January 30, 2009

25 Things I Said Today

After being tagged by what feels like the whole of Facebook to do the "25 Random Things About Me" thingy, I am caving. Since I listed seven random things about myself pretty recently, here is a sight variation.

Twenty-five random things I said today:
  1. Oh, little girl, your life is so hard.
  2. If you want to roll a head, roll your own head, not your sister's.
  3. Good listening, bud.
  4. You know, if we pay them, they're not really volunteers.
  5. I meant ham-comma-yogurt, not ham yogurt.
  6. Whoa, girl, you are stinky.
  7. Here, let me wipe your nose.
  8. Where did the snot go?
  9. Did you lick it?
  10. EW!
  11. I'm supposed to review this book and so far it's one big mess of racial stereotypes.
  12. [Firefly], new shoes! Yay!
  13. I just called so I could hear an adult voice for five minutes.
  14. Let's have breakfast for dinner.
  15. Do you want to go to brush teeth with your feet on the ground or your feet in the air?
  16. I sort of hate the Super Bowl.
  17. I love you too much to argue.
  18. Let's rent a movie.
  19. Don't get me started on the octuplets.
  20. I wonder what it smells like inside the Oval Office.
  21. No, really, I do.
  22. I'm trying to finish all of my work tonight so I can enjoy my birthday tomorrow.
  23. No, older; 34.
  24. Love you, bud.
  25. Tomorrow there will be cake!
It seems that everyone and their cousin has done this meme in the past week, so I'll just throw this one out to the wind. Self-tag at will!

January 28, 2009

Naming Names

Spring made this comment when we were talking about adoption agency shenanigans:
Here's the thing: we need a place where we can name names. I would SERIOUSLY caution anyone from using the agency we used in our last adoption and would encourage the agencies we used for our first two adoptions.

I would love to be able to put this info into the hands of parents who are looking...
Spring is right. About the naming names. I've said it before, but I think agency adoption is the best bet for ethical adoption in the U.S. But that all hinges, of course, on finding the right agency. And let me tell you, it is hard to find good, reliable information on agencies.

It's not hard to understand why we're not all out there naming names. Anonymity is a precious thing online and not something most of us give up lightly. Not to mention the handful of agencies who try to protect their online image by threatening critical bloggers. Or screw with the processes of people waiting to adopt. Or meddle in open adoption relationships in retalitation. (Those things all actually happened to bloggers I know.) I doubt such things happen all that often, but the possibility of them happening is enough to deter us.

This seems to be what Adoption Agency Ratings is trying to do--be that place where people can name names. I think that site is useful up to a point, but you really have to read it with an enormous grain of salt. The weakness of aggregate review sites of any kind is that they mostly draw the outliers--people with really strong opinions on either end of the spectrum. So you get lots of five-star reviews ("This agency can do no wrong!") and one-star reviews ("This agency is evil!"). Not much nuance.

The other difficult thing is that you never know what criteria people are using in their ratings. Most of the positive reviews for domestic adoption agencies boil down to: they were really nice and they got us a baby. Which are woefully incomplete bits of information if you're looking for an ethical, compassionate agency which supports open adoption. And sometimes you see people giving negative reviews because there was too much training or the agency didn't do enough advertising, which aren't negatives in my book. Unless you know what values someone brings to the table, their assessment of an agency doesn't mean much.

My vision is of an online spot similar to Adoption Agency Ratings, but much more structured. Instead of posting a brief review and throwing out a star rating, you'd answer a full questionnaire about everything from customer service to training to fees to wait to openness to post-adoption support. (I'm thinking from the adoptive parents side here, but you'd want a similar questionnaire for first parents and parents who interacted with the agency, but didn't choose adoption. And for adoptees about post-adoption support, although that data would probably be a lot harder to collect.) So everyone would be providing a full set of data points for others, no matter which factors are most important to them. That would be coupled with an agency profile with information about average fees, advertising methods, etc.--the kind of stuff no one puts on their website. People looking for an agency could search by the factors which are most important to them, instead of just seeing that an agency got lots of five-star reviews, without knowing what's behind them. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would be a start.

I'd love to see this kind of information out on the Internet where it can be easily found. The first agency we used regularly publishes information on how expectant parents find out about them. The internet is consistently the top referral source, usually bringing in more referrals than all other sources combined. They don't publish stats for adoptive parent referrals, but I imagine they're pretty similar. The internet is where most folks go first when doing adoption research. If we're talking about agencies without naming names, our experiences--both good and bad--are lost to the people who need to hear about them most.

