Monday, December 14, 2009

Bureaucracy isn't a bad thing

We're at a bit of a standstill in the adoption process right now, hung up on the formalities of waiting for our long-delayed final home study report and the need to provide some additional photos to meet our placement agency's cookie-cutter profile templates. While it frustrates the hell out of me, I am comforted by the fact that these are merely hiccups and that the process we're following to bring Plus One into our family is a tried and true one with rules and guidelines and procedures to keep the expectant mother and our family safe legally. It's a far cry from the wild west of surrogacy as described in yesterday's New York Times:

Surrogacy is largely without regulation, with no authority deciding who may obtain babies through surrogacy or who may serve as a surrogate, according to interviews and court records.

I feel for all of the people involved in the process and am relieved that we elected to follow another path. I can deal with the bureaucratic nitpicking of whether the photos of us as a couple are suitably "formal" or not. Losing our child after going through the process of bringing her into our home and family? That is something I would not wish on anyone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Creating our traditions

It's beginning to feel a bit more like the holidays as we decorated our Christmas tree today.

Despite being in a largely non-religious family, the Christmas tree was always a big deal in my family. We didn't actually do much with the rest of the religious side of things. Sure, we had a carved creche and the baby Jesus was never put into the cradle until Christmas morning but I made up for it by putting the trumpet-playing penguin there instead to fill the space.

We occasionally went to midnight mass but only if we were staying with my mom's mom, who was a practicing Catholic her whole life. The rest of us? We went because that's what you did when staying at my grandmother's house. When I was 14 or 15, I absolutely didn't want to go and my uncle took me aside and bluntly told me to stop being an asshole and go because it would make my grandmother happy. Besides, everyone told me, there would be loads of Christmas carols and it would be fun. It was horrendous actually and afterward, I seem to recall a few members of my family apologizing for making me go. I did of course get my revenge when, six or seven years ago, everyone was at my mom's house for Christmas Eve, my grandmother wanted to go to mass, and wanted my uncle to take her. He wasn't terribly happy about it and appeared to be trying to get out of it. So I very politely reminded him of a certain conversation he had with me twenty some odd years before. Beside, I told him, I'm sure it will be lots of fun.

The big tradition in my family was the trimming of the tree. We'd either get a a pre-cut tree at a local nursery or, for a really special time, go to a Christmas tree farm and pick out a tree that would be cut down on the spot, loaded on the car, and then we'd head home, usually after having some warm cider at the tree farm's little shed. When we got home, my dad would string the lights and then we'd all start putting on the ornaments. For many years, my father made sure to tie off the top of the tree to appropriately solid sections of the walls, doors or windows, a response to a rather disastrous intersection of me at age 4, the concept of climbing the tree, and the reality of gravity. You've never experienced a fully decorated Christmas tree until it's lying on top of you.

Anyhow, while it was something of a free-for-all on ornament hanging, there were some rules. For example, ornaments needed to be hanging freely, not resting on another branch. I recall my mother enforcing this particular one on a regular basis. Then we'd go to bed and my mother would stay up hanging the tinsel.

That was fine with me. Tinsel = tedium thanks to a further expansion of the rules. Not only did the tinsel have to hang freely but there couldn't be more than one or two pieces per branch. Neither I nor my sister had the patience for that and we'd end up with big silver blobs that I think drove my mom nuts. So we'd be allowed to hang a few strands of tinsel and then head off to bed. As a result, the morning after we trimmed the tree was always something of a revelation as we'd come downstairs to find a well-tinseled tree and my exhausted mother.

Needless to say, some of those traditions have slipped by the wayside. I'm pretty sure I've seen some "branch resting" ornaments on my mom's tree and she's given up on tinsel all together.

Tinsel of course was never part of the equation once I got my own place and started having my own tree (not to mention cats who were fascinated with chewing on the tinsel). And when Jennifer and I got engaged and had our first tree together, we quickly began to invent our own rituals, largely because trimming a Christmas tree was an entirely new experience for Jennifer, who was raised in a largely non-practicing Jewish household. For the first few years, she'd worry that she was doing something wrong. But that's the beauty of the thing. It's our tree, our traditions, our rules so anything goes.

In the intervening nine years, we've established our own set of traditions. I do the tree shopping, buying, and transporting. Jenn, while all for the concept of a Christmas tree, still experiences some qualms about using a real cut tree. However, like her unbreakable rule of "no TV set in the bedroom", I have a similarly non-negotiable fake Christmas trees (except for the little one we have in the basement so we can have some Christmas lights down there).

After I set up the tree and haul it inside, I set it up and take up my father's mantle as "official stringer of lights". Once the lights are on, we begin to decorate. The first ornaments to go on are the new ones for the year as we traditionally buy each other a new, unique ornament as our first holiday gifts to each other. Then the star goes on (yes, I know some traditionalists say it has to go on last but once all the other ornaments are on, it becomes that much more difficult to do it without disturbing the other items) and then we delve into the rest of the wrapped and boxed ornaments.

It's like greeting old friends when we do this. We find our gift ornaments from past years and set them aside so that we can each rehang the gifts we were given. We laugh about the odd ones (the fat clear glass reindeer; the beheaded snowman -- just the head, no body, kinda creepy but we like it; the small shark's jaw that my uncle gave me years ago; the cheerleading moose) and try to remember who gave us the other ones. All the while, Christmas music is playing on the stereo so we're joined in our small family gathering by Glenn Miller and Mel Torme, Bing Crosby and Jimmy Buffett, and the modern renditions on the excellent "A Winter's Night" CD. And when we're all done hanging ornaments, a process that takes about 90 minutes, we turn off all the lights, turn on the tree's lights (please god let them not have a faulty bulb somewhere that kills a whole string), and sit together for a while on the couch enjoying the sight with the cats curled up around us before settling in to watch a Christmas special or two.

As we went through the process today, I found myself thinking more and more about these traditions and the others that Jennifer and I have established in our nine years together. We've had almost a decade for these traditions and patterns to evolve. We've created the routines, whether it's for a once-a-year event like trimming the tree to how we typically spend our weekend mornings. They're comfortable and easy now, like a pair of well-worn slippers as we've always been a family of two.

Despite having thought long and hard about it, I don't think I really have any idea of just how dramatically our lives, our routines, and our traditions will be changing in the coming year as we hopefully expand our little family from two to three. In truth, I can't wait.

I see my sister and brother in law with their kids and for years have been envious. Now, I watch them for tips and tricks. One of their Christmas traditions has been "The Elf on the Shelf" for the last two years. The elf made his first appearance of 2009 the morning after Thanksgiving when we were staying with my sister and it was wonderful to see the dawning realization on my four-year old niece's face when she saw the saw the elf smiling at her from a shelf in the kitchen. I am so excited by the prospect of sharing this with our Plus One that I almost went out and bought a copy. Of course, we'll be adopting a newborn so there's no real rush. However, the anticipation of being able to do that is wonderful.

Tonight we watched the 1970 "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" with voices by Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney along with the despicable Burgermeister Meisterburger along with the classic "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" as he discovers the Island of Misfit Toys (resurrected this year in a brilliant cell phone ad). I love the idea of introducing Plus One to these classics along with "A Charlie Brown Christmas", "It's Wonderful Life" and all of the other songs and shows and movies without which Christmas would feel somewhat incomplete.

But more than anything, I can't stop smiling at the thought of the Christmas traditions and the other traditions that Jennifer and I and Plus One will discover together. What's the fun of having traditions is you can't create new ones while passing along those that mean so much to you? Though truth be told, I'll be sorry to see the whole "sleeping in on weekend mornings" routine fall by the wayside.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OMG More?

We were done. We were sure of it. Everything was in. The home study report will be finalized this week or next. All the paperwork was submitted. We sent a CD of photos of everything imaginable in to the placement agency.

What do I discover when I get my e-mail today?

A request for 16 more photos!

Good lord!

We already sent in 60!

This is getting ridiculous.

It doesn't help that the samples of the additional types of photos they need are exactly the kind of photos we typically mock because they're so cheesy and so posed. I keep expecting to see one where someone actually went in and used Photoshop to add a silvery, sparkly starburst that just shouts gleam! to these people's teeth. I'm feeling like we should just go to the local Target, distract the employees, and abscond with all the fake photo inserts of picture-perfect couples that they stick in picture frames..

