Hope and Healing in Older Child Adoption


How long does it take to heal the body? How long does it take to bring a child from hard places, especially places where they spent a long time in deprivation and/or sick, to a healthy level? How long does it take to say, for certain, “Ah, they are healthy now, really”?

The answer: Far far longer than you might imagine.

The other answer: Be patient, because it can happen.

Our Marta has been home for over three years. They have, at times, felt like forever. Those years have, at times, felt like a blink. She came home to us bearing scars from her past life that will never leave her, inside and out. She came home to us much less well than we expected; thought not actively ill. Perhaps, that sounds like I’m using double-speak. I’m not trying to, rather, I’m trying to be accurate because I think this discussion of our older adopted kid’s health is important. It’s not discussed at length, possibly because each child is unique, of course, and each one comes with their own constellation of issues and needs and whatnot, on every level.

Adopting older children is complicated beyond imagining. All too often that phrase is thrown out and folks nod their head and then move on. Unless you’re actually in the trenches of older child adoption. Then you might sigh with recognition, shudder with dread, break down weeping that someone else has said it out loud, or lift a wry toast of your martini in homage. But, it is – challenging.

One of the really complicated parts of older child adoption can be the nurturing them back to health. And I used the term “nurturing” not “nursing” them back to health. Because only sometimes does the child come home actively ill and needing to be ‘nursed.” And then, I presume, the transition to a base level of recovery from that illness is marked; but then you fall back into this category of health/wellness that marker is much more blurry.

We must NURTURE our older children back to health. For their heart, that nurture will be a lifetime job. For their body, it can take so very much longer than expected. Indeed, new physical issues and problems can take time to reveal themselves just because they have to get over more serious issues first. For instance, they might have a certain parasite issue that you couldn’t even know about because of their overall lack of nutrition and/or other illness or bacterial problems. It can be like peeling an onion. But even once you’ve gotten the bases covered, seen platoons of specialists and had reams of tests, you might not be there. You might think that kid is healthy now, SO much more healthy. And they are….they are objectively healthier than they were on arrival.

But health, it’s a continuum, isn’t it? And that continuum is so much longer and wider than I realized. As I said, Marta has been home almost 3.5 years. She came home just recovered from a very serious bout of TB. But she came home well. On paper. As the years have passed, we have watched her health improving in her skin, her hair, her body filling out, her immune system strengthening. In fact, I thought by last year, about this time that we had made it. We had nurtured her to a really good, lasting base level of health.

But ya know what? She had more leaps to make! Who knew? This girl had more health to gain and grab onto. I was sure she was as healthy as she could be. And she was, for that point (2+ years in). But, guess what she did? Not only has Marta finally gained about 10-15 pounds, last spring she GREW AN INCH!!!! NO kidding! I know! I was stunned myself! I had to remeasure twice, no three times. She grew. She grew!

Marta came to us as a tiny girl. Not a young little girl. Just a tiny person girl. Her age is roughly a mid teen. Her growth was stunted due to deprivation. Her growth was FINISHED by every standard medical marker. Her health got better, and we knew that she would always have compromised lungs from scarring and a big cough and asthma. We feared she’d always be first down to any bug. But, we had no expectations of her actually growing, in any way, certainly not taller. BUT SHE DID. She grew. An inch. That’s HUGE! Maybe not huge on the yardstick but huge in terms of wellness. But -and mark this- it took almost THREE years home to before she was able to grow one inch! She is healthier, she is NOT first down with any bug. Her immune system can be a touch fragile but she was one of the last to get the most recent cold in the house. Her cough is dreadful and lasting, but it’s just a cough. We got her another of her biannual chest x-rays this week. And it is noticeably improved!! Scarred, yes. But, her doc said she her films just keep improving.

How long is that? How much time and patience and work and nurture and food and care and safety and relaxing into a new home does the body need to deeply heal? Because that’s what this is: DEEP HEALING of the body. Her heart and head will be a lifetime of the same nurture, with skirmishes from hormones and trauma triggers. But her body, it’s healing. It’s healing not just on the surface with her now luminous skin and her bright eyes and her features filled out instead of gaunt. It’s healing on a deep inner level, a truer wellness.

So, how long should you expect that deep healing to take when you bring home a child from hard places? I think you should be thrilled by the first stages of healing, heck, by every stage. But, I think that I wish someone had told me to be patient and to hope for more than we first imagined. To expect it to take so very very much longer to heal deeply, physically, than I ever could guess. Don’t get me wrong, I also know that every new marker is so worth it, and such a welcome sign of healing and hope. And I’m so grateful. I’m amazed. I’m shocked that her health is still making such forward progress. It’s been so long. A second lifetime. But this one, it’s all about the healing.


Eyes Open, Marking the good: Teen Americana

Once again, I must do a post on Marking the Good.  I have posted in this series before, here, and here, and here.  The upshot of this series of posts is that all too often we (meaning, me) get too wrapped up in the hectic mill of the chaotic days and even more, trapped in the cycle of cynical.  Well, it’s a trap for me at any rate.  When you’re parenting a child with special needs and or a tough background, it’s a high risk trap: that cynical thing.  So, in order to attempt to stem that tide, now and then I look up and post some good news.

We have just had a very big event in the house, a very big event for our Marta.  Even though it’s early in the school year, our high school just had Homecoming (schedules can be wacky things, set the year prior).  About two weeks ago I got a phone call from Marta’s teacher and she wanted to let me know that our Marta had been voted as the sophomore class pick for Homecoming Court.  (Each class picks and votes in a girl to be part of the hoopla, to represent their class/grade).  Well, this year, they picked Marta.  Really!  And, because I am cynical, I had them check it out to make sure that in no way was the vote tinged with joking or malicious intent.  Now, don’t judge me.  It’s that protective thing – and you’d do the same thing in my shoes I betcha.   Anyhow, it was legit!  And so, a few weeks ago, Marta came home, lit up about “select me” to be on Homecoming.

So, we buckled up for the bumpy roller coaster ride!

Why bumpy? Why a roller coaster?  Because while this was out of the blue and exciting and kind of amazing…it also meant that we faced two big things: anxiety and ‘feeding the monster.”  Anxiety, because Marta is FILLED with anxiety over new things and needs to feel she can control every tiny detail and so on.  “Feeding the monster” because she already feels she is something of the school “Princess” and that everyone “selects” her.  So…..I wasn’t sure how to offset all that, nor was her teacher.  So, we all agreed to just RIDE THE WAVE.  (To mix all my metaphors through this whole post. It’s early, I’m not fully caffeinated..leave me be.)

So, we did.  There was a lot of crazy.  There was a LOT of excitement.  There was a lot of anxiety.  For two weeks.  And last night was the big event.  It was Homecoming on the football field at halftime! All the girls primped: the specially made dress (seamstress, fittings, oh my), the friend doing her hair after school, the sparkly shoes, the makeup by her sister, the nerves, the pictures, the buddy to escort her (Sweet boy, super nice friend).   Turns out it was POURING about an hour before the game.  Nerves worry worry (for everyone!).  Then it cleared and just left the hottest steamiest summer night of the  year.  Which is great, except for the hairdo’s….oh well.  Slice of life!  Anyhow, Marta carried it off very well. She was a nervous wreck.  She was SO excited and so happy but also so shy about being on the field that we could barely get her to look up!  Good thing we got some cute pics before!

The great thing about this whole roller coaster surfing tsunami (there, now I’ve really done it..) is that Marta felt like a million bucks.  Her sweet wonderful friends at that school made T-shirts that spelled out “We love Marta!”  How great is that?

Love these girls! So great!

Really, how great is that?  Yes, it made me both grin and blink a few tears at the same time.  And as I hustled over to the stands as the whole Homecoming court walked out onto the field, I got a spot smack in the center and handed the camera to Tom so I could shout and clap and yell with the best view.  I had her Tshirt brigade to my left and my littles by my side and her big sister and Hannah’s friends to my right.  All of them, us, standing on the bleachers, shouting and hooting and yelling for Marta.  She laughed, lit up, and looked down, again and again.

And I watched her big sis, my eldest daughter, scream for her sister and I blinked.  Because they have a complicated, jealous both ways, relationship.  And I was so proud of her too.  And I watched and grinned with my little boys and my other girls as we all yelled and clapped.  And I watched the students genuinely shout and clap for our Marta.  And it kind of made me shake my head in wonder.

This complicated tiny girl…she has a way of drawing people to her.  And it makes me laugh and ponder.  And this one night, she got the amazing chance to be a princess.  I usually hate all this kind of high school drama and hoopla.  But last night, and this time, I was grateful.  Because only here, in this special school, in our little town, would this girl  – who came  here a few years ago from around the world – be able to soak in and experience this uber-American teen experience.  And it made her feel like a million bucks.

Was it a rollercoaster? Oh. Yeah.  But, overall, a great ride!  And every time we jokingly call her a new (temporary?) nickname…..she grins a megawatt smile.  Just like a Princess….

American Girl: times 3

Three Years.

Sost Ahmet.

Trois Ans

Tres Anos.

First Year

Our Marta has, today, been an American girl for three years. We can hardly believe it. The anticipation of this anniversary has made her grin and ponder at length what sort of cake she wants (You didn’t think she’d let this pass, ever, without cake, did you? Of course not!). Happily, this anniversary arrives just past the fourth of July, so we get the benefit of a yearly thematic shirt to bring the anniversary home. You know, a cute flag shirt. To match the cute (but ever changing design request) festive cake.

Second year.

It’s a very personal anniversary, of course. One she marks in a big way, anticipating it for months and in fact one of the reference markers of the calendar in her head. The day is and was watershed day in many ways….the day she set foot on American soil, thus becoming a citizen. It was the day we finally got home after a long long trip; made longer by her fear of flying and crowds and new things, as well as my getting hit hard by Swine Flu in Addis and needing desperately to get home to fully recover. It was the day she stepped into her new family, meeting the kids who stayed at home: her little brothers and her big ones. It was the day she first got her own bed (soon enough to be her own bedroom) and a space of her own …..even as she joined up into a new (strange hard good big) family.

Her life has changed so. She is now in school, she is learning, slowly but with excellent support in the excellent teachers who work so hard in her program. She has begun to relax into things a bit here and there. Some days she even sleeps in past seven! Seriously, that is a much bigger marker of change than you might realize. She has grown physically a bit, but only a bit. She has experienced so many new things. The American culture is still often a mystery to her, tho let’s face it, isn’t it a mystery to us all at times? She adores movies and country music and her dog and big brothers. She does not like fish or snow or heights. She is growing into America – America is slowly seeping into her, bit by bit. She will, however, always retain her Ethiopian-ness. So she gets to swap between those options/cultures at will. And does.

There is more to this day, however, than just the external stuff. This is not just a day of getting a different stamp or passport; though she did. This day was a day of fusing, in many ways. It was the very beginning of her fusing into us and us into her. I choose the term “fusing” because you don’t only ‘form’ a family. It is fused. When you adopt an older child, especially one from hard places and or around the globe…that fusing is literal. It sears. It burns. It is accompanied by tears and grasps and gasps for all members. But also by the flashes of light and color that spark and make you say “Wow!” at their beauty. It takes time. To fuse you have go over and over the seams, laying down the sauter, the binding. It takes time to fuse and cure and set.

But it starts with a beginning, a bright burning torch. And that is today, three years ago. Miss Liberty is more representative than we knew.

She carries the torch.

We carried our girl.

Together, this day, three years ago…they were brought together.

The process of fusing a family began.

Just a few weeks ago at the beach, at her favorite perch on the balcony

And so it continues….three years. American girl.

Building trust in older child adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something of a Rite of Passage…

What? A rite of passage? Which one? Graduation, marriage, birth, death, adoption finalization, first steps, first tooth….what?

The zoo, of course!  Going to the zoo is a mini rite of passage for a kid, specifically an American kid.  Some might argue this, but really, I think we can agree that it’s a kid marker, a kid commonality….more, it’s family bonding.

watercolor by m.mahan

The zoo.   You go with your family when you’re little, with the school on the bus when  you’re bigger, you’re dragged there on family vacations and outings when you’re a teen, and then you start the cycle all over again with your own new little family.  Right? Well, maybe for a few zoophobics its not.  But still.  For most of us, the zoo is treasured memories and stories.  It’s boxes and boxes of old kodak snapshots; all looking mostly identical – yellowing blurred shots of us near some big trees that have monkeys in them, somewhere, standing awkwardly waving with bad hair and ill fitting shorts (ok, maybe that’s just me).

So, for one reason or another fifty, we hadn’t yet made it to our local zoo for Gabey or Marta.  Let’s rephrase that to be more shockingly precise: Gabe has been home almost four years and Marta is at two and half, and they  had not been to the zoo.  Mom fail. Yes. We are the slacker parents of all time.  I know.  My pitiful excuse defense: the weather is wonky here, either freaky freezing cold or hellishly sticky muggy humid hot AND we spend our days dealing with many kid behaviors and issues, not to mention juggling schedules like a circus clown.

