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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ode to the Second Child

Little H is eleven months old now. How that happened, I can't fathom. He's been home with us for eight months, but it feels like a lifetime. He has the funniest little personality and knows what he wants. Thank goodness what he wants is to tail around behind his brother. Because that's all he gets to do. We're either taking his brother to and from school or play facilities, keeping him from eating his brother's toys or being pummeled by his brother (playfully, of course).  He is truly the second child. Give him a view at the front door and a toy to chew on and he's set for twenty minutes.

I finally noticed him signing "milk" a few weeks ago. I thought he was waving to me as I was helping Little W build a train track... but here he was patiently asking over and over again for milk.  Helloooooo negligent mother! I was so happy to see him using words to communicate, I nearly forgot to give him the milk he asked so nicely for. D'oh.

This breakthrough got me thinking. I taught Little W so many signs. But as I sat with H and his requested milk, I couldn't remember a single one. What else was I forgetting to do with H that I did with W? Once W was home and healthy, I fretted over every milestone and taught him so much. I read Leaves of Grass to him as an infant, for flip's sake. By the time he was eight months old, I had read all seven Harry Potter books aloud to him (ok, I read them for myself but I read them aloud so I could read while he was awake. Remember, we couldn't take him anywhere that first winter, to protect his premature lungs from germs so I was climbing the walls). I taught him about 12-15 signs and gave him baby massages almost daily. He had every developmentally appropriate toy on the market.

Exhibit A: Here I am photographing him leaping off of the couch, head first, onto his brother's fort instead of trying to catch him.

I've caught him doing things I would have never let Walt do at his age. He tries (and succeeds on rare occasion) to sneak up the steps. He has gotten away with eating dog food. He prefers to play with wooden spoons and remote controls and dog ropes and the front door rather than developmentally appropriate baby toys.

What's that Henry? You want a baby treadmill? Say no more. I'm sure the 50 year old stadium seat (possibly full of asbestos) will soften your fall. Just try to fall to the left, please.
I wonder if I'm not so far up H's butt simply because he's the second child and my hands are more full, or because I'm a weathered parent and I realize that it's really, really hard to break a baby. An attentive, loving parent really has to work hard to mess a baby up..Especially Little H. He's built like a brick sh*t house. He'll still be a smart, independent member of society even though I didn't read Walt Whitman to him as a six month old. I'm nearly sure of it. But just in case I'm wrong, I'm going to set time aside to read to my little guy some more. And I'm going to teach him all the signs that I taught Walt. Maybe he'll learn them, maybe he wont. But the point is, I'm spending my time engaged with him. I may still find him crashing through the gate and tearing ass up the steps. I might still catch his brother playing way too rough with him. I may still let him play slam-the-front-door-against-the-wall for twenty minutes every evening so I can prepare dinner. But it doesn't mean I love him any less than my first born. It just means I'm a mom doing the best I can. Yeah, ok. I'll go with that.

How did you decide what was right for you?

Here's a hump day question for you. How did you decide what type of adoption is right for you? Open domestic was a no brainer for us the first time around. If there's a "next time," I'm not so sure it would be so cut and dry, though.
There have been several occurrences recently that have caused me to dip my toes into the internet in search of direction for a (very) hypothetical fifth family member. First, our little Henry is turning one in a few weeks. I simply can't believe it. As most moms can probably relate, when your little one hits the big number one, there's a wishy washy wave of sentimentality. The baby is unofficially gone and somewhere deep in the recesses of your head (or tick tick ticking baby maker), you may start wondering if that's truly "it."
Secondly, one of my closest friends recently found herself in the mothering way for the third time. Her other kids are 3.5 and 1.5. This was a surprise, but a darling one to be sure. Our oldest kids are total besties and once H catches up to her middle child, I'm sure they're going to tear the neighborhood apart together. Now I'm not saying I'm trying to keep up with the Jonses at all. But you know the madness that can take over when you're waving adios to your kid's baby stage and someone steps in with a soft little baby. It makes another one seem like a really good idea for a hot minute.

 So here I am, at the internet researching all of my hypothetical options. I'm not too sure that three kids is right for our family. But I'm not 100% sure that two kids is the end for us either. Right now, we're still in the exhausted, overwhelmed stage of having a baby. And I think we're both in agreement that having another infant isn't for us. So that rules out open domestic adoption for right now (unless H's birth parents were to find themselves pregnant again, of course).

