May 31, 2008

Feeling Good After a Visit

Ms B came over for lunch today with her friends. It's the fourth time she's seen Firefly since the placement in mid-February. We didn't plan that one way or the other, it's just how things have happened so far. There is no magic number that's right for everyone, but I thought I'd throw that out there since I always find it interesting to get data points from other open adoption families.

She brought Firefly's social security card with her. The card is one of a string of government communications that have followed her after the relinquishment. (She's also received a state health care card for Firefly and a call about a state screening test result. And of course the usual marketing materials from formula companies and their ilk.) She said at one low point she was afraid to check her mail for fear of getting another "To the parent of..." thing. It's as if Firefly exists in two parallel worlds: one in which Ms B is still the parent of record and one in which she hangs in limbo with "Adoption Pending" stamped across her birth certificate (I kid you not--I was bummed when we got our copy). It troubles me that a system which so efficiently ended Ms B's parental rights can't manage to stop sending her these painful reminders. File it under sad, but not surprising.

I realized today that don't think I would change much about these past few months. It feels nice to be able to say that; I had so many insecurities at this point when we adopted Puppy. I was committed to living out openness but it wasn't feeling so great for me (that whole head vs. heart, feelings vs. actions thing). There are a lot different factors, of course: we're second-timers, it's different players, a different agency. The agency support has made a world of difference for me. Their post-placement services for Ms B have been excellent. I'm concerned for Ms B because this is a hard time for her, but I'm not worried about her, if that distinction makes sense. And I don't fret some misstep on my part will tank our relationship because I know she'd talk it through with her counselor who'd help her bring it up me if needed. Working with an agency which treats people well leading up to an adoption is crucial, but in open adoption I think the aftercare is equally important and often gets short shrift.

Finally, Ms B was cool with me putting up some pictures from today. Enjoy!

May 28, 2008


In the fall of 1913, a mother in Chicago picks out a christening gown for her baby daughter. Delicate ivory batiste and whitework embroidery cascading into a scalloped hem, with tiny sleeves tied at the wrist with a slip of ribbon. In a photograph of the little girl in the dress, the baby's left fist holds tight to the front of her gown while she looks contentedly off to the side. I like to think she is looking at her parents, who adore her, their only child.

That baby is my grandmother. Thirty-three years later, she slips her own daughter into the same christening gown. It is summer in Pennsylvania, so she pulls the sleeves up high into small puffs on her arms before tying the ribbons. This baby--my mother--smiles at the camera in her picture, already the gregarious person she still is today.

Twenty-nine years later the gown is pulled over my red-haired head and I glare suspiciously at the room while my picture is snapped. It's the 1970s now: the ribbons at the wrists are brighter and wider, and an unfortunate splay of pink bow is tied to one shoulder. But the simple gown holds its own, quietly billowing under my clenched hands.

Now I dress my own daughter in that same gown and stand to the side while a photographer cajoles her into turning her coffee-colored eyes toward the camera. Her tiny arms windmill, sending the ribbons at her wrists waving through the air. She grabs at the aging fabric and pulls it high toward her face.

More than the court date waiting in our future, seeing Firefly in the christening gown--the one four generations have worn and five have touched--marked her enfolding into our family for me. As a little girl I would stand before the row of christening pictures and study their details. I was comforted by the sight of my own face among the ranks. It reinforced that these were my people, my family. We were the ones who wore the gown.

I write a lot about our efforts to maintain my kids' ties to their families of origin. I think most advocates of openness in adoption feel some push to compensate for how far the pendulum swung away from that in recent generations. Any tangible expression of those connections is so precious to me. The first time we met Ms B's mother, she handed us a quilt for Firefly that had been sewn by her own grandmother (the woman after whom Ms B was named). I get a lump in my throat when I touch its worn squares, so moved by what an expression it is to Firefly that they still see her as part of their history.

Before adopting, I wondered if those efforts would come at a cost, if making space for first family would mean my children would seem less a part of my own. Now I know that could never happen. Nothing could change the contentment of moments like today, when I watched my daughter clutch at the folds of ivory fabric just as her great-grandmother once did. Soon her christening gown photo will join the row of pictures now spanning ninety-five years, our way of saying you are ours and we are yours.

