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.


The Mite and the Hydra

Last week’s reading at Mass was about the widow’s mite.  You know the parable: when the poor widow gives all she had at church. And how that offering is worth more, relatively, than the great riches offered by the wealthy man. So often the take away there is focused on how we should give til it hurts, financially. Encouraging us to generosity without fear. In some (questionable) speeches and books it’s portrayed as the sure formula to riches rebounding to you; based on the “God will return a hundredfold…” concept. Well. Yes. God will. But if you think that means that God will immediately return a literal hundred bucks into your wallet if you drop a dollar into the basket……then I will just have to disagree. And change the subject.

But, I have been mulling this over, all week.  I need to sort the tiny threads that are floating about my tired busy distractible mind. Hearing this parable, again, I started to think about how I, and so many moms I know, are just overrun. I know, hard to see that connection to the widow’s mite.  Hang with me.

In our insanely busy modern life, our insanely busy modern days are just slammed. And so many moms are just feeling that they can’t keep up and maybe, maybe, they are somehow failing a bit. Ok, just to be clear, I am now switching to all about me, me me. Because lately, my days are so slamming hectic and I pour out every single bit of energy I’ve got into the kids, the doing, the driving, the tending, the putting out fires, the driving, the soothing, the analyzing, the driving, the doing the doing the doing the doing. And then, every night, I fall into bed after 16-18+ hours of ninety to nothing……..and I feel like, maybe, I failed. Again. Like I gave it my all and fell short. Or, at least fumbled. I fumble it all. Every (literally) blessed day.Then my tunnel vision often kicks in. It’s all I can see. The fumbles and the task list. Then those two things can swiftly make up my entire sense of the day.

The list, that Hydra. It’s beating me. It’s just the same as that mythical monster, one head gets cut off, task finished, and another two spring up in it’s place.  And sometimes I want to cry or cuss because I really feel like I’m giving my all. Everything I’ve got. And it’s not enough.

Or …is it?

Last week I went to confession. It’d been weeks and weeks since I’d been able to go due to soccer games and events and…the list! No time. Literally. The Hydra eating up my time. Hydra heads popping out all over, gaping maws open.   Without confession, regularly, I get smudgy and start fumbling more and more. I cuss more and more. I feel overwhelmed. Which makes me cuss and get resentful.

So confession helped. It always always does, of course. It’s a balm. Peace. Breathing. Meeting with the priest, I started in on my other list: my fail list.  We talked. The priest told me I had forgotten; I had forgotten that I was “dear to God.” That I could breathe. I was giving my ALL.  I was giving my all. And while I felt like it wasn’t worth much (fail fumble…the hydra hissing at me)….it was worth more than I could know.

I’ve been thinking this week (self-indulgently? It could  happen...)…perhaps, perhaps, my offering is something of a “mite?”

In a vision that comes from a different perspective – a divine love – my meager offerings might be worth much more than I count. I am not a ‘widow.’ And yet, I am.  I am poor in my ability to do much, well, or enough, ever. I am poor in true love of others and patience and humility and detachment. But, even so…I was reminded that if I give my all – what I can do out of love – then it is, STILL, worth much.

Ah. Breathe. Perhaps this notion is indulgent.  But I tell you, it’s like opening a window and sucking in fresh air.  It’s ok to recenter and do what I can. That’s enough. And, that, that knowledge that lets my breathe and slash the list to a proportionate size….that is my hundredfold return. It’s not in my wallet. It’s in my deepest core. Worth so much more.

The hydra waits for me to forget, I know. But, if I can, I will work to remember the widow’s mite. My limits, they are what they are though I work, and will, to expand them. My “I can do this much” is poor and not so much.

My mite, however, can be worth much.  My mite is worth the love I put in it, not the success or task number accomplished. Hydra, slain.

Metaphysics in Adoption

By which I mean….in the processing of adoption and the trauma that comes with it.  Always, big or small, young or old, domestic or international.  There are metaphysical questions and pondering all the way through.

See, you all didn’t know you were immersed in such big thoughts now, did ya?

Nope, neither did I.

I’ve been an adoptive mama for almost fourteen years.  I’ve grown along the continuum of thoughts and ideas about adoption.  I’ve ranged from the not totally naive and ignorant (my mom was adopted; I had some exposure within my own family, but still, you dont’ know until you know…ya know?) to the much more experienced, sometimes jaded, but older and hopefully wiser zones.   I’ve adopted, as most of you know, newborn, infant, toddler, older, domestic, international, transracial, special needs, gifted, known trauma, virtual twins, singles,…the list is a long one.  But every now and then I still am just gobsmacked regarding the depths of what this is all about.  I’ve written so many words on adoption.  All of those words are still true for me, even as they sometimes conflict and even as I might be in a different place now, or then.

Today it occurred to me that really, adoption has a very metaphysical layer to it.  Seriously.  And when you’re homeschooling because you’re working on some of those adoption and attachment issues (while not wanting to blow off the whole educating your kid concept), the metaphysics might just rise up and smack you right in the face.

Once again, today was a rough day with the school stuff and my son.  He was just kind of amped and antsy and tough on the connection angle.  I was working the steps of connecting and redirecting and having moderate, sporadic success with his attention, focus and engagement.  I quickly braced for a ‘working day.’  And so we did.  We took breaks from our activities, we redirected, he got his energy out with big physical activity like basketball and whatnot.  It all helped.  But, there, just under the surface, it was bubbling.  Those BIG feelings.  The ones that are just too big and too hard to contain.  The ones that usually come out with just a few small extra wrong nudges, or one ill timed angry tone or sharp sentence.  These big feelings came out as anger, again:  uncontainable, billowing, loud, physical, pushy, mouthy anger.  They were spoiling for a fight.  Nothing was gonna stop ’em, they were like a freight train.  So, thats when, if you’re smart and on you’re game, you step out of the way.  And if you’re tired and not totally on point, you make worse by not disengaging quietly and waiting it out even as you stay present.  These are the ones that rumble and roll, loud and jangly.  It’s kind of like a slam dance.  And yeah, it’s not elegant and it’s loud and can hurt toes and feelings sometimes.  T

This time, his dad talked to him on speakerphone, helping redirect with that dad voice and words.  After he hung up, we started over…but quietly and with a measured distance.  Still too raw, those BIG feelings.  Needing space.  Not a few minutes later they billowed out again.  Rage.  Shouting at me, hard angry words about the reality of me as mom.  Meaning, the accusations of me questioning my reality as mom.  Then, heartbreakingly, the wide eyed words of the deepest hurt lost little boy.  And the wracking tears.   My own heart split in two, again,  I held him and rocked him, sitting there on the step in the afternoon sun.

But now, the rage was gone.  The cracked open space had room to talk. Directly, we talked about how that feels and how it’s a hard hurting thing. Those deep feelings, they are real and ok to have and ok to talk about.  We shuffled through some of those hard places, brushing against them.  The leaves brustled around our feet as the words sank in and the time, I swear, stilled for a few moments.

I felt beyond time and place, I felt our hearts beat together again in this hurt spot.  As my southern sister put it, “All that time brings the safety to make the unconscious, conscious.”  That’s what we have here.  It’s the opening up of space and time and hearts and hurts.  It’s a metaphysical equation.  It’s the beauty in homeschool, for this young boy.  It’s the hard work of adoptive parenting.  It’s the growing and healing of a broken heart in a beautiful boy.  My son.

Some might fault me for writing about this, that someday he might read this.  But, it’s not just about him.  This stuff, the hurt, the BIG feelings, the time and emotions billowing and stilling, ebbing and flowing…it’s all our kids.  It’s adoption.  It’s not considered much, not enough.  But it’s a key component of adoption: metaphysics. Metaphysics studies the essence, the deeps, the origins, the why’s, the hows.

We are called into the deep of it, to see and hear and feel these things, each of us. For our kid’s sake.  Consider the metaphysics of adoption. The essence…..indeed, the heart.

Marking the good: Play-dirt

Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Child fame, has a few common phrases she uses a lot.  These are fun and, even better, they stick in your/my head after you’ve listened to her for a few days at a conference.  One of those key terms is “pay-dirt.”   You all know this term, and use it too, I bet.  I say, “score,” some of you might say “all-right!” some of you might say “booyah!”  I don’t know, but you get the idea.

So, I have to mark the good, again…this time with Little Man.  As you know, we have brought him home to school here, with me.  We need to work on laying deeper tracks of connection; these should help his learning fly.  That’s the theory and I’m pretty sure it’s a good one.  That said, it’s a little bit of a steep learning curve on how to work well together.  We are working on finding the right rhythm to our days as well as the right stuff to work on.  We are making good progress I think, too.  But I’d be lying if I said it was without fits and starts (literally) and without some meltdown and temper.  Recovering from those breaks in connection can be challenging.  For both of us.

