Thursday afternoon: After waiting for over 10 months for an answer from our first lender regarding the loan modification we submitted, we get their proposal in the mail!

Thursday evening: Seth screams through dinner (probably because he has learned to recognize that tone of voice Mama uses when talking about house stuff) so Todd and I don’t get a chance to talk about it then. Then I have to work the rest of the evening, and by the time I’m done, Todd is headed to bed. I stay up late writing my own husband an email about the stuff that we couldn’t talk about in person. :[

Friday morning: Todd replies to my email, and I steal a few more moments to send an email to the specialist who put together our loan modification. After sending it, I put on a kids CD and plop down with Seth on the couch to read a book. Moments later, the phone rings; it’s our specialist. I’m impressed with her getting back to me so quickly, but also caught a little off guard, and slightly annoyed that she didn’t respond in kind with an email. Anyway, we proceed to have the most stressful 10 minute phone call ever, and the music doesn’t help, and Seth screaming and crying for, oh, 9 of those 10 minutes doesn’t help either. I finally end the call by saying that I’m having a really hard time focusing on this right now, but it would be super awesome if she could write me an email to reply to my questions. By this time, I am shaking with anger, and so frustrated that I just want to cry–but the tears won’t even come–, or run screaming out the door, or something. I do end up yelling, literally, “Arrrrghghghghg!!” and then call Todd. Seth, meanwhile, is still wailing, but I take the time needed to relate to Todd the previous ten minutes of my life and then punctuate it with, “and your child won’t stop crying!” Within about a minute Todd is able to talk me calmer (with his supreme empathizing abilities, and also by promising to call our specialist himself instead of making me deal with her again) , and five minutes after that, I have apologized to Seth for losing it, and we’re back on the couch reading, snuggling, and on our way back to normal.

But later: I felt pretty bad about what had gone down. I felt bad about not getting off the phone sooner–both for my own and Seth’s sanity, and about letting myself get so worked up. But what was especially hard was having said “your child” like it was derogatory. Like I wanted to distance myself from him, like I could point blame at Todd (and not myself nor Seth himself, even!) for Seth’s behavior. When in reality, I am the proudest mama of this amazing little human. And I get sick of hearing myself using ‘that tone,’ so I can only imagine what Seth as a child must be thinking! …Hmm, I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but to sum up, Friday sucked, and then it got better.

And after some serious thinking and amazing talks with Todd this weekend, and finally getting to say “Alleluia!” again (Alleluia! Alleluia!), maybe this crazy hair-pulling breakdown was exactly what I needed to provide some clarity on where my head and heart need to be.

When I get in bed for the night, I often picture what my family looks like in the middle of the night. Three sardines lined up in bed, fast asleep and dreaming, sharing warmth and sharing sleep. And that image makes me love Todd and Seth all the more.

Long story short, Todd and I had been planning on Seth sleeping in a co-sleeper attached to the side of our bed. When we went down to CA to await Seth’s birth, however, it stayed home because it was heavy and bulky. Gale said Seth should sleep right next to me. I was a little apprehensive — wouldn’t I squish the teeny baby? That was our whole reasoning behind the co-sleeper; we wanted him close to us, but not dangerously close. But, barring his first night, spent on the warming tray in the hospital, Seth slept right next to me the rest of the time down in CA. And by the time we came back home, we couldn’t imagine him sleeping anywhere at night but between Todd and me. And not to say that he hasn’t been elbowed by us by accident, but that kid dishes it out tenfold.

Like when Todd and I got married: I quickly got so used to sleeping next to him, that when either of us was out late, or I went to a girl sleepover, I felt unsettled. It’s like that with Seth. These days one of us lies down with him to fall asleep, and we move him into his own space at the end of our bed. (We can finally consistently have T&B time! Yay!) After coming back in the bedroom, I drift off to sleep, but not without checking to make sure he’s okay. Then inevitably between 11pm and 2am, he’ll cry and even sometimes stand up. We move him into bed between us, and he (and we) falls back asleep instantly. And I’m really okay with this night after night.

