Ah the apology letter. Every mom's favorite thing...to admit we were fully and totally wrong. Even better than the apology letter is admitting it out loud, to you, which I did last night.
Ah the apology letter. Every mom's favorite thing...to admit we were fully and totally wrong. Even better than the apology letter is admitting it out loud, to you, which I did last night.
So there is a trend among blogging moms, especially blogging moms of kids with special needs, to post only the best moments, or the most meaningful moments. We post only the teaching moments, only the moments in which we wish the world was different for our children, or only the moments in which we play the hero and [insert random disease here] is the villain that we will fight to the death to make life better for our children. These moments we post are the highest of the highs, or the lowest of the lows, and sometimes we post them because we need a pat on the back, a reminder that everything is going to be okay, or because we are proud of ourselves and want others to know. And then…there are moments like the bologna sandwich. These are moments that we do not create a Facebook post or a blog post about, because they happen away from the watchful public eye, and we would prefer that they did not happen. We would prefer that others not know that we were human, or maybe even sub-human, for a minute.
I do not post this story today because I want any reassurance that I'm a "good mom" or that "everyone loses it once in awhile"….I already know that. You taught me those two lessons very quickly. Having a full-time child, and being thrust, full-throttle into the world of special needs has been VERY different from babysitting or watching someone's children for a week or a weekend. You taught me within days that being a "good mom" and "never losing it" are not synonymous. I am sharing this moment because, even though you've probably forgotten this moment yourself, I never will! It was moment in which I realized you can love and hate at the same time. I guess I had realized that before, but never as a mom. The mom culture tells you that you should love every single moment, of every single day. If you don't, you're "not doing it right" or maybe "not meant to be a mom." But that's not true. You can love being a mom most of the time, and hate being a mom for a moment. You can love your child immeasurably, and hate them for a moment. This does not make you a bad person, nor a bad mom, as long as love wins in the end.
So first, let's talk about feeding therapy, feeding disorders, and feeding tube weaning. I think those words should be synonymous with "insanity" in the thesaurus. I remember when you were very small, and I was full of hope about getting you to oral feedings quickly. I set goals with the feeding therapist that were something like, "By three years old…blah blah blah." Those goals started getting pushed back as you got older, and then one day, I heard myself say out loud to your feeding therapist, "You know what my parent goal is? I just want the tube out before she realizes she can get drunk through it. I don't want her doing party tricks at the frat house. Does that seem reasonable?" I'm not sure she put that in the medical record...
Anyway, as the years of feeding therapy went on (and on…and on…and on…) and we tried to un-do what years of chemotherapy and several surgeries had done, we all became obsessed with the calorie count. This was not in the way that most people obsess about calories. We wanted MORE calories, ALL the calories, so that we could wean down tube feedings and eat more by mouth. And by the way, we were ALL miserable. Sometimes at the dinner table, I used to fantasize about throwing the plate against the wall or knocking over all of the chairs…I didn't do this, because I am the picture of self control! [insert sarcastic emoticon here]. Summers are always the hardest, because day camps don't have to tube feed you (and most can't) if you can't get your calories in. They are understaffed, so they don't have time to check lunch boxes and give you extra time if you didn't finish. They can't "make" you eat, and I wouldn't want them to. Every single summer, I watch the numbers on the scale go down, and all of the year's progress slip away. So that is where we found ourselves one fateful summer afternoon.
You had been in drama camp, a camp you were truly enjoying. It was run by the REC Center, and for that particular camp, I tried to downplay your medical issues as much as possible so that they would take you, because you really wanted to go. Every day, I watched you come home with ALL of the lunch and ALL of the water that I had sent you with. Each day, you were dehydrated and exhausted by 6 when I picked you up, and I tried, in vain, for the next 14 hours to make up for this with extra tube feeds and extra water. It was getting close to the end of summer, so your weight was at an all-time low, and we had tried to find different foods that you might eat at camp. I had tried incentives, prizes, threats, privilege loss, extra privileges, anything I thought might make a difference. The night before when I made your lunch, you insisted you liked bologna, and if I would buy bologna, you would definitely eat it at camp. We hiked out to the grocery store at 8pm, bought 1/2 pound of bologna. I made you try it in the store, to make sure you really liked it. The next day, I picked you up from camp and opened your lunchbox in anticipation. Not. One. Bite.
