Power and Responsibility

A long time ago, I (gently) crashed a car. My sister Tammy was driving me home from college, and she stopped at a gas station to get a drink. She left the car running, and I waited in the passenger seat. After several minutes, since the car was pretty low on gas, I decided that I should turn off the car. I carefully turned the key, and the car smoothly, gracefully, began to roll backwards—right out of the parking lot, across the street, and into a stop sign. As the car drove itself, drunken teens in the parking lot whooped and laughed as I looked frantically for a STOP button. No such luck!

The police came, heard my terrified explanation, pushed the stop sign back into place, and left. Tammy was pretty irritated with me, but the car was unhurt, so we just went home.

Nine days ago, I got my driver’s license.

It would be a bit of a stretch to say that I have mastered driving a stick shift, but I have been sent on errands and returned triumphant; when Mr. Book comes to visit in October, although he thinks my father will be picking him up from the airport, in fact the boys and I will surprise him there. I haven’t taken the boys on any real adventures yet (although Joey did come with me to buy a pie for his granddad), but that is so possible now. Like, right now, I could stop writing this blog post and go drive a car. I wonder if this is how gun owners feel (only, uh, just the empowerment, minus the violence).

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Roundtable #48: Why Has or Hasn’t Openness Worked for You?

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 listed at Open Adoption Bloggers 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. The prompts are meant to be starting points–please feel free to adapt or expand on them.

In her OAB blog post this week, Kat Cooley wondered if there is some way to predict whether (adoptive and first) parents entering into open adoptions truly understand the importance of openness and are really committed to doing what they can to make it work. She asked readers to comment on what drives them to maintain their open adoption relationships. It sparked some great–still ongoing–conversation in the comments section. I encourage you to read the post and comments for yourself.

Reader Racilous suggested that we continue the conversation in a roundtable, which I thought was a great idea. (And for those of you who left comments on Kat’s column, you already have your roundtable post started!). In Racilous’ words:

Why has or hasn’t openness worked for you?

If you are in a healthy functional open adoption, why do you think it’s working? If it doesn’t work, why do you think it stopped working? Do you think the success or failure was about education and expectations going in? Do you think it was that your personalities matched or clashed? Do you think there is something you do or did during the relationship that kept it going or was there a certain point that it changed the relationship from bad to good? Was it a mixture of all of these things?

What a strange and appropriate time for me to get this prompt; Mr. Book and I are in the middle of a long conversation about whether to tell Ruth and Nora that we may need to officially switch to a semi-open adoption (I say officially because Mr. Book contends that we are already in a semi-open adoption). I’ve also been working on a message to them about this, which is a much-gussied-up version of: You break promises to us over and over again. That sucks, but we can deal with it. But once Kit is old enough to notice (being as Joey doesn’t care at all), if you’re still not doing what you say you will, we’re done. Send us pictures if you feel like following through on that part of the agreement at some point, and we’d appreciate an email once or twice a year about how Cricket’s doing; we will send him birthday and Christmas gifts, and will make sure that you have our contact information. But that’s it. I will stop writing to him, we will stop badgering you to Skype, don’t visit us, don’t contact our children, and don’t help Cricket contact us.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever send that message. If I did, we would still talk to Joey and Kit about Cricket—we’d say that his parents aren’t able to make a relationship work right now, but that we can try to get to know him when he’s grown up. Or something like that. Even if we do decide to pull back, there’s probably no need for an announcement: If I stop nagging, I am confident that contact will dry up entirely. The other night, I got a text message from Ruth containing a question from Cricket, and I was just angry—contact only happens when it is useful and convenient for them. Please, interject yourself into my evening and then vanish again for months. No, really, feel free. (I answered the question and was friendly.) I could run down a list of broken promises from them, but really, what is the point? They cover all the bases, from visits to contact to photos to Skype.

The most likely outcome, I think, is that I will send a message that—if there is an assertiveness scale from 1–10, and if the last message was a 2—is more like a 4 or 5. Here are things you have promised to do and failed to do, here are my concerns, I can imagine that in a year or two we may end up mostly cutting contact with you because of this and because of Kit and Joey.

