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Vanessa McGrady’s posting, The Birth Parents Move in, in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, both broke my heart and cracked me up. As I sat at my computer (ok, maybe I was in the loo looking at my iphone, it was 2 weeks ago, I can’t remember) reading the posting, I recognized myself in her writing. I voiced an inner “oh god” reading the first paragraph where she loaded her child’s birth parents into her car to rescue them from homelessness, their rabbit cage and all. Oh god, that’s not a good idea, oh god, I could totally see myself doing that, oh god, my therapist would think all her work was for naught if I did that, oh god, my kids would be so excited if their birth families moved in, oh god, bunnies stink. Oh god, Ms. McGrady sure summed up the complexity of adoption in just a few short light-hearted paragraphs.

I can relate to Ms. McGrady’s desire to help her daughter’s birth parents, to swoop in and lift them up. I have felt this same tug when I hear of setbacks, or unexpected turns in the road, for my daughter’s birth family members. In the past I have helped on a few occasions, none that involved a bunny moving in, and sometimes it worked out well and other times; the assistance was awkwardly given and uncomfortably received. In our open adoptions, I often come up against the complexities of family, fairness, justice, opportunity, love, privilege, loss, power, judgment and suffering when I feel the urge to help, especially when it isn’t asked for. Our adoption constellation is complex and even a simple thing like lending a hand requires deep consideration and reflection. However, I have come to accept that the greatest help I can give my daughter’s birth parents is to love, care for, and raise my daughters well, to become kind, loving, healthy and happy women.

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I was thinking about Dad today.  Yes, Father’s Day is this weekend but that’s not what brought him to mind. It was actually a Mother’s Day memory that made me think of him.  One Mother’s Day, my sisters and I had created a really special gift for Mom.  We bought her a ceramic basket and placed maybe 100 small pieces of paper in it.  On each piece of paper we wrote something special about her.  We gave her the basket and we took turns reading each one aloud.

Dad listened attentively at first.  They were great memories and let’s face it; it was a pretty thoughtful gift.  I imagine he enjoyed the stories and was probably proud of his daughters for coming up with the idea (which I think we stole from a magazine but still).  After a while though, he started interrupting us.  “Hey, I was part of that too” or “There are two parents in this family” etc.  Laughing, we kept telling him, “Dad, it’s not your basket.”   He didn’t think it was nearly as funny as we did, but he finally stopped interrupting us and let us finish.

Of course when Father’s Day rolled around that year, we did something similar for him.  After his reaction, we had to.  If there was anyone Dad would play second fiddle to, it was definitely Mom.  But overall, that position was not his favorite spot in the band.

Truth be told, maybe we gave Mom credit for more stuff than we should have.  She was the gold standard of mothers so it was easy to do.  There’s the physical stuff – we credit her for all the blue eyes in the family, but Dad’s eyes were blue too.  I started wearing glasses in third grade so mine were certainly courtesy of Dad.  And there’s the non-physical stuff – I think Dad gave my brothers their work ethic, my younger sister her strong sense of justice, and my older sister, her all around goodness.  His sense of right and wrong was a force to be reckoned with, and he passed that on to all of us.

When I look at K, it is her birth mother to whom I give thanks.  A’s choices brought K to us and I will never forget that.  But yet… I don’t remember A having sapphire blue eyes.  K’s eyes are unforgettable.  If A’s were like that, I know I’d remember.  And it’s not just the stunning blue color; it’s the sparkle behind them that’s remarkable.  I wonder if those are a gift from her birth father.  What about K’s ability to remember the directions to anywhere she’s ever been?  Or her innate ability to reach out to someone who’s lonely or sad?  Those may have come from him.  I’ve just never really thought much about it before.  Huh…  It may not have been his basket but he was part of it too.

So, on this Father’s Day, I will remember all the wonderful fathers I have known, like I always do.  But for the first time, I will remember a particular high school boy who is now a grown man.  I will think of him, and I will thank him for whatever he gave that made my girl the incredible person she is.

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I worry about my daughters. I worry about the usual mom things like their safety and well-being. I worry about them eating enough vegetables and fruit (they don’t!). I worry that they don’t get enough free play time in our busy schedule, enough adventures in the fresh air, and whether or not they’ll ever ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. (I hear there is a woman called the bike whisperer…She teaches them to ride in three lessons! I may need to call her soon).

