Monthly Archives: February 2012

What I’m thinking during post-placement visits

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As part of the adoption process, the state of Maryland requires us to be foster parents for six months before we finalize and become Teddy’s legal parents. During those six months, the agency acts as Teddy’s legal guardian while making sure we’re adapting well to life with Teddy and he’s attaching to us. (If this is not happening, it’s much easier to remove a child from a foster family than an adoptive family.) To determine all is proceeding well, our social worker, E (who is wonderful, by the way, and super easy to talk to), the same one who completed our home study, visits us on three separate occasions. Now, these visits are no where near as nerve-wracking as the home study visits, when she was determining our readiness to be parents. But I still feel a little anxious when she’s coming over. I want everything to be perfect. I want her to be incredulous at how well Teddy is developing. I want her to express disbelief at how attached Teddy seems to be to us. I want her to declare that she’s never seen a more suitable placement. I want her to say we’re doing so well there’s no need to continue with the six-month waiting period–we should go ahead and finalize now. 

None of that happens, of course. (Although she does note how energetically Teddy jumps in his exersaucer. He loves that thing and has been bouncing around in it since he was 2 1/2 months old.) But I’m getting ahead of myself. What follows is a peek inside my head before and during our second post-placement visit.

The afternoon has been a bit crazy and I don’t have time to make dinner, so I decide to pop a frozen meal into the oven for us to eat before E arrives…except Mike isn’t able to get out of work in time to eat before she gets here, so he’ll be scarfing his ready-made manicotti during the interview. Not only are we eating a frozen meal, but we’re eating it in front of her! Won’t that seem rude? I’ll offer her something to eat, but I know she won’t accept.

I think about where to set up Teddy and briefly consider hanging his doorway bouncer in the doorway of
the laundry room. But then I stop myself. There’s laundry detergent in here. Would it look bad to have my child bouncing around so closely to cleaning supplies?

To try to de-stress a bit–and because it goes well with manicotti and tomato sauce–I pour myself a glass of red wine. As I’m about to enjoy the first sip, I hesitate. Right, should I really be drinking when E comes over?! Oh well. It’s poured.

Mike arrives about two minutes before E does–not enough time to eat first. So while E settles on the couch, and I hold Teddy, Mike puts his bag down and digs in–but not before offering E a beer or glass of wine. I know he’s being polite, but really?! That can’t look good, offering our social worker an alcoholic drink! She declines, but doesn’t look perturbed. She accepts a refreshing glass of ice tea instead. I imagine it’s probably a rule not to drink on the job; I’m sure she doesn’t think less of us for having a relaxing drink after work.

Then the questions begin. How is Teddy? What’s he doing now? How’s he sleeping? Is he rolling over? All perfectly innocent questions when asked by anyone else. But they’re coming from E’s mouth; we know she’s listening for anything that could raises an alarm. Fortunately, I know Teddy is developmentally right on track, even ahead of his peers in some areas (the jumping, my word–our boy’s got hops!) So this part of the meeting doesn’t worry me. Also, Teddy is the easiest baby on the planet, so there’s no inconsolable fussing to freak me out and make me project concern onto E.

She asks how I’m adapting to life as a SAHM. I enthusiastically reply that I love it. I’m not trying to score points. I genuinely enjoy being home with Teddy. Then she asks what a typical day looks like. Hmm. What does a typical day look like? I have one of those mommy amnesia moments. Our days are quite busy. Busier than I expected, in fact. But sometimes, I get to the end of a day and can’t think how it went so quickly, can’t recall how we spent it. What should we be doing? How should my day look? Should it be structured? We should totally be going to the park every day. I should be playing stimulating educational games with Teddy. Is it ok to admit he plays quite happily in his exersaucer for large chunks of time? Should I tell her that Teddy’s so chill and can entertain himself so well that I can blog while he’s awake? I tell her we have a weekly lunch date with other SAHM friends, that I take him out in the BOB at least once a week. Getting outside and seeing other friends with kids–those are good things, right? Mike adds that I typically have one big errand to accomplish every day. But I’m not happy with my answer.  I should be doing more…

E takes notes the whole time, which of course makes me crazy. Is she jotting just what we say, or is she adding analysis, too? Most importantly, is anything we’ve said a cause for concern?

