August 29, 2008

3BT #9

Three beautiful things, long August weekend edition:
  1. Tucking into a good book in a freshly made bed

  2. The trusting weight of a child's body resting against yours, head in the crook of your neck

  3. The rush of cold-tinged wind on a late summer day that whispers autumn is coming
What is beautiful in your life today?

August 26, 2008

My Boy, Just Shy of Three

Sometime in the last year, Puppy stretched into a long, skinny boy. The lack of diaper only accentuates it. I put a new pair of 3T pants on him, adjustable waist pulled tight, and they fell to his ankles. He eats quite a bit but seems to burn it right off, constantly running and moving and jumping.


"Do you want to play princess, Mama?" he asks.

"Sure." The answer is always, "Yes."

He climbs behind me on the chair and begins piling my hair on top of my head, pushing and twirling it into a mess of knots.

"You're a princess! You're a princess, Mama!"

He holds up a ruler and pretend to measure the height of the 'do. "How tall is it? Is it seven, Mama?"

"Sure, why not?" I have yet to figure out where this game came from.

"Give me 52 pennies. You're a princess!"


After Firefly came home, he started to ask to be carried more, which we expected. He holds his arms up toward us, opening and closing his hands like little lobster claws. He shorthands his request to be picked up: "Pick me! Pick me, please," making me feel like he's pleading for us to choose him over his sister.


He is big into puzzles right now, the 20-40 piece ones with the oversized pieces. He sits surrounded by pieces on the floor, methodically matching pictures together. When finished, he wants to undo it right away so he can reform it again. As a kid, I never wanted to take them apart once I'd finished. I like how how easily he returns to the beginning.


Someone once told me that each stage in your child's life is the best. You think it can't get any better than it is, and then it does. I was skeptical when I first heard it and still doubt it sometimes. How could I enjoy this little person any more than I do right now? Then the next stage comes and brings some novel bit of independence or ability. The wonderful things about this age: his imagination is showing more and more, we can trade sentences back and forth, we laugh about things together, he so easily finds wonder in things.


He still loves books. The librarian handed him a tote bag as his reward for participating in the summer reading program and he ran excitedly around the children's section, filling it with picture books to take home. At my parents' house, he always pulls out his favorite book, one from my childhood, it's purple cover worn. He wants us to read it to him again and again. He wants to take books to bed and in the car. He pretends to read the used car catalogs from the stand outside the post office, calling them his magazines. Nearly every day he asks if his real magazine came in the mail.

I try not to get too excited about his fondness for books. It's a bit early to be dreaming of passionate literary discussions and trading paperbacks back and forth. But the bookworm in me, the one who'd read for hours each day if she could? She's loving it.


Every now and then he asks me to lie down next to him while he falls asleep. I pause to stretch out on my side for five or ten minutes on his bed. Each time I start to think about how quickly this will pass, how little time we have left before he'll want privacy and independence. Gazing at his tiny silhouette, I try to memorize what it feels like to be close to him, the weight of him on my lap or in my arms, his giggling squirminess as I zerbert his cheek.

August 24, 2008

What I Said

I'm amused at the shocked response in the comments to the oddly titled The Open Adoption Book: A Guide to Adoption Without Tears after my off-hand mention of it. I'm kind of glad some of you hadn't heard of it before, as it's crap on a cracker as far as being a comprehensive open adoption guide. It was required reading at the agency we used for our first adoption. (Which is symbolic of our experience with that agency, in a way: they set us on a good path by insisting on openness, but didn't give us any tools to make that openness work long-term. It was a glossy version of open adoption.) I probably shouldn't say this, but ... it's so over-the-top pro-open adoption, pro-adoptive family that it might be useful propaganda to give to relatives who insist you should be adopting the "old-fashioned" way. Do with that what you will.

I thought about posting what I wrote in response to the friend of a co-worker who asked for feedback on a facilitator, but it turns out I don't have a copy of the sent email. It essentially went like this:
  • I'm glad you're thinking about adopting! It's been an incredible experience for us.
  • This is how much we spent on our two adoption processes and what I think is reasonable (she had also asked about costs for domestic adoption in general).
  • We personally shied away from facilitators. There are some decent ones out there, but these are my concerns about adoption facilitation.
  • I don't know anything about that particular facilitator first-hand. I looked at her firm's website and a number of things they do don't line up with what are currently considered best practices, here's what they are.
  • Plug for agency adoption as the best shot at a well-done adoption. Empathetic statement about how hard it is to pick one.
  • Offer to talk more. Yay for adoption.
That's obviously quite paraphrased, but you get the idea. I liked Dawn's comment about leaning in before you pull back when offering advice. It's been something I've been trying to teach myself: finding a point of connection before laying out a critique and using lots of "I" statements as I do so.

