Archive for December, 2008

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reunion

December 31, 2008

I don’t really have a year-end wrapup because it doesn’t yet seem like the end of a year. I could write about hair, because it’s the anniversary of the coils I made in Lee’s hair that have almost all almost entirely grown into locs. I could write more about Ezra and the conversations we’ve been having about him and what we think will happen once we see his file. And both those thoughts bring me to adoption photolistings, how I’m disturbed by how much whitewashing is involved in styling black kids’ hair and in describing all the children’s interests in gender normative terms.

Instead, though, I’m going to stick closer to home. Lee talked to her birthmom Leah a few nights ago and asked if I could call Leah to talk about their family history and the story of Lee’s adoption and get to know Leah. Tonight I plan to make that first phone call. I’m excited, but a little bit scared.

Because of the barriers Lee has put up over the years, she doesn’t want anything more than a casual relationship with Leah, but she also simultaneously wants more of a connection especially as we get closer to actually adopting. Lee’s always told Leah about me, sent my regards, but we’ve never talked and our plans to meet up this fall fell through and have been postponed until spring sometime. Lee and Leah talk every few months but haven’t seen each other in many years.

The thing I can’t really ask about or can’t ask about directly is how it felt to Leah to be part of a coercive adoption, because no one involved denies that it was one. It wasn’t anything like baby buying and it’s clear that Lee wasn’t being parented appropriately and needed something else, but there was an agreement by all of Lee’s bio grandparents that if Leah would relinquish custody they’d help facilitate (via money and more coercion, I assume) the divorce she wanted from Lee’s birth dad. I’m sure there was more to it than that, but maybe not. I don’t know and I may never know. I don’t think Lee wants to know, but she’s said she wouldn’t mind me knowing. It all gets very complicated.

I wasn’t alive then. I don’t know how hard it would have been for a (young, black) woman to get a contested divorce in the early ’60s. I don’t know whether the state would have considered neglect reason enough to separate Lee from Leah and if so whether familial care would have been considered appropriate or foster care would have been her only option.

I’m not sure Leah knows these things either and I know Lee doesn’t. I know Leah is glad to have a relationship with Lee, though, and excited about talking to me and knowing me directly. I’ve always let Lee mediate the relationship because I don’t want to overstep her boundaries. I’m glad to have the go-ahead, though, to finally get to know the woman who gave her her cheekbones and (according to Lee) her sense of humor and about half of her love of socializing and networking, which apparently came from both sides and is utterly alien to me.

I’m a researcher and data gatherer professionally and my nature is to keep mental data files on everyone and everything. It’s going to be hard not to fall into that mode when talking to Leah, but not too hard, since I mostly want to let her drive the conversation. I’m glad that I’ll be able to talk to her not as a researcher but as the woman who loves her daughter, as a hopeful potential parent looking for advice and information. I’m not just going to be learning new parts of a story I’ve wanted to know for a long time, but growing my family in the process. And I’m glad of that, but also glad that now that she’s 70+ I’ll be getting some of her stories into the mental databank so they can someday be passed on even when she isn’t around to tell them. Any suggestions from here would be welcome, though.

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full family!

December 28, 2008

I write this sitting with my cat on my lap! Lee and I took the dog out for a walk but weren’t getting any good signals about where our missing kitty might be. Since our neighbors on either side weren’t home to let us search their back yards (we’re on a corner, and all of us have fences) We climbed the crossbeams on our fence to look for likely hiding places.

As we were calling out his name, we heard a tentative mrrrrrrrow from somewhere. We kept up the call-and-response until I was able to identify a familiar brown blur under a white plastic lawn chair three doors down. That back yard was locked when I got there, though it’s just a chainlink fence and not tall wood like most of the rest of us have. I leaned over the gate and called while Lee stayed at our fence as a spotter and my brave little guy came right over so I could pet him and then stretched up so I could grab him, cradle him, cart him home. He was very thirsty but seems otherwise fine.

Once I’d gotten the cat fed, I called my brother to give him an update. He was still sounding bitter and angry, so I was careful to thank him again for what he did after he realized he’d lost our cat, putting food outside and letting us know promptly. “I’m the one who let him get lost,” he said. “Well, we found him, and that’s what matters.”

