By Meika Rouda
I heard a story on the radio the other day that made me cry. It was on StoryCorps, an amazing program of personal stories, recorded and archived through the Library of Congress. It is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind and is open to the general public for free. This particular story was a father being interviewed by his ten-year-old daughter. She was asking him about what made him decide to adopt a child.
“I want to tell you something. You have absolutely changed my life. The most interesting thing for me was the idea of the Red Thread. In Chinese adoptions and in the Chinese culture the Red Thread means that we are, with our souls, connected to a specific person. And we got you. And I am so pleased that you’re part of my life. I just love you so much.”
I had never heard about the red thread before. It is such a simple idea that I know every adopted parent would agree with. We are bound in a predetermined sense with our children, adopted or not. When you adopt a child, it does feel like a soul connection. A connection so strong and so much larger than yourself, it feels destined. It also truly simplifies the complex reasons for adoption, that sometimes people can’t get pregnant while other people may not be able to parent at a certain time in their lives. Adoption is complex, but when I am explaining to my five-year-old why he was adopted, I think the red thread is a beautiful metaphor for the invisible link we feel with our children. While I don’t want to oversimplify it, I know there is plenty of time in the future to discuss the details and feelings of his adoption. For now, while he is five, there is the red thread.
By Meika Rouda
Lately I have been posed with the Do I mention my kids were adopted or not? quandry. I was at the dentist the other day and my hygienist who I have been seeing for the past few years was looking a little round in the belly. She is a little younger than me, smiley, always cheerful and I wanted to ask “are you pregnant?” but knew better. Maybe she had a huge lunch? Isn’t that what the celebs complain about when Star magazine says they are pregnant but really they just had a bowl of pasta and are bloated? Anyway, while my mouth was hanging open, I noticed the engagement ring on her finger and managed to say “You are engaged; congrats!” She smiled and said “and I’m having a baby in May.” She rubbed her belly. “I noticed you were a little rounder but didn’t want to say anything just in case.” She laughed. “I have had the strangest cravings! Licorice, something I don’t even like usually, I just can’t get enough. It is so strange. I feel like my body has been invaded.” She is talking to me while poking at my gums. I can’t say anything because I have a suction tube in my mouth so she continues. “And apples, this baby, oh he is a boy, he just loves apples. How were your pregnancies? Did you have any strange cravings?” This is when I have to think, do I just say “my pregnancies were easy”? (which they were since I never was pregnant). It is a half-ish truth but evades the issues. Or do I just say “I never was pregnant, we adopted both of our kids.” As is my tendency, I went with the latter. She looked at me and said “Oh- I forgot, you told me that before. So you did have easy pregnancies then!” And then inevitably the conversation switched from pregnancy to adoption. How long it took. How she knows a friend who has been waiting forever for a baby. How she knows someone who adopted form China. I wish we could just talk about pregnancy and not worry about that fact that I didn’t give birth. It isn’t a delicate subject to me but I can’t really explain that to my hygienist.
Later that same day I was at school picking up my son who I have mentioned before is tiny. As he was playing with another boy from his class on the playground, the boy’s mom said to me “he is so strong for being so small.” Kaden has mastered the monkey bars even though he is the size of a 3-year-old. It is amazing to watch him. “Yes, he is.” She turned to me and said “Well, you and Chris are tall so he will have had a growth spurt. At least you don’t have to worry.” Then of course I just had to pipe in and say “Actually, he may be small. Both of our kids were adopted and his birth mom was only 4’11″. ” She looks at me wide eyed and I realize she is shocked. It just never occurred to her that he was adopted and why should it? I didn’t mean to be so forthcoming; it is just the truth and I know my son will be in school with these kids for the next eight years so why not be straight up? Plus if I am coy about adoption that makes me feel like there is something to be ashamed of and I don’t feel that way. I feel like it is something to share and celebrate. So I am going to tell. Even if it makes people uncomfortable, that is their issue not mine.
