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Archive for the ‘Adoption’ Category

Learning to Wait

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

“Learn to wait.”

They are words my grandfather is famous for, though I most often heard them from my mother.  “You remember what Granddaddy always says, ‘Learn to wait,’” she would remind us.  In these instances waiting was almost certainly some brand of drudgery.  It was what we had to do on long car trips, in long amusement park ride lines, or in the lead-ups to birthdays or Christmas or the last day of school.  Waiting felt like paying dues – something we had to endure before we could make our way to whatever prize lay in the distance.

I thought about all of this as I listened to the sermon in church this past Sunday.  As many priests do this time of year she reminded us that Advent is a time of waiting.  She commented that for many of us the most commonplace forms of waiting – for tables at restaurants, for meetings to start, for a coffee date to arrive, etc., have recently been supplanted by the most commonplace form of mindless occupation – the smartphone.  I am not here to curse the evils of the iPhone, the digital camera, or the internet.  I believe that by and large they are all significant boons to modern life and that we are better off with them than we were without them.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that simple, undistracted waiting is becoming increasingly unfamiliar to many of us; so much so that I would guess most of us view it with the same intolerance that a five-year-old views the 30-ish days that clutter the path from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

I’m here to turn that thinking on its head.  I say that waiting is a blessing.  I say that waiting is a gift.*

Esperar is the Spanish word for “to wait.”  It is also the Spanish word for “to hope.”  I’m sure I’m not the first person to wax philosphical about this coincidence.  That, however, makes it no less relevant here.  When we hope for something it is because we are facing an unknown.  We must then wait to discover whether or not our hope will come to be.  Does this mean then, that a life without waiting is a life without hope?  I don’t think so.  But I think that for the most part hope is implicit in waiting.  Waiting means expectation.  It means we are looking ahead to something.  It means we have something worth our excitement and anticipation.

This is true in my own life beyond the Christmas season.  We are in the middle of a very long wait in our adoption process.  Referral wait times for Korean placements are currently running ten months.  Every time someone asks me how the adoption process is going I shrug my shoulders and sigh.  “We’re still waiting.”  And yes, the waiting is hard.  But we have a child to wait for.  We are so lucky to be waiting; so lucky to know that at the end of these many months we will have another wonderful little boy in our family.

For adults, December is an easy time of year to view waiting with relief, since many of us have a hard enough time as it is getting everything done before footed pajamas scamper out of bed on Christmas morning.  But muttering to yourself, “Thank goodness I still have a week left before Christmas,” is not the same thing as embracing the wait.

Embracing the wait means that we reflect on what is coming.  We prepare ourselves for it.  Whether we are waiting for the Christ child or a Korean child, when we do it right we are better off for it.

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*I understand that there are exceptions to this.  Waiting for a loved one to come home from a military deployment.  Waiting for the results of a medical test.  This is not the kind of waiting I’m talking about.

Laughing at the Rain

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Eagerly waiting for the 'L'

We needed to get the heck out of Dodge.  It’s been a thousand degrees for the past month, and we hadn’t been out of town since our trip to Disney World in May.  We were all going a wee bit crazy.  So this past weekend the Griswolds Family P loaded up into the car and drove to Chicago for a long weekend.  We covered a lot of ground in 48 hours, including Millennium Park, Taste of Chicago, the Field Museum, a Cubs game, and the Shedd Aquarium.  It was a wonderful change of scenery and provided a much-needed break from our usual weekend fare.  But amidst all our activities, my mind swirled with thoughts of our adoption process.

How will you spend quality time with your children? This was one of the questions on the 20+ page Personal Data Form that GAP and I each had to fill out as part of our never-ending adoption paperwork.  It was a question that ran through my mind this past weekend because the weekend we had was a perfect embodiment of the answer I gave.  My answer was,

Particularly in young children I believe that quantity begets quality.  You can’t ask a three- or four-year-old to just “turn it on” and have quality time RIGHT NOW.  You have to spend a lot of time with them and some of it will end up being really quality time.  You can’t always plan it, though.  A special occasion could be completely lost on them.  And a silly game in the bath one evening could end up being the most fun you’ve had with your kid in days.

In that vein… Saturday was a big day.  We kicked it off at the Field Museum, then went uptown for the Cubs game.  On the way back to our hotel we inadvertently got off the ’L’ at least a couple of stops too early and ended up making a rather long foot trek home.  Halfway through that long walk it started to rain.  The early sprinkles quickly gave way to heavy, legitimate rain, and by the time we got back to our Chicago digs we were completely soaked through to the skin.  At one point during our walk, as it became clear that there was no alternative to “completely soaked” I started laughing out loud.  From his perch on GAP’s shoulders IEP looked down at me and asked, “Mommy, why you laughing?”  “Because it’s just funny, buddy,” I told him.  “We are so wet that it’s funny.”  Then he started laughing at my laughter, and I in turn laughed at his laughter.  There was nothing to do but laugh.

