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OAR #22 • wow. I really sucked at this last year…

Thursday, 13 January 2011

It’s a new year, and one of my personal resolutions has been to write more—not just on this long-neglected blog, but also working on the more creative writing that has been my passion for as long as I can remember & that got pushed aside amid my struggle to find enough hours in the day to do everything else I need to do. So here I am, participating in my first Open Adoption Roundtable since early last year.

This installment’s topic is as follows:

One year ago many of us answered the question, “How will you be proactive in the area of open adoption in 2010?”

If you participated in the January 2010 discussion, revisit your post and give us the one-year-later update.

And whether or not you participated last year, tell us about your open adoption hopes or commitments in 2011.

I did participate in last January’s discussion, although my blog isn’t linked there because I was so flaky about the deadline that I didn’t get it posted in time to be included. And reading my resolutions of last year, I’m struck by how ridiculously simplistic they are. I was going to work harder at our open adoption relationship; I was going to work harder to educate people about open adoption; I was going to work harder at adoption reform. (That last one is the only one I’m not embarrassed to have written, and I do want to work harder at that.) With another year behind me as a parent in open adoption, I’m realizing that living in OA is different from the rather more academic understanding of it we gleaned from our pre-adoptive parenting classes.

I’m also realizing that I pretty much sucked at the whole thing in 2010.

To be sure, I haven’t neglected our relationship. I’ve sent letters with photos every month; D and I have exchanged messages on Facebook here and there; I called when I could, although probably less often than I should have. I got the answering machine many times, and I backed off a bit—imagining, for some reason, that D didn’t want to talk (rather than the more reasonable explanation that she simply wasn’t home)—and I wish I hadn’t.

And maybe there were reasons for it all. Asher came to us unexpectedly in February, bringing with him twice as many diapers to wash and another baby to wrangle at lunchtime and naptime and playtime and bedtime. George was transferred out of state in June, so we spent a few months finishing the work on our house so we could sell it, then moving ourselves and all our stuff 400 miles to our new home. Then trying to unpack and settle in, followed quickly by the holidays. At different points in the year, both kids were hospitalized, and there have been many appointments with different doctors. But sitting here, at the beginning of January, it all feels like so many excuses.

Thinking about it now, I think the real reason for my massive suckitude is simply this: Fear. Fear of calling too often, or not often enough, or at a bad time. Fear of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. Fear of pushing too hard, or not pushing hard enough. Fear of not being the perfect adoptive parent, the perfect “partner”—for lack of a better term—in our OA relationship.

I spent far too much time worrying about my role in our OA in 2010. Worrying about calling—What if D isn’t home? What if she is home but doesn’t want to talk? What if she wishes I’d stop calling? What if she wishes I’d call more often? Worrying about writing—Am I telling her things she wants to know? Am I leaving out things she wishes I’d share? Worrying so much about saying or doing the wrong thing, and about getting everything “right.”

Where does this fear come from? Probably a combination of my usual overthinking and a bit of an overemphasis on the “open adoption” part of the relationship. The first, I think, is self-explanatory; the second is perhaps less so. I’m not sure I can explain what I mean even to my own satisfaction, although it is clear in my mind: I think that in wanting so much to do everything “right” (and I have another post brewing about this that hopefully I’ll get around to finishing & posting soon), I’ve inadvertently stunted my own developing relationship with D; in trying always to be sensitive to her role in our children’s lives and her feelings about their placement—and in focusing on my own role as one completely helpless to make things better but always responsible for not making things worse—I’ve managed to whip myself up into a state of screaming terror at the thought that I might accidentally say or do something “wrong,” something that does make things worse, in spite of my best efforts. In effect, I’ve paralyzed myself.

The very phrase “open adoption relationship” is part of the problem for me. It is a very formal descriptor of a very formal relationship—family, yes, but brand-new family; someone with whom you are very suddenly thrown into a very close relationship—like meeting your future in-laws for the first time and wanting so desperately for them to approve of everything about you that you become, in their presence, just a shadow of your authentic self.

At its very best, an open adoption relationship is a family relationship. And family relationships are messy. People get angry; they get upset. They forgive and they learn from their mistakes and they move on and build a stronger relationship on that foundation, because they love each other. Because they are family.

So my hope for 2011 is that I can learn to get out of my own way, to embrace the fact that my authentic self screws up a lot—as most of us do—and that I’ll most likely have more than a few missteps along the way, and to trust that because D loves me, she’ll forgive those missteps as I would forgive hers because I love her.

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