>Break Out

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I’ve been stewing about some things lately. You know what that means: a jumbly rambling possibly ranting post. Fair warning.

It’s just that I’m getting tired. Not physically tired, psychically tired.  Emotionally and intellectually tired.   I’m just dipping my toes into a new pool of sorts. And while we’ve lived with some of this for, oh, seven years or so….the more formal social and educational aspect of this is hitting closer to home now.

Now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, I want to say it out loud. But this term, this subject, is loaded. It is rife with taboos and thorns and unwritten rules, as well as rules written at length and all but incomprehensible. And even more, all too often, with ignorance from folks on the outside looking in (And hey, I’ll admit, that used to be me).  Yes, I’m talking about “special needs.”

Special Needs.

Yeah, such a simple little set of words.
But OH MY GOODNESS, so very loaded.
Now, I could do a post and be like the “Church Lady” and point out what we all already know:

Dana Carvey, the Church Lady

Each and every one of us is “special needs” in the sense that we are all SPECIAL, and have our own quirks and strengths and so on.
And I do believe that.

But this post is about another aspect of “special needs.”
And it’s that I am tired of the taboos.
I am tired of not being able to say things out loud, for fear of stigma.
I am tired of when I do say it, somehow voices drop to a whisper, or I get an “Oh….ahh” and a quick look away kind of response.
Or worse, a well meaning defense of my kid saying “No way, that can’t be right.”

This is all making me want to strap on my mom armor and go to battle.
I have two, possibly three, kids who have special needs. Yeah, I could say, “different needs” or something like that. But I am tired and too old to be tiptoeing through the ever shifting sands of pc (or, more accurately: ‘sc’, socially correct) verbage.  I mean they have needs that are, big or small, outside the standard box.

Disclaimer ahead: So, to be clear, in this post, I am talking about kids who don’t fit the mold of standard track education or behaviors or medical issues. Special needs comes in all different forms and levels and severity, so I cannot speak to those needs that are not ours and would not try to. I can speak to what we are working with, in our home, with my kids. Disclaimer over.

What I want to throw out there (And maybe it’s naive, and I hope the special ed/needs community doesn’t flame me): Why the taboo?
Why do we have to whisper about this stuff?
Why is there such stigma?
Why does it have to be?
Why do well meaning folks instantly say, “No, that can’t be right?” as if, if it IS accurate, then somehow that child is less than they were perceived prior to the new knowledge?
Nothing changes with this knowledge.
The child, my child, is not a different person if we know more about them and how their mind works.

Their “worth” is in no way based on how they learn or if they have glitches or if they cannot.

It’s fine tuning.

Special needs information is not an appraisal of value or rank, it’s information gathering; it is problem solving. It’s fine tuning; academic approaches, behavioral needs, medical stuff….it’s figuring out what works best for them and why.  Period.

And I want to start talking out loud about some of the issues we are working through.
And I fear I cannot online due to the possibility of hurting my child somehow, somewhere, someday.
I want to try to open up to other families who might be dealing with some of these issues to share tips and ideas.
Even here, even now, I have to hedge a bit, worry about protecting them.
But the beauty of this blog world is the connection. I have been repeatedly amazed and grateful for the prayers and the help and the advice and the simple feeling of not being alone…due to this blog community. And I suspect there might be other families that have children who have medical, educational, behavior issues that are out there.

Heck there is an alphabet jungle out there of issues, we have a small forest of them in my house. Is it wrong to want to use resources, to connect to help my kids? To help me? I don’t think so.

I hope that maybe other moms might be tired of not being able to talk about this part of their family life. I hope that other moms might be tired of their kids being slotted into a stereotype due to a possible “label” or some small bit of information. That small bit of information, that acronym, or term, is a tiny (or, sometimes, large) facet of who they really are – the wholeness of their person.

Are there any moms out there who are tired of pushing against the tide of perception?
I am.

I want to break out.
I want to talk about my kids.
I want to talk about all my kids.
I want to have conversations about special needs – without the stigma.
I want to shout: having a different approach or way of learning or brain wiring doesn’t make you less.
It’s different. Less common maybe.
It takes some brainstorming, a lot sometimes.
Don’t slot my kid, don’t presume.
They may really have that issue, and it’s a little scary.
They may not, but then they probably have another one to work on.
But that very thing (the one that’s not ‘pc’ to talk about outright), might just be one of their strengths as well, depending on how you look at it.

But, let’s break the taboo.
Let’s start saying these things out loud.

If you can’t speak of it, name it, it has so much more power, but the wrong kind.
And that breaks my heart.
But it also makes me angry because it’s wrong.
We have to advocate and be strong for these kids especially.
So I guess I’m talking. Armor on.
Because they deserve it.
Because they are beautiful.
And I’m their mom.

>The waiting begins. Advent.