One of the great things about the timing of this conference I attended a few weeks ago {and there are many}, is that the importance of that connection was reinforced, many times over.  Tools to find that connection were laid out, and tailored to some of the challenges that can push it back.  Attachment can be hard work, and happily for so many of you, you don’t need to fully “get” the concept or do that work.  But we do, in our house.  We do for so many, I dare say all, of our kids.  Because our family is non-traditional and most of my kids have come to me from a tough start.  And that, without fail, means attachment work is paramount, ever.  WIthout attachment, the train stops (another Purvis’-ism‘).  And my goal, for all my kids, but especially this Little Man…is for that train to be cruising at it’s full speed.  And I think that speed is, someday, going to be supersonic.

So, what I have found is that the best of homeschool for him is the DOING with ME.  Not that I’m all that; but for some reason….he seems to crave that connection with me, go figure.  And I’m feeling just the same way toward him. But, of course! However, as it does on any and/or every day…our train stops.  It breaks down.  His mood can change on a dime.  A flash.  And then, he’s gone.  Disconnected.  Angry.  Unreachable.  Pushing back and away.

While he was IN school, regular school, my mode had to be “the enforcer”…much of the time.  “This is the deal, get it done, gotta do this, due tomorrow, c’mon buddy, enough, ok?” Basically sitting on his head to make the list get done. His list, my list, the family list. He didn’t like me much, much of the time.  Heck, I didn’t like me much, much of the time!  Now, in homeschool, we still have stuff to get done.  But we are a team with it. That’s how we’ve structured it, so far.  He is doing some stuff independently, because he can.  A lot, we do together.  We read every day on the sofa together: history and good fiction.  And he snuggles in and we talk about the connections that leap from his freaky smart fast brain.  If I need to reel him back in even closer, we will pop some popcorn and munch as we read, chilling…together.  Pay-dirt.

But, there is still a need for me to set myself aside.  For this boy.  To find that pay-dirt.  And now, a few times, it has been a need that I have to step myself through, with hard focus and intention.  Stupidly.  But still.  Like this: last week he had a big ol meltdown one day.  Big.  Angry.  Loud.  I found myself getting loud back and very frustrated.  All that Purvis stuff was GONE.  Not in MY brain, or mouth, or head.  Finally, I thought to just sit near him.  Let him be angry but if I was quiet and stopped pushing, his mind could reset from lockdown and open up again. I hoped.  But I was tired, so I wasn’t sure.  After a bit, he pulled out his lego’s with questioning eyes, “Can I?”  I nodded, still going for quiet.  So he started piecing them together, constructing his fantastic imagination in front of us.  I watched.  Tired.  Discouraged.  A fair bit blue about how to offset these meltdowns.

After a few minutes he looked up at me and said, “Mom, will you play with me?” And I looked into his sweet face, now wide open and seeing me again.  I looked at him.  He looked at me.  Both of us, tired but open to each other, again.  Now, did I WANT to play? Um, sadly, no.  I wanted to go to my own space, read, potter around, decompress, mix a martini maybe (kidding!….mostly)  But, I also WANTED and NEEDED to reconnect more than even those more grown up options.  So, I said, “You bet.

So I snapped legos together and helped him look for one he needed.  No big deal, right? Ha! I say.  A big deal.  More: Pay dirt.  No, Play dirt.  His level.  Connected.

Play dirt.  The best kind.  And so we begin again.  And it’s good.

Because it’s always about the hair…

So, I’m switching things up for a moment, because this blog is as close as I’ll ever get to a scrapbook and so I’ve gotta document this for the record (and for me ever feeble mind).

So, redirect your attention away from our more recent lofty topics of religious life and the pondering of vows and prayer and an intentional life…and let’s have some girl talk.  Let’s talk about  hair! Because, if you’re a girl, and if you’re a girl of curls…well it’s ALWAYS about the hair.  Right? Right!

Now, having five kids with curls of all types, we’ve been talking about, learning about, practicing, doing, and stewing about hair for, oh….almost fourteen years.  That’s right.  So, some might say that I’m an old hand at this…meaning a ‘seasoned pro.’  Um, literally, I AM an old hand at this.  But, I am no hair gal/pro. I’m just a mom.  A white mom even, which can well be considered a handicap.  And I’ll take all the “cut me some slack” points I can get, ok?  One of my daughters, in particular, has had an intensive hair journey, complicated by her, um, complications…. but even so, we’ve done just about every hair style that I can think of, short of color or wigs (and that I will leave to her purview when she’s geriatric)….

She’s gone from baby puffs, to baby twists and braids and clips and bling…to bigger girl ponytails and plaits and bangs and press and freestyle and on and on….

Some of  you may remember when we loc’ed our Sarah’s hair.  That was a big decision; made for many private reasons, but mostly because her hair was breaking like mad and it was the strongest safest way to get her hair to grow, and not have to fuss with her about it.  It let her be her without fooling too much (read: beyond her ability to deal) with her head all the time  And it worked!  The locs grew and looked terrific.

But, eventually, she became a preteen and wanted to conform a bit more, fit in, not be different.  So, since she already had that “feeling different” thing pegged/built in (being an African American girl w/ a half white family), I felt it was only fair to let her enter her teens on her own terms.  Now, most of the time when you step away from locs, you CUT them off.  You go back to the TWA (teeny weeny afro).  The big chop.  Because, all that hair, it’s, um, LOCKED together.  But the big chop….that was not on her wish list. A tough gig for a middle school girl.  So, I took them down. It was a job.  You can read about it here.

Then she wanted to do the press and curl thing.  So we did.  Every few weeks at the ever wonderful Mary’s hair salon.  Then she turned 13.  And you know, that’s a Teen.  Capital “T.” Yeah, makes me shiver too.  But, that meant that she wanted to flip her hair, do it herself, pull it back easy for sports, and so on.  So. I caved. I let her get the perm.  And, of course, she looked beautiful (tho I missed the locs at this point).  But, she always looks beautiful, because she is.  But, sooner rather than later, her poor fragile hair started breaking.  My heart started to seize because all those years of growing with locs and then taking them down and not cutting, the babying the hair….gone in an instant.  You don’t spend over 40 hours taking down locs to be happy when that hair breaks off.  Sigh.  Her hair is just too fragile to perm.  And IF, IF, she could manage it and baby it and take extra tender loving care of it…then maybe, maybe, she could perm it.  But she can’t.  And, before you swing your fingers to point at me, asking why I don’t do the hair care for her….she WON”T LET ME.  It’s that teen fussy thing, ok?

So over this past spring I just delayed, on purpose, the touchup of her perm.  Then I started talking to her about growing it out.  Her sister had already long decided against any more perms (though she can manage her own hair, easily, with only occasional braids from me).  Finally she agreed that she wasn’t happy about the breakage and didn’t want any more perms and maybe it was best to ‘go natural.”  And so, that is now the next step along this lifetime hair journey for my sarah.

She chose to go natural.

She is transitioning.  NO.  She WAS transitioning.  All summer.  But transitioning hair is incredibly fragile too and at the line between permed and growth it just wants to break. It’s super hard to manage.  The different textures fight with each other, in styling, in care….and the hair loses.  We limped along through the summer with lots of protective braiding and conditioning and just being easy in the summer.

But, finally, sweet Sarah, who resisted the big chop for many weeks, said, “Mom, you can cut, it, if you think I have enough new growth.”  So.  We measured.  We checked with mirrors.  And, then, we both took a deep breath and I…snipped.  Slowly.  Bit by bit in front of the mirror.  Every cut, she okayed.  “Here?” I asked.  “Yeah.”  She said.  And that is how our Sarah got her second, but better and longer, big chop.  But her big chop this time had just about 3+ inches of growth.  And it wasn’t a teeny weeny afro at all! It was a small to middle size beautiful afro.

I swear her hair sprang soft and smiling in thanks.  She did too.  She found her earrings, she found her headbands, she put her hands through her hair…and she smiled.  A few days later, she even said to me, “I think my hair looks good.”  It does sweet Sarahbird.  It really does.

My daughter.  She is strong and brave and all about the fashion….I think she rocks her afro and looks simply gorgeous.  She has amazing beautiful hair, naturally.  And that is the way it will stay…..(fingers crossed against teen crazyness)……

Eyes Open: Marking the Reading Good

So, I have done a few posts on “marking the good.” I call these posts “Eyes Open” because too often I run around with my hair on fire and I forget to open my eyes to see the goodness abounding or the small flickering glimmer.  So, now and then I luck out and it runs smack into me.  

The other day (I would’ve put this up sooner, but again, hair on fire, crazy busy w/ the freight train slow savor of summer) this bit of good literally barreled into me as I stood, per usual, folding clothes.  Marta rushed over to me from her room, carrying a book I had handed her just the day before.

