Family BLAH

Apparently I am back, but lazy.

I have never been someone who thinks that family relationships are the most important ones in my life. A few things have contributed to this: we didn’t have a lot of family nearby, growing up, so we never developed super close bonds with cousins/aunts/grand parents. My parents also never expected us to love them blindly. Sure I love them because they’re my parents, but I want to spend time with them because I respect who they are and they respect who I am. They contribute in positive, loving ways to the relationship I have with them. And they care enough to take an interest in my life. Also, they love Mr. Ponce … possibly more than they love me!

For the past 27 years I’ve lived at least six hours away from my dad. For the past 15 year’s I’ve lived at least three hours away from my sister. And for the past four year’s at least three hours away from my mom. I’ve had a lot of time to develop friendships. A lot of Mr. Ponce and my’s (is that grammatically correct?) friends are defacto family-members. Our commitment to them is equal to our commitment to even our closest family-members. So … we get busy. We get very busy. Summer is even busier than the rest of our year. With our northern climate, this means that we get about 10 weekends of summer weather … once you factor in rain … we’re lucky to get more than 10 days of work-less summer weather. We like to take advantage of those days.

My husband also grew up without a lot of family nearby (his parents immigrated here from Scotland before any of the kids were born). But with four kids, and three-times weekly (!!!) church commitments, his parents had a lot on their plate. Their social natures also did not make for much of a desire to build relationships beyond their immediate family circle. As a result they believe that family comes first, no matter what. To them, not calling once during our recent hell, does not make them any less of a priority in our lives than returning the favour to all the friends who rallied to cook for us, babysit for us, lend us vehicles so that we could make multiple appointments with lawyers and grief psychologists, pick our son up from daycare when those appointments ran late etc. etc. While we’re not actually bitter about their lack of support, we’re also becoming less and less willing to turn our lives upside down and reschedule plans to make it to family get togethers. We love seeing everyone, but if we have other plans, we don’t cancel them to make it to yet another birthday dinner (there are many).

Where am I going with this … I’m not sure. I am just angst-ee. And thought that maybe letting some of this go by typing it out might stop the hamster-wheel like obsession over the insanity of it from turning constantly in my head …

Where things get tricky is that my husband went away from school and chose to live away from the town he grew up in. The rest of the siblings never ventured very far from home. Their main social circles are still their immediate family. And there is a big difference to them as to what relationships matter. They demand that their traditions be followed and turn into bullies when we don’t comply. Mr. Ponce’s brother recently cancelled a get together with us (where we were hosting a second b-day party for their daughter b/c we couldn’t make it to her actual party) b/c he “had a bad taste” in his mouth. Apparently we “don’t seem to care” about his kids. And as they are the world to him (yes, they should be they are HIS kids) we logically do not care about him either.

This is a the culminating stupidness of about three years of Mr. Ponce’s sibblings trying to bully us into their way or the highway. I am mad. I am mad b/c this is crazy. All of Mr. Ponce’s sibblings have kids. The oldest is 13. For 13 years, we have been to every single family member’s birthday. We have missed two parties. Both in the past year. Unfortunately, for the same family member. Last year we had a wedding to go to. This year, the party was over father’s day weekend, and we had plans to attend a music festival. Their parety dates were not reschedulable (where’s my dictionary?) so we made plans to see the birthday girl at another date. We felt this was reasonable and didn’t think it would cause a family rift. But yes it has. And all sibblings and parents are involved. We have received nasty emails at worst and cautions to “try harder” at best.

I’m trying to figure out why all this is bothering me so much. As I mentioned this is CRAZY. It’s illogical. I’m a logical person, so the fact that this is so ridiculous upsets me to the very core and essence of who I am. I am also furious that Mr. Ponce’s brother and sister-in-law would let their nutty emotions interfere with our relationships with their children. Their “punishment” of us, effectively punishes their children by denying them an opportunity to spend time with us. But I think the bigger problem is that I see this with a global/future perspective as an adoptive mom.

I think a lot about what “family” will mean to Ponce. To us it’s obvious that he needs to see that “blood” is not the only thing that makes family. That people who love and support you can also be family. And they can matter as much to you, or more than blood-relatives. We don’t want to be telling him one thing, but living another. Our definition of family has to be well open and ever-changing.

