December 31, 2009

Looking Back at 2009

A ramble though the blog this year and the posts that stuck with me from those months:

I think I will always have a soft spot for the January post on naming Firefly. It was also the month I lost whatever shred of respect I still had for the agency we used for our first adoption. (Sadly, in my opinion, they only slid further off track as the year went on.)

February saw the start of the Open Adoption Bloggers list. We're now over one hundred bloggers, listed here and at Open Adoption Support! It was also the month Firefly turned two years old. Her birthday post still makes me cry, remembering.

In March we celebrated Firefly's birthday with Beth and I was reminded anew of what open adoption makes possible.

In April Firefly's birth father's secrets fell apart and his family's anger exploded all around us, an experience I wish I could forget. In the middle of all that I wrote out a list of things I enjoy about adoptive parenting that ended up being republished in a magazine--an honest-to-goodness paper one. Another experience I won't soon forget, but in a good way.

conversation with Puppy at a sunlit table on Mother's Day in May hit me a spot that was already tender, but may have been just what he needed right then.

The Open Adoption Roundtable started up in June talking about hindsight and fathers in open adoption. I have so enjoyed all the different perspectives that  have come out of those. My sincere thanks to every blogger who has participated thus far. Each of you brings a needed view to the table.

July in general is a bit of blur as I was still struggling a bit through my surgery recovery (and reading through many of your great book recommendations). I'm a little "meh" about most of July. Let's call it my sabbatical month.

August brought us lovely visits from Ray and Beth. And I revealed just how turned around we are about whether/how to try for a third child.

I closed out September with the written equivalent of an eye roll at the idea that my kids came to me via God's divine surrogacy program.

In October, Puppy turned four at an unblogged--but fabulous--race car birthday party complete with a cake depicting the big crash scene from the movie Cars, just as requested. In 3-D, even. And we abided with him through another year of not being acknowledged by his first families on his special day.

November gave us the first small steps in building a bridge across April's great divide, when Firefly's birth grandmother reached out to us through the agency. It's still an unfinished and unsturdy bridge--even shakier after someone knocked a chunk off of it this week, in fact--and we don't know what it will look like when it's complete. But we keep at it, slowly, in hopes that it will be meaningful for Firefly in the future.

Finally, this month some things tumbled out about finding my place in the complicated topic of hair in transracial adoption and started a conversation I hope I can continue into the new year.

Looking back, nothing terribly significant changed in our lives this year. Same jobs, same house, same spouse, same number of kids as we had this time last year. Frankly, I'm grateful for that. This year has rocked the worlds of so many people I care about--both online and off--robbing them of jobs and security and loved ones. May 2010 bring us all more joy, more health, more peace. There are good things in store for us all this year, I just know it.

December 27, 2009

Loot

Santa came through. With not just any blue socks, mind  you, but bright blue. Because, as I was emphatically told by a certain four year old, dark blue is not right. Do you know how hard it is to find bright blue socks in my town? Santa does:


Remember when you were really little and the holidays could maybe sorta kinda bring you everything your heart desired? It's a little harder now that my heart's desires include things like wholeness for my kids. But it's not like I don't have a shallower side. I did get a Figs & Ginger necklace I've been coveting for a good year now:


Aw, my two little baby birds. This is about as cheesy as I get with jewelry.

Come follow Firefly if you want to see some pictures from our day. Let me know if you need the password.


December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I don't particularly care if you've been naughty or nice
As far as I'm concerned, you've all been splendidly nice this year!

Whatever (or whoever) may be missing from your world today, I am wishing you much peace and joy.

December 22, 2009

In Praise of Extended Visits

So Susiebook asked:
Do you like having these visit weekends, or would you rather be able to have an afternoon visit more frequently? It sounds like you had a good weekend, but it's hard for me to imagine being "on" for a few days like that--I'm worn out after a day trip.
This is one of those "your mileage may vary" situations, and I'm speaking as an adoptive parent, but: I like the long visits better.

We've had both day visits and extended visits with three of the kids' first parents. When Puppy was born we lived in the same county as Kelly and Ray, about a 45 minute drive apart, depending on traffic. Close, but not too close, as Kelly put it at the time. Now we're a different state, although we occasionally visit their area. (I told her the very first time we talked to her that we were probably moving, in case that was a dealbreaker.) We live about a 1.5 hour drive from where Beth and Kevin live. You can do a visit in a day, but it's a long day. Too far to pop over for dinner, for sure.

If you're trying to approach open adoption the way we are, which is to  integrate adoption into our regular lives to the extent that it's possible and appropriate, I think there are two fairly simple means: either to have an ultra-local adoption, in which people live close enough to easily drop by for a meal or come to a dance recital, or to spend longer strings of days together. The sporadic day visits have always felt stilted and oddly segregated from the rest of our life, to me. It's hard to get to know people very well. I was worried when we moved that we were losing the chance to have a certain casual familiarity with Ray and Kelly, but what we ended up gaining by doing extended visits turned out to be better for our particular open adoption (again, from our perspective). When we first were getting to know Beth, both Todd and I both expressed the hope that she wouldn't feel like she lived too close to come up and stay with us sometimes, because we really wanted to have those longer times together.

Other people's experience may be totally different. That's cool.

Some of the things I like about having the kids' first parents stay in our home, as an adoptive parent:
  • They see a lot more of the kids' daily life, from their waking up to their going to sleep. The kids in their natural habitat, if you will. Puppy in particular loves to show off his favorite things. There is nothing quite like seeing a child enjoy what is special to them, whether that be a favorite book before bed or their prized bedroom. Or to see them getting a time out. Ahem.
  • There is more time for adult-only interaction, during naptime or after the kids are in bed. Some of our best conversations--both about adoption and other topics--have happened during extended visits. It takes time for some of us to let down our guard, and there are some topics I wouldn't yet feel comfortable bringing up in front of the kids. There is also time to just watch a movie or something together and maybe discover some common interests.
  • The kids get a better sense of their first parents as real people, I think, as they see them for longer periods and in the context of our everyday life.
  • It's pretty easy and natural to give them alone time together around the house or yard.
  • There are more chances to have them meet the friends and family that make up our local life (and have our friends and family meet them), further integrating our worlds together and normalizing open adoption for folks.
  • It reinforces for the kids that their first parents are part of our regular circle, people who come stay with us just like other family and friends do.
  • Home is a safe, familiar place for the kids. I think the combination of that with the longer window of time helps them relax and open up emotionally. This is especially true for Firefly.
Is it hard to be "on" for a few days, as Susie said? Sure. For one or more of the folks involved, some of the factors that put adoption on the table in the first place also make it more difficult for them to have healthy relationships. (Was that vague enough?) They can be draining to be around. But I've found that a two hour visit with them is pretty much equally button-pushing for me as an extended visit. So I'd rather get the benefits of the extended visit.

I won't lie: it can be hard sometimes. I'm positive that is even more true for the kids' first parents. I've noticed they all nap a lot while they are here, and while some of that may just be part of being on 'vacation' from their regular lives (I loved to nap on trips in our pre-kid days), I'd be willing to bet some of it is a coping mechanism. It took Beth a year before she felt ready to stay the night here. I think it's important for the adults to think ahead of the visit about what sort of self-care would be helpful, whether that means staying at a hotel to have some private space or having a planned phone call with a supportive friend. (During one particularly draining visit, I realized later I had run to the grocery store a lot, probably trying to relieve some of the pressure I was feeling at home.)  This varies a lot for me depending on the person visiting and the time of year. Sometimes a visit is emotionally easy, like this past weekend. Sometimes I don't manage my emotions very well. But, again, I don't know that more frequent, shorter visits wouldn't carry similar pressures (were they even possible right now with Puppy's first parents). I think that is just part of our particular open adoptions, with our family's particular circumstances and particular participants.

