Monday, April 18, 2011

Show, Don't Tell

I went to a writing workshop over the weekend.  I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in the door.  The facilitator was a woman who has written dozens of children’s books and several adult books based on her life living with different cultures around the world.  She gave use plenty of advice; things like, “don’t quit your day job” and, “long words are not always better.”
We were told how to work through writer’s block and how to cut unnecessary descriptions to make our writing more powerful.  We listened as she crafted sentences in multiple ways to demonstrate her points.
The most interesting advice, in my mind, was, “show, don’t tell.”  This means that, “I was distraught that I had forgotten to bring my stuffed monkey on vacation,” would be better expressed as, “I couldn’t sleep the entire week of vacation.  Without my stuffed monkey to clutch, the hours of darkness ticked slowly by while I counted cracks in the ceiling and listened to the hum of the ice machine in the hallway.”  This sentence has no bearing in reality, of course.  I am a 41-year old woman and I certainly don’t need the security of a stuffed monkey in order to sleep.
With this advice in mind, I think of how to show, not tell, of my desire for a child.  What can I say to make it clear?  I could say, “The holidays bring out my maternal instincts,” but that doesn’t make an impact.  How about….
“Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year, but also one of the most difficult for me.  I watch families pile out of their cars in the church parking lot on Christmas Eve and my heart aches.  I think of the things I did as a child with my mother in preparation for Christmas.  I want to teach my child to roll out cookie dough, not so thick that it won’t cook through, but not so thin that it burns too easily.  I want to make paper chains and see my child leap out of bed each December morning to tear a loop off the chain and count down to the big day.  I want to teach my child how to wrap presents, planning each cut of the shiny paper to maximize how many gifts can be wrapped from each roll and saving the small scraps in a neat pile for the inevitable tiny stocking stuffers that are purchased on December 23rd.  I want to watch her eyes shine when I demonstrate the ‘zip!’ of scissors sliding along curling ribbon and show the seemingly magical spiral of ribbon it produces.  I want to open the tiny windows of an advent calendar, building the story of Jesus’ birth sentence by sentence over a month.  I want to teach my child the art of making Slovakian nut rolls, how to roll the sweet dough and how a tiny pile of brightly colored orange zest, fragrant with essential oils, can transform a bowl of ground walnuts into something surprisingly tasty and complex.  I want to sit down in front of the television on cold evenings and share the stories of Rudolph, Frosty, Kris Kringle, mice who build musical clock towers, and a small boy clutching a security blanket on a dark stage, teaching the true meaning of Christmas.  I want to have to eat plates of cookies that have been left by a hopeful child and throw stones at the roof to mess up the snow and make it look like flying reindeer have been there.  I want to come home from church at midnight and be awakened at dawn by a child who is bursting with the excitement of finding out what has been left under the tree.  I want to decorate a tree, not with shiny balls that all match, but with a haphazard collection of ornaments made from yarn, construction paper, and glue.  I want to have to clean glitter off the dog’s nose and vacuum it out of the carpet for weeks.  I want Christmas to be less orderly and predictable, more crazy and chaotic.  I want to be a mother.”

