Sunday, April 27, 2014

Visiting Hours

I just want to take a moment to express my stunned semi-disbelief at the fact that Roo will be five years old this summer. Five! You guys, seriously. I swear, she just barely learned to walk. 

I got to see her a few weeks ago, which was fantastic. I mentioned this to one of my friends and she seemed unclear on what happens when I do see Roo, and I got to thinking how many times people misunderstand openness as it pertains to me and my relationship with Roo. So let's clarify at least the visiting part of that, and let's use a lot more words than are necessary because that's what we do here at The Happiest Sad. Well, that and the occasional meme.

First of all, let's clarify the word "visit." I'm not sure when or where I settled on that word to describe spending time with Roo. The word "visit" conjures up images from my childhood of spending time with my maternal grandparents. "We're going to visit Grandma and Grandpa DeWitt," my mom would say, and there was always this element of formality where you had to sit in a chair and make polite conversation and you weren't allowed to ask why everything in the curio cabinet smelled like an improbable cross between dust and aspergillis. Those visits certainly weren't much fun. The only good thing was that my grandfather - eleven years older and three times more patient than his wife - would eventually take pity on Little Jill and give her one of those miniature ice cream cups with the wooden spoon that fitted into the lid.

I am thirty years old but when I see those little ice cream cups I swear I can still feel my grandmother's disappointment looming over me like a rogue weather system. Bless her heart.

I digress.

What I really do, I think, is hang out with Roo and her family, but it sounds weird to say you're hanging out with a four-year-old, because if I'm honest she and I probably have different taste in movies and the last deep conversation we had was about gummy bears. So let's go with the word "visit" and pretend we grew up with the kind of grandmother who baked cookies and showed love. Bless her heart.*

Visits with Roo and her family are my favorite and they are awesome. There is no formality to them. It's just time spent with my friends. I use the word "visit" to describe any time I spend with Roo's family. I have been to dance recitals, we have all gone out for breakfast (and often lunch, and once dinner), and we have spent many happy hours at parks and playgrounds. The latter is where we hang out the most because it's the most fun for the kids

Roo always says hello to me. She says, "Hi, Jill!" and she smiles and it is awesome. Her big sister says hi to me, too, and I usually get a smile from their baby brother. M and I will talk and catch up for a bit until Roo insists that I play with her. "Jill, I want you to come play with me," she has said, and how do I say no to that? I can't. At that point I basically just let her boss me around for an hour or two. I have gotten so, so much sand in my shoes. You wouldn't believe it.

She has a very good if imagination when it comes to play, but she also has favorite things. Every playground we have been on has been a pirate ship. Roo seems to like the idea of a pirate ship. Once we made sand angels - maybe that's an Arizona thing, but it's like a snow angel only you're in the sand - and Roo's big sister said, "Hurry, get on the pirate ship, you're getting covered in water!"

Roo was feeling stubborn. She did not want to stop making sand angels. "I'll be fine," she told her sister. "I'm a mermaid." She's a problem solver, isn't she?

We are very often mermaids, or pirates, or mermaid pirates or pirate princesses. A few weeks ago when we were pirate princesses we used our rainbow power to subdue a particularly mean eel.

Roo likes to swing and climb and I have held her little shoes many, many times so she could climb better with bare feet. I always tell her how proud I am of her and I try to compliment her on that sort of thing more than on her general adorableness. When she climbed high even though she was scared, I told her she was very brave and that I was proud.

She knows that I love her but she is still a little kid, so when it’s time to leave she gives me a cheerful, “Bye, Jill!” and runs off, and I usually have to stop her for a hug. I always ask first if I can get a hug and if I can give a kiss. She always obliges. I tell her I love her and she will usually reciprocate.

I dearly love her siblings as well and so I will give them hugs and tell them I love them, too, because it's true and because I don’t think any child can ever hear enough that they are loved. After my last visit – a few hours at a park, I told Roo and her sister that I had fun and that I always have fun with them. “We have fun with you, too,” Roo's sister said. So many warm fuzzies, you guys.

You might have noticed that at no point do I attempt to parent Roo or offer parenting advice to her parents. This is where a lot of people get confused. I think there's this misconception that openness is a shared custody agreement. So I want to be very clear: P and M are Roo's parents, one trillion percent. That's what I wanted for her. I'm just a friend of the family who happens to have birthed one of the family's kids for them. P and M are doing an awesome job at the whole parenting thing. It's not my place to interfere.

I have been asked, along the custody line of thinking, if I get Roo all to myself at visits. I don't. There have never been any just-Roo-and-Jill visits and I'm totally okay with that. I love her whole family so, so much. I would be sad if I didn't get to see and spend time with them too.

I end up seeing Roo and her family every couple of months or so. This works out well for all of us. M and I text pretty frequently and keep up with each other on social media. We've worked together on adoption-related events in the valley so I see her often, which I love.

The other question I want to answer is whether visits are emotionally difficult for me. They are not. When I first placed I was worried that visits would be like placing Roo all over again - I'd get a few hours with her and then have to let her go. But visits have always been good for me, from the very first one. They allow me to see the good that came from the choice I made to place. I get to see firsthand that Roo is happy and loved and has an awesome life. I get to know her and be part of her life. I do cry when I drive home from a visit, but they're happy tears because I feel like I don't deserve the blessing of this amazing open adoption and yet I have them anyway.

