Saturday, December 23, 2006

In the End

In the beginning, I didn't know how to begin. I know less how to end, but I know that it's time. I've finished even my vacation stories, everything I'd stored . . .

When I started blogging, I was trying to organize my thoughts for Miss-I-to-be (thoughts about how to love and miss someone I'd never met chief among them), to make sense of our experiences as a family-in-waiting, to update friends without repeating endlessly "still no referral" and either sobbing or sighing depending on the day, and to think through becoming a multiracial, multinational family, blessed and burdened by the joys and losses brought through and by adoption.

Of the last, we will never stop thinking, and thinking, and thinking. But as far as writing here . . . in some ways, because this has always been a mommy blog even as it's been an "issues blog," what I've had to say and what I've been willing to say have limited one another.

Above all, I've tried to protect my daughter's privacy (what will these blogged-babies think someday? Will it be so common to live whole lives on line that they won't find it strange that we've written about their first parents, or their poop? I hope not . . . But just this week Newsweek and a blog-hating blog ask similar questions) and respect my son's need to control which anecdotes I share (especially now that he's reading). I hope I've done that. I hope I've anticipated their needs while I've tried to meet mine which became ultimately and unexpectedly, to commune.

Thanks for sharing our journey to becoming the conspicuous, complicated, crazy family that we've become. Thank you for being part of who we've become, for giving me so much to think about, in your comments and on your blogs (which I'll continue to read).

And who knows? Maybe someday we'll be blogging baby #3, "Baby A." as little bun is wont to say.

Hee haw and Merry Christmas,


Dear Miss I.,
I was talking recently with friends about the value of a "plan." Really, they were talking about a plan, and I was smiling knowingly.

I would never have planned for either of my children to have arrived in the way that you have. I couldn't have anticipated the miracles you would be.

I am grateful for each day. You bless me just by being.

Much love,

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Magic Moments

A new favorite holiday memory:

This is the Year of a Million Dreams, says Disney, and while we never win anything, we were one of the families granted a wish -- even if I never knew we wished it.

Three of our party of ten happened to be on the right ride at the right time.
After the ride, my niece was bursting with excitement. "We won, we won!" she screamed. "What did we win?" "Nothing!" she replied happily, but the Disney representative asked:
"Have you ever wished you could have one of the Disney theme parks all to yourselves?"

In all sincerity (and I'm all sincerity) I'd never considered it. But once he mentioned it . . . and it's always fun to win.

MGM closed at 8, so from 8-8:30 the families selected for the "Magic Hour" attended a concert while the park emptied (one cynic suggested that that half hour would be used to hawke time shares; we were pleased to learn that would not be the case). Our children were already exhausted, though Miss I. enthusiastically danced to the eighties music and took Van Halen's command to "Jump!" quite literally. Afterwards, we were free to roam a now less crowded park, and for all the talk about running from roller coaster to Tower of Terror, we headed first to the New York Streets, where the Osbourne Family Christmas now abides. As we strolled down the main street, under beautiful lights timed to Christmas music, it began to snow.

It was our daughter's first snow, in Orlando, FL.

Wishing you magic moments, magic hours, and, if you want it, snow for Christmas.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Six months

Today is the six month anniversary of Miss I.'s arrival to the United States.

Today is the anniversary of the day a man I hadn't seen in a week (but who had experienced a lifetime in that week) met me at the gate wearing a little girl I'd loved from afar. The day she had practiced "Hi Momma" as she waited in customs and fell asleep before she could share it. The day her Adadda had to leave her with a woman she wasn't too sure about as he got the fastest (but most needed) shower ever, and in her panic she pooped and then in greater panic pooped again mid-diaper change and then panicked that she'd done the wrong thing to someone she'd only just met. The day she decided to cling to me with everything she had in her.

Also the day I first heard her laugh.

Happy six month anniversary, Miss I-of-mine.
It feels like just yesterday we met, but like I've loved you my whole life.

This is going to come out wrong.

I've tried (and failed) to write this post before. It has nothing to do with our recent adventures, to which I will return, but everything to do with everything important to us.

Back when we expected to adopt domestically, I was surprised to find birthmothers ("first mother" or "mother" the preferred terms in our family, but I am speaking of broader conversations) divided by anonymous online doptive parents into two categories, even when speaking of particular women: women who did not deserve to parent or women who deserved to be sainted. The former were poor, irresponsible, easy (all equally negative and equally character flaws, and all in contradistinction to the relatively better-off prospective adoptive parents). The latter were sacrificing everything they loved for the baby another family would soon love.

I realize how naive it is that I was surprised (and had I been reading adoption blogs at that point, I would have known that you all already knew this). This binary is rooted deeply in our culture, in ancient conceptions of women as (forgive the momentary family unfriendliness) either virgins or whores, and it won't be eradicated with corrective measures in the adoption community. But there's a start, and an important one.

