Monday, January 26, 2009

Adoption Thoughts: The Middle Man

Imagine for a moment you are 13, or there-abouts. You are a pretty great kid with a beautiful smile and a family that loves you alot and most of the time you believe it. You are doing pretty good in school, even if you have to work really hard for it, and you are proud of that. You are a solid member of your hockey team, and even though you aren't a super star, you do your job and do it well. You have lots of friends that think you are really cool. You have your own room and parents that provide most of what you want and all of what you need. Life is good most days and GREAT others.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

Now imagine you are 13, or there-abouts. You have learning issues that make school really tough and emotional special needs that make impulse control a challenge, oppositional impulses that create conflict with those around you continually and an attitude that gets you into trouble way more than you would like. You know you have special needs, but you hate them. You hate with a passion that you have food allergies that mean you cant drink pop, or eat cake or have chocolate bars like all the other kids. You hate with a passion that you have to take medications and you hate even more that you know you NEED to take medications. You resent that you can't handle freedom the same way as kids around you. You hate that you are different. You hate that you look different. You hate that anyone notices ANY of this stuff. Ever.

Add to that, you have an older brother who is bigger and stronger than you. His grades come fairly easy and he is a super star on his hockey team. He is cool and popular and you have always, always idolized him. No matter what you do, you feel like you can never measure up to him. His wall full of MVP trophies taunt you. You adore him, but resent his maturity that you seem to be unable to match. You will never be HIM, and that's all you want to be.

Makes things tougher, doesn't it? Now imagine your are that same 13 year old so there-abouts child with the older brother AND a younger brother.

In your books this younger brother has always been a threat. Maybe your parents like him more? Maybe your older brother likes him more? Maybe the world likes him more? Everything about him annoys you, and even though you know its not really his fault, it still ticks you off and you want to make him pay, and that in turn just gets you into more trouble. He is smart. Too smart and although younger than you, he has passed you academically and you know it. Then, even more offensively, he grew taller than you too. He is supposed to be a geek, and yet he has found a sport he is good at and he too has started bringing home MVP trophies. He is gentle and compliant and sensitive and doesn't seem to have the same sort of worries you do. He rarely gets into trouble. You hate all that about him. You love him, but you fear him too. You fear he is what you will never be - confident in ok with just being himself.

You are sandwiched and worse, your parents went and had a BABY. A, in your opinion, spoilt baby brother who gets away with EVERYTHING, who screams at you and won't let you beat him up. A baby brother who was "ok" to have around until you realized that he figures some things out faster than you can. A brother who can now point out your faults and lacks quite clearly as only an annoying 7 year old can. And he screams and shouts and raises a fuss in a way that your other brothers never have when you try anything with him. You'd like him more if he would just give in to your bullying and let you feel like you are better than SOMEONE in the family. But he won't and because you are "twice his age" your parents expect you to act older, more capable of restraint, when really you can't alot of the time.

And then you have a dog. A dog you had to earn. A dog that is yours. A dog you love. YOUR dog. YOUR responsibility. A dog who loves your mom. A dog who thinks she is your MOM'S dog.

And you are the same kid in the first paragraph as you are in the rest, and your name is Eric. You have a beautiful smile and gentle spirit and are easy to love. You are prickly and pokey and sometimes hard to like. You are often rude and oppositional and resent any sort of redirection. You love to snuggle with your mom and laugh at silly jokes. Your fuse is short and emotional outbursts overwhelm you at times, and you tend to be too rough with your brothers, and sometimes with your friends. You work very hard in school to get the marks you do, but refuse to accept or admit that you need any help. You struggle with the concept of time but know most of the names of players in the NHL. You scream, yell, throw things when angry, and act like nothing happened when you calm down. You crave boundaries and will push until you find them, and yet hate the person that enforces them. You trust few, manipulate many and very few really know who you are, what you fear and whom you love. You feign disinterest with great skill but feel everything deeply. You are who you are.

And you are stuck in the middle of us.

I was the oldest of two, my husband the youngest of four. Raising a child so clearly "in the middle" is new ground for us. If you have any insight, I would appreciate it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another Birthday.

My baby. My man-child. My Son. Posing with his new birthday stuff. Very, very wrapped up in looking good and still concerned with acting good too.

He is my crazy, silly, funny, smart, witty, athletic, responsible, moody little boy who isn't so little anymore. Is it because he is my oldest that this feels so strange? Will it feel this way with each son as I watch them before my very eyes slip from baby to child to man and so very, very quickly?

