Creating connections with Adoption Choices families

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Love and Offering Help

Vanessa McGrady’s posting, The Birth Parents Move in, in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, both broke my heart and cracked me up. As I sat at my computer (ok, maybe I was in the loo looking at my iphone, it was 2 weeks ago, I can’t remember) reading the posting, I recognized myself in her writing. I voiced an inner “oh god” reading the first paragraph where she loaded her child’s birth parents into her car to rescue them from homelessness, their rabbit cage and all. Oh god, that’s not a good idea, oh god, I could totally see myself doing that, oh god, my therapist would think all her work was for naught if I did that, oh god, my kids would be so excited if their birth families moved in, oh god, bunnies stink. Oh god, Ms. McGrady sure summed up the complexity of adoption in just a few short light-hearted paragraphs.

I can relate to Ms. McGrady’s desire to help her daughter’s birth parents, to swoop in and lift them up. I have felt this same tug when I hear of setbacks, or unexpected turns in the road, for my daughter’s birth family members. In the past I have helped on a few occasions, none that involved a bunny moving in, and sometimes it worked out well and other times; the assistance was awkwardly given and uncomfortably received. In our open adoptions, I often come up against the complexities of family, fairness, justice, opportunity, love, privilege, loss, power, judgment and suffering when I feel the urge to help, especially when it isn’t asked for. Our adoption constellation is complex and even a simple thing like lending a hand requires deep consideration and reflection. However, I have come to accept that the greatest help I can give my daughter’s birth parents is to love, care for, and raise my daughters well, to become kind, loving, healthy and happy women.

Love and Checklists

When we started the adoption process we were handed a checklist by someone, I honestly can’t remember who. It was either the social workers at our agency, or one of the other blurry people involved in our quest to become parents. I don’t exactly remember what the checklist said, but in my memory it was a basic list of character traits of children and family situations. Again, it’s all a blur, but in the way I tell our story, the checklist factors in a big way. I say “we didn’t check any boxes” when asked how our adoptions went so quickly. Although, I do recall saying I wanted a healthy infant. I wanted to experience as much of parenting as I could possibly, and for me that included all the joys of infanthood.

So I guess that means I checked off infant and healthy. I remember thinking that I was surely in this for the baby snuggles and sweet newborn gurgles. I definitely was not in it for the exhaustion of parenting a special needs child who would need to be dragged to numerous appointments, consuming our very identity as a family from normal adoptive family to a special needs adoptive family. That was not for me. I didn’t have saintly patience, bottomless understanding, and for @$#% sake, I was certainly not religious, nor did I have a mission to save a child. I wanted to be a mom, a normal mom, whose greatest worries were cloth or disposable diapers, mini-wagon or minivan, violin or piano lessons. Thankfully, I got all those worries figured out with ease; disposable, minivan, piano.

However, now I have many other worries; medication 5 times a day, annual Brain MRI’s, Kidney ultrasounds, EEG’s, EKG’s, 3 hour long eye exams, IEP’s and emergency medication that is always within reach. My youngest was four months old when my normal motherhood transformed into extra special motherhood in the blink of an eye. Well actually, it was over a month or so period and after some specialized testing, DNA samples, multiple visits to specialists and a hated phone call from the doctor (you know the call, the one you get that knocks you so hard out of denial and into reality that it physically hurts, and you cry a cry reserved for death and loss, but it’s coming out of you while you sit holding a basket of laundry, on the cold wooden staircase in your house, listening to your husband’s side of the conversation). That was it, I was now the mom of a special needs child, and life was now transformed from normal to special.

I really did struggle with accepting my new role and still do some days, but never did I struggle with accepting my daughter’s new role. I believe it was Raquel, one of our social workers, who said “kids are kids”, and that is so simply true. My daughter is still herself; with a bit extra that most of us will never have (thankfully). I am still her mom, with new worries, but no less terrifying than the ones I have for my “typical” child. And honestly, the greatest thing I have learned so far on this extra special journey is that we are all extraordinary in our own ways, we each have that something extra special that challenges us, but also brings us great joy and love.

