Thursday, August 13, 2015

Partner

Today I woke up, left the house and went to a coffee shop. I had breakfast and drank hot coffee. I read a book and journaled and sat and breathed.

I ran some errands. No little kid in a cart with an infant strapped to my chest, no praying that no meltdown would occur, no hasty exit for the car, no car seat wrestling matches, no hungry infant on the drive home wailing for milk as the toddler contorts his body in such a way as to physically torture the 8-year-old smushed into the middle seat next to him.

Quiet.

A haircut, a few hours on a lounge chair at the pool with a book, a catnap in the sun. Singing at the top of my lungs in the car. (Oh wait, I do that anyway.)

And a walk back into my home right before bedtime to the toddler shrieking "mama, mama" with delight, with a sleepy baby's sleepy smile, with a child asking me how my day was, was it restful, was it good. With a kiss from my husband, smiling and glad to see me.

This, my friends, was my Mother's Day gift. The gift of a day. Not to get away from my kids, although practically that is what I did, but a day to reset, a day to breathe in and out, a day to be reminded that while life is challenging and loud and chaotic right now, that while I am exhausted and showers are a luxury seldom enjoyed, that life is good. That while my hands are "full" as so many strangers like to remind me when we venture into public, that I spent many years with them half empty and this is better.

And the best thing about today?

I didn't call my husband. I texted him to let him know how I was doing (since we both know I struggle to relax, to enjoy and I wanted to reassure him that my day was going well) but I didn't check in.

I don't have to.

He is not the babysitter. He is not childcare. He is their dad. Fully capable. Fully in control, as much as any of us parents are. He knows his sons, knows what they need, their quirks, their personalities, their favorite foods, the exact way you have to do nap time or the right way to phrase a question to the toddler. He knows it all.

I didn't have to leave a long list or a schedule. I didn't leave food in the fridge. I just washed my face, put my shoes on and left the house.

A true partner is no joke, my friends.

To be with a man who understands how powerful is his role as father is amazing.
To be with a man who doesn't think he is doing me some kind of favor that needs to be repaid when he takes over the kids is no small thing.
To be with a man who I can trust knows us, really knows us, to be fully aware and without any doubts that he is for me, for them, for our family? That is beauty.
To be married to my best friend and to come home and see the baby resting on his shoulder as the toddler runs circles around him, to have him turn and smile and show me that this, this chance to spend a whole day alone with his boys, is a joy to him, a gift, really.

Well, there are no words.

Marriage and parenthood are the hardest things I have ever done. To be able to do them with someone who is a true partner - well, I imagine I couldn't possibly do it any other way.

Tomorrow the day will be crazy, as it always is. Really, crazy is our new normal. But I'm grateful that I had the chance to breathe, to remember, to sit, to think (and not think!). And I am grateful to this man who knows how much I needed that, who loves his sons with a fierceness I didn't know possible and who always, always, makes me feel like we can do this thing called life. And do it well.

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.