June 30, 2008

Lemonade Stands

As we were getting into our car in front of my parents' house this evening, I spotted a little girl who had set up a lemonade stand down the street. Card table with a hand-lettered sign taped to the edge, folding chair, pitcher and cups, cash box--the whole bit.

I instantly flashed back to doing the many lemonade stands of my childhood. For a period during early elementary school, I was constantly coming up with complicated productions. My brother and I operated a "restaurant" out of the dining room, complete with menus. I organized the neighborhood kids into putting on a multi-act circus in our backyard and sold tickets for a nickel apiece. There were lemonade stands and secret clubs and Fourth of July programs with fireworks and recitations of the Declaration of Independence. Most were only minor successes, with the exception of the circus, which had a surprisingly large audience. I didn't mind.  I think I loved throwing myself into the organization process: writing down plans, holding rehearsals, making signs and forms and programs. Any excuse to get to type on our enormous electric typewriter.

I sometimes wonder how much of a role my little-girl self--the organizer, the typewriter-lover--played in my preference for adoption over complicated fertility options when we started our family.  Not to say such decisions are ever mere functions of personality. There were dozens of convictions and experiences and relationships that brought us to the moment of saying, "Yes, this is it for us." But there was something comforting to me in adoption's tidy steps and checklists.  The fact that it was a process with a beginning and an end and a clear path between the two.  I didn't mind the forms.  I could do forms.  I didn't know that I could do putting my heart on the line cycle after cycle for something that might never happen.  I wanted some sense of forward motion, of progress toward something.  In a certain way, the bureaucracy of adoption gave me that.

So there you have it.  We adopted because I appreciate paperwork.  Not really.  But it sorta made it easier.

Of course we crossed the street to buy some lemonade from the little girl tonight. I still remember the stranger who pulled his car over to buy lemonade from me when I was six. As we handed over our dollar (75 cents for three cups, hold the change), the girl sighed and said, "Now we're making some progress around here."  I almost told her, "I know exactly what you mean."

June 24, 2008

She's growing more aware by the day

I'm standing at the sink, warming a bag of milk under the tap. I peek over to where Firefly sits quietly perched on my left hip. Her eyes are locked, unblinking, on the milk, as she slowly licks her lips.

June 23, 2008

Officially Four

On Friday we headed to the town where it all began to finalize Firefly's adoption. It looks like there will be two adoption days to remember in June for us. While we were waiting, Puppy and the clerk practiced standing up when the judge entered the courtroom. She forgot to mention the part about sitting down afterward, so Puppy spent a good part of the ceremony yelling, "Stand up! Stand up, everybody!" Ah, memories.

So now we are a family of four and can flit across the border without so much as telling a soul. Hurrah! And Firefly's connection to Ms B is recognized and protected in the open adoption agreement, at least on a minimal level.

You'd think that after almost two years of of preparation and waiting and contentious decision-making, we'd be ready to stand still for awhile. But no! Because T and I make decisions by talking the crap out of them well before we actually need to take action are overthinkers, we keep coming back to the extremely hypothetical and confusing child #3.

When we got married, I vaguely wanted two kids and T wanted enough to field a football team. He later reduced his vision to a basketball team. Even now, as he's still reeling from the transition to two children (twice the kid, thrice the work), the energy of a large family appeals to him. My original defense ("When you birth the babies you can decide how many we're going to have.") doesn't hold much water anymore.

We sorta agreed not to make any family planning decisions until Firefly turned one. The corollary was that we also wouldn't talk about next steps for several months. I think we lasted all of three weeks. We both agree that we are D-O-N-E with private adoption, either domestic or international. We just don't have the resources--emotional or financial--to responsibly travel that road a third time.

Our intention in the very beginning was to adopt two children of color. Obviously that plan didn't go as expected. So we ponder questions of balance and the ramifications of Firefly being the only non-white person in the household. One of us isn't ready to take a non-adopted child off the table yet. One of gets squirmy at the thought of more than three kids. One of us is nudging the other toward fostering. One of us wonders if our family isn't just right as it is. I'll let you guess where each of us falls.

Above it all, both of us feel lucky to be considering questions of "more" and not "if." This is not the exact road we expected take and once started we found it more morally complicated than expected, but how joyful it has been nonetheless.

June 19, 2008

We're home...

... and Firefly is (almost completely) back to her usual self. She "talked" up a storm tonight, possibly debriefing her hospital stay. ("There is a big building. With scratchy sheets. And they poke you! Warn the babies!")