Love and Biting My Tounge

Sometimes I am flabbergasted by the things people say to me about my family. I usually try to respond in a way which models for my girls how to be polite, but protective of one’s privacy. Sometimes I do well; but sometimes I try real hard not to let the rising anger in me burst forth onto them in a flow of adoptive mommy rage, and I turn bright red, and start to sweat. Thankfully we live in a diverse area with lots of differences in family structures, and my days usually are full of love and support for my girls, and our family.  I get it, difference is interesting, and people are probably just being curious and don’t intend to be rude and hurtful.  Especially kids, they kill me with their honesty.  But every once in a while, I am come across a real doozy of a person, that blows my mind.   Here are a few true encounters of the last few years that have made me cringe (and giggle).

Trapped in the Checkout Line:

Lady in line behind my youngest and I at Whole Foods: Are you buying that food for her family or yours?

Me: (after trying to imagine what on earth she is asking me) Um, both, we are one and the same. I am her mom, she is my daughter.

What I really wanted to say: What the %$#@! Is wrong with you?

Accosted Near the Cucumbers:

Older lady in produce section at Whole Foods: Do you do her hair?

Me: yes

Lady: You use a wide tooth comb?

Me: Yes, a wooden one

Lady: You oil her hair?

Me: Yes

Lady: Oh, because it looks nice and healthy.

What I really want to know: Do White moms of white kids ever get asked if they do their daughter’s hair?  Isn’t it just assumed that mothers are capable of caring for their children’s bodies, including their hair?

Birthday Party Pooper:

Inappropriate relative at a family birthday party: Is she sad that she’s not with her real mom? Do you think she misses her?

Me: Well, there are many feelings that come up for our family around adoption. I’m not sure that this is best time and place to discuss them.

What I really wanted to say: What the %$#@! Is wrong with you? Thanks for pointing out pain that flows through my family’s heart while we are sitting here eating Elmo cake.

School Pick-up Confidential:

Well-meaning mom at school pick up: Are they sisters?

Me: Yes

Mom: (after pause) Are they real sisters?

Me: They are as real as it gets. But they do have different birth families, if that’s what you want to know.

Mom: Oh, yes, because they act so much like real sisters.

Me: (smile and biting my tounge) yup, they’re sisters

What I really wanted to say: What the %$#@! Is wrong with you? Who asks such a question in front of a child?

Kids, Gotta Love ‘Em:

Kids (all the time and everywhere): Um, are you their real mom? Were they adopted?

Me: yes I’m real and yes we are an adoptive family.

Kids: cool

What I wanted to say: Thank you for asking me, you’re a cool kid!

Love and Family Stories

We tell a lot of stories in our family. Most of them are true, some are not. My girls fight to recognize when their dad is telling a true story, and when he’s just making up a fantastical fiction for them to enjoy. The girls still seem confused as to whether or not their dad rode a dinosaur to school when he was young. They seem better at guessing my truths and bluffs. I am not sure why, but it could be because I am the one who tells the stories with the hard truths and absolute facts (as I know them to be).

I often feel like I’m a witness in our own family court, and my girls are the determined lawyers wrangling the truth out of my testimony, in every last detail.  I find it hard to separate the facts that I know, the feelings I have, the hunches, and assumptions which I have made over the years.

The girls especially love the stories where their dad or I (usually me) did something dangerous, or flat our stupid as kids. They love to hear how we got in trouble, ended up in the ER, or got sent to our rooms for what seemed like eons.  One of their favorite stories is about the time I went off a jump on my bike and wiped out so hard that I ended up in the ER covered head to toe in bruises and scrapes.  First, the story was loved due to the danger, blood, and guts (and that I didn’t have a helmet on!). Next, they loved hearing how embarrassed I was going to camp the next day, looking like a zombie fresh from the grave. Lately, they have fixated on the part when the nurses grilled me about what “really happened,” as they didn’t believe that my injuries were caused solely by my daredevil 9-year-old self.

I’ve told the girls this silly story (complete with viewing of the scars I still bear from that day) many times. It started for me as a cautionary tale about the need to wear helmets and to ride bikes safely, but it has morphed into many other tales according to the girls’ curiosity, and interest about the topic, players, setting, or plot of that fateful day.  This story is an easy one for me to tell as it only involved me being a dumb kid, trying to show off to a bunch of my neighborhood friends.  Thankfully, no permanent harm was done, no lives were lost, and the course of my life was not forever altered.  The same cannot be said of all our family stories.

