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Just adopt

theojump

Just adopt!

“Just adopt.”

I often hear these words of advice given to people trying to conceive or going through yet another round of IVF.  Plus, let’s face it “there are so many kids in need of home, just adopt one!”

If only it were so simple. Here’s the thing: There’s no such thing as “just adopting.”

From the time Mark and I set foot in the adoption agency office to the time Theo was born was about a year and a half, which in adoptionland, is equal to: “We didn’t wait at all.” It’s a non-wait. It’s the stuff of envy.

People routinely wait anywhere from two to ten years to adopt and many give up part way. It’s too heartbreaking to ‘never get picked’ or be turned down by an expectant mother who rightly decides to parent. It’s frustrating to watch a country close its doors after you invested your heart and hopes in a faraway place and faraway dream of a child. The adoption rollercoaster if another dip on the rollercoaster of emotion for repeat miscarriage survivors.

There no such thing as just adopting.

And when you do adopt and your heart leaps over the moon and back and you think it was all worth it, until you realize your child is crying in the night from the shock of adjustment, the lingering ailments from the orphanage or trauma of an unknown past. Or you know the birth family, and you see their hurt when you take the baby in your arms as he joins your family. Or you see people stare and comment at your family formation and wonder when your child will clue in that not everyone accepts him and us for who we are.

There is no such thing as just adopting.

You craft a story of how you became a family, a story of love and sorrow, and you cry when you tell it: You cry for the crushing grief of the mother, and the motherland, that lost a child, a child whose smile lights up a room, whose skin glows with health and whose potential seems vast and limitless.

There is no such thing as just adopting.

And years pass, and you are a happy: Your family includes another family, whether real or imagined and maybe another country, and your child comes to understand adoption and what it means to him on his own terms because you never treated it like it was “just adoption.”

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Closure is a captivating and quick-paced documentary about a young woman (the sparkling Angela Tucker AKA @angeieadoptee) who seeks and finds members of her birthfamily.

>> Filmmaker Bryan Tucker  is looking donations via KickStarter to help get Closure onto Netflix, Hulu and iTunes. (You can donate as little as $1 to help them.) <<

Like Somewhere Between, the documentary stands on its own as a thrilling and difficult journey full of revelations and discoveries, heartbreak, sadness and joy. For adoptees, birthmothers and adoptive families, of course, it has a deeper resonance.

It’s almost a ritual now for my husband and me to watch an adoption movie, cry immediately and then settle into the film, which is what we did for this one.

Right off the bat, as an adoptive mother, I was bowled over by Angela’s parents, who had one biological child in the 70s afterwhich the father promptly got a vasectomy and they adopted seven more children, all with some form of special needs.

The parents embody a kind of big love and down-to-earth attitude that rubbed off on their children. Interestingly, despite having so many kids, the mother still had a hard time figuring out (at the beginning) why Angela wanted to find her birthfamily (wasn’t she enough?). She quickly gets totally onboard; however; and the meat of the film kicks off.

I don’t want to give too much away because the surprises and details are too wonderful to reveal but Angela does meet various members of her family and once again, I learned a few things about adoption:

1) Birthfathers matter:  This doesn’t mean they necessarily make great parents but as a frequently missing part of the equation, their contribution to DNA and temperament can be significant. In the case of Angela, it’s clear that her biological father was a major contributor to her light-up-a-room personality as well as her physical appearance. Not that birthfathers are just about DNA but some of the similarities were striking.

2) An adoptee’s search for roots has nothing to do with the love they feel for their adoptive family. Loving your adoptive parents does not negate the need for answers, connections and love from your biological family. Those two seemingly disparate states can coexist.

3) Closed adoption leaves a trail of broken hearts. This isn’t news really but it was poignantly illustrated in the doc. The big downside of Angela’s adoption was secrecy, which  had serious repercussions on the birthmother in particular, who never even held her daughter and suffered severe lifelong depression. Obviously, for Angela, it meant a lifetime of wondering where she came from. It also resulted in lost culture, and lost relationships with birthaunties and uncles, and half-siblings. Loss even affected her first foster mother who never knew what happened to her after she was taken from their care to be adopted.

