And How Was My Day?

Yeah, I guess I’m gonna go ahead and talk about my experience of the visit. I am the awkwardest, but, I mean, heck. Shoot. My kid came to visit.

 

Cricket is amazingly huge and chatty and funny, and bossy in a going-to-be-five kind of way. The hands down best thing about the visit was seeing how much better he’s doing than he was on the last visit; Nora is warm and attentive and patient, and Cricket is clearly thriving in her custody. He is also, like, the onliest child who ever onlied, which is mostly cute: On the long car ride to the beach, Kit [rear facing] kept cheerfully putting his feet on Cricket [forward facing]. Kit has figured out, see, that this is a great way to get [grumpy] attention from other people. Cricket would say “Stoooop! Dad [Nora], make him stop!” And Nora would explain that babies just do that kind of thing—and then Kit would put his foot on Cricket’s shoulder again and shout “Staw!” Because apparently it is the custom to shout stop when feet are applied to shoulders, and Kit is a drooly cultural anthropologist. Cricket still has no idea of how to deal with smaller kids, but Nora’s guidance meant that he was always gentle and careful, even when the other two were being toddler levels of unreasonable or baffling.

 

I was thrilled to learn that Cricket likes comic books—I, too, like comic books—and took him and Nora to the friendly local comics shop. It turns out that Nora has mostly [apparently unknowingly] been getting him DC comics, so I bought him a kid-friendly Marvel comic; I’ve always been a Marvel fan, myself.

 

I wasn’t alone with Cricket at any point, but never expected to be, and so wasn’t disappointed. This visit felt very much like probation; Nora wouldn’t tell us what airport they were flying into or what city they were staying in, and we met only in public places. But it went pretty well, I think, and Nora certainly expressed to me that they had had a good time and hope to stay longer on the next visit. And my parents and I clearly enjoyed Cricket without obviously pining for him or acting possessive or anything, which is the sort of attention I like to see paid to Joey and Kit, so maybe Nora enjoys having it directed at Cricket. I don’t think Cricket cared much about me one way or the other (although he was clearly interested in his brothers), but then, at the very end of the visit, he asked Nora to take a picture of the two of us together. I liked that a whole lot.

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Thinking in Circles

He’s coming in a week, and I have this strange pain in my chest: heartache, I guess. I can be tediously literal that way. The copyeditor’s curse.

I am successful in not thinking of him most of the time every day; okay, yes, I do think about him every day, but there are hours and hours when I don’t. There’s this part in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is in unbelievable pain, but refusing medication for the obvious reason, and he is realizing that since taking it one day at a time is too much, he can split his pain and longing into smaller pieces; no single moment is unbearable, he thinks to himself.

There’s no way not to think about him every day. It’s mostly very small thoughts, and I am usually able to focus on the fact that he seems to be blossoming in the care of Nora, his Daddy. She changed jobs for him, you know—when Ruth found herself unable to have custody of him for long stretches of time, Nora left a lucrative job which required long hours and much travel (for another good job, I hasten to add. She’s doing okay). The pictures she sends show him grinning; when we’ve Skyped, he has seemed energetic and cheery. I am careful when I think about it, almost all of the time.

But then there are these times when some event or anniversary swings around when I can’t think about him without thinking about who is just—not just him, and not just a boy, but a boy who looks like my husband and sons—my boy. Nora’s boy, Ruth’s boy, and a boy who doesn’t know me much. But I miss him, when I let myself. And even if I could help it now, I have to let myself—or it will drown me when he’s here.

I miss him.

Visit Details

Nora and I have worked out a plan for the visit; I think it’s a good one. It doesn’t involve me being alone with Cricket at any point, because there’s just no way in the world they’d let that happen. But!

Friday after supper, we’ll meet Nora and Cricket at a neighborhood park. I don’t imagine we’ll spend long together—we’re meeting at 6:30, and these two are usually in bed by 7:30—but it’s a chance to meet on neutral ground and get the measure of each other. Saturday morning, we’re going to the beach; we’ll have lunch there and come back. After an hour or so to let everybody shower and change, Kit and Joey will stay here at the house with the grands and hopefully nap. I will take Nora and Cricket downtown, and we can check out the wading fountain and toy store and suchlike, maybe get frozen yogurt. After that, we’ll part again for a bit, and then Nora, Cricket, the boys, my parents, and I will all go out for pizza at a family-friendly and totally delicious local place. And then Nora and Cricket will leave town Sunday morning.