Our family stories, like the stories of any family I imagine, contain the joys, hopes and great loves of our family members. Our stories also contain the sorrows, fears, anger, and immense loss, which are the inherited lessons from our families of origin.  We each have a birth story, we each have family who love us, and cherish us. The paths that brought the four of us together, to form our family, have taken many turns, some not of our own control, and have had joys and sorrows, love and loss along the way. These stories of love and loss, joy and sorrow, I tell like the bicycle story, focusing on the girls’ curiosity and interest. I want the girls to recognize themselves in our stories, and to see their role in our family reflected through the routes we’ve taken and the adventures we had.   Hopefully, one day my girls will tell their own stories (hopefully with a helmet on) about their lives, and be able to understand the deep, meaningful connection that our family stories have to their sense of self, and belonging, in their own family.

Love and Worry

I worry about my daughters. I worry about the usual mom things like their safety and well-being. I worry about them eating enough vegetables and fruit (they don’t!). I worry that they don’t get enough free play time in our busy schedule, enough adventures in the fresh air, and whether or not they’ll ever ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. (I hear there is a woman called the bike whisperer…She teaches them to ride in three lessons! I may need to call her soon).

I also worry about adoptive mom things like bonding, openness, self-esteem, relationships with their birth families, talking about adoption, loss, and sadness. I worry the adoptive mom worry, that no amount of love I give them could possibly fill the hole in their hearts left by the loss of their families of origin. I worry that any new unexpected behavior runs deeper than typical development, I worry it runs straight to the heart of their loss, and grabs on with vine-like tendrils which may be impossible to unwind.

These are the worries that keep me up at night, after one of my lil ones has awaken me with a need for water, or snuggles, or let’s be honest, a need for dry pj’s and a change of sheets. Instead of following my usual bedtime routine again of reading or more typically these days, listening to an audiobook, for a bit until I drift off to sleep, I find myself searching for answers to that day’s worries. I find myself playing the “what’s adoption-stuff and what’s just kid-stuff” game over and over in my mind. I despise that pointless game, and I don’t know why I play it, especially when it is an irresolvable question.

However much I dread the nighttime visits from the worry monster, I am also thankful for all my worries. I am thankful that my worries keep me thinking about our family life and my daughter’s well-being. I am thankful that my worries oblige me to reach out for help from teachers, friends, professionals, and most importantly family. I am even more thankful for the people in my life that are brave enough to listen to my worry, and even braver to ask uncomfortable questions and offer a kind word, or the possibility of taking a new path. I am most thankful that I have my two beautiful and courageous girls to fret my mother worries over each and every day.

Love and Being Real

sleepA few weeks ago, an inquisitive first grader, with adorable crazy curls, wearing a tousled outfit (reminds me of myself at that age) walks into her kitchen during Daisy Scouts, and overhears me talking to her mom about our family. The Inquisitive first grader then asks me what adopted means. “We’re an adoptive family; I’m her adoptive mom, or everyday mom. She also has a birth mom who gave birth to her.”  I explain a bit more about adoption and how it is for our family, then she announces “that’s sad” and says “who’s her real mom?” I of course laugh it off, and tell the now slightly bothersome, yet still adorable, first grader that neither of us is imaginary, that we are both real moms. Then she avoids my eyes, spying some cookies up on a high shelf, asks her mom for some, and heads back to the scout meeting. Her mom and I gave each other that, “Yup, that’s first graders for you” look and moved on with our conversation.

I rather enjoyed my conversation with the inquisitive first grader, she’s a kid I really like, and I appreciate her frankness. I am also amused that we made it all the way to first grade before anyone asked about my oldest daughter’s “real” mom. We are lucky to live in a pretty progressive place, in an enlightened age, and to have many different family make-ups in our daughter’s school, in our community, and in our church. We have always felt welcome and accepted in our community, and most importantly felt like a “real” family.

With all that said, we do still work on keeping appropriate adoption speak and realistic images of adoption present in our life, most in particular in our girls school. This week, my oldest daughter will be sharing a book with her class, which she and I made, about her adoption story. My husband and I will join her in class to help with the presentation, and to guide, or deflect, any conversation or questions her classmates may have. We will also be bringing in a few of our favorite picture books about adoption for the class to borrow, and some photographs of our family, including some of our daughter’s birth family to share with the kids. Hopefully our story will teach the kids how real bookswe all are, and that the most important thing about our adoption is how real the love is that our daughter has from all her parents.