How did we get to this point? Well, I don’t think Ruth and Nora think that we have a failing open adoption, so this is just to note that they would give a hugely different answer from mine and ours. But I would say that when we all agreed that we wanted to be like family, it would have helped to know that Ruth has cut off most of her family; since the adoption happened, she has also ended her marriage, and her best friend has ended the friendship. She doesn’t seem able to sustain relationships, and ours has lasted this long only because we want so desperately to have a connection to her son—but as that feels less and less likely, we too are thinking about walking away. I still believe that Nora never wanted an open adoption, and sometimes wonder whether she ever wanted to be a parent.

Free to Be

It’s bothered me and my husband for years now that Ruth seems disappointed in Cricket’s stereotypically male interests and delighted by his stereotypically female interests; recently she posted on Facebook about how thrilled she is that he wants nail polish and sparkley headbands. This bugs me probably more than it should—she has been discouraged and eye-rolly about the fact that he loves trucks, but brags on Facebook about the fact that he loves his pink rain boots. I don’t think I’m a gender traditionalist: Joey has trucks and dolls; sometimes he likes to dress up and be fancy, and I think that’s adorable; we’re getting him a play kitchen for his birthday. But I also think it’s great that he loves smashing block towers, and that he loves to paint, and that he thinks his toy dump truck is amazing. If he wants a dress at some point, we’ll get him a dress. Of course there are things he likes that I’m not thrilled about, but these are interests like kicking the walls and screaming at his sleeping brother. It bothers me that Ruth has an investment either way. When Joey cuddles his baby doll, I don’t feel more accomplished as a parent and a liberal. I probably will feel a little discouraged the first time he pretends to be using a gun, but I know that that kind of play is pretty common; Ruth told me at the visit in April that Cricket is interested in guns, and that she blames us, because she certainly hasn’t done anything to end up with a boy who likes guns.

I want whoever the kids are to be okay with the people raising them. If Cricket winds up, I don’t know, working as an auto mechanic, I don’t want Ruth to be more unhappy than she would be if he were a florist. At the same time, I worry that I’m speaking out of hetero privilege here—that I sound like the smug married-to-a-man lady explaining that my kids can be anything they want to be. Says A: Feminism is about allowing people to make choices and respecting the choices that they make. Says B: But their choices are constrained. Being happy as a clam as an auto mechanic may mean that Cricket happens to make choices that please the patriarchy, but those choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Maybe florist is more likely to be a free choice, seeing as he is so pushed by the world in the other direction. Ah, argues A: but if his mother is shoving him toward florist, is that better than The Man pushing him at mechanic?

I don’t know. Maybe. But I don’t like it.

Grump

I’ve been too angry to blog; that’s the ugly truth of it. I’ve been waiting to hear back about pictures and about the visit, and the longer I wait, the angrier and more certain that they aren’t coming I get. Yes, I know that Ruth has a lot going on right now—at the same time, I know she’s on Facebook often, and I know that it would take maybe ninety seconds to write “Things are nuts right now—can I get back to you next week?” Of course, that would imply that I’d be hearing from her in another week, which is pretty optimistic. I’m fuming, more or less, which is both unattractive and not super useful. I suppose I’ll try again after Easter—we do at some point need to know whether they’re planning to come here this month. And of course that second attempt will be polite and chatty, because they’ve got us over a barrel forever.

See? You don’t want to hear this.

I have started thinking more seriously about circumstances under which I would close the adoption, or mostly close it; I know that there’s no good solution for birth siblings, but if Joey comes to feel jerked around and heartbroken by the inconsistency of contact, I can definitely see myself sending a letter to the effect of: If Cricket wants to get in touch, he should feel free. Otherwise, don’t contact us, and you won’t hear from us. Maybe we’d keep sending Cricket a birthday present? That might be a good idea. I know we’re a ways away from that, but I can see it from where we’re standing. On the other hand, it’s hard to predict how Joey and the Possum will feel about the relationship; I realize that when I think ahead to it, I’m thinking of our relationship to Cricket, or children with deadbeat dads whose mothers I know. Not the same thing at all, for sure.

