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Adoption is beautifully irrational.

Byline: Marlene Drescher For The Register-Guard

I sometimes introduce myself as the world's oldest living mother of a 7-year-old. Of course, that's inaccurate. Some movie stars accumulate children even later in life than I did. When people see my blond-haired, blue-eyed, long-waisted beautiful daughter holding my hand and calling me `Momma,' they often look twice. I'm a 55-year-old, chubby, Mediterranean-looking, single, gay former lawyer who decided to become a foster parent after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

It was not a rational thought, but I wanted to help heal the world in a direct, personal, concrete way, working with society's most vulnerable and traumatized innocents: a child in harm's way.

Little did I know that I was about to embark on the most challenging and rewarding relationship of my life, and that helping to heal my daughter would also lead to healing revelations for me.

Bre had been taken into foster care at age 3. Her birth parents were methamphetamine addicts whose lives were marked by all the chaos and devastation of this drug: crime, poverty, failed treatment programs, illiteracy, homelessness, illness, jail, domestic violence, federal prison.

Bre was cared for by family friends for extended periods under questionable circumstances. These people all loved Bre, and for that I am eternally grateful. They just were unable to give her the care, parenting and safety that young children require.

When Bre came to live with me after the state Department of Human Services took custody, I made a commitment not to shuffle her in the foster system. The first three months were a constant barrage of temper tantrums, food hoarding and screaming noncompliance in answer to the simplest requests. She did not seem to know what a book was for or that meals were eaten while sitting down at a table. Her language skills were so undeveloped that it was hard to understand her.

I began rocking her every night in my lap and cooing at her while she sucked on a binky. We basically had to re-do her infancy.

Any transition, especially bath time and bedtime, was a major undertaking. She came to me in early September, and I thought to myself that I could do this until Halloween. After Halloween passed, I thought I could do it until Thanksgiving, then Christmas. A caseworker had told me she likely would be reunited with her family for Christmas. But the birth parents' situation worsened over time.

Many friends, professionals and agencies helped us along the path.

Head Start was crucial, and by kindergarten Bre was in the top third of her class.

Rainbow Rascals, a play group for kids of lesbian moms, provided us both with friendship and a network for every celebration from Halloween to Easter - all very nondenominational, of course.

Adoptions Connections of Oregon (see www.aflcadoption .org for information on a conference in January on transracial adoptions) hosted helpful parent salons and seasonal get-togethers.

An adopted `older sister' in our neighborhood took Bre under her wing.

We became regulars at kids' events at my synagogue, and we also went to church suppers with family friends.

She's the youngest in my family, and receives more annoyingly loud toys from them than I care to think about. She loves her cousins and helps Grandma find her teeth.

Bre was exposed to meth in utero, but her IQ tests out in an average to above-average range. She had slipped behind in reading, but with the help of teachers, tutors and restricting television, she is catching up.

When you see her playing with her friends, reciting a blessing in Hebrew, hunched over her homework, taking care to play with a younger child, surfing `PBS kids' on the Net, or helping with household chores, it is easy to forget that she is a special-needs child.

She won an award for two years at her school for `showing kindness.' She loves to sing and has performed in three plays. Occasionally she will still ask me to sing to her in the car or at bedtime. She hasn't figured out yet that I can't hold a tune. I love how up to age 5 she sang `Home on the Range," where the "deer and the cantaloupe play."

From time to time, Bre will say she misses her birth parents, especially her dad. The counselor says that she really means she is worried about them, as Bre was "parentified" early on. I don't know. After a number of protracted discussions with friends about where and who her dad is, I overheard this conversation from the back seat as I was driving to soccer practice:

Friend: `Bre, where's your dad? Why doesn't he live with you?'

Bre: (Big sigh) `He moved.'

Me (not out loud): `Way to go, Bre, handling a difficult question with a simple, harmless, possibly true answer! Future in politics?'

In kindergarten she once shared with the class that she had two moms, but that one was in jail. The mother of one of her classmates wanted to check in with me to see if my life partner was incarcerated.

Bre has asked me deep and searching questions about God, creation and death. I am grateful not to have to deal with the questions about sex yet.

Bre was one of the 1,000 children currently placed in foster homes in Lane County, usually because of meth and its attendant circumstances. About a third of these children end up adopted, but too many end up aging out of the system after being shuffled from foster homes to institutions to any number of places where their trust is violated and their love of life is suffocated.

Forty-eight percent of girls aging out in foster are pregnant by age 19, compared with 20 percent of their peers, despite the fact that girls in foster receive more family planning services. Boys leaving the system are at higher risk of criminal activity.

These sadly predictable lives can be dramatically altered by an adult opening up heart and home to a child. Go see the Heart Gallery display of kids waiting to be adopted in the lower level of the Fifth Street Public Market if you'd like to have a brighter holiday and rescue a life in the process.

Just don't get rational about it.

Marlene Drescher of Eugene is taking a break from the practice of law to parent her adoptive daughter. Drescher is active in Adoption Connections of Oregon, the Heart Gallery and Temple Beth Israel. She is a founder and former president of Sexual Assault Support Network, a former board member and grantmaker for McKenzie River Gathering, and a member of Eugene Mideast Peace Group. November is Adoption Awareness Month.
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Title Annotation:Commentary; A daughter and her mom have found hope and healing, but thousands of other Oregon children are growing up in limbo
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 26, 2006
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