12 February 2006

Blessings on Chopped Liver

Jews have a blessing for everything--a blessing, not in the Christian sense of asking God's blessing on someone or something, but a blessing in the sense of mindfulness, being aware of God. There are blessings on food, of course, but also blessings for all kinds of occasions: upon seeing a rainbow, seeing the ocean for the first time, seeing a king (scroll down at this link or see here for more discussion, and if you want to see kids' idea of blessings, see here). We're not big on God-talk here, as I've mentioned before; for Shabbat we sing traditional blessings because those are the ones I know and what CG learns at school, but when we make our own rituals, we blend newer blessings in English and Hebrew, using sacred and secular sources to suit our purposes. I do like the notion of being mindful, of stopping and finding a space to let the experience be, to find a way to incorporate the experience.

I've been thinking on this post for a while now, although I'm not sure I like it--things seem too unsettled here, like maybe they should be spun off into separate posts--but not knowing just what to change, I'll hit publish and see what you think.

Curious Girl has borrowed her own ritual for dinnertime. The family we have a monthly dinner with has its own dinner grace. They link hands, everyone says something they are happy about, and they all take a deep breath together. CG really liked it, and she would sometimes want to do it at home. "I happy Curious Girl is here!" she would say once we held hands (I'm guessing that's what her friend said for her turn on a night CG had dinner). But in the past few weeks CG has wanted to hold hands every night. And she reliably says, "I love Mommy [politica]." Once, just once, she said "I love Mommy and Mama." Politica and I always say some variation of "I love our family/I love both of you/I love Politica and CG," and Politica did put her foot down the night CG tried "I love Mommy, and I don't like Mama." Positive thoughts only. So this has become the ritual I hate. I know it's normal for a child to separate from her primary caretaker. I know I'm the bee's knees when we get up in the morning, and mostly in the middle of the night. I know CG is probably still put out that Politica travelled so much in the fall. But I really hate this little moment before dinner, when my child pushes me away. I feel like chopped liver.

But I try to take a breath, and remember: it's good for her to be independent. it's good for her to be creative. It's good. But it doesn't always feel good. And I wonder, what does a blessing on chopped liver look like? You are blessed, O Spirit of the World, which flows through me as I let go and hold on, helping my child to grow.

On an adoptive parent e-mail board I've been reading for years, there was a discussion last week sparked by a question from a mother who's been telling her about three year old daughter their adoption story for a while, without using the word adoption. She wanted advice on how to introduce the word, and she said she was nervous about the birthmother issue. She got lots of good advice, like just start using the term, read children's books about adoption, make a lifebook. An adoptive parent who is also an adoptee told a story about how her parents just always told her and her brother that they were adopted, that they had just always known, and so it was never any problem. And that her mother made a point of never using the term birthmother. Never said birth anywhere near mother, since that would suggest that her birthmother was a mother. A few other posts ensued about how to talk about birthparents, one from someone who noted that adoptive parents are the real parents. The other mother, not a mother, "just some lady whose tummy you grew in." just some lady. Talk about chopped liver.

I've posted before about my thoughts on the language of adoption. Those thoughts were a long time in coming (and are still evolving). I always respected the family who gave birth to Curious Girl, and I always thought it would have been ideal had CG been born into a family with the resources to parent her. Over time, as I've learned what it is to mother, and learned about the complicated ethics of adoption, I've wondered more about her first parents, her first mother, especially. I've read stories of adoptive families who've made some contact with birth families internationally. I've heard stories about reasons mothers/families made decisions to relinquish rights, or had those rights terminated. We may never know as much as I'd like to about CG's family's situation, but I do know that her birth mother is much more than just some lady whose tummy she grew in. She was the first voice, the first heartbeat CG heard. She gave CG life.

I know that the people writing these comments may change. I have several friends who adopted in China, selecting China as a way to avoid the possibility of an adoption revocation because a birthmother changed her mind. Now, seeing adoption through their daughters' eyes, they think and talk much differently about birth parents, and the ayis or foster mothers who cared for their girls. People change. Hearts open.

I also know that families are chosen, even biological ones. Phantom and Scrivener have posted about difficult parts of their pasts which have shaped and limited some of their contacts with relatives (I hope you won't mind this reference). Politica and her sister are estranged. There are generations of fractured sibling relations in her father's family. There are sometimes good reasons for breaking ties with family who aren't able or willing to love or respect or nuture. But it's not my decision to push CG's birth parents out of our universe, relegating them to the role of raw material providers and gestational container. CG will make her own peace with her past, and I need to keep her options open, try as much as I can to simply present her experiences as I have know them or can imagine them based on what I generally learn about her first homeland. Her birth parents aren't chopped liver.

So what would those blessings look like? You are blessed, O Spirit of the World, which enables us to heal, to love, to grow. You are blessed, breath of the universe, which carries the deepest hopes and dreams of those touched by adoption. Each time we speak of the past, let us speak to listen, with open minds, open hearts. Blessed are you, spirit of life, which enables us to persevere.

We're watching a lot of Olympics at night. Snowboarding isn't really my thing, although I love to read jo(e)'s experiences, and it's kind of fun to see the aerial tricks on TV. After Shaun White won gold the other night, the NBC announcer asked him if he thought his parents were proud. Now, I thought it was a pretty dumb question. Yes, I know that those of us with inadequacy shticks won't trust people to be proud of us no matter what we accomplish. But really, inadequacy shticks aside, isn't that a silly question? What about the parents of the last place snowboader? Shouldn't they be proud, too?

