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Eagerness, optimism or delusion?

In the past couple of days a couple of folks have commented on the optimism in my posts about the adoption process. David seems particularly committed to making sure I have a realistic handle on the potential timeline before we are matched with a birthmother. I have to concede David’s point, especially since he will be the one that has to deal with any potential emotional meltdowns if the waiting drags on longer than I think I can bear.

However, I would like to think that I can hold both an optimistic and realistic view in my mind simultaneously. I do recognize that the timeline is completely out of my control. But at the same time, I like to take comfort in the idea that my future daughter is already in utero somewhere. This dual mindset is not new to me. Let me pull an example from the completely opposite end of the life cycle. I don’t really believe in an afterlife. But at the same time I take comfort in the idea that the people (and cats) I love are enjoying themselves wherever they are.

It makes me happy to imagine Phyllis and Marvin reunited somewhere. I particularly like to picture her greeting him with open arms. And I love the idea that Didi (my first cat) has been reunited with his 3 siblings and his first human, Gwenda. In the image in my mind, she is wandering freely and no longer tethered to her oxygen tank. When I am feeling mischievous*, I like to imagine Didi wandering off to find my father and sit on his lap while my father reads the paper. Because if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that given his druthers, my father would spend eternity with a New York Times open in front of him.

Coming back to the present reality, I am fully aware that I am walking a fine line between unrealistic expectations and optimism. But in this situation I think context really matters. Until recently I had reconciled myself to never being a parent. And I was ok with that. In fact, I enjoyed the freedom of being childless. Never mind that I used a not insignificant amount of that freedom to go east and dote on my niecelettes. I had the luxury being an aunt and not dealing with any of the challenges of parenting two smart, energetic girls.

But for reasons that I will not discuss publicly, my life has recently taken a 180. And even though the shift has me going in a new direction that I am beyond thrilled to be heading in, I am still dealing with the whiplash of that change. So I think I deserve to be cut some slack because no matter how long the adoption process takes, it will end with me as a parent. A role that I thought I would never take on. And as eager as I am for the waiting process to be as short as possible, even if it takes a year or more, it will still happen sooner than I would have thought even 6 months ago.

*My father always swore that he disliked my cats. However, despite his protestations, my father could often be found reading the paper absentmindedly petting Didi.

Anticipation


I remember when I first learned the meaning of the word anticipation. Back in the dark ages (sometimes referred to as the ’70s), there was a Heinz ketchup commercial that used Carly Simon’s song. Given the music my mother listened to, I am sure I had heard it a million times before then, but it probably never occurred to me to think about the lyrics or what they meant.

Obviously, for anyone who has even glanced at this blog recently, anticipation has become kind of a mantra around here. But I am not the only one going through a significant life transition. There are people very close to me who are waiting on life-altering news of their own. Not that everything has to be about me, but this morning I realized that focusing on their transitions is a welcome distraction to my on perseverating brain.

The adoption process is progressing at its own pace. There is nothing I can do at this stage of the game but wait. The ball is very firmly in other people’s courts and there is very little that I can do to expedite that process. And the little that I can do, I won’t. Because that would involve nudging people who are doing extraordinary acts of kindness for us. So right now any distraction is a welcome one. I don’t really believe that sending a desire out into the universe will help make it so. But, I also figure that a little extra push never hurt anybody. [See how I carefully skirted any discussion of theology there?] So instead of spending my time envisioning what I hope my life will look like in a few months, I am focussing my attention on those I care about.

I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast yesterday on my walk on the most effective ways to get people to make charitable contributions. The bottom line is that people give out of self-interest. That self-interest can be big, like caring about someone who has a disease that you want cured. Or it could be just wanting that uplifting feeling you get when doing something good.

I see a parallel between the podcast and my own situation. I am wanting something to focus on so I may as well direct my attention to something good. Because in the long run, it will make me feel very good if things work out well for the people I care about.

Humans are easily trainable and make good pets

One of my favorite books ever is called “Diary of a Wombat” by Jackie French. It is a hilarious tale of a wombat who lives “with” a family who take care of it, although not entirely of their own free will. The punchline of the book is the wombat declaring in his/her diary that humans are easily trainable and make good pets. It appears that my cat Dancer read the book while I wasn’t around and decided to see if it were true. At least that is what I keep telling myself when he asserts himself in ways that get me to do what he wants me to do.

For example, on Friday when I was taking an old Mac laptop apart so that I could extract the hard drive (a total of maybe 5 minutes of work), he jumped up on the counter several times to get my attention. Each time I put him back down and then he would slink away and then jump right back up. He was so persistent that I switched tasks so I could actually get something done.

