Saturday, November 15, 2014

He Has Been My Son For A Year.

It's been almost a year since the finalization of Kaleb's adoption.  Almost a year ago, I sat in front of the judge (it was so weird that we were all sitting, by the way) and promised to accept him as my own.  For better or for worse, 'til death do us part....  Wait, those are the wrong vows.  But, you get the point.  In a lot of ways, it is more sacred than marriage vows.  Marriage vows can be broken.  Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's not.  But, they can be.  Not the same with adoption.  Yeah, there have been cases.  The fact that this is not Kaleb's first adoption rodeo is evidence of that.  But, when we adopted him, that was it.  I knew that then and I know that now.  I wish that I could say that it's been a magical year, that I've sat in awe and marveled at his amazingness, and thought about how lucky I am to be his mom.  But, I would be lying.  I hate to think that and I hate to say that.  But, there is that Emily honesty for you.  Here is that honesty again.  I had no idea what I was getting into.

I had no idea how frustrating teenagers can be.  And, I had no idea how much I would suck at it.  Because when he isn't doing something to frustrate me; I'm ready and willing (it would seem) to do something that frustrates him.  We clash. 

One of my problems is that I build up things in my head.  I have a vision in my head of how things should be and when they aren't, I'm heartbroken.  (This sounds familiar.  I apologize now if I've already said that in a previous post! ha)   So, you've got me building things up and him being a teenager who is into something one moment and then not the next.  It's hard.

Along the way, I basically stopped trying.  I used to drag him along on my outings because I felt strongly that we should all be together.  Now, I give him an option and focus on my kids who want to be there.  Or, who are we kidding, they have to be there; because they're still young enough to drag around.  They just go with the flow, we taught them that.

You don't have to tell me that this is not the right away to do things.  Or maybe it is. I don't know. Maybe it's ok to live slightly separate lives because, after all, he is a teenager.  And, what teenager wants to hang out with his family all of the time?  But, that's the thing, I thought that we would be different.  We are the Parkers, after all.  Or maybe it's good that we are now typical, who knows.

I have had many thoughts over the last year.  Some of them, I won't admit.  I have had so much guilt over not feeling how I want to feel and such anger that it's not how I thought it would be.  Yep, I have struggled.

But, I've also come to terms with a few things.  It's really hard adopting a teenager.  It really is.  But, it's also really important that there are people willing to do so.  But, yeah, it's really hard.  You don't start with a foundation.  You don't have the pre-existing bond from the early years.  You don't have all those memories to reassure you that you'll get through all of the drama and find your way out of the other side.  You have a teenager with his teenage issues and his deeply established foster care scars and his habits that he picked up there, which you can't begin to understand.  And, after a while, you just wish that he'd get over it.  And, then you hate yourself for thinking that because it's so unfair. 

And, he's got me.  Emotional, moody me.  I see him in the mornings when I am groggy and in the late afternoons when he gets home from school or I get home from the store and I am grumpy and stressed because I am worrying about homework and dinner.  And, I don't act as happy to see him as I should.  And, I hate myself for that.  The weekends are better, but we hardly ever do anything because it's super hard to come up with something that appeals to ages: 6, 7, 11, and 15.  Well, something that doesn't require a lot of money, anyway.  And, news to no one here, we don't have a lot of that.  (Second disclaimer!  We're ok, though.  Just adjusting to one income...)  So, he usually goes out to play with his friends and I hang out with the younger three.  Or, like today, I made plans to take us all to a Doctor Who micro-con, downtown.  Free and festive!  But, he doesn't want to go.  (How can you not want to go????  It's Doctor Who!) So, we are back where we started.  He'll go play with his friends and I'll hang out with the younger three. 

It's not always that way.  We did successfully play one whole game of Jenga, last weekend.  Then, it dissolved into building and then Dominos.  There were a full 20 minutes-ish where they were all enjoying themselves!!  Including me! 

Forgive me if I sound dramatic or harsh or unreasonable.  I've had to figure it out along the way.  I don't know what's normal or what's best.  I don't know if he's happy.  And, I don't want to ask him.  I'm pretty sure that he'd say no, but, hopefully, for no other reason than the fact that teenagers are not, generally, happy. 

So, no, it's not magical.  It's not easy.  I feel lost and confused.  And, I feel like I am not the mom that I want to be.  And, I feel like I have lost my silliness that made me, well, me. 

That's just not ok. 

I've had to forgive myself for my feelings.  And, I've had to accept that it's ok that it's different.  Of course, it is.  Adopting a teenager is a completely different scenario than adopting young children.  It's easier to adopt young children.  Maybe that's ok.

So, here we are, almost a year later, and he and Antwan have been happily playing the xbox for....well, for how ever long it just took me to write this.  So, that's nice. :)  In a few minutes, someone might get mad at someone.  Maybe it will be me.  And, that won't be so nice.  But, that's life.  Apparently.

It's occurs to me now that I can spin this into a National Adoption Month post!  So, here we go!

So, here we are in National Adoption Month... ;)   And, there are still a whole bunch of kids who need homes.  Seriously.  And, a lot of them are teenagers. 

