Thursday, January 9, 2020

Despite Reports, A Child Dies

Takoda Collins
The morning of Tuesday, January 7, 2020, was my first day back from a trip to Orlando, Florida.  I was happy to be sleeping in my own bed again.  I hazily stumbled to the kitchen, ignoring my unpacked suitcase, searching for a cup of coffee that my husband, Mark, brewed.  I grabbed one of my favorite coffee mugs and wandered into the living room passing by Sunday’s, 1/5/19, Dayton Daily News sitting on the side table where I see the headline: “Despite Reports, A Child Dies.”

I had seen the social media posts by a teacher friend of mine who works for Dayton Public Schools.  She was devastated at the death of a student at the school she worked at – Horace Mann Elementary, a 10 year old named Takoda Collins, at the hands of his father.  

What makes this situation all the more heart breaking is the repeated reports and calls by teachers and Takoda’s mother to both Child and Family Services and the Dayton Police.  The child’s father, who had custody of him, had removed Takoda from school where there was no oversight into his well being, severely abused him, resulting in Takoda’s death, shortly before his 11th birthday.

I read the entire article, tears pouring from my eyes.  As a former Court-Appointed Special Advocate/Guardian ad Litem for the local Juvenile Court here in Montgomery County, Ohio where I live, I wished there was something I could do.  At times like these, one feels powerless.

I had seen the call-to-action on social media that was repeated in the newspaper:  “Dayton Public School Employees have begun a letter writing campaign, calling for a change in law, to protect certain students who are withdrawn from school.”

I have hope that legislators will act, but deep down I was thinking what others were probably thinking:  it’s too late for Takoda.  Why weren’t these safety measures already in place?  Certainly, parents have been claiming kids have been home schooled for years in order to stay out of the sights of concerned teachers and administration.   

I also recognize we can’t legislate safety for everybody.  When somebody chooses to abuse, they will find a way.  How can we stop someone that is bound and determined to hurt a child?  

My memory takes me back to the mid- 90’s when I went through my first CASA training and a case that was discussed wherein a child’s mother dunked her daughter’s head into the toilet repeatedly until she drowned.  

The visual has never left me and I think that was the day any naivete about parents left me for good.  

Parents do kill their children.  Sure, it’s rare; however, what is even more disconcerting about it is are the people who are also living in the house or are close to the family that know what is going on and choose to do nothing to protect the child.  

There were two women in the same house where Takoda was murdered.  

Make no mistake:  Parents can and do hurt their children. And there are people who will stand by and do nothing.

However, removing children from biological parents is not always the answer, especially when that increases their risk for other abuses.

Before one gets to be adopted, a child has already experienced the trauma of parental separation (and usually other traumas).  

Once placed into an adoptive home, you hope and pray that the adoptive family is a good fit for the child.  

Will the personalities click or clash? Will the parents be child-centered or self-centered?  Will the parents be protectors at all costs? 

One would hope but there is no guarantee. 

Did the parents gets solid training and understanding how parenting an adopted child is different in many ways to parenting a biological child?  Did parents receive counseling for infertility if applicable?

Do parents understand the importance of the genetic connection to birth family? 

Adoptive families are not immune to the same stresses and strains that biological families experience.

When people learn you were adopted at birth, they sometimes think about worst-case-scenarios like Takoda’s and tell you that you may have dodged a bullet in your birth family.  

They don't necessarily assume that your mother really wanted you but did not have the financial means to raise you at that time in her life.  

People will tell you that had you not been adopted, “you could have . .. ..(fill in the blank) . . .. “ended up in a dumpster” . . . .”been aborted” . . .  and they usually won’t say it, but everybody knows that the worst thing that can happen had you not been adopted is, one of your family members murders you (this thought becomes more real when you learn that your conception was the result of incest, an affair, or was scandalous in your birth family).  

Imagine being Adoptee Becky Babcock and learning your biological mother is Diane Downs.

What slippery slope that can lead to is an assumption that being adopted “saved you from all the fates". In some cases, it very well could have.  But in other cases, being adopted could have hand-delivered you into abuse and neglect.  

Sexual molesters are in all kinds of families: yes, even adoptive ones. The parents receive a home study; however, the extended family of the adoptive family does not.  

