Archive for August, 2009


a transracial adoption anecdote

August 30, 2009

I spent all day at the church we’ve been attending because it was their family weekend, so last night was a family talent show and today was a set of lectures on topics like communication in relationships and cobbling together the legal protections of marriage when you can’t legally marry for the adults and arts/crafts/conversation for the kids, and tomorrow will be a big picnic and celebration at a city park. Even with Lee out of town, I went, both because I think it’s important for me to put myself in situations where I’m in the minority without her as a “native guide” helping me pass and because I’m trying to build a relationship with these people because I think they’ll be our church family when we’re a bigger family. And on both fronts, I believe I clearly made a lot of progress. (And if I were as single as I appeared to be this weekend, I could have made another sort of progress — if you know what I mean –though that’s another story.)

At any rate, today the woman who leads the local COLAGE group was there to direct the activities for the kids. She’s a white woman who looked to be in her early 40s and I got her kids’ ages but didn’t ask anything about how they joined her family or whether she has a partner. I have never seen her or her children at church before, though it’s a very child-friendly church and I’m still figuring out which children belong with which moms because so many adults and children spend time holding babies and hugging little children that it’s hard to know who leaves with whom. At any rate, this woman was outside getting things together and her two young children — a light-skinned black boy and girl, possibly biracial and thus possibly hers biologically, which is why my title might be a little unfair — came into the sanctuary where we were waiting for things to begin. Her young son immediately sat next to me, the only white woman in the room, and eventually asked about my knitting. His little sister came over and hopped in my lap without saying anything.

I don’t have any proof that this happened because I’m white and because their mom is white. Obviously the older boy likes knitting and that was part of the appeal for him, but I have definitely noticed that I’m an object of special interest to some of the very small children of black couples in the church. In fact, just last night the little boy (age 4 or so, I’d guess) Lee calls my boyfriend because of the way he stared at me the first time we visited gave me a hug during the hug-heavy greeting session. For two months or however long it’s been, he just stared at me and I’d smile back, and it took that long for him to hug me the way he hugs other adults. Again, I don’t know if this has anything to do with his concept of race or if it’s just that I’ve been around long enough that I now count as a regular churchgoer and he relates to me on that level. This isn’t anything I’m about to ask a 4-year-old or even today’s 11-year-old I barely know.

But I know that if I’m going to be transracially adopting, I don’t want my son to automatically look for the white woman in the room as the one who’s “safe” or “similar.” I feel much more comfortable with the decision to stick with this church even though it doesn’t meet all of our preferences simply because I want there to be a place where lesbian moms are normal, where there are black kids (and a few white kids) in all different kinds of families. I want to make sure that we’re getting the diversity we need on many levels. Sure, I never take the dog for a walk in our neighborhood without seeing another black person, but blacks are never anything but a small minority here. I don’t want my child internalizing that and thus feeling out of place among other black people. I want him to be able to code-switch like the sweet little boy across the aisle this morning, who was equally comfortable talking eloquently to the older teens in the row behind him about his academic plans as he starts middle school and turning from that conversation briefly to say, “Hey, what it do, bro?” when another of his peers walked in.

I do feel kind of strange thinking of church mostly in terms of race and culture and community, but since I’m not religious that’s what I expect to get out of it. Today I got some great conversations, some suggestions for things Lee and I could try in our relationship, some good advice about legal concerns. And I did it all without Lee, which is kind of nice even though I’ll be getting up early tomorrow to make sure the house is extra clean for her return. I’ve enjoyed this break and I know she’s had some good and some tough times visiting her relatives and old (girl)friends. Tomorrow we’ll be back together and back to our routine, but I think we may actually go to the church picnic too. And I definitely already told her that next year if we have a cute kid, we’ll have what it takes to totally sweep the talent show. Everyone likes us already.


why I do this

August 28, 2009

I wanted to drop the last post down the page with something more positive, like how great it is to get up in the morning and not make coffee because I’m home alone. But instead of a whole post about that, I want to reiterate why I write about some of the worries and problems we have.

A large part of our homestudy was devoted to our “special” issues. We had to talk a lot about being gay and how totally okay we are with that. Lee talked about her neglect as an infant and adoption and her relationship with her birthmom Leah and with her adoptive (biological paternal side) family. We both were put back on the spot for Fun with Depression or whatever the official title for the mental health history part is. And that includes my history of rape and then a subsequent abusive relationship. It’s all out there in detail because what we said was true (well, it was when we said it; I’ve expressed my concerns about how well that translated to what Kate wrote in the homestudy before) and because it’s important for the people deciding who we can parent and even whether we can parent to know about it.

But it’s also important for me that my readers don’t think we’re flawless, not that there’s much chance of that! It’s not just that I don’t want to be deceptive but that there’s a bigger point related to the reason we had to rehash all of this for the homestudy. What the two of us have gone through is just a little taste of what most of the children waiting for permanency have faced themselves. And so if my readers — those who are already parents of special needs kids and those who aren’t — can see the impact that those little tastes have on the lives of people they like and respect (or at least I hope that’s how you feel about us!) then that might help them have empathy or insight into situations where they might not otherwise.

Although I’m not sure the stats bear it out, I think the best post I’ve written was probably the one about why I think Lee needs so much reassurance because I think I captured us well and because I heard from several readers that it made them reevaluate how they think about interactions with their own children. And while I’m not trying to imply that others would have the same reactions Lee and I do, I do want to be honest about what our reactions are, how we deal with trauma and sadness and so on.

One reason I haven’t been writing too much lately is that Lee finally read the book I’ve been pushing her to finish and she’s finally ready to talk a little bit about her history of ambivalent attachment and how she sees it playing out in her childhood and her adult relationships. And I don’t want to tell that part of her story to the public here, though I do hope someday she’ll blog about it. But I need to find a way in through my own response to her, the way I did in the post I linked to above.

