Saturday, April 24, 2010

lest you think it is all rainbows and sunshine

It's been a big week. Baby J started to explore solids, with forays into organic rice cereal and sweet potatoes. So far the reaction to each is the same - disbelief and disgust on the first try, reluctance and tentative rejection on the second try and an open-hearted embrace of the food, as if greeting a long lost friend with open arms, on the third try.

But sleeping has been a little iffy this week. It seems like there are phases, a week or two where she sleeps like a champ, followed by a few nights where something is up. I wondered if it was the new food, this past week. Yesterday a sniffly nose and slight cough heralded what is probably the beginning of a cold.

Last night we knew we were playing with fire. We had an amazing dinner with friends - homemade ribs, some sort of orange soaked pound cake with chocolate ganache oh my! - and stayed out significantly past bedtime. The price for this, which is at times worth paying, is a much tougher bedtime. Baby girl ends up being almost too tired to go to sleep. Last night Andrew was a champ, and baby whispered her to sleep. We followed shortly after.

We're not sure exactly what happened next, but judging from the clues (one shredded paper grocery bag, two thoroughly traumatized cats) one cat decided to hide in a paper bag. At which point the other cat decided to attack the suspiciously twitching bag and the bagged cat chose to flee with the non-bagged cat in hot pursuit. This was quite loud, and unexpectedly prolonged. Bagged cat apparently made it all the way from the living room into our bedroom, circled the bed, may or may not have landed at one point in the co-sleeper and ended up back in the living room. He may or may not have run into multiple walls. All this while wearing the bag and being pursued (or, possibly appearing to pursue) the kitty not in the bag.

So, that ended all pretense of usual sleeping arrangements for the night. I think this is the first time I've seen my daughter frightened (I was frightened too, while it was happening!) and she let us have it for a good 20-30 minutes before we all fell asleep in an exhausted A+A+J pile on the big bed. And by "asleep" I mean Andrew and Jubilee slept while I dozed between getting kicked in the gut and petted/hair pulled by my otherwise sound asleep little angel. Attempts to return her to the co-sleeper were apparently bag-incident-flashback inducing and quickly abandoned.

So it was a frustrating night, followed by a tired and cranky-baby morning.

Still, it goes without saying, but I wouldn't trade this cranky-baby morning for one of those sleeping-in Saturdays of yore. I am grateful for all the small creatures that are entrusted to our care, even the ones who panic from inside paper bags and ruin human sleep patterns for a night. J is down for morning nap early, and may wake up her usual sunny self. And there's coffee in front of me.

It's just that, sometimes, I feel a certain pressure to cherish every moment of motherhood. I think that's a common pressure for anyone who has had to work very hard to become a parent. So it's good to remind myself that it's okay to be tired, and normal to feel frustrated when carefully laid plans for a full night's sleep are sabotaged by critters or tummy aches or colds or what have you. After all, J is tired and frustrated too. And part of the deal, the joy and the less-joyful, is getting to walk this with her. But I don't have to do it all with a halo on. I can do it just as well, maybe even better, if I allow myself to acknowledge that sometimes it's hard/I'm tired/grouchy/cranky/whiny.

So there you have it. Go easy on me. I promise not to leave paper bags out anymore, lying around the house.

The culprits.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


The past few days have been full of lovely keepsake moments. As they happen I try to pause, close my eyes, freeze them in little memory-jewels to keep for later. You know the ones, the memories you take out years later to relish. They keep you warm long after most of the moments around them have faded from color to black and white and then to gray.

Yesterday morning J woke up at her usual time, after a bit of a rough night. I wasn't ready to wake up so I reached into the co-sleeper and pulled her into bed with me, a trick that sometimes buys me 10-15 minutes of extra immobility. I woke up half an hour later to her baby snores, small head snuggled into that place on my chest that, turns out, was made for a baby to sleep on. This doesn't happen often anymore. I spent the next half hour watching her, memorizing the way her small body feels when it is totally relaxed and fast asleep, her left hand tangled in my hair.

