Category Archives: Adoption

Bacon and Choices

When I was growing up I had a mostly adversarial relationship with my younger sister. Looking back, the responsibility for the tone of our relationship falls firmly in my court. When I was angry, she felt my wrath. When I was in a good mood, she didn’t. I can’t really say what drove my feelings, but the closest emotion I can pinpoint now, decades later, is jealousy. As teens we became friends, and I came to realize how much more alike we were than different. And of course when she died of cancer when she was 17 and I was 20, it felt all the more awful because we’d just started to enjoy our relationship. I know we would have been extremely close as adults.

Last weekend the girls and I were out for the day and stopped in to a Dunkin Donuts for a quick lunch. The girls each got a breakfast sandwich: croissant with egg and sausage for Krystal and bagel with egg and bacon for Belle. I had one of their “lighter’ options. I watched them make these sandwiches, and may be turned off to sandwiches there forever. They grabbed a pre-made sandwich from a cooler, popped it into a microwave, wrapped it in paper and stuffed it in a bag. We grabbed one of the small tables inside and ate.

We all like really crispy bacon. Like, practically burnt crispy. And the bacon in Belle’s sandwich was decidedly not cooked to our liking. Big surprise, huh, considering how it was cooked.  And all at once, Belle started choking, was unable to catch her breath. Three women standing in line near us, who must be mothers, leaned in with offers to help. I banged her on the back once, and swiped her mouth, taking out a piece of bacon. The choking continued, so I reached in again with my finger to swipe again, and pulled out a super long piece of bacon fat, which was halfway down her throat. Choking stopped, breathing returned to normal. It wasn’t really scary to me until it was over. But of course she was never really in any danger and we went on with our day.

Tonight Krystal and I were in the car on the way to pick up Belle and she said, “I’m afraid to eat at Dunkin Donuts because Belle choked.” I reassured her that it was not Dunkin Donuts that made her choke, but undercooked bacon, and she really didn’t have anything to worry about. Then she said, “I know sometimes I say I wish Belle wasn’t around, but I keep thinking, what if she really choked and died? I’d really miss her.”

I am pretty sure I didn’t have that kind of self-awareness at eight years old. Sometimes the wisdom this kid comes out with stops me in my tracks.

I told her a little bit about how I felt about my sister when I was her age, and how now that she is really gone, it is the one thing I’d change in my past if I had the power to go back. And this got her thinking about all the ways different choices or events in our life can color what comes next. She said that sometimes she wishes she hadn’t been adopted, but then she thinks about not having me for a mom, or Belle for a sister, and she can’t imagine it. She said she wishes she could have it both ways – to have me for a mom, and to know her birth mother and know why.

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Real Sisters

Yesterday Belle came home from camp and announced:

“Beth [her counselor] asked if me and sissy are real sisters. I said yes, because duh, what else would we be.”

I was at once annoyed with the counselor for asking something so personal, and proud of my girl’s answer, even if she didn’t really understand the meaning behind the question.

Later, after dinner, I brought it up with both girls and asked if anyone else had ever asked if they were real sisters, and what did they think that meant. Krystal supposed it meant that they weren’t step-sisters or friends, but she clearly didn’t really have any idea*. I prodded by asking what sorts of things did sisters do? What let you know that two people were sisters?

The list we came up with was that sisters have the same parents (check), love each other sometimes (check), drive each other crazy (check and check) and are a family (check-a-rooni).

Yep, my daughters are real sisters, all right.

* I also explained what people really meant when they asked the question.

Fatherless Children

In my home we are all fatherless children.

My own father died on June 13, 1997, the Friday before Father’s Day. Yes, on Friday the 13th. But honestly it felt more like Thursday because we’d been with him all day and it was around 1 am that he died. That Sunday, Father’s Day, was really tough. I remember watching the teenage girl next door being picked up for the day by her playboy father and wanting to send her a message to appreciate him while she can – you never know when he might be gone.

Krystal has a birth father, of course, but we do not know who he is. She considers my ex her father, but he is not. Not legally. Since he does not live nearby he is not part of our regular life, and his contact over the past year in particular has been spotty. When he does visit he’s fully “here”, but he doesn’t call for long stretches and just when I think maybe he’s fading away, the phone will ring. Or he’ll have a birthday (2 weeks ago) and I’ll give in and let Krystal call him, which is something I do not encourage.

