Tag Archives: mothering

What I didn’t say: about work.

I posted something several days ago and then pulled it back.  The post had to do with stories that, though they affect me a great deal, aren’t my stories and I decided it was not the right time to share on one of the other people’s behalf.  But this too is a bit about the theme of what-is-on-my-mind-that-I-don’t-write.

There are things that come up that maybe cannot or should not be the subject of a blog post.  Sometimes I don’t write because what I am not writing about is exactly the thing on my mind.   There have been two such things, and the one will go up later.  But not yet.  Here is one other such thing.  Work.

My job, which was demanding but great fun and wonderful in some ways at the outset, took a big nose-dive for me in the spring, several months into it.  It got hard then bad and then it got worse.   I worked all the time and my boss grew critical of me. I became anxious.  I would wake up every night in the middle of the night with my boss and my worries racing through my head.  I would talk to my co-workers, those who had known my boss a lot longer, after some conversation where he berated and criticized me– and I would say “I think I am going to be fired” and one of my colleagues would shrug and say “if you are, you’ll find something else…just do your best.”  This was honest but not reassuring.  I was so thoroughly off balance and so thoroughly upset it was hard to figure out what to say about any of it.  I said a little, but not the extent of it.  Through the summer, which was emotionally terrible for me, I was convinced I would lose my job before the end of the year and I was terrified.

Then some different things happened and things turned around.  It was unexpected to me– so much so that the fact that things did turn around, even though I could not have seen it coming nor could I envision a way out just a few  months earlier — was a lesson itself.  This seemed an intractable, untenable situation.  And then it turned about 180 degrees, despite my certainty that it could not possibly.

What happened?  I don’t really know, except that at the moment it is going very well.  To some extent I just hit my stride.  I figured out in the way you find your way around a keyboard or a new computer– just how to do certain things, even though what I learned and figured out was somewhat imperceptible to me.  Some other things happened.  I did well with my part of the work in the context of a very difficult situation facing my boss early in the fall.  And there are some skills I have picked up that have always eluded me.  I picked up the pace on certain kinds of work considerably.  And at my age, I learned, in some ways for the very first time, to dig into certain projects immediately rather than later.  Those two changes have allowed me to do certain projects and have given me a great sense of accomplishment and competence.  And in view of the fact that a lot of my job involves writing, I think it is fair to say that I am developing skills I’ve never had as a writer.  All of this, I love.

So the anxiety is dialed back.  What isn’t dialed back is the demand.  I understand how to do many more things better and faster and more efficiently.  But the demand has grown immeasurably too.  And I feel the school year, and this 11- years-old-time with my daughter in particular, and with my partner flying by.  So many evenings and weekends, I am not with them.  Saturday before last I worked for 9 hours and then Sunday too.  I’ve given up Fridays at home.  My daughter is playing volleyball on a team, for the very first time and I don’t know that I will be able to see even one of her games.  So I face a dilemma about how to parent and do my  job and a dilemma about what I want.  And I have very little time to think about it.  Because I work a lot and then I come home to the other job I have, the one that is most important to me, and often most interesting to me– being a good mom and ally to my daughter.  So the quandary is– now what?  I don’t know but hopefully I will see my way clear to keep you posted.

Maladies: Fourth of July, adjusting to 11 years old

This year I kind of hated Fourth of July–which is not my very favorite holiday at all, but one that I often like a lot.  With some months (this time around) of regular work under my belt, I’m still having big trouble adjusting to some parts of my particular post-recession- back- to- work life.  Less money (a lot less of it than before I was laid off from the last job), hours that are too long and flexibility that is too limited nag at me.  A holiday on a Wednesday just exacerbates it.  I’m a long way  into my career but I don’t have enough annual leave accumulated to take a weekend plus two days off  and still have leave time for that two-week vacation we are having trouble planning.  So we just had this dangling holiday on a ridiculously hot day.  We actually had a wonderful time with close friends we’ve not seen in  months– and a fun time going to fireworks at a park that we could walk to– but still I wanted a long weekend instead of one short, hot day.  It was a glass half-empty day.