After reading all your comments, I do wish I had been more direct than I was about the lack of respect shown for all parties by that facilitator--not just in the quote I shared, but in the way their whole process is structured. I appreciated Megan's take for the way she connected it to the child being adopted, as I think that's something most prospective adoptive parents will take seriously:
I suppose I would encourage this person to read some books on open adoption and warn him/her that an agency/facilitator who does not speak with respect and dignity towards an expectant mother cannot, by default, truly respect the child. It's a difficult process regardless of how great your agency or facilitator or lawyer is, so you really want to find someone who is not out to degrade your potential child's birth family or DNA. You also want someone who is brutally honest.
(Heh. "Brutally honest" is a good description of our most recent social worker. In a good way.)

I did hear back from the friend of the co-worker. She thanked me for my opinions and said she was going to follow up on one of my suggestions, but didn't say much else. I really do wish her well. I'm grateful I'll never be at that place again, trying to figure out the 150,000 options available to adopting parents with no personal experience to guide me. I wonder how many of us would make different choices were we able to start over knowing what we know now.

August 19, 2008

At Least

"At least you were able to adopt."
"At least you were able to be there when he was born."
"At least you got a kid who looks like you."
"At least you know where she came from."

"At least you still get to see her."
"At least you know you're not infertile."
"At least you know he's safe."
"At least you don't have to deal with diapers and screaming kids."

"At least she has some medical history."
"At least he has that one copy of his original birth certificate."
"At least he wasn't abandoned on a doorstep or something."
"At least they'll know you wanted them."

These are all things people have said to me, to my kids' first moms, or about my children. Always in response to us opening up about the harder aspects of infertility or adoption. We crack the door to give them a peek at our emotions and they use the opening to kick us.

I'm know they're trying to be comforting, pointing out the cloud's silver lining and all that. (Although sometimes they're lashing out of their own hurt.) I admit that I've done it to others in the past, especially when I was younger and hadn't yet experienced core-shaking grief. Looking back, I'm ashamed at how I tried to mitigate their loss.

There are experiences in life which permanently change us. To have someone minimize those is deeply troubling. I love the mis-matched, not-genetically-related, adoptive family we are. I wouldn't change who my children are for the world. But the parallel losses--not knowing what a biological child of ours would look like, not being my children's sole mother, not knowing them from the womb--are still there. Even though they no longer hold the emotional power they once did, they have shaped the ways I identify myself. When someone minimizes those losses, they are minimizing me. The same goes for my children or their first parents.

There will be a moment when you're confronted with a friend's anger, grief or fear over an injustice or loss. Maybe it will make you uncomfortable. Maybe it will dredge up a hurt of your own. If you find yourself about to point out that it could be worse, please don't.

At least you could honor her experience.

August 16, 2008

When There's Too Much to Say

I'm frequently asked by real-life friends for adoption agency recommendations. They're almost always asking on behalf of someone else. They know we have had pretty smooth adoption experiences, all told, so they want to know which agency we used. I typically give them my honest appraisal of the two agencies we used and leave it at that.

This week I was asked by a co-worker to give feedback on a specific facilitator on behalf of a close friend is considering adopting. I spent some time on the facilitator's website, and it's pretty bad. Like this level of bad:

How open do we need to be during and after the adoption process?

The degree of openness you have with birth parents depends on your comfort level. Most birth parents want to talk to you by phone and meet you once before the birth. Often times a birth mother wants to be able to talk to you to share her pregnancy with you. Prior to the birth you may find that some birth mothers rely on you emotionally. Often you may be the only person who is excited about her pregnancy. During the pregnancy these women’s lives are somewhat on hold and therefore they are more emotionally needy than they will be after the birth. If you are able to be a friend during this time and open yourself to her it can be the gel that holds your adoption together. At the time of birth when a birth mother is flooded with emotion she will think of who you are and it can reassure her of her decision.
(So frustrating. It's thinking like that which gives open adoption a bad name. Not to mention leads to such unnecessary hurt.)

