In remembrance

A friend of mine died yesterday. She’d been very sick for a very long time. I was lucky enough to get to meet her once; I was even luckier to be able to have her as a friend and be her friend for years. She was a strong, fascinating, intelligent, caring person, and I will miss her very much.

I met her first when Xander was fencing. I did an online search for female fencers who blogged. I was learning some about being an armorer and Elizabeth was a very good fencer. We connected there and continued talking via blog posts, comments, and emails. She eventually became quite ill, but she remained herself, a person to be reckoned with.

One of the most amazing things that I will remember her for (the list is pretty long!) is that even when she felt most alone, she was still reaching out to people. She sent postcards to anyone who asked. She wanted to make sure that other people didn’t have to feel alone, and she was dedicated to this. She created The Postcard Project and sent out several thousand postcards. How long has it been since you got a postcard or a letter from someone? Handwritten, sometimes covered in stamps or stickers, made especially for you – these were the postcards Elizabeth sent out, often with the help of her wife, Linda, and a friend.

I started writing letters and postcards to people a while ago because of how happy I felt when I received one of Elizabeth’s postcards. I sent her a lot (though not nearly as many as she sent me, I’m sure) and it has become a habit; I write letters to certain people once a month at least. These are people who are important to me but are also, for whatever reasons, not people I talk to on the phone or email very much. I ramble about our life, what Katja is up to, what our plans are, and anything interesting going on at the moment that I’m writing. They aren’t fascinating or edgy or, probably, even terribly well-written. They are just a way to keep in touch, to let these people I love see a little slice of our life and know that I am thinking about them.

I have thought a lot since Elizabeth died about the connections I make over the internet. She inspired, challenged, encouraged, and, once or twice, even fought me. We stayed friends throughout, even though I know I seriously ticked her off (and vice versa) a few times. We cared about each other. My friendship with her meant more to me than many people I know “in real life”, as some define it. We chose to stay in touch, worked at it, and enjoyed our discussions. I can’t really express what she meant to me, but she was important.

I have some older relatives who don’t understand how someone from the internet could become such a dear friend. “How can it matter? You’ve only met her once!” That’s true, but I know her voice. I know how she writes, what she cares about, and what makes her laugh. I know that she was my friend and very dear to me. The end of last year I failed her, between moving and people getting sick and my surgery, but her wife wrote an email asking what was going on and I got back in touch. That happens with friends in the physical world, too, sometimes. Life gets busy. It doesn’t mean we stop caring.

I met her on the internet and we became friends. I am lucky to have gotten to know this amazing woman. Her wife, too, is quite incredible, though I don’t know her nearly as well.

One of Katja’s middle names is Elizabeth. That name is for two women: my maternal grandmother, who was funny and acerbic and smart, and this Elizabeth, my friend, the author, the person who cared about everyone, fed squirrels in the park, fenced, boxed, and pushed herself farther than anyone thought she could go. Both women meant a lot to me, and Katja will hear stories of both. Elizabeth McClung was big-F Family.

The world is a lesser place because Elizabeth has died.

Open Adoption Roundtable #41

There’s a website, Open Adoption Bloggers, that has gone a long way towards educating me on open adoption. The Roundtable is a periodic writing prompt designed to get people thinking about adoption. I don’t always participate, mostly because we are so new to open adoption, but I thought I would take a stab at this one.

The prompt this time is “Are you approaching openness differently in 2013? What experiences from in the past year influenced you most?”

We’re still feeling our way through what, exactly, open adoption means to our family. Katja isn’t big enough to provide an opinion about how much contact she wants to have. We live a few hours away from her biological family, so just dropping in is really not an option. We’re going to see them this weekend, though, and we are going to make sure we see them at least once a year as long as it is logistically possible for everyone concerned.

A long time ago I wrote a post about little-f family and big-F Family. Little-f family is made up of the family you are born with, the ones you don’t choose. Big-F Family is made up of the people you choose, the ones you absolutely know will always support you, and the ones you call first when something happens. Sometimes you are lucky and they overlap. I learned this definition from friends in San Francisco when I was in college. They were two gay men who had little-f family who walked away from them when they needed them most. They had a huge a loving big-F Family, though, and I was lucky enough to be part of that.