Next my thoughts went to adopting through the foster care system. But we don't want to disturb the birth order of our family. My research is limited, but from what I've found so far, it's hard to adopt toddlers or older babies through the system. So that would put having a third child on the back burner for as long as ten years. Side note: If you have experience going through the system, I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Our next option is international. This is looking more and more like the answer for us (except for the costs associated with it, which would be a struggle). I have a short list of countries I would consider adopting from, for personal reasons. Every time I look into international adoption, I get insanely overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork and waiting - as well as plagued with guilt for ignoring children, right here at home. But it's looking more and more like my next hypothetical child would come from an international adoption.

Now, of course this is all completely hypothetical. Right now, we're no where near making a decision about a third kiddo. But when it comes to family, I'm a planner. So this kind of obsessing is normal for me. If we do decide, one day, to expand our family, I want to be ready to jump right into the process.

On a super nutty side note, once every few months, I get the urge to throw all caution to the wind and just make a baby the old fashioned way. Then I remember that there's a 70% chance of shit hitting the fan again and I'm knocked back into reality. I'm passionate about adoption and believe in it, wholly. So adoption it is!

So that's where my head is this morning. And I know my husband is going to read this and freak out. Ha! No worries Neil... this is all hypothetical. I promise.

I would love some insight for people who have been there. How did you decide what kind of adoption would be right for you? If you chose international adoption, how did you decide on a country?

I don't know about where you are... but it's flipping freezing here today. I'm going to bundle the boys up soon and head out for a lunch date, downtown.We all need some fresh (albeit freezing) air.

Friday, November 16, 2012

All filler, no killer

I love blogs that do Friday wrap ups of quirky things found on the interwebs. I don't spend nearly enough time on the internet to do one of those. But here's some things that have caught my interest as of late.

 Need to smile?

  A girl can dream, right?

 I'm seriously in love with these stupid little things.

An oldie but a goodie. Actually thinking about getting this.

W has been living in this sweet unisex shirt


Gorgeous reading nook

That's all. Have a great weekend, friends.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adoption Interview Project 2012: My interview with Shannon from Peter's Cross Station

Adoption Bloggers Interview Project 2012 Heather over at Production Not Reproduction  is the mastermind behind the Adoption Interview Project. I'm so happy to be a part of this blogging community, although my part in it is infinitely small and lame-o. And let's face it, it's pretty much flat lined at the moment. I'm blaming it on my two little maniacs who leave me unable to form complete thoughts most days. Every time I break out the laptop with a blazing thought in my head, two little bodies amble over to me like attention zombies and drain me of inspiration, motivation and lap space. Personal time and space is a thing of the past. I got a really long hug on the toilet this morning. Yeah. I'm not one to ever turn a hug away, but come on...

Stay on topic, Lindsay...
The interview, yes. I was lucky enough to be paired up with Shannon of Peter's Cross Station. Her blog is passionate and informative. She's a smart cookie with a beautiful family created through open, domestic adoption. Shannon has written for multiple online sources about adoption including Babble and BlogHer.. You'd be wise to runnotwalk to her blog and pick her brain. She's a valuable resource to the adoption community.

Here's my interview with her:
Did you and your partner arrive at open adoption easily? Did you consider any other avenues?
We arrived at adoption easily. My partner threw out a short list of fantasy sperm donors among our male friends (the top of the list and his partner became our girls' godfathers), but I was literally laughing as she did. It was a five-minute part of the conversation. Then I said, "okay, I'll research adoption agencies tomorrow."

If we had gone the pregnancy route, one of us (for a number of reasons, my partner) would have had to do a second-parent adoption anyway. So I just figured we would do best to keep it adoption from the get-go and focus on that.

Once we started researching adoption agencies in our state that had a good track record of working with same-sex couples, we found these were agencies that primarily placed African American babies. So then we knew our adoption would be transracial. When I dug just the tiniest bit further it was soon quite apparent to me that open adoption would be best for a child, her first parent(s) and at the very least by association, for us.

So all of these things just fell into place. We never considered international adoption because we knew we would have to closet ourselves to do that, whereas we could be open about our family in a domestic adoption (in our state, at that time--this is not, by any means, universally true for same-sex couples adopting domestically).

When it was decided that you'd proceed with an open adoption, what issues were important to you? Have those issues changed with time?
My dream was to adopt the baby of a woman I could be "best friends" with. I was jealous of families in which both mothers were really involved with the child/ren and the moms were close and talked all the time. But the further along in adoption I get, the more I realize that a woman I am likely to identify with at that level is probably not a woman who needs to place her baby for adoption. A woman "like me" enough to talk on the phone every week and plan all the birthday parties together is more likely to have been coerced into placement--because she could have done it herself.