Anyhow, if the weather is good (on those two to three days a year of weather perfection), I love going to our little zoo.  It’s just the right size, not too big to be overwhelming, not so small as to be a joke.  It’s a friendly little place, with a fantastic playground area to collapse and the let smalls get the last dregs of their energy out so that they will be happily exhausted for the rest of the day.  And so, on Tuesday, all the planets aligned and the day was perfect.  It was spring break, the weather was going to be in the high 70’s and sunny…it was the perfect day (In four years!) for the zoo.  And so we went.

It was just me and the youngest five. I packed a picnic lunch and we all set off for the longish drive to the zoo.  They were very excited. Marta wasn’t entirely clear on how it would be…but she was game to try (which is a huge deal for a hyper-vigilent kid).  As we piled out of the car, grabbed the old stroller to carry our gear (and occasionally Gabe, who knows a good deal when he sees it) we could hear the whoops and hoots of both the Gibbons and the parrots and I’m not sure what all else…but it was a minor racket.  I looked at the kids and grinned.  Marta’s eyes were big, “What is that? Loud!”, she said.  I laughed, the girls laughed.  The little boys speculated about dinosaurs.  I said, “You’ll see!”  Gabey was just pulling us along as quick as he was able, in a rush to go see the monkeys.

We saw the monkeys.  Marta was most impressed with their feet being like hands, we saw beautiful tigers and leopards, cool zebras, scary alligators, scary snakes, weird frogs, cool camels, pet a goat, pinched noses (my city boy) and laughed at the “wild” smells and marveled over the bizarro but beautifully pink flamingos.  

Best of all we saw the “Very big!” elephants and the “Very tall, so cute” giraffes.  We even saw a few babies: with the leopards and the giraffes.  We had an easy happy picnic lunch in the shade, we lifted our faces to the sun as we walked.

Then, for another classic thrill, we got tokens to ride the carousel. Oh the thrill of even picking out which animal to ride as they waited.  Then the fun of scampering on to claim the chosen beast (Sweet dear Emmy sacrificing her choice of dolphin to stay close to help Gabe, even without being asked.  What a girl!).  The whirling ride got face splitting grins out of all, even our toughest customers.  

So, totally worth those pricey tokens.

After the twirling  thrills of the carousel (Can  you say double win?: Vestibular therapy motion too, score! It’s occupational therapy!) we headed to the playground to close the visit.   I sat in the partial shade while I watched my kidletts run and rampage over and around, under and through the twists and turns of this huge crowded playground.  There were ramps to ascend and tunnels to slide and rope bridges to climb, nooks and crannies to explore.  Marta didn’t last long there, she ventured forth and then came back quickly to sit with me in the sun.  Gabe ended up choosing to swing for a bit, helped again by my mamacita Em.  We finally dragged Little Man out, sweating and happy.  The sun was high, we are all getting hot and tired.  Perfect.  Time to go  home.

But first, no premier trip to the zoo should be complete without that last final classic treat: the slurp of a soft serve swirly ice cream cone.  And so, we did.

It was a very good day.

Eyes Open: Marking the good, again

Because I am cynical, cranky, and quite possibly almost old enough to be called a curmudgeon (Is that gender specific? Can girls be curmudgeons? I think so….)….I try to, once in a blue moon routinely make a point of noticing some of the goodness and/or progress in attachment and healing ’round this crazy home.  It’s been a few months, let’s have a look-see:

  • Marta has been home for 2 1/2 years now! And, honestly, it’s better.  It’s far far from perfect.  It’s nothing at all like any of us thought it would be.  But maybe (yup, I”ll say it out loud) just maybe that’s not only ok, but it’s a good thing.  It has it’s own sweetness amidst the baffling hard stuff

  • She is the manager for the varsity girls basketball team.  This not only is something she enjoys, it has given her purpose, joy, and a greater sense of belonging.  Her job is simple, she keeps them in water and towels and fusses over the players a bit.  But, she loves it and the team has seemingly, blessedly, embraced her.  Her coach simply rocks.  And the girls on the team? An amazing bunch of players, but even better, really kind lovely girls.  The whole ‘manager’ gig: it’s all gift.  Thank you Coach Serra.

  • She got a 75 on her 2d art test.  It was a written test, hard for her.  And while we had to discuss it (per her need, not ours, we don’t care what she gets in art), with a couple of tears over a couple of days, she accepted it without meltdown.  Sounds like a no big deal kind of thing? Au Contraire!  So, so big.  She is a perfectionist, a little crazed about it and wants to make an “A” in every class or assignment.  This, even last year, would have been enough to send her off kilter and into a meltdown, possibly for a rocky intense week or more.

  • She made the honor roll.  She had her name in the paper and on the school website.  She felt famous.  Sure her classes are  in the school’s (amazing fantastic) special ed program; different classes/levels.  But, I propose that she studies about as hard as many of the kids at that school and she works possibly harder than most.  She earned it.  She’s so proud.  And so are we.

  • She had a double ear infection last week.  And she coped.  Ear infections hurt. But she even went to school.  And she was a trooper.  This, coping with something  hurting, is a skill she did not have when she first came home.  Not for almost two years, actually.  This is the first time for real and a big step forward for her.

  • And one of my favorites: she is more playful.  Play is a funny thing.   Marta didn’t really play when she came home, not for a long time.  We don’t know if it’s because of the transition, fear, insecurity, or her disabilities.  I’m sure it’s a big old mixture of all of the above.  But, nowadays, she is more playful.  NOT every day, not by a longshot.  She’s still a teen, of course, with all the moods and hormones that entails!  But, she is relaxed enough now, on a good day, to make jokes, to poke fun, to be silly, and to sometimes hang out while we visit instead of disappearing or interrupting to redirect the activity to go do something for her.  (It doesn’t last long, but, apropos of this post, I want to mark that it does happen.).


  • Marta is a great pray-er.   I’ve mentioned before how she is a very devout girl. It’s lovely.  We pray together every day that we can, which is almost every single day  (unless there is a late basketball game).  And, for those in the know, once you make it onto her prayer list, well, you are there  (so far as I can tell) forever.  She is one of my two ‘secret weapons’ when it comes to serious prayer; they have a connection and focus I can only wish for.

  • Last but not least, she has been unseated, for days or weeks at a time, in the “monopolize all the time and attention in the house and my conversation” status.   That might sound kooky or a weird thing to mark, but a dear friend noticed it last week when we were talking and it dawned on me that she was right.  Marta wasn’t top of the roster of my rambling and ranting measured reports anymore.  It’s a tossup on any given day who’s going to be the neediest or highest maintenance child.  She’s among the top three, typically, but to have lost the crown…..that’s a major game changer, right there.  So, I’m marking it.

Shadows in Adoption, part 2: Food

A while ago I wrote a bit about those “shadows” that you find in adoption.  I was not, and am not, talking about those big monster issues that sometimes are part of the whole adoption process: RAD, or serious attachment issues, and such….rather I’m talking about those remainders that snag here and there.  I want to shine a light, again, on those little flickers of shadow that cross our days or behaviors here in our house with some of our kids.  Because I suspect that they might well have flickered across a few of  yours as well.

So, this post is going to address that gnarly issue that so many of us struggle with: food!

Ah, food issues.  They are legion, no? Yes.  For so many of us, myself included, food has issues.  Some good, some bad, some snarly, some prideful and snobby.  It’s all over the map.  But for our adopted children, especially our children who might have been adopted a bit older (or a lot)….those food issues can be complex and run DEEP.

When we first brought our Gabey home he was 18 months old.  And he had the standard food-transition issues.  First he wouldn’t really eat, only wanted bottles of milk. So many many bottles of milk.  It was total comfort food and we were happy to provide that. In fact we did, and took him BACK to the bottle so we could cuddle and rock and feed him and have that eye contact as much as possible.

He dug it.  But, soon enough he decided that real food was appealing too, and quickly branched out.  He impressed us with his instant taste for spicy salsa (but, hey, he’s Ethiopian, we figured he had some exposure…) and his happy joy in smearing ketchup and gobbling fries and pasta and all the usual toddler  yummies.   After about six months, he seemed very much just like any toddler, some days picky, some days voracious, always up for a cookie.

So, we didn’t pay too much attention to it for awhile.  I mean, he was a busy busy toddler, seeming to be tracking on all counts.  Language?  Yup, gaining at warp speed.  Gross motor? Yup, very fast agile busy little guy; could keep up with big brother, no problem.  Fine motor? Yup, paid attention to tiny details and was in normal zone for a toddler.  Cognition? Oh my, very very sharp, figured things out fast and great memory.  No worries.

But one thing was a little skewed and it was his eating.  Over the past few years, his drive to eat has gained momentum.  And that is an  understatement.  This boy is DRIVEN for food.  He is kind of fixated on it.  Not to the exclusion of everything else.  He loves to play and go wherever someone else is  going, he wants to be in on any activity.  He will follow his uncle around like a puppy; hoping to  help with those cool tools and be allowed to use that wrench or drill or oh any tool he can grab.  But, if he’s not distracted by some fun, if any whisper of boredom hisses, he is begging for food.  Relentlessly.  And when he eats, he will eat to bursting if we let him, asking for seconds, thirds, fourths…. Unless it is green veggies or carrots. No problems there…gross.  Don’t get all shocked, we cut him off -but by redirecting the urge.  

This evolution into this obsession with eating, more more more, initially had me presuming he was simply,  um….gorging.  Then I realized that it’s more than that.  Deeper.  It’s as if his “Off” switch is broken.  Or at least gets stuck.  It is as if he is impossible to fill.  Sometimes, now and then, he will say, “I’m full.”  But not often.  Watching him ask with such need and such a push to the request has sounded a tiny bell in my head.

This boy, my boy, I think he was hungry.

I don’t know.  Not for certain. I don’t have documentation of his being hungry and I don’t want to project drama or be unfair.  But, I think he was hungry.  Not starving maybe.  But the hard facts are that he was unable to be raised by his family.  He is an orphan.  And, the government orphanages and even the best care centers aren’t exactly overrun with funds for the abundance of every nutritive need.  It doesn’t work that way.  And my boy, well, my mama heart has to wonder.  Was he hungry?  Just some? Enough that now, way deep down, he might worry about being hungry again?  Even though we have, thankfully, an abundance of food and no one goes hungry in our house (unless they are putting on a hormonal girl drama, by their own choice and standards of Oscar worthy merit).  

So, what to do? I don’t want him to become obese or unhealthy.  And, truthfully, he is getting really stout.  But I want  him to know, for now and for ever, that he will not be hungry.  Even if he doesn’t know that he needs to know, now.  He does, it seems.  Karen Purvis says, “Never deny food.”  And so, I won’t.  I can’t.

So how do you provide the security/food your child needs and requests while at the same time keeping them healthy?  Well, here is what I’ve got, so far.  [If any of you have other brainstorms, please let me know in the comments!]: I do NOT deny him food.  And yeah, go ahead, tell me to only offer him celery.  Right.  Look at that face and tell me again. 

Ha.  Rather, what we say is “You bet.”  But we also say, “First, finish your dinner (not with extra helpings).” And we also say, “Let’s count, have you counted five fruits today? Or veggies? How many? Two? How about an orange? ”  We go for fiber and produce to fill the need if we can coax him into it.  But, honestly, some days, as he comes home from school and asks for a cookie I just say, “Yup.

Because if I have to pick, I’ll pick attachment and bonding to this boy.  Easy choice, slam dunk.  That security in our love and his safety here in our family is more important than “husky” size pants.  Will I encourage him to move and run and jump and play sports? Yes!  Will I encourage him to eat healthy choices? Yes!  But will I also withhold food when he tells me his tummy is hungry?  No.  I will not.

It’s a shadow.  But one that I think is best to see in the light.  And maybe, with time and yes, good healthy cooking, this one might fade away.

Christmas strategies

This is just what we look like round here.....

Ok, so this is a quickie post, dashed off before I rush out to a therapist appointment for one of the kiddles.  This is, in a way, my public to-do list and a virtual accountability check for me.  Because,  you see, it’s really – oh boy is it  – Christmas break now.  Which means that all the kids are off of school and off of schedule.  Which means, as you moms with kids with different needs know, that things are off kilter in a very very big way.  And, you could say, as I have before, “Oh, well then, just make a new schedule!”  Um, yeah.  Kinda hard to do.  I mean, there is a ROUGH schedule to the days: we wake, we have puppy duties, we have essential  household tasks….but I have found that if I impose an “all new” holiday schedule onto the kids over break then we still have protest…because that is ‘change’.  And change is it’s own trigger too.  So, in essence, I’m burned, either way.  Stuck between a rock and a hard place, if you will.

So, to that end, I’m strategizing online:

  • I think I need to have a softly managed newer schedule sort of overlaid onto the days.  I’ve already gone over today in detail with Marta, suggesting the way it will play out, in blocks of hours.
  • Each day needs a highlight/goal activity: tonight is decorating the tree as a family, tomorrow will be…..cookies? I don’t know yet, but I”m thinking on it….
  • Each day needs a walk with at least a few of the kids, Marta, Little Man, the puppy…maybe all the kids (tho a number of the kids need running for conditioning for basketball so that might be on tap too. But them, not me, my running days are done)
  • Reading aloud each day? Maybe.  The small boys and the new teens love it.  Marta gets overwhelmed and frustrated, and retreats to her room…so not sure.
  • Setting up a craft a couple of days this week? Suggestions? Ones that I don’t have to be involved in, more kid level/ability…because, while I was an art major, I hate crafts…..because I’m a total mom fail in that realm.  I admit it. I own it. Don’t judge me.
  • Shopping for Christmas.  This is hugely important, they kids need to gift to each other.  But Dad or Big Kids need to take them because I will want to commit Hari Kari if I do it.  Just saying.