Part of it is the sense of isolation open adoption can sometimes bring. I see parallels to other relationship in my life, but the adoption piece puts a different spin on it. For instance, visits from my in-laws are often hard for me, too, but I feel like I have more support for that surrounding me. I can go to my friends and say, "Oh my word, my in-laws!" and they say, "Tell me about it, me too!" They have a category for in-law drama. But I can't do that with open adoption, at least not in my offline life. People don't really get what open adoption is like or why it's important to us, and I don't want them to think poorly of the kids' first families. I'm learning to reach out for support online when I need it. Slowly, but I'm learning.

Overall, I'm a fan of the extended visits. I encourage folks to give them a shot. They make a huge difference in the kids' relationships with their first parents, a difference that I believe would take lots and lots of shorter visits to achieve. That is so very worth it to me.

I'd love to hear other people's experiences with extended visits, especially first parents'.

December 21, 2009

A Weekend With Beth

Beth leaves this afternoon; she came up on Saturday to spend the weekend with us. It's been a low-key, enjoyable time. Beth, Todd and Puppy went Christmas shopping at the bookstore while Firefly napped on Saturday. We ate dinner, exchanged presents. We watched "Elf" after Firefly went to bed, and found out it's a common holiday favorite of ours. (Todd: "I like the adoption themes in it, how affirming it is about wanting to explore all these different parts of your identity and know your birth family." Adoptee and birth mom Beth: "I just think it's really funny.") On Sunday we did church and headed out to see the lights at the zoo along with my mom and dad in the pouring rain. Firefly confirmed her status as the only true native of our rainy state (the rest of us are all out-of-state transplants) by being completely unfazed by the wetness. "Rain? What rain? LIGHTS! LIGHTS!"

Firefly has been cutely social all weekend, which I think Beth has enjoyed. She wanted nothing to do with anyone but her everyday parents the last time Beth was up here, which was tough. But she's been quite chatty and playful and Beth has returned the favor tenfold by showing her lots of love. Puppy just about lost his mind on Saturday evening that his sister was getting so much more attention than he was. So we can now add that to the list of quirkier parenting issues I've faced down: attending to a sibling's jealousy when the other child's first parent is visiting.

If there is anything noteworthy about Beth's visit, it is only how un-noteworthy it feels. I'm only speaking for myself, obviously--I don't know how loaded the time may or may not have been for Beth--but wasn't A Visit the way these times can sometimes feel in open adoption. (Says the woman who has an entire category of posts labeled "Visits.") Just a few days spent with someone we care about.

Of all our kids' first family members, Beth has been the most vulnerable and open with us by far about what placing and adoption has been like for her, including the difficult parts. She's also been the easiest of our first family relationships thus far. I have no idea if those two things are connected, but I find them interesting. I don't fault the other folks at all for not sharing as much; I'm a very private person and would never obligate someone to share something so personal as that, especially with the adoptive parents.  But five years ago, when we were just dipping our toes into open adoption, I wouldn't have guessed that our easiest relationship would also be the one in which more of the harder stuff was laid right out on the table. I might have guessed that would be an uncomfortable obstacle or a sign that something had gone wrong. But that hasn't been true at all with Beth. Which aligns with everything I've learned and am learning about adoptive parenting and not being afraid to talk about harder adoption stuff as it comes up for our kids, to see it as normal and healthy and not an indicator that things are going haywire. So much about being a good adoption participant always seems to boil down to that basic thing: setting my ego (and its insecurities) aside and just really listening. Holding up other people as more important than myself. Which is the most basic element of being a good friend or spouse or parent, really, yet something I seem to keep needing to learn over and over.

Because I have no closing--and simply because it's been awhile since I posted pictures--I'll leave you with a couple of recent photos of the kids:

December 16, 2009

Socks. Just Socks.

I'm swimming in the busy around here! Is everyone else feeling the press of the to-do list right now? Somehow the week before Christmas is always busier than the week of for me.

Some tidbits in lieu of anything substantive:
  • Puppy got to talk to two different Santas while we were out and about this weekend. Both had real beards, which I give two thumbs up. The first was your standard big-belly, sit-on-my-lap guy. The second was a rugged, skinny outdoorsman type wandering around a state park lodge. Santa Claus as a pioneer, if you will. He cracked me up; only around here would Santa look like he's about to build a log cabin.

  • Puppy told both Santas that he wanted blue socks for Christmas. That's it: blue socks. 
  • For all of you with itty bitty babies in your house or in your future, my favorite baby wrap carrier is on sale right now. I wrote up a whole Sleepy Wrap review* awhile back, but the summary version is that it's super soft, cozy and simple. (It's stretchier than a Moby Wrap, which I think makes it a bit easier to use.) Great for promoting attachment. Firefly spent many happy hours in ours during her first several months. There's a free shipping offer running right now and coupon code MAMAROCKS gets you 10% off. Between the two discounts it's $35 shipped, which is the best price I've seen in a long time.

  • Firefly's first mom, Beth, is coming up to stay with us this weekend. Hurrah! Our Christmas visit was canceled last year because of snow, so I'm glad things are working out this this time. I do need to get moving on a Christmas present for her, though. Oops.
* Hi, FTC! I bought my Sleepy Wrap with my own pennies and don't get any kickbacks from them. Are we cool?

December 12, 2009

Dirty Joke

"Mama! I have a dirty old joke to tell."

"A what?"

"A dirty old joke. Listen!"

"Okay."

"A race car was driving and it got stuck in a MUD PUDDLE! Ha ha ha ha ha!"

December 08, 2009

Open Adoption Roundtable #11

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

Publish your response during the next two weeks--linking back here so we can all find one other--and leave a link to your post in the comments. If you don't blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.


An open-ended prompt this round, because it's always interesting to see where each of us takes it:

Write about open adoption and the holiday season.

Previously written posts work, too.

***

Adoptive mother Spyderkl at Evil Mommy contrasts an awkward first Christmas with her daughter and their extended families with a warm celebration with her daughter's grandparents by birth.

Adoptive mother Jess at The Problem With Hope says that adding another family to the holiday mix creates some extra busy-ness, but also a lot of extra fun.

Adoptive mother Mama2Roo at Letters to a Birthmother says that the ritual of gift giving reflects the way open adoption enables her son's first family to be a real presence in his life.

First mother Jenna at The Chronicles of Munchkin Land shares how the holidays and and her daughter's birthday are forever intertwined, raising a swirl of emotions each December.

On the first anniversary of surrendering her son, first mother Susiebook at Endure for a Night reflects on how difficult the holiday seasons have been in an otherwise positive open adoption.

First mother Thanksgivingmom at I Should Really Be Working says adoption adds layers complexity and confusion to the holiday season.

Adoptive mother Andy from Today's the Day! tells the story of her son picking out gifts for siblings who don't know he exists.

Adoptive mother Robyn at the Adoption.com domestic adoption blog explores the tension in giving--or not giving--gifts when there are economic differences between adoptive and first families.

As she looks forward to a holiday visit with the teen she may adopt, Thorn at Mother Issues begins to think about how they can be working on openness with his family even now.

First mother Leah at O Momma Writes celebrates the holiday traditions she's created with her daughter's adoptive family over the last five years.

Adoptive mother Kris at My First Gray Hair considers the the possible meanings in the shifting contact with her daughter's first mom.

First mother KatjaMichelle at Therapy Is Expensive imagines her son's Christmas with his adoptive family, while aching over his missing spot in her own family's traditions.

First mother Jenni at Confessions of a Mean Girl Turned Mommy faces her first Christmas in an open adoption, writing that it is like "dancing on a tightrope."

First mother Valerie at From Another Mother wonders how to pick the perfect presents for her son and his adoptive parents.

