Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Books, Books and More Books

I LOVE books. I really do. I love reading alone, to my kids, listening to others read. I love the story, the different worlds, the collision of lives, the way you can lose yourself in a book and come out a different person.

As we continue to expand our library and make it more multicultural, I love to find new lists of books. And because I love reading so much, I love when OTHER people love reading. So, naturally, I wanted to share the lists I have found, with much thanks to the online transracial adoption group to which I belong. 

Enjoy! And if you have any go-to lists of your own, would you mind posting them in the comments so I can expand my own lists? Thanks!

Multicultural Children's Book Lists

Chinese-American: 

http://www.momsrising.org/blog/top-10-chinese-american-childrens-books-ages-2-14

Korea/Korean American: 

http://www.amazon.com/lm/RNC8U85ZBMLX3

Latino-American: 

http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2010/09/top-10-best-latino-american-childrens-books-ages-2-16/

Native American: 

http://www.amazon.com/lm/31LIOHZ6LVOAU

Black: 

http://www.niamagazine.com/childrens-books-with-black-characters/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mallorymcinnis/black-history-picture-books#.gb45qAVGw

http://www.homegirlblog.com/2014/03/childrens-books-featuring-black-kids.html

http://www.binoandfino.com/blog/2015/8/11/a-list-of-childrens-books-that-celebrate-black-boys

Young Adult

http://www.bustle.com/articles/18681-5-amazing-young-adult-novels-starring-characters-of-color

Multicultural: 

http://abooklongenough.com/blog/2015-multicultural-award-winners-in-kids-books-african-american-latino-asian-american-jewish-international-jewish-titles

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/82680.Multicultural_Christmas_Picture_Books

http://www.tfcbooks.org/about-us

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/books-with-characters-of-color

Books on Specific Countries/Regions

Africa: 
http://delightfulchildrensbooks.com/2011/03/31/africa/

Ethiopia

https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/kids-ethiopia

https://www.goodreads.com/list/user_vote/993475

Guatemala: 
http://www.amazon.com/Books-for-Guatemalan-Children/lm/T95UM1JGWV4F

Haiti: http://libwww.library.phila.gov/faq/viewsummaryAsk.cfmcid=494&pid=228&category=Haiti&FAQCategory=103

India
http://www.thealternative.in/lifestyle/50-indian-books-every-parent-must-read-to-their-child/


Books on the Civil Rights Movement/Social Justice

http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2012/01/top-10-childrens-fbooks-civil-rights-movement/

http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2010/01/15-excellent-civil-rights-books.html/

http://www.amightygirl.com/books/social-issues/prejudice-discrimination?cat=71

http://www.amightygirl.com/mighty-girl-picks/civil-rights-history


Books on Talking to Kids about Race/Racism

http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2013/01/resources-for-talking-to-kids-about.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/calamityamberlacoloradaj/25-contemporary-picture-books-to-help-parents-tea-vl4p

Friday, December 11, 2015

To Do: Simplify

Two years ago, as we were closing out 2013, I signed up to do a simplifying challenge. To get rid of 2014 items in my house during that upcoming year that we didn't need or weren't actually using. Just stuff, you know.

Then my middle child came home. And as most people with small children know, infancy is NOT the time to get rid of stuff. You are inundated with gifts, diapers, wipes, new furniture, carseats, toys...well, you get it. We were in intake mode, not purge mode.

But as our (likely) move approaches and I look at the reality of trying to sell a house with 3 boys and their accompanying paraphernalia underfoot, I am more than daunted. I can barely get dinner on the table- how in the world will this place ever look presentable? Is that poop on the floor? What?!!!

Because I am someone who loves a challenge, though, I decided that rather than wonder how I will do it when the time comes, I'm going to be proactive. I am laying down a challenge for myself and anyone who wants to join and thrives on a little accountability.

Here it is:

Starting now through January 11, I am going to do at least one of the following every day (and yes, during the holiday season when new things are coming into the house):

  • Throw away a bag of unused or trashed items. 
    • (You know what I mean, those matchbox cars with missing wheels, socks with holes in them or, um...expired products in the pantry...)
  • Pack a bag to donate to someone. 
    • Do you know someone who could use some clothes that you would otherwise let sit in your closet? Or have an extra coat for your kid because someone passed it along to you? Pack up some of that "extra" stuff you own and give it to someone who can actually use it. 
  • Pack a box for storage. 
    • Since we are likely moving this summer, I am already thinking about which things I don't need to use in the next 6 months and boxing them up. Books that Nate has outgrown and Jayce won't need yet. Toys that no one is using but will eventually. Fancy kitchen dishes because, let's be honest, we ain't having many dinner parties at this stage of life.
  • Work on a repurpose. 
    • I had a bookcase sitting downstairs holding movies but I also had somewhere else I could move those movies. So I moved the bookcase upstairs into our hall closet to create shoe storage rather than buying something new we didn't actually need. What do you own that gathers dust but could be used for a new, helpful purpose right now?  Does it need a fresh coat of paint? A new location?
So, that's it. Every day, 15 minutes, one thing done. 

And yes, there's grace. I know there will be days with illnesses or no nap overlaps or social events that prevent this from happening. But for me, having a tangible goal every day is very life-giving.

So, anyone in? 

Comment and let me know if you want to join me! 

Friday, December 4, 2015

All the Change

In 2009, we moved from Virginia to NC. I went on sabbatical and Reed started grad school.

In 2010, I started a new job.

In 2011, I started a different new job.

In 2012, Reed applied for his post-doc and we began to dream, again, of what could be next.

In 2013, we moved to Wisconsin and I quit my job and started taking classes at UW. Neither of us had ever lived further than 2 hours from the beach.

In 2014, Nate came home. I stopped taking classes.

In 2015, Jayce came home. And we started thinking again of what and where is next for us.

So.

There has been a LOT of change in our lives the last 6 years. A LOT.

This morning I was at the gym, my baby sleeping at home while my toddler enjoyed himself at the Child Watch. A song I hadn't heard in awhile came on my ipod and it was one of those moments where life comes to a screeching halt and you see something.

