Decision 2008

Ruth tried to chat online and I missed it.

I only missed it by about ten minutes, having left to play a board game with my husband. I love board games, and had gotten him this one (Campaign Manager 2008) for his birthday—we’re both interested in politics and like the game 1960: The Making of a President, so it seemed like a fair way to lure him. Since we both just read Game Change, a book about the 2008 election, it seemed like high time to pull out his gift and give it a shot. (I, as John McCain’s campaign manager, stomped all over the Mister and his candidate.) Since seeing the missed chat hours later, I’ve been anxious, trying to get ahold of her without seeming frantic. The whole thing has been a perennial birthparent dilemma writ small: To what extent do you put your own life on hold in order to accommodate the relationship with your placed child and his adoptive parents?

When we moved away from them, I agonized over it—but it didn’t feel as though we had any other good choices. I’ve seen the issue of moving chewed over by other first mothers: There are better jobs elsewhere, or other family further away, and how do you choose whether to stay and maybe, possibly see more of your child or go and be less available but have a better career/more contact with family members who actually want it/raise your kids in a better place? We’re now talking about eventually, after school, going to the East Coast, where one of my sisters lives and the other talks about moving. We would be about as far away from Cricket as it is possible to be in the continental U.S. And at this point, that isn’t a factor anymore.

Well, okay, it is a factor. I want to say that it isn’t, but what I mean is that it isn’t a deciding factor; but it will be a part of the conversation, and if we do choose to go to New England, I will feel guilty (again) for moving away (again). But the way I weigh these decisions changed drastically once Joey was born. I will prioritize the kids I have here over the kid whose life I have almost no part in. I think that’s the right choice—Cricket already has people who have signed up to put him first (at least in theory), and Joey and Kit just have me and my husband to be the very most concerned with their welfare. Ideally, their needs are never in conflict, but realistically? That’s a different story.

In the meantime, I will hang around the internet tonight, being available, trying to connect with Cricket’s custodial parent. I’m almost never quite so clear cut in these things as I talk.

Meh

I feel this weird birthparent pressure to be nothing but 100 percent positive about things at home: The boys are great! The world is filled with sunshine! Clearly everything is awesome over here! Sometimes I feel okay talking about problems in the past tense, or at least past-ish: okay, I have PPD, but I’m not going to talk about it until I have an action plan. This is dumb, although I understand where it comes from, and it’s making it hard for me to write here. So I’m going to try to stop.

Joey’s speech is significantly delayed. When I first finally saw how far behind he had fallen, I started doing some home preschool—and we’re keeping that up—and he started to seem happier and more social, but his speech hasn’t gotten much better. He has used phrases maybe half a dozen times in the month we’ve been doing homeschool. He doesn’t string words together, and his pronunciation of words is really bad, not just adorable toddler bad but borderline gibberish bad. At the same time, he does mimic my tone and the Mister’s, and he loves music, so I don’t think it’s a hearing issue. I also don’t think it’s autism, seeing as he is social, points, and looks where we point. But he doesn’t speak anywhere near as well as most kids at two—he seems very young around other kids his age—and we’ve got an appointment with the pediatrician on the 15th, and I’m going to ask him about Early Intervention. Ruth has assured me that Cricket’s speech was incredibly mature at this age, which of course makes me feel more guilty and frantic. This morning, he was trying to say “Fee, fie, foe, fum!”and was getting me to say it (clearly and carefully, while facing him and looking him in the eye) but couldn’t manage more than “Fa!” I wish the appointment wasn’t so far away.

It’s an odd contrast to Kit, who so far is hitting milestones early enough that I give him the side eye every so often. He sits, he crawls, he says “Hi” at times when people usually say hi and only then, and the other day he let go of my hands and took a couple of staggery steps into my lap. He’s not even six months old! I know that this isn’t walking walking, or talking talking, and so I don’t brag—I just find myself surprised sometimes. Yesterday he had a diaper so intense that I put him into the bathtub so that I could just hose him off—and he was cheerfully and competently grabbing things that he wanted, shifting out of sitting to crawling, and then exploring the tub. Joey has always been more reluctant to push himself to master new skills, and the contrast is so great that sometimes Kit feels like a different species. In that, I am much more like Joey, which probably helps to explain why I keep being puzzled by this huge, cheerful, capable baby.

Meducation

Joey is happier, stringing words together, and altogether responding well to home preschool. I feel a little less conflicted about oppressing him. Most of his talk has been unambiguously awesome:

Q: Is that your phone?

J: My phone!

Q: Are you going to have dinner?

J: Nice dinner!

J: Plane! Plane! Plane fly back there!!

