The End of an Era

Joey has a tooth. I could feel it a few days before I could see it, which made me seem a bit mad when talking to other people (“It’s there, I know it!”). Now I can feel a second little ridge, which is faintly terrifying. Goodbye, gummy smiles. . . .

We’re in central Illinois at the moment; our frantic-feeling schedule of travel slows significantly after this week, but this week is a chance to see Joey’s godparents and a—I’m not sure what to call her—a courtesy aunt? Is that what they’re called? At any rate, a friend who is close enough that Joey will call her Tante Hazel. We cut his hair for the first time—it had started to look a bit like a comb-over up top. And overall we’re just enjoying the heat and the company. Stumptown has been remarkably wet and cool over the last few months, a result (your narrator assumes) of global weirding. Illinois is exactly as hot as late June ought to be.

His sleep has changed a lot—for the better. After the trip to Connecticut, which was several days of sleep catastrophe (oh, and there was a wedding in there somewhere), I decided to go with Mr. Book’s recommendation; put Joey down by himself to sleep. We now have a routine that involves nursing, a musical seahorse, and some cuddling, and he’s sleeping eighteen hours a day. He sleeps twelve hours at night and takes three naps during the day—after I leave the room, there is usually a couple of minutes of complaining—and then rock solid sleep. It is completely amazing. He still sleeps in our bed, and I just join him at night after he’s been alone there for several hours. Our bed is not on a frame, so it’s a short drop onto carpet if and when he decides to go seriously exploring, but so far he’s shown no inclination to leave the bed; this despite the fact that he rolls cheerfully across the room under other circumstances. I’m counting my blessings and keeping an eye out. I do feel guilty about putting him to bed by himself, but he seems to be thriving.

After writing that paragraph, I had the worst night yet of putting Joey to bed; I went back in once, patted his back and talked to him; I went in a second time, gave him some baby Tylenol, patted his back, talked to him; and then I went in a few minutes later, hearing that he was only growing more upset, and brought him out to join the grownups for dinner. And then, when I finally took him back to bed, he went peacefully—he cooed at me when I left. My mother would say that Joey successfully manipulated me into picking him up, but I just don’t buy it. Mr. Book says that he needs to learn to sleep on his own, but I want part of that to be learning that I will always be there if he needs me, and that what he feels is important. My mother keeps expressing the concern that I will be pushed around by my kids—I know that she sees parenting as a power struggle—and Lord knows that there will probably be some power struggles along the way. I know what toddlers are like. But I don’t want to think of our relationship as defined by that. Bed at 7 p.m. sharp is less important to me than the squishy stuff: you know, love.

Well…Better for Me

As I was double checking my itinerary for the trip to Connecticut, I saw that I had an email from Ruth; she wanted to know whether they should come down for a visit the following (week and a half following, not three days following) Saturday. It seemed unlikely to work out, so I didn’t spend much time angsting about it and didn’t mention it here or in real life, other than to Mr. Book.

Oh, I acted practically as though it were going to happen: I planned a meal, bought groceries, and cooked; I steamed the carpet; I pulled a couple of toddler toys out of the closet. But I didn’t really believe in the visit until they were here. This time, I was not the awkward one: that would be Cricket, who seemed pretty ambivalent about Joey. On the one hand, Joey was asleep for almost all of the last visit—now he’s a bright-eyed baby who kept looking at his brother and smiling—he’s pretty appealing, and Cricket likes babies (I’m told). On the other hand, he was touching Cricket’s stuff and, even more upsetting, being held by Cricket’s mamas. At one point, Ruth was holding Cricket and decided to hand him to Nora; she asked Cricket whether that was okay, he said no, she and Nora conferred, and then they explained that they were going to do it anyway. Cricket, who had been sitting on Nora’s lap, leapt up, ran to Ruth (once she was baby-free), and seemed pretty shaken: clinging to her, complaining softly, staring at Joey. They could be back in the pool inside of a month, so Ruth and Nora are (I think) seeing this as a valuable preview of how things will likely go with an adoptive sibling; and of course, there’s that biological thing.

Maybe it’s the fact that Cricket was a little off balance that made it easier for me to reach out to him—maybe it was Mr. Book’s absence for most of the day. I am too often content to use my husband as a buffer, let him do the people stuff. Too, Cricket was a little more mellow than he was in January. He’s so much older now. At one point, after he had been playing with our (surprisingly patient) cat, I said “Aztec, do you want a cookie?” and as the cat came bustling into the kitchen, Cricket piped up: “I want a cookie!” Well, then: dehydrated chicken pieces all around!