And I guess that’s really what I’m trying to say about this blog, that I want it to be not just a way into my life for my readers but ideally a way into reinterpreting their own lives. I know that’s what the blogs I love do for me. And while I’m not writing for a specific audience, I guess I have to admit that is my hope. And so when I’m writing about sadness and difficulty, I’m doing it for myself but in the hopes that it might help you or someone else too.

And if you’re reading this just to scorn and mock me, well, that’s what the internet is for, right? All I do is write; the reading and interpretation are your job. I’m not a big believer in authorial intent, but apparently I still feel the need to make statements like this from time to time. So here’s a statement — I think it’s important to be out about many things, not just sexuality. And even though I’m “closeted” by my pseudonym here, what I say is my reality and truth as I know it. That’s all I have to offer.


I know there’s a word for this

August 28, 2009

I snapped at Lee last night because I was trying to talk to her and she kept cutting me off and when I told her to stop she didn’t, just barrelled on with her tirade about what her coworkers in the department are doing. I got sad and huffy and since I was sitting at my computer sent her a passive-aggressive email complaining about not getting a chance to speak while she was still talking to me. Don’t worry; I’m not trying to defend this as a relationship technique. I was being extra petulant, but it wasn’t until a little time had passed that I realized why. And then tonight I read The Crying Tree without stopping even though I shouldn’t have started it in bed when it was past my bedtime anyway. And I got a little choked up and called Lee (who’d been falling asleep, poor thing) to thank her for being patient and loving me even when I don’t make that job easy.

My youngest brother just left for college and somehow that’s brought back all sorts of memories of myself when I left for college at 17. It’s back-to-school time, which ever since then has meant gearing up (consciously or often not) for a melancholy that seems to come over me around the time of year when I was raped and my life suddenly derailed completely from the path of everything that was supposed to happen to me and headed in a very different direction. In the last years when I’ve been aware of this anniversary, it’s been easy enough to warn Lee that it’s coming so she knows to take it easy if I’m a little less patient, a little more frustrated than usual. In the last few years, that’s all it’s been. But this year I ended up here in bed with tears running down my face because I’m still so tangled up in complicated ways and I resent that I feel like this.

I’ve long since forgiven the guy who raped me, if that’s really the right word for it. I view him with pity, not anger or fear, though I’m sure part of that has to do with the specifics of the crime. I’ve hoped so many times that once he got back to his own country where he wouldn’t feel so powerless because he just wasn’t able to understand what was going on, he would never feel he had to stoop to this again. I think what happened wasn’t about sex as much as about lashing out at the scrawny lesbian in the dorm, the only person in the building who might have had less social status than he did. I don’t want to oversimplify things, but I think what he did was connected to how trapped he must have felt, and I completely condemn his choice while at the same time feeling sorry for him that he got into a situation where he felt so trapped.

I hate and resent that I let myself fall into traps afterward too, the furious depression that kept me from leaving my bed, the belief that I’d never have the kind of happy life I have now (and that’s the thought that brings tears to my eyes now), the anger that I never fulfilled all that academic/artistic/insightful potential I had because something in my spirit got broken and I no longer wanted to push myself hard enough to test my limits once I knew how much reaching limits could hurt. I don’t hold those against myself, just accept that I did the best I could at the time, made bad decisions in good faith.

And I definitely don’t think forgiving was a bad decision. I think it’s one of the best things I could do for myself, to know that if I’d pressed charges earlier the police could have done more but that it wasn’t how things happened and this is the world I actually live in. I’d describe forgiving not as saying in any way that what he did was okay but just that it’s not worth my energy to feel anger toward him anymore. And here is where I worry that people reading this will think there’s something wrong with me that I’m not over something that happened so long ago, that I say I’ve healed but maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. And maybe I don’t know, because what I know is that I was changed for good and everything I see I see through the lens of my past — not just the rape but all of it — and that’s just the way things are.

So when my little brother has headed off to his prestigious academic program, I’m wishing him complete success. And yes, it’s tinged with a bit of regret that I didn’t get the fancy degrees that I thought were what I wanted for my life, but the reason I called Lee was to tell her how glad I am that I found this life instead. I don’t want to be dragged down by my past as I create my future, but I still know it’s cycling out there and I’m going to be nipped by it periodically. But I know I can forgive myself and let it go and just keep moving. And if that sounds ridiculously pat, it’s because it’s the middle of the night and I’m sad and happy at the same time, regretful and grateful, my younger self and my current self. I’m just leaving this here as a note to myself that I may never know what to expect, but I do know I can get through whatever it is.


another layer

August 28, 2009

Lee’s back in her hometown and I’m here at home battling sinus congestion as a storm blows in. My brain is a giant pulsing fog, so this isn’t going to be much of a post.

What I want to say, though, is that I’m thinking about how being involved in foster care adoption has made it so clear to me that I have to care about other related issues — racism, the broken child welfare system, mental health coverage — but today one I think about a lot but don’t know how to address came to the forefront. I read an article about a women’s prison in our state that has apparently been plagued by guard misconduct, sexual abuse, inhumane conditions. And one of the children we learned about has a mother living there. I can’t help thinking of her specifically even though I don’t know her and will probably never know her, even though neither she nor I will parent her child.

I cared anyway about justice, fairness, rights for prisoners and former prisoners. It’s even more personal when I’m thinking about these people not as abstracts but as people who might be part of my child’s family or my partner’s extended family (long story that isn’t mine to tell, though I think her suspicion about this is not entirely accurate) and thus a part of mine. I would have had strong political opinions anyway, and I don’t see any way to get around finishing this sentence without creating some unrealistic and unhelpful personal/political binary and so I’ll stop here mid-thought.

