Monday, November 29, 2010

'Twas the Night before Finals

(just got this via message from a 2L)

T'was the night before finals,
And all through the college,
The students were praying
For last minute knowledge.

Most were quite sleepy,
But none touched their beds,
While visions of essays
Danced in their heads.

Out in the taverns,
A few were still drinking,
And hoping that liquor
Would get their brains thinking.

In my own apartment,
I had been pacing,
Dreading all those exams
I soon would be facing.

My roommate was speechless,
His nose in his books,
And my comments to him
Drew unfriendly looks.

I drained all the coffee,
And brewed a new pot,
No longer caring
That my nerves were shot.

I stared at my notes,
But my thoughts were all muddy,
My eyes went a'blur,
I just couldn't study.

"Some pizza might help,"
I said with a shiver,
But each place I called
Refused to deliver.

I'd pretty much concluded
Life is unfair and cruel,
Since our futures all depend
On grades made in school.

When all of a sudden,
Our door opened wide,
And Patron Saint Put-It-Off
Ambled inside.

Her spirit was careless,
Her manner was mellow,
She looked at the mess
And started to bellow:

"Why should us students
Make such a fuss,
About what those teachers
Toss out to us?"

"On Cliff Notes! On Crib Notes!
On Last Year's Exams!
On Wingit and Slingit,
And Last Minute Crams!"

Her message delivered,
She vanished from sight,
But we heard her laughing
Outside in the night.

"Your teachers won't flunk you,
So just do your best.
Happy Finals to All,
And to All, a good test"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why am I here?

I am officially halfway through the first semester of law school. Things have been going well. I find my coursework to be challenging but manageable. I'm learning a lot, which is always a good sign when you're in school. Additionally, I'm learning a lot about myself.

Today, when my 30 minute nap morphed into 3 hours, I realized how exhausted I am. The workload is immense in the first year; which is why the law school tells students not to have jobs during the 1L year. Since I also have the 3 1/2 commute every weekend, in order to see my children, I often find my time is limited. When the rest of my section is having their usual night out on Wednesday, I'm studying so that I can be ready for the next week--since I know nothing academically related is going to be accomplished over the weekend.

When I am finally with my kids, I want to be with them every moment that I can. Naturally, they don't feel that same urgency. They don't understand that I can see how much they've changed just in the week that it's been since I last saw them. Sometimes I look at the sacrifices that I'm making and wonder: "What am I doing here?"

I had thought about law school since I was a kid. I blame Clair Huxtable. However, I never really believed that it would be possible. We are the first generation in my father's family (the only family we really knew & grew up with) to even complete high school. I knew I wanted to go to college, because it was a way out of the backward, impoverished area that we lived in. However, law school seemed so out of reach. I didn't even know anyone with a professional degree. Yet, after all these years, here I am.

Perhaps there's an advantage to having lived some of my life before coming to law school. I see all these students that are here directly (or within a year or two) from undergrad and they don't appreciate the experience. For them, everything they are learning is abstract and distant. Once they start having to apply it, I fear many will likely feel like they've had the wind knocked out of them. They're all very intelligent people, and I'm sure they'll rally just fine. For me, though, I'm glad that I can observe the transformative process that this course of study is designed to be.

So, why am I here? I'm here for my children. I'm here so that I can provide for them in the future. I'm here so that I can transform the future and, hopefully, leave them a better society. There is a lot of work to be done and I truly hope that I can make a difference. I thank our fost/adopt experience for enlightening me to the ways our system does and does not work. I also credit it with helping me understand the generational issues that have developed within my tribe (and many others), the causes of which cannot be changed but the roads out of which are beginning to be built. I feel an obligation to assist in that construction so that those who wish (like me) to change their futures will be able to.

Thinking about that question always brings me to another: "How did I get here?"

I didn't school shop all over the country like some students that I know. Because I wanted to let my kids keep most of their world in tact, I knew that this law school was my only option. It is the only one I applied to. Honestly, I didn't have an appreciation for how risky that was. Until orientation, I didn't fully comprehend the fact that they only offer a spot to about 10% of the applicants. So, why did they take me?

