Monthly Archives: July 2016

“His Eye is on the Bearded Dragon”

10945562_10205241594492134_7169318582270470410_nMy husband is a science teacher and animal lover. In our den right now, I am beneath a mounted six-foot sailfish that the realtor, my aunts, and my grandmother all thought would be lovely in the garage. We have pictures of gray wolves, statues of grey wolves, a cross-stitch of peregrine falcon, pictures of snowy owls, Florida panthers, a ceramic quail, some woodland ducks, and a red-tail hawk. National Geographic would be proud.

April, naturally, grew to love animals–over the years, she brought home cats and dogs, frogs and turtles. She had a hairless rat named Mayor, whom I–horrors!–grew to love. I drew an emphatic line at snakes, and I really protested when it came to bearded dragons, iguanas, and ferrets because as every mother knows, I’d inevitably end up with a degree of pet duty, and reptiles are just not in my skill set.

For a while, April’s bearded dragon fixation was satisfied by her friends’ pet, a young beardie named Mushu. But, when they decided a dog would be more fun, Mushu needed a new home.

Nope. Not us. No bearded dragons allowed. None.

I came home one day to find Mushu and his aquarium, lights, and sun rocks set up in April’s room. He was the picture of bliss. (My grandmother used to joke that pets told one another about our home:  If you can just get to that yellow house with the basketball goal, you’ll be in high cotton.) Mushu looked at me with peaceful disinterest; he’d arrived, and I’d have to cope.

11231203_10205851315214771_7571479761373034201_nHe was an arrogant beardie; he didn’t want to be held, nor would he participate in a Youtube-worthy frolic with our cats. He wanted to be hand-fed, and he preferred peeled grapes, thank you very much. I made weekly trips to buy crickets at the local bait shop; we all gathered to watch him feed. His cricket-eating had a peculiar video game quality to it; the crickets who lived longest did so by riding around on his back.

He was an expensive pet–he needed a certain $20+ bulb during the day, another $20+ bulb at night, a larger tank as he grew, and mealworms–all of which required sixty-mile trips to PetSmart. The expense, combined with his lack of personality, grew tiresome, and April said we could sell him.

None of my coworkers wanted him. Indeed, no one in our small town wanted a beardie. No beardie rescue organizations responded to our emails. We were stuck with a surly, pricy, pet-sitter-requiring lizard.

Last summer, on my way to take Abby to camp, I stopped to see an old friend several hours away. She’d recently become a grandmother, and I wanted to see The World’s Cutest Baby. We had a great visit with her daughter-in-law and grandchild and said our good-byes. They were on the porch waving as I walked to my van when I stopped. I suddenly clearly knew: One of them will take the dragon.

I was leaving. Almost gone. Our conversations had been about the baby and the military. We hadn’t discussed pets, other than the dog on the sofa. I hadn’t seen B—- in twenty years, and I was about to sound insane.

Still, I asked: “This is odd, but do either of you want a bearded dragon?”

B—-‘s hand flew to her mouth. “YES! YES! I promised my son a bearded dragon!

The story emerged in fits and starts–sprinkled with giggles. Her teenage son had received a bearded dragon as a gift, and, one day while trying to be helpful, his mother rearranged the rocks attractively in the terrarium. One promptly fell and killed his prized pet.

Her son took to calling her “The Dragon Slayer.” She felt horrible about her inability to immediately replace the doomed beardie.

Soon had been put off time and again, and then, finally, soon became a definite date.

Three weeks later, I drove 294 miles with Mushu riding shotgun, glaring at me for most of the drive. I pulled up in the driveway, and B—- and her son greeted the reptile delightedly. She had to go back to work and instructed me to go supervise the cage set up.13871654_10209028929653146_1562516344_n

I sat in a desk chair as the boy plugged in the lamps and arranged the rocks non-fatally. I looked at him, this boy I had never met, so thrilled with his pet.

