Archive for the ‘family of origin’ Category

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a long post tightening some loose ends

November 12, 2012

Mara turned 5! My parents came over to open presents and then we took her out to the cheesy Tex-Mex place she loves with a quick stopoff to pick up her dad to be her surprise guest. She was absolutely delighted and it was great to see her trying the bites of fajita he shared with her and getting more and more happy as the evening wore on. Lee and I have always had a rule that we’ll avoid birthdays at restaurants that make a public fuss about birthdays, but for your children you ignore all that and so the servers (who know us all too well since this is our default “Ugh, I can’t bear to make dinner!” place and who adore both girls) sang to Mara and brought her sopapillas as she sat there in her dad’s arms and beamed with delight.

Her middle siblings (10, 9, and 6) came over for her birthday party that Saturday, and then her one best friend’s mom said their family (with older siblings 10 and 8, so you see why I was excited about this) couldn’t make it. Her other best friend did come, though, as did a few of our adult neighbor friends. Much pizza was eaten and the kids had a great time. Mara’s brother managed to smash open the piñata we’d bought because Mara has always wanted a piñata, and all the kids scooped up the bead necklaces and recycled Halloween candy and little wooden animals I’d stuffed in there.

Mara’s siblings also confirmed what I’ve basically known for a long time: their mom is pregnant. Because of a misunderstanding (to put it nicely) with their aunt about what time I was bringing them back, I ended up taking them to see their mom. She still hasn’t said anything about the baby to me, but they confirmed that she told her sisters back in July when their grandmother died, which is when I first had a bad feeling that what I was seeing was a baby bump. Although their mom has told me she’s trying to regain custody of the middle three (oldest is 17 and spends most of her time with her dad now; youngest just turned 4 and has been with family friend Samara since birth) it seems that she hadn’t seen them in a month or two and the catch-up was kind of awkward. The older two have the same dad who’s supposedly trying to get custody of them, but he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry about that either.

All of this told me a couple of things. The first is that we need to be ready for a baby ASAP because I don’t think Veronica’s life situation is stable enough now that the state would be okay with releasing a baby to her. It’s possible she’ll have someone lined up to take the baby from the hospital as she did when Samara stepped in, but at this point the family has seen how hard things have been for Samara and Odelia in getting the help that they need (from the parents who owe child support and from the state) that I think people would be less likely to step in this time around. So we’ll be first on the call list from the hospital, and even though Lee and I had come up with a list of things that needed to be ready in our life before saying yes, I can’t imagine us saying no. This would be Mara’s little sister (from what I hear from one sister, and from what I thought I overheard from one of Veronica’s friends a month or so ago) and the idea of being able to take a child who starts out like Mara or her six-year-old sister Trinity but doesn’t have to live through the things that shaped them in their early months is just irresistible.

And the other thing we have to worry about is what’s going to happen to Trinity. I think their aunt Odelia is reaching her limits after raising these four kids for the last almost 6 years. The oldest is already mostly out on her own and has support (of some sort) from her dad’s side of the family. It looks like there’s finally a push to get the next two’s dad to step up, too. That leaves Trinity, whose needs are highest and whose other options just aren’t there. And whether or not there’s a baby in the mix, I don’t think Lee and I are in a place where we could take on a second six-year-old and throw off everything else that we have here. She needs a home like ours, therapeutic, patient, intensive. I’m just hoping someone local has been reading Blitzen’s story and thinking, “Gee, that sounds like what I’d like to do,” because I think that’s exactly what Trinity will need. You know, if she ever ends up in foster care, which we don’t even know she will. But we love her and it’s heartbreaking to see the ways Mara has surpassed her in speech and other skills when even six months ago there was more of a gap. It’s heartbreaking, but we also have to know our limits and are trying hard to do that. So these are the kinds of conversations we have to have.

Nothing I can talk about is happening in Nia’s case, though I think I was able to do something that I think will really help her in the long run by getting a professional who’d begun acting extremely unprofessional caught doing so and (I think) moved off the case. Nia and her mom are talking once a week on the phone and having 90 minutes of group therapy (PCIT) every week. Court doesn’t happen again until late winter, and I don’t expect anything to change before that, though her ever-optimistic mom does. One unexpected bonus of the visits is that Lee has gotten really frustrated with Nia’s mom for her significant focus on Nia looking “cute” and I think this specifically pushed her to open her heart more, because it’s something that drives Lee crazy about her own birthmother, Leah. Nia doesn’t mind the “cute” comments and we knew she put a lot of emphasis on how she looked, but her mom has been implying that some of the things Nia chooses aren’t cute enough and I’m trying to help navigate letting Nia choose her clothes (within reason) and letting her mom accept that this is what’s going on and be okay with it even if she’d rather be able to match Nia’s clothing to her own. (As a sidebar, I suspect part of this is that Nia’s mom grew up in care and so she sees something like intentionally non-matching socks as a “foster child doesn’t even have matching socks!” thing, but she seemed fine with it when I let her know Nia had pointed out the batch of unmatched socks and that this was popular with her school friends. But that’s just a guess, and I don’t expect Nia’s mom to open up to me.) At any rate, something about this helped Lee make a big leap in loving Nia, and I appreciate that.

And then way back before Mara came to live with us, we were worried about what would become of Lee’s bio-half-sister Shasta’s daughter, Kara, who had been living with Shasta’s mother in what seemed to be an increasingly inappropriate setting. That’s one story that does seem to have come to a good ending at last. There was a funeral in Lee’s family that seems to have brought out another half-sister but also showed that after a crisis in which several of Lee’s relatives who barely know Shasta or Kara were asked if they’d take custody, the state finally returned Kara to her mother’s care. I don’t know the details of all this because Shasta and Lee had a falling-out of sorts, but I have a lot of faith in Shasta’s abilities to be a really good mom if given the chance. Kara’s a teenager now and I’m sure this will be hard for both of them but I think it’s going to be really good in the long run, just as I thought two years ago.

