Category Archives: Latest AFTH column

On missing teeth … and so much more

They’re dropping like flies. Little white enamel-covered flies.

Tonight, when Maeve is sleeping, floating in slumberland, her body resting up for another day of intense summer play, the quarter-laden Tooth Fairy will make yet another appearance in our neighborhood, at the homes of two of Maeve’s friends.

As for Maeve, she’s not yet welcomed this mysterious visitor. There’s been no flutter of wings that brush by her sleeping face or tiny bits of sparkle left behind on her pillow. And if her deeply rooted pearly whites are any indication, that visit isn’t on the Tooth Fairy’s itinerary anytime soon. (This, despite her pulling and pushing on each, sure that “this time” something’s come loose.)

Tooth talk is fast and furious among the five- and six-year-old set, with gleeful announcements and excited displays of tooth-wiggling and look-at-my-tongue-poking-through-the-new-hole moments.

Inevitably these casual celebrations of coming of age turn to tallies – who’s lost how many and when. Then, as if on cue, comes the natural jump to tales of genetics: When Sally’s mom got – and lost – her first tooth, if Harry’s dad was in preschool or first grade when he lost his and whether his teeth came in early or late, and what all of this means for their progeny.

At this point in the conversation, of course, there’s not much I can contribute. Spurred by maternal instinct, my mind wanders to my own childhood and tooth timeline in an effort to uncover some sort of predictor for Maeve. But in a flash I am back, a bit embarrassed I’d sort of forgotten about my path to parenthood and the lack of DNA threads tying Maeve and I together. There simply is no charted course we can follow as she nears these biology-based milestones.

The truth is, of course, I never really forget. Not just because, as an adoptive mom and a wife to an adoptee, adoption has hugely impacted my life. No. I don’t forget because each day I am presented with yet another opportunity to see my daughter learn, struggle, celebrate, fail and overcome – and I know her first mother is missing it all.

Sometimes I am there with tears of joy – seeing her dance her heart out in the year-end recital, graduate from kindergarten, earn her next karate belt with ease, or finally conquer the sight word that had eluded her. When Maeve left her training wheels in the dust, her eyes lit and my heart swelled.

Other times, I shed tears of frustration – a friend’s rejection that left her broken-hearted and confused, her recent wrestle with particularly intense stuttering (the medical forms at the speech pathologist’s office asking if there was a genetic predisposition), or a temper tantrum or bad choice that comes seemingly out of nowhere and with full force.

Still, whether celebrating or struggling, we are together and this could make it possible to “forget,” to consider myself and my carefully crafted family a whole unto itself – daily reminders like developmental milestones and medical history forms be damned.

But the fact is, we are not whole. Maeve’s own story is missing key players. And because of that, our family’s cast of characters is not quite complete.

At this time, contact with Maeve’s first mom B. is entirely in her control – her stepping back some time ago means we can only wait, our arms open and our hearts committed, for her to be ready. Honestly, it’s not an easy place to be.

No matter how much I love Maeve, or how “perfectly” I try to love her, celebrate her and support her, I will never be her first mother, the woman who made her and brought her into this world. The world in which she now celebrates, struggles and finds herself landing in all the confusing places inbetween.

And therein lies a loss that cannot be swept under the carpet or placed neatly into a box to rest on a forgotten shelf. As Maeve’s mom — but not her first mom — it’s a struggle: How can I make her feel whole when she has such a fundamental loss? I am all too aware that my very presence in her life is because someone else is absent.

My mama role means ensuring my child is healthy, happy, generous and kind; that she is whole. The work to do that, of course, is monumental. It can be exhilarating and uplifting, it can be exhausting. Depends on the day.

As we merged onto the highway after leaving this year’s adoption picnic, Maeve shared an observation from her perch in the backseat: “Hey, Mom? Dad? I didn’t see B. there.”

No, Maeve, you didn’t.

But oh how we wish you did. She could try to wiggle a tooth loose for you and share with you her own tooth timeline. She could hug you hard when you fall, try to make sense of confusion, twirl your curls around her own finger and clap as loudly as we do when you soar. We could all work on being whole together, in our own version of a family that makes sense for everyone.