Todd and I joke about Seth finally moving into his own bed when he’s forty, and I assure you, it will happen much, much sooner than that. Maybe that’s why I’m savoring it, because moving him into his own crib/bed is surely just around the corner. But in the meantime, sharing sleep with my two favorite people makes me one happy Mama.

When people talk about “the best day they’ve ever had”, often they will assign that honor to the day their children were born. I don’t know about that. How can a day that was 50% terror and nervousness and anxiousness and worry be the best day of my life?

One year ago today, at this moment, Aria was in labor. One year and four months ago, I had no idea who she was and had no connection whatsoever to her, but by Christmas Eve 2008, it was heart-breaking to see her hurting as much as she did.

Obviously, I had the much easier job that morning, but that meant I had extra time to worry and fret. I paced up and down the hallways, drank cup after cup of coffee, and kept going outside to try to collect my thoughts and to listen to Sly & The Family Stone’s “Just Like A Baby” on repeat (perfect song for the situation, by the way – slow and steady enough to help you catch your breath, but with enough tension that it still feels appropriate). I didn’t know what to do or what I could do – I just knew that the biggest change ever in my life was roaring towards us at full speed and causing physical pain to someone I cared about along the way.

But then he was born, and if I’m reluctant to put the tag of “best day ever” on 12/24/08, it has no competition whatsoever for the “best afternoon ever”. The sweetness of holding that tiny infant was just beyond compare and beyond my ability to put into words.

And it still is the sweetest thing I’ve ever known, even as the term “tiny” starts to give way to “wriggly, crazy, wild, cuddly, joyful” and “infant” gives way to “big baby, almost a toddler”.

Best year ever? Absolutely.

I heard this song the other day, and I really liked the way it described a father meeting his newborn son for the first time – especially the 4th stanza. I’ll admit the room got a little misty.

The Mountain Goats – Genesis 30:3

For several days the visitors were here
We saw them turned down and we watched them disappear
Talked about the days they’d said were sure to come
Had a hard time believing

I remember seeing you my tongue struck dumb
When you first came here from wherever it was you came from
The power in your voice
Your rough touch

Open up the doors to the tent
Wonder where the good times went
I will do what you ask me to do
Because of how I feel about you

I saw his little face contract as his eyes met light
Tried to imagine anything so bright
You only see it once and then it steals into the dawn
And then it’s gone forever

For several hours we lay there last ones of our kind
Harder days coming maybe I don’t mind
Sounds kind of dumb when I say it but it’s true
I would do anything for you

Open up the promise of the day
Drive the dark things away
I will do what you ask me to do
Because of how I feel about you
You keeping care of me
Keeping watch

The lyrics of this song are ambiguous in who they are directed to, and the Biblical reference in the title certainly doesn’t clear it up. I like the interpretation of this all being sung to the new baby, but alternate interpretations are certainly possible.

Who needs money when you look this cool?
Who needs money when you look this cool?

We knew what we were getting into was going to be a challenge. Seattle is one of the most expensive cities in which to live in the U.S., and while I make a fairly good living, it’s still pretty firmly in the middle-class range. Trying to support a family of 3 (or more, someday) and pay a mortgage, all on a single-income – it wasn’t going to be easy.

We did all the calculations, though, and as long as we continued to live a pretty frugal lifestyle – eating at home, borrowing movies from the library, riding the bus to work – it looked like everything would work. We’d be starting with a healthy cushion which we’d have to dig into a bit, but as my earning potential continued to rise, we’d get back into the positive fairly quickly:

Insert: Simple Line Graph, with the y axis labeled “net worth” and the x axis labeled “time.” The line starts at a pleasingly high point on the y axis, dipping slightly before starting to rise again in a jaunty manner. The overall effect is not unlike a lazy summer smile.

Then things got a little more complicated. We found out that our path to becoming a family was going to involve a lot more people than just the two of us and an obstetrician. As some of the institutions helping facilitate that process require compensation, we were also going to be starting with a much smaller cushion than expected, as well.

