Reunion in Open Adoption 5: Things Fall Apart

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Joe (Tessa’s birthfather), who had been absent until she was 7, had fully integrated into our lives by the end of 2008. We had spent much of that year easing into a relationship with him. It culminated with visits in his home and visits in our own home. We were feeling pretty good about the process and the outcome.

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

birth fathers on father's day

Tessa had always had a relationship with her birth mom, Crystal. In fact, as Tessa became a grade-schooler, visits with Crystal — even solo visits (without Roger or me) — offered an invaluable intangible to Tessa. After just a few hours with Crystal, Tessa would become, somehow, refreshed and restored.

So we encouraged it. Tessa would see Crystal 8-10 times a year — much like you would a good friend or family member who lives 30 minutes away.

Crystal invited our family to her home on New Years Eve day. Tessa, Reed, and her son Tyler spent hours playing and giggling while Crystal and I worked on our projects. Crystal then cut and styled Tessa’s hair, giving her an AnnaSophia Robb look.

So it seemed natural a few days later, to respond affirmatively to Joe when he asked (after months of dropping hints) to spend an afternoon with Tessa. We felt comfortable with him, Tessa felt comfortable with him, we trusted him and his love for Tessa, as well as his ability to keep her safe from harm.

I asked Tessa if she’s like to hang out with Joe for a few hours, and she squealed with delight.

We set it up. We met for the exchange and planned to meet up again several hours later. I talked with Tessa about expectations (we always do this when approaching a social event) and about how I would call to check on her often. We came up with a code word for her to use if she wanted me to come get her.

When I did call (via Joe’s cell phone), each time she said she was having a GREAT TIME!!

After awhile we met to retrieve Tessa our two families had dinner together. I could see that she and Isabelle (Joe’s daughter) had bonded, and that Tessa was glowing. Nothing remarkable happened at dinner.

I asked about her afternoon on the drive home She shared only two specifics: (1) that Joe smoked cigarettes (she said this with a “yuck!” — we knew he smoked and had talked with Tessa about it) and (2) that he had a friend over. They called each other “Dude.”

All seemed well and I patted myself on the back for taking yet another successful step on the path of open adoption.


Two weeks later, at bedtime, Tessa began freaking out. “I DON’T WANT TO HAVE FOUR PARENTS!!” she said over and over. “MOM, TAKE AWAY ALL THESE PICTURES OF CRYSTAL AND JOE!” She climbed up to her shelf and nearly hurled selected photos at me. Before collapsing into an exhausted heap, she ended with “MOM, YOU CALL THEM BOTH TOMORROW AND TELL THEM I NEVER WANT TO SEE THEM AGAIN!”

Sometimes things don’t stick with my mercurial daughter. But in the morning, she asked me again, this time more calmly, to call Crystal and Joe and give them her message.

I figured she meant business, and also she was gauging how much control she had of the situation. While she was at school I called Joe and broke the news, thereby breaking his heart. He put on a brave face and said he was just happy to have had the time he did. I asked if he could think of any trigger from that day. He could not.

Exploring the only thread I had to pick at, I asked about his friend, “Dude.” Joe said Tessa was never out of his sight, and that “Dude’s” visit was very brief. He was at a loss for explaining her upset, and so was I.

When I picked up Tessa from school, her first question was if I had called her birth parents. I told her I reached Joe but not Crystal. Tessa replied, “I changed my mind. I think I can still see Crystal.”

She did not want to talk anymore, so I was left in the dark as to what may have happened to change her view so dramatically.

I believe Tessa does not currently have the cognitive and language skills to figure out and communicate the reasons for her unease. It was excruciating for me to not be able to help her, and to not know what was the what. ExCRUCiating.

We had to sit in that uncomfortable place for awhile.

Next and final episode: What Was the What

24 thoughts on “Reunion in Open Adoption 5: Things Fall Apart”

  1. Looking forward to the final chapter (for now), and once again marvelling at your presence and compassion for your children. Beautiful, Lori.

  2. Oh my. I still don’t think you made an error in judgment, but it sounds like Joe did. I am impressed how you and Tessa handled it.

  3. I think you are effectively communicating how excruciating this was by passing the feeling on to us! Ahhh, the cliffhangers! You should write for TV. But seriously, how awful that must have been for you and Tessa. You can never know how something is going to go until it happens, no matter how safe you try to make it.

  4. You and your damn dangling endings. Us readers wnat to know!!!! Cuz you know, it’s all about us…

  5. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to know that there was something she wanted to express but didn’t know how. I am interested to hear what the final outcome is.

  6. There are so many things it could have been… an errant comment from a kid at school, something on TV. But I trust that you have figured it out by now.On pins and needles, once again.

  7. I’m so sorry, and can’t imagine how frustrated you must be. I feel so bad for Tessa. I’m sure you and her will figure it out in time. I’m amazed at how you handled the situation- you are awesome:)

  8. I will do my best to tell you what it was like for me to meet my birth father. I was 26. I found him by fluke. I wasn’t sure I even wanted contact. He had been searching for me for years and expected me to just jump into his family and pretend I had never been gone. It felt surreal. It was overwhelming. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. The emotions that came from meeting him and my birth family still overwhelm me sometimes, and it has been 7 years. It was akward and uncomfortable yet reassuring all at the same time. I finally knew who I looked like (I am the spitting image of my birth father.) I finally had a sense of where I came from.There was a lot of guilt from all parties involved, me, my birth father and my mom. I felt guilty because there were times I actually stopped to think about what things would have been like if he had raised me. He had guilt for not raising me (it was 1975 and I was taken before he had a chance to see me.) My mom put tremendous guilt on me and caused me more grief that I will put here in a comment. It was, and still is, huge. I cannot imagine how Tessa can process her feelings with this. I still have difficulty processing mine. I know at 7, there was no way I could have been able to figure out what every feeling meant and I don’t think I could have done it. I think with Crystal, things are different. They were always just a part of Tessa’s reality. I see it as being a totally different ball of wax. If you have questions or anything that you want to ask of me, I am more than willing to answer honestly. I hope the next installment will be posted soon. . .

  9. OOhh, Miss Tessa had all kinds of stuff jumbled up inside. Poor little thing!Thanks for the Friday Dangler!! The suspense is KILLIN’!

  10. I wish I had some better insight, other then emotions, especially adoption emotions, can be OVERWHELMING! I know after meeting my first mom when I was 30, I was so wrung out that I could picture myself as a screaming heap, hurtling pictures and collapsing on the bed. I can only imagine that being 7 and trying to negotiate some of this stuff has got to be a lot harder. I’m so glad she has you there to help navigate the waters. I can’t wait for the next installment!

  11. What a scary place to be–to see your child struggling with something emotionally and not have the ability to express it.Please write the next part.

  12. oh I hope you don’t leave everyone hanging for too long. I continue to learn so much through these stories. many thanks again for sharing your insight, wisdom and experience here.

  13. Wow! You’re so cool, calm, and collected. I’m amazed that you’re able to keep these big things quiet until they’ve played out. I’m very interested to hear the conclusion. Is there a conclusion already, or are you just anticipating one soon?

  14. Adoption can be rife with emotions for the adults that play their parts in it. I can only imagine how overwhelming it could be for a child…

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