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! :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Adopted Kids. They're Just Kids.

Several months ago, I wrote a post where I was all hot and bothered (justifiably so) because a neighborhood kid had teased Kaleb about being adopted. With everything else in his past, he had to feel self-conscious about his "happy ending??"  -----> (

Then, a couple of months later, Lizzie and I, inadvertently, sold Girl Scout cookies to his mom.


I stood there in the street, happily agreeing when she suggested that her boys play with mine.  After all, this is what kids are supposed to do.  But, with all the kids in the neighborhood, mine had somehow managed to not bond with any of them.  And, no other playing together conversations that I had with moms had panned out. 

Through the whole conversation, Kaleb said nothing.  That's unusual, quite frankly, so I should have known that something was up. ;)   And, when we left, he emphatically said that he was not playing with "that kid." That's when he explained that he was the one that gave him a hard time.

Thud.  I agreed, completely.  I wouldn't put Kaleb in that situation, no matter how much I liked his mom.

While I was busy hoping that nothing would come of it and wondering what I would say to his mom if she did follow up; nature was busy taking its course.  Because, one day, "that kid" came over and my kid, inexplicably, agreed to play.  And, then, he came back, a couple of days after that.  And, then the next day.

Next thing that I know, my driveway is a bit of a hang out area.  (Which I love.)  And, my boys are spending more time outside than inside, on the xbox.  Then, they're all going down the street to another kid's house.  Then, there's 6 or 7 boys playing together.

I haven't had a conversation with Kaleb about it (although, I suppose that we might after he reads this, haha).  I really didn't want to jinx anything.  This boy who is in between William and Kaleb, in age, has been nothing but polite to me and has behaved appropriately towards my kids.

So, I guess that my original theory that all people are inherently good still holds true.  Yes, the kid said something crappy.  Hopefully, he realizes that, now.  And, if he had any negative preconceived notions about what adopted kids are like, he's clearly dropped them.  Now, he probably just believes that adopted kids really like to play basketball,

spray each other with silly string and water guns

and ride scooters.  He probably thinks that, if they are little girls, they like to ride their bikes through their brothers' make-shift basketball court in the middle of their game and then get really offended if they are called on it.  And that their moms can't make baskets to save their life when they jump into the game for a moment, in an effort to look like a fun/cool mom. 

As far as stereotypes, those aren't so bad. ;)

I firmly believe that one of our functions, as a family, is to educate people and raise awareness.  Being a family that is so clearly not biologically created, we have been given that opportunity.  Sometimes, we actively take advantage of this, by answering questions and sharing our story.  But, this time, we didn't do much, we just did our thing.  Either way, I think the neighbor boy has probably learned a little something; even if he doesn't quite realize it yet.  And, I know that Kaleb and I did.    We learned to give people a second chance. Because everyone deserves that.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's Easter Again And It's Been A Busy Year.

Tomorrow is Easter.  And, when you are an adult, that brings many stresses.  For me, I've been stressing about buying all the Easter goodies when we're tight on cash, worrying that everything will go smoothly, and, of course, the biggest stressor of should I match us? ;)  I'm a little sad this year.  I didn't get us to the mall for Easter Bunny pictures, I didn't get us to any Easter egg hunts around town, and I didn't buy matching outfits like I had planned. 

But, that's gloomy of me, of course.  And, it's definitely not the point of this holiday.  There's the obvious religious aspect, of course.  And, there's another important aspect - family.  We are together.  Brian has the day off.  The Easter Bunny will come to our house while the kids sleep and the Grandma bunny will probably have eggs waiting for the kids when we go to my sisters.  The kids think that Grandma bunny is pretty cool since she usually puts money in her eggs. ;)

A lot has happened in the past year.  For example, there's that thing about us adding a teenager to the mix.  Kaleb was visiting, last Easter, but he wasn't ours.  It was around the time that he had made it clear that he wanted to be adopted.  We were open to it, but hadn't officially committed.  I remember analyzing everything that he did.  He probably felt like he was auditioning.  I remember that he was on his best behavior.  He smiled for Easter bunny pictures,

let me coordinate his Easter outfit, and cheerfully, went along with everything.

I'm trying to remember how I was feeling.  I'll probably have to go back and read my own posts to find out. :)  But, I know that I knew that things were going to change.  One way or another, he was in our lives. 

It was not long after that when we did 100% commit and he was scheduled to come to us at the end of June. 

And, I was scared.  Really, really scared.  But, I was in and that was that.  There was no question that it was the right thing to do.  Not to mention that I already loved him.

