I just got off the phone with Corazon's mother. We are trying to work out two things--a Spring visit for her to come see Corazon in our home and time for Corazon to see extended family in Boston when we visit this summer. It looks like she might make it here sometime in late April and we are trying to coordinate some logistics. My only concern about her staying with us when she visits is that she doesn't really understand Corazon's RAD--she attributes any problems in Corazon's behavior to "bad" foster homes. Of course, that is only part of the issue but it hasn't been possible to explain the complexities of RAD to her anymore than it can be easily understood by those who don't live with it. I can only imagine how difficult it would be for her to understand her own part in contributing to Corazon's issues so I try to let it go but it will make for some challenges when she visits. The only other concern is that Corazon (partly because of her issues and partly because of the uniqueness of their relationship) intellectually understands that she is her mother but doesn't show feeling anything more for her than the connection one might have to a distant relative. I worry that Corazon will hurt her mother's feelings. A few years ago, Corazon would show her the same interest she showed a total stranger--totally charming and loving--in her attempts to "get something" from her but once that novelty passed she pretty much ignored her. Now she has gotten to a point where she does show more genuine warmth and affection towards her mother which is important but otherwise remains, at this point in time, somewhat uninterested in her and that part of her family. Because I know some of it is grounded in her emotional issues in general, I continue to try and make contact with her mother a regular part of our lives.
When we lived near one another, we saw her every few months and she attended several of Corazon's recitals and we celebrated birthdays with her and some of their family. We maintain regular contact with Corazon's older sister(19) and baby, adult brother(21) and his daughter, a paternal aunt who raised her for a period of time, and as much as possible, we communicate with another brother (14) who is in an RTC. We have always encouraged them to contact us and they do and we make sure to call them for birthdays, holidays or just because we haven't spoken in awhile. Corazon sets the terms for her contact with her mother so sometimes we (the adults) spend more time talking with one another than they do. Because Corazon came through foster care after a very long history of attempted reunifications, her mother has expressed many feelings (negative and positive) about "losing" her child to the system. She has never seemed to blame me for any of this even though at times I was a part of that system. We openly discuss her resentment of my relationship with her daughter and her regrets. She has expressed being "at peace" with losing Corazon because of her own issues and she has told me that in not having a child to raise "gained her own life" and that she "couldn't do that while raising a child." She also reminds me often that she "knows no one could love Corazon more." Sometimes we speak of her pain, loss and sadness and of her tremendous love for this child (all her children) and we even speak about the "what ifs." We commiserate over the "bad" choices her older children are making and her attempts to help them through it all. When her oldest son's 3 year old daughter went into care last summer she asked us if we would consider adopting her. She expresses interest in all of the members of our family and shows genuine affection for our other children. Our relationship is based primarily on the fact that we share a daughter but that is all we need. We trust that each of us is doing the best that we can to show our care for our daughter. To me, what matters most is that she loves this child and when they are together (in person or phone) she if fully present for her daughter. If she forgets to call on birthdays or holidays I know it is because she is working and not because she "forgot" and we make sure to make contact as soon as we can. I think that Corazon doesn't seem to expect to hear from her on these "special" occasions because we hear from her so many other times. I am not pretending that everything is perfect because it isn't. The feelings are messy and conflicting and when I have been in the middle of dealing with Corazon's meltdowns and rages I cannot help but sometimes curse the circumstances that brought all this on her (and me) but as much as Corazon was a victim in this so was her mother. Both of them have suffered through needing to be in foster care and having to find family in places outside their origins. I see the fight and strength in Corazon's mother and I know it is there in our daughter too. I remind her of that when she gets frustrated and says she cannot heal or isn't strong enough to do something. I am grateful that I have enough contact with her mother to see this and know that when I say this to Corazon I truly mean it and can help make the connection to her family. I think that as much as we can we have built a "successful" open adoption.
I hadn't intended this to be about open adoption but somewhere in the midst of writing about our conversation I saw SocialWrkr24/7's post about "Defining Success in Adoption." It got me thinking about this idea of success in open adoptions. I am not sure I have any idea about how successful we are in this open adoption but I like her point about openness. I think that with Corazon that openness comes about in the relationship we each have with her first family and our continued willingness to let it change and evolve even when it isn't comfortable. Plus we talk openly about it and her mother has always made sure to tell me she trusts me to tell "the hard truth" to Corazon about why she went into foster care in the first place. With the boys that openness is different because the relationship with their mother is more tenuous. In their case, especially with Tortuga, we have tried to be open about sharing the information he needs to have and answering all his questions appropriately and honestly even when they are painful or he will have a hard time believing us. We have tried to integrate the sporatic and confusing memories he has of his life with his mother and all his foster families. We are ready to talk about her whenever he brings it up and we try to bring her up when we think he might be thinking about her or needing to hear about her. With Pollito we do the same thing although he has no understanding of much of this yet. We know he will develop it and we know he will have questions plus Tortuga works hard to pull Pollito into his way of thinking whenever he is angry so he will tell Pollito that he is his only "real" brother or that I am not Pollito's "real" mom so that bring up questions and fears for Pollito. We tell the story of his birth and his time in foster care before coming to us as often as possible so he gets used to hearing about it and about our love for him. For now that seems to be enough for him but I am certain this will change and evolve as he grows.
Because of all this we feel it is important to try to have regular contact with the boys' mother. We get along well and she is getting better at letting us know how to reach her when she moves or changes phone numbers. She has been very hard to track down over time so this is a big sign of progress in our relationship. She has said to me that she is ambivalent about seeing the boys. At times she has desperately wanted to see her sons but at other times wants nothing to do with them. She says she is generally more comfortable talking with me and getting pictures from me than she is seeing them so in three years they have only seen her three times. Tortuga often insists it is my fault we don't see her more often because I don't want him to see her. She has explicitly told him she isn't interested in seeing them more often. I call her 10 times for every one time he gets to speak to her and yet I know it is worth it. He needs to hear her voice. He needs to know she is out there. She has many challenges and leads a pretty hard life. Sometimes it is hard for her to understand what has happened with her children and she still calls me the "foster mother" and tells me she dreams of a day when her children will come back to her and "take care" of her. She cannot understand why Tortuga wants to be with her now and she tells him she is happy he is with us. He cannot wrap his head around much of this and he mourns her loss. He loves his mother and desperately needs to maintain a connection with her. He still doesn't understand why he cannot live with her, despite his awareness of the neglect and abuse. She is clear with him that she would never want him to live with her because her life is "difficult enough." I have to work to prepare him for talks with her and to help him process and interpret what she says and does. Yet, I know she loves the boys and I know as time passes he will need to have these experiences as part of his growing up and healing. It is crucial that he have access to her as he is ready to ask harder questions and as he is ready to see why things have turned out this way. Sometimes I know she says hurtful things to him (unintentionally) and while it hurts to hear them I also know that he needs her in his life more because otherwise he creates a fantasy that ultimately hurts him. So we move forward in what is an unpredictable relationship that sometimes leaves him feeling on top of the world and other times sends him crashing. The experts might say that it would be better for him to have no contact with her. Yet he needs the contact and he asks for it. He needs to see her and hear her voice. So we try to provide these opportunities for him. That is currently his greatest need/desire so we make it happen when we can. I don't know if it is the best thing but I do believe it is the right thing.