Gaps

I’ve been gone for awhile, huh? I had a really lousy reason: Nora and Cricket came to visit in June, like good and generous dudes, and the visit went well—and I was miserable the whole time and feel guilty about how much I failed to enjoy contact with the little dude. I still feel guilty. I can tell that the visit went well because Nora planned for us to spend most of their time here apart and then just kept suggesting that we see each other more and more. And everybody was friendly and respectful! And we went to a movie! And Cricket continues to grow into a clone of my husband, which is kind of weird, but does make for a cute kid with an offbeat sense of humor.

So for me, the visit going well and me more or less hating it the whole time meant that I need to take a step back. I couldn’t, though, not really; the contact is (for me) about the three boys, and even if it weren’t, I have obligations to Cricket. So I kept up the skype dates and tried to pretend to be a decent person, and then when we moved to Queen City I asked Mister Book to take over all of that stuff. But Nora refused to respond to his messages or emails until she finally messaged me about a Skype date and I asked her to talk to the Mister—“He’s handling the adoption stuff for us right now.” Awkward, yeah, although I did end up sending her a follow-up message after she mentioned to the Mister that I seem pretty burned out; I said “My last message probably sounded a little terse: sorry about that. I’m pretty burned out on adoption stuff right now, as you’ve probably guessed—but it’s about all contact being sad and stressful, and not about you guys as people or your conduct. You’ve been nothing but great, and I really appreciate it. And now that it’s possible for Mister Book to run things for awhile, I am really ready to let him take a turn. Being burned out won’t keep me from living up to my obligations to Cricket.” So not ideal, but I am stil trying to do what I should. In that Skype date arranged between Nora and Mister Book, Cricket (after a longer-than-usual Skype gap) seemed desperately glad to see us. I’m sticking around.

 

6

Today is Cricket’s birthday. I’m hopeful about the birthday gift we sent this year; when they visited, Nora (upon hearing that I am a board game nut) told me that Cricket likes board games too. Those of you with board game nuts in your lives might know what she let herself in for; I wanted to know what Cricket likes to play. Well, said Nora, they have Monopoly. And Sorry. I asked whether they had any board games for kids, and she said, “Like Candyland?” I asked whether Cricket likes cooperative board games, and she didn’t know what I was talking about. Oh ho!

There are actually some great board games for kids; my little two are getting The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel and Don’t Break the Ice from Santa. I sent Cricket two board games; one is a competitive game called Fish Stix and is a sort of dominos variation, and the other is a cooperative game called Race to the Treasure! Since my mom, when she heard this story, also had no idea what a cooperative board game is, let me tell you: in a cooperative board game, all players are working together against the game rather than against each other. “Oh,” said my mother upon hearing my explanation. “Like that island game.” Because she lives with a board game nut, and has graciously suffered through several game nights with me.

I think that I am like most parents in that I want to be able to give my kids the things that I wish I had had as a kid—and I am trying to temper that with my understanding of their actual wishes and needs. I have always loved board games, and I played many games of Candyland with my siblings as a kid (and cheated! I can’t believe they never figured out that I creased all of the face cards), and I loved Clue when I was a little older, and now I am just waiting to hear a boy express the most casual interest before busting out Hi-Ho Cherry-O. Joey has a board game play goal in his behavioral therapy (thus Don’t Break the Ice—he likes it, although he prefers a rousing game of Break the Ice!), and while Kit isn’t quite old enough or temperamentally ready for most kids’ games, he has cheerfully played a few short games of Sesame Street Memory with me.

And now it’s Cricket’s birthday, and it looks like the party Nora threw him was fabulous, and I am so glad to know him even a little bit. Happy birthday, little dude. I miss you.

So, Susie, What Brings You Here?

Well, it’s like this: Cricket is coming to visit next Friday. It’s not a long visit—part of Friday, all of Saturday, and gone the next morning—and Nora and I have carefully talked things out. I’ll get to meet Nora’s girlfriend. I get to take Cricket (and Nora) to Big Hero 6. I like our plan, and I like that Nora is talking about a slightly longer visit next time, and I am just so sad about the loss of adoption all over again.

