To celebrate National Foster Care Month, this installment in the Huffington Post Gay Voices RaiseAChild.US “Let Love Define Family™” series continues to follow two Pennsylvania women along their journey to build a family of their own. We first introduced the couple in February 2014. Today, they offer valuable advice for parents. RaiseAChild.US contributing writer David Humiston shares their update.
On the eve of finalizing the adoption of their daughter Lilly, Ami Lanning and Val Minett told me they had a rough day. Excited at the prospect of capping their 14-month fostering experience with the official stamp of parental approval at 9:30 a.m. the following morning, they nonetheless had a day of struggles with their very soon-to-be legally adopted daughter.
Val said that she and Ami were determined to create “a soft place to land” for a child in need. I believe they are succeeding because their words spoke to me of determination, an understanding of the natural ups and downs of bringing someone into a new home at the age of 8, and unequivocal love. Young Lilly, who has been diagnosed with an alphabet soup of childhood behavioral disorders, likes to test her boundaries and, in so doing, reaffirm the extent and limits of her familial relationship. This is not unusual for any child, let alone one who has bounced around a bit and is still torn about previous associations, including challenging issues with her birth mother and failed recent fostering attempts. It is ironic, then, that she should push the limits the day we spoke by tearing up a metaphorical example of her “soft landing place.” But, as Ami says, “It’s only a pillow and she can tear up as many as she likes. She’s stuck with us, and we’re not giving up on her.”
That’s the real lesson here. And that’s what Ami and Val want to share. Trauma at any age can be devastating, but the very worst thing anyone could do to children who have experienced trauma is to give up on them. So Ami and Val refuse to do so... no matter what. Both are very active and involved with school and counseling options, including regular visits to someone who helps them deal with the new issues of parenting and how to deal with each other. Differences in parenting style are often a sore spot in families and theirs is no different, but they are very conscious of this and deeply committed to each other and to resolving issues in whatever way is best for all involved -- that means, to a very large extent, what is best for Lilly.
At one point Ami and Val looked into birthing options, but health reasons ruled this out. Interestingly enough, had they gone through with that process, their birth child would be the same age today as their now-adopted daughter, Lilly. They were quick to point out that adopting and not knowing how tough things might be later was not at all different from giving birth and not knowing the trials that may lie ahead. They say that when Lilly came through their front door, it was like she was being born into a new life for them. It was her birth moment as far as they were concerned. According to Val, the moment she entered the door with her thumb in her mouth and a tender, but tattered look on her lovely face, she felt as if her birth child had been laid upon her chest. She needed them, and they were joyful to have her.
While the last months have had good and bad moments, both say that the good times, even a good moment each day or so, vastly outweigh any of the bad and, while it can wear them down, it never wears them out. Ami recounts how Lilly asked her one night to sing for her as she was falling asleep. Ami was somewhat surprised, but touched. She sang a soft rendition of “Count Your Blessings” from "White Christmas," to which Lilly simply sighed, thanked her with love, and fell quickly and deeply asleep. Lilly and Ami also often draw together, and Lilly has expressed natural talent, especially for Zentangle® drawings. One of Lilly's counselors was so enamored and impressed with this that he has since incorporated Zentangle® drawing into other counseling relationships to great effect.
Val shared a story with me as well. In the car one day, Lilly asked her if she had been good on an errand they ran. Val told her that she was and that she appreciated it, saying, “You’re a good kid," to which Lilly replied, “You’re a good mommy!” Val followed that with, “Sometimes I am, and sometimes I’m still practicing.” “Well, no one is perfect,” replied Lilly with sympathy. A little while later, after they had gotten home, Lilly gave Val a big hug and told her, “Today, you’re perfect!”
On another occasion, Lilly asked Val, “When I leave, will you still be my mommy”? Puzzled, Val responded, “You mean like when you go off to college or get married?" “Yes,” said Lilly. “I will always be your mommy and mom (Ami) will always be your mom. We are your forever family. You’re stuck with us and we will always stick together,” said Val. “Like gum on your shoe?" Lilly asked with a smile. To which Val laughed, saying, “Yes, exactly like gum on your shoe.”
So here’s to being imperfectly perfect, being gum on someone’s shoe, and counting your blessings. Each day is a new day, and today, as I write this, little Lilly has landed forever in her soft place.
On Saturday, May 16, 2015, RaiseAChild.US will host “Call Me Mom,” a free brunch event for all women interested in learning about building or expanding a family through fostering, adopting, or weekend hosting. This two hour relaxed and causal program will begin at 11:00AM at the ANDAZ West Hollywood Hotel, West Hollywood, CA. RSVP and information at www.RaiseAChild.US.
A “Call Me Dad” RaiseAChild.US brunch event for all men is scheduled for Saturday, June 13, 2015 at The Montalban Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Actor/comedian Alec Mapa is to appear. Visit www.RaiseAChild.US to RSVP.
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adopting to meet the needs of the 400,000 children in the foster care system. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates, and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. For information about how you can become a foster or adoptive parent, please visit www.RaiseAChild.US.