Ok, so that’s my disorganized brainstorm thoughts this morning.  You can see I need help.  If you have any great suggestions, let me know, especially you moms of kids who live/die by the rigidity of their need for schedules and organized time, and/or have trauma/need issues.  I”m all ears and as you can see, just pedaling as fast as I can to figure it out.  And, clearly, not there yet .  Anyone???

And, as you’ve noticed, blogging is and will be sporadic, due to crazy busy household insanity with the holidays our own little Norman Rockwell Christmas Shangri-la.

Shadows in adoption; part 1

I’ve been thinking about shadows.

I’ve been thinking about adoption shadows – by which I mean little passing things that flit across the tarmac of our families.  I sometimes think of them as remnants.  They aren’t full blown issues that come and squat down smack in the middle of the family room, taking up too much room on the sofa.  Rather, they are shadows that flutter by, reminding you “Oh yeah, there’s still stuff here.”

Specifically, I want to talk about my sweet Gabey.  He’s been home about 3.5 years now! Already! He came  home an adorable wide eyed serious toddler, and has evolved into a LOUD funny smart sweet mischeivous prince of the palace.  He charms the socks off of all he meets, if he’s so inclined.  If not, then, he turns  his attention away, no matter their efforts.  And, I used to say that his adoption was our easiest ever – out of five.  And, in many many ways, it was. It so was.  But, as it goes in real life, nothing is ever really that simple.  It would be a grave error to think, simply because his homecoming seemed simple, and his knitting into our clan seemed so smooth…..it would be a deep mistake to think that all that meant that it was simple, or seamless.  Because, it is not.  It cannot be.  Adoption isn’t like that.  And you’re fooling  yourself and doing your kid(s) a disservice if you think it is.  Which is not to say that you should keep a klieg light on it all, all the time.  Certainly not.  But, don’t dismiss those shadows.

When I speak of the shadows, I”m not only talking about that ever so topical one: attachment.  It’s there, it’s always there…but it’s not usually a shadow so much, now is it?  Usually, if you’re talking about attachment you’re talking about that big tangly monster of issues that IS taking up so much room on the sofa.  Now, I’ve got a few different shadows that I’ve been seeing and thinking about.  This post  however, after all, might as well start with the biggie.  All that attachment stuff is the first thing that comes to mind for most of us; it’s the big gorilla, most of the time.  Sometimes, though, sometimes, attachment IS more of a shadow.  It can be a shiver glinting by at a family gathering or a after a school play.  I didn’t think my Gabe had attachment issues, not really, not now after over three years here.  But, you know what? He does.  Maybe more than I realized for awhile.  He does.

These attachment issues are more fleeting moments, but they are there and we would be remiss to not keep that on top of our awareness and work to walk through them.  More now, we see him willing to walk away with someone who is, effectively, a stranger, when we are football games.  Perhaps he is willing to walk further and beyond because he is almost five and testing those boundaries. But perhaps it’s that sometimes, deep deep down, there is a gap.  Maybe.  Maybe that’s why sometimes he still turns his back and snuggles into me backwards when coming in for a hug.  Because somehow frontward is TOO close, for him.

So, what do we do about this new awareness, this new sighting of these shadowy attachment tangles? Well, we don’t take it for granted.  We do the work.  We connect.  Every way we can.  When he needs us to walk him into the darkened room (another shadow, another post), we do it.  When I can help him with his shirt in the morning, I do.  When he wants to run to me to let me smell his breath after brushing his teeth, I breath in his little boy toothpaste.  When he sits near me and asks, “Which shoes mom?”, meaning, which feet do they go on….I say “Yup, that way,”  about his tumbly socks and shoes.

and as the little boy he is...he likes to make faces now for the camera too....

This special boy, he is getting bigger.  He is realizing the world is a much bigger place than he knew.  He is almost five now and  his shoes, his heart and understanding are all taking giant steps forward.  No matter the shadows, I want to make sure I hold his hand as he goes.

Roundup: Third Birthday at Fifteen

So, I just have to put up a little post bday roundup…..indulge me.  Big news: the big bday bash was a success.  The day, all day long, was a success.  By which I mean, it was happy, joyful  and full of laughter. By which I mean, it did NOT tip over into any sulks or tantrums or trigger rage or grief or nasty ungrateful gimmie’s.  It didn’t dwell in the land of attachment/adjustment issues, nor did it fall into the developmental zone of three year old pouts and melt downs, or just mundane teen age drama and angst (if that is ever mundane…).  It could’a.  But it didn’t.  It was her third birthday ever celebrated, officially.  And it was her fifteenth, in chrono time.

So, it was a double helix of timing, converging into one sugar coated tiara of a day.

This birthday was simpler in many ways than the previous two, and thus, it was a gift to us as well.  This birthday was kinda cool, actually…it was so much a “three year” birthday…but without the typically attendent birthday-itis of most three year olds.  And without the attitude of a teen as well.  All the gifts, big or small, were received with simple surprise and glee.

Every one.  From the zany princess crown from a friend at school – worn all day  with great pride – to the gummy bears and candy sour worms, to the coveted “cow boots” and “cow hat”….all were received with open mouthed delight and laughter and hugs and claps of joy.

Honestly, it was delightful to watch.

What was even more delightful, for me (because, as ever, it’s all about me me me), was the simple ease and joy of this birthday.  It could’a gone either way.  Holidays and big events are loaded, triggers often.  But this one went off without a hitch; and to see that ability to just be happy and enjoy, in a happy revelry…well, it made me grin with delight too.  I am gonna take it as a sign of healing and stepping forward, even if it’s a baby step.  And yeah, I know, that part of this is just dumb luck and that fact that cupcakes and cakes were liberally sprinkled throughout the day (Thanks Teach! Thanks Coach!)….but even so it was marked progress from the past two years of birthday celebrations.

We had no tension, only glee.  She got to do her favorite things in the world: be at school, say hello to all her friends and everyone she passed at school (wearing her crown), and then go to basketball practice to boot (again, with surprise cupcakes).  Then home to her favorite, chosen, meal and dessert, presents and more songs and attention.

Overkill? Maybe. You might think so.  But then again, maybe not.  She has a lot of birthdays missed to make up for.  Did she kind of wear us out leading up to it? Did we just start giggling at watching her be so over the moon over every tiny thing? Oh, yeah, surely yes to both.  But…….Why not milk it for every single bright blingy sweet moment she can?  Why not let her simply relish every last drop of it? It’s a goodness and an attention that any one of us, in our deepest heart of hearts, really maybe craves.  So, we are happy for her to have it.  Not every day, no.  But one day, or a third time in fifteen years?  Oh yeah, you betcha.

It was a very good day for that birthday girl.

This might be my favorite pic of the night, makes me grin to see it...that's a happy laughing girl!

Eyes Open: marking the good.

So, because I tend to be a cynical gal…I often forget to see, or mark, the good out loud.  I don’t know why exactly, I’m sure some therapist could buy a house in Boca spend decades unraveling it.  But, to try to offset that tendency, and to keep from only being a “debbie downer” kind of gal, I want to make sure that now and then I mark the good.  Publicly, even.  So that I never forget it (because I will) and so that you all can see that progress happens.

Eventually, progress happens – maybe only tiny moments, but those might mean so much.  I think they do, if you have the eyes to see.  I’m trying to keep my eyes open.

About a week ago we went on the one and only official family visit up to the Novitiate to see Brother Peter Joseph.  Sounds simple, no big deal, right?  Well now, consider who is traveling: my family.  That means, of course, that no, no, it’s not simple.  We don’t do ANYTHING simply.  Geez, you’d think you’d know that by now!

Anyhow, back to this particular travel weekend.  To get our crew to this event entailed a car ride that technically should be five hours, but with our quantity of kiddos takes six.  It’s just math, that: x number of kids multiplied by x number of stops for gas, snacks, potties (every time)…with integer factors of contributing age/bladder issues (young/old), equals at least one or more hours added to the trip time.  Plus we have to take two cars because we don’t fit in one (though this works out best with regard to space issues as well as personality conflicts between some sibs and the parental desire for peace and sanity).

 So, get the image in your head: it’s a mini caravan, with excitement and prickliness vying for top spot.  Fun,  huh!?  Happily enough, autumn is a nice time to travel – not too hot and humid, not icy cold – and the visuals are usually nice with the fall colors.  Any outbound leg of a trip is typically better than the trip homeward because, lets face it, the anticipation can carry the day, almost as well as a flat out bribe.  In fact, this trip up was MUCH better than the homeward trip and we won’t even talk about that leg of it because this post is all about  marking the good.  So the return leg goes “into the vault”….get it?  Yeah.  ‘Nuff said.

So, to bring this rambling back onto point:  travel with Marta can be a tricky thing.  It can be exciting and  happy and fun for her; but doesn’t tend to be so when it includes long car rides with the other kiddles all packed in.  It can be a major anxiety producer, because by definition it means a change in schedule and routine (not to mention location, time zone, weather, beds, housing, clothes, etc etc etc).  For a hyper-vigilant kid with rigid needs for routine and stability and so on, travel can be a mixed bag, no pun intended.  And if you’re going to a new place and/or event and the activities and/or venues are unfamiliar, that anxiety can simply TAKE OVER.  It can spin out of control.  It can shut her down. So, this is all to say we’ve had some tricky travel times over the past few years.  But this weekend was super important.  We all missed Chris/Peter Joseph, and we were all motivated to try to make it work smoothly to go visit.  So, Coffeedoc and I held our breath and just knew we would work  hard and hope for the best!

Now, I’m not gonna give you a blow by blow of the weekend.  You’re welcome. We had ups, we had downs…you know…”it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  But here is where I finally say it: we had a minor/major breakthrough moment.  Seems minor. Is major. Huge, really.  You mom’s of kid’s from hard places will know just what I mean, I think.

But here it is, Mark It:  I was driving.  We were about 3-4 hours into the drive.  Marta had moved into the passenger seat next to me.  She was plugged into her tunes, seeming to zone out.  It was a beautiful, glorious, day: sunny, glittery, color explosion of leaves all around.  Gorgeous.  I was thinking about how pretty it was, just kind of savoring it.  And Marta sat up, took out  her earbuds, swiveled her head a few times, did a Vanna White hand wave and said, “Trees, much color, so pretty!”  I said, “I know! I was JUST thinking that! I LOVE it, so beautiful, my favorite!”  She nodded, “SO pretty! Very nice!”  Then she smiled at me and she put her buds back in and sat back and picked a new song.

And I marveled.

Because, you see, that’s a multi-step wow.

First, Marta was relaxed enough to open her eyes and sit listening to music as we drove.  Next, she was relaxed enough to open her eyes to see the colors.  Next, she was relaxed enough to ENJOY the colors! Lastly, she was relaxed and, ok, I’ll go there, maybe connected enough to comment on the colors.  She saw beauty.  And ya know, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think you can take in beauty, really soak it in and go “ahhh” unless you are relaxed and even a little bit happy.  And, she was relaxed and a little bit happy and we were traveling!! In a car! To somewhere NEW and unknown!

So, that’s it. That’s my marking the good.  It’s a biggie, though some of you might pooh-pooh it.  But, if you know this girl, you won’t.  If you’re a mom parenting a hyper-vigilant kid, you won’t.  This is a good, a big good and I’m gonna wrap it up in a red and gold sparkly bow and file it away under autumn healing goodness.  Because that’s what it is.

My eyes were open, they saw they beauty all around me.

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.


We are seeing change.



Change right before our very eyes.

And, really, it’s kind of nice because for once we get to SEE progress instead of only try to analyze and infer progress. For my tired old mind, that’s just a nice change-up. I realize that this is a routine passage for most kids in our modern culture. But let me remind you that it is NOTHING like routine for some of our kids. In fact, for my daughter from Ethiopia, this was unthinkable. Literally, unthinkable. Not even a dream.

You see, this little girl had never been to a dentist and this little girl was so SO shy and so SO self-conscious that she hid her smile behind her hands. Sometimes, if you could delight her or make her laugh at some silly slapstick physical comedy, then her smile would light up a room. But she would quickly catch herself and hide it. Not long after we brought her home, a few months, she asked about the braces on her older sister’s teeth. She pointed at them and then pointed at herself and asked, “Me?”

Oooh. We discussed it, alone, as parents of a newly home teen. We evaluated the lack of words to convey the process, the difficulty, the length of time, the pain. We talked about it with her as best as we could, we showed pictures of the process, we looked at calendars. She was insistent, “Me? Yes, ok, please. Me?” We thought of putting it off for a long time, until she had more english, more security, more time at home. But, she can be a stubborn, pushy little gal…..and so, finally, we caved said, “We can go talk to the doctor.”

