Due to Extenuating Circumstances

Adventures in Unplanned Parenthood

Archive for the tag “#boy”

The Color of Love

When Mac and I started this adventure we knew that there were things we needed to have a very long, serious, introspective conversation about. Adoption forms ask you explicit questions about your potential matches for kids. Many of my friends assured me that there is a roll of the dice with biological children, and of course they are right. We are fortunate to have friends who have shown us families can grow stronger embracing children born with unexpected challenges. In the last few years we have welcomed children with eating challenges, intellectual disabilities, epilepsy, diabetes, heart defects. In a flash those terms are replaced with names. They are Paul, or Sabrina, or Elise. They’re loved little humans, not squares you check on a form.

However, bio parents roll the dice with a certain set of givens already in place. Adoption forms ask probing, intrusive questions that you MUST answer honestly. Agencies want to know what you think of “conception circumstances.” I am going to sit here, in my living room, and decide if I could raise a baby that was the product of what one depraved criminal did to a survivor who is somehow carrying her rapist’s baby to term. The questions only get harder from there. Disability? Degree of disability? Will you risk adopting children of unknown paternity? If you gamble, and he shows up, the baby may be taken from you. In the end though, the most complex set of questions were about race.

I know several adoptive families that had difficult discussions about race. In the end, most found they couldn’t see raising a child that looked different from themselves. One of the moms explained to me that she was concerned that when she touched the hair of a black child it wouldn’t feel right. It may be easy to dismiss that as not being open minded. But if, like me, you’re white, I want you to go on this journey with me. See what these questions are. Walk yourself in our shoes.

First of all, ask yourself, really ask yourself, would you feel comfortable knowing every single person that sees your family wonders if your child is adopted? Would you be comfortable with strangers coming and asking (and boy, do they) “where did you get your child?” The correct answer, by the way, is “Iowa!” People never have the guts to ask if we’re joking. It’s pretty great.

Take the question one step farther: could you learn how to braid tightly curled or coiled hair? Could you deal with lactose intolerance, sickle cell anemia and other medical issues found more commonly in the non-white population? Would you feel embarrassed or offended if a teacher assumes you aren’t a mom and bypasses you to go straight to the Chinese family that looks like they must be your daughter’s parents? Do you think about terms like your child being a coconut? An Oreo? A banana? If you don’t even know what I mean here, then you have a serious ways to catch up. These are derogatory terms, usually aimed at kids, to say that the color they are on the outside isn’t who they really are. My son isn’t really Mexican; he’s a coconut. Brown on the outside, white on the inside. A black person may be an Oreo, an Asian person a banana. And we have yet to touch on the special hell reserved for people who are multiracial. It should be so cool: twice the membership, twice the acceptance. It almost never seems to work out that way. These kids may be seen as not enough of one, or too much of the other.

Our neighbors, let’s call them Seal and Heidi, witnessed this. Heidi, as a white woman, never knew the extent of racism in American today until she saw how her black husband and biracial child can be treated. She told me (and I will never forget this) that she realized she was a different person when someone called her beautiful daughter a nigger and Heidi’s first thought was “I’m going to that person’s house. I’m going there to kill them. This is the day I go to jail.” Incidentally, I didn’t do “the N word” or n—– because they didn’t call her daughter “the N word.” They called her daughter a nigger. I refuse to minimize what was said. It didn’t get sugarcoated for her, and now it shouldn’t be sugarcoated for the people who need to think about what it would mean for this to happen to your daughter. Remember, you’re walking in our shoes right now.

Mac and I looked inside ourselves. We thought about color, ethnicity, belonging, our comfort, the child’s comfort, our families, our friends. We were fairly lucky. A few people disappointed us by focusing on many negatives (a black child would have a higher chance of being born an addict was something we heard several places). We educated others on the fact that medical condition is separated from skin color. We could agree to have a black child and still decide we could not accept a child born on drugs. As it turned out, we did say we were willing to look at a variety of medical complications on a step by step basis if our insurance covered it. But we don’t have great coverage. The hard truth was, we couldn’t afford to take home a very ill child no matter what. It felt heartless and horrible to imagine somewhere out there a beautiful child I may love forever wouldn’t be mine because I said “no” to a certain condition. In all honestly, I was a mess thinking about how much I’d be willing to hurt myself if it meant getting a child. Thank god it was my therapist who sorted me out. She pointed out that as someone with minor mobility issues myself (I have a chronic pain condition and sometimes walk with a cane) I may not be able to adopt a child with a disability if it would make my own health worse trying to care for the child. I didn’t want to feel selfish, or close-minded. What if I missed out on the one meant for me? She asked, very gently, “what if that child misses out on a strong, healthy mom that can’t WAIT to teach a kid how to recover after each surgery and get bigger and stronger? What if they have the money, the means, even other kids to help? Don’t those families go looking for their own “right kid for us?”