>Waiting.
This blog is about nothing if not waiting.
Waiting is one of the very worst skills of mine; by which I mean, I stink at waiting.
I am wretched at waiting because I have no patience.
So, of course I have had to wait many times, and surely will continue to.
And it is surely the reason I have eight children.
I have waited for many things and people over the years.
Sometimes I fall into the huge trap of “wishing away my life” (as they say here in the south) by the way I wait.
It’s true.
I have done that far too much, far too often.
I suspect I’ve lost years.

I have waited impatiently, filled with busyness, to finish college.
To get into grad school and out again.
Waited for Coffeedoc to finish med school. Then internship. Then residency.
Waited to stop being broke.
Waited to get married (seven years dating, so, I’m not kidding).
Waited to get pregnant (but only the third time…and that wait was particularly long and particularly difficult on all levels).
Waited to adopt. To be selected by a birthmom. To hold that baby.
Waited to adopt from Ethiopia. To jump through the paperwork hoops. To be matched with a referral. To pass court. To travel.
Waited for the CDC to clear my daughter to come home. To be allowed to travel.

Heck, I can turn waiting for Coffeedoc to get home for dinner into a sporting event.
So, yeah, I wait…all too often. And I do it all wrong.
Patience is NOT one of my virtues. Thus, I suffer a bit, or a lot, waiting.

The reason to drone on about all this waiting is that today is a special day.
Today is the day to try, once again, to approach waiting in the right spirit.
Today is the day to reframe the waiting into a better approach: preparation.
Today is the day to recognize the beauty of the wait: the anticipation, the slow glow of expectation.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

I love Advent.

When done right Advent is a season (four Sundays) of rich tradition, prayerful contemplative expectation, a settling into the deep; it is combined with an overlaid gauze of building excitement.
It is a preparation -not for a Christmas morning frenzy of torn wrapping paper and too many gifts.
But rather, a mindful preparation for the advent, literally the ‘coming,’ of the most important gift of all.

I almost always fail Advent.
I stay mired in the cycling hubub of my house, the must do’s, the should’s, the pressures and strains. I get lost in the jumble of calendar commitments and then resent the time they snatch away.
It’s the curse of the goal oriented…this sense of ‘eye on the prize.’ Get to Christmas, make it happen.
But the trap is that then you miss the process, the very beauty of the anticipation.
You miss one of the most beautiful seasons of the year.
I wish away this gorgeous season.

This year, once again, I hope to be more mindful.
To prepare the gifts early enough to stop the last minute frantic fretting and gathering.
To dig in and slow way down.
I hope and pray to see and stop and savor the small moments – the ones I might miss as I move so fast through the days.

This is Advent. It’s a beautiful time of preparation, inside and out.
It’s almost Christmas! He is coming.
The waiting begins again.

Know that the Lord is coming and with him all his saints;
that day will dawn with a wonderful light, alleluia.
From the Divine Office: First Sunday of Advent.

>Ah, Thanksgiving

>I could go on for days, and should go on for my lifetime, listing the things I am thankful for. So many, too many to list or count, more than I deserve. So, for today, I will say that I am unspeakably grateful for my friends (blog and in person), family, and abundant life, for the gift of faith and the Catholic church, for the guests and the jokes, the turmoil and the fears and the cheers. All of it. For my crazy loud hectic chaotic wonderful life. Every blessed moment.

And with that, this is the best way for me to show what I’m thankful for, the most important parts:


I am so very deeply thankful.
For all of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

>Ah, shucks

>So. Laura and Christine have “awarded” me this tag….and while I usually ignore all these, I feel a bit scroogelike and ungrateful to not acknowledge them being so nice to link to me and my goofy blog. Actually, I feel a tad like Sally Field being glad someone likes her. Both of these gals have lovely blogs and the ones they tagged are all worth a closer look as well! The best reason for me to put this up is that I now get to list/link to seven blogs that I like very much. Ooohhhh, the choices……like a kid in a candy shop….

Anyhow, first, officially, I get to post the blog award “rules.”
1. Thank the person who awarded me the award, and link that person’s blog on my blog.
2. Identify seven things about myself.
3. Award seven bloggers with the “Kreativ Blogger Award,” post links to their blogs, and leave a comment on each of their blogs, to let them know of the honor. I don’t really know what a “Kreativ blogger” is, so you can just give it to whoever you like!

So without further ado, seven things about myself (Again? in my aging brain fog…I fear I might be being redundant…):
1. I grew up riding horses in the desert of Arizona. I still miss the desert and those long views and that particular beauty.
2. I misplace my glasses ALL the time. I am mercilessly reminded by my children that I have misplaced my sunglasses in the fridge.
3. I thought I’d grow up to be just like Mary Tyler Moore….throwing my beret up in glee in the big city, a cool working gal.
4. I’ve always been easy to tease; it made me suffer somewhat as a child in a big family. Now it makes me laugh.
5. My Grandpa, the only one I ever knew, used to call me “Movie Star.” And it totally embarrassed me but I also kind of loved it.
6. Yes, I have always been rather dull, WAKE UP…the GOOD blog links are coming right up.
7. I never dreamed I’d have eight kids, or live the life I do – much less be happy with it. And that’s the most wonderful hysterical surprise treasure of all.
DONE

Ok, and now, in no particular order (Hey, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years….), are seven blog links to blogs that I always check in on….because they make me think, smile, ponder….at any rate, they are worth a click. Check ’em out.