I saw the changes we've been through. And I saw the coming year and how much more change was in store. And for one moment, I just wanted to weep. To stop. To stand still and just BE for a whole year.

But that's not going to happen. Things are going to change. AGAIN.

And I listened to that song and it was as if God himself was saying, "Um, hi? Remember me? I know it's hard for you to get up early and hear my voice these days, but I never went anywhere. And I will be in the changes to come. I always am. I hold your world in my hands. Trust me."

And as I breathed slowly in and out (because that's what you do when you are doing an inclined leg press), I tried to breathe in some calm. Breathe in some trust. Breathe out the uncertainty. Breathe out the fear of not knowing where we will live a year from now, the fear of starting over. Again.

I have a feeling this is going to be my SONG this year. You know. The one you have to listen to every day, the one that alternately makes you sob or laugh or just breathe, again, because you have, again, forgotten to do it.


All the change.

It'll be just fine. If we are in California, Canada or Florida, my world is in His hands. There will be new friends, good people.

Breathe in, breathe out.

And, you know, ask God if 2016 could please be the last year with a big change for a long time.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Nine Words I'll Never Say

Last week I found myself leaving our YMCA in the midst of dramatic spectacle. My 2 year old was upside down (I was holding him by his legs because he is so strong that once he decides he is IN IT, I cannot actually hold him by his body any longer.) He was mad because..well, actually I don't know. It came on suddenly and inexplicably and no amount of logic or talking was going to break it. We just needed to get the heck out.

So as I tried to stay calm (and thanked God that I had no other children along on this outing because HOW??), we walked through the foyer of the Y, my son suspended in midair, flailing about like a landed fish. People stopped talking, they stared.

One woman smiled and said "I remember those days!"

And I cringed...because I wondered if she was going to say it.

The words that ALWAYS make me feel worse no matter what kind of day we are having.

You know them. Maybe you've said them. Or been the recipient.

"Treasure these moments. They grow up way too fast."

Right.

Thankfully, in this instance, she didn't say it. I let out the breath I was holding, praised God for bicep curls that enable me to carry my 40 pounder with one arm and moved carefully out the door to the car.

So here's the thing.

I get that statement a lot. Sometimes verbally, sometimes people post articles telling me not to miss even one beautiful moment(which I click on for some inexplicable reason), sometimes I just see it in people's eyes.

And do you want to know my honest reaction?

Guilt.

Yep, guilt. Now, admittedly, I dabble in guilt more than the average person. It's my constant companion, the area of my life that I have to continually crawl back to God with and ask him to remove. It's not His fault I feel guilty. It's all my own. Self-forgiveness is a huge challenge for me.

But when someone looks into my life and tells me to treasure each moment, that they will pass too quickly, all I feel is terrible. Like I can never possibly do a good enough job because on top of feeding them, getting them on good schedules, changing them, wrestling them, loving them, enduring the freakouts and public humiliations, I am somehow supposed to find this magical all the time and remember every moment or I will regret it later.

That is a LOT of pressure.

And we almost never know the story of the person to whom we offer these trite phrases.

What if this was said to a woman suffering from post-partum depression? Or post-adoption blues? The parent who has a child with severe needs who is just beyond exhausted and doesn't know how he or she will do it again tomorrow? The father who cannot connect with his son or daughter and blames himself for somehow not being a good enough dad? The mom who battled her two-year-old from 7 am to 7 pm yesterday and had just enough energy to physically put herself to bed just after?

Yes, some day I will probably look back and miss some elements of when they were tiny. Heck, some days I manage to treasure it in the now, I really do.  When we are having a good day and the boys are reading to the baby or the older ones are tickle-wrestling and the giggles are abundant. Even when some of the moments are hard but I can see the progress we're making, I can find moments to pause, to reflect, to be thankful, to see the magic in childhood.

But on the days where I am just covered in spit up, when I've been kicked in the head trying to get someone in the car, wrestled two squirming humans through 12 diaper changes, forgotten what it feels like just to be a clean, reasonable woman...on those days, we just do life. Without magic or treasure.

Maybe the women who say this (and I have NEVER had a man say it) to me really felt in their element during the young years or maybe they are in the midst of it now and by speaking it aloud they are trying to remind themselves. But I've said it before and I'll say it again- we all have different gifts. I feel like I'm a pretty darn good mama some days, especially to my 9 year old. I am willing to play crazy games, chase him around the yard, shoot goals on him so he can practice soccer, paint cardboard to help him make a lego city, curl up for an hour reading Harry Potter together. I feel good at it.

But the younger years? Every day I wake up and have to ask God for deep grace and patience because the younger years don't come naturally to me. I'm not a "baby" person. I don't look at them and think "Oh, don't grow up!" I look at them and think "hmmm..if you could tell me rationally and eloquently using your words, we wouldn't be having this miscommunication." Or, rather, I would think that if my brain were capable of such verbiage in the midst of someone kicking me in the head.

All this to say, you can go on saying those nine words to people if you really want to. I, however, will not. I don't know their story, I don't know their gifts.

What I will say is this:

"I see you. You might be great at this right now or it might not be your strength. But you're trying and that's what matters. God's got the rest." 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Getting to Know Him

Every Wednesday, my middle child and I venture out to the library for a program called Toddler Tales. We leave the littlest one home, sleeping, while my husband gets some work done. This is just time for us. Time to get out of the house. Time he desperately needs.

When I signed up just 5 weeks ago, it was with great trepidation. Could he handle this? How much sitting still was involved? I knew that if it was more than 3 seconds, we were likely in trouble. The librarian kindly assured me that he wouldn't be the first toddler who couldn't sit still and that if we needed to leave and come back some days, that was ok. Still, though, I bravely signed up assuming that we might be THAT family. Every week, leaving the room, kicking and screaming.

Only my stubbornness enabled me to fill out that form. I will NOT be trapped here all winter. We will DO things.

