July 30, 2008

Camping Cake

We're off to go camping at the coast for a few days. And possibly visit the aquarium, if I can stomach the admission fee. We went to the zoo last week and I about keeled over at the ticket booth when I realized how much it was going to cost.

Moving on! I may be wrong, but I believe there is a rule that all personal blog writers must at some point post a recipe. Or maybe it's just an inevitability, like responding to the lure of a lazy meme. In any case, here is the recipe for Camping Cake.

Camping Cake is a family tradition from my childhood. We ate it almost every time we went camping and only when we went camping, so it maintained a certain mystique. There is almost nothing natural or healthy about it, which is part of its chocolaty awesomeness. It throws together quickly when you're trying to pack. It's dense and unfrosted, so you don't need a fork or plate to eat it. And it comes in handy as a bribe/privilege to remove at the campground, not that you would ever resort to such tactics with your lovely children. Ahem.

Camping Cake (aka Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cake)

1 package instant chocolate pudding (buy the 6 serving size, but only dump in 3/4 of it)
1 box devil's food cake mix
1 package chocolate chips
1 3/4 cup milk
2 eggs

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix by hand until well blended--about 2 minutes. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake at 350 for 50-55 min. or until cake springs back when lightly pressed. (Don't overbake--it starts to taste burned pretty easily.) Cool 25 min. in the pan; remove from pan and continue cooling. Dust with powdered sugar.

So good it's worth turning on the oven in the middle of summer.

July 29, 2008


Last Thursday was the only time I've met a first parent after the fact--that is, after the adoption. It was definitely different than meeting an expectant parent considering placement. On the one hand, there's no risk of pressuring them. On the other hand, you're meting someone who wasn't necessarily on board with open adoption, much less a participant in picking you.

My sense was that the first part of our meeting was just watching him wrap his mind around the reality of Firefly. Not a two-dimensional face in a photograph, but a real child in his arms. We talked a lot about her and a little bit about the future. T and I were able to say most of what we wanted to, some of it easy and some which required a deep breath first. Overall, I think it went really well. I didn't leave brimming with joy, but neither was I discouraged. I think "cautiously optimistic" may be my watchword for our relationship with him for awhile.

I wish you could have seen this giant man (he's super tall) holding tiny Firefly on his lap, her reaching out her hands toward him. She has his eyes, his nose, his eyebrows. What must it be like to hold a child with your face and realize what it is you let go?

He and Ms B have a lot to work through, separately, about their feelings toward one another and the events of the past many months. Their emotions are strong and sharp. I feel like my challenge is to respect that they're adults and it's none of my business while also keeping it from poking into Firefly's life. I keep pushing back at the anger and trying to somehow say, "It's fine that you feel that way, but you don't get to say that about the other person in front of Firefly, not yet." She doesn't deserve to be in the middle of what's really between them.

Sometimes pre-adoptive parents worry that open adoption means the loss of parental control--someone telling them how to dress their child, critiquing their discipline, judging their choices. The pesky co-parenting myth. I chuckle, mainly because that has just not at all been my experience, but also because they're right about the loss of control, but wrong about its object. Part of settling into my role as an open adoption parent has been releasing what I can't control and embracing what I can. We can nurture and uphold the relationships with the kids' first parents on our end, we can guide how they're spoken of in our home, we can initiate the kinds of contact we want. But so much is out of our hands. We can't control whether their first parents' reciprocate. We can't force relationships to materialize. We can't push our way in to our kids' emotions. Heck, I can't even control my own emotional reactions.

At times I wonder if this is why some adoptions drift closed for seemingly no reason. You can exercise a lot of control in a closed adoption, at least while your child is young. That can be tempting. Maybe I'm naive, maybe we've just been absurdly lucky, but it's been so worth for us it to be open to possibilities. Be mindful of our own actions and give things time to unfold.

July 27, 2008

12,000 Words

This is a picture meme that's been floating around awhile; I saw it most recently at Desi's. The game is to sum yourself up visually in twelve images:

Here’s how you do it:

(a) Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search. (b) Using only the first page, pick an image. (c) Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd's mosaic maker.

The questions:
  1. What is your first name? Heather
  2. What is your favorite food? Fresh berries
  3. What high school did you go to? Olympians
  4. What is your favorite color? Yellow
  5. Who is your celebrity crush? Coach Taylor
  6. Favorite drink? Lemonade
  7. Dream vacation? World tour
  8. Favorite dessert? Lemon coconut cake
  9. What you want to be when you grow up? Meaningful
  10. What do you love most in life? My family
  11. One word to describe you. Private
  12. Your favorite animal? Rabbits
If you do one on your own blog, come let me know so I can take a peek.