We are also pretty busy trying to forge bonds with Ponce’s bio family. We have in effect added another family to our rotation of commitments. AND this relationship being in its initial stages, we are busy tending to it and growing it. Deepening roots so that the relationship can one day stand on its own.

The room in our lives for nonsense and demands and narrow-thinking people is getting narrower. Despite me hating how Mr. Ponce’s family is acting these days, I also don’t want to grow so distant from them that Ponce doesn’t get to grow up close to his cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. What if he NEEDS those bonds and that stability more than I ever did? What if that kind of consistency in his life is what helps him feel grounded, accepted, and helps move him through whatever adoption-related angst he may feel as he grows into himself. What if having close relationships with all these family members help him feel better about biological parents who may or may not disapoint him (or adoptive parents who may or may not disapoint him!).

At this point so much of our energy is focused on trying to build strong bonds with Ponce’s first family that I am extra-aggravated by the nonsense coming out of Mr. Ponce’s family. Seriously … do they think we need this right now? I’d be more forgiving if this was coming from Ponce’s first family … but don’t tell Mr. Ponce’s family or we’d be relegated to the dog-house for eternity.

I feel petty and small for posting this. This is trivial in the grand scheme of life and family squabbles. I know I should be able to let go of this. It keeps me awake. It interrupts my work. I want to find a way to move past it … but I am also mad that this type of scenario keeps unfolding with Mr. Ponce’s family over and over again. I don’t think they will change, so I need to change how much their actions bother me. I would love to just write them off. But for Ponce’s sake, I can’t. For Mr. Ponce’s sake, I can’t. But how do I keep “being the bigger person” over and over and over again? It would be a lot easier to walk away. Mr. Ponce is pushing for a move that would put days of travel distance between us and his family … pre-Ponce I would have jumped at the plan … but post Ponce … stability and long term relationships seem more important …. we have so many good friends, and like them or not, Mr. Ponce’s family is … well, family.

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I may be back …

Soon after my last post, I read a post by a first mom blogger (who I continue to respect VERY much) that took the wind out of my sails.

After hearing a call in radio show about adoption that essentially exclcluded first mom’s she wrote a very heartfelt post that included (to summarize) a paragraph about how no matter what if a first parent wants their child back, adoptive parents’ with any ethics should simply ‘give the child back’ (totally paraphrasing here, but that was the gist).

I’d be full of myself to say/think that she had ever come across my blog (it’s new and I don’t do much to promote myself) but I took her words to heart (and personally) and just couldn’t get into blogging again.

And then our world went from slightly tilt-ee to totally upside down and we became “those adoptive” parents who were fighting to keep a child that was “wanted back.” Though I use the term “back” very loosely here because our son’s birth father never “had” Ponce in the first place (though that right was unjustly denied him for what we have come to see as right reasons poorly executed).

At the end of April we were extended an opportunity to meet Ponce’s birth father and start building the foundations of openness with him. About 30 minutes into that meeting Ponce’s birth father announced that he had been talking with a lawyer, his paster, his family, friends etc. and had decided that “I want my boy.” Our world crumbled. We were weeks from finalizing and Ponce’s birth father, while admittedly upset at the situation when he found out about it nearly one year ago had maintained his desire to keep Ponce with us. We were completely blindsided and devastated.

And going back to the very talented blogger’s post that had so affected me two months before that meeting made me feel very alone and uneasy about blogging more about our situation.

Most of the dust has settled (and aside from being much poorer than we were pre-end-of-April-meeting). Ponce will in all likelyhood be staying with us and the adoption will hopefully be finalized this summer (typed with fingers completely crossed — that is a very hard thing to do). In picking up the pieces of my heart and trying to frame Ponce’s birth father’s actions within the paramaters of a “desperate act” and part of his grieving process, I am searching for the ability to forgive. Partially for myself, partially because I think Ponce’s birthfather deserves it and circumstances have shaped him ways that most of us could never understand, but mostly for Ponce. And in that search … I have come to the conclusion that I don’t need to feel like I should apologize for wanting to keep Ponce. For loving him too much to “give him back.” I’m his parent for crap-sakes. Shouldn’t I want to protect and love him and fight for him? Isn’t that what parents do? Does the fact that I’m an adoptive parent mean that I should love or want Ponce any less than his birth parent?