And it would be monumental. And exhilarating. And uplifting. And exhausting.

But most of all, it would be amazing.

This is the latest Musings of an Adoptive Mama column from the quarterly publication, Adoption News, by Adoptions From The Heart.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Children, Firsts, Growing up, Latest AFTH column, Maeve, Open Adoption, Parenting

From grief … a gift

I’m in the midst of losing my grandmother. Losing her to a wicked disease that has transformed her body into a prison from which she cannot escape. Not being able to turn a key became not being able to hold a fork, which became not being able to walk. Now, she cannot speak. But I look into her eyes, a color of brown that Maeve’s crayon palette would deem Burnt Sienna, and I see a world of things she wants to say but cannot. I see a life of experiences she can no longer share with those around her. Recipes and rituals once rote to her are now outside her reach, and outside of ours for posterity. Her body has turned on her.

I watch all this play out before me like a car accident, tires screeching with urgency, yet seemingly in slow motion.

I am not unique, I imagine, in having the childhood memory of riding in the front seat of the family car when a parental arm suddenly flings out, steady and firm against the child’s chest, as the car brakes to avoid an accident.

Today, dear mirror on the wall, I see that I am my parents after all. My arm now instinctively reaches to Maeve, as if I can somehow protect her from the tragic scene unfolding before us. Yet I know that as the matriarch of the family slips away, I must loosen that grip and expose my daughter to certain pain.

As little as two weeks ago, Maeve could run into her grandparents’ home to greet her great-grandmother like countless times before. She’d sit near my grandmother’s chair and they would chat, Maeve bringing to life my grandmother’s pale blue plastic statues of the Virgin Mary in skits of domesticity or glamorous theater like only a young girl can.

Those rituals are no longer; my grandmother has slipped further away from us. My grandmother was there the day we arrived home from our three-day stint in a hotel as new parents. She has since attended her dance recitals, kid-centric birthday parties, and even watched from the front row as a cap-and-gown clad Maeve graduated preschool.

Her presence over the years has taught Maeve to be gentle with her touch, to recognize when someone might need extra help. Like “helping” Gram-Gram to the electric lift chair along the stairs that Maeve not-so-secretly wishes was her own plaything, installed not to give mobility to an ailing parent but rather as a grand gesture purely for a granddaughter and her visits! Or the birthday candles Maeve proudly “helps” Gram-Gram blow out on her birthday cake — this despite my grandmother’s germ-concerned pet peeve about the whole candle-blowing ritual to begin with.

While their lives have overlapped just a handful of years, the two generations are now forever linked by these memories, these threads that when woven together create a tapestry of family history and heritage.

The grief in eventually losing Gram-Gram will eventually be outweighed by the gift of them knowing one another. Each flavored one another’s existence in some unchangeable way that is unique to them — all the while without a shred of shared DNA.

So exactly why is it that so many seek to keep others — with actual genetic proprietary rights! — from living so authentically?

Sealed birth records take what is splintered and force a fracture. As manila files replete with long-sought answers sit in dark, dusty storage units, life outside moves on, time takes its toll and key characters in each story can be lost forever.

Blacking out identifying information weakens the thread of family heritage, to be sure; but such black-lining cannot erase a story that’s already begun. There is no ink dark enough.

Now, I have no pie-in-the-sky notion that every birth mother, birth father and child will link arms, sing Kumbaya and skip into a forever full only of familial bliss. (Do you know any family like this?) Still, we each deserve the opportunity to write our own stories with its full cast of characters. No one should have their story written for them, missing chapters be damned.

Yes, Maeve will hurt when she loses her great-grandmother. Yes, my parental arms will instinctively reach for my daughter, trying to lessen the sting for us both. Yes, I will seek solace in knowing it stings because we were lucky enough to know her, to love her, and to share life with her.

Not everyone gets that chance.

