Treading water

We just got back from a visit with Shelley's parents (Nonna & Nonno to Gus) in Florida. Gus was in hog heaven because not only do they live on the beach and have a pool, but several of his cousins live very close so he got to play with them, and some even brought their DOGS! This kid could not have been more thrilled. The mommies were also really impressed with what an adaptable little guy we have - no problems with jetlag or being shuffled from place to place. (We on the other hand were wrecked from our red-eye flight. Thankfully Shelley's parents have plenty of coffee!)
Gus swam everyday, multiple times a day. He and Shelley go to swim lessons at the Y every Saturday, so the kid has some skills. Nonna and Nonno got him a little thin life jacket-y thing, and he was excited to have such independence in the pool. It was great to see him enjoying himself so much. He spent hours dog-paddling around and treading water.
Treading water never felt like very much fun to me. Sometimes, though, it's just what we have to do. Maintain. Currently, we're navigating how to do that in our relationship with G's birthmom. I say our relationship because at almost 20 months, Gus doesn't really have a relationship with her yet. Right now, all the relationshippin' falls fully on us. And sometimes, often, it feels like treading water. Like we are staying in the same damn place no matter how much effort we exert.
Don't get me wrong, we are committed to having an open adoption for many reasons, (some of them I've talked about here and here), and we want Gus to be able to have a relationship with his birthmom because she is just that, the person who gave him life and had to make a really hard choice. But none of this is black and white, and some of the reasons that she made that choice are also the same reasons that sometimes maintaining a relationship with her isn't the easiest thing in the world.
But I have to remind myself, relationships are often hard. Especially, let's be honest, with relatives. And that's what K is, she is related to us through Gus. It feels, currently, like there is a great chasm of grief between us. There are a lot of uncomfortable feelings from all of us churning around in there. Nobody wants to swim in it, with the exception of maybe Gus, he'd swim in anything. But the water is a little too deep and treacherous for him right now, I think. So our job is to teach him and support him and hone his skills so that he's prepared to confidently dive in at some point. Because even though the job of maintaining the relationship is ours right now, it is and always will be, about and for him.


Love. Love. Love. I feel sometimes like I might be swallowed up by all the hate out there in the world, but I have to remember the only way to fight back, the only way that will ever make a difference, is love. But it's difficult. When there are people saying things about my family? When they don't even know us?

I don't think Gus has a hateful bone in his body. He loves animals, and kids on the playground who hit him, and homeless people, and just about anyone who seems scared. Even when he was a tiny tiny baby, (like only days old still in the nursery at the hospital tiny) he seemed to tune in to other kids who were upset. I would hold him and whisper that he was okay, that it wasn't happening to him, that the other kid who was crying would be okay too, and he would settle down. Maybe (big possibility) I was projecting stuff onto him, but I don't know. He does seem to be empathic. He goes up to kids who are crying and comforts them. He puts his arm around kids in his swim class who are scared. 

Gus, on the other hand, doesn't seem to fear much of anything. He got 4 shots at his 18 month appointment and didn't even flinch. He goes down the big slide by himself at the park. Sometimes he falls because it's so fast - but he hops right up and starts climbing the stairs, ready to go again. He's been okay being dunked under water (at swim class) since he was about 7 months old. He goes to sleep at night in a completely dark room all by himself (that's new and we are sooo proud!).  Maybe there is a connection between his fearlessness and his big-heartedness?

I do think there's some lesson in there. Because hate is driven by fear. So the best response would seemingly be to show the haters love. But, damn, that is hard. Especially when they are hatin' on me just for being myself. I think I may be too old and cynical to be able to respond with love. The best I can do is walk away. But Gus, I think, could be a little ambassador of love. I think kids often are. I know many stories about icy relationships melting once kids are involved. But it doesn't seem fair to him, to be put in that position. Then again, he has to live in this world. Hate and fear are taught. So is love I guess. I'm not sure. All I know is that I want to do my best to encourage him to continue to be confident, to be fearless where it counts: to love.

Who's Adopted?

Gus is obsessed with books. This high-energy, full force blur of a toddler will not stop for much, but he will sit still on my lap for book after book. He's been this way since very early on. When he was about 4 or 5 months old, he'd happily allow me to read him half a dozen to a dozen books at a time. As an introverted bookworm, I of course love this (except that it makes it hard for me to hold boundaries sometimes when he is asking me to read another book. Who wants to say "No" to that?) Also, it has been helpful when we need to get a concept across to him. Tails Are Not for Pulling is a popular one around here, and much appreciated by the cats! 

His favorite books when he was wee (he still loves them though he's begun to add others to the repertoire) were Todd Parr books. I think all the bright colors really captured his attention when he was really tiny. Many of Todd's books talk about differences; being unique, different types of families, and adoption. And we always add commentary while reading ("our family has two moms", "you're adopted"). So now, when we get to a line in a book about adoption ("it's okay to be adopted", "some families adopt children"), Gus points to himself! (The first time he did this with Shelley, he pointed to himself and then gave her a huge hug!) I'm not entirely sure he understands exactly what being adopted means, but he knows he is. And he feels that it's a positive thing.

