National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month, a topic close to my heart. Two years ago, I wrote a blog entry about a very important aspect of our adoption experience, and it remains one of the my most viewed posts. I am re-posting it today in the spirit of the month. If you are planning to expand your family, please consider adoption.

Originally posted November 5, 2011

On Joy and Sadness

I’ve gotten some really great feedback on my post about adoption, so in the spirit of National Adoption Month, I will continue with another entry about our experience. Translation—getting serious again. I have changed the names of those involved out of respect for their privacy.

We were uniquely blessed when our adoption came about. We were contacted by an old family friend who had just learned their teenage daughter was pregnant, after hearing just days before through another mutual friend that my husband and I were about to re-start (that’s a story for another time) the adoption process. We were lucky to start off not as strangers, but as old friends separated by time.

Having not seen them for years, we got in touch that night on the phone, and in my elated state of disbelief at our great fortune, I was brought back to earth by my first glimpse of the reality of adoption, one that you don’t hear much about. One that, in my opinion, is critically important we as adoptive families keep in mind: our joy comes at the expense of others. Where we gain, they lose in equal measure.

Speaking with Karen that night, I heard the pain of a worried mother, listened to the strained tone of her voice, aware of the struggle they were already facing. They had just been to the women’s clinic, and had learned that Jenny was five months pregnant. Imagine, if you can, the weight of that kind of information. Your daughter, not yet old enough to drive a car, was going to give birth in mere months. Their lives were in turmoil, turned upside down by the news. As I spoke to her, I tried to rein in my excitement and reassure her that we were already absolutely committed to this baby, and would do everything in our power to help ease their minds. I volunteered to fly down to meet Jenny, and told her I would call our adoption agency first thing in the morning to get the ball rolling and put our adoption study on a “rush.”

As the months rolled by, my first visit turned into a birth plan. I was invited by the family to come down before the birth and stay with them until the baby was born, and would even get to be in the delivery room. I knew this was a risk, but it was just as much a risk for them. What if I fall in love, and they change their minds? How will I do this, with my husband at home in Wisconsin, 600 miles away? Could my heart take it if they wound up changing their minds? Could their hearts take it if they didn’t? What would this mean for all of us?

Two weeks before Jenny’s due date, I got on a plane, my bags filled with baby clothes, the tags still on. I couldn’t bring myself to remove them, despite Jenny’s reassurances that she would not be changing her mind. Everyone was on board, birth father included, but I was still afraid to let myself truly believe this would be a reality. As we waited for the birth, I got to know both families so well, and I could really appreciate how much love and heartache is involved in their decision. Is there a love stronger than that? Choosing to give someone else the gift of a family? Loving a child so much that you choose a life you can’t give them?

I spent a full month with Jenny’s family, living in their home, sharing in their meals, welcomed into their family. My heart was both swelling with excitement and breaking for these birth families as the days passed. The more I got to know them, the more I could see the love and selflessness it takes to do what they’ve done. It was a risk for all of us. How would this work once the baby was born? How would they be able to let us go? How would we be able to leave them?

My husband was a few hours away when our son was born, having left our house when Jenny went into labor. We would drive home together; the three of us a brand new family, once the ICPC office and both states cleared us to leave. He couldn’t get to us fast enough, eager to meet the son we hoped would be ours. Jenny’s commitment to the adoption was now being fought by the hormones in her body, the maternal instinct flowing through her veins. She still wanted the adoption to go through, and with the strength of her mother at her side, we were pretty sure this was going to actually happen.

It’s hard to describe the simultaneous joy and sadness this time brought to us. Holding our son in our arms the first time was a happiness like no other, but it was a feeling of elation tempered by the grieving process Jenny and her family were experiencing. The hospital let me room-in with our newborn boy, for which I was extraordinarily grateful, but just a few doors down his birth mother was grieving for the son she would never get to raise. She ached for him. She wept for him. Those two nights in the hospital were a delicate and sad dance, his bassinette rolling back and forth between rooms, all of us doing our best to share this beautiful boy we’d all fallen in love with, balancing our need to bond with their need to spend as much time as they could with him, time that was fleeting, slipping through their fingers like sand.