1. Jen at Conversion Diary: Yeah, its a Catholic blog, but its also a mom blog and she is a deep thinker but also blunt and honest and real. I love reading her blog and also with this one you get a two for one deal: she has another blog that is just perfect for those bored procrastinating moments (admit it, we all do it), called appropriately enough: Jennifer’s Favorite Links.

2. Becca, at Albertson Debrief. I love her because she wears her heart on her sleeve and loves fiercely, no matter what. She stands up for what she believes whether or not its considered “pc” and for that, she inspires me.

3. Courtney Rose, at Dandies in the Sunshine. She is another thinker and a feeler and I love to read her writing and her blog, because again it’s real and funny and honest. She’s full of passion and it comes right through the screen.

4. Lori, at The Road to Our Own, because, well, her family is beautiful, their hearts are beautiful. They live this bountiful life and actually seem to be aware of it along the way. That’s rare air. Plus Abe is adorable and she is a special gal.

5. Jen, at Leap of Faith, because she has an awesome family, is very sharp and has a heart that runs deep. She is also witty and savvy; her blog follows the addition of their beautiful Bella (yeah, I know, but that is the good kind of redundant) and just following a functional happy family gives hope in this darkish world.

6. Thankful Mom at A Bushel and A Peck, this blog is one that I track closely because she ‘gets it.’ She has an ongoing series called “My learning curve” that always has great tips and thoughts that are applied to kids who are working through some issues perhaps: attachment and such. But the secret is that these tips and ideas can be applied to any and all kids, each family. I always come away with more to think about or an “aha” moment from her.

7. Zoe, at Chasing Saints. I like to visit Zoe’s blog because, first off, she has the coolest banner going. Go. See. But secondly, she is a mere youngster (ok, to me) but she ‘gets it.” She’s very sharp, she’s on the adoption journey, and she’s a thought-full Catholic who knows her stuff.

Anyhow. I’m honored. I feel a little doofy, but it’s worth it if you go read those blogs. They are worth your time! Happy Thanksgiving!

>Warp speed, Scotty!

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And so it begins…the Thanksgiving rush.
Today and tomorrow, especially, this is where I am:

“Mr. Scott! I need warp speed, now!”

(And yes I realize I have, once again, revealed my age by the reference….but there you have it, this was my era).
I love love love this holiday, but it’s a major undertaking too. Much yummy cooking and much hostessing of far flung family (and I’m not the natural that Lori is, ahem). It all usually comes together, somehow, but it’s something of a race. Thus, blogging may be light.

Now if I just had a transporter….I’d be good to go! See you on the far side….

>Turn-keys: touch

>I’ve written a bit about what I have found, for us at least, to be “turn-keys” in the process of adoption and adjustment. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about another key (again, disclaimer: These are just my humble bossy opinions, not any expert or professional claim to knowledge). This key is one of the oldest and most important, for all parenting, but ever more so – if possible – for the process of adjustment in adoption. Yup, it’s “touch.”

I know, doh.
Touch.
A no-brainer, right?

Well, maybe not so much. Maybe it’s a no brainer if you are a naturally ‘touchy-feely’ person (And really, I think most would say I am, but still…). Maybe its a no-brainer if you are talking about giving birth to a child, or even adopting a tiny infant. With babies, bio or otherwise, our species is biologically programmed to respond to the cries of an infant, to hold to soothe to touch it to comfort. It’s a natural, right?

But with any child, and I mean ANY child, regardless of their mode of arrival into your family…..there are times when, you know, you just don’t really feel like touching them so much.

Shocked, are you?
Have I revealed too much of my cold stony selfish heart?
Hmmm, c’mon, admit it, who hasn’t been grossed out by the quantity and quality of projectile vomit that a smallish baby or child can, um, expel?
Who hasn’t been gagging when their baby smears the contents of their diaper all around the crib? (Hey, 8 kids, yes, they’ve done that. Don’t judge me.)
Call me crazy, but I’m not so into the cuddly canoodling at those times. I am more than happy for a little personal space….
And really, who hasn’t thought “Fine then” when the attitude riven teen throws a snit and stomps out of the room? Who hasn’t been grateful, even ONCE, to have them sleep in, just a little while for that peaceful solo quiet time in the morning?
Not you? Well, then, stop reading, this post is not for you.

