Archive for the 'adoption' Category

Quick Update

Sharon August 18th, 2011

Just to keep you all updated, we learned yesterday that the children’s social worker has decided to separate the children, and place them in three homes.  Two will stay with the current foster mother, one with one home, and they are seeking a home for one child and the newborn – since we will take larger groups than two and there are very few homes that do so, they don’t want us to take those two, saving us for a larger group.  I admit, I’m relieved not to have to make a decision about taking these kids – it isn’t the numbers, so much as the ages – I realized about myself that while I would happily take a baby, we really would prefer to work mostly with a slightly older group.  That said, it would have been very hard for us to say no if we were their only chance at staying together, and otherwise were a good fit.

As much as I’m relieved that my gut intuition that this wasn’t the group for us didn’t come up against any actual decisions (and as much as I’m grateful that it isn’t my job to make decisions that hard about small children!), I’m terribly sad for the kids who are losing each other.  Unfortunately, of course, that kind of sad happens all the time, but it doesn’t make it better.  The only consolation is that at some point some other larger group that would have been separated will be able to stay together.  But oh, how sad for them.

This was a really good experience for us, in a lot of ways.  It revealed several things we hadn’t actually figured out before – when faced up with the decision, it was useful to know them.  First, we found out how much both of us really secretly want a daughter or two out of this.  When we first talked about it, Eric and I both said that we were wholly contented with our boys, and that in some ways, it would be easier to take a sibling group that was male.  We even talked about submitting our homestudy for a legally-free group of three boys available downstate, although our homestudy wasn’t done before they were placed.

Despite all that,  most larger groups are mixed gender.   We expressed no gender preference in our homestudy, but we did sort of have in our head that once we got up to three or four, there probably would be a girl.  One of the possible scenarios we were being asked to consider had us taking three of the kids, and not the only girl – and we both had to admit that while three more boys would be entirely wonderful once we got our head around it, we both sort of wished that there was a girl included.  I don’t think either of us had realized (although I probably should have gotten a clue when I went to goodwill and bought a range cheap girl clothes in a large range of sizes so that I’d have some if we got an emergency placement – some girls are fine with wearing boy clothes, some mind, and I didn’t want to have nothing pretty for a girl who needed something new – but I’m not sure I needed quite so many things ;-) ) that we’d allowed ourselves to dream about a daughter.  I don’t think that means that we wouldn’t accept an all boy group, and with enthusiasm, but it was good to talk about the images we have in our heads.

It is funny, because for years I wasn’t aware of any desire for a daughter – I love my boys, I love having a big group of sons and in many ways, I think I’m a really good boy Mom.  I was never disappointed when I learned I was having boys (actually I was sure from the beginning with everyone).  Eric initially wanted a little girl, but by the third boy had gotten over it, and was happy to have more boys.  The big revelation of this isn’t “we’d only take a group with girls in it” but “sometimes you have dreams that you aren’t even fully aware of.”

The other thing that was useful was that this was a good reminder of one of my own worst failings – intellectualizing things I don’t especially want to do and talking myself into them.  Sometimes this is a good quality, when there’s a strong moral case to be made for doing the thing you don’t enjoy – and this may have even been one of those times.   But over the years, I’ve periodically made major, and inevitably mistaken life decisions because they made rational sense, even if at a gut level, they didn’t seem right.  Many years ago, we almost bought a house that in retrospect, we all would have hated, because it seemed to have so many rational good qualities.  Fortunately, the friend we were purchasing with (this is many, many years ago) backed out – again, to my sudden relief.

In the end, we’re probably only going to take one sibling group (hopefully, but at least one at a time) – that is, we’re not going to be able to save all the kids in the world, and we know that intellectually.  That means that we might as well trust our instincts – historically speaking, whenever I talk myself into things, I usually am making a mistake – but I suspect  I will know when a match feels right.  I would like to go into this with more enthusiasm and energy than I could have gone into this particular arrangement.