Thank you so much for your well wishes on her behalf. She came down with stomach flu on Saturday. The virus had run its course after a few days, but her little digestive system got stuck in a rut and she couldn't keep even tiny amounts of liquid down. By Tuesday we were concerned about dehydration, so we took her to see the doctor. She got a dose of anti-nausea medication in hopes that it would give her tummy a chance to rest and "reset," but once it wore off she was back to spewing. On Wednesday it was back to the doctor's and ultimately to the hospital.

The doctor and nurses were surprised at how bad off she was when her blood work came back, because she wasn't showing many outward signs. Firefly's only visible symptoms of dehydration were lethargy, a dry mouth and a sunken fontanel (soft spot), which apparently are more mild indicators. T and I could look at her and tell that something was really wrong; she was a completely different baby. Just a reminder to all the parents to trust our guts, I suppose. The medical professionals bring their training and experience the table, and we bring our intimate knowledge of this specific child. That's worth something.

Once she got on an IV and anti-nausea meds she plumped back up like a sponge. She weighed twelve pounds when she was admitted yesterday morning and over thirteen by the time we left today. T pointed out that, percentage-wise, it's the equivalent of him missing twenty pounds.

So that's over. Phew! It was never scary, but it was draining. Hospitals are remarkably boring places. I did spot my old pediatrician roaming the ward. He must have been fresh out of med school when my parents took me to him thirty years ago!

June 18, 2008

Hospital Room + Wireless

I'm not sure it's possible to be in a pediatric ward hearing a child cry and not have your heart feel like it is going to leap through your throat.

I've prayed a lot today for parents of super sick kids because, damn.

We've spent most of the day and now the night with Firefly at the hospital. She's okay, or rather she will be okay. Because if we were at okay already, we'd be home. But it's nothing too serious and she'll be better tomorrow. (Of course this morning they said she'd be better by tonight and obviously that didn't go so well.) My little girl is usually a blur of motion and coos and it is hard to see her so still and quiet.

When we found out she was going to be admitted, we debated for about one minute whether or not to call Ms B before deciding we would. We thought our stay would only be for the afternoon, but I still couldn't imagine telling her after the fact, "Oh, by the way, Firefly was in the hospital the other day." I would want to know if I were in her shoes.

It is hard to share news like this with first family, to hear the voice crack on the other end of the line and recognize their tears as the ones you would have if you heard your daughter was sick and knew you couldn't be there with her.

Ms B got some loving from her social worker at the agency (post-adoption support!) and checked in with us again this evening and was in a strong place. My mind has been focused on tending to Firefly and Puppy today, but right now in the darkened hospital room as Firefly sleeps it's poking at what it means to be entrusted with a child, to be caring for a life that was deliberately turned over to you, and whether there is extra responsibility there.

June 16, 2008

Big Brother, Little Sister

The kids and I were at playgroup last week. School just ended here, so the house was buzzing with a full age range of children, the oldest flush with excitement about summer break. I sat at the kitchen table with other moms and a latte while Firefly relaxed in a swing nearby. She is still tiny enough to be interesting to little kids, who swarmed around her saying, "Hi, baby!" She furrowed her brow at some of them and smiled serenely at others. But whenever Puppy came by, with a, "Hi, little sister!" and a push for her swing, her face broke into a giant grin.

To the extent a little four-month old can, Firefly adores her big brother. Her eyes follow him around rooms and she saves for him the biggest of her gummy grins. She sometimes likes to sit and just watch him play. Despite all the times he's bonked her on the head or taken away her toys, she's filed his face away as someone important and fun. And he loves her in return with brotherly pride.

Most of the time I'm able to ignore some of the more viscous generalizations that are made about adoptive parents on the internet. The extreme outer edges of any spectrum aren't that useful; it's the vast space in between where there is room to be challenged and learn. So when I read that I can't possibly know maternal love or my family is a sham or my kids are nothing more to me than purchased possessions, usually I can shrug it off. What's true is right in front of me.

But sometimes the jabs build up and they wound. Maybe something else has me feeling vulnerable, maybe some insecurity has pushed its way to the surface. Even a Nerf ball can hurt if it hits you in the same spot one hundred times.

When that happens, I've found unexpected restoration in watching Puppy and Firefly interact. They're brother and sister, no qualifications needed. I see the bond they're forming growing stronger every day. No one can accuse them of having an agenda or being in denial. There is nothing they need to prove. They don't yet notice the questioning brows strangers lift when they see the blond boy calling the brown-skinned girl "sister." They are siblings not by birth, but by virtue of this life they're living together.

