Back from the Midwest

It was good to see Mister Book. This is a strange setup—I always hesitate when having to fill out forms over “separated” and always choose “married,” since “separated, no, not like that, we love each other and wish we were in the same place” mysteriously is not a standard option. Ours is not a standard situation.

Christmas is not a great time to be apart. We are both big fans of Christmas, and while I will videotape the kids on Christmas morning and certainly we will Skype, he feels very much his isolation at the holidays. Kit is more and more able to have a relationship with his daddy, and while this is mostly the greatest thing (you should see his eyes light up when I ask whether he wants to talk on the phone with Daddy), it makes the separation harder for the Mister, no question. Joey, too, clearly feels love for his dad, but he’s more prone to punishing Mister Book for his absence with shunning; the last time we Skyped, he carefully kept his back to the computer for several minutes, making his disapproval clear. He gets that sort of thing from his mama, I’m afraid. I am feeling especially guilty about Kit and Joey being separated from family in more than one direction, and have as a result kind of overdone it on presents this year. I’m also trying to get them to do tons of holiday activities (“Let’s paint ornaments! Let’s decorate cookies! Let’s make Christmas pictures to send to Daddy! Let’s maybe let the boys just hang out and stop trying to be Jane the Holly Elf for an afternoon!”), and they are sometimes game and sometimes not. (And fair enough: that is the human condition.) I love them a lot, and I feel like I’m letting them down, especially because I am often snappish with Kit these days. (Kit is involved in an extended science experiment that involves flapping a hand an inch from my face, whining and screaming a great deal, refusing to do simple things for himself, and just generally trying to see what will make Mama crazy.) I wish I was a better Holly Elf.

They’re both great kids. I keep saying that, right? Because it is true. I feel guilty when I get annoyed at them, too. I am slightly dreading having to take them both to play dates while Joey is on winter break, and I also feel guilty about that. Tomorrow they are both going to a Chanukah party/play date, and I can’t stop worrying about what will happen if half-potty-trained Kit has an accident (he has not thus far been willing to use an unfamiliar potty) or if Joey gets overwhelmed. I know that we can always leave, but I have already been that mom with the wailing, pee-soaked toddler in her arms and the wailing, frustrated preschooler trailing behind her, and I was that mom yesterday in fact, and I would like a slightly longer gap between these public episodes of my inadequacy.

I don’t know whether I’ll blog again before Christmas, so let me say that I think our Christmas will be very nice, and that I will be able to set my angst aside and just enjoy the kids and my family and the really excellent food we’re planning. I really do understand how fortunate I am, even when I give in to my period bouts of whining. Poor Susie, with her loving family and excellent kids! Poor Susie, with her regular contact with her placed son! If anyone out there has a tiny violin, this might be the perfect time.

I hope that all of you have a very Merry Christmas if you celebrate it, and bright and blessed winter holidays for sure. Peace be with you.

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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.

Goings On

My writing about adoption may have been unusually stilted recently; I’m going to just talk about what’s going on here, and maybe that will shed some light on the reasons why.

 

My Omi, my mother’s mother, died a couple of weeks ago. She was old and sick and, in my mom’s words, “mean as a snake,” so it’s less sad that she’s gone and more sad what her life was. My mom and her sister are cleaning out her hoarder house a little at a time, and I think all her kids are having a hard time finding a way to grieve. My father broke his hip a week ago, and yesterday went to the ER to find that he has a blood clot in his leg—apparently this isn’t the really bad kind, but he’s already on blood thinners (he has a history of blot clots), so why is he developing any sort of blood clots? He’s trapped in the house and in a lot of pain, although the outpouring of love and concern from everyone who knows him has been pretty amazing—and a surreal contrast to the reactions of everyone who knew her to my Omi’s death.

 

Mr. Book is working, and while that’s a good thing (we can buy Christmas gifts! and diapers!), Joey is not reacting well to having his dad gone much of the time, and I’m having a harder time, especially in the evenings. I can’t put Joey to bed without getting Kit to a calm and sleepy place, and I can’t get Kit to bed if Joey is out of bed; if I try to nurse Kit to a sleepy amiability before putting Joey to bed, Joey climbs all over me and screams. If I don’t, and just take Kit with us while I put Joey to bed, both kids complain loudly. If I hold Kit, Joey grabs my legs and wails. If I feed Kit, Joey wants to nurse/eat baby food. If I have to set Joey down for any Kit-related reason, odds are good that Joey is going to scream until he vomits . . . and then keep screaming. I know that this first year is just going to be hard, and we’re all somewhat sick, but I feel like Joey is pushing me right to the limit most days. All week I’ve had a pretty bad headache, and I think it’s about half illness and half stress. Joey is also sick, snotty and cranky and having terrible diarrhea, and things might be better when he’s healed up. But right now I’m just gritting my teeth and trying to schedule an outing for just the two of us so that we can have some time together when he’s not just trying to make me drop the baby.

