Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A (mostly good) Reunion

In the movies, reunions are usually all good. The music builds, knowing glances are exchanged, and it all works out neat and clean. Seldom are things quite so clear cut in real life.

Our kids' birthmother, Kelly, is basically a good person who doesn't always make good decisions. She's had 3 kids with three different men, none of whom ever stuck around. She is raising the oldest one, Jeffrey, who is now 10 years old. The other two, Buddy Boy, 7, and Sweet Pea, 5, are our kids. She doesn't smoke, drink, or do drugs. Kelly has worked fairly menial jobs in her past, but is now on partial disability following an on the job injury to her hand a couple of years ago. Other than a scar following a surgery, the hand appears grossly to work fairly well to me. She works 20 hours/week in a retail setting.

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Kelly's city and drove out to her apartment to see her. She keeps a neat apartment. When I walk in one of the things I notice is a bookcase packed floor to ceiling with several hundred movie DVD's in it. The kids notice her cat, and take off after it. I try to at least get them to be a little more gentle with the cat.

Sweet Pea is initially friendly, but when Jeffrey comes home from school and Kelly's mom, Neenah, comes over she very uncharacteristically gets very reserved and retreats to the back bedroom and refuses to come out. Sweet Pea is destined for things like class president, she's so social. I've never seen her this way. I follow her back to the room and attempt to reassure her and hold her. After a while she comes out, but is still very reluctant to be very interactive. A while later she sits in Kelly's lap, and seems to loosen up some more.

Kelly, for her part, is much more evenhanded with Buddy Boy this go around. She talks to him about school, and gives him a hug and kiss. She also talks about wanting to get out of her apartment, and wanting to buy a house. She mentions that the realtors wanted $1000 as a down payment, which she doesn't have. She wants to get a house that will have a payment the same as her monthly rent (~$400). We try to gently explain that she's in a relatively good situation now (bills getting paid, no debt), and that there are a lot of hidden costs of home ownership. She says that she wants a house so that she has something to leave Jeffrey. I relate to her how a relative of mine is about to be forced to declare bankruptcy and lose his house because he got in over his head. She still seems unconvinced. She says the neighbors are noisy, and she's tired of yelling at them. I glance again at the DVD's, which had to have cost at least $4-$5000, and say nothing.

Kelly is pleased with Jeffrey's performance in school (mostly A's and B's, with one C) but didn't know when his spring break was when Liz called to arrange our getting together, and doesn't know which middle school he'll be going to if they stay in the same apartment.

I think that many people that have adopted don't like to have contact with the birthparents just because it's uncomfortable for them. Adoption, by it's nature, often brings together people from different socioeconomic classes, with different value systems and different outlooks in general. As much as we in America pride ourselves on having an egalitarian society with no class system, most of us do not usually associate closely with members of society that are very different from ourself. Liz and I are committed to having our kids know their birthmother (she has no contact info for their birthfathers), even though it isn't always the most comfortable thing for us. I know that although our family finances are sometimes a bit strained, we look like Rockefellers to Kelly and her family.

In making small talk Kelly mentions how Sweet Pea is fairly leggy, and she wouldn't expect her to be tall, as her daddy isn't. Autism isn't the only subculture that has "language issues". I bristle a bit at having her birthfather who's never laid eyes on her being referred to as "her father". After strapping on a "Baby Bjorn" with Sweet Pea every other night for the first 4 months of her life, walking the floor trying to comfort her, and catching cat naps with her still strapped to me in the Lazy Boy (until we finally got her esophageal reflux correctly diagnosed and treated), I think the term "her Daddy" belongs to me, and me alone. But I know she means no harm and is referring to the short (5'4") stature of Sweet Pea's birthfather, and let it slide. I also know that in the eyes of the only one who really counts, I will always be "Her Daddy".

We leave her place and all go back to our motel to take a swim in the pool. The pool isn't too big, but it doesn't matter as we have it to ourselves. Swimming is great at lubricating the rough spots for all of us, and we all seem to loosen up.

Today was much easier all around. We did some touristy things during the day with the kids, then Kelly and Jeffrey came over after he got off school. We went swimming again. Sweet Pea is much more her gregarious self today. She is relaxed with Kelly, and hanging on Jeffrey. She seems determined to keep up with the boys in the pool, and lets them each take a hand and jump in all together. It's a Hallmark moment.

Afterwards we all go out to eat for dinner. Buddy Boy now starts to decompensate, asking why we have to go home tomorrow, and lamenting that we haven't had enough time with "Aunt Kelly" and Jeffrey. The last two days have found him to be more interactive than either Liz or I have ever seen him with another boy. We think he likes the idea of having an older brother.

At the restaurant Kelly's half sister drops by to meet the kids. Before she comes in Kelly volunteers that her sister wasn't when the kids were born because she was in prison. Her sister seems nice enough. I cringe at the mention of prison only because it is one of my innermost worst fears of possible futures for Buddy Boy.

We all exchange hugs goodbye when we leave the restaurant. Buddy Boy basically holds it together, though it's obvious he's very emotional at leaving. I'm glad we came. It's really important to me that the kids have some sense of where they've come from. I think it will help them in the future, so I'm willing to endure whatever small discomfort we have to now. I'm also thankful, though, that there's 300 miles of freeway between us and their birthmother. Like with inlaws, sometimes a little space is good.

Tomorrow, it's back on the road again. No more time tonight to find a nice picture for the header, or even to clean up my syntax.


kristina said...

Words say a lot more than any picture---in this post no less than others.

Mom without a manual said...

Wow. What an experience. I think this is a good thing for the kids. But I imagine it has to be weird to have boundaries between the families and then also cross over for events like this. However, like you said, space is good.

But I think it will be helpful in the long run for Buddy Boy and Sweet Pea to have an understanding of where they came from. I have no doubt that you guys will always be Mom and Dad!

Daisy said...

Posts like this one keep me coming back. You and Liz have definitely earned the titles Dad and Mom. There's no question in my mind. But understanding, while not criticizing, the differences between the families -- that takes thoughtfulness and more.

Club 166 said...

In rereading this post, there are a lot of things that I would change.

I would take more time to sort my thoughts into a more coherent flow, I would organize and trim my thoughts such that I could make specific points, and I would clean up a lot of the (more than usual) sloppiness which resulted from me writing this at the end of a long two days.

But my emotions were all jumbled up, and I was also keyed up from actively looking to protect both kids from anything hurtful that might happen over the visit. And I felt the need to write. So I did.

Thanks for the comments, everyone, and for giving me a pass on my disorganization. :)