The Gifts I Might

I got an email from Ruth asking us to visit on Sunday. I’m not 100 percent sure that Mr. Book will have the day off work, but I am hopeful, and wrote back to her saying “I’m not 100 percent etc., but let’s make tentative plans, we’d love to see you.” First I talked to the Mr., then I worried about my hair, and then I tried to figure out what to wear (still no idea). Then I thought about getting Cricket a small gift, something we can give him when we show up (this took quite awhile, and I’m either going to get a toy truck or nothing); then I worked on his yearly mix cd, which I plan to mail up north in May (this is version three, because I can’t stop messing with it, but I think it’s a winner—but they won’t play it for him, so this effort is really misplaced); then I got really upset and started crying. Had wild, not to be taken seriously thoughts of suicide. I was really distraught, and I thought even at the time, It is so weird that Ruth has no idea about this part. I don’t think she has any obligation to, and I’ve heard adoptive parents give their reasons for not wanting to, but I hold on to an admiration for adoptive parents who really do want to understand even the hard and/or crappy parts.

One of the stupid things that I do is imagine things going badly in Technicolor Sensurround Imaginarium Vision. So, for example, the proposed truck: we are allowed to give gifts (within certain guidelines) as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. I personally don’t know where “out of hand” begins for Ruth and Nora, and while it probably isn’t “Oh hi, it’s been a few months, p.s. here is a small truck,” I don’t know that. So I imagine that first part, and then their incredible discomfort and the serious conversation we have to have about boundaries and appropriateness. Heck, I’ve been trying to figure out whether it seems more like a big deal (and hence potentially more inappropriate) if I gift wrap it. I bought the dump truck—now I just sit with the idea of giving it to Cricket for awhile, and then either bring it along or stuff it in the hope chest. Of course, shortly after buying the truck, I found myself enchanted by recycled, toddler-friendly crayons…. Maybe next time year.

This sort of segues into what I talked about with my therapist yesterday, but that was pretty big and I’m not quite done talking about it. But probably tomorrow, expect a broody and possibly defensive post in which I swear I’m looking for input, including from those who disagree with me.

What’s the Matter, Goofy?

The fabulous Thanksgivingmom asked on an adoption forum whether other birthmoms ever hold back when they give their placed kids presents:

Do you ever worry about giving the “keepsake” gifts for fear that they won’t be kept and treasured the way you hope?

I have this (probably) irrational fear that I’m going to send something that means a lot to me or that’s in some way symbolic and that it won’t be received as such.

I answered her briefly there, but I want to talk about it in a little more detail here. At first, I thought of clothes—we gave a couple of things, I suspect that they were not at all liked by Ruth or Nora, and he didn’t (as I realized later I’d sort of expected) wear any of them on a visit—or at all, maybe. My feelings were a bit hurt by that, which is my own fault; I somewhere picked up the idea that if you get the gift of clothes, you send that person a picture or pictures of the baby in said clothes, even if you don’t like them. (My mother is going to love this rule. ;)) Okay, we won’t send clothes again, because at this point it would feel like setting myself up for possibly inappropriate disappointment. But then I thought of a much better example:

and

These are just two mediocre picture books, but I adored them as a little kid. I can still recite from memory Goofy’s song at the end of the book (“I paid the price of a friend’s advice and worked at jobs I did not like—but now I can work even harder! And be who I am: Goofy the Gardener!”) or Miss Mouse’s startled cry upon seeing her garden (“‘Oh my goodness,’ cried Miss Mouse, ‘My garden grew too much!’”). I loved those books with a deep and unreasoning love, and I still have the copies that were mine. I wouldn’t want to send those, of course, because they’re in lousy condition—but I certainly will get futurekid his or her own copies, and I would love to send the pair to Cricket. Except that I don’t think they would be special for his family. I am hesitant about suggesting that he has things in common with us. Oh, I’ll say things to Mr. Book—“He looks so much like us!” “He got your sweaty feet!”—but I’m very shy about it with his parents.

