April 27, 2007

Never Too Young for Body Art

We went to an elementary school carnival tonight. Puppy won the cake walk and spun a wheel to earn a teddy bear. His ring-toss efforts were less successful.

Early in the evening we took him to the temporary tattoo booth. I selected the peace sign decal below for his forearm, because he's still young enough to serve as a canvas for my political statements.

He wriggled around so much while the decal was being applied that the index finger didn't make it onto his arm. My toddler spent the rest of the evening giving everyone a good ol' American one-fingered salute.

"Thank You for Taking a Look at Our Letter!"

We're tying up a few loose ends on our home study and are close to beginning the official wait for kiddo #2. Overall I've been impressed with this agency's home study process in comparison to our last. They are unafraid to dig deep and challenge perspectives. I had some good discussions with the social worker about my ambivalence this time around and some of my ethical concerns.

We should be working on our introduction letter that will be shown to prospective birth parents, but I've been dragging my heels a bit. Our first adoption has become so much about the relationships now that I sometimes don't give enough respect to the process that brought us all together in the first place. I've been a less intense about the paperwork this time. Some of that is good (I often need to chill), but my conscience gave me a kick in the head this week about my attitude. The people who will be reading my words as they consider placing their child deserve more than my half-assed attempt.

So today as Puppy napped I pulled out the letter we wrote last time, thinking I could just update it a bit. We spent hours on the content and layout, and I was pretty proud of it. In my memory it hit just the right note of sincerity without cheesiness. But when I read through it today I was cringing. It's just so gushy and earnest. Our lives are so happy! And we're just sure adoption will be so wonderful! I was relieved no one would ever see it again. Then I realized that K probably has a copy tucked away somewhere, and I cringed again.

I'd quote it for you, but I'm too embarrassed. It's not all bad. It's respectful of its readers and doesn't make assumptions about their decision. We managed to avoid labelling anyone a birth parent prematurely; even then it bothered me, though I probably couldn't have articulated why. No one was called courageous or unselfish, nor were there any references to baking cookies (though there was talk of Christmas ornaments and homemade Valentines).

I'm going to give myself some grace and say that we were at a different stage then. We had all these ideas about adoption and parenting without a shred of experience. It's hard to write about a future life with a child whose personality, tastes and interests are unknown to you. And some of it was due to our social worker, who urged us to include certain things which just weren't really our style. But honestly I can't believe K and R didn't just roll their eyes at us when they read it. Maybe they did, then thankfully decided to meet us anyway.

The whole exercise still feels a little artificial, although this time there is less pressure to try to fit our whole lives on a single piece of paper. The agency uses these letters just as an introduction. From them, people can pick households for which they'd like more information. At that point they get a copy of the home study, pictures, and autobiographies T and I wrote. So it functions a bit like an abstract.

I'm working hard to make this second letter honest and genuine without being too earnest. I've decided to introduce us the way I would to any parent I was just meeting. Talk about our personalities, philosophies, and interests, without the weird "here's how we would parent your child" vibe. I definitely also want to include something about our perspective on openness. I think the first time we were open to seeing what would happen as far as contact. Now that we're coming in with an existing open adoption we have some more concrete desires. Oh, and I refuse to use any exclamation points. We restrained ourselves to four (out of 1,012 words) last time, but each one mocks me now like a little high school cheerleader. Anyone want to be an editor?

A Conversation with My MIL

"[Puppy's cousin] is a genius," declares my mother-in-law.

I laugh, thinking she's kidding. Puppy's cousin is one year and two days older than Pup. T and I regularly joke about parents who declare their toddlers geniuses based on the flimsiest of evidence. Timmy's an early talker--call Harvard! But I suddenly realize she's completely serious.

"Oh? How so?"

She launches into a description of a toddler with great verbal skills, a good memory, and a wonderful imagination. He's fascinated by animals right now and can tell you all kinds of details about their natural habitats, what they eat, etc. And apparently he counts.

"That's great! He sounds like he's a fun kid to be around."

"He's just brilliant. It's really no surprise. I mean, look at who his parents are."

"Yes. [Tom's brother and sister-in-law] do a wonderful job with their boys."