I’m not a spooky Christian, watching for portents and throwing fleeces. I don’t pray in the woods or post pictures of my coffee and my open Bible. There’s a lot about God and his ways that I don’t know.

But that afternoon, I saw two things clearly–God cares about our smallest desires, and He speaks to us clearly.

Even about really arrogant lizards.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Distant Launch

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We have done a lot of parenting.

For two long weeks, we had five foster children under age two. We had teenage runaways who stole Greg’s car; preteen siblings who wrote graffiti about us on our living room wall; an amateur arsonist; and dozens of hypochondriacs, but no point of parenting has been as interesting as the years after high school.

Of course, I’ve watched hundreds of former students make their way from adolescence to “productive citizenship.” I’ve watched scholarship students flunk out and come home; seen capable kids waste thousands of Daddy’s dollars, choosing partying over academics; known scores of kids who excelled in the service or blue collar jobs; and I’ve seen students follow a straight and narrow path to college and grad school and jobs in distant cities. I’ve known that the roads to stability are varied, but most kids usually get there.

Today, kids’ routes are documented on social media–successes and heartbreaks advertised for their worlds to see. Or alternate realities are presented, where things appear to be going far better than they are. It is difficult for some kids to see their peers hop-skip-and-jump through traditional career routes when they  neither feel like skipping nor know where to hop. It’s hard for parents, too, to watch.

But, to paraphrase a wise friend, as much as we may want to save our children from every heartbreak and see them follow safe, predictable paths, parents of young adults can’t control or cushion their launches.

This week, April decided to launch. 104 days after Stephanie Grace’s death, she made a big decision. Yes, she flipped and flopped, like many of us would do if we were considering a thousand-mile move, but she ultimately decided to stay in New York in the rural area where her father and brother have established their roots. She has decided to launch in New York, with them.

Some people support her decision, while others act like she went to live with kind strangers who happened to sit next to her one night at Cracker Barrel. The befuddled generally have never adopted and don’t understand open adoption; they aren’t really very interested in learning about birth families, and they certainly haven’t been on this journey every day since 1995.

She is with family. Greg and I know how strong April’s affection for her birth family has always been; we encouraged that connection. The pictures of her parents and siblings hung in her room; she slept every night with a stuffed dog her birth mother gave her at their final visit, and a plastic rabbit her grandmother gave her sat on a bookshelf. We drove to New York to visit when she was twelve, and we saw her half-siblings several times in the years since. Her brother has texted her weekly for years: they are full siblings, near-twins.

The very friends who would advise us to ask her brother for a kidney if April needed a transplant are wary of her being under his roof.

I’m me. I am a mother duck, in protection mode always. Before April left, I used Mapquest to figure out how far from April my collegiate best friend is–it’s only ninety minutes. In an emergency, by the time April got through ER triage, someone I know well could be there. My cousins (and a handful of trusty former students) are three hours away in New York City. We have not sent her to a third world country. 

And we are not rejected. Neither is she. (We sent 92 texts today.) No one is angry–or even miffed.

Although parts of this story feel like reality television, basically, this chapter has been drama-free. It’s not about us and them or here and there. It’s about April; it is her launch.

May it be the first of many.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before the Breakage

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One night several years ago, Abby and I were doing a puzzle at the kitchen table when I got a phone call; it was the kind of call that makes me count the number of closed doors between my children and the shrieks on the other end of the line.  I hid in a bedroom while I talked. While I heard bad news.

I’m a crier, but when I emerged, my eyes were dry. I walked past Abby and plopped on the sofa, only to hear her small voice: “You are mad.

She was confused. Things were peaceful, and now naked rage abounded.

Children have no right,” I explained plainly, “No right to ruin their parents’ lives by their actions. To ruin their parents’ lives with bad decisions.

Children don’t, you know. I know that some Pollyannas, some Every-Bad-Thing-Is-Willed-By-God Christians, some silver linings sort of people may argue that lives aren’t ruined, they’re just changed forever. Or refined. That another jewel is placed in  crown in heaven, and that heavenly mansion gets bigger, and GLORY!

