October 30, 2008

Puppy and His Sister

Wow, you know the economy is bad when over 450 people enter to win a $15 gift card. Be sure to toss your name in the hat before tomorrow night if you haven't already. Sure, as of right now you only have a 0.2% chance of winning. But if you don't enter at all, your chances are 0%.


Some friends gave Puppy a toy camping set for his birthday with a car, canoe, tent--that sort of thing. There was a set of action figures included, a man and a boy. Puppy promptly decided they were father and son, then asked where the mommy and Firefly were. The other night, after several days of asking, he completely melted down. Suggesting that maybe the rest of the family just stayed at home for this camping trip didn't help. "I want a Mommy and a Firefly! We need to get a Mommy and a Firefly!" the tired boy cried.

I've been poking around online to see what I could find for him. The toy's manufacturer only sells white, male figures, so they were no use to me. I found some figures from another company that should work, but they are only sold in sets. So now there was a new question: do I buy the white mom and baby or the African-American ones?* Would Puppy even care?

It is hard to know what racial differences Puppy notices at this point. He compares other aspects all the time. He talks about Firefly being a baby and him being a toddler. He will say that she is a girl and he is a boy. He comes into the bathroom in the morning to watch me do her hair and compares his short, straight hair to her longer curls. We were reading a book one night and came to a page with a picture of an African-American man tossing his baby girl in the air. "Look! It's a Firefly baby!" said Puppy. "What about this baby makes you think of Firefly?" I asked. He leveled me that look toddlers give when you ask an obvious question. "She's a baby!" he explained. Duh, Mom.

Between the election and transracial parenting, race comes up in our home most every day. And whether or not Puppy can use the language of race, he is experiencing being in an interracial family, seeing how others respond to us. I know he is taking it all in, unconsciously or not. He listens to us talking about race, watches me hold Firefly up to the mirror and compliment her pretty brown skin, hears the questions people ask (no one ever asks about his ethnic background, but we get that question all the time about Firefly). He's witnessed so many people comment on her hair that he heads it off as part of his stock introduction: "This is Firefly. She is my sister. Look at her curly hair!"

There is quite a bit written about the experiences of parents and children whose relationships cross racial lines, a little less about siblings whose do. It is not limited to adoption, of course. There are all sorts of blended families these days. Lately I've noticed myself reading with an eye on sibling relationships, looking for clues in the stories of other multiracial families. Puppy and Firefly will share the experience of growing up with T and me as their crazy parents. But Puppy will not know what it was like to grow up black in this family, or vice versa.

Adoption always has ripples, and our decision to adopt transracially subtly changed the nature of Puppy's adoption. Firefly made our adoptive family status visibly apparent, but it also made Puppy's adoption more hidden. Even after confirming that Firefly was indeed adopted, people are surprised to learn that Puppy was, as well. Only one has been gauche enough to ask why we "couldn't get another white kid" (my response was an incredulous, "Excuse me?").

As far as Puppy is concerned, this is just the way his family is and he doesn't think to question it. When an older kid told him that Firefly couldn't be his sister because they didn't look alike, he was too confused by the thought to answer. We are receiving wonderful advice about giving Firefly tools she can use as she grows up a biracial child in a white family, advice which I hope we'll be able to follow. Now I'm looking at my white child and thinking about how to do the same for him.

* I'm getting the African-American ones. Lord knows we'll have enough Caucasian action figures in our house over the years.

October 27, 2008

I Must, I Must, I Must Increase My Luck

As a kid, I always filled out the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes forms that came in the mail. All the little magazine stamps to lick and the promise of oodles of dollars--loved it! Strangely enough, we never won. You're shocked, I know.

Now I'm all grown up and not even on the Publisher's Clearing House mailing list (knock on wood). But I still get a little thrill out of entering contests. Which is why I geek out over the quarterly Bloggy Giveaways Carnival. Four times a year a zillion bloggers get together and give stuff to each other. Love it! But despite all my clicking and entering, I've never won.

In an attempt to increase my giveaway-winning karma, this time I'm offering up a prize myself. I am a fan of choice, so you can have your pick of a $15 gift card for Target, Starbucks or Amazon. Also known as three enormous corporations which get too much of my money.

Entering is as easy as leaving a comment on this post. You don't have to be a blogger to win, but you do need to leave me some way to contact you. One entry per person, please. Comments close October 31 at 10:00 p.m. The winner will be selected randomly and posted this weekend.