This book was one where had she rolled her eyes at me.  I had been on a jag of pulling books and old homeschool materials out of the bookshelves, working up a lather on getting the kids to ‘get busy’ during summer.  The freaky slow simmering fire drill of many kids loafing around the house, bored or soon to be bored, or not nearly  bored enough because they were finding ways to maim themselves was already on my nerves.  So I had started a minor rampage through the house.  When she protested against that idea, stating firmly that there was no homework for her over the summer I just grinned a big grin and said “Oh yeah!”  And when she said her teacher only said “Read” during the summer months I said, “Okay!” and loaded her up with a few books to take.  Like, five small ones.  If I had dumped all of the books I might have in mind on her small self she would just shut down.  I got a glare and a sigh and a big eye roll.  Then she disappeared and the books with her.

I forgot all about it, went about my day or two putting out fires, folding laundry, cooking, swapping laundry, cooking, picking up towels, folding laundry and cooking.  But, as I was, um, folding laundry and thinking about what to cook for dinner, Marta came darting over to me, holding out a book with a grin and jabbering.  I had to slow her down, take the book and examine it and then grin at her.  I asked her to tell me about the book.  She did. I asked her if she read it.

She said, “Yes! Very good book! Black girl, very sad, last {page of} book very nice, so nice very happy.  Black people white people girls very friends.  Very good book!”  I dropped my laundry, I hugged her tight and told her how cool that was!!!

Now, I don’t want to make too much of this….ok, forget that, this is big.  Huge.  I know that she read more of the key words and skipped a few others. I  know that she looked at the pictures to help decode the story.  But, um, I believe that way back when I was a “Miss” that was still called ‘reading!’  That is the whole process: decoding, using cues, figuring out  meaning through context, bringing it all together to  make sense.  And, that, that is exactly what she did.  My Marta, read a book and followed a story arc.  I don’t think she was or has read this book before.  Not by me.  (Adrienne? {-her teacher} Let me know if you see this…).  So, you could quibble and say, she didn’t read every word and understand every single word.  But here’s the deal: Marta read the book, she understood the story.  She got excited about it.  She totally related to that scared little girl, which is a whole ‘nother post, I know.  Still.  Let me say that again: She got excited about it.  I mean, LIT up.  Which lit me up.  We knuckle bumped, we high fived, we hugged and grinned stupidly at each other.  And I was simply thrilled; as much as she was.  Seriously.

So, I am proud of her.  I want to go on record and mark that good. It’s SO good.  Reading is power.  No  matter who or what, thats the bottom line.  Reading opens up your world.  It empowers, excites, helps.  It’s huge.

So what’s next? I don’t know. {Yes, I do: more laundry and cooking and reading!}  But I do know I promptly got on Amazon and ordered all the copies (used, this is an old series) of the Scholastic First Biographies I could find.  I’m excited. I’m marking the good with a big shout out.  It’s an” Eyes Open to Read!”

Canary in a Coal Mine

That’s me. The mom, I mean.

I know this isn’t a groundbreaking idea. The old adage “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is still circulating for good reason. But as I’ve been stuck in the quicksand of diva drama lately, the image of the canary has been occurring to me repeatedly. I am a canary. And yes, sometimes in the deep dark murk of a coal mine.

The swirling moods of teen girls, the reverberations and wafting spread of the gaseous poisonous presence of those same moods on any given day can be toxic to us all. As mom it’s my job to offset those moods; yes, to redirect and reframe and temper and sooth and ignore (often all within minutes). It’s up to me to keep my equanimity (a favorite turn of phrase of the dad in the house) and to carry on and muddle through.

But, there’s more. It’s my job to be the marker. I have a hyper-vigilant daughter who gauges many of her reactions based on mine. Yeah, talk about pressure, eh? Or, on a good day: opportunity. It can really swing either way, based on my sleep deprivation, sugar levels, weather, you get the idea. And of course, sometimes, no matter my reaction or cheer or calm, she can’t maintain. But, sure as shootin’ (as they say here in the south) she will look to me first, to gauge my reaction/mood/approach to whatever is happening that has any volatile twinge to it. Sister late to be ready for school? Marta’s eyes are upon me, watching if I am cool and can smile and give an eye roll of “no big deal, all’s well” or “big sis is so busted” so Marta can be angry too. Seriously. Since Marta IS hyper vigilant and hates having anything off routine or mark (leaving at 7:10 NOT 7:11, 12 or 15….) her anxiety is just looking for a reason to overflow. She watches to see if the canary is choking or singing. Me.

The others too, however, all of them, also check the canary gauge/cage. If I’m busy and flitting around, maybe chirping about this or that or even handing out directions then life is puttering along just like it’s supposed to. But if I get sick, then the crews stop and stare, wondering what to do. Worse, if I start choking in frustration and toxic fumes of mood (mine or others) and falling with ruffled feathers….well, everyone else will, swiftly, too.

So, instead of putting pressure on myself to only sit on my perch (in the kitchen, of course) and keep a beady eye on the toxicity in my house…….I am deciding that this gives me a power of influence that I shouldn’t waste.

I want to, I choose to, sing.

…and to cook. Always. {Sunday brunch}

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!

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.

St Vincent de Paul: for the orphans…..

..and the widows and the poor. This saint had the big heart.  The heart that, maybe, darn near broke from compassion.  The heart that put compassion first foremost and above all.  So, for all you adoptive families and mission going gals out there – he’s your man.  Heck, for all you guilt ridden, distracted, interrupted moms out there (ok, me…), he’s a great saint to consider hitting up for prayer.  He gets it. And, it’s his feast day today!

I also gotta wonder if he wasn’t one with a sense of humor, another joyful saint.  I mean, look at that face. All the paintings and images I’ve ever seen of him show that smile and a little spark in his eyes.  Love that.  But, I digress.

Anyhow, he’s French, from the late 1500’s.  No easy time that.  But, enough, to distill what he was about, I can do no better than to excerpt one of his letters (from this morning’s Office of Readings):

“It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible.  If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind.  Offer the deed to God as your prayer.  Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of god’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out.  So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly greater than any rule.”  {From St. Vincent de Paul’s epistle 2546: Correspondance, entretiens, documents, Paris 1922-25, 7} 

Now, c’mon moms, does that not describe your every waking moment days in a nutshell? I think so!  It does mine.  What? I’m not surrounded by the poor? Well, not in the common sense of the term, no.  However, the poor are the little among us too.  They are the ones who need help, the ones who have no voice or a very tiny small one, the ones who might get overlooked. The poor get dismissed, either because they are the classic newspaper image of poor, impoverished and not just outside our door; or because they are children, our children even, and we forget their needs are so mighty as well.  So,  yeah, they count too.  Overwhelming? Poor ALL around us?? Well, yeah.  But, happily, we get props for trying to connect and make a difference, one glass of juice at a time, one band-aid at a time, one ear to listen, to serve, at a time.  I believe it.  The trick for me is remembering to DO it.  Again.  And again.  And again…well, you get the idea.

St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!

Post Conference Post

So, here it is, Monday.  I didn’t have to travel to and from this conference (hooray) like so many did.  I’m still reeling from re-entry a bit though.  Don’t get me wrong, the conference was great.  Just so much rich stuff to digest and consider and even the gifts to still relish….plus of course, the inevitable extra need of the kiddles who didn’t have me for two whole days (and of course that means that somehow EVERYTHING is a minor emergency, from english notes to missing shoes).  The house looked like a minor tornado had ripped through, and I even came home to eat and sleep {not to look around or actually DO anything productive tho, obviously} !  So, not to complain but it’s a bit of an exponential Monday here: Monday to the 2nd power.  The usual Monday-ness combined with missing three days of laundry (oh the horror) and referreeing nurturing these kiddles, with a layer of still really pondering and soaking in the words I heard and the ideas that were refreshed, and an icing on the cake of smiling about good visits with new/old friends.  Just so much to filter and relish.

So, in other words, this conference was pure gift.  To me.

My challenge, now, is to be able to pay forward that gift to my family, and maybe a friend or two who will graciously suffer through my yammering about it.  Yes,  you clever people, that probably means you.  You know I gotta post a bit.  And I will.  But first I have to go flip a few loads of laundry, and dig out, er….tidy a couple of small one’s  bedrooms, and make a real dinner…..you know the drill.  Plus I am on the deadline clock for packaging up a bday present for our Bro Peter Joseph.  I made four – that’s right, four – cakes yesterday so that he can  have his favorite birthday cake on his special day.  But the whole novitiate gets to have it too….it was a “Day O’ Baking.”  More on that in the  bday blog post to come: Wednesday.

These two were only a few of those waiting for me to get home....cute tho!

In the meantime, let me say this.  If you ever wonder if it’s worth it to go to one of these Empowered to Connect Conferences…I’d say, heck yeah!  I’ve already seen some of the payoff. Sure sure, I know, it’s a honeymoon. I’m all motivated and um, empowered (doh), and fired up.  I’m all “Can you try that again with respect?” and “Do you want a compromise?”   But, I tell ya, if I don’t slack off, this could be the start of something new….a tired mom can only hope!  Seriously though, really, I’ve already seen a difference and made some important child connections that might not be perceptible to the outside eye….but I was there and they really happened.  Minor miracles.  And so were they.  And I’m grateful..and happy for it all.

