A Need to Comment

Before I begin this post, I suppose I have no choice but to admit publicly that I read People magazine.  There, I said it.  English teacher.  Lover of words.  I thoroughly, completely, and I guess now unabashedly devour every issue of  People magazine.  (I also adore Will Ferrell movies, but that’s a story for another day.)

But though I will admit to reading it (and there I am probably using the word “reading” a bit loosely), I promptly forget about it as soon as I’m finished.

Well, that is until recently.

On the cover of the September 20th issue is a young couple who, I guess, have a reality show.  Since almost everyone does these days, they didn’t strike me as particularly interesting–that is until I took a closer look at the cover.   This is a teenage couple that made an adoption plan for their daughter.  The cover would lead you to believe that they were having all manner of second thoughts; and, quite frankly, as an adoptive parent, I found the cover rather alarmist.  I fearfully scanned the table of contents, located the article, and read it, all the while thinking that this was going to be yet another dramatic adoption-related story that will alternately give this amazing way to form a family, yet again, a bad name and scare off potential adoptive parents.

The article, of course, had nothing to do with the cover.  Quite the contrary, the young couple praised the parents they selected; and the article was anything but dramatic.

So, I took to my computer and penned this little note to the magazine in between dinner and bath time tonight:

Dear Editor:

As an adoptive parent of three children, I feel the need to comment on the cover of your September 20th issue.  The serious, even somber expressions of Tyler and Catelynn coupled with the words “WE MISS OUR BABY” emblazoned across their photograph probably led many readers, especially those who have not seen their show, to believe that they had had a change of heart regarding the brave and selfless adoption plan they made for Carly.  The perpetuation of this fear, marketed in such a dramatic fashion, does a decided disservice to those considering adoption.  Prospective adoptive parents need to be supported and encouraged–not made to feel that the “adoption drama”  you reference on the cover is likely to be their reality.  Tyler and Catelynn have suffered a loss, and that needs to be honored, but so, too, does their very positive attitude about the wonderful family they chose to parent Carly.

I realize that this is simply a popular magazine that ultimately has the staying power of the subjects of the majority of their stories; however, as Oscar, Edgar, and August’s mother, I am often compelled to say what needs to be said when sensitivity if not common sense is overlooked.  The magazine may opt not to publish the letter–or they may.  It will ultimately be up to them.  But for me, I wanted to publish it here as I remind my children that an adoption journey is a miraculous one–and that anyone or anything that denigrates it or seeks to spin it in such a way so as to sell more magazines and advertising space deserves to be called out on it.  How vociferously they call out the world  on its transgressions as they relate to adoption will be up to my children to decide.  But by my doing so I hope to remove the drama and instill pride in this honorable and beautiful way to form a family.

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The Power to Embarrass

I always wondered how a doting infant-toddler-preschooler-young child could suddenly transform into a kid who is embarrassed by his mother’s very being.  But the truth is there really is no transformation.  One day the child who thinks you are simply the most beautiful person on earth is suddenly feeling as though he is going to be judged by your appearance.

A scene from last week at breakfast:

Me:  “Oscar, guess what?  I’m going to be helping out on a committee to raise money for your school!”

Oscar:  “That’s cool.”

Me:  “It is.  There’s a meeting on Wednesday evening, so Grandma and Grandpa will come over and babysit you and your brothers.”

Oscar:  “Where is this meeting?”

Me:  “It’s at a beautiful vineyard in Portsmouth.  It should be really nice.”

Oscar:  (suddenly quite concerned):  “Ummm, what are you going to wear to the meeting?”

Me:  (incredulous that he could possibly care):  “I don’t know.  I guess whatever I wear to work that day.  Why do you ask?”

Oscar:  “Well, I know when you come home from work, you like to put on your sweatpants and slippers and be comfortable.  You’re not going to wear your sweatpants and slippers, are you?”

Me:  “I hadn’t planned on it.”

I’m pretty sure there’s a whole lot I am going to be able to do with this newfound power my sweatpants and slippers apparently have; but for now I think I’ll just scheme (oops, I mean plan).

A Shared History

There are pieces of writing that ask to be written–often very politely, and when you have a chance–and those that demand it–as in right now, hop to it, and thank you very much.  And despite the fact that this has been a very long and exhausting week and that I am writing through an unmistakable gray film over my eyes, longing to sleep, this one is insisting that I tend to it now.

It is also a fiercely personal post . . . one that requires I share not only my perceptions of the present but details about my past.  But as this blog is a gift to my children; and my history, I have learned, is becoming theirs, I will share it here.