Life after adopting a teenager will be harder than you think.  If I realized that, going in, maybe it would've been easier for me.  Hard to say.  Heck, life after adopting a child will be harder than you think.  With the possible exception of an infant.  It has been amazing getting to raise Lizzie from almost day one and getting to see my personality in her.  And, knowing that she has never spent a day not feeling loved, once she got to us.  That's just awesome.  It pains me that I didn't see William or Kaleb take their first steps. And, when William was in the hospital, super sick from Pneumonia; no one was there to comfort him.  But, the thing that I always go back to.  Is Lizzie more deserving of love or a family than her brothers?  Of course not.  Has this year of trying to figure out what in the world to do with Kaleb (as he thought the same thing about me) proven that he shouldn't have a family, our family?  Yeah, no. 

So, here's my advice to the world and to me from a year-ish ago.  Consider adopting an older child.  But, do your research.  Don't expect to feel the same way about a completely different situation.  Don't expect it to be just as easy as a younger child.  Don't expect him (or any of them) to be anything other than who they are.  (Although, it's still ok to teach them right and wrong and try to un-do bad habits.  You are the parent, after all.)  Most of all, forgive yourself and forgive him.  And, just love.  Keep loving.  Love when you want to yell. Love when you want to strangle.  And, love when you want to cry.  Keep loving and keep trying.

Hey, that's good advice!  Sounds like I have some work to do.  ;)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Does She Have Any Real Kids?

I got a text from a friend who saw us in the parent drop-off line.  She was saying how they were looking at our Star Wars stick family on the back of the van and naming the kids.  Antwan had slipped their mind.  She also mentioned that her daughter had asked if we had any "real" kids.  (Thud.)  She went on to say that she embarked on a pre-drop off life lesson speech and reminded her that she, herself, was in a "real" family. 

Now, since I had changed cell phones and not saved my contacts, I was confused.  And sad.  I was sad that this child innocently saw my kids as not real, in a way.  That's when I started writing a blog post in my head! ;)   And, I was confused by her reference to her own family.  But, her follow-up response cleared it up. 

The text was from, as I call her, the other transracial adopter in our area.  She and I are very different people.  I doubt that I'd drag her to a sci-fi convention in a costume, but I definitely like her.  And, it sure is nice to have someone else around here who gets it. 

So, I then understood why she reminded her daughter that her family was "real."  But, I also realized that, on some level, this little girl was defining herself that way.  And, that breaks my heart. 

Why do adoptive families/adoptees get sensitive about terminology?  That's why.  It's sad and frustrating that society perceives adopted families as less than real.  It's horrible that a child would think of herself that way.

So, what is real?

Well, google says....

adjective: real; comparative adjective: realer; superlative adjective: realest
  1. 1.
    actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.
    "Julius Caesar was a real person"
    synonyms:actual, nonfictional, factual, real-life; More
    "is she a fictional character or a real person?"
    • used to emphasize the significance or seriousness of a situation or circumstance.
      "there is a real danger of civil war"
    • Philosophy
      relating to something as it is, not merely as it may be described or distinguished.
  2. 2.
    (of a substance or thing) not imitation or artificial; genuine.
    "the earring was presumably real gold"
    synonyms:genuine, authentic, bona fide; More

    "tears of real grief"

    antonyms:imaginary, fake, false, feigned
    • true or actual.
      "his real name is James"
      synonyms:true, actual
      "my real name"
    • (of a person or thing) rightly so called; proper.
      "he's my idea of a real man"
      synonyms:proper, true;
      "a real man"
North Americaninformal
adverb: real
  1. 1.
    really; very.
    "my head hurts real bad"
Well, "my head hurt real bad," this morning, when Antwan and Lizzie talked loudly and excitedly when I stumbled out of my bedroom.  That was definitely real.   I didn't imagine that. 
We live together, love together, fight together, and thrive together.   (I know, that was a little cheesy, but you get the idea.)
We are a real family.  We are "actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed." 
A judge slammed his gavel after we filled out a lot of paperwork, got finger prints, and impressed case workers.  He made us legal family.  He gave us the same legal rights that other families have.  He made their names "Parker."  And, he assured us that nobody could come and take them away because they decided that another living situation might be better for them.  He gave me the right to authorize whatever medical treatment that I saw fit for my kids without having to show a red folder or explain who I was.  But, did he make us a real family?  Not really.

That just is.

What's a real family?  Is it shared biology or shared blood and DNA?   Yes and no.  If I slit my wrist and slit my children's wrists and tied them together like they do in a traditional Scottish wedding (Yes, I've been watching too much "Outlander."), we'd be sharing more blood than we are now.  Would it be more real?  Not really, I'd just be in a lot of legal trouble... ;)

Is it carrying a child inside you and experiencing the miracle of, but not altogether pleasant, experience of childbirth?  Yes and no.
Is it unconditional love?  Loyalty?  Security?  Permanent?   Is it a safe haven?  A place to go home for the holidays?  A place to be the real you? Yep!
There was even a time when it messed with my head a little.  So, I can see why it would confuse others.  The randomness of how we became a family.  The fact that they are our kids because the judge said so is just bizarre, in a way.  The idea that if a case worker didn't happen to see our home study or didn't like us or the boys didn't like us, then we could have ended up with different kids; it's weird.  It's real, but it's random.
But, then I thought about it. 
If you believe that it's all random,  then, sure, it really is confusing.  But, if you believe that things happen for a reason like we do, then you'll agree that it's not random at all.  You'll agree that we are all supposed to be together.  That the universe made sure that the judge slammed his gavel and that the case workers liked us.  That the universe brought our kids to us as definitively as it brought biological children to their biological parents.  Because we belong together and we are meant to be a real family. 

