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.

9/6

Well, Nora has bought plane tickets; she and I are amiably hammering out the details of the visit. We will see them Friday (September 6) evening and then on Saturday; they’re leaving town on Sunday morning. Oh, and Ruth isn’t coming.

Nora is willing to see my parents, which I’m ridiculously happy about: not for the whole visit, or at first, but maybe for dinner on Saturday. I’ve also suggested that Nora, Cricket, and I might go downtown together while Kit and Joey nap at home with the grands. Time with Cricket that I’m not spending attending to the dynamic duo seems like something I should try. Nora wants to go to the beach on Saturday, and while she suggested spending most of the day there, I know from experience that these two won’t last more than a couple of hours at the beach. But she asked whether I could help with arranging a picnic lunch to bring, and I am grateful—gives me something to focus on that feels manageable.

I think they’re really coming.

I have to say, dealing with Nora has been remarkable. She hasn’t always done things on the timeline she agreed to, but she does seem to want to keep their agreement and there’s no drama. We aren’t talking about our feelings, and after the last five years of contact, that feels perfect. It’s like she realizes that we aren’t buddies, but that we can have a good working relationship.

When Nora mentioned at the end of her last message that Ruth won’t be coming, I didn’t feel surprise; of course, I had been surprised when she initially told me that all three of them would be coming. Ruth really has chosen to cut contact with us. She’s in a difficult place right now, and I have less sympathy than I should because of our relative positions—but it’s not no sympathy. The fact that she isn’t coming will probably make the visit less awkward.

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.

My Top Priority

I sent a message to Ruth and Nora.

How’re things up north? We’re having some rainy weather, which always makes me think fondly of the Pacific Northwest. It’s been a few months since I asked about a visit this year, and I thought it might be useful for me to let you know what I’m thinking.

My top priority is for the kids to know each other and have a relationship growing up, and that isn’t happening. What I would like is for them to be able to Skype, and for you guys to visit us this year some time. I know that things haven’t turned out the way we might have predicted, and that sometimes we get busy and things get hard, but this is really important to me—and the hard and busy times are going to keep rolling around. I’d like to find a way to connect the boys—and keep them connected—whatever is going on in their parents’ lives.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Hope you’re well.

And the same day, I heard back from Nora, saying that they want the same thing, and for Cricket to have develop his relationships with me and with Mr. Book, and that they’d be in touch soon about a visit. She suggested times for a Skype date, and we set up a time. Ruth asked to talk on Facebook chat, and we talked for three hours—she didn’t mention Cricket, and I kept looking for an opening to bring him up and failing to find one. It was a frustrating conversation for me. Ruth is having a hard time, and has been having a hard time for a long time now, and I feel compassion for her but also—I feel like she takes advantage of me in these conversations. She needs to vent to someone, and I was not encouraging her to do that with me (saying neutral, pleasant things, mostly)—but on some level, at least, she knows that I can’t tell her no and I won’t go away—and people have been going away in her life recently.

If things were easier in my life, I would have more compassion and more desire to do what I can to make Ruth feel better. But things are hard right now. I came into the conversation tired and sad and worried about Joey and missing my husband, and there are people here in town that I can reach out to and have more of a reciprocal relationship with. The pattern with Ruth has been that she will initiate a big, heavy conversation about her life, occasionally detouring into my failures, and then I won’t hear from her for several months. She still isn’t willing to Skype, and she did mention that she is the reason that visit planning has not moved forward. I have had bad, bad times in my life—my mental health record is full of thick, black marks. I know how that can color everything that happens in your life. But Ruth and I don’t have any history outside of adoption, and the incredible power imbalance seems to make her feel safe . . . but has made me more and more disinterested in a friendship. We haven’t been friends, and I don’t think that we’re going to become friends. And these conversations are too much with someone who isn’t my friend.

That said, I’m not in a place where I can imagine closing off any avenue of contact, however difficult or stressful. But Nora made it clear that they are planning on coming for a visit this year, which is the best news I’ve had in quite awhile.

