visiting, part one
A while back I mentioned that we had a few visits scheduled with our daughter’s birth family this summer. Along with our recent family getaway, Baby J has seen three of her four grandmothers in the past two months. Since her grandmothers span in age from late-40s to mid-80s, I think that’s pretty cool.
The first visit was with Baby J’s grandmother on her birth father’s side. Let’s call her Grandma Lea. We had met her once last summer — when Baby J was just 10 weeks old — months before we ever met her birth father (though we tried to meet him earlier). There was a lot of anticipation and some concern leading up to that initial meeting. We wanted it to go well, as we thought this might be our only connection to his side of the family. (We did later meet Baby J’s birth father when she was nearly five months old, and saw him again in January when she was nearly eight months old.) While that first meeting with Grandma Lea last summer went well, there were some understandably awkward moments which left us feeling like we might have to set some limits.
After that, we kept in touch via email. I sent updates and photos every few months, which Grandma Lea seemed to really enjoy. No matter what I did, however, she always wanted more. At one point I had to explain that with a tiny baby at home I was not on the computer much. Then I went back to work and had even less time. As it was, it was already challenging to keep in touch with family and friends, and of course our family had just been extended multiple fold. Unlike our experience with K and her side of the family, in truth the contact felt like more of an obligation than a pleasure, at times.
In winter, Grandma Lea said she wanted to plan a visit for summer and asked about our availability. Given my mom’s situation at the time, it was hard to plan anything. We chose a weekend in July, with the understanding that we might have to reschedule if anything changed with my mom. There was a question whether her son, Baby J’s birth father, would make the trek from wherever he was to visit at the same time. But he never followed through. It was just as well, since that would have changed the whole dynamic of the visit.
By late spring we started coordinating details. Since Sundays are the only free day for both M and I, we suggested an afternoon visit to maximize the baby’s awake time. We chose a nice cafe to meet for lunch in the middle, with a great playground and park nearby so Baby J could show off her new walking skills and we could spend some quality time together.
M and I both realized we really didn’t have much in common with these people, other than our daughter, who would give us plenty to talk about. We didn’t want to talk politics, or about K, or even about her son. We just wanted to spend time. We wanted them to have a chance to enjoy our incredible daughter, their grandchild.
The day before they were due to arrive, Grandma Lea asked if they’d get to see us besides just Sunday — i.e., during the week when we both work and share child care. This had not come up in the months that we’d been planning the visit. Of course I understood she wanted more time than just one afternoon. But honestly the last minute request threw me. I had to decide if I was being selfish or stubborn. Monday morning was the only option, and I didn’t want to interfere with nap time. Plus I felt a little manipulated. M would be at work, so it would be up to me.
I told her we’d have to see how it went. The best I could offer was maybe.
Grandma Lea stayed at a hotel in San Francisco with her husband and youngest daughter (an aunt) and they did some touristy things. Our visit that Sunday actually went really well. It was much better and easier than our visit a year ago, for everyone I think. Last year everything was so fresh, so emotionally raw. We had no relationship, no trust built to lay a foundation. A year later, they can see we’ve held true to our promise. No, they don’t see their grandchild as often as they wish; I know they’d like more visits, more pictures, more of a relationship. But we live in different parts of a very large state. We’re doing what we can. And we’re honest.
We treated them to lunch and played in the park for hours, until dinner time. Baby J chased after puppy dogs, her little auntie enchanted her with bubbles, and we all took pictures. M got into an in depth conversation with her husband about art — common ground, who knew? And we got to know each other a little better.
I did end up meeting them for breakfast the next morning. Grandma Lea made me a bit uncomfortable when she turned on the video camera, put it on the table and just let it run through breakfast. I had to keep remembering it was there. But whatever.
They said some wonderful things about us, about our daughter, about our parenting. They said they were grateful that K chose “life” for her child, and chose us to be her parents. They were grateful for us and for our open adoption.
Grandma Lea seemed almost apologetic for her son, whose life choices make little sense to her. I told her that was unnecessary, that I imagine at some point every child does things their parents will never understand.
At one point, Grandma Lea said something about how children are never planned, but just happen (she may have said they come from God or something, I blocked that part out; she was talking about herself anyway). Her point was she thought that so few people are truly prepared to become parents. I disagreed. I told her when you wait so long for a child to come into your life (as we had), really, you couldn’t be more ready.
Though the concept was foreign to her, it seemed as though she was seeing it for the first time through our eyes. And she had to agree.