By: Lauren Jankowski
Not that long ago, I was reviewing some work and got distracted by a common element that turns up in just about every story I’ve written: separated siblings. It struck me because although this was completely unintentional, it clearly reflects an important, but still unknown, part of my life.
As I’ve previously written, I’m an adopted child. Unlike some other adoptees, I’ve chosen to forgo any kind of contact or reunion with my biological relations. To put it simply, I want nothing to do with them. This decision is due to a discovery that could have possibly affected my health and was undisclosed for purely selfish reasons.
Still, there is one biological relative of mine that remains shrouded in mystery: my older half-sister. All my life, I’ve known this person has existed, but other than that, I haven’t the faintest clue about her. The extent of my knowledge is that we share the same biological mother, she was given up for adoption through the same agency as I, and a few years back she was experiencing health problems. Being the naturally curious individual that I am, I’ve spent most of my life wondering about her. What kind of person is she? Does she know about me? Is she anything like me?
Perhaps, not surprisingly, this wondering plays out in my work quite often. Very few of my characters are only children. The ones that have siblings are often separated from them, usually due to forces and circumstances outside of their control. I’ve written a fair amount of stories that revolve around one sibling’s search for another, most often from the older sibling’s point of view. That’s interesting to me because technically, I play two roles in life. Among my adoptive family, the one I know as my own, I am the older sister. However, in my biological family, the alien backdrop, I am the younger half-sister. So am I writing from the mystery half-sister’s theoretical point of view or from my own?
Occasionally, I’ve found myself running Internet searches using a couple key terms and phrases. Sadly, since I don’t have that much information, these always prove fruitless. Does she run the same searches? Or does she share my distaste for our despicable biological relatives? Perhaps we’re both afraid of the same thing: that our mystery sibling is the apple that didn’t fall far from the genetic tree. Then again, maybe she is completely unaware of my existence. This seems to be the most likely scenario.
I don’t know whether I’ll ever look for her. I don’t think it’s very likely I ever will. I started to once, but then discovered the metaphorical skeletons that populate our biological family closet. That has soured me on the whole idea of any kind of reunion with anyone even remotely connected with that past of which I want no part.
I’ve come to accept that the lack of closure on this part of my past will likely continue to manifest in stories and dreams. Perhaps that’s another reason I’m reluctant to search. I don’t want to lose that last bit of mystery in my life, which can be a great driving force, creativity-wise.
Feature Article for The Next Family
By: Mark Hagland
My name is Mark. I am 51 years old. (GULP!) I am a member of the first wave of Korean adoptees. I came to the U.S. in 1961 at the age of eight months and was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by parents of Norwegian and German ethnic heritage. I’ve been very active in the KAAN Conference, an annual conference focused on Korean adoption. KAAN is truly unique, and over time its leaders (among which I am now one) are looking to expand its scope to include those outside just Korean adoption. (Certainly, anyone with interest or involvement in transracial and/or international adoption is very welcome.) Our annual conference this year will be held in Albany, New York in July. So there’s one slice —my Korean adoptee slice.
Here are a few more:
I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and, after receiving my B.A. in English, came to Chicago to get my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. I’ve been a professional journalist since 1982 and in the health care publishing field for 23 years as a reporter, editor, author, and speaker. Journalist -another slice!
I came out as a gay man while a freshman in college, and have been socially open for a number of years. I’m blessed to have a wonderful life-partner of over 26 years. Another slice!
Eleven years ago, I volunteered to be a co-parent with a female, unmarried friend. I now have a wonderful ten-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother. Another slice!
In choosing to become a parent, which has been one of the great blessings in my life, I knew that my identity as a gay man would change, and it absolutely did. Nearly two years ago, I became involved in a wonderful group called Gay Dads Chicago, and have gotten to know a number of other gay dads locally. But even in that group, I’m in an extreme minority with regard to the way in which I became a father. Most in the group married, had children, and discovered they were gay later on. Which basically describes how things have worked out for me my whole life: I’ve always been the only asterisked person in any group I’ve been in.
