Don’t Ask, Don’t Ask

Weeks ago now—shockingly, just before I abruptly stopped updating the blog—Ruth asked me over Facebook chat whether I regret the adoption, saying that she suspects that I do. What do you say to that? I said “I was hoping you were never going to ask me that,” and then I said yes. We had a long conversation after that, half about this and half about something else that I will (predictably) write about later.

In a way, my answer might have been helpful to Ruth; she has worried that I regret the adoption because of her divorce, and I was able to tell her that I’ve regretted the adoption since long before that. It was in some ways a frustrating thing to talk about—she talked about concerns she had while we were still matched regarding the ethics of the agency I was working with, and I would wonder Then why didn’t you say anything?  But of course I know the answer: she wanted the baby. And there’s an extent to which I don’t fault her for that—after I lost Cricket and before I had Joey, I pined for a child, grieved and longed for my son. But then we hit that point, and I know that if I had not placed, someone else would have placed with them—and I remember her saying that they would be open to doing things the same way for their second adoption. Clearly her ethical concerns didn’t and don’t keep her up at night.

I sound angry. I know that I do. Am I angry at Ruth and Nora regarding the placement? Yes and no. I’m not angry that they didn’t disrupt the match because they suspected that I wasn’t being treated ethically; I think that it would have been the most righteous thing for them to do, but I don’t think they were evil for failing to do so. Just imperfect. And I, myself, am deeply imperfect. I am angry about untruths that they told us, consciously or less than consciously, about what their relationship was like and what their relationship with us would be like. But it sounds as though they were doing a fair bit of lying to themselves, and who can know ahead of time what relationships between the birth and adoptive families will look like? Certainly I had no idea what I would want, or how I would feel. So yes, I’m angry—but more than that, I am disappointed and sad. And so are Ruth and Nora, I have no doubt.

Ruth told me that worrying about how we must think of them and how we must feel keeps her from reaching out—she assured me that nothing in my reactions has caused or fed this, but that she knows that we must be disappointed. Well, yes. She talked about how she feels like she has an obligation to tell us how amazing things are, because that’s what the adoptive parents owe the birth parents. This is what I said (slightly edited for names and suchlike).

It’s just not math. Nothing balances out. I was thinking today (relinquishment day, not that I have to tell you) about how happy you must have been to have him, but that the two sides just don’t stack up. They are just so separate in that way.

I wish that we were never handed the idea of it balancing out, though. If his life is good then that’s a good thing, and at the same time it’s hard for us not to have him. And it doesn’t have to be easy for us because he’s well, and it doesn’t have to be super amazing good times over there because you owe us. You owe him, and you’re giving him what you owe him.

I was less than eloquent—my hands were shaking, I was deeply upset, and I’m just never that well spoken. But looking at that now, I think Yeah. If nothing else, that is at least what I believe.

Braced Against the Wind

We last saw Cricket in April, and the visit was not a success. Cricket was frantic if anyone paid attention to Joey, and had come to the conclusion that negative attention was good enough, so kept kicking Mr. Book, hit Joey, bossed everyone around, and tried to break things. He was at what I believe is generally referred to as “that age,” his parents were splitting up, he was a thousand miles from home, and Joey—this small, sweet person who looked like toddler Cricket and didn’t seem to understand about personal space—clearly threw him for a loop. Ruth was part of the problem; she spent a lot of time texting and ignoring the kids, which only drove Cricket to wilder behavior in attempt to get her attention. And I was part of the problem; it’s hard to explain how freaked out I was just to be near Cricket, and to see how, on the one hand, this little dude looked and sounded remarkably like my Joey . . . and on the other hand, how manic and aggressive and unfamiliar he was. I was probably the least helpful o f the three adults present, scared and grieving and overprotective of my youngest. By the end of visit, Joey was sobbing whenever he saw Cricket and trying to hide from him.

Mr. Book and I talked after that visit about what would need to change next time, and now—what with Cricket’s birthday and the end of the year—we’ve been talking about it again. We have a sort of wishlist, now: we would want to Skype a couple of times before the visit, to give Joey a chance to see Cricket move and talk under safe circumstances and to get a sense for ourselves of what to expect; Cricket and his moms would not be able to stay with us; we will give ourselves permission to remove ourselves and Kit and Joey from Cricket if he gets violent again. Stuff like that. But I keep bringing up (not really seriously, not entirely jokingly) the idea that we might just say no. And we wouldn’t say no, because that would be obviously the wrong thing to do. But when I look at why I want to, my first response is that I want to protect Kit and Joey from Cricket. (Uh, I probably should have made a note earlier, but this is a grim and gross adoption post.) But that’s not entirely rational, and can be accomplished at a visit.

So. What am I really trying to protect?

And why am I trying to protect myself from my son? Because of course that’s it: I’m trying to protect myself from a four-year-old. When he was here in April, I was distant and spooked almost the whole time; after he hit Joey, I mostly stopped trying to reach out to him. When I imagine a visit with him, Joey, and an actual baby, I start out braced for Cricket to do something awful—which is obviously a lousy frame of mind, unhelpful and unfair.