December 07, 2009

Digging Into the Comments

Firefly must have not been pleased that I wrote about her hair, because she pitched a ginormous hissy fit Saturday morning midway through post-bath hair time. Which is why she spent the day wandering around the house with only the front right side of her hair braided. I pick my battles, people. By Sunday morning she had gotten over it, so there you go.

I wrote that post in the middle of the night, hence the wandering train of thought. I almost didn't publish it because I didn't like that there was no organizing point. But it has been interesting to see how different readers interpret it. Lots of chewy things came up in the comments that I want to talk about. It's too much for one post, so I'll jump in and see how far I get.

For the record, I think hair is important in transracial adoption. Full stop. Being proficient in caring for Firefly's hair--and communicating to her how beautiful we think it is--is a definite piece of what Todd and I see as our transracial parenting responsibilities.

Listen to John Raible, an adult transracial adoptee, give his perspective on the importance of hair care (the camp he refers to is PACT Family Camp):
I’ve watched African American girls come to camp their first time with “jacked up” hair (and damaged self-esteem). After spending an intimate session at the Hair Clinic, these same girls emerge feeling beautiful, with a freshly conditioned scalp and gorgeous new braids. I liken the state of black children’s hair to the proverbial canary in the coalmine, by which I mean that many of us who are transracial adoptees survey the children’s hair to get a sense of where the parents’ heads are at—quite literally—in terms of their attention to African American cultural values and their commitment to instilling racial pride in their children. There’s an in-joke among black and biracial transracial adoptees that we can tell who was raised by white parents just by looking at the hair. It excites me no end to witness head after head of lovingly cared for hair among the young campers. I particularly love to chat with little girls about who braids their hair, and watch as they beam with pride, “My mommy (or daddy) did it.”
Because my own hair (no texture, no curl) is different from my daughter's (textured, tightly curled), I've spent a good deal of time learning about curly hair care. She's not even two yet, so it's not like we're getting super fancy with styles. Not to mention for the good part of her first year she had some truly unfortunate patchy baldness going on. But her hair is healthy and attended to. We make sure it's presentable when we're out. We've gotten good feedback about it from people who know what they're talking about. I wouldn't say I'm proud of those facts; pride doesn't seem like the right response to something as elemental as being able to take care of your child's hair. It would be like being proud that I dress them appropriately; it's a matter of basic parenting. But I am pretty confident we're at least on the right track at this point in practical hair matters, even as we're still learning.

Because my cultural and social experience of hair is different from what my daughter's is and will be, I've also spent time learning more about that. That, to me, is a much more complex and meaty topic than figuring out a basic hair care routine. It's also a much more delicate issue to approach as a white woman. I'm not about to pretend to understand the many interlocking factors that might be involved in an individual black woman's decision about relaxers vs. natural hair, for example. That's not a conversation I can insert myself into. But it's important that I learn about the kinds of conversations that go on. Because I need to to understand the cultural backdrop to the choices we're making for Firefly's hair right now, and what I might be communicating to her and others with those choices.

Look back at the quote up above: the writer isn't encouraged by the parents who are good at hair care simply for the sake of the kids having well-maintained hair. It's because he sees those efforts as indicators of the parents' "attention to African American cultural values and their commitment to instilling racial pride in their children." Those are huge tasks. Neither is possible through hair care alone.

Ask little Firefly, "Who has pretty hair?" and she throws her hands on top of her head and squeals. When I carry her to the mirror to coo over her beautiful face and latest 'do after hair time, she grins and claps at her reflection. That is worth something, even at her young age. But it isn't enough.

I could become an expert in all things black hair, surround her with positive images in books and artwork, learn how to do intricate styles to near-professional quality, and send Firefly out of the house every day for the next dozen years perfectly coiffed.  But if she is never connected to an African-American community, if she has no African-American peers or mentors, if home isn't a place where racism is recognized and discussed, then what good will all that great hair have done? A good portion of transracial parenting happens outside the walls of our home: the social networks we create, the places we choose to live, the ways we help our children process and understand the things that happen to them as they move through life. And those things are a hell of a lot harder to tackle than finding a good leave-in conditioner. When I listen to transracial adoptees' stories, I hear talk about hair, but I also hear a whole lot more about feelings of isolation and a need for safe spaces to explore racial identity. That's why the disconnect I saw among some of the white parents in that particular online discussion group was so striking to me. How do you pat yourself on the back for the hours you've devoted to perfecting cornrows (and talking about them online), but not take time to learn more about the realities of racism in your country?

Next: public comments, hair touching, the styling paradox

December 03, 2009

Let's (Not) Talk About Hair

We are at a Christmas activity night for children. Puppy busies himself making a card while Firefly runs in circles nearby.

The white woman next to me leans over conspiratorially and points at Firefly. "Her hair is that cute stage now, but just wait until she gets older. Then you have to deal with all the straighteners. Actually, it's the bill for the straightener that's the problem!"

She laughs. I take one step sideways.

Two girls make their way toward us from across the room. They look like they are in junior high, maybe early high school. Earlier someone told me they were sisters. One is fair, her long blonde hair hanging in a long diagonal across her forehead. The other has light brown skin, her overly processed hair awkwardly pushed across her face in an approximation of her sister's.

After they reach us, the mother nudges the dark-haired girl. "I was telling her that the little girl's hair is cute now like yours was, but just wait until she gets older and it all goes crazy," she chuckles.

Her daughter winces.

***

My daughter's hair reaches out to touch the sky. Tended gently, it fluffs into a soft halo around her face. Caress each strand and tiny, perfect corkscrews appear beneath your fingertips. It is beautiful.

***

I'm lurking at an online discussion group made up of white adoptive mothers of black children. The central topic is their children's hair, the care and styling of. A lot of them seem to know what they're talking about. They field questions from newbies, swap techniques for braiding and styling. I pick up some good recommendations.

They devote enormous amounts of time to researching products, elaborate styles, and methods. When their daughters enjoy their hair, they are proud. They are thrilled to find books and dolls that reflect their daughters' features. It is the group's unofficial mantra that by sending them out with perfect hair they will instill in them a sense of racial pride. It will make it okay to be a brown face in a house of white. The hours spent on their hair are a show of their love.

Some admit that their children live in areas in which they almost never see another black person outside their household. One mother shares a story on her blog of her son's first day living as a young black man in America, a twelve-year old West African boy plopped into an almost exclusively white rural community. He got a "fun surprise," she says, when a police officer friend of hers "playfully" handcuffed him and put him in the back of his squad car. She finds this hilarious. The commenters do, too.

When one mother says she's troubled that people often touch her child's hair without permission and wonders if she's being oversensitive, only one or two recognize the violation the touching is. Most brush off any racial overtones. Many say the hair petting is a compliment. "I don't see why we need to drag race into everything," another poster snits.

It's as if people plucked out "learn to care for your adopted child's hair"--the one thing that perhaps felt safe, felt like something they could take hold of and learn and master--and made it out to be the secret key to transracial parenting. No historical, sociological, or relational context. I can't help but think that they're missing the point.

***

My son's hair lies smooth and flat around his head, save for the interminable cowlick at the crown. When it's time for a haircut the front pieces sneak down to tickle his eyebrows, the sides creep out over the tops of his ears. It shines like gold seen through the hazy filter of a dream. It is beautiful.

No stranger has ever, that I recall, struck up a conversation about my son's hair outside of a salon.

***

In the time Firefly has been in our family, only a few (mostly white) strangers have ever mentioned her race. Dozens and dozens (almost always white) strangers have commented on her hair. Frankly, her hair is quite ordinary amongst the curly-haired babies of the world. I imagine most of them exclaim, "Look at her hair!" when what they want to say is "Look, she's not white!"

***

People write essays judging famous white adoptive parents' ability to raise black children because their hair isn't neatly braided in public. Other people write essays telling them to shut up already.