Adoption cannot protect you from being sexually molested and in fact, it can increase your risk by the simple fact you are likely living in a household with a non-biological male.(Note: sexual molestation rates are low in adoptive homes according to statistics, but I do wonder if the stats are accurate because many cases go unreported).

An adoption decree does not protect you from coaches, teachers, neighbors, step-parents, and friends of your adopted siblings who have access to you.  An adoption decree does not protect you from narcissistic parents. Adoption does not protect you from divorce, poverty, and tragedy.

Being adopted is a band-aid for whatever was going on in the biological family at the time you were born or removed.  Plain and simple – it’s a permanent solution to a (usually) temporary problem. 

It’s true some families are so broken and toxic that no amount of intervention would get them to a place of being able to parent.  It’s also true that removal of a child, foster care and adoption in no way guarantees a safe, loving home.  

Adoption can give a child a second chance for a loving home.  

Adoption can provide safety from unsafe people (by legally severing their rights) and it can provide unconditional love when done right.

We don’t know if removal, foster care and possible adoption would have helped Takoda.  We don't know if there were other family members who could have taken over parenting. 

We only know that an intervention to save his life failed and that is heartbreaking.

Adoptees can’t really know if being raised by our biological families would have been a better outcome for us because it is a life we didn’t get an opportunity to live.   

We can guess, make assumptions and fantasize, but it's always from the sidelines and in hindsight.

We only know the path that we traveled. And I am thankful to be here to tell the tales.   

There are no easy answers, but we, as a community, must take protecting all children seriously.  We cannot wait around for somebody else to take action.  We must continue to make noise, call authorities, write letters, post on social media and train everyone who works with children on the signs of abuse and neglect.  

Red flags are exactly that.  And they require action on our part.  We as a society failed Takoda. 

We have to do better.

Friday, December 13, 2019

While You Wait For Your DNA Results (Things Adoptees Can Do!)

If you have taken advantage of the Black Friday or Cyber Monday DNA sales, like many others do to give as gifts to yourself or others over the holidays, it can be difficult to wait for the results to appear.

In this video, I give you some "to dos" for you while you wait for your DNA results. One thing I did not mention in the video is that it's important to get some support in place as you prepare to review your DNA results.

This video is geared toward domestic (U.S.) adoptees.

If you are an international adoptee or have a recent immigrant parent (as I do) or parents that were born and living in another country at the time of your conception, your situation is a little more complicated.

I will do a follow-up video for people in this situation.

Here is the Closed Facebook group, Genetic Genealogy for Adoptees, if you would like to find support and ask questions about your specific adoption or DNA results.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Is Facebook a Safe Space for You in Adoptionland?

It used to be when I was new to Facebook, I would accept any and all friend requests. For a couple reasons.  First, 9 out of 10 friend requests come from fellow adoptees who have read my blog, saw me post in a private forum, noticed I was friends with 75 of their other adopted friends and/or they picked up an anthology I have contributed to.  

Great, I love getting to know people who I can converse with on the issues I care about and who have something to add to the conversation. 

Second, adoptees as a group are sensitive to rejection and I didn’t want to trigger any rejection in someone by denying their friend request.  

I am an INFP empath so that makes me naturally sensitive to other people’s feelings right out of the gate and then add adoptee issues on top of that . . . I get it.

This was all before the current political climate of us versus them.  This was before the “all or nothings” in adoptee rights began bullying the “sometimes compromise is necessary” crowd.  

Then some things in Adoptionland began to change.  New pages that appeared hostile began to pop up.  Certain adoptees were targeted for hurtful campaigns and even named out loud and/or their private conversations photographed and posted (so wrong!).

Then some personal things happened.  A misunderstanding occurred, rumors spread like wildfire, and I realized that I needed much higher standards for whether I allow somebody into my private social media world (especially because my public writing is easily located and followed by anyone).

I needed a safe space.  

Because I am a born communicator, I process almost everything by speaking or writing about it.  So I post frequently. I write transparently.  I share my life with people I care about.  I have never seen that as an issue, until . . . . Rumorgate.  

Rumorgate began as a total misunderstanding and blew up into an interrogation about the personal ethics of myself and another person.   It almost broke me.  And I had to look at how and why this situation was able to transpire.

The answer was the people I was friends with on Facebook.  Several people saw an innocent post that was shared on more than one person’s wall. 

