Monthly Archives: December 2011

“When exactly do I become ‘Dad’?”

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Guest post by Teddy’s dad.

Tuesday was a small milestone for us. We had been taking care of Teddy for 6 weeks and 1 day, which is 1 day longer than he spent with his caring foster mom. That meant we had spent more time with him than any other adults in his short life.

There is no doubt that Teddy knows who we are. He turns his head at the sound of Sara’s voice, and when I come home from work, he smiles at me and attaches himself to my shoulder or lap for most of the evening. We laugh and play “rough and tumble” until it is time to get ready for bed. If I put him down, or sometimes even if Sara holds him, he fusses and wants to be with me. Sometime in the last 6 weeks, I became his dad. The weird part is, I’m not entirely sure when exactly that happened.

For a biological dad, it’s cut and dry: dad is “Dad” from day 1. His kid looks like him and may already have some of his mannerisms; he’s been taking care of his son or daughter from day 1.

But that isn’t the case for an adoptive dad. It isn’t quite clear when I became Teddy’s dad.

Was it when I decided or when he decided? I decided to be his dad 96 hours before I met him. Somehow that seems unfair to him. But if it wasn’t my decision, was it Teddy’s? I’m not sure a 3-month-old can decide much of anything. And that doesn’t seem fair to me.

Did I become his dad on our Gotcha Day? Maybe. I certainly became responsible for him, but I was totally foreign to him. I hadn’t spoken to him for the nine months that his birth mom carried him, and I’d had no part in caring for him the first six weeks of his life. I didn’t know what he needed; nor did he know what I was about.

Did I become his dad when we surpassed the time he spent with his foster family? Possibly, but it seems, based upon his reaction to me that I was his dad sometime before that.

And of course, the state of Maryland has a say in all this: I won’t be his dad until the adoption is final, sometime in May or June of 2012.

But as I’ve said before, I’ve come to realize that none of that matters. Regardless of when fatherhood happened to me, Teddy’s my son, and I’m his dad.

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Miracles are messy.

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Since our Gotcha Day, many of our friends have asked, “What has been your biggest challenge?” I’m assuming they mean specifically concerning an adopted child, and honestly, the biggest challenge was getting everything we needed, or rather, figuring out what we needed and putting together a registry that we could share with friends and family. Since we’ve got that sorted out, our challenges right now are normal parenting challenges: deciphering cries and figuring out how to lengthen sleeping stretches at night. But we know we’ll face many challenges specific to adoption and specific to transracial adoption when Teddy gets older.

Recently Mike and I participated in a webinar hosted by our adoption agency that addressed some of those challenges. The presenter talked about things I had already read about, such as creating a safe environment for our child to ask questions and educating people who make inappropriate but well-intentioned comments. But the presenter also touched on things I’d never considered, like the need to check the curriculum at potential schools to make sure it honors diversity, verify those schools have a diverse staff so our child will have black role models, and prepare for inevitable encounters with racism. We’re fortunate that we live in a diverse city, have a relatively diverse group of friends, and attend a fairly diverse church service. But we didn’t grow up that way, and we’ll have to be intentional about seeking out that type of environment when we move next.

Last weekend, our pastor spoke about messy miracles. Mary becoming pregnant with the Son of God was a miracle, but it made life a lot more difficult for her and Joseph.

As I listened to our pastor, I thought about Teddy. He certainly is a miracle for us. But he’s definitely going to be a messy one. Parenting him now might be much like parenting a child of the same race as us, (with one particular exception: we use special moisturizers because black skin dries out way faster than white skin), but that will change as he gets older. We know we’re in for some challenging situations as white parents of a black child.

But  no one ever said this would be easy. (In fact, much of the parent prep course we took prior to getting Teddy focused on how difficult transracial adoption is.) We’re willing to tackle the challenges as they come our way. This little miracle is worth all the messiness he brings us.