We offered to leave the room when she signed the papers that morning, her family, the social worker and an attorney all crammed into too small a room. Jenny asked us to stay, so we did, holding our breath as she signed the papers, tears slipping down our cheeks each time the attorney asked her to be sure she understood her signature was irrevocable. We hugged her and promised to be the parents this sweet little boy deserved, we told her we loved her, that we could never really put in words our gratitude, and that we would always make sure he knows how much she loves him. Our words couldn’t possibly have been enough.

A week later the time had finally come. We were heading home, eager to start our lives together. I will never in my life forget that morning. The car was loaded up with a month of my things, and far more baby gear than anyone would ever need—a true sign of first time parents. We came back in the house and watched as Jenny said goodbye, a tiny miracle lying against her chest, silent tears rolling down her cheeks as she cradled him and whispered in his ear.

Thank you. All of you. For your love, your selflessness, the wisdom beyond your years and your amazing sacrifice. We are more grateful than we can ever say, and we think of you with love every day. I wish I could find the right words to tell you how much you mean to us.

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Collaboration

I’m pretty terrible at keeping up with my blog. I go in fits and starts, blogging consistently and then disappearing for weeks—even months. Successful bloggers fill their pages with consistent content, often built on regular columns or installments. So I’ve set to work coming up with ideas. For starters, I will be bringing back my Way Back Wednesdays reviews, because I, for one, found them to be lots of fun. And that box of books from my childhood isn’t reading itself…

 Today, I’m test-running a new piece, one which may or may not work as a regular thing, as it is dependent on the cooperation of a child. So…we’ll see how it goes. The idea came to me yesterday as I was driving my just-turned-five-year-old home from school. We began to make up a story together, and I thought it would be fun to blog our results. When we got home, we sat down to hash out our tale. He did most of the storytelling, and proved to have great resolve in the tone and theme of the story he wanted to tell. What follows is the results of our collaboration. I have changed his name and “kingdom” to preserve his privacy. Our story begins:

 

Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Wisconsin there lived a young prince named James. James spent his days adventuring with his trusty dog, Sully.

One sunny day while out on a particularly grand adventure, James and Sully came upon a bridge crossing a roaring river. The bridge was made of polished wood from the tallest Chocolate Tree in all the land. It smelled delicious.

Just as our hero James and his dog Sully were about to cross the bridge, they heard a mighty roar. The ground shook. James and Sully spotted an enormous dragon on the other side of the bridge. The dragon was a deep, shimmering green with red polka dots.

His booming voice called out, “Who dares cross my chocolate bridge?”

“It is I, Prince James of the Kingdom of Wisconsin!” James said boldly.

“Woof!” said Sully.

The dragon charged across the bridge toward the fearless duo. James raised his fist, and with the dragon’s breath hot on his face, he bopped the dragon on the nose.

“Woof!” said Sully.

The dragon reared back on his hind legs and drew in a deep breath. With all his might, he breathed a fiery breath upon the prince and his dog. But instead of fire, the dragon breathed jellybeans! The sweet beans piled high on the ground, covering James and Sully’s feet.

James reached into the pile and grabbed a strawberry jellybean—his favorite! He ate the jellybean, and the dragon began to cry.

“Cheer up!” said James. “Have a jellybean! There are plenty.” James took a handful of the jellybeans and offered them to the dragon.

The dragon wiped away his tears and smiled. “For me?” he said. “Nobody has ever shared jellybeans with me before.” The dragon smiled and ate the jellybeans.

“Woof!” said Sully.

And the duo became a trio. James, Sully, and their new friend the dragon lived out their days sharing many adventures together.

THE END

 

An Open Letter to Bill Donohue

Yesterday, the Catholic League tweeted the following:

Today, in defense of adoptive families everywhere, I sent the following letter to the Catholic League’s President, Bill Donohue:

Dear Dr. Donahue,

I will admit, upon viewing yesterday’s ill-conceived tweet by the Catholic League, I felt a rising anger and disbelief that such ugliness would be so publicly displayed. As both an adoptive mother and an advocate for equality, I take such attacks very personally, and it was, no doubt, an attack upon us all. Married, single, gay, straight, you disparaged each of us.

