Sometimes the people you think you know end up surprising you…and not always in a good way. Even with long-time friendships, there can be facets people reveal that can both stun and sadden you.
To be clear, I understand completely that one needs to accept his/her friends as they are, good, bad or in between. Yet it can still be jarring to suddenly learn about attitudes that you didn’t know existed. Attitudes that, despite all attempts at neutrality, leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
I’ve been friends for years with a married couple. They’ve been wonderful and supportive friends despite our ideological
awk, Fox News! differences. They also happen to be a couple affected by infertility and as I went through the latter part of my infertility journey, they were both, individually and together, people with whom I could share my fears and pain.
Their infertility journey has lasted the 10 years of their marriage. Though some ART was tried, there was a discomfort with the process. There was talk of moving to adoption, but the husband has had cold feet. Seriously cold feet.
His is a “you never know what you’re gonna get” fear about adoption that he readily admits is irrational. If I’ve talked to him about it once, I’ve talked a thousand times. He knows it’s nutty, but just can’t seem to get over himself. His wife, however, wanted to move forward with adoption. His reluctance proved to be a stopper. So they’ve achieved a type of détente, living child-free, traveling many times a year, and enjoying life.
Of course that didn’t stop me from feeling empathy with his wife. But for his admittedly irrational fear, she could be enjoying the parenthood she wanted. It isn’t my place to meddle in someone’s marriage, but I did always feel bad that this issue seemed to be one he couldn’t move through, even for her. And that man loves her so much, he’d drink her dirty bathwater. I’ve seen that love that borders on adoration in his eyes. It is beautiful.
Recently we had a business dinner that allowed me to catch up with the wife for the first time a long time. She asked about my kidlet and I
lamented described my recent challenges with my spitfire of a daughter. Somehow I segued to the controversy I had inadvertently started on Facebook when I asked for advice/strategies for continuing to teach my then 3 3/4-year-old Zara to read. She shook her head with disbelief when I told her that some “friends” felt that it was traumatizing to a child to encourage early reading.
As I finished recounting the whole saga, she turned to me and said, “Zara is so smart!”
“Yep, she is,” I agreed, thinking of how her intellect is both blessing and curse for us as her parents. That child is smart enough to employ manipulation tactics that would make a teenager proud.
“You are so lucky,” she stated.
“Lucky and challenged,” I agreed, reaching for my martini.
“What would you have done if she wasn’t smart?” she asked lightly.
Thinking that she was joking, I quipped, “encourage her artistic side and keep her off the pole.” (I wasn’t sure she’d get the Chris Rock reference but I thought it was worth a shot…)
“But see, you guys are so lucky. You and AdoringHusband are both very smart. What would you have done if you had adopted a kid who turned out not to be smart?”
I realized then that she was absolutely serious. What kind of question is this? Have I traveled so far into Parentland that this reasonable question from a non-parent is raising my parent-hackles? Or is it that this is one of those incipient train wreck questions that shouldn’t have been asked in the first place? Like when people upon learning that my child joined our family through adoption would ask, “how much did she cost?” But this was no ridiculous stranger or near-stranger. This was someone who had been around since the loss of my pregnancy, the grieving, the steps toward adoption, and the glory that is my kid. Why is she asking me such a question? I thought to myself.
I opted to play it straight (naturally) and give the honest answer.
“If our child didn’t have intellectual strengths, we would encourage the talents and gifts that she did have. That’s what any parent would do.”
“But it would have been so bad if you two smart people didn’t have a smart child,” she said sadly.
By now the hairs on my neck were rising to attention, though the vodka did impair the erector pili musculature a bit. She sounded as if the greatest tragedy in the world would be for smart parents to not have smart offspring. Give me a freaking break! Then I got a hold of myself again. She is entitled to her feelings and thoughts. I don’t have to agree with her, but I need to respect her right to feel as she does.
“But even if she were our biological child, there is no guarantee that she would have been an intellectual like we are. There is no genetic guarantee that the offspring will possess the features, temperament, or intellect of the parents.”
“But at least if she were your biological child, you know that the fault of her not being smart was with your genes and not somebody else’s genes.”
What fucking difference would it make? I exploded inside my head. Would it be easier to assuage myself that Johnny didn’t get into Yale because of my genetic screwup versus the intellectual deficits of his biological parents?! What the hell are we talking about here? Genes, traits, biology…shit! Is Eugenics next? I was not liking where this was heading.
“The fact of the matter is,” I began carefully, “your child is your child, period, be they biological or adopted. Full stop. End of story. Your role as a parent is to love, nurture and support them as they grow into adulthood. Whatever features, talents, or traits they possess, your job as their parents is to help them successfully play to their strengths and bolster their weaknesses. Fault doesn’t even enter into my consciousness because it doesn’t freaking matter. She is my daughter. Even if she had the IQ of a pet rock, she would be my daughter and I would love her unconditionally no differently than I do now.”
I felt my voice rising a bit, so I paused for another sip of what was an excellent martini.
“I hear what you’re saying,” she began, “but with adoption you just never know. It’s kinda scary.”
“Girlfriend, you might want to think about that a little more. Parenting is scary whether the kid shot out from between your legs or was brought to you by Martians. Parenting is one of the most scary things a person can ever do. Sure if you had birthed the kid and s/he turned out ‘wrong,’” I said making air quotes with my fingers, “you could just blame it on some recessive genes or whatever floats your boat if that makes you feel less responsible somehow. But real parents don’t look for fault or external places to lay blame. Real parents focus on the kid and doing everything humanly and inhumanly possible to raise that munchkin into a happy, self-sufficient, productive adult because that is the real endgame.
“If you think adoption is scary, don’t adopt. Just don’t. But I can tell you quite clearly that it isn’t adoption that’s scary. It’s being a parent responsible for raising a child to the best of his/her abilities and aptitudes. That is really fucking scary.”
By now, I realized that having crossed well into the land of profanity I had a good pissedoffishness going on. I took a moment and opted to check my cell phone rather than continue my little rant. Her husband had started talking to her on her other side, about the wine, the food, or something else less emotionally charged. I smiled as I saw the beauteous face of my daughter on my cell phone screen, knowing that by the time I got home, she will have pushed all of AdoringHusband’s buttons and then some, as is her wont.
I looked over at my friends chatting mildly with each other and the pissivity drained right out of me. Instead, I suddenly felt sad…very, very sad. I felt so sad that two good people could have such limitations on who they could love. Though their love for each other is unwavering.
Yeah, I am lucky, I thought, sneaking a peak at my kidlet again on the iPhone screen. My heart is open for love in its many forms, and I am so much the better for it.