Today at violin group, the teacher asked the children to play some Mississipi hotdogs (a basic rhythm in four: eighth note, eighth note,eighth note, eighth note, quarter note quarter note) while walking around the room with their violins (this was the culmination of three little rhythm games). CG said to me "that's too tricky." "You can try," I said. "You won't know if it's too tricky unless you try." She looked at me a little dubiously, but she tried. She mucked up the rhythm, got her feet off kilter. But she walked around the room with the two bigger boys. And I gave her a big hug when she got back around to me. "I liked watching you guys walk and play," I said. "Marching bands have to do that all the time," her teacher said. "that's hard."

It was hard. I try to praise CG when she does good things. And I try to praise her, or at least notice, when she simply works at something. Sometimes, trying and messing up is just what happens. Sometimes, trying and doing great is what happens. And sometimes the trying is all you can manage.

A blessing: Blessed are you, spirit of the universe, that makes us see the actor, not only the accomplishment.

Politica has been trying a lot lately. Her father is aging, and he's not well. He's stable, getting slowly stronger, but it's not clear how much stronger he'll ever get. And the rift with her sister is non-reparable at this point. On this visit, we had some conversations with him about the power of attorney he'd drawn up. Politica had wondered whether it didn't make sense to split the POA, letting her sister handle the medical side and letting her handle the financial side. That's mostly what's happening now even with a POA that requires them to act jointly (a bad idea for people who can't communicate--Politica's sister refuses to take her phone calls or answer e-mails, so all communciation about their father goes through her brother-in-law). So the POA needed to be changed. But her dad is just so suggestible. When Politica asked him about dividing responsibilities, he thought that was fine. When the hospital social worker talked to him about maybe having a dual POA where each child could act independently, he thought that was fine. Politica has no crystal ball; it's hard to know in advance what's the best choice. But she tries, and trying doesn't always feel very good, because her father is aging. He's not the man he was, and she misses that man. He's slipping away, in some respects, and trying doesn't make it better.

A blessing: Blessed are you, spirit of the universe, who runs through us all, even as time passes, even as we bend and weave with changes about.

These things are all related, somehow: moments where I feel like chopped liver, moments where I see other people casting someone else as chopped liver. These are hard feelings, but I'm trying to stay in the moment, with an open heart, to listen and learn.

But if anyone wants to have CG to dinner to try to modify the dinner ritual, just set the date.


Arwen said...

Thank you for a beautiful post. I don't think everything's unsettled together in this post - these seperate places in which you're looking for help and blessing each add texture to the others.

I know about pushing against the primary caregiver. Sometimes I am beyond knowing what to do. Ripley's new trick - if I'm holding his hand while we're outside and he's mad - he'll occasionally yell: "You're the meanest mom ever! GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF ME! SOMEBODY HELP! HELP!!"
Yesterday, he actually solicited a city parking enforcement person. "HELP!" (Please note, I am not pulling his arm off or anything. I hold his hand to cross the street, or when there's dangerous traffic activity, or if he's running amok in an unsafe way as sometimes happens during tantrums...)

Aside from the worry that we'll end up in child protective services, I also simply end up with hurt feelings. Then I feel guilty: I'm the adult, I knew that kids would do this sort of thing. Ripley's just very creative about it.

So it's good to know that other people are going through their own version of it.

Mommygoth said...

Great post. It's the hardest job we do, isn't it? No other job requires the same level of diligence or care, or throws as many challenges in your way.

It sounds to me like CG has landed in clover. No matter what frustrations you are feeling, the fact that she communicates the good stuff and the bad stuff freely means that you have provided an environment where she feels safe. Good Mama, good Mommy.

peripateticpolarbear said...

This is lovely

Phantom Scribbler said...

We had a lot of similar pushing and pulling when LG was three and a half. I admire the extent to which you can retain your sense of humor about it. I'm pretty sure that I was reduced to tears once or twice. Not such a good mama, doing that.

I have to echo PPB -- such a lovely post.

susan said...

Well, as ever, I feel better knowing we're in good company. But can someone explain to me just what is the developmental point of this difficult-to-deal-with-phase?

I think we all need to aim to be good enough parents, and to think about our notions of "good mamas" over the long haul, not always over the specifics. Today I did a good job negotiating a spat between CG and her friend while Ellen and I were in the midst of trying to talk to a friend visiting us. but an hour earlier, I quite lost my temper when CG and friend were decorating cookies (what to do for valentine's day? make hanukkah cookies when you get tired of cutting hearts, CG and her friend decided); they were both pouring too much decorations on the cookies (quelle suprise for 3.5 yr old bakers, eh?). I'd like to think I can still keep my "good mama" card :).

Arwen, your comment reminds me of the times when CG is out with me and gets mad and starts yelling for Politica. When she's screaming "mommy! I want mommy!" I'm always worried someone will think I'm kidnapping her (I have had the experience of people in BigBoxStore looking at her with me and wondering if she was alone b/c CG can mutter about wanting to find Mommy while she walks with me).

M. said...

I love the blessings. It's so good to be able (even tongue in cheek) to use them to step back from something difficult and see what is important in the moment, even if it's painful.

By the way, I have a feeling Marcia Falk may have written a blessing about chopped liver...

liz said...

I love chopped liver. So delicious. So comforting.

Isn't that phase all about testing limits and getting independence? It had better be for something.