Rather than the “normal” nine months, my husband and I waited a long, painful, heart-wrenching seven years to meet our beautiful, sweet son. Does this somehow disqualify us as parents, or, on some scale unknown to me make us lesser parents? Is there a blood-link bonus not granted to those of us brought together by adoption? My son grew in my heart rather than beneath it—did that leave me in some way less qualified to love, nurture, raise, or protect him? Will my son live his life wishing for a life he never had, a biological link we do not share?

Perhaps the Pharaoh’s daughter should have simply left Moses in the bulrushes? Or maybe you feel Mary and Joseph were insufficient for the task handed to them by God himself.

And while we’re on the subject, I’d love you to explain an anti-abortion and anti-adoption stance, as I am completely baffled. A child needs love and security, whether from a mom and a dad, two dads, two moms, a single parent, or grandparents. Love and stability are not the exclusive domain of a husband and wife. To think otherwise is not only archaic fact-denying, but pure foolishness and bigotry.

These angry thoughts occupied my mind for much of the afternoon, until a sudden and blissful feeling of serenity washed over me, replacing my anger with sympathy. It was when I realized that an organization so blinded by vitriolic dogma, so wrapped in anger and disdain, is missing out on something beautiful. For you will never know the overwhelming joy of reaching out and grasping that which has been beyond your reach. Without this struggle, and simply having a child “of your own,” you will never comprehend the desperate longing to be a parent; your arms stretched out, your lungs burning from the effort of chasing that dream, until that magical day when finally you cradle a beautiful child in your arms, your heart swelling with pride and a love like no other as the family you were meant to have is realized. You cannot appreciate great fortune unless you’ve first suffered misfortune.

Yes, I feel sorry for you. You tilt at windmills, choosing to spend your time attacking the transgressions of silly and forgettable movies that, most likely, no one will watch, as though a girl in a bikini is somehow a bigger threat or insult to your faith than its hierarchy’s systematic, organized cover up of decades of the most hideous child abuse by your .02%.

You attack us all for a thoughtless comment of one. One wouldn’t think a man such as you would need a reminder on scripture, but it would seem a lesson is in order.

 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. –Psalms 68: 5-6

 I hope you can find the humanity, charity, and spirit of Christian faith which seems so sorely lacking in your actions and words.

Sincerely,

Michelle E. Reed

I will update if I receive a response.

Getting A Little Obsessed

It’s funny, the thoughts that occupy the minds of preschoolers. I can’t speak for all of them (I only have the one, after all), but my son goes through obsessive phases. They can last days or weeks, becoming his primary interest.

Right now he has two:

Elvis:

and

 

the Tooth Fairy:

An odd, yet awesome combination, no?

Whenever we’re in the car, Elvis is his first—and only—choice. He runs around the house singing The King’s greatest hits. He grabs his Phineas and Ferb guitar and rocks out. He’s working on his “Thankyuuuuu, thankyuuuverymuch,” and I find myself asking if he’s busy TCB (he always is).

With Elvis, it’s pure fandom. The Tooth Fairy, on the other hand, is something else entirely. He saw a children’s show a few weeks which dealt with Ms. Fairy and her role in the lives of children. As the excited cartoon child placed their tooth under their pillow and fell into a peaceful slumber, things went south. Seeing the arrival of Ms. Fairy, kiddo clamped his hand to his mouth and screamed “WHY WOULD SHE STEAL MY TEETH???”

Oh, boy.

I explained that she does not steal teeth. It is merely a business transaction. In exchange for your tooth, she gives you cold hard cash. Capitalism!

He remains unconvinced. And to be fair, having some strange magical woman float into your room while you’re sleeping and make off with your teeth is a bit…weird.

He now keeps in his room a letter he had me write. I was merely the secretary, taking dictation as he issued his Tooth Fairy Directive, which follows:

I can’t wait to see what obsession he comes up with next.

