Monday, August 27, 2012

Finding Footing

What does it means to mother when one is not a natural mother? Or am I? Is a natural mother a person who spent her childhood longing to mother and to be married. I don’t know why I say I’m not a mother by nature, just because I spent my 20s and then some of my 30s eschewing motherhood. It’s not, after all, something you study for or learn, as if preparing for a career. Or maybe it is.

Finding myself pregnant I was terrified I would lose myself. But then I found my way and here I am. Still. And with Alvin as a cohort.

And then, with adoption, I did trust I would find my way. And did (so far).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Many Lives in One

What I don’t get is how I’m a single early 30s chick living in “the city” in my little yellow, purple, and green Williamsburg walk-through and going out with wacky gay friends to bars with names like Dicks and The Cock (as in rooster) and with cool-chick single gals to basement bars whose names escape me now, and yet I’m a middle-aged mother living in Middle America with mid-level income (maybe) and with two kids and a husband.

How did those two things happen in the same lifetime? A lifetime that also included waking up as a 20something to my hipster Minneapolis life of leisure in a rented room in somebody’s house on a frosted-over freeze-breath day that might include a walk around the lake with Mike, then over to Jen’s house to act out video dancing moves from a Sade video, including a fake rebirth (at our height of new-age jest because the country was then at its new-age height) and then a night at the Entry gladly inhaling secondhand cigarette stink and the sounds of local band number 52 and pointing out cute boys and worrying over my baby face and my small pig eyes and lack of eyebrows and eyelashes (perennial too-blond crisis and, yikes, perennial just autocorrected to peri-anal). And the joyousness of figuring out what to wear to such events. I once attended a Timberwolves game and then walked over to the Entry with Jen in a long turquois embroidered dress over a black slip with black tights and, likely (though I don’t remember this for sure) high-top Converse All-Stars. I wish I hadn’t thrifted back that dress. I think of it monthly. I recently tried to buy its replacement on eBay to niggling reward.

And not to mention the late-twenties, when I lived in an upper Duplex near Uptown (Minneapolis, again) with the three male comedians. And then I bought a house nearby and became a landlord to two of the comedians.

And the mid-twenties, when I had a quarter-life crisis about turning 25 (geez) and moved to Winona Minnesota to work two years as a cops and courts reporter on a small newspaper and listened nightly to the polka hour emanating from the basement of a Wisconsin-man’s home set-up. And was serenaded with the beer–barrel polka by a boy standing on top of a table at an over-the-border Wisconsin biker bar. And made a close group of misplaced from the city friends working for peanuts and trying to pad our resumes in hopes of a one-day glamorous job in an industry that no longer exists (newspaper journalism).

And then the early midlife crisis when I moved back here and then two months and one week later met Dan and then one year and a couple of months later found myself knocked up.

A landlord. A homeowner. A New Yorker. A mom.

How do we all fit all our lifetimes into one? It’s sad, really, remembering so many lives, as if I were Morris the cat muttering to myself about food. But I’m happy to have been all these things. And my hope is that even as I’m a member of a family and a mom and a friend and daughter and all those other roles I mostly always was, I’m still surrounded by characters and still always morphing.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Adoption Politics

This may sound crazy, or may not, depending I suppose upon whether or not you’re a part of the “adoption community,” but I continue to worry that we’re raising a child who may one day resent us for adopting him.

I know that sounds controversial. I know that any kid, bio or not, can choose to leave home and make not-so-frequent visits back. I know that, broadly and perhaps sexistly speaking, males don’t tend to call home a few times a week or head out with their parents to community garage sale day or whatnot and I certainly don’t hope for or expect that kind of relationship with my boys when they’re adults.

But international Korean adoption has been going on since the 1950s and many of those adoptees are now adults and have something to say on the matter of their own adoption. Really they’re the first few generations of international adoptees in the United States to grow to adulthood and to get their own voices and communities. And with the Internet that community is getting a hearing. And many are angry. And rightfully so.

