For those inclined toward graphs and other things that scare English teachers, you already know that I post a lot less now. J.D.’s adoption was finalized back in December. He is already up and mobile. Kevin, our now-five-year-old, starts kindergarten this fall. (*sniff*) I am concluding my thirteenth year as a teacher. My husband recently switched firehouses and is now part of our city’s major rescue squad. Our dog will soon weigh what I do. I joined roller derby. Our house needs lots of stuff done to it. I bought an iPad. Kevin has declared that Joan Jett’s “Cherry Bomb” is his favorite song. I’m on the third Harry Potter book.
I’m busy. And that’s good.
Crazy as it may sound, there are endless aspects to raising adopted children that are no different than raising biological children, from what I can tell, and yet they are different…sort of. We get busy. We do school stuff. We debate when is the right time to start a sport/musical instrument/second language/all/none of the above. We have each refereed our first playground brawl. We have thrown birthday parties — first the kind populated by our own friends, then by those of our child. We take them for shots every year, and we try not to cry when they do.
(At the last round of immunizations for Kevin, he said to me while sobbing after the FOURTH shot, “Mom, I thought I was brave, but I’m not!” I think I cried harder than he did.)
In my thus-far-relatively-limited experience, adoption comes into play episodically. On some occasions, it’s a logistical factor in something simultaneously monumental and mundane, like registering for kindergarten. On others, conversations about “two mommies” happen when we least expect them, and they are beautiful and scary and profound and absolutely vital. I have a tendency to often re-realize that all of this almost never happened, and I become overwhelmed with gratitude and awe and some other feeling whose name I can’t pin down yet. But that’s for me. And I’m only part of the story. For my sons, as they get older and increasingly aware of their own stories and begin to process how they feel about adoption from one day to the next, episodic will likely not be the word to use. Omnipresent? Nebulous? Or maybe it will be episodic and unpredictable. I have no way of knowing or controlling, and I’m really okay with that.
Through it all, adoptive parents need to bear in mind that a large part of each child’s identity will be shaped by the circumstances of his birth and his placement with his family. It will not be his sole identifier, and it may not even be his primary identifier — if I’ve learned anything over the past six years, two adoptions and countless hours reading and learning, it’s that no two adoptees feel exactly the same way about their adoptee status. Nor should they. But that status, that part of their personal and family history, is there, and at some points more than others, it needs to be considered, discussed, reconsidered, explored, accommodated, deferred to, and every once in a while completely ignored. Depends on the situation.
And in this respect, the “adoption process” is never really over.
I never, ever thought I’d get on board with the factions who align adoption with loss and grief as its central analogy, but I’m about to do exactly that…in my own way. I recently spoke to members of a family who lost a young adult, suddenly and tragically, just as both my family and my husband’s family each did over the past several years. They asked when it would get better, when they would stop feeling so paralyzed with grief. And I explained that, as we have experienced with our losses, it doesn’t end. It doesn’t stop. It changes, and it becomes a part of your life and your family and your individual and collective stories, but it never actually ends. There’s no conclusion to the grieving process for a loved one. And I don’t think there should be. I want to always feel the gaping hole left by my brother’s death, because it shares a space with how much I loved him. Some birthdays, holidays or anniversaries of his death pass by virtually unnoticed, and others find me completely debilitated. We take the process as it comes, and we deal with it as honestly and steadily as we can. Good days are good days, and bad days are awful, and we have to experience each of them as they happen.
Similarly, the scope of the birth of each of our sons, the stories of the women who chose us to be their parents, each evolution of each open adoption, and every conversation about how our family became our family — these will sometimes feel more monumental than others. No, adoption is not death. But it is a lifelong gamechanger, and an identity-maker, and something I would never erase from our story even if I could. It’s also an element of each of our son’s lives that they might never feel finished processing, and so neither will we.
But from here, for the purposes of this blog — I never could stop hating that word — there is less and less to discuss. The finer points of developing functional relationships with our sons’ birthmothers are not for public discussion. I do not foresee an unplanned adoption, so there will be no subsequent process to narrate. For the most part, we will be busy raising our children and living our lives. Maybe a bit down the road, when Kevin wants bigger talks about bigger things, I will return to writing about being an adoptive family for the same reasons I started — to help others navigate some barely-charted waters, to collect and assess my own thoughts, and to help my family and friends understand our unique family and perhaps adoption in general a little better.
For now, as another school year draws to a close, a backyard kiddie pool is calling, and those Harry Potter books aren’t going to read themselves. If you’re waiting to welcome a child into your family, I wish you all the best, and I hope you will keep reading and listening and learning about adoption, from every possibly productive direction. If you’re one of the internet crazies of any variety, I hope for your sake and for the sake of others that you find a better use for your time. Get off the computer and out into the world, in a way that makes it better. If you’re a friend or family member who has followed along this past year and a half, we have a camp chair and a cold drink waiting for you. Thanks for being a part of this process. Looking back over even just a few of my posts here, that process has been enormous and completely stunning, in multiple senses of the word. Your love and support has meant a lot to us.
Signing off, for now, sort of….
Nora (and Matt and Kevin and J.D.)