May 27, 2008

3BT #8

Three beautiful things...
  1. Dark purple iris blooms against a storm grey sky

  2. The wisp of a sleeping child's breath as you lean in to kiss his cheek

  3. The fuzzy sweet, sunshiny wet tart taste of the first nectarine of the year

May 26, 2008

Meme for a Monday

I've been tagged by Circus Peanuts and Oceans. Whee!

Favorite person (outside family)? My friend Jenny from high school. We've lived far, far apart for years now. We're vacationing with her family this summer (after our fifteen(!) year reunion) and I can't wait.

Favorite food? We just got an immersion blender and I've rediscovered smoothies. I like tricking myself into eating my veggies.

Quirks about you? Too many to list, I'm afraid. Some examples: I'm squicked out by the sound of chewing and I mispronounce the word "measure."

How would the person who loves you most describe you in ten words or less?Let's go straight to the source, shall we? T: "Caring, thoughtful, deep thinker, needs her alone time, great smile." Aw.

Any regrets in life? Not blogging under a pseudonym.

Favorite Charity/Cause? Doctors Without Borders does good work.

Favorite blog recently? Light-skinned-ed Girl has been doing a series of posts on important multi-racial historical figures for her self-proclaimed Mixed Experience History Month. It's wonderful.

Something you can’t get enough of? Good writing that makes me realize something new about myself, the human experience, or capital-T Truth.

Worst job you’ve ever had? Telemarketing, hands down. It sucked the very soul out of me.

What job would you pay NOT to have? Anything involving mold, rotten things, bugs or excrement. Blech.

Favorite Bible verse right now? Wow, assuming much about your audience there, meme writers?

It's Micah 6:8: "He has shown you, O people, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

Guilty pleasure? French fries.

Got any confessions? I see dead people.

Oh, something true? I totally watch "The Ghost Whisperer" on Friday nights.

Although my grandmother insists I saw my grandfather a few days after he passed away. I was three and we were at their house. I guess I was calmly, not playfully, telling them he was in the room and couldn't understand why they couldn't see him, too. Who knows?

If you HAD to spend $1,000 on YOURSELF, how would you spend it? New clothes. Oh, my sad little haphazard wardrobe.

Favorite thing about your house? That we own it. And the bank of windows in the kitchen.

Least favorite thing about your house? Not having even a half-bath on the main level.

One thing you’re good at? Making chocolate chip cookie bars. They are famous among dozens.

Wow, is this meme still going? This is obscenely long.

If you could change something about your circumstances, what? I wish we had more space to host people.

Who would you like to meet someday? Nina Totenberg. Gold star for you if you don't need to Google her.

What makes you feel sexy? My husband.

Who is your real life hero? You know, I'm not sure I have one. I admire people who set aside their own ambitions to help other people to better lives.

What is the hardest part of your job? Finding time to do everything.

When are you most relaxed? When I have a guilt-free stretch of time to get lost in a book.

What stresses you out? Being late. Feeling out of control of a situation.

What can you not live without? My family.

Do you agree or disagree with the recent article that reported that blogs are authored by narcissists? I don't think there are as many true narcissists in the world as there are bloggers. I'm sure some people blog for self-serving reasons, but I don't think reflection and wanting to connect with like-minded people is particularly self-centered.

Why do you blog? It's a way of sorting through my thoughts about adoption and mothering and adoptive mothering. Ultimately, it's so I can be a better parent and a better participant in our open adoptions. And I honestly believe that everyone has something to contribute to the conversation.

Who are you tagging? Angela asked, so I'm obliging. Also, anyone who is here from NaComLeavMo.

May 23, 2008

Serentity Now!

Kendra made me laugh with her recent comment:
I'm always wondering if you're as calm and serene about parenting as you seem to be when you write.
Kendra, you are my new favorite person.

I was in my bedroom when I read her comment. I had shut myself in there (with Firefly) because I could not take the insanity that was 4:00 p.m. Puppy for one more minute without completely blowing my top. A reverse time out, if you will.

So my answer is going to have to be, "No." Hee.

(I'm an analytical person and I think that's probably what comes through in my writing. I'm always thinking about what my emotions instead of just feeling them.)