I was impressed, at the time, by an adoptive mother who had defended the mother of her child. Someone had said "I could never give up my baby," to which she responded, "Could you if you were in a burning building?" And she elaborated: relinquishing a child for adoption was like tossing your child to safety, from the window of a burning building. It was not an unloving act, the act of a woman pathologically unattached to her child, but a supreme act of love. Yes, I thought, that's a good way to explain it to people outside the adoption community, people who don't get what it is our child's mother would have to have done: a woman would be compelled to throw her child from a burning building, and I would be there to catch that child. She and I would recognize each other equally as mothers, and I would know that there was nothing else that she could do.

But then a funny thing happened. As much as I wanted to do the catching, it started to seem that buildings were rarely really burning. And someone should have been helping those women put out fires. Our agency was invested first in keeping first families together, and even then . . .

In only one situation shared with us (of three) do I really feel that that building was on fire. Two involved potential single parenting in economically fragile circumstances (but parenting was still possible in those circumstances). This one involved mental illness and lack of basic needs being met for the mother and her son (though at that time the placement would still have been a voluntary one). I think of that little boy (a toddler) frequently, and pray that his mother received the help she needed to live and to parent as she so desired and decided to do.

Without returning to the metaphor (until now), we turned to international adoption when the anxiety was too high, when we knew we just couldn't do it. We ruled out countries where we didn't feel that the building was really burning (a developed/developing nation, a long wait by prospective adoptive parents for relatively few children, etc). As I adore my daughter, I like to think that we made the right decision. I like to think that she'll think so (eventually). And I am certain that her family's building had already burned, and so had her community's. Though that doesn't absolve us -- their buildings burned as we in the west fiddled, and no decisions for our child were made free from durress, free from the pressures of hunger and illness.

Even so, I suppose what I am asking is this: There's a lot of talk about ethical adoption (usually talking about domestic adoption, as the inquities of international adoption are frequently discussed at other, macro levels) but doesn't any ethical consideration involve not just what happens during and after the process, but also who should be actively discouraged from relinquishing a child?

But can we use the "burning building test?" (as we implicitly did, when we decided on Ethiopia). If everyone used it, it would certainly call into question agency practices of recruiting expectant mothers to become birthmothers. Yet if a situation meets the burning building test, isn't it automatically coercive? And who am I/who are we to decide whose building is burning and whose isn't?

But the truth about why this matters to me? Under all these layers of ethical consideration, I think there really lies my own need to be able to say to my daughter that her first family couldn't have parented her. Because I'm not sure I could look her in the eyes if they could have.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Where is she from?

AMH's (Of Hope and Hormones) Peanut has been attracting alot of attention, too. She writes of that "I'm down with that" kind of behavior that we've often experienced, followed by the worst (to me) of the rude questions -- Is she yours?!

"So our waitress was partaking the same over-the-top attention when she suddenly stops and asks "Is she yours?" I wasn't sure how to respond?? Mine as in biological? Mine as in my daughter? Mine as in my child but not my husbands? I did't get it. So I just mumbled a "Yes" and then she proceeded to ask how long we've had her? I responded with a "Since she was born."

I get asked about once every other day, "Is she yours?" and I generally clearly and sometimes wearily say "Yes." Enough with this question already. She is mine and I am hers -- ask her who I am and she calls me not just "Momma" but "My Momma." This is in no way intended to invalidate her first family in order to validate ours, or to deny her other belongingness to people who loved her with their lives.

My family has taken their cues from me, sharing little of her story with strangers who ask, not because it is secret or shameful but because it is private and her very own. Left to our own devices, we could probably all proudly share that she is OURS after much difficulty and many years through a process so improbable, in the way that part of me (us?) wanted to proclaim to people who complimented our infant son that he was the survivor of labor so early, delivery so traumatic that this child, that we, had defied death. But in either case of course we wouldn't.

So when my sister had Miss I. with her for a few moments at Disney World and another park guest approached and asked "Where's she from?" Sis answered "[Blooms]burg," as are we all -- factually correct and nonrevealing. Miss I is indeed from both [Blooms]burg and Ethiopia, and my son is "from" New York and [Blooms]burg. She is indeed mine (and I am hers) and she is her family's and they are hers and they are in her.

As it happened, this woman was in the process of adopting internationally, and so had real questions and because it was clear she was invested in adoption, I was happy to share some (that is, my) parts of the story.

I want Miss I to see me comfortable with a range of answers in a range of situations so she can decide to whom she'll say "Bloomsburg," to whom she'll say "Ethiopia" and to whom she'll say "Why ever do you ask?"

(Smacking myself on the head wondering why I didn't ask "why do you ask?" at the mall today, but knowing exactly why she did ask).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Disney Part II: The Animal Kingdom

Sure, Animal Kingdom is at least as ideologically problematic as Celebration and the Africa stop in the World Showcase (It's Africa, as a gift shop!).