But the one, deep-deep-DEEP down fear I had was simple. I am a white woman born in Nebraska. In NYC I got made fun of for being the only white woman in my security division at [STORE REDACTED BUT THEY ARE VERY FAMOUS AND HUGE AND I CAUGHT VERY CREEPY SHOPLIFTERS.] What the hell would I know about raising a Latino or black boy in America? Any other race, or a girl, I felt I could do it. But raising a brown or black man in America? An America where black men have The Talk with black boys about the things you do to survive in a culture where you are constantly a minority, even if you are in the majority. The America where Arizona would require my son to have his birth certificate on him all the time because he looks illegal. What do I do when he asks me about clothes he wants to wear like the other kids and I admit that to me it looks too foreign? How could I tell my son I’m afraid people will assume he’s in a gang? Would he talk one way around me and then become someone I couldn’t even understand as a teenager with his friends? His black or Mexican friends? Would I finally be forced to accept that there is a whole side to race in America that I haven’t thought about because I have never had to? Questions my biological children would never have known. My white nephew Dude plays with toy guns 26 hours a day. What’s the line where a black boy can play with fake guns and it’s cute then it spills over into scary? Would I let a black son become an expert in stage combat like his adoptive father? Sounds great. Until I wonder how it looks if there’s a black guy running around with a training pistol. Here in our relatively small Midwestern enclave these things are probably no big deal. If we move I don’t know how big of a deal they are. Who gives him The Talk? What other Talks exist out there for non-white Americans I don’t know about because I never had to know?

It took days before I decided to answer the most important question: would I love him? Yes, I would. Would I be willing to go outside my comfort zone to learn about a culture where I am an outsider? Yes, if it meant my son felt less on the outside.

I have lots to learn and many fears to face and I need help. I have to talk to people that will help me understand my son’s reality as an American will be different than mine. Most crucially though, I know for sure I can do it. After an extensive soul search I know from the bottom of my soul:

The first time I hear someone call my beautiful son a wetback…that will be the day I’m going to jail.

The Garage Sale and My Coke Habit

**a short break from our regular blogging duties to enjoy a piece I submitted to a site a few weeks ago. They didn’t want it but asked to see more of my writing. To celebrate this small victory I am leaving the original submission here. Enjoy and share.**

I made the mistake of having a baby and a garage sale at the same time. To clarify, I didn’t go into labor on a card table in the driveway, although that would have been one way to upstage the lemonade stand across the street. No, I was merely in simultaneous possession of a baby and a garage sale, just not my faculties. If I had been, I would have remembered to put my personal soda supply inside the house before the Well-Meaning Neighbor stopped by. You know that neighbor. I bet you have one, too. She’s not nosy, intrusive, inquisitive, snide and smug. She Aggressively Means Well.

“Hi, Well Meaning Neighbor.”

“Hi there! Wow, look at that baby, he is so big! And wow, you really needed to have a garage sale! What’s in the back? Well wow, you guys sure have a lot of Coke in your garage!”

I’ll be honest: it made me kind of happy when you just said Baby instead of his actual name, because I know from experience this means you don’t remember it. I’ve played the overly casual “so, how do you spell your name?” card twice on this block alone and I’m comfortable with the fact we just don’t care enough to remember each other’s’ names. I have yours narrowed down to a common name that begins with N but not Nancy.

Not-Nancy, I’m also letting the overuse of “wow!” slide because I’m trying to break the “amazing!” habit. I recently watched myself for 45 seconds on a reunion video and realized there is a very real danger I’m going to turn into someone who sounds 13, or, worse, perky. But, Not-Nancy, we’re going to have a frank talk about my Coke habit.

My Coke habit is the direct result of the garage sale condition. That stems from the baby you can’t remember the name of (and good job using context clues to take a stab at identifying gender, by the way). Our garage looks like a disemboweled Walmart for one regrettable reason: we were the last in our group to have a baby. We adopted very suddenly and needed help. When the call went out for baby things, They Came. Like benevolent plagues of Egypt, a thousand friendly mommies ripped open the seams of their basements to disgorge months, years, decades of baby-related detritus they will never want again. The top layers were fabulous items I was thrilled to use for Baby. The underlayers will forever haunt me.

Onesies of uniforms worn by now incarcerated athletes. Bits of plastic toys with tooth marks and bizarre discoloration around the edges. Alarming harnesses with Swedish names and buckles to fit body parts neither gender would possess. Shoes for feet that can’t walk. Mismatched socks and hats with odd fuzz on them. Formula samples expiring years before we began the adoption process. Two doorway jumpers with parts missing and no way to test how critical those parts might have been. Last, but certainly not least, a mountain of clothing that was perfectly cute but for a summer baby. I have enough on my mind without dressing a Christmas baby in a “Surf’s UP!” tank top then facing my social worker.

