Friday, March 30, 2012

Completely Obsessed

It’s a good thing I was on spring break this week, because it allowed me time to:

·         Stay up until ridiculous hours of the early morning night obsessively reading adoption blogs.  May I recommend and and ?  And will someone please teach me how to embed links that look like words instead the actual website address?  And how to write like these amazing women?

·         Obsess about fundraising.  Brainstorm ideas for raising money.  Set up a website for donations.  Rapidly get on a first name basis with the website's help desk person.  Ask a dozen people for feedback.  Hyperventilate about getting our first donations.  Decide we need to design cheap but lovely cards to send to people who donate.  Obsess about said card’s design.  Find myself about to announce, “I need a giant piece of paper, so I can write all the fundraising ideas down in different parts of the paper and see how they overlap and figure out a workable schedule.  Do we have a giant piece of paper?  Can I use the back of one of your posters?”   Decide to hold off on this request.  Email to friends to ask for letters of reference for grant applications.  Decide one friend is taking too long (four hours) to respond, and email another friend.  Realize I sent the first request to the work email of another teacher on vacation. 

·         Test out lullabies.  “You Are My Sunshine.”   The other night, as I lay sleeping. I dreamt I held you in my arms.  When I awoke dear, I was mistaken, so I hung my head and cried. Hell no.  “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  When you’re down and out, when you need a friend… I thought I had a winner, then I tried  singing it, and discovered I don’t quite have Paul Simon’s vocal range.  “Make You Feel My Love.”  There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love.   Nice!  Or how about “Three Little Birds?”  Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, ‘cause every little thing is gonna be alright.  Now we’re talking.  And of course, the classic “For Baby (For Bobbie)” What?  You’re not familiar with John Denver’s entire oeuvre?  I’ll be there when you’re feeling down to kiss away the tears that you cry.  I’ll give to you the happiness I’ve found: a reflection of the love in your eyes.  Then it occurred to me that I’m adopting children who a) don’t speak English and b) weren’t alive in the 1970s. 

·         Nervously scan sections of seven different adoption books.  Decide that I can handle anything except peeing everywhere.  Or putting knives under our pillows.  Or sexually molesting each other.   Come to think of it, peeing everywhere is probably something I could cope with. 

·         Fill out paperwork.  Realize the I-800 form is not savable after filling out. Drive to the library and fill it out again so I can print it.  Print out the I-684 so I can fill it out at home, in pen.  Worry that it will look shabby and they won’t be able to read my printing.  Start filling it out at home, and realize that actually I need the I-864W.  Go back to the library and print that out.  Realize that I forgot to print out the supplemental page I had to add to the I-800, because they give you four whole spots to enter your adoption expenses to date, and even just focusing on agency and legal fees, I needed many more than that.   Go back to the library.  Get home and get an email that I have 15 overdue books and 2 overdue videos.  Go back to the library to return the books, and to print papers for the adoption grant applications, feeling like a criminal because I owe them so much money, yet here I sit, using their computers.  Get another overdue notice.  Call the library and point out that I turned that stuff in YESTERDAY, geez, and get them to knock $4.30 off the fines.   

·         Read a parenting magazine.  In the doctor’s office.  Like I’m a parent or something.  Take pictures with my phone of two different great ideas.  Like I’m a lunatic or something.

I'm so not ready to go back to work on Monday.  Not only do I have this vague feeling that people will expect me to have a lesson plan and pay attention to what my students are doing, but there is SO MUCH MORE TO DO to get ready for our family. 

Adoption Journey Overview

We've been thinking about adoption for a long time.  Back when I was getting pretty comfortably settled into being single for my whole life, I assumed I'd adopt a kid when I was in my 30s.  Then I met the Winemaker when I was 31, and first we wanted a few years to ourselves, then a couple more went by while we were still trying both the old fashioned way and a few of the new-fangled ways they have nowadays for those for whom the old fashioned way isn't working.  Then we left the country for a year, came back, changed jobs, and generally had a hectic period in which we had agreed we'd adopt, but didn't start working on it.

So I guess we've been actually working on it for 2 years, with about a year's lead-in of occasional conversations, light research, and an agency intro session.  I spent summer of 2010 in massive research mode, looking at programs and agencies.  Domestic or international?  Latvia, Georgia, Nepal, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, India?  How many kids?  How old?  How...healthy?  We took a few steps down the path towards Latvia and Georgia. It became clear that both programs would involve not only a long wait, but that these countries only allowed international adoptions in cases where a) there were severe medical needs, b) the children were older than nine, or c) there was a sibling group of 3 or more.  There was one group of  four boys on the list for Latvia, and I daydreamed about bunkbeds in our upstairs bedrooms.  They sounded so sweet...but four?  When we were starting from zero?

