Baking Challenge

Yesterday I did something I’ve never done… I stayed in the kitchen all day by choice. Why? To do a baking challenge with my 12-year-old who recently saw the Dr. Seuss Baking Challenge season on Amazon Prime and decided that he too wanted to do one.

We started watching Dr. Seuss Baking Challenge about 2 weeks ago and before we got to the 4th episode, my son had already informed me that he was going to do this challenge at home with me and that Scott, my husband, was going to be the judge. I’m thinking, “Yeah, right, that is quite assumptious of you.” If you’ve never seen this challenge imagine having to balance the complexity of being a good baker who is creating not just one, but multiple tasty treats, as well as being a fabulous designer who sculpts, molds and designs whimsical, Seussian, creative designs using fondant and other decorating treats to match a look of a particular Dr. Seuss book. The best of both taste and design wins the prize. My son who had not even once baked his own cake by himself let alone sculpted and molded fondant had no idea how ungodly complex making these Seussian desserts was going to be. I on the other hand did. So I was more than hesitant and resistant when my son kept insisting that we were going to do this together.

If he hadn’t kept bringing it up and then telling me in great detail what he was planning to make and what specific ingredients he was planning on using I would have not mentioned it again and hoped he too would forget about it, but this was not to be. My son persisted. Finally I decided I was sick of hearing about it and the best thing to do would be just to do the darn thing with him so it would be done already. So we set a date for our challenge. As the date neared, I found I was getting more into it and decided not only would I do this thing but I would give it my best shot. If I was going to do it at all I was going to do it right.

The first thing we did after gathering our ingredients a few days before the big challenge was to get our fondant ready since we knew we were going to need a LOT of it to decorate our two creations. I found a recipe online that used mini marshmallows, confectioners sugar, water and a tiny bit of shortening and with that we made our fondant. The amount of sugar used to make it was impressive. The recipe said to keep adding the confectioners sugar a cup at a time until the batter was the appropriate texture and that’s what we did. It took so many cups of sugar to get to the right consistency that after we were done my son pulled up a Star Wars video clip that he said reminded him of us making the fondant together. It was the scene with Kelo Ren screaming out “More! More! More!” as they kept firing heavy guns and explosions at Luke in the 8th Star Wars movie.

After we had all of our ingredients my son continued talking about what spices he was intending to add into his recipes, as coming up with a tasty dessert was his focus. As for me, I took a different approach and decided to concentrate more on how my design and structure was going to look. Being a designer I cared a lot more about that and knew that in the end the design would matter just as much as the dessert did. So I created a base for my display which was going to support my 3 Truffula trees (our Dr. Seuss challenge was based on the book “the Lorax”). We both had done sketches beforehand of what our final project was going to look like.

Yesterday was the big competition day and after 7 hours of working in the kitchen with my son, I have to say I had WAY more fun doing this than I ever imagined. It was great! I got to be creative. It was fun bonding time with my son. And we had some crazy moments with some crazy laughs… like when my gloved hands were covered in Rice Krispy like treats and I didn’t know what to do with myself so I was looking from my one hand to the other until I finally just shrugged my shoulders and started eating it all off my gloves like a maniac causing my son to look at me laughing saying, “Mom, I’ll never be able to unsee that!” I hope he never does!

I was proud of my boy yesterday and was so happy to see him adapt and adjust his design when it started taking unexpected turns. And I was glad I could witness him making his first cake completely solo. Although the completion was actually neck and neck and both designs actually looked pretty good in the end, the judge awarded my son with first place due to his perseverance of not giving up. I do think my husband should have considered giving me some bonus points though for my willingness to be in a kitchen for as long as I was, however, I agreed with his decision. He absolutely deserved that prize!

Recent pondering

It’s been over a year since I’ve written something on my blog. “Letting Go of Fear” was the last column I wrote about last February. Thankfully the fear I had of going out again after the pandemic subsided awhile ago and I’m out in the world again. In going forth with the normalcy of life again I’ve discovered two things: 1) I’d forgotten a really important life lesson and 2) I’ve had a big shift in thinking regarding schooling children.

