Sea of Tranquility

I just read a post by Nicole, an open letter to Y. It resonated with me because this is one of my biggest bugbears when it comes to Sprog’s parents. I think they are Vulcans.

They are just so damn placid. Sometimes I want to beat crap out of them to get some kind of reaction, because there never is one. Even when I showed up at their door jonesing, the reception was calm and yes… gracious. They were firm, but not angry. Not one iota of anger. I was bracing myself for “Get the fuck out and never come back” and it never came. And on that same visit, after I disappeared one afternoon and never came back, there was silence for months. Just silence. And it creeped me out, so I wrote them a letter of apology. And there was more silence in response. And then, Sprog’s dad invited me on a camping trip so that we could discuss the situation. And we discussed. And it was all very calm. Not a trace of anger, resentment, anything negative at all.

It scares me that they are not human.

How can I ever measure up? Where do I get off parenting Lamia? I am not this calm, unruffled, perfect parent. The other day, Lamia screamed for 5 minutes straight while my wife was out and I was trying to put up drapes. You know those screams, the ones where they are screaming so hard that no sound comes out for awhile. Anyways, I yelled at her. I yelled at an 8 month old baby, this baby who I love more than life itself. If I can do that… why can’t Sprog’s parents? Do they ever yell? Or has he just spent his life in this sea of tranquility? Is the calm just a facade?

I am not sure which is more scary – facade calm, or real calm. If it is real, then I know how my son lives, but I am creeped out by it. If it is a facade, then I know nothing about his life. Less than nothing.

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12 Responses to “Sea of Tranquility”

  1. I think in both cases they are afraid that if they behave any other way, you’ll (you or Nic) will use that as a reason to run.

    I also think for many adoptive parents, there is an intense desire to show our children’s families that we are doing a super duper fantastic job with these children, that we are beyond perfect parents. I can remember being concerned to the point of near-nervous breakdown when Dan was about a year and we visited. They, apparently, thought my performance was amusing but quite good and told me that (in a humorous way – but then again, we have that relationship).

    Lastly, I think that it’s a visit, a social occasion, and there are certain social rules/constraints about how those things go. Everybody’s on their ‘best behavior’, including generally the kids (I seriously cannot think of one time Dan really misbehaved during any of his visits, at least not to the point that DH and/or I lost it). You don’t tell your honored guests whom you’re thrilled are just there that they’re acting like an a-hole and scaring their kid, yanno?

    Just some random thoughts.

    Regina

    PS You do realize it’s normal to lose it sometimes with your child, right? We all do.

  2. Echoing what Regina said. Totally normal to lose it. You would not be a normal parent if you weren’t.

    I am not experienced enough to comment on the situations you and Nic describe but I can say it sounds awfully awkward and inhumane.

    My ex husband had a very flat personality. One dimensional. He was always Mr. Funny Guy. Never sad, never angry, never much more than Mr. Funny Guy. It was very unnerving.

  3. I also kind of wonder if maybe you were so into your own head when you were visiting that you didn’t pick up on perhaps more subtle messages. Even when we are most focused and tuned-in to others, we only pick up 7 out of 21 communication signals sent our way. That pickup rate goes way down when the voices and emotions we have inside are roaring.

    So maybe they’re not so much placid as you were just not noticing.

    Also I have noticed that emotional displays/behaviors vary quite a bit from culture to culture and region to region. For instance, in the Northeast cities, if you believe someone is a Jerkface, you have no problem yelling Jerkface at them, gesturing and perhaps making other comments. In the Southeast, you would never DREAM of calling someone a Jerkface, but you would tell EVERYBODY you know what a Jerkface they were.

    Just some other thoughts.

    Regina

  4. Hi, my name is Lula, and I’m sure I will be viewed as a Vulcan by my kid’s other parents at some point in time since I’ve already heard that one waaaaaay too many times in my life.

    I’ve been reading over at Nicole’s blog, trying to figure out how to respond. The way Brad’s laid it out here is more accessible somehow, so here goes:

    For me, the “tranquility” is a combination of personality and self-protection, that switches on automatically when I’m faced with a situation or person that’s registering to me as emotionally out of control or bordering on losing control. It’s not a lack of humanity or condescension or pity or any of that — it’s a survival response cultivated by necessity from growing up with a emotionally unstable, alcohol-addicted mother who screamed a lot. I was destined for self-containment anyway, but there’s really nothing like living under the storm of dysfunctional “self-expression” to build up those Vulcan skills to their finest level. Working professionally for many years at a syringe exchange probably didn’t hurt either… might as well get paid for it, you know?