I find these kinds of conversations hard to do by email, especially with someone I've never met. There many different entry points for a discussion of ethical adoption. When talking in person, it's a lot easier to gauge where someone is at and what's important to them. And I remember well how hard it was at first to distinguish between the unwarranted stigmas associated with adoption and legitimate criticism of adoption practices. It was easy to buy into the idea that adoption used to be handled horribly (i.e. the baby scoop era), but that modern open adoption addressed all those problems. What prospective adoptive parent wouldn't want to hear that it's possible to have adoption without tears?

I took a stab in the dark and answered my friend's email this morning. But I'm curious how others would approach a response. What would you say?

ETA: What I said

August 15, 2008

The Next Cutting Edge Adoption Issue?

If my rabbits' records* are opened before my son's**, there will be hell to pay.

I'm all kinds of curious about this now. Is there really such a thing as a pet adoption record? And why in God's green earth would it be closed? Do they issue little breeding certificates with the owners' names listed as the biological parents?

* Don't tell anyone, but there aren't any records. Our rabbits were totally black-market adoptions.
** Firefly was adopted in an open records state.

August 13, 2008

In the Stillness

The other weekend was my high school reunion, which, honestly, I was rather "meh" about. One wonderful thing it did do was bring my dear friend Laurie into town. We stole away with our families (she also has a husband and two kids) for a few days of camping at the coast before the reunion began.

Laurie is that friend who enters into your life just as you are beginning to feel out who you are and stays with you through all the changes of college and marriage and parenthood. We met in eighth grade, but only really became friends late in high school. She was relaxed and non-cliquish--in other words, my opposite. I spent much of my senior year letting her lead the way to the many adventures she dreamed up for us.

Some of my dearest memories with her are of our times at the coast. We'd blow off whatever obligations we had and make the one hour trip past the farms and through the coastal forest. Sometimes we'd play on the beach, but often we'd just walk, letting the sound of the pounding surf envelop us. On a northwestern beach the grey of the sea and sky often drift together, smudging the horizon until you feel you are looking into infinity. Surrounded by the mist and the ocean's roar, we would talk about things that when you're seventeen seem too real to share most of the time: Our uncertainty about what we wanted in life. Our hope of one day finding a partner whom we could love unreservedly. Our ambivalence about motherhood.

It's been over a decade since Laurie and I last visited the ocean together. This time we arrived in cars stuffed full of families and gear. If that weren't enough reminder of our old age, we shared the campground with a clutch of teenage girls--likely dragged camping by their parents--who spent long stretches of time in front of the bathroom mirrors applying makeup and brushing their hair. As I squeezed between them to wash my hands while they faux-argued about their beauty ("You're so pretty." "No, I'm not! I'm a hag." "Whatever. You're gorgeous. I'm hideous."), I admit I rolled my eyes internally. But it was a sympathetic eye roll, because I remember well my own teen self in a camp site bent over the side-view mirror of a car doing my bangs with a butane curling iron. That is the overwhelming memory of my teen years: the constant primping and prancing, the frenetic pressure to hide my flaws, fit in with the crowd, make everyone think I was okay because I thought the moment I stopped and said, "I'm fine the way I am" would be the moment they'd start judging me. It would be years before I learned about the quiet strength of self-acceptance.

My teenage self would sneer at the me of today. In the campground bathroom she would take in my pigtails, lack of makeup and squishy midsection and decide I had let myself go. She would pity me for being a mother by adoption instead of by birth. Hearing I once again live in my hometown and work at a fairly low-paying job would cause her to furrow her brow and wonder how I could have settled for so little. She would see the peaceful stillness of my life and mistake it for surrender.

That weekend as I watched our families romp on the beach where Laurie and I used to stand and dream, I thought about how our lives are everything and nothing like what we wanted for ourselves back then. After high school we found that the inner push for social acceptance morphs into a drive toward marriage, job, children. We braved unexpected depression and infertility and uncertainty about careers. We found mothering as demanding as we feared and more gratifying than we could have imagined. We married men who make us laugh and who adore us through it all. We learned to find joy in the moments presented to us.

I stood and let the wind lift my hair as the sounds of the children's playing competed with the ocean's roar. I caught Laurie's eye and she stopped to share a smile. Surrounded by all we wanted and all we didn't know to want, we were still.

August 11, 2008

Q&A: Nicknames

First, I'm happy to report that Operation Bottle Fairy was a complete success! Five days and counting of contented bottle-free life for Puppy. If only the Nose-Picking Fairy could stop by. Seriously, do all toddlers go through a phase in which one finger is constantly poking at their nostril?