Oscar has always had a tendency to stick close to my side–in public and at home.  But over the last month or so, his need to be near me has reached unprecedented levels, so much so that even if I was only in the next room but still out of his line of vision, he’d stop what he was doing and find me, check on me, and ask what I was doing and how long I’d be doing it. He’d follow me upstairs to gather laundry and back down to the laundry room.  He’d watch from the front door as I gathered backpacks and lunch boxes from the car.  He’d get out of bed to ask me when I was going to bed.

I gave his behavior a lot of thought.  I wracked my brain trying to discern what it could be that would lead a child, who has all the security he could want and that every child deserves, to be so ostensibly worried about where I was and what I was doing.  We were never the parents that waited until our children were asleep to go out so as to avoid the drama of saying goodbye.  We always tell the boys where we will be if our schedules take a different turn on a particular day.  We have never not been there when we said we would.  Ever.

I then muddled over the fact that this could be “adoption-related.”  Perhaps Oscar was having thoughts about his birth mother–surmising that if she “left,” so to speak, perhaps I would, too.

I also thought that it might be simply Oscar’s one last hurrah before he went truly independent on me–a last phase of clinging tightly before he started to let go.

The truth remained: I had no idea.  So, I did what I do in such situations–I stopped guessing and asked my son, and what he told me I could have never predicted.

I quietly took him aside last Saturday morning and asked him if he knew why he needed to check on me, to follow me, to make sure I was still there.  I thought at first that though he may understand the question he may not be able to articulate the reasons; but as I had nothing to lose and–since this is Oscar–everything to learn, I persevered and waited.

And then, “Yes, I do know why I do that.”

A deep breath, and a “Well, can you tell me so that I can understand?”

He looked at me with the wisdom and awareness someone ten times his age and said, “Pop-Pop left you when you were just two years old.  And he seems like such a nice person.  And you’re a nice person.  And I guess sometimes nice people leave.”

Pop-Pop is my father, and he did indeed leave when I “was just two years old.”

Oscar then added, “And you told me that even though he left, he still loved you.  So, I guess that even if someone loves you, they can still leave.”

What followed was a poignant conversation that I simply never thought I would have at such an early juncture in my child-rearing not to mention the tears that inevitably come as I call up the image of Oscar’s face at that moment, the seriousness of his expression, the soulfulness of his eyes.   All the work that I have done over the years to ensure that the losses I faced as a child would not impact my children went right out the window.

I may have learned this week that despite my best intentions to create a positive spin on the difficult chapters of my life, that my children are also going to be shaped to some extent by my experiences.  But though my history may become theirs, my story will not be.

Thank you, Oscar, for your introspection and for your willingness to communicate–and for your ability to teach me what I need to know.  We will be by each other’s side–today, tomorrow, and always–my love.  That I can promise you.

Boys Will Be Boys and Sometimes Girls

It is an unabashed and consistent honor to watch my children move from one stage to the next, to see them grow and develop into the young people they are becoming.   However, every so often something emerges–something that is a sure and steady sign of growth–that nevertheless leaves me a little sad, a little wistful for the moment that came before, for the innocence that only a short time ago resided where there is now knowledge.

Experts say that “[a]round age 5 and 6, kids start to more fully understand the differences between boys and girls . . . They start to concentrate on learning the social differences–what clothes, games, and books are ‘supposed to’ belong to each gender . . . For many kids, this is the first time they’ll experience peer pressure, to be and act like girls or boys” (Ellen Booth Church).

Recently Oscar and Edgar have chosen their Halloween costumes (and for their 14-month-old brother and their parents).  It’s no surprise that we are going with a Star Wars theme–August, as the shortest member of the bunch, will be Yoda; I have the honor of being Princess Leia, Don (though he may not quite realize it yet) will be sporting a white jumpsuit when he transforms into a Storm Trooper; Oscar is opting to be Darth Vader; and Edgar has chosen to be one of the padawans from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka.  Oscar thinks all this is “really cool”–except for the fact that Asokha is a girl, that his brother has chosen to be a girl for Halloween.

Oscar recently told me that his “friends” are having a hard time with Edgar’s being a girl for Halloween, that “they think he should be something else.”  We, of course, can read between the lines and understand that it is Oscar who is having a hard time with this.

It is no secret that Edgar does what Edgar wants to do and has little to no concern for what society says is “gender-appropriate.”  And he happens to have parents who share his belief.  This spring, when he wanted to wear his sparkly pink mermaid costume on a walk downtown, I simply said to him, “It’s fine with me.  However, please understand that someone may say something to you about it being a costume for girls.  Can you handle that?  Is it okay with you?”  His reply was a chirpy “yes,” and off we went.  We got plenty of stares, and even a “Well, isn’t he brave to wear a mermaid costume!”  Edgar remained unfazed, imagining himself as “the defender of all mermaids,” walking along in mythological aquatic bliss.