If you're a fellow fan of giveaways, we've got a bunch every week over at Northwest Mom Finds. And you're welcome to come visit here any time. Good luck!

Comments are now closed. Thank you to all who entered!

October 24, 2008

Big Brother Books

I appreciate any excuse to buy new books, and preparing Puppy for Firefly's arrival lo those many months ago was certainly a good one. We've checked a slew of big sibling books out from the library over the past year, and these were the ones which distinguished themselves as keepers for our resident two year old.

Puppy is a big fan of some of Cathryn Falwell's other books, and he likes the characters in We Have a Baby as well. This was our "love the baby" book. Each page shows the older sibling "helping" to take care of the new baby: holding clothes while dad changes the baby, snuggling with mom while she nurses the baby. It reinforces that the family is one unit and the sibling is part of caring for the baby. The text is sparse and simple. This book gets also bonus points for the vaguely multiracial family.

The New Baby by Mercer Mayer starts rather abruptly with the parents going off to pick up the new baby, which is exactly how I imagine a sibling's adoption feels to a two-year old. It's a basic story of a sibling being annoyed that newborns aren't instant playmates, then realizing that there are some fun ways you can interact with them. I am totally creeped out by the strange animals in Little Creature books. But this is one of Puppy's favorites because he likes showing off Firefly to his friends the way the older brother shows off the baby in the book.

I'm a Big Brother (there is also an I'm a Big Sister version) by Joanna Cole. I would not have predicted this as a winner, but Puppy likes its theme of big brothers being able to do all sorts of things that babies can't (eat ice cream,walk, play). The transition from "baby" to "big boy" has been a frequent topic of conversation in general at the developmental stage Puppy is in, and this book fit into that nicely. It has the same matter-of-fact tone that I appreciate in Cole's book on adoption.

Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keats is about a big brother feeling displaced as things from his babyhood are redecorated and reused for his new sister. Peter makes one final valiant attempt to save his special chair from being handed over. Keats is a good storyteller and he takes Peter through the process of accepting the changes in his family life without being didactic. We reused most of our baby gear, so this was a big issue in our household, too.

What the No-Good Baby is Good For by Elise Broach was our counterpoint to the lovey-dovey books. When the big brother declares that "the no-good baby is good for nothing" and should be sent away, to his surprise their mother agrees and starts packing up her things. As he considers the possibility that baby might be gone forever, he realizes there are some things he actually would miss. By the story's end, he decides that the baby should stay, but also gets to spend some alone time with his mom while the baby is (temporarily) sent away with grandma. I wanted Puppy to know that it was okay to not love the baby all the time or right away. His world was turned upside down without his permission. I wouldn't expect him to only have positive feelings about that. I liked that the older sibling's expressed need for attention is met in this book, instead of disappearing as he realizes the baby is kind of fun.

You probably noticed that none of these are about adoption. Adoption was already a familiar concept in our little home library and in our family life in general, so we weren't hunting for books that explained adoption. We just avoided books that made pregnancy part of the storyline and instead looked for ones which focused on the transition of adding a sibling.

Finally, all the books mentioned show two-parent, heterosexual families. Which worked fine for our household, but obviously might not for others'.

October 20, 2008

Worth Reading

I'm slowly making my way this week out of a haze of painkillers and, well, pain (I had shingles! Which I didn't even think was possible until you were elderly! And it was horrible!). So deep thoughts (and linear thinking in general) will have to wait.

In the meantime, I wanted to mention a book that coincidentally has come up half a dozen times online and in daily life in the past few weeks. Making Room in Our Hearts by Micky Duxbury is currently one of my go-to recommendations for anyone looking for a primer on open adoption.

Some of my favorite things about it:
  • The author interviewed lots and lots of folks living out open adoption, including whole triad groups. Because it was written recently, she was able to include stories from open adoptions which are now decades old. I don't know about you, but I eat that stuff up.
  • It is very practical and grounded. Duxbury is realistic about the limits of open adoption, but ultimately quite optimistic about its possibilities.
  • It is much better at including voices of first parents (fathers, too) and adoptees than some of the other popular open adoption books.
  • She is adamant about people needing adequate pre- and post-adoption support, which I think is so crucial and so often overlooked. Knowing what kinds of services we deserve enables us to speak up for ourselves.
Duxbury is totally on my list of people I want to hear speak in person someday about adoption.

