That Didn’t Take Long

Well, one of the things that Nora outlined as part of the new agreement is that instead of sending hard copies of pictures in May and December—their original choice—they will send them in June and December every year. June 29, she sent me a message saying that Okay, not so much with the June. But July! For sure! So they didn’t even make it a month without breaking the new terms that they chose. I am frustrated, but will wait to see whether they keep the Skype date this month and the visit dates they chose in September. And if they don’t make the visit—whether they want to reschedule or blow it off entirely—then I’ll tell them to pick new dates with Mr. Book and go to the mostly shut down adoption plan I outlined in June.

Things feel really hard right now. Some of that is that I have really been working at learning to drive; my parents gifted me with driving lessons! And that’s been very helpful, and they are over now, my driving test is scheduled for later this month, and I can basically drive. Of course, the driving school will only teach you to drive an automatic and my car is a manual, but on Sunday I (awkwardly, with a couple of stalls) drove my sister and her friend to the market and back. I am shockingly better in an automatic, and will be taking my test in one, thank goodness. But I find driving really stressful and mildly awful, and I keep having to do it.

What else is hard? This is shaping up into a whiny post, I see. I’ve gotten a little freelance work, which is awesome—Joey’s OT thinks that we should put him in gymnastics, and the city rec gymnastics classes might be possible if I can make a little money—but I can’t work while the kids are awake, and at least one of them is awake from 5:00 a.m. to 8 p.m. I’m tired all the time, which is just part of parenting little kids, but still lousy. And—I’m lonely. I’ve met some nice moms in town, although I don’t know really how to get past the perfectly nice playdates stage to the bosom companions part. Time. And I miss my husband.

But there are also good things happening. Joey is continuing to make real and noticeable progress; Kit has turned into a funny, sweet little toddler who is hell-bent on naughtiness. He talks, he claps, he waves, he points; after seeing me knit, he has tried it himself. Joey is pretty happy, too, I think. He is using his greater language skills to test the limits; almost every day, we have cereal for breakfast. But the other day, I had a bagel, and this apparently communicated to Joey that all bets were off, and he tried to get not-cereal for breakfast: “Juice! Crackers! Cookie!” Sorry, hombre. All of which is just to say that even when I’m overwhelmed, the boys are pretty great.

I Dropped the Bomb

Well—I sent the message. Nora and Ruth each responded; Ruth’s response came first, and I was enraged after reading it. It was incredibly condescending in tone, and parts of it seemed to be written for a lawyer rather than for me (e.g., pointing out that they don’t have to visit every twelve months, but once every calendar year—when I had never suggested that they had missed a visit, but complained that they kept telling us that they would let us know when they want to visit “soon” but that it’s been four months’ worth of “soon”). She said that they have done things to show us that we are important, and it’s unfair to say that we aren’t a high priority for them. Nora’s message made me feel a bit guilty, and made me feel as though I have to try to work things out—the difference was mostly in tone, but left me and Mr. Book deciding to just have as little contact with Ruth as possible without trying to pull away from Nora or Cricket. I wrote back to them, and since I was writing back to two messages that I wanted to respond to very differently, the tone of my email shifted quite a bit from the beginning to the end.

Excerpt from early part: “And maybe I never would have gotten to this point if I didn’t know other people in better open adoption situations. So when I say that we aren’t a high priority, I am saying it as someone who has seen what it looks like when the birthparents are, not just because we didn’t get copies of pictures for a year and a half.”

Excerpt from near the end: “I’m making fall sweaters for the boys, now, and I don’t know whether Cricket ever tried his on, or hates red, or hates sweaters, or whether it didn’t fit at all—so I don’t know whether to make him one. When we sent dates in a Christmas package, you never told me whether Cricket tried them, or liked them, or thought they looked too much like bugs, or isn’t allowed to eat dates. I don’t assume that you’ll be attending the boys’ birthday parties, but you don’t even let me know that you got the invitations. I’m not looking for rosie sunshine responses to the things we send, but I hate that we are sending them into silence. (Although you did tell me that he liked his birthday present this year, and I really appreciated that.) I have a hard time reaching out to Cricket, and this is one of the easiest and clearest ways for me to try to show love—and it practice, it ends up being really discouraging.”

And I’m responding to Ruth in that first portion, and Nora, mostly, in that second one—although I didn’t call it out that way. No response to that message yet—except that Nora sent me a really beautiful picture of Cricket that I will post behind a password. Based on what Ruth has told me about the breakdown of the other relationships in her life, I will not be surprised if my refusal to agree that we are a high priority and that she has been awesome and that her problems are the only important problems means that she’s more or less done with me. Instead, I pointed out tartly that she is not the only one going through a hard time, and that since I have no idea when anyone’s hard times will be behind her, I am not willing to wait until that unknown date to express my discontent.