Photo credits: 1. Heather in snow, 2. Fresh Berries, 3. The Twelve Olympians, 4. african children, 5. 9/365: clear eyes full hearts can't lose, 6. Lemonade Stand, 7. The Secret Passageway to the Treasure, 8. coconut cake with lemon custard, 9. IS MEANINGFUL, 10. My family, 11. The private life, 12. Macro-Bunny

July 25, 2008

Q&A: Can an Adoption Be Too Open?

Sonya & Scott (whose boys are cute as buttons) ask, "Our agency group has been having the ongoing discussion about how much is too much in open adoption. Both of our adoptions are very open. We visit at each other's houses, our youngest has even been babysat (he's 20 months now) at our house by b-mom and her mom. Our oldest (now 6) was taken fishing by his b-mom and husband (not BF) about 6 months ago. Trust is a big issue--our motto is "let go, and let God". What do you think??"

I don't think there is such a thing as an adoption being too open, if it's working for all of you.

Of course, I'm coming at this as a proponent of integrated adoption: the idea that we should weave the relationships with our kids' first families into our regular lives, rather than segregate them into a special adoption category. Here I'm also influenced by the likes of Jim Gritter, who argues that adoption without ongoing, direct (Gritter would say face-to-face) contact isn't really open adoption. Once you've accepted in-person contact as the standard, then why not fishing trips? Why not babysitting?

Now, not every open adoption will look like those in Sonya and Scott's family, and not every open adoption should look like theirs. My friend sees her mom almost every day; they often drop by one another's houses unannounced. My mom and I would go crazy if we did that--it wouldn't fit our personalities. It doesn't mean my friend's relationship with her mom is better than mine. It's just different, because we're different people. This is why I think it's so important pre-placement to talk not just about numbers of visits and letters, but the less concrete stuff. How does your family communicate? How do you spend time together? How do you stay connected to the people you care about? What makes you feel like someone cares about you?

Ideally, openness will develop organically in an adoption and meet the needs of all parties. Which means sometimes we'll need to take a deep breath and try something outside our comfort zone--that necessary trust that Sonya mentioned. Other times we'll sit on our hands out of respect for someone else's boundaries. I'd love for Puppy to meet more of his first dad's extended family, but that's not something they're comfortable with yet. And sometimes we'll be the ones setting the boundaries. There is a short list of people I'd ask to babysit my kids, and not all of their first parents are on it right now.

It's all about figuring out what's healthiest for the people actually involved in a specific adoption. So no one can lay down a general rule for how much openness is appropriate. In my mind, there is nothing inherently "too open" about how the adoptions in Sonya and Scott's family have developed. In fact, I think it's pretty cool.

A Bathroom Conversation

We went briefly with Ms B to a small church thing so she could introduce the group to Firefly. I was in the bathroom changing a diaper when a woman came through with her young son. I honestly thought she knew Ms B, which was the only reason I let this conversation go the way it did. I didn't want to be rude to someone in Ms B's world.

"Is that your baby?"


"Out of your body?"

"No, it was an adoption."

"Is she black?"

"Yes--well, she's biracial."

"Why do people always pick the biracial ones?"

I decide to ignore both the truth in her statement and her assumptions about me. I'm now keenly aware that she is African-American and I am not. "Well, we didn't pick her, her mom picked us."

"Is your husband black?"

"No, he's white."

"Huh. So why'd she give her to you?"

"I think you'd need to ask her. She's [Ms B]'s baby. [Ms B Lastname]?" I gesture toward the room outside.

"I don't know her. Wait, so her mom still sees her?"

"Yes, that's what open adoption is."

"That must be hard on you."

"Well, I think about her [Firefly] in the future and how much harder it would be for her to not know all her parents or where she came from."

"Are you going to have your own kids?"

"Probably not. And she is my own." I look down at Firefly and she squeaks happily.

"Look, she knows who you are. You're her new mom."

"Mmm-hm. I'm one of her moms."

"She seems happy. She's cute."


"Weird." She starts to leave. "This parenting thing. I don't know. I didn't know how hard..." She gestures at her son. "Will you take mine?"

July 24, 2008

New Blogger on the Block

There's a new blog out by an adoptive father (who also just happens to be my totally awesome husband): (A)Dad.

T likes to point out that he has more Facebook friends than I do. This past week I've been letting him know that I still have more blog readers. We could teach marriage seminars, y'all.

Seriously, T is all about connection and has lots to say, so I know he'd be thrilled if you stopped by and showed him some love.