On the day that we officially adopted William and Antwan, we had the opportunity to say a few words.  When it was Brian's turn to explain why we wanted to adopt them, he said many wonderful things.  But, my favorite statement he made was "These are my sons, to the exclusion of any others."  Meaning, it's not random at all.  They are supposed to be ours.  They were always supposed to be ours.

So, to my friend's daughter who might have thought of herself as less than real, in some moments; you are wrong.  (But, in the best way, possible.)  You are their real daughter and you are part of a real family. It is "genuine."  It is "true."  It is real.  Please, believe that.  And, in answer to your question, we do have real kids and their names are Kaleb, William, Antwan, and Elizabeth.   We are their real parents and they are really lovable, exhausting, challenging, adorable, and ours.  Really, really, ours.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Do You Teach Someone Who Doesn't Want To Be Taught?

I think that I've figured out one of the main issues with Kaleb and me. 

When you have kids, one of your biggest obligations is to teach them how to effectively live in this world.  How to be a good person.  How to cope with those that aren't.  From the beginning, we've taught Lizzie, Antwan, and William how to consider people's feelings, respond kindly, and do the right thing.  For the most part, it's worked. 

When Lizzie tells Antwan something, he will respond with "That's cool, Lizzie."  (Instead of ignoring or announcing that he knew the information already.)  When he doesn't like something that I give him to eat, he will say, "Thank you for making this Mommy, I just don't really like it.  (Instead of crying and shoving it away.)   I'm most proud of that one because Antwan is like me when hungry.  Awful. ;)  William had lunch with a student with Autism at school, last week, when the other kids shunned him.  (There are no words for how proud this makes me.)

They are not perfect, but they honestly try to be good people.  Most of the time... ;)

Then, there's Kaleb.  Now, I'm not saying that he's a bad person.  Far from it.  But, he's certainly not looking to be taught the ways of the world from his loving mom and dad.  He thinks he knows better than Brian and he thinks that I'm a total idiot.

Why do I think that he thinks that I'm an idiot?  Here's why.

He was watching Top Gear.  They were pretending to be bank robbers and put panty hose over their heads.  Kaleb asked, "Why did they put panty hose on their heads?"

Now, I was in the middle of something, something stressful, and I took the low road and said, wearily, "I don't know."

At this point, Kaleb turned around, looked, and said, "Oh, I thought you were, Daddy.  It's ok, Mommy, I didn't expect you to know."

The worst part was that he wasn't being rude.  He was just being sincere. 

Of course, I did know and I'm not an idiot.  But, that is what he thinks.

I'm told that this is normal.  But, it kind of sucks.

So, as we try to teach Kaleb how to live in this world, be a good person, and everything else; he just tries to prove us wrong.  Because he knows better.  Sometimes, I continue to argue my point.  And, sometimes, I give up.  But, when I give up, I know that means that I'm doing him a disservice.  He is going to struggle in the world and he's going to teach the younger three bad habits.

It's stuff like this.

On the way home from band.

Kaleb -"People shouldn't ask me questions if they don't want me to tell them the truth.  A girl sat by me and asked me who was prettier.  Her or another girl."

Me - "Please tell me that you didn't say the other girl."

Kaleb - "Yeah, she's prettier. I'm not going to lie."

This led to yet another conversation about the difference between lying and saving people's feelings.  (We've had this conversation, each time that one of his little brothers or sister have asked him a question like "Do you like my new socks?")  This came with the added topic of how insecure teenage girls are.  Because, they really, really are.  I would know.

He just kept saying, "She shouldn't have asked me.  She shouldn't have asked me."

Sigh.  I sigh as I write, I sighed as I talked.

Then, there's our conversation, last night, about sharing his items in the video game.  Yes, he got to the special place in the game world, first, and, yes, that means that he got everything for himself; but the right thing to do is share.  Don't forget that you're playing with younger kids.  (It's not fair!  It's not fair!  I got them first.  I share all the time.)

"Be the bigger person."

"Ok, so I'm a bad person!"

"I didn't say that."

"You said, be a good person!"

"No, I said, be the bigger person."

I think that's when he left the room. 


He does do nice things.  He does share.  He, sometimes, goes along with my directions like saying "That's cool" when Lizzie shows him something that she thinks is cool.  But, I always feel like he's just appeasing me.  Just trying to keep ticked off Mommy at bay.

How do I teach him to feel it?  How do I teach him to instinctively consider a classmate's feelings?  To want to share with his siblings, just because he loves them?

I've often heard that when kids get to their teenager years, it's "too late."  Well, I know that can't be true.  It just can't be.  But, I, also, know that if he doesn't want to be taught, he won't be.

So, there you go.  I know what the problem is.  And I know what bothers me. I'm just fuzzy on what to do about it.

I guess for now, I'm just going to just stick to that whole keep trying thing.  

I'll just keep swimming. :)


Saturday, August 16, 2014

He Has One Mom---Me.

Sometimes, I'm jealous of people with biological children.  Not because I wish that I had biological children instead of my (adopted) children.  But, because I sometimes wish that I could wave a magic wand and make my kids biological. 

Occasionally, I get tired of having to explain my family to the well-meaning masses.   When I said that we were fine with any race, I didn't realize that would mean that we would live our lives on display to a certain extent.  Having said that, we are still fine with any race and regret nothing.  But, the fact that I can't swim with my kids at the YMCA without someone inquiring about whether they are brothers and sister is, well, weird.

But, truth be told, I don't really care.  That's not what I'm upset about.  I'm upset that I share my title with someone else.  A woman who cared so little about my children that she took drugs, received no prenatal care, and didn't go through the necessary steps to get them back.  Yeah, I have anger towards her.