I’m hopeful. It was my idea to take the two of them to the village without Joey or Kit—I know that while they’re around, I’m going to be focused on them. My parents understand that they need to be careful, and I may end up giving my mom a warning even so: Please, please don’t make any “jokes” or “tease” anyone.

Two weeks from tomorrow. I can’t quite believe it.

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.

After

Oh, my goodness. The visit ends in the morning; Ruth and Cricket have been here for two full days. It’s been a discouraging time, which isn’t what I wanted or expected to be writing—and I want to start with an acknowledgement of how many hard things Cricket is dealing with right now.

  • His moms are splitting up. They’re also having him spend time with the new people that they’re dating.
  • He’s been talking a lot about the adoption, I guess, and not in a happy way—Ruth told me the night before they arrived that he’s being saying a lot of “sad or angry” things about being adopted recently.
  • There seem to be a number of rules around Cricket’s diet that appear complicated from the outside, at least; the upshot is that he didn’t eat much at all while he was here, except once or twice when I set crackers out for Joey and Cricket frantically ate all of them in an attempt to keep them from Joey.
  • Cricket was in a strange house, sleeping in a strange bed. That’s hard for me, so I can only imagine how much harder it must be for a three year old.
  • He clearly saw himself as in competition with Joey, which is really too bad, since jealousy is unattractive on anyone, and toddlers aren’t exactly subtle.

I’m going to begin at the end: tonight, Joey had finally just had too much, and was reduced to a weepy, screaming mess at bedtime. There was a trajectory that in hindsight I wonder whether I could have done more to affect: early Thursday he was curious about Cricket and slightly standoffish; later on Thursday he was following Cricket around and trying to join his games but not being pushy about it, but Cricket would push him away, hard, if Joey got too close; Thursday night, he was trying to start games with Cricket, culminating in him running at Cricket shouting “Gickle, gickle (tickle, tickle)!” and trying to tickle Cricket, who shoved him away and shouted at him; early Friday, Joey was following Cricket around and mimicking him, and got slapped for his trouble; most of Friday, Joey was still interested in Cricket but quick to give up when shoved and play by himself; late Friday afternoon, Joey had started actively avoiding Cricket, because the shoving and the shouting just didn’t let up; and Friday night, realizing that Cricket was still here (Cricket took a nap, and while he was down, Joey was so happy—we made jokes, Mr. Book and I, about his being happy that Cricket was gone, but I suspect that was the literal truth), he just lost it, wanted us both to stay with him, screamed and cried and just seemed desolated. We spent a long time with him past normal bedtime, having milk and crackers and listening to music and just spending time together as a threesome, and he slowly regained his usual good cheer.

Cricket is very difficult right now. I had worried that my desire to protect Joey would be a problem, but didn’t understand just what an enormous problem it would be for both me and Mr. Book—Cricket consistently tried to keep all of Joey’s toys away from Joey, tried to keep all food away from Joey, and shouted at and used force with Joey whenever Joey got too close to him. I don’t know how much we could have intervened; I felt as though I was on thin ice when I occasionally caught Ruth’s eye with a concerned look. We tried to distract Joey and comfort him, we made sure that he had time alone with us as well as things that he particularly likes and doesn’t get every day—and yet, and yet. Cricket is very difficult right now.

Before he went to bed, Cricket was talking to Mr. Book about when he visits again, and telling us that the footstool in the bathroom is his, so make sure to have it here when he visits again, and so forth. I was glad to hear it, and glad that he wants to come back—because as hard as this was, I don’t want him to know how hard it was for us. It’s hard enough being three without having to carry that.

Well…Better for Me

As I was double checking my itinerary for the trip to Connecticut, I saw that I had an email from Ruth; she wanted to know whether they should come down for a visit the following (week and a half following, not three days following) Saturday. It seemed unlikely to work out, so I didn’t spend much time angsting about it and didn’t mention it here or in real life, other than to Mr. Book.

Oh, I acted practically as though it were going to happen: I planned a meal, bought groceries, and cooked; I steamed the carpet; I pulled a couple of toddler toys out of the closet. But I didn’t really believe in the visit until they were here. This time, I was not the awkward one: that would be Cricket, who seemed pretty ambivalent about Joey. On the one hand, Joey was asleep for almost all of the last visit—now he’s a bright-eyed baby who kept looking at his brother and smiling—he’s pretty appealing, and Cricket likes babies (I’m told). On the other hand, he was touching Cricket’s stuff and, even more upsetting, being held by Cricket’s mamas. At one point, Ruth was holding Cricket and decided to hand him to Nora; she asked Cricket whether that was okay, he said no, she and Nora conferred, and then they explained that they were going to do it anyway. Cricket, who had been sitting on Nora’s lap, leapt up, ran to Ruth (once she was baby-free), and seemed pretty shaken: clinging to her, complaining softly, staring at Joey. They could be back in the pool inside of a month, so Ruth and Nora are (I think) seeing this as a valuable preview of how things will likely go with an adoptive sibling; and of course, there’s that biological thing.