Lee doesn’t really feel as forgiving and insists on remarking about what a dumbass my brother is, but I’ve known him his whole life. He’s got major limitations but he does what he can and I want to respect that and support him as much as I can. He’s goofy and incredibly frustrating and annoying to me, but he’s my brother and I love him.

I also love this dear cat, who moved in with me and predates his bio (half?) brother, the only pet Lee and I got as a couple. Their mother is a Siamese cat and they got the chattiness characteristic of the breed, as well as their tendency to eat yarn and take bites out of clothes. I haven’t found an upside to his destruction of my handwork and underwear, but I was certainly grateful for his lung power tonight, that he was brave enough to let us know where he was and wise enough to know he belongs here at home. Now we can all relax.

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missing

December 28, 2008

Lee and I did make it to Columbus and spent last evening restaurant-hopping with consistently delicious results. This morning, though, we got a call from my brother, who was staying at our house to watch our pets: somehow in the night the back door had opened and the older and more timid of our two cats had slipped out.

I know I’ve talked about my brother and his mental issues before, especially when I was frustrated with him for annoying me on our Thanksgiving trip. His diagnoses include ADHD and sometimes bipolar disorder, but I never know whether they anywhere near fully explain what’s going on in his noggin. I’ve been asking him to watch our animals because I think it’s good for him to get our of our parents’ house and it’s a chance for him to behave responsibly.

Anyway, we’ve had little slip ups every time he’s been here, times he didn’t follow all the rules and as a result got his pizza stolen by our now-missing cat, times he didn’t shut the kitchen closet door and animals broke into the garbage can or bags of chips. I’ve always hung signs on the doors to remind him to close them tightly, but this time I thought he’d have learned.

This time I left him to do his job with no interference from me and he’s convinced he left the back door closed and locked with a key, which seems unlikely since this cat can bat some doors open but certainly can’t work locks. And I feel so bad for my little cat, hiding out in the cold somewhere. I’m hoping we’ll bring him home tonight but I don’t know. I was trying to do the right thing for everyone, but now my brother’s feeling guilty and self-hating (when he remembers to think about it) and Lee and I are regretful and worried and this poor sweet cat whose real name is Jasper is out there somewhere shivering and napping.

We’re lucky we have our scent hound who will help us look in the neighbor’s back yard when our neighbor gets home from watching football. She should be better than we are at tracking her fellow pet. But whether my brother was tired and confused, forgetful, maybe drunk, we probably won’t be asking him to come back and watch our animals again. And I’m sorry about that, because he’s good with animals and little children. He’s just not good enough at keeping track of them safely. I’d been really supporting his plan to get an apartment soon, probably with his girlfriend and her cat, but now I worry about that too. We’d thought about how to keep the cats safe and at home once we had a child here, but clearly not before. I guess this could be the rest of our lives. I’m not so sure how I feel about that.

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moving along

December 26, 2008

I should really have publicized this earlier, but tomorrow Lee and I are taking a mildly romantic getaway to Columbus, OH. We’ll be there all Saturday and Sunday. The plan is to go dancing Saturday night (her idea) and order room service since I’ve never done that (her again) and just generally to have a change of scenery for a little while. This is probably our last holiday season alone and so we’re treating ourselves to a weekend away where we don’t have to share a hotel room with anyone or sleep on anyone’s spare mattress or have much in the way of obligations. Part of the point of the trip was to see a good friend of mine who lives far away but has relatives in Columbus, but it sounds like his stomach bug will keep him from traveling. Anyhow, if by chance I have Columbus area mystery readers who’d like to meet up with is, just let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

Our laid-back Christmas day ended up being more social than expected. On Christmas eve, we took a bag of gifts to the family of the girls we mentor. Christmas morning was for sleeping in and then we gave our animals their presents. What we didn’t anticipate is that our next-door neighbor would stop by, so we talked to him about families and adoption and home renovation plans for a few hours. After that we managed to make it to Frost/Nixon, which was okay but not spectacular, then came home for a wonderful dinner and a chance to phone far-off family members.

My brother who stayed in town was spending Christmas with his girlfriend’s family, and when they found out Lee and I were home alone we ended up with an invitation to spend the evening with them. We went over after dinner and played a mini bowling game in the basement (their house is totally party central) and ended up sitting with my brother and his girlfriend and some of her family members for hours. The girlfriend’s sister-in-law was in the first class Lee ever taught and had nice things to say about it, and that SIL’s husband had known Lee when he was young and she was secretly dating a woman whose family lives across the street from where we were. It was a lot of fun, and by the time I drove home it wasn’t Christmas anymore.

