Sunday, October 14, 2012

Scraping burnt toast

Do y'all watch Parenthood on NBC?

It's one of those shows that I officially watch "because there's nothing else on"-- but in reality I watch it because I love it. Some of the storylines make me groan out loud, and it is absolutely preposterous that any of those families can afford their homes in the Berkeley hills.

 I still love it.

Of course there is an adoption storyline: At the end of last season Julia Braverman and her husband accepted the placement of a 9 year old boy whose mother was incarcerated and had just terminated her parental rights.

The episode ended with an image of this small, terrified boy being welcomed from the dark night into the warm and modern home of his adoptive family. I rolled my disapproving eyeballs and my tiny cynic's heart clenched with visions of the rosy family that would be portrayed in episodes to come.

Here we go--I thought--another "happy ending" adoption story.

But I was wrong.

This season the character of Julia has said things out loud that many adoptive parents *think* or say only to one another. Things like "I don't think I love him yet." "This is so hard." "I can't do it all."

She is struggling. Her work is suffering. She is extending all of her resources to connect with her son. She is failing her biological child.

Her work colleagues react to her sudden unavailability with scorn and disdain. Her extended family members seem oblivious to the chaos that is her new reality, to the burden she is carrying.

She is burning the toast and scraping it like mad over the sink to get to any good part, any salvageable piece.

And man, do I get that.

We've been scraping a lot of toast in our house too. There have been hard times, times that no one else could see or understand unless they'd been through something similar.

The kicker of it all is that our son is relatively easy. He sleeps well, he naps consistently, he is a good eater and has a cheerful attitude. He loves his siblings and he is spontaneously affectionate with us, his parents.

When he tantrums he is easily comforted. His tantrums rarely last more than a few minutes. He is kind to our pets, if sometimes overenthusiastic in his demonstrations of love to them.

And yet it is *still* hard. It is hard to give every piece of yourself to a child new to your home and family. It is hard to spend every minute of the day alert and aware of the attachment process, ready to drop what you are doing at a moment's notice in order to help your new family member feel secure.

It is only recently that I wake up in the mornings feeling relaxed. For the past several months I would awaken with clenched fists, mentally filling the blocks of hours between dawn and YH's bedtime. I would grit my teeth and stiffen my body against the day--trying to block out the endless assault to my personal space that was about to being.

Ok, I just have to get through breakfast, then walking the big kids to school, some playtime, lunch and then it's naptime. I can do this. If we go to Target that will fill an hour...We can walk the dog and fill another hour...

I can do this. 

Now I wake up with fingers loosely curled, excited about the activities YH and I might experience together. What will he notice on our morning walk? What new words will he use? Should we see if his best bud Jacob is available to play?

It's a subtle difference, but an important one. Starting the day with my defenses up was exhausting and contributed to the feeling that I could never win, I could never get caught up. In retrospect I am sure I suffered from a mild case of post-adoption depression. PAD is real, and like post-partum depression it can be crippling.

Add unexpected illness, the death of a beloved pet (our tripod beagle passed away two weeks ago), conflict with loved ones, changing schools for my eldest, juggling work and sport's easy to feel overwhelmed. Easy to feel suffocated and trapped by your circumstances.

I feel lucky that I am able to see the past few months for what they were; that my family is safe and whole, that my youngest child is healthy and so well-loved.

I think our days of scraping the burnt toast are lessening--and I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.



  1. Wow, this is really beautiful and so well captures the experience of many a parent. The interwebs definitely need more of this!

  2. Yes. All of it. So true. Thank you for writing this. I have struggled with such feelings of guilt, not knowing how to express myself. This explains it so well.

  3. I say bravo to parenthood! I am thrilled to see that they are approaching this adoption realistically. I was also very glad to see the episode when they had to talk to Jabar about the "n" word. Made me realize how hard it will be for me, a white woman who has never dealt with it, to talk to my son about racism.

  4. I'm late the party again here but yes, yes, and yes. Thanks for writing and sharing.

  5. Late to the party as well, but I'm nodding over and over to all of this. I'm a new Parenthood fan and started watching Season 1 via Netflix 2 months ago. Just caught up to the new season last week. We adopted our son 4 months ago at 18 months old. Totally get the s scraping burnt toast. Totally.