Turn Key in Adoption: Forgiveness

So, I’ve written about turn key’s in adoption, specifically in adoption adjustment and attachment.  If you’ve read my blog  you know that I talk now and then about various keys or concepts in the adjustment process; the turn keys are the ones that seem to really matter.  At least they do ’round here.  If I was really organized, I’d  have them all on a separate page about adjustment  in adoption.  But I’m not that good a housekeeper, even on blog.  In the meantime, if you want to check out the other posts in this series, go here, go here, go here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Whew.  I didn’t realize I’d written all those posts over the past few years.  Guess this is something we just keep dealing with and I keep processing.  Um, yup, yup it is.  If you are parenting an older adopted child and/or a child with hard history or issues,  you might well be in the trenches too.  If you are, read on.  I’ve been thinking and that means I gotta write.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about attachment lately, due to the awesome Empowered to Connect Conference and ongoing discussions with Coffeedoc.  But also, just the intensity of parenting these past few months has been kind of insane.  I’ve also had some great conversations with friends lately, one more recently got me thinking out loud and hence, this post.

Anyhow, attachment in adoption is a long, nuanced process.  Adjustment to a new family for a child is a long, nuanced process.  It takes much much longer than most folks realize.  Indeed, it’s a lifetime, isn’t it?  Well, yes, of course it is.  And, to stay thematic, there are turnkeys to that process. These are some critical components that can help the process along.  These keys can open doors, to the heart of a new child, to the blending of a family.  But one of the keys, one of the most important keys to attachment in the whole adoption process is a key that is for the mom.  Ok, it’s for the new child and for the sibs and the dad, the whole family.  But, the blingy diamond studded key to this is maybe, especially,  for the mom.  That key is FORGIVENESS.

Ok, set down those flame throwers.  Hang on. Now, attachment is a two way street.  And it’s so SO SO easy to forget that.  We adoptive parents turn cartwheels trying to heal and help our new kids, to check off the copious list of attachment markers and tools.  Are we nurturing, feeding, tutoring, clothing, rocking, walking, singing, playing, holding (and on and on) this new child?  Can we sit out the storm and hold them through their grief, weather their rage, calm the fury, be present through it all?  Can we help them feel safe, can we help them feel heard, can we help them trust?  Yeah, it’s a big list, in more ways than one!  And each and every one of those items on that list is so big, so important.  And each one is critical in helping these kids attach to us, to their new family, their new lives – to bridge from their past to the future in the now.

But the one factor that doesn’t get talked about too much is the attachment flip side.  It’s the dark side of attachment when you’re adjusting to an older child or a child from hard places or with tough behaviors.  It’s so easy to have the best motives and intentions.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the honeymoon of a baby or toddler or new older kid and the romance of it all.  But you know, that honeymoon ends and the romance fades and real life  happens.  Sometimes after, oh, twenty minutes.  Some of you might get a little more lead time.  But sooner (20 mins) or later (20 months), real life hits ya.  And you realize, maybe this isn’t exactly what you expected.  Sure, sure, you read the books.  You took the classes.  You heard the experts and knew the possibilities.  But, a raging storming angry grieving child in a textbook is quite a very different thing than a raging storming LOUD angry crashing grieving child that is turning YOUR ACTUAL household upside down.  And who continues to suck the time and attention and sometimes very air out of a room with their need and the seeming impossibility  of meeting it.

That’s precisely when you need to go looking for your keys.  Take a deep breath, look at your key ring.  Remember, touch that kid, tears are ok, food and dinner is safety.  But, look closer.  There is a small but shiny, flashy diamond key on your key ring.  See it? Grab tight.  Look at it again.  It’s the key of FORGIVING.  Because, ya know….that’s YOUR key.  For you.

You have to forgive that kid.

It’s easy to forget that, though it sounds shocking to say it out loud.  (And don’t flame me, ok? Try to understand where I’m coming from, read the blog backwards if you must).  But that hurt scared little kid, or big teen, didn’t ASK to have this change, this adoption, this move, those hurts, those losses, those disabilities, that complicated brain chemistry, that rage, this new family…you.  I don’t think anyone stands in a cosmic line asking to be handed a big bag of trauma and loss, please, and then “Please, sir, can I have some more?” discombobulation, dislocation, and grief.  Even so, those things are no picnic to be instantly parenting either.  Thus, there is a chasm.  And the only way to cross it is to bridge it….with forgiving.  You, for YOU, have to forgive that kid for the uproar and commotion that is happening in your family.  You have to forgive her for her lack of ability to cope.  You have to forgive him for the tailspin that you are in, due to the dance you two are slamming.

You have to forgive him, not because he needs forgiveness, but because YOU need forgiveness.  You need to lift that burden of responsibility OFF your new child.  And off of you.  Neither one of  you would choose this tough path.  I betcha you’d both rather just instantly fall madly in love with each other and go have ice cream as you feed the ducks in the park.  Well, that’s for Spielberg and  the movies.  What’s true is that you cannot love what or who you cannot forgive.  And you can’t like the one you can’t forgive.  That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.

But ah, forgiveness….?

It heals.


That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.  So, if you can’t intellectually do it, pray for the grace to do it.  It’ll come.  You may have to do it over and over and over.  I hope and pray that my family forgives me over and over and over.  I need it that often.  And, because they are my family, I expect them to try.  And because this new little (or bigger) one is your new family, because you COMMITTED to them, then you need to try too.  That’s how it’s set up.  That’s the deal.

We forgive each other.  And if we turn that key, then the door to healing and love and even like…and maybe even attachment…it opens wide.

Gleaning Grief

I have hesitated to write about this.  But, after all, I think I need to, if only, ever, for my own processing.  And, because this blog is my way of processing…and maybe, with a little luck, my way touching on a point in common with some of you out there too…I’m putting it up.  Please, don’t flame me.  It’s a nervous making post.  But it’s honest.

So, with disclaimer all claimed, here we go:

We have had an odd summer of grief here at the coffee house.  We knew some of it was coming, we could see it on the horizon.  But some of it….well, some of it hit us like a beam smacked up side our heads.  And it’s been exceptionally difficult, as grief is and will be.  And it’s been exceptionally nuanced, as grief is and can be.  And it’s been healing in it’s own exceptional way…as grief sometimes, with luck, can be.

Now, I will also add, on the front end of all this because it’s so important….  In no way will I ever say that grief is something good in and of itself.  Grief is an evil in that it defines loss.  Grief is a hardship.  Grief is a….grief.

But here is what I’ve been thinking about and what I’ve been trying to tie together in my own heart and mind.  I think it’s even Catholic in so many ways – but mostly in the transformation that can come through suffering. (C‘mon, you knew I had to tie that in sooner or later.  Might as well throw it out there right now).  You see, grief is a suffering.

Yeah, I’m gonna repeat myself: Grief is a suffering.

But, with a great deal of grace and the eyes and heart to see it, PARTS (NOT all) of grief can be a transformation.  Ahh, I’m getting ahead of myself.  What a surprise.  I guess I’d better back up and explain.  Deep breath….

I killed our dog.

I know! It was as horrible as reading that is.

In fact, it was much much worse.  It was hands down the worst thing I have ever done.  Just typing this makes my hands kind of shake and my stomach flutter with sick and nerves.  {Whoa, did you hear that? Those tens (I’m not kidding myself, I’d love to say hundreds but this is my dinky blog….less than tens??) of clicks of readers clicking away in disgust??? I know! I heard them too….. See I told you this post wasn’t gonna be pretty or popular…..But this blog is not only ponies and rainbows….}

Anyhow.  I couldn’t eat for a week.  I still can’t park in the same spot.  I ran her over. I didn’t mean to, and wasn’t even racing out. I had no idea she was there. I’m still simply horrified by it and some nights I wake up thinking about it.  Because I loved her.  But even worse, my kids loved her.  And she was just sweet and stupid and it was just the most horrible accident. Literally, Horrible.  I got out fast and saw and I think I must’a screamed (and I’m not a screamer despite what you might imagine). My big sons came running out and I had to run in to stop the girls from doing the same.  And I had to tell them.  And then I had to run after them as they ran screaming.  Quickly I had the two who would take it hardest corralled next to me on the back steps and we wailed and cried and I kept saying “It was an accident, I’m so sorry.”  And they kept forgiving me and wailing from the shock.  All this time my amazing awesome manly sons took care of it all. They cleaned up, made the phone calls to Tom and the vet and my best girlfriend.  They helped the smaller kids and the teen sort out what to do and what not to do.  They canceled appointments and then they helped hug and console.  And then we all hunkered down, to begin to get over the shock.  We all piled onto our big huge sofa and found mindless movies so that we could pretend we were watching. We began the steps of grieving.

And here is where it was awful and horrible and hard and exhausting and yet, and yet….. where some of the good can be found.  Because I have to pull from this. I have to or I will go nuts.  I can’t not, I’m not made that way.  [Perhaps to your pain but for those of you who couldn’t stand my ramblings you’re gone anyway. I heard the clicks.]

Anyhow.  I prayed and prayed for a way through this.  Because you know, that pup was intended in large measure to be a “therapy” pup for my girl from hard places.  And ya know, accidentally running over the dog is not on the worksheet in the therapy-parenting workbook….  No. It’s not.  So, how do you do something so antithetical to TWO years of hard work and slow progress and not have it all slide backwards to back beyond the beginning? How?  I don’t know.  But even my first screams of horror were prayers, “Oh my GOD help!”  Literally.  Oh, my God.  Help us all. Right now. I don’t know what or how to handle this.

And I didn’t know.  I didn’t know.  So I just kept doing the next thing.  And that meant, I held the kid, each of them, together, separately, in pairs, however I found them.  We cried together.  We looked at each other, knowing what wasn’t being said.  The sad.  When one kid would drift off, I’d give them a bit of time, minutes maybe, but I’d find them and pull them into my lap and cry with them.  Let them tell me again and again and again how sad they were.  I told them, “I know.  Me too.

Really, it was hard work.  Is still some days.

But, of course, the first shock of grief ebbs and the days get filled with time and distractions.  And life continues in it’s messy busy way.  And it did.  We hung close to each other for awhile, but even that, soon enough was replaced with the schedules of summer day camps and hot sports outside and swims to cool off.  And those things helped heal too.

Now, none of this is the gleaning.  All of this is the normal, if there is that, grieving after a loss, and this loss was only a pup.  Not a human.  So it was a smallish loss, in some ways, considering what it coulda been.  Really.

