I hung up the phone with my brother feeling emotionally exhausted, but better than I had when I had called him almost two hours prior. Ben and I are pretty different, and once again our fundamentally different ways of operating had caused tension, hurt feelings, and some of the trademark passive-agressive behavior that has been a family legacy for what I can only assume is generations. That, at least, is something my brother and I share.
Because we are so different the stories that our families tell about us are different stories - Ben is like our parents: quiet and calm, conservative, introverted with his feelings and protective of his personal time and space. I am, well, not like anyone in my immediate family. I am like my "crazy" aunts (I have one on each side): outgoing and dramatic, a risk-taker, a liberal with her heart on her sleeve, overcommitted and sort of into everybody's business. Our stories depend on each other - they define each other to a certain degree. There are things that I like about them and of course things that are painful to me. The story I tell about myself isn't quite the same as my family's story about me. This is the nature of the stories families tell - good or bad we use them to measure change in ourselves and in our family members and to have some idea of what to expect from each other. My family's story about me is one of the biggest sources of pride and of pain in my life. I'm sure yours is the same. I have a suspicion it just works this way for most of us.
So my sibling and I have been trying, for most of our adult lives, to do a better job of caring for each other. It's hard work, but incredibly rewarding. We've become allies and friends in addition to the sibling dynamics good and less-good we still have, may always have, as a result of sharing a childhood. As a second born child I was literally unable to imagine a life without my big brother. Now as adults we get to choose to spend time together, involve each other in decisions and big questions, and do what all siblings ultimately must do together - deal with our (beloved!) parents together.
About this time last year I became taken with the idea that maybe we would have one child, just our J. This wasn't something I'd ever considered before. Given my place in the birth order the idea bordered on blasphemy for me. If my parents had considered it I wouldn't exist! But I was putting some time into thinking about living small, and conserving energy. I started to wonder what else might be better, smaller. I floated the idea by Andrew, who felt pretty positive about it, typical first born that he is. So I tried it on for a while.
There was a lot behind my love affair with only-child-dom. I resist the idea that any child should be part of a checklist, or that any big decision involving family building should be. You know the checklist: husband (check!), house(check!), kid #1(check!), kid #2 (pending...),etc. I have this sneaking suspicion born of my six years in child welfare research that there are a few too many people who become spouses or parents more because there is pressure to make and achieve a list like this, and less because they feel truly and specially called to the big work that is marriage or the big work that is parenting. And given my place in the birth order I resisted the idea that a second child come into a family simply to provide a sibling for the first born child, or with any less deliberation, care, and loving thoughtfulness than the first. Finally, I felt the only way to truly choose a second child would be to fully imagine and embrace the idea of an only child. Just as Andrew and I were not less-than as a family unit before J, neither was our cozy threesome deficient or incomplete pending the arrival of one more child.
This went on until fall, when two things happened. First, I found baby M's name. Let me explain. J's name is a name that Andrew and I have had since before we were married. It came to us, oh I don't know when, but sometime when we were still in giddy-in-love-dreamland almost all of the time we were together. Before we even decided we wanted kids we knew that IF we had them our first daughter would have this name. It was the only name we ever both felt 100% confident of, though of course we eventually had a boy name picked out as well. So despite us both being reasonable people on some level when she showed up and was herself and our J it felt like fate. In early November last year I found the name M. I told Andrew and for the first time ever he seemed interested in a second baby. It was the right name. Despite us both being reasonable people it felt like fate.
The second thing that happened was that we went on vacation with Ben and his family. I watched his kids with each other. They're a little over two years apart. And I watched us, Ben and me, with each other. And I watched my mother, who was with us, watching it all. I think it was then that I decided. I want that for J. And I want it for M. We are complete without another child but we'll be even more complete, have even more opportunities to love and learn and grow and tell stories with two.
I'm not sure that the vacation had quite the same effect on Andrew as it did on me. But that's not my story to tell. Suffice to say that was late November and by the end of 2010 we had submitted our second adoption application. We knew our little M(or whoever s/he turns out to be) was out there.