And so we did. And we spoke with him at length about the particular challenges of this set of teeth and patient. He was game to try. He understood the need to be EXTRA gentle, and slow, and careful, and KIND. He understood her need to have me by her side, literally sitting on the edge of the chair, at each and every checkup and procedure. His office and staff didn’t blink. They just did it. Kindly. Patiently. Always, always, with a smile. For TWO years.

Now, yesterday, they once again, had an appointment with my Marti. But this one was MUCH anticipated and dreamt about. This one was to remove those braces.

This one, once again, was done with kindness and gentle hands but also much pomp and circumstance to celebrate the big day: balloons, gifts of forbidden snacks (popcorn, starburst), photos, hugs, high fives. She also got her new retainer for nighttime, and practiced taking it in and out a few times to make sure she could do it well. It was fine tuned to keep her new smile all beautiful and in place.

So we have our shy girl, the one who came to a new country and new family. She said to me in her first months home that she was “No pretty,” she cried and hid her mouth. Nowadays she’s feeling pretty good about herself, I think. She talks daily of her “Magic Hair” (‘nother post that!). And, now, she laughs with joy at her new megawatt smile and when I told her she was beautiful, she laughed and hugged me tight. Her smile lights up her face and she is all grins now about that smile; she says it is “SO pretty! Me happy!” Which makes me grin.

And, just because it’s kinda perfect, there is this: when she picked out her colors for her retainer, she picked a hot pink {of course}. Then she was asked if she wanted to pick any decals. She picked a butterfly. I didn’t think anything of it, til I saw her yesterday, giggling and smiling ear to ear without those braces. And there it was, right next to her, emblematic. She has grown out of her cocoon. She has changed in her own metamorphosis.

Our Marta has become that very butterfly.

Attachment tools and signals: the bandaid.

Kids love Band-aids.

Right? I mean, don’t you sometimes think, “Doh, why, oh WHY didn’t I buy stock in bandaids?” Because your kids go through them by the gross. Because you commonly walk into the kitchen or bedroom and find little discarded fluttery piles of bandaid wrapper remnants, left behind. Because, as you stand in the market and eyeball the different kinds and colors and characters and compare the ridiculous prices relative values of the choices…you think, “I went into the wrong line of business. Forget plastics. I should’a gone into bandaids. I’d have that Bahama beach house already!

No? Ok, maybe that’s just me. I admit it, I’ve been chintzy at times on the bandaids. The bandaid for the invisible booboo, it used to make me (way back when I was much younger of course, ahem) blanch at bit. Then I finally relented and thought, “Meh, whatever helps. Fine, get a bandaid.” Heck, I got all magnanimous and everything about the bandaids. I let. It. Go. Big of me, right? Sigh……

Now, after this Empowered to Connect Conference, my eyes have been opened anew to the beauty and wonder of bandaids!

No kidding!

First, the good stuff. And sure, maybe you hip and savvy moms already had this all figured out. And I’ve had my moments of understanding too, give me a little cred…but still…to have it visibly on big screen shown to me and 900+ other parental unit types….well, it brings the point home: bandaids are a fantastic tool for attachment and healing. What’s more, bandaids are a great signifier of same. What’s that? YEAH! That endless need for bandaids, if brought to you, can show a trust that YOU are the one to help heal a hurt, however small or vanishing. Right. Do to be clear, it’s not actually about the bandaid. I just use that for the catchy title. It’s about the need to be nurtured. It’s about trying to reach across that gap in trust..to grab onto your kid on the other side.

Let me back up a moment. In this conference last weekend , one of the first videos that Dr. Purvis showed was of a ‘nurture group’ (I know, the titles make me squirm sometimes, thinking how my kids might react to that term, but, still…) with teen girls in a residential treatment center. Now, I’ll tell you, I typically come to these resources thinking mostly of my newest daughter, adopted as an older child. It’s been a tougher road that one, and it’s easy to get a little stuck on the ruts there. But this video instantly had my hyper focused attention, because one of the girls reminded me so disconcertingly much of one of my other daughters. This other daughter does manifest attachment issues but due to brain injury/trauma/behavioral stuff and the sheer complexity of her little self. And it’s easy to forget that her issues are so there, there. But Friday, I sat up and had that klaxon clanging; because I could’a been looking at a possible future glimpse of my girl in manner and general attitude. Not a certain vision. A possibility. Key point, that.

Anyhow…This video was about the idea of asking for help, for nurturing, by asking for a bandaid for a hurt. And this girl, in the video, she couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. Not in that session anyhow. And Dr Purvis was her usual wonderful accepting nurturing self and didn’t make a big deal of it. Which means, that acceptance allowed/empowered that very girl (by report) to soften – she did ask for that bandaid help, the very next day. Presenting the idea of being accepting to opening up the avenue or idea of healing, allowed this child to be vulnerable enough to take one baby step forward to admit she might need a bit of it. Just one bandaid’s worth. Hugeness.

And what that also shows, is that all those zillions of times your kid(s) come to you for bandaids? Ask YOU to look, see, kiss, comment on, PUT the bandaid on their invisible or visible hurt?

Attachment, people!

I know, you already know all that probably. I did/do too, most of the time. But when you are in the trenches and/or parenting one or more kids from hard places or with needs or whatever…well sometimes that reminder can be a brick on the/my head. And the daughter that we fight so hard to find a way to, to attach to and her to us? Well golly don’t ya know she’s come to me, oh, let me think here, about 700 times I think to show me an owie or a bump or an ouch. To see it. To hear it. To kiss it. To bandaid it. Sometimes it’s not even real, really. Sometimes it’s somatic. I’ve rolled my eyes over it as she walked away. Shame on me. Because I should’a gotten on the table and danced. As Karyn Purvis pointed out this weekend, “That’s paydirt.” I can’t have long conversations with her about her attachment and her issues. She has delay issues that prevent it. But this doesn’t need conversation, it works at any level. And it showed me something that made my heart and head go “zing!” Our issues with her are less attachment than I thought all this time. Our issues with her are more cognition and anxiety (and those are many, but still…). And yes, some attachment, especially when the anxiety makes the survival skills raise their ugly head again. But, still, not as MUCH attachment as I presume too often.

Those hundreds of hurts, of complaints even, of owies that I wondered about in dismay for the past two years….”Really, you fell in the bathroom again? Your knee? Oh, ok, I’ll kiss it. Be careful, ok?” Well, even though we weren’t GETTING each other totally…we were still stepping through the attachment dance.

And it counts.

Are we done? No! Not for a lifetime, I’m guessing. But have we made progress I didn’t even see?

Oh. Yeah.

And my other daughter, the one who I had hyper radar sighting in the video? The one who does/doesn’t have attachment stuff on any given day? One of my other complicated kids? Well, we’ve had some more connected progress after this conference. Not perfection. But strides, steps. Screwups too; me. But, she’s asked me to kiss her forehead and cross it each night at bedtime and getting out of the car at school this week. And Monday she stepped on a toothpick. It hurt. And guess what?

She wanted a bandaid. No, she ASKED ME for a bandaid.


Wanna know what I said?

You betcha honey. Which one would you like? “

Zing went the strings of my heart.

Conference day

So today is the day and I’m at the Empowered to Connect conference!

Let me say I was kind of nervous to come, but also really looking forward to it! Dr. Purvis is amazing. Really. And while I thought I was coming to refresh my brain cells and knowledge base about my child from hard places….i’m finding that I’m seeing the connections ever more to a couple of my kids who have other tough behaviors and issues. These kids have been home since infancy but have some difficult behaviors and over time it’s oh so easy to fall into the trap of worn down burnout. But, as you know and as I know…that is a mistake. And this conference is a refresher course on what can be done to help, in small simple but profound ways. This conference is a reminder to always connect – to not forget to try. Because their hearts still cry out for it. As does mine.

Thanks so much for helping make this happen tom! Plus, bonus points, I just got to say hello to a rock star blogger and mom: Lisa from “One Thankful Mom.”. Make my day! Shes just as beautiful and nice in person as you’d guess. Lovely.

Great day. Gonna be tired. Totally worth it.

Be there or be square…

This is where I’m gonna be this Friday and Saturday! I missed it last year, simply due to swamped parenting and sitter snafus.  But this year, Coffedoc has stepped up to the plate to be in place, so I can be free to attend.  Yay, and thank you Tom!

ETC Conference in Nashville, TN (Sept. 23-24, 2011) from Tapestry on Vimeo.

So, if you think you might be interested, go! Dr. Purvis is terrific, I learn something new every time I listen to her or read her work.  If you are going, look for me and say hello…I’ll be the frumpy old gray haired mom, holding a big cup of coffee throughout.  I’m excited to go and connect, with new ideas and new and old friends.  I’m excited to go and be reminded of basics that I keep forgetting as I muddle through the trenches.  I’m glad to go and be reminded that I’m not alone on this road.  Because when you are parenting kids from hard places, kids with different needs, those adopted as older children…..those connections, they mean so much. And those connections have helped me more times than I can say.  Adoption isn’t for sissies.  Heck, parenting isn’t for sissies….this conference is a great resource.

See you there!

Slam Dancing in Adoption: co-dependency.

Welcome, please join me in the mosh pit…that lovely loud place we call home and family life.

What, you ask? Have I moved the family into a strange new world, am I trying to reclaim a not only lost but never went there youth (yes, once again, dating my old self)? Slam Dancing? I mean, really, what?

Well, ok, what I’m really gonna talk about here is the idea that if you look closely, sometimes, you can find a not so great Co-dependency in adoption. You know: that term where you kind of lose yourself and you stop having your own feelings about things, instead all your feelings are what the other person is feeling. They’re having a bad day? Bummer, you too! They’re ticked? Oh no, I thought my day had started well! Dang! They are sad? Oh, now I have to be sad for them, and with them and…instead of them? Ah, I know what you’re thinking: Again, really, why have I started in on this? Isn’t Co-dependent stuff all about middle aged women who have dysfunctional relationships and/or low self esteem? Or, isn’t it about living with an alcoholic or workaholic and enabling them at the expense of yourself? Isn’t that the baggage for women who just get a little lost along the way? Isn’t it all just that big mess O’ psychobabble???

Well, yeah, it can be those things. Not sure about the psychobabble. But, sure, it’s a much more common issue than we like to realize, unless you overstate it by seeing way too much daytime tv talk shows…you know, the ones where ALL you see are the dysfunctional families and the morose middle aged gals.

But, at the risk of being flamed, here is what I’d like to just mention: This thing, we’ll whisper it: “co-dependency“, can happen, before you know it, when you adopt a kid from hard places, a kid who has more needs for whatever reason (organic or imposed), an older kid from hard places, especially.

Now, hang on. Think about it.

The bare breakdown of that term is not the problem. And I can and have written MUCH about how MUCH we are all dependent upon each other and made for each other and to help each other. I’ve gone on (and on) about the sheer awesome beauty found in that. And I will.

But. Here. In this post. What I’m saying is that the tendency towards this modern, less beautiful, sense of co-dependent feelings and behaviors is almost a set-up with the nature of older child adoption. The adoption process itself nurtures this tendency….it’s all about making things ok. What things? Well, EVERYthing(s)! We have to make sure every paper is signed on the proper lines, certified, sealed and delivered. We wait after getting our referral for the courts to do the same and worry sick over the child stuck waiting too: will they be ok, are the eating well, do they know about us, are they ok or scared, are they safe, will they love us? We become massive caretakers, not only that, but we become the majordomo of ….everything we possible can, when we are in the process of adopting. It’s what we are pushed to do and what we kind of self select to do and be and really, it’s encouraged. Heck, it’s lauded.

..and if I

And it can be a great thing to be a gal who can do much and arrange much and make stuff happen. It feels great! It looks great! It makes things work great! Right?

Well, the bear trap snaps shut and moves from great to not so much when that tendency, that behavior, that need, that desire….starts closing it’s center down on a person….or in this case, the child. And on you. Let me be clear, I am not saying don’t care for or about any child. But, if the urge to care for a child slips beyond the boundaries of what can actually be accomplished by any one human person…then that one human person has just slipped onto the slippery slide toward co-dependency.

Ok, instead of blathering and talking around it, let me give you a for instance from my turf. It’s taken me a long time, heck darn near two years, to realize that what my husband has been telling me all along is true. He didn’t use these words but he pegged it just the same: “You’re too connected to HER feelings, they are not yours and don’t have to be. That doesn’t actually help.” By which he does NOT mean for me to be an insensitive ogre; but rather, to be able to step OUT of the vortex of her feelings that whip up in an instant…the ones that aren’t rational, the ones that are simply trigger response. Seems simple, no? But, oh, so very not. Because when you have a kid from hard places, and or an older child who is new to your big old family, and or has special needs…you want, with every fiber of your being “TO MAKE IT ALL OK.” For them. For you. For the other kids. For the family. Just, because. You have a huge need to pull everything into alignement. To control and direct how it all connects and how it all is gonna play out and how everyone is gonna feel. That’s the majordomo part. Admit it ladies, it happens. If not, then it’s just my own freak, I’ll claim it. But there it is.

