Not the Winner

I hope to God that I don’t sound as though I’m trying to make myself sound good when I talk about the visit—of the five of us, I think I come in fourth in terms of how I did by the kids and how much I was what I would hope to be. Ruth explained her theory as to why Cricket and I don’t click well; she says that we’re too alike in temperament, so that our particular kind of reserve keeps us apart. I would add to that that we’re both stubborn (yes, I can be as stubborn as a toddler. I’m working on it), and there were times when being shouted at by him to do something made me dig in my heels in a “For God’s sake, woman, remember that you are the grownup” kind of way. No, I choose not to be a passenger on the train (real, shameful example); I will be a union worker moving cargo on the platform. We had a couple of good conversations (one about crackers, and one about how the numbers on his pants let him shoot parts of his car seat at other cars), and that was in part because the circumstances were just right—he was strapped into the car and not actively competing with Joey for anything. Heck, I was even able to make Joey a part of one of those conversations in a way that worked for all three of us. But when he was shouting and running around and near Joey in a less restrained environment, I was mostly watching him warily. <–That was crappy of me, I’m not defending it. Right now I’m just describing my visit.

I’m trying to imagine what it would have been like if the boys’ positions had been reversed—Joey big and bossy and constantly trying to shove/hit/yell at/lie about Cricket, and Cricket smaller, good natured, and bewildered. To some extent, I can say, Well, I would have handled it differently than Ruth; we discipline Joey differently than she does Cricket, and that would have meant interventions and time-ins and more hands-on interfering with his wildness and aggression. But the two things that are the most different are that I would be able to intervene with Joey, and that I know Joey. On the intervention front: not feeling able to say anything to him and not hearing his mom say anything to him was very difficult. After talking it over, Mr. Book and I have decided that if it comes up again, there are ways in which we would be comfortable speaking up in future that we did not this time—nothing parental, of course, but “If you kick me again, I am not going to read to you” instead of just letting it happen and wondering whether Ruth would please step in. That would have made it easier to interact with him instead of hunkering down and just letting him happen. And the knowing? I do think, and I’ve said (however clumsily), that if we already had a base of knowing and liking Cricket, and a pile of common experiences with him, then this would just have been a patch of rough weather, and we’d be more able to work through it with him. When it’s all that we see, and when this would have had to be building instead of maintaining a connection, it’s much harder to react as I would ideally like to—I pull back instead of reaching out.

Cricket wants to come and visit us again—I am clinging to this fact. I want very much to do better by him. I am working on small, practical changes (we can’t play during Joey’s nap because Joey can’t sleep unless Cricket is sleeping, because Cricket won’t stop shouting so loudly that even with a white noise machine on, Joey is disturbed—that was a good suggestion that I wanted to address, because I wish it could work); I am also bearing in mind that Joey will keep getting bigger and better able to express and defend himself. Ruth and Nora have said that they want to go away for visits in future and get a beach house or something—that is off the table for the foreseeable future, as far as we are concerned, because everyone who said it is right, and I wish I could have seen it ahead of time—we all need our own space. It seems very unlikely that we’ll see him before next year, and Cricket’s life will hopefully have settled down somewhat by that point. But I really do understand now that I need to make changes to myself and my behavior for his sake before we see each other again.

After

Oh, my goodness. The visit ends in the morning; Ruth and Cricket have been here for two full days. It’s been a discouraging time, which isn’t what I wanted or expected to be writing—and I want to start with an acknowledgement of how many hard things Cricket is dealing with right now.

  • His moms are splitting up. They’re also having him spend time with the new people that they’re dating.
  • He’s been talking a lot about the adoption, I guess, and not in a happy way—Ruth told me the night before they arrived that he’s being saying a lot of “sad or angry” things about being adopted recently.
  • There seem to be a number of rules around Cricket’s diet that appear complicated from the outside, at least; the upshot is that he didn’t eat much at all while he was here, except once or twice when I set crackers out for Joey and Cricket frantically ate all of them in an attempt to keep them from Joey.
  • Cricket was in a strange house, sleeping in a strange bed. That’s hard for me, so I can only imagine how much harder it must be for a three year old.
  • He clearly saw himself as in competition with Joey, which is really too bad, since jealousy is unattractive on anyone, and toddlers aren’t exactly subtle.