By: Brandy Black
This weekend I did the thing I’ve always feared I would. I may have created that 4-year-old memory that my oldest daughter will remind me of for years to come. Nope, she won’t remember the Nutcracker or sitting around the living room singing Christmas carols, or picnics in her bedroom. She’ll say, “Remember that time Mama, when we showed up 3 hours late to my friend’s birthday party, remember how everyone was leaving as we were arriving, remember how heartbroken I was? Remember how you stole my moment by crying even harder than I was so much so that I stopped to console you?” She won’t remember the part about her first soccer medal that day and dessert before lunch and fun times at Kidspace or the little white bag of treats I put together for her so that she could feel like she got the goodie bag from the party that I botched! Nope, she’ll simply remember that horrifying moment when one of her friends was shouting “Everyone’s leaving, the party’s over.” And I will remember her tiny hand in mine squeezing tightly and the utterly sad look on her face.
I have tried to avoid these moments as a mom; I swear I attempt to elude them so much these days that I’m terrified to volunteer to be snack mom or anything else for fear that I’ll fuck it up like I did Shabbat the other day when I stood around with the other moms wondering who in the world would forget their child was Shabbat girl until suddenly it hit me, it was ME! Thankfully Sophia missed that part, had no idea what a true failure I am and the teachers protected me from the wrath of the children by getting another class to share with us –but how horrible am I? I handled that well; I realized people mess up, we’ve got a lot going on in our life but this time, this party, it just broke me. I’m becoming overwhelmed and it’s all I can do to get through the day. When I think back to this past year, I hardly remember any of it. Sometimes I don’t know how I got my children from point A to point B, I just do it, I wake up and do what my iphone and my wife and our au pair tell me to. I convince people that I’m in charge and I know what’s what and I’ve got this three kid thing licked but the truth is I’m a mess. I fear people are judging me, well let’s face it, I’m sure they are but mostly I fear my children are going to hate me for all my mistakes. I want to be perfect for them, to show them what a good mom I am but I realized at the end of the night when I was tucking my daughter in and apologizing one last time, that my imperfections will one day help her get through hers and when she’s sad because something has gone wrong, I will remind her of my bad days and failures and this I hope will help her through her day.
Or maybe this is what I tell myself in order to get through my own.
By Meika Rouda
Last Friday I did something I never thought I would do. I signed up for a parenting class. It isn’t that I am against advice; I have a whole library of parenting books including “How To Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk,” “Parenting the Difficult Child,” and “The Wonder of Boys.” Still, no matter how much I read, no matter the arsenal of tools at my disposal, I still get frustrated, exhausted, and impatient. The newest cause for alarm is that my almost two-year-old daughter is talking, in full sentences. This has drastically altered my son’s world because before, when they would play together in their room while I was doing dishes or cleaning up or doing other mundane household chores, if I heard Asha crying I would only have his story to depend on for what happened. “Kaden, what happened?” He looks at me, big eyes, innocent stare “She fell down!” Then I would pick up the crying baby and console her, wondering how she “fell down” when they were playing on the floor and take her into the kitchen with me. Now, when they are playing and I hear crying I go in and I have Kaden’s version “She hit herself on the head!” and her version “Kaden hit me!” It is clear who is telling the more accurate account. I am troubled by him not telling the truth which I think all kids do when they have done something wrong and don’t want to fess up to it. When I get to the bottom of the dispute it usually has to do with the same theme, she got in his way while he was playing cars or she took the car he was playing with so he had to pry it out of her iron grip. I feel like a broken record reminding him “use your words” instead of force. She is stubborn and strong, traits probably mastered by having a big brother and needing to defend her space, but I would like to feel like they can play together, which they do often and happily, and not worry that it will always result in crying. So the workshop I signed up for is “Siblings Without Rivalry.” This is my hope for the workshop, that I will have special voodoo powers that make my children stop fighting with just one look or that they listen to me, the first time, when I ask them to stop fighting and yelling at each other. Or when my daughter sits on my lap, gives me a hug and declares “My mommy!” My son won’t run over, yank her off my lap by the neck and then sit on my lap yelling “My mommy!” Then they both start pulling at my arms screaming at each other “My mommy!” “No! My mommy!” My hope is that after this workshop they will both share my lap and hug me taking turns and say “Our mommy!”
