When Pokemon Go became the go to game this summer I downloaded it. I knew very little about Pokemon – I had babysat for kids who bought the cards years ago and that is the extent of my knowledge. But after reading a few people write about it, I thought I would give it a try. It took me two days to figure out what the heck the game was and what I was doing. And even then I didn’t really get the point or what the next step was even.
And after about a week I was a couple of levels in and not sure if I was going to keep playing.
Then I got on a plane to go visit J. It was middle of July, I was going there for two weeks. The first week I was there was was relaxing and a really good way to reconnect. Since J moved away I have always been better at in person with him than over skype or facetime. I have never really been able to crack how to keep his attention over the computer and I never really know what to say. But when we’re in the same place we can play and read and talk and I’m just better with him. We had a really nice visit, going site seeing and hanging out. And then the second week came and Niantic released Pokemon Go in Asia. I had five days left on my visit when it came out there.
I started playing again, but in a limited way, I didn’t have a data plan there so I could only play when I was in a wifi area. But I still showed J a little of what I was doing – I played in their apartment (there are three pokestops within reach of where they live) and he got excited about the creatures we were catching. Then on my last day there, his Dad and I went out with J and while we were out his Dad agreed to turn on a mobile hotspot so we could play the game for real. J seem really invested, I went to a gym for the first time, we walked around a lot until we hatched the eggs we were incubating.
As I said goodbye J and I struck a deal. He was going on a trip with his Dads a week after my visit and I told him if he told me all about his trip then I would send him pictures of all the Pokemon I caught.
I didn’t realize that deal was a big deal.
When I got home, I started playing in earnest, even going places just to play Pokemon. I don’t really know if I have been enjoying playing the game or just catching more pokemon that I can then send to J. I got excited for a couple weeks, sending him pictures every 4-5 days. Then I sort of dropped off (I was still playing a little but not really sending pictures to J), I knew he was back from his trip and in school, I was catching less each day and I hadn’t really gotten a response so I thought J might have lost interest.
Then today I left work and stopped at a park to walk around a bit and catch a few pokemon. When I got there I also got a text from J’s Dad asking if I could facetime and as I was looking to facetime I saw they had also emailed. Actually J had sent the message – he wanted to assure me he sent A LOT of cards from his trip and now he had pokemon questions and wanted to know if I had more pictures. And when I didn’t respond to his email in 10 minutes his Dad asked if we could facetime – he needed the answers to his questions and didn’t want to wait.
We talked for 48 minutes today. We talked a little about school, but mostly we talked about Pokemon. He told me stories, he asked me questions. I told him what my favorite creature for fighting was (Muk) and which one I thought was the prettiest (Ninetails), I told him how I was excited while I was in Asia I caught the FarFetch’d since its impossible to catch here. And after this long conversation over multiple media (I had data problems and they had VOIP problems) I finally told him I had to go because it was dark in the park and I still wanted to walk around a bit and then had to eat dinner. I’m pretty sure he would have talked to me another 45 minutes if I had let him. For the first time over the phone/skype he didn’t walk away, he didn’t get distracted, he didn’t seem bored.
Then I got home and found the first postcard from his travels. Obviously written by his Dad but the words were his, talking about their first day of their trip. I’m excited to have more on the way. I then wrote him an email. I sent all the pictures, talked about some of them – what evolved from what, which ones were my favorite. I told him I would send them as I got more but that how many more I catch will be less and less since there are only so many out there (which includes many very hard to catch and several which I need a lot more to evolve them).
The difference between our communication before my trip and after is hugely different. Suddenly it feels like he’s not so far away, that I can talk to him and we can write and we can facetime and all of it can work for us. I wouldn’t have guessed that Pokemon would have drastically changed our relationship, but today it feels like it has.
If that means I will be the last woman over the age of 30 hunting pokemon, then I will. If that means I dedicate nights to going to parks and playing this game I will. Because we have found this thing that connects us, across timezones and oceans, and its okay that its a random game.