It’s just so weird to have this one part of my life that’s crappy all the time, no matter what else is going on. I’m looking at shorts for Joey online and really officially waddling now, and things are pretty good—oh, except for this one thing that keeps me up at night that probably won’t ever get much better. Right.

Anyway. This carping seems to be all that I have for the blog right now, so I’ll try again later, when perhaps I have news or a little sunshine.

Janine Asks

Holy Crap is right. How are you feeling about it?

Let me lay out a timeline. Just over a week ago, I sent Ruth this email:

Last summer, I wrote and asked whether we could talk about how the adoption’s going, what you like and don’t like, things you’d like to change; you suggested that it wasn’t a good time because things were about to change. I suppose that’s still true. On the other hand, I think things are going to keep changing for as far into the future as I can see—both of our families are growing, we plan to move at some point—so I thought I’d see whether you might be willing to have the conversation.

I feel like there are a few areas where I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing. I stopped emailing because email no longer seemed like a good medium for you, and I was finding it discouraging to write and not hear back. You seem to prefer Facebook chat—but how often do you want to talk? I don’t feel right initiating several times in a row. It makes me feel like I’m bothering you (it’s clear that we want more contact than you do). And I’m happy to wait to hear from you, but I don’t know whether your ideal would be talking twice a month or twice a year, and I wish that I did. How about Skype? Would you like to talk once a month, once every three months, only around birthdays? —I’m not asking these questions in order to hold you to some kind of schedule, but so that I can adjust my own expectations and have some sense of what you think is reasonable. I’d also like you to clarify something that happened on Skype: Cricket asked me why we moved to California, and you jumped in and answered—and your answer was extremely nonspecific (“Sometimes people move”). If he asks me questions, what kinds do you prefer I not answer? I don’t want to violate any of your rules for him, but that instance caught me off guard. And if you have other things you’d like to share your thinking on, or hopes for, or what have you—I’d like to hear from you about them.

To my surprise, she wrote back quickly, saying that she wants more contact but that it just hasn’t been working out. I’m somewhat skeptical of this—after three years, I think we can tell how much contact you want based on how much you’ve reached out (very little)—but it’s a nice thing to say, and I spent a few days brooding over what this might mean for the future. She was positive and reassuring, but she hasn’t followed up with any attempts to chat or Skype or schedule anything, so I don’t know how much the email will really affect things.

And then, the day before Thanksgiving, I found out that they are matched.

Not from them, mind you: I check their agency website almost every business day, and Wednesday, they were gone. When they were matched with us, they didn’t get pulled from the website until pretty close to my due date, and I know that their agency prefers to match in the third trimester, so they may very well be getting a baby for Christmas. Now I’m trying to figure out whether Ruth’s email was just intended to make sure that we won’t contact the agency and make trouble for them. (Not that we ever have or would—even if things get quite bad, we don’t feel that we have any allies there.) I am angry, and I don’t need it pointed out to me how hypocritical that is: I am angry at them for hiding the fact that they are expecting even as I am hiding the fact that we are expecting. I feel like I have better reasons than they do, but of course I feel that way. I keep imagining ways to ask them fairly passively to see how many times she’ll lie to me. This is not healthy. I think about dramatically revealing everything: “I know you were angry to hear about my pregnancy last time, but perhaps the fact that you are matched right now will make this one easier for you.” Equally healthy, I know. I’m just fuming to myself (largely over little things, like: “They last said that they might visit in January; they might not visit at all next year now, and they should tell us”) and trying to figure out whether/when/why to reach out to them again at some point. I hate the idea that my anger might make them feel validated in not telling us—to be fair, I would not express it to them the way they did to us when they found out about Pete.

