Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In which I try and not step on any toes...

There's one particular phenomenon, in the land of many adoption related phenomenons, especially when you have children who have a different skin tone than you.  It USUALLY comes from very well meaning individuals who are just curious about your diverse looking tribe and in my case a very large diverse looking tribe.  These scenarios sometimes look a little something like this.  I stroll (read clamor) into our sweet little lakeside park for lunch (offered FREE during the summer) and trailing  behind me is my gaggle of delightful brown children.  We are obviously not biologically connected in any way, shape or form.  Even my lightest skinned kiddo is leaps and bounds too dark to warrant me being married to a black man and ending any curious questioning or assumptions.  We are a family made entirely by adoption and at this point everyone knows it.  To clarify, this actually doesn't bother me at all and truthfully I don't notice almost 80% of the time.  It's the life and path God chose for us and that He chose for our kids so at this juncture it's pretty normal for ME.  One of the many things I love about our community is the amount of adoptive families we have around us, even white parents who have adopted black children which is amazing!  I love that my kids have peers in their life who at some point could be a sounding board for struggles and a really really beautiful relationship of understanding what pain and loss in this heartbreaking form feels like.

"Where did they come from?"
"Are they all siblings?"
"Did you GET them when they were older?"
"You did a really great thing by bringing them home to your family."
"How did you find them?"

These very pointed and personal questions have been asked of me in front of my kids, in fact almost all of these happened during one agonizingly long conversation with a woman at the park who is also an adoptive mother.  Was I mad at her?  No.  Was I surprised at her candor after only having met me two minutes before?  Yes.  I left the park that day with the most curious feelings of are these questions really accepted and deemed appropriate in the adoptive community?  I am all about resources and support and laying my crap bare but that's ME, that's my crap, I get to decide when and how to share it.  If that's with a perfect stranger, go for it.  But I'm talking about their stories.  Their sad and painful stories full of deep pain and loss and so much confusion.  Their stories that are littered with abuse, neglect, abandonment, exposure, mistreatment, mistrust, fear, inadequacy and the list goes on.  Would you like it if someone told your story to a stranger?  If they didn't ask your permission to share it and maybe even got some of the details wrong?  I think sometimes our community of adoptive families wants so badly to be forthright and helpful and transparent but we're missing the mark in a large way.  Our kids, especially foster kids, are stripped of any kind of privacy once they come into care.  They have multiple workers who know their story.  They have advocates who know their story.  They have public records of court documents a mere google search away.  Sometimes they have multiple foster families who know their story and nothing is sacred anymore.  I agree that information sharing is necessary in our social services system but the amount of turn around is so immense that it just becomes a runaway train.  I don't believe that this can be helped within the bounds of child protective services but can it not be helped among the families harboring these sweet hurting souls?  It's important that you understand the tone of what I'm writing is not angry.  It's desperate.  I am desperate for discretion.  I am desperate for protecting what little they have left.  I am desperate for us to come together and learn how to share the struggle without sharing THE struggle.  To step away from the little listening ears and ask advice about a particular situation.  I have failed at this multiple times and I think that's what really struck me that day at the park.  I'm just as guilty for answering those questions in great detail as she is for asking them.  How can I politely respond while protecting their privacy?  I'm known to be outspoken, sarcastic, and have facial expressions that pretty much sum up entirely what I'm feeling inside.  It's both a blessing and a curse (leaning more towards 80% blessing and 20% curse).

Hear me out on this guys.  Just because you have an adopted/foster child does not give you carte blanche to ask deeply personal questions to a stranger.  I think we know when we see each other, we've got each others backs.  We know what THIS is like.  We don't need to rehash we just need to be discreet, something that THEY don't get to be too often when they have a white mother.  The reality is they aren't just hearing these things from adults, they are also hearing these things from their peers.  Twice this week I had a child come up and ask if they were adopted, once with my daughter and once in front of my other children.  Different is good yes?  Different can sometimes make people rethink what is expected.  It can make white mommies with black babies look less conspicuous.  Different can open up conversations about families and how God decided to bring them all together just like seeing other mom's with babies in their tummies.  We talk about adoption in our house openly.  We talk about how God did this exact same thing for us when He sent his Son as the ultimate sacrifice, we are adopted into His family.  We don't shy away from discussing the concept of adoption or being adopted because it is the life we live.  Let's do each other a favor, let's agree to find our close few and share the gory details.  That's what friends are for.  That's what community is for.  Let's cry and laugh and lament with our close few.  Let's celebrate the moments they call you "mom", when you see the look of relief on their face after returning HOME from a long trip, when they take ownership, when they give in to what they always hoped to feel again...connected.  Loved.  Treasured.

