August 28, 2007


Behold Puppy's favorite-est thing in the whole wide world (at least for the moment):

I showed it to him the day before yesterday while goofing around before bedtime. Tonight T carried Puppy down from the bath asking, "Can you figure out what he's saying?"

Mahna mahna doo doo doo doo doo...

So we watched it again--and again and again. I tried clicking on other Muppets clips, but Puppy chirped, "Bye bye!" with a little wave as soon as they started. So it was back to the fluffy pink twins.

Mahna mahna doo doo doo doo doo...

I dare you to watch it and not get it stuck in your head.

August 27, 2007

Day and Night

During the day, Puppy is a hurricane of energy and movement. Always exploring, always moving, always multi-tasking. I have grown accustomed to the fact that walking in a straight path with Puppy means him constantly sweeping out before me, stopping several times to check objects of interest, then finally running back to my side. It is like having a personal advance team for the ten feet in front of me.

I am a homebody, content to stay in a chair for hours doing nothing more strenuous than turning the pages of a book. My vision of parenting included lots of snuggling and lap time. But since the moment he discovered he could control his own limbs, Puppy has wanted none of that. He will sit in a lap to read, or sometimes to eat. But he prefers a quick kiss to an extended cuddle, wanting to return to unrestrained movement as quickly as he can. Daytime with Puppy is about encouraging him, containing him, and letting him take me along for the wild ride. He enlivens my days like no one ever has.

It is only at night that he is still. Many evenings I sneak into his room as he sleeps to drink in the sight of him on my own time. I become again the new mother, staring at a child and marveling that he is hers. Watching his chest rise and fall in the dim light, taking in the smallness of the arms and legs sprawled across the bed, swooning at the curve of the lashes resting on his cheeks. In the daylight I am excited by his new skills, his growth. At night I want time to slow down, to leave him my baby a little longer. I stop moving myself, hoping to seal the sight of him in my memory.

At night, thoughts bubble to the surface that I have no room for during the day. Puppy's genes carry potential illnesses that, to be honest, frighten me. His brief life history already includes elements that have left others struggling to form a coherent identity. As I do my best to keep up with him in the daylight, all that information rests far back in my mind. But as he sleeps in the dark, so tiny and perfect, those things push their way to the front. They loom, threatening to rob my boy of the joy for life that so defines him right now.

I think that is why, night after night, I find myself intoning the same prayer, one born not of theological reflection but of the desperation of my heart.

"Lord, make him whole. Make him whole. Make him whole."

August 26, 2007

Pho King Sunday

We don't go out to eat much now that Puppy is in our family. We try every now and then, but his age and personality just don't lend themselves to it right now. He plays along for 20-30 minutes before realizing the injustice of having to sit in a chair! With crayons! Eating tasty food! And then his head splits open to release his righteous anger. It's just not enough time to sit and enjoy a meal, so we've given up for now.

But, today! Today my mom offered to watch the Pupster for the afternoon, so we dropped him off at noon and made a beeline for our tiny downtown, thinking of all the little restaurants we've been wanting to try.

We pulled up to the first one, a Thai place. Closed on Sundays.

We walked over to the Indian restaurant. Closed.

Maybe the Mexican place we've been to before? Closed.

Damn Christians and their Sunday sabbath. (I kid! I'm one of you!)

Then I remembered the tiny Vietnamese restaurant that recently opened a few blocks down. They advertise beef noodle soup in their window, pho translated for our suburban town. Pho, glorious pho! I fell in love with pho several years ago while visiting Vietnam, where it is sold just about everywhere. Since then, I've kept my eye out for good sources--usually the more divey and hole in the wall the restaurant, the better the dish. I had an excellent bowl once at a chain called "Pho King." ("Pho" is pronounced something like "fuh")

Bolstered by the prospect of yummy goodness in a bowl, we searched out the tiny storefront. The neon "beef noodle soup" sign glowed in the window, but an ominous piece of paper was taped to the door. "Closed today and tomorrow. Sorry."

We gave up and went home. Boo hoo.

Thus ends my tiny pity party.