So I checked out Lithuania.  Unlike Georgia, we don't have close friends there whom we know would help us out while in country.  Unlike Latvia, we don't speak the language.  But their restrictions on international adoption were somewhat less.  They favored adoptive parents of Lithuanian heritage.  We knew there would be many cultural overlaps with Latvia, so we knew it would be a country we would enjoy bringing into our home, and place we'd scrimp and save to return to with our children, a place we could instill a sense of pride in.  When I first thought of it, I worried that The Winemaker would see it as too much my family connection, and not enough his.  But his eyes lit up, and I remembered how after each visit to Lithuania, he couldn't stop talking about how warm and friendly the people were, compared to the average person on the street or trollybus in Riga.  Then I read that the adoptions seemed to go quickest when the applicants were a married couple.  We are!  When the prospective mother was of proven Lithuanian descent.  That's me!  When the couple had no prior children.  That's us!

We went out looking for an agency.  Because Lithuania is careful and cautious about their adoption process (this is a good thing), they only allow screened and authorized agencies to work with them. Not just Hague Accredited, which I won't explain here (either you're adopting, and you already know, or you're not adopting, and you don't really care), but agencies that were specifically approved by the Child Welfare Ministry in Lithuania.  There were three of these in fall of 2010.  Two were specifically religious; one required a statement regarding your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.   I am a lapsed Episcopalean, and even if I weren't lapsed, I'd feel like that is way too personal of a question.  We applied to the third agency.

They were conveniently located in Chicago.  (We're on the west coast, so that sentence should be in sarcasm font.)  We also needed a local agency to do our home study.  Then we had to get the two agencies talking to each other and offering mutual approval.  It was spring of 2011 by the time we had an appointment for a home study.  We were nervous, although not as freaked out as some families I'd read about.  When I opened the door to our social worker, we both stared for a second, then I figured it out first.  "Oh!  You were in my knitting class last month!"  So things got off to a good start with her.  Two visits and some phone calls later, we had our approved home study.  There was much notarizing, and then much apostilling. That one I will explain, because it's slightly interesting.

See, a notary is authorized by the state.  They examine your documents and then certify that they are what you say they are.  For example, "This is a true copy of X's passport."  Or, "X and Y signed this agreement in front of me and showed me identification that proves that they are indeed X and Y."  Notaries can charge up to $10 for this service; our wonderful credit union offers it as a free service.  How many papers need to be notarized for the adoption process?  Well, the kid young man who notarizes at our local branch now says, "Hi X and Y!  Got some papers for me?" when we walk in the door.  (Note to self: I need an alias for this blog.)

But see, Lithuania doesn't know if we went to our local bank and saw a notary, or if we bought a fancy stamp and used it liberally.  This is where apostilles come in.  We take our notarized documents down to the state capitol and find the Secretary of State's office.  The Secretary, I suspect has an ACTUAL office upstairs somewhere, because this place looks kind of like the DMV.  There's a counter, and you hand your papers to a harassed looking lady, who tells you to come back in 20 minutes.  If it's a sunny day, you buy yourself a cup of coffee and go sit on the bench outside, immediately spilling the whole damn cup of coffee all over the bench.  So you go back inside for paper towels, because you don't want any of the nice government workers to sit down on the bench at lunch and soak their pants.  Then you play "hunt for the garbage can" with a handful of dripping wet paper towels in your hand.  Finally, you go inside and wash the coffee smell off your hands.  By this time, the twenty minutes are about up.  (I understand that when The Winemaker did one of these trips, he skipped some parts of this procedure, but that's how it went for me.)

In the meantime, the harassed looking lady is looking up your notary's license on file, and comparing his signature and seal to what he should be using.  Since everything is in order, a super fancy stamp is put on all of it, with some official language about certifying that this is a true notary's seal.  For $10/page.  This becomes a significant sum by the time you're done with the process.

We got everything signed and sealed--hey!  That's what that means!  Not stuck in an envelope, but with a seal put on it!  Then we sent it to our Chicago agency, and they sent it to the law firm they work with in Lithuania, and they translated everything (including letters of reference, personal statements, and the 20 page home study), and submitted it to the Lithuanian government.  (I skipped some stuff, like all the fingerprinting and Homeland Security hoops we jumped through.)  In October of 2011, our dossier was accepted, and we entered the registry of prospective adoptive parents at, oh 263 in line, or something like that.

We'd been told to expect a wait of 3 years or more.  I'd been reading the blog of a family that had been waiting that long already.  Days after we got on the registry, there was a flurry in the online Lithuania adoption community about whether or not Lithuania was closing to international adoption.  I contacted the agency and was told no worries.  Then I was told that our agency was closing their international program, and we needed to find a new agency.  Our choices were the two religious based agencies we hadn't applied to before.  It seemed that one of them, despite having "Christian" in their name, would accept a non church going family.  They waived their application fee and lowered their lawyer's fees, since we'd already paid a few thousand to the other agency, and both use same Lithuanian lawyers.  After that exciting round of paperwork (yes, more notarizing and apostilling took place), we figured we had 3 or more years to learn about adoptive parenting, save some money, clean out the bedrooms, etc.

Then one Friday in February I got an email at work.  "You have a referral.  We can't get ahold of you by phone (because oddly enough, I don't keep my phone on while I'm teaching), and we're about to leave for the weekend (because yes, we traded in an agency that's two hours ahead of us for one that's three hours ahead of us), so I'm just going to attach the information to this email."  Luckily, I was done teaching for the day, although I couldn't actually leave for another 2 hours.  I tore out of the door at 3:30 precisely, for the first time all year, and bounced in my chair while The Winemaker brought up the email on the computer.  He paused to see who else had emailed him that day, and I about came unglued.  Later he said, "I think the only time I've ever seen you nearly that excited was when I proposed."

