Cage Match: Purim vs. Halloween

A couple of the comments on that last post reminded me of something I read, gosh, it must be about three years ago: almost all adoptions are transcultural adoptions. Cricket’s certainly falls into that category; he went from an Irish/British/German-American home of practicing Catholics to a (currently) single-parent home of a practicing Jewish mother. Cricket is being raised vegetarian, and while I am vegetarian myself, the Mister and the boys are not. (Okay, Kit is at the moment, being as he’s only drinking breastmilk [and the breastmilk of a vegetarian, no less], but I’m sure that a year from now he won’t be any longer.) Cricket is growing up in the north, and Joey and Kit are growing up (at least for the next few years) in Southern California. But there are also less clearly defined cultural differences—I’d describe our house as more kid friendly, although of course that’s just my point of view. But we have a much higher tolerance for noise and chaos, and a greater appreciation of silliness. Ruth has a more organized life for Cricket, with more travel and a very carefully planned diet.

Ruth (disclaimer: as far as I understand from our past conversations and the decisions she makes) sees herself as needing to protect her culture. She doesn’t want Cricket to think that Christmas is awesome because they are Jewish, and she understands Jewish holidays as being less exciting for children than Christian or secular ones. She doesn’t want her child pressured into conforming to cultural gender norms, and licensed characters goob her out. And fair enough, sez I, to all of these things. I have some of the same concerns, although I choose to handle them differently. The problem for me is that Ruth doesn’t see our (Book) culture as having any value for Cricket—and if it holds any interest for him, that’s a bad thing, as it may serve to draw him away from her culture. This isn’t something that we talked about before the adoption, because the idea of a transcultural adoption (or, frankly, the idea that I had or was anything that might matter to Cricket) wasn’t something I was aware of. I did ask specifically about sending Christmas gifts, and got permission spelled out in our agreement. But the only other time that the cultural difference came up is when Ruth told me (eight months pregnant) that I would probably have to talk to Cricket at some point about being a Jew with Nazi ancestors (mine).

The whole mess is slightly more complicated now, because Cricket is interested in his brothers and the things that they like—what their lives are like. Last Christmas, in addition to a gift, I sent a pound of dates because Joey was completely nuts about them, and I thought it unlikely that they’d be able to get good dates where they are. I included a note explaining that these are dates, and Joey loves them, and I thought you’d like to try them, Cricket. I never heard whether he had one or not, or liked one, or anything like that. We don’t hear back about things that we send. And that was more discouraging for me than was probably reasonable. Too, these boys will be doing and liking more and more things that Cricket is supposed to stay away from: Joey is crazy about Blue’s Clues; we’re going to Disneyland again this fall, and I expect Joey to lose his mind with joy; some of their favorite foods are sure to be meat-related. I feel as though I should be allowed to say these things, but I’m not sure that I am. And the ways that I reach out keep getting worn down; I certainly won’t send anything like the dates again, and Skype hasn’t happened in . . . shoot, I’m not sure. We Skyped in March, maybe? Or maybe the last one was February. I sent a sweater that I knitted, but if I don’t see any sign that he has worn it this fall or winter, I won’t send another in future. And when Joey and Kit are old enough to reach out themselves, while I certainly won’t refuse to help them, I don’t look forward to trying to get across how unlikely they are to hear back.

Dressing Him Funny

This week, I had a crunchy parenting failure and a crunchy parenting triumph; I’m hoping they more than cancel each other out, but I suppose it’s too soon to say. First, I broke down and bought a (gently used) exersaucer; Joey wants nothing more in the world, these days, than to be bounced and bounced and bounced and held standing and then bounced, and at some point my poor arms and his dad’s are just plumb tuckered out. I plan to hide it when we have company. For now, though, he seems to love rocking out in the thing while I sit in a chair beside him and work, or stand in view and do dishes, or what have you.

And, uh, we’ve started doing cloth diapers.

I am (perhaps obviously) NOT hardcore—we’re still using disposable wipes, we’ll still put him into a disposable diaper at night—we’re basically doing cloth part time. But if I give them their cold soak myself before giving them a hot wash in the machine, it’s not as expensive as it might be, and I’m really glad to be (mostly) making the switch. Funny thing is, I’m the only one who’s surprised that I’ve decided to switch over; when I told the Mister, he rolled his eyes and said “Well, it’s not like I didn’t see this one coming.” When I found myself protesting that I’m not that crunchy because “he has some plastic toys!”—well, I’m not sure there’s any digging yourself out at that point. Next step: cloth wipes.

