A wild list post appears!

  • My sister Tammy is visiting us this week! She and her husband own a small bakery on the other coast, so we mostly never see them anymore. I get nervous about cooking while she’s here, which she knows, and every time I see her she has to give me a little pep talk before I can make dinners. She’s got it down to about two minutes of white-hot efficacy.
  • Joey and Kit are really starting to play together and enjoy each other. It’s just the most wonderful thing.
  • I got a card in the mail from Cricket! It was very short, but he was responding to a card I sent him last year. Totally made my week.
  • We’re figuring out more visits; Kate and her sweetheart are coming in March, a family friend is still looking at dates, and Mr. Book is going to go see his mother sometime this spring. We’d also like to drag the kids out to Kate’s place, although money makes that tricky. Still no word from Ruth or Nora about whether they plan to visit this year, and I think I probably shouldn’t bring it up until it’s been a year since the last one—say, the beginning of May.
  • Joey has been labeling things for the last couple of days: “onge” while staring at oranges, “loht” as he flips the lightswitch on and off, “hot wada” in the shower. I more and more think that we’re going to have to have his tongue tie resolved, since his pronunciation is so bad, but there’s more talk. He also some time ago started babbling as though he were speaking in sentences; I thought this was regression until I reread a baby book, which insists that this is actually another stage on the way to fluent speech. Fingers crossed.
  • Joey, for reasons of his own, stood beside an armchair, patting it higher and higher and saying “Up, up, up.” I don’t know how better to describe this: he would put his right hand flat against the middle of the chair and then start patting it upward until he reached the top. Kit then pulled himself up against the director’s chair nearby, slapped his hand against it a couple of times, and said “Up, up!” while grinning at Joey.
  • We got Joey a couple of new straw cups, because it turns out that we can never, ever have enough. Once of them is a Finding Nemo cup—he had some apple juice in it to break it in. I pointed to the baby sea turtle decorating the cup and said “Look, Joey! A turtle!” Joey gave me this you-poor-idiot look and said “Juice.”
  • Kit is wicked fast these days, and will scoot right up to your feet and then sit, looking up and smiling at you hopefully. Pick him up! Up! Please, up! He’ll chase you all around the house. He doesn’t want to stay in your arms—the boy’s got stuff to do!—but he wants to be picked up and admired by everyone tall enough to lift him.

Open Adoption Roundtable #42

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 here 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.

This latest writing prompt came from a reader suggestion. Adoptive parent Michelle faced some complicated emotions when she told her daughter’s birth mother about an injury her daughter experienced, feeling that she was entrusted with the care of this child and she had failed in some way. She wanted to hear from others about their feelings when something like that happens.

Think about a time when your child has been injured or sick (or for adoptees, when you have been injured or sick). Did adoption change or complicate that experience at all? Did you share it with others in your adoption constellation?  You might write about an actual experience you have had or think about what you ideally would want to have happen.

At our summer visit of 2010, when I was visibly pregnant with Joey, Ruth said to me casually: “Oh, by the way, when Cricket was a baby, we thought he had neurological problems because of this little shudder he used to make when he was falling asleep. We spent months worrying about this and thousands of dollars on medical tests, but it all turned out to be nothing—so if Joey does something like that, it’s probably nothing.” That’s when I found out that if there was s serious illness or injury in Cricket’s life, I should not expect his moms to let me know. Indeed, so far as I’ve been told, he has never in his life been sick or hurt at all. Doesn’t seem particularly likely, does it?

Maybe I go too far the other way. I recently set up a blog just for Cricket (and necessarily Ruth) that I use to talk about how we’re doing and put up pictures of his brothers. You know, “Dear Cricket, today the boys are still getting over that flu: booger-y but not particularly distressed” and so on. I wish that I could know more about Cricket’s life and experiences, but seeing as I don’t even know what he likes, we’re a long way from my knowing when he’s under the weather or getting stitches or Lord knows what. But that one conversation, letting me know how much I wasn’t told just this one time, told me that I can’t trust Ruth or Nora to let me know if anything happens.

