Monday, August 3, 2015

Sensory Mama Speaks Up

If you are a parent, chances are you've spent hours researching something. Maybe it was food triggers or daycares or schools or vaccines or whatever. Something caused you to pore over the internet looking for desperate answers.

For me, when my sweet baby turned 11 months and started throwing massive tantrums, I turned to sensory research. A few people suggested it after interacting with my son. It was something I knew a little bit about because of some friends with children who have sensory processing disorders, but really didn't know the details.

After reading up and talking to some friends and our doctor, it became obvious: this kid was spirited, but did not have anything sensory going on. At least not that we could figure out. So no help there.

But you know what did happen?

My husband turned to me and said "Sound familiar?"

Because it did. Painfully familiar. Not because of my children. Because of me.

Things I had always seen in myself and just thought were personality quirks. Hating for anyone to ever touch my face because even a little bit caused physical pain, not being able to handle repetitive loud noises, losing myself with too much noise and touch to the point of feeling like the only solution would be to curl up in a dark closet until it could all go away. Feeling like a failure that prayer couldn't keep me calm in the midst of parenting some days.

And you know what? What I thought was a lack of maternal instinct to handle the early years (and maybe still is on some level, I'm just not a baby person) might have been compounded by an actual physical problem with all the screaming and touching that comes with baby and toddlerhood.

And maybe, just maybe, there were actual solutions to feeling like my brain was going to explode halfway through the day.

I asked a good friend for a list and she shared some tips with me- some of them were things I could do IN THE MOMENT of feeling like it was all to much - these were things her son needed to calm down and if they work on kids, why not me? Not things I could do later when my husband got home, like read my books or go for a run or have quiet time to myself. But things, when in those deepest, darkest moments of feeling like I was going to snap and it was just all too much, things I could pull away and do. Or even do WITH a child still attached to me.

What is the list she sent?

- tight hugs/wraps
- deep massage 
- joint compressions
- therapeutic brushing
- impact
- weight bearing 
- heavy lifting

I have found for myself that the most effective way to keep my brain from going from overload to meltdown (and my meltdowns look like sad despair, not tantrums) are exercise, weight bearing and heavy lifting activities.  Please stay away from me with those hugs, though. Seriously. The last thing I was is someone to touch me with a compassionate look in his or her eyes when I am about to lose it. I will have to resist the urge to punch you.

And it turns out that when you have a ginormous toddler, it is tremendously easy to find weight bearing and exercise activities in the moment of chaos.

So yes, my neighbors, if they were to look out the window might see my toddler laying on my back while I do push-ups and loving every minute of it. Or see me using the monkey bars to do pull-ups  or chin-ups while he screams about something unknowable  - doing just enough that I can bring my mind back to sane and calmly deal with his meltdown since I've avoided my own - and honestly, half the time he stops freaking out when he sees me do them and just laughs and points at "mama up!" Or see us having races around the back yard (he already knows to kneel down for "on your mark, get set, go!" where I can sprint and sweat and feel instantly better.  Or doing burpees together, which he totally cannot do yet but seems to think are hilarious. My kid is incredibly physical and loves all this. We play hard and then we laugh hard. We fall down a lot, we get back up and we keep going. And man does that kid take good naps.

Incidentally, this is no small reason that I get questions all the time about how I've gotten my arms to be so toned and muscular, much more so than when I was younger and working out regularly.  "Parenting," I say. "Just parenting." Toddler workouts are no joke.

So even though the days are long around here, even though we are going on a full year since the tantrums started, even though it doesn't always work, I am thankful for such a beautiful fun-loving, son, for the willingness to keep learning about myself and make changes where I must to parent him better even as I attempt to take care of myself more fully than I did my first time around with this parenting thing.

And seriously, my deltoids? Things of beauty now. There's always a silver lining, friends.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Watching Goodbye

There is nothing, nothing, that can prepare you to watch someone say goodbye to her child.

No amount of training or imaginings or books about loss or stories of fellow adoptive parents or birthparents can come close.

A year and a half ago, this all felt different. We knew about our son's birth mom, heard about her pain, her sadness, even in the midst of certainty of her decision. But we didn't actually know her. We hadn't hugged her or seen a picture of her. We didn't know what her voice sounded like or how wide her smile was. We didn't know why she made this choice.

Now we know.

And while I'm overwhelmingly glad to know these things, to have these mysteries solved, I also sometimes miss the ignorance.

Because in the ignorance, I could not feel her pain.

In the ignorance, she was just a member of the "adoption triad", someone we treasured in spirit, whose courage and bravery we honored. But she was not particularly real to me or to my son. Intangible, somehow.

And with the new tangibility comes new pain for all of us.

To sit across from a woman who looks you in the eye and thanks you for loving her sons. To watch her glance down at the baby in her arms and hold him tight, unsure if she will ever choose to see him again, if it would be too painful to answer his questions. To hear her whisper words of love and heartache and watch a tear fall, landing on his little hands before she hands him to you to take home.

This is to see pain at its deepest.