"[Puppy] won't be where [his cousin] is developmentally this time next year. But that's okay."

Alrighty then! I still haven't figured out whether she was insulting Puppy's genetics or our parenting. But either way? Dude, not cool.

April 26, 2007

Just as We Are

I have never cottoned to the idea of destiny. In my worldview God chooses to interact with us within the context of time, moving with us through myriad possibilities.

So I never worried whether or not T was The One when we were dating. Even in the heady days of our engagement, the logical part of me said there were probably other people out there we could happily marry (although I'm not sure who else would have married me!). But years later, it's near impossible to imagine someone else as my spouse. My concept of marriage has been too shaped by how we have done life together.

In the same way, I do not think Puppy was destined to be our son, nor even destined to be adopted. There were so many points at which things could have gone differently: if we had not decided to adopt... if we had used a different agency... if K and R had not placed him... if they had chosen another family... if someone else had chosen us earlier. We could have easily had a different child and I'm sure we would have loved him or her as much as we love Pups. But looking at Puppy now, it is difficult to see our family being complete with anyone but him. I try to picture another child in my arms and come up blank.

Even though I know logically that it all could have happened differently, in retrospect it sometimes feels as if it couldn't have been any other way. I look at my husband and son and think, "Yes, these are just the right ones for me."

Love is feeling that things are just as they should be. Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

April 25, 2007

Love Eventually

I didn't fall head over heels in love with Puppy right away. I held him and studied him. I felt protective of him. I looked in his teeny face and wanted to do everything possible to make him feel safe and loved. But there was no drowning in maternal love, no instant bond.

I don't know exactly why this was; maybe there was no reason. I am generally that way by personality, slow to befriend but fiercely loyal once a relationship is established. T stayed at home with Puppy the first three months until my leave began--maybe if I had spent those months as his primary caregiver it would have been different?

I kept my feelings--or lack of feelings--to myself. I knew other mothers had walked that road before me. I knew there was no shame in it. I knew those things. But I wouldn't admit to anyone that it was happening to me.

A friend who birthed two children before we adopted our one had been where I was. With her second child--BAM!--instant connection from the moment of birth. But with her first child, three or four months passed before that connection was there. She said during those months she would have died for him, but she didn't yet love him. She confided that to me when Puppy was only weeks old and I understood what she meant. I was living that paradox. But I didn't tell her that I felt the same way. I think she sensed it, was offering a safe place for me. But I held back.

I held back because in the stillest part of my soul I wondered if the real reason was that I wasn't his birth mother. Maybe if I had earned my motherhood through pregnancy instead of receiving it by grace, then I would love my son. If adoption was the reason, then perhaps the love would never come. And if that happened, then, my God, what had I done?

I didn't tell anyone because I thought it would reinforce the myth that it's just not possible to love adopted children as much as bio children. I feared someone would say of course you don't feel that bond. If you had given birth you would know what it is to love a child. To hear that would have crushed and enraged me all at once.

I look at Puppy today and know that a piece of my heart lives outside of my body. I love him with the force of a summer storm. But until now I've never admitted that it wasn't that way at the beginning.

April 24, 2007

"The Family Book"

I'm a sucker for most any book by author/illustrator Todd Parr. His brightly colored bold-line illustrations make me smile. When combined with his underlying messages of respect and inclusion, the result is fantastic books for our modern kids.

"The Family Book" is not a book about adoption, but one I consider adoption-friendly. Using simple language, it describes many possible ways to be a family. Interracial, single-parent, step-parent, adoptive, and same-sex parent families are all represented, along with more basic descriptors ("Some families like to be quiet. Some families like to be noisy."). Interspersed throughout are reminders that there are certain things which describe all families ("They are sad when they lose someone they love").

Children will find many different pages which apply to their own family. Regardless of what political/social/religious/moral debates adults want to have about various family structures, all children deserve to have their unique family life validated and respected. This book does a wonderful job of doing just that.

Parr has a book specifically about adoption titled "We Belong Together" set to be released in November 2007. I'm looking forward to seeing his treatment of the topic.