Certainly, growing up as an Asian-American, transracial adoptee in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin of the 1960s and 1970s was a marginalizing experience, despite having wonderful parents and a loving family. As I like to say, I grew up feeling like a Martian and then when I finally became part of the huge actively participating Korean adoptee and transracial adoptee community at age 40, it was like happening upon a convention of Martians in spaceships!
So… how many Asian-Americans do you know who are partnered gay men, biological fathers, Korean adoptees, and journalists, all rolled into one? Sometimes I feel as though I have more prisms going than a world-class crystal paperweight collection. And it can get very confusing for many people, because they keep getting reminded (hopefully gently) as they get to know me how complex my identities and perspectives are. It reminds me of a comment I read in an interview in an LGBT newspaper years ago. An African-American gay activist was being interviewed about her sense of identity; she was black, female, and gay. And she was asked, which are you first? Black, female, or lesbian? And naturally, she said, well, it’s not like I can go out my door and leave any one of my identities behind! That’s exactly how I feel, too, of course. Being Asian, being an Asian-American, being an adult transracial adoptee, being a gay man, being a parent—they are all me!
There is a richness in having so many prisms through which one sees the world. Often, being the only person of color in a gay male gathering, or the only gay person among an Asian group, or the only parent among a gay social gathering, or the only gay person among a bunch of parents, or the only adoptee among a gathering of adoptive parents (and on and on) offers me unique perspectives.
Isn’t that part of what makes life so rich, anyway—that we can all share our individual experiences with one another, and be made the richer for doing so, and for our mutual support?
By: Meika Rouda
The most difficult part of adoption for most people is waiting to be matched. For my husband and me the waiting was excruciating. I felt that once we decided to adopt, the process should be quick and easy since we had already waited so long to become parents while trying to get pregnant. Even so, we still had to wait longer that I ever thought. Matches are made in many different ways. Most often in domestic adoption, a potential adoptive family places a profile on a website that a birthmother sees and pursues. My husband and I used a lawyer who matches families with birthmothers as opposed to having the birthmother review profiles and choose. Others use ads, like in the back of the penny saver. (I have friends who received many calls doing this- it isn’t just Juno!) Or the rare instance of hearing about a baby through a friend of a friend. I even know of someone who was standing in line at Starbucks in front of a pregnant teenager and her mother. When he ordered the last bagel the pregnant girl sighed since she had her eye on the bagel. He saw she was pregnant and gave her the bagel instead. They started to talk and lo and behold, he and his wife ended up adopting her baby. Stranger things have happened.
These are all instances where matches happen, adoptions go through and families are created. But then there are the amazing people who don’t get matched after years of waiting. People who have several near placements that all end up with the birthmother changing her mind. Each time another heartbreak while being so close to parenthood. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for people, to have so much hope and then so much sadness and disappointment. I know a woman in this same situation. She and her husband have been waiting 3 years to be matched. They are in their 30′s, successful, kind, and loving people. She is a preschool teacher. What could be more perfect?! And yet they aren’t getting matched. I have no idea why. When I asked her if they had particular criteria that might make them hard to match she said “No, they were open to sex and race and would consider other factors, smoking etc.” They are focusing on open adoption and are happy to have visits with the birthmother. It seems they are having a horrible case of bad luck.
Or maybe the right baby hasn’t appeared yet. That is what my mother would say. She believes that things happen for a reason, that fate and god have a hand in everything. I don’t necessarily believe that but when you need hope, it is comforting to think that there must be a reason for the pain and heartache. That there will be a happy ending at some point. I don’t know how to keep my friend’s spirits up, I almost feel guilty that I have two adopted children that came very easily to us. Our daughter we didn’t even expect, she was just a call from our lawyer a week before she was born with the question “How do you feel about having a baby girl?” But I believe in adoption and I know a baby will arrive for my friend. I don’t know why it is taking so long and it saddens me to know that she has had not one, not two, but more than three birthmothers change their minds at the last minute. But she is optimistic and taking it all in stride. She has strength and a positive attitude that I don’t think I could muster if I were in her situation. Meanwhile, I have been frequenting Starbucks and keeping my eyes peeled for pregnant teenagers in line. You just never know.