It looks like all family members will be dragooned into serving as photographers over the Thanksgiving holidays. Gee...that will be fun.


I think I'm just tired and cranky. Good practice for when Plus One keeps me awake all night, I guess.

Say cheese!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thumb Twiddling 101

I feel like there's something I should be doing right now.

After months of effort to collect everything for our home study and then placement agency profiles along with lengthy discussions and musings, we're now simply waiting. Everything's submitted. It's in the hands of other people right now who are finishing the home study report, preparing our profile, etc., and we have nothing to do but wait -- wait to get the final report, wait to see what our online profiles look like, and then wait to see who chooses us and when.

I'm not very good at waiting.

My wife can attest to this. She has to restrain me when I get her a really cool birthday present and want to give it to her early because I'm so excited. I'm definitely (and unfortunately) an impulse purchase kind of person.

Having to sit quietly and wait while other people do their work around me? Nope, not so good at that. I'm also now faced with an entire week off as I take some vacation prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

I wonder if I should start repainting our dark blue guest room something light and baby room-ish?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Loss and Gain

Dear Plus One,

I know you're out there and sometime in the hopefully not too distant future, you'll be coming home with us to our little family. We have a house filled with color and art and books and music and cats. Especially cats. We've always had cats and I expect we always will. We'll definitely be adding a dog or two in the future but might wait on that until you're old enough to help pick him or her out.

On our placement agency application, we made sure to indicate that we hoped you wouldn't be allergic to cats and dogs because we want you to experience the joy of having pets to cuddle with, play with, curl up and take a nap with. Our cats are a little on the older side now but they love us and we love them. I think you'll like them. I'm just so sorry you won't have a chance to meet one of them.

Annabel was the best cat -- warm, loving, gentle, occasionally crazed. She talked a lot, often with a chirr-upp! sound that I've never heard another cat make. And as she got older, she started sounding a bit like my crotchety great-aunt who barked out "I can't hear you!" in the silent hall during my grandfather's memorial service. But for Annabel, it was more like "Get up! I'm hungry and awake and you're not but you should be and by the way you need to be paying attention to me because I love you!" She did, of course, say these things at 4:37 AM in the kitty version of French because that's what your Mom always said she spoke.

Other times, it might have been a mournful howl when, as she got older, she'd forget where we were until we called her. Then she'd come trotting down the stairs with a happy look on her face and promptly curl up into someone's lap. OK, maybe the mournful howl might have freaked you out a bit but believe me, Plus One, there was nothing better than to have Annabel curled up next to you at night purring through her nose and helping you doze off.

I can only imagine the giggles that would have erupted from you as you watched her shift into psycho kitty mode, dashing around the house, using the back of the couch like a NASCAR driver uses the banked curve to make sharper turns, or pursuing, without successful, the dreaded laser pointer (activities that earned her the sobriquet "The Grey Bullet"). Then of course, she would have taught you to tumble and dance, her gymnastic gyrations on your mom's drafting chair serving as an excellent example of the values of flexibility and a regular stretching regimen.

Personally, I was hoping she'd help with the whole "OK baby, it's time to eat your dinner" process as she would calmly sit next to your chair, like she used to sit next to mine, in the hopes of snagging a piece of chicken, a bit of spare rib, or a few licks of sour cream (her absolute favorite). I figured she'd keep you distracted enough, using her Jedi mind tricks, to let us get some food into you without much of it decorating the walls or my shirt.

But best of all would have been the quiet times, when she'd curl up in her bowl on the kitchen table and doze off. We could have sat at the table with crayons or finger paints or bits of colored paper and worked while she watched us through slitted eyes to make sure we were occasionally paying attention to her (because it was all about Annabel) or that we hadn't wandered off, allowing her to snooze secure in the comfort that her people were nearby.

Sadly, Annabel was 19 and a half, which you will learn, dear Plus One, was very old for a cat. And sometimes when kitties are very old (and sometimes when they aren't), the time comes when they need to leave us to go chase mice and little red laser dots and lap up sour cream and curl up in someone's lap to keep them happy and warm and loved until the end of days. And when they're gone, we miss them because they are family, as much as me and your mom and you, Plus One, and all of your grandparents and cousins and dear friends.

It's OK to miss them. It's OK to look at the extra food dish and start to put dinner in it only to realize that there's no one to eat it, to sit at the kitchen table and realize with a start that the pair of grey ears and eyes that always peeked over the table top aren't there anymore, or to lie in bed and feel like it's empty because there's no grey cat curled up next to your head purring away in her sleep. It's OK to feel like there's a hole in your family and your life because there is.

But the wonderful thing is that we'll always remember her and love her and be able to laugh about her antics. We'll bring new pets into our family and we'll love them and they'll love us. You'll be able to crawl around after them or fall asleep next to them or shriek in glee as one of them licks red raspberry preserves off your face.

I'm just sorry it won't be the Grey Bullet. Because you would have liked her and she would have loved you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

So how many of the 150 steps are done now?

Finally, the last bit of writing for our placement agency profiles is complete. The photos are collected and there's even an Excel spreadsheet with captions and details for each one. Everything is printed and the CD is burned. Tomorrow the whole packet gets dropped off in the mail and shipped off to our chosen placement agency for their staff to put together and post...
  • our online profile
  • our "Adoption Spacebook" profile
  • our printed adoptive parent "resume"
  • our birthmother letter for the website, and
  • our birthmother letter for the Courageous Choices website
The only thing left is the final copy of the home study report which, according to M, is just about done and will be ready to send off to the placement agency as well.

So we're sort of done for the moment and it's out of our hands. We now wait for the profile information to be posted. Then we shift into waiting mode and hope that in time, an expectant mother comes to the conclusion that we're the right people to be trusted to raise her child in our family.

No nerves or celebration yet, really. I think the serious bout of nerves will come when the agency lets us know that our profiles are live and that expecting mothers are starting to consider us. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's when the butterflies in the stomach will start.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 close but not quite done

We thought we were done. The birthmother letters were written, the "Adoption Spacebook" questionnaire was complete, 60 photos were selected, captioned, and ready to go. The CD was burned and everything was getting ready to be mailed in the morning so our profiles can be created and birthmothers can begin considering us.

And then we discovered yet another questionnaire that needs to be completed, this one for the "Adoptive Parents Resume" that is printed and given to birthmothers. Argh!

I enjoy writing but this is getting ridiculous.

Maybe we'll be able to finally finish the paperwork (or at least this round of it) tomorrow night.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Staying on an even keel

I received word today that family members and friends were initiating some conversations to plan a baby shower for Jennifer and me. It's tremendously thoughtful of them and while we definitely plan to celebrate at some point, we've also decided that we can't allow ourselves to do that until our child is in our arms and at home with us.

In adoption parlance, there's an event known as "a disruption", when a placement falls apart at the last minute, most often as a result of the expectant mother changing her mind after the baby is born. This is absolutely her right and until she hands us the baby and tells us that the little girl is ours to raise, we have no claim on her. Nevertheless, knowing it and going through it after getting our hopes up are two entirely different things.

Close friends went through a disruption. They arrived at the hospital after the baby was born and as they walked down the hallway, someone standing in the doorway of the birth mother's room said to the folks in the room "Oh, they're here." Our friend turned to his wife and said "She's changed her mind", knowing instantly from the tone of voice. He was right. Thankfully, another opportunity arose for them within a week or two to fill the void.

The agency we're working with takes great pains to minimize the instances of disruption by offering the expectant mothers counseling and support throughout the process, enabling them to identify instances where the expectant mother really might not be completely sure of her decision. Still, after all the steps we've gone through and still have ahead of us, nothing is definite until the birth mother makes that final decision and we are given the opportunity to take our baby home and start our lives as a family.

Until that happens, I think we'll be asking family and friends to hold off on the showers and the celebrations. There are enough things left to be done that there's no sense jinxing it, there's no need to get everyone ramped up about it, and the disappointment from a disruption would be bad enough without coming home to an empty nursery and stacks of baby gifts for a baby we don't have yet.

There will be plenty of time to celebrate -- years of birthdays and graduations and potty training and visits by the tooth fairy. There's no need to rush right now.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Emerge into daylight

October is finally over, thank God -- 31 days long and it felt at least double that.