4) Sometimes adoption is the right choice. In the film, many family members talked about how they might have raised Angela including a foster mother but they all agreed in their own way and time that she had thrived in her adoptive family and that it was the right choice. By thrived, I mean this was a child that doctors said would never walk who turned out to be a phenomenal basketball player an effortless piano player and went on to get a social work degree.

5) Even when biological families are broken, reunion is still worthwhile. Angela’s birthfamily had some problems but they are warm, heart-on-the-sleeve people who were surprised, moved and thrilled to meet her. For Angela, none of that mattered: they were family.

Angela’s husband Bryan Tucker, who made the film, pieced together a complicated story  so that it moves quickly but slows down where needed to tell a truly moving and important story.

Donate any amount (over $1) to their Kickstarter campaign so they can get this wonderful doc screened and  shown!

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Like many families, we spend a lot of time browsing Netflix arguing looking for something we might all enjoy. Occasionally we find something enchanting by fluke, which was the case with the ballet documentary First Position.

There is so much to like about this film, which features young ballet dancers, boys (yes boys!) and girls, between 11 and 17, all competing for a chance at a scholarship and a shot at the big-time.

One of the main contenders is an 11-year-old boy whose room is full of toy guns and racing cars. When he’s not pirouetting on the dance floor, he’s wearing army pants and jumping on his pogo stick or skateboarding. Completely self-motivated, he says that ballet is the only thing he’s ever wanted to do. And he’s mesmerizing on-stage.

Because of him, Theo requests repeat viewings of the film and has asked  if  “When I’m a big boy, I can play ballet?”

twirl

Playing ballet.

Another standout thread, which had me in tears, centres on a Michaela, a 14-year-old girl adopted at age four from Sierra Leone. The country was in the middle of a civil war when her parents were killed. Later while living in an  orphanage, she witnessed the slaying of her pregnant teacher who had her arms and legs cut off. In the documentary, we watch her white adoptive mother painstakingly dye the ballet costumes so the “skin colour” pieces match her daughter’s skin tone and listen to her rail against the often racist ballet culture. All Micheala wants to do is dance and prove that black women can be great ballet dancers. (Spoiler alert: she does!)

Cutting through this heavy backdrop, Theo randomly piped in with “Ha ha …He say black people can’t dance,” in one of those inadvertently funny moments.

The documentary is also a poignant yet thrilling film full of heart-stopping suspense and jaw-dropping athleticism and grace. You know, fun for the whole family!

Postscript: Dancer Michaela DePrince is on Facebook and Twitter @michdeprince and now dances with the Dance Theatre of Harlem Company.

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Vignette

Alternate titles
Lost in translation
Race, who cares?
Preschoolers are random
My diverse neighbourhood
Let’s just jump already!

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Theo and his “sister” jumping off the bleachers while the big kids play ball.

It’s early evening, and the ground is spongy and wet beneath our feet, but it’s sunny and that’s all that matters. This late-breaking dose of sunshine is a tonic, and we’re drunk on it. The big kids are gearing up to play ball at the local diamond while the under 5s run around giddy with fresh air and light.

Theo heads to the bleachers for some impromptu jumping joined by five-year-old C, who he’s known since birth. A slight South Asian boy, who is probably five, but comes up to Theo’s shoulder, joins them. The three of them are perched at the top of the bleachers ready to leap when the little boy asks Theo:

“Is she your sister?” (C is white)

C: “No!”

The boy soldiers on gamely: “How many sisters do you have?”

C: “I don’t have any sisters. I have two brothers.”

He looks at Theo: “How many sisters do you have?”

Theo: “I [jump], “have fiiiiive brothers!”

The little boy shrugs and leaps.

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Darryl DMC McDaniels

Darryl “DMC” McDaniels

I’m a huge Moth fan (true stories told live), and one day, I was going for a customary walk in nature listening to podcasts, and I heard this story by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.