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Name Game

In the absence of any adoption-related tasks at the moment, my husband and I have been going back to a game we have played for years: Name the Baby.  We can sit and discuss (translation: argue) over this topic for hours.  The fact that we have never come to any sort of agreement makes me wonder how we are ever going to resolve this.  If I were giving birth to the baby myself, I am somewhat certain that I could play the “but I just suffered through nine months of pregnancy and twelve to twenty-four hours of painful labor” card to get my way, but that card is not in the hand I am holding.
At least neither of us is a teacher.  I remember sitting with a good friend and going through a baby name book when she was pregnant for the first time.  Name after name after name was rejected because she had had a child by that name in her class and it had negative connotations for her.
The main sticking point is that my husband feels that the baby ought to reflect our genetic heritage.  But not just for one of us, for both of us.  Which means my Swedish/Norwegian/Slovakian background and his Hungarian/Scottish/English/Dutch/whatever background do not intersect on any level. 
For example, I love the name Mia.  I could easily envision naming a baby girl Maria as a tip of the hat to both my mother and my sister, but using Mia as a nickname.  Nice, right?  I am told we can’t do that because neither one of is Italian.  I fail to see the logic in this, but I cannot seem to argue my point effectively enough.  Using this argument, our poor child would be dubbed Babygirl or Babyboy at birth and that would be it.
Using the ethnic heritage guideline, I suggest Bjorn.  I think my dad would have gotten a kick out of a grandson named Bjorn.  This is scoffed at, along with Sven, Stieg, and Borger.  My Swedish-ness is not powerful enough to overcome his objections.
I abandon the ethnic heritage theme and go to family names.  My husband’s first and middle names are Geoffrey and St. Ivan, with his middle name coming from his grandmother’s maiden name.  I think that is a cool name, plus it looked great on wedding invitations.  But I am told that he doesn’t want to name a son after himself, partly because he wants something that is easier to spell and partly because he feels it might in some way offend his older children, as if he loves them less because they don’t bear his name.
Biblical names are nice.  The name Isaac means "laughter" in Hebrew.  Knowing the two of us, this would be a very fitting name.  However, the 1970's kid in me thinks that I will always subconsciously be expecting my child to bring me a drink on the Lido deck.
I do strike gold with my next suggestion.  My father’s name was Bruce Ralph and his father’s name is Paul David.  We manage to agree on some combination thereof, probably Bruce David.  I only veer away from David Bruce because I suspect that Geoff would refer to him as “David the Bruce”, which he threatens to do.
On to girl’s names.  This is harder.  Our mothers names are Mary and Peggy.  I don’t even want to contemplate the family therapy if we chose one over the other.  (That being said, I love you both and would be honored to name a child after you.)  Also, my sister called dibs on Mary years ago, which hardly seems fair, but who am I to argue with dibs?
My paternal grandmother was named Ethel Victoria.  A lovely early-20th century name, but not one that I could see using in this day and age.  Names on my mother’s side of the family are very traditional.  Mary, Ann, Helen, Agnes, Margaret.  Lovely names, all.  My grandmother was named Mary Magdalene.  This is beautiful and meaningful, but perhaps a bit….much.  I file away several of these names for future arguments.
I curse my stupidity at ruining the chances of using several of my favorite names.  Since I was a kid, I always loved the name Mollie.  I just picture a little girl in pigtails and overalls, swinging on a tire that hangs from a tree, when I hear the name.  But as anyone who knows me already knows, my beloved Scottie dog was named Mollie and I can’t imagine having to explain that to a future child.  “I loved you so much when you were born that I named you after the dog.”  (It would give my child something to talk to Oprah about, anyway.)  The same goes with another favorite name, Rosie, the name of one of our adopted greyhounds.
It turns out that we both love the name Alexandra.  It seems we are getting close to an agreement when he mentions that he thinks Xandy is a good nickname.  Not Sandy.  Xandy.  Back to the drawing board.
My husband had a very close relationship with his grandmother, whose name was Margit.  I like it and I suspect he would agree to using that name.  Maggie would be a good nickname.  Now if I can only keep thoughts of my aunt’s Dachshund out of my mind……