We did the calculations and projections again, and with some much-needed assistance from our families, it looked like we’d just be able to pull it off. It was going to be tight – very tight – but we could tighten our belt a notch or two further, Betsy might be able to put in a few hours here and there working from home for the farm, and I had a good job with a strong company with reasonable salary increases on the horizon. If push came to shove, we just sell our house and go back to apartment living for a year or two.

Insert: Graph #2. This line starts at lower altitude than the first, and immediately swoops down rapidly in a dizzying dive. The line skitters and screeches across the bottom, throwing off sparks and smoke, before being wrestled back up by the heroic crew. The line, a little battered and beaten but flying steady, exits the right side of the graph at a reasonable level.

Then as the process unfolded, expenses from the agency came in ways that we weren’t anticipated. Dings here and there to the pocketbook that started to add up quickly. The starting cushion was deflating at an alarming pace.

And then the economy crashed, and suddenly, “the reasonable salary increases on the horizon” that I had been expecting started slipping further and further over the horizon and out of sight. Layoffs were happening all around me and the valuable marketable skills I was developing became just another commodity in a buyer’s market. Finally, my company announced that they were instituting salary cuts across the board for all of the employees still left standing.

Insert: Graph #3 – the line is floating low, just above the rooftops of the city below, when it gets snagged against a radio tower and OH THE HUMANITY

So, we’re at a point right now where we’re looking at our options. Terms like mortgage adjustments, short sale, and other such fine instruments of financial torture are being tossed around pretty regularly and we’re doing a lot of research into our options. We’re continually looking at ways to shave a few dollars off of our monthly spending, but at this point, any further cuts would be no longer cutting off fat but shaving pretty near the bone. If we seem a bit frazzled now and then over the next few months, this’ll be why.

But the one thought I keep returning to is this: nothing truly valuable is at risk. We will always be well-fed, we will remain warm and dry and sheltered, and we will all remain deeply in love with each other, and have the love and support of our families. We might end up losing some of the investment we’ve made in this particular piece of real estate, and I might not have this particular piece of land to have backyard grilling sessions on, but we’ll always have each other, and we’ll make our way in the world in the best way we know how.

The skin on my eyelids is the most sensitive I have, so I close my eyes and move them near his mouth to feel the tiny exhalation of his breath. I lean forward to kiss the wrinkles of his chin while he murmurs a phrase in dream language.

I am so in love.

I don’t know if we’ve mentioned this yet, but we have been staying this whole time with Aria’s family. Yeah, they’re that awesome. Gale and Dave are two of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and am tearing up a little bit even now thinking about it. Gale, especially, is a font of inspiration, knowledge, and experience. I had a minor freakout today…wanting Seth to be as happy and healthy as possible + not knowing how to always make that happen + lack of sleep had me pretty overwhelmed (and I’m sure it won’t be the last time). But Gale gave me encouragement and troubleshooted the situation. Truly my hero.

Gale and Santa's little helper
Big Dave and wee Seth

Since the dawning of time, fathers have had a vestigal role to play in the birthing process. Their role was important at the beginning, but once the 9 months have elapsed and it’s time for the labor, the father doesn’t have a clearly defined role. The doctor or midwife is providing their expertise, the sisters and grandmothers are providing their advice and experience, and the father… well, he’s generally standing around with a stunned look on his face.

The role of the adoptive father is even more nebulous. If it was my wife giving birth, I would like to think that I’m an enlightened enough male to be able to openly discuss women’s health issues and all the changes going on in her body. I may not be an expert, and I may not have the experience, but at the very least, I could be there as a coach and an assistant. It’s different, though, with an adoption. The week we’ve spent living in the house together has helped us all get to know each other and grow closer, but we’re still not quite so close that I would feel comfortable asking Aria detailed questions about the status of her cervix (to be fair, the number of women I WOULD feel comfortable asking questions like that of is somewhere around 1). Her mother, her friends and the adoptive mother step into the coach/assistant role, and the adoptive father role becomes even more ill-defined.

I should take the time here to mention that everyone is playing the exact right role in our adoption story. There’s nothing I would change, nor do I feel like my toes are getting stepped on – I’m beyond grateful for all of the wonderful people surrounding this process, and having a surfeit of experience and expertise is great problem to have. I trust everyone fully, and wouldn’t want to displace anyone’s role in the process.

