Reprise: A year of living adoptively

Last year around this time, I wrote this piece for NW Kids Magazine. for their November National Adoption Month issue. They just republished it on their website, so I thought I’d share it here as well.

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Written November 2012

Each November, not only does my family get to celebrate National Adoption Month, we get to celebrate the adoption of our precious girl. On November 15, 2011 we brought Lilli home to Portland from Eugene, just five days after we learned we were chosen by Lilli’s birth parents to adopt her. She was five weeks old then. Now she’s a walking, babbling, curious, strong-willed one-year old.

In this first year, we’ve learned so much about adoption.

Adopting a Child

IMG_7359First and most obvious, we have adopted a child. By we, I mean my husband Matt and me. We also includes my parents and Matt’s parents. And our siblings and their kids. And so on. We have all adopted this wonderful little human into our lives, practically in the blink of an eye.

I sometimes marvel at how easy and quickly she was enveloped into our world. How immediate and unconditional my love was and is for her. Our community of family and friends has embraced her so fully. Lilli, at age one, is an intensely well-loved girl. (67 “Likes” on Facebook for her birthday announcement!) She’s our girl. Our daughter. Not, “adopted” daughter. Just, our daughter.

And while that’s absolutely how I feel, it is also true that she is adopted. That is a part of her story and we have pledged to be transparent with her about it. We adopted Lilli in an open adoption, and I’d say we’re on the very open end of the spectrum.

Adopting a Family

Lilli surrounded by Roberts and Tabora Families

Simply put, in an open adoption, the birth mother (and birth father, if he’s in the picture) choose adoptive parents for their birth child. On one end of the open adoption spectrum (sometimes called “semi-open” adoption), birth parent(s) and adoptive parents do not meet. They communicate through some sort of middle entity, an agency or a lawyer, through which information is exchanged. Birth parents may provide basic medical history. Adoptive parents may agree to send photos and a letter once a year. When the child is old enough to choose, they may seek out the birth parent.

Our story is at the other end of the spectrum of open adoption. About six months after we entered the adoption pool (not a very long wait), we got the call from our agency. Heylene, the mother of a one-month old, and the birth father (he’s asked me not to use his name, so I’ll call him “Nick”) chose us to adopt her baby girl. After learning about Heylene and Lilli’s story from the counselor, we made the decision to move forward. The next day we drove to Eugene to meet Heylene and Nick. The following day, we met Lilli for the first time. We hung out with Lilli and Heylene for a few hours, a crash “get-to-know-you” session to see if we were a good match for being in a relationship for the rest of our lives. Imagine going on a blind date with someone where you have three days to decide whether or not to marry each other. That’s pretty much what we did. After three days, Heylene and Nick decided yes, Matt and I were the right people to parent Lilli. And yes, after three days, we were head over heels in love with our Lilli.

Two weeks later, it was Thanksgiving. We invited our new family members, Heylene and Nick to come and spend it with us. Now, a year later, we’ve seen Heylene nearly every other month and Nick about once a quarter. We have no qualms about texting each other notes and photos. Our relationship to Lilli’s birth parents has evolved sweetly and organically.

Don’t get me wrong, it is complicated. Heylene and Nick’s families have varying levels of knowledge of and support for the adoption. Lilli has a half brother we’ve just met for the first time, along with Lilli’s birth grandma and birth great-grandma. (Very intense introduction, but hopefully the beginning of a long and healthy relationship.) Both Heylene and Nick have moved farther away from us. Even with that, the good news is, it’s only just begun. Lilli’s birth family is a part of our family circle, now and forever. and advocate around racial diversity and other issues, this is a community I’m eager to connect with. Much more to learn on that front as Lilli grows older.

Adopting a Community

As soon as we decided to adopt a child, we entered into a dynamic adoption community. We adopted through Open Adoption and Family Services, an agency specializing in and exclusively facilitating and advocating openness in adoption. Through them, we are now a part of a diverse and active community of families waiting to adopt and those who have adopted. We’ve also become a part of the larger “open adoption” community.