I read and take mental notes, but it's already feeling like familiar territory. I know I'm being watchedtoo.

And I'm watching.

We're at a museum in Big City when I spot a white woman with two teenage African-American girls. They look like a family. The girls' hair is lovely, done up in way that has the air of casual simplicity but actually takes quite a bit of skill to pull off.

The mother notices us. I see her eyes travel the familiar path strangers take: Firefly's face, to me, to Todd and Puppy, back to Firefly. Her eyes go one step further, lingering for a moment on Firefly's hair in its twists. She gives me the upward chin nod of recognition.

During that same day while we are still in Big City, two more white mothers of black daughters stop to ask me questions about Firefly's hair.

***

In the mornings Firefly sits in her high chair and eats her breakfast while I prepare her hair for the day. She ignores me unless I take too long, in which case she shakes her head vigorously to thwart my efforts. It's just another part of our morning routine, like putting on clothes or searching for our shoes. There is nothing exotic about it.

November 30, 2009

Books About Open Adoption for Grandparents

DrSpouse asks...
This is completely irrelevant to your post, but I'd really appreciate recommendations on open adoption books for prospective adoptive grandparents - we are working up to telling our (mainly my) parents (mainly my mother!) about our adoption hopes...
I'd love to see an anthology some day specifically about grandparents in open adoptions: reflections from first and adoptive grandparents as well as adoptees writing about their relationships with them. They each have their own unique challenges and opportunities in open adoption--that are different from the ones the parents face--and I believe it would be so valuable for them to find commonalities and possibilities in other grandparents' experiences.

In the meantime, here are my recommendations:

For grandparents--or anyone else--looking to understand more about the whys and whats of open adoption, an excellent primer is Making Room in Our Hearts by Micky Duxbury. Ms Duxbury is an adoptive parent who interviewed a ton of open adoption participants, many more than two decades into the adoptions. It's thorough, grounded, realistic but also decidedly optimistic. I wrote a little more about why I liked it a couple of years ago. If you're scoping out open adoption books, you'll likely see it recommended a lot because it's one of the (a) newest and (b) best currently available.

For extended family members who just can't grasp why open adoption can be a mixed bag of happiness and struggle for first parents ("Why should she be sad? The baby is so happy. And you still let her see him!"), I recommend Birthparent Grief by Brenda Romanchik, a first mom herself and longtime advocate of open and ethical adoption practices. It's a slip of a book, really a booklet or a extended pamphlet. It's written for first parents, but serves as a good window for the rest of us. Think of it as a distillation of the most insightful first parent blogs in your reader. It, as well as the other pocket guides in the series, can be useful for family who are having trouble seeing things from the first parents' perspective. It also gives insight into reasons first parents sometimes back away from contact, which can often be really hard for grandparents--who feel like they would hang the moon for their beloved grandchildren--to understand. Beth has copies of this set and speaks highly of them. Don't be put off by the 1997 vibe on the website. If you mail in the order form and a check, you really will get a book. (There is an excerpt here.)

Finally, we come to the extended family members who are completely convinced that open adoption is the most ridiculous idea in the history of adoption, ever. It pains me to do this, but in those cases I suggest the pink book. It is a crappy piece of outdated propaganda in which adoptees are always children, all the triad members are happy-dappy, and open adoption solves every possible problem. However, propaganda can be useful in extreme situations--like outspoken grandparents who won't shut up about how open adoption will ruin all your lives. The strategy here is to hit them hard with the positives and only the positives. I'm not above targeting the message to bring them into the fold, then fleshing out the nuances and realities after I've got them on our side. It's better than avoiding them for your kid's entire childhood.

There you have my recommendations for grandparents, from the reasonable to the starry-eyed to the belligerent. If anyone has come across some others that have been helpful for the extended family in your world, please do add them in the comments.

(And best wishes to you, DrSpouse, as you gear up for the "we're adopting" conversation! My mom is still embarrassed about what she blurted out five years ago...)

November 26, 2009

We're Thankful for Yellow

This morning we munched on pumpkin cinnamon rolls and created our family thankfulness poster, complete with a little family of hand turkeys. Here is a snapshot of our gratitude today:

  • blanket
  • coaching
  • grandmoms and grandads
  • Thanksgiving
  • Little Church
  • sports on the Internet
  • holidays
  • [local children's museum]
  • stability
  • Mama
  • Sunday afternoons
  • my Lighting cars
  • my teaching job
  • college football
  • Grandma
  • TiVo
  • trains and cars
  • HARP
  • pancakes with my babies
  • Christmas
  • track and field
  • yellow
  • friends
  • books
  • preschool
  • my sister
  • parties
  • fires in the fireplace
  • Rudolph [yes, the reindeer]
  • cinnamon rolls
  • the internet [including all of you!]
  • my daddy
  • blue
  • pop-mmm [no idea what this is--it was a Firefly contribution]
  • family dinners
  • warm fluffy beds
  • weekends away
  • Santa Claus
  • [Big City children's science museum]

Can you tell which ones came from the kids?

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you (even if today is just Thursday where you are)! I am grateful for all the ways you entertain, support, challenge and encourage me. My life would be that much less rich without you.

November 24, 2009

A Little of What's Been Going On Here

Progress continues toward communication with Firefly's paternal grandmother. It looks like we have a date set for a conference call with her early next month. I honestly have no idea what she thinks of us at this point in time, so I'm pretty curious about where the conversation is going to go. I believe she's sincere about wanting a connection with Firefly. We'll start there and see where we end up.

I have been very grateful for the involvement of our former agency social worker in all this, both as a sounding board and an intermediary during these beginning stages. There are topics and comments that are more easily broached by a third party, someone who won't be part of any eventual relationship.

If you're serious about wanting an open adoption, my unsolicited advice is to find an agency that offers strong post-adoption services. Not one that just pays lip service to them on their website (I think every agency claims to offer "lifelong counseling"). But can they give specific examples of support services they've recently provided? Is it common for clients to access the services? What happens when the particular staff members you worked with leave the agency? Your family may never need the help, but if you do it's so helpful to have it. It's hard, because a lot of one's experience with an agency depends on which specific counselors you end up working with. I've met people who had a much different experience with the same agency that has supported us so well. But at least you can figure out if there's a value for nurturing openness over the long haul.

Meanwhile, we've been spending a lot of time talking with one of the kid's birth parents who is facing some crises right now. It's a straightforward situation I suppose, in that no job means no money for the stuff of life. But the reasons behind the no job and the no money are more complicated because people and life are complicated. Poverty is chaotic. Mental illness can be chaotic. Addiction is chaotic. The economy sucketh. So we try to figure out how we can help from a distance in ways that are actually productive in the long-term instead of just continuing a messy loop. Our decisions aren't always what this person wants to hear in the moment. That's okay. But it's not always easy.

I don't know if any of you are even interested in these mundane things. But I think it fits here, in the middle of our ongoing story, because sometimes in our family this is what open adoption looks like. The gauzy happy scenes of shared love are real. But so are these episodes. I don't think of it much in terms of open adoption when it's happening, because it's more just about interacting with the people who in our life. Our children's families. But in a way it is about openness, because if the adoptions were closed up tight in the beginning none of this even be on our radar screen. Not a worthwhile trade-off, in my mind.

November 20, 2009

No Yes Inspiration Obsession

I've seen this meme floating around and it somehow seems just right on this windy Friday...