"What happened Maria?" I asked (Okay, yelly-asked), as I took the sandwich out of the plastic bag. My plan had been to hand you the sandwich and have you eat at least some of it in the car.
"I guess I just forgot to eat. I got busy."
"Busy??? Forgot???" and somehow, before I knew it, the sandwich was in the backseat with you. I'm pretty sure it bounced off your chest, but I couldn't swear to that. All I know is that there was bologna and bread separated on your lap, as I yelled something about trying to do what is best for you, and that you should start eating. I watched you, my little girl, pick up random pieces of separated bologna and start putting them in your mouth. I was angry, SO angry, but as I watched one tear come down your little face, I realized the type of parent I definitely did NOT want to be. I did not want to be someone who parented with anger, raising a child who responded because of fear. It's the reason that I try to have as many open and honest conversations with you as possible and breathe a little before I respond.
This is not a story of triumph over parenting evils. I still yell. I wish I didn't…but I do. I still respond and forget to breathe first. I still get frustrated, especially in the mornings when we're running late. You are quickly able to tell if I've had my morning coffee, and sometimes suggest that I do before I try to interact with you. I still sometimes am on Facebook when I should be doing something else with you. I'm writing this blog right now while you play Minecraft next to me! Improper use of screen time as a babysitter!! But I love you, and I try not to parent with fear. Also, we don't buy bologna anymore; you prefer hotdogs in a Thermos for summer camp lunches. But…FYI... if you are going to throw some sandwich, bologna easier to clean up than peanut butter.
You are eight years old this Christmas, and I'm blessed with another Christmas where you still believe in all of the magic of Christmas...all of it. The letters, the elves, Santa Claus, the North Pole, the lights, Rudolph's red nose blinking in the night. You melted when I put on the first Pandora Christmas carols after Thanksgiving, you begged every single night for me to put up the outside Christmas lights. The whole thing is magic to you, and I love watching it
. I know that this time is precious and short, and soon you will be asking me the dreaded question, "Is Santa Claus real, or not?"
Recently, I have been reading a lot of opinions that when we teach our children about Santa, we take the focus away from Jesus. We have to make a lot of decisions as parents, but for me, this was one that took no thinking, just feeling. I remember the year that I found out Santa wasn't "real" - and it filled my heart with more magic than I had ever felt before. I did not think of it as lies; I saw my mom and dad's selflessness in every choice they made. The gift of magic that my parents had given me was one that I could not WAIT to give to others, to you. When I watch you during the Christmas season, I see Jesus in everything you do. Your favorite Christmas carol is, of all things, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"...because you love the part about "comfort and joy". You sing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" with equal reverence as "O Holy Night". When you wrote your letter to Santa, you (of course) asked for a great variety of toys for yourself...I consider that perfectly okay! The time will come when you ask for only what is most important, and learn to make the distinction so that others don't have to. What I consider a perfect example of God's presence in Christmas is that you also asked for toys for all of the children who have none. Soon will come the time when you will learn that a simple letter does not fix all of that, and that we must BE the change instead of just asking for change (or even, dare I say it, praying for change), but today is not that day. For now, I will try to lead by example for you, and watch the small ways in which you already bless the world.
You have a box of Christmas toys that lives in the attic from mid-January until December. It contains a Nativity set, Santas workshop, and a set of the Rudolph characters. I love watching you play with these toys - Jesus rides on Rudolph's back, Mary converses with Santa. It's all important to you, and you integrate all of it. Who am I to tell you that's not real?? I suppose you could say that Rudolph and Santa weren't there on December 25th, but by the account of many biblical scholars, neither was Jesus...his "real" birthday was likely sometime in March.
My dad told me that he dreaded the day that we found out that there was no Santa...and on that day, I surprised him by turning to him and saying "Thank you, Daddy." I'm not sure what you will say. Maybe you will yell at me about lies, and become a sullen teenager who doesn't believe in ANYTHING because of what I told you...but I don't think so. I picture your grace continuing to grow, the magic continuing to grow, and you finding your own way to make magic for yourself and others. Merry Christmas, Maria.
About two months ago, we were standing in line at Subway to get a meal on one of our many road trips. You set your jaw tightly and looked at me very seriously…this is usually a pretty bad sign for me.
