“Real Parents”

I have been bracing myself for the first time one of the kids uses the term “real parents.”  It happened tonight, but ironically it was in reference to us(!!!)  I was assuming she was talking about her biological family, so asked “your birth parents?”  Her response was, “No silly! You are our real parents, because you’re not going to leave like everyone else.”   I know she doesn’t fully believe this yet, but words can’t even express how it felt to hear it.

We had a really fun weekend!  My parents watched Jax for a few hours on Saturday so we could take J and A shopping without having to chase a maniac toddler.  We have been struggling to get their sizes down by guessing, and wanted them to try a few things on.  They also didn’t have any shoes besides flip flops, so we went out to by them some tennis shoes.  Never in my life have I seen a kid so happy, much less about a pair of shoes, as I have “J!”  He ran into the shoe store and picked out his shoes in approximately 2 seconds.  He put them on and wore them out of the store!  He was running into people as we walked through the mall because he couldn’t stop staring at them….cutest thing ever.  He showed anyone and everyone he could find how cool his shoes were, and even said “I’m so cool with these shoes I could go to a DANCE!”   Later that day we went on a walk, and he kept asking to go home so he could clean his shoes.  He didn’t want the bottoms dirty.  That night, he slept with his shoes on his nightstand next to his bed.  It was equally cute and heart-breaking!

We all got a phone visit with “T” tonight.  Talking to a 14 yr old boy on the phone = awkward!!  It was good to hear his voice, and the kids were so excited to talk with him.  They are really missing him, and tell us daily how much they want him to live here.  When “A” was done visiting she asked him if she should give the phone back to “Ann.”  When “T” asked her to repeat herself, she said – “Ann!  Our Mom!?”

It’s not all roses and sunshine, but I am loving being their Mom!  We were just talking last night about all of the things that came into play in them being placed with us.  Firstly, we heard about them the exact same time we found out we were not selected for the sibling set we thought were our sons.  Coincidental timing?  I may or may not have shared this with you, but we initially said “no” to them after getting disclosure.  On paper, it sounded too overwhelming and their needs sounded too high.  The thing is…when children are put onto a piece of paper the human piece of them is left out.  They are nothing but a bunch of labels and diagnoses and behaviors on paper.  In reality, they are beautiful souls and need a family and a chance. We are blessed to have a bunch of social workers involved that are passionate about what they do and the families and kids they match.  They believed this was a good match when we didn’t, and asked us to trust them/meet the kids.  This whole process is like one giant miracle.

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BANANAS

We all survived our first week!  (HOW has it only been a week?!)  I would say we have probably gone through 15 bunches of bananas this week (really).  The kids have some anxiety about food, so they have basically free access to bananas and/or other healthy food.  I think (hope?!) the number of bananas they consume in a day will be going down sometime in the near future…because I think that has a direct correlation with how safe they feel with us.  I am fighting a pretty constant urge to freak out about their food consumption…”THERE IS NO WAY YOU ARE HUNGRY!”  Instead I have been going with, “You will never be hungry here, help yourself to a banana.”   Fun fact…aside from bananas, their favorite bedtime snack is eggs.  Over easy or sunny side up, to be specific.  Bedtime eggs, made with love, it is!

Last night we attempted our first family bike ride, something Charlie and Jax and I did prior to the additions at least a few times a week.  It went really well, minus the anxiety that someone was going to impulsively swerve into traffic!   We told them it was a trial run, to see if they could be safe enough to take longer trips to the park or lake or whatever.  It was a really short ride.  When we got home, “J” excitedly pronounced us “the best Mom and Dad in the world!” because we all did that together.   Stuff like that really breaks my heart…it’s things we would never in a million years expect Jax to acknowledge or thank us for in his childhood.  Stuff we take for granted so much.  They also told us one of their favorite things about our house is getting to read books before bed…

“A” chopped 10 inches off her hair tonight, it looks adorable!  I am anxious to be able to share pictures.  I was so proud of her that she decided to donate it, even though she *really* wanted to keep her ponytail.  On top of being proud, it’s really encouraging to see that kind of empathy from her.  RESILIENT. 

The kind woman that cut her hair asked me something about her ears being pierced.  I had a pang of awkwardness/embarrassment…I have no idea if my daughter’s ears are pierced or not.  I want to know everything about her.  I want to know everything that has happened to her.  I want to have carried her in my stomach without substances and I want to have been able to keep her safe her first seven years. 

Since that wasn’t the case, I will keep feeding her boatloads of bananas in the name of healing! 

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Wine out of a coffee mug.