I guess this is just what my brain needs to do before a visit; during the visit, I need to be friendly and cheerful and supportive of Joey and Kit, and then after the visit I can be sad again. I miss Cricket, and I also feel as though I am not allowed to miss Cricket—I don’t know him that well, and I signed away my right to miss him the day after he was born. But I do miss him. I see him so much in Kit, too: not just in looks, but in sense of humor and silliness and other tiny things. I wonder whether that resemblance is as clear or as uncomfortable to Nora as it is to me, and I can’t ask.

I don’t have much more than that to say. But I keep wanting to send small messages to Cricket (“I am making pan de muerto on Sunday, and I wish that I could send some to you”; “I hope you like Kit more this year than you did last year”; “What does it feel like to have brothers in the way that you do?”; “I just saw a movie that maybe you would like”), and I can’t, so this is my message in a bottle. I miss you, Cricket.

M-Day

Nora told me that she and Cricket would call on Birthmother’s Day, and then they didn’t. I had sort of been dreading the call—it’s nice to hear from Cricket, of course, but I don’t see Birthmother’s Day as a holiday that I’d like to celebrate, and it does feel like an “Of course you don’t get contact on Mother’s Day, that’s just crazy talk!” kind of maneuver. I don’t assume that’s Nora’s thinking, but I do think it’s a common adoption trend. But they didn’t call, and I wonder whether Ruth told Nora that I asked not to get a call on that day last year. The night of Mother’s Day, Nora sent me a text saying that she hoped I’d had a nice one; I wrote back the next day, thanking her, with a cute picture of Joey. As it happened, I was quite sick on Mother’s Day, so I sort of got to skip it.

And now, today, I’m missing Cricket. I don’t especially know what to do with that feeling right now. Nora told me that they might visit in June, and then that they probably won’t visit in June, and perhaps in October . . . ? I am trying not to get invested in their visit decisions, since I have no input into them and can really do nothing for now but wait.

Mister Book and I talked recently about whether we’d ever want to have another child; we have this talk every so often, and we mostly agree that it’s unlikely that we will. My IUD is good for another three years, and so we won’t make a real decision until then—but the thing that could possibly sway us would be Kit wanting a younger sibling. I do feel guilty about the fact that Kit doesn’t have a typical sibling, and that he would if we hadn’t placed Cricket; Kit has two brothers and can’t play with either one.

Secret Identities

I sent Cricket a letter; I think I mentioned that here. On Saturday, I got some texts from Nora giving me his answers to my questions (he likes chicken tacos, and his favorite movies are Frozen and The Lorax) and explaining that he wanted to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. She explained to Cricket that it isn’t my birthday, but he still wanted to sign—so she sent me a video of him doing so.

This is great. I keep being surprised by how nice it can be to be in contact with Cricket now that he’s old enough to take an interest and now that Nora is willing to facilitate communication. I get to hear him tell me that he is a super hero who has every power and no weaknesses. I’m still wary of being too often in touch and exhausting Nora’s patience—but I sent a letter in November and one in February, and they both went over well. I’ll send another letter in a few months with new pictures of Kit and Joey printed inside.

Green Coffee

As soon as we were connected, Cricket burst out: “What’s the funniest thing that Kit has done recently?” Apparently, over breakfast, he and Nora had gone over some things to talk about and some questions to ask—and thank God, because I am Jenny Socially Awkward. As it happened, the night before, Kit has been telling the world’s funniest toddler joke; since Mr. Book was on speaker phone, I was trying to get him to show off, so I asked him what color his (blue) pajamas were. He said “G[r]een!” and signed <green> and then started laughing hysterically when I said “No, they’re blue!” He stopped laughing, said and signed green, and then cracked up again—he did this over and over again, and it was adorable and hilarious. Occasionally he’d throw in a “yeyyow,” but mostly he just insisted that his pajamas were green.