His first dad (birth father) called today. This is the first time they have spoken on a birthday, probably ever although I don't know for sure about Greg's first birthday. They talked for less than a minute and then Greg said "Do you wanna talk to my mom?". In case you don't have kids yourself, this is kid speak for "I AM DONE". I am struggling with how much of their relationship is my responsibility right now. Senior and I chatted for another 5 minutes and he asked for more pictures. I will have to put together some soon. How I wish inmates could get email.

Its been a crazy week in the middle of a crazy month and tomorrow our family splits in 3 directions for various hockey committments and won't be reunited for 3 days. I wish you a happy, restful weekend.

And Happy 14th Big Guy. You are loved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We were a little busy

Celebrating this day.

I have a dream.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Adoption Thoughts: Color Me Lightly

Growing up as a white, middle class kid, I had the privilege of essentially ignoring race completely until I was in grade 7. For example, I never remember having any conscious thoughts about race or color until I was 12. And I certainly never thought of my privileges as being a white person or what if felt like to be a minority until then.

In elementary school I was growing up in a town on the northern tip of Vancouver Island; In a community that had a large First Nations population, and I attended at least part of the time, a school that was 50% white, 50% not. I remember learning basket weaving, I remember learning some native language but I never, ever remember playing with an "Indian" child. Somewhere, somehow I had learned that we just didn't. We lived NEXT DOOR to the reserve, and yet their kids didn't cross that ditch, and neither did we.

I remember driving through the reserve, during this late 1970's period and being terrified of what I saw. The disfigured, the drunk, the poor. I remember thinking I was lucky. Worse, I remember feeling glad I wasn't "them". But never, ever did it cross my 10 year old mind that in some way there was a greater problem at work than the fact that "Indians drank too much".

By grade eight we had moved to a the Vancouver area. A diverse, cosmopolitan, interesting city. And I attended a large, white, private, Christian school with a bunch of other white, middle class, Christian kids. I was friendly with people not like me, but in a curious, odd and OH MY GOD YOU DON'T EAT HAMBURGERS THAT'S SO STRANGE sort of way, it never crossing my mind that different was simply different, not worse or less than.

In one fell swoop my glass world shattered when my Social Studies teacher assigned the class to watch a series that was then showing on PBS on the civil rights movement in the seemingly far away USA.

I sat through 5 straight nights of documentary, weeping. I had never, ever felt shame for being white and suddenly I did. Shame for what people who looked like me had done not so very long ago. I could not even understand the whys or hows but I weeped. Weeped for the young men and women I watched being whipped for wanting to vote; for wanting to sit on the bus; for wanting to drink from a water fountain; for wanting to marry the one they loved.

I weeped for my 12 year old self who couldn't understand what I could do to fix it. I weeped for the injustice of it all. I weeped because suddenly I was so very ashamed of the color of my skin. I, Jennifer, age 12, white Canadian child was apparently part of the problem of global racial relations, particularly those of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, and I felt it deeply. I was nothing if not idealistic and a tad naive. Mock if you must.

But in my heart, at that moment, was planted a seed of hate. Hatred towards prejudice. Hatred towards racism. Hatred towards those who made light of racial injustice. I am sure I made mistakes, but in the glow of past remembrances, from that week on I stood up against racism. I remember calling out friends on racial jokes. Feeling uncomfortable and expressing that when fake accents were used to mock our foreign schoolmates. I understood, as much as my teen self could, that I had a responsibility to be part of the solution because if not, I was part of the problem that I abhorred. Of course, 98% of my world was still white, but that fact seemed to escape me at the time.

As an eighteen year old I travelled to the Philippines and it was there that I was first exposed to the "Color Factor" in adoption. As I strolled the streets of Manila with my new Filipino friends I saw many children that were obviously half Caucasian with obviously full Filipino parents. Freckled faced Filipinos? Sandy haired children with skin the color of cream speaking Tagalog with their Asian parents? I could not understand, and I didn't until I visited Subic Bay Naval Base.

Subic Bay, for those that are unaware, was the home of a large American Naval Base. Full of young, angry, bored and horny men. And the base? Surrounded by young, poor and desperate Filipino women. Some very, very young and all very, very vulnerable. And an industry was born.

I don't mean to speak for now, but certainly then "American" looks were greatly valued in the growing Upper Class of Filipino society. Round eyes. Light skin. Fine hair. And how better to achieve this than to "adopt" a half American baby and pretend your newly wealthy genes suddenly produced this little off spring?