Love and Reflections

The other morning, my youngest and I were in the girls’ bathroom getting her ready for the day. I dabbed toothpaste on her snoopy toothbrush and handed it to her. My youngest then jabbed the toothbrush around in her mouth until it was full of suds, drooled the suds out into the sink, wiped her face on the hand towel, and smiled a big toothy smile at herself in the mirror. Next, I reached back into the closet, and grabbed a green polka-dotted washcloth, ran it under the not-too-hot water, and rubbed it across her face, cleaning off the sleepies, the leftover oatmeal, and the dribbled toothpaste smudge on her chin. As my youngest’s face was revealed to her in the mirror again, she looked at me through the reflection, and said in a very matter of fact tone, “Why doesn’t the brown come off?”

I replied out loud to my daughter, back though my reflection, “that’s a great question!” Then I started to talk about melanin,  skin cells, genetics, and, then, without hearing a word, she ran off to get her lovely tucked into bed, or “school,” as she calls it.

I have spent a good amount of time, since that morning, mulling over my daughter’s question, and my response. I’ve responded in my head to my daughter over, and over, changing my response depending on the weight of the meaning I placed on her words. I thought deeply about how we approach skin color, race, differences, and our multiracial family. I wondered, have I read anything new about children adopted trans-racially  Have I done enough to feed my daughter’s self-image and self-esteem so it can grow strong and beautiful?

I took a moment to look at our family, neighborhood, and community through my daughter’s eyes. Does she see her beautiful brown face reflected back to her through her teachers (no), in her classmates (some), in her neighborhood (a bit), in our church (yes), in her family (no), in her birth family (yes)?

My husband and I feel that having an open relationship with our daughter’s family, positively impacts our family as a whole, but also gives our youngest a direct, and authentic tie to her family, and culture of origin.  In our family our daughter sees her reflection, of her image, in her birth mother, of her heart, in her adoptive parents. Together, I have confidence that we will lift up our daughter to see her own image, of a strong and beautiful young girl, with a lovely brown face.

Love and Sleep (or lack thereof)

Over the last six months in my household, we have been reliving the joy
of those sleepless nights caring for our daughters as newborns. Literally, as my
oldest would say. My husband and I have been awakened many times a
night by our youngest, needing us like she did at five weeks old, to cuddle
and soothe her, despite the fact that she is five years old. It’s been hard
on us all, well me mostly, as I sleep closest to the door. My youngest flies
open our bedroom door and lets the bright hall light shine in my eyes,
which are shut tight, hoping it’s all part of a dream. Like most parents I
know, sleep is a delicacy which I look forward to indulging in each night.
I had imagined that after my youngest slept through the night at three
months old, that my next sleepless nights would come sometime in the
teenage years, when she willingly broke curfew and was up to no good. Oh
man, was I off by a decade!

My daughter’s sleepwalking, which was funny when it started last spring,
with her appearing at night hovering over her sister in bed, has morphed
into full-blown insomnia. While I’ve been so sleepless, I have been
prowling on Google for answers to my youngest’s insomnia, which has led
to my own iPhone induced insomnia. As I lay in bed, awake at 2:00am,
I find myself drifting from the wisdom of the Mayo Clinic, and off into a
wormhole of my own creation.

My searches are often for my daughters’ birth family members whom I do
not yet know. Perhaps, one downside to living in our open adoptions, is
the immense amount of information I have collected, sometimes only tiny
bits, about different family members on our daughters’ birth family’s sides.
I know most of the names on both of our girls’ family trees, at least back to
their great grandparents, but I don’t know much beyond their basic data.
Some family members I know only their nickname, or part of their name.
I search to complete the puzzle to who these people are, and how they fit
into our family.

Usually, my search comes to a screeching halt, either by the limits
of Google to read my mind in the middle of the night, or due to my
realization of the fruitlessness of these searches. I suppose that’s why
my genealogical scavenger hunts are reserved to the sleepless nights, to
the times when my brain doesn’t know any better, than to search for the
answers to questions I do not yet know.