So after all that, today’s my day to take it easy. Lee is napping on the couch. I just managed to singe off two patches of hair while starting a fire in our gas fireplace, but I’m finished crying and being pitiful. The hair around my ears was easy to trim and I’m just going to have to live with a few inches at the top of my head being messed up. I’ll take a bath later and do some deep conditioning of the hair to see if that will help, but for the first time in my life I may just have some heat-treated curls. It’s not worth going back to buzzing my hair over this and it’s not the end of the world. We’re all fine and happy and looking forward to a special weekend before I head back to work.

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another hospital story

December 22, 2008

When I was 15 and hospitalized to treat my depression, I was fairly numb at admission. I carried my pillow and little bag of contraband-free belongings up the elevator and was buzzed into the locked ward. While my parents were talking to the workers at the desk to make sure I’d been checked in properly, a girl came over and gave me a hug. I remember how strange the physical contact felt and how grateful I was.

I’ll call her Janelle. She was probably a little older than me but clearly mentally retarded, a tall black girl with thick braids who had some physical condition that left her back slightly bowed and made her shake. She hugged me and said hello and then her personal care assistant was at her side, moving her away from me and back to her room. At the time, I thought nothing of it. I was touched that she’d recognized my situation and welcomed me.

Janelle didn’t participate in all that we did, crafts and so on, and she had her PCA with her at all times. The girl who’d been in a month or so already — the tiny anorexic girl with a feeding tube she ripped out gorily in the lounge one night — said Janelle had been there longer than she had, though none of us really knew her story. “I have seizures,” she started telling us once in her slow and unsteady voice, “And this one time I had a really bad seizure…” and then one of the group leaders cut her off and said it wasn’t her turn to talk.

She had her birthday during the days I was there (17th? I don’t remember) and her room was filled with all the members of her extended family praying, celebrating, wishing her the best. Her room was full every day; she seemed to get more visitors than the rest of us combined. I remember being impressed by how clear it was that her family loved her and was committed to her even while she was separated from them by whatever was keeping her in the hospital.

Janelle hugged me again when I left after my few days of confinement, but I still didn’t know her story. I didn’t really know anyone’s stories, just the little parts they’d wanted to share or been unable to hide thanks to feeding tubes or stitched and bandaged arms. It was several months later when I was reading the paper that I found out more about Janelle. I was reading the local section of the newspaper, something I didn’t usually do, and one story jumped out at me.

There had been a court decision and while the juvenile involved wasn’t named, I knew it couldn’t be anyone but Janelle. Apparently in the early fall she had indeed had a bad seizure in which she managed to kill her grandmother. I never saw any signs of aggression in Janelle when I knew her and the newspaper didn’t make it sound like there had been intent to harm, but she’d somehow had a knife and whatever misfirings were going on in her brain and her grandmother ended up dead. Janelle was sent to River City Children’s Hospital to be held until the matter could be adjudicated. It finally was, and as I recall she was released to her family with the condition that she’d need psychiatric monitoring.

That was all the newspaper could tell me. It didn’t talk about the way her family had supported her through what must have been their absolute heartbreak. I was impressed by their dedication to her before I even knew that they were simultaneously dealing with loss and grief. Once I knew more of the truth, I was of course more moved by their love.

I think of this family often when I’m reading foster/adoption blogs, reading about people trying to get help for their mentally ill children. I think about how lucky Janelle was that she ended up in an excellent children’s hospital rather than in a jail somewhere, how lucky she was that her family remained nurturing and supportive, how lucky they were as what seemed to me probably a working class family to be able to get their child the help she needed even though clearly help came too late. From reading other news articles about other mentally or physically ill children in River City, I doubt Janelle could easily have gotten the level of care she did if she hadn’t been considered a criminal during her stay in the unit.

There is something so wrong with the way we treat mental illness, the way we deal with illness in general. (I think of this constantly when reading about how little Quinn is sick enough to need a kidney transplant very soon, but apparently not sick enough to prepare for it now and how difficult it has been to get funding for now-adult Annie to be in necessary treatment for her traumatic brain injury rather than at home where she’s a danger to her sister.) I’m so impressed by people like Kari and Brenda McCreight who are able to be activists and advocates on top of being parents to special needs kids, but there’s so much more that needs to be done and I often feel unsure how I can help. At a baseline, though, beyond the political side of things, I strive to be as unconditionally loving as Janelle’s family and as many of the families I read about in blogs.