January 26, 2009

Wilbert the Bear

It's Bloggy Giveaway Carnival time again!

Years and years ago, when I was a wee small thing, a department store in our town held a regular drawing for kids. Each month my younger brother and I would carefully write down our names and phone numbers on the tiny entry slips and watch them drop through the slot into the wooden box with all the naive hope of youth.

The drawings were usually for a small stuffed animal or toy, probably some leftover item the staff wanted to clear out of the storeroom. But one month we rounded the corner to see what we were sure was the most wonderful teddy bear in the world. Four feet tall with honey brown fur and arms open wide like he was waiting for a hug. I never filled out an entry form with such passion. I loved that bear. I wanted that bear.

My dumb pipsqueak of a brother won that bear. It took me years to forgive him.

It's no four foot tall bear, but you can have your choice of a $15 gift card for iTunes or Amazon. Because online shopping is just right for these dreary winter months. To enter, leave a comment on this post. You don't need to be a blogger to win, but you do need to leave me a way to contact you. One entry per person per day, please. Comments will close at 10:00 p.m. PST on January 30. The winner will be chosen randomly and posted this weekend.

If you are stuck in The Diaper Years--or need a gift for someone else who is--be sure to check out the chic handmade diaper tote we're giving away at the review blog Northwest Mom Finds. And of course you're more than welcome to subscribe or come back here to visit for a glimpse into the life of an adoptive mom of two spunky babes.

Good luck!

The entry period has closed--thanks to all who entered! The winner will be announced some time this weekend.

January 23, 2009

Firefly's Name

At some point in Firefly's adoption, before we had met Ms B but after she learned that she was having a girl, I was on the phone with a counselor from the agency. At the end of the conversation, she paused.

"There's one more thing you should know know. B has named her baby and it's important to her that the adoptive parents not change her name."

Naming in adoption can be tricky. It can be emotional. I don't think I could have ever guessed exactly how I would respond to not being part of naming a child of mine until faced with the actual situation.

"Okay," I said. "We understand." Intellectually, we did. And a little bit emotionally.

All I really wanted to know was the name. When I heard it my heart sank a little. Not because it was a terrible name at all. It was actually quite pretty. But if Puppy's name were truly Puppy, then this name would be McPuppa. Puppy and McPuppa, the brother and sister with the matching names.

Especially in open adoption, naming is so often portrayed as an emotional tug of war between the two sets of parents. If the expectant mom won't compromise on this, I've heard adoptive parents ask, how will we know she'll be able to make an open adoption work? Perhaps expectant moms are asking the same thing in reverse.

It didn't feel like a power grab coming from Ms B. I may have mentioned before that she is an adoptee, adopted into her family when she was one year old. Only mere slips of that first year of her life still exist: a letter, a birth certificate, a name. A name that her parents changed. From things she has said, I think to her the re-naming represents an unnecessary loss in a series of losses, the final break with a version of her which no longer exists. Not that she would put it that way; she is much more matter-of-fact than I am. I asked her once what was behind her strong feelings about it. "They just shouldn't have changed it," she told me.

It never felt like she was trying to take something away from us. It felt like she was asking for something on behalf of Firefly. For continuity, for wholeness in her child's name. Recognition that this baby would be coming to us with an identity already in place.

So T and I did what we figured it was our job to do. We very deliberately got ourselves accustomed to that name. We practiced using it, we discussed it, we rolled it around in our minds. We more or less talked ourselves into liking it. By the time of our first meeting with Ms B several weeks later, I had actually grown pretty fond of it. It was how I thought about the two of them now: B and McPuppa, McPuppa and B. We sat across from each other in the tiny office, full of nervousness and excitement. Ms B said something about "the baby." "McPuppa, right?" I asked.

"Well, no," she aswered. "I decided McPuppa didn't really fit her. Now I call her Alyssa." And that was when I decided I just didn't have the energy to worry about it anymore.

In the end it happened organically that we all named Firefly together. The only thing that changed after her adoption was her last name. And there is something comforting in that to me, the fact that we gave her that continuity Ms B so very much wanted for her.

That's not what happened with Puppy. There are three names in his story, a hopscotch from pre-birth to certificate to an adoptive name we selected. But I don't regret those choices, either. Naming is just something too personal, too specific to say there is one right way to do it. And it's one of the many decisions we make that our kids will eventually also judge for themselves.

But you know what the kicker in all this is? As much as I like the name Firefly now has, I often look at her and think to myself that she's really more of a McPuppa.

