Category Archives: Parenting

Hotel Rwanda and open adoption parenting

A few years ago I was teaching World Geography to middle school kids. We’d done a unit on the phenomenon of genocide, and at about the same time Paul Rusesabagina came to our city for a speaking engagement. I organized a field trip, and we all heard the first person account of the hotel manager who sheltered Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.

Truly, his story is remarkable. At risk of his safety and that of his family, Paul Rusesabagina (played in the film Hotel Rwanda by Don Cheadle) used his connections and wiles to save more than a thousand refugees. Think the Schindler’s List of Africa.

The audience was full of gushing praise for him. Each person who got up to ask a question at the end of Paul Rusesabagina’s presentation began with some version of, “You are extraordinary.” or “You are exceptional.” or “You are amazing — I would never be able to be so brave.”

With each of these proclamations, I saw Paul Rusesabagina slump a little. Each time, he protested, “No, I’m not. My point is that I am just like you — in extraordinary times, we all can be extraordinary. We all have it in us, and I am proof of that.”

Still, the audience continued to set him apart.

I left the auditorium that day feeling sad for Paul Rusesabagina, who looked a bit lonely, a bit defeated in the way his message had been received. Who, as if to make my point, titled his book An Ordinary Man.

Now, on to open adoption parenting.

Thank you all so much for your feedback on my recent post about open adoption parenting.

But. And I say this with great affection. Some of you missed the point. The conversation I had with Tessa was not the result of me being an all-wise mom (I’m not). Or because I am more mature, thoughtful, ego-less than the average Jane (most definitely not).

It’s just that in one moment, I stopped long enough to tune into deeper wisdom. I lived from my heart, not my fears.

And you can, too.

Don’t tell me, any of you who are or will be parents, that you wouldn’t run into a burning building to rescue your child. Don’t tell me that you wouldn’t jump in front of a bus to prevent your child from being hit. We say it all the time — this type of love transcends all. And in a moment where you’re called on to do something heroic, you would not think twice.

So why would you react any differently with the relatively minor thing of resolving your own fears and insecurities for the sake of your child?

Maybe the way I handled Tessa’s question was incredible, extraordinary, remarkable. But, over and over again, incredible, extraordinary, remarkable things are done by ordinary people.

Like you.

A moment in open adoption parenting

Tessa was distraught, after a Halloween party, for not getting the nod for a sleepover at her aunt’s house. The excitement of the kid-oriented haunted house, the disappointment about the sleepover and a sugar high made for a meltdown.

I got her into the car and she continued to wail about how mean her dad and I are. Roger and Reed were in the other car (long logistical explanation), so Tessa and I had some rare alone car time.

The wailing changed tone as we headed home.

“Why can’t Crystal and Joe be my parents!? I have never even been with both of them at the same time!”

Whoa.

I silenced the GPS lady so I could focus. Here’s a slowdown of my processes during moments like this.

  1. Calm, center, open. Breathe, and be aware of my breathing.
  2. Listen. Let her do most of the talking.
  3. Assess. What is she really saying or asking?
  4. Trade places. What might this look like, feel like, to her?
  5. Abide. Give her space to feel her feelings.
  6. Speak. Equal parts head and heart.

Following are the salient parts from the ensuing conversation, which lasted about a half an hour and culminated while we cuddled in her bed.

“Tell me more,” I said while driving home.

“If they got together, maybe they would LIKE each other. And then…”

“And then…?” (pause) “And then they could be your parents?”

“Yes.” (pause) “But Joe is married, and Crystal has Luke.” (pause) “They will never be married, will they, Mom?”

Now, the best thing I did here was not personalize this and make it about ME. Her words, and the thoughts behind them, had NOTHING to do with her feelings for Roger and me, her attachment to us, her love for us. The best way for me to help her find resolution about having two sets of parents, and about her own road not taken is NOT to pretend that one set of parents doesn’t exist, is NOT to feel bad that I can’t be everything to her, is NOT to “fix” it for her by pointing out all she does have.

It’s by giving her space and support to find her own way.

“No, Sweetheart. They were together many years ago, but they were not a good match. You know, don’t you, that they both love you?”

“Yeah, I know that. But why aren’t they my mom dad?”

“Would you like me to tell you the story again? After we get home we can cuddle and talk.”

“Yes!”

10 minutes later we pulled into the garage. Tessa got on her jammies and brushed her teeth. We climbed into her bed, about an hour past normal bedtime.

“Crystal and Joe were very young. Twenty may not sound like young to you, but it’s a time when some people don’t have a lot of skills in dealing with other people, with being frustrated. You know that class we took together, Taming the Anger Monster? Well, at that time, neither Crystal nor Joe had learned how to tame their anger monsters.

“They broke up because they were hurting each other. With words — you know that words can hurt. And as much as they both loved you, they knew that neither one was able to give you a stable home, a calm home. At that time. You needed a forever family then, though. And that’s what you got. Daddy and I will always be your mom and dad, no matter what.

“The Crystal and Joe you know now are different from who they were then. It’s OK to imagine what life with them would be like. What do you think?”

“Well…I would have an older brother from Crystal. And a younger sister from Joe. I’m not sure if we would live at Crystal’s house or at Joe’s house. And I would probably go to a different school. One I don’t even know. I might not even know Reed. Or Grandma and Grandpa. Or the OTHER Grandma and Grandpa. And all my aunts — I wouldn’t have any aunts! That would be weird.”

“It would be very different, wouldn’t it? You can tell a thousand stories of what your life is not. And only ONE story of what your life IS. This is your life, Tessa. Lots of people around who love you now and forever, including Crystal and Joe, daddy and me. All of Crystal’s family, all of Joe’s family, all of our family.”

“Mama,” she said sleepily, the anxiety and sadness gone for now, “I love you.”

“I love you, too Tessa.”

*****

There probably were wiser words I could have said, and things I shouldn’t have said. I’m putting this out there because in this space I try to share (within the limits I’ve set regarding Tessa’s privacy) as many facets of open adoption parenting as I can. It’s important to know that “open adoption” isn’t just something you do when you exchange photos, send emails, have a visit. It’s something that can come up even when you have other plans.

Image: JewelBasket.com

Please see my response to the reader comments (below) at my follow-up post, Hotel Rwanda and open adoption parenting.

Show & Tell: Captured

Last week I showed my documentarian tendencies.

When Tessa was born, my friend Juli (scrapbooker extraordinaire) gave me a beautiful handmade calendar that she designed especially for my daughter.

So it seemed natural that I would add my kids’ journal entries to my nightly routine. Call it a.nal-retentive, obsessive or rigid (as my husband jokingly has), but I am happy to capture each day of their lives until they are able to do so themselves. As Mel suggested last week, I plan to turn over documenting duties to them on their 12th birthdays.

Tessa has 9 calendars so far (Juli’s creations are the two in the upper left):


Reed has 7 (and yes, the second child’s is sloppier; what’s it to ya?):


Thanks to my mom for filling in on the overnights she’s had them. And yes, the kids LOVE scanning a month of their lives and remembering an earlier time.

See what the cool kids are showing and telling over at Mel‘s.