Toward the end of the visit, Nora asked Cricket to lie near Joey so that they could take pictures, and Cricket refused. Then he lay down pretty far away from Joey; then he started rolling closer and then farther away. Finally, he decided that they should hold hands. All of his hesitance and curiosity together, right there. It’s been a long time since I wanted to hold that kid as much as I did right then. No matter how many people tell me that this is complicated for Cricket and no matter how well I think I understand it, there’s nothing like watching him experience it to really hit a girl in the gut.

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.

This One Goes Out

Dear Cricket,

It’s probably long past time that I wrote this. When you were still a tiny baby, I wrote you letters all the time—not to send really, but to tell you even just on a screen you’ll never see how I feel—and then my hard drive died, and they were gone, and I just stopped.

I don’t know you as well as I’d like to, but I know that you are the best kid, just like Joey is the best kid; you’re both the best that ever saw daylight, and my life is the poorer for my distance from you. When you were born, I knew you better than anyone in the world, and we fit perfectly together. Then, when you became part of a different family, I started to lose my sense of who you were. I didn’t know what your days were like, or what you liked, or what your sense of humor was like. Heck, I didn’t know that babies had senses of humor until this year. I missed you so much that I couldn’t quite understand what had happened to me.

Ah, see, I’m crying now, just like I did in those old letters. I’ll tell you a thing about myself that not many people know, and that I’ve been working on for years now: When I’m scared, I get cold. And nothing scares me like you do, kiddo. That’s not your fault! You are warm and awesome and objectively unscary. But when I think about what I did to you, and about having to explain that to you and to Pete, I get very scared. I don’t know how to tell you why I did what I did, because it seems so stupid now, and I want to tell you that I was a fool to send you away and that even now I imagine you here with me, probably snoring, curled up next to your brother while I lie in a strange bed, unable to sleep. And I can’t. You’re in a good place, and your moms are wonderful moms, and I don’t want to scare you. But I can’t make any sense without talking about scary things. It’s less scary to imagine you grown and yelling at me, because at least then I can tell you what happened and know that even if you hate me for it, you will probably understand what I’m talking about, mostly.

I’m also mad at your moms. Again, not your fault! And I’m less mad than I have been sometimes, and I’m working on not being mad at all. But sometimes I want to blame them for the fact that you and I aren’t close. Some of that might be fair—some of it isn’t. But being mad is easier than missing you, and easier than feeling guilty about having a hard time reaching out to you.

You have a brother now; you’ve met him, although I’m not sure of whether you remember that. And I can’t stop talking to your birth dad about what you were like as a baby, and what you might have been like, and how much we lost when we lost you. I don’t think your brother suffers—we dote on him, and he seems amazingly cheerful and well—but I’ve only just realized that you might, because of my worry and my coldness, and I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. It sounds so crazy to say that the reason I sound cold toward you is because I wish I was closer, but I swear to God that it’s the truth. I’m surprised even right this very moment by how raw the loss of you still is, when I stop to look. You were my perfect baby son, and now you are someone else’s perfect son, and I can’t quite explain why that feels awful. I’m glad that you’re happy and well, though; I never wanted you to pine for me.

I am a pretty strange lady. Hopefully you will one day mostly get the endearing pieces of this (the fact that I get too excited about giving gifts to keep them secret, mostly, or my odd little crooning songs, or my determination to feed the people I love). Hell, maybe it’s too much to hope that we’ll have a one day together. But I do, you know—I so badly want what feels impossible now—you to think of yourself as my son (never only mine, I would never want you to lose your connection to your moms), and to want a relationship with me and your other biological family. I don’t want to replace anyone, and I don’t want you to feel any lack in your life at all . . . so if I get my wish, you may never have any need or desire to see any one of us Books. But that would be worth it if it meant you were happy. In the meantime, I will try to be less of a jerk.


Open Adoption Roundtable #26

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 listed at Open Adoption Bloggers 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–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

How do/would you talk with children about siblings in open adoption? How do you approach this as a (first or adoptive) parent, or how was it handled in your family if you grew up with siblings who didn’t live with you? For prospective adoptive parents or first parents without other children, has this been something you’ve thought about how you would approach? (Other responses can be found here.)

I’ve been thinking about this one for awhile.

I’ve been mulling over some of the comments I got, and am reluctantly convinced that I need to remove the language about hearts being broken; I have a weakness for faerie tale prose, and still think to myself sometimes in phrases from those I’ve read, or most especially some from a pink story tape we had when I was a child: “The wicked queen flew into a rage.” Now I’ve got to figure out the best way to talk about regret.