My undergrad transcript is rather lackluster. I have a decent, but not wonderful, gpa. I'd be willing to guess that the majority of applicants had a higher gpa than I. My grades during the Master's program are much better (all A's except for 1 B). Since most applicants don't have a graduate degree (only 10 of our class of 175), though, so I don't think they give that much weight. My LSAT score was respectable, but not spectacular. It was the average of what my school usually takes. So, again, how did I get here?

When I received the letter from the Admission Committee, offering me a seat in this year's class, there was a handwritten note at the end. It told me that I am they chose me based on my personal statement. When I originally sat down to write the required essay, in which you're effectively trying to sell yourself to the admissions committee, I had no idea what to say. I took many starts at it, but would delete the entire thing and start over. In the end, I decided to not try to convince them that I am a good student or that I would make a good lawyer. Instead, I just shared who I am and what it important to me. Sometimes, when I wonder why I'm here, I re-read the words, written by the Associate Dean of Admissions:

The Admissions Committee was impressed by so many pieces of your journey--your ability to juggle parenting with the completion of two degrees, your commitment to public service that you have shared with your children, and your battle for [your daughter]. You will make a great advocate!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Summer in New Mexico

I spent the summer in New Mexico to attend the Pre-Law Summer Institute. I had a great experience and learned a lot, but I thought I'd share a few photos from my non-academic explorations from the Land of Enchantment.


















I started the 11 1/2 hour drive yesterday around noon. Rather than drive straight through, I elected to spend the night in Vega, TX. After driving the last 255 miles this morning, I successfully located the law school...which proves that I can read a map. Who knew?


Registration for the Pre-Law Summer Insitute was completed today and Orientation is tomorrow. Actual classes begin on Monday. Judging by the weight of the books, I expect to have a hernia by Wednesday. It's all ok, though, because the people seem nice and this should really help prepare me to start law school in August.



Interestingly, I'm discovering some interesting details about my life. Apparently, before this week, I had never stayed in a hotel or ate at a restaurant alone. I've never really thought about it before, I assume because I have no regrets, but I've never lived alone. I moved out at 17, but had roommates in college. When I got married, I let my husband talk me into living with him, though I still question the wisdom of that decision. Honestly, I think adjacent houses would be a better plan for married couples. We were married for about a minute and a half before getting pregnant, and went on to add a couple more kids after that.



I've never really been alone. Not sure if that is good, bad or neutral. After all, I am a woman with my own identity and sense of self, so I'm not defined only by my role in my family. It's not a if I've been dying to escape to "find myself". I do wonder, though, now that I will have some time to myself, I wonder if I will truly find peace in the quiet. I sincerely doubt it, as I missed the kids even before I left the driveway.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

My time in the Land of Enchantment is over. It's been a hell of an 8 weeks. I learned a lot, met some awesome people & had a lot of fun...sometimes too much fun, but that's what keeps life interesting.

Throughout this summer, I've thought extensively about what this journey means to those around me. I originally started this journey because of how it can improve the lives of my children. Before left for New Mexico, though, I had some pretty incredible conversations with some of the elders that I respect deeply. Through these talks, I was reminded of the absolute desperation that exists just below the surface. Our tribe is still mostly impoverished, crime in Indian country is disproportionately high, just so many problems... With each person that I talked to, I heard similar pleas. Even individuals that don't understand what a J.D. is seem to hang grasped onto the possibility of my earning this degree as if it were the last ray of hope for change in the conditions that have existed long enough as to seem normal in some sick, dysfunctional way.

As I would learn, this is not an uncommon burden among the other Native students in the program. Many of us are the most educated people in our families. Some, like me, are the ONLY people within our circle that have a college degree. One man from the program will be the first in his tribe to obtain a professional degree. I sincerely hope that he goes back to work for his tribe and makes a real difference.

We had a banquet last night to celebrate completion of the program. There, we heard from program alumni and our professors. The recurring theme that came up in most of their remarks, and at various times throughout the 8 weeks, is the fact that the fate of Indian country is in our hands. The hard work of pushing for basic civil & human rights for tribes has been done by those that came before us. It is up to us, now, to protect and refine that. It sounds cliche on the surface, but the reality is that the heart of the matter is survival. The outcome of a particular court case can literally mean the survival or extinction of a tribe. We have an amazing opportunity and, I argue, a responsibility to do whatever possible to make a difference. If we fail to do so, it will be future generations that pay the price for our silent complicity.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Meant to be?