The weather was bizarre (cold, warm, rainy, sunny, monsoon), the Red Sox lost in the playoffs, and work was absolutely overwhelming in terms of the number of projects divided by the time available. I think I saw my parents at some point during the past month but in all honesty, it's a bit blurry. There were days when my wife and I only managed a mumbled "goodmorninghaveagoodday" as we passed each other on the way out the door followed by a shambling "hi, I'm really beat and am going to bed" when we arrived home at night. Most frustratingly was the dramatic slowdown in our adoption efforts (previously mused upon here). Generally, October was brutal.

What felt especially odd was that I couldn't summon the energy to do much writing at all -- only 10 entries on "Walks in the Marsh", 3 entries on "150 Steps", and absolutely no progress on my maybe-novel, which is stalled following a promising start. After a long series of months filled with writing, everything came screeching to a halt and it felt so weird. It's not that there weren't things to write about -- baseball, football, politics, adoption, movies, TV ("Castle" is our absolute favorite TV show by the way) -- but the idea of sitting down and writing simply lost its appeal after 12 hour days crammed with meetings, writing, and editing at my office or during a weekend otherwise full of work.

Believe me, I'm not complaining. Jennifer and I both have jobs, work with people we like and respect, and get paid for it, which is a damn sight more than other folks. October simply was one of those perfect storm situations where so many things came together that you just needed to focus on getting through the next task or project in the hope that when you emerge on the other side, you would be able to slow down and get your breath (aka "downshifting to impulse speed" as described by my delightfully geeky wife).

And now, at last, October is in the rear view mirror. The major projects that were underway are now done, and there's some breathing room to finish our adoption materials, to hopefully leave work in time for dinner at home with my wife, to relax just a bit, to start taking some of that accrued vacation time that is in danger of being lost come January 1, and hopefully to let some creativity flow and enjoy the feeling of tapping away on the keyboard or scribbling in my Moleskine notebook.

Welcome to November.

(cross-posted on "Walks in the Marsh")

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A picture says a 1000 words but what if you're not in the picture?

Finally, after three weeks of long days, late nights, and full weekends of work, we managed to find some time to get some work done on our placement agency profile materials. In doing so, we made a discovery that may not be terribly uncommon – in the process of selecting the myriad photos required (I'll let my wife explain what is expected of us), we suddenly realized how few of the thousands of photos we've taken since we got our first digital camera 7 years ago actually have us in them.

What will you find in our photos?

Our gardens
Rocky promontories with crashing waves
Cool Building
Family members
Christmas trees
Fascinating stuff in museums
Our friends
Our friends' kids
Interesting creatures at the zoo
Renaissance fair performers
Before and after photos of the inside of our house
Did I mention cats?

Notice anything missing? It would appear that we've been so busy taking photos of other people, places, and things that we neglected to take many pictures of us. And those that have been taken recently? Most were shot on our trips to Maine, which means that yours truly presents a stylish image usually set off by a baseball cap, tshirt, and cargo shorts. Too cool for shorts? Jeans then.

Needless to say, we scoured iPhoto and have come close to identifying enough photos. Still coming up short, we did the next best thing.

We called for help, sending e-mails to people we know regularly take photos at family events in the hope that they have some good action shots to share with us.

Otherwise, it's the tripod and self-timer for us tomorrow!

Oh...and did I mention cats?

We've tried to instill a love of reading in our cats but they prefer audiobooks

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lost weeks

After the excitement of completing the home study, the adoption effort ground to a halt, not as a result of any problems but simply the intrusion of the rest of our lives. October is a hellacious month for both of us with regard to our jobs, a convergence of multiple events, accelerating projects, and long days. As a result, we've made virtually zero progress in preparing our profile materials for the placement agency.

It's frustrating to have reached this point only to come to a screeching halt to deal with other things. It doesn't help that we've both been getting home so late from work lately. Forget about writing our birthmother letters or even writing brief entries in this blog...we barely have the energy to say hello and spend a few precious moments together before passing out at night and then waking up and starting all over again. Today was a grey cold Saturday tailor-made for working on the profile but I instead spent it at my desk working on work because there just doesn't seem to be time during the week to get everything done.

Something will need to change in the future. I'm not going to work so hard alongside my wife to bring a child into our lives only to never see them because I'm at work until 10 or 11 at night. I see my co-workers and I wonder how they do it. Some seem to spend all their time at work and not much with their children. Others are committed to their jobs but also make sure that nothing gets in the way of being a part of their children's lives. I think I prefer to be the latter as I just don't understand how the former can do that.

Of course, we have to find the time to complete the process but first I think I need to get some sleep.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A name that reflects the journey

Naming kids is tough. Do you go classic? Clever? Make something up? Something you don't usually associate with the name of a person?

I'm leaning toward a name that reflects our adoption journey. After all, if Gwyneth Paltrow can name her daughter "Apple" and Penn Gillette can name his daughter "Moxie Crimefighter", is it so wrong to consider naming our little one "Paper Work"?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On its way

OK, now it's getting serious. We sent our application to the placement agency today.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

75 Steps

When I started this blog, it was inspired by a conversation that I had with a neighbor early this summer, in which I remarked that "if the adoption process has 150 steps, we're on step 6."

We just completed step 75.

We're halfway there, if the completion of the home study can be considered the midway mark.

We turned over the completed binder of paperwork and then plunged into a discussion about next steps with the placement agency as well as how they will coordinate with M, our adoption counselor. Toward the end as we began to wrap things up, I asked M if she saw any reasons to think that she might not recommend us.

"I never would have let us go this far if I had any concerns. We would have known by the second meeting," she said.

And so we reach the 75th step. There's a nice, comfy landing here where we can catch our breath.

Step 1 seems so far away now, coming just days after my grandmother died as Jenn and I began to discuss in all seriousness the potential for adoption.

Way down on the 39th step, we can see Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll looking up at us (can't wait to introduce Plus One to the joys of Alfred Hitchcock sometime in the future!).

Looking up at the remaining 75 steps, we see more paperwork, more writing, and more heartfelt conversations. And the end? Well, the end isn't quite in sight yet. Sure, we know that we're making good progress and know logically what needs to happen but the actual end of these 150 steps? I have no idea what it will look like or what our family will look like when we reach #150, nor do I have any sense of what the many many steps that will follow will bring us.

But it doesn't matter at the moment.

75 is my new favorite number.

And even though it's comfortable to relax for a minute and look back at how far we've come in this journey, there's no time to waste. Step #76, the application for the placement agency, is waiting for us and we're on a deadline.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

6 more hours of teachable moments

We've completed four hours of our online classes for prospective adoptive parents. Interesting stuff so far though I feel like I didn't actually see the sun on this lovely Saturday. Only six more hours to go and we'll be pros at this!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The voices that matter

Steadily, we're closing in on the milestone of completing our paperwork for the home study (3 letters remain plus 10 hours of online adoptive parenting classes). There's a massive purple binder sitting on my desk containing the paperwork to hand off to M as well as copies for ourselves so that we'll have a "holy crap, look at what we went through to get you" scrapbook to show Plus One sometime in the future.

Clearly, the hoops we go through now seem, at least from my perspective, to be so much more involved than if we'd had the option to go the natural route at some point in the past. But one man's complicated and involved is another person's laughably simple.

I just finished Doree Shafrir's article on The Daily Beast called "10 Ways to Have a Baby" and after reading what some couples have gone through, our efforts to adopt don't seem to be quite so onerous. Of course, the author also picked out the most sensational ones that she can find, whether due to the sci-fi aspect, the legal aspects, the social issues, etc., but still, a straightforward domestic adoption looks like a piece of cake compared to these (an expensive piece of cake, mind you, but still relatively far).

I also found myself scrolling through the comments at the end and was amazed as the spectrum of comments and, quite frankly, how horribly cruel, vicious, and unfeeling some of them were.

"There is absolute no reason to reproduce beyond the selfish notion of continuing the family seed. And the world only suffers from increasing the number of people on it, no matter how fabulous or special one's spawn could be."

"Some people are not meant to reproduce. Sorry, but that's biology."

"I do not believe in buying children."

Would the people who write these things also say them in public to people who ache for a child or are they simply willing to make declarations like this because they are shielded by their anonymous nicknames?