What does this have to do with the Coke? I’m glad I imagine you asked. Right now, I’m making a house ready for a baby, working, maintaining a semblance of control over my finances and fighting the urge to rapidly defenestrate the next person who chirps “savor each and every moment!” The Coke in my garage is what is keeping me upright because coffee is awful, I can’t afford speed and nobody will tell me what Seal Team 6 uses to stay awake on missions. The calories are a good idea as mealtimes have been reduced to whatever I can eat while I’m making a bottle. The corn syrup is a godsend because the word corn implies I have eaten something plant based. In fact, the more corn syrup I have in my system the better I feel about my choice to drink Coke. I live in Nebraska so supporting local corn growers might provide the karma I need to offset the enormous amount of diapers I’m chucking into Mother Earth. Hell, I’m gonna ride this one all the way to its logical conclusion: high fructose corn syrup isn’t just keeping me alive. It’s keeping America alive. That’s right. I went there. If you don’t support Frosted Flakes, Pop Tarts, Oreos, NyQuil and Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, then you’re not the kind of American I want on my lawn. You don’t deserve to judge my garage, my mess OR my Coke habit.

Not-Nancy, I am going to sit here and drink this Coke while I figure out how much of my husband’s stuff I can sell before he notices. If you aren’t here to diaper my kid or lay out of season onesies on a card table, then just keep walking. And if you’re walking past the gas station, bring me another Coke.

My son’s homecoming

After three weeks in the hotel, Baby got cleared to go all the way back to Nebraska. It was the first week in January so we’d have a few days to settle in before the semester started. Time was a factor because we had been commuting back to Nebraska one at a time to do work while Baby stayed in Iowa. You’ll remember that we would be charged with Very Bad Things if the baby had spent even a second outside of Iowa before the Interstate Compact was completed. So I would like to state, here on this public forum, that Baby’s homecoming was the very, very first time he had ever crossed into Nebraska. He absolutely never slept in the backseat when we needed to deposit a check so my bank account wouldn’t be in tragic overdraft and that bank account was definitely never, not ever located in Omaha and frankly, I think it’s strange you would even ask.

The baby’s homecoming was everything you’d imagine a long-awaited homecoming would be. My mom loves putting up decorations and she loves being a grandma. Homecoming for the baby was her Super Bowl Halftime Show and she was going to go big or die trying. There was a big sign on the way into the back door, decorations in the living room, huge welcome banners and sparkly decorations saying It’s a Boy! The baby got carried into his brand new nursery and knew he was safe and loved. It was a spectacular homecoming. I hear. I wasn’t there. I was with AJ in Virginia visiting a pain specialist who performs some magic where he injects things near my spine and it stops pain where my spleen is. Hold on there– nope. I just googled where the spleen is, and it’s not there. Regardless, it stops pain in my front which is nowhere near my spine.

Upon my return I was overwhelmed by the generosity of friends and acquaintances. People knew we were blindsided. We had no furniture, no nursery decorations (except four adhesive soccer balls Mac has been saving since 2013. No, really). The Baby had clothes and diapers but we needed someplace higher than the floor to make these activities happen. My parents and Robin chipped in the immediate necessities like bassinet and diapering station which they set up and put in the room that was always-going-to-be-the-nursery-except-it-was-an-office-because-people-facing-infertility-have-complex-emotional-needs-balancing-hope-with-realism.

I was also overwhelmed by my husband’s face. Let me tell you something. Mac has had a challenging life. He has faced serious medical issues, his career involves long hours, he nursed someone through terminal cancer. He has stared into the abyss and the abyss was a little taken aback.

Mac was a single father for 5 days. This cannot be overstated: Mac, with the help of my family, was a single parent for just over 120 hours. I arrived from Virginia at the 121st hour. I walked in with my suitcase, saw Mac, and immediately reached for my phone. My husband had died and I felt someone should tell his mother. That man has never looked so haggard. He stared eerily into my soul, said he was happy the injection went well, and then said “I am going to sleep.” Not “I’m taking a nap,” “I am going to sleep.” There was no preface or qualifier or time limit. He meant it. He went into the bedroom and came out in March.

We’re home. I’m home. The three of us are in our home. All I have to do is organize a few things, make sure Baby gets fed and changed, and then step right back into work and my social life.

Stay tuned to find out how easy that has been.

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A short list of things that confuse me

There are times that I look around at the university where I lecture and think to myself “are we all sure I’m the person who is supposed to be up here?” Don’t get me wrong; theatre and how it intersects with culture is genuinely my passion. I have spent more than 20 years learning about it, doing it and writing about it. Passing that on to other people is freaking great. Generally speaking, I feel anyone who clearly remembers life before the internet has a place on the college campus; we are living history and what we went through will genuinely be forgotten by next Tuesday if we don’t tell people about life BPC (Before Personal Computers).

