I don't know if I invented this meme or if it already exists in some other form,* but I get really worn down trying to read through people's "100 Things" lists, so this is my life in one sentence per year:
1. I was born in Honolulu, where my drafted father was stationed during the Vietnam War.
2. We moved to Dallas.
3. My mom went to work at a bank and I went to preschool at our church which I hated.
4. I got a puppy for Christmas.
5. We lived across the street from a cotton field in a new housing development called "Grand Prairie" where all the yards were clay and all the trees were skinny twigs.
6. We moved to Kansas City into a house with stairs (good for slinkies and sliding down bannisters).
7. A huge ice storm sent Kansas city (including our house) into a blackout for several days.
8. My two best friends and I decided to build our own space ship and become super heroes.
9. Jimmy Carter lost re-election and I was bummed.
10. The day the hostages came home from Iran I was in bed with the flu and I ran outside to tell my mother I heard it on the radio and she yelled at me for being barefoot.
11. I played soccer very badly and the other girls (and the coach) did not keep the truth of this from me.
12. All of my friends came to school early and turned my desk out of the circle theirs were in, with its back facing them.
13. My best friend and I got in big trouble at school when our lost notebook of private notes was found by a teacher and discovered to be full of profanity.
14. My mother handmade me a (far superior to the original) Gunne Sax knock off for the May Day crowning of the Mary statue/8th grade graduation at my school.
15. I met my best friend for the next four years and became completely infatuated with her.
16. I got my period (for the first time) about three weeks after my 16th birthday!
17. I nearly failed Algebra II but got myself tutoring and rebounded to make straight A's on every quiz and test for the last six weeks of class and edged myself up to a C+.
18. My friends and I threw our own alternative prom and I won prom queen by winning "bubble gum, bubble gum, in a dish" against my best friend.
19. I went to a small, Baptist college, thinking it would be politically similar to my progressive Catholic girls' high school but was quite wrong, as it was far more conservative.
20. I got mono but kept my starring role as Irina in our college production of The Three Sisters anyway.
21. I spent a year in Oxford (UK) having the time of my life and travelling the UK and Ireland to avoid all the travel warnings due to the first Gulf War.
22. My then-fiance threw my friends and I a really cool graduation party and we tossed the empty champagne bottles on the college president's lawn, which was highly controversial, because no drinking was allowed at the aforementioned Baptist college.
23. I got married after a year at the seminary with my husband.
24. I took a graduate seminar at Princeton University with Toni Morrison and decided a PhD in American literature, rather than working for the Church was my true calling.
25. I worked for one of the Evil Empire's bookstores and was temporarily disowned by my father.
26. My husband and I moved to Washington, D.C. where I began my PhD program.
27. I fell in unrequited love with a girl and moved out from my husband's apartment.
28. I moved into a group house with some real (but highly loveable) whackos and acquired a cat in spite of my allergies to same.
29. I started dating a woman with a toddler.
30. I designed and ran a writing center at a public high school in D.C.
31. I broke up with the mother of the toddler and had two quick rebound relationships, the second of which never would have lasted past the first month if September 11 hadn't thrown everyone's emotions out of whack.
32. I met Cole and my divorce was finalized.
33. Cole and I got married and decided to adopt right away.
34. I finished my PhD and spent a lot of time paper-chasing for an adoption.
35. Nat came home.
36. Cole and I were legallymarried in Vanvcouver.
37. Our second daughter, Selina Wells, came home with less than 24 hours notice.
38. The family moved twice in three months and five days after the second move, hosted 17 people for Thanksgiving at which Shannon roasted 17 stuffed Cornish hens.
39. I had a midlife crisis and wrote my first novel in about three months.
I'm not sure who the youngest blogger I know is, but I think Susie is close, so I'll tag her. I think Maria is the oldest blogger I know, so I'll tag her too.
Pick this up if you're interested!
* But even if it does, aren't you proud of how I've moved on from my previous anti-meme snobbery to actually composing my own? Thank you.
To find out how this happened, email me (under the family photo, right) for the login and password of Nat's new photo blog, Peter's Cross Pix. From now on, Nat pictures will appear there, exclusively.
In your email please include either your own blog address or (if you don't have one) a paragraph telling me who you are and why you want to see Nat's photos. I may already "know" you in the comments or even email sense, but refresh me, just in case, okey-dokey?
Yes, Nat turned one today, and we sort of accidentally ended up going to dinner at her favorite restaurant without her. It's a long story involving an abortive attempt to purchase a car that landed us near tacos at a weak moment while Nat was at home, playing with Helen.
She did get one gift from me (because I was wrapping a couple for later and couldn't figure out how to wrap it, so I just gave it to her) and one from Uncle Dan, because he will be headed back to the metropole for the weekend, tomorrow. (His gift, by the way, was a hit, which we know because it made Nat giggle repeatedly.)
