Once Bitten

After torrential rains and an all-around meteorological dreary day, to see this dog sashaying down the street was a spot of sun.  He was tan and tiny and fierce and moved, despite his leash, as though he owned the sidewalk.  He was also carrying a tiny stuffed reindeer in his mouth.  Probably Rudolph.  No doubt his favorite toy.

And as this dog and his owner passed, I naturally smiled.  Anyone would have.  The woman walking him smiled back.  She then said, admonishingly, “He’s cute, but he has psychological problems.”  I clearly had the look of one who was unfazed and intended to pet her dog, “psychological problems” notwithstanding; so, to be clear, she added I should probably not pet him lest he bite.

And as they continued walking along, her and her dog’s backs now to me, she added, “I adopted him.  So, you can’t blame me for his problems.”

Heavy sigh.

And where to begin . . .

Well, first off, it probably goes without saying that no bite that tiny dog could have inflicted would have stung more than that seemingly unwitting, seemingly harmless remark.

In our language, we use the word “adopt” to describe “highways,” “spots,” “attitudes,” animals, and, of course, people.  And while I have always leaned toward wishing for more synonyms so the word “adopt” could be reserved for people, I understand its linguistic flexibility.  That being said, it’s the fact that this woman, in a mere moment and eleven words, cut to the core of a problem much more prevalent and insidious than mere semantics.

Before I continue on, I know she didn’t mean it, didn’t mean anything by it.  Most people don’t and never do.  And maybe that is a significant part of the problem.  That people don’t realize it.  But in her remark she effectively linked adoption and “psychological problems,” said that those who are adopted come with said problems, problems for which someone else is to “blame,” and that despite an adoption, the psychological problems linger and that the best one can do is muddle through.

In eleven words.

And therein is the trouble. 

As the mother of a family formed by adoption, it pains me that my children are going to hear the word tossed about in this manner, the word our language has to describe the process by which our family was formed, hurled blithely and without regard, a word that is and will be at times participially attached to them. 

The woman I encountered today didn’t know me, didn’t know my beautiful sons, and didn’t realize the extent of the subtext of her remarks. 

She also didn’t share with me something I didn’t already know.  

She just reminded me that some people bite.


Another’s Loss Is My Pain

IMG_7447His fifth birthday has rendered me contemplative.  Perhaps all birthdays do to some extent.  But this one has pulled at me decidedly and fully.

At first I thought it was because he’s my baby.  The baby.  My youngest and my last.  Watching transition after transition, milestone after milestone has left me more than a little not to mention noticeably brooding.

But I realized tonight it’s not that at all.

It’s because I’m thinking about her, about his birthmother . . . and how five years ago tonight a very young woman made a very courageous decision, took an unparalleled leap of faith.

It’s so easy to get lost in the mire of stereotypes—of presuppositions and prejudice, to put birthmothers into a single, constricting category.  As a society we still have not disengaged from the verbiage that limits our thinking about adoption:  mothers giving up their children . . . the phrasing alone speaks of quitting, of desertion.

But tonight, on my youngest son’s fifth birthday, I am struck particularly by the enormous sacrifice his birthmother made, the selflessness of her decision, of my colossal luck that she chose for him this life, his life.

And I am pained by her loss tonight.

Because I know him and she does not.

Because this is suddenly so hard, and I never knew it would be.

Choosing Adoption at Ages Eight and Nine

IMG_5121The sceneOscar, age 9, in the top bunk, very, very tired after a long night of football and Minecraft but still remarkably lucid; Edgar, age 8, on the bottom bunk packed with two dozen stuffed animals, four pillows, two blankets, and a beleaguered mother nestled in temporarily to say goodnight.  Edgar is characteristically chatty and full of nighttime questions. 

EDGAR:  “Mom, do you think I’ll get married some day?”

ME:  “If you meet the right person, you’ll know it.  And if you both want to get married, then you will.”

EDGAR:  “How about kids?  Do you think I’ll have kids?”

ME:  “If you and the person you marry want to have children, then you will.”