Monday, March 28, 2011

Applying Myself

I wasn’t a straight A student in school.  I probably could have been, if like my younger sister, I had “applied myself” more in school.  Application was never my strong suit.  I certainly did well, but I fell short of perfect in many ways.  Once again, in the recent past, I had a problem with application.  Only this time it was the dreaded adoption agency application.  When I look back on it I realize that it was only four pages long.  How could four pages cause me such anguish?
Page one, demographics.  Should be easy enough.  Name, birthdate, city of birth, height, weight.  Wait a second.  Weight?  Why do they need to know that?  Are only skinny people able to be good parents?  If I enter it honestly, will that be held against me?  Is this going to be something potential birth mothers look at and judge me for?  Am I less likely to be a good parents because I enjoy a big slice of pecan pie at Thanksgiving dinner?  Okay, grit my teeth and write down the dreaded number that is normally privy only to me, my doctor, and the perpetually smiling woman at the counter at Weight Watchers.  That hurdle behind me, I move on.  Social security number, address, employer, job title, salary.  That one gives me pause, too.  Who is going to be looking at this information?  Will they think that we are financially secure enough to be given a child?  This is not something people must disclose before they are allowed to give birth to a child.  It feels somehow unfair that my most intimate details have to be shared in this process. 
Now they want information on children we already have.  I fill in the names and ages of my two teenage stepsons.  I love my stepsons, but it’s not the same as having a child of my own.  Again the nagging wondering if their existence will be held against us in some way.  Will the people who make the decisions look at these two lines on the application and think that we are not truly deserving of the gift they have the power to give us?
Page two, emergency contacts.  We each have to provide the name, address, and phone number of three people who can reach us immediately, any time of the day or night.  In this day of Blackberrys and Droids, it seems superfluous.  Where am I going that I cannot be reached?  If I decide to take a trekking vacation in the Himalayas and am far from a cell phone tower, will that be the moment that the agency needs to contact me to find out the name of my first grade teacher or how much income tax I paid in 1997?  And if I am closer to home but still unavailable, is it likely that my brother or my husband’s parents will know where I am?
Page three, the most dreaded of all.  References.  Who in my life do I trust to speak on our behalf as to what type of parents we will be?  And to make things even more complicated, these are supposed to be five people who have seen us interacting with children.  When you don’t have children, how many people really see you interacting with them?  I can put down my high school friend who lets me do crafts with her kids every few months or the woman at church whom I assisted with at vacation bible school last summer.  How do I know what anyone will say about us, though?  Who do I trust to name as my ambassadors in what I suspect is the most important part of the whole endeavor of filling out this application?  Our pastor, that’s easy.  He said he’d do it and even had a smile on his face.  A coworker who works in the social services.  She’ll know the right things to say, right?  My friend who had her own infertility issues and knows my struggles.  Certainly she will be compassionate and choose the right words to convey how much this means to us.  Of several friends from church, I choose the one with whom I spend the most time, who also knows my husband.  And best of all, she’s a teacher.  I somehow feel that this is an almost holy endeavor, teaching elementary school children.  Surely that will make us sound like good parent material; a teacher knows us and still thinks we should be given the responsibility of raising a child. 
And then there’s the fifth line on the application.  I look at the list and see that everyone on it knows me better than they know my husband.  Clearly, the fifth reference should be someone who has known him for a long time.  Someone who can vouch for his character and his relationship with his teenage boys, both of whom have grown taller than him in the past year.  Someone who can look at him and see what I see: a man who tries to be tough but is really gentle.  A man who makes too many corny jokes but only does it because he likes to see other people smile.  A man who tries to act like this doesn’t matter to him as much as I does to me, but I know the truth.  He wants to see me happy, but he also wants to do it again.  He wants the chance to raise another child into adulthood…..but mostly he wants a child who will look up to him instead of the other way around.
Page four, like sliding into home plate.  Sign our names, write out the check and send it off into the void.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