In addition, we are now part of the transracial adoption community. As a mixed- race couple (I’m Filipino-American, my husband is Welsh-American, aka “white”), it was inevitable we’d be in a transracial adoption. Lilli is 1⁄4 Panamanian and, at age one, looks very Latina. As a one-time activist and advocate around racial diversity and other issues, this is a community I’m eager to connect with. Much more to learn on that front as Lilli grows older.

What’s more we’ve now joined that larger adoption community, which is extremely diverse and much larger than I knew before we adopted. Adam Pertman wrote in Adoption Nation, “Extrapolating from U.S. Census data, we can guesstimate that there are at least 7 million adopted children and adults in the United States today; add in birth parents adoptive parents, grandparents, siblings… and the number of people directly connected to adoption soars into the tens of millions.”

Pertman also noted, “The Adoption Institute survey showed that nearly six of every ten Americans have had a ‘personal experience’ with adoption… And a stunning one-third of those polled said they had ‘at least somewhat seriously’ considered adopting a child themselves.”

From adults who were adopted in the 1970s internationally from Korea or Vietnam, to those families that have come together through the foster care system, to others who adopted within their own family—there are so many experiences of adoption. At the center of these adoptions are children with concentric circles of loved ones radiating outward.

As my daughter enters her second year, I’ve started thinking about how to talk with Lilli about her story. Tonight, as I snuggled with her in my arms, I quietly relayed to her the whole story of her adoption for the first time. The story still needs some editing, but it felt good to say. Like parenting, adoption will always be a work-in-progress.

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The cutest kid in the room

My toddler and I regularly go out to various family-oriented activities such as story time at the the library or any one of the various local musicians who do regular shows aimed at kid audiences. I’ve started to notice a phenomena, that I myself am party to.

It’s the ‘how cute is my kid?’ phenomena. Here’s how it goes down for me:

  • Aw, Lilli, you are so cute/funny/amazing.
  • OMG, you did not just do that cute/funny/amazing thing. You are too, cute/funny/amazing!
  • I am so lucky. Lilli is so damn cute/funny/amazing.
  • Oh, that kid dancing/singing/smiling is pretty cute, too. But, my Lilli – she is soooo cute/funny/amazing.
  • Did you see that? Did you see that cute/funny/amazing thing Lilli just did? I know you saw that. I know you’re thinking, what a cute/funny/amazing kid, right?
  • Awwww. Lilli is definitely the cutest kid in this room. Damn is she cute!

Yes, this is my self/Lilli-centered p.o.v. I know it’s the truth.

And when I look into the eyes of other parents in these situations, I can  see that they are going through the same thing. That parent thinking their kid is cute – this is their truth. That’s a lovely thing. It’s wonderful to see unapologetically happy parents and families.

But come on, my Lilli – she is THE cutest, isn’t she?

Lilli with leaf

P.S. I can’t believe it. I’ve only got 6 days to go for NaBloPoMo. I can see the finish line!!!

A ‘mix-tape’ from my toddler to the new baby on our block

Mixtape

Remixed Gontaruk’s image through Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Okay, what I made is not technically a mix-tape, but in that tradition, it is a music compilation on CD. And technically I made the mix, but it’s inspired by Lilli’s current favorites. And technically the new baby on the block isn’t here yet, but he’s due very, very soon. Which is why we attended the baby shower today and why we were inspired to share some tunes.

Here’s the mix:

You might notice that some of these songs are from the same album. Our toddler, like many I’m sure, is adamant about listening to her favorites over and over again. As I was putting this mix CD together I noticed that King Kong Kitchie, Lilli’s number one favorite song, has 91 plays. And I think that’s just on one device.

