July 30, 2007


Blogger tells me this is my 100th post. Whoo! It's actually number 101, but I took one down that made me feel small. If I were a television show I would be ready for syndication.

To celebrate, I thought I would open the floor for questions. Like a group interview!

Often I'll read someone's blog and want to ask them a question. But it seems too personal. Or too frivolous. Or too off-topic. Or I figure I'm just a lurker so I shouldn't ask. So here's your chance--I'm asking you to ask me!

If we were at a seminar, this is when I'd hand out index cards and tiny pencils and you'd pass your questions to the front.

So, is there anything you would like to know?

ARP Meme

I wasn't tagged directly for this meme at the coolio site Anti-Racist Parent, but I thought it was an interesting one. So, here goes!

1. I am:
Mostly Romanian and German, with the rest a mix of English and Irish. In other words, white. The most recent immigrants in my family tree came to the States in the early twentieth century; the earliest arrived with the first English ships in the Virginia colony.

2. My kid is:
Also white. Puppy is mostly Swedish on his first dad's side. His maternal line is murkier, because of K's closed adoption, but she was told she has French Canadian and Irish ancestry. K's adoptive mom is a German immigrant, so he has cultural German ties on both his adoptive and biological sides.

3. I first started thinking more about race, culture, and identity when:
I only really started thinking about it when I left the Pacific Northwest to attend college in Los Angeles. I arrived a few months after the riots sparked by the Rodney King beating trial verdict and was there through the entire OJ Simpson saga--race was at the forefront of most community-wide conversations at the time. The campus was determined to reflect and interact with the multicultural reality of its surroundings, a mission that influenced everything from admissions policies (to the horror of generations of alumni) to coursework. Race, culture and identity were constant topics in the classrooms, the dorms, and the Christian fellowship I joined. I eventually went into American Studies so I could really dig into the ways race, class, and gender intersect in our society.

4. People think my name is:
Generic. For a white girl born in the 1970s, the only name more common than Heather is Jennifer. My German last name was pushed into middle-name obscurity when I took on T's vaguely Southern last name.

5. The family tradition I most want to pass on is:
A value for independence and pursuing your passions.

6. The family tradition I least want to pass on is:
Our nervousness about getting truly vulnerable in our conversations with each other.

7. My child’s first word in English was:

8. My child’s first non-English word was:
"Please" in American Sign Language. His first spoken non-English word was "agua" (water in Spanish). I have no idea where he picked it up.

9. The non-English word/phrase most used in my home is:

10. One thing I love about being a parent is:
Constantly being surprised by a new facet of my son's personality, a new skill of his, or a new way he interacts with his world.

11. One thing I hate about being a parent is:
Not leaving the house together with my husband after the boy goes to bed. No more late-evening walks or hours idling over pastries at the neighborhood coffee house. Sigh.

12. To me, being an anti-racist parent means:
Self-examination. Humility. Open ears. Open mind. Taking advantage of teachable moments.

July 25, 2007

3BT #4

I need a little pick-me-up tonight.

Three beautiful things, summer edition:
  1. Berries, freshly picked and warm in your hand
  2. Laughter and sunshine mingling over the pool
  3. A child practicing just-learned words
Add yours in the comments...

July 24, 2007

Like a Surrogate

Puppy's first mom called this weekend. We had a nice chat. I like it when she calls, it makes me feel like she wants us to be a part of her life.

She mentioned that it's strange for people who are meeting her now to find out she has a child that she's not parenting. They aren't sure how to react. She said that she sometimes tells them to think of her like a surrogate. I said, "No, you're way more than that." She told me, "I know. But sometimes the only way I can get through the day is to think of myself like a surrogate who gave a gift to you."

She has every right to frame her experience in whatever way she chooses--I cannot dictate how she should feel or what language she should use. But it made me sad to hear her say that. To know that's where she is right now in her healing and coping.