We have a bunch of friends who also have adopted kids, so I think Gus may have gotten a little bit confused about it once we started telling him that Malcolm is adopted, and Baby Ben is adopted, and Baby Vaughan is adopted, because then he started pointing at his baby doll and saying "adopted", so I suspect he might think that all children are adopted. But I'm not sure. All I know is that it feels pretty great that he knows. Even if the concept isn't entirely clear, we're laying the groundwork. We talk to him about his birthmom and his birth/adoption story. We strive for openness in all things in our family. 

The other thing I'm pretty sure he knows, that I hope he knows, is that he is LOVED. I don't believe that love is enough to erase all the pain he may one day feel about being adopted. It's complicated, and his feelings about it are bound to be too. But I do hope that if he is secure in our love for him he will be able to one day talk about and explore the feelings that he has surrounding the loss of his biological family. And I hope, for now, being accepted, and being loved, and knowing he is adopted (whatever that might mean for him in his toddler brain at the moment) will be enough. I feel like it's a good start. 

Happy Holidays!

We are staying in San Francisco for the holidays this year. It was not an easy decision, but one that is best for our little family. Missing out on seeing friends and family is hard, but we are also pretty excited about being Home for the first time ever - taking advantage of the holiday activities here as well as spending time with our chosen family - and decorating! (an interesting endeavor with a toddler) Also, thrilled about no cross-country flight with a constantly-in-motion toddler in the holiday throng, I must confess.

I'm trying to look at things through Gus's eyes - the magic of childhood and all that. Quite honestly, though, I kinda think all of it might be a wee bit terrifying. I mean, why is there suddenly a 9 foot tree in our living room? The lights are cool, but some of them have broken, so now everytime he sees the string that we hung on the mantle in the dining room, he says "uh-oh". When we go in the living room with the tree, poor guy is constantly being escorted away and told that pulling on the lights could bring the tree down on top of him - scary!  (The first time we went in there after I'd strung the lights, he walked over and waved! Really cute, but then he warmed up and now he wants to tug on everything and take the ornaments off the tree. Especially the balls, cause hello, balls are for throwing and kicking, not hanging on a tree - DUH!)

And then there are the snowglobes. We're down 2 now. One glass (yeah, BAD Mama), one plastic. All that glitter and snow and water all over the floor, the poor snowman, melting. Actually, Gus had no reaction but "uh-oh" to either of those breaking, though he is upset that we won't let him hold any others. Okay, maybe it's just me. Maybe the kid isn't being traumatized by all these goofy things we do to celebrate the holidays. Although, can I just say one more thing - Santa. Yeah, that's probably just me too. Gus loves everybody. He waves and says Hello to the garbage man, anybody walking down the street, random people in a cafe, the homeless guy on the corner. Hell, he goes up to strange kids on the playground and hugs them. (Alright, alright. It is me. I'll stop projecting my introverted Grinchy neuroses onto my kid.)

He does love all the lights everywhere. I'm with him on that one. Twinkle lights do lend a certain magic to everything. Also, the gingerbread - yum! And I can't wait to see what he does with all the presents!

i'm meltiiiing
Gus likes to "help"


I've been reading a lot of Glennon Melton lately. Love her. In my head I'm often as funny and profound as she is. In my head. (A lot goes on in this head of mine. But i digress.) Anyway, she has this concept of "happy-ish" that I love. You see, I'm just learning Happy. That is not to say that I have not had my share of happiness in my life - of course I have! But Happy and I are sometimes tentative friends. We know one another - enough to recognize each other across a crowded room, say - but sometimes, we're out of context and have a difficult time placing each other, remembering each other's names. Familiar but...not. 

My son on the other hand? He is intimately acquainted with Happy. Those guys are tight. BFFs. Blood brothers. Very rarely do you see one without the other. I love that. I'm also jealous as hell sometimes of being left out of the club. Why isn't Happy my best friend, too? When did we lose touch? Oh, right, I think it was right around the time that Hard moved to town. As in, life is sometimes hard, being a grown-up is hard, being a parent is pretty much always hard, maintaining a loving and authentic relationship with your spouse is hard times ten when you have a tiny human in the house... You get the picture.

But here's what I'm learning - from being a parent, from doing work on myself and practicing self-compassion, from reading freakin' children's books (!), from being a Human living life: Happy and Hard, they know each other. They, it turns out, can co-exist. In fact, especially when you are older, Happy doesn't mean as much without Hard. Almost everything is hard but that doesn't preclude happiness. Sometimes, Happy is Hard, but Hard can also be Happy. And really, Happy-ish is the ticket. Because that means that you know Happy. Sometimes Happy is around and sometimes she's not. But it's Oh. Kay.