 

And some of it is about adoption. I think I’ll try to post about that separately, because I’m angry and less sure of myself at the same time; I have strong feelings that I’m very aware could be unfair.

Stop the Brain

Blogging allowed me to do something productive with my crankiness: I messaged Ruth and asked, politely, for her to get back to me if she has the chance. And she did! The power of nag. Pretty mixed feelings about that.

It feels like such a time of change. To the north, Ruth and Nora are changing their relationship and their lives pretty drastically; Ruth is going back to work, they are living separately and dating other people, and Cricket is being parented almost entirely by Ruth. Here in the south, we’re expecting a child, looking ahead to more schooling for the Mister (some hard choices to be made around that), and our feelings about Ruth and Nora are changing, too. Mr. Book more or less hates both of them now, but is of course willing to hide that from them forever—I get angry when I think about things, although I also have some sympathy for them—it’s weirdest for me, I guess, no longer to be able to say “Well, while I regret the placement, I don’t regret the choice of them as parents.” I’m not sure when exactly that changed (it may have been before the separation), but it is certainly not true anymore: I absolutely regret the choice of them as adoptive parents for Cricket. And Ruth loves Cricket, and she is devoted to him, and I would never try to come between them. But that’s really not all that I was looking for.

In some ways, it doesn’t really matter, that last, unpleasant change; I would never tell Ruth or Nora that, and I already regretted the adoption, so what’s the difference? But it does feel like a difference, and I think it makes me a little less patient when weeks go by without answers to time-sensitive questions (for example). Nora will not be able to visit us, and she and Ruth seem to assume that we will be sad about that, when in fact we’re slightly relieved: slightly less tension in the room if the two of them aren’t together, I think. Certainly we won’t miss her for herself, which is ugly but true. I don’t think I will respond differently directly to Ruth, now, but I resent things a little more, get frustrated a little more quickly. This is something to work through and get past, because we are tied together for the foreseeable future. And I still don’t think that she’s a bad person, although I think that adopting in their situation (as I now understand it) was a bad thing to do—although they’re far from the only ones to do it. I don’t think their intentions have been evil at any point.

This has all been an odd way of leading in to the announcement that they are visiting, Ruth has bought plane tickets, and they’ll be here for a couple of days in just under three weeks. I can admit, now, that I have a small gift for Cricket—a photobook with pictures of Joey—acquired well before we knew they were coming. What can I say? I told myself that I could just mail it, and surely I would have had they chosen not to come. One of my less good qualities is that if I am not in touch with someone—talking on the phone, chatting online, emailing, visiting in real human interaction, you name it—I start to feel more and more distant. Maybe that’s normal; I really have no idea. It’s been a problem for me with my sister Tammy, and perhaps a much bigger (if less long-standing) problem with Cricket. When we don’t have contact, I feel more and more baffled about him. Who is this child to me? I have a duty to him, I want very much for him to be happy and well, and I am grieved by his absence—but anything more warm or nuanced fades to a gray. Some of that, too, is Joey; he is so incredibly present, and demands so much of my brain, that I think much less about Cricket or the Possum than I would if they, too, were here. I tried to write a blog post about that a couple of weeks ago, and Joey (otherwise peacefully eating a pecan butter sandwich) kept wandering over to get my attention: “Mama? Up!” or even just brushing up against me and smiling. And it’s great to see him, and I just smiled back and gave up on the typing.  Now I’m going to see both of them in the same space—the first time that Joey will have been able to walk or talk at a visit—and I really don’t know what my brain is going to do. Right now, I just imagine myself being protective of Joey, which he probably won’t need. He’s an outgoing sort. But it’s hard to think of what it will actually be like to have my two separated sons in the same room, talking and everything. It makes me tear up just to write it, although I know that’s an easier feat with a pregnant lady than usually. I can make plans (and I am) to keep two little kids cheerfully occupied, but I can’t actually imagine them both.