Just like I did with his proposal, we accepted the referral.  Well, first we had an adoption specialist MD look at a video of the kids. I omitted that step with the proposal, but then, I'd had 10 months to do my own evaluations in first.

We hope we'll bring them home this summer.  But it's perfectly clear at this point that WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF THE TIMELINE.  Or anything, really.  So we'll just see what happens.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Happy 80th Birthday, Daddy

We're taking him out for dinner tonight.  To McGrath's Fish House, which is your basic strip mall chain restaurant.  The thing is, they serve fish & chips.  This is my dad's dream meal.  Total comfort food.  Growing up in Vancouver B.C. in the 1930's, he'd get his fish and chips wrapped in newspaper and doused in vinegar.  He has very specific ideas about what makes good fish & chips.  Really crappy, frozen types obviously offend him, but so do upscale gourmet types.  A few months ago my sister took him out for lunch here--his first meal out in a long time--and he loved it.  So we're repeating the experiment for his birthday dinner.

We had a party for him last weekend.  Just family and some of his closest (um, and still living) friends.  My sister and I both took pictures.  What I noticed when I saw the pictures is a) he still looks his best in blue and b) he is smiling all the way to his eyes for the first time in a long time.  He's physically pretty weak right now, and every hiccup in his health makes me wonder if it's the beginning of the end.  But I think I'd feel better about him dying now, when he is taking some pleasure in life again, than if he'd died last year, when he was feeling suicidal.  It sounds backwards, but I'd rather have him remember joy before he leaves this world. 

Happy Birthday, Daddy.  We love you. 

(And on a completely unrelated side note, we are so glad we are not the guy out in the pouring rain pushing an enormous lawnmower around the soggy common area.  Sheesh.)

You Know What Else is Not For Sissies?

Parenting.  Adopting.
Taking your busy life as a full time teacher --with a husband who runs a garage winery--and a very needy aging father--and adding two kids who have survived more trauma than I can imagine to the mix.

THAT is not for sissies.
So I'll be blogging about that too. 

Every since we got the call (about 3 years sooner than we expected, God help us), I've been compulsively reading adoption blogs.  I started with Lithuanian adoption blogs, as that's where we're adopting from.  I was trying to glean hints about what to expect over the next few months. as we tackle the next big round of paperwork, make travel arrangements, and then (gulp) meet the kids.  Then I got into post-adotion blogs.  There are some amazing writers out there who are fearless in sharing their stories.  I can, and have, spent HOURS devouring their words.  I can't write like that.  I have no idea if I can parent like that.  But there is enormous power in sharing experiences, especially experiences that make you feel isolated if you can't find anyone else who has been there. 

So here I go.  Is that a weird mix?  Aging parents and international adoption?  I have a feeling that it is not that uncommon of a combo, actually.  Many adoptive parents are a bit older--either our biological clocks were in a different time zone, or our first attempts at starting a family didn't go as planned.  So our parents are also older.  At any rate, I'm writing this blog 95% for myself, so I guess it doesn't matter if it's kishmish*.  See, I can even transliterate colloquial Latvian, and you can't stop me.

*a big mixed-up mess; literally, porridge.  I so loved this phrase that I never learned the actual term one would use if one didn't want to sound like a 2 year old.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Medicaid, Part Five Hundred and Seventy-Three (or whatever)

The good news:  My dad got onto Medicaid.

The bad news: They weren't going to pay the foster home enough to cover all the things they actually do.  This freaked my dad out, as he was convinced that he was going to have to give himself his insulin shots ("I can't work those new needles!") and not get any night-time care ("I need help when my leg hurts!  Or when I need the bathroom!  I can't get up by myself!"). 

The good news: The foster care owner contacted Medicaid and seemed pretty confident he could work it out.  He arranged for the social worker to come out two days later and clarify the situation.

The bad news:  The social worker cancelled.  More panic ensued.  "It's the damn government!  They don't care!  You don't cancel, you re-schedule!  I can't work those new needles!"  etc.

The good news:  She showed up two days after that.  She seemed nice.  Everything will be covered that should be covered. 

The bad news:  The foster home guy tells my sister he's about out of seven different medications, and all she has to do is show the pharmacy the paperwork, and it will be paid for.  Um, what paperwork?  We got notice about them paying the foster care rent, but not about medication.  More panic.  "How am I going to get my medicine?"  etc.  Despite my sister repeatedly reassuring him that he already has a huge supply of insulin, he also keeps going back to, "Am I out of insulin?!?"   

I just started spring break.  Since we've already established that calling the medicaid office is useless, I'll be driving over Monday morning to see if we can get this straightened out.  In the meantime, the pharmacy gave sold my sister a few days worth of most of the meds, except of course for the painkiller, which (other than the insulin) is probably the one that our dad will freak out the most about.