“I don’t believe in One God,” you said, very matter-of-factly. You waited, and I expect you were waiting for a fight. I didn’t respond right away, taking some time to think over your statement, so you repeated it again, adding, “I believe in lots of gods, like in Hercules. Gods for lots of things. But…I guess you’re going to make me believe in One God, because that’s what YOU believe, right?”
This was of those moments that I believe you are given a chance as a parent to say something truly wonderful or truly awful, that can set the stage for how your child grows up feeling about you, herself, and the world around her. In that minute, I took an extra two breaths to think about how I wanted to respond to you, Maria, because if I was given one chance at this question, I wanted to make sure I got it right.
Standing up for what others believe in, instead of what I believe in, is something I have struggled with for a long time. Making a choice, whether it was what I wanted for dinner, how I worshipped in what church, how I responded when people asked me about political topics, how I reacted when uncomfortable social justice situations arose, for SO LONG was wrapped up in what I was worried other people would think about me. I still have to work every single day to minimize intrusive thoughts about how others will feel about me if I say what I truly feel, though I now know that it is okay to disagree with someone on a core issue, and still love that person, and still have them love you. I also know that you cannot please everyone, and that there are people who feel so passionately about certain ideas or values that they will not bend toward acceptance of anyone who sways from their opinion. But…how to convey all of that to an 8 year old, in a Subway? At least three Subway patrons were staring at us, trying to figure out how I would respond.
I said, “You never, ever have to believe in something just because someone else believes that it is the best thing, the right thing, or the only thing. Even if that person is me. There are people who spend their whole lives searching, and still don’t know what they believe. There are other people who pretend to believe in something just because they think that’s what other people want them to believe in. I hope that as you grow older, you take all the time you want to explore everything, whether it is about God and religion, or any other big decision, and come up with your OWN opinion. If we share that belief, that’s fine. If we don’t, that’s fine. I love you, and you love me, no matter what.”
Hopefully, I did a decent job with that explanation…but I’m always better in writing anyway; so just in case, you can read it later in life in this collection of thoughts I have for you when there’s no pressure, in the moment, with a bunch of staring Subway patrons.
As far as God goes…there are men and women who devote their entire lives to studying God, looking for an exact answer as to what to believe. The idea of that makes my brain hurt, so I choose faith. I choose to have faith in a feeling that I had one time. I like that, because where else in life, besides with faith in God, can you base everything on a feeling you had one time? Can you imagine if your doctors said, “Well, look, evidence doesn’t support this, but last night, after dinner, I just had a feeling that if I cooked spinach and AlkaSeltzer together in a crockpot for 12 hours, and fed it to kids with cancer, they’d get better.” (Those people exist…just in tiny, expensive clinics in Mexico – but more on that later).
Anyway, one time, when I was almost a teenager, my mom woke me to watch the sunrise at the beach, on the last day of our vacation. My mom, like her mom, was very much the matriarch of our family…she planned and prepared so everything would be perfect, including family vacations. Every year, on the last day of vacation, the house was packed and ready to go before any of us even wiped sleep from our eyes. This was the first time that she had ever woken me to take part in her last morning ritual. It was just she and I…there was no expectation that my father or brother would want to see the sun rise that morning, nor would they be expected to help pack up the kitchen. On that morning, we walked down to the beach as the first pink and orange lines were appearing on the horizon. The breeze was perfect and slightly cool; we were warm enough but not too warm in shorts and sweatshirts. Like a Hallmark movie, some dolphins crested over the waves while we walked along the beach...I kid you not. We didn’t talk…it was too early for talking. I remember thinking, “This is it. This is God. God lives at the beach in the sunrise.”
Over the years, I have had plenty of hard times, tests of faith, and moments where I had no faith at all. I have joined and quit several churches, have met some amazingly inspirational and some very uninspiring people of faith. What brought me back to faith, ultimately, was you, and how you fell perfectly into my arms at the moment you needed me, and I needed you. Through all of that…when asked what I believe, the ONLY thing that has stayed the same for 20 years is my faith that God lives at the beach in the sunrise.
Explore. Search. Test. Live. Believe what you believe. I’ll be here if you want to talk about it.