That said, there are things about baby gear that confuse the hell out of me. I don’t just feel curious, or befuddled, or even inadequate. Baby gear makes me feel DUMB. To wit:

  • why do baby bottles have rings? The ones in the hospital that you throw away every two ounces like you are a rapper in a video don’t have rings. But the at-home model does. Why can’t we just shape plastic like the ring is attached?
  • Without looking it up, tell me the differences between cloth diapers that are AIO, pre-fitted, pocket, hybrid and/or 2 in 1. For extra credit identify what a “leg gusset” is and explain why a diaper has something that sounds like part of a saloon whore’s costume.
  • Nipple sizes. Newborn, 2, 3…two what? three what? If you’re thinking of looking directly at a full bottle and squirting it to see if that edifies you, please take a picture. I’d like very much to know what the expression on my face was.
  • How does my baby know when I’m standing? We can jiggle him for a solid hour while he cries. Jiggle and walk, jiggle and walk. We jiggle him until our hands are numb and there’s a disturbing tic in my eye every time I move my shoulder. ANYTHING to keep him from crying. The second we sit to jiggle? The baby unleashes the hounds of hell directly out of his face. How did he know we sat while we jiggled? HOW?
  • He spent at least 36 weeks in utero hearing Spanish. Do I sound weird to him? If not, why not?
  • Finally, I own this and use this and it still confuses the hell out of me how I got here.
  • nosefrida-the-snotsucker-nasal-7898

Fashion for Infants

As a new parent, one of your most basic obligations is keeping your child appropriately dressed for the weather. Plus, we all know those little tots attract lots of fans looking for adorable photo ops! By following these simple steps your Baby will be Red Carpet ready in a flash!

1. Determine the size of your baby. Baby clothing can be listed in weight or in months. If you have a fat baby, the months will seem too small. If you have a skinny baby the months will seem too big. If you have twins the months will seem to last forever and ever and you’ll drink a lot. The most important thing is that no matter what size your child is now, that will change in a week and you’ll have shrunk all of the clothing in the dryer by then anyhow. Your best bet is to befriend very forgetful people and get them to throw you a shower approximately four times a year.

2. Determine the season. If it’s warm out, dress the baby in that outfit that looks like she’s going to the beach. If it’s cold out, start with that and then add layers until she’s spherical. Then add a hat. Everybody fucking loves babies in hats.

3. If you don’t know how to put on a onesie, follow my handy guide:

  • Baby clothing is often colorful and fun. If your onesie looks muted or boring, ask yourself if you are Amish. If you are not, then you probably have a fun and colorful onesie that is simply inside out. Fix it or don’t, nobody here is judging you.
  • Put your hand in any random onesie hole. Pull the baby’s arm through that hole. If it looks like the baby’s wearing a turtleneck, you’ve identified an armhole. Rotate onesie 90 degrees and put that hole on an arm.
  • If you see snaps over the baby’s head, you’ve identified where his butt goes. Turn the onesie 180 degrees and try again.
  • If your baby has an arm through each hole, a head out of one hole and his butt down by another hole, then I’d call it good because it has been 20 minutes and we haven’t even gotten to pants yet.
  • If you insist on pants, put one leg through a leg hole. Put the other leg through the other leg hole. Notice the pants are too loose. Realize you forgot a diaper. Pull the pants off. Put a diaper on the baby. Diapers are supposed to be colorful and fun. If your diaper is not colorful and fun, ask yourself if you are Amish. If you are not, then you have been using old-fashioned white cloth diapers for no reason and boy, am I about to BLOW YOUR MIND.
  • Now that you know we have colorful absorbent diapers with wetness indicators and all they are costing us is Mother Earth, back to the pants. Put one leg in the leghole. Put the other leg in the other leghole. Then put the first leg back in the first leghole. Repeat until you figure out you have to grab him and slide up the pants over his butt really fast.
  • Socks. It’s important that the socks match, so that when she kicks one off and you file the Missing Sock Report you can tell the police “it looked just like this one.”

In the final analysis, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to dress a baby, unless you put high heels on an infant. If you do that, then I’d like to come to your house and tell you about all the things being Amish has to offer. Otherwise, have a good time and don’t forget the hats.

Hoods are also acceptable

Hoods are also acceptable

Don’t do The Thing

Attention! Due to extenuating circumstances visits to the doctor’s office are now limited to the following scenarios: baby is too hot, baby is too cold, baby eating too much/too little/too often/not often enough/without perceived appropriate amount of zeal, baby farts in a manner inconsistent with previous farting behavior, or baby displays ambivalence towards the color teal. Calls concerning the health of either parent will be adjudicated on a case by case basis if and only if the other parent has time and a winning lottery ticket.

We need to take Baby for an extensive, and I do mean extensive, set of tests, checkups, metrics, go-sees, drop-ins and passing glances. This happens when an adopted baby doesn’t have any medical history forms for one or both sides of the family. In our particular case there was such a lack of info on Baby it was almost like we had negative background. Less than zero, on a scale of 1-10 we had -3. Consequently he needed to see a pediatrician while we were in Council Bluffs. The doctor, who was friendly and never let on that she was capable of destroying the entirety of my womanhood with a single sentence, suggested I should breastfeed Baby. In Nigeria (the doc’s native land) I guess it’s common practice for women who have not given birth to still breastfeed a family member. They get the milk to flow by placing the infant on their breast several times a day.