To answer her questions:

Missouri & Florida.
Yes.
Varying ages.
Thanks.  (I got nothing on this one.  I never know what to say so I have to answer quickly before my facial expressions take over)
The internet.



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Monday, February 22, 2016

In which I prefer her...

Probably ten times in the last month I have sat down at my computer and thought about diving into discussing the world of attachment.  Yet every time I start to write I get so overwhelmed with how huge that concept is and how many bunny trails there are not to mention how literally every families make up and path is so different than the next.  I want to be honest but I don't want to scare or offend (usually).  I want to help but I don't want some to think if my suggestions don't work then there's something "wrong" with them.  So I'm going to try to figure out the delicate and perhaps impossible formula needed to accomplish helping....wait are you ready for it....ME.  If what I share helps someone other than myself and my family well then, that's a bonus.  PRESSURE GONE!
Moving forward to what's on my heart today.

The truth is, I prefer her.  I prefer my first girl over any of my other four right now.   She brings me comfort, just looking at her even from a room away.  Her smile, her laugh, just her being her makes me FEEL so much love towards her.  SHE is familiar.  The truth about attachment is that it's basically torture for someone like me who is wildly impatient and prefers instant gratification.  We brought our first girl home to us when she was four months old and even though it was an adjustment of life in general I was dealing in new mom world with a little human that didn't talk yet and hadn't the slightest clue she would never live with her birth mom again.  Her not knowing offered me a three to four year buffer of preparation for harder conversations.  We built a foundation of trust together so when the sadness of these upcoming conversations took place I could hold her and feel it alongside her.  It seems weird to say it but this was the "ideal" situation even though a child losing their parent(s) is never the "ideal" situation.

Here's one of the icky parts of attachment...coming to terms with the fact that you prefer one child over another and trying not to feel guilt with that feeling.  Sure there are moments when the others can make me laugh, or make me proud, or lean into to me for a hug and a kiss or a word of encouragement but I don't feel the same feels towards them right now.  I'm getting there with some and I'm still very much working on it with others.  This is hard.  This causes me to cry many tears.  This causes me to be on high alert with intentionality, and you want to know how often I fail at that?  Every day, multiple times a day.  Ya'll I'm doing this new relationship building thing x4 while trying to maintain what I have spent five years building with another.  More times than I care to admit I try to do life on my own without calling on my Savior to lead the way.  All of my efforts and best attempts to create relationships, parent these children well, help with homework, run them here and there are never going to take root until I realize that I am not even in control of one single ounce of the outcome.  The other day my Father lead me to this in a devotional I was reading..."Good morning, Lord.  I lift up my voice in desperate need of your mercy right now--this day!  My only option is You.  My life is a wilderness without you."  The sooner I make this prayer my habit daily the sooner the pressure of motherhood won't have as big of an impact on me.  The sooner I make this prayer my habit daily and employ the insane truth behind these words the better my efforts will be towards building relationships with my new four.  Will I fail?  Of course.  But my Savior and my God proves to me time and time again in His Word that He prefers flawed people over people pretending to be perfect any day of the week.  This is a concept I can get behind.

To my new four...some day we'll all fit together in this house and we'll all learn trust and healing just the way God planned it for us.



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Friday, January 15, 2016

In which we find what works, for the moment....

