It’s been very cold. After walking to town and back earlier this week, a chill lingered; even snuggled beneath blankets, I could not shake it. My year finishes with a similar sense of lingering uncertainty. In my town, a string of arsons less than a week ago set left two dead, houses and cars burnt and the community stunned and frightened. Words that characterize life here include friendly (here's how to help), warm, and trusting. You know this is the case when amongst the top safety tips offered is to lock doors. It is, in spirit, an open door town, and it is this we love about living here.
On such frigid days, ones that yield seamlessly into the exceedingly thin air of frozen nights, you understand hibernation, cocooning, that innate impulse to tuck into oneself. Shaken by the theft, not just of lives and property, additionally, the theft of confidence, it’s hard not to want to retract similarly.
I’m not all that scared of our house burning down (I’m in denial about the car torched a block down the street, so that phrase just makes the Talking Heads echo in my mind). Bait and switch: I’ve been feeling very tender about sitting with other hurts I cannot heal.
Overwhelmingly, I feel joy as I watch my children grow. It’s so fun to have a wide range represented in these four fabulous young people from adolescence to preadolescence to first grader to toddler, like stone steps beautifully placed into a rolling slope: there’s language and there’s reading and there’s budding independence and there’s adult conversation! Parenting them tends to be kaleidoscopic, in the very best sense.
From this place, with the weight of one year ending and the new one beginning (something I both enjoy and probably take too seriously as a moment for some internal reorganization), I’m having a moment of parental self-doubt. The specifics might seem silly: I’m wondering whether my eldest will ever brush his teeth or turn the lights off, small concerns in the larger scheme of things, I am aware. It’s not the details, themselves, really, it’s wondering how or whether I can help him to pay attention to details not because each one is so critical, but because generally, the ability to pay attention to caring for oneself will make life easier and more pleasurable. Having allowed him to take that eldest “princely” position has probably not served him optimally. I may not be able to fix this (I’m trying, believe me). I have similar pangs about the next one’s unwillingness to dig deep at times, to try not just some but hard. I want him to challenge himself not because I care about some random “best,” but simply so that he may experience that part of himself, that I gave my all sensation. The next one’s sensitivities can make him prickly and hard on himself and impatient and I never quite know when to push him through and when to let him retreat.
With Saskia, the disquiet feels both situational and inherent. The holidays—Thanksgiving through Christmas—had me anxious about how Caroline (Saskia’s birth mother) was faring. I sent gifts and cards to her and her family. What I feel, always, is as if I have the prize: the gorgeous, funny, happy child. Saskia, of course, is not a prize; she’s a person, a small scrappy, smart little girl. If you could taste her, she’d be both sweet and peppery. Rather than acknowledge the responsibility of caring for her—feeding her, changing her diapers, comforting her, clothing her, keeping her safe—I focus upon how lucky I am—and I worry that my happiness comes at someone else’s expense.
Adoption is not simple, that much is for sure. Saskia was not an accident, for us; her arrival into our family was, almost ironically, the most carefully planned of any of the four. Caroline’s pregnancy was something that just happened, as she describes it. As if Saskia’s existence could have, for Caroline, a reason or a silver lining, I’ve harbored a fantasy that Caroline somehow discovers her happiness, and in so doing, she’d find an easier connection to Saskia. I wish this for Caroline’s sake. I wish this for Saskia’s sake. And I wish this to assuage my guilt, because I hate the idea that for Caroline, this decision brings with it unhappiness or hardship. And I know that, along with all else, it does.
I’ve read with interest and admiration mothers’ experiences of relinquishing children and of adopting children. Reading Susie Book's raw and poignant blog this week about relinquishing her baby boy left me with the gnawing feeling I am still holding. Meredith Hall’s stunning book, Without a Map, about her experience ceding a child to adoption pre-Roe as a teenager seared into me how this “decision” (in her case, her parents made the choice) can haunt a woman; around the same time I read many shorter accounts of adoption before abortion was legalized in Ann Fessler's important book The Girls Who Went Away.
Dawn Friedman’s intimate blog in large part about being the adoptive mother in a very open adoption (to the absolutely terrific five year-old Madison), This Woman’s Work, constantly pushes me to aknowledge that at not-quite two, although we adults have been through so much in terms of this adoption, Saskia’s not yet able to talk it out, and so are, in some ways, just about to reach the starting gate. I’m reminded of this every time Saskia brings me Are You My Mother? That’s a book I remember from my childhood and I keep meaning to toss it out (but I have a hard time throwing books away), a book that seemed innocent when I read it to the other children, but that now seems to point out how biology is a marker of belonging, especially in this society. The little bird asks animal after animal, “Are you my mother?” Now, imagining Saskia pondering this real mother question, I cringe each time. Open adoption, for the child, is supposed to help with that, because she knows both mothers and thus doesn’t have to ask an unanswerable question. Inevitably, answering that one, though, leads to others.
Last week, frustrated about something, Remy lashed out, “She’s more my mama than yours, Saskia!” In a calmer moment, I see that he’s trying to understand this, too. In a calmer moment, I remember that he was lashing out at me, not her, but I don’t want her feelings to be hurt. In a calmer moment, I remember that adoption is something each of us experience and must process; it’s not simply Saskia’s or her parents’ or her first parents’.
That adoption affects the entire family comes clear often. We had a visit this week with Caroline’s mother, Janet and her husband, Jacques; Janet’s one of Saskia’s five grandmothers (!). For the first time with Janet, Saskia was easygoing; she let her grandmother hold her and read to her. Usually, Saskia clings to a parent. Janet and Jacques enjoyed this cute small person, so animated and engaged and happy. I don’t know—can’t read into faces—that every time she sees Saskia, Janet (or other family members) go through a what if scenario. I don’t know if there’s a moment when that changes (or has already) and Saskia just is where she is, or given the nature of such a huge giving over, what if endures.
The incredible gift I feel more strongly about almost two years in is this: we are forging relationships that feel like they are growing—young, bright green plants—with all this new family garnered through Saskia. We are fortunate that we have time, seasons and seasons, to grow into this particular constellation. We are lucky that Saskia knows them before she fully can comprehend (and she’s got years, seasons and seasons) how she came to be here.
This year ends with a blue moon (second full moon in one month, and on a clear, cold night, the world glows blue). Like being born in the year of the Golden Pig, as Saskia was, this is a rare occurrence, this New Year’s blue moon. After the fire, the real message we got, as people have organized and rallied and reached out to one another, is that trust and love—and reverence for trust and love—get us through. I first loved the song, Once in a Very Blue Moon, when I heard Nanci Griffith (one of my favorite of favorites) sing it, yet I keep returning to Chris Smither’s version. There are a couple of wintry and melancholy songs holding me up these days: Joni Mitchell’s River, Nanci Griffith’s Beacon Street and Shawn Colvin’s version of Killing the Blues. I turned to the music when I realized that repair isn’t possible, or necessary; love, trust and holding all the feelings, that’s what we have to get through. It may seem it’s not always enough, but if you dig deep, it may well be.