No writing exercise today. More blathering I’m afraid. Not that I really need to apologize to an audience that doesn’t exist. I could take a moment to explore my need for apology but that isn’t what I came for.
I came for a bit of an unload. It’s the season again. From Thanksgiving to shortly after Christmas we go through the season. The season where Henry is sensitive, agitated, quick to anger, quick to sadness, and desperate for something to help him. It is a tricky season for us because he isn’t all that conscious of the situation. He has little awareness of his temperament.
Coming into the season we talked it over with Jill. We decided to try to smooth out the season. No visits from the Grandparents, move the birthday parties to other months, no trips, no skiing, just us, simple Christmas. So that’s what we are living. It has been good but it hasn’t changed Henry. No, it’s us who has changed. And it has gone smoother, he is no more comfortable but the reduction in stressors has meant that the meltdowns are easier to deal with, shorter and less frequent.
But even that isn’t what I came to talk about. I came to talk about Henry’s adoption. And a bit about Ana’s too. Jill mildly suggested (and mildly is about as strong as Jill gets) that we consider that the window is open right now with Henry. Open that we can talk about the adoption. That his emotions hovering near the surface are because it’s the anniversary of his adoption. That now is the time. Not that adoption is a secret in this house, it isn’t, but how do you tell a child that he has biological siblings? When is it the right time to tell someone, oh by the way there are three people living half way around the world that are your birth brother and sisters. There isn’t a good time. There isn’t a right time. And it isn’t something I consciously think of really. I don’t spend time contemplating them. I don’t honestly think much about his birth mother either. Maybe that’s denial, maybe it is survival, maybe it’s guilt. We can’t save them all. Oh God. God, there were so many of them. Dark rooms, women in cool white lab coats and babies, so many babies. It was hard enough to think of them but when you add the desperate mothers to the picture well your brain sort of just shuts down. Your vision becomes tunnel. And your mission becomes taking the one that is in your arms. And if it’s Sophie’s choice, if you are faced with saving one and damning another you can’t accept it and you clutch the one tightly and you close your eyes to the others. So maybe that’s the truth of it, that’s why I don’t think of it – because I couldn’t or wouldn’t save them too. I wouldn’t damn myself to help them. Listen to my arrogance, American arrogance that, I could save them. There are many in Russia who believe that the ones who are adopted out are the ones who are sacrificed. Sacrifice a few for the American dollars that can be used to save the rest. You can turn it all around in your head until you don’t know what to believe and then you decide to stop thinking about it.
Until it’s your son’s adoption anniversary and his therapist says the time is right and there is something that you know that you need him to know but you don’t know how to tell him. His birth mother had three other children and she just couldn’t take care of one more. And that one more is your son. And you’re grateful for it but that doesn’t make it right or easier for him.
So we went to the bank and we took the papers out of the safe deposit box and brought them home. We sorted them by child and stared at them. The names are all there on the pages, names that we don’t often think of and truly, we often forget them, maybe we are blocking them. I don’t know. But her name is Svetlana. She is 6 years older than I am, the birth father that she listed on the papers is even older – 16 years older than I am. The bald statements on the relinquishment papers that don’t explore the feelings behind the reasons.
It’s all very cold you see and I want to make up a story to go with the words in fact I can’t help yourself. I imagine the woman, I imagine the pregnancy, I imagine her apartment, I imagine the children she already cares for and I make up a story that makes the fact that she gave up her child somehow okay. Something I might be able to reconcile if not imagine doing myself.
So we call him over and show him the dates. December 16th, 1997 and today is December 16th, 2006. Nine years ago, we finally walked into the courthouse, to the judge’s chambers, sat through the bewildering Russian court session before the stern robed judge, and then we went to the orphanage and took you away from there. Forever. And I can’t make it anything more than a recitation of the facts because if I start to think about it I won’t be able to speak. Here is her name, here is her address, here is her age, here is her height, she has dark hair. And that is as far as he can go, he is already leaving the kitchen, simply walking away. No grand emotions, no questions, very few words, just skittering away. Not now. Not today. Not now. I can see it in his closed down face and his trembling hands. Not now. Not today. Maybe not ever. This isn’t my story you’re telling. Take this cup from me. So we let him slip away, stack the papers and ready them for the trip back to the bank. The only copies, the originals, irreplaceable. He runs outside to throw the football and the world is fine except we didn’t tell him the one piece that I can’t hold inside anymore. The fact that there are siblings. I can’t hold this anymore and neither can Eric. He has to be told. He has to know.
It’s Sunday morning now and the anniversary is over, the rest of Saturday had past without an opportunity. It’s around 6am and I can hear him coughing. This is just like this child. His cough wakes me up. His demands for something else for dinner grate on my nerves. His refusal to learn to read. He is like a bird singing outside my window when I am trying to sleep. I can’t ignore him, his calls for help are frequent and strident. So this morning he is coughing and quite possibly about to wake up all the kids. Eric guides him downstairs and closes the door hoping I’ll drift back off. But my eyes peg open. Everyone else is asleep. The perfect time. So I take the paper from the vanity. A small slip of paper with three names, three birth dates, and current ages written on it. I slip onto the stool next to his. He is intent upon a birthday card for Jay. Today is Jay’s birthday. December is a busy month. I say to him that there is one more thing I want to tell him. Something I wanted to tell him yesterday. I remind him of his friend Alex who has a half brother who doesn’t live with him. Alex is here in CO and his brother is in MI right. Yes, Henry agrees. And I slide the paper onto the counter. Your birth mom had other children. They live in Russia. And this time he is a little interested. He isn’t sliding away this time. We go through the names, I explain that Valeria is a boy’s name in Russia, he snickers a little. We go through the ages. They are older and his interest wanes a bit and I can feel him dismissing this a little now. He goes back to work on the card for Jay but the tremble in his hand is more pronounced now and he pushes down harder on the marker to compensate.
Do you want this paper? I ask him.
Put it with the others he says
We keep those papers at the bank I say because they can’t be replaced but if you ever want to see them all you have to do is ask. I say
Ok he says
We cook breakfast, a feast to celebrate Jay’s birthday and also a way to make up for this news too. As if food could somehow solve this. He is mixing the pancakes for me. I put my arms around him and he lets me. This is telling. I have to say something more. So I say, Can I tell you what I think about when I think about your birth mother?
What? he says
I think about how grateful I am that she gave you to me when she couldn’t take care of you herself.
Mmm he says and he lets my arms stay around him for a moment longer.
Oh God it hurts. It hurts so much. How could the world do this to him? Why couldn’t he have just been my biological child? Why couldn’t you have taken her pregnancy and given it to me? Why put him in a place where he might wonder, where he might be hurt by this. People always say that we should focus on the positive part of adoption and I know they are right. We should focus on being chosen, on being given, on being loved enough to be given another, different chance. There are so many faces to adoption. So many parts of the whole experience that are disparate. I don’t mean to focus on the negative but some days I can’t help it. It is time for church now and I’ve written enough this morning.