Let's be honest - I do a lot of stupid things. I struggle to be a kind and compassionate person and I'm more narcissistic than anyone has a right to be in their thirties. If life were about fairness I would never see or hear from Roo again. Every single day I thank God for these blessings I don't deserve. I thank Him for letting me have her for a little while, and I thank Him for letting P and M have her forever. I am so glad she's theirs.

Every time I see Roo with her family, I remember why I chose adoption, and why if I had to do things over, I would choose it again without hesitation. As badly as it hurt at first, it doesn't hurt anymore. And Roo's happiness is worth it.

*My grandmother loved me in her own way. She was just stubborn and set in her ways and didn't care much for my father, and I am like a short girl clone of my dad so I probably never stood a chance. She was a good mother to my mother and that's what matters at the end of the day, right?

Bless her heart.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

On resemblances and regrets

 I started a draft of this blog in an e-mail to myself at work and when I copied and pasted into blogger the formatting got all borked. I tried to fix it but I stopped accruing html skills ten years ago. Apologies. So if the font is inconsistent in size or serif, please know that it bothers me as much as or more than it bothers you.

A few days ago M Instagrammed a picture of Roo at the Phoenix Zoo. I have looked at this picture probably twenty times because Roo is pretty much my favorite thing in the history of ever. 

Most people I know will insist that Roo looks just like me. I’ve never seen much of a resemblance; she looks much more like H than like me. But no one ever met H, and people tend to see what they’re looking for, and Roo did get half of her genes from me. But saying that is misleading, isn’t it? Scientifically it’s more accurate to say that Roo got half of her genes from my parents. The reason that biological siblings sometimes look nothing alike is that each person is the result of a random combination of their grandparents’ DNA. This explains why in my family, siblings look like this:

We're all white. Does that count as a resemblance?

and cousins look like this:

Definitely related.

If I were better at math I think I would have become a geneticist, because this stuff fascinates me to no end. 
Anyway. I’m aware of Mendel's laws and yet I was surprised when I saw this picture of Roo in front of the baboons, because I didn’t see a resemblance to H or to me. I saw a resemblance to my sister. My first thought was, sheesh, I don’t even look like my sister. My next thought was that here is this little person who looks something like my sister, and my sister has never met her, and probably never will. My sister shares DNA with Roo. My sister’s kids share DNA with Roo. From the grandparent-gene perspective, my nieces and nephews could end up looking a lot like Roo. And they will never meet. 
I wondered, for the first time ever, how the other members of my family feel about Roo’s adoption. I know that they think I made the right call and that they are proud of me (I think). But I wonder what they think of Roo herself. I wonder if there is a sense of loss for any of them. My oldest brother met Roo and has met P and M as well. But my other brother and my sister never met my little girl and I can’t imagine any circumstances in which they would. They have to have come to this conclusion as well. Does it bother them? Has it occurred to any of them that their kids share DNA with Roo, too?
My pregnancy has to have raised awkward conversations between my oldest brother and his kids. They lived in town at the time. At that point I’m sure the only birds-and-bees conversation that had taken place involved married mommies and daddies, or if they didn’t, the mommy-without-a-daddy thing probably wasn’t presented as a viable option. I know that my sister told her kids that they had a new cousin when Roo was born. And now I wonder, what was the conversation like when I chose adoption? How do you explain to a child that her cousin isn’t her cousin anymore? 
I wonder especially about my brother Christopher’s family. His youngest, Violet, was born exactly three weeks after Roo was. What kind of conversations went on in their house? My youngest nephew was still a baby when I placed Roo, and my youngest niece was born six months after placement. How will they find out about Roo, if they do at all? I mean, I’m a blabbermouth about adoption but I don’t know how my siblings have chosen to handle the issue in their own families. 
I get that parenting is pretty much all awkward conversations, but how many awkward conversations have I personally been responsible for? I wonder now. I never wondered before, but I wonder now how my siblings explained things to their kids. About Roo when she was mine and about Roo when all of a sudden she wasn't. I never considered or appreciated this burden before. I never cared.

I care more now, I think, and I feel guilty that it's taken me so many years to care. Who am I that I wouldn't give a thought for five years to how Roo and her adoption affected people other than me and Roo and her family? She will be 5 in three months, and yet this is the first time I have ever stopped to think about any of these things. I’m not sure what that says about me as a sister, or as a person. I mean, I know that I’m an inherently selfish being, but honestly, I should have considered these things before. I should have considered them many times. How am I just now realizing, at thirty years old, that I am not an island?

I wonder how much of my lack of consideration for this is due to the fact that my mother was adopted. For my whole life I have simply accepted that I share DNA with people I will never meet. I'm not just talking about my mom's birth family, either. I have cousins on my mom's side that I have never met, and cousins on my dad's side I've only met once or twice. I'm half envious, half mystified when I meet people who are close to their entire extended families. It's nothing I've ever experienced. Is that sad? It sounds sad, I think. I've never given it too much thought. 

But whatever the reason, I'm only now starting to wonder if my family is similarly blase' about having biological relatives they've never met. And I wonder if they include Roo in that relative count. 

I think maybe it's time for me to have a few awkward conversations of my own.