But, in this loss, what I have seen is that it has added a new layer to our family.  It has added a new bridge to our new daughter, the one who has had so much too much grief in her life already.  The difference with this one, and perhaps the reason she actually did surprisingly well through it, considering….is that this grief was shared.  By us.

This grief was the first big grief that we all shared together.

Yuh.  Read that again.  BIg big stuff.  We’ve had some family losses; but most were  before she came home, before Gabey came home.  But since she’s been home, thankfully, nothing.  She’s lost so much, so many.

But those losses were all BEFORE.

And she had them alone.

They are separate for her.

Even when she processes them now, here, I can’t share them with her.

None of us can.  It is apart.  Which can only add to it, it seems.

But this one, we did it together.  In fact, this one, we went through all the steps of processing: the shock, the wailing, the angry denial, the dumbfounded sinking in of it, the aching hurt of it, the remembering, the finally being able to talk about the puppy, remember her, laugh about her, the sometimes heart-bruise showing up again.  We did and do all that, together.  Separately, but also, together.

And that, that processing together is  bonding.

That’s what you do with family.

It’s not a bonding process anyone would choose.  Really. Not.  But it does still fill the function.  And the hopefully healthy stepping through the cascade of it….that too, has tremendous value.  {Which is NOT to say that we did so fantastically at it all, we stumbled our way through just like anyone ever does}.

Gleaning from grief.  Sounds kind of morbid, like a vulture even.  I don’t mean it that way.

But that opening horrible day of our summer; I really think it helped us to prepare for the other griefs that were lining up for us.  Chris was leaving in a big way.  Jon was gonna leave again too.  It was a big deal.  Great grief amidst excited joy.  But for the sibs, grief, change, hard.

This horrible event beginning our summer gave us a little road map and the assurance that we could get through it.  We’d cry.  We’d wail.  We’d sniffle and run to have time to ourselves, then come back to check in, sit near each other pretending to watch bad tv.  But mostly, we’d be together, sharing that change, sharing those looks.

Without that process, together, we’d never be able to move to the open clear land after grief.  That’s the place where you can laugh, even after the loss.  We can joke that Chris has tripped on his habit up the stairs as he learns how to wear it.  We can laugh about Jon and his new crazy roommates.  We roll our eyes with a smiling wink over using Brother Peter Joseph’s new religious name and the strangeness of it.  We can even joke that the puppy was not so terrifically bright and remember that really, every single time she saw Tom…….. she’d pee on the floor.

And then, we can smile, a real one without tears, and laugh.

>Happy Sad. Mark the good.

>I’ve had a few posts on “marking the good.”
This is another.
I think it’s important, for me personally, but also in general to mark the good.
When you’re talking about older child adoption and/or working with kids from hard places or with hard needs, I think it’s absolutely critical to mark the good.
Because if you don’t you might just drown.
Marking the good is a lifeline.
It is a critical point of reference that must be indelibly inked in your consciousness, lest it flees from the mire.

That said, I want to mark the good.
This is one of those small but huge ones.  Most of these are really.  Because with these kids  you don’t usually have the brass band events of good to let you know, “hey, this is a good one, this is progress, file it away.”  You get these tiny fleeting moments that might even pass you by in the actual moment…until you think back on it and get that ‘aha!”
I love an “aha!”

Anyhow, this is all to preface another tiny but huge good we’ve come to here in the coffeehouse, and with our Miss Marti.
We’ve just passed through the minefield commonly referred to as “The Christmas Holidays.”
We managed to tiptoe through it fairly well, with only a few tripped landmines and a minor loss of limbs and scorching.  Overall, really, it was much more successful than we anticipated or hoped for.  (I still feel the need to kind of whisper that, just in case somehow it jinxes it.  I know, I’m Catholic, not supposed to fall for that kind of superstition…I told you this was tricky stuff…)  

But then, along came Christmas night:
We had done the vigil Mass. We had done the giddy hysteria of opening presents.

We had done the excess of birthday on top of the excess of Christmas.

 Finally, we were at that ebbing tide of the day: evening.  Everyone was tired, but a happy, sated tired.  The kids were roaming quietly, fooling with new toys or gadgets.  New pj’s had been donned, dishes done.  My eldest, Chris did what he usually does and  made for the piano.  Tom joined him to sit and listen.  Marta quickly found her way to snuggle up next to dad.  I donned my goofy christmas pj’s, in solidarity with the girls (and to show them that there is a certain wonderfulness in super soft flannel warm pj’s despite the old fashioned print…. if not because of it).  I had tucked the small boys in, at last.  So I too, was beckoned down to listen to my son play and sing.  By this time, he had gone through his own choices of warm ups and tunes and he had begun taking requests.

Now, let me be clear..this is always a dicey time for me.  I love listening to my son play and sing more than I can say.  Truly. At this point however, it is a tough thing for me to do, as it  makes me cry…it pulls those tears from the depths of my inner heart.  They are so sweet, and bittersweet and just a salty mess.
I am careful, very careful, about my tears…if at all possible.
Because Marta has radar, or sonar, or whatever you’d like to call it.  But if she sees me crying she cries.
Every. Time.
And so, to even step into that room and sit, knowing that I couldn’t stem the tears well..was an act of …I don’t know. I’d like to say faith…but maybe it was sheer stupidity, or tired or resignation.  I don’t remember.
But I did. I gave her a big smile when I came in.  She gave me one back and hugged her dad.
Dad made a few requests…..I could feel the tears pricking but busied myself looking at book spines.  Blinking hard and fast, head turned.  Marta was intent, watching Chris.  All good.
Then, she called out, “Chris.  Marta song, pleeeasseeeee!?”
Chris looked at me, looked at her, looked at dad.
He chuckled. Dad chuckled. I held my breath.
It had been a long day.
Tom nodded at me. It will be ok.  I gave him, “the look.” You know that look, the one that says, “do you know what you’re doing? It’s been a long day and I went to sleep at four and woke at six and I don’t know if I have the reserve to deal with any meltdown, really…?”
He nodded again.
So Chris played it.  It’s this song:

That is Chris playing “All will be well,” By Gabe Dixon.
It’s the song we  used for our “passing court” video on blog. Marta considers it her song, she is QUITE proprietary about it.
And so he played it.  He gets better and better all the time.
I held my breath and closed my eyes.  Then I opened them and glanced her way.
Sure enough, she was crying.
She was rubbing her eyes and nose, mouth kind of grimaced.
I felt the tension immediately, in my gut, my neck.
She came over to  me, and climbed on my lap, spilling over it.
I hugged her and said, “You ok? It’s ok.”
And she said……wait for it……..”Ok mom. Happy Sad.”
And she hugged me.

Happy sad.
These two emotions haven’t been able to be pieced together by this young girl, since she came home.  There was no such thing as happy tears.  Tears  have only been sad. Ever. Even when I’ve tried to tell her and show her and she’s seen me cry them at, oh, every birthday and holiday.  And tears and/or sad always have led to deep running grief.
But this Christmas, we got a gift.
And I’m marking it down.
Happy Sad.
She was crying, but happy. She knows what that song  means and she can feel that pang of deep happy that makes you cry.
She LOVES to have Chris sing and play that song.
She makes me turn it up if we hear it on the radio.
And this Christmas, in the quieting of the evening….she hit another marker.
Tears, happy tears.
“Happy Sad.”
Healing goodness. Happy Sad.

>Mark the good, belated redux

>I’ve written before about “marking the good.”
I think it’s an important thing to do, and it’s one I too often fail to do, either here in this forum or, truly, in my own chatter and mind.
It’s oh so much too easy to only see or remember the bad, the hard, the challenge.
And, it’s probably my inborn gripey moody nature to do so.

But I think it’s worth trying to step over and beyond our complacent habits of being and doing…especially when it comes to being able to see the good that surrounds us.
Because, really, if we blink we might miss it.
Especially when you are talking about the good in older child adoption adjustment and/or kids with difficult needs or special needs and/or attachment and/or grief/trauma issues.
Just in that sentence alone, as you can see, the bad can easily sink the good.

So, I want to go on the record that over this last weekend of Thanksgiving holiday, we had some good. Some good to mark.
Some good to give hope – certainly to me, but also, maybe, to any other mom who is doing the day in day out work of adjusting and theraputic parenting and such.  This mom encourages me all the time in her blog, go see, she is of the same mind this week: mark the good, note the progress. I wish I lived closer to her and could hang out over coffee and shortbread cookies….

Anyhow, back to the good, noticing and marking…
These things weren’t glaring or obvious trumpeted things.
As usual, they were subtle moments, or, more even, they were an absence of tough and a presence of um, kinda normal.
 Read that again, there was more time without drama.
There was a sort of calm coping. Or “undrama,” if  you will.
Yes, I just made that word up, because somehow, it relates to the trauma drama that can be a pervasive silent ghostly but tangible enough cloudiness in a  house.  “Undrama” is the hoped for flip or even a passing by on a tricky weekend.

Anyhow, as I was saying, or want to say….this past weekend had much craziness built in to the festivities: guests, extra guests, boys home from college, no school, big cooking and house prep, schedules whacked out.

 (homey buffet, but it was the requested fav’s of the college boys, so we ran with it…
because being HOME was the point of the weekend in many ways)

 I wrote about it here, and hoped that it some advance prep would help.
Well, it did!!
Not to say that everything was perfect or that this was the only reason, but overall, we had an ok, kinda normal level of behavior weekend.  Which, considering the potential, is amazing.
Now, we also worked hard on keeping coping methods in the forefront and this one child in particular on radar (though not solo on that radar, if you get my drift, there is managing multiple kids out the wazoo during weekends like this).

But here is what worked:
– staying tuned in to the ‘weather’ of mood and coping,
– redirecting her to a special given task of help if there was drifting into the dark mood,
– going for a walk – just her and dad and puppy to get some breathing time again (one of the trump cards that is usually a win and can almost always rescue a mood swing),
– checking in with a whisper and a hug and a “good job” with a wink,
– discussing in advance the nervous making parts,
– and allowing flight to a calmer safer quiet place (bedroom) if she was feeling overwhelmed.
Now, we don’t use those words (flight, overwhelmed, etc) as we discuss and prep in advance, but we try to convey the feelings and actions to help in words she can understand.

