Watching Teddy Grow – Love the One You’re With

Making a decision to adopt seemed pretty simple once I made the decision, but carrying it out was more difficult. After I found an adoption agency willing to work with me, the next step was to have a home-study completed. This would prove to be one of the more frustrating events of my life until then. The social worker who interviewed me seemed hell-bent on challenging everything I said. She questioned my motives to adopt, my core beliefs and values, my financial situation, my support system, and my adequate understanding of how my life would change as a single parent. From the beginning I decided to answer everything honestly, even when those answers sometimes seemed as if they would eliminate my chance to be accepted as a potential adoptive mother. I was clear about my relationship to Jim and Mark, and, how I experimented briefly with bisexuality and discovered absolutely no real interest in women. I explained that although I lived a very active social life, I was ready and wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I would be questioned on these points over and over until I even wondered myself about their veracity. I vacillated between feeling myself to be incompetent and being surer than ever that I wanted to be a mom.

In all it took six months and a half a dozen interviews for the adoption agency to approve me, but it was not to be an adoptive parent as I had hoped, but as a foster parent. To say this was a disappointment to me is an understatement, but I did choose to foster parent.

My acceptance of Teddy as my first foster child came more quickly than I ever imagined it could. It took me completely by surprise, and it amazed me at what little information and agency contact I would have before he was placed with me. As an infant, Teddy was a boarder baby in a welfare hospital, and a pawn in a welfare lottery. Children who needed homes were put on a list, and the agency who first could find a place for these children to live in the community would be financially rewarded. The adoption agency forwarded my name to the hospital as I had agreed to take any infant as a foster child. When the hospital called my only real hesitation being that he was not a she, but thinking of this as a temporarily placement, I agreed.

Teddy dressed in a pink Beatrix Potter pj
Teddy, five months old, soon after arrival

Foster care is more stressful than anyone can possibly imagine when what you really want to be is a permanent mother. Add to that stress a baby who requires constant care and appears to have absolutely no interest in you as his mother and you have a potential disaster. I struggled each day with wanting to create a strong relationship and keeping my distance in anticipation of the day I would give him back to his mother permanently. Partly due to this stress, and our precarious beginning, Teddy and I are bonded together more closely than I thought mothers and sons could be.

When Teddy was young and we lived in New York; single mothers without a father somewhere in the picture were rare. Finding a place where we felt comfortable was difficult. Most of the families of Teddy’s friends through school had both fathers and mothers involved. The families who lived near us were the same. All of the support groups we belonged to seemed to have involved mothers and fathers. The place we felt the least like outsiders was at a Single Mothers by Choice support group. Although most of the mothers in the group adopted children from other countries or had used in vitro fertilization, and none had children with disabilities, they were alike me in that the responsibility for caring for their children lay with them alone, and like Teddy in that there was no one to call Dad. Being a part of a group of single mothers who were not constantly chastising their husbands for their lack of involvement in their children’s lives was refreshing. I think it was also imperative that Teddy not be only exposed to single women who held animosity toward the men their children loved. I wanted Teddy to think of men as role models and people to love and admire.

Teddy in the center seated with green knit hat surrounded by friends.
Teddy in the center seated with green knit hat surrounded by friends.

When we moved to Michigan, we moved to a different world. Life in Ann Arbor was unlike our life in Manhattan in every way. From living on a street full of activity with opportunity for cultural experiences only a short distance away, we lived in an area of houses, houses, and more houses. In Manhattan, we spent much of our time on the stoop talking with friends, or meeting friends at events where we unexpectedly encountered even more friends. In Ann Arbor, Teddy and I had no friends when we arrived and found it difficult to break in. We established a few close friendships where we spent more time at each others homes than out and about. In New York most of our friends were single, while in Michigan they were married.

As Teddy got older, more and more of our friends became single parents families, but there remained a distinct difference between them and us. My previously married friends wanted to socialize without their kids when they were with their former spouses, while I still wanted to socialize including Teddy. The most popular topic of conversation was also the shortcomings of their Ex. This put strains on relationships that became tenuous at best. The one friendship that stayed strong was with a mom whose husband traveled. She and I socialized with her kids and mine while her husband was away. She also received a tidy income baby-sitting while I socialized without Teddy.

There was another difference between me and all of my friends with children who had once had two parents: I had a social life. Teddy was accustomed to socializing with me with both men and women, and encouraged me to date. He loved to stay at our friend’s Sue’s house while I dated single men. He enjoyed helping me choose what to dress up in, brush my hair, and bring me my make-up. I dated without negative reactions from my son, but my divorced female friends rarely dated out of concern for their children’s feelings.

The Internet expanded my dating opportunities tremendously. I could initiate a friendship with a person online, and essentially date online after Teddy went to bed. When an online relationship seemed to have more potential, I could meet face-to-face. One relationship became so promising a man in England to came to visit. This relationship promised so much that Teddy and I to move to England to continue it full-time.

