Adoption: We Need a Better Way

I’ve needed to write for a while, but I haven’t had the guts. Our family has been struggling and a lot of it is confidential, so it is a challenge to sort out what parts are my story to tell and what parts I need to keep private.

I knew the words were a mistake as they were leaving my mouth, but I was in the grip of an anger so fierce it literally felt like fire. Some of you may recognize this: Mama Bear when the ones you love are being hurt. Claws and sharp teeth and ROAR. So much roar.

I don’t know how to tell this story without telling the story, but I don’t want to break confidences.

A friend who grew up in Oakland says that when he was a kid, you never wanted to be taken to Kaiser. If you got sick, you told the ambulance driver: take me anywhere else.

But recently as I sat in the playroom in the Pediatrics ward of the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Oakland, it didn’t seem that bad. My robust, healthy daughter played with a thin boy in a brown hospital gown with IVs taped to his arm: Sammy.

Sammy’s dad and I sat around the table in the playroom. Sammy invented a game with plastic beaded bracelets his dad had made for him, and we participated the best we could with the inventive rules of a 5-year-old. We began with just a few bracelets, and then when the game got more complicated, Sammy’s dad dug more bracelets out of his jeans’ pocket.

I wondered about those bracelets: when had Sammy’s dad made them, and how long had Sammy been in the hospital, and when might he go home? Sammy’s daddy looked so tired. But we had fun playing the game, laughing and joking, as my rosy-cheeked girl ran circles around the table and pushed chairs about.

When you are in a crisis, the best and the worst seem to float to the surface and persist. That day, playing with Sammy, was one of the best.

I will always regret that it was there — in that playroom, Sammy and his dad having stepped out to meet with their nurse — that I lost my temper and the very worst of everything collided.

Some of you know that fierce anger, and how it feels in your body to be Mama Bear when your cubs are being hurt. Sharp claws, teeth, the roar. I roared. And received in return, the worst of all possible things: I was not going to be allowed to see him. And they would take away my wife’s access to her birth son. Unless we behaved, didn’t insist on our “rights” or confront them. There is no way I can describe the terror that flooded me in that moment, or how heavy the regret hunched in my stomach.

I’m an adoptive mom, married to an amazing woman who is an adoptive mom and birth mom and adoptee.

We were there in that hospital for my wife’s birth son, who was fighting for his life. But we had no legal right to be there. And so we behaved. Choking down panic and grief, I left the hospital, and my wife apologized for me, accepted her role: they were generous in allowing her to even be there, to see her birth son.

This is open adoption, what it looks like for us in this part of our family. My heart, whatever jumble of love and pain and fury might be called “heart,” is still shattering and reassembling itself, over and over, as I try to understand how to be helpful and compassionate and wise instead of wounded and furious and selfish.

I know that there is much in this story that probably doesn’t make sense, but my reason for writing is to ask, again, about how we decide who has the rights to a child. The social worker at the hospital who intervened (to ask to me leave) argued with us that my wife’s son was “not your son because you gave him up.” When we explained about open adoption, about the agreement and the (broken) promises, she asked how often we’d seen him and then quickly retracted. Apparently there is some measure of number of visits that do grant you something (nothing legal, just generosity) in regard to the life you made in your body, the one you would die for.

We aren’t delusional. As adoptive moms, we know very well what it means to be a parent. It’s how children experience it: mom or dad is the one who makes you the bracelets, dozens and dozens of them, for your days in the hospital. They are there always. Every day.

From the outside, and to the kids themselves, it looks like birth parents aren’t there every day. That’s part of the deal, what was signed up for. But I know, because it is my family, that some birth parents think of their child EVERY DAY. Love that child. Hope and pray and weep for that child, the one that is part of them, will always and never be theirs.

It doesn’t count legally but it counts. Oh it counts. It’s called love.

And there has to be a better way to do family than this setup where adoptive parental power is absolute and access is used as the ultimate weapon. We have to find a better way.

Not a Letter to My Daughter on International Women’s Day

womens-dayIt’s International Women’s Day, and there are so many excellent letters from fathers and mothers to their daughters currently trending on the interwebs. Reading them, I realize how much of what I might say to our daughter reflects ME: my struggles, the lessons I’ve learned, the dreams I still have for myself.

Recently we visited with a young mom who is in the process of coming out, and struggling with her conservative faith background. It’s been twenty years (wow!) since I came out, and what I remember most is the fear. I was afraid I wouldn’t survive.