I have always been a huge fan of Facebook.  Facebook is the reason I have any platform at all in my writing.  Facebook is how I connected with almost every adoptee I have been fortunate enough to work with on multiple projects. 

Whenever somebody bashes Facebook, I am always the first to defend it.  And I don’t blame Facebook at all for Rumorgate.

It’s really about boundaries.  Sometimes having your coworkers as “friends” is a bad idea (not always, but it’s something to consider). 

If you are “friends” with a known bully who has targeted others but has been “just fine” toward you, that is a problem waiting to happen. (not to mention, you are part of the problem by not holding that person accountable . . . .delete, delete, delete . . . .block, block, block . . . . ).

Do you want to be my friend on Facebook? Then please don’t ask other people about my posts on Facebook.  Come to the source:  Me.  If I post publicly, absolutely you can share the post (in fact, you don’t even have to ask me).  

If I share something that is friends only or am discussing something with you in a private message or email, then I don’t want it shared, so don’t take a photo of it and send it to all your contacts.  Don’t pirate it to put on your Pinterest and for the love of God, please don’t start the gossip mill by asking a bunch of questions to people besides me.  

If you have a question about anything, call me or write me directly (my email is posted at my blog). 

Since Rumorgate, I have deleted about half of the former friends I have on Facebook.  I am batting down the hatches because I deserve a safe space.  

It’s definitely worth considering who you allow access to your safe space.  And if somebody is violating your safety, then it’s time to take action.

It is obviously most important to have safe spaces of close family and friends in real life who have your back. However, we have to learn how to navigate social media technologies in a way that allow us to use them for good, while mitigating the potential for abuse.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Latest Breakthrough on My Birth Father Search

by Lynn Grubb
musings about adoption and searching since 2005

It's been a year since my last update, with a big disappointment on a lead the search team was following closely for some time.  You can read about that at my blog titled, "Back on the Birth Father Rollercoaster Awaiting DNA Results.".

Some of you may not know, but my search for my birth father was THE THING that inspired me to begin this blog that you are reading today.  I wanted a place to document the search as it unfolded.

My search blogs are not my most popular; however, one day I hope to turn them into a book, if/when this winding road ever leads to an actual live human being.

It was Christmas 2012 and I was asked to read and review a book for Lost Daughters.  It was Richard Hill's book, Finding Family:  My Search for Roots and the Secrets in my DNA.  Once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down because it gave me the one thing that I had almost given up:  HOPE.

By 2012, it was not looking good for me that I was going to get any solid answers about who my birth father was via my birth mother, who I met for the first time in 2006, at the age of 40.  Prior to Richard's book, I had researched DNA testing, but at the time, it was mainly helpful to males seeking fathers via the Y chromosome and not females seeking fathers.

Then a newer technology came on the scene:  autosomal DNA testing. This type of test checks your autosomal chromosomes, the other 22 pairs beyond the sex-linked X and Y chromosomes.  This was fantastic news for women with unknown fathers like myself.

I started with testing my dna via Family Tree DNA in March of 2013.  You can read about those results at my blog titled, "My Ethnicity Revealed: Sort Of:".  It would be several more years before I could pin down an actual location that my birth father's people originated.  Early on, I learned I was approximately 30% Native American which was quite a shock to me and along with the N/A, was Iberian, which pointed to me being Latin American.  This was not something I ever expected considering I believed myself to be Italian. You can read about my shock and how I attempted to process these results at my blog titled, "The Reluctant Latina: How a DNA Test Can Change Who You Used to Think You Were".

Eventually, I tested in all the current mainstream DNA tests on the marketplace, started helping other adoptees locate their birth parents and last year, I joined a local DNA interest group.

About a year ago, 23 and Me began pinpointing, using data they collected about testers' grandparents' birth places to make educated guesses about what locations in the world testers may originate.  23 and Me said I originated from Peru.  I had suspected for some time, via my search group that I was Peruvian; however, the high number of Mexican dna matches had always thrown me off.  Was one of my grandparent's Mexican?  Why were so many of my DNA matches in the same places in Mexico over and over and others in similar places in Peru?  I scratched my head on that one for quite some time.

