April 30, 2009

Then: Our Role in All This

One of the quirks of my personality type is that we don't feel the need much to repeat ourselves. We dislike it, even. If we already put the information/emotion/thought out there, why must we do it again? Everyone heard us the first time.

Todd (who is my opposite in this area and likes to say one thing five different ways) has grown accustomed to simply asking for repeat affirmation from me when there's been a dry spell. "Do you still appreciate my fine cooking skills*?" he'll ask. "Of course," I say. "I told you so in February."

Yesterday evening I was writing about some ways we're rethinking--or maybe letting evolve--our
role as adoptive parents in our open adoption relationships. And it occurred to me that blogging almost requires a certain amount of repetition. We all come in and out of blogs at different points, and few of us have time to read through archives anymore. (Back when there were like five adoption blogs out there I would spend hours reading every old post when I discovered a new blog I liked. That seems like such a luxury now!) According to my very scientific Two-Year Blog Cycle Theory, there are mostly new folks here. So why should I expect you to know what I said eons ago?

So, below is a post I wrote two years ago laying out our thoughts on our role as adoptive parents at the time. I share it again not because it's the most beautifully written post, but because when I talk later about how my thoughts are evolving, it will hopefully make a lot more sense.

I have been thinking some about our role as the adoptive parents in Puppy's open adoption. Giving your child a connection to his or her birth parents is often a big motivator for prospective adoptive parents considering openness. But how much power do we really have to "give" that connection? I've seen adoptive parents (including myself) put a lot of pressure on themselves to ensure that their child has the Best.Relationship.Ever. with his or her first parents. The perceived strength of that relationship morphs into an indicator of how "successful" their child's open adoption is.

On one hand, we really we have very little control over that. We could try to prevent a relationship from forming, but we can't make Puppy love Kelly or Ray any more than we can force him to love us. And we can't even guarantee that Kelly and Ray will remain a consistent part of his life over the long haul. Situations change and people change. If Kelly or Ray ever pulled back from contact, I would certainly share my perspective on how their pulling away could hurt Puppy. But I'm not the relational puppet master of this adoption. If I put pressure on myself for Puppy to have a super close relationship with his first families, Puppy will undoubtedly pick up on it at some point. And down that road lies disaster.

On the other hand, I feel that Todd and I have responsibilities beyond standing back and watching Puppy's relationship with his first parents unfold on its own. I once heard a panel of teenagers share their thoughts about their open adoptions. One of the common themes among this particular group was an appreciation for the foundations their adoptive parents laid for their relationships with their first families. They were now at the point where they could pick up the phone and call their first parents on their own. But they recognized that at the beginning of the adoption a lot of effort had been put into establishing a basis for those connections. Things like organizing visits and initiating phone calls, freely sharing information about their history, and generally creating an atmosphere of openness in the family. To this group of teens, those actions had been crucial.

Some critics of open adoption say that it robs adoptees of their choice about whether or not to have a relationship with their first parents. I have trouble understanding the argument behind their position. We don't give Puppy a choice about knowing his grandparents or cousins or our friends. They are a part of our life, therefore they are a part of his. There are certainly some unique issues with first families that generally aren't there with other family members. But those issues aren't caused by first families being integrated into an adoptee's life, they are caused by the adoption itself. If anything, the integration of the first families may provide a positive context for sorting through those issues.

I suppose it is similar to how we treat other extended family relationships. Todd and I put the effort into having their pictures up in our house, telling Puppy about them, and visiting to provide opportunities for everyone to get to create memories together. We hope our relatives will also put in the effort to connect with Puppy, but we don't force it. Neither do we tell Puppy to feel a certain way about them. Trying to force a child to demonstrate love for someone rarely works. My guess is it more often ends up backfiring.

Todd and I can't force relationships between Puppy and his first parents. We can't guarantee there won't be friction or hurt between them. But we can make sure we're not hindering the relationships. We can step back at times in order to provide space in Puppy's life for them to develop. As the adoptive parents in our personal triad, we are uniquely able to lay a foundation of respect upon which Puppy and his first parents can build. The rest, I suppose, is up to them.

* question may be completely fabricated

April 26, 2009

Show and Tell

This is--and, God willing, will be--the only paparazzo shot taken of me in my life.

In the hours before the busy-ness and bustle of our wedding, Todd and I spent some time alone together in the courtyard where the ceremony would take place. We talked and laughed and mostly just grinned giddily at each other. Cheesy romantic that he is, Todd sang me a song he had written on his guitar.