By Lauren Jankowski
Recently I led a discussion in my Gender and Culture class on a chapter from “Families We Choose” by Kath Weston. The chapter was entitled “Exiles from Kinship” and it was about how the Bay Area gay and lesbian community began constructing their own families in the 80s. These created families challenged the common definition of “family”, particularly the anthropological definition. Up until that point, anthropology defined kinships almost solely on biological ties. This overly simplistic definition overlooked the fact that family is not a purely biological construct, not entirely. Rather, family -even kinship -is a lot more fluid than we realize.
As an adoptee, I find that I don’t put as much stock in the importance of blood ties. Throughout my life, I have constructed many different families. I have noticed other adoptees often do the same thing, sometimes without even realizing it. I grew up with a large Italian family, emphasis on large. Everyone was an aunt or uncle, regardless of whether they were related by blood or not. Along with my parents’ siblings, there were a number of family friends that my brother and I referred to as “aunt” or “uncle”. Their children were our cousins.
As I grew up, I began to find my personality, beliefs, and goals were completely different. My family is very child-centric to the point of being old-fashioned. Every birth is celebrated and every woman is expected to settle down with a nice man. Holidays and gatherings are filled with discussions of whose child did/accomplished what, along with the normal sports talk and economy complaints (with the occasional chat about television). Being a natural bookworm with an independent streak, I found this environment to be stifling. When I decided very late in high school to marry myself to my work and lead a life without romantic attachments (I decided long ago that having a family was just not for me), this was met with “Well, you’ll feel differently when you meet the right man and have children of your own.”
While I do love my family, I realized that I needed a new support system. So I turned to college and friends, creating my own eclectic group of individuals that I adore and admire for different reasons. Some began from a mutual love of the written word. Others shared my love of really great stories and myths. Some share my desire to live a completely independent life. Others are people that I find to be fascinating, either due to their personality or because they showed me a new way to think about the world. Still others are accepting and offer me the intellectual conversations that I so love and crave. The one thing that this created family shares is that everyone in it accepts me as is, even when I’m at my worst, and treats me as an equal.
In 1991, Kath Weston wrote that we need to move past our rigid biological definition of kinship and explore alternative families, ones that aren’t necessarily based on the biological model. When I recently visited The Cradle again, Gabby told me about an annual picnic that is held for adoptive and biological families. The kids wear two different nametags: one with the name given by the biological parent(s) and the second given by their adoptive family. As I write this, I think about how my definition of family has changed as I’ve grown and matured.
As a society, we need to accept that there are different kinds of families and kinships. Not all of them revolve around biological ties. In the grand scheme of things, biology is probably a lot less important than most people think. In my mind, I have two families, both of whom I love dearly and would do anything for. I do not favor one over the other and would never choose between them. In my book, they are equal. I’d be very surprised if I were alone in feeling this way.
By: Stacey Ellis
My husband and I had a fight. You’re probably thinking, “So what?” Well, we never fight. Really. We’ve been married three years and I can recount the two times we fought. The first time was actually the day we were matched with our birth parents. Our adoption happened so quickly – three weeks after we turned in our paperwork – we weren’t sure we could even accept the match financially. Seriously, adoption is expensive and had been told six months to a year. Three weeks was not in our “budget”. As he tried to explain the math to me, I just couldn’t get it. I’m not a math person. I’m a writer. He increasingly got frustrated and raised his voice at me to which I yelled back, “You know I don’t process information like you!” And a few words later, doors were slammed and I was crying in the bedroom for a half hour.
This one wasn’t much different. This time, I was really pissed off. REALLY. PISSED. OFF. Let me preface this with, my husband is an AMAZING husband. And he’s an even more AMAZING father. When he’s talking to, playing with, or engaged with our daughter, he is beyond incredible. He’ll feed her, change her diaper, and do everything and anything I do with her. He takes her out for daddy – daughter breakfast once a weekend just to be with her alone. Household-wise, when dishes need to be done, he’ll do them. He’ll help pick up her toys and he’s definitely the “fixer” in the house when something breaks. Now that you realize he’s one of the good guys, I can tell you why I was pissed off.