Sept 23

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When I wrote about all the cool details we became aware of after we got Teddy, I forgot one, and I think it’s worth mentioning, especially in light of Mike’s journey to embracing adoptive fatherhood. During the four-and-a-half months we were waiting (not long, in hindsight), our social worker emailed us several times with details of various expectant women who were interested in making an adoption plan, asking us if we wanted to have our photo album included in the pool for their consideration. We received one such email on September 23. After reading it, Mike said, “This one’s ours. I don’t know why, but I really think this one’s ours.”

I didn’t have such a deep conviction, but I did get a little chill when I read that the baby was due on October 9, which is our anniversary. So we quickly replied to our social worker that we were indeed interested in being considered by this birth mother. We spent the week drumming our fingers and waiting, wondering, could this be the one? Would we be parents in a matter of weeks? Finally, Monday arrived, along with an email from our social worker: the mother had decided to move forward with another couple. I was disappointed, but Mike was frustrated and confused. This one had felt so right. What happened?

Fast forward a few weeks. We get another email, this one telling us about a perfectly healthy baby boy who was ours to take home if we were interested. No need to have our photo album considered; the mother’s rights had expired and she’d simply requested her baby be placed with the longest waiting family. We weren’t given a ton of information about him or his birth family, but naturally, our social worker did provide his birth date: September 23. Mike had a feeling about Teddy before he even knew he existed.

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

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I’m always excited about the holidays. I love everything about this season: the tree, the parties, the cookies, random acts of kindness, strangers smiling at each other, Christmas carols and concerts, and, most importantly flying out west to see my family. Christmas is the only time of year that’s guaranteed I’ll see them. Sometimes, my parents fly out east, and sometimes we meet them somewhere for a few days, but Christmas is non-negotiable. We spend Thanksgiving in Las Vegas with Mike’s family and Christmas in Seattle with mine. And I know how fortunate we are to not have to alternate for the holidays or make time for both families each holiday.

This Christmas, of course, is particularly special because it’s our first Christmas with Teddy and it’s the first time my family will meet him. (Video chats are cool, but they’re not the same.)

And there’s one small reason I’m quite excited to have Teddy around this Christmas. You see, I’ve always been the baby of the family. And in our family, the baby of the family distributes the presents. For several decades, I was fine with this. But once I hit my 30s, I felt a bit silly being summoned, once again, to fetch the gaily colored packages from beneath the tree and pass them to the person named on the tag. I would cajole my brother, who’s five years older than me and equally disinclined to spend prolonged periods of time rustling under the tree, to help me. Sometimes he would; sometimes he wouldn’t.

But now, now, there really is a baby of the family! Granted, Teddy’s not old enough to lift a box, read a tag, and walk to a recipient, but that’s where I come in, to help  him with his newly assigned role. I may be the one actually distributing the packages, but the attention will no longer be on me. Teddy will be the focus. And I’ll be doing the classic speaking for the infant. “Who does this one go to, Teddy? Grandpa? Well, let’s take it to him, then, shall we?” And I won’t feel even slightly silly doing this.

You scoff, but I really am excited about passing the baton, if you will.

I know I’ll always be my mama’s baby, but now there’s a new youngest person in the family, and I couldn’t be happier.

Infant invasion

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We had 72 hours’ notice that we were going to be parents, and probably the most obvious sign that we were completely unprepared was the state of our condo. It was clearly the living space of a yuppie couple. No baby paraphernalia anywhere. Because of the difficulty of our journey to parenthood, we had done zero prep. (In fact, probably the most stressful part of becoming parents, for me, was figuring out what we needed for Teddy. I found the Babies R Us website completely overwhelming. Fortunately, friends were happy to narrow the options for me during the first few days.)

