May 31, 2010

The Ideal Me

At some point during Puppy's first couple of years, I realized that the shape of his open adoption was more or less out of my control. Open adoption is, at its core, about relationships and relationships are slippery things. I might have a vision of how I wanted things to go, but I couldn't control how his first parents could/would respond and I certainly couldn't dictate how Puppy felt about everything. And who was to say my vision was the right one to begin with?

But I could decide the kind of person I wanted to be in the middle of it all. It's an image that shifts and adjusts as I learn more about myself and my family. But it's been quite empowering at times to focus on what I do have a say over (myself) instead of fretting about what is outside my control.

When I imagine Firefly and Puppy twenty, thirty years from now looking back on open adoption in their childhoods, this is what I hope they will be able to say about me:
  • That I took their thoughts and feelings about adoption seriously, even when they were young.

  • That I was comfortable with ambiguity. I didn't have a pre-formed idea of what open adoption looked like that I was determined to shove us all into.

  • That I gave them space to develop relationships with their first families independent of Todd and me and let them have more and more ownership and control of those relationships the older they grew.

  • That I didn't see open adoption as a zero-sum game. I realized that their relationships with their first parents took nothing away from their relationships with me.

  • That I worked hard to offer grace, hospitality and honesty to their families of origin, even when others weren't offering the same to me. I kept a thick skin for myself, but a thin one on behalf of my children.

  • That I faced up to and worked through whatever anger, anxiety, or frustration the open adoption relationships brought up for me at times so that I could always speak about (and to) their first families with respect and care.

  • That I didn't segregate adoption or their first families into a separate category; they were simply part and parcel of our extended family, our regular lives, our normal conversations.

  • That I learned how to be an advocate when they were young and an ally when they were older, both in our personal life and in the broader community.
This is my contribution to the latest open adoption roundtable.

May 29, 2010

Gather Round

I first "met" Shannan when she participated in an open adoption roundtable in January. Her family is a real blend: two children adopted domestically, a daughter adopted from Ghana, and a son she birthed. She writes about her family with a sweetness and tenderness that always comes across as so genuine. I admire her because her blog was set up to share fun stories about the kids with her family and friends, but every now and then she lays it all out and writes really deeply and honestly about adoption. That takes a lot of guts, I think.

But all that is rather beside the point right now. Her eldest son, Ray, is fighting cancer. Please, take just a minute to click over to Shannan's blog and leave them some words of kindness and support.

May 27, 2010

Open Adoption Roundtable #16

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. The prompts are meant to be starting points--feel free to adapt or expand on them.

Publish your response during the next two weeks--linking 
back here so your readers can browse other participating blogs--and leave a link to your post in the comments. Using a previously published post is perfectly fine; I'd appreciate it if you'd add a link back to the roundtable. If you don't blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

I found a version of this prompt in a set of questions written by a social worker for parents in open adoptions. As always, feel free to adapt it to your personal situation; if you grew up in an open adoption, you could look back on your actual experience.

Imagine your child as an adult describing their open adoption experience. What do you hope they will be able to say about you? How did you view their other parents? In what ways did you support their relationship with them?

One note: I deliberately avoided asking you to imagine how your grown child feels about their open adoption experience. Adoptees of all ages regularly report having more than enough people (i.e. any) telling them how they should feel about adoption. This is an exercise in thinking about our actions and choices from another's perspective.

The responses:

May 23, 2010


I started reading Heidi Durrow's blog, Light Skinned-ed Girl, what feels like ages ago. It was May 2007 and she had declared it Mixed Experience History Month. That year and every year since she's done a series of posts in May highlighting the achievements of multiracial and multicultural individuals throughout history. I always learn so much.

Read her blog long enough and you find out that she also co-produces and co-hosts the Mixed Chicks Chat podcast, organizes the Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival and won a prize from the wonderful writer Barbara Kingsolver for her debut novel. Anyone else suddenly feeling rather lazy and unaccomplished?

The central character in The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a biracial girl living in the Pacific Northwest. Much like my Firefly. So I have a soft spot for the book, because of Firefly and because I witnessed bits of its creation through her blog.  It's one of the best novels I've read this year, yet it was apparently turned down by a huge number of publishers who said that no one is interested in books about biracial characters. So you all should go out and read it just to prove them wrong.