Animal Kingdom is divided into Africa, Asia and DinoLand, places you can happily and "safely" tour through Disney "magic." Why, on the resort channel in our hotel room, our family learned from a perky teen that half of the park is "just like the real Africa, without the malaria shots!" (It's yellow fever shot, malaria pills . . . and what goes unsaid is that it is also "Africa" without African people). Still, we expected our family to love it for its "safari," gorgeous landscapes and landscaping, and a Lion King live performance.

Our visit was anything but magical.

So when a "cast member" conducting research asked if I'd be willing to respond to an emailed survey, I was happy to do so. I'll post the response to the question regarding service/treatment by cast members below:

*We are a multiracial family, and as such, we often attract a bit more attention than other families. In the case of our visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom, this added attention was disproportionately negative:

In the first instance, I was with my daughter and son (my husband had stepped back to observe) near the gorillas. One gorilla pounded on the glass and my son turned to me, intrigued (not having identified this as an aggressive gesture) and "showed" me what the gorilla had done. At this point the staff member said, "Little man, don't use body language. That's probably why he did that." The staff member was clearly concerned by the gorilla's aggressive behaior (natural, it seems to me, to wild animals kept behind glass) but surprisingly, inaccurately assigned responsibility for that behaior to a child (well-supervised by both parents and ery well-behaved). My sensitive five year old son was thrown by the chastisement and was "sad" and "embarrassed" for a good while afterward, not feelings expected by a child visiting Disney. Had she said (to educate) that gorillas respond to our body language he would have been more careful and would have learned something important about the animal world and human interaction with it.

The second and third instances are as follows: Prior to the Lion King our not yet two year old daughter was playing at my feet. We were in the front row as my mother was using a wheel chair, but we planned to seat my daughter with my husband in the second row when the show began, for her safety and for the performance. One staff member approached us and insisted that my daughter be contained. I explained that of course she would not be free, nor would she be in the front row at all, when the show began. She turned to my mother to continue, though she did agree that my daughter was fine where she was for the moment and that the plan was sound. Just moments later a male staff member approached as I was picking my daughter up (to pass her back to her dad), and lectured me, though she was already in my arms. I gritted my teeth and passed her back. The show did not begin for several more minutes.

My children's father, particularly when not right beside them, is not always (or easily) identified as the father of both, and while we do understand the importance of safety and security for animals, performers and audience, we couldn't help but wonder (nor could others around us) whether we were treated differently as a result of our non-traditional family composition (whether consciously or unconsciously). As a family, we were very discouraged that this might happen in a Disney park, and it greatly affected our ability to enjoy what would otherwise have been a beautiful day.*

This was a difficult complaint to write (so please don't tear it apart), and not only because the survey times out if you actually try to provide a coherent, substantive response. It was also difficult because we believed that we were treated differently because of assumptions made about me as the (seemingly unaccompanied) mother of children of two different races. Any wording that relied on our being a two-parent (heterosexual) family, justifying racial difference by mentioning adoption (as in, "it's okay! I'm a good person. This is an international adoption") felt like it would trade on our privilege and deny the rights of other nontraditional families not to be harassed.

No doubt about the connection between fascism and Disney World.
But really -- telling on me to my mother? Crossed a new line.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This is just to say . . .

I just happened to eat at Taco Bell twice on the same day, immediately after the e.coli outbreak had made the news but not at my house, where we read but do not watch. I wondered aloud why it was a ghost town, and obviously, No One responded. (The better question, I suppose, is why I would eat at Taco Bell twice in one day.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Disney Part I

Against our better judgment, we agreed to a "quick" trip to Disney World at a very inconvenient time. We had promised, afterall, to take our family there when our son and my niece (four months apart) were five. So we kept our promise, and we made the plans. A late flight there and back on a Sunday would minimize work time missed and maximize park time. A stay at the Pop Century (review forthcoming) would put us right at the park, and in our price range.

So we began where it all began: the Magic Kingdom.

I'd never been much of a fan of the Magic Kingdom, never much a believer in magic, and much suspicious of the finger scan nececessary to use our park hopping tickets, but I promised my husband that morning that I'd leave my cynical self behind (even if the politically engaged one refused to stay at the hotel) and I was rewarded for it: My son beamed, and my daughter exclaimed "Happy!" as we moved from adventure to adventure, despite their lack of prior knowledge of Mickey or Minnie Mouse or Disney films. (That one of her favorite words is "happy" is one of our greatest joys.)

If only the Animal Kingdom had been as much a pleasure (see Part II, this week's rantotheweek, in just a bit).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Be back soon.

Gone to Disney World. Be back soon. And do I have stories for you (if you love/hate Disney World and/or if you are in a multiracial family and/or if you really believe in Magical Days.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

For what our children have lost, and so that more won't be lost.
Click here to link to the (red) campaign, and here for information on a successful Clinton initiative to reduce the cost of antiretrovirals to developing countries. Click here to light a candle.