It is hard to say that those things are necessary – thousands of kinship placements begin in ambivalence “I thought I was done with children…but they are my grandkids.”  Most foster placements begin too little knowledge for enthusiasm – “Sure, three kids, you think they are all boys but haven’t checked the little one’s diapers, yes it is 1 am, ok, c’mon over…”   I don’t have to have those feelings to take children – and I know that you can grow to love children you don’t start out loving.  Unlike those who at the moment of birth felt instant adoration, I remember looking at Eli after my long labor with a “Ok, he’s pretty interesting, but I don’t adore him or anything yet.”  Love came along somewhere later in the process.

In this scenario, however, it was necessary –  I could have imagined my pushing harder, telling the social worker not “I would need X and Y more information, and then may we would consider it” but “I really want these kids, and would like you to think about placing them together with us, because they sound right.”  In that case, they might have kept them together (or not).  This time that didn’t happen – but I suspect I will know when it is right. I just have to listen, and pray for happy homes for those children I didn’t know but who might have been.

I know I owe y’all some content, and you’ll be getting it, but not today ;-) .. In other news, I’ve agreed to push up the deadline for _Making Home_ my adapting-in-place book to this fall (since I’ve got all this free time now ;-) ), and the book will be available next spring!  So there’s some good news!


Low Energy and Large Family Logistics

admin August 15th, 2011

As some of you may have heard, we got a call last week about (possibly) taking a group of five siblings – or possibly three or four of them.  It is not entirely clear that they will all come into care, or that we would be asked to take all or any of them.  It is also possible we would decline – five is more than we bargained for, the group is very, very young (ages 5 to newborn) and we don’t have enough information about them yet to make a decision. We probably won’t get that information until the county makes its decisions about what they will do, so we wait.

Still, the thought of going from four children to seven, eight or even nine has me curious about the logistics – how will all of this work for us?  Technically, I have a large family – in the US large families start at 3 or 4 kids.  I still remember, shortly after Isaiah (third child) was born, I went to a tea party held by a good friend for a group of women who had all had babies recently.  All of us had our second or third, and one woman, on her second, said to me “Well, you have all those children!”  I blinked, because it had never occurred to me that a family of three constituted “all those” but in fact it does.

Indeed, when I recently attended an event to receive an award in New York City, I was as much a curiosity as a three-headed bear because I was a professional writer of some minor note *with four children.*  In New York, where outside some ethnic and religious populations, one or two children is an absolute maximum, I found myself surrounded by women stunned that anyone could have multiple children and write books as well.  Everyone asked “how does she do it” as though accomplishment plus children were impossible – and perhaps it is if women have to do all the domestic work alone. I’m fortunate in that it is a shared project in our household.

But if mine is a technically large family (four kids, two adults, sometimes additional adults, as when Eric’s grandparents lived with us or our housemate Phil did), the shift from four to seven, eight or nine (probably in a matter of days)  is a pretty big one in this culture.  Ok, not just the culture – in our lives as well, and yes, I’m freaking out a little ;-) .   Besides that, however, there’s public perception too, however.  Despite the tv-show prominence of a few large families, most households in the US are 2.7 people – ours would be 11 if we took all five kids.

If four children is already a big family, what the heck is eight or nine kids?  As Melissa Fay Greene writes (she’s the bio and adoptive Mom of 9) in _No Biking in the House Without a Helmet_, that many kids marks you as weird and makes people put you in “…among the greats:  the Kennedys, the McCaughey septuplets, the von Trapp family singers and perhaps even Mrs. Vassilyev, who, according to the Guiness Book of World Records, gave birth to sixty-nine children in eighteenth century Russia.”  Now there’s a company I never thought to join.