Ohhhhh Father's Day. I wonder what you're going to think about Father's Day when you're older. When you read blogs and posts by single moms, they usually talk about the "dread" and "disappointment" of Father's Day - having to explain to the teacher that mom will be coming to the Father's Day breakfast instead of Dad, sending tie cards and handprint mugs to distant relatives or asking the teacher to address them to mom instead. From the first Father's Day of your childhood, I have tried to set a different, very happy tone, talking to you about our "village of people". For the first year or two, you were petrified of all men...all of your nurses were women, and although there were a few male doctors in your world, there were no cuddly/cozy feelings associated with them. Over the years, the tireless effort of Uncle Drew, Uncle Map, Uncle Jim, Pop-Pop, and eventually Uncle Dug and Uncle Gerard has made it so that you are not only comfortable with men, but you now crave that father figure bonding time.
I couldn't be happier that you have formed these bonds - when I considered your adoption, I worried that I was holding you back from a "nuclear" family, with a mom and dad and maybe a few siblings. I adored my Daddy (your Pop-Pop) from the time I was an infant! I played with his beard, colored with him, cuddled with him. He taught me how to love my brother best of all, and how to drive a manual transmission. My Dad taught me right from the start how a man should treat and love me, and I wanted all of that for you. What I didn't realize was that you would get all of that anyway, with the Uncles and Grandpa that we celebrated this Father's Day. These relationships mean a lot of driving, and phone calls, and plane tickets, and text messages, and emails for me! But it's worth everything, to see you form these bonds on your own. Some of these wonderful men chose to form these relationships with you - they formed them even though you screamed every time they looked at you! Some of these men didn't even know what they were getting into when you wormed your little adorable way into their hearts! These truly great men love you with all of their hearts; and though they are starting to or may one day have children of their own, they have a special place reserved for you. I know that you don't yet understand that, but one day you will get just how very special that is.
So this year, we celebrated these guys, and I felt called to reflect on this when I went back through my monthly photos and saw the picture collages that we put together for these six lucky guys to send out on Father's Day.
This Father's Day, I saw all of the same posts by the single mom bloggers and posters show up on Facebook, and I thought about how insanely lucky we are! There is no dread or worry associated with Father's Day....unless you count the worry that there won't be enough tie cards or handprint mugs to go around!
Last weekend, Maria and I returned to Victory Junction. This was our second family weekend, and her third time at camp, as she went for five days this summer. It could not have come at a better time – this year has been centered on my hand surgeries, and Maria has had to make a lot of compromises and take the backseat several times. With one more surgery to come, it was nice to have something to look forward to and something to distract us! Additionally this year, Maria has been hyper-focused on hating her medical differences – the infusions are her least favorite, with Gtube feedings taking a close second. Every week on infusion night, she reminds me that this is not fair. It is not fair that every Monday night after dinner, she has to have needles pushed into her abdomen and left there for three hours, slowly dripping the human blood product that replaces the missing parts of her immune system, while other kids just get to have their bath and go to bed. It is not fair that it pinches when the needles go in, stings as the IgG starts to infuse, and hurts when she rolls or sits. And I have run out of Pollyanna phrases to make her feel better about this. The only thing I have left in my pocket is Victory Junction. “I know it’s not fair,” I tell her each week, “But remember that directly because of your medical life, you get to experience Victory Junction twice each year!”
Family weekends are 2 days long (5pm Friday through noon on Sunday), and are packed with all-access activities, geared to make sure every camper and family tries something new, and forgets about their medical world as much as possible. There are standard camp activities (arts & crafts, woodshop, archery, fishing) and non-standard camp activities (dance parties after every meal, randomized intense chanting of Victory Junction catch phrases). There are families who have been coming for years, who know every Victory Junction staff by name. There are new families who feel awkward at first on the dance floor, but by the time the weekend ends, scream “Ice Cream and Cake” like they’ve done it all their lives. The feeling is impossible to describe. When I try to describe it to people, I am reminded of my youth pastor, Alan, who once said to us after an amazing youth retreat, “Remember when you go home after this weekend, you have experienced something amazing, and you will be emotionally charged and want to explain the details to everyone…and you will be disappointed when they don’t “get” it…because you can’t truly describe what has happened here. You have to experience it to understand it.”