B and E are Katja’s family. They are our family, too. I’m not sure if they will end up being Family, since it’s hard to get really close to them with the distance involved. We stay in touch through the internet and phones, though. I send pictures, Katja’s website has pictures and information, and we are in contact through social media. I don’t feel like I need to shove Katja at them, but I want the option to be there. They are good people. We’re not likely to end up living really close by just because of what our life is like, but we don’t live near other people we are related to, either. They will keep being part of our lives.

What will be different in 2013? I don’t know. This year will be busy and full of change. There are several interesting things on the horizon, all of which are tenuous and mostly undefined right now. We’ll see B and E soon, though, and we’ll get pictures of Katja with them. We’ll hopefully get to see them in June, too, when I run my half marathon. We don’t see them in the winter because of driving the passes; we don’t drive in snow unless we absolutely have to for safety reasons. I think, though, that we will come a little closer to defining what this open adoption means for us, how we will continue to interact, and a little more of what to expect over the next few years.

There isn’t a road map for this. Open adoption is created by each group of people, be they family or Family. We’re figuring out where we fit in their lives and vice versa, what kinds of contact we will continue to have, and what we want to see. Katja will define this for herself as she gets older. In the meantime, we are responsible for doing what we promised and staying in touch.

How many is enough?

We were asked recently if we wanted to adopt another child. The answer was “No.”

When we first started thinking about children, Xander only ever wanted one. I went back and forth between one and two. I didn’t want an only child to be lonely, I was worried about socialization, and I wasn’t sure I would be good enough, in some way, to provide everything to make sure an only child had a full and enriching life.

It’s not that my childhood with my siblings was wonderful. We fought a lot, in many creative ways, and I wasn’t really close with anyone except my youngest brother until I became an adult. Even now there is sometimes some discomfort when I say the wrong thing. It has gotten better, but I haven’t ever had the “My sibling is my best friend ever!” kind of relationship, and I am not sure I could raise two children differently enough from how my parents raised us to avoid that kind of rivalry. I’m not sure why I was considering more than one, but there were moments when I felt rather strongly about it.

Since Katja came home, though, I have been almost imperceptibly migrating towards Xander’s position. When the question came up again recently, my response was “No.” I was sure that was the right answer.

Katja has a habit of picking up a book, bringing it over to me or Xander, and holding it up. Whoever she hands it to takes the book, sits down, and reads it to her. While we’re at home, as long as we aren’t in the middle of cooking, we have worked our schedules out so we have time for each other. That matters to me. I like being able to sit down and read anytime she wants me to.  I couldn’t do that as easily with a second child in the house. This coming year would be much more challenging if we were to try to adopt again; the process is very time consuming, and I’d like to spend that time with the daughter we have, not chasing some idea that may or may not work out. I don’t want to have to focus as much on making sure another family is okay. I drove down to California at least a couple of times a month and sometimes more often than to visit, bring food, and provide transportation. It took a lot of energy. I want to be home with my family now.

Sometimes being a good parent means I have to be selfish. On an airplane, they always say “If you are traveling with a child and the oxygen masks drop, make sure your mask is secure before putting a mask on your child.” I have to take care of myself first to make sure that I can take care of Katja to the best of my ability. I’ve changed my exercise and eating habits since she was born. I’m running more and enjoying it. I’m not eating as much as I used to and we’re paying more attention to what we eat because we need to make sure she gets proper nutrition, too. I keep housework on a schedule so we don’t get behind, since there is less time to catch up on it.

I feel a little bit like not wanting another child is selfish. I don’t want to put forth the time, effort, and emotional energy required to make an adoption work. I don’t want to fill out all of the paperwork again. I don’t want months of home visits. I don’t want to deal with it anymore. We have a wonderful daughter and we are happy. Why mess with that? Maybe Katja would be better off with a sibling. I don’t know. She’s a remarkably outgoing little person, though. She gets lots of interaction with other people at her daycare and she clearly enjoys her time there. She enjoys her time at home, too, and likes being able to come over for a snuggle or a book whenever she feels like it.

