Sunday morning we woke up and enjoyed a lazy (if warm) morning in our room. Around 10 my boys started asking if I could take them to a beach with real waves. I left Anna with Nana, Papa, and Mason (who wasn’t interested in going to the beach), and drove my eager crew to Virginia Beach. I knew we’d have to stop and get lunch on the way home and, doing the math, I worried we’d be late getting back to our visit with Mama Kim. I sent her a message and let her know that and asked if she wanted to push the schedule back a little or go on to the hotel and visit with Anna and my mom. She sent me the sweetest message and told me that she would keep the schedule and play with Anna and that I could take my time. I am so thankful she is comfortable with my family!
Let me tell you… I am NOT a beach person. Not even a little bit. I don’t like sand, sun, or salt water. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like sweating. This experience had all of these things. To top it all off, the water was freezing (76*) so I couldn’t even comfortably get in to cool off. I had to stand with my feet in the water to maintain some sort of reasonable level of comfort while I counted “1-2-3-4” over and over again. (I lost one of them for a while which had me in a bit of a panic but he was not missing, just mixed into a large bunch of people.)
I let them stay as long as they wanted, which turned out to be just about as long as I was okay staying, knowing we still had to go through a drive-through on the way home. We carried half of the sand on the beach back to our still-crammed-with-stuff van and made for the hotel.
My Panera pick-up was ready within minutes while the food from the boys’ choice of fast food restaurants took over 10 minutes… we sat in the drive-through wondering why in the world it was taking so long… and every moment I was eager to get back to visit with Mama Kim.
Eventually we did make it back and I said a quick “HI” before jumping in the shower to rinse off the salt, sand, and sweat.
We chatted and watched Anna play around for a while. After we had caught up and before Anna got fussy and needed a nap I gave Mama Kim a gift. She unwrapped a small pewter box with “My First Curls” etched in the top. I told her that we had waited until we were with her for Anna’s first hair cut and that we were going to do that right then.
We videoed and took pictures and we all got a lock of Anna’s hair for keepsakes. This happened to be Anna’s 18-month-birthday.
Please forgive the messy counter tops! We had to keep everything on there so that Anna couldn’t get to it when she was free to run around the hotel room!
We ended up spending most of our time visiting in the dining area of our hotel where the AC was working just fine. There was a small room that offered a little privacy but with a moving toddler, we were really all over the place. Anna colored, talked, played with cars, etc.
Around 6:30 we had a very special visitor: Anna’s paternal aunt! We have been so happy having Anna’s mom in the our lives and now we have a direct relative on her dad’s side! We FaceTimed with Anna’s grandmother and expect to be able to meet her in person in December. I got permission from Charlene to share these on my blog. Charlene was an absolute joy to spend time with and I look forward to her and Anna having a fun long-term relationship! We have created a special place on Facebook just for Anna’s “first family” where we share pictures, videos, and stories.
I believe we visited until close to 8:00 pm and, as usual, the goodbyes were gut-wrenching. Thankfully our next visit will be in December which is just around the corner. We shared with them that we are moving to Germany, a difficult conversation to have, and while they are sad, they are excited for Anna to have this experience. I assured them that when I come back to the US to visit, I’ll make sure to visit them.
I long for more people to understand open adoption. I feel like I say this all the time but I do understand that it isn’t possible for some people to have one… these words aren’t directed to those who, for whatever reason, can’t. Sometimes the reason is because the child was adopted from overseas. However, within the United States there are so many cases where open adoption would be possible and, not only that, would be beneficial to the child. Most people who hear that we are in direct contact with Anna’s first family look at me with bulging eyes, wondering why in the world we are doing this. They have believed so many of the myths and horror stories that they can’t imagine a situation where contact could be positive. I hope that by sharing Anna’s story (the little that I am willing to share publicly, and which I share with permission from Mama Kim and anyone else I mention in my blog) will help to turn the tide. I hope people will stop being so afraid of open adoption and will start considering it a true possibility. I have two very close friends who are in the beginning stages of adoption and my heart longs for them to be able to have open ones. I have another friend who has adopted internationally and has done everything in her power to get a message to her child’s parents that their child is safe, well, and that they would love to open a conversation. I find this brave and admirable. They are not using the fact that theirs was an international adoption to wipe their foreheads, say, “Shew, at least we don’t have to worry about that aspect of adoption.” No. They’re seeking and doing everything in their power to offer their child contact with the first family. An adopted child is 100% part of the family who adopts him or her, but that child is also 100% from another family. My 7 year old gets this. Just a few minutes ago I asked him this question:
“Parker, what was your favorite part about the day we went to the beach. The little beach, not the one with the waves.” His response blew me away… I wasn’t prepared for him to say this and I wrote it immediately so I would get it right. He said, “Seeing my sister’s birth mom ’cause that’s pretty special. She’s still pretty much her mom.” YES! She is! She is still Anna’s mom! I am her mom. Mama Kim is her mom. Having an open adoption does not make me any less Anna’s mom. I urge anyone who is on the fence to do some deep digging into the facts of open adoption. To research the mental health of adult adoptees who were raised in both open and closed. To begin to see that open is actually becoming the norm, which I think is a good thing. To understand that “open” can range from mailing letters back and forth through the adoption agency to visiting and sharing holidays. I’m going to say something that will sound crass. Once an adoption is final, the adoptive parents hold all of the power. All of it. You may think, “as they should.” I don’t look at it that way. I want to understand that legally I do have the final say in what goes on in Anna’s life and I will give my own life to make sure she’s healthy and well taken care of. It also means I will sacrifice what is comfortable to do what is right by her. I firmly believe that having Mama Kim in our lives, that showing her that she has two mommies who adore her, that letting her know the aunts and grandmother who can see their brother and son in her facial features, is a gift that I have the power to give her! I don’t have the power to give her a set of parents in her house who look like her. Neither of us is black so she’s going to stand out when we are in public… she is obviously adopted. But I can give her relationships with people she does resemble. I can give her family members who are black and who can speak to that part of who she is… who can affirm her in that culture. I have the power to do that and I want to. I want to use my “power” in the adoptive relationship in such a way that everyone else feels that they, too, have influence in Anna’s life. I want them to know that they matter to me, to our whole family, and that they matter to Anna. There are differences in her first family and her current family and those differences are to be experienced. I have the “power” to let her experience those. It hurts me to even use the word power. I really don’t like it. I use it here because I’ve read it in the articles written by first-mothers who were promised contact with the child they were placing in an adoptive family’s home only to have that family drop contact altogether. It’s a word that evokes emotion in my heart and keeps me on my toes about updating the group I referred to above. In fact, I’ll add some pictures this today since it’s been a few days. Recognizing that I have this power and determining to do something to honor Anna’s first-family is my responsibility. I don’t take that lightly.
If you ever want to talk about what it means to have an open adoption, I am more than happy to have that conversation with you. I honestly believe that ONE person changed my entire perspective on this topic and I know God put us at Fort Hood at the same time so that the picture below would be a possibility for Anna. Had I not met Kathie Harris, I may never have given open adoption a thought. I hope that I can be that ONE person for someone else; that I can allow at least one adoptive family to recognize the power they have in the adoption triad and to work toward a healthy version of open adoption for their situation.