The other week I was headed into our local library when I saw a face on a poster that looked awfully familiar. It turned out Heidi Durrow was coming to my town as part of an author series. I tweeted my excitement:

After the talk, I waited in line at the authors' table. When it was my turn with Heidi Durrow, I blurted out OMG ur srsly awesome sauce or something equally erudite. But then things got all exclamation pointy. Because she figured out who I was from my tweet! And she hugged me! And took a picture with me! And I was so happy-flustered that I threw my cell phone at her head! (I wish I were joking.)

I don't get out much. Now you know why.

I brought home a signed copy of her book for Firefly:
"For [Firefly], a fellow mixed chick, in fellowship and love..."
I think it will make a lovely birthday present several years down the road, don't you?

[Dislosure: links are through the affiliate program.]

May 20, 2010

The Ladybug Incident

I have been struggling with insomnia the past couple of weeks (the up-till-4:00 a.m. kind), so forgive me if this rambles.

Awhile back I mentioned the difficulty Puppy has saying goodbye to certain people and objects and a few of you wrote to say your kids have similar intense reactions. I wanted to share bit of artwork he did with me, because it's such a clear example of how strongly he sometimes reacts when certain people/things leave and how he's growing in dealing with those feelings.

Several months ago, I was working out in the back yard. The kids were playing. Puppy had found a little ladybug that he was carrying around and carefully putting onto different leaves. He'd chatter about the ladybug with me, running off and then coming back to check on the ladybug again. The ladybug was no fool, and at some point ran off while the preschooler wasn't looking.

Puppy was so, so sad. Tears and wailing and wanting his friend to come back. All about a ladybug he had played with for all of twenty minutes--but who had left him. After my usual responses ("I saw how much you were enjoying the ladybug," "You sound very sad that it left," etc.) and doing some wishful thinking with him about finding the ladybug again one day (which always helps to calm him down), we went inside and sat down together to work on this (click to embiggen):

"I lost my best friend. She was great. We might find her again. Or I'll be very sad. I think we'll find her again. I hope we will."
He dictated the story to me and asked me to draw a picture according to his very specific instructions. He added the spots to the big ladybug and drew the one that looks a bit like an ant. The big ladybug is a mama bug carrying her babies on her back. The baby bug closest to the mama's head is his buggy best friend.

He was very focused while we worked. When we finished he kept coming back to talk about it for a couple of hours, then tucked it away behind a cabinet in his room (that's why it's crumpled) and said it was private. He didn't even want to show it to Todd that night. He continued to bring up the missing ladybug for quite awhile, especially when we'd go in the yard, but without the same intensity of emotion he's often had in the past in these sort of situations. Writing it out seemed to bring him back to equilibrium--like he had put all his emotions onto the paper, and because the paper continued to exist he didn't need to carry the emotions with him.

My gut tells me that watching special people/things leave will always be hard for Puppy. But as he's getting older, he's finding more helpful ways to express his emotions. And by "helpful," I mean helpful to him: tools to give himself a feeling of control in the situation and ways to channel his feelings. I was glad to see that he's figuring out it is okay for him to decide when and to who he wants to tell things, too.

No, this wasn't about adoption. And, yes, I noticed that his picture was of a mama carrying her babies with her so they would always be near. But when I think about talking with my kids about adoption, I do think about days like that one. Because I feel that one of my biggest jobs as a parent is giving him tools to wrangle with the complicated and emotional things in life--and adoption is one of those things for him. I know some people are going to say I was indulging him. Honestly, part of me wanted to roll my eyes and say, "Your 'best friend'? Are you kidding me? It's a bug. That you found less than an hour ago." But look at the payoff in taking his emotions about an insect seriously: he got practice in helpfully dealing with sadness and I got another chance to earn his trust.

I pulled out the paper from its hiding spot this week when I was cleaning. He was excited to see it. It was clear that he still considers the ladybug incident as a Very Significant Event. But now he wanted to show the paper to other people and talked about it freely and even cheerfully. Which is why I felt comfortable asking him if I could share it with you.

May 18, 2010

Four Years Old Is Fun

Puppy runs through the house, shrieking, "Ow-uh-ow-uh-ow-uh-ow-uh!"