I also worry about adoptive mom things like bonding, openness, self-esteem, relationships with their birth families, talking about adoption, loss, and sadness. I worry the adoptive mom worry, that no amount of love I give them could possibly fill the hole in their hearts left by the loss of their families of origin. I worry that any new unexpected behavior runs deeper than typical development, I worry it runs straight to the heart of their loss, and grabs on with vine-like tendrils which may be impossible to unwind.

These are the worries that keep me up at night, after one of my lil ones has awaken me with a need for water, or snuggles, or let’s be honest, a need for dry pj’s and a change of sheets. Instead of following my usual bedtime routine again of reading or more typically these days, listening to an audiobook, for a bit until I drift off to sleep, I find myself searching for answers to that day’s worries. I find myself playing the “what’s adoption-stuff and what’s just kid-stuff” game over and over in my mind. I despise that pointless game, and I don’t know why I play it, especially when it is an irresolvable question.

However much I dread the nighttime visits from the worry monster, I am also thankful for all my worries. I am thankful that my worries keep me thinking about our family life and my daughter’s well-being. I am thankful that my worries oblige me to reach out for help from teachers, friends, professionals, and most importantly family. I am even more thankful for the people in my life that are brave enough to listen to my worry, and even braver to ask uncomfortable questions and offer a kind word, or the possibility of taking a new path. I am most thankful that I have my two beautiful and courageous girls to fret my mother worries over each and every day.

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Fifteen years ago, on Valentine’s Day, K’s birth mother chose us.

She picked us from our “Dear Birth Mother” brochure.  I can’t remember what the proper name for the document actually was.  It may in fact have been brochure.  I know that’s what M and I called it.  It was a booklet of text and pictures  shown to potential birth mothers to help them decide if we were the right family for their baby.

I remember agonizing over its creation, trying to select the perfect pictures and just the right words.  Not to mention the sheer difficulty of putting it all together in the era before digital pictures.  We made fifty copies and waited.

While we waited, we went to pre-adoptive parent education classes.  At first, my favorite part of the class was when new families brought their new baby/child and told the story of how they became a family.  “That’s going to be us some day,” I’d think.

But not a single one of the first fifty potential birth mothers expressed any interest in us.   We regrouped.  We took a vacation to San Francisco.  We changed our picture on the brochure cover and made some more copies.  I didn’t love the babies coming to class as much.  As much as I hate to admit it, as much as it makes me seem petty and small, I couldn’t help but think “why them and not us?”

Until Valentine’s Day, 1998, when she chose us.  She liked our picture on the cover.  She said we looked nice.  We talked on the phone and we emailed.  She got to know us better and still thought we were nice.  Two months later K was born and we became a family.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think of K’s birth mother and thank her for that.

And on the fifteen anniversary of my very best Valentine’s Day, I also give thanks to all the women who didn’t choose us.  I was once told, “The soul of the child that was meant to be yours will find you.”  I don’t know if that’s always true but I know my child found me.  She just needed me to wait for her.

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sleepA few weeks ago, an inquisitive first grader, with adorable crazy curls, wearing a tousled outfit (reminds me of myself at that age) walks into her kitchen during Daisy Scouts, and overhears me talking to her mom about our family. The Inquisitive first grader then asks me what adopted means. “We’re an adoptive family; I’m her adoptive mom, or everyday mom. She also has a birth mom who gave birth to her.”  I explain a bit more about adoption and how it is for our family, then she announces “that’s sad” and says “who’s her real mom?” I of course laugh it off, and tell the now slightly bothersome, yet still adorable, first grader that neither of us is imaginary, that we are both real moms. Then she avoids my eyes, spying some cookies up on a high shelf, asks her mom for some, and heads back to the scout meeting. Her mom and I gave each other that, “Yup, that’s first graders for you” look and moved on with our conversation.

I rather enjoyed my conversation with the inquisitive first grader, she’s a kid I really like, and I appreciate her frankness. I am also amused that we made it all the way to first grade before anyone asked about my oldest daughter’s “real” mom. We are lucky to live in a pretty progressive place, in an enlightened age, and to have many different family make-ups in our daughter’s school, in our community, and in our church. We have always felt welcome and accepted in our community, and most importantly felt like a “real” family.

With all that said, we do still work on keeping appropriate adoption speak and realistic images of adoption present in our life, most in particular in our girls school. This week, my oldest daughter will be sharing a book with her class, which she and I made, about her adoption story. My husband and I will join her in class to help with the presentation, and to guide, or deflect, any conversation or questions her classmates may have. We will also be bringing in a few of our favorite picture books about adoption for the class to borrow, and some photographs of our family, including some of our daughter’s birth family to share with the kids. Hopefully our story will teach the kids how real bookswe all are, and that the most important thing about our adoption is how real the love is that our daughter has from all her parents.

