Monday, January 25, 2010

Mizz'N My Kidz!

We were picked by Anna’s Mom to raise her for a variety of reasons, which are for the most part none of your business. We have an open adoption and we see Anna’s Mom Hillary and her family (including Anna’s sister) on a regular basis. We use Facebook and share pictures through Flickr so our relationship is both cyber and real. Anna is okay with that even asking if we are going to “Skype” with the Grandparents or getting in front of the computer to record a message to send her Mom or sister. So our open adoption is pretty transparent on all accounts. We do not know who Anna’s biological father is and we will probably never know. With Eli however, the situation is much different. Eli was taken away from his birth-parents because they weren’t taking care of him and he became very ill under their (non)care. Thankfully, a young family member realized something was horribly wrong with him and took him to the hospital, which is where the state stepped in and removed him from his parent’s care.

I had a chance to read Eli’s file, a thick book full of both the good and the bad. The first few months of his life were the bad part, but once the little guy got well, things began to improve thanks to the remarkable care he received in foster care. I took a paper and pen to the meeting with the social worker at the beginning stages of the adoption, as I wanted to find out as much as I could about him. APGAR scores and other key birth factors were a mystery to us (but not my Mom, a retired OB/GYN nurse, who encouraged me to get what I could), but as I pored through his records, I also stumbled on his birth-parent’s names. I was going to quickly write them down, but the social worker saw what page I was on and chimed in, “oh, that’s so and so’s deposition, and here you’ll find so and so’s court record.” What I thought was to be secret was suddenly out in the open. The social worker saw me scribbling notes and asked if I wanted a copy of all this. “Sure,” I responded, not knowing if I was even allowed to view these rather disturbing documents. Within a few moments, I was able to know more about Eli and his family than I ever really wanted to know. The social worker remarked that I needed to know all this, so I could understand where my future son had come from.

So now Eli’s adoption is final, and questions are coming up. The social worker asked us for a recent picture, as Eli’s father has requested one. We didn’t have to comply, but we did. She also asked us about what kind of relationship, if any, we wanted to have with his birth-parents. We knew when we first started the process that an open adoption was what we wanted, but we had no idea that this kind of situation would ever exist. His parents didn’t have a choice; he was taken away from them to ensure his health and safety. This was a criminal case, cut and dried. We have had many discussions about this, together and with the former foster Mom. She reports that neither parent is a threat, but she reminded us that when they abused and neglected their son, they lost all rights to him.

I did what many of our adoptive family friends have done, and call it unethical or just plain nosey, but I looked up Eli’s birthparents on Facebook. Since his bio-Dad is rather transient, he doesn’t have an account, however, his bio-Mom is settled and has an account. I didn’t friend her, don’t worry, but I did find out that we have some friends in common from my years teaching at Columbia Central. I scanned through what I could find on her account and found wall postings like this:

• Juzt Got Out Of Jail..Mizz'N My Kidz!

• Mizz'N Hym! Wish'N I Could Tell Hym How I Really Feel!

• Shit Is Not Goin Rite...I Still Love Hym And Alwayz Will..Need To Write Hym...Need To Find Out How He Is Doing! I Mizz The Way He Could Brighten My Day...It's Almost Been 1 Year!

• Thank God Christmas Is Over! I hated It! Mizz'n My Babiez! Wish'N I Could Tell Him How I Really Feel...{So Confused}

Comments such as “Juzt got out of jail” send a pretty big red flag, but the comments that she made regarding wanting to write him tell me that there is some remorse and that she would like to try and make good. She lost her rights to Eli, but that doesn’t mean she can’t keep in touch from a distance. Right now, that seems like a good idea.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Enjoy it

To those of you who have kids the traditional way, enjoy your heterosexual privilege. Enjoy knowing that because you are married, your spouse has full custody of your child should anything happen to you. Enjoy knowing that you don’t have to go to great legal expense to make sure that the child you call your own will not be taken away from you because the voters in the state you live in decided that marriage should only be between a man and woman.

And to those of you heterosexuals who have adopted. Enjoy knowing that because you are married, your spouse has full custody of your child should anything happen to you. Enjoy knowing that you don’t have to go to great legal expense to make sure that the child you call your own will not be taken away from you because the voters in the state you live in decided that marriage should only be between a man and woman.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

catching up

An update for you all:

We’re still here, we’re still plugging along. The sugar rush of the holidays is over, and we’re settling in to the routine of winter in Michigan. Classes started up for me again last week with two new sections, a figure drawing class (which I have not taught in 10 years) and an art history class at our Adrian, MI campus. This means that I am teaching five days a week this semester. While some of you may start to play the little violin at this point and offer no sympathy, teaching isn’t the only thing I do. I run the department, I mentor my faculty, I work on committee stuff and the loss of this day is going to be tough.