One of those horny American Navy Men was the boyfriend of a girl I travelled with for a while. It was from him that I heard the American side of the business. Men, really boys, happy to get sex with whomever offered it. Women able to make a seeming fortune selling their light skinned babies to the new Upper Class in Manila. Doctors willing to forge birth certificates and no one the wiser. Well, except me, this 18 year old Canadian white girl trying to understand the whys and hows and really, simply, failing.

I returned to Manila and heard the Filipino side of this issue. Families who would never tell their children why they had curly hair or blue eyes. How many kids? Well, it was enough children that I noticed. It was enough children that if you had a brother, or a son, or a husband serve over there, it might be worth asking them about it.

And so, for the first time, I realized that lighter sometimes meant better, even when your own skin was brown.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Love Thursday

Copping out of an actual post while I tackle the big issues for a new foray into writing about adoption soon.

I stumbled upon "Love Thursday" a couple years ago while reading the old blog of a fellow adoptive parent at Chookooloonks. Her blog has morphed, changed and become something of an iconic site over the years I have read there, but what has stayed with me the most (other than her stunning photography) is her dedication to Love Thursday. Google it some time and you will find some amazing images of love by many, many bloggers.

We have gone through two computer crashes and associated losses over the last couple years and in that process my old digital pictures were (mostly) saved to disk and never looked at again. With the advent of my new FAST - LOVELY - FAST (can I mention how FAST??!??) computer I have added all my pictures back. And found this one long forgotten.

Happy Love Thursday. Tell someone that you love them today!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Adoption Thoughts

The Boys - August 2005
Can you tell I just found a bunch of old disks that I thought were long lost??

I have many thoughts, opinions and ideas running around in my head about about adoption, adoptive parenting, siblings, what I wish I knew way back when, and even what I wish I DIDN'T know now. How being the kept child of a mother who relinquished affected me. How it feels to know my reunited sister placed her own child. How race and the color hierarchy played into our adoption decisions. What role mental illness and poverty have played in our boys' life stories. What I think of the "anti" infant - adoption movement. All twisted and convoluted and tied together.

I need some guidance - some ideas! So before I jump back into Adoption Talk is there anything YOU would like to see me talk about? Questions? Thoughts? Opinions?

Let me know and I will do my best!!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Day We Touched the Sky

Here we are on Christmas Day, 2005. We had a cold snap early in December and the lake that our city is built around had frozen a good three feet deep. But this cold snap was dry, so although it had been VERY cold, we had no snow. Then the Christmas Eve a warm wind began to blow and created a skiff of an inch or more of water on top of the glass-smooth ice of the lake. And so we spent a delightful afternoon "Flying" on the lake, using their coats as sails.

The backstory to this experience is it was our first Christmas where we weren't travelling to family or having family come to us. We were alone. And I was having a hard time with that. But this day, these memories are still talked about to this day. The day the boys flew on the lake.

Optical Illusion Monday

Ok, don't get used to it because I will probably only do this once but this picture still makes me smile. Taken on Christmas Day, 2005 its a picture of my baby boy, then 4 years old. Can you tell where he is or what he is doing? There are some obvious hints in the picture, but it was weird weather phenomenon that created the photo opportunity in the first place. Tomorrow I will add the rest of the montage that show what we were doing on that Christmas Day long ago.
Hint: No, he is not on pavement.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Safe in My Arms

My friend Max, who writes Juvenile Junctures about life as an adoptive parent of a large sibling group while dealing with special needs, made me a birthday gift.

I cried but love it and I hope you enjoy it too.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Birthday Re-Do (Hints for the After-Thoughtful)

Dear Men,

If your wife flips out on you due to your shocking lack of female intuition (see previous post) beg forgiveness and then make things right.

#1) Provide supper she doesn't have to cook. Yes anything will work, even re-manufactured chicken and soggy potatoes; as long as it comes with wine.

#2) Have children write sappy notes of appreciation to their mother; even if you have to ground them for a week to get them to do it as your wife will eventually have selective amnesia over the sound of boys screaming "But I can't think of ANYTHING" coming from the back bedroom.

#3) Buy a sappy gift, and yes a Willow Tree Angel featuring a mother and son is practically perfect. Other sappy gifts include anything that your wife will feel badly about scoffing at but know that including the child aspect is brilliant and practically guarantees acceptance.

#4) Warn your youngest child that recounting how you said "Let's not go there" when same youngest son tells you how he suggested buying the baby angel to "remind mommy of Lost Babe" might make mommy a bit weepy, but that's ok.

#5) Whispering in your wife's ear as she reads your sappy "After Thoughtful" birthday card if its possible she might consider sex with you in 2009 might be a bit presumptious, but not completely out of character. Bonus points for making her laugh. And the answer is still "maybe, if you're lucky".