If we look for the positives in the time of the pandemic, one thing that comes to mind for me was that everything slowed down. Gone was the rushing around. Gone was competing or ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ Life seemed simpler in so many ways. Now that things have ramped up again I’m noticing this intense urgency to keep up with everything and everyone and I’m out of practice. I notice this in many areas of my life, even in things I’ve taken up for fun. 

For example, I’ve recently gotten more into pickleball. The game has seriously exploded here in the Bay Area. I introduced the game to a friend of mine in the fall. After a short time this friend has become rather obsessed with the game and is going out multiple times a week to play. It is super fun having her to play with but I’ve realized at the same time I’ve been struggling to try to keep up with her. I was trying to figure out why I was feeling this way with a game that was supposed to be fun. I knew I was having the ‘keep up with the Joneses’ feeling but I didn’t understand why until recently. In the midst of ramping back up again after Covid, I’d forgotten that the only person I need to compete with in this world is myself – in pickleball and in everything else. My focus always needs to be on what I want in my life and never on what others are doing or what others want. No one is judging me except for myself!

I’ve also had some big changes in perspective since the pandemic regarding schooling. Pre-pandemic I had gotten a part time job going into elementary schools to teach art to elementary kids. When the pandemic hit I began homeschooling my son and my job was put on hold. This year my son is in 6th grade and he is maturing and becoming more independent so I decided to return to teaching art part time in an after school class at a nearby elementary school. I taught my first class two weeks ago and it was both nostalgic and also very eye opening. I love being an art teacher and bringing art to children (the nostalgic part) but I have a total shift in perspective now about how and what kids are being taught in school since the pandemic and in seeing first hand the benefits of homeschooling my son (the eye opening part).

As much as I know that the kids need art, I also know the importance of down time, free play, and free choice in what they play in the healthy development of all children. Kids in public schools (and in many private schools) do not get enough art, nor do they get adequate down time to play and explore, and they definitely do not get free choice in what to do with their time which is all necessary for healthy development and in figuring out what one’s strengths and interests are. Recess time to play and interact freely with peers helps build much needed relationship skills. I feel very torn coming into a school’s after school program after kids have had a long day of school to teach them art. I see so clearly now that although some kids do benefit greatly from my bringing art to them at that time, other kids in my class (ones pre-pandemic I might have labeled “problem kids”) would clearly rather be running around playing. The truth is that these kids are not problem kids at all, they simply desperately need time to run around and play. Does that mean those kids would not benefit from art? Absolutely not, everyone can benefit from art. It simply means at that time of day those kids would benefit more from running around and getting their energy out and having some free play to decide what they want to do. I can’t help but ask myself, am I now being a part of the problem by coming into the schools providing yet another required lesson for the kids?

Letting go of fear

This pandemic has taken a toll on me. I have a constant ache in my chest that consists of lots of fear and worry and a longing to connect. I find myself lonely a lot, despite being surrounded by a million people in the California Bay Area and living in close contact with my immediate family with friends and family near and far.

Overall, my main interaction with people onside my home has been limited since this pandemic began with outings (often solo) consisting mainly of walks around my neighborhood, errands, various small outings and occasional trips over to the Santa Cruz beaches or to hike in the Redwoods. It’s opened up for us more since my son was able to get vaccinated in late November and even more this month since my son’s Little League team started practicing. Many Bay Area people have been out and about for awhile now but since I tend to be more risk adverse than most my circle that I involve myself with is pretty small.

Three times now in the last two years my family of three ventured out of the state: once in our cross country trip in our van, once driving to Oregon and more recently flying to Florida. Upon exiting California it became very clear that much of the country is not carrying on as many people are here in the Bay Area. On our trip to Florida last month to visit my family it was hard to even know that Omicron was surging and as far as I could tell the deaths rates and case rate of Covid in Florida and California were not far different from each other. All the confusion of what to do about masking or not masking and distancing or not distancing is just so very confusing.

My husband and I had a long discussion (OK rather a fight turned into a discussion) a couple of nights ago over an upcoming trip he is planning with his group of friends to Las Vegas. I’m having trouble with it and in a not so loving way let him hear it. He in turn accused me of keeping him from his friends which was not at all my intention. After much back and forth we were able to see each other for what was really going on which is that we are both in different comfort zones with all of this and he is ready to begin living again and proceeding as usual and I’m…well…not quite there yet.

