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


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!"


"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 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.
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