I’m going to begin at the end: tonight, Joey had finally just had too much, and was reduced to a weepy, screaming mess at bedtime. There was a trajectory that in hindsight I wonder whether I could have done more to affect: early Thursday he was curious about Cricket and slightly standoffish; later on Thursday he was following Cricket around and trying to join his games but not being pushy about it, but Cricket would push him away, hard, if Joey got too close; Thursday night, he was trying to start games with Cricket, culminating in him running at Cricket shouting “Gickle, gickle (tickle, tickle)!” and trying to tickle Cricket, who shoved him away and shouted at him; early Friday, Joey was following Cricket around and mimicking him, and got slapped for his trouble; most of Friday, Joey was still interested in Cricket but quick to give up when shoved and play by himself; late Friday afternoon, Joey had started actively avoiding Cricket, because the shoving and the shouting just didn’t let up; and Friday night, realizing that Cricket was still here (Cricket took a nap, and while he was down, Joey was so happy—we made jokes, Mr. Book and I, about his being happy that Cricket was gone, but I suspect that was the literal truth), he just lost it, wanted us both to stay with him, screamed and cried and just seemed desolated. We spent a long time with him past normal bedtime, having milk and crackers and listening to music and just spending time together as a threesome, and he slowly regained his usual good cheer.

Cricket is very difficult right now. I had worried that my desire to protect Joey would be a problem, but didn’t understand just what an enormous problem it would be for both me and Mr. Book—Cricket consistently tried to keep all of Joey’s toys away from Joey, tried to keep all food away from Joey, and shouted at and used force with Joey whenever Joey got too close to him. I don’t know how much we could have intervened; I felt as though I was on thin ice when I occasionally caught Ruth’s eye with a concerned look. We tried to distract Joey and comfort him, we made sure that he had time alone with us as well as things that he particularly likes and doesn’t get every day—and yet, and yet. Cricket is very difficult right now.

Before he went to bed, Cricket was talking to Mr. Book about when he visits again, and telling us that the footstool in the bathroom is his, so make sure to have it here when he visits again, and so forth. I was glad to hear it, and glad that he wants to come back—because as hard as this was, I don’t want him to know how hard it was for us. It’s hard enough being three without having to carry that.

Roundtable #36: Agreements

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. 

Write a response at your blog–linking back to this post so your readers can browse other participating blogs–and share your post in the comments here. Using a previously published post is 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.

Open adoption agreements are the documents signed by placing parents and adopting parents that establish post-adoption contact expectations and boundaries. Discussions often focus on their legal weight (e.g. Are the agreements enforceable in court?) or the practical details (e.g. How many visits?), both very important issues. I thought it might be interesting to also take a more personal look at how they have influenced the relationships in our personal adoption constellations and how our views about them may have changed over time.

Write about open adoption agreements. Is there one in your open adoption? What effect does it have on your relationships? If you could go back in time, would you approach the agreement differently?

I have a legally binding open adoption agreement—there’s a copy in a box in my closet. It’s hard for me to know how much that affects our adoption, since Ruth and Nora don’t keep to it. But it is certainly possible that we are only having a visit this year because the agreement requires them to travel to us for a visit once per year. Hard to know.

At the same time, it feels as though the important things in our relationship are wholly untouched by the agreement: And how could they be? Ours is not a relationship that works very well, and that has to do with our personalities and our different hopes and plans. Ruth and Nora were distressed that we had Joey, and the agreement is (naturally enough) silent on the subject; now it’s our turn to be upset that Ruth is deciding whether to have a baby with the man she has recently started seeing, and of course there is no agreement that we could have come to about that. We don’t get a vote in her family-building decisions, just as she has no voice in ours—but oh, how strongly we all feel about these things.

