Any Advice?

I have a small adoption dilemma. This truly is small: no concerns about regret, privacy . . . just a relatively unimportant question of boundaries. Here’s the setup.

When we visit Cricket’s family in the Emerald City, we usually eat lunch at their place (the last few times, I’ve brought it) and then go out to dinner somewhere. They’ve always chosen the restaurant, reasonably enough, but they seem to take our preferences into consideration—for example, I’d mentioned last year in an email that we were having no luck finding decent Mexican food in town, so last visit they took us to a Mexican restaurant. Well, I read an online paper for their city, and recently saw a couple of reviews for restaurants I would love to eat at. We’re never in the Emerald City except to visit them—in the future, we may make a couple of day trips to do things that wouldn’t interest them, but not in the foreseeable future. Both of the places I’m interested in are cheap, and I believe that both would meet their dietary requirements. Am I allowed to make a suggestion?

I asked the Mister, and he said that maybe I could bring it up casually if they ask while we’re there, but realistically, with the way they like to plan things, I’d probably have to include the name, address, and details in an email a couple of weeks before the visit for there to be any chance of a meal there working out. So: Can I make a suggestion/request, or is that rude? I know that I wouldn’t mind if they picked a place they wanted to eat in Stumptown unless it was expensive, but that rule of thumb isn’t always enough, especially as I am a little strange.

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The Girl I Mean to Be

I had my first individual session of therapy on Monday, with an MSW who is also a birthmother. It was pretty hard. She says that I need to feel like Cricket’s mother, that I am his mother; not his only mother, but his mother nevertheless. I tried to explain “But if I am a mom then I lost my son,” but started sobbing about two words into that sentence. So…maybe I have some grief to process. On the bus ride home, I had this pain in my throat, a sort of tugging muscle pain that I get sometimes when crying hard.

My therapist says that I need to own my role as one of Cricket’s moms so that I can meet my obligations to him. I bristled at first—I sent a present! I show up for visits!—and then I started to think about what Dawn’s daughter Madison has with her birthmother, and I explained it to Mr. Book like this: “If, when Cricket is about five years old, he loves us like parents, and he wants to talk to you, and you feel fond of him the way you would feel fond of a friend’s child—then that’s not fair to him. We’re not giving him what we owe him. We owe him a parent’s love even if we don’t parent.” That is really not what I want to be true right now; I made myself stop feeling that kind of love in January because to love him that much and be separated from him was driving me crazy. I guess that part of my work in therapy will be to learn to manage those feelings without destroying them. As conflicted as I am about this new assignment, I have to concede its value. Right now there are too many minefields for me—seeing how much Cricket looks like me makes me incredibly upset, for example.

Since Mr. Book and I have been ordered to grieve together, I asked him what he thinks when he sees pictures of Cricket, or of us with Cricket. He says that he gets sad, and that he fantasizes about saying to Ruth and Nora “Okay, thanks, we can take it from here.” He says that he knows that that wouldn’t be fair to Cricket or anyone else, though. He said when he thinks of himself as a dad, the word “bad” always precedes it, and that he feels like he failed Cricket—but at the same time, if Cricket was with us, we wouldn’t be here. We’d be living in the middle of nowhere in Missouri, and he was so unhappy there that he doesn’t want to raise a child there. He says that it’s hard to look at pictures, and that he hates using my computer because the background (a picture of Ruth, Nora, and Cricket at our wedding) is just too difficult to keep seeing.

Just because I needed more adoption in my diet, I also went and talked to an agency counselor on Monday—I’m going to be one of their spokesbirthmoms. I think it was mostly a screening meeting (“Are you crazy? Are you real?”). I passed.

A recent comment by Artemis got me thinking: “Are you ever thinking that Ruth/Nora might read this…?” Which I hear as, What will you do if Ruth or Nora ever finds this blog?

I responded immediately, then edited my response to make it more comprehensive and hopefully less defensive-sounding, but I want to say more.

