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.
Since I never post anymore, those of you who do follow my blog probably don’t know, but it’s been a pretty crazy four weeks for me. First, J has been in town for the last 3 weeks and 2 days. I’ve seen him a lot in that time, we’ve done a lot together. I have seen many of his family and friends as well. His Dads made the most of his time here making sure he got to spend lots of time with lots of people who love him, especially me.
His visit isn’t the only thing that made the last month eventful – I also talked to JD (J’s bio father) for the first time in awhile, he sort of popped up after more than a year of absence. Every time he sort of goes away I think its the end, and then he shows up again. He is hurting, I know he hasn’t really allowed himself to deal with the adoption much, I think he tries to just shove it aside and it seems like that almost works for him. Except sometimes it pops back up to the surface, I think those are the times he reaches out to me. As we get farther along in years, those moments are farther apart, this time it was something like 20 months since the last time I talked to him, who knows how long until I see him after this. But I have started to accept that he will probably never totally go away from my life.
The other big thing is my brother and his wife came to visit me while J was here so my bro got to meet J for the first time. It was a really great visit and I’m so glad it happened. It did bring a lot of feelings to the surface and my brother and I are processing a lot in our relationship. I haven’t quite decided how much of the things that have come up with him and myself are things that I’m comfortable sharing on here. It’s hard because I think some of the difficult parts of this are important to put out there and talk about, not only because there are a lot of smart people in the adoption community who have really interesting perspectives but also because the issues we’re dealing with are ones I think a lot of people might go through and feeling not alone in this for me and others can be a powerful means to getting through things. But I’m finding it difficult because it just feels like invading on my brother’s life. So I’m going to mull it over a bit more and may choose to talk more about it later.
But what I will talk about is the visit. I have to say, long distance in openness is a completely different beast than the local openness I spent the first 4.5 years living with. I think what I’ve realized though is that doesn’t mean its worse, or better, just really really different. My son was here for 23 days this visit, and during that time I saw him 7 times, I saw him every single Thursday he was here and once each weekend he was here. Many of the visits lasted most of the day, and the few that didn’t were all because I had to go back to work after having taken a morning off. In fact I’m pretty sure if I wanted to take more time off work I could have spent more days with J. I also spent a lot of time with J’s extended family and friend network. I saw many of them more in the past three weeks then I have in any given year total up to this point. I met new people, people whose names I had heard for years but never got the chance to meet, and now I have.
I got to do a lot with J – and I’m happy about that. I reveled in my time together. I played hard with my son (and his cousins), swimming for what felt like hours, having epic pillow fights, playing board games, and coming up with so many stories. I actually think because it was so concentrated J is more likely to remember that I was around for it, maybe he won’t remember the specifics – us climbing rocks in the park or playing in the waves on the beach, but I do think when he talks about visiting NYC he’ll remember I was there for it, just like his aunts and uncles, his cousins and grandparents.
Him being far away not only meant we had concentrated time together, but it also meant that I felt okay continuing to ask for more. I didn’t feel bad about going to visit their vacation house three times in the week they were at the beach. I didn’t worry about asking for one more visit with J before they left, even though I had just seen him days before. Because I know there is a finite amount of time where seeing him is possible and that I need to make the most of it. Everyone gets that J needs time with me around, and everyone is willing to make that happen.
So there is a lot of good in this new long distance thing.
But there is hard too. It was one thing when I took off a week of work and went to visit J and family at their new home this past winter. I left my life in NYC for a week and focused on J and spending time with him. But this was different. This was a long period of time where I sort of put everything in my life on the back burner to make room for J while he was here, but my life here was still bubbling away. I took off work. I gave up every free weekend day to spend it with J. I made sure I had time. But that was at the detriment of other parts of my life. I was stressed about working and checking my email while on a visit, I worried about getting laundry done while still having a visit over the weekend, I still had to live my life even though all I wanted to do was see my kid. And combine that with the fact that while J was here, my days were emotionally charged. It put me in a mood most everyday.
I’m sure any of you out there who have gone through open adoption visits know the overwhelming feeling they can bring. And I had gotten sort of used to it. I would feel the feelings, go to a visit, come home, sometimes become a hermit for a couple hours, and then go about life knowing in a month or two I would see J again, but until then I could live my life. I knew the drill and I could do the drill. But this, 3 straight weeks of having constant communication, of seeing them often, talking to them often, knowing most of what they are doing on any given day. And feeling these overwhelming feelings everyday for three + weeks. It was hard. It’s a whole new thing. Something that may take some real time to get used to.
J has started talking about how saying goodbye to people is sad, but that even though he’s sad, he’s also happy. He’s sad to say goodbye to all those he loves in NYC but he’s happy to go home. I guess its good he’s learning that you don’t have to only feel one emotion at a time in this life, because if adoption has drilled one thing into me it’s that often even the most wonderful moments can feel sad, and the times you feel loss the most can be those same instances where you find small instances of joy. Loss and Love, Joy and Sadness, it can all exist, interwoven, messy, complicated.
