Thursday, October 18, 2012

About that oncoming train...

The closer I get to an event, the more anxious I get for it to arrive. And who doesn't experience this? Does a bride lose interest in the wedding as it approaches? Does a new job lose its lustre the week before orientation? Are children ever as wound up with anticipation about Christmas in September as they are on Christmas Eve? (when Christmas transforms from a season of wonders and delight into an endurance event, a triathalon of cooking, shopping and decorating, Christmas Eve becomes the first moment in a month in which a person can sit and breathe, knowing that if it isn't done already, it's not going to happen, but that is not the point here, and I ask, dear reader, for you to remember back to a simpler, happier time, when you were nine years old, wearing footie pajamas, and Christmas was a magical, wondrous time, all thanks to somebody else doing all the freakin' work).

As our homestudy nears its completion, it is natural for our feelings of anticipation to heighten, but when you are adopting, when you are going through the home study process, the important thing to remember is: nothing about you is normal, natural, or right.

Expectant biological parents may refer to their incipient offspring unit by any terminology they please, and everyone coos and sighs over how cute their pet name is (my favorite name, given by friends to their incoming infant: Particle). We have been thinking and talking to each other and friends for months about our approaching adoption, wouldn't it be weird if we didn't have a name we've given to the Kiddo? And there it is, he is The Kiddo. It's an expression of affection, endearment, not specific to any age, gender, or personality trait. And apparently, it's wrong.

Says the therapist: "this is not 'the kid' you're talking about, this is your child." "My child" is, by the way, the only acceptable nomenclature - "my son" is right out. If I say "I don't know him yet, I don't know who he is, what his history is, what he's like, what I'll love best about him, what he'll like about me, or even if he'll ever feel anything toward me but hostility, but he's my son and it is painful to me to think of him going through this holiday season not knowing that there's a real couple out there who wants him and wants him to come home, even if he doesn't fully believe that somebody wanting him is possible" - and that's close to a quote - the reaction is "why do you say 'son?' Would you be unable to accept a daughter?"

So why do we say son? I am a working mother, B is a stay-at-home father, and over 80% of children in foster care have experienced sexual abuse - often while in foster care, at the hands of other children. I trust B implicitly, but would a girl, of any age, who has been abused by men, be well served by being alone with a man for several hours a day? Neither does it seem fair to B, to either put him at risk of a false accusation or to subject him to being the primary caregiver for a child whose anxiety is exacerbated by his presence. Instead, we focus on the positives, that we have a great male role model who could be of great benefit to a boy who has been without one. Says the therapist: "when you explain it that way it's clear that there's logical thought behind it, but when you just refer to your child as your son, it can make people concerned." John Cullum can holler It's a Boy and then turn on a dime when his granddaughter is born and it's endearing; adoptive parents, don't think you can be like normal parents and that will be ok, because you can't and it won't.

The acceptable adoptive parent fully realizes the future relationship that he or she may be denied by a third party before it ever happens, fully engaging with the unknown child, not as a person but as a role. That is, the adoptive parent must envision having a child but not knowing a person; the adoptive parent is fully disengaged from any anticipation of the qualities their child might have, only what behaviors he or she will engage in. Adoptive parents are expected to be like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, knowing nothing about the children they will be caring for except that there are seven of them. Also, instead of meeting the children the day after she's told about them, in this musical, Julie Andrews goes through a six month screening and training montage (even Rocky had a montage!) in which she is expected to remain incurious about and detached from the children she was told about in scene 1.

Do biological parents get tut-tutted if they let slip that they vacillate from day to day between excitement and unsurety about the big event looming in their lives? If they express a hope that infant arrives before this holiday or that anniversary, does this excite criticism? My youngest brother was born one day after what would have been our great-grandfather's 100th birthday. If the standards applied to adoptive parents were applied to biological ones, My father's thought before the birth that it would be nice if Danny arrived on the actual day would raise concern among professionals, as possibly foretokening an inability to bond with his son, should he not measure up to his parent's ideals.