In the end, I simply ask. She assures us we’re doing great, that she neither sees nor hears anything that worries her. She’ll put together a report for each visit but it’s essentially to check a box. Teddy’s clearly attaching to us, and vice versa.

As E packs up her things to leave, I finish my wine. All that worrying for nothing.

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Rediscovering the benefits of common ground

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I have a dear friend who asks me periodically if we’ve connected with other adoptive families, and I always tell her we’ve made no such efforts. When she probes further, asking if that’s something we should do, I assure her we’ve got great friends and don’t need it.

But that was before Mike and I found ourselves fireside listening to the dulcet tones of NPR’s Scott Simon talking about traveling to China to meet his daughters.

Sunday evening, we attended a fundraiser for Adoptions Together. Normally we’d pass on such a gathering, but we made the effort this time for two reasons: (1) The invite came in the mail (funny how snail mail commands more attention now) and (2) Mr. Simon would be talking about his and his wife’s experience with adoption, and promoting his book about the same. Mike and I enjoy NPR in general and Mr. Simon in particular. Plus, it was called a “fireside chat.” That just sounded like a cozy way to spend a cold evening.

We reserved a Zipcar and drove to Upper Northwest DC, searching for house numbers to guide us–and getting distracted by the enormity and beauty of the homes we were passing. I began to feel nervous. We do well financially, but these homes and the cars parked out front made it clear we were entering VERY well-to-do territory.

We found the house, parked the car, and timidly knocked on the door. We were greeted by the smiling social worker and fellow adoptive parent we’d spoken with at the adoption expo we’d attended more than a year ago. This was the same social worker whose conversation 16 months ago confirmed for us that Adoptions Together was the agency we wanted to work with. We inaudibly breathed a sigh of relief. There was at least one friendly face here. Despite the grandeur of the home (and the fact that most of the men were in suit jackets while Mike and I sported sweaters), we immediately felt like we belonged. And that was just the beginning.

We mingled, sipping wine, munching hors d’ouvres, and accepting congratulations for our new addition, which our social worker announced to people as she led us through the house. While waiting for the main event to begin, we chatted with one couple who had adopted two little girls from Asia (one from China, the other from Vietnam), lamenting to each other the frustration of the wait but rejoicing in the growth of our families and discussing what the future might hold.

Then we were all called into the living room (where a real fire was crackling) and the president of our agency introduced Mr. Simon. He spoke briefly about his and his wife’s journey to adopt two girls from China (who were present). I wiped tears as he recalled the moment each girl was placed in his arms, how he and his wife immediately began to fall in love with the rosy cheeked babes. I chuckled as he described his girls quibbling like any sisters would.

The floor was opened up for questions and comments and I felt encouraged as one adoptive parent shared how friends would comment that her kids (all from Asia) looked like her, a caucasian. They didn’t, of course, but because they shared mannerisms, it seemed like they did. It’s that nature vs nurture thing again. Another parent asked for advice about how to persuade friends who had been trying IVF for 10 years that maybe it was time to think about investing their resources in a child who already needed them. She was asking as someone who had also tried those medical options and had finally given up on them. So many of us in that room had been that route. I could relate both to the friends in question trying desperately to achieve what nature had denied them and to the parent yearning for her friends to open their hearts to a different–but no less legitimate–path to building a family.

And that was part of what made this evening so enjoyable. So much of our story didn’t have to be explained. Whether it was the frustration and emotional roller coaster of fertility treatments, the basics of the adoption process, or the fishbowl feeling of raising children of a different race, these people understood. It was already part of the conversation without the need to articulate it. And we could make comments like, “We hope to finalize mid-summer” and not have to explain what that meant.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind explaining. I love that our friends are interested in the process and want to understand it. But there’s something to be said for being able to jump right into the nitty gritty without needing to lay the foundation first.

I don’t know why I didn’t think I would appreciate this. Shared experiences always enrich conversation.

