to sleep perchance to dream

Due to an unfortunate encounter with some bad Middle Eastern food I did not sleep from 7 am Sunday until 10 pm Monday. When I wasn’t breaking up petty disagreements between my two kids I was running to the bathroom. I spent the better part of Sunday night projectile vomiting spaghetti.  Have you ever vomited spaghetti?  You don’t come back from that.  Ever.

I spent the whole of Monday lying on the couch trying desperately to convince my five-year-old that staying in our pajamas and watching TV all day was the best idea ever. Of course he wasn’t having any of it, preferring to run through the house singing Let It Go at top volume. After our 437th Frozen reenactment, where I portrayed a paralytic consumptive Queen Elsa, I spent nearly an hour on the phone arguing with some incompetent Pittsburgh Public School administrator who had lost my son’s paperwork — the paperwork that we had submitted a week earlier — which is why he was at home on a Monday afternoon and not in school. When I suggested we take a nap, my son laughed at me and then threw all forty pounds of his little body onto my stomach which, at this point now void of food, had begun to digest my internal organs. It was sometime around 2:45 pm that I excused myself to the bathroom…where I cried for seven and a half peaceful minutes.

Yesterday I took my five year old to work with me.  Still no school.  This morning he woke up and threw up “just because”.  Then Chris announced he had a sore throat.  Then one of the dogs peed on the rug. Or maybe it was Todd.  I’m so tired I can’t remember.  It’s been a long couple of days.  Did I mention we got married on Saturday?

Someone asked me how I was doing.  How am I doing?  Twelve days into this and I am exhausted.  I have circles under my eyes. I’ve lost ten pounds.  I just very possibly for the first time in my life might be in over my head.

Don’t misunderstand.  I love it.  Every chaotic moment.  This is the life I have always wanted.  In between the vomiting and the fighting and Todd peeing on the rug, I am surrounded by hugs and kisses and laughter and the promise of a lifetime of watching these two incredible boys grow up.  My beautiful sons.  I would not trade this life for anything.  Having said that, I really need a nap.

no more goodbyes

The hardest part once you have been selected to be an adoptive parent is the transition period.  The time between when you first meet the child and when the child moves into your home.  For weeks — in some cases, months — everything is temporary.  Life is suspended.  Time is reduced to a series of visits.  You steal moments.  You create false realities.  You are your best self, which is to say, not your true self.

While the states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia were busy crossing their respective T’s, we were trying to become a family.  Not the easiest thing to do  when you are basically living under the terms and conditions of a 30-day money back guarantee.  Still for six weeks we shuffled back and forth between Pittsburgh and Wheeling (and on several occasions, points further south of Deliverance).

It was all very clandestine.  Weekend meetings in hotels off the interstate gave way to weekend meetings…at our house off the interstate.  Saturday and Sunday came and went and then Monday, it was back to reality.

It was hard.  No matter how many times we would see each other, no matter how much progress we had made on a previous visit, each time was the first time.  We were like characters in a play, rehearsing until we got it right.   Every Friday was the read through, Saturday the dress rehearsal, and then just as the curtain was coming up on the Sunday matinee it was time to say goodbye.

The goodbyes were the worst.  You can’t explain goodbyes to a five year-old.  Or an eight year-old.  Not when you the adult don’t understand them yourself.

So we would say goodbye and Elijah didn’t mind.  At first.  But then he did.  Then he wanted to stay except he couldn’t because that would have been kidnapping.  He may have been ours, but not really.  So…goodbye.  And Chris would cry.  Every time.  Because he has a lot of feelings.  Goodbye.  And Todd would get very quiet.  Goodbye.  I don’t want to go.  And my heart would break in two.

Until today.  Today there are no more goodbyes.  Nothing is temporary or suspended or stolen.  Today the T’s have been crossed; the play has been rehearsed.  Today Elijah is ours and we are his. Today.  Now.  Forever.

don’t worry, be happy-ish

I worry that I’m not a good parent.  I worry that I’m too selfish to be a good parent.  I worry that I’ve made too many mistakes to be a good parent.