To try to alleviate the fear and loneliness I’ve been doing my best to meditate daily since the start of the year which has me regularly observing my feelings. They are so BIG and painful and sit in my chest surrounding my heart. It’s hard to not want to wish the feelings away like I want to do but I know I need to accept them for what they are and observe them. It aches so badly! I somewhat jokingly asked one of my friends the other day if anyone ever DIED from meditation?

I realize in the end how I choose to react to anything going on in life is my choice and my choice only. So I’ve made a conscience decision to really work on letting go of my fear. It is not an easy thing for me to do as I’ve always been a cautious person by nature. I’ve had trouble having faith, unlike another friend of mine, my so called “atheist” friend who somehow has a ton of it. I wish I too were that way. I am doing what I can to actively try to change.

The other day I took a hike with a friend into the green hills of California. We both basically willed each other to go out exploring beyond the safety of our small worlds. After catching up a bit in the beginning of our hike we decided to try an experiment with a silent hike together for the remainder of our hike. We’d be walking alone but together silently, and so began our mini retreat.

The thing both of us noticed right away in our silence was that we were noticing our surroundings whereas moments before we were caught up in our chatter and blind to our world. It was interesting and at times uncomfortable walking with her for so long in silence. We noticed our heart rates and footsteps (she walks faster than me going downhill, I walk faster than her going uphill); we observed the sounds in nature and saw animals at a farm; we waited patiently while a wild turkey we saw crossed onto our trail moved out of the way; we hiked while breathing in fresh air. It was a nice calm transition from feeling so alone to spending quality time with a friend who knows and supports me yet isn’t afraid to be with me without talking. Silent together.

When our hike had us pass through a working farm we saw many animals and I realized, like my friend and I, the animals were also together but silent. They were near each other but not communicating. In fact the only sounds I heard at all from all of them was noise over chickens fighting for food. They say that what separates us from some animals is that we are social creatures who need each other socially. But being social isn’t only talking with each other. Perhaps talking with each other is not even the most important part of socialization but rather having another person who cares in close proximity. I believe that’s what I’ve been lacking most over these last two years – the closeness of people. Being near my friend without talking was just as healing (if not more so) than chatting with her because I could still be near her, feel her support, and notice what was going on around me.

Getting out on hikes like this with a friend is definitely a step toward helping me move forward past my loneliness and fear. It was peaceful and beautiful, just what I needed. The heaviness that is sitting on my chest feels a little less achy today, less lonely and less raw.

Our journey to homeschool

We decided to homeschool our 5th grade son partially because of the pandemic but primarily after trying other options over the years and exploring both public and private alternatives around us we realized that a hybrid homeschool program is the best schooling option for him. After looking into several schools my husband and I felt that only one school in our area of San Jose, CA was a reasonable fit for our son. Let me repeat that: only one school near us was fit for our son. It is a public charter school that you get in by lottery. The school has a hybrid homeschool program where kids are in school just 2 days a week with a teacher and homeschooling 3 days.

You might ask, “What is wrong with your son that other schools weren’t a fit for him?” but that’s the wrong question to be asking. The question we all need to start asking is, “What is wrong with our schools that a boy like my son doesn’t belong in most of them?”

Let me tell you about my boy. He like many kids today that I’ve seen at our public schools has ADHD and struggles with anxiety. He does best in a class that is well controlled and structured. In school he doesn’t thrive in the core subjects (math & writing) but he manages slightly below grade level and does well with one-on-one tutoring or small groups of kids with similar needs. He is a really great reader, better than most with outstanding reading comprehension. In his writing he has a lot to say on certain subjects and his stories are incredibly creative, however his organizational skills are sometimes lacking and he might possibly be dyslexic, but our school district doesn’t test for dyslexia so I’m not certain. He knows an amazing amount of history, particularly WWII history (all self taught.) He enjoys learning about other countries, and doing hands on science experiments. He has a HUGE imagination and learns best through role play and creative play. At home he often draws and he makes stop animations of actual WWII battles using his Lego mini figures and doing his own voice overs. He learned to do all of this primarily on his own. He is driven to learn about things that he is interested about, yet most schools around us don’t support him.