To frame this very, very broadly and to lump all these voices together, they speak as “a people” if you will who, in many cases, were raised to think of themselves as white. And they’re not white of course. They’re Asian and Korean. But how to fit in to that culture when you have no relatives from the culture and don’t speak the language and don’t have stories about emigration in your family (other than your own emigration) and can’t speak to people who really know much about the culture. Framed like that, Korean culture camp ain’t much.

So it ain’t much: a dash of Korean culture camp, a smattering of classes at the Korean Heritage Center, and a good part of hanging out with other adoptive families and with Korean families (although the latter can smack of tokenism to me, let us befriend you to help Frankie feel more at home). And speaking openly about his adoption and going back to Korea as often as we can while he’s young and visiting and staying in touch with his foster family. Encouraging him to search for his birth family. That’s about all we have on this end. And it does feel flat, like a big-ole Minnesota hot dish—bland and creamy—instead of kimchi: spicy and salty.

The politics behind what I’m writing about is pretty huge and I’m feeling kinda flat today. But this has been on my mind as a topic to blog about for awhile.

I couldn’t bear it if an adult Alvin and Frankie (this week his nickname is Frankus) sneered secretly to each other or to friends about how hick their parents are, living in the Midwest and listening to music like bluegrass and Led Zeppelin (among a zillion others) and decorating all shabby ch*t .. But ya gotta differentiate from your parents at some point to grow up. I get it. Frankie, you’re going to have to build identity in strong and variant ways. I’m thinking of you already.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fleeting (Thank God?)

 I feel bad (badly?) because I waited so long for SeongJoon, before I even knew it was him, geez, before he was even born to his sad, sad, probably everlastingly tearful parents—before they had this tragedy enter their lives that would end so happily for me…

Anyway. I feel bad that I waited and hoped and checked the Internet 50 million times each day and worried myself into a stress illness and now I’m savoring my probably 20 minutes alone before I again hear: ma? ma? From Frankie’s room (he’s napping) and Mommy, just 20 minutes on the iPad. I promise. I promise. I million times promise, from Alvin (now bowling with grandma).

I’m drinking champagne given to us at SeongJoon’s homecoming (so it’s really his) out of an Archie glass and reading short stories and now typing this. When he wakes up we’ll go to Target for fake meat and pool chlorine and probably mascara. I always end up buying mascara lately with names like Falsies, names whose promise I cannot resist.

I waited and waited and waited for this trip to Target. For someone to call me ma and mommy (the latter kind of happened without waiting, but then I realized how wonderful it was and wanted it to happen more and more and again and again and always. Only it can’t happen always. Even if we had 54 children, eventually they would leave to lead their own lives. And if they didn’t that’d be kind of sad and pathetic for them and for me. Because I’d be the mom of a son who’d never left home.)

And I love these small moments. I totally do. I bought some kind of thing at Hobby Lobby that you roll onto your wall, a quote done in calligraphy, and I’m going to roll it onto this pure-white wall and stick an empty frame over it: Life Consists of Short Little Moments. Hmm, the editor in me thinks it should have been: Life is Short Moments, or something. Regardless, I’m not the Hobby Lobby type. I’m putting it up there to remind myself. Because pretty soon I’m going to be a retired person (one hopes I get there and have the money) puttering around and sitting on my front porch reading The Year We Left Home like I did today (only maybe it’ll be Maeve Binchy or something) and I’ll be doing it not to savor the aloneness, but to fill the day. And then I’ll garden. And make cookies. And try to coax my sons to call.

Or maybe I’ll have a funny laugh-and–banter-and-get-each-other relationship like the story I always plan to write about the 50 year old gay man taking care of his elderly mother. About moving back home to feed her lines and to set her up for the punch lines she knows he’ll deliver, so she kind of feeds him too to get toward that, back and forth like baby birds. But then he washes her or helps her into bed and that’s not so funny at all. Awkward. But that’s filial love. And his boyfriend at home understands.

