Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Down the One-Eared Rabbit Hole

The first few months of an adoption are taken up with what's called a home study, which involves compiling many pages of personal documents, writing autobiographical essays, getting background-checked and fingerprinted, and being interviewed on diverse occasions by the social worker overseeing the adoption process.  It's a little disconcerting, especially when you remember how relatively easy it is to get a baby in the usual way, should you be able to swing it.

I like the social worker who's handling our adoption.  She is soft-spoken and kindly, and she lived in New York for a time, which is enough to endear anyone to me around here (I almost started bawling at Mass the other day, at a parish in my town's old Italian neighborhood, when the old man behind me began intoning the responses in the cadences of the Bronx).  But I felt at a loss in our meeting the other day, when she was probing me about my relationship with my husband, and wanted to know what had drawn me to him when we first met.  His kindness, I answered truthfully, his masculinity, his qualities of strength and steadiness, the beauty of his voice.  Were these the qualities I had been looking for in a man? she asked.  Well, I answered, I didn't have a checklist.  And it was true; I didn't.  Nor did I plan on marrying him, no more than I had ever planned on doing anything.  It's usually been the pattern that I'm not sure what to do, but something appears to present itself as a logical option, and I investigate the option and see where it leads.  I don't believe in a dream spouse (I doubt that anyone who's had some of the experiences I've had ever could), and I don't believe we have very much control over the things that happen in our lives or in the lives of those around us, though I do believe we can influence those lives for good or ill (and that, perhaps, more than we know).  For the most part, however, I think that it's probably more realistic to wake up every day with open hands and abandon ourselves completely to the will of God, though I didn't tell this to the social worker. 

She had given me some adoption magazines at our last meeting, and I had enjoyed reading them, but I felt as if they created the expectation of a fairy-tale ending around every adoption story, and I told her so.  The editorial thrust seemed to be that you wait and wait for your child, and you finally bring your child home, and everyone is henceforth happy all the time (not, come to think of it, unlike the tone of most books and magazines directed towards bearing, bringing home, and parenting one's biological children; if there were less of that around, there would probably be less post-partum depression).  The social worker agreed that the magazines were very glass-half-full, which is not a bad thing; nor is presenting adoption in a positive light a bad thing at all.  However, she said, most prospective adoptive parents are mourning the loss of their dream baby, the biological child they didn't have, and many have come to adoption with the attitude that it is a second-best way to become a parent, so it helps them to have the dream story reinforced.

I don't see it as second-best, and, just as I don't think there's a dream spouse, neither do I think there's a dream baby.  No matter how you get your children, they will always be unplumbable, even incomprehensible, mysteries.  How can we ever really know anyone else, including our own children?  The people that God brings into our lives as friends, spouses, children, are, and will always be, vast, unexplored continents.  "Thou has brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger."

For all of my confusion and lack of planning, and all my lack of belief in goals and dreams, I do have a memory that has remained all these years, and has given me some sense of direction.  When I was a child, I loved and collected stuffed animals.  I would line all my stuffed animals up around the edges of my bed at night so that none of them would feel excluded while I slept.  One day, when I was about seven, I was with my father at a drugstore, where I spied a bin of little stuffed rabbits (this must have been around Easter) with coats made of real rabbit fur.  One of them, I noticed, was missing an ear.  I started to cry out of pity for this one, and begged my father to buy it for me.  He suggested that I get a nicer one with two ears, but I stood firm:  it had to be the one-eared rabbit, I said, because no one else would ever love it.  So he bought it for me, and I brought it home and loved it.  In fact, I may have loved it more than I loved my stuffed animals with both ears intact.  The one-eared rabbit, after all, just needed more love.

I wonder if finding and loving the one-eared rabbits is my real calling in life.  If it is, I have to trust that God will give me the strength I need to carry it out.


BettyDuffy said...

My sister-in-law is currently going through the process of becoming a foster parent. Similarly, the questions...are very odd and of course, intrusive. I know that they need to be thorough, and I'm glad that they are, but the institution sometimes seems a little mean about it: all courtship, no love. I wonder if they are not trying to shake up their candidates for foster-parenthood or adoption, to see if they will crack under pressure.

Have you read the children's story, "Corduroy?" The one-eared rabbit story reminds me of it.

An aside: I think that you should add "muse" to your profile, because so often something you've written here triggers a similar memory of my own. I think it's fun to see the branches from one of your posts, all the new posts that spring up on other blogs, each author taking the theme in a different direction. Of course, this happens all over the internet, but it seems to happen an awful lot here.

Pentimento said...

I think one of the problems with the fairy-tale adoption story is just as you say, too, Betty -- all courtship, no love. Our culture has a way of building up one's expectations -- about love, life, work, parenting (even, ahem, homeownsership) -- and then having nothing to say about it when these things start to present crushing difficulty.

I have read Corduroy, as a child and as a babysitter. I haven't introduced it around here yet, as it seems to me to be a "girl" book, but perhaps I'm wrong about that.

Ha! Muse! I think the only people who link to me are the usual suspects -- those in what I think of as a rather small circle of blogger friends.

GretchenJoanna said...

I am touched by your story of your wanting to "adopt" the defective stuffed animal. It ties in perfectly with the theme of your post--maybe your life?--of not having preconceived notions of what the future might hold, but being ready to serve in whatever work God sets before you.

I never could enjoy leafing through magazines as my high-school girlfriends liked to do, chatting about what wedding gowns or dishes they wanted, and since then I haven't ever been one to imagine the future, as the present seems to give plenty to do and think about--including trying in inculcate in myself or my children the qualities that will prepare us to be ready for what comes.

mrsdarwin said...

I think you're absolutely right not to desire a "dream baby": I can't think what my life would be like if I'd had my dream child, whatever that would be. All of my children (and your child as well) have facets that I never imagined and quirks that I didn't expect -- one likes to keep things clean, oddly enough, and one is a future farmer, traits I would have never thought of in my children. These are innocent enough, but I also find that my children's vices challenge me to grow and respond in ways I just hadn't considered. And this leaves aside the fact that I've never had to deal with the unexpected in terms of sickness or disabilities...

I thank God that he sent me the children I have instead of the children I'd only half-imagined. He knows better than I what I really want and really need. (Also, He did send me my dream husband, but in that case my husband doesn't just come up to my dream standards, but surpasses them in every way. So once again, life is different and better than I might have once dreamed.)

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm still very much a dreamer, despite my own experiences. I have found that the best people I have run into are those I could never have dreamed up on my own.

Pentimento said...

I was afraid the social worker was going to think I was a horrible downer.