I worry that I try too hard.  I worry that I don’t try hard enough.  I worry that I let my son play too much Minecraft and then I worry that I nap too much when he plays too much Minecraft.  I worry when my son gets a “D” on his math test and then I worry when I can’t figure out why he got a “D” on his math test.  I worry that there are not enough hugs, not enough I love yous.  I worry that there is enough criticism, enough nagging.

I worry that I won’t be enough.  I worry that I’ll be too much.

I worry I’ll never be as good a father as my husband.  I’m jealous of his patience and his kindness and his ability to remain calm always.  I worry my kids will prefer him to me; or worse, they will prefer me to him.  I worry I don’t love him as much as he loves me.  I worry he will get a better offer.

I worry that I’m turning 40 in six days.  I worry what that means.  I worry that I won’t have the energy to keep up with a five year-old and a nine year-old.  I worry that my kids will think I’m old.  I worry that I am old.

I worry that I worry too much and I worry that all this worrying means I’m missing out on moments I can never get back.  I worry that I won’t know what to do when I stop all the worry.  I worry that I’m not evolved, just neurotic.  So very, very neurotic. 😃

sing out louise!

My oldest son Chris has a lot of feelings.  He is emotionally honest.  If he is sad, he cries.  If he is happy, he laughs.  If he is angry, he stomps his feet, squints his eyes and then makes this weird huffing noise.  He keeps it simple.  This ability to freely (and appropriately) express emotion is — after his cheekbones — the thing I admire most about him.  There is no pretense with Chris.

Still I worry that this emotional freedom will get him into trouble.  I worry he will give his heart away too easily only to have it returned broken in a million pieces.  I worry that others will see him as an easy mark and take advantage of his kind heart.  I worry people will mistake that same heart he wears on his sleeve for weakness and underestimate his strength and his ability to survive.

Of course it could be that unlike the rest of us, he has simply not yet learned to pretend.  To shade the truth.  Someone asks us how we are doing and, even on the worst day of our life, we reply, I’m fine. We routinely assure our friends that we are happy, leaving off the qualifier: enough.  We smile through our anger and we laugh through our tears.  We swallow our rage and then scream it into pillows.  Ulcers form and resentments grow.

Unable — or unwilling — to feel our true feelings we seek comfort in the superficial.  Life is so much simpler when you don’t have to deal with what’s really bothering you.  So instead of being upset because our lives maybe didn’t turn out the way we had hoped or because we hate our jobs or because we’re forty pounds overweight and lonely, we find release in superficial emotional masturbation.  We scream about gender inequality and racism and dead celebrities as if these things have anything to do with our lives, let alone what it is we are actually feeling.   

It’s much easier to feel someone else’s anger and sadness than it is your own.

I am proud of Chris’s emotional honesty.  I love his laughter, his tears, even that weird huffing noise.  I hope he never learns to pretend.  I hope if he needs to scream, he screams — not into a pillow — but out loud for all the world to hear.  I hope he understands that happiness begins and ends with him and if he isn’t happy, he needs to change it.  I hope he never succumbs to the superficiality of emotional groupthink.  I hope he has the courage and wisdom to always be the person he is now.

epiphany! the twelfth day of christmas

This Christmas we did not receive eight maids a-milking or seven swans a-swimming; there was not a single drummer or piper to provide musical inspiration for the absentee lords and ladies; and as for the rest of the birds, well sadly, they were a no-show too.  We did, however, receive an unusual gift: a very energetic almost-but-not-quite-five year old boy.  He arrived the day after Christmas.

So now I have two kids.  And I am exhausted.  I mean…I’m exhausted.  So exhausted I cannot can’t even be bothered with the superfluous “a” when a simple apostrophe will do.