But, the trick is…it doesn’t work that way. So, you intellectualize it and realize you can’t actually make it work that way. You can’t majordomo emotions. But then you are staring into the maw of that need. Those emotions. Hers. You can’t actually effect or control or help them, not really, they are HERS. But, if she does A then you all are gonna feel B, and if she feels or does B then you all are gonna feel and or have to do C. The math gets all mucked up and it triggers it’s own little alarm bell in your gut, in direct reaction to your frustrated control instinct. A clanging, even.

Right at this point, is when the band starts playing. The punk new rave music tunes up. Here is the center of the mosh pit; here the co-dependent dance begins. And it’s not a lovely elegant waltz or a breezy two-step. It’s a jangling punk slam dance that bangs up every piece and part of each of you.

Really, once you allow her feelings to dictate yours, then not only are you not helping or being able to rationally address said feelings, you have just been pulled into the chest slam head bang twist of it all. You cannot empathize with her underlying fear or grief or insecurity if you are trying to stem your panic and fear at the recognized loss of control over how things are gonna move. The beat was changed and you didn’t orchestrate it, again. And again. But since her fears and insecurities that launched this dance are simply trigger responses and or reflect her inability to dance any other way, to this music…she’s not gonna be able to regulate that beat either. It’s all you.

What do you do? What now? You’re pulse is racing and your head is banging and you don’t wanna dance this dance. Look away from the fray. Co-dependent feelings suck. Especially for a high ranking majordomo brigadier, the top ranking one: the mom.

Well, the only way out is to let go. Not of them, not the kid. Of you. Of your misperceived ownership and responsibility for every nuance of their feelings. Let go of the grasping tension and flailing pulse. Let go of the control you thought you had because you didn’t have it in the first place. The only way to pick up a dancer/your kid, winded and bruised from the mosh pit is to stand on the sidelines, and be ready to catch them. Call to them to see if they can see their way out through to you. And then wait for them to get there. And then soothe them with a hug and hold them til their breathing steadies. Because let’s face it, if you’re in their getting banged up too, being co-dependent and letting their disregulated moods dicate YOURS, then you are actually no help at all. You actually become part of the problem. I’m not saying to dismiss or move away from that child. Sometimes you have to meet up with them and weather through that clanging hellish beat. But I’m saying you can move out of the emotional slam dance. You must, in order to actually help her. Or him.

So step out.

This isn’t the dance for you. It isn’t for her either, or your child. But it takes time to learn a new one. For both of you. Lessons can help. And they’re a lot of work too. But as with anything, practice makes better. Not perfect. But, better. And lately, working on this…I’ve been able to put my “steel toed doc martins” in the back of the closet sometimes…and I have, a little more often, pulled back out some of my softer dancing shoes.

Little Miracles, Can You See Em?

One of the cool, inspiring blogs I follow, Love that Max, had a post that has kept me thinking. It’s a post about seeing miracles, big and small and worth a look. Go see, then come back…

Ok, thanks for coming back! So. Heres what I’m thinking after reading that: It’s easy to only have eyes to see the “Capital Letter Miracles.” Heck, who doesn’t want that? It’s awesome and wonderful to see the “Capital Letter Miracles!” Let’s face it, we crave those kinds of miracles (So much so that tv charlatans have manufactured fake ones for decades, don’t be snookered)….

But what I’ve been thinking about is Max’s point…that we see miracles every single day. In our own families. And no, I don’t only mean that it’s a miracle we got to school on time! Ok, maybe sometimes I do mean precisely that….ahem. Not to be too drippy or saccharin..but we can and do see them, all the time. And I need to remember to mark them, heck I need to marvel at them, with a wide open grin. Because, I don’t know about you, but I can all too easily slip into the daily grinding drill and forget to see any of those moments for the clutter and clanging of the chaos. Yes, chaos. The puppy peeing, the small boy banging, the larger boy crashing down the stairs while the silent attitude of the teen is a siren stomping up the stairs. Those times, I’m pretty darn hard pressed to see any miracle. Much less a capital M one. Mostly I see a certain preteen left shoes in the hall and someone else left the towels on the stairs….

But they are there, those tiny flickering miracles. And I kinda like the small ones best, in many ways. Maybe it’s all I can take…who knows? But really, if I can slow down my vision, still my spinning gears or, at least, stop after the rush hour is over and gaze around the momentarily silent house, take a breath….I can see past the smudges and the socks. I see miracles.

We did get to school on time!

And that silent-bellow, the freezing attitude of the newer teen? It shouts of a newfound security, strong enough to withstand a huffed stomp up the stairs and the scowls of a sibling and/or second mom. We weren’t sure we’d get there many months ago. A miracle.

The quiet drawing, so carefully intricately etched by a loud crashing whirling dervish of a seven year old boy? A miracle: the artistic gift, and the few mintes of stillness to allow it forth onto the paper.

A small warm sweet four year old, sleepy curling under his covers, whispering to me…asking if I would hold his hand while he falls asleep. Pure miracle; he came, wary, from across the world and now nestles by choice next to me.

A preteen with a guarded but hopeful heart, joining the same school again with her siblings, no longer needing to be separated in order to get the accommodations she needs….everyone doing their part to make up the differences. That one might be a capital M, it’s so good, so important, so unexpected all those years.

The same new teen from hard places who can freeze you out…. being able to finally relax enough to actually play, be playful…with a new sweet puppy that sparks laughter and silliness in a child that has known so little.

The unbidden hug goodnight of the eldest teen daughter, just now as I type, on her way to bed…with a real sparkly true smile in her eyes, and the same in mine, right back at her. If you have a fifteen year old, you know that, in itself, some nights, IS a miracle! I’ll take it.

So, I’m counting my miracles. I’m trying to open my eyes to see them. Because you know, miracles are funny. If you don’t have the heart to see them, or if you close your eyes for a moment too long. They are gone. And that is just a waste. Because if we open our eyes to look, we can but marvel….

>Measuring. Or, how to make yourself crazy in older child adoption…

We do it all the time.
I could go on a tear about how we as Americans do it, with everything, but that might be a whole ‘nother post….and the point is that we do it consciously or unconsciously…ALL THE TIME.

But let’s stay focused: as parents we measure…what? Everything, right? Right!
And no matter  how you became a parent, you still measure everything..right?
Hmmm.  Think maybe not? Well, consider:

My Chris, this pic makes me laugh…goofy baby pics, gotta love em.

If you are having a baby, by which I mean, you are pregnant and are gonna literally give birth to a child…from the very moment you find out you are pregnant, there you are: measuring.
You measure how many weeks along you are, you count the days since your last period, you count how many months ahead til your due date.  Then you go to the doctor and they too immediately start measuring: they measure your belly for the first time (and they will keep that up until it just alarms you) they measure your weight (again, this continues to a shocking gain – unless you tell them to ‘quit that’ as I did when I just couldn’t take the numbers on that scale anymore).  They measure and they measure.  Thus, it’s no surprise that you are unwittingly indoctrinated into this habit of measuring and by the time that baby pops out – or, if you’re measuring, is pushed out after 21 hours of labor that felt like 45, taking what must be 3 years off  your life with the effort – you are measuring without even realizing you’re doing it.  And of course, they whisk the baby away and do all sort of measuring with fancy names like APGAR and fill in fancy charts and graphs with the incessant measuring.

It doesn’t end there, once you are home you measure the amount the baby sleeps or doesn’t, how much they eat or don’t, or if you’re nursing, how often and how long, you measure their hair with your fingertips and count their toes again and again just to be sure they are all there and as cute as you remembered 5 minutes ago.  Then you start the next phase of measuring which is only slightly less number based: the developmental milestones.  As you can see, it just goes on and on and on, in one form or another…the rest of their measured little lives!

Now it’s easy to think, “Aha, but I’m adopting, that doesn’t even apply to me.” 
Well, hang on Roy Rogers…sure it does.
Because if you’re adopting an infant, well you get ALL the infant measuring from the moment of birth onward and then some.  Yeah, you’re gonna get those APGARS and count those toes, don’t think you’ll skip that part.

Sweet Sarah

But you get the added perk, to make up for the personal belly measuring, of measuring Your. Entire. Life. in order to see if it measures up to the standards of your social worker, the agency, the judges, the police FBI feds government, even if it measures up to Homeland Security if you’re adopting internationally.  Nope, you don’t get a “pass” on measuring in the adoption lanes.
So yeah, you’ll be measuring your weight after all, and your spouse’s, your other kids, even your dog’s weight (Think I’m kidding about the dog? Check out our dossier, I kid you not).  You’ll measure your finances and traffic fines, your health and your fitness to parent, and on and on. Let’s not even get started on measuring and counting the wait!
Finally, when that happy day comes and  you are holding that little one in your arms, well, you will sob with amazement and then you’ll go right back to the measuring game like the rest of the parents.

But this post isn’t about that, not really…..
This post is about the measuring done in a whole ‘nother zone: the zone of Older Child Adoption.
In that world, that lane of family building, the measuring takes on all new meaning and form.

And, it’s not good.

The measuring that is done in Older Child Adoption is not nearly so factual or innocuous.
This measuring is more insidious and unconscious and, frankly, is a big huge bear trap.

Because what they don’t tell you in the adoption books is that we moms, we measure us
We measure ourselves against the first mom, against our ideas of what a perfect mom is supposed to be do or how they should appear (…again, like in the fashion ads, it’s always the Benetton mom..but I don’t have a stylist following me around every day..I know you thought I did, lots of folks make that mistake…but I don’t). 
But even all that, that’s not the worst of it.
The measuring that is killing us, we moms who have adopted older children, and/or children from the hard places, is the measuring of our feelings.
Hear that screeching just saying it? Yeah, my voice goes up an octave or two, on the hard days, when I even say that word out loud.
But taking our emotional temperature, checking in with our feelings (love, like, affection, annoyance, disdain, dislike) most of the time, is a trap.
I’m not saying never do it.
But I’m saying  you need to do it far, far, far less often that you think.

In fact, I would like to point out that I believe we moms, in this circumstance of Older Child Adoption, tend to take our emotional temperature…constantly.  I think we, without even realizing it, are always having it on our radar scroll, just like our own personal emotional CNN.  It’s our ENN (Emotional News Network).

But this is one of the huge differences in older versus younger or infant adoption.
These feelings take longer, there is more to build to learn to absorb to work through…for all parties.
In older child adoption the primal human process of bonding is skewed and twisted all around.  The trauma that is inherent in older child adoption (and it is, always, to varying degrees) and/or the prior family experience all influence the new bonding, and it’s efforts; what it looks like, how it plays, how it stalls, what form it eventually takes.
For all involved, all of it, every bit of it, takes time.  Unknowable, unmapped time.
These older children come to us as whole persons; with personalities and traits and hearts already formed and molded to a very very large degree. 
And so, if any or all of you are taking that emotional temperature, if you’re measuring constantly or even daily (much less hourly or minutely)…you will lose your mind.   You’re setting the stage for crazy.

So stop it.
Yup. Stop it.
Stop the measuring!
I might tattoo that, too, on my forehead so I can look at it every time I brush my teeth.
Stop the measuring!
Measuring implies a mark that must be reached.
There is no mark.
A dear friend told me, at the very start of this last adoption, “Don’t take your emotional temperature every day.  Just don’t.”
She’s right.
Another dear friend told me recently, “Stop being so hard on yourself and measuring to what you think it’s supposed to be.  What if this, right now, is ALL it’s supposed to be? This.  This IS good enough.”

And I guess that’s what I am still chewing on, hence this looong rambly post.
But I think we mom’s, me, need permission to accept that we don’t have to measure every moment, every day, every thing.  We can stop the ENN scroll bar.  We don’t have to even know our emotional temperature.  We don’t have to feel our emotional temperature.  Once more: Love is not about the feelings.
So, let’s stop scanning our feeeeelinnngs.
And let’s kick that bit of crazy right out of our days.
With older child adoption, we are here. We are in place.  We are doing it, all of it.

And that’s good enough.
By any measure.

>Grief Box


 So, yesterday was another day of undefinable mood for our Marti.
And yes, many days with any teen girl are days of undefinable moody mood….but this one had a different tone.  Some of the clues, right away, that we were gonna have “one of those days” were that she got dressed in a gray sweater dress, despite temps starting in the 70’s and said to rise into high 80’s.  I told her that it was warm and gonna be hot, but there was no changing.  So, sweater dress it was.  Saturday also was a foreshadowing of the day; with double naps.  Naps are one of the ways that she copes and pulls in when she is blue (Not a terrible coping mechanism; quiet but oddly disconcerting).  Another, now classic, sign was that her hair was slicked back tight against her head; a sure sign of some dis-regulation and blue or black mood descending or already in. 

Seeing these signs, right at the start of the day were clues.  Tom and I went kind of automatically into mood-day mode and knew to let much slide, not make too many demands, make sure food was set out and available as soon as we got home from Mass and tried to keep to as standard a Sunday routine as possible.  Now, the day could’a gone way way south, and might have in months past.  This one was just very very quiet; with an obviously blue Marta.   She was aloof and yet shadowing us around too; which is this whole contradictory head-spinning quiet hard behavior; so I figured it was better to address it all head on instead of pretending that it was just a regular Sunday.

