When her only child left for college, Jill decided to refeather her empty nest through adoption, fulfilling a lifelong dream that would take her on a whole new journey.
Tell us a little about you and your next act…
I live in San Antonio, Texas, where I was born and raised. I’m married with a 22-year-old daughter and two four-year-old sons. I have a degree in social psychology and some graduate work towards a master of public administration…but I’m not really sure what I want to be when I grow up. My husband Lee and I decided to adopt shortly after our daughter left home—it was our answer to the “empty nest” syndrome!
When did you start to think about adoption?
The idea of adoption really started to take hold after our daughter had been out on her own for about a year. We had talked about it a little bit but never seriously. When I got serious about it, I think Lee was a little taken back but it wasn’t as if I had to arm-twist him into it. Lee and I had only been married to each other for 4 years, so we’d not had children together. Biological children weren’t possible because I’d already had a hysterectomy.
I think there’s always one parent who “wants it more” and I was that parent, but Lee’s a fantastic father. The best. Adoption was something I’d wanted to do all my life. I’d looked into it a few times as a single woman but never pursued it seriously. We were 44 and 48 when we started looking at adoption options. We were definitely older than most “new parents.”
How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?
Surprisingly, not hard. At first, my husband was like, “You want to do what?” but once we decided that was the path we wanted to take, things rolled forward pretty naturally.
We prepared by taking adoption classes and doing lots of paperwork. Our kids are from China and there’s a ton of paperwork that goes along with international adoptions. That said…we weren’t prepared. These kids rocked our world and changed absolutely everything about our life. I love getting to experience this stage of kid life again. It’s tiring…but it’s really fun.
The boys have changed things in a good way, but in looking back, I don’t see how we could have really prepared. I think any adoptive parent in our shoes is fooling themselves if they think they’re really prepared…but the beauty was in the crazy roller coaster ride.
How supportive were your family and friends?
Our friendships and relationships really changed because of our adoptions. Before our boys came along, most of our friends were couples with older kids or were childless. Wine until midnight and lazy mornings quickly became macaroni and cheese and early nights, so our friendships changed. As a side note, relating to some of the parents of my sons’ friends is hard. A lot of them are in their twenties and I’m almost 50!
I think most people were supportive on the surface but I know there were some people who didn’t approve of our choices – whether that was in being older parents or adopting kids from another country, I’m not sure, but our first year as parents to the boys definitely resulted in some pruning.
We received the most support from other families who have adopted, hands down. The requirement for China is for parents to be at least 30, so we’ve connected with families that way. We find more common ground with other adoptive families than just people we meet organically.
Tell us about the boys…
We adopted Zack at 26 months, and Kyle, a year later, when he had just turned 3. They are four months apart and they are not biologically related. They are both very outgoing, happy kids. Zack is more sensitive and Kyle is more aggressive. They are both into Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Peppa Pig, and the Power Rangers. And the Ninja Turtles. And loud things that annoy me. They play with action figures, blocks, etc. They are really good boys.
Laura, our daughter, has a great relationship with the boys. Her only gripe was that she wanted a brother growing up and didn’t get one until she was all grown up!
How did you come to adopt two kids, boys, and from China?
We decided NOT to adopt from the US because we were living in England for a while and would not have been able to adopt domestically and take the child abroad, away from state supervision. We didn’t want to work with a birth mom (for a variety of reasons, our ages being one). We chose China over Russia, Bulgaria, and Ethiopia and because it was a stable program with few known ethics problems.
There are a ton of boys available for adoption in China. Most of them are older or have special needs. Zack has a hand deformity (which isn’t really a special need for us) and Kyle has some congenital GI issues which really aren’t a big deal—some extra maintenance and doctor visits but we’re able to manage.
We were open to a both boys and girls but the agency sent us Zack’s file and we decided to move forward. He was dressed in pastel green ruffles in the first picture we ever saw of him, so I thought he was a girl at first! We didn’t plan to adopt two, initially. We decided we wanted to adopt again after we brought Zack home. At that point, being familiar with the China program, we decided to specifically look for a boy to adopt, so our agency only showed us boy files. It’s pretty easy to adopt a younger boy with a very mild special need and the wait time is shorter.
We went to China twice; it’s required with that program. We had to stay about 2 weeks each time. The process took about 18 months for Zack, about 9 months for Kyle, but we reused part of our adoption dossier for Kyle’s adoption, so some of the paperwork was still valid. I’d say 1-2 years is about average for the special needs program in China. The non-special needs program is all but shut down, from what I understand. Our last adoption was in the summer of 2013, so some things might have changed.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I learned I don’t care that much about what other people think. I’ve learned to drill down and get to the root of what’s really important and that often, the things we stress and obsess about daily aren’t things that really matter in the long run. My words of advice? Run your own race. Figure out what’s going to fulfill you and move toward that. Don’t worry about what people will say because that probably doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
What words of advice do you have for those interested in adoption in midlife?