Lilli is actually quite the budding musician herself. We just gave her a ukelele which has really brought out her inner ham. Her favorite songs to cover right now are Everybody Sing by a local musician who calls himself Tallulah’s Daddy when he does children’s shows and This Pretty Planet by Tom Chapin, which is one she learned at her Montessori program.

We expose her to new songs as we can, but getting new music hasn’t been a priority for us until now. So, please do share your favorites, especially kiddie-friendly but not necessarily kiddie-specific songs.

The mystery and wonder of a lullaby

Ohhhhh, I’m halfway the-ere, ohhh-OH … It’s November 16. I’m halfway through my NaBloPoMo. Third time trying, and this is the farthest I’ve gotten. Feeling pretty hopeful I can close the deal.

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Today we started the process of de-bink-ifying. Lilli is two and until today she was still using her binky for naps and night time sleep at home. (She’s been binky-free for months at her Montessori toddler program, so we’ve been the laggards.) I’ll share more about how that’s all going tomorrow.

But I want to note one particularly special moment that happened today.

As I was helping Lilli settle down for her nap, she was, of course, upset she could not use her binky. She already had several bouts of crying. Finally she seemed to be calming down. The last part of our routine for sleep is always a song. I asked Lilli what song she wanted me to sing. She said quietly, “Humma.” At that moment I almost cried.

We haven’t sung Humma in ages and I was so touched that she wanted to hear it. The Humma song is the first lullaby I ever sang to her, even before our Entrustment Day. The Humma song was the lullaby I sang for her every night until about six months ago when she started making ‘requests,’ usually songs from recordings we listen to regularly. I think the Humma song was also one of the first songs she ever learned to sing. One time when I was singing her to sleep, she started singing along. It totally cracked us both up when she started singing, I think because we were both surprised.

Here’s how the ‘Humma’ song goes (excuse my mediocre singing voice):

I learned the Humma song when I was in a choir class years ago. I believe it’s a Native American lullaby, but I haven’t been able to learn any more about it. (Yes, there are times you can’t find the answer on the interwebs.) If you are familiar with this song and know any of the story behind it, where it came from, etc., please do share.

When Lilli asked me to sing the Humma song today she was still getting over her binky upset. It touched me deeply she felt that song would be soothing to her. So, I sang the Humma song to her, softy, rubbing her forehead and she finally succumbed to sleep.

Does it get easier?

Update 11/15/2013 6:37pm: With  low food rations in the house and very worn out full-time working parents, we decided to hit our local sushi place for a quick happy hour for dinner. It turned out to be a lovely mellow time (Lilli had her first raw sushi, smoked salmon nigiri!) and an opportunity to celebrate our Entrustment Day. As I talked to Lilli about Entrustment Day these words came out of my mouth: “This is the day that you became a part of our family, and the day your birth parents H & T became a part of our family.”

Matt just smiled across the table at me, knowing that I’d gotten it in his words, and Goldilocks’ “just right.” Just the right sentiment we want for our family’s Entrustment Day.

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Our daughter Lilli recently turned two years old. And today marks our ‘Entrustment Day,’ or at least that’s what we’re calling it for now. Two years ago today, Lilli’s birth parents entrusted Matt and me to be Lilli’s parents. We’d known Lilli and her birth parents H and T for just five days, but on that day we became family.

Two years flew by. It seems like a lifetime, yet we are still so new to being parents and to being in an open adoption relationship. Having peers helps.

There’s a vibrant community of folks at Open Adoption Bloggers. Lots of interesting bloggers from all sides of open adoption. An amazing resource and a great inspiration for my own blogging.

They have a nice series of writing prompts called Open Adoption Roundtable. Their latest prompt: Does it get easier?

Two years seems like hardly enough time to answer the question, yet as I wrote above, we’ve already lived a lifetime. Or several.