Learning to be a mom to a teenager was hard for me.  Of course, "was" is a strong word because I am still learning in a lot of ways.  Ok, maybe in all of the ways. :)

I've learned a lot.  A lot about Kaleb.  A lot about William, Antwan, and Lizzie.  A lot about Brian.  And, yes, a lot about me.  Learning is fun! ;)

I've fought with Kaleb.  He's slammed doors.  I've slammed doors.  (Yeah, I know that wasn't mature.)

I've argued a lot more with Brian than I used to.  Partly because Kaleb reminds me of Brian so I was extra sensitive to many things.  (Yeah, I know that's not fair.)

And, I've gone to bed, wondering what we were thinking.  And, then felt terribly guilty for having that thought.   

But, I've also sat with him as he signed up for high school classes.  I've watched him show intense love and compassion towards his little brothers and sister.  I've watched him bop to music (do the cool kids say bop?) when he didn't know that I was watching.  I've taken a million pictures of various random moments.  I've tried vainly to beat him in an xbox basketball game.  I've sang cheesy duets in the van.  I've given countless high fives and hugs.  I've loved him.

Along the way, he learns. I learn.  He teaches me.  I teach him.  Quite frankly, if when he grows up, I can proudly say that I taught him to close a cabinet or put a glass away; I'll call my life a success! haha

Last weekend, I was mad at him.  Just plain mad.  We had discovered that he wasn't doing his homework and he was bombing his tests.  His grades were dismal.  And, as we discussed it with him and made him do some homework; he managed to justify giving us attitude.  Brian tried to defuse the situation as I worked against him.  Not deliberately, of course.  But, you see, I just can't resist responding when Kaleb says something that I don't agree with.  Brian has told me, repeatedly, that "being right doesn't help."  And, man, is he right because giving Kaleb my opinion of things solves nothing.  It only makes him want to argue more. 

Anyway, he eventually went to bed with plans to attend a birthday, slumber party on the following night.  To be honest, he probably didn't deserve to go.  But, I really, really needed the break.  Plus, it was the first birthday party (with us) that he was going to and it was important,

So, when the birthday boy got grounded and it all fell apart, the next day, I was bummed, to say the least.  I needed that break.  It's so not fair.  These thoughts and others floated through my head.  I spent a few minutes, alone in my room, allowing my frustration.  Then I went back to "work.'

The next morning, we went to my parents' anniversary breakfast.  I'm not proud of it, but I wasn't saying much to him.  I'm not suggesting that I was giving full on silent treatment, I just wasn't going out of my way to talk. 

We got ready to sit down.  Since he usually sits next to me, I took advantage of the opportunity to give one of the others a turn.  As everyone discussed where they were sitting and made everything super complicated, I heard Kaleb say something about sitting next to me. 

After all of the arguing, he wanted to sit next to me??   It was at that moment that I remembered what my place is now.  I'm the mom.  I don't have the luxury of being the ticked off Emily.  I have to be the mom.  And, sometimes, that's hard.  But, here we are.  And, there is no question that it's where I want to be.

When we got home, he went out to play.  He was in and out all afternoon.  At one point, he came in.  He kind of loitered in the kitchen.  He told me what he had been doing at his friend's house.  He said he wanted to go back.  I said ok.  But, he stood there still, making random conversation.

Then, he, casually, said "I don't know why I'm still here" and started to head out.

That's when I knew what he needed.  Or I think I did, anyway.  And, I said "Come here."

He did and I hugged him because I was pretty sure that was why he was still there.  I told him that I loved him and he said he loved me, too.

And, that was it.  We were ok.

Life is not simple.  But, it is good. :)

I am constantly amazed at my ability to screw up, but, occasionally I get it right.  He needed that hug and so did I.

So, this year, I'm going to try not to worry about whether I bought them enough candy that they won't finish or if they'll notice that I forgot the stuffed bunnies.  I'm not going to expect the perfect day and get upset if it's not. 

I'm going to look forward to a day that will be filled with too much noise, lots of laughter, someone getting frustrated at someone else, lots of food, and the coolest humans that I know.  And, I'm going to look forward to the fact that it will end the same way that it always does; with Brian and I completely exhausted, but happy.

It's going to be the perfect day. :)


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Foster Kids, They're Out There.

I was waiting outside of the library with one of my clients; waiting for it to open.  (I work with adults with disabilities, by the way.)  A teenager who was sitting on the ground, made a comment about how big my purse was and then asked me a couple of questions about library cards.  I answered, they opened the doors, and we all went in.  I didn't think anything else about it.  But, then, as I was trying to get my client set up on a computer, I hear the teenager asking the general population for help.  The people, nearby, looked unsure or unwilling to help, so I went over and helped him out.  Then he asked me if he thought that the librarian would give him headphones.  Since I was pretty sure that they wouldn't, I agreed to let him borrow Antwan's if he promised to give them back. 