The thing is...neither will he. He needs to get the heck out of here more than I do.

For four weeks we have been faithfully going. Have we had to leave a time or two? Sure. Has he loved every minute of it? No. But he's loved a lot of it. Loudly and happily.

And today, as we were leaving the program, that sweet librarian came up to us and said "Nate, I LOVE your enthusiasm!"

And she was serious. She wasn't looking for a more generous name to equate with energetic and intense. She wasn't, like so many people, trying to tell me that I have my hands full or giving me that look that says "good luck with that, lady, " or, worse, judging me because my 23 month-old never stops moving and it must be some flaw in my own parenting playbook.

She genuinely saw my sweet boy for what he is - enthusiastic! And after she said that to him, he clapped his hands, gave her his million-dollar grin, walked over to her and gave her a big hug.

Because if there is one thing this kid slows down for, it's a deep, long hug.

You see, she already knows what I'm still learning. He is kind and sweet and the traits that make him an incredibly challenging toddler, his energy, intensity and persistence, are also the traits make him fun and strong and will, someday, make him into a good leader, hard worker and wonderful friend, in my humble opinion.

Friends, it has been a long year around here. We have been dealing with something resembling the "terrible twos" since he was 11 months old and he is only one month short of 2 now. The thing that makes it so hard has been our inability to know what makes him tick. He is SO different from us, his parents, so different from his older brother. What sets him off makes no sense to me. And the more I try to parent him out of how I understand life and logic, the more we have our catastrophic days.

But the more I am seeing him for who he is - trying to understand what it feels like to be an off-the-charts extrovert, recognizing that when he's restless and tired that he actually WANTS and NEEDS to be around other kids rather than retreating for time to himself, parenting in a way that tells him I hear him, I'm listening and want to understand his persistence, teaching him words to name his emotions (and, yes, I realize the great irony of trying to teach my child the words when just a few years ago I still needed a chart with little faces and emotions written under them to name my own feelings). Seeing him for who he is and meeting him there.

Well, it's making all the difference around here.

Did I learn this on my own? Heck no. I learned it from a book.

And I'll be honest - besides sleep books, I usually hate parenting books. I read them and I come away feeling burdened and shamed and guilty. Or angry, depending on what was written.

I have only been reading "Parenting Your Spirited Child" for a few weeks really consistently now, but it has already changed our household. I come away not ashamed or helpless, but hopeful, armed with new strategies and gratefulness for who God made this little boy to be.

Does the book say that the most challenging kind of toddler to parent is an intense and persistent one? Yep.

Does he have both those traits off the chart? Yep.

But that honestly makes me feel better- it's NORMAL that this should be such a challenge. What can I learn from it? How can I love him better? Knowing this isn't some failing on my part or some character flaw on his has set us both free to be ourselves.

So, yes, at the library today, I was thrilled. Did most of the other kids sit happily in their parents' laps, listening to stories, singing the songs? Sure. Did mine stand up in front of me, clapping his hands, dancing and then offering up hugs to whoever was around him? Definitely. 6 weeks ago I might have felt frustrated and embarrassed that he couldn't behave like the others.

But today? Today, I saw him for who he is. Enthusiastic, fun-loving, sweet and kind.

And the fact that the librarian did, too, went a long way.

Wouldn't it be amazing if, as adults, we could see a child in public who might be having a rough time, who might be a little more energetic than the kids around him or speak with a little more volume to his voice and try to see the God-given beauty in his personality, rather than jumping to judgmental conclusions about his behavior or the parenting involved?

I am hoping that as he continues to grow, as we continue to venture out and try new things, fewer people will tell me I have my hands full and more will see what we are seeing in him.

His great love of life and the people in it.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Unhiding

6 years ago, I kept secrets.

I didn't cry.

I cringed when someone said it was my turn to "share" my feelings. What feelings, really?

On the outside, life looked perfect.

Newly moved into a lovely town and a beautiful house. Time off from a beloved job for a restful sabbatical. A beautiful preschool boy just starting out in school, learning to make friends and always down for a snuggle. A generous, intelligent husband in graduate school with big dreams ahead. New friends in the making.

Life looked perfect on the surface.

No one could look at me and see the baby we'd lost.

No one knew that when I was in the bathroom stall, I was injecting myself with fertility drugs.

No one knew that once a month, I would descend into despair when our dreams of another child were once again shattered.

I was good at keeping secrets.

So of all the feedback I ever receive about my blog, it is perhaps astounding that it most often revolves around my willingness to be honest, be vulnerable, be real, be truthful.

6 years ago, none of those things could have been said of me.

6 years ago, I was still in hiding.

From time to time, I look back and read something I wrote a long time ago. Something God was teaching me back when the secrets were drowning out God's voice of grace in my life. And I think about how far He has brought me.

The last six years have been one long journey of Unhiding.

Of saying out loud,

"I have lost a baby I will always love."

"I have been through infertility and it is lonely and fearful and silent."

"I know what it feels like to gear all your hopes up for that one moment of truth every month only to know that you have at least 30 days again until you might see a dream realized."

"I know what it is to wait and wait and wait on a dream. To doubt God, to rail at him. To be angry at your own body, your own limitations."

I have said it out loud. And while there was so much fear in the first saying, in every time I pushed "Publish" and waited to see how the honesty would go forth, with each saying and every push, it got easier. It gets easier.

The unhiding.

It's painful. It's not easy to go from a person good at keeping to herself to a person whose life is on display. It's never easy to change. Particularly to change into a person you used to fear becoming.

But every choice, every new life change all comes from this. This process of unhiding. Of baring the soul. Of being honest. Of answering questions. Of knowing that because of your honesty, maybe just one person that day has realized that someone else has been through the same thing.

About a week ago I stumbled on pictures from last fall. Pictures of me laughing and playing at the park with my (now) middle child. At the time, most of God's work of change in me had been on the inside, in the way he had been healing and bringing to light the ugly and redeeming it into something beautiful. And I remembered these pictures because, at the time, I was unwilling to post them. To share them with anyone. I looked haggard and exhausted and dried out and reddened. I felt like the pictures didn't represent who I felt I had become or who I was becoming. And I knew, by my unwillingness to post them, that I still had a long way to go in my unhiding. My struggle with my skin stole the joy from that evening.

