26 June 2007

Goodbye, P.

Yesterday we said goodbye to our social worker. It was harder than I had anticipated.

I spent snippets of the afternoon getting teary eyed as I selected a few photos, chose a card, and thought about what we should write on the inside.

Losing our social worker, for me, has been akin to losing a family member. She's been such an active part of my daily life for the past year, such a fantastic support, and it's going to be hard not to pick up the phone on a whim to connect with her.

She's been my confidante and somehow made the whole process of adoption seem much less invasive than it actually was. This woman knows everything about Wifey and I. And, yes, I do mean everything from our familial histories and financial situation to our sex life and values. That's how thorough the volumes of paperwork that Children's Aid had us complete in order for us to be considered as adoptive parents.

We've just said good bye to the woman who helped us create our family, who picked us out of over 50 applicants to parent Bella and Bubaloo. I'm thankful for her and the role she's had in our lives.

Our social worker is leaving the Ottawa CAS to be closer to her daughter who has a high risk pregnancy, and to do so, needs to move to another city.

Her departure doesn't mark the end our connection to the rest of our social work team at CAS. We're a minimum of two months away from adoption finalization and more likely a year from having all of the necessary paperwork in hand. Once the adoption is finalized, we'll actually get to see and hold our children's birth certificates for the first time!

I never expected to have a relationship with our social worker. It's been organic. I've learned so much from her. She's learned so much from us. It really was a great pairing and I only wish other adoptive parents would be so lucky to have the experience we had.

That's not to say it was perfect. Because it was far from that. There were often too many players at the table. Significant negotiation, mediation and intervention was also often required.

Though, I think it says a lot at the end of the day where we're able to recognize CAS for all of its faults - and there are many in both the organization and the system - and that Wifey and I are still willing to stand behind and to support CAS and the work that it does.

I thank my social worker for our adoption experience. I thank my social worker for helping to make us a family. And, I thank my social worker for have a role and an impact on my life in so many other ways that I don't think I'll ever be able to articulate.

25 June 2007


In five, count 'em five, days we will be leaving for a much needed vacation. We've rented a cottage for two weeks.

I'm imagining long, lazy days of summer. Lying on the dock, taking leisurely swims, canoe trips at dusk, fishing in the early morning, scattered naps, long dinners and plenty of naps. Something tells me that the adventure might not pan out as originally imagined once the kids and our barking dog are inserted into the picture.

Before I go though, there is a huge week with an even huger to do list to get through. Here's the top five.

#5 - Eat more strawberries. Find more things to do with strawberries.

We went to the Avonmore Berry Farm yesterday and came home with 12 litres of strawberries that we picked in less than 30 minutes. This is the first time I've been berry picking since I was a kid. I loved it. So did the kids, and my Wife (only, she wishes that they wouldn't use hay as mulch because she's horribly allergic to it and didn't take any allergy medicine beforehand).

berry pickin

So far, we've eaten warm sun ripened strawberries off the vine and fresh into our picking basket. I've made a strawberry rhubarb pie, and strawberry rhubarb tarts for teachers. We've eaten strawberries wrapped in basil. I've thrown together a strawberry, basil and cucumber salad. I've frozen a bag of berries. We've still got 4 litres to find something to do with!

#4 - Cart Bubaloo around to various doctors appointments.

Today, we're doing the ultrasound on his kidneys. I'm about to pump a boy full of a litre and a half of water. This is the same kid who cannot hold his pee more than 30 seconds after the urge hits. This is the same kid who doesn't even drink that much in an entire day.

We've made a plan. He's packed two extra pairs of undies and shorts. I'm imagining the worst and hoping for the best. I'm just wondering how many accidents a kid has to have in a clinic before they will call off this whole thing.

#3 - Garden, garden, garden.

Now that I've found someone to check-in as per my planned schedule to water my plants, I've not got to commit to writing out detailed instructions. This person is not yet a gardener, but it is my hope to turn him into one!

I know this may be anal, but I'm so fearful of going away because of the recurring nightmare that I'll come home to dead tomato plants. It doesn't even help that I asked Wifey if she'd be okay if I were to sneak back into town during our vacation to check on the garden. We're also going to miss our first crop of the season's tomatoes and that is making me oh so sad!

I've also have a slew of tonnes of miscellaneous gardening chores to complete. I want to be in a good position when we return from vacation as the contractors are supposed to arrive on the Monday to install our new fence and step.

#2 - Strategic planning, Board retreat, summer camp.

