Dear Birth Mom

Every year around my oldest daughter’s birthday I write a letter to her birth mom. The letter is kept on file at the Children’s Aid Society in case birth mom ever contacts them looking for updates. The post below was originally conceived as one of those letters but it quickly became something else, something I didn’t feel right about sharing with birth mom. November is National Adoption Awareness month so it feels like the right time to share some of the highs and lows of our experiences. Lucy is not her real name.

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Dear Lucy,

You and I have never met. We’ve never exchanged emails, phone calls or photos. I know what you look like though, because I’ve spent hours staring at the three pictures we have of you, concentrating so hard -looking for similarities but terrified I’ll find them – that I’m convinced my eyesight alone is causing them to fade. In adoption phraseology, you are known as “birth mom” – a term I dislike because it’s at once too clinical and too personal.

Our daughter is too young to remember when she was taken away from you; too young to remember the filthy basement apartment that made the police officers sent to apprehend her physically ill from the stench. Too young to recall all the different places you lived together, and all the different people you brought into her life. And she’s too young to understand what was happening when she was taken into foster care to live with strangers who cared but weren’t you. Weren’t mommy.

She’s also too young to remember her first foster home, the one that asked for her to be removed because, at three years old she was “too difficult” for them to handle. Flipping through the Life Book lovingly prepared by her second foster mom there’s one picture I can barely look at. In it, our daughter is all smiles and wearing a pink polyester princess dress, her hair in curls. She’s three years old and is proudly standing next to two garbage bags containing everything she owned in the world. (Now she has two rolling suitcases, one with puppies and one with kittens, because I’ve come to understand how important it is for her to own something, and I will never allow her possessions to be treated like trash again.)

Our daughter was also too young to remember getting ready for visits with you. Sliding her tiny arms into a pretty dress, having her hair done (which she hates to this day) and getting excited for mommy. There were many times when you didn’t show up but she doesn’t remember that either, and people tell me this is all “for the best”; that it has helped her bond with us because her adoption was like a clean slate, a fresh start. I’m not convinced anyone just forgets the first four years of their life, but for now I’m happy to pretend.

The first time she called me mommy I was so thrilled and grateful that I didn’t even stop to think how that would have made you feel, had you known. To be honest, I wasn’t all that sympathetic towards you. I had a very narrow view of things, you see. I respected the decision you made to surrender your daughter and I told my friends how brave it was, but I secretly wondered how anyone could let go of this beautiful, spirited bundle of light. I mean it when I say you were brave, but I’m also consciously crafting the narrative I want our daughter to embrace when she’s older.

While I’ve always been grateful to you, I was far from compassionate. Intellectually, I understood that you would have had to overcome significant disadvantages to be a successful parent, and I pitied the circumstances you were born into. But my biggest mistake was naively thinking that the miracle of a child would somehow erase everything that was holding you back: poverty, a lack of education, a troubled childhood and issues with your mental health. It has taken me a few years to realize that life doesn’t work that way; that motherhood is not a panacea for every negative thing in your life.

I was fortunate not to suffer from the adoption version of post-partum that many new moms experience. Your daughter and I bonded right away. We grabbed each other at that first meeting and haven’t let go in more than three years. And even though I have a wonderful husband, the support of a large extended family and the financial ability to raise her, in my darkest moments, where fear trumps both reason and experience, I wonder if loving her beyond all reason is going to be enough.

Those first few months with our daughter were hard. Really hard. For almost a year, I could not leave the house without a tantrum and tears. No amount of “I promise I’ll be right back” eased her fear that she would never see me again. We surrounded her with a loving family: a Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends but no one could take the place of mommy, even for an hour or two. In hindsight I can see that because she didn’t talk about you or ask for you, we just assumed (hoped?) she didn’t remember. Incredibly, we expected her traumatized four year-old brain to just accept that this time it would be different: mommy will come back and this will be her forever family. Even though my heart ached for a little girl, barely four, who didn’t believe that mommies come back, I was also frustrated by her inability to understand that I would. She knew I loved her. She had to know. And people who love each other didn’t leave each other. Why couldn’t she understand that this was permanent? It’s embarrassing to write and admit now, three years later, because I see how my fear prevented me from understanding hers; how I should have been helping her work through it instead of fighting it.