So they sat in my files for a year. Forgotten.


Pics from September 2014 (with makeup)
And during this last year, I finally began to make peace with my need to see healing in my skin, to stop the hiding under makeup, to stop talking with my hands held in front of my chin because I was embarrassed at the acne at the age of 36.

For some who know me, the decision to share about my skin journey may have seemed shallow. Or out of character. The decision to then go into "skincare business", which for me is really just offering the same possibility of healing to others, may have seemed even more unlike me.

But for those who know me more deeply, who have followed this blog over the years, maybe it seems in keeping with what the Lord has done. To be able to finally post those old pictures and not care anymore but also to post pictures of a year later and see what God has done in healing my outward skin even as he has continued to heal my inner life. To be able to say that I am now "unhiding" my face. Not wearing makeup to cover it up. Not touching up pictures before I post them. Not finding my joy stolen because I am embarrassed over some pictures. Telling other people about it because I can't keep secrets anymore. I won't.

September 2015 (Makeup free)

October 2015 (Makeup free)
Just being me.

Is God finished with my unhiding?

Never.

This past year, for me, has been a surprise. I didn't see the unhiding going in this direction. But I am thankful over and over that it has. That even though most of you didn't see what I saw (because I was masterful at painting over it for 20 years), God knew that what I saw affected me in my deepest places. And had affected me for too long.

I am so glad I have a God who loves me enough to see the hidden places, to take the dark secrets and bring them to light, not just for my sake but for others who hide, too. And that I have a God who takes the business of healing very seriously.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Did You Actually Just Say That?: Navigating the Nosy in the World of Adoption

We live in a world where people share too much of their business- maybe it's a result of that or just a vicious circle, but it seems like in that world people also believe they deserve to know your business, even if they've never met you before.

Enter transracial adoptive family and people think it's a free-for-all.

Some days I don't mind the questions and other days I just really want to say "Did you actually just say that?"

Here's the deal, though. In the interest of education, being aware that some people really go through life without coming into contact with adoptive families, knowing that their only understanding of the process is from Season 10 of Friends or the occasional awkward or negative portrayal in the media, I do want to answer some questions.

In the interest of my sons' privacy as well as their first parents, however, I am going to attempt to answer the questions without revealing their stories, in a way that may help to educate, encourage and give you, my readers, better questions to ask when you come across families that look like ours!

Some of these are questions I've gotten while out and about, others are those I solicited when planning to write the post and others have been asked of friends of ours. When necessary to protect the asker, I've generalized the question.

(1) Is that your son? Or is he adopted?

Yes. This IS my son and he WAS adopted. His sonship is no less valid than that of my biological child. And the reason I say he WAS adopted instead of IS adopted is that his adoption is not his identifier. It is something that happened to make him a part of our family - it is something that will always (unashamedly) be a part of our family's story and, more intensely, his story. But I don't look at him and think "adopted son". I look at him and see my child. That's who he is.

(2) I'm worried that I wouldn't be able to love an adopted child as much as I do my biological children. What is your experience? 

Short answer? No question. There is no question that I feel the intensity, the frustrations, the joys, the aching worries and hopes and most of all the deep, heart-wrenching love equally for my son who came from my body and the sons who were birthed by another precious woman.

I don't know how that works. I don't know how you grow someone for nine months and love him the whole time and are overwhelmed with even more love when he is born while at the same time finding out days or weeks before meeting your next child, feeling that joy and love grow instantly and then, upon meeting him, know right away that you will do anything for this child, too. No blood relation, none necessary for this child to be unequivocally, beautifully mine.

Harder answer: If you really do worry about this, if you are really unsure you could feel the same love, I'd ask you to question very deeply any desire to adopt. While I used to think that anyone could and should adopt, I now believe that it is not for every person, not for every family and no one should feel compelled by guilt to do it. If you don't think you can love that child equally, please stick with your biological kids, no judgment here.

(3) How do you start the adoptive process? How do you choose an agency?

This answer varies from person to person.

For us, we had always planned to adopt. We wanted to have a few biological children first while our bodies were still young, but our bodies had other plans. So, we started the process a little sooner than we had planned. We spent a year praying, thinking, talking- deciding what we could give a child based on our personalities, our gifts, our parenting styles. And we landed on domestic transracial infant adoption (up to a year old.) It's what made sense. That answer would be different for different people.

As for choosing an agency, agencies often have specialties. We needed one that worked with the above factors. We wanted an agency with a set fee scale, not one that had different fees for different children. (And if you don't think that exists, if you don't think that some agencies have different costs associated with different races of children, I am sorry to be the one to inform you that we live in a very broken, racist world and it happens. All the time.) We wanted an agency that cared about the birth parents, would counsel them, encourage them, help them to make the best decision for them and the child - not pressure them into choosing adoption. And one that would help them afterwards with the mourning and adjustment and anything else they needed. Not all agencies care about the first family. That was important to us. For us, too, as our faith is very important, we chose to go with an agency that would recognize God's role in the process, would pray with and for us and for our children's families and would trust God to work in the whole process alongside us. An agency that would see the birth family's and child's needs ahead of our own.

(4) Why did you adopt transracially and not adopt a child that looks like you?

This is a tricky question to answer. In our first months of filling out paperwork and waiting, we thought we would just say "yes" to any child, regardless of race. As we began to hear the stories of people who waited years upon years for a white child and examined our own histories, choices and friendships, we began to see ways in which we might be suited specifically to transracial adoption and specifically to black children.