At their best, I think open adoption agreements give both families a chance to make sure that their expectations line up; if the expectant parents want monthly visits and the adoptive parents want one visit per year (or vice versa), this may not be a good match—or it may be an opportunity to talk about why the different parties want what they want, and try to find common ground and a common understanding. Our process involved my nervously suggesting the most that I thought I could ask for, and Nora and Ruth looking uncomfortable when I asked for hard copies of pictures twice a year—they decided that they could send pictures in May and December, but have not been able to do that. Perhaps there was something behind that look that we could have talked about. (Mr. Book wasn’t present for any of these conversations, although I talked with him about what went on.) I didn’t really know what to ask for, although I was comforted by the idea that I had the legally enforceable right to see the child (I couldn’t let myself think of him as my son: poor Cricket) once a year. Now, if Ruth closed the adoption, I think we would more or less let it go—I’d send a Christmas card and a birthday gift for as long as I had their address, but certainly we can’t afford to take them to court and have some discomfort with the idea of trying to force them to see us in any event. If Ruth felt strongly enough to close the adoption, what must she be telling Cricket about us? In that scenario, it would I think feel kindest to step back and try to reach out when he was an adult.

It’s a terrible time in your life. I think there must be some terrible parts for prospective adoptive parents, too—as much as Mr. Book and I now feel that they have a hostage, they must have felt some of that, seeing me pregnant with the child they wanted so much. We all (I see now, but couldn’t then) felt pressure to agree to what the others wanted, because we all felt that we needed each other. Ideally, after their need was satisfied, we would all have grown to love one another, to feel like real family, and been able to work closely with affection and understanding. Instead—well, I really don’t know what things are like from their points of view. Nora has had no contact with us since the last visit, which is what we’ve come to know as normal, but since they are now separated, it feels a bit different. Ruth has reached out to me and talked more about her life and relationships, but that isn’t connected to our talking more with Cricket or hearing more about him; when last we talked, I tried to turn the conversation toward the boys and failed. And she’s going through huge turmoil and changes, and that makes some sense—but she doesn’t act like someone who believes that I am primarily interested in Cricket, not in her. For our part, we are prioritizing keeping her happy and as close as she would like to be, but not for her own sake. It’s a lousy way to behave, but I don’t see a better alternative. Seeing a friend’s tweets from a talk by James Gritter, it was brought home to me just how badly our open adoption has failed: “Three necessary attitudes of hospitious open adoption: goodwill, respect, courage”; “Your arms are either open for embrace or pushing away. No in between gesture.” This isn’t what a conventional failed open adoption looks like: in just over a week, Cricket and his mother will be here. We will be polite and interested, we will have carefully prepared their space, and after they have gone, I will send a card letting them know how much we enjoyed having them. And there is such distance and emotional dishonesty between us adults that I am ashamed.

Stop the Brain

Blogging allowed me to do something productive with my crankiness: I messaged Ruth and asked, politely, for her to get back to me if she has the chance. And she did! The power of nag. Pretty mixed feelings about that.

It feels like such a time of change. To the north, Ruth and Nora are changing their relationship and their lives pretty drastically; Ruth is going back to work, they are living separately and dating other people, and Cricket is being parented almost entirely by Ruth. Here in the south, we’re expecting a child, looking ahead to more schooling for the Mister (some hard choices to be made around that), and our feelings about Ruth and Nora are changing, too. Mr. Book more or less hates both of them now, but is of course willing to hide that from them forever—I get angry when I think about things, although I also have some sympathy for them—it’s weirdest for me, I guess, no longer to be able to say “Well, while I regret the placement, I don’t regret the choice of them as parents.” I’m not sure when exactly that changed (it may have been before the separation), but it is certainly not true anymore: I absolutely regret the choice of them as adoptive parents for Cricket. And Ruth loves Cricket, and she is devoted to him, and I would never try to come between them. But that’s really not all that I was looking for.