So maybe I've been a little quieter about this adoption. Maybe there has been a little more of the bitter than the sweet in these early weeks because I cannot remove that image of mother and son in the moment of goodbye. I don't think I ever will, nor should I. I pray that it will, in the hardest moments of parenting him, remind me of her deepest sacrifice, her hardest choices, her unfathomable pain- and my deep, humbling privilege in calling him "son" alongside her.

And sometimes I think "Is that what God's face looked like? When he said goodbye to Jesus?" Was it that mixture of deep anguish and hope that I saw on her face? Is what she is feeling a small taste of God's own huge sacrifice?

I can't ever know but it makes me pause this time around with the enormity of what adoption means.

And, in the pausing, thank God that, despite all the pain, he has brought us all together- the beautiful woman, her precious sons - our family, that looks more beautiful than we could ever imagine but that will also have deep scars underneath the beauty. Scars of goodbye and loss and grief.

Sometimes in the church we like to paint adoption with rainbows and unicorns, but this is hard stuff, friends. Deep, soul wrenching choices that last a lifetime.

So while I treasure the coos and the first smiles and the sweetness of his big brothers holding his hand or kissing him gently on the head, I treasure it with the knowledge that their first mother is missing it. And while we cuddle him and teach him to call us mom and dad, she waits for texts and pictures, living in the reality of life after loss, her arms empty of that little boy she cuddled not even two months ago.

I am grateful for God's comfort and hope on the days when her loss feels bigger than my joy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why My Son Knows About Charleston

One of my favorite scenes in the Harry Potter series takes place toward the end of the fifth book. Harry, who has already had multiple heartbreaking losses in his life, has just lost his godfather. He is raging, he is sad, he is numb. And Dumbledore, his mentor, finally shares with him the truth of Harry's story. Who he will have to be. Why he has been targeted by the most evil wizard in mankind. Why he lost his parents. What he will need to do to overcome that evil.

And he shares why he, Dumbledore, waited so long to tell him. Over and over, he goes back to the same thing. He just felt Harry was too young to know, too young to understand, to carry the burden. That he, Dumbledore, didn't want to cause him the pain of truth.

And Dumbledore then admits this was a tragic mistake. It never feels like a good time to share the truth of tragedy. But if you don't tell the truth, you can never understand. You can never fully process the gravity of that fight against evil. You can't prepare yourself.

This is why I told my son about Charleston.

This is why, when I finally had a moment alone with him, even after we had been laughing and joking and I was loathe to "spoil" the moment, I told him.

I told him about Dylann Roof, about his hatred and his gun. I told him about the 9 people who died at a church bible study and about the people who played dead to survive. I told him that there are more people than we realize who believe these same things that drove him to this act of violence. I told him that sometimes I don't sleep at night because I worry that his brothers will run into these people at a younger age than I am prepared to handle or that the people they run into will have gotten so far along in their anger that they will be behave like Dylann Roof did last week and my sons will be harmed. His brothers. Friends of his that are black. They will be treated differently, hated, and those who parent them will have bigger fears than the average American parent.

This is why I told my son about Charleston.

Some might say he was too young. I guarantee you that parents of black children are telling their kids about this. That it's just a part of their narrative and how they explain life. Can my son not take 10 minutes out of his summer to be serious and hear about the reality of what it is like to be black in America?

What if, each time a new tragedy occurs (and let's face it, it feels often these days), I deemed him too young? Not ready to understand. Not able to handle the burden of knowledge. What then happens if the first time he hears about it is from someone who agrees with Dylan Roof? From someone who doesn't see the problems our country has with race? What then? Will he come to me with questions about it? Will he believe the lies on some level?

What happens if I don't arm him with the truth and let others do the talking for me?

This is why I told my son about Charleston. And why I told him about the Holocaust. And about the Trail of Tears. And...and...and.

I don't want him sitting in some history class 8 years from now hearing a watered-down version of the truth. I don't want him to grow up with the luxury of ignoring race. I want him to know, right now, what it means to be a white ally.

NOT because his brothers are black.

But because he is a human being who happens to have black brothers and will end up seeing firsthand the racism that most white people can choose to ignore or explain away.

Like most 8 year olds, he took it in. He asked some questions. Who taught that boy to hate that way? His parents? His friends? What is happening to the families of the people who died? Are they sad? Will that man go to jail forever?

He expressed his sadness, his frustration, his own hopes that things will change, his desire to speak up for truth, his own fears for his brothers. And then we prayed for the families.

And then, in typical kid fashion, we moved on to talk about the fun he had at camp that morning. He's a kid. He's resilient.

But I want him to know. To start being an ally now.

And silence will never accomplish anything when it comes to this particular battle. Except, of course, the kind of silence that comes with listening well to the story so we can be better allies.

That is why I told him. And why I'll tell him next time. And, frankly, why you should tell yours.

Maybe we can raise a generation that isn't colorblind and understands the realities facing our nation. Maybe this will be the generation that will finally, finally, see the change that must happen for us to move forward as a nation.

I don't know. But I do know this - I will not, as God is my witness, be a part of raising children who have no clue. I want more for them.