Lee and I are doing well. We had a date night Friday after a neighborhood party celebrating the work we and others had done on behalf of some school board candidates. We got to connect in a new way with some neighbors and have some new playdate options on the table, including with the girl who’s now 8 or so but was adopted from foster care at age 6 and immediately bonded with Nia despite neither of them knowing about the other’s history. Even better than a date, I got to spend an hour or so in the quiet house by myself while Lee took the girls to church Sunday. She’s been unhappy with the church we attended that I’ve written about so much here and she’s trying to find a replacement. Unsurprisingly, the Presbyterians are too formal for her and the visiting brass ensemble was too noisy for Mara, but sitting on the couch sewing and eating crackers with yogurt dip was absolutely perfect for me. I’m looking forward to a repeat of that next Sunday and to finding quiet, calm spaces wherever I can. I need it, and we need to keep our strength up for whatever’s coming next.

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a new year

October 24, 2011

We celebrated one year of knowing Mara and her graduation from speech therapy Saturday night, meaning we went out to a restaurant we really like and Mara fell asleep on my lap there after only eating her french fries and Lee and I got to chat, which was somewhat awkward in that we’d been dealing with a lot of stress over Lee’s frustration with the other kids and so on, which I don’t want to talk about yet. It was still great, though. And on the way there I sent a text to Samara, the family friend who raised Mara for the almost six months between the time she left her mother’s custody and the time she formally entered foster care, asking if she had any contact info for Mara’s dad. She didn’t, but she invited us over for the following day and said Mara’s whole family was excited about seeing her again.

So that’s how the anniversary of the day we first met Mara in her all-white foster home was celebrated with her all-black family in the housing complex where they live. Samara moved her sons and Mara’s little sibling there in part so they’d be closer to the aunt who’s raising the oldest four of the sibling group. The very oldest sister was visiting a family member on the side not related to Mara, but all the rest of the kids were there. And oh my goodness, they look just like Mara. I’ll go ahead and stop being coy about sibling genders the way I always have been for no good reason to say that the sister who’s five looks so much like Mara that I had to squint at toddler photos to be sure which is which. Mara is almost as tall as she is and in person you can definitely tell them apart, but oh my goodness does the first picture I have of Mara’s sister look just like Mara.

Mara spent the first 45 minutes or so on my lap or Lee’s as relatives traipsed through to introduce themselves and explain how they fit into the family, what memories they have of Mara. Mara’s 9-year-old sister was sitting quietly beside us and slowly Mara inched over to her until they were hugging and hugging and hugging. Mara stayed that way for a long time, maybe half an hour, by the end of which they were singing together and talking about letters, fingers interlaced. (And those two sets of fingers are exactly the same shade, something I know wasn’t lost on Mara.) Later they went out to play on the playground and watch their littlest sibling shoot marbles and play. Mara’s convinced her sister has taught her to do cartwheels (and, well, she does put her hands on her ground and her feet in the air, though that’s where the resemblance ends) and obviously has a new hero. Her sister is everything, though she was similarly taken with the quiet, handsome, gentle 8-year-old brother who held her hands and stared at her in wonder, eventually offering her both some candy and a loving kiss and hug after we’d loaded her into her car seat and were ready to go pick up Valerie and Alex from their relative’s house.

It was amazing to see all of them together, not just how physically similar they are (and since none of us are their parents, all of us caretakers can honestly marvel at what gorgeous kids we’re raising!) but how they’re all sweet, generous, clearly adoring of one another. These are good, smart kids, which is what I’d always expected because I didn’t think Mara could have become herself out of nothing. It was wonderful to be able to talk to other people who could laugh and share stories about her sibling’s pica that’s even worse than Mara’s, the way she’s always been horrified about having her hair washed but very patient about waiting while it’s styled. (They volunteered to have a relative braid her hair, and I may eventually take them up on it at some point since it would be another way for her to feel like she’s still part of her family.) They were delighted with her progress, happy that we’re going to be adopting her and that she’s in a good home where she’s thriving. Samara in particular doesn’t seem bothered we’re gay and even finessed things when Mara’s grandmother showed up, making it clear that we were her adoptive parents and (subtly) not to ask questions because we’re good people. She says she’d told the social worker when she placed Mara in care that Mara should go to a house without teen boys like hers, without adult men who scared Mara. Samara says she’s happy that Mara finally ended up in a house without grown men to be able to deal with her fear of them, and I was proud to get to tell her that Mara hasn’t had an incident like she used to this entire calendar year.

All of us adults got weepy at various times, and at bedtime I took Mara through all the pictures I’d taken during the visit so we could talk about how her brother has beautiful eyes just like hers and so on. She was asking about various cousins, who’s raising them. She’s clearly paying attention and classifying the people she met. She was so, so happy, and then she said, “Mommy, I crying!” I asked if it was because she was happy, sad, or happy and sad, and she immediately said, “Happy AND sad!” So Lee and I held her in a family hug and had a bit of a sniffly happy-and-sad moment ourselves. Mara has missed having family connections so much and my heart has hurt for her. Making this connection this way was the best possible outcome we could have imagined, and we were trying to prepare ourselves for many more negative possibilities.