August 22, 2007

You May Have Noticed I'm a Nerd

Have you seen the report that one in four adults in America didn't read a single book last year? I realize there are literacy, educational, economic and cultural issues at play here. But I'm such the inveterate bookworm that the thought makes my head explode.

Our books sat in boxes almost a full year while we found and moved into our house. We'd look at homes with open floor plans and I would think, "But where do you go to read?" People asked how we were settling in and I'd tell them, "I miss my books." Just this month I began unpacking them into our newly installed bookshelves. I swear I had a near religious experience right there in my family room as I pulled the books out of their boxes. My preciousesssss.

August 21, 2007

A Common Thread

I've been yearning lately for a common narrative of open adoption, even though I know such a thing is probably impossible. Not that all our stories would be identical, but that I would finally discover some shared tread running through them. Some means by which I can measure my own experience of it as an adoptive parent. There's lots and lots of research I can turn to for data. There are books I can read about the how and why of open adoption. But I haven't been able to grab hold of a satisfying story of open adoption, if that makes any sense. (I have hope for this new collection, but I don't have a copy yet.) I haven't developed a sense of our collective experience as adoptive parents in open adoptions, if even there is one.

There seems to be a standard formula to telling your story as an adoptive parent that goes something like this: Choose one from column A (was infertile/always wanted to adopt), one from column B (preparation process was hard/flew through the prep work), one from column C (waited a long time/hardly waited at all). Conclude with some form of "once my child was finally in my arms it was worth it." I've certainly used it myself. You see it in almost every written piece about adoption, which frankly renders most them pretty boring.

The one advantage of an ubiquitous formula like that is that it is easy to sort the data. After you hear it used again and again, you start to develop a picture of what a "normal" experience of the adoption process looks like. You pick up on what elements or emotions are fairly common to everyone, whether adopting internationally or domestic. Bits which are unique stand out. When I hear a fairy-tale or nightmare version, I can say pretty confidently that it doesn't represent the norm. Having that baseline helped me interpret my own experience. It enabled me to be deliberate as we moved through the adoption process, conscious of what I wanted to do differently. I also found it encouraging in rough spots to know that others had been there before me, that what I was feeling was natural.

I often see those of us in open adoptions trying to wrestle our stories into that formula, but it just doesn't work. After all, the formula ends with the child's placement, which is merely the jumping off point for openness. It's like trying to learn about marriage from Disney movies, which never make it past the wedding. We might describe the amount of contact we have, or summarize its quality, but it doesn't really say much about what is actually going on for us over the years. I know so much about the logistics of many families' open adoptions, and so little about what it has been like to live in the middle of them.

I think my inability to see a common thread is what is behind the mixed reactions I've had recently to major media pieces on open adoption. Usually I don't have trouble forming an opinion when the media touches on an issue close to my heart. But it hasn't been the case lately. Take the recent Los Angeles Times series, for instance. I appreciated the article's honesty. I could relate the story to my own experience at certain points. But I struggled to know how to interpret it. Was this family's story an anomaly? A product of their era? A more intense version of a common experience? A typical example?

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than to encourage those of you who are sharing your stories to keep sharing them. Write about what it is really like, as much as you can without invading people's privacy. I know I need to read that. I think many of us do.

August 19, 2007

No One Could Dream a Place Like California

In a strange coincidence, we returned from our L.A./Mexico vacation on the same flight I took when we moved to the Pacific Northwest last year. Same date, same time, probably the same creaky Horizon Airlines plane.

As Puppy slept in my lap one year ago, I watched California roll by below me and thought about the life I was leaving behind. Los Angeles was where I became an adult and discovered who I was. It is where I stumbled upon my career. It is where I met T. It is where I became a mother. Southern California is a place unto itself. Innovative, energetic, and a microcosm of the world; shallow, mean and crowded. I hated it and loved it. I miss it and am glad I escaped.

Last year as the plane touched down, I felt like I had left home behind. This year I felt like I was returning home. It was a nice feeling.