Part of my upset, too, is that I’m upset that they are adopting again; we have had a pretty unhappy experience in our relationship with Ruth and Nora, and I don’t want that to happen to anyone else. (Too bad!) I know that it’s not something I have any kind of control over, and I shouldn’t have, but it’s still distressing to think about. Maybe they’ll wind up with someone who wants a closed adoption and it will be a much better match. I hope they don’t like this new child better; they sometimes seem not to like Cricket very much (although there is no question of their love). I know that can happen—my own parents very clearly like one of their children less than the others, while loving us all.

God, maybe I am having a parallel experience to theirs. This is empathy that I don’t want.

My Own Bump

Just over a week ago, my mother decided to start telling people that I’m pregnant. I am, okay, certainly past the twelve-week mark now, and she was mystified to discover that I was enraged. Even now, I’m not sure that she knows why I was so angry. No, I know that she doesn’t understand; but we’ve moved past it, and I’m unlikely to explain and thereby get mad all over again.

In some ways it is my own fault—she told me that she had told her stepsister, a woman I haven’t spoken with in years, and since she seemed apologetic, I told her that it was okay—it’s not like I will ever see this woman. But she apparently took this to mean, “Please, Mrs. B, tell everyone you can reach—what exciting gossip! And tell people Susie sees on a regular basis: Why would she want to handle that herself?” And she told people in a way that made it clear that she was just gossiping, and I was incredibly mad, told her to knock it off, and contacted the people she had told to ask them to please not spread the news yet because we aren’t and my mother just had a wild hair up her hinder and no sense of the appropriate. (Okay, I just thought that last part.) I am not ready to talk to people about the pregnancy, which is unfortunate, because I look pregnant and a half. Some of my reaction is I think fair—my mother cannot for the life of her understand what “Not your place” or “Not your business” might mean, and when that runs up against my private life, it makes me crazy. But there’s another piece to my anger that seems blog relevant.

The last time I was pregnant here, my family mostly pretended that I wasn’t pregnant until I lost my son. I was right here, in this house, and being back here and pregnant is more emotionally complicated than I had expected. I’m not talking about the pregnancy—I’m mostly dismayed about already having a bump. I’m glad about the little Possum, no question; I talk to him and take my vitamins and look forward to meeting him. But it’s all intensely private for me, which makes my mom’s chatty spree feel like “You’ll never guess what happened in Susie’s vagina!!!” Whoa, mom. Not cool.

I’ve got to find a way to think differently about the pregnancy, because I know from experience that a pregnancy isn’t entirely private—even when I was pregnant with Cricket and feeling weirdly invisible here, strangers at grocery stores would smile and hold doors for me. People can tell—if not now, then soon. (I am wearing baggy tops most of the time, but if I wear something that fits, voici la bump.) And they don’t think of the belly as a secret vagina thing (reasonable!), and so won’t pretend that they can’t see it. I will be asked rude questions; my mother will, uninvited, touch my stomach. Unless I flip my lid, that will happen a lot.

Don’t

I have a cousin who is a foster parent; I hadn’t realized until yesterday that she is hoping to adopt a baby girl—and she is fostering one right now. She expressed a plea via Facebook that the girl’s mother would fail to get her back, and I (politely) challenged her. She hasn’t responded, but I’m still quietly fuming. (She doesn’t know about Cricket, I don’t think.)

I know that foster care is differently important from private infant adoption—and I know that in general, if people lose custody of their kids to CPS, it’s because of their own actions (or inactions). And I agree that if parents are unable to care for their children, those children are better off being cared for by other people. But praying for a family to be broken up, especially in a semi-public venue? It makes me angry. If this baby girl does end up needing foster parents, I’m glad that my cousin and her husband already love and want her; but that doesn’t mean that it would be a blessing for this child to lose her parents. We’ve all heard it a hundred times—adoption should be about providing homes for children, not providing children for homes.

Just a tiny rant today. Joey’s metamorphosis into toddler is proceeding at an alarming pace, and I’ll talk about that later this week—but not in this post. It’s a joyful thing, and doesn’t belong here.