Building trust in older child adoption

“Trust me.”  Such a simple phrase.  We say it all the time.  The problem is, it IS said all the time, by all kinds of people.  Thus, it becomes meaningless, or worse, a sure marker to do just the opposite.

So, given that, how do you build trust in older child adoption? Well, that right there is the million dollar question.  And if I had the short answer and the sure fire key, I’d be a buying a house on the Big Island.  But, I don’t.  I don’t have any pat answers.

When you adopt an older child, trust is the huge issue.  It is the elephant in the room.  It is a barrier like the Berlin Wall, some days.  I wonder if it is a bigger problem or issue corresponding to the aging up of a child.  As we adopted a teen, we find it a big prickly deal; a frequent barrier.  Big.   So, part of me wonders if the younger a child is at placement, the easier it might be to build trust again? But, I’m sure that’s naive and it’s also a bit of “grass is greener’ thinking, so don’t flame me.  I know it must be also dependent upon their prior history and background and trauma and attachment and on and on.  But even so, TRUST.  It’s the holy grail in so many ways for us adoptive families, isn’t it?

Trust, or the lack of it, is such a barrier.  We each tiptoe to the wall of it and peek over the side now and then….sometimes we wave.  But it is still there, sharp and solid between us, all too often.  She doesn’t trust us.  Not yet.  At almost three years home, not yet.   Oh she trusts that I will have dinner each night and that we will drive her to events and I will get her new socks and wash the dirty ones.  But the big stuff, or even new small stuff? No.  On the flip side of that coin, I need to trust her, fully, too.  And, I don’t.  Not deeply to the core.  (Shame on me? Perhaps. Indeed.) OH, I can give her the benefit of the doubt…but even trust on my side has a ways to go to be fully rooted. (And, really, when you’re talking about teens in general…I think the motto needs to be “trust, but verify.” So we’re already in a caution/hazard zone to begin with.)  For you folks who have a relatively recent adoption of an older child, take note.  Things take longer than most presume.

It’s a funny thing about Trust.  It cannot be GIVEN.  If so, I would have heaped it upon my hypervigilent teen daughter, and had her soak in vats of it in order to have it seep into her pores and bones, and heart and mind.  I would wrap it around her to tamp down her anxieties.  Heck, I would weave a shawl from it and keep it wrapped around ME; for my own trust issues.  However, it cannot be given.  It must be EARNED.  And it has to be EARNED in each direction.  I have to earn her trust; she has to earn mine.  Mine for her is further along, I understand her very well now and can anticipate most of her behaviors, even as some frustrate and wear on me.  Her trust for me, for us?  Well…that’s a thing that might very well be a LONG time coming.  And of course, I hate that.  She cannot understand so much of this new world and culture and family.  Her disabilities make this so terribly much more difficult, she cannot understand always the steps we take or what we say/do when we are working for her good. Her trauma background, the hypervigilence and anxiety that result just  throw fuel on the fire of her fretting suspicions.

So  how to earn trust? I don’t know.  Truly, I don’t.  Other than just walking the walk and putting in the time and proving to her, again and again and again – in the small things and the big ones –  that we always work for her best good.  Showing her that we mean what we say and we say what we  mean.  “An elephant’s word is 100%” 

How do you moms ALL deal with these trust issues? I’d love to hear how they are handled.  Right now, I suspect the best answer is simple: “Time.”  But, as an impatient mom, I want to pull a Ronnie Reagan and say, “{Mr. Gorbachev}, tear down this wall!


It’s an art, isn’t it?

Certainly, it’s been depicted so many countless time in art. Letter writing. Letter reading.

This year, we have gotten to enjoy learning, all over again, this art. This year, our main communication between my eldest, Brother Peter Joseph, and home has been the letter. This felt like a forced discipline in some ways, at the beginning. Maybe discipline is too harsh a word, though I think it’s actually most precise. However, certainly at the beginning, it felt like a forced…separation. And that, it was. It is. And now, after much of this year has passed, I can say that “I get it.” I do.

We live in a world of utter immediacy, but to a fault. To my fault, really. Because I, personally, LOVE LOVE LOVE the immediacy of our modern communications era. I love being able to get hold of the person I want or need right away; by texting, emailing, calling. It’s immediate gratification. The blessing and/or curse of the impatient person. Me. My father used to tease me that I wanted immediate gratification on…everything. And so I did. And still, really, do. So, for me, one of the very most difficult things of Chris entering the Novitiate was his distance. Not his distance in miles but his distance, enforced, in simple communication. No longer could we call or email or text him. No tweeting (not that we did, but still, the possibity….). No facebook, no skype. It felt like we were “going dark.” That was a daunting prospect.

That very prospect, that ‘going dark;’ by which I mean no longer communicating by the glowing light of the electronic hubub net…is precisely what the novice needs. In order to hear God’s voice well, there must be more silence. The beeps and tweets and blips of our post modern clang has to be muted. I think it must be kind of like going out into the desert to escape the glare of the city lights, so you can really, finally, see the stars.

Now that is all quite apt for him. But, of course, on my end, that change in mode led to a possible void…of connection. A fear of a loss of connection. Perhaps a minor panic attack even, but I’m not saying…. We were expected and agreed to wait for his calls to us (unless there was an emergency) and we were encouraged to write.

To write! To actually, really, write….using real pens and pencils and paper. How quaint, no? Old fashioned! Daunting even….as my hands are older and cramp, literally, with the gripping of the pens. My scrawl is…well, a scrawl: practically unreadable. But I knew, it was the way to stay connected to my son. And so, I did.

