Contact with Ruth

The other night, when I was woken up at 3 a.m. by the baby monitor, I entered the boys’ room to find a preschooler dance party in progress—“Not cool, Joey” is what I said as I opened the door. I had forgotten to take the light bulb out of their room earlier, so the light was on and Joey was running laps around the room, cheerfully yodeling; Kit was standing in the pack n play, blinking sleepily and saying “Yay.” That Kit is always down for a party.

I haven’t been blogging because it’s taking me forever to answer a question: Have I been in touch with Ruth? Well, the short answer is a “No, but.”

In early November, Ruth posted something on Facebook about a personal accomplishment that was pretty cool—she ran a half marathon! I “liked” that and then messaged her to say Hey, I felt like what happened this summer was probably necessary but I’m sorry that it’s meant that we’re not in contact. I hope things are awesome. She wrote back a few weeks later to say that she thinks that some of the things I said over the summer were unfair, and that she had thought of us as friends, and that her feelings are hurt and that she needs some time. Maybe because of the power imbalance I think that I cannot hurt her feelings, she wrote, but I can and I did.

I wrote back one more time.

Dear Ruth,

I very much appreciate your writing back, especially knowing as I do that I’ve hurt your feelings badly—it was generous of you to explain. I’d like to explain a little more, too, although if this is something you aren’t in a place to engage with, I get it.

I thought of us more as “I wish we could have been friends.” The power thing—it’s so overwhelming, at least on my end. I’m sorry that you regret telling me some of the things that you did about your life; at the time, I was wishing that I could tell you more about my life, but it didn’t seem like I could. Too—and I don’t know that there’s any way to escape this—I was desperate for more news of/from Cricket. I know that you aren’t and weren’t in a position to provide that, and wish that in addition to the human and friendly concern and empathy and love I felt (and feel) for you, there wasn’t this voice in the back of my head going But Cricket, is Cricket okay, How is Cricket Cricket Cricket CRICKET? I think that if we had been in more contact as families, it would have been more possible to have a friendship outside of that connection—but at the level that has been plausible for us so far, it is so much about Cricket for me. I know that you’re a loving mother to him, and have never doubted your care and devotion—but wanting to hear about your life while at the same time longing to hear more about his just wasn’t working.

Catholics lack a holiday for apologizing and making amends—I think that we’re just supposed to feel guilty all the time. But while I think that things needed to change, at least a little, I wish that I had been able to express that with more grace and gentleness. You are, if you can excuse my talking like a Susie for a minute, a good dude: you deserve better than I was serving up. Of course it makes sense for you to rethink and take time to heal, and I won’t contact you again outside of an emergency for a good, long period. In some ways, we’re at the worst possible distance from one another: not like old college friends, able to shrug and walk away without any real pain, but not as close as sisters—I remember being made to sit on the couch and work things out with my sisters when we’d been fighting—and we really had to, because we’re tied for life. Talking out of my pain has never made me a worthwhile person to be around. For what it’s worth, I am slowly growing more patient and gentle—but God, too slowly.

Wishing you a winter filled with warmth and light.

Susie

So. We haven’t had any contact since (that was in December), and I couldn’t even decide whether to blog about it. My plan right now is to leave her alone until her birthday in July, and at that point mail her a card and a scarf that I’ve knitted and then leave her alone some more and see. I still feel okay about how I handled things this summer, and I know that there is a pattern in her life of relationships ending and her feeling betrayed either by that or by the circumstances leading up to that; I don’t expect that she’ll want to be in contact again in the future, and I think that that’s too bad, but I am mostly at peace with it. But I want to send a peace offering after a respectable period of time has passed.

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Easier Not To

I have a long post in my Drafts folder talking about how much I don’t ever want to tell Ruth and Nora about Joey’s diagnosis. I started it more than a month ago and keep going back to add to it, because I so, so much do not ever want to tell them. I am not interested in hearing what they have to say, and I don’t want them to treat my sweet kid differently. I’ve also felt angry at them, and that makes me not want to open up to them. But Mr. Book has thought all along that we should tell him, and I mostly know that he’s right but keep saying that I don’t care. He has given me veto power, so I’ve just been hanging out with my vague plan to not tell.

But then Ruth asked me, after two and a half hours of Facebook chat, a few questions that led me to a crossroads: Do I evade, lie, or disclose? I was angry that I had to tell her, but felt that I had to—evading would have gotten extremely weird very quickly, and I don’t want to lie. So I told her. She just asked a few questions—she wanted to know how badly off he is, but was trying to ask politely. She wanted to know his prognosis, and no one does. After we were done talking, I sent a message to Nora to let her know, pretty bluntly: but I don’t know what the flow of information between them is like, and I don’t want to have told one of them and not the other.