Reinterpreting The Saga

When not busy dismembering his Lego Minifigures (which can be seen here), my kiddo loves reenacting scenes from Star Wars.

 

 

Everyone remembers the gripping confrontation between Darth Vader and C-3PO, as Yoda tried in vain to bring an end to the conflict…

 

 

…and the edge-of-your-seat, pusle-pounding duel between Yoda and the battle axe wielding cheerleader…

 

 

…all leading to the action-packed melee in the exciting conclusion.

 

 

Take a bow, everyone!

Ride Like the Wind

My son turned four last month, and he has recently fallen in love with the idea of getting a “big boy” bike. In other words, step aside tricycle! Spring is coming, and that trike is so last season.

We took him to the store a few days ago (evil big box retailer once again. We are weak. Weak, I tell you!), and let him try out a few, to see what size would be the best fit. Unless you have kids, you probably don’t realize that little kid bikes come in several sizes. We were quick to learn he’s in the 16” frame market. And they had Spider Man! Cue happy kid (and happier Dad!).

As we were busy corralling him so he wouldn’t take off down the aisles on “HIS” new bike—explaining he’d have to wait to see if maybe the Easter Bunny would bring him one is a whole ‘nother story—I took note of how blissfully stable the training wheel setup was. And I got jealous of the safe, fun way in which he’ll get to learn to ride.

A little.

When I was a kid, learning to ride a bike, even with training wheels, was a bit…terrifying.

Why is that, you may ask? Oh, you silly youngsters.

Not to age myself, but I have no choice if I’m going to explain this properly. You see, when I learned to ride a bike in the magical year of 1979 (I was in kindergarten. Yeah, I’m old. Get over it.), training wheels weren’t the lovely, stable, smooth, run flat on the ground support enjoyed by kids today (and kids since sometime in the early 80s, I believe).

No, our training wheels rode a couple of inches off the ground. The idea was you’d learn balance, but the wheels would catch you so you wouldn’t actually fall. This resulted in an odd combination of elation and terror. A feeling of panic grabbing your heart as you tilted first to the left and then to the right, your heart racing as the training wheels caught you at the last possible second before certain death. Panic and blind fear. That’s the way to learn, man!

“I’m doing it! I’m riding a bike!”

“AAAHHH! I’m gonna die!”

“Yes! The wheels caught me! I’m INVINCIBLE!”

This range of emotions would span a period of mere seconds, repeated on a continuous loop until you a) learned to ride a bike b) said “Screw this! I’m going inside to watch The Love Boat!” or c) gave up and rode a Big Wheel for another year.

And we didn’t have helmets.

But we did get to ride bikes with banana seats. And there is something to be said for accomplishment gained through terror. It’s more meaningful to overcome than to never have really faced adversity. We conquered our fears. Not to say it won’t be a little scary once the training wheels come off, but to have no fear of falling before they do? I think you miss out on something.

And did I mention we got banana seats? Suck on that, new millennium!

Nature vs. Nurture

Photo courtesy of Volume One http://volumeone.org/

As an adoptive parent, I often ponder the role my husband and I play in who our son is as a person. How much is genetic? How much is our influence—the environment we’ve created? These are certainly not new ideas. The nature-nurture debate has raged for centuries, and I have no delusions about bringing anything new to the discussion, but it is a topic brought to the forefront of my mind a few nights ago while attending a concert.

We’re big fans of the Celtic band Gaelic Storm (check them out! http://www.gaelicstorm.com/), and see them whenever we can. This past summer, we took our son to his first show, and he was hooked. This week took him to show number two. We were front row, center, which gave kiddo the chance to really ham it up, which he did with great gusto. He spent the evening dancing right up by the stage, and by the end of the night, was completely wiped out. It was well past bedtime, and as they were playing their final song of the set, he finally sat down with me. My husband and I were sure he would fall asleep. Snuggled up to me, his sleepy voice asked, “Mommy, can we go home now?”

I told him they would play one more song, the encore, and then it would be all done and we could go home. He was agreeable to staying until the end.

