Adoption interview project: meet Alissa

Thanks to the Adoption Interview Project organized by Production, Not Reproduction blogger Heather, I have a new mom friend! The project pairs up open adoption bloggers, asks them to interview each other, and to post their interviews on November 17.

I was paired with Alissa of Not a Visitor, who is the adoptive mom to daughters S and J. In addition to reading our interview below, please check out her blog – she has some great insights into adoption and life in general. I’m so glad that we were matched! You can check out other interviews by clicking the “Adoption Interview Project” link above.

1. How has adoption influenced your faith?
I think there has been a lot of mutual influence – adoption influencing my faith and my faith influencing how I think about and perceive adoption. One of the core values of my Christian faith is a belief that the human potential to love and love deeply isn’t limited to or greater for those who are genetically connected to each other. Adoption has fleshed out and validated this value in my life – that human beings have the potential to love each other across the boundaries of culture and blood. Not that we don’t fail, but that it is possible and maybe even what we are here for.

2. How has your upbringing prepared you to lead an interracial family?
I grew up in a white family who lived in a white neighborhood. I attended schools that were overwhelmingly attended by white people and the same goes for the church I grew up in. In many ways my upbringing didn’t do much of anything to prepare me to lead an interracial family. That being said my parents always encouraged me to think my own thoughts and seek out experiences that were foreign to them. They trusted me to discover truth. I don’t know if the connection is obvious but that flexibility serves me well as I now parent transracially.

3. You have been influenced by Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes.” In the poem, Oliver appears to have no fear of death, something that is very frightening to many people. As it relates to adoption, are there any fears that you have (or had)? How do you try to overcome them?
I suppose I would interpret the poem less as fearless of what will inevitably come and more as a facing of death and experiencing its approach as motivation to devour all the enjoyment and experience of being alive. So that mortality increases the meaning of this living moment.  I have a lot of fears about the future of our family, some adoption related. Will my girls wish things different? Will the losses they suffered outweigh the benefits of being family with us? Will they hit their teens and rebel? And the list goes on – most are future fears, fears that come with not knowing what will happen. Sort of like the fear many of us experience when we contemplate death. So I hope that I can use those fears to motivate me to more fully experience and live into the now for all that it is, and conversely know that the future is what it is and hasn’t happened yet.

4. How do you and Andrew (your husband) maintain your status as a team since you’ve become adoptive parents?
We talk a lot, we plan together and we play together. I’ve found that parenting is sort of like the big game, the thing that all the work we did to bond to each other and learn how to work together and practice fighting and compromising and living as a team, the thing that all that was for. It’s a long game, so obviously we need to take breaks and time outs and so forth. And we don’t always hit home runs or whatever (I can’t believe I’m trying out a sports metaphor) but we prepared for this. That’s why we practiced with other stuff first, like raising kittens and being in rock bands and buying a house.

5. How has knowing Z (your daughters’ first mother) changed your perceptions of family?
To be completely clear we don’t know Z. We know some things about her, we have a picture, we get updates from a social worker. We are hoping for more. But she is the mother of our children. That makes her family. Choosing our kids also meant choosing her – our role in her life is different than our role in the life of the daughters the three of us share, but she is family to us and when she is ready to have a more open relationship we’ll be here. Not a lot of people get that. I don’t know if I would have understood it before entering in to this process either.

6. You and Andrew have been successful at building a community among your neighbors and friends. Adoptive parents can sometimes isolate themselves due to the unique issues that they face. What advice do you have for other parents about how to form their own communities?
Man I love giving advice. 🙂 But I’ll try to keep it short:

  • Don’t expect people to get it: we are the only adoptive family in our building, but that hasn’t stopped us from bonding with our neighbors. They love our girls and we love theirs despite the different roads we all traveled to become parents. (All six kids in our building are girls so far.) The thing I look for isn’t necessarily similarity in experience but rather the willingness of someone to be there with me during the big stuff in life and listen to my experience as well as my willingness to do that for them. 
  • That being said, shared experience is important: The community in our building exists in large part because we are in proximity to each other and this forces common experience. The first time we realized we liked our neighbors was during a snowstorm when everyone was stuck in the building and we had people over for board games. The second big moment for us was when a couple upstairs from us lost a baby, and the building rallied around them as they grieved. Several of us used the front patio to bbq and started coordinating a regular summer potluck the summer after both of these events. This is just basic community building stuff – have fun together, share food together, be there for each other etc. But for adoptive parents it might include a little grace for folks who haven’t done the work we have to understand the way our families are built.
7. Faith is clearly an important part of your life. Stereotypically, people who profess some type of faith are politically/socially/financially conservative. On your blog, you’ve expressed opinions in favor of issues that many may consider “liberal,” such as white privilege and feminism. When it comes to adoption, how do you handle people who make assumptions about your family based on stereotypes?
I guess I don’t – I think that the assumptions people make tell me more about who they are than who I am. I am always curious to see how new people respond to me and my life – for many the concept of a woman being ordained a priest is new, for others the idea of someone who self identifies as feminist also being an active person of faith is surprising. But whatever a person’s reaction to me is when I do or say something that challenges their assumptions about the category I might fit into or that we might fit into tells me something interesting about who that person is and where she locates herself. I do get irritated when those assumptions are race-based and aimed at my kids though.

8. In your blog, you write that you spent six years interviewing parents who have had a history with CPS. How has this experience influenced your approach to parenting?I interviewed kids in all sorts of situations – kids who had been removed from their parents permanently and adopted or placed with relatives, kids whose parents had done their work and gotten custody again, and kids who had been repeatedly in and out of care. I never met a parent who didn’t love their child, not even those whose choices had been horrible for their son or daughter. I think about this whenever I hear people speaking badly of first parents, or read negative comments about a woman who made an adoption plan and changed her mind. But I also realize that simply feeling the overwhelming love of a parent for a child isn’t enough to make a home that is safe and healthy. The parents I interviewed who were blowing it were messing up for reasons that were both their own responsibility and bigger than them. So I stepped into parenting realizing that my ability to parent more or less well is a similar thing – it’s about my choices but it’s also about advantages and privileges I have received that are bigger than me as an individual person.

9. What is your favorite NPR program and why?
This American Life. I don’t think there is any other hour of media on television or radio that does a better job of capturing the beauty in the mundane,normal and universal aspects of being a person in this country.  I love to hoard the podcasts for long roadtrips. Wait Wait Don’t Tell me is a close second. Because who doesn’t want Carl Kasell’s voice on their home answering machine?

10. You used to be in a band. What role does music play in your life today and what are the top five songs on your iPod?
Andrew lives and breathes music in a way that I never have, as much as I love to play, sing, and listen to it. But because he is my husband music is an integral part of our family life. On any given day there are family dance parties morning and evening, and now that J is old enough to join in on jam sessions those happen often too with Daddy on guitar, me on percussion and J going back and forth between her toy piano and percussion. Everybody sings. It’s been especially fun to watch my oldest fall in love with music and develop her own top five song list, which usually trumps mine when we’re out and about in the car. We have a family ipod at the moment due to one recently aging out and the top five most played songs (controlled so as not to repeat artists)are as follows:
  • Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO (Sorry for Party Rocking)
  • Now – Mates of State (Re-Arrange Us)
  • The Bangers Embrace – Propagandhi – (Supporting Caste)
  • Slick Watts – Blue Scholars – (Cinemetropolis) 
  • We Are Rockstars – Does it Offend You, Yeah (You Have No Idea What You’re In For)

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