I don't blog about it much, but I'm heavily involved in an non-profit, volunteer-driven organization. I've been thankful for my parental leave over the last few months because I've been able to give an excess of time to growing the organization. In part, my ability to do what I love each day has made my parental leave all that more enjoyable.

Suffice it to say, there's a lot that needs to be done, transitioned over, moved forward before I can leave on vacation. Some of it is great. Some of it is not so great.

#1 - Make a tetris master plan for packing the car.

When we rented a cottage, we failed to take into consideration the size of the vehicle we have. Not only do we need to fit four people and a dog into one Honda Civic, we also need to fit all of the stuff we're going to need for the vacation. Everything from clothing to toys.

I need to start writing the mental list I've compiled onto paper and then make a plan of how it's all going to fit into the car. We're going to need a roof rack for the kids, er, I mean all of the crap we have to bring.

Five days. Five days. Five days. Gotta love it.

21 June 2007

Gone Fishin'

We live in a city, only 10 minutes from the downtown core, and yet two blocks from our house is a huge park that runs along the river. This is one of the many things I love about Ottawa.

Last night, we piled into the car in search of a bait shop as learning how to fish was one of the top three things our kids wrote on their "I have to do this summer or I will die" lists. We got to the bait shop fifteen minutes after it closed.

I turned the car around and headed to Loblaws. Armed with two fishing rods, some hooks and a package of hot dogs, we went to the park where we ate our picnic dinner and Wifey gave her first fishing lesson.

The munchkins had only been fishing once before in their lifetime and that was with their foster family. On this trip, they caught Bubay (their toddler foster brother) twice which quickly ended the adventure before a hook even had grazed the water.

The kids stood out in the river for about an hour learning to cast and while I watched bits of pseudo fish bait, the hot dogs, fly everywhere. Hot dog, it turns out, is quite tricky to hook for adults and kids alike.

Once the dog figured out that the bait was hot dog, he was the only animal in the whole entire river interested in what was on the end of the fishing rod. A few times, he almost forgot his manners, and tried to bite the hot dog right off of the fish hook.

The sun was starting to set. Bella had long ago tangled her line beyond repair and was catching minnows in the shallow weeds, and Bubaloo was hooking his final piece of hot dog. Wifey and I were taking self portraits on the shore and had given the munchkins their five minute pre-departure warning.

Bubaloo threw out his last cast, and moments later yelled to us, "I got a fish."

Thinking he'd caught another bunch of weeds, Wifey and I were slow to react. I then looked at the line and saw it moving in the water. Wifey dashed into the river, Bubaloo reeled the fish in, and they placed it in the net.

There stood my beaming son with his rod in one hand looking into the net at the first fish he'd ever caught. And, are you ready for this? He somehow had managed to catch a foot-long bass.

gone fishin

The whole way home he kept on telling me how proud he was of himself.

The whole way home I thought my heart was going to burst with happiness and joy for him. I was so proud. And, so fiercely protectively proud of him and his fish. This was the first moment of parenting like this for me. The "ah ha" of watching your kids succeed and grow by leaps and bounds in a single moment.

17 June 2007

Ode to Compost

A picture is worth a thousand words and can extol the greatness of compost.

tomato in compost

This plant, a sweetie cherry tomato, was started from seed in late-March and was planted outside on the May long weekend - about one month ago. While it wasn't planted in soil amended with compost per say, it was planted where the old compost bin used to rest. We had to get rid of the bin this spring because it was cracked, split open and no longer composting well.

The tomato plant sits there and soaks up the compost goodness day after day. It has outgrown all the other tomato plants in my garden.

See the brandywine tomato in the background that looks paltry in comparison? It's not that small. Nor, is it not a sight to see. But, whoa. Look at that tomato plant.

13 June 2007

Why My Kids Crack Me Up, or, Money in My Pocket

Over the past few weeks, we've been giving our kids more money management tools and lessons on consumerism.

Since they moved in, they have received $10.00 in allowance each Friday. The first $5.00 must be split up however they like between a jar for their bank accounts and a jar for charity. The second $5.00 is for them to spend however they would like.

Letting two children with a deficit in impulse control have $5.00 a week to do with whatever they would please has been a lesson in letting go for us as parents. Sometimes we're better at it than others. We've ended up with lots of non-working dollar store purchases, hideous accessories and other miscellaneous crap like gum, chips and an untold number of items from .25$ machines.

Our families have both asked what our kids have to do to earn money. Nothing is our reply.