(written & illustrated by Todd Parr; Little, Brown & Company, 2003)

April 23, 2007

Balancing Shades of Grey

Some recent posts from other adoptive parents have me thinking about the tension I often feel in talking about adoption. I have a difficult time hitting a note of truth, striking a balance between the different aspects. On one hand, I'm sometimes working against various negative stereotypes about adoption. I want to present adoption positively when faced with people who pity us for "having to adopt" or think that adopted children are destined to be maladjusted. How do I get across that we are neither "just like" nor "less than" other families? But on the other hand sometimes we're faced with a easy-peasy view of adoption, or adoption being ignored when it's an essential part our identity as a family and Puppy's identity as an individual. How do I communicate that adoption absolutely influences each of us in significant ways, but is not deterministic?

I feel the same tension when talking about open adoption. When people question the wisdom of openness, I want to communicate why child-centered open adoptions are healthy and important. So many people conceive of it as this weird, scary thing when it can be such a beneficial experience. But when advocating for open adoption I don't want to spread the myth that it solves every potential problem or is easy. Once upon a time I had the idea that open adoption was win-win-win. I would be doing a disservice by presenting it that way. Open adoption has been positive for us and feels quite normal now that we're "inside" it. But it requires intentionality and commitment to make it work and it doesn't erase all the hard parts of adoption. Sometimes I feel like I focus too much on the difficult aspects. But then other times I feel like I'm presenting a sunshine-and-roses picture of it.

It reminds me of my college days. Amongst ourselves, my classmates and I could talk endlessly about the problems we saw on our campus. But if any outsider dared disparage our school, we would passionately defend it. Within adoptionland I usually feel free to talk about the hard stuff because there is a common shared experience. But if someone without direct experience of adoption raises questions, the defenses go up. Yet if we're only talking to each other about all the realities of adoption, then the general perceptions aren't being challenged.

How do I simultaneously battle both the negative and positive myths about adoption without adding fuel to either fire? I live in the grey areas, but am at a loss for how to talk about them. Does anyone else feel this tension?

April 19, 2007

While Sorting Laundry

We keep a laundry bin in Puppy's bedroom, a small cloth arrangement just a few inches taller than he is. It sits at the foot of his crib, and many afternoons I've come in after his nap to find that he's taken off his socks and tossed them through the crib slats into the hamper.

Apparently he hasn't been confining his activity to naptime sock flinging. When I emptied the hamper tonight before doing a load of laundry, I found:
  • two diaper covers (clean, phew!)
  • several pairs of clean socks
  • a library book
  • Larry the Sock Monkey
  • a single black Dansko, which I had been missing for several days

Love is slowly losing control of your house and not minding one bit.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone!

April 17, 2007

Missing Moments

It came in the middle of a show about football, of all things. (I shouldn't be that surprised. Sports=virility in American iconography.) A wife telling her husband about her unexpected pregnancy; a pregnancy after years of infertility, nonetheless. His disbelief melting into kisses and laughter and joy. A perfect little moment.

For the most part, I have come to terms with my sub-fertility. I'm not burdened by it the way I once was (like the long-ago day I chose the URL for this blog, for example). I remember lying next to T in bed one night, my heart breaking at the thought that we might never have a child with his gentle blue-gray eyes. Sad that we wouldn't know what the combination of our genes could produce. Angry that there wouldn't be a tangible piece of us living on in the world.

I don't think about those things much anymore. And when I do, they no longer carry the same emotional freight. I'm still frustrated with my body for various reasons, but not for denying me the experience of mothering. Because, in truth, it hasn't. I may not be Puppy's birth mother, but I am a mother. Lately I'm more apt to roll my eyes than cry my eyes out when I think about my fertility.

But as those big-picture losses have faded, they've been replaced by pricks of sadness about smaller losses. Silly, little moments which shouldn't mean anything: Watching a home pregnancy test turn positive. Sharing that first moment of joy with T. Announcing it to family and friends with a clever t-shirt for Puppy. Looking at a sonogram and being able to think, "This is my child." Just moments, unimportant in the long-term.