    I don’t do it so I can feel superior to those who are more vocal than I am. I don’t do it with a mind to standing back and thinking “Wow, that person is really f*ked up. I am sooo much more together and competent and all-around fabulous than they are.” I do it because a part of my brain is permanently on alert for dodging a blow or a flying lamp, and remaining calm in the face of chaos got me through until I could leave home. It’s part of my own little dance with the PTSD, cha cha cha.

    I do it because I’m human, and trying to keep myself safe. I’ve loosened up over the years and will hopefully be able to loosen further if my child and hir other parents need me to for the good of the whole family’s relationship, but I’m never going to be the Jolly Rancher of Emotion Junction. I am sure no one’s opinion is going to matter more to me than that of my child’s other parents, and therefore they are likely to see me at my most stressed and therefore my most “tranquil” on many occasions. Hopefully we’ll end up with the kind of relationship where that can break down over time, but we’re all going to have to see each other as humans in this relationship.

    Brad, I can all but bet you $$$ that what was creepy silence on your end was on Sprog’s aparents’ end tears and anger and fear and concern and asking around for advice and lots and lots of talking about how to responsibly respond as parents and human beings to your showing up sick for a visit. Maybe it would have been better if they’d shared that with you; I don’t know. Maybe you should ask them what was going through their minds when that scene went down, and why they chose to handle it the way they did. I know if it was me and you asked, I would tell you. I bet they would too.

    I will probably go post this over at Nicole’s blog too – I’m so, so glad this conversation was started, because this issue has been much on my mind as we finish up with our homestudy. Thanks everyone, so much.

  5. “In the Southeast, you would never DREAM of calling someone a Jerkface, but you would tell EVERYBODY you know what a Jerkface they were. ”

    Okay this has me in fits of giggles.

    I don’t think it is inhumane Suz, I think they do it out of wanting be humane. I think they do it largely for our benefit.

    My daughter’s amom really truly has the most unselfish and kind heart.

    I really think she figures that anything she feels in re: to the adoption doesn’t hold a candle compared to what I do, and that she would never yell at me or anything BECAUSE she is so humane.

    I do the same thing, I hold stuff back from her.

    And skimming around the blogosphere tonight, it looks like a lot of parents in open adoptions–BOTh n-parents AND a-parents–do the same.

    I really don’t think any of us do it out of meanness or spite or trying to be deceitful, I think it’s just some weird conditioning and some deep down fears for all of us that are hard to overcome.

    It’s just hard to build a genuine relationship when we’re all worried about being so humane all the time. When we are treating each other like guests instead of like family.

  6. The fact of the matter is, my wife chose this family BECAUSE they were so calm. They appeared capable and in control (everything she was not, at the time) and she thought that would make them good parents. I am sure they are good parents. But perfect people freak me out, because nobody is perfect so I cannot help but wonder what they are hiding.

    But what you say is true Nicole. I know I do it too. I am ultra-polite in their presence. Every word that passes my lips is carefully considered, and my interaction with Sprog is extremely tentative because of my fear of him rejecting me.

    I guess yeah, it makes it hard to be a family. But on the other hand, one half of my family does not talk to the other half because of some tiny thing someone did in 1977 that offended someone else, so perhaps being guests is the better option.

  7. […] longer this discussion about niceties goes on, the more I’m seeing an untapped area of adoption discourse–and it’s a […]

  8. Just remember – the only normal people you know are strangers. We’re all dysfunctional families. Some of us just put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional in larger quantities. 🙂

    I doubt they’re hiding anything deliberately. Like I said before, I suspect they’re more subtle or communicate in different ways than you’re used to. For instance, DH’s family and my family ‘use’ silence in different ways. In my family, when someone proposes an activity and nobody disagrees, we all go do it. In his family = complete opposite. Silence = assent for us, dissent for them. Can you imagine some of the disasters that occurred early on in our relationship/marriage before we finally figured that one out?

    I think it all goes to levels of intimacy. The more trusting the relationship, the more revealing you can be. But you have to be honest to be able to trust, and there has to be no fear that being honest would produce a negative outcome. You can’t be honest and create a trusting environment where there is fear, and I believe here there is likely fear – not based on your behavior though I expect that’s some of it – but more based on your wavering commitment to openness and the fear that you and your wife will exit stage right leaving two kids wondering what they did on their last visit that was so bad and how come they can’t meet their baby sister?