I did what I could by letting her know we don't view her that way, that we think she has an important role in Puppy's life. I think most of the time she believes that. She called Puppy "my son" a few times in our conversation. Those aren't the words of a surrogate.

At the beginning of an open adoption you spend so much time talking about the "hows"--types of contact, frequency of visits. But the "whys" of open adoption are as important as the "hows". The "whys" are what makes openness last instead of petering out over time. They keep people committed when openness gets hard. I want Puppy's first parents to believe they have something unique and valuable to offer to him, a contribution that didn't end the day he was born. I'm learning more abut the uphill battle they took on; while they're convincing other people that it's good for them to be in Puppy's life, they have to convince themselves, too.

July 20, 2007

Dancing King

Puppy seems to be missing whatever gene it is that makes toddlers dance like maniacs to any music. Each week at library story time, as kids bounce spastically around the room like so much popcorn, Puppy sits back and silently observes. A wee anthropologist, attempting to understand the primal ritual unfolding before him.

Every so often T-Dog and I try to get him to dance at home. We demonstrate, dancing around the family room with wild abandon. Puppy just gives us withering looks, as if to say, "Big people, please, show some dignity."

Tonight we went to a local art festival, pushing Puppy through the booths in his little red stroller. After buying our dinner, we plopped down on a grassy hillside overlooking the main stage. A punk rock bluegrass band was playing, all mohawks, cowboy hats, fiddles and banjos. (It was as odd as it sounds.) Staring at the stage, Puppy strained at his stroller straps. As soon as he was free, he started bopping around, stamping his feet and waving his stubby arms to the music.

Puppy, the perpetual wallflower, was dancing. He danced and danced, grooving in circles around a nearby tree. It was so fun to watch. Even people sitting nearby looked over, smiling.

Apparently it wasn't that he doesn't dance, but that he has discriminating and rather eclectic tastes in music. I love this aspect of parenting, that just when you think you know something about your child, he surprises you.

July 17, 2007

Open Adoption is to Marriage as ...

Several weeks ago T and I participated in the wedding of Puppy's godfather. (My stellar contribution was tripping down the stairs as I walked off the stage. Yes, I am that awesome.) As I listened to the ceremony, I thought about the comparisons which are sometimes made between marriage and open adoption. (Any kind of life partnership could be substituted for marriage.) It's not a perfect analogy, but there are definitely some parallels between marriage and the relationship between the adults in a healthy open adoption:
  • Two (or more) families join into a new kinship unit.
  • It requires a lifelong commitment.
  • The nature of the relationship is best understood as covenental, rather than contractual.
  • The participants are interdependent. If one member pulls away from the relationship--even with just cause--it hurts everyone involved.
  • It involves intentionality and choice--you're committing not to a concept or abstract idea, but this specific person.
  • Honesty, trust, and hard work are required. That includes proactive honesty--raising issues and sharing hurts in appropriate ways.
  • A sense of mutual respect and partnership between peers are important for the health of the relationship. When those things are lacking--on either side--the relationship can't function properly.
  • If you don't want really to do it, it's best for everyone if you don't enter into it.

As with all analogies, this one eventually breaks down. Setting aside the most obvious differences (i.e. this isn't Big Love), one key difference is that open adoption should focus on the needs of the child. Decisions should be made with the interests of the adopted child placed higher than those of either set of parents. There is no parallel in marriage to this coming together solely for the sake of another. (Spouses do come together to parent, but that is not a necessary function of being married. In other words, you can be married without parenting.)

Similarly, there needs to be a unique emotional space and flexibility present for the child to have a voice as he or she matures. While it's the relationship between the parents that is usually at the forefront in the beginning of an open infant adoption, it should fade as the child's own relationships with each set of parents begin to develop. Not that the relationship between the parents should wane, but rather it should fade as the focus of the adoption.

What specifically got me thinking about the connections between marriage and open adoption was the officiant's comment about making sure your own emotional and spiritual needs are met, rather than only looking to your partner to do that. If we're always looking the other person for all our affirmation and validation, then we're not really free to think about them and serve them. As partners in marriage, we should be striving to meet one another's needs, not sitting back waiting for the other person to take care of us.

