Friday, May 29, 2020

choices every day

As soon as various hot takes on Myka Stauffer started creeping into my feed, my stomach twisted into a knot. I'd never heard of her before yesterday, but apparently she is a very pretty person (even when crying!) with a YouTube channel, who adopted an autistic toddler from China and announced recently that her family has placed him for adoption again.

The judgment dripped off posts about how she exploited her children and what a hypocritical Christian she (possibly?) was--ostensibly promoting adoption as a solution to abortion, then aborting her adoption mission (the latter was from Sarah Schaefer, a writer and comic I love). And yes, that would be hypocritical. And no, I am generally not a fan of people who monetize their photogenic lifestyle.

But as someone who believes it's okay to abort a pregnancy, my conflicted take--which is not about Myka Stauffer at all--is that it's acceptable to abort one's parenting duties. Not great. But human, and possible.

Adoption, when not coerced, is about a parent saying "I don't have the ability to give this child what they need. I'm going to find someone who can." It's not "selfless," nor should it be, but it is in the best interest of the child. By definition. Because children should be raised by someone who feels equipped to raise them.

A lot of parents of special-needs kids say things along the lines of "I didn't choose this path, but I wouldn't change it for the world." They didn't choose for their child to be born with or acquire a disability, but they did choose to parent, and they re-choose it every day. It's a choice that should be admired and celebrated, and society should shower those parents with every resource possible.

Hubris in the post, judgement in the comments. Never change, internet.
Years ago, This American Life produced a piece about a family who placed their autistic teenage son in an institution. He was their biological son, and they didn't place him for adoption, but they did hand over his care to someone else. The story was difficult and complicated and moving. I can't imagine anyone with a heart judging Dave Royko, the father who narrated the story. But hey, dads get points just for showing up, so.

I wonder--if we understand that bio families sometimes make heart-wrenching decisions when they are in over their heads, but we expect adoptive parents to stick it out, aren't we holding them to different standards?

I don't know what was in the Stuaffer family's heads, nor do I particularly care to find out, and maybe it is as ugly as they are pretty. In a video, Myka said they were misled about the extent of Huxley's needs, and while I believe that (even in domestic adoption, information is often partial or inaccurate), there's an ugly disgruntled-customer undercurrent to it. Maybe they gave up on him more quickly because he wasn't "their own" or because he was Chinese.

But whether they're loving parents who want what's best for their child, or exploitative assholes who adopted out of delusions of grandeur and came to resent that Huxley was cramping their Instagram-ready lifestyle, or somewhere in between, the result is the same: They couldn't do it. They ceded the job to someone who could. Their son will be better off because of it.

Every hopeful adoptive parent fills out a form saying what they are open to in terms of the birthmother's alcohol/drug use and the child's disabilities. There are a series of checkboxes ranging from mild to severe along each axis. AK and I have been presented with a bunch of possibilities that fall outside our checked boxes, and we're fine with trying on each story as it comes, imagining it overlaid on our own.

We've said no to a few situations in which the child had a high risk of a severe disability. Each time, I've contemplated, guiltily, what this says about my ableism. I live in this world, so I am most definitely ableist (and racist and ageist and homophobic), but, ableist? Pregnant people holding the results of prenatal tests may find themselves wondering the same. Where I've sort of landed, even if I'm not entirely convinced, is that it's not contradictory to say "Disabled people are every bit as valuable and human and interesting and perfect and flawed and annoying as non-disabled people" and "I do not personally have the financial and temporal resources required to give a severely disabled child the life I think they deserve."

Or even "I am not willing to completely upend life as my family knows it for this child." If we can be completely fine with people choosing a job that pays more over one that pays less--and I'm not saying we should be fine with that in every situation, but it's a widely accepted "duh"--why is any choice short of complete and continual sacrifice virtually taboo when it comes to parenting?

To admit defeat takes humility (see "Limited" from Wicked). Maybe humility is what the Stauffer family lacked in the beginning, and what they developed too late (yet better than never--better than neglecting or abusing Huxley).

We believe that mothers should be infallible, adoptive mothers even more so, and in buying into that belief, we fan the flames of savior complexes. We should all be against hubris and hypocrisy, but I can't muster a lot of excitement about joining this particular bloodthirsty judge-pack.

Friday, May 01, 2020

labor day

The kids are slipping
and sliding on an inflatable rainbow
our lawn turning to mud.
We have a lawn
and there must always be a pause
for that: our good fortune.

My boss has ideas,
and these too are luxuries
born in her former hunting lodge
in the folds of Laurel Canyon.
She watches mountain lions
on webcams stalk their prey.
She outlines her vision
and speaks of strategy.
I say I'll try.
Our most famous local lion
crossed two freeways
to get to Griffith Park
and so maybe she believes
in exceptionalism
as much as conservation.

The kids chant their demands
like labor activists
and I suppose that makes me management
delivering Jell-O in plastic bowls
shaky and blood red.

I was pregnant once
but never went into labor.
The years between that unbeating
ultrasound and eventual adoption
created a wild beast in me.
It crossed freeways. It looked back
at the rushing cars and saw
what might have happened.

Our son has formed a union
with the neighbor kids
whose parents are out of work.
The crunch of big-wheel tires
on concrete is the sound of summer.
My boss wants to know
why I am not on top of things.
But it is April, the weather
falsely warm, school falsely canceled.

Our tortoiseshell cat brings roaches
through the dog door at night
watches their antennae twitch
bats them with a curled paw.

Each day I make a list with two sections:
work and life. The kids rule the driveway
between our homes, the border
unenforceable but fraught.
The school opens
only to give out the free lunches
now stacked in orange plastic boxes
on the neighbors' kitchen table.

Pfizer donated medication
when our famous mountain lion turned
up pocked with mange. McDonald's
is donating $250 million
to Black communities
and health care workers.
What is a donation?
What is labor?

My son says, "Mommy, there's a cockroach"
and I tell him his other mom will get it.
Last night she cut his hair in the kitchen
and nicked his ear. She applied a band-aid
before he saw the blood.
If there had been a mirror
he would have screamed.