The entire weekend is spent as a family, with a “crew chief” (Victory Junction volunteer who accompanies your family everywhere, and becomes a family member for the weekend). In fact, it is a rule that the family needs to stay together. The only exception to this rule is the optional 1-hour parent chat on Saturday, where the kids get to do a special activity with the crew chief, and parents have the option of spending that time with other medical parents, or joining their child for the activity. During both family weekends that we have attended, I have found this hour enlightening and enriching, for many reasons. Last year, I was a Victory Junction novice, and was guided along by a very small group of parents in a chat that brought me to tears. This year, the group was large but quiet, and I found myself more willing to share, and encouraging other parents to share in the difficult topic of “Something I Wish I Had Known When I Started This Journey of Medical Special Needs Parenting”. As I looked around the room and I shared my “wish I had known”, I looked at the faces of the parents new to Victory Junction, and thought of this:
I see you. I see you struggling to keep it together, as I share the controversial opinion that “I wish I had known it was okay not to have it all together some days,” and “I wish I had known that even though I chose this life of medical special needs parenting by fostering and adopting my daughter, that it’s okay to wake up some days and not want this life.” I see you, avoiding my eye contact, because you have never admitted that feeling to anyone, and don’t even like to admit it to yourself. But you are safe here, with the parents and staff at Victory Junction, to admit that for a minute, to feel that for an hour, and then to be re-united with your child and remember the absolute joys that this different parenting brings.
I see you. I see you struggling to leave your child with the Crew Chief as you walk away, for the one-hour parent chat. Maybe your child starts crying, or maybe you do, because leaving is not something that any of you are used to. Maybe you change your mind at the last minute, and decide to go to the activity with your child instead of the parent chat, because it’s too hard to give over that control. Maybe you finally break away, but not before leaving the crew chief with an Epi-pen, Diastat, glucose tablets, and six pages of instructions. We have all been here, and you are safe here, to leave your child in the care of a dedicated medical team and volunteers who have been briefed on your child and her condition, and who are willing and excited to help.
I see you. I see you wondering if you can possibly give over that control for five days, and allow your child to come to camp this summer without you. Oh it will be so hard – I’m not minimizing that. It will be hard to kiss him goodbye and walk away without him for five days. It will be hard to fit all of the instructions you want to give into the 20 minutes with the camp nurse or doctor, and the 20 minutes with the cabin counselors. It will be hard, because you are absolutely sure that call will come and you will have to pick him up, because no one but you has ever taken care of him. And it will be hard when that call does not come, because the team at Victory Junction is dedicated to making sure every child gets to experience camp. Your child is safe here, and it will be the best decision you ever make, to allow him that independence.
I see you. I see you awkwardly hanging out on the sidelines at the first night’s dance party after dinner. You don’t know the songs, and neither does your child. Or maybe your child has retreated to a far corner away from the noise like mine sometimes does, and you are trying to figure out how to engage her. Your hands go halfway up, attempting to learn the little moves, and you mouth along. You are safe here – just look at me, dancing around like a baboon crossed with an elephant! There is absolutely no judgment here – unless you count the embarrassed looks that my daughter is giving me! So grab your child’s hands, or spin your child’s wheelchair, or even grab your crew chief by the hands and come out to the middle of the dance floor! It’s worth it! By the end of the weekend, you will know every song, and you will be YouTubing them for your child within an hour of getting home.
I see you. I see you trying to hold back tears when your child tries something new, or when he waves goodbye to you and runs off to join his “new best friend” for an impromptu stage night practice. I see you with that tissue after a staff member singles your child out for praise that leaves him beaming. I see you using your sleeve because you didn’t realize you would need tissues at camp closing when that DVD was played. You can let it out – you are safe here. And chances are, one of us returning parents has a tissue for you.
I see you. I see you trying to put your thanks into words, to your crew chief, to the Victory Junction staff, to the parent that understood without saying anything. I tried, and failed, miserably last year to put my thanks into words…so I wrote a blog about it! They understand here, you don’t have to say anything…they see your smiles, your tears, your Golden Tickets, your dancing, and your unbelievable gratitude. And at the end of the weekend, they know that you finally understand, that you are safe here.
See you next year.
Maria and her camp BFF Natalee (who she only sees once each year) dancing on 80's Prom Night
Beanbag selfie: Maria and mom hanging out in the cabin during rest time
It was the spring of 1996. I had just turned 14 years old, and was completing the eighth grade. The radio exploded with Lauryn Hill's voice, a remake of an old song "Killing Me Softly". Every single fourteen year old girl sang that song like it was her personal anthem, though not one girl on that school bus really knew what it was like to experience true heartbreak...not one of us in our priviledged little lives had been through the pain that was described in that song. Even at the time, I knew it was ridiculous, but of course I sang with the rest of them! To not, would be to stand out, something you surely did not want to do in the eighth grade.