Well, I’m here to tell you that for a few days at least, your life is ruined. It is not what you worked to build, it is not what you dreamed, and it is not anything that anyone would want. It is devastation and obliteration and wasteland at all horizons.

Ruined.

Anyone standing in circumstances that their best friends won’t even talk about, where the inner circle tightens for prayer but is mute because there are no words, none at all, anyone standing there does not need to be told to pick up their cross and go on, because they cannot in that instant.

There is no immediate going on. There is no forward when a life’s path is destroyed.

Sometimes, it is happenstance: no one is at fault. The tree falls. The brakes fail. The infection is too strong. But sometimes, it is through personal choice–poor, avoidable decisions that cost so much.

And that is when the rage comes. That is when “Really, God??? Really, this??? Really, more???” get screamed and the upraised fist shakes.

And that is when the mother looks at her child and says, “You have no right. You must not.

My husband once said to me that my devoted grandmother didn’t really care about all her grandchildren’s safety; she just could not imagine her world going on without us. That is the kind of man he is: he sees black and white, makes judgement calls. At the time I thought that was a brutal and unloving thing to say.

But now I wonder: is it so wrong for a person to consider her world?

Is it wrong to say, I grew up in a hotel, alone in downtown Atlanta with my divorcee mother, and I have built a nice life with a loving husband and three children and eleven grandchildren and a paid for house, and now if you would please not destroy yourselves with drugs and alcohol and reckless driving, I’d appreciate it? Is THAT selfish? Do we truly have to be so altruistic and so other-oriented that we passively allow our destruction in the name of love and second chances?

Or can we say, “I worked to build this. Respect that fact”?

Can we not say, “Drive carefully”? Can we not tell our children, “Make wise decisions, they impact you forever, and they impact others, too”?

My daughters have been told this for years, as have my students. On the first day in my class, students see a slide that says, “Your mother’s heart.” And we talk about that. What a fragile thing it is. I tell them this: “You are the single best thing in your parents’ lives.”

It’s a miracle, a true miracle: that pimply, six-foot boy who cannot be quiet, who cannot spell, who never really needs to go to the restroom but asks daily: he is the BEST thing in his mother’s life.

That pregnant teenage girl from that well-to-do third-pew family, who has the audacity to still go to youth and even raise her hands in worship when she had SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE? She is still the best thing in her parents’ lives.

Our children are our best things. I make sure my students know that. That I, at least, let them know: you are it. The best thing that is ever going to happen to that person you call Mom or Dad.

I follow this affirmative slide with another. It says: “You have no right to ruin your parents’ lives.”

They need to know that, too.

I’ve told almost every teen I have taught: your mother and father worked to build that house. To buy that car. To get that college degree. They planned and worked and tried, and they did it. And you have the power to take that all away, to make none of it matter.

To make none of it matter.

Our kids have so much power.

Yes, they will fail us. We will fail them. Continually, perpetually, in a cycle of wrongs and forgiveness that will go on until a distant deathbed.

But to not tell them, “Hey, please don’t do this to me. Please spare me this if you can,” to let them blindly destroy us, unaware of their own power–well, that may not be a sin, but it is wrong.

One of the things we should always teach is mattering and its price. We should look our kids in their eyes, touch them on the cheeks, and say, “You matter so much. Please be wise with your One Life.”

I think that is kindness. I think that is truth. I think that is love.

Yes, God can pick up the pieces. He can restore. But we don’t have to smash and destroy and then let Him fix things. We can recognize and value before the breakage.

We can be still . . . because we know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spillover: Part I

319957_2250928345422_1635707259_nI used to teach at a school that was in the middle of nowhere. To earn extra money, I would teach Saturday School, which was a remediation/detention session that lasted about four hours. Rarely more than a handful of children came, and I spent most of the morning trying to wrest their apathy away with my typical talk of the future–a land of colleges and jobs and stable families. A land away and better.

