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.

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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.