But Grammie and cake are coming on Saturday, so you will get your baby-smeared-with-icing photo then.
A few modest proposals for those tasked with writing polls for the USA Today website:
1. Should Dick Cheney get the death penalty for shooting his buddy Harry full of bird shot?
a. No, he should get life in an undisclosed location.
b. No, but Harry should be allowed to shoot him back at ten paces.
c. Yes, but only if he promises to not come back as a flesh-eating zombie. (Oh wait--did that already happen?)
2. Should Team USA get all the gold medals at the Olympics because we rid the world of Saddam Hussein?
a. No, but Saddam should be tied to the bottom of the French bobsled as a handicap.
b. No, the Brits should get a couple too, but only the boring ones that we don't want anyway; definitely not snowboarding!
c. Well, duh!
3. Should USA Today be used as toilet paper?
b. No, it might give you a rash.
c. No, because that would imply you had to buy it first.
That’s right, one year ago on Friday, we got a call around 4 pm telling us a baby born two days earlier might be in need of a family. We had to say we wanted her or didn’t want her within about 2 hours, over the phone, sight unseen, mother unmet, very little known.
We said we wanted her.
The next morning at 10am, her mother signed relinquishment papers and the agency told us to come get our daughter. We did.
Three days later, we went back and met her mother.
Lately, there have been a lot of conversations on adoption and birth parent blogs about…well, adoption and birth parents.
I have commented here and there, but I wanted to get a bit more out there, in a bit more detail. So in honor of Nat and Rose’s big day a year ago Wednesday, here’s a little about those topics.
It is hard for me to decide what to write about Nat’s mother. I guess, first I’ll say that more and more these days, I just call her Nat’s “mother,” as long as the people I’m talking to know what I mean. I have found that a slight to her bothers me much more than anyone’s dumb adoption ideas about “real or unreal” mothers. I know I’m Nat’s real mother and so is Cole and so is Rose and we are all clear about that and so I’d rather bolster Rose’s status to a stranger than defend mine.
In my own case (not necessarily yours), I just don’t see what needs defending by using politically correct adoption language. Either the person I’m talking to gets it or not. And really, the people I talk to tend to “get” me as Nat’s mother much more than they “get” the concept of open or noncompetitive adoption triad relationships.
And that brings me to the main point of this post (as close to a point as it gets, anyway). I want, above all, not to betray Rose. But it is often quite difficult to decide whether telling or not telling her story is the greater betrayal.
When I tell people about Rose, nine times out of ten, they are instantly judgmental of her.
Fine, I think, they don’t realize that I’m on her side. They think judging her is doing me a favor. So I tell more. I tell it in a sympathetic way, as a correction to their judgment. And eight times out of ten, they get argumentative with me so as to preserve their original judgment.
The fact is, Rose’s story falls into what sounds to the average middle-class listener (Black or white, it doesn’t seem to make much difference) like a stereotype so well-worn as to have transformed itself into common knowledge; common sense; the obvious. According to this common sense, Rose is an obviously unfit mother who doesn’t deserve Nat anyway. Thus, when I tell her story to elicit empathy or even admiration, I most often get smacked with something entirely the opposite.
And that’s when I feel like I’ve betrayed Rose by telling her story.
Without going into details, I’ll just say that Rose is a poor, Black woman. And that alone is a crime in many, many, many people’s minds. I have read enough about the foster system in the U.S. to know that plenty of women lose their children to protective services for no greater crime than race and class. Really. I’m serious. (This book is a good start if you want to learn more.)
And the place in which Rose lives (Chicago) is one of the very worst for women losing children under the aegis of “neglect” when in fact our society would rather tear children from their families and put them in a rich(er) person’s house than help their families out of poverty. To the child welfare system poverty=neglect, regardless of a parent’s intentions or attempts to provide for a child’s needs.
Recently, in a firey and impassioned debate about the ethics of adoption in someone else’s blog comments, a strong critic of domestic infant adoption declared that while aforementioned adoptions are just wrong, wrong, wrong, foster-adopt is really right and ethical because it takes a child whose parents had a chance but failed and gives her a new home with good parents.
I find it notable that when people start critiquing the ethics of adoption, they tend to find the sort of adoption they know most about to be the most egregious violator of ethical principals, while taking at face value the claims of other forms of adoption. Because the foster system is not necessarily a place where children go when their unfit and undeserving parents fail. At least not always. For some populations, almost never.*
One example in the book I linked above really stood out for me. A woman had been caring for her mentally ill sister’s children for years in her own small apartment. Everyone was healthy and well cared for (even the kids with special needs). For years. Then her foster case worker changed. The new case worker did something upsetting and the aunt/foster mother complained to the case worker’s supervisor. The day after the complaint, the children were removed (by the disgruntled case worker) from the only home they’d ever really known and lost the competent, loving woman who cared for them as a mother.