(Puppy responded to my reverse time-out by sitting outside the bedroom door trying to draw me out. "Mama, I'm taking off my diaper...My diaper is on the floor, Mama...I'm playing with the soap, Mama...")

May 22, 2008

More on Siblings

I was 2.5 years old when my younger brother--and only sibling--was born. I was less than impressed with him. After he had been home a week or two I marched up to my parents and announced, "You can take him back now." When I found out I wasn't going to get my way and he was here to stay, to say I was upset would be an understatement. I fiercely resented him. I would pinch his nose to make him cry. I took the baby doll I received as a "big sister" gift, cut off her hair and scribbled all over her with a red marker. (In a circle of life sort of way, Puppy now plays with that very doll in the bath.) My parents were afraid to leave me alone in a room with him. I bet to my little two-year old self, this baby brother was the worst thing that had ever happened and I was going make sure everyone else know that.

I grew up hearing these stories and always felt guilty. I imagined my parents were fed up with the stubborn daughter who couldn't get with the program and love her innocent little brother. He really was an agreeable, cute baby; it was easy to picture the three of them banded together against me. I felt bad that my toddler self hadn't pulled it together, even though I knew it was a fairly understandable response for a two-year old eldest child whose world had been turned upside down.

Shortly before Firefly was born my mom and I were talking about sibling dynamics and my reaction to becoming a sister. "You must have been so frustrated with me," I said to her.

"Oh, no," she answered. "We had already bonded with you, not Justin. We kept asking ourselves, 'What have we done? We've ruined everything.'" She remembers it as a time of questioning their parenting and their choices. My lifelong assumption that everyone blamed me was turned on its head.

I felt like I was ready for just about anything when Firefly joined us. With no way of predicting whether Puppy would love her or hate her, I figured we'd go with the flow and give him space to work through all the changes. Really I was bracing for the worst, though. Because there's a part of me that can't shake the idea that the whole of my parenting experience is karmic retribution for everything I did as a kid.

I guess I did some good things in my childhood, too, because Puppy has surprised me with how easily he seems to have adjusted. He's moved from mildly curious indifference toward her at the beginning to toddler-style affection (physical, sincere and intermittent). I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but so far--knock on wood--it hasn't. There have definitely been some bumps as we learn how to balance the needs of two young children. But he's generally been good about telling us what he needs. "Put Firefly in her bouncer seat," he'll say. "Please pick me up."

That's not to say his behavior is perfect. He thinks it's hilarious to wake her up, especially when I'm desperate for a little break. His playing with and loving on her are done with the reckless abandon of a toddler. He just might love her to death one of these days. I spend a good portion of my time saying, "Gentle, Puppy. Gentle!"

There's a way I've been holding my breath for the past three months, waiting for this to all fall apart. I finally understand why my mom took all the blame on herself thirty years ago. Every time I can't help Puppy because I'm feeding Firefly, every time she's set down crying so I can attend to a pressing Puppy need, I feel the weight of our decision to expand our family now instead of later. It's changed the practical part of my parenting and not necessarily in ways I like. I'm less present in the moment than I was before because it seems like I'm always being split between the two of them.

There are other moments, though. Each time I walk into his babysitter's house with Firefly in her car seat, the kids gather round to look at her but keep their distance. Puppy walks up right next to her, flaunting his access. "She's my Firefly," he tells them as he leans in for a hug. Earlier this week the three of us snuggled together on the couch to read a book, Firefly cooing as she listened. And the other morning he crawled up on our bed and knelt down next to her. "This is my sister, Mama. She's my friend." In moments like that it feels like this will all be okay.

May 21, 2008

Sibling Love

Puppy is giving Firefly a "kiss," which mostly consists of him smushing his face against hers. He finally pulls away, licking his lips and giving a sly smile.

"I ate hers boogers," he announces.

May 18, 2008

Politics, Schmolitics

My brother, an Obama supporter, told my mother he won't speak to her for the rest of the summer because she voted for Clinton in Tuesday's primary. (All voting is by mail here, so even though the primary is two days away, lots of folks have already voted.)