I guess comments like this shouldn't come as a surprise anymore. Jenn has spent far more time than I reading blogs by adoptive parents, birth parents, adopted children, etc. (Perhaps, like our life insurance agent observed, it's a guy thing to not necessarily have that level of curiosity in this situation.) What are distressing are the sites she's found with comments, especially from birth mothers, that paint us -- prospective adoptive parents -- as evil, misguided, selfish, manipulating pawns of an exploitative adoption industry who should simply pass on the idea of adoption and get on with our childless lives.

While those words hurt and are no doubt heartfelt by people whose situations I don't know, I'm not going to feel guilty. They can have their opinions but I don't have to agree with them. As a matter of fact, I don't. I'm not going to give up, and I'm not going to pass on this opportunity. And neither is Jenn.

We are blessed to have supportive families and friends who know us, who know what we would offer as parents, and who are cheering us on.

These are the people who know us best.

These are the comments that I pay attention to.

These are the opinions that matter to me.

And of course, these are the folks we'll be calling at 2AM when we can't get Plus One to stop crying. I hope they know how much we appreciate their support!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Home stretch on the home study

FBI background checks are in and I haven't been arrested yet so I guess they didn't find anything. Doctors' reports are in. At least one of our personal recommendations has been sent it. We're down to single digits on stuff that needs to get done before we can hand in our completed home study binder!

Saturday, September 5, 2009


This evening, as we gathered in downtown Providence for a United Way event to kick off tonight's Waterfire performance and raise awareness, we meet a couple who will be walking in the United Way procession with their 1-month old daughter. The dad has the baby strapped to the front in a Baby Bjorn. The mom comments how she prefers the sling that she wears. He replies, "She can have the sling. This way is more masculine, I think."

Dude, you've got a baby strapped to your chest in a green Baby Bjorn. Parental? Yes. Comfortable? I guess so. Masculine? That might be a stretch.

I wonder if they come in purple.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

By the bedside

Since earlier this year, my mother has been fighting the good fight against breast cancer. With the apparent success of her chemo treatments, she underwent surgery today to remove the platinum marker pins, previously affected lymph nodes, and the tissue around the now vanished tumors. I went and visited her in the hospital today, a few hours after she came out of surgery and was moved from the recovery room to the room where she'll probably spend the next 48 hours sleeping and recuperating before heading home for several days of quiet time.

It feels like the last two years have involved a lot of sitting by bedsides, most often with my grandmother as she weakened, then faded, and finally passed away on my 40th birthday in April. There was also time spent with my father following his stroke. And most recently, my mother's fight has loomed in the background since February even as she was there at every step for my grandmother and enthusiastically for us as we've moved along our adoption journey. At the same time, we've all been there for dad and for mom, their family and friends. In every case though, the passage of time steadily etches its way deeper on our faces and in each of our lives.

It's struck me that our journey toward desire for a daughter or son...has been in some small part with an eye toward that future in my own life, a desire to answer the question "who will be by the bedside when my wife and I grow older?" There's a certain amount of selfishness inherent in such a thought, a sense that it is all about me but in truth, that's not why I'm doing this, not why I'm so giddy about the thought of adoption, about being a parent, about teaching and learning and sharing so very very much.

Nevertheless, I'll admit to a certain amount of fear of being alone when I'm older or of leaving my wife alone. I saw my parents and their siblings caring for their parents. I see me and my siblings there for my parents now (though thankfully I'm a child of the freelovin' 60s so my parents are still on the youngish side compared to my friends' parents). And in the face of the march of time, the thought of a child or grandchildren to visit us and brighten our days 40 or 50 years down the road is a comforting one, a reassuring benefit to what I expect will be an amazing adventure. Do other parents feel like this or am I just tired and a bit maudlin right at the moment?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The trickle continues

We're in this weird limbo at the moment, terribly close to completing our home study but waiting for the arrival of final documents over which we have no control. They are slowly trickling in -- a financial report from the bank here, an attorney general letter there -- but they seem to be taking a long time. It's September 1 and we've set September 18 as our target deadline to have every piece of paper necessary to hand off to M for her to complete the home study. I know they'll go by fast but 18 days still seems like a long time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Phew, that's a relief

Yet another in our unending string of home study paperwork arrived today. According to the Attorney General of Rhode Island, Jennifer has no criminal record. Now we're just waiting on my state criminal background check. Hopefully they don't find the paperwork from that embarrassing 1992 llama smuggling incident...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Other Stories

Since beginning our adoption journey, I'm amazed at how many people I know or meet who are touched in some way by adoption. By and large, they've also been wonderfully open about their experiences and willing to share them with Jennifer and me. These stories show up in the most unlikely places.

On Friday, I called our insurance provider to discuss our life insurance. In doing so, I mentioned to the agent on the other end of the line (I'll call her "Rita") that we needed some new information as a result of our planned adoption.

"Really? I'm adopted," she said.

"No kidding," I responded, both interested and rather surprised that a complete stranger would volunteer that information.

What followed was a fascinating 15 minute conversation about her experiences and views.

As it turned out, Rita, who was born in 1951, didn't find out she was adopted until she was 40. "It was a different time," she explained. "Records were closed. My birth mother was very young and her parents didn't think she should marry my birth father, so I was put up for adoption."

As she grew older, she started having questions. "It seemed odd -- all of my cousins were like 5'8 or 5'9 and I'm barely 5'2. I mean, where did that come from? When I asked, someone told me my great-grandmother was very short so I guess it made sense, sort of. Eventually, one of my older cousins said that she knew I had some questions and she knew some stuff but couldn't tell me. You can't say stuff like that and then leave it hanging but when I asked, she wouldn't tell me anything."

Approaching her parents was fruitless as Rita's mother brushed aside her inquiries. Eventually, her mother passed away. "I think if I'd had more time, I would have approached my father about it and with mom gone, maybe he would have told me."

But Rita never had the chance. Her father passed away 31 days after her mother. A short time later, buoyed by an evening with her husband and a few bottles of Spanish wine, Rita called her cousin and demanded to know what the cousin knew.

"You were adopted," she was told. "And your birth mother was one of my best friends when I was young."

Understandably, Rita was floored but also fascinated. Knowing nothing and not asking for details, she wrote a letter to her unknown birth mother and asked her cousin to consider passing it along. Some time later, as Rita did laundry, the phone rang. Her husband answered and then came down, phone in hand. It's a woman, he told her, but he didn't know who she was or recognize the name.

It was Rita's birth mother. In the end, she did marry Rita's birth father and they stayed together, raising 5 other children, Rita's previously unknown brothers and sisters, and she was ecstatic to have learned how to reach her eldest daughter.

"It's amazing," Rita told me. "They want me to be a part of everything that goes on in their lives. It's a bit overwhelming though. They have like 50 people over for Thanksgiving and it's always been just me, my husband and our kids."

Then she volunteered another piece of information.

"My husband is also adopted. So was my brother-in-law."

"Are you serious?" I asked in surprise.

"Yes but they knew from the start that they were adopted and for them, they didn't really care. They were never really curious. I think because they were told up front they didn't feel the need to search. Maybe it's a guy thing. Women seem to be more maternal. Maybe it's a health thing. We want to know the details."

I found the comment about guys and curiosity amusing. Knowing someone whose birth father left when he was two, I've seen that lack of curiosity. It may not be true across the entire spectrum of men who were adopted but it's certainly true for my friend who, like Rita's husband and brother-in-law, knew the facts from the very start. On the other hand, we have friend with two adopted daughters and while one has some interest in her birth mother (her "tummy mommy"), the other doesn't see the point in finding out more. However, the fact that they were adopted has never been hidden from them.

It's something that Jennifer and I believe very strongly -- this isn't a secret and we will provide information when and as appropriate. Our Plus One deserves the truth, not secrets and deception. Letting Plus One know about the adoption will not diminish anyway that we are her parents but it will add to the tapestry of her life and her experiences.

"I agree and really believe that kids should know," Rita replied when I mentioned our philosophy. "It doesn't make you any less the child's dad and mom. Anyone can have a baby but it takes parents to raise a child."

And then she added one last comment. "Just remember, Chris...a birth mother gives breath to the child, the parents give that child a life."

And with that, we resumed our discussion about how to make sure Plus One would be provided for in her life if anything were to happen to her parents.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sigh of Relief

OK, everyone was right. We really didn't need to stress today's home visit. M showed up, we gave her a tour of the house (it was pretty quick...our house isn't that big), and then settled down out on the deck (cooler than the interior of said house) for a chat about how things were going in the adoption process.