We started our relationship with Mara a year ago without knowing much at all about her. Now I’ve been her mom for a quarter of her life and I know her so deeply, her breathing and why she cries and her sense of humor and the laugh that it turns out is just like her brothers. We got to spend a year bringing her into our family, and now that we start a new year in which that family will be cemented legally, we’re finally able to reopen connections to the family she comes from. Mara has wanted this and I’ve wanted it for her. I’m just so amazed and grateful and thrilled that it’s actually working out. For so many reasons, I can’t wait to find out what this next year will hold.

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conversating

December 14, 2009

(The title’s a shout-out to Lee, who hates the word. Happy birthday, sweetie!)

Yesterday was Lee’s birthday, and we spent much of the previous week celebrating her. I decided to give her a little present each morning and then realized I could do this according to a theme, so over the days leading up to The Day she got food, knowledge (a book), entertainment (the concert cd from the local band’s reunion show we attended last year in her birthday week), warmth (slippers, a sweater), and then finally on her birthday a taste of the future (a bracelet with a secret engraving of part of a Bible verse about hope and patience). She’s very excited about the bracelet, and I’m a fan of jewelry that’s weighted with meaning. She’s going to need a lot of faith and persistence and calmness if we end up able to adopt Rowan, so now she’ll have a little reminder wrapped around her wrist. Then we went to church and had lunch after with our drummer friend Jorie and Jorie’s sister and the sister’s partner, after which we headed home for a quiet evening. Lee says it was one of her best birthdays ever.

Probably the best gift she got was from someone who didn’t even know it was her birthday. On Friday night, we finally got to talk to Rowan for the first time since we dropped him back at his RTC in November. We’d each been able to have one phone conversation with him before his first visit, but our attempts to call him since then had never gotten us anywhere. While we still had to dial several times and then wait on hold for practically forever to actually get through to him, eventually I was hearing his voice again and it was so, so different. In our first conversations, he was so shy and quiet. Here, it was obvious he was comfortable with us. I started trying to draw him out by asking questions, and he went off on full stories. He had me had the phone over to Lee so he could tell her about using the sports technique she’d recommended and how he still thinks his way is better. And the best part, the part she likes most, is that he asked us about what our foster care license status is. He wants to know if we’d have room to have his friends stay on respite sometime once he and they have graduated from the program and gone to their different placements throughout the state. Although he’s expressed the reservations we expected (that he’s not sure he’s totally cool with gay moms even though he’s definitely cool with us as individuals, and that it’s scary to be back in the areas where negative things happened to him) he’s imagining the realities of life with us. He ran out of time in this part of the conversation, but we said we could talk about it more later. He plans to call back on Wednesday. He sounded so, so good.

And then while we were out at dinner on Sunday, Lee’s birthmom Leah called to wish her a happy birthday. Because Lee still has trouble communicating directly with her on holidays (and because she’d had a couple of beers and was afraid of sounding ridiculous) I was the one who called her back. And I’m not sure exactly why I got into adoption talk immediately, but I asked whether it was hard for her to deal with Lee’s birthday. I told her that I have a birthmom friend whose daughter shares Lee’s birthday and some of the things she’s written about how hard remembering that loss can be. She absolutely understood and she immediately got more emotional.

And then we talked in so much detail about her relationship with Lee’s biodad Richie, the threats and coercion and low self-esteem and societal realities that led her to agree that Lee should go to Richie’s parents when the two of them divorced. She told me things about Richie that she’s never told to anyone else, knowing I would pass them on to the woman who was once a child she wanted to protect even at a great cost to herself. She was willing to let Richie’s parents take custody of Lee because it would save Lee from suffering the repercussions of what happened when Richie didn’t get what he wanted, and 10 years later she was willing to relinquish her parental rights because she thought it was best for Lee to legalize the connection she had with the people she considered her parents, even though this choice negatively impacted the relationship she was in at the time. Maybe she was hurting herself on purpose because hurting herself made her feel like she was getting what she deserved or maybe she was doing it because she believed that mothers should sacrifice for their children at any cost to themselves, but she made her choices and she hurt for them. I think that’s why when Lee tried to hurt her feelings in the past it never seemed to have much impact, because Leah was already grieving every day. But she and I talked about how Lee loves her and is learning how to love her better and more openly, talked about Rowan and how great Lee has been with him.

Then after this conversation Lee and I talked for a long, long time. I after knowing adoption stories from people like Dawn and Madison and Pennie and knowing about the abusive relationship I was in and thinking about how Rowan was adopted into an unsafe home where he got hurt, Lee thinks very differently about a lot of things. She talked about Leah with more kindness, forgiveness, and empathy than I’ve heard from her even in positive conversations in the past. We’d been talking lately about how any neglect she had in her early life may help her relate to Rowan but isn’t going to be analogous to the way he feels about his past or how he’s been shaped by it, and I think that too has changed her some. She was just so full of love and hope for so many people, and it was amazing to see.

Our family is getting bigger in several directions, it seems. I still haven’t met Leah in person, but I feel like I’ve gotten to tell her some of the things I wanted to say about the empathy I have for her and all she’s gone through. I don’t think she’s flawless any more than the rest of us are, but I do think we can know the flawed human she is now at age 70+ and not worry so much about the flawed human she was in her early 20s when Lee lived with her and then didn’t live with her anymore. We can be excited about taking Rowan to see his brother while also knowing he’ll have to recognize that they’ll probably never live together again. We can be thrilled that Rowan is imagining a future with us even while knowing that might not work out and that he’s already had to go through all sorts of sadness to get to a place where he can even (sometimes) let himself imagine a happier ending.

We have a big year ahead of us, and I hope at Lee’s next birthday we find ourselves celebrating with even more happiness and more love. As her bracelet reminds us, we can persevere on the race set out for us. I think we can get there, or at least get somewhere new. I guess we’ll find out.