Ruth sent me an email this week talking about how she sees his personality resembling mine in some ways, which feels like a rare and fragile gift. It seems like the kind of thing that she can offer and I can’t reach for. It’s also a little strange because some of the things she described sound much more like my husband than like me, but they know him so little that she wouldn’t have any idea. So I did, in my reply, mention that something she mentioned sounded like Mr. Book—and then I felt a little conflicted, but I left it in.

The email overall felt very friendly, which I greatly appreciated. And, since it’s a new month and all, I spent my monthly allowance on baby/kid stuff. While I was browsing children’s books on amazon, I started to want very much to send a book to Cricket. I have a blanket-if-vague permission from Ruth and Nora to occasionally send something if I like as long as it doesn’t get to be too much or too weird, and a book probably wouldn’t cross that line. I want to send him books especially because I am a great reader and hoarder of books—I have, shoot, I’ve never counted but certainly more than hundreds of books. Hell, I probably have a hundred children’s books (if you count young adult books, most of which were bought for myself). But Ruth and Nora own very few books, preferring to rely almost entirely on the library. For me, a life not surrounded by my books sounds sad . . . so I want to surround Cricket with books a little bit. And then I started trying to figure out what kind of book would be appropriate: board books are out, because he’s not allowed to chew on them or treat them roughly (so what’s the point), I accidentally picked a book for Christmas that in hindsight seems super adoption-y and I am now a bit paranoid about that, I know that they don’t want to expose him to books that contain things they don’t do or agree with (for example, someone gave them Bedtime for Francis, but spanking is mentioned, so it’s out). . . . It’s not just me, right? This sounds hard?

So I narrowed it down to three books, worried about all three, and gave up. Maybe next month.

One Year Down

Looks like I was in touch with my adoption pain yesterday! I hadn’t realized that my holiday OART would turn into such a downer. =/ The visit on Tuesday was actually pretty good, as I will detail below.

Whenever we visit at their home, I bring a bunch of food. I grew up with the belief that when people have babies, you bring them food—since Ruth and Nora are hoping to go back into the pool a year from now, this means that I’m going to be trying to feed them for at least the next three years. This time, I brought garlic mashed potatoes, stuffed grape leaves, and cranberry relish, and that’s what we had for lunch. On the advice of basically everyone, I was debuting a new “be more emotionally open” policy at this visit, and it definitely made things harder.  Mr. Book says that I spent much of the visit not interacting with Cricket and looking sad. My husband, on the other hand, was a champ—now that Cricket is old enough to play with, Mr. Book is a big hit. My favorite example is an extended bit of imitative tongue-sticking-out play that culminated in Mr. Book teaching Cricket to stick his tongue out pointed up, toward his nose. An hour or so after lunch, Cricket went down for a nap and Mr. Book and I excused ourselves for a walk to Starbucks.

This coffee break was one of my better ideas. We were both feeling shell shocked and overwhelmed, and so we sat in Starbucks for an hour, drinking coffee and talking about Cricket. Then we went back and I chatted with Ruth while Mr. Book sat patiently with us (Nora was at work until 5). Cricket woke up just after four, and when Nora got home we all went out for vegetarian Thai food. On the way to the restaurant, Ruth and I sat in the back seat on either side of Cricket, who now barely fits into his infant car seat. She gave him a bottle and he grabbed my hand and held it, staring into my eyes, while he drank it.

The ladies at the restaurant loved Cricket, and he was very polite with them. It was so funny—they would tousle his hair or tickle him, and he would give them this very patient smile in return. With some help from Ruth, he opened his birthday present; his moms loved it, and he seemed interested. The food was great. On the way back, Cricket was bored and a bit fussy, so I pretended to eat his food. He loved that—he kept pulling his foot away, and then sticking it into my face again, cracking up when I noshed on it. We did this for better than fifteen minutes, and he seemed so pleased. Once we were all home, he helped open his Christmas gift and then played with us a bit while his parents cleaned up a bit. I sat on the floor with him this time, and he kept crawling back and forth between me and Mr. Book and climbing into our laps. At one point, sitting with me, he waved at Mr. Book and said “He yo.” I almost started to cry, but got it together. As we were leaving, Cricket was about to go into the bath. He was in Nora’s arms, and we said goodbye, and then he just leaned into me—I took him for a hug, and then we both kissed him goodbye, and then we left.