I still feel like I do 90%. How can that be you ask? I mean, I just told you how wonderful he is. Well, he is…when he’s present. My husband is a man and I truly believe men are trained from the time they are little boys to let their “mommies” and then their “wives” handle things. I’ve asked my male friends from time to time, “What are you doing this weekend?” Every one of them answers nonchalantly, “I have no idea. My wife will tell me when I get home.” I used to think that was cute. What is not cute is my husband disappearing to take a nap on a Saturday while I do the usual – feedings, changing, playing, entertaining. He wanted to take a nap, so he did. He has done this before and I have always been like, huh? How come I don’t get to take a nap?
Granted, I probably wouldn’t lie down in the middle of the day. It’s not my nature. I’m a doer. If I have time on my hands, I’m going to work out or accomplish something – organize cabinets, food shop, plan her first birthday party. And my husband, when he has time on his hands, he likes to watch TV, relax, hit golf balls, play on the computer. So why does he have “time on his hands” and I don’t? How can he sit and watch TV for a half hour? How can he read The Daily on his I-Pad for an hour? How can he take this nap?
The nap set me off. I was done wondering how he had “all this time” that I never seemed to have. So when he showed up from his nap, I lost it. Okay, my tone was very off. And he stated he had a splitting headache (didn’t tell me this before the nap, and yeah, he’s had naps on weekends before). And he said he “thought the baby was asleep.” I was trying to put our daughter down for her afternoon nap and she wouldn’t go down so the afternoon marathon continued – feeding, laundry, diaper changes, dishes etc. Within seconds we were screaming at the top of our lungs at each other – neither willing to budge. He screamed at me, “If you need help, you should just ask!” I screamed back, “I shouldn’t have to ask, we have a child!” The worst part was my daughter was right there, in the middle, hearing it all. I was conscious of this but I was so angry I couldn’t stop, until I did. I picked her up and walked out of the room and then played with her in the other room, pretending like it didn’t happen. Then I went to her room to try to get her down for that afternoon nap she simply would not take. She wound up sleeping on me and I had no interest in putting her down. I never felt so alone. I wanted her on me. I wanted the comfort. I wanted the love. I wanted the snuggle.
My husband and I have always gotten over “tiffs” by just going about our daily lives – like I mentioned, we’ve only fought twice and none of the little tiffs was as bad as this. The tiffs were mostly someone used a tone – the other one calls that person out – there’s silence, and then someone will inevitably break the silence with, “What do you want for dinner?” Or some other benign question. This one wasn’t so simple. I was fuming.
I fumed for three days. We weren’t silent, but I was not bouncing back like normal. On Day Two I even recognized I was slightly depressed, probably from thinking about it for two days. He tried instant messaging me that he loved me and I wrote back I loved him too. I do love him. That doesn’t change with one fight. But my emotions were going crazy. How could we adopt another child? I feel like a single mother already at times on weekends. I certainly don’t want another one “by myself”. How could he not see that I put everyone else first and he needs to at least put her first? When one piece of toast is burnt, I take it. When there are two pieces of chicken and one is smaller, I take it. When she wants to play and he’s tired, I play with her. How could he not get that I was not his mother ready to step in at any moment and take over so he could do what he wanted? I had to say something – but every night, I just wasn’t in the mood. I also wasn’t done stewing in my own mind.
Then it hit me. I had to calmly explain how I felt. This couldn’t go one more day. So I did. I explained that before we had a child his weekends were full of golf, naps, playing on the computer and mine were full of organizing cabinets, baking and cooking, and writing screenplays. I said, his weekends haven’t changed that much but mine haven’t been the same at all – I never get to decompress my way. I explained that he is a wonderful father, when he’s engaged. But he checks out when he wants to and I never get to check out and “do my own thing”. And even if I could check out, it’s not my nature to check out. I am never going to ask for help because technically, I don’t really need help. Just like when I’m not home, he doesn’t need help. That’s right, I could go on a business trip for a week and he’d be totally fine. It’s not about the help, it’s about the partnership and about being engaged fully when she is awake, sharing in the laughter and the chores.
He got it. And I learned something – the message gets lost in the tone and sometimes you need three days to know what that message should be…if I took those three days before saying I was pissed about his nap, I may have come up with the right words…I hope I will do that in the future so my daughter will never hear us raise our voices again. And this weekend – we had a great time…together.
