9.01.2013

# 84: BACK TO BABY LILY'S STORY


PAGE # 84
Monday
12/26/11
Afternoon

It was the day after Christmas.  Our nephew, Max, was playing with Sara in our family room.  He was excited about all the new toys in the house, and I watched as Sara gave him the tour of her new kitchen set.
"Look what Santa brought me," she said.
I sat on the couch, holding a sleeping Baby Lily in my arms.  I heard Max lower his voice down to a whisper.  He looked over at me, and with a smile wider than his face, he said to Sara:
"There's no such thing as Santa."
Then, Max looked back over at me.  I was surprised at the degree of anger boiling inside me.
Really, Jen?  You feel this much anger toward a child who is only on the brink of turning five?
Oh, I was mad.  There was no good way to intervene at the moment, but Sara, weighing only 21 pounds at 2 years of age, was articulate enough to handle things by herself:   
"Santa's real.  You silly Max!  He brought me my kitchen.  Look..." she said, her hand pointing at the evidence.
But Max would not let up.  I had already discussed this issue with him--after a previous attempt he made at killing Santa.  He knew the topic was off limits.  My husband, Tom, and his family are Jewish, and despite the fact that I consider myself agnostic, I was raised in a Catholic family and do enjoy carrying on the holiday traditions.  I had hoped Tom's family would respect my wishes regarding the Christmas holiday.  And I had already spoken with my brother and sister-in-law, Sam and Diana, more than once about it.
"Max, I think it's time to go home now," I said.  
"No!"  he cried.  "I promise I'll play nice."
Within minutes, Sara and Max were playing dress-up.  Sara donned her new chef's costume, and Max was running through the rooms sporting a pair of pink fairy wings.  I put Baby Lily back in her bassinet and grabbed my iPhone to capture it all on video.  After recording a good twenty seconds or so, I sent the video off to Sam and Diana, knowing that seeing their son parade around in a fairy costume would be unsettling for them.

My intentions were not kind.  I wasn't seeking revenge merely over Santa Claus.  I was boiling mad over years of indecent behavior--stuff I never seemed able to nip in the bud in the moment.  This included but was not limited to them making derogatory remarks, both direct and indirect, toward TJ, mostly pertaining to his involvement in musical theatre.  Their tone was always comedic, but it housed a real hostility toward our son--and one that implied he was somehow not "masculine" enough for their own taste.

It was petty and completely unfair to little Max--but I sent the fairy-winged video off to my in-laws.  With glee and without much guilt.

Those days with Baby Lily were like living within a kaleidoscope of emotions:  Tilt things one way, and happiness made an outline around anxiety mixed with exhaustion.  But shake things up a bit--and suddenly--I could see nothing but a mass of confusion.  And whatever anger I experienced, well, most of it was directed at Sam and Diana. I'm sure a lot of it was justified, but it took on a life of its own, and started to impact my actual behavior toward them (and not just my feelings about them).  It was not merely their history of insensitive remarks, and it was not just their almost complete isolation from Baby Lily; no, it was much more.  It was, one might argue, a part of my own imagination, because as I peered into the future, a future that included raising a child who had suffered the most primal of traumas, I feared my in-laws' future behavior.  It didn't matter if it hadn't happened yet; it seemed enough that what had already occurred was like a line cast out in front of us all--a path that was inevitable and most unfriendly. 

The latest insult had occurred a few days prior, but Sam and Diana were still retelling the story as if it were material destined for a stand-up comedy act.

This is what happened:

Sam had come to meet Lily (finally) and he brought little Max with him.  It was a quick visit, and would be the only time Tom's brother would spend with Lily.  Sam questioned little Max about Lily's origins:
"You see Uncle Tom and Aunt Jenny's new baby?  But where did she come from?  Aunt Jenny didn't have a baby in her belly, so how did she get here?"
And Max replied,
"I think they found her on the street.  Someone left her there, and she was all alone, so they took her home."
Max's interpretation of Lily's pending adoption was not ill-willed; in fact, it was probably an age-appropriate fantasy to explain the inexplicable.  What was upsetting, on the other hand, was the pleasure everyone seemed to take in the retelling of Max's explanation.  I worried about this story's inclusion in the ongoing family narrative.  How would such a family "tale" impact Lily as she grew up?  Would it make her feel like a piece of discarded garbage we had found on the street?