I can't know what their relationship will look like down the road, if they'll feel a close connection or grow apart. But I love watching the purity of what they have right now, before the politics of life press in. Not everyone will condone how our family came together or recognize our bond, but it is real and it is wonderful.


Ms B called to wish T a happy Father's Day yesterday. He wasn't home, so she and I chatted for a bit. Things were great until I asked how her day had been and she started with, "Well, it's my birthday." Then there was that horrible awkward moment when I realized we hadn't so much as sent her a card.

Triad Member of the Year, right here.

June 11, 2008

My Feed Reader Feels Empty

I'm sad that The Chronicles of Munchkin Land and Paragraphein have gone dark. (They are personal blogs by two women who placed daughters in open adoptions.) I'm hoping it's just temporary and my sadness is an overreaction.

I don't know where else to say this, so I'll say it here. I want to thank Jenna and Nicole for their years of writing. They both wrote publicly about adoption in a unflinchingly honest way that made me be more honest with myself. My relationships with my kids' first parents are stronger because of them.

I don't know the stories behind the closings, but if it's because the meanness of the internet started to seep into their real lives, that bites. I hate it when the meanies win.

ETA (6/20): It's chapter two of The Chronicles! Yay!

June 10, 2008

Review: "The Maternal is Political"

I first realized something had changed after Hurricane Katrina. It was just a few weeks before my son was born. Because it was an adoption I was not yet his mother, but the possibility was close enough that it was beginning to affect me. I was watching something about the hurricane's aftermath on television, feeling a familiar sad frustration, when an image came on of an older man slumped in a lawn chair where he had died, probably waiting for help. The thought flashed through my mind, "That man was somebody's son," and for the first time I understood what people meant by that. I sat and sobbed as the human cost of injustice hit me in a way it never had before.

That moment was when I began to understand that becoming a parent wasn't going to just change my daily schedule, but also something fundamental in the way I viewed and moved in the world. It's not that I was apolitical before; a concern for social justice is central to the practice of my faith. I can't think of a major political position of mine that has changed since I became a parent--I believe the same things, fight for the same causes, support the same movements. But the place those beliefs come from within me has shifted. The clichés about leaving the earth to next generation seem quite profound to me now.

Motherhood introduced a new complexity to my attempts at living justly. I constantly debate the line between passing on my values and imposing beliefs. I hesitate to use my kids to make a statement, yet see that choices I make on their behalf already are statements, from our choice of schools and neighborhood to our identity as a transracial family. I fret over the compromises that pile up as we make those choices. I feel unable to actually make a difference when so much of my time is focused on the minutia of feedings and potty training and building block towers. And I wonder if other women feel those same tensions.

So I jumped at the chance to be part of the MotherTalk blog tour for The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change, a new anthology edited by Shari MacDonald Strong (one of my favorite Literary Mama columnists). It is full of essays from women asking--and answering--those same questions. The essayists mentioned on the cover read like a laundry list of my favorite authors (Anna Quindlen! Anne Lamott! Barbara Kingsolver!), plus I discovered some familiar internet reads inside. I picked up this book to leaf through it and instead read and read. Then I stopped to take care of my kids. Then I read some more.

It's been awhile since I've felt so renewed after reading a book. Divided into three sections--Believe, Teach, and Act (my favorite)--the forty-plus essays address the anger, empowerment, fear, courage and hope that come with being a conscious mother. Each writer provides an intimate look into how motherhood affected her relationship to the larger world and gave new meaning to choices that once seemed only personal. There are stories of women finding the courage to protest, a young single mother's push to finish college, a mom fighting the effects of racial inequality in the classroom. A powerful essay on raising sons in a time of war and Anne Lammot's piece about voicing her pro-choice views among fellow Christians especially hit home for me.

My only disappointment was at the mothers who weren't represented. For instance, we hear from an employer witnessing the effects of immigration policies on her nanny, who left her own child behind to work in the U.S., but not from someone in the nanny's position. There is an adoptive mom considering the politics of international adoption, but nothing from a woman who placed her child for adoption. The rest of the collection was so strong that the missing voices like those stood out.

(One other note to potential readers: if you were happy with the results of the 2004 presidential election, this may be a difficult read for you. The writers are openly progressive or liberal, which was fine for me because those are my people. I know that there are many women with political views on the opposite end of the spectrum who act from the same place of maternal passion and whose statements would be equally powerful; this just isn't a collection of those.)

I am glad this book came together right as our country faces important questions about what kind of force we want to be in the world and how we want to treat one another here at home. It is an inspiring collection of words from women who understand that we have the opportunity, as the final essay states, to "agitate and march and advocate from a deeper place within ourselves than we had known existed. It is possible that we will act from that cavity our children have hollowed out of us, that place where breath begins."

