My friend S (Anvil's mom) is a talented photographer. She graciously offered to take some pictures of our family on campus in exchange for watching Anvil a few times this month. I totally got the better end of the deal, because Anvil is a joy, and she and Brady are the best of chums.
There are way too many great photos to post on the blog, but if you actually know us, you can check out the whole photoshoot on my Facebook page or on our family photo website. Here are a handful of my favorites.
"My loved ones are bringing their child's birthparents to a family event for the first time. I am really nervous to meet them and need an idea of what to say."
First of all, realize that in an open adoption, the birthparents have likely supported the adoption fully. They're not there to kidnap the child. That's probably the #1 fear we have faced as adoptive parents so far, that people hear the word, "birthparent" and think "adversary".
Every open adoption is different, so there are no fast and hard rules, but generally I tell people to consider birthparents and extended birthfamily as a new set of "in-laws". Welcome them with a hug or a handshake. They are there to celebrate the child, and it takes a lot of courage to meet and speak to the adoptive family's support network. The more you can help make them feel welcome, the more you are helping your loved ones build a relationship with them, and that's a wonderful gift.
Some talking points for the nervous:
1. Mention specific features or characteristics that the child shares with his birthparents.
2. Talk about how much you love and enjoy the child and share anecdotes.
3. Tell them what a wonderful family they chose for their child and name specific parenting skills or experiences the child has had ("They are so patient with her!" "They take him swimming every week and read books every night."). But don't lie or embellish, obviously!
4. Reinforce that the adoptive family is so thankful and joyful for this child
5. Recognize that it might have been hard for them to come today but that you are so glad for a chance to meet the amazing person who gave this child a life and gave your loved ones a child to love.
6. Get to know them as individuals. You may find similar tastes in movies, hobbies, etc.
Please avoid saying:
1. "I don't know how you could make a sacrifice like that"/"I could never give up a child."
2. Don't ask why they had to make an adoption plan for their child - it can be an extremely painful and personal story that they may not want to recount to a near stranger. They will share it if they want to.
I've enjoyed working on this series of adoption etiquette and hope it helped at least one person support their friends or family. Add a comment if you have another question about adoption etiquette, and I'll be happy to add another post on the topic.
We heard that the Nugget officially has a spot for preschool this fall! He'll attend twice a week, in the afternoons. We are so happy for him and a little nostalgic too. Preschool signals the beginning of a new life stage, which also means saying goodbye to toddler-dom. Come fall, we won't have a toddler - we'll have a preschooler. Wow. I'm still not sure where our baby went.
The Nugget started calling us Mom and Dad instead of Mommy and Daddy. I don't know where he picked this up, but I'm not sure I'm happy about it. I guess as long as he doesn't start calling us Mother and Father, it's ok.
In a blessed turn of events, the Nugget also has developed a new interest in crayons. He finally figured out just the right amount of pressure which yields satisfying dark lines, swirls, and polka dots. He helped me hang a recent picture to the fridge with his alphabet magnets. Hubby was at work at the time, so I told him that he could show Daddy his picture when he got home. The Nugget not only remembered, but loves to point out his masterpiece to Daddy anytime they're in the kitchen. He'll grab his Daddy's hand and declare, "Dad, I LOVE that picture."
Another new sedentary activity includes puzzles. Our amazing babysitter L gave the Nugget a boxed set of 4 wooden 12-piece puzzles for Easter. The Nugget adores them and we get to spend quality time mulling over how the wheels fit together. He is persistent and gets faster at them every day. His favorite, the mixer truck, he can get together all on his own.
The Nugget has pretty reliably been using his "gentle hands" in church. The quiet voice thing, well, we're still working on that. Any Mass that doesn't include high decibel screaming is a success for us. Music lover that is, he's always been an angel whenever there is singing and only fusses or gets rowdy during the talking. Now that he has some tunes under his belt, he is very happy to sing along. But since he can't read the songbook, he just belts out whatever song comes to his mind. Last week it was the ABCs. This week, it was Puff the Magic Dragon. I don't correct him or shush him, because I think it's awesome that he's trying to participate. Our church is pretty family-friendly, so instead of sighs and rolled eyes, he gets lots of chuckles. The funniest thing is when the cantor steps up to the podium, he sometimes yells a request, as if he's at a karaoke bar, "Sing Twinkle Twinkle please!" Ok, then I shush him. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't laughing at the same time.