I love and am blown away by the growing-up human being who is my daughter, but I’m also having trouble adjusting to 11.  My daughter’s age now.  I don’t mean it’s bad, it’s actually quite good.  She’s truly thriving and a lot of things that she had been struggling with last summer and this school year have shifted and  come together for her beautifully.  But life with someone 11 is different from before.  As a parent every year, sometimes every six months is different, but 11 years old seems– well more different.

It’s a different identity– being the mother of a pre-teen girl.  My mother role is different.  I would definitely say it’s not less.  There seems to be more laundry, more forms to fill out, and there are more decisions to be made on a shorter time frame. There is so much to figure out but you figure it out differently.  It’s less hands-on.   It’s more hands-on.

You become a sleuth in a certain way.  You don’t, for example, go into the school or the camp or the home of her new friend and just watch what is going on to figure out what you think.  You watch, sometimes, from a greater distance and listen to conversations that happen in the back seat of the car while you drive and try to participate and try not to.  You have to be available a lot, a lot, a lot.  But you may save the whole day to be together only to have your child use your good attention and love and confidence in her to decide to call a new friend and then leave for the whole day.  I’ve not completely figured it out.  I’m looking ahead at her life as she grows up, at my life as she grows up.

May 20. Daughter’s birthday morning, inspecting her new, first cell phone with my sleepy and bandaged partner. (Partner will hate this photo but I don’t)

Morning city walk, setting up her voicemail– she is a digital native, no instructions, no how-to card…

All that said, I feel the same way, which was a very touching-sweet way– a mom who was a complete stranger described her feeling about 11 years old.  15 years ago.  It was Fourth of July weekend then and my sister had come to visit us for the Fourth with her older (4 years old) and younger (11 weeks) old sons.  We were walking around the Lincoln Memorial, and I had the 11 week old in a sling on my body.  A woman about my age stopped to peer in and admire the baby–she reasonably assumed he was my new baby.  She asked, how old is he? and I replied– 11 weeks old.  She smiled and nodded off into the distance presumably at her boy but I wasn’t sure which boy, of several in the distance, was being pointed to.  She said in a nice way, not a cloying or weird way– Mine’s 11 years old.  They’re just as special and wonderful at 11 years— and smiled and congratulated me on the new baby and left.  Her tone, her pleasure in her son, her pleasure at being the mother of someone who was exactly her son, at his exact age, was unforgettable and I have often thought of her.  I thought of her when my older nephew turned 11 and then again when the younger one– long out of the sling on our bodies– turned 11 and then again this year with my own daughter.

Still, I’m uneasy in my new working-at-a-new-job-mother-of-an-11-year-old skin.  And I’m having trouble writing– not just trouble fitting it in, but trouble mapping out what I want to say.  But I will marshal on and hopefully insights, more clarity, a sense of ease and well-being or at least a sense of humor and more writing will return.

Saying goodbye.

I am full of more and more thoughts, memories, ideas.  This little family that we made and the family history we are making day by day.  Now that she is nine, some of the memories seem long ago and far away.  And some seem like they happened just this morning.  There is a reason for the clichés– it all does seem like just the blink of an eye ago.

This is a very little story, told, of course, from mine and not my daughter’s perspective.  Although I talked and talked to her in the hours after we met her, this is about what was actually my first deep conversation with her.  She was 12 days old and had known me for only a few hours.  I had this conversation with her because it seemed so obvious that adoption is tied to a loss, a large disruption for the young person.  When it was time for her to say goodbye, I knew my young person was no exception.

The day we met our daughter, June 1, 2001 was a very long day, filled with many emotions.  She was 12 days old and had been with her foster mother for 10 of her 12 days.  She had spent her first 48 hours of life in the hospital but as I understand it she hadn’t had any contact, with her mother (who is now called her birth mother, but was her only mother then) after being born.

Our daughter’s foster mom was (is) an interesting, dynamic woman, a married-with-two-sons professional woman, who was at the time, the executive director of a large non-profit which provided respite care to children whose parents were on the brink.  She also served as the foster mother for many of the babies placed for adoption by our agency, just because she loved to be with newborns.