I wish I had a way to end this post, but I don’t. I don’t know what I’m getting into in parenting; no one totally does. And no one wants to live through what these families do, but these families do live through it and there needs to be more support for them before a crisis, during a crisis, after a crisis. Things need to change and change for the better. Almost 15 years after Janelle had to go to court, I don’t know what would happen to a child in her situation in River City or on our side of the river. Some things are better I’m sure, but not all, and so many things need to change.

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Class of ’08

December 19, 2008

I’m in a celebratory mood today. I’m still working Monday and Tuesday, as is Lee, but the weekend is almost here! And tonight we’ll have an actual date night, dinner and a concert. It’s a local band I followed in high school who’ve done an annual Christmas concert for 20 years now. Tonight the original lineup will be back to do songs from their first albums and tomorrow will be the newer lineup with newer songs. Lee was a fan of theirs early on, though not as vigilant about concert attendance as I was (maybe because she wasn’t a high school student and had a more bar/restaurant-oriented social life) and I’m not sure she ever went to their holiday shows.

In keeping with yesterday’s post, I have some good memories of these shows as uplifting in hard times. The year I was 15 and hospitalized at Christmas, I’d gone to the show the weekend before and when I was out on a day pass with my mother on Christmas Day I heard the local public radio station rebroadcasting the show and remember thinking how much my life had changed in a week. I’d ended up in counseling in the first place because I was clearly getting somewhat paranoid and my obsessive-compulsive tendencies were starting to become obvious to others, including that I couldn’t leave my room without first listening to one of this band’s songs. I think I can still sing that album start-to-finish, knowing exactly how long the pauses are. I like the concerts because they shake up that certainty, though, and change around the context.

After I was raped as a 17-year-old freshman in college and fell into near-catatonic depression and had to withdraw from school, I went to the Christmas concert for the last time in part because the opening act was one of my other favorite musicians, the singer who wasn’t yet calling herself Issa. I don’t remember much from those months I spent trying not to think about anything, but I remember bits of the concert and the words and chords I thought could get me through anything.

I’ve come a long way since then. Our caseworker left a message yesterday that our homestudy is done and in her boss’s hands. Well, and that we need to get our kitten’s rabies vaccine information to her ASAP in January, because he’s due for a re-up then. I think it may finally be time for me to write a timeline like other adoption bloggers have, because we’ve almost officially moved from one section of the process into the next.

And as we move into the new year and into more of our new life, I want to make a little shoutout to others on similar paths. Just yesterday I found the new blog where Willow and K. will be documenting their journey to special needs adoption. They join Carmel and Rosie as well as Lee and me as reptile-owning lesbian couples (I don’t know if either Carmel or Rosie has a nose piercing, but that may be a commonality too) moving into adoption from foster care. I’d been hoping to find a Class of ’08 adoption prep bloggers, but I never imagined I’d find demographics like those!

But I don’t just get support and community from mothers-to-be who are that much like me. People like Pronoia and her partner Ms. P, Luna and her husband The Amazing M, Lavonneand her husband D all have blogs featuring journeys toward infant adoption. Liberationtheory and her wife giggleblue had joint TTC blogs that are now focused on giggle’s pregnancy but that have had a lot of resonance with my own complicated feelings about lesbian parenting in a place where two mothers can’t have legal rights.

I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of people out and I know there are a lot of blogs I haven’t found, but I’ve been so impressed with the diversity, the support, the amount of thoughtfulness and kindness I’ve experienced because of this blog. We’re all in this adoption/parenting situation together and I appreciate knowing that I’ll have so many viewpoints to help me when I need it, inspire me when I need it, teach me when I need it, muddle through it with me. Thanks to you all, fellow “classmates,” upperclassmen and blogging alumni, readers who comment or even who don’t. I truly appreciate it all.

