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!

“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.

 

Do not “Play” with adoption

The First Guy has been abandoned by four “mothers” and he has yet to reach his 11th birthday. And the last woman is the one who promised to “love and hold” him forever. You know that term – a “Forever Family” – that’s what adoptive families are supposed to be.

When The First Guy was nine months old, he was placed with his paternal aunt as his mother was running from the drug gangs. She decided after three months that she couldn’t care for an active toddler given her medical conditions and her own children. He came to our house where he fell in love with my sister – the woman he bonded with – the woman he came to believe was his mother. And yet, that’s not how the “system” works. He was returned to his biological mother for a few months until he came back into care with us at age 3 and with his 18-month old sister. Once again, his mother seemed to stabilize so he was sent home until at age 5 he was “too much to handle” and was admitted to the mental health ward. After a crazy couple weeks, the judge ruled he needed to be in a “therapeutic foster” home rather than with the woman he considered to be his mother. He lived in this new foster home, was adopted by the family, and last week was abandoned to a group home.

He’s ten. His aunt gave up on him. His biological mother couldn’t handle him. From his perspective, my sister left him (against every bone in her body but by court order) and then his forever family visited him in the group home and told him, “I’m not taking you out of here.”

You do not play with adoption. Adoption is a choice. Adoption is a commitment to a child. Adoption is a responsibility. Adoption is a heart-ache and a joy. A loss and renewal. It is messy and difficult sometimes.

But adoption matters

To the child.

Did you know that about 5 percent of adoptive parents change their mind and “rehome” the child? It’s referred to as a “disruption” (I get them all day long… “Mommy, can I have…?” “Mom, where is my…?”) It is more common with children adopted from foreign countries or at older ages. It is a combination of families not being prepared enough before adoption and not having enough support services when trouble arises after adoption. And there’s a disturbing underground aspect to it as well as investigated by Reuters.

Let me tell you – there have been some hard days since my first adoption. That moment in the court room when I pledged to love and hold this child as my own – “as if he was my biological offspring” – was an incredibly solemn moment. It sunk into my heart. I held it in my hands. Tears streamed from my eyes as I looked into the face of Super Tall Guy and said, “Yes, I promise.”

I promise to hold you when the world gets too big and the emotions rage against the confines of your body. I promise to kiss away the bloody knees and put you back on the bike. I promise to clean up after you, make you dinner, nag you until the homework is done. I promise to forgive you when you hurt, to grant justice and mercy, to mete out consequences as needed and follow all with the reminder of my love.

When I whisper “always and forever and no matter what” every night with a kiss, I mean it. My promise is sealed within my soul.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy's wooden rocking horse.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy’s wooden rocking horse.

You do not play with adoption. Treat it with respect. Children actually are not as resilient as we’d like to pretend. We only say that to make ourselves feel better. To erase our own guilt. To comfort ourselves that they will be okay – they’ll “get over” being abandoned.

Adopt because the child needs you and you need him. Take the solemn vow. Hold it in your heart. Seek help and resources when you need it. I will not judge. I know there are situations more complicated than my own and that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are so difficult to parent and to love. But I also know that we have witnessed the damage of breaking a child’s attachment and of moving them around. We have cried and we have held on to hope. We know the focus needs to be “what is best for the child?”

The First Guy started to visit my sister this weekend. He may once again become part of our family – this time forever. We are definitely open for prayers and wisdom. This would be a whole new journey.

Always, forever and no matter what.

 

The moments of parenting “expensive” boys!

I sat beside him crying. “I can’t keep doing this,” I said over and over. I’m sure it was lost on him, but the feelings just become so huge and overwhelming to me. Okay….so it’s just a window – I say days later. Yes, it’s the stained glass window that he kicked out – recently replaced and huge –  but it’s still just a window, and just the corner of the window.  Yes, it’s another expense (you know, in addition to the TVs he has destroyed), stained glassbut it’s still just a window. It will cost about $1000 to take it out and back to the store to replace the corner and bring it back, but it’s still just a window.

And yes, it’s another marker of  his inability to control his anger. But really, who am I to judge? Sometimes (a lot…) I don’t control my anger either and I’m 36 years older than him.

Sometimes though it all just feels so “Big” – that suddenly everything is crumbling – that my son has enough “problems” to be asked to leave a school (okay, so a private school that worries they can’t meet his “needs”…); that I’m an awful parent who can’t figure out how to stop the “antecedents” and triggers of anger explosions in my kid in time to diffuse the situation; that we’re never going to get anywhere.

You ever sink into this abyss?

So deep that you drive sub-consciously to Grandma’s house with the youngest child while tears stream down the cheeks?

And you remember sitting down on a date the other week and pausing at the question, “Do you ever regret it?” Tough question. Do I regret adopting three boys? My honest answer – “It’s pretty hard sometimes. But I don’t regret it. The boys need a mother to love them and I do think that the brothers need to be together.” And admittedly, I need them to bring depth and joy to my life.

But driving away from my angry and now grounded son, my tears return to that question. Do I regret it?  It certainly has been harder than I could ever have imagined. My mind briefly recalls reading about “reversed adoptions”…. “failed adoptions.” I remember being appalled (especially as it would completely undermine a kid’s sense of belonging and family and hope) and yet I think I can understand the draw to find an “easy” solution to the complicated mess called parenting.