And when I sit on my kneeling chair to work at my computer, he has started jumping up on the desk next to me and nudging my arm until I pick him up. Then comes the catch 22. If I take a break and hold him for a few minutes, he will sometimes leave me alone for a while. But, if I toss him back on the floor (as I should so as to not positively reinforce the behavior), he just jumps back up and harasses me until I just give in and hold him to make him stop.

This conundrum raises two issues for me. The first is the one that concerns me most. I can sometimes be a softie when it comes to discipline. I believe (and the data backs me up on this) that children need structure and a clear sense of what behaviors are acceptable and what is not. Of course they will push boundaries, but it is up to the parents to maintain a clear line of demarkation (as much as such things exist in real life).

When it comes to behaviors that put Dancer in any danger, I am extremely consistent. He is never allowed on any counters. And when I find him on one, I usually just pick him up and put him back on the floor. But when he gets on the island where the stove is located, he not only gets tossed back on the floor, but I use my stern voice. I do this because while I hope he is smart enough to avoid fire, he may not know when one of the burners is hot. And I would strongly prefer that he not discover this the hard and painful way.

All of this is a long way of saying that I am not concerned that I will let my child put herself in any obvious danger. What I am concerned about is that for all other discipline issues I am so used to permissive “auntie” mode that it will take some retraining on my part to switch to parental mode. The good news is that I have a nice ramp-up period because newborns are so unformed that discipline isn’t even relevant. And hopefully by the time she is mobile and the boundary-setting responsibilities start my brain will have completed the transition.

The second issue is how Dancer (and to a lesser degree, Nom Nom) will deal with David and I shifting our attention almost exclusively to a baby. I know at the very least Dancer will feel mad and neglected and I suspect his existent bad behaviors will ramp up as he tries to draw our attention. And that is exactly why now is the time that I should be firmly establishing boundaries for him. And this is what I keep trying to tell myself when I bust him for jumping on a counter or drinking from one of our water glasses.

So really I shouldn’t be complaining that there is nothing for me to do while we are waiting to enter the adoption pool. Now is the perfect time for me to be working on my shift from auntie to parental mode. Let the battle of wills begin!

Baby-colored glasses

Yesterday David and I took a mini roadtrip and drove to Astoria with a breakfast stop in Woodland, WA. Woodland has a great local diner (with pumpkin pancakes in the spring, who knew?!?!?!?!) along with tulip and lilac festivals. After a delicious breakfast, we headed off in search of the lilac festival. We were told that the lilac and tulip festivals were close to each other, so we happily set off following the route designated by well-placed tulip festival signs hoping to make at least a brief stop at both. Unfortunately for us, the tulips at the festival were well past their prime. And we never did figure out where the lilac festival was.

After a somewhat disappointing detour, we got back on the road and headed west. It was a gorgeous day and we saw a ton of folks out on their motorcycles. And when I say a ton, I mean it. At one point we were at the top of the hill and there was a line of bikes ahead of us going as far as the eye could see.

When we arrived in Astoria, we headed straight to the Buoy brewery, 2015 winner for best new brewery in the Oregon Beer Awards. The brewery was packed, so while we waited to be seated we passed the time by watching a bunch of California Sea Lions crawling all over each other through the glass floor. Compared to Galapagos Sea Lions, these guys are friggen HUGE!!!

It was while we were waiting that it hit me that we will (hopefully) have a baby soon. And that this baby will be a native Oregonian. What got me were the adorable Buoy beer onesies for sale. Normally one does not associate beer with babies (unless one is in Ireland that is, where Guinness used to have ads encouraging mothers to put Guinness in their babies’ bottles for the vitamin B). But in Oregon, home of some of the best beer in the world, it somehow made sense to me.

I asked David to talk me down off the ledge, but before he got the chance, I had already decided against the purchase. My rationale? Why spend money on a cool baby onesie that our daughter may not even wear once. I was recently with a friend who has a 3+ month old who told me that she was struggling to get her daughter into every outfit she owned at least once before she outgrew them. So my plea to any and all parents reading this blog. If you have any geeky or cool onesies that you want to offload, we will happily take them. That way you get those awesome onesies sitting in a box somewhere out of your house. And we get a geekily adorned baby. I see that as a win/win. But I digress.

