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.

12 thoughts on “Cut to the Quick

  1. oh boy. while you may not be pushing for more, given cricket’s aggressive behavior, did you explain how there is so much pressure on a single visit when they’re so infrequent, and how you were so preoccupied with monitoring and protecting joey because of cricket’s behavior that you couldn’t focus on him? both of those points seem logical and wouldn’t explicitly condemn her parenting.

    though you could also add that you need her to be more proactive, if you’re going to have visits with all the kids together. someday, and I know you considered and rejected this before, you might consider meeting a real with neutral spot like a playground and take turns getting 1:1 time with cricket, without needing to watch the boys. just a thought.

    • I did tell her that I do badly at visits because having one visit a year makes the pressure pretty incredible—and asked about phone calls and Skype, which she nixed. But I really do need to ask her to be more proactive at another visit as soon as we start talking about having one.

  2. oh, and not to be snarky, but I might also remind her that all kids are different. so just because one kid has trouble with others at a certain age doesn’t mean that all toddlers will direct their frustration in the same way. (plus he was aggressive with other kids before he had any reason to be jealous of joey…)

  3. Why can’t you talk to him on the phone? Why is that out of the question?
    It sounds like she is setting you up for further failures in connecting.
    The answer to the next visit, if one occurs, is simple. Leave your llittle ones out of it completely if you can. Meet somewhere neutral. Your first responsibility is to care for the boys living in your ho,e and this does not seem healthy. It sounds like Ruth gets to control everything and she wants to keep it that way. It sounds awful.
    It seems also that Ruth is going to do everything she can to blame any problems on you. Seems unfair considering she is supposed to be “the parent”. It is not your job to be Ruth’s scapegoat.
    I can see why you want to extricate yourself from this. I wouldn’t want to deal with Ruth’s games.

    • Ruth says that Cricket doesn’t do well on the phone. I like the idea of seeing him without his brothers present, but at the same time, he is interested in them and I don’t want to be the reason that they go a year or more without seeing each other, you know? I’ve talked with Mr. Book about possibly seeing him without Kit and Joey present one afternoon and then all together another afternoon; we’ll see.

  4. It would be totally legitimate –and not snarky– to ask if she has any suggestions as to the best way to build a relationship between you and Cricket.

    You could basically say ”I’d love to work on my relationship with Cricket, and I’m just so encouraged that you think it needs to happen too! But I’m stumped for ideas… which are pretty much limited to phone, webcam, visits and letters. Since the letters obviously aren’t enough, and we can’t do phone, webcam or visits right now, do you have any other ideas?”

    She needs the responsibility put back on her… she’s taking responsibility for limiting the contact between you guys, but then complaining about the consequences and putting the responsibility for them on you.

    • I did! And she said that we’ll have to brainstorm, and the conversation more or less ended at that point. So at least the problem is out in the open? =/

  5. This is where the unwritten-ness is super hard. I find myself wondering about a therapist who specializes in open adoption (is there such a thing?). The “good” news here is you and Ruth are engaging about what matters–it’s HARD. But you both do want C to have both you and Ruth in his life, to figure out how to keep door open. SO much has happened. Having just had a visit with many members of Saskia’s family (including her mama) during which she was adorable and also didn’t really leave my lap, I can’t help but be reminded that these relationships will unfold over time. For a small child, the person who writes silly letters may just be more than Ruth realizes. Not forever but as you work things through. Sorry to ramble. Really just wanting to say, hard, sad, truthful, and sending you love.


    That was an unhelpful comment–one that lies in stark contrast the the others here–but it accurately represents my frustration on your behalf and empathy with your situation right now. But perhaps it also signifies some relief, because you’re finally discussing some much-needed-to-be-talked-about issues and both sets of adults value your relationship with Cricket, which is amazing. I agree with sarahbutten about the letters: those might be (or end up being) more valuable to Cricket than you or he knows, and Ruth (and you) shouldn’t minimize what you continue to do for him. Thinking of you in the chilly Northeast!

  7. 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.

  8. This is a really unfair situation. If Ruth wants to talk about what you need to do differently next time you and Cricket interact, how about letting you interact? Grr. For that matter, how about letting him see his dad, brothers, grandparents, and aunts, too?

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