In 2017, I matched with a Peruvian who was living in Dayton, Ohio named Cecilia.  She is a warm, loving and amazing cousin and our families connected and she has joined my search team.  She too has a lot of Mexican dna matches but has all Peruvian ancestors (a clue!).
How Genetic Genealogy Works Simplified

A few months ago, I received my closest Peruvian match yet via Ancestry.  He was a 4th cousin, which when you are searching for a recent immigrant like I am, all your matches are 4th cousins are farther out.  Fortunately for me, he was a Peruvian living in Boston, MA and open to helping me.

There have been many Peruvian people I have dna matched living in the US who have been kind and responded to messages; however, many of them do not have trees, and have no idea about their ancestors.  They promise to ask family members and I never hear from them again. I get it; people are busy and I just move on to the next clue and keep plugging along.

But Nicolas was different.  He seemed genuinely interested in my situation and really seemed to want to help.  He offered to take a dna test back to Peru when he visited over the summer to test a relative.  I shipped him a My Heritage test.  It was on sale and it has been pointed out to me by one of my search angels who lives in South America that many latinos use My Heritage for testing and I have seen many latinos put their trees on My Heritage as well.

I waited.  On Thursday, I received an email that the My Heritage results were in.

I am Nicolas' grandmother's closest dna match-predicted second cousin 1x removed
Similar to what Richard Hill's book did for me back in 2012 when i read it when it gave me HOPE, this dna test result has renewed my HOPE that has been lagging over the last year.  We have other family members to test to be sure this closer result is not due to endogamy; however, the search team has been working on Nicolas' tree for several months.  Nicolas said something to me that really warmed my heart:  "Well, we know you are Peruvian!" A happy day indeed for me!

I am so grateful to Nicolas for being willing to help identify our other shared matches at Ancestry, being willing to transfer his dna to Gedmatch, answering questions I have about ancestors, and for being willing to dna test his family members.  This is the kind of help that each and every adoptee needs in order to get the answers they seek.  I want to encourage anyone reading this to be that person -- the one who is open to helping someone you DNA match.

To be continued . . . .

Sunday, January 20, 2019

On Being Excluded, Rejected and Feeling Like Ugly Betty

Being excluded happens to us all at one point or another.  However, that doesn’t make it any less painful, just because it’s common.  

My 14 year-old daughter and I have been watching Ugly Betty on Netflix while hanging out in our house during the Level 2 snow emergency this weekend.  

Choosing a show that mom and daughter both approve of is a feat in and of itself.  I love the focus on Latin culture in New York City and she approves of the nuanced and well-developed characters. 

America Ferrera, who plays Betty-a first generation immigrant- is far from ugly; however, the show is all about family sticking together, being who we are and moving forward with confidence, despite repeated exclusions and rejections.  We are already in Season 2 and haven’t lost interest.

The show is a bit of an emotional support for something I recently experienced in my personal life.  I learned this week from a source that a close family member will be flying to another state to attend a milestone birthday party that my immediate family was not invited to.  

The last time I have seen this family was before my daughters’ birth.  Christmas cards, letters, birthday cards and emails have all come to a screeching hault over the last decade and a half.  But in fairness, my extended family on this side, has never been particularly close. 

The main form of communication has been through one particular gate-keeper relative who has all the latest information, which is then reported to other family members. 

I have told this particular gate-keeper that if the person they are gossiping about wanted me to know what was going on, they would call and tell me themselves (surprise! They haven't!).  This side of my extended family and my immediate family all live in different states; however, this family was my only connection as a child to cousins who I spent time with every summer of my childhood.

As adults, we have all gone our separate ways and I can count on one hand the number of times this family has come to Ohio in the last 35 years.  On the other hand, my family has made an effort to visit (or attempt a plan to visit) them in their home state on quite a few occasions.  

I recognized at some point that there had almost never been independent contact with my family (I define my family as contact with me, my husband or my children – one of whom is an adult).  In fact, our adult son has no memories whatsoever of this family because of this inherent distance (physical as well as psychological). 

So, I have been thinking back to the last time I felt excluded and what I did to make myself feel better . . . . which then brought me to the recognition that on some level I have always felt excluded. Just like Ugly Betty, I have been existing in a world where my kind is rarely understood and appears different to others.  