D came in to town last week, the friend of my heart who frequently goes on baby-book shopping sprees on Powell's to make sure that J has every single book she could possibly ever need. I watched my friend, who I have loved for over ten years, hold my daughter, read her some of those books, smile and laugh with her. It was a perfect bookend to the tearful phone calls D has fielded from me over the past few years while I was seeking parenthood. She has a gift for reminding me of my center. It was pretty amazing to watch her bond with the child who has my heart.

Every year I throw a party for a varying number of my girlfriends. This past weekend we had our tenth, a decade of celebrating women and fun and the beauty we see in each other. Some of us have moved away, ladies came in from out of state to celebrate. Ten years ago, the first time, we were all kids - as young as 19 and no one older than 23. Now we are career women, mothers, wives, and just women. We're aging together and getting more beautiful every time we gather. It was perfect, a jewel of a party.

Oh yes, and also this.

She wore more than she ate, but we all had fun. ♥

Monday, April 19, 2010

a rambling response/analysis of the "Russian Adoption Scandal"

I know there has been much said, and much written in the blogosphere about the disrupted adoption of Artyem Saviliev, the 7 year old Russian boy who was adopted by a United States citizen last September and then "returned." She put him on a plane back to Russia with a note in his hand explaining that she could no longer parent him.

If you're looking for background on the story, just go to and search "Russian Adoption Scandal" or "Russian Adoption" or "Russian Adoption Return." There is plenty of coverage.

There has also been plenty of response. I have received emails from friends, other adoptive parents, and our adoption agency looking for opinions, reactions, or statements of support. There are those who are outraged by the actions of the adoptive mother. There are those who decry the supposed lack of preparation adoptive parents receive prior to placement of an older internationally adopted child. There are those who are in the process of adopting children from Russia now wondering whether their adoptions will ever go through. There are those who see this as another example of why international adoption (or adoption in general) is not a positive thing. There are those who see this whole discussion - the adoption, the "returning" of the child - as an example of the ways in which children are com-modified through international adoption. There are those who have parented or attempted to parent formerly institutionalized or traumatized children who speak with some empathy for the adoptive mother. I haven't seen it yet, but I expect there will (or should) be some examination of the racial implications of Russian adoptions to the USA. (For example, is there a mistaken expectation that these children will "fit" better, or suffer less culture/language shock because their adoptions are trans-ethnic but not trans-racial?)

I had a number of initial reactions to this story as it broke, and as I continued to be inundated with commentary in my email, through facebook links shared, and all over my google reader. All my reactions boiled down to an acknowledgement that this whole situation is deeply disturbing to me - more than I would have expected, given that I've seen a lot. I have a special connection to adoption, obviously. I also have a special connection to Russia, and Russian orphans in particular. At one point in my life I very much wanted to be more involved in Russian-American adoptions, even to the point of considering moving to Russia to be actively involved in the life of orphans and institutionalized children there in some way.

My history with Russia as a country started in 1995, when I participated in a high school foreign exchange program. I lived with a Russian family in the town of Armavir for a semester and it was one of the most formative experiences of my life. That being said, my host family was incredibly wealthy and I didn't exactly experience what life was like for "typical" Russian families. One of the things I learned about Russia, starting then, was that it is a nation that tends towards extremes. There has always been a small extremely wealthy upper class and a large, mostly quite poor, underclass. I went to college the year after this experience and chose to study Russian language and history. While I changed my major a couple of years in Russia continued to haunt me. So I went back - twice during college and again after I graduated in 2000. During my college trips I led a team of students from my school and part of what we did was provide relief work for an orphanage in northern central Russia, a completely different area than where I had lived before. This was a completely different experience for me. It was enlightening and heartbreaking all at once.