Then we ended up at the computer next to him.  Then he spent the next half an hour asking me random questions about how to spell words, how to friend request and block people on facebook, and whether I thought that a cut on his hand was infected.  He also borrowed my phone to call his mom.  By this time, I had figured out that he had a a special need of some sort.  My guess would be that he has a combination of Autism and ADHD.  Hard to say.  Either way, I have to admit, it was getting tiresome.  And, of course, a bit unprofessional for me since I was supposed to be focusing on my client.  Around the time that I was becoming officially weary of the interruptions, he referenced his mom, but then clarified, "Well, foster mom."

Oh crap, now I'm involved. 

For the record, this story does not end with me saying that I have a teenager asleep on my couch.  Although, I'd be lying if I were to say that it didn't cross my mind.  Brian would be lying if Brian said that he was completely joking when he texted me back to say that he could sleep on the couch until we could turn the dining room into a room.  But, the fact that he's in foster care didn't mean that I could just take him home, of course.  Nor are we in a position to take that on, anyway.  But, it sure was a painful reminder that there are kids out there in foster care, right now.  As he sat there, talking to me, It occurred to me that I hadn't actually ever met a foster child who didn't eventually become mine or that my friends' weren't fostering/trying to adopt.  I hadn't run into 1 of the 250,000 kids that enter the system each year.  Until this day.  Here he was, loitering at the library and driving me bonkers. 

As I sat there, philosophizing on how much the whole thing sucked; he suddenly said that he had forgotten about a meeting that he had scheduled with his case worker and he was soon borrowing my phone again.

I listened to him argue with his worker and refuse to tell her who he had been hanging out with last night and saying that he was going to leave if she was coming to the library and denying that he was high.   (That was when I started looking hard at his eyes to try to figure out if he was, but who am I kidding, I had no idea.)

When he gave me the phone back, he started talking about how he and his case worker argue, but they always make up.  He asked me if that's just how life is and I said "sometimes."  He asked if my son and I argue and I told him that we do.  Then, I decided to go ahead and butt into his life.  I was pretty sure by this point, I had earned the right. :)  I started with reminding him that his case worker was on his side and that he probably shouldn't keep secrets from her.  He kind of ignored that and brought up that he wasn't high and that he only smokes cigarettes.

Me - "How old are you?"

Him, with the unmistakable eye flicker of someone who is trying to lie -"I'm 18."

Me, with a smile -"You're lying to me.  I can tell, I'm a mom."

He laughed - "Ok, I'm 17!  But, I'll be 18 in six months!" 

My mind raced with worries of what would become of him and whether he was going to be set up with an independent living program, stay in foster care or try to do it on his own; as he rambled about when his birthday is and exactly how far away it is.

After a few minutes, he said that he was going to wait outside for his case worker.  He promised me that he wouldn't leave before she got there.

Then, a few minutes after that, when my client and I left, I anxiously looked around and saw that he was gone.

So, of course, I called his case worker.

I explained that I was with him at the library and that I was worried about whether he had ditched her. Much to my relief, she told me that his foster mom had picked him up. 

Hoping that my call would make a little more sense, I explained that I had adopted so I kind of understood his situation.  She asked me to save her number and call her if I ever see him around again.  I told her that I would, of course.  I mentioned that he clearly had a lot going on his head and she agreed, emphatically.  "Yes, that's a very good way to put it.  He definitely has a lot going on in his head."

I don't know what my purpose in writing this is.  I don't really have an anecdote to go with it or a life lesson.  Except, maybe this.  This kid shouldn't exist.  Not in this way, anyway. 

He should have a home, a permanent one.  He shouldn't have a close relationship with a case worker because he's been on her case load for 3 years.  He should be fighting with his parents and asking them if his hand is infected, not a stranger at the library.   No matter how awesome she might be.   ;)

But, that's not how it is.  And, it makes me sad.  Really, really sad.

I wish that I could get this kid out of my head.  But, that's not the answer, either, of course.  Ignoring the problem solves nothing.  Either way, I guess, for now, I'm going to have to trust the universe on this one.

All I know is that when I got home, I was really glad to see my kids.  I'm really glad that no matter what struggles we go through as a family, they will know that they have a family.  Every child deserves that. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Foster Care, Sibling Rivalry, and Minecraft.