At that point in my life, I already stood out enough. I had made some "unpopular" social choices, which would wind up resulting in life-long friendships, but at the time made me the target of teasing. One thing that did not enter into the teasing, however, but set me apart in a positive way, was my singing voice. It was a talent that I was born with, thanks to favorable genetics, and had to do very little to cultivate. Even as a little girl, I was too practical (and also too shy) to dream of being a rock star or stage diva...I loved to sing, but planned to be a teacher. Thanks to my gift, I have met several people who have worked their way to Broadway, who have had the triad of talent, dedication, and incredible passion for music and drama. Those people are unbelievable, and I do not discount what they have done (in fact, I am in awe of it every day!), but I knew very early in my life that it was not the path for me. Still, I loved to sing, and lived for that magical feeling when the curtains opened on any drama, choir, or solo performance...but general stage fright and lack of true showmanship made my performances limited. My favorite place to sing was alone, or with one or two good friends in the car or in our bedrooms. It was here that I first learned to embrace the music and the lyrics, and use them to take me wherever I want to be.
To this day, I have a mental soundtrack of songs for all moods. I know exactly where to go, on my computer, iPod, or car CD changer to find a song that allows me to laugh or cry, engage or detach, commit to a battle or let everything go to a higher power. Music inspires me to do better, or reminds me that I am enough. Music lets me dwell in the past, or pushes me into a brighter future. As I explore Pandora radio, I now find entire stations that let me do just that...hours upon hours of music that allows me to be notalgic, inspired, silly, or moody. Whatever the feeling is, I am able to surround it with music, to fully embrace it.
Lately, I have noticed this same passion in you. With a little voice that you are just beginning to explore, and a tendency to want to listen to the same songs over and over again, you are beginning to relate to music and lyrics at a much earlier age than I did. After we saw Disney's "Frozen", and you came home singing "Let it Go", I decided to buy the soundtrack for you so that you could enjoy it over and over again (even if I was going to want to jump out of a car window after listening to the same songs repeatedly!). As I watched you singing "Let it Go" with such fervor and conviction, I smiled as I remembered the bus rides with Lauryn Hill and 50 priviledged eighth grade girls.
"The snow glows white on the moutain tonight, not a footprint to be seen. A kingdom of isolation, and it looks like I'm the queen. The wind is howling like the swirling storm inside. Couldn't keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don't let them in, don't let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know. Well now they know.
Let it go, let it go. Can't hold it back anymore. Let it go, let it go. Turn my back and slam the door. I don't care what they're going to say. Let the storm rage on...the cold never bothered me anyway.
Funny how some distance makes everything seem small. The fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all. It's time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I'm free." ...and so on.
I smiled as I watched you delve into this song, like you have with so many others...I remembered allowing myself to get lost in songs that I thought were so amazing, trying to find relevance to my life as I sang them. And then...you said something that stupified, chilled, and amazed me simultaneously.
"Mommy, this song kind of describes me. I try to hide things about me...I don't want other people to know about my Gtube, or my infusions, or my eating troubles, or all of the things I worry about. But then, once they know, I can just let it go and it feels better."
And then, just like that, you went back to singing, and left me again with your words squeezing my heart and making my mind race. It was a simple statement, and one that would have easily been missed if I'd been absorbed in texting, or Facebook, or my own thoughts, instead of driving the car, where you had my full attention. A wisdom and knowledge so far beyond your mere seven years, and an understanding that many adults do not possess. But now, you have a vehicle, an outlet, and finally it is one that I understand! So embrace the music, little girl. Let it make you happy, sad, engaged, detatched. Let it inspire you, or comfort you. Take it to the stage, if you want, or sing alone in your playroom. Sing to your friends (but they may tire of it!), sing to your relatives (they have to listen to you...it's a contractual obligation!)...sing your heart out. And I'll try to listen to every word.