Why is that? As an active parent volunteer in the public school system I have witnessed some things over the past six years and I have some theories on this.

Public schools in San Jose, CA cater to kids who are average in math, reading and writing, the subjects that they push really hard at school due to Common Core testing. Creative kids and active ADHD kids aren’t average since they often fall behind in these subjects. Kids who excel in those subjects aren’t average either and often end up bored in public school; they might thrive in a private school where academic standards in these subject are often higher but private schools like that would be a nightmare for our son. Class sizes in the public elementary classrooms are too big for any one teacher at 25 kids or higher. The schools that allow parent volunteers to come into the classrooms to help manage kids do better, however many schools don’t have enough parent involvement. Common Core State Standards were implemented to strive to get all kids to the same academic level at the same time but this goal is unrealistic. Richer districts with more parent participation have a greater chance at success since teachers are getting help in the classroom but regardless of how much parents do or don’t do, all kids (rich or poor) learn differently and develop at different rates and no amount of parent participation addresses that.

Last year during the Covid school shutdown I got an even clearer view of what was expected of kids inside the classroom. Because my son was having such a hard time I sat with him and helped him while he was online from 9:05-3:15 which was the required time on Zoom calls these kids were asked to endure. His anxiety was triggered daily due to the teacher giving lessons that were far too long for kids with ADHD to follow and assigning work that with unrealistic expectations. So great was the focus on math and writing there was little time left over for science, social studies or the arts. The teacher seemed to have little choice in this as she was constantly having to prep the kids for the next math and writing assessments. My son’s IEP small groups were not very helpful either as the kids in those groups had a widely diverse set of needs and many times the needs being catered to them were not what my son needed. The only benefits in those IEP small groups were that occasionally he got individualized help from his teacher and he got regular interaction with his peers. Had I not seen first hand what was going on last year I wouldn’t have known what a poor fit this school environment was for my son and I wouldn’t have switched to a homeschool program.

His new hybrid homeschool is a much better fit for him for many reasons. The class size is smaller with only 19 kids. The work he gets now in school is at an appropriate level for him so he isn’t overwhelmed by it and learning is led by the students’ interests. Kids don’t have to participate in regular math and writing assessments, therefore, being slightly below grade level in some areas is acceptable so long as he is continually learning and moving forward in those areas. Writing work is geared toward his interests not topics strictly assigned by the teacher. There is a lot of play based learning and little to no worksheets given for kids to do as they do mostly hands on exercises.  He is given time in school to interact with classmates and have a snack. There is no homework given which leaves time for more play outside of school. Quiet reading time is given in the classroom after recess to ease in transitioning back to learning time. At home my lessons with him are catered to his needs and are way more effective than his group IEP ever was. The focus is more evenly distributed between math, reading/writing, science, art, social studies and P.E. Due to all of these things I am not seeing the anxiety at school that I saw last year, or in previous years for that matter, nor am I’m getting push back from him in the writing or math assignments that I am giving him at home since they are now at an appropriate level for him. It’s a complete turn around from last year. My son loves school now and he’s learning a lot!

We know that we are lucky for so many reasons, the primary one being that we can afford for me to not work and that I have the ability to teach my son and give him this kind of education. We are also fortunate that we got a good number in this school’s lottery! It would be nice if everybody who wanted to homeschool their child could do it. But my wish is this: I wish that all schools got rid of Common Core Standards and more schools offered 5 day a week in school programs using the model that my son’s current school does. I would love to send my kid to in person school 5 days a week but the types of schools like the one I’m looking for are rare or nonexistent in most areas.

Our plan is to continue to either homeschool our son at the school he’s at or find some other non-traditional teaching solutions for his middle and high school years for as long as we are able to. If anyone knows of a middle or high school in their city or town similar to the ideal one that I was describing please let me know about it as we would consider relocating!

Letting go of expectations

Yesterday I turned 51. This was the second birthday I celebrated since Covid began in the U.S. I feel as though I’ve been through several marathons and aged about 20 years since last year. A year ago on my birthday I wanted to surround myself virtually with family and friends via multiple Zoom video calls. This year was different. After a very tough year of dealing with Covid and everything else surrounding it my husband and I also dealt with (and are still dealing with) behavioral issues from my 9-year-old son which resulted in countless multi-hour, meltdowns throughout the year. I had no energy or patience left for Zoom. Instead I chose to spend my day solely with my husband and son and opted to go out for a hike in nature instead – something that I love to do.