So the next time my friend asks about our efforts to connect with other adoptive families, I’ll let her know we have–and that we plan to continue doing so.

Mac ‘n’ cheese and vegan lasagna

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Since I quit my job to stay home with Teddy, we have had to cut way back on dining out. This is a big sacrifice for us. We love dining out. That’s one of the perks of living in a trendy condo in downtown DC: We are walking distance from a lot of good restaurants. While we were DINKs (double-income, no kids), we would eat out several times per week. We would get home from work, and Mike would casually mention that Korean or Thai or Indian or BBQ or any number of other options sounded good, and I, having zero plan for what to make for dinner that night (Beth, one of these days, I will take your advice) and agreeing that one of those options did in fact sound delicious, would usually not take much convincing.

That of course adds up. Fast.

So I have been doing my best to make dining in sound more appealing–and therefore dining out less tempting. This means trying new recipes (which doesn’t necessarily involve planning terribly far ahead; as a SAHM, I now have extra time for last-minute trips to the grocery store).

One recipe is for vegan lasagna. I love allrecipes.com, particularly because of the user comments. Those comments are important to take into account for this recipe. But if you do, it’s delicious. (I used no-boil lasagna sheets.)

The other recipe is for plain ol’ mac ‘n’ cheese, which I’ve actually never liked that much. But that’s because I was eating the boxed version (and that not since college). The version I made twice in two weeks is from scratch. Who knew how easy mac ‘n’ cheese is to make from scratch?

This recipe comes from an amazing cookbook I got for Christmas 2010 (and have used approximately twice): The Geometry of Pasta. This book contains delicious recipes for specific types of pasta and is organized alphabetically by type of pasta. (Evidently there are hundreds; but not all are covered in the book.)

Macaroni and Cheese

Serves two as a main dish

1/2 pound macaroni
3 1/2 Tbsp butter
4 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
A few gratings nutmeg
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp milk (I actually used almond milk and it turned out great)
1 3/4 cups grated Parmesan, divided
3 1/2 oz cheddar or fontina (I used fontina), diced
4 1/2 Tbsp fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 465 degrees.

Butter a ceramic baking dish (about 8×5). Boil the pasta for half the time stated on the package, in salted water. Drain, and don’t worry that it’s still crunchy. (It really does finish cooking in the cheese as it bakes.)

Next make a roux. Melt the butter, adding the flour, bay leaf, nutmeg, and a little salt and pepper. Fry for a few moments (don’t let the flour brown), then gradually add the milk, stirring manically with a wooden spoon. A judicious addition of milk will result in a smoother sauce. Stir in two-thirds of the Parmesan, then the pasta. When the pasta is well-coated, add the fontina (or cheddar), stir to just mix, and transfer to baking dish. Flatten with the back of a spoon, and top with the remaining Parmesan mixed with bread crumbs.

Bake for 20 min until well browned and piping hot.

This recipe is even more amazing with a half pound of fried bacon; but then most things are better with bacon.

Finding motherhood amidst snot and tears

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I wrote this post for a contest on BlogHer.com, so if you like it, click through!

It’s difficult to say when I officially became an adoptive mom. Did I first don the title when my husband and I began compiling the paperwork to apply for adoption and simultaneously started praying for the birth mom, that she would take care of herself and therefore her baby? Was it when our baby was born, even if we didn’t know he existed yet (since he went into interim care until the birth mom’s parental rights were terminated)? Was it when my hubby and I got the call from the social worker that a healthy baby boy was ready for us to pick up and take home? Or was it when we held that precious treasure in our arms for the first time, looking at each other in awe that this moment was actually happening?

I guess all of those moments could signal the beginning of my journey as mom. But I didn’t feel it. Gazing at this being that looked nothing like me, that I didn’t give birth to, I didn’t feel like his mom for a while. I felt a disconnect, like I was a temporary caregiver and this was a dream job that would end at any moment.

