Some days Motherhood Seems So Surreal

Super Tall Guy and I were in the battle. Lines drawn. Armor on. Advancing and retreating. Serious and big emotions. We’re matched weight for weight and almost height by height. And it was physical. Wrestling. Pushing. Yelling. I stood my ground. He pushed the buttons, clamoring for more power. Arguing for agency and the right to be his own boss.

“You are not the boss over me,” the argument continued.

“I am your mother,” I repeated countless times.

In the heat of the anger, the tears, and the chaos, I finally calmly asked, “Do you need to see your birth certificate? It has my name on it.”

Immediately he quieted. “Yes,” he whispered and followed me upstairs.

He sat on my floor against my bed as I pull out the fire-proof safe and got the key. He sobbed that kids at school had said there’s only one way to be someone’s mother and that’s to birth them. He railed against adoption.

I pulled out The Little Guy’s birth certificate. “See, under ‘Mother,’ there’s my name.”

Same for Mr. Ornery’s birth certificate.

Same for you.

“Well, I’m just going to tear it up,” he yelled. “Tear it up a hundred times,” I countered, “It will still stand. Always and forever, I am your mother.”

We’re going to wrestle about this quite a few times, I have a feeling. In every kids’ life there are times that we challenge our parents’ parenthood or angrily state that we want to go live with someone else, you know, because their “Mom is so much nicer.” But when it comes to adoption, the stakes are even higher. It was a choice I made in a court of law to “become” a mother but it doesn’t change the fact that the child has a sense within that there’s “another” mother out there somewhere. Another mother that “could” be Mom or “should” be Mom or is somehow missing from their life. Even without meeting their birthmom, my boys have to come to grips with the fact that they are being raised, and cared for, and loved by a woman who doesn’t look like them, doesn’t share the same genes, didn’t actually birth them.

Super Tall Guy is the first to express this internal wrestling. It took an all-out physical fight to uncover the core of his distress. Each boy will need to deal with the issue in their own way, just as I find myself needing to deal with it.

I woke up this morning on Mother’s Day, listening to the sounds of three boys stirring. Three boys who call me Mother. Three boys who have new birth certificates with my name in the “Mother” line. What a journey this has been.

Some days I can’t figure out how I got here. Some days I know that I haven’t assumed the mother role completely. The sacrifices. The exhaustion. The endless nagging and battles. The toys that creep across the floor in the middle of the night and sprout between the cracks of the hardwood.

Some days I look at my friends’ comments on all the great trips they are taking, the movies they are watching, the hot coffee they are sipping. I warm up my coffee for the third time and pick up another toy to put it in another spot from which it will sneak out another time.

But some days I cry with pride at the orchestra recital, cheer myself hoarse at the soccer field, and fill my heart with joy as I watch boys tear through Christmas wrapping paper. I wouldn’t change this for the world!

Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms, but most especially to those who have raised their right hand and sworn to be Mom through the ups and downs and received a brand new birth certificate with their name on the “Mother” line!

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Recommitting to the Boys

It was one of those deep, cathartic cries for a few minutes last Friday night. One of those crashing moments that emanates from serious exhaustion and feeling completely overwhelmed. A moment sparked by a sappy movie and fueled by a very late hour of the night. When I glanced up at the canvas painting on the wall of the three boys at the beach, I thought, “What in the world am I doing? What am I doing parenting three young boys? Sitting here in this temporary home trying to figure out the next step? How did I get here? Why am I doing this?”

Earlier in the week a colleague said, “I remember meeting you five years ago. You had a little baby on one hip, a little toddler tugging at your other leg, and a larger boy clinging on you. I thought to myself, I don’t know how she’s doing it.” I confessed that there were many times in those years that I didn’t know how I was doing it and sometimes I still don’t.

And there have been many times that I’ve confessed to another mom of boys, “I don’t know how to do this. It’s overwhelming to be responsible for these boys. I don’t think I can be a good mom to them.” Her reply, “It was not a mistake. God picked you to be their Mom.”

And yet, I have those moments of doubt about making the right decisions in life and wondering where to go next. Everybody does. It would be a lie to say that my life is roses all the time. To say that there are not moments when I doubt the decision to adopt three kids on my own. I don’t think I’d be much of a parent to them if I wasn’t consciously thinking of them often.