Besides the fascination with sheer numbers,  everyone who writes and reads about large families is fascinated by the logistics – how many gallons of milk a week, how do they do the shopping, how much laundry and how many dishes?  I admit, I’m no different – I want to be able to envision how this all works, to try and have a set of strategies in my head that might make the transition doable if this – or some other – group of siblings joins my extant herd of boys.

So I googled – a bunch – about larger family logistics, and how do people do it.  Unfortunately, a lot of what I found didn’t really apply to us, in the same sense that a lot of standard american cultural assumptions don’t apply to us.  The advice offered to large families is centered on families that don’t seem terribly worried about their ecological impact.  Maybe they can’t worry about it, or maybe it isn’t part of their consciousness.

Whatever the reason, advice for parents of large families (ok, let’s actually admit it is almost always mothers of large families!) tends to emphasize big appliances at lots of them.  Get three fridges one family suggests – one just for the milk!  Two industrial washers and two matching industrial dryers as well – that’ll keep the laundry under control!  Use paper and plastic at every meal to minimize dishes!  Color code everything  - every kid gets a color, and everything they own – socks, underpants, towels, backpacks…it all comes in purple or green or puce (for the truly mega-families, what happens if you are the last kid and your color choices are puce and ashes-of-roses ;-) ).

I’m not sitting in judgement here – many of these families, particularly the large adoptive families with many kids with special needs, may simply not be able to add on energy reduction.  Indeed, for the families that keep large sibling groups from separation, or take in hard-to-place older and disabled kids, just giving the kids a family will probably reduce their energy and resource consumption considerably by reducing visitations, consolidating kids into one home instead of four, etc…, not to mention the other deep goods – the fact that kids get families.  My point isn’t that other families should do differently, but that it was hard to find role models, except by digging into the past.

I don’t have a working refrigerator – we use a small fridge as an icebox.  It is a side-by-side (inherited from Eric’s grandmother), so I might open up the other side, but I won’t be buying a plug-in model.  I will be buying milk when the kids come, because I’m not legally permitted to feed foster children our goat’s milk, but I don’t see myself with an infinite number of gallons of industrial milk in a fridge, as so many blog pictures show.

While when our present front loader washer meets its inevitable end, I do anticipate replacing it with a commercial model, that probably won’t be for quite a while –  who knows about things that far away?  My mother asked me recently if I would need to get a dryer to keep up with the laundry – my assumption is no, since generations of women raised large families without them, but I haven’t done the laundry for more than 7 people yet (although at one point I was doing laundry for a baby, a toddler and an autistic, non-toilet trained five years old, as we as an incontinent elder, plus others so I’ve got a faint sense of this).  The plastic and paper are not part of my plan, and where would I find that much color-matching stuff in my usual shopping haunts, Goodwill. Savers and various yard sales?  Besides, who wants to wear purple every day?

Some of the advice for large families is good – make lists, get organized, get rid of stuff you don’t need.  Organize the kids into buddies, with a bigger kid keeping an eye on a younger one.  Cook double and freeze.  Chore charts, calendars – all good advice.  Most of it is good advice for those of us with small-big families too, which is why a lot of it is already in place, and I have some doubts about my ability to do some of the other stuff.

Some things we are already doing – bulk purchasing, a large pantry, buying clothes for larger sizes in advance – I’ve just added girl things into the mix and am starting to accumulate a stash of clothing for potential daughters, if any. The kids already have chores.  I already have multiple calendars.  I’m just now sure how much new will be required of me as I scale up.

Then there’s the old-fashioned advice – wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, etc…  But I don’t iron, and I have to do laundry just about every day as it is – much of the year the limiting factor is drying space, so a “day” to wash is out.  I can imagine modifying it – preserve on Monday, bake on Tuesday, weed on Wednesday, mend on Thursday – but I haven’t quite pulled it together yet in my head, and I’m not clear that baking on Tuesday, rather than when we’re low on bread, will actually have me any time.