I asked a colleague–and fellow adoptive parent–when that title that I had sought for so long would feel like it belonged to me. It’ll come, she said. Which was hardly reassuring. But then she said something else, something that took me off guard. Shall I come take your baby for a week while you figure it all out? Um, absolutely not! I responded, confused why she would even ask such a thing. Good, she said with a chuckle. You’ll be just fine. I’d be concerned if you’d said ‘yes’. The feeling will come. Just concentrate on taking care of your little boy.

And so I took her advice. I dedicated myself to taking care of my little boy. My husband and I alternated nighttime feedings. We took him to baby showers. We introduced him to everyone we knew. I scoured the Internet looking for the perfect nursery furniture and accessories. We read baby books to learn what developmental milestones to expect and then watched in awe as he began to achieve them. But during those first few weeks, that feeling of being a mom remained elusive. The weird thing was, I couldn’t define it. When friends would ask me what it would take to feel like a mom, I couldn’t articulate what exactly I was missing.

Then my little boy got sick. Or maybe it was allergies. Can infants get allergies? Whatever it was, he was congested. And not happy. Watching him struggle to breathe and cry from exhaustion, which only made breathing more difficult, I just wanted to make him better. While my husband made a 4 a.m. drugstore run to get a nasal aspirator, I held him and tried to calm him so he could breathe easier. Unlike during midnight feedings, when I felt exhausted and yearned to go back to sleep, I was wide awake and filled only with the longing to make him better.

And suddenly, there it was. For the first time, I felt like this precious boy’s mother. As I rocked him in the darkness while he sniffled and shuddered and whimpered, and waited for my husband to return with the remedy that would allow us all to get some sleep, I marveled at the feeling: This bundle of snot and slobber was mine, not temporarily, but forever. I cuddled him closer to punctuate the moment.

The snot-sucker did its magic, and peace returned to the night. As I lay back down in bed to sleep, I savored this feeling of motherhood, grateful I had achieved my own milestone.

Lunch with friends

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One of the perks for me about being a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) is getting together with mom friends during the day. I have a weekly lunch date with three good friends who are all home with their little ones. We rotate homes, and whoever hosts provides lunch. We catch up on our lives, discuss the parenting philosophies espoused in whatever baby book we happen to be reading, compare notes on the sleeping habits of our babies, and lament mom fail moments.

We met for our first lunch while I was still on leave. As everyone was preparing to head home, I hoped aloud that we could continue this weekly gathering. This was right before Christmas, so even as I shared this wish, I felt it to be an impossible one. These were all busy young moms. No way they would be able to set aside an afternoon every week to eat and chat.

And yet, a couple days later, one friend offered to host the following week–and everyone else showed up. (This friend happens to live outside the city, and we use lunches at her home as an excuse to hit Target beforehand. There’s always something to get at Target!) And now, two months later, our weekly rendezvous is practically a given. I love it.

These weekly gatherings have been particularly helpful for me. Our children are 3.5 months, 4.5 months (Teddy), 9 months, and 2 years old. With the older children, I can see what’s coming and get advice on how to deal with inevitable challenges. But more importantly for me as an adoptive mom, with the younger baby, I can see what’s normal–and calm my paranoid heart. For example, when Teddy was 2 months old, he would shudder in his sleep. This terrified me. I was positive he was reliving the agonizing moment when his birth mom placed him for adoption. (I’d read that even when it happens in infancy, placement is still a traumatic moment.) But when I shared this with my friend whose baby is four weeks younger than Teddy, she assured me that he did that, too. What a relief! I know I’ll yet have to deal with the aftershocks of Teddy’s trauma, but shuddering in his sleep is not one of them.

So I hope these lunches continue. I treasure the camaraderie–and I need the reassurance!

To be wanted

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Guest post from Teddy’s dad.

I want to be wanted. I need to be wanted. Yes, love and respect are important, but for me there is nothing worse than going to an event and having no one care that I’m there.

From the moment we picked up Teddy, I wanted to be with him. I wanted to hold him as he “jumped” on my chest. I wanted to cradle him as he slept. I wanted to watch him discover the world. Yet I never felt he wanted me. (I don’t fault him; he’s only 4 months old. He hardly knows who people are.)