It hadn’t occurred to me this would even come up. Some insane person who was using my vocal cords chirped “Hey! That could sure be worth a try!” No, Sarah. NO IT WOULD NOT. I have no clue what my vocal cords were thinking. This was a genuinely terrible idea. You see, we didn’t simply adopt because of the reasons one would imagine, like I need to keep my figure for my big time Hollywood career or my eggs are lazy. Nope, we adopted because I live in North Korea.

This is not to say that my body is located in North Korea. I am contained within a perimeter that surrounds North Korea. You cannot imagine a more contentious, petulant little war zone than the one located between my ribs and knees.

I have spent a long time making peace with the war zone. An especially painful detente came in 2009 when, like most childless couples, we tried to cook at home before getting carry out. Permit me to sum up how hopeless fertility treatment was: when we got back the final batch of tests my doctor came in, sat beside me, and in a friendly tone started my diagnosis with “I want you to know I have two adopted children I can’t imagine my life without.” I’m not just barren, or infertile, or whatever weird thing the Tea Party seems to think makes me worthless as a human. My reproductive organs wage all-out war on my body. I had North Korean ovaries. They were so committed to shutting down my system that after I removed the first one (Kim Il-Sung) AND the second one (Kim Jong-Il) they left behind a SURPRISE SUCCESSOR, a non-cancerous tumor I called Kim Jong-Un because everybody was surprised he showed up after we thought we had cleared out the worst of the insufferable shittiness. Also because he was tubby, potentially dangerous, and a very literal pain in my side.

There were procedures, pills, shots, treatments, therapies, acupressure, yoga meditations, visualization exercises, and surgeries. A lot of them. This is how I became a young(ish?) person who sometimes walks with a cane. I won’t offend people with a genuine disability by saying I have a disability. I don’t.  A cane is nothing more than a tool I have in my arsenal to keep my less-than-optimal body running around. When my insides are cooperating I don’t need the cane. As it happened when we got Baby I needed the cane constantly.

So here I am, in Council Bluffs, trying to radiate New Mommyhood Glow and basking in all the attention Baby gets. I’m trying to radiate and bask but I’m also carrying my cane and suddenly feeling very defensive, old, defective. If I were meant to have this baby I’d have working breasts. I wouldn’t be afraid of what all the hormonal stimulation would do to me. I’d go off of all the medication I have needed since 1996 and give Baby pure, nourishing breastmilk no matter what it did to me personally. Hell, nothing would matter what it did to me personally, it’s not just a food issue.

If he had gotten the right mommy, not an old defective one, he could take 20 car rides a day. His mommy wouldn’t need help to lift him. His carseat would be in the middle of my backseat, not off to one side because I can’t reach the middle when I need to use the cane. His younger, healthier mommy wouldn’t need to leave him (as I was about to) to go to a pain clinic for 3 days where they evaluate and treat nerve damage due to scar tissue. In short, I should have been the perfect mother babies are supposed to get when they get their big Second Chance through adoption.

This is when my best friend, henceforth known as “AJ,” comes in. I call her AJ because when I say “AJ!” she responds. AJ listens to my self-pitying tale of basking, glowing, canes, Kim Jong-Il etc and then puts on her Stern Voice and sends forth an astonishing piece of wisdom which I now pass on to you. She says “Sarah, you are doing The Thing. Don’t do The Thing.

AJ explains to me that The Thing is something all mothers do, biological, adoptive, step-, everyone. The Thing is letting “the best I can” not be good enough. Mommies hear about the Ideal. Ideal mommies behave a certain way, do a certain thing, have a certain appearance, they are perfection. The perfection doesn’t exist but we think it does because somehow our society has gone way, way the fuck overboard on telling women how to be the Perfect Mommy and we’re too tired/overwhelmed/outnumbered to sit society down and give it a good talking to. The Ideal is not always possible so we do what we can. As I tearfully admit I can’t have his carseat in the middle, I just can’t reach that far, she looks at me with compassion (with a soupçon of mockery) and says “what do mothers of twins do, Sarah?”

She continues “your Baby is the one always meant for you, right?” Yes! Of course he is! “So, exactly how would you have gotten the son you were always meant to have if you didn’t adopt him?” Holy crap. She’s right! We never would have adopted him if we had conceived a baby, and while I know we would have loved that baby it also makes me sad that we wouldn’t have had this one. Because this one, this particular baby, was always meant to be my kid. He didn’t get the perfect family– he got his family.

So, a million doctors appointments for him, because we don’t know anything about him. And a million more for me, in case my abdomen ever wants to call a truce. A constant, expensive reminder that the Imes Bordens are good enough– we don’t do perfection. We don’t do The Thing.

The meaning of adoption

Adoption is hard enough to define as an adult, I had no idea how to explain it to kids, even my own. Especially my own. What happens when he wants to know why his biological parents didn’t raise him? Will he question how we were picked? Will he think my definition of a Christmas miracle is his definition of a Christmas forever ruined?