 {As you can see, the presence of my Chris, her adored big bro, didn’t hurt either.  Huge help.}

I put all these up there not to say, “Oh wow, we did great” but rather to say, “O wow, SHE did great!” These things made a difference.
The seventeen months’ she’s been home and safe have made a difference.
The seventeen months of working on these things have made a difference.
But these things, this weekend, they also made a difference.  It wasn’t a heavenly light show with a choir kind of difference, but it was a weekend without a major screeching halt to deal with a trigger reaction.
And that, right there, is a bit of a a heavenly choir in my mind. 

So I want to mark the good. We had a good, great, exhausting, kinda normal Thanksgiving weekend.  And that is a world of good different from last year and it gives me hope for maybe, maybe, a better Christmas this year too.  It’s progress.  I’ll take it. 

{Two of M’s other favorite people: dear sweet Leslie and her other adored big bro!}

I saw the good; I’m marking it.

>"Can I go with you?"


Lately, Gabriel has developed a new intensity.  Some of that is just standard issue three year old boundary testing.   However, it occurred to me, today (because I am a slow study) that part of this intensity is actually different from my other kids when they were three.  There is an undercurrent of intensity to his relentless pursuit to “go.”  He wants to go.  Everywhere. Nothing makes him happier or can get a grin and a jig out of him faster than being told, “You bet, let’s go.”
We’ve all been thinking that it is just “going” for the minor adventures that are “going” places in our busy days.  But, as I drove today to Sarah’s school for a class project (Living museum, very cute), I was stewing about Gabey and his kind of desperate begging to “Go with you.”  Especially when it comes to myself and his dad, Gabey is desperate to go.  With us.  Anywhere.  Everywhere. 
Today it finally dawned on me, and you could argue that I’m overstating it, but my gut thinks otherwise.  Knows better.  Gabey IS desperate to “Go.” He has a much more intense need to go with us, beyond your standard three year old desire to go and be with their parents.  His is different.  His is, after all, an adoption remnant.  It’s very easy to think that he’s been  home two years now, and thus he is over all his adjustment.  I know better.  But even so, daily life sweeps a lot of latent stuff off the radar.  That’s just how it plays…until it smacks you upside the head or you run into a wall.  {Well, in  my house, that’s how it plays…we’re a fast moving place.}  
This need has a root. 
Gabriel was left.  
He was left at eleven months. 
It wasn’t just being left on the side of the road.  
But he was taken to an orphanage, in a planned relinquishment by his great uncle.  
Goodbyes were said.  
And he was left.  
And he was old enough to not understand. 
Not even a little. 
But old enough to be confused and scared and missing his family.
And I can see in his pictures from that time how closed his face was. 
The immediate shock of that event is submerged by those pics, maybe, but it still shows.  
It’s so easy to forget that he experienced that. And it imprinted.  And it’s deep and it’s primal.  A primal scar.  And sometimes, I see a glimpse of it, when he cries out in his sleep, “Don’t leave me!” Or, when, now, every day, he clings and grasps and holds on and says, “Can I go with you?”  He will say it twenty times in a row, he does not want to take no for an answer.  Sometimes we have to say no. 
But now, as I realize what is under that relentless questioning desire and need, I am saying more often, “Yes. You betcha.”  
And then I get this, the sweetest smile on the sweetest face.  
And my heart swells right up to my own grin.   
 “Yes, my Gabey, you can go with me.  Forever.”

>Turn-keys: Transitions


 Photo by Danielle, from Domodossola, Italia, from Wikimedia Commons

Ok, so I’ve written about a couple of turn-keys in adoption adjustment, here, and here, and here
There is another key in the process of adjusting in an adoption.  {Now, if you haven’t adopted older kids, a lot of this might just be gabble to you…I know.  And I will put up this disclaimer…this will be disjointed due to my hard to pin down thoughts but also due to the assault on my mind from allergies, and my muzzy head which swings back around to my meandering thoughts. Fair warning.  But if you have adopted older child, I think you will probably understand what I’m talking about.}
It’s a player in all adoptions but I’d say, in my experience, it is a very BIG player in older child adoption.   And really, you could quite fairly say it’s more of a pass key than a turn-key.  But it is a turn-key in that I don’t think you get in, make progress, continue to connect, without this:

Another simple term.
To go from one state to another, one place to another, a change on some level.
Transitions are hard.
Heck, transitions mean change and change can be hard on all levels, for any or all of us.
Lots of kids have problems with change, transitions, big or small.
How often have you had to give the “five minute warning” that it’s gonna be time to go?
Like, every day, right?
Right then, you see what I mean. 

In adoption adjustment, that term comes in all shapes and sizes and forms.
Because adoption is pretty much NOTHING BUT transition.  
It’s all transition, all the time.
Whew, no wonder it’s hard!
No wonder we are all so tired!

Of course there are all the obvious, literal transitions:
from the past to the future,
from then to now,
from first family to second,
to new ways,
new families,
new language possibly,
new culture,
new city and country,
new place, new people.
With no time out to breath the familiar.

But the transitions that are the turn keys, the ones that open the doors or close them shut, are usually the emotional transitions.  Yeah, swinging emotions and moods. And those, well, those are complicated.

The parent trying to help a newly or recently adopted child, especially an older child, adjust faces a steep and swift learning curve for navigating these emotional transitions.  And there are NO books or articles or experts who can guide  you precisely through them.

But those emotional transitions, the swings, pack a wallop.
And I guess the reason I want to post on it is that it’s just SO easy to get blindsided by them.
By which I mean, and this is one of those keys:  Transition comes at a cost.

I think that it is best to know that MOST of the time, it seems, one step forward, or two, or more, will almost always be followed with the two step cha cha back.
Sometimes giant steps backwards, sometimes, if you’re lucky, only small ones.
But those steps aren’t only simple regressions, they can be emotional spirals of grief or anger or dark deep untouchable mood or acting out.
Because that’s how it plays, it seems.

Maybe those steps forward, are just kind of so scary, way deep down where it can’t be touched or explained completely, that the only thing that makes sense somehow is to follow the trigger, ride the swing down.
It’s primal reaction in a way.
It can’t be just halted.
If it could, oh I think, I know,  all of us would.
Halt it.
But it can’t.
It seems that it has to be moved through.

And it’s in the moving through it, the swinging through it, that the healing comes. 
Hard to remember…but it is.
That’s why it’s a key.
A passkey AND a turn-key.
Emotional transition.
Without that emotional, moving, transitioning, through it, they can’t get beyond it.
It will snag you, them.
It has to be passed through and over and beyond.
But sometimes it has to be done again and again.
Yes, swung through again and again.
Yes, it’s exhausting.
For the them, for you, for everyone.

Luckily, a key is made of strong stuff.
And it works to turn those locks, to tumble them…as many times as necessary.

Then, at some point, different for each emotional scar or hard place, for each child, that key finally turns, tumbles open that lock for good.
The swinging can stop.

We aren’t there yet on most of these transitions.
We are still swinging.
But I trust, and pray, that sooner or later (hopefully sooner), that key will turn that lock for good.
And my child from hard places can leap out of that swing, flying free from the spiraling hard emotions.

I’ll be waiting to catch her and laugh with her at the giddy free air of it.

Until then, I hang on tight to the key, holding her, holding on to the swing.
Waiting for that leap.

>Bloggy Road Trip

>I am doing a guest post today!  Who’da thunk it!?
No kidding.   Yup, surprised me too..but I’m  honored (and shocked and surprised…another mini “Sally Field” moment).
Lisa at “A Bushel and a Peck” asked me to babysit a post day on her blog while she’s out of town.
So, I’m no fool, I said “You betcha!”

Now if you all haven’t checked out her blog, you should go, right now.  (No, not only to read my post…) You should bookmark it and check it daily, or at least really really often.  She is one of  my daily hits and mom heroes.  She has eleven beautiful kids and is a talented, amazing mom.  She is an inspiration to me; and a great resource both for regular old family stuff, larger family ideas, and also the full spectrum of adoption topics. 

My post today, on her blog, is another about older child adoption and adjustment.  About the dance of older child adjustment.  I’ve written about the dance of waiting, here.   But now that dance has changed.  It’s a very different sort of dance indeed.  Go, read, let me know what you think.  Say hello to Lisa for me and update your blog list if she’s not on it.  You’ll be glad you did.

>The turn-keys: Tears


So, here we are again.  Turn-keys.  Those things that I’m finding to be critical, yeah – Key – to our adjustment with this older child adoption. I’ve written about a couple already, here, and here.  And now, I want to write about another: Tears.

What? Tears?
How can those be so important?
Well, they are.
Yeah, it surprises me too.

I am learning that those tears are very important, critical, on different levels and in different ways.  Those tears are part of the adjusting, and I am not sure you can really adjust to all the new of an adoption without them.  And those tears are for everyone, of course.  Because each person in the family needs them….to process the intensity of the changes and the building of new relationships. Now I’ll spare  you the blathering about the tears of the rest of us: the jealous tears, the overwhelmed, the frazzled, the blue ones (yeah, it’s tough on moms too).  Those are fodder for a different post.

With a younger child, toddler or infant adoption, there are also many tears.  They are also critical to the adjustment process.  But they are easier to parse out, to understand.  They are typically more, not completely, but a bit more developmentally tracked and explained.  They are simpler because the child is still slightly simpler.  No less heartbreaking, but easier to console and repair.   The tears of the turn-key I’m talking about here are the tears of the older adopted child.  In this case, our daughter.

It’s hard to sort through all this coherently.  But I’ll give it a go.
It seems like it wouldn’t be complex, I mean, it’s crying, right?
Crying is a no brainer.
Kids cry all the time.
They cry, you console.
Except, not.

When an adjusting older child cries, honestly, at first you kind of brace yourself in dread.  You wonder, and fear a little bit, is this going to slip into something bad?  Is it going to blow in like a hurricane – tank the day? Because you don’t know this child so intimately yet. You haven’t always seen this before.  And you know the potential.  So, you brace for it…..whatever IT is.  And sometimes, it IS something very hard: rage, deep scarred grief, irrational fear.  Sometimes, it’s just overwhelmed or misconception or misunderstanding.  Sometimes, it’s just mundane, but ever so powerful, hormones.  Or lack of sleep.  Or an incoming virus.  It’s all over the map, crying.  Tears. 