Our kids get an allowance to learn how to manage their money. Their allowance is to be used to buy things they want that we're not willing to buy for them. They're learning to save and learning about giving back to the community through charitable donations. Many times they have had to go without something they really wanted because they had already spent all their money.

The kids, however, do have weekly chores that they're expected to do because we're a family and it takes all of us to run a household. They clean their rooms, set the table, clear the table and empty the dishwasher. Over the summer, they'll be picking up a few more family chores. And, when they want to earn more money, they will ask if we need help with something around the house that they can be paid for.

All in all, the system works quite well.

The tool I've been specifically working with them on is delay in gratification. I'd like to teach them to delay instant gratification. I'd like to see them buy something they really want or need, opposed to buying the first thing they see that they have enough money to buy.

I've put some limits around their spending now. Last night, for example, I ran out of sour cream while making potato salad and had to run to the grocery store.

Before the kids piled into the car, they scrambled for their wallets and started to have a discussion on the things they could buy at the grocery store. They were talking about spending their money like they'd never been to a store before.

I then let them know that they were free to spend their money at the store, but they couldn't buy food. I was then reminded of the toy section at said grocery store. This is the scene that unravelled.

Me: Okay kids, it's time to go. If you've got something you're going to buy, come to the check out now.

Bubaloo: I've got these hot wheel helicopters. I want them real bad. I've had my eye on them for weeks.

Me: Do you have enough money for those?

Bubaloo: I DO! (He scans item at self-check out and a price tag of $7.28 flashes on the screen). Mom, it's $7.28.

Me: How much money do you have?

Bubaloo: I have $5.00.

Me: Is that enough to buy the hot wheels?

Bubaloo: No. (Shakes his head in great disappointment).

Me: Well you need to go tell the cashier that you don't have enough money to buy those so that she can clear the scanner.

Bubaloo: (Walks over to the cashier, alone. He mumbles). I don't have enough money to buy this.

Cashier: Oh. (Looks up, and around, and doesn't see the parent. The look crosses her face as to why is this kid telling her this. Is it because he wants her to buy it for him? Is it because he's just sharing the news with her? It's a very clear WTF look.)

Me: (Trying not to laugh.) He's letting you know that he doesn't have enough allowance money to buy it today and would like you to clear the scanner over there.

As we leave the store Bubaloo starts in on a monologue about how he will have enough money at the end of the week to buy the hot wheels, or for that matter, perhaps he'd even have enough money to buy a water gun....or this Nintendo game he wanted...or something from the dollar store....

My learning opportunities are perhaps not going quite the way I had planned.

11 June 2007

Medicating Children

When you look through the profiles of children waiting for adoption, almost all make a reference to the child needing a parent who is able to advocate for their needs. The more "challenging" the child, or as the number of disabilities or behavioural issues increase, the emphasis on being a parent turned advocate increases, too.

By being a parent, I've become an advocate by default and have to negotiate systems and institutions with which I have zero familiarity. We're still working with Bella's school to resolve the bullying she faces. And, Wifey and I have had an ongoing struggle with Bubaloo's medical needs.

I'm a born activist. I like to think I'm pretty good at it. As an advocate for my children, I barely think I'm getting a passing grade. Mostly, I'm too overwhelmed and paralysed to the point of inaction by the sheer number of issues our kids face.

This article from Saturday's Globe and Mail on the disproportionate number of crown wards that are medicated reminded me of an outstanding issue we have yet to deal with regarding Bubaloo.

One month before we officially met Bella and Bubaloo as their adoptive parents, his foster parents placed him on an antipsychotic drug called risperidone. This is a drug that is prescribed to people living with schizophrenia, people trying to cope with the manic states of bipolar disorder, children and adolescents with autism and a variety of other anxiety disorders such as OCD, depression and Tourette's.

My son has been diagnosed with none of the above, nor are any of the above conditions being explored as possibilities for him.

Bubaloo is an angry child with poor impulse control. He often cannot articulate what he is feeling, so he shows it. He uses his body to get emotions out and often does so in highly inappropriate ways. He often is anxious and stressed when his basic emotional needs aren't being met.

In that month before we met Bella and Bubaloo as their adoptive parents, we had a conversation with our social workers and their foster parents and shared our opinion on medicating children. We don't agree that medication should be used to suppress behaviour that is emotionally driven.

Kids need to work their stuff out. And, medicating Bubaloo wouldn't give him that opportunity. As his new parents, we'd only ever know the child on medication and how were we to establish a baseline for who his is and what his normal behaviours are? We were clear that we didn't want Bubaloo to be put on any new medications prior to our adoption.