Second, D asks, "By the way, is it too late to ask a question? It's one of those things I've always wondered, but just never asked... where did 'Puppy' get his nickname from?"

"Puppy" is a play on his actual name. When he was born, I was working on learning biblical Hebrew as part of my graduate studies. Puppy's real-life name is in the Hebrew Bible and I was amused to see that it was very similar to the word for "dog."

T and I weren't real big into the meanings of our kids' names when we picked them. We have nothing against selecting names that way, it just wasn't important to us. My parents-in-law, on the other hand, treat names as near-proclamations of one's destiny. They decided that his given names meant "faithful guardian" (his middle name is more or less "prosperity keeper" or "wealth guard"). They even made up a little thing to hand on his wall saying so. They didn't find it funny when I suggested that "dog who guards the money" was perhaps a more literal translation.

When it came time to name him online, "Puppy" immediately came to mind. It's since been pointed out to me that nicknaming an adopted child after an animal that is frequently "adopted" in the real world wasn't the most sensitive thing to do. Had I thought of that initially, I probably would have opted for another pseudonym. We don't call him Puppy anywhere but online.

Firefly's nickname is inspired by the Latin root of her real name. I'm really not the pretentious language twit this post makes me sound like, I promise.

August 06, 2008

The Bottle Fairy

The Bottle Fairy came to our house last night. Have you heard of the Bottle Fairy? Lesser-known cousin of the Tooth Fairy, sister of the Pacifier Fairy? She comes under cloak of darkness to whisk away your bottles, leaving goodies in their place. True story.

Although he's been drinking from cups for ages now, Puppy still takes a daily bottle of milk. It's a comfort thing, part of his nightly routine. Bath, then snuggling on the couch with books and a bottle, followed by tooth brushing and bed. It's never bothered me. I wouldn't object to an evening nursing session at this age were I breastfeeding, so why not a bottle? And I figured we would know when the time was right to end it, just as it often happens in extended breastfeeding.

As it turns out, there have been a number of signs this summer that it was time to retire Puppy's beloved Avents. I've been casting about for a way to make the transition. Even though he seemed ready for it, I didn't want it to seem too abrupt or arbitrary. Routine is a big deal to Puppy, partly a function of his personality but mostly of his age. He's feeling out that scary area between the exciting larger world and the safety of mom and dad. He often asks--seemingly out of the blue--"Am I a big boy?" or "Am I tiny?" when he needs to be reassured of his independence/dependence. I think the bottles are part of the world where he can still be securely dependent. So I wanted to make a way for him to feel in control of stepping away from them.

On a lark one day I told him about the Bottle Fairy, how kids leave their bottles for her before they go to sleep and when they wake up she's left something special in their place. Puppy asked many questions about what sorts of things she left and made sure that this wasn't something we would force him to do. We talked about it now and again over the next few weeks. I wasn't sure it would go anywhere.

But yesterday as we walked out of the babysitter's house, Puppy asked if we could do the Bottle Fairy. Only I thought he was asking if we were going to a bottle factory, so we went a few garbled rounds before it all came clear. After bath last night, Puppy had one farewell bottle. Then we gathered them all into an Easter basket and added a note for the Bottle Fairy. He spent some time sitting next to the basket saying, "Bye bye, bottles." We talked a lot about how the next night his milk would be in a cup.

This morning he woke to discover that the Bottle Fairy had made a hasty Target trip come during the night and filled his basket with all sorts of goodies along with a note saying how proud she is of him. And I really am she really is. He spent all morning playing with the little car she left and took it to daycare to share with his friends ("There will be three turns. Paige will have a turn, then Madison will have a turn, then Abby will have a turn. And I'll have a big turn." His math isn't so hot.)

Of course, the real test will come tonight after bath when the reality of no bottle hits. I'm giving 40-60 odds on tears.

ETA: No tears! Woot!

August 04, 2008

Fading into the Background

Gold stars all around if you can tell me what's missing from these magazine covers:

Aw, how sweet. The Jolie-Pitts have become a beautiful family of five.

What's that you say? They actually have other three other children? Don't be silly. Everyone knows adopted kids aren't really family, especially those embarrassingly obvious transracial adoptees.

I'm not surprised, but I am royally annoyed. Especially since their eldest child is old enough to read and understand this slight.

Bonus gold star if you can answer this head-scratcher: if one of their adopted children was white, would he/she ha
ve been acknowledged on the cover? My guess is still no.
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