It's probably very different for those who have positive relationships or feelings towards their children's birth mother and that can be a wonderful thing.  Sharing pictures or stories.  Telling your child how selfless their birth mother was; I respect that, I really do.  But, this birth mother didn't make a loving choice, she made a selfish one, repeatedly.  And, I can't respect that. 

Last night, Kaleb relayed a story about how William had announced to the neighbors that he had drugs before.  I'm not sure if it was a kid or an adult and I don't think I really want to know.  Kaleb was pointing out that he would rather William not broadcast their history and he has a point.  It's tricky, balancing William's right to tell his story if he wants to and his siblings' rights to not have all of their business known.  But, as important as that is, it's not the point of the story, this is.

Kaleb said "William said that he had drugs before, that our mom had taken drugs."

All I heard was, "our mom." 

Me, in a weak, soap opera scene-worthy voice, "Did he say that?  Did he call her mom?"

Kaleb confirmed and Brian (I am so glad that Brian was home!) immediately called William out from his room to talk to him about it.  He knew what he was going to say, we both knew this moment would come,  but not so soon and not in this way.  

Brian, gently, told him that his mom had taken him to a birthday party today, had fed him lunch, etc, etc.  He gave him some appropriate words to use for her, like "birth mother," and "biological mother."  But, he told him that I was mom.   William said that he had slipped up and that he was sorry.  Although, an apology wasn't really necessary, it was nice that he said it, anyway.  Brian hugged him and sent him back to bed.

This is what he told me, anyway, because I was in the bedroom crying like a baby.

Now, maybe I should deal with it better.  But, if we all know anything about me, we know that I'm the emotional sort.  My emotions caused me (along with Brian) to head down this adoption road in the first place.  And, it's my emotions that caused me to dramatically repeat over and over that "It's not fair!" when Brian came in to hug me.  So, what are you gonna do?

It gets tiring when people ask about "mom" and "dad" and I have to face the knowledge that they don't mean us.  Or when they ask if my kids are brothers and sister.  It's a slap in the face.  It's a reminder that someone else gave birth to them and if things had gone a little differently, we may never have been their parents.  We had to earn that right after someone else had lost it.  But, we did earn it.  We did.  And, that makes it my job to take care of them, love them, and protect them.  

And, someday, that might include protecting them from her.  If I can.  I know that someday they might want to meet her.  And, even though, that is totally understandable; I know that I will be back in the bedroom, crying like a baby.  And, I admit that I hope that they don't want to meet her.  But, that's probably not realistic. 

I don't have that hope just for my own selfish reasons.  (And, there are many.)  But, because of this.

About a year ago, the oldest brother had a fight with his (adoptive) family and he moved out.  Now, he lives with his oldest biological sister and hangs out with his biological mother.  If his facebook pictures are any indication (yeah, I snooped.), he, too, is now involved with drugs and I'm pretty sure that he dropped out of school.

The word tragic doesn't begin to define that situation.  I wish that I could help him, but I can't.

So, what do I do?  I keep loving my children, the best that I can.  And, take comfort in the fact, that William used the word "mom" because he didn't know what else to say, not because he was minimizing my role.  I will remember that "mom" was called about a million times today and it was always meant for me.  I will hope and pray that our bond will be so deep that it can weather any dramatic, angsty fight that we will have in the future and none of them will ever leave.

And, I will remember this.

A couple of days after William and Antwan came to live with us, we were out on the back deck playing with the water table and bubbles.  William brought up the topic of us becoming his mom and dad.  I confirmed and said that he could call me "mom" when he was ready.

Now, I might not remember exactly how the topic came up, but I sure do remember his response.  He said, I will never forget it, "I'm ready now."

And, that first time that he tentatively called me "mom," it was beautiful.  Really beautiful.
I knew that I was where I should be.  I was a mom.  I was his mom.

I can't get the good without the bad.  Magic wands don't far as we know. ;)  So, I'll just keep living the life that I was meant to live and hold on to what's really important - Them.

Cinco De Mayo

Sharing the Batman love!

Dressing Like Daddy


Bonding with a Lorikeet

His glasses are way cooler than mine.

Yay for icees!


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Perspective Is Reality and I Have A New Perspective.

I always feel better after writing a blog post and it always give me some perspective.  My last post reminded me that I don't want to live like I have been.  I don't want to be stressed-out mom.  And, God knows, no one wants to live with stressed-out mom. 

So, I've been trying.  I've been trying really hard.  And, I've done better.  Not every time, but sometimes. 

I've stood outside of the front door when after getting home from work and taken a deep breath.  I've reminded myself that I need to be the grown-up.  That I need to appreciate these moments because they will not last forever.  I need to add to them, not subtract from them.

I've been really trying to focus on what I can do differently.  And, I have to take it on a case-by-case situation because, yeah, I won't get them all right. 

And, it all comes down to patience.   Patience.  Sometimes that's the hardest thing in the world.  But, I've tried.  And, this has made the house a little more mellow.

But, sometimes, he gets mad at me, anyway.  Sometimes, he goes on and on about whether he's getting enough xbox time or gets annoyed that I want him to try to get all of the dirt off the kitchen floor when he's sweeping.

(But, sometimes, he brings me extra dinner from the kitchen after Lizzie takes half of the food off of my plate.  The girl likes to eat! And, sometimes, he comes to Daddy's work with us and simply hangs out.  Sometimes, simply hanging out is nice.  And, sometimes, he is super kind and gentle with his little sister and brothers.)

