Dear Moms of Adopted Children

First, a quick note: I wrote this piece after reading an essay written by Lea Grover in the Huffiington Post, titled “Dear Less-Than-Perfect Mom.” The post by Lea was wonderful, and it made me think about us moms who found our sweet babies through adoption, and how we face unique challenges. I hope you enjoy it, whether you are the parent of an adopted child or not. Happy early Mother’s Day, everyone.

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Dear Mom of an Adopted Child,

I met you in adoption education class. I met you at the agency. I met you at my son’s school. I met you online. I met you on purpose. I met you by accident.

It doesn’t matter. The thing is, I knew you right away. I recognize the fierce determination. The grit. The fight. Because everything about what you have was a decision, and nothing about what you have was easy. You are the kind of woman who Makes.Things.Happen. After all, you made this happen, this family you have.

Maybe you prayed for it. Maybe you had to convince a partner it was the right thing. Maybe you did it alone. Maybe people told you to just be happy with what you had before. Maybe someone told you it simply wasn’t in God’s plans for you to have a child, this child whose hair you now brush lightly from his face. Maybe someone warned you about what happened to their cousin’s neighbor’s friend. Maybe you ignored them.

Maybe you planned for it for years. Maybe an opportunity dropped into your lap. Maybe you depleted your life-savings for it. Maybe it was not your first choice. But maybe it was.

Regardless, I know you. And I see how you hold on so tight. Sometimes too tight. Because that’s what we do, isn’t it?

I know about all those books you read back then. The ones everyone reads about sleep patterns and cloth versus disposable, yes, but the extra ones, too. About dealing with attachment disorders, breast milk banks, babies born addicted to alcohol, cocaine, meth. About cognitive delays, language deficiencies. About counseling support services, tax and insurance issues, open adoption pros and cons, legal rights.

I know about the fingerprinting, the background checks, the credit reports, the interviews, the references. I know about the classes, so many classes. I know the frustration of the never-ending paperwork. The hours of going over finances, of having garage sales and bake sales and whatever-it-takes sales to raise money to afford it all.

I know how you never lost sight of what you wanted.

I know about the match call, the soaring of everything inside you to cloud-height, even higher. And then the tucking of that away because, well, these things fall through, you know.

Maybe you told your mother, a few close friends. Maybe you shouted it to the world. Maybe you allowed yourself to decorate a baby’s room, buy a car seat. Maybe you bought a soft blanket, just that one blanket, and held it to your cheek every night.

I know about your home visits. I know about your knuckles, cracked and bleeding, from cleaning every square inch of your home the night before. I know about you burning the coffee cake and trying to fix your mascara before the social worker rang the doorbell.

And I know about the followup visits, when you hadn’t slept in three weeks because the baby had colic. I know how you wanted so badly to show that you had it all together, even though you were back to working more-than-full-time, maybe without maternity leave, without the family and casseroles and welcome-home balloons and plants.

And I’ve seen you in foreign countries, strange lands, staying in dirty hotels, taking weeks away from work, struggling to understand what’s being promised and what’s not. Struggling to offer your love to a little one who is unsettled and afraid. Waiting, wishing, greeting, loving, flying, nesting, coming home.

I’ve seen you down the street at the hospital when a baby was born, trying to figure out where you belong in the scene that’s emerging. I’ve seen your face as you hear a nurse whisper to the birthmother that she doesn’t have to go through with this. I’ve seen you trying so hard to give this birthmother all of your respect and patience and compassion in those moments—while you bite your lip and close your eyes, not knowing if she will change her mind, if this has all been a dream coming to an abrupt end in a sterile environment. Not knowing if this is your time. Not knowing so much.

I’ve seen you look down into a newborn infant’s eyes, wondering if he’s really yours, wondering if you can quiet your mind and good sense long enough to give yourself over completely.

And then, to have the child in your arms, at home, that first night. His little fingers curled around yours. His warm heart beating against yours.

I know that bliss. The perfect, guarded, hopeful bliss.

I also know about you on adoption day. The nerves that morning, the judge, the formality, the relief, the joy. The letting out of a breath maybe you didn’t even know you were holding for months. Months.

I’ve seen you meet your child’s birthparents and grandparents weeks or years down the road. I’ve seen you share your child with strangers who have his nose, his smile … people who love him because he’s one of them. I’ve seen you hold him in the evenings after those visits, when he’s shaken and confused and really just wants a stuffed animal and to rest his head on your shoulder.