Is it possible? I’ll let you know after my class tonight- stay tuned!
By: Meika Rouda
I was stunned. It actually stung me to the core. I had never heard him say the word “hate” before. Lately he has been telling me “you are mean” when he doesn’t get his way, something we are working on but truthfully in his mind, I am being mean when he wants a second ice cream and doesn’t get it. But hate is a new level. Does he know what hate is? Has someone said this to him? Where do I begin to address this? And since we try to follow a philosophy of talking about feelings, expressing how one feels, how do I incorporate hate into his vocabulary in a positive way?
Since I was being reactionary I first told him hate is a strong word. That we don’t use that word for people and that it hurts my feelings when he says that. I then tried to explain what hate is. Hate is a a word for things that you strongly dislike. It is an angry word, often said when one doesn’t really mean it. But then I felt like I was arming him with a word he will want to use, he now knows it has a strong meaning, that it does hurt me. Then I told him that I love him no matter what, even if he thinks he hates me.
Later in the kitchen after our son finally went to bed, my husband told me how surprised he was to hear the word hate come from our son. “I never in my life said I hated my parents.” My husband comes from, ironically, a strict yet hippie background where feelings were not expressed and yet children were treated like adults from Day One. He was raised in a mutually respectful home where the word hate was outlawed. I, on the other hand, have yelled at my parents countless times as a child and have even said I hated them when I was an unruly teenager, seeking love and attention. I don’t think my 4-year-old has any idea of what the word hate means. I know this is just the first of other incidents where he will be upset with me and express himself in hurtful ways. And I want him to express himself, it is vital that he tells me how he feels, that he puts a name to his feeling but I have to remind him that when he thinks he hates me, he is actually just frustrated that he isn’t getting another book. Or when I am mean because I am not buying him a toy, he is actually feeling sad or mad or a host of emotions that are difficult to navigate at his young age. And I have to remind myself not to take it personally even when it hurts.
By Meika Rouda
I have been struck by the duality of age recently. On the one side, I am watching my kids get older, and with each day there is something new: an inch to grow, a new word to learn, a bike to ride. On the other side I see my parents aging: saggy skin, muscles that don’t work they way they used to, dying friends. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum, one side ascending and the other descending. Yet they both greet each new day with delight, happy to be here, to be alive.
My parents are 78 and in wonderful shape physically and mentally, but time has chiseled its imprint on their bodies and they are slower, less energetic. They have ailments like chronic coughing and digestive problems. Nothing major but things that remind them they are approaching a later stage in life, where they have outlived many of their friends and other family members. I am grateful my parents are alive and they are not sick or struggling, that I get to see them often, that my children spend time with them and have gotten to know them. And yet it makes me sad to see them change, to know that maybe in the best case scenario there is only a good decade left before they leave us. To wonder what it will be like to not have parents anymore or worse perhaps, to lose the parent I know while they are still living. I am fearful of them having dementia and being captive in bodies that still work but minds that don’t.
I’m not ready for my parents to die. I have never known life without them. They are the people I call with good news and bad. The ones who I have leaned on many times in my life and have always comforted me, reassured me, supported me when I have needed it.
And now I am a parent and filling this role for my children. My children who too are aging and it is a joyful aging process, from babies to toddlers to kids.
I am in the middle, middle age, neither young nor old, bridging these two generations watching one decline and the other rise.
My dad has a saying that helps me keep it all in perspective. If you ask someone if they would like to live forever, most people would say yes. If you ask that same person if would they like to live forever but no new babies would be born, they all say no. If no new generations were to grace the earth in order for them to continue living, it would not be worth it. And that is what I see when I look at my children next to my parents. A full circle, a full life, another day to celebrate.