Not a white glove in sight.

I didn't even turn on the lights in the laundry room to display my well-mopped floor.

Instead, we ran down the remaining paperwork and committed to having a final meeting to hand everything over for her review in 3 weeks.

It feels good to have a finish line for Phase 1 in sight.

Plus we got a nice clean house out of the deal...except for the two baskets of laundry that were artfully obscured on the far side of the bed, but who's counting?

All in all, a good day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The law of supply and demand

Even as we work on our home study, we've been making plans to apply for our actual adoption placement. One element of this process is choosing all of the options available on the "menu". Not only do we consider what requirements we have (no family history of allergies to pets, for example) but also what our preferences are in terms of gender, race, etc. Of course, those options carry with them an additional fee but this isn't really a process that lends itself well to skinflints.

With that in mind, we coincidentally received an e-mail today from our contact at the placement agency we expect to be use. It read, in part:
We currently have a larger amount of birthmothers coming on board with us and the intake calls on the birthmother side for the last several weeks have nearly doubled from the same time last year so we anticipate lots of birthmothers in the next couple of months. We are therefore encouraging more adoptive couples to begin their adoption journey now because the match times will become just that much shorter with this increased action with birthmothers.
As a result, the placement agency's optional cost to state a gender preference is apparently being cut almost in half. So, in a way, our timing couldn't be better as the law of supply and demand (and its affect on prices) is clearly working in our favor both with regard to cost and the possible speed at which we might be joined by our Plus One. Sadly, the glut of birthmothers in need of help is also a tangible and saddening reminder that people around the country are hurting, that they have few options, and that they need assistance.

No more cleaning

Apparently we didn't need to stress and don't need to scrub down the house any more. Jennifer received the following e-mail this evening from M, the adoption counselor conducting our home study:
I wish you would quit cleaning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I read a little of the blog yesterday, and meant to email you last night, but I got side tracked. Whatever you have done is ENOUGH!! Its tooo hot! Go take a walk by the water.
She added as a P.S.:
I haven't looked in anyone's closet in 20 years, and I don't do basements, attics or garages.
Of course, being a somewhat obsessive person when it comes to things like this and careful not to leave anything to chance when it's this important, I did indeed go scrub out the tub this evening.

But that's it.


I'm serious.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

White gloves

Our actual home visit is scheduled for this coming Wednesday. Our adoption counselor, M, will be visiting for 60-90 minutes, to talk with us and also confirm that we do actually have a roof, four walls, etc.

I'm nervous about her visit even though I probably don't have any reason to be. It's not like we live in squalor or a tent. Our house is safe, comfortable, well maintained, and cozy (aka small). There really isn't a reason to worry. I know this. M candidly told us at the start that she's never "failed" anyone based on her visit to their home. The only time she had a concern was when she stepped into a living room with spotless white carpets, white upholstered furniture, and a squeaky clean stainless steel and glass coffee table. Apparently, her immediate thought was "what are they going to do when their kid brings a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in here?"

Needless to say, spotless white and squeaky clean aren't two phrases typically used to describe our home. Clean, yes in general but to be totally truthful, it's virtually impossible to stay ahead of the cats' prodigious shedding. We'll probably be diagnosed with bad cases of furry lung at some point in the future. That or start hacking up hairballs ourselves.

Even so, our house reflects us and how we live our life, the life we want to share with a child. We bought this house 5 years ago and we've made it into a home. It's filled with books and art, fun colors on the wall and fun colors in the gardens, memories of our grandparents, and pictures of places we love and the friends and family we love even more. It's often filled with music (Plus One will need to get used to Jenn's favorite house cleaning music -- Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell" and Journey's Greatest Hits) and laughter and, I'm embarrassed to say, apparently some snoring at night.

Sure, it's a bit disconcerting to see the couples profiled on with their multi-acre yards and huge McMansions. It was a huge relief when we actually found a profiled couple with a small ranch house like ours. However, it is our house and we bought it because we loved the neighborhood, only two houses from the bike path, just outside Colt State Park, and within spitting distance of the shore of Narragansett Bay. So what if the house itself is shaped like a shoebox and has no real architectural points of distinction? We've added those points of distinction through what we brought to it in our efforts to make a home.

So why am I nervous?

I think it's because M's visit to our home will be a tangible reminder that every aspect of our life is being judged right now as part of this home study process. The house -- our home -- is a reflection on us in the same way as the financial records, criminal background check, autobiographies, letters of reference, and other paperwork. M is getting a far deeper and more intimate look into our lives than anyone but perhaps our parents, siblings, and our absolute closest friends in the world. But while we know that our parents, siblings, and friends know us, trust us, love us, and believe in us, M is new to our lives and our future as parents rests on the decisions she makes.

Having her at our home, even if she doesn't give it the stereotypical white glove inspection, is just another step in opening ourselves up for someone to evaluate us and judge our fitness as parents.

I know we'll do fine. Hell, I mopped the basement today as well as mowed, weed whacked, and spent 90 minutes doing nothing weeding, pruning, and cleaning out the bird bath. Jenn completely rearranged her closet and a full scale assault on cat fur with the vacuum cleaner commences bright and early tomorrow. With the exception of the closet, all are things we would normally do. They just take on added emphasis this time around.

We'll do fine.

But I think I'll still be just a bit nervous if you don't mind.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Finicky Eater

Dads are supposed to be role models. They're supposed to provide guidance and an example of how a child should live his or her life.

I'm going to have a problem.

I'm a finicky eater.

Sometimes it's a texture thing. Sometimes it's the taste. Sometimes it's the result of a prior bad experience. Sometimes it's just the fact that something doesn't look particularly appealing. When I was 16 and at Disney World with my family, my mother offered to buy me any book I wanted if I'd just try an oyster in cream sauce while at the French restaurant in Epcot Center. To this day I can still feel the sensation of that thing sliding down my throat, and I think my mother still feels guilty.

As a result, I'm the person who, when going out to a new place with friends, always gets the odd look followed by the query, "Will you be able to find something you like here?" Even after I say yes, I often get the question at least once or twice more prior to ordering, apparently on the assumption that I lied the first time and am tamping down a queasy stomach just to be polite.

Usually, it was simply an issue that affected me and perhaps friends when selecting places to eat. Now I realize I'm going to be faced with our Plus One looking to me for guidance on what's good to eat.

I might be totally screwed.

In the last few days, the degree to which I will be out of my depth was brought home to me, first as I read "Hungry Monkey" by Matthew Amster-Burton, the Seattle restaurant critic's riotously funny look at trying to teach his daughter to be an adventurous eater and the eating habits of children from birth to 4 years old. Then I watched "Julie & Julia", the tale of Julia Child discovering and teaching her love of French cuisine in parallel with a Queens, NY blogger's quest to cook every one of the 524 recipes in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in 365 days.

In both cases, I looked at the recipes, the food being prepared, the food being eaten, and thought to myself "Ummmm...I hate mushrooms." Well, I thought a few more things than that but that's a quick and easy summation of my approach to food.

It's limited, I know, but it's worked for me for the last 40 years.

Now, things may have to change a bit. I'm pretty sure I'll need to learn to suppress my inner Calvin. If Plus One is going to need to learn new things, it looks like Dad is going to have to go along for the ride. Otherwise, when it comes time to eat dinner, I'll be reap in spades what I've sowed over 40 years of finickiness.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Distilled to 10 pages and 45 minutes

This weekend saw Jennifer and I spending loads of time together at home and virtually none of it with each other. Instead, we each sat in front of our respective computers -- me at my desk, Jenn wherever caught her fancy thanks to her laptop -- and worked on our autobiographies for our home study virtually all day Saturday and Sunday.

The challenge wasn't trying to figure what to put in so much as what to keep out. We were presented an outline with detailed questions about our lives with family and friends, our careers, our marriage, our views on parenting and discipline, motivations for adoption, finances, our home, our plans for the future, and more.

The outline was 3 pages long.

We were each given a target length of 5 to 7 pages for our completed response.

My initial outline of the facts and some key observations, leaving virtually everything out, was 24 pages.

I was completely and totally screwed.

When I was in high school, I was asked to turn in a 10-page paper. I turned in a 20-page tome. I have a habit of overwriting sometimes.