And, sometimes, I wake up in the morning and am grumpy as can be for no good reason.  Although, learning that Antwan ate my last chocolate pop-tart felt like a good reason, at the time.  My last pop-tart?!

The other night, after Brian found his glue gun on the floor because someone had knocked it off the table and didn't bother to pick it up; he started to rant.  Not in a bad way, but it was a rant.  And, it was a fair rant because they shouldn't do stuff like that and they are constantly doing stuff like that.  The lecture covered several things like - stop obsessing about how much xbox time you get and be grateful for any at all, understand that you are fortunate to be together in a home with food, etc.  But, then, he ended with a topic that I personally LOVED! ;)   Appreciate your mother.  (See why I loved it??)  

He pointed out to them all that I do.  He told them that they shouldn't fight me when I want them to go on an activity, volunteer at a camp, do a chore, dance an Irish Jig, whatever.  He asked if they ever thank me for all that I do.  He even pointed out that he doesn't thank me enough, either. 

Now, I don't mind doing all that I do because, well, that's my job and that's cool.  But, it sure was cool to hear it.  Then, Lizzie, Antwan, and William started randomly thanking me as I tried not to cry. 

So, the night ended.  Brian thanked me, again and I went to bed, feeling a little better.  I'm a fan of feeling a little better. :) 

The next morning, I was heading to work.  I was rushing around and trying to stay chilled, at the same time.  Before I left, Kaleb thanked me for washing his socks (his hand-wash only, special socks).   I said "you're welcome" and continued getting ready.

It took me a couple of hours, but then I realized what the expression "hit you like a ton of bricks" means because, it hit me like a ton of bricks that he had thanked me.  He didn't complain that they were still wet or say that they should have been inside out or whatever a person who really loves his socks might say.  He said thank you.  So, not only had he listened to his father but he had taken the time to thank me.

Or, maybe, it wasn't thought out.  Maybe he just said thank you for the heck of it.  But, I'm claiming it as a major victory and a moment of great appreciation on his part! ;) 

Well, in between the statement above and this one (my writing window closed), I had an argument  with him because he got mad at Lizzie when they were playing xbox, mad at me for saying that xbox time was over, mad at me for telling him to wash the dish that he used, and then, subsequently, mad at me for yelling at him for angrily throwing the rug out of the house as he was doing his chore so he could go to his friend's house and get away from me because he was mad at me.  It was a busy 10 minutes. 

So, that sucked.  But, I have to live in the small moments.  I managed to mostly keep my cool during the incident.  He came back from his friend's and apologized with no prompting.  (And, that's really all that I can ask, right?)  When I vented on facebook, all my friends empathized and supported me.  And, I have been patient with him all day today.  Ok, maybe he went to the beach with his friend at 10am, but, it counts, right?   Tell me that it counts!! ;)

So, my writing window closed again!  Between then and now, one more thing happened....

A reader turned facebook friend turned support system messaged me after I posted a vague, melodramatic post on facebook.  (I'm not proud of that.)  So, I told her that Brian and I had been fighting more since adopting Kaleb.  We can't seem to get through one of his days off without a major blow-out.  The added stress of a teenager has definitely taken its toll.  I wish that we handled it better, but there you go.  She sympathized and then told me that she and her husband had gotten approved for foster care.  And, then she basically offered to take Kaleb.

It was such a kind gesture and I think the world of her as a person for offering.  I didn't need to consider it, though.  I immediately knew that would never be a possibility.  And, it was in that moment that I realized just how much I love him.  

Yes, he drives me crazy.  (And vice-versa).  Yes, it seems that no matter what I do, he'll never be satisfied.  Yes, he is going to make me work harder.  Yes, it was much, much harder to start with a teenager; harder than I realized that it would be.   But, he is my son and that will not change.  And, I don't want it to.

So, everyday, I will try.  And, everyday, I will succeed and fail.  I need to accept that as a victory in itself. 

This morning, I woke up and looked on facebook.  I read that a friend's girlfriend was losing her battle to cancer.  To make it more tragic, my friend is pregnant with their first child.  Now, there are two people who deserve to feel sorry for themselves.  

Not me.  I look at my family.  We are all healthy enough to drive each other bonkers on a daily basis.  It will continue to be challenging.  But, it will be.

Perspective is a powerful thing. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Year With A Teenager.

June 28th, 2014 marked the 1 year anniversary of Kaleb coming to us permanently (although, we finalized the adoption in November.).

Brian was working that day, but he was off the next.  So, we made plans to celebrate the anniversary at breakfast, the next morning, with my parents.  But, I still wanted to make sure to recognize the official day, of course.

So, that night, I served my kids dinner and ceremoniously stood in front of them and announced that a year ago something important had happened.  I paused while William played along and guessed a couple of things.  Then I said that it was the anniversary of Kaleb's placement and I prepared to make a few mushy statements about family.  But, before I could, Kaleb started to argue with me and told me that I had the date wrong.  I tried to be lighthearted as I pointed out my evidence to the contrary, but, as he continued to insist, I just felt deflated, gave up, and sat down.  I was hurt beyond words that he was going to argue this, of all things.

Welcome to life with a teenager.

Several minutes later, he did apologize and I accepted, even though, my heart wasn't in it.  We went out the next morning for breakfast with my parents and they gave him hugs and made a few mushy statements.  I went to the store for dinner, later, and bought a pie for dessert.  I thought it would be a nice way to end the anniversary weekend.  But we didn't have it because he got invited to a party at his friend's church and I didn't see the point in asking him to stay.