I don’t know whether this is a universal, but I’ve noticed that at least for me, contact with Cricket makes me want to reach out more; we hadn’t had any contact for six weeks before the Skype call, and I was sort of halfway thinking of ways to get out of it. But after we talked, I wrote him a letter—with a shouty Kit suspecting that I wasn’t paying 100 percent of my attention to him, it was hard to talk much to Cricket. Mostly Cricket told me about a book he was reading and showed me pictures (Franny K. Stein, if you’re curious). He played a little with Kit; they pointed to their facial features together. Cricket wanted to give Kit a “challenge” (a math problem, I think) and was a little irritable when Nora pointed out that while Kit can count to 10 and read the numerals 0–10, he’s still a little dude and probably not able to do addition. Cricket asked me whether I drink coffee, and judged my answer weird (correctly; I have rules about coffee being permissible on some days and not others). I miss that kid.

In the letter that I wrote, I talked a little bit about Joey’s occupational therapy and about how many people with autism crave physical input—I included a picture of Joey in the squeeze machine at his OT gym. (I’ll put up a few OT pictures after this post, including that one. Email me if you need the password.) I said that Joey can’t do some of the things that most kids his age can, so therapists work with him to help him learn to do those things. I decided sort of abruptly that I didn’t want to leave explaining autism to Ruth and Nora, because while I trust that they wouldn’t say anything hateful or dismissive, they can’t explain it as well as I can. They don’t know Joey well enough, or autism well enough. And on previous Skype calls (Joey slept through this one), it has been apparent that Nora doesn’t understand where Joey is at. She is friendly, but she gives up when he doesn’t respond the way a typical kid probably would. So in writing to Cricket, I’m going to tell both of them more about Joey’s condition—and hopefully I can get across how great he is.

Contact with Ruth

The other night, when I was woken up at 3 a.m. by the baby monitor, I entered the boys’ room to find a preschooler dance party in progress—“Not cool, Joey” is what I said as I opened the door. I had forgotten to take the light bulb out of their room earlier, so the light was on and Joey was running laps around the room, cheerfully yodeling; Kit was standing in the pack n play, blinking sleepily and saying “Yay.” That Kit is always down for a party.

I haven’t been blogging because it’s taking me forever to answer a question: Have I been in touch with Ruth? Well, the short answer is a “No, but.”

In early November, Ruth posted something on Facebook about a personal accomplishment that was pretty cool—she ran a half marathon! I “liked” that and then messaged her to say Hey, I felt like what happened this summer was probably necessary but I’m sorry that it’s meant that we’re not in contact. I hope things are awesome. She wrote back a few weeks later to say that she thinks that some of the things I said over the summer were unfair, and that she had thought of us as friends, and that her feelings are hurt and that she needs some time. Maybe because of the power imbalance I think that I cannot hurt her feelings, she wrote, but I can and I did.

I wrote back one more time.

Dear Ruth,

I very much appreciate your writing back, especially knowing as I do that I’ve hurt your feelings badly—it was generous of you to explain. I’d like to explain a little more, too, although if this is something you aren’t in a place to engage with, I get it.

I thought of us more as “I wish we could have been friends.” The power thing—it’s so overwhelming, at least on my end. I’m sorry that you regret telling me some of the things that you did about your life; at the time, I was wishing that I could tell you more about my life, but it didn’t seem like I could. Too—and I don’t know that there’s any way to escape this—I was desperate for more news of/from Cricket. I know that you aren’t and weren’t in a position to provide that, and wish that in addition to the human and friendly concern and empathy and love I felt (and feel) for you, there wasn’t this voice in the back of my head going But Cricket, is Cricket okay, How is Cricket Cricket Cricket CRICKET? I think that if we had been in more contact as families, it would have been more possible to have a friendship outside of that connection—but at the level that has been plausible for us so far, it is so much about Cricket for me. I know that you’re a loving mother to him, and have never doubted your care and devotion—but wanting to hear about your life while at the same time longing to hear more about his just wasn’t working.

