Monday, June 29, 2020

#MicroblogMondays: Garden Therapy

When summer hits, I spend a lot of time in the garden. And a lot of time taking pictures of my plants. I ordered a lot of plants online, because I'm not comfortable going to garden centers even though they're open. Maybe if I go right when they open for the day... They were doing curbside but then it got busy and they stopped (ugh), so I haven't been even though I desperately need mulch and I really want a few more plants. 

I get such happiness from gardening -- from weeding and seeing tangible progress from my sweat equity, from amending soil and clearing new spaces, from carefully planting new flowerbabies and watering them and topdressing them with compost... And then seeing them grow and bloom and return.
Yellow columbine with blue brunnera

Pretty pink columbine, like a rocket (covered in cottonwood fluff)

The moon garden, the night blooming phlox is out and the moonflower is covering the trellis, can't wait for that to bloom with its big white fragrant flowers... night blooming phlox smell like cookies. 

Brand new butterfly bush just starting to bloom

Freya bellflower starting to bloom, and plum smokey verbascum in the back (this is a new garden space that was covered in daffodils earlier)

Ooooh, first try with helenium... so pretty and sunny!

The corner garden, the lavender is REALLY happy there

Sea holly "blue glitter" with the purple salvia, so spiky and purple and interesting

"African Sunset" black eyed Susan vine getting started up the tuteur trellis, and you can see the yuccafolium globe thistle behind it like a piece of desert hanging out in NY

The corner garden, just taking off -- still to come are orange and yellow hummingbird mints, purple veronicastrum,  giant blue globe thistles, and echinacea -- most of the coreopsis is blooming but soon there will be magenta ones too. No foxgloves this year, hoping they come back next year.

It's a good reminder that some things will thrive no matter what, but they things you tend to will thrive better. That patience is important because my old gardens took over a decade to get where they were when I left them (sniff sniff) and these are only in Year Two, so any progress and filling is awesome. It takes time and care to rebuild life from scratch. And you have to keep checking back, because it changes and grows every single day. 

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Adoption, Discomfort, and Ethics

I've been thinking a lot this week about our experience in the adoption process and about ethics in adoption in general. Some of this mulling is because of Lori Lavender Luz's excellent post about the Paul Peterson case and an instagram video response from Ashley Mitchell, a birth mother and advocate. Watch the whole video, it is well worth the time. 

It is also uncomfortable. And uncomfortable is important, because it means that you are taking a hard look at things that exist in society that benefit you but that oppress others. It's a common theme in the antiracist books that I am reading and the work I'm doing with my district's Diversity & Equity Council and SEED project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) -- that if something makes you uncomfortable, if it makes you feel "icky," then that's a sign that it's a practice you need to dive deeper into. The spidey sense is real. We know deep down when things strike an unethical chord, and to examine that can be painful, and uncomfortable, and bring up a lot of "but I don't/wouldn't..." moments, but I am sitting in this discomfort big time, for race and also for adoption. 

You see, this is a conversation Bryce and I have had more than once, and I don't always have it outwardly because I fear that it will sound like sour grapes. That adoption didn't work out for us, so I'm saying the system is flawed. I'm jealous of those who got to parent. I'm bitter because I didn't. 

But the truth is, we started feeling uncomfortable with adoption within a year of the process. And I think one reason it took a long time for us was because we had certain things that we were very uncomfortable with, highest on the list was placements due solely to financial hardship. It didn't seem right. It felt icky, that we could parent a baby because the biological parents couldn't afford it but we could. Seemed a little like there should be other supports in place if financial was the barrier to parenting. The ethics definitely 

Then, we were profiled in a situation where an expectant mom was due in March 2016, and she was in her late 30s and had no other children, and it was a situation (sorry, "opportunity" is how it is presented to hopeful adoptive parents) where the father wanted nothing to do with the baby. There was no financial aspect to the situation, that we were aware of, but it did ring some warning bells -- she was late 30s, no kids, a recent breakup, maybe a sense of seemed like this could get sticky. We "came in second" and weren't chosen to be matched prospective adoptive parents, which was sad because we knew it was a boy, and I could stand in my nursery and touch the blue and grey onesies I'd bought and dream a little more specifically. Later, in July, our homestudy social worker came to do the renewal, and asked how things were going and if we'd been profiled at all. When we mentioned the March baby (because we always thought about it in terms of the baby more than the expectant mother), she visibly blanched. 

"Oh, you dodged a bullet on that one, that's a very sad situation." And then she told us that the birthmom had changed her mind and decided to parent a few days after the birth, that the baby was already with the adoptive parents and the parental rights surrender had been signed, and it went to court and was acrimonious and, DON'T WORRY, it's really hard for a birth mom to prove to a court that something substantial in her situation has changed once she's signed surrenders, so it's a really small chance that the baby could be returned, but in NY it's 30 days you get to contest, and it was well within that time. In the end though, the court found in favor of the adoptive parents. But now they have to have this open adoption relationship with this woman and it's going to be so difficult. 