By: Meika Rouda
I didn’t think much about getting older, all the cliches about midlife crises and affairs and sports cars and a deep reflection on how happy one is and whether life would be better if(fill in the blank)… So I was blindsided last weekend when one of my closest friends called me in a state of shock saying her husband just told her he didn’t love her and wanted a divorce. This is a happy couple (at least seemingly on the outside) with two beautiful children. They are fun to be with, tender with one another, and compatible in every way –from liking the same books, to agreeing whole heartedly on decorating styles and destinations for vacation. They are a great couple, one of the best, one of the couples other couples wish they could be. And now that is gone and no one is more surprised than my friend who thought she was in a happy marriage. The problems in their marriage as it turns out are not the typical kind, like the stereotypical affair with a younger woman. It is deep-rooted, and started long ago, and has to do with happiness and commitment. It turns out her husband who is also my friend and is someone I love and adore and think the world of, made a mistake. He apparently feels he married the wrong woman and has been secretly pining for a long ago love. The love affair he had with this other woman, fifteen years ago, was tumultuous and short-lived but the feelings he had of intimacy and happiness have held strong in his heart.
This is not the first time I have seen a good friend go through a divorce. I seem to be living the national average, with at least half of my friends having broken up (some amicably, some contentiously). But this one is in a category of its own because it makes me wonder whether we ever really know someone. It makes me think of the work it takes to keep a relationship happy and healthy, and to stay connected to your partner. And most of all it emphasizes the commitments you make when, believing your love warrants an extension in the form of another person, you decide to become parents: that you will give your kids a wonderful life, that being happy is really about being together through the hard times, through the times when you might want to be somewhere else or with someone else. When I think of the innocence of their kids, and that their world is about to implode over something as intangible as degrees of happiness, I wonder about commitment. Consider a couple who stays together despite unhappiness because they want what’s best for the children. Is it better to stay and be unhappy but maintain your nuclear family or to leave and attempt to find happiness?
And how do I tell my son? This couple has two kids –a girl one year older than Kaden and a boy one year younger. They are the three musketeers, besties. He has been around them his whole life. Now with the pending divorce, they will move back to New York City and the nights of splashing in the tub and dance parties and bike riding are over. How do we navigate explaining to our kids that our friends just decided not to be married anymore, that one person still loves the other but the other doesn’t love her back? If this couple stays together, even if they do the work and the counseling to love one another again and recommit, will things ever be the same? When things fall apart in families can they ever really be pieced back together or will the cracks remain?
I already miss this family, the dinners and playtime and parenting together. They were the first couple to show us the “it takes a village” philosophy, where we would all divide and conquer and take care of each other’s kids like they were our own. We had so many good times together, and how quickly it all just goes away. I know Kaden will be okay, that he will miss his friends, but he will move on. I hope my friend can also move on, heal herself and learn to love and trust again. It will be a long road; betrayal is an ugly beast to slay, but she is strong and she knows she has to keep it together for her kids. That because he is their father she can’t hate him; they will be co-parenting and must remain civil. It is fair to say that we are all mourning their marriage and it will take time, lots of time, to make things whole again, cracks and all.
By: Stacey Ellis
I watched the young woman cry and say it was the worst decision of her life. She is a birth mother, who gave birth to a little girl and gave her up for adoption to her aunt and uncle. She was 16 at the time, 17 now, and was being featured on the 16&Pregnant Adoption Special on MTV. I was mesmerized.
Ten months ago this week we adopted our beautiful baby girl. Ten months. Where did the time go? She’s crawling, walking while holding our hands, smiling, giggling, clapping, and eating anything and everything she can get her little hands on. She’s happy and healthy and we think we are providing the best possible life for her with love, stability, and lots of kisses.
I think about her all day at work and look at her pictures all over my office and on my cell phone. I’ll talk about her to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask). But I don’t just think about her and her well being; my mind continues to drift to her birthmother. How often does she think about our daughter? Is she okay? She originally said she didn’t want any contact with us at all after giving her daughter to us but the state law requires us to send photos and a letter once every three months for the first year. We are nearing the last letter to be sent on her first birthday and a letter just doesn’t feel like enough. (I say final letter, but of course if she wants more letters in the years to come, we’re happy to send them.)