EDGAR:  “I think I want to adopt one boy and one girl and name them Steve and Elizabeth.”

ME:  “Well, if you get married, it’s not just up to you, you know.  Your spouse would have to agree.”

EDGAR:  “Really?”

ME:  “Yes, really.”

EDGAR:  “Well, we’re adopting no matter what.”

OSCAR:  “Me, too.  But I’m adopting just one child, a girl.”

ME:  “You know, there are lots of ways to form a family.  Adoption is one, but there are others.”

OSCAR:  “Yeah, but adoption is cool.”

EDGAR:  “Yeah, I love adoption.”

MEPause.  “Yes, it is.  And so do I.”  Another pause.   “Goodnight, boys.  I love you.”

OSCAR:  “I love you, Mom.”

EDGAR:  “I love you, too, Mom.”

And the mother, renewed and a little less beleaguered, nestles in further and decides to linger because, really, where else would she want to be?

Open and Shut

IMG_3970I have checked my email two dozen times this morning hoping each time I click on “Inbox” there will be a note, a sentence even, telling me she has changed her mind, that she made a mistake in what she wrote last night—that she wrote it in anger, frustration, or sadness and that the light of day has made her realize this is not a relationship she would ever want to sever.

August’s birth mother, when his adoption plan was created, initially requested six visits per year.  We settled on four and have been steadfast in adhering to our agreement.  Even when she was not able to come to a visit, we continuously endeavored, sometimes amidst our own frustrations, to find a work-around that would make sense, understanding that our son’s positive contact with his birthmother is a gift unparalleled.

It hasn’t always been smooth—far from it.  The most recent attempt at a visit ended up heart-wrenchingly sad: a four-year-old boy, eager to see his birth mother, understanding precisely who she is and why it’s important that he see her, deliberately and thoughtfully garbed in a Christmas sweater and dress pants and armed with a handmade gift, wandering through the food court of a nearby mall, hand-in-hand with his mother who was watching the minutes tick by far too fast with his birth mother nowhere to be found.

When the only reasonable option was to leave, lest we prolong the inevitable result, August cried.  I lifted his forty-five pound body in my arms, and between heaves and tears he said, with the full force of his four-year-old sense of injustice, not to mention cause-and-effect, “She lied to me.  I don’t ever want to see her again.”

I brought him to the car, gave him kisses and some water, and then we talked.  I told him she didn’t really lie, though it may seem that way to him.  Something happened and she couldn’t come.  I asked him to please consider seeing her because not seeing her would hurt her feelings.  He said she hurt his feelings, so we paused.

By the time the ride was over, August consented to seeing her again.  I allowed him to dictate the terms:  the zoo in the summer.  I proposed the plan when we got home and in return received an email in which his birth mother–in two mere sentences–declared she was not going to see August anymore.

I read her words too many times, thinking it was quite possible I was misreading them, that they were an illusion.  When it became apparent that they weren’t and that her mind had been made up, I had to tell my son.

From the outside looking in, especially for those who know and understand the inevitable bumps with which such relationships are often strewn, this may seem as though it will ultimately be in our son’s best interest: If someone no longer wants to or can’t participate in a relationship with another, forcing it can only lead to disappointment and heartache.

But as an adoptive mother, August’s mother, I know the benefits and the potential benefits this relationship has—had–for him, for us, and for August’s brothers, both of whom never had an opportunity to even meet their birth parents.  I know and understand the loss.

But at this moment August feels the loss, and for him my heart hurts.  My wish then can only be that the love he feels from his family, his friends, indeed the world, will help to ease that loss, understanding full well that when we’ve had something—someone–in our life and then suddenly we don’t, that easing is the best we can hope for.  Filing is not an option.

August is a light in and to this world, a gift; and his birth mother gave him a selfless and tremendous gift in not only making an adoption plan but spending the time she could with him afterward.  I cannot presume to know the battles she faces, the pain in her life.  My hope, though, is that one day his presence will bring her comfort and that she will seek him out.

He will be here, and we will walk with him, toward her—when she is ready.