By Meika Rouda
My son has a lot of energy. I know most 4-year-old boys have a lot of energy, everyone out there with one is going “oh, you should see MY son.” But my son has more than the average 4-year-old. He is loud, without even realizing how loud he is. And he talks or sings or chats constantly, a continuous stream of sound. Sometimes I feel like I am going mad and I realize it is because I live with noise pollution. It isn’t horrible, I love hearing his songs, how he makes up lyrics or asks insightful questions. He is exuberant, expressive, and lives life to the fullest…volume. He has no filter yet, no self consciousness to halt his feelings, he goes from happy to sad in an instant, celebrates the smallest things like getting hand me down shoes that have laces – laces! What a concept. He can have a full school day, ride his bike for an hour after school, and then go swimming for an hour and still NOT BE TIRED. He is also able to calm himself, playing legos quietly by himself in his room or looking at books but that is not his natural state and never lasts long. His natural state is excitable, high, and full of life.
And sometimes what we love the most about someone is also what drives us crazy. My husband and I struggle with managing this whirling dervish of a roommate, who runs through the house never walking, who has no volume control and has no autopilot switch. Many times we use a hand motion to remind him to lower his voice, I turn an imaginary knob and he will quiet down, from volume 10 to volume 7. He is like a race car always revving. And there are times when managing this bundle of energy, his natural mass of combustable excitement is too hard. I don’t want to squash his spirit, be the parent always yelling at him to be quiet. I love his enthusiasm even when it drives me crazy. But silence is nice too and knowing when to be loud and when to be quiet is actually a learned quality, not innate for everyone. So I try to help realize when to be more quiet, that telling me a story at the dinner table, at volume 9.5 isn’t necessary, I can hear it at volume 5 or even 4. That you don’t have to scream when you sing. That sometimes being quiet offers you a the ability to hear wonderful sounds like birds and crickets. But that isn’t my son, and when he is quiet, it actually makes me a little nervous. I always ask him “are you feeling OK” instead of enjoying the quiet. And ironically, the quiet is only nice for a little while before I start missing the noise.
By: John Jericiau
The results of the three-hour glucose test for gestational diabetes came back within three hours: negative! We’re still forging on with proper eating habits, however, but it’s nice not to have the threat of a return to injections (of insulin) after enduring such a long stretch of hormonal injections. Now our friend/surrogate is constantly reading the labels of everything from TUMS to gum, checking levels of caffeine, sugar, vitamins, and minerals. How lucky we are to have a friend like her! As we all walked down Main Street for our weekly trek to our favorite breakfast joint this morning, I couldn’t help but smile as I watched her walk hand in hand with the boys. They are fortunate to have her in their life, but she is equally as fortunate to have them in hers.
Not that things aren’t sometimes a bit confusing for the boys. We just had the 11-week ultrasound to check on the condition of our fig-sized baby. It was thrilling to see our fully formed baby move around the womb when egged on by the IVF doctor as he poked around. The boys were right there in the exam room watching with wide-open mouths, demanding to know right then and there “Whose baby is that?” Dylan was so curious as to how the ultrasound probe was actually working that he tried several times to nonchalantly peek under our friend’s vanity gown.
“It’s your brother or sister”, I explained, “and it’s in her belly now because she is helping Papa and me grow it. When it’s all grown the doctors will take it out and then he or she will come live with us and be a part of our family.”
In the minivan on the way home from the exam we were bombarded with questions like a fast-paced tennis match. During the volley we tried to come up with an age-appropriate response to each question.
“Whose tummy did I come out of?”
“When will the baby be ready?”
“How does the baby breathe?”
“Can I help take care of her?”
“Are you sure there’s only one baby in there?”
“Does it hurt when she kicks?”
“What color will it be?”
The doctor gave us a DVD of the entire exam, and the boys have added it to their movie queue right next to Madagascar and Dora & Diego’s Winter Adventure. When we see our friend after a separation, the first question from the boys to her is “How’s the baby?” You can tell that they still think of it as our friend’s baby, and that probably won’t change until the baby is born around mid November, but that’s okay. It’s almost the same for Alen and me. Even though the finalization process (whereby our parental rights will be established) occurs next month, it won’t really sink in until we are holding Baby #3 in the delivery room. Although surrogacy doesn’t hold nearly the same uncertainty that adoption did for us, there’s still a certain degree of separation right now, especially since there are a few layers of dermis and a uterus between our future offspring and us.