During those initial months, I (shamefully) thought that anyone who was not open to any race had to be racist. But I've come to see that some people know that their extended families or their life choices would not be good for a child of color and have made the decision to adopt a same-race child for that child's own good. For example, we have made the decision that we will not permanently live where our two youngest sons will be in a significant minority, where they cannot have teachers or pastors or friends who look like them. So as we plan for our move next summer, we are not just looking at jobs, we are looking at demographics. Our sons will always come home to white parents - and we know from the research and from talking with friends that it will be supremely important to them and their identity to grow up with a significant black presence in their lives.

So I've come to the point that I think if a person isn't willing to put that kind of thought into the church, school or neighborhood in which they will live for the sake of their kids, then maybe transracial adoption isn't a good fit.

(5) Your child is so lucky that you adopted him.

Really? How do you know? Why do you say that? Should I say your kids are lucky they were born to you and they should be grateful that you are raising him?

Let's not teach our adopted kids to have to grow up in a culture where people expect them to be grateful. They are kids. Being raised by parents who love them. We didn't save them from something or instantaneously make their life better with our awesomeness. We are parents like anyone else and they are our children. We will make mistakes just like you will make mistakes. Telling them to be grateful is, in a sense, telling them it's not alright to ask questions about their adoption, to mourn the loss of their birthparents or to wonder what their lives might have looked like if raised by them. I want to be ready for those questions, unthreatened by them, even embracing of my sons' curiosity about where they come from. If I look at my children as if they should somehow be grateful, I will be much less likely to truly hear them and the struggles they may face. And much more likely to make them feel guilty or ashamed of who they are.

I think the Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE, said it best when he said this:

"Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful."

I will not ask that of them.

(6) How much did he cost?

Really? Um. He's not a thing. He didn't cost anything. He is a person, not a commodity. There were legal fees involved in making him legally our child, but likening him to a product we could pick off the shelf is at best, ignorant, and, at worst, horrifying.

Period.

If you want to know what the cost of adoption is, ask a question like "what types of fees are involved in the adoption process?" And I would hope you are asking not out of a morbid curiosity of how we can possibly afford it but because you are genuinely curious what our agency provides to the birth parents and children involved and why there are lawyers and courts involved in this process.

(7) Do you have an open or closed adoption? Are you worried that the birth mother would want the boys back?

We are incredibly grateful to have an open adoption. We have met their mother and we love her. We keep in touch via text and email and look forward to future visits. We show her pictures regularly to our boys and tell them they grew in her uterus. We recognize that it is better for all of them to be able to know one another and in no way do we feel that their relationship is a threat to our relationship with our sons.

Are all open adoptions that neat and tidy or will ours always be? Nope. Are all families neat and tidy? Nope. And ours won't always be. There will be ups and downs. But when we adopted these boys, we said yes to their mother being in our lives and we wanted it that way.

We believe strongly that the boys knowing as much of their story as possible will go a long way to how they relate to their adoption stories, to how they develop their racial identity and to how they fit into our family.

There are definitely some situations in which there is a danger in keeping contact with a birth family - that is where an agency helps navigate the right arrangement that puts the child's best interests at heart. But for us, we consider it a beautiful thing that she is in our lives.

(8) Wouldn't it be awesome if you finally got pregnant now that you don't think about it anymore?

So there is a myth floating around society that the minute you stop wanting to get pregnant, that is when it will happen. Where this started, I do not know as I have plenty of friends who wanted to get pregnant and were successful and plenty who were not. The wanting piece seems to have little to do with it.

But hear me on this.

We are happy with our story. It is not a success if we finally get pregnant. This is my family. I love them. I am happy. I do not NEED a pregnancy to feel like my story is complete.

And sometimes when people ask me that question, I feel like they are saying that adoption is second place. That we did this to somehow trick God into thinking we don't care if we get pregnant, so now He'll help us out.

That, my friends, is a very faulty view of how my good and generous God works. And, to be frank, biologically stupid.

So, yes, it would be a good thing if I got pregnant, in the same way that it is always awesome when you are gifted with a life. But we are not looking to get pregnant to finish our story and we are grateful for our three boys.

(9) Where are they from? 

This is one of the first questions I get asked by people, especially about my middle child who has darker skin than my infant.

I usually just reply that "he is from the United States." Which generally leads to one of two different paths of questions: One, questions about the state of domestic adoption and/or probing questions about his birth story that are really not a stranger's business or two, a look of disappointment or stated confusion about why we wouldn't adopt a "real orphan" from overseas.

I don't really want to touch that last phrase with a ten foot pole.

But in the spirit of education and not generally knowing yet how to respond to people in either of those two paths. I usually politely decline to share the details of their young lives if it's the first line of questioning, other than with close friends. With the second path, I try to share what I know about the state of domestic adoption and then quickly move on. I realize some people are very passionate about international adoption or a specific country and others feel drawn to the foster system or domestic adoption. Our story is ours. Our sons' stories are theirs and not for public consumption until they are old enough to share what they want. You will not see me posting long videos or stories with all the details of their stories like some do. I believe in their right to privacy.

I should say that it would be easy to just shut down the conversation with a quick "I'm not sure it's any of your business" and I'm sure some people do that. Had I done that recently, I would have missed out on learning that a new acquaintance of mine is actually a birth father who was excited to share his own story with me about his life and his biological daughter who had been adopted when he was younger. I am so grateful for his new perspective in my life and glad I answered his initial question. I am certain his perspective will go a long way in my own education.

(10) When are you going to tell them they were adopted? 

If there is one thing our case worker said to us, over and over again, it's that the only right answer to that question is "on the way home." There is no shame to that truth, it's their stories. So we talk about their birth mother and how they grew in her uterus. We talk about when we met them. We talk about their first days home. And, to be honest, in transracial adoption, it's going to be pretty darn obvious to them from a young age that they don't look like mom and dad. I don't believe in secrecy in this and believe that parents who want to hide their adoption from their children should not adopt.