Two weeks later, the foster parents let us know that Bubaloo was on a new medication and it was working wonders for him. At his most recent pediatrician visit, Bubaloo actually articulated that he was anxious a lot and felt so angry at times that he couldn't control his rage. With both the foster parents and pediatrician delighted with this emotional sharing, a prescription was written for risperidone.

Practically overnight, Bubaloo's behaviour changed according to his foster parents. He wasn't hitting, kicking or lashing out at other kids at school when he got frustrated. He wasn't angry as much. He was a more tame and more manageable kid.

This rapid transformation brought into question whether or not it was actually the meds or the thought of the meds that was causing the behavioural transformation. Perhaps for Bubaloo, it was the idea that a little pill would fix everything and make it better that gave him the power of control over himself.

A little bit of research on this drug, thanks to my mother-in-law who is a nurse and has access to medical journals, revealed a body of literature that this drug is overprescribed to kids in foster care. There's no time and a lack of support in foster care to help the kids work through their experiences that lead to behavioural issues, so this drug is often prescribed to tame the behaviour and make kids manageable. It's an ingrained philosophy of "let's deal with the immediate behavioural issue instead of dealing with the root of the behaviour, or rather, lets deal with the effect and hope that the cause with work itself out."

Today, Bubaloo is still taking the risperidone and we haven't taken him off of it yet. There were so many battles for us to fight on his behalf when he moved in with us, so much change going on in his life, that we were advised not to wean him off of it just yet. It's an issue I've broached at the last two pediatrician appointments, but we often run out of time to discuss and plot a course of action because I walk into the doctor's office with a laundry list of issues.

Bubaloo's anxiety ebbs and flows. The past two weeks have been anxiety riddled. But, the 1-2 months before that were relatively anxiety free.

At one pediatrician appointment during a high anxiety time, the doctor suggested upping his dosage to two pills a day. We put our feet down and refused to medicate his issues away.

Bubaloo takes his little yellow pill each night before bed. By doing so, we've become complicit in what we would call an unnecessary, systemic medicating of our child.

07 June 2007

Weeding Weeds from Weeds

I'm wondering if anyone thinks it is as comical as I do that I have to devote a significant chunk of my gardening time this week to pulling weeds from our new grass patch. Perhaps it's even funnier that I'm writing about weeding grass.

We started out at the beginning of April by freecycling the stones from this patio and deciding to grow grass.

old patio gone goodbye

I've never really been a fan of grass, never have devoted any of my time to caring for or maintaining a lawn. My philosophy has been one of it's grass, it's a weed, so who cares? Mind you, I've never lived in a place where we've experienced "grass issues."

Prior to this experiment, the only experience I've had with growing grass was at my parents' home. And, I was purely a bystander and not a participant.

I was still in the early years of grade school and I cannot remember exactly why, but my mother wanted to build up a berm around the perimeter of our lawn. I think she might have gotten fed up with all of the neighbourhood dogs using our lawn as a bathroom. She had my step-father truck in a load of dirt and build a mini-mountain barrier to separate our lawn from the street.

It was then seeded. Only, my parents opted to use fast growing grass so that we wouldn't have to look at the pile of dirt on our lawn for a long period of time. I believe the new dirt seeded easily and we had a thick carpet of grass relatively soon.

But we had one problem. And, a pretty big one at that.

The new grass grew twice as fast as the other grass on the lawn. By midweek, the mini-mountain of grass would need to be cut. By the weekend, it would be 2-3 inches tall and look wild, uncared for and offensive to the suburban landscape.

As much as my mother tried to not be those people, in that house, with that lawn, I don't think she ever did with much success.

When it came to growing our own patch of grass, we opted to start it from seed and knew not to buy fast growing grass. I didn't do any research. I didn't ask any questions. I just purchased some seed and tossed it out there.

A little over a month later, and with a second seeding, this is what we now have growing in our backyard. What I never thought to calculate in my plans was the presence weeds. A whole, big whack of them squarely planted in my patch of grass.

dirt, weeds and grass

Now I have patches of grass, patches of weeds, and patches of dirt. I'm spending more time trying to get the grass to grow and weeding it than I am on growing my veggies and fixing up the other gardens. It's because as I pull out the weeds, I have to be careful not to pull up a handful of the weed I'm actually trying to grow.