All in all, not what I visualized.

I haven't written in awhile.  Hopefully, there will still be people around to read this.  But, the fact is, I have been struggling with writing one of my trademark honest, but inspirational posts.  Because I haven't felt inspired.  I've felt stressed.  I have four drafts of this blog post.  Each one is a little less of a downer, but they are downers.

The truth is, I think that I've had my own version of Postpartum Depression.  I remember struggling  a bit with transitioning to William and Antwan's arrival and I firmly believe that you don't physically have to give birth to a child for the child to have a similar response.  And, I'm struggling again. 

I don't know what I thought life would be like with a teenager.  I know that I naively thought that he would be as easy-going and cooperative as he was for the first few weeks.  I didn't think he would evolve into a child who would get annoyed by my pictures and, particularly, annoyed by my requests for smiles.  (How hard is it to smile??)  I didn't think he would evolve into a child who would seemingly disagree with 90% of my suggestions of fun or necessary activities.  Of course, he probably didn't think that I would evolve into a more moody mom with less patience than I displayed in the first few weeks.  Really, it's ridiculous to think that either one of us could keep that up, anyway.

It was probably a combination of unfulfilled expectations as we both discovered that life was not like we visualized.

Meanwhile, William's visions of the loving, supportive big brother were shattered by the teenager who has stated on more than one occasion that he doesn't like little kids copying him or wanting to be like him.  It makes me wonder if Kaleb has ever read a book or watched a movie involving a kid with younger siblings.

This doesn't mean that Kaleb never has his good big brother moments and that he doesn't make ever make efforts because he does. (And, Kaleb, if you're reading this, I have seen your efforts in the last couple of days.  Thank you for that.)  But, I am so sensitive to the not-so-good moments, and, even though, I'm told that's how big brothers are; I have to say that I expected more from him.  After living most of his life without a secure family; I didn't expect being a big brother to annoy him, so often.  It makes, the fact, that William was the pioneer in the "Let's adopt Kaleb" plan, a little ironic or sad or something.

I guess we just thought he'd be a little more grateful.  Not to us; just for the situation.  I tell them, all the time, that we should all be grateful for our family.  They should be grateful that they get to grow up together and we should be grateful that we get to be their parents, etc.  All of us lose sight of that, sometimes, and that's ok.  But, if I'm honest, I didn't think that Kaleb would sweat the small stuff like other teenagers.  I didn't think that he would get upset if he didn't get the fork that he wanted for dinner or get territorial over his basketball or xbox controller (while the other three share theirs) or (again) find family pictures to be a burden (sometimes).  I know that he's a teenager and he's a teenager with issues.  But, it's just plain not what I expected or hoped for.

Somewhere along the line, when I felt like I was constantly arguing with him about doing his homework or studying for his tests or sharing or hearing him say that he didn't want to....whatever it was; I think that I started to sabotage things myself.  I started to assume things would go wrong and react accordingly.  This way I couldn't be disappointed, right?  But, by the time that I entered the situation where I was expecting to be disappointed, I was so worked up that I had already increased the tension in the room.  So, even if he was having a good day and he does have those; I would be ready for a battle.  I would be tense when I picked him up from school, tense when I got up in the morning, and tense when I got home from work. 

You don't have to tell me that's no way to live and I can tell you the reasons that I felt that way.   But, really, it doesn't matter.  Because the fact is, I'm the grown-up.  So, I have to evolve.  I think that I lost sight of that a little. ;)  This is not to say that he shouldn't make an effort, too.  Because, darn it, he should.  (And, darn it, sometimes, he does.)  Because, wow, teenager are challenging; especially teenagers with extra issues.  But, I have to remember who I am and why I did this. 

For him and for them.

So, Postpartum-ish or not, crappy at dealing with change or not, over-thinking or not; I am the mom.

I love my children and I have to make this work.  And, I have to somehow do it without destroying us all.  Emotionally, I mean.  It's not that dire. :)

So, a few days after his anniversary, I pulled out 2 pies (I love BOGO) and had him pick one.  At this point,  I have to admit that I was mostly doing it out of obligation and because I needed space in my fridge. 

But, then, Kaleb said in his own ceremonious way,  "So, Mom, is there some special reason for this pie?" 

And, I mustered up some enthusiasm and acknowledged the date again. 

I knew that he was trying to make it up to me.  And, I let him. 

And, we enjoyed our pie.  It was really good pie.

Teenagers are challenging.  I am challenging.   Life is challenging.  Love is challenging. 

My life is definitely not what I thought it was going to be.  But, it is my life.

I've used this quote before, but, what the heck, I'm gonna use it again!  I can get away with that, right??

"They never said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it."

Let's do this.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

National Foster Care Month Is Here Again.

Foster Care.  It's a good thing.  It's a necessary thing.  A lot of awesome people foster.  Not enough.  A lot of awesome people adopt.  (Some even write overly emotional blogs about it....)   Not enough. 

In a way, foster care is a necessary evil.  Evil is a strong word, depending on your perspective, anyway.  These kids are removed from situations that they shouldn't be in.  In our case, Kaleb and William (and their older siblings) were hungry, dirty, and living in filth.  There was also the added bonus of their caretakers being shot and thrown in jail, leaving them alone.  Because, you see, their birth mother was already in jail.