Belle has an unknown birth father too, but also a foster father who raised her until I adopted her at just over 2 years old. We have pictures of him and she has some memory of him, most of which are probably kept alive because of those pictures. I also have email contact with her foster family, which has petered out quite a bit after a flurry in the beginning, and some weirdness in the middle. The nugget that is relevant here is that about two years ago I got an email from the adult daughter that the father had cancer, and this past February she sent an email that he had died in January. I have not told Belle this.

At school this time of year there is always a Father’s Day project for the kids to work on. Belle’s school is very familar with our family make-up, and last year the Father’s Day gift she made was for me. She has also made things for Krystal whenever they make parent gifts – one for me, and one for her, when other kids are making one for each parent. Yesterday she came home with a wrapped gift, and since it is wrapped in tissue paper I can see through it. It is a bookmark (she told me that) with “#1 Dad” on it. I asked her who she wanted to give it to. I fully expected her to say my ex – he is visiting this weekend and Belle calls him “Daddy”, which I think she thinks is his name, even though she understands that he is not her dad. But she said she wanted to give it to Baba, and would I put it in a package and send it to China?

I said I would.

What I think I will really do is put it away.

What I don’t know what, or when, to do is tell her that Baba has died. Is this something I should have done when I learned of it? Or given the unlikelihood of seeing her foster family again is it better for her to maintain happy memories? Although I can’t imagine keeping this from her until she’s an adult, and what will happen when she finds out I’ve known for so long? I think I have my answer – I need to tell her soon.

And what I feel a teensy bit jealous about is that even though I am doing the job of mom and dad in raising my kids, someone else is getting the attention on Father’s Day. Despite the fact we are all fatherless children.

** Cue the harps and violins  – I know I am whining about nothing! Really! But I’m thinking about it so here it is.

A Day Late Doesn’t Mean a Dollar Short

This has been a rough week for me, technologically speaking.  I lost Internet at home inexplicably sometime while we were out on Sunday afternoon, and didn’t get it back till Monday afternoon. Comcast sent three technicians in three different trucks to my house to deal with it. No, it wasn’t that complicated, but somehow they got their wires crossed which accounted for two of them; I dont’ remember why the third guy was there. Regardless, they did something different than what I have been doing most every day for two years, which is unplug my modem and router to “reset” them. Yes, I do this nearly everyday. But whatever they did – threw salt over their left shoulder beforehand, perhaps, it worked. They concluded the visit by suggesting I replace my now ancient (3+ years) modem and router with newer models, and this I will do.

Then yesterday morning, Tuesday, I got up and fired up my MacBook Pro as usual and…..nothing. It would not boot up. At all. It would do the pretty little Apple chime, show me some gears, and then go to a grey/blue screen. Using my work computer, Google and I got to be very cozy regarding Mac issues, and I finally got to see that Linux underpinning I’ve heard so much about. Unfortunately, I was not able to make any progress using any of the suggestions I found. I asked a co-worker who I know to be Mac-versed (we are a PC shop at work) and he offered a few things, but none of them worked either. I was getting a little stressed out – all my photos are on that thing, my music, not to mention all my bookmarks! I have an external hard drive but it’s been far too long since I’ve used it to back anything up. We have to learn lessons the hard way, don’t we?

I’m going to skip ahead a bit to keep this somewhat cohesive (whoops, too late!). Today I brought the Mac into work so the co-worker could take a look at it. He had no idea what to do, but he and Google are also pretty close and he knows a bit more than I about Linux. About 6 hours after he started (between doing his real job, mind you), he fixed it! Something to with the Cache file in the Library. Whatever. He sent me the article he found the solution in, and I’ll have to read it a few more times before I can make hide nor hair out of it, but bottom line is, I’m writing this on my Mac! And co-worker is getting homemade chocolate chip cookies tomorrow as a thank you.

But this was supposed to be a post about parenting. I just had to explain why I didn’t write about this yesterday. It was because I had no computer. Got that?

Seven years ago, on March 24, 2002, I met my daughter for the first time and became a mom.

Krystal has been more excited than usual about this day this year. She’s been talking about it for weeks, changing her mind about how she wants to celebrate it time and time again. She finally decided on dinner at a Chinese restaurant in town, and she wanted to invite one of her old teachers (who is currently Belle’s teacher, and occasionally babysits for me) along. So that’s what we did. When I picked her up after school she said she’d been the recipient of lots of attention all day, and this would be because she told everyone that it was her anniversary. Really, apparently most of the school knew. I was  pretty amazed at how vocal she was about it, but it also tickled me that she put such an emphasis on the day. At least this year. I am well aware that there may come a day when she wants it to fade into the background. But for now, we’ll shout it loud.