In some ways, it doesn’t really matter, that last, unpleasant change; I would never tell Ruth or Nora that, and I already regretted the adoption, so what’s the difference? But it does feel like a difference, and I think it makes me a little less patient when weeks go by without answers to time-sensitive questions (for example). Nora will not be able to visit us, and she and Ruth seem to assume that we will be sad about that, when in fact we’re slightly relieved: slightly less tension in the room if the two of them aren’t together, I think. Certainly we won’t miss her for herself, which is ugly but true. I don’t think I will respond differently directly to Ruth, now, but I resent things a little more, get frustrated a little more quickly. This is something to work through and get past, because we are tied together for the foreseeable future. And I still don’t think that she’s a bad person, although I think that adopting in their situation (as I now understand it) was a bad thing to do—although they’re far from the only ones to do it. I don’t think their intentions have been evil at any point.

This has all been an odd way of leading in to the announcement that they are visiting, Ruth has bought plane tickets, and they’ll be here for a couple of days in just under three weeks. I can admit, now, that I have a small gift for Cricket—a photobook with pictures of Joey—acquired well before we knew they were coming. What can I say? I told myself that I could just mail it, and surely I would have had they chosen not to come. One of my less good qualities is that if I am not in touch with someone—talking on the phone, chatting online, emailing, visiting in real human interaction, you name it—I start to feel more and more distant. Maybe that’s normal; I really have no idea. It’s been a problem for me with my sister Tammy, and perhaps a much bigger (if less long-standing) problem with Cricket. When we don’t have contact, I feel more and more baffled about him. Who is this child to me? I have a duty to him, I want very much for him to be happy and well, and I am grieved by his absence—but anything more warm or nuanced fades to a gray. Some of that, too, is Joey; he is so incredibly present, and demands so much of my brain, that I think much less about Cricket or the Possum than I would if they, too, were here. I tried to write a blog post about that a couple of weeks ago, and Joey (otherwise peacefully eating a pecan butter sandwich) kept wandering over to get my attention: “Mama? Up!” or even just brushing up against me and smiling. And it’s great to see him, and I just smiled back and gave up on the typing.  Now I’m going to see both of them in the same space—the first time that Joey will have been able to walk or talk at a visit—and I really don’t know what my brain is going to do. Right now, I just imagine myself being protective of Joey, which he probably won’t need. He’s an outgoing sort. But it’s hard to think of what it will actually be like to have my two separated sons in the same room, talking and everything. It makes me tear up just to write it, although I know that’s an easier feat with a pregnant lady than usually. I can make plans (and I am) to keep two little kids cheerfully occupied, but I can’t actually imagine them both.

Grump

I’ve been too angry to blog; that’s the ugly truth of it. I’ve been waiting to hear back about pictures and about the visit, and the longer I wait, the angrier and more certain that they aren’t coming I get. Yes, I know that Ruth has a lot going on right now—at the same time, I know she’s on Facebook often, and I know that it would take maybe ninety seconds to write “Things are nuts right now—can I get back to you next week?” Of course, that would imply that I’d be hearing from her in another week, which is pretty optimistic. I’m fuming, more or less, which is both unattractive and not super useful. I suppose I’ll try again after Easter—we do at some point need to know whether they’re planning to come here this month. And of course that second attempt will be polite and chatty, because they’ve got us over a barrel forever.

See? You don’t want to hear this.

I have started thinking more seriously about circumstances under which I would close the adoption, or mostly close it; I know that there’s no good solution for birth siblings, but if Joey comes to feel jerked around and heartbroken by the inconsistency of contact, I can definitely see myself sending a letter to the effect of: If Cricket wants to get in touch, he should feel free. Otherwise, don’t contact us, and you won’t hear from us. Maybe we’d keep sending Cricket a birthday present? That might be a good idea. I know we’re a ways away from that, but I can see it from where we’re standing. On the other hand, it’s hard to predict how Joey and the Possum will feel about the relationship; I realize that when I think ahead to it, I’m thinking of our relationship to Cricket, or children with deadbeat dads whose mothers I know. Not the same thing at all, for sure.

It’s just so weird to have this one part of my life that’s crappy all the time, no matter what else is going on. I’m looking at shorts for Joey online and really officially waddling now, and things are pretty good—oh, except for this one thing that keeps me up at night that probably won’t ever get much better. Right.

Anyway. This carping seems to be all that I have for the blog right now, so I’ll try again later, when perhaps I have news or a little sunshine.