This post is for a woman I have never met in person, but met on our mutual (and virtual!) journey through the Grace and Strength Lifestyle program...I have never met this woman, or her wonderful husband, but we are kindred spirits, on a very closely aligned journey of adoption and happiness and heartache, weight gain and loss, and a rollercoaster journey with the foster care system. We may have come to this point for very different reasons and at very different angles, but here we are. I have never met Lindsay, but I love her and my heart aches and rejoices and aches again as she trusts in God alone to drive this journey...because with the foster to adopt journey, there is absolutely nowhere else to place trust than in God. It is a system that does not make sense, that infuriates you throughout the entire process, where biological parents and family are given countless chances to screw up innocent children, and the foster parents who would give their left arm (and as I type this with one broken arm, this rings very true to me) to save these children from one second of loss or pain, but ultimately that means nothing in the court. From our Termination of Parental Rights days, I remember nothing more than the judge's statement that when terminating parental rights, he cannot even consider the fact that the foster parent intends to adopt...so he has to decide that any other outcome would be better than placing the child back with the biological family, even if it means group home placement. How messed up is that system??
Oh Lindsay, I remember those days so well. 1206 days (3 years, 3 months, 19 days) to be exact...from the minute my daughter came to live in my home, to the day that I had a piece of paper that said no one could ever take her away again. I knew before she ever came to live with me that she was mine...I had never had a clear message from God in my life, but this message about my daughter (at the time, my patient at the hospital) came very very clearly to me one day in 2006, and started me on a journey that changed the course of my entire life...I remember the worries that gnawed at me all day, as I had to wait months at a time for an update from "the system" about their progress in the case...the nightmares that came almost every night in which she went, not for a visit, but forever, to live in a home where she was not the main attraction but more of an afterthought. I begged God for another clear message...something that said it would all work out in the end...and all He gave me was time. More time to love her, yes...but more time to fall desperately in love with being her mother...more time for her to mature and know me as the only mother she could remember...which would have made the separation so much more unbearable.
Lindsay, I remember the phone calls...scheduling visits for the bio parents, getting the next scheduled court dates, getting the court cancellation calls, grieving for more lost time, praying for the day when I would not live in fear that the next call would say, "We are going to remove her from your home tomorrow." It got to the point where I cringed every single time the phone rang and I saw a Prince William County Government phone number come up.
I remember the holidays...I told everyone, "I'm just taking each one for what it is - another chance to celebrate with her" but that was a lie. I celebrated each one like she was on death's door, with presents out the yingyang and trying to cram every family tradition into that one day so that at least she might have one memory of us, of her heart family, when the "inevitable" day came that they would take her from me. I trusted in God, Lindsay, but only so far...there it is...ugly, but real.
I remember the social worker...we had a great one. They are not all great, this I know...just like teachers, therapists, doctors, etc. are not all great. Most of them are incredibly overworked, with caseloads full of children that they feel would be better off with TPR, but they have to tow the line and return these children to situations that have hopefully gotten better...not good, but better. Our social worker answered hundreds of panicked calls from me...I was calm in the face of medical emergency, but easily flustered when faced with the potential of losing my girl to the system. Our social worker held my hand every step of the way, and thought of things to put in the adoption agreement (when that time finally came) that I would never have thought of in a million years but that continue to protect us to this day), and when it came to adoption day 1206 days after she was placed in my care, no one celebrated (and cried) more than our social worker (well, except maybe me).
I remember too, Lindsay, that horrible day in court...it had been ten months since the first TPR in the local courts, but her birth parents had appealed to the regional court. On that day, we arrived in regional court expecting a three day trial and were presented with parents who decided to give up the fight but then changed their minds at the last minute. On that day I paced for four hours, begging, pleading, crying out to God and everyone who would listen, while they debated what to do. And the moment that I saw their faces, I realized that although they couldn't care for her in the way she needed, they were not the evil villains that I wanted them to be. On the day I gained a daughter, they lost their mental figment of the daughter they had pictured they would one day get back.
But what I remember most, Lindsay and Alya, is the day that I held that piece of paper in my hand...the day that Maria signed her new last name on the adoption papers right next to mine...a name that she had practiced learning to write for the few (less than three) weeks between final TPR and adoption day. I remember thanking God that day for His ultimate wisdom...in 1206 days - the longest gestation ever - I had learned more about being a mom than most people will ever know. Maybe God thought I needed to cook a little longer, or learn more patience, or something...maybe, as you said today, He just liked to watch me squirm...but whatever the case, it was the most perfectly orchestrated, beautiful miracle I have ever been a part of. Now I know I might be singing a different tune if things had turned out differently, and I still pray for you guys daily...but I believe that God does have a perfect plan...He just doesn't let us in on His plan as often as we would like.