Ruth and I sent each other post-visit emails today, and she said “I wanted to let you know that when Cricket leaned forward and laid his head against your chest, this was something I have not seen him do before.  I also wanted to tell you that after his bath, when Nora brought him out to say good night to me and the dog, he was looking around the room very vigorously.  Then Nora said, “You’re looking for Mama Susie and Papa Book?  They’re not here anymore.”  And then he said, ‘Ba! Ba! Ba!’ meaning that you said bye-bye.  I think that is the first time I have heard him try to describe something that has already happened.” So we had a couple of firsts, and while it was hard, it felt very precious.

On the way home, we talked for awhile and then listened to the radio. Then the Beach Boys came on, and I pressed my face against my husband’s shoulder and cried.

Open Adoption Roundtable #11

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don’t need to be part of the Open Adoption Bloggers list to participate, or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you’re thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table.

An open-ended prompt this round, because it’s always interesting to see where each of us takes it:

Write about open adoption and the holiday season.

Previously written posts work, too.

When I sat in the adoption agency’s conference room with Ruth, Nora, and an agency flack, we were all three of us tentatively mentioning things that we would like in the open adoption agreement (legally enforceable here!). I mentioned that I wanted to be able to send a birthday and a Christmas gift every year, they agreed, and now I could theoretically take them to court if they refused to accept a Christmas present. Adoption seems very strange sometimes.

Last year, I surrendered my son on December 9 and then flew to the Midwest on the 19th. I wanted to get away from the site of my loss for Christmas, so the future Mr. Book and I decided to spend Christmas with his family. We celebrated an early Christmas with my parents before I left, and they were very sweet. I remember making pancakes for everyone in the morning, in my nightgown, and noticing that my feet were wet, and realizing that my milk had come in.

Christmas in the Midwest was grim—except for one screaming fight, Mr. Book’s family was pretending that Cricket had been born dead. I was miserable, he was miserable, and we both just wanted to lie around and not talk about anything. I’m glad we got to spend it together, though.

This year, we have invited my son and his parents to Christmas with us, but they haven’t responded. Ruth wants to keep Christmas out of Cricket’s life as much as possible; she worries that the Jewish holidays, being less flashy, will suffer by comparison in the eyes of a child. She says that she may ask people to send Hanukkah presents instead. I think about the fact that I have a legal right to send a Christmas present and don’t say anything.

Ruth invites us to Cricket’s birthday party, which is also a Hanukkah party. Mr. Book has to work, so we visit on a different day and bring birthday and Christmas gifts. The Christmas gift is a pair of books, one of which I had as a child. I didn’t remember that Christmas happens in the book, but it’s a bit late now, so I give it to them with an apology. They ask about our Christmas plans with no apparent awareness of the fact that there is an unanswered invitation outstanding.

The adoption relationship is good, but the holidays are bad. I don’t know how long this will be the case.

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.

Open Adoption Roundtable #10

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It’s designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community.

This is a topic that is very timely for me (Thanksgivingmom) right now, but is something that all of us in open adoption deal with at least once during the year: birthdays.

I know that birthdays can be an extremely emotional time, for everyone connected to adoption, not just those of us in open adoptions. So what is it that we do, as part of our open adoptions, during the “birthday season”?