We chose to have the placement happen at her home.  We spent far longer with her and her husband than I suspect any adoptive parent ever had or ever has since.  We stayed for many hours after the papers were signed, photos taken and the agency people had gone back to work (or home).    We felt we we owed it to our daughter to get to know her on her home turf before taking her to a new home and new family.  We had a wonderful afternoon and my partner and Stephanie and my daughter and I walked to a great restaurant for dinner.

After nearly five hours together, it was time for us to pack up and take our new baby back to our hotel.  As bags and the car were being packed up by others, I found myself alone, for the first time, with my baby girl.  I was holding her on my lap in the living room.

Since we had arrived she had looked and looked, listened and listened–but she had barely cried at all for the hours and hours we had been together.  I was alone with her.  I suddenly felt that clearly my job as her mother was to tell her what was to come next and I thought about what was coming as best I could, from her point of view.

She was looking at me and I was looking into her eyes and I said something like this:  We are your moms and we already love you so much.  I love you.  In just a little bit we are going to say goodbye to Stephanie and John and you aren’t going to live with them anymore ever again.  We are going to take you with us and you will live with us.  You don’t know us very well and I know it will be hard, but I can promise you it will be ok.  You’ll be ok.  And I also promise you that this is the end of the line, the last time this will ever happen to you.  We will never leave you and you will never have to leave us or move to a new family again.  We will always be with you and you will always be with us and you will be ok– I promise.

Think what you will, that it was gas or whatever other things people say to disprove the obvious emotion, the intelligence of new babies.  But as soon as I said that she was going to say goodbye to John and Stephanie, she started to cry.  That kind of in-it-for-the-duration kind of newborn cry that gathered steam as it went.  She cried as I sat with her and as we packed the car and she cried harder as we drove over a small mountain pass to the other side of town and harder still as we went up in the elevator to our room.  She cried in our arms on the bed until her eyes drooped then closed and she slept– her first night with her new family.  She had started to cry around 8:00 and cried until around 9:30 or 9:45.  For the next six or eight weeks, she cried again– sometimes shorter, sometimes longer–sometimes tiredly, and sometimes fiercely, but every night, always starting at about 8:00 p.m.  And that is how we started.

Adoptive Mama. Blogging.

As I write I realized that when I hit publish on this, it will be my 100th post on this blog.  So it is fitting that I return here to a long ramble about being an adoptive mama.

I am lucky to have made the virtual acquaintance of several wonderful, smart, writing moms through this blogging world.  Sarah, author of Standing in the Shadows, honored me by linking laura writes– to her blog the other day– referring to me as someone who writes about adoption. So after weeks of writing only about the important events in Wisconsin, I take this time to think and write specifically about being a mom whose daughter came to us by adoption.

The fact that my daughter came into our family through adoption is on the one hand irrelevant to me as a parent and on the other hand, completely central and significant.  It is not something about which I am explicit in my writing all that often.  I write more about the things I see and learn as a Jewish mom, lesbian mom and as the white mom of a child of color.  In our case, being a transracial family arose in the context of adoption.

Adoption is irrelevant in my parenting life in these ways;  I am my daughter’s mom.  My partner is her mom.  I could not love her more or be closer to her if she had been born from my womb.  She is a blessing, a pleasure, a miracle and a person– full of life and full of challenges and I love being her mom.  Figuring out the big issues, like how to be close, what kind of education she should get, playdates, activities, setting limits, getting healthy food on the table, sleep at night, and keeping order in the house, but not too much order–those are the same big issues that any parent  wrestles with every day and I am thoroughly bonded to my sisters in motherhood, adoptive or biological motherhood– in all of those efforts.

What is not at all irrelevant is that my daughter’s adoption was a radical event in her life– which shapes her world view, her fears, her sense of belonging and lack thereof, her sense of her friendships, her sense of herself in the world.  And my job as a parent is to listen, to understand that, to not deny her experience, but to hear her out and to think for myself and to help her face what she needs to face, help her make sense of that radical event and help her to heal, now and throughout her life, from the hurts and losses and confusions that were part of this package for her.

First and foremost, my daughter had a life before she came to land with us.  She was 12 days old when we met and she came “home” with us (first to an Embassy Suites hotel in the city in Texas where she was born).  She was only four days old when we were identified as the family who would soon adopt her– and we talked to her foster mom every day for the eight days between when we were “matched” with each other and we actually took her in our arms, said goodbye to her foster family and began our lives together.  (We actually didn’t say goodbye to her foster family as abruptly as many adoptive parents do– but that story is for another post.)

