Meredith asks:

Ooh I have a question! You and your sister Kate seem very close–is she your best friend aside from Mr. Book?

You know, if you’d told me when I was in grade school that one day Kate and I would be best friends—well, I don’t think either one of us would have believed it. She likes to tell me the story of how she told all of her middle-school friends that I was a lesbian . . . believing that “lesbian” meant “angry female” and nothing more. (Her friends were a lot more interested in this information than seemed reasonable to her!) And it’s true: she was a preppy little cutie and I was a strange and bitter teenage girl. We had pretty different experiences of childhood, and mine left me wearing black and writing truly hideous poetry; Kate was a cheerleader. My mother has always described me as either the smart one or the crazy one—Kate is always, but always, the responsible one. And it’s true; the youngest girl, she married first and is the only one to own her own home. She’s in graduate school, she has a dog, and she’s an absolute brick.

But that leaves a lot out: Kate is hilarious. She’s a great cook, and generous to a fault. She loves her godson Joey like crazy, and she’s a rare kind of thoughtful.

I’m not Kate’s best friend, I don’t think; she’s more social than I am by a mile, and has a pretty good set of roots where she is. And she’s a good friend to even what I think of as her crappy friends.

J asks:

Do you think you’ll be honest with adult Cricket about how much you regret placing, and your thoughts on Ruth/Nora’s parenting choices?

About placing: if he asks, for sure. I don’t see myself volunteering that, since I think it would feel a lot like I was dumping on him. However, I wonder whether this will come up sooner—as soon as Joey is old enough to ask, I’ll tell him that I regret the adoption. If he brings that up with Cricket? Well, as much as I dread that possibility, I won’t lie about it.

I hadn’t considered ever talking to him about his moms’ parenting; it’s hard for me to imagine a situation in which it would seem good or productive to criticize them to their kid. And I don’t think any of their choices are going to ruin his life—we make different decisions, and while of course I prefer mine, they haven’t made any choices for Cricket that seem dangerous or abusive to me. If he one day complains about their parenting, I imagine the conversation will feel like a minefield to me, and I will have to be very careful.

And also, you said Ruth responded positively to an email you sent about feeling distant from Cricket and so on, but it sounds like maybe this didn’t last long (mentioning reducing visits etc)…just wondering if anything really ever did change for the better after the email.

Yes and no. Nothing that I can see has changed on their end; we had one visit because we were moving a thousand miles away, and since then the only real contact came a few nights ago, when Ruth asked whether we wanted to Skype the next day (Friday). I suspect that she sometimes makes offers that are last-minute or wildly inconvenient in hopes that we won’t be able to take her up on them, but no such luck this time. All three of us Books teleconferenced with Ruth and Cricket—Cricket is growing increasingly chatty and hilarious, which I think is connected to his feeling more interested in us. He asked about California, and I offered to send him (via Ruth) pictures of our house; I emailed her a exhaustingly thorough photo tour late in the afternoon. He read to us (by which I mean “read”; the Lorax was scared of something, and also seemed fascinated by cars). When he signed off, he blew us kisses. Amazing.

I’ve changed for the better; maybe it helped just to say it, or maybe Cricket is entirely responsible, but I’m more open and engaged with the tyke now than I have been in the past. After we visited them but before we left Stumptown, I wrote him a card thanking him for his hospitality. He had asked about our cat several times during the visit (disappointed that we had left him behind), and I told him that Aztec was flattered by the attention and included a signed headshot from the cat. This is exactly the sort of silly thing I am likely to do with my people, but unlikely to show outsiders; even with his moms watching, it’s time to reach out to Cricket as myself.

Artemis asks:

I suppose my most burning question is: do you think you’ll ever not be sad about having placed Cricket?
I ask because, and I hope you’re not offended by this, you (and Mr. Book) seem so sad about it, and that sadness seems so pervasive. Of all the adoption stories I know about/follow, yours strikes me as one where I feel it would be best for everyone if you could get Cricket back.
The whole thing makes ME sad.

I can think of a couple of pretty far-out hypothetical situations that would change our feelings (you know: Mr. Book, Joey, and I are in a terrible plane crash and we’re glad that Cricket was spared via adoption), but short of that? I don’t think so. We really shouldn’t have placed. I spent some time thinking about how Cricket’s feelings might influence ours: If he grows up to be super glad that he was adopted, will we stop being sad about having placed him? But I don’t think so: I can’t imagine that, had we raised him, he would sincerely wish that he had been adopted by another family.

Since coming back to California—back to the house where I lived when I lost Cricket—I’ve been feeling especially sad and angry about the loss: It is really exactly like feeling that my son is missing all the time. But I do think that it would be incredibly traumatic for Cricket to lose his moms, which stops me from straight-up wishing that we could have him back. How scary for him.

I asked Mr. Book this question, and he said: “No. Just as I’ll never stop being happy that I have Joey with me, I’ll never stop being sad that I don’t have Cricket with me. And when we’re hopefully reconciled and have an okay relationship, I’ll still be sad about not getting to raise him.”

The Tunnel of Love

“They get some of the best babies there!”

–Doris Day, The Tunnel of Love

I imagine—because I can only imagine—that choosing an adoption agency is is difficult. I’ve seen some unbelievably aggressive marketing (“Bring me home today!” over a picture of a baby, and similarly nauseating ads), and know that most people find their options limited by their religion, their sexual orientation, their location, and/or their ethics.