I think, a lot of the time, it comes down to where you put your focus. That is what Gus is giving me. And, sure, it can be argued that perhaps he hasn't had a lot of hard so far in his life. (Except that being born is hard, and figuring out how to breathe is hard, and going through the loss of your birthparent is hard, and teething is hard, and wanting to be able to do things independently even when you can't is hard.) We all have hard. It looks different to each of us but we all have it. But Gus, Gus doesn't dwell on the hard. He just focuses on being happy. I know, it's likely not a conscious focus for him. And that's probably what makes me jealous. But it can be a conscious focus for me. I want to have a closer friendship with Happy. But Happy-ish will do, too. And more importantly, I want Gus and Happy to be besties for a long, long time. I also want him to know that Hard is not necessarily his enemy. It's all just Life.

see, it's about FOCUS. ok, and LOVE. and SILLY, too. but for consistency's sake, let's go with FOCUS.



So I mentioned before that when he was learning to walk, Gus would clap for himself if no one was around to give him the props he felt he deserved. It's pretty heartwarming to see how proud he is of himself. For everything. He has taken to regularly clapping for himself when he accomplishes something or gets something "right".

We have been working on boundaries and limits (yes, it is going to be a theme for a while I hear). One of the things we've been working on the hardest is the way Gus treats the cats. He loves them. He gets super excited to see them. (read: you-are-so-cool-i-want-to-pull-your-tail-and-swat-at-you-because-i-am-so-excited) They are confusing because they do not react predictably, and the black cat, Indie, is the most ambivalent animal on the planet. He wants to be in the room with Gus. He even wants to play with Gus. Until he doesn't. But instead of leaving (like Neville), he stays there in the room. Sometimes he scratches Gus. Sometimes he ignores him. I'm sure it is very confounding for Gus. Anyway, to make a long story short, we are working on not pulling on the cats (mostly tails, mostly Indie). When Gus gets it right, when he snuggles Indie and gently pats him without pulling, he turns around to check with me and then, he applauds. That kid gives himself a freakin' standing ovation!

And here's the real kicker. He's started doing it for us too. He is pretty adept at communicating his needs these days, but sometimes (mostly in the middle of the night, mostly when the mommies are really out of it) we don't get it right away. Of course, he keeps insisting that there is something to be done and we keep trying. And when we figure it out...? He claps! He applauds our effort and the fact that we figured out what he needed. I mean, damn! How awesome would it be if everyone in our lives clapped joyfully for us when we helped to meet their needs? Or respected a boundary? Or, when we sang a goofy song and did a silly dance? (Yeah, he claps then too) Well, I'll tell you this. When I'm exhausted and up against the wall and wondering what I was thinking with this whole parenting thing, it's pretty flippin' awesome to hear that applause. To know that sometimes, at least according to him, I get some stuff right.

can you handle the cute? 'cause i can't


Leaps and Bounds

Gus is growing and changing and learning SO fast. It feels like he makes these giant leaps in ability and logic almost overnight. I know that isn't true, that all of these things are simmering in the background until the day he puts them together outwardly, but it feels so amazingly out of the blue sometimes. It's exciting to think about the millions of neural connections he's making all the time. (exciting for a geeky girl like me, at least)

He understands so much language and makes these really cool associations. (All animals are in the same category and called "Cat" - except he will say "Dog". All fruit is in the same category and called "App" - apple - but we are working on "Ba" - banana. I told him the other day that the dishwasher was hot. He looked at it, then toddled over and gingerly put his hand on the oven and said "Hot"!) He surprises me with the things he can do, but then again, I'm not surprised one bit. (I can ask him to meet me at the bottom of the stairs and he can navigate them slowly and safely (backwards). I can ask him to pick out socks and he will walk over, open the drawer, stand on his tippy toes, reach in and pull out a pair of socks.) He is independent but still craves snuggles. (At the park, he'll climb up the play structure on his own, run across the bridge, go down the slide or stairs, and then run over and give me a hug. So adorable and makes my heart melt.)

Of course, it's not all easy and fun stuff. He definitely has his opinions about what he wants and doesn't want, and they grow stronger everyday as we hurtle decidedly into toddlerhood. And sure, in the middle of a struggle to get his shoes on or to stop him from pulling on the cat or to keep him from throwing food - enter any boundary here - it's a little harder to be jazzed about how much he's growing. But stepping back, it's amazing to see that he is really coming into himself and growing into an independent and mostly happy kid. (Feel free to remind me I've said this when I have smoke coming out of my ears during a "mommy time-out" mid-tantrum)

I don't want to squelch that. That independence, that confidence. So even though it is extremely, extremely difficult sometimes (Oh, I'll definitely screw it up. Lots.), I'm committed to being as mindful as I can be of him as a person in making boundaries lovingly. Not punishing him for doing what he was born to do and being who he was born to be. Not crushing that bright, self-assured, jubilant spirit of his. And hopefully in so doing, I can grow by leaps and bounds too.