Back at the hotel, dried off and with naps under our belts we began mobilizing to head out for dinner.  As IEP rubbed the sleep out of his eyes he curled up against me and I asked him what had been his favorite part of the day had been.  He didn’t have to think before he answered, “Riding the ‘L’ and laughing at the rain.”

I smiled.  On a day that included one of the foremost natural history museums in the world, and one of the most storied baseball teams of all time, the things that mattered the most to my son were a ride on a train and the misadventure of getting wet.  I couldn’t help but think of my adoption questionnaire.  I have some firm ideas about parenting, but many of them are just ideas.  Many of them have yet to be borne out by experience.  So it made me happy to hear that, in his infinite three-year-old wisdom, my son had confirmed my hypothesis.*  We had quality time, but it wasn’t the quality time I had planned.  It was the quality time that grew organically out of a long day spent together.

I think I find this parenting truth comforting.  I supposed it could be frustrating to know that extensive plans for special occasions may be wasted on a young kid who doesn’t understand their significance.  But what I find comforting is that what matters most to a child is that which is genuine.  A shared moment.  An unexpected laugh.  An unplanned memory.  Museums and baseball games are wonderful outings.  But what matters most is that we were there together.  Having an experience together.  Laughing at the rain together.

*A sample size of one incident is statistically significant, right?

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PS – Our adoption home study is tonight.  I am currently accepting prayers, good vibes, happy thoughts, and whatever other virtual talismans of good luck you might want to send our way.

More Than Checking a Box

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

One week from today a social worker will come to our house.  She will arrive just as the kids are finishing supper.  She will stay for a couple of hours, I think.  She will watch us wrangle our kids into bed (with Nanny on hand to help).  Then she will sit with us and talk to us.  She will try to get to know us.  And she will try to understand what kind of parents we are.

The purpose for this social worker’s visit?  Our adoption home study.

For those not familiar with the adoption process, the home study is a critical component.  After you’ve submitted proof of your entire existence in writing (tax returns, birth and marriage certificates, child abuse screenings, criminal background checks, employment verifications, blood work, physical exam results, and a 20+ page questionnaire) the next step is for someone to actually meet you in person, visit your home, and make sure that what they find in real life jives with what you’ve submitted on paper (or, electronically, for the most part).

Not surprisingly, I have mixed emotions about the home study.  Of course, generally speaking, I think it’s a good idea.  It’s a good idea for someone to verify in person that we don’t have firearms sitting around, or food rotting on the counters, or 75 cats, or loose electrical wiring, or anything else comparably horrifying.  But beyond that, what does it really accomplish?  How much can anyone really get to know us over the course of two visits?  (A second visit will happen at the end of this month.)

The easy answer is, she can’t.  She can’t know, really know, whether I am a good parent.  She can’t know if my kids feel loved and valued.  She can’t know if my marriage is healthy.  She can’t know if I serve balanced meals, or discipline appropriately, or set fair boundaries.  She can’t know how I react to stress.  She can’t know if I am thoughtful and intellectually curious.  She can’t know whether I am joyful or sullen or uptight or lazy. … And the saddest part of all is that, by and large, those things don’t matter.

The child we will end up adopting will have spent his entire life prior to joining our family in a foster home.  I know there are some really wonderful foster parents out there, but it is often a failed experiment in child rearing.  The hard truth of the matter is that we would have to be pretty subpar as parents not to beat the environment the child has been in since birth.  And so, it is the job of the social worker not so much to determine if we are absolutely wonderful parents, but if we can provide the basic nuts and bolts of a happy and stable life.

But shouldn’t it be more?  Shouldn’t it be more than the checking of a box that says, “Fit parents.”  I think that every shade of grey should matter.  I think that nuances should be explored and personalities understood.  I think that our adoption agency should be commited to finding the perfect child for our family, and the perfect family for every child.  Merely being better than foster care is a pretty easy litmus test to pass.  

Perhaps I’m underestimating it a bit.  Perhaps I will find that our social worker is truly invested in the process of matching a child with our family.  Perhaps the written documentation of our home study visits will be more detailed than the mere statement of fact that we are able to provide for an adopted child.  Nevertheless, in the research I’ve done to prepare most adoptive parents’ responses I’ve found on the topic of the home study are in the vein of, “It was a big letdown.  They just want to make sure the home is safe.  They don’t really need to get to know you.”  The only exception to that refrain was one respondent from Canada whose social worker spent close to 20 hours with her over the course of many visits.  (There is so much that Canada gets right!)

With that in mind, there is much about our life and family that I wish our social worker would want to know.  But I fear that once she’s confirmed the presence of a fire extinguisher, refrigerator, and a non-leaking roof she’ll have seen enough.  I hope I’m wrong.