You know what was interesting in that moment? In that moment, we immediately felt for the birthmother, and for the baby. That this woman realized too late that she DID want to parent this baby, and that she fought to reinstate her rights, and was denied. And that the adoptive parents were going to, at some point, when their son asked, "Why didn't my mom want me," have to say that his mom DID want to parent him but that they fought it. Of course I feel for the adoptive parents, that they had this baby in their home and were parents and I didn't know their story, but it all sounded so awful on so many levels. 

I would like to think that if that happened to us that we would not have fought it, as hard as that would be, because she wanted to parent her baby and I don't think I would want to parent a baby whose mom fought to keep him, because what would that say about me? What would be best? There were no drugs involved, no financial pieces that we were aware of. It seemed to be one of those "wrong time" situations where it would be hard to say someone wasn't "fit to parent." But I don't know what I would truly do in that situation, because it did not happen to me. But it definitely made an impact in our perspective. 

It made us think, hmmmmm, that's a really ugly situation and does it make us feel ethically awesome? NOPE. We felt like we dodged a bullet but we also felt like if we had reservations for any reason, we should probably honor that because there was likely some spidey sense thing going on. 

The second thing that chipped away at our sense that adoption was an amazing option for everyone was when we did our private path exploration training with the agency. And it was literally said, "put your advertisements in laundromats, check-cashing places, where they're likely to be seen by women in crisis." 


We left that training not feeling jazzed about new opportunities to find prospective birthparents but horrified that we were basically being trained in how to prey on and exploit someone's financial crisis. Nothankyou. Also, they said that doing the private path meant more opportunities, but not necessarily a higher success rate, and you'd be doing all the fielding of calls and speaking with someone in crisis and deciding what was ethical or not, and that just did not seem a viable option for us. Because, ethics. And needing to dedicate time to my career of helping kids in crisis and who need academic support, not doing the job of a social worker that I was wholly untrained for and also too vested in the outcome to do ethically. 

So it really irked me when people said "it's so worth the wait" and "you will make this happen if you want it enough." Because we were starting to feel like, DID we want it enough to prey on women in crisis? Did I want a baby enough to feel okay with practices that DEFINITELY felt exploitative? 

And that's where Ashley Mitchell's video hit home, because talks about the fine line between adoption and trafficking, and puts out five aspects of trafficking that can apply to unethical adoption: 
  • Propaganda
  • Grooming
  • Trust-Building
  • Disempowerment
  • Exploitation of economic and social class
She says repeatedly that what is shown to hopeful adoptive parents is often very, very different than what is shown to birthparents. And I believe it. I felt like we were frequently being pushed to go outside our comfort zone for the sake of shortening our wait. That we were asked to consider exposures and family histories and situations that we knew from training (and my experience teaching special education) that we weren't comfortable with, because it would "open more opportunities" -- which to me felt like two things -- it would give me more opportunities to weigh ethical choices against my desire for a baby and more heartbreak in saying NO, and it would make it so we had more opportunities and so felt more "cared for" by the agency and more likely to say yes to an opportunity which would result in money. The money definitely felt like more of a central feature than we were hoping it would be. 

Especially when I had my autoimmune flare with my eye and the Prednisone doses made me mentally fragile in addition to the cumulative stress and grief of all our family building processes and losses, and I could not handle my own life let alone the prospect of weighing another life against our options, and Bryce called to say "put us on hold" and our caseworker basically said if we went on hold we'd miss out on valuable opportunities. It incensed Bryce, because WHAT COULD BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN MY MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH and did they not listen when he said I WAS IN CRISIS? Wouldn't it be unethical to try to place a baby with me in that state? WHAT THE HELL? It definitely felt like money and success rate statistics were taking a front seat in that conversation. 

To be fair, there was a lot of talk about "Adoption is about finding a family for a baby, not finding a baby for a family." But it did feel like the talk and the actions didn't always match up. And it felt more business-transactiony than we really felt comfortable with. 

Deciding to end our adoption journey was incredibly painful. It felt like a failure. It felt like a horrible end. It felt like we were saying no to a possibility that COULD happen at any moment. It felt like no one would understand it (and many people didn't). 

But at the same time, it was a relief. It was a relief to resolve, for sure, but it also was a relief because we'd realized that maybe adoption wasn't our cup of tea. It was great that many of our friends were successful in building their families through adoption, and I don't know the intricate details of everyone's situation, but I do know an awful lot of stories that did not sound real ethical. Stories of "winning" against birth parents, stories of birth parents stating that they did not feel remotely supported by the agency, people who had finalizations complicated by fuzzy issues...Issues with dishonesty about birthparent exposures or health history... So many things that were ethically fuzzy. Including stuff outside of the agency, where well-meaning people suggested that we "pretend to go to a church" for the sake of our profile book if our non-religious status may have been a barrier. Because lying about who you are makes a GREAT foundation for a trusting relationship. 