The moments are different in domestic adoption. Announcements must be made in hesitant steps: we are waiting on a potential match, there may be a placement, this child may join our family. Even on the day you can finally say, "Yes, we have a new family member," the happiness is qualified by the attendant loss for the first parents and child. There are very good reasons for it to be that way; I'm not bitter about that. But sometimes I wish there could be a moment of unadulterated joy somewhere along the way as our family grows.

I love how our family came to be. But tonight I'm sad for the little moments I'll never have.

April 16, 2007

For the Bennetts

I didn't plan on participating in the action on behalf of Stephanie Bennett and her family because I'm fairly certain that both of this blog's readers are already familiar with the case. Also, I knew others would write about it far better than I could.

But it turns out that I do have something I would like to suggest to my fellow adoptive parents. When we hear about a situation like the Bennetts', it can be tempting to believe it does not affect us because we adopted internationally/used a good agency/didn't use an agency/adopted through foster care/feel confident that our child was placed for good reasons and in an ethical way. But when a case like this occurs, it casts a shadow over all families created through adoption. No matter how tidy our own corner, we are all still part of the larger, messy adoption world.

Adoptions should never happen this way. Ever. When Stephanie was feeling overwhelmed as a new parent and reached out for help, she should have found a network of supportive adults seeking what was best for her and her daughter. Instead she was rushed into signing away her parental rights. Even if the agency workers and school counselor acted technically within state law, by any measure of morality or common decency they greatly missed the mark.

OriginsUSA, an antiadoption group, has organized a letter writing campaign and petition in support of the Bennetts. Even if you don't fully agree with their positions on adoption or adoption reform, consider adding your voice to the effort. It is too late for a wholly positive conclusion to this story, no matter how it eventually ends. But we can still hope for a just resolution for Stephanie and Evelyn Bennett.

April 12, 2007

In the Dim Lamplight

He snuggles deeper into the crook of your arm with a soft sigh, wordlessly begging for just one more book before bedtime. Love is living the moments you once would not dare to dream about.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

April 10, 2007

What's Your Damage?

I get it. You're stuck in the notion that families waiting to adopt domestically are in some big competition. You still think it's about what you "deserve." You waited almost two years before your daughter was placed with you. It was hard to wait. When you hear we didn't wait very long, you don't think it's fair. You're right. It's not fair. I can think of about three things in domestic adoption which are fair.

But if you ever tell me again that the only reason you waited so long is that you weren't "willing to accept a damaged child," I will look your little girl in the eyes and say, "Sweetie, I'm sorry you got such a damaged mama."

About the Book Reviews

I'm not a writer, editor, publisher, journalist, book seller or librarian (although my dad is--hooray for librarians!). I'm just someone who loves books and loves to read with my kid. I also believe in the power of books to affect our foundational beliefs.

I enjoy having A Project, so I've been compiling a list of children's books on adoption that I would like to check out. I usually borrow them from our local library or peruse them at bookstores. Ones I particularly like I purchase for our home library. As long as I was reading them, I thought I might write down my thoughts here. I appreciate reading reviews when I know a bit about the reviewer, particularly in regards to books on adoption. So perhaps someone else might find these helpful one day.

We keep the books on adoption mixed in with the rest of our children's books. We view it as one of the ways we make adoption a normal topic of conversation for our son. We don't Talk About Adoption everytime we read them together, but I sometimes add a little commentary connecting the story to his own. He is still too young to give me any feedback on a book's content, but he does let me know when he appreciates the illustrations.

My philosophy on adoption books is that our collection as a whole should touch on each side of the triad and the various aspects of adoption, not each individual book. I am fine with books that don't exactly match our own family's story or incorporate some language we might not use. I am not okay with books which demean first parents and/or countries of origin, unduly romanticize adoption, or perpetuate adoption myths.

