10 Things you do Reflexively after Having Kids!

  1. Maintain at least one child-length distance from the galloping child in front of you as you go down stairs. It is nearly impossible to predict the sudden stop three steps from the bottom to pick up a crumb, fix a twisted sock, or oh wait! To jump off the step! Of course he was going to jump. (step 3, step 4, step 5….Quit it!!)
  2. Tense every muscle in your body to prepare for impact as a flailing child comes hurtling towards you at full speed. The possible damage is entirely unpredictable and best to assume defensive posture with wide stance and arms reflexively protecting sensitive body parts.
  3. Pick up the discarded bandaid, the teeny tiny Lego hand, the empty juice cup, the hallwaytoy blockade, the shrugged-off blankie as you walk by, all the while promising yourself that “next time” you will most certainly and definitely require the kid to do this menial clean-up. After all, it really is such an important part of their early learning. Next time.
  4. Avert one’s head at the slightest sound of air intake made by any child under age 5 (or even age 10 for that matter). You knew coming into this parenting assignment that you were going to get puked on, peed on, pooped on, but really….a full-force cough spewing droplets right into your own face? Just not right.
  5. Kiss a boo-boo. Any boo-boo. Knees. Toes. Fingers. Bellies. Foreheads. Even if it’s not your own child, because we all know the golden kiss heals all boo-boos (or at least temporarily stops the screech!).
  6. Nod and mumble “Uh, hmmm” repetitively to signal that you are paying “close” attention to the lengthy detailed story emitting from a child’s mouth even though you have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about (including sonorous descriptions read from Pokemon card collections). Clarifying questions are sometimes needed if you’ve become completely distracted, but notice a word or phrase indicating that you might actually need to know a bit of this information.
  7. Inspect all toilet seats as you approach. There really is no need for the cold wet discomfort of knowing you forgot this time. They are boys, after all.
  8. Run your fingers through a kid’s hair as they cuddle up against you. The soft curls. The fine strands. There’s nothing quite like it as you send messages of love through their body without saying a word.
  9. Jump sideways and backwards at the sight of a falling sippy cup. There is no greater pain than 8 ounces of milk inside a plastic projectile colliding with one’s big toe…unless, of course, you consider unexpectedly stepping on a Lego. It’s a nightmarish toss-up.
  10. Catch your kid’s eye in the rear-view mirror or before the school play or in the midst of a soccer game and flash them the “I-love-you” signal, letting the warm flush of love course through you as they grin back reception of your message.

Parenting is subtle. Day in and day out you usually don’t notice the patterns and reflexes that you’ve developed. Some are protective. Some are loving. All are because you’re inextricably tied to this delightful little being.

Savor the craziness. It doesn’t last forever.

“Legally Free For Adoption”

Her name is Jaleah. Her video on the PA Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network Facebook post caught my eye last week. I stared at her profile late into the night. She’s 15 years old, a beautiful girl, and is “legally free for adoption!” With the exclamation point! The phrase bothers me. It’s not like she’s a dog in a shelter (though she could very well be living in a shelter).

 

She’s a girl in the process of becoming a woman. She’s a dreamer envisioning her future. She’s a child craving a family, wishing for someone to sit in the audience to clap and scream her name as she bounces through her cheerleading routine. She’s a fragile, vulnerable teen looking for a family.

I’ve heard teens are hard. I’ve heard that teen girls can have so much “attitude” as they push and strain and yearn for independence. I’ve joked that I’m happy to have boys so that I won’t go through the teen girl “drama” phase.

And yet, it seems to me that this is such a crucial time in a child’s life. As they push and shove and strive for independence, they still cling to the comfort of knowing they are loved and that someone will always be there for them….no matter what they do.

But what about Jaleah?

Her profile weighed upon my heart this week. Jaleah and all the teens who are waiting for a family (almost 21,000 teens across the states in 2013). Maybe they pushed too far for independence and crossed the line they didn’t intend to and find themselves without that family they thought would always be there for them. Maybe they made a bad choice which led to another and then to another and before they knew it they were in over their heads and yet fighting the consequences so hard they couldn’t see the shovel digging deeper. Maybe it had nothing to do with them and their family imploded or fractured and they found themselves drifting in the hull of the “system” coasting further and further from the world they once knew.