But for the rest of us, for ME, this is a huge deal.
Touch.
For your standard issue kid, its a huge deal when they are tots and need all that imprinting bonding caring loving. It’s at least as big or a bigger deal as they move through their stages of wild little kid, to the scary times as the world opens up to them in school and beyond, to the awkward times of preteen and the touchy times of full blown “I know everything” teenagerhood. This is when you have to remember: touch them.
Hug them, they need it so much.
They might only lean against you as a hug back. They might not even seem to register that pat on the arm, but it makes a difference. A huge huge difference. Prickly or not, possibly even more then, those little touches during a day can bridge a lot of troubled water.

This brings me to the turn-key. If touch can make such a huge, ongoing, difference in the relationship and life of a child in your home from infancy, imagine the importance of touch with a child who is new to your home. And if you are talking about an older child (And, of course, I am now), and if that child is a hurt child (Which most older children who are adopted are, of course), and if that child doesn’t have your language….well, this turn-key is made of gold.

So it seems, again, simple, a no brainer, right?
Touch the kid.
Let them touch you.
Hug them.
And yet, it’s not nearly so simple after all. Because what you don’t read so much in all those stacks of adoption books is that it can be hard, touch-wise, with an older child. Cuddling a baby or toddler is automatic, almost, we are primed and programmed and enchanted to do it. An older child is, forgive me as this is not so “politically correct,” not necessarily always so enchanting and we are not primed and programmed to touch them. We are strangers. We have not crossed those boundaries yet. Formally, on paper, yes. But in actual practice, no.

The initial meet and hugs and kisses are kind of driven along by adrenaline on both sides. But then comes the moment when you all kind of look at each other and wonder. It’s much like an arranged marriage, without the extended courtship and chaperones.

Many older adopted children are also simply starved for physical affection. Starved. Hungry. Hungry to touch and be touched. And so you do, they do, you must. They are starved for safe comforting embracing touch – touch that doesn’t hurt in any way. So, we had, and so many have, an intense instant need on Marta’s part for touch, kiss, hugs, holds, just skin on skin. And it’s weird. In a way, it’s strange to immediately jump boundaries that our modern American ways have fixed into place over decades.

But this is a key, one of THE keys. You touch.
You do it.
And its by the doing, the touching that you start to step over those walls, you stop being strangers, you start being family. The more I touch her, in the caring mode of mom, the closer I get – literally and figuratively. The more I sit nestled next to her, with her feet draped over my shins, the more time our skin is next to skin, the more we blend together.

It sounds so simple, but in practice, it can be an act of will. Wash her back, paint her nails, do her hair, put lotion on face, hold her when she’s sobbing, hold her when she’s sick.

And oddly enough this touching is a sort of claiming.
At first it’s a formal dance of sorts, an acting out of the proper roles.
Eventually, it starts to become real. It’s an intimacy of family. Only family brings the sick kid into mom and dad’s bed, clammy, with her holding your hand to her sore throat, not letting go.
Babies claim you as they sleep snuggle and cling to you for their every need.
Toddlers and little kids claim you in passing fierce hugs and climbing on you when needy.
Older kids, they claim you by leaning on you, by sitting next to you or draped across you, asking you to do their hair, fix their clothes, feel their forehead.
I know, this is all obvious.
But the part of the key that is important, for me, is the part that “fits in my hand”. See the keys up top? See the scrolled beautiful head of the key? This is the part I, or you, hold. And this is MY part. Because now I see that by touching this child, caring for her, letting her claim me by touch and touching her back as mine, giving her a sponge bath for a fever, checking her eyes for stray lashes, her braces for sprung wire…I claim her too. And I think, or am learning, that if I hold back from those touches, no matter how strange at first, then I lose.

It’s the touch itself that seals the claim, builds it, and turns it into family.

>For Buddybug and Vampires

>This tidbit is just too fun to resist, so I’m copying most of it here. It made me smile on a rocky day. (h/t to Anchoress)

In pop culture, Vampires are currently (again) all the rage, and Fr. Z makes the amusing and not so off-base observation that this icon of our dear friend, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, looks a bit like a vampire slayer.

The Dominican Tertiary from Italy is actually shown holding his rosary and his beloved skis, but I thought it was amusing, just the same. And since we know (in fact we have the pictures to prove it) that Pier Giorgio had a wonderful sense of humor, I bet he’d find it amusing, as well.

“The end for which we are created invites us to walk a road that is surely sown with a lot of thorns, but it is not sad; through even the sorrow, it is illuminated by joy.”
— Pier Giorgio Frassati

It has been shamelessly lifted from both the Anchoress, and from Father Z, but I hope they won’t mind….I’m a tiny fish in the humongous ‘net pond,’ and they are big time. But with the frenzy over THE premiere of that vampire series (you know the one I”m talking about, unless you live in a cave in the desert and have no access to teen girls or tabloids in the supermarket), and the current vogue over all things vampire…this made me smile, and think of my boy. All good.

Buddybug has a great devotion and affection for Blessed Pier Giorgio. And really, what’s not to like? He was fun, kind, devout, athletic, outgoing, handsome, charming young guy…plus he was Italian! All good, and his pure heart and soul made him shine – and does still, even now.