Our experiences on this are so diverse, that I don’t want to limit your responses to one specific question. BUT, since some of us (like me!) sometimes like the specific questions, here are a few that have been rattling around in my brain as my daughter’s third birthday approaches:

  • What do you/your family do to integrate open adoption and birthday celebrations?
  • What do you wish you would see in future birthday celebrations re: involvement with your child’s adoptive parents/birth parents?
  • Do you have an open adoption agreement that requires contact on/around birthdays?
  • How does that agreement affect you? Do you wish it were different? Do you wish that you did have an agreement that requires such contact?
  • If you do not have contact around birthdays, do you do something private to honor birthdays?
  • If you’re an adoptee, how were birthdays celebrated in your family with regards to open adoption?
  • How do you wish they would have been celebrated?
  • And anything else you can think of!

How timely for me! Cricket’s birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, and we’ve had a bit of chaos surrounding it. Since I am one of those who likes the specific questions, I will answer these.

  • What do you/your family do to integrate open adoption and birthday celebrations?

Well, Mr. Book’s family chooses to pretend that Cricket is dead, so I assume that they won’t be commemorating his first birthday in any way. I suppose there’s a chance that he’ll get a weepy, angry phone call from his mom, but there will probably just be silence from that side of the family. My mother has bought him a book and a birthday card. I’m actually a bit nervous about this, as she didn’t get express permission to send a book. On the other hand, it is a cool children’s book, and I think the gift is coming from a good place in her—I think it’s really a (relatively) uncomplicated desire to send a present to a baby on his birthday. Ruth has said that she doesn’t want me to get trapped in the middle of my mom’s relationship with them, so I haven’t mentioned to them that my mom has a book to send. I just don’t want to then be responsible for telling my mom that she can’t send it, which would feel sad and unkind. So yeah, I’m taking the coward’s way out. As for me and Mr. Book: he may have to work on Cricket’s party day, but we are invited to the party. If we can’t go, we will visit some day that week. I have already mailed his present and a card.

  • What do you wish you would see in future birthday celebrations re: involvement with your child’s adoptive parents/birth parents?

I really don’t know. I would like to be included, but not at the expense of Cricket’s happiness—if he doesn’t want us around, I want to respect that. But assuming that he doesn’t care (or, miracle of miracles, wants us around), I hope that we’ll be able to see him on or near his birthday every year. If we can’t make it, I would like to call. Of course, that’s not exactly right; in some ways, I want to not call or go or have any kind of contact. I want to grieve and mope and feel sorry for myself. But since I keep reminding myself that this is a child-centered open adoption, I want to want to do the right thing by Cricket.

  • Do you have an open adoption agreement that requires contact on/around birthdays?

Our open adoption agreement guarantees us the right to send a birthday present, but not to have any kind of contact. However, Ruth and Nora have said that of the two mandated sets of photos a year, they plan to send one around his birthday every year.

  • How does that agreement affect you? Do you wish it were different? Do you wish that you did have an agreement that requires such contact?

Honestly, at this stage in our relationship (and hopefully forever, knock on wood), the agreement matters very little. Ruth and Nora want us around, we want to be around, and we are all working together in a pretty good set-up. I do wish that we lived closer—this only started a week or so ago. For the rest of the adoption so far, I’ve been glad to have this buffer of distance. But now… When I sent Cricket’s birthday package, in addition to his card, I included a card for Ruth and two books I think she might enjoy. And in the card, I said that I wished we lived in the same city sometimes, because I’d like to be able to take her out to coffee once in awhile and just chat or hang out, no big deal. That is such a big deal for me. I know how small it sounds, but while I’m sure I’ll get frustrated or angry or depressed about things in the relationship again in the future, I have this enormous faith in her, and a great love for her. I don’t want to buy her a cup of tea so that I can stare at the baby, although he is adorable and certainly I’d be glad to see him—I wish that I could have her company sometimes, is all. I guess that’s friendship, or the wish for it. I don’t think we ever will live in the same city—we love it here, they love it there—but just wanting less distance is a precious and rare thing for me, the antisocial butterfly.