Our adoption and her situation, by choice of her birth mother– is that hers was a closed adoption and we have no contact and have never had any contact with her birth mother or birth father.  This was not our choice, nor would it have been our preference.  I went to some extraordinary length to ensure that we could get a copy of her original birth certificate, which we now have so that she can, whenever she asks or when she becomes an adult even if she does not ask– have the chance to decide at different times in her life, about whether to try to contact her birth mother.

But in my world view, twelve days old or younger isn’t too young for the life she had and the heritage she was born into– to matter.  Nor is it too young for the loss of those specific relationships and of that heritage, to be a loss.  In her life, the fact that she was adopted rather than born into her family matters.  And so it has to matter in my life as a mother.

I will say a few other things; one that I have written about and a couple that I have not.  My daughter is one of six children (as far as I know).  She has three siblings who are being raised by her birth mother and two siblings younger than she.  Each of her two younger siblings was placed for adoption after she was– not with us and not with each other.  The family of her younger brother, when they learned of us, chose, as did we, contact with us.  The other family has chosen, at least so far, not to have contact with us.

We learned about the two younger siblings many years after each younger child was born and many years after I had started asking our adoption agency whether there had been younger siblings born to her birth mother.  The ethics of the agency’s decision about the separate placement of each of these three siblings and the complexity of all of our feelings about all of this, are also subjects for another time.  None of this is simple emotionally.  But I know that all three children are in good, healthy, loving homes and the rest is history; is what happened.

Our deep and growing relationship with her brother and his wonderful family is not without effort–trying to blend distance, busy schedules, differences in priorities and all the rest.

But the thing is this.  I can see that her life is different; it is better now that she has her younger brother than it was before.  I see very clearly that having the chance to locate herself in her own mind, as a person in the world who was born to someone like every other human being, and who has biological family, like every other human being– seems to have given her a larger anchor– greater confidence and ease in herself and her world.  I have read  several accounts about girls adopted from China into white families, whose parents also felt their daughters gained this sense of place, of anchor– after a long return visit to/ stay in China.

I know that every child who loses one family and gains another through adoption is different, one from another.  I know of many young people who feel longings for their birth parents, their birth mothers in particular.  My daughter has never expressed that longing, though we have always talked openly and I think very lovingly about her being adopted and about her birth family.  We have talked a lot about her birth mother (about whom I know quite a lot, though we’ve never had contact) and birth father who was less forthcoming with our agency and so about whom we know less.  She has asked several times to see a picture of her birth mother (which I do not have), but she has hedged and changed the subject — when asked if she would want to meet her.

It was when she was about five, that I felt she had enough grounding in biological reproduction and how that all works, and I felt she understood enough about adoption for real, that I told her for the first time that she had three older siblings.  All being parented by her birth mother.  These kin, she longed for.  She learned what we knew of them; their first names.  Their ages.  She spoke of them.  She asked about them.  She asked if she could meet them.  If strangers asked her if she had brothers and sisters she would say that she did, she had three, but they didn’t live with her.

One day, weeks after I told her about her older siblings for the first time, she brought them up while we were walking home one summer night, from a playdate at the home of a good friend of hers, also adopted.  She asked me things about her siblings and their home with her birth mother that didn’t seem to me to be terribly heavy for her, but were important to her as she continued to try to have a picture of her complex, spread-out family.  I answered what I knew and told her I didn’t know the rest.

I asked her gently– a little gingerly, but directly, if she ever wondered why she didn’t also live in their household with them.  I wanted her to be able to tell me this, even if she didn’t know how to ask it.  She smiled a big, knowing smile at me– a look she gives me still when she thinks I am overthinking something.

And her words to me, with a very knowing and final tone, at five, were “Let’s not go there, Mama.”  We have gone there from time to time.  But more than she seems interested in reconstructing the why of how she left her birth family and landed in this one, more than that, she wants peoplefamily— a big moving wave of people– her two moms, her brother and his moms,  her aunt in particular, four of the cousins she has in our two families (my partner’s and mine),  our neighbor up the street and her three sisters, the son of one of my closest friends here and the son of my friend in Wisconsin, whom she refers to as her cousins, our very close Mexican immigrant friends and their two daughters, and their extended family, my friend L. and her husband and their two teenage daughters who we also consider her cousins and our nieces, her two grandmothers, and others.