I don’t know if he’ll stay interested, I don’t know if I will. But I do know something seemed different today than it did before. I feel like today was the first day that my son and I were successful having a long distance relationship with each other. We figured out in person a long time ago, but today with the help of Pokemon we took a major step towards cracking the long distance thing.
So J is six today.
Its been a hard week. I can’t really explain to people what it feels like, the truth is there are moments where he as a baby feels so far away, and other moments where I don’t recognize this life because it feels like it came out of nowhere and that just a second ago I was peeing on a stick.
I look at who J is today, who he was as a baby and all the complexities of it all and when I try to explain it I just see it as a path in the woods (if you have read any of my blog you may recognize my love for metaphors, sorry but I have another one for you).
The birth of J started out a path in the woods, it was following the terrain and made by the natural progression of everything around it. The path for his life was laid out in front of us, but it was scary for me, uncharted terrain, it looked dark and unforgiving, I was so afraid that if we took that path we would be bruised and battered by the end, that is if were were able to even successfully find our way through. Its funny because before that it was the same path I had been on, and I found the uncharted feel exciting, I found that it never seemed to matter who fast I was moving forward because I was enjoying every tree along the way. I loved my rarely taken path, the one where you could barely tell where you should walk next. It wasn’t until I knew I had to get a second person through the brambles that the darkness and mystery of what was to come seemed scary instead of exciting. Knowing I would need to make sure J got safely through seemed an impossible task on my own, I needed a guide, I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, not if I was going to keep him safe.
When I relinquished my rights, it was a decision to abandon the path we were on, to entrust him to M&P who were on a man made path. It looked like it went in the same direction as the path we had been on, but it also looked like it was made to get to the finish line, it was safe and clear and J would be much less likely to get bruised and battered along the way. It seemed at the time that the man made path was the only sensible option – the other path was dark and unknown, it looked dangerous and there weren’t any guides around to help us through it. And when J switched paths it meant I veered off too. I needed to stay closer to J’s new path. I lost the place I was and instead tried to find a way to keep up with M&P but still stay a little off the beaten path.
Now six years have passed, my new path and J’s often converge, he is charging down his path, with his Dads near him he has excelled. Most of the time I can’t believe how quickly he is growing. I’m so proud of him and of who he is and I love this little boy so so much.
But I wonder sometimes about the other path, the one we left. I wonder if that path was really unsafe, or if it was just unexplored. I wonder if it would have held the sort of magic of the unknown, maybe stumbling upon animals or finding a beautiful grove. I idealize it most of the time, thinking about how amazing it could have been. I know it was as likely that the path would be like that time I was 10 when I cut through the woods and was swarmed by mosquitoes who not only bit my arms and legs but my eyeball and I couldn’t open one of my eyes for a week. I know that my fear of the darkness and the unknown was in some ways justified, it was as likely for us to fall off a cliff as to stumble upon a grove. I know it might have been fine but it also might have not been, and I know I need to be okay with the fact that 6 years ago I wasn’t willing to make that gamble, I wasn’t willing to keep going without help.
I wish I could make sense of the world I live in more. I wish it was more clear cut for me, I hear some mothers who relinquish talk about being sure this was the right choice, I hear others who are filled with regret and are sure it was the wrong choice. I feel constantly caught in the middle. I don’t know if I saved my boy from a horrible fate, or if I put him on a path because it was easy and kept him from a life of seeing animals and exploring groves. Its my little boy’s 6th birthday for 25 more minutes and I sit alone. He had a cake and dressed like Darth Vader, he has an amazing party planned for a couple days from now, he is loved beyond measure by everyone he knows. I would be happy to sit alone today if I knew that the path he is on is the best one for him. But I don’t know that. And honestly if I knew that I made the wrong choice I might even be able to galvanize behind that. I could feel regret and anger and that would be okay.People ask me if I would do things the same given what I know now, I don’t have an answer for that. I wish I knew. I’m pretty sure I never will.
Its been a hard week. And I don’t expect it to ever get any easier.