There are many good lists of children's books on adoption on the Internet. Here are a few:

Below is my own in-process list of adoption-related books for children, sorted into the following categories (some books are listed in more than one category):
Reviews are linked Y = recommeded x = not recommended

Contemplating Your Belly Button (Jun Nanao)
The Family Book (Todd Parr) Y
It's Okay to Be Different (Todd Parr)

Domestic Adoption
Did My First Mother Love Me? (Kathryn Ann Miller)
How I Was Adopted (Joanna Cole)
My Adopted Child, There's No One Like You (Kevin Leman)
Susan and Gordon Adopt a Baby (Judy Freudberg)
The Day We Met You (Phoebe Koehler)
Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born (Jamie Lee Curtis)
We Became a Family (Wayne Willis)

Foster Care & Adoption
Families Change: A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights (Julie Nelson)
Finding the Right Spot: When Kids Can't Live With Their Parents (Janice Levy)
The Great Gilly Hopkins (Katherine Paterson)
Grover G. Graham and Me (Mary Quattlebaum)
My Alternate Life (Lee Tobin McClain)
Parents Wanted (George Harrar)
Zachary's New Home: A Story for Foster and Adopted Children (Geraldine & Paul Blomquist)

"A" is for Adopted (Eileen Tucker Cosby)
All About Adoption (Marc Nemiroff & Jane Annuziata)
All About Me (Lynn Burwash)
Happy Adoption Day (John McCutcheon)
The Kingfisher Book of Family Poems (collection)
Let's Talk About It: Adoption (Fred Rodgers)
Look Who's Adopted! (Michael S. Taheri)
We Belong Together (Todd Parr)
What Is Adoption? (Sofie Stergianis & Rita McDowall)

Infant Adoption
Did My First Mother Love Me? (Kathryn Ann Miller)
The Day We Met You (Phoebe Koehler)
How I Was Adopted (Joanna Cole)
I Bet She Called Me Sugar Plum (Joanne Gabbin)
Mulberry Bird (Ann Fraff Brodzinsky)
Never Never Never Will She Stop Loving You (Jolene Durrant)
Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born (Jamie Lee Curtis)
This is How We Became a Family (Wayne Willis)
The Tummy Mummy (Michelle Madrid-Branch)
We Wanted You (Liz Rosenberg)
Welcome Home Little Baby (Lisa Harper)

International Adoption
At Home in This World: A China Adoption Story (Jean MacLeod)
The Best Single Mom in the World: How I Was Adopted (Mary Zisk)
Bringing Asha Home (Uma Krishnaswami) India
Chinese Eyes (Marjorie Ann Waybill) China
The Coffee Can Kid (Jan Czech) unspecified Asian country
Every Year on Your Birthday (Rose A. Lewis) China
Felicia's Favorite Story (Leslea Newman) Guatemala
Finding Joy (Marion Coste)
Heart of Mine (Dan Hojer) unspecified Asian country
I Don't Have Your Eyes (Carrie A. Kitze)
I Love You Like Crazy Cakes (Rose Lewis)
I Wish for You a Beautiful Life: Letters from the Korean Birth Mothers of Ae Ran Won to Their Children (collection)
Jin Woo (Eve Bunting)
Just Add One Chinese Sister (Patricia McMahon) China
Kids Like Me in China (Ying Ying Fry) China
Lucy's Family Tree (Karen Halvorsen Schreck)
The Lucky Gourd Shop (Joanna C. Scott)
Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story (Carol Antionette Peacock)
Monsoon Summer (Mitali Perkins)
Motherbridge of Love (Josee Masse) China
My Mei Mei (Ed Young) China
A New Barker in the House (Tomie de Paola)
Nikolai, the Only Bear (Barbara Joosse) Russia
Our Baby from China: An Adoption Story (Nancy D'Antonio)
Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale (Karen Katz)
Pablo's Tree (Pat Mora) Mexico
A Quilt of Wishes (Teresa Werner)
Rain Forest Girl: More Than an Adoption Story (Chalise Miner)
Rebecca's Journey Home (Brynn Olenberg Sugarman)
The Red Blanket (Eliza Thomas) China
Seeds of Love (Mary E. Petertyl)
Shaoey and Dot (Marybeth & Steven Chapman) China
Sister for Matthew (Pamela Kennedy)
Sisters (Judith Caseley)
Somebody's Daughter (Marie Myung-Ok Lee)
Ten Days and Nine Nights (Yumi Heo) Korea
Three Names of Me (Mary Cummings)
Through Moon & Stars & Night Skies (Ann Turner) Southeast Asia
Waiting for May (Janel Morgan Stoeke) China
We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo (Linda Walvoord Girard)
When I Met You: A Story of Russian Adoption (Adrienne Ehlert Bashista) Russia
The White Swan Express (Jean Davies Okimoto & Elaine M. Aoki) China