Catholics lack a holiday for apologizing and making amends—I think that we’re just supposed to feel guilty all the time. But while I think that things needed to change, at least a little, I wish that I had been able to express that with more grace and gentleness. You are, if you can excuse my talking like a Susie for a minute, a good dude: you deserve better than I was serving up. Of course it makes sense for you to rethink and take time to heal, and I won’t contact you again outside of an emergency for a good, long period. In some ways, we’re at the worst possible distance from one another: not like old college friends, able to shrug and walk away without any real pain, but not as close as sisters—I remember being made to sit on the couch and work things out with my sisters when we’d been fighting—and we really had to, because we’re tied for life. Talking out of my pain has never made me a worthwhile person to be around. For what it’s worth, I am slowly growing more patient and gentle—but God, too slowly.

Wishing you a winter filled with warmth and light.

Susie

So. We haven’t had any contact since (that was in December), and I couldn’t even decide whether to blog about it. My plan right now is to leave her alone until her birthday in July, and at that point mail her a card and a scarf that I’ve knitted and then leave her alone some more and see. I still feel okay about how I handled things this summer, and I know that there is a pattern in her life of relationships ending and her feeling betrayed either by that or by the circumstances leading up to that; I don’t expect that she’ll want to be in contact again in the future, and I think that that’s too bad, but I am mostly at peace with it. But I want to send a peace offering after a respectable period of time has passed.

Means

I have wondered, recently, whether Nora and I might have been friends. When I was growing up, I remember having conversations with my sisters about whether we would have been friends if we hadn’t been sisters—at least for me with each of them, I think that the answer was no, which always bothered me.

Situationist Grafitti May 1968

Situationist Grafitti
May 1968

I think that the people we are now could be friends even outside of family, maybe: but when we were growing up, they were sociable and outgoing and successful in school, whereas I was moody, odd, and plagued by social anxiety. I hope that when the two of them had this conversation, it went better than it could with me. My mother has had this conversation with me, and I suspect that she must have done with my sisters, as well. So maybe this is just a conversation that happens in my family, but it does, and so I’ve been wondering: If it hadn’t been for everything that connects us, could Nora and I have been friends?

Probably not: I’m better at faking it, and understand now why one might, but I’m still not an extrovert; I suspect that no amount of therapy and self-improvement is ever goin

g to change that. But Nora is a kind of person I like, and would have quietly wished that I could be friends with if we’d been in high school or college together. She’s gentle and affectionate with Cricket, too, and interested in him. Seeing them together when they visited in September—it was very much like seeing a tired parent who was travelling alone with a four-year-old who was completely, head over heels with her kid. There’s nothing more winning than seeing how good someone can be to other people.

Back way back when, when I was pregnant and then when Cricket was a baby, I used to wish that I could be friends with Ruth especially, but with both of them. But even if we were all in high school together, it just wouldn’t have played out that way—and as adults, we are separated by socio-economic status as much as we are by our love for the boy we have in common. At the moment, that is somewhat disguised by our circumstances; living with my parents obscures our poverty. But I remember a conversation with Ruth quite some time ago in which she talked about the benefits of preschool and I talked about my plans to home preschool Joey. And the thing that no one said was that of course we could not afford to send our boys to preschool—I still believe in the benefits of home preschool if that’s the right choice for the family, and am cautiously planning that for Kit. But I’ve seen preschool programs that would be amazing opportunities for a kid, and that cost more than our entire income last year. Cricket can go to those schools; Kit can’t.

It’s hard to talk in any detail about adoption without talking about the money. When I planned to place Cricket, money was most of the reason why; certainly if I had won the lottery or gotten a good job I would never in a million billion years have placed my son. When Ruth included me in a mass email in which she asked people to support renewal of the adoption tax credit, I was horrified; if I had gotten from the government that exact sum, I would not have placed my son. And things would be tighter now with three boys—and God, how I wish that they were.