My personality is such that the idea of ambiguity is utter nonsense to me.  Why wonder when you can just ask the question and get the answer?  At times this does not bode well for mine and Tyler's relationship because homeboy likes to wallow in the land of ambiguity like its his day job.  SO I'm not saying my way is the right way,  I'm just saying...my way SEEMS to be the right way.  ;)  When we brought the Fantastic Four home to us I realized very quickly that there was power in an answer but even more power in permission to feel a certain way.  Call out those feelings of sadness and loss, put it out there so others can feel it with you, for our oldest boy this helped him so much.  He remembers life with his birth mom, he remembers life with all of his foster placements, and now he remembers life with us.  In this world of adopting out of foster care there is not a single thing you can say or do that will speed up what only TIME can provide.  Time together, getting to know each other, living life together can only happen 24 hours at a time and when you've missed out on the first three to eight years of someone's life this can be a hard pill to swallow at times.  I remember very clearly a time with our oldest, he had just finished having a fairly huge meltdown.  To the average person this meltdown would have come out of nowhere, not a single playback in your mind could point towards one particular clarifying moment that caused such a reaction.  These meltdowns usually ended with him sobbing while sitting on mine or Tyler's lap and then...the REAL reason would be revealed.  And this time there was hesitation on his part, "I really miss my mom."  I realized then and there that this little broken soul needed permission to miss the very woman who carried him in her belly for nine months at the age of 15.  He needed permission to to verbalize the loss of a connection with a woman who quite frankly did not want to fight for him and his siblings (this is not information he is aware of yet).  He needed permission to say those words and not have me tell him "that's ridiculous", "I'm your mom now", "your'e never going to see her again anyway", "just get over it". I gave him that permission and the look on his face was something I will never ever forget.  He was relieved.  Guys, I'm telling you right now when I choose WHAT I want to share on this platform it is a very teeny glimpse into the amount of hurt and disappointment that my first boy has endured in his nine short years.  When I share with you mine and Tyler's responses it is a very teeny glimpse into the two of us actually doing and saying the right thing at the right time compared to the other hundred times we do it and say it wrong.  It is not by our might and our power that we prevail against what the devil had hoped for in our new children's lives.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit in us that breaks down those walls of our very own sin and allows us to communicate in ways that are beyond our immediate control.  There is so much power in how HE loves us by showing up in something like clarity of thought.  When we sit there and watch a little boy exhibit behavior that frightens his siblings and hurts our feelings there is nothing inside of me that would immediately want to choose to draw him in, but the beauty of the God we serve and the God we love is that He will ALWAYS choose to draw us in.  He will ALWAYS choose to step into that mess arms wide open, ready to take the hit.
Last night Tyler and I gave our son permission to believe in himself.  To believe that he is capable of great things.  To believe that those horrible words his previous foster mom told him about himself are absolutely not true.  We challenged him to understand what sorry actually means and why it's important to the people he loves to admit when he's wrong and to follow that admission up with a sincere apology.  We continued an ongoing conversation about respecting authority and how seeing the value in that is better than living a life where he thinks he shouldn't have to answer to anybody.  Our prayer for him from the very beginning is that his healing would be swift, not for our benefit but for his and that yes God is in complete control but there's still a responsibility he holds to make the right choice.  
Last night, through all of our tears at our kitchen table we gave him permission to believe that he can be different and that different is wonderful and that this world is better because he is in it.  We gave him permission to mess up and make mistakes but that sorry and trying to do differently the next time  is where it really counts.  Last night, we made progress in our loss of time.  I'm not naive enough to think I won't get another phone call from the teacher or that he won't be disrespectful but I have to believe that because God chose him as His very own that there will be progress.  There will be real change and that it has nothing to do with me, what a relief.  Oh how He loves us.


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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

In which month seven brings on the fire...

