September 14, 2009

After the Visit

Puppy's first dad, Ray, came to stay with us for a few days at the end of August. It already feels ages away, and I hate that I haven't had space to think or write about it in the last few weeks. Trouble is, I'm a slow writer. Sloooow. Slow like honey on a cold morning. But I want to get some thoughts down before too much time passes. So I'm going to force myself to write something out in one go--forgive me if it's a little jumbled.

There are two thoughts that keep coming to mind when I think on Ray's visit. First, Puppy adores his birth daddy. Ray hangs the moon and stars as far as Puppy is concerned right now. Then he comes and more or less spends all day playing with Puppy--it's a pretty good formula for attaining rock star status in Puppy World.

The evening Ray came in, Todd and Puppy went to pick him up at the airport while I stayed home with Firefly. I heard them come through the front door, came down the stairs to see Puppy proudly pointing out the "Welcome, Ray!" poster he had made. (The "welcome" was implied, as Puppy's writing still bears a striking resemblance to squiggles.) He told Ray he wanted to show him the new swing set in the backyard, shyly touching Ray's hand and looking up at him with a face that just glowed. 

I saw their sidelong smiles at each other during meals. The way whenever someone would mention a favorite food or color or something, Puppy would turn to Ray and ask him his favorite color, food, etc., like he was collecting data on his birth daddy. Ray's hand reaching out to caress his blond hair so many times as they played. Ray is his, and he's special to him. Every affection Ray shows to him, Puppy gives back tenfold. I am grateful these positive times together will be part of Puppy's foundational memories.

The second thought, which is not exactly the opposite of the first but is certainly correlated, is that this--this adoption, this loving--is hard on Puppy.

Todd wrote about the drive back from dropping Ray off for his return flight, Puppy's tears and quiet on the way home. I could see him drawing in on himself as the trip to the airport approached that day and he knew Ray was leaving. The several days after Ray left were hard. Really hard. He fell apart at the slightest disappointment. He was short-tempered and loud and easily frustrated. I think he was full up of emotions that even people far more emotionally mature sometimes have a hard time managing. All the joy and sadness and frustration that come from being with someone important to you, then having to say goodbye all over again. Todd bore the brunt of his outbursts, by far. It is only speculation on my part, but it its hard for me to look at that and not see a little boy testing the love of one beloved daddy while missing another. (It went on for a few days, then abruptly stopped over that weekend.)

In the calmer moments, just me pushing him on the swings, he was able to say quietly, "I miss Ray."

Puppy thus far has treated most conversation about adoption in a very nonchalant, matter-of-fact way. But he does have this, these two men who both get part of his daddy love. We spout platitudes about love being multiplied, not divided; or kids having enough love for multiple grandparents, so why not love for a birth dad and an adoptive dad. It's not that those sentiments aren't true--they are, and they can help counter mis-truths about adoption. Puppy has both Todd and Ray in his life, he is creating lovely memories with both,  he will be able to tease out someday things each one passed on to him. And he loves them both so very much. But the simple, unalterable fact is that he can't have them both with him all the time. His beloved birth daddy is in his life, but he is not in his home. His family will always be a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces he has to try to make fit together--something that becomes true for all of us as we move into life as independent adults (and for kids whose families aren't intact for reasons other than adoption), but has been true for Puppy from the very beginning.  Every time a visit ends it drives that point deeper.

It's a lot for a three year old to sort through. Hell, it's a lot for an adult to sort through. As Todd and I tried to meet Puppy where he was at in those rough days right after the visit, I think I understood in some small way the adoptive parents who freak out and cut off contact. Not understood in that I agree with what they did. But if all you've been told is that successful open adoption is about love being multiplied and children growing up happy knowing how much their birth parents love them, comfortably secure in their identity as an adoptee? Then stuff like this could scare the crap out of you. I can easily envision him a few years hence, feeling the same tumult of emotion after a visit, saying to us, "I don't like seeing Ray. I don't want to go visit him anymore." I've watched so many parents throw up a wall at that point and say "That's it. Visits are over."

Discomfort isn't always bad. Healthy doesn't always mean easy. There is a disconnect at the root of all adoptions, whether they're open or not. Out of an infinite range of possibilities, this is one way Puppy is experiencing that disconnect right now. I think open adoption pushes that to the surface while also being one means of addressing or exploring it.

You will never convince me that it would be better for Ray to not be in Puppy's life right now, that avoiding the hurt afterward is a worthy trade. That night Ray arrived, it was almost as if Puppy was breathing more deeply. Open adoption gives him so much. But closeness has its own harsh edge. It's not always easy trying to wrap our arms around that as his parents.


Erin said...

Your willingness to meet Puppy where he is with his emotions after a visit is an excellent example of what to do when confronted with this kind of thing during an open adoption.

Hopefully as our children get older and can better articulate what they are feeling, we will be able to further help them sort through this stuff.

Heather said...

It's tough, no matter what, when your kids struggle. Hugs to you guys.

I'm an adoptive mom. said...

You are so right. Experiencing the disconnect is tough... at all ages for adopted kids.

I have older adopted kids (18, 11 & 6), and the questions started flying when they were old enough to investigate & talk. Why don't I live with you? Why did you do that? Why didn't you do this? They know it hurts, but they're confused. It's hard stuff. Goes both ways as well... they'd complain about me if that was their mood that day. It's almost like having divorced parents at times and the kids try to get sympathy and attention from both sides.

I remember the emotions of our kids when they were little after a visit and can sympathize with what Puppy is going through with Ray, and especially what you guys are going through just trying to help and provide. Remember it was MEANT TO BE that you are in Puppys life too an others out there know what your going through, and admire you for it.

Andy said...

Thank you so much for sharing. It really is hard to explain this, but you did a great job!

Anonymous said...

I have a hard time with platitudes quite often. I want to be able to say that the more mommies and daddies we have, the better off we are and I do say it quite often. However, I'm more likely to say "get over it" or "stress is good - it makes you come up with new ideas." That's just my personality.

When I became a mom, I wanted to protect them from every hard thing or to make it right for them as soon as I could. However, I can't define this stuff for them - they have to work it out and accept the family just IS. I guess the important part is that there IS a family who is trying to work it all out.

Anonymous said...

Stuff like this is so tough! We see it in our kids for different reasons; our goodbyes are because we travel so much. But you are right to take the long view. What you are giving him (i.e. relationships) is much more than you are taking away (i.e. lack of sorrow/pain of goodbyes).

Rachie317 said...

This is beautifully expressed - I wish more adoptive parents could understand it. Would you mind if I quoted you on my blog? I'd just link back but I'm afraid too many people wouldnt follow though and read it! :)

Coffeegrljapan said...

How eloquently expressed.

hope548 said...

Thank you for posting about this. I think it takes a very strong parent to be able to explore all of this so objectively. That's how it comes across to me anyway.

cynthia said...

Thanks for taking the time to write about this, Heather (i'm a slow typist too, so I understand). But its important stuff. And you articulated it beautifully. I'm really very amazed at Puppy's ability to process and speak his mind as well as he does at 3. You are doing a phenomenal job at all of it.

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