In February I posted about guilt. I said that I had been carrying a lot of it for a situation that I did nothing to cause. I resolved not to carry other people’s guilt, and yet reading that bloggers post threw me back to where I was before mid-Feb. I will not apologize for loving my son and wanting the best for him. I have no doubt whatsoever that the best for him includes myself and my husband as primary parents, open relationships with his birth parents and families and all the love and support we can offer him through ourselves and our friends and families. I continue to respect and read the blogger that set me back a couple of months ago, but I understand that her perspective is necessarily different than my own and that her story is VERY different from our sons’ first parents’ stories.

So I am back. And the details that surround that end of April meeting are exactly the reason I started writing this blog to begin with. So I get to be back. And I get to not be apologetic about not “giving my son back.”

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What I learned in February

(Thanks to See Theo Run for inspiring this one.)

1. Watching other people love and delight in Ponce is almost as good as losing myself in Ponce. (Sub-revelation: People I was once lukewarm to, suddenly shine brighter than the north star because they care so much about Ponce).

2. Even though Ponce has got me sick every  month since October, my resolve to resist his sloppy kisses is no match for my desire to let him goober all over my face. (Sub-revelation: No matter how sick I get, my symptoms magically fall away if the prettiest snow of the winter falls and I decide I want Ponce to experience it.)

Ponce's Winter Wonderland

3. It is actually possible to love someone more with every passing day. (Sub-revelation: Letting my brain go to the place where Ponce does not get to stay with us can actually stop my heart and force every last molecule of oxygen right out of my lungs)

4. Willing my Quebecois roots into my adopted son via frequent FAILED attempts at maple syrup ingestion is not a reflection of my parenting skills.(Sub-revelation: Ponce has very poor taste. Pffft.)

5. Ponce loves me. He really does. (Sub-revelation: I can be moved to tears just by picturing him crawling maniacally across the couch to plant a wet, germy one, on my face.)

I hope I’m doing it right. See Theo Run links to the following at the end of her post, so I will too:

This is part of Amber Strocel’s monthly review linkup.

 

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Words

I read a lot of adoption blogs. From every perspective. For awhile, I read the blogs obsessively. Thank goodness my bosses do not track Internet usage at work, or I’d be in trouble.

I read the blogs for several reasons: to gain perspective; to sort through my own conflicting feelings; to find positive open adoption models; to explore worst-case scenarios … essentially, I think it’s my way of both “being prepared” and gaining wisdom — I’m hoping that works a bit like osmosis, through my mouse as I click and scroll through many years of archives.  It’s worth more than mentioning that I also read several for the simple fact that they are incredibly well-written and insightful.

A post that is so common to all the blogs is adoption language. It is so common that I won’t fool myself into thinking I might have something to add to the dialogue. I’ve read about language so often, that I thought I’d be totally prepared to respond to inquiries I found intrusive, and to comments I found offensive.

When Ponce first came home, many of our neighbours had questions that definitely fell into both categories. One neighbour in particular, let’s call her Troll, left me searching for words (and for my backbone). Some of the very first words out of her mouth included the following questions: Didn’t his birth mother want him? Is he healthy? Where did you get him from? And “Was he expensive”?

I’ve never liked this woman. She’s a teacher, has been for some 30 years … how can she be so completely ignorant? Early in our adoption, I revealed too much, to too many people. I was convinced it was my job to enlighten people about adoption, so I answered every one of her questions truthfully. Later though, I felt horrible that I hadn’t just shut her down when it became clear that her questions weren’t as much about wanting to learn about adoption, but about having the inside scoop on neighbourhood gossip. (This peach of a woman, also informed me that Ponce’s barely visible birth mark on the back of his neck, could be removed by laser — in fact she had it done to her daughter when she was a few months old!). I wish I could take back the information I shared with her. I wish I had the words to rebuff her politely. I have them now, so bring it on! (A discussion forum somewhere online offered this polite rebuff, and I’ve been hoping to use it every since: Why do you ask?). The mean part of my brain would rather respond with invasive questions of my own, but I’m just not that person.