Ella Asks

Has Nora completely left the building? Is she in Cricket’s life at all anymore? And if she isn’t, is that Ruth’s doing?

Ruth hasn’t talked to me about the details of their arrangement in some time, and I know that things have changed somewhat as both women settle into new relationships and living arrangements. I know that the original plan was for Nora to come by and put Cricket to bed every night, and that this fell apart almost immediately. Nora moved out, and Ruth and Cricket are still in the house—so far as I know, no move has been made to sell the house, and official divorce proceedings have not started. Neither woman is, I think, in a hurry to marry a new partner, so legal divorce isn’t a high priority. From what I can tell, Cricket usually spends one weekend day with Nora, and sometimes (I think) the whole weekend. She had dropped out much more for awhile, but now I see a picture that she has taken of him with her phone pop up on Facebook a couple of times a month. (These are the only pictures I see of Cricket, and I’m grateful for them.) I know that he’s spent some time with Nora’s new partner, too, and I realize that I may need to come up with blog names for both Ruth and Nora’s current partners.

When Nora was gone, it wasn’t Ruth’s doing. It’s hard to figure out how much to talk about their relationship here, being as I’m an outsider and I have some extremely intimate details that aren’t any of my business. I can say that Nora wanted to go, and I don’t know whether she ever really wanted to parent, but she does clearly care for her son. I know that one parent is often more excited about adopting (or having kids by whatever means) than the other, and Nora was willing but clearly not the one driving the process. Eventually—and in some ways it seems remarkable that it took three years—she decided that she wanted a different life for herself than the one in which she woke up every morning. For awhile, she took a pretty thorough break from Cricket and Ruth; now she’s maintaining more of a relationship with each of them, although it’s nothing like what she had before. I haven’t talked to her since last July, so all of this is secondhand. She doesn’t talk to us outside of visits, and never really has.

Chokehold

I’ve really choked on blogging. And it’s for a reason that should have been obvious, but that in fact I had to wait to have a friend point out to me: I wasn’t sure whether I could say something, so I said nothing. I decided, with her help, that I should just go ahead and put it out there: Ruth and Nora were having relationship problems that led to them turning down that placement—to the degree that Nora was considering moving out of their house—but they were working on things, and the situation was much improved by the time I heard about it. Okay, I will blog that and move past my block, talk about the things that are happening now.

And now I’ve found out that Ruth and Nora are splitting up.

Ruth felt terrible telling me—she says that she feels that she has betrayed and let us down, and I guess it’s a good thing that I was the one having our end of the conversation, because Mr. Book says Yes, they did, they are. I don’t feel that way, myself; a terrible thing is happening, and the problems we’ve seen in their relationship over the past few years (and certainly some others we haven’t) have turned out to be ones they can’t solve and can’t live with. I feel bad for all three of them: Ruth, Nora, and Cricket. Ruth talked to me about their plans for coparenting, and they seem very nice but pretty unlikely; they want to get a duplex so they can be a family without being romantic partners. That seems like the sort of thing that works better in theory, or before the parents have new partners—but if they could make that work, that would be great. It just seems like a hard thing to create and maintain for the next fifteen years, give or take. They are not adopting again, either as a couple or singly.

My husband is angry; I’m just sad. I feel like the scales keep shifting for Cricket: now he won’t have parents who stay together, and he won’t grow up with siblings. Not that only children can’t be perfectly happy—I know a couple—but growing up apart from existing siblings seemed to me slightly less sad if he was also growing up with a brother or sister in the same home, with the same parents. Maybe he’ll have stepbrothers and –sisters. I worry about what will happen with Ruth, who is a stay-at-home parent. Surely she will need to work, and Cricket will end up in daycare full-time: probably a less expensive daycare than the one he currently enjoys, but who can say? Maybe Nora will voluntarily pay child support. In the meantime, Nora is moving out, and Cricket doesn’t yet know what’s going on—but his moms plan to show him Nora’s new place and explain that “Abba will sleep here sometimes.”