I gave her a book she’d been asking for, and the teacher surprised her with 7 roses, one for each year we’ve been a family. Is it any wonder Krystal wanted to include her in our special day?

This is the two of us at dinner last night, and this photo would have more impact if I could post the one in a similar pose that was taken the night we met. That will take a bit more doing, as I have some computer issues in the way (and I’m sure you don’t want me to bore you with that story!), so for now you’ll have to content yourself with present day.

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Krystal – I am blessed every day to be your mom and I’m so happy we are a family.

Big Sister, Little Sister

This is something I wrote on June 26, 2006, just three weeks after adopting Belle. It’s one of my favorite pieces, and given that Belle is now the same age Krystal was when I wrote it, I thought I’d revisit it. This was originally posted on the blog I kept for family members during the adoption trip itself, so this is it’s first “public” appearance. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up on how things have changed since then in a few days. Or maybe not. Either way, here you go!

Sometimes you get a glimmer of something extra in a person you thought you knew as well as you know yourself.

I always saw my daughter Krystal as a little girl. When I imagined a sibling in our family, I still saw her as the youngest sister. Our friends nearly all have kids her age or older, and she just seemed to fit as the youngest child. Of course, with adoption you can arrange so your youngest child stays that way, but I didn’t want to do this. I wanted to adopt a younger child, for many reasons, hardly any of which had anything to do with Krystal.

Adding Belle to our family has been, is, and will continue to be a transition for all of us, probably for awhile. Belle is a gift all on her own, but the added dimension she has brought out in her older sister is a gift for me too. By no means do I intend to say Krystal is having an easy time being the big sister. In fact, she is probably having the toughest time of the three of us adjusting to all the changes. But because of her new role in our family I am seeing things in Krystal I didn’t know were there. Within hours of meeting Belle she was making her laugh, and she continues to take on this job with relish. If Belle is cranky, Krystal will take it upon herself to do something to snap her out of it. She is generous, offering up the first turn on the swing. She has happily passed on toys, and enjoys playing Mama with her when I need a few minutes to get something done.

Of course, Krystal has also said she wishes it were just she and me again, that she’s not sure she likes having a sister after all. I’ve said I understand her feeling, and that she’s allowed to feel that way. But Belle is a part of our family now forever, just like she is. When I baby Belle, Krystal wants to be babied too. She has said she wishes she were little like Belle again. And then I remind her of all she can do that Belle can’t, and she turns content to be herself again.

Suddenly, my little five year old seems like a big five year old. Maybe I appreciate all she can do for herself now that I have someone younger and smaller who needs my help with so many things. Maybe she was a big kid all along, and it was me who needed a little kid to be able to see it. But maybe shedding some of the little kid stuff has allowed that new, green, raw big kid stuff to show through. Though my patience is being tested in new ways everyday right now, my heart is overflowing with love for my two girls – Krystal who I have known and loved for over four years and who I get to see new things in, and Belle who I have only just met but who peels away a new piece of herself everyday, showing me the beauty within. What a ride.

Both Mothers

When I adopted Krystal she was just over a year old, and any speaking she did was toddler Chinese, which I couldn’t understand, and of course my English was just as foreign to her. She received speech therapy for a few months due to her receptive language skills (which was totally understandable), but that quickly improved and her therapist (and I) became more concerned with her expressive language.

We moved out of state when Krystal was 20 months old, and she had to be re-evaluated in our new state. They said she was right on track, but I’ve always had concerns. Each year and each new teacher I’ve brought it up, and each time they say, “Give her time.” And I’ve done that. We moved back when she was four, and I called the school to have a speech evaluation done again. The packet they sent me to fill out had guidelines for speech milestones. After reading it through, I never even sent it in, since the issues I was concerned about were considered still normal for her age, even though I didn’t notice it in any of her classmates.

Last year, in first grade, I requested an evaluation by the school’s speech therapist, who agreed she had some articulation issues, but they weren’t bad enough for her to get in-school services. She gave us some exercises to do at home, and by the end of the year she was saying her “sh” sounds properly.

This year, in second grade, her “r” sounds are the problem. They are so bad I sometimes don’t know what she is trying to say. Some people have tried to pass it off as an accent, but I can assure you it is not. She says “girl” as “gull”, for instance, and even the most entrenched Bostonian doesn’t go that far. We met again with the speech therapist at school, and we got the same message – yes, she has some issues, and here are some exercises you can do at home. I must confess we haven’t been as diligent with the exercises, and I will take most of the blame.

