Unpacking I love you

In the middle of the field, I stopped a running Micah, knelt down in front of him and tucked in his football shirt before replacing the flag belt around his waist. In that split second of not even thinking about it, I said “I love you.”

Sometimes I wonder if the boys know how much is packed into those 3 little words.

If they know that the “I” is me, a woman who has given up so much of what I used to know and do in order to become someone so completely new and different that sometimes I don’t even recognize myself. Do they know that responding to the word “Mommy” is second nature now, but at one point I actually struggled with having a new name….and a new identity. That I could tell them everything they ate today and the last time they brushed their teeth, but wouldn’t be able to answer many questions about myself.

Do they know that the “love” is so complete and so total – that when I say “forever, for always and no matter what” every night as I tuck them in bed…. that I actually mean that? And it doesn’t mean that I’m happy all the time or that I am at all pleased with them in those moments when they pee on the floor because they don’t want to clean up the toys….and yet I still love them. Sometimes Noah knows it – for when I was “displeased” with his behaviors at bedtime tonight and kept a frown on, he finally asked “are you ready to smile yet?” He knows the love is there….right there.

Can they understand that the “you” refers to the entire beautiful, delightful, energetic and winsome little boy that they are? That they are each unique and fantastic. That it is not based on anything except the fact that they are my Micah, Noah and Seth and that I love them.

motherhood

From Huffington Post

So when I look into Micah’s eyes and whisper “I love you,” I hold within me so much — he can’t even imagine the depth of the phrase. He doesn’t know that in the same moment, my brain is also saying “wow – this is hard.” That I’m wondering whether I’m doing the right thing.  Even in the small things – do I have him in the right sports at this time? Is he getting out of it what he needs to? How can I get him to stop fiddling with the mouth piece the entire time he’s on the field and maybe look up for a minute and see if he should be catching a ball.

And in the big things when I worry about what school they will go to? When I wonder if I’m balancing work and mothering at the right level? When I silently thank God that my children are so healthy as I walk through the hospital hallway ?

Yesterday was the party for Micah’s 7th birthday. A friend who has four boys all around the same age and I sat on the side of the sandbox and talked for a bit in between dodging flying scoops of sand and settling property-rights disputes. She said “sometimes I wonder if I had to do it all over again, would I?” I know those words and those thoughts. I know that mothering is my greatest challenge.  I know the struggle of trying to do what’s right for the boys and yet not knowing really what that is. I know the weariness.  I have also started to remind myself – shortly around the time that I’m reminding myself to be jello – that it should get better in another couple years – once they can all use words instead of intonation to get their points across, are able to handle personal hygiene without my assistance physically or in repetitive verbal prompts, and when 5 minutes of quiet within the house does not herald a serious sense of foreboding and impending doom.

Yes, I know the weariness.

Sometimes in my work in setting up a crisis nursery as a break for stressed families, I use an analogy that I recently heard – families in stressful situations are trying to get a sip of water out of a gushing fire hydrant. They want a simple drink, but life is coming at them so fast and so hard that there’s no chance of stabilizing, making a good decision, or reflecting on how to make the right changes and do the right thing.

Then I look up and see the fire hydrant right in front of me.

The beginning of “motherly love”

The pastor this morning asked us to think about that “moment” when you felt a mother’s love for your child. She started by describing the pregnancy and the feel of the baby within and the developing love as you bonded with this new creation. And then those first few moments after birth….and the first days and weeks when your love grew. The process is so very different when you are part of a system – the foster care system.

I was “in love” with Micah from the moment I first saw him in the hospital bassinet….barely listening to the social worker tell my sister and I about him. Yearning to pick him up as she briefly left to find a set of mismatched clothes to put on him. Staring at him in the back seat of the car….well, staring at the back of the carseat facing the other direction. Giddy about getting him home and holding him. In awe during the first few middle of the night feedings. I was in love.