I don’t want to change this. Life is good. We’re doing well. I’m being selfish, perhaps, but I can live with that. I like what we have and I love our little family.

No Santa, no Christmas

One of the most common comments we’ve gotten this year from well-meaning people about Katja is “Oh, this Christmas she’ll really be able to enjoy it!”

We don’t celebrate Christmas. I’m still learning how to respond to that comment, so I’m quite happy that it will all be over and done with in a few days.

It’s not that we won’t have a holiday celebration. We’ll have a four day long celebration, in fact. One day is the feast day, specifically a goose, which we’ve been doing for years. One day will be for presents. One is for service, volunteering time and donating what we don’t need. One day will be spent making goodies for people we care about. I figure that basically covers all the bases and it de-emphasizes all of the Christmas consumerism that makes me so very angry.

I want Katja to have a winter celebration. As an atheist family, we’re not willing to bring religion into the house just because everyone else does it. We decided to create our own and build it around the things we feel are important. She will have a celebration that emphasizes sharing food, making gifts for others, and doing good. Presents are part of it, yes, but not the only thing.

I have heard people talk about the “war on Christmas” and complain that Christians are being persecuted in the US. I have several issues with that statement, but one of the most obvious is holidays. Christmas is a day off for the whole country. If someone has to work on Christmas, they get paid extra. Christmas trees go up in practically every city and town. Christmas stuff gets sold from the day after Halloween. I tell people we don’t celebrate Christmas and I get funny looks. I’ve even had a few people tell me that we’re not being fair to Katja because we’re not buying into this celebration that has become all about how much stuff people can get. I know, I know, the celebration is supposed to be about the birth of Christ, about giving and kindness and all that jazz. Look around, though. Do you see a holiday focused on kindness? Do you see people going out of their way to help others, to love their neighbors? Or do you see riots over toys and prizes on Black Friday, people stomping on each other to get to the front of the line? How about the TV commercials written to make you feel guilty if you don’t buy the perfect gift? Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are wielded to make you worry about whether your family will love you or be disappointed after they open their gifts.

No, I don’t like Christmas. I like what we will be teaching our daughter about what is important. I like that we can create our own little corner that is separate from all of the craziness. I like that our daughter will learn that it’s important to give to others, to care about people less fortunate, and to help where we can.

I believe in a lot of things. I believe in people, in kindness, and in hope. I just don’t believe in a god, or in Santa, or in some virgin birth. If you have problems with that, I don’t mind. You don’t get to tell me that I’m doing wrong by my daughter, though. She’ll be raised knowing that the important part of the winter holiday is not the part where she gets stuff; that part is minor. It is about family, sharing, love, and helping people. She’ll get some neat presents, but that’s only one day, and I hope that the full celebration will have more depth than just the “Gimme!” approach that Christmas seems to engender in so many people.

Adoption thoughts

Adoption is a process which is fraught with the possibility of manipulation, coercion, and bribery. Faced with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy, it must be difficult to decide that your child will be better off with another family, and money can often complicate the decision making process. The desires of adoptive families leave them vulnerable to exploitation, but also give incentive to exploit biological families. Third parties, such as lawyers and social workers, have their own agendas. With all of the competing interests and high emotions involved, it is not hard for one party to take advantage of another.

In some ways, we were quite lucky. We got to know Katja’s biological family before she was born. We were able to visit them several times a month—we shared meals with them, introduced them to our dog Nyx, attended medical visits, and talked about a wide range of subjects. Moreover, they had made the decision to adopt before talking to an adoption facilitator, so we were not concerned that they were being forced into anything. They knew what they wanted and they chose us to adopt their daughter.