Even so.  It’s all good.  Seems counter intuitive.  Our (ok, my) first reaction might, or is, naturally to wish it away, to sigh, to find the fastest way around it all.  But, that’s not necessarily the answer either.  Those tears are important.  If this child is grieving the life they left behind, no matter if that seems unlikely as that life might have been very very harsh, then that grieving must be done.  It’s valid; that life was what they knew, loved (some parts) and grew to themselves in. 

It’s all too easy to think of grief as a ‘hanging on’ to something.  It is and it isn’t.  When done right, it’s a ‘hanging on’ to the good, and letting go of the bad.  It’s ok to miss the ones or the place  you loved.  And that can totally jive with learning to love new ones or new places.  But, I don’t think it can be done without the tears of it.

Then there are the tears of rage and grief of the hurt – for both old and new hard things.  Those are kind of scary – for everyone.  And it’s so hard to know how to help.  And I”m not sure there is any way to really truly help – at least in the overt sense.  You can’t fix it.  I can’t fix it, or what has happened.  But you/I can BE there.  Just be there.  Hold on to them, sit next to them, let yourself get their tears dripped onto you.

That, that mess, is a fix.  It’s the only and best one.  Because you are there, they are not alone, and you’re not gonna run away from it.  And so, it gets less scary, for both of you.  But, oh, those tears…they hurt.  Both of you. 

Then there are the new tears.  These are the tears that can be both wonderful and frustrating.  The frustrating ones are the ones that you, and maybe she, doesn’t understand.  They just kind of spring up….from a misunderstanding, frazzled nerves, hormones.  From being a teen girl.  From sensory overload in a new country.   From language gap, culture gap….all sorts of gaps. Those too, mostly just need a little time, maybe a little space, maybe a time to hold or sit nearby.  They need to wash away….the weary effort, the bruised feelings.  And they do.  

Way back, oh 85 years or so ago, I learned in science class that water is the universal solvent.  Well, I would say that the water shed in tears, when you are talking about an older child adoption and adjusting, is one of the universal glues.  Can be.  Maybe not always (I’m talking about us, here, always, ever…that’s all I know), but oh so often they are.  These tears are bonding.  The happy over the top joyful tears…they are  just fun.  They pull you all in with a grin.  But the other kind….It’s hard not to care about a child who is sobbing next to you (even when you wish it weren’t so).  For the child to allow you to see them, hold them, at their most vulnerable….that is the beginning of trust.  For you to sit with them, hold them, get soaked by their tears…console them.  That is the beginning of family. 

A few days ago, a sibling moment occurred.  It was a pretty typical moment – if had happened between most of the kids.  However, it was the first between Marta and another.  And it was a a flash.  But, it cut to the quick for her.  It launched one of those tear spilling, walking away times.  It meant the evening would now be redirected.  And it was.  But, it was one of those turn-key times.  Because as I consoled Marta and talked to her about what happened, she slowly sat up in bed and hugged her pillow to her.  Then Bananas came in and flopped on her bed on the other side of the room they share.  And she saw Marta, still crying.  I said, “Has this happened to you?”  And Bananas laughed and said, “Oh yeah!  See, Marta, it’s like this…..” and she went on to act out the same interaction with the same sib.

And very soon, Marta was laughing with us as she snuffled up her tears, eyes red rimmed.  And I froze the moment in my mind.  These tears were healing.  These tears were bonding.  These tears were typical of any sibling scuffle.  And this image, two sisters laughing about a sib, both on their beds in pj’s, while one allowed us to see her snuffling and gulping a bit as she came to calm, the other trying  hard to make her laugh and move on…that’s a FAMILY.  That’s what happens in families.  So, yeah, these tears: they helped turn a bit closer to family.  And I am grateful for even this tough turn-key.  Another one made of gold.

>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.
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.
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.

>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.

>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!

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.


>No adoption blog really is complete without posting that ongoing, ever growing, list of firsts. The list ranges from the mundane to the sublime, but they all have impact and are a privilege for us to witness. Fun and nervewracking, scary sometimes, sometimes hard, but really…it’s always cool to expand a world, bit by bit. To find out much is out there.

So, without further ado, here it is. First post of firsts.

Obviously, first Halloween.
First supermarket.
First escalator.
First ice cream.
First airplane.
First elevator.
First dentist visit.
First extraction, ouch.
First family dinner.
First ride on a boat.
First ocean.
First beach.
First Grandma.
First Grandpa.
First trampoline.
First cousins.
First Uncles.
First Aunts.
Frst pumpkins, first jack o’lanterns.
First Disney.
First roller coaster.
First frappucino.
First football game.
First swim.
First walk on beach.
First seashells.
First dolphins.
First movie.
First computers.
First piano.
First vaccinations.
First family party.
First sentences in english.
First trouble with american mom and dad.
First forgiving.
First big family.
First brothers.
First sisters.
First autumn.
First lazy naps on the deck in the sun…..
The best thing about most of these firsts is they are just that: firsts. Most of them have many more, countless, times to experience them again. Which might not be so thrilling on the no fun ones…but some of them, ah, its just so good.


>So many of the things that are involved with adjusting to an adoption keep crowding into my head. So, I’m processing stuff. Which means I have to post, you know it…its how I process. Bear with me. I wish someone had talked about this stuff when I was researching wondering dreaming about it all. I know, heaps o’ books out there, but for my meager mind, I need things categorized a mite differently. Maybe. All those books are so helpful and even now crowding my bookshelves and stacked on my night table. I am still using them and will be for a good long while, maybe ever.

But even so, this is how my mind parses things out:
You know how you hear about “Turn key” businesses? Where you can just step in and the biz runs properly, right out of the box?
Well adoption is the exact opposite of that.

But even so, I have decided that there ARE “turn-keys” in the adoption process, the adjustment process. And I think they really are critical to the fine tuning of an adoption, at least for us, me, our family. These are the keys that literally turn and open or close the process of adjustment (at least in my opinion, I’m just a mom, not an expert, so take this for what it is).

Sadly, there is NO ONE key to the whole process; though wouldn’t that be fantastic!? But I think these are a number of keys: time, touch, trouble, trust, truth, talk, terror even. I’ve written about the terror often enough. And time, downtime, that is. And recently about the trouble. But one of the most important keys, a true “turn key,” is one of the hardest (of course!).

Oh my.
I think this is one of the biggest.
In some ways, it’s everything.
Think about it: TRUST.
There has to be so much of that.
But how hard it is to find, to grab, to hold, to create, to hang onto?
If you have it, it seems solid..and you are more fortunate than you may realize.
If you do not, or cannot, then it can be so ephemeral, so heartbreakingly out of reach.

I think it is what we are all searching for, as much or more than happiness, or possibly, love.
Because you cannot trust without love.
Because you cannot be happy without trust.
They flow and feed each other.
So, yeah, its big.
When you have brought an older, hurt, child into your family is it gigantic.
It is everything.

Gee whiz, trust. Sounds like a basic. I have realized I really took it for granted, that foundational unquestioning trust. I trust my kids, beyond those moments of obvious lying or um, borrowing, and run of the mill kid stuff that most kids have to test out. They trust me. Even if they hate me for holding them to curfew or being strict, they still, if push came to shove, would admit that (even if I am “so wrong and clueless”) I have the best intentions on their behalf. I trust my husband, I trust how things work. I trust God. Right?

Well, this adoption has taught me that actually, I have MASSIVE trust issues! (It’s the curse of the control freak, always) God, husband, kids, new kid, the whole shebang. Not too fun finding that one out! But, really, helpful, because with the entrance of a new, older, child into a home….everyone’s level of trust is laid on the line. And you know what? You have to deal with it.

As mom, you have to deal with it yourself and for the others too. I’d love to say that foundational trust is unshakable. And it might just be for Coffeedoc and Buddybug. And thank goodness for that! But for the rest of us? Well, it was shaken some. You can see that shake in the jealousy, the attention seeking of new and old kids, the acting out, the frazzled tempers and moods (yeah, mine too, once or twice. Ahem.). Really, so much of that turmoil stemming from questions of trust, different levels, but still the same bottom line. And for our new sweet girl? Well, its still not there for her either. How can it be?

So, how do you build trust? How do you parent a child who just plumb does not, cannot truly deeply TRUST you? Its much harder than it seems and I think its one of the huge reasons that it can be harder to adjust to older child adoption. When you’ve raised a child from baby or toddler that trust has a million times over to be proven built tested and reinforced.

A new child, older, coming from a completely different world and ways? Do they have that tested track record with you? No. Do you trust them immediately in the same way as your children already at home? Honestly? You can’t. You don’t know them well enough yet to know their expressions moods triggers. You don’t know when the honeymoon will switch to a meltdown or if it will even. So that takes time to trust and anticipate their actions and reactions. And so, until you build that foundation of trust…. Well, you’re flying, um parenting, without a net.
And for the new child? Well, that trust is gonna be a long time coming, deep down. They might well trust that you will feed house and clothe them. But the deep trust, the kind that withstands the misunderstandings, the corrections, the grief the anger the complete discombobulation….that isn’t there, not really. And so when they feel like they are drowning in all the change how do they trust you will save them, pull them up and not let go? Well, maybe they don’t. Or maybe they are trying, but you have to do your part. Which is: be there, hang on, get over yourself (Now don’t get all worked up and think I’m judging, I am totally typing about ME here), and don’t let go.

Sounds easy. It’s not.

But as you do it, you both are reaching a bit toward each other. Even the silly kinds of trust make such a huge difference. That you can tease and just be a little silly, for fun not hurt. And that really ice cream seems weird but is wonderful, try it. And that if mom says she will come in and kiss you goodnight when she gets home, she will. Heck, even that, just like a small child needs to learn, I always come back.

And just that effort, that repeated reaching, I think {and continue to hope and pray}, brings you (ok, me) all a bit closer, laces your heart to the other….a tiny bit at a time. It may not feel like it at all. And trust is really something that doesn’t feel like much except a sort of sureness, an absence of fear. But it is the grounding for the feelings that feel like everything: happiness, love, joy.

So, really, I would love someone to hand me a shiny big ol’ turn key to all this, to precisely fit this one critical lock. And then to open the door to a deep firm trust, for all of us. Trust in each other, trust in love, trust in the time and effort, trust in the good, trust without hurt, trust without doubt or question or fret. But I guess this particular turn-key is crafted from the clay of our (OK, my measly) hearts, bodies, and just plain old presence, again and again and again – for the whole family, old and new. But this key, once its made, will be one to treasure tight.