This is the music I listened to as the golden-brown desert turned to tree-covered mountains, a parting gift from a friend with far better musical taste than I. If you've ever left So Cal behind, it's a guaranteed dose of nostalgia.

Late Great Golden State (Mike Stinson)
California Stars (Billy Bragg & Wilco)
City of Angels (10,000 Maniacs)
California (Jay Farrar)
La Cienega Just Smiled (Ryan Adams)
Lil Wallet Picture (Richard Buckner)
Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far) (The Thrills)
A Long December (Counting Crows)
California (Rufus Wainwright)
Los Angeles (X)
San Andreas Fault (Natalie Merchant)
Free Fallin' (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)
Why You'd Want to Live Here (Death Cab for Cutie)
I Remember California (R.E.M.)
Dani California (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Los Angeles (Frank Black)
Pancho Villa (Sun Kil Moon)

August 14, 2007

South of the Border

It turns out that when you log in to Blogger in Mexico it's in Spanish. Who knew?

We're on a lovely combination business trip/vacation with my co-workers from all over the world. Last night Puppy was playing with a group of kids from Honduras, Thailand, Brazil, North Africa and the U.S. How cool is that? The nice thing about toddlers is that they don't rely too much on verbal communication, so they jump over language barriers much easier than we adults.

The internet connection at the hotel is pitiful, so my plans to make my internet rounds during nap time have been thwarted. Puppy is stirring in his crib--time to publicar entrada. See you all next week!

Leaving the Plant in the Pot

So, the visit with K and her mom.

First, for my own memory's sake: K brought her new dog, a tiny little thing. Puppy chased the dog all over the yard, squealing the whole time. I think the dog was a little freaked out by the crazed creature running after her. When K finally crated her, Puppy kept telling us that the dog had gone "night-night". He would look through the holes of the crate ask, "Out? Out?"

She told me about her plans for two last tattoos, one Puppy related. We talked about her friend drama. We started coordinating her trip up to see us in the fall.

Every time Puppy said, "Mama," I felt self-conscious. I can't remember, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't saying it yet when she visited us this spring. So it was the first time he had called me that in front of her, or at least the first time I was aware of it.

Puppy kept trying to engage K, especially after we went inside, bringing her toys and touching her leg. K's mom played with him and read him a book. K read him a book at the end, after I put Puppy in her lap for a picture.

As K's mom left, she turned around and said, "K doesn't have this with her biological family. It's hard." And then she walked away.


I don't want to go too much into what was so difficult for me about Friday evening, simply because I don't think it's fair to K. And, frankly, I realize how lucky I am to have these concerns, to be analyzing the quality of contact instead of yearning for any contact at all. I traipse around saying that open adoption relationships have their blessings and difficulties, just like all relationships do. This was an example of that. External, unrelated circumstances affected people's moods and left us less prepared to show grace to one another.

Even though we communicate with K a fair bit by phone and internet, being together in person pokes different adoption-related hurts. That can take a good deal of emotional energy even when everyone is at their best. But I believe spending time together is also an important part of dealing with those hurts, so it is worth it. I'm also wary of trying to analyze what is going on for K, beyond what she shares with me. I try to be aware of the possibilities, in order to be as sensitive as I can. But who am I to say what she may be feeling?

I had a house mate right after college who would say relationships are like potted plants. If you keep pulling a plant out of the pot to study its roots, you will eventually kill it. You need to tend to it, and feed it, but also just leave it alone to grow. Quit looking at the roots and let it thrive.

I think of that image often, but especially this week. Sometimes you have to stop analyzing the relationship and just continue living it. Sometimes you need to trust the roots are there. Keep the plant in the pot and give it room to grow. So for now I'm leaving this plant in its pot.

August 10, 2007

Just One Day in a Lifetime

If open adoption is akin to marriage, then this is that day you look at your spouse and can't understand why he still chews so loudly when he KNOWS it drives you nuts. So you make up an excuse to leave the house because you just can't take it anymore, but you're pissed because why do YOU have to be the one to leave when it's HIS fault for being raised in a barn? How are you going to get through fifty more years of this if he can't close his damn mouth already?