Like so many women of my generation, I excel at people-pleasing and self-negation and here-let-me-squish-myself-into-this-mold-to-make-you-love-me. I knew my desire for women was old, beginning at least as early as third grade. But I figured that everyone had those feelings, and we just ignored them, to do what the church told us to do. Also: I was terrified of losing God.

This blog has been a place where I say things I am not supposed to, a place where I challenge my self-censor. So I will tell you something that I don’t usually tell people, because it is painful and I am afraid you will judge me.

When I made the decision to come out, it wasn’t because I believed in a woman’s right to define her own sexuality. (I would, later, but I hadn’t yet found Marilyn Frye or Audre Lorde.) I was 19 years old.

When I came out, it was to save my life.

In December 1993, I was violently sexually assaulted by a man on the very long train ride from Los Angeles to Salem, Oregon. I didn’t fight back. I was tired. Also: I had lots of practice letting things happen to my body that I didn’t choose. I’d been trained in that, as surely as I’d been trained that girls like boys and men are stronger than women.

I was 19 years old, and I failed to protect myself. I was tired, so very tired, of letting things happen, of the shame and ick and scalding hot showers afterwards.

I knew that I was the only one who could protect myself. I had to claim my body as mine, as beloved and worth the work to defend and cherish.

Here is where I worry you will misunderstand: that you will think that I came out to avoid sexual violence. But I know (perhaps more than the average woman) that being with women doesn’t ensure safety. It wasn’t the gender of the perpetrator, it was me: something in me that I hadn’t been able to hold on to.

So I stepped out to figure out what it might mean to say NO. No, not just to violence, but no to all of it: to everyone’s expectations of who I should be and whom I should desire.

And as I did that, as I stood up for myself, it slowly stopped mattering what others expected or said about God’s ability to love me. Once I stood up for myself, I got to choose. What did I want? That I knew…had always known.

This isn’t a story I am ready to share with my daughter. Perhaps not for a long while, if ever. I want time – years and years – to teach her the good stuff before she learns about the violence, about the reasons we still need a Women’s Day, and feminism, and gender equality.

I want my daughter to learn that her body is hers and no one else’s…that her needs, feelings and desires are important and require no apology or sanction. I want her to be affirmed of what she already knows: that she is beautiful beyond measure and worthy — to her soul’s core — of love and respect.

Writing this now, I realize that the stories I want to share with my daughter are the ones that I rarely celebrate: the day I signed the lease for my teeny first apartment, the outfit I chose for my first date with the woman who would become my wife, the summer I flew to St. Petersburg, Russia alone and backpacked through Eastern Europe solo for eight weeks. My first time preaching, the way my hands shook, and the way I knew — wholly and without question — that God, Holy Mystery, loves not only me but everybody (and my work might just be helping people to see that too).

On this Women’s Day, my wish is that our old stories of what we survived may fall away and the stories of how we thrive may rise up to shine — vibrant, courageous, and true.

Joy: The Mess & The Music

Any excuse to look at something pretty. http://wallpaperswide.com/pebbles_4-wallpapers.html

Any excuse to look at something pretty. http://wallpaperswide.com/pebbles_4-wallpapers.html

Life has been emotionally overwhelming lately, so this post is a series of random free associations with (mostly) a theme. Maybe it will work best if you think of them like little stones you can tuck in your pocket, skip across the water, or nudge with your toe. (Ok, that was kind of rose-colored and presumptive, huh? Maybe these musings are more like rocks in your shoes. Yesterday while I waited for the elevator at the doctor, I realized my left foot hurt and dumped out my shoe to find…dry cat food…which, as it turns out, feels like rocks when it’s been placed, in large amounts, in your shoes by a toddler. But I digress.)

Revisiting the Mess(ability)

Last month, I said I wasn’t sure I could be a good parent in a messy house.

Thank goodness for a person’s right to change her mind.

My toddler daughter and I spent the better part of an hour simultaneously building a fort in the living room and dismantling it in a hilarious game of flop-and-dive. We were having so much fun, we started laughing…full-body uproarious laughter. I laughed so hard I literally did cry, and while I was sobbing I looked at the amazing chaos of our small living room and thought:

Maybe I CAN be a good parent in a messy house (some of the time).

