White shirts or blue Shirts?
Or black shirts? Black turtlenecks like Steve Jobs—American legend, innovator, and insanely rich white guy.
Wait. Steve Jobs or Bruce Springsteen? Successful or relatable? Wrap your arms around these engines or get your thumbs on this touch screen?
I’ll come back to it.
Jeans or khakis? Jeans/khakis/jeans/khakis/jeans/khakis…
Jeans. Jeans are blue-collar. Jeans are relatable. Everybody has jeans. Khakis remind you of that job you had folding clothes in a low-end department store chain. No one wants reminded of that. And white shirts are the best shirts because they’re clean, fresh, open. A blank slate. Holy. Pure. Jeans and a white shirt, Bruce Springsteen style. Jeans, cuffed at the shin so we can stand barefoot in the surf. We’ll line up, Bonnie and I and the family—not my family, we’ll hire actors, beautiful actors—and we’ll line up in the surf and pose for a family picture, the main one, the one that goes on the album covers and above the fireplace. The outtakes will go on Christmas cards, and gobble up Likes on Facebook. Oh, the out-takes, har-har-har, so saccharine sweet. We’ll all hold mom like a surfboard. Bunny ears. Cantankerous grandpa. Rascally grandchildren. The surf thundering in the background on a summer’s day… It’s perfect. Cliche’ perfect, and it will land us a kid for sure.
What birthparent wouldn’t want their child to be adopted by a Hallmark Channel family show?
Reality sucks. Reality does not win you a child. Reality is a mess and I hate that I have to live in it. Screw you, Reality, you terminal, soul sucking, heartbreaker. I reject you and substitute my own with Reality Photoshop!
Reality Photoshop. That’s what I’ve been doing lately. Because my own reality, brutal and honest and naked in all it’s glory, is not good enough.
I’m babbling. You need context. I see that now and I apologize. Just know that, without a doubt, the single most frustrating part of the adoption process, for me, is the adoption profile book. Or selection book. Or adoptee bio. Or whatever. It’s your personal bio, written by you, with a set of pictures that best convey you and your family. It goes to the birth parents that might select you to adopt their child. One version goes up online, another is a PDF, and another gets created in Shutterfly.
Sounds simple, and it is; terribly simple. Pathetic and simple. A club, dull and heavy-handed, and you’re going to use to steer the biggest decision of someone’s life. I mean, you’re getting a kid based on a page of prose and how well your Shutterfly book looks. What the hell. Word of advice: do not use Comic Sans.
Obviously I’ve not given a kid up for adoption. I wish my parents would have given my brother up for adoption during certain points in our history, but, suffice to say I don’t know what’s going through a birth-parent’s head when they make the choice to give up their child. I don’t know if it’s fear or hate or remorse or relief or what. But I do know that this portfolio/bio/book/PDF/Reality Photoshop thing feels woefully under powered, farcical and dishonest.
Adoption Form: “Who is your favorite band?”
Me: Should I say Radiohead? I mean, I love Radiohead. That withering, brooding, deep, deep music I’ve spun so many times the Mp3 player has a rut in by now.
Other Me: No. You should choose something more upbeat. Something more positive and healthy. Something that paints a better my-child-will-be-listening-to-this-as-they-grow-up picture. Say, the Beatles. Who doesn’t love the Beatles?
Adoption Form: “What’s your favorite movie?”
Other Other Me: Really? Uhg. Gawd. What does this have to do with anything in this process? I mean, the band choice was bad enough, but this? What does my favorite movie have to do with me as a parent?
Me: Should I say Braveheart? I love that movie. Or Batman, The Dark Knight?
Other Me: All that murdering and head-splitting and “Freeeeeeedoooom!” I don’t think it’s safe for baby.
Me: Something more middle of the road?
Other Other Me: But you hate middle of the road. You practically wet yourself when the wormhole was depicted in Interstellar! Be yourself, you damn pansy!
Other Me: Shank? The answer is in the title.