You want to rip the speck out of his eye already but you don't because you're having trouble getting past the log in your own.

Underneath it all you still love him beyond words.

K and her mom came over tonight. It went fine, on the surface at least. But it left me feeling sucked dry.

I hesitated to post this. But if I'm not honest about this, then what is the point?

We'll talk later. I'm going to curl up on the couch with some red vines.

August 09, 2007

R's Parents

This will be jumbled (I'm supposed to be working), but I want to write it down for my own memories.

Last night we had dinner with R, his mom and dad, and his younger brother. They brought Puppy a giant mylar balloon in the shape of a turtle. Puppy loved it. We grilled chicken in the backyard and played ball with Puppy as the sun set. R's brother kept asking when we would have dessert. When it grew dark we went inside to play with Puppy some more before they left for home. Puppy got to stay up late and eat blueberries. What a treat!

Puppy was in fine form, smiley and playful. He is thrilled when people want to play with him and rewards them with dimpled grins. At one point I sat with R's mom on the patio and watched Puppy bounce like a pinball between the four guys playing Fumble on the lawn. (Fumble is Puppy's favorite game. You literally just throw the football on the ground, yell "Fumble!" with your arms in the air, then run to pick up the ball. It cracks him up. He could play it for an hour.) It was a comfortable scene; it felt like everyone fit together. Earlier, Puppy had looked up at me, pointed at his first dad and said, "R____!" It was the first time I've heard him say R's name.

Today I am again frustrated by our distance. I enjoy R's mom a lot. Of all the players in Puppy's extended first family I have the most natural connection with her. If we lived closer I don't think we would see each other all the time, but it would be more frequently and more casually than it is now. This was our first time with R's parents in which I felt comfortable from the beginning. Spending time with them is what helped ease the nervousness, so I think that our limited times together probably slow our relationship in other ways, too.

K has strong feelings about R's parents, especially his mom, the result of things apparently said during her pregnancy. I've done my best to learn as little about it as possible, to just interact with everyone on the basis of of how I've seen them treat Puppy. I don't want him to be in the middle of a fight that has everything yet nothing to do with him. I don't ever want Puppy to feel like he has to choose sides, between us and his first families, or between his first families themselves.

Even though I find it easiest to relate to R's mom, our relationship with R's parents has been the most awkward. No one explained open adoption to them in depth or offered counseling or books. T asked them if this is what they expected things to be like two years into the adoption; they said they never expected they would still be able to see Puppy. I think they've struggled to have the good kind of entitlement, the kind that tells them that they have something of value to offer by being involved in Puppy's life. I sense that they worry their presence is an intrusion on our life. They are nervous and unsure at the beginning of our visits, although that fades faster then it used to. They don't like talking about the adoption. I don't know if it's embarrassing, or painful, or weird, or all those things. I just know it makes them uncomfortable. We make a point of bringing it up, not to force the issue but to let them know we're comfortable talking about it and that we care about their participation in it. They kept everything a secret until after Puppy was born, not even telling R's younger brother. I still don't know how much they've told their friends and family. Our relationship with them exists in a kind of in-between space of parks and backyards. They've never really come into our world or let us into theirs.

R's mom shared more with us tonight than she ever has. On the steps as she left, when R wasn't around, she said she is glad now that Puppy is with us, that she didn't think K or R was ready to parent. But she doesn't know how to feel for herself, having her first grandchild not really be her first grandchild in the way she dreamt. She said she checks our family website for new pictures several times a week. She mentioned coming to visit us up north one day.

Watching Puppy last night I was reminded about what a cool little kid he is. He is awesome, he really is. He's confident and adventurous and playful. I saw how much joy he engenders just by being himself. I was also so aware that his adoption is the reason for many complicated emotions for a lot of people. Someday he will become more aware of his own complicated emotions and begin to process them. I know all that will emerge in a way unique to him, that the seeds of it are already there and growing. I do my best to watch and engage when I can. But last night I just wanted him to be in his bubble one day longer, bouncing from person to person with a smile, enjoying the evening and the people gathered to love on him. I don't know if that's wrong or right. I just know I wanted him to have fun with his family for the night, to feel the gain and not the loss.

