It will come as no surprise for you to hear me say: My life revolves around my children. They are time consuming. John wishes he had more of my attention. I wish for that too, and I wish for more time to exercise and a paying job. My friendships have suffered as I’ve become more and more consumed by parenting. My life-long friend, Ruth, will tell you that I don’t communicate with her as often as I should. Indeed, I don’t even return her phone messages and emails in a timely manner. I love her and I want to be a better and more conscientious friend, but, frankly, sometimes I suck at it.
There are friends and family in California, Nebraska, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Illinois, Washington, Florida, and other places that I neglect. Sometimes I wonder: Will anyone show up for my funeral, or will I have driven all of these old friends away by then?
So, it came as a pleasant surprise last week to receive a call from an old friend I had not heard from in many years. In fact, Roberta – as I will call her — was a child when we had the majority of our contact about 25 years ago. I was dating her father, a divorced man with two children, who was much older than me. She and her younger sister visited their father from time-to-time, and I was there too. To be honest, I was naïve about her situation in many ways. I didn’t understand the difficulties of being a child of divorce. I didn’t understand the monetary or emotional impact. I was busy being a college student – taking on new ideas and experiences, still believing I could lasso the moon. At the time, I was strident about my feminism: A woman could do anything she wanted to do. Girls and boys should not be limited by stereotypes related to their activities and interests, and so forth.
When Roberta called, she remembered aloud my teaching her all the songs in “Free to Be You and Me” while strumming a guitar and singing. (If you were not around in the 1970s, you should look it up.) I cared about Roberta and her sister – purely and without compromise. I didn’t know any different than to be who I was – truthful and kind. It was before my “dark period,” before I’d been hurt in any significant way, before I’d been lied to or learned to contemplate lying as an option.
On the phone, Roberta talked about how difficult her life had been then and later. But she remembered my love for her and her sister. I had been a bright light in the midst of that darkness. I gathered from our conversation that, over time, my light had not diminished in her eyes.
I should also mention that, after my romantic relationship with Roberta’s father ended, my love and concern for him and his children did not end. After a time apart, we renewed our friendship. He was one of the people with whom I wanted to share the excitement of adopting Emily. He is still on my Christmas letter list today…
Roberta had a reason for calling me now. Her son’s girlfriend is pregnant. Neither the son nor the girlfriend has a job. Roberta and her husband are not financially stable either. Roberta wanted to talk about open adoption. She trusted me to give her good information. She had faith in my compassion and integrity.
I’ve sent Roberta some information. Time will tell whether adoption is the right option for her family. Hearing from Roberta reminded me that being kind and loving circles back in good ways later on. My parents role-modeled that lesson for me. And that is the kind of parent I want to be for my children – though it will probably be a long time before they recognize it!
Regrettably, I realized, I had not been nearly as attentive – as kind and loving – in friendships that had developed more recently. I just didn’t seem to have enough time.
This brings me to the dilemma I encountered a few days ago. “Adoption Today” magazine wants to publish an article I’ve written that concerns the way our system of domestic infant adoption treats birth parents. The article also tells the story of an adoption I was involved in where a birth mother chose two women to adopt her baby boy. I have a beautiful picture from the hospital of the three mothers admiring their new baby. However, the adoptive parents do not feel comfortable having their faces shown in the magazine. I get that. But, because the scene in the picture says so much about open adoption and same sex parent adoption, I really, really wanted to give visual representation to that experience.
How could I do that? I could recreate the photo with other people. Doubts erupted. Who would be willing to help me? What had I done recently to help anyone else – other than my family? Worrying that my fears would be confirmed, I nevertheless sent an email around to friends and family asking for a way to get access to a hospital room, asking for a hospital gown and baby blanket, asking for a life-size newborn baby doll, and asking certain women to be actors in my recreation of the picture.
The response to my solicitations was heart-warming. Baby doll offerings came from many sources, as did advice about securing visitation to a hospital room. The women I asked to be the adoptive parents were more than happy to oblige. Emily agreed to play the birth mother. A nurse friend secured the gown and blanket. Another friend offered to ask her neighbor if we could “borrow” his two-week-old son for the picture. In the end, we made the picture I had envisioned.
I felt loved. Did I “deserve” the kindness I received? I don’t know. But maybe it’s not about deserving. Maybe it’s not about an even exchange. Lord knows my children don’t get equal amounts of attention from me. Maybe it’s just about bestowing kindness when and if you can at the times it’s needed and in the amounts you have to offer.
(By the way, Ruth offered to host Skye and Journey over a long weekend in August and give them a tour of the Washington, D.C. monuments and other sights. I KNOW I didn’t earn this act of kindness.)