So, when Andrew and I decided to adopt Russia was one of the first places we considered adopting from. We decided not to. By this time I had not only my experiences in and with Russian orphanages behind me but also six years of research work with children in the foster care system here in the US. I had a very clear idea of what sort of commitment it takes to adopt from foster care and it seemed to me that adopting an older child internationally was sort of like adopting from US foster care plus a traumatic culture and language shock for the child and minus the support structure of social workers, therapists, and medical aid that our government system provides for children coming from its care. Even with my knowledge of Russian language and culture I knew we weren't prepared for that.

Interestingly enough, Russia's children in orphanage care have a lot in common with our kids in foster care. The reasons they end up in that system are not that different than the reasons kids here end up in our system: physical abuse, neglect, drug issues, alcoholism. This is different, perhaps, from the reasons children end up in orphanage care in say, Ethiopia. Ironically, I think there are adoptive parents who choose international adoption over foster care adoption because they think they can avoid dealing with some of those problems. Even more ironically, Russia is one of the most expensive countries to adopt from internationally. And I have always wondered how much that had to do with the race of the children available there - usually white. And what, precisely, it would mean to make a choice to pay upwards of 45 grand to adopt a Russian child, over all the other options out there. I am not saying it is a wrong or bad choice for everyone. Just that these are dynamics that are important to examine, as we examine the ways in which that system has succeeded and failed the children involved in it.

Since the 1990's fifteen Russian adoptees have been killed by their adoptive parents. Now one has been sent back, returned in a seemingly cruel and public way despite what had to be a number of other options available for dealing with what had evidently become a untenable situation. This doesn't mean that all families who adopt from Russia, or who adopt internationally, or who adopt period, are bad. I would hazard a guess that far more children have been killed or abandoned by their biological parents in that space of time. It also doesn't mean that all children who are adopted from Russia are bad or dangerous, another narrative that seems to be surfacing around this case. (I would of course argue that children aren't "bad" though I know that kids who are severely traumatized can absolutely be dangerous to other kids and to parents.) Look here (scroll down a bit) for a pretty inspiring story of an older child adopted from Russia.

In my "about us" entry, made over a year ago as the first entry in this blog, I said:
Maybe people who have a biological child can harbor fantasies about a perfect family and perfect home life. Adoption by definition starts with a loss - someone loses a child, and someone loses a biological parent, and someone loses the experience of having a biological connection the child they raise. Since we know from the start that our family won't fit in to a lot of the models out there for the "perfect" family, we can work on being the family that we are, instead.

Looking back, that was pretty naive. I have since learned that there is a "perfect family" expectation for adoptive families. These expectations weigh heavily on all members of the triad. The adoptive parents are expected to be perfect at parenting - after all look at all the training and work they did to become parents! We are expected to bond instantly with our children, to know just what to do for them at all times and in all situations, to be an inspiring example of unconditional love to all. We are expected to be even better than the best biological parent, or risk being judged for the choices we have made to bring a child not born to us into our home.

Adopted children are also expected to be perfect. After all, they have been saved from poverty/abuse/unspeakable things! Plus they have been given these perfect saints for parents who will never mess up and never let them down! They have been brought to the United States, some of them, the land of promise! They have been given everything...right?

And first parents suffer from it too - the expectation to be the long suffering angel who never regrets your choice, who always meekly submits to the "real" parents, who remains quiet and emotionally one-dimensional.

But, of course, there is no such thing as a perfect adoptive family. It is an even bigger lie than the myth of the perfect biological family. Sometimes people adopt for the wrong reasons, or with the wrong expectations, or with all good intentions and still they screw it up. No child should be expected to be happy to be an adoptee, or to love her adoptive parents more because they adopted her. And no first parent goes through life feeling free and grateful that they made a choice to relinquish a son or daughter.

That being said - we can do better. No child should be sent anywhere on a plane bearing his own rejection note. And no current adopted child should have to live with the fear that this could happen to him or her, either. Nobody is perfect, but if there is someone in the triad who bears the burden of responsibility it is the adoptive parent. And, perhaps, the agency who facilitates the placement.

I'm full of opinions, feelings and not many answers. I would just urge that we let this situation and the controversy and conversation that it starts around these issues be as complicated and messy as they are, without simplification or reduction. This story should make us uncomfortable. It should spark some sort of change.