While watching the Adoption Special, I also saw another couple who gave half a charm to the birth mother and the adoptive mother kept the other half, to give to the baby girl they shared between them when she was old enough. That seemed nice. But is that too much? Will that “shove” in our birth mother’s face every day that I am raising her daughter? Or is she thinking about her every day anyway and this charm will give her something tangible to see when her mind drifts as well? I can’t imagine that she doesn’t think about our little girl every day. But what if she doesn’t?
One of the things that struck me on this Special was Dr. Drew kept saying to the one birth mother who was still grieving her loss, “When are you going to move on?” MOVE ON? Even I was offended and appalled. How can he possibly expect the birth mother to “move on”? I mean, she can accept the reality of the situation – that she is not raising her daughter – but “move on”? Can a birth mother really “move on”? I am not sure any birthmother ever moves on, but what if our birth mom has?
So, I scoured the internet for a gift. I found bracelets that have various sayings like, “Adoption is Love”. I particularly liked the one that said “In my heart”. Again, I don’t want to be presumptuous that our daughter is still in her heart. I found sterling silver heart necklaces which can be engraved, but is that too much? I found memory boxes which can be engraved. Then that made me think – our daughter has a biological brother – do I have both of their names engraved on a gift? I continued to look for the next hour.
Then I found it…a sterling silver charm on a chain that says, “Many Hearts One Beat”. I read the story behind the charm. The woman who created it met so many people along the way to adopting her son, people who all played a role in bringing her and her son together, she wanted a charm that would symbolize their journey. Wow. This was it. I feel like across the miles, this gift will touch her soul as it has touched mine.
I am not ready to “move on” and I am sure my heart beats the same as the birth mother’s who I believe has not “moved on” either. At least I hope she hasn’t, as I may just buy three charms, one for the birth mother, one for me and one for my daughter to wear when she is old enough. That way our daughter knows we are all here for the same purpose – to give her the best life possible.
By: Stacey Ellis
“She’s bleeding.” I heard the words and instantly jumped to my feet. “Where?” My husband was holding her as I scanned her face. Blood was pouring out of her mouth. Okay, it wasn’t pouring. It was trickling. Okay, it wasn’t trickling, it was smudged from the corner of her lip to her cheek. It felt like it was pouring. Our daughter is active. And I mean, ACTIVE. She’s just over 9 months old and about to walk on her own. I presume dancing, bouncing, and running will soon follow. I expected her first ‘accident’ to happen then. Not now.
We spent July 4th with friends at their block party. It was a beautiful day with tons of activities, from an egg toss to relay races to fingernail and toenail painting. Our daughter was having a blast watching everyone and everything. She rode in her first ever parade in a wagon next to all the kids on bikes. She held her pinwheel in one hand and occasionally tried to eat it. She tried her first snow cone. She took a nap in her stroller, right in the middle of the rock music and screaming kids. When it was time to change her, we went into our friends’ house. Business as usual. Then she wanted to roam around. She crawled around and pulled herself up on a glass table. There she was, doing her usual bouncy thing and then we heard a ‘conk.” Not a crash. Not a real bang. A conk. She started to cry and I scooped her up and comforted her. She seemed fine. My husband then took her and within seconds, he said, “She’s bleeding.” Her face was fine but she must have hit her chin and bit her lip or tongue or something inside her mouth. It was a nothing event, as she was smiling a second later. But it scared me out of my mind.
Ever since we had our daughter, I have been scared of losing her or my husband or all three of us. I think this fear is somewhat normal for most but exacerbated for me because of my background. I am a former TV news reporter who saw the worst of the worst. I regularly saw the random person die when the drunk driver hit him but the drunk driver survived. I watched two children be brought out of a house in body bags after a house fire in a home with no smoke detectors. I covered American Eagle 4184 which crashed into an Indiana field. I witnessed the F-5 tornado that ripped through Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999, killing dozens of people.
