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Archive: 2013

Adventures in Adoption, or, And So It Goes

It started slowly, a couple of months ago. An offhand question about mommies and daddies. Another a few days later about China. Yet another about his China mommy. What started as a trickle has turned into a flood, and there’s no stemming the tide.

I knew this day was coming, and I really, really believed I was prepared for it. Like everything else about adoption, however, no matter how much you think you know, there is always something waiting in the wings to bitch slap you back into reality. I *did* know we were living in The Bubble. In fact, the minute I first held Jack in my arms, the one perfectly clear realization I had was that we had started the countdown. I had a finite amount of days before adoption conversations would begin creeping in. The halcyon days when I could pretend he was only ever mine. Before you call in the adoption police, please know that yes, we’ve always told him his story. He’s always known he lived in an orphanage, and he’s always known he had a China Mommy and Daddy. He’s seen pictures of his old nannies and the room where he used to sleep. We haven’t kept anything from him, it’s just that he’s old enough now to begin to process things. And it’s hard. Harder for me, I think, than for him.

It’s no surprise that it’s coming up now. A mommy of one of his friends just had a baby, as did one of his teachers. There’s been a LOT of talk about babies growing in tummies. I’ve always fallen back on the sweet (albeit a bit trite) “You grew in Mommy’s heart”, and so far, that’s been good enough. As the questions get more complicated, I know that it won’t be quite so easy (not that it’s easy now). There is a phrasebook with which all adoptive parents come equipped. We learn the language of adoption through classes, books, message boards, other adoptive parents. We arm ourselves with platitudes like “All families are different”, “We chose you”, “You needed a family, and we need a baby” (for the record, I’m not a fan of that one). For the most part, these are good thoughts. Positive thoughts (and we always, always keep adoption communication positive). The problem is, they’re not enough. At least they won’t always be.

I’m not in any hurry to open up lengthy conversations about Jack’s family of origin. Right now, it pops up unexpectedly, even as his questions increase in frequency. We were sitting at the dinner table the other night and this is what followed:

Jack: I want to adopt a baby when I get bigger. I want to go to China.
Mommy and Daddy: Um, okay. If you want to do that when you grow up I think that’s great!
Jack: Mommy, you can teach me how.

Okay. Fairly benign. Much easier to handle than the whispered “First Mommy” questions that invariably arise at bedtime. But then yesterday there was this:

(We lay our fair scene in my bathroom, where I am going potty at 6:40 AM, having just arisen and not yet having access to caffeine)

Jack (bum rushing my closed bathroom door, because really, closed doors mean NOTHING to small children): What color is tiger poop? (Because hello? He’s a four year old boy child, and his world revolves around poop. Just ask Aunt Jen.
Me: Um, probably brown.
Jack: Mommy, why won’t you ever run out of cuddles for me? (I tell him 100 times a day that I’ll never run out of hugs, kisses, and cuddles)
Me: Because my arms were made to cuddle you. (Best I could do on 5 hours of sleep and no caffeine).
Jack: Why didn’t my other mommy cuddle me? (POW. Straight to the gut).
Me: She did, baby, right after you were born. She was the very first one to cuddle you.
Jack: Okay. Do you think whale poop is rainbow colored?

See? Out of nowhere, slashing at my insides, then gone as quickly as it starts. Bloodless but still acutely painful. There’s no time to prepare thoughtful, well-constructed answers, either; no, these things need to be faced head-on right in the moment. I don’t have the luxury of saying “Well, let me talk to your father and figure out the best thing to say to you. Let’s stick a pin in it and come back, m’kay?”. I also have to constantly remind myself to keep it simple. He’s four. One day, our discussion will evolve to include gender inequality and one child policies and even abandonment, but for now, short answers suffice.