Mia said in comments that

As the adoptive mother, I wouldn’t want visits where my son might be told that it breaks his mother’s heart that he doesn’t live with her. My son can’t fix that situation, and he didn’t cause it, so he shouldn’t have to feel like he’s part of someone’s heartbreak or caught between two sets of parents when there is nothing he can do about it–he’s just a little kid.

It’s a fair point, and certainly I don’t want to burden little Cricket. On the other hand, I think that the absence of any mention of regret creates different problems: Why did we have and raise another child so (relatively) soon after placing Cricket if we didn’t regret the loss of him? And what birth family doesn’t wish that the placed child could have stayed with them, at least some of the time? Who doesn’t wonder what that would have been like?

I talked to a social worker at Catholic Charities who has done a number of adoptions about this, and she gave me permission to include my regret in the story I tell Joey: “It’s part of your story.” My understanding of the best interests of the adopted child (not thought up on my own, but heard from vaguely remembered experts) is that children own all of their stories, and that it is the parents’ obligation to give them all of their information—in age-appropriate ways, of course, and gently—but all of it. I’m not parenting Cricket, and I honestly don’t want to tell him anything. I want to send him to his moms if he has questions, dodging any awkward conversations until he’s taller than I am. But I want and need to tell Joey what happened, and why, and that it won’t happen to him and that I wish it had never happened at all. I am going to tell him all of that—I just want not to hurt anyone. That may be impossible.

I’m still looking for ways to put it, and hoping, cravenly, that Joey doesn’t talk to Cricket about this stuff. Heck, they’re unlikely to have an unsupervised conversation in the next decade. Maybe I can just swoop in with cake and interrupt. Or start a small fire. Or jump off the balcony.

I don’t feel as though Cricket is caught between two sets of parents—we’re clear that he’s with his moms forever, that they are his “real” parents (I use this language in real life), and that they are great moms and his family and and and. I want to find a way to talk to my Joey about this without wounding Cricket, and I know there has to be one, but I haven’t found it yet. And if I tell Joey these things and Ruth and Nora close the adoption because of it? I have no idea.

Grownup Time

Since Joey was born, we have had sex by the Dan Savage definition, but not by the biblical knowingness yardstick—I haven’t done anything that could get me pregnant. Oh, sure, the baby is an excellent reason why not (I am always tired, and it doesn’t bother me the way that it used to, but it certainly has an effect), but he sleeps soundly for longish periods of time. People have done much more with much less, is my impression. So I circle back to the fact that I’ve avoided anything that could get me pregnant.

Our birth control method, post-childbirth, has been more or less nonexistent; I am breastfeeding, and attentive enough to my cervical mucus to be confident that I am not ovulating. We want to raise two kids (and how I am coming to hate the need to carefully phrase that one—I can’t just have like a normal person, I raise), and we want them to be close-ish together—I have an aunt who has three kids, each a couple of years apart, and never had a period until after her youngest was born. That sounds like a reasonable sort of model. Mr. Book has started to wonder what it might be like to have a daughter, my mother is excited about the idea of another grandchild, especially a girl, and I feel weirdly neutral about the idea right now. I do want another child, I know that I’ll love him or her just as much as I do Joey, and I want Joey to have a sibling; I heard a woman say recently that sibling relationships are the longest-lasting in a person’s life, and I had never thought of that, but it seems like a wonderful thing to me. And not to be excessively morbid, but my husband had no siblings around him when his father died, and when I try to imagine what it will be like when that happens to me, I can’t imagine getting through it without my sisters.

And. Joey and I are together almost his every waking hour, and most of the sleeping ones, too—much of the time, we’re alone together. And I love it. And I know that I’ll never have this again. Assuming we’re blessed with another child, that child will be loved and attended to and totally adored by me . . . but there will be Joey with us, needing a different kind of attention than the peaceful staring into each other’s eyes and small, stationary jokes that I’m enjoying with baby Joey. And it will be hard, maybe harder than this time, but also great. But as soon as I get pregnant, Joey and I aren’t alone together. Maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it; I don’t mean to make it sound as though I am a single parent. But Mr. Book is gone twelve hours a day, five days a week—and now that he needs to really study for the LSAT, he’s spending several hours away at the library on his days off. There have definitely been days when I felt overwhelmed, but recently (even through the teething), I’ve mostly just been happy to be with the snerks. He peed on the carpet for the first time; he has mastered peek-a-boo; he wants terribly to chase the cat. And I get to see all of it! I’ll almost certainly be there when he starts to crawl, walk, and say his first word—and I get to pay attention. I’m maybe not ready to lose being alone with him.