"Buddy!" says I. "What's going on? Why the yelling?"

He stops moving. He ponders. And ponders some more. Then finally turns to me and says, "I need to think about it more. But it has something to do with dragons."

I'm totally tucking that response away for the next time someone asks me a question I'm just not sure how to answer.

May 10, 2010

Adoption Math

At the risk of becoming a blogger who just sends you elsewhere, I want to point you to a piece from the New York Times this weekend by a first mom in an open adoption:
In the months before I gave birth, when my boyfriend and I were just getting to know the couple we had chosen, I was able to comprehend the coming exchange only on the most theoretical of levels, but it seemed like gentle math: Girl with child she can’t keep plus woman who wants but can’t have child; balance the equation, and both parties become whole again.
I had spent my entire life without a child, but I was newly born that night, too, and my old self disappeared. I could no longer imagine how a mother could give up a child and live. Adoption was not simple math; a new mother cannot know the value of the thing she subtracts. It is only through time — when my son turned 4, and I was 27; when he turned 6, and I was 29; when he turns 10 this year, and I am 33, and ready for children — that I begin to understand the magnitude of what I lost, and that it is growing. 
It's a powerful example of why it's so hard to pin an open adoption with a single label of success or failure, good or bad. Go and read!

May 09, 2010

So Very Real

This Mother's Day I thought I'd dredge up an old post from 2007. (Firefly wasn't on the scene yet, which is why she and Beth aren't mentioned.) Since it's over three years old, according to my Grand Two-year Blog Cycle Theory only five of you have read it before. So I'm recycling it without shame! 

I know the Real Mom meme means to be uplifting, exposing how moms in reality are nothing like the ideal mother. Yet any sentence beginning with the words “real moms” is bound to exclude someone. It is true one hundredfold for women involved in adoptions. For many of us, few phrases can trigger more pain, anger, or fear. Realness is murky. If "real" motherhood were only a matter of legal rights or wiping noses, adoptive moms would never feel threatened. If it were only a matter of genetic connection or birthing a child, first moms (birth moms) would never be marginalized.

Soon after our son was born, we held a small, private ceremony along with his first parents to affirm our commitment to one another and, most importantly, to our shared child. During that time, a dear friend spoke a blessing over all of us which continues to challenge me. She prayed that the image of open hands would become a metaphor for our interactions with one another. Not just open hands giving or receiving the child being transferred from the care of one family to another, but open hands throughout our lives. Open hands providing and accepting support. Open hands allowing our child to grow into his own person, the expression of both nature and nurture. Open hands to honor the unique connection each of us would have with him. Open hands to embrace the other real parents in our child’s life.

As I have tried to live that out, I have learned: a real mom opens her hands.

A real mom opens her hands to let go. She lets go of her expectations so her child can have independence. She lets go of the idea that she alone can meet all her child’s needs in order to give room for others' love. She lets go of the desire to control what her child thinks of her.

A real mom opens her hands to receive. She accepts help, because no child can be raised by just one person. She is open to learning from others, including her child. She welcomes validation however it comes. She receives so she can give in turn.

Whether she became a mom by birth or by marriage, by adoption or by surrogacy, a real mom’s hands are open. My son's first mom's hand are open. So are mine.

May 08, 2010

Dear Friends

Puppy and Firefly's little craft projects are speeding their way to Kelly and Beth for Mother's Day. Puppy has drawn around 47 pictures to "surprise" me with tomorrow. I suspect they're mostly of dragons.

It's all very sweet.

The efforts of adorable children aside, I could drop Mother's Day off the calendar without much pause. I don't begrudge anyone else their celebration. But Mother's/Father's Day (and Valentine's Day, for that matter) draw such distinctions between insider and outsider the way we observe them. And I spent enough time on the outside of both--and have enough people I care about still there--to not be convinced that the sadness the days bring up for so many is really worth it when it's all said and done.

To those who are missing their children today; to those whose own mothers are absent in body or spirit; to those still waiting and hoping for a child to raise; to those who let go of their mothering dreams: I hope you know that you are just important and just as worthy of celebration as anyone on the "inside" this weekend. May we all be filled with peace in the present and hope for the future.