Probably Alvin won’t be doing that. And probably thank God. I’ll get a home healthcare worker in. But maybe he can go with me to my doctor’s appointments. Help me set them up, too, because even now I have to push myself to dial, knowing I’ll wait on hold a full hour only to make an appointment that I’ll immediately realize upon hanging up conflicts with a picnic we’d planned for two years or something. Back to the hold music.

Why am I so morbid today? There’s only ten minutes left of naptime now, I calculate. I should clean the refrigerator or something. Instead I’m going to loaf around on some style blogs. And phone my beloved grandmother to joke around.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All Right Already: On the Word "Mom"

If I continue to write this blog, it means I’m a mother. I mean, let’s face it, this is, or will be, a mommy blog just like 50 million other mommy blogs. The fact it’s about adoption and hopefully anything else that wangles its way from my brain doesn’t make it any different than if I were to update 12 times a day about what my cute kids are doing now.

Problem is, I’m not a mother. Or at least that’s not the way I self identify, to use a pretty PC word. I hadn’t intended to become a mother. I was going to write for newspapers and for myself; become a careerist, before I realized that’s a crock of beans and that going to the office, even if it’s to track down and interview friends of a recently murdered woman, is still going to the office. Still about as fulfilling as….going to the office, day in, day out.

I wanted to be single and wacky and hang in New York with my single and wacky friends and drink cups of espresso in the Italian mom-run joint up the street and look at the cute Brooklyn boys and hear them verbally jousting with one another with their sweet voices and twangy accents. And I did, until I got sick of checking out the latest places and hanging in bars I felt too old for and percolating by myself all weekend in my Brooklyn apartment because I was too lazy to travel the 12 minutes “into the city” for the next big thing, which increasingly felt like the last big thing.

Boring story short, on my 34 birthday, after I’d dragged everyone to the Red Lobster in Rego Park ( don’t judge) and sat up late talking at a place nearby, out of my mouth sprang these verboten words: I just want a small backyard, a strip of grass to sit on in a lawn chair and nurse a beer and read all day. Such a simple thing, but it wasn’t to be found in New York. Certainly the quiet and peace attendant to that dream couldn’t be found by me. If I could I could afford a strip of grass, my neighbors on all sides could look down on me as I drank and read. As it was, I was squeezing myself onto a bit of fire escape to read and calling it my back forty.

The morning after my birthday I woke up not with a hangover, but with an epiphany. I wanted to be part of a family. But it likely was already too late.

To cut this off again, by some miracle it wasn’t too late. And being part of a family was even better than I thought it would be. I’d resisted so long, but now I’ve arrived.

But, having come to the profession so late, after trying on a million hats, and after loving it so much, I still think of myself as a mother…and then as more than a mother.

I guess I’m just going to admit you can be married and kid-having and still wacky and still crack jokes and drink beer in the backyard and read 1950s teenybopper romances while listening to cranked up Chad Mitchell Trio on an old tape made for you back in high school. Unfortunately, this all has to be done during Frankie’s nap time and Alvin’s short-lived self-entertainment hour.

But it still gets done. I’m still here. Mother and music lover and all.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Starting Again with Frankie

I promised myself I'd revive this blog for Frankie's second birthday, June 12. He's downstairs right now playing with grandma.

He's home. He's from Korea, not Ethiopia. We made it, we did it, we came out the other side. And I learned some big things along the way. His grief is a shock, though I expected it. But how can you  witness a two year old crying piteously, sobbing, for Omma, the foster mother he knows as his mother, in whose family he was home from the time he was ... I'm actually unsure. A few months old?

I'd like to blog about our trip to Korea. It humbled me, it changed my life in so many unexpected ways. Frankie has changed it, already, too, or course. In the way every child makes you slow down, see what's real and what's beautiful.