#6) Accept all teasing, torture and implications that you are now forever responsible for dirty dishes, sorting laundry and running kids to hockey practice. This will only last until the NEXT birthday to see if you have been changed into a pre-thoughtful version of the man she married.

With Love From,

A now happy wife

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Marriage Advice for Men

Dear Men and Boys; (of course this isn't addressing anyone in the Common Sense family - they are all PERFECT - and would NEVER not buy a gift or a card or completely ignore my birthday)

If the significant woman in your life says she "doesn't want a big deal" made out of her birthday that is NOT a hint to ignore it completely.

Lesson #1 - Buy a card. Make a card. Write a letter. Yes Hallmark is an extortionist organization BUT WOMEN DON'T CARE. Make some effort. Show some interest. Let her know she is worth it. Even if it's cold outside. Even if you are busy. Even if you don't think its all that important. She does.

Lesson #2 - If she gives you EXPRESS INSTRUCTIONS about what she would like, FOLLOW THEM. You've been complaining for years that women want you to read their minds so if she takes the time to actually TELL YOU what she wants clearly, and the reasons she wants it, its probably important. Screwing up with this is pretty lame.

Lesson #3 - If you screw up. APOLOGIZE. Do not blame aliens, the weather, the play of the Boston Red Sox or WORSE - HER. Ever.

Of course, none of this applies to my life. The fact that apparently my birthday is now being celebrated on January 8th has NOTHING to do with the above.

Word to the wise -- if you marry a baby of a family, expect training.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I'll Cry if I Want To

Tomorrow is my birthday. I have birthday cards in my mail box, facebook messages galore, kind and generous emails. And I ignore them all.

Yes, as of tomorrow I am half way to seventy. And yes, as of tomorrow, I am closer to forty than thirty, but its for none of those reasons I will cry.

Tomorrow a precious little girl, no longer the baby I remember or held, turns three. A child who once called me Mama. A child to whom I am now a stranger.

Is it a cruel twist of fate or an act of God that I share a birthday with a child I loved with all my heart, shared my home and family with and then lost so absolutely when I had never even fathomed the completeness of her absence as a remote possibility? I don't know. I have a hard time wrapping my head around a God that would additionally torture me like this.

Three years ago on my birthday I received a phone call that a young, young mom I knew had a brand new baby girl. I remember I offerred a donation of baby goods to the young mom's mother. 6 weeks later that little baby would spend her first night in our home.

Then two years ago, on a cold January day, I celebrated my birthday by completely NOT celebrating MY birthday. A precious child I adored was turning one. I threw her two birthday parties that day because her grandmother and her mother couldn't be in the same room at the same time, and I wanted them both to share her special day with her. And her to share her day with them. And me to share my day with her.

All of us together, those that loved her most in the world celebrating the miracle that was this beautiful child that had brought us together, and would, ultimately, tear us apart. She and I the losers in a battle of possession.

Less than two weeks later I dressed her in a pink snow suit, over top of yellow ducky pajamas, I kissed her good-bye and she was gone from my life. Our lives. Forever. Unalterably. Gone. I didn't believe it then, or even realize it. But a week later I sent her clothes and her toys to her. I sobbed as her crib was taken down. It was a nightmare beyond my biggest imagination.

I was told she cried for me for weeks. Mama. Mama. Mama. And I cry still. Baby. Baby. Baby.

I've asked for answers from God, from friends, from family. Noone can tell me when it won't hurt quite so bad. Noone can tell me when I can face the idea of "celebrating" a day that will forever be tied to that one, joint birthday spent together. I remember how it felt when my heart wasn't broken in this way, I just can't fathom being that woman again. That mother again.

And so I forget my birthday and I choose to wish the baby girl I loved with my entire heart and soul, wherever she may be, whoever she may be with, a very happy birthday.

Happy Birthday Jazzy. She who was your "Mama" loves you very, very much.

A Passing Moment

Sunday, 1:27 pm January 4, 2009 was an exact moment that was symbolic of my life right now.

After a morning spent at the rink, then rushing to church, rushing back home to feed kids and put on a load of laundry, I was heading North on the highway with a van full of boys. Some my own, some friends, driving a son to a birthday party, where he could play hockey with his friends on an outdoor rink.

I passed a little silver car heading South.

In that car was my husband whom I hadn't seen since Thursday when he left town with a child of ours to head to a hockey tournament for four days. And now, without being able to stop in between, he was heading south, passing through our town, to pick up another son who had just finished another hockey game and needed a ride home from his coach's house.