I think it’s just an odd adjustment for me to make to being the passenger on this journey. We’re days (hours? minutes?) away from what is going to be one the most important moments of my entire life, and the “right” place for me to be is on the sidelines, watching and cheering on the team.

And that’s a weird spot for me to be in. I wouldn’t really consider myself to be a control freak, as my temperment is far too mellow to be considered “freakish”, and I can adjust fine to lack of control, but it’s definitely no secret among those I’ve worked with that I prefer the hands-on approach and will often end up steering a project, either subtly or not, towards the direction I think it should go. This time, though, it’s all hands-off and watching.

The work involved in an open adoption has a lot to do with defining roles. What is the adoptive father’s role before/during the birth? What is the birthmother’s extended family’s role after the birth? Who is in charge of naming the child? Who is invited to the christening? Who attend what baby showers? I’m not the first person to be trying to sort through these issues while events happen, nor will I be the last. The goal, as always, will be just to be respectful of what everyone needs and what is best for the child. That will look different day-to-day or even minute-to-minute, but as long as that stays as the central goal, all should work out for the best.

And the fact that I get to attend the birth of my son is such a fantastic blessing that everything else is mere details and logistics.

I was listening to Björk’s “it’s not up to you” the other day, and it struck me as being a very good description of what the whole process has been like. You can listen to the song here, if you are curious.

The song starts on a quiet note, with soft clicking beats and strings creating an uneasy sense of waiting. The lyrics start talking about how the thing she’s “always longed for… could still happen”, and giving images of a world that’s not quite the way she expected. I think we went through a lot of that while we were still trying to conceive. Even during the adoption process, when the tasks ahead of us seemed overwhelmingly complex and time-intensive, there were times when the road ahead looked unclear and difficult.

But out of the tension bursts a huge chorus singing “it’s not up to you”. And it’s a wonderful sound – it’s a sound of pressure being lifted, of self-doubt getting blown away, and of acceptance of the fact that there’s much in life beyond our control. On alternating days, Betsy or I will get so caught up in the process that we forget that very true fact of the family-starting process. The other one of us is always there to help bring the first one back down to earth, and there really is something freeing and wonderful about the recognition that we “can decide what to give, but (that) it’s not up to (us) what (we) get given”.

One of the best things about the adoption process has been the lessons we’ve learned about ourselves. It takes some people a lifetime to recognize that what happens in life isn’t up to them. We’re still in the process of internalizing that lesson ourselves, but I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to see this truth in action in our own lives and get that much closer to giving up the control we never had to start with.

When I was in college, I made the financial mistake of not having any expensive hobbies. If I had been the type of guy who went out and spent $2000 on a ski weekend in Vale or $1200 on a new flat-screen TV or $1500 on new parts to turbo-boost my carburetor, I think I would have ended up having a lot more money at the end of the day. Big chunks of money like that would have been sufficiently painful to the point where I would have to budget for it, and only spend the money when I could really afford to.

Instead, I spent my money in a constant flow. A typical Saturday in college would see me rolling into the local coffee shop at 10am for a latte and scone, heading down to a music store for a few more CDs, eating lunch out, going to see a movie simply because the smell of popcorn was so great when I walked by the theater, going back to the coffee shop to see if any of my friends where there and buying another coffee, browsing for used books or clothes, going out to dinner, and then out bowling with friends. It was not unusual for me to blow through $100 in a day without even really noticing it had left my pocket. By the time I left college and was trying to make it on my own, I had accumulated more than my fair share of credit card bills and was screening my calls against the collections people calling me.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Betsy was living in a small house with her best friend and a random guy who was renting out the rooms. There was very little/no insulation and electricity is expensive, so she slept in a sleeping bag every night and woke up seeing her breath. The owner of the house kept the front unfinished to keep street appraisals from raising the property taxes. Every meal was homemade, or was brought in from home when she was out working at one of her two jobs. She paid for her college and living expenses without any loans, and made it out of college with money in her savings.