We were unlucky in other ways. Our adoption facilitator behaved in a way that we feel, in retrospect, was unethical. He billed us at lawyer rates for tasks that could (and should) have been done by an assistant for far less, such as delivering documents and transporting the biological family to appointments. At one point, he informed us that “Birth parents are just not that bright.” This set off red flags for us, but we had already spent most of our resources, and had to make the decision to either continue working with him or give up on the idea of adoption altogether

It frustrated us that he referred to all of the people we met as possible matches as “birth mothers.” We knew the term was widely used, but until the final documents are signed, the mother is a pregnant woman considering adoption. The term “birth mother” sets up the assumption that the adoption will happen; it is no longer as much of a choice. The terminology is probably comforting to most adoptive parents, but it was not comforting to us. It gave us the feeling that biological families were not treated well by the facilitator, that their calls and requests were not respected unless the potential adoptive parents pushed, and that the facilitator was setting everything up to profit as much as possible from the process.

After the facilitator blew through nearly all of the trust account we established for the adoption in a month and a half, we tried to work with him to limit the cost of the adoption. We were told, point blank, that if we couldn’t continue to pay, the match would be cancelled and he would find another adoptive family. Happily, we had established a strong enough bond with Katja’s biological family that we were able to work with them directly, and were able to cut out the middle man. Still, it was incredibly upsetting to feel like we were being blackmailed.

We have been working through a lot of thoughts about adoption as Katja gets bigger. We want her to know her biological family, and we are trying to stay in touch. We want her to know that she was not abandoned and that her biological parents love her very much. We want Katja to know that she was “picked out special,” and that she is dearly loved by both biological and adoptive families. She is being raised in a family where two of her grandparents were adopted, as was her great aunt, so there is no question about whether adoptive family is good enough. We are Family, and she is part of it. She may not look exactly like anyone else in the family, but we’re an odd group anyway, so that should be all right. We will make sure that she is raised in an environment with as many cultural influences as much as possible. We are hoping to do some traveling so she experiences more than just one place and group of people.

Our daughter is a funny, smart, beautiful, strong, loving, and brave little person. She eats almost anything we put in front of her, including spicy foods, and she enjoys experimenting with combining different tastes. Unless she’s tired, she doesn’t cry when she falls down because there are too many other interesting things going on. She loves music and loves to dance, getting her whole body involved and clearly enjoying herself. She likes making noise with the piano. She’s starting to learn to talk and she is definitely communicating nonverbally; if she doesn’t like something, we have no doubt about it! We are incredibly lucky that she is part of our family.

Adoption can be good. We know that her biological family still feels this was the right choice. Obviously, we do, too. At the same time, I wish that our society had enough support in a wide variety of ways to make adoption unnecessary, to allow every family to make choices about parenting and raise their biological children in a safe, supportive way. I am glad that Katja is our daughter, though.

I will be writing about the adoption process, the ethics, and various other subjects as they come up. This particular post was inspired by a post at Peter’s Cross Station, here: I have not addressed everything in that post, but it’s a beginning.

Ask your mother

For once, I’m not writing fiction.

My mother was in town this past weekend. This move has been challenging; Xander and Katja have both been sick, the dog and cat are having a hard time adapting, and we needed a lot of help this weekend to move the piano and big pieces of furniture. A couple of people we were expecting to help didn’t show up. My mom, however, offered to come and babysit Katja while we moved.

It helped. It helped more than I can really express, which is slightly embarrassing for a self-styled wordsmith.

My mom has been there at odd times, but when all else fails, I call her, even if it’s only for someone to talk to while the world crumbles.

In college, I had a huge paper due and an awful case of writer’s block. I woke up my mom at some weird hour asking her to talk to me about abortion, which was the subject of the paper. She calmly helped me on it and I didn’t realize until later that being awakened in the middle of the night by your daughter wanting to talk about abortion with no context was probably not the easiest moment.

I talked to her about rights for people with disabilities when I was dealing with that a lot. I talked to her about infertility and adoption.

When Katja was born and spent days in the NICU, during the time that Xander and I had to work out a lot of last-minute pieces with Katja’s biological family, my mom showed up. She sat with Katja, held her, and fed her. She took shifts when we couldn’t. All we wanted to do was be with our baby, but to be able to take her home, we had to get other things done, too. My mom made friends with the nurses (well, most of them) and let us deal with the necessities, knowing that our little girl was under the watchful and loving eye of her grandma.