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why we value openness

September 17, 2009

If I’m doing my math right, Lee was 16 when her birthdad, Richie, died. It was a few years before Lee met the daughter he’d left behind, who was only 6 months old at the time of their father’s death, and Lee hadn’t seen her since then. Last night they spoke on the phone for the very first time.

Lee’s half-sister Shasta is 31 now, not much older than I am. For all that we’ve talked through my desire to be closer in age to Lee than to our hypothetical future child, I never thought about being basically the same age as her sister. And maybe that’s one reason it hit me so hard from the first message Shasta sent to Lee on facebook that this is someone like me, who’s lived as much life as I have without ever really knowing who her father was or having any connection to that side of her family and her history. She now has a child herself and has made some good choices in her life that have left her alienated from her mother, and now she’s been able to reach out to meet someone new.

They don’t really know each other yet. I don’t think Lee has officially come out to her, though it’s pretty clear from her facebook page that we’re together and when Lee asked if she had “a boyfriend? a girlfriend?” she didn’t seem shocked by the concept. I’m sure this will be a conversation soon. For now, they’re just talking about the basics and getting to know each other a bit.

Because I come from a family without many gaps, where we all know each other and see each other sometimes and know how we’re related, I haven’t really gone through this. (I do have a blood cousin I’ve never met and whose name and location I don’t even know, but I’m hoping to find out from the uncle who is this child’s father once the child reaches age 18 and maybe I can have some contact then.) Lee, on the other hand, was adopted by her grandparents and so gt instant brothers and sisters who were all already adults by then. Her closest bond is to her (adoptive) sister Grace, who’s near 80 now.

Lee’s half-brother (her birthmom Leah’s first son) was raised by their maternal grandparents. By the time Leah had the youngest of her three children, she was in a stable relationship and a healthy emotional state and raised that girl herself. All three of them flourished — though they all seem to have different measures of sadness/grief/anger/guilt related to their separation — and got through college and then graduate school in the same field before working for a series of big corporations. Lee has since quit the corporate world in favor of teaching (a choice she appreciates on a daily basis) but she managed to work at the same major corporation her half-brother had and her half-sister had at different times and in different areas. Although there’s no legal bond between them thanks to Lee’s adoption, they know each other as siblings and I love seeing the commonalities between them. Lee had a wonderful visit with her half-sister last summer and we hope to get together with her and Leah in the coming year.

Shasta, though, lost her dad when she was a baby. By the time she was older, her mother had started telling her that maybe Richie wasn’t her dad anyway and maybe someone else was, so she always kept her eyes open around town and knew who the people with Richie’s last name were and compared herself to them but never got to know them. It sounds like she didn’t have an easy life with her mom, and now they’re definitely estranged. She didn’t get the support and opportunities Lee did, but she’s persevered and it sounds like she’s now doing well.

I don’t know yet if she’ll have the same shoe size or smile as Lee (though both acknowledge they have the same nose) but I know that when Lee sent her a facebook message saying that she’d call in the next couple of days, Shasta responded with another about 49 hours later wondering when the call would come, a classic Lee showing of impatience and literalism. They both seem to have followed their father’s tendency to seek out fun even when that’s not the wisest option, but have both been able to temper it with self-control and self-awareness. At this point, they’re both pushing themselves to be open with each other, but it’s clear that this is kind of a stretch; they seem to have similar protective barriers in place.

I wish Shasta hadn’t had to wait 30 years to see her sister. I wish Lee had been able and willing to play a role earlier in her life, when she could have been a positive role model and a support. But I’m so glad that they have this chance to know each other now that they’re mature enough to also know themselves. Both times when Lee called Shasta’s number, someone else answered and as soon as Lee identified herself said, “Oh! Her sister!” This contact means so much to Shasta and I’m so proud of Lee for being forthcoming and supportive.

I hope if we have a child that we can maintain connections like these earlier rather than later. But I think of all the adoptees with sealed records who are never able to reach out even as tentatively and fearfully as Shasta did with her facebook request and I feel worse for them. We’re trying to build a family through adoption because we think blood and genes aren’t all that matter in making a family. But they certainly matter in making a person and I certainly don’t want to devalue that. From what I know of Shasta, I very much want to meet her someday. I think she and I would get along well. And of course, I love her sister.

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time with family

August 4, 2009

Today’s my mother’s birthday and so she and my dad will be coming to our house for dinner tomorrow. I’d called to ask if my family was doing anything special for her and at that point my dad hadn’t decided on anything, so I’m guessing not. I’d be more proactive if she really remembered or celebrated her children’s birthdays, but she’s actually forgotten mine completely in the past and so I’m not going to let myself feel guilt about not celebrating hers more. I wished her a happy birthday already today and tomorrow I’ll cook and we’ll hang out as adults, I hope.

There are a lot more adults in the family after my youngest brother Luke turned 18 this weekend. He’ll be leaving for college two hours away soon, but in the last month my other younger brothers Matthew and Mark have also moved back to my parents’ house, so right now I’m the only child not living in captivity. Luke’s birthday dinner was the first time all four of us (plus Lee) had been together in a year, except at our grandfathers’ funerals.

And my paternal grandfather was really in my mind this weekend, since he and Luke share a birthday. My grandmother sent Luke a “happy first birthday” card since it’s the first birthday he’s ever had solely to himself, though it also means we weren’t surrounded by family at my grandparents’ summer cottage while Grandpa and Luke blew out candles on enough cake to feed a huge Catholic extended family. I bought a bottle of his favorite wine and brought it over to dinner so that all of us but Luke could have a glass and remember him, and I think this meant a lot to my dad, who started out saying he didn’t really care for white wine and ended up having two glasses and sort of toasting Grandpa.