So, obviously, they shouldn't be there.  Obviously, foster care is better.  Obviously, it is a wonderful thing that our country tries to protect these children.  Obviously, the kids who can't go back to their homes should be adopted.   Obviously, they shouldn't spend their lives in foster care.  But, sometimes, they do. 

What's up with that?  The system is flawed.  Our community is flawed.  These kids are aging out of the system - flawed.  They come fully equipped with their primal wound of knowing that the people, in the beginning, who were supposed to love them forever - didn't.  For whatever reason, they didn't.  Then, although, I have no doubt that they encountered many kindnesses through the years; in the end, no one wanted them forever. 

One of my favorite lines, from "A Streetcar Named Desire"  is "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."   Well, for me, that's foster care.   They are depending on the kindness of strangers.  Some strangers are wonderful and really do just want to give you candy and others, not so much.

I've worked in residential facilities.  These are not foster homes, per se, but they house the same type of kids and it's what I know.  I've seen the kids shown great love.  But, I've also seen employees turn the air down low because it will make the kids fall asleep faster.   And, I've seen unauthorized and clearly painful restraints.   (Yes, I reported it.).

I've listened to a little girl scream gibberish for a seemingly endless amount of time.  Because she was so traumatized by the abuse that she faced in her biological home, that she didn't cope well, to say the least, with life.  While I was still employed there, she was placed for adoption.  I was heartbroken because I missed her so, but, of course, it was a good thing.  Years later, when Brian and I were just starting the process and I was obsessively looking at pictures of available children; I found her.  I wanted to march into the AdoptUSkids' office at that moment and say "hand her over!"  But, of course, we had just started, hadn't even had a home study, and, who are we kidding, we wouldn't have been qualified to care for a 17 year old with issues and a mental disability.  I tried, after that day, to find her again, but I can't find her anywhere.  So, yeah, that haunts me.  I hope that she knows that I loved her and I hope that she's ok.

I don't know what happens in foster homes.  I know that William said that Antwan was always in his crib or play pen and he never really got to play with his brother until they came to us.  Judging by Antwan's initially sullen personality, I believe it might be partially true.  But, I also know that my friends who foster and have adopted, have opened their home to many children.  They immediately treated them like their own, as they hoped that they would be one day.  They took the best care of them that they could and I believe that whatever happens to those kids, they have benefitted from getting that love.

National Foster Care Month, for me, is an opportunity to appreciate the amazing foster parents out there.  Because, really, there are.   But, at the same time, remind us that there shouldn't need to be so many amazing foster parents out there.  Because these kids should have permanent homes. 

If they can go back to their biological families, great.  If they will step up, get off the drugs (I don't know what the statistics are, but I believe that drugs are usually involved) and put their children first, great. 

If not, these kids need to be adopted.  They need the people of our country to step up and, basically, save them. 

And, yes, if you adopt older kids, you get their issues.  My teenager's issues drive me crazy.  And, yes, I struggle with feeling overwhelmed by parenting a teenager while lacking the foundation.  It will be easier to parent my younger three when they become teenagers because we will be able to ease into it.  I will probably not make the same mistakes with them that I make with Kaleb, sometimes, on a daily basis.  But, I do make those mistakes and, all I can do is learn from them. 

Yes, he came to us with more issues than our younger children did.  But, does that mean that Kaleb who, through no fault of his own, lived in his biological home, then a foster home, then an adoptive home, then a residential facility, then a foster home, then a different foster home, then us; does that mean that he doesn't deserve to a forever home? 

My neighbor was recently telling me about a song by a Christian Rock artist.  I don't remember his name.   If he wasn't in a superhero movie, I'm kind of at a loss. ;)  But, this artist said something in a song that I really respect.  She explained that, in his song, he was having a conversation with God, I can't remember if he said he was dreaming or just straight out praying.  But, I remember this.  He was complaining that God lets these children suffer (in this context, he was referencing starving children in other countries).   Why would God do that???   And, the message that he got was --- that's why I created you.  So, you can do something about it.  So, he did.  He adopted a child from Asia. 

So, I don't know his name, but he made a good point.  We have to do something.  If we want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.  (Yeah, I totally stole that from Michael Jackson.)

I have great respect for agencies like AdoptUSkids and the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption.  They are doing something.  So many people are.  So many foster parents are.  Sadly, there's more work to be done.  There is no easy fix, so we have to just keep working.

So, this month, and every month, thank you to the devoted foster parents out there in the trenches.  Thank you for taking these kids in and giving them love.  Thank you for trying to understand their issues and helping them deal.  Please, keep doing what you're doing because we need you.  I sincerely hope that we won't always need you like we do now.  I hope that next year, more kids have permanent homes.  But, in the meantime, thank you.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Words Have More Power Than You Think.

When I was a little girl, I had a friend.  We were good friends, but she wasn't always nice to me.  In 6th grade, she dropped me because I wasn't in the popular crowd.  But, not before, she stabbed me in the arm with a pencil.  This created a hole in my arm and a conversation starter that I still have to this day.  But, here's the thing, I don't even remember.  It was, apparently, just traumatic enough to cause me to repress it, as soon as I told my mom.  I do remember, though, when she told me that I was fat and I believed her.  Even though, I was really, really thin; I believed her.  And, I dieted and I weighed myself at Publix and I dieted some more.  Pretty messed up, huh?

I remember when the swim teacher laughed at me and called me a baby because I was afraid to dive.  (I also remember when my mom ripped me out of the class and, undoubtedly, had a few things to say to the teacher.  My mom had my back.) 