The point I was actually wanting to make is that I am just beginning to see the world through a parent’s eyes. As I looked around the very crowded brew pub, I watched the parents interacting with their kids. From the ones sitting with their kids watching the sea lions to the ones trying to get their toddlers to eat. It made me think of the way David and I were able to head off on our roadtrip with almost no forethought and nothing but our keys, wallets and a bottle of water. And how, by the same time next year (we hope) we will need much more time and prep to get out of the house. Not to mention the fact that we will have to bring a diaper bag with at least one change of clothes and either formula or food with us. And not only is that ok with me, but I am insanely eager for the change in pace and lifestyle to arrive sooner rather than later.

On the ride home I caught myself looking at the back seat and imagining a baby car seat sitting there. With that image in my mind, I drifted off to sleep and dreamt of our someday baby. And when I woke up from my nap I realized just how incredibly fortunate we are to have this liminal time between just being a couple and introducing a baby into our family.

I have a new appreciation for the simplicity of our lives as they are right now. And I am grateful for the opportunity to say farewell to our adult lives as we have lived them thus far. I am also ready and eager to embark on our new journey. I go in with eyes open to the sleep deprivation, the seemingly endless diapers and disgusting outputs that babies are capable of. But I also go in having had a taste of the love I will feel for a baby if the love I feel for my niecelettes in any indication of what is to come.

Chaos and files and hard drives, oh my!

Today is not going quite the way I would like it to. It started out nice enough. I woke up with Dancer snuggled up to me, which is a new, but very pleasing behavior. I came downstairs, drank my coffee answered some emails and got a bee in my bonnet about going through the old files upstairs and sorting the contents into recycle and shred piles. And while I was at it, I was going to find some additional documents that we need for the adoption.

And once again, everything started out just fine. I began fantasizing about an overflowing recycle bin as I discovered just how many of the files could be gotten rid of. While I was digging through the files, I realized that I had not run across something that is particularly precious to both David and me. So my direction quickly shifted to finding that %$@&*! missing item. That is when everything started snowballing downhill.

I started ripping apart piles and looking in ridiculous places where I knew full well it would never be. But I just couldn’t help myself. And I know that I will have to look in these same places again because when I get this crazed I tend to miss the most obvious item sitting right before me. A more rational person would have stepped away from the chaos and gone for a walk. But no. Not me. I went into full freakout mode.

In my infinite wisdom, I decided shift my attention to trying to recover some pictures off an old dead MacBook. Because that’s something a freaked out person should start undertaking. Unsurprisingly, my Mac wouldn’t recognize that the external drive was plugged in. So I tried my other Mac. Same story. That led me down a rabbit hole of Apple support forums. In fact, I am writing this while I wait to see if one of the suggested fixes actually works.

Despite my insanity, I actually did manage to find something that I had been looking for last week. I don’t actually need it anymore, but at least I now know where it is. As for the two items that I set out to find this morning, I got nothing. And of course, they are time sensitive documents, so I need to redirect all of my searching mojo towards locating them. But only after I go take a walk.

Why a girl?

Several readers responded to yesterday’s post with a variant of the question, “if you are so worried about being able to raise a psychologically healthy girl who is comfortable in her own body, why are you only interested in adopting a girl?” The short answer is because that when David and I envision our lives with a child, she is always a girl. The longer answer is, well, longer.

I can only speak for myself here, because while David has shared his reasons for wanting a girl with me, they are not mine to share.

For as much as I have fears about raising a girl, I have even more about raising a boy. And try as I may, I am struggling to articulate why. The thoughts are there in my head, but the words keep coming out wrong as I type them. I will do my best, but please cut me some slack because I have never tried to explain this in a public forum before.

To me, it just feels like the stakes are higher with raising boys. Without wading into the murky depths of discussions on privilege, I fear that it is just too easy to default to the status quo when raising a boy. Because, let’s face it, there are some assumptions about boys that are an uphill battle to change. To pull a phrase from the late 80s/early 90s, I am comfortable subverting the dominant paradigm, but I am not sure I know how to do that when working within the dominant paradigm.

I have had lots of conversations about parenting boys with the parents of some of my favorite boys. I must admit that I am a little envious them. I feel like those parents know some secret that I do not. Maybe it is just because in the circle I have always moved in, there has been an explicit understanding of the challenges in both being and raising girls. But what I have not been privy to are the conversations about the challenges of both raising and being boys. Perhaps now that more fathers are becoming (or finally being recognized as) primary parents, that conversation will change.