The receptionist at my work recently told me the “well-meaning” story of an acquaintance of hers who had adopted siblings many years back, “but their birth mother was addicted to drugs, this was not an easy, clean, healthy adoption like yours.” (This is the same person who will randomly tell me about twice a month that I “look really sick” or that I “seem pale or tired, are you okay?”). I was so taken aback that I was again, lost for words. I’m not sure what about those words bugged me the most. The fact that she would so flippantly compare our adoptions? The fact that she’s making massive assumptions about my adoption? That she appears to be placing more value on Ponce because as far as she knows he was not exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero? I’m sure some of her assumptions come from me sharing too much at the beginning (and rose-colouring much of Ponce’s pre-birth history). I left the office that day feeling bad that I didn’t have a retort handy, bad that people rank adoptions in their minds, and sad that the adopted siblings she was referring to hadn’t deserved enough privacy for their health information not to be shared by their parents.

An oft-heard comment that I DO respond to regularly is the “Ponce is just so lucky to have you as parents.” I’m not going to deny that we are pretty awesome, but all I can think of when I hear this is everything Ponce has lost. And all the “unlucky” that his birth families have experienced by not having the opportunity to raise him. My response for this, handily provided in adoption training, is a firm “No, it is WE who are lucky to parent him.” Luck should have nothing to do in a child’s right to be parented by awesome parents. All children should be able to expect that by the simple fact of being born. I rarely feel like people “get” it though when I respond with that one. I’m not sure how else to make it clear.

My family is pretty progressive. Still, I hear things from them that catch in my heart. My mom can’t stop herself from referring to Ponce as having been “given up.” My father regularly refers to Ponce’s “real family” when discussing his birth family. It’s easy for me to correct them because they are family, they love me, and mostly they “get” it. But if I can’t get my own family to two the adoption language line, then what chance to I have against the rest of the world that I eventually won’t be able to protect Ponce from?

Last week, my sister posted a comment on Facebook relating to a childhood photo. It went something along the lines of, “I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t adopted.” Um … what’s wrong with being adopted? I KNOW that’s not how she meant it. And adoption “jokes” have been a running source of amusement of both mine and my husband’s families (with siblings being “taunted” with the possibility for many years). Ugh, I kind of thought this kind of humour would disappear without us having to intervene. (Also, how could I have been such an ignorant jerk in the past to have participated in this kind of humour!) Even though I know that my sister wasn’t being mean-spirited with her comment, the fact that she said it so flippantly now that she is aunt to an adopted nephew broke my heart. Thank goodness it was end of day because I left the office with tears streaming down my face. She was supposed to “get it” without me having to intervene. … I know that I won’t be able to protect Ponce from much of anything in a few short years, but right now … right now … I don’t want there to exist a comment anywhere on his family’s Facebook page’s that might even remotely make him feel less valued because he is adopted. (I did resolve this with my sister, after I had calmed down, and all is well. She is pretty great.)

Having obsessively read adoption blogs for the past year, I can attest to the fact that the Internet is full of good advice regarding adoption language and responding to busy-bodies. Why then, even after such obsessive-reading, am I still so inept at responding to adoption-ignorant people? I’ve really got to get my shit together because pretty soon, Ponce will be able to understand what the Trolls of the world are asking me about him.

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Guilt

I fell in love with Ponce the moment I heard about him. Seeing him for the first time was icing on the cake. There is not a doubt in my mind that from the moment I held him for the first time I would have traded my life so that he would never experience a single troubled thought. HOWEVER … I would say that it has taken me about nine months to be certain that I could not love him more. I can’t even write that without worrying that someone reading this will misunderstand me.

I have spent nine months trying to explain this to myself. Maybe it’s just the way I am. Maybe no matter how my child came to me I would have been one of those mothers who doesn’t bond immediately. I think of bonding in degrees, as a spectrum. I bonded with Ponce right away, but it wasn’t until very recently that I KNEW  that I felt what I SHOULD be feeling: That I missed him when I put him to bed at night (rather than being happy with him during the day, but looking forward to bedtime for some alone time); that when I woke up before him on a Saturday morning I didn’t have a fleeting moment of “dread” if he woke up before I finished my tea … I felt a lot of guilt for these feelings.