To read more about my amazing friend Lindsay and her wonderful husband, visit: http://babycottonadoptionadventures.blogspot.com
It was the day of the interview. I had been mentally preparing for this for over a week now. The day had finally arrived, and I was very nervous...only three hours left. First, a shower, a blow dry, straight hair. Next to find the perfect outfit...something that said "Responsible, but knows how to have fun" or "I may not shop at Nordstrom, but I know how to be a little bit classy." Finally, I was out of time, and the moment had come to leave. Oh my...I hadn't washed the car. I hoped that they wouldn't notice the smudgy child fingerprints, or the two splotches of bird poop. Ah well, no time to worry about that now. It was time to go.
Upon arrival, I took a moment to check for overlooked car crumbs on my black pants, and to smooth my shirt. I tucked my hair behind my left ear, removed my sunglasses, and...knock, knock, knock. Two interviewers opened the door and I entered the room. I stole a glance at the pair of them - pressed pants, wrinkle-free shirts, perfectly manicured toes on the woman, not a hair out of place. I took my seat at the table - it was a dinner interview. Salmon, a perfect portion of rice, grilled asparagus, tiny little side salad. Salad! It's very difficult to look refined eating salad. "Can we get you a glass of wine?" Wine! I had not prepared for this, and was caught in the impossible conundrum. Refuse, and appear ungrateful. Accept, and seem like a lush. "Just a half-glass, thank you, and may I also have a glass of water?" I compromised. Perfect...the happy medium. Except I was the only one who took the half-glass of wine. The interviewers poured tonic water with lemon. Damn.
The interview lasted an hour and a half. College education, career goals, reasons for coming to the Northern Virginia area, recreation preferences, thoughts on child-rearing..nothing was off-limits. The answers to easy questions flew out of my mouth. For the harder questions, I took a sip of water first while contemplating my answer, a technique I had learned from watching others interview, and had used very successfully when I took the stand at Maria's termination of parental rights hearing. After 90 minutes, it was all over...the moment of truth was upon us.
I stood up to walk to the door, and waited for the "Don't call us, we'll call you." I gave the standard niceties about the pleasant evening, and talked about how delightful the weather was likely to be over the coming weekend.
And then, they said it. "Well, thanks so much for coming! It was really nice to meet you! We would be delighted to have your daughter Maria and our child ___ get together some time."
Whew! Mission accomplished! First success in Northern Virginia parenting!
Every once in awhile, something really gets my attention and makes me want to write. Sometimes, I have brilliant ideas in the most inconvenient places. The stairwells, the car, my bed...places that I will never write them down, and most likely never remember them, so they will never come to fruition. I decided to subscribe to some writing prompt sites, to see if that might help spark some writing genius, or at least get me writing more often. I don't promise daily blogs; I barely manage a daily shower. I would, however, like to write more often, so here goes.
Today's writing prompt was "be", or "just be"...so here goes.
Don't grow up too fast. Just be 7 for awhile. Play puppies and make signs for your bedroom door that say "Keap Oot". Do a forward roll to get from one place to another instead of walking. Paint your toenails red with blue polka dots and think it's the most beautiful design that anyone has ever invented. Skip a shower so you smell like sweat and dirt for one day. Laugh your absurd little laugh for no particular reason even though I just told you it was time to quiet down. Just be.
Don't worry about what you want to be when you grow up - just be exactly who you want to be right now. A budding gymnast, an artist, an ice skating construction worker, horseback champion, a farmer, puppy trainer extraordinaire! Think less about the things you possess or wish to possess and how to be successful later in life so that you can have more things, and think more about how to build a rocket launcher from all of the things you find in your playroom. Just be.
Be funny, be sweet, be sassy, be bitter. Be cranky, be sleepy, be silly, be serious. Be helpful, be kind, be excited, be cautious. Be whatever it is you want to be right now. But just be.
Very soon, it will be time to be an adult. You will have to be serious when your heart wants to laugh. You will need to be helpful when you want to be selfish. You will need to be calm when your body wants to run. For now, I hope you'll be 7, and be whatever you want to be.