A few nights ago, Teddy proved me wrong. I got home around 6:20 and Sara had put him down for a nap that he was refusing to take. He needed it, but like me, he refuses to sleep in case he misses something.
So rather than listen to him cry, I suggested that we get him up and that I would play with him. Sara indulged my selfish desire and got him up to bring him to me. The look in his eye and his body language was simply, “I’ve had enough of you lady.” Both Sara and I saw it and felt it.

Then Teddy saw me. A smile crossed his face and his arms stopped flailing. He stopped fussing and stared at me intently. I took him from Sara and my tired boy was a new man. Even before I had a good hold on him, he started “rough housing” with me by grabbing at my face and mouth. I laid down on couch and put him on my stomach. He looked up at me multiple times and just smiled. He rolled off my stomach to get stuck between me and the back of the couch. He just stayed there looking at me and smiling. He started to “talk” and reach for my face again.

I couldn’t believe this guy. Mr. Grouchy was transformed into Mr. Playful when Dad showed up. For a good 45 minutes, we “wrestled” and played airplane. He crawled up my chest to bury his slobbery mouth in my neck and make me giggle. He used my hands to pull himself upright and then “jumped” on my chest until I had to stop him (there’s only so much repeated pressure these ribs can take).

All the while, he just looked me in the eyes and smiled.

Teddy wanted his Daddy and his Daddy loved being wanted.

Staying home with Teddy

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I have completed my first official week as a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been home with Teddy for three months now, but up until one week ago, I was on unpaid personal leave.

And up until three weeks ago, I was telling everyone I’d be going back.

I never pictured myself as a SAHM. I always assumed I’d be bored. I’m not the type of person who has so many hobbies, she could easily keep herself busy at home full time–even without children. I have friends like that–not that actually do stay home full time without children, but who are always embarking on interesting projects and lamenting the time their jobs require. Not me. I need structure. I need my work handed to me. I need work, period.

Or, at least I thought I did. And then we got Teddy. And suddenly I found myself immersed in motherhood. And the wife of a guy who’s suddenly immersed in fatherhood. We had so much fun that first month, plunging head-first into the ocean of parenthood. And then the holidays came, and I was crazy busy playing with my new son and visiting family and showing him off and doing all the stuff you do at the holidays. And then January came. And I thought, now is when it’ll get boring.

But it didn’t. The housekeeping stuff I always figured I’d think was mundane was actually really satisfying. (Who knew I’d enjoy tidying up every day?) And I have several SAHM friends. In fact, we have a weekly lunch date. And of course Teddy is a lot of fun, especially since he hit 3 months. He’s learning new things all the time.

Even with all that, up until three weeks before I was due back, I still thought I’d return to work. So I started looking into child care options (yeah, started–first sign I clearly wasn’t going back; you don’t start looking for child care three weeks in advance–you start three months in advance). I quickly dismissed daycare options (even if I wanted them, DC waitlists are crazy–I would’ve needed to have been planning three years in advance) and turned to nanny shares. They seemed like a great idea, and I talked to a couple friends who were happy with theirs, but the whole process of winnowing down potential caretakers based on profiles and interviewing the most appealing ones was overwhelming.

And there was one other detail. I didn’t love my job. I enjoyed working with my colleagues, and my assignments–for the most part–were enjoyable, but there weren’t enough of them. I had a lot of downtime, which I found frustrating. Did I really want to put Teddy–a baby we’d worked so hard to get–in someone else’s care for eight hours a day so I could return to a job that wasn’t all that satisfying? Especially when taking care of Teddy really is satisfying?

In the end, I decided I couldn’t. After sharing with Mike what I was thinking, we decided there was no point in further exploring nanny shares. And I needed to call my boss and give my two weeks.

So now I’m a SAHM. Considering I haven’t fully wrapped my head around the fact that I’m even a mom (I still have moments, changing Teddy, feeding him, that I just stare at him in wonder that he’s here, that he’s mine), getting used to SAHMhood is going to take some time. It’s a hat I never imagined myself wearing. But I’m excited to say that it seems to fit rather well.