One of the tools that a dear friend has suggested to me is a “Grief Box.” She came across this in one of her Hague training videos and mentioned it to me, weeks ago.  I finally went and watched the whole grief training video last week.  It is a good video, worth watching, especially if you are new to the older child adoption world or the world of grief in our children.    So, seeing as it was a Sunday afternoon, with time a plenty, I thought of the grief box.   

Now, I know, a lot of these sort of suggestions need to be done with a proper licensed therapist.  Well, we don’t have one for Marta at this point; it’s complicated tremendously by her lack of language and cognition.  So, with that, it was just us and we were winging it as usual (hopefully not to anyone’s detriment – but really ya never really know in all this, flying blind and all)

Anyhow, I sat and talked with Marta about her feeling sad.  I asked her if many days she feels sad and she agreed.  I asked her if she was “afraid she would forget the sad things?”  She agreed again.   I talked with her that sometimes when we have many things that are sad and hard it can feel like we have to hold on tight to them all, every day.  I acted it out, she nodded.  I said, “Would you like to make a box, a safe box to keep, that we could write down all the sad/hard things and put them in your box?  So you can keep them safe; not forget.  And if you wake up feeling sad, you can open the box and think about them, or show me? “  She said yes.

So we picked out a shoe box.  I pulled out a small pile of construction paper and helped her cover the box in the colors she picked out.  She wrote “Marta’s Sad Box” on the top.  Then we sat and  made a list of the sad things she  holds onto, her losses (the one’s she willing to try with this).  We talked about each one of them.  She talked, I listened.  Her list was what you’d expect from a child who lost her culture and family: parents, home, country.  One of her items surprised and yet, didn’t at all: English.  Yes, english is one of her “sad’s.” Because it’s hard.  And she can’t speak it yet, not really.  And it’s very hard to learn under the best of circumstances.  And she has that deck stacked against her.  But if it’s a grief thing, it can go in the box.  It’s her box, her pick.  I wrote each thing simply on a slip of paper, and she drew a picture of it on the back of the slip.  Then she put it in the box.  Then we closed the box up, lid on.  Then I told  her she can keep it in her room and we can talk about it or about anything at all, ever.  Hard, sad, angry, bad things, good things, old, new. 

She went to her room for a short bit, again.  I went in, after a little bit, and told her again, that she can talk to us, me, dad, about anything, any time.  That I was different than her first mom.  But that I loved her and have big ears to hear and will be here.  She hugged tight and smiled.  And last night, well, it was still a smiley good day sticker, not a “hard day” claimed.  Though I pointed out to her that in truth it was hard, and that was ok.  She shook her head and hugged us tight.

So, I’m wondering, have any of you, with kids from hard places or hard starts, have you used a “Grief Box” and has it helped you? If so, please leave a comment, tell me how it worked for you.  If not, have you used something else? Some of these “hards” are so very hard.  Especially without the language to process it all, how to you help your child to acknowledge it, process it, and move beyond it into a healthier place? I’d love to hear your ideas.

>When rain is just wet


Rain clouds, Lalibella, Ethiopia
This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: Gob smacked in Lalibella

 I have written before about “marking the good,” especially when you are parenting a kid from hard places and with attachment issues; heck anytime, really.  If you are parenting teens or tweens or many or special ones, ya better try to remember to mark the good.

One of my heroes and blog friend Lisa has recently had a few posts about what has worked and the positive changes.  Go there and be encouraged!  It got me thinking, and reminded me to look again (Yes, we moms have to remind ourselves to do that some days.  Ok, me.) for those positive changes instead of merely looking at the crowded to-do list.   Therefore, as spring is upon us (hooray!), I want to mark a good that is ever so timely:


Yup, it’s raining again.  Not snow, anymore, thank goodness.  Spring is upon us. Which means we have entered the rainy season; which in my neck of the woods means downpours and crashing storms, tornadoes, hail, straight line winds, and just a whole lotta water.
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a bunch of rain, and I kinda….forgot.
I forgot about how Marta reacts to rain.
I think I mighta just boxed the whole thing up and set it away in denial.
Because for this particular girl, rain is a big trigger.
It is a trigger to a whole trauma cascade reaction.

Rain in Addis. Rachel Landman, Under African Skies blog

Last rainy season, Marti had only been home a little over six months, ok, eight to be precise (yes, I was counting….).  We had experienced a few rainstorms the first few months she was home, and they always put her into a sad mood and she became very out of sorts and anxious, often angry.
But last spring, as we entered the rainy season, we hit a whole new level.  Marta has loss from cars in the rain, her father.  This is a loss, huge of course, that perhaps wasn’t fully grieved, I don’t know.  But the onset of rain here made it all come gushing forth in it’s own short-looped torrent.
Every time it rained last spring, without fail, it also rained a talking loop that continued for the duration of the storm.  This was a very hard downward spiral for her, and all we/I could do was listen.  Again. And again.  And say small comforting words or sounds, be there, and listen some more.  The need seems to be to say it, out loud, to be heard. I don’t know how many times, or how many times were or are needed.  But, the need was relentless and unleashed with the rain. Much the same way as the rain fell, so did this torrent of words and sad. 
We had rainstorms and sad storms.

And now it is raining again.
But, and this is huge: it seems her clouds are clearing.
She has spoken of “Ethiopia, rain, very bad, hard, car die.”
But, she also has spoken, more, of “Rain nice. No snow. Flowers good. School ok.”

It seems her sad storms are healing a bit.
Because, so far, this spring, rain is just wet.
Rain is not a trigger to spiral cascade of unbearable grief.
The memories surely arise, how can they not?
But I rejoice to see this and pause to give her a big grin and hug.
Because this year, now, she can laugh that her puppy HATES to go out in the rain and shivers and shakes and balks.  She scolds her pup and rubs her off with a towel, laughing.
We can talk about hair and rain and oh my goodness crazy mess.
She mentioned cars and the rain, once so far.  But then moved on after a hug.
Because now, maybe my girl can see too, progress.
Rain doesn’t have to be scary or freezing sadness. 
Maybe it is now ok for her to feel it: rain is just wet.

So I’m finding the galoshes, and marking the good.

>Annnnd, Action!

>Sounds like I’ve moved back to LA and am joining the throngs of movie director wannabe’s, right?
Not so much. 

 {I fear if I did it would end up like a bizarro Luis Bunuel movie….}

This is a short bit on learning and living with kids; those from hard places and working on learning to live comfortably with new families in new places, but even those kids who are just in the normal hard places of teenager-hood or middle school… heck, really this works for any kid.

But this post isn’t really about the kids at all.
It’s about the mom, the me.
It’s a long steep learning curve and a slippery one at that, for me.  I’ve been doing this parenting thing for over twenty-one years now…you might well presume I’ve got it down, pat.
Not so much.

Because I have some very bad habits and personality quirks, the kind that keep knocking  me back when I’m trying my darnedest to move forward.
This is one of the biggies.
I am a “reactor.”
I am what we call around here a “high responder.”
Yuh.  Me.
I bet you’re surprised.
Ok, not so much, I know. 

This tendency of mine can be a very good thing when it’s all about the high high’s, the high fives, and the parties and the cheering successes.  It can be a very good thing when it’s passion and caring and persevering with intensity, like when you are going to bat for your kid.
But it’s not so good when you are responding, or reacting, to the other high responders in the house.
Because that is when you need to play against type, and you need to pull back and chill down, slow down.  And then, in that pause that you’ve just given yourself before you react without thinking, in response to whatever blowing….you get, you need, to act.

Deliberate, intentional action, is a much better choice, always, than reaction when you are talking about kids who have high responder natures, or buttons.
To act, instead of react, is key.
And if you’re like me, you might, just maybe, tend to react in anticipation of the event.
Which of course makes it all doubly difficult.

I am trying, mindfully, {no, really honey, I am} to try to not anticipate, to only act after the fact, and then only to what is actually happening (rather than react to my expansive imagination on the multitude of possibles). 
Sounds really good, doesn’t it?
Not so easy though, all this deliberateness.
It’s the anticipation of the blow and the immediate visceral reaction that is the hardest to stem, actually.  When I know something is gonna trigger a blowout or a domino reaction snit and attitude, my stomach immediately knots up and my breathing changes.  It’s my own trigger.  But I am working on slowing, stopping, and setting the anticipation aside.  Because it’s unfair, it’s a disservice to whichever child is in mind.  And I am forcing myself to wait, trying trying.  (Another weak skill.) To just wait to see if the anticipated fallout um, falls out…and only then, ONLY then, start dealing with it.  And then, deal with it in an intentional way, not an expanded way, but an intentional action of empathy and logical consequences.

Again, sounds really great, lofty even, huh?
Not so much.
It’s a total work in progress.
But progess it is.
And progress I’m seeing, baby baby steps.
Because ya know what? Sometimes, my expectations are left wanting.  That fallout…it doesn’t happen, or it is smaller than I imagined.  Not always, but maybe it’s getting more of a chance to be so.  Because I’m not escalating it myself in advance.  Ouch. But, I’ll take that hit, the ouch, mea culpa….if it means that we can have less drama overall.  Even mine, maybe.

Not reaction. Not anticipatory reaction.  Just action.  Deliberate.  On time.
What a concept. Awfully challenging.  But, what a concept.

>Turn-key: Schedules (holiday edition)


I’ve written before a few times about the process of adjusting in adoption, especially with older child adoption.  I’ve talked about the idea of the turn key: one key that can turn the lock and you step right into a functioning enterprise (business, relationship, whatever).  As I stated before, adoption is NOTHING like that.  Ever. 
Yet, we, or I, fantasize about it all the time.
I wish I had a turn-key to adoption adjustment, really, really I do.
But I’m starting to get used to the idea that, I don’t, no one does.
As you embark on the process of an adoption, any adoption at all, those fantasies are rampant. 
Sure they get a little dull and bogged down by the cumbersome invasive excruciatingly slow process of adoption:  homestudies, background checks, financial and medical letters, references, duplicated certified stamped filed and stamped some more.
But even so, once you are through all that and you actually have the new family member, the child, home in the house…that’s when it all just gels, right? You’ve turned the key and stepped across the threshold to a brand new life!
Well, sort of anyhow.
This process of adjusting once you have a new child is what has me still and continually obsessing thoughtfully pondering about what makes it work and what doesn’t.
But this post, this series of posts, is about what has worked – for us.  I couldn’t begin to expand it further than our own wacky family; that would be wrong.  Because this is all only my own two pence.  But if I find something that consistently makes a difference, I want to throw it out there in case it might help smooth any path for anyone else.  Those stubbed toes on this sometimes-rocky path of adoption adjustment – they hurt!
So, with that long prelude, we come to this post. 
This post is about an important key to the adjustment in our house: schedules. 
Especially during the holiday season, schedules are critical.
They are a turn-key to unlocking a feeling of control and safety during a very uncertain time in a new family member’s life. 
They are, and I can’t say this quite strongly enough, a safety net
We have a big calendar on our fridge; one of the ones with large empty squares, plenty of room to write appointments, games, events.  Yes, it gets cluttered, especially as the month goes on.  Big family… Many in the house largely ignore it.  It is vital to me, to juggle everything.  The only person who looks at it as closely as me (actually, she examines it daily) is Marta.  It is a critical tool for her to keep her clued in to the daily routines.  Those predictable events are a safety net for her.  They provide a feeling of control and safety in a world that is not fully understood yet – not culturally, not with language, not with nuance or tradition.  
But this week, even that big monthly calendar isn’t cutting it.  This weekend was rocky; nervous anticipation of the holiday this week brought up bad behaviors and acting out.  Finally Sunday afternoon we were able to have a conversation about the nervousness of this week ahead: house-guests, shifting schedules, no school.  
 I decided to make Marta her own daily schedule, and asked her to help me.  We sat down with scratch paper (this doesn’t have to be a fancy thing) and we blocked out each day, so she could see what would happen.  This helps her to anticipate the things that are the same, and to prepare for the shifts and things that are different.  It provides something for her to hold onto, again, it is a safety net.  
Imagine, if you will, how it might be if you didn’t really know how things were going to work the next week, just that it would be quite different from the routine you’ve begun to know and understand….how would that make you feel? Now add on a lack of familiarity with the culture or the holiday traditions and the lack of language to learn it by talking about it.  Now add on a background of trauma and hurt,which brings up reactions that surprise everyone, even yourself,  and see if you don’t get a bit stressed out.  I know I would.  I am stressed out a bit in anticipation of it and I am the Mom of the house!  
 So, we made the daily schedules.  One for each day this week.  We taped them up the the wall in the center hub of the house, the kitchen.  

She knows roughly (Not minute to minute, that would be TOO tight of a schedule and then  you would have fallout from that schedule not being met…this is a blocked out schedule) what is happening when this whole week.  She has already referred to it many times.

And I am hoping.
I am hoping this will help my daughter cope.
I am hoping this will help  my daughter move out of stress response into a softer place.
I am hoping this will help my daughter relax just enough to really be able to BE with the family and enjoy a bit more of this holiday.
I’m not expecting miracles.
But I’m hoping for another little babystep forward.
I’m hoping to turn the key and open the door to family and home, a new family and new home, just a little wider.  
So this is our turn-key of this week: schedules.  
Use this tool, this key, to help a hypervigilant child be able to see what is ahead and anticipate it.  Because that is empowering, that knowledge means safety.
And giving any child a sense of safety is one of the best keys in your pocket.  

