Monthly Archives: January 2012

Nature vs nurture

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Part of the excitement–and terror–about adoption comes from the unknown. When biological parents are expecting, they and their friends will speculate about what family features baby will have or what family mannerisms baby will perform.

“Oh, I hope he has your eyes!” a friend may comment to the expectant mom.

“I wonder if he’ll have your laugh,” a family member may think aloud to the expectant dad.

And then as baby grows, he’ll either confirm those musings or demonstrate other familiar features and actions. And his parents will take great delight in discovering them.

“He has your ears!” or “You make that face!” Or even if it’s not immediately recognizable, Mom and Dad will share these discoveries with Grandpa and Grandma and learn that they did the same thing when they were babies.

But with adoption, all that is out the window. We’re left to speculate who in Teddy’s birth family made what we consider unique faces–but we may never find out. Teddy is a mysterious gift.

In terms of nature, that is. But as we excitedly discovered for ourselves a couple weeks ago, nurture also plays a huge role. Features, obviously, are all nature. But Teddy will imitate us.

From the day we brought Teddy home, Mike has had a special greeting for him. He presses his lips together and pushes air through them, making them vibrate. He actually doesn’t reserve this for greetings; any time is fair game. A couple weeks ago, I was on the couch chatting with Teddy while Mike was at work. Suddenly, Teddy pressed his lips together and pushed air through them. It didn’t make the vibration; he just drooled a bunch. But it was clearly an attempt at what Mike had been doing.

I immediately texted Mike about it and made his day.

Since then, Teddy’s been practicing. A lot. Which means we’ve upped our daily bib quota to catch all that extra drool. But practice makes perfect, and Teddy is now successfully vibrating. (This does not mean the drooling as stopped.) And just like for Mike, any time is fair game. Which means I’m learning to be on guard for spittle…

Teddy may not look like us, but he’s going to act like us. The pressure’s on!

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4-month stats and milestones

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We took Teddy for his 4-month checkup yesterday, and we learned that Teddy is tall. He’s average for weight (15.5 lbs, 50th percentile), but at 26 1/4 inches, he’s in the 90th percentile for length. (He was in the 75th percentile at his 2-month checkup.) You now have approximately 30 seconds to make commentary about his future as a basketball player … [humming Jeopardy theme song] … ok, that’s it. No more assumptions about athletic prowess allowed. Teddy can be anything he wants to be! He’s already showing quite the oratory skills. Maybe a future senator or lawyer? He grasps the toys on his play mat with precision. Maybe a surgeon? Although if you could see him swing his hips, you’d think he had a future as a hula dancer. Daddy would be so proud 😉

I suppose it’s too early to talk about possible vocations, so I’ll stick with his present skills. He’s almost rolling over. Actually, he has rolled over (back to front, which, according to the pediatrician, is harder than front to back–my boy’s advanced!) three times. But since that third time (which was about three weeks ago), he hasn’t been able to make it all the way over. He gets about 3/4 of the way and then gets stuck. Or loses interest. Or gets distracted when we squeal in delight at his progress and attempt to cheer him on. At which point, he rolls back to his back. This one is not a performer, much to our chagrin.

Teddy loves to stand and has since the day we got him. He rocks his exersaucer (so much so that our social worker commented on his energetic jumping during her first post-placement visit) and if he ever gets fussy while we’re holding him, we can usually cheer him up by letting him march on our legs (assuming the fussiness isn’t due to hunger or fatigue, of course).

He’s quite the chatterbox. He can hold forth for several minutes, chatting about things that sound terribly interesting. No sign of the “b” sound yet (which is supposed to be coming up), though he was saying “ah-goo” (the first to listen for) early on. I was convinced he was saying “oh good” until I read that babies’ first cooing sounds like “ah-goo” and I had to concede that was what it sounded like. He also thinks it’s hilarious to put his fingers in my mouth. And I love making my boy laugh! (Unfortunately, since I encourage this game, this means he tries to put his fingers in the mouth of everyone who holds him…)

The other news that came out of the pediatrician appointment (besides his exceptional length) is that we can start solid foods! I’ve already purchased our first box of baby rice cereal and am excited to move on to culinary delights like sweet potatoes. I’m hoping Teddy shares my enthusiasm. We want him to grow big and strong. We can’t have a 90-lb weakling–on the court or in the courtroom.

Teddy’s genealogy of prayer

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Our church is reading through our senior pastor’s latest book, The Circle Maker. In the book, our pastor talks about two things that struck me. First is the idea of prayer genealogies. Answered prayers originate somewhere, and it’s important to track them. Many times we pray for something…and then forget about it. And then when God answers that prayer, we don’t give Him credit because we forgot we prayed it to begin with. Our pastor encourages prayer journaling so we remember what we prayed for and give God credit when He answers.