Instead I’ll make a little postscript to yesterday’s post and say that I think Lee only falls for the “it’s meant to be” mindset when something doesn’t happen. So if she missed a plane, she would think that maybe if she’d gotten there in time she would have been in an accident. And if our homestudy doesn’t get somewhere, then maybe that’s because it wasn’t supposed to be where it was. I still don’t think this makes much sense, but like I said I don’t bother arguing with her. If she were talking about how she thinks the universe wanted her to be neglected as a baby so she could end up raised the way she was or something like that, then I’d complain to her about it. Other people do think that way even about very negative things, but I’m happy not to be in a relationship with someone like that.


humility & forgiveness (or at least a little of each)

August 26, 2009

I had a dream last night about the boy Claudia found for us, whose worker (I hope!) will be getting our homestudy soon if she doesn’t have it already. In the dream, she’d already looked at it and decided we were a good choice but wanted us to have a chance to see the boy before deciding. So we flew across the country but our flight got delayed and they (whoever they are in this dream, foster parents or other workers?) woke him up and dragged him out of bed to say hi to us. And he skulked in, gave us a smile, and then that was it, our glimpse that we got instead of his case history to decide if we were the right parents for him.

So Lee and I sat in a closed room, terrified and excited, wanting to analyze every little thing and wondering whether his slow walk was a result of being half-asleep or whether he was always like that, whether he’d hang his head to the side, whether it could put us at ease that his smile was so bright and genuine even when he didn’t know us or know what was going on. We’d barely met him (which is unrealistic anyway since if his state is like ours there won’t be any meetings until after we’ve committed to parent) and we’d barely met his worker, but we were supposed to trust her judgment that we were right and it was SCARY. But exciting too, and I was jittery with that mix of emotions even as I woke up.

The reason he and our homestudy are on my mind so much — even beyond the obvious — is that we had a little more homestudy drama this week. I asked Claudia to make sure it was complete enough to do what we need it to do. She sent me back a message that Adopt America Network didn’t seem to have it, which worried me because I knew Lee had sent it 10 days ago by fax and mail because we were trying to maximize redundancy.

After plenty of emails back and forth between Lee and me and then my relaying them to Claudia, I figured out most of what happened. When our homestudy had originally been shipped to AAN, we had a wrong mailing address from an old paper I had from them, so it was returned to us as undeliverable. I had Lee take it in to work with her so she could do the faxing and also resend it, asking her to call their recruitment coordinator for the correct address because Lee’s the one who specializes in phone calls. Lee reported back that she had done it, had a good conversation, and that she’d shipped out the two copies of the study.

It wasn’t until almost two weeks later after checking with Claudia that I found out Lee hadn’t just re-addressed both to AAN and shipped them out. Instead she’d had the coordinator there find the child’s social worker’s address and shipped the study to her, even though I don’t think she’d even be allowed to accept a homestudy that was sent by the person whose study it was. And so that file never got through to the worker and once I found out what was going on I was furious that I’d spent two weeks being happy I’d finally gotten a copy of the study and got it to the right place and that I’d been totally wrong about that.

Initially I was mad at Lee, too, and she knew that and responded like she sometimes does, by saying that if I didn’t think she was responsible enough to mail a letter then I had better get used to doing everything myself. It was probably a good thing that we were doing this by email, because that kept me from responding that she’s not allowed to get out of chores just by being bad at them and that now she had an opportunity to improve, or something equally passive-aggressive. Instead I told her that I was just glad we’d figured out the problem and that we’d work out a way to resolve it. By the time I’d had to say this several times and got home to her a few hours later, that was in fact how I felt.

Lee then annoyed me by going on and on about how it’s probably just as well she didn’t send things to the right place because she believes that everything happens at the right time and that there must have been some reason this didn’t work out when I wanted it to. Our state worker Elizabeth subscribes to this kind of thinking too, and I won’t be unkind enough to say that it’s easy to believe in when you’re the one slowing up the process, but I almost do wonder that. I mean, if the universe didn’t want us to get our homestudy to AAN, can I at least appeal to get back the money we spent making and mailing the copies, or is the universe into taking my money and not giving me what I want? At any rate, I was polite about this because I know that Lee and I differ in terms of belief and there’s no point arguing about it even when I’m tempted to argue.

So what did I learn from this? Well, maybe that I can’t trust Lee to do things exactly the way I want them done unless I give her step-by-step instructions, but I don’t think that’s it. In the end, because I kept practicing being patient and forgiving, I actually ended up feeling patient and forgiving. I didn’t want to hurt Lee and I figured the consequences of her actions were bad enough “punishment,” so I was careful to avoid putting any more pressure on her even at the point when I did want to scream ARE YOU SERIOUS THAT YOU SENT THIS FILE TO A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ORGANIZATION IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PART OF THE COUNTRY WITHOUT THINKING THAT MAYBE YOU WERE DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM WHAT WE’D DONE INITIALLY AND THAT PERHAPS YOU SHOULD NOTIFY ME? And, uh, I think it worked better than snapping at her and venting would have, though I’m sure I’ll slip up and do that again in the future.

But it also made it clear to me how easy it is for something to be misfiled or go to the wrong place even for the people who care most about the document. Every time I’m frustrated again because I imagine my homestudy has been sitting in someone’s office untouched for two weeks, I’m going to have to be reminded that we left ours in limbo ourselves for two weeks because of a mistake we didn’t even recognize at the time.

I keep talking to Lee about how this time of waiting is a chance for us to prepare ourselves to be parents, and I hope that doesn’t just mean that I’m getting good at delivering little lectures like the “this is a good time to practice!” one and finding ways to add morals to my stories. I’m really trying to be a better person and to make being better a habit I’ll be able to rely on in tough times to come.