The Adoptee’s Birthright Bill permits access to original birth certificates. A-1406 awaits a posting before, and vote by, the full New Jersey Assembly. Encourage your legislator to support access to original birth certificates. Call 800-792-8630 for your legislators’ names and contact information, or log on to http://www.njleg.state.nj.us for contact information and a full text of the bill.

This is my latest column from Adoption From The Heart’s Adoption News.

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Closed Adoption, Death, Latest AFTH column, Legislation, Making a difference

Fostering Friendship

Five summers ago, my husband and I shared a picnic blanket with a couple we’d only recently met. Perched in a parking lot alongside the Navesink River in Red Bank, N.J., we awaited the sun to set and the night sky to fill with an extravaganza of colored lights. “The best around,” they’d promised.

Fireworks weren’t all we were waiting for. That first Fourth of July we spent together was also our last as couples without children. We met during Adoption From The Heart’s education classes and, after talking long after the session ended, we exchanged email addresses in a first act of “oh-my-gosh-they-have-the-same-anxiety-and-excitement-and-questions-and-fears-as-us” friendship.

After the next class and later the video shoot, we moved our chats to a nearby restaurant where we shared stories, fielded questions and got to know each other with a fervor – for hours at a clip. Emails seeking advice or sharing thoughts flooded one another’s in-boxes. We even talked about the inevitable situation when one couple would become parents before the other. Good thing, because just weeks after that shared Independence Day, the first call from our social worker came. The second followed within the month.

Weeks later we were together again, meeting newborn baby daughters, coddling them in colossal proportions and propping them next to each other for parent-paparazzi photo shoots. We opened gifts, compared feeding and sleeping schedules, and talked about home visits from social workers. Plans were made for our next gathering and, much like proud parents of a newly arranged marriage, we imagined their future together.

We’ve since celebrated birthdays, shared their first aquarium visit (the girls eating fish-shaped crackers from their stroller trays was an irony we noted more than once), left presents under each other’s Christmas tree, picnicked at the park, visited the zoo, talked of sharing a vacation someday, had family sleepovers capping hours of boardwalk rides or beach time, and spent cool evenings by a fire with tired kids on our laps, stars twinkling and crickets serenading yet another terrific time together.

Over the years we’ve shared meltdowns, milestones and diaper drama, asked “what do you do?” when a new stage or behavior has us stumped, and shared countless new-parent anecdotes. We’ve delighted in confusing strangers who assumed, thanks to the girls’ similar curls and complexion, they were twins. “Well,” we’d respond with devious smiles, “they’re three weeks apart.” When one of us welcomed another daughter, we all shared in that joy. We chuckle nervously about the tween and teen years to come, noting our “what do you do?” conversations will be so very different then.

Last year a move took one family out of state, changing the regularity of visits. Yet we still welcomed 2010 together, sitting before a fire in a new home, surrounded by the chaos that is three girls in dress-up, singing into microphones, opening holiday gifts and blowing party horns until their little bodies could take no more.

This summer we spent yet another steamy July evening crowded onto a picnic blanket along the Navesink River. Despite geography and another imminent family move, the foursome-turned-sevensome carried on as usual, continuing a tradition that began five years ago: sharing stories and making memories, and deepening a friendship that started when making long-haul friends was the last thing on our minds.

A framed photo of the two girls – the once “arranged friends” – sits by my daughter’s bedside. Despite current preschool friends and new friends to make at kindergarten this fall, nothing can change the comforting story of her first friend. Recently, one of the girls actually reflected on their friendship: “Mom, she’s more than a friend, isn’t she? She’s more like … a sister.” Not bad for a four-year-old!

I’d like to think that when the girls really begin to process their adoptions – each with their own very different story – they can trust the foundation we’ve created for them and, much like their folks have done, lean on the friend they have in one another.

My latest Musings of An Adoptive Mama column, published Summer 2010 – http://www.adoptionsfromtheheart.org

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Discussing Adoption, Family, Friends, Latest AFTH column, Maeve, Parenting

Home study rehash

The totally self-imposed stress and anxiety of our home visit is painfully chronicled in my latest column for AFTH. If you feel like seeing how ridiculously overwhelmed I got during the process some three years ago, ride the link in my sidebar and scroll to page 10.