I’m not gonna lie. There is SO MUCH I’m screwing up. Instead of a 401(k) I’ve set up an account to cover his future therapy bills (not really, but now that I’m thinking about it….) Like every parent, I’m trying my best to do the right thing at the right time. For me, that means never, EVER dodging the question, no matter how hard it is for me. And it IS hard. Not because I feel inferior as his second mommy, although there is an element of proving myself worthy of this amazing child, but because it will be hard for HIM. He will inevitably face the asshole kid at school who says shit like “You’re ADOPTED??? Why didn’t your real mom want you?” or who posts stupid, stupid crap on Facebook like the “You’re adopted” picture of the wailing little girl. I also want him to always, always feel comfortable and safe asking his questions. I want our conversations to happen organically, initiated by him, guided by me.

For now, I hold to our small truths. I *did* choose him. My love for him grew in my heart. I didn’t carry him inside of me, but he carries my heart. And so it goes.


Judgy McJudgerpants

I try SO hard to avoid the whole “Mommy Wars” thing. I firmly believe in “to each his own”, I really, really do, mostly because there’s nothing that bothers me more than being the one who’s under scrutiny. In the past week, however, two articles have made it onto my radar and stirred my judgy juices (full disclosure, I have PMS, so my judgy juices could just as easily be stirred by a lack of chocolate and Fritos. Shut up. Don’t judge).

The first article I read was this one, in which a total douchebag spouted off how angry he is that his wife is having twins. Proof that he knew how much of a douche he was being? He published the article under a pseudonym. Yep. He was prepared for the backlash. It’s not that he was fearful or unsure of growing his family; nope, he was PISSED (his words). He’s also mad that they’re not having a girl. And that the new babies may be colicky, thus interrupting his sleep. Now, if he had written about feeling inadequate or ill-prepared I could have totally thrown this guy a bone. I get feeling overwhelmed. I can completely empathize about being scared. I, too, hate midnight colic with a passion. But angry? No. I don’t get that one.

Before you’re all “But Merrin, everybody is entitled to their own emotions”, or just in case you only skimmed the article, let me fill you in: He and his wife CHOSE this. They pursued IVF and CHOSE to have two embryos implanted. They KNEW they only have a one bedroom apartment. They were fully aware that they were actively trying to conceive. They paid a doctor to make it happen. This guy makes it sound like the Pregnancy Fairy showed up in the middle of the night and sprinkled magic baby dust on his wife against her will. He admits that he struggles with his three year old son who “inherently know that crying pushes our buttons”. Gee. I wonder why. I’m fairly certain that just about every parent can tell you that our children are the most accurate reflection of ourselves. Sure, kids can and will act out, but every Mommy knows the feeling of looking at her kiddo and seeing our best and worst selves reflected right back at us.

And just in case you feel I’m being a tad too harsh, allow me to present Exhibit A:

“We considered a reduction for about 30 seconds. (That’s essentially an abortion of one twin, not both.) If you thought that IVF involved playing God, a reduction felt beyond brazen — Machiavellian, even. Give us a reason, we thought, as we had the twins tested for genetic anomalies. None came.”

What. The. Holy. Hell. This has absolutely nothing to do with my stand on reproductive rights. This guy was actively wishing for a reason to abort one of his unborn children, PRAYING for genetic anomalies. Who does that???? God help these kids when they’re old enough to Google. The internet is forever, bro, and Karma? She is a bitch.

He says that having children is a selfish venture, and with that I can wholeheartedly agree. Jack certainly did not ask to have us as his parents; we chose him, entirely without his consent. Selfish? You bet. I’m okay with that. The difference is that I WANTED my child. Desperately. What I can’t wrap my head around is the concept that this couple SAYS they wanted their children, and yet has only horrible things to say about not just the unborn ones, but the one they already have.

While I have my big fat judgy pants on, allow me to shift to the other article I read that got me going, albeit in a completely different direction. This dad makes a wonderful case for having only one child (maybe Douchebag of the Year should’ve taken notes). He knows what works best for his family, but the problem is the constant feeling he has to defend it. We’ve all felt that way, whether we have a brood of 5 or we’re one and done. Everybody has an opinion (says the girl with the judgy pants on).