I may or may not have snuck wine in a coffee mug tonight, I’m just sayin.  One of the many big life changes we have made with this adoption is not having alcohol around!  I think we will be able to ease back into having a beer while grilling at some point, but I think that is probably a long way off.  These kids have had very traumatic exposure to alcohol and attribute getting taken away from their birth Mom to her “drinking too much beer.”  Needless to say, it’s important they don’t think we drink too much beer.  Which is awkward, because we do.  (haha)   We had an awesome weekend full of all kinds of adventures! 

The therapist part of my brain understands that when pre-adoptive kids with trauma histories have really fun days, they often have (really) tough nights.  Sometimes they feel guilty or think they don’t deserve to have that kind of fun because they are “bad”…sometimes they feel that allowing themselves to be happy is being disloyal to their birth family….sometimes other “irrational” thoughts creep into their heads.  I get it.  The Mom part of my brain just feels sad for them (and for us) and SO angry at the people that put this on them!   Which brings me back to drinking wine out of a coffee mug.  Now that I got that of my chest, let’s go back to the awesome day!

“A” screamed out “I’M SOO HAAPPYYYY!” while tubing today.  Us too, honey, us too! She also called us “Mom and Dad” a few times on and off today, which is weird and exciting to hear.  We try to play it off cool, but we exchange little excited glances between each other when they look away.  The first time “A” said it was on Friday night in the pitch dark…it was like she was testing it out with the cover and safety of darkness.   We hug them weirdly often, and we are looking forward to a day where this feels natural.  We focus so much on attachment from the kids perspectives, but this attachment has to occur for the parents, too!  

They have been talking about “your guys’ boat” a lot, and today I think we might have sort of convinced them that this is “OUR” boat.  We have to remind them approximately 72x/day that we aren’t going anywhere, and neither are they.  Just when I think they “get it” they say something completely heart-breaking about their “next home” or where they will go with they are 18 or their “next family” or whatever.  We have been trying to send the message calmly that nothing they can do will change our minds, but to feel free to test us and our limits as long as they need to.  Inside we are less calm, because they sure give us a run for our money!   It is going to get harder, for sure, but then it’s going to get easier.  Until then, don’t judge me if I drink wine out of a coffee mug occasionally 🙂

Day One.

Holy moly, what an emotional day!  I’m sitting here with tears rolling down my face.  I tucked my new son and daughter into bed tonight, and life changed.  This is real.  We had a serious game of whack-a-mole tonight, and bedtime was a little rough.  The routine we had down on respite weekends went out the window.  They were needing a lot of reassurance, had a lot of questions, and boat loads of anxiety.  At the top of my “to do” list is finding a book that explains all of this to them, because they are so confused.  It’s so much for little minds to process!

A few of the “confused” statements they made:

“We have already been adopted once, so this will be our second time.”

“We have tons of Moms and Dads.”

“When we turn 15 we go back and live with (foster family).”

“We have to leave here as soon as we are 18.”

The simple story we are giving is that they have a birth mom and dad who love them very much and miss them very much, but are not able to take care of them.  They have had foster families whose job was to keep them safe while their social workers found their forever family.  We are their forever family, and they stay with us forever and ever and ever.

J seems to be connecting dots here and there, as he said, “We’ve had to live in a hundred million houses and now we never have to go anywhere again!”  He has been very excited to tell most anyone he sees that we are his forever family.  We told them they can call us Ann and Charlie as long as they want, but that they are also welcome to call us Mom and Dad whenever they are ready.  J is desperate for a Mom and Dad (he was initially removed from his bio family at 2 and has limited/no memory of having a Mom and Dad) and jumped right at this.  “A” said, “I will probably always call you Charlie and Ann.”  She is loyal to her birth Mom, and I get that. “Ann” is okay, too….but I think she will change her mind.  Jax is testing out “Ann and Charlie” just to keep things interesting around here 🙂

We were prepared in many ways for the challenges of navigating the whole birth parent thing.  “A” asked me tonight if I will take her to see her Mom.  Not going to lie, I want to be her one and only Mom.  I don’t want to share that.  I was prepared for it, obviously, but it still kind of felt like a punch in the gut.  I told her that it wasn’t up to us, that the judge said not until she is 18.  I told her that when she is 18 that we will support her and help her if that is what she chooses to do.  That’s what I’m supposed to say, right?  She responded with…”Yeah, well when I’m 16 I will go find her in my car.”  7 going on 20…ha!  We can talk about that when 16 gets a little closer, my dear.

