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Words of Wisdom – Meeting the Needs of an Adopted Child

Read this article from one mom who reflects on the joys and challenges of meeting the needs of her adopted daughter:



What I Know About Motherhood Now That I Am an Adoptive Mother
By Carrie Goldman

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.

Being Right

I like to be right.  I like it a lot.  When K was younger (and I knew things), that wasn’t a problem.  She had questions and I had answers.  It worked for us.

Now… not so much.  I still have answers but she’s not all that interested in hearing them.  Worse than that, K now has answers, maybe all the answers.   She also has feedback for me, lots of feedback.

K is taking a class on dogs so she has a lot of suggestions on how I can improve my dog ownership skills.  None of the suggestions involve her taking a more active role in the feeding, caring, or walking of said dog but rather how I can use her knowledge of canine behavior in my active role in dog feeding, caring, and walking.

K is also taking a class on natural resources and the environment.  She’s quite a theoretical expert on saving resources.  As I write this, she is probably thinking great thoughts about such things while having left a trail of lights on in all the rooms she’s visited today.

But it was the cell phone cord that really tested me.  On Monday, at around 5:45 am, she inhaled deeply and said “Mom, can I ask you something?”  For the uninitiated, the deep inhale meant that she was trying her hardest to be patient with me.  The “can I ask you something” was her attempt at politeness.  Without waiting for a reply, she pointed at my cell phone charger which was  plugged in with no phone connected to it.  “Can you please take your cell phone plug out of the wall when it’s done charging?  It wastes electricity if you don’t.”  Seriously?    I’m wasting electricity?  Because 5:45 am on a Monday is not my best time and because I’m the mother and I’m always right, we got into an argument over who leaves their phone charger in more often.  She went off to school and I was left staring at the plug thinking once again “that was not my best mothering moment.”

Tuesday, I walked by the kitchen plug and there was K’s charger still in the wall even though both K and her phone had left for school much earlier.  “See, I was right,” I said to myself, “She leaves her charger plugged in much more than I do.” Yesterday, there was her charger in the wall.  I thought about taking a picture for proof I was right but I remembered this incredible and short Ted Talk, 3 things I learned while my plane crashed, by Ric Elias.  Ric was on the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in 2009. Snippets from his 5 minute talk rattle around my brain and come to the forefront sometimes when I need them.    One of the lessons he shares is “I regretted the time I wasted, in things that did not matter, with people that did.”  I put my phone down and unplugged K’s charger.

“I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy” is another quote from Ric’s talk.  This morning I noticed the charger just before K left for school.  I pointed it out to her and suggested that we both try and be better about unplugging it.  “Oh my gosh Mom, I’m so sorry.”  “No problem, let’s both just try to remember.  Have a great day.”  “You too Mom.”

“I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy.”  I will make an effort to remember that every day.  It will be my New Year’s resolution.  Just sayin’, most of the time? I am right.

A child of my own

“Do you think you’ll be able to love a kid that’s not yours?” “Do you ever wish you had a child of your own?” “Do you know who K’s real mother is?”

Questions like those once had tremendous power over me.   They had the power to sting.  They had the power to make me feel less than.  But, they don’t have power any more.  You see, I became a real mother over 15 years ago to a child who is every bit my own.

I was real when the delivery nurse placed a newborn baby in my arms.  I was real when I walked out into the California sunshine with my girl.  I was terrified, but I was real.  I was real when relief rushed over me the next morning because M and I had managed to keep K alive for an entire day.  Real, when the terror returned and I realized I had to keep her alive for every day of my life.

K was mine when nightmares sent her climbing into my bed because sleeping next to me was the only thing that made the bad dreams go away.  She was mine each time she ran into my arms when I picked her up from school.  She was mine when she held me after my mother died and said “Mommy, what will I do if you die?”

It’s been a long time since I thought about any of those questions.  Why think about things that have no power?  But last week, we spent  two nights with K in the ER.  She’s fine, thanks, but those were a couple of exhausting, scary nights.  There were moments when I had to force myself not to cry.  I had to listen to the doctors and pretend not to be afraid.

In the midst of it all, I heard that question from long ago – “Do you ever wish you had a child of your own?”   And my mind repeated the answer that I’ve known for every day of K’s life – I have a child of my own and she is everything I ever wished for.

katie and mom communion

What About Dad?

I was thinking about Dad today.  Yes, Father’s Day is this weekend but that’s not what brought him to mind. It was actually a Mother’s Day memory that made me think of him.  One Mother’s Day, my sisters and I had created a really special gift for Mom.  We bought her a ceramic basket and placed maybe 100 small pieces of paper in it.  On each piece of paper we wrote something special about her.  We gave her the basket and we took turns reading each one aloud.