God answered our prayers in a big way when He sent us Teddy. No need to look back through the journal for that one! We’ve been praying for a LONG time for a baby. And we’ve had a lot of people praying for us through our journey. One friend shared that she felt compelled to fast for us at one point. Another friend shared that she and her husband were literally on their knees in prayer for us. And many, many friends shared that they were regularly covering us prayer. I love that so many people are part of Teddy’s prayer genealogy! That is so amazingly encouraging and humbling.

And to enjoy the fruit of it now, well, that brings me to the second thing that struck me: the importance of sharing our stories of how God is working in our lives. I hope this blog is one way of doing that. Also, journaling will become more important as we pray for God to do specific things in Teddy’s life. Theodore means “gift from God” and we pray that we always treat him as such.

Talking with Teddy about adoption

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Yesterday, a friend who’s adopted herself posted on my Facebook wall a link to a children’s book about adoption and reiterated something we’ve been told numerous times by our social worker and various training sessions: make adoption part of the conversation from the beginning. The fact of adoption itself will be obvious to Teddy from a young age. Ours is what is called a “conspicuous adoption” or “public adoption”: people can tell just by looking at our family that our son is adopted.

But just because something is obvious doesn’t mean it’s automatically easy to talk about. Teddy will know he’s adopted, but we will need to be intentional about creating an environment that’s comfortable for discussing his adoption story. This means welcoming all questions as soon as he starts asking them–as if he’s asking a standard toddler question like, “Why is the sky blue?” –and offering age-appropriate answers. Fortunately, Mike excels at taking potentially uncomfortable questions in stride. I’ll be following his lead on this one. And as a former teacher, he’s also great about answering only what’s asked, as an article I recently read advised. It also means not waiting for Teddy to ask but initiating discussions ourselves, so he knows this is OK to talk about. That same article suggested asking our son on birthdays and other special occasions if he’s thinking about his birth family…and missing them–and validating those feelings. It means talking about his birth family and pointing out his wonderful features and talents that came from them. It means reassuring him of his birth mother’s love for him.

Granted, none of that is necessary now. A four-month-old isn’t quite to the stage of interrogating his adoptive parents because of identity issues. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things we can do now. For example, when Teddy was two months old, he made a unique face, making his lips into a round O. Every time he did, we wondered aloud who in his birth family made such an expression. We also know from a photo of the birth mother that we were given that he shares facial features with her, so we mention that. Soon we’ll start telling him his adoption story so that by the time he can ask questions, he’ll have heard it many times.

The key is to make his adoption story as normal to talk about in our family as the weather–whether it’s a stormy time or sunny. We’ll be getting that book our friend suggested to help us get started.

Teddy’s first MLK Jr Day

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We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome some day

Deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome some day 

The last time I sang this song, I was swaying in a pew in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, one arm entwined with Mike’s and the other with my pew-mate. And I felt completely out of place. A white girl singing “We Shall Overcome” in a black baptist church? Yeah, that did not feel right.

I sang this song again yesterday afternoon. This time I was holding my son and standing with Mike in a rather diverse crowd in Washington National Cathedral for a concert/service to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. It wasn’t nearly so awkward this time. It also helped that we sang multiple verses. I didn’t know there were multiple verses. But I could relate to a couple of them. We’ll walk hand in hand, we shall live in peace, we are not afraid, all these a white girl can sing alongside her fellow black audience members and not feel weird.

This concert was our first tiny step in introducing Teddy to his African-American heritage — and putting ourselves in an environment where, despite the diversity, we were still in the minority. We initially wanted to volunteer at an MLK service project (our city has several) but decided that it would be easier on all of us if we waited until Teddy was a bit older. We found this concert and decided it would be a good first event for Teddy: Mike and I could enjoy it while simply holding him and who knew, maybe Teddy would like the music.

When we first arrived, Teddy was actually asleep in his car seat, prompting Mike and I to have a brief discussion: should we let him sleep (he’s not the greatest napper in the world, after all) or wake him up? We decided we had to wake him up. This was his first foray into his culture. Whether he enjoyed the music or not, he had to at least be awake for it!

We missed the Malcolm X dancers and drummers and a spoken-word artist and poet (I was pretty bummed about that–I love spoken-word performances) but got there in time for the CityDance Conservatory dancers singing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” (MJ songs featured several times during this concert). The WPAS Children of the Gospel Choir was wonderful, although we kept saying to each other there was no way they were “children,” unless “children” just means “under 18.” Some of them looked like older teens and had amazing voices. The Urban Nation H.I.P.-H.O.P. Choir closed out the concert with several songs, including MJ’s “Freedom Has Come,” during which Teddy was standing and chatting.