There’s an argument I watch play out on the internet every so often:

Adoptive parents: We are only human; we get divorces, we decide that our family is complete with one child, we move, we change our plans. Parenting is different in practice than in theory.

Birth parents: We placed our children on the understanding that they would have better lives than we could ever give them, so you had damned well better do whatever you can to give them the perfect childhood.

And both sides make pretty good sense to me. In our own situation, we talked three years ago (!) about Ruth and Nora’s plans: Ruth would stay at home, they would cosleep and baby wear, and Ruth was planning to breastfeed. That’s not quite how things turned out; Cricket spent a lot of time in his stroller, slept alone in his crib, drank formula only (and only from a bottle), and started daycare before he was two. At the same time, it was clear that his moms were making what they thought were the best choices for him—they just ended up changing their plans as they experienced parenthood and Cricket, just like every other parent does. Then Joey was born, and they sent us a baby gift of parenting books (which are . . . somewhere . . . and unread), and now they’re sort of in the position that Mr. Book and I have been for two and a half years. We’ve already had to make some of the same sorts of changes—I wanted to do homemade baby food, but Joey hated it, so we went with a mix of organic commercial stuff and little bits of real food right from the start; I never thought I would end up cloth diapering (it seemed like such a nightmare); we’re starting to put him down to sleep by himself and join him later at night, which makes me feel incredibly guilty but has meant more sleep for all three of us—but we’re making different specific changes, and I wonder what it’s like for Ruth and Nora to watch and judge us. Because of course they’ll judge our parenting; I think that happens from both sides in most adoptions, and in good adoptions, it’s tempered with compassion, understanding, and love.

Birth Rites

Reading Dawn’s post about her transracially adopted daughter’s conversations on race made me think about Cricket’s matching and not matching. While he is as white as all four of his parents, I am a practicing Catholic, whereas Ruth and Nora are Jewish (Nora is not from a Jewish background and has not officially converted, but attends services and celebrates with her wife). Before his birth, we had several conversations about circumcision; I made it clear that I wasn’t going to have him circumcised and would not choose that for a child of mine, but that I assumed that they would want him to have a bris. When pressed for my reasons, I explained that I talked to a nurse (years ago, in a women’s studies course) who refused to perform them—she said that it was cosmetic surgery on someone too young to consent. It made sense to me, and the arguments in favor never have—Mr. Book is also opposed to circumcision. Ruth tended to agree with us, but she worried that it would be one more thing making him different from other Jewish kids. I also mentioned that circumcision made sense for me as a religious gesture–I like the idea of a visible sign of the covenant with God. Ruth found that part less important, saying that if it became important to him in his relationship with God, he could have it done as an adult. In the end, however, they couldn’t bring themselves to have him snipped; their rabbi performed a snip-free conversion for Cricket, a simchat ben. I assume that Orthodox Jews would not consider Cricket Jewish, but they would also have some problems with his moms, so I guess that’s not a major concern.

I chose Jewish parents (and therefore Judaism) for my son with an untroubled mind; mine is a fairly liberal theology, I believe that most of the major religions are praying to the same God, and I don’t think you have to be Catholic to be saved. But. I made one plan for Cricket that I never told his moms about. When he was mine, on that first day, before I signed the papers…I baptized him. I used that “extraordinary circumstances” clause and didn’t even mention it to Mr. Book at the time. But it was important to me; on that day, I was his mom, and I made several parenting decisions. The others I had discussed in advance with his moms-to-be, but this one was private. I don’t know whether I should ever tell them—or even Cricket—about that, and I probably won’t. I did tell my mother later, and she cried, and told me that she was glad; that she had wanted to do it herself, but understood that it wasn’t her place. And then she told me that before I was baptized in church, I was baptized by my dad. Apparently on one of the first nights of my life, my mom started to worry that I could die before I was baptized (I was perfectly healthy, this was just new mom stuff), and she talked my dad into baptizing me just in case. So apparently I was just carrying on the family tradition.