Dad listened attentively at first.  They were great memories and let’s face it; it was a pretty thoughtful gift.  I imagine he enjoyed the stories and was probably proud of his daughters for coming up with the idea (which I think we stole from a magazine but still).  After a while though, he started interrupting us.  “Hey, I was part of that too” or “There are two parents in this family” etc.  Laughing, we kept telling him, “Dad, it’s not your basket.”   He didn’t think it was nearly as funny as we did, but he finally stopped interrupting us and let us finish.

Of course when Father’s Day rolled around that year, we did something similar for him.  After his reaction, we had to.  If there was anyone Dad would play second fiddle to, it was definitely Mom.  But overall, that position was not his favorite spot in the band.

Truth be told, maybe we gave Mom credit for more stuff than we should have.  She was the gold standard of mothers so it was easy to do.  There’s the physical stuff – we credit her for all the blue eyes in the family, but Dad’s eyes were blue too.  I started wearing glasses in third grade so mine were certainly courtesy of Dad.  And there’s the non-physical stuff – I think Dad gave my brothers their work ethic, my younger sister her strong sense of justice, and my older sister, her all around goodness.  His sense of right and wrong was a force to be reckoned with, and he passed that on to all of us.

When I look at K, it is her birth mother to whom I give thanks.  A’s choices brought K to us and I will never forget that.  But yet… I don’t remember A having sapphire blue eyes.  K’s eyes are unforgettable.  If A’s were like that, I know I’d remember.  And it’s not just the stunning blue color; it’s the sparkle behind them that’s remarkable.  I wonder if those are a gift from her birth father.  What about K’s ability to remember the directions to anywhere she’s ever been?  Or her innate ability to reach out to someone who’s lonely or sad?  Those may have come from him.  I’ve just never really thought much about it before.  Huh…  It may not have been his basket but he was part of it too.

So, on this Father’s Day, I will remember all the wonderful fathers I have known, like I always do.  But for the first time, I will remember a particular high school boy who is now a grown man.  I will think of him, and I will thank him for whatever he gave that made my girl the incredible person she is.

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.

The Box

Christmas 20030002Let me tell you a story…

I’m in second grade and I get the lead in “Little Red Riding Hood.”  It’s VERY exciting.  I’m proud and my parents are proud.  Dad is so proud he takes over a “mom-job” and works with me on my lines.  A lot.  I mean, a real lot.  So I’m ready.

It’s the day of the show.  Dad takes the afternoon off from work and sits with Mom and my little sister in the audience.  The show starts and my class is performing our little second grade hearts out.  The stage is big and we’re small but we’re doing fine.  Time for the big finish.

I should tell you that our version of Little Red Riding Hood is different than most.  In ours, Grandma comes through her encounter with the big, bad, wolf just fine.   At this point, it’s my job to open a box and hand Grandma a gift.  So.  I pick up the box, take off the lid, look inside.  And it’s empty.

I do what any 8 year old would do in the circumstances.  I panic.   The stage which had already been big now looks huge.  The audience looks like it’s doubled in size.  I look at my teacher, Mrs. Patterson, in the wings.   She assumes that I’ve forgotten my line and starts to mouth it to me.

So now I’m panicked and I’m mad because, as we’ve discussed, I know my lines.  I point to the box and mouth back to her, “There’s nothing in the box!”  She gestures to me to keep going.  I know this won’t work but I do what I’m told.  I pull nothing from the box and I hand nothing to Grandma and the play ends.

I go out to the audience and see Dad and explain what happened.  He leans down and tells me to listen very carefully.  He says “Gail, there’s a saying in the theater that applies just as much in life.  That saying is ‘the show must go on.’ No matter what happens to you in life, I want you to remember that and just keep going.”

It’s been more than a few years since I was in that play.   I’ve had a number of opportunities to remember Dad’s advice, but none as meaningful as when M and I were trying to start a family.  In spite of our best efforts and the efforts of the best science of the time, it didn’t look like it was going to happen.  It was hard.  And it was sad.  It felt like I had been handed another empty box.

But I heard my dad’s voice and we just kept going.  We kept going until we landed at the doorstep of JFS of Metrowest where we met Dale and Raquel of Adoption Choices.  They listened and they heard me.  Their kindness helped me let go of the box.  It wasn’t empty. It just wasn’t mine.

It’s hard to believe but our daughter K just turned fifteen.  That dark time seems so long ago and I can barely remember the sad, Christmas 20030003empty woman I was.  You see, I just have to look at K’s face, I just have to hear K’s voice to know.  Yeah, I have the right box now.

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