We didn’t talk about adoption stuff. My mother still isn’t totally supportive because she thinks I’m not mature enough to be a parent and because she thinks I’m being unrealistic in wanting to co-parent when the state won’t recognize my rights. At my mom’s sister’s wedding, I talked to each of my aunts and uncles about our plans just to make sure they knew what was going on (and told them a little about Mychael, since we were waiting to hear about him at that time) and then several times later heard them talk about “Lee adopting” so I’m pretty sure my mom’s been passing on that story. Right now I’m not pushing it. I do think she’ll come around once there’s an actual child in the picture. I don’t know whether she intentionally provokes and undermines me all the time or of it’s something she does without thinking about it, but I know that I haven’t had any luck talking to her in the ways my counselor recommended and she forgets conveniently and never apologizes or empathizes at all. I’m just over it. I don’t want to cut her out of my life (though I will if she ever tries to undermine things with my child) but I don’t need her negativity. I’m seeing if keeping things polite but somewhat distant will help.

And then there’s my brother Matthew, who had moved away several months ago with the understanding that his long-time girlfriend would follow him. He’s probably bipolar and certainly has some kind of mood problems, but his basic issue is severe ADHD that I assume is going unmedicated at the moment. At any rate, he was confused about his plans with his girlfriend, who wasn’t planning to move. So she was annoyed he wasn’t moving back and he was annoyed she wasn’t moving down and he’s finally come back to my parents’ but seems pretty depressed. He dealt with this by lashing out at me over several things that I don’t believe happened (we’ve always had this issue where I remember things one way and he remembers them completely differently with him as the victim; I obviously take my own side, but it helps that some of the things he alleges aren’t even physically possible) but that are clearly causing him problems. For an example from this weekend, it’s not true that I didn’t pay him for pet-sitting for us, but showing him the cancelled checks probably wouldn’t make him feel better about it. He just needed to vent about feeling unappreciated and forgotten because that’s how he feels right now. But it (and a comment I heard my mother make to him) kept me up gnawing on my thoughts long into that night.

I don’t know if it’s like that when I’ve tried to talk to my mother about ways she hurt me. She’ll just say that it’s not possible that what I say happened actually did occur or that I must be misinterpreting her behavior (possibly) and while she legitimately has a very bad memory (which I think she’s not getting tested because of her father’s Alzheimer’s, though that’s just my guess) I also thinks she forgets when it’s convenient for her. But I also know that she has trouble sleeping and claims to be a worrier. So maybe I learned to feel guilty so well not just because she always worked to make me feel guilty but because she feels guilty too. Blech.

Lee manages to get along with everyone in the family very well, though she’s gotten annoyed with my mother when she’s seen my mother treat me badly. And by all of this I’m never talking about abuse, real or alleged. But it’s just a consistent demeaning, dismissing, and it’s so subtle when she does it that people don’t take it seriously until they’ve seen it happen over and over and over. And Lee sees that now, which makes things much easier for me. I just have to keep her from trying to confront my mother, since my mom denies anything and they end up in a stalemate and then my mom wants me to be the one to explain what my problem is, which is just not going to happen.

Anyway, what I was really going to say here was that now that my brother Luke is back from his year of AmeriCorps service, he’s getting Lee out and doing things. We had dinner with him on the river Sunday. Then yesterday he biked down to our house (4.5 miles downhill) and went biking with Lee across the river and along a bikepath through a scenic park. She’s been talking about going biking all summer, but this is the first time she’s had her bike out. And they have a plan to do it again on Thursday, once Lee’s muscles have had a chance to get over being sore. I’m so glad to have him around again.

I’m glad to have all three of my brothers nearby, even if Matthew is annoyed with me. I have a friend who’s having an art opening for his artistic taxidermy at another friend’s art gallery (though she’s Matthew’s long-ago ex-girlfriend and a girl I sort of mentored when we were both in high school, so he may not be interested) and I’m going to ask them to come along. We do end up hanging out a fair bit and it’s a lot of fun, and Lee has helped immeasurably with that. She was lamenting not knowing what it was like to have little brothers, but I think to some extent with mine she has them now. And I’m glad of that, at least. It’s a good family, even with all the flaws.

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so, teen boys

April 16, 2009

As you know by now, Lee and I are taking to heart advice from Yondalla and then posts from Brenda McCreight and then Claudia about adopting teen boys once they’ve gone through the worst of puberty. You know better what their personality, preferences, mental health issues, etc. are than you do with younger kids. And as Yondalla always points out, they’re at a point in life where it’s developmentally appropriate to be moving away from their parents and forging their own identities, so parenting is quite different than it is with younger kids. It also helps that they’re old enough to make their own decisions, so anyone who came into our home would know and understand that we’re two women in an interracial relationship. I’m not really sure how that ties in, but it feels reassuring to me.

So Elizabeth comes over tonight and one thing we’re going to talk about is the possibility of changing our focus to teen boys. I’m still not sure how race-matching works, but our interest and emphasis have always been on our ability to help black children have a healthy self-identity. We’re certainly open to parenting a child of any race, but I get the impression that the workers are so happy to have a professional black woman like Lee available as a parent that the chances are good we’ll end up with a black child. I guess it’s a good thing I was reading all those books about how to get your black boy through adolescence back when I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about that for a while!