I was contacted by people who are currently doing a study to research what current counseling practices are for those who relinquish their child. They are asking anyone who fits their criteria to take a survey about their experience to be included in this study. Why is this so important? Because I think as a whole pre-birth counseling provided to women (and men) considering adoption is more often than not a failure – too often true options counseling isn’t provided. The way to change that is to find out what current practices are and then compile what they should be. If agencies (no matter how ethical) are only using their own criteria to measure how successful they are in providing true options counseling they will always deem themselves successful and will not push to do better. But creating such criteria can only happen if people from all areas and experiences participate. So take the 20 minutes to fill this out if you fit the criteria.
Here’s the information from the researchers:
Dear Birth Parents,
You are invited to take part in a research study about the experiences of birth parents in the United States who have placed a child for adoption. The study aims to investigate the context and effectiveness of counseling practices offered to birth parents prior to placement. The survey is expected to take approximately 20-25 minutes.
Eligibility: Women and men who have relinquished a child for adoption in the United States during the last 25 years (after 1989) and who are over the age of 18 years of age.
Compensation: If you complete the survey, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of six $100 gift cards when the survey concludes. By following the link below and completing the survey, you confirm that you are 18 years of age or older, have read this document, and agree to participate in the study.
Benefit to You: Your will have an opportunity to speak about your experience. This will help us to identify gaps in existing practices and help us to develop better approaches to helping birth parents through the adoption process.
To participate in the survey, please follow this link (from this document, hold the Ctrl key and click the link OR copy and paste the link into your browser):
Information gained in this survey will be completely confidential. That is, no individuals will be identified in the results or reports that come from the study. If you questions about participating in this study, please contact the researchers directly via email or phone: Elissa Madden, PhD –(254) 723-4545 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that this study has been approved by the University of Texas at Arlington Institutional Review Board (IRB# 2016-0174).
We sincerely appreciate your time and effort to help establish better practices and make a difference in the experiences of other birth parents.
Elissa Madden, PhD, LMSW
School of Social Work
University of Texas at Arlington
I can’t believe October is almost over. It has steam-rolled over me as it has done for the last six years.
It was six years ago in October I found out I was pregnant. I was working at a new job, a job that I still work at. That job has a large project that happens every October. So every year I work on a similar project every year at this time. It makes me remember then, every year memories are brought to the surface. And I’m also so overwhelmed by the work that I don’t actually time to deal with those memories and emotions. October tends to be one of the months where I just need to get to the other side.
This October has had some additional things that have come up.
First the Halloween costume. For those who are regular blog readers you may remember that four years ago i was asked to make a Halloween costume. At the time I was broke and busy, but as is basically always the case, I cant’ say no to my son and his family. So I spent a lot of time to figure out how to make a cow costume for a child when I didn’t know his size and didn’t have him in front of me. This was the beginning of the tradition – since then each year I got an email or text sometime between Sept and beginning of October telling me what he wants to be. Last year was tricky, I was super busy and wasn’t sure I would have the time. So I made portions of his costume and left the rest to his Dads and the costume store. I honestly thought when they moved I would escape this tradition, that he wouldn’t need a costume anymore. I was wrong.
I facetimed with them at the end of Sept (ish) and after J saw my face and talked to me, they got off the call and all he could talk about was what he wanted to be for Halloween. I got a text the next day – telling me that J wanted me to make him a phoenix costume. I was also told that they warned him I might not be able to because I lived so far away, but they promised they would ask.
I didn’t say no, instead I spent a lot of money and time I didn’t have making a costume and shipping it overseas. I have no idea if it will fit, if it will work. I don’t know if he’ll like it. But I know this year I didn’t disappoint him by telling him he was too far away and that it was too hard and too expensive to make it for him. And I know he’ll have a costume that has a lot of feathers and hopefully will be exactly what he imagined.