I remember that weekend two years ago well. We had the quickest imaginable courtship with Lilli and her birth parents.  Some open adoption families meet their birth parent(s) during the pregnancy. For us, Lilli was four, going on five weeks old. When we met them, all of us knew that we would need to work quickly to get to know each other and see if this relationship was the right fit.

Rewinding a little further in time, I’d like to share how we entered the process. Matt and I chose open adoption – out of all the types of possible adoptions we could have chosen – primarily for one reason. We believe in the idea of having the most open adoption possible. We believe that transparency is honesty. And we believe that honesty is the most ethical way to be in relationship with our child, with our family and friends and with our birth families.

That means we were transparent from the start. We told our counselor as much as we thought could be relevant to the birth parents for our home study. I wrote things in my autobiography that some of my closest friends might not even know. The photo collage we prepared reflected our fun and often goofy personalities. And, according to H and T, that’s why they chose us.

When we finally sat down to get to know H and T and Lilli, we minimized small talk and got right to the real stuff. Though it was awkward and overwhelming and intense and exciting, in some ways it was easy. We just laid our hearts out there on the table right next to theirs. It was all about moving to the next step – placing, or entrusting, Lilli with us – if H and T deemed that was what they wanted for themselves and for Lilli. Everything after placement was a distant future. Those first four days were about getting through day five.

Fast forward to today. Did it get easier in these last two years? So far I’d have to say no. Life is not easy. Relationships are not easy and they are never static. Two years ago, not only did we adopt a daughter, we adopted a whole new family into ours. We added another family to coordinate holidays and visits with. We became parents. We became juggling, full-time working parents. We became parents to an infant. And then a toddler. Lilli’s birth father moved away and hasn’t responded to texts or emails. Lilli’s birth mom is enjoying living on her own, but she’s estranged from her family. Lilli has an older brother who is living with Lilli’s birth grandparents. Lilli is talking now and we realize it’s time to start talking to her about her story.

Okay, I should take it back, a little. Did it get easier in these last two years? It got more complicated. But we are learning to take it easy. To be easier on ourselves. To ease into our days when Lilli is exhibiting cranky-two-year-old vibes. To make easy meals or go out if we just can’t deal. We do less (quantity), which actually means we do more (quality) as a family unit. We take the time and care and nurturing needed to let Lilli assist us with cracking open the eggs, or spread butter on the toast. If we planned to go to the park, but Lilli seems content playing with her babies, we don’t stress out about staying home. If one of us needs adult time, one of us gets adult time with a friend. We continue to be in an open and transparent relationship with birth mom H.

Does it get easier? No. And yes.

Postscript: Thanks to hubby’s feedback, I want to clarify one thing. In responding to the prompt ‘Does it get easier?’ I’m only addressing the time since placement. There’s another question, ‘Does it get easier after adopting?’ I’ll have to get to that in another post.

Awesomest Halloween candy infographic

With the hash tag #nerdsrule, my pal Kathleen posted this supremely awesome graph her rockstar eight-year-old Stella made. The graph tallies up Stella’s Halloween booty — Snickers reigns over Kit Kat (I think) by a hair. Nerds do rule, especially proud nerd moms who empower their beautiful, clever nerd daughter’s DIY infographics!!

Stella's awesome graph tallying up this year's Halloween booty.

Stella’s awesome graph tallying up this year’s Halloween booty.

A few moments

It appears I have a few moments of down time. Lilz is in phase two of her nap. Started in the crib. Then transferred to her low bed. She’s not the best napper, usually 45-60 minutes. But when I’m able to take the time and have the right timing to nurture her mid-day rest she will sleep for two hours. It feels nice and luxurious to take that time and yet she really needs it.

We’ve also taken some luxurious time off — from vacations.

From the moment Lilli came to us we were on the move. As an adoptive family, we didn’t have the traditional dynamic of mother recovering from birth/breast-feeding. As Mama and Daddy we were fortunate and able to really take turns and split duties and sleep equally. That also made it easy to travel.

baby in car seat

Lilli on her first road trip – to her new home in Portland at age 5 weeks. Not sure we even knew how to strap her into the car seat correctly.