At one point, I showed him a short video of Cricket and said “That’s your brother, Cricket.” He said no, so I tried again—“That’s your brother, Cricket”—and he said “No my brother!” So, uh, great language skills: depressing conversation.

This week we’re going to be doing Music and Sounds, which is right up his alley; tomorrow is Joey’s birthday, so it seems fitting that we’re going to do something that he loves. I have made lesson plans and playlists and am now just waiting for the little Toot to wake up.

Interview Time! 2012

This is my third year doing the Open Adoption Interview Project. I’ve been paired with adoptive mothers each time: the first year, a woman with whom I have very little in common in terms of philosophy or life experience; last year, someone I am fortunate to call a friend; and this year, a lady who falls somewhere in the middle: Kelly of Making Monkey Soup. Her questions and my answer will appear on her site. To read other interviews, please visit Production Not Reproduction.

Kelly is an adoptive mother through foster care to Mea; she also has a biological college-aged daughter and three adult stepdaughters. While the adoption is not open, Kelly has reached out to Mea’s first family through letters.

1. You’ve written about getting one letter from Mea’s birth family: Have you had any more contact from them?

We have not heard anything at all since that first letter.  I hope that things are going well for them.  None of the letters that I have sent have been returned, so I do have hope that they are receiving them okay.  Things have been a bit crazy at home right now, so it’s been a few weeks since I have written to them as well.  My plan is to keep sending letters and photos every few months.  I have gotten to a point where I hope that I will get a response, but I am not going to count on it.
As of right now, we haven’t discussed the letters with Mea.  I know the level of disappointment that I have felt in not having any response, and I don’t want that to be passed on to my six year old.  I have kept copies of the letters I have written to them to share with her when she is older, so that she can see that what I wrote to them, and that I tried.
Navigating opening a closed adoption is hard.  Due to the circumstances of her placement with us from foster care to foster adoption placement, I don’t think her family thought they would hear from her ever again.  I am hoping that maybe they are just in shock from receiving the letters, and that at some point if I continue they will start writing back to me (us.)

2. What would your dream situation be with regards to a relationship with/contact from Mea’s birth family?

I would want for them to be able to know their daughter, sister, granddaughter, aunt, etc.  To see that she is well taken care of and happy.  To be able to see where her humor, silliness, and personality comes from.  Ideally, I would like for them to be there for her, in whatever way she would need them to be.
I would be open to visits, and continuing the letters.
In trying to establish contact, this has been all about Mea.  If she has questions, if she wants to know them, I want to know that this is possible for her, and safe.  I think that because she is only 6, it is hard to know what her wants and needs will be when it comes to contact when she is older.  Which is why I have been trying to get some communication going, so that the lines of communication can be opened now, instead of trying to open things up when she has more questions later.
Ultimately, I want whatever Mea wants.

3. What’s Mea’s understanding of adoption right now?

Mea knows that she was adopted.  She knows that she has another mother, and that she grew in her tummy.  She knows that she couldn’t take care of her when she was born, so she lived with another Momma, June (foster mom) until she came to live with us.  She knows that she was not with us until just after she turned one years old.  Sometimes that is hard for her to understand.  As she is getting older, she is realizing that most babies are with their mom’s from birth.  Even most adopted babies.  That has been more than a little hard.
In pre-school they did a family tree, and the teacher requested for the kids to bring a baby picture of themselves to class.  She came home very distraught, because she didn’t think we had any “real” baby pictures of her.  I did, as her foster mom June had given us a photo album of her in her first year, but I will never forget how upset she was at the thought that we didn’t have any baby pictures.
I have since have made some copies of these photos, blown them up so that these photos are around our house as well.

4. Last year, you posted about trying to convince your friend to talk her pregnant (and planning to parent) daughter into placing her baby for adoption (http://makingmonkeysoup.com/2011/07/19/sometimes-you-just-make-do/). What is your understanding of the birthparent experience of adoption?

I went back and re-read that post.  I don’t think that I wrote it in the way that I intended it to sound.
When we were talking about her daughter’s situation, we were discussing all options that her daughter had available to her at that time.  It was early in the pregnancy, she could have had an abortion, looked at adoption, or her ultimate choice, parenting.
When I offered to talk to her daughter, it was more to talk to her in general, not to talk her into adoption.  I couldn’t make that choice when I was seventeen and pregnant, I certainly wouldn’t ever consider “talking” someone into it, although, I can see how what I wrote could look like that was what I was saying, I wasn’t too clear.  I just think that it is important that young mothers don’t go into parenting alone thinking that it is a cake walk.  It is hard.  Especially, if the baby’s father is not in the picture.
I have many friends who have placed children, most of whom I have met since blogging, but a few real life friends who have as well.  I have seen how devastating it can be to relinquish a child.  I know that it is beyond hard.  When I first discovered I was pregnant with Mackenzie, I thought about adoption for a period of time.  I just knew that I wouldn’t have been able to do it.  I would have been wrecked emotionally.

