I had a longish conversation with Evan yesterday and I have been trying to write a post that is about my feelings without violating his privacy.
The conversation was mostly about his mother. He wanted to talk about what he did, and did not, owe her. She is far less self-destructive than many people I have known, but she does get herself into difficult situations and wants and expects her son to rescue her. That Evan's baby sister's welfare is sometimes at stake makes it all the more difficult.
Now, as most readers know, Roland and I are planning on adopting the boys who came to us from foster care. They range from 17 to 26. The older two have no parents. The stories are complex, but there is nothing in them that gives me pause. Adopting them fits clearly into my ethical framework. Adoption is to provide parents for children who don't have them. That these young men are legal adults does not mean that they don't need parents. They do, and we are the only candidates. The youngest is more complicated, but I've written about that recently and that is not what this post is about. The short version is that I wish what was happening to him wasn't happening, but if it does we will adopt him and not regret it.
I can't however find myself at peace with respect to Evan.
The truth is (and my darling, if you are reading, please don't be hurt) that if he were the only boy to come to us from foster care we never have considered adopting him. He has a mother. She is part of his life. She is a difficult, pain-causing part of his life, but she is there.
When Evan talks to me about his mother I think a lot about my father. I remember when I was Evan's age that I did not want to acknowledge his (my father's) existence. I was hurt and angry and slowly coming to terms with the truth that he was never going to be different. I had to give up on that dream. I was jealous of my mother because she was able to divorce him. She wasn't related to him any more and she didn't have to worry about him. She was no longer his wife, but I would always be his daughter. I struggled to figure out what that meant. I toyed with the idea of cutting him out of my life entirely. If I just didn't give him my address when I moved, would anyone else? Could I go on as though he didn't exist?
So when Evan talks to me and our conversation shifts from his mother to the adoption, I find myself wondering if it would have changed things if someone had adopted me. If I had a new, legal father, would that have given my father less power to hurt me? Would it have settled any of the questions about what, if anything, I owed him?
I don't think it would.
Because it is a myth that adoption, especially adoption of older children and adults, unmakes the previous relationships. I think it can make a new one, but it does not erase the past. It doesn't even create barrier between the past and the future.
I eventually found a degree of peace in my relationship with my father. He can certainly make me moderately nuts, but mostly I have my boundaries set in ways that make me comfortable. I accept what he wants to give us, but I no longer expect or hope for something he isn't. And if I had been adopted by someone else as a teen or an adult, I suspect I would have had to travel the same journey. It would have been no easier. And I think the same is true for Evan. My adopting him won't make his relationship with his mother easier. It could though make it worse.
One way that it would make his life easier is in all those getting-to-know you conversations, one of the really difficult things for kids who have been in the system. Most of us have different levels in friendship. Some people we interact with and know almost nothing about. Some we know better and we share a bit more. Some are intimates and know our pain. When you grow up in foster care (and probably other situations) it is difficult maintain that. So many questions don't have truthful, non-mysterious answers. It would be easier for Evan when he meets people to be able to truthfully tell them that his parents live in Our Small Town, are educators, and members of PFLAG, and only later share that we are adoptive parents, that he still has a relationship with his mother, and that relationship is complicated and sometimes painful.
I get that.
But here is my dilemma.
On one hand it feels impossible to deny to Evan what I am offering to the other boys and wrong for me to decide what is best for him and his life. I don't love him less than the other boys. I don't want to offer him less.
On the other hand, the idea of adopting Evan without his mother's consent, probably even against her wishes, is anathema to me. David and Gary's mothers have been completely out of their lives for more than a decade. Though I believe they think about their sons and love them still, they simply are not there. Attempts at reconciliation have been exhausted.
But Evan's mother is there. She is making him crazy and sometimes miserable, but she is there.
Though I say and believe that it is a myth that adoption unmakes families, myths are powerful things. And there are some things that are not myth. The legal changes will not matter as much as they would have if he were younger, but they are real. Part of me is firmly convinced that it is just wrong to do this.
And yet it feels wrong to tell Evan that I won't adopt him too. I feels wrong to make this decision for Evan. He has my heart as much as any of the boys. If he wants to be legally ours, it feels like that should be his choice. Telling him no just feels wrong.
I hate it when there are not right answers.