We don’t always agree. We don’t always get along. We have certainly had our differences, which is to be expected. When it comes down to it, though, when there is need, I can call my mom. If she can help, she will. Not to say the rest of my family won’t, of course. I’m just saying that this week it’s very important to me to recognize that she simply does what is needed. No fuss, no drama. She’s just there. I really appreciate that.

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Tara Roberts gave me this prompt: When all seems lost, ask your Mother..

I gave Cameron this prompt: I’m cuckoo for copepods. – Bill Nye

Just writing

I skipped Tuesday Tidbits this week because I was exhausted.

Two weeks ago we took Nyx into the vet to have a lump removed. The lump was cancerous. They got it all out, so, with any luck, she’ll still be around for a good while longer, but it was hard for me. My last dog died two weeks after being diagnosed, and some part of me still thinks of cancer that way, as a quick and painful death sentence. Nyx came through the surgery fine. She’ll have her stitches out at the end of the week, and as far as she’s concerned, life is good.

Last Thursday, I totaled our car. We had a Toyota Corolla. We had been talking about getting a second car at the end of the summer, a little car that would just be for commuting. Now we’re going to end up with a bigger car so we can go on road trips with Nyx and Katja and everyone will actually be comfortable. The accident wasn’t bad, as accidents go, but I ended up bruised and a bit freaked out about turning left. I’ll get over it. The insurance company, Country Insurance, was great. Very helpful, kind, and got everything done fast, as evidenced by the fact that we’ll be buying a car on Saturday, just over a week after the accident. This may sound silly, but my ego was bruised, too. I think of myself as a good driver, but in that moment, I missed something that I should have seen. No one else was in the car and the driver of the other car was fine, so the only damage was to the cars. People are more important than things, I know, but I wish I could have avoided breaking this thing.

It’s allergy season. I’m allergic to everything that grows in Nevada. This is not my best time of year.

What do you write about when most of what you’re thinking isn’t meant for public consumption? There are things about the adoption process that I’d love to discuss, but I won’t touch them until the adoption is finalized. I don’t talk about work here. It’s not professional. Katja has her own space, so I write there, about her and to her. There are a lot of things that I’d love to write, but at this particular moment I can’t, for various reasons.

I found it interesting that one of the witnesses to the accident said “Thank god you are all right!” and I immediately thought “Nah, thank the seat belt.” Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I would have felt thankful to some higher being. Now I am glad of the ingenuity of humans who figure out how to make us all safer. I am glad that we have a daughter who has the Elephant’s Child problem: she is insatiably curious. I hope she always is, because out of curiosity can come amazing things.

As one more somewhat random tangent, we have been talking about how to handle the winter holiday now that we have a child. We have decided to base our holiday on Hanukkah, at least to the extent that it will be a multiple day event. I suppose it could be based on the twelve days of Christmas, too, though I don’t think we’d do twelve days. In any case, each family member will get to open presents one night, so we each get a special night, almost like an extra birthday. One night, perhaps the last night, we’ll volunteer to help somewhere where there are people much more in need than we are. That will depend on where we end up, but it’s an important piece to offset the greed that I see more and more when Christmas rolls around. Have you noticed the commercials that try to make you feel like you are just not a good parent if you don’t get the latest and greatest toy? That does not work for me. It makes me angry. I want gifts to be carefully selected to reflect the recipient, not to just be whatever is cool that year. There are a few days unaccounted for, but I’m sure we will figure them out as time goes on. We’ve been making a goose every year and inviting people we care about to share it with us; perhaps that will be a night in this celebration, too. There will be no god of any sort, just an appreciation of loved ones and an awareness of the need to not only do good things for people we love but also for people we don’t know who need help.

I will write Tuesday Tidbits next week after the bruises have healed and I am somewhat more coherent. I felt the need to write tonight, but this is much more stream of consciousness than my usual approach. I hope it has at least not been boring.