*Speaking of nostalgia, I have to share this video, because this song was running through my head while I was typing this post. Cheesy Care Bear goodness.*
*It's not snowing now, but my friend S recently gave me this beautiful shot of the Nugget she took back in Feb. It so perfectly captures his personality that I had to share it, no matter how out of date.*
The Nugget's current rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star:
Tonight, we had Nucas and Dawa (and their folks) over for dinner. Afterwards, the kids played fairly independently for awhile while we had some actual adult conversation - always a blessing!
The only thing that makes this event post-worthy is that just before they left, the kids as usual were getting slap-happy, and this happened. Sorry, I was not fast enough to grab the camera:
1. The Nugget at this point was wearing just his shirt and his overnight diaper (a 2 year old in wet pants five minutes before bedtime does not justify new pants in my opinion). Oh, and his Mardi Gras beads and his new walrus hat.
2. The Nugget found Dawa's sippy cup and a silk rose she had brought with her. He tried to give them to her repeatedly, but she was too busy playing the keyboard and couldn't be bothered.
3. Having just given his doll a bottle, the Nugget decided that he could give Dawa a drink too. He gently tipped her cup into her mouth. She was surprised but giggled and motioned for more, continuing to play the keyboard.
4. So my little pants-less boy, holding a rose, was giving his friend sips from her cup while the two of them laughed like hyenas and Dawa continued to grace us with her mad keyboard skills.
Dawa's dad noted that the spectacle looked sort of like a cover of a Harlequin romance novel.
As an adoptee and adoptive parent, people are always asking me questions about adoption. The most common question I get is, "How does the process work?" People ask this naively, thinking I'll have a single sentence answer for them. I've gotten a little better at summarizing, but my "short" answer is still a paragraph long.
Now that it's over, I'll share an example of what just happened to us last week.
On the Thursday before Easter, as we were driving to my parents' house, we got a phone call from the agency. A birthfamily had seen our letter and requested our profile. For reasons I won't disclose on the blog, the agency needed to check with us first and find out if we were ok being presented to this family. We had to decide within 12 hours. After some research and planning, we decided we were open to being presented. Our full profile, along with I don't know how many others, were presented to the family on Friday. That was the easy part.
The hard part is that then we KNEW that someone was seriously considering us to be parents for their child. That if we were chosen, we'd need to pick up our things, cancel all our plans, and be in Oregon for nearly a month...probably in less than 3 weeks. We sat and waited, prayed, checked in the with counselor, tried to eat and sleep for 13 days. Then we finally got the email that another family had been chosen. Roller coaster ride over.
Everyone deals with the ups and downs of adoption differently. For me, hearing the answer brought equal parts disappointment and relief. It's the constant limbo of the adoption process that's hardest for me. We could be being looked at by another family right now, anytime...but I'm always gladder not to know about it. I appreciate that our agency screens us for particular situations, but that intense window of wondering and waiting is a very difficult place indeed. More so because you really don't want to tell anyone unfamiliar with adoption when you're being screened. Just more news you might have to take back.
Imagine if they had a waiting room for potential lotto winners. "You, Mr. and Mrs. Brown, may have won the lotto. Please sit here and think about what you would do if you won, what you would need to change and get in order. We'll let you know when we know anything." That, my friend, is what it's like to be screened.
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"My loved ones brought their baby home - hooray! But oops, I asked if they'd heard from the baby's mom, and I think I said the wrong thing. What words are right and wrong in adoption today?"
Ouch, words can hurt! Yes, adoptees have 2 sets of parents. I love sharing my son with his birthparents, yet when people ask me how his mom and dad (or worse, how his REAL mom and dad) are doing, I feel like chopped liver. What am I, his babysitter?! These language gaffs are always made with the best of intentions, which is why I continue to write these posts.
Adoption language is constantly changing, so this post will be outdated in a year. However, you can never go wrong by asking the adoptive parents what language they are using.
1. Currently, most adoptive families use the terms "birthparents" or "first parents" to refer to their children's bio families; adoptive families usually fall into one of the two camps instead of using them interchangeably. "Biological parents", "natural parents", and "genetic parents" used to be more common but have mostly fallen out of favor. If it's an open adoption, it's always safe to refer to the birthparents by their first names. Reverse this if your loved ones are birthparents - say, "How are the baby's adoptive parents?" or use their first names if you know them. Not sure what to say? Just ask your loved ones. An awkward question is way better than a hurtful slip of the tongue. The Nugget calls his birthmom 'Tummy Mummy' and his birthdad 'Poppy'.
2. Don't ever refer to a child as "their adopted son/daughter". If it is important to the topic at hand, you can say, "Pam was adopted." (not is, WAS) Adoption is something that happens to a child, it's a one-time life event, not a defining characteristic. Same for adoptive parents - use the modifier only if it is relevant to the conversation.