Our friend really helps us out with babysitting duties as well. In fact, we’ve never had to hire a babysitter. Without fail, every Saturday for the last 3 ½ years we’ve been able to enjoy a date night thanks to her. She comes over Saturday afternoon and we leave in the early evening for dinner and a movie. The boys get excited for their own “movie night” with our friend. Our friend will spend the night in the guest room after the boys fall asleep around 8 pm, so there’s no rush to get home. I wait patiently for the text message from her “The angels are asleep” and then I can truly relax.
But our friend is her own person, complete with her own style of discipline and behavior, which at times is a little different from ours. For example, we prefer to handle things with purposefully steady, soft voices – our friend might not even consider the volume of her voice. We try to explain our discipline style directly to the kids while she is present so that everyone is on the same page, such as “Dylan, do you see that when your behavior got us angry we did not yell at you? Daddy and Papa prefer to explain things to you and Devin in a soft voice because we really want you to use a soft voice when you tell us things as well, understand?” Then we will proceed to tell them that even our friend will try not to yell at them, because yelling is not okay. She picks up on our message pretty well, but in the future we may even want to do something completely unorthodox like, oh I don’t know, talk to her directly about it like real adults! Baby steps, I guess.
It’s no secret that our situation is extremely unique, but I’ve always maintained that the more love that is shown to the boys as they grow up, the happier they will be. And love is something that our friend has plenty of!
By: Ted Peterson
In more ways than I can count, becoming a father has improved me as a person. I’m laughing all the time. I am reminded to look at the small miracles, like rainbows in the lawn sprinklers, which fascinate my son. I get regular and real cuddles and kisses. My partner and I have discovered new depths to our relationship. And yet, occasionally, there’s evidence of the less attractive signs of parenthood.
I think I’m avoiding so far the worst one, being the helicopter parent who frets over development milestones, skinned knees, and every minutiae of every danger that could face Mikey. I am guilty, however, of the cousin of that psychosis, where all my adult conversations – even with people who don’t even have any interest in having kids – turn back to stories about my adorable boy. And, worse, I am in danger of becoming a stage dad.
Everyone thinks that their kid is the cutest, most talented, most brilliant, and funniest creature yet spawned. Those of us who live in the vicinity of Hollywood have to live with the temptation that this wonderfulness needs to be and easily can be shared with the world. In Dayton, Ohio or Billings, Montana, parents love to hear from friends, family, and kind strangers, “Your kid is amazing. He could be a star.”
Only here do we then think, “Oh, yes, let’s do that.”
When our favorite boys’ clothing designer, Fore!! Axel and Hudson announced an open casting call on Facebook, we submitted a couple photos of Mikey on a lark. They replied back immediately that they wanted him for the photo shoot.
It went pretty well after he understood about standing on a mark and why Daddy and Papa couldn’t be in the picture with him. The biggest direction he had ever been given when taking a photo was to say, “Cheese.” A couple of the shots they took will probably be in their Fall “Look Book,” so evidently they got what they were looking for.
Some friends with contacts at model agencies have taken some of the pictures we’ve given them, and we might be getting some representation soon for more work.
Immediately, of course, one’s mind goes to all the True Hollywood Stories of child stars with unhappy lives – Corey Haim, Dana Plato, Brad Renfro, Mackenzie Phillips, Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, the list is long. Worrying about the dangers of superstardom, though, is like fretting about a lightning strike. It’s a million percent likely not to occur, so there’s no reason not to get out and have fun.
If doing the photo shoot was serendipitous, and sending photos to agents is simply logical, it’s hard to come up with a good reason for the most recent, goofiest of projects. Perhaps you’ve seen the commercials yourself: Tyson’s Chicken Nuggets want you to submit a picture of your kid eating their product. The winner gets, not money, but fleeting fame, with his or her mug in ads in various magazines and a billboard in Times Square.
It’s a blatant attempt to sell product to vain parents. I was unable to resist.