Conference, day two

So here I am at lunch, day two (and final) of this conference. I guess I’m doing wht they call “live blogging”…..yeah thats right, I’m just hip like that!

Another great morning. I have missed running into a new friend (Elaine, where are you?) but have a good seat and the talks have been very good, meaty, much to digest. Additionally, we’ve heard two personal stories from extra guest speakers: moms who have been “through the fire,” so to speak. One of them was the great fav blogger pal of mine, Lisa Qualls (from the “one thankful mom” blog, a minimum daily requirement blog for me). No surprise, she gave a moving talk; brought numerous folks to tears…inspired. Another speaker was a gal named Debbie (I’m sorry I can’t remember her last name at this second) and her story also was just inspirational. And all too close to home for me…not in all ways, but, the ones that count. Yeah, blinking away in my seat again.

The other talks this morning laid the groundwork for the afternoon sessions: talking about sensory processing deficits and integration, the effects of history of brain development and so on. This afternoon is about addressing behaviors arising from some of these issues and finding ways to heal and connect. Of course, because thats what this conference is all about.

And i am grateful to be here. I’m getting close to maximum saturation myself…fantasizing a bit about a double espresso and some good chocolate to perk me up. ( I know, supposed to pound the water instead….what can I say, old dog, not many new tricks, etc etc…). But I’m gonna take notes in these afternoon sessions….I know they will be helpful. And they are, not only for my kids who have difficult needs or backgrounds…but really so much of this is good for all of my kids. Each and every one. And can I use reminders, refreshers, and new ideas? Oh. Yeah. Absolutely. Every single day.

So, heading back in. I have met some really nice people- Jamey of Zehlalum family! Lisa! Buttercup from Farmboy and buttercup (old virtual pals,that one, very nice to connect in person!)….and tho I still feel like my usual doofy self, I do love meeting these gals…a great treat! So, this afternoon if any of you are here or reading this, come say hi! I’m still the old gray mom, looking desperate for more caffeine and maybe some M&M’s…..

Connections and conferences – great buoys in the adoptive life.

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!

The Why of It

Why do I love you?

Simple question, no?

We all ask it, don’t we?

Or more, we ask, in our hearts and heads, “Why do you love me?…Really?”

Though, I daresay, that last word might just be a whisper under our breath or in our heart.

I think, however, that it’s a question we need to ask our children.

Sound odd? For US to ask THEM? For US to ask THEM just why we love them?

Maybe it does…but here in our house, we do ask our children this.  Coffeedoc is the best at it, the smoothest. Maybe it’s his quiet voice or his comforting dad self to lean on, I don’t know.  It’s just him.  But we have so many kids from different places, with different issues, needs, concerns….that this question is one we must intentionally address from time to time.  It sounds silly, it almost feels silly…until you step through it and watch their faces as they listen closely.  Sometimes they start by just kind of enduring us beginning this.  But then, holding their hands and looking into their face, often clouded with sullen temper, or angry at an imagined injustice of sorts, or shaded with naive misunderstanding…you see them turn their listening up and they get very still.  Shadows slowly flee, muscles relax.  Because this matters, and especially at certain times it matters oh so very much. They need to hear it.  We all need to hear it.  Those stupid ignorant ideas that float about in our world, for instance: ideas like “color complex” that I want to smash to pieces but come already imprinted in teens from different cultures, (a whole ‘nother post or two, that)…those kinds of ideas make this conversation utterly necessary.  Over and over, spanning years.

The process of stepping our kids through this question is important; for all of them, each of them, individually. No matter if they were born to us biologically, or if they came to us through the process of adoption, if they are “easy” kids or “hard” ones….they all need to step through this question.  They might need to step through this question at different ages and stages, again and again; but I think, we think, that each kid needs to step through this question – explicitly, deliberately.

Heck, I need to step through this question with myself, about each one of my kids, deliberately.  And often.

But, back to the question, how we walk our kids through this:

Why do I love you?”

Is it because you are cute?

Is it because you are smart?

Is it because you have beautiful brown skin, peach skin, olive skin?

Is it because you are good, nice, sweet, funny, obedient?

Is it because you are tall, short, skinny, plump, stylish, artsy, musical?

Is it because you are faithful, diligent, determined, athletic, creative, a dreamer?

Yes…but, more: no.

Yes, I love those things about  you, maybe more maybe less….but let’s face it, there are other things, often many other things, that are really NOT so lovable. Right? Um, yup.

So, can it be I love you on these good things only? Uh-oh…those things might change! You might get cranky or fat or lazy or hurt or frumpy or grow ugly even.  It could happen.  You could lose your hair or a leg or have a brain injury or get really sick…that all kinda changes you, right? Oh no….!

No.  All those things are things I might like or not like about you.

But they do NOT define why I love you.

This and only this does:

I love you because you are Chris.

I love you because you are Jon.

I love you because you are Hannah.

I love you because you are Marta.

I love you because you are Sarah.

I love you because  you are Emmy.

I love you because you are Anthony.

I love you because you are Gabey.

I love you because you are Tom.

You are, you, are intrinsically worth loving.  Just because you exist, because you ARE.

Every one is.  I don’t have to love, personally, every single person ever.

But I have been given YOU.

And you are worth it all.

There is no measure to a life, no qualifying for value.

I love you, because God made you and placed you with me.

Because you are Chris or Jon or Hannah or Marti or Sarah or Emmy or Anthony or Gabe.

Because you are you.

That’s it.

Why do I love you?

Because you are mine.

Don’t forget.

Me either.

Stitched together

See this quilt? Right there?  Well, it’s mine! Yup! And, out of a spirit of decorum I will not whoop, too loudly, so as not to make you all feel bad.

But, I want to say…it’s gorgeous, beautiful and wonderful.  You see, I won this quilt through the silent auction hosted by JC Marie for the Kololo School through the Tesfa Foundation.  I had little  hope of winning, after seeing how beautiful the quilt was…and yet, with the help of a good proxy bidder and friend, I did and now it is already well used in my room.

The artist is an adoptive mom herself, Andrea Fox, and let me say, this quilt is just lovely.  It’s fabrics were carefully selected and designed (by another adoptive mom of a Haitian child), it is colorful and charming, it is beautifully crafted, and the back is soft as butter in sky blue. Even the note she sent with it was made from handmade paper…loveliness abounding.

The quilt is wrapable art and it is just what the best quilts are all about: connections and community.  And that is just why I’m so smitten by it.  This quilt is a soft touchable connection for me and my kids to other families like ours, across the continent and even across the ocean.  We are sort of stitched together, even in this quilt, by our love for our kids and their home country and our love of books and yearning to get access to more books and schools for kids.

Some might scoff and say I make too much of this.  I disagree.  Those connections, those stitches, are so important for us moms, our families, and especially for our kids from afar.  All those stitches sew hearts and minds together in support of things that are bigger than our doddering, pottering or crashing days.  And when my cherished little Ethiopian boy pads into my room, snuffling and sleepy-eyed, I can wrap him up in this quilt and know that he is embraced not only by me, but, in a way, by so many other hearts….connected by stitches of caring for these, our children of the world.

For any brave souls , look for the tiny “comment” below.

Mama Strength

Today is a kooky day in a choppy crazy week.  I mean, today’s parenting had me looking at the clock at 6:38 a.m. and thinking, “I’m done. Uh-oh. I’ve used up all my parenting goodness already, holy mackerel.

But of course, I wasn’t.
Not by a long shot.

Not much later, I went to the school Mass and my sweet Emmy came to sit by me.  Ah, bliss.
After, I got to canoodle with the small boys and touch base after a very tough morning with a wild Little Man…and bump noses to remind him that I loved him “to the moon and back” before he went back to classes.

Minutes later my eldest called – ebullient – to tell me that he was finished with college, he had finished; all undergrad classes, work, exams, the whole shebang – done.  We whooped it up together on the phone and I told him I was proud of him for a job well done.
A bit later, my other college frosh son called to tell me he was done in another way: drained and depleted with one hard final left to go.  So, tips and encouragement and prayers for him.
Exactly as I was hanging up, an email came in from Marta’s teacher giving me a heads up about a meltdown at school and incoming home this afternoon; change just throws this girl under the bus.  Tears there, tears to be here.  Oh dear….and a little bit/lots of dread.
In between all of these were moments, of course, of other mundane mom-job stuff, tending and caring for the bodies and household stuff……and all of it seemed pretty routine.

And then I read this post of a dear girl/um, friend.   She writes of needing to go to Ethiopia soon, to court for her next child.  To do so, she has to leave her first sweet boy.  And it takes her breath away.  Oh, just reading those words I can conjure up those feelings from doing that very same thing.  I had to leave my small boys to go across the world to bring home my child.  Twice! One of those times was to get one of those small boys {the one who jumped me after Mass while I was hugging his sister}.
And I remembered back to that feeling and those panic attacks and that breathless feeling.  It’s awful.  But….I also remembered what came with that.
Mama strength.