_________________________________________________________________________________

So there you have it. It's not exhaustive, but it's what I've experienced. There are, I am sure, many more questions that people are asked. As my sons grow, I am sure we will run into them. There will be new things to navigate when they are school age, new ways we have to learn to speak to their teachers when they are asked to do a "family tree" project, ways to have conversations with people when they are old enough to understand what these adults are actually saying when they ask us questions. I pray daily that I will grow in my own understanding, in my own language, my ability to communicate to them their stories and my graciousness in knowing how (and if) to answer the questions that come our way.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Moment of Grace

I was sitting on the deck stairs, the early evening autumn light trickling across the backyard through the neighbors' trees. The baby was in my arms, watching his brothers laugh and play with their father alongside them. And I felt a sudden quickening of my heart, an inexplicable intake of breath.

It was a moment of grace.

One moment in a constant day of feeding and changing and discipline and hurry.

But in that moment, that light coming through the trees was like a shaft of light to my heart.

"You made it. Look around you. Smiles, laughter, health, bounty. You made it."

Sometimes you are in something painful or challenging or dark for so long that you almost don't notice when the darkness shifts. And it might only shift by millimeters, but it starts to recede. Little by little, moment by moment. And then that light streaks in and you can see. See what God has done, see the scars and the hope, see the good even in the midst of the everyday challenges.

A moment of grace.

I will always be marked by our miscarriage. Our years of infertility have left their scars. The ups and downs of waiting on our boys changed who I am. This past year of tantrums and battles and fatigue and the completely overwhelming nature of being a mom to two children under two has challenged me to love deeper and more unconditionally than I thought possible.

And in that moment of grace, I could see.

See my laughing toddler and realize with a shock that he hadn't had any meltdowns that day. Not one. See my eight-year-old who went from being an only child in a calm, quiet house to the oldest of three boys in nonstop chaos in just a year and a half's time. And to see him loving it, embracing it. To see it changing him for good. To see this baby who is emerging from the newborn phase laughing and sleeping and staring us down when we eat in front of him and remembering that we didn't even know about him five months ago. To see this man with whom I've chosen to walk life, a true partner, encourager, the hardest-working and most generous man I know, who loves his family with unwavering fierceness.

A moment of grace.

To drink it in, give thanks, take stock and look forward in hope to what our family is becoming. To know these moments will come and go, that some days will still be long and hard, but that God is faithful. That he gives grace and strength. That he gifts us with these moments where we can suddenly see and know that He is good.

This morning, as I reflect on that moment I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite songs:

"Let hope rise and darkness tremble
In your Holy light
That every eye will see
Jesus, Our God
Great and mighty to be praised "  (From "With Everything" by Hillsong United )

Even sitting among the dirty dishes and the long lists for the day ahead, I am asking hope to continue to rise. To see the darkness continue to fade. To move boldly forward in ways that draw myself and others to know God better.

To see more moments of grace and light and make them as much a part of who I am as the scars have been. I don't need the scars to fade - but they are so much more beautiful in the light.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Song

Like many parents, a lot of my day involves tending to my children's bowel movements. Or my dog's. Or the guinea pigs', for that matter.

Bottom line, there is a lot of poop around here.

A few weeks ago, my toddler decided that the perfect time for his 2nd movement of the day would occur smack in the middle of nap time. He then decided this every day (enter sleep-deprived, cranky, spirited toddler) for a week until, in desperation, I wondered if I might be able to have an effect on this new hobby of his.

Having come of age in the 90's, my brain often goes straight to that music for comfort. Just prior to his nap one day, as I was contemplating how I might change this new timeline to encourage him to get more sleep, R.E.M. came into my mind. Why wouldn't they? Surely they have a song I could use to help things along?

Don't all parents think that way?

So, just a few minutes later, while reading to the child, I decided to rewrite "Everybody Hurts" to "Everybody Poops" and see what happened. Couldn't hurt, right?

Magically, inexplicably, 10 minutes later, after having asked the toddler if he'd like to go and then asking if he wanted a song to help and subsequently singing it to him, he pooped. Then laid down, asked me to change it and got back into the chair for a cuddle. And then slept 3 hours.

A fluke right?

Nope, every single day since then, I have asked him if he needs to go. If he says yes, we read a book, turn off the lights, sing our song while he does his business, change his diaper, read one more book and then head to sleep. If he says no, we do our old routine, sans song.

People, seriously? This is magic.

So, in an effort to continue not to care how ridiculous my life might seem, I recorded the song. Your uses for it may be either to (1) gain a good evening laugh at my expense, (2) get your daily dose of anger out while you rail about how people like me ruin perfectly good songs or (3) use it to help your own ill-timed pooper overcome his or her issues.

No matter which path you choose, you are welcome.

video



Sunday, September 6, 2015

When the Remembering Approaches

In just nine days, my Amara might have been turning 6. She might have learned to ride a bike, maybe she'd be starting first grade. Maybe she would have a gap-toothed smile in her school pictures. Maybe she'd love to read or play soccer or paint. Maybe she'd be the best big sister to her little brothers.

I'll never know.

I don't think about her as often as I used to. After all, when you've waited and dreamed for six years and then find yourself more than full of diapers and formula and laughs and tantrums and sleep deprivation, you think about what you have, not what you don't have.

Just two years ago, this week was profoundly difficult for me. Navigating the anniversaries of heartache in our life can be tricky. Nate hadn't yet been born, we were still waiting, living in a new place, looking for a church and friends, wondering what life might have been like with our daughter turning 4.

But this week, I might see a pregnant woman and not feel jealous. I might see a baby being pushed around in a stroller, giggling and grabbing at a hanging toy and not feel weepy.

Or this week, the grief of losing her might hit me in unexpected ways even as my arms and life are full. You never know when grief might descend. All I know is that I feel that, even as life is chaotic, I see God's work of healing in action. I remember the deep pain but, at the moment, it doesn't own me.

And each year, as I get further out from my own deep grief, I can see more of who God has been forming me to be since it all happened. I can see the ways I see others better. The way I am slower to make assumptions about others' choices or family life. I can see how he has helped me be a better listener, a deeper question-asker. And I can feel the ways my heart has begun to heal.