May 03, 2010


The adoptive parent's dilemma:
The thing is, adopting a child means accepting a new burden into your life, but that burden is more than the child. Adoptive parents must accept ethical burdens as well. Adoptive parents must accept that by adopting their child, they are likely contributing to the same system that damaged their child. And there’s just no way around that. A TRA mother I worked with once put it this way: to become the parent your child deserves, you have to come to realize that in the world you want to raise your child in, and the world you must now work to create, you would never have been their parent.
-From Harriet at Fugitivus, in a follow-up to an incredibly insightful post on adoption

(Try not to get hung up on "burden" and "damaged." Not that they're words I'm fond of applying to people--especially children and especially especially adopted children--but this was originally in the context of the Torry Hansen Russian adoption disruption brouhaha. The point it's making about our ethical responsibilities and our collective culpability in the hydra that is modern adoption is worth chewing on.)

May 02, 2010

Airing Tuesday: Sunshine

Puppy and Firefly's first moms were themselves adopted, Kelly as a newborn and Beth when she was one year old. They bring up their adoptions quite a bit with us, talking about their (very different) feelings about being adopted and the choices their (birth and adoptive) parents made on their behalf. At times each has touched on how her experiences came into play as they were making decisions on behalf of her own children. I know what they share with us is only the tip of the iceberg of their thoughts and emotions.

Their own birth parents, especially their first moms, are often the topic of those conversations. Women who have no idea that their daughters grew up to become birth mothers themselves. I play the amateur sleuth every now and then late at night, googling the scraps of information I have on them. I don't know what I think I will find, or what I would do with anything I did. But still I poke around, wondering whether my children, their own immediate family connections so carefully maintained, will want to reach back a generation further when they are grown. Their family trees are a tangle of cut and grafted branches waiting for them to sort through one day.

I brought all of that to my viewing of Sunshine: The Movie, a very personal documentary by Karen Skloss which airs this Tuesday on the PBS series Independent Lens. Sunshine tells the story of two women from similar backgrounds, one in the '70s and one in the last decade, who became pregnant before they wanted to be, before they felt ready. One secretly checked herself into a maternity home for "unwed mothers" and the baby was placed into a closed adoption. The other headed uncertainly into parenthood, co-parenting as a single mother with her ex-boyfriend.

Skloss and her first mom
The stories are made all the more powerful by the fact that the filmaker, Skloss, is telling of her own families' origins. She was the baby placed for adoption and was just a few years into reunion with her first mom when her own daughter was born. She examines how dramatically the social mores surrounding single motherhood shifted in a single generation, and how those changes shaped her life.

The film tells that intimate story well. It makes a strong case that we're all better off when we let the boundary lines of family fall in creative ways, when we bring our relationships in all their messiness into the sunlight and let them grow. Obviously ideas this open adoption mama can get behind.

It fell a bit short for me in its discussion of adoption, though, not really acknowledging the ways adoption practice hasn't kept pace with society's progress. I thought it gave the impression that shame and secrecy in adoption were things of the past. Though we learn that the home in which Skloss' first mom lived has closed, there are still all sorts of agencies running maternity homes, villifying single parenthood, and pressuring women into placing their children. What really brought it home for me were several shots of "Pregnant? Scared? Need help?" billboards sprinkled throughout the movie, perhaps meant to show that unplanned pregnancy has been brought out of the shadows, that we as a society now offer support to women? But when I see those signs, I think about how the phone numbers on them typically ring in an adoption faciliatator's office or crisis pregnancy centers directly or indirectly connected to some the least ethical adoption agencies around. There is help, but it is too often help with an agenda. It was a disappointing (to me) note in a film so otherwise supportive of parents having the freedom to forge their own paths.

My adoption hang-ups aside, it was a touching movie. There is a moment at the end which explains why the film is titled Sunshine. That's when I started crying. Then came home video of her daughter's birth, Skloss' two mothers equally present, waiting and rejoicing. You'd better believe I kept on crying at the sight of that.

If you'd like to watch it on Tuesday, check your local listings for the Independent Lens show time. Then come back here and tell me what you thought.

Disclosure: I was sent a preview DVD of the movie, with no compensation or obligation to review attached.
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