Do you know that if no one steps up and says “I will” in front of a judge in a courtroom and becomes her Forever Family, Jaleah will never have someone cheering her along? She will stop her gymnastics and cheer activities without someone to drop her off and pick her up. She will walk onto the stage to receive her diploma and throw her mortar board into the air with lackluster enthusiasm. She will struggle with college applications and give up when it’s becomes daunting. She will walk down an aisle in white without a man in black beside her to bless her new union. She will welcome a new baby into the world and dream of what it would be like to have a beaming grandmother cradle her newborn. She will sit with her loneliness and think of what might have been. “Aging Out” of the foster care system without a home is too costly when these children have lower rates of high school graduation, higher rates of homelessness and unemployment, and greater engagement in the judicial system.

Without a family, Jaleah might wilt. Or she might beat the odds and chart a completely different course.

But it just seems that life would be a little bit nicer if she had a family.

She wouldn’t mind having younger siblings (or a dog) it says in her profile. She’d like to continue her activities, it says. She’s going to have tough days like everyone else. I read the profile over and over and I sit. I have a set of three who might enjoy a big sister. But my house is so full. My heart is so stretched. My hands are so laden. My schedule is so packed. My boys are so demanding.  What am I to do?

What I can do is pray for a family for Jaleah. And what I can do is continue to tell everyone I meet about the children who are waiting. (Click here!)

The children who are “legally free.” The children who desperately want something that seems so simple. Their commitment and parenting needs would be costly, but their gratefulness would be huge.

They need someone who loves.

Think about it.

Little boys do and will grow up

Once upon a time, there was a little boy. He was a mighty cute little boy. He had wispy blond hair and striking blue eyes. His face danced when he smiled. His lips curled into a perfect little “o” and he giggled the most delightful giggle. Oh, how he was loved by everyone who walked by and tickled his belly or stroked his hair.

But none could love him more than his mother. Yet with the fiercest of love, she also was the most generous with love – for she shared her little precious boy with me. He was four days old when we met and it’s been twenty-eight years of non-stop love. I babysat as often as I could. I used to wait at the entrance of the church for the family to arrive and I would snatch up that little bundle and carry him around on my hip as if he were my own. We were so attached, he and I. When he fell down and scraped up his knee, he’d walk past his mom and come to me kiss away the “boo-boo.” He’d cry when I left and quiet when I approached. We were so bonded, he and I.

When I left for college, I returned for his birthday parties. I spent the summers with him. I went to Disney with the family as his friend. As he entered high school, his mom would call me and say “He’s having a hard day, can you call him?” and I did. As he moved on to college and to his time in the service, we continued to talk and share and connect. When he took classes in the city, he would spend the night each week in our “toy room” and wrestle the boys in the morning before we all left on our separate ways for the day.

Any “normal” mother would have been threatened by this relationship, worried that her son had no love for her. But R.S. was no “normal” woman – she was amazing. She loved with abandon and taught her children to love as eagerly. I once asked her if she was concerned or “didn’t like” how close her son and I were in his early years. Her response was simple and profound – “the more people who love my son, and the more people he knows love him, the better he will be.”

And she was right. He did turn out to be fantastic. Oh, it was not easy. He had an abundance of stubbornness and strong-will. He did not care to sleep through the night for years. He had enough curiosity to rack up hundreds of dollars in damage. He had enough passion to punch a hole in the wall.  He had enough courage to serve his country. He had enough self-confidence to ask the girl of his dreams to marry him.RS Wedding

And yesterday he walked down the aisle with his beautiful wife and his face smiled and his eyes danced. In our firm embrace at the end of the pew, I told him how happy I was for him and how proud I was of him. I turned to walk out of the church with tears in my eyes – thinking, “there goes my little boy all grown up,” at the same moment that I turned to look behind me and …. “and there are my own little boys.”

There come along three stubborn, strong-willed, curious, active, and loving boys. There come three bundles of joy who have more energy in a millisecond than I have all day. There come three determined souls pushing against all the limits placed upon them, eager to engage the world, conquer the world, master their universe. There come three eager, yet anxious, boys calling out for reminders that they are loved – hugs and cuddles, kisses and “lovings.”