I would never presume to tell anybody else what works best for their family. You want 3 kids? As long as you can love and nurture and support all three, then go for it. You don’t want any? Awesome. Chose IVF? I’m sure it was the right choice for you. Adoption? Love it. Only want dogs? Great (but again, adoption is a great option here, too). However you want to make a family (or not) is totally up to you and none of my damn business. I promise I won’t criticize you for choosing formula over the breast, for opting for CIO vs. attachment parenting, or for feeding your snowflakes candy for breakfast (I probably *will* judge you if your kids are ill-behaved little monsters, though. Fair warning). I will eagerly look at pictures of your dogs because I know they can be your kids, too.

This guy’s article stirred something in me. I have sat in the seat of the judged, and it sucks. Not long after we brought Jack home, someone told us that he needed a sibling. That it was unfair to him to be an only. That he would be spoiled. That he wouldn’t be social. That he would suffer when he was an adult. I pointed out that he would have SO MANY opportunities to do wonderful things like travel (the response? And I quote: “I bet you know a lot more people with brothers and sisters than have been to Europe”. Um, no). Keep in mind that this came from a family member. We hadn’t even been home for a month, and already I was being judged. I still had jetlag, I already knew I was fucking up, and yet this is what I have to hear. It sucked. I hated knowing that someone thought I was inferior, especially because I felt so inferior already.

I realize my latter points are completely contrary to my former (“Don’t judge me! I’m totally judging you!”). I’m okay with that. Again, I have PMS (WHERE ARE MY FRITOS????), so I’ll blame it on mood swings. Yes, I totally judged DoucheDad. Part of me wants to be able to call him brave for putting his fears out there, but then the rational me kicks me in the head and says shut up. If he were brave, he’d face this head on with fear instead of anger. If he were brave, he would’ve admitted that maybe, just maybe, he didn’t want any more children. Maybe, though, he felt pressure and judgement from family and friends to have one more. To be a “whole” family. To give his first son a sibling. He said himself that he and his wife both have siblings and they wanted their child to have that experience, too. Maybe that desire came from hearing whispered voices telling him that’s what’s socially normal. I’m not betting on it, however. I think he’s just a whiny little asshole.

None of us like to be judged. We’re all scared we’re screwing up our kids. The mistakes I make every day are epic. The one card I can play here, though, is that I can fully own the choices that I make for and about my family. I’ve never ONCE complained that I was angry that I had a child. And I’ve never been anything other than grateful that I have a little miracle who calls me “Mommy”. I chose parenthood. So did that guy. One of us got the memo that being a parent means being a grown up, and it sure wasn’t him.

Adventures in Adoption, or, Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Why, hello there, Grief. We meet again. I’ve written about you before, but it was so very long ago that I’d forgotten you existed. Maybe “forgotten” is the wrong word. I chose to pretend you’d never darken my door again. I banished you by sheer force of will. I smothered my child in everything the experts said he needed to achieve a healthy attachment. And yet here you are, the most unwelcome houseguest I’ve ever had the displeasure of hosting, and bonus! You’ve brought along your good friend Anxiety.

You’re no stranger to this house. I’ve hosted you a few times in the past. I know how to kick your ass back to Hell where you come from, so I don’t stress too much when you show up for me. I’m 37, and I have some coping skills. My three year old doesn’t, though, so I’m sure even YOU can understand why I’m a little bit peeved that you’re here.

Mommies everywhere know what I’m talking about: you’d do absolutely anything to protect your child from *any* kind of harm. You’d step in front of a moving train if you had to. Yeah, I can’t do that. I’ve tried. There is absolutely nothing I can do to release the grip that Grief has on my child. I can’t keep Anxiety from waking him up screaming in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, time, consistent routine, and love are the only things I can offer, and thank God, they seem to be working.

Everything has been going along swimmingly for the past couple of years. Jack has adjusted beyond our wildest expectations, and he’s the brightest light in our lives. “Happy” doesn’t even begin to describe the joy with which this child experiences life. He laughs loudly and often, and with his whole being. He gives and receives affection so freely that he puts the rest of us to shame. He even wants to hug the lizards on the back porch. When his friends are having a bad day, he’s the first in line to offer a shoulder. At three, he already stands up for social injustices. I mean, he’s not marching on Washington or anything, but he does try to mediate on the playground when kids need a little help sharing or taking turns. He’s crazy good at it, too. He’s smart as a whip, hilarious, compassionate, mischievous in the best possible way, curious, energetic, fun, sweet, loving, playful, and a whole lot of other adjectives. He’s the easiest child on the planet: he behaves in public, always uses his manners, and is unfailingly respectful.