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Christmases

December 18, 2008

The phone rang last night and I was secretly hoping it was the friends who were coming over to have dinner with us calling to cancel, but instead it was our homestudy caseworker Kate. She was putting her final touches on our homestudy and it sounded from what she said like it’s probably sitting on her manager’s desk as I write this. Mind you, her manager just got back from a vacation and will be taking a holiday break in the next week, so this doesn’t give us much sense of when things will happen. But it should be January when Ezra’s caseworker gets a copy of our file, when our file goes downstate (and I don’t really know whether it gets filed and rubber-stamped there or whether it goes through a new review process) and we’re assigned our new adoption caseworker and our experienced parent mentor and we get ready to see Ezra’s file and move on. Wow.

What Kate called to ask, though, was exactly why I’d spent Christmas in a psych ward when I was 15. I hadn’t thought about those days in a long time, but I remember them clearly now. The answer I gave her was that I was depressed and had been in counseling all autumn but the depression wasn’t relenting at all and they wanted to get me on stabilized medication. As an aside, that was a disaster and I didn’t find a stabilizing medication until I was 18 and promptly went off it within the year and have been drug-free with only a few months’ lapses during the last decade. I still have permanently dilated pupils and shaky hands, but at least the Tardive dyskinesia didn’t last. I feel so much empathy for the kids on blogs I read who are getting put on these heavy-duty drugs, because I know the benefit but also the costs.

At any rate, in my junior year of high school I was starving myself, depressed, over-achieving, and just generally weighed down by what felt like the huge burden of my life. After my last day of exams, when I slumped in my therapist’s chair and said I couldn’t keep going I meant just that and was clear about it, not that I wanted to kill myself at all but that the effort to move was definitely too much for me. I was sent back home to pack a bag and then return to the hospital for admission.

I had never in my life felt as good as I did those days in the locked unit. I was the best patient they’d ever had, everyone kept telling me, and I thrived on that praise. But that was easy; I was there because I wanted to be, not because I’d hurt anyone or myself, not because like the girl in the next room no one had been able to find a foster placement for me until after Christmas, not because I was so thin and persistent I’d need a feeding tube glued against my nose. I was there because the moment the doors locked behind me, I felt safe. Nothing was my problem anymore; there were professionals to carry the weight for me. So I was free to follow every rule, to sit primly during break time and work on my physics homework, to wonder why on earth anyone thought the movie Con Air would be a good Christmas Eve treat.

I didn’t keep in contact with the girls I met there — and for most of the days I was there it was all girls — but I think of them often, remember their stories in sort of crystalline precision from a time that’s fairly fuzzy in my memory. I remember the feeling that I belonged, that I didn’t have to be better or smarter or prove anything about myself. I felt so free because I was confined, because the routine was so clear that I’d know exactly what would happen at what time.

When I think about Christmas growing up, I often tell people I was sick on Christmas every year from when I was 3 to when I was about 18, and that’s not quite true although I did seem to have a tendency toward pneumonia, bronchitis, stomach viruses that other children didn’t catch with such regularity. There was certainly the one Christmas when I was physically healthy but officially mentally ill where I slept peacefully, where nights were silent for me, where I felt calm and relaxed and free to be myself.

I’ve certainly thought about “sensitive topics” — as the homestudy classifies the fact that both Lee and I have been treated for depression as well as her adoption history and my sexual assault — in preparing myself to adopt, but I haven’t thought back to this episode specifically until Kate brought it up again last night. I’ve been feeling stressed out and worn down these last few days and looking forward to having some time off around Christmas. Lee and I don’t plan to actually celebrate or exchange gifts, though each of the animals will get a little toy or treat. I realized that what I’m building for myself is what I had in the hospital almost half my life ago, time to breathe and recharge, space to relax and think about my life. I can push off my burdens without needing a building or the click of a closing door. I can be my own strength and acknowledge my own weakness.

This is probably sounding like a whole lot of psychobabble, but I’m glad that I’ve been through what I’ve been through because I think it will make me more able to parent effectively. I love my extended family and have wonderful Christmas memories, but I have fond memories of what probably should have been my worst Christmas away from them. I don’t know if Ezra or someone else will be my child, nor do I know what his times have been like, but I appreciate that there can be good memories made in bad times. I know Lee and I will make mistakes, but I hope we’ll make good times too.