Other Other Me: Fuck you Other Me, let him make his own choices.
Other Me: You’ll never get a child with that attitude.
Bonnie: “How is the bio coming, honey?”
Me, Other Me, and Other Other Me: *GREAT!*
I’ve read a lot of bios now. It’s sad. They’re sad. My competition in a game no one wants to play. We all look happy, act happy, but God are we sad…
Everyone doing the bio writing is suffering from the same dilemma: none of us know what they hell we’re doing, or what we’re supposed to say. We all sound like teenagers trying to be original by being like everyone else. We don’t even realize how un-unique we are: “Hello, and thank you so much for reading this. We respect you and know how hard this is for you. We want you to know that Jesus has led us to do this and we know God has a plan. We can’t imagine what this must feel like for you, but we’ll try with pat statements. We know that there is a plan. We want you to know that we have things we want you to know, and we know that letting you know is part of the plan. And we know that you don’t know what you need to know, but we know that you not knowing is part of the plan. We just know that once you know more about us, you’ll know we’re the perfect choice for helping your child in a world of unknowns. We want you to know it in your hearts, like we know it in ours.”
It hurts my head, and heart, to read this stuff. So many people trying to make sense of something that can’t be made sense of. Everyone wants to know what they don’t; what they can’t.
Unless you’ve given up your own kid, how do you know how hard it is or isn’t? Or do you just assume it’s hard? I know I do. If it’s not, if it’s like an Alien movie and the mother is just thinking, “get this thing out of me!” then I worry for humanity. But I don’t know how hard it is because I haven’t been there. Saying I know it’s hard… isn’t that just patronizing?
And the respect thing. From the tidal wave of adoption sample packets I’ve read through, the people writing them always say they respect the person giving up there baby. I respect you, I respect your decision, I respect what you’re going through, I respect the struggle.
Do I respect the birth-parents? Yes, I do. Of course I do. It’s a hard choice no one wants to make. But, why do we have to make sure they know we respect them? In fact, I think in some ways, telling them upfront assumes they feel guilty, or are guilty, or should feel negatively about their choice. I respect you because, generally speaking, this is not a respectable decision. Or maybe they did something un-respectable to get here and we want them to feel better? Do they need respect—from us? Do they feel judged? Who is doing the judging?
I was sitting at my kitchen table, bitching about the adoption process and the Tinder-profile manner in which I was going to get selected to have my future child, if selected at all. I was bitching about how shallow it all felt, for both sides. How I didn’t want to dress up in a white shirt and take glamour shots so I could look like the model husband, able to provide an elite life. Lamenting how, if a family keeps their kid, they’re, I guess, okay with whatever kind of life they give it because it will be the life they gave it. But, if they give the kid up, they want it to have the best, because they have the ability to choose “the best”. They expect the best because in, their mind, they’d give it the best, even if they really couldn’t. So everyone in the adoption profile pool pretends they’re the best. Reality Photoshop. Life distilled down into an internet highlight reel. Forget Facebook, it’s “look at all the cool stuff I’m doing and none of the bad stuff”—book. Reality sucks! Reality suuuuuucks!
My friend listened, mercifully, patiently, stalwart—hoping I got it all out of my system. When I’d found bottom, my friend said, “Yaaaa… but you have to do all that because those people, I mean, in that situation, eat that stuff up.”
Those people. In THAT situation. Those people. THOSE people.
I think most assume that those people who give up kids for adoption are grade-A fuck-ups. They’re irresponsible, or poor, or disadvantaged. The child, the poor, innocent child caught in the middle of some strife it never asked for, destined to be a statistic if left to be raised by someone who didn’t want it. Meanwhile, the families trying to adopt have plans because adoption requires you to have a plan. They know what they’re doing. They’ve been preparing a nest for years now. Waiting for an egg they couldn’t lay.
