Why It’s Wrong to Ask Adoptive Families for Additional Proof of Adoption

Apr 16 2014

CAUTION: I’ve got my Adoptive Mama panties in a bunch today. Buckle up, folks, ‘cause off we go!

The crux of the matter is this: it’s not okay for insurance companies in the United States of America to require adoptive families to provide adoption paperwork as proof of legal dependency when the family can provide a state-issued birth certificate, instead, which already lists the child’s adoptive parents as the legal parents, is infinitely more simple and equitable, and is less, shall we say, a TOTAL CRAP MOVE.

I keep hearing from adoptive parents who are being asked, over and over, to provide extra documentation of legal parentage when they’re already able to provide proof that is easy to understand and legally relevant (i.e. a birth certificate listing the adoptive parents), and I gotta say, the whole thing is starting to boggle my mind.

Meghan1It happened again this week when my friend Meghan, whose husband Stefan is employed as a middle school teacher, learned that the Oregon Educators Benefit Board (OEBB) is conducting a dependent eligibility verification review to ensure that those covered by its insurance are, in fact, eligible to receive it.

There’s no problem with review itself, of course. Knock yourselves out, I say! Review away!

The problem is the fact that OEBB, as part of this process, is, for no discernible reason, treating adopted kids differently than kids who are, in their words, “natural.”

(Psst… adopted kids aren’t unnatural, folks. Let’s retire that one, shall we?)

According to OEBB, a birth certificate listing the OEBB member, spouse or domestic partner as parent is sufficient proof of the dependency of a “natural” child, whereas the parent of an adopted child must provide adoption paperwork, instead.

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Which… are you kidding me?

Because there’s a problem here.

A BIG problem.

Or more than one.

I’m just not sure that handing over adoption paperwork – in the languages of, say, Vietnamwhich is where we adopted our first baby, or Ethiopia, where Meghan’s baby was born, or Spanish or Haitian Creole or Russian or Chinese or any of the other myriad languages in which our paperwork is written – is going be all that helpful to the person at the insurance company in charge of dependent verification; a person who I’m going to guess isn’t even a little bit trained in authenticating international adoption paperwork or verifying the adoption paperwork of all 50 United States.

Avoiding this type of confusion and the Adopted vs. “Natural” disparity is exactly why adoptive parents go through the often overwhelming and always extensive, paperwork-heavy process of adoption and then re-adoption in our home states; so our adopted children have exactly the same paperwork as the kids we birthed ourselves and so we have proof of legal parentage. The same proof of parentage that biologically-related families have. Verified already by both state and federal agencies. With fingerprints and home studies and FBI criminal background checks.

Asking to see additional adoption paperwork when adoptive families can provide a state-issued birth certificate or United States passport that list the adoptive parents as legal parents is, quite frankly, like asking biologically-related families to additionally provide their hospital or homebirth paperwork. It’s pointless, nonsensical and invasive. 

And asking to see additional adoption paperwork isn’t harmless. A few months ago, a mom from another state contacted me about a similar situation with a different insurance provider; in her case, though, she was asked for proof of adoption while her child, who experiences anxiety and attachment difficulties, was present, listening to every word that assigned him as different and other. I mean, can we see the problem here? The position in which we’re unnecessarily putting kids who may already feel unsure of their places in their families, their belonging in their world? And can we recognize that we needn’t add to their uncertainty a burden of extra “proof” when we already have a better, more clear source of it?

When a child is adopted (or re-adopted) in the State of Oregon, the adoption decree states,

“From this day forward, this child shall to all legal intents and purposes be the child of Petitioners, the same as if born to them in lawful wedlock. … The adoption of the above-named child by Petitioners is recognized as a valid and legal adoption for all purposes in the State of Oregon and is hereby ratified and confirmed under international law.”

It’s time we started acting like that’s true.

Meghan2

…….

P.S. If you’re an adoptive parent and you find yourself in this position – being asked for additional adoption paperwork when you’ve already provided legal proof via a state-issued birth certificate that you are your child’s parent – here’s a list of somewhat pissy, passive-aggressive and pointed questions you can ask your insurance company:

  1. Are you concerned that this birth certificate is fraudulent? If so, why?
  2. Are you concerned that the state or federal government has not done their due diligence in confirming that our adoption is legitimate before issuing us this state birth certificate or United States passport?
  3. Do you ever ask biological parents for their hospital or home birth records to supplement a state-issued birth certificate? If not, why not?
  4. Given that every state and country has different paperwork and that no two adoption decrees look the same or have exactly the same stamps, seals, notarizations, and certifications, who do you have on staff or on contract responsible for and qualified to verify its legitimacy? 

Or you can be like my friend Meghan and write a kind letter, instead. 

Whatever.