>Feast Day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary

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Its the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

She is a special saint and an amazing woman. There are “Mother Teresa’s” in every generation — usually many at any given time. St. Elizabeth was one of those in her time (1207 – 1231). We’ve given our daughter SBird, St. Elizabeth as a patron and pray for her prayers and intercession for her. Today we celebrate her feast and the best way I know how is to lift from the readings of the day from the Liturgy of the Hours (with a h/t to Coffeedoc for this).

She was a daughter of the King of Hungary. She was given in marriage to Ludwig, the Landgrave of Thuringia, by whom she had three children. She frequently meditated on heavenly things and when her husband died she embraced poverty and built a hospice in which she cared for the sick herself.

Oil painting on copper by Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610)

From a letter of Conrad of Marburg, Saint Elizabeth’s spiritual director

Elizabeth recognised and loved Christ in the poor

From this time onward Elizabeth’s goodness greatly increased. She was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband’s empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband’s four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious’ possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.
Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door.
On Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Saviour in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive. Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.
Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman. When she was coming from private prayer, some religious men and women often saw her face shining marvellously and light coming from her eyes like the rays of the sun.
Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.”

Happy feast day, Sbird!

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us!

>Patron of immigrants: Feast of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini

>Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini.
She is also known as Mother Cabrini; and a saint that is known as “Mother” is usually a very special saint indeed. Its the mom factor, they don’t throw that word around lightly, you know? Nor should they! Anyhow, Mother Cabrini is a special saint, though not as well known as many.

She is known for starting hospitals, schools and orphanages in her native Italy and then right here in America. She was sent to America by Pope Leo the 13th. And as she was born in Italy but came to live out her days in American, she is also, importantly, an immigrant. She is the first American citizen, and an immigrant to boot, to be canonized.
So, lets make a list: uber organized, holy, immigrant, strong woman in a man’s world, courageous, started orphanages, hospitals, and schools. And, last but not least, she came from a large family too. Bigger than ours even! So, how many links does that give us (by which I mean, me and my family)? I’m losing count. So, I figure she’s a sort of patron of our family and the causes that pull at our hearts….the same ones that pull at many of yours. And if that is the case for you, then have a chat with Mother Cabrini, ask her for prayers. Surely, I know, she will pray faithfully for your intentions and concerns….because she has a mom’s heart.

St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, pray for us!
Happy feast day.

>Post Bday Post

>Yeah, it’s the post birthday picture report.
Because this birthday yesterday was kind of extra special…I’m can’t help it. I gotta post some pics. You know I have to! If only for the far flung family types……

And I have to say that this day was kind of loaded, on different levels. We weren’t sure if it was going to be a boffo day or a bust. And so we made sure to have it follow, as precisely as possible, the standard traditions of our family bdays. Marta has seen several now and so it was important to have it play out the same way, but with it being her turn. And so it did.

There was a lot of “Oh my goodness!” and many bounces up from the chair to hug and kiss, or a “come here” demand for a hug and kiss. Every single card and present got oohed and aahed over. Every card needed a kiss/hug. We had to say “Open it!” because Marta would just stare at the shiny wrapping with a grin…relishing even that. Every gift had a minimum of three springs out of her chair to hug/kiss.

There was much giggling, the usual small boy grabbing and tugging, the usual chaos and noise and mess. There was her favorite penne with a simple but super tomato/pancetta sauce, salad and strawberry pink ice cream cake, candles, singing and clapping.

A big, very good, momentarily overwhelming here and there, terrific sparkly day. And I’m just so glad.

Even the big kids were grinning real grins, it was just a happy thing to see.

And that makes me ridiculously happy, for her, for us, for the family.
A little tired maybe, but very happy.
And she is still floating and giggling.
And listening to Michael Jackson cd’s.
A first and thirteenth birthday can be a very good thing indeed.

>Happy Birthday Marta!

>

Today is our Marta’s birthday!!!
She is thirteen today!

This is, in a way, her first birthday as well. Let me explain: As many of you know, they do not track or record birth days in Ethiopia. Meaning, a specific day or date of birth is typically an educated guess, at best. As a child gets older, and if that child has lost their parents and known relatives, this day fades – if it was ever marked at all. This sounds sad, but over there it is not. Its not a part of their culture, this tradition. But as we all know, its a very big part of ours.

And so, after much speculation, discussion, a little investigation, a bunch of translation….we have come to a day, agreed upon by all: Marta’s birthday. Today. November 11. She is 13 today.

This is a big day for all of us. Our girl’s first birthday. And yes, there will be streamers and candles and songs and cake and ice cream (Ok, ice cream cake). There will be her favorite foods: pasta and salad…and ice cream. There will be great swaths of pink, on the table, the cake, the streamers, the wrapping…..as many surfaces and items we can find, we will all don pink hats and shirts, even the dog….ok, maybe not. But you get the idea. It will be festive.