Sometimes it’s easy to pretend that this parenting is all fun and games. It’s the cheesy Facebook photos. It’s the awesome crafty Pinterest project. It’s the hugs and kisses and gentle sleeping snores of tuckered bodies. It’s the fluff and love. But it’s actually so much more than that.

I talked to a mother of a two-week old last week in for a pediatric check-up. She lamented, “Everyone keeps saying ‘enjoy these wonderful moments,’ but I’m not really feeling it. What’s wrong?” I smile graciously, shaking my head, “Those moments – those moments are rare. So very rare. They will happen, so grab them and hold them in your heart. Because the rest of the moments range from mundane to pretty darn hard to down-right heart-wrenching horrific. But the good moments are just fantastic.”

The other morning the moody, grumpy, stained-glass-window kicking Super Tall Guy rolled over before completely waking and said, “I love you, Mom.”IMG_7706

A moment.

Grabbed.

Held.

Peace.

To us all.

No regrets.

 

How I made a Total Stranger Cry

He sat across from me at the optical store. We discussed new glasses and lenses.

He suggested progressive lenses.

I quipped that I wasn’t patient enough to wait for changing lenses.

He chuckled.

We chatted.

I suggested a new look.

He suggested the extended warrantee.

I agreed – “You never know what the boys will do!”

And then there I was explaining the foster care system to Brian, a young man with long brown hair, dark glasses and a curious mind.

“Yes,” I said, “they call and ask us to pick up a baby in 15 minutes.”

“It’s been so important to me to keep the brothers together.”

“We didn’t expect to be adopting, but now my sister and I have such a beautiful blended and crazy family.”

“Do you know that some kids ‘age out’ of the foster care system? They go through life, never having a ‘true’ family – no one to cheer at graduation, no one to walk them down the aisle, no one at Christmas….it hurts my heart. I would take many more if I could.”

“Do you know you can go on a local news website – click on a link and find photos of kids waiting for a family? Yes, almost like an animal shelter…sadly…”

His eyes welled up.waitingWP

He wiped a tear.

He paused.

“Wow,” he said, “I had no idea….about any of this.”

November is National Adoption Month.

Today is National Adoption Day.

Children are waiting.

 

We adopted a girl!

Her name is Roxy.

She is fourteen pounds.

A Bichon-Terrier mix who is five years old, little and very sweet.

(Gosh….that didn’t take too long in between my weekly posts….)

Super Tall Guy picked out a pink collar at the shelter,“since she’s a girl.” I was impressed by his thoughtfulness, and she does actually look cuter with a splash of color.

First impressions:

Super Tall Guy – very happy to the point of not really knowing what to do (and misbehaving at summer camp – which he attributes to being excited about getting a dog to which I say “baloney. You better behave tomorrow” – cuz that’s a helpful threat.) “I’m so excited we have a Roxy day one2dog! Finally! And in a couple years we can get a bigger dog, like a black lab, and then we’ll have two dogs!” “I’ll clean up the poop in the morning and The Flipper gets to do the afternoon one!”

The Flipper – thrilled and trying to figure out how to “share” this new joy as both of the older boys would like to be “the first” at everything – feeding her, walking her, cuddling up with her to read books.  “Can’t believe we finally got a dog. I love my dog,” as he dances around the room.

Mr. Ornery – impartial and doesn’t really care to be the first to do anything. But since this seems to be the best thing since chocolate milk was introduced into the house, he’s attempting to appear interested. – “Look, she knows me already, she licked my hand”

Mr. Trouble (with a capital T) – senses possible competition for the “Capital T” title and is determined to maintain his distinguished honor. Thus, within a hour, he has kicked over the water dish, opened and closed the crate door incessantly, tried to feed her people food, and opened the doors to rooms we don’t want the dog in.  It’s only the beginning…it’s only the beginning. Kathy already called the dog by Mr. Trouble’s name – a sure sign that this is going to be an interesting experience.

The Little Guy – semi-terrified and semi-fascinated. It’s an approach-withdrawal dance every single encounter. “Can I pet her?”-“Ah, Mommy pick me up!!!”  The key is that Roxy is half his body weight, so I’m hoping he’ll get comfortable with her soon, compared to the black lab at a friend’s house this weekend that left The Little Guy quaking and frozen in place any time the lab walked within 5 feet of him!

First reactions from friends:

“Are you nuts?!?”

“Do you need more chaos?!?”

“Aw….she’s cute.” (that’s if I text them a photo)

“Man, you guys just have ‘adoptive’ hearts, don’t you? If it needs love and a home, you’ll take ’em.”

“Awww!! Precious!!” (also to a photo)

“Congratulations”

“Are you serious?!?”

“Don’t forget, dogs get up just as early as kids to go out to pee!! LOL!” (to which I replied, “well, that’s just going to be the sister’s job then!” and I’m sure early-bird Super Tall Guy will be awake at 5:30 tomorrow to check on Roxy’s need to go out!)

Yep – that about sums up the responses from the first people who have heard. I’m sure it’s going to be a repetition of the above as the news spreads.

As if the kids don’t provide me with enough “writing material”….