In the end, though, I hope we’ll all genuinely ask this one:

What can I do to help change this requirement for adoptive families?

Because we all, every last one of us, deserve to be treated like we belong.

 

Foster Mother: A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest Winning Entry by Dawn Reed

Mar 21 2014


A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
Winning Entry

Foster Mother
by Dawn Reed

It has been four years since I witnessed the moment. Four years of considering its consequence. Four years of trying to describe the meeting with Trent’s foster mother, and the word that I keep returning to is “powerful”.

In the fall of 2009, my youngest son had expressed a desire to meet his “Korean mommy from the pictures” (his foster mother). After explaining to a six year old, how far away South Korea is from Oregon, imagine our joy when we were notified that she would be in Eugene on November 4th.

Upon arriving at the Eugene offices of Holt International Children’s Services, we seated ourselves in the lobby with other families each waiting to meet one of the two foster mothers from Korea. All of us seemed a bit uncertain, but excited. As we exchanged information, we learned that Ella was two years younger than Trent, and was also a foster child of Mrs. Lee.

Finally, the foster mothers entered the room with an interpreter. Mrs. Lee caught sight of Ella. She immediately recognized the little girl and they embraced. Through the interpreter they talked for just a couple of minutes. Our family stepped back, watching, knowing that our turn would come. After two or three minutes, the interpreter told Mrs. Lee that another child in the room was here to see her also. Mrs. Lee turned and saw Trent. In a voice that was part gasp, part sigh of relief, but completely joyous, she said, “Hyo-sung!” I think I was the only member of our family that comprehended in that moment.

She knew him.

Hyo-sung was Trent’s Korean name. This woman who had cared for 38 babies, who had only mothered my son for two-and-a-half months, recognized him six-and-a-half years later. She told us that she knew his eyes.

Trent is my affectionate little boy. He is not, however, affectionate with people he does not know well. I had worried about this for the week leading up to this moment. What if he refused to go to her? How would I communicate that this was normal? It would be heart-breaking because time was the one thing we would not have–you don’t know someone well in one day.

First Glimpse

Yet, at the moment she called his name, the name he did not recognize, he went to her and allowed himself to be hugged. He looked up at her and smiled. The hugs continued throughout the day. The bond between a mother and her child is powerful, and that was the bond I was witnessing.

The day was filled with activities. At one point during the morning, several children were playing on swings. While on a rope swing, Trent fell off, landing flat on his back. Mrs. Lee was to him as fast as I was, brushing him off, crooning words of comfort to him. She glanced at me as if to ask whether I was accepting of her doing that, which, of course, I was. Once a mother, always a mother; the bond was obvious.

When we walked into a restaurant for a Korean lunch, we were joined by several more families with their adopted children. The foster mothers again reacted with joy as they recognized each child in turn. What a delight to watch as each child was recognized, known by their foster mother.

The final event of the day was a tea in honor of the Korean guests. While waiting for the program to begin, I was able to ask Mrs. Lee about the photos she had sent to us with Trent. Through the interpreter she explained several of the pictures. She also shared memories of his infancy: little tidbits of information that we never would have known, bits of his past now able to be carried into his future. 

The programmed portion of the tea began. Holt’s Vice President read letters of thanks to each of the foster mothers. Each lady told us of her love for the children. Mrs. Lee spoke of praying for the children while they were in her care, as they transitioned to their new families, and even now. It was an emotional moment.

The tea ended and it was time for good-byes. Each family took a bit of time individually with their foster mother. Ella and Trent continued to play together happily so all of Mrs. Lee’s other families went first. At one time, as a family left, Mrs. Lee followed them out the door. Trent saw her go and joined her on the deck as she waved good-bye. It was a touching moment to watch him stand with this woman, her hand resting on his head. The two of them came back inside, him to continue playing, her to say more good-byes.

Foster Mother HugsEventually, it was our turn. Trent came over for another hug. I was so overcome with joy, gratitude, and love that I could barely speak. So many emotions, so few adequate words. I could only, through my tears, thank Mrs. Lee and tell her that we will always consider her to be a part of our family. She loved our son. She had known and cared for him before we were able to, and for that we are forever grateful. Mrs. Lee ran for a napkin on the refreshment table and used it to personally dry my tears. What tender care she showed to each one of us.

For over four years now, I have replayed these events in my mind. Of all the many memories of that day, why do I keep coming back to that initial moment? There were several other moments just as poignent, yet none quite as powerful. Here is what I think: deep down we all want to be known. Why do we form friendships? We want to be known. Why do we long to find that one true love? We want to be truly known. Family is about knowing and being known. Mrs. Lee knew my son. To her he was not just Baby #22. He was Hyo-sung, a little guy with big eyes and pale skin, a preemie who was so tiny, a “good baby” who followed her daughters’ every movement with his eyes. As the day progressed, she began to know him in a new way. He was Hyo-sung, but she also called him Trent. He was a stocky boy, strong and healthy, a boy who played & laughed wholeheartedly with another of her foster children. He had grown & changed, but he still had the same eyes. His prayers of meeting Mrs. Lee had been answered. That powerful experience of being known will forever impact his life.