Maybe it's just this particular therapist. When we talked about our feelings about fertility and our lack thereof, I was emphatic that not only do I not endow fertility with feelings of self-worth, I conciously refuse to do so, dating back to long before we had any idea that infertility would be an issue. I explained that, to me, life is full of paths and producing offspring is just one of those paths, one that not everybody chooses, that my choice to adopt is not one that I see as a second choice to biological parenthood, but as an exciting life's work in its own right, that, even if creating a new child is as important, valuable or meaningful as opening a new life to an underappreciated child, that biological parenthood cannot help but be more ordinary, more commonplace, less interesting, less exciting than the path that we are on. I told her that, as I see it now, had we become biological parents, it would have been a hindrance to pursuing something that I now see as my life's mission. Says the therapist (with urgency): "but you can see how other people wouldn't feel that way?" Thinks me: "so the f--- what?"

My G-d, does she want us to conform. She's not in any insurance network and doesn't file claims herself. When I called to set up the initial appointment she was very concerned about whether our insurance would cover our sessions. I told her since she's out of network, the coverage would be minimal and since it's for an assessment, not for therapy, unlikely that they'll cover it at all, but even if that's the case, it doesn't really matter, since she's the person the agency told us to see to get assessed and cleared for adoption and we consider this to be simply one of the costs of the process. This bothered her. She was reluctant to book the appointment without me checking with the insurance company first. And then, at our first session, she wanted to go over it again. Yesterday she seemed to finally give up on the insurance and move on to parking - she had sent an email that said that parking was available in the lot across the street, but come into the building and check with the doorman about which spaces in the lot are ok and which ones aren't... so we just did on the street parking a block away and enjoyed the walk. This was apparently not acceptable. Unsolicited: "Where did you park?" I just found a space up the street. "Because you know, they ticket here if you aren't careful." Yes, I know, I went to the university two blocks east of here and I lived for seven years in an apartment about a mile west. "You don't care if you get a ticket?" I parked a block west of here, where you don't need a permit. "But there's a lot across the street." Yes, I saw that, I decided to park a block away and walk. I'd been driving for an hour and I knew that I'd be sitting in here for an hour and I felt like stretching my legs. "On your way out, check with the doorman about which spaces in the lot you can use next time."

B expresses that as a result of his childhood, he is hypervigilant about physical threats, and that's not his most attractive or engaging quality now, but it's quirky and interesting and when the zombie apocalypse finally gets off its butt and shows up, we'll all be grateful that B has an office stocked with gas masks and geiger counters (both kinds!) Whatever, he's very aware of physicality and works out a lot because he wants to feel strong. Says the therapist: "is a thirteen year old boy right for you? He might get aggressive." Says B: "I'm 220 pounds and an ex-Army Ranger." Says me: "so, in her world, risk awareness increases the risk? It's like, if somebody told her that he's a very cautious driver and always comes to a complete stop at intersections, she'd ask, if he thinks that driving isn't completely safe, why he ever takes the highway?"

I engage life with a sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurd. When people behave offensively or intrusively, I tend give my inner Dorothy Parker a little more rein, redirecting instead of confronting the offensive party. Says the therapist: "your sense of humor can be off-putting. Try to stop, reflect, and control yourself before you make those remarks." I remark on the general efficacy of unsolicited advice. Says the therapist: "that's the sort of thing you should stop saying."

I HATE this process, where everything is torn apart, second guessed, judged, where we live for months in anticipation, not being sure if, in the end, we will be found acceptable by this agency as prospective adoptive parents. We are living a year in limbo. Says the therapist: "you seem anxious and very keyed into what you think are delays, but six months really isn't very long to be waiting. I'm concerned that this child will introduce stress that will cause you to experience anxiety." The snappy comeback I didn't deliver would have made her happy that it was not delivered, if she knew it existed in the first place, which she couldn't because she'd told me to keep it to myself. I think I'm making progress.

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