There is always the thought in the back of my mind that I am being excluded because I am adopted and do not share blood with my extended adoptive family.  By the same token, I am aware that I have been excluded from my birth family because we don’t have shared experiences. Add family dynamics, generational secrets, envy, inheritances, etc. into the mix, and this exclusion may have almost nothing to do with me (or you!) individually.

I have come to believe that being adopted comes with it a tendency to feel inherently excluded as part of the experience.  The reality is that we were at one time excluded. I was excluded when I was the only child in my birth mother’s family to be relinquished.  Exclusion happened on the day of my birth! 

Many adoptees are excluded from genealogy, their medical history, joining their Native American Tribes and from groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

We can also experience exclusion and rejection from both our adoptive families and our birth families. Many of us feel we are straddling two families (adoptive and birth), never able to have both feet on either side.  These feelings of being on the outside can become stronger over the holidays or on anniversary dates (relinquishment, birth, adoption day, etc.)

What does this mean for us as adults? It means we may be more sensitive to perceived rejection and exclusion as a result, even when unintentional.  It means we have to be aware that when we are feeling excluded that self-care can be increased and may look like:

*allowing time to grieve the feelings (journaling, talking with a close nonjudgmental friend or family member, listening to music, doing something fun for yourself, etc.).  Reading this article helped me.

*focus on the people who do support you and are currently surrounding you.  As I type these words, my daughter is drawing on her Kindle in the chair next to me and my adult son Matt braved the dangerous roads and surprised my daughter and I with a visit (My husband escaped this winter wonderland and is visiting his sister in the south).  Matt does this regularly and today I am not taking it for granted.

*Remember you have your tribe.  If you are reading this blog, it’s likely you are part of an adoptee tribe.  Reach out to your support group, a support friend or if you truly have nobody to talk to, email me and I will be happy to get you plugged into this community.  Listen to an episode of Adoptees On if you want to get plugged in immediately.

*Reach out to somebody else who is “different” or may feel excluded at your workplace, house of worship, school, neighborhood or family.  

There is no better person for the job to help others feel included.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I am a Living Legacy to the Leader of the Band

Chapter 1 of Sophi's search published in The Adoptee Survival Guide
When you grow up in a closed adoption, there can be some unique psychology.  One common trait of those of us raised without any knowledge of where we came from is we can sometimes fantasize about our birth parents growing up.  One common fantasy is that one or both of our birth parents are famous.  Well, a friend of mine recently discovered she had a famous biological father through second cousin matches in several DNA databases.   Her name is Sophi Richman Fletcher and she has been looking for answers to who her mystery daddy is for many years.  We have commiserated together in our searches and I am so pleased for her that she now has answers.  Her story was posted in my private Facebook search room and I'm sharing it here with permission:  

"Greetings, fellow Who's Lynn's Daddy Searchers and Support Team:  I'm another adoptee who has been searching for the identity of my bio dad for a number of years (after some really false leads/assumptions...enter DNA...) A week ago yesterday, I opened my email to see a notice from FTDNA about a new match.

When my hands stopped shaking long enough to get logged in to the site, there was the result I had been hoping for that would wrap up this whole deal!! On Dec. 30, 2018, I finally knew the name of my father!!

So, at Lynn's request, I will try to boil this down to the pertinent info, in hopes that it may be of use to someone here.

How did we find him, you ask...

I took my first DNA test about 6 years ago now. It told me that I was nearly half Ashkenazi Jew, and none of that came from my birthmother. (I did mtDNA at the time as well, just to help me sort out the parents, if that were needed). Quick note on her, she will be 90 in about 3 weeks, I've never met her, I'm the youngest of (at least) 5 (4 boys older than me that she kept), and she has refused to divulge anything helpful or say a kind word.

However, oddly enough, my adoptive mother worked at the medical clinic where my birthmother was a patient, which is how my "availability" became known. The two never met, as far as we know. My birthmother told the doctor that my father was "not a stranger" and described him as a "tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed German."

That was what we (my search angels and I) had to work with, along with the new fact that he was not German, but Jewish.