After raucous applause, the band came back for their encore, and played “What’s the Rumpus?” Hearing the familiar song begin, a reenergized kiddo jumped up and started to dance again, joining the rest of the crowd which was on its feet. As the song went on, he began to run out of steam, so I picked him up so we could finish out the night dancing together.

Patrick Murphy, singer, musician, and all around cool guy, came to the front of the stage and motioned to me. He looked down at kiddo and held his hands out. With only a slight feeling of trepidation, I handed him over and watched as our little man was lifted on stage. I looked at my husband, knowing we shared the same thought. This would either be a smashing success, or a colossal failure. Our kid is not shy, but he was tired. And when he’s tired, watch out.

Fortunately, he was thrilled. He was handed a mallet, and given free rein to bash away at a cymbal. He embraced the task with great gusto, and the crowd went wild, cheering with each crash, egging him on. He looked from band member to band member, as if suspecting it was all too good to be true, but they smiled and encouraged him, seeming to enjoy the moment every bit as much as he.

After this went on for a bit, I went to the steps of the stage, figuring he would see me and come running.

Not even close.

I found myself onstage, standing next to a gleeful child still bashing away at that magical cymbal. When I finally got him off stage, he asked, “Can I have the violin next?”

After the show, he hammed it up some more with the band, and Pat expressed his admiration, telling us on the occasions when they do take a kid on stage, they usually stand there, frozen.

Not our kid. He was fearless and grabbed the moment with both hands, which got me thinking. I was the same way when I was a kid: a bold people person who would have done the exact same thing, begging the question: where does he get it? Is it our influence over him, teaching him never to be afraid of being himself? Do his observations of our interactions with the world shape the outgoing personality he’s developed? Or is it just who he is? Is it in his DNA?

We may never know, but it sure is fun to think about.

A Sucker Born Every Minute

Boy do I suck at keeping up with my blog. I’m just going to blame my kid, and his protestations of “STOP TYPING, MOMMY!” That and the evil (but admittedly quite necessary) process of query and synopsis writing.

So, no surprise, it’s cold here. Not as cold as it probably should be—this is Wisconsin, after all—but cold, nonetheless. This got me thinking back to my childhood, and a very embarrassing truth I will now admit publicly. All for your amusement, dear reader.

I used to believe my dad, and my dad alone, could control the weather.

That’s right.

I know, lots of kids believe crazy things their parents tell them, but I believed. Far too long. Much longer than I should have. We’re talking late elementary school, here.

And why would I believe such a thing? Quite simple: he told me it was so. Not a smirk, not a chuckle—straight faced, determined certainty. As sure as telling someone his name.

In my defense, he had developed quite the elaborate mythology around his weather-controlling abilities.

It goes something like this:

During his service in the Air Force, while stationed at a NATO base in Germany, he was part of a secret government project to develop the Benson-Drive Unit, a high-tech machine that could control the weather. It was the cold war, after all, and as you can see from THIS post, I was indoctrinated with some pretty strong evidence on the possibilities of scientific breakthroughs—and government experiments gone awry.

Eventually, the project was de-funded, and my dad was chosen as caretaker of the only fully-functioning unit. He brought it home with him, sworn to utmost secrecy (yet, he told his kids—a detail I couldn’t be bothered with). He and my mom bought an old house in the country on land that had once been a farm, and he built a secret room in one of the outbuildings where he safeguarded the secret, and did his best to give the locals a nice climate.

When it would rain on a day we’d been planning something outdoorsy, he’d apologize as he’d look out the window toward the garage, shaking his head. “Sorry, kids, I guess the Benson-Drive’s on the fritz again. I’ll go work on it, see what I can do.” And off he’d go, devoted citizen that he was.

This went on for YEARS, even as my tales at school stopped eliciting oohs and aahs (kindergarten) and began getting me strange looks and scorn (around third grade or so). I was a true believer.

Long after the jig was up, we’d still joke about it. In fact, the day before my wedding, I asked him, “You sure the Benson-Drive’s in tip-top shape? I don’t want it to rain tomorrow.”