July 23, 2008

Come Together

The other night we hosted a gathering of local families in open adoptions. There were four families, with kids ranging from five months to ten years. It accomplished just what I wanted it to: generate momentum and enthusiasm to gather regularly. As children ran through the room playing, people volunteered to host and talked excitedly about other families they'd like to invite.

One of the selfish reasons I initiated this is just how relaxing it is to be around people who not only support openness but know what it's like to do it. We spend most of our time as a regular family, because that's what we are, in part. But in those other bits of time it's nice to know we're supported by folks who get what we do. People around whom we can be 100% of who we are without explanation or translation.

One of the moms told me that when she explained to her daughter where they were going that evening, the seven-year old said, "You mean there are other kids like me?" I think we all need this sometimes, the feeling of being surrounded by folks who are just like us.

July 22, 2008

Q&A: Dealing with the Wait

Bailan asks, "How did you navigate the emotional rollercoaster of waiting during the adoption process? My husband and I are adopting domestically, and we are finding the waiting and rejections to be quite challenging. It's a bittersweet time for us."

It is bittersweet, isn't it? You're so close to adding a child to your family, but there are still all these emotional hurdles. It sounds like you've had some potential matches or placements not work out, too. I'm sorry; those can be especially hard.

I'll admit upfront that we had it pretty easy. We didn't wait exceptionally long in either adoption and we never experienced the heartbreak of a disrupted placement. We also didn't know most times our profile was looked at by expectant parents, which probably lessened the feelings of rejection. But it still wasn't much fun.

Everyone handles the wait in their own way, but I can tell you how I approached it.

First, I just accepted that sometimes it was going to be hard. I'm not a big fan of using pregnancy as a metaphor for adopting, but here goes. Sometimes pregnancy kinda sucks. Being uncomfortable, nausea, tiredness, pain, scary unknowns--there are some not so fun parts of being pregnant, at least as I've witnessed it. Just as there are some not so fun parts of the adoption process. Adding a family member is such a huge, wonderful thing that it requires some hard work along the way. I think this is where the "Adoption is so beautiful!" folks sometimes set adopting parents up for disappointment. Because while there are some aspects that are amazing, it's also at times tedious, nerve-wracking, or painful. I reminded myself that the specific difficulties may be unique to adoption, but still were (a) normal and (b) worth it.

Second, as best I could, I resisted the temptation to label things as fair or unfair. If there is anything I'm not proud of, it's how often I gave in to resentment during our first adoption. Probably most people who've experienced fertility issues can at least nod in recognition. Others' accidental pregnancies, not having the certainty of a due date, being crushed when a match didn't work out--those sorts of things could send me stomping my figurative foot and saying, "It's not fair!" While I don't fault myself for having flashes of those emotions, I do fault myself for spinning them into cosmic justice issues. Mostly because it's self-centered b.s., but also because it only made me feel worse. Once you've started thinking you're being treated unfairly, you start seeing it in everything. And, at least for me, it makes it a lot harder to be compassionate toward others. And in adoption it is just so essential to move through it with a measure of compassion. There is little in adoption that is really fair, including for the parents who find themselves considering placement and the child whose life is turned upside-down. Keeping that perspective helped.

Finally, my mantra was: don't make it harder than it already is. For me, that meant not outwardly changing my life. We didn't prepare a nursery, we still traveled, I didn't read parenting books (although I did read a lot about adoption), we didn't purchase baby gear before we were matched. Some people do all those things during the wait and thrive. But I wanted my external world to be a space I could be in and pretend we weren't waiting. The hardest thing about the wait for me was just how open-ended it was. Not knowing if it would be long or short, not knowing if specific possibilities would amount to anything. Sometimes I needed an emotional break and keeping life as normal as possible gave me that. Most days the only reminders of the adoption process were in my mind.

The other thing I did to not make things harder was to make sure I had a little group of people who were safe to talk to about the adoption process. By "safe," I mean I could be completely honest about how I was feeling. The sort of friends who I could say, "I need you to be sad/happy/frustrated with me right now," and they would do it. We shared all the details of the process with them, as opposed to the vaguer version we shared with the general public. Whenever I got a weird reaction along the way, whether from a store clerk or a family member, it wouldn't bother me as much because I knew I had a safe little supportive cocoon who knew everything that was going on.

Wow, that turned into a book. I think this is one of those questions where more voices make for a better answer. If any adoptive parents are still reading this gargantuan post, what helped you during the emotional rollercoaster of waiting?


The first thing you need to know about Thanksgivingmom is that she is gorgeous.

The second thing you need to know is that she can knowledgeably discuss every episode of How I Met Your Mother, knew exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned Dr. Horrible and has seen Neil Patrick Harris perform in Cabaret live, and is therefore awesome.