There was one student who was often in Saturday School who simply did not belong there: P—– was there essentially by choice: smart and personable, from an affluent, loving family, this child was misbehaving for sport. Not for attention. Not out of parental hatred. Simply for fun.

I got sick of it.

The student’s parents came for pick-up one Saturday, on their way to a planned outing. As I escorted the teen to the car, the mother, holding up a packed lunch, greeted her child warmly. “I got your favorite,” she called.

I started muttering to the kid then. Things like, “I had foster kids who would have LOVED to have a mother like that.” “If my kid had Saturday School, she’d have plain peanut butter on whole wheat, not her favorite lunch.” And, finally, “You are going to break that woman’s heart. Look at that woman! Does she deserve to have her heart broken?

We approached shiny black sports car, the happy mother. We exchanged hellos, and then I said, “I just have to ask: is P—- breaking your heart?”

Immediate tears answered for her. Yes, her heart was breaking. It was unfathomable: this child, this spectacular child, so witty and charming, was deliberately doing this. Choosing this.

P—- and I had a mildly hostile trunkside conference while Mother wept in the passenger seat and Dad stood beside the car. “Look at her,” I hissed. “Look how much she loves you! Again, does she deserve to have her heart broken by you?

No. The child was horrified. No, no, a thousand times, no.

“Then stop. You are going to break her heart. Just STOP.”

There was revelation; there was also so much shame. There was Dad in a suit, waiting. Mom, crying, holding the lovingly-prepared lunch, and the child, the goofy, guileless child, who just didn’t know. Who didn’t understand the spillover–the fact that a child’s actions impact a parent’s world. 

A causes B and B causes C, and so the dominoes fall.

P—-‘s dismay is with me now, a decade later. The child’s tears, the quick hug for Mom.  The clamber to the back seat with the lunch, now understood to be a trophy.

The mother, looking at me, mother to mother, not parent to teacher. “You . . . you are not like the other teachers.” A happy chortle as she ducked into the car.

It was so simple: just a telling, a listening, and a realizing.

It was so simple, then.

 

 

 

 

Surety: Having Seen Apart

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Yesterday morning, the buzzing of Greg’s phone woke me. I’d been up late the night before answering messages from people who saw April’s sad New York posts. Days before, she’d decided to stay there; her birth father and stepmother had okayed it, as had her dad and I. And, suddenly, she wasn’t so sure. 

Previously, I’d told her I wasn’t going to change the plane ticket until after I spoke to her birth dad. She knew we’d talked, so she assumed I’d changed it.

Every mother knows: I hadn’t. 

Every mother knows: I was waiting.

A week is a long time to consider something. To think about the phrase I’m sure. To sit and consider really saying good-bye to your own bed, your hometown friends, your devoted cat, now a melancholy Penelope, who has spent a month in your bedroom window, awaiting your return.

To say, I abandon that: I pick this place.

In the decade we spent foster parenting, Greg and I learned that after you tell a child he can stay, that a temporary placement is becoming more permanent, there is a quick mood shift, affecting everyone. Everybody either winds tighter or takes off their belts entirely. True selves are shown, expectations made clearer. Ninety-three kids made it clear to us that when a placement changes, everyone feels it.

We felt it here: I turned April’s stall shower, which would now be unused, into storage immediately. I called the funeral home about mailing Stephanie Grace’s ashes to New York. April felt it there: she made doctor’s appointments and began making efforts to find a job. Her birth family started clearing out storage space for her things.

Her brother and his wife are expecting a second baby next week; perhaps the house began feeling very small. Perhaps everyone started feeling shaky about that solid sure.

Greg and I were rattled here. We prayed in the middle of the day and again at night. Wearily, we prayedEvery prayer included words like we don’t know and we want what’s best and been through so much.

The girl has been through so much.

When the phone buzzed yesterday morning, her first words to me were, “Have you changed the ticket?”

And she was relieved to hear my no, to hear that if she chose, we’d be in Brunswick at the airport Tuesday to hug her neck, grab her things, and bring her home.