She was born in Eugene, so our first road trip was literally the day of her placement, five days after we met her. We drove to Portland, to her new home. At three months Lilli was on her first plane ride, international at that, to Mexico. (Yes, she already has a passport with several stamps in it.) The trip was one we had already in the books before Lilli was born, before we knew of her existence. One of the reasons her birth parents chose us as adoptive parents was because they liked how we were always on adventures and how close we are to our families. So, this was the beginning of our family adventures with Lilli. She did great! Three months is a pretty easy age to travel with babe.

In her first year it seemed we were always venturing on the road or by plane or hosting visitors. A necessary predicament to see our far and not-so-far flung families.

One year in, as we celebrated her first birthday in October 2012 – which included an intense (and groundbreaking, wonderful) visit to Eugene to visit with some of Lilli’s maternal birth family – and then going into holiday season with more planned travel and hosting of visitors, we all started to feel a mild, but consistent sense of over-stimulation and under-sleeping. Only then did it occur to me that Lilli had not had a boring, routine month ever in her life. And as much as it was wonderful and adventurous and necessary, it was also necessary to pause the madness.

Matt and I had some serious talks about how to break our restless cycle. The lack of routine + constant travel was always a part of our marriage, with our family all over tarnation, and an underlying constant pressure to see each other. That feeling is especially heightened now because we are very close with our families and want our children to know their aunts, uncles and cousins well. But, I was starting to feel like I was on eggshells with Lilli’s sleep and routine. I wasn’t confident I was getting the hang of the parenting thing and I was worried I was not getting to know Lilli as intimately as I wanted. I didn’t have the, “ah I know what will work,” instinct when you know your kid so well. We were constantly in transition from travel/visits to normal. But what was normal?

We didn’t really have a normal. Which got pretty exhausting.

toddler travel

Mama trying to entertain toddler for the final leg of a long trip home.

So, we agreed to stop traveling after a trip to Las Vegas to see my family in mid January 2013. The deal was, we would not travel out of town until June – not even a weekend road trip. We would still host people who wanted to visit, but otherwise, we were staying put.

Though we ended our travel sabbatical a bit early (I had a work trip to Seattle in late April and we felt fam was ready to tag along) I’m happy to report that the experiment was, in a word, awesome. We managed to get Lilli on a very predictable routine, which then allowed us to vary it from time to time – to meet friends for dinner, or be out during the day near nap time – confident that we could get schedules back on track. We began (and often manage to continue) to do meal planning to maximize our food spending, cooking time and eat healthier. Matt and I have each motivated to go out for independent adult time with friends.

In June we’ll have our first major trip since January – a week long visit to Cleveland (including a nonstop red-eye flight – eek!). Should be fun, hectic, relaxing, exhausting. And then we’ll come home and start it all over again.

Waiting for daddy

Can't resist posting this cute little video of Lilli. I pick her up from Montessori every day and then I usually have to multitask like crazy to get dinner ready in good time for her night time routine. But today all I had to do was heat up some leftover butternut squash soup.

Aside: Matt and I have been trying to do meal planning each week so we don't feel overwhelmed by feeding ourselves healthily and economically. It's actually been working great! A friend recommended the book Time For Dinner which inspired my yummy butternut squash soup. (See the section that lays out Kabocha squash recipes. I subbed butternut squash because I could find any of that yummy Kabocha. From two roasted squash, I made my own version of the soup, plus used some in the recommended savory squash cheddar muffins with a little leftover for Lilli snacks.)

Since I was just reheating soup for dinner, that gave me a little extra chance to just focus on the little lady. It always pays off to unitask with her! She's ridiculously fun right now in all her toddler, babbling, singing glory.

Here she's “chatting” about waiting for her dad to come home. And watching herself on the iPhone screen. She really can be a ham.