My youngest son's name means "healer." Did you know that? His birth mother chose it for him, having no idea how profound that might be. And this little boy has brought so much calm and peace and joy into our home. Even as I snuggled him close this morning while he cooed and laughed and nuzzled his little head in, pulling on my hair, I thought about how he won't know his big sister this side of heaven. And I thought about how a year ago or two years ago, that thought would've made me stop breathing for a few moments.

But today? Today I thought that some day in the future, my boys will be old enough to hear about her. To hear about the years we mourned her while we waited and yearned for them. To hear about the ways God changed us as we moved from a family of 3 to a family of five in just 18 months time.

It's not time yet to tell them. But some day we will speak of her. And remember together.

So this week, as we approach the anniversary of her due date, I am committing to remembering my friends who are still waiting on a dream. Who are on wait-lists or experiencing infertility treatments or even still waiting for the right spouse to come along with whom to start that journey of parenting. Those who yearn to be first-time or second-time parents. Those who are hoping for a clean bill of health or a job. Those who have also experienced loss - loss of a child, of a marriage, of a parent, of a dream, of hope.

Dear friends who are still waiting, take hope. On those days that you can no longer even tell God what you want or how hurt you are, please know that I am praying for you. That I understand. Maybe not your exact story, but I understand longing for something you have zero control over and asking God all the whys and why nots there are to ask. About wrestling with injustice and frustration and anger and despair.

This week, I choose to hold your weary, aching hands up in my own still healing ones. If there are ways I can specifically do that, I welcome your comments or messages. Keep on, friends. Keep on. You are not alone.

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.

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.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

To Those Who Stare

To Those Who Stare,

I know you saw us today.

White mama, black boy.

In some parts of the country, that's no big deal, but in Wisconsin? Well, let's just say I don't see a lot of us out and about.

I know you saw us. We are conspicuous on our best days.

But on our worst days? Like today?

Like when I was trying to walk along at the zoo and encourage my son to come see the bears and he was pulling on my backpack and screaming at me because he desperately wanted the bottle he assumed I had inside, even though he had just finished one?

Or when he dropped down in the middle of the path, blocking your way to get to the giraffes and threw his head back in sheer rage on the concrete to see if I'd react because I offered him a snack?

Or how about on the zoo playground when he wanted to go play and I let him, which for some reason today, precipitated yet another loud meltdown.

Because let's be honest. He is loud. Impossible to ignore. The angry tears running down his face. The screeching and flailing about. The complete disruption of all conversations in a 15 foot vicinity.

I know he looks 3. I know he was drinking a bottle. He's actually only 18 months and did you know that adopted kids often have major attachment issues with their bottles and our pediatrician has said it's fine for him to drink it? Probably not. I didn't know that and beat myself up for months when I couldn't get him to give it up. I have to battle every day to NOT feel guilty that he still needs it so much, like it's some mark of failed parenting.

Maybe you are already a parent and your kid has never behaved like that - my firstborn never did, especially in public. So you stared in pity or amazement. This is a whole new ballgame for me, you know. I used to stare at people who behaved this way, too.

Or maybe you don't have kids yet and you have lofty ideas of how you will parent and figure I am one of those moms who never disciplines or gives in to everything or doesn't care that her child is disrupting the world. I assure you I cared more that he was screaming than you did. I'm reading the books, I'm seeking wisdom from those who have been there. Some days none of the strategies work and you just have to soldier on.

Maybe you are having a good day with your own spirited child or are past this stage and looked on with well-worn knowledge of what I was going through. A few of you said something softly of the sort as you passed by us. Thanks for that. Most of the time, this feels really lonely. And embarrassing. Today, yes, it felt embarrassing to cause a spectacle everywhere we went.

Every day it is a sheer act of hope to even leave the house and risk this kind of spectacle. Believe me. We already don't go to restaurants or enclosed spaces and probably won't for a long time. I thought the zoo was a safe gamble and today I was wrong.

Whoever you are, I know you saw us. I know you saw our horrible day. I know you saw me on the verge of tears, at the end of my rope- we made it out of the parking lot before my own were pouring down my face in that kind of ugly, choking cry that I probably have only ever experienced a few times in my life, my child laughing maniacally in the back because he thought I was laughing really hard. Or, at least I choose to believe that's why he was laughing. I have to.

Because this wasn't our only day like this.

It has been months. The good days are few and far between right now.

And to those who stared at us, it's exhausting. His behavior and your stares.

Exhausting.

Possibly for us it's just the perfect storm- he has a new baby brother, he's getting teeth, he's been going through his terrible twos about a year and a half early and this mama only got 4 interrupted hours of sleep taking care of his little brother last night.

I have to hold onto hope that maybe tomorrow will be a better day. And sometimes it is. That maybe next month will be the month he has some new developmental milestone that ushers us into an occasional age of reason. I see glimpses of how it will be some day. I have to remind myself that the things that make parenting this toddler so difficult - his perseverance, his exuberance, his sheer will to accomplish what he wants - some day those will hopefully be strengths of his when he faces a world that will try to mold him into its own broken image.

So, please. If you want to stare, go ahead. I get it, it's like trying to look away from a car crash. But maybe offer a smile. Maybe offer a small word of encouragement. Or just take your look and then look away and let us be.

This whole parenting thing can be hard enough without us shaming one another with our eyes.

Thanks for listening.

From an exhausted parent who deeply loves her spirited boy,
Me

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Years of Yeses

This is going to be short and sweet because, well, everything is these days.

These days we are chasing a non-stop 18-month-old, sometimes with a 3 week old bouncing along in our arms, praying we aren't doing him irrevocable damage by subjecting him to all the chaos of our lives.

These days a lot of people look at us in public and say "How old are they? Woah, you've got your hands full, don't you?"

These days, as is necessary in this particular phase, our life revolves around making sure our oldest gets to school and soccer practice and gets that daily snuggle he still needs even while we balance keeping the toddler from drinking from oily street puddles and making sure the newborn stays fed and dry and has no one poking him in the eye.