I talked to her birth father. To her stepmom. To her brother. No one was mad. No one was angry. Everyone had just felt the strong shift that comes after the word stay.

Now, our girl has chosen the word return. The word home. To come back and work through things, to regain her footing and find her future.

None of us will even pretend to know how things will work out–she may get a roommate and move out quickly; she may stay home and work and save to return to her boyfriend in New York.

Her choices may be wise, foolish, or a mixture of both. She may break our hearts; we may break hers. The opportunities to fail one another are, as ever, boundless.

But there is a chance to come alongside again.

We have seen apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1,034 Miles: On Space and Kindness

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I didn’t know what a closed system was until Adam Pancake told me. I certainly didn’t know I was living in one.

Adam Pancake was the therapist who was assigned to us phone us weekly in 2011, during the twelve week period when I was bedridden with a maisonneuve fracture and, for even more character building fun, Greg got diagnosed with oral squamous cell carcinoma and had a partial mandibulectomy (jaw removal). Perhaps because they knew that two adults were sitting around taking Percocet while binge-watching Andy Griffith, our insurance provider mandated weekly conversations with Mr. Pancake.

(That is his name. On Twitter even. I’m not changing it because, hey, it’s GRAND.)

After a few weeks of chit-chats, Mr. Pancake said, “It sounds to me like your family is a closed system: it’s the four of you against the world. And it’s been like that since the bone marrow transplant. As long as things are going well, you’re fine–but when things start going badly, instead of exploding out, like other people, you explode inwardly–at each other.”

Well, five years later, we are still a closed system. And since we have spent months in upheaval that makes cancer and a broken leg look fun, we have been imploding–not full scale demolition-worthy implosions by any means, but sparks are flying, and sometimes igniting, amid all these tears. 

Our new, sit-in-a-chair, real life therapist said in the spring at the outset of all of this, there were only two rules that even people with ending worlds must obey:

  1. Be nice.
  2. Give each other space.

We have managed, even in our small open-floor plan home, to do just that. There are chairs under three separate, distant trees in the back yard, and there’s a chair in the garage for when it’s raining. Greg and I have done a lot of sitting and staring at crepe magnolias and hydrangeas; Abby has gone to the Y, and April has taken some long walks, even in the rain. Space has been healing. 

You can’t say the wrong thing to someone who’s in a recliner if you are in the backyard. It’s hard to yell at someone when you are on a walk a mile away. We have gotten good at giving distance.

Being nice has been harder. There’s a temptation to snap back, to choose words that bite–why not hurt with words when everything else hurts anyway?

Fortunately, Greg and I attended Marriage Encounter last November, literally days before we were flung onto this unexpected path. We learned in two days in a Holiday Inn conference room things we hadn’t heard in 24 years of church and Sunday School–simple strategies that have been like the tiniest of lights in all this darkness. Daily, we regroup. Apologize. Rephrase.

Daily we fail. We fall short. We begin again: kindness, space. 

Last night, we talked to April’s birth father. He, Greg, and I discussed the girl we love, a 22 year-old young adult now, who is rebuilding her life as best she can. She is comfortable in New York, after months of pain and heartbreak. She’s looking for a job, playing with her adorable niece, and awaiting the any-day birth of her nephew. It may be temporary, a geographic cure, a catching-of-breath before a return South.

It may be for good.

No one knows. But what we do know is this: on April 13, 2016, our closed system opened, allowing in sweet Stephanie Grace. That day, the four of us were submerged by waves of our love for her, and since then, we have nearly drowned in her loss.

And now, as we emerge from our whirlpools of grief–having been almost totally consumed–what matters most is not that our girl is 1,034 miles away. It’s that we can hear the smile in her voice, a lilt that we haven’t heard since last August. We can hear the lifting, the incoming ease.

At April’s 1998 adoption celebration, where a pink ribbon was on every tree in our yard, had anyone told us that one chapter in her story would include a return to New York, I would have been outraged.