August 08, 2007

O, Happy Day!

One of the thing I like about the internet is that I'm often happy for people I've never met.

In the past few weeks, Jill of Knocked Up...Knocked Down and Ms. Pool of The Pool Snapshots welcomed home a daughter and a son (respectively).

These two women each waited a long, long time--in very different ways--for this day. They did it with grace, vulnerability and great respect for their children's first mothers.

I am confident they will both be great mothers and wonderful adoptive mothers to boot.

Click over, browse their (well-written) archives, and leave your good wishes!

August 05, 2007

LA Times Series on Open Adoption

The Los Angeles Times is doing a two-part series on open adoption, beginning today and ending Monday.

Part one looks at openness through the story of a family (families? a first family and adoptive family) who opened their adoption in the early days of the movement. I'm interested in seeing where the journalist takes the piece on Monday; it looks like she really did her homework. The list of adoption experts in the sidebar reads like a showdown of some of the biggest names on both sides of the debate.

I will say this now--I am terribly grateful for the families who went before ours and figured out openness more or less on their own. It is no overstatement to say that their commitment made my family possible.

ETA: Part two is up

August 04, 2007

Everything Is Scheduled

We're heading down to Southern California (en route to Mexico) next week, which means our house right now is a flurry of last-minute lists and phone calls.

We're seeing K and her parents on Friday. We're having dinner with R and his family on Wednesday.

I wish we lived closer together. I miss them. I miss having them see Puppy more frequently, and vice versa. He changes so much between visits and there is no way to capture that on film or in words. It's been eight months since we saw R, five since we last saw K.

I'm remembering the first time I heard about open adoption. T and I, freshly engaged, were visiting friends who had recently adopted. Over dessert in their living room, they told us the story of waiting and matching and being at their daughter's birth. It was a semi-open adoption and they lost touch with her first mother almost immediately after placement. I thought then that they had lucked out--they got to be there at the beginning of their daughter's life and didn't even have to bother with her birth mother after that. (My cheeks burn, remembering now.)

As I sat on their couch and sipped my coffee I had no idea that years later the thought of losing touch with my son's first parents like that would make my heart skip a beat.

August 02, 2007

I Even Shaved My Legs

I got together for a playdate today with some women I met posting on an online adoption forum. It was the first time I had done that, actually met someone face-to-face whom I only knew over the internet.

I imagine everyone wants to come into such meetings the epitome of put-togetherness: the confident woman with effortless wit and a well-behaved child. The other women acquitted themselves flawlessly. And me? Let's just say that by the end of the afternoon (to which I arrived late), while I gave a sticky Puppy a time-out on the strip mall sidewalk, everyone else's children were dutifully picking up the goldfish crackers he dumped next to his spilled smoothie.

If you told me one year ago that I would be doing something like this, I would have said you were nuts. Online forums seemed like a waste of time and I could barely gather the nerve to comment on someone else's blog. But one of the things we left behind when we moved last summer was our network of adoptive families. It was nothing formal, just friends and coworkers who had also adopted who were regularly in our lives. International, domestic, transracial, open, closed, public, private, family adoption--there was a bit of everything. There was always someone I could talk to without having to explain everything. And none of our kids were growing up as the only adopted person they knew.

When we moved, I had no idea how to go about adding adoptive families to our circle. I knew they were out there. But short of literally wearing my status on my chest or saying to strangers, "I notice your kid doesn't look like you. Was she adopted?," I wasn't sure what to do.

So I went online, hoping that it would one day lead to the kind of support I saw others enjoying and maybe even connections with some local-ish people. And, much to my surprise, those things have slowly started to happen.

We didn't go deep about adoption today, but that wasn't the point. It was enough that no one looked askance when the bottles came out or had to explain what they meant by "first dad." Everyone knew the freight carried by the word "wait" and the experience of coming into parenthood through relationship, not pregnancy. Being with a group that transforms your difference into similarity is such a restful thing. Even when you're the one with the overtired, messy kid.
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