>Dancing with the Holidays: Attachment version

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Matisse. I love his painting.

We are one week away from Thanksgiving, and the advent of um, Advent, and Christmas, and New Year’s; the whole Holiday Season.

We are looking down the barrel of fun of parties and guests and rich food and too much sugar and long talks and late nights and shiny presents and long Mass and extra cooking and cleaning and shopping and on and on.
That’s fun, right?

Well…yes, for the most part.
But even for many of us, it is so easy to get overwhelmed by it all.
How many calls, books, blogs, articles do we see read hear to SIMPLIFY the season?
I’m all for it, really I am.
Because if I can get overwhelmed, and I am a high energy multitasking mom who’s second nature is to live life on overdrive, keep it full to the brim, do something for pity’s sake….then how much easier is it for a kid? How easy is it for a kid from another world to get overwhelmed…especially if she or he is from some hard background or past events, and is still trying to assimilate into a large noisy culture, country, family?

Well, it’s not only easy; it’s part of what you, by which I mean, I, should be anticipating.
It’s practically part of the season; it’s the Holiday Dance.

Edvard Munch
And I don’t mean that in a snarky or mean way, I mean it in the “accept it because it’s gonna happen so prep for it and not let it trip you up” kind of way. Because I think if we, ok I, actually anticipate it, then I can approach those feelings in a much more productive, dare I say, “therapeutic” way?

I know from last year and from living with my newest daughter for sixteen months that any change in the daily routine, no matter how small, throws her. Those routines, no matter how mundane, are her safety net. Her developmental delays aggravate that fact; however they are not the sole source of her seasonal distress. It is the adjustment, the attachment, and the fact that all that takes a really long time. It takes years and years. We are really just baby steps into it all, just learning how to anticipate each other’s steps and turns. Seems like we should be well fitted partners by now. But we are not. Even though it feels often like it should be all figured out and settled by now. But it’s not. It won’t be. It can’t be.

The holiday season takes the dance that we do – and are learning together – every day, and it spins it around in a disco ball kind of frenzy. It makes us all dizzy and while that can be fun and exciting for some of my kids and some days, mostly it makes my daughter either spin out of sorts or out of control or simply shut down from the too much of it all.

So our very careful crafting of the holiday season needs to figure out how to bring in those well loved traditions of the season and the faith and our family, to teach those steps to our new daughter, simply. Sometimes she just doesn’t wanna dance.
She doesn’t wanna see the new steps or shining lights.
She is still in process of grieving the old dances, or still too fearful to let go of her sense of self control and trust us enough to reach out and help us lead her into the new holiday dance and traditions and family ways.

So, I guess that’s where I want to start; with talking about standing on the edge of the dance floor, trying to coax my daughter (who doesn’t really like to dance, yet) out onto the floor. She can hold onto my hand, and her dad’s. We will try hard to anticipate the steps to this dance. We will simplify them.

Matisse, again. “The Dance.” A favorite.

We will, I will, try to remember to brace and embrace her through the dance of this holiday season so that we can all come to enjoy the season and it’s richness in full. And maybe one of these years, when we are looking down the barrel of the holiday seasonal hoopla, we can all anticipate it with glee and deep smiles instead of fear and fretting.

Maybe I will be able to as well, if I can remember that I’m dancing not just with the holidays but with my daughter. And a one, and a two…..

>My Precious


So, you might have been expecting a post about my truest ‘mostest’ precious: my kiddles.
Well, ya, should be maybe, but not today.
Because this post is about another underlying obsession, one that turns me into my own Gollum.
Yeah, that Tolkien, he knew what he was talking about…
See that picture up there? That’s me, perhaps in a truer image, nice to meet you. 

Because “my precious” is my “Control.”  Or, to be more accurate, my desire for control.  In fact my pursuit of my precious and my need to hang onto it makes me bug eyed and screeching all too often.  It makes me angry and resentful, often times of things that haven’t even happened yet.  It makes me snarl in even mere anticipation of somebody or something snatching that control, my precious, away from me.

Even if that thief is a small kiddo with big brown eyes and sticky hands.
Even if that thief is a cute guy with a beard who is a good kisser.
Even if that thief is a hurt kid with a megawatt smile but from hard places.
Perhaps more so, then, because with that one, my precious was wrenched from me long ago….I just didn’t really know or admit it yet.

Sometimes, I think it’s true what Gollum said, “Once it takes hold of us, it never lets go.”
And then I am left to weep and wonder how to proceed, to move on and I know that there is no other way than through that stomach hurting dark and the fear that comes with losing that precious, that control.
I have to let go.

But my Gollum just can’t seem to.
And I snarl and I snap at anyone, sorry Tom, who suggests the same.
No, it’s not pretty.

But the crazy thing is, as all you other moms know, especially those who are parenting hurt kids, you lost that “precious” when you first stepped out to try to parent.
I lost that tarnished ring so long ago I must be crafting my own lame paper mache ring of precious, every day.  So, why do I hold on?
It always comes back to fear:
…fear of being taken places we don’t want to go.
tired fear of being taken places we don’t want to go.

Therein lies the trap of course.
Because when we snarl and grasp and gasp so tightly, trying to hold onto our paper mache ‘precious”… ok, when I gasp and grasp so tightly, trying to avoid being taken back or through another hard place….well, I’m already there.  Too late.

So, this one’s for you honey….I’m gonna try and pitch my my paper mache dented soggy smudgy ripped useless “precious.”
And let go.
But with hope for being able to keep my hands open so that instead of holding onto the poison ring, I can hold, instead, onto the small hand that slips quietly into mine.  

>Sonar: Older Child Adoption Adjustment

>I’ve been thinking a lot about Sonar.  Radar systems.  About technology that can scan the skies or the voids and have different weather patterns or objects be visible, from eddys in water flows to wind patterns….storm systems to cold fronts, big fish to submerged danger.

How do you make what can’t be seen to the naked eye, be seen?
Sonar Display
Well, that’s where these systems come in, and really, they are cool.
I want one.  
But I want the interpersonal mood system format.
Because with four, count em, four girls in the house, I need an ongoing alert system to the changing mood patterns and storm systems in our changeable girly mood house.  

But, hang on, actually, I have one. 

No, not mine…though I do have a pretty good radar system for all that.  And perhaps, as it’s been pointed out to me (ahem) I lean on that too much, and overstep.  Sigh.

But what I have come to realize is that we have, in our newest daughter, a very finely tuned system of mood alert. 

I was thinking it’s really a radar system, akin to mine.  
But it’s not, it’s different. 
In fact, I’ve decided it’s a SONAR system.
It is not for the above the surface interactions or flaunted attitude or mood; not for the  nuances of interaction and reaction. That would be radar.  

Her scanning is remarkable for the subsurface sweeps of the moods that are, or are trying to be, submerged.  It’s definitely a SONAR system.  

Yup, we have a high grade finely tuned, walking sonar in our house.  
It’s called “Marta.”
She has a constantly alert scanning sweeping sonar beam for any little shift or frisson of mood.  
It’s remarkable.
And, often it’s pain in the backside.  

Because it’s sweeping scans are trained tightly on her new mom and dad, the other kids will get caught in the sweep sometimes, but really only on the periphery.  The tight lock-on…that’s for mom and dad.  

So, if I am in a funk…….lock on.
A snit….lock on, beep beep beep!
Heaven forbid, her dad and I have had any disagreement, big or small…..clanging alarms go off for this girl and she breaks down. 
Because her sonar is equipped with the bells and alerts and reactive torpedos.
Unfortunately, it is not equipped with a sorting device to decide which of those mood alarms are “threats” and/or which are “friendlies.”  
Meaning, if I am crying happy tears over a sweet song one of my big boys wrote and played for me, or if I am cranky from a sleepless night or actually stewing over an argument…there is no differentiating.  It sends her into a mirroring funk and/or tears; hers not so simple to stem.  

On the other hand, her sonar translates to the skill of empathy.  
This sonar, this remarkable pain in the neck silent constant sweep of alert, translates into both a protective mechanism/survival skill for her but also into an inate ability that surely can be trained into a skill to grow on.  To grow with and into.  

It is challenging to translate and explain it all to her, those nuances that are usually embedded in the moods she locks onto. 
Much of the time, it is impossible.  
Thus, it challenges us, her mom and dad.  
It challenges us to be stronger steadier; to not fall into the ease of a sucking gripping mood.  It challenges us, no, ME, to get a grip and detach from what’s useless and focus on what’s important.  Which usually means to let go of my own selfish hurts (which is why I’m still failing at this and being challenged by it) and to keep my eyes on the bigger picture….even as I have to look at the very small 4’11” picture of a real life girl just trying to surf those subsurface tides.  

Tom has a GPS/sonar on his boat.  It shows him all the submerged hazards and the deep channels and the shallow shoals.  
He uses it to safely navigate the waters of a murky lake.  
Our Marti, she has this same GPS sonar built into her small self.  It has surely helped her navigate the murky waters of this new family and new phase in her life.   The trick for us all is and will be to learn how to use this sonar together, to help each other understand the pings that alert each other to the shoals and shallows and deep waters.  


>Meeting: Adoption adjustment

>There is a scene in a movie that I can’t get out of my head.
The movie is “What dreams May Come.”
Many absolutely despise this movie, and as a Catholic there is clearly questionable theology throughout….but even so, I liked the movie. It was a visual feast, from the oil paintings of the wife to the Bosch-like horrific visions of hell. But those things aren’t what keeps sticking in my head lately.

It’s the hell scene.
Now, disregard the dicey theology here. Go the essence of it: the meetup.

Robin Williams goes to hell to find his wife.
He GOES to hell and when she is incapable of seeing him, mired in her own pain and unable look up and out of herself (which IS hell)...then he sits there.
He sits with her.
He can’t talk with her, really, she can’t hear him.
He can’t just bodily lift her up and move her out of this place.
He meets her where she is.
Read that again:
He meets her where she is.

And it’s the meeting her where she is that gives her the rung to hold onto, him, and to look up, to blink to awareness of what’s real, for just a moment.

Now, hang with me here.
(And again, I realize that many think this is the worst movie of all time. I get it, be that as it may, this scene has been rattling in my brain – thus blog post).
You moms and folks who are trying to live with a kid from hard places…
You moms and families who are working through an older child adoption, especially teenage…
You moms who have kids who have trauma backgrounds and/or various special needs….
Think about that.
Because we all know that “meeting up” is one of the only ways to help.
We have to meet them where they are…at that moment.
Often, more than often, it’s a mini slice o’ hell.

And we have to go there too.
Because they can’t get out of there on their own.
Kids who have attachment issues, trauma triggers, who can’t regulate their triggered emotions and reactions…they can’t just get out of that personal hell.
We have to go to them.
Which means, we have to go to them, and often go through hell to do it, and yup, sit there a spell with them.
Because they are just kids, or teens even, but kids.

And that can sound so very lofty.
We think, at the start, and say with a trill, “Yes, darling, I will go to hell and back for you!”
But, um, ya know…going to hell and back?
Well it is, um, HELL.
It’s exhausting and makes you (ok, me) want to cry and say “Forget it, I’m done.
I have family and friends sometimes say “Can’t you just tell ’em to toughen up? I mean, cmon!!”
Now as a mom of eight, my standard M.O. is not too much coddling– if kids are crying and such and I know that bone is not poking through skin and a hospital rush isn’t imminent, I say “You’re fine, you’ll be ok.
Thus, my other kids, pals, and family might well expect me to fall into that mode.
However, this is different, exhaustingly so…….I sigh and say, “Well, I wish I could. But nope. Can’t.
Because even though sometimes I try to selfishly avoid and tiptoe around whatever acting out or somatic fallout or whatever is playing out…..if it’s a trigger response (and not just moody teen)…then you can’t ignore it, you can’t go around it, or over it, (isn’t there a kiddy song like that??) you have to go through it.
You have go to it, meet it, and go through it…with them.
Again, sounds all noble, right?
Um, not.
It’s usually messy and causes fallout with the other kids and even between the parental unit types, even for yourself.
Because it’s hell.
But unless you go sit there and BE with them, somehow, it’s not gonna get better.
It might get worse.

So. Ya gotta go.
Meet them.
Wherever they are.

Maybe then, they will blink a bit and be able look up and to breathe a bit.
And then maybe you can both step out of hell, back into the “heaven in our hands”….. back into family.

>Little Big Love…

>It’s the feast of the Little Flower: St. Therese of Liseaux!

Which means it’s also my Marti’s feast day: Marta Therese (get the connection?).

St Therese is one of the fav’s at our house, you all know that.  I’ve written about her many times, and posted multiple novenas to her here on blog.  But whether you want to talk about her being a Doctor of the Church; known for her solid writing/teaching and doctrinal insight, or whether you want to talk about her humble “Little Way”……St Therese is about Love. 

And wadda ya know…so is our Faith. So is God.  So, should be, myself. 