We smiled, waved and kept driving. And for however frustrating it was at that moment, we laughed. These are crazy years. Busy, intense, crazy years of parenting active children. But I know, always, at the back of my mind, that in a few short years - certainly less than a decade - I will have nothing to do on a Sunday afternooon but stare across the couch at the same face I had been staring at all week. And maybe then I will miss hockey?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Things We Do For Our Kids #3457

At one point this fall I was fundraising for 3 classrooms and 5 hockey teams. Yes, cry with me now.

That meant I was simultaneously juggling catalogues for Chocolates, Calendars, Poinsettias, Christmas Wrapping Paper, Tulip Bulbs, Spices, Meat, Milk and Pizza. Oh, and cruise tickets.

It got to the point of humiliation and I couldn't remember which child was raising money for what project or what team or what trip. Send me a damn bill cause I don't want to sell over priced Christmas Cards that arrive on December 20Th and Tulip Bulbs, in the NORTH, in NOVEMBER? Yeah, not a hot seller there either.

Add the fact that our town, not so big! And the fund raising ideas? Not so unique. So that means if you have a child in this town, or know a child in this town, you've already been hit up for cash. My neighbours suddenly invested in "No Solicitation" signs. Friends refused to make eye contact. Family quit answering our calls. In other words, fundraising was a gigantic waste of time and energy and I finally broke down and cried to the hockey coordinator to just send me the bill, I would rather write a cheque. Yes, that cheque is completely rubber. But still ... someone save me from the hell that is fundraising!!

So as you can tell, my attitude about these fund raising efforts was neither positive nor overly enthusiastic and I might harbor some resentment. At least I did until New Year's Day.

Because on New Year's Day we WON the cruise that our second son was fundraising for. People are excited for us. And I am excited for us too, as long as I don't look at the numbers too closely as to what this "Free" cruise has cost us. We will just consider all those hockey trips, boxes of Christmas wrap, the dozen poinsettias currently dying in my living room, the three buckets of cookie dough in my freezer and the 17 cruise tickets I paid twenty bucks a piece for a forced vacation savings plan. And come spring? You will apparently find me and my beloved heading off into the sunset on a cruise ship back towards somewhere warm courtesy of our fellow hockey parents.

And in the mean time could I sell you some grocery gift cards? Maybe you would like some bulk frozen meat? Easter Gift Wrap? If you do, you know who to call, right?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I was tagged by Nicole over at her (very most excellent) blog, Living. And I am writing this in advance so I can sleep in, relax and basically vegetate on New Year's Day.

Directions: Copy and paste these directions and place them at the beginning of your post. Fill in the categories with your own answers. Tag three other people at the end of your post to complete this meme. Don’t forget to link back to the person who tagged you!

Three joyful things that happened to you in 2008:

1. I spent meaningful time with my Nan.
2. I survived hockey season 2007 - 2008
3. I got a job unexpectedly that I absolutely love.

Three things you learned in 2008:

1. That marriage takes alot of work, even an "easy" one.
2. That I was very ready to quit being a homeschooling mother.
3. That all those people who said "it" would get better with time were right. If better means more bearable that is.

Three things that made you laugh in 2008:

1. My crazy teenager with his snarky sense of humor.
2. My boys' antics on the trampoline together.
3. A good friend who can always make me laugh. Usually at myself. Doofus.

Three things that made you cry in 2008:

1. Hormones. Pretty much I am blaming them for all my tears.
2. Grief over past losses, grief over FEAR of future losses.
3. Watching Obama win.

Three things that made you smile in 2008:

1. My Family
2. My Friends
3. Diet Coke

Three things you will never forget about 2008:

1. Our trip to St. Louis
2. Hearing the sound of my husband screaming over his phone that he had gotten hurt in an motorcycle accident and to come help him.
3. My grandmother.

Three of your nicest memories from 2008:

1. My birthday.
2. Girls Nights Out. All of them! With all the girls.
3. Time with my sister. I really value our adult friendship

Three changes you made in 2008:

1. After 11 and a half years I went back to work.
2. Morning Coffee became the favorite part of my day
3. I started blogging

Three accomplishments you achieved in 2008:

1. I survived mentally and emotionally through some very tough times.
2. I am employed, and liking it.
3. Making choices to take care of me, more often at least.

Three things you are looking forward to in 2009:

1. "Big Medical Procedure" upcoming in the spring.
2. Being the mother of TWO teenagers.
3. My fifteenth wedding anniversary.

And so I tag ... Debi P at My Boys ... Our Lives, Andi at Today's The Day They Give Babies Away and Lea at Everything but the Kitchen Sink