It is the strength that we build as moms, in the doing of our everyday tending body and soul of these kids….it builds mom muscle.
That mom strength is resolute in it’s willingness to do what needs to be done for her kid.  
Even if it is gaspingly hard.
Even if it is wearisome, tedious, or….dreadful, we will do it.
If it is skittley, or tap dancing happy, or peaceful,  we will do it.
If it is sorrowful, grief-stricken, we will be there, we will do it.
If it is irritating, tiresome, frustrating, we do it.
If it is funny, or quirky or weird, we do it.
We do what needs to be done; from threading belts through pantloops to pouring juice, from listening through gulping tears to counting down a timeout.
We sit through meltdowns, we endure raging spewing and bottomless grief.
We read, we research, we get status reports by phone on classes and roommates.

We hope, we dream, we pray.
We cook, we clean, we counsel.
We drive, oh, how we drive.

We fly across the world with our hearts lurching up, unable to speak for the love that chokes our words.
We stand in the gap, or, really, next to the fridge and sink, and we are strong.

I forget that…oh many many days.
It might seem that the strength is only on the good days, but I say it’s not.
We only SEE it and feel it on the good days.
But it’s there, we’ve built it in a million uncounted exercises of our heart and body.  To use common fitness parlance; it’s our core.  It’s mama strength.  It builds on itself in a magical kind of way and draws deep.  It is as real as real is; too bad it doesn’t look like a six-pack {abs, people…ok?} or better in a bikini.  But I’d say it’s more beautiful, all the same.

“Old Mother Stitching” by Jurij Subic, 1855-1890

>The Deep

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

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

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

Instantly wide awake, my breath taken.

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

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

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


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

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

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

>Forays and Firsts

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

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

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

And I was grateful for it all.

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

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

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


>It’s Ascension Sunday.
Well, officially the Feast of the Ascension was last Thursday….but here in the U.S., in most dioceses, the celebration of it is moved to Sunday.
Perhaps a touch confusing, yes….but really, the Ascension can be too.
How did He go? Floating serenely, in a flash of light, a crack of thunder, or just, gone? (I know, goofy, but I’m a visual gal, I think about it!)
I always wonder, how come the apostles weren’t crying, Mary weeping again?
I would be! I cry every time I have to say goodbye to most anyone, especially my son. But, apparently, they did not. Not ugly crying anyhow. I’m sure it was bittersweet though, it always is, isn’t it?

But here is the cool thing of Ascension, for me.
Ascension is all about preparation and promise.
Ascension is about home.
Yes, Christ had to go, we are left to walk this on our own in many ways.
But not really.
Because He promised to go to prepare for us to join him, to prepare us a place, a home, with Him, left us helpers and each other along the way.

And as a mom, as a mom who is awaiting her daughter to come home….soon soon please….this really resonates with me.
My Marta can’t really KNOW we are coming back to her, except we’ve told her so.
She has to be there on her own, but with our far-away-support and love and prayers and helpers…for now.
And we are prepared, have prepared, a place for her: a new room to share, fresh paint, new furniture, new clothes. We’ve carved out a spot in our home and hearts for our Marta, our new daughter.
We are all anticipating bringing her into her new place.
She is. We are.
And we wait for it.
She does. We do.

And even in this, this hard time…..if we look, once again, the family can model the most real thing in life: faith and love.
We can’t do it as well, or as graciously, or widely, as the Church.
But we can stumble along trying.
And today, I think about the idea of preparation; what it really is.

Today we are reminded that Christ prepares a place for each of us.
We prepare a place for each of our children and each other.
Doing so, even the small tiny mundane things of sippy cups and diapers, groceries and clean sheets…it’s all love in action.
Happily, we have feast days like today so we, (ok, I mean me) can see it more clearly through all the hubub of our busy days.
To remind us.
To say, “Remember.”
We each have a place.
It’s home.

>Connected. Part 2: The beauty

>It’s the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker.

That’s the same St. Joseph that is the dad on earth of Jesus and the patron of families.
Plus of course, he was no slouch as a worker…hence a day to remember that.
And today, as our family is in a struggle and we are working hard to somehow find a way through it, I have offered up my petitions to St. Joseph, for his intercession, relying on his kindness and understanding as a father, and a worker-bee too.

That said, I have spent this past week tumbling many thoughts around in my head. And yeah, you know what that means: I gotta post. And this is a stumbling exploration of all those thoughts and yup it’s centered on faith and prayer, and it’s Catholic too – so fair warning. Just stop right now if you’re not interested. But I gotta, I’ve already told you, it’s how I process.

Way back in July, I wrote a post on connections, here.
And in that post I marveled at the connections we find in blogland, and beyond.
This week, I’ve been able to marvel at those connections all over again, much more viscerally and intimately than ever before.

As most of you know, this time, almost exactly last week, our trip to Addis was boxed. I had just finished up my ugly-crying scene at Barnes and Noble and was at home, doubled over in sobs, watching Coffeedoc turn his mouth to that determined set and get to work trying to find another way to get to our daughter. I sniffed up my tears again and again and he kept researching and calling. We are still in that same process, just beating different bushes.

This week has been one of physical grief and frustration, glimmers of hope and kicks in the gut of reality…again and again. Worry and fretting and fear.
And much much prayer.
And this is what I’ve been tumbling around…all this messy mass of contradiction: hope, prayer, suffering, worry, acceptance, and connections. Coffeedoc and I have been talking a lot about all this, what it means, how to walk through it.

So, bear with me as I lurch along here:
Prayer. We have been praying. So hard. My prayers and this struggle is so much that I don’t actually have real, speakable words to verbalize anymore. Those were gone, just about this time last week. We are taught that the Holy Spirit will interpret out meager prayers, with unutterable groans, and carry them to the Father.
And really, I think that at this point maybe I’ve saved him a step.
My prayers are sort of an unspeakable toss. They are sort of “You know what’s best and You know my heart of hearts, here, here take it..it’s too much for me.” And after that, even then, I can’t actually iterate those or any words, they are kind of silently, internally groaned. But this leaves me to question..is that prayer? Is that good enough? What if they are not? But those, that, is what I’ve been left with before – in those most stressful times of hospitals and threats. So, maybe those prayers are worth enough anyhow.

Suffering. You know, this is a suffering. Not nearly so deep or intense as so many out there, I so realize that. We are grateful it’s not more, we recognize how fortunate we are to have this, relatively measly, suffering. God knows what wusses we are. But, even so, it is a suffering. It is full of fear and worry and physical literal hurt and depression. And for what? So many say, “worry won’t change anything.”
Well. Hmm. True.
However, suffering, it does.
Suffering, it transforms.
This is not to say we want to suffer.
Uh-uh, not me, um, ever, ok?
But that when we do, it transforms – not only us, dare I say it, but the world.
A little bit.
And in that, there is such beauty.

Now, before you all wig out and think I am some creepy masochist, I’ll tell ya now, “I’m not.”
But I have seen the beauty of this suffering first hand, intimately, both times connected to a daughter. The first time was when my little four year old girl had a life threatening status epilepticus seizure and was life flighted to the downtown children’s hospital and was in the pediatric ICU for three days. (A different long story. She recovered, thanks be to God.) This time, it is with another daughter, one I haven’t hugged yet and she is stuck in a bureaucratic trap, half a world away. Both times, the outpouring of love and caring and prayers and support, helped us, lifted us up, and also humbled us and blew our minds. Yup, now, I’m there.

Because here is where the transforming, the prayer, the connecting, the suffering becomes beauty. Prayer doesn’t change God’s mind. We are not praying as if we can somehow pick a tune on a jukebox, “I’ll take Elvis, B6.” Prayer transforms our hearts to grow to accept God’s will, if we truly want God’s will. And in the process of that prayer, we are brought closer to His heart. And in suffering, we get a chance to also come closer and have others called closer to that same heart.

Erk. I’m not saying this well, or right. {I talked about some of this to dear sweet Becca, too.}
But, through our suffering (and really, this is hardly cancer or dying or anything, it is just really really hard and frustrating and feeling so desperate….and that’s our own doing, as the pills we are)….I have seen such beauty in the compassion and outreach of friends and family and most of all, the blog community. Blog friends gave up food for us, fasted, for our needs yesterday. So many have been praying, and fasting even, for us. It is utterly humbling.

But, I think, me {so really, take it for what very little it’s worth}, that really is where the transformative nature of prayer – and suffering – starts to play in. By our (measly) suffering (tho doesn’t feel measly, you get my drift); we offer it in prayer, and unite it intimately with the suffering Christ experienced. And that, Christs own suffering is what is calling to all of you others who are so giving and kind and supportive of US….that intimacy, that call to help, that urge to help that you/others feel is a response in LOVE which is nothing if not Christ, who IS love and so we are all transformed, and there, there is the glory of God.