It was beautiful and sunny; the perfect day.

Thanks, dad.

Getting My (Embarrassed) Nerd-On

I’m baaaaaack!

All four of you who noticed I’ve not blogged in a while have my apologies. The holidays, rewrites, and a bout of general writing apathy combined in a swirling vortex of laziness, keeping me away for a while.

So I’m just going to jump right in with a new topic.

It would seem that teenagers (not that I have one, yet) are the leading authorities on embarrassment. It is a scientific fact that kids from the ages of twelve to nineteen are in a perpetual state of  mortification brought about by their parents (I’d site my sources, but I have none).  What these ambassadors of cool fail to realize—or perhaps they just don’t care—is that they were, in fact, the source of a great deal of embarrassment felt by their loving parents at various times throughout the childhood leading up to their current state of teenagery.

A toddler, especially, has the power to embarrass. Whether it’s an ill-timed tantrum (Like, you know, while you are attempting to shop in an Amish grocery store and your normally mild-mannered and well-behaved child is screaming like a demon spawn, completely inconsolable and drawing stares from patrons and employees alike as you try to rush out of the store with even a shred of dignity remaining), or making boisterous announcements in public (“THAT MAN SMELLS FUNNY!”), our wee ones are quite capable of dishing out undignified moments.

So, fellow parents, what is the most embarrassing thing your child has ever done? For me, there is one moment that wins, hands down. No contest. Most of you who know me have heard this one before, so feel free to return to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

Allow me to begin my tale of woe…

In the summer of 2009, my husband, son and I traveled to San Diego. My husband had always wanted to attend Comic-Con, and I will gladly jump at any chance to visit So Cal. So off we went, my husband to panel discussions and booth upon booth of entertainment, while our son and I went off on daily adventures with our good friend who had come down from Los Angeles. We went to the zoo, LEGOLAND, Sea World, the beach (another funny story for another time), and had a great time. Our son was about 18 months old at the time, and was quite the little explorer. He had a great time, save the occasional tantrum.

While in San Diego, we stayed at the Comic Con host hotel, which along with being convenient was great for celebrity spotting.

At the time, our son was very into walking by himself—no hand holding, thank you! He just loved to wander around, taking off in random directions while we followed, close on his heels.

On the morning we went to Sea World, my husband was attending a panel discussion, so we were killing a bit of time waiting for him to get back, since he wanted to go with us. Little man and I went off on one of his walking journeys, perhaps more accurately described as me chasing him around journeys, and the San Diego Marriott is perfect for it. It’s a huge hotel with two separate lobby areas, so he could wander to his heart’s content.

As we made our way through the second lobby, I noticed—not five feet away—Allison Mack, one of the stars of Smallville. I glanced away from my son for a moment in a “Wow, that’s Allison Mack,” sort of way, and as I looked back, to my horror; it became painfully clear he was milliseconds away from accosting this guy:

And, yes, he does actually look like this in real life. Yowza.

Justin Hartley, another star of Smallville, was crouched down near the floor, talking to his daughter.

It seemed to happen in super-slow-motion, me reaching for my son shouting “Noooooooooo!” as his little hands, palms flat, landed on Mr. Hartley’s back with a thud.

Since we’re talking about the world of Superman, here, I suppose it was more of a KA-POW!

He jumped up and spun around, a surprised look on his face as I began apologizing immediately. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I think it was something like, “OhmygodI’msosososososorry!” I think I even stuck in a “We’re big fans of your show!” (Complete with awkward laughter).

Fortunately, he was very kind, taking the time to crouch back down and talk to my son for a few minutes, asking his name and if we had big plans for the day. He even introduced us to his wife and daughter.

We made a not so gracious exit as he thanked me for watching the show.

At least I managed to get out of earshot before calling my husband and leaving a “Your son just jumped on Green Arrow!” voicemail.

After recently watching an episode of Chuck in which he guest starred, I said to my husband, “Well, I guess it’s official. I will never be able to watch Justin Hartley on TV without thinking about our kid accosting him.”

Such is parenthood.