I don’t have this blog a secret from them so that I can complain about them, or because I have resentment toward them. I have, once, written about feeling angry at them and not having any good reason—and in the same entry I went on to talk about realizing that the anger was part of my grieving an upcoming visit, and I was able to move past it. I would say that there are two reasons that this blog isn’t something I share with them: I would write differently if anyone involved in my adoption was reading it; I want to shield them from my process. In the first month or two after placement, I sent Ruth some really sad emails; I was always careful to include that I wasn’t regretting the choice and that I was glad she was parenting Cricket, but I was incredibly depressed, grieving hard, and I didn’t have any kind of counseling or agency support. I so regret those emails now; I’m sure that they were hard to read (I can’t even bring myself to look at them now), and I didn’t want their new parenthood to be contaminated by my sadness. But she was one of only a couple of people who really understood what was going on, and she is a giving and compassionate person—and so I wrote her these weepy post-partum emails that I would now give a great deal to take back. I have times when I regret the adoption (I’d say that I think that I made the right decision about 80% of the time, and I think that with time and therapy, that number will eventually climb to the high 90s); why in God’s name would I want Ruth and Nora to know that? I need to talk about it, and this blog is where I say what I need and want to—but—well, someone at my birthmother support group asked why I don’t want them to know how much grief I have sometimes. And I said that I can’t think of a positive outcome from that; best case, they feel weird and probably sad about it, and maybe it makes their interactions with Cricket slightly more complicated for a couple of days. I don’t want that; they are good and ethical people who deserve to enjoy their son without any of my baggage holding them back. Now that I’ve started individual therapy, I’ve been ordered to grieve; this blog is one of the places that I will grieve, and I don’t want any of that to touch Ruth and Nora’s lives.

I think that if they found this blog, they would be worried and sad and perhaps pull back for a few weeks while they processed the new information. I think it might make them a little more tentative in their relationship with me for awhile; I think they would be more tentative now if they knew how much I was hurting. Those don’t seem like good outcomes to me, but they would be temporary and survivable. Maybe they would make our relationship stronger…but I have no desire to test that. If they found out that I had baptized him, I think they might find the idea distasteful, but they were pretty clear on the fact that while I was his only mother, I got to make the parenting decisions—and they respected that.

After I found that vegan (etc) cookie recipe, I asked Mr. Book whether I should explain some of my feelings and ask whether they would be okay to bring, and he said no: “They shouldn’t be exposed to our process.” That’s hard for me to keep in mind sometimes, which is part of why I started this blog; it’s a safe place for me to document my process (and get feedback from the wise women of adoption) without—I keeping wanting to use a word like “tainting” or “infecting” Ruth and Nora.

The Letters I Don’t Write

Dear Ruth,

When we visit for Cricket’s birthday, I want to bring something. Can he eat birthday cake? No.

Dear Ruth,

I know you’ve got Cricket on a pretty careful diet—is there a birthday exception? Or is one year the limit on wheat, salt, sugar No.

Dear Ruth,

Is there any way I can contribute to a birthday menu that Cricket could share? And are there any updates on what he’s eating? I very much like the idea of being able to bring cupcakes or something, but I don’t know of any recipes that don’t involve wheat, nuts, eggs, salt, sugar, or honey. Is there any way you can think of for me to make something baby-appropriate, or is this an idea that would be best revisited next year? Still no. Too controlling, too desperate.

Dear Ruth,

Listen. I know this is maybe weird, but I really like the idea of being able to provide some kind of birthday treat for Cricket. Of course I have visions of cupcakes with jungle animals on them, but I know that you are being very careful in constructing his diet. I really like the idea of being able to bring something, but I don’t want to violate any boundaries or break any of your rules. Were you planning to let him play with a cupcake at his party anyway, or is this an idea I need to let go of? I suspect the latter. This is one of those weird moments, is all, where I have an impulse that I guess is parental, like when I wanted to buy him a toy for no occasion or when I wanted to pick out an outfit for him. So I guess that means that I shouldn’t consider it seriously or let myself dwell on it. I don’t want to bother you—that is really, really important to me—and I don’t really know what to do with these feelings except sit with them and be sad. I want to do some of the more fun parental things, but I am not a parent.

Maybe I’ll have a kid of my own that I can keep one day. That is the kid for whom I can make a cupcake with an elephant on it, the kid who I can dress up when we have company. And the kid who vomits on me, and throws tantrums at the market, and needs me to wipe his bum for a few years—I don’t think I’m too naïve about what parenting means. But I really feel ready for that now in a way that I couldn’t have imagined a year ago, and I’m almost sorry that I’ve matured this far; it only makes the adoption harder at times like this. Okay. Time to close my email and give this one up as a bad job.