Maybe it’s the fact that Cricket was a little off balance that made it easier for me to reach out to him—maybe it was Mr. Book’s absence for most of the day. I am too often content to use my husband as a buffer, let him do the people stuff. Too, Cricket was a little more mellow than he was in January. He’s so much older now. At one point, after he had been playing with our (surprisingly patient) cat, I said “Aztec, do you want a cookie?” and as the cat came bustling into the kitchen, Cricket piped up: “I want a cookie!” Well, then: dehydrated chicken pieces all around!

Toward the end of the visit, Nora asked Cricket to lie near Joey so that they could take pictures, and Cricket refused. Then he lay down pretty far away from Joey; then he started rolling closer and then farther away. Finally, he decided that they should hold hands. All of his hesitance and curiosity together, right there. It’s been a long time since I wanted to hold that kid as much as I did right then. No matter how many people tell me that this is complicated for Cricket and no matter how well I think I understand it, there’s nothing like watching him experience it to really hit a girl in the gut.

Distance

We had a visit on Saturday. It was not what I’d expected, and I’ve been sitting with my feelings for a bit, in part because I think they’re upsetting.

We didn’t find out until Friday morning that they were coming, whi9ch was stressful, but we got ready and washed Joey and they turned up a little after noon on Saturday. I had suggested that we go to a children’s museum, but Ruth felt that we should stay in and have “quality conversations” with Cricket. Boy, do I wish we’d gone out—he is thoroughly a manic, screeching two-year-old, and I think that might have worked out better if there had been more room for him to run around and tire himself out. Cricket is bright and engaging and completely besotted with Mr. Book—I’ll follow this post with a few pictures, and there are a few reasons that none of them include me. Cricket was not interested in me or in Joey, and Joey slept almost all day—unusual for him, and possibly a response to my stress.

Here’s the weird/cruddy part: Mr. Book and I discovered that we currently feel pretty neutral about Cricket. As soon as they left (at 6:30, and yet we were exhausted), Mr. Book and I started talking about that. I’ve come up with several possible reasons for the change:

  • Cricket is very clearly someone else’s child at this point. He looks different, has a different diet, and even behaves differently than he would if we were parenting him. He is honestly kind of annoying right now, which is I think partially just his developmental age (constant screeching) and partially their parenting (they have apparently chosen not to teach Cricket about using what I grew up calling an “inside voice”). I’ve heard birth parents talk about it being hard to watch someone else parent a placed child—perhaps this is my version of that feeling.
  • The seven-month gap between visits this time was the longest we’ve ever gone without seeing him. Nora mentioned hearing from someone that at this age, seeing someone once or twice per year is really a lot, and I smiled and thought Oh, please. We don’t see him and the relationship withers.
  • Joey. This might be the most interesting one, and it’s certainly the one I feel worst about. At one point, I was watching Cricket and though, I know what “my son” feels like, and this ain’t it. It makes me wonder how much of my grief was a longing to parent. Let me make something clear: I don’t think this would have happened if we had a close relationship with Cricket. But as it is, almost the entire connection was in my head, being maintained on a wish and a prayer. I can stop worrying about Cricket hating me for awhile; he doesn’t know me well enough to care.

I still feel a strong sense of obligation to Cricket, but I’m tired of having my hand sapped by his moms. Ruth asked whether we’d like to talk to him on the phone some time, and I responded quickly—Love to! Name the time!—and she never mentioned it again. After checking with her about his diet, I made brownies for them (him) at the visit: he wasn’t allowed to have one. Okay, you win. At dinner, Nora suggested that we should Skype with Cricket, and our response was disinterested: maybe. We’ll see. You can’t get us to reach out after nothing again right now. I gave a couple of shirts and a pair of shoes that he’ll probably never wear, and I just feel done. If they want to talk, they can reach out (okay, I did email them visit pictures they’d ask for). I’m not holding my breath.

That said, we’ll still do the same things for Cricket that we have been: holiday cards, birthday and Christmas gifts. But I’m not emailing or calling them, or trying to set up a visit, or even mailing them the pants they forgot here until they say something. I’m at the end of some kind of rope.