And I know Lee has changed for the better this summer more than at any time I’ve known her. She made a mistake in where to send our file, but she did it with good intentions and a willingness to help. And in that spirit, she heads back to her hometown tomorrow to spend some the weekend with her sister (bio aunt) Grace in the nursing home even though Lee finds nursing homes totally depressing and is really creeped out to see how much the woman she’s long considered her best friend has deteriorated. Instead of using her last bit of time before school starts again as a selfish blowout, she’s taking advantage of the free time to reconnect with family and do something that’s right even though it may not be pleasant. And although she frustrates me at times (and vice versa, I know!) I could not be more proud of her. I’m very lucky that even though I’m waiting, I’m waiting with her, and that when we are finally making a decision about becoming parents we’ll be doing it together.



August 18, 2009

As I said in my last post, we had a fantastic weekend. Tonight hasn’t been all that great, though Lee did some spectacular grilling for our dinner. And here’s the part where I put in a caveat that everything here is from my perspective and I know for sure that Lee views things differently. In general, I do more chores than she does. When surveyed, we both pegged it at about 80/20, which is definitely not what I would say is ideal. But since she makes almost twice as much money as I do, I don’t contribute as much to the household financially and so it makes me feel like I’m doing something to do extra work. Sometimes.

Where this becomes a problem is that I like things clean but Lee likes things tidy. I don’t mind piles of books, especially, as long as I know where everything is. I do mind dust, though, even in useless places like along the stupid chair rail the previous owners ran throughout the house. So for me, cleaning up is at some point going to involve things like washing windows and wiping the chair rail and getting up pet hair just about every single day, though I’m hoping that now we have a Roomba I can delegate some of that job to the robot. For Lee, if there are two piles of mail on the living room table (even if one’s a pile for her and one’s for me, which to my mind means things have been sorted!) then the room is in chaos and she can’t really stand to live there.

And because our personalities are different, Lee doesn’t take advantage of having the summer off by doing more chores. She’s done better this summer, which is good because I couldn’t have handled another season of coming home after a long day at work to find her on the couch, complaining that she’d skipped lunch and was ready for me to prepare dinner immediately. I’m sure this makes it sound like I think Lee is selfish and jerky, but in my heart I just believe she’s different. She’s not service-oriented the way I am, not really a nurturer in those respects, and her first instinct is always going to be to take care of herself. That can mean lying on the couch all day watching tv and not eating until she’s starving and shaky. It can also mean fending for herself and getting done what needs to get done. But the intention is very much to do what she needs for herself.

Lee’s theory is that I need practice being more selfish and in fact that I’m supposed to spend this week being selfish. I’ve pointed out that a relationship really only has room for one “selfish” person and that the reason we so often end up doing what she wants is that if we do what I want when she doesn’t want to, she often either just chooses not to participate or has to be dragged along, which sort of ruins the experience for me. To that end, when I said something yesterday about my “selfish week” she seemed appalled by the idea that ti might require more of her than leaving me alone to do whatever I want; closeness of the physical and emotional sort is just more essential to me than it is to her Again, I’m making her sound like a monster when she’s just a human. But if the tables were turned and I was taking her to a church she didn’t agree with, I can’t imagine she’d sit still for 30 minutes, let alone three hours. That’s just who she is and who I am, and because of it she ends up wearing people out and being a less consistent friend than her friends would prefer and I end up cranky and miserable because I want someone to treat me the way I treat others and instead I get used as a doormat. So we’ve both got issues we’re working on here. And unlike some lesbian relationships we know, neither of us considers this a gender role issue. It’s just very much about who we are and what our orientation to the world is.

So today Lee set my mail in a stack and then when I got home asked me to watch the movie she was watching with her. I opened my package with Claudia’s book and sat quietly after the movie ended while we talked about her day. Then I got up to take the dog outside for a bit and look at the book. When I got back, she was annoyed about the multiple stacks of mail on the table and the fact that I hadn’t thrown away the empty envelope but had gone outside when the dog signaled that she was ready to go. And yes, I thought I was being reasonable in leaving something out when I was going to throw it away in the next half hour, but I really, really need to remember to be sensitive to her preferences. And she is completely convinced — and I mostly am — that she wouldn’t hold a child to the same extra-high standard. I do think there will be moments where she does, though, and I hope we’ll be able to make sure the child doesn’t have the emotional response to that kind of correction that I always do. I thought, “Wow, I’m the worst girlfriend ever; I never do anything right to make Lee happy!” and then immediately felt a little weepy and down, which meant it was time to get out of the room because Lee and I tend to bring out the worst in each other in those situations.

But as I said in the last post, I went upstairs and read quietly and Lee eventually came to check on me. We both apologized and I explained my thinking and she understood it and stepped back from some of the categorical criticisms she’d made (that I never throw things away or leave anything tidy, which somehow always hurts more than if she’d just complain about one specific event) and I vowed to both remember to be more thoughtful and to remember that the theory was that the living room should be “her” room since she spends so much time there, and I shouldn’t even let the books I’m reading or my mail sully it. I need to give her one space where she’s completely in control, because she’s given up a ton of control by having me live here. And it doesn’t matter to her the way it does to me that the bedroom floor has been swept today (that, in fact, I swept the entire upstairs while moping about this very issue) but I do think that when she’s aware of it she recognizes that it does matter to me.

Anyway, this is all just whining because I’m whiny tonight. I’m supposed to be selfish and I guess it is selfish to go to bed early with a book and the dog. I just wish we could both do better, and I’m glad we’re trying to. And today Lee ran several loads of laundry, did the dishes (typically my job), and made dinner. I don’t know if that makes me feel selfish, but I certainly feel lucky and happy to be “spoiled” like that. I think what matters most is that together we can get it all done. I’m glad we’re good at the practical side and it’s just the emotional aspects of housework we have trouble with. Maybe that will make us better potential parents, more sympathetic to what feels fair or necessary. I like to try to reframe things like this even now that we’re not responsible for explaining our whole lives in terms of strengths and needs. Even on nights where I’m cranky and selfish in a bad way, I’m glad we have as much balance as we do. I need that.


more church

August 18, 2009

We went to our new church for our third time on Sunday. Lee says it’s not fair of me to say they have three-hour services, but things started promptly at 11:30 and when we left at 2:00 there were still a few more prayers to be said before there was going to be a baptism, so I stand by my math. While we still both prefer the minister who leads the music and initial prayers to the pastor who seems to give most of the sermons, the pastor did a fine job and ended up inspiring both of us to work a little harder on the relationship and on our own well-being as individuals.