This is what a 1 foot x 10 foot pass of weeding looks like. Sigh. Thank goodness I find weeding relaxing.

whack of weeds

But in more exciting news, the munchkins spotted the first tomato blossom of the season. It's on one of my non-heirloom plants, a Christmas grape. With a frost watch earlier this week, and the plants entering their third week in the ground, I'm wondering if it's too early.

first tomato blossom of 2007

06 June 2007

Home Alone

This weekend we left Bella and Bubaloo at home and took a weekend away. We left them with their Grandma, a woman they had only previously met for a total of no more than four hours, who we flew into Ottawa from Toronto for the occasion.

I'd like to say that Wifey and I went for a romantic and much needed/desired solo getaway. But I cannot. We went up to camp to meet our new and returning camp staff to lead them through an orientation weekend.

Grandma was thrilled to have this time with the kids and created a weekend crammed full of activities. There was monopoly before breakfast, skateboarding lessons, swimming at the public pool, a movie, walking the dog at the park, and lots and lots and lots of junk food.

I came home to bags of cookies in my cupboard. Chocolate bars. A half-eaten lemon meringue pie and pineapple upsidedown cake. I even came home to a confession from my mother that she'd had a solo chocolate eating mission and had raided our cupboard to eat a bunny or two, or possibly three, left over from Easter. The kids ate more junk food with Grandma than they'd normally eat in a weekend of meals and snacks. Only they ate all of the junk food and meals loaded with veggies, too.

Grandma also got the kids to drink water. And lots of it. But the water they drunk and now are in love with is that flavoured bottled water. I detest bottled water for a number of reasons, and I don't want to hear from the munchkins one more time about how the water is "naturally flavoured." Since when is splenda a natural sugar?

All of this to say, is that I fell even more in love with my mother this weekend. The kindness and generosity she shared with our kids. The bond she built with them. Her intense focus on fun that wore the kids out. She's more laid back as a grandmother and has a better perspective on the world. It was great to sit back and admire her parenting around the dinner table after coming home from camp.

01 June 2007

Kids of Lesbian Parents Go To School Too

On Bella’s first day in her new school, she came out. She came out as a foster kid. She came out as an adoptee. And, she came out as a kid with two lesbian moms.

While her history with the care system seems to be long forgotten by her peers, she has been permanently labeled as child of queer parents. With this singular tidbit of information subject to 10-year-old imagination and logic, Bella is now the grade 5 “lez.” This is because we all know that gay parents breed gay children or turn the children gay that we care for even if we don’t breed them. Right.

Everyday Bella comes home from school with a new story of homophobic bullying and harassment. Within the first week of being at her new school, the school’s administration was made aware of the homo-taunts and sent a letter home with nearly half of the sixth grade class. At first, she didn’t even understand the words her peers were using against her.

Bella gets stopped in the hallways and questioned about her family. She’s told that she’s weird and is a “lez.” She gets vilified and alienated.

We tell Bella that words can only have the power over you that you give them. We explain how bullying works, we explain how to deflect it, and we give her tips and tools to survive her school days.

Her teacher tells her that sometimes a little information is too much and can be a dangerous thing. The result of this is that Bella is shamed for having the family that she does and is told that she disclosed too much to her peers.

For the first three months of school we knew nothing of this. We had our suspicions, but Bella denied it. Finally, two weeks ago, all of this came to a head and Bella asked if we’d be willing to come to her class to speak about families and our family in particular.

We set up an appointment with her teacher and principal to address the bullying and to implement concrete steps to get this to stop. While giving lip service to the values of diversity, equality and religious freedom, it seems the school has forgot their commitment to creating a safe school with an inclusive learning environment for all children. Diversity does include sexual orientation and gender identity.

After all of discussion on various approaches, and feeling that we as parents were on the same page as the school, we were just informed by the teacher that when a lesson on puberty is delivered in the next week or so that they will plant a question of LGBTTQ issues. This is the same teacher who was clear in our preliminary discussions that she didn’t have the expertise to speak on LGBTTQ issues, even had to ask us what LGBTTQ meant, and was relying on us as both parents and community activists to be of assistance.

To help the school get it, I wrote an email that contained the following analogy. “If one of your Muslim students was being teased for fasting during Ramadan, you wouldn't deliver a lesson on world religions, ask one question about Ramadan in a sea of questions about other religious faiths and expect that your students would be equipped with enough information to have curiosity alleviated and stop the harassment.”

I haven't received a response....yet.

I live in Canada. We have benefits and law that recognizes both us and our family. I’m married to my Wife.

While I never doubt that we are so much further along with human rights than the majority of people in the world, it is situations like this that we and other LGBTQ and/or non-traditional families face daily that remind me of how far we still have to go.


This post has been written in honour of Blogging for LGBT Families Day. You can find out more