Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Fanged Frog Returns

The week after our return from Nick's graduation should have been lovely, but it has brought us more worries. Sunday a week ago, the very day we returned from our wonderful trip to New Orleans, Victoria found her birth mother (Rana) on My Space. This was not an accident, as Rana explained to Victoria in a subsequent email. She created her My Space in the hopes that Tori would find it and, since she had it listed on Tori's aunt Stacy's My Space, it seems inevitable that the connection would be made.

I guess some explanation is necessary for this to make sense. Our adoption of Tori was totally open because we actually knew her and Rana before the idea of adoption ever came into being. We got caught up trying to help Rana, a person who at the time could not benefit from a helping hand. She proved to be a disaster for us, stealing from us and wreaking emotional havoc on our family. She left two-year-old Tori at our house while she tried to find a place to live and a job, but after Rana hit Tori with a belt buckle across the shoulder during a weekend visit, leaving a terrible bruise, CPS decided to take Tori into protective custody. That started the series of events that lead to our adoption of Tori when she was four years old.

We tried to allow contact with Rana at first, but it did not work out because Tori was terrified of her. We did keep Tori in regular touch with her grandmother, aunt, and other extended family members, even though this created a lot of emotional turmoil for everyone involved. (Keeping Victoria in contact with her family was a promise I had made to Rana, and I kept it.)

All of Tori's various mental health professionals over the years have told us not to allow Rana contact with Tori because of the detrimental effect it has had on her the times we tried it. We have followed that advice. We never told Tori bad things about her mother - a lesson I learned many, many years ago after I divorced my first husband - but Tori's grandmother told her plenty of bad things in graphic detail and "living color" as the TV promos used to proclaim during my childhood.

Now Rana is back on the scene and she is the one dishing the dirt. Too bad she isn't dishing the truth. Tori has been variously hysterical, weepy, and conciliatory about the situation. My husband is very distressed and I am caught in the middle between Tori's desire to see Rana and Michael's determination that that will never happen. I see both points of view. I know that Rana has been an extremely toxic person in the past, but I don't know if she has changed (or not) over the last decade. I also know that the draw of a birth parent is very strong, the need/desire to know one's roots. And even though her family history has not been a secret from Tori, Rana owns the mystique of fantasy. She is the "real mother."

I also know that Rana manipulates everything and everyone, that she is a masterful reader of other people (street smarts and con artist finesse par excellence) and that she can look like Mother Theresa to anyone for a few hours at a time. I have already gotten a whiff of her sad story, the one she has undoubtedly been practicing for the last fourteen years, because she told Tori in a My Space email (before I cut that off) that Rana's mother and I turned her in to CPS unfairly because her mother wanted to get back at her and I wanted another child.

For those of you who did not know me then, I was desperately ill, in and out of hospitals, and in no way whatsoever was I looking for another child. Michael and I fought over the decision to take Tori in because he was so concerned about my health, but I felt like we had to do it, had a moral requirement to do it, for Tori. CPS was ready to place her with strangers and I didn't want her to disappear into the system.

OMG, when I think of all the struggles we have had since we first met Tori and Rana, it is frightening and astonishing all at the same time. But here we are. Tori is nearly seventeen. She is a kind-hearted, affection girl most of the time. She is going to graduate from high school in a year and plans to go to community college. At the same age, her mother was in the custody of the Texas Youth Commission for drug dealing and prostitution and, upon her release to a half way house at eighteen, would promptly get pregnant with Tori. Our daughter's life has turned out so much more hopefully than Rana's and I fear that recontact with Rana will knock her backwards.

The most terrifying part of raising Tori right this minute is her current fascination with having a baby. She talks about it all the time, how having a baby would give her someone who would always love her, how wonderful and cute baby's are, etc. It sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy leading up to a pregnancy to parallel her birth mother's pregnancy with her. I keep pushing the down side and encouraging her to think about college, career, husband, before she thinks about a child. Is that falling on deaf ears? I don't know. So far, she has not had that kind of relationship with a boy, so that gives me hope.

Yesterday, she had her last shot of three to protect her from the viruses that cause cervical cancer. I am so happy she could get that protection. I wish someone would invent a vaccine against bad choices. She needs that, too. We probably all do ...

Anyway, this situation is a big worry for me right now and I am struggling to find a balance between Michael, Tori, and "the forces of darkness" out there. It is interesting that Rana, in Spanish, means frog, and that there is a frog whose Latin name is almost identical to Rana's first and last names. The translation of this Latin name is "fanged frog." How apt. The fanged frog is back in our lives. How I wish that I could say to Tori today what I could say to her a week ago, "I don't know where Rana is. She knows where we live and she could contact us if she wanted to."


Monday, May 12, 2008

Life is Sweet: Mother's Day and Graduation All in One Week

Could life be any sweeter? Sunday my family feted me in grand style to show their love for me and this coming Saturday my son Nick will graduate from Tulane University with his degree in Political Economy. What wonderful events to bracket a week with. I feel blessed.

Mother's Day started a special greeting from my friend Dionne. Then I spent some time leisurely perusing the newspaper in bed with a cup of coffee. Mid-morning I got a phone call from Julia, Nick's fiancee, wishing me a happy Mother's Day. And later on, Michael prepared a luscious brunch featuring baked, cream-cheese filled, nut-topped, French toast, bacon, and orange juice. While he got brunch ready, Victoria gave me her gift: a video she created for me with photographs of her as a little girl, some sweet music, and wonderful captions. It made me cry. When we went in to brunch, I found a gorgeous, pink-tinged, white hydrangea with four large balls of blooms sitting on the table.

After brunch, I dragged my sated self to the living room and finished reading the paper, then jumped in the shower to freshen up for company. Alix and Adam came over in the early afternoon and indulged me by playing cards - a fun new game I found called aBridged - and then starting a new jigsaw puzzle with me. We had a very good time, although the thousand-piece puzzle will require a lot more work before I finish it.

While we were playing cards and working puzzles, past-times Michael doesn't enjoy - he fixed dinner, gracing us with rib eye steak, baked potatoes, and a lovely fresh salad. This is the first time he has fired up his grill in several months and the results can only be described as mouth-watering. Everyone had a dish of ice cream for dessert before Alix and Adam had to go. Later in the evening, I received a Mother's Day call from Nick.

I felt pampered and loved and cherished all day long. Thank you to everyone who made sure I got the most from this holiday! And I am blessed by the fact that my mother is still alive and I get to talk with her regularly and see her at least once a year. I sent her a lovely hand-thrown bird feeder shaped (and colored) like a robin's egg for Mother's Day although she told me she was hesitant to use it as a bird feeder because it is so pretty.

The most wonderful part of this cornucopia of Mother's Day blessings is that it doesn't have to be Mother's Day for me to be treated so well. My family shows me these kindnesses on a regular basis. Michael is always generous with his time and attentions, solicitous of my needs and desires; Tori is a tender-hearted young woman who wants nothing more than to please the people she cares about. My adult children and their partners are wonderful to me, too, as are my many friends.

If it sounds like I'm bragging, I am! I have a lot to brag about when it comes to my loved ones and friends.

Add to that the upcoming festivities at Tulane University and I am a thoroughly happy woman. Nick has worked hard to get his degree and it has not been easy for him. He persevered, though,even paying for most of it himself. It will be a real joy to watch him receive that diploma this Saturday. Julia will be there, along with her mother and sister, so I expect we will have a lot of fun over the weekend. (Not to mention that it is our first visit to New Orleans.)

I am really feeling great about life these days.