By Sunday afternoon, I had it condensed to 14 pages of text. Then I resorted to an old homework trick -- I played with the layout though instead of condensing the margins, increasing the font size, and expanding the leading between lines to make it longer, I expanded the margins, cut my typeface size by half a point, and made a few other tweaks.

Now I was at a full 12 pages.

It was killing me. I wanted to answer the questions as completely and truthfully as possible. How could I possibly do so in when the outline was almost half the length of my assigned document?

I was trying to distill 40 years of experiences into less than 2 pages per decade. Sure, a straightforward list of family members' names, my career chronology, etc., would have shortened things up dramatically but was that really the point?

Our adoption counselor, M, wanted the autobiographies to assess our fitness as prospective parents, to get a sense of how we'd approach parenthood, what experiences good and bad we'd bring to the table. I desperately wanted to do well, to make the case that yes, Jennifer and I will be good parents and will love and cherish our Plus One. A recitation of names and dates would serve no purpose, provide no insight, offer no color.

In the end, I managed to get it down to 10 pages, joking that if I extracted the 3-page outline, I was right on the mark for the document length. Of course, I cheated a bit with hyperlinks out to various blog entries both here on 150 Steps and on my other blog, Walks in the Marsh, to provide greater insight.

Still, I look back over what I wrote, what I submitted to M and wonder -- did I provide enough information? is there something in there that will raise a flag? will my desire to be a, to do my utmost to be a great dad...come through? Will Jennifer's new passion to be a mother -- something everyone who knows her can see blazing from her like a beacon -- and her sublime skill and connection with children emerge from her own 10-page autobiography?

We'll find out tomorrow afternoon at 4PM and 5 PM when we sit down with M for 1-on-1 discussions about our lives, this time distilling it all down not to 10 pages but to 45 minutes.

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

So...let's talk about your marriage (but sign this first)

Apparently, our marriage the topic of the next meeting with me, Jennifer, and M, our adoption counselor and the woman conducting our home study.

Our first meeting, held last Friday, focused on bringing M up to speed and her going over the huge amounts of paperwork we'll need to provide, among them being:
  • written confirmation from the Bristol, RI, police, the RI Attorney General, and the FBI that we are not bad people
  • our autobiographies (I'm hoping David McCullough will be available to ghost write mine)
  • financial reports, tax records, mortgage details
  • 3 letters of reference from friends confirming that we are not bad people
  • letters from our employers confirming that we are not bad people and that we actually are gainfully employed
  • medical reports
  • and the list goes on
However, meeting #2 tomorrow is when the fun starts. "Next week, we'll talk about your marriage," M says to us as we're wrapping up our first meeting. Of course, she gives us no clue as to exactly what we'll be talking about when it comes to our marriage so imaginations have run wild over the last 5 days as to the potential questions.

Once we get through that gauntlet, we'll have at least 2-3 more meetings with her, host M during a visit to our home, and then take part in an additional 10 hours of parenting education. And this is just for the home study. We aren't even talking about the next step of working with the placement agency to get out there as adoptive parents and hopefully be selected by a birth mother!

Seriously, China would not have to worry about overpopulation if they required everyone to go through this process before having a biological child. There's more paperwork than when we bought our house, though as I noted on my Facebook page the evening after our first meeting, "Of course, you can always sell your home. Kids are forever and appear to result in a correspondingly larger amount of things to be signed."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Baseball for families

I was planning to blog about our trip to the Pawtucket Red Sox game last night and how we were surrounded by parents and kids, most of whom were having a great time. However, Jennifer beat me to it and wrote such a fantastic piece that I'm going to just point you to it and say "yeah, me too." Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


During my recent 1-day jaunt from Rhode Island to Chicago and back by way of Baltimore (a trip highlighted by an act of unexpected kindness), I spent large part of the day in and around airports or on the airplanes that service said airports. For the first time, I spent time watching, really watching, the families traveling with children.

Historically, my observations of families with children in airports are usually accompanied by an internal dialogue that goes something like this: "Boy that kid is loud...How can they manage to get all that stuff in those bags?...ummm, yeah I think you're going to need to check that stroller...oh boy that baby is crying again...ah scored a moderately comfy seat by the window...oh no, I just made eye contact with the mother! Will my noise-cancelling headphones cancel out a crying baby?...oh boy here they come...ok polite smile...please don't please don't please don't...yes, they're heading farther back!" Of course, the Universe usually pays me back for such uncharitable thoughts by having a gentleman who looks like he ate all of the Marx Brothers sit in the center seat next to me, jab me in the side with his elbow, and fall asleep facing me and bathing me in a halitosis funk.

On Wednesday, however, I watched with a whole new eye. Someday soon that's going to be me. Other people are going to look askance at me and dread seeing me walk down the aisle of that plane. And so I watched these families in curiosity and with an eye toward shamelessly borrowing any pattern of behavior or coping methods that seemed to keep the children quiet or happy. What works? What doesn't? And will people forgive Jenn and me if we can't keep the baby quiet?

It's something of an urgent concern.

Odds are, we'll be adopting our Plus One from a birth mother living somewhere else in the United States. Eventually we'll have to go home. Do we drive? Do we fly? If we do, we're going to be those "getting on an airplane with an infant" parents that I'd always secretly dreaded. Not only that but we'll be getting on that plane with virtually no practice at the whole parenting thing. Usually, families head home with newborns in their cars and the relatives fly in to visit. Nope, not us.

Looking at resources on line, there seems to be a general trend towards "wait until the baby is at least two weeks old" but other sources say 3 months, some say it's OK any time just be prepared for the baby to get sick from all the people and germs in the airport. Conveniently, the TSA allows you to bring baby formula through checkpoints with you now so that answers the questions I had about whether or not we were going to have to find some way to make it once we got through the checkpoint.

We've got a lot to learn about this whole parenting thing. So many questions and every normal, familiar experience is now colored by the realization that the next time I do this, whatever this is, it will be in the company of a little tiny person who will be fully dependent on me and my wife. Nothing will ever be the same and I can't wait.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Time to get started

We returned home from watching "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" this evening (see my review here) to find a message from Alliance for Children in response to our application for our home study. Hopefully, we'll be able to connect tomorrow with M, the social worker we met with a month ago, and get the first of our interviews scheduled. It will feel like such a relief when we actually get underway.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The book of fatherhood

Since receiving a Kindle for my 40th birthday (an event chronicled here on Walks in the Marsh), I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my lifelong love affair with books. It was there from the start -- I was graced with all the books I could read and parents who firmly believed in the value of the library as well as owning books for yourself.

When I was young, the day rarely ended without being read to by my mom or dad. It was one way that they showed me, every day, that they loved me. I was introduced to Narnia, for example, by my parents reading a chapter a night to me in bed. I can still recite portions of "Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo" in the same sing-song my mother used 35 or so years after she first read it to me.

When I was older, I'd hide under the covers with a flashlight to continue reading after my parents told me to turn the light off. Summers on Cape Cod found my grandmother and me going to the small library in Eastham at least once a week to select books to read at the beach or in the comfy chairs by the big expanse of glass as the stars winked at us from high above the small red cottage at the end of Old Farm Lane. Even now, my bedside table is stacked with at least 7 or 8 books and our "to be read" shelf in the kitchen groans under the weight of the treasures yet to be discovered and friends still to meet.

I realized recently that this is one of the reasons I want to become a parent -- to have the opportunity to raise my child to enjoy the same love for the written word that my parents instilled in me. Perhaps you could make the case that I'm confusing reasons to become a parent with things I desperately want to do as a parent. Personally, I don't see them as mutually exclusive.

If one purpose of parenthood is to share the world and your beliefs with your child so that they can have a happy, healthy, full life and be equipped to make the best decisions for themselves, I can't think of a better path to take than to help instill in them a love for reading (being a Red Sox fan might run a close second but that's a topic for another blog post). For me, becoming a passionate reader is the closest thing to a religious upbringing that I can offer my child being as I am generally uninvolved in any actual organized religion.

A week ago, Nicholas Kristoff's Sunday column in the New York Times encouraged parents to read to their kids and to get kids to read for themselves this summer:
So how will your kids spend this summer? Building sand castles at the beach? Swimming at summer camp? Shedding I.Q. points?

In educating myself this spring about education, I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains.