I know and consider friends a number of adoptive parents, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with being in a financial position to adopt. But adoption breaks us, the mothers and fathers, into two groups: those who place, and those who parent. And those of us in the first camp tend not to share a SES with those who raise the kids we bore. Of course there are any number of exceptions, and people who aren’t poor place, and people who aren’t well-off adoption; I would not for a minute dispute that. But looking at the big picture—and at my picture—well, it is maybe not the most shocking thing, that I’m a socialist.

Happy Birthday, Cricket

Cricket’s birthday is this weekend; he received a gift and a card from us on Wednesday (I sent a Ninja Turtle that he begged Nora to buy him during his visit here), and I will be continuing my batty ritual of jumping into the pool on the day itself. Some people make cakes or release balloons; I get very cold and wet.

We last Skyped a few weeks ago—Nora is faithfully keeping our appointments every six weeks—and Cricket was completely not into it. He ended up just wandering away after frowning and choosing not to talk. Nora stayed on the call, chatting with me and with Kit. She told me that they had just finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe together, and I asked whether I might send a book: Over Sea, under Stone, which has all of the adventure without C.S Lewis’s misogyny. Nora and I exchanged a couple of Facebook messages over the next few days, and she said that she wishes that Cricket was more interested right now—that he likes the idea of having brothers, but isn’t into the reality of it so much. But when the book arrived, he was excited, and he asked Nora to start reading it to him right away.

My favorite thing about this last Skype call is that it felt like the first time that Nora wasn’t trying to hide big parts of her everyday life; I have known about her girlfriend (from Ruth) for over a year, but this was the first time that Lily was visible; too, usually Nora will say (e.g.) “We might go to the beach this afternoon,” but this time, it was “Cricket and Lily and I might go to the beach this afternoon.” Nora also just bought a house, and I admired it, and she promptly sent me her new address.  It felt comfortable to talk to her, and she reassured me that all kids have a hard time starting preschool, and that it would be okay. (Turns out, the joke’s on us: Joey has had a fabulous time at school from Day One, and hasn’t seemed to miss me at all. I guess he was ready!) I feel like we’re at a good place right now, just as Cricket is less interested in the adoption than he has been since he was a baby. But as I told to Nora, the silver lining for me is that I can see that he’s comfortable expressing that disinterest—I’d like to think that he will always feel comfortable sharing what he’s feeling, even when it’s not what I wish he was feeling.

Twisty

So. Right. Adoption stuff.

Nora wrote back—I was right. Ruth is mostly bowing out. If I wish to send things to Cricket, I am to send them to Nora’s address; if I want to talk to them, I am to talk to Nora. Nora has committed to Skyping with me and the boys every six weeks (and did so on Kit’s birthday); she says that all three of them will come visit on September 7–8.

I am also pulling back somewhat until after the visit. Maybe it won’t look like it; Skype every six weeks is more contact than we’ve ever had. And I’m going to keep that up. But I’m not talking to them unless they talk to me, and I’m not writing to Cricket. After the visit, we’ll see.

Right now, I’m knitting the boys sweaters for this winter. I must look like a lunatic, knitting sweaters in a Southern California June, but here I am, cabling and ribbing and clicking away with my needles. And I don’t know whether I’m knitting two sweaters or three. Well, okay, I do start with a sweater that would fit a boy who’ll be five this winter, but I carefully don’t think about it as being for any person in particular—the last time I tried to knit for Cricket, I made mistake after mistake. And anyway, I don’t know whether I want to make him a sweater; for all I know, the sweater I made last year ended up in the back of a closet or in a donation box, and if that is to be the fate of all sweaters, I’m not participating. But I do knit this sweater, rather a handsome one, in a dark blue and green colorway. When I’ve sewn up the armpits and added a toggle, I make my final decision. Because I guess it was always his sweater, even while I was telling myself that it could fit any number of kids, and I have to try. At least one more time.