, adoption disclosure workers gave little clues, but despite these clues I could never solve the whole puzzle. As you know, my greatest word search was my quest to finally access all those words in my historical files, and from there, to understand the true story of my pre-adoption journey. Adoption disclosure workers could sometimes provide me with a word list, but never the page that contained the puzzle, and for certain, never the answer page. I was left with the clues but no words to circle, therefore I was unable to solve the puzzle.
I think all members of the adoption constellation strive to solve their own unique 3D puzzles. I feel that adopted persons are trying to solve a life puzzle called, “What Happened Before I Was Born?” Often these include a bonus puzzle called, “What Happened Between Being Born and Being Adopted?” Birth parents and other birth relatives, meanwhile, may be trying to solve a life puzzle called, “What Happened Next?” With a bonus puzzle, themed, “Are They Being Loved And Cared For?” Finally, I feel that adoptive parents spend every day trying to solve adoption-themed life puzzles called, “What I Do Not Know.” Their bonus puzzle is likely called, “Things No One Told Me”.
I think adoptive parents have the puzzles with the most pieces (often wrapped in their own layers), with the least number of clues, and yet, the most pressure to solve the puzzle. Information sharing is much better today than when I was adopted, but it still lacks many details and facts, like a puzzle that is missing some pieces. An adoptive parent needs to be a puzzle solver, also known as a dissectologist. Adoptive parents sometimes start a puzzle and do not immediately know that some pieces are missing, or that they were not given the full picture as shown on the box. But somehow, they work around it. First they search the box, the table and the floor for the missing pieces. Then they might stand up and brush themselves off to make sure the pieces are not hidden on their person. When they realize that they were never given all the pieces in the first place, they turn their attention to working with the pieces they have and begin solving the puzzle to its fullest potential. Adoptive parents seem to have a special talent for that, even though there is a great deal of work involved.
When you pick up a variety puzzle magazine there are so many types of puzzles in them. Each puzzle needs a different approach, a different solution, and has different clues. There are Pictograms, Crypto-grams, and many other puzzles to solve. I found that the social and medical histories I received over the years reminded me of Rebus puzzles; where the information is clear to the writer but often a riddle to the reader.
Negotiating the Adoption Disclosure site in Ontario is often like a Brain-Teaser or a Maze for many people. To complicate things further, the people trying to negotiate the details of adoption disclosure rights to information already feel like they should not be there in the first place. Many people feel that they are being disloyal to their adoptive parents for even looking at the site. Many birth parents feel like they are breaking a promise to someone that they made when they swore that they would forget about that baby and move on. People trying to solve the government access to information puzzles are often looking over their shoulders already, so to call someone and ask for help is almost impossible for them. Therefore, if you know someone wanting to start an adoption disclosure journey, offer to travel it with them, journeys are always more exciting and less frightening when you are not alone.
My adoption disclosure journey was much like the task I recently did with the 500 piece puzzle, unwrapping each tiny piece to be able to see the whole picture. It was not three hours work though, I have been at this in some way for over 60 years, as soon as I could start asking questions. The encyclopedia (or perhaps more like National Geographic) of my life and adoption journey was often missing pages or even full volumes/issues despite the fact I was paying my subscription fees almost every day.
My subscription fees were paid when I was pregnant, and did not know of any genetic conditions I might be passing on to the baby developing inside me. My fees were paid when I looked in a mirror and knew no one I could say I looked like (except for people always telling me I look like Jamie-Lee Curtis lol). I paid my fees every time a medical professional asked if there was any family history of this, or that condition, and I could not answer.
The single most difficult moment in my adoption disclosure journey was learning of my birth mother’s passing. This would now be the biggest puzzle piece that I would never find, and never be able to unwrap. Irreplaceable, just like the puzzle piece in my musical instruments puzzle that the dog ate. It was the end of my hope of ever completing my adoption puzzle fully. I cannot completely describe that loss, it was too big for any words. But I can tell you that it was the end of my hope that she would one day welcome me into her heart.
However, the loss of my birth mother brought me new puzzle pieces to unwrap. Through her passing and subsequent published obituary, my sister and I found four half-sisters, the daughters our birth mother raised. Through them, and their acceptance of us, we began putting together a picture of who our birth mother was, the daughter, the wife, the mother and the grandmother. Though it isn’t a perfect picture of my life puzzle, each of the pieces that my new sisters bring to the table fill in some of the gaps where my birth mother’s pieces should be. For this, I am truly and eternally grateful.
As ever, I would love for you to share your comments with me. If you prefer a less public forum please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time, thanks for reading.
Maybe my book can help your family talk about adoption, kinship, customary care, or other alternative care scenarios! The book is called, What Is Your Story? Let’s talk about adoption and kinship. Look for it on Amazon, Friesen Press, Coles Timmins Square, Altered Reality on Third Avenue in Timmins, Barnes and Noble, and Chapters Indigo on-line stores!