Friday, April 16, 2010

OA Roundtable #15 - the money question.

This is my response to the Open Adoption Roundtable topic #15. Here's the topic this time around:

Does money have an impact on your open adoption? If so, how? (Could be issues pre- or post-placement, expectations, assumptions, costs of visit activities, travel, gifts--you name it.)

To see other responses or learn more about the Open Adoption Roundtable, check in here.

The money question is always a difficult one. And when you are speaking about adoption the answer to "does money have an impact?" is always yes. But this roundtable is about how money and finances impact my adoption. Let me count the ways.

1. The adoption itself cost money. When we first investigated adoption, Andrew and I were prepared for it to be expensive. We were also incredibly lucky, and received a grant that covered a little less than half of the costs minus travel. We aren't at a place in our lives where we had a lot of cash lying around, but we were able by means of a no-interest loan through our agency, the grant, scrimping and saving and working a lot, and the generous help of our family and friends to come out the other side of our adoption without major debt. The fact that we afforded it at all is indicative of both what we can accomplish when we focus and the immense privileges (many unearned) that we enjoy as a heterosexual white middle class married couple situated within a web of similarly raced and classed (and therefore privileged) family and friends.

2. Money is a big reason that Z placed J for adoption. Our daughter's first mother absolutely couldn't provide for her. While there are many dynamics to this, lack of money is a big one. And just as our ability to come up with the money to facilitate our adoption is revealing not just of our own admirable strengths but also our unearned privileges I have to assume that the reverse is true for Z. I don't know her story well enough to write about it here. I'm not entirely sure that what I think I know about Z is the truth, or the truth as she would tell it. But I do know that the position she found herself in, the position of needing to relinquish a beloved child to adoption, was not only a result of choices she had made in her life. It was also a result of unearned disadvantage, of being a black unmarried economically disadvantaged woman situated within a web of similarly raced and classed family and friends, who despite perhaps having care for her did not have the resources to help her keep and care for her daughter. It may not be the only dynamic, but it is certainly a real one.

So, going forward, how will money continue to affect our adoption? It's hard to say, because I don't know how open our adoption may become. Andrew and I are middle class, but we're not wealthy. We have to plan carefully with our money and while it won't always be this way at the moment we're both students and live a bit paycheck-to-paycheck. We'd love to plan a trip to see Z regularly, but that would mean once a year tops. Her situation and relationship to money will also affect us - whether or not she has access to technology, for example, or a stable mailing address, will directly affect the options we have for being in touch.

Money permeates everything. This is something that is sort of awesome if you have it. And it completely sucks if you don't. Wherever I am on the continuum, and the middle seems to be where I end up, I hope that I can maintain some intentionality about that position, and some awareness about the whole range of reasons why I'm here and others are not.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

General Updates

There is, my friends, a new season upon us! Easter was especially wonderful for me this year, despite the long day. I was at church by 4:15am for the Vigil and I got to serve in a very special role this year. We baptized five children at that early service, two of whom are in my Godly Play classes and all of whom are just amazingly special to me. I had the privilege of chanting the prayers as we processed to the font to welcome them into the company of the baptized. It was perfect - they were very brave and absolutely inspiring.

After the three hour vigil and a wonderful breakfast Andrew took a tired baby girl home for naps and I stayed to teach Godly Play to those little ones with rather more sane parents who chose to come at the normal time instead of the wee hours of the morning. We had a great time.

And then it was off to the peninsula for Easter dinner at Andrew's mom's house. All of his immediate family was there, which was lovely. J got to play with her cousin T, Andrew's brother's sweet little girl, and see Grandma, Bobo, and Grandpa, as well as her great-grandparents Mom and Pop. (It's amazing, I don't think we have any repeat grandparent names! On Andrew's side we have those listed above. On my side we've got Papa, Grandma N., Nana, Grandma S, and Gran. I guess there are a few Grandmas but still.)