I’ve seen you worry when your child brings home a family tree project from school. Or a request to bring in photos of him and his dad, so that the class can compare traits that are passed down, like blue eyes or square chins. I know you worry, because you can protect your child from a lot of things — but you can’t protect him from being different in a world so intent on celebrating sameness.

I’ve seen you at the doctor’s office, filling out medical histories, leaving blanks, question marks, hoping the little blanks don’t turn into big problems later on.

I’ve seen you answer all of the tough questions, the questions that have to do with why, and love, and how much, and where, and who, and how come, mama? How come?

I’ve seen you wonder how you’ll react the first time you hear the dreaded, “You’re not my real mom.” And I’ve seen you smile softly in the face of that question, remaining calm and loving, until you lock yourself in the bathroom and muffle your soft cries with the sound of the shower.

I’ve seen you cringe just a little when someone says your child is lucky to have you. Because you know with all your being it is the other way around.

But most of all, I want you to know that I’ve seen you look into your child’s eyes. And while you will never see a reflection of your own eyes there, you see something that’s just as powerful: A reflection of your complete and unstoppable love for this person who grew in the midst of your tears and laughter, and who, if torn from you, would be like losing yourself.

Everything I Learned About Cooking I Learned from My Mama (Even Though She Doesn’t Let Me Near Her Kitchen)

I need this cup.

I come from a long line of control freaks.

In fact, the need to be in control at all times has been handed down through the generations to my mother, and to my sisters and me, like bad costume jewelry. This is no secret, especially to our husbands, our children, our coworkers (Shut up, CCG.)

We don’t just like to be in control, we pretty much demand it without saying it out loud. We kinda mow people down with our opinions and our plans. (I hereby apologize to everyone I have in the past, or will in the future, take down like a Craftsman 3-in-1 self-propelled chopper.)

I think in some psychotherapy circles our control freakishism could be considered a treatable illness, but for us, it’s just how it is. Our unstated mantra: Get in line and follow our lead, or get the hell out of our way while we make this particular thing happen. (Being control freaks isn’t very fun for us, by the way. It might seem like it is, because we tend to get our way (a lot), but it’s actually quite exhausting. Some people go to the gym to feel the burn, we just manage our loved one’s lives.)

All of this is to bring me to the point of today’s Mother’s Day-themed blog post. My mom is one of the most talented cooks in the state of Texas, maybe in the whole damn country. She could season up a cow patty, smother it in her gravy, and you’d eat it like it was a sirloin and ask for more. No exaggeration. She’s that good. I seriously don’t think I have ever eaten anything — anything — in my 43 years as her daughter that I didn’t like. (No comment needed here about the effect of this on my hourglass figure.)

My mom's version of chicken cacciatore would put this one to shame.

Even her so-called “mistakes,” are delicious. It doesn’t matter what the dish is, a soup, casserole, salad, cobbler, breakfast taco, you name it. If it’s a “Sue’s Surprise,” you’d elbow out a hungry child to get to it first.

But here’s the rub: She doesn’t allow people, like, er, her daughters, in her domain. Her kitchen is pretty much off limits. She may say she wants your help, but she doesn’t mean it. Because she needs to do it her way, which of course is the right way.

That means that everything I learned from her had to be learned on the sly. (Lucky! It just so happens that sly is something I do well.) I watched her from around the corner of the living room when she thought I was dusting. I memorized her techniques while she thought I was merely playing jacks or pick-up-sticks under her feet. (You didn’t have to nudge me so hard with that nasty old pink house shoe, by the way, Mom.) I even caught her at a low point after some surgery one time, while she was still under the influence of a great many pain killers, and convinced her to tell me some of her recipes that she keeps only in her head. I am not above resorting to these kinds of tactics for the greater good of society and the culinary arts.

My beautiful mother with an unknown stinkbug.

Nowadays, I think I’ve turned out to be a pretty good cook, too. (Not at legendary level, like her, but I can make a batch of enchiladas that’ll make you want to slap your pet alligator twice. Which sounds a little more risqué than I meant it to.) Basically, I can make her chili and her ranch dressing and her cornbread, but I haven’t mastered her apple pies or chicken-fried steak or roasted turkey.

I’m still learning, though. Every time I go home, I’ll continue to make mental notes, before she (figuratively this time) kicks me out from under her feet again. I’ll park myself at the kitchen table and watch her do her magic, whether she likes it or not. I’ll hold my son on my lap, as he watches her, too. I’ll tell her how amazing and beautiful she is, and how much I love her and her cooking.

But chances are, even with this little bit of kissing up, she still won’t let me mess around in her kitchen.