My ninety-four year old grandmother claims she voted for Clinton because she dislikes McCain and "wouldn't even whistle for him." Since it's unlikely that Clinton was listed on her Republican ballot, I fear she may have accidentally voted for Ron Paul.

Someone in one of my kids' first families refuses to believe that Obama would not be our first Muslim president. Since the entire argument boiled down to, "No, he wouldn't," vs. "Yeah, I read it in an email," the conversation didn't get very far. I'm thinking we'll table politics as a discussion topic for awhile.

Sigh. I'm ready for November 4th already.

Five Things for a Sunday

Stolen from Crunchy Granola, one of my newer blog crushes*...

What were you doing five years ago?
In May 2003 we had just happily celebrated our two year wedding anniversary. I was one year into my master's degree program (which ended up taking me four years). I was biding my time at a placeholder job that was marginally better than the one I had burnt out on, but still not what I wanted long-term. I lived in a gorgeous town in the foothills of Los Angeles and thought we'd find a way to stay there forever, despite soaring housing costs.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
  1. Pot the rest of the summer flowers on the deck
  2. Write some delinquent thank-you notes for baby gifts
  3. Clean the house
  4. Enjoy the first popsicles of the season with Puppy and T
  5. Have dinner at my parents' house
What are five snacks you enjoy?
  1. Salt and vinegar potato chips
  2. Nectarines
  3. Grapes
  4. Popcorn
  5. Coffee in myriad forms (is that a snack?)
What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
  1. Travel leisurely, extensively and purposefully
  2. Set up an endowment for the West African school I love so they'd never need to worry about funding again, then figure out the rest of our giving
  3. Buy dwellings for our siblings and Ms B
  4. Move to a bigger, more culturally diverse city
  5. Put an open records initiative on the ballot in California
What are five of your bad habits?
  1. Staying up too late without being productive
  2. Snacking
  3. Procrastinating (I'm suddenly wondering if #1 is a form of procrastination?)
  4. Freaking out about menu prices when we go out to eat
  5. Having a potty mouth (although I seem to have a block when it comes to swearing in writing, so you'll probably never witness it)
What are five places where you have lived?
  1. New England
  2. Pacific Northwest
  3. a tiny city in Los Angeles County
  4. a medium-sized city in Los Angeles County
  5. a giant city in Los Angeles County
What are five jobs you've had?
  1. food server at a retirement home
  2. telemarketer for a pest removal company (I only lasted three days and was still asked out twice by the skeevy supervisor)
  3. doing background research on major donors for a college's development office
  4. teaching assistant for ancient Greek course
  5. writing tutor
* As much as I adore Google Reader, I realized I'm no longer discovering new(-to-me) blogs by following the rabbit trail of people's blogrolls. Reader's "Discover" feature just doesn't really get me. Love the convenience, miss the connections.

May 16, 2008

How We Left the Mall: A Pictoral

All-out tantrums while shopping are like car accidents. You know the odds are that one will happen to you at some point, but you still can't quite believe it when one does.

It turns out that carrying a berserk Puppy to the car so drained my energy that I was incapable of reading any books or playing with him when we returned home. It's too bad, don't you think? Puppy has been trying to put back my energy by being cooperative and fetching me items when I ask. It appears to be working so far. Heh.

How was your Friday?

May 14, 2008

My Baby is Growing Up

Some new pictures of Firefly are up (just email if you'd like an invite). She is as scrumptious as lemon coconut cake.

May 12, 2008

Review: "Rain or Shine"

I had the chance to review a new children's book about open adoption for Open Adoption Support (thanks, Dawn!).

Commissioned by an open adoption agency, Rain or Shine tells the story of Finn, a young boy in an open adoption who looks forward to gathering with his extended family to celebrate his eighth birthday. The plotline focuses on how the family will salvage the party if it rains on the big day, but the real strength of the book lies in its depiction of a healthy open adoption.