We had to change J back into her Easter dress for photos. Here she is with Grandpa:

So now we are in the Easter season. (Did you realize Easter is a season, not a day? It is just as long as Lent, interestingly enough.) I love this season, for a myriad of reasons: it is spring, the light is returning, the flowers are blooming, there just seems to be more energy to go around. This year Easter is also the season of old friends, for me. M, who I have mentioned here before and not laid eyes on for over a decade, is here for a visit, popping in to whisk me away to coffee like he did lifetimes ago. My friend Kate is moving back to Seattle after almost as long away. In a couple weeks my heart-friend D will be here to celebrate what is an annual tradition for us, and then she'll be back for J's finalization whenever that ends up happening. And there is more, that I won't so much write about here. So many things on so many levels are unfolding.

I ended up loving the Ashtanga Yoga class that I took as part of my Lenten discipline. It is very hard, a movement heavy version of the discipline, and I am really not good at it but it was very good for me both physically and mentally. So I signed up for another three months of classes.

And we are back in school, after brief breaks for each of us. Andrew got his 4.0 again, and the phone is starting to ring in the evenings with questioning classmates asking for help on the other end of the line. I also did well last quarter despite the many distractions. This quarter my classes are Christian Ethics and Ministry in a Multi-cultural Context. I'm deep into the readings already and let me tell you there will be plenty of material discussed and digested for class that filters through to this space. To start with, if you haven't read Understanding White Privilege by Frances E. Kendall, I highly recommend it. Heather, if you are out there, this would be an excellent book for that book club you mentioned starting a few months ago for white moms of black children.

And, on the adoption front, I had lunch with Marla and fellow adoptive mom Melissa yesterday down near the WACAP main office. We had such a great time, it was lovely to see Melissa's little Isabella who was born just five weeks after my baby J. There was much to celebrate in all our lives, and despite having a lot going on both personally and professionally Marla agreed to help me in attempting to get some faster response times out of the agency in Georgia for J's finalization paperwork. That's all we are waiting on at this point. Once that paperwork is in our lawyer's hands we can request a court date. We're eager to get it done, of course.

So, dear readers, there you have it. There are many things to look forward to in this brand new season of the year. A lot of work ahead as well but that is in line with how we live I suppose. I can see on our beloved video monitor that my wee one is starting to stir, so I'd better sign off for now.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Adorables for your Friday...

Have you seen the viral youtube video of a father telling his toddler son that he's not a single lady while he's jamming out with his sister to the Beyonce hit? Little Losiah is crushed, and his daddy quickly retracts, telling him he can indeed be a single lady if he wants to.

It's adorable.

And incidentally, Losiah is transracially adopted, something many youtube commenters noted.

I might offer some analysis of this later, but for the moment - enjoy the hilarious video and adorable family.

putting the versary in Birthdaversary!

And here we are, at the end of the fifth annual A+A Birthdaversary.
As of today we've been married for five years, which seems both long and short, each in its own way. I can't imagine (though I can remember) life without Andrew. We're a lot alike and just enough different to make a pretty good team. We also, once upon a time, made some music together. We called ourselves For Better or For Awesome and recorded a cd that we gave away at our wedding. We played a couple shows, had a good time, stayed focused on our other projects. We talk about someday dusting off my drums and starting it up again. We'll see.

A couple weeks before our wedding our good friend Breanne shot some official band photos for FBOFA.

These are outtakes from that shoot, and some of my favorite engagement photos of us.

Wearing each other's band's t-shirts, being disgustingly adorable. Thank god there's someone else around now to take that particular responsibility off our hands!

♥ Thanks for bearing with me during the annual Birthdaversary walk down memory/we-rock/yay-us! lane. Click below to listen to a FBOFA track, called 6/8=12/10, that we wrote about falling in love with each other. (hint - we met on December 10, 2003.)

**AlSO: Happy Birthday to Miss Eagle Eye, who was nice enough to attend our wedding on her own special day five years ago. I miss you lady.**

We now return to our normal programming. ♥