I’ve often told Lee that at this point I wouldn’t go to the church alone (typically on a Sunday morning when I’m washed and dressed and she’s still watching tv in her pajamas) because I’m not a believer and I go to church to be inspired to work harder but mostly for the sake of family unity and togetherness. And yet I’m considering going to their family weekend in a few weeks while Lee’s out of town visiting her sister (bio-aunt) Grace at her nursing home. (And while there Lee may end up talking to her youngest bio-half-sibling on her bio dad’s side, though I probably shouldn’t talk about that here until I have her okay to do so, so I’ll leave it at that for now.) I’d sort of like to bring the girls we mentor to the family talent show, though that might mean it’s time for us to finally have a conversation about how Lee and I are in fact a couple. The girls are now 12 and 14 and I’m pretty sure the older girl has no only figured it out but is going to be coming out herself in the near future, which will make things awkward for me since I’m sure there’s going to be a certain amount of worry that we put ideas in her head. But maybe I’m just being paranoid and it will all be fine. At any rate, the younger sister clearly thought of us as a couple back when she was 10 and then as far as I can tell got over it and just thinks of us as sort of an institution, Thorn and Lee who come over and do things with the kids. It didn’t seem weird to them at the time that we shared a room, since all five (at that point) kids in their family were in one bedroom with their grandmother and sometimes other relatives. At some point, though, they’re going to realize that we’re gay and I don’t want it to be uncomfortable for them to ask about it or talk about it if they want to, though I also want to respect their mom’s wishes that we avoid indoctrinating them about how great it is to be gay.

Um, so back to the church, Lee and I talked about it a bit and decided that it is probably going to officially be “our” church. That means that at some point Lee will officially join the church. I’m not really eligible to do that since I’m not a Christian and don’t have any interest in becoming one, or else I could be like the couple who dedicated their two young boys to the church on Sunday and then were themselves baptized along with their preteen son and then joined the church as members. There was something really wonderful about seeing a family with two moms and three boys being cheered along by this warm, affirming congregation, and I was so glad that the minister we like acknowledged that by saying that she wanted us to all realize that this is what so many people are afraid of, “gay marriage” in this case meaning a stable family with a lot of love to share and a supportive church community behind them.

I do love that it’s such a gay-positive church, such a positive church in general. Neither is anything I’m completely used to. But another reason I think it’s important for us to stay involved is that I’m also very much a minority at the church, also not something I have to deal with very often. Out of the 75 or so people there Sunday, seven of us were white and the rest were black. And it was very natural for me to know the number because I could just look around and see and I was absolutely aware. I didn’t feel any special connection to the other white people, but I might have felt more isolated and insecure if I’d been the only white person in the whole place. Instead I just sat quietly and joined in as well as I could and just kept thinking about how important it would be to me to be able to give a black child we might raise the opportunity to be in a church where 90% of the church-goers are black and many — most? — of the other kids also have lesbian moms. It’s possible there are some gay dads in the mix and I’m sure there are some straight parents, but the church is even more drastically female (among adults, at least) than it is black. I don’t feel left out, but I do feel like I’m sort of being graded on a curve (and maybe this is all in my head!) where it’s okay that I don’t really clap or move along with the music but it’s a little bit suspect that Lee doesn’t. That’s how she reads it, anyway, though we both felt when the minister was saying our section should interact and show a little more spirit and unity that we individually were the ones being implicated. I don’t know if this is what it feels like for other people to notice that they’re in the minority but I do think that noticing happens and that it’s real, though not necessarily always a negative. I like that we’re choosing a church that puts me in this space, because in much of my life I don’t have to deal with that and it’s a good reminder both that I’m part of the dominant culture and that there are plenty of cultural contexts where I need to work harder to fit in.

And I’m thinking about this space for our child for a number of reasons. The child Claudia matched us with is apparently a Christian. I’m sure it would make his transition easier if he could move from his current church to a new church family along with his adoptive family. So if we want to be that adoptive family, we need to be ready to have a church to support his needs and our identity as a family, just like we have to be aware of what the resources are for his particular medical needs. At 9 or 10 he may not be old enough to say that he doesn’t want lesbian moms and have that carry any weight, but we figure that being part of a Christian community might counterbalance some of the hesitation there. Or it might not! But it’s still nice to know that our child could be going to COLAGE meetings at the same church he goes to on Sundays and with a lot of the same kids, just to solidify a sense of community in some of the isolation we’d be creating as a multiracial lesbian-headed family.

I just finished reading Claudia’s memoir about the building of her family, Out of Many, One Family. I don’t really want to get into it yet — though I recommend it because it’s fascinating to see the secret origin stories of the now-much-older kids on her blog! — but I was struck by one placement that worked out for Claudia and her husband Bart because the children’s foster family was very insistent that these children move to a Christian home, and so the kids’ workers knew having a minister and his wife as the adoptive parents would get that need met. I don’t know if being a practicing Christian home will help us, but I don’t see how it will hurt since we’re doing it for ourselves rather than in hopes of meeting the needs of some potential magical child down the line. Preteen atheists are rare and even I wavered at that age, recognizing that Aslan was still a fantastic metaphor and that it sure would be nice to get an apparition of my own and make those other mean kids in school jealous…. So I think the pressure is on me both to be true to my own beliefs and to be open to the chances that my child won’t share them. It doesn’t threaten me at all that Lee’s feelings are different, and I want to be able to nurture her beliefs and help her grow rather than challenge her, and while she really wishes I’d become a Christian she feels the same about me.