Now, if New York is her solace, let it soothe. Let her heal. 

Kindness. Space. Time.

Let them work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weary Prophets; Broken Kings (SB3MO)

 

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Greg and I are spending some time at his family’s timeshare in Sky Valley. We are alone for six days. No kids. No pets. No work. No alarm clocks. Our only job is to eat, sleep, rest, and pray–the summer of our indolent recovery continues.

We have been coming to the mountains for nineteen years–never before alone. We have been here with foster children, our children, his mother, his sisters, his niece and nephew. It’s always been candy apples, shopping trips, waterfalls, petting zoos, and games of Trouble.  Nothing loud or raucous, but affirming, traditional fun. There was bustle, and, sometimes, amid it all, Greg and I were allowed to sneak away.

When we had young children, some of the truest happiness we found was in an unplanned outing. A neighbor saying, “Go to the movie; I’ll keep the kids.” A sister-in-law inviting the children over for popcorn and a movie. Here in Sky Valley, Greg’s mother would sometimes say, “You two can go. I’ll get the girls to bed.” At those words, we would fling on our shoes and be out the side door before she could reconsider. We’d head to Highlands, NC, for a quick dinner or to nearby Black Rock Mountain State Park, which offered silence and an incredible view.

Monday night, we went alone again to Black Rock Mountain. As we drove on the curvy two-lane road, we were above the treetops. Eric Church’s “Record Year” was on XM, and when we got to the top of the mountain, only four people were there. Life should have been good.

Greg and I got out of the van, plopped down on a railroad tie, and silently stared off into the distance. Mountains, everywhere. Tiny semis on the long, distant highway. A storm rolling in. Little begging birds on the nearby railing. I felt nothing.

We moved to sit under the metal pavilion as the rain began, and I said, “Greg, the mountains aren’t working. For the first time in my life, when I look at the mountains, I feel nothing.”

He confessed that he didn’t, either. Then, ever the science teacher, he explained: “Usually, we are here, emotionally.” He put a flat hand at chest level and continued, “We see the mountains, and we are emotionally lifted to here.” His hand moved to his shoulders. “Right now, we are here.” His hand was at knee level. “We are so low emotionally that the mountains can’t even get us to midline.”

Emotions, explained by the most phlegmatic of men.

We sat there. I thought about the cattle on a thousand hills. About a God who needs nothing, and we who have nothing to give.

This year has been about all the nothing.

A decade ago, we learned to appreciate life and health and children in ways that most young couples never do. Cancer taught us to care for one another, to value precious time. Watching too many friends die and seeing even children’s lives cut short, our priorities were changed, and money and material things lost some power. We struggled with anger over the things we had seen and the prices we had paid. While we still were not sunshine and rainbows people, we were solidly grateful for what we had and what we were given. We knew, in the scheme of things, we had much.

And we wanted to protect what we had. Because we thought we had it. That it was ours. Even after being dealt several bad hands, I think at some level, we still thought held a few cards.

This, this continual sixteen month unraveled reeling–from Greg’s mother’s death to April’s pregnancy to the baby’s death to April’s potential move–this total devolvement into breathless pinballs, this has wiped us clean and obliterated any idea of control, much less the absurdity that we have it.

We are at the truest “but God” moment in our lives.

God and doctors won’t fix this. God and money won’t fix this. God and friends won’t fix this. This, when we are on the other side, will be all God.

I like that we all at least know that there is an other side, that we will see it.

That in this obliteration, in this weird emotionless and apathetic land, we still know and expect to see God. That we have heard enough about weary prophets and broken kings to know that we are no different. That the ancient God who heard and saw them is the present God who hears and sees us.

They survived. They saw His hand move. David wrote, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”

I could cry this verse forever. I could cry forever.

We are so broken. So much is broken.

We wait on goodness. On life.  On the Lord.