My cousin Maid Marian came to visit Baby along with her family. This makes perfect sense when you know I’m Lady Cluck. Her family includes Sis (age 6) and Skippy (3). She’s married to Dan. I have no idea why you expect she’d be married to Robin Hood, he’s literally a cartoon fox and what the hell goes on at your house?

Moving on, we met down in the lobby so the kids could run around and I could see a different set of walls. When it’s negative 15 degrees every day and your hotel window overlooks the bricked up side of a casino you start to get starved for sensory input.

The kids are playing, we’re discussing how winter break is going, I gratefully receive a gift that includes yet other things we didn’t know we needed, especially XL-sized swaddling blankets. Baby barfs all over one corner? Not a problem! You’ve got plenty left over to clean up, wipe off your own shoulder, clean off the counter, then roll up the messy side and use the clean side for the next burp! In the middle of the Christmas cheer I had one of those moments when real life suddenly throws up many more questions that you have answers. Sis loves looking at the Baby, holding the Baby, noticing how small the baby is. Sis is also as smart as her mom, meaning when Marian says “Baby was adopted! Do you know what adopted means, Sis?” Sis is ready with all the pertinent questions.

“It was this week? Was he ever in an orphanage?” I tell her not exactly, some very nice nurses took care of him for us before we met him. I add that right before Christmas we brought him home from the hospital. She wants to know if he’s going to be ours forever. The answer is yes. I have no idea where this is going.

So, while I’m stumbling over 10 different ways to explain that sometimes mommies and daddies can’t take care of a baby, and they loves that baby so much they give that baby a home with another mommy and daddy, and those parents love the baby just like he was born from her tummy, and it’s hard to understand but everyone did this from a place of compassion and care for the infant, and and and and and…

Sis does the math: Baby at Christmas + forever home + a spirit of goodwill =

“Elf! Your baby is just like Elf!”

I haven’t seen Elf, but Marian says “yep! Like Elf!” and she has excellent judgment so I decide to check it out. Weeks later, I’m home at four in the morning (I stayed awake all night, husband had early morning shift) and Elf comes on TNT. Why playing a Christmas movie in late January represents a good scheduling decision is a mystery to me, but it was appreciated nonetheless. I sit down with some pretzels and begin to watch the story of Buddy. Five minutes in and I’m crying (let’s blame hormones, shall we? Ignore that I wasn’t pregnant). There he is, the inimitable Bob Newhart, telling me that sometimes you work so hard that having kids simply doesn’t happen the way you thought it would, and then one day Santa Ed Asner brings you a mystery child that you will love no matter what he’s good at, how different he looks from the other elves, where he has to go to find himself. I’ll be damned. It’s right there on the screen for anybody to see. I’m Bob Newhart.

I am going to QUIT wasting time when it comes to explaining to kids how this Christmas miracle occurred in our lives. The new standard answer, which has yet to fail me, is “Elf. Our baby is just like Elf.”


Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

It is Boxing Day and we are still celebrating. As a child I celebrated Christmas in a traditional way, with Santa, Christmas Eve church, being the angel in the nativity play, and so on. As our own family my husband and I celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, a time when we honor our heritage by continuing traditions. That works well in what I consider to be a mixed marriage; I believe in Something, he does not. We also share strong bonds with our families and we like getting together, giving gifts, telling the old stories, all of that. We celebrate Boxing Day since it’s common in Canada and my husband has great memories of roving from house to house eating leftovers with his friends. That’s no different than what he did with his friends most other days of the year but it’s free to call it Boxing Day and it makes him happy.

On Boxing Day 2014 we would be debuting the Baby Swing.  There were certain things that could make life in the hotel easier. Mom would buy them and she and dad would bring them up to Iowa. She mentioned that we should get a swing. My mom likes to shop and she is very smart about shopping for baby things. She gets them at consignment stores with creepy names like “Once Upon a Child.” Seriously? Didn’t a single person involved at the franchise level even hear that sentence out loud before they slapped it on a store?

Mom was buying what we didn’t have waiting for us in NE.  Remember, we had started out with nothing. As people learned of the Extenuating Circumstance they generously donated things we could use at home. My sister ended up running a whole consignment shop out of her basement so friends could drop off whatever they no longer needed for their own little ones. Oh–a word on my sister. She has declined to have her first name show up in this blog. She said she will only answer to “O Captain, my Captain!”  Very well. Robin Williams it is.

So my sister Robin sifted through the donations, reported that there wasn’t a swing available, and mom went to Once Upon a Molestation Charge and bought one. It looks like a papasan chair and a hammock had sex with a space ship. There’s a soothing basket chair hung on a space-agey motorized plastic and metal frame. It has bumble bees hanging overhead, palm fronds, plays music and nature noises, comes with 7 speeds and is generally nicer than my first car. Mom got that up to Counciltucky and could not WAIT to get the baby in it.