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The other morning, my youngest and I were in the girls’ bathroom getting her ready for the day. I dabbed toothpaste on her snoopy toothbrush and handed it to her. My youngest then jabbed the toothbrush around in her mouth until it was full of suds, drooled the suds out into the sink, wiped her face on the hand towel, and smiled a big toothy smile at herself in the mirror. Next, I reached back into the closet, and grabbed a green polka-dotted washcloth, ran it under the not-too-hot water, and rubbed it across her face, cleaning off the sleepies, the leftover oatmeal, and the dribbled toothpaste smudge on her chin. As my youngest’s face was revealed to her in the mirror again, she looked at me through the reflection, and said in a very matter of fact tone, “Why doesn’t the brown come off?”

I replied out loud to my daughter, back though my reflection, “that’s a great question!” Then I started to talk about melanin,  skin cells, genetics, and, then, without hearing a word, she ran off to get her lovely tucked into bed, or “school,” as she calls it.

I have spent a good amount of time, since that morning, mulling over my daughter’s question, and my response. I’ve responded in my head to my daughter over, and over, changing my response depending on the weight of the meaning I placed on her words. I thought deeply about how we approach skin color, race, differences, and our multiracial family. I wondered, have I read anything new about children adopted trans-racially  Have I done enough to feed my daughter’s self-image and self-esteem so it can grow strong and beautiful?

I took a moment to look at our family, neighborhood, and community through my daughter’s eyes. Does she see her beautiful brown face reflected back to her through her teachers (no), in her classmates (some), in her neighborhood (a bit), in our church (yes), in her family (no), in her birth family (yes)?

My husband and I feel that having an open relationship with our daughter’s family, positively impacts our family as a whole, but also gives our youngest a direct, and authentic tie to her family, and culture of origin.  In our family our daughter sees her reflection, of her image, in her birth mother, of her heart, in her adoptive parents. Together, I have confidence that we will lift up our daughter to see her own image, of a strong and beautiful young girl, with a lovely brown face.

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Often I tell my husband I need a vacation. I need to get away from it all, and rest my aching feet on a hot sandy beach in say, Grand Cayman, preferably at the Ritz Carlton. I fantasize about it for a night, dreaming of how relaxed I’d feel listening to the gentle sound of waves, while I snooze on the beach.  However, usually our budget, or job schedules, or reality, burst my vacation bubble, and I end up sitting in the shower for five extra minutes, pretending I’m at the spa.

Sometimes I could do with another kind of vacation too. I desire a vacation that takes me away from reality. Some days I just need a vacation, from adoption. I just need a mental break from thinking about our open adoptions, all of our extended family members, all of the logistics of visits, the complexities of communication via text and Facebook. I want an adoption free zone. I could do with a cradle to curl up in and rest.  I could use to recover my strength, which I deplete with my doubts, and worries, over the choices I make for our family.

By the time I have wrestled around with the practicality of taking an adoption vacation, a break from the most deep-rooted part of our family, I realize that’s not actually what I require. I need to share the load; I could use a witness to the joys, the chaos, and the sadness that are our adoptions. I need confirmation that our family is well, full of love, and on the right track. I crave a smile from my girls, a kiss from my husband, a text from my youngest’s birth mom, and a Facebook post from Grandparents far and near. Really, I just need a hug. A hug can be all the adoption vacation I need. Knowing that the person on the other end sees me, sees my girls, sees our family, and reflects back to me how beautiful it is, can be just as good as a beautiful sunset over the Caribbean to replenish me. However, a hug on the beach, while sipping an exotic cocktail, would work too.

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Last month, my twin’s birth dad had requested new pictures.  We hadn’t heard from him in four years.  Last month in my blog post, I shared my thoughts about his request and the questions that were flooding my mind.

His request had raised a mix of feelings:

fear of whether he was regretting his choice to place the twins

happy that he was interested and wanted to know about what and how the twins were doing

reassurance to know that when the twins get older and their questions start to center around their birth parents, I will be able to tell them that their birth dad cared and wanted to know what was going on it their lives.

But in the end, it was the reassurance and happiness that led the way and trumped the fear.