Our daughter knows she’s adopted, but she’s only seven so her version of events is light on details. She knows there was a lady who carried her in her tummy, who tried really hard but couldn’t look after her. So she lived with some nice people until mommy and daddy came along and now we’re a forever family. The end. For now, the questions are few and our answers are easy but I know this won’t last forever. Soon she’ll want to know why you couldn’t keep her, who her father is and where you both are now. I lie awake wondering how much time I have before these questions come, how we’re going to answer them and what it will all mean to her and for her.

Before the adoption, I had a cancer scare that resulted in infertility. I spent weeks lying in a hospital bed, thinking my life was over. But in truth it was just beginning because without that operation I would not have become our daughter’s mother. To wrap it up in a nice cliché, the worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to be the best. And regardless of what tomorrow or the next day brings, our daughter will remain the single greatest thing in my life.

I’m sure you have a lot of questions and I hope we’ll get the chance to answer them some day. For now, I can tell you that you gave birth to one incredible little girl. She’s smart, funny, affectionate, spirited and kind. She loves animals and can ride a horse (not a pony… a horse!) better than most adults I’ve seen. She’s fearless, loves music and can’t get enough of the wind on her face. I have no idea what she’ll “be” when she grows up, nor do I care all that much because what I want for her is bigger than a fulfilling career or even a family of her own. My greatest desire is that those early years not define her, and that the ridiculous and unjust stigma of adoption never holds her back.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Until The Last Child, http://www.untilthelastchild.com, is working to find forever families for all Canadian foster kids. They would sure appreciate your support. 

 

 

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Meet criminal Barbie

If you read my last post you know that naked Barbie dolls are littering my backyard, turning the space between the cedars and the school yard fence into the set of a slasher film. Venture back there and you’ll see a dozen naked blondes covered in dirt, painted eyes staring vacantly up at the sky.

Of course I wasn’t happy about this (Barbies aren’t cheap!) but as we also established in the last post, I am not great at attending to domestic chores in a timely manner.

Now it seems the Barbies have suffered yet another indignity. One that involves being shoved through the holes in the fence so Harmony and her friends can play with them at recess.

I know this because I was asked to stay after school and speak to the teacher about it. I also know this because a young boy was apparently “quite traumatized” by finding naked girl dolls in the school sandpit. I also know this because I happened to see Mermaid Barbie sitting on the Principal’s desk during a meeting that, thankfully, was NOT called to discuss the tiny sex offender living in my house.

Sigh.

So we had a talk with Harmony about not bringing toys to school, and about why a little boy might be surprised to find a naked female form that looks nothing like his mother buried in his playground.

Shame on me for thinking that would be the end of it. Double shame on me for not realizing what she was doing outside the next morning before school.

Can you guess?

Yup. PUSHING THE BARBIES BACK THROUGH THE FENCE. A tidy little “F you” to the powers that be including, or perhaps especially, her mother.

Then, later that day at recess, my little criminal upped the ante by lying to the teacher who came to investigate the crowd gathered around the sandpit.

Harmony, whose credibility might have been hurt by the fact that she was sporting a leopard-print vest, pink tights, blue rain boots and a tiara, could sense her reign of terror was coming to end. Refusing to go quietly, she calmly lied through her baby teeth and said “Nope, no Barbies here.”

To his credit, the teacher figured out pretty quickly that he was being sold a bill of goods. A bill of dirty, naked, anatomically incorrect goods. So he reached into his arsenal of shame and manipulation tactics and said: “Harmony, you empty my bucket when you don’t tell the truth so I’m going to give you to the count of three to tell me what’s going on here.”

Finally, Harmony caved. But not until he got to three, of course.

Now, all of this wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t been elected Chair of the Parent Council last week. Thankfully, I insisted the morality clause be removed from my contract but how long until I’m impeached is anyone’s guess.

 

 

It’s me time, dammit!