In picking up the pen for the first time I discovered a few things:

First, my hands did ache and so I quickly switched to modern techno after all, but chose a lovely script font. Call me a slacker, I don’t care. I did write a few letters in my own hand, but I wrote more and easier by typing it out and printing, with goofy notes handwritten in the margins. Second, there IS an art to the letter. Sure, there is the format taught in grade school of how to structure a ‘proper letter.” But, as you write many letters, over time, to the same person that structure lifts and disappears and an art to it does take place. It is dependent upon the mood and the day, of course, but there is a space and place for, somehow….MORE. There is more “there” there.

I don’t mean to get too esoteric in writing about this, but I must say that there is such a gift to the continued correspondence of letters. There is an intimacy and a space for jokes and references that can be savored. To send a letter to my son is to send a piece of myself, complete with my own scrawled notes and signature, by doodles in the margines, and sometime the cookie crumbs from the accompanying goodies. It is a gift of self. The art of the letter I believe is in the gift of self that is folded into that envelope. It is the gift, ever, of connection and the time and care put into it. The intimacy that chosen words and stories are read in due time by far away eyes and tucked between those mom and kid hearts..or read aloud to other loved ones as well. When we receive a letter from Peter Joseph, we all read it to each other, with a smile and a hug of happiness.

That experience, that tangible joy and that pause of expectation when the letter is found in the mailbox is something that cannot be replicated in the warp speed bling of net communication. The instantaneous satisfaction is gone. But what is left is the anticipation and the lingering smile of a letter received, as well as one sent.

Now I know why so many artists have painted about letters. It is an art unto itself, truly. We have all grown up with that old adage in our heads, on every Hallmark sign. But, I have learned over this year that it is true. And so…. will I email Peter Joseph once his email is restored, perhaps in late August? Of course. My true impatient nature will out, always. But, I hope, I continue to write my son letters. I save all of his. This discipline of the novitiate was to allow the novices to step away from the hubub, to hear and think more clearly. In so doing, it has allowed me to embrace a new mode as well. The act of writing, sending and reading letters has become a new craft. I can see a few more stars, myself.


Easter Greetings!  

These are my favorite traditional greeting today:

“Jesus Christ is Risen, indeed!  Indeed he is Risen!

Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever
St. Hippolytus (AD 190-236)

Grunewald, Risen Christ, from Isenheim Altarpiece

Happy Happy Easter to you all!

Silence of the wait. Holy Saturday

Painting by Mantengna, c 1490

Holy Saturday.

We wait.
It is finished.
It is so silent, so sad.
It is a somber quiet day.
I think of his Mom.
And I ache for her.

And today is an achy day, all around.

It hurts.
It should.
It is too quiet, too somber.
And yet, of course, not.
And we wait, happily for us, in joyful knowledge and hope, for tomorrow.
But still, today, a pause.  We wait.

Looking for Good…this Friday

It’s Good Friday.

Perhaps the hardest day of the year.  And, as I try to keep my eyes on him today and prayerfully, quietly, walk through this hard hungry jangled day….I want to remember this:

What Our Savior Saw From the Cross
James Tissot, 1836-1902

He kept his eyes on us.


And, my hope and my joy is that he still does and will.  Forever.

Blessed Good Friday to you on this High Holy Day.

Stations Week 7: Good Friday

Once again, it’s time for the Stations of the Cross.

Every Friday in Lent I’m putting up the link to the Stations of the Cross.
It’s an uber Catholic thing….but then again not.
Anyone can meditate on the Stations of the Cross, and lent is the perfect time to do so. 
It is a rigorous walk, in prayer…and has it’s own hard beauty.
Take a look, read, pray if you are inclined.

This year I’m linking to Pope Benedict’s Stations, the meditations are great.  Go here for the prayers.

Painting by Michael O’Brien

And, for you techies out there, this app is a gorgeous thing, with beautiful paintings by Michael O’Brien.  Totally worth the download!


Painting by Tissot

Holy Thursday.
Maundy Thursday.
Last Supper.
Washing Feet.
Beginning of the Passion.
A hard somber night, leading into a hard day.
Jangled, disjointed, stripping the altar, moving the Blessed Sacrament out of the tabernacle.
I always feel like crying at this service, “Don’t take him!” my heart foolishly calls.
And then it is silent.
And we file out, in the sad silent dark from the now empty church.
He is gone.
It’s Holy Thursday… it begins.

*reposted from a years ago.  Every year. It’s this.

O Jerusalem…

It’s Palm Sunday.

Tissot, Christ's Procession into Jerusalem

It’s the day we commemorate Christ’s “joyful” entry into Jerusalem. This day he fulfills the prophecy and enters not only Jerusalem but the walk to his Passion.

It’s an odd day; joyful and hard too. It’s the day I face my not so hidden inner hypocrite, every year. That’s always uncomfortable, like getting snared in brambles. But these are of my own selfish thorns. It’s the day that we ALL enter into Holy Week. Lent is refined and the chaff of it burned off…into the high holy days of the year, the silent clanging shuffle of the Via Dolorosa.

Tissot, Christ's entry to Jerusalem

But, look more closely at that painting just above. See there, under Christ’s feet? Those heads don’t look so joyous, so awestruck. They are not waving to get his attention or autograph…there is an undercurrent of malevolence. And that, right there, is what Christ was really approaching. He knew it. We do too.

So, this morning, what sticks in my head are his words from that moment, right before he entered Jerusalem and kickstarted the week of his passion:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37

So, as I stand in Mass this morning, juggling my palm and the palm swords of my distracted little boys….as I choke out the words of the gospel, “crucify him,” I will remember that he just wanted to gather us in. And we would not.

Have a blessed Holy Week….it begins…