I thought about how that is so key to the health of our open adoption. I need to have confidence about my role in the adoption and in Puppy's life. If I'm always looking to K or even Puppy to validate me, then I'm less able to think about their needs or how I can serve them. Conversely, if I am confident and fulfilled within myself, then any external validation I receive is just icing on the cake. I think the same is probably true of K and R as the first parents. Our affirmation of their role is terribly important, but their confidence should ultimately come from the fact that they were and are his first parents and have important contributions to make to his life because of that. We can--and should--turn to one another for support at times. No one else knows as well as we do what is going on inside this adoption. That is one of the ways we can serve each other. But if all four of us adults come into this with self-confidence (combined with a sensitivity towards what is going on for the others), then we'll be in a good place to love unconditionally on the Pupster. And that is the whole point.

(Sorry for the disjointedness of the post--I know it needs a good edit. It was languishing unfinished in my drafts folder, but I wanted to put it up in response to the discussion over at Jenna's blog, The Chronicles of Munchkinland.)

July 15, 2007


K mentioned to a friend that we're hoping to adopt a sibling for Puppy.

Her "friend" asked if that meant K was hooking up with R again.


If I had known all we needed to do was place an order with K and R, we wouldn't have bothered with all that tedious adoption prep these last seven months.

The things no one tells you about adoption. Sheesh.

July 12, 2007


The summer breeze carries a slight chill, signaling the end of the day's long heat. Mountains settle into blue-gray in the distance, silhouetted against a pinkish sky. Across the deck a simple melody folds over itself as T fiddles around on a guitar. My body relaxes. The lists, the dishes, the endless loop of tasks don't matter for now.

Foreheads huddled together, Puppy and I work on the mystery of funnels over the water table. (Where does the water go?) Every time the water gurgles through the spout he laughs in astonishment then frowns, thinking. After several repetitions he looks up at me, meets my eyes. He smiles.

That's when it happens. One of those moments which hangs suspended, time expanding until you feel you'll be able to remember every detail. Nothing extraordinary has happened. Just everything briefly distilling into a moment of pure contentment.

July 11, 2007


For a few years I self-righteously mocked Bugaboo strollers. Particularly around Los Angeles, where the trendiness of a neighborhood could be measured by the ratio of Bugaboos to plebian strollers on the streets.

I elevated it to a matter of principle. "Who pays $700 for a stroller?" I'd gripe. "You're paying $300 for the stroller and $400 for the brand name. People only want it because it's popular. And it's ugly."

My neighbor had one and cleaned it with a toothbrush. "You almost have to for those prices," said I.

But now this is making my heart go pitter-patter:

I love it. As I push Puppy around our neighborhood, I dream of myself at its helm. It's practical, it's adjustable, it's got a small footprint.

And it's growing trendier by the minute.

And it's almost $500.

Oh, dear.

P.S. In my defense, I've had my eye on it since before the Bugabooers had their second children and crowned it their new favorite. Somehow that's not making me feel any better about all my schemes to get my hands on one.

P.P.S. Did you just see that pathetic attempt at self-justification? Oh. My. Goodness.

July 09, 2007

Earning Rights, Receiving Grace

I've been thinking back to when Puppy first came home with us, how surreal it was. One day T and I drove off, just the two of us on the freeway with an empty car seat in the back. We came back somebody's parents.

I've always felt that I had to earn my motherhood, to earn the right to call myself Puppy's parent. K's connection to Puppy seemed so clear from the very beginning--the result of biology, made evident in her care for him before and after his birth. My own connection felt so tenuous back then. "I'm your mama," I would whisper into his tiny ear, trying to convince myself it was true. Only K and R's blessing, their choice of us, kept me from feeling like a fraud.