>Counter Intuitive Adjustment

>There is an odd part of the adoption adjustment process that I want to talk about, to kind of sort it out in my head. I’ve only really actually been able to see it clearly this time around. I suspect it plays out much more with the adjustment of an older child into the family. I’m talking about that boundary…the one that is so hard to cross the first few times.

I’m talking about trouble. I mean Trouble with a capital “T” (to borrow from “The Music Man”). And I guess I should throw out the caveat that I’m only talking about OUR house and family and experience here. So don’t flame me, I know well enough that every single adoption – young or old – is unique and different from every other. However, that said, I have noticed something lately, and it feels important, at least to me/us. Its a whole counter intuitive experience.

Trouble. You all know it. There are different kinds of course. But I’m talking about routine ‘trouble,’ the kind found in oh, every single family in the world. The usual stuff of squabbling and testing boundaries and annoying behaviors and flat out breaking the rules to see how it plays sort of thing. The sulks, the tantrums, the rudeness, the ignoring…..life with kids. Not all kids, not all the time…but really, most every kid, some of the time.

With the adoption of an older child, ok, this older child, there are phases. You can read about them in the books. The honeymoon phase is the most fun, supposedly, the giddiness of meeting and all the excitement of the new.

All new, all the time.
Frankly, its wonderful and exhausting.

Part of that exhaustion comes from that very newness. Every single thing is new, needs to be explained, or pointed out, or giggled over. Everything is heightened. And it takes a little while, but then you realize that everyone is kind of walking through the day on eggshells. Don’t make a false step or the eggs will crack and the mess might spill out. Everyone is on their best behavior because no one is quite sure how it will play when they are not.

But you know, that can’t last.

It doesn’t. And while it is a whole ‘nother kind of exhausting to leave that golden honeymoon phase, it is a relief in it’s own way. Because now, it becomes real. Things get rocky, possibly very very fast. It can be ugly. It hurts, there can be tears all around – anger, fury even, snits, snot, names, accusations, hopefully not hits pinches and shoves between the kids (but you know, it’s possible).

And, as mom, you know what you have to do. You do it before you’ve analyzed it and set out a plan. You deal. Ideally, calm cool and collected. But, sometimes you (ok, ok: me) react instead of plan. Because while some moms might be able to only discipline in calm cool collection, according to their calmly evaluated plotline…THIS mom tends to react and maybe even has been known to um, yell, once or twice. (I am not admitting this, I am just saying that there is a possibility that there has been a slip or two over the years.)

What I am saying is: the kid(s) are in Trouble. Capital T.

Now. We are in this new phase now. Our new daughter has been in Trouble. Capital T. And it happened before I knew it. It has now happened a number of times. And, really, I now think it is such a good thing. Let me be clear, the trouble itself is not good. No one digs it. But the ability to be in trouble….priceless.
Let me give you a for instance. On this trip, we went to a swishy restaurant with all the kids – because we are maniacs. (But that is a topic for another post.) I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that not long into the dinner, about halfway through, I got up and took Miss Marti outside.
In mom code, that’s big stuff. Capital T stuff.
And I took her off to the side of the restaurant and told her in no uncertain terms that she was behaving poorly and in Trouble and it was all not ok. She is a stubborn little gal and so this included some back and forth between us, heads shaking, arms crossed, tears…the works. Shortly, we came to terms. More tears. Now hugs. And a long one. Done.

But then, for the second or third time since she’s been home Marti looked at me and laughed a small laugh as she said her (Ethiopian) Mom’s name. And then pretty much re-enacted our ‘discussion.” Then she pointed to me and said my name: “Mom.”

I smiled and said, “Yeah. She would have said the same thing. Because we are both moms. Your moms. And we love you. So listen!” And then I got a REAL hug and a REAL smile and we walked inside to continue dinner (Waving at the bar patrons whom I had unwittingly provided the evening entertainment. doh!).

And you know, when she went inside she was happy again. Not sulky.
And it felt like things clicked one more notch down toward settled (still a ways to go, but every notch is something).
Because all that – that discipline, anger, apologize, forgive, move on thing?
That’s NORMAL.
And the other kids feel more normal if they know I will take her out (of the restaurant…c’mon on!) and she can get in the same kind of trouble they can.

It’s a comfort, in a totally counter intuitive sort of way.
And it’s one notch closer to “Normal.”
For all of us.

>Three months. Adjustment

>So, today is three months.
Three months since Miss Marta T landed in America. Stepped foot on US soil and became a citizen (IR3 visa, don’t get all worked up, Gabey came on IR4, it’s just different).

Three months of adjusting to a tsunami of change: only child to big family, no parents to two parents and even more: us, new food, new smells, new sights, new language, new ways, new everything single thing you can think of to name.

So, how are we doing? How is Marta doing?

I hope we are doing pretty well. That’s the funny thing, it’s kind of impossible to know in a way.

With older child adoption its a different kind of road. It doesn’t come with the same maps as infant or toddler adoptions. There are almost no standards or norms, it seems. Because every child comes with so much history that their trajectory and ways are their own. Unique. Meaning, their paths, their ways, the adjustments, their quirks, their traumas, their charms are all unique to their very own self. And you can compare if you like (and its OH so tempting to do it), but it’s not at all the same as comparing when your kid walked or talked or got their teeth. Those markers are not nearly so clear in this arena.

So, instead of judging this soon, I’m gonna throw out what’s up at three months; what we know and what we are learning. About our new daughter: Marta Therese.

The beach is beautiful.
California is nice.
Swimming is so much fun.
It is very hard to learn to swim but its a ball anyhow.
Mom and Dad think this means there are big hazards around water.
Especially the ocean because its so easy to tip over and fall, even just standing there.
Because if you look down, it’s disorienting.

Music is just the best.
Singing is good too.
Mom is very funny when she tries to sing and dance.
Shopping is one of the best of things.
Especially with an older sister.
Pink is maybe the best color ever.
And maybe yellow too.

Quilting and sewing is just fascinating.
Its new, but feels pretty good to be able to learn it.
Its great to be able to do it on your own, all by yourself.
Those seams will get straighter with practice.
That sewing machine makes ya feel powerful!
Those quilts are crazy colorful charm.

American food is great.
Pasta and pizza are always great.
Salad and ice cream are best of all.
Sweet potatoes are disgusting.
Carrots aren’t much better.
But so many choices are just a thrill.
The rules of restaurants are a little hard to figure out though.
Ordering, why can’t you change your mind?

Dentists are very nice, but not much fun to visit.
Braces are very exciting to think about though.
Pink is the color already picked out for the bands.

America is fun.
Movies are amazing!
Roller coasters can be very fun.
But they can also be very scary.
Boats are very fun.
School is fun, still.
Except for math and learning to tell time.
The english teacher is just so nice!
English is a very hard language to learn.

A big family is a good thing.
Except when the smaller ones make you crazy being pests.
But big brothers and sisters are wonderful.
Except when the big sister keeps you up at night studying with both music and lights on.
And except for when you have to figure out shower schedules.
And where to sit in the car or at the table.
And family rules are not always fun either.
You’ll get in trouble if you cut your own hair.
Or ignore mom or dad or are rude.
Mom holds to those rules and will yell and scold.
But then its ok again after it all.
Buddybug is very much missed.
But its exciting to think he’ll be home in less than a week for a bit.

Maybe the best part of a big family is that means BIG family.
And aunts and uncles and cousins.
Maybe the very best thing of all is to have grandparents.
And a Grandma who understands somehow.
Best of all are hugs from her, and mom and dad.

Three months is just the beginning.
The whole family is still adjusting.
Adjustments are both big and small ways.
Things can be hard.
Things can be so frustrating.
Feeling sad can make your whole body hurt.
Or parts of it.
It can feel lonely sometimes.
It can be so confusing too.
Its easy to get out of sorts and not really know why.
Things are very strange here.
But are starting to feel more normal, a little.
We all hope it gets easier.
Some days it is.
Some days it’s not.

Some days you get a glimmer of feeling that depth, just under there, and its a shiver of good.
And you know, it’s worth it to keep on trying.

>Cultural Confusion

>We got it. Cultural confusion, I mean.
And yeah, of course, we’ve got it going on on many levels, big and small.
But really, the one on my mind this trip, is the bizarro factor of trying to explain both the whole Disney deal to Marta AND how to explain Halloween.

I knew I was going to have to figure out the whole Halloween explanation to her, by the end of the month at the latest right? But, oh dopey me, I hadn’t remembered that Disney does a whole Halloween extravaganza for the holiday…milking every last shiver and shriek they can out of it. And I know they have a holiday of sorts in Ethiopia where kids go door to door asking for candy, but really, that’s where the similarity to our holiday ends. No costumes or horror or pumpkins even, that’s American.

So I had a double whammy of explaining to do. I think I failed miserably. I tried, really I did. But I saw it all with new eyes: foreign no language eyes, to be exact. And frankly, really, its awfully weird. Both the Disney and the Halloween…but combined: bizarro world. I’m just saying, what else can it look like but bizarro world?

Think about it: you go on rides where you are scared out of your wits thinking you’re going to fall out or be crashed into walls or fly right out of your seat…and then everyone gets off jabbering and laughing and hooting with silly grins on their faces. I know, some of that adrenaline rush doesn’t need language. But some does: the “Are we having fun yet?” factor. Add to that the visual of every bit of the park is decorated, as only Disney can do, for the ghoul factor of Halloween (thankfully however, minus the more modern fascination w/ gore). But you’ve got skulls and cobwebs and big spiders hanging from every nook and cranny; skeletons and ghosts and spooky music and witches. Scary stuff, if you don’t know the holiday behind it. And if not scary, well, really really weird.

Then you have the lack of cultural immersion is Disney-ana. I am not sure at all about how much Marta realized was real and not real. We stupidly forgot our dictionary, so it was hard to say, “those hippos and crocodiles on the Jungle Cruise are fake, dont’ worry. Those pirates aren’t shooting at you, it’s not real, don’t worry.” No wonder Pirates of the Caribbean ride was NOT a hit. Aw.

Anyhow, so that’s some of the cultural confusion we’ve been surfing through (in honor of our beach locale) this week.
Almost unexplainable weirdness.
Hopefully, someday soon she’ll understand that we don’t make a habit of decorating with skulls and cobwebs and skeletons here in America…..but that we just like a bit of goofy silly fun.