DawnDawn Reed is the wife of Stuart. Mother of Shane and Trent. Teacher of 4th & 5th graders. Both of Dawn’s sons were adopted from South Korea as infants. Dawn tries to balance family and work and some days she pretends to be successful at that. Teaching is her calling, writing is the way she processes, laughing is the way she lives. 

…..

OldWoodPencil

I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the winning entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Dawn’s story:

Korie.Chocolate

Korie: “Thank you for sharing your story. What a gift to share that moment of recognition between your child and someone they have longed to meet. I loved what you had to say about “being known” and how we all long for that experience. From person to person this looks so different throughout a life; thank you for sharing how this looked for your son.” 

Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.

MeghanRogersCzarnecki2Meghan: “This brought me to tears! The writing was excellent and the story so moving.” 

Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart. 

AjSchwanzAj: “Dawn captured the powerful experience of being known.” 

Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. :D Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press. 

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P.S. I neglected to include our judges’ thoughts when I shared our first two Writing Contest winning entries. So sorry! You can see them now – and read the great stories by Jen Hulfish and Lora Lyon – on their guests posts: Between Our Naked Toes and Who Are You?

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And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.

Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net

Who Are You? A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest Winner by Lora Lyon

Mar 17 2014

 

A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
Winning Entry

Who Are You?
by Lora Lyon

Two years ago, a stranger walked in to our life.

Or, more correctly, we walked in to hers.

LL1

In a tiny office in Odessa, Ukraine I became a mother for the 5th time when a five-and-a-half year old girl with brown pigtails and big blue eyes regarded us cautiously, but with a hint of hope in her eyes. I remember seeing my newborn children and wondering as our eyes met for the first time “Who will you become?”  As I looked in to the face of my new daughter the question was brought to a whole new level.

“Who are you?”

Our child was already school-aged. She had strong opinions and even stronger survival behaviors created by a series of damaging experiences that had formed a heavily fortified wall around her heart. The delicate dance of infancy and bright exploration of toddler-hood had long since passed her by in years filled with regimented institutional care, inadequate nutrition, lack of mental stimulation and stifled emotional growth.  Her earliest memories were filled with caretakers who couldn’t be trusted and needs that would never be met.  Laying in soiled diapers, taking ice-cold “showers”, having soap poured in her eyes, never having enough to eat. Laughter when you were in pain. The mean nanny with the stick.  Bedtime stories nightmares are made of, complete with Monsters who eat children that venture out of bed for any reason at all. Comfort only coming from a place buried deep within as you rocked yourself to sleep, terrified, night after night.

When she sat on my lap for the first time and heard I would become her Mama, it did not magically transform either of us. That day we were quite simply strangers who had rather suddenly become “family”.

Starting at rock bottom with an unknown Mount Everest of issues to climb, I carried her out those orphanage doors a few weeks later like a newborn baby with no real understanding of what lay ahead….only knowing that this leap of faith was her one chance for a life at all.

LL2The typical slow process of discovering your child as they hit new milestones while you watch with loving awe, was replaced instead with diving head first in to the quicksand of trauma-parenting. Panic will certainly drag you all under. Painstakingly, slowly attempting to extract your child from the pit of loss, abandonment, abuse and loneliness that was the only world they had ever known becomes the singular focus if you are all going to survive. Finding your way through rages that could last for hours, struggling to find real help from someone who understands what your child has gone through, learning to choose love when all you feel is the pain and rejection reflected in your child’s eyes.

Over the last two years I have questioned my ability to be the mother she needs and deserves more than once. I’ve wondered if we will ever heal her hurts. I wonder if she will ever accept she was not to blame for her circumstances and truly believe she is loved and safe. I wonder if my own faults and flaws, so magnified through this experience, can be overcome in order to help her find success and happiness in spite of it all.

LL3Parenting a child with a traumatic past is not simple or straightforward task.  There is no official guide-book, and there are so many invisible struggles. Navigating the highs and lows of becoming this new family, as all of us are undoubtedly changed in so many ways, is an experience that has been beyond words.

People say we are “saints.”

I shake my head.

People say she is “so lucky”.

I want to cry.

There is nothing saintly about opening your heart and home to a child who has nothing and no one. I imagine if there were circumstances where my children became orphans certainly I would want someone, somewhere, to love and care for them the way every child deserves to be cared for.