I got too comfortable. I forgot that I have to constantly walk the tightrope, balancing between normal childhood behaviors and ghosts of his first life. I knew that they would never be completely vanquished, but I really thought that as he got older they would be easier to deal with. I assumed that as he began to communicate, he’d be able to voice his fears and frustrations. And maybe, one day, that will be the case. Right now, it’s not. He’s sad. Scratch that. He’s not sad. He’s heartbroken. He’s grieving. He’s anxious. And he’s not quite sure why. I know why, though, so at least there’s that.

He had a wonderful Christmas. He got to spend lots of time with lots of family. He got a TON of one-on-one time with Grandma. He was the center of the universe for a little while. And then everybody left. Kevin’s work schedule went a little wonky. The routine was shot to hell, and my child’s sense of stability went with it.

It’s a bit easier to write about now, almost a week after we’ve come through the worst of it. If you’d have asked me last week I would have broken down in tears. I spent the past two weeks crying, actually. When you haven’t slept in seven days and you have to pick your child up from school (twice) because HE can’t stop crying (for no reason, or so sayeth his teachers, but I know the truth), then yeah, you’re prone to tears. I actually had to call my mother last weekend so she could talk to my child who could only wail the word “GRAAAAAANDMAAAAAA”. He couldn’t say anything else. Seriously. That was it. The day before? It was “DAAAAAAADDDDDDY”. From midnight to 3AM, without fail, the screaming would start. Inconsolable grief would haunt my child’s sleep, and he was powerless to fight it. During the day he was gripped with such free-floating anxiety that all he could do was flit from one activity to the next every two minutes (SO unlike him. He usually has laser focus and knows *exactly* what he wants to do). He couldn’t concentrate on anything at all. Exhaustion has ruled this house since the holidays.

We’ve navigated these waters before; he went through some fairly heavy separation anxiety back in the fall because of a staffing upheaval at his school, which in turn affected his daily routine for a few weeks. We had a couple of rough nights and emotional mornings, but other than that it was pretty typical. I even congratulated myself on being so prepared. Ha. Ha ha ha. NOTHING prepared me for the past couple of weeks.

Thankfully, things have started to settle down a bit. Jack managed to sleep in his own bed (nightmare-free) last night, which hasn’t happened since my mother was here. The routine is firmly back in place: school is back to its regular post-holiday schedule, Daddy is home every night and on the weekends, and there are plenty of hugs and cuddles to go around. I’ve started using a calendar every day with him so he knows what’s coming up, from dentist appointments to his birthday, from Valentine’s Day to Grandma’s next visit from Texas—as well as the day she leaves to go back there. We’re all on the emotional mend.

The lesson I’ve learned is this: Trust the experts when they say that anxiety in a post-institutionalized child will always come back, even when the child can’t communicate why he feels sad or anxious. I will trust my own instincts and experience. I will allow my child to feel sad without judgement, but I will also provide him the tools he needs to cope. And I will not take my child’s everyday happiness for granted again. I know all the usual platitudes apply: Kids are resilient. Love conquers all. Those things are true, and when I don’t feel like my emotional health has gone 12 rounds with Pacquiao I’ll jump back into the Positivity Pond with both feet. A friend recently told me that I live a fairy tale life. I don’t quite agree with that. I AM incredibly blessed with so many, many things (or as Jack would say “many many MANY things!”), but it’s times like these that remind me that there is Darkness in every life, even mine. It’s how you choose to deal with the Darkness that defines you.

The first verse of the above-referenced song has been on repeat in my brain for a while, but I *think* I’ve kicked Darkness and Anxiety to the curb, at least for now. I’ll be a bit more vigilant in the future, though. I know Kevin feels some guilt on the extremely rare occasion work takes him away for a little while, but like I told him, we can’t stop living our lives. We just have to learn how to hit the curve balls.

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