And I am reminded that it is my job to continue to seek out and build relationships with others who will be able to come alongside my sons. Who will love them. Who will model all of life redeemed for them. Who will cheer at their games and pick them up when they cry. Who will tell them that they are AWESOME and will correct them when they stray. For children need to know that there are at least five adults outside their family who love them so much, such that as life tosses them around, they can keep finding their feet again. I want that for my boys. There may not be too many “Nonni’s” in the world like I was, but there will be lots of love.

For one day, I will watch them take the hand of a beautiful lady and beam with joy as they walk through a gentle cloud of bubbles. And I will thank all who helped me shape the man. For little boys will grow up.

 

 

Same Day Surgery

Scanning the surgical waiting room, I know that every parent here has just done the same heart-wrenching thing I did….turned and walked away from one of the most precious things in their life….their child strapped to a narrow Operating Room bed.

I had my hand on his arm as his eyes closed from the “magic air” flowing through the mask on his face. “Sometimes they do just drift off so quietly like that,” the anesthesiologist offers. “Now kiss his hand good-bye.”  “No wait!” I wanted to scream ….from that tiny voice in the back of your heart that always wants to scream and warn “this may be the very last time you see your child. This may be the image forever burned into your soul. This could be it. Cherish the moment.” But the moment is fast. When you need just a few more seconds, they usher you out of the cold, efficient, sterile room as the surgeon, nurses and techs stand poised ready to spring into action – willing you to leave their domain.

The tech makes pleasant conversation as you join her to “follow the green squares on the floor” that lead to the waiting room. Her rattling tries to push your fears aside. You walk alongside, numb to her words. You check in with the waiting room attendant but can’t remember her instructions; you’re too busy memorizing your child’s “number” so you can jump up every few minutes to check the “board.” It doesn’t change. “11788: OR in.” You wait. “11788: OR in.” Wait.

A couple sits side by side, absorbed in their respective iPads. A pinkified two-year old skips circles around the man playing solitaire and another couple hiding in their magazines. Parents pop up and down to check the board. Phone calls beckon families back to the recovery rooms. Surgeons gather families to talk in the “consult” rooms. A constant hum, constant motion, constant and welcome distracting dance of people’s lives. I put my book down. I can’t read anyway. I wait.

On this day, there’s no greater joy than in seeing your baby’s face again – even if he is 4-foot-7 and 87 pounds. He’s still my baby. But the alligator tears that spill from his eyes at the sight of me pierce my heart. His bravado, his cool, his composure melts at my touch, at the warmth of my arms around him, and the gentle kiss. This is when the tongue really hurts and the tears flow. I search briefly for a tissue, but wipe the wetness away with his blanket. I ache to soothe him, but my words and touch are of little comfort. Within minutes, another bit of medication through the IV site sends him back into sleep. My baby snores. I stroke his face.

Knowing that he’s safe again, I sit back and cuddle into the warmed blanket offered by the gentle nurse. I pause to be thankful that my touches of the “health care system” have all fallen within “the normal kid stuff” – the tonsils, the stitches, the corneal abrasion, rashes, sprains. I can cope with this normal. Yet my heart aches for the families who sit in the waiting room for the ninth or tenth time for their child. For the parents who never hear the surgeons say, “It was all routine. No problems. He’ll be just fine.” For the ones who walk away from their “sleeping” child on that cold table and never hold them again.

There are deep dark fears in loving and parenting. There are deep dark moments that remind us to cherish each breath and each smile and even each time the boys hit each other. As my heart swirls and thunders and catches itself today, I look upon my baby and lift up a prayer for him….and for all the other families.

Let the images be burned into my soul forever.

I shall cherish the love.

Wasn’t expecting to be so verklempt this weekend

Every few weeks, the moment that Super Tall Guy stumbles into my room and climbs into my bed coincides with me getting into bed myself. I would sit and read and spend a few minutes counting the length of the pauses in his breathing. It never reached my doctor definition of “scary”….but the fact that he would just stop breathing never sat right with me.

So at the end of June, we spent the night at the sleep center with him hooked up to a tangle of wires and enough “goo” in his hair to send us for a buzz haircut the week after.  He was a good sport about it and proclaimed it as “fun.” I was exhausted for days after.

Super Tall Guy is a mouth-breather. He drooled until he was 4 and a half (who does that?). And, he has mild to moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

And, he’s scheduled to have his tonsils out in two days.