I’m publishing this post in part because of a question at Open Adoption Support:

I am giving my first child up for adoption, and I want it to be an open adoption.  I also want to have kids someday when im ready. How do i tell my first child that i couldn’t keep it, then someday have more kids? Isn’t that hurtful for them to have to see?

Reading that, I thought: When I was in your shoes, I didn’t know to worry about those someday kids, too—but I wish that I had. Many open adoptions go better than ours has so far, but I suspect that in every open adoption there are times that are awkward or scary or sad. My question might go

I gave my first child up for adoption, and now I am parenting his younger (full) siblings. My placed son has been aggressive with the younger sib whom he has met in the past, and I worry about that, and also about the fact that I am scared of him in some less than rational way. Any tips for how to handle visits?

But I don’t ask. I imagine that question—and this post, for that matter—making people feel very awkward. I feel scared for Cricket, and that seems like a reasonable reaction to our circumstances, but being scared of him moves me from a sympathetic figure to one of those birthmoms; you know, the ones who never tell their parented children about a placed sibling, or who hang up the phone when contacted by a long-lost son or daughter, or who clearly favor the kids they are raising and leave their placed kids feeling angry and cheated and displaced. I lost my status as a “good” birthmother as soon as I admitted to regretting the adoption and feeling angry at Cricket’s moms, but now I know that no presents or letters can save me from being a lousy mother to that kid if I can’t find a way to be loving with him when he’s here. I’ve developed plans in the past; I’ve given myself pep talks and stern lectures; and yet when he’s in the same town, I am reduced to awkward, distant, and untouchable. At least the fact that we have no visit on the books buys me time.


Cricket’s birthday was a better one for us than the same day last year. Nora let us know that she’s sent a photobook (first in two years! We’re pretty excited), Ruth sent a picture of him enjoying the gift we sent, and I asked whether I could call and got a thumbs up. She put me on speakerphone, and told me that he had been carrying around the package we sent all week, carrying into the dining room at dinner time and so on. I got to hear him talk a bit, although it was hard to tell what he was saying most of the time (see speakerphone, above).

After I got off the phone, I made dinner. My hands were shaking, and then I started to cry. Happily, when my mother walked into the kitchen, I stopped crying—but I started shaking again.

Both Kit and Joey had a rough day, being fairly empathetic kids; Joey kept giving me hugs, and I made sure that I was warm and affectionate with both of them. The last thing they need is to think that any of this is their fault. No naps were taken, at least in part because I started crying while trying to put Kit down. I wasn’t as much of a mess as this litany makes me sound; mostly I was just sort of spacey and silently upset.

At 10 p.m., Mr. Book and I went out into the backyard, where I made a short speech that went more or less exactly like this:

I miss that kid. And I’m really sorry about what happened. I’m having some trouble expressing my feelings about this stuff, so I’m going to jump into the pool with all my clothes on.

And then I did. It was so cold that it hurt, and I swam out and wrapped a towel around myself and went inside to change my clothes. I know that some people make cakes, and some people attach cards or notes to balloons and let them go, but for me, jumping in a swimming pool at night in December feels like the correct way to observe the occasion. I figure if you do something that is on its face so dumb and feel good about it afterwards, well, maybe it wasn’t so dumb after all. After I changed my clothes, Mr. Book and I sat by the fire and talked about Cricket for awhile—and then we watched some Doctor Who and went to bed.

For Science!

The schooling highlight from last week was definitely Joey making Cricket a birthday card. I cut and folded construction paper, wrote “Happy Birthday from Joey” inside, and then gave the Toot some crayons and stickers. I also traced his hand on the back . . . poorly. I need more practice at this sort of thing, clearly.

We also had sort of an educational experience for Kit on Friday; he took part in a study investigating what kinds of speech babies like. I got a postcard from the Infant Research Center on campus when he was three months old; I filled it out and returned it; and now my baby is contributing to science. He was much admired (although I wonder whether this is part of a strategy to help people have a good experience), and the researchers told me hopefully that they have others studies of seven- and nine-month-olds. I told them that we’d be delighted. It’s hard to believe how smart and capable he is—last week he figured out how to open a book. He moves with purpose; he sets his sights high and then makes and executes his own plans (e.g., “I am going to crawl under the table, open that book, and just chew the dickens out of it”); he is very much different from Joey, and I keep being slightly shocked by his competence and clear sense of purpose. I keep posting something very like that, I realize—but I keep being surprised! I imagine the big, strong, sociable kid that he very well may grow up to be, and I can’t wait.

Joey’s appointment was cancelled by the pediatrician’s office—they left a message saying that he doesn’t need to be seen until March!—and while we keep calling during business hours, we keep getting their voicemail. I wonder whether they’re having some kind of internal problem over there, but whatever the reason, today we’re going to just keep calling and calling . . . and if that yields no fruit, tomorrow we’ll just go to the office and try to get things straightened out in person. But we keep seeing and hearing about kids whose speech was as behind or more behind than his, and that is (perhaps perversely) encouraging. Once every couple of weeks, he’ll link a couple of words together (last week: “No, mama”).


