The Life We’ve Got

I can’t sleep.  And as I do 50% of the time when I can’t sleep, I have just spent an hour following a bunny trail of foster care photo listings for children needing homes, to an orphanage in Haiti (look on a map, it’s exactly between you and I-doesn’t that seems like a sign?), to blogs written by adoptive and occasionally birth parents, to pinterest “pins” of sibling photos.  I suppose it’s like a rosary of sorts.  Rub these 8 links in this order, and someday, it will be you writing that blog.   It hasn’t worked for 8 years, but I’m crazy like that.  And an insomniac like that.

Since I’m peeling back the band aid, I’ll admit that I dream of handing my daughter a baby the way some people dream of handing their husband a baby.  Maybe it’s evolved to this in recent years because her longing for that scenario has grown as fierce as mine.  The day I can snap a pic of her with her Huck Finn beauty holding onto a sibling will be the day I can sleep again like a normal person.  Or, at least blame my insomnia on a person and not an idea.  And yet.  The last bead I read was a great post from a blogger who was adopted and who has adopted.  She has a great commentary on overthinking the mechanics of love, and a fine conclusion about her life, which follows a little anecdote about how her birth parents almost revoked placing her with her family.  She segues into her commentary this way:

A bunch of adoptive parents were talking recently.  They were discussing about whether their kids would have been better off if they hadn’t been adopted internationally.  If the loss of their birth families, homeland, culture was too great, too damaging.  These parents love their children.  They agonize for them.  They see the hurts that their children suffer.  They are open, honest and raw as they share this with each other.  I honor and respect that.  I hurt for my boys, too.  They have lost so much.  However, I don’t find myself wondering if we are what is best for them.  Not because I am sure we are what is best for them, but because it doesn’t matter.  There is more than one path to a good life.  Our paths led us to each other.  We’ll just take it from there.

When I was a baby,  I spent a couple of months in foster care before being placed with my adoptive parents.  During that time, my birth parents went to the adoption agency and told the social worker that they planned to get married and wanted me back.  After spending time talking with social worker, they decided to stay with the adoption plan.  But, had that happened, when I was older, they may have told me the story of how they almost went through with an adoption plan for me.  They may have told me about their last minute change of heart and how they got me back so we could be a family.  I would probably be horrified that I had almost been given away and raised by strangers!

Instead, I found this information out as an adult, an adopted adult, and felt horrified.  I wouldn’t have been me!  I would have a different name, a different life, no Kurt, Devyn, Maddy, Mikias or Jemberu!   I wouldn’t have had my parents!  I would have had the wrong life!

But of course the thing is, I wouldn’t have had the wrong life.  I would have had the life I got.  Just like our adopted kids.  This is the life they got.  We can’t change the circumstances or decisions made that led them to an orphanage.  We can’t change the fact that they were in a place where they needed a family.  We honor their past.  We acknowledge their hurts.  We do our best.  We love them.
(Alison Boynton Noyce, They’re All My Own, Practical Love)

Just last night, my insomnia was fueled by the necessity of revising a letter to immigration, asking them to let us return to the US as a family.  My attorney appointed mission is to convince some stranger somewhere who reads the letter that a.), living in Chile is a hardship on me, and b.) living without my husband in the US would be a hardship.  If you have more than 2 brain cells, you probably need to reread that last line with a “say what?” as a dear friend did.  As in, what the HELL? How is living perpetually anywhere without a spouse NOT a hardship? But I digress.

My concluding thought to Mr. or Ms. nameless immigration employee who will one day read said letter is this:  Trying to decide what is best for our child is the hardest hardship.  Is a father worth giving up a life with all near and extended relatives? Is having a father worth living with what seems to be infinite economic concerns? Giving up a traditional education? Is a nuclear family more important than old friends, warm water, mountains, trees, summer camp, mornings waking up in a hot tent under a pine tree? Worth missing for years the smell of sage, rain, pine and waffle cones? Holidays, bookstores, nieces, nephews, birthdays, weddings, and decent coffee?  Is it worth living in a literal desert?

The only good answer is that it’s the life we’ve got.  And there are many paths to a good life.