Living together has been an adjustment for both of us.

We’ve been together for about 6 years now, and we’ve spent a lot of time getting acclimated to each other’s spending habits. I have simplified my life significantly – I’m much more conscious of the amount of money I spend on food and coffee, I do my best to limit music purchases (if you consider 3-4 CDs per month limited, which is about half of what I used to buy), I’ve paid off all of my creditors, and I’ve developed a new love for simple pleasures like walking in the park, checking out books from the library or spending time in my friends’ homes rather than going out. I’ve also pulled Betsy a bit from her asceticism, convincing her to go out from time to time and (in an ongoing battle still raging to this day) to occasionally turn on the heat in the house above 60 degrees. Overall, I’d say that I’ve moved 70% of the way towards her, she’s moved 20% of the way towards me, and the last 10% gets to be our part of the standard money issues all couples get to figure out together.

It’s a lot easier to compromise, though, when we’re a pair of DINKs and the money we’re saving is the difference between a large savings account and a larger one. Over the next few months/years, things are about to get a lot more interesting as far as money goes.

1) Adoption costs. I’ve alluded a couple of times to the cost of adoption being rather high. I don’t want to get too specific in this blog about costs, even though the information is pretty public – it wouldn’t take a lot of research to find the numbers, if you were interested in getting a ballpark figure. Still, money is one of those things that can be sensitive to talk about, and I’m going to keep things pretty vague.

When we first started on this process, I figured that it would be somewhat expensive, but I had never really put a lot of thought into it. I imagined that it would be somewhere in the high 4-digits – tough, but well-worth it in the long run. When we first attended an informational meeting, though, and we finally got to look at an actual schedule of fees, my head was buzzing – it was considerably more expensive than expected. The price was roughly equivalent to a new car, and a fairly nice, fully loaded car at that. And while we had reserved significant amounts of money for these purposes, it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to pay cash outright for everything. After having just finished signing up for several hundred thousand dollars worth of house debt just a few months ago, I was not looking forward to adding even more to my obligations.

For the first few months after we began the process, that was the constant hole in my stomach – I knew I wanted to adopt, and I knew that I would gladly sell off anything I owned for the chance at fatherhood, but just because I was willing, didn’t mean I was thrilled about it. Furthermore, it’s expensive already to raise a child, especially with the plans Betsy and I have (which I’ll write about below), and I was not excited to start with our bank accounts drained and monthly payments on debts due. I was waking up early in the morning if my thoughts drifted over to that topic, and I was trying to figure out the math that would make it all work.

And here’s some more of the vagueness I promised earlier. I started thinking about the possibility of my parents helping out in some way – a small sum to help us stretch out to the finish line, at lower rates than what a bank would charge us. We spent an evening talking about it with my parents, and they ended up making an offer that was more generous than we were going to be asking for. We’ll keep the specific terms between us and them, but we’re feeling more comfortable now after that discussion.

2) Raising a child. Unfortunately, the costs don’t stop at taking care of the fees related to bringing a child home – far from it. One of the ironies of adoption is that oftentimes the birthmother chooses an adoption plan because she does not have the resources to provide for the child in the way she wants it be provided for. After paying all of the adoption fees, it’s hard for us to imagine being in much better situation. (I’m mostly being tongue-in-cheek when I say that, as I recognize that proper resources goes far beyond simple “cash in hand”, but still, it does feel that way sometimes.)

Betsy and I are pretty firm believers in the idea of having a stay-at-home parent for the child. Neither of our mothers worked outside the home for the bulk of our childhood, and we count ourselves blessed for it. And since I’m the one who currently brings home a larger salary, and I have generally more marketable skills, it’s been decided that Betsy would be the one to stay home.

Over the last few months, we’ve started to try to imagine what the future might look like. Moving from a dual-income household to a single income. Feeding three mouths instead of two. Medical insurance and other bills. Diapers. Cribs. Strollers. Blankets. Toys. Books. The list of expenses seems nearly endless.