But it was not a “mother’s love” – I was not his mother. There was a qualifier in front of the word.  “Foster.”  It was always there – “I am a foster mother.”  This is my “foster” child. We have “foster” children. It was not until Micah was 22 months old that I could jump over the “foster” word and leave it out altogether. Not until that moment in the court room with tears welling up in my eyes and my heart so full of love that I could fully claim to be a mother….that I could claim him as my son.

So that love was a journey….a push and pull….an embracing of the little boy and a slight holding back in fear and worry that it might not work out….that he might return to his biological mother. Yet I had a sense with him that it was almost 100% okay to love him. Similarly, it seemed so certain with Noah. He was two days shy of his first birthday when I was told that I was his mother, though the love had blossomed long before then.

And then there was Seth. Seth began with a phone call that asked if I was ready to “adopt another?”  I honestly wasn’t prepared to answer that within the 15 minutes that they wanted a call-back. I knew at that time that I was struggling with Micah’s behaviors. That Noah was just embarking on his two-year independence regime. That I was ramping up work on a new nonprofit organization. It was a busy time. Yet….and yet…Seth was blood brother to the boys. My answer was “yes to the fostering… time will tell about adoption.”

Two days after picking him up from the hospital, we went on vacation to the beach. I spent the week bonding with him – shocked and nervous about another boy. Trying to convince myself that this would and could work out. By the end of the week I was ready to be mother to another. And….a letter sat in our mailbox waiting for us to come home. A letter from a man in prison professing his love for his newborn son. Happy that he had a home to stay in until his father would be free to come get him. Struck down, I cried.

For months I received at least weekly letters and drawings from the alleged father. For months I tried to offer Seth a mother’s love while trying to protect my heart from the pain that was coming. For months I tried to talk to Micah about this “father” who would take Seth someday. Months and months (8 months and 6 days to be exact)….until the Not the daddypaternity testing.  We celebrated with a cake and my heart began to take away a brick or two, a shingle, a siding…open up some space…and let the mother love take hold.

 

 

  • To love is a very precious thing.
  • To become a mother is a very difficult journey.
  • To know of motherly love is very ephemeral
  • It is only in moments that you might touch it
  • Moments when you kiss the head of the sleeping child on your chest in security and comfort
  • Moments when you rejoice in the first touchdown or goal, heart welling with pride
  • Moments when you point to an adult and tell your 5-year-old “Someday, boy, you can be just like him. You can do whatever you want to do,” knowing of the dreams you have
  • Moments when you realize they are the air that you breathe, the last thought before you sleep, the face you delight in in the morning.
  • Cherished, loved, (entirely frustrating and maddening at times) and so delightfully mine.

My three sons…(minus the “foster”).

Happy Mother’s Day!

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)

Surprise…again

I guess kids should surprise you.  I mean, why wouldn’t they?  They are their own little independent selves, interacting with a world from the perspective of adult knees and trying to make sense out of the chaos of noise, lights, movement and touch that surrounds them constantly.

They are naturally built to focus in on certain things.  They know to look at the human face to read emotion. They know to pay attention when enumeration begins, but that it’s possible to ignore for quite some time the word that’s supposed to signify their identity (ie, the eldest responds to “One….” much faster than he answers to “Micah….”).  They know that if they crawl into bed at 2 am and say they’re “scared,” the warm body there will accept them and drape an arm over them in protection. They know that the relationship between a mother and her child is vital to the child’s survival and they will attempt to repair it whenever needed.

But they also seem to know that it’s pretty unconditional – and that relationship can be pushed pretty far and stretched out and pulled and yanked… and yet the coil will still spring back. So my kids love to check the pull of this coil.  They love to see how loudly they can screech as they chase each other around the loop of the house.  They love to test how much water is too much water out of the bathtub as they splash gleefully. They like to explore the effects of cheerios flying through the air and scattering upon the carpet and then eating them up “like doggies.” They like to measure how frequently the word “no” can be said before it is followed by a long tirade of how and why “no means no,” or a distinct rise in the ending tone of the word, or a movement of a large parent towards them to block their original goal.

