Hope for the Fragile, Dangerous and Bacteria-Laden

My daughter is relentless. Every morning for the past 12 months (but who’s counting?), she watches me drink my morning coffee and cries because she can’t have the cup.

Rational explanations about caffeine, warnings about hot liquids, musings on my responsibility as a parent, theories about “mommy drinks”, distractions and soothing shushes…none of them really help. Yet as frustrating as it is to see her frustrated, I am proud of my daughter’s persistent spirit.


Last Sunday at church we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath, waking the first bit of light. The candles mark four weeks of longing and waiting for Christmas, that holy night of mystery and magic.

We asked hope to come stay with us a while.

We prayed for an end to hopelessness, poverty, injustice, despair.

We said that Love is always coming into the world.

I hear myself tell my daughter: “honey, sometimes we don’t get everything we want” as I comfort her.

Right now I could use some comforting. Every morning I wake up and reach for what I want — a second child, a sibling for my daughter — and every morning, I remember: “honey, we don’t get everything we want.”

Top of my daughter’s other unrequited longings:

  • the ceramic kitty cat (hand painted by her cousins)
  • snow globes
  • toliet bowl water

Which makes me wonder: How much of what I long for is fragile or dangerous or laden with bacteria?

When will I grow out of it, this oversize, ill-fitting longing?

And where is the mama that I want for myself, the one whispering “hush hush, it’s ok, climb on my lap and let’s read this book together”?

I don’t know.

I don’t know how to slip the knot of this suffering. I don’t know how to trade my longing for something useful like deep wisdom or spiritual enlightenment or something – anything – witty or funny or not-boringly-exhaustingly-the-same.

All I know is PLEASE and HOPE and WAIT and NO and TRY AGAIN.

This evening in therapy I realized that I have three things going on: depression (unremarkable, tenacious & boring), personal growth challenges (usual life circumstances), and bat-shit crazy (hormones). So there’s that.

Sometimes it is awfully hard to tell the holy from the laden-with-bacteria, is all I am saying.

I want to let go of this longing when I am done with it, not when I am done in. But I don’t know if I’ll get to make that choice. Too much is out of my control.

So I hope until it is time to sleep, and then I sleep. I sleep and dream, and then I wake, and ask again.


What do you hope for? How do you keep your balance?

p.s. Can I just admit that this  actually makes me feel better? Maybe it’s a personality disorder….

Here’s Where I Start To Confess

She’s Not Sleeping

But that’s nothing new. Our daughter didn’t start snoozing “through the night” (i.e. for 6 hours) until nine months. What’s new is losing the one thing we had going for us…her fall-asleep-fast by 7 p.m.. It’s gone. I’m not sure whether it’s tummy issues, a recent trip, the heat, or having a cold, but the past month has been…there’s just no nice word. “It sucks” is moderate, but not adequate.

After two to three hours of singing, rocking, cajoling, and every-baby-whisperer-trick-we-know, she passes out only to pop back up again after a few hours.

I Don’t Want to Complain

I get that sleep is this THING. I’m not here to swap war stories, because, frankly, with only one child under a year old, I know I’ll lose. I read your blogs, moms: I know.

What makes me tired-upon-tired is the bigger reason I don’t complain: I’m an adoptive mom. Grateful and maybe chagrined or determined, I can be those things. But end-of-rope-tear-spilling-weary? Nope.

I Know What You’ll Say

Oh, sure, you’ll write nice comments (I hope) and tell me how an adoptive mom is like any other mom, and that we are ALL bone weary. But I don’t believe you. I know better.

And you, adoptive mamas, I think you do, too. Even if we aren’t supposed to admit it. There’s a higher standard:

Our own.

It started with the home study, right? When we had to select pictures of ourselves, and few of them were good enough? And then the letter we had to write. And then, the match interview, or interviews, and meetings. And the way we worried about what to wear to the hospital? Casual, but not sloppy. Motherly but not so motherly it seemed we were making assumptions.

This is Where I Start to Confess

And then, just when we think we’re done, there’s the parenting part. The open adoption part.river
The visits, meetups. Our house, the park, parties. Hosting. Welcoming and open-armed. Making space for everyone, for family-of-origin misunderstanding and ignorance, for birth family nervousness and grief. Holding everyone around the child together.

And through it all, being real and vulnerable, but not so vulnerable you can say all the secret things you think: about how you are so tired.

About how no one said it was this hard. Precisely THIS hard.