There certainly are many moments when I sit exhausted on the couch and envision what my still single friends are doing in their tidy little houses. I know they haven’t picked up a thousand Legos over the course of the day, or wiped feces off the wall, or sat locked in a battle of wills over the spelling homework paper. Sometimes it seems that the grass is greener over there (or doesn’t have to be tended to as much!).

It’s not that I think about reversing the decision, it’s that I get overwhelmed with the responsibility. My brain is constantly worried about how they are doing. Are they behaving in school? When’s the next IEP meeting? Have I gotten all their appointments scheduled? How am I going to afford braces? Is Super Tall Guy’s med working well? Are they playing nicely with the neighbors? Is this normal brotherly aggression or is it overboard? Why did they decide to microwave the oatmeal and the spoon? When will I have to sign the next “behavioral slip” for school? Does he need to be evaluated or is he just normal boy?

So the other night, I wiped away the tears and tucked myself in bed, pulling out (and dusting off) the boys’ “letter journals.” I used to journal when I was in my teens and then into college. In med school, I “journaled” by writing a letter to my grandmother every single week for four years about my medical img_9950training and then into residency as well until she passed away. Now I blog to share the crazy journey of parenting in a wider community. And every once in a while, and definitely not as often as I’d like, I also “journal” to my boys as short letters to them in small lined books.

It’s a lot like taking photographs of your kids. The first one, Super Tall Guy, has an entry every few months for his first few years of life. There are so many fun stories and sentiments that document his days and adventures. Middle child has much fewer and The Little Guy’s book, well, you can imagine, has very few pages full of ink.

As parenting stress crashes upon me, it helps to re-center by reconnecting. It’s an important exercise for me  It forces me to think about each boy individually. To think about what they have been doing lately and who they are becoming. I think about their personalities and their gifts. It helps me to reconnect with each of them and recommit to them, reminding me of my love for them and my commitment to parent them in the best way I can. And it’s an opportunity for me to lift them up in prayers of thanksgiving and protection.

paint-wpI tell the boys every day, “I love you – forever, for always, and no matter what.” I finish their “journal letters” each time with the same words. Sometimes I need to remind myself that in the hard times, in the times when my love for them is hidden under painted fingers, soiled laundry, broken doors, angry words, noise and chaos, that this love is a commitment. Forever, for always and no matter what. That’s what it means to be their parent. And the honor and joy of being part of their lives is all I really need (well, that and coffee and chocolate pretty much does it!).

Just a few (like 10) of the Challenges of Single Parenting

I read a headline the other day about a single woman adopting a set of 6 sisters,zoo boys and I thought, wow, what an amazing thing to do. She fostered them and wanted to keep the sisters together (you know, it’s National Foster Care Awareness Month). It’s a great thing to do. It’s also a very difficult thing to do.

There’s a growing number of women parenting “by choice,” with rates rising in particular for women over the age of 35 (you know, like me 🙂 ). There is no accident or illness or divorce that left us with our hands full of kids. Instead, we decided for a whole host of reasons that we could and should become a parent.

My decision was more a natural flow from having fostered a child for 18 months and being given the option of adopting. I can’t say it required much decision-making. I already felt like his mother. I already acted like his mother. It was the choice that I wanted. I could not have foretold eight years later when I’m now parenting three young boys, that I would spend so much time contemplating my choice.

So here are a few thoughts on the challenges of single parenting.