And so – I’m an emotional wreck. Because I’m a mom and I’m worried. Because I’m a doctor and I can tell you all the things that can and do go wrong. Because I’m a human and I’m good at getting stressed about the new and the foreign.

So I came into the weekend with this nagging in the back of my heart. After two nights of little sleep in preparation for a community yard sale, I spent ten hours yesterday encouraging deal-finders to spend more for the “kids at the crisis nursery.” Just as the sale was wrapping up, I took Super Tall Guy down to the church that had hosted his summer day camp. He was getting ready for his very first night away from me. He didn’t seem concerned at all. Huh. Not like his mom

I came back to the church for the 6 o’clock service to see Super Tall Guy sing and sign four songs at the start of the service….and I fell apart. Tears streamed down my face. They sang

“Savior, He can move the mountains

My God is mighty to save; He is mighty to save”

I was a wreck.

I wiped the tears. There in the front row was my little boy – the one that God had saved and was saving. The one that was born to a woman caught in the cycle of homelessness, prostitution and drugs. The one that was born so tiny and is growing so big. God saved him from the life that he was born into and moved him to a new life.

Anyone who knows Super Tall Guy knows this was a momentous weekend. He was chosen to be part of the kids’ choir and he accepted. He was invited to spend the night at the church and he did (AND he stayed dry ALL night!!). He sang and signed in front of 5 different groups of worshippers and he hates to be in front of people!!  He sat almost perfectly still (except for a bit of fiddling and nose booger-fishing) during five sessions of communion before singing again and begging me each time to “save me” some grape juice. He pulled it all together and kept it all together.

And then he fell asleep in the car….right after I asked him if I could drive past Gammie’s house and just keep driving for a bit so that he could sleep. He nodded.

He was emotionally and physically tired.

As was I.

I watched my baby boy grow up a little this weekend. I watched him do things I never thought he ever would this weekend.

It’s been a long journey.
There have been some pretty high mountains
And some pretty low valleys.

 

There have been battles
And rules drawn
And struggles
That have challenged us and caused heartaches and pain.

 

And yet, there are these huge moments of joy
There are these glimpses of grace
There are reasons for great pride

 

Those moments hold me
They remind me
They assure me that the long hours
And the physical and the emotional weariness of parenting

 

It’s all worth it
In the moments.

 

And so I wept in thankfulness that he was saved and that he came to me

And I wept in nervousness about this week and what the surgery holds.

And I wept in joy.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally writing Part 2: The Arrival of Mr. Ornery

There are three things that I remember about the arrival of Mr. Ornery (well, four if you include the fact that he wasn’t “ornery” from the beginning….it’s just that he’s earned the name from learning over time that he’s so stinkin’ cute that he tries to get away with things!).

1. You should never ask someone, “Are you sitting down?” unless you’re a bus driver about to take off and you genuinely want to make sure your passengers are safe. But if you’re my nate newsister and you’re calling my cell phone fifteen minutes before the start of my second-ever board meeting at my new job, I start panicking that something has happened to one of the two-year-olds at daycare! (At least our day care center has the courtesy to call and say, “Hi, this is KinderCare and the boys are fine. Now, could you please turn in that health physical form before our inspection next week!!)

My sister, however, asks, “Are you sitting down?” “Um, should I?” “Well, Super Tall Guy has a brother.” Then she paused. And it took a while….but then I got it! Oh, my goodness, a new baby was coming into the house!

2. Which leads me to “thing” number two about his arrival – I was about to go in to a 4-hour-long board meeting (oh, I’m sorry, a “strategic planning session”), and, I was just four months into the job and really worried about my role and what I was supposed to be doing. So when my sister said that they wanted us to pick up the baby in 15 minutes, I said that she should go (she was working from home at the time) and I’d get home as soon as I could. I have regretted that decision for 5 years now. I’m not entirely sure why….but it sort of feels like I missed his “birth.” I know that’s not the case, but I missed being “there” the very moment he joined our family and I mourn that in a way. And particularly because I have since figured out that my boss would have been fine with me taking off to go pick up my newest son….had we known all this looking back. I know it’s not that big of a deal in the scheme of things, but isn’t it funny what events really stand out to each of us in terms of wishing we had been present at that moment.