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getting what I wish for

December 17, 2008

After writing yesterday’s post about Lee and her birthmom, I headed home and then out to my normal Tuesday craft/drinks/dinner group. Lee came along to hang out with our shared friends there and in the middle of dinner she turned to me and we suddenly started talking about her birthmother Leah. I was able to talk about why the card signed “Leah (Mom)” made me so sad and Lee shrugged it off as just like every card she’s gotten for the last 40 years and claimed she didn’t see anything sad about it. Then I said, “Well, what if you saw it as a scene in a movie?” And she said, “Oh, yeah, I totally see what you’re saying now!” So we had some conversation about that, though it’s something we’ll continue when we’re not in the middle of a restaurant with a ball game on the tv in the background.

We’re both changing and growing so much right now. I woke up sort of weepy this morning and I’m still working on figuring out why, but I also know Lee has been much more concerned with identity issues and we’re both very much focusing on where we come from and how our life stories were formed and how we ended up together. We’re certainly still happy, but I think we’re going through some kind of psychological nesting phase. The few weeks before this were more physical nesting, where we didn’t want to leave the house or be apart from each other. Now we’re spending time apart in quiet contemplation or whatever to figure out what we need to figure out.

I’m sure we’ll be talking more about our families and ourselves and our romantic histories and all that fun stuff as time goes on. If I were more superstitious, I might take credit by posting yesterday and magically starting the birthmother conversation. I guess since we don’t buy lottery tickets there’s no point hoping we’ll win today!

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me on Lee’s birthday and birthmom

December 16, 2008

People always ask what Lee’s family thinks of me and of our adoption plans, and I don’t really know how to answer. I’ve met (one time!) a somewhat distant cousin of hers and his long-time gay partner (white like me), who not only completely welcomed us but were kind enough to my brother and his girlfriend that they wanted us to pass on apologies when they learned from us that the now-ex-girlfriend had moved to their city and they hadn’t done anything to welcome her. They’re very excited and supportive, but that’s more because they’re warm and wonderful men, since they barely know me. I’ve also met Lee’s sister (bio-aunt) now in her late 70s, who expected to disapprove of me because she and everyone else hated Lee’s last ex they met, but who ended up liking me. We talk on the phone sometimes, and I’m trying to help Lee find her the services she needs, so we have another kind of social worker in another state working with us as well. I’m also fairly close to that sister’s son and his wife — also a black/white interracial relationship — and their two children, writing letters and sending photos of our animals from Thorn & Aunt Lee every few months.

But I haven’t met her birthmom, Leah, the woman she’s named for, the woman who did indeed neglect her when she was very young but went on to live a decent life. I couldn’t have met her birthdad, who died when she was young, or his birthparents who became Lee’s adoptive parents, both deceased before I came into the picture. And while I’ve loved getting to know Lee’s beloved sister and hearing stories about little Lee and her family, I do feel I’m missing out. Lee’s birthday was Saturday and all day I couldn’t help thinking of Jenna and Munchkin, another birthmother and birthdaughter spending the day apart.

Lee’s birthmother Leah sent a card saying “for my daughter” with no personalized message and it made me so sad to see it and think of Thanksgivingmom and of Leah’s older son whom her parents raised and who now refuses to take her calls, of how Leah calls every year around Mother’s Day and Lee makes a point of not calling back on that day because she only wants to celebrate her dead adoptive mother and doesn’t want Leah to think she rates. She’d maybe even put it in those words, that she doesn’t consider Leah meaningfully her mother and doesn’t want to encourage Leah to think that way.

I hate that Lee is like that. I want her to be better, and in fact she has gotten better while we’ve been together. Lee and Leah talk every month or two. We have plans in the works to see Leah and probably also the last of her children, the daughter she raised, sometime this spring or summer, dependent on the schedule of our adoption. Leah’s excited about the adoption and about meeting me; it’ll be a sign that Lee’s welcoming her into our life and she’ll finally have her first grandchild.

But when Lee and I were first together, she wanted to hang out with my mom all the time, wanted to call every weekend and see what my parents were doing and figure out when we could see them again. She and my dad had known each other before she and I did, but my mom was new to her through me. And my mom doesn’t like me. She consistently undermines me, criticizes me, has never thought I was good enough and has always been clear about letting me know that. But she’s superficially charming and for many reasons I try to keep a cordial relationship. So it was killing me that Lee couldn’t see how hurtful and passive-aggressive my mom was being. Eventually she did, and then she thought that if she contacted my mom directly about the problems my mom would see the error of her ways. Instead, Lee ended up furious and in tears, trying to defend me against endless accusations she knew to be baseless too. And now she doesn’t want to spend time with my mom unless the rest of the family will be there. Like me, she supports family unity and can enjoy the time we spend as a group, but she doesn’t want anything more than superficial relations with my mother.