But twelve years ago, these types of days were a distant dream. Something we could pretend to imagine but really have no idea of how all-encompassing, how overwhelming, how fulfilling and exhausting they would would feel all at the same time.

June 7, 2003, Leaving our wedding reception
But twelve years ago we knew one thing: We were saying yes to each other forever and yes to whatever would happen for us and to us in the meantime.

That meant we said yes to becoming parents and then crashing our way through the "two working parents" childhood of Josh and all of the "ships passing in the night" that that meant for us at the time.

November 3, 2006, Josh is born
That meant we said yes to a hard year of struggling to communicate and having to remember why we said yes in the first place when he had a tough spell around the five year mark.

That meant we said yes to struggling through the loss of our second child, through the ensuing fertility treatments and years of infertility and eventual death of that dream.

June 14, 2013, Leaving NC for WI
That meant we said yes to years of training and home studies and invasive questions about our sex lives and parenting and family relationships to pursue adoption.

That meant we said yes to my husband starting a new career and moving from friends and family and starting over twice with new schools and churches and relationships and rhythms to our lives.

That meant we said yes to putting my own career on hold when we brought our second son home from foster care last year and to continuing to stay home for a bit longer now that his younger brother is here, too.
January 9, 2014, Nate joins the family


It means we will say yes again to whatever comes when this post-doc is finished in Wisconsin, we will say it together, we will move again (most likely) and we will start up life again somewhere new, hopefully for the long haul.

May 13, 2015, Jayce joins the family
It has meant saying yes over and over again to each other. To remembering the "I wills" of our wedding day. To remembering that before the dog and the boys and the guinea pigs and all the moves and changes, we said yes, first and foremost, to each other. To a covenant of life together no matter what. To putting our marriage before our children so that our children will be parented by parents who unashamedly love and honor each other and are, therefore, better at loving them.

So today, as we celebrate 12 years, we do it with puffy eyes and exhausted bodies. We do it with full hearts as we watch our sons run around the backyard, playing soccer, laughing and crying after worshiping with our church family this morning. We do it as we look at each other knowing that there will not be a big fancy dinner out this year. There might just be a quiet, miraculous hour tonight when all 3 are asleep at the same time.

I suspect that we will just sit together and soak it in. Maybe with a glass of wine or a margarita. Maybe we'll hold hands and just sit and remember the yeses. And maybe we'll just fall asleep on each other's shoulders.

I hope we do.

Because as much as marriage is the hardest work in the world, it is worth every second. And the thing I want my three boys to know most of all as they grow up, besides the fact that God loves them more deeply and truly than we ever could, is that their parents made a promise to love each other and to love them, even on the days where love doesn't feel good. That our yeses as husband and wife put each other first in a way that will hopefully trickle down to their own understanding of what it means to have a true partner some day.

So, I'm just going to say it at the end here because it needs to be said outright and boldly.

I love my kids. And I will give them everything I have.

But they are not the center of my universe.

God is.

And it was before Him and many witnesses that I promised all the yeses to my husband, including giving him all of me. Before, during and after our kids are long gone from our home.

May God always grant us the energy to remember that and not let the chaos of the daily or the tyranny of the urgent (read, toddler) distract us from that fundamental promise that formed our family in the first place.

Happy 12 years to us. I look forward to the next yes, the next adventure with the most generous, patient husband a woman could ever hope for.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Shirt

The shirt made a brief debut in December 2008. Size 3T, "Awesome Big Brother." I found it at a little second-hand shop the same day I found out we were expecting. These days, everyone tends to think early on about how they'll announce such joyful news - I was going to have Josh wear it and post the picture. And invite the world to rejoice with us.

But just 4 weeks later I was packing that shirt away, deep in the throes of silent grief. I remember thinking that I should just trash it - what were the chances it would still fit him if and when we ever got that chance to announce? 

Months went by, then years. 

I forgot about the shirt.

Just a few weeks ago I was going through our 3T box and pulling out clothes for my ginormous 16 month old and there it was. 

Size 3T, "Awesome Big Brother."  

Just days after we found out that he would, indeed, be one. And soon.

It's funny how life works. You find out news, you plan something out. You dream, you hope, you mourn. You roll with what life brings next or scream about it's unfairness. You rail at God some days, you forget to care others. You pray and then stop and then pray again.

And then suddenly you are this family of five. And this shirt that was meant to announce joy to the world 7 years ago, this shirt that you so painfully packed away, gets new life. New, unexpected life.

Isn't that the way things happen sometimes? One dream dies and we even forget about the little ancillary details that might have surrounded it. Meanwhile, God is working in the background. Things are happening that we can't see and wouldn't understand in their uncompleted form anyway. They are too big for our human mind. Life moves forward and we never see the ways that dreams might come back around in a renewed form until they are thrust before us.

And let me be clear here: I am not saying that God likes that my two younger boys have lost their first familues or that years ago when I bought this shirt God was working then to make it so my kids would go through that pain of loss and possible eventual struggles with identity that can come with adoption. In my opinion, it is never his plan that families would not stay together- but situations happen and adoption exists for a reason. These boys are not the lucky ones  - we are the ones privileged to have them be a part of our family, to enrich our lives, to be our sons even as they deal eventually with their own losses and questions.What I AM saying is that we dreamed of being parents to more than one child. We mourned and waited and struggled and almost gave up. But in just 20 months, we now have two more children and feel overwhelmed with fullness and joy. (And, obviously, sleep deprivation ;-)

My sweet oldest boy never wore that shirt. But man has he lived up to it's wording. And just a year and a half after becoming that awesome big brother that he so longed to be, he gets to do it again and watch his little brother become one, too. 

My oldest actually leapt up from the table and did a happy dance when he found out the news and asks constantly to hold him and feed him and cuddle him. My middle boy has no idea who this little person is who has invaded his life, his space, his parents' attention.
Sweet boy in his drooly shirt- give him a break, he's working on 4 molars!

But he's wearing that shirt. That shirt that represented a lost dream, a deep sadness, an unfulfilled announcement. 

That shirt is living proof that God is faithful.