***

And now I’ve found a recipe for dairy-free, wheat-free, sugar-free, salt-free vegan cookies. *sighs*

Birth Rites

Reading Dawn’s post about her transracially adopted daughter’s conversations on race made me think about Cricket’s matching and not matching. While he is as white as all four of his parents, I am a practicing Catholic, whereas Ruth and Nora are Jewish (Nora is not from a Jewish background and has not officially converted, but attends services and celebrates with her wife). Before his birth, we had several conversations about circumcision; I made it clear that I wasn’t going to have him circumcised and would not choose that for a child of mine, but that I assumed that they would want him to have a bris. When pressed for my reasons, I explained that I talked to a nurse (years ago, in a women’s studies course) who refused to perform them—she said that it was cosmetic surgery on someone too young to consent. It made sense to me, and the arguments in favor never have—Mr. Book is also opposed to circumcision. Ruth tended to agree with us, but she worried that it would be one more thing making him different from other Jewish kids. I also mentioned that circumcision made sense for me as a religious gesture–I like the idea of a visible sign of the covenant with God. Ruth found that part less important, saying that if it became important to him in his relationship with God, he could have it done as an adult. In the end, however, they couldn’t bring themselves to have him snipped; their rabbi performed a snip-free conversion for Cricket, a simchat ben. I assume that Orthodox Jews would not consider Cricket Jewish, but they would also have some problems with his moms, so I guess that’s not a major concern.

I chose Jewish parents (and therefore Judaism) for my son with an untroubled mind; mine is a fairly liberal theology, I believe that most of the major religions are praying to the same God, and I don’t think you have to be Catholic to be saved. But. I made one plan for Cricket that I never told his moms about. When he was mine, on that first day, before I signed the papers…I baptized him. I used that “extraordinary circumstances” clause and didn’t even mention it to Mr. Book at the time. But it was important to me; on that day, I was his mom, and I made several parenting decisions. The others I had discussed in advance with his moms-to-be, but this one was private. I don’t know whether I should ever tell them—or even Cricket—about that, and I probably won’t. I did tell my mother later, and she cried, and told me that she was glad; that she had wanted to do it herself, but understood that it wasn’t her place. And then she told me that before I was baptized in church, I was baptized by my dad. Apparently on one of the first nights of my life, my mom started to worry that I could die before I was baptized (I was perfectly healthy, this was just new mom stuff), and she talked my dad into baptizing me just in case. So apparently I was just carrying on the family tradition.

The Spirit of the Season

I’ve been thinking about gifts and open adoption. I’ve mentioned before that gifts are important in my family, and it was important to me that the right to send a birthday and a Christmas gift be in our open adoption agreement. The state legislature will now theoretically enforce my right to send Cricket two presents a year. When I married, I secured Ruth and Nora’s permission to give Cricket a wedding present. Talking with Mr. Book recently, I realized that I like the idea of in some years being able to send a book or a cd or something at the other end of the year, in the spring or summer—maybe sending a souvenir when we travel. Of course, this would only be once a year or so, and nothing terribly expensive. Part of the reason that I’m so tentative is that in my experience, what I’ve read and seen, gifts can be tricky.

In my group therapy, there is a woman whose children were taken by the state. That’s got to be much harder than the kind of adoption that I have personal experience with, but I winced to hear her talk about all the presents she sent—including a box of back-to-school clothes in the fall. Now, I can see that a new school outfit might be a sweet present, but a full box of back-to-school clothes would feel to me like the firstmom was trying to parent from afar. One birthmother whose blog I read talks about sending presents frequently to give her an excuse to contact the adoptive parents. And I’ve heard adoptive parents talking about getting a box full of things ever month or so and feeling a bit overwhelmed; the gifts were too many and too impersonal to feel really special, but the adoptive parents felt guilty throwing anything out. Those adoptive parents talked about wishing that the birthparents would call or visit—the presents were taking the place of the contact that the adoptive parents and the kids really wanted.

When I visited my sister, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to buy Cricket a book. I resisted the impulse. Ruth has mentioned in the past that she doesn’t want gifts to take the place of a close relationship, and that makes sense to me. At the same time, if I had a nephew in the area, I would probably have brought him back a book. And since I am mostly cut off from Cricket, I want badly to give him extra gifts and make him food and make the other gestures of love that are important in my physical vocabulary. Since I’m aware of the impulse, I guess I should redirect that energy into reminding myself that in most of the ways that matter, Cricket is not my son. Fighting to stay close to him isn’t really appropriate right now. I do believe that we’ll have a relationship, but I don’t think it will probably be very close. Understand, I grew up barely knowing the names of my extended family—I don’t have a model for closeness outside of the immediate family.

Therefore what? I ordered a copy of that book I wanted for Cricket, but not for him. I will make graham crackers, but not for him. I sent Cricket a birthday present, I will send a Christmas gift (two books; I already have them), and I won’t do anything else—this year. It’s hard for me to sit back and let things evolve…but that’s all I can do in this case, I think.