June 08, 2008

Adoption Day

Monday was the anniversary of Puppy's adoption day (the day the adoption was finalized). We've marked it each year so far. Not a lot of hoopla, just whatever family is around coming over (this year, my parents) and Puppy getting to choose what we eat for dinner (steak and strawberries).

I know there is a wide range of opinions on marking adoption day in any way. Which is fine; if all of us handled adoption in the same way it would be rather strange and Stepford-like. I get why others don't and I like that we do. It's a day for us to say--in a way that communicates to a toddler--that we're happy to be an adoptive family. I hold our celebration lightly; if Puppy grows older and says, "This day is hard for me," we'd honor that. But the memory will always be a pleasant one for me.

I loved T as much the day before our wedding as I did the day after. But there was still something significant for me in publicly declaring our commitment. The court day was similar for me. The finalization only made legal what was already true in our hearts, that we were committed to being Puppy's parents in every way and that we had become a family in the nearly eight months leading up to that day. But it was still moving to be able to say those words aloud in court. I like remembering that day, in the same way I like remembering our wedding anniversary.

For your amusement, this is how a two-year old describes his adoption day:
Mommy and Daddy and Puppy went to the judge! We said, "Hey, we're a family!" And the judge said, "You're a family!"
(Stories involve many exclamation points when you're two.) Watching Puppy down his strawberries while he told that story, I was immensely grateful for how things turned out. It didn't have to be this boy with these parents. But I'm so very glad he's here.

June 03, 2008

Post-Adoption Support

A couple of people asked me to talk a little bit about the support Ms B is getting from the agency, after my comment that they're doing a good job. Before I do that, I want to make the disclaimer that (1) this is mostly based on Ms B's experience and other people may have a different story to tell and (2) it obviously comes from my perspective as someone who has never been through the experience of placing a child.

More than anything, the social worker Ms B is paired with has just been there for her consistently. They've met regularly for months and during some of the particularly difficult stretches were meeting weekly or bi-weekly. She's also met with key family members and friends, because adoption is never just about one person in isolation. It's been nice for me to know that Ms B has a supportive place to talk not only about how she's doing but to sort through her hopes or fears about the open relationship and how to approach things like holidays and extended family. Without that, I believe I would default to thinking that was somehow my responsibility, which isn't a healthy dynamic. We can cry together or disagree now and then without me feeling that I'm failing her.

The other thing Ms B has said she appreciates is connecting with other first parents. She actually went to one of their periodic gatherings while she was still pregnant because it was so important for her to hear about their experiences first-hand (especially since she doesn't use the internet, so can't get information that way). Later this month is the annual Lifegivers Retreat (named after Jim Gritter's book) that I hear combines a discussion of a post-placement topic (this year is about honoring joy and grief) with typical retreat-style pampering.

Connecting peers is something I think they're pretty good at. I mentioned that I wished I knew someone in the area who shared certain philosophies about transracial adoption and within a day a social worker had connected me by email to local adoptive mom. Another agency worker is helping T and me (hopefully) set up an open adoption support group in our town. They also maintain a list of parents who are willing to act as peer mentors for waiting families going through similar experiences (for instance, we might be connected with someone who is going through a long pre-birth mediation period like we had). There is also an active adoptive parent email group; it was something the parents set up on their own, but I think reflects the value for support that the agency has and thus the clients have. They do similar connecting for first parents; Ms B talked with a young expectant mom who was feeling that relinquishment might be hard for others but wouldn't be for her (B: "Not a chance.")

I can't help but contrast that with our experience at the agency we used when we adopted Puppy. The staff turnover was atrocious. We went through four social workers during our eighteen months working with them. K reported that when she called them several months after placement no one she had worked closely with was left (which shouldn't have stopped them from talking with her anyway, but sort of did). We chose them because they told us exactly the sorts of things we were looking for in terms of support: long-term counseling available for adoptees and first parents, support groups for adoptive parents, etc. The six support groups we were required to attend were a total joke. Here was a golden opportunity to train and help us through the intense early months of open adoption and instead we sat around month after month sharing waiting/match/placement stories and filling out the state paperwork.

If we ever ran into a significant bump in Firefly's open adoption, I would call the agency in a heartbeat and trust them to help mediate it. I can't say the same for the agency which handled Puppy's adoption. That's the biggest difference to me. No agency is perfect, and there are some things I wish this agency had done differently, but this is one of their strong points.

That will have to be all for now. Firefly and I are off to Big City to pick up a stash of donor milk.
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