I think this church can help us be better people. It’s good for us to spend serious time with happy kids of happy lesbian moms. It’s good for Lee to have her faith affirmed by people who don’t think she’s any more of a sinner than any other human is. It’s good to feel that push to do more and do better. Just now, Lee came up to ask if I was feeling okay because she could tell that I’m extra emotionally vulnerable tonight. And usually when that happens her response is to leave me alone because that’s what she’d want, when in fact what I want is extra attention and love. This has always been a problem for us, but tonight each of us thought about the other as well as ourselves and I took myself away from here where there was no chance she’d see me cry and she made the effort to come upstairs and check on me. I’m not thanking church for this directly, but I think we both spent a lot of time this weekend as a result of church thinking about how we could be kinder and more helpful to each other. And so far it seems to be working, though this weekend in general was one of the best we’ve had in ages.

And so while Lee’s out in the flatlands, I plan to go to church alone for their family days, to hear some of the teens talk about having gay parents, to participate in talks about non-standard relationships, to get advice about how to cover your family with legal protections that get you as close to what straight couples have as you can around here. And I’ll do this without Lee, and I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s probably easier on me that this is such a woman-led church (or, as the pastor said Sunday to correct herself after asking for women especially to pray about one issue, “feminine-identified people,” which probably includes some but not all of the women and perhaps a few of the small handful of men) but it’ll definitely be something outside my comfort zone, and I’m looking forward to it for that reason. I don’t know if it’s church making me want to do better or just seeing all these kids or if it’s my general push to do better (and not to do what I’ve done tonight, get bogged down emotionally in the things I don’t do as well as I want to or the things I do well that nonetheless get misinterpreted by others) but I’m getting something good out of this even though I’m not a believer. And I’m definitely more than okay with that.


sort of more thoughts on parenting and gender thanks to Coe Booth’s books

August 14, 2009

The first book by Coe Booth that I read was her first book, Tyrell, in which the title character is a young teen living with his mother and little brother in temporary housing after they’ve lost their apartment while his father’s in prison. He goes on a quest to DJ a party like his dad used to do so he can make enough money to get the family back on its feet. He’s stopped going to school, but his girlfriend is a serious student and religious to a point where she doesn’t want to have sex with him. He’s in the process of befriending a girl his age who’s also been placed in the hotel where his family is staying, and while she’s more willing to be sexually involved without a romantic relationship, he’s somewhat bothered by this and by the choices she makes about her sexual activity.

Kendra is also about teens and sex, with Kendra herself trying to figure out how not to be a teen mom like her mom Renee was while at the same time wanting to get to know more about the boy who likes her and the super-attractive boy her dad’s little sister and her classmate Adonna likes. While the book shows some sexual activity between teens, there’s also an appointment with an OB/GYN and a lot of conversation about teens, maturity about sex, and sexual activity. Like Tyrell, it’s a book about sex AND a book about family.

I guess I’m thinking about all of this because Lee was explaining to Dawn why she sees herself parenting a boy rather than a girl, and a big part of it has to do with the fact that girls can end up pregnant, though I always point out that the only way they do is if there’s a boy involved. And reading Tyrell left me really nervous about parenting a 14-year-old boy obsessed with girls’ bodies. While I understood and sympathized with the character, I just couldn’t entirely get over how sex-obsessed he was, even though it was clear that in the scheme of things he was behaving pretty responsibly: not becoming a dad as a young teen like his friend was doing, not getting involved with sex workers at the party like others there did, respecting his girlfriend’s sexual boundaries even when he didn’t want the boundaries in the same place. Those are all good things, but the casualness of the casual sex and the sex-obsession stuck with me.

I mean, even though Kendra is about a girl doing things I really wouldn’t want my daughter doing — hooking up with a guy in an empty classroom without really thinking about what she’s doing or why — I could understand the mindset that she had and that Tyrell’s girlfriend had and that Tyrell’s non-girlfriend he was involved with had too. They were hurting and they wanted to feel something; I could be aware of that as a parent and do what I could to intervene, though both books show pretty clearly that merely preventing kids from having the opportunity to hook up does not in fact keep them from finding opportunities to hook up.

And I know Tyrell was feeling empty and full of longing too, but something about my being supposedly ready to parent a teen boy made me nervous about the bare physicality of it for him. He wanted release and felt bad about getting it in ways that would hurt his girlfriend if she knew about it, but he was going to get what he wanted. I didn’t really get the sense that the girls in the books really knew what they wanted, not at first. Or what they wanted didn’t match up to reality, as when Tyrell’s girlfriend lies to her parents so they’ll believe he’s still in school not just because they’ll think better of him and the time she spends with him but because she sees college in her future and can’t match her dreams with the life she’d have paired with a high-school dropout.

I don’t know if I’m really saying anything here, certainly not making an argument. I’m just nervous even though I know each individual child is an individual. We don’t even know if we’ll ever have a child, if he’ll be a he, if he’ll be interested in girls, if he’ll care about his appearance, if he’ll be a sports star like Lee or a big old nerd like me or something uniquely his own. We don’t know. I don’t know. And not knowing leaves a lot of room . I need to make sure I don’t fill it with worry.


missing mothers & double standards

August 14, 2009

I’ve started and stopped writing this post several times because I’m not sure what my right path in should be. last weekend we spent a whole lot of time with Dawn and her family, including her young transracially adopted daughter Madison. Lee and Madison bonded because they’re both black and both adopted, and perhaps for other reasons. And then today Dawn posted about Madison’s response to her absent birthdad, though I was thinking about absent birthdads in the first place because of things Lee said to Dawn and to me (and maybe Dawn’s husband and son, if they were listening at the time; sorry this makes it sound like I pay no attention to men) when she was talking about her own life with her adoptive parents (bio paternal grandparents) and her bio parents. And then I read a book, too.