Saying no to:
  • Feeling grumpy
  • Letting people down
  • Watching burn-out creep in
Saying yes to:
  • Taking the time I need to finish things
  • Being braver. Just a wee bit.
  • Baking as much as I want, without apology
Giddy about:
  • Homemade Thanksgiving pies
  • Firefly's laugh
  • Warm, toasty waffles
Scared of:
  • Not being able to hold all the pieces together
  • All the possible endings for a loved one in crisis
  • Doing the wrong thing
  • The bugs which shall not be named but rhyme with dockpoaches
Deeply inspired by:
  • Beautiful prose
  • Puppy's childish enthusiasm
  • Friends working for justice
Obsessed with:
  • Fledgling family traditions
  • Perfecting my twists
  • Making time to read
In love with:
  • The rituals of Advent
  • Fluffy white clouds of duvet
  • Summer berries tucked away in the freezer
Haunted by:
  • Decisions made too late
  • The week I should have stayed
  • Grudges I held too long
Saved by:
  • Being needed
  • Being loved
  • Being known

November 18, 2009

EnviroMom Meatless Supper Club: Southwestern Corn & Potato Soup

This week we tried a new soup recipe from my beloved uber-healthy vegetarian cookbook. Because when it gets cloudy and windy like it has the last several days, I start craving soup. I was intrigued by this recipe for a Southwestern corn soup that incorporated sweet potato, so I thought we'd give it a whirl.

I've put up a picture but...it's chunky yellow soup. There's no way my meager photography skills could make it look like anything but the subject of my four-year old's potty humor. You'll have to trust me when I say it tasted far better than it looks in the photo.

The results: We liked it! It had enough flavor to be interesting for the adults but not so much that it was overwhelming for the kids. In the recipe's final step, you purée half of the soup, which gave it a nice creamy texture without using any dairy. The lime and cilantro were nice accent flavors. (Hmm, those green garnishes would have made the picture look a bit more appetizing. Why didn't I think of that?) We served it with a tossed salad and chips and salsa, because I take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy chips and salsa. It took about 40 minutes from chopping through cooking, but only about 15 minutes of that was actual work. The rest was just simmering time on the stove.

The verdict: We'll definitely make this one again. I might stir in some black beans along with the corn next time, to add a little extra protein.

This marks the last week of the Meatless Supper Club posts. I've had a great time participating and if you've tried--or improved on--any of the recipes, I'd love to hear about it. Thanks to EnviroMom for organizing this and letting me play along!

November 17, 2009

Open Adoption Roundtable #10

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. Publish your response during the next two weeks--linking back here so we can all find one other--and leave a link to your post in the comments. If you don't blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

***
A note from Heather: I'm thrilled to announce that this round will be hosted (faciliated? edited? curated?) by Thanksgivingmom of I Should Really Be Working. Thanksgivingmom placed her daughter for adoption three years ago this month. Her blog is a gem; she has that rare combination of strong opinions crossed with sensitivity to other adoption plane members. I always enjoy her thoughtful posts about working out her identity as a first mom and what it has been like for her to build an open adoption after the fact (she wasn't involved in choosing her daughter's adoptive mother and didn't meet her until after the placement).

And now I'll turn the floor over to Thanksgivingmom...

***

This is a topic that is very timely for me (Thanksgivingmom) right now, but is something that all of us in open adoption deal with at least once during the year: birthdays.

I know that birthdays can be an extremely emotional time, for everyone connected to adoption, not just those of us in open adoptions. So what is it that we do, as part of our open adoptions, during the “birthday season”?

Our experiences on this are so diverse, that I don’t want to limit your responses to one specific question. BUT, since some of us (like me!) sometimes like the specific questions, here are a few that have been rattling around in my brain as my daughter’s third birthday approaches:

  • What do you/your family do to integrate open adoption and birthday celebrations?
  • What do you wish you would see in future birthday celebrations re: involvement with your child’s adoptive parents/birth parents?
  • Do you have an open adoption agreement that requires contact on/around birthdays?
  • How does that agreement affect you? Do you wish it were different? Do you wish that you did have an agreement that requires such contact?
  • If you do not have contact around birthdays, do you do something private to honor birthdays?
  • If you’re an adoptee, how were birthdays celebrated in your family with regards to open adoption?
  • How do you wish they would have been celebrated?
  • And anything else you can think of!
***


Barely Sane (adoptive Mom) @ Infertility Licks writes: "Again, MG is too young to really "get it" just yet but as time goes on, the timing of these gifts will not go unnoticed and I think it will be significant for MG to know she isn't forgotten on that day."

Susie (first Mom) @ Endure for a Night writes: (on attending her placed son's birthday party) "If we can’t make it, I would like to call. Of course, that’s not exactly right; in some ways, I want to not call or go or have any kind of contact. I want to grieve and mope and feel sorry for myself. But since I keep reminding myself that this is a child-centered open adoption, I want to want to do the right thing by Cricket."

Jess (adoptive Mom) @ The Problem with Hope writes: "Birthdays are an extremely special and sentimental thing around here....and I don't think that I'd ever want to "separate" her birthday from her birth family (as if that's even possible!!)."

Debbie (adoptive Mom) @ Always and Forever Family writes: (on birthday/holiday visits as part of an open adoption agreement) "Given that M is the quiet type I'm glad we have that established so that we don't have to wonder about a visit around those times. Sure schedules and distance might be an issue but I know we'll always try to visit around Isabel's birthday and Christmas."

Robyn C (adoptive Mom) @ Adoption Blogs writes: "I always think of S as Jack’s birthday grows near. Every year, I remember how we wouldn’t have Jack if it weren’t for S. We wouldn’t be a family without her. I think about what Jack’s life or our lives might be like and shudder."

You Never "Get Over It" (first Mom) writes: "I have often toyed with the idea of having some kind of ritual for his birthday (preferably one that requires me to stay home and NOT go to work), but I just don’t know WHAT. Nothing really brings me any peace about him being gone. I have yet to find any ritual, any ANTHING that makes my soul less raw, my emotions less fragile on his birthday."

Dawn (adoptive Mom) @ This Woman's Work writes: "To me, Madison’s birthdays are very symbolic of the progression of our open adoption. Caution at the beginning. Trying to figure out boundaries. Pennie’s tentative attempts to create her own celebrations. Then finally a merging of our friends/families and public recognition of Pennie’s presence in our family and her relationship to Madison."

Leigh (first Mom) @ Sturdy Yet Fragile writes: "Her birthday, and the fall season/Thanksgiving bring on mixed emotions for me. In many ways I can get upset if I let myself think too much about our couple short days together and the horrible moment when I had to physically hand her over. But for the last few years, I also looked forward to her birthday, as it meant I would soon be receiving an update and some pictures."

Ginger (first Mom) @ Puzzle Pieces: Adoption writes: "The years I haven't...it's not that I don't care. It's that their birthdays are hard for me. It's that picking out a birthday card that's suitably neutral and inoffensive is emotionally exhausting for me. It's not simple. Nothing is simple."

Jenna (first Mom) @ The Chronicles of Munchkinland writes: "Birthdays are probably the hardest day of my yearly adoption journey. And yet, at the same time, I welcome them for they mean that my beautiful daughter is another year older. It means that I’ve spent another year getting to know her in various ways. It means that I get to celebrate her presence in my life. I can ignore the general melancholy of the day for the most part if I know that my daughter has remained in my life for yet another year.

Family of Three (adoptive Mom) writes: "Actions speak louder than words, and the fact that FirstMom is setting aside her current challenges to make the effort to be here for Sassy will ring much more clearly than my reminders someday to Sassy that FirstMom does love and care about her."

November 13, 2009

Developments

We've had an interesting--and unexpected--series of emails this week. Someone in Firefly's extended family, on her birth dad's side, reached out to us through the adoption agency.

To understand why they were so unexpected, you should know that Kevin chose not to tell anyone in his family about Firefly until over a year after her birth and placement. From the accounts of it that reached us, his disclosure had just the effect he intended: there was an immediate explosion of fury directed at anyone who had anything to do with Firefly's life or adoption. The emotions ricocheted around and around in threats and violent words. It was the only time in this open adoption gig I've ever been remotely afraid for our family's safety. And believe me when I say it took a lot for me to get to that point.