We will sing and we will take pictures. And give many many birthday hugs. But we will also keep it low key in a way too. Because just like a literal first year birthday, sometimes it can be overwhelming. So we will sit at the table for dinner in our usual spots. Eat her favorite meal, made the same way by mom. And we will still have ESL tutoring and get the laundry done. Because even though the mundane bits of life go on, that underlying crackle of pink specialness can still glow through the day. Because that is the beauty of a birthday….that quiet special sense that you are special and you have those who think so too. It is a day to mark with that sure knowledge. And so we will try.

Our Marta Therese on her first and thirteenth birthday:

You are a joyful spirit.
A simple happy complicated girl.
You love to sing and laugh at mom sing.
You love to laugh at everyone else dancing.
One day we will get you to dance too.
You are a beauty.
Someday you too will know you are a beauty too.
A good chunk of your beauty shines from inside.
This is the truest kind of beauty.
You truly deeply love the your faith, God, and the Mass.
And that inspires.
You love to laugh.
You love to play.
You can be silly as a small child.
You can be as demanding as a small child.
And as moody as any teen, ever.
You are impatient and stubborn.
You are helpful and compassionate.
You hate math.
You love pink.
You are working so hard on learning english.
But you really hate math.
Almost as much as you hate learning to tell American time.
You love to write cards to your Grandma.
And to sew quilts of your own design.
And you do not want any help, unless the machine busts.
You love pink, in anything and everything.
You love pink ice cream, yogurt, pjs, sweaters, socks, pens.
Pink.
And a dash of cheetah print might be nice too.
You love football.
It could only be better if they players wore pink, maybe.
You are my only kid who is excited for braces.
And yes, they are pink!

You have been home almost four months.
It feels like you just got here.
It feels like so much longer.
We are all slowly growing toward and in each other.
It’s a long process.
But it can’t be rushed.
It’s kind of like this birthday:
It’s marked by a 13, but its new and old at the same time.
Everything about us, each other, is new to each other.
But so many things too, are old in their way.
Mom dad daughter sister family.
It’s age old.
And brand new.
Just like a birthday really should be.

Happy Happy Birthday Marta.
We love you and are so proud of you.
We hope all your wishes come true!

>Adjustment: Marking the good. redux

>I don’t have a picture. Not the right picture anyhow. I have this picture, far below, which will have to suffice.

I had a “mark the good” moment today. And because I have written before about how I think its important to MARK the good when you recognize it, I want to write this down…for the record, and so it doesn’t slip away from my foggy mind. In older child adoption, there is so much that is strange and awkward, especially at first. And only time can help ease into some things. One of those is worth a whole ‘nother post (Fair warning…). But it is this very thing that had one of those moments today, the kind that stills and shimmers for a minute, you realize you kind of are holding your breath so you don’t blink and lose it. Then you do blink because you have to, suddenly, there is a pending spill. And if you’re lucky you recognize, that this is one to mark. A step forward. A settling in. A deeper twinge resonating.

Ack. Let me explain. Tomorrow is Marti’s birthday. She is a bit giddy in anticipation. Just a little shivery giddy. But I didn’t really see it until Mass.

Every day we go to Mass after we drop off the school kids (parochial school, one of the perks). Every day we sit in our pew, third from the back, left. Some mornings Coffeedoc gets to join us before clinic. Today was one of those.

Marta was in between us, she kept pulling Coffeedoc closer in, and squooshing closer to me. We were all mooshed up together in that pew, tho the pew was empty otherwise. If you didn’t know it, it looked like it was below freezing and we were huddling for warmth. Then, in one of the quiet moments of the Mass, we sat again, taking our huddle. She grinned and she pulled him closer in, put his hand on her lap and grabbed mine, pulling it to his, placing our two old hands together. We smiled a small laugh at each other. Then she grinned wider.

She wrapped her little arms around our big ones on either side, grabbed hands in the middle and squeezed. “My dad. My mom,” she whispered to us with a huge smile.

It was very much like a small small child, claiming again, for the hundredth time, their parents. But this was our teen. Not a toddler. But the declaration was the same. And we looked across her head and smiled that deep smile. And then, surprising myself…I blinked.

I don’t have a picture to show you. I wish I did. But I have stored this one away safely anyhow, marking it for good.

>The Deep

>Sometimes you forget. Sometimes you forget the depth of what this is. This adoption stuff.

I guess you have to, because if you set it always in the forefront of your mind you will be frozen. It’s so big. It’s so much. Just what these kids have done, come from their first family to be woven into yours…it’s so much. And so, when they have carved out that spot in your heart of hearts, that fierce love for them has gripped you…you forget. You forget sometimes, what they call that “primal wound.” They might forget, for a while, too. Or not really realize or understand it if they are so young. Not yet. But its there.

The other night, Gabey had crawled into my bed. We all were sleeping but he started fussing in a dream. He whimpered. Turned over. Then, sleep-shouted clearly and loudly, “Don’t leave me!