And I kinda always thought we added “Therese” to our Marta’s name because we prayed novena’s to this saint on Marta’s behalf.  We hit St. Therese up for many prayers to bring our girl home and get her healthy.  St. Therese had TB too.  St. Therese wasn’t highly regarded among the other nuns in her convent.  She was thought to be slow or dim, she was often overlooked, she was young, she was small.  She was one of God’s “little ones.” 
And so is our Marta, to be sure…one of God’s “little ones.”
If I know anything, I know that.
But really….
I am learning, every single blooming day, that I think we were compelled to add “Therese” to Marta’s name also because this saint teaches us how to love. 
In the little things. 
Which of course, means that they are the very biggest things. 
Because this saint struggled all her life to die to her self and her pride and her desires so she could love Jesus better. 

And she ultimately was given the grace of real understanding of the biggest simplest secret: that the Love was waiting for her.  She didn’t have to scale great heights, or go on far missions, or accomplish amazing feats to prove her love.  All she had to do was lift up her arms(heart) and open herself to Love.  And, um, do it.  Love.  Love in the little things.  Every day.  The next thing, right in front of her.  Do the chore before her without complaint.  Smile at the irritating Sister and bite her tongue.  Not correct the error of someone being catty, but let it roll off her back. 
It wasn’t easy for her, she didn’t possess any “saintly” or superhuman patience:

“I understood how easy it is to become all wrapped up on self, forgetting entirely the sublime goal of one’s calling.

Rather she figured out that:

“…perfection consists in doing God’s will, in being what he wills us to be.”


We can do no good when we seek our self.”

Or, in other terms, to be us, and to love. 

And yeah, it sounds so simple.  Like stupid simple, right? 
Well, yup, it does.  So why do I fail and kick and fuss and gripe against it every blooming day?
Because it’s the hardest most profound thing we can do, any day, any moment. 
And yet, also the most sublime and simplest. 

To bring this ramble back around…and so it is with  my Marta Therese. 
She too, teaches me how to love. Really. 
Really love.
Because it can be so hard with her.  Because she is small and suffers the after-effects of the TB that ravaged her. Because it’s still sometimes strange and it’s still often hard and it’s sometimes ridiculously complicated.  Because I am slow and am ridiculously complicated and strange. Because she has delays and it makes things very slow and often limited. 
But oh, I know, she is aptly named. 
She is one of the small ones. 
And she loves, to the best of her ability. 
And I am called to love her. 
And sometimes that is simply an act of will. 
And sometimes it is with a tired fuss.
And sometimes it is with a stabbing intake of breath, glimpsing her for a moment as God does. 
He sent me one of his special ones, to give me remedial lessons. 
Because I too am slow.
And need so  much to learn to truly really love. 
The little way.  
It’s so big.  

So today we celebrate, I am thinking upon, St. Therese of Liseaux, and her intentions: 

 “I ask Jesus to draw me into the flames of his love, to unite me so closely to him that he live and act in me.”

And I am asking her for her prayers, for our Marti Therese, my family,  and for me. 
So that I can lift up my arms and  heart, and love better, more truly, all those littles ones given to me…..eight of them. 

See, remedial lessons, lifelong….me. 
And so I can say, “Thank you, here I am Love, lift me up.” 

>Older Child Adoption Adjustment: Niches

>You know, this world of older child adoption is weird.  Ok, I guess the world of adoption itself can be strange and ok, ok, the world of parenting in general has it’s oddities.  Ok ok ok….maybe it’s just my kids and our house.  Ok ok ok ok! It’s me!  It’s always me.  Geez!
 I’m weird, and a dorky goofball who has to overthink things and even so Still can’t figure them out to my satisfaction.
Hence, I have to post and blather on so you all can take pity on me and throw me a bone and pitch in some ideas.
So, now that we know what we are dealing with today, are we ready to move forward with today’s post?  Yes?  Ok, then….

I’ve been thinking about how to talk about this…not because it’s all so profound or important, but as you might gather from my disclaimer in the paragraph above, it’s all about me and I’m stewing about this but it’s a delicate subject.  It’s also the same subject that I have a chronic, just-below-the-surface rant simmering.  I’ll spare you that, you can go here for my lead in on that one if you can’t stand the curiosity.
But in the past few days or weeks, I’ve decided that it comes down to niches.

Yup, that’s right: niches.

What I mean by that, is that I think we all want a niche.  We are surely all so doggone quick to slot everyone else into a niche, aren’t we? Well, I sure am…..really I think we all do it all the time, I know I do consciously or not.  Sue me.  It’s true.  It’s kind of how we make sense in a shorthand way of our world…that’s my theory anyhow, today at least, and I’m sticking to it.
Anyhow…..I think this slotting of things and folks into niches is not just the slick snobbery or critique that it seems on the surface.  I think it has a lot to do with the yearning to connect.  I think it is probably socially quite primal.  Us, them, other….and while my thoughts on “other” do factor in here, they are also sometimes a rant and also really too big for this post.  Another post, another day.  Lucky you.  But, today I want to talk about the inclusive side or concept of niches.
Meaning, today I want to talk about one particular niche: older child adoption.
And I’m telling ya: this niche…it’s kinda lonely.
This niche has little sub-niches.  Honestly, being a very visual gal, I see it almost as sort of a cave/niche (yeah, blog) system.  There is this big sheltered cave: adoptive families, and then there are the big warm welcoming cozy caves connected to that: the domestic, the international, the babies, the toddlers caves, the various countries….heck  you’ve already got a nice little cozy cave city to check out and circulate through and set down and stay a spell (as they say here in the south).

But then back in the beyond of these nice cozy lit up niches and caves, carved and polished smooth and well fortified with gleaming information and supports, are some other niches that are smaller, not as many are back there hanging out, and if they are, it’s so busy and so tough or so unique that there isnt’ a whole lotta room, in fact, I’d say they don’t even really see each other too much.
And one of those niches is a newly carved out niche, and it fits a family of ten it seems…..but it’s far from being polished and it’s got rough walls and a few nice smooth spots of support but really, it’s feels kind of empty; kind of smallish.
That’s our niche.
That’s my niche.
It’s the niche of “older international adoption of teen with developmental delays.”

See how fast that niche cleared out? See how all of those who were kind of peeking in quickly withdrew and moved on? Not because they were mean or threatened or uncaring…but just because they instantly saw, um, no common ground there.  Hard to sit down and get comfy and compare notes or stories or tools because they don’t have that toolkit.
When I add in, “and with a background from hard places“….well, that just scares most anyone else off too.  Not everyone….this gal is one of the bravest women I’ve seen in the blogosphere.  I love her.  Her niche is overlapping mine, close enough that I find comfort there too.  Go see.
As one of the gals from our agency put it, when I asked if they had any connections to folks in the same or similar boat…”um, noooo, that’s a pretty singular niche.”
So, that’s why I’m thinking of niches.
Because I want to compare notes with brighter minds who’ve gone before me, who have tools and ideas for this niche and our particular snags that surely would be common if there were others in this niche too.

I want to connect with others who have adopted a teen (preferably internationally so we can talk about language acquisition) who has developmental delays.

Now I can also go off on one of my numbered rants about the loneliness of being in this niche, and not being able to say it out loud.  Having to whisper “developmental delays” out of some sort of weird political correctness just chafes me.  It is what it is.  It’s not a judgement, it’s not a slur.  It’s objective and shouldn’t be a stigma and if you saw her smile you would never think otherwise.  She’s a teen, with all that entails.
She is a moody hormonal teenage girl who has a caring bossy sweet devout selfish intense stubborn sensitive nature.
Like, um, most teenage girls.
She is exhausting and good.
Like most teenage girls.
She is manipulative and wants to get her way and preferably go shopping as often as possible.
Like most teenage girls.
She has developmental delays and we didn’t raise her from birth and thus learn all about this for the past 13+ years, only for the past year, so that is why my map is limited, and my toolbox is sparse.  It’s why it can be lonely for us all, working with that.  It’s frustrating and glorious both on any given day.  Maybe often even at the same time.

But this niche is lonely…I don’t know anyone else in this niche.
I wish I did.
And yeah, before you get all lofty, we still venture out to all the other niches because our family walks through and fits many many different niches and labels and communities.  We live in them all. Messily.
I don’t even want to leave this niche; I want company.   I want to make this niche beautiful with the companionship and shiny ideas and successes of others who’ve rested here too.
I’m not sure they are out there.
If you are, and you happen upon this blog, please drop me a line and say hello.
Our niche is actually a pretty friendly place.

Actually, I lied up there.  Misspoke, perhaps.  But I would love to leave this niche.  I would love to only have wide open streets with sunshine and walk away from every harder stony niche forever.
But that’s not gonna happen in this life.  Because we create our own niches to define our comfort zones…it’s when the niches are thrust upon us or we into them, alone, unwilling, that we find ourselves, ok, myself, out of sorts and feeling lonely.
So, I think the trick is to stop whispering.
To move that niche if it’s darker or not comfy or lonely.
 Really, I suppose….If it’s my/our niche then we define it and we open it up to company and ideas and other contributions of beauty and support and I learn to see and create the beauty within it.
So I will continue to wish for companions in this niche, but I’m trying to move it to the sun….and maybe, here in the blogosphere someone else will see  a sunny niche where real life is said out loud, not in a hushed whisper, and decide to stop by and stay and visit for a spell.

>Toddler Adoption: Remnants


Even in the easiest adoption, I see remnants.  
Or, as my dear friend Jen calls them: hiccups. 
What I mean is that, there are often (Possibly even always…but who am I to extrapolate out so far? Hush now, I don’t always do that……ssshhhhh) little or big issues that crop up, develop, linger…even years down the pike.
As with any kid, the trick is to figure out what is going on and why, and sometimes you’ll figure it out, sometimes  you won’t.  But if you have a child that was adopted, it might be worth reminding yourself that “hey, this might derive from way back in the beginning.”  That said, however, another trick is NOT to attribute every single hiccup to being adopted too; that’s hardly fair or accurate.  But sometimes, especially in those adoptions that really do go so smoothly, the easy ones where adjustment is short and seemingly smooth..it’s easy to forget that even later there might be things that crop up that still harken  back to the beginning.
How’s that for  vague?  Sorry.  What I mean to say is that this has all been on my mind lately.  Our Gabey, adopted at 18 months old, and the easiest smoothest adoption we’ve done out of five, is now a wild and crazy and wonderful three and a half year old.  He is funny and energetic and happy and thriving.  But even so, this summer we have noticed a few “hiccups.”  
Remnants, I think.
Gabey has something of a hard story; as do most if not all of the children adopted from Ethiopia (By definition, it comes with international adoption, that hard history).  
It was never stated that he suffered from malnutrition, and you wouldn’t guess it to look at him, ever.  However I gotta wonder if my sweet baby boy was hungry.

Because even though when he first got home he wouldn’t really eat solid food much – I”m sure it was too strange, everything was literally strange.  He relied and craved a bottle of milk (We took him back to bottle to get him that cuddly imprinting time of bonding tucked into our arms and cradled close – he ate it up on all levels).  That was his main source of calories for a bit, until he relaxed enough to be able to try regular chewing food as his mainstay.  But we knew and expected that process.  It didn’t surprise us and we went with it for the few months it took to adjust.  No big deal.  
But, this summer, we have realized that this boy has no real “full” switch.  
He will eat, if he likes it, and keep eating until we stop him.  He is “hungry” all the time.  If he gets a tad bored (And what kid doesn’t?) he comes to me asking for food.  He asks for his next meal as soon as he is done with his first.  And I have decided that this is a remnant.  It is also, surely, a favored activity if he’s bored…but he will ditch his trucks to try to find food.  That’s significant; this boy loves his cars and trucks.  But it is not because he is hungry – I think it’s something else.  He can almost eat as much as his big brother Anthony – now that is really saying something.   I don’t think it’s because he is just a glutton – he’s three; he can’t be that yet.  
I think it’s because he was  hungry.  
Not IS.  
Really really hungry and even if he was getting fed, enough to sustain him… 
I think when he was tiny enough to not understand; 
he got hungry enough to feel that hunger that doesn’t quit.  
Thus, now, he has an impulse to eat.  
A remnant.  
You could say that I”m projecting, I have no way of knowing.  You’d be correct.  I am.  I don’t.  But my mom’s heart and mind says this rings true.  I think it’s a primal behavior.  I think that he won’t get it through any explaining; not only because he’s young yet, but because it is almost subconscious.  It is not a part of his higher reasoning that is firing – it’s deeper, down to a more primal/survival level.  And yeah, he’s been home more than two years…he should know we will never let  him go hungry.  But  you know, those deep down imprints from those tiny days….they impress deeply, long, lasting on a level you don’t get to with words or even a bunch of days.  You need time upon time it seems.  
Happily, we have all the time in the world. We have a lifetime of dinners and lunches and breakfast with this happy boy.  We will  help him learn, gently and consistently, that food is available here, always. But we can help  him learn to moderate that need, to redirect it, and to let it go with time and trust.  Those are the real issues, no??   
Always in adoption, even the early ones: time and trust.  
It all comes back to those, one way or another.  
It’s the Einstein formula: “t squared,” “time x trust.”  
T squared equals love, safety….family.  

 Up the subway escalator in Siena, fun ride!
And it’s the only equation to help sweep away the dusty remnants.