I recently ranted about people saying that "everything happens for a reason". I've had many people (which I chose to assume are well meaning) that will say this in reference to our daughter (Beautiful). "It was God's will" that she be part of your family, they say. "What about everything that she went through before she got here?" I ask. "Well, everything happens for a reason..."

At this point, I usually don't know how to feel. When Beautiful is not with me, I have the freedom to just walk away without challenging their ignorance. However, when these things are said in front of her, I attempt to end the conversation quickly. Sometimes, the individual may be extremely persistent in their assertion and I feel obligated to quickly point out that I don't believe that God would engineer a situation where my wonderful little girl would have to go through hell just to get to live with us. I never want her to internalize the concept that all of the bad things she's been through was the will of God.

In a perfect world, there would be no adoption. It simply wouldn't be necessary. Children would only be born to parents that want and cherish them. They wouldn't be abused or neglected. Nothing bad would ever happen.

This is NOT a perfect world.

My daughter's biological mother (Rahil) is not an evil person. She is a product of an abusive, horrific childhood. She was failed by the same system that seemed to be making every attempt to fail Beautiful. Fortunately, in a moment of clarity, Rahil chose to remove Beautiful from the merry-go-round of the foster care system. The only way to orchestrate this was to consent to the permanent guardianship arrangement. I could tell that she didn't want to do this, as it meant ending any possibility of ever having Beautiful living under the same roof as her.

However, Rahil said that all she wanted was for Beautiful to be happy, and she knew that she was happy with us. We all agreed that the worst thing that could happen was for Beautiful to be moved, even if it was to be returned to Rahil's home, which was inevitable if she remained in care. Finally, at least for the moment, she seemed to reach the same conclusion that the rest of us had...DHS would place Beautiful back with her for a trial period, even though we all knew that Rahil was not ready. Most likely, it would have lasted for a very short period of time before the babe would be removed again. However, the effects on our beautiful little girl would have lasted a lifetime. It would have been a horrible injustice to gamble with the life of a child in that way.

I'm very proud of her for making this decision, though I know it must have been incredibly difficult. Part of me feels like that experience may have played a role in the downward spiral that has become her life. Prior to that court date last fall, Rahil was starting to finally make progress in straightening out her life. She'd gotten her first job, finally passed a drug test, and actually started attending a few of her AA meetings and parenting classes. Granted, the progress was minimal, but it was more than anyone had ever seen her even attempt.

Within two weeks, Rahil was arrested for domestic violence. This was the first of around a half dozen arrests (that I'm aware of ) in the intervening time. At this moment, no one seems to know where she is. She jumped bail and didn't appear at court for her drug charges. I worry about her. i pray for her. I pray for her other daughter. I pray for Beautiful.

Rahil was adamant that she wanted to see her, to have ongoing contact. At this point, she has never contacted us. Until she disappeared off the radar, I sent regular updates to her and her mother. I sincerely hope that she will one day be able to have contact with Beautiful.

I think the only people that understand my feelings on this are other people in the adoption world. In real life, people seem to find it odd when I refuse to let them bad mouth Rahil. Some even get angry when I tell them that I think contact with between the two could be a good thing. People seem to believe that, since Beautiful was only 1 when she moved in, she will eventually forget that she had a life before our family...that the reality of how she came to exist and how she became part of our family will simply dissolve. They seem to expect that she will never want to know...that it will be a non-issue.

The truth is, though, that she will have questions. She already has questions. At 4, she doesn't know how to articulate her concerns but it's clear that she fears that we might not always be there. After all, we were the 3rd foster home, plus being removed from her biological family twice. She occasionally asks about "that girl"--the only way she ever refers to her mother. When she has nightmares about things that happened to her...things she doesn't remember when she's awake...she asks me why someone would do that to her...why they didn't love her. When she internalizes all the bad and assumes, like most abused children, that there may be something wrong with her, it breaks my heart. I hope that someday she can hear her mother say, in her own words, that she does love her. That the bad things that happened are not Beautiful's fault. I tell her, but I know that it will mean more if it comes from her.