Oh!
Instantly wide awake, my breath taken.

He has never, ever, said that. Not awake, not asleep. He does say “I want to go with you!” And with ferocious toddler power, “That’s MY mommy!” But he has not said this. And he has not said this with that angry hurt sad deep cry.

And I wondered, was he just dreaming of the comings and goings in our busy house? I don’t think so. This had a different quality. Not only because it was 2 a.m. But it was more.
I know it, I heard it, I felt it.
This was his hurt.
My boy’s hurt.
His mom died. He was taken to the orphanage at eleven months. He was left.
It is primal.

And so I snuggled in close to him. I whispered, “I’m here.” And then, “I’ll never leave you.” He relaxed back into sleep. And I lay awake, picking up the shattered bits of my heart.

>Real kids. On their own.

>Teenagers.

What happens to them?
I mean, what happens to them if they don’t have a family?
If they don’t have a home?
A bedroom?
A safe place to be?
Enough food, enough care?
Someone to watch over them, to give them grief, to tell them “good job”, or “nice try”, or “hey, no attitude!”?
What if no one is there to say “It’s gonna be ok”, and really mean it.
What if they are cold or hungry or sick or scared.
What if they are alone?
Alone.

Grim huh?
Well, its real.
Its real here in the states.
Its even more real, to an unfathomable level, around the world.
Real kids.
The “lucky” ones are in an orphanage or foster care.
But they are not really lucky at all.
Because they don’t have a family, or a home, or anyone who really cares about them, every day.
And that temporary haven, of sorts, that orphanage or foster home, it’s gonna end.
The time there is limited.
And then these kids, and even as older teens, they are still kids, with the same needs and wants of any teen kids….they are sent out.
They are sent out.
To a bleak future.
Tough to get a job when jobs aren’t available, you have no connections, no transportation, no proper clothes, not enough food, and not enough or any school.
Tough to find a place to stay when you have a tiny pocket of money to “get you started.”
That money can’t even rent a place to stay for a few months, if you could find one.
That money can’t get you in school, or help you find a job.
That money runs out.
Then the future becomes Grim.
It is all too easy to have that future include drugs, assault, living on the streets, prostitution, begging, illness, hunger, desperation.

And these are kids.
And these are our kids.
This was MY kid.

So this topic is close to home for me.
Too close.
It hurts to know that so many of these kids have such a bleak future.
That is not an overstatement.
Bleak. Grim. Future.
They have little to no future, in fact.
This could have been my girl.
She did get lucky.
We got lucky.
I’m not posting this to say that everyone should adopt older kids.
It’s very hard.
It’s very different from adopting a small one.
Oh, its worth it.
But there are other ways to reach out as well.

I want everyone to SEE these kids.
I want everyone to know that these are real kids, who like jokes, ice cream, hugs, a warm shower and bed.
These kids deserve a chance, any chance.
All of these kids can use a hand.
This new initiative by Gladney, “On Their Own,” is for these kids.
For our kids, these forgotten ones.
As they age out, we can help them have a bit of hope.
We can help provide some of the tools they can use to get started, safely.
To find their footing, to know that even now, someone cares.
On their own.
Donate what you can, if you can.
Buy the bracelet above, the proceeds donate, the exposure helps.
You can help them step out on their own and step past the grim, maybe.
You can help them step over into hope.
You can change a life, just by caring a little.
You can change your life, just by caring a little, for these real kids – about to be on their own.

>All Souls Day

>

Aladar Korosfoi-Kriesch
All Souls’ Day –1910 Oil on canvas,

Its the Feast of All Souls Today.
And this day is cool because its not just the Saints that we are remembering, the big leagues, but all of the little guys, the regular folks who have died – the Joe Schmoes of the world who are just the regular guy in the trenches or mom in the laundry room. But even so, these folks, so many of them, have died, gone to heaven and deserve a remembrance. It’s our nature to do so.

All Souls Day in Slovakia

Sometimes folks wonder why we even bother to think of a day to remember and pray for the dead. I mean, they have passed on, no use now right? Well, no. I think, and our faith teaches us, that in fact there is great use. Our souls are immortal. They are us, the realest us. They do not die. This is an article of faith and I know many who disagree. But I believe it. To my mortal bones, I believe we have souls that are immortal.

Painting by Rubens

Therefore, when I die, I hope and pray that my loved ones, heck, ANYONE, remembers to pray for me. Because I’m gonna need it.
I need it now, I will need it more so then, because my time on earth to actively turn my heart away from my measly selfish self and around to the face of God will be done. And so while I hope and pray I am going to heaven, I suspect…if I get to heaven I will be in the foyer of heaven: purgatory.

Yup.
I said it: ‘Purgatory.”

One of those words! One of those polarizing kind of words.
And I wish it wasn’t.
Purgatory is a beautiful, sensible concept and gives me such comfort and hope.