Ack. I still cringe when I think about it.

(Hey you, Googler: If you’re reading this because a search for ‘adoption home visit’ brought you here, have a look and take heed: Reeeeelax.)

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Filed under Adoption, Home visit, Latest AFTH column

Smell the fresh ink?

My latest column is up over at AFTH, and as usual, the link to it remains nestled in my sidebar. But in the interest of saving you a click or two, here’s what I had to say in :

Changing Leaves, Changing Minds

Some use the start of the new year as reason for reflection, as motivation for listing lofty resolutions dependent on powerful will. Me? I do this long before Dick Clark begins his countdown.

Maybe it’s the childhood ritual of beginning school, fresh-faced and ready for a new start, or maybe it’s because November brings with it both efforts to give thanks and raise adoption awareness. Either way, as the crisp autumn air nips at my toes, I’m contemplating what I — both an adoptive mother and wife to an adoptee — can do better.

This year not only will I continue to respect these roles of adoption in my life personally — which includes a commitment to my daughter’s first mother that she’s needed in our lives — but I will transform everyday situations into teachable moments that matter.

When discussing our open adoption, if folks mention Maeve’s first mother “taking her back,” insisting on co-parenting and existing only to confuse Maeve, I will, without waffling, dispel the untruths and undo the damage of Lifetime movies.

When asked about Maeve’s “real” mother “giving up” her child and whether she has “moved on,” I will explain we are both real mothers, that there’s nothing in her adoption choice resembling giving up on her daughter, and I will remind them that filling someone else’s arms with your child isn’t the same as losing a favorite stuffed toy.

I will applaud television networks and programs portraying adoption and its triad in an accurate and positive light. I will just as fervently contact those making adoption jokes or depicting birth parents as anything less than they are. When represented accurately, adoption’s mystery diminishes and our children benefit.

I’ll write municipalities I’ve long lectured in my mind, explaining that adopting a road is nothing like adopting a child. I will demonstrate not only how “sponsor” suits their needs just fine, but how their use of “adopt” makes my job of raising a healthy, well-adapted adult that much harder as I need to explain the difference between cleaning dirty roads and forever loving a child.

This Nov. 17, not only will I ensure adoption-related books are read in my daughter’s daycare and our library, I will volunteer to read them myself. And then I’ll encourage their use year-round, not just because a calendar dictates it.

I will make all these everyday moments really matter.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Children, Children's books, Community, Discussing Adoption, Latest AFTH column, Maeve, Making a difference, NaBloPoMo, Open Adoption, Parenting, Promises

Hot off the press

It seems folks over at my agency haven’t tired of me yet as they’ve just published my latest column on open-adoption parenting in their newsletter and on their website.

If a look-see strikes your fancy, ride the fresh link that’s nestled nicely in my sidebar and head to Page 10 and 11. And if I’ve got a faithful reader among you, someone might notice I’ve touched on the topic before here. It’s such an interesting one I think another tickle is worth it. After all, how often do you become a mom and meet one of the most important people who will ever enter your life — all in the same week? Not very often. I’m just sayin’.

And — even though I may regret this — on your way pause at Page 5 for a photo of Maeve and Moi during the agency’s recent adoption picnic. We were trying so hard to make the pinwheel whirl I never noticed the photographer noticing us. (The regret part is I rarely love the photographed me. But the moment captured with Maeve was so pure that I’m willing to close my eyes and hold my nose. Ya know, take one for the team.)

Just because you’re already following direction so well, I’ve got one more task for you. For those of you situated somewhere in Joisey, look here for details about an upcoming fun family event for all members of the adoption triad being held by CHATS, my local adoption group. (I’d asked for a bit of publicity in my agency’s newsletter, and darned if they didn’t oblige.) Hope to see you there!

Happy reading — and come on back if you’ve got something to say!

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Websites, Birth parents, Children, Community, Family, For fun, Latest AFTH column, Maeve, mamagigi, Open Adoption, Parental surrenders, Parenting, The Call, Writing