As the child of an adult adoptee, I've watched as my mother tried to process all of this. She had contact with her biological mother most of her life and none with the father. I've seen how the two dynamics have affected her and the results of reunions during adulthood. I sincerely believe that appropriate contact is best and hope that my daughter can experience that.

Regardless, though, I will continue to be there for her and do whatever I can to help her become the best person that she can be. Because she deserves it!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Death Penalty

One of my professors made a comment last week that I found intriguing, so I thought I'd share.

He said that, if an attorney really wanted to abolish the death penalty, they should put all their energy into reinstating the guillotine. Arguably it is the most humane of all the options because the executee (made that word up) feels the least pain with this method. However, it is horrific to watch and might make those that witness it decide that execution is barbaric. After all, he argues, it's not hard to convince the guy who's about to be put to death...it's the people who support it so much they want to witness it.

No matter how you feel about execution as a political idea, when you think about it, he has an excellent point.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thought for the day:

How does one reach the proper balance of idealism and realism? Is such a phenomenon even possible? If one does reach such a state, will it last OR will the two competing perspectives constantly pull the individual in opposite directions?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Adoption

Three years ago, when we accepted placement of our daughter (Beautiful), we knew that she may not stay with us forever. We'd been through all the foster care training, so we understood that we were risking having our hearts ripped out and stomped on. However, we accepted that risk in order to help an amazing little girl that was having difficulty finding an ICWA compliant home. We vowed that she would be a part of our home for as long as child welfare allowed her to be, and part of our hearts and family forever.

Three years later, her biological mother (Rahil) consented to appoint us as H's permanent guardians. Naturally we were happy that this unexpected development meant that Beautiful would never have to leave our home. Beyond that, though, it was the first time that Rahil even wanted to meet me. We spoke and I had real hopes that she might be able to get her life together, which meant that an ongoing relationship between her and Beautiful would be possible. Unfortunately, we have not heard from her since and no one seems to know where she is.

So, why pursue adoption when the guardianship secures Beautiful's permanency in our home?

This is a question that we have been asked many times, and one that we have discussed and struggled with.

When we agreed to the guardianship, we thought that would probably be the end of our court hearings and such. However, there were many things about this type of arrangement that we were not aware of at the time. Speaking with attorneys in the months that have passed, we've learned a lot about the legalities and have decided to pursue the adoption in order to provide Beautiful with legal protections that she will not have if she remains a ward of the court.

A "ward of the court"? Yes. As long as she only has "guardians" she remains a ward of the court until she reaches the age of majority. This means that Rahil, as her legal (biological) parent, keeps all her rights in tact but has no real obligation to fulfill any of the legal obligations that generally go along with that. This, of course, gives her complete access to Beautiful's information and documents. While Beautiful was in foster care, there were supposedly protections to keep Rahil from interfering with or obtaining these things. Even then, however, we had issues with Rahil changing Beautiful's address to her own. The county health department that discovered this was concerned that Rahil might be trying to claim her as a dependent and draw benefits that she was not lawfully entitled to. Indian Child Welfare was more concerned, though, with the fact that she would be able to find us. Because we live in a rural area, all health providers keep finding directions in their file. As it turns out, because Rahil is the legal parents and Beautiful no longer has the protections afforded by the "foster" status, no office is allowed to refuse her this information. This is of particular concern because of the violent, drug soaked spiral that has been Rahil's life of late. I sincerely hope they are overreacting.

As Beautiful's guardians, we have all the responsibilities of caring for her. We have many of the rights, but not all. Of course, this was not explained to us when we agreed to this arrangment. As it turns out, we cannot have any information from Beautiful's foster care file because we "are not legal parents". Because the case was headed towards termination of Rahil's rights, child welfare compiled a medical and social history for Beautiful. It is supposedly made up of background information for her to have as an adult, so she'll have some facts when she's ready for them. Well, since we aren't legally entitled to them, they can't be released to us on her behalf. This means that she may never be able to obtain them. We may be able to subpoena the file as part of the adoption case. However, if we are unsuccessful in getting this information, Beautiful may never be able to get it. Her only other recourse would be to request that a court unseal the records, once she turns 18. As most of us know, courts aren't always inclined to do so. So, since we were given none of this information at placement, though they are legally required to give us some of it, Beautiful will have NO background information about herself without that file.

