Monday, July 29, 2013

"We'll just adopt…"

A couple we're very close to is adopting an older child next week, and it's weirding me out. We've adjusted to the new mom thing with many friends by now, but this time instead of an infant entering everyone's lives it's an 11-year-old girl. She's already almost my height, and she has a personality that's all her own. A few years in the foster system have left her a little immature for her age, but she's this person. A whole person with a history and hopes and dreams and interests. It's taking some getting used to.

My husband and I got to meet her last week on one of her last visits before she permanently moves in with her new family. She's a sweet girl, eager to please but a little clingy. She's as good a fit for this family that could possibly exist, I think, and I'm super excited that we'll get to be a part of their lives. They wanted to adopt an older child for many reasons, but I think one of the reasons was that they thought it would be easier.

It's not easier.

A lot of childfree women say "If I want kids later, I'll adopt." A couple of my best friends have been adopted. It seemed simple enough. But now, watching my friends' experiences through this process — entering the foster system with the goal of adopting, not just fostering — have shown me how complicated it is. Promises of a child coming into their life until the birth mother (or, in one case, a former foster mother) files an appeal. Getting hopes up based on profiles only to find out that the caseworker grossly understated psychological issues or abuse histories. The horrible guilt at having to reject a child after going through a good portion of the process because it "just didn't feel right" when they finally met the child in person.

In the beginning I thought I was one of those women, the ones who would take in foster kids if I got the urge to parent later in life. Long ago I decided that wasn't for me, but seeing this process is reinforcing that. New Mom is finding bonding with the child a challenge for a number of reasons. She's finding herself a little resentful of the time, the money, the changes that are happening. I worry she's regretting her decision. She even told me that in just the last few home visits she's realized that she probably would have been okay if she and her husband were childfree.

Luckily, her husband is over the moon about the whole thing. He loves being a dad to his new daughter and is helping to compensate for Mom's nerves. I think it will be okay, in time, but as the reality is hitting, as moving day approaches next week, she's really scared. She's also nervous because she's not feeling "like a mom" yet.

My husband and I have committed to supporting our friends and talked a lot about it. It's important to us that they're a part of our lives and we're ready to accept her. But it's a whole new kind of strange. From a selfish point of view, our relationship with them will be changing in a different way than new parents with infants changes. There will be this extra person there, one that we have to engage and include in conversation. Will we still be able to rant about work, gossip about friends, bitch about family when there's this girl who needs role models more than most kids?

It will obviously be more challenging for them. They're going to spend the next year or two adjusting her expectations, making her a part of the family. She's likely going to go through a phase, as "most foster kids do (according to their caseworker)" where she tries everything in her power to make their lives miserable as a challenge to see if they send her back to the group home and back into the system. It could be years before she calls them "mom and dad". In just a few years she'll be dating, driving.

And here's what gets me. They're changing this girl's life for the better, for sure. Without them, it's highly likely she'd be in the system until she's 18. They're giving her a chance at a life. But even so, they're starting from so far behind that by the time they're truly bonded, she could be starting high school.

I'm excited for them, but I find myself hoping they're doing this for the right reasons. Occasionally I wonder whether they went down this path because Dad wanted to be a father so bad and Mom just doesn't do babies. I wonder whether she does motherhood at all, or if this will change her, make her want one of her own to raise. It's going to be an interesting journey.

It's a window into the life I used to use as a way to get people off my back about not having kids. "We'll just adopt." It's far more complicated than I could have imagined.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Why I Do This

Why do still I talk about this, after 7 years of doing this blog? Because I wish someone told me 7 years ago that this was okay. Because I get letters like this too often to just shut this down:

"Reading your blog gave me so much comfort in knowing that I am not alone and It has helped me understand issues that I could face in the future. I am given ridicule for my choice, and not being believed just because of my age is really painful and makes me feel like such a freak for not wanting what everyone else seems to want. I am so glad to find that there are other people out there who feel just like me and face similar issues."
There are some who take the time to hurl insults from behind an anonymous tag, but here's the thing. I'm going to keep writing. I'm going to keep talking about the decision I've made, my 7-year journey, that will be a 10-year journey. I can show what the world looks like through the eyes of a 35-year-old childfree woman. When I was in my mid-20s I needed to see the words of people in their 30s, who were feeling as I was then, to see how they felt in 10 years. Because I had no map. It's the same reason why I'm so excited to meet other childfree women, especially those in their 40s and 50s, who've dealt with the issues I'm dealing with now.