Tuesday tidbits

A lot has gone on this past week. I think I’ll stick to the unabashedly good to start with.

Katja has started eating solid food! We’re doing something called Baby Led Weaning, which means that she is eating what we are, or at least trying it. I find the whole process quite amusing. She makes funny faces when she tries something new. She hasn’t really loved anything yet, though I didn’t really expect her to. She does, however, like applesauce and Cream of Wheat for one reason – they are extremely messy! SHe took great joy in spreading them all over her face, arms, and the tray of her high chair. We took a shower when she was done. I’m not sure she actually ate any of it. Nyx thinks this is a wonderful change, because when Katja is done, Nyx gets to clean up. Even if I veto that, Katja rather likes throwing things, so the dog gets a lot of extra treats.

Nyx had a tumor removed last week. They did get all of it, which is good. I’m hoping that’s the end of the cancer story where Nyx is concerned, but we’ll have to keep a closer eye on her from here on out. Whenever the words “dog” and “cancer” are in the same sentence, I worry, because Ace seemed healthy, limped a little, and then we had two weeks before he had to be put down. Nyx is only four, very healthy, and I’m hoping everything goes smoothly. I do wish, however, that she would stop licking at the t-shirt she’s wearing. It’s not bad during the day, but at night it’s incredibly annoying and keeps us awake. She may have to wear the Cone of Shame tonight so we can get some sleep.

The weather here has been gorgeous lately. I spent much of the weekend working on the yard, bringing some order to a lot of chaos. It was very satisfying.

Tuesday tidbits

We had a really great weekend, and Katja got to go on her first road trip.

Apparently Katja travels very well. She fussed a little when she got put into her carseat, but she settled down fast and went to sleep. We had to wake her up to be changed and fed. She seemed to enjoy meeting everyone, even though there were a lot of new people.

I was very happy to be able to catch up a little with people who matter to me. These are big-F family, people who have become Family because they are important to me and vice versa. We also got to see quite a few people in Xander’s family, which was nice, and they were all happy to meet Katja. My dad happened to be in the Bay Area during our visit, so we got to see him. I also got to meet one of the other IndieInk editors. None of us live very close to each other, so it was neat to actually be int he same room as one of them. Hopefully she wasn’t too overwhelmed. (Hi, Grace!) My godmother and her husband came, too, and they brought a beautiful, colorful quilt for Katja. It’s on the back of the couch in her room right now, and she often just stares at it, fascinated. I’ll be using it as one of her tummy time blankets soon since she likes the pattern so much.

We didn’t get quite enough sleep, but we managed to avoid getting crabby. I got to go running one morning, which is much easier when there’s some humidity and it isn’t freezing. I love running near the ocean. It’s much easier to run there than it is in the desert. My mouth doesn’t get dry, it’s easier to breathe, and my toes don’t go numb. It was pretty funny that I didn’t see anyone else out on the sidewalks or on a bike, but I suppose 6 AM on a Sunday is not prime time for exercise for most people.

It was a busy weekend, but I came back feeling refreshed and reminded of all of the wonderful people we are lucky enough to have in our life. We will try to get down more often to keep those connections strong.

Tuesday tidbits

This has been a good week. I was sick for some of it, but I’m mostly better now. Katja has slept through the night three nights in a row, so my outlook on life is surprisingly cheerful. I have been getting enough sleep for a while, at least enough to get by, but I have needed my caffeine every morning. This morning I needed my tea, but not the caffeine.

Katja came with me to belly dancing last Friday. She seemed to enjoy it until she got hungry. I had her in the Moby wrap and she was wiggling along to the music, which was quite amusing. She got a very warm welcome from the dancers, too. They were all very supportive through the whole process, so it was nice for them to get to see me with such a wonderful baby.

I turned 37 on Sunday. 37 is a prime number, so I have decide that I am in my prime (well, a prime, anyway) this year. It’s good to be easily amused. Oh, and I got to spend my birthday with friends, which is always very nice.

I’m working my way through a book on mathematics. I mostly read fluff, but this is much more dense and I’m enjoying the challenge.

That’s about it. How was your week?