It is also possible that I will see things differently once I am a seasoned parent. One thing I know from my niecelettes is that kids come with their own personalities from the very beginning. And that parental responsibility is much more about providing guidance to their child and much less about creating a good person out of whole cloth. But just because I know that intellectually does not mean I will feel any more grounded or capable when it is my turn to parent. And that is ultimately why I want a girl. Because there is already enough uncertainty in parenthood that I would at least like to stack the deck a little in my favor.

Challenging questions

One of the well known aspects of the adoption process is that it involves a lot of paperwork. This weekend David and I completed the long personal narrative questionnaire. The questions were pretty much what you would expect, until I got to the one asking me to describe myself. I was surprised to discover that the question included a request to describe my personal appearance. That one kind of threw me through a loop.

How should I describe myself? Do I describe the image of my body that I carry around in my mind? Do I answer with the image I would like others to have of me? Do I present both images? How much of my own body image issues do I want to share with the social worker who is the ultimate gatekeeper between us and the adoptive parent pool?

There are many reasons that David and I have decided that we only want to adopt a girl. But one of the scariest aspects (to me) of adopting a daughter is the prospect of adolescence. I am not actually that worried* about the inevitable mood swings or being told that I am the worst parent in the world. I figure that just comes with the territory. And since most of our friends with children are a few years ahead of us, I will be able to glean wisdom from their experiences. What really scares me is teaching my daughter to have a positive body image.

Children learn best when their parents model appropriate behavior. And more than anything, I want my child to feel comfortable in her own skin. But I would be lying if I said that I have a positive body image. I definitely have good days where I am comfortable being me. But, to be honest, I have more bad than good days. My worst days are the one where I wake up in a positive space and my sense of self plummets after a glance in the mirror or seeing a “perfect” woman on one of my walks.

I have already come face to face with the uphill challenge I face from my niecelettes. One of my niecelettes regularly asks me why I am so fat. Believe it or not, I am actually ok with that. I am ok with it because she doesn’t ask it with any sense of judgment and I know it is not meant as an insult. It is just a simple question of fact. The problem is coming up with an appropriate answer. So far I have been sticking to a variant of “I am just built this way.” I tell her that I eat a fairly healthful diet, filled with fruits and vegetables, treats in moderation and walk 3-5 miles most days. But the real answer is so much more complicated than that.

What I really want to tell her is that it isn’t about fat or thin, but about being a strong, healthy woman who has the self confidence to be who she wants to be. I want to tell her that she is one of the kindest and most caring human beings I know and that because of that, she will always be beautiful. But she isn’t growing up in a bubble and she is already internalizing the societal pressure to be thin. And the prospect of my 7 year old niecelette beginning to travel down the road of self loathing literally causes me physical pain.

But I am not giving up. If modeling a positive self-image to my niecelettes and future daughter means that I need to do the work to deal with my own poor self-image, then sign me up. Because I am committed to doing whatever I can to offset any negative messages any of them receive through the media, their classmates or their family. I know it is a bit of a quixotic battle, but one that is well worth fighting.

*Easy for me to say now. Please don’t hold that comment against me when I come crying to you in 12 or so years because it is so hard to have a teenager in the house. Just put it down to my naiveté.

Three is a Magic Number

You may have seen some oblique references either on Facebook or on this blog to me being so excited that I can hardly contain it. Well, the time has come when I can finally share the news. David and I have embarked on the process of adopting a newborn!

We are still in the early stages and still have a lot of work to do. Some of it is paperwork. Even though almost all of it has gone electronic, you should feel free to envision a ream of paperwork to be completed. Because that is the task that lays before us. While the process seems alternately overwhelming and exciting beyond words, we understand that this experience is good practice for parenting. So we are embracing the work and uncertainty and moving forward full speed ahead!

The other piece of work we are undertaking is a major purge of the crap in our house. Think of it as a no-holds-barred bedikat chametz. The purge is in part a preparation for the baby. We need to clear out her future room and make room for all of the stuff that comes with a baby (and from what we have seen, babies require a lot of stuff).

We have plenty of stuff that we no longer use or need. I am also thinking of the purge as a clearing out of the cobwebs of our lives that we have collected and held on to over the years. With the exception of our moves cross-country, we have never had a strong enough impetus to fully close the book on previous chapters and get rid of the things we no longer need. Now we do. And we need to clear out the old to make room for the new.

One of the the other major tasks before us is creating a book for birthmothers to give them a sense of who we are. And the stakes are really high on this one. Birthparents rely on these books to help them decide which adoptive family will raise their child. Unfortunately for us, it turns out that neither David nor I are big at placing ourselves in front of the camera.  So this is the area where we need the most help.