Presents and Presence

Well, Mr. Book’s work has informed him that no one gets days off during the holiday season; this means that he may very well be schedule to work the day of Cricket’s birthday party. If so, he will try to trade shifts—if that isn’t possible, I don’t know what we’ll do. Tomorrow I will mail Cricket’s wrapped gift up to his parents so that it can be opened at his birthday even if we aren’t able to be there; finally, my habit of acquiring gifts two months in advance pays off! The whole situation is slightly complicated by the fact that we don’t actually want to go to the party—but we think that we need to, that it’s important for the open adoption relationship.

Wrapping the present was a challenge for me—I am somewhat clumsy and impatient at this sort of thing—but I really wanted it to look nice, so I bought paper and bows and took my time. It does look nice, if nothing special—the paper has little zeppelins on it, which I like, but I should emphasize that they are peaceful-looking little airships accompanied by shooting stars. I didn’t move here with any wrapping paper, so I ended up spending better than $10 on the roll of paper and some bows; Ruth would be horrified, I’m sure. It’s a stupid way to spend money while we’re poor, I realize…but then I don’t think that kids think “Well, of course she didn’t wrap it, they need that money for the gas bill.” As long as we’re able to do both, however carefully, I want to keep up appearances for Cricket.

On Monday, before I started for home, Kate and I spent a bit of time wandering around downtown–some lunch, but mostly used bookstores. Souvenirs are important in my family, and it’s a tradition I hope to keep alive in the Book family—I’d already gotten Mr. Book something, but I ended up adding a couple of vintage Canadian postcards and something little for his mom, who is having a pretty rough time of things this year. Then, suddenly, I wanted to find something for Cricket. Now, there was probably nothing in these musty stores that would be genuinely appropriate for a baby, but I thought about getting him a book for when he is older, some beautiful out-of-print something that his parents could hold on to for him.

As a kid, I loved the books of Albert Payson Terhune—he wrote about beautiful, clever, noble collies, and since Cricket is growing up with a dog, I thought one of his books might make a great present—I found one of the same set that I had as a kid, and for only ten dollars. And then I just got upset and put it down and left, wandered into the biography section and finally left without buying anything.

I have this split in terms of how I feel about the kid. On the one hand, I think that my life would be easier if I could just stop thinking of him as mine at all, think about myself as no more a mother than any woman who has an abortion. I know how ugly this sounds, and how selfish–certainly, even when I’m holding this out as my personal ideal, I never imagine myself contradicting Cricket in his opinions. In some ways, all I am doing now is deciding what I’ll think until he tells me how it’s going to be. But of course it will inform my attitude and decisions, that underlying belief, and so I have to choose the right model. The other hand, of course, is feeling like the other mother; I’m sure I don’t even at my most momly feel as much like his mother as Ruth does, but I do feel some mom things. What do I do? I guess I think that the more I feel like one of his mothers, the more hurt I am going to get. Maybe that’s true for any mother. But when I think of him as my son, I think “I’m not going to see my son this month” or “I wish I could cuddle my son when they visit” or of course the big things like “I would never put my son into daycare.” If he’s not my son, then I’m fine—kids do great under all kinds of different, thoughtful parenting philosophies, and while Ruth and Nora’s differ from mine quite a bit, they are good and loving parents, and why shouldn’t they, e.g., dress him in clothes I would never ever choose? Maybe I could ideally feel like a grandparent; he is very slightly mine, for all that I don’t get to pick or do a lot of bonding.

So what will I do? Well, I’ll probably pick up a couple of those books for futurekid off the internet. That’s my imperfect solution to so many of these questions—what happens when I can’t get pregnant? Yes, I know that I’m borrowing trouble with that question, but if you’ve read my blog, you know that that is my m.o. And this way I get to come up with answers; if there is to be no futurekid, I can give these things to future nieces and nephews. My sisters each want three kids, Tammy has already gotten pregnant twice…odds are that there will be some kids around sometime in the next several years. A bold claim, I know. So I’ll pick up The Heart of a Dog and one or two others, and I’ll put them on the shelf that has all of the children’s books—which is in the room that was closed off when Ruth and Nora were here. There are things that I am glad to hide from them.