(Happy Monday! I ADORE Mondays now that we have kids. Turns out they’re not the only ones who crave structure :) So they’re at school, I’ve walked THIS DOG around our neighborhood to “Secure the Perimeter,” and now I’m here to continue our story of adopting two older siblings from foster care, hoping it will inspire you to do the same. Warning: Today’s post is about the most boring, and one of the most agonizing, parts of the process. But it’s a key part, so here it is.)
It’s been on the kitchen counter for 36 hours, taunting you. You printed it off from the email Sarah, the adoption coordinator, sent. It is LONG. At least 19 pages. Multiple parts. You flip it over, determined to begin, and get as far as your name and date of birth before feeling overwhelmed. You pour a cup of coffee and flee to the living room couch, where you gulp caffeine and think dark thoughts about nosy social workers. You feel this strange sense of shame. This makes no sense – you’ve glanced at the questions and they’re not THAT bad. There are just so many of them, and you feel like if you don’t get every answer exactly right, everything will be ruined. (You’re not even sure what everything is.) Intellectually, you know this is not God talking; that there are other voices out there vying for your attention, voices that love to tell lies such as, If you blow this, all hope is lost. “Just do the first section,” you tell yourself. You make a waving gesture around your head like you’re swatting away bugs, hoping it will help clear your thoughts. Oddly, it does.
The first section of the application is just data: who you are, where you live, where you work. Medical and criminal history. How do you handle finances? Do you have resources to provide for children for 6-8 weeks until the first reimbursement check arrives? You list references from employers and your doctor, skip the ones from schools b/c you don’t have kids, then list relatives and friends who will sing your praises. (It will only occur to you three days after you turn in this application that you should probably let these friends know you’ve listed them. You’re super on the ball like that.)
Look! You’re done with Part One!
On a roll, you look at Section Two. You stop breathing. This is the essay portion of the test. (Why do you keep thinking of it as a test? It’s not a test! It’s an application! To help children! This is not a test!!!) (Whatever. It still feels like a test.)
Even though you love essays and just wrote in the “employment” section of Section One that your primary work is as a WRITER, you also know that the essay part is the most subjective. While technically there is no right or wrong, the only way to pass is to have some idea what the reader is looking for. You have no idea what your reader is looking for. I mean, sure, it’s probably good that you don’t believe in spanking (your parents occasionally spanked you, and while it wasn’t traumatizing, it did not in any way deter future bad behavior), or wind down after a long day by gambling at that OTB, many of these questions ask for your best guess at how you’ll handle things with kids you don’t even know. In other words, it invites you to inhabit a fictitious world. You write non-fiction.
You put the application down for two more days.
You pick it up again, and tackle the first question:
“How do you think having a new child/youth in your home will affect your family?” Your mind spins in two directions: one part thinking, Is there any way it WON’T affect our family? It will affect our family in ALL THE WAYS! while the other part contemplates the whole affect/effect question and how even when you see it in context you’re never sure which is right… You wonder if you’re legally bound to disclose this new inability to focus…
You remember this one time when you mentioned to your first foster daughter’s therapist – the weird one, not the good one – that you handled certain challenging interpersonal issues by disassociating, only to have her completely freak out and inquire about your psychological health. How it took twenty minutes to convince her that you meant, “I try to limit my association with those people,” rather than “I relinquish my grip on reality when they’re around.”
THIS is why you need an editor for important work! You don’t always use all the words in all the right ways! You know just enough to understand that the world of child protective services has a vernacular all its own, and there are land mines EVERYWHERE. THIS is why the application feels like a gauntlet, rather than an opportunity to share.
You pull up the MARE page and look at those kids. The ones who need parents. You ask yourself what will become your gold standard for self-reflection: Am I better than NO parent? Yes. Yes you are.
Moving right along…
The next questions force you to laugh (THANK YOU, GOD) They’re about how you share emotions. Your answers are almost all the same. Positive emotions elicit smiles and laughter, negative emotions bring forth prayer, deep breaths and forgiveness. You’re just not a complex person, so you stick with what works.
How will adopting children affect the amount of money that you have? You write, barely able to conceal your snark, We’ll have the same amount of money. We’ll just spend it differently.
You decide it’s time to put away the application for the day, because once the snark beast is unleashed, it’s hard to bring her back under control. But now you are sure about this: a snarky parent is still better than no parent. STILL BETTER.
A couple of days later, you and your husband sit down and type all of your answers into the final document. Your handwriting is atrocious (ruined by 3 years of scribbling frantic notes in law school), and it does seem like legibility is an easy way to stay on the agency’s good side. Perhaps what you lack in emotional depth can be made up for in manners.
You go through questions about your childhoods, experiences with school, goals for your children. This part is actually nice, an opportunity to reflect on the past and what you hope for the future. You set 5-13 as an age preference, and your desired number of children at 2 or 3.
You read it. Proof read it. Re-read it again. You change punctuation. You consider using a different font for ease of readability. You realize you are being ridiculous. You attach ALL THE PARTS to an email to Sarah. You re-read them again, eyes practically crossed with fatigue. You hit send.
You pour a glass of wine to celebrate, wondering how you arrived at a place where conquering 19 pages became your Everest. Still though, you’re done.
You pull up the website link that shows the waiting kids and pray for them. You wonder if one of them might be your future son or daughter. This is a strange, surreal feeling, and you let yourself fall a little bit in love with every single one.