>Forays and Firsts

>So, we have taken fall break to make some foray’s back toward normal. We decided to make a sort of slamming busy trip to California to have Marta meet the California side of the family (my side) and to “do the Disney” thing – by which I mean Disneyland, babeee, Disneyland! (Which I know is not normal, but in an odd way, is so normal for my family in that it is a kind of crazy intense undertaking, so yeah, kind of standard in its own wacky way). Plus, since we were already all the way out here, we figured we’d let Booboo go and check out a college he’s dreaming about. So, this trip is sort of a foray into the future, the new here and now future, for our family. Maybe that doesn’t all make sense to you, but somehow, to us, it does.

There will be more posts on this trip, as SO many things are cropping up. But I want to start with the best. These two moments, no matter what happens the rest of this trip, made this trip worth it. Period.

Marta met her grandparents, my folks. That picture above? In the airport, meeting my mom, her new grandma, for the very first time. I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out, but I ran and hugged my mom and Marta was right behind me. And my mom? She just enveloped Marta in this huge welcome hug. I almost cried. Marta just closed her eyes and hung on tight. And Mom/Grandma just keep hugging and holding her, telling Marta it was so good that she was finally here. It was just so great, really great, to see my mom, who knows the hard parts of this adjustment, just wrap this girl up because she needs to be loved…like a Grandma can love and hug. And for Marta, this was huge, HUGE. And my dad, who is a very reserved kind of guy, physically and otherwise, he just hugged her big and Marta just hugged him big with her eyes squinched so tight that her forehead wrinkled. And I could’a cried right there on the curb. Marta did tear up on the drive to their house, and once there just stayed in the circle of grandma’s arm, right next to her. I just love my mom.

And I was grateful for it all.

A little while later, we drove over to the beach. As we got to my folk’s old condo, my favorite place in the world, I was getting settled in and Marta and Bananas ran out to the beach. I went onto the balcony to watch – this was Marta’s first time on the beach, seeing the ocean, hearing smelling touching it all. And I was given a small gift, to watch this.

Marta ran down to the surf line, tiptoed to the water and touched a toe in. Then she stepped back, lifted her head back and sort of swirled in a circle lifting her arms, taking it all in.

All I can say is that it was very much a Sound of Music moment. She was Julie Andrews on the mountaintop, swirling in joy. I’m not kidding, it was kind of beautiful. Then she looked back up at me, and grinned.
And I was grateful for it all.


>I am a “Type A” person. I know, this comes as a huge surprise to you all, a shock no doubt.
But, its true. I am fairly high energy, intense, and feel guilty if I am not doing something productive, or at least something that I can indulge in and justify. I have a constant “to do” list scrolling through my head…like a bizarre gerbil mill on speed: spinning spinning spinning. Fun, no? Not always…..

Why, you ask, am I indulging in this tedious reflection? Well, it is hitting me smack in my forehead that this very trait is a huge link, or broken link, in the process of adjusting. I know, I hear you: “Doh!” But there you have it.

Every time I allow myself, ok, force myself, to sloooowwwwww down and just, um, BE, with the kids (particularly the one newly home, now, years ago, whenever, tho this is just key with teens too) it is better. It can be just hanging with them, spending time next to them. But really, too often I tend to kind of slot that into MY agenda of work and errands and so on and consider that, that “downtime”, checked off my list. Yup, done. Well, kind of. But the beauty and value of downtime unfolds when the downtime is really, um, down. By “down” I mean, of course, chilling out. Hanging with them, talking easy and slow. With, and this is key for us Type A’s, NO AGENDA.

I know.

Sounds so easy and yet, so not. But when I can smack myself and allow myself to do this, to just let it be them directing the conversation, talking slowly, thinking, listening….it is so rewarding. And I like to think its rewarding for us both. If its with a baby or toddler or little one, you know its a great thing because they practically giggle or purr with contentment. But with an older child, ok, our new older daughter…it is just so important I think. I have been able to find and carve out a couple of these times in the past few days. They have been much needed; issues are arising of late. But those times, sitting on the deck in the late afternoon being lazy and answering any question that Marta lobs….sitting together in the art room, sorting pins (of all things, sounds weird, a spill), and then just yakking in two languages as lazily as possible…..those times feel so much better. They are building connections I believe. For both of us. And for that, that downtime is worth gold. Even my type A gerbil mill mind can be shushed and relish that.

We goal oriented moms (ok, sigh, me) tend to want to build the family, piece by piece, dinner by dinner, laundry load by car load. But what it is too easy for me to forget, is that the goal is not just the shell of the family to be in place, but the heart of it.
And that takes the downtime. That takes the willingness to just be there: lazy, accepting, quiet. It’s a tough thing to do, too often. But now and then, we luck out, I remember, we grab that time.
We’ve begun.

>Adjustment: Marking the Good

>So, you all know we are at two months now. And I’ve written some, or a lot, about the difficulties and unexpected strangeness of it all: this process of weaving in a new, older child into the family.
I want to be honest about it all, because it helps me to process it and because I want others to know the real stuff: the good, the bad, the tough, the surprising.

But its too easy to focus on the surprising and the tough stuff and too easy to let the good slip. And so, to that end, I want to take a page from Mary’s blog, one of my heroes, and make sure to mark the good. Publicly. So I don’t forget and so you can be sure to see that there are good moments too. Little victories, in a way, no matter how small. Because in this process, even small things matter….sometimes much more than you might imagine.

Mary did this about a year ago: making posts to mark the good things of the week, so she would record them. And if I’ve got my memory and timing on track, I believe she too was adjusting to bringing older children to the family. I too, need to remember to do this. So, I will shamelessly steal her idea, with a hat tip to her for leading the way. And I will throw up one or two good things, when I can steal the time to load the picture and post it (not on a schedule or set number, I’m just not that organized, folks…I know my limits!).

So, here goes – with the caveat for you readers that these will all seem like minute dreary nothings to you perhaps. But in the world of weaving a family, they are milestones: happy important markers. And I want to remember ours.

While we had a very rocky end of the week with that whole “honeymoon” concept being clearly swept away….we finally ended the week on a note of laughter. And I am grateful. I think it was a relief to us all. Last night was a casual chips and sandwiches Friday night. Everyone was a little punchy after a long week, friends were over and it was a little wild and crazy overall. Somehow they starting making faces and rolling tongues and vying for who could make the “better” face, giggling and challenging each other. I thought Marta might be baffled by it, but then she joined in with her own, laughing, wanting a picture. The faces got goofier, wilder, the silly factor skyrocketed. And for a few minutes, it felt like a normal doofy family on a tired wild messy Friday night. Fun. I’ll take it. Savor it. This face, this laugh. I will mark it.

>Adjustment: two months.


Relativity, by MC Escher

So. We are at two months now of being a family. And really, I think this drawing sums it up best.

That’s right. Look closely. A little topsy turvy maybe? Yeah. That’s our household. Seems like just when one of us thinks we have our feet under us and know where we stand, well then it seems to go a little wonky again. Someone else skews the mood or drops something down the stairs or starts climbing the walls. You know the feeling…just a little still, um, shifty.

So, really, everyone is still kind of finding their places, so to speak. Especially in the new relations to each other, its a shifting thing for awhile; an up-down, push-pull kind of thing. I am working on keeping balance with all the family, the kids in particular. I’m finding my sea legs, so to speak, but man, its a workout!

I know this all reads so vague. But, its because I guess there is still so much guessing going on. We still don’t have much language floating around the house, not one that everyone can understand. So we do a lot of guessing, which of course leads surely to a fair lot of misconceptions flying about.

But even so, sometimes we make steps forward, on solid ground. We have negotiated bathroom times (still ongoing…girls, showers, ’nuff said), and are laying down the food rules (e.g. first real food, then sometimes ice cream). We have sorted through mundane teeny but oh so important practical issues of who sits where in the car and how mom can figure out whose clothes are whose in the laundry (Three girls who are much the same size = mom is confused, girls are mad. Can you say: “initials in all clothes?” I can!), and who does which chores and when. Whew. Boring stuff? Mundane stuff? Maybe, yeah. But not SO much when the smooth functioning of the house is at stake. And no, saying that, the house is not functioning smoothly, not yet.

But every now and then, that topsy turvy picture, above, morphs for a few minutes, into a regular old home, with our regular old life in a slightly newer version. Two months. We are at two months and counting…..and hoping and living…..together.


>So, we are tiptoeing around here. Ok, I am. And by that I mean that we are gingerly tiptoeing our way through the adjustment process, blundering here and there but making tiny steps forward.

Yes, I am mostly talking about me {duh, of course}, but really it does all apply to the whole family. Because make NO mistake, anytime you add a child the entire family has to morph and stretch and pull and squish over to make room. And I know, they tell you this in the books and so on. But really, it’s just so much different living it and then again, living it adjusting to the push/pull, embrace/release, with an older child. {And I know that I’ve whinged on about this weird twilight zone time of transition already…and it’s so different from last year’s transition with Gabey as a toddler…but since we are still in the throes of it, well, you are too! Because that’s what this blog is babeee…if it’s on my mind, it’s on blog. }

This transition time is something that can’t be totally described with precise instructions and or diagrams…but wouldn’t that be great if it could?!
Imagine: “Instructions: 7. Try to understand when new child retreats behind headphones or to bed early. It’s probably just a small bout of overwhelmed and needing space.”
Or, “12. When two teens try to share a bathroom, particularly if both are female, adjustments in timing will need to be made on all sides. This might take some preplanning and/or extra clocks, strategically placed. Consider investing in extra hair products and towels.”

So, without said instructions, we are trying not to bruise too many shins or hearts or heads along the way, even as we clumsily tiptoe toward a new normal for our family.

Buddybug left for college again, which was a sad day and a sad weekend, especially for Marta and I (ok, a bunch of us). But it seems that just-about-daily phone calls help, especially if that call can be via Skype. And even though Marta is still not speaking much English at all, it is getting slightly less strange overall. I can ask for help in setting the table or taking this plate over to the baby and M understands and so somehow, it feels like we are communicating. School is the main event of the day for us all; for the kids who go out of the house to school and for the kids at home. This is allowing me to really work intensively with both Sbird and Marta and I think it’s showing a benefit in both of them, at the very minimum they seem to do well with the extra mom time.