Out of My Hands

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I apologize for my spotty presence in this space over the past couple of weeks.  Two weeks ago we were on vacation and last week just sort of slipped away from me.  I’ve missed my regular writing and am happy to be back.

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An open letter to the mother of my unborn third child.

Dear You,

I don’t know you.  Chances are I never will.  But there is no one on this earth right now whose acquaintance I would rather make.    You see, you and I are already inextricably linked forever.  Our lives will soon cross at perhaps the most sacred of intersections: motherhood.

Today you are pregnant with your child.  But you are also pregnant with my child.  Per the adoption math you are roughly seven months along.  You feel your baby kick you every day.  Perhaps he’s pushing up under your ribs, as IEP did to me at that stage.  Or perhaps he’s kicking straight out against the wall of your belly, as SSP did.  Or perhaps he’s doing some dance entirely his own.  Whatever it is, you are the only one who knows it.  I cannot feel his kicks or hiccups.  I cannot watch my weight gain and have my belly measured.  I cannot see him on an ultrasound or listen to his heart beat on the doppler machine.  Those experiences are yours alone.  …  And I’m so jealous and so nervous.

You realize it, don’t you, that you’re carrying my baby?  You’re carrying the little boy whose knees I will bandage and whose cries I will calm.  You’re carrying the boy who will pile in bed with GAP and IEP and SSP to read “The Lorax” for the umpty-thousandth time.  You’re carrying the little boy whose photo I will take on the front porch on his first day of school.  You’re carrying the little boy whose Christmas presents I will wrap and whose ball games I will watch.  You’re carrying the little boy whom we will shepherd through adolescence and into adulthood.  You are carrying the boy whom we will send to college and maybe watch get married.  He is your baby.  But he is our baby.

It’s hard for me, you know, to have no control over my baby’s health during his gestation.  With my older boys I went to great lengths to be assured of their health.  But I can’t do that this time.  My hands are tied.  You are half a world away and completely unknown to me.  I want so much to make sure that he’s in good hands with you, but I can’t.  There’s nothing I can do but hope and pray.

Are you taking good care of him?  Are you getting enough sleep, and exercise and staying hydrated?  Are you taking your prenatal vitamins and attending your prenatal doctor appointments?  Are you making good decisions?  When you want that next cigarette do you find something else to do instead?  When you want a drink of soju do you think about our little boy and pour a glass of water?  Are you being strong so that our baby will be strong?

I know it must be hard.  I can’t imagine what it would take to carry a baby for nine months knowing (or perhaps not knowing – for I have no idea how you will come to this decision) that you will not keep him.  I can’t imagine turning him over to someone else, to be bounced around the adoption system for many months, with little knowledge of where he will land.  But I commend you for it.  For not terminating your pregnancy.  For understanding that for whatever reason his best chance at a good life lies with someone else.  For being willing to let him go.

I promise that we will take good care of him for the rest of his life.  Can you promise me that you’ll take good care of him for the rest of your pregnancy?  Please?  I’ll do everything I can for him as soon as he is ours.  But for the moment he is still yours.  For the moment he is out of my hands.  For the moment I have to trust in you.  We’re counting on you. 

Please don’t let us down. 

Please don’t let him down.

Very sincerely,

Gale

Not Applicable

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

I’ve made mention here before of the fact that GAP and I intend to adopt.  Well, now that we have our two biological children we have set out on the path toward adoption.  It feels a wee bit crazy to be starting this next parenting adventure before the most recent addition is even sleeping through the night.  But when you consider that the process takes about two years it makes a bit more sense.

We submitted our application a few weeks ago and right now the name of the game is: paperwork.  And lots of it.  Forms, forms, and more forms.  Most of them are fairly predictable – employment verifications, tax returns, medical exam results, and so on.  One form, however, is more of a doozy.  We each have to fill out a 16-page personal information form that addresses everything from our parents’ marital status to what we might do if our adopted child wants to seek out his birth parents.

Not surprisingly when it comes to international adoption there is quite a bit of focus on the racial aspect of things.  We intend to adopt from Asia which means that, by definition, our adopted children will not have the same fair skin and blue eyes that our biological sons have.  The adoption agency – quite rightly – wants to know how we will help our adopted kids deal with any discrimination they may face as minorities, and in that vein asks about what discrimination we have faced in our own lives and how we coped.  One such field requested: Talk about a time when someone made an assumption about you based only on how you look.

I was stumped.

