May 31, 2011

It Came in a Rush

"You know she had another one?"

It was tossed out my direction by Kelly's mother as she and Kelly's father prepared to leave our home last fall, more of a statement than a question. They were traveling through our town on a road trip and we had spent the afternoon together, the adults catching up and Eddie and Mari playing with Eddie's little sister, Robin, who Kelly's parents are currently raising.

"Another what?" I thought. Before my confusion even had time to take hold, Kelly's mom was talking again, information tumbling out of her. "There are three. Kelly had another baby. A boy. In July. He was adopted and he's in Northern California." She kept going without pause.

That was how we learned Eddie has a brother. Half of my brain was trying to memorize everything Kelly's mom was saying, to save every scrap of information she was dropping so I could piece it together later. The other half of my mind was racing, trying to overwrite the last year of our relationship with Kelly and what we thought was true with this new story. "We saw Kelly in August. He was born by then," I realized. "She didn't tell us. We spent hours with her and she didn't tell us. She didn't tell Eddie he has a brother. All those times we talked to her on the phone this year, she was pregnant the whole time. Is Eddie in listening range? I don't want him to hear it like this. 'Another one'? They're children. Your grandchildren. Two of whom are right here. Is that what my son is to you? Just 'another one'?"

Kelly's parents kept talking, interrupting each other to get the words out. Looking back, I realize this was probably one of the first chances they had to tell their big story to someone. We heard all about the circumstances of the pregnancy, the boyfriend, the agency's last-minute involvement, exactly what the adoptive parents were doing when they got the call. Yes, the adoptive parents know about Robin; no, they don't think they know about Eddie. They talked about it as if it were this exciting thing that had happened to them.

At some point they paused and Kelly's mom said, "Don't tell Kelly we told you. She doesn't want anyone to know. You won't tell her, will you?"  Without thinking, I answered, "No, of course not." I think I would have said almost anything at that point just to keep the information coming. It felt like I had this brief open window to grab up as many facts as I could--as much truth as I could--and I didn't know when it would open again, if ever.

I've regretted that promise countless times since that day. I can't believe I spoke without thinking, can't believe I agreed to more secrecy when it goes against every value I hold about how adoption should be practiced. It is awkward to talk to Kelly now. And I hate knowing that there is no easy way out; eventually Kelly will know we knew but didn't say anything to her and her parents will know we broke our promise to them, however regrettable it was. But that day is going to have to come, sooner than later.

One thing I knew right away: I wasn't going to keep any secrets from Eddie. This wasn't something that needed to be held until it was age-appropriate; information as basic as the existence of a sibling belonged to him right now. The next day I gently and plainly told Eddie about his new brother. He asked where he was and I explained. He said, "Oh." He asked me to pick him up. Arms wrapped around my neck, he told me he'd never let me go.

We held each other for a long time.

May 18, 2011

Jane + Me

I wrote a little something for the BlogHer Book Club:
William Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education, and I have at least one thing in common: Jane Austen changed our lives.

It was nearly two decades ago now. Fresh out of college, I was sharing a house with five other recent grads, living on Pop-Tarts, and working on a university campus as a student leadership advisor. And swiftly falling in love with a boy I couldn’t be with.
Read the rest over at BlogHer

May 07, 2011

I'm Thinking of You

For Mother's Day weekend, I'm going to quote myself from last year, because I would write the same thing today:
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 05, 2011

More of Us

Yesterday the kids and I dropped off our Mother's Day packages at the post office. A stack of boxes for the many sort of mothers in our family. This year Eddie and Mari painted picture frames that we filled with photos of them with the gift recipients. Todd drew a card that we copied onto cardstock for the kids to color in.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the gifts Tuesday night, Beth called. She just wanted to hear Mari's voice. Mari was long asleep at that point, so she and Todd chatted a bit and made plans for a Mari/Beth phone call tonight.

I've been feeling what a privilege it is for me to be part of Eddie and Mari's connection to their families by birth, to be able to be part of nurturing those relationships and having relationships of my own with their first families. Our gift-making project showed how matter-of-fact the open adoption relationships are for the kids right now, how integrated they are into their big picture of family. There was no distinction for Eddie between the frame he painted for Todd's mom and the one he did for Kelly's mom. He simply finished one and reached for the other. I don't pretend that Mother's Day is always that simple emotionally, not for my kids and certainly not for their first moms. But for now, this year, the openness softens the seams of our stitched-together extended family.