And the reason I can’t be bothered with that superfluous “a” is because we did it all.  A second Christmas.  Multiple visits to the children’s museum.  Trips to McDonald’s and the movies.  Afternoons at Chuck E. Cheese.  New Year’s Eve at Noon followed by New Year’s Eve Night Out.  Pizza at the bouncy house.  We watched Frozen.  We listened to Frozen.  We watched Frozen.  We discovered an animated British TV show called Peppa Pig.  We ate cookies and made homemade ice cream.  Did I mention Frozen?  We played fire truck and train and a million games of hide-n-seek.  We even celebrated a first 5th birthday.

We became a family.

Yes, there were moments of doubt.  Is this going to work?  What if this doesn’t work?  Does he like us?  What if he doesn’t like us?  Can we do this a second time around?  No really, can we do this a second time around?   There were raised voices and tears and disagreements…over chairs.

It’s never easy, even when it is.

But then there was laughter.  And reluctant hugs turned willing.  Suddenly hands weren’t asked for, they were given.  I love you  was whispered like a secret gift.

And so it went, the twelve days of our Christmas.  I suppose it lacked the pageantry and price tag of the true Twelve Days of Christmas, but I wouldn’t change a minute of it.  Not one exhausting minute.  And that is the real epiphany.  For me, anyway.

weekend in wheeling

While most people spent this past weekend in a last-minute frenzy of Christmas shopping and holiday baking, I was meeting my son.  The meeting took place in a house that had once been home to a Wheeling elite, some hoi polloi of the privileged classes who would turn over in his grave if he could see that his beloved house had since been converted into a government office.  We arrived early which allowed us time to freak out (me), ask a million questions (Chris), and stand stoically (Todd).  Before we could default to our argument setting, they arrived.

Elijah made his grand entrance from the side door of a gray minivan.  When he first jumped out of the van I laughed, amused by how tiny he was.  Standing less than three feet tall he had earned his pre-meeting nickname of The Hobbit.  His foster mom brought him inside and Chris immediately pounced on him with a million more questions before forcing Elijah to sit down so he could show/narrate the Life Book we had made and recite a list of rules he had spent the drive down memorizing.

After  Elijah’s foster mom left the four of us retired to the playroom with his caseworkers who would assist in the transition.  At first Elijah wouldn’t look at us, he just focused on playing with his cars.  He only said a few words, all of them directed at his toys.  Barely five years-old and he had already mastered the art of freezing people out.  It was like this for a long time.  I freaked out.  Chris asked even more questions.  Todd, no longer standing, now sat stoically.

I’m not sure when it all clicked.  It just did.  Suddenly Chris and Elijah were running around the office engaged in an endless game of hide-n-seek.  Suddenly I was hiding underneath the desk with Elijah, having been roped into the game, waiting for Chris to find us.  Suddenly Elijah was holding Todd’s hand on the way to the car.  Then we were all at the zoo and Elijah was following Chris everywhere, shouting “Chris! Chris!” as he chased after his big brother who seemed to have been there his whole life.

For me it really clicked in that moment when Elijah asked me to carry him — because now I could be trusted.  And it clicked again later that night at the hotel when I woke up at 3 am to find Chris and Elijah curled up asleep with Elijah sleeping in Chris’s arms.  And then again the next morning after Elijah fell and Todd scooped him up into his arms and cradled him, both looking so calm and peaceful and right.

It just made sense. It was easy. Oh, I’m not naive. I know it won’t always be easy. There will be bumps, big and little. There will be days when he and Chris will hate each other and nights when he cries for his foster mother.  There will be moments when he wishes he were anywhere but here with us.  But we will get past it, just as we did with Chris.

And just as we did with Chris, we will hold onto those moments when it all felt right.

i won’t wear white

And now we have to get married.  West Virginia requires a couple to be married to adopt…at least to adopt jointly.  Not that we have a problem with this seeing as how we are already married. Sort of.

I should clarify.  We got church married almost three years ago — one day after our fifteenth anniversary.  It was a real wedding, all on the level with ministers and blessings and prayers and cake. Of course this was before it was legal to get gay married in Pennsylvania.  So this past summer when it became legal for the gays to say I do and everyone was clapping high-fives and rushing to the nearest courthouse, Todd and I were like, “Eh, whatever. Been there, done that.”