The second thing is I was asked (and agreed) to speak publicly about adoption. I’ve done panels before – they’ve been very specific and directed. I haven’t done anything open to the public before. This is something new. I’m pretty nervous. I don’t know how the evening will go, if I’ll know what to say, if my story will be heard, will be understood. But I think its important that the voices of original parents are out there in the world. I think it’s important that our stories are being told. I’m not sure if I am the right person for this, but I also wouldn’t turn down something like this because its not in my comfort zone. Like the first time I agreed to make a Halloween costume – sometimes you have to go outside of what you are comfortable with and what you know you can do. I guess that’s really what my October is about.
PS if you leave in or near NYC and may want to spend an evening this coming week seeing a panel I’m on let me know (email me or leave a comment), I’ll send you the details. I would love to have a few friendly faces in the audience (and even if we’ve never met I’d love to have you there).
I’ve been thinking a lot about that word since J’s visit. I was thinking about it even more this morning when I read an article my son’s Dad posted. It can be so simple in this article, and yet, as I think back to the three weeks where I was spending lots of time with J and his family, I wondered was it so simple for me?
There was a moment where I was swimming with J a couple weeks back, I had been in the pool with him and his cousins and they had retreated, while J was still going strong. He liked to be in contact with me, jumping on my back, letting me throw him in the air, just playing. At one point I looked up and saw a friend of my son’s family looking at us. This is a man who has been around me quite a bit – he is best friends to M&P and that meant he was around for many of the parties and events I attended. But usually at those things I’m not interacting as much with J, usually he has cousins and friends around and I take the opportunity to talk with the adults in his life, so thinking back I’m not sure how much this man has seen me so purely and lovingly focused on my son. As I watched him watch me I saw in his expression something like awe. Awe because I think he understood just then that J is my family, I am his, we are connected. Having someone in my son’s life look at us that way, with such approval for the relationship we have, it made me feel so completely accepted. I always felt like my son’s Dads gave J permission to love me from day one. I know it sounds odd to say a child needs permission by his parents to love someone, especially if that someone is their biological parent. But more and more I think they do. If they don’t receive that permission then they will worry about really letting the love they have for that biological parent show, they will want to protect their parents and so they will try to shut down those connections (or hide them). The fact my son’s Dads always embraced me in their lives allowed my son to develop his own relationship with me without worrying about them. But what I’ve realized recently is how completely that has transcended beyond just my son’s Dads. Both their families have embraced me as part of J’s life and as part of theirs. They celebrate my relationship with J, maybe its in small ways, but simple things like referring to me as J’s Mom (both to describe my relationship and as an alternative to my name) means they accept that relationship. The fact they seem excited that I kept showing up for things while J was in town instead of any sort of annoyance that I was infringing on their time with J. The fact they were surprised the couple of times I wasn’t coming to something. The fact they have fully embraced me as part of J’s family has made it that much easier and seamless for J.
In building a relationship with my son, I have built relationships with his family as well. J and his family are really important to me and do take up a big part of my life; I feel embraced by people who live near me, people who are happy to have me around and I have embraced them back.
But I don’t think I’ve accepted the idea that everyone in J’s family is in my family. I love that he has this large extended family that has accepted me. But on the very last event I had with M&P, it was an adults only birthday party, a friend of M&P was walking around taking photos. He came up to me, I was sitting at the end of a string of tables that were P’s family. The photographer said “So these guys are the family?” I pointed to the ones that were around and explained a little about who they all were. Then he looked at me and said “are you family?” And I said, “no, not really”. I actually think if J had been there I would have probably answered differently. But the real truth is I feel connected to those people, but through J. He is my connection to all of them. The people at the table were J’s relatives, not mine.
I completely accept J’s family looks different than some other peoples, I accept that I’m a part of his family, I am part of the picture and I happily embrace that. But should I accept that I’m part of more than his family, that I’m family to M&P, to J’s Auntie, Grandma, Aunts and Uncles? There’s not word to describe my relationship to J’s Grandma, I’m not one of her kids, I’m not even married to one of them. Its that lack of language that in part has always made me think I wasn’t really family to them.
So yea, that’s been on my mind a lot, that word, the meaning behind it. I guess at the end of the day I have lots of people in my life including J’s family who I embrace, who I care about, and who embrace me back. That’s what matters to me, and hopefully to them.