There is nothing lucky about what happened to her. It was a tragedy to lose her first parents, no matter the reason. It was an injustice, to be raised in a place without love and nurturing and adequate medical care. It was unfair that it took five and a half years before someone would see her face, kiss her cheeks, and claim her as a beloved daughter.

LL4

She is here now. But luck?

Luck had nothing to do with it.

We haven’t been the perfect family. But we have been A Family. We haven’t been perfect parents. But we have been a safety net while she learns to trust and we created a place for her to call her own. She hasn’t been magically made “all better with Love”. But she has been transformed by the power of a real chance at living, learning make her own choices, and finding her true potential while surrounded by people who love her unconditionally.

LL5

Two years ago on February 17th I held a paper in my hands, which officially and legally declared she was no longer alone in this big, scary world. Not an orphan any longer, but a child who would be loved, cherished, protected and celebrated for the rest of her life.

Two years later there are still good days and tough days, although the good ones far outnumber the bad. We aren’t strangers anymore, that’s for certain. She’s a big fan of hugs and snuggles, she’s learning to read and write, and her smile can light up an entire room. I can read her changing moods like a broken bone warns you about bad weather. We have more in our mental and emotional “toolbox” to give us shelter when those storms break, as I imagine they will for many years to come.

LL6

Still, there are many days we regard each other quizzically, wondering if we will ever figure it all out.

Who are you?”

I’ve decided there is only one answer: I am exactly who she needs. She is exactly who I need. Our family is what we all need. Not perfect. Just……Exactly Right.

And we are all still in the process of becoming who we were meant to be.

LL7

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IMG_9273Lora Lyon is a military spouse and mother of five children ages 14 to 4 years old, three boys and two girls. She is a registered nurse, currently pursuing a graduate degree from Georgetown University in the Family Nurse Practitioner program. Her husband is an active duty infantry officer in the U.S. Army who has served two tours to Afghanistan and one to Iraq. You can follow their adventures on Lora’s blog, My Camo Kids, on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter

 

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OldWoodPencil

I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the winning entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Lora’s story:

Korie.Chocolate

Korie: “Thank you for sharing your story. What a beautiful way to think of family- not perfect, but what we need.” 

Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.

MeghanRogersCzarnecki2Meghan: “We need more stories like this being told about adoption! Honest and not glossing over the hard parts, but also positive and hopeful.” 

Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart. 

AjSchwanzAj: “Curiousity. Determination. Compassion. The part about not being a saint struck me – about the situation being reversed.” 

Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. :D Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press. 

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And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.

Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net

Why Our Response to Coke’s “America the Beautiful” Matters

Feb 3 2014

My dad was 8 years old in 1956. That’s the same year he remembers watching his dad invite Mrs. Rhodes, the neighbor who’d knocked on their door in Seattle, paper and pen in hand, to get the hell off his property.

Mrs. Rhodes, it turns out, was the mastermind behind a petition to keep a Japanese American family from buying a house in the new development on the next street, a kind of discrimination still protected by law in many places in 1956 America.

As a Navy veteran who fought in the Pacific just over a decade earlier — who kept vigil against the Japanese military on dark nights in a huge ocean — my grandfather could have taken the popular cultural position of his day and rejected the family outright.

But he didn’t.

My grandfather didn’t sign the petition.

And it’s not because he knew the family.

He just knew of them.

He knew the father was a fellow veteran.

He knew the family wanted to live in the neighborhood.

And that was more than enough.

And so he worked behind the scenes and in a way I doubt the family ever knew to champion them. To help them be free to live their lives next to his. Which is, I believe, America at its best.

So when Mrs. Rhodes bustled up to the front door that day, armed with a petition and a speech, my grandfather interrupted her. “I did not fight in the Pacific during WWII,” he said, “so a bigot like you could stand on my front porch and attempt to deny an American citizen and fellow veteran the opportunity to buy a home for himself and his family. Now get off my property before I have you thrown off.”

And he said it while my dad watched. All 8 years of him, spindly-limbed and wide-eyed, brain chugging away at the implications of his dad addressing Mrs. Rhodes that way.

photo 2 (74)

On Saturday, I curled my daughter’s hair for Homecoming, and she dressed in her $20 find from Ross Dress for Less, altered by her grandmother to fit, with borrowed shoes and her mama’s pearls and a bright smile and anticipation.

On Saturday, I hugged my daughter’s boyfriend, and he whispered thank you as we set out to take pictures.

On Saturday, I thought about the strange tides and currents that bring a little boy from a terrible war in Sierra Leone to a quiet town in rural Oregon to grow into a young man to meet a young woman who was born in Vietnam and to ask her to dance.

And on Saturday, I thought, what a strange and sensational life, this one we all have that is blended from the bits that are beautiful and the bits that are broken.

Then on Sunday, Coca Cola showed this ad during the Superbowl:

And on Sunday, there was an outcry against singing America the Beautiful in languages other than English.