The last time I talked to Ruth, after asking how she’s doing and talking about that for a bit, I tried to steer the conversation (gently!) toward talking about the kids—and then she left, making this perhaps the shortest conversation we’ve ever had. Ruth doesn’t want to talk about Cricket, at least to me. Of course I worry that that means something is wrong . . . but if nothing is wrong or if something is wrong, I just want to know. I can natter endlessly about Joey and Kit, whom I tend to refer to collectively as “the buddies,” but I know that not every parent feels the same way. Is Ruth as reluctant to tell Cricket stories to her friends or his grandparents? There’s no way for me to know.


I wish that I knew more about Cricket’s days, whether spent in sickness or in health—but anyone who reads this blog knows that. I wish that I could call Ruth like I can my sisters and just chat about how things are going. But here we are.


I keep thinking about homeschooling Joey. It’s too early to make a real decision, of course, although I would have to decide somewhat in advance in order to have time to make my case to the Mister, who is skeptical—but I keep spending a little time thinking about it. I’ve heard that parents try to give their kids what they themselves wanted, and while I don’t wish that I had been homeschooled (my relationship with my mother was too volatile, for starters), I had a miserable time in school. I was emotionally immature (and always younger than my classmates), stubborn, and more or less completely unwilling to do anything that I wasn’t interested in. It’ll be some time before I know whether it’s just twoness, but right now and so far, Joey is very much the same way; if he doesn’t want to, he isn’t gonna. He’s also young for his age. Watching him sometimes, I think, I can teach you to read. Maybe we can buy you some time before throwing you into the shark tank. The idea of anyone being less than gentle with him makes me anxious. My mother, upon hearing that I’m thinking about homeschooling, told me that I can’t protect him from the real world—but I’m unconvinced that elementary school resembles “the real world” much at all.

Doing preschool-y stuff with Joey at home is going better and better. We’ve been derailed for some long stretches recently (the holidays, the flu, more the flu), but he’s increasingly interested in learning to color and use scissors and make music. He loves music, and his dancing is getting more and more funky; he’s so enthusiastic and unselfconscious. It’s wonderful. I know that I must be just about the thirteen billionth mother to have this feeling, but I just want to follow him around and glare at anybody who looks at him funny. I am pretty good at controlling this impulse. I want him to roam and explore, and so far I have only glared at one little girl (five years old, maybe?) who was being aggressive with him at the library. So: How much of my desire to homeschool is a reasonable response to his needs as I understand them, and how much is about wanting to protect him from normal unpleasant human experiences? I’ve got a few years. Hopefully that will give me enough time to answer that question.

Room in My Heart

Right now, we have no visit scheduled; our agreement calls for one visit per year, but I would not be shocked if there was no 2013 visit. Therefore, while I am still open to thinking about how to handle possible future visits, right now I’ve started to do a different kind of work.

When Joey was born, I was overwhelmingly, heart-meltingly in love with him. In hindsight, I can see that he was a high-needs baby—but I was and have continued to be just crazy about him. It took me longer to warm up to Kit—postpartum depression can do that to a gal—but I’m just so over the moon for my cheeky ginger baby. At night, after I put the boys to bed, Mr. Book and I collapse with gratitude that they’re both asleep . . . and then we talk about how great they are.

I’ve written before about how different my feelings for Cricket are—and I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t think it was evident in just about everything I write. From the very beginning, my feelings for him have been tangled up with fear and grief; I realized before he could crawl that loving him like a mother was overwhelming me, and that I was losing my mind. The onblog conversation (and a couple that I’ve had elsewhere) has helped me to decide that it’s wrong for me to see that decision as static. Bite by bite, I am pushing myself to open my heart to him.

At least right now, I can’t have the same feelings for Cricket that I do for his brothers—it is still just too hard to completely, helplessly adore a son I don’t see and don’t hear from—a son I barely know. But I can love him more, and more openly. My love right now is so careful: I wrote letters; I send pictures; I worry. I can let myself be less careful. I’m praying for that change, and stretching myself to create it.