Before we adopted our daughter, when my husband used to leave town on business trips, I’d cry. I’d picture the worst happening. The plane going down. Me, alone in the house with our two dogs. His house. I don’t even know how to work the air conditioning or the heat. I’d literally obsess over the worst until he called and said he landed and was safe. Then I’d start to tear again when he was on his way home until I could hug him. Now, I am just as nervous, if not even more nervous, about my daughter.
I have covered the sex trafficking cases, the child abuse cases, the school shootings. How do I keep her safe? How do I prevent another “Elizabeth Smart” and teach her that if she’s every abducted, don’t believe that we are dead or the abductor will kill us if she tells while at the same time not scare her about the bad men out there? How do I teach her about protecting her private parts, without making her uncomfortable about sex. How do I make her feel good about her body no matter what shape it is when every day, every magazine and talk show talks about who lost weight, who is fit, and who looks great or horrible in a bikini? I think about how to pepper in positive messages in our natural conversations, just like I use the word adoption daily, “We are so lucky we were able to adopt you” and “We are so happy you are happy we adopted you.”
I know there isn’t a right answer on how to keep her safe so I will do the best I can. At the same time, I don’t think it’s weird that I sometimes tear up when my husband takes her for daddy daughter breakfast without me, because I fear a car accident. Notice, I said “sometimes”…I’m already getting better.
By: Meika Rouda
When my son was two and a half, it seemed like a good idea to get a fulltime job. He was old enough, we needed the cash to pay for our new house, and well, I was a little bored from staying home. I wanted to feel important, like I was contributing to something bigger than just me and my family. So I took a job, a job I was promised would have flexible hours and be good for a mom like me. “There are several moms who work here,” the HR woman assured me, “we are very family friendly.” So I asked for an absurd salary to make it worth it for me and took the gig.
The first few weeks were a little hectic. I had to get my son fed, dressed, and relatively presentable for preschool and then get myself ready, feed the dog, deal with the bills and other household needs and then drive 15 minutes out of my way to drop him off at school, then drive 40 minutes to work where I would spill coffee on myself while listening to NPR’s FRESH AIR and fight for a good parking spot. My job was to diplomatically bridge the divide between pushy account managers and oversensitive creatives. I was a project manager, a semi-empowering name for basically a menial job. I spent my day putting out fires, finagling resources for projects, and avoiding the wrath of the account team who always had bad news from the client. “I told the client we couldn’t make changes but they absolutely need to change the entire homepage.” No apology, just a “you work it out” look on their faces.
I wasn’t out saving the world or adding to the greater good, instead I was working for an advertising agency on a major pharmaceutical account. I had twelve projects to manage, nine of which were in production concurrently. It was a full plate, a plate that didn’t allow for flexible hours or a family-friendly environment. It wasn’t what I expected. I tried bonding with some of the other working moms, who somehow had their hair perfectly coiffed and outfits coordinated. Most of them even found time in the morning to put on makeup before work. How do they do it? They seem so together, so on top it, while I am barely treading water.
Things at home started to unravel. My son stopped having baths everyday, didn’t always brush his teeth, and I totally gave up brushing his hair. “Kaden you have to brush your hair, it is a mess,” I would say and he would scream at the top of his lungs “No!” and stomp his foot while crossing his arms against his chest, a pose of complete defiance. He would look at me, waiting for me to insist or make some fun game out of brushing one’s hair but instead I would just say “OK” and put the brush down. I couldn’t handle the resistance, didn’t have the energy to coax him into a task. That wasn’t even close to the worst of it. I admit to having dropped him off to daycare with a wet diaper, had him eat pancakes for dinner, and regularly resorted to the TV as a babysitter for him when I needed to get things done. I yelled at him when he didn’t really deserve it and let him eat too much sugar before bed. Some nights I was too tired to read to him. Does this make me a bad mom? Other people seem to manage this just fine. Maybe it is just me.
After a month of 10-hour days I went to see my boss to find out if all of this was a ruse.