And we’ve barely gotten over the sticker shock of paying for our first baby, the 900 sq ft wood-and-cement whiner that always seems to want something else new. Every month since we’ve moved in, it’s been either a couple hundred dollars for insulation, or a few hundred more spent at Ikea, countless $10-20 trips to Home Depot or McLendon’s, or any number of other small costs and dings at the checking account that one wouldn’t expect.

We ended up having a long talk yesterday morning about how this was going to work. We have very different backgrounds when it comes to money, and consequently, this new challenge is being seen through different lenses. Betsy is uncomfortable spending money and likes to have a “cushion” available to her, and the thought of all of the expenses in the future are a huge point of stress. I, on the other hand, have no problem at all spending money, and I’ve lived in times where I was paycheck-to-paycheck and scraping by on luck, good looks and charm (okay, mostly luck), and I’m more comfortable considering the lilies of the field and trusting that God and our families will see to it that our basic needs are taken care of. Of course, when we get to that point, Betsy will be the one who our family will lean on for financial discipline and planning, whereas I’ll be semi-useless as far as that goes.

I think that the concerns about money end up showing again why I’m so happy to be raising a child with Betsy as my partner. We complement each other in a lot of ways like this. I’ll have some wisdom or confidence to share about one issue, and she’ll come back with the skills to implement it. Or she’ll have an idea or motivation to start living our life in a certain way, and I’ll come along to offer suggestions and my own experiences. Or I’ll have the stupid jokes about bodily functions that entertain our friends and each other, and she’ll have the good sense to keep me quiet in church. We fit together very well.

Money is not going to be easy, but it never is for any parents. If we decide that carrying a mortgage and having a single source of income for three people isn’t feasible, we’re ready to make the move back to an apartment if needed. But as I was telling Betsy the other day, “as long as we got each other, we got the world spinning right in our hands. Baby, rain or shine, all the time, we got each other, sharing the laughter and love.”

The latest news: After sending in our first round of paperwork last Tuesday, I received a call at work today from someone at the agency. My heart instantly started racing, but all she was calling about was to clarify my home phone number. I somehow put Todd’s first three digits and my last three as my phone number. D’oh! If there were a “Would they be good parents? Well sure, they know their own phone number!” test, I would have flunked it for us. But if they don’t kick us out for that, we will get contacted again within the next week or two to schedule an interview.

In other goings-on, I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality. No, not of the hotel laundry, meals and cleaning variety (although there already is a bit of that around here, and will no doubt triple when we have a family of three +), but rather specifically making our lives and hearts a hospitable place.

I recently finished two books that have been fueling my thoughts. The first is Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison. She’s mom to six (three biological and three adopted), and has been a foster parent to more than one hundred children. I’ve long since wanted to be a foster parent, but reading this book scared me straight! Foster parenting is tough work of unsung, even scorned, heroes, and Harrison’s experiences are heartbreaking. How could I think I’m even close to ready to deal with the kind of stuff she did? But then, as I read further, my thoughts flip-flopped back into even more of a steely resolve that foster parenting is something I feel called to *eventually* do. One thing Harrison said has cottoned to my brain; she says, in so many words, that if the only thing she accomplishes is to make a child in her care feel loved and safe while in her home, she has done her job as a foster parent.

This idea was lodged further when I picked up Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen. Part two of his “three movements” is to move from a spirit of hostility to hospitality. How does one do this, Henri? I asked. Well, Betsy, he said (also in so many words), you have to create a space in your life for people to feel loved and safe. One does this by creating an empty, yet inviting, open space for them to come into. By empty, he means for us to empty our minds of judgmental thoughts, of how things ought to be, how people are supposed to be and act. If our minds are full of ideas of all the ways those things ought to be, we close off our openness to accept people as they are.

And here comes the dovetail into adoption: if we are to fully welcome a new child into our family, and indeed, a whole ‘nother family into our family, we need to be open. And empty–in the best possible meaning of the word. We need to learn to practice hospitality, in both the cleaning-cooking sense, and even more in the sense of making the people (very young, and older too) who come into our lives feel safe and secure that we’ll love them, exactly as they are…

Next Page »