Some people have commented in the past that Tod and I make parenting look easy and effortless, and I often wondered where that came from. Perhaps it was because I had time during the day on Friday to do errands for the house or had time to plan out the week ahead; those days are gone, for now at least. The class in Adrian requires an hour drive each way and by the time I get home, and do the work for the class, it’s time to get the kids. We’ll see how this pans out this semester. Because of our negotiations with the college’s board last November/December, changes had to be made regarding staffing, and this is one of the reasons why I have such a big course load this semester, as I have exhausted the available faculty able to teach these courses. There is a plus side to all this however, the pay will rock. While my sanity does come first, it will be nice to have some extra cash coming in. I can also teach a reduced load this summer and spend some time catching up, or, if things are good on campus, I might even take the summer off. We’ll see.

On a brighter note: Eli’s adoption is final tomorrow at 2 pm. We have a big party planned with tons of folks stopping by to welcome this great young man into our family. Hard to believe it’s been six months already.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Careful what you wish for!

It was all fine and dandy when she was being cute and tossing coins in the fountain across from our church each Sunday. The melt-your-heart “I want a little brother!” wishes were enough to choke up anyone with a working soul. We let her do the wishing, and kept to ourselves the plans unfolding for Eli to come and live with us. Once we knew it was going to happen, we told her and she was thrilled and eagerly helped us get ready for his arrival. Oh sure, there were rough moments (such as the “you’ve ruined my life” outburst) but for the most part, the transition has been pretty smooth.

Christmas break proved a little stressful for all of us, Anna included. The stress of the pre-school Christmas Party circuit was taking its toll (which began mid-December by the way); as was Anna’s desire to be on Santa’s good little girls list. She was doing her damndest to be good, but each day it became harder and harder. We decided that at about 5:00 pm or so, she just simply runs out of good. She also completely won me over with her exclaiming one night that “Plankton was in my brain!” a great excuse from an episode of SpongeBob where Plankton gets in SpongeBob’s head and takes control of his body and brings havoc to Bikini Bottom. It’s really hard for me to get mad at her when she drops a great excuse like that, especially such a great pop culture reference such as SpongeBob.

Add a helping of sugar, an insane holiday travel schedule, no day care or preschool and you have a recipe for a Category Five Preschool meltdown. It happened last week, right before the New Year. Cabin fever was setting in as was holiday fatigue. Little things were causing big problems. If you’ve ever watched VH1’s “Behind the Music” there is usually a moment in the show when the narrator says, “and then things began to fall apart.” Well, if we had a narrator, those words would have been uttered for us as well. The screaming, the yelling, the throwing of things and general bad behavior made for one very stressful night here on Greenwood. Thankfully, it was winter, so our doors and windows were closed and no one could hear the symphony of chaos coming from our kitchen. I don’t remember what triggered it, but it happened. Eli did something, Anna reacted, Anna got the time out, and the screaming began.


As the older sibling, I can relate to her feelings. The younger kid is usually nothing but trouble and pretty much ruins the idyllic set up you have with your parents as the only child. Oh sure, we talked about this prior to Eli coming and warned her that she would have to share her toys, her house, her Daddy and Papa, but that warning seemed to have been forgotten when the above was screamed at the top of her lungs. I looked at her and said that I felt her pain, and that little brothers were annoying. We both laughed a bit, and I calmly told her that we could not return Eli as we forgot to get a receipt.

Tod, the second child in his family, got a bit defensive (I believe he actually punched me) as Anna and I bonded over this issue and curtly pointed out that this same meltdown probably took place with me and with his older brother Scott when we became big brothers. I doubt it. Scott and I are totally rational beings; we’d never do anything like this.