“I am working more hours than I expected, my work load is too much for me and I don’t think I can juggle everything.” It was unusual for me to admit that something was too much for me; usually I take on a challenge and work extra hard, go the extra mile to get everything done, but with a family, my priorities were different and I didn’t expect this much stress from this job. I wanted an easy job. The type that I could leave at the office at 5pm and not worry about until the next day. Not the job that kept me up at night writing emails or worrying a deadline was going to pass unfulfilled.
My boss sat in her beige office, she was a doctor which somehow meant she knew something about advertising but I never quite figured out what it was she knew. She tried to console me with “You will get the hang of it. That is the way it is here, a fast-paced environment. Besides, everyone likes you!”
Everyone likes you. That was her response to me saying I had too much work and couldn’t get everything done. To me complaining that I wasn’t getting any time with my son. That when I got home he was either asleep or cranky and unpleasant or worse, I was cranky and unpleasant and not able to give him the personal time he deserved.
A week later I told her that I had only picked up my son from school once since I started work, even though it was agreed when I took the job that I could leave by 5 to pick him up from school.
“Just leave then if you have to. You can work from home.” She seemed pleased with her solution, as if taking work home was viable with a toddler. She clearly didn’t have kids.
So I did. I left at 5pm when most of my coworkers left at 6pm. I started missing meetings, running out when people were waiting to talk to me, leaving before I sent the client the final comps. Now I was a better mom but I wasn’t a good worker. Where is this working mom line and how do I find it? Can you truly balance work and motherhood?
After four months and lots of talking with my husband, I quit my job. It just wasn’t worth it for our family even though the income was great. My husband had his own business that was very stressful with long hours. We didn’t need another parent with a challenging job. I still admire the women out there who are able to balance work with family seamlessly. I think they are pretty heroic. Now I work freelance on projects that allow me true flexibility, and while the income isn’t great, the time I get with my son and daughter is priceless.
By: Stacey Ellis
Toys. Games. Strollers. Bouncies. They are EVERYWHERE. I always thought our house would be great for kids. It’s a ranch. It has a huge great room on the back which is a kitchen and main room that people salivate over when they visit. It has another living room which we have turned into a sort of playroom (baby gates are also doggie-keep-out gates). And the house is two bedrooms. But we are out of room.
Before we adopted our daughter, we had to move all of our gym equipment to the garage to make a baby room. So, we finished the garage, added some storage over the ceiling, and found ways to hang surf boards, bikes, and anything else we could on the wall. Well, the storage above the garage is sofull, it’s causing slight cracks in the ceiling plaster. Not kidding. And now, our kick-butt gym is more storage than gym. There are bags of baby clothes, swings, bouncies, etc. EVERYWHERE! So, we had to join the YMCA to work out (that is if we ever actually do work out).
We would get rid of the baby clothes, but what if our second child is a girl? We just can’t, even though we may try for a boy. We figure you never know, so we have to keep everything. That includes everything else too,such as the infant bathseat, baby toys our baby has long outgrown, and soothing swings she now climbs on to stand up.
I look back at my childhood. I grew up in a much smaller house than the house that I live in now. My parents still live there. My sister and I each had our own rooms, our own sinks in the bathroom, and we had one den to watch television in with my parents. Of course we don’t remember the real young years, but I do remember some toys laying around the house. I thought if they could do it, why can’t we? Well, we can’t and I have no idea why.
So, we started trying to figure out how to add on to our house. There are very limited options when it comes to building and even if we did, we don’t think we can add on enough room for storage. So that leaves us with moving. Has anyone taken a look at the housing market lately? We’re not wealthy so we’d have to sell our home first before we ever consider buying. Yet, we started “looking” – first where the school districts are best. We roamed around Culver City, California, just south of Los Angeles. There are no homes in the nice areas for sale. We roamed around our own neighborhood for a bigger home with more space. Nothing. And we roamed around Sherman Oaks and found nothing. It’s hard to find a home these days!
And I must say, it’s not easy to house hunt with a baby. She really has no interest in square footage, the number of bathrooms, and whether or not the master bedroom has a walk-in closet. But she does want to walk! She wants to check out every inch of the house, while holding our hands. And what was most fun was when we changed her, then she pooped and we realized we ran out of diapers – so we had to change her BACK into the wet diaper because that was the lesser of two evils.
It just occurred to me – a storage unit may be in order.