3. Please avoid praising adoptive parents for adopting. Adoption isn't and shouldn't be something we do out of guilt, to help the less fortunate. We do it because we want to be parents. As an adoptee growing up, I felt so rotten when people would tell me how lucky I was and how wonderful my parents were. Yes, I am lucky. Yes, my parents are wonderful. But all I heard was, "You are a charity case. You are second best. Your parents are saints for taking you in, because no one else would."
4. "Made an adoption plan for the child" and "Placing a child for adoption" are now used instead of "Putting up/giving up a child for adoption" In most cases, adoption is a selfless act made by birthparents. They're not giving a child away like you'd give away a litter of kittens. They are giving their child a chance at what they hope will be a better life, with more opportunities and resources than they could provide. The new phrases show more respect to the sacrifice of the child's birthparents, as well as reinforce to the child that he/she was loved and cared for from the very beginning.
5. Eliminate the word, "real" when discussing any kind of family. Children raised by the same parents are real siblings, as are children who share one or two birthparents. Step-children are real. Step-parents are real. Divorced, separated, and remarried parents are real. Birthparents and adoptive parents are real. Asking someone to define a certain family member as "real" is disrespectful to everyone.
6. If your loved ones have adopted transracially, now's the time to clean up your act. Don't repeat racial slurs and jokes. Rethink stereotypes you might be subconsciously harbor. Even "positive" stereotypes like "Asians are smart" can hurt. Most of all, don't use racial adjectives to describe people unless it's relative to the situation.
It's ok to say, "One of my friends is Chinese and made us the most delicious potstickers from a family recipe."
It's not ok to say, "I saw three huge Black guys in the alley."
Rule of thumb? If you wouldn't replace the racial adjective with "White/Irish/Italian/German/French/etc.", then don't say it.
Yesterday, the Nugget's Tummy Mummy L and her husband B welcomed their baby girl. We'll call her Cupcake on this blog. Cupcake is the Nugget's baby (half) (birth) sister!
I have to admit, I was having trouble figuring out just how this sibling relationship was going to work - Nugget and Cupcake will be raised by different parents, across the country from each other. I wondered if the Nugget would be resentful that L is able to parent Cupcake but wasn't able to parent him.
But yesterday, when I saw proud new parents post pictures of beautiful baby Cupcake, all those worries washed away. I know that Cupcake is full of love and good karma - she will give L all the joy and wonder that Nugget has given us. L made that joy possible, and now it's her turn to receive it! Nugget and Cupcake will always know their stories and will always know each other. Already I can see they have the same sweet mouth, with a tiny dimple in the middle of their bottom lips. I know the Nugget will still have questions, but we have the answers, thanks to open adoption. The Nugget was so proud to see pictures of his baby sister Cupcake today, and I know their relationship doesn't take away anything from the Nugget's future relationship with Lil' Sib. Love is all around us, and that's truly a miracle. Welcome, Baby Cupcake, and thanks for showing me how easy it is for love to grow. We look forward to watching you grow up!
"My loved ones just suffered a disruption. What can I do?"
A disruption is very much akin to a miscarriage. Waiting parents who experience one are grieving the loss of a particular child and re-experiencing the other losses (and loss of control) they've experienced thus far on their adoption journey. In addition, there is not a lot of support for families who are grieving a disruption - often we are too frightened to voice our negative emotions to our adoption attorney or agency. And adoption expenses (adoptive parents must still pay fees associated with the disrupted adoption) often preclude us from getting additional grief counseling. Expect your loved ones to go through the stages of grief.
Please avoid saying any variation of:
1. Move on/get over it/this kind of thing happens.
2. It wasn't really your baby, so you don't need to be upset.
3. How dare the birthparents/agency/attorney do this to you?
4. I knew this would happen/I told you so/I was afraid this would happen.
Be very very cautious if saying any variation of:
1. This must be in God's plan
2. Everything happens for a reason
Please do say:
1. I'm so sorry for your loss.
2. Your child will come.
3. I'm here if you want to talk about it (then listen without passing judgment).
We also got the opportunity to celebrate Baby Manny with 2 baby showers this weekend. We are so excited to welcome our niece and cousin. She has amassed quite the wardrobe already. Did you know that nearly all baby girl clothes are pink and brown right now? It definitely takes the guess work out of finding coordinates and luckily, my brother and sis-in-law are down with that color combination. I'll have to come up with an appropriate "blog nickname" for Baby Manny, but that might have to wait until I see her in person. Just think - next Easter's pictures will include her too!