Monday, March 29, 2010

mother-in-law series 2: what's in a name?

In our household, my mother-in-law is referred to as Oma (grandmother in German), and as it turns out, I have a 12 year old dog named Uma. Even though we've been sharing space FIVE weeks at a time for the last FIVE years, still when I fuss at Uma for begging in the kitchen or begging in the dining room, Oma responds; she can't help it.

I'm sorry, I say to Oma, but Uma preceded you.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

mother-in-law series 1: Get to Know Oma

I have a quirky and energetic East-German mother-in-law, who visits once a year for FIVE weeks. By quirky, I mean the bright orange lipstick, the black, felt beret, which she seems to feel naked without, and her asymmetrical touch (the one big clip-on earring, for example, instead of a matching pair).

These extended visits (five weeks instead of four or five days) started when the first grandchild was born, and I was (am) thankful for the help. I'm thankful for her presence, how she saturates my children with her doting love. How she saturates their ears with German.

Gratitude, however, doesn't always get me through an entire five weeks. Living in close quarters with anyone can be challenging, but my bottom line is that I don't have much to offer in the way of grandparents from my side of the family (foster princess, remember?) and so I feel it's my duty to suck it up, make it work, and even enjoy the experience once in a while.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The first line of the first batch of records

Casey Family Programs' documentation included written summaries called the "Quarterly Narrative". So, the first line of my first quarterly narrative with CFP goes like this...

"Visits: July 5-August 18 Leigh on vacation in Greece"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Form 4885, again

It's been three years and three months since I submitted the request for records to the State of Texas and Casey Family Programs.

The state of Texas became involved with me in 1981, through investigating allegations of abuse. I don't know who reported the abuse, though I do know that I wrote a letter to my grandmother during that time, asking for help. My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Hildebrand, mailed it for me.

In 1988, Casey Family Programs, a private non-profit child welfare organization, became my 'permanent managing conservator'. I was 16. I assume my record with the state ends at this point, unless annual court documents were logged.

Fast-forward to December of 2005. I'm a relatively new stay-at-home mom, with an eleven month old son, and I have no idea how to be a stay-at-home mom, except for the stay at home part. On the surface, my life is filled with standard indicators of happiness and success- education, great place to live, fabulous partner, new baby, family- at a good distance, and yet, depression knocked me flat.

Flat then round. Having next to no pulse made making new 'stay-at-home' friends rather difficult. It made leaving the house rather difficult. Which left me with a baby, a refrigerator and two dogs as constant companions. I couldn't understand why I wasn't a happy-bouncy mom, loving all of the 'freedom and time' on my hands.

I wrote in demented spurts, whenever I could squeeze a few words through the pea-soup fog of tiredness and depression. The demented spurts led to writing classes, for the structure, and I began to record the mismatched and vivid stories tumbling out. I recorded them, in some attempt to understand why I couldn't enjoy and connect with the life around me, a life I'd worked so hard to create.

Oddly enough, recording what you do know, makes what you don't know all the more prominent. How many placements did I have, exactly? Good question, and don't I deserve to know? When did my bio father have those pesky kidney transplants? Another good question, and don't I have some right to know?

And so, I requested my record, three years and three months ago.

Texas ignored me, despite my frequent follow up calls. Casey Family Programs sent me about two inches of a record that I believe to be at least a foot thick, most likely more. They also sent a partial list of provider names for me to contact individually. I'm willing to bet some of these 'providers' aren't even alive.

Here's the kicker. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in social work, I worked for Casey Family Programs for more than eight years. They told me I was the first 'alumni' they'd ever hired to do direct practice work. During those eight years, I had access to my file and I could have reviewed it, I could have acquired a copy of it, but I didn't, mostly because I wasn't ready for it. And since Casey Family Programs had a copy, why did I need one? More boxes to lug around as I moved from one place to the next? No thanks.

On the few occasions I had snippets of my file shared with me (one foster mother read aloud from it, one social worker pulled a few medical records)I was enraged. At just how wrong some of the perceptions were. Of the terrible tone. Of the hopelessness. And when the rage passed, I was just a spent crumpledness. My dried out shell. So why do that to myself? I mean really. Working, living, dating, schooling... these things take time. Who has the energy for rage? The time to dwell? Keep moving, keep doing, don't slow down. Slowing down can led to the disastrousness of stop. Stop is paramount to stuck. And stuck leads to the gray fog of depression.

So why do I want the records, my file? Because I'm as ready and supported now as I'll ever be. Because motherhood demands it. I don't want to unknowingly repeat behaviors and patterns, I don't want to be a reactionary and push to do the 'opposite' of parts of my childhood, for opposition alone. As much as I know that all parents go through some version of this... some version, of "oh my god, I sound just like my mother." How do you think it feels to have seven mothers running around in my head? Or ten, and not much of a relationship with any of them, except through the parenting now seeping out of my pores.

And so now, I'm requesting my record again, but with a bit more help. Turns out I'm not the only person of former foster care descent, that would like a copy of their records. Imagine that. So, as of March 4, 2010, the clock is reset, and ticking again.

in a note to the attorney who is graciously helping me out:

"I'm reaching a place now, of enjoyment, with the records that I do have. The first few times through, not so much. But now, the truths and half-truths don't sting, and I love all of the detailed dates and thoughts that I have to expand upon.

Finding my truth, in and among so many other truths is honestly crazy making. Stirring things up, before they can settle back down. But I'm doing it a little bit at a time. With support. By the time the other records come my way, I'll be ready, or at least more prepared."
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