Celebrating the Foster-to-Adopt completion

I’m not going to lie – parenting is exhausting…especially if you’re starting to get a cold (two weeks of wiping aside snot and I’m finally starting to succumb). So hosting a party of 15 boys (under the age of 9) and 2 girls was definitely tiring – and yet so much fun. Yesterday we had a party to celebrate Noah’s 4th birthday and Seth’s adoption. This brought together the 17 kids for the birthday and about an equal number of adults for the adoption. Today I reflect on how wonderful it is to be surrounded by so many people who care about my boys and our family.

For many people, families and friends celebrate the birth of a child. Friends gather around the new baby and the beaming parents, visitors come and go (and people make you food!), and gifts pour in. Mothers stay home from work for some time (and it would be nice if we let fathers do so too)… cooing over how gorgeous the baby is, who he or she looks like, and “napping when the baby naps” (or at least that’s what people say they do!). It is very different when you adopt a child through the foster care system.

This week I have looked down at Seth every night as I plant a kiss on his forehead and say “goodnight, my son.” It is the first time that I’ve been able to call him my “son.” And it is the first time that I realize I can bond with him as my son. It is a very strange thing. As a foster parent, you are asked to “love the children as if they are your own” and yet to “keep your distance” as your job really is to hand them back to the biological parent (when at all possible).

So there’s this closeness of rocking them to sleep every night, and this guarding of your heart in preparation of possibly losing them. You pick them up when they fall and kiss the “boo-boo,” and wonder how long they will still be in your house. You bounce them and tickle them. You praise their every milestone as they grow. You hold their hand and protect them. You take them to day care and pick them up. You take them to doctor appointments, you sit and pray over them as they recover from surgery, you worry about every cold or fever or wheeze. You ache, you agonize, you cry, you comfort….you love. You know the baby needs a “mother” and you play the role of the “mother,” but you never know if you are the one who will be the forever mother. Until that very moment, years later, when a complete stranger in a black robe declares you to be the mother.

Then you sigh. Then you cry. Then you gather your friends and family around you and say “Celebrate with me. Sing with me. Dance with me….on the “birth” of my son.”

Micah – I met you May 22, 2006, and became your forever Mommy on February 26, 2008.

Noah – I met you Feb 27, 2009, and became your forever Mommy on February 23, 2010.

Seth – I met you on June 2, 2011, and became your forever Mommy on February 12, 2013.

Tonight I lay on Micah’s bed beside him as he snored and looked around the room at my sleeping family. My sons. Beautiful each one.

And I love each of them….

now with my whole heart.

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The third beautiful brown boy…

I have a book on my shelf (or the pile beside my bed) about transcultural (transracial) adoption. I should probably read it and feel a bit more informed rather than just mosey along merrily.  But I don’t really feel like devoting the time to it right now (there always seems to be something more pressing).

But it actually is a real part of my life.  I picked Micah up from school one day this week and he started asking questions about Martin Luther King, Jr. (it’s Black History Month). He was actually most interested in the facts about his death (and what’s the name of the man who shot him). But as we galloped down the stairway (he always says we’re racing, but then takes off first so I can’t pass him), he told me about a movie they

    The boys after bath

The boys after bath

watched in school. He started explaining that there are white people and black people and that the black people were not allowed to do anything like go to school or ride a bus. Out of extreme curiosity, I interrupted him and asked him, “Micah, are you white or black?” He stopped dead in his tracks on a second step down, looked at his arm, pointed to his brown skin and said without pausing “white,” and skipped on down the steps…”just like you are white.”  I followed along with a smile and we continued the conversation about how many “important men” have been killed for standing up for “important issues.”

Driving home, I thought I might bring it up again. I said, “you know, Micah, you have absolutely beautiful brown skin because your birth mother was white and your birth father was black.” He replied, “I want to be white” and I responded that was absolutely fine. End of story for that day at least.

I was curious because this week, I added another brown little boy to my family (though his skin is the fairest of them all so far). Seth has officially changed his name and officially changed who he belongs to. He is no longer a “ward of the court.” He is a member of our family forever. Several friends joined us at the courthouse downtown to witness the ceremony. The three boys “allowed” me to dress them in dress shirts, vests, ties and slacks…which coordinated so well with their light-up sneakers (I haven’t bought dress shoes …seems a waste of money for one time wear!). They were gorgeous – until the pink and white cupcakes were served and I had to break out the baby wipes. And they were relatively well-behaved in the waiting area (a jurors waiting room) until the balloon-man arrived and equipped them with fencing swords.

As small streams of steam started to emerge from my ears and my voice started emitting at a lower octave, we were called back to the courtroom where we met the judge. The boys noisily took up the benches in the back as he introduced himself and I tried to keep a squirmy Seth on my lap. After answering a few boring legal questions, the judge read the “decree”…..that the child formerly known as KJE-G will “from this day forth and forever more be known as Seth…J…G…W….” Brings tears to my eyes. Those are some powerful words.