  1. You are it. The final word. The absolute decision maker. Whether that’s sitting in your kid’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting and deciding what is the “best classroom” option for your 7-year-old, or deciding whether or not you will move ahead with eye surgery for the 5-year-old who’s eye wanders on oblique gaze, you are it. Figuring out what school district would best meet the needs of the kids. Which toothbrush to buy. What to make for dinner. Do we start karate or not? Replace the TV or leave it broken? Everything. Sure, I have a lot of support. I have many friends and family to bounce ideas off and get advice. But the final decision is mine. Sometimes that’s nice and sometimes that’s scary.
  2. When you are way beyond tired, have hit your limit, or are otherwise just “done” with the day….there’s still three little boys. They still need dinner. They still have sports activities or homework to get to. They still need a bath. They still want you to read them a bedtime story even if your eyes sting with exhaustion. They’re really not concerned about how you’re feeling. No, they’re not.
  3. If you want to get away, you have to line up a babysitter. For anything. A night out. The grocery store. A work meeting. Getting some exercise. And finding a sitter can take time and make you much less spontaneous than you’d like to be sometimes. And sitters make every activity or event more expensive as you count up the number of hours you’ve entrusted someone to care for the kids! I used to be a night-owl, now I dash home as quickly as I can.
  4. Your phone is always on you. Always.running with phone If the school calls or the daycare center number shows up on your “silenced” screen, you answer it. Always. If you’re running the marathon relay, you answer it. Always. You never know when one of the boys is heading to the emergency room.
  5. You worry about getting seriously ill or in an accident yourself and who would take care of the boys. On days when you’re not well, you set your alarm every 15 minutes to get out of bed to make sure they haven’t broken a bone or a lamp. You let them fall asleep with their Kindles in hand as long as they’re giving you some peace and quiet. And, you actually make your doctor appointments and think about your health a little bit (see, there is a benefit!).
  6. You get to be the “Bad Guy” every….single….time. You get good guy times too, but you are always the Bad Guy. Always the Meanest Mommy in the Whole World. There is no “wait till your father gets home” or “go ask your Mom.” You have to decide in the moment and have your yeses be yeses, and your noes be noes. Constant discipline, constant evaluation of your discipline technique, constant enforcement….it’s pretty draining.
  7. When you are stressed or tired or happy or sad, there’s no buffer for your emotions. There’s no one to assist with a little “honey, why don’t I take the kids for a bit?” And the kids have started to figure this out. “Hey, Little Guy, you probably want to listen to Mom before she gets really mad at you,” I overheard Super Tall Guy recently advise his little brother. Yeah, think about it little dude, we’re this close….this close…
  8. You have such pressure to be there at all the kids’ events and activities, because there’s no other parent to make it to the games or the concert, or the school play. I altered my first job as a physician because I was expected to be rounding in the hospital on Christmas morning and that wasn’t going to work for me when I was the only parent the boys had for Christmas morning. There are a lot of sacrifices, a lot of guilt and a lot of trying hard to make it all work, but it doesn’t always.
  9. You worry about job security even when you’re a well-educated, “marketable” person. You realize that your income alone is spread among you and the kids and mostly your income is for the kids. I can’t remember the last thing I bought for myself other than socks (and paying that “babysitter” to get away for a few hours).
  10. You have to maintain everything about the lives of three other individuals in your head at all times (this on top of work responsibilities, friends, your own junk, etc). What do they need for school (“a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, Mom, for the experiment”) and what homework is due when. When was the last doctor’s appointment? Is the prescription ready to pick up? What’s their birth date? Who has soccer, baseball, Tumbling & Trampoline, gymnastics, flag football and karate when? Did they eat any fruit today? Did I RSVP to that party for Super Tall Guy? What’s their shoe sizes for when you come upon a sale? And the hardest thing of all – what “consequence” did I tell which kid that he had after school today?!?!
  11. Oh, and a “Bonus” one: You are eternally grateful for your family and friends who jump in when you need help. You realize the importance of living in and being in community and the need to nourish and tend to those relationships. Despite being a strong introvert and wanting more “quiet time,” I’m grateful that there’s people nearby just in case….

ducksAnd lastly, when you’re single-parenting, you just want people to understand how complicated it is. That even if this situation was and is my “choice,” it doesn’t make it any “easier.”  Like most parents, I’m doing my best at the moment. Some days can get pretty dark and draining and tiring and you’re just putting one foot in front of the other and making it through. But you do make it through. So know that I sure appreciate everyone’s encouragement and support and patience when I’m not as available as I used to be or as fun as I used to be.

But hang around, I’m still here. I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m parenting. It’s a good thing (and these little guys better appreciate it some day!). Because I love them enough to do this.

“Somebody Else’s Kids”

Somebody Else’s Kids. That was the title of the message at church this week. It was a good message by the CEO of World Vision calling the church to follow the Biblical call to care for “the least of these” and the “stranger” and “foreigner living among you.” The primary focus of the message was about the Syrian refugee crisis and the need for the church to step in and help. Half of the 12 million Syrian refugees are kids. Kids who are loved by their family and loved by God. Kids who have seen war and death and need a hope for the future. My heart breaks for what breaks God’s heart.