I have a pretty darn good understanding of “what to expect” due to my fostering experience, my job, and grad school.  Most of that is going out the window…because I am in love already.  In theory, that’s probably “poor boundaries.”   This feels the same as the first night we had Jax home from the hospital when he was 4 days old.  I’ve had a lot of people ask prior to us being matched if I felt that we could love adoptive children as much as biological.  We haven’t had the 3 years of bonding that we have had with Jax obviously yet, but I can tell you right now that the answer is YES!   We currently have three beautiful, resilient, funny, awesome kids and we are so proud of them all in so many different ways.

t-2 days

The move-in day for A and J (the youngest two) has been moved up to Thursday “for sure.” I am finding “for sure” to have a different definition in the foster-care world than in the real world, however! 

When I’m not working, doing homework, or chasing Jax, you can pretty much find me pacing our house and opening and shutting A and J’s closets 🙂

The (very) censored version of why T is not moving in on Thursday is that he has baseball play-offs coming up and his foster family may be interested in adopting him (only him).  There is some court drama related to this that I probably shouldn’t be disclosing on the good old web.  If you want the less censored version, and aren’t afraid of a lot of expletives and the sound of me making threats towards people, feel free to ask!

I am so excited to give my kids the world’s largest hug on Thursday…my eyes well up just thinking about.  It’s the kind of hug that says….we found you!  YOU ARE HOME.  I wish we could have found them earlier, before all of this stuff happened to them that should happen to no one ever, much less children.  But…apparently it’s called kidnapping when kids aren’t legally free.  So, here we are!  Thursday starts the beginning of our new family, and the healing of us all.  

 

Language

Mandy Moore recently said that she would like to have a couple of “her own” but that she would like to adopt as well. http://www.lifeandstylemag.com/entertainment/news/mandy-moore-i-want-to-adopt-kids-children-expand-family-ryan-adams-the-advocate

I know this was a well-intentioned statement.  I know I probably  made well-intentioned but naive statements in the past. I know there are tons of kids needing homes.  I also know that when adopted kids here this language they internalize it.  I want to protect our kids from this, so I’m hoping no one finds it offensive for me to communicate the language we use in our home.

All of our kids are “our own.”  They just came to us a different way!  We have one biological child and the others are adoptive children, but they are all ours (as we are theirs!)  If you are curious if we are having more children biologically, it would be helpful (especially in front of the kids) to ask if we are having more biological children vs. any more of “our own.” 

We prefer not to use the term “real parents.”  The kids’ biological parents are very much real, and very much played a large role in the development of the kids on many levels.  We are also real, and we also hope to play a large role in their development.  So…the kids have biological parents (or birth parents, which is the term we use with the kids).  They also have adoptive parents (or will, soon!) 

We love having open and honest conversations about this, and we are still learning ourselves.  Thanks for learning with us and helping us help all of our kids feel a sense of belonging in our family!

Suddenly So Ready

We had such a great weekend!  It was just our three youngest, as “T” was at camp.  Friday was rough, behavior-wise.  The kids are anxious, and the little two are just ready to be here.  They have been waiting for their forever family for over a year (and been in foster care for 3), which is WAY too long for such little kids.  Now that we are here, this transition is starting to feel too long for all of us!  We are treating the behaviors like we would if they were our infant or toddler, so we ended a rough Friday night with rocking and singing to calm them rather than time-outs.  The next two days couldn’t have gone any better, which encourages us to keep up things that aren’t super “natural” feeling!

We went to the zoo on Saturday (which, in hind site, probably wasn’t that great of an idea).  We did have a great time, though!  Charlie ended up carrying both A (7) and Jax on his hip back to the car – God bless him!  We have very different expectations of her than we would of a bio 7 yr old…she didn’t get her needs met when she was little, so we are going backwards to do that now.  We had a few awkward moments in public…with random people or zoo staff saying things to the kids about their parents.  Jax, A, and J look weirdly like bio siblings!  Especially A and Jax – I wonder if that’s why we felt such an instant connection to her.  I don’t think she could look any more like Jax?!  So. Weird.  Anyway, the kids didn’t correct anybody – they just looked at us and smiled.

I was driving a client to a group yesterday when a song came on, and he told me his Mom loves that song.  Before I could think about it I said, “my daughter loves that song, too!”  WHOA!  I have a daughter!  So then I’m driving and tears are pouring down my face (see last post about basket-caseness). 

We have requested the move-in day be moved up to avoid another back-and-forth, and we will find out today if that request will be granted or not.  We have a nanny ready to go (we hit the jackpot with someone who has a degree in social work, grew up with her parents doing foster care, and has three adopted siblings with attachment disorder/in-utero alcohol exposure).

Let’s do this!