So now is where I’ll make a little segue to say that adoptive parents of many sorts need to be reading Coe Booth’s young adult novel Kendra. I read her Tyrell first and it was mostly a reminder of how I’d prefer my son NOT think about girls (and how I’m afraid he will regardless of what I prefer) and it’s a recommended book too. But Kendra is about Kendra, a 14-year-old girl who’s a solid student at an arts magnet school, a girl who might have a future in architecture or set design. But when her birthmom Renee was 14, she and her boyfriend Kenny ended up conceiving Kendra. And so Kendra has been raised by Renee’s mom, her Nana, while Renee goes to high school and then college and keeps on going to college until she’s got a PhD and a chance to get a job that will let her daughter live with her and move out of this housing project in the Bronx. Because regardless of whatever dreams Renee has had for herself, Kendra has wanted since the earliest time she can remember to live with her mother. And that’s not because she’s alone in the world; her Nana loves her even as she’s unfashionably pushy and controlling in hopes she can keep Kendra from becoming sexually active and a young mother like Renee was. And Kendra’s father Kenny has finally gotten a somewhat stable job selling candy and snacks from a van outside the building where he lives one floor above Kendra, with his mother and his mother’s daughter, Kendra’s agemate and aunt Adonna.

But Kendra’s story isn’t just about the biological father who’s present but not competent enough to even give her an incredibly minimal child support payment without bothering from his mother’s disability check. It’s not about how Kendra has always wanted to live with her mother Renee no matter how much her Nana has mothered her. It’s not about how she lets Adonna shape her into what a girl her age “should” look or behave like so she can fit in at school but still get by at home with her controlling Nana. And it’s not even a story about how Kendra ends up falling for a boy because she’s held herself aloof for so long, ending up a heartbroken “technical virgin” because she’s so hung up on what her acceptable options are. And then she gets a chance to figure out what she actually wants and how to get it, after a lifetime of living to try to be happy because others are happy. She’s an incredibly realistic character, which might be why this would be a difficult book for parents to read; a “good” girl shouldn’t find herself falling into a sexual relationship so easily, even though it’s clear that the whole reason she exists is because Renee made that choice and then made the choice to carry her pregnancy to term and have a quasi-maternal role toward Kendra.

What’s interesting to me is the way Kendra navigates her own reality. She has a biological father who’s present but basically ineffectual. Her mother figure is her maternal grandmother, who’s so traumatized by her own daughter’s teen pregnancy that she’s overprotective of her granddaughter. And no matter how book-smart Renee is, she’s not emotionally comfortable enough to let her peers know that she even has a daughter. And Kendra hurts for all of these reasons.

I read this book thinking of Lee and the conversation she had with Dawn. Lee is still tremendously angry about her birthmom, Leah, because Leah neglected her when she was a baby, when she was innocent and needed love. But what’s always seemed odd to me is that Lee has never seemed to have any hostility toward her biological father, Richie. I mean, the whole reason that Leah was left alone with a baby she didn’t take care of at all times was that her husband Richie made some stupid and illegal choices that led to his being locked up for a while. But Lee never says, “I was mad at Richie for deserting us!” when she’s remembering her childhood; only that she was angry at Leah for not being a proper mother, for not being loving and self-sacrificing and patient, even while those last two are traits Lee wonders if she’ll ever possess. And so I think there’s more going on here.

Some of it, I’m sure, is that Lee was raised by Richie’s parents and Richie’s mother (Lee’s adoptive mom) really didn’t like Leah, had never liked Leah, and apparently never missed a chance to trash-talk the woman her beloved and spoiled son had married. It took many, many more stupid and illegal choices before Richie’s mother and a few others in his immediate family — those closest emotionally to Lee — gave up on him and started thinking of him as a selfish person, and by then he was already near his early death, which I suspect also absolved him of a certain amount of the pain he’d caused.

So I’m telling this story just to say that I see how things are biased. Even though in the novel Kendra has her biological father — ineffectual as he may be — outside her building every day, loving him is not enough. I’m not sure whether loving Renee IS enough, but that’s certainly her expectation. And I think there’s a parallel to the way Lee sort of shrugs at Richie’s role in her life but still to this day blame Leah for what she did to her, even though Leah was able to eventually get into a healthy relationship and raise a child who’s now an adult Lee loves.

I guess maybe it’s because I’m going to be a mother that I worry about how easy it is to blame a mother and absolve or ignore a father. For me, this isn’t an absent part in Lee’s narrative, though I think it is for her. (And I don’t want to make it sound like I’m judging her; she and I understand that I came into the story at a late date and my take on it is different from hers.) It’s easy to talk in adoptive situations about birthmothers, about what birthmothers should have done or could have done or didn’t do. And sure, that’s because the birthmother is the one who’s identifiable. In Ezra’s case, he’d been named after someone who turned out not to be his biological father once he went into the system and DNA tests were done. But that’s not some kind of poor black thing; current news reminds us that privileged white men are perfectly happy to get involved with that kind of mess.

But all of this has to weigh heavily on me when I’m choosing to become part of a no-dad system. I mean, sure, our child might have a biological father, maybe a dad who was involved with him when he was young, maybe a foster dad or two. But once he gets to our home, no matter how many uncles of various sorts we offer, there’s going to just be a mom and a mom at the end of the day. And I think that’s good and bad. I think no matter what, we’re going to leave a child who’s like Kendra, yearning for an initial parent who’s not present in reality the way she is in her child’s mind and heart. It’s going to mean reevaluating what it means to have a mom if it’s a mom who grills and who teaches algebra and who fixes a plugged toilet and who knits a sweater. It’s going to mean being open to having a mom who failed you initially (I assume) and moms who are going to do what they can to minimize failing in the present, while all the while admitting they can’t be everything.