I mean it’s great that we can jointly file tax returns and make all kinds of next-of-kin end-of-life decisions and a hundred other things, but for our money, we were married as of February 18, 2012, no matter what the legislature said.  When we stood up in front of our dearest friends and select family and our respective religious beliefs and recited our vows, that was it.

This wedding 2.0 is just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, and I don’t mind playing along because I like doing paperwork.  But I have enough dates to remember…the day we met, the day we got married (now, the first time), the day we met Chris, the day his adoption was final, the day we will meet Elijah, etc, etc. I just don’t have enough room in my brain to remember another anniversary date.  So I’m sorry wedding 2.0 but unless you fall on an already established holiday there’s not going to be any cake.

And practically speaking, it’s not like I can pull off pretending to be a virgin a third second time.

43+39+8+5=4

We got the kid.  We got the kid.  I have to keep saying it because I still don’t fully believe it.  I’m in shock.  It doesn’t seem real.  It happened so fast I keep expecting someone from the agency to call and say, “Just kidding!” or “We changed our minds.” or “What kid?!  Who is this?!  How did you get this number?”

When you decide to go through the adoption process one thing you quickly learn is patience. Adoption is not something that happens overnight.  From start to finish it can take months or years. There are parenting classes, FBI background checks, personal references, home visits, mountains of paperwork — and all this before you even enter into the matching process which in itself is its own little world of frustrating dead ends, unanswered inquiries and lost emails.

But when it finally does happen, it happens fast.  One minute you’re in the car driving to West Virginia wondering if the shirt you picked out will sway the committee in your favor and three hours later you’re in IKEA trying to decide which bed to buy for the 5 year-old you’ve never met who’s moving in to your house next week.  The reality slowly begins to hit you twenty-four hours later when you find yourself in Target making a scene because they don’t have any monogrammed letter “E” Christmas stockings.

The meeting.  We didn’t know what to expect.  When we adopted our son Chris everything had been decided without us being present — a group of people we didn’t know held a meeting and then five weeks later we were on a plane to Oregon to meet our son.  But this time it would be different.  We were to be interviewed face-to-face by a committee, possibly in the presence of a second family that was also being considered.  I was a nervous wreck.  The most that I could do to prepare was choose the right outfit and practice my smile in the mirror.

The committee was made up of five women.  They were incredibly friendly, making us feel welcome and relaxed from the moment we walked in the door.  I don’t remember what they asked us — there might have been no questions.  I think we just talked.  We told them about our lives and they told us about the boy who, two hours later, would be our son.  At the end of the meeting one of the women asked if we would mind waiting in the lobby while they talked.  Clearly this was a good sign.  But still, nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.

It’s hard to describe the moment when they tell you.  You hear the words but they don’t seem real. This thing you’ve been waiting for your whole life — this thing that has already happened once can’t be happening again because no one ever wins the lottery twice in one lifetime.  Except for us.

Two years ago it was just Todd and I — complete, but not quite.  And then the universe gave us Chris. He changed our lives; he made us complete.  In just a few days we will meet our son Elijah.  A little boy to complete our already complete family.

through the looking glass

Tomorrow we meet with the caseworker for the boy who may one day be our son.  A child who has no idea we even exist.  Over the past few weeks I have tried not to think too much about him — to not obsess over the idea that we could be his parents — to stop myself from making something so uncertain real. But now with just 24 hours until the meeting it’s impossible not to feel all the feelings.

I am excited, anxious, afraid, hopeful, nervous, optimistic, nauseous, intimidated, confident, apprehensive, terrified and a hundred other words I’d list if I could find my thesaurus.

From the start all we were given was a basic narrative…and a photo. It’s the photo that gets you. It’s the photo that dares you to imagine a future of birthdays and Christmases and bedtime hugs.  It’s the photo that teases you with a tomorrow that may never happen.

