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.

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.

What will the teacher say? Dreaded Teacher Parent Conferences

You never know what they are going to say.

Your kid is brilliant, disruptive, kind, bully, sensitive, funny, awkward etc.  We don’t know until we sit in that pint-sized chair across from the ruler-clad teacher.  Our minds dreading what bombshell may be dropped in our laps. We have received the occasional note home indicating that one of the twins made a less than stellar choice in school.  But for the most part, nothing earth shattering.

Last year, we sat in those tiny chairs across a miniature table from Bruiser’s teacher expecting to hear about his remarkable academic improvement.  Plus, we hoped to to receive reassurance that his behavior had improved, after all, we only received one note and one call home.  From Princess’ teacher, we expected to hear how gifted she was.  And, that she is a pure pleasure in class.

SURPRISE!  That isn’t how it went down.

Within moments of walking into Bruiser’s Kindergarten classroom in 2013, we are told that the school guidance counselor will be joining us.  Having the guidance counselor in the conference is NEVER a good sign.  Totally expecting a great report, my head started to spin as I sat and tried to predict what nightmarish offense that Bruiser committed.

It all started well.  Bruiser is smart, academically above his peers  but he has a temper (no kidding…like we don’t know that), the guidance counselor would like to work with him and teach him how to manage “Bruiser’s plan” when it differs from “group plan”.  Guess that it isn’t a huge deal so my head stopped spinning but not for long.

Off to the next conference with our daughter, Princess’ teacher.  Relieved that our more challenging conference is over, we brace ourselves to revel in the report on our predictably, well-behaved child.  But within a split-second, my gifted child is made out to be a boy crazed 6 year old–sneaking off in the corners of the room with boys.    The teacher was so concerned that she recommended that we speak with her pediatrician about it.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME! I could just picture it, telling my pediatrician that Princess is a flirt and her teacher is recommending therapy.  I would be laughed out of his office.

Well, after last year’s conferences, we went in this year expecting the worst.


Couldn’t be more proud of the twins.  Thrilled with their teachers who have taken the time to help the kids work through their individual issues, although I am not 100% sure there were ever significant issues to start with.  Bruiser still needs to adjust his “internal barometer of justice”  (loved his teacher’s label—it is a perfect description of Bruiser’s perception of the world) and Princess is less of a flirt but now is a heart breaker.  But with this said, all is good.

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!

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

Is my family different?

No two families are the same. Race, single parent homes, families grown through adoption and religion are just some of the things that make our families different yet none the less special. In this posting, I am sharing about how religion makes our family different, special yet with a bunch of issues that we need to tackle. We live in a town with a very small Jewish population. The twins are the only Jewish kids in their grade while JJ has 2 Jewish kids in his grade. I would guess, although not sure, that the feelings that this may bring to a family transcend to race, as well.

Both my husband and I grew up in towns that had a significant Jewish populations, but my kids do not have the same. We go out of our way to expose them to our religion….we send them to Hebrew School, the twins attended a Jewish pre-school and next summer, all three, will attend Jewish summer camp. We are very fortunate that these exposures, in addition to our family life and traditions, are enjoyed and cherished by all three kids. But I always wonder, how do they feel to be the “token” Jews in their schools? Of course, throughout the years, we have run into the tantrums surrounding not having a Xmas tree, or not celebrating Christmas, and the tip-toeing around the question “how come Santa doesn’t come to our house?”

This past year, all three kids missed the third day of school to celebrate Rosh Hashana but all three chose to attend school the 2nd day of the holiday. It is a tough decision; do I leave the choice up to them? Do I just explain that in respect of their religion, they should not attend school? Our final decision was to leave it up to them….provide no input beyond laying out the choice. Had it not been the first week of school, we may have chosen a different tactic. Chanukah will be here soon enough—but this year it coincides with Thanksgiving rather than Christmas. Here I foresee a magnified issue as every one of their friends will be celebrating in December and our holiday will have “in their minds” been a blur with the secular Thanksgiving holiday.
With many of our relatives marrying outside of the Jewish religion, we have the added question “how come my cousins are Jewish and they get to celebrate Christmas and Easter?” Often, especially in the 6 year olds minds, no answer is good enough unless it involves a second set of presents and an egg hunt with a ton of candy as a prize.

Intellectually, I know the best way to address this issue of “growing up Jewish in a non-Jewish town and living in a time where marrying within one’s religion is less likely than years before.” Intellectually addressing the issue and emotionally addressing the issue are two completely different beasts.

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