Another concern, which many people dismiss, but we take very seriously, is the question of what will happen to our children if my husband and I both die while they are still minors. We have a guardian appointed for our sons who is wonderful and loves them dearly. However, because Beautiful is a ward of the court, we have no legal authority to appoint someone for her. She would automatically be returned to the foster care system. I've looked at all of the angles and, even if we chose another guardian, I can't find any way that would give all three kids a guarantee of staying together. Adoption is the only way to fix that legal problem. I know that we are young, but nothing is guaranteed. I have known lot of young parents that have died and left children behind. It is a very real possibility and we would be very irresponsible to not do whatever possible to protect our children legally. ALL of our children.

As for her relationship with Rahil, her recent convictions for violent crimes raise concern about visitation. However, we are keeping the possibility of communication open. Prior to her disappearing, I continued to send updates. If I ever find out where she is, I will be more than happy to resume doing so. I sincerely hope that Rahil will someday be able to put her life together and, maybe, she and Beautiful can have a relationship. However, only time will tell.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What about the kids?

Ever since I decided to go to law school, I've been experiencing deja vu. Seriously, I have had the exact same conversation over and over again, with many different people. It seems that, when people find out about my plans, 95% of them ask this question: "What about the kids?" Generally this is said in a disapproving or condescending tone. Some brave souls will even go further and attempt to explain to little ol' me just exactly how hard this is going to be for the kids. Others venture further and lament about how hard it will be for my husband to take care of 3 kids and work full time. Almost without fail, when said individuals find out that my children will stay with my parents during my husband's working hours, they drone on about how wonderful it is that my parents are willing to "raise children" again while I complete my education.

Now, I have been ranting about and discussing this with my two best friends, but have thus far spared the online community. However, having discussed this topic with other mothers in the program, it seems that we are all experiencing this same display of sexism. So, I will share my rant with you all, as well:

Granted, I have been a full-time mother most of the time that I have had children. I love it, I truly do. Unfortunately, at this point in time it makes no sense for me to continue to be. I need to be able to earn money and I'm not going to work my ass off for minimum wage when I can have my law degree in just three short years. So, my husband, myself and the children talked it over and decided that this is the best course for improving our family's situation.

These ignorant people never asked "what about the kids?" when both my husband and myself were working full time jobs. As one of my classmates, also the mother of 3, said today, "you could go to work at 7-11 and they'd applaud you for 'working to support your family', but if you try to go back to school to get a better job and life, you're being selfish and abandoning your children". And, for the record, I do know how hard it will be for my husband. There was a time when I was a homeschooling mom, while working a full time job and being a full time student.

During the time that my husband and I were both working night shifts, our children had to stay with my parents, just as they will while I attend school. However, now that I'm in school instead of working it means that my parents are raising them? WTH? And, if one more person asks me if my husband will "babysit" while I take classes, I will scream. It is not babysitting. They are his children too...it's called parenting!

Granted, my being away from my family for most of the summer is a huge departure from our normal routine. I've never been away from my kids so, yes, it is hard. But it will be worthwhile in the end. These mean spirited, judgemental jacka....sorry where was I? Oh yes, these wonderfully well meaning people act like I'm locking the kids in a closet and forgetting about them for 8 weeks. Hellloooo people, we have phones, webcams, etc...they can talk to me everyday. Besides that, they will be coming out here for part of the time. That's not really the point, though. My complaint is this: none of these people, not one, said any of these things when my husband traveled for work. There were times that he was gone for a couple months at a time. None of these supposedly concerned people asked him whether or not I'd be able to take care of the children while he was gone. He was never lectured about how it can be hard or damaging to the children to not see him everyday. He was never accused of abandoning his family. No, he was praised for trying to make life better for us.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

And so it began...

The original blog heading, explaining why I started this whole thing:


Due to continued whining and nagging by those who wish to live vicariously through me (and I love all of you), I have acquiesced to the demands that I blog about my life and our family’s trials and triumphs as I embark on this journey of law school, while embracing all of the challenges that go along with balancing that with our already complicated family. ***This blog has a "sarcasm alert". Read at your own risk***