Before I had a clue about DNA and matches and the numbers, not to mention endogamy in the Jewish community (oy vey!) I began to message people who seemed to be in the 2nd-4th cousin range in hopes of a clue. The big issue was, no matter how close we got, my matches were from back east, and I was born in Bakersfield, CA. So where did a Jewish guy with roots in PA and OH come into the picture?
Ace is on the far-right

Here's how the pieces started to fall into place:

I tested at all the sites, plus uploaded to GEDmatch. One day I had a 2nd cousin match on Ancestry by the last name of Hamovitz. He did not respond to my message.
Some time later, I had a 2nd cousin match on 23andMe by the last name of Picker.

This young man sent me a friend request (that was unexpected) and spent several hours of his time while away on a trip (Mexico, maybe?) messaging me, calling his mother, etc, after I mentioned my Hamovitz match over on ancestry-- he said "My grandmother was a Hamovitz"!

This was maybe 2 years ago? It at least gave us a place to start, and figuring out who my great-grandparents were, based on these 2nd cousin matches, wasn't too hard!!

But...they had 6 children that we knew of, and we had to slowly work our way back to *me* by way of each child and their offspring. A major process of elimination ensued.

We looked at Sara, 1st and 2nd marriage, kids; her sister Ethel and her kids, their brother Joseph and his kids, etc etc, and my search angel was able to find 4th cousin matches to me who were 1st cousin matches to each other (on ancestry) just to further support us going in the right direction. (Don't ask me what that means, but it was significant to her, lol)

We had some struggles along the way, as we got down to "the guy" we thought could be the one--after all, his line of the family ended up in Southern CA!

We were unable to make contact with him, his brother was kind of a jerk, said it wasn't his deal, not interested, not going to help...finally we made contact with The Guy's daughter-in-law because she worked for a travel agency so we were able to find her on FB! She couldn't get her husband (my potential 1/2 bro) to test, but she agreed to test their son, and he came back as such a distant match that we knew we had to move on.

As more people tested in the next year or so, it really helped us to eliminate all of the lines, but one. It seemed no one had tested on the younger sister, Lena's line. Since everyone else came back as 2nd cousins to me, we figured, this has to be it.

We looked at Lena and her husband's 3 children. One was born in 1916, and was into swing band music. His name was Milton "Ace" Richman (Ace is in the black suit in video above). He then moved into gospel and western music on the radio with a band he called the Sunshine Boys, and they also appeared in a number of old western movies, shot in Hollywood.

A military draft card revealed that he was 6'3 (I've also seen him described as 6'5!!), with blonde hair and blue eyes. BINGO....
As we looked into the band a bit more, we pondered whether or not they might have toured, all the way to the west coast...

As a matter of fact, they did!! BUT--was it at "the right time" for me to have been conceived??? Finding that all-important date was another series of hurdles, as newspapers are on microfiche in the library, and no one is willing to do look-ups anymore, even for money!! 
When we googled The Sunshine Boys and California, a letter to the editor came up from June of 1960 in the Bakersfield Californian, making reference to the locals having to drive an hour north to Porterville for a show with the Sunshine Boys, because there wasn't a decent venue in Bakersfield at the time! Porterville had recently completed a beautiful, big public auditorium beside the high school.

This letter caused much excitement to us searchers, because we knew we were getting close. I was born in Feb. 1961 and was told I was induced 2 weeks early, so my conception had to be back in May 1960...but how to find the date of that show?!?

As it turns out, when I was a kid, my folks moved us to Porterville from San Francisco, after moving up there from Bakersfield when I was a year old. I have been to events in that auditorium myself. I still have a friend living in Porterville, who I reconnected with a few years ago, again, thanks to FB.
The Smoking Gun
She was willing to be the Boots on the Ground, went to the library, and sent me a screenshot of the ad in the paper for the Sunshine Boys and their 4 hour gospel show (featuring other local groups) on Sat. night, MAY 21st, 1960. BOOM!!!

Woohoo!!! But wait... I still wanted more proof. My birthmother is a stinker, and she would refuse to acknowledge or admit to anything as vague as an old newspaper clipping. The search continued to find a close relative of Ace's willing to test. We discovered he had adopted 2 girls, so no help there. (Adoptee scorn, lol) He had a brother and sister who settled in Georgia as well (where he ended up due to the music biz in the 1940s) so attempts were made to contact one of their offspring.