Last week she did a drawing at school of what her birth mother might look like, and a companion drawing of herself. I love that they look alike, except for ponytails in her own hair (even though she is not wearing her hair this way right now) and told her so.

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Notice her spelling of “birth”? Still think it’s an accent problem?

Good Grief

No, not a post about Charlie Brown….

First, a little background. Some or most of this I’ve already talked about on this blog, perhaps obliquely, perhaps not – it’s hard for me to know. The meat of what I want to say will make more sense if I describe this though, so here goes. I was single when I made the decision to become a parent via adoption. I did all the paperwork to adopt from China, then sat back for a year and waited for my referral. A lot of things can happen in a year, and in mine, I met a guy. While he hardly jumped on the parenthood bandwagon, he also didn’t want to lose me, and when I got my referral we chose a name together and he traveled to China with me when I adopted Krystal in 2002. She has always known him as Daddy, and we married later that year. During my marriage I was a single parent, and he even agreed with that assessment. With the wisdom of hindsight and perspective, I believe most of that was driven by his emotional immaturity, and I’m truly not saying that in a nasty way. He was not really ready or prepared to become a parent, and he disengaged from me and from our family pretty much immediately. I also believe he was depressed and angry at the change to his life that he didn’t feel like he had a say in choosing. At any rate, despite agreeing before marriage, and much begging by me during our marriage, he never adopted Krystal, and thus never became her legal father.

After our divorce we moved away, and he now lives 7 hours away by car. Over the last 3 years he has visited Krystal here at our house several times a year, sometimes staying in a hotel, sometimes he takes her to his parents who live about 2 hours from us. He will call her occasionally and sporadically, and she always loves hearing from him. I’m amazed at the progression in our relationship – sometimes he and I spend more time chatting than they do. Sometimes I see glimpses of the guy I thought I married.

Krystal’s birthday is in January, and for the last 3 years he has seen her for a weekend between Christmas and her birthday to celebrate both, and this year was no different. However, due to a heavy travel schedule on his part and various other conflicts on both sides (I suppose), that was the only visit this year, up till this past weekend.

He arrived in our area on Friday, and he, Krystal and I actually had lunch and saw the movie Wall-E together. Then Krystal spent Friday night, all day Saturday and Saturday night with him, returning home on Sunday. She called twice and had a great time as always.

And then trouble set in.

Krystal was weepy and sad Sunday night. I was sympathetic and acknowledged her feelings, comforting her and letting her cry. I let her sleep with a special stuffed animal of mine, which she likes to do when she is feeling lonely or sad, and I “put good dreams” in her head. All seemed well.

Yesterday she spent most of the day playing at a friend’s house down the street, so I barely saw her all day (for the 3rd day in a row). When I finally got her home for the night she immediately turned on the attitude  and began wailing about how much she misses “Daddy” and how she wants to see him everyday and why can’t he live near us. She said she wants us to get married again, and when I said that wasn’t going to happen she got angry at me. And I am not proud that all of this made me angry. If he had been half the father to her when we were married that she thinks he is now, we might very well still be married, and she could see him all the time. I also said a lot of things I know I shouldn’t say to a 7 year old, and I tried to leave the room when I felt it getting really bad. She was sobbing so hard, and the sobbing and the grief were breaking my heart, but I also could not help feeling angry and resentful because all of this is so misplaced. He deliberately chose not to become her father for his own selfish reasons. He is lucky I let him see her and need I remind you he does not pay a dime in child support – which was his spoken motivation for not adopting her – and this was said while we were married, mind you. A real prize, eh?

Tonight Krystal was cradling the movie ticket stubs, all 3 of them which I thought had been thrown away. She asked me if I knew which one were Daddy’s, and when I said I did not, she said she would keep them all to make sure she kept his. And I told her that hurt my feelings, because I was there too, and I’m the one who does all the hard work. “What do you mean?” she asked. And I just said that someday she would understand. She left the room right after that, while I was reading Belle’s book choice, and when she came back she insisted I go into my room after I turned out their light. She had written me a note, and left me a photo of herself at age 3, and a necklace of hers, on my bed. Melt.

So I’m left feeling broken at Krystal’s grief, angry at the cause of it (on several levels), guilty about my reactions, and at a true loss on how to deal with this, both with her and internally.

Just venting I guess. If you read this far, leave a comment and let me know!