Listen. Here’s why our reaction to Sunday’s Coke commercial matters. Here’s why it makes a difference what we say today… and 58 years from today.

We say little things. On Facebook. To our friends. To our family. In comments sections and out loud and in quiet and behind closed doors. And our children hear us. All of those places. They hear and they witness and they follow our lead. And 58 years later, they will remember. They will remember and it will shape their lives. They will remember who we welcomed and who we shunned. Who we embraced and who we discarded. And they will remember whether we thought it was OK to love America the Beautiful in the languages we bring with us. Whether it’s OK to express ourselves as ourselves. As Vietnamese and Sierra Leonean. As Japanese and Irish. As Guatemalan and Haitian. Or whether we must pretend to be what we’re not until we become it – bland, homogeneous, uniform, standardized.

The detractors of the Coke commercial are right. Our culture is at stake.

Now, adoption is not easy. Either of children or of a country or of a new way of thinking. It’s complex and nuanced and heart rending, full of deep losses and great gains. It takes us apart and then it remakes us into people who are a mix of who we were then and who we are now. It is tragic and triumphant, these threads of stories snipped and grafted and respun. There is very little that is easy about blending nations and embracing other cultures and championing the freedom of people who look and sound different than what we are accustomed to.

But I will tell you what.

It is worth it.

And we can be America the Beautiful.

photo 5 (18)
photo 4 (33)

P.S. If you want to watch full-length versions of America the Beautiful in all 8 languages featured in the ad, Coca Cola has provided them here: in EnglishHindiTagalogSpanishSenegalese-French, HebrewMandarin, and Keres. And behind the scenes, which is my favorite. Gorgeous.

P.P.S. My daughter’s a weirdo.

photo 1 (68)

Like her mama.

………

So. What did I miss? What are your thoughts about Coke’s America the Beautiful ad?

 

DMV Responds Quickly to Adoptive Families

Aug 13 2013

Yesterday, I wrote about an unfortunate situation at the Department of Motor Vehicles. To recap, the Oregon driver application form required me to identify myself via checkbox as my daughter’s “adoptive parent” which then caused confusion for the DMV employee about whether we would be required to provide proof of adoption before Abby would be allowed to receive her driver’s permit.

The situation was frustrating and disheartening. As I said yesterday, “on a day we should be only celebrating a right of passage, high-fiving and waving that permit in the air, whooping and hollering for her success, I had to defend my right to act as my daughter’s mother. And Abby had to watch.” You can read the original post here.

I realized – reluctantly, I admit – that I needed to do something to work toward changing the form. Reluctantly because OH MY WORD, the BUREAUCRACY, right? And THE GOVERNMENT. And NO ONE WILL CARE. And THE RED TAPE. And IT WILL TAKE FOREVER.

But I knew this was my battle. Something I needed to fix. Because it may seem like a tiny thing, an insensitive checkbox on a form, but I couldn’t stomach the idea that adoptees would show up for a day that’s supposed to feel fantastic and leave with a lump in their gut, instead. At an age when we all question who we are and how we fit in and where we belong in this crazy, mixed-up, awesome world, I needed to do my small part to make getting a driver’s permit just… happy.

This morning, I sighed a giant self-pitying sigh and picked up the phone to call the DMV administrator’s office. (Thanks for finding me that number, Denise!) Of course, I knew I’d have to wait on hold for 47 years before being shuffled from person to person and then accidentally disconnected at which point I’d have to start over, so I was prepared. The kids were all in front of screens with mountains of snacks and strict instructions to let me finish talking on the phone, “Even if I’m on the phone for a long time, OK?” So I braced myself and dialed… and got right through to Kristin, the DMV administrator’s assistant, who was – get this – professional, personable, and eager to help.

Huh. Alright.

Her boss wasn’t in the office, Kristin explained, but I would be more quickly served by talking to the policy analysts and form writers, anyway. Could she get ahold of them for me and have them call me right back?

Um, yes, please.

And then, guess what? Kristin got ahold of them and they called me right back.

I KNOW. It was a total bummer, you guys, because then I had to confront my own prejudice about how I thought this was going to go down and about how I think government agencies work and about how I depersonalize the people who work there.

Becky called me from the DMV this afternoon. She coordinates the provisional licensing program in Oregon, and she got right to the point. There’s no reason to differentiate adoptive and biological parents on the driver’s application, she said. We should never have been questioned about my status as Abby’s mom. Upon the next printing, they will change the form to eliminate separate boxes for legal parents. She will update me when that happens. And she’s sending a memo to all Oregon DMV’s to ensure this doesn’t happen to other adoptive families while we’re waiting for the current forms to run out.

BOOM.

Becky, you’re RAD.

And Oregon DMV? You folks earned this title: DMV Responds Quickly to Adoptive Families. Thank you.