For now, I'm going to write about this image from our trip. At the welfare center where we met his foster mother and our social worker for the second time during that trip, and his abba (foster father) and foster brother (a 20something hipster with dyed orange hair, an 80s blazer, pegged gray jeans and jazz oxfords who I got a kick out of and fell in love with a little bit) for the first time, we spent about an hour and a half with SeongJoon (Frankie) and the gang.

The social worker was official, harried, and spoke little English. She blatantly had had a full day and was looking forward to its end. Dan and I were shy and freaked out and already dreading the moment of parting; same with the foster family.

We had thought we'd take a cab back to our hotel upon receiving Frankie. But the social worker told us they'd called the agency car for our parting, that it was held up in traffic, and that we'd be leaving at 4:30. The clock ticked closer to that time. We played in a nearby park. Frankie refused to look at us. The foster family wandered to a pavilion while we stood back to give them privacy. We stood idly not looking at each other, not knowing what to do with our hands. A few elderly Korean women rushed in to tell Frankie how cute he was, not understanding our situation, making us all tear up.

We played back in the play room at the agency. The clock ticking closer. The foster father stayed outside, I'm guessing not to show us his tears. Frankie warmed up a little, letting us toss a ball to him and drive him around in his car (and demonstrate his Rockford stops, as Dan dubbed them), which made us sad: did he know the clock was ticking closer to 4:30? Did he know what was coming? The foster mother drew back to give us privacy, something we didn't want. We'd have him for the rest of his childhood. She would be going home without him.

Finally the social worker cracked open the door and ushered us out. We walked down the stairs quietly. The social worker kept urgently beckoning us to the door. I think we needed to beat or at least swarm into Seoul rush hour traffic.

At the door, we stood one last time, gathering the many bags of toys and clothes ("these are his favorites; he needs this blanket to sleep" the social worker translated) and food ("this is his dinner made for him last night") passed to us by the foster family. Then we hugged goodbye. And then I heard loud, huge sobbing filling the hallway, filling it up to the second story, the third story where our friends met on the trip stood, having drifted down to say goodbye. Who was crying so wildly? A voice I finally recognized as my own, and a deep almost keening sobbing I realized was the foster mother. A woman whose name, Dan later pointed out, we don't even know. But there we stood, wrapped around each other, in each others' arms, with SeongJoon between us.

Then the social worker gently pulled us apart, guided us to the van, shoved in SeongJoon quick and shut the door. And then we were inside, with the driver asking us: Is this your first?

First what?

I don't mean to make out the social worker like the bad guy. I'm sure it's a thankless job.

That was the saddest part. It's been up and down before and since, much like life.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

(Yet another) Breakdown

I hit rock bottom the other week (for like the 12th time during this process) after the announcement of two close-to-my-age pregnancies in my immediate circle, which coincided with our best and favorite, favorite, awesome social worker resigning her post. We are left without a social worker until the agency hires a new one. This will be our sixth (seventh?) social worker since we began the process, nearly three-and-half years ago.

Something is fishy, too, which is concerning because we'll never learn why. I had put the number of resignations and reassignments down to the fact they seem to hire young social workers and likely don't pay well. (so the women move on to better opportunities, I reasoned). But the latest social worker had been there many years and raved about our agency. Then, three months later, she resigned with a brief note that didn't include the cheery happy "I thank you all for giving me the opportunity..." or what have you. She had also said to us, when we asked her directly, she had no plans to resign.

So what happened in the past three months? Did she learn something about the program or the agency that didn't sit well? Inquiring minds want to know, but will never find out, leaving conspiracy theories to flourish.

So I cried and cried and cried. And then for good measure I cried some more. These friends babies will be born and be months old before we travel. I have slowly recovered. I gotta admit it's hard though and feels like whiplash to have this stuff keep happening. I am now on guard against pregnancy announcements.

I feel like this blog is always a complete downer. I don't lead my life in a state of wallowing, but do allow myself to wallow here. Nevertheless, I'll punch it up in the next few days.