I’m a pragmatist and an evangelist I guess.
So I have good reason to feel anxious about the next few weeks waiting for a phone call from Washington. We are moving someplace, sometime soon, who-to-where tbd. The happy dismantling of our Virginia home-base has already begun: the house is under contract, old clothes have been bagged out for donation. Ernest and Yoshi, Tika and Puck to varying extent understand: there will be a packing up, all-toys-on-deck, a trip to the airport, and an amazing new adventure, complete with little bags of peanuts. A new door is about to open.
But what worries me is that a door I meant to pass through seems to be closing quickly, and perhaps forever: adoption. It has been my long-cherished dream, my vision of my real contribution, my goal for our family to reach out to other kids living on the edge, and in turn to grow ourselves beyond this me-first imagination. Was bringing our kids to orphanages around Cambodia a marketing tactic? Maybe—I wouldn’t put myself past that. The kids, and especially Ernest, have asked me why we didn’t adopt a Khmer child, and they are certainly enthusiastic about taking a bold step to change the family.
But TJ has stalled. He has plied for time in a 10-year negotiation that hasn’t made us any richer or our household any more “stable” than when we started. Is he a Putin posing to negotiate while positioning himself to win? That’s not a nice thing to say, but my current reading puts me in this frame of mind. I have drummed up my parents, the kids, my friends, in a no-holds-barred effort to sway his views. Still he stalls.
Now I face an end-point. A homestudy must be done before anything else. An American household should exist, preferably with the would-be adoptive parents co-residing in it. Placement, follow-up, everything is geared toward doing it on American soil.
Do I give TJ an ultimatum? What am I bargaining with, except tears and time?
Does a woman ever get over the dream of being a mother? Last autumn I took a first feeble step. The church-based adoption informational session filled up quickly with graying single women in well put-together suits and mid-forties couples that pressed their hands together during the slideshow and asked questions about eligibility and timeframes with cracking voices. I listened quietly and took all the handouts, but couldn’t sign up, like everyone else, for a home interview. I left in a beat-up Volkswagon flanked by a Lexus and a Landrover.
You see, my cause is not as clear to everyone, and so my question about the dream of being a mother isn’t met with the same sympathy. When I share my vision and urgency, even with very close friends, it’s usually me who has to answer the questions. Aren’t you happy with your own children? (That one hurts the most) How will you manage? (aka, we’ll be watching, and you’d better not screw up!) Won’t this be financially difficult? (…And won’t it therefore dilute the financial and other resources that we feel are naturally more deserved by the biological children?) How will the children get enough attention? (ditto the above in other words) If you were so intent on adoption, why did you have so many children? (My brain is dead, I’m saying useless things) Why don’t you consider a more rewarding job? (again, brain-dead).
It seems we can congratulate middle-aged couples in Volvos when they pursue adoptions, but we are academically or altruistically opposed to orphaned children entering large, messy families that sleep two-to-a-bed and eat crock-pot dinners. What folks mean by their questions, and I may as well answer them flat-out, is that American parents who love their kids owe them rec rooms and American girl dolls, princess beds and basketball camps, Disney vacations and Massachusetts liberal arts colleges. And, what the hell, that’s not our family. We slice the pie thinner to feed more mouths. Our days in America over the next several years will be numbered. Our aim is to raise our children where life is education, where we live as outsiders with open minds, where we take chances to learn and help others, and where the stuff we accumulate is relationships and memories. If that means more 15-bean soup, then so be it.
But that brings me back to my question—is this the time for an ultimatum? Both my pragmatic and my evangelical sides agree that it is. Pragmatic, because I know the mechanics of family decision-making—the disproportionate effort to make something happen versus the loving alacrity with which we cope with fait accompli. Do I need to remind him that two of our four were joyful surprises? Evangelical, because marriage is an organic union. We don’t stay in love by staying the same. Instead, we challenge each other to grow and become better people, or hold on to each other to navigate a rough road that’s put in front of us. I can’t put aside this dream for fear that TJ will crack and break. Instead, I’ve got to push him to rise up to the challenge, and I know he can.