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.