Cricket’s birthday is tomorrow. By an unfortunate coincidence, my mother is having our Christmas tree delivered tomorrow; I asked whether we might be able to just jam it in the stand and save the festive decorating experience for Sunday, and she very kindly agreed. It’s weird to schedule things around my being a basket case, but it seems like a good idea to give myself a little space and not, e.g., hide in the bedroom and cry while my family hangs ornaments and drinks cider.

I need to call him for his birthday, although I don’t expect (or hope) that Ruth will pick up the phone; I’m planning to hang out in the back yard and light a candle and brood after the kids have gone to bed. The gift we sent arrived a week early, so that’s one less thing to worry about. There is a sad and awkward bit toward the end of the card that goes something like “I don’t know whether you will like this, but Joey and I thought that it was cool, and I hope that you will, too.” I have no idea what he would like for his birthday. The gift we sent last year (an aquadoodle) was never given to him, so far as I can tell—I asked a couple of times, but gave up after March. That should make the pressure feel a little less, but of course it doesn’t. As I’m writing this, I am trying to figure out how to get across what I’m thinking, which is a grim little mantra of I don’t know what he’d like. I don’t know what he’s like. The last time we saw him, he was an unhappy and aggressive three-year-old who couldn’t bear to see any of the adults paying attention to Joey. He seemed to enjoy telling people what to do and also fruit (so: a three-year-old).

Mr. Book and I have spent a lot of time talking about Cricket over the last couple of weeks; it’s unproductive and mostly grim, but I just feel like I need to talk about him. We talk about what we would need to do to get ready for another visit, although none has been discussed; we talk about how different he seems to be from Joey and Kit, despite looking and sounding very much like these two. We feel guilty. We worry.

Boy Howdy

I sent Nora a message, asking for her address: “We want to send you a Christmas card!” And she wrote back, and she sent me a friendly message—and her new address.

So, yes – please be in contact! And I will do my best to do the same. I do like to know what is going on with you all and as things are settling down in our lives, it will be easier for me to send you pictures and stay in contact.

Isn’t that nice? My message to her was less warm: we haven’t heard from you in a year and a half, you haven’t called or written in years, but if you want to have direct contact, that is a thing that we would like. It wasn’t quite so bald-faced as that, but it lacked the careful cheerfulness that characterizes nearly every message I send north. And now I’m going to send Nora a card in early December, one with pictures of the younger two boys, and I am cautiously optimistic. I believe that she came out of the divorce with their camera; maybe we’ll get pictures. Too, Nora seems (when she [infrequently] posts on Facebook) to enjoy Cricket whether he’s being traditionally boyish or fancy, and to do things with him like go hiking or get hot chocolate. I would very much like to hear how she talks about him, and what she thinks he’s like.

Fringe Benefits

When I started home preschool with Joey, I also started something else—something that he gained, weirdly enough, from my presence in adoptionland. I’ve read a number of psychology textbooks as part of my work, and knew that when a sibling is born, securely attached toddlers often shift to insecurely attached . . . but failed to apply that information to my own kids for five months.  But once I put it together, I thought, Shoot, I know any number of ways to promote attachment—things that I learned from reading and hearing about adoption. So we started playing games that involve a lot of eye contact; I sometimes feed him sorbet, requiring him to make eye contact before he gets a bite; and I’ve started him nursing him more, which he is thrilled about.

And it’s working. His speech isn’t making any great leaps, but Joey just keeps getting happier and more social and affectionate. He was so angry at us after Kit was born, both because of the baby and because of my PPD and the Mister’s job, which kept him away for long stretches; he’s cheerier and warmer and funny. This morning, I had two baby toys rings, one in each hand—he carefully took them both, set them down on the floor, and flung himself into my arms. I kissed his cheek, and he said “Yaysh! [yes]” I’m parenting two sweet, cheery, funny kids.

The schooling part of the master plan is chugging along; Joey still resists being asked to do anything, but seems to have internalized the fact that I am usually asking him to do something he’s going to enjoy, so I get a token protest and then fairly cheery participation. On Friday, we took a field trip; our downtown has a folk music center, where they sell instruments but also have many, many of them out for people to try out. I led Joey toward the door, he wailed “Nooooo!” and cried for a minute or so after we were inside—and then realized that it was awesome in there and was eager to make music. For things like wind chimes, I enforce a rule about touching with just one finger (to prevent grabbing), and that was hard for him, but he got used to it. And he whacked drums and shook maracas (boy, did he love that maraca) and didn’t want to leave. I’m calling our music-themed week a success.

This week we’re doing “Family,” and my plan is to have him decorate a birthday card for Cricket as a part of that, but we’ll see. Joey’s aunt Kate send him a memory game made up of pictures of family members for his birthday, so we’ll be using that, for sure. I’m making lesson plans and playlists each week; Joey really requires that music be a part of any school session. We’re going to spend one day (Wednesday? I don’t have my notes in front of me) talking about babies, which is I think going to be helpful—Kit is now at a stage where he’s trying to grab things from Joey, and some formal explanation of babies’ limitations might help his patience with this discourtesy. We will also talk about Cricket (Who is in your family?), but probably won’t spend a lot of time talking about him, since Joey still says “No” and similar things when he sees a picture of his big brother.