Teddy and I lived in a household with another adult for the first time when we moved to England. This was the first time in his life Teddy ever had to share me, but it was not this that caused our greatest familial conflict, but differences in child rearing strategies. The very first argument I recall with my new partner John was regarding dinner. Teddy and I had eaten dinner together every night of his life and to do anything different never occurred to me, whereas John was accustomed to quite the opposite. Children were quiet and attentive during the few dinners they were invited to eat with adults. After considerable discussion we finally reached a solution that neither of us was completely happy with. Two nights a week Teddy would eat earlier alone, three nights he would eat with us, Wednesday night Teddy would eat alone with me and John would go out with friends, and the final night would depend upon circumstances. (These circumstances included that every other week John had a visitation with his two sons for two days and nights.)

Teddy, 1996, England
Teddy, 1996, England

These nights when Teddy was to eat alone, he did not eat alone, he ate with me sitting there with him, but it never ceased to feel quite foreign to me. These evenings did give him the opportunity to eat food combinations that only he enjoyed, and invariably he helped me cook to eventually learn to cook himself alone. I think Teddy adapted to these circumstances better than I did. Wednesday nights did become quite enjoyable as these were the nights we ate American dishes that John could not quite stomach like macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, Jello salad, and anything with peanut butter.

Another major bone of contention became school. The first few months we lived in England school were the least of my worries. We had not yet settled to live anywhere permanent, and Teddy and I had a whole new country to explore and a new culture to learn. Both John and I were impressed at how accepting everyone one was of Teddy. John had never been around a child like Teddy, and he was really unsure how we would be received. Teddy created almost instant friendships with the children in the neighborhood where we lived. The doorbell rang constantly with kids coming in and out. Some of these kids took advantage of Teddy I have no doubt, but generally he was involved in genuine friendships. We also were never stared at in public or treated poorly: I had no expectation of people behaving badly toward us, but John did.

When we finally moved house to the country, John worried that acceptance here would not be as easily gotten as it had in the city. Again, he was wrong; the acceptance here was greater than I ever expected. I felt welcomed in a way I never could have imagined. Teddy quickly learned to navigate the small town and would spend hours each day hanging out in one store and then another talking to storekeepers and customers. He would wear out his welcome and be asked to leave, but he was never asked to never return.

Teddy would have his first job in England. It had not occurred to me that he was ready for a job, but it had occurred to the fish shop next door that he could be of some help. Each morning Teddy woke up early before the shop opened for customers, and he chopped parsley and other herbs for the fish cakes made each morning. Eventually, he also learned to handle the fish. Teddy advertised the goodness of the fish cakes far and wide and people were known to come in and ask for them by the name of “Teddy’s Fish Cakes.”

After we settled into our new house I went to the local school to enroll Teddy, and was sorely disappointed at the response I received. They were a small school and felt unable to meet Teddy’s needs and refused to enroll him. I was told he would have to be evaluated, and then he would be placed appropriately. I was asked to visit the local special school; it had smoothed over engraving in the stone above the door from years past, “School for Imbeciles.” The writing on the wall was clear to me and I would have none of it.

For many months I argued with the school administration, and it was finally resolved that if I could find a school to take Teddy, they would provide the supports he needed. I met with every school head master in the county and none would budge. I could convince no one to take Teddy on as a pupil.

This caused a massive strain in the relationship between John and me. First, John could not understand my adamant stance against the special school, and second, he believed Teddy belonged in school no matter what the school. We argued, and I cried until the choice became clear: Teddy would go to special school or we leave England. Teddy went to school.

Teddy loved school. He considered himself a teacher and caregiver. He pushed children using wheelchairs, comforted kids crying on floor mats, carried things from here to there, and thought of himself as a role model. I hated it. This was not what I wanted from school for Teddy. Over time, John came to agree with me. But, just as it is too often the case, once you accept the worst case scenario, there is no way out of it. Had I realized that the relationship I had with John would be short-lived, perhaps I would have accepted special school more graciously.

Although this relationship with John, and in time his two sons lasted only three years, it has represented more than just three years to Teddy. John came into Teddy’s life when he was entering puberty and much of how he has shaped himself as an adult I see as a reflection of John. The relationship I was in with John never ceased to be a romantic and sexually charged one: Teddy grew to appreciate his mom very differently through John’s eyes. John used a knife and fork in a typical continental style: Teddy does too even five years after leaving England. But perhaps most importantly, John has served to be that elusive father that all kids have, but as the adopted child of a single parent Teddy has never had.

Teddy tells anyone who asks him about his family that his mother is Susan, and his father is John and that he has two brothers that they live in England. Teddy to the best of my knowledge has never negated that he has a disability or any other fact of his life, but he seems to take great satisfaction in being able to have someone to call his father – even someone with whom he will likely never again have any contact with. This need definitely has to do with his public persona as he will often tell me sadly that “John not my father anymore. My brothers are not my brothers. It makes me sad.”

Next chapter (unfinished): Family Identity

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