There were several nice touches:
  • Finn does not make sharp distinctions between his adoptive family and his birth family. The two are integrated together into a single extended family for him.
  • Finn's grandmother on his birth mom’s side is an active participant in his life, reflecting the many open adoptions which involve multiple generations.
  • Finn’s adoptive parents and his birth mom talk appreciatively and affectionately about one another. They acknowledge and affirm both the nature and nurture portions of Finn's identity, pointing out traits that come from each side of his family tree.
  • Finn enjoys spending time alone with his birth mom and feels comfortable enough with her to tell her about his secret thumb-sucking, something he's previously only shared with his parents.
  • It’s mentioned that Finn’s birth mom did not attend his seventh party because she was having “a hard time” that year. Finn also expresses a desire to have contact with his birth dad, who the family hasn't seen since Finn was an infant. I appreciated the subtle acknowledgment that open adoptions can be positive and fulfilling despite not being "perfect." These also create openings for parents (birth or adoptive) to talk with their children about adoption-related disappointments.
  • I didn't mention this in the OAS review, but I loved that this book didn't include the usual "explanation for the adoption." You know, the one page in every kids' book about adoption that says something vague like, "My birth mom loved me but couldn't take care of a baby so she found a couple who could raise me." That sort of thing is obviously part of the background to our adoptions, but it's not part of the day-to-day of our relationships.
Puppy is still a little too young to get into the story, but he engaged with some of the fun details (a dinosaur puzzle, birthday pancakes). Sensitive and well-written, Rain or Shine is a welcome addition to the small but growing list of children’s books about open adoption. Hopefully its high price point will go down in the future so that even more families can enjoy it.

Probably for ages around 4-8. The characters are Caucasian and the adoptive parents are a heterosexual couple.

(written by Hilary Horder Hippely, illustrated by Margaret Godfrey, Xlibris Corporation, 2007)

May 10, 2008

Generosity Itself

Firefly's first mom sent me a Mother's Day card. So very unexpected.

I get a little warm fuzzy every time I pass by and see it sitting on the kitchen counter.

May 06, 2008

Obligatory Mother's Day Post

This weekend Puppy painted a coffee mug for K that I need to mail off for Mother's Day weekend. (I am putting that in writing here hoping it will force me to get it done.) In the manner of most toddler art, it is a messy explosion of every paint color that was available to him. He is terribly excited about it.

Ms B and I talked about what she would most appreciate this year, because we want to honor her in a way that is sensitive to the intense grieving she's doing. She's dreading this weekend. She said that being acknowledged as a straight-out mother is too much for her right now; I think it highlights more of what she has lost than what she still has with Firefly. She liked the thought of Birthmother's Day, so I have a card for her.

I mostly feel the same about Mother's Day as I do about Valentine's Day. I enjoy the private celebrations letting the people I love know how awesome they are. I dislike the shallow, sexist, commercialized public commotion that typically only serves to make those on the "outside" feel bad. My time on the outside looking in on those holidays was recent enough that I well remember how awful it can be.

If only there were a way to celebrate our relationships without also dredging up people's regrets, losses or unfulfilled dreams. If you're still waiting and hoping and yearning; if you're not the one raising your child; if you have lost a child or a pregnancy; if the day reminds you of a broken relationship or someone you're missing, I wish for you peace in the present and hope for the future. You are no less valuable, no less worthy of respect and admiration than the people who will be noticed on Sunday. Happy Mother's Day to each of you.

May 01, 2008

Taking It to the Hallways

A toddler's guide to activism, by Puppy:
  1. Seize the moment. Let's say--hypothetically, of course--you are offered the opportunity to unroll an entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet. By all means, do so. One never knows when such joy will present itself again.

  2. Adapt to the situation. Upon receiving word that the aforementioned toilet-filling is not considered a game and will not be tolerated, change the focus of the discussion. This isn't about toilet paper anymore. No, it's about liberty! And freedom of expression! Insist that you had a moral obligation to fill the toilet with paper. Make your point loudly and repeatedly. Suggested talking points: "But I said YES!" and "I did it!" Don't back down. You're changing the world, dude.

  3. Escalate when necessary. At this point your parent may be pretending to ignore you. Don't fall for it. You know she's totally going to blog this later. Spare no effort in your attempts to challenge the oppressive regime. Your younger siblings are counting on you, so fight the good fight. Take your protest to the next level. Throw yourself on the ground, cry, attempt to remove your diaper...

  4. ...and promptly fall asleep.

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