5. What has been your favorite age to parent with each of your daughters so far?

I love toddlerhood.  It is by far my favorite.  Two to five years old.  They are learning so much, and you can see their little minds working so many things out sometimes.  It is an amazing thing to watch, and they are so funny!  They just say the funniest things.

6. What are your hopes for Mea’s future?

I just want her to be well adjusted, happy and for her to have a life full of wonderful amazing experiences.  I hope that she will be able to have a relationship with all of her family members that she desires, and that these relationships are everything she could ever hope they would be.

Meducation

So, a new feature to help get me to post with some regularity: Mondays, I’m going to talk about Homeschooling. I’m missing the traditional alliterative quality of such features—Meducational Mondays just lacks that certain something (namely sense). I have been planning for a long time to start home preschool when Joey turns two, but dithering about whether to start right at his birthday or wait until after the holidays. Then I had a series of conversations that led me to check the two-year milestones and see that he’s significantly behind in language, after being well ahead of the curve right up until Kit was born. So we’re starting just a hair early. For now, I’m picking a theme for each week and then several activities for each day, trying to include an art activity and a book; we’re only doing an hour a day, and that is already quite a strain on his attention span. Day 1, last Monday, was pretty rocky—he is not excited about doing anything he is asked to do, and he hadn’t slept well the night before. I knew going in that he knew at least red, blue, and green, but now think that he knows all the colors; for one activity, I had a book of colors and for each page, was encouraging him to hand me the plastic link that was the same color as the color on that page (using those plastic links that come in chains as baby toys). For every page, he handed me every single wrong color and left the correct color behind—he was making a point but also accidentally letting me know that he is able to match the colors. Things did improve somewhat as the week went on, especially since Friday I could see that he was tired and kept things very casual.

I’ve got sort of a philosophical dilemma when it comes to teaching Joey. On the one hand, I want him to be able to be as free as possible to do whatever he likes in the only years of his life during which that’s remotely possible. On the other hand, doing so isn’t making him happy, and he’s falling behind his peers in terms of knowledge and skills.—Okay, that makes it sound like I turn him out to set fires in the back yard all afternoon, which is not the case. He has quite a set of rules and boundaries that we consistently enforce, he is disciplined by the loss of things he is persistently abusing and/or time ins. He wears clothes and eats regular meals. We read books every day, but he chooses that. Sitting him down and telling him that now he has to color makes me feel guilty. But as I say, he’s not very happy recently (by which I mean for the last five months), so I’m certainly willing to make a change. Will schooling make him happier?

Free to Be

It’s bothered me and my husband for years now that Ruth seems disappointed in Cricket’s stereotypically male interests and delighted by his stereotypically female interests; recently she posted on Facebook about how thrilled she is that he wants nail polish and sparkley headbands. This bugs me probably more than it should—she has been discouraged and eye-rolly about the fact that he loves trucks, but brags on Facebook about the fact that he loves his pink rain boots. I don’t think I’m a gender traditionalist: Joey has trucks and dolls; sometimes he likes to dress up and be fancy, and I think that’s adorable; we’re getting him a play kitchen for his birthday. But I also think it’s great that he loves smashing block towers, and that he loves to paint, and that he thinks his toy dump truck is amazing. If he wants a dress at some point, we’ll get him a dress. Of course there are things he likes that I’m not thrilled about, but these are interests like kicking the walls and screaming at his sleeping brother. It bothers me that Ruth has an investment either way. When Joey cuddles his baby doll, I don’t feel more accomplished as a parent and a liberal. I probably will feel a little discouraged the first time he pretends to be using a gun, but I know that that kind of play is pretty common; Ruth told me at the visit in April that Cricket is interested in guns, and that she blames us, because she certainly hasn’t done anything to end up with a boy who likes guns.

I want whoever the kids are to be okay with the people raising them. If Cricket winds up, I don’t know, working as an auto mechanic, I don’t want Ruth to be more unhappy than she would be if he were a florist. At the same time, I worry that I’m speaking out of hetero privilege here—that I sound like the smug married-to-a-man lady explaining that my kids can be anything they want to be. Says A: Feminism is about allowing people to make choices and respecting the choices that they make. Says B: But their choices are constrained. Being happy as a clam as an auto mechanic may mean that Cricket happens to make choices that please the patriarchy, but those choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Maybe florist is more likely to be a free choice, seeing as he is so pushed by the world in the other direction. Ah, argues A: but if his mother is shoving him toward florist, is that better than The Man pushing him at mechanic?

I don’t know. Maybe. But I don’t like it.