This is less true of middle-class students whose parents drag them off to summer classes or make them read books. But poor kids fall two months behind in reading level each summer break, and that accounts for much of the difference in learning trajectory between rich and poor students.

A mountain of research points to a central lesson: Pry your kids away from the keyboard and the television this summer, and get them reading.
And with that, he offers a list of the greatest kids' books ever. My favorite comment from his list: "The Harry Potter series. Look, the chance to read these books aloud is by itself a great reason to have kids." (Hopefully you'll be able to read this column via the a Times subscriber, I can't tell if this is subscriber-only content. If it is, post a comment and I'll at least least recap the books on Kristoff's list.)

Many of the books on his list are ones that I would have had on my own. I can think of so many others that I would add to the list.

This weekend, my 10-year old sister came to visit us for several days. Together, the three of us rode our bikes into town and to the newly refurbished Rogers Free Library to check out some books to read with her over the weekend. After so many years away from most childrens' books, it was like a family reunion for me as I walked among the shelves of books and found old and dear friends from my own childhood. Seeing Jennifer reading one of the books to S there in the library made me ache for the time when I'd be able to do that with my own child and give them the most valuable gift I can think of -- a lifelong reminder of how much I love her.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Abierto? Cerrado?

I was among the first generation of Sesame Street viewers as it premiered only a few months after I was born. I grew up loving the fuzzy monsters and the cast members (I met the late Will Lee who played Mr. Hooper when I was 5 or 6 when he performed at the theatre where my father worked, wept when he died, and still have the autographed black and white cast photos that he sent me). I learned numbers from the Count and sang along with Oscar and Big Bird. I don't remember much of my foreign language classes from junior high and high school but, thanks to the humans and Muppets repeatedly stepping in and out of doors or opening and closing windows on Sesame Street, I'll never forget how to say open and closed in Spanish.



Of late, I've been thinking about Sesame Street (looking forward to sharing it with Plus One eventually) as well as those long-ago lessons about "abierto" and "cerrado" as we consider whether we're going to be more comfortable with an open or closed adoption and, if open, to what degree.

When originally considering domestic vs. international, one of the appealing facets of an international adoption is that this issue largely goes away. We would have little if any information about the birth parents and there would be virtually no chance of future, unexpected contact. However, as we've moved closer to pursuing a domestic adoption, we're facing the issue again, along with all of its weighty questions about how it will affect our future and the future of our Plus One.

Seeking a better understanding of the other parts of the "triad", Jennifer has spent a great deal of time recently reading blogs by birth-mothers and adoptees and much of what she has found has been challenging. These posts, with their anger and sense of abandonment, also have made her think more about having an open adoptive relationship in which our Plus One grows up actively knowing and interacting with her birth mother.

For me, my instinctive reaction is to push back against that. Our goal is to become a family with a child. We will be her parents, we will love and care for her. We won't hide the adoption or deny our child information about her birth parents (if the birth parents provide information) but she will have one set of parents -- us. Yes, she will have a birth mother and father and I will forever be grateful that they trusted us enough to allow us to bring their baby into our lives but I am scared of what it would mean to have them actively involved.

Would it cause confusion in our child? Would it reduce the strength of the connection and bond we hope to create with our child? Would it make me feel any less a parent or be seen by my child as any less her parent? Am I simply responding to some primal fear or an irrational lack of confidence? By the same token, I've seen up close the disruption, fear, and worry that besets a family when a birth parent suddenly reappears after decades in the wilderness, even when information about the birth parent was available.

It's a decision with lasting, profound ramifications in the same way that choosing a name carries such weight that it can influence a child's entire life. How does one choose? As a prospective parent, how do I know that, together with Jennifer, we're making the right decision for us or for our child? How will our choice affect the birth parents and how will their expectations and needs affect us?

And so I find myself looking at a door but not sure how I want and need it to be.





Saturday, July 4, 2009


Now that our home study application has been sent in and we've settled on an agency to work with for a placement, I find my compulsive need for instant gratification kicking in. When will we hear from the home study folks? How quickly can we get started? As Jennifer will attest, I am sometimes lacking in patience once I get my mind set on getting something.

Attending Bristol's 224th July 4th parade today and seeing families and kids enjoying themselves simply ramped up my desire to keep things moving, to build the momentum, to reach a point where we'll actually be able to plan how we'll attend the parade next year and where we'll be able to sit out of the sun while Plus One naps (or doesn't...her or his choice).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Real soon!"

In one of my favorite movies of all time, the cult classic, "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension," the leader of the evil Red Lectroids exhorts his minions as they attempt to escape Earth:
Lord John Whorfin: Where are we going?
Red Lectroid Minions: Planet 10!
Lord John Whorfin: When?
Red Lectroid Minions: Real soon!
I feel like we're living that right now as Jennifer and I finished speaking with B, a friend of a friend, this afternoon, except that our version goes more along the lines of:
What the hell are we doing?
Adopting a kid!
Real soon!
B and her husband used the domestic placement agency that's been on the top of our list, the Adoption Network Law Center, and with only a few minor issues, had an extremely positive experience. Most notable was how fast it all went. Two months after completing the paperwork, they were offered a placement and accepted and one month later had their newborn daughter in their arms. This is a tremendous difference from the lengthy waits from other agencies or on the international side of things. After our conversation with B, Jenn walked into the living room and blurted out, "Holy crap! We could have a kid really soon!"

Yep, that's a fair assessment. At this rate, if we complete all of our paperwork, get the home study completed, and rob a few banks for the funds (ha ha, just kidding...gulp), it's not at all unreasonable to think that we could at least have a placement by Christmastime and welcome Plus One to the family in early 2010.

So say it with me...
What the hell are we doing?
Adopting a kid!
Real soon!


We may be a bit closer to identifying the next piece of the puzzle. In one of those "small world" moments, we learned that close acquaintances of Jennifer's best friend G adopted two children through the same domestic agency that is currently the leader on our list. Conveniently, Jenn met them at G's wedding and after a quick flurry of e-mails, they've graciously (and apparently enthusiastically) agreed to talk to us this weekend about their experience.

I'm a firm believer in using consumer review sites like Epinions as a resource when it comes to making a purchasing decision. While we haven't found anything similar for adoption agencies, we have discovered that the broad network of adoptive families is, by and large, a very open one when it comes to sharing information with people like us who are just at the start. Agency marketing materials are all well and good but having a chance to speak with people who worked with that agency (and aren't necessarily on the agency's "approved customer testimonial list") is absolutely invaluable.

More to come following our conversation later today...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to choose?

While we are probably 85-90% certain that we'll choose to pursue a domestic adoption, it's not yet set in stone. Following her post on domestic vs. international adoptions, Jennifer received some wonderful comments on her blog from folks around the country with words of encouragement and wisdom, including some speaking very highly of international adoptions.

Personally, I'm finding that making that choice is tremendously difficult as I swing back and forth with each new piece of information to plunk itself on our kitchen table. Truthfully, there's a 6-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other feel to it.

We find the international adoption route appealing because of the sense that once the adoption is complete, it's over and done with, leaving little if any chance that someone from our Plus One's birth family would appear in the future. Friends and family members have successfully completed international adoptions and have no regrets. On the other hand, international adoptions leave us with little in the way of health or family information for our Plus One, a fact that I admit does frighten me a bit. Even with the aid of adoption doctors specializing in this area, it strikes me as a nerve-wracking prospect to agree to bring a child into our family on the basis of two sketchy pages of health information, a photo or two, and, if you're lucky, a brief video.

Domestic adoptions seem to offer the opposite -- more health and family background so you have a better idea of what to expect but also some level of contact with the birth mother and possibly the birth father based on how open the adoption is. In our conversation with one adoption center, they described the 50-page application a birth mother needs to fill out to be accepted into their program. That seems pretty overwhelming -- I'd have trouble coming up with 50 pages of health information on me! But that means, from the perspective of prospective adoptive parents, that we'd have much more information to go on, not only when making the choice about accepting a placement but also about the future health and well-being of our Plus One. Our friends K and D, who adopted two wonderful girls domestically, speak very highly of the process and of the fact that they met both of the birth mothers, a sentiment shared by other bloggers and writers.