And I guess, really, that’s the biggest change. Ssshhhhhh. I don’t want to say it too loud. But then again, we Catholics don’t believe in superstition, so that whole “jinx” it concept shouldn’t apply.

But, I’ll say it out loud (not shouting yet tho) I am moving into a new mom spot. One that is not having to scooch over so much for a “new kid” but is instead moving more into the reflex of “one of the kids.” Soon?…I pray, for the fierce deep feeling (I know, it’s not about the feelings, but I crave them)…..”My girl.” I am not totally there yet, we need oodles and oodles of time. But the one on one during the day is helping ease off some of the stiffness and strangeness for each of us. And for me, that is huge! Call me stiff, call me cold, you could and you’d be right. Mea culpa. And I hate learning that about myself (tho some might not be surprised, Nancy, I know).

Perhaps the biggest surprise and disappointment to me this go-round is that this is all taking unexpected time for me to feel normal and for the family to feel normal {Right, patience is obviously not one of my virtues}. Because we are not, not “normal” {Read: the old normal}, anymore. We need the time to make it through to the new normal.

And we are NOT there yet, but in a way, if I stretch my neck I think I might be able to see it on the horizon. And even being able to know it can maybe get there, helps my steps be more sure. And as my steps stop faltering, become more sure…as I smile and tease and trim hair and high five, then everyone else’s steps also stop shuffling and stalling. I don’t have to tiptoe around the pitfalls of presumptions and gaps and fear and otherness quite as much. And that makes everything better, for us all. I’ve never been one for toe shoes…too clumsy. So, I hope I’m done tiptoeing and can now just keep trying to walk forward, with the whole family, to a new normal that feels just right.

>Little letters, big progress

>So, this is just a short notice on short words.
We have made a baby step of progress this week, our first real week of school for all the elementary students.
For this particular student, happily smiling above…..we have made little letters of progress.

But OH what big steps they are!
This sweet girl is starting to read!
our Marta can recognize most of her letters, and usually gets them right (tho occasionally needing to sing them to remember).
And she has read these words:

Now, that may not mean much to most of you.
But around here it was cause for whooping and high fives….because this is beginning steps to decoding, in my book.

And those are the words that she read and also can understand (tho, she forgets now and then) what they stand for, connecting the word with the actual meaning or object.
Even so, we have a long way to go…she will forget the letter names then remember them again…but it’s a tough language.
Even so, I’m happy for any of these small steps.
Now “my book” isn’t anything official, its just me and my opinions…one mom’s ideas.
But this mom thinks that this can be the beginning of unlocking a strange new difficult code, aka: english!

So, yeah, it was a pretty exciting week.
I think those first words are exciting, no matter when they click!
And to see those eyes light up with pride and glee, it’s always great, no matter what.

>Adoption Adjustment: Branches


Vincent Van Gogh, Almond Branches in Bloom, c 1890

So we have been home for almost a month now. And while I am sure it is no surprise to you all, it comes as some surprise to me that we are still adjusting, in a big way. We have adopted a teen but we are making toddler baby steps, forward and backward and sideways….occasionally falling flat on our backsides, occasionally grinning wide with surprise.

I can’t process it all well enough to post coherently. I haven’t come to any great or profound conclusions (as if I ever do, doh!). I am still very much in the “do the next thing” mode. But I am sustained by all your prayers and thoughts and unspeakably grateful for them and beg you, any or all of you, to not quit!

Anyhow, everyone keeps asking, “How it’s going?” And, “Is it all settled in now?” and all those sorts of questions. Frankly, at this point in the process, if I think someone is about to ask me that sort of question, I tend to want to turn on my heel and skedaddle as fast as possible. Because I have no good or reliable sentry on my mouth. While I can be discreet for others and their private issues, I tend to just honestly answer anything that most anyone asks me.

This trait makes my husband, dear Coffeedoc, kind of nuts. He always points out that I don’t have to answer EVERY question I am asked. And yet, I feel compelled to do so. (Yes, I am aware that some therapist could earn themselves a condo beachside w/ this…thank you.) Now, my lack of desire in answering this sort of question is not because it’s too horrible to answer, but just because it’s (the whole adjusting process to this new member of our family) still all murky. It’s a mixed bag of good, hard, funny, frustrating, strange, and sweet. And that’s hard to answer in a short polite social response. But then again, I would have loved to know or read some of this when we were in process, the first half of this process.

So, in no coherent order, here are some notes on the process:
The language thing is still in a ridiculously difficult spot.
I am speaking more Amharic to her (pidgeon amharic, simple poorly constructed baby talk level) than she is speaking english.
But I think her understanding of english is increasing.
She is doing better at Rosetta Stone.
I believe we are in the “silent phase.”
But that phase has rapid fire machine gun bursts of amharic from her.
Which is confusing and frustrating for us both.
Marta loves to swim and boat, she has an adventurous spirit.
However she cannot swim at all and has to be watched closely so she doesn’t splash and drown in her enthusiasm.
Which is mildly nerve-wracking.
She loves music.
By which I mean: loves loves loves music.
Marta sings along to her ipod just like Buddybug used to when we drove on road trips: meaning loudly and just slightly off key.
She has started piano lessons and is very happy about it, music is the universal language is it not?
I love our piano teacher for being a good sport.
Marta loves sports; like watching sports on tv, especially football and basketball.
This is going to make for a fun football season, go Irish!
Shooting hoops is pretty fun too!
Teen sisters will always have issues juggling a shower and sharing a bathroom.
Girls loves shoes.
Marta will always be a tiny person.
She is picking up knitting amazingly fast, which makes me feel a little guilty for being such a crummy inept knitter.
But it will be nice to have one competent crafter in the family.
Sweet potatoes are disgusting.
Salsa is dangerous.
Ice cream is nothing but wonderful.
Marta is not a night owl.
Neither is her mother.
Marta is an early bird.
So am I.
Marta, still, loves going to Mass.
It is probably her very favorite thing.
This humbles me.
She is learning the rosary.
This amazes me.
I am getting pretty fast with a language dictionary.
Marta is not.
Emergency dental surgery is scary and hard.
Doctor appointments are not fun, and a little scary too.
She is definitely a teen, with the requisite moods and drama.
We have finally made it to the point of feeling safe enough to cry frazzled tears.
We are glad to be there, but it is hard to watch and makes us worry too.
It all still feels a little, or a lot, strange.
We are hoping that ends soon.
I wish we could fast forward the clock many days, to a time many months from now, where we are all used to each other.
The best thing about Marta is her disposition: joy.
Coffeedoc and I think that is simply remarkable.

It’s totally dopey, I know. But, it occurred to me today that this adoption process is all very much like a bunch of tied together branches. It’s not your normal family tree….some branches are strong, some fragile and tender, some bending and trying not to break. We are branching toward each other, just barely beginning to sprout anew, still raw in places from the grafting. I pray our roots and the seasons will help grow us all together.

>Adoption: Adjustment and Laundry


** Warning. I’d love for all my posts to be “butterflies and rainbows” as a dear friend says…but during this time, they cannot be if I am to be honest to myself and anyone else. So, sometimes, they are just odd. You all know already this blog is a lot of stream of consciousness drivel. Fair warning.**

My laundry room.

Officially: laundry at “London Terrace Towers”….but a gal can dream….

I never knew I’d be so grateful for laundry.

No kidding.
Occasionally, this thought, this gratitude, has popped into my addled mind…this gratitude for laundry. But really, not so much. I have spent many a moment over my many years resenting the freakishly replenished piles (by which I mean: heaping mounds) of dirty laundry.

But especially of late, coming home and trying to tread water in the tsunami of adjustment involved in this adoption {And, I presume, older child adoption in general}….. I am grateful for laundry.
I am grateful for the normalcy of mountains of laundry needing to be gathered, sorted, washed, swapped, dried, hung, folded and sorted again.

We control freaks love having something that we can control, and that in a nutshell, is the beauty of laundry. I can stand in my little laundry room, folding, and hear the machine’s old familiar churn and the dryer’s whine, and things are normal.
I can sort and fluff and fold and create new clean order again and again.

And I know this might sound like I am hanging on by my fingernails, or failing and slipping and grasping at straws….pathetic….but to be frank, the laundry is, oddly enough, a comfort. Right now, laundry is less a burden than a signpost that life really does go on and returns to the particular habits of my family.

Laundry is a sort of comfort everlasting (in my house, at least). It is constant; a task that can be well done and appreciated (mostly). I can do it with mindless rote motion, or do it and stew or daydream as much as I choose. And, gloriously, I have time alone, for no one wants to join me in the laundry room.
And so it is even peaceful in it’s own noisy way.

I know. This is as mundane as it gets. But that, that very thing, the utter mundanity of it, is exactly what makes me stop and think and smile. Because, we are taught, in my Catholic faith, that even small things, the most mundane routine mind-numbing or unpleasant chores, can have infinite value.

And so, with a smile, and a rueful nod, I can agree. Only once before, during a hospital health scare of my dearest, have I so searingly been aware and grateful for the rote routine of my laundry chores. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for it then, long ago. And now, during this odd uncomfortable time of adjustments, I whisper it again.

I am thankful for laundry: for the clothes to wash, the machines to wash them in, for the chore on every level and the comfort it brings to us all…but right now, especially to me, in those sharp raw and uncertain moments, I am simply grateful for the chore and the routine it implies. And when I don’t know how to manage all this jaggedy new or to move through these big things, or the snaggy small things, if I am gripped with fear or fretting or exhaustion…I can literally stand and quietly do the laundry, and feel like me again, have our family feel normal and not only new. I know these motions, blindfolded, and they remain….and continue even while we find our new normal. It’s comfort. It may well be silly, I know. But for those of you who wonder about this adjustment and how it’s different…this is one unexpected reveal.

The machine churns and slogs along, the dryer whines and turns and turns. And obviously, I am reminded again and again, so must (and will) I.



Hurdlers by misspiepie, flkr

Well, today we are at the official, two week home mark. And, oddly, enough, I think we are making some small baby steps of progress. On my part, I have gotten off schedule in my private personal schedule of weepy tension and/or fear meltdowns, missing a day off the every other informal pattern. Hoorah! Odd, you say, perhaps. I know, I didn’t expect this myself – but there you have it. I’m marking this as a positive babystep forward however, into a new normal.