I’m mostly writing this next part in personal shorthand so I remember to say all of it to Elizabeth tonight, but in some sense boys in their midteens make a lot of sense given our pseudo-parenting history as well as our lifestyle. And by lifestyle I mean that we could still watch most of the tv shows we watch if there were a 14-year-old in the room, could still make plans to travel in a year or so, could still have individual nights out and time to ourselves without feeling like we were overburdening the other. Teens just have a sense of self that gives them different mobility and more options than younger kids who need more direct supervision have. Or that’s my theory now, anyway!

Since Lee was adopted by her bio-grandparents, she didn’t grow up with any younger siblings, though she saw her bio-halfsibs (one older, one younger) periodically throughout her childhood. She was definitely the baby of the family, though she had bio-cousins who were around her age and who lived in the area. So she didn’t grow up thinking of herself as being older than anyone in the way that I, with three younger brothers, did.

She did, however, spend a lot of time with one friend’s son when he was a teenager. The friend (whom I’ve probably mentioned here; she’s the one who owns a farm and winery downstate from us) had gone through a nasty divorce and into a nasty relationship with a guy who wasn’t quite as divorced as he claimed to be, and she was preoccupied with her personal problems at times although she was also a great mom. Lee stepped in to take her son on weekend days and give her a break, so the two of them would watch movies and play basketball and just chat. Over the years, they got to know each other very well and Lee was the person he went to with questions about sex and romance and all that good stuff. Dealing with him is as close to parenting as Lee has ever gotten, because she’s dated women with children but never women who wanted her to be open about their relationship, which of course caused plenty of drama too.

Anyway, Lee is most comfortable with boys in that age range, I think. She’s stepped back from the girls we were co-mentoring to spend more time with their brothers (ages 6, 9, and 12 or so) and enjoys all of them. This is me being critical, but I think she has a tendency to use a cutesy tone of voice when talking to young kids, though she disagrees. I’ve never heard her do it with someone over 11 or so, which gives me hope there. (And this is another point of contention between us. I think she does it with non-English speakers too sometimes, but she thinks there’s nothing fake or different about her voice. So I’m all uncomfortable about it and she thinks there’s nothing to be uncomfortable about and good times! I’m just being honest here, though.)

Now me, I do know my relationships with each of my younger brothers — let’s call them Matthew, Mark, and Luke — improved drastically once they developed independent personalities around 7th or 8th grade (ages 12-14). I’m 3 years older than Matthew, 6 years older than Mark, and 11 years older than Luke. Lee has only been around to see Luke through adolescence, but they’re quite close and in fact are supposed to go out for ice cream and tennis this weekend.

My brother Matthew has severe ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome, as well as some kind of mood disorder I think his doctors are considering bipolar but which could just be an intermittent depression. He was not an easy kid and my parents had a rough time with him especially as he switch high schools, got in trouble, eventually ended up in an alternative school, and moved out at 18. He’s since moved back in with my parents for the last 5 years or so until moving way South about a week ago to start a new life with his girlfriend of 8 years in the city where she got her Master’s degree. He hasn’t managed to get through even a semester of college successfully, but he’s a smart kid and he’s consistently worked temp-type jobs for the last few years.

When we were little, we didn’t get along at all because we were so different. I was the overachieving perfectionist with really strong views on what people ought to be doing, and nothing could contain him. When we had to play duets, he’d speed ahead while I stubbornly stuck to our initial tempo. But I used to take Matthew to the coffeehouse where I hung out when I was an older teen and he was a young one, even brought him to Gay Prom because I thought it would broaden his horizons. I brought him into my larger group of high school friends so he’d have friends as he started school. He still annoyed me and got on my nerves, but I made a point to bring him along anyway and model how I thought he should be behaving in social contexts. When his girlfriend at the time was grounded and not allowed to go to prom, I took him out for Thai food. And now that he’s in his 20s, he and his girlfriend socialize with us and we spend time with her family and ours. He and I get along better than ever. He still gets on my nerves at times (see posts on our Thanksgiving trip and when he let our cat escape while he slept), but even though Lee generally lacks patience, she always finds enough for him (except in the cat-escape situation, and sort of Thanksgiving). He still has limitations, but he’s getting by.

Mark is the middle child of the boys. He was a hilarious, quiet, chubby kid who grew into an Ashton Kutcher lookalike sports star who was incredibly popular in high school and also quite intelligent and (the most amazing part given that litany) absolutely kind, thoughtful, generous. He’s now on the East Coast doing Americorps work to help low-income kids avoid eating bad stuff that will poison their brains, but he’ll be moving back this summer to get a second undergrad degree before starting his Master’s. When he was a teen, I’d finished college and moved back to the area. I took him out to buy clothes for all the dances he went to, since he’s such a fashion plate, and we talked a lot about politics, religion, ethics, gender. I’m personally responsible for the introduction to his high school crowd of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And I cheered for him at his games and we now email and read each other’s blogs regularly. There’s a theory that he got all the good genes in the family, but the rest of us are coming into our own. I don’t know how much impact I had in how great he’s turned out to be, but I’m incredibly proud of him.

Then there’s little Luke, the baby of the family. He also has Tourette’s tics and some attention problems, but he’s a successful student and my mom prizes him for being smart. Because I was 11 when he was born, I took a pretty active role in his life from the start. He’s the reason I went for help after overdosing in a suicide attempt in my teens, because I didn’t want my baby brother to have to find his sister’s body. I tried to keep in touch while away at college and have spent more time with him since being back in the area. It’s with him that I can see most clearly how things change at adolescence. I’d been taking him out for movies and one-on-one time for a while, but it was with The Triplets of Belleville when he was 12 or 13 that things changed. I told him that I knew he could make sense of the movie but that I didn’t want him asking me any questions while it was going on. After, he was so excited and had all kinds of things to say about it that I think he wouldn’t have if I’d been hissing responses every time there was a “Who’s that? What’s she DOING?” It marked a real turning point, and we’ve been closer ever since then.