I had a great birthday morning at home. My husband and son made me feel special by decorating the house for me and had gifts for me to open. They treated me well. I also enjoyed getting various phone calls and messages from friends and family throughout the day. Yet, the afternoon of my birthday did not go as I’d hoped it would as my son had a big meltdown which disrupted our afternoon and my vision of a perfect birthday. These expectations of how I feel things ‘should’ go are a problem as things rarely ever go as planned for anyone – especially for those living with a willful, defiant child. There is a simple equation for this: Expectations = Disappointment = Unhappiness.

During this past year this simple equation has become more and more in my face as I’ve told myself countless times that I would benefit greatly by letting go of my expectations. But my brain can not help but remain hopeful. I somehow think that if I just try hard enough I’ll be able to figure things out and control the outcome. Whether it be the problem of my son’s behavior or anything else. I’ll try to fix it, to make everything alright, but I am slowly learning that that this kind of thinking is not at all realistic and perhaps the most important thing for me to do right now is to let go of any expectations of how the outcome of something is going to turn out and to be OK with whatever it is now and whatever it becomes in the future. When I am able to successfully do this, I notice that I free myself from possible disappointment and in the end I am happier.

Yesterday, on my birthday, I WAS able to let go of my expectations. Instead of getting upset as I often do when my child blows up (in this case right when we were getting into the car to leave the house for our hike), instead of reacting as I might have done in the past, I stepped away and let my husband handle the meltdown and I took my cellphone to our backyard. I laid down on the grass and looked up toward the big walnut tree in our backyard and basked in the sunshine and talked on the phone with my sister. Sure there was some yelling and screaming happening in the background of our phone call at times. Sure I was annoyed that we weren’t leaving for the hike when we planned to leave for it and we actually left much later than I would have liked. However there was nothing to really do about any of it and in that moment in the grass talking with my sister I was as present and as real as I could get. I simply let it all go – and was fine with it – even slightly blissful if I dare say.

No Expectations = Fulfillment = Joy

If 2020 was a year of survival and of hanging on to unrealistic expectations that couldn’t possibly come to fruition; perhaps 2021 can be a more realistic and accepting year. May this be a year of letting go of dreams that didn’t happen just as we wanted them to. Let this be a year of whatever we end up with in the end is still alright and that we can grieve our losses but still be grateful for what we’ve got now. It might not be a year that we envisioned or as pretty looking on the outside as we’d want it to be, but it will be one that is a lot more freeing, realistic and real.

The need to know

Nine years ago today was the day we first brought our boy home with us from the hospital. We’ve been telling our son his birth story since the day we brought him home so it has never been news to him. If you were to ask my son about his adoption story he would be very comfortable telling you about it and about his birthparents as they are as familiar to him as his aunts and uncles.

I am so thankful that we took this open approach with my son and that he knows where he came from. Every adoptive child is different in their want or need to know about their birth family but I can tell you with certainty that OUR son is glad to know.

We recognize this through his favorite stuffed animal, Blue Dog who has been at our house since just before our son’s birth. Usually when someone gives me or my son a gift I am good about remembering who gave it to us and when it came into our house. However, in the case of our son’s favorite stuffy, I can not for the life of me remember who it came from and my son is really, REALLY bothered by that. He has asked me repeatedly over the years who gave him Blue Dog and despite my narrowing it down to the packages I received right before he was born I haven’t been able to pin point the sender.

“Ma, think!” He will say, “You must know who. Just ASK some people!” Which I have! There were a few people that gave us a bunch of stuff right before our son was born and I’ve asked them all, one friend even as recently as this month, yet still I have no clue of his origins.

“Why do you care so much where he came from?” I’ll ask.
“Because I’d want to thank them for him,” he says.
“But isn’t the important thing that he is here now for you?” I’ll ask.
“Yeah, but I still want to know where he came from!” he’ll say.

OK. There is no arguing with that. It’s his favorite stuffy after all. But I told him that this is something he may need to accept that we won’t ever know.