Naturally, I worry sometimes. Will I be able to be the best mom for these boys? Will I have the financial resources to care for them? Will I be able to cope if any of them develops significant behavioral or medical issues? Will I be able to keep teen girls away from the heart-throbs that these boys will become? Will I ever be able to keep enough food in the house? Will I be able to help them navigate the divide between black and white and develop a sense of pride in the beautiful brown children that they are and the incredible men that they will become?….

Love can. Welcome to our family Seth, my love.

Ten Bits of Wisdom for a New Adoptive Single Mother

I talked to a colleague this week who just adopted a little boy five weeks ago. She’s single and in her forties and asked me what I thought about single parenting and adoption.  I said “mothering is full of ups and down….usually within the same second.” And though my kids are still pretty young, here’s what I’ve learned so far (a bit more than I shared over the phone with her):

Five “hard” things that will surprise you:

You are going to fail. It’s really hard when you’re used to being a successful, professional woman, but it’s true. There are moments in mothering that you are going to totally and completely bomb. And you’ll know it. You’ll know it the moment you are in it…and yet you won’t be able to do anything about it. You’ll be in the moment and you’ll be doing it all wrong. But…. that moment will end. You will forgive yourself. Your ego will be bruised for a while, but you’ll forgive yourself. And you’ll learn that all moms do that. All moms fail at some moment. What makes a mom great is realizing it, forgiving yourself, trying to learn from it (yeah…..), and moving on. Because you love your child and your child loves you.

That’s the hard one. But it’s true. Here’s another hard one. There will be times that you hear this little voice in your head that says “I wish I never made this decision.” It’s probably somewhere between wiping the poop off the crib railings and stepping on a lego in the middle of the night. It’s probably somewhere in between 39 months of no more than two nights of real sleep in a row and lugging a stroller, diaper bag, kid and two suitcases down the airport hall. It’s there… somewhere. It’s fleeting. It’s shocking. But it’s also real. Life just flipped upside down, you’re on a rollercoaster in the dark, and sometimes you’re not sure you can handle it. And you are scared. But you can handle it. You really can. And you know in your heart of hearts that this is exactly what you want to be doing.

Hmm, I’m on a roll with the hard stuff, because there also comes that time when you realize that parenting has brought out the worst of you. The really ugly side comes out….like anger, grumpiness, impatience. And previously, if you didn’t like a situation you were in or the way it made you feel, you could leave. But now, you can’t. Parenting is 24/7, it doesn’t end. You wake up – the kid is there. You go to sleep – the kid wakes you up. So you must find yourself some breaks and forgive yourself again.

You are going to miss your single life. You’re still “technically” single, but it is so very different now. It’s hard to come to grips with the new limits on your life. No longer can you just jump in the car and head out of town for the weekend (without some serious planning and a trunk full of crap). No longer do you meet up with friends for dinner (without first finding a sitter and contemplating the balance of how many evenings you are away from home). Spontaneity is a whole different version now – you can still have some….until the baby is old enough to need a schedule and then spontaneity becomes “which room do I clean first today?” Gone is the time when you wake up on a Saturday and say “hmmm, what am I going to do today?”

And, you might struggle with the concept of adoption. You might have some bumpiness in bonding with your new one. You might grieve that this child, as beautiful as he is, doesn’t look the least bit like you (or you might rejoice in this). You might be hurt by other people’s glances or words. You might even go so far that you doubt your parenting ability for the child and wonder if some other family should have adopted him. And for this reason, you must have someone in your life who tells you as often as needed, “you are the very woman who is supposed to be his mom.” Because this is true.

Believe me – you will not survive this alone. Don’t even try…for many of the reasons that I’ve just listed. You must have some allies in your camp – a cheering squad, a supporters group, a cadre of friends. (And it’s helpful if all your friends don’t know each other so you can whine to at least 5 or 6 of them about the same thing that the little kiddo just did.) If you have family, move as close to them as you possibly can. Build up a network of people who can take the baby for a couple hours, drop off a gallon of milk in a moment’s notice, sit by you in the ER when the little one is sick, or get out of work early to get the kiddo off the bus on the day you have a really important 3:30 meeting. Cherish these people. They will keep you going. And do not be afraid to ask for help.

Oh – I’m squeezing in a number 6 — Parenting is painful. That surprised me. I never really considered how many times my head was going to get knocked by a flying block. Or a door slammed on my big toe splitting the nail. Or being jumped on from behind when you’re squatting to put on a siblings shoes and falling onto the floor. But the one that always kills me is leaning over your kid to plant a tender kiss on their head, only to have them rear back to look at you and split your lip open or bloody your nose. Real nice. (Okay, back to my list….)