Here, to recap what just happened – you know, in a more figurative sense – is my son Cael at age 3.

Transcript:
Psssssss.
It’th pee and poop.
It’th pee and poop.
It’th pee AND poop.
It’th pee and pooooop.
WOOOOSH.
Now dis is de HAND washing.
Psssshhhhhh.
And now dis is de SOAP.
QUAHhhhhK. Psssshhhhhh.
Now we’re all cwean! 
NOW LET’S DRIVE AGAIN!

OK, obviously I’m kidding when I compare a potty video with this situation. Except, of course, I’m kind of not. ‘Cause although everyone’s intentions were good, it was just a great big mess, right? Pee AND poop. But life is like that. Full of messes caused by people with good hearts who mean well. It’s OK, though. It stinks, yes, but it’s OK. We looked at it. We identified it. We called it what it was — a pile of crap. And then we flushed it away. Purged it. Cleaned it. And we did it together. Abby, me, you, the woman across the counter at the DMV, Kristin, and Becky. Together. Because that’s what community is. That’s what community does.

So, in the words of my wise, wise son,

Now let’s DRIVE AGAIN!

photo (74)

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Please join me in thanking the DMV for their swift, honest, compassionate response.

THANK YOU, DMV.

……….

UPDATE

I just received a response from Becky in writing. I thought you all might like to see it, too. Here it is!

Beth,

I have contacted our field services section and informed them of your situation. It will be discussed at a meeting next week at a higher level (Customer Service Coordinators) and the reminder to NOT request documentation for adoptive parents will then be dispersed to the offices. The individual offices typically get their information through a standing weekly meeting. This would just be a reminder as our current policy already states to NOT ask for proof. As we discussed on the phone, I somehow think the new checkbox threw the employee off and made her question whether she had maybe missed a new requirement. Not an excuse, but I am thankful she was polite about it.

As for the Driver License Application form: it looks like that will be up for revisions in about a month, at which time I will combine the two parent boxes to one box “BIOLOGICAL or ADOPTIVE PARENT” and LEGAL GUARDIAN will be the second box. It will go through a review process that takes a little while, but the timing is perfect to get this done sooner rather than later. As we talked about on the phone, checking the LEGAL GUARDIAN box is the indicator for an employee to ask for proof and the boxes help eliminate unneeded questioning if used properly.

I apologize for any discomfort the situation may have caused you or your daughter.  Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this and make a positive change. I appreciated that you thought to propose a reasonable solution-certainly made my job easy!

I will do my best to let you know  when the application is revised. I’m guessing a couple months. You can always check online for the most current version of the form at: http://www.odot.state.or.us/forms/dmv/173.pdf

I took a look at your blog and noticed what looks like a tasty scone recipe. I might need to try that!

Feel free to contact me if you need further information.

Thanks again,
Becky Renninger
Oregon DMV, Driver Programs
Operations and Policy Analyst
Provisional Licensing Program

Dear DMV, Stop Treating Adopted Kids Differently (UPDATED)

Aug 12 2013

I have a kid who just passed her driver’s permit test! WOOHOO!

So, before I get grumbly, I just want to say,

AbbyPermitCONGRATULATIONS, ABBY!
You did GREAT.
You studied hard.
You were motivated.
You were determined.
You were brave.
You breathed in and you breathed out.
Whether you’d passed or failed, I am, as always, proud to be your mama.
But I’m sure excited that you passed!
And I cannot wait to go driving with you. <— True story.

And now, I’m going to get grumbly, friends. For real. I just want to say, before I start, that this is a tone I rarely take here or anywhere. Except late at night when I’m both caffeine- and sleep-deprived and the mountain of laundry is insurmountable and I just laid my hand in a fresh blob of toothpaste on my bathroom counter which was left there as a gift by the Toothpaste Fairy who’s a thousand times more reliable than the Tooth Fairy and the dog starts barking at the air right after the last kid falls asleep because LOOK! AIR! LOOK! AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR! AIR! … then I lose my poo.

This is a Lose My Poo post, is what I’m saying. Now you’re warned.

Abby and I went to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) today, armed with coffee, paperwork, excitement and nerves — oh, the nerves! — for her driver’s permit test. We did all the things you usually do at the DMV. Tried to walk quietly on the laminate tile floor. Smiled sympathetically at the mama with the young kids who were doing their best but failing miserably at sitting still. Watched as numbers were called and people shuffled from Window 10 to Window 7 and finally to the Holy Grail of Windows — Window 1 — the final stop where pictures are taken and licenses are handed out and teenagers beam.

Our wait was short. The employees were efficient and friendly. The people-watching was middling; nothing great like the time I got to see a brawl.