January 21, 2009

The Evening of My Embarrassment

One evening last week I got to thinking about the inauguration and how I'd be working at home alone with no one but Twitter to share the happy moment. Woe is me. So I impulsively invited bunches of people over for dinner and a re-watch of the ceremony.

People responded and it was all quite exciting. I knew Puppy wouldn't remember watching the ceremony but he just might remember a party a tiny bit. We decided it fit in well with Operation Get Our (Local White) Friends to Acknowledge Race* we've got going on. To be as obnoxious as possible we made ribs and biscuits and greens and beans and macaroni and sweet potato pie and pandowdy. The night's mission: be introduced to collard greens and watch a biracial man assume the highest office in the the land. Discuss!

It was all going swimmingly until T mentioned--as we were setting the table--that he told his principal about the party and that she might stop by. Oh, dear. Throwing together dinner for your friends on a weekday evening is one thing. Cooking for your boss is quite another.

For this story to make sense, you also need to know that T's boss is African-American and has had a lot to say about our transracial adoption. And now she was coming to eat soul food made by little white me.

Just when I had talked myself into the fact that she's a huge fan of T and it would all be fine, she called to say she was on her way and she was bringing along the pastor of the black church we've been visiting. This is a man who has someone standing by to hand him a towel and water when he preaches and all we had were the sad leftovers of a buffet to offer up. Not really how I would have wanted our first sit-down with him to go.

It was the very tail end of the party when they arrived and most everyone else had left, so we sat down to chat with the two of them while they ate. They are hugely influential people in the church community we've been getting to know, not to mention in T's professional life, so I was already all kinds of self-conscious. (When I can't do my fretting well in advance, it just all comes out in one big burst of nervousness.) Then the pastor squinted appraising-ly at Firefly, who was rocking quite the head of post-nap fuzz. He turned to me and said, "Why isn't that girl's hair in ponytails yet?" As we stammered some sort of answer, he moved on to quizzing me about how we're conditioning it. And I just wanted to crawl under the table and hide.

Then T's boss went into our messy post-party kitchen and started doing the dishes and my head exploded.

But she did compliment my greens and ask me where in the world I learned to cook this kind of food so well (thank you, women at our old church!).

And the rest of the party was just what I wanted. We watched the inauguration and hugged our kids and smiled some teary smiles. And I went to bed for the first time in a whole lot of years feeling like I mostly trusted the people in power.

So, all in all, it was a good evening.

* Our friends are wonderful people. It's just that pretending to be "color-blind" is the most popular approach to race where we currently live.

January 17, 2009

A Brief Sidetrack

Because I am in lurve with The Nation's current cover:

So coolThis is one of those times when you feel the press of history behind you.

January 15, 2009

The Agency Responds

[T] and Heather,

I am so sorry that you feel our marketing is in any way coercive, but this is not the case. We are deeply committed to providing non-directive counseling to all pregnant women.

Since we have been doing adoptions for 27 years we have long-term statistics to guide us. For example, over the last 27 years, on average, we have talked to 1,000 pregnant women a year. Of these about 200/year decide to place. This statistic has remained stable for so long that we know only 17-20% of women who do an intake should end up placing. If this number, creeps up we know there is a problem with our counseling program, and we would investigate immediately.

Our advertising is completely focused on increasing the number of pregnant women who call us. The reason for this is because we know we are committed to non-directive counseling and many other, if not most, other agencies are not. We also believe that if a birthmother decides to place that we will be able to provide her with the best counseling-based services. But as you can see from these statistics 80% of the pregnant women who call us do not place. This number is so high that there is no way that we are providing anything except non-directive counseling.

We have not changed the amount of money or effort we put into marketing. We are still a counseling based agency. Most of our resources go into our counseling program. We have more than 20 counselors on staff, while our marketing department has two people. Over the last couple of years the type of advertising we are doing has changed in response to the type of media that most people, including young people, are using. Our small marketing team has had remarkable success as we are much more effective in our outreach than we had been before we made these changes.

I know some people also think that our more professional looking newsletter means we are dedicating more resources to this sort of outreach, but the reality it the new marketing team discovered that the new format is actually much cheaper to produce and mail than our old xeroxed copied format.

I am very sorry that these changes have caused you to believe that we have changed our fundamental philosophy. We have not. Please feel free to email or call me if you have any other concerns.

[Executive Director]


January 12, 2009

One Agency, One Letter

Dear Executive Director, Adoption Agency #1,

My husband and I adopted our oldest child through [your agency] in 2005. We chose [the agency] because of its commitment to open adoption, its non-discrimination policies toward pre-adoptive parents, and the promises of long-term counseling.