If I met Leah in some other context, I don’t know that we’d get along. We don’t have interests in common, don’t watch the same tv shows or listen to the same music or come from the same part of the country. She doesn’t read books and I don’t go to church or to casinos. But she’s got the same sharp chin, bright eyes, curved cheeks as the woman I love. I know that from photos, but I want to be able to see them together, see if their movements align. I know Lee and her two half-siblings all led remarkably similar lives, getting their MBAs and playing basketball, several times ending up working in the same big companies at different times. I want to know what part of this drive and creativity comes from Leah, because it can’t just be chance that propelled these three working-class black kids from the Midwest into great success elsewhere.

I want to know Leah because I want to know Lee better, want to grab at some strands of what make her who she is. Much as I may be annoyed with my mother, I don’t complain when Lee tells me that now I look like my youngest brother “but you’re gonna look like your mama!” It’s true; she’s a part of me, and it’s partly our similarities that make our relationship so difficult. I don’t know if that’s true for Lee as well or if it’s also her feeling that to be faithful to her adoptive parents she has to keep herself from fully loving and respecting her birthmother. I don’t know how much of it is hurt for her origin story, the way she’s never going to be able to understand how any mother could have left her with alone pneumonia, crying for days before she was found. She she deals with this by saying that Leah was never her mother, that biology doesn’t count, that they might as well be distant cousins or distant acquaintances for all that connects them. I think she knows this isn’t fully true.

We’ve talked a lot in preparing to adopt ourselves for how to support maximal openness in an adoption from foster care. We’re quite clear on making the distinction between bad choices people make and those people being bad themselves. We want to be able to show our child through our own backgrounds the different forms that families can take and still work, still function, still be connections and origin stories. But as much as I may talk about this and think about birthparents’ rights and emotions, this is something up to Lee. I know she doesn’t want to think about the implications of her own adoption having been coercive — though she knows it was — and maybe it’s fine for her to keep believing that the ends justify the means. At any rate, that part is all well in the past and things turned out the way they did. But I know she doesn’t want to think that accepting her child’s birthmom might be even harder than forgiving and accepting her own, though I have my suspicions.

I don’t know what child and what birthfamily we will meet in the coming year, whether it will be Ezra or someone else. I know Lee’s wish for the year is about our parenting. I also know when she blew out the candle on her birthday sorbet my wish was that this would be the year she’d finally learn to be Leah’s daughter. I have so much faith in her and in us, and I think we can manage both.

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we are family

December 15, 2008

I did give Lee her birthday post to read, and she liked that I slipped in some of our bad qualities around the good. Neither of us thinks our life is perfect, but we sure do enjoy it anyway!

On her birthday, we ended up having brunch at the little bistro where we first met, running errands (including her picking up dog poop from the back yard just so that when people ask what she did on her birthday she can say that!), having a giant two-person two-cat one-dog nap, going out with a friend I haven’t yet pseudonymmed but I’ll now call Josephine and her two young children for dinner at burger heaven, then stopping off at the bar where Lee used to work for a drink and a few games of pool before heading to bed by 10 pm. It was great!

Today’s news is that I got a great email from the social worker who’s basically director of adoptive resources regarding my concerns about being less than a legal parent. Basically, even though I won’t be certified as a foster parent they still consider Lee and me a fostering family. So if anything were to happen to Lee that would leave her incapacitated (not that we anticipate anything, but I’m worrying about worst-case scenarios here) the department’s first goal would be to do what they could to help keep our family intact, meaning getting me certified quickly to be the one on the road to adoptive parenting.

This was just the reassurance I needed. I know they’re impressed that I’ve done research and that they take us seriously as a couple and as a team. I know our homestudy worker told us the social workers are fighting over who will get us even though it’s the luck of the draw. (And while it’s possible that she says that to all the girls, we’ve gotten enough positive comments to be rather proud of ourselves anyway. And yes, we’d been expecting to work twice as hard to get half the credit and instead are getting twice the credit and are all excited!) Things are in motion and I’m so excited. Lee and I have never been better, I’ve never been happier, and life is looking so good. I’m grateful to all the bloggy support I’ve gotten, which I think has helped a lot.

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