So those of you with large households, particularly trying to Riot or keep your energy use down in other ways, what do you do?  What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you for managing a large household?   How do you organize yourself? Keep up with the clothing and the washing, the cooking and shopping?  Do you use a full range of appliances?  Do without?  What’s worth having and what isn’t?  I want your advice!


The Great Muppaphone expansion, Riots and Classes

admin July 15th, 2011

What, you ask, has Sharon been duing, besides getting mud and manure on her? (I feel like there’s been a theme to some of my recent posts, no?) I’m sure you have nothing but this on your mind – the doins a’transpirin at my house being the focus of whole tens of people (well, maybe one ten on a good day ;-) . Still, I’m going to tell you.

Well, what we’ve mostly been doing is getting ready for the fall garden season, and getting ready for the family expansion project. As of this week, our house is open as a foster home, but of course, in our usual “doing at the last minute something we should have done weeks ago” fashion, we’re not quite there yet. Still awaiting the stair gate (I stupidly gave ours away when the kids got big), still awaiting one of the mattresses for the beds, etc… and most of all, we needed a larger vehicle.

For the last few years, our sole family vehicle has been the “farm truck” – which is our joking name for the 1994 Ford Taurus we inherited from Eric’s grandmother. When we got it, it was literally the car that the little old lady only drove to the supermarket on Sundays. Since then, it has carried six passengers regularly, and driven chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, calves and bees in the back (and occasionally front) seat. It can carry four bales of hay if you really push it, and close to a ton of feed, if absolutely necessary. It has developed a permanent depression on the roof from where the goats have sat on it, and constantly has little baby goat hoofprints on it.

Grandma (whose memory is always a joy and a blessing) was a very tidy sort of person – she once confided gently to me that she could not sleep if she thought there was dust under her bed. I, as those of you who have been to my farm can attest, am not. There are way scarier things than dust under my bed, or would be if I didn’t sleep on a futon on the floor ;-) . We sometimes theorize that if there was a way to harness the energy created by Grandma spinning in her grave, we’d be able to run the farm on it, but she was also such a kind, loving and practical person that I know she’d be grateful her car went to good use.

It has been good use – it has been reliable and energy efficient. But we have outgrown it – we need a vehicle for going to market, and since we were certified to take up to four foster children (gack!), that means we need a vehicle that can seat 10 at least some of the time. Since that lets us out of the minivan category and firmly into the “big wonkin’ vans that if you are lucky get 18mpg” it will be interesting to see how we manage to hit our gas use targets (we have pretty consistently hovered at using 85% less gas than the US average, except for Eli, who is bused to a school for autistic children and runs about 75% less). We will still use the “truck” for Eric’s commute (on days he can’t carpool) and for any occasion when a subset of us can travel.

We looked at a selection of large passenger vans, including my favorite, the one that was a state prison transport van (they didn’t leave the logo on, sadly) and ended up with a 14 passenger vehicle – horribly and ironically, I am now the proud owner of something called a “suburban.”

Meanwhile, we’ve been trying to get our lives in order before 2-4 more people join in them and disrupt our managed chaos into less managed chaos. As much as we want to do this, it is a little like being pregnant for the first time, I think – the slow realization that this might be harder than you think kicks in. My husband deals with this by looking on the bright side. Discussing what we would do if we suddenly doubled the number of children in our household, Eric pointed out cheerfully that “hey, I could tune them to a full octave and use them as a muppaphone!”

(Just in case you don’t know what a muppaphone is. Simon has already claimed low C ;-) ).

This, of course, is the kind of thing that makes me adore my husband, and is also the kind of thing you probably don’t want to mention to social workers evaluating the merits of your family. Corporal punishment is absolutely forbidded in foster families – I’m pretty sure that includes musical performances as well ;-) .

Having the van does make it real. It also will make the Riot for Austerity more challenging – which is good. After all, just cutting your energy usage by 90% over the national norm is totally easy, right? Good – I’m adding a gas-guzzling tank and a few new household members to make it interesting. Remember, the Riot will re-start on August one.