However, I know that the flip side -- the re-emergence of a birth parent in the future -- can be a tremendously disruptive experience for the child (or young adult) and the adoptive parents. Do I want to risk putting my child through that? Do I want to risk putting Jennifer and me through that? At the same time, I believe that our pasts are so much a part of who we become. Yes, our family history will belong to our child and I hope she revels in it but with an international adoption, we wouldn't be able to share the story of her birth parents should she want to know at some point. An old friend of Jennifer's was adopted from South Korea and spent frustrating and ultimately fruitless years in her 20s trying to find her connections in her birth country.

It's a daunting prospect, like choosing our child's name. It's fraught with challenges and benefits that will profoundly affect the life and future of our family. How does one choose?

Putting some skin in the game

Tomorrow morning we take our next significant step in the adoption process as we submit our application to our agency of choice for a home study along with a non-refundable check. After two months of discussions, online searches, research, and more, we're putting some skin in the game and officially getting things rolling.

While we'd work with a different agency for placement, provided we go domestically, we're looking forward to working with Alliance for Children to conduct the initial assessment as well as the pre-adoption paperwork. And if we do elect to pursue an international adoption, they're well positioned in the countries of interest.

It feels good to be taking concrete action.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Say it with me now...practice practice practice.

I think that's the overarching mission of our cats right now -- to give us as much practice as possible in the art of parenting and living with interrupted nights' sleep before we ever get around to having Plus One join our family.

19-year old Annabel, also known as the Grey Bullet, routinely starts howling at 4AM every night. It's not that she's hungry. It's not that she's hurt. Basically, she's awake and wants attention. Plus, if she crouches at the head of the stairs, the reverberations down the stairwell are positively operatic. So I roll out of bed, shuffle down the hall, scoop her up, and carry her back to bed where she immediately falls asleep.

And then there's 15-year old Cecilia, who thankfully doesn't do too much besides be grumpy, with the notable exception of last evening when she walked into our family room with a decidedly awkward gait. As I turned to watch her, she promptly put her butt down on the tile, lifted her hind legs, and started scootching across the floor using her front legs, all the while with a look on her face that clearly said "I have lost all dignity and it really sucks." Needless to say, Jennifer and I got to enjoy a quick preview of the "Mom! Dad! Wipe my butt!" syndrome and all with a pissed-off and humiliated cat squirming for escape.

All of this reflects the experiences our friends with children have been oh so eager to share in recent weeks. There's the story about how F coated her father J with milk puke just as their bus was arriving at Logan Airport for a 3-hour flight to the midwest. Last weekend, a new friend proceeded to bring us up to speed on various pee- and poo-related incidents that occurred with her young son both in and out of the car during drives to and from Pennsylvania. I've lost track of the tales of things that end up in your hair, in your lap, in your mouth, on the walls, etc. Of course, the coda to all of these stories is that "It's absolutely worth it." That's what everyone has told us and I believe them. I'm just going to try and keep my mouth shut.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Welcome to the start of the journey

When my wife Jennifer informed me that, after 8 years of marriage and many hours of discussion, that she was ready to expand our family and pursue an adoption, the research began in earnest.

Books -- some purchased by us, others handed off by friends and family who had adopted children -- began to pile up on the kitchen table and nightstands. Websites were Googled and bookmarked. We began to have the first of many conversations with professionals in the field, adoptive parents, and friends who were adopted. Jennifer promptly ID'd multiple blogs written by moms about their experience either with adoptions or just as parents.

I tried to do the same thing but ran into an interesting little problem -- I couldn't find any blogs by prospective adoptive fathers.

Actually, that's not quite true. I found a number of adoption blogs written by guys but virtually all of them were (or are being) written by gay men about their quest to adopt children. I applaud their efforts and wholeheartedly believe that gay and lesbian couples should have every right to adopt but after reading some of these blogs, I was feeling a bit left out. Where were the hetero married guys who wanted to document their quest to adopt a child, grumble about the paperwork and bureaucratic hoops, and celebrate the addition to their family? Of course, that idea might simply fly in the face of the stereotypical hetero male concept, I suppose.

Something needed to be done.

I first wrote about the start of our adoption journey on my other blog, "Walks in the Marsh". However, it was a conversation with a friend, as she inquired how our adoption effort was going, that inspired "150 Steps." When asked about our progress, I started to explain all the things we were doing and still had to do before giving up and saying, "If the adoption process has 150 steps, we're on step 6." Since it's going to take some time to walk those additional steps, I thought I'd keep a record of our progress so our hoped-for "Plus One" will know how hard we worked to bring her into our family.

Here it is.

Eenie meenie miny moe...

This post was originally published on "Walks in the Marsh" on June 14, 2009

How do you figure out which adoption agency is the one you want to work with?

When we were thinking about an international adoption, it seemed pretty straightforward -- we knew a number of people who had successfully adopted children from different countries. Plus, certain agencies specialize in certain countries. Therefore, we just needed to figure out the country we'd be interested in, talk to the people we knew who might have dealt with agencies supporting that country, and then interview a few agencies to decide who we wanted to work with to find a child for our family.

It got a bit more complicated when we shifted our view toward a domestic adoption. We only know one couple who adopted domestically (twice and very successfully) and they spoke very highly of their experience with their agency. However, my call to the agency revealed that we weren't going to be a good fit due to the agency's Board of Directors-mandated mission to place children in Christian households. With a non-practicing Jew and a never-practicing Catholic/Protestant/Unitarian/Episcopalian/who-knows-what making up our loving household, I think we'd have trouble qualifying. But hey, that's cool and no hard feelings. There are plenty of other agencies out there.

And there are. And that's the challenge. Because we simply need a Rhode Island-licensed agency to conduct the home study and help with paper work, we have the option to work with any agency in any state for the actual placement. However, a simple Google search for "domestic adoption agencies" reveals 2,200+ hits. Using one of the general adoption resource sites, we find 399 domestic agencies. How on earth do we choose? Part of me just wants to print out the list and just start throwing darts to see which ones I hit. I've held off on doing this as I'm not very good at darts so I might miss them all, which would bring our adoption journey to a confused halt.

We've started to talk to a few and it's been an eye-opening experience. Jennifer highlighted one such call in a recent "In the present moment mom" blog entry. Eventually we'll figure out which one to work with but while there will hopefully be some level of comfort and confidence in the agency, part of me feels like it will simply be the result of a wild-assed guess. Of course, while WAGs are fine from time to time, it's not exactly my preferred basis for adding a child to our family.

Plus One

This post was originally published on "Walks in the Marsh" on June 6, 2009

Things may be changing in our lives at some point in the future. My wife, Jennifer and I have decided to upgrade to Family Plus One by starting the journey toward adopting a baby. Over the course of our 8-year (and counting) marriage, family has occasionally been a topic of discussion but it always came down to two differing opinions -- I hoped to have one, Jenn leaned more toward the "nope, not gonna happen" side of the spectrum. As a result, it was something of a shock when, as my birthday gift, she told me that she was ready to consider it. Wow, things really do change when you hit 40!

Since that particular barrier fell, she has thrown herself into the process wholeheartedly, debating baby names, coming home with baby user manuals, and launching her own blog to record the journey. It's quite a change and in all honesty, one that I'd given up expecting to ever see.

Now the research into the adoption process is well underway, initial inquiries have been made, interviews have been had with a few agencies, and the smelling salts are always at hand to help rouse me to consciousness when the dollars start getting discussed. At times I feel like Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride" as, under stress from the costs of his daughter's wedding, he stands in the supermarket tearing bags of hot dog buns apart so he can buy just the number he needs. Want to specify a particular gender? Certainly we can do that for you, sir! It will just be another $5,800. Would you care to look at the menu of options one more time? Thank you and come again.

Unlike hot dog buns, of course, setting out to add that long-hoped-for Plus One is not the time to pinch pennies. Instead, it's a time for long, serious discussions about what we hope our family will be, how we will raise our child, and what it means for our future. We look ahead toward our jobs, our goals for the years ahead, our plans for the house, and everything now revolves around someone we don't know yet, like a player to be named later but in diapers, and it's extraordinary.

When I told my father our plans, he replied "It will be most important thing you'll ever do." I expect he's right, which raises all sorts of pressure to get it right. Like any parents, I'm sure there will be plenty of times that we don't but hopefully, the times we do get it right will matter far more in the long run. After all, I want my child to think his parents are pretty cool, just like I do my folks. That seems like a worthwhile goal to shoot for.