Deciding to adopt sounds like an easy decision, doesn’t it?  There are kids who need good homes, there are wannabe parents who are ready to provide them.  It should be easy, just feed the information into a computer and come up with a match.  I had no idea how complicated it truly would be.
My first knowledge of anything to do with adoption came from The Brady Bunch.  Mike and Carol had friends who wanted to adopt a son.  They took him out of the orphanage for a few visits, like checking a book out of the library, then decided to bring him home for good.  He missed his friends and snuck out of the house to be with them.  In the span of one commercial break, they had added a set of bunk beds and adopted three boys: one was Caucasian, one African American and one Asian.  It was a ready-made rainbow family; happy, shiny predecessors to Brad and Angelina.
This memory brought up one of the biggest decisions having to do with adoption.  Do we try to adopt a newborn or an older child?  If we seek an older child, where has that child been living?  In the foster care system, in an orphanage, in this country or from a foreign land?  What kind of issues does that child already have?  Did his mother die of a drug overdose?  Was her father in prison for murder?  How did that child come to be in the situation of needing a “forever family”, as they called us when we adopted our retired racing greyhounds a few years ago?
One of the biggest questions in my mind was this:  would I be up to the challenge of taking in a child who already had serious issues to overcome?  With a newborn, we could start with a blank slate, as it were.  While the chances would always be there that issues beyond our control could arise, we would know that our child would be raised in a secure, loving environment from the beginning.  That had to count for something, right?
Ultimately, the decision came down to this: I am not going to be able to stop working full-time after we adopt.  I can’t in good conscience take in a child who already has needs above and beyond those of a typical child and then put that child in daycare 40 hours a week.  I know there is a chance with any child that there will be issues and that is something we will have to face if it comes, but I feel more comfortable knowing that I won’t be taking in a child and then not being able to care for that child in the way he or she deserves.  I don’t want to be one more person letting down a child in need.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Odyssey Begins

According to Merriam-Webster, an odyssey is, “a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune.”  Our journey into adoption is still in its’ very early stages and already it feels like an odyssey.  I wonder sometimes how I got here.  How did it come to this?
I was told at the age of 17, after an appendectomy that turned into the removal of a portion of my right ovary, that I might be prone to ovarian cysts throughout my life and it would probably be difficult to conceive children.  At that time, that news didn’t seem particularly devastating.  What did I know about the biological clock that would someday tick so loudly it would keep me awake at night?  How could I have understood that the time would come when I would ache deep inside my soul for a child of my own? 
With the optimism of youth, I assumed that things would come together at the right time and I would certainly be able to have children.  My doctor was an alarmist.  They were just trying to prepare me for the worst.  That was so far in the future, how could I worry about it?
Even into my early 30’s, I was at peace with the fact that I might not ever have a child.  I said over and over again that I would accept God’s will and take the hand that was dealt to me.  Somehow, that all went to hell when it came time to actually try to get pregnant.  I blindly went into it thinking that I would be the one to defy the odds.  Surely the universe wouldn’t be so cruel as to deny a baby to someone who wanted one so much.  As each month passed, I came to despise that first spot of blood I would see.  I cried as I took the box of tampons out of the cabinet under the sink every 28 days.  I was a good person, why was this happening to me?  Why was I such a failure that I couldn’t do what millions of women all over the world were doing every day?  People even do it by accident, how could I fail when I had actual intent?
And now I am 41.  My time for pregnancy has come and gone.  The statistics about the difficulties I would face if I were to become pregnant are alarming.  My health, and that of my much yearned for child, would be at risk.  Would I even want to carry a child if I could by some miracle conceive?  I was told by a physician just over a year ago that with my medical condition, it would be irresponsible of me to try to conceive, carry, and deliver a baby.  Where is the compassion in that statement?  Where is the understanding for the pain I go through every time I see a baby?  Every time I see a family, knowing that I am missing out on one of the great human experiences, being able to love and raise a child?
My husband and I discussed our options.  We talked to friends and counselors and doctors.  Artificial insemination?  Not an option if I was not ovulating.  In vitro fertilization?  Difficult, expensive, and the odds are not great, especially for someone of my age.  Surrogacy?  My mind spins with the stories of Baby M and the fear of a birth mother not being able to give up the baby.  And the idea of my genetic material going into another uterus seems like a science fiction tale, somehow unnatural.
So…..adoption it is.