In my head I say silently to myself, “Thank goodness we did an open adoption!” Thank goodness this is a stuffy we are talking about and not his birthparents we are trying to find since he obviously cares very much about a things source.

In terms of his stuffy, sometimes I think it’s actually better not knowing its sender. Instead we can envision that Blue Dog divinely appeared in our house 9 years ago and was placed charmingly inside his crib to be there for my son to love.

At least that’s the current story I’ll tell my son and I plan to stick to it unless I hear otherwise!

Do YOU know where his loved Blue Dog came from?

Adoptive mother: Broken hearts

This past weekend I crushed my 7 year old’s heart…and my husband’s…and mine too while I was at it. It was quite the productive weekend.

This heart bashing event was the grand finale of my son’s begging for a dog which went on for months and intensified as the weeks passed by. I felt massive guilt with this dog begging because I knew a pet would be good for my son as he’s an only child – it would be a sibling for him. However, I really did not want a dog. I know dogs are cute and sweet and you get attached to them and I hear you learn to ignore the mess and inconvenience but frankly I didn’t want to deal with the walks, the poop, the mess in the house, the scrapes on doors and furniture and basically all of the added responsibility and expense that dog ownership brings. I was finally gaining some freedom back in my life from years of raising a young child and I want the ability to be able to just go somewhere when I want to go and not have to come back to let the dog out or arrange for a dog sitter. And unfortunately cats and any other dander producing, furry friends which might be less impacting are not an option for us due to my allergies.

So weeks and weeks of my son’s begging finally caused me to cave and I said I’d be open to a dog under the stipulation that the dog was a smaller, non-shedding dog. And we began our dog hunt.

The whole dog search experience brought back memories of our adoption search for our son. I know this sounds crazy but it’s really not that dissimilar a process although on a much less expensive and shorter time scale. Like adopting a child, adopting a pet is an overwhelming process for a new pet owner as there is so much to learn and decide. First you need to research breeds of dogs you want which isn’t much different from deciding the race of your child. There is also much to learn about the differences between shelters and other rescue organizations you choose to work with much like differences I found in organizations in adopting a child. You feel good about certain organizations and not so good about others. How the organization operates is super important as well and how they handle placements that don’t work out. Also, after looking around and waiting for awhile your criteria for what you will accept in your animal (or adopted child) begins to change. So after several weeks of looking around for a non-shedding, small dog which are hard to find I realized that perhaps it was more important and cost effective to have a shedding dog with a mellow personality from an organization that we felt good about.

So after picking the organization we liked, which primarily accepted well tempered rescue dogs, we chose to visit their most recent batch of dogs. That’s when we met Luke. Luke was a mixed breed shedding dog and couldn’t have been sweeter. We got to visit with him at a neighborhood home in a peaceful environment and take him for a walk. We all got good feelings about him and liked him very much so we decided to give it a go.

Once we got Luke home it became very clear that having a dog was going to completely change our lives. Our son was no longer the center or our world – now this dog was. We learned right away that Luke must have been cared for at his shelter by a female as he followed me around (the only female in the house) like a shadow. At first it was very cute and endearing but then the reality of what I had just agreed to take on became very overwhelming to me. I began to retreat and I froze up. I felt paralyzed in my own home and this sweet, loving creature somehow made my living space feel very small. I began to wonder if I would get used to things over time but inside my gut was screaming that I didn’t want to get used to this. All the while my son and husband were bonding more and more with this loving new found furry family member.

After one very restless night and after going to church solo the next morning and reflecting on my predicament, I decided I needed to be honest with myself and my family and fess up about my feelings. Telling my son and husband that I didn’t want this dog was quite possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. In just a few short minutes my son’s innocent little heart and dream of having a dog was squelched. I saw visible disappointment from my animal loving husband. I truly felt like the worst person in the world.

After lots of crying from my son, myself and misty eyes from Scott after dropping the dog off at a foster home, we are all recovering from this today. We truly hope that Luke lands in a good loving home where ALL the family members are on board – he deserves nothing but the best.

Birthmother: Ten years and counting

By Birthmother – My first child turned ten years old in May.  It’s December now, the very LAST day of December.  I’ve been putting this journal entry off for THAT long, not because I’ve had anything better to do, but because I’ve been afraid of addressing my feelings and maybe even more afraid of sharing them.