Assumptions, assumptions assumptions. Asses, both you and me. All the people who give kids away are People of Walmart, and all the people who want to adopt are sterile, God fearing, crunchy, yoga fams that live at the end of a cul-de-sac. Where does it all come from? You have to believe your kid is going someplace better if you’re giving it up, right? And, if you’re adopting, you have to believe you’re rescuing it from someplace worse, right? If you don’t mix that little extra pinch of charity, salvation, and class stratification in there, you’re just using your pretty pictures and fancy prose as emotional currency to bid on a a kid with. It all becomes a transaction. Which it is, but… But, goddamn, it’s not supposed to feel that way. It’s not supposed to feel that way at all. We’re talking about reproduction and legacy and children and family and spirituality and sex and God. You can’t simply “buy” that. You can’t simply order a child and have a family? It has to have meaning. It has to have narrative. There has to be some sacrifice and ceremony to mark the transition or else…. I mean… or else you should keep the receipt.
So we tell ourselves we have a plan, and this is part of it. So we promise to know. So we invoke the name of God. So we dress up real pretty. So we put the best foot forward, but add a dash of imperfection to be relatable. So we say we listen to safe music. So we say we like G-rated movies, have steady incomes, and share the photos we did at our OBX vacation house wherein the family is sporting matching jeans and white T-shirts. So we Photoshop. For ourselves and for the birth-parents… But mostly for ourselves.
I’m pretty sure the mother of a child that’s the result of a rape isn’t going to choose me because of my Photoshopped life. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care about what my family looks like in their fucking beach pictures, or what movies I like best. I’m pretty she’s got bigger things on her mind…
…a heavy, blunt club. All of it. A club that can’t possibly capture what’s actually happening. I’d like to start off an adoption selection letter with:
“I don’t know why you’re putting you kid up for adoption and I don’t care. I just want you to know I’m going to do my best with your child. My absolute best. And it may not be the best you have in your mind, and, honestly, I’m not even sure what the best looks like myself. But I’m going to take it day by day, making the best choices I can, just like you would. We’re having this conversation right now because we’re both trying to make the best choices we can based on the hand life has dealt us. I honor that. I hope you can, too.”
I won’t get matched with a starting graph like that. I won’t. I was told I won’t, advised I won’t. It’s the wrong kind of honest.
Not because the adoption letter has much to do with it. Not because people eat up the cliche. The truth is, there are a lot of young, scared mothers. Confused mothers. All of them trying to make an impossible choice possible. A burden less heavy. Scared families, unsure of the future, unsure of their next move. How can they possibly be sure of what they’re doing? How can they know the future of the baby, their baby, once they hand it off? What if the hands it goes to can’t do the job they could have? What if they can’t learn to live with themselves after this? How can they know? How can they know?
They can’t. I can’t. We can’t. We can only convince ourselves that we did the best we could, and hope there is something more, something benevolent guiding our choice.
I hate the profile building process. I hate advertising myself against a sea of people, broken-hearted, without child, desperate for a healthy baby. I hate knowing that, when it happens, if it happens, it will be sudden, unceremonious, anxiety ridden, and final.
But what other option is there?
They say that, if and when Bonnie and I are chosen, the selection will be the result of something we didn’t and couldn’t know. Something we couldn’t force or be intentional with. Something simple. Something personal. Something like a picture of you fishing with your dad.
Fishing. I used to fish with my dad. I used to do that and I want to do it again… I want to go back to it. I want my baby to know what it’s like to fish. The sun coming up on the the lake, early in the morning, burning off the fog. The rock of the boat. The lap of the water. The zip of the line tearing out of the reel, spiraling from the spool and sliding into the water’s surface until it disappears, smooth, like it never happened.
Like it never happened…
Fishing. I know this. I miss this. I want this for my kid.
“I choose them.”
Thank you for reading. More coming. Please click an ad on the site as it does 3 things: helps me fund the Adoption Quest series, lets me know that you like what you’re reading and, hopefully, enables Bonnie and I to put our future adopted child through college.