We decided we’ll put it in the room she and my dad are sharing, and after Mom helps us give Baby his first-ever bath he can relax in his new swing. Bathing a child in a hotel is hard because they are slippery. If we could safely attach wet babies to a luge (and I am not for one second suggesting we should try) we would revolutionize the Winter Olympics. Anyway. Mom, dad, husband, baby and me; sitting around, looking at the new swing, talking about next semester’s classes, prepping for the bath. Mom asks if I’ll be teaching my Irish Theatre class again. Yes. I tell her about the religion segment, Husband mentions he is adding a new religion segment to one of his theatre history classes. Dad asks why. Husband answers. Baby lays on the bed. I talk about the role religion played in Irish playwriting. Mom asks intelligent question. I pontificate. Husband wonders if we need more towels for the bath. Mom says “yes.” I undress the baby. Dad asks about particular play. Husband pontificates. Baby pees. Mom  goes to look for baby shampoo. Husband mentions Christmas memory. Dad laughs. Mom asks for shampoo. I take key card and go to the room.

I return to my parents’ suite to…silence? I come in with the shampoo. Mom is sitting on the bed with a slightly befuddled expression.

“Mom? Are you ready for the bath? Where is Husband? And dad?”

“Oh! Yes! Sarah! Hi! Yes! Baby is ready for the bath, Husband went to get more towels and your father is an atheist.”


I left for 30 seconds and my father renounced belief in a higher power? What the hell HAPPENED while I was gone???

Here’s the funny thing: as mom and I put down 87 towels for the bath and dad returned from getting a cup of coffee in the lobby it emerged that this wasn’t a very big deal. Mom had suspected it, he hadn’t given much thought to formally putting it into words, and then when everyone was tired and happy and discussing religion it just sort of slipped out. If anything, we can all look for the positive in a 40 year marriage where your spouse still has the ability to surprise you at the holidays.

We gave the Baby his bath, which took three adults 10 minutes and 7 towels plus bathmat, baby washcloth, cotton swabs, shampoo, lotion and reading glasses (“can you see if that’s poop?” “Does it rub off?” “No, that’s why I wonder if it’s poop!” “Could it be a mole?” “Well, does it rub off?” “NO.”). Then we put him in the swing and spent half an hour fretting over whether it was too fast, too forceful, too stimulating, too much. We wondered. The baby didn’t, he fell right asleep, leaving us to think about what celebrating holidays means to different people we love and why we gather with them no matter where they are.

It wasn’t until the next day they discovered I’m Bob Newhart.


I am a roadie

My son stays up until four in the morning, screams at his entourage, ingests dust that costs more per ounce than platinum, and drinks til he pukes in my hair then face plants into it, fast asleep. I’m parenting Keith Richards.

As we settle into our life at the Casino/Hotel, I become aware that there isn’t very much substantive parenting to be done at this stage. He doesn’t need to be disciplined, taken to soccer practice (I married a Canadian. There will be soccer practice. My husband wrote it into our wedding vows) or helped with homework. What I am, in reality, is a roadie.

Everywhere we go the baby is the superstar. His job is to Be The Baby. Everyone will adore him for this. My husband and I have the job of making sure The Baby makes his appearances. The Baby sleeps whenever he wants, throws a fit when everything isn’t to his liking, and is expected to be moody, well-dressed and then covered in vomit. Our job is to stage manage everything that goes on behind the scenes of Being the Baby.

The baby is supposed to meet new family? Great. The first thing people will notice is the New Baby Multi-Sensory Experience. They expect him to be soft, smooth and have that luxurious New Baby smell. Get him bathed, dried, lotioned and diapered. Pick out what Baby will be wearing. Be CERTAIN that is what Baby is in the mood to wear, because you know how he feels about those little tags that poke out. Get him dressed and looking sharp.

Coordinate with staff at the venue. Make sure The Baby will be arriving in a warm car, right at the door, there will be no waiting to get inside. The fans wait for Baby, never the other way around. It’s winter in Iowa and there will be a backup plan for all roadtrips in case there is ice, snow or biting wind. The Baby does not do inconvenience.

Assemble all of the gear you need to travel. You know if he’s gone for any length of time there will be peeing, pooping, spit up and gassy farts. It’s the roadie who loads everything in the car to make sure these events are handled properly. You’ll also need a way to get him around (what, you thought he’d walk? He’s The Baby, not some peasant) and then a place for him to sit. He requires entertainment at all times if the people surrounding him are too much/too little/too whatever to handle. Remember that he has special dietary requirements. He will not be ordering off the menu no matter how swanky the restaurant thinks it is. The Baby eats on his own schedule. Should the roadies also want to eat, they may do so when it is convenient for The Baby. For this reason, roadies ordering food designed to be served at a certain temperature are foolhardy.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all the glare of the spotlight. At the hotel you get to see a side of private side of him when he’s not “on” and that feels pretty cool. Just remember, that doesn’t mean you’re actually equals. He sets the schedule, he dictates the mood in the room, he makes the staff rota. It doesn’t matter if Daddy hasn’t slept since Tuesday, if Mommy is boring as hell and we want Daddy, then Daddy better quit working on his (unapproved) side gig as a “professor” and come back to his only real responsibility. Right. Now. DAMMIT.