I think in a lot of ways adopting is about admitting my failure. Maybe that’s why I’m still a little nervous I’ll be judged enough of a failure I won’t be allowed to adopt (even though I’m not actually ALLOWED to adopt since our state only lets children have one legal mom and that will be Lee, so there’s a whole other layer of complexity) because I think that I am a failure and that I can make the most of my failings, but I have to worry about whether I’m being like Renee, thinking I’m doing my best while I leave a child heartbroken and desperate. I mean, I don’t think I’m really following the paradigm of the book because I don’t think that’s the role I play, but reading the book broke my heart.

Loving a woman who hasn’t found resolution with her parents — dead or alive — is heartbreaking. Hearing a five-year-old talk about the loneliness of being a transracial adoptee is heartbreaking, even if it’s also exciting to see how much support and love she has from her adoptive family, how they’ve given her “the language that keeps me alive,” to quote a song I loved long ago. I’m remembering so much now that adoption — legal or informal — is based on loss and that loss has implications for everyone involved. And I’m wishing the people I love could stop hurting even while I know that’s not an option. I know that if we adopt it will be in the middle of and as a result of this sort of pain. And if I say I’m willing to adopt anyway, does that make me a bad and uncaring person? These are the kinds of decisions I need to make, and they hurt. They always, always hurt.


immediate plans

August 11, 2009

There are so many other things I want to write about now, not least of which is that Lee has finally started reading blogs (though not yet mine and she probably won’t like it because much less wordy blogs are being dubbed too wordy for her) and is experiencing a certain amount of peer pressure to start her own.

What I’ll say instead is that we’re going to be driving to see Claudia, our new matching specialist, this weekend while she’s on her trip to the NACAC conference. Our state worker Elizabeth talked about how important she thought it was for people doing matching to actually meet the people involved in person when possible, and so Lee thought it was very important to meet Claudia if we could so that she’ll have a chance to see what we’re really like. (Although if she really dislikes us, she’ll still have to remember that I’ve seen her twitter feed and there’s plenty of incredibly mild blackmail information!)

Elizabeth also said that our homestudy gave her a good view of who we were (which I don’t think is entirely accurate, though it’s what she said at the time) but that she got to know us a lot better just by talking to us in one meeting and that she learned the most from the way we made our decision about not being able to parent Ezra. I think she did get to know and understand us pretty well, but her view of her role didn’t seem to involve any advocacy on our behalf. She wasn’t going to go through lists of children to see who might benefit from being part of our family. She was willing to introduce us to the permanency team, though I think the reason this never happened is that they weren’t interested, and she would look up information on any child we asked about, though that generally took her over a week. That wasn’t how we were told this was going to work, but that’s how it has worked and we did go into this knowing that things wouldn’t always work the way we’d been told to expect them to. For instance, we should have been assigned a mentor who’s adopted through the state back in January when we were approved with the state, and we’ve still heard nothing about that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I feel sad and guilty that things didn’t work the way we wanted them to. Or maybe I should say “the way I wanted them to” if there’s a chance Lee will be giving her own perspective in the near future. I left an awfully long comment on a great post that Jae-Ran wrote last night trying to explain why the matching process has been frustrating for us and how I wish it could be improved. But the problem is that I don’t know how to talk about this without sounding like we’re being pushy and entitled. Lee doesn’t have a problem with this; she says we have rights and a role and basically that if we put in a good faith effort and did everything the state wanted us to do, there should have been more work on our behalf by the state. She’s not bothered by thinking that, but I’m much more ambivalent.

Yes, I do think the point of finding permanency via adoption for kids in foster care is just that, finding homes for the kids. It’s not about our desire to be parents, although obviously we have to have that desire if we’re going to be able to play the parental role. And there’s no way to find appropriate homes for these kids without doing the part that we’ve done already, thinking a lot about what we’re best-suited to handle and hoping that there are children out there whose needs we could meet. How that connection gets made still remains a complete mystery to me, though. It was my understanding that since many of the children whose parental rights have been terminated aren’t on the public photolisting, we’d somehow have access to their information. I thought once we were cleared by the state we’d be able to find out more ourselves about these kids and their needs and diagnoses so that we’re not waiting two weeks to hear that someone needs to stay near his siblings or needs a father figure or can’t live in a house that has a dog. None of my frustration with this comes from the fact that the children have those needs or sometimes preferences; they should end up in the place that’s right for them. But I hate that we have no way of knowing any of that when we ask about them and that it takes so long to get any kind of response at all. This just doesn’t seem like a good use of anyone’s time.

I haven’t scheduled another meeting with Elizabeth yet. I need to do that to ask what we could do better to try to find a match in the state, even though I no longer really believe that’s going to happen. I need to know what we could have done better or differently, whether — as Atlasien suggests in the comments to Jae-Ran’s post — we just had a totally unrealistic expectation of how matching worked and what our role was and how we were supposed to feel about all of this. I’m pretty sure Elizabeth’s feeling is that we’re too impatient, that we’re not working with the system because we’re not willing to just do foster care for a few years and see what comes of it. I know I shouldn’t let this get to me, but I feel guilty that we’re doing it wrong, that we’ve just been too selfish, even though I know why we made all the decisions that we did and I wouldn’t really undo any of them.

But now instead we have another path. I guess this post is mostly a reminder to me that I need to be venting here and thinking here rather than letting my thoughts and fears rumble around inside me. Our plan right now is that Claudia will get to know us from our homestudy, our AAN interest sheet, my blog, our conversations over lunch, and then she’ll know that the current suggestion she’s made is right for us (and perhaps his worker will agree!) or that she has to reevaluate what she’s looking for. There isn’t even the little voice I’d expect telling me that maybe she’ll decide we’re not worthy of being parents. That could happen, I suppose, but at this point even the worried parts of me aren’t particularly worried and are just chugging along and wondering how this could work better for us, for others, for the chiiiiiiiildren. I wish I knew an answer.


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