The title struck me in a different way, though. Somebody else’s kids. I looked down at the almost 10-year-old Super Tall Guy, sitting on the floor of the church creating a military battle scene on the back of the message card. He’s huge. He’s almost up to my nose in height. He’s wearing size 10 men’s shoes. He can lift me off my feet. He looks absolutely handsnothing like me. He’s Somebody Else’s Kid. Or, he was. He was born somebody else’s kid, but he’s my kid now. He never lived with anybody else. He spent two days in the hospital, but other than that, and a day here and there, he’s always been with me. He’s my boy. My son.

But it was a long process. For a while, Super Tall Guy and his brothers each were somebody else’s kids and the “somebody” was the state of Pennsylvania. I loved them and kissed them and rocked them to sleep every night, but I couldn’t make any major decisions about their care, including whether they needed a haircut. It took a court visit, an “I do,” and a signed piece of paper to remove the “somebody else” and make them my “kids.”

Yet I know that they started out as somebody else’s kids. They know it too. We don’t mention it frequently but it does come up every once in awhile.

The Little Guy will be five in a few weeks. At the dining room table the other day, he looked up at me and said, “I want to see my birth mom.” I don’t remember him ever using the word birth mom before. I don’t know why he was thinking about her or what sparked any thought about other moms. Maybe he was thinking about somebody else’s kids. Maybe he was thinking about adoption. Maybe he wasn’t really thinking about anything. Maybe he was just being five. But it’s something all of these kids are going to think about at some point and probably over and over again as they contemplate their journey and their place in the world.

And I’ll be right there alongside them as they go, figuring it out myself as we work on it together, grateful for Somebody Else’s Kids.

 

The Most Important Day for an Adoptive Parent

Nate cake

Mr. Ornery’s whale picture turned into his birthday cake

It has been a week of celebration. The anniversary of Mr. Ornery’s adoption was on Tuesday and his birthday was on Thursday with a party on Saturday. Super Tall Guy was adopted seven years ago on Friday. And The Little Guy’s “Adoption Day” was on February 12th. These are all big milestones in the lives of these boys. Not ones that they really understand yet, but ones that they currently look forward to solely by virtue of the fact that there are “gifts” involved! And that, as we all know, is really the key way to celebrate a momentous occasion!

But to me, the real “celebration” day was yesterday, two days after Mr. Ornery’s birthday. It was on that day seven years ago that my sister received a call from the foster agency that Super Tall Guy had a younger brother who needed a home and would we be available to get to the hospital in 15 minutes to pick him up?

You see, that’s how life functioned in the world of foster parenting. The phone was always nearby in case there was a call. And if we didn’t answer or weren’t available for a child, the next family was called. Some people have eight months or more to prepare for a child. We responded to a phone call, went out and bought diapers and formula, and spent the next few months without sleep at night. Life was chaotic, but exciting and good.

Yesterday, I quietly honored the day I met Mr. Ornery. That’s his birthday to me. That’s the day I looked into his small eyes and stroked his soft skin and said “hello.” That’s the day I lifted him into my arms and breathed in the secret baby smell. That’s the day I introduced him to his older brother and said, “Look who just arrived.” That’s the day my heart jumped and the journey began. The wait. The stress. The worry that he wouldn’t stay with us, that a biological family member might claim him. The long nights and the never-knowing. The ache to claim him as my son and the reluctance to grab onto that hope.

Yet for this child, the family court judge was realistic. She had seen this too many times. She offered birth mom her chance and when she didn’t respond at all, the judge moved the process along so fast that the Adoption Day happened two days before his first birthday!

And on that day, I welcomed my second son a second time.

You see, there are Birthdays and Adoption Days and in foster parenting there are “Change of Goal” days and “Termination of Parental Rights” days, but really in the life of an adoptive parent, the important ones are the “I just met you” Days. That’s where the story begins.

I am so glad to have met you, Mr. Ornery.

Thank you for becoming my little boy.

 

Helping boys understand adoption….with a puppy!

“Five minutes, Mom. Only five minutes,” Super Tall Guy barked as we pulled into the parking lot. “I want to go home.” We had left ice hockey a few minutes early where he had spent the time playing on my cellphone, so it’s not like it had been a rough hour. But Super Tall sure wasn’t interested in a stop before we got home, especially when I was vague about “meeting someone for a minute.”