Open Adoption
Megan's Birthday Tree (Laurie Lears) Y
Nutmeg Gets a Letter (Judith Foxon)
Pugnose Has Two Special Families (Karis Kruzel)
Rain or Shine (Hilary Horder Hippely)
Sam's Sister (Juliet C. Bond)

Siblings & Adoption
Boat in the Tree (Tim Wynne Jones)
Emma's Strange Pet (Jean Little)
Emma's Yucky Brother (Jean Little)
How I Became a Big Brother (Dave Moore)
Jin Woo (Eve Bunting)
Just Add One Chinese Sister (Patricia McMahon)
My Mei Mei (Ed Young)
A New Barker in the House (Tomie de Paola)
Nutmeg Gets a Little Sister (Judith Foxon)
Rebecca's Journey Home (Brynn Olenberg Sugarman)
Sam's Sister (Juliet C. Bond) birth sibling in an open adoption
The Sea Chest (Toni Bezzeo)
Seeds of Love (Mary E. Petertyl)
Sister for Matthew (Pamela Kennedy)
Sisters (Judith Caseley)
Ten Days and Nine Nights (Yumi Heo)
Waiting for May (Janel Morgan Stoeke)

Single Parents & Adoption
The Best Single Mom in the World: How I Was Adopted (Mary Zisk)
The Red Blanket (Eliza Thomas)

Transracial Adoption
Allison (Allen Say)
Brown Like Me (Noelle Lamperti)
David's Father (Robert M. Munsch)
Families are Different (Nina Pellegrini)
Horace (Holly Keller)
In My Heart (Molly Bang)
Is That Your Sister? (Catherine & Sherry Bunin)
The Lamb-a-Roo (Diana Kimpton)
The Little Green Goose (Adele Sansone)
Little Miss Spider (David Kirk)
A Mother for Choco (Keiko Kasza) Y
Mrs. Hen's Big Surprise (Christel Desmoinaux)
Red in the Flower Bed (Andrea Nepa)
Rosie's Family: An Adoption Story (Lori Rosove)
We Wanted You (Liz Rosenberg)
Welcome Home Little Baby (Lisa Harper)
You're Not My Real Mother! (Molly Friedrich) x

Adoption is for Always (Linda Walvoord Girard)
Carolyn's Story: A Book About an Adopted Girl (Perry Schwartz)
Families are Forever (Craig Shemin)
Forever Fingerprints: An Amazing Discovery for Adopted Children (Sherri Eldridge)
Giant Jack (Birte Muller)
Guji Guji (Chih-Yuan Chen)
Is That Your Sister?: A True Story of Adoption (Catherine Bunin)
A Koala for Katie (Jonathan London)
Little Lost Bat (Sandra Markle)
Max and the Adoption Day Party (Adria F. Klein)
Molly's Family (Nancy Garden)
My Family is Forever (Nancy Carlson)
My New Family: A First Look at Adoption (Pat Thomas)
One Wonderful You (Francie Portnoy)
Our Twitchy (Kes Gray)
Place In My Heart (Mary Grossnickle)
This is the Day! (Phillis Gershator)
Twice-Upon-a-Time: Born and Adopted (Eleanora Patterson)
We See the Moon (Carrie A. Kitze)
Welcome Home, Forever Child (Christine Mitchell)

Recommendations and suggestions are always welcome!

"Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born"

"Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born" is one of the better known children's adoption books. It was written by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, an adoptive mother of two children (I believe through domestic adoption).

A little girl asks her parents to tell her once again about the night they became a family. It is clearly a story she delights to hear, and she knows every detail of her parents getting the phone call, journeying to the hospital, and lovingly bringing her home. There are many personal touches, from the mother singing the same lullaby her mother sang to her to the parents glaring at anyone who sneezes near the baby. The watercolor illustrations are full of whimsical details which reward parents reading through the book for the 163rd time. It's a sweet little book, and I can see why it is popular among adoptive families.

