Being an adoptive parent has been a huge part of my identity and source of my strength for a really long time now. It feels like it has been this way forever, or at least my whole life, but I first met my children a little over 16 years ago (last month we celebrated our 16th Gotcha Day, which marks the day we first met, which is several years and so many triumphs and tragedies apart from the day of the official adoption, which will be 13 years this June), so that is a bit of an exaggeration.
I don’t write about my kids on this blog too often. When I do, I haven’t written (much?) about the adoption process, about its ongoing manifestation in our lives. Often it is an issue of respecting my children’s privacy. I used to write poetry. A lot of poetry. There was a time when I was asked why I write poetry. At that time, my response was “I can’t not.” Turns out, I can not. I don’t write much poetry anymore, so the blog I made ages ago lies not dead, but dormant. On it, there are many poems about my children and adoption. I’m still figuring out why poetry is different than a blog in this regard. It may be as simple as they were younger then or that I was less careful.
I do notice that when I feel the impulse to write about them, about us, about adoption, it’s often because something is tender and raw and it needs attention and reflection. In those times, it’s because I have some shit to work out and as the wise Nadia Bolz-Weber advises preach from scars, not from wounds. So I practice renunciation and put away the keyboard.
Then there are also wise guides about how much is TMI on a public blog when one is not only in ministerial formation, but also a full out clergy-type. There is no set of written rules that tell me and my comrades what is off limits. Of course, there is some subjectivity involved, but my inclination has been to err on the side of caution. I can always tell a story later, but I can’t ever take it back (not in this social media world). If in doubt, wait it out.
Plus my daughter sometimes reads my blog, so I can’t offer up the crude, unrefined, unprocessed vomit that I sometimes wish I could. My son pays no attention to what I write, but I probably should write like he does. Or could. Or might at some point in the future.
One of my favorite poets is Sharon Olds. I love her poetry, especially her collection called Strike Sparks. When I saw her read her work at Smith College many years ago, she looked so prim and proper and, I will say it: uptight. I love this because her poetry is beyond sensual. I love that juxtaposition. I love that I had to do a double-take, had to throw away my own wrong assumptions about what it looks like to be coursing with sexual energy. (Plus, it turns out, in looking for images of her on the interwebs, there are ones that reveal that sensuality that is so prominent in her writings, so maybe I saw her on a bleh-day?)
Sharon Olds used to write not only about sex, but about raising her children. One of her best-known poems is the highly anthologized, “The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb”:
Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t
have by now.
Whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do. With a pencil and two
Hardy Boys and a peanut butter sandwich and
grapes he is on his way, there is nothing
more we can do for him. Whatever is
stored in his heart, he can use, now.
Whatever he has laid up in his mind
he can call on. What he does not have
he can lack. The bus gets smaller and smaller, as one
folds a flag at the end of a ceremony,
onto itself, and onto itself, until
only a heavy wedge remains.
Whatever his exuberant soul
can do for him, it is doing right now.
Whatever his arrogance can do
it is doing to him. Everything
that’s been done to him, he will now do.
Everything that’s been placed in him
will come out, now, the contents of a trunk
unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light.
When I saw her speak those many years ago, she shared that she had stopped writing about her children, had stopped writing about her husband, because it turned out she had been wrong to splay their lives to the public eye. It had hurt them, it had caused damage to her relationships with them, and she had discovered, after the fact, that great art – or the sense of resonance that so many of us in the room had felt when we recognized ourselves in her poems – was reason not enough.
My son turns 20 next month and my daughter turned 18 last. On the web you can find information about what it means for kids who are adopted, especially those adopted out of the foster care system, when they turn 18. A lot of it focuses on those who grew up in a closed adoption, how they now have a new superpower to find out information about their birth parent(s) in ways not previously available to them (though this once hard-and-fast rule has been seriously dealt a deathblow by the internet where birth family members find each other on Facebook with increasingly casualness).
Our adoption has been, from the very beginning, open. In my family’s experience, complex dynamics are not reserved just for those growing up in a closed adoption situation. Longings of all sorts – from birth parents and grandparents, from the kids at the center, from the adoptive parent – find new complexion as these marvelous creatures become themselves even more, establishing both their independence and their latest understanding of what it means to be in relationship. The way is not always clear and the pain is not always welcome.
I have always said that adoptive parenting is different than parenting. Not better or superior or more noble, but definitely different. I am going to go out on a limb and say more complex. Perhaps this is ego-centric of me. Perhaps it is flat out wrong, since I don’t have anything else with which to compare. Yet, today, in this veiled way, I offer it up as my truth.