If you have any pictures of David or myself please, please, please forward them to us.  Doesn’t matter if they are old or new, paper or digital. We would love to get a copy from you. If you need an email or snail mail address for us, please add a comment and I will contact you with the relevant information.

Thank you all in advance for the photos. But more importantly, for the support and love you have always given so freely. We will be relying on that to help get us through the days, weeks and months to come.

 

 

Eliminating distractions

Recently my work has shifted a bit from primarily answering questions to primarily writing documentation.  The idea being that good documentation will result in fewer questions to answer. I very much enjoy the writing component, although I could do without spending so much time fiddling with little details in Pixelmator.

Writing uses a different part of my brain than troubleshooting and that part of my brain seems to loathe distractions. When something pulls my attention away from my writing it is like someone pulled the emergency break. All forward motion stops abruptly. As someone who can usually go into the zone with a million distractions going on around me, I am finding this to be very frustrating.

I see two possible solutions to this issue. The first is trying to create a bubble of space where I can work without any interruptions.  The second is to teach myself how to work with interruptions. I am opting for the latter. I am doing so because distractions are a part of life and in learning to work around them I am building an important life skill. Besides which, I really enjoy some of the distractions in my life.

Some of my favorite distractions include an unexpected call or video chat with my niecelettes*, my cat coming and nuzzling me for attention (ok, this one I have mixed feelings about, but I like it more than it bothers me) or my best friend calling me for a chat. I see all of those as some of the greatest perks of working from home. Well those and getting to wear my pajamas all day.

I have been reading up on strategies for coping with distractions and most of them seem to revolve around creating a distraction-free bubble. Those both bore me and don’t tell me what I want to know. That leaves me to basically make up my own strategies on the fly.

The strategies that have been working for me lately include using a “warm-up” activity to help get me back into the groove. In fact, this post that I am writing is meant to be a warm up for writing I am hoping to start working on in about 15 minutes.

The second is a fairly simple positive reinforcement system. For example, if I do some concentrated writing for X amount of time, I get some sort of treat. More often than not, that treat is spending some time on the couch with my cat. Or if David is home, taking a break to have an actual conversation with him.

Lastly, I sometimes rely on apps like Coffitivity that create ambient background noise that I am then forced to block out. I will take the whys behind this directly from their website:

According to a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago, “A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition.” In a nutshell, this means being a tiny bit distracted helps you be more creative. This is why those AHA moments happen when we’re brushing our teeth, taking a shower, or mowing the lawn! If we’re not focused too much at a task at hand, we come up with awesome stuff. In the coffee shop, the chatter and clatter actually distracts us a tiny bit and allows our creative juices to start flowing. It sounds crazy, but it works!

 

*I started this blog post yesterday and didn’t get a chance to finish it because my niecelettes called!

Spring cleaning on steroids

Passover starts tonight, but the preparation has been going on for a while. Jews have been working on getting rid of all leavened foods for the past month in preparation for the holiday. This cleaning process includes vacuuming out cars and cleaning out those corners of your cabinets where all of the crumbs accumulate.

This year we are going for more than just crumbs. We are going for the crap that literally accumulates in the corners of our houses. In my house that includes old and much beloved laptops that are dead, but still need their hard drives to be wiped so we can give them to Free Geek. It includes a magazine rack filled with random things that got shoved in there over time. And, as I unfortunately discovered, also cat vomit of an indeterminate age.  And yes, it also includes those random pieces of paper that you keep because you might need them, but don’t want to take the time to file because as soon as you are done needing them, they can get recycled.

With all of this to do, why I am sitting on the couch right now writing a blog post? Because of the power of cat inertia. There is no greater force in nature than a sleeping cat. Sleeping cats have hampered their human’s ability to get up and get things done for as long as cats have been domesticating humans (anyone who thought it worked the other way around clearly has never had a cat).

Dancer has this somewhat unnerving habit of falling asleep with his head upright. When he falls into a deep sleep his head just flops down like his neck is suddenly made of jello. He often ends up looking like Garfield when Garfield falls asleep in his food bowl.

Because cats sleep something like 18-20 hours a day, this happens almost every single time he gets on my lap. And he sits in my lap almost every time I sit down, which means that once I sit, I am there for the duration. David and I have learned to never sit down without a filled water glass and a book, tablet or some crafting to keep us entertained while our cat sleeps.

So instead of going through my books and CDs like I should, I am sitting here typety-typing (somewhat awkwardly I might add, because I am working around the body of a sleeping cat). But I am woman, hear me roar. Or at least hear me apologetically gently wake Dancer up so I can get something done today.