How Adoption is Different

Being an adoptive mom is no different than being a…what’s the right word…normal/standard/usual/expected mom. Every new normal/standard/usual/expected mom is exhausted, and shocked to discover exactly how tired she feels.

But those moms get to complain. And I don’t feel like I can.

Because I’m the lucky one. The million-in-one-chance-someone-chose-you-so-don’t-mess-it-up one.

And So I Tell Myself:

Your child needs you to be present, not wallowing in selfishness.

Your child needs you because your child is separated from her first mother, the one who was normal/standard/usual/expected until she chose you.

And you are standing in the gap of that loss, for both of them. You are the one in the river of need up to your neck, holding the tiny hand of the child and the hand of the mom and the hands of the families, and they are all depending on you to keep your head above water.

Don’t you dare, for one second, drown.

The point of writing this now…

is not to elicit sympathy or praise. Or speak for all adoptive mamas. Or make us seem heroic (god forbid). Or, in any way, even the smallest, minimize how hard it is for the moms who chose adoptive parents to raise their children. Or imply that open adoption is a bad choice because it is “too hard.”

The point is just to admit that I’m tired, and to let you see me.

It’s Brené Brown’s Fault

She said to be real is to risk being seen.

My what-would-I-do-without-her adoptive mama friend says that I should get a T-Shirt that reads “where I come from, there’s shame.” And she’s right: it’s shame of being found out that keeps me quiet and makes it worse.

I’m ashamed of my weariness and deeply afraid that you’ll read this and think me selfish or ungrateful or self-aggrandizing or entitled or callous or broken.

So Here I Am

If to be real is to risk being seen, then here I am. I’m an adoptive mom. And I’m tired of adoption. I’m tired of what it adds, for me, because of MY standards (which are my own problem, I know) to the daily life of parenting.

I just want to show up and tell you this, and risk your reaction.

For although I am ashamed of my tiredness and my inability to own it, I am also determined to stand in that river and BRING IT with all that I have, to claim all that I am, even the parts that work against me and make me weep.

It Isn’t About Me (thank goodness!)

graduationRecently I celebrated a big achievement in my life. My friends and chosen family cheered for me. And even though I knew, in advance, that I wasn’t likely to get a congratulatory gift, or card, or call, from my family of origin, it still hurt. Still does hurt.

I am the lesbian daughter of conservative evangelical southern Baptists. The complexities of parent-child disappointment are not lost on me. I know it exists on both sides, that the hurt runs both ways.

But this was a BIG achievement.

As I talked myself through my tears on the morning of commencement, I heard myself say: Maybe I didn’t work hard enough. Maybe I did it wrong. Maybe it isn’t really much to be proud of. None of that sounded true, but it felt right.

Then I remembered a conversation I’d had earlier in the week…

We were sitting around the kitchen table, eating our tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches (is there a better lunch in the world?) and talking about Father’s Day. We talked about being a mom-only household. And we wondered about how our daughter will navigate the role her birth father has (hasn’t) played in her childhood.

I said: it is hard for kids to understand that the actions of adults in their life aren’t about them, the child. It takes growing up to realize that when your parents let you down, it isn’t about you. It’s about them.

So on the morning of my big achievement, I remembered that conversation, and I realized: I think it is about ME, but it’s not. What really hurts is feeling like I don’t deserve to be celebrated, because I am wrong, or shameful, or not-good-enough.

Some small but vital gear of hope and understanding clicked into place, and the complex clock-like mechanism that regulates my emotional balance and well-being began whirring again in a very reassuring way. I pulled myself back, and I looked again.

What do I honestly think about me? I think I rock. I think I did a really good job, not just according to arbitrary educational standards, but according to MY standards, which matters way more. I showed up. I took risks. I was brave. And I saw people respond to me, I saw the way my work made them think and question.

So while my heart is still a little sore, I know for certain that the lack of celebration isn’t about me. It is about my family of origin, and that difficulty we have, on both sides, of seeing and valuing each other when our values are so different.

The best part about this? The reason I’m writing about it now?

Well, the super-awesome thing is this: if I keep learning to become, as Brene Brown would say, shame resilient, then I can model that for our daughter.

So on Father’s Days to come, if and when my daughter wonders why a member of her family doesn’t celebrate her, I can embody for her what it means to claim your own life, celebrate your own value, and cheer for yourself because YOU KNOW, deep-down, that you are amazing.

Because our daughter IS amazing. And so am I.