The day before we brought Teddy home, the “nursery” was still a storage room. It was a tidy storage room, but it was a storage room nonetheless, full of the stuff we need but rarely use. And our living room had about one couch too many–there was little space for baby entertainment. This meant that when our wonderful friends started giving us things for Teddy, our condo suddenly looked like a baby had invaded. Into the storage room we stuffed a pack ‘n’ play, bags of clothes, and stacks of books — and we had nothing to organize it all. Mike’s Trek bike was relegated to the hallway–definitely not a long-term solution. Sometimes we forced the stroller into the limited remaining nursery space; sometimes it shared the limited hallway space with the bicycle. In the living room, a baby activity gym, swing, bouncer, and glider were crammed into 450 sq feet with two couches, a coffee table, and bookcase.

And it stayed that way for a few weeks.  We were a little busy enjoying our invader to spend too much time organizing the house.

But it’s starting to look more like a baby belongs here now–at least in the living room. We gave away a couch, so the baby stuff has adequate space now. The nursery is still in chaos, but furniture is ordered, so it will look more like a nursery and less like the room of a hoarder.

I sometimes ask myself if we should’ve done more prep work before we got the call. And I’ve read many articles by adoptive parents who advise waiting parents to do just that, even if it’s painful. But I don’t think so. We didn’t know we would only be waiting 4 1/2 months, and we were intent on doing our best to enjoy every moment as a couple without kids. We didn’t want that visual reminder of what we didn’t have.

Sure, it’s a little chaotic now, and I still pull my hair out on occasion at the sheer number of options for baby stuff when I’m shopping online (400 types of cribs on BRU alone — really?!?), but we’ll get it figured out. And as Mike keeps reminding me, Teddy doesn’t care what his nursery looks like.

 

“No, we’re the lucky ones.”

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From the day we got the call, we have been overwhelmed by the support and excitement of our friends. We’re over the moon about being Teddy’s parents, and our friends are pretty excited for us, too.

We’ve also received unexpected support, specifically from the black community. To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect from our black neighbors and acquaintances. Would we be applauded or scorned? We got our answer almost immediately.

Our Ghanian concierge gave us our first taste of what we could expect. When we brought Teddy home, I was carrying the carrier with Teddy inside, covered with a blanket. I brought him over to the concierge to introduce him, and when I pulled back the blanket for her to see, she saw that Teddy was black.

“You adopted a black baby!” she exclaimed.

“Um, yep,” I replied, not really sure how to respond to that.

“Why?!”

“Because we wanted a baby!”

Meanwhile, I’m thinking, are we really having this conversation? Is it ok to have this conversation?

My concierge was truly flabbergasted that we had adopted a black baby. But once she got over her shock, she kept telling Teddy how lucky he was to have us for his parents. And because I hadn’t anticipated this conversation so soon after bringing Teddy home and hadn’t practiced what I’d say, I stumbled over a reply about how we were as lucky.

A couple days later, having finished my shopping early, I was waiting for Mike outside the hardware store, with Teddy in a stroller. A black woman got out of her car to come over to me and look in the stroller, confirming what she had spied from afar: “You adopted a black baby!”

“Yes, we did!” I replied enthusiastically, a wee bit more practiced than before.

The woman explained that she had noticed Mike inside and correctly assumed he was my husband, confirming that we couldn’t have produced this chocolate-skinned cutie ourselves.

I nodded.

She then proceeded to echo our concierge’s sentiments, about how lucky Teddy was. Unfortunately, I had not practiced that answer, although I again mumbled something about needing Teddy as much as he needed us. After a couple more minutes of chit-chat, the woman wished God’s blessings on us and ambled away.

I waited for Mike to come out, still a bit in shock over the encounter.

The next week, I brought Teddy in to Mike’s office for a tour of the government agency’s child care center and to meet Mike’s colleagues. They all oohhed and aahhed over him, passing him around and offering stories about parenting. Later that day, one of Mike’s black colleagues visited his office.

With no introduction, he said to Mike, “It’s really great what you did.”

Mike, baffled, assumed he was talking about something work related. In response to Mike’s look of confusion, the colleague elaborated, “Adopting a black boy. That’s really great of you. Black boys usually get left behind.”