As part of that, I’m going to write something about Cricket right now.

Cricket is a bright-eyed, wildly creative kid. I can’t believe how much he looks like my husband and like his brothers—that is to say, adorable. I wish that I could take him to lunch; every once in awhile, Nora will post a picture of the two of them at a restaurant, and that’s exactly the sort of thing I want to do with my kids. I even know where I’d like to take him: a juice place downtown that has excellent cookies and sandwiches. Or maybe a diner that’s on the same block. I want to play music and go for a walk and listen to him. On that last visit, the best time I had was just listening to him and asking about what he was telling me. I want to dress up and pull out the LEGO and bake something together. When I let myself feel it, I miss him so much. He’s a mix of bossy and shy that is very familiar, and I just wish that I could listen to him.

Okay. Getting weepy, stopping here.

Picking at Why

So part of what’s going on is my inability to claim Cricket—I remember really early on, when Ruth corrected me, telling me to call Cricket “our son” rather than “your son,” thinking If he was our son, you wouldn’t treat me this way. I think of Cricket more as used to be one of my kids or could have been one of my kids than as fully one of my kids. Stupidly, I tend to imagine my relationship with him as an adult as entirely separate from my relationship with him now; I have these pathetic daydreams about Cricket showing up at our house unannounced as an older teen and just getting to talk to him and have him to dinner with us as a family, without the scrutiny of his mother. I want to get to a place where he feels like part of our family (and his moms’ families) and easy about expressing it, but decided quite awhile ago that nothing like that is possible in his childhood. It’s only now, given the opportunity to examine my thinking, that I’m looking at this stuff and remembering. Even getting ready for the visit last year, I wanted to try to make his time with us special and fun for him—but failed at that pretty dramatically and gave up on that as a lost cause. Having him feel like part of our family now started to feel impossible at some point. I still hold on to the hope that maybe, as an adult . . . but when I think about it, I realize how that unlikely that is unless I do better work now.


In our conversation, I said to Ruth that I don’t feel like I have anything valuable to give Cricket; I should send birthday presents, and I recognize that it would be damaging and lousy of me to vanish, but that I don’t really bring anything that he needs or wants to the situation. She has told me that he’s happy about the adoption and doesn’t seem to have any concerns—he’s got more moms than anyone I know, and I have the distinction of being the oddest and the farthest away. I think Cricket needs me more as a symbolic figure than anything else. Joey and Kit need me desperately, and are crazy about me, and the contrast couldn’t be more striking; having Joey made Cricket feel less like my son, because the experiences seemingly had nothing in common. I don’t have anything special to offer him. I wish that I did. Mr. Book is his only father, and Kit and Joey are his only siblings (and all three boys look remarkably alike, especially Cricket and Kit)—but I am just another mother, probably ranked #4 out of 4 at this point. I knit—none of his other mothers knit—but so far as I can tell, he hasn’t worn the sweater I sent. I don’t know whether to send another next fall. I’m a geek, and none of his other mothers are geeks, but that isn’t valued in their family. I am uncomfortable around him because of my own pain, and that’s lousy and certainly doesn’t make a good impression on him.

Unattributed Comments: See Last Post

It’s that graceful and pithy titling style that has gotten me where I am today, I tell you what.

Perhaps naively, I imagine the relationships working differently when the kids have grown up. Part of what is happening for me right now is that I see the youngest two as really intensely needing me to prioritize them right now—I imagine that looking quite a bit differently when they’re fifteen. And while they’ll always need my support, when they’re old enough to understand it and Cricket’s old enough to maintain it, I do want to have a relationship with Cricket that is independent from my relationship with them. But right now, just about nothing in my life happens without their involvement. I don’t know whether you have parented, but the all-consumingness of two tiny kids is hard to get across.