So yesterday I said goodbye, to J, to his parents, to his extended family. It was sad, but it was only as sad as it was because the memories of this amazing time with him are right there showing me how amazing this little boy is that I will miss so much. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll see J again, I’m hoping to figure out some things in December to meet them at the place they are staying for Christmas, I’m hoping to visit them again in March around Easter, but both of these are just possibilities and will require my schedule working out with theirs so I’m not yet sure what will happen yet. The only thing I know for sure is J won’t be back in NYC until July of 2016. That is a very long time. But it will be okay, I will be okay. Because I’ve had three amazing almost perfect weeks where I got to breathe in my not so little boy and enjoy him completely and it only happened because he’s so far away.
It’s summer, the fourth of July has happened, the pools are open in NYC, I’ve even turned on my air conditioner.
That means Spring has passed, it was a blur for me, working too many hours, under lots of stress.
This year is the first year I didn’t celebrate J’s birthday with him – instead I sent him a present and face-timed with him while he opened it. I think he liked it.
This year I sort of ignored Mother’s Day. In part its because it’s the first year I’ve been working with the people I now work with – and these new co-workers weren’t around during the pregnancy, nor even around when J lived nearby – so they don’t understand how much I feel like I’m a Mother. I am constantly surrounded by people who don’t really see me as a Mother, even if they are aware I have a child. There is one major exception to this, the person I spend the most time with is also my friend who happened to be the person who picked me up from the hospital, the person who accompanied on my first two visits with J, and so there is still a lot of talk about J in my life with her, and very importantly she understands that I don’t necessarily have news to share, that I don’t always hear from M&P regularly, that I am sometimes sad about how distant he feels so sometimes I may interject information about him into conversations but as often I may not talk about him much.
But that doesn’t mean he is not constantly on my mind.
I have withdrawn a lot from the online world of adoption, in part because I’m not always sure what to say. My day to day adoption life is just a small part of my life now, visits aren’t often, contact isn’t often, so talking about it and putting it in the forefront just leads to people asking about J and me saying I haven’t heard from them lately.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Its as much my fault for the lack of communication as anyone’s. I haven’t figured out how to do it better. I don’t think to try to face-time with them until it just doesn’t make sense. They are in such a different time zone and I’m not good at figuring out when to talk to them. The periods of time where I would be awake and J would both be awake and not be in school are small. So mostly our communication is emails that I send in the middle of the night for them and they return in the middle of the night for me – but those aren’t me talking to J since he isn’t old enough to write an email himself and when they aren’t about planning visits I don’t always know what to talk about. I’m just not good at the long distance thing.
So Spring wasn’t great.
But now it’s Summer. Summer is when J will visit. Summer is when I will see him. I actually don’t know if he’s in the city right now – but he is in North America. I’m hoping to hear from M&P about seeing them soon, but if I don’t I do know they are having a party I’m invited to next weekend so I will see them all then. And I know there is one other weekend where I will be able to spend a day with them, another family event I’ve been invited to. We haven’t set any days or times for just us though. Not yet. I’m sure they will do something, they are here for almost a month, spending a day with me has to fit into that time. But I don’t know when that will be. I’ll have to wait to see.
I feel lost lately, struggling about how to be a birth mother like this. I had it mostly figured out a year ago, I understood how it worked and how it fit into my life. It all made sense.
That’s not really true anymore. It’s okay that it’s not true, but it also means I have to re-figure some things out. So I’m starting to do that.
So I’ve been home from my visit with J’s family for a week. I got in middle of the day last Sunday. For many reasons I went into a sort of hibernation for a big part of the week. First of all the jet lag on the way back totally knocked me out. Simultaneously and possibly related, I also got extremely sick this week. In fact, after going to work on Monday, I then slept for 16 hours on Tuesday, most of which was during the day, then proceeded to stay up all night Tuesday night, slept all day Wednesday and stayed up until about 5 in the morning Wednesday night. Thursday I had to get back to work, and was at the office for more than 12 hours. Friday I similarly had to work at two offices and between the two did another 12 hours of work. Then Saturday I was back to sleeping most of the day. I really want to get healthy and back on NY time, but it’s been tough.
That couples with the fact the visit was emotional, it was tough for many reasons, several of which I am still trying to process. And as I’ve gotten back I’ve gotten question after question about how my trip was, if I enjoyed it, what it was like. And it took most of the energy I had left to sound like it was a good visit. Because in many ways it was. It just wasn’t easy.
So although I spent today finally getting my luggage put away and the last of my clothes from my trip washed and put away, I am no where near being able to unpack the emotions of the trip and really figure out what to say about it. At some point I may be able to talk about the trip in a way that represents all the feels I’ve gone through, but for all you that actually read, I will post some pictures today (as always password protected, send me an email if you’re a regular reader who wants to see how huge the little guy is). Note that the vast majority of the pictures are J playing soccer. For reasons I don’t quite understand I lugged my brand new camera everywhere for a week and still seemed to only take a couple pictures each day, until the last Saturday where we went to soccer practice and in an hour I took over 700 pictures of J. I absolutely love them, I have pictures of him throwing the ball, laughing, scowling, falling. So although there are a couple other shots, you will see a lot that are him in a yellow jersey playing soccer. I won’t bore you all with random pictures from the city, there are a few of them, but I’m going to stick to pictures of J.