After being ripped from sleep at 5 am to deal with Austin’s explosive diarrhea and Harmony’s explosive diarrhea covered foot, I spent the first hour of the school day on my hands and knees wiping, flushing, blotting, spraying and steaming in the girls room. Then I lit a scented candle and contemplated a wee nip of Pinot Grigio. Cleaning poop with the consistency of almond butter is not fun, but it’s REALLY not fun when it cuts into me time.

Me time …  those glorious hours between 8:30 and 3:00 when my children are in school (also known as the fastest 6 hours of life). As a temporary stay at home mom, I’m on duty in the mornings and most days after school (also known as the longest 6 hours of life). So the only time I really get to myself, when I’ve had enough caffeine to enjoy it, is during the school day.

I will save the “I am not a maid / slave / handmaiden and just because I’m not working doesn’t mean I should have to do everything” debate for another blog but suffice it to say, my Women’s Studies professors would not be happy about the gender roles my husband and I have recently taken up (or the amount of naked Barbies littering my backyard like a Patricia Cornwell novel). Nope, those are topics for another day (like when the house is in my name).

So I try to protect me time as much as I can, which means as few boring errands and chores during the day as possible. I prefer to spend my me time watching Netflix, writing, catching up on a novel (while snacking, because I’m not an invalid) or meeting a friend for lunch. Occasionally I will throw in a load of laundry or pick up a broom, but then I have to reward myself with another episode. Perhaps I’m okay with being the 2014 version of Peg Bundy because I know it’s a limited time offer.

One of the few exceptions to this “rule” is grocery shopping, because grocery shopping with two kids sucks even harder than 5 am dog diarrhea. Ditto hair appointments. But vet appointments, trips to the LCBO (of which there are many), library book returns, prescription renewals … these are all done with kids in tow because I have better things to do with my time, like find out what Mary Crawley is going to do about all those blasted suitors!!

Having said all this, there are a few things around the house I can’t ignore for much longer.

Like this, the outdoor painting session gone awry (two weeks ago).

Let's hope those are water-based paints.

Let’s hope those are water-based paints.

Or tossing the flowers that Daren gave me for our anniversary (on September 10).

RIP

RIP

Or Daren’s bedside table which makes our room look like it’s been burgled.

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This is bad.

So much to do, so little time.

 

Meet Your New Microwave. You’re Welcome.

Last night, while lying in bed listening to my seven-year old cough up a lung, I designed the perfect microwave. The one I have is pretty awesome. It looks good, is conveniently located, and it even convects (whatever that is). But what I really want is something that performs the desired function with the push of ONE button, not two or three.

If you’re like me (lazy and impatient with a brutal backlog of Netflix shows to watch), you pride yourself on cutting as many corners as possible in your domestic life. Standing in front of an appliance when I could be watching Downton Abbey? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So I present to you … drum roll please … a newly designed microwave featuring helpful buttons for everyday life.

1. DON’T BOTHER – for when you know they won’t eat it, no matter what the temperature.

2. COFFEE – specially programmed to reheat that last inch in the mug, for the third time. Especially useful on those mornings when you want to drop the kids off at school and keep walking.

3. JUST THROW IT OUT ALREADY – for meals you spent an hour preparing despite a sneaky suspicion that no one would eat it. Bonus feature: “Let it Go” plays as the food reheats.

4. FROZEN. FROM A BOX  – when it doesn’t matter what it is or how to cook it. Because it’s frozen from a box and you just can’t.

5. NUGGETS OF INDETERMINATE ORIGIN – the equivalent of speed dial on your phone.

6. SURPRISE! – when you’re not sure what it is or how long it’s been in the fridge. State of the art sensor determines if reheating, cooking, or total detonation is required.

7. DATE NIGHT – for that holy grail of leftovers: restaurant meals. Reheats perfectly every time then dries your tears.

8. SCORCHING – for those times when you find yourself saying “Your noodles were cold, darling? Here, try this instead.” Automatically dials 911 for you.

9. FUCK IT – for everything else.

 

 

 

So About That Homework…

Dear Teacher,

I have a confession.

Actually I have several but I’m sure you’re not interested in hearing about the cupcakes I ate last night or the recurring dream about my dentist. The confession you’ll be most interested in relates to the promise I made to you in June. You know, the one where I said I would practice reading and writing with my oldest daughter, your student, every day this summer? Well that didn’t exactly happen, and here’s why.