Unbeknownst to the two of us, one of the photographers stole behind some bushes and snuck a few shots. They are some of my favorites from the day. No posing, no awareness of being seen. Just us.

Yesterday we went out to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Our anniversary was actually a few weeks ago--8 years on the 8th--but the logistics of babysitting and such pushed our celebration out a bit. I am not terribly sappy and neither of us makes much fuss about our anniversary. But it is so good once a year to step back and remember how we began, to be grateful for where we have come. To have found somene who shares your mind on parenting and career, on God and purpose, on marriage and partnership, is a lucky thing indeed. And like that afternoon in the courtyard, like across the restaurant table last night, worthy of a little giddy grinning now and then.

Visit Show & Tell at the Stirrup Queen for more memories, both new and old.

April 22, 2009


Things I meant to do today:
  1. Mail a package
  2. Visit the bank
  3. Work
  4. Blog (hi, ICLW-ers!)
  5. Eat
  6. Pick up pictures to send to Beth
  7. Put on nicer clothes
Things I actually did today:
  1. Work

Mining your expertise worked so well on the Open Adoption Bloggers buttons, I'm giving it another try. We're a talented group! If any of the lawyer-ly types among you knows even a tiny bit about trademark laws, could you drop me an email? I have a question that is probably really basic, if you know anything about trademarks. Which I don't. But I can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about charitable giving regulations. You know, if you ever have need for that sort of thing.

What obscure knowledge do you have stored in your mind?

ETA (4/24): Did you know that not one, but two trademark-savvy people read here? The internet is amazing.

April 19, 2009

3BT #13

Three beautiful things:
  1. The soft warm sunshine on your arms on the first short-sleeve-weather day of the year.

  2. A single perfect corkscrew curl.

  3. The way his small face beams when you tell him the story of the day you first met him.
What is beautiful in your world today?

April 16, 2009

In Fairness, We Were In the Bathroom

Today is Blog Reader Appreciation Day. Hurrah!

I wish I had something to give to each of you to let you know how much your presence means. Not only your presence here, but in our whole interconnected, nebulous cloud of blogs, comments, twitterings, facebookings and such. We're a pretty freaking awesome group, if I do say so myself. (And that includes the lurkers!) So go forth knowing that you are much appreciated. Thank you so much for reading.

Since I didn't get my act together in time to mail you each an apple bun or hold some sort of mind-blowing giveaway, I'll offer up a bit of laughter instead.

Last night, Puppy decided to tell me a joke.

"Mommy," he announced. "I'm going to tell you a joke."

"Okay," said I.

"There was a seatbelt with a bathtub and a shower!"


"That's the joke!" He dissolved into laughter. "A BATHTUB. AND a shower."

April 15, 2009

You Know You Want To

You know you want to see the fronts of their cute little heads, that is.

There are some pictures up from Easter weekend and from our birthday visit with Ms B last month over at the not-so-secret blog

I think I'm caught up with the permission requests for the picture blog, but if you haven't heard back from me--or if you haven't asked in the past --just let me know.

Easter Weekend

April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

No matter the holidays you celebrated this week, or how you celebrated them--or really whether or not you celebrated any at all--may we all have a renewed sense of possibility and hope this spring.

It is Easter at our house and we're dripping in sugar, from the apple buns to the caramel eggs. Hope your day is as enjoyable!

April 07, 2009

The Awesome-ness of Being an Adoptive Mom

I know that sometimes I can be all dramatic or mopey about being a parent by adoption. But honestly most of the time I'm quite happy with it. I don't know whether I grew into my role as an adoptive mom or the role just suited me to begin with, but it's working for me right now.

For the sake of a little balance around here, I present ten things I love about being an adoptive mom*:
  1. My children are learning, first-hand, that family isn't just about circumstances of biology. It is also about the people we choose to love and the commitments we keep.

  2. It's fun to confuse the nurses at the doctor's office when you tell them you have two children, zero pregnancies.**

  3. Ditto the strangers who can't figure out which two children match up to you at the playground.

  4. My husband and I were able to equally participate in every aspect of childcare, from feeding to babywearing, from the very beginning and it's led to a wonderful emotional and logistical balance in our household. No one got a head start in bonding or the extra responsibility that comes along with it.

  5. If the baby-birthing moms in my playgroup are a representative sample, I am glad I can laugh hard without peeing a bitty bit.

  6. I've come to believe in the inherent resiliency of children and it has allowed me to let go of so many things I think I otherwise would have tried unnecessarily to control.