To our surprise, Mike (birth dad), without being asked, forwarded a picture of himself with my son and daughters’ birth mom and a photo of him at work to show that he has been focused on getting his life on track.  I had wanted to ask him for pictures but was very hesitant…..scared that it would make him think that we may want a close relationship with him and his family.

When Princess and Bruiser came home from camp, we shared the pictures from Mike.  While sharing the pictures, my husband asked each of them who they thought they looked like. Princess quickly responded….”like my birth mom.”  She couldn’t be more right…..tall, skinny, blonde, blue eyes….a far cry from me…. short, chubby, brunette, with brown eyes.  However, Bruiser had a very different answer.  He confidently answered, “Daddy, I look just like you.”  With that said, Bruiser has a football player’s physique, blue-green eyes, and brown hair, while my husband is on the shorter side, blue eyes and blonde hair.

Well, when we walk down the street, we are often told how the twins look just like us.  We hear this, we smile and say, “Yes they do.”

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Dear Birth Dad (MA),

It has been almost six years since you chose us to be the parents of the twins.   As in many adoptions, we sent pictures via our lawyer’s office every few months for the first year but then after a while stopped since the attorney couldn’t locate you and the pictures and letters were just tucked away in a manila folder in a file cabinet.

Thursday afternoon, our social worker and friend, ML, called and let us know that you had contacted her.  We were so happy to hear that you are doing well and feel that you are in a much better place.  I am so thrilled that the twins will know that their birth father cares about how they are.   I can only imagine the courage that it took for you to make the call to ML and ask for the pictures.  We hope that the note and photographs that we send will bring comfort and joy, in knowing that the twins are happy, healthy and enjoying a wonderful childhood.

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NOTE TO SELF

-Do I send the best pictures of the kids or do I want to make sure they are more ordinary pictures? 

 -When we originally met MA, we met his mom too and learned that he had a teenage son.  Do I ask about his son?  Do I ask how his mother is?  Or is this making it appear as though we want to embrace his family?  Am I overthinking this…………and is it appropriate to ask? 

-I don’t have much information about MA’s  family.  Do I take the opportunity to ask so that I can share with Bruiser and Princess?  Do I ask for a picture of his son?  I have a picture of the birth mom’s daughter and grandson but nothing of his son. 

-I don’t know how much information our twins will want when they get older.  Would they want to have pictures of  MA’s son – their brother?
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Thanks for asking about the kids and taking the interest in how they are doing.  We are truly grateful that we can share with the twins that you have a place for them in your heart.

Our best,

Bruiser & Princess’ Mom & Dad

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Kahlil Gibran, On Children, The Prophet

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.”

And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I often think of Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Children” from his book of poetry, The Prophet. It reflects how I think of my girls. I first read The Prophet about two decades ago, between college and marriage, when I had time to do things like read Lebanese Poetry. I remember then thinking this all sounded so profound, but I utterly didn’t get the full meaning at the time. As I became a mom, I learned that these words are not only so profound, but dead on right. This poem leads me through many of my difficult times in parenting, especially as a mom living in open adoption.

I truly believe that my children belong to the universe and it is just my honor to be their mom or “…the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” This is why one of my strongest beliefs is being upfront and honest with my girls about their adoption stories, my knowledge of their birth family, about my own life, and family of origin. I want my children to launch into the world with as much knowledge and history as they need, having a full tank of self esteem, self worth and self love.

This is also why, at age 5 ½, my oldest daughter knows 99% of her adoption story. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is ordinary, some of it is funny, some of it is tear-worthy, and some of it is downright ugly. The only parts that are left out are some of the more complex human emotions that she is too young to fully understand. But the facts, she has them all. They are her facts, not mine, not her birth families, just hers. She has 100% ownership of the facts as we know them. I guess that’s the funny thing about facts, different people hold different ones. Again, I can only tell what I know. My eldest’s birth family can tell what they know. Because this is my daughter’s story, which she owns, she calmly asked her birth mom as they snuggled on the couch one day, a question that had burned within her soul. As I stood looking on with my eyes full of tears, watching this tender moment, my daughter asked a question, a very important question, and was given an honest and loving answer. My daughter owns that answer. She owns the emotions, the tears, the love filled hug that followed.

Now that my daughter is old enough to start sharing her story with others, I am a bit freaked out. I wonder how her story will be received by others, will others get it, and will they get how important this story is to my oldest.  Ok, deep breath, I am the bow, she is the arrow, the archer wants the arrow to go far….exhale. I just have to believe that her arrow will find its mark, that I as the bow am steady enough to shoot her in the right direction.

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