It’s not in having our wants/needs worked out perfectly, but in bringing more of that glory, that love, into this dark hard world. It’s in each of us stretching out in love to console the other…there it is, right there.
It’s us getting to participate, willingly suffer/help carry the burdens of others, so that, like a small kid, we can help, even to change the world a little bit by the effort. We get to help. I see the big huge GLORY of it even as I feel and know the small personal intimate union of it all too….. Ack.

That is the transformative nature of suffering…you get the whole package, and it calls to others and so, mirrors, images, unites, us to Christ.

So. That’s just way cool to me. Even as I wallow and feel sick and so so deep blue down…..I can recognize that much, because God knows what a weenie I am and need something to hang on to. And I can, and do, and will hang on to the connections…and hope to be able to do the same for someone else, next time it’s needed. I see it in many many repeated emails, the flowers Jess sent me, and in the fasting Becca started, in the unexpected, providential or coincedental (?), connections like Lori…….and it all humbles me and makes me shiver in awe.

My kids make fun of me for my blog and my blog friends. But I don’t care. Because I said it last time, and I’ll say it again: We are connected, amazingly enough. I, even if only I, am lifted up by the connections. Which help me to remember one of my very favorite hymns, and one of Jana’s and one of it’s really good lines:

“We lift our hearts before you and wait upon your word”

At the best, when we are all at our best, when we, dare I say, are transformed into our best……we can walk through this all together – adoptions or other things – suffer, wait, help bear the burden and shout with glee, as we each wind our way through this long, often difficult, road….looking for the light at the end, waiting on His word.

“and whether our tomorrows
be filled with good or ill,
we’II triumph through our sorrows
and rise to bless you still”

So, maybe this is just a very long stream of consciousness thank you, because I don’t really have the words to say it well or nearly nearly enough. But for all of you, your thoughts, prayers, support…no matter the outcome: Oh, my, thank you. Thank you.

>Parting the veil


A year ago we got that call.
The call that changed all our lives, forever; fundamentally, eternally.
A year ago we met our sweet Tariku. This was our son, reaching out to us from a world away it seemed
(yeah, they are gooood with those referral pics, aren’t they?).

Jessica (not our usual caseworker) called us last March 14th (2008), a Friday, and I was just pottering along on a typical day. I had no expectations of a call, and Coffeedoc was in surgery. I had gone to adoration as usual, was home with the kids, drifting through the end of the school day/week.

And then the phone rang and I picked up to Jessica’s voice, “Michele, this is Jessica, Natalie is out of the office, but I have good news for you!” “Really?” I know my voice went up at least two octaves. And then she asked if Coffeedoc was available and I had to tell her no. Thus began the longest fifteen minutes of my life when I had to scramble to call into the OR and luckily enough, he was finishing up and so we all made the fumbly arrangements to conference call.

And then we all were finally online and on the phone, at the same time. And she sent the pictures. And we saw our son’s face for the first time.

And I cried. I was stunned. He didn’t look anything like I had expected. But I don’t know what I expected either. He was perfect. He had those big huge eyes…… I said, “Do you see him?” It was silent for a moment and I asked again if he got the file. “That’s my son,” Coffeedoc said as his voice broke just a bit. Then we both said, “Wow!” Because really, what else is there to say? We were breathless. Graciously, Jessica went over the attached info and mumbled a bunch of jumbo about paperwork and so on that I ignored mostly, I just kept staring at my boy and reading over his info. Somehow we all hung up.

But everything had changed. Because that veil that separates us from our little mortal lives here and real time, God’s time, God’s plan….it had parted. And a little boy was revealed. Tariku. We accepted and sent back the paperwork immediately. And then spent the day, the weekend, in the giddy head rush of calling all our family and friends and stopping strangers in the street to tell them, “I have a new son, he’s beautiful! He’s a toddler in Ethiopia! Do you want to see his picture?” Ok…maybe not all the strangers in the street, but I’m sure a grocery clerk and the pharmacist learned a little more than they expected.
We didn’t have a blog back then so I didn’t post all this. But now, this weekend, I can’t help but find myself reliving those heady days. It’s a rush like no other. And everyone will say, of course it is, you just found out you have a kid! The stick turned pink (or blue, if you will). Well, yes.

But I think the absolute electricity of it comes from being able to see that veil being parted a bit – getting that glimpse beyond our little piece of today – to the big tapestry of our real lives, interconnected with others we can’t see and know. And with this, international adoption in particular, we see it in a way unlike any other.

I am connected to Guday, Tariku’s birthmom. I gaze at the few pictures I have of her and think of her often. We pray for her. I like to think that she prays for her son, and for us. She passed away and thus, now I am this sweet boy’s mom. But we moms of this boy, I feel we are connected. I don’t know her…but then again, maybe I do, a tiny bit, in the smile and laugh of her little boy, the dimple in his chin, the scrinch of his nose, his sweet affectionate nature.
And there are those who don’t feel that God has any hand in all this. That these connections are fabrications. That it is people manipulating systems for selfish or maybe not so selfish wants. And that’s another viewpoint, and has some truth in it. Or they will say that it is about a hardness in this world and a poor solution to the hard hurts and wrongs around the globe. And those things are true but another conversation. And that is ok.

But you know, of course you do, that I really really do think that God has a hand and His plan in all this. I think that God works through the hardnesses and the wrongs in this world to a greaeter plan, to bring good beyond our ken. I’ve seen it too many times to not have that hammered home. There are too many ways these adoptions prove out God’s great mercy and love and plan; shown to me again and again as I am given the ultimate gift of these kids. That’s just not random acts or human process in my book. And if it’s just my own selfish drive to manipulate it and push and make it happen….well it wouldn’t work…and certainly not nearly so well. I’d muck it all up (in fact, I do a fair job of that anyhow on an ongoing basis).

Ack, I’m getting off track. Meandering again. But I think, I believe, that the reason it gives me chills and makes my eyes prick and often overflow with tears when I read of another family getting their referral is because, yes, I am just thrilled for them. It’s too because I know that breathless stop in time and the rushing thrill of that news, those pictures.

But also it is because it’s that brief touch, that flash, that glimpse of the world beyond: the world beyond the veil that seperates this hectic chaotic broken beautiful life we build here, and the eternal unspeakable beauty in the truer world, unfettered by the boundaries of this mortal life.
Dismiss this if you want. But those electric frissons are not just twitching neurons or jumpy nerves. I think they are our truest selves recognizing, even for a glimpse, a breathless half moment, what is real.

And this is real. He’s been mine, for my knowing, for a year.
His name is Gabriel Tariku. He is my son.

>Toddler Adoption: Adjustment, part VI

That’s fancy schmancy for 6. Six.
Six months.

That’s how long I’ve been home now.
I can’t believe it!
Neither can my family.
In one way, it feels like forever.
In another, it’s still all so new!
So, well, organizing my thoughts can be tough, so instead I’ll make another list.
My impressions on six months:

My reasoning processes are getting much more sophisticated (hence, this post!).
I understand most words now, though not always the long sentences when mom is on a roll.
I am working on my words.
They keep asking me to repeat them though, sheesh, what am I? A baby?
I throw ’em a bone now and then though.
I’ll repeat a name or new word.
That’s always a crowd pleaser!
I must have almost ten words of my own though.
Most importantly, I’ve got: hi, up, football, mama, dada, dog, car, book, shoe, sock…
Oh the list goes on (or will).

Food, man, it’s good!
Love mom’s cooking.
We had this big dinner last week – all the food was amazing (except that meat stuff).

Love bedtime: night night.
That whole cuddling quiet thing: good stuff.
But not really sleeping so much.
Naps? Who needs ’em?

Toys? Toys, schmoiz.
Give me a ball!
Or a truck!
Those are the only toys that really count.
I think that perhaps a ping pong ball is the perfect specimen.
Love the music.
Seems like they have tons of music at this place.
Which is really great cause I love to dance.
And I’m starting to sing too, cause it just makes me happy.
I hope I sing as good as my dad or big brother though.
Not like mom.
But my big sis sounds pretty good too.

Want to see me make everyone laugh and then someone chase me?
Watch, this works every time.
Yeah, I strip.
I can get out of ANYTHING.
Yeah, they try to twist the overalls.
Doesn’t work. Makes me laugh at them.
Who needs a diaper anyhow?
Peeing on the floor seems to work great,
if I can do it fast enough before they grab me.
Hate those diapers, all of ’em, cloth, paper hate ’em all.

No biggie.
Got rid of those gates a while ago!
They just slowed me down anyhow.
Heck, I don’t even have to hold on going up OR down.
Yeah, I can do most anything, I know.