As I am not a theologian, nor particularly smart or insightful…but am quite opinionated, I get to give you my take on purgatory and why I think its so cool. Keep in mind, I have simplified and condensed a rich complex theological concept into terms my little old middle age wandering mind can digest. So don’t get all tied up in knots over this, go read someone knows.

But, for me, this is the deal with purgatory – a “mom” take on it.
In my rambling rabbit warren of a house, we are lucky enough to have a mud room. This is the main entrance to our house by all friends and family. And you know, even when its my son coming home from college and I can’t wait to see him, we stop him for a moment in the mudroom…we say “Ack! Quick scrape those boots or take ’em off, they are covered in mud!” So he does and then we hug him and pull him into the kitchen to feed him pie and have the little’s jump him with glee.


This is purgatory. Or just like it, to me.

Even if we have turned our hearts to God and want only to do the best we can…we screw up, we still are impatient and ill tempered and selfish (ok, me). And when we die, we don’t just all of a sudden have those hurtful acts disappear; those sins still ripple out to those we left behind. We are still ‘smudgy’ with that selfishness. And while we may be deeply contrite and now, after our passing, fully understand how hurtful even some of our small ‘unimportant’ acts or “white lies” really are…..we are not ready yet to stand in the presence of Love and Truth. Because you can’t. You can’t if you still have some smudges. God’s Divine self/presence cannot coexist with anything less than truly pure. Because God is pure. And so, we too become so – in purgatory. Purgatory is where we take off our muddy boots. We put on some clean soft slippers or go barefoot in to the pure white of the kitchen. And then, we are hugged, hooted over, loved and we all grin and eat pie.

So today we remember and celebrate those souls who have gone before us with their hearts turned toward God: All Souls Day.

Happy Feast of All Souls!
Perhaps even in heaven, or especially in heaven, it’s all about the pie!

>All the Saints

>

The challenge of sainthood
is to go where love takes me.


Today is All Saints Day!

Another name is All Hallows Day. It follows, of course, All Hallows Eve…or, obviously, Halloween. I love that we don’t just celebrate Halloween and its not just a creepy horror fest or excuse to dress up and scarf down way too much sugar (Baby Ruth’s, Reeses, pie, oh my!) But that in actuality these are three days of remembrance.

Remembrance of what?
No, not only that you need to stay on your blood sugar meds or that there’s always tomorrow for a new diet.
Rather, its remembrance of the dead.

Its why I think the Dia de los Muertos is cool too, not creepy. Plus of course there is usually lots of food involved, especially Pan de los Muertos (Special bread), and whats not to like about that?

Its why those Dutch Veritas paintings were all the rage way back when (Ok, ok, 16 & 17 C). They were a way of reminding us that “all is vanity” in life (You know, Eccliastes and all); this life here is but a blink.

It’s remembering our dear ones who went before us, and also those who were not so dear personally perhaps, but now can be so very dear as they listen to our prayers and pray on our behalf.

Yup, I’m talking about the Saints!
We love them!

And for those who have concerns with praying to saints, I understand. But, well, here is a bit on the concept of communion of the saints. But for me, I think its one of the most cool and natural concepts of the faith and well, life in general. Because this tells us that we are connected. You all know how much I rely on those connections!

And to be connected to those who have gone before us, and who, since they no longer are bound by their human tendencies toward sin, are pure of heart and intent…to be connected to these special souls and be able to hit them up for prayers? Well, that is just too cool and a huge comfort for me.

Its a lot like asking your best girlfriend or Aunt Midge to pray for you, but knowing that the prayers will be less distracted and without any overlying layers of selfishness. For instance, “Please let Coffeemom figure this out so she will stop droning on about this, it’s making me nuts.” See, thats one kind of prayer that any earthly person might (ok, surely does) pray if I ask them to pray for me.

But we know that the saints will pray for God’s will for us, more along the lines of “O God, come to her assistance, send the graces she needs to understand your will and thus also take pity and have mercy on her best friend.” See? Much better, don’t ya think? Me too.

So, today is the day that we try to recover from All Hallows eve and the food feasting and instead feast on the deep contentment and uber coolness of knowing that the saints, both the “rock star” saints and the little known ones, will pray for us and care about our little human lives.

They’ve been there, done that, know the traps and are cheering us on our way. What’s not to like? Or celebrate? I’ll take every bit of help I can get. And, blessedly, this is real help, right now….and forever. Ah….

Photo by Richard Flynn. Saints in the cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles: Cecilia, Stephen, Casimir, Ignatius of Loyola, Frances of Rome, Bernardine of Siena, Thomas Aquinas, Katharine Drexel, John of God, Maximilian Kolbe, John Baptist de la Salle, Paul Chong Hasang, Moses the Ethiopian, Kateri Tekakwitha, Thomas More, Nicholas, Dominic, Mary Magdalen, Ann, and Joseph.

Happy All Saints Day!
I’m gonna go have another piece of pie!