  7. At the same time--and this may seem like it contradicts #6, but it doesn't--witnessing my children's transition away from their birth parents led me to a more nurturing, attached parenting style than I probably would have let myself embrace had I birthed them. I'll never know the mother I would have been had my children been born to me. But, knowing myself, she may likely have missed out on what have been some of the most meaningful moments of my parenting life thus far, as I've stretched myself to understand and meet my kids' needs. I like the parent adoption has made me. (And I got to use attachment as an excuse to hog the babies when they were wee newborns.)

  8. I am more empathetic to people grieving ambiguous loss and finding themselves on paths they did not expect to take in life. In many ways, unplanned pregnancy and infertility are two sides of the same reproductive coin.

  9. I have no expectations, secret or otherwise, that my kids inherited some favorite trait or talent from my or Todd's family line. I discover and delight in their unique personalities together with them as they emerge.

  10. As a mom sharing motherhood in a mismatched, non-genetically-related, happily messy extended family created through open adoption, standing up to persistently narrow cultural paradigms of family and parenthood and saying with no apologies, "We're a family," is one of the more punk rock things I've ever done.
And why not a bonus #11? I would have never have met any of you awesome people from all sides of the triad who are writing online about adoption.

How about you?

* You all are smart cookies, so I'm going to skip the whole "these things may not be universally true nor exclusive to adoptive parenting" thing, mkay?
** Seriously, though, in this age when surrogacy, adoption, and step-parenting aren't exactly rare, you'd think they wouldn't be so consistently befuddled.

April 05, 2009

What Happened to Just Hiding Them in a Napkin?

Like every third person in our part of the country, I have a Sigg bottle full of water that floats around with me throughout the day. I think they appeal to our regional belief that by spending money on things like overpriced water bottles we can achieve good health (yay for drinking water!) and save the Earth (boo to plastic!). I'd like to say I diligently wash it out with hot soapy water every evening, leaving it clean and ready for the next morning. But truthfully, I just keep refilling it day after day until it finally occurs to me one that a responsible adult cleans her dishes.

All that to explain why, when I came in to the kitchen yesterday from doing yard work in the sun, I chugged from my water bottle knowing it was still partly full from the evening before. Which is how I discovered--as my mouth filled with a horrifying amount of tiny chunks--just what Puppy had done with the carrots he was supposed to be eating before dinner the day before.

April 01, 2009

One-Sided Secrets

Both of my children have been and are, in different ways and to varying degrees, secrets. Not in our world, where their presence has been felt in every corner of our lives. But in the worlds of their birth families, where there is a patchwork pattern of those who know and those who don't, those who acknowledge and those who won't. Some because of deliberate efforts to hide it from them, others simply because they came along after the adoptions and haven't been told yet.

I don't begrudge the patchwork holes or the choices that created them. I have no idea what it's like to be in that position, having a family member who was placed or facing condemnation for being a first parent. And when I try to imagine, it can seem overwhelming. So, no, this is not about judgment. It's about my struggle to understand how to mesh the secrets in other people's lives with the openness in ours.

When we started on our way to becoming adoptive parents, we heard one thing over and over from seemingly every expert and social worker: secrecy is bad. Openness--not just contact but an embrace of adoption as a normal part of family life--was set out as the antidote to the lies and forced divisions of recent generations. Adoptees never told they were adopted, women hidden in maternity homes and told to forget, first families and adoptive families kept apart for no real reason. The secrets that kept old stigmas so persistently attached to being adopted; for if there is nothing bad or shameful about adoption, why keep it so hush hush? We were told we had a responsibility to show our children we rejected those ideas by the way we talked about adoption and integrated their birth families into our lives, by not hiding adoption away. We weren't told what to do when we weren't the ones keeping the secrets.

I asked an agency worker about it once during our counseling, what to do with the uneasiness I felt over secrets which were out of my control. I can't remember now if we were discussing a hypothetical or real situation. "We encourage birth parents away from secrecy when it's not a question of safety or legality, just like we do with adoptive parents," she said to me. "But ultimately it's their decision and their timing. And they will have to explain their choices to their children one day."

It's a comforting thought in the abstract, that it's not our responsibility to explain other people's decisions. But it's of little use when you're the one with a child on your lap asking why they've never met a certain birth family member or why we can't visit someone where they live. We may not have to explain, but we do have to answer. How do you tell them their existence has been deliberately hidden from some people without making them feel that it is somehow their fault?

Nor has it been of much comfort in recent weeks, after someone in one of our children's first families decided to finally share the truth. Sadly, it was shared in an effort to wound another--which it did. And the resulting whirlwind has nothing to do with us and yet everything to do with us. Because here in our home sits the child who was discovered and lost in a single moment. And the anger is directed our way.
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