I don’t know that there was a specific incident that caused me to finally feel the feelings I knew I “should” be feeling … but getting there has allowed me a lot of time to ponder “guilt.” I think that it may be just my nature to bond slowly, over time. I fell in love with my husband slowly. I fell in love with my dog slowly. I’m not sure I’m fully bonded to my own parents, but that also is growing and becoming more evident over time. But part of my also wonders if Ponce’s adoption is part of the reason for my slow bonding.

I feel a lot of GUILT around Ponce’s adoption. Everything from feeling guilty that we added to our family before other couples who are just as amazing (maybe more amazing) than we are. That Ponce’s first mom lied about his existence, taking away an opportunity for her parents to raise Ponce (and they are amazing, and deserving). That Ponce’s birth dad never knew about Ponce until he was in our care. That every night when I kiss Ponce goodnight, there are at least three other people who wish they were the ones kissing him goodnight. I feel guilt about being given this incredible, awesome gift, and opportunity to love and raise Ponce, and yet knowing that it took me almost nine months to FEEL like a mom should feel (head over heels, crazy in love with her child) … there is just so much guilt and for whatever reason, I seem to be extra susceptible to feeling it.

I know that Ponce’s birth family would never want me to feel any of this. Let alone know that it may have had an effect on my ability to fully bond with Ponce right away. See, if I let myself I could let this circle of guilt perpetuate itself ad nauseam … and what good is that? For anybody?

I know that I could spend my brain energy elsewhere. And for Valentine’s day I am giving myself that gift. Ponce’s first mother chose to relinquish him. Nobody in her life pushed her to do this. Ponce had been in care for two months before we ever got the call about him. WE were not involved in his birth mother’s decisions to lie to her family or lie about his birth father. We do not own any of that guilt. The only guilt we could own is of not allowing Ponce’s birth family into his life … and considering his birth grandparents just spent an evening in our home babysitting him … I think we’re on the right track with that one.

We are fantastic parents. And Ponce is happy and thriving. I am ridding myself of guilt I do not own.

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Dear S,

I am so confused by you. On the one hand, here is a little boy that I love beyond belief. And you carried him. I love you for that. Dada2Ponce and I have been getting to know some of your family. And we love them. Watching Ponce with them is magic. He can’t get enough of your sister. I know you were close with her, and I can’t help thinking that he recognizes her voice.

I think of you all the time. I wonder what you are doing. I wonder if you think a lot about Ponce. This is the second baby you’ve placed for adoption. Ponce’s brother is some 10 years older than him. Your mom says that you do not grasp the realities of many of your decisions, including the one to keep Ponce a secret from your family and his birth father. She does not think that you struggle with your decision to place or that you  have regrets or much of a connection to Ponce.

I don’t know if I can believe that. Maybe it’s because I have spent so much time online trying to understand you through some of the amazing first mother blogs that are out there. That some of the grieving, sadness, regret that they feel with regards to the biological children they aren’t parenting are the same feelings I would imagine having if it were me. I can’t connect at all with the image of you going about your life as though Ponce never happened. I can’t bring myself to believe that anyone could feel that way about Ponce.

I love you. But I’m also so mad at you. You drank throughout most of your pregnancy. You have put Ponce at risk for so many FASD-related issues. It will take a good 20 years for us to be certain Ponce wasn’t affected. With the amount of binge drinking that you did, the odds of Ponce being unaffected are incredibly slim.  Most people don’t know this, but experts believe some quarter to half of the prison population may be somewhere on the FAS spectrum. A frightening percentage of people with FASD diagnoses end up having serious run ins with the law. It’s impossible to believe that this could someday describe our sweet Ponce. The spectrum ranges from inhibitions and learning disabilities all the way to never developing an ability to understand right from wrong, take responsibility for your actions, and an inability to learn from your mistakes. Ponce, my sweet, perfect, funny, clever, gorgeous Ponce. It is unbearable for me to imagine him hurting in any way. I wish you had been able to stop drinking while you were pregnant.