In Which Our Hero Grouses

So we had the visit, and it was fine. In some ways, I feel like there’s nothing else to say about it—I’m glad it’s over, Mr. Book and I agree that we never want to have a visit again, and we’re careful not to let Ruth, Nora, or Cricket pick up on those feelings. We don’t have a visit next month (they invited us for Thanksgiving, but we already had plans), and we’re both grateful. Cricket is a little charmer still, chasing the cat as best as he can on his hands and knees and laughing whenever the grownups do. I don’t think they plan to come back in the foreseeable future—the drive must be murder with a tiny child—which is a relief. It is hard and strange to see him chugging around our apartment, our kid who isn’t our kid but is in our house.

I did spend a lot of time cleaning before the visit, and freaking out a little, but Mr. Book reminded me several times that their house has never been clean when we’ve been there, and that it’s probably not the first thing on their minds. I do think that being glad not to have a visit next month makes me a bad birthmom, but not as bad as I would be if I told them about those feelings. Many of my background preparations turned out to be pointless—Ruth didn’t want any juice, and I don’t think they noticed that we’d put up the gift they gave us at placement. We took it down after they left; it is very much not to our taste, and didn’t seem to be chosen with us in mind. I know that the adoption links our two families, but I think Ruth especially tends to interpret that as us being included in their family without them being included in ours—she wants to share their culture with us but hasn’t seemed to feel any need or desire to absorb ours. I am occasionally frustrated by that, but not usually; at most, I want sometimes to say “You know that I have no desire to become Jewish, right? I am a Catholic, I chose Catholicism, and it’s very important to me.” Oh, well.

This sounds awfully negative for a post-visit post, I am realizing. I should mention again that nothing bad happened, they were pleasant and friendly and they seemed to enjoy dinner very much, even accepted leftovers to take back with them. I guess there were two bad things that happened in my head during the visit that are distracting me right now:

1. I realized that it’s been ten and a half months since they said that they would send my mom a letter telling her where she could contact them, and it hasn’t happened. I know they’ve thought about it, even worked on the letter, but they know that she wants to send a birthday card, they say that they have no problem with that, and yet it seems like they will make it impossible, and that strikes me as unfair. My mom’s no prince, but she doesn’t deserve to be left hanging for almost a year with no explanation.

2. We talked about Cricket’s birthday party, which will apparently also be a Hanukkah party, and which will be ghastly for Mr. Book and myself. I went to a baby shower for Ruth and Nora, so I know what the zoo exhibit experience is like; Mr. Book has not yet had that experience, but does not look forward to finding out what it’s like. I should stress that their family and friends are very nice people and that no one said anything hateful to me. But I am basically the donor to them, and that is interesting and odd, and it’s a creepy feeling.

My post-visit sick this time is just a bad cold, but I’m willing to take the excuse and stay in bed.

Getting Started

I’m a birthmother, which is pretty weird; my son is nine months old. My husband and I are supposed to visit him and his parents on Saturday, for Rosh HaShanah, but I haven’t heard back from his mom with confirmation of the plans. The kid and his parents live in a big city a few hours away from our big city–we’ve only driven up there to see them once so far, and they’re talking about driving down here next month some time. When I read about open adoption, prior to getting into one, I read that adoptive parents generally want more contact than the birthparents do. “Not me,” I thought–but in fact I would choose to have visits less often than they would. Not because I don’t enjoy seeing them–I do, very much–but because the visits are emotionally complicated for me. But the kid’s doing great, and his parents are over the moon for him, and that’s perfect.

The kid’s birthday is in December, and I just found the perfect present; lovely wooden Hebrew blocks. His family is Jewish (I’m not), and they’re pretty into the “My first dreidel”/”Baby’s Book of Jewish Things” kind of stuff, so I’m confident that they’ll like this. It’s funny; when I talked with his mom about gifts, many months ago, she specifically requested no Christian stuff–giving Christian stuff to people is just so not my style. My futurekid will have St. Francis coloring books etc., but I wouldn’t dream of trying to convert other people or their children.

In the meantime, I spent some of my pocket money on baby stuff this week. This is a chronic problem for me–I’m hoping to have a kid in a couple of years, and I can’t stop myself from slowly nesting. That way, when I have the baby, I will be so obviously prepared that the idea of losing him won’t come up. =/