As alumni of the agency, we have closely followed its changes and growth over the past three years. We noted in particular the various media campaigns, which were often described as generally promoting open adoption, but which seemed more directly aimed at potential birth parents than any other audience.

This letter is in response to your email of December 9. In it, you note that the agency plans to use its profiles on social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc. to "actively seek out potential birthmothers." Based on this statement, and the fact that these networks are used primarily by young people, my assumption is that you are using them to initiate contact with expectant mothers who fit a certain demographic profile--women you deem to be "potential birthmothers." I find such approaches deeply troubling.

I admit that we have been uncomfortable with the emphasis on 'marketing' by [your agency] from the beginning--both the marketing of the agency to prospective adoptive parents and of adoption to expectant parents. Despite encouragement from [agency] staff, we declined to do any personal networking during our wait, finding the whole idea too personally distasteful. We felt that it inverted the placement process by putting the focus on our desire for a child rather than on a woman's process of considering her options. It was important to us that choosing us as the adoptive family be one of the last steps in a woman's decision to place, not the inspiration for it.

I am concerned that the marketing approach represented by the sponsored Google links, radio spots, television ads, and online videos creates a similar problem. All seem designed to convince expectant parents in crisis that open adoption is an easy solution to whatever difficulties they face. I am concerned that this makes objective birth parent counseling nearly impossible by preferencing open adoption over all other options, without any consideration of an individual's context. The goal seems to be simply to convince more women to place, and to place through [your agency].

Open adoption has enriched our family immensely, and I remain a staunch advocate for it, but it has certainly not been "adoption without tears." We will always be grateful that [agency] staff helped us to understand the benefits of open adoption. But we were shocked by how ill-prepared both we and our son's birth parents were for its realities. During our time with [the agency], the staff brushed our concerns about possible difficulties aside, reassuring us that openness solved any adoption related issues which might arise. I had hoped ours was an isolated incident, but your ads seem to indicate otherwise. Do you expand upon the idealized picture of open adoption given in the ads when counseling prospective birth parents and adoptive parents? Do you prepare them for the emotional aspects of navigating open adoption over a lifetime? Do you make clear in your counseling that there is lifelong grief associated with placing a child for adoption that cannot be fully mitigated by openness?

Several times each year, friends contact us asking for the name of the agency we used, either for themselves or acquaintances, knowing that on the surface we had a fairly quick and smooth adoption process. We have always given an honest evaluation of the strengths of [your agency] as we experienced them in 2005. We also tell them that, disappointed with staff inexperience, high staff turnover, rigid editing of "Dear Birthparent" letters, a difficult hospital experience, inadequate post-adoption support, and with growing concerns about the agency's marketing practices, we declined to use [the agency] for our second adoption.

At this point we will only be warning them that [the agency] seems to be increasingly using coercive advertising measures and appears to be interested more in growth than in providing ethical services to expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents. I can no longer with a good conscience give even a qualified recommendation for [your agency]. And it pains me that I will one day have to explain that to my son.

If I have misunderstood your marketing goals and methods, I would be eager to have them clarified.

Heather PNR

January 10, 2009

Seven for Saturday

I've been tagged by (new mom with a cute squishy baby) GreenEggsNHam.

The rules are:
  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about you.
  3. Tag 7 random people at the end, and include links to their blogs.
#1 - I made dinner tonight from an cookbook of westernized African recipes my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas. Last Christmas, while we were waiting on Firefly, she gave me a soul food cookbook. Cooking is a primary vehicle for love and tradition for my MIL. I think it's neat that she is affirming our new family identity in her own way.

#2 - At one point in my life, I had four earring holes, two in each year. Now I have one--just one total--in my left ear. I went for a long, long time without wearing earrings and apparently my ears decided to heal themselves right up. I'd really like to be able to wear earrings again, but I'm too chicken to get my one ear re-pierced. Which makes me less courageous than most elementary school girls.

#3 - My birthday is in 21 days.

#4 - That makes me an Aquarius. But I don't know what that means. Except that I'm supposed to be logical? I think?

#5 - I voted for Stirrup Queens at the Weblog Awards today. And yesterday (only on the internet is "vote early, vote often" actually an acceptable directive). Did you? What Mel has done to create an online hub for the nebulous infertile-ish community is so impressive. It would be awesome to see that recognized.

#6 - I am terrible at guessing people's ages. From kids to adults. I think I'm missing the brain cell that helps you do that.