You guys, I’m leaving tomorrow to visit J. Or technically I’m leaving at 12:15am on Friday, but that means tomorrow I need to be at the airport checking in.
For the past couple weeks, or really for the past few months, I’ve brought up my trip and instantly got the reaction “I bet you’re so excited about going”. And I’ve sort of half smiled and tried to look enthused. The truth is I’m experiencing a thousand different emotions about this trip, but if I’m being totally honest most of them look nothing like excitement.
Let me back up a second, I’m excited to see J, whenever a visit comes up I’m excited to see J. But even that definite excitement is always paired with anxiety and nerves. It’s never the same simple sort of joy that I want it to be, because I put a lot of pressure on myself each time I have the opportunity to spend time with him. That coupled with the fact that this will be my only opportunity to visit them for a year (they will probably visit me, but no definite plans yet), that ups the pressure. So although I’m super excited to get a big hug from J, that doesn’t mean that it’s not mixed with other emotions.
And more to the point, the people asking me if I’m excited about my trip actually are not talking about whether I’m excited to see J, they are almost always talking about if I’m excited to visit this new place, to eat this different food, if I’m excited to be someplace else. And I’m not sure I am. Not the way you should be when you’re traveling across the world on a vacation.
I should have been buying travel books and reading up on all the amazing things I can do while I’m there, and I haven’t. I haven’t even spent ten minutes looking up attractions.
I should have been eagerly counting the days and have been preparing for this for weeks. Instead I feel like the whole thing totally snuck up on me.
I should have been slacking off on work by surfing blogs and websites about traveling to this part of the world, but instead I’ve been overwhelmed with work and have been working late nights trying to get ahead while promising people I will have access to email while I’m away.
Instead of being excited I’m stressed, there’s a lot going on at my jobs and the idea of leaving them for 10 days is crazy in a lot of ways. And I’m nervous, I’ve never really traveled to a country where I don’t know the language at all. And truthfully I’m worried about spending that much time with M&P. Don’t get me wrong, they are good people. But when I spend that much time with people, especially when I’m in a place where I don’t know anyone else and won’t have the easiest time getting along without them. So I will be with them for 9 days straight. I’m a person who has lived as a single person, I don’t even spend that many days with my family in a row and haven’t for years. The concept of doing this sort of vacation where I stay with them for that long a period is sort of scary.
So yeah, I’m trying to get over all of that and move past it. And I will. But even if I start to look forward to my trip, it’s never going to be about being excited to visit this place. The truth is although I knew this trip would happen about five minutes after I knew they were leaving, I never felt excited that I have to travel halfway across the world to see my little one, even if it means I get to see a new place and experience a new culture. So I will have a 16 hour plane ride to let myself forget the stress of my life and instead just look forward to seeing my little boy. I will get there and realize the city isn’t that scary (even if I don’t speak the language) and that I get to have an adventure with J and spend 9 days hanging out with this part of my family. And I will have a blast. But the idea of the trip being exciting, I’m just not there.
I was reading a book the other day, Allegiant by Veronica Roth and I came across this quote:
I used to think that when people fell in love, they just landed where they landed, and they had no choice in the matter afterward. And maybe that’s true of the beginning, but it’s not true of this, now.
I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.
And oddly the first thing I thought about was adoption.
I thought about my relationship with my son and with his family.
I thought about how the moment I knew about the existence of my son I loved him, there was no going back. That part was easy, and it will always be easy. I will always love my son.
But a relationship, it isn’t just about love. It’s easy to say that if I love my son I will just get over anything and everything else, that love should be enough. But that doesn’t erase the hard. That doesn’t mean the complicated doesn’t happen. I still have to make the choice each and every day to keep this relationship going.
Things are complicated now, They are complicated with J living so far away. It’s hard because when I think about him I miss him, a lot, so I try not to spend time thinking about him. But not thinking of him is making a choice against having a relationship, it’s not the choice I want to make. I want to make the choice to put effort into our relationship, even when it is hard.
And it is hard right now when he lives across the world and I can’t even picture what his life is like. And the point where I wake up and realize I will spend one more day without hearing from him because I wake up with no email and know they are heading to bed already, well that’s hard too. And knowing that as excited as I am that I will see him this month (!) after my 9 day visit I will go four months without seeing him. I have never gone four months without seeing him in person, heck if you could ultrasounds then I haven’t gone four months without seeing him since he was conceived. And that will be really REALLY hard.
So I could say that all of this is too hard and I could throw in the towel. I could just send a Christmas card and a birthday card and tell them that visits are too hard when I won’t see him for months at a time. I could tell them that maybe we should just put off having a relationship until they are back in the States full time because what we are doing now is just too hard. And even as I type those words I can’t even picture being in a state to make that choice, being in a state to turn away from any part of a relationship with my son, even if it’s not on my terms. Today, I look at us and know that I don’t want to be the reason my son and I don’t have a relationship. But that point, that part of it, it’s still my choice. It is my choice to feel that way, my choice to look past the hard to the good, to the love. And it’s a choice I will need to keep making, it’s a choice I will need to make everyday.