And the lying … I want to be angry at you for lying to your family and to J. They never knew you were pregnant. But I also imagine you alone and pregnant. Hiding your secret in plain sight. J was long gone by the time you began to show, but you lived with your family. How alone you must have felt. And how determined you must have been that neither they nor J raise Ponce. I have to respect that you must have had your reasons. Knowing what I know about J, I would have been very worried about him raising Ponce. Your family though … they are such warm, giving people. Was it because this was the second unplanned pregnancy?

I am working hard at understanding all of this. At processing it. I have to. For Ponce. And for me.

I hope that you are OK and that we might meet someday soon. I hope that you do think of Ponce and that when you do it doesn’t hurt as much as I imagine it might.

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Dear J,

It has been almost three months since we last emailed.

Your response to our introductory email was very positive. But very short. You said you needed time. That it was all too much, but that you had so much to say. We responded that we understood and we told you we’d be here when you were ready. We’re here. We’re still here.

Ponce’s social worker, SC, insists the proverbial “ball” is in your court and that we should wait for you to reach out. But I want you to know that my heart breaks for you. And that I wonder all the time if you wish we would reach out again. We didn’t forget you at Christmas. We won’t be forgetting you at Ponce’s upcoming birthday. Everything we said in that letter still holds true.

SC says that you have told him that you don’t plan to put forward a parenting plan for Ponce. I’m not going to pretend I’m not incredibly relieved, Ponce is my life, my every breath. I am also “gifted/burdened” with a super-human capacity for empathy. I can’t tell you how strange it is to have half my brain living in terror of you deciding to contest the adoption, while the other half of my brain dies for you; for the impossible situation you were put in.

You probably don’t know how much we know about you. SC shares all of our discussions with us. As an expert Googler I have tracked down a lot of information about you (at least the you leading up to January 2010) on old MySpace and Facebook accounts. We know that you grew up in the system. We know you have anger issues. We know that you went to Paris once. We know that you have posted photos of yourself online that you will probably regret posting one day. We know that you can play the guitar. We know that you like to skateboard. We know what kind of music you like. We know other things about you, a lot of it unflattering, some of it scary. But I know that despite those things that we know you are/once were, that there is a chance that had you been given the opportunity, you would have changed everything so that you could have been a great dad to Ponce.

The unfairness of how this all played out is not lost on me. I think about it daily. S didn’t tell you about her pregnancy and she lied about your name in the court documents. It’s the only reason that Ponce was placed with us.

It has been about six months since you found out about Ponce. If knowing how amazing Ponce is doing helps at all, then I’d like to tell you more about him:

Ponce is an incredibly easy-going and happy baby. We are the envy of all our friends. We occasionally have to lie about things like the fact that he’s been sleeping through the night since he was three months old (and I mean 10+ hours here without waking up). He only cries when there’s something wrong (or when a tooth is poking its way through — he has six now! And boy does he know how to use them). Ponce has two dimples. I think he gets them from you. He’s totally stunning. His hair his a sandy blonde/red colour now and it curls when it’s wet or when he gets too warm. He has an AMAZING sense of humour. He knows when he’s being funny and totally hams it up. He can clap now. His daycare provider is teaching him how to “blow” so that he’ll have some success with his birthday cake candles in a couple of months. He LOVES the water. We took him camping for a week when he was five months old. He bobbed around in a great lake and shrieked with delight. He loves his bath. He loves his swimming “lessons.” We love him beyond lunacy.

We haven’t been pushing through our social worker or Ponce’s maternal family who still have some contact with you. We’re determined that you make your decision without outside influence. I hang on to the hope that you being able to make your decision yourself will be something you can look back on and eventually feel some peace about a situation that you didn’t have much control over.

I hope that you’re ok. I’m not naive enough to hope for more than that. I. HOPE. THAT. YOU’RE. OK. And above all, I hope that there are people, or at least someone, in your life that is holding your hand and being gentle with your heart.

Here are some recent photos of Ponce. SC says you printed the last ones we sent and posted them everywhere in your appartment.

Ponce in a Sunbeam

Ponce reads his very first postcard!

Ponce hangin' at Grand-Papa's over the holidays

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