You need to really do your homework. This path isn’t for everyone and, believe me, I meet plenty of women my age who say “I could never do that.” But if you have an inkling that mothering again at midlife is for you, really examine why. There are times to follow your heart but I think adoption is one time when you have to let your head take the lead. Definitely let your heart have a say-so, but don’t make emotional decisions about adoption.
That said, the benefits of adoption in midlife are manyfold: more money, more job stability, more patience, more confidence. I know exactly who I am and I appreciate everything I have. I take nothing for granted, especially time. Here’s an article I wrote on the subject for The Washington Post.
My best advice is to be in shape and to really have thick skin. The kids require a lot of energy and I want to take care of myself to be healthy for them. Also, the first time you’re asked “are you the grandmother” is really kind of awful. You can’t take it personally. And laugh! Even when things suck and you want to complain, cry or throw stuff. Try to find the humor. You may have to look really hard, but it’s usually there, somewhere.
What is your advice to women who adopt a child of another race? What can they expect?
You become a transracial/multiracial family in an instant and you stand out. You think you can prepare for that, but you really can’t unless you’ve grown up in a racially mixed family, which I did not. I imagine this is different based on where you live.
We try to honor the boys’ heritage, but it’s really a challenge. We don’t know any Chinese people and we don’t really live in an area where there’s a big Asian population. It would be weird to walk up to some Chinese person in a store and say, “Hey, you’re Chinese, let’s be friends.” We celebrate the lunar new year and I regularly make some Chinese dishes or we go out to eat Chinese food. Their taste buds are very Asian, LOL.
We would love to take them on a heritage trip to China one day and let them see where they came from, however, that’s going to be pretty far in the future. They’re going to have to really understand it and want it; it’s a very expensive trip. I guess a good age to take them for the first time is probably about 9-10.
Here’s more on the subject: “$h!t No to Say to Multiracial Families.”
You have a blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals—how did you get started?
I started blogging when we first announced Zack’s adoption. I thought people would be interested in updates, but the reaction from our family and friends was a little lukewarm. I kept plugging away with my first blog, Adding Branches to Our Family Tree, in the hopes that it would be sort of a journal one day for my boys. Plus, I found I enjoyed it. Through my blog, I started connecting with a bunch of other adoptive families and, for a while, my blog was written as sort of an informative tool for other families who were adopting from China.
I wrote a few things that were more editorial and not like journal entries. Then, I wrote something that wasn’t about adoption at all. I started reading some other “mommy blogs” and then found collaborative sites like Scary Mommy and Babble. I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time, and I saw sites like that as a springboard to getting more readers, connecting with more people (outside the adoption community) and improving my writing, so I decided to get a “real blog” and build my own website.
The name, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals, came to me when I was running. I wanted something that described the place where my worlds collide—trying to be sort of hip and young but realizing that I’m getting old and wearing out. It was between that and Jillville. My mission is to build a community of people that come back to read what I have to say. I think I’m on the right track with that.
What resources do you recommend?
Anything written by the author Kay Bratt such as : Chasing China; A Daughter’s Quest for Truth or The Scavenger’s Daughters (Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters Book 1).
For transracial, domestic adoption, the book Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children by Rachel Garlinghouse as well as her blog White Sugar, Brown Sugar.
America Adopts! Facebook community with great resources for open adoption. Really, there is no great resource for women adopting at midlife, which is one of the reasons I started my blog. I’ve connected with a lot of moms who adopt at a “later” age but there’s not a lot written on how to parent little kids when you’re going through menopause.
If you’re interested in reading more about my take on adoption matters, check out:
What¹s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?
Writing! May will be the first anniversary of my blog and, although I don’t like to brag, I have done pretty well. I’ve gotten my work published on some great sites—Washington Post is one I’m really proud of—and I’ve started working on my book in earnest.
The book is a collection of essays about being a mom at midlife and adoption. I had been calling it My Own in my head for a while but a friend of mine in publishing told me to call it something more descriptive like Musings of Adoption at Midlife or something like that, but I don’t love that title. I hope to have it ready for publication in 2016.
I was also cast in Listen to Your Mother, Austin, where I’ll be reading an adoption piece. I’m earning a little pocket money and I’m excited to be able to say I think I can transition into a full-time writing career in a year or two.
I think if we’re not open to reinventing ourselves, then we’re potentially shortchanging ourselves. Life is change and change is often good. We should be more open to shaking things up now and then. It keeps us on our toes and that keeps us young.
Contact Jill at email@example.com
Jill is a sometime runner and expert wine taster from sunny San Antonio. She has a degree in social psychology, one husband, and three children. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Babble and she’s a regular contributing writer for Blunt Moms. She blogs about adoption, motherhood, and midlife on Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. Hang out with Jill on Facebook and Twitter.