Much is often made of the legal paperwork of adoption, as if it has the power to create or erase relationships. I think K loved Puppy as much the moment after she signed the consent forms as she did the moment before. I'm certain the termination of his first parents' rights meant nothing to Puppy--all he likely "knew" in his foggy newborn haze was that K's familiar presence had disappeared and his basic needs were being met. Hopefully--oh, how I hope!-- he also sensed our tender love for him. Right away, I realized so clearly that everything up to that point--home study and paperwork, process and waiting--had little to do with whether he would one day consider me his mother. The process of adopting was coming to an end; the process of becoming a parent was just beginning. It was only the hours of caring for him, layered one upon the next, which finally made motherhood real to me. I put in my time until one day calling myself Puppy's mom was no longer an exercise in faith.

The legal stuff has an important place, but it isn't a court order that makes me Puppy's mom. It is the relationship I'm building with him and the promises I've keeping. If I have any rights as Puppy's parent, they are ones I've earned. I think i must be the same for non-adoptive parents. It's not about creating or adopting a child. It's about staying committed to them, putting their needs before your own, loving them conscientiously.* That's what makes you a parent.

Earning a right seems like a contradiction. But, to me, that's a reality of parenting. We didn't do anything to deserve our kids, not really. We aren't entitled to be parents. We work for it, every day. And in adoption we have to work just a little bit harder. Our family bonds are built from scratch, started from loss.

But I'm seeing just now that I'm working for something I can't really earn. If grace is an unearned gift, then parenthood has been grace to me. K and R extended it by placing him with us. Puppy bestowed it the first time he opened his arms toward me saying, "Mama." I suppose I am working to deserve that gift, to do the impossible and be worthy of grace.

* Which, incidentally, can be done by first parents, too. This isn't meant to be an I-do-all-the-work-therefore-I'm-the-real-mom screed.

July 05, 2007

It's a Blogging Cliche, but I Can't Help Myself

I had my first awesome Google search hit:

infertility "self-pity" bitter
I was the third result that day. Which is a bit surprising since there are some wonderfully insightful, funny, popular--and, yes, sometimes self-pityingly bitter--infertility blogs out there. I'm afraid mine is none of those things.

In California, the medical reference form for adoption asks if the petitioner is infertile. (It's under the heading "Ability to have own child." Oh, silly adoption forms. Always giving me the warm fuzzies.) That lead to this conversation with my general practitioner:

Doctor: Do you want me to say you're infertile?

Me: I get a choice?

Doctor: We diagnose infertility after one year of unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant.

Me: But...

Doctor: [blink]

Me: ... I can't try ... (Hello, you're my DOCTOR. We've been
through this before.)

Doctor: [blink, blink]

Me: So I'm fertile until proven otherwise?

Doctor: Basically.

Me: Nice. Let's go with fertile.

Doctor: [check]

Me: Do I get a choice on my weight?

And that the story of how I got official documentation of my fertility, despite never having birthed a child nor given any indication that I could do so.

So, dear searcher, I'm sorry Google let you down. It didn't even find you an actual infertile, much less a bitter one. I've got a note from my doctor and everything. Better luck next time!

July 03, 2007


It's official. We're approved and waiting to become a family of four.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Puppy will have a sibling sometime between next week and 2009. An audacious prediction, I know.

It's nice to be done with the initial flurry of activity, although it wasn't flurry so much as intermittent drizzle on our part. The driven-ness level is definitely ratcheted down on this second adoption process for us. It's not that our desire to parent again is any less, but it is less raw. At times during our first process I had to deliberately bring my own desires into check in order to move through it in a manner I could feel good about. Creating that emotional space has been easier this time, thus far.

When we reached this point last time, I thought the hardest part was behind us. Ahead was a real, live baby and helping out a woman who needed us to come alongside her (that was how I thought of it at the time). But it's more complicated than that. This time I know that the difficult part has yet to come.

So I'm grateful for this pause. Time to enjoy Puppy before he goes from only child to oldest child. Time to gather my thoughts and prepare myself for what comes next.

If we're still waiting two years from now, I may not be so grateful.
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