Mike also was unprepared for this sort of conversation opener, but he recovered much better than I had and assured his colleague that Teddy is as much a blessing to us as we are to him. He then mentioned that he welcomed all advice about caring for black skin and hair.

We’re happy to get these sorts of responses. We hope this is the only kind of response we get, although we know that’s probably wishful thinking. But for now, we’ll accept it with appreciation and practice the succinct response another black colleague, friend, and fellow adoptive mother suggested we give when people tell Teddy how lucky he is to have us: “No, we’re the lucky ones.”

Celebrating Teddy

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We have awesome friends, and today, I get to brag about them. For the past four years, we’ve led a Bible study for newlyweds through our church called Newlyweds on the Hill, or NOTH. Another couple hosts the group (which is a good thing, because if we hosted it, it would’ve fizzled long ago). Not only is this couple awesome at hosting the group, they’ve also headed the planning committees for many baby showers over the years.

Saturday was our turn.

We were super excited about it for several reasons. First of all, this was our first baby shower for Teddy, our first opportunity to properly celebrate his arrival in our family. Secondly, we were thrilled to show him off to people who hadn’t met him yet. But we were also excited because we’ve seen the level of detail that has gone into previous showers. The planning committees are always meticulous about including the new parents’ interests in the decor and games. We couldn’t wait to see how they’d weave my love for grammar and Mike’s love of baseball throughout the party.

They didn’t disappoint. In fact, they far surpassed our expectations. Little touches were everywhere. And they didn’t stop with grammar and baseball.

As we walked up the path to their house, a sign on the door read “Welcome Teddy’s Fans”, and another sign, on the glass door in front of the main door, read “Standing Room Only” in block lettering. Our hostess greeted us and promptly informed us that stroller parking was available out back for $20, but luckily for us the guest of honor was exempt. Just inside the door was a table covered with snacks and labeled “Concessions.” Throughout the main room were little teddy bears sitting behind placards printed in black with well-known baseball sayings — with typos. Corrections were in red. (example below)

Walking through the room, we kept exclaiming over every detail we discovered. After mingling and eating chili and chips, mini sugar cookies decorated to look like baseballs, and teddy bear head cake balls, it was game time. The committee had put together a version of the presidents race, a crowd-pleaser that takes place during the fourth inning of every Nationals game. During the Nationals games, the race features Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt–and Teddy ALWAYS loses. I’m pretty sure it started out that the person who donned Teddy’s ginormous head for the race was just slower than the others. But now it’s a thing. And the Nationals have come up with some pretty clever ways for Teddy to lose.

For the baby shower race, we were divided into teams named for the four presidents, and we answered 9 “innings” of trivia questions, each inning featuring four questions. If you answered all four questions correctly, you scored a “run.” Each inning featured a different category of questions, including grammar (you do NOT capitalize seasons), baseball, famous adopted people (did you know Nelson Mandela was adopted?), bears, and capital cities (I have a goal to visit all 50). One friend mentioned they’d never learned so much at a baby shower before! Thankfully, I got all the grammar questions right. Unfortunately, I scored runs in only a couple other categories. Also, I’m ashamed to admit, I was on Team Teddy. And Teddy lost. (I think it was rigged.) Mike won MVP and was rewarded with two packets of Big League Chew, which he immediately tore into and stuffed his mouth full of for the camera.

There was one other prize that demonstrates the planning committee’s attention to detail: a box of Toblerone. That’s the name Mike has always said he wanted to give his first child. (“You call the kid Toby! Works for a boy or a girl!) Needless to say, I was never a fan, which encouraged Mike to bring it up at any opportunity. Now that Toblerone has been given proper acknowledgment, maybe it can rest in peace.

So thank you, planning committee extraordinaire and everyone else who has helped make Teddy’s arrival so special. It’s been a joy to share our son with you.