To be fair, it’s hard to hold a grudge against a superstar whose shit literally doesn’t stink. **A sidenote here to thank Mother Nature for that grace period. Think about that for a second…two people new at diapering and there isn’t another room in which to throw away the diapers or put dirty laundry.** It’s also fair to say that he never, ever lets down a crowd. Sure, the hotel room looks like a bomb went off and feeding him costs more than the GDP of Finland. Isn’t that the price of stardom? Who ever hears of a really big name that picks up his own socks, eats generic soup and turns in at 9:30?

So I’ll pack the gear and buy the special formula. He can barf on me and I’ll take it. Hell, I even paid for the privilege. Tune in next time, when we cover the Farce of the Swing and it turns out I’m Bob Newhart.

The State of Iowa Congratulates You!

Congratulations! You have decided to become parents in another state over the holidays. Let us be the first to say, your timing is ludicrous. When your adoption agency tells you it will take a few days to settle the Interstate Compact, what they are really saying is “you’ll be lucky to get it done before your child is eligible for Social Security benefits.”

For your reference, here is a guide to what you can expect from the State of Iowa concerning your Interstate Compact.

  1. The fingerprints you have done every year that you were with an Iowa-based adoption agency are not sufficient. Neither are the ones you had taken in Nebraska by both the Sheriff and Police Department. You will need a new set taken in Iowa and sent to the FBI. This must be done before we start the paperwork. You arrived on the 22nd, we don’t work over Christmas, and then after you get it done we won’t submit it to the court until after the New Year.
  2. The only place to get your prints done in Council Bluffs, this is absolutely true, is the UPS store. We don’t know why, either.
  3. While all of this is happening, you cannot cross into Nebraska for ANY reason with the child. This means that you will need to spend three weeks in a hotel. This is above any costs you have already incurred for home studies, adoption fees and necessities for the baby.
  4. All paperwork sent to Nebraska is sent via traditional mail. The government can communicate with people living in the International Space Station, but they cannot use email to complete interstate adoption paperwork.
  5. For anyone wishing to express a grievance with this antiquated system, you may lodge a complaint between 2:00 and 2:07 pm on every other Thursday. The Complaints Division is located at the UPS store. We don’t know why, either.
  6. Incidentally, we are well aware that this is the least-gross way to conduct the business of adoption. Your small, private agency allowed you to apply for an adoption when you were turned away from several traditional Nebraska venues. We know you were turned away because you hadn’t been married long enough (three years for the State of Nebraska, which is understandable) or because you could not register with a religious adoption agency. If you are atheist, as your husband is, you have very real trouble adopting in Nebraska. In fact, some agencies want a letter from your pastor to help prove you’re a good person before you can start the process. It doesn’t matter that you hold good jobs, are involved in your community, pay taxes and genuinely care about helping humankind…if you are Good Without a God then you are also Childless Without a Chance.

Let us not ignore, though, that this bureaucratic bullshit is nothing, absolutely non-existent, compared to what you found when you began looking for private adoption agencies. We are, of course, talking about the sliding scale of race that you got from most of the agencies you researched. The documents that laid out, in black and white (pun intended but still repugnant) how skin color determines what you pay for your adoption.

So that this is COMPLETELY OBVIOUSLY CLEAR, we are going to explain it like we’re talking to a four year old. IN AMERICA, WE PRICE BABIES ACCORDING TO HOW WHITE THEY ARE.

Here is a price list from an agency in Florida. Similar scales were sent from MO and GA.

African American track (100% Black) adoptions are free to apply for. Final cost of adoptions, about $14,000

All other adoption tracks cost a non-refundable $500 application fee.

Biracial (mixed with black) $14,000 to $18,000

Latino, other designations $14,000-$20,000

Biracial (not mixed with black) $18,000 to $25,000

Caucasian boys $25,000 and up

Caucasian girls starting at $30,000

Prices vary according to medical expenses and needs of the birth mother.

You will hear many debates on why this is fair. It mostly has to do with white people not receiving as much government assistance, so the birthmoms deserve more money. Nobody ever points out that these fees can be held separately from medical fees. There’s a mysterious wormhole in the fabric of the adoption universe that sucks up more money when everyone involved is white. So, in conclusion, while there are many conversations to be had, ranging from “this is a supply and demand equation” to “doesn’t this speak directly to why we need to discuss race more, not less in America?” let us not forget the most important factor here: this is fucked up.

All in all, it takes three weeks, tons of money, a paperchase that will end in 2022 and you’re living in a room the size of a postage stamp. But this is what happens when you use a small, ethical agency that collects one uniform fee for one beautiful child. Your child, who is at once the most expensive thing in the known world and the most priceless.

The State of Iowa regrets that we’re out of copies of our free booklet Explaining to Your Children Why It’s Offensive to Designate Them 3/5 of a Human Being but Not Offensive to Charge 3/5 of a White Child to Adopt Them.

Congratulations again on your newest tax break.

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