The boy Lee mentored is now a man. We went to his wedding last summer and his children’s baptism. Now Luke is gearing up for college in the fall. Matthew has already moved on. Mark will be back in the area for at least another year or so, but my brothers aren’t around much anymore. We all connect on facebook, though, and on our cell phones. Technology make life so much easier! And we’ve spent quality time as a group during our grandfathers’ funerals. We’ve seen the older two boys bring girlfriends into the fold (Mark’s ex is still a good friend, while Matthew’s long-time girlfriend is definitely family now and predates Lee) and even little Luke has gone to dances and had his friends-who-are-girls in his little folk music social circle grow into potential girlfriends or just plain friends for him. There’s still a strong possibility one or more will come out, but there’s no pressure from me there. I’m happy. I love them and they love Lee and we all get along so well, which is wonderful.

So as things cycle around and these young men move out of my daily (or more like weekly) life, I can see it making sense to bring in someone else who will be starting over where Lee met Luke, even though of course the dynamic is different, even though we’d be the ones parenting this time. I know our local public high school is good, which the elementary school really isn’t. I know we’re willing to work hard and put in long hours and that we went in looking for a hard-to-place child. A black teenage boy is certainly going to be in that category. And in a few hours we’ll see what Elizabeth thinks about the potential for a fit there.

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always the mother’s fault

January 5, 2009

Since we didn’t have holiday plans, I called Lee’s birthmom Leah on New Year’s Eve and she and I talked for 35 minutes. She’d love to see us soon and is really excited about the prospect of finally becoming a grandmother since neither Lee nor either of her biohalf-sibs have reproduced. I got more information about Leah’s side of the family and her health issues, giving me enough detail to know that the version of the chronic illness she has isn’t genetically transferred and that even if it were Lee’s now too old to be at risk, although this disease is one Lee had never particularly worried about.

I also got her story on why she didn’t raise Lee even though I already knew her version via Lee, that there was no neglect going on and that she gave up temporary custody to get her life together and to facilitate her divorce but that she never expected Lee to be adopted by Lee’s birthdad’s parents. Lee thinks that since this is a situation where we’re not going to be able to find out for sure what went on, she’d rather just believe what she’s always been told by her adoptive mom/bio grandma, though she knows it may not entirely be true.

Me, as usual I think the truth is probably somewhere in between. I think Lee’s grandma probably didn’t get her on the very night where if she hadn’t been found and treated she would have died (especially since she wasn’t in fact treated until the next day even in the confines of the story) but I also think that probably as a young single mom Leah may have, say, left her baby home sleeping while she went out for groceries. I’m sure it feels to Leah that she didn’t neglect Lee and it feels to Leah’s then mother-in-law that she saved Lee, but it doesn’t matter which of them is right in factual terms.

We do all agree that Lee’s birthdad was amazingly charismatic (a trait that got passed down) and that his own mother didn’t recognize until close to the end of his life that he was, according to Leah, “basically a hoodlum.” So it was easy for her to demonize her ex-daughter-in-law while not saying anything when her son brought home several different girlfriends in the same time period who clearly knew nothing about each other, as Lee recalls from her youth. We know Lee’s birthdad went on to be abusive in later relationships and fathered several other kids, although Lee doesn’t know how many and until recently didn’t want to know. Was he faithful to Leah? Was she coming out of being abused or intimidated when she gave custody of Lee to Lee’s bio grandparents? I don’t know and I don’t know if this would mitigate anything or to what extent it matters.

What surprises me is that when we’ve talked to a few of Lee’s friends who know the neglect story she gets from her adoptive mom and hear the coercion story her birthmom tells, they say, “Well, something MUST have been wrong because no woman would give up her child.” And I find myself getting very defensive every time and saying what year it was, that society wasn’t the same then as it is now, that there may have been more going on than we knew about. I mean, if Lee’s depression comes from Leah and Leah was dealing with that or with alcoholism or something else — though I don’t have any evidence that she was — and needed time to recover and get her feet under her, it makes sense that she might send her child to live in safety for some period of time until she was ready to parent again. But no, “I could never do that,” people keep saying.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been in depression so bad I thought that dying might be better or because I’ve made it through and out of an abusive relationship that I try to avoid saying what I could or couldn’t ever do. Sometimes forced choices feel like the only choices. Many forced choices are bad. But there are people who are wiser than I am or luckier or whatever and who managed not to make the bad choices I did in circumstances similar to mine, and I know that. Maybe they’d say they’d never be as stupid as I was, but from the inside it seemed like I was doing all I could to keep going and so that’s what I did and I struggled alone.

My mother has told many of our relatives that sometimes you just don’t love your children and really have to work at it, but she thought as a Catholic she ought to be parenting. When we had dinner at my parents’ house on New Year’s Day, Lee got in a long and heated debate with my dad about abortion. I was annoyed this even happened, but especially annoyed because I couldn’t break in to say anything and my dad kept talking about rape victims in this strange dispassionate way as if he’s full of empathy for them and whatever decisions they make but they might as well be gnomes for all the reality they have in the discussion. And he knows I’ve been raped, because I remember how hard it was to tell my parents months later that I had been and that it was the cause of my breakdown because I was so sure they’d be mad at me for having sex even though it wasn’t in any way consensual sex. And then he and I have never talked about it again, though my mother has mentioned it once or twice, even though I spent years doing work for sexual assault survivors at my college and even though it was very clearly a part of my identity.

