I’ve had a lot of requests to say more than I did in my Anyway Project Update about our decision to adopt more children, and a lot of requests to write about the project as we go along. So I will say something here, although with the caveat that the process is very new for us, we are just beginning, and we have not yet been approved as foster/adoptive parents. Many of my assumptions are just that – assumptions. At the same time, I will write about the process when and if children join our family, but I hope my readers will be understanding about the fact that because any children we take probably won’t be legally free for adoption, my words will have to be limited by their right to privacy.
What I have been thinking about is the degree to which my own experience of parenthood in some ways mirrors the experience I’ve had of learning about the changes coming in our larger society, and thus, makes me feel like this is just a logical continuation of our lives.
I have always wanted to have adoption be a part of how I make my family – I grew up around adoption and fostering. My mother placed children through the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, and I grew up around stories of placements and pictures on the refrigerator of the children she’d settled into families. For a period in the 1980s they were foster parents as well. My husband also has a background history that involved fosterage and adoption, and both of us wanted to expand our families this way.
At the same time, I wasn’t ready when I first approached parenthood. Adopting through social services requires a precise skill set, and adaptation to a different set of realities than giving birth to a baby. Children are usually older, and have been through enormous trauma to have reached the point that they have been taken from their parents. In many cases the children have serious disabilities or developmental issues from trauma, and they may be dealing with issues from physical and sexual abuse among many other problems. I know wonderful people who can go from 0-60 and start with an older child with serious problems, but I wasn’t one of them.
In some ways, this mirrors my experience with climate change and peak oil. I understood the math of Hubbert’s Peak in the 1990s, when a professor of mine explained it. I understood the science of climate change in the late 1980s. I had long heard figures about what percentage of resources Americans used and how we were consuming planetary resources. I did, not, however, fully reach the point where I was ready to grasp the implications for daily life until later – knowing we were using more than our share didn’t connect to the fact that we had to stop for a while. Knowing that there would be less didn’t connect to “ok, how do we live with less” immediately. I needed time to start from a spot I could see as a beginning. Some people are ready to jump right in, but for me, starting from birth was a way of easing into the process.
Or so I thought. In fact, I was fortunate to immediately go through boot camp about my parenting expectations. The perfect sweet baby that slept through the night that I dreamed of was replaced by a colicky infant who screamed 7+ hours per day, inconsolable, driving Eric and I to hysterics over our inability to fix his problems. He nursed near constantly and wouldn’t (couldn’t, actually) take a bottle, so for the first six months of my life, he was never apart from me for more than a few hours. He slept only 45 minutes at a stretch for the first four months, leaving us quite literally hallucinating with sleep deprivation.
Why on earth would I call something so awful fortunate? Well, the good news is that it made me a much more relaxed parent. Nothing I’ve ever done – even having four kids ranging from newborn to five, one severely autistic, has ever been that hard, and it has given me a “ok, life’s good as long as I get three hours consecutive sleep once in a while.” attitude that I think goes well with both peak oil adaptation and the adoption of additional children.
Eli’s disability (which I suspect was part and parcel of his colic) has also helped with that. The words “special needs” sounded immensely overwhelming to a 27 year old me with no kids. After a decade of managing therapists, sorting out IEP’s and dealing with public perception, as well as accepting that my expectations that my kids would be perfect little geniuses were stupid, I think I’ve got my ducks in a row, parenting-wise. I’m happy to have my kids achieve what they can legitimately accomplish. I don’t see disabilities as simply taking things away – they all come with compensations. I have, I hope, reasonable and somewhat realistic expectations. I want my kids to grow up to be good men who are kind to others and accomplish what they can, according to their abilities. This is enough for me. I do not fear disappointment – and indeed, I think my greatest skill as a parent and a person may be that I don’t like to waste time wishing things were otherwise. What is, is, and we might as well get on with it is my mantra – saves a lot of time.
In peak oil and climate change terms, I think this process has worked for me too. If I was deeply invested in keeping everything exactly the way it was, and had to figure out how to run it all on new technologies and pay for the private solar system, I’d be in trouble. The numbers, in terms of personal finance and also world energy just don’t add up. Fortunately, I don’t have to. I’m fine with not having all the things I’ve had in my life – there are some I’d like to keep, but that’s a preference, not a personal investment that makes it the end of the world if the electricity clicks off or the budget drops. I have things I’d like to accomplish if I suddenly have an influx of money or time, but I don’t waste time worrying about what I haven’t done – I keep on moving forward and doing the best I can with what I have. A surprising amount gets done this way.
I doubt anyone adopts for wholly unselfish reasons – we are hoping to adopt not because we are noble, but because we love our kids and would like a couple more of them in our lives. At the same time, we do hope we have something to offer children as well – space and our time and a place that is in its own way a paradise for children, a kind of old-fashioned upbringing that I think is healthy and joyous for kids. The mix of what is good for us and what is good for children who need some good seems something I can live with, even if I would prefer, in the abstract, to be a wholly noble person who never thought of my own interests.
This too is how I approach my adaptation process – with a mix of what is good for the world and what is good for me. Some would argue that it would be better for the world for me to live in a dense walkable city in an apartment – and there’s a case to be made there. My energy goals might in some ways be better accomplished there. But there is place enough in this world for me to spend my fair share of resources how I want – the apartment wouldn’t make me as happy as this place does. In exchange for this happiness, the space and land, we are bound to use it well, share it well, and take our larger chunk of land and grow not just for ourselves, but for others.
The process itself is complicated – we are just beginning to gather references, get physicals, put together our materials, and we have some time before we know if our family will qualify to participate. I joke to Eric that having babies was a royal pain for me, but not too bad for anyone else in the family (I loathe pregnancy), and this time, we get to spread the annoyances around more equitably. I’m told the process will probably take about as long as having a baby – each step takes its time and scheduling, and then we wait for the right placement. That’s ok, everything needs time to grow. I’m as excited about this as I was when these tiny creatures were growing underneath my heart. At the same time, it is hard to look at this unambiguously, because while my family will grow and be enriched, another family must be destroyed and children bear the burden. That it isn’t my fault doesn’t make it any easier to be happy about it.
Again, this is not so very far off of my larger work, however. The goods I find in the process of changing our society come with some truly terrible negatives, and denying that does no one any good. At the same time, it is better, I think, for everyone to do what you can to achieve as much of what we want and need for happiness as we can – and to recognize that many things grow out of disasters.
I will keep everyone updated, to the extent I can as we navigate the process. I suspect it will be frustrating and annoying at times, arduous and that nothing will work out the way I planned. I suspect the joys will surprise me, the inconveniences seem impossible sometimes, the delight will emerge where I lease expect it. So it has been for me as a mother. So it is in the world that I live in. I can think of nothing better to wish for than that joy and frustration, loss and gain continue mixed, that we continue to live as well as we can with the right expectations, and that we find delight where we can in a mixed and messy world until the end of our days.