Mr. Book isn’t thrilled. He supports me unconditionally, but he will put up with just about anything to have as much contact as possible with Cricket—and I finally said I’m not willing to do the same, that I just can’t handle it on top of everything else right now. Of course, I want some kind of closure, which is idiotic. But it is an incredible relief to have just said: Hey. This sucks. I do not like it. And I’ve made myself a promise: I never have to talk to Ruth on Facebook chat ever again, unless someone is in the hospital.

Cath Comments

I hesitated to respond here, as I felt it was a bit cheeky of me to offer my opinion when you don’t know me. However, I discovered your blog about a month ago and have been moved and impressed by so much that you’ve written. It sounds as if the unfulfilled promises for openness have been so hurtful, and I can see Lori Lavender Luz’s point about the value of setting boundaries for your family.

In the next two or three years, though, I wonder if you would start to see contact being initiated more and more by Cricket. (My 9 year old has an email account (supervised) and sends off messages to friends and family on her own initiative.) Right now, Cricket’s very young and doesn’t have much autonomy. It’s easy to squash a three or four year old’s requests to talk to someone. It’s much harder to do so with a seven or eight year old, and gets harder (eventually impossible) as they grow. You may be closer than you realise to being able to have more direct contact with Cricket.

Soon, he will be able to read cards and letters you write to him. Perhaps, instead of being opened by Ruth and read to him, they will be saved for him to open and read when he comes home from school. They may even encourage him to write back – you never know. And if things are kept completely open, Ruth and Nora may be more likely to indulge a request from him to “Skype with Mama Susie tonight”, Ruth obviously feels comfortable right now texting you with a question to keep Cricket happy, even if she is not particularly concerned about keeping you happy. I have the impression, from what you’ve written, that she’s fairly oblivious to the fact that you are unhappy about it – or perhaps she’s aware and just doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.

But. If you lay down any lines in the sand, however delicately articulated, however tactful (you seem as if you are extremely discreet and careful in your language), any references to the broken promises and disappointment will be taken as criticisms. And doing so at this point may well result in Ruth and Nora limiting Cricket’s contact with you at precisely the time when he may just be starting to reach out. If Ruth isn’t speaking much to her own family, she is likely capable of hanging onto her bitterness tenaciously. If she feels criticised by you, she may be less likely to encourage Cricket’s interest in making contact with you in future. You don’t have much power in this relationship with Ruth, and I realise that really, really stinks. Cricket, ultimately, will have much more power with Ruth than you. He doesn’t yet, but things are going to change, in subtle but significant ways, in the coming years. And if Ruth feels … well, safe, and … unthreatened … by you and Mr. Book, I can imagine that she would be less inclined to get in between you and Cricket .

Again, please excuse the audacity of this coming from a stranger. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve read so much of your blog, and I feel like I know you a little, even if you don’t know me.

You make some good points. I’ve been talking about this stuff with Mr. Book, and a couple of friends, and what it comes down to is that I just can’t handle it right now; the stuff with Joey, and being in some ways an acting single parent right now, and just having two tiny (wonderful) wild kids running around—I am not coping as well as I would like, and the adoptive relationship is one issue that I can simplify right now. At the same time, Mr. Book doesn’t want to lose even the chance of contact; so I’ve written a few drafts of a message, and I won’t send anything until after Kit’s birthday, but this is what it looks like right now:

Sometimes I want to walk away from the adoptive relationship. Not because it’s too hard to be in contact, but because it’s too hard to expect and hope and then be disappointed. It’s been two months since Nora said that we will definitely Skype once a month, maybe more often, and then made no further contact; it’s been four months since we were supposed to hear “soon” about dates for a visit this year. You seemed to notice my slip, Nora, in saying that my top priority is for the three boys to have a relationship; I no long hope for a relationship with Cricket in the foreseeable future, because it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. Mr. Book doesn’t want to pull back or lose any opportunity for contact, but I’m getting to a point where I am hurt and frustrated enough to say: Don’t contact me. Don’t assist Cricket to contact me. I will send a birthday gift and a Christmas gift; I would appreciate it if you would send pictures as outlined in our agreement. If you want anything more, talk to Mr. Book. These tiny, unpredictable contacts are breaking my heart. I need to believe that you will do that you will what you say you’ll do or I need to stop hoping, which means closing the door, at least for now.