There’s this Doris Day adoption movie I saw awhile back, and it’s pretty ghastly (I say this as someone who likes Pillow Talk and The Glass Bottom Boat, albeit from a feminist/cultural anthropologist perspective); Doris and her husband can’t have a baby, so they decide that adopting will help them get pregnant. (Spoiler alert: it does.) Most of the film’s plot revolves around Doris’s husband, Richard Widmark, believing that he has slept with their social worker and is in fact the natural father of the baby they adopt. Hilarious! The movie is pretty hideous, if you’re a triad member or sympathizer, and I watched it with the same grim interest that I felt when watching Penny Serenade or The Bigamist.

Obviously, Doris and Richard weren’t too worked up about adoption ethics; they have the excuse of (1) living in a bygone age and (2) being fictional characters. But for real people in the here and now—oh, let me just spit it out.

When I was matched with Ruth and Nora, they were working with Agency A (for Adequate) and I was working with Agency B (for Bad). Agency A was not licensed in my state, so they worked with both agencies while I was stuck with Agency B. We’ve talked over the past couple of years about Agency B’s ethical shortcomings: they lied to me and to Ruth and Nora; they wanted me not to put Mr. Book on the birth certificate; they told Ruth and Nora that I was receiving counseling, when in truth I was not. With all of this sort of vaguely in mind, I asked Ruth and Nora whether they would be open to working with another agency in the same way in this time around. They said yes, absolutely; I heard, “Getting another baby is more important to us than ethics.”

I am sure that Ruth and Nora are thinking about their conclusion differently than I am, but I’m upset. Would they still feel the same way if I told them about regretting the adoption? I think that they would, but of course I can’t  know. They couched it in fairly sweet terms: “That process brought us Cricket, and we would never wish that he hadn’t come to us!” but I know adoptive parents who feel that way about their kids and are able to hope for a better process the second time around, stipulating that there could never in the world be a better child. Ruth mentioned that they hope to adopt exclusively through Agency A, but framed this in terms of convenience. I had no idea of what to say.

“It’s a perfectly natural thing to want your own child.”

Richard Widmark, The Tunnel of Love

Nora told me earlier this year that they think of the money they pay to the agency as a charitable donation. I don’t. I don’t think that they have an obligation to take their $30,000 and give it to women who would otherwise have placed for adoption—they want to parent, they are paying for the privilege, and I think I understand that. But it isn’t a charitable donation any more than adopting a child is a charitable act. You adopt a child (I hope to God) because you want to parent that child; you pay the fees because you want parent that child.

We seem very much at odds recently, my son’s moms and I.

Different Strokes

Ruth and Nora parent very differently than we do—it is increasingly uncomfortable as we parent side by side. I am going to sound critical here, although I hope to also be fair: but I want to say upfront that while I disagree with some of their decisions, there is no question but that they are thoughtful, loving, and attentive parents.

There are a number of lines you could draw to differentiate our parenting from theirs. The one that’s got me broody is what I’m going to call What Is Okay? For Joey, most of what he wants to do is okay; I can only think of three rules we have for him so far. He was eight months old when I looked at Mr.  Book and said “I think he might be old enough that we can get him to stop hitting us in the face.” Sure enough, after a couple of days of stopping him, saying no, and explaining, he had stopped. The other two have been less successful: “No biting while nursing” has been mostly effective, but I do get bitten once in awhile; “Use gentle touches with the cats” is something he can do when he’s not too tired or worked up, but if he’s manic or worn out, he grabs a big fistful of cat. And that’s okay—he’s a baby—we just move him away from the cat and redirect to something else. In general, we steer him away from things that are dangerous or painful for himself or his targets. He makes up his own games, and sometimes he wants to do things that are noisy or annoying—or just not my cup of tea—but I try to be involved and encouraging, because I want him to learn things and have a good time. I know that not everyone does things this way; my parents are mildly shocked to see me strip Joey down and give him a handful of raspberries, because while he loves it, the mess is incredible. But Joey already seems like a boisterous kid, and I want to let him be that kid—noise and mess both end. We’ll add manners slowly, as we go along, but he still gets to express himself as he is. (I’m thinking a trampoline may be in our future.)

Ruth and Nora are back in the pool, and their letter is online; in it (along with other, positive qualities), they refer to Cricket as “independent, “stubborn,” and “willful.” The letter is, overall, more uncomfortable for me to read than I had expected, but that sentence was the worst. Cricket has a lot of restrictions on his behavior that don’t feel fair to me—I’m not parenting him, of course, or any toddler, but it turns out that I still have a strong opinion. “Cricket was very B-A-D today,” Ruth said several times while we were there. She gave an example: Cricket had been banging a truck against some LEGO, and she told him to stop, because this is against the rules. He did not stop; she picked him up; he bit her.

The boys have very different temperaments: Joey is mellow, funny, and outgoing; Cricket is somewhat volatile, likes people but is slow to warm up to them, and will dig in his heels but good if he sees a power struggle coming. It was only a few months ago that I started to understand that his moms consider Cricket difficult—a casual comment by Ruth opened my eyes. Throughout our visit to the Emerald City, there were small reinforcements of this central ideal—Cricket’s moms were surprised by Joey many times—by his cheerful fondness for their dog, the fact that he shared our meal, that he slept through the night.

I have no idea whether our differences in parenting philosophy have influenced the boys’ personalities; before Joey, I would have told you that temperament is temperament is temperament, and you’re born with the same stuff you’ll die with. Now I wonder whether it isn’t more complicated than that; maybe your central tendencies are the same, but look and are expressed differently in different environments. It has certainly given me something new to feel guilty about: Would Cricket be happier with us? There was one point during the visit when Cricket seemed very like Joey: Nora was pretending to eat his arms and legs, and he was screaming with laughter. Nora is physically affectionate with him, which is great, but she is not the stay-at-home parent.

Brood, brood, brood.