There is one page, however, which made me pause. The girl asks, "Tell me again how you couldn't grow a baby in your tummy, so another woman who was too young to take care of me was growing me and she would be my birth mother, and you would adopt me and be my parents." I haven't been able to put my finger on precisely why it doesn't sit right with me, but I think it has to do with the context:
  • Although they are in the hospital where, presumably, the child's first mom is recovering from childbirth, this is the only inclusion of her in the story. There is no mention of meeting her or interacting with her. The adoptive parents meet the baby in a nursery.
  • The illustration shows the girl's birth parents grafted on to her adoptive family tree, instead of showing that adopted children have two family trees.
  • The wording unintentionally makes a direct connection between the adoptive mom's infertility and the other mother's pregnancy. Drop the phrase about the first mom being young, and it's almost a description of gestational surrogacy.

It may just be me being nit-picky, but this brief mention of the girl's birth mother brings up more issues than it solves for me. It's not enough for me to put it on a "not recommended" list, but it wouldn't be my first choice of gifts for an adoptive family.

The age range is 4-8 years, although I think kids younger than 4 could enjoy it. The child and adoptive parents are all Caucasian.

(written by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell, HarperTrophy, 1996)

April 09, 2007

Our Role in All This

I have been thinking some about our role as the adoptive parents in Puppy's open adoption. Giving your child a connection to his or her birth parents is often a big motivator for prospective adoptive parents considering openness. But how much power do we really have to "give" that connection? I've seen adoptive parents (including myself) put a lot of pressure on themselves to ensure that their child has the Best.Relationship.Ever. with his or her first parents. The perceived strength of that relationship morphs into an indicator of how "successful" their child's open adoption is.

On one hand, we really we have very little control over that. We could try to prevent a relationship from forming, but we can't make Puppy love K or R any more than we can force him to love us. And we can't even guarantee that K and R will remain a consistent part of his life over the long haul. Situations change and people change. If K or R ever pulled back from contact, I would certainly share my perspective on how their pulling away could hurt Puppy. But I'm not the relational puppet master of this adoption. If I put pressure on myself for Puppy to have a super close relationship with his first families, Puppy will undoubtedly pick up on it at some point. And down that road lies disaster.

On the other hand, I feel that T and I have responsibilities beyond standing back and watching Puppy's relationship with his first parents unfold on its own. I once heard a panel of teenagers share their thoughts about their open adoptions. One of the common themes among this particular group was an appreciation for the foundations their adoptive parents laid for their relationships with their first families. They were now at the point where they could pick up the phone and call their first parents on their own. But they recognized that at the beginning of the adoption a lot of effort had been put into establishing a basis for those connections. Things like organizing visits and initiating phone calls, freely sharing information about their history, and generally creating an atmosphere of openness in the family. To this group of teens, those actions had been crucial.

Some critics of open adoption say that it robs adoptees of their choice about whether or not to have a relationship with their first parents. I have trouble understanding the argument behind their position. We don't give Puppy a choice about knowing his grandparents or cousins or our friends. They are a part of our life, therefore they are a part of his. There are certainly some unique issues with first families that generally aren't there with other family members. But those issues aren't caused by first families being integrated into an adoptee's life, they are caused by the adoption itself. If anything, the integration of the first families may provide a positive context for sorting through those issues.

I suppose it is similar to how we treat other extended family relationships. T and I put the effort into having their pictures up in our house, telling Puppy about them, and visiting to provide opportunities for everyone to get to create memories together. We hope our relatives will also put in the effort to connect with Puppy, but we don't force it. Neither do we tell Puppy to feel a certain way about them. Trying to force a child to demonstrate love for someone rarely works. My guess is it more often ends up backfiring.

T and I can't force relationships between Puppy and his first parents. We can't guarantee there won't be friction or hurt between them. But we can make sure we're not hindering the relationships. We can step back at times in order to provide space in Puppy's life for them to develop. As the adoptive parents in our personal triad, we are uniquely able to lay a foundation of respect upon which Puppy and his first parents can build. The rest, I suppose, is up to them.

April 05, 2007

Love Commits

Love commits to the journey despite not knowing what lies ahead.