We're seven months in.  If I had written this post six months in it would have been peppered with "it's hard but you know we've turned a corner I think" or "it's messy sometimes but for the most part I think we're managing it well."  Month seven?  It's kicking our tail.  Like the tail is gone and the body is just a mangled mess of "are we doing things completely wrong" or "are they even feeling like this is home yet?"  SO many things to work through and so much pain that manifests itself in the worst ways.  What we're dealing with now is, finalization.  Next Thursday we fly back to their home city and attend court on Friday to make this thing official, and I'm pretty sure that's what the mess of month seven is all about.  Finality.  Going back "home" but not having any home to go to or any one person to visit because everyone that has been in their lives has hurt them, enabled them, and changed them but with our kids that doesn't necessarily mean they don't WANT to see them.  There's such a tough balance between wanting them to know you're excited for the permanency of them being an official part of your family but at the same time respecting their sadness and confusion over an official goodbye to their birthplace, family and a very sordid past. I was traveling home from Florida at the end of the September with Jashawn in tow and I had this thought...I wonder if he feels relief in knowing that at the end of our 19 hours in the car he will feel like he really is at HOME.  Did he miss it?  Did he long for it?  Because I'll tell you I'm 33 years old and sometimes I still want to be HOME, in my childhood home on Banyan Drive.  There's no other feeling like it, the familiar drive and faces, and the fact that I celebrated birthday's there, holiday's, there's a spaghetti noodle stain on the ceiling in the dining room that my mom has purposefully left there because she knows it reminds her grown children of the time they were probably making her crazy and threw the noodle up there in the first place.  I learned to drive and ride a bike on that street, walked to my friends houses on that street, the pantry door still doesn't close right and I can hear the sound of the back door opening and closing just the same way it always did when my dad would come home every day from work.  The hardest part is that I want them feel connected to this now because my desire is for them to understand what they've been missing for the sole purpose of mending those tiny little broken hearts.
Tonight I tried to reason with my oldest son about why his behavior wasn't acceptable.  I used a calm tone, I was very careful to use my words so as not to allow him the distraction of inaccuracy and I defied in my person every possible stubborn reaction to his hurtful words (which if you know me you know that this was a complete act of God).  This is the dance we do, me and him.  He moves towards me in desperate need of my love, acceptance and affection and then realizes it might cause him hurt so then he serves me up a big ole platter of "I'll show you how much I don't need you".  It hurts.  It didn't hurt in the beginning because time was not on our side, I knew it wasn't ME it was THEM.  It was HER.  SHE left him home for hours at a time to care for his siblings by himself.  SHE allowed unsafe people into her home.  SHE moved them time and time again.  SHE abused drugs.  SHE said unkind things.  SHE called the abuse hotline on HERSELF.  SHE had no intentions of working a case plan and not having her rights terminated.  HIS pain was HER doing but HIS love for HER is still there.  I'm acutely aware that it always will be, and no matter how many books, blogs, forums, articles I read that told me of this phenomenon I knew that I would have to experience it firsthand to truly believe it.  Loving children from hard places cannot be compared to anything else in this world...not one thing.  It puts you in this little bubble that very few people understand and heightens your awareness of how they are treated and causes you to have clarifying conversations almost daily with those in their life.  You want them to be treated just like everybody else, you want that stigma gone because you want them to feel connected and not "weird" to their peers but you also have to come to terms with how that's completely unreasonable.  They must be treated differently because they weren't treated with care in the beginning and I find myself juggling school expectations, family expectations, friend expectations, home expectations and truly, honestly, there are different expectations in all those scenarios.  You just have to but your big girl panties on and keep juggling.  Sure you can take a break and go cry your eyes out in the bathroom but honey you better come back out with those balls a jugglin' because you're in charge of the undoing.  That is in fact what you signed up for when you not so nervously inquired about a sibling group of four in the foster care system.  


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Thursday, May 28, 2015

In which it becomes a fact my mother was actually Superwoman...

