Thursday, May 28, 2015

Wedding Anniversary

“You’re my favorite wife, and I’ve been married four times.” It’s our favorite joke. It took four attempts to legalized our same-sex marriage, and two domestic partnerships, a Jewish wedding, and a legal marriage later, we finally get to receive the benefits of marriage, such as filing our taxes jointly.

It’s been four years since our real wedding, the one under the chuppah with our family and friends present. It had rained the night before, and I worried our outdoor wedding would miss out on the beauty of the Oakland hills. The morning brought sunshine, and it was a beautiful day, complete with goats munching on grass in the next park over.  That day, so excited about marrying the most fantastic person in my life, I nuzzled her nose with mine under the chuppah, before it was time for our faces to touch. It was a beautiful celebration of amazing people, and I was so grateful to have accepting family who loved us for who we are.

Last week, for Shavuot, we returned to where we got married and ran the steps with the girls. They were fascinated with the reflecting pool at Joaquin Miller Park, playing at the water’s edge until we called them back. They listened to the nighttime crickets as we sang zemirot (Jewish songs), watching the Bay skyline twinkle with lights. It had been a tough day for us – there was lots of crying and general annoyances – but it was so beautiful in the evening. Sitting on the giant stone steps – the same steps where our guests sat four years before – I marveled at our children’s newness. They have been part of our family for almost five months, but I marveled that they weren’t around for our wedding. Our family now feels incomplete without them.

I am grateful for Kate for so many reasons, including that she is a great co-parent. As the day wears on, my patience lessens, and I rely on my instincts – assert my dominance. You may not treat me like that! That hurts my feelings! I scream in my brain. Such thoughts are useless for parenting a traumatized seven year old, though, and I am so grateful for Kate’s patience, compassion, and ability to love no matter what.

I am also grateful that Kate likes to drink alcohol. For a year I pined for the redheaded beauty, a woman who I wanted to date since the moment I met her. At the time, I had a boyfriend of three years. Every time Kate and I hung out, he affably joked about my crush. By the time of the Nehirim retreat for LGBT Jews and allies, the boyfriend was gone and I was old enough to bring tequila to camp. As the bonfire glowed in the background, Kate’s hand found mine, and my heart was elated. For the two weeks before she was officially my girlfriend, she repeated the mantra that I was too young for her. By month three, we were engaged.

Our relationship has never been by the books. We are extremely silly, but always practical. We lead with our hearts, which is why we decided to adopt children while I was in law school. Kate quit her science job so she could organize religious communities. I quiet my job organizing religious communities so I could go to law school and teach community college. I fell in love with her heart before I fully knew it, and I have never looked back.

Happy anniversary, Kate, the love of my life, my beshert, my better half. I do not know how I was lucky enough to find you, but I am so lucky that we get to be on this ride together. You are my everything.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bamidbar: Exile and home

As the Israelites wandered the desert, my children too lived in exile.  Before they came to live in our Jewish home, they went from place to place, from person to person.  They tried to create a home with substitutes.  A foster mom and dad.  A bedroom that used to a house a different foster child and after they leave will house another foster child, and one then another.  An address they don’t memorize, a new school where they don’t know the children.  Their home was in their hearts as they cried for a Mommy and Daddy that couldn’t hear voices of children living in a substitute family miles away. 

The Dreamer tells me she doesn’t like foster care.  She tells me that she doesn’t want to move again, she wants to stay here forever.  Adoption means many things, but most of all it means permanence. 

In A Home Called Exile Diana Anhalt writes, “Well, finally.  I belong to this place.  I no longer live in exile.”  Her new apartment and family make her feel at home after a lifetime of wandering.  And yet, she continues to be unsettled.  “Because in the end, exile – and I use that world loosely – is simply one more characteristic of the human condition.  I realized that all of us, starting with Adam and Eve, are, to one degree or another, outcasts in search of home.”

Even as my children settle in their new Berkeley life – filled with Jewish customs, bay area irreverence, and an abundance of animal, people, and love – my children will always struggle with family and home.  They miss their biological family dearly, their hearts crying out for the loss they have endured so they can gain our family.  “It’s hard for me to trust you,” the Dreamer will say, when I tell her she’s my family forever. 

Manna fell from heaven for the wandering Israelites, and still they missed the intimacies of Egypt.  We disparage the Israelites, yet I find their yearning for home the essence of humanity.  My children yearn for parents unable to fulfill their childhood needs.  The joy and love of our family cannot eclipse the deep sorrow of loss.  We may provide them safety, love, and silliness, but we can never override their childhood trauma.  We can only help build a loving, safe space, and hope their hearts will one day call it home.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

There are six text messages waiting on my phone.  I clear them without reading the congratulatory messages.  I don’t feel capable yet of celebrating my newfound motherhood, and we ran away to the woods to avoid all the merriness.  Unfortunately, my phone still works in the mountains. 