Ruth did tell me that Cricket has a cousin with disabilities, and that he already has some language around the idea that some people’s minds work differently, and some people’s bodies work differently.

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.

Closed Doors

I talked to my mother about her wondering whether “they will give him back” now that Ruth and Nora are splitting up. I tried to explain—“Not even if they set each other on fire would we get him back”—but she told me that if he wants to come live with us enough, and asks them enough, they will eventually send him when he’s a teenager or something. I want Cricket to be happy where he is; I don’t want him to be so miserable with his moms that he begs to leave them until they (maybe, possibly) decide to send him to live with us. But I can see why my mom doesn’t feel the same way.

My mother met Ruth and Nora briefly twice, when Cricket was coming up on six months old; when Cricket turned one, Ruth sent my mother a card telling her that while she was free to reach out if she wished, she would never see Cricket. (I haven’t read this card, but both women have talked to me about it.) So my mother has no picture of Cricket in his life as it exists—she sees him only as missing from her life and ours. She has sent him a book for his birthday every year, and while these are accepted (he showed us the most recent one over Skype), my mother never hears whether they were received. This isn’t unusual; nothing we send is ever acknowledged, not because it’s unwelcome, but because that’s just not something that Ruth does. (Nora made a comment once that indicated that Ruth [who handles all of their family correspondence] never sends thank-you notes or anything similar.) She sees a picture a few times a year, but since the only pictures I can show her are the ones Nora posts on Facebook (taken with her phone, candid, and almost never including either mom), she doesn’t ever get a clear picture of his full life with temple and daycare and family dinners. Heck, I don’t have too clear a picture myself, but I have a lot more to go on than my parents do.

Ruth has told me that they are tentatively planning to visit us at the end of April, when my parents will not coincidentally be in Greece; I know that if they can, they will visit us once a year here without ever so much as passing my parents in the doorway. If they can’t come when my parents are gone, they have said that they’d like to get a beach house or something similar and just meet us there. My mother has been staunchly opposed to the adoption from the start, and, being my mom, made some comments about driving up north and getting Cricket—one of these directly to Ruth. She is, no question, a walking, talking, challenging birth family situation. And I love her, and I wish that she could see her first grandson once in awhile.

In my dream scenario, Cricket will feel a part of both (all three?) families when he’s grown, and perhaps then he’ll get to meet the wealthy and slightly batty grandparents he never knew. My mother wrote in her only card to Ruth (which preceded the “no way, never, no how” card she got back) that she hoped that one day Cricket would be able to fly down and visit them—I had told her that it would never happen, more kindly I think than Ruth did, but she would truly love that. When I was twelve, I made a similar trip to see my grandmothers: I went to Disneyland, I saw Las Vegas, I went to the beach. Pretty exciting for a twelve-year-old living in South Carolina! I know that they’d do their damndest to show Cricket the time of his life (Disneyland, Legoland, many meals out), and my mother is a gracious hostess always. But when I put myself in Ruth’s shoes, I can’t imagine letting something like that happen. On the other hand, I know that it would only be possible after baby steps—like, say, coming for a visit when my mother is here and at least having tea together before we all beat feet for the coast. Not in this lifetime, probably.

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.”

Holy Crap

Ruth and Nora are matched! They haven’t told us, but I check the agency website almost every business day, and today they are gone. The urge to let Ruth know that I know is strong, but hopefully not as strong as my common-sense desire to hide the fact that I’ve been checking up on them.

FBC

I hate Facebook chat. In fact, I hate almost all kinds of instant messaging, but I especially hate Facebook chat because it doesn’t archive conversations, which is a must for broody broads like myself. I’ll happily chat with my immediate family, but anyone beyond that leaves me feeling like I need more time to prepare, worried and uncomfortable. But enough about my social anxiety: Ruth loves Facebook chat.

Ruth and I FB chatted once, long ago, at her request; Last week, she started up another, asking whether this was an okay way to contact me. I hadn’t heard from her in over a month, so of course the answer is yes: I have to adapt to this new and unpleasant medium. I like email—or even texts—since I have time to think about how to respond to things rather than having to immediately come up with something witty or wise or polite. Okay, polite isn’t hard, but you get me. We talked, and I’m glad, but I know that she would prefer for this to be our default, which is too bad.

But here’s what I learned: Cricket has an imaginary daughter named “Carpet” who seems very impulsive. Cricket has recently moved to a real bed, and it turns out that Carpet has trouble staying in bed at night.

This is also when she told me about the robot video and its fallout; she explicitly encouraged me (several times) to make more videos. It’s something I’m nervous about, but I’ll comply: this week I will narrate a video of Mr. Book getting his hair cut, probably. Most likely, I will take several—at the market, at the park—and let them duke it out, choosing the one in which I say the fewest dopey things.