*Warning (per husband John’s direction): Read all the way to the end. Do not stop in the middle!
You’ve heard the expression: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It can. Or not. But there is no doubt that absence gives relationships a new perspective.
I’m experiencing an “absence” of sorts from my usual relationships right now as I live in an apartment with Journey near her school during the week, while John lives with Emily, K.J. and Becton in our house 30 miles away. This seemed like a good plan at the time we made it, given Journey’s physical limitations and ongoing illness. I would get her to school for as many hours as possible, when she had the energy, and without the complications of headache and nausea that long car or bus rides exacerbated. Mostly, it has worked for Journey. But the plan, for me, has meant an awful lot of time waiting to see if she can get up or waiting to find out when I will need to retrieve her from school because she can’t go on. I’d like to say these waiting hours have been productive hours. But Journey’s wakeful periods are so unpredictable that I can’t really afford to pursue big projects. I read. I do puzzles. I watch Netflix. I exercise, sometimes. Primarily, I have time to think.
I have to admit that my thinking has not been very positive. Instead of doing and moving, I am standing back and seeing the big picture. In this big picture, I have failed to do what I set out to do. When I promised myself and my children’s birth parents that the Falcos would provide their children with both a comfortable, secure life and opportunities to excel that they were not in a position to provide, I meant every word. Indeed, our financial situation has enabled us to find appropriate schools, doctors, therapies, and experiences to meet our children’s needs. But, where has this led them?
Our oldest, Emily, does not have a college degree. She is employed as a nanny. When I met Emily’s birthmother, she was employed taking care of older adults.
K.J. is a college dropout just like this birthfather who now works in the restaurant business. K.J. delivers food for a living, but can’t afford to live away from us.
Skye dropped out of high school in her senior year and had a baby at age 19. Coincidentally, her birthmother dropped out of high school her senior year and had her first baby at age 19.
Journey is suffering from mental and physical illness just like her birthmother. (She does have her cats for comfort.)
Becton, well, it remains to be seen with him. But I can tell you that he is not an enthusiastic student. In a heated text exchange recently, Becton wrote to me: “My hostility towards you is because you aren’t a very good parent. That’s it.”
Meanwhile, my skills and expertise in the workforce have become obsolete. I’m stuck and feeling like a failure.
Perhaps it should not come to me as a surprise that children – adopted or not – tend to follow their genetics. When I took a personality/career test as a young woman, the test determined that I should be a social worker, teacher, and/or religious leader. “Bah! Humbug!” I said. “I will do nothing of the sort.” And, yet, over the years, I went to theology school and became a youth minister. I got my teaching certification and became a high school social studies teacher. Then I worked as a teacher in mental health hospitals, doing a kind of social work in addition to teaching. I also ran a branch of an adoption agency doing teaching and home studies (a.k.a. social work). My parents worked in religious education and counseling fields. My siblings have gone into teaching and care of older adults (among other things). The apples did not fall far from the tree.
I can get pretty caught up in my story of failure. When I hear on the radio that the mortality of whites is declining for the first time in 100 years due to “death by despair,” I get it. The reason seems to be that middle-class white folk who made a comfortable living in manufacturing industries have now been replaced by more efficient, cost-effective technology. It is no longer possible, for most, to support themselves and their families without a college degree or extra technical training.
I look at my older kids and think, “Don’t let that be YOU. Get the education now while your brains are still growing. Prepare!” But will they listen? Are they “programmed” in such a way that my words have always and will always fall on deaf ears?
Then I begin to wonder if I’m really talking about myself – not my children. After all, Emily is now taking prerequisite classes to enter a dental assisting program. So far, she seems motivated and appears to be passing.
K.J. has said that he is going to try taking a class at the community college this summer. If it goes well, he may become a full-time student again.
Skye didn’t just drop out of high school and have a baby. She married a Marine, who seems like a pretty nice guy. They love each other and he wants to be a father to Kinsley. (Is it possible that Skye learned about the importance of a happy marriage from John and me?)
Journey is passing all her courses. She wants to graduate next year. We are actively pursuing answers to her illnesses. She hasn’t given up.
And Becton is just a surly middle-school age kid who is going to change in expected and unexpected ways over the next few years.
These kids are smart and kind-hearted and sometimes even a little appreciative of their parents. Whether they follow some genetically-predetermined course or pursue some of the values we have hoped to instill, I imagine they will all be okay.
During one of my waiting-for-Journey periods the other day, I watched a movie. The male lead, an older gentleman, was reflecting on his life. He said, “I love my life. I regret my life. Over time, the lines blur, and it’s just my life.” Today, I’d rather live with that assessment than failure… while I both await and plan for the next challenge on this journey.