Writing gives me power. Sharing gives us all power. I don't use my actual name for many reasons, but I'm reachable. I am accountable for what I say. Any one who wants to can reach me at I'm crazy busy, so I don't often have time to respond, but I appreciate the letters I get, and I'm open to starting a dialogue with people who want to understand more about why we make the choices we make, and why I blog about it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Five Days with a Toddler

I've been staying with friends this week, attempting to work remotely with a toddler running around. I have learned things.

THIING ONE: I can do about 10-15 minutes with the child before I'm bored/annoyed/want to do anything else but wait on her every need, and this is a child I adore. On This American Life, in its Back to School episode, Ira Glass referred to babies (as seen through the eyes of teenagers) as "these incomprehensible bundles of need", and that's what this child is.

She isn't a bad child, by any means, she's just two, and that's what two-year-olds are to me. It's especially the case for toddlers who aren't verbal. She's bright and appears to comprehend well, but she's barely talking aside from babbling, which just plain frustrates everyone, including the baby.

THING TWO: The primary job of a toddler's caregiver appears to be keeping her from accidentally killing herself. Not just hurting herself, mind you — pain is an excellent teacher, and if she learns that putting fingers there means pinched fingers, that's a life lesson. I'm talking possible DEATH. It's the stray piece of sharp(!) plastic in her mouth that came from god knows where. It's the heavy thing on the shelf she can just barely lift. It's the gate above the stairs you swear to god you clicked shut — or hell, did she figure that out too? It's keeping her from putting her finger in the dog's eye/ear/butt and pissing him off. It's the drawer she figured out how to open and the knife you carefully set on the counter that's juuuuuuuuust within reach of her tiny fingertips because she developed the ability to stretch just a little further. It's constant vigilance.

THING THREE: As a parent, your life is a series of little messes. Cereal bowls poured on the ground, crackers crumbled on the sofa, yogurt covering the baby. Diapers and dishes and blah blah blah. So many messes, all the time. And when she's cleaning up, the baby NEEEEEDS her attention, so while she's doing the dishes, baby is whiiiiiiiining, a sobbing mess on the floor because she's not the center of attention. Mom has to turn off the part of her brain that says "I am causing my child pain" because it's not pain. It's manipulation. It's a game. Which leads me to…

THING FOUR: Holy crap, are toddlers manipulative. Figuring out when they're hurt and when they're crying wolf is a crapshoot. Everything is a crisis. Not responding to a whine? Try a cry? Let's make it sound like I'm in pain, that you're actually harming me. It's awful. To someone as sensitive as I am, it quickly becomes emotionally overwhelming, even though I know that taking my Kindle away from her so she doesn't destroy it is not actually causing her traumatic physical pain.

They say it's different when they're your own kids, and to that I call bullshit. It's not different. You just have the love that balances out the awful more, but it's still awful. On a bad day, Mom calls baby the Soul Sucker. While baby is up, it's all about baby. She wants to work, but realistically she can't concentrate on work until baby is in bed. It's not different. It's just "worth it" I guess?  I don't know.

And it's not just that. It's the series of broken Xbox controllers from being thrown around. It's Mom's brand new iPhone that got dunked in her cup of water because all the sippy cups are dirty, and the shelves full of things pushed way to the back, out of baby's reach, and the annoying door knob covers and drawer locks aimed at keeping her from getting into things she shouldn't get into. It's the screaming when she DOES get a hold of the expensive, breakable thing you tried so hard to keep her from getting her hands on. But it's "worth it"? I guess?

I found myself escaping into the basement to work in peace this week because even when baby wasn't bothering me, her emotional neediness, mom's frustrations, they weighed on me so much that I couldn't focus on my work. My guilt weighed on me too, for being annoyed when the kid is just being a two-year-old.

The adorable moments are great. But this week, I recognize those moments and say "these are the moments they say make it worth it. It's just not moving me." Right now, she's breaking up saltine crackers and crumbling them into the sofa and I've lost my will to tell her not to do it. I can't anymore. I'm tired.

It's now just one more mess for mom to clean up. Lucky her.