When Edgar recently saw a commercial for Barbie, he asked if he could have one.  Oscar promptly intervened before I could respond with my predictable, “Sure,” and said, “No, Edgar, that’s a toy for girls.”  Edgar’s reply?  “I don’t care.”

And he doesn’t.  He likes Ahsoka.  She is a rich character with a pivotal role in the series, and her look is intriguing.  That she is female is merely incidental to Edgar.  It may be because he’s not yet at the point where these things matter; or it simply may be that they never will.  Either way, Oscar, as Edgar’s brother, is going to have to come to terms with his brother’s (and his parents’) refusal to play into gender stereotypes.  And something tells me he will.

Sometimes I think about what it would do to Edgar’s spirit if he had a parent who adamantly refused to buy let alone allow him to wear his mermaid costume; but just as much I think about what would happen if Oscar’s current notions about what it means to be a boy or a girl were reinforced and not challenged.  I think that what would happen is that his development in this area would stop here at age six.

Ellen Church writes, “The goal is not to define your child’s gender identity . . . but to provide a wide variety of options.”    My children’s gender identity, including the myriad options, is for them to discover.  As their parents, we will alert them to all the possible ramifications; but ultimately they should feel free to be who they are, knowing they are loved and accepted.  And it is my fervent hope that if they grow up secure in who they are, that they will move through this stage and never feel the need to succumb to the judgment of others.

A Voyage to Remember

Sitcoms and moms everywhere have made the phrase, “This is why we can’t have anything nice around here,” or some variation on the theme, famous.  With children in the house, strange stains, chips, and tears appear out of nowhere, things are often not where you left them, and organization of the constant clutter is an equally constant challenge.  And though these bumps and bruises to your home, furniture, clothing, appliances, garden, and plumbing are a small price to pay (well, sometimes an expensive price to pay when there is a Tinker Toy in the drain of your bathroom sink, but that’s a story for another day) for the honor of raising children, you’re not going to find many parents who jump for joy at crayon in the dryer, a melted fruit snack on the upholstery, or a scratch on the hood of the car because “I just wanted to see if my fingernails could leave a mark” (yes, they can).

Fortunately, nearly everything a young child can dish out can be cleaned, repaired, and, if necessary, replaced.  So, you keep your perspective and understand that one day this child will be thirty years old with his own place, and you can visit, eat an apple, and leave the eviscerated core under his couch (oh, wait, that probably wouldn’t be nice).

As part of their Sunday afternoon entertainment this weekend, Oscar and Edgar tipped over the ottoman in our dining room.  The lining underneath had already started to separate from the frame.  Noticing an opportunity, they decided to finish the job and tear the rest of it off–so they could “make a boat.”  And just as I was about to say something–profound, I’m sure–about willfully destroying property and not making something worse than it already is, August crawled over to this “boat” and climbed aboard.

And for the next half-hour, my three sons played together in fraternal bliss.  A piece of fabric sacrificed for this moment–a very small price to pay indeed.

We Have It in Writing

It’s probably safe to say that as brothers go, Oscar and Edgar are at full tilt.  Anyone who has seen them this week might have noticed the not-so-subtle bruises on Edgar’s cheek and forehead (the result of a prank by Oscar gone awry) and the three symmetrical scratches on Oscar’s cheek (a retaliatory gesture courtesy of Edgar and his wild fingernails).  They fight, they wrestle, they argue.  They are experiencing territory issues and instances of competition.

In other words, they’re siblings.  They’re growing up and trying to figure out how to relate to one another while simultaneously attempting to field all the changes they’re experiencing as growing boys.

And just when you think, despite our most earnest entreaties, that there is no hope–that these two silly geese are destined to a lifetime of altercations and mischievous tricks, you get something like this:

Early one morning this week Oscar came downstairs and asked if he could write a note and slip it  into Edgar’s lunch box “as a little surprise when he opened his bag.”  I asked him what he wanted to write, thinking for sure the word “poop” would make its ubiquitous appearance; and lo and behold, the above is what he dictated.  And, believe me, the presence of the heart did not go unnoticed.

The love is most assuredly there–and though it doesn’t thrill me that occasionally it must seemingly be coupled with the occasional bruise or scratch, I am learning that in the evolution of sibling relationships, especially those between brothers, this where it all begins.

Article in “Adoptive Families” Magazine

Third time’s a charm . . . Here is a link to my most recent article in Adoptive Families magazine. I am indebted to editor Eve Gilman for believing in my ideas and helping me see them through to completion.

http://adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=2119

I do this for my children and hope that my meager words in this most respected publication will mean as much to them as they do to me.

Thank you to Don, too, for the accompanying photo–it, like you, is one that I will treasure forever.