In addition to being absolutely adorable, as I’ve mentioned, Mikey is funny as hell, so as creative photographer, I thought I’d get him to sing some songs, mug for the camera, and generally try to be as silly as possible. In that I succeeded, and we had a great time. The actual pictures, however, just look like I’m documenting some kind of tragic, involuntary seizure.
Check it out:
We picked the least weird one and submitted it. Near as I can tell from Tyson’s “Wall of Smiles,” every single daft parent of every single halfway presentable child in America submitted one. It’s worth a visit just to see multiple spellings of Addison, Chase, and Jayden. Oh, and if you want to see Mikey’s picture and vote for it, I suppose I shouldn’t stand in your way.
Now, excuse me while I practice my rendition of Rose’s Turn from “Gypsy” in the mirror …
By Meika Rouda
I had something shocking happen yesterday. Asha and I were in music class, happily singing “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care” in a circle with the other moms and toddlers. Asha usually meanders during class, dancing around in the center of the circle, walking over to sit on other moms’ laps, or to hug other children. During the middle of the song, just as we were getting into the crescendo chorus, Asha walks over to a little boy, younger than she, and gives him a big hug. I felt a surge of joy in my heart watching her love this little boy. Her hug kept going and she started to squeeze tighter. The little boy was no longer enjoying the hug. Our song continued “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t Care…” and by now Asha had wrestled the boy to the ground and he is lying on top of her. She would not let go of him. He was crying now but her hug continued; she was unphased by his discomfort. His mom and I jumped up, attempting to release Asha’s iron grip and just as I was prying her arms off him, she turns her face to his cheek and bites him. Yes BITES HIM. The boy started to cry. His cheek was bleeding. I was in shock. “Did she just bite him?” I ask the other mom, as the song continues in the background, “Yes” she says matter of factly.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Asha is crying, livid that I have released the boy from her grip. I take her out of the class and into the lobby. The other mom is in the bathroom cleaning the boy’s wound. I tell Asha, NO BITING. She stares at me blankly. She is 16 months old and expressing emotion in any way is a top priority, even if it means biting. I calm her down and check on the little boy. The mom is nice and reassuring “These things happen, I know she was just trying to love him.” I sort of felt better but I was also embarrassed and I had to go back into the class with my daughter, the biter, and finish singing. Yikes.
The other mom returned to the room before me, with kleenex attached to her son’s cheek to stop the bleeding. After a few more minutes I return with Asha. I sit down, away from the little boy, and resume my singing, trying to contain Asha and keep her on my lap. She will not sit still; she needs to wander. She headed right back to the little boy. The mom picks him up to protect him from the biter -aka my child. Asha walks over to another little girl and the mom delicately picks up her daughter. “Shit”, I think to myself. Her reputation is ruined, no one wants their kid near the biter. I continue to sing and act as normal as possible. Whenever Asha wanders off I follow her and pick her up. I spend the rest of class monitoring her every move. After class I apologize again to the mom and boy. She is understanding but I also know she will never let her kid be near mine again. My only comfort is that the class ends in two weeks and I don’t think I will be signing up again. I see the teacher and apologize for the interruption. She assures me biting is a normal process of development and happens all the time. She reminds me that toddlers just don’t know what to do with all the emotions they feel. She also says Asha is a very smart girl and very loving and I shouldn’t worry at all. The bite was not malicious, it was just an emotional surge. I feel slightly better.
Our biggest job as parents is to protect our kids so how do we do that when you feel like they are being maligned? What makes it worse is that Asha can’t talk, she can’t tell me what she is feeling, she can’t directly apologize or acknowledge that what she did was wrong. I hope her biting isn’t a habit, it is hard to watch your amazing child physically hurt someone. But it wasn’t on purpose and I know in her heart she wants to express her love, she just needs more tools for that. I am not sure what music class will be like next week but I am not going to worry about what the other moms think. If they don’t want Asha near their kid that is fine, I can’t say I blame them but I also think as a group we can do a better job of helping one another teach our kids and act like a village instead of alienating a toddler for acting like a toddler.