And we filled out the driver’s permit application, which required me to tick a box stating whether I am Abby’s biological or adoptive parent.

photo (73)-001

Truthfully, as soon as I saw it, the box bothered me, mostly because I’m not sure why the DMV needs this information. The doctor’s office, yes; they need to know that my family medical history isn’t relevant when it comes to treating Abby. But the Department of Motor Vehicles? I’ve thought and thought, and I just can’t figure out any reason to differentiate biological and adoptive parents in this scenario. We’re all required to provide the same things, after all: proof of legal presence in the country, state residency, age, full name, address, parent or legal guardian’s signature, application, fee. Frankly, it’s archaic and insensitive to have a biological box and an adoptive box, but this is a government form and these things are slow to change so I sat in my seat and checked the box and moved on. Both Abby and I are strong enough to take the emotional hiccup silly boxes can bring, and, while I don’t support the small ways adoptees and dozens of other groups are separated every day, I also can’t fight every battle. This seemed like a small one.

Until.

Sigh.

Until.

Until we turned our form in and paid our fee and Abby passed the test and I cheered and cheered (but quietly because mom!) and we went to the window to pay the next fee and the form was stamped and we turned to move on to Window 1 and were stopped.

“Wait,” said the woman at Window 7, studying the form in greater detail. “Are you her biological mother?”

My stomach flipped upside down. I gave Abby my WTF face, and Abby shrugged, like, don’t ask me.

“No. I’m her adoptive mother,” I said. “Of course, I prefer to just say ‘mother.'”

And the woman stared at the form for a while.

“OK,” she said slowly. “We may need additional documentation that proves you’re her adoptive parent.”

“I’m sorry; what?” I asked, confused.

“We may need some more paperwork that shows you’re her adoptive parent,” she said.

“Why?”

“We just may need to do that.”

I took a deep breath and tried to be kind. She was obviously trying to do her job and do it well, and, let’s be honest, it can’t be easy to work at the DMV.

“I brought everything required on the list,” I said. “Her United States passport, proof of school enrollment, my driver’s license, the completed form and the fee. She passed all of the tests. She’s a resident of Oregon along with the rest of our family. There was no mention anywhere that I have to provide adoption documentation.”

“Well, I’m just not sure,” she said. “You may need to provide that. I should probably ask someone. Legal guardians have to provide proof.”

I took a deep breath.

“Yes,” I replied. “I think you should ask someone. In fact, I think you should go get a supervisor right now. To be clear, adoption means that I am her mother. Not that I am her legal guardian. I am her legal parent. This affords my daughter all of the same legal rights as if she was my biological daughter and me all of the same legal rights as if I was her biological mother. Please do ask a supervisor because I don’t think any adoptive family should have to have this conversation.”

She thought a while longer. “Alright,” she said eventually. “You can go to Window 1. Have a good day.”

And I said, “Thank you” because I was still trying to be kind.

As we walked away, though, Abby said, “You seem angry.”

I was angry. I am angry.

And I spent a little while feeling stupid for feeling angry about a tiny box and the can of worms it opened, but screw that.

Here’s the thing: On a day we should be only celebrating a right of passage, high-fiving and waving that permit in the air, whooping and hollering for her success, I had to defend my right to act as my daughter’s mother. And Abby had to watch. And while Abby doesn’t feel fragile about adoption, many kids at the formative age of 15 do. Subjecting them and their parents to suggestions that they must prove they’re a family? That’s harmful. It just is. And it’s not OK.

The form at the DMV has to change. It’s a tiny thing, that little box I tried to overlook, but it has to change because it’s a breeding ground for confusion and for hurt.

I guess it’s my battle, after all.

Saddling up,
Beth

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P.S.  I’m at the beginning of navigating what to do about this situation, so I’m all ears if you have suggestions for next steps.

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UPDATE 1

I contacted the Oregon DMV administrator’s office this morning. He was out of the office, so I spoke with his assistant who was warm, friendly, and helpful. She is forwarding my 2 questions (1. How can we change this form? 2. If we can’t, WHY is this a necessary differentiation?) to their policy analysts and form writers, and promised a call back. Here’s hoping for some information and CHANGE.

UPDATE 2

And the DMV responded! Here’s the post about it.

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Why Not to Say “What Not to Say”: In Support of Asking Questions

Aug 1 2013

It was the great American philosopher, Cookie Monster, who once said, “Asking questions is good way to find out about things.”

Although I agree with Mr. Monster on this one, I always giggled when teachers said a similar thing, “Ask questions. And remember, there are no stupid questions.” Because there are stupid questions, of course. And rude questions. And thoughtless questions. And nosy questions. And ignorant questions, too.

I’ve asked them. I’ve been asked them.