Deep breathing and dark humor go a long way in such situations, I've discovered.

When months went by and it seemed that the words were only words, our guts told us to leave things alone for awhile. Give us all time to turn things over in our minds, give us space from everything that happened last spring.  It certainly didn't seem like they wanted anything to do with us at that point. But after awhile doing nothing felt the same as saying we never wanted anything to do with them. And we didn't see how that would set Firefly up well in the future. So last month we mailed some pictures and a note to Kevin at the last address we had for him. There is no point in having an open door if no one knows it is open.

He must have shared the pictures with his family members, because one of them called our contact at the agency, and she in turn emailed us to see what next steps we'd like to take. Todd and I talked over what we would need to hear at this point to feel good about moving forward. Another phone call, more emails, and it seems those things are now true. So, slowly, we're heading onward.

When I dropped those pictures in the mail, I admit this isn't what I thought would happen next. Maybe down the road, but not now. It's an odd spot to be in, figuring out how to make allowances for things done or said out of understandable anger/grief while still maintaining a certain expectation of common decency. Open adoption doesn't mean being a pushover. But it certainly has me learning to let go of things that probably few outside the open adoption world--and perhaps even inside it--would fault me for hanging onto. But if it means we can push much of this into the past before Firefly is even aware of it all, I believe it will be worth it.

November 11, 2009

EnviroMom Meatless Supper Club: Udon Noodles with Bok Choy

This is Heather's husband, Todd.   She is feeling very ill right now, but not because of these noodles. She woke up last night---well, you don't need any details.   She has commissioned me to post this photo and recipe on her blog. I thought they tasted great. I had three servings and Firefly ate them like crazy. She eats most things well. Puppy was a bit hesitant, but finished his plate. When Heather called them peanut butter noodles he seemed to be more open. As we can not use cheese due to Firefly's milk sensitivity, peanut butter has become a go-to protein source.  

So Heather has been cooking more vegetarian meals for us for dinner. They have all been good and tasty, but I have found myself hankering for a snack around 9:30 p.m. I also have found that I eat a lot for dinner. I wonder if I'm just trying to make up for the lack of meat by eating large portions.

November 08, 2009

Three Beautiful Things #16

Three beautiful things on a November evening...
  1. Children giggling as they lie down to sleep
  2. A tart sweet warm caramel-ly bite of apple crisp
  3. Kind words in my inbox 
What is beautiful in your world today?

November 05, 2009

EnviroMom Meatless Supper Club: Spicy Black Beans & Rice

This has been one of Those Weeks. The kind in which just making it to the dinner table at the end of the day feels like an accomplishment. So any meals hav to be (1) fast and (2) made of ingredients already in our pantry or freezer.

Our trusty black beans and rice recipe fit the bill on both counts. You'd probably never serve it guests--it's too ugly for that. But it's warm, comforting, filling and beyond easy to make. The most complicated step is chopping up an onion.

It's really not that spicy, despite its name. I use a minimum of cayenne pepper to keep it kid-friendly. Upping the rice-to-bean mixture ratio also helps if children complain about it being too spicy. But everyone ate it and was happy this time around. It pairs well with a green salad or even just a bowl of baby carrots. We also sometimes substitute cornbread for the rice, just for a change.

But not this week. I am way too tired to make cornbread right now.

Recipe below, plus more meatless meals at EnviroMom...

November 04, 2009

Open Adoption Roundtable #9

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

Publish your response during the next two weeks--linking back here so we can all find one other--and leave a link to your post in the comments. If you don't blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

This round we're going to consider one critique of fully open adoptions. Have you ever heard--or perhaps even made--statements like these?
"We have medical histories and can share the information we have about their birth parents with our children now. If they feel a need to initiate contact with their birth families when they are adults, we will fully support them."
"The decision to have a relationship with her bio family should be hers when she is ready. Creating a relationship between them before she wants it might cause issues in the future."
"Children deserve to have just one family during childhood and not to deal with anything adoption-related until they are more mature. A fully open adoption robs a child of a normal childhood."
These statements are from people participating in closed and semi-open adoptions. I paraphrased them slightly, but left the meanings intact.

The writers share a certain point-of-view: that direct contact during early childhood between birth families and children placed for adoption may not be the best idea. Adopted persons should be free to initiate relationships with their first families--or not--on their own timetable. The parents (first and adoptive) in an adoption shouldn't make such an important and personal decision for them.

What is your response? Do you agree or disagree? Why?

***

Susiebook (first mom) at Endure for a Night: "Your child can’t create familial relationships on his or her own—by leaving it up to the adoptee, you make a relationship impossible at first and then merely difficult, handicapped by the years spent in the dark."

Ginger (first mom) at Puzzle Pieces: "I think when parents say this, they usually mean something like,'We can't decide if openness is good or bad so we just won't decide now. Instead, we'll push these adult decisions off on a child.'"

Elly (adoptive mom): "I get the feeling that too many a-parents who are fixed on a closed or semi-open adoption are doing it because they aren't comfortable with the child's birthfamily. But his (our son's) birthfamily is his family. I don't want him to be afraid to be curious, or interested. Or surprised. Or try to figure out himself how to 'make contact'."

KatjaMichelle (first mom) at Therapy Is Expensive: "All in all adults are uncomfortable with open adoption because its a foreign concept and if we raise our children to view it as an unusual occurance they will be uncomfortable with it as well. If we raise them to know that differences in families are normal, that they have extended family connects that their friends may not, they can grow up embracing all of who they are."

Leigh (first mom) at Sturdy Yet Fragile: "My initial reaction is that I can't disagree entirely with these statements. I think that they represent a fair argument, which is to say that a child may not be mature enough to fully comprehend such complicated relationships as are present in open adoptions. However, from what I've read from several families participating in fully open adoptions, there seems to be an organic level of understanding, and of love, that takes place for the child, even if he or she does not have the adult words or labels to explain those relationships."

Rachel (adoptive mom) at Henry Street: "I truly have some mixed feelings when it comes to full openness, but I would never dismiss it as bad for the kids. Adoption is complicated, period."

Dawn (adoptive mom) at This Woman's Work: "Well, obviously I disagree. And these kinds of arguments drive me crazy."

Valerie (first mom) at From Another Mother: "At first, I'm not really going to have a choice whether [a hypothetical aunt is] in my life--and I'm probably not going to care. However, it's still my choice whether to have a relationship with her. I still get to decide--whether consciously or un--whether I like her or not. My parents may dictate how often I see her as I grow up, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go out of my way to talk to her or bond with her. It's my choice. And as I get older, the choice becomes more and more my own."

Barely Sane (adoptive mom) at Infertility Licks: "Bonds are formed over time. It will take time for MG's birth family and myself to form a relationship that all parties are comfortable with. We need that time now, while MG is still too young to recognize the awkwardness of it."

Luna (adoptive mom) at Life From Here: "To those who say that contact would be confusing for the child, I fail to see how spending time among family would be any more confusing than trying to understand later why your parents never made that option available, if it was possible."

Shmode (adoptive mom) at Frogged Mind: "I do not look down upon those that have decided against open adoption as it is more than just the best interest of the child at stake. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree, but the adoption itself isn’t solely a single individual’s life experience. There are a mass of people surrounding the child that are affected on a daily basis by his or her presence, so you cannot tell me that a serious decision like this should only consider the needs of the child and the child alone and ignore the persons that will surround him in his daily life for years to come."

Lavender Luz (adoptive mom) at Weebles Wobblog: "We do better to normalize our children's adoption from as early as possible. Our children come to us living in a gap between their biology and their biography. The sooner this schism is addressed and the less spread open the cleft is, the more likely it is to heal well and completely. Integration of the two parts of an adopted child's identity should, in my mind, be the responsibility of the decision-makers (parents) from Day 1 with their new child."