By this time I was in contact with one of the many Hamovitz 2nd cousin matches, who is kind of the family genealogist; she was very kind and helpful, although she didn't know much, if anything, about this line either. She contacted a niece, I believe, who was quite put out at the very idea of taking a DNA test, when Ace has been gone these many years... (My thought was, "She doth protest too much" and I wonder if her mother/Ace's sister-in-law and Ace had a "thing"...??)

Finally, one of my search angels found a nephew and resorted to sending a certified letter to make contact. I had just ordered a DNA kit on Black Friday "just in case" and within the space of a week, he had called my search angel, said the picture of me that she sent looked like "me with a beard," said their favorite show is Long Lost Family, agreed to test, spoke to me as well, and then 4 days later, emailed my search angel to tell her that "we are very private people and after I test, we'd like no further contact."
Ace Richman
SMH. WhatEVer...At least he did the test, and on Dec. 30, 2018, I got the news all of us daddy-seekers live for-- The nephew who tested came back as my 1st cousin, and that was all the proof we needed that Ace Richman was my father!

It was surreal, but empowering to change how my name appears here on FB. One day I will legally change it, but for now...I'm good.

My birthmother probably doesn't know that I know, at long last...but she will soon enough. After all, she should get flowers for her birthday, right? The card will simply read, "From Ace Richman's daughter" 
:D :
Never give up! Now back to Lynn . . . ."

What lessons have we learned from Sophi's story? 

       1. Never give up!  Although not highlighted in this blog, Sophi’s search story began years ago.  You can read about it under the essay, “Better than Nothing" in The Adoptee Survival Guide.
2     2. DNA databases are growing and new matches are coming in all the time.  Ancestry is up to 10 million testers.  Finding Your Roots highlighted Andy Samberg, this week, whose 71-year old mother is a New York closed era adoptee.  Through old-fashioned sluething and DNA testing, Andy's grandparents were identified. That episode can be found here.
3    3.  Many times we will find graves in our search, and that was the case for Sophi.  Fortunately for her, her father was well-known and there is much in books and on the internet about him. For those of us without famous biological relatives, information may be in shorter supply, so it's important to develop positive relationships with bio family members if you want to understand your deceased relatives' history.
4    4.  Life is certainly full of surprises.  You just never know what you will find at the other end of your search!

Congratulations to Sophi on a successful conclusion to the mystery of her father!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review of the Movie "Instant Family"

Yesterday I went to see "Instant Family" with a friend of mine. This movie was timed to open during National Adoption Awareness Month, and brings much needed awareness to the children in foster care, some of whom are available to adopt.

As a former CASA/G.A.L. for my local juvenile court, I was very interested in seeing how this movie portrayed the system, foster/adopt training and support, the realities of kids biological parents, the courts, and adoption in general.  (I tried to take notes in the pitch dark and wasn't very successful 😍).  My husband and I have gone through foster-to-adopt training three times. We briefly were emergency foster parents in the 90s.  And of course, we are also kinship adoptive parents to a now-teen via a private adoption.

I had read two reviews (one negative and one positive) before viewing it myself.  My rating is 7.5 out of 10 as I believe it will educate the general public about the plight of children in foster care.

**************************Spoilers to follow************************************

Based on a true story of writer/director, Sean Anders' and his wife, a couple, Pete and Ellie, adopt a sibling group of three through foster care. I had heard the movie described as funny-it's actually listed as a "comedy"; however, I found it more of a feel-good movie with  tear-jerker moments (I cried a handful of times).

The parts that were supposed to be funny generally took place at the couple's foster-to-adopt support group.  The two social workers leading the group were opposites -- one was more of a sugar-coater and the other more of a straight shooter.  I really liked the straight shooter -- she seemed to really "get it".  

At times, it felt like the script was trying too hard to get laughs.  For example, often the support group members would laugh at each other's expense, not providing the support one would hope to find. The family dynamics of the parents' extended family also seemed a bit hostile, with jealousy and competition being shown as humorous.  If nothing else, it was realistic. We all have family members who are far from supportive. Unsurprisingly, the family members warm up toward the end.

The movie did a good job of showing the complexity of parenting traumatized children, in addition to the struggles with visitations; however, you are left feeling like everything worked out wonderfully at the end. Hollywood loves happy endings.   The kids get adopted and become a bonded family.  Although all seems well, the birth mom and her relationship with the kids is left open.  There are many unanswered questions.  What does shine through is that these kids now have the stability of two parents and an extended family who love them.  