When the process began with Eli, we had hoped that his adoption would be finalized by Christmas, but the six month wait period ends in January instead of December. Our social worker had asked to have it pushed u p to December, but we were asked to wait. We’re okay with that, as some of the best gifts of the holiday season are the ones you get after the mad rush. The ones you can take your time with and enjoy without all the insanity of the holidays. Even the gifts that come without receipts.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Doubting our desire to teach: a review of "Doubt"

Tod and I watched John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” yesterday, and it brought up some interesting conversations about our jobs as educators and Gay men after the film. It’s no secret that the central core of this film is the alleged sexual abuse of a young boy by a priest played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I won’t spoil the film for anyone, but this is a very strong theme in this film and leads us to the film’s climatic and somewhat cathartic ending. The accusing nun is expertly played by a relative newcomer named Meryl Streep, she does a great job of transporting us back to 1964 (the year the action takes place) in both her mindset and her dowdy wardrobe.
After we watched the film, Tod brought up the question of what he would do were he to be accused of misconduct such as in the movie. The actions taken by the priest are central to the end of the film, so you’ll need to watch it to find out what happens, but it still gave us pause to think about our current litigious society and how quickly gossip can spread, especially when it comes to subjects as charged as abuse from a priest or a teacher. There is a very powerful scene in the film that has Hoffman preaching on the evils of gossip. He recounts from the pulpit the story of a nun who is chastised by a priest for gossiping, and he tells her to go to her roof and stab her pillow. She does and the resulting blizzard of feathers blankets the neighborhood. This is a visually stunning moment in the film, one that I won’t soon forget. The nun returns to the priests and tells him what she did. She asks what now? The priest tells her to go and pick up EVERY SINGLE FEATHER from the pillow. You can imagine her response to this task. As much as I love to gossip, this was a chilling example of what can happen with just a few misspoken words.
So why did this film bring up so many questions for us? I recall being told as a young college student that I might want to reconsider being a male art teacher, as I would leave myself open to allegations due to stereotypes and vindictive students and or parents. Even though I was not out of the closet officially, the pervading stereotypes of male art teachers (and female gym teachers) were that we were Gay or Lesbian, whether provable or not. This is what happens in the movie, can this nun prove that this priest did indeed abuse his powers with this student? As student teachers, we were counseled by a panel of seasoned experts to never be alone with a student and to quell any suggestions of sex or sexuality by either us or the students. We were told to be cautiously compassionate and to watch how we present ourselves to our students to prevent any questions of inappropriateness. This created an internalized sense of paranoia from my first day of teaching. I entered the classroom eager to teach and to get to know my students, but I also entered scared and perhaps a bit overcautious. When we first began the adoption process, we read about how for many years Gay men were denied the ability to openly adopt as the assumption was that you were going to molest the child. Thankfully, the era we are in now is more open and the ugly stereotypes that surrounded much of the last century are gone.
What would I have done if anything like this would have happened to me when I was teaching? Allegations of abuse, whether confirmed or not are job killers for teachers and the accused very rarely recover professionally from issues like this. Granted, there have been both teachers and priests, and in some cases, nuns that have abused children and their power, which is unforgiveable.
The movie “Deliver us from Evil” documents what can happen when sexual abuse in the Catholic Church goes unchecked and the tabloids are unfortunately filled with stories of teachers who sexually abuse their students. How we as a society deal with this issue is what is important. Back in the 60’s, it was “don’t ask, don’t tell” and those reactions were devastating for many generations of students. The Catholic Church is still recovering emotionally and financially from these transgressions. The transgressions in “Doubt”, whether real, indisputable, or imagined leave many victims, including one you may not expect.
“Doubt” is a great film, one that will raise many questions, questions that may be uncomfortable to some, but never the less need to be asked.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Inside the Apple


I am usually not one for history books, but this one was on the new books shelf at the library and it looked interesting. I read the first chapter in the “reading room” one morning, and was hooked.
Tod and I have been to NYC countless times, and each time we delve into a new neighborhood or area of the metropolis that we have not seen before. This book is an amazing guide to an amazing city. Who knew that Canal Street was actually once a canal? Or that Wall Street, wait for it, was actually a wall (to protect the city). Sure, these are silly examples, but it’s this kind of minutia that makes this guide so enjoyable.

The back stories on the various cathedrals that were built early on are better than any drama on television right now. From what I can gather, it was just one big pissing contest between the churches to see who could build bigger and better and attract a bigger flock. And the story of Five Points (the focus of The Gangs of New York movie) is made even more interesting by the book’s authors. I want to go back and watch that film again knowing what I know now.
So, if you go to the Apple or know someone who lives in the Apple… I highly recommend this book.

The author’s have a website and a blog, one of my new favorites, here:
Happy New Year by the way...

So what are you reading?