First, you might remember that we adopted another little girl right at the end of the school year. Needless to say the adjustment was a bit overwhelming and what passed for routine at chez Millard quickly descended into chaos and anarchy. Structure and good intentions went out the window faster than you could say “stop throwing grapes at your sister.” Despite my best intentions to carve out daily reading and writing time, we were sidetracked by that pesky little thing called “life” (an umbrella term for stuff like cat vomit on the carpet and dog poop in the living room. Also Netflix). As we adjusted to being a family of four instead of three, practicing capital letters and figuring out what five fish plus two fish equals kind of fell by the wayside. Sorting out ownership of toys and clothes and planning for a summer getaway to promote family bonding (and day-drinking) took precedence over graduating to chapter books and two syllable words.

Even though you suggested many ways to “make learning fun”, I still failed you. To be fair, my daughter is now reading the back of the cereal box every morning and combing through the cupboards looking for words that are easy to sound out, such as “Jam” and “Tam-pon”. But the reading of the street signs? Bad idea. I’m certain I’ve caused at least three accidents by slamming on the brakes when screams of “I CAN’T SEE” assaulted me from the back seat. And helping with the grocery list? No offence, but if I had the patience to spell “carrots”, “wine” and “boxed brownies” out loud, not to mention a spare two hours to complete this exercise, I might-MIGHT-be less of an abject failure in both motherhood and culinary arts.

I didn’t stress too much about these first few weeks of summer because I was certain that once we got to the cottage we’d get the learning happening. Long lazy days with no plans and no urban distractions would be PERFECT for playing school, I thought. It will be a good opportunity for one-on-one time, I thought.

Except it seems that I miscalculated my willingness to sit inside spelling and adding while the sun shone outside. Also overestimated? My daughter’s desire to sit at the kitchen table instead of on the beach. I can’t sugar-coat this for you, Teacher. During the five weeks we’ve been here we didn’t open a single workbook or pick up a single pencil. Simply put, my daughter didn’t learn squat about reading and writing this summer.

Wave Watching: B

Wave Watching: B

Crab class: B

Crab class: B

Bubble Studies: A

Bubble Studies: A

However, if you’re willing to let us substitute “beach studies” and “welcoming a new sister” for reading and writing, I can proudly say that we’ve been racking up straight As in sand castle building, shellfish carcass identification, surfing, sea glass collecting and discreet ocean peeing. I’d also give us a solid B- in sharing a room, forcefully rehoming hermit crabs and personal hygiene (see ocean peeing). So while our book learning has suffered, our life learning has not, and I figure as long as I keep buying cereal, everything will be fine.

 

Patience is a Virtue. Until you get electrocuted.

Everything was going fine until I got electrocuted.

Yup, that’s how we started a 36-hour east coast solo parenting mission. With electrocution.

Actually, it began with me making a promise to myself that I would be more patient with my children so this story isn’t ALL bad.

We’ve had visitors for two of the last three weeks and while they’ve all been wonderful (no, really) the lack of privacy, mostly cloudy weather and living in an 800-square foot cottage have taken their toll on my mental health rendering me a tad snappy with the little people who call themselves my children.

Full disclosure: patience is not one of my strong suits, even at the best of times. I’m the kind of person who thinks instant coffee takes too long, who wonders why the first car in the advance green lane is so slow off the mark, who has broken more than one appliance by forcing it to stop before its cycle is complete. So when it comes to small children, I tend to get a bit murdery over things like baby talk, rapid-fire “why is that plate blue”-type questions, and hysterics over spiders so small they are invisible to the naked eye.

Maybe it’s because I have zero experience with kids under four and have never learned to love and appreciate the baby stages. Or maybe I’m just an asshole. Either way, I think God knew what she was doing when she gave me two four-year olds instead of infants because I’m a much better mom when my children are not acting like children.