(I am not saying this is true in every case, and I firmly believe that even a mother who "could" do it, has the right to choose not to--to do something else, whether abortion or placing a child for adoption. But I do think that most of the mothers I am friends with who placed their children would not do it again and many say they were coerced in one or several ways.)

The longer I live adoption the more I see that coercion of mothers to place their babies for adoption is widespread, if sometimes subtle, and is perhaps the number one poison to healthy adoption practices, both institutional and individual.

I do wish very much I had better relationships with my children's mothers but the reasons I don't are the same reasons they truly needed us to adopt their babies. It is sad all around, but at least I know this really was the best thing for my daughters and their mothers--however tragic.

Meanwhile, our door is always open to our girls' mothers. We send lots of letters, pictures and texts. We leave phone messages for birthdays and Mother's Day if we can't get through. When we do have fleeting contact it is always a banner day.

Your family is multi racial. Did you encounter any hesitance within your families or your birth parents' families prior to placement?  If so, how were the issues resolved, post placement?
We didn't really have any race-related problems from our families (on either the birth or adoptive side). If there were issues, people kept them to themselves (which we appreciate!). For many years (until this past June, when my sister-in-law had a baby girl) our children were the only grandchildren or nieces in either of our families. They have been duly spoiled. (Now we enjoy spoiling our baby niece/cousin too!)

Our older daughter's mother did say she chose our profile because it was the only one she was shown with "any color in it" because pictures of our friends included African American people. Given few choices, she was resigned that her daughter would be adopted by white people. We talked openly about this with her. It was a positive conversation overall-as positive as such a sad occasion can be, at least.

Your blog is very passionate. you seem like a great ambassador for open adoption. how do you keep your passion for the subject alive?
My kids, my kids, my kids.

The older they get the more they need their [first-birth-natural-original-
biological-just, plain] mothers. And loving them means wanting to give them everything they need.

I can't deliver their moms under our complicated circumstances, but I can do everything I can to make it clear that those bonds belong to them and always will, no matter what. I can make it clear to them that they get to feel about adoption whatever they feel. I can make it clear that it is not their responsibility to make me feel okay if they are hurting or angry. I can make it clear that they can count on my partner's and my unconditional love--and we trust that they love us, even if adoption and its causes feel sad and unfair to them at the same time. I can make it clear that we are with them and have their backs no matter how they are feeling.

The more I learn about open adoption the better mother I can be to my girls. The more I advocate for open adoption, the better off adopted people will be. I consider everyone involved in adoption to be my extended family. I advocate for moms' rights on behalf of my daughters' mothers; for adopted people's rights on behalf of my kids. Open adoption is one element of ethical adoption and making adoption ethical is one of my priorities in life. I took that on when I chose to adopt.

What are some of the lesser known challenges you've encountered in your multi racial family?
The hardest thing about being an interracial family is finding real, living, breathing interracial places to be in U.S. society.

We live in a very segregated country. Take that as value-neutral if you want to, but interracial spaces--truly integrated spaces--are few and far between. A lot of times, white people will see a brown face in a crowd and feel warm and fuzzy and think they are in integrated space. I find myself counting all the time--I count the number of total people on the playground, then the number of non-white people, then figure the percentage. If it's less than 20% non-white, I feel like I've failed my kids. (No, really. It might sound silly, but it's true.)

Based on my reading and talking to adult transracially adopted people, I think the most important thing a white parent can do for a child of color is provide real peers and adults of the child's race for deep and long-term relationships. Living in a well-integrated neighborhood is a bonus, practicing new food ways or culture consumption is great. Learning to braid hair is a basic life skill, but real people to whom your children can relate are the number one priority.

We are lucky to have had a chance to move to one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the United States (statistically) and to have found a nearby dance studio full of African American instructors and students for the girls to attend. We also go to an unusually integrated Episcopal church every Sunday where the girls just blossom and glow under the admiring beams of surrogate aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins who look like them.

But moving into integrated spaces can be uncomfortable for white people--even supposedly anti-racist white people. It's taking a risk that someone won't like you, will judge you in some frightening way; will just be too different to understand. I always say, put yourself in your kids' shoes. If you are always asking them to be the token person of color it's not fair. It doesn't matter if every is "nice" or if your child is "welcome." Asking them to always be the different one is too much for a child. As the adult, as the parent, put yourself on that line whenever you can instead of your kids.