There’s so little I can do now where my children are concerned.  At the beginning, when I was pregnant, my role was so clear:  Keep the baby healthy.  Find loving parents with all the awesome parenting qualities that my husband and I did not have.  Sign the paperwork.

And now… legally, I have no role and no responsibilities.  My work is done.

The easiest thing to do is disappear from the picture.  I don’t think anyone would blame me, and perhaps it would be easier for everyone involved.  My life goes on and so does theirs.

But, first of all, that’s not what we signed up for.  Open adoption implies a continuing relationship.  The details vary from family to family, but the principle remains that there is value in keeping the channels of communication open.

…and somehow I suspect that the disappearing act is only ACTUALLY easiest for ME.  Because I HAVE been offered channels of communication.  I HAVE been offered pictures and phone calls.  I have not been ignored or neglected.  And when those channels open… and I am offered glimpses of my children… I’m the one who doesn’t always respond.  I’m the one who rarely reaches out.  Why?

I chicken out, that’s why.  I love seeing that my children are ok, watching them grow, but actually TALKING to them?  Talking is terrifying!  What do I say?  What if I’m so happy to see/hear them that I can barely talk?  What if I say something stupid, or say something that upsets them?  What if the emotions are so strong that it becomes hard to say goodbye?

I send my children letters at Christmas and on birthdays.  It’s old-fashioned, I know, but in addition to being something concrete to put in their hands, letters are also very safe for me, the same way emails and blogs are safe.  I can type out each paragraph as slowly as I need to, editing as I go.

At this point in my typing, I’d really like to do a little editing to make myself sound like a better person, but somehow it seems more important to share, honestly, that open adoption can be terrifying at the same time it is rewarding.  Seeing my children grow means seeing what I lost.

I’m not GOING to disappear, as tempting as it might be.  When the children call, I will do my best to answer.  When they ask questions, I will do my best to find something to say.  Because they deserve whatever attention they ask for.  Because they are beautiful and I would be a fool to pass up any chance to get to know them.

Adoptive mother: My son, the donkey

I heard an interesting talk a few Sundays ago from the reverend at my church ( about a monkey trying to get a donkey to climb a tree. The monkey kept getting frustrated again and again in his seemingly endless pursuit. The reverend’s point in short was that often we, monkeys, try to get others, donkeys, to do or think what we want them to do or think when really what we need is more monkeys. That’s so true. How many times in our lives have we wanted donkeys to be monkeys and visa versa? I’m totally a monkey and I’m trying to push my son, the donkey, up a tree. I want him to be more like me when he’s not.

My son is GREAT just as he is. He’s an adorable, healthy, innocent boy with lots of personality, energy and intelligence. I’m truly blessed. Yet as his parent there is sometimes a contradiction going on because I think that he would be great IF he actually tried at things he did, or IF he actually listened to me. (AKA: came up in the tree with me which mostly he does not do because he’s doing his own darn stubborn thing on the ground!)

As an adoptive parent of a child who is quite different from me, it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in the fact that my son does not have my genes and therefore is not like me in many ways. But really, as my husband pointed out, does this matter when raising a child? Isn’t the point of raising a child, any child not just an adopted one, to raise him or her to be the best person that he or she can be even when sometimes he or she seems nothing like you and pushes you to the limit daily. I have friends with biological children that might attest that their children too can be donkey’s in their lives and I’m certain my parents would tell me at many points while raising me and even today that I was or am a donkey in their lives.

I believe it’s the ego that desires the children we raise to resemble ourselves. To be Mini-Me’s, which is why I think many adoptive parents need to mourn the loss of having their own biological children. I know first hand what that grieving period was like, yet I didn’t expect that after 6 years of raising my adopted son my ego would still being desiring that my son take after me at least a little bit.

I wonder if my path would be an easier one if I lived with someone who was more similar to me vs. living with someone who’s sometimes more of my polar opposite which can be utterly exhausting. Being female and raising a boy can feel overwhelming for any mom; we all know the saying, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” Well having an adopted child of the opposite sex sometimes adds complexity to this saying because it can feel like your child is not only from a different planet but is also from another galaxy!