Don’t get me wrong, I think babies and toddlers are amazing. Every time I see a bassinet or a snowsuit with ears my good ovary practically explodes. And I can appreciate how nice it is to have a little tiny being that depends on you for everything and actually gives a rat’s ass about your opinion. But as much as I tell myself I have to appreciate these years where they’re small and impressionable and gentle, I sometimes find it really difficult to step back, summon my zen and live in the “poop” / “vagina” / mind-numbing cartoon / selective-hearing / milk-spilling moment.

But enough about me.

With Daren on his way back to Toronto for a night, I woke up to a picture-perfect day of bright sunshine and calm water – one of those days the maritimes gives you once or twice a month, if you’re lucky. So it felt like the right time to give myself the “today is a new day / cherish the little things / don’t be such an ogre” speech.

This lasted through breakfast and even into the late morning, as we headed to the barn for Harmony’s riding lesson. As Harmony was tacking up, Leila asked if she could go and see the horses out in the field. At this point, two things happened. First, I thanked heaven for blessing me with ONE child who bothers to ask my opinion. Second, I made the curious decision to touch the fence myself deciding, apparently, that this would be better than simply staying away from it.

Needless to say there was a rather strong electrical current running through said fence and upon touching it I received a nice little morning pick me up, along with a mild heart attack. The entire incident resulted in a minor setback in my Kumbaya attitude but the presence of my eyebrows helped get things back on track.

And tomorrow is another day.

 

 

The Terminal, starring Daren

She's going to kill me.

She’s going to kill me.

Question: Let’s say you were on your way home from a short, romantic getaway with your husband and between flights he lost his photo ID, meaning he could not carry on with the trip home rendering him a virtual airport prisoner and catapulting you into another solo parenting mission of indeterminate length. Would you:

A) Respect his privacy and not mock him in his time of need

B) Start making jokes about Tom Hanks and The Terminal.

C) Blog about it because eventually it will be funny (like in 2017).

Option C it is!!

So there we were, in Saskatoon, partying like underage Disney child stars with the Stanley Cup and a couple hundred close friends. It was supposed to be a quick one-night getaway, a holiday within our holiday, a chance to spend a couple of days together without the kids. (Quick pause for context: I drive a 5-year old Volkswagen and buy my underwear at Costco. These facts, though fascinating, prove that we are far from a jet-setting couple. We rarely go gallivanting off to exotic locales like Saskatoon. Nor do we have an abundance of friends who win Stanley Cups. This was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing which makes my tale of woe all the more poignant. Or ridiculous.)

It all started just fine. We spent Sunday flying from Charlottetown to Toronto, then on to Saskatoon. (It’s only fair that I pause here to confess that I left my ID on the plane and only got it back because WestJet paged me about 30 seconds before we walked out of the airport. But that’s hardly relevant so let’s carry on).

After a great night having fun and catching up with old friends it was back to the hotel for a few hours sleep before starting the long trek back to PEI.

Bright and early we boarded the first of three legs that would take us back home to the girls. The plan was: Saskatoon-Calgary, Calgary-Toronto then Toronto-Charlottetown. (Perhaps my first clue that we were destined for disaster should have been when we started by flying in the EXACT OPPOSITE DIRECTION of our final destination. Or perhaps it was the gentleman who boarded in front of us wearing beer underwear and carrying a cooler that surely contained human organs).

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If you’re counting, that’s four provinces in 36 hours. But we were kidless and on vacation so it didn’t seem so bad. I actually got to finish an entire magazine article in one sitting, and Daren got to enjoy some in-flight entertainment.

"Dangit. I've seen this one."

“Dangit. I’ve seen this one.”

Everything was going well until my husband got off the Saskatoon-Calgary leg and promptly lost his photo ID. Somewhere between Gate 44 and Gate 46, it vanished. Apparently they are pretty strict on that “no one over 18 flies without photo ID” rule, so I boarded the Calgary-Toronto flight not knowing when I would see my husband again and having no idea how I was going to get him home.

But by the time I landed in Toronto he’d managed to sweet talk WestJet (who were AMAZING through the entire ordeal) into letting him fly using a photo of his driver’s license provided by our babysitter back home. And by midnight he was home, just six hours after our originally scheduled arrival time. Now I can’t wait until he wakes up and reads this. He’ll be so happy!!