The saddest reality I got from the movie was the dismal stats on kids who age out of the foster care system. In one scene, Ellie is perusing kids on-line who are available for adoption and she tries to get her husband to have a look but he refuses, because it's so sad to see those faces.

I have mixed feelings about the photos on-line of kids who are available for adoption.  I think it's sad to post their photos; however, it is also likely necessary for families to be able to get to know (albeit briefly) from a bio and to visualize in advance their family.  In the movie, what the couple actually visualized turned out to be different than who they ultimately ended up with, which is kind of cool.  They were charmed by a teen, and when they realized the two younger siblings came with her, they were taken aback at first.  They probably did not picture themselves with a sibling group; however, they eventually embraced the idea.  I will admit the idea of the adoption picnic (one of which my husband and I have attended and is shown in the movie) is uncomfortable. Again, probably necessary, yet sad.

I read some reviews of movie-goers and some of the critiques are as follows:

*too much foul language in the movie and exaggerated corny humor
*not accurately showing the true struggles of foster kids (i.e. pharmaceuticals, therapy, rotating caseworkers)
*not a movie for foster children to watch as it may re-ignite trauma for them

Things where the movie could have done better are as follows:

*not showing a truly supportive support group. I would have liked to see more empathy, listening and validation in the room and less wise-cracks from across the room. I did like the one scene at the support group where they cut string in an exercise to understand what foster children lose when they are moved to a new home.  

* showing the kids at the court hearing with their biological mother.  That doesn't happen in my state -- not sure if it happens in California, but I would doubt it.  Just a bit of extra drama for Hollywood and extra trauma for the kids if it actually happens that way.

* the movie vilified the biological mother. She appeared one-dimensional and undeveloped, which made it hard to empathize with her.  If we knew more about the biological mother's history (other than 'she's on drugs"), it would have helped us to better understand why the children were in care and to understand the struggles of the children better.

Things I felt were positive about the movie:

*it was honest in it's portrayal of shifting motivations of why people adopt and how they see themselves as parents.
* the movie explored the myths involved in parenting "other people's kids" in a scene at dinner where the extended family openly discussed their misgivings about adoption in general. (Later, these same family members are really shocked at how 'normal' the adopted kids are.)
*I enjoyed watching the changing relationships between parents and children and how strong the bond became toward the end of the movie.  It's a process and it doesn't happen overnight.
*I also loved the part when Pete's mom shared her own personal story to help the couple understand their oldest daughter who was afraid of love.

My favorite part about the movie is the awareness and call-to-action it brings to the plight of foster kids.  A quote by a former foster child, Noel Anaya:

"Walking into court for my very last time as a foster youth, I feel like I'm getting a divorce from a system that I've been in a relationship with almost my entire life. It's bittersweet because I'm losing guaranteed stipends for food and housing, as well as access to my social workers and my lawyer. But on the other hand, I'm relieved to finally get away from a system that ultimately failed me on its biggest promise. That one day it would find me a family who would love me."

To me, the movie serves as a call-to-action to prevent kids entering the system in the first place.  There are things you can do in your own family and in your local community to help children.  Adoption is only one piece of the equation, albeit the most celebrated in our society.   Not everyone will be in a position to adopt; however, there are other things you can do:

*Parent a child while your relative/close friend gets back on their feet
*Become a mentor to kids in your community
*Become a CASA/Guardian ad Litem in your community
*Support non-profits like the Adoptee Rights Coalition and Adoption Network Cleveland that do legislative work. 
*Support non-profits that have active support groups like  Adoptees Connect.
*Support your local kinship program or develop one like Ali Caliendo did in Las Vegas, Nevada.  
*Provide respite for foster parents formally or informally
*do a church fundraiser for foster kids so they can have proper luggage or bags to transport their items (instead of black garbage bags)
*Adopt a family at Christmas and provide gifts
*support family preservation groups like FP365 and Saving Our Sisters.

You can also go to the movie website for information on how you can become eligible to foster and/or foster-to-adopt the many children waiting for homes.

Despite Reports, A Child Dies

Takoda Collins The morning of Tuesday, January 7, 2020, was my first day back from a trip to Orlando, Florida.   I was happy to be sle...