Love commits to the unknown ones who will join you along the way.

Love commits to the person you are and to the person you are becoming.

Happy almost anniversary, T. It's been better than I ever could have expected.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

April 04, 2007

"A Mother for Choco"

"A Mother for Choco" never once mentions adoption, yet manages to make a nice statement about adoptive families.

Choco is a little bird living alone who sets off one day to find a mother. He visits a giraffe, penguin, and walrus, all of whom tell him that they cannot be his mother because they do not look just like him. When he then meets Mrs. Bear, he is sure she could not be his mother. He begins to cry and Mrs. Bear rushes to comfort him.

As she listened to Choco's story, she sighed. "Oh dear. If you
had a mommy, what would she do?"

"Oh, I'm sure she would hold me," sobbed Choco.

"Like this?" asked Mrs. Bear. And she held Choco very

After more such exchanges, Mrs. Bear suggests that perhaps she could become Choco's mother. When Choco points out that she looks nothing like him, Mrs. Bear laughs that she would look quite silly with yellow feathers, wings, and striped feet. Choco agrees and goes home with Mrs. Bear to meet her other children: an alligator, hippopotamus, and pig. The story ends with Mrs. Bear hugging all her children and Choco happy that "his new mommy looked just the way she did."

Choco's story communicates one of the important messages for adopted children who don't look like other members of their adoptive family (because of transracial/transcultural adoption or just having different coloring or features). I think it is important for children in those situations to be around people who are like them and to have those connections affirmed. They also need to hear that families are not only about shared features, but also about love and commitment.

This book is a nice counterpoint to the ubiquitous "Are You My Mother?" by P.D. Eastman and I think would be great for any kid, adopted or not. It is a parable about the bond between adoptive parents and their children, so there is no explanation of why Choco was living all alone. I did not see anything demeaning toward families of origin in it. The age range is 2-6 years and the pictures are bright and cheerful.

(written & illustrated by Keiko Kasza, Puffin Books, 1992)

April 03, 2007

Through the Generations

Issycat's post about finally being able to place her sons' ears and asthma within her family tree got me thinking about Puppy. The source of his ears, which manage to grow almost perpendicular to his head, is a mystery to us all. I find them unbearably cute, although they never fail to garner comments. (T's grandmother once suggested we tape them down so they would grow the "right" way.)

One benefit of an open adoption is solving some of these genetic mysteries. I know that Puppy's dimples are from R, his rosebud lips from K, and his gorgeous coloring from R's mom. But no one knows where his ears come from. We were discussing the mystery last month and K finally shrugged, "I guess they must be from my side."

K was adopted a few days after birth. Although her parents met her first mom once, it was a closed adoption. I know that her family has tried unsuccessfully to search for her first mom, although I am not privy to the details. It is not something K talks about often. The last time I mentioned it to her, she cried and changed the subject, and I felt like a complete heel.

I sometimes think about K's first parents, especially her mother. I wonder how she feels about K's adoption and if she has ever searched for her. I daydream about introducing her to her grandson. (What would people label him after two generations of adoption? Birth-birth-grandson? Gah.) How would she feel to learn that she and K are not just connected as mother and daughter, but as women who placed their children for adoption?

K's adoption influences her relationship with Puppy in subtle ways. Her experience as an adoptee informed both her decision to place and her choice of open adoption. She worries that Puppy will go through a phase of hating her. Though she's never explicitly made the connection, I wonder if it is because she has felt that way towards her own first mom before.

And I wonder what will Puppy think about his truncated family tree. Somewhere Puppy has yet another set of grandparents, and at least one more half-aunt. Somewhere out there are people carrying the same genes which produced his wonderful ears. They are the keys to the medical histories and family stories which we have in abundance from R's family, but which stop abruptly with K. Would he ever want to find them? Is that that even his right?

I'm learning that for our family that the effects of adoption are not contained neatly within the triad. They wriggle into subsequent generations for better and for worse. It pushes my own sights ahead to the next generation and motivates me to maintain connections to Puppy's extended families not only for him, but for his possible children. The ones who will be not only my grandchildren but K's and R's as well.
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