Andy (adoptee/adoptive mom) at Today's the Day!: "Mine was a closed adoption, so this is mostly theoretical. But I would have been PISSED if I had found out as an adult that my parents had either known my first family, knew how to contact them or kept them from me in any way."

Sustainable Families (adoptee): "Taking a quick glance over at open adoption research over at the Adoption Institute, we find that their conclusion seems to be that semi-open adoption is in fact, the hardest. Going on adecdotal evidence, I would agree. Semi-open adoptions and open adoptions with limited contact are, I believe, harder for children and biological parents"

November 02, 2009

Quick Birthday Follow-up

I forgot to tell you we came home one night last week to a message from Ray saying that he wanted to wish Puppy a happy birthday. Just to close the birth parent birthday loop that I thought was closed but was apparently half-dangling.

It was late, so Todd called him back on another evening. Ray and Puppy had one of those five-sentence conversations before Puppy decided he was done, which is so typical of his phone skills right now. Very charmed by the idea of talking on the phone, not so great with the execution.

My reaction was...neutral, I guess? Relieved a call eventually come, but not so much that it erased my disappointment from two weeks ago. All in all it was rather anti-climatic. But, really, my reaction is quite beside the point. What matters is what kind of building blocks Ray is laying down in his relationship with Puppy right now, and this was one of those. Puppy has been planning his fifth and sixth birthdays since pretty much the minute after this year's party ended. So that idea that someone was calling about the birthday that just went by was a little "huh?" for him. But he bounced up the stairs with with a goofy grin when I asked if he wanted to talk to Ray. And surely that is worth something.

November 01, 2009

Obligatory Halloween Post-Mortem

For Halloween, Puppy dressed up as a Holy Crusader and Firefly went as a monkey.

I kid, I kid!

Puppy was a wizard, Firefly was a cat and it was all quite fun. Although Todd tells me the wizard costume would not have flown with his parents during his childhood years. Too evil, apparently. But they actually did dress him as a Crusader one year. The calculus on that one is a little fuzzy for me.

This year was the first time we tried that popular candy swap/fairy/game/bribe thing in which the kid gets a toy in exchange for their candy. Firefly turns into an itchy, miserable mess (or worse) whenever she ingests even a small bit cow's milk right now. That rules out pretty much all Halloween candy involving chocolate or caramel. She didn't give a rip about the candy this year, aside from playing with the crinkly wrappers. But I had visions of future Halloweens with Puppy gloating over his giant haul and her with a sad little pile of Skittles and those awful Smarties (Rockets, for all you Canadians). We thought we'd offer Puppy the choice of trading his stash for a toy, to see if we could get a little pattern going for next year.

I honestly thought it wouldn't work. Who would willingly give up big bag of candy for some little toy? I love me some candy! Especially fun size candy! So tiny and tasty! But Puppy was really excited about the whole idea and woke us up early babbling about the toys that magically appeared in the candy basket overnight. It was like it was Christmas morning. Actually quite fun.

His biggest question was where exactly all the candy had flown off to. I told him his guess was as good as mine.

That may not have been entirely true. (Burp.)

October 29, 2009

An Adoption Photo

Football has always been something Ray and Todd shared in common. They were both coaching high school teams the year Puppy was born; I remember Ray coming back to the hospital room late one night after a game (which he and Todd promptly spent the good part of an hour dissecting play by play). Every phone call between them eventually turns to football.

Puppy recognized this commonality early on. Not surprising, given that it's nearly impossible to miss. I think it's important to him as a way he can connect with his two dads at the same time. Footballs and football teams and football shirts and football love are something the three of them can share, an overlapping space all of them can comfortably occupy.  They throw the ball around in some fashion every time we get together.  He can pick out Ray and Todd's favorite teams on the television and roots for them by color.

This picture is from Ray's visit in August. Football was a major theme of the visit. The three of them tossed a ball around in the yard more than once and went to one of Todd's practices together. On this evening, a pajama-ed Puppy had toddled over to where Ray and Todd were talking with this helmet in his hands. I love the symmetry in Ray and Todd as they gaze at Puppy, they way they share the same tilt of the head, the same proud smiles.

I treasure this picture because it reminds me that, as bittersweet as it sometimes is, open adoption makes this sort of overlap possible and real. It's not just us telling Puppy that his birth dad likes football, too. It's him experiencing that for himself, seeing the similarities and differences between his fathers, watching them enjoy each other as peers.

(I'm password protecting the picture because I'm shy like that, but just contact me for the secret code if you don't have it already.)


See other entries in the latest GIMH Adoption Carnival here...

October 28, 2009

EnviroMom Meatless Supper Club: Autumn in a Squash Bowl

I feel like a big cheater this week. First I took a perfectly good recipe that called for tofu and made it with chicken instead. And now I'm giving you a favorite recipe for stuffed acorn squash that's only meatless because I swapped in a fake meat substitute (in this case, faux sausage).

I'm not sure how I feel about things masquerading as meats. We eat them semi-regularly: Morningstar "chicken" nuggets, Boca burgers and such. They're almost always lower in fat and calories than the real thing. And the enviromental impact of growing items like soybeans and mushrooms  is smaller than growing a cow or pig. But then you factor in all the processing and added ingredients...and they always come in so much packaging...like I said, I'm torn.

(While we're on the subject of cheating, I do have a quick tip for faking spaghetti with meat sauce. You can swap out the ground beef for bulgur--1 cup dry bulgur for every 1 pound of meat. Add 1 cup boiling water--or beef stock for more flavor--to 1 cup bulgur, cover and let sit for several minutes. Very similar texture but more fiber, less fat, less money. It works in soups, too.)

Enough guilt. Back to the stuffed squash. I love this meal. The combination of the squash, sausage, cranberries, apples and pecans just captures autumn perfectly. It's pretty enough to serve to guests (it looks more impressive in real life than in my picture) and not very hard to make. And it's a dinner recipe made with maple syrup. How can it go wrong?

The results: Everyone ate it! Whoo! I fully expected the four-year old to turn up his nose, but he was chowing down. Maybe it was the novelty of the little squash bowl? I wasn't about to question it. Four year olds--who can understand them?

The verdict: The change to the faux sausage in this recipe is one we'll keep. It's healthier without the pork and it didn't change the favor or texture of the dish at all.

Recipe below the jump, plus more meatless meals at EnviroMom...

October 25, 2009

Little Church

Today was a Little Church day, a Sunday we worshiped at the AME Zion church in town. We've been alternating weeks between that congregation and (what used to be) our usual church since mid-summer.  Puppy dubbed them Big Church and Little Church based on the size of their buildings, but I'll bet most adults observing the two would think of them as "white church" and "black church."

There is an imbalance right now in our involvement between the two churches, since we've got a couple years' head start at Big Church. But our goal, in the near-term at least, is to be equally invested at them both. It's important to us that the kids see us parents giving and receiving instead of merely attending--especially at Little Church, so they can know that we're there because it's important to us, too, and not just for Firefly's sake. It's been slow-going. Todd joined a men's breakfast one weekend and bonded with a couple guys in that way he has. He has helped out in kids' church. We went to the big annual church picnic, where I got to know the family of a little girl Firefly's age and Todd somehow managed to inspire a giant game of football. We've started to learn people's names and have conversations that go beyond banal pleasantries--small things, but ones that feel like a big deal when you're getting to know a new community. Todd and I attended a fundraiser on Saturday for a local group researching the history of African-American pioneers in our state. We'd been to their events before, but this was the first time we've walked in and been able to greet people we knew. It feels like our baby steps venturing out are beginning to pay off in small ways.

