by Lisa Ritter Starr
Over a decade has passed since my daughter, and open adoption, have come into my life. Most of that time has been spent near her and her adoptive parents, sharing Christmases, birthdays, dinner, picnics, school events, and shopping trips, among other days along the way.
Now, my home is 2000 miles away from their home. For the past year and a half, we have gotten together less often. Instead of countless visits, I can count on one hand the number of times we've been able to see each other.
The quantity of time spent together has definitely changed. But not the quality. Because we set up a very open adoption from the beginning, and strengthened it through open doors and open communication for years, our family foundation is still significant, even pretty powerful.
Our family is unique. Every family is. But we have taken a touchy social institution — adoption — and defied its convention. We have done our best to stand out positively and be an example of what open adoption can be.
Some people say open adoption is confusing. Maybe it is. My daughter began her life with two mothers, two fathers, sixteen grandparents, three aunts, four uncles, and countless cousins. We've added two aunts and lots of honorary "aunts" and "uncles" along the way. You could even throw in a couple of pet cats for good measure.
Sound confusing? Sure it is, at least at first. Once you start asking a simple question or two, however, the fog magically begins to clear. You find out that one set of parents is adoptive, the other biological. The same goes for her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her two biological uncles got married, adding the two aunts to the picture, and when I lived with her and her adoptive mom for six months, my two cats came with me and lived with all of us in one house.
All cleared up? Families can be very large and complex, like mine. Or they can, and often are, very small. In modern America, we like our nuclear unit: Mom plus Dad plus one-to-three kids. The nuclear family unit may be simple and the roles easily understood, but "easily explained" does not a family make. We like nuclear physics, too, but if it were easily explained, we'd all be scientists trying to split the atom.
My open adoption family is complex, and trying to summarize it for others can sometimes feel like trying to split an atom, but humans are pretty smart animals. We've developed so many ways and networks of communication that we can hardly avoid communicating with one another. You don't have to be a scientist to talk to people — you could be, say, a writer who writes about adoption from personal experience.
When I write, I want others to know what joy open adoption can bring. And so, every month, I think of more ways to explain it. It's not simple and it may take a while, but it is fun and very much worth it. It has taken some time, but I think I'm finally getting somewhere. I've talked closed adoption in the past and how we feel about it today. I've introduced books by adoption counselors, adoptive parents, and birth family members. And I have included my own experience in several aspects of my family's situation.
My family is definitely something special, and I've seen the many faces of confusion as we have introduced a unique concept to many people's lives. I've also seen faces of delight, surprise, appreciation, and curiosity. "This is my daughter, and this is my daughter's other mother," may sound confusing at first. But often, simply adding a few extra words, like "adoptive" and "biological" can clear it up sufficiently.
Simply put, my daughter and her adoptive mother are coming to visit soon. They flew from the west coast to spend time on the east coast with my daughter's birth father. Soon they will head for the middle ground, where I live, to spend vacation with me and my family in Minnesota.
We don't have too much planned. Visiting, camping, canoeing, dinners, picnics, shopping — the usual family vacation stuff. We'll probably all get sunburns and go back home wishing we could just have one more sunny vacation day.
I love vacations. Don't we all? They're so — how do you say it? Oh, yeah: They're so... simple.
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