Finding a way to deal with and to embrace my child’s uniqueness has been a process for me, one in which I’m clearly still working on but I know it’s worth the effort or I risk being continually disappointed throughout my life. I believe all parents need to grapple with this at some point, both adoptive and biological. We all must let go of wanting our children to be carbon copies of ourselves and push our egos aside because there is nothing wrong with a child that is vastly different than us. On the positive side it can be very eye opening and enlightening seeing the world from such a different perspective from your own. Being able to let go of our own desires and expectations and embrace what we have allows us to stop fighting endless battles with our children and gives them allowance to be the unique beings that they are.

Whether our child is the donkey, the monkey, or a creature from a different galaxy altogether he or she can the live his or her life to their fullest potential without interference from us because we’ll no longer be getting in their way pushing him or her to be different; instead we’ll simply be watching our child shine.

Adoptive mother: 20 questions

We had time to kill in the car this past weekend during a recent road trip so my son suggested we play the 20 questions game. In this game a person thinks of someone and doesn’t tell the other person who they are thinking of and the other person(s) tries to guess who that person is thinking of by asking questions that are answered with either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I love and hate this game simultaneously (love because I like games but hate because if I don’t guess the person in a reasonable amount of time I find the game to be very annoying.) Keep in mind playing with my 6-years-old adds complexity to the game because I need to factor in that some of the answers he is providing me may not be accurate. Reluctantly I agreed to play. My son informs me he is thinking of someone.

“Is it a girl?” I ask, since we’ve just come from one of his girl friend’s birthday party. “No,” he replies.

“Is it a man?” I ask. “Yes,” he replies.

“Does he live in San Luis Obispo?” I ask, thinking it may be his girl friend’s father. “No.” he replies.

“Does he live in California?” I ask, thinking that will at least narrow down how I might know this man. “Yes,” my son replies. (Now a red flag should have come up for me when asking this question since I know that often my son confuses California with the greater USA; however, I mistakenly assume my son’s answer is accurate and I go on.)

“Does he live in our neighborhood?” I ask. “No,” he says.

“Does he have kids?” I ask. “No,” he says. What man without kids would my son be thinking of? Any California relatives on Scott’s side of the family that would be on our son’s mind would have kids. I need to take a new angle to figure this out.

“Does he work with Daddy?” I ask, taking a different tact and trying to figure out the connection of how I possibly know this man. “No,” he says.

“Is he friends with Daddy?” I ask. “He’s friends with ALL THREE of us,” he says (breaking the ‘yes/no’ answer rule.) This throws me for a loop. Now I am really confused.

A man, living in California, that doesn’t live in our neighborhood, doesn’t have kids, or work with Daddy, and is friends with all three of us… who is this man? I rack my brain for possible people repeating everything my son has confirmed about this man out loud a few times. Annoyed, I ask help from Scott who’s been listening the whole time from the driver’s seat. “Do you know of anyone that meets that description Scott, someone without kids?”

“Well he did HAVE a baby,” pipes up our son from the back seat, in which I respond, “Wait, you told me he didn’t have kids!” I’m feeling really annoyed now thinking how could he possibly get the answer to that question incorrect? I wonder if there are other questions he might have answered incorrectly as well. I’m processing this new contradictory statement in my head: he doesn’t have kids but he did have a baby. Did this man’s baby die? Before I could ask anything more, I hear Scott ask, “Is it John?” in which our son shouts triumphantly, “Yes!”

I’m dumbfounded. What? “Really?” I say. John, our son’s birthfather? Other than pictures we show our son we haven’t seen or talked with John in two years! I go over his description again: A man, that doesn’t live in our neighborhood, doesn’t have kids, or work with Daddy, and is friends with all three of us. He doesn’t have kids but had a baby. Of course! It all makes perfect sense now. Brilliant – minus of course the glaring geographical error of saying that he lives in California when he actually lives in New York!

It stuck me later how interesting the incident was because out of nowhere our son surprised us again by thinking of his birth parent at a time when we weren’t expecting it. He also showed us how unconfused and secure he is about his birth story which was evident through the answers he gave to simple questions about his birthfather which essentially described him perfectly: a man who doesn’t have kids, who had a baby, who is friends with all three of us.