I remember when I was happily riding bikes with my friends and their mom.  When I rode towards the left side of the road, she said, "Don't you know the rules?  Don't you know that you have to ride on the right side of the road?"  It doesn't sound terribly harsh when I type it, but, believe me, the tone was harsh.

I had all kinds of good experiences during my childhood, too, but these moments stuck with me. 

What's the point?  The point is--words hurt.

Later on, when I completed the girl right of passage by dating my token crappy boyfriend; I took his words with me.  I don't remember how it felt when he pushed me against the wall.  But, I remember believing that I must be as horrible as he said.  Why else would he have been so emphatic about it?  (I'm sure that Brian has enjoyed trying to un-do that damage over the years...)

Words hurt.

This is something that I've tried to remember through the years with my kids.  Even though, I forget sometimes. 

But, recently, I had a reminder.  If you're dramatic, like me, you might say that it was a powerful reminder.

There is a mom.  Her daughter is a girl scout in Lizzie's troop.  And, she is just plain not remembering that words can hurt. 

I watched her laugh at her daughter when she dropped the snacks on the floor. I saw her daughter hang her head when her mom announced, loudly, that she’s so clumsy and drops things all of the time.  It was so sad, but, I tried not to judge and chose to assume that it was just one of those things. Ok, I might have vented it out on my facebook, but, still, I didn't hold a grudge over it.  After all, I know that I say things to my kids that I shouldn’t say. And, in no way am I suggesting that I am any better than her. Well, I do dress better, but that’s not relevant. ;)

But, then there was last week, the girls were decorating cookies.  Lizzie was taking her time with it and slowly frosting the cookies, long after the other girls were done.  Of course, I thought this was adorable and loved that she was into it.  But, the mom made a point of commenting that Lizzie was going really slowly.

While, this was happening, the other little girl came over and showed me her cookies.  I told her how pretty they were and she proceeded to give me details about the different ways that she had decorated them.  But, the problem was, she made statements like “____ did a better job than me.”  “This is grass but I messed it up.” “Here’s a flower but I didn’t do a very good job on it.”

It was hard to listen to. It was painfully obvious that someone was filling her head with these negative thoughts. Of course, I spent the next few minutes telling her how amazing I thought every single thing that she did with the cookies was.  Because, I have my shortcomings, but the ability to gush about little girls' projects is not one of them.  I ended it with “And, the most important thing is that you had fun doing it.”  After this, she was bubbly and happy and talked to me the rest of the time.  So, I'm guessing that I did some good. :)

In the past, Lizzie would cling to my legs in public, especially when encountering groups. Lizzie was so shy and insecure in preschool that the director took me aside and expressed her concerns that Lizzie might have a developmental delay.  She was worried because she wouldn’t answer questions. She has struggled with writing and math in kindergarten, primarily because of lack of confidence.  She has been doing so much better, though, due to her awesome teacher, and maybe, a little bit to her mom who tends to tell her how amazing she is. :) But, still, this weekend when we went to Build-A-Bear for a Girl Scout event, she was nervous.  When she saw the animals being stuffed and saw the employees asking the girls questions, she took a step back and whispered to me, "I don't know what to say."  So, we watched for a few minutes before officially getting in line.

So, the point is. She doesn’t need to hear that she’s slow.  Or anything else that is negative or, possibly, negative, or could be construed as negative...  With all the positive vibes coming her way, that could be the comment that she’ll remember. That’s just how it works, sometimes.

I have no doubt that this woman loves her daughter.  I can see it in her eyes.  She doesn’t realize that she’s potentially causing damage.  So, I don’t write this as an excuse to bash a mom.  We’re all just trying to make it, through, after all.

I write this because it really was a reminder.  It' s a reminder to watch what I say. 

I know that I can be abrupt and a little harsh, sometimes.  This is especially true if you engage me in conversation in the morning.  (Just don’t….)  And, I’m working on it.  I know that I’ve probably said things that are now on the list of comments that the kids will never forget.  Hopefully, some of them were good comments.  But, all I can do now is try even harder.  They need to know that they are awesome, amazing, beautiful, smart, etc, etc.

But, the good news is, yes, the negative sticks with you, but, the positive does, too.  I remember when my mom smiled at me while I was singing in church and said that I sounded nice.  And, I felt so proud that my mom liked my voice.  I remember when she took me with her to decorate hats, then made me feel special by hanging mine on the wall.  I remember that my dad drove my sister and I to the bus stop in the mornings (even though, it was close enough to walk), so that he could spend a few minutes with us.  He would pretend to be speeding up and down the hills and my sister would say "Dad, you're a wild driver!"  And, he would laugh.  He wasn't speeding at all, though, of course. :)

So, the last several days, I’ve been paying more attention to my words. I’ve tried to use gentler tones.  I’ve taken their hands in mine and (made them) look into my eyes while I looked into theirs and said “I love you and I’m proud of you.”  And, each time, they rolled their eyes and wandered off, but I know that they’re happy to hear it.  (I can’t just give a pat on the back, I gotta go a little cheesy with it!)

So, Lizzie, you go as slow as you want.  You can frost that cookie until it’s stale, for all I care.  You're amazing and I love you, just as you are.  Just like I love your brothers, just as they are.  Don’t doubt yourself and don’t listen to anyone who says you are too slow, too...anything.  Unless they are saying that you are too much like your mom, then that's totally a compliment. ;)

I can't control what she will hear from the outside world, but I can control what she will hear from me.  So, I have to do better.  I just have to. 


Her cookies were awesome! :)