When I held up a tiny 4 pound puppy to the car window, Mitsy2eager squeals of delight erupted. I handed in one puppy and then another. National Adoption Day. In honor of my three adopted brothers, we brought home from a shelter two sister Cavadoodles. It probably would have been more peaceful for my life if that mother had had three girls in her litter, but we’ll just continue to work on “taking turns” and “being patient” and “sharing;” great skills that the boys rarely like to practice.

There’s something so sweet about bringing a little puppy into your life. The pooping on the floor is not so sweet, but the snuggling into your lap and bouncing along behind your feet as you move from room to room can’t be beat. It’s also sweet to watch the boys pick up little Mitsy and tuck into a blanket on the couch, slipping deep into the warmth and rhythm of a sleeping animal. They don’t know it yet, but they are forming a bond with this little lovebug that’s going to change their life. They are experiencing peace and joy and unconditional love. They are accepting a bit more responsibility, altering to a new schedule, sharing their “lovey” with neighbors and cousins, and making a loyal friend. They will likely never reflect on or recognize all these “gifts” that a pet brings (until they sit on a couch as a parent and write about adopting a pet), but they will feel it and that’s what’s important.

I’m hoping that adopting a little puppy and opening our heart and our home to a new life will also help the rough and tumble boys understand a bit more about their own adoption. That they might understand that a woman gave birth to them but was not able to continue to take care of them. That another woman accepted them into her arms and her world eagerly even though it meant big changes in her life. That they are loved beyond measure even when they poop in the house or don’t put the toilet seat up. That they started life in a “shelter” situation, but they can live and grow and flourish in this home with their siblings knowing that they will always be loved and welcomed. That a mother is a mother is a mother and a son is a son is a son. The bond we have will not be broken. Love remains forever, for always and no matter what. That’s what adoption means.

Of course, since I so clearly have failed at house-training three rambunctious boys, I have no idea why I think I’ll do any better with a teeny tiny fluffy dog. But, hey, we still have years and years to work on this!

 

“Owner Surrender”

F.G. is an 11 year old male brought into shelter by owner surrender. This male was in shelter and foster care from age 9 months to 5 years. Previously adopted by his third foster family, these new owners decided to release him in March. F.G. has recently been rehomed with one of his original foster families. Adoption is pending.

Sounds a bit like animals in pet shelters or when animals are “rehomed” through internet ads (I might be reading adopt-a-pet websites too much). What happens when it’s an “unwanted child”? Currently, in all but six states, “rehoming” a child is within the law. Adoptive parents can sign paperwork to transfer a child to another family without a lawyer or child protective services involvement. It’s not clear how often this takes place as the numbers can’t be tracked. (On the other hand, “disrupted adoptions” that occur before the adoption becomes finalized happen 10-20% of the time time.)

The First Guy has been visiting with my sister over the summer and living with her since right before our family vacation in August. He has had tremendous transition to a new family structure, new expectations and rules, new siblings, and a new school system. When asked by a therapist how he feels about his upcoming adoption, The First Guy replied, “I don’t care. I’ve been through it before.” Powerful words when an 11-year-old does not care to have a family. He does not know “forever.” It is lost and must be learned. Trust is broken and must be earned. Anger simmers and must be released. Hurt roils and must be forgiven. There is much work to be done. Yet, my sister has a heart full of love and forever is forever in this family.  This Friday, The First Guy will join his forever family.

It’s National Adoption Month. There are 108,000 children “legally free” for adoption and DTFA_2012WaitingChildren_v3A-1waiting for a “forever family” in shelters, in foster homes (some great and others not as ideal), in group homes (which are rarely ideal) and in facilities. We cannot let our future contractors, doctors, plumbers, lawyers, machinists, engineers, senators, and CEOs wallow childhood away without having a family. We cannot let children continue to “age out” of the “system” and face adulthood without family to celebrate their graduations, toast their weddings, or hold their grandchildren. Children need to know the power of love, the stability of love and the unconditional quality of love.

Consider adoption this month if you can. If you or your home is not “open” at this time, then find a way to help others make a difference. You might donate to nonprofits doing adoption work. Make a meal for a foster or new adoptive family. Advocate for changes in the systems that will help adoptions, such as tax breaks for adoptions or supporting legal fees. Do not turn your eyes and walk past. You can Be the Change in the world of a young child. Be or support a Forever Family.