I'll tell you right now there's a lot of reflection that comes with adding four kids at one time.  Reflecting on yourself and your needs and wants and their needs and wants while managing a home, a marriage, individual relationships with each child, friendships, extended family, I mean the list could literally go on forever.  Most people have some time to you know, ease into certain aspects of their life changing and make adjustments along the way as needed but we didn't so here we are and this is life and it's beautiful most days and I'm not asking for special treatment.
My mother had seven children.  SEVEN whole children grew in that precious woman's belly and became seven whole children that needed her all day every day until...well I still need her all day every day but in less of a change my poop pants and more of a HOW ON EARTH DID YOU DO THIS kind of way.  Ok lets be honest, perhaps recently there are some days where poop is in my pants.  ;0)  I always tell people (mostly those itching to get out of the house and become "adults") that I didn't find true appreciation for my mom until I moved a thousand miles away for college.  It was then I figured out that she did a lot of freaking stuff for me!  And then of course when I became a mom for the first time we could exchange stories of the usual first mom concerns and laugh it up but I'll tell you...crap just got real when I became a mother of five over night.  Like so real that daily I'm reminded how much more she did for me than was even humanly possible.  I know I said thank you but Lord knows I didn't say it enough because the fact of the matter is if I said thank you every single time that saint of a woman did something for me I'd have said it to her about 25 times a DAY at least.  This role?  It's huge.  And quite frankly?  It's thankless most days...in fact there are times where I even ask for thanks.  I am almost ashamed at myself for what I imagine was the same behavior I exhibited as a child that my own children do when I place their HOME COOKED meal in front of them and at least one complains that I put five pieces of sausage on someone else's plate and only four on theirs.  For the love.  How did they know I show favoritism with sausage quantity?!  I digress...with us specifically we aren't teaching this masterful art form of being grateful to children we've had since birth, we're teaching it to children who haven't been taught it consistently if at all and that my friends, is hard.  Onward and upward, we'll get it figured out and a rhythm will happen...and just like my last post there will be moments where the thank you's are organic and the appreciation is expressed in others ways too.
This morning, I called my precious mother on the phone and was only able to utter five words before bursting into tears.  "I just want to say"...thank you.  Thank you for the late night runs to the store to get an item for a project I told you about at the last second.  Thank you for making me food every live long day.  Thank you for staying up late to switch the laundry so I could wear something special to school the next day.  Thank you for being funny and letting me see you be funny.  Thank you for wiping my butt and for teaching me to not pee and poop my pants and for cleaning up my puke.  Thank you for doing my laundry and picking up a toy I left out on the floor that the dog probably would have eaten that you warned me about leaving out ten times.  Thank you for being there.  For showing me what it looks like to take care of a home and a family, for teaching me how to cook, and for trusting me when I deserved to be trusted.  Thank you freezing my juice boxes so that at lunch when it came time to drink it was still cold.  Mama, thank you so much for praying for me especially now.  The beauty of the similarities we share as "mother" don't have a single thing to do with HOW we came into that role in the first place.  Babies in bellies, baby pick ups in conference rooms or airports.  She gets it.  She gets my exhaustion and my despair.  She gets my complaints and she takes it all in and just assures me that there is pay off eventually, with phone calls just like the one we were having in fact.  My mother was and is still superwoman, I am convinced of nothing less.  So if you're mother is still living, or if you were raised by someone who filled this role in your life, please call her.  Thank her for changing your life by simply taking care of you.  She deserves to hear it, and she deserves to hear it a lot.  And if for some horrible reason your mother was the furthest thing from the woman I described above, please know...there is redemption in a changed path.  Commit to do and act opposite of the woman who played no real part in showing you these values.  There is real beauty in the choice of making that promise to yourself.  YOU deserve it.  Undoubtedly.



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Monday, May 25, 2015

In which we discuss "the gracious one"...

Can we talk about this girl for a minute?  

Like even as I'm writing this my eyes are filled with tears reflecting on what has now been our life these last almost six weeks.  Four and a half years ago her eyes met mine in a conference room here's-your-new-baby-meet-the-birth-mom-sign-these-papers-good-luck-new-parents-goodbye exchange and we began this insanely delicate life long relationship of mother and daughter.  She was the easiest baby to get to smile.  She was beautiful, to the point that in any given shopping trip or outing I would have no less than five people on average stop and tell me how beautiful she was.  Being that I'm average looking at best I began to wonder how I would parent someone whose looks on the outside didn't dictate their worth entirely.  Tyler and I joked frequently about how we would parent a "pretty" child!  We began sprinkling in more "you're so smart"s and "you're so kind"s and commented on those things that internally make her the most beautiful little girl.  With parenting so much is done with this kind of thing in the beginning years with almost little to no visual pay off to even know if its working...until the day you bring four kids into HER house, to use HER toys, to need HER parents, and who aren't necessarily as receptive to "us" being family to them yet.  From the beginning of this year long process I prayed specifically that she would be accepted into their already existing family and vice versa, that she would accept them into ours.  She called them her brothers and sisters right away and drew pictures of us all together before they even came home to us.  At night time when we would say prayers she would almost never forget to pray for them and a few times a week ask when they would come home to us BUT when it came time to put actual actions with those words?  She freaking delivered.  And I wasn't surprised at all.  My girl, she's clutch like that.  Like a kind gracious ninja using hugs and laughter as her weapons, she is the very essence of believing the best about someone and I seriously am so proud of her.  Has it been all fun and games completely void of meltdowns or new behavior?  Of course not, she's only human.  Has it been filled with moments where she fights for what's right, thanks God for them during her dinner prayers and looks like a giddy little school girl when she's going to bed with her sisters?  Yes.  And those moments?  They are so worth it.  They are reassurance to us that being gracious and kind are more long lasting than being beautiful and we have a front row seat and are her biggest fans.  To my first girl and the gracious one, when I get to wake up and see your face in the morning I count myself as the luckiest mama in the world.  When I hear your laugh, hug your neck and kiss your cheeks I never want to stop.  Thank you for being to me what I never knew I needed.    