I've been feeling, too, in the background of my mind this week the separation between us and Eddie's baby brother, the one placed for adoption this summer by Kelly with a family we are not sure even knows about us. His adoptive mom will be celebrating her first long-awaited Mother's Day and I've found myself wondering what they will be doing for Kelly. A card? A phone call? An extravagant gift? Have they visited with her since his placement? Do they connect very often? Beneath is all the question my heart is afraid to ask: does she like them more than us?

It is an unexpected place we are in, to be the second pair of adoptive parents to Kelly's children. I don't feel like I'm in competition with them, but it would be naive to think we're not being compared to them now. I look at Eddie's sweet little picture frame, knowing how hard he worked on it, how carefully he chose which colors to use for Kelly's and which photo to put inside, and wonder not just whether she will like it, but how it will fare against the efforts of his brother's parents. It's not lost on me how much my feelings echo those I've read from some first parents whose children's adoptive families are in multiple open adoptions.

I know that the best thing to do, really the only thing I can do, is to focus on our own relationship with Kelly and let go of the sense of comparison. Not just for my own long-term sake, but to be able to come alongside Eddie should he confront his own issues of comparison with his biological siblings in the future. This is all just taking some getting used to still.

May 03, 2011

Expanding the Family

Kristin asks:
Question for you (that I've been dying to ask, but felt it was inappropriately intrusive...Now since you've opened the door...): what are your current thoughts on expanding your family? I have lots of follow up questions, but I'll just leave it at that for now.
I sort of dread talking about this, not because it's intrusive (you're fine, Kristin!), but because it's such a loaded, sensitive topic. Opening my mouth makes me feel like the proverbial bull in the china shop of other's emotions. And family building, no matter the avenue, is so complex an issue that it's impossible to share all the small and large factors that go into a decision. Then there are the things you assume are just givens, but it turns out aren't and everyone gets riled up. But I'll give it a shot.

The truth? If adoption were just about what Todd and I wanted, I would love to adopt another child. Like, yesterday. But it's not all about us and adopting isn't a neutral act, so we're stuck between a whole lot of conflicting values and logistics.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that everything I'm about to say only pertains to me and my family. It is not about you or anyone else. This isn't a commentary on people who made different decisions or value different things. I really mean that.

That said, this is our reality:
  • We would want to adopt a Black child. It doesn't seem fair to Mari to add yet another White person to the family and we don't think we we could do transracial parenting in the way we want to do it if we had children of three different races/ethnicities. I know many families do, but we don't think we could do it well in our context.
  • There are only two local agencies that we be comfortable working with if we were to adopt again. (Well, maybe 1.5. Or 2.25. It's a nebulous thing.) They only place one or two African-American children per year, if that (which reflects local demographics), so they're not realistic options.
  • I know there are lots of agencies in other states who focus on placing African-American children (although many have race-based fee structures, which are a no-go for us).  But I'm not comfortable adopting transracially from outside of our region. We live in a really monochromatic part of the country. Even our urban centers are overwhelmingly White. I personally (Todd disagrees with me on this one) have a hard time justifying taking a Black child from a place where they would have grown up not in the minority, or less so, to raise them here. I am not at all saying there were not significant losses connected to Mari being adopted transracially. Just that this would have been her home state, regardless, and it's also where her first parents live. 
  • Private infant adoption services in the United States are market-based to a great extent. I don't think you can reduce supply/demand economics to the ultra-micro level of a single household's decision to adopt, but our choices as adopting parents are the major force in the aggregate. I'm not even sure what I'm trying to say here and I do think there is such a thing as thoughtful, ethical infant adoption. I just know that if I imagine myself saying, "Yes! Let's adopt another baby!" and initiating another adoption, it doesn't totally sit right with me and this is part of that discomfort.
If I had to guess, I'd say our permanent family is probably done now. I'm a bit sad about that. I'm also totally in love with the little four-person family we have now. It's a parallel emotion sort of thing.

Eddie really, really, really wants another sibling. One who lives with us, he often adds. He talks about it a lot.

We're still working through all our paperwork to possibly foster and I think the interview part of the home study will probably start this summer. While, should it all come to pass, that will be an expansion of our family in another sort of way, it's separate in my mind from the question of whether or not to adopt again.
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