We think he liked it =)


Updating Teddy’s birth mom

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The question people ask us mostly frequently since we adopted Teddy is, “What’s your biggest challenge?” While we anticipate encountering many adoption and race-related challenges, our biggest challenges now are those any new parents deal with: deciphering cries and figuring out how to get Teddy to sleep through the night.

The second most common question we get is, “Do you have contact with Teddy’s birth parents?” The short answer is “no.” But the longer answer is a bit more complicated. When we signed up with our agency, our social worker informed us that no matter what birth mother chose us and what she gave as her preferences for contact, we should expect to send regular updates about our child to the agency. The trend in adoption is toward “open” adoption, which means that there is contact between the birth mother and the adoptive family post-placement, either directly or through the agency. How this contact plays out is up to the birth mother and the adoptive family, and the agency facilitates as necessary. But the minimum the agency expects is yearly reports. Then it’s up to the birth mother to access that information if she wants to.

When we signed the paperwork to take Teddy home, we agreed to send a letter detailing Teddy’s progress and a few pictures to the agency in January 2012 and then every November.

That first update is due this month. In fact, we have two weeks to put this together. I have to admit I have not given this much thought yet. I sort of feel like I’m doing a birth parent letter and photo album all over again. It’s not nearly as nerve-wracking–I know it won’t be the basis by which a birth mother judges us worthy to parent her child–but I again am faced with the question, what on Earth do we include? What will the birth mother want to know? Will she want a detailed report of the milestones Teddy has hit? Will she want to know that he rolled over for the first time this month or that his chuckle is the most precious sound in the world to us? Or should we keep it bare bones? Will too much information be painful for her?

And then there are the pictures. Do we send pictures just of Teddy, Teddy and us? Teddy and his extended family?

Fortunately, we are not the first adoptive family in the world. Many people have experienced this and written about it, so I will be perusing adoption forums to see how other adoptive parents have dealt with this. And undoubtedly our social worker will be able to provide some tips as well.

I pray that Teddy’s birth mother takes comfort from whatever we send and that our gratitude comes through.

Teddy’s first Christmas

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For the first time since my mom has been picking Mike and I up from the airport for Christmas — 10 years now — she did not greet me first when she saw us. Instead, she made a beeline for her grandson. And she wasn’t content with merely greeting him and talking gibberish. She insisted on retrieving him from his car seat, even though she would need to return him to it to drive us home. I didn’t get so much as a hug.

And I didn’t mind a bit. My parents were super excited to meet Teddy, and I loved seeing them as grandparents. The whole family was thrilled to finally meet our new addition. My aunt, uncle, and grandma visited for Christmas weekend, and my dad wisely laid low on the grandpa role for those first couple days to avoiding getting caught between my mom and my aunt in their fight to love on Teddy the most. It was fun to watch =)

Teddy got his fair share of presents this year. Knowing my family, I don’t know why I expected any less, but well, he’s 3 months old! What do you get a 3-month-old for Christmas? A lot, apparently. His pile was as big as mine and Mike’s. Mike and I shared the fun of opening Teddy’s gifts. We were hoping he would show some interest in the wrapping paper, but, well, not so much. That fun will have to wait until next year.

And of course, I helped Teddy (dressed, appropriately, in his Santa outfit) distribute gifts to everyone, as planned. (Although, that didn’t last for all the gifts — 14 lbs gets heavy after a while!)

Toward the end of our stay, our Seattle friends threw us a party to celebrate Teddy. They had the fun idea of having guests decorate onesies:

We’re especially excited about the “tax deduction” possibilities…

Our last full day, we went to church with my parents…so my mom could introduce her grandson to all her friends. Mike and I were coming from New Year’s Eve celebrations elsewhere, and as soon as we arrived, the airport scene repeated itself: Mom extricated Teddy from my arms and strode off to the sanctuary. She held him the entire service, and promptly after it ended began the Tour di Teddy. I thought I was supposed to be part of these introductions, but I made the mistake of pausing to say something to Mike. When I turned back, Mom was gone. Love it. I did catch up but there was really no need. I’m merely a sidebar in the story of Teddy.

And I have no problem with that =) Teddy’s way cuter than I am.

Highlights from the week:

  • My brother making funny faces at Teddy
  • My mom informing my aunt that she’d been holding Teddy long enough and it was my mom’s turn again…and vice versa
  • Teddy chilling in my dad’s lap
  • My mom’s friend (whose children are grown and out of the house) finding a 3-6 month Huskies onesie in her storage room for Teddy to change into when his Christmas sleeper proved too warm for the cozy room we were sitting in to watch the UW/Baylor game
  • A friend sitting with her toddler and Teddy, pointing out how Teddy’s black skin is different than her son’s white skin and how neat that is, that there are multiple skin tones
  • Taking a picture of Teddy and all our friends’ kids on New Year’s Eve
  • Watching the ball drop and reflecting on the miracle of last year and anticipating the coming year