The godfather I mentioned above--top of the fantasy sperm-donor list--is Afro-Caribbean. So even if I had given birth, our family would have been interracial, and seeing as he is a surrogate brother to me, it already was. For us, thinking about living integrated lives far predated learning that our kids would be Black. Both of us were (are) scholars of American culture with an emphasis on race and therefor had (have) colleagues and friends of all races.

But even so, actually being an interracial family requires an almost mundane level of constant awareness of race and how it affects day-to-day life. The older the girls get, the more issues come up. I can now be at some distance from them in public places and watching them negotiate the world as little Black girls (often, when people don't realize their mother is watching) is an eye-opener.

A few weeks ago, a white woman tried to kick them off a swing so her daughter could use it. She had no idea their mom was observing the whole exchange. My older girl was about to give way, but her little sister shook her head defiantly. I was proud of her and let her handle it for a few minutes more before letting the other mom realize who I was. I hope she was darned embarrassed. And I don't really mean darned.

As a blogger, how did you learn to draw the line regarding the girls' adoption story or their birth parents or even just daily life?
I haven't learned where that line is, so I tend to err on the conservative side. I try not to tell someone else's story if she doesn't have equal access to tell it from her own perspective, so I say very little about the kids' moms. I feel kind of the same way about the kids. Up to a point, talking about kids is the same for everyone--teething, crawling, walking, potty-training, cute little kidisms...but my kids have reached an age now when they are much more individual and their stories are more about them and who they are than just about me having cute kids. Yet they are too young to tell their own stories from their own perspective. So I have cut back on blogging generally and blogging about the kids and OUR adoptions specifically.

That said, there are many stories I do tell in more private venues. I am open with anyone who emails from the blog to ask a specific question because they are doing their own adoption research of one kind or another or because they identify with us and want to share or ask advice, or whatever. I also tell more in detail at adoption conferences and other places where the information is targeted in a particular way to improve adoption overall or someone's family specifically.

I'm a new adoptive mom and our new addition looks a whole lot like my husband and I. So when it comes up that he was adopted, I get weird responses from people. I find that I'm still tripping over my words a lot when asked the usual, nosey questions about adoption. How did you find your voice regarding inquisitive strangers and acquaintances?
I'm an over-sharer. I am also a teacher. So I usually assume people mean well (you can tell when they don't) and talk frankly about the truth of our situation. If my kids are around, I will still talk about it, but I will include the kid/s in the conversation so they don't feel talked about. If the kids are at all uncomfortable we keep it simple and change the subject.

The biggest problem I have is the "oh what a saint you are" response people sometimes (often) have to recognizing us as an adoptive family. It really makes me angry, because well-intentioned or not, the person is implying that it is especially difficult to love my children. It is not. It is wildly easy. Ask anybody who's been on the receiving end of one of their smiles.

I am also really angry when people automatically assume it's okay to say negative things about their mothers. I bite my tongue and pretend I don't understand, then start speaking admirably of the girls' moms. "Oh her mom is such a genius!" "Oh she has her mom's eyes, that's why she's such a beauty!" "Her mom works so hard..." etc.

To say rude things about my kids' flesh and blood is to ay rude things about my kids.

Do you remember one stand out moment where you felt the connection between you and your new child? Was the bonding experience relatively similar for you each time, or did you have different experiences with each child?
This is not the case for everyone--whether a parent by birth or adoption--but I really did feel an instant connection with each of my girls the second I laid eyes on them and held them.

In the case of my younger daughter, I was waiting for the social worker to bring the baby from the hospital in the lobby of the agency (a building that held many other offices too), in front of a huge plate-glass door. People were getting off the El across the street and walking home from work. (It was rush-hour, and in fact, the social worker was stuck in traffic.) When she walked through that glass door, she put the baby right in my arms and said "congratulations, you're a mom again!" and I was thinking "wow, those people walking by outside might see this and have no idea what a profound moment it is in my daughter's and my life." It was a little bit surreal and really happy.

I had to go to a courthouse recently to get some document for something or other (I forget) and was flooded with a happy feeling. It occurred to me that the last two times I had been in a courthouse were to petition to adopt my daughters. So I have this bizarre happy association with annoying bureaucratic spaces now!

Thank you, Shannon for allowing me to drop these questions on you at the last minute. And thanks for some fresh inspiration to keep chugging along with this little blog.

Now, behind the jump is my attempt to sound like an intelligent adult with more than one synapse firing as I answer Shannon's questions...