It still surprises me, though, when Micah has one of his really big blow-outs. Like this afternoon, when we decided to get into the car and go someplace fun, but he gets upset and starts the fight with removing his seatbelt as we’re driving 50 mph. This calls for an immediate pull off the road and a discussion on safety….and yet it’s followed by repeated hitting of his brother, taking off the seatbelt and throwing things in the car.  Each time, I pull over and remove him from the car.  I breathe deeply.  I count to 10. I try to remember all those tips from numerous parenting books (none of which has mentioned specifically how to handle a size 2 boy shoe thrown at the back of one’s head while driving…hmmm….). We work ourselves up to 4 hours of time-out upstairs by the time we’ve spent 40 minutes in and out of the car… going nowhere. I feel bad for the other two in the car. And when Micah and I finally talk about it later and I ask “why,” he says, “my brain tells me to be bad.”  Okay – what do I say to that?

Gosh, I’m glad he doesn’t surprise me too often with this. But it does stop me in my tracks. I start to wonder what’s going on…and if I’m supposed to be doing something else with him. Am I working too hard and ignoring my kids? Should we go back to therapy? Does this kid need something else? What sparked all that? Is this something I’m triggering or continuing? Is he starting to react to the stress of the craziness that is hitting our lives recently?tracks in the tub

I prefer the surprise of being called to “look what we did!” and finding car tracks encircling the bathtub. And sharing the joy of creating something new out of connecting toys. And smiling at the surprise of making a tunnel under a pile of snow. And giggling together over a video of funny cat tricks. I so often hear the phrase “oh, the joys of parenting” and there are many joys for sure, but the sarcastic tone that sometimes accompanies that phrase is also very true some times. There are some “joys” that are hard to handle. But the coil always snaps back into place….

It is a very tight coil built of the strongest material ever – love.

(8:00 pm addendum: Now I’m wondering if today’s blow-up was a harbinger of illness. Micah fell asleep on the couch at 6 after complaining of “being cold” which he never is and a headache. Sigh. Gotta love these viral-infested little guys!)

Never Violence

“The following story was written by Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish author best known for her “Pippi Longstocking'” books. I’d like to share it with you.

When I was 20 years old, I met an old pastor’s wife who told me when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking – the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with.

The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock you can throw at me.”

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view; that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy onto her lap and they both cried.

Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever, never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because violence begins in the nursery.

Thought for the day: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”  (Mahatma Gandhi)”

I am working at least 15-20 hours a week on trying to establish a non-profit crisis nursery in Pittsburgh (mostly late into the night after the boys are tucked into beds….and disrupted almost nightly by Micah coming down to find me so that I can “retuck” him into MY bed!).  One of the women on my Executive Team found the story above and shared it with the crisis nursery team yesterday.

When I read it last week, I was so touched and moved by the power of the message, that I spoke to the team further, my eyes glistening with passion.  It is important that we all remember never to use violence with children, no matter which way it is done (words, hands, switches, rocks).  Yet the rock can also be viewed in a positive light – it is the building block, the foundation, upon which a new idea like a crisis nursery can be built.

I’m also reminded of a quote by Albert Schweitzer, “Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly, even if they roll a few stones upon it.”  I paraphrase this as, whenever we are working on a big project for the good of others, there will likely be boulders in our way and we must find ways to overcome them and move on.  We are not guaranteed an easy work in this world.

Charlie, the pet rock

Charlie, the pet rock

And, of course, if you add “googley” eyes to a rock (and maybe a splash of color), then the rock becomes a pet capable of receiving loving caresses from young boys as they carry Charlie around the house.  Fortunately, Charlie makes very few messes and has an insignificant food budget.

I took a box of rocks of all shapes and sizes to the group so that the team members could choose one if they like. Some did and some didn’t.  I don’t know what symbolism the rock will hold for them today, tomorrow or next year.

But I do know that the one I chose is in the shape of a heart (using your imagination)

My heart rock
My heart rock

and it’s not at all perfect (just like me), but it sits on my desk – a symbol of the heart of my boys and my very important job to love them with all my heart and protect them with all my strength.