Road trip! (Open-adoption style)

Over Easter/Passover weekend back in April, we went on a road trip to visit Gus' birthparents. As hard as I try to understand what it must be like for Gus to be adopted, I will never truly know. We chose open adoption, as we've discussed on this blog in the past, because we wanted to be able to provide Gus with biological ties. We are his parents, but so are they. And so, we are in contact with both of his birthparents. As of our visit, they were living together in Oregon. Gus had a great time playing with them in the park, sharing his food with them at lunch and then hanging out with them at the Hands-On Science Museum the next day. He is such a social kid and so comfortable with everyone, but it is touching to see him walk up and grab the hand of one of his birthparents.

Feeding lorikeets at Turtle Bay in Redding, CA

We do not talk about adoption everyday, but we do discuss it often. When reading a book that talks about babies, we talk about his birth story - about how he came out of birthmom K's tummy, about how Mommom was there to cut the cord and how I was in the waiting room and I KNEW the moment he entered the world. We talk about Gus' birthparents. He has a picture of them in his room. Now that he is getting older, we let him take the lead more in the discussions. Sometimes, he says he doesn't want to talk about it. Sometimes he just incorporates talking and thinking about them into his play. (After our trip, Gus was playing with magnet blocks on the floor. He was fitting them together and then pointed to different parts, telling me,  "This is Gussie, this is Mommom. Here's Mama, and here's K." So adorable, and lovely to see him working it out for himself.) I try to just sit back and let it happen. I think our job is to be available to answer his questions, provide him with access to his birthparents, and give him space to feel whatever he feels in any given moment.

It's not always easy though. This being mindful and aware of my kid's feelings. Let's face it, I'm not always aware of my own feelings. And on top of that, toddlers have lots of BIG feels. Their amygdala is pretty much running the show.  But if I can be quiet and still enough and not jump in when he's working to process, or ask, or tell me something, then it is really amazing. On the second day of our visit, as we drove from the hotel to meet up with his birthparents, he said, unprompted, "I'm feeling frazzled today." After we picked our jaws up off the floor, Shelley said, "It's okay to feel frazzled. There is a lot going on." I do not know exactly what his experience was during that trip, but frazzled seems like a pretty appropriate descriptor.


 I try particularly hard when he is processing through imaginative play not to contradict what he has to say. For example: a week or so after our trip, Gus and I were walking to daycare. He had decided to take a little stuffed monster friend with him. He'd been carrying it, but decided to stick it in the pocket of my hoodie. He grabbed my hand and said, "You are K and I am D and this is baby Gus." There are probably a million ways to respond to that. I think because I have tried so hard the whole time I've been parenting Gus to reflect things back to him, without even thinking I just repeated what he said. "I am K and you are D and this is Gus." And we just continued walking to daycare. I have no idea what was actually going on in his head at that moment. I just know that it was a way he was working things out, and I hope what I was able to offer is what he needed. Sometimes it will be and sometimes it won't, I suppose.

I really don't know how we got so lucky. Gus is the world's sweetest kid. And funny. And just so high on life. All kids' believe they are the center of the universe. That's just how it is. But Gus has this way of seeming to appreciate it. He does this thing where if friends or family are around and hanging out with him, he gathers us all into a giant hug. "These are my people" is what it seems to say. He did the same with K & D on the first day as we left the park. He was past nap time and needed a little help following directions, so I was carrying him. K was walking behind me and he reached out to her. She took him and then he looked around and said, "Where's D?" and then pulled them both in for big bear hug.

Because he's two and haggling with us is kind of his job, he will often brush off our attempts at affection. "No kisses! No kisses!" I try not to be intrusive, so I back off when he says this. The fact that I know he will come around and instigate a very sweet moment of snuggles and kisses helps me to give him that space, I guess. We talk about body autonomy with him - if you say stop to tickles or kisses, that's your prerogative and we will respect it. You get to say what happens to your body. Because our kiddo is so freakin' smart, he decided to use it against us when we were washing and combing his hair. "That's my hair. I don't want you to do that. It's my body." Nice try, Kid! I think we are going to have our work cut out for us when he's a teenager!