The third thing you need to know is that she isn't afraid to speak her mind and can hold her ground while still listening to others. A wonderful trait.

As you may have heard, I had the pleasure of closing down a restaurant with Thanksgivingmom last night. I was traveling for work this week and took a chance on emailing an internet stranger to see if she might want to meet up. I'm so glad I did.

July 19, 2008

Q&A: Header Art and the Story of Us

Mayhem asks: Who made your cool new header?

The nifty header art is by Calliope. She is creative, fast and working with her is a real pleasure. I sent her a rambling, garbled vision which may as well have been, "I want something sort of like a circle combined with a square. I don't like triangles. I like ovals, ovals are cool. And rectangles. But maybe it should have some triangles." She somehow sorted through it to come up with a bunch of neat ideas, one of which eventually ended up here. I totally recommend her.

Also, How did you and your husband meet?

T likes to tell people that we met in Africa, but it's not really true. I got to spend the summer before my senior year of college in Ghana on one of those cross-cultural, see-the-rest-of-the-world sort of projects. There were seven of us: four women from my school and three men from another nearby college. T was one of those men.

The group met up a handful of times before we left. Both T and I came out of those meetings thinking the same thing: "Five of the other team members are cool, but I can't believe I have to spend the summer with her/him." I thought he was an outsize personality who never shut up. He wondered why I was even part of the project if I would never say anything.

Our hosts often scheduled a siesta for us during the hottest part of the day. Sometimes when we weren't tired, we'd play cards in the courtyard of the guest house. Often T and I were the only two there. I started to see what a kind, fun person he was. He realized that when I did speak, it was because I had something worthwhile to say. And we became good friends.

He came back from that summer with a huge crush on me. I came back thinking he was a great guy. Three years later we started dating (including one in which I was a campus minister at his school while he was still a student and stupidly ignored him for an entire semester in hopes of avoiding a scandalous love affair). Two more years and we were married.

July 17, 2008

I Need Some Prodding, Y'all

I'm drawing a blank on writing topics lately. I thought I'd open the floor for questions, large or small. Is there anything you'd like to know?

July 14, 2008

Pretty Girl

I was sitting by the water this weekend with nothing to do but chat and read my book (which is pretty much all I ask for from a vacation at the moment), so Firefly got her first bitty twists.
I didn't have a comb or product, just a cup of water, so it was a little messy. I tried it again the next day and it looked better. But in order to be "authentic" and "honest" and all that, I resisted swapping in the second-day photos.
It was a fun diversion for me, but it also unexpectedly sparked a really good discussion with the other folks in that corner of the deck about transracial parenting. This is a group of four families with whom we go to the same cabin each year, a tradition started when we were still single, childless college students. Of the eleven kids between us, ten have blond hair and blue eyes. The eleventh is Firefly. I think there has been some uncertainty among them about whether it's okay to acknowledge Firefly's race or if they're supposed to pretend to be colorblind. Somehow twisting up her curls in a way none of their daughters' silky hair would ever go opened the floor for them to ask the questions they'd been holding onto.

July 11, 2008

Two Quickies

  1. New pictures are up at the not-so-secret blog. As always, just let me know if you want access (there's an "email me" link over in the sidebar).

  2. We're heading out to the coast for the weekend. Eight adults, eleven kids, one cabin. If you don't see me again, it's because the kids finally realized they outnumber us.

My Kids Are Adorable

July 09, 2008

Taken by Surprise

We held Firefly's dedication service at church a couple of weeks ago. As we stood before the congregation with a sleeping Firefly, the pastor began, "T and Heather bring their adopted daughter, Firefly, to be dedicated..."

"Gak," I thought. Instantly a dozen possibilities for where this might go flashed into mind: The adopted child as a long-awaited gift from God. Adoption as fulfillment of the instruction to care for orphans. Affirmation of a courageous, unselfish birth mother who gave her child a better life. "This better not turn into a bad adoption brochure," I inwardly grumbled.

My fears were unfounded. As our pastor continued speaking, I realized he was using the dedication ritual to affirm the openness in Firefly's adoption. A dedication service welcomes a child into the community of faith; as part of it the parents affirm not only their reliance on God but also on the community. In turn, the congregation affirms its responsibility to support the family. It is an acknowledgment of our need for one another and of the communal influences on a child as she grows. The pastor was connecting the nature of the church family to the nature of open adoption, drawing a parallel between the interdependence of the church body and the interdependence in open adoption.