Five wonderful things that will surprise you:

You are going to be amazed at how much you love that child. It is such a powerful emotion, that makes you wipe snot off a nose for the thousandth time. That leads you to lie down beside them long after they’ve gone to sleep just to watch them breathe and their eyes twitch for a few minutes. That causes you to fiercely defend them even when they don’t need it. The love between you and your child is better than anything you could have dreamed of and you can’t even imagine life without him.

You have never known pride until you’ve been proud of your kid. Oh sure, you have felt good about an accomplishment of yours. You’ve been happy for your team or colleagues. But when you watch your son kick his first soccer goal or your daughter stand up and take her first steps – wham! That is powerful pride.

The first time you say it – and believe it! – that you are the baby’s “mother” is pretty fantastic. When you say to yourself, “wow, I’m a mommy. Wow!” It will finally settle in…and your new identity forms. But what’s even more delightful is when your child looks at you and for the first time says “mommy” – you won’t ever forget that moment.

You will spend an entire day getting absolutely nothing done and you’ll be okay with that. You’ll be amazed at how long you can just sit and stare at a baby. You’ll wonder why it took two days to do a load of laundry when you’ve had to sort and fold the clothes over and over again when the boys have “underwear war!” You won’t worry about the dishes in the sink anymore or the crumbs under (and in) the couch – your new “accomplishment” for the day is to have fun, tickle and kiss….and keep the kid alive.

You will understand that becoming a mother was truly, truly the best decision you ever made. Sure you might want a little less vomit to wipe up, but you will know that there’s no other description of yourself that’s more important than to say that you’re a mother. You will be worn out more than ever imagined. You will be frustrated and confused at times. You will do things you never expected to do. And you will be happier than you thought possible – and so grateful for your child and the chance to be a mom.

Call me or a friend to share any of these 10 things…and for anything else.

(Oh….and here’s a couple other simple words of wisdom
– subscribe to Adoptive Families if you want to do a bit more reading and get some suggestions
– definitely sign up for Amazon Mom for free two-day shipping ….including diapers!
– always have extra milk or formula in the house – running out at 9pm is a huge mental drain!
– keep babywipes (and tissues) within an arm’s length…ALWAYS)

Soft snow and single parenting

We are looking at rental properties and Kathy mentioned the possibility of us splitting to find cheaper housing. After having spent the week alone with my three while she and our mom took her boys to Disney, I replied, “we’d have to be right beside each other then.”  Spending a week being a truly single mom – was truly stressful to me.

Single parenting….

It’s stressful when you have a kid in school and have to deal with sudden changes – oh, a 2-hour-delay for freezing rain; no after school programming for a couple days, anything else you want to throw at me?

It’s stressful when viruses are running amuck and you don’t know who and when is going to fall next. Micah had two evenings of low-grade fever, headaches and went to bed early, but I still wasn’t ready to call him sick since I was single parenting (so I just had to keep worrying that he was “getting sick”!).

It’s stressful when there are two grants due on the same day for my crisis nursery work (and I’ve never written grants before). I got 3 hours of sleep Tuesday night and 2 hours of sleep Wednesday night – and as you can imagine, this lack of sleep was not helping my parenting skills.

It’s stressful when you pick up the pen and sign your name that you are prepared to accept the responsibility of adopting another boy. You pick up the pen. You sign. A good stress….but a stress nonetheless.

And it’s stressful to worry about said boy who hasn’t gained weight in over 6 months so you’re just starting him on pediasure (to bulk him up) and spending the week wondering whether the phenomenal amount of blood letting they did last week will reveal any answers. (Update – All negative – he’s currently a perfectly healthy (runny-nosed) teeny, tiny little guy).

I spent the whole week with stress hanging over my shoulders about what I would do (and how life would have to be juggled) if just one piece fell out of my finely balanced tower. And if you’re living in stress and constantly under pressure and not sleeping for the week, the time moves by without much chance to catch up to it.

Soft snow

“Snow softly falling.” pinterest.com

Yet, as I drove to church this morning, I noticed my body soften looking at the beauty of the new snow on the world. I thought about the tranquility of watching snow fall through the yellow glare of a street light (I will often pause and stare for the longest time at this softness). I thought about how I love winter when it lets you slow down. You stay home because you don’t want to be out “in that.” You dream of a huge warm fireplace (next house?). It seems that the world should pause for a moment longer after the rush of the holidays. Yes, we tend to schedule fewer events and the weather tends to cancel schools and meetings and work. And maybe we should all follow nature’s rhythm of taking a break in the winter – resting, hibernating, rejuvenating, preparing….

Maybe I should become a tree.

Here’s to hoping for some earth-stopping blizzards in February!  (just kidding!)