There is a corollary here between marital love and maternal or paternal love.  However or why-ever you married your spouse or came to parent your child, they are the life you’ve got.  Many marriages and families are sacrificed on the alter of romantic ideas like soul mates and destiny, and greener grass over there, because our culture doesn’t teach us the common sense value of appreciating what we’ve got.   And to be honest, it’s a virtue I have been working on badly for a few years now.  I am a book nerd and an Oregonian with a sensory aversion to sand and dust and a rash that is exacerbated by heat, living in a desert without bookstores or decent coffee.  I wrote a book my husband will never read, and when I tell him it smells like Autumn, he looks at me like I’m crazy.  He is bike obsessed, and has a semi secret smoking habit I won’t elaborate on. On paper, we have 1 thing in common, and she’s Huck Finn gorgeous.  We are not the stuff romantic comedies are made of.  We don’t lay in bed at night whispering about the future or reading poems. We don’t celebrate Valentine’s day (thank god;) or anniversaries (wipe a tear, seriously).  Because that’s not the life we’ve got.

My daughter has lost connection to her first family and her first culture; she also has been shuttled away from her second culture, and her extended family.  Just this year, she has begun to really appreciate her cousins, and miss them.  She has somewhat accusatorily asked me (again) recently why I can’t have kids, as if it was something I did against her.  And I have had to tell her, it’s just the life we’ve got.  But next time I will tell her “there is more than one path to a good life.”

And sometimes, it looks like this:


when we really, really want it to look like this:


And if I had to explain why, I’d read her chapters out of Exodus. Because they really explain everything about being human.  There was this group of miserable people who were saved miraculously from eons of slavery.  It involved plagues and parting seas and almighty power.  And what did they do? They began complaining about being hungry about 5 minutes later.  So then what happened? -(Cliff note version)- manna falls-literally falls- out of the sky, and they were happy for a day.  But their compulsion was to hoard it.  Instead of learning to appreciate the “manna” in our lives, we are no better than the Isrealites, wandering around the desert, looking for another idol to worship.  More stuff to hoard.  Not learning to trust the living holy god that literally meets our daily needs, and sometimes does a miracle or two.  It’s never enough.  We always want something flashier.  Something more exciting.  Something big and sexy that would make a good movie.  And by we, I of course mean me.  It is a reflection I have had to contemplate in the last week, after our city experienced an 8.2 earthquake and EVERYTHING stood.  Like the wise man and his house of brick.  Solid. No tsunami came, no buildings fell, no one died.  Even the enormous bookshelf I had told my husband a week before to anchor to the wall fell TOWARD the wall.  As in, did not come crashing down.  Did not break.  My daughter observed the little chalkware people on a shelf intact, and said “even they are okay mommy!” And to be really honest, in the midst of all that shaking, what mommy was really truly thinking was “Noooooo, not the tomatoes.” And then “crap!  I love those little chalkware people, and they’re fer sure a broken disaster.”

And yet.  Hard to exhale.  Hard to stop waiting for the next thing, and just enjoy the manna.  Disaster averted! A friend said a psychologist advised people experiencing post traumatic stress to just “be.” And then we laughed about “what does that mean?”  Because the just being, not planning, not worrying, not doing, is…so….hard.  And explains exactly why I am up way too late.  I am not a good “be”er.

I was watching the episode of Friends a day or so ago when Phoebe introduces Monica, who is already married, to her “soul mate.”  In short order, the two hit it off and discover they both dream about living in France in a “house made of cheese.”  Monica’s husband watches it all unfold, almost as convinced she’s got the wrong guy as Phoebe is.  But Monica gets it.  She gets the principle of “the life we’ve got.”  She tells Chandler later she doesn’t believe in soul mates.  There are many paths to a good life.  You pick someone, and you work hard to make your life together a good one.  The only two variables in these scenarios are ourselves and our circumstances.  We get to control one.  That’s 50 percent of the pie.  And just as Boynton Noyce observes, we do our best.  Because, as my dad told me 1,000 times growing up, it’s all we can do.

And so I conclude that a father is worth giving up all the other stuff, because a.) he’s her father, b.) he’s my husband, whom I inexplicably adore more than coffee and bookstores put together, and c.) it’s the life we’ve got.  It’s really really not easy somedays.  But that’s all relative, and no matter where anyone stands, there are always times when it’s really really not easy. But there are also times when the manna blankets the landscape like snow.  We just have to remember. And so I try to make little alters, just like those Isrealites.  For the time being, chalkware figures will have to do. Because as my daughter said-they’re okay! And so are we.  And maybe the why in it all is best answered by the alters.  They’re lessons in gratitude, and we’re still in school.

Its a Small World