Do I think she has some big struggles related to adoption?  I do.  But what she seems to have done with adoption and being part of a lesbian family is to say, “I go with this… I can choose who is mine and I choose a lot of you.”  There are big tears at different times.  She has said “you’re not my real mom” while crying hard about something that I  or my partner did that hurt her feelings.  When she is most deeply scared and upset she will cry and cry “I want to go home”.  This is heartbreaking for me and also a gift– I assume she carries a deep feeling of having lost her home and that is one of the things she tries to bring up to the light and heal at different times.

I assume I will continue to understand and to learn more about the places of loss and heartbreak.  I hope I will be not just loving but helpful.  But she has a great mind and has used adoption and our lesbian family as the model for some things we could all use to learn about.  And my guess is she will most likely build a family someday, that hopefully I will get to be a big part of; a family that looks like none you or I have ever quite seen before.

The blog entry that wasn’t

Sometimes I think the real story of women’s lives is the story of how you got anything done at all between the interruptions.  Or maybe it is the untold story of all the things you actually did before you got to the part you counted as “doing something”.  I have to go back and check but I think that is what Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing was about.   And also several stories in Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.  So I am not the first woman to think of this or to bother to write it down. 

Although men get interrupted a lot I am sure, for all kinds of equally bad and equally interesting reasons, there is something about our lives as women that makes this story strangely the norm, unquestioningly the norm.  And although many of you are so familiar with this it will seem strange to have bothered to write it at all, still I want to write it.  If you could hear me, you’d know that though I do complain about many things, I am really not complaining.  And I could be more disciplined about managing my time.  This is a completely unremarkable account of a few hours of my day yesterday.   

I came home from work early.  Quite early, like 1:30.  I wasn’t feeling so well and I brought work from my office to do at home after I finished with a long morning meeting at work.  I had in my mind that I wanted to sit and write just a little.  I wanted to start a longer piece about adoption and race  generally.  I was also thinking about a particular, interesting email dialogue I am having with someone and thinking maybe I would write a little about that.  Or maybe I’d write about something that has been rattling around in my mind about girls and gender roles in third grade, or a next piece, more about race and racism, to follow up from the writing I did earlier here, called “Student Council”, because there is more since then to tell. 

It took me awhile to sit down at the computer.  I really wasn’t feeling so great.  As I said.  I got into my pajamas, which is unusual for me.  I did read a really lovely and interesting article that a friend sent me about meeting and developing a friendship with a woman artist whose background is remarkably similar to her somewhat extraordinary background, which did admittedly take a little time to read, and I don’t want to be dishonest here.  I did get to read that piece.

Then there was the something I had to write for work which I did.  Then I was hungry.  I watched a very few minutes of the Olympics and fewer minutes of “Ellen” while I ate.  I also cleaned up from lunch and from breakfast which we had abandoned in a hurry earlier.  By then I thought about taking a nap, but there is something incredibly inviting about a quiet house in the daytime, while the sun is out, as a time to sit and collect my thoughts and write.  So I opted for that. 

As I was settling in to write, I heard the blinds rattling in the other room, which is a common occurence in winter in our slightly overheated apartment where the windows are cracked open a bit but it was especially loud so I went to look.  It turned out not to be the blinds.  Nor was it noise from the hallway of the apartment next door with which we share a wall.  In fact it was a key in the door, which initially scared the hell out of me.  

But it was my partner, home much earlier than planned.  With three children.  Our one and two from up the street.  This stop at home with daughter and two friends definitely wasn’t in the plan for the afternoon.  My partner was going to pick up daughter and go directly to basketball practice.  They entered with their backpacks and their three different versions of a long day at school, needing attention and snacks and they entered with all their interesting ideas and their tangles with each other and all their homework pages.  And so this is just one version of the unremarkable story of the blog entry that wasn’t.  At least not yet.  Not yesterday.