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Saturday, May 9, 2015

In which five little people sign their name on my Mother's Day card...

Today I received a Mother's Day card in which five little people signed their names, two or three of them truly feeling the connection with me as their mother and another two or three who probably still aren't sure just yet.  This holiday is different for a lot of reasons and in the spirit of full disclosure I can honestly say, I don't feel the connection with all of them yet either.  In fact, I said to Tyler the other night after the worlds largest meltdown..."Is it wrong that I just want to take Emery out and celebrate this day with just her?  What does that say about me?".  And how many of them wish it wasn't me they are celebrating tomorrow but instead the foster mom they just spent over two years of their life with or their biological mom who even though she left them alone for hours at a time still carried them in her belly and are connected in similarities like hair, eyes, and skin color.
One of the tricky things about raising children who are adopted is that this holiday?  It can wreak havoc on their psyche.  All week in school the two oldest worked on little projects here and there that they are supposed to give me for mother's day, and my question is...do they even want to?  All of these reflections, all of these questions and musings are not my Debbie Downer moments at all, it's just the reality of the way we chose to build our family and the hurt that is associated with these very traditional holiday's.  Do we deserve a medal?  No.  Do we want people to feel badly for us?  Never.  Do I want other adoptive parents to know they aren't alone when navigating this rocky terrain?  Without a doubt.  Parenting children from tough places is hands down the hardest thing we've ever done before and we knew it would be.  We didn't imagine this mentality of "oh sweet mother and father, thank you ever so much for giving me a roof over my head, food to eat, and clothes to wear.  However can I serve you this evening."  Sometimes I describe it like there are five little fires burning, lets just call them burn piles so as not to be dramatic.  There are five little burn piles going and we naturally must tend to the one that is getting a little out of hand, sometimes this requires both of us.  When it doesn't the other runs to the next bigger pile and helps keep that one under fire code but then runs back quickly to previous burn pile because the wind has kicked it up a little bit and it needs managed closely.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  For the last 23 days we have tended to these burn piles some days with success and other days with complete failure...and each morning we have to wake up, dust ourselves off and start fresh.  Start with forgiveness.  Start with grace and mercy.  With kindness and love and with the promise of the love of a Savior who has us all hemmed in tightly.
Here is what I know.  Next year will be different.  Next year there will be connection with most if not all.  Next year that week of school will still bring back painful memories of those they miss but I have a little bit of hope that when someone says the word "mom" instead of a question mark, my face will be the one flashing in their mind.
To my little fires, I know these days have been tough and I know that you're tired and that probably more than the fingers on your hands you have wished to go back home to what you know and stare into the faces of those familiar to you.  This little fire dance we're doing?  We'll get it sooner or later and it'll be the best ever and we'll win competitions because of it.  Because we chose to spend hours practicing it and perfecting it and it will become very secondhand to us, very normal and we'll look at each other wondering how in the world we lived our lives separately for so long.  Until that day comes, we'll mess up.  We'll miss some dance practices but we'll get back up, dust ourselves off and promise to do better next time.  I love you.



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