#7 - I am drinking a cup of peppermint tea right now and hoping that if I wish hard enough a cookie will appear. Preferably something cinniamony. Like a snickerdoodle or a palmier. No chocolate. Oh lordy, I've been reduced to blogging about imaginary snacks. Someone save me.

I'm tagging the last seven bloggers to comment here: Vintage Mommy, Luna, Lori, Tammy, DrSpouse, Spring and Susan. (Hopefully that won't discourage anyone from commenting!) I won't be offended if you don't choose to take it up, but if you need some blog fodder, go for it!

January 07, 2009

Family Planning

This is the first year in a long while I haven't been looking ahead to a Big Change. Almost every year of my life there's been something, some shift on the horizon--most recently school, career change, adopting, moving, buying a house, adopting again. But not right now. I'm sure something will happen during the next twelve months. But just what, I haven't a clue.

I realized the other day that this lack of a Big Change is making me antsy. I've been grumping at T about leaving my job for no real reason. And I like my job.

The strange thing is, I'm not someone who likes change. At all. But I like the sensation of progress, the feeling that we are working toward something tangible. I don't have that feeling right now.

I think it's also because Firefly's first birthday is coming up next month (can you believe it?). It was around Puppy's one year birthday that we started laying the groundwork for our second adoption, looking into agencies and making decisions. And clearly we're not doing any of that.

I always--and I mean always--thought I wouldn't want more than two children. Yet here I am feeling like someone is still missing from our house. We don't have it in us to head back into private adoption, even if we had the extra money (which we don't). And neither of us has a sense of urgency about adding another child. It just sort of hangs quietly in the air, this question of whether or not this is where the boundary lines have fallen for our family.

Last night Puppy and I were going through the mountains of baby clothes we've accumulated over the last three years, trying to sort them by size and decide what to keep. He liked talking about which ones he had worn as a tiny baby and was determined to squeeze back into some of his 2T faves. He asked who they were for now, and I told him I didn't really know, but someone would eventually wear them again, either in our house or in another house.

He thought about that and announced that he'd like a brother. "Oh, really?" I replied. "Why a brother?" "Because I already have a sister," he told me. Clearly.

I told him I thought that would be fun, but I didn't know how we could find him a brother right now. We had a little back and forth about how he and Firefly joined our family. "How are we going to adopt my brother?" he asked.

"I don't know, bud. Do you have any ideas?" And for the briefest, slimmest sliver of time I thought maybe he would actually come up with a solution. Toddlers are the Magic 8 Balls of conversation, typically giving mildly tangential answers with the rare flash of astounding wisdom.

Last night the wisdom did not appear. "I need two brothers! And two sisters! And a Firefly!"

"Two brothers! Six kids! That's so many people! Where would we all sleep?"

"They could all sleep in my bed with me," he said confidently. And tonight he went to sleep with two stuffed dogs and a baby doll in his bed, to show me it could be done.

January 03, 2009

Two Conversational Snippets

Snippet the first:

After a safety scissor cutting fest today, T asked Puppy to clean up by stacking the papers on a table. Puppy told him, "You cannot stack paper! You can only pile it on tables."

I forget that he's still working on basic vocabulary sometimes.

Snippet the second:

The night before we were supposed to have our visit with Puppy's first dad last week, we were going over our schedule with Puppy. Giving him a heads up for all that was going on the next day, that sort of thing. We were seeing so many different people every day and knowing what to expect gave him a little sense of control. So we told him that Ray was coming over in the morning to play and have lunch with us.

"Ray?" he said. "My daddy?"

Now, Puppy usually calls Ray by his first name. Sometimes he talks about his "birth daddy" (T is his "daddy daddy").* This is the first time I can remember him just referring to him just as daddy.

I tell you this not because it was that big of a deal. T confirmed that it was Ray, his daddy, who was coming over and the conversation went on from them. But something I read online tonight made me think of it.

Often we adoptive parents put a lot of thought and worry into what names we should use for our kids' first parents. First names or special nicknames? Birth dad or first dad? Put Mama before the name or no? There is no one right answer, and sometimes a lot of emotion is tied up in the choices. I imagine that's true on the first parents' side as well.

But that moment with Puppy reminded me that kids often try on different ideas through the language they use. And there is certainly a lot to think through in being a kid who was adopted. In my mind, it's such a simple, yet important, thing to give them the emotional space to explore those ideas. No matter what it may stir up for us.

* He's only used this construction to talk about dads; he doesn't talk about birth mommy and mommy mommy. Not sure why, but I think it may have something to do with the different ways his first parents interact with him.
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