That photo.  It invades your dreams. It speaks to you. It sometimes calls you Dad.

I have the photo on my computer, but I don’t look at it, afraid that I will go even further down the rabbit hole than I already have. Without the photo he’s just a collection of words; a story with a beginning, middle and an end.  Without the photo I can close the book, put it back on the shelf.

Without the photo he’s not real.

Except he is real.  And I’m in trouble because I have already imagined all the birthdays and all the Christmases and a lifetime of hugs. I’ve heard his voice call me Dad.

And that’s a problem. Because the caseworker might hate us. She might decide the other family is a better match, better suited to his needs.  The simple fact is no matter how good we might look on paper or how well we might interview, we just might not be enough.

I’ve pictured a future with this boy — this boy I’ve never met.  It feels real, but I know it’s not.  At least not right now.  But tomorrow is another story.  Tomorrow it could be real…

the story of us

One week from today we will meet with our possible future son’s caseworker.  This meeting is significant.  It is the swimsuit competition of adoption.  There can be no tan lines, no nip slips, no flashing of anything south of the border.  One stray hair and suddenly you’re Suzette Charles*. Who? Exactly.

In preparation for our walk down the runway, we spent the weekend working on our Life Book.  A Life Book is just fancy adoption-speak for scrapbook.  The word scrapbook causes me great anxiety.  It makes my ass itch and my foot twitch.  I know there are many people who scrapbook as a way to relax and to those people I say, “Have you tried cutting?”  Personally if I want to relax I’ll wash down a few pills with a glass of wine**, but hey, to each their own.

The Life Book is meant to tell the story of your family.  The story of us.  The first step is to select your photos.  Fortunately we have become the kind of people who take pictures of everything.  Chris eating a sandwich!  Sean watching TV!  Todd reading a book!   We initially chose more than a hundred photos, but less than fifty made it into the book.  The next step was to buy supplies.  Now if you are the kind of person who becomes anxious at the mere mention of the word scrapbook, you should probably not under any circumstance ever go shopping for scrapbook supplies.

Scrapbooking is a multi-billion industry.  Seriously.  People who do this are not fucking around.  Entire sections of craft stores like Michaels and JoAnn Fabrics are devoted to the art of the scrapbook.  It is no longer enough to just slap some random vacation photos into an album.  Hell, it’s no longer enough to just go on vacation.  No.  Now you have to buy beach-themed background papers and three-dimensional stickers of the Statue of Liberty and color-coordinated letter sets and photo corners and sticky glue tabs and the album itself will set you back a week’s pay.

So after emptying out our 401Ks and taking a second mortgage on the house, we commenced life booking.  It really is quite difficult to sum up your entire life in 10 pages; even more so when you know someone is going to decide whether or not you get to be a parent based partly on those 10 pages.  We obsessed over photos and layout and color-themes and which three-dimensional beach stickers we should use as if that would be the deciding factor.  We were going to let you have the child but then we noticed that you mixed fonts on page seven which suggests to us a certain level of chaos that might not be healthy for such a young child.

Seventy-two hours later — after all the anxiety, all the raised voices, all the tears — I was happy with the end result.  We had done it.  We had effectively marketed ourselves.  Page after page of happy faces, fun times, love…and stickers.  Lots of stickers.

I don’t know if this Life Book will seal the deal for us; if it will make us a Vanessa Williams or a Suzette Charles.  But we’re a good family.  A loving family.  If I was on the outside looking in, I’d want to be a part of my family.

Still, it would be much easier if one of us just had a magical baby-making vagina.


*Suzette Charles was first-runner-up in the 1984 Miss American Pageant.  She was eventually crowned Miss America when Vanessa Williams was forced to step down because nude photos of the future Wilhelmina Slater were leaked to Penthouse (clearly this was in the days before celebrity nude selfies).  Anyway, my point is no one ever remembers the runner-up…even if they eventually do kinda, sorta win.

**I don’t actually do this.