Love, Uncontained: Adopting Perspective

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Two weeks ago, we did something that not everyone understands: we kissed our adult adopted daughter, April, put her on a plane and sent her 1,000+ miles away. She left, with our blessings, to see her birth family. The last thing I yelled at her as she headed through security was, “Come home!” She beamed over her shoulder at me. Passengers in line around her laughed.

A few days ago, we got a text. “So. If I wanted to move up here?” 

It’s been interesting, the past few days, watching my inbox fill. People are concerned because April is too happy too soon. She is far away, with strangers. She is, after all, our daughter.

What they don’t realize is: she has never, for an instant, been just our daughter.

We had 93 foster children over a ten year span. We heard them cry for their parents. We listened to them count the days to their next supervised visitation. We saw them spend hours drawing flowery cards to give their mothers. We took them to the ER after they feigned illness, knowing their Real Mommas would be called and come to the hospital. We saw their childish love. And we saw true parental love.

I have heard the judges, after terminating parental rights, say to teary-eyed mothers, “You will always be your child’s mother. No one can take that away from you.” I have watched women kiss their children for the last time.  I have seen worlds end.

When April’s own world collapsed following the stillbirth of her anencephalic daughter, Stephanie Grace, her birth family–with whom we have always maintained a relationship, ranging from sporadic Christmas cards to a visit in 2006–rallied around her. Her elder brother and his pregnant wife suggested she come up, meet their toddler, and spend some time. He had invited her for years; this time, she went.

They hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, but their connection was immediate. Her texts were happy; Facebook videos of bonfires and fireworks showed a normal family, laughing. Pictures taken in the park show April with her near-twin. His friends’ comments beneath the photos marvel at their similarities.

I had first seen her brother in a picture mailed to us when April was a toddler. I opened the envelope to find the boy version of my daughter. Same eyes, same cheeks, same smile, same belly. At that moment, I felt my heart rip. She had been taken from her brother. Her family. 

I felt the same pangs early in April’s pregnancy, when others suggested that she give her baby up for adoption. As I looked through the family profiles on a local adoption agency’s website, I thought, Her baby doesn’t need to be saved FROM anything or anyone. We will ALL love this baby.”

That’s the insult of adoption, I think–cloaking it in terms of “salvation.”

This is unfair  to birth parents. It implies unworthiness and inferiority.  According to society’s narrative, their child is saved from them by Better People.  Some nobility is afforded those birth parents who sign their rights away: obviously, they want what’s Best for their child. Finding themselves cast into roles of selfless saviors, adoptive parents are forced to wear a mantle of perfection, and they can  exhaust themselves trying to be all to a child who has lost everything.

Lost in all this posture and coerced role play is a simple fact: most of the time, everyone involved in the adoption loves the child equally

After I got April’s text about staying in New York, I read aloud from internet articles about the pros and cons of such birth family reunions. One of the most profound comments was that adoptees live with their feet in two worlds. My husband and I chatted about it for a moment, and then Greg said, “We don’t know what trauma we are causing. What hole we might be creating. There’s a spiritual connection an adoption doesn’t undo. We may be giving children safety and taking other things.”

Later, as we sat on alone the back porch together that evening, we silently looked up at the drake elm tree amid the pink of the crepe myrtles. Finally, he said, “This is normal. Children grow up. They sometimes move far away. It’s what they do.” His voice quavered.

As the sky darkened, we continued to talk quietly–tired survivors of a year full of heartbreak and loss, we are willing to grant that a fresh start might be in April’s best interest. We know that she is safe and loved; we try to console ourselves with that.

It is, we know, the ultimate in reversal of roles–the adoptive parents forlorn, the birth family elated. A thousand miles means we won’t see her often. There will be no visits on a whim.

We know people who, in 1998, felt the same way we do right now. April is now sitting on their sofa, petting their dog, laughing at their jokes.

Like us, they have always loved April. They, like us, always will. We have always understood that about each other. Ours doesn’t fit the “typical” adoption narrative. No one saved anyone; we all just did our best and loved the same brown-eyed girl.

And we all still do.