I know that I have no leverage of any kind, which is part of why I’m being so blunt; surely there can be no harm in it, as I have nothing that you value except possibly contact for Cricket with Joey and Kit. I do worry about them being hurt by Cricket’s unavailability, but that’s some ways down the road.

So for now, what I’m saying is that I can’t deal with things going on as they have been. I am frustrated and angry and I have just had enough. If you aren’t willing or able to change the way we deal with each other, visit Mr. Book this year; if you want to talk, talk to him. If you wish, we could revisit this setup in a couple of years—but until then, I would close off all other avenues of contact as I am able.

This leaves open as much contact as they want or are willing to have with my husband, and might even mean that they visit him this year, which he would love—and certainly wasn’t expecting. If after I send a message they haven’t taken some major steps (say, bought plane tickets for a visit this year) within a month, I will block them on Facebook and my phone and go from there.

I hear what you’re saying, Cath; I know that it is going to be more and more possible for Cricket to have and express a desire to communicate with his Bookish relatives. But it’s been almost five years now that I’ve lived in fear of their disapproval and rejection, and I just can’t do it anymore. I did finally make it to a dermatologist, and she told me that my hair loss is the result of stress. This means, she says, that it will grow back once my stress levels go down. It’d be too dramatic to say that I’m cracking up—I am taking good care of the boys, I am cooking, I am maintaining a loving and close long-distance relationship with my husband—but I’m not doing okay. I need to make changes, and I am pretty sure that that will entail my being sharply critical of Cricket’s moms.

One thing that Mr. Book and I have talked about is that we have less need to keep Ruth happy now, regardless of how much contact we want . . . if only because Nora has custody of Cricket the majority of the time. But I wouldn’t send a message that was in any way critical of their behavior unless I was willing to accept the risk of not having contact with Cricket again until his adulthood (hopefully he would entertain the possibility of contact then. I am really trying hard not to take things for granted). I’ve just hit my limit.

Lori Lavender Luz asks

May I ask what drew you to them in the first place? Maybe you’ve covered this here and I’ve forgotten.

I’ve talked about why I chose Ruth and Nora before, but of course I continue to understand that period of my life slightly differently and slightly differently. This time I’m going to divide my thinking into two sections.

Good Reasons

  • Ruth and Nora said that they wanted us all to be like family. I now think that it is important to define what that means for each of you before anyone signs anything—I talk to my sister Kate once a week, and Tammy and I wish that we could talk that often but do check in warmly and as often as we can manage. Ruth has cut off contact with most of her family, even skipping her sister’s wedding. Our different experiences have left us with different expectations.
  • Ruth and Nora lived near to the city that we were going to move to—but not in the same city. It seemed important to me to have a little distance, but to close enough to visit without it being a major production. I also wanted Cricket to grow up in a city, since Mr. Book and I, having lived in several places of varying sizes, agree that a city is the place to be.
  • I liked it that they were Jewish; I wanted Cricket to grow up in a household that valued religiosity, but wasn’t conservative or overly concerned with hellfire and damnation. Liberal Jewish lesbian mothers seemed like a safe bet, whereas I dreaded the idea of wading through Christian couples and finding that people were anti-choice (for example). I’m Catholic, but didn’t see any couples describing themselves as, say, Catholic and big fans of liberation theology. But that would have been great.
  • Ruth and Nora looked genuinely happy in their profile picture. That was much rarer than you’d think—and I looked at a whooole lot of “Dear Birthmother” letters.
  • Ruth and Nora wanted to adopt more than one child. Not that only children can’t be perfectly happy—a couple of my favorite people were only children—but I treasure my siblings, and want my own kids to have that experience, too.
  • They liked to travel. And this one, I should say, has totally panned out; Cricket has been around the country more than once. Not the most important reason, but a reason.
  • Ruth and Nora expressed a commitment to open adoption. They talked about how much they wanted a connection with us, and said that we were and would always be important to Cricket.
  • Ruth in particular was very clear in her understanding that I could change my mind and parent, and that that would be my right. I did not understand that for them, this ended with “. . .  but after you place, he’s ours, full stop. You had your chance.” Don’t get me wrong, I never expected to coparent. But I did expect more respect, and more information. I don’t expect input into parenting decisions, but I’d like to hear about his life much more than I do.