    At the same time you fear being judged negatively (even when you expect to be and almost maybe hope to be so you can be dismissed?), but more so maybe of finding out that you’re efforts have been meaningless, not worth anything to Sprog. I am convinced that’s not the case, having a child who is just a little younger than Sprog.

    Fathers (BOTH of them) are magical creatures at this age. Danno and his other dad connect somewhere that’s really special (even given OD’s stated uncomfortableness around children) and unique. They’re both crazy about Ben10 so that was a good starting point but once again it was, well, more. Also I (mock) yelled at OD about some stuff so I guess there’s no fear and told him how very very important he is in our family. He took it well.

    Regina

  9. My son came to me the fost-adopt route so I’m not in the same situation, but here’s my input.

    I went out of my way to search for and find my son’s natural mom. Her situation when he came to us tugged at my heart and made it so I felt compelled to contact her, to let her know he was ok. More than ok actually. I wanted her to know how WANTED he was, how loved he was, how cherished he was.

    I found her on Myspace and created a page for my son so she could see him and communicate with me that way. She’s given me invaluable infomation about who he is and more importantly who SHE is so when he asks me questions I can answer them and not say “i don’t know” and leave him wondering.

    99.9% of the information I relay to her about his life is happy and positive. And I guess the reason for that is because I want her to think I’m worthy of raising her son. I don’t want her to know any of the negative stuff, thinking maybe she’ll think she should be the one raising him.

    Now again..this is a foster situation, and it was no loving choice to place or anything like that. She severely neglected and mistreated my son. And there are a million people out there that would have done a better job at parenting than her. But still..I don’t mention the tantrums he throws or how he talks back to us or how he beats on his new little sister. Instead I’ll continue to tell her how smart he is..how loving he is, and what a great kid he is. All the things that reflect that I’m a good parent. So she won’t think less of me.

  10. Luann, that is quite interesting. I reckon there are two different fronts that people are putting on here.

    1. The front that the parents are perfect.
    2. The front that the child is perfect.

    You are putting on Front 2, whereas Sprog’s parents use Front 1. One of the things I actually like about them is that they sent us pictures of him in a stained onesie, and they often mention how stubborn and mischievous he is. That says more to me about their parenting than hearing how smart and cute he is, although they say plenty of that kind of stuff too. It tells me that they are very secure in their parenting ability, because I figure the smart and cute come from me anyways, you know? 🙂

    What it does not tell me is anything about their parenting style. How do they deal with Sprog when he is being naughty? I have no idea. I can only extrapolate from the way they deal with me, and that makes me suspicious because I do not see how the way they deal with me can translate into a kid who is as great as Sprog is. This leads me to believe they must be doing something else, and it disturbs me that I do not know what that is.

  11. Well, Brad, you can always ask them….may be valuable both in gaining insights and to add to your own parenting journey. Most parents are more than happy to share how they handle things like discipline, allowances, values teaching. Heck, many will share whether you ask them to or not. 🙂

    The other route (complimentary, not either/or) is to observe.

    Regina

  12. Celera Says:

    I think you make two incorrect assumptions here, Brad. One is that calm reasonable people don’t feel as much as you do. As a “Vulcan” myself, I have to tell you that we feel many things very deeply. Sometimes more deeply than the more “emotional” and reactive types around us. (Actually, this is true of the “real” Vulcans as well — their early society was chaotic and violent due to their deep and powerful emotions. That was why they developed the philosophy that prized logic so highly.)

    The other incorrect assumption is that being less emotional is better than being the way you are. They aren’t better, just different. There are times when being a very calm and rational person is very constructive and useful, and times when it makes things worse. This is a very deeply rooted (and genetically based) aspect of ourselves.

    The really important thing is for Sprog’s adoptive parents to recognize that he will probably innately be more emotionally demonstrative than they are, and that they help him learn when it’s good to express emotion, and when it’s best to force yourself to be rational and calm. and that they respect all the ways he is different from them. That was the biggest problem with my adoptive mother — there were only two ways to be: “Like her” and “wrong”. As a placid person with a histrionic mother, I grew up believing that I was a cold and heartless person. I hope Sprog’s parents don’t make that mistake in reverse.

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