Birthparent hugs

Playing Catch-Up

When you are two, a lot happens in half a year. It is amazing to me how much Gus has grown and changed in what feels like just a blip in time. Where do I even begin?

Well, since I last blogged, there is a lot more talking. A LOT. Gus basically narrates every moment - what he's doing, what he's feeling (more on that later). And of course, he is full of questions. All kinds of questions. He has the cutest way of asking them, too. His voice goes way up high at the end. Which is how we indicate a question in speech, but the way he does it is so exaggerated. I have to work really hard not to crack up!

He has started going to daycare a few days a week and loves having other kids to pal around with. And now, unbelievably, we are into the preschool application process. I'd much rather deal with tantrums and the like than this type of logistics. But I think we've found a place that is a great fit for him and hopefully it will work out. He has to be out of diapers to go there, so we are working on that, with pretty good success.

Hmmm. Well, he wears them the "proper" way too!

On top of these developmental milestones, it is so cool to see Gus's understanding of complex concepts grow. He seems to really be working out the nuances of being adopted and what that means. We talk about it openly, and he asks questions. We've had some friends have babies recently, so he's been very interested in pregnancy/birth and talks about how he came out of his birthmom K's tummy. And earlier this month when I asked him to whom we should send Valentines, he said "Um... D & K!"

He's definitely working out the similarities and differences he experiences around him. He asks a lot about differing body parts. We talk specifically about who has what, but not about girls vs. boys. His concept of family is 2 moms, (When we see a "Mama" bulldozer and a "Baby" bulldozer at a construction site, he wants to know the whereabouts of the "Mommom" bulldozer), but he knows other types of families exist.  These distinctions are all matter of fact and "normal" to him. Because we teach kids to take issue with differences, to try to fit everything into a box with respect to families, gender, race. They aren't born with any preconceived notions about what is "normal" or "right".

Another really great thing about Gus is his awareness of feelings - his and others'. He is obviously a toddler, so he isn't always completely in control or aware of all of his emotions, but he definitely has a grasp of the concept. We talk a lot about feelings - how there are all kinds, how you can have one or more at a time, how they change. We have always tried to parent and teach by acknowledging the feelings behind behaviors, but I still think it's pretty amazing how well he seems to understand. For example, yesterday he and I were walking down the sidewalk. He ran into a store that I had asked him not to go in, so I had to carry him out. He was less than thrilled about this arrangement, and was pretty upset. But as I carried him back to the car, through his tears and snuffles, he said, "I'm very frustrated. I want to go in there." Crazy, right?! And when gauging others' emotions, he doesn't always pick up the specific feeling, but he generally gets within the right "category" (positive or negative).

One thing that has not changed is Gus's exuberance. He remains joyous, funny, friendly, and gung ho about life. We just went on vacation to Maui. Although he was a little hesitant about the very big waves in the ocean, he still went in (and had a blast). He wasn't sure about putting his face in the water (in the ocean. he has no qualms about this in the pool) but he tried it. We went on a boat trip (poor kid got a little sea-sick at first, but can't stop talking about Captain Casey and how much fun it was to see whales). He went skinny-dipping under a waterfall. He took a surf lesson in which he went out into the huge Hawaiian waves with his instructor. And even caught a few!!! It seems his mostly fearless, willing to try anything, adaptable temperament remains intact. In addition to doing all of that, he also had fun making friends with kids at the beach and in the pool. Some older, some younger, some his own age. He's such a little social butterfly!

I feel so fortunate that we get to parent such a carefree, hilarious, big-hearted, fun kid.

    Gus was very into non-alcoholic pina coladas. After his surf lesson, he ran down the beach yelling, "Where's my virgin?!!"