Because if mess equals freedom to play, and freedom equals a space to be joyfully yourself — your whole, messy, flop-and-dive self — then the mess is not just okay, but necessary. Maybe the space to play wholeheartedly, without worrying about making a mess, is something good I can give my daughter.

Whoa.

Found at LunaGuitars

Found at LunaGuitars

Music Education & Doing it Badly

Tonight I went to Parent Education Night at Music Together, a musical immersion class that my daughter and I are enjoying this semester.

Here are a few musical facts:

FACT #1. I LOVE music. Not just a little. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I am always singing or humming or making up new kid-friendly words to some inappropriate tune (SuperFuss to the tune of SuperFreak, for example).

I discovered the magic of transition songs, so now I have scientific proof (or a Waldorf blessing, which might be stronger) that my incessant warbling is helpful. My 18-month-old and I sing our way to and from naptime, dressing, changing diapers, making breakfast, feeding the cats, leaving the house.

And.

FACT #2. I struggle to sing in tune. I struggle to clap in rhythm. Of my three sisters, I am the only one who has not sung in public, led worship, or had a solo. I have been told (more than once) that I am off key.

(Secretly, I have longed to sing in a choir — any choir — since I belted out “Turn on Your Heartlight” during third grade music assembly at Elmhurst Elementary School. Don’t tell anyone.)

So at the end of Parent Education Night, I turned to the very nice teacher next to me (not my regular teacher, no accountability – ha!) and asked if it really was true that I won’t ruin my daughter’s musical ability by constantly singing to her off key.

Vanessa (God bless you, Vanessa) answered me in the most wonderful way.

She said: well, if you wanted to teach your kid baseball, would you sit them down in front of a pro game? Or would you go out in the backyard and pitch the ball?

Ohhhh, right, that not-doing-it-perfectly-thing. I forgot.

In fact, Vanessa says that the MOST important thing is what I model for my daughter about music. Do I show her that making music is scary or fun? Intimidating or joyful? Open to everyone or only for the perfectly performing few?

Got it. HOORAY!

I sang all the way home, warbling joyfully.

Music as Spiritual Nourishment

Warbling in the car, I was reminded of my childhood friend and momrade, Shannon Friedman, who in this very wise comment, shared that one of her irreplaceable gifts to her son is music. She spends hours finding songs that will nurture her son’s spirit, his body-heart-mind-soul.

I realized that I love music, in large part, because it is my spiritual root. Music is my way in to knowing myself as beloved, as created-by-Love, as made-of-stardust. Even before I could pronounce the words, humming along as my mother sang in church and lit the candles on the Advent wreath was my introduction to the Holy, to Awe and Mystery.

I’m not as intentional as my friend Shannon in giving this gift to my daughter, but I could be. Music of all kinds can nourish our spirit, our soul. I was reminded of this by our dear friends, my daughter’s godparents, who gave us a bunch of CDs recently. I play them every day on the stereo in the kitchen.

Rocks on Manzanita beach

Rocks on Manzanita beach

Maybe Joy Is Where It’s At

I wonder if the theme in all of this musing about mess and music is Joy.

Joy is when the mess makes sense.

Joy is when the music doesn’t need to be on key.

Joy is the heart of the lesson, the best I can bring to this emotionally overwhelming toddler time of life.

HOORAY AGAIN! What a relief. Because while I struggle painfully with happy (such hard work, navigating disappointments and expectations), I’ve got joy.

In fact, I’m just now remembering that I wrote a song about joy. During my first year of graduate school in January 2009, I walked along the coast under a winter sun. I watched the river tumbling rocks on their way to the sea. Freezing cold and exhilarated, I sang:

Sing for joy, O my soul
Leap for joy, O my soul
Sing for joy, Leap for joy
Leap for joy, O my soul

The river’s wide, O my soul
The river’s wild, O my soul
Wild and wide, the river flows
The river flows, O my soul

God is wide, O my soul
God is wild, O my soul
Wild and wide, God is light
God is light, O my soul

The river’s joy, O my soul
God is joy, O my soul
You are joy, You are joy
You are joy, O my soul

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So, how’s the music (and the mess) at your house?

 

P.S. After writing this, I noticed that warbling home in the car after Parent Ed Night was a “Perfect Moment Monday” (yes, today is technically Tuesday, but details, details…whatever). Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Everyone is welcome to join. Peruse more perfect moments on Lori’s blog or add your own.