2.5 (I have trouble counting, so I like to sneak in numbers in my listings). Let me go back to that, “when do they want us to pick him up?” “In fifteen minutes, but I asked for an additional fifteen minutes to find the infant car seat.” Let’s think about this. The baby has been in the hospital for 2 full days. The mother is in the county jail (where children do NOT go), so we all know that the baby is not going home with her. And we know that the baby is going to foster care. And we know that the CYF agency is going to call the foster parents who have the sibling first in an attempt to keep siblings together. So, knowing all these facts….they still want to call FIFTEEN minutes before they would like this little tiny baby out of the hospital!?!? This is why I sometimes say that most people have around eight months to think about the fact that their family is about to expand….we have fifteen minutes!

3. The third thing that I remember about Mr. Ornery is walking into the house later that Friday afternoon and seeing Kathy holding him while sitting on the couch. I sat down beside her and she handed him over – my second son. A beautiful tiny little bundle with soft fine hair and a sweet sweet smell, and do you know the first thing I said to Kathy? “You put THAT outfit on him to bring him home??!?” Isn’t it funny – 5 years later, you could put all our newborn baby clothes of five boys in a pile and I could pick out that outfit. I see it in my mind still. Guess I didn’t like it much!.

Okay, one more thing that I remember about Mr. Ornery’s arrival. Kathy told me all the “facts” about the newborn….I vaguely remember that he was a little over 8 pounds (much heavier than the 6 pounds 4 oz of Super Tall Guy who rapidly grew into his enormous hands and feet). What stuck in my head, though, was that he was “white.” That made sense. He was fair and we knew the birth mother is white. A few days later, however, I took him in to the pediatrician’s for his first check-up. I told her the story of his arrival while she examined him. I was telling her how brown Super Tall is and that his brother is white….when she said, “Actually, I don’t think he is.” And that’s the moment I learned how to identify races in newborns (ahem, shading of the “privates”….if you’d like to know. So when they said the same thing when we picked up The Little Guy a couple years later, I just thought in my head, “I’ll see….wait till I get him home and undress him a little”). Of course, the skin coloring of the boys doesn’t matter to me at all. Their ethnicity doesn’t matter to me at all. The fact that they are beautiful and healthy boys… the fact that the brothers are growing up together….the fact that they are my sons…..that’s what matters to me. That’s what matters.

 

 

Glimpses of joy

As you might imagine, I “generally” try to only tell my boys the truth (for example, there is no Santa in our house, though Super Tall Guy still wants to believe in the Leprechaun due to the damage in his pre-k classroom thanks to a creative teacher). However, when I tuck them into bed and try to creep out of the room and they say, “stay.”  I reply, “I’ll come back in 5 minutes.”  They counter, “one minute.”  “Okay, one minute,” I’ll say….and nine out of ten times I do not come back and probably 99% of the time certainly don’t make it back within a minute. The other night, though, I tucked in Mr. Ornery, walked some dirty clothes downstairs and then came back up to “check on” the little guy. I bent over to his small form tucked into a sleeping bag and kissed his forehead.

A slow smile spread across his face as he acknowledged the warmth of my lips. And I thought – “joy” – that was it.

It could have been happiness, but I’m going to argue for joy. That at that very moment, Mr. Ornery knew of my indescribable intense love for him and he was filled with joy. (Or maybe he realized that his mother actually stuck to her word this time and that made him happy!)

These boys bring me joy. They bring me stuffy noses and colds. They bring me sleepy eyes and a tired body. They bring me incredible frustration and a wildly sharp temper. They bring me poopy diapers and Legos underfoot.  They bring me a range of emotions that I had no idea existed. And they bring me joy.

I have great joy in adopting The Little Guy this year and making him a permanent part of this wild family of boys. I see joy in the rare and yet incredibly touching ways in which IMG_3506the boys show each other brief moments of tender love.  I feel tremendous joy when the Little Guy whispers “I love you, Mommy” in the middle of the night when I tuck him in for the umpteenth time….melts my heart and makes me just a little less frustrated to have been called out of bed again and again.

And I know of just so much joy as we trim the Christmas tree, unwrapping porcelain ornaments of the boys over the years and we smile at “how cute” they were and how much The Little Guy looks just like Super Tall Guy when he was little.

We are not always a happy family….but we sure have many moments of “intense and ecstatic” joy.