It seemed, in this dark period, as if we had made a huge miscalculation, committed an unfixable mistake. One that our daughter would suffer for.
Our crime? We had chosen open adoption. And despite thumbs up from all the grown ups in the equation, it was not working out well. At. All. For Tessa.
She was the pudding. She held the only proof that mattered.
Previous posts leading up to this part of the story
Part 1: Considering Joe
Part 2: Telling Tessa
Part 3: The horrible wait
Part 4: The meeting
Part 5: Crash
Despite our best intentions at a gradual and functional reunion with her birth father, Tessa had ended up in angry tears two weeks after spending a day with him. (“I DON’T WANT TO HAVE FOUR PARENTS!!…I NEVER WANT TO SEE THEM AGAIN!”)
First, we had to determine (as best we could): was this a parenting issue or an adoptive parenting issue?
Finding no evidence of The Worst Thing during the time she was with Joe (which I can’t even type, but you can probably guess), we deduced Tessa’s trauma did have to do with adoption.
But what? WHAT??
Enter my sister, Sheri.
I alluded to an intuitive reading she did for me at the time (see Problem #2). She was able to help me see through Tessa’s eyes, feel through Tessa’s heart.
And it wasn’t near as big or as bad as I’d feared.
I had been full of remorse and fear that I’d screwed everything up by embracing open adoption so whole-heartedly. Had I been too enthusiastic about keeping Crystal in our lives? Too driving in bringing Joe into our lives? And my most secret fear: would this have played out differently if I hadn’t become an open adoption advocate and blogger?
Sheri helped me to take myself out of the equation. For Tessa, it wasn’t that the last 7 years had been one huge mistake; it was that the one episode with Joe had been, simply, too much, too soon.
Tessa is a child who needs boundaries — both the figurative and literal kinds. She can sleep only against a wall and with pillows surrounding her. She must, at all times, know just how far she can go with a given person in a given situation. She is constantly rubbing against my boundaries with her, as well as others’. It’s her way of (1) figuring out her world, and (2) feeling secure in it.
And although she professed to be eager to spend the afternoon with Joe, she was unable to predict the feelings of unsupportedness that would ensue. Not because Joe was unsupportive, but because it was all different.* He smoked. He and his friend called each other “Duuude” in a way she doesn’t hear from Roger and me. These two minor things became symbolic, for her, of being in a very different, possibly scary, place. One in which she had no navigation skills, no anchoring, no steering mechanism.
And, at a very deep level, she also may have been considering that this was her Road Not Taken. Profound implications come with that thought.
So, two weeks later, after spending the night with family friends (Roger and I had an overnight date) Tessa’s feelings and fears of unsupportedness surfaced, this time demanding to be dealt with.
And THAT, my friends was the what. Or my best guess of the what.
So simple yet so complex.
I am relieved for Tessa. She has processed this episode, and has resumed telephone contact with Joe. She is asking now to see him again, but not alone. For the foreseeable future, our family will once again be a package deal.
We did not have to throw away the proverbial baby with the open adoption bath water. We will continue living in our open adoption — just a little bit wiser.
* Please understand that in discussing the life Tessa has with us and the life she might have had with Crystal and/or Joe, I am not saying one is better and one is worse. I don’t have the omniscience to make that determination on her behalf. I am simply saying that one path is familiar and one is not. Such a comparison is unknowable and irrelevant anyway — she gets to live only the life that is, not the one that might have been (as do we all).