Is This Weird??
My friend Crystal offered to have my children come play at her house for a few hours. Roger had been out of town, and some down time for me sounded reealllly good.
It was a no-brainer. Responsible child watcher? Free time? Of course!
But I had to stop to think a moment.
Because Crystal is Tessa’s first mom.
“Is this weird?” I thought. “It doesn’t feel weird. It should feel weird. Other people would find it weird. But I am definitely not sensing weird.” The thoughts chugged through my head as I searched for some rain on my parade.
Since day one in the birthing room, we’ve embraced Crystal as part of our extended family. At first this was merely because we’d planned a fully open adoption. But by about, oh, day two, it was clear that we’d be friends because we liked each other. Six years into the adoption, Crystal attends birthday parties for both our children, school events, and dance recitals, averaging about one visit a month. But, until now, I’d always been part of the get-togethers.
Was I worried that I’d be usurped as Mom? (No.) Could Crystal handle both my children, in addition to her own? (Yes.) Might my son feel left out? That last question was easily dismissed. Crystal has always shown her love for Reed. In a way, she’s served as a surrogate birthmother for him, since contact with his own has faded. And Reed adores Crystal’s 10-year-old son and three-year-old stepson.
These were my thoughts as I drove the kids to Crystal’s house. I told Tessa and Reed to behave, reminded Crystal that she could call me, no matter what, and left, almost giddy at the open hours ahead of me.
When I returned to pick up the kids, Crystal had trimmed my daughter’s hair (hairstyling is Crystal’s line of work) and given her a pair of hand-me-down, purple boots. I told them how I spent my blissful hours of solitude (reading and writing), and they told me how they spent their loud hours of togetherness (running through the garden hose and eating). We were all fulfilled.
“I’m a New Person!”
Now, let me expand a bit on my relationship with Tessa. She and I currently butt heads over everything from too-long showers to homework, from talking on the phone to doing her chores. I’m hoping that we will not revisit this tension during her teen years, because we’ll have already been-there, done-that (please, don’t burst my bubble). We each seem to “miss” each other often, and I am reminded of this post about an adoptee’s feelings of being trans-familied. I am frustrated with our disconnect, and I imagine Tessa is, too.
When we got home, Tessa said, “Mom, I’m a new person!” I’m not sure if she meant the new hairstyle, the baptism-by-sprinkler, or what. But for days afterward, the fight in her was gone. The next morning, Tessa wanted to wear the purple boots to kindergarten. I said, “Those shoes are not appropriate for school. You do what you think will get you the consequences you want.” I expected her to wear them to school, which would mean I’d have to throw them away as the logical consequence (items that cause disharmony go away).*
But Tessa came to breakfast, smiling and cheerful, wearing her sneakers. I was so impressed with her out-of-character response that I brought the boots when I picked her up from school, so she could wear them to the dentist (not as inappropriate there).
Of Course I Don’t Meet All Her Needs. And That’s OK.
After her time with Crystal, it’s as if Tessa had been to the well. I realize that our temperaments don’t always align–I’m orderly and analytical. My daughter is mercurial and playful — traits she shares with her birth mom. Maybe spending time with Crystal is, for Tessa, like sinking into a comfortable chair.
Should I feel hurt or threatened by Crystal’s effect on Tessa? Here’s why I’m not:
I don’t know how to fix a tooth, but I can take Tessa to Dr. Jill. I don’t like to play house for hours at a time, but I can invite Tessa’s friends for a visit. I can’t teach Tessa gymnastics, but she can take lessons from Miss Amber. And I can’t fill a certain emotional need that Tessa has, but I can take her to the well.
* I no longer use separation-based discipline. A few years after the post was originally published, and thanks to attachment and adoption-competent therapists, I began to parent more through connection. For example, see The Baffling Behaviors Show by Robyn Gobbel or TBRI, Finding You, an Evoke Therapy Programs podcast, or Trust-Based Relational Intervention.
Lori Holden, mom of a now-teen son and a now-teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.