When I had my first miscarriage, for example, a loss that blindsided me like a Mack truck in the night, a church lady asked me if I’d considered examining my life for sin or cutting aspartame from my diet. No kidding. All at once. Like miscarriage by sin and diet soda is a thing. I didn’t respond because I didn’t know what to say, but I have fantasized about a do-over in which I look Church Lady kindly in the eye, and say, “What the hell, friend?”

When Greg and I adopted our three-month-old daughter from Vietnam a year later, a stranger stopped me at the grocery store to ask how I’d tackle the uphill battle of teaching my baby girl to speak English. After cocking my head to the side, baffled, I replied, “I imagine she’ll just pick it up from listening to me.” The woman walked away, shaking her head at my pathetic lack of a plan.

When we brought our son home from Guatemala a few years later and his speech and development delays became apparent, we fielded loads of questions, usually from kids but not as exclusively as one would hope, about what was “wrong” with him. “Some of us wear our differences on the inside,” I’d say, “And some of us wear them on the outside. He gets to keep his on the outside where he can be loud and proud. That’s the way our family rolls.” And then I’d bite my tongue so I didn’t follow up with the question I longed to ask the grown-ups, “Why? What’s wrong with you?”

And when our biological twins arrived a few years later, we got to dispel the notion that we “finally managed to have kids of our own.” “No,” we said again and again, “they’re all our own. That’s what adoption means. That’s what birthing them means. They’re our own.”

So believe me when I say I know about the questions. The well-meaning ones. The heartfelt but poorly-worded ones. The stupid ones. I’ve heard them a thousand times in a million ways.

  • About having an only child. We had one for five years and one kid is a lot of kids, man.
  • About being a stay-at-home mom and a works-outside-the-home mom. I’ve been both. Both are awesome, and both suck hard.
  • About infertility.
  • About adoption.
  • About pregnancy.
  • About bottle feeding and breastfeeding.
  • About how to get kids to sleep. (Sleep? Ha!)
  • About developmental delay.
  • About twins.
  • About having five kids. “You have five?!” they ask, stunned. And I like to reply, “Yes, just the five.”

Sure enough, I know about the questions. I do. And I understand the special kind of crazy they can make us.

But there’s a writing trend lately that concerns me which I’ll call the “What Not to Say’s.”

  • What not to say to a mom of an only.
  • What not to say to a mom of many.
  • What not to say to a mom of none.
  • What not to say to adoptive parents.
  • What not to say to parents of kids with special needs.
  • What not to say when mom heads back to work.
  • What not to say when mom stays home.

I don’t know about you, but WHEW! Even though I’ve been all these moms, I can’t keep track of all the things I’m not supposed to say. And I realized these articles have made me afraid. Afraid to engage with my fellow moms. Afraid to take risks in relationships. Afraid to ask questions to find common ground. Afraid I’ll hurt a mama friend even with the best of intentions if I don’t word a question the way she’d like to hear it.

ID-10032700It’s not that I disagree with each What Not to Say specifically. When I read them, I nod in sympathy and chuckle in understanding. But I do disagree with these articles cumulatively because, while it’s a good idea to educate the public to respect our family make-ups, the myriad lists of Questions to Avoid risk shutting down conversations entirely. Instead of teaching people to use discretion or find compassionate language in general, the What Not to Say specifics silence well-intentioned, kind-hearted folks who’d rather say nothing than say it wrong.

Now of course there are people who ask questions for intrusive reasons. Or selfish reasons. And there are people with a poor sense of boundaries. But I’ve found over time that most people who ask questions are looking for a deeper connection. Or are trying to find answers for their pain. Or want to know how to better relate to someone in their life who seems to have a situation similar to mine. Or are trying to understand this shifting world. And, while I can’t always answer the questions, nor should anyone have to, I don’t want people who need answers to stop asking for them.

What’s more, even if we can somehow keep track of all the What Not to Says, silencing the questions will harm my children. My kids are going to have to deal with questions constantly, partly because of our family make-up and partly because they interact with other kids who, you know, ask questions.

I won’t always be there to coach my kids through responses like “I don’t want to talk about that right now. Let’s play.” Or “I have a hard time with words. Will you be my friend and help me?” Or “All the kinds of moms are real.”

When I engage with people out in the world — people who ask gentle questions, people who ask cruel questions, people who ask kindly-meant questions in a wonky way — my kids watch me model appropriate responses. They learn both how to engage and how not to engage as needed. And they learn I’ve got their backs. Always.

At the end of the day, I’d rather field the tough questions than shut down the conversation.

Turns out Cookie Monster was right. “Asking questions is good way to find out about things.”

Even if the questions sometimes suck.

photo 3 (48)BethAbby3

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I’m very curious what you think.
Do you agree? Bring on the questions? Or are you, like, No way! There should totally be a list of What Not to Say!

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3D Character With Question Mark image credit to renjith krishnan via freedigitalimages.net