This brother thing?
Man, it’s the best.
The littler fast one or the really tall one – doesn’t matter, they are all great.
The middle one?
He’s a crackup. Great wrestler.
Crazy fun!And Mom?
Well, for some reason, I just really really need to be right with her.
No kidding, I don’t understand it myself.
But holding on to her leg, crying to be picked up, well, I just gotta!
And if I have to, I’ll scream for it, I can’t help it.
I just need her.
They say it’s separation anxiety and a natural regression, that it’s healthy.
So, no, I’m not worried.
I just need her.
She’s swell, even if she says her arms get tired and I’m so big, I don’t care.
So mostly, I’ve decided this family thing is pretty good stuff.
If it’s this good at six months, who knows how cool it will be six years from now!

Shh, that’s my next word to spring on them.
I’ve been practicing.

>Funky, Fine, or Freaks? Pondering the Large Family

>Fair warning: LONG post.

I have been stewing a bit lately. Maybe it was another migraine, pushing my thoughts outside their normal box. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Maybe it has been the intensive discerning process we’ve been in. Or now, the idea that we have EIGHT children (we just need CIS to verify). Very likely, that.

(This is an older picture, w/ our Korean exchange student/daughter from afar,
but not counting Gabriel or our new daughter to come)

But, clearly, I’ve been thinking, a LOT, about the large family.

Now, we, to some, are a large family. To many of the families I know, we are a smallish large family. Or maybe a largish, medium size family. Or a big small family. By some standards we are a middling family, no big deal. But, by others, the vast majority, we are a Large family. By modern American standards we are a freaky big family!

And I think, isn’t that odd?
And isn’t that kind of sad?

But then again, I have to think about that a lot. Because my kids have to grow up in this family. And some people have written about how hard and bad it is for kids to have to grow up in a large family; what a disservice it does to the kids. Hmmm.

Obviously, I have a bias.

I like to think that a large family, or a largish medium size family, or even a crazy big family is on the whole: good for the kids. Kim at Starry Sky Ranch is thinking about this, living it, as well. Worth a read that.

But too often, in our modern or postmodern culture, the large family is considered not only not so good, but detrimental. Huh? Because in the modern ethos, if you are filling all the bedrooms and then some in your house then surely you are shortchanging your kids, right? They must not have all the “things” they need materially. Because modern kids are not only entitled to their own room and an education but the newest backpacks and electronics and flat screen tv’s….really? Ok, I’m not saying everybody holds to this, but oddly enough, I get asked about this sort of thing. And of course, you might guess, I disagree. Kids are not entitled to such, to our excess consumerism, nor is it best for them (and we are all too guilty, all too often, mea culpa). But this is another post topic, really…the idea of how much and of what? Kids need a certain financial stability to thrive and certainly the adoption process ensures that. But it is a much wider swath than some I meet presume.

But to take it further, people wonder, and (to my waning shock) ask outright, if we are being “good stewards” of our resources. We have been questioned, point blank, on whether we have all our kids’ college funds funded (more than once). And you know, thankfully, so far, God has provided and no we don’t have every child’s entire education funded. We are figuring that we will figure it out and we will find a way to be sure that all our children get the education they want and need. It is a priority, but not a panicked stash. This is our personal decision (so don’t flame me, I get it when you decide otherwise).

So really, it begs the question: good stewardship, how is it applied to kids and a big family? Well, I think it’s simple. The best investment, ever and always, is in the life of a child. Period. That may be easy to say, but if we can make it work, we are gonna and so we figure we can raise one more, again. It might not be easy, it’s an expensive process and prospect. But, we, in faith, figure we will figure it out as we go.

But as for stewardship and the good of the kids, there is a much bigger picture to go with…..again, the fingers get pointed at the bigger family. Because you can’t possibly be a good steward of your other resources if you have so many kids can you? Can you really give those kids all the attention they need? Really? The love, the time? Can you really focus on their needs, their individual quirks and nurture them fully?
Yes, you can.
Is it hard and challenging at times?
Um, yeah.
Is it noisy and messy and chaotic?
Oh boy, yup, it is that!

But here’s the secret that people forget. They must forget because surely they know, if they pause to consider. One of the best, the very best, reasons to have a large family is: siblings. Yeah, the rivalry thing is real and can be maddening and intense. But siblings are simply the greatest gift you can give a child, any child. Even kids who have special needs, and might need more of your attention and resources (financial or otherwise); their best gift from you is a sib. Because only a sibling will always be there for them. Siblings are the only people who will have a relationship that spans the lifetime – even if it gets broken. There is still something there. And more siblings aren’t a drain, it’s a literal expansion: of fun, silliness, madness, emotions, opportunities, support, touch, love. They may not always be happy about it, and some sibs will be closer than others. But no one else will make you fall off your chair laughing til you cry when you’re grown. I remind my boys when they fuss that no one else will be able to make fun of me, after I am dead, like his brother. OK, or even now as I am quite alive. Love ’em or hate ’em, there is nobody like a sib. Ever.
And then we come to the one that makes me feel quite the curmudgeon:
“what about you?”
“How can you, as a mom, as an adult woman, feel fulfilled and challenged when you are tied to a house full of kids?”
What about “me time”?
People have asked me this in opposition to our latest adoption.
And you know, here’s my answer:
I do not live under a rock, I am aware of this concept, I see the magazines. And yes I do get tired and burnt out too sometimes. However, I am the most selfish person I have ever met and I must say I have a remarkable knack for carving out ME time.
But my “me” time may not be yours.
And it is a huge mistake to judge how much or of what type is claimed.
And in our culture, there is such an emphasis on self that it has gotten skewed. The best sort of “me” time I can really give, is to my kid (one or all). Not that I always remember that point, or do it. But the times I DO remember and value and that restore, are the ones that are those good quiet parent moments: laying down with a cuddled up small one for a rare quiet moment or two, the discussion (happy, funny, sad, intense) where you make those connections, the sideways look of understanding each other in a crowd (even if that crowd is your own kitchen). Don’t get me wrong, I love having a hot bath, I took the time to run far slow runs, I love a good book. But. When someone, friend, family, or stranger, tells me that we shouldn’t have another child, love another, because it will cut into “my” time (and they have, more than once)…then I’m thinking, um, something is wacked.

And I guess that’s where I’m at. I’m a bit dismayed over the flip. The cultural flip. It’s wonky. We are the stranger now. Our family. We have gone off the grid. We are freaks. We don’t fit, anymore. Because we have been deemed freaky. We are, weirdly, “other.” We feel freaky, really.

But here’s my take on it: it’s not politically correct, but I think our culture is freaky. Our society, in postmodern America (ok it’s even beyond, look at Europe) is the freaky thing. It’s wacked. The family, no matter the size, is under attack and when you are obviously centering your life around the family instead of the golden calf of “self”…well, you are labeled as a freak or crank or a pompous poof….or well, the list could go on and on.

If you are “lucky” people will presume you are ‘strong” or “good”…but even that is not so. Nice to hear, if embarrassing. Because, in actuality I am (we are) selfish, again. Because loving this family is everything to me. These kids, this life, this family, even as it grows…..is the biggest challenge, hardest, most exhilarating, most exhausting, most worthwhile thing I can begin to imagine.So, tell Gabriel that we are a freaky funky family, right after you pry him out of his big brother’s arms. Try it. I think he would disagree….

>Spinning and hoping: process update


I am making all the children walk around like this, at all times: all fingers crossed.
Ok, kidding. That would be superstitious. And we as Catholics are not, or not supposed to be at any rate!

Our heads (and by that, I mean, mine) are spinning around here.
I feel somewhat like Lucy, Lucille Ball that is, on one of her wacky factory episodes…..just not quite ‘getting it.’ I should explain: in some ways going back for a second round of adopting internationally is much easier. However, in some ways it is harder in the sense of confusion.

As ever, the most formidable part of the whole paperchase process (for me at any rate) is the labyrinth that is commonly known as Immigration, Homeland Security, USCIS, or for those in the know (and by that, I mean “mired”): CIS.

Going back a second time would seem simple, but maybe not so much. And it is complicated (or not??) by having an approval that is still “open” and needing only an amendment. Because amending is uncommon, and CIS is a black hole. Almost impenetrable.

Allusions abound, images spinning through my mind as I wait for either a glimmer of info on where we stand, or a “Go”: Frodo’s quest, Lucy’s candy wrapping, or more, the Dreaded Fire Swamp or the Cliffs of Insanity. Maybe I need the Dread Pirate Roberts to be on our side!

It is not the kind of excruciating hard sadness that so many Gladney families have had to bear this past week. My heart still hurts for each of them. It is not the kind of unknowable ways of a foreign country, as Grace aptly puts it: TIE (this is Ethiopia – our ways are not yours, and we shouldn’t expect them to be). It is our own nation’s bureaucratic cogs a’spinning, or grinding and lurching.

So right now, I’ve been quieter on the blog as we have been spinning plates and keeping them all in the air…that delicate balance between hope and impatience. I’m trying (and commonly failing) to detach in faith and tend to real life as it continues to present itself in stubbed toes, book report drafts, grocery store runs, giggling small boys, staring contests, and listening to the house filled with music from a visiting son!