My refusal to send the boys away for a couple of days isn’t because of Cricket himself; we practice (imperfectly) attachment parenting, and I wouldn’t send the boys away for a couple of days if I won a trip to Hawaii, either. The only family within a thousand miles of us are my parents (with whom we all live), and they do spend short periods of time alone with the boys—last week they took them on an afternoon trip—but while I imagine the kids being able to comfortable stay alone with their grandparents more and more over time, right now four hours is about their limit. I had the experience with Kit’s birth of really damaging Joey’s attachment to us, and while I think we’ve repaired the relationships, I am going to balk at doing anything similar. Not for the rest of his life—his needs are going to change unimaginably—but while he is so small and so clingy, I can’t leave him for long. Kit, I think, would have less of a problem, just because of his personality. But introverted Joey is very much like me in this. And we already insist that Joey and Kit treat everyone, including Cricket, with respect and gentleness; they absolutely would not have our support in becoming verbally abusive or anything near.

It’s painful enough to be the castaway child, struggling to belong. You see Cricket, what? Twice a year? You OWE it to him to give him your undivided attention, love, and support in those few days a year. I don’t understand how you can see this any differently! Your kept children will be fine! They are growing up in a loving, stable, and I would even say ideal environment (from what I’ve gleamed.) They will live without you for two afternoons a year. I don’t think you should neglect them to shower love and affection on Cricket, but they will survive if they take a back seat for 48 hours a year.

This hurts to read. Not because it’s hostile (I don’t read it that way at all), but because I mostly agree with you. Two afternoons in a row? Maybe you’re right—maybe that’s what we need to do. I am seeing it as the 48 hours and balking; that’s a long time for a toddler or a baby, and longer than ever in Joey’s life, and that’s too much. But two afternoons? He won’t love it, but it’s below the threshold of what seems like too much to me. I am definitely going to bring this up with Mr. Book, and then with Ruth. Thank you.

Yes, there should be more skype. There should be more visits. But frankly, if the visits are as horrid as you say, why are you still in this open adoption? Because you feel obligated to Cricket? Because you’d feel bad closing it? Cricket may want to see his brothers, he may ask about them, but you can’t foster any brotherly feelings if they are antagonizing each other during visits. You owe him this, Susie. You owe this kid the love and adoration you give to your other children. He doesn’t get it all year round, but he deserves it when he visits. And if you can’t do that, if you can’t give him the attention and dedication you give your other children for a few days a year, I suggest you stop visiting. And if Ruth picks up on these feelings of yours, and if things don’t change, I imagine that she will make this difficult choice for you. And although it makes me very sad, I can’t blame her.

Cricket deserved your love from the day he was born. It doesn’t matter how many adults in his life love him. He needs your love too. And if you can’t bring yourself to make him your #1 priority for a few days during the year, in the spirit of fostering a love and relationship between the two of you, then leave this child to his adoptive parents and focus on your children you are raising. You and your husband can and *should* be a loving addition to Crickets life. But if you can’t do that..what the hells the point?

Yes: I am in the open adoption because I feel obligated to Cricket. Therefore, as you suggest, I need to do something productive with that feeling of obligation. Don’t get me wrong, I have been frozen and awkward at visits since the beginning; there is more fouling me up than the presence of brothers. But I agree with you that I need to get my head on straight, although I don’t know how.

Part of what complicates things from a “well then you should close the adoption, bad birthmother” is that Mr. Book is open and easy with Cricket, and Cricket is just crazy about him. Not that that excuses my deer-in-the-headlights impression, but I do want to make sure it’s known that there is a good thing being built at visits even in the presence of my inability to get my head out of my ass.

Another adoptee here, frequent reader, seconding what Amanda has said. It is clear that you love all three but have difficulty expressing it to Cricket and end up scapegoating him for what sounds like typical three-year-old behavior rather than pathology. “Protecting” your raised kids from behavior is one thing: or is it from the sadness you feel, displaced on Cricket? Many adoptees are excellent at picking up on adult emotional turmoil/coldness. Ruth’s unwillingness to allow you to Skype may be not to punish you but to protect Cricket from raw feelings afterwards if you are shy and cold with him, or easily distracted by Joey and Kit. I am a mom and know how hard it is to talk on the phone and concentrate with little people pulling you away; Cricket is another of your little people, and once again, is he relegated to the back of the scrum? If you cannot commit to showing him the same kind of love you describe for your other two, closing the adoption would be kindest. It can be hard (sometimes impossible) to repair repeated emotional wounding.