I wonder, what is the question I am searching for. Is it; who are these
people who run through my daughters’ DNA, what part do they play in our
family’s life, or where does my oldest get her love (ok, lust) for Cantaloupe?
These are the questions that may seem important, but they are also
questions that I can easily find answers to, by asking my daughters’ birth
moms and families. I think the question I am searching to answer to is why.
I want to know the why of their adoption stories. Why is the question I will
not be able to answer for my girls. Why is the question that I think haunts
me, late at night on my insomnia induced internet searches. How can I one
day shepherd my girls on their own journey, to answer the question, Why? I
have no idea, and neither does Google.

Love and Vacation

Often I tell my husband I need a vacation. I need to get away from it all, and rest my aching feet on a hot sandy beach in say, Grand Cayman, preferably at the Ritz Carlton. I fantasize about it for a night, dreaming of how relaxed I’d feel listening to the gentle sound of waves, while I snooze on the beach.  However, usually our budget, or job schedules, or reality, burst my vacation bubble, and I end up sitting in the shower for five extra minutes, pretending I’m at the spa.

Sometimes I could do with another kind of vacation too. I desire a vacation that takes me away from reality. Some days I just need a vacation, from adoption. I just need a mental break from thinking about our open adoptions, all of our extended family members, all of the logistics of visits, the complexities of communication via text and Facebook. I want an adoption free zone. I could do with a cradle to curl up in and rest.  I could use to recover my strength, which I deplete with my doubts, and worries, over the choices I make for our family.

By the time I have wrestled around with the practicality of taking an adoption vacation, a break from the most deep-rooted part of our family, I realize that’s not actually what I require. I need to share the load; I could use a witness to the joys, the chaos, and the sadness that are our adoptions. I need confirmation that our family is well, full of love, and on the right track. I crave a smile from my girls, a kiss from my husband, a text from my youngest’s birth mom, and a Facebook post from Grandparents far and near. Really, I just need a hug. A hug can be all the adoption vacation I need. Knowing that the person on the other end sees me, sees my girls, sees our family, and reflects back to me how beautiful it is, can be just as good as a beautiful sunset over the Caribbean to replenish me. However, a hug on the beach, while sipping an exotic cocktail, would work too.

Love and Ownership

Kahlil Gibran, On Children, The Prophet

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”

And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I often think of Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Children” from his book of poetry, The Prophet. It reflects how I think of my girls. I first read The Prophet about two decades ago, between college and marriage, when I had time to do things like read Lebanese Poetry. I remember then thinking this all sounded so profound, but I utterly didn’t get the full meaning at the time. As I became a mom, I learned that these words are not only so profound, but dead on right. This poem leads me through many of my difficult times in parenting, especially as a mom living in open adoption.

I truly believe that my children belong to the universe and it is just my honor to be their mom or “…the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” This is why one of my strongest beliefs is being upfront and honest with my girls about their adoption stories, my knowledge of their birth family, about my own life, and family of origin. I want my children to launch into the world with as much knowledge and history as they need, having a full tank of self esteem, self worth and self love.

This is also why, at age 5 ½, my oldest daughter knows 99% of her adoption story. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is ordinary, some of it is funny, some of it is tear-worthy, and some of it is downright ugly. The only parts that are left out are some of the more complex human emotions that she is too young to fully understand. But the facts, she has them all. They are her facts, not mine, not her birth families, just hers. She has 100% ownership of the facts as we know them. I guess that’s the funny thing about facts, different people hold different ones. Again, I can only tell what I know. My eldest’s birth family can tell what they know. Because this is my daughter’s story, which she owns, she calmly asked her birth mom as they snuggled on the couch one day, a question that had burned within her soul. As I stood looking on with my eyes full of tears, watching this tender moment, my daughter asked a question, a very important question, and was given an honest and loving answer. My daughter owns that answer. She owns the emotions, the tears, the love filled hug that followed.

Now that my daughter is old enough to start sharing her story with others, I am a bit freaked out. I wonder how her story will be received by others, will others get it, and will they get how important this story is to my oldest.  Ok, deep breath, I am the bow, she is the arrow, the archer wants the arrow to go far….exhale. I just have to believe that her arrow will find its mark, that I as the bow am steady enough to shoot her in the right direction.

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