He affirmed her continued connection to her family of origin and the unique things they offer her. He talked about the importance of honoring all the parts of her identity. Later in prayer he thanked God for the parents who created her and the parents who are raising her. No qualifiers of "birth" or "adoptive," just a recognition of all the family who had brought her to this moment. It was lovely.

Although T and I are purposefully vague about the details of our kids' placements, we'll talk up storm about their open adoptions and adoption in general. Not because we fashion ourselves as educators of the masses, but because we need our friends and family to be co-conspirators in this open adoption gig. I've never been coy about our adoptive family status, even before transracial adoption made it obvious. At this stage in our children's lives, we want to surround them with people who support their unique family structure. People who react to them mentioning their first parents no differently than if they mentioned their grandparents or cousins. To support us in that way they need to know and understand what we're doing.

In moments like the dedication service, it feels like all that talking pays off. I don't know whether or not we've influenced this specific pastor's views on adoption. I sort of doubt it; we haven't spent all that much time with him. But someone did. Somewhere along the way he has picked up the basic philosophy of openness. Someone talked and he listened, someone modeled and he watched. And our family is better off because of it.

July 07, 2008

Pulling the Pieces Together

Firefly's first dad has been doing a little dance since he and Ms B bumped into each other on the bus that day. He wants to know about Firefly, then he doesn't; he pursues contact, then disappears.

At first he was doing the dance with Ms B, until she (rightly) said, "This isn't my problem," and sent him to her social worker. Then he danced with the social worker awhile until finally they sat down and talked. In less than three weeks time, T and I will finally--hopefully--sit down with him ourselves. And he will meet his daughter for the first time.

I'm nervous. But positive. Cautiously optimistic. This is uncharted territory for us, a first parent who wasn't part of the adoption from the beginning and doesn't necessarily buy into child-centered open adoption (yet). Will this be our one shot with him? I worry that he feels like we've made him jump through hoops to meet us and to see Firefly. But my gut tells me that going slowly now will pay off later. It's harder to go backwards and try to fix things once after the fact.

I'm trying hard not to overthink this. Almost everything we know about him at this point comes second- or third-hand. Finally we'll be able to form some opinions for ourselves. I can guess at the reasons for his choices so far--and often do--but it's just conjecture. We don't know enough to do more than accept how things are at the moment and act with an eye toward the future. Really that's all we can ever do.

Everyone who has seen him tells us that Firefly looks just like him, save for Ms B's lips. I stare at her sometimes trying to morph her face in to an adult man's. If nothing else I will be able to tell her I saw the resemblance with my own eyes. And show her a picture of him, saying this is the first time he held you, and let her see it for herself. I don't know how much that would be worth, but it's more than we can offer now.

July 05, 2008

One Word Meme

Via Susan and Cloudscome.

Answer these questions with one word only: no word can be used twice.

1. Where is your cell phone? None
2. Your significant other? Asleep
3. Your hair? Straight
4. Your mother? Abroad
5. Your father? Also
6. Your favorite time of day? Dusk
7. Your dream last night? Forgotten
8. Your favorite drink? Water
9. Your dream goal? Emerging
10. The room you’re in? Bedroom
11. Your ex? Non-existent
12. Your fear? Cockroaches
13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Complete
14. What you are not? Vegetarian
15. Your favorite meal? Brunch
16. One of your wish list items? Swingset
17. The last thing you did? Drink
18. Where you grew up? Here
19. What are you wearing? Camisole
20. Your TV is? Hidden
21. Your pets? Rabbits
22. Your computer? Laptop
23. Your life? Decent
24. Your mood? Contemplative
25. Missing someone? Intermittently
26. Your car? Dirty
27. Something you’re not wearing? Rings
28. Favorite store? Clearance
29. Your summer? Swift
30. Your favorite color? Yellow
31. When is the last time you laughed? Dinner
32. When is the last time you cried? Thursday
33. Your health? Irritating
34. Your children? Amazing
35. Your future? Foggy
36. Your beliefs? Strong
37. Young or old? Inbetween
38. Your image? Evolving
39. Your appearance? Aging
40. Would you live your life over again knowing what you know? Absolutely

July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day

"[There] is the danger of futility: the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills--against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's greatest movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single [person]...

... Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [he or she] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

 -Robert F. Kennedy, Day of Affirmation Address, 1966 

July 02, 2008

Happy Happy Joy Joy

This has made the rounds ten times over already, but I get all happy-teary every time I watch it.

Love it!

Sometimes parenting books or what have you ask you to think about what sort of people you hope your kids grow into. And I cobble together ideas of compassion and faith and wholeness and purpose. But if they just live this fully and joyfully I will be a happy mama indeed.
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