It sounds like seeing Cricket is traumatic for you. He has become a symbol of your pain more than a small kid, and that is not about him, it is about you. You once said that you wanted to maintain contact so that he could tell you off as a teen, or something like that. You are setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophecy along those lines.

I’ve written that I know that I’m actually “protecting” myself; yes, seeing Cricket is traumatic, and yes, that is about me and my pain and not about him. And I have very little sympathy for myself on this one—that’s a burden that no child should have to bear, that Cricket did nothing to deserve. But I don’t know how to stop. I am sincerely interested in hearing other peoples’ ideas, since I’ve tried any number of things and talked to a therapist and kept trying . . . and yet the problem persists. I see him so rarely (once a year) that I never get past my initial rush of pain and sorrow at seeing what I gave up.

I am not done working on this. For the Open Adoption Interview Project, I seriously considered asking for a partner who would ask me hard questions; I can’t express how much I appreciate being challenged, and how completely I know that I’m not doing well at this adoption thing. I want more for my kids . . . all three of them.

Amanda Comments

Hi Susie!

I’m gonna go right out and say what I think pretty bluntly, so excuse my frankness.

As an adoptee, I would suggest future visits (or at least the next 1 or 2) be *without* your other children. Your young children, if they are not informed of the visit, will not miss this occasion to see their brother. Cricket, on the other hand, is most likely already aware of your distance. Yes, your first obligation is to your kept children. But a more logistical and immediate obligation to them does not nullify your obligation to Cricket. You are still his mother. Not his only mother, mind you, but one of them! And it disheartens me to see him consistently take a back seat to the needs of your kept children. Seeing him alone will likely eliminate his aggression, and will let you concentrate on HIM. The visits are about HIM.Not about your kept children, not about Ruth or Nora. They are about you, your husband, and Cricket. Leave your other kids with a babysitter for now- they cannot bond with Cricket at the moment anyway, given Crickets lack of enthusiasm for younger kids. You don’t have two children, you have three. Cricket has already been placed for adoption. Please stop giving him the short end of the stick.

One problem is that visits are likely to be two or three days in length; Joey has been away from me for one entire day ever, and he was a mess afterwards, angry at me and at his grandparents for a long time. I think it’s easy to say “leave them with a babysitter,” but in fact the boys have never been away from family, and I’m not comfortable leaving them with anyone but family for the foreseeable future—and that not for long—and their grandparents work full time and have their own schedules that don’t usually lend themselves to the addition of two small boys for longish periods of time. Mr. Book and I have talked about trying to visit with Cricket for a few hours without the littler boys, and I’ll pitch that idea to Ruth, but that would be the limit. Another problem is that Cricket is interested in his brothers, has asked about them every time we spoke over Skype or the phone, and according to Ruth likes my letters best when I talk about Kit and Joey. He wants to see them, even if in practice he doesn’t handle it very well. And still another problem is that in fact the visits do have to be about Ruth, at least to some extent, because keeping up a relationship with her is the only way to maintain any kind of a connection with Cricket.

I do want to do more for Cricket, and work on getting closer to him—I think I’ve made that clear in previous posts—but I am absolutely unwilling to let Joey and Kit’s needs take a backseat to his. He has three parental figures at his homes up north (Ruth, Nora, and Nora’s live-in girlfriend), all of whom are able to put his needs ahead of those of any other child; Joey and Kit just have me and their dad, and they are too little to understand why I would focus my love and attention on a strange boy instead of them. He gets the short end of the stick from us—of course he does. That’s lousy, and I don’t deny it, but when his needs are in conflict with those of his brothers, my obligation is first and foremost to his brothers—Ruth’s and Nora’s is exclusively to him. I hope you don’t mind my returning your bluntness in kind.