The reason given?
Her apartment was deemed too small to house the children. Never mind she’d been housing them for years.
This stood out for me because as some of you might recall, when we had our final walk-through for our own foster license, our social worker declared Nat’s tiny nursery to be acceptable to house three children.
So when I read that case about the kids being removed from the home of their working-class Black aunt because it was too small, all I could imagine was that child welfare then put those kids in the home of some middle-class white strangers like us, in an equally (or maybe more!) cramped room.
Rose’s story is not being told on birth mother blogs. At least, not on any I’ve read. And Rose is not just like one of those women, but Black. She is different, the reasons she came to adoption are different and the way she chose and went through with adoption was different. And sometimes when I read these debates about adoption reform going on at various adoption sites, all I can think is “but that wouldn’t work for Rose.” And until we have the socialist utopia of my dreams in this country, in which everyone has access to quality healthcare, childcare, truly equal education opportunities and family support regardless of race, class or gender (in other words, not anytime soon) the kind of adoption our family did (and is doing again) needs to be available the way it was for Rose when she needed it. The idea of reforming it to somehow protect Rose from her own decision seems downright paternalistic to me. Rose is a grown woman who made a difficult decision and took great personal risk to carry out her plans for what she, as Nat’s mother, decided was in Nat’s best interest. It is not my business to second-guess her.
And when I read arguments about adoption reform (or even abolition) which don’t take women like Rose into account, it is then that I feel I am betraying her by not telling her story.
What I want to say is, reform racism, reform poverty, reform sexism, reform inequities in healthcare access and education, but until they are reformed, leave this kind of adoption alone. Abortion is already all but lost as an option for women like Rose. Don’t touch adoption! Because without it, some women will end up with no choice but to take a very slim chance against losing their children to a foster system that will place them at its convenience, not based on the mother’s judgment of her children’s best interests, as infant adoption can do.**
Does the fact that some women have no options but losing their children to the foster system or placing them “willingly’ in adoptive homes suck?
Yes! It sucks mightily! It is one of the worst symptoms of one of the worst aspects of contemporary U.S. society.
Will I work with all I have in me to change it?
Yes! I will! And I will raise Nat to understand these things, to respect and hopefully love her first mother.
But not adopting her would have helped no one. NO one. Not Rose, not Nat. And certainly not us, who would have missed the chance to parent without this kind of adoption. Because, to insert a bit of our story into this mix, only certain kinds of agencies doing certain kinds of adoptions will work with glbt parents.
Under the circumstances (which, to review, I think suck), our agency does as ethical a job as possible. First and foremost they are not-for-profit. Their mission is to save children from foster limbo by offering adoptive homes immediately after birth. This is one of their promises to birth mothers on their website:
If you decide adoption is the right choice for you, your child can be immediately placed in a loving, permanent home that you have chosen. Or if you prefer a closed adoption, we will choose a qualified family for you. We provide the degree of comfort that's right for you. We do not utilize foster care.
So I am still not going to tell you Rose’s story per se. But I am turning and turning over in my mind some way to see that Rose’s side of things—women like Rose’s side of things—gets heard. It’s a tough question, but I’m working on it. So watch this space, there may be more to come.
*Yes, I realize that some children do come under protective services because their parents did awful things and deserve to lose them. I realize that foster parents are contributing a vital service to children. We may even foster children ourselves someday—we have a license to do so now—but I am talking about the “system” here, not every individual case.
**I will admit that my own little adoption-reform fantasy is that all open adoption agreements should be legally binding. Adoptive parents should not be allowed to break their pre-placement agreements without court intervention. If the first parents turn out to be bad for the kids somehow, let a court declare it so. That seems reasonable to me. I am sick to death of hearing these awful stories of first mothers promised the moon and then left high and dry by freaked out adoptive parents who need therapy, perhaps, but not to run away from their promises—especially when their children’s well being is at stake.
I promised jlp I'd post some suggestions of good places to contribute to the cause of protecting glbt families. As I told someone yesterday, the HRC needs your money like they need another tasteful pantsuit. While they provide some really great information (check their familynet site for state-to-state rights for glbt families) and are a lobbying force on Capitol Hill, their agenda is pretty middle-class and conventional. My agenda, on the other hand, is nothing short of justice. And the allotment of basic human needs through the institution of a state-approved family structure (um, like legal marriage) is not my idea of justice. While marriage would be a nice stop-gap for a family like ours, it doesn't do much for folks like Lisa and D., mentioned in the post below this. So while I want to be able to marry, I want more than that. These organizations are a bit more likely to be pushing for that "more."
This organization is helping every single American by seeing to it that the Constitution, not one group's idea of God's will, sets the legal standard in the U.S. The slide into theocracy is probably the number one danger to our democracy right now. I can't say enough good about Americans United. Give, give, give!