I called my sister and she knew exactly why I was at a loss.  I’m a completely normal looking white woman.  I am of average height and build.  I grew up around people who look largely like I do.  I currently live in an area where most people look largely like I do.  I imagine people have made all sorts of assumptions about me based on my appearance, but none to my detriment.  And that is almost certainly what the adoption form’s question is trying to unveil.  And I wonder about the effect this has on how I go about my way in the world.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mean to sit here and say, “It’s too bad I’ve never been misjudged or discriminated against based on appearances.  My life would really be a lot more colorful if I had some experience in this realm.”  I should be – and am – incredibly grateful that I’m struggling with this question.  But if I am to answer it with a true story (which I will, some way, somehow), I’m going to have to dig to come up with it.

As I talked through it with my sister she told me about a friend of hers.  This friend was from an affluent community in the mid-Atlantic region.  She ended up attending Prestigious University A for undergrad, but amongst her other applications was Prestigious University B.  Prestigious University  B’s application asked her to describe a time when she had been discriminated against based on her race.  In her teenage naiveté she wrote, without a trace of irony, “Not applicable.”  The story is funny now because as adults we all understand that this is the kind of question we are supposed to answer with nuanced empathy.  But a part of me applauds her response for its candor and honesty.  For truly, if you’ve never experienced discrimination of any kind, isn’t it insulting to those who have to pretend that you know anything of what they’ve legitimately endured?

I think what the adoption agency wants to learn is how I will empathize with and support my adopted children when they are  on the receiving end of ignorant and hurtful assumptions based on their race (as they almost certainly will be at some point).  And the fact of the matter is that no matter how genius a response I dream up for my personal information form, I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever experienced what my children will.  When it happens I will listen to them.  I will explain that some people are ignorant, and judgmental, and bigoted.  I will ring up GAP’s brother or sister (both of whom are Asian and were adopted in the mid-’80s) and ask for their perspective and guidance.  And I have confidence that GAP and I together will chart those waters successfully, if imperfectly.

I think it’s a shame that I can’t respond to the form’s query honestly.  A lot of people in this world have lived through real, painful, and damaging discrimination.  And it feels a bit disingenuous for me to claim that I, in any way, am one of them.

A Blessing and a Curse

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Or perhaps, rather, a curse and a blessing.  For in this situation it seems that the blessing arrives eventually, but only once the curse has run its course.  A little background…

GAP and I have long wanted to adopt.  He has a brother and sister who were adopted and it was only a few months after we started dating that he confessed to me his desire to also adopt one day.  It had never occurred to me until then, and it wasn’t something for which I shared his passion initially.  But as I got to know his family; as I watched the video of his brother and sister joining their new family for the first time; and as they became my own family I grew to share GAP’s passion for adoption.  Since we got married our tentative family plan has always included two biological children and two adopted children.  That plan has also included children who are adopted outside of their infancy, since GAP’s brother and sister were older when they were adopted and he has a particular soft spot for kids he believes might otherwise be overlooked.  We believe – strongly – that adoption is one of the best things we can do.

Given all of this, you must imagine the sucker-punched feeling that developed in my stomach as I read this blog post over at NYT’s Motherlode.  It discusses one book and one documentary which speak some painful truths about this act which we like to believe is unilaterally positive.  Of course I understand that expanding your family via adoption carries with it some very different and pronounced growing pains.  But in all of my visions of a future with adopted children I’ve never played any role but the good guy.

However, adoptive parents (particularly in the world of international adoptions where the kids tend to be a bit older – just the kind of adoption we intend to enter into) are not always seen by their adopted children as the good guys.  As it turns out many of these children no longer hail from orphanages, but from foster homes.  They may spend the first two or three years of their life with a single set of foster parents, who, by the time they are adopted, are the only family they’ve ever known.  I know a lot of two- and three-year-olds.  They know exactly who their parents are.  They know exactly what “home” is.  They know when things feel strange, and unfamiliar, and frightening.  I cannot imagine the traumatic horror that must ensue every time a little [insert nationality here: Chinese, Russian, etc] child is yanked away from their whole known world just because some nice white lady in the States will be able to provide him orthodontia send him to a four-year undergraduate program.  And yet, that is exactly what I plan to do.

Yes, that last sentence is probably a bit dramatic.  In the long run most internationally adopted children are far better off in their adopted homes (with health care, safe housing, education, and a constant, supportive family) than they ever would have been as a product of the foster care system.*  But as a mother I can only imagine what my son would experience if he were handed over to another set of parents on another continent merely because their ability to provide for him surpassed my own.

I’m struggling with this.  I do not have a tidy conclusion for you.  I believe that adoption is a good thing.  I believe that I am a good person trying to help make someone’s life better.  But I cannot yet reconcile the fact that for me to do this thing I believe is good, I must first do this thing I believe is horrible.

If any of you has any experience in this realm (I’m looking at you, Jane!) I hope you’ll see fit to offer it here.  I’m really feeling quite lost at the moment.

*I mean no disrespect to foster parents.  Most of them are saints, doing hard work in imperfect circumstances.  I mean only to assert that the stability of a permanent family is almost always preferable to the uncertainty of most foster programs.