Perhaps if the family history had not been punctuated with so much insensitivity and ignorance.  Perhaps if Sam, and later, Diana, had allowed themselves a little laughter over Max's innocent story, but then had demonstrated some empathy for Lily by explaining the reality of Lily's adoption story in an age appropriate way.  Perhaps if they didn't keep retelling and laughing at the story that, in my vulnerable state of mind, felt like sheer cruelty at the expense of an innocent baby girl.  

Maybe, under more gentle circumstances, I would have felt differently about Lily's future place within our extended family.  

But things happened the way they did.  And I wondered if other adoptive families shared similar struggles.  

The odds seemed to be stacking up against Baby Lily's best interest:

She had been relinquished by her natural mother.

Her natural father was allegedly a terrible person.

And now, our family--her prospective adoptive home--seemed destined to fail her.  
"We need to move off of this street," I later said to Tom.  "This is too incestuous, having your brother a few houses away.  It's beginning to feel like the Jewish version of the show 'Everybody Loves Raymond' except that it's not very funny.  Not funny at all.  And I'm not even Jewish."
I showed Tom the video I had recorded of Max in the fairy wings.  I expected him to react with disgust, discover that I am some kind of horrible person.  We'd have a fight over his family.  Instead, he laughed:
"That's pretty funny.  They totally deserve it."
There was hope, then, not only for Baby Lily, but for our marriage.  Finally!  I had won a battle against Tom's most impenetrable superpower:  his loyalty toward his family of origin.

To Be Continued...

9 comments:

Jay Iyer said...

Hi Jennifer,

Thank you for continuing baby Lily's story. I am taking this opportunity to comment on the stigma of being a foster care adoptee - or even a foster child, as Nina was. Right after Nina was placed with us, my sister-in-law asked, "So how do you guys feel about ....you know, how she looks?" Considering that Nina is about the most beautiful of any child in mine or my husband's families, I asked, "What do you mean? She is beautiful!" and the response was, "Well, you know she is *black*" Several neighbors have inquired (and continue to inquire) about both Nina and my adopted son Lenny, in hushed tones, "So, how is he/she *doing*?" And when we say "Great" (which is the truth) they continue...."I mean, really? How ARE they doing?" When we say, "Why would you ask?" there is an embarrassed pause and then, "Well, you know, given their *background* and all." Makes us want to say "Well what happened to your kids? You gave birth to them and they are not half as eloquent as Nina and Lenny!" Of course this is not a contest and we keep our mouths shut, but it is hard not to think mean thoughts sometimes!

I hope your relationship with San and Diane is civil despite your divergent views of life :)

Jay

Jennifer said...

Jay,

There is definitely a stigma regarding adopted/foster kids/adults--it's something I witnessed before, but experienced through Baby Lily. It's an uphill climb, and one sort of hopes that at least such experiences don't originate from within her own family--but, it does happen.

Ultimately, the loss of Lily was such a hard one to process, especially as she wasn't getting acceptance within the family in the first place (at least not with those particular family members). It was a strange and bizarre grief experience.

I'm sorry to hear that you too must contend with insensitive remarks, and you are so articulate and thoughtful in all your comments--I am sure you handle things with much grace.

As for us, things are improved regarding the family relationships, but this was the consequence of time passing--as nothing was actually processed/worked through between anyone. I moved on, am in a less vulnerable place now, so am better able to tolerate our very divergent views.
And...we are moving! Sometime next spring--hooray!

Best,
Jennifer :)

Jay Iyer said...

I am in a similar position in regard to Nina. Very few of them even ask about Nina anymore, although several remembered her birthday and even sent presents in the first two years following her reunification. Now, some family members and friends outright ask why I bother to stay in contact - they say it will lead to intense disappointment for me because she is being raised by "a different class of people." I don't believe in raising/nurturing a child with any expectation that they should live up to an ideal of what you imagine they must be, regardless of how they come into your life - so I will stick to my guns and maintain the contact as long as Rayna lets me!

And Congratulations on your upcoming move :)

Anonymous said...

I found your blog last night and have been reading to every since. No real words, but I hope you and your family have found some type of peace.

Jennifer said...

Thank you Anon,

All the best,
Jennifer

Evan Riley said...

I can't wait for you to write more....hurry up lol.

Dani C. said...

I came upon this blog very accidentally one day and was hooked on the story! When will the story be continued?

Dani C. said...

I found this blog completely by accident and was hooked. I could not stop reading. So much of this story just broke my heart! When will the rest of the story be continued?

Jennifer said...

Evan and Dani...

Thanks for the encouragement!

Hopefully, I will get back to writing today. On top of a bunch of other things, I had a month filled with sickness here--sinus infections, sore throats, etc.

Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to comment as well.

All the best,
Jennifer :)