There is a certain self-consciousness walking into a black church that first time as white parents with a black child in your arms, at least for me. It's easy to convince myself that everyone is looking at us and thinking that we're only there because of Firefly. But that was more or less true in the beginning, so I figured I might as well own it. And the members have been nothing but welcoming of our whole family. Not that I expected them to not be rude, but it really is a particularly warm congregation. (I've visited umpteen churches in my day, so I've got some basis for comparison.) Smaller churches often are.

We received an extra dose of that warmth today after the service. A woman came down the aisle as we were working to gather our things and hungry children. I apologized for the lot of us blocking her way and moved aside. "Oh, no," she said. "I actually came to talk to you."

She looked like she was in her mid- to late-forties. "I'm biracial," she continued, after we exchanged names. "My mom raised three of us biracial kids on her own. I've seen you here a few times now and I wanted to ask if you had any questions about how to do [Firefly's] hair. I know how hard it was for my mom."

She did a quick look and touch appraisal of Firefly's curls and deemed them well-tended (whoo). She quizzed me on a few of the basics of care and combing, I think mostly to make sure I wasn't torturing poor Firefly. We laughed about the total paradigm shift it is for women with fine, straight hair like mine (and her mom's) to deliberately work oil into hair.

We talked briefly about some of the tensions she felt growing up and what it's been like for her to live in our predominately white city. "Please, if there is ever any piece of advice or comment you'd like to say to us, feel free to just put it out there," I told her. "We won't be offended. We need people to tell us what we're doing wrong."

"I don't think it's a matter of right and wrong," she answered. "Maybe better and worse. What's most important is that love is underneath it all. I've watched you and it seems like you've got that part right. I just wanted to let you know I'm here. I've thought a lot about my experience growing up biracial and I feel like it's my mission to do something with that."

What a gift, you know? This woman saw Firefly and felt a kinship, and wanted to love on her by offering up her own experience and making sure we had our basic act together. She certainly didn't have to do that, but she chose to, and that means so much to me.

There is no grand point to this post, and I hope it doesn't come across like I'm patting us on the back. Lord knows we haven't earned the right to do that yet. These are teeny tiny steps we're taking, but ones that feel increasingly right.

October 21, 2009

Enviromom Meatless Supper Club: Pad Thai

I had a hard time deciding what to post this week, because we actually lucked out with a string of tasty vegetarian dinners. (I think my family got a little tired of me taking pictures of our food.) So I'm going with the one that was a surprise to us and saving my all-time favorite autumn meal for next time.

When I came across this pad thai recipe awhile back, I was reluctant to try it. Pad thai conjures up memories of fun late night food runs with roommates and relaxed meals out with my husband during the childless days of our marriage. I didn't want to ruin those associations with some bad homemade attempt. But the point of this EnviroMom project for me was to try new vegetarian recipes, so we plunged ahead.


The results: My husband and I were both pleasantly surprised by how good it was. The sauce was flavorful without being too powerful, with just the right tang from the lemon lime juice. The eggs and peanuts made it a filling meal. It probably took about 30-40 minutes to prepare, from start to finish.

The four-year old flat out refused to eat it. We tried calling it Peanut Noodles, but no dice. He's just determined not to like anything new right now. The one-year old, on the other hand, liked it so much it was almost disturbing. She kept stuffing noodles into her mouth and frantically signing, "More, more, more, please, please, more!"

The verdict: Definite keeper. I'm already craving it again.

Recipe below the jump, plus more meatless meal ideas at EnviroMom...

October 20, 2009

Open Adoption Roundtable #8

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

Publish your response during the next two weeks--linking back here so we can all find one other--and leave a link to your post in the comments. If you don't blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.


One common thread running through the last batch of roundtable posts was that, even though balancing privacy concerns can be challenging, we keep blogging about adoption because the connections we make are worth the challenges.

Blogging at its best is a conversation. An interaction between writers and readers who comment or even just mull over a post long after reading it. A paper journal gives you privacy, but it can never challenge your ideas or give you insight into another perspective. It never offers support in a difficult moment. Blogging--or rather, the people reading and writing those blogs--can.

There are people inside my computer--strangers--whose words have made a difference in my family's adoptions. That probably sounds nutty to those outside the blog world, but it's true. And I bet the same is true for many of you. In this round, I thought it would be interesting to recognize some of those people. Because I bet a lot of those folks don't even realize the effect they've had on us.

Write about a blogger (or bloggers) who influenced your real-life open adoption, and how. It might be someone who became an offline friend who supports and challenges you. Or a writer who makes you uncomfortable, but gets you thinking. Maybe a blogger who doesn't even know you are reading. Tell us about them and how they've affected you.

***

Adoptive mom Jenn Mc says Thanksgivingmom made her more aware of her own actions toward her child's birth mom.

Prospective adoptive parent Prabha at Baby Steps to a Baby Dream tells how stumbling onto Clio in an internet search completely changed her mind about open adoption.

Prospective adoptive parent Thorn at Mother Issues describes how an encounter with Dawn's family changed her partner's view of her decades-old adoption.

Adoptive mom Spyderkl at Evil Mommy shares how her friendship with Barb of Cigarettes and Coffee helped her keep the door open, even when it seemed like no one walked through it.

Adoptive mom Cynthia at In the Night Kitchen recalls turning to the internet to help her get over her fears--and finding This Woman's Work.

Adoptive mom Rredhead at the Adoption.com Open Adoption Blog rounds up her favorite first mom and adoptive mom blogs, plus two group blogs.

First mom Ginger of Puzzle Pieces finds parallels between her oldest daughter and Madison, insight into the adoption process at Hoping for Another Little One and Parenthood Path, and an example of the sort of cooperation open adoption requires at The Great Surro Adventure.

First mom Amstel of Amstel Life shares some of her favorite positive adoption blogs, while noting that it's the writers opposed to adoption who have forced her to really come to terms with the "what ifs."

First mom Leigh at Sturdy Yet Fragile tells how blogs like Weebles Wobblog and Parenthood Path allowed her to see adoptive parents as people and take a chance with her daughter's adoptive parents.

First mom Thanksgivingmom of I Should Really Be Working shares how the words and support of Coco at Mommyhood and Life help her make sense of her own situation.

Adoptive mom and adopted adult Andy at Today's the Day! says writers like M de P, Thanksgivingmom, Jenna and Dawn have helped her cope with the limbo of her family's lopsided adoptions.

First mom and adopted adult Valerie of From Another Mother is inspired by the advocacy of The R House.

Adoptive mom Barely Sane at Infertility Licks says the blogs of first moms like Brown, Thanksgivingmom and Valerie showed her new, practical ways to communicate with her daughter's first family.

Prospective adoptive parent Amy of  Beanie Baby Blog says blogs like Heart Cries, Infertility Licks and Amstel Life have her rethinking their thus far conservative approach to open adoption..

First mom Susiebook at Endure for a Night appreciates the insight This Woman's Work gives her into adoptive parents, credits I Should Really Be Working with grounding her in the midst of her grief, and sees herself in The Happiest Sad.

Prospective adoptive parent Jacksmom at Hoping for Another Little One appreciates Ginger's honest appraisals of her very different open adoptions, my stories of thinking through adoption in our home, and being able to share in the growth of Luna's open adoption relationship from its beginnings.

Adoptive mom Lassie at Eggs Benedict Arnold shares how vital it has been for her to face up to the hard truths found in Not Mother.

Adopted adult Anonadoptee at The Adopted Feminist envisions being one of the first to have grown up in an open adoption to use her experience to support others--and generously opens herself up to questions.

Adoptive parent Sharon at What Else Do We Need? writes about the importance of finding a kindred spirit in Dawn.

Adoptive parent Momosapien joins the (well-deserved) Dawn love train, noting how much she's learned about creating space for conflicting emotions.
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