We have had to correct a behavior, just like we do with our other kids. What do ya know? Another kid in the house = parenting. What are the odds? Ha. It had created some upset and then we made clear the expected behavior and also got a true apology and forgave. Now, that’s pretty SOP for our house: you get in trouble, parent or other kid gets upset, you apologize, are forgiven and the rules are made clear, then we all move on. And just going through that makes it feel a tiny bit more normal, oddly enough.

For now, and surely for some time to come, our biggest hurdle – Marta’s biggest hurdle – is language.

And make no mistake, this is like an Olympic event for her and for us all. This is a difference, I think, between adopting a younger child and a much older one. A teen will make this speech swap slower than a much younger kid, especially if they have not had any language learning beforehand. This slower acquisition impacts, well, every bit of the adjustment process.

We have an ESL tutor on tap to come over about three times a week, starting in a week or so. We have Rosetta Stone for English (And let me just give a little quickie review: difficult program in a way if you don’t already READ english and a little glitchy and a pain in the backside to get into the meat of the program – have to click through many screens before you start. And if you don’t know the language that means someone else has to click for you, grrrr). And we have multiple copies of the best dictionary we’ve come across, Concise Amharic Dictionary (thanks Cami!). We also have a great site for word by word translating that is fast. We are watching movies together to jump start that language familiarity and I talk with her through the grocery store and as we drive around on errands, describing most of the things we are doing.

But speech, actual speaking, is the biggest hurdle. Marta is uncomfortable trying out her speech and really, wants to listen and then give us an amharic word or two to clarify. We have to push her, with a smile, to repeat the english version of the word: e.g. “desta” = “happy,” say “happy,” and so on. I think she is just very shy and unsure of herself with this. We understand that. But as I told her this morning on our walk, the more she talks, the easier it will be.

But oh, such a hurdle and I don’t know how to help her much. Except to help her stretch out and try. And try again. And again. They say it will come. We all wait in great anticipation for it to start, trying to be patient, but just wanting to be able to really talk with her.

I want to hold conversations, that’s my best way to really get to know anyone. One of the hard things about this adoption and the bonding is I can’t really get to know her without talking, without this conversation. The silence is deafening in a way. We are both, all, trying to learn and use our other senses to make those connections, but as you probably have gathered by now….I am a ridiculously verbal gal. Yes, I talk a lot. I want the noisy yakking and small teasing and chatting of talking – even simple sentences and words. I know this is the “all about me me me” version; but I think that Marta yearns for talking together too. I think she’s just too unsure of these strange new sounds to be confident enough to let fly.

So we are all bruising our shins a bit on the hurdles of language, but trying hard to push and help and clear them so we can run this race together.

Because a family is at the finish line.

>It’s Time to Limbo!

>Yeah, I’m not talking about the Catholic “Limbo” here, that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

I’m talking about “How low can you go?” And, of course, as usual, I’m talking about me.

You see, everybody keeps asking me “How is it going?” And I can honestly say that it’s not what I expected, even as it is in so many ways what I expected. Confusing, no? Yes.
This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but not actually because of Marta. Marta, so far (and I am fully aware of the whole “honeymoon” concept, no worries), has been nothing but amazingly sweet, nice, helpful, happy kid. Really, no big demands, no major meltdowns, a few small ones from being scared, nothing. She needs and craves love and affection and knowing she is secure in the family, but that is nothing but a time need. The lack of common language is, well, ridiculous, but that can only improve, right? No choice there.

No, this is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, all because of me.

You see, this is my own personal limbo contest….just without the cute bikini. (Although I think often about adding the fun libations…..kidding. mostly). The limbo requires strength, balance, coordination, a brave spirit and sense of crazy fun. It also makes most folks fall right down on their fannies.

And, yup, I now get the fun game of seeing just ‘how low can I go?’ Problem is this “low” is not so fun and its a lot more than a simply pratfall from lack of strength and balance…..That is to say, my struggles are internal and honestly, in many ways they are a spiritual battle of my will versus, oh, anyone’s, and my control freak type A nature. It is my falling into the icy grip of fear and a good imagination. To be precise, it is a lack of faith and trust. Period.

I know, I know, I have written on this before. But I want to shout, those posts were fine for then, but this is now. Totally different.
Right….{yes I am, it seems, a hypocrite}.
Those posts talked about this struggle and the grip of fear, love as an action not feeling, and the transformation in the struggle and the suffering. But you know, that’s all fine and well AFTER the fact to think those things. It’s another thing to embrace them in the midst of it all now isn’t it? Because you know, struggle, change, even suffering (on any level, even the most minor)….it HURTS. Hence, the term: suffering. Right? And you know, we wimpy folks out there, by which I mean me, we don’t really like to suffer, hurt and so on. I mean, it’s one thing to say, I’m tough and I can take it. But really, when you step on that nail or heck, get that unexpected paper cut, you might just cuss and holler and whine, right? Ok, well, I might. Ok, maybe I do.

A good friend has pointed out that it’s like a little Rumpelstiltskin tantrum. And she’s right. Because it, my struggle these past few weeks, has been all about ME. I just really want things to be ok and normal again; my way, my timing, my ideas of what it should be like, my plan, MY FEELINGS. Me, me, me. My ideas are not playing out in the timing I would like, my body is being knocked back again and again with one variety of illness or migraine or something after another. The order I placed for a smooth transition: good health for all, full of overflowing feelings of bounty and joy, everything clicking into place…..oddly enough hasn’t happened yet. Funny that.
And so I have been having a Rumplestiltskin time. {I am Rumpelstiltskin, old middle aged girl version, maybe I should change my screenname….} And it’s hard and not a fun place.

But this week, I am also seeing something else. Not only have I seen a glimmer (and I don’t even want to THINK about seeing further) about how low I can go….{ Shocking, I tell you. Utterly, heartbreakingly, humbling.}
But I have seen what can happen when you get there. To your, ok my, lowest point. Because, oddly enough, even there, there is a beauty. And once again, that beauty is in the others. And that makes my heart be able to lift up again.

I have found myself laid flat by illness and fear, simply hitting my break point. And I have seen my husband and sons and friends (near and far) reach out to help lift me up. That’s no easy task! But they have all reached out, grabbed me and helped me stand up again – literally and figuratively. And they are still here, helping me, holding on. And they let me see that despite my tantrum of wanting everything just so, on MY time and in MY way, it’s not necessarily about that. And it’s ok to wait for it to play out. And to try to trust.
Simple huh? Sure. But not so much, not for me.

So, if you ask how it’s going I will still say this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
But the gratitude I have for so many is some of my deepest.
So, I guess it’s going just like it’s supposed to.
It’s hard, it hurts, I’m useless on my own.
It’s great, she’s sweet, the kids are amazing.
It’s a huge change.
But I also have helpers.

And I’m grateful. Even as it’s hard, challenging me on so many levels and putting a klieg light on my every failing…for what this brings….I’m grateful.
And I am looking forward to the luau without the limbo…..

>Not Very Wordless Wednesday


More new stuff, every day.

This is what we did on Sunday afternoon, thanks to our dear friends Jean and Matt (aka Horsedoc and Horsemom). They have a new sweet pony and she was just the right size to see, then we lucked out and Matt came back from a ride and offered a leg up to us too.
Both Gabriel and Marta are adventurous, up for trying out new things.

Bananas is horse crazy, of course, like most thirteen year old girls….
As for me, it was a blast from the long distant past. Fun!


>Threads. Weaving together, pulling apart.
You know, adopting an older child is a completely different deal than adopting an infant or toddler. And its all new to us. (I know, doh!)
This time around is a strange new experience and process. Its surreal and odd and impossible to anticipate and filled with unexpected experiences, feelings, thoughts.
This time around, the entire event is much more complex, on all levels.
Really, it’s just harder.

I know, this shouldn’t be news. We were prepped, or thought we were (by which I mean, me). But really, some things in life you can “prep” for, you can intellectualize, do the research, do the math, run the numbers, stock the pantry, pray, wonder, imagine, speculate. But you know, just like anything else, you never really know what it’s like until you do it. (Again, I hear you, doh.)

All this is to say that so far, already, this adoption has taken me places I didn’t expect to go; both good and bad. But, one of the surprises to me are the threads.

There are a few tiny little threads hanging out, that we have been able to follow to the back of this tapestry and see. And it’s one cool thing that, especially in these early days, I will hold onto.

You see, our Marta turns out, unknown to us prior to our meeting, to have a deep devotion to Mary. Yes, that’s right, the Blessed Mother, Mary. Maram, she calls her, with a sigh and a smile.

Now, as Coffeedoc points out….no matter the new strangeness of this fit….what are the odds? Of all the children, millions of orphans, what are the odds that we would bring home a child who is so devoted to Mary? Good, you say? Maybe. But, honestly, we both think maybe not so much. How many deeply, openly devout teens do you know? How many of them have lived one or two lifetimes in the toughest of conditions already and still have that deep love and devotion? Well, we think the odds get pretty slim there.
But we, in our home, have a deep devotion to Mary (um, remember, Catholic…). Heck, our house is full of Mary icons and pictures and books and paintings and sculptures of Mary and her son – a veritable folk art/high art/kitschy/antique/homemade collectors corner of this. Our home might give someone who didn’t have a love of religious art a start {Fair warning, visitors!}. But this part of our home sent her clasping her hand to her chest, saying “Oh! Konjo! Mom! Dad!” All with a mega-watt smile.

So, I write this to remind myself of this thread. It is knotted on the back of our tapestry. And I might need to lift it up and see it from time to time to remember that the odds are against us being brought together. As such, say what you will, I do believe that Mary had a hand in this. She loves with a perfect love and as such I can only hope that her love also rubs off on all of us.
Marta told us she prayed daily in front of an icon of Mary for her to pray for her and bring her a family, a mom and a dad.
Visiting her church, Coffeedoc asked her if she wanted anything special from there, to take home with her. She asked to buy a bible and a prayer umbrella to present to the priest in thanksgiving.
Oh.So on those days (Why yes, this afternoon, now that you mention it) when I get a little overwhelmed and am juggling the senses and feelings and questions and hows of weaving all my kids together into a family – I want to be able to look and see this thread, this very important thread, and see the knot on the back. No matter the strangeness or the adjusting and discomfort or tugs, this is a reminder that just maybe, this one too was part of a bigger plan.

Being sewn together isn’t always comfortable, perhaps.
But the tapestry, I hope and pray (and pray for trust), someday will be a beauty.