So I ended up crying myself to sleep that night because I felt so far removed from my parents, that they expect me to be so unemotional and have taken their inability to comfort me to an extreme. And then Lee didn’t know how to deal with my crying and that compounded the problem. But also what I was grieving was Leah’s loss in not really getting a chance to know her daughter, whatever made Leah consider herself an unfit mother when Lee was young, the way Lee’s adoptive mother taught little Lee that love toward Leah would be disloyal, that even though I’m hard on Lee’s adoptive mother here I wish I’d had a chance to meet her and I’m sure I would have loved her, and most of all that everything falls on the mothers. On the way home from my parents’, we’d had to stop off and see a few people and when I explained why I was already so emotional after the conversation with my parents and after I finally got a Christmas gift after my mother had supposedly forgotten me but eventually managed to come up with a candle, they said, “What kind of mom wouldn’t give you a present? What kind of mom wouldn’t love YOU?”

I was hurt by what I saw as my dad’s rejection, but it does seem that there’s something about a mother that’s more primal. Or maybe it’s that my mother has rejected me over and over again in many ways. And they were right that I was hard on her and I felt bad for being hard on her — what, my dad couldn’t buy me a gift either if that’s the issue? — and I felt bad about all of it. But we talked to my parents about adoption that night, too, and they’re supportive and happy now. We can give this child three flawed grandparents, two flawed mothers. We’re doing what we can to be human. That’s all I really know.

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grand parenting

September 2, 2008

I still haven’t written about my mother’s negative (as expected) response to the news that Lee and I are in the serious stages of the adoption process. However, when we visited my paternal grandparents this weekend, we got to tell my grandmother the news. She was delighted to hear that she’ll soon have her first great-grandchildren and while we’ve never sat her down and had the whole “We’re lesbians and Lee and I are a couple” talk, it’s always been clear she knew. She even said that she’s always thought children deserve two mothers to get double the hugs, which I thought was an awfully nice thing even though if I heard it from anyone other than my grandmother (who’s incredibly liberal for a Catholic woman in her 80s and was clearly meaning it to be supportive of us rather than a broad statement) I’d talk about how men ought to do more hugging, etc. It was wonderful and so exciting to have our decision supported by someone we love and respect so much.

My grandfather wasn’t fully lucid when we were there and didn’t even always know who I was, so we didn’t talk to him directly about our plans. In fact, after we left he fell and hit his head and will be in the hospital for another few days until he can be transferred directly to the nursing home my grandmother and other relatives have chosen for him. Because of this, I’m especially glad that Lee and I got to spend a long weekend with him. He turned to her at one point and said, “You, you’re the ladyfriend?” I know this means he couldn’t remember her name or mine at that moment, but it was so sweet and heartfelt, like when my grandmother introduced both of us to one of his aides as her granddaughters, and it also gives us a new term to use. So I can say things like “Okay, ladyfriend, remember that you’re not the only one who needs the bathroom in the morning!” and we’ll both be able to think of him. I like that.

And for the record, I didn’t say anything like the quote above to my ladyfriend this morning because she’s just getting back to school and isn’t much of a morning person anyway. But I have to admit I’m glad she’s mine and glad she’s slipped so easily into being a part of my extended family, however much I may not like her sluggishness in the morning and excitability at night. I’m a fortunate woman in so many ways.

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almost on the road

August 27, 2008

Lee and I have a long weekend planned. We’ll be driving north to see my grandparents, out of the midwest and into the borderlands. I’ve always been close to these grandparents emotionally, but never geographically. At first, Lee and I were considering moving up there to a more progressive region of the country. Some things are good where we are and at least so far it seems that adopting in our state should be in some respects easier than doing it there. But I know when I get to the city and feel the cool breezes and familiar scents I’ll want to be there all the time the way I never have been.

Lee, whose grandparents and biofather are all deceased, loves my grandparents, loved them from the first time she met them. They can tell how happy I am with her and delight in their time spent with us. This is probably the last time I’ll visit my grandfather while he’s living at home full-time, but that’s absolutely the decision that needs to be made. His physical needs are just getting to be too great for my grandmother to handle, and staying in their current home would clearly lead to emotional stress for both of them. Still, it’s going to be hard to watch things changing.

I know I’ll be coming to it with eyes that have been changed by all the thinking I’ve been doing about adoption. I’ll be more aware of things that are familiar and how a child could lose them in disconnecting from a first family or foster family, how I can work to build traditions so that even far-off family can be in some ways close. I know I’ll be aware of the fact that this might be my last year as just Oldest Grandchild before becoming Mother of Oldest Great-Grandchildren. I’m stuck halfway between generations already in this big Catholic family, and the split between my youngest cousins and my potential children will only be a few years smaller than the gap between my age and that of my oldest cousins. Everything feels right to me, and it will be time to find out in person what my extended family thinks about us as potential parents!

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Quick Thoughts

June 21, 2008

Lee and her sister and brother-in-law just called me from a timezone where they don’t have to be thinking about going to bed soon like I do. They’ve been having great fun together and we’re trying to set up a girls’ trip they can take with their bio mom (and me!) in the fall sometime.

Lee and her half-sister carry the same planner, have the same unusual shoe size. Even though Lee was adopted by her grandparents and her sister was raised by their shared mother, the time they spent together in childhood or hearing about each other from relatives seems to have done its job in keeping them emotionally connected despite their geographical distance. They aren’t siblings in reunion the way most adoptees Lee’s age would be, but adult sisters who love each other more than they know each other and haven’t seen each other in years. To me, it’s a good anecdotal argument for openness. From the other side of the phone line, their laughs were overlapping and I couldn’t separate one’s joy from the other’s.

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