I loaned my copy of Making Room in Our Hearts out last year and, sadly, it never returned to me. Isn't there an expression about only gifting books, never loaning them?

October 17, 2008


Lori and I have joined forces for something big and bloggy--and we've got some amazing goodies lined up to give away over the next several weeks. Seriously, I'm shocked at some of the things we've snagged. (There's something coming for all you babywearers that starts with "Er" and ends with "go." I want to keep it for myself!)

Come join us--the first giveaway is today!

October 14, 2008

This Is What I Remember

This is what I remember:

It was hot that day, almost 90 degrees, despite being the middle of October. We drove up the freeway in bright sunshine, full of nervous excitement, not able to stop thinking about the empty car seat behind us.

This is what I remember:

When I first saw you, this enormous bubble of emotion pushed up through me and until I was crying and smiling all at the same time. I could write for a year and not be able to describe all that I was thinking in that moment. All the people who were there that day--your parents and their parents, the friends, your daddy and me--we all stood around crying and smiling at each other. We were so very glad you were here.

This is what I remember:

Your hair was yellow-blond and your hands still wrinkled like an old man's. There was a mark on the tip top of your head from a heart monitor. But the first time I held you none of that showed, because you were bundled up so much that only your face peeked through. You slowly opened your blue eyes and looked into mine. I thought I'd never want to look away.

This is what I remember:

The next several days were emotionally gut-wrenching, as three families fumbled through the transition of adoption. But today as we celebrated another year of your life well-lived, I only remembered the joy of meeting you.

Happy third birthday, Puppy.

October 13, 2008

We Went to Church

That was fun! A big thanks to everyone who delurked. My favorite part was seeing how familiar most of you already were to me. Of all the bloggers who commented, I think I already read all but a few of their blogs. And now I have some extras to add to my reading list.

Comments will remain open on that post indefinitely, so feel free to delurk there any time you please.


Yesterday we made our first visit to one of the African-American churches in town. We had been invited more than once since we moved here a couple of years ago. It took us this long to stop talking about visiting and actually go visit one Sunday. Inertia is a powerful force in our home.

Based only on my observation, there were a couple of interracial families in attendance and what might have been one other transracial family. Mostly there were lots and lots of African-American families, which is not the norm in our corner of the country. For only the second time in her life it was T, Puppy and I who stood out, and not Firefly.

I once saw an adoptive parent ask on a forum which was more important for transracially adopted children: being around other transracial adoptees or being around adults and families of their own race/ethnicity. I was surprised to see the overwhelming majority of parents choose being with transracial families as more important. Not because I'm certain they're wrong, but because it wasn't my own gut response.

Like many white people who grew up in this area--not all, but many--I have a specific memory of the first time when I was one of the only white people in a room. I was a teenager at the time and I remember suddenly being very aware of my context and a little uncomfortable. It wasn't until after living in northeast Los Angeles, where such situations were part of my daily life, that my hyperawareness got dialed back.

Firefly will likely grow up in the minority of the room every single day--not only in her larger community, but in her own home. While T and I are seeking out other transracial adoptive families (because there is a uniqueness in that experience), we're also hoping it becomes a familiar thing for her to surrounded by African-Americans of all ages. If for no other reason than to give her space in which to rest from being the outwardly different one (although obviously her white parents make her more visible). She'll spend more of her life grown and on her own than she will living with us, and during that time she'll be faced with all sorts of choices about how to identify herself and in which communities to plant roots. We're hoping to at least give her varied enough experiences in her childhood that she doesn't feel like she's going into those choices completely blind.

And perhaps there will be some significance for Puppy and Firefly to see their parents deliberately stepping outside of comfort zones for the sake of building bridges. Being around other transracial adoptive parents is easy for me. Walking into a black church with an adopted baby in my arms for the first time? That took a little more nerve.

But everyone was wonderfully friendly and all in all, it went well. I did realize how weak my church muscles have become when I grew fidgety around the two-hour mark. Poor Puppy couldn't make it through, so one of us ended up playing cars with him for most of the time. There were lots of other kids of all ages milling around in the back, though, so I think it was okay. We're thinking through how to balance involvement there with our other church, but I do hope we'll be back soon. Participating in that church community won't magically balance out the rest of Firefly's world, but it felt right to be there and to have Firefly there. One small step of many.