Sometimes Moth stories are laugh-out-loud funny but mostly, they’re gritty and raw and deep. This one shook my to the core. About half way through, I gasped and nearly dropped to my knees on the sidewalk.

The gist of the story (no spoilers) has Darryl McDaniels, the frontman for Run DMC, talking about his idyllic childhood, the success of his band Run DMC, and his seemingly inexplicable depression and suicidal thoughts.

One day, he hears the Sarah McLachlan song Angel, and he listens to it incessantly for a year. He buys all her records, and her music keeps him alive.

I won’t say any more:  Just listen to it.

Bonus for after the podcast.

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The Love List

In late-breaking honour of the international day of love, I present the Love List!

LOVE: Theo, of course. Even though, he’s not a fan of my paparazzi-like enthusiasm, he can still pull one out for the camera.

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Happy Valentine’s Day everybody! Can I play Lego now?

LOVE: Our weekly outing to the pool where I spend an extra hour watching Theo jump, twirl and dive (illegally) of the side of the pool, practice the dog paddle, and loudly point out bodily imperfections.

LOVE: Oovoo for allowing us to video conference with Theo’s birthparents in two separate locations while chasing a saber-wielding child around the house with a laptop.

LOVE: Crocus-popping, bike-riding weather.

BIking with a buddy.

BIking with a buddy.

LOVE: A husband/dad who knows how to really BE with his son.

LOVE: As tiny Valentine that arrived in an envelope addressed to Theo from a secret admirer. He carried it around in his pocket for days.

LOVE: A best pal’s birthday party.

Goofing around.

Post-cake high.

LOVE: Daycare treats that magically appeared in his cubby hole.

LOVE: The spontaneous adoration of a three-year-old. “Mama, day boy, he has a stinky bum!” (Loudly in the library.) Hard finger-wagging stare from me. “Mama… [pause] I LOVE YOU!!”

Did you feel the LOVE this past week or did Valentine’s day just put you in bad mood? Do tell!

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Theo is three-and-a-half and has the vaguest grip on what adoption and race mean. Despite Skyping with his birthmom and nana after Christmas coupled with our explanations of this birthfamily relationship, he never repeats it back or acknowledges it. He knows that many of his friends were adopted, and we read to him regularly about adoption but he rarely says much about it. He knows he is brown, Dad is brown, and I am white but seems to be over his vocal fascination with all brown people.

Brown like Dad.

Brown like Dad but sliiiightly different hair.

Theo is taking swimming lessons, which means we’re back at the pool where last time I was asked “where I got Theo.” At this week’s lesson, Theo saw an Asian girl in the water, pointed to her and yelled “Mom! Mom! She adopted? That Alex?” I’m still trying to sort that one out because we don’t have a friend named Alex who is Asian and adopted. We also live in a place with a strong Asian population so being Asian is not associated with adoption.

Moments later, a little boy, almost 4, in his class, asked Theo why he’s brown. I could see Theo say something and laugh as they entered the water with their instructor. After class, in the hot tub, I asked him if the little boy asked him why he was brown (pondering explaining some basic biology around his relationship to his birthparents…), and Theo said: “NO! He want to know “why I white … I brown!” Clearly, something got lost in translation. So I just left it as “Everyone’s different.”

Things go even juicier when Theo noticed a severely disabled man and yelled “Mom! Mom! He dead?!” Completely mortified, I fell back on my “everyone’s different” explanation and then added a bit about feelings. He then spotted a short man with Down’s Syndrome and yelled: “Mom! Mom! That man a smaaaaalll man, a smaaaaaalll man?!”  To which I replied, “Yes he is. But remember, not everyone wants to be pointed and yelled at because everyone’s different and everyone has feelings.”

The morning at the pool made me realize that the questions people ask Theo or me are tiny and manageable in the scheme of things. I have a strong, healthy, friendly child and we can answer questions openly and confidently as they arrive. There are people battling severe disabilities who have to endure the stares and discomfort of strangers on a daily basis.

How do you talk about differences to your young children? 

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