Miranda Edel and I took the title of the Riot from George Monbiot’s book _Heat_ – in it he wrote “nobody ever rioted for austerity.” He argued no one will ever march saying “we want less!” – and that’s true. On the other hand a whole heck of a lot of us might march saying we want more for our kids and grandkids, to leave a better legacy, to honor and value what we have. There were more than a 1000 participating households around the world last time – I’m hoping to make it 5000 this time! Lots more information coming!

Also, if you wondering how to keep the garden produce coming into fall and winter, I’m teaching my Fall Gardening and Season Extension class, starting on Thursday 7/21, and running until mid-August. It will be a four week class focusing on everything from growing in containers to hoop houses, low tunnels, cold frames, timing your plantings, root cellaring, in garden storage and winter harvesting. You can take the class with a greenhouse or if you’ve just started your first garden and aren’t even sure what these words mean ;-) . Keeping the garden going – all year long or late in the season – is one of our keys to food security. Email me at [email protected] Cost of the class is $100 or equivalent barter. I also have five free spots for low income participants. Email for details.

Finally, on Sunday July 31, from 1-4pm, I’m running a class at my house in Knox, NY (about half an hour west of Albany) on growing, preserving and using herbs – from the culinary to the medicinal to the truly unusual. The class will involve a garden tour, tools for plant identification and both history and present uses, a snack of tasty herb-based treats and a demonstration of preservation techniques. Everyone will get herbs and herb products to take home as well. Cost of the class is $75 and includes all materials. Limited space available, so please register soon. Email for details, directions, etc…

On Sunday August 21, from 1-4, we’ll be having another class at our place – “mini goat camp.” Learn to milk a goat, trim hooves and the basics of goat care and housing including basic home vet work. Find out what it takes to keep dairy goats, including safe milk handling. Learn about feeding and kidding, and then do some basic cheesemaking and dairying. Sadly, in this case, everyone can not take home a goat ;-) , but you will get a valuable skill set. If you do want to get into dairy goats, I also have goats for sale -email for details. Cost of the class is $75, space is limited, so please email at [email protected] Older children (10 and up) are welcome in both workshops at a reduced rate ($45).

Ok, hope you are all having adventures too! Please tell me about them if you are so inclined!



On Entering the Foster Parent World

Sharon April 7th, 2011

The story of where we are and what we’re up to is all over on the other blog!

Also, if you are around the Capital Region and want to see what I’m up to, I’m going to be here on Saturday! Come and say hi!


Again Questioning the Hive Mind…

admin March 3rd, 2011

I figured I’d ask here, just in case –  you all are such a brilliant resources!  We’re starting to put together the bedroom to be used by some/all of our potential new kids, and also preparing to give up all of us cramming into the tiny little clown car and accepting that people with 6 or 7 kids are van people, at least some of the time.  As usual, money is at a premium, and so’s time, but I figured I’d start looking here.

Does anyone in my general area (upstate NY near Albany) have any of the following they are looking to unload reasonably cheaply?

A set of bunk beds

1 or 2 kid sized or twin beds

A good condition, cheap many (at least 8, maybe 9+) passenger van?  We probably can’t spend more than 3K here and would love to spend less, but we’d also like it to last, which may not be compatible with the former.

Any really cool kid room decorations that do not have Thomas, Bob the Builder, SpongeBob or any other major television characters on them.  We need some fun/pretty stuff for the walls, since it has kind of boring wallpaper on it, and we probably won’t get to repapering this year.

I doubt I have enough barter to cover a van unless you want 160 copies of _A Nation of Farmers_ for some bizarre reason ;-) , but I’m open to full or partial barter in classes, goats, herbs, tinctures, books, vegetable plants, CSA membership, eggs, possibly kosher poultry, apprenticeships, or whatever you can think of, and of course, there’s money.

Thanks everyone – I really appreciate the aid!


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