I know, dullsville. But some have asked about the chase, the paperchase, and well, this is how it goes. Probably every time, I am sure. I’m impatient. Forever. Most plates in the air, a few crashed to the ground and another then tossed back up. All fingers crossed, anyhow and hope springing eternal! Because that’s how the paperchase really plays out!

flikr photo by tpaddock

>More Racers – Paperchasers!!!!


These two pics are of

Farmboy and Buttercup.

And we hold a special spot in our heart for this family, and this couple. They of the big hearts and beautiful family.

They held our sweet Tariku, when we were far from him. They cuddled him and reassured me; as I fretted and worried half a world away.

And now, with overflowing joy I get to direct you to their blog for their big announcement!

They’ve been wrestling with big decisions too. And now they have come to it! It’s a great thing and an amazing story of God’s own nudging; told oh so well by Farmboy. Go read.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be glad you did.

For me, selfishly, I am happy to have them as virtual companions on the road again! And ever grateful for their generosity and support! Exciting stuff. Go. See.

Make your day.

>Paperchase: what you forget


Ahh, the paperchase. Yep, still in it.
But for now it’s moving toward paperwait.
Soon, however, it will be paper-weight.

I forgot.

Ok, I guess it’s a little like giving birth in that you forget.
You forget the panting and puffing of getting paperwork done.
You forget the parts that are out of your control.
You forget the urge to just be able to call someone,
anyone, to help push things through;
email someone, do something!
I know, I know, it’s due diligence. It’s necessary for the process.
My head nods in comprehension.
But not my heart.

And of course – there is nothing to be done.
But wait.

So what’s a gal to do with all that frustration of goals met, papers notarized, sealed, delivered…and still nothing.
No visible progress?
So close and yet so far?
She eats! She stress snacks.
She craves all the bad stuff: chocolate, sugar, sour skittles, raspberry chantilly Peppridge Farm Cookies (and happily, they seem to be off the shelves as she can decimate a bag before getting home from the store! Best. Cookies. Ever)
And she makes killer apple pie when a wonderful patient delivers a box of apples from their own orchard. And eats it for breakfast, yum! (Hey, cut me some slack, I shared! Really!)
So yeah, I forgot. The paperchase, when you want it to be nothing but a paper RACE, is mostly a paperwait, paper-weight. So, before I have to buy a whole new wardrobe, I am hoping I can really finish and forget this once again. Sigh.

>Toddler Adoption: Adjustment, Part 4


Gabriel has been home FOUR months now!
This past weekend we passed our four month mark!

Here’s his report:

Brothers are great fun.
Maybe more fun than girls.
But they are pretty good too.
But wrestling and running is best of all.
That kid in the mirror?…..He’s a blast!
Dancing is great fun, especially if it’s got a good beat!
Mom is a terrible singer but I like it anyway.
Hey, I can really throw things, far!
And kick ’em too!
Yeah, I can do magic. Dad’s keys? Gone!
Love the shoes!
Ok, most all shoes.
Meat is disgusting, unless it is hidden in lasagna.
Potatoes, tomatoes and berries are best of all.
Unless it is chips, salsa, or popcorn.
Who needs sleep anyhow?
Boating is maybe the best fun of all.
Dad’s beard is worth exploring, haven’t quite figured that one out yet.
If I don’t know the word, a loud shout and emphatic point work just as well.
Up, Mama, Hi, and Eewww, seem like good words.
Baby cussing works too…….
Ok, not really, just trying to get those pesky words straight.
But if you say them emphatically and with great expression and a big gesture, then everybody laughs…because it’s like baby cussing.
Laughing is fun.
Dishwashers are for climbing.
Ok, everything is for climbing.
Toys? I laugh at toys.
The whole HOUSE is my toy!
I can make a toy out of anything!
Man, I’m FAST.
But not as fast as the cat.
There is something fascinating about the computer, I mean, look at all those buttons.
The warming drawer is just a fine place to sit.
Baths are fantastic fun.
Splashing water everywhere is very satisfying.
If I smear food in my hair, I get a bath!
Mom gets really loud when Notre Dame plays that ball game thing.
Which means I get to be really loud too!
I like that.
There are always people around in this place, and they are always the same ones.
Hugs and kisses are there for the asking, and even a lot of time when you don’t.
I think it’s alright here.

>Paper Race, not Chase

>The race is on.
Not a chase this time. But a race, against time.

As some of you know, we’ve been pondering and praying. {And all of you pals, thank you so much for your support and prayers, they help SO much!} And we have decided and been given the all clear, the go ahead – against all odds and against the tide of normal.
We are going back.

I hesitate to post this as I know it will bring a tsunami of opinion; some welcome, some, not so much. But this is not being done to court opinion and favor. This is going to be done, in hope and faith and trust, with a little bit of fear and the usual fretting. But it is going to be done stepping out in trust instead of holding back in fear. {And yeah, now you know why I’ve been sort of obsessing in my recent posts…it’s all about me and my stream of consciousness folks!}

That’s no small thing. This is bundled up in fears and caveats. Boatloads of research: professionals, texts, personal experiences. But we have chosen to not live our lives in fear: intellectually, emotionally, or (and most importantly) spiritually. We choose to live in the light of faith. And our faith tells us that this is right. Not that this will be easy. Not that this might not be very hard. But that it is right. And there, in the right, in the faith and trust and effort, there is where we will find the joy.

Why? Many ask, and will ask, and have.
Why not? We say.
(And yes, there are many reasons why not. But again, where do those lie?)

So. We are going back. We have started the paper chase again. For a girl, in Ethiopia. We met her. She is twelve. Special circumstances. And that makes it not a chase, but this time, a race. Against time. For her. Not because she is ill, but because at her age, each day away from a family makes it all harder. Because she has been through enough and needs to land safely.

She does not know about this yet. She cannot. It is not allowed yet. She will be asked and told about us after our Immigration approval/update comes back again.

I have really struggled with who and when and how to tell people this time. Because this time it is so different, with an older child, one we met. This time the reactions are muted, tending toward the ‘deer in the headlights’ look and a short “oh.” And those are the good reactions. Sigh. So I tire of bracing myself for that. Because, hey, I’m shallow, and I like the happy, excited response! But I’ve decided, w/ Coffeedoc’s encouragement, to go ahead and tell people. Because we are committed. We are in. And we are not in for what people think anyhow. And it is exciting.

So we are going to embrace our joy, our excitement, because there will be joy in this. We are going to be excited when we can. And it’s fun to shout the news and if people don’t understand or agree: ok.

We covet your prayers, beg for them, if you pray. We count on all the support we can get. We are not proud, we are informed, we are probably fools. We know. But. When you feel such a pull, such endless bricks and nudges….what else can you do? For us. Nothing but this: step forward. One step at a time. And embrace it, all.

On your mark, get set, go!

>Risks of Adoption

>There are many risks in adoption.
The list can be long: time, money, public perception and opinion, exhaustion, attachment issues and so on and so on.

But one of the risks is specific to international adoption, and the travel.
This risk is not written about so much, specifically. It is alluded to.
It is often tossed around in conversation; sometimes in a flip dismissive cocktail party comment.

But it is a real risk.
It is more real than some, maybe many, would like to admit.

It is the risk of tearing your heart.
It is NOT the risk of opening your heart, the stretching that you do to make room for your next child – the one you have jumped through hoops for and finally, blissfully, amazingly have in your arms. That expansion is a known, accepted and expected event and/or process.I want to talk about the surprising hole that is torn in your heart, your soul if you will, after visiting these kids in the orphanages.
I know, it’s an old story. Drippy songs have been sung. Boxes have been stood upon to make speeches. Just by typing this I know I lost a chunk o’ readers. Yadda yadda.
It’s been done. It’s been said. I know.

But it’s a whole ‘nother thing to go and see and touch these kids, big or small. Jen Cantwell writes about this. Go, read if you dare (bring a tissue).
I am putting this out there, again, because it’s been more than three months now since we were there: in Addis Ababa, at the orphanages. Time enough for the hectic balm of our modern life to fuse those shredded seams…right? You would think so. But, no.
There are seemingly permanent jagged ragged edges now. A gash. More than one.
We were wounded, and didn’t know the risk. And it’s done. No bandaid is gonna cover it up and smooth it out. Or should, maybe. And I’m not complaining. I’m just saying…it’s the risk that goes kind of unspoken.
They don’t have a chapter on this in the books. They don’t have a page in the agency manual or travel info:

Warning: upon meeting the children in the local orphanages you might experience a certain sorrow. This is likely to continue and in fact can manifest in the positive upswing in overall gratitude and a more global perspective and outreach but it is important to consider that it is also a fairly certain risk of a significant shear in the fabric of your heart.”

So, for those in the process and paperchase, or considering international adoption:
Fair Warning. There are risks below the surface of adoption.
You could be torn, just a bit, but forever.