It's easy for me now to say "I would never have," and I don't think I can say that. The desire to be a parent is incredibly strong. But the ethics can be so sticky when it comes to adoption and I can say that there were many, many things that made us very, very uncomfortable. And we were not willing to enter into situations where it felt ethically icky, which probably made our wait longer and then made it so that we no longer had the stamina to continue. We don't really look fondly back at our adoption experience. I don't think it was right for us, as much as I wanted it to be and wanted it to be like it is in movies and TV shows. That is not reality. 

I don't want the takeaway from these thoughts to be "Jess is anti-adoption and looks down on those who adopted." I'm not, and I don't. But I think it's okay to take, "Jess thinks adoption CAN be unethical but it can be done better, for kids, for birth parents, for adoptive parents." That's what Ashley Mitchell and Lori Lavender Luz think, too. Here are some resources from both of them: 

Ashley Mitchell: Big Tough Girl (including adoption education and profile book reviews):
Lifetime Healing Foundation:
Under construction, so here is Sit Knee to Knee:
Family to Family Support Network:

These are organizations and individuals who are working to make adoption better, more ethical, and to help unique families navigate delivery. These are organizations that work with hospitals, adoption agencies, birth/expectant mothers, prospective/adoptive parents, and adoptees. I'm sure there are more, please feel free to share in the comments. Thanks for sitting with me in the discomfort. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

What Are You Doing This Summer?

This is my first Monday of summer -- glorious, glorious summer. The end of the school year is always hard, there's a sort of cathartic body release where all the stress (well, most of it?) of the year is suddenly let go and I find myself utterly exhausted and needing naps, and also with migraines. The heat could have something to do with the migraines, too, but I've pretty much been battling them since Friday. 

Of course, last week also had two huge emotional punches to the gut -- I did my car driving parade for my class and we went up to my student in foster care's home that's 30 minutes away now, only to find that she wasn't there, and the other girls who were hanging out the window said "her CPS worker picked her up" which didn't fully compute for me until the next day when her guardian called me and let me know that she no longer lived there and was in a new placement. Again. So I drove up there to pick up the end-of-year swag we'd dropped off and today I got the info for her new foster parent so hopefully I can see her to wish her good luck and see you later (I am trying to set up a mentorship type relationship there). 

Second punch -- I'd been trying to get in touch with another student to give him his end-of-year swag, as well as his locker materials, gym locker materials, pick up the district laptop, and give him his book that I inscribed for him... and it just kept getting pushed back via text until finally, on Friday he said "you can come by around 6." Well, that was an education on the completely demoralizing low-income-housing complex he lives in -- I'd been there before (it's literally set up like pods, it's DOWN IN A VALLEY so you literally "look down" at it, and all my students who've lived there absolutely hate it) but I did not realize they had living spaces that were so devoid of light and humanity. I ended up leaving the stuff outside the door as no one answered but I could hear someone through the peephole, and I did text if he wanted to come down so I could see him, but he asked for me to drop the stuff at the door and to have a great summer and I cried the entire way home at the injustice of it all. 

But, new week, first week of summer, and everyone I talk to says, "So what are you doing this summer?" 

And I really want to say, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Can I just do absolutely nothing? Can I lie in a puddle with a book and my cat and reconstitute myself from this year? Do I have to be ambitious right out the gate? 

But then, to be fair, I do have a lot of stuff that has piled onto my plate in just the last few days: 

- two tutoring clients, to do online
- facilitating at the Leadership Retreat for administrators on topics of race, equity, and privilege
- possible curriculum writing
- A reading list to help me better understand how to be antiracist and understand the state of systemic racism in the United States
     - White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Race by Robin Diangelo
     - Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
     - Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD
     - Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
     - How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
     - So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo 
     - The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Plus other reading, gardening, GETTING BACK TO REGULAR BLOGGING, and writing. And planning for next year, whatever that looks like. 
So, uh, right now my answer to "What are you doing this summer?" is nothing, but I guess that's not strictly true. Seeing it all out in a list like that makes me feel a little overwhelmed, but the important thing is that most of the things on this list are a) on my own time, b) of my own choosing, c) things that I will enjoy, even the work related stuff. 

What are you doing this summer? 

Want to read some #Microblog Mondays that are actually micro? Go here and enjoy! 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Microblog Mondays: The End Is Near

Although I could mean that figuratively, that we are in end times, because it sure feels like that most days, I mean it literally. This is the last full week of school, HALLELUJAH.

I am days away from being able to collapse into a pile of goo. 

I remember back in March when all this started and thinking, "well, I'll have extra time to blog and do stuff!" Umm, no. 

I feel like I'm the final stretch of a marathon I didn't train for (also I don't know what thinking a marathon feels like but I would imagine it's unpleasant by those final miles). 

There are positives, for sure -- I've been able to reach students far more personally and it's created an amazing bond. I have learned new ways of interacting with and instructing and engaging my students in online platforms. Family communication has been frequent, supportive, and better than it's ever been. 


Emotionally, physically, intellectually. It's worth it, but I am going to need a good 3 weeks of jack nothing to recover. 

And then plan for another year, that could totally look not so different from this one. 

Except for the luxury of time to plan and reflect. 

Want to read more #Microbiology Mondays? Go here and enjoy!