Bad Reasons

  • Ruth is in some ways like my mother. Not good ways, either. I wasn’t able to see this at the time—going through a crisis pregnancy really did nothing for my critical thinking and objectivity—but in hindsight it is embarrassingly clear.
  • I wanted a gay or lesbian couple because I wanted Democrats (and knew that that upped the odds massively), but also, stupidly, because I wanted a couple who weren’t experiencing infertility grief and hadn’t had ART as their first choice. I was reading adoptive parent message boards, and the number of hopeful adoptive mothers who felt rage and hate directed at women like me—who got called sluts, and stupid, and easy—because we fell pregnant. I didn’t know how to pick those women out in real life, since obviously they could not be saying these things to the expectant mothers whose children they wanted . . . so I wanted not to choose a straight couple. When Cricket was a year and a half old, I found out that Ruth and Nora actually did try ART before adoption, and I kind of freaked out. And now I understand that you can go through ART and still come to adoption with joy and excitement and no venom for the first parents—but too late, alas.
  • Ruth and Nora were incredibly dishonest with us. Their relationship, I now know, was already in bad shape; they withheld some things from us that while personal were definitely pertinent. Of course they put their best face on things—we all did—but I am rather bitter now about how far their presentation ended up being from the truth. So the bad reason here, I guess, is the picture of their relationship.

Roundtable #48: Why Has or Hasn’t Openness Worked for You?

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.

In her OAB blog post this week, Kat Cooley wondered if there is some way to predict whether (adoptive and first) parents entering into open adoptions truly understand the importance of openness and are really committed to doing what they can to make it work. She asked readers to comment on what drives them to maintain their open adoption relationships. It sparked some great–still ongoing–conversation in the comments section. I encourage you to read the post and comments for yourself.

Reader Racilous suggested that we continue the conversation in a roundtable, which I thought was a great idea. (And for those of you who left comments on Kat’s column, you already have your roundtable post started!). In Racilous’ words:

Why has or hasn’t openness worked for you?

If you are in a healthy functional open adoption, why do you think it’s working? If it doesn’t work, why do you think it stopped working? Do you think the success or failure was about education and expectations going in? Do you think it was that your personalities matched or clashed? Do you think there is something you do or did during the relationship that kept it going or was there a certain point that it changed the relationship from bad to good? Was it a mixture of all of these things?

What a strange and appropriate time for me to get this prompt; Mr. Book and I are in the middle of a long conversation about whether to tell Ruth and Nora that we may need to officially switch to a semi-open adoption (I say officially because Mr. Book contends that we are already in a semi-open adoption). I’ve also been working on a message to them about this, which is a much-gussied-up version of: You break promises to us over and over again. That sucks, but we can deal with it. But once Kit is old enough to notice (being as Joey doesn’t care at all), if you’re still not doing what you say you will, we’re done. Send us pictures if you feel like following through on that part of the agreement at some point, and we’d appreciate an email once or twice a year about how Cricket’s doing; we will send him birthday and Christmas gifts, and will make sure that you have our contact information. But that’s it. I will stop writing to him, we will stop badgering you to Skype, don’t visit us, don’t contact our children, and don’t help Cricket contact us.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever send that message. If I did, we would still talk to Joey and Kit about Cricket—we’d say that his parents aren’t able to make a relationship work right now, but that we can try to get to know him when he’s grown up. Or something like that. Even if we do decide to pull back, there’s probably no need for an announcement: If I stop nagging, I am confident that contact will dry up entirely. The other night, I got a text message from Ruth containing a question from Cricket, and I was just angry—contact only happens when it is useful and convenient for them. Please, interject yourself into my evening and then vanish again for months. No, really, feel free. (I answered the question and was friendly.) I could run down a list of broken promises from them, but really, what is the point? They cover all the bases, from visits to contact to photos to Skype.

The most likely outcome, I think, is that I will send a message that—if there is an assertiveness scale from 1–10, and if the last message was a 2—is more like a 4 or 5. Here are things you have promised to do and failed to do, here are my concerns, I can imagine that in a year or two we may end up mostly cutting contact with you because of this and because of Kit and Joey.

How did we get to this point? Well, I don’t think Ruth and Nora think that we have a failing open adoption, so this is just to note that they would give a hugely different answer from mine and ours. But I would say that when we all agreed that we wanted to be like family, it would have helped to know that Ruth has cut off most of her family; since the adoption happened, she has also ended her marriage, and her best friend has ended the friendship. She doesn’t seem able to sustain relationships, and ours has lasted this long only because we want so desperately to have a connection to her son—but as that feels less and less likely, we too are thinking about walking away. I still believe that Nora never wanted an open adoption, and sometimes wonder whether she ever wanted to be a parent.

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.

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.

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.