The only real solutions that I see involve more contact; either more visits, which would I believe make the boys more comfortable together and less likely to fight for the attention of the adults, or more Skype, which would give me a chance to talk to Cricket without having to care for his brothers at the same time. But I am never not ever going to push aside Joey or Kit for Cricket. If I were parenting all three, I’d be able to find a third way—heck, I have to do that now, with Joey and Kit together. They are both old enough to watch disapprovingly if I shift my attention to the other. What I can do with them, since I am mothering them both, is to say “Kit needs help, Joey. Let’s go help him” and include Joey in caring for Kit; hold both of them in my lap, which neither of them is completely wild about, but both accept as better than the alternative; and talk to them both for the benefit of them both about treating each other with respect and gentleness. I can’t do any of these things with Cricket, both because it isn’t my place and because the visits are so high-stakes and emotional for him as well as for me—he was stressed at the last visit, and that makes it impossibly hard for a little kid to learn and work together and be gentle.

Cut to the Quick

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

—Seamus Heaney, “Digging”

I didn’t mean to be cryptic before; I just didn’t want to get into it before I really had a chance to dig into it. But it’s time and it’s time, and here goes: After talking about relinquishment and regret, Ruth and I talked for an hour and a half about my relationship to Cricket.

Ruth feels that I’m not doing enough to build a relationship with Cricket. The reason that Cricket prefers Mr. Book, she says, is that Mr. Book is open and emotionally available to him. And he is, much more than I am, although at the last visit he ended up drawing more and more away from Cricket as Cricket continued to be aggressive with Joey and with Mr. Book (kicking him and so on). I said I am not great at the “Okay, Susie, here is your one chance all year to bond and be awesome, so don’t screw it up!” situations. I would do much better if we had more chances to make contact so that each chance was not so high-stakes. Ruth let me know that Skype, phone calls, and more visits are out of the question right now. I did not say I was also busy at the visit trying to protect Joey from Cricket or I really needed you to be more actively involved with your ungentle son. I can’t figure out a way to say those things that doesn’t sound critical, because they are critical—in both senses.

I brought up the cards and letters that I send throughout the year, and she said that those are great, but not enough to build a relationship. I agree with her, but I’m not sure what I can do. No matter what kinds of plans I make, I am completely panicked at visits; Cricket and I carefully observe one another at a distance. Ruth says that we’re very alike in our brand of shyness. I expect a visit in the coming year, if we have one, to be worse: Now I have two boys to protect.

After Cricket hit Joey, Ruth told me that Joey and Kit would have the same problems in two years’ time. We’re only eight months out, but at least so far I am still as skeptical as I was when she said it. Joey took a few months to get used to Kit’s presence, and of course what Kit can do and how much he can annoy Joey is ever changing—but he is very gentle with his brother, more so than Kit is with him. When Kit tries to bite Joey or Joey clearly is getting to the point where he wants to shove Kit away, I sit with the boys and talk to them about gentleness. Kit isn’t hurtful on purpose, and neither is Joey. Of course, they have the privilege of almost endless contact with one another; who knows how uncomfortable they might be if they only saw each other once a year. Neither one seems to be naturally aggressive, though, whereas Ruth has told me before (before Joey was born, in fact) that the reason we can’t go anywhere on visits is that they worry that Cricket will attack another child. I don’t see anywhere to go from here that isn’t critical of their parenting, so I’m going to end this ‘graph.

I wasn’t angry when we had the conversation, but I got angry later; I feel as though the situation as presented is lose-lose for me. I need more contact in order to not be intimidated and overwhelmed at an annual visit; I can’t have more contact, but have at least been reminded that I am failing and disappointing my son’s mom. For now, I’m doing the only thing that I can think of: praying that I can let myself feel more love for Cricket and more investment in him without getting overwhelmed by the loss and my lack of presence in his life.