October 09, 2008

I Hereby Declare This a Lurker Safe Zone

A blog I read runs a regular feature called Lurker Thursday. It's her time to acknowledge all the folks who regularly visit and read her blog without commenting.

I appreciate everyone who reads here more than you know. You are always welcome, even if you never ever say a word. I certainly lurk on far more blogs than I comment on. (My rss reader is at 321 subscriptions right now--eep!) This how internet-shy I am: the first time I ever worked up the nerve to leave a blog comment, my heart was actually racing. Yes, I'm a dolt.

I don't see the need to do this weekly, but I thought it would be fun to roll out the red carpet for the lurkers at least once. Please take a second to leave a comment on this post, even if it's just to say, "Hi!" If you want to say a little about yourself, that's awesome, too. I'm looking forward to meeting you!

October 07, 2008

A Visit with Ms B

The other weekend we spent the day with Firefly's first mom, Ms B. We drove down to her new apartment to pick her up and headed over to the home of some friends of hers.

It was a laid-back afternoon. There were brownies and bowls of tasty chili. T talked football with Ms B's friends. Puppy played with the trucks in their backyard. Firefly waved her arms around and pounded on some toys. Ms B and I caught up on her goings-on. The conversation flowed and I smiled as I watched Ms B and Firefly playing on the floor.

Sometimes open adoption is easy.

After awhile it was time to put Firefly down for her nap. Some of the group adjourned to watch the game while the rest went out into the sunny yard. I went inside to grab my hoodie and saw Ms B slip out of the room where Firefly was sleeping.

She looked rattled, so I asked her how she was doing. I don't know if it was because we were finally alone together, or because she had been watching Firefly sleep, or something else altogether. But she opened up about her current feelings about not being able to parent her daughter. She told me how envious she is when she sees Firefly looking around the room for me. She shared her newest fears about their relationship. She cried. I cried.

Sometimes open adoption is heart-breaking.

It made me wonder about the ways people define "success" in open adoptions. Is a successful visit angst-free, with everyone happily confident in their roles? Is it one in which things are at times ugly in the name of honesty? Way back, before I knew what open adoption was really about, I imagined visits as incredibly uncomfortable, with people choking back tears and silently resenting each other. Everyone ignoring the giant elephant in the room: hey, I've got your kid.

We had breezy, cheerful visits during the first year of Puppy's adoption. I took them as evidence that openness could heal adoption's hurts while secretly wondering why my own feelings weren't matching up with the rosy front. I wanted to believe that K and R's confidence in their decision to place Puppy meant the hard parts were behind us. I had swung from overly-negative assumptions about visits to overly-positive ones which left little room for harder truths. It wasn't until more than a year later that K started sharing with us how difficult those early months really were. R has only just begun talking about it to T now, nearly three years afterward.

So which is better? To put on a brave face and keep our struggles safely contained? To put it all out there at the risk of hurting or upsetting others? I believe open adoptions are healthiest when the adults deal with their own emotional business instead of dragging it into the triad relationships. But surely that doesn't mean we're never supposed to be honest with each other. My conversation with Ms B didn't feel uncomfortable or wrong. I knew she was not trying to dump her problems on me or make me feel guilty. And we're not her only, nor even primary, sources of emotional support.

Living out open adoption has forced me to accept yet again that reality is messy. To understand we can be confident about our decisions but still be angry and sad. We can regret choices but still support the other parents. We can feel whatever our hearts are going to feel but still choose to act with grace and compassion. We can ride out our struggles while focusing on what's best for our child.

I know some people are reading this and thinking, "This is why I would never do an open adoption. Too uncomfortable, too hard." But not seeing someone's struggle doesn't mean it's not happening. I think that bearing witness to the painful as well as the good is part of the role we play as adoptive parents. Firefly will hopefully be able to ask Ms B her own questions some day, but I know she'll also be asking them of me. For whatever it's worth, I'll be able to tell her, "I see how much she loves you and I saw how hard it was to let you go."

October 04, 2008

English Is a Tricky Language

Puppy and I were driving in the car this afternoon. I was dropping him off at my parents' house before heading to a baby shower.

Puppy: "I am going to Nana's house. Where are you going, Mommy?"

Me: "I'm going to a baby shower."

Puppy: "A shower?"

Me: "It's a party for Jenny and Mark, to celebrate their baby. Did you know Jenny has a baby growing inside of her?"

Puppy: "Is it in her uterus?" Puppy pronounces "uterus" with three very distinct syllables: u-ter-us. It's adorable.