The other night, amidst cries of protest, I cut off Minecraft time for the night.  This was after listening to all of the bickering over caves and mineshafts that I could stand.  Since there was only half an hour until bed, anyway, I thought that we would watch tv for a bit and then the first round of bedtimes would occur.

But, what I got was an unexpected family meeting.

Earlier that day, when William and Kaleb were cleaning their room, William came out to tell me that Kaleb was complaining about all of William’s stuff on the floor and that it was upsetting him.  Experimenting with a new technique, I told William to go tell Kaleb that they should both just worry about their own stuff and not comment on the others.  I then waited for Kaleb to come out with a comment, but he didn’t.

I was glad that William had been brave enough to say something.  He is the kind of kid who will internalize, bottle it up, and let the resentment brew.   Well, I guess that speaking up made William feel better, too, because, before I knew it, he was getting all of his issues off of his chest. 

William and Kaleb are very different kinds of people.  They have both spent time in foster care and it has affected them in different ways.  Kaleb had to fight for everything and experienced a ton of rejection in his childhood.  So, he is competitive, a bit of a bulldozer, and extremely sensitive to feeling like his opinions aren’t being heard or that he’s being treated unfairly.  What he struggles to  understand is that even if his opinions are heard and efforts are made to treat him fairly; in a family of 6, he sometimes still won’t get his way.

William came out of foster care, feeling insecure and worrying that people won't like him.  He once told the neighbors that he could swim, when he could not, so that they would think he was cool.  (I was glad that I intercepted that one.)  Part of his issues with lying have always stemmed from his fear that we wouldn't like him anymore if we knew the truth.  We’ve told him countless times that it’s not true and that we will always love him.  But, the early years are called formative for a reason and they sure formed the fear in him.

They are both good boys.  They are both important.  (In fact, that was my meeting catch phrase- that all four of them are equally important.)  But, put them together and you’ve got one dishing it out and one taking it.  Kaleb is not mean to William and he is definitely not trying to hurt him.  But,  sometimes, he does, anyway.

So, we all sat there.  William and Kaleb went back and forth and I tried to mediate.  Meanwhile, Antwan, from my lap, stated that he had no issue.  You see, he thinks that Kaleb hung the moon and Kaleb likes that he thinks that, so that works out well. :)  

William said that he feels like he is always making Kaleb mad.  He feels like Kaleb won’t be there if he needs him because he makes him mad so much.  He thinks that Kaleb loves Lizzie more than he loves him.

I explained that Kaleb might get aggravated, but that doesn’t mean that he’s mad.  (I also mentioned that Kaleb could be a little gentler with William.) I told William that Kaleb would get over it if he got annoyed with William and that William should try not to take it personally and not worry about it, as long as he wasn’t actively trying to upset him.  Again, Kaleb agreed.  I assured him that Kaleb would have his back no matter what and Kaleb agreed.

I reminded them, both, that this is still new.  It’s only been since the end of June, after all.

Lizzie.  I gotta say that I'm tired of this topic.  Kaleb has accused us of favoring her, now Kaleb is being accused of the same thing.  I explained that Lizzie is the baby girl and there are just different ways that people react to a baby girl.  I explained that it doesn’t mean that we love her more, though; just like it doesn't mean that Kaleb loves her more.  I repeated my catch phrase about how equally important they all are.

I said to William, “You wouldn’t really want Kaleb to pick you up and cuddle you like he does to Lizzie, right? “

William surprised us by saying that he would.  Kaleb pointed out that he is only a few years older than William and it would be kind of weird.

And, in the midst of it, Lizzie came over, anxiously.  I asked her if she had something that she wanted to say.  “Yes!”

“Ok, go ahead, Lizzie.”

“Robin punched Two Face!  Like this! (demonstrated)  I didn’t know Robin could do that!  (more demonstration)” 

She had been playing Lego Batman on her 2DS.  She had come over to update us on her progress and, unknowingly, providing comic relief. :)

The way that we all laughed when she did that reminded me that, arguments or not, we are the Parkers and we’ll be ok.

We talked some more.  It went on for about an hour.

In the end, I was tired and a bit worried about my boys.  Even though, I knew that what I told them was true; it's perfectly normal for siblings to clash.

Then Kaleb did something that reminded me what a gentle soul he is, underneath all of his bravado and defense mechanisms.  He called William over.  And, he picked him up and gave him a big, cuddly hug.

And, you know what, it was kind of weird.  Haha.  But, William was thrilled and we're a little weird, anyway.

So, that’s when I knew that we would be ok.  Even though, they were back to bickering about Minecraft, the next morning.  :)