I have always been conflicted about Hallmark Holidays – I don’t like Valentine’s Day either – and the idea of celebrating Mother’s Day fills me with dread.  As a mother, I feel like my joy stems from the every day adventures and exploration inherent in child-ness.  Sometimes, after an especially captivating adventure out to eat or exploring a bookstore together, I think to myself, This is what heaven would be like.   Giggling together, the four of us are captivated by everything life has to offer.  I don’t need a day to celebrate this wonder of motherhood – I celebrate it every day.  The richness of motherhood is inherent in the (grueling, hard) tasks of daily life.  I know a seven- and eight-year-old are unable to truly appreciate the daily tasks, and it feels like Mother’s Day is an exercise in self-promotion.

Wikipedia says, “Mother's Day is a modern celebration honoring one's own mother, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.”  I fear that pointing to myself as their mother will remind them to mourn their biological mother.

This week in school, Little Princess was prompted to make a card for someone who takes care of her.  LP made a card for her birth mother, listing the many ways Mommy R takes care of her.  In this card, LP reiterated the many things that we do to keep her safe and healthy.  It was a wish list of all the things that she wishes her Mommy could do.

This week in school, Little Princess was also prompted to make a card for Mother’s Day.  LP made a card for us, her moms.  She told us everything she loves about us, including our silliness and kindness.  She’s so glad she gets to live with us, she wrote. 

Translation: She’s so glad she gets to have us as her moms.  She also wishes she could have her biological mom take care of her.

Sometimes the girls dream about everyone living in one home.  Crammed in this imaginary house lives their biological family and adopted family, uncles rooming with grandmothers, moms living with Mommy.  But, most importantly, everyone is there to take care of them.  They are filled with love in this imaginary place.

It’s our job as foster/adoptive parents to fill their lives with the love, stability, and kindness they crave.  They need to know that I won’t yell back, I’ll always be on their side, and I work to keep them safe.  That is the only way we can answer the questions they cannot ask. 

There are so many questions.  Some of the questions are spoken aloud and followed with amazing emotional honesty. (Dreamer will say: It’s really hard for me to trust you.  But I love you.)  Even more questions are never spoken, and we must answer them anyway, with our loving words and actions.

No, there is nothing you can do to make us love you less.  (No, not even that.)  Yes, when we say forever, we mean forever.  Yes, your Mommy and Daddy love you.  Yes, you can do that and I will still love you and be here tomorrow.  Okay, now I’m disappointed, but I’m not angry, and I love you so much.  I’m so sorry your Mommy and Daddy aren’t here, love bug, but I’m here.  I’m here.  I’m here and I love you.  You’re my baby and I love you. 

It’s weird to tell a seven-year-old that she’s your baby.  As I cradle her in my arms, I sing a calming lullaby.  Her screaming has reduced to annoyed shrieks as she examines her chipping manicure.  I just spent thirty minutes being kicked, hit, and yelled at by a child who is about to blame me for all her problems.  (Leave me alone, forever! she yelled before she slammed the door in my face.)  She doesn’t know better, and – of course – it’s the role of a parent to do all these things gracefully and not ask for acknowledgement by the emotionally traumatized child. 

I am afraid that Mother’s Day is asking for that acknowledgement.  I am afraid that Mother’s Day is asking my kids to ignore Mommy R or focus on the loss of Mommy R.  I know she loved the Dreamer and Little Princess because they radiate love.  They are obviously the byproduct of love and nurturing.  I haven’t figured out how to balance that gratefulness and profound sadness at her lost motherhood (and my children’s loss) with the extreme happiness of motherhood and cherished memories.

I honor you, Mommy R.  Mommy To My Children, you were our children’s first mother.  You have given me such a gift of these two loving, curious, and amazing children.  As our children celebrate gaining us, they mourn losing you.  Even if you come back into our lives, they will always mourn the biological family they had to surrender.  Our lives are forever intertwined with you, and I hope one day we can celebrate Mother’s Day together and honor all of our mother-ness. 

I am not yet capable of celebrating Mother’s Day.  Monday, the day after the holiday, I answer my texts.  Thank you. How are you? I write, hoping that they won’t ask about my Mother’s Day.  And, they don’t.  I am loved and listened to, and one day I hope my children can feel this way too.