Me: "Yes, the baby is growing inside Jenny's uterus. When she is born, Jenny and Mark will be her parents. They're naming her Fern."

Puppy: "I don't know that word, 'fern'."

Me: "That's okay. A fern is a type of plant. Jenny and Mark are using it as a name."

Puppy: "But I know 'swip'!" I showed him what a boat slip was the other week when we were walking by the river. His L's are all still W's.

Me: "That's a good word to know."

Puppy: "Fern is in her uterus. I was in birth mom K's uterus!"

Me: "That's right. Every single person in the whole wide world grew inside a uterus."

Puppy: "Then she'll come out of her uterus?"

Me: "Yes, she'll come out when she's ready. That's what happens when a baby is born."

We drove for awhile in silence. I contemplated my deep, abiding dislike of shower games. Puppy was apparently pondering more practical questions.

"Mommy, how will you put the shower inside her uterus? What if the baby Fern doesn't like to get wet?"

October 03, 2008

By the Side of His Bed

When Puppy was an infant, I spent long stretches of time staring at him while he slept in my arms, especially during the quiet hours of the night. Taking in his delicious face, the whisper of his breathing, his tiny fingers. Wrapping my mind around the simple fact of his presence. I remember the hard wood of the rocking chair and the soft chill of night feedings, the mockingbirds who sang in the dark outside.

Three years later that baby is a rambunctious toddler. Now sleep is one of the only times that he stops moving and talking. Each night before going to bed I steal into his room to pull up covers and gently free picture books out from under him. Kiss him good night, murmur love into his ear. Take a long moment just to watch him sleep.

This late night habit has taken on a hint of ritual for me. Alone in the quiet night with the day's responsibilities finally laid to rest, my thoughts and emotions rise to the surface pure and unfiltered. I open myself to the moment, never knowing where it may lead. Sometimes I'm awash in awe and gratitude. Sometimes I smile, remembering a funny moment from the day. Sometimes I am simply content. Sometimes fears  or worries poke through.

More often than not lately what bubbles to the surface is regret. During Puppy's first couple of years, I thought I had discovered a bottomless well of patience. I was that parent who didn't lose her temper or snap at her child. This year ended that illusion. Firefly changed everything. We met her first mom a few weeks after Puppy's birthday last year and from that day on some piece of my mind has been taken with preparing or caring for the new baby. Meanwhile Puppy grew older and more vocal about his opinions and desires. Every day it seems my irritation spills out over some worthless thing.

I stand at the side of his bed and wish the day had gone differently. He seems so small and vulnerable curled underneath the blankets. I remember sharp words, frustrated sighs, times I turned away, desperate to be alone for one minute, just one minute without these tiny people who always want me so completely. I regret letting another day of his fleeting childhood go by scathed by my shortcomings.

All these months in, I still feel like I'm working out how to mother two children. The routines are in place, the logistics long ago figured out. But finding the emotional strength to be present with them from their waking up until their going down--that is where I fall short.

I know that parents aren't meant to be perfect. I know that children learn more from humility than they would from a parent who never failed. Yet of all the things I've ever done in my life, raising them is most worthy of my best effort.  So as each new day comes I try again and again and again.

October 02, 2008

Step 1: Freak Out; Step 2: Let the Internet Calm You Down

Thank you for all of the advice. I appreciated and reflected on every comment. I feel much more grounded after listening to your thoughts. It was good to be reminded just how straightforward kids are at this age. I think you are all right that Puppy will take this as it's explained to him for now. The basic facts probably won't trouble him yet, since the complexity behind the facts just won't occur to him. Any possible complications will come down the road. It always seems to come back to the basics: respect children's emotions, follow where they're pointing, answer in honesty and love.

I often do better in the moment with Puppy. It's easier for me to see things through kids' eyes--and put them into kids' words--when I'm interacting with them. Being surprised by this situation overwhelmed me and sent my mind into overdrive. I'm sure you're all shocked--shocked!--to hear I tend to overthink things. (Case in point: every other post on this blog.